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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Colorado Ballot Ban; DeSantis, Haley Criticize Trump, But Not For "Inciting Riot"; Iran Vows Revenge After Deadly Blasts Near General's Grave; Washington Post: Hamas Leader Killing In Beirut Marks Israel's Shift. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Donald Trump asks the Supreme Court to decide, should he be disqualified from Colorado's ballot over January 6?

Plus, the long sealed list of Jeffrey Epstein's associates was just released. What it means and more importantly what it doesn't mean.

And just hours from now, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley will be live on CNN for back to back town halls. But is it too late to catch the far and away frontrunner, Donald Trump?


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Thursday, January 4, just after 5:00 a.m. here in Washington where, of course, we are all looking just down the road from where I sit right now, at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Donald Trump is asking the justices to overturn a historic Colorado ruling. Two weeks ago, the State Supreme Court ordered Trump's name removed from the primary ballot under the 14th Amendment insurrectionist clause. And today, the U.S. Supreme Court faces mounting pressure to settle the question of whether Trump is eligible to run or hold public office after being accused of inciting the attacks on the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.

And tonight, both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley hold back to back town halls on CNN. We're just 11 days from the Iowa caucuses.

Here's what they have been saying about the Republican frontrunner.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chaos follows him. And we can't have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is basically making a mockery of this whole process by not showing up and answering people's questions.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in political reporter for "Politico", Stef Kight.

Stef, good morning to you. Let's start with, you know, the legal arguments. They waited until the last second to file the appeal. They are saying he is not an insurrectionist. They're saying that the 14th Amendment doesn't mention the office of the presidency and they're saying that Congress, not the states, should decide eligibility for the ballot.

I mean, this is a significant constitutional question. What's next here?

STEF KIGHT, POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yeah, you're right, this is a very significant constitutional question. And, of course, it's putting the Supreme Court once again right in the middle of the 2024 race for the presidency. You know, in many ways, the Supreme Court could really get involved in ways that we have not seen since Bush v. Gore.

And, you know, this is going to be important for them to decide on and many constitutional experts, legal experts, expect the Supreme Court will decide to weigh in, in some way here. But, of course, the question is, whether they just decide kind of what some of these matters, whether this actually applies to presidency or whether they will start to weigh in on whether or not the former president engaged in insurrection.

HUNT: So, Stef, I mean, the reality here is this plays directly into many of the political arguments as well that the former president makes on the campaign trail. He consistently argues the system is rigged against him. And he makes it about his supporters. He tells them that it means the system is out to get you.

And when I've talked to Democrats, a lot will privately acknowledge that they are nervous about him being stripped off of these ballots even though obviously many Democratic supporters feel strongly about him not appearing on ballots. They'll say, if he doesn't, it just plays in to his hand and allows him to make this argument and makes it harder to argue that they actually are able to win the general election, that they won it fair and square.

I mean, what is your reporting around this?

KIGHT: Yeah, I mean, what he said is exactly right. We're hearing a lot of different reactions to these rulings both out of Colorado and also the similar decision from Maine secretary of state, these efforts to keep the former president off of the ballot in 2024.


And to your point, some Democrats, of course, have long said that they believe that the former president engaged in insurrection. There are some Democrats who are excited about the way things seem to be going, the fact that there are at least a few states that have decided to use it as a reason to try to keep Trump off the ballot.

But I've also heard from many Democrats who are concerned the precedent this could set, if this was allowed to go forward, this could lead to other states and elected officials deciding to keep candidates that they don't prefer off the ballot. So there is certainly a concern there.

And then, again, we do see the former president and his allies continuing to use this as part of their narrative that, you know, the justice system as a whole is out to get Donald Trump, that there are people within the government who are trying to make sure that he does not get to win the presidency again. And, you know, much of their argument is that voters should be able to decide.

So we will continue to see them use that playbook that we've seen them use over and over again as Trump has faced legal challenges, of course, federal challenges, state challenges over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election but also dealing with whether he has access to the ballot in certain states.

HUNT: Yeah. So, Trump's rivals are obviously running out of time to take him on here. We saw a little bit of how they have been going after the former president. The way that they are not is on these questions of January 6. Why is that they are not doing that? I mean, you know, Nikki Haley is one of those people who kind of went back and forth on this right after January 6, she was critical of President Trump.

And then she sort of changed her tune or at least stopped singing that one and really hasn't since the way that we see right wing media outlets, when they refer to think gentleman of heroes, they are not talking about the police officers, they are talking about people who showed up in the mob at the Capitol. This in many ways is an argument that certainly in a general election with swing voters is what you would an argument that you need to make, but not in the primary. Why?

KIGHT: Well, I mean, it has been interesting to watch the way both Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have kind of adjusted how they treat the former president on a whole host of issues. To your point, Nikki Haley has previously made some comments more directly condemning what happened on January 6 and the former president's role in that. Maybe she's not been as aggressive on that front as we've seen at other times.

But it is clear that they see it as a vulnerability, especially with certain Republican voters, especially Republican primary voters, who tend to be those that are more devote to the party, there is a larger percentage of the supporters looking to the general election. And it is clear that they feel like they have to navigate this carefully and they don't want to be seen as overly critical of the former president who is still popular with the Republican base, as we see in these primary polls, where he has a significant lead, you know, while also making sure that they are not overly defensive of him as well.

So I think this is just another example of them trying to walk that line.

HUNT: All right. Stef Kight of "Politico" for kicking us off this morning, Stef, thank you for that.

Still ahead here, Iran vowing revenge after explosions killed dozens near a revered grave site. Who they're blaming and what the U.S. is saying.

Plus, the Justice Department sues Texas over a new state immigration law.

And disorder in the court. A defendant takes a flying leap at the judge. We'll have more on that, up next.



HUNT: Iran is vowing to retaliate after two deadly explosions near the grave of a revered military commander.

According to Iran's state media, the blast killed at least 84 people and injured more than 280 on Wednesday. Crowds had gathered to honor General Qassem Soleimani at his gravesite. He had been killed exactly four years when an American airstrike ordered by Donald Trump.

The U.S. said they were not involved in the blast yesterday.

CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us now from Abu Dhabi.

Paula, we've seen no claim of responsibility here. But the Iranian president is blaming Israeli. The IDF told CNN they had no comment. The blast comes obviously as tensions are so high. There are fears of a wider conflict in the region.

Where does this stand?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this comes at a time of heightened tensions as it is. We have seen, Kasie, an increase in skirmishes between, for example, Israel and Iranian-backed groups, Hezbollah in particular, this comes at a time when there are concerns that this regional conflict could expand.

So what we know about what happened in Iran, the deadly twin blasts, there has been no claim of responsibility at this point, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was clear about who he blamed, he said he blamed Israel.


EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I warn the Zionist regime, don't doubt it, you will pay the price for this crime. This crime that you have committed, you will deeply regret.



HANCOCKS: Now, the U.S. has said it played no part in this attack. It said it had no reason to believe that Israel had played a part either.

One U.S. official telling CNN that they believe it does has the hallmarks of ISIS or a similar terrorist group. So, of course, the question now is who was responsible and how will this destabilize an already destabilized situation in the region, concerns that this comes so closely after a number of different attacks.

For example, there was Hamas leader who was assassinated in southern Beirut just one day before. They have blamed from Hezbollah and Hamas' point of view Israel for this as well, although Israel has not commented. So it really just adds to a destabilization that we have seen so far, and also, of course, the fact that there was such a heavy death toll, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Paula Hancocks for us in Abu Dhabi -- Paula, thank you.

Those mysterious twin blasts in Iran are as we've been discussing here, stoking fears of that wider conflict in the Middle East. But a new report also suggests the death of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut could mark a shift in Israeli's war against Hamas.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster.

Max, good morning. Always good to see you.

What do you make of this shift in -- the killing of this Hamas leader? In some ways, it is a return of how Israel often does business in the region, but it could signal a shift away from the broader more -- less targeted I guess you could say conflict in Gaza. What do you make of this?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is interesting. I mean, Israel isn't commenting on this. They're not denying it, but they are not commenting on it. The U.S. saying, you know, no reason to believe that Israel was involved. But it is part of the conversation. And it how it is interpreted on the ground I think.

We just have to see, does it stoke tensions and lead to wider conflict. You've got to ask the question does Iran really want to go into conflict with Israel because it would mean going into conflict with the U.S. So is how it plays out, but certainly there is -- I mean, there are many different instances, they are getting wider. Are they linked? We can't say that in any way. There is not evidence for that. But it's how it's interpreted by people who may respond in some way.

And then, you know, adds to tensions as Paula was saying and the concern is that it could blow up out of that even though there might not be any firm evidence to say who was responsible for what, and U.S. official telling us, of course, that the blast had the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. So it could be completely unlinked to what is happening elsewhere in the Middle East. HUNT: Right, just a situation where they are kind of using it as an

excuse. And, Max, I know we talked about this yesterday, but this targeted assassination of the Hamas leader in Beirut, which Israelis are not officially saying anything about that one way or the other, but of course Israeli -- former Israeli officials have been opening congratulating the security services on pulling that off.

What is the use of that, kind of a targeted tactic tell you about how things may be shifting in the Israel Gaza war?

FOSTER: Well, they are not giving away their tactics for obvious reasons, but as we talked about yesterday, they are pulling troops back from Gaza. That didn't suggest that they will end the war this Gaza, it is just a different type of war that will go on for months we're told by the Israeli government.

You know, those troops currently coming back into Israel perhaps to be retrained, to regroup in some way, will they be redeployed to northern Israel and the border with Lebanon. We'll have to wait to see there.

Certainly, it wouldn't have done anything to calm tensions with Hezbollah. Will Hezbollah respond by increasing its attacks on northern Israel. We'll wait to see about that as well. Israel has more forces up there, it increases tensions.

So this is what America -- the wider region is obviously concerned about, all of this spilling outside Israel and Gaza. And that's why the U.S. has got forces there as well to prevent that from happening. So if it escalates, it does inevitably draw the U.S. into it.

HUNT: Right. But, of course, those forces sitting nearby also potentially in the range of things that may or may not have anything to do with this, but could explode a very -- you can cut the tension with a knife right now.

Max Foster, thank you very much for being with us. We'll see you tomorrow.

FOSTER: Thanks.

HUNT: All right. Still ahead here, how a deadly runway crash in Tokyo unfolded and what investigators are revealing in their probe of why this happened.

And a gulf storm could bring the first real snowfall to the Northeast in nearly two years. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Quick hits across America now.

The Biden administration is suing Texas over their controversial immigration law, giving local law enforcement the authority to arrest migrants. The lawsuit argues the state can't run its own immigration system.

Capitol buildings in multiple states were temporarily shut down and evacuated Wednesday because of mass email bomb threats to state offices across the country. The copy of the email obtained by CNN showed government offices in 23 states listed as recipients. No specific state was mentioned.


A Nevada man is due back in court today after this.


HUNT: Oh my God!

The Clark County judge that you saw there had just denied the man's request for probation instead of jail time over charges of attempted battery. He is facing much more than that now. The judge and one of the marshals in this video were injured.

All right. After that, let's go now to weather. Winter alerts continue across parts of the southwest today. But it is a Friday storm in the Gulf Coast that could bring flooding to the South and the first significant snowfall to the Northeast in nearly two years.

Let's go straight to our weatherman Derek Van Dam.

Derek, good morning to you.

Snow, what do we got?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, making people happy in California at least for the moment. This is the storm system that is going to bring at least the potential for snow along the East Coast. It has dumped over a foot of now in California. That's for the higher elevations. And you can see that it will progress across the Four Corners region like mention, and that's going to bring accumulating snowfall to many of the ski resorts. Good news for them.

Right here, you can see kind of the moisture settling in. But tracking the storm, what it's going to do? It's going to do move across the Gulf Coast, pick up moisture there and then eject off the east coast. Where it goes? That is the most important factor in determining who gets rain and who gets snow.

We know how these games or these winter storms are a game of miles. And while the track is everything when it comes to the I-90 corridor where the majority of our population lives in the U.S.

So what you are looking at is a comparison between the American GFS model and the European, we call that the euro model, and the American model is significantly weaker storm ejecting a little further south off the East Coast and that is going to bring the bulk of the precipitation away from the coastline. But the European is a stronger model in terms of this particular storm

and it is a little further towards the north. And what we're doing, we're honing in on that as being the main model to pay attention to. But there are caveats here because the winds, we do believe will be coming off an easterly direction. So that's going to help warm the East Coast cities and that maybe means a rain/snow mix for New York, down to Philly, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., keeping snowfall totals down. But the snow will certainly fall the further inland you get.

And so, we still have the chance there to beat the snow drought, but it's just not set in stone yet for those big cities.

HUNT: Okay, Derek, I'm going to -- fingers crossed tomorrow this is better because I got to tell you, nothing worse than a wintry mix.

DEREK: We want this to materialize. Yeah.

HUNT: All right. Derek, thank you. Our weatherman, Van Dam, I'll see you tomorrow, my friend.

All right. Former President Trump is up next, taking his ballot fight straight to the Supreme Court. We're going to show you the arguments he's making, next.