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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Colorado Ballot Ban; House Speaker Johnson Knocks Biden For "Catastrophe" At Border; Ukrainian Minister On U.S. Aid: "No Plan B, We're Confident In Plan A. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Just after 5:30 here on the East Coast.

A week after the Colorado GOP appealed the state's Supreme Court decision to remove Donald Trump from the 2024 ballot under the 14th Amendment insurrectional ban, Trump himself is finally joining suit, filing his highly anticipated appeal yesterday.

The former president's lawyers arguing that quote, "The Colorado Supreme Court erred in how it described President Trump's role in the events of January 6, 2021. It was not 'insurrection' and President Trump in no way 'engaged' in 'insurrection.'"

Trump also taking issue with the 14th Amendment's application to the presidency, writing quote, "The Constitution's text and structure make clear that the president is not an 'officer of the United States.'"

Trump's appeal now places the ultimate decision squarely in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices, who are expected to pick up the case, will have to answer the existential question that could determine the results of the 2024 election. Does the 14th Amendment's insurrectionist ban apply to the President of the United States?

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson. Joey, good morning. It's always great to have you on the program.

Let's start with this filing and then also talk about kind of the big picture here. I mean, we're seeing the Trump campaign lay out some pretty significant constitutional arguments.

Do you think the justices are going to weigh in in that way or are we going to see something more narrow, more technical to try and answer this question without making a sweeping statement about the Constitution here?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. You know, Kasie, that's the million-dollar question in terms of what the U.S. Supreme Court will do if anything, right? Remember, because they have the ability to say that we are not weighing in at all and let the decision stand. I doubt they'll do that.

I think there does need to be consistency and uniformity with respect to whether or not the president's name should appear on any individual state's ballot. But I think that there is a lot constitutionally for the court to sink its teeth into should they make the determination that that's the way they're going to go, right?

You laid out a number of those arguments, right? Whether or not January 6 did constitute an insurrection. Whether or not the president engaged in an insurrection. Whether or not the 14th Amendment Section 3 applies to the president. Whether or not voters should be disenfranchised with respect to justices in individual states; not Supreme Court justices. Well, Supreme Court -- just not U.S. Supreme Court justices should be making those determinations and not the voters doing so.

So there's a whole set of issues that the Supreme Court could really engage in should they choose to do so. I just don't know whether they will, to your question, tackle those issues or maybe they punt and say you know what -- this is a Republican primary. It's not ripe for our review. We'll see in the general election. That's the million-dollar question that I wish I knew.


HUNT: Don't we all?

Joey, this question of, like, whether the 14th Amendment applies to the president -- I mean, what is the legal argument that makes the president different from other officers of the U.S.?

JACKSON: So, the essence of the argument, Kasie, is that you remember Scalia, may he rest in peace, and he was a strict constructionist, right? And he would interpret the Constitution with regard to what it says. We're looking at the 14th Amendment there.

And so, the issue and the argument as it related to Section 3 is it doesn't specifically say the President of the United States. It says any federal office. And so the argument is that if those who constructed the Constitution wanted it to apply to the President of the United States as opposed to putting any office, they would have put the President of the United States.

So it's a rather technical, legal argument. But, you know, it's -- look, if you wanted it to apply to the U.S. president you could have said so.

Of course, the opposite view of that is any office is any office. It does reference federal offices. And to the extent that it says that, the presidency is most certainly included within that.

So, yes, technical, indeed, but if you are a strict constructionist of the Constitution then you have to give that some weight. HUNT: Interesting.

All right. On another subject, late last night the first batch of these Jeffrey Epstein documents were unsealed. They are expected to include nearly 200 names in relation to this case around him. I mean, we want to clarify these names don't necessarily -- they do not indicate that there is wrongdoing here.

Can you explain, I mean, why they were sealed, why they're being unsealed now, and what we should take away from this?

JACKSON: Yeah, sure, Kasie.

So what happens is that the court has an interest, right, that is -- well, not now at the U.S. Supreme Court. We're at a district federal court. A federal court entertaining a case has an interest in protecting, particularly, victims -- protecting privacy, protecting identities of people who may have been embroiled in this.

And so out of respect for them, there was a sealing of it. That means that it's outside of public view, right? Court filings, Kasie, are generally public in nature -- the court having a right to seal it. The court, however, indicating that now is the time to unseal it.

And primarily, because a lot of people -- as we look at Jeffrey Epstein there we know he committed suicide in 2019 as he, himself, was facing federal charges with respect to -- you know, as we know, these underage victims and a number of things that he did that were horrific -- alleged to have done. But the reality is that a court has an interest in such protection.

At this point, to the extent that a lot of these names have been out there on their own volition, a lot of this information has been made public. The court said OK, now is the time. Obviously, you have a list like this that comes out. No one wants to be associated with the list.

To your very important point, it does not indicate because you would be on a list of names that you did anything wrong. But just think about the personal damage, the reputational damage, the professional potential damage, and whether or not there could be other civil litigation applying to what your involvement was. Could there be a criminal look and investigation into it?

So any such list that you may potentially be on that involves Jeffrey Epstein -- that just certainly is not a good look and that's the essence of why people were waiting with bated breath to see what these lists are about.

The last point, we know that just a bit of the information -- about 40 such documents, 250 have been released. I think everyone's waiting for the next, right, batch of documents and the next batch of documents in the coming days and weeks to see who exactly is on the list and what specifically was their engagement interaction with Mr. Epstein.

HUNT: Not a good look. That is an understatement.

Joey Jackson, thank you --


HUNT: -- very much as always. I really appreciate it.

And we do want to note that former President Trump, while he's named, is not accused of wrongdoing in relation to the Epstein documents. CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment on this issue.

All right. House Speaker Mike Johnson is trying to turn up the heat on President Biden over the crisis at the southern border after the highest monthly surge in migrant crossings since 2000. Johnson saying this yesterday after visiting the border in Eagle Pass, Texas.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): It is an unmitigated disaster -- a catastrophe. And what's more tragic is that it's a disaster of the president's own design.

We can seal the border. We could do it overnight. The president has the existing authority under existing federal law to do that and refuses to do it. And what we see here is absolute mayhem.


HUNT: The White House, in turn, blamed Republicans for refusing to approve the $14 billion in border funding that's included in Biden's supplemental request. Johnson told CNN's Jake Tapper that it's not about the money; it's about the policy.


Let's bring in Andrew Desiderio. He is senior congressional reporter for Punchbowl News. Andrew, wonderful to see you. Thanks for being here.

Clearly, Johnson wants to highlight this. This is going to be a huge issue in the 2024 campaign.

Just to kind of correct the record a little bit -- I mean, I do think it's clear that the White House seems to be willing to make significant changes to border policy as part of this package to the point they're pissed -- they're angering their own left flank over it. But this is really intractable in Congress.

I know you cover the Senate. That's where these main negotiations are occurring. I mean, where does that stand? And do you think they're actually going to be able to make these changes or are Republicans simply going to say enough -- you know, it's not enough?


And what you heard from Speaker Johnson and the conservative members who were with him at the border yesterday was that they're really itching to tie this to the broader government funding fight. Of course, the first of two government funding deadlines is coming up on January 19. You have conservatives now saying that they would be fine with shutting down the government if the border isn't shut down. So these are some really dramatic threats we're hearing.

And at the same time, Speaker Johnson is reiterating that his position is that he won't accept anything but HR2, which is the House Republican border security bill which, yes, Republicans love but Democrats hate. And when you're trying to get something to President Biden's desk that he could actually sign into law to address the problems at the border -- the myriad of problems at the border -- HR2 is not a serious proposal because it doesn't get any Democrats votes. And obviously, Democrats control the Senate. He needs 60 votes to get anything out of -- out of the Senate. And, of course, the president himself is a Democrat.

And so, what Speaker Johnson is doing is consistently throwing shade at these Senate negotiations even though the Senate negotiations are really the only path right now to actually addressing the problems at the border.

HUNT: Yeah, the real game in town so to speak.

Andrew, how much pressure are Democrats in Congress feeling over this migrant crisis, especially as big-city Democratic mayors are saying that it's a real problem?

DESIDERIO: Tremendous pressure, Kasie. I mean, I hear from Democrats every day -- Democrats you wouldn't expect to be talking about this issue saying hey, it's affecting my state, too. And this is especially the case for senators -- Democratic senators in red states who are up for reelection this year who know that this is a political vulnerability for President Biden and something that is going to be important for them to be able to address in their races as well.

So, politically, yes -- extremely important. But it's also just really overwhelming some of these large cities, as you mentioned, and states that you wouldn't expect to be impacted by a crisis at the border -- states that are more interior in the country -- just because of the unprecedented flow of migrants. The fact that they're -- almost all of them are being paroled and placed into the country -- into the interior of the country. So this is a real problem for them both politically and logistically.

HUNT: Yeah.

Andrew, can I follow up on one thing you mentioned, which is this idea about cutting off government funding if we don't close the border?

Congresswoman Mary Miller is on camera talking a little bit about this. I want to -- I want to play that for you and we'll talk about it.


REP. MARY MILLER (R-IL): We need to use our leverage, which is cutting off their funding in order to force them to shut our border, and I'm absolutely on board with that.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that's a growing feeling among Republicans that they're willing to shut down the government if they don't --

MILLER: Absolutely.


HUNT: So, Andrew -- I mean, she's basically saying if you don't shut the border we're going to shut down the government. Of course, that deadline is, like, right on top of Iowa and New Hampshire.

How real do you think that shutdown threat is?

DESIDERIO: It's very real. Look, the -- one of the consequences of, sort of, Donald Trump being back at the forefront here with the Republican primaries coming up and voters actually starting to vote for the first time in 2024, is that he will be able to come out there and tell Republicans on the Hill what they should be doing -- Speaker Johnson, in particular.

You know, the Senate could reach a bipartisan deal on immigration and tie it to aid for Israel, and Ukraine, and Taiwan, for example, send it to the House. And then former President Trump could just blow up the entire thing and tell Speaker Johnson hey, you shouldn't even take this up because it doesn't go far enough on border security and then the Senate will have done all of this work for nothing.

It really reminds you of 2013 when the Senate passed this very comprehensive immigration reform bill that went nowhere in the House because then-Speaker Boehner did not take it up -- in part, because of pressure from conservatives. You're seeing the same exact thing happen right now. And the consequence of that this time around Kasie would be that Ukraine and Israel would basically be left in the dust because --


HUNT: Yeah.

DESIDERIO: -- the only path for future aid for both of those nations right now is to tie it to this border security package that senators, and the White House, and DHS Sec. Mayorkas are currently negotiating.

So again, if your position --

HUNT: Right.

DESIDERIO: -- is HR2 or bust, as Speaker Johnson is saying, that is not a serious position if you want to actually solve the problem.

HUNT: All right, Andrew Desiderio of Punchbowl News. Andrew, I'm very grateful to have you. Thanks for being here.

DESIDERIO: Thanks, Kasie. HUNT: And speaking of Ukraine, they say they are not looking for another solution as U.S. aid remains stalled in Congress. The Biden administration's request for another $61 billion in Ukraine aid has been blocked by Republican demands, as we were just discussing, that it be paired with tougher border security measures.

Ukraine's foreign minister is confident that aid will be approved -- watch.


DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We don't have plan B. We are confident in plan A. Ukraine will always fight with the resources available to it. And as the secretary-general said -- rightly said, what is given to Ukraine is not a charity. It's an investment in the protection of NATO and in the protection of also the prosperity of the American people.


HUNT: CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Kyiv for us with more. Fred, good morning to you.

What makes Ukraine so confident that aid is coming? I've got to tell you, from where I sit here, down the road from --


HUNT: -- the U.S. Capitol, it's a tough road.

PLEITGEN: I'll tell you what. I think one of the reasons why the Ukrainians are saying that they're so confident is because they have to be confident because it's basically the only choice that they have.

One of the things that I think we heard Dmytro Kuleba say there is that they basically don't have another choice. They have their plan A. They say they don't have a plan B. Because they say if they stop fighting -- if they go into anything else, then it will essentially mean the end of their country.

One of the other things that Dmytro Kuleba also said -- Dmytro Kuleba also said in that really interesting interview with our own Christiane Amanpour, is he believes that Vladimir Putin essentially does not want to negotiate a just peace with the Ukrainians. They don't believe in that.

Also because a lot of the missile strikes by the Russians that they've seen over the past couple of days -- of course, the massive barrages that were launched here at Kyiv and other cities over the past couple of days -- some causing damage but also a lot of them really intercepted by those Western anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. So the Ukrainians are saying that they have to continue fighting.

I think one of the interesting things that I picked out of that interview is that he also said that he believes -- still believes that all of this is essentially a domestic U.S. political issue. That there really aren't any questions about the merit of continuing to provide Ukraine with weapons.

One of the reasons, of course, he also mentioned in that sound bite is he said look, essentially, he believes that this is not charity but this is also an investment in the U.S.'s security and, of course, the security of the eastern flank of NATO as well, Kasie.

HUNT: Right.

All right. Fred Pleitgen for us in Kyiv. Thank you very much for that report.

Coming up next here, GOP rivals Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley set to make their case in back-to-back CNN town halls in Iowa tonight. We'll take a look at what to watch for up next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Republican rivals Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley will both answer questions tonight from Iowa voters right here on CNN in back-to-back town halls hosted by our Kaitlan Collins and Erin Burnett.

The two candidates have been battling it out for what will likely be a distant second place as former President Donald Trump continues to hold a wide lead there.

Let's bring in CNN national political reporter Arit John. Arit, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you on the show.

I want to start with this moment from Ron DeSantis' Iowa town hall last night. He was asked why he doesn't attack Trump more aggressively -- watch.


IOWA VOTER: In my viewpoint, you're going pretty soft on him.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what -- but what do you think -- so, you know, because -- I've articulated all the differences time and time again on the campaign trail. I know. I think that there's just a narrative that -- I think the narrative is this. I think what the media wants is they want Republican candidates to just kind of like smear him personally and kind of do that. That's just not how I roll.


HUNT: Arit, what do you expect out of the town hall here? I mean, Ron DeSantis has really staked his entire campaign in Iowa.

ARIT JOHN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): That's exactly right, Kasie. I think that Ron DeSantis has sort of been -- sort of been unveiling this new attack line. Donald Trump is running on his issues, Nikki Haley is running on her donors' issues, and I'm running on your issues.

And that's sort of the energy that he has been bringing where his attacks on Nikki Haley are more personal. She's funded by Wall Street. She's just listening to her donors. Whereas, with Trump, it's more trying to make these distinctions and get him to -- like, sort of egg him on to come onto the debate stage and explaining why did you do X, Y, Z with COVID and why didn't the border wall get done.

And I think we're seeing this similar energy from Nikki Haley. She sort of says Trump was the right president for the right time.

But at the end of the day, both of them said in recent days that they would pardon Trump if he was convicted on any of these -- any of his cases -- or criminal indictments, and that they have criticized these rulings made in Colorado to take him off the ballot there.

HUNT: Arit, Nikki Haley is -- has not been focused on Iowa the way DeSantis has. But that seems to be changing here in the final weeks ahead of the caucus as she has sort of experienced this bump -- you know, momentum shift if you will.


She laid out her path to trying to take on Donald Trump at an event in Iowa. Watch what she had to say.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have an opportunity to get this right and I know we'll get it right. And I trust you. I trust every single one of you. You know how to do this. You know Iowa starts it. You know that you correct it. You know that you continue to go --


And then my sweet state of South Carolina brings it home. That's what we do. That's what we do.


HUNT: And actually, I should correct myself. That was at an event in New Hampshire where she basically says you're going to correct what Iowa -- what Iowa does.

What did you make of what she had to say there? And also, ABC and NBC are reporting this morning that the Trump campaign is up with a new ad attacking Haley in New Hampshire -- basically, the first time that they have done that, which is very telling in my opinion.

JOHN: I know Kim Reynolds in Iowa did not appreciate that joke. But I think what it's basically showing is that DeSantis started off with very high expectations and he's focused on Iowa. And now, it looks -- it doesn't look like he's going to win outright. We were hearing people who are close to his campaign saying that, sort of, publicly and sometimes privately. And then you have Nikki Haley who had low expectations -- like maybe

three percent in the polls. And now she's gotten to the point where polling shows her competitive with -- competitive with Trump even in New Hampshire. And that's why I think we're seeing the Trump campaign sort of come in there and say OK, we need to run some ads. We need to do something. Sort of take her down a peg.

And -- I mean, I guess we're going to see -- I mean, we're going to see in a few weeks but I think that if I'm the Trump campaign I really want to stop any Haley momentum dead in New Hampshire before she gets to her home state, before it gets to Super Tuesday, and just wrap this primary up.

HUNT: Yeah. It is -- it is interesting because they were so focused on DeSantis for so long that this is kind of how it -- I love it when the campaign trail throws curveballs.

CNN's Arit John, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

JOHN: Thank you.

HUNT: All right, time now for sports. Miami Dolphins star Tyreek Hill's house catches fire just days before the biggest game of his season.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

So Tyreek Hill was at practice yesterday with the Dolphins when he was told that his house was on fire. He immediately left to go home to see what was happening. CNN affiliate WSVN was over the fire in their chopper and Hill could be seen walking around outside in a walking boot, embracing his family. Now, no one was hurt in the fire and the cause was unclear. Hill's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told local media that the fire was contained to one room in the house.

Hill and the Dolphins -- they host the Bills on Sunday. The winner of that game gets the two-seed in the AFC.

All right. We had a historic night of scoring in the NBA last night. Ten teams scored at least 130 points. That's never happened before.

The game of the night was in Sacramento where the Kings hosted the Magic. Late in the fourth, Malik Monk drives the lane and lays it in. So we would go to overtime, tied at 118. The Kings were up two in the final seconds of O.T. when Paolo Banchero gets the tough lay-in to go. He had a career-high 43 in this one.

So we go into double O.T. Under a minute to go, De'Aaron Fox with a turnaround jumper that rainbows in. Now, Banchero did have one last chance to tie this up in the final seconds but his three here at the buzzer is going to be no good.

Kings win that one 138-135 in double overtime. All right. Elsewhere, the Jazz hosting the Pistons. Jalen Duran -- huge dunk over Walker Kessler. And then he just kind of rides Kessler up the court. Take another look. So, Duran just wanted a piggyback ride, I guess, but Kessler wasn't having it maybe because he's six foot-ten, 250 pounds.

This was another one of those high-scoring games. Lauri Markkanen, coming through for the Jazz in the clutch hitting this three with under five seconds to go, gave Utah the lead. But that was just enough time for Detroit's Alec Burks to go the length of the floor. And he hit a three at the buzzer to force overtime in this game. The Jazz, though -- they did pull away in that extra period to win 154-148.

All right. And finally, 16-year-old Luke Littler feeling the love from the fans as he looked to become the youngest-ever World Darts champion. Littler had beaten two world champions en route to the title match. And during his magical run at the tournament he had said he did the same thing every day, including eating an omelet for breakfast and pizza for lunch.

He actually led 4-2 but world number one Luke Humphries proved to be too much. Humphries claiming the world title seven sets to four.

Littler disappointed about not winning it all but was still thrilled about his incredible run.


LUKE LITTLER, WORLD DARTS CHAMPIONSHIP RUNNER-UP: It's been unbelievable. The one negative was I lost too many legs with my own throw so Luke could break me. And Luke would hold and I'd be 2-0 down. So that's the only negative. And I got to the final and I might not get to another final for the next five to 10 years. But I can say I'm a runner-up and now I just want to go and win it.



SCHOLES: Yeah. What's next for Littler, Kasie? He told Talk Sport I could potentially qualify for every tournament out there. So there's no school, no college, no nothing. It's going to be Luke Littler on the darts tour.

HUNT: I guess it's every kid's dream, right?

Andy Scholes, thank you very much --

SCHOLES: You got it.

HUNT: -- for that.

And thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.