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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Tonight: Haley & DeSantis Face Off At CNN Debate in Iowa; Trump Chooses To Attend Immunity Hearing Days Before Iowa; Blinken Meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 10, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Debate day in Iowa. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis will try and convince Republican primary voters that they are the best alternative to Trump.

Plus, the campaign and the courtroom. Trump is back in Iowa after voluntarily watching his lawyer argued that he should be immune for the 2020 federal election interference case -- emphasis on voluntary.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, January 10th, 5:00 a.m. here in Washington.

It is 4:00 a.m. in Des Moines, Iowa, where presidential hopefuls Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are going to be one-on-one for the first time, that's in tonight's CNN debate.

That debate is the candidate's last chance to face off before the Iowa caucuses. In just five days, it remains part of the race for second place. And we'll be missing the front runner, Donald Trump, who is skipping the event to be part of a Fox News town hall.

Trump also skipped a day on the campaign trail yesterday, choosing to underscore his choice, instead to appear in a D.C. courtroom to hear arguments in his federal election subversion case, over the claim that he has presidential immunity, barring him from criminal prosecution for his role leading up to the January 6th Capitol attack.

Trump, who again was not required to be there, had this to say after the hearing.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I feel that as a president, you have to have immunity, very simple. And if you don't, as an example of this case, where loss under immunity, and I did nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong. I'm working for the country.

I think they feel this is the way they're going to try and win. And that's not the way it goes. It will be bedlam in the country.

It's a very bad thing. It's a very bad precedent, as we've said. It's the opening of a Pandora's box.


HUNT: So, tomorrow, Trump's going to make another, again, voluntary courtroom appearance. He plans to head to New York for the closing arguments in the civil fraud trial.

Let's bring in Julia Manchester. She is national political reporter for "The Hill".

Julia, good morning, it's always wonderful to see you.

Let's start with the debate. I mean, this is going to be our first chance to see these two facing off on the stage, just against each other. You know, this really still is the race for second place. It seems like the dynamic here is going to be Nikki Haley on the rise, which makes it likely she will come in for some attacks from Ron DeSantis.

What do you expect in terms of the balance between attacks between these two and a focus on the actual person that they need to be, which is Donald Trump?


Look, I think we can expect Ron DeSantis to certainly go on the offensive against Nikki Haley. Remember, Iowa was the state he put all of his eggs in going into this campaign. And he was the second place contender nationally for quite awhile. And still, he is narrowly leading Nikki Haley in second place in Iowa. But she is very much closed in on him, and he wants to be able to take advantage of that, knowing that there is a lot of Iowa caucusgoers that are watching this debate tonight. So I think we're going to see Ron DeSantis try to hit her.

But for Nikki Haley, I'm curious to see how she handles this dynamic, because in past debates, it seems like we paid attention, or the most attention to the dynamic between her and Vivek Ramaswamy. We know that Vivek Ramaswamy has launched a number of personal attacks against her. She swiped back at him in a number of notable moments.

But her and DeSantis, they've sparred over policies, their records as, you know, governor of the respective states, and of course, over China. But I think you are going to see the two of them try to contrast themselves with each other. But I'm curious to see whether they stepped up their attacks on former President Trump.

We know in last week's CNN town halls they were stepping up their attacks on him. But unclear whether in a one-on-one situation, they would do the same.

HUNT: Well, and, Julia, the reality, you're absolutely right that we -- we did see those jabs kind of escalated in the national stage at a time when more people are paying attention. But they have both stayed away from in what in a general election is likely to be Trump's biggest challenge, and that is the various legal issues that he is facing, which of course are coming into the spotlight right as this is all starting to unfold.

I want to show you a little bit of what they were asked about these issues in the town halls that they participated in last week. Let me show you a little bit about how they talked about -- they're not talking about the same set of legal problems, because Trump has many, but here are the comments that they made, take a look.


MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you believe that the former president is immune from prosecution in these cases?


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's kind of a novel issue. I think the D.C. Circuit will rule against him. I mean, it's a liberal circuit, and I think they're going to hot-wire this thing.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, he shouldn't be taken off the ballot. And the Supreme Court needs to rule quickly before other states start to do this.


HUNT: They basically I've been on Trump side in this issue. I mean, if anything, you know, when I talk to Republican sources, they say, well, if Trump hadn't been indicted, maybe we would've had a better chance of beating him in the primary maybe, some of his biggest fundraising days have been the days that he has been in court.

Do you anticipate them change their approach here at the last minute?

MANCHESTER: I think it's going to be difficult for them to change their approach of the last minute. You know, just look at yesterday. Donald Trump made the choice not to campaign in Iowa and showed up to court here in Washington, D.C. And I don't think that was necessarily a bad choice if you look at it from a strategic standpoint. He's able to suck all the oxygen up in the room in terms of the media and coverage, and then at these town halls, what are Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis being asked about? Donald Trump.

And remember, particularly if you are Ron DeSantis and you closely share a base with Trump, Nikki Haley does as well, but I think is more crossover between DeSantis and Trump, getting asked about that, you know, isn't what you want to do to contrast yourself. You are only sort of once again talk about Donald Trump instead of talking about what you want going forward in terms of your campaign.

HUNT: Fair enough. Julia, let's talk about the details of what we saw happened yesterday.

And I'm interested in your take on this from a political perspective. That certainly how I've been thinking about it, because one of the hypotheticals that Trump's legal team has thrown was from one of the judges about whether or not, or I should say, what might happen in the event that a president of the United States ordered, used U.S. government resources to order the assassination of a political rival.

I want to play for everyone, we can hear the audio of these arguments, we don't have the video, but I want to play that moment, and then we'll talk about it.

Take a look.


JUDGE PAN: I asked you a yes or no question. Could a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival who is not impeached, could he be subject to criminal prosecution?

TRUMP ATTORNEY: If he were impeached and convicted first.

JUDGE PAN: So your answer is no.

TRUMP ATTORNEY: My answer is qualified yes. There's a political process that would have to occur under the structure of our Constitution.


HUNT: Qualified yes that a president would be immune under those circumstances. What's your take on how this played out and whether it's going to matter in terms of the politics of the looming in general election?

MANCHESTER: Well, in terms of the primary, I don't think it necessarily hurts Trump. I think his base is looking at him as someone who is immune, you know, who's Teflon, that kind of thing.

But going into the general election, I think it could open him up to attacks, especially when you have President Biden campaigning on this idea of democracy and trying to paint President Trump as a dictator. So I think it opens him up to attacks from the Biden campaign and Democrats. But I think Democrats and President Biden need to be very careful, because, Kasie, you and I are talking about this and it's obviously a very important issue.

But I think a lot of voters looking at this and following this coverage, you know, they're not following it as closely as some of us in the political world are. I think they're top concerns are obviously the economy and those kitchen table issues. So, you know, I think the Biden campaign might want to address it, but I don't think they want to make it it's -- you know, their be-all, end-all issue.

HUNT: Right, and, of course, there is doing this in the context of the independent voters, who ultimately decide the election. But there's also focusing on it in terms of turnout among the Democratic base. And I do think they're relying quite a bit on things like this, trying to motivate people by fear to get out to the polls.

Julie Manchester of "The Hill", thanks very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

MANCHESTER: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Still ahead here, a deadly winter storm that hammered the Plains and the West Coast threatens the East Coast today. We'll have the latest there.

Plus, the gunman in Ecuador takeover a live television broadcast. We'll show you that terrifying story.

And Chris Christie pushing back against calls for him to drop out of the presidential race.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas this morning. He also talked with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet Tuesday, where he stressed the need to avoid more harm to civilians in Gaza.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: In today's meetings, I was also crystal clear. Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow. They must not be pressed to leave Gaza.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster. He's live for us in London.

Max, good morning. It's always good to see you.

Blinken has been to a number of countries over the last several days for these talks that are aimed at reaching a more tempered, quote/unquote, phase of the war in Gaza. And he's also been pressing the Israelis to work with their neighbors. Take a look.


BLINKEN: He wants his Arab neighbors to make the tough decisions necessary to help ensure its lasting security. Israeli leaders will have to make hard decision themselves. Israel must be a partner to Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people in living side by side in peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: How have the Israelis been responding to all of this?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think a deep divide, of course. Netanyahu has made pretty clear he does not want a two-state solution. And we talked before about how at one point, he was supporting Hamas financially, or allowing Hamas to be supported financially, because he had an interest in having two conflicting authorities across the Palestinian areas.


So this is about what happens after the war. And Blinken being very aware there needs to be some sort of plan and using this period where he can negotiate further ahead. That he would not be drawn on the response to this plan in the cabinet meeting with other Israelis. I think it's pretty clear that there are many in that meeting that would not want a two-state solution. They certainly would not want to work with Mahmoud Abbas even.

And then you've got the wider problem that, you know, would Mahmoud Abbas have the support? With the Palestinian Authority have the support amongst Palestinians across the West Bank in Gaza to lead the area? There are so many questions around this.

But, clearly, I think the message we are getting is Blinken would like to see the Palestinian authority leading whatever new authority emerges out of this. And the Israelis would have to work with that authority towards a two-state solution. Netanyahu doesn't believe in any of it though, if you look at what his message to the past. So, a really, really tough sell for Blinken.

HUNT: Well, it does seem -- I mean, we hadn't dug into this too much, but, I mean, Abbas, you know, if Abbas had more political credibility, it's unlikely we would've wound up with the situation that we have with Hamas within Gaza in the first place, no?

FOSTER: Well, you know, Hamas did win an election in Gaza, with as much support of the Palestinian Authority. This is seen as quite a corrupt authority, and one that doesn't necessarily do the best for the Palestinian people. That's amongst some groups of Palestinians living, particularly in Gaza, but also probably in the West Bank.

So, having a credible power, overseeing what would be a two-state solution is a really big challenge for the U.S. But, you know, this imagery is saying that, you know, this is the man currently we see in that position. So he's got to be part of any future deal. And that sort of really is being pressed by the Americans to the Israeli government. And, you know, we don't know what the response was. But I think the fact that we didn't get a response is obviously quite telling.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it seems very obvious that the U.S. interest is to empower Abbas. Those pictures, I should note, of Blinken sitting next to him, trying to send a message. Very interesting.

Max Foster, thank you, as always, my friend. I'll see you tomorrow.

FOSTER: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Also this today, there's been a state of emergency declared this morning in Ecuador. The president there authorizing the military to neutralize gangs after a group of hooded, armed men stormed a TV studio, interrupting a live broadcast, and forcing staff onto the ground.

Police eventually moved in and arrested 13 gunmen and rescued the employees. Officials say fire arms, grenades, and explosive materials were also covered. So scary.

All right, still ahead here. The notorious "Access Hollywood" tape could soon be shown in court. We'll have that.

And, a deadly winter storm slamming the Northeast with heavy rain and flooding.



HUNT: Welcome back.

We've got quick hits across America now.

The Chris Christie campaign is pushing back on New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu's assertion that, quote, discussions are underway about the former New Jersey governor bowing out.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It pains me to say this, but Governor Sununu is a liar.


HUNT: Christie suggested that Haley, who was endorsed by senator, appears to be running for vice president.

A judge has ruled the "Access Hollywood" tape can be played at next week's damages trial for former writer E. Jean Carroll. The jury will be able to watch Donald Trump's reported comments when deciding damages he must pay for defaming her when he denied her rape allegation in the mid-1990s.

Vivek Ramaswamy canceling three events yesterday due to weather, after saying this on Monday.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you can't handle the snow, you're not ready for Xi Jinping.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: Okay, that was believed to be a jab at his Republican rival, Nikki Haley, who was forced to cancel an event to snow on Monday, though he stopped short of saying her name.

All right. We're going to shift now from a snow to rain, lots of it, tens of millions of Americans catching the remains of a massive storm system which brought heavy rain, flooding, and triggered power outages in the East. Multiple people were pulled from their vehicles on flooded streets in Maryland, and at last check, more than 1,300 flights have been canceled.

Let's get to meteorologist Allison Chinchar, who has all of this up for us this morning.

Alison, we've been getting a lot of it here in Washington, D.C. But this is really across the East Coast.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's been a very busy last 24 hours, that is for sure. Take a look at all the severe reports we've had, just in the last 48 hours, a total of more than 20 tornado reports, nearly 300 wind reports, in roughly a dozen hail reports.

And again, you can see scattered all along not only the Gulf Coast, but along the eastern seaboard, especially across the southeast, and mid-Atlantic. And it's not just some of those reports, but the winds, this is led to a lot of power outages, Starksville, Georgia, topping out at 93 miles per hour. Even areas of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, topping out at more than 60, and even 70-mile-per-hour wind gusts.

And we talked about the consequence of that is a lot of power outages. Again, a lot of different states here. You are looking at nearly two thirds of a million people, looking without power. And that could end up spreading.

And the reason for that is, because we still have a lot of these wind alerts out. Several winded visor ease, and even high wind warnings as that system continues to exit. It is going to take time for some of these folks to finally see those winds coming back down.

In addition to the winds, we still have some rain and snow lingering. Most of that is across portions of the Northeast, but also the Great Lakes region, still looking at the areas of rain, and snow, as we go through the day today.


So, that will be another factor.

The concern here with a lot of that rain's is on top of rain that's already fallen. So that ground is very saturated, and that could, in turn, lead to flooding. Also because of that wind, it's pushing a lot of that water onshore. So you have the potential for some coastal flooding, right? They are pretty much up and down the East Coast. Now, one thing we're also keeping an eye on is a lot of rivers. You're

looking at over 200 river gauges that are either at or above minor, moderate, or even major flood stage.

HUNT: All right. Allison Chinchar for us -- everyone should be careful today -- thanks very much for that.

All right. Up next here, former President Trump is ramping up his attacks on Nikki Haley, just ahead of Monday's Iowa caucuses.


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

And we have a busy week for the former president, Donald Trump, just five days away from the Iowa caucuses. The former president is bouncing between the courtroom and the campaign trail.