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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Christie Ends Campaign And Skewers Haley And DeSantis On Hot Mic; Today: Trump Can't Speak During New York Civil Fraud Case Closing Arguments; Hunter Biden Makes Surprise Appearance At Contempt Hearing. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 11, 2024 - 05:30   ET




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

And we have just witnessed what might be the most consequential 24 hours in the race for president this year. OK, probably definitely this year where it's only January and we have a long year ahead.

But, we had a candidate drop out. Chris Christie doing what he swore up and down that he wouldn't do. He got out of the race before New Hampshire. So there goes the most outspoken critic of Donald Trump in the Republican primary.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump wants you to be angry every day because he's angry. He wants you to be angry so that you'll relate to his anger and then to vote for him.


HUNT: So that was Christie in front of the cameras yesterday. But off camera, while still on mic, he had this to say about rivals Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've said it again, Ron -- just stop lying.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And then she said she never said it. Of course, you're lying.

HALEY: It doesn't change the fact that Ron's lying because Ron's losing.

DESANTIS: I thought he lied a lot. Man, Nikki Haley may give him a run for his money.


HUNT: All right, let's try that again. We're going to see if we can bring up the hot mic moment that Chris Christie had before the event that he held in New Hampshire where he announced he was dropping out of the race. And, of course, I do think it's worth pointing out that when Christie gave this speech it became pretty clear pretty quickly that he was not going endorse one of his rivals at this, although let's just say in public he was kinder than he was in private. Here's what he said in private.


DESANTIS: I did call him just because I felt he was being treated poorly with all these people saying, like, you know, you should go. I said -- I said you have every right to do this. And I think a lot of it -- and he and I have both kind of needled Nikki Haley on it -- Chris is against Trump, right? Nikki is becoming a darling of the people who are more than ever Trump.

And yet, she won't answer the question about whether she would accept the V.P. nod. And she gives all these mealy-mouth responses. What's wrong with just saying no -- I would not, under any circumstances, say that.


HUNT: All right, we -- we're going to try this again. I'm going to bring in our panel here. Geoff Duncan and Mike Leon are back with us here to talk about the debate, Chris Christie -- all of it.

You heard Ron DeSantis talking there a little bit, Geoff Duncan, in the coverage afterward. What was your take on kind of what he was saying -- the argument he was making there?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, (R) FORMER GEORGIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: I heard him say the term "mealy-mouth" a couple of times last night and he said it again in that clip there. I don't know why that just catches me off guard.

But, no. Look, there's this huge conundrum. I just -- I watched Chris Christie's speech last night and his concession and certainly, I was a fan of his approach of trying to take Donald Trump head-on. And I -- and I just keep thinking if the other candidates took on that same talking -- set of talking points, in addition to a forward-looking message for America, in addition to trying to take on Joe Biden. I mean, to my account, last night, it took 44 minutes for either Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley to even mention Joe Biden's name.

And so, I just -- I think you've got to beat Donald Trump and you've got to beat Joe Biden if you're going to be the next President of the United States.

And last night's debate, to me, felt more of like a high school debate. You know, like, you -- I brought longer lunches and you had more detentions. It just felt a little --

HUNT: Candy in the vending machine, yeah.

DUNCAN: It felt small-ball to me. It didn't feel like somebody taking on maybe the greatest thug in U.S. history, Donald Trump.

HUNT: You know, it's -- honestly, it's interesting that you put it that way because I was on the road all through 2016 and I think this was something that defined that race and it's something that we've seen persist through this race as well, which is that there hasn't been anyone that has seemed to be big enough to take on the personality that has been Donald Trump. Obviously, it was a much different campaign in 2016 than in 2020 and certainly in the wake of January 6, 2021. Geoff Duncan, you're word for him was a thug.


I want to you ask you, Mike, about something we heard from Donald Trump. He had a counterprogramming town hall last night on Fox News and he talked about -- he was pressed on that question around his dictator on day one, which came from another Fox event.

Here's how Trump seems to try to clarify that this time.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL ANCHOR, ANCHOR, "SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRET BAIER": So, can you say tonight that political violence is never acceptable?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, of course, that's right. And, of course, I'm the one that had very little of it.

The new narrative they have is you notice I'm going to be a dictator. No, no. I am not going to be a dictator. I'm going to manage like we did.


HUNT: What do you make of him saying that? I mean, he tried to kind of pass it off as a joke. Certainly, his defenders said that it was a joke the first time he said that. It's kind of interesting to me he felt like he needed to kind of say it in a more clear way there.

What's your view?

MIKE LEON, HOST, "CAN WE PLEASE TALK": Kasie, and to the viewers, apologies from my former employer and some of the softball questions that were lobbed yesterday. And there's really never any pushback when he does. You're alluding to the town hall he had a while back with Hannity where he makes the 'dictator for one day' statement. Bret gives no follow-up there. And when the clip was extended --

I watched the town hall yesterday kind of in parallel with the debate and he just really didn't press him on any of this -- specifically, the arguments that Trump's lawyers were making in court about presidential immunity and how would it work with the assassination attempt on your political rival. So those are the arguments that his team is making in court. And meanwhile, on television, he's not answering any of the questions because there aren't really any follow- up questions.

You know, one thing I want -- I wanted to bring out here. It's something I've been thinking about. And I don't understand why more journalists and correspondents are not asking him this whenever he's been confronted by what he calls mainstream media. If everything's rigged -- if the election is stolen, it's all rigged, then why are we here? Why are we here? Why are you participating in something that's rigged?

You know, I play golf with a friend of mine who cheats in golf. I don't play golf with him -- you know, we don't play for money with him because he cheats in it. I don't participate in the process.

Why is he participating in this process if it's all rigged and stolen? Because he knows it's not. He knows it's not rigged and stolen. That's why we're here discussing a debate. That's why Ron and Nikki Haley are spending millions of dollars --


LEON: -- in Iowa. That's why.

So we need to press him on these things and he's just not being pressed when he goes over to my former employer for that.

HUNT: Well, I mean, in fairness to people who are covering -- working very hard to cover Donald Trump, he is not freely engaging --

LEON: Yeah, I know.

HUNT: -- with -- you know, on platforms where he is concerned that he may be challenged that way -- at least hasn't been in the -- in recent months.

Geoff, let me go back to Chris Christie for a second. He told me he was never going to get out before the New Hampshire primary. He said that to me a couple of months ago when I interviewed him. Clearly, he has evolved in his thinking.

And I want to show -- we didn't show the part of Christie's speech last night yet that kind of stood out to me the most. He was talking about his own personal ambition and how that plays into this. Because that obviously was my biggest question considering consolidation of the field gives Nikki Haley the best chance to take on the man that he says is too dangerous to be president again.

Take a look at what Christie had to say last night.


CHRISTIE: I am going to make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be President of the United States again, and that's more important than my own personal ambitions. I would rather lose by telling the truth than lie in order to win.


HUNT: So, Geoff -- I mean, I will say I have Republican sources who feel like there was a lot of Christie ego on display last night. That it wasn't good for the Republican Party. But I have to say at the end of the day, the decision speaks for itself in a lot of ways.

What do make of what he had to say there?

DUNCAN: Well, I give Chris Christie a ton of credit from A to Z -- from how he ran his campaign to stepping out when he did. Every pitcher starts the game wanting to pitch a complete game but rarely does that happen. And Chris stepped away for the good of the party and for the good of the country.

And I hope he stays plugged in. I hope he stays continuing to hold Donald Trump's feet to the fire. Because you said this earlier. Republicans have fallen in love with Donald Trump's personality; not his leadership.

None of us, even his most ardent supporters, wouldn't trust him to anything. You wouldn't trust him to teach your kids. You wouldn't trust him to run your business. You wouldn't even trust him to cut your grass. But yet, we're trying to trust him to run the country again, and in my eyes, he probably runs it into the ground.

So I hope Chris Christie's message stays strong and loud, and proud.

But look, we've got to make a determination and we've got to do it quick. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have a very, very thin window to do something here and I think they've got to throw the thrust levers forward and call Donald Trump exactly what he is.


Donald Trump wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and he sees a mafia boss. And he just is this really wide-shouldered, proud mafia boss in his eyes. But the reality is he's just a small-brained thug. He just walks around and tries to intimidate everybody from the doorman all the way up through somebody trying to run against him for president.

HUNT: All right. Geoff Duncan, just to remind everyone, you experienced this as, again, a Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia just to kind of underscore where you are coming from in terms of the weight of your words around Donald Trump.

Geoff Duncan, Mike Leon, thank you guys both very much for being here. I really appreciate it.

All right. We also have this going on today. Former President Trump is expected to voluntarily -- underscore voluntarily -- show up in a court in New York today. He had hoped to speak during the closing arguments of the now $370 million New York civil fraud trial, but the judge says he can't do that. Trump and his two adult sons are accused of inflating the value of

their properties by millions of dollars to secure better loans.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you.

So can we talk about the circumstances of the judge putting a limit on what Trump can say here in closing arguments? Obviously, we know his team is going to argue he's being silenced, et cetera, et cetera. Can you kind of help us understand whether that's the case or push back on that argument if it's not true?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Sure. Good morning to you.

Listen, the reality is that he is and has been afforded the opportunity to give a closing argument in the case. Yes, he has. The reality, however, is that he will not abide by the rules that have been imposed with respect to what closing arguments are.

A closing argument is as follows. You sum up the facts of the case relating to the law of the case using whatever spin you'd like, but it has to be relevant evidence that has come out during the trial.

Now, a news flash that the attorney general's perspective -- that's the New York State Attorney General Letitia James -- her team -- the perspective of fraud is going to differ from Trump's team's issues in saying there's not fraud. His business was run in a way that was completely comporting with rules and regulations.

Argue the facts. Argue what witnesses said. Argue what those witnesses said means. But you cannot campaign. You cannot attack the New York state attorney general. You cannot use this as a forum in which to air your grievances.

Simple rules. And if you can't abide by those rules the judge said you cannot speak.

And so, to the extent that he was unwilling to abide by those rules, which are very fair because that's the way the game is played, he does not have an opportunity to speak and the judge will not permit him to speak, and that's essentially what happened -- and that's the right call. No matter who you support or who you favor, it's a court of law. We have to keep it that way and that's the essence of it.

HUNT: I guess we're likely to see him -- cameras outside the courtroom. Again, he could be in Iowa. The caucuses are on Monday but he going to be in that courtroom instead.

Joey, let's talk about another issue. The Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis -- she has been subpoenaed to testify in divorce hearings for her lead prosecutor in the Trump Georgia -- the RICO election interference case. One of Trump's co-defendants in the case is arguing that because the prosecutor is dating Fani Willis there is a conflict of interest there.

Can you walk us through what's going on with all of this? And do you think it is a conflict of interest?

JACKSON: So, Kasie, very briefly, what has occurred is that you have a prosecutor, right -- the district attorney in Atlanta who apparently has appointed a number of people to take the lead in this sprawling case regarding the president and multiple other defendants.

In light of her appointment of one individual -- his name is Mr. Wade, an attorney in Atlanta who, it's true, raised eyebrows with regard to apparently his lack of stellar prosecutorial credentials. Many people questioned why, in fact, he would be the lead prosecutor on the case. There are some suggestions that it might have been predicated -- it being his appointment by Fani Willis, the prosecutor, on their personal relationship, right?

Now, there's a separate proceeding. That's a divorce which there's apparently information that the two -- that is Fani Willis, who we're looking at, and the lead prosecutor engaged in some type of relationship. The issue is how if at all does this impair the proceedings against the president? That's what the issue is.

Now, it wouldn't be a good look to appoint someone who you're dating or you're with -- you have a relationship with. It raises ethical and other issues and takes away from the facts of the case.

But one thing is certain. The realities are, Kasie, that a case is about does a grand jury indict you. Is there reason to believe, right, that an offense was committed and that you committed it -- a criminal offense? Number two, are you tried before a jury? And number three, are you convicted?


Those are really the core issues. And so, if there is some relationship -- I mean, look, that doesn't change the facts and dispute. It doesn't change the law dispute. It doesn't change the nature of the proceedings.

It's certainly not a good look but I'm not sure that it's a conflict that rises to the level of you a) should be disqualified, and b) the case should be thrown out. And those are the critical issues in any criminal proceeding, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst, for us. Joey, thank you very much as always.

JACKSON: Always.

HUNT: All right. Republicans on Capitol Hill didn't see this coming. Hunter Biden crashing his own contempt proceedings. See how they reacted, up next.


HUNT: Welcome back.

Later on today, Hunter Biden is expected to appear in federal court in Los Angeles. He's expected to plead not guilty to nine felony and misdemeanor tax offenses.

The president's son also the focus of an inquiry from House Republicans who, as of yesterday, advanced resolutions to hold him in contempt of Congress for not complying with a subpoena to sit for a closed-door deposition last month. But Hunter unexpectedly appeared on Capitol Hill in the middle of those contempt proceedings, offering again to testify but only if he can do so publicly.

This surprise appearance sparked utter chaos -- watch.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): You are the epitome of white privilege. What are you afraid of? You have no balls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's take a vote and hear from Hunter Biden.

MACE: I'm speaking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you afraid of?

MACE: Are women allowed to speak here?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Hold on, hold on, hold on -- order, order, order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll interrupt the chairman.

MACE: He's interrupting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that he's a lady.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Come on.

MACE: In the premise, that's a --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Don't act like a bunch of nimrods.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): What a coward. Whoa -- oh.



HUNT: All right, let's bring in Max Cohen, congressional reporter for Punchbowl News. Max, good morning. It's lovely to see you.

That noise you heard there at the end of that sound bite was Marjorie Taylor Greene who was speaking. She was cut off as Hunter Biden walked out of the room -- and, of course, the cameras went with him and we heard from his lawyer, Abbe Lowell, after that.

You were in this hearing room. Take us inside there. What happened, and what was it like inside?

MAX COHEN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS: It was utter chaos just like you saw in that clip. Now, we had heard murmurings earlier in the day that Hunter Biden would show up and when he did, he was just mobbed by TV cameras. He actually came in during the middle of this contempt hearing and immediately stole the show.

Let's take a step back here and realize what actually was going on, and the main issue is that Republicans want to hear from Hunter Biden to ask him whether his father, Joe Biden, was involved in any of his business dealings. Hunter has said I will show up publicly. I don't want to come privately. That might mean my testimony would be leaked or selectively misrepresented, in his words.

And Republicans who say they want to hear from him have said no, we're not going to let you dictate this. If you don't come privately we're going to hold you in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena.

So during all of this backdrop, Hunter Biden -- what does he decide to do? He decides to show up and almost call Republicans' bluff. One of the Democrats on the committee said hey, look, do you guys want to hear from Hunter right now -- raise your hands -- and no Republicans on the panel raised their hand.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, calling the bluff is a very apt way to put it. And you heard Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat, kind of say to the chairman, like, you asked him to do this and here he is.

What do you make of -- I mean, this is a particularly aggressive media strategy and spearheaded by Abbe Lowell, who is -- for viewers who don't know, I mean, he's like this very pugnacious defense attorney in Washington who has a reputation for being successful in what he does.

This really takes it head-on in a way that honestly, if I'm the White House, I'm maybe raising my eyebrows.

What did you make of the strategy and how it might play down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue where his dad is trying to get reelection president?

COHEN: I think pugnacious is the best way to describe it, really. You know, it's taking the fight to the Republicans. It's very aggressive.

And as you mentioned at the top of this segment, Hunter Biden is facing a lot of legal issues. I think if you ask some of the advisers in the White House right now they would refer Hunter to lay low. They don't want him in the headlines every day because it reminds voters that there's this ongoing investigation into President Joe Biden. And to be clear, that investigation has found no evidence of any impeachable offenses yet.

But what we've seen in polls is that more and more voters are saying they're concerned about whether Joe Biden was involved with his family's business deals. And the fact that Hunter Biden is drawing headlines and showing up in this kind of high-profile made-for-TV way might not be the best thing for President Joe Biden's reelection at this moment.

But President Joe Biden has said, to be clear, he fully supports his son through all of this.

HUNT: Yeah -- no, of course. From a personal perspective that's been very important.

I mean, it is a really interesting argument. I mean, I think a lot of the old school people around this town -- they think that the way to deal with these kinds of things is to keep your head down and take the high road.

But in the age of Trump where voters are really demanding people who fight, there is this kind of emerging school of thought that if you don't get in there and fight for yourself you are making a major mistake. I feel like we're seeing that play out here with all of this.

Max Cohen, of Punchbowl News. Thank you so much for being on. I hope you'll come back.

COHEN: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Up next, what will college football look like without Nick Saban on the sidelines? Our Bleacher Report is up next.



HUNT: It's the end of an era in college football. Legendary Alabama Coach Nick Saban announces his retirement, ending a 17-year run of success with the Crimson Tide. Although I will note he did just lose a national championship to Michigan.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy. Sorry, I realize --


HUNT: -- I shouldn't dance.


HUNT: He's leaving.

SCHOLES: Yeah. I mean, yeah, a lot of people are dancing this morning except on the campus there in Tuscaloosa. A sad day for Alabama fans.

And safe to say we're never going to see another college football coach as great as Nick Saban. Seven national titles, six of them there at Alabama. Saban -- he had the Crimson Tide ranked first at least once during all but two of his seasons there at Alabama. Every player recruited by Saban that played at least four years won a title. That's just incredible.

And while announcing his retirement, Saban said in a statement, "It is not just about how many games we won and lost, but it's about the legacy and how we went about it. We always tried to do it the right way. The goal was always to help players create more value for their future, be the best player they could be, and be more successful in life because they were part of the program. Hopefully, we have done that, and we will always consider Alabama our home."

Now, students on campus -- they were, of course, super sad to see Saban retire.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, it's a bummer. Everyone loves Saban -- we love him. He brought us six national championships. But, you know, enjoy the retirement. He earned it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I didn't believe it. My mom texted me and I was like that's not true. And then all of the students are talking about it and I was like it's true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty shocking, honestly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just had such a big impact on this community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there were girls tearing up in class. It was -- it was a pretty funny sight to see, honestly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's crazy news. I wasn't expecting it, for sure.


SCHOLES: All right. Well, now the talk is who replaces Saban as the next Tide head coach. Oregon's Dan Lanning, who was a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2015, is the heavy favorite right now, according to Bet Online.

Lane Kiffin, who coached under Saban for three seasons, is second on that list. Texas' Steve Sarkisian, who also coached under Saban, is third. And Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who played on the 1992 Alabama national championship team -- he's up there as well. Some longshots include Urban Meyer at 16-1 and Deion Sanders at 30-1.

All right. And finally, golfer Gary Woodland is set to tee off in the PGA Tour in Hawaii later today just four months after brain surgery to remove a lesion. The 2019 U.S. Open champion -- he spoke about his road back and how he feared for the worst.


GARY WOODLAND, 2019 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: When I woke up and was -- realized I was OK, I was filled with thankfulness and love and that replaced the fear. It was emotional -- very emotional because I'd gone 4 1/2 months of every day really thinking it was going to die. It's everything I thought was going to kill me. And so, you can imagine leading up to surgery what I -- how I felt going into having my head cut open and operated on. The fear of going into that was awful.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [06:00:16]

SCHOLES: Yeah. And Kasie, I'm sure that story hits home for you as well, going through something similar. I know it brings a smile to your face seeing Gary Woodland back out there doing what he loves to do.

HUNT: Yeah, no. It's just amazing. I'm absolutely thrilled to see it. I have quite literally been there and it is both a terrifying thing to go through and also a tough thing to recover from. So good luck to him. I'd love to see him win that.

Thanks, Andy. I appreciate it.

SCHOLES: All right.

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