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U.S. And United Kingdom Strike Iran-Backed Houthi Targets In Yemen; Snow, Extreme Temps Could Wreak Havoc On Iowa Caucuses; Trump Delivers 5-Minute Rant At $370 Million Fraud Trial. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 05:30   ET



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

The U.S. carrying out new retaliatory strikes in the Middle East overnight on over 60 targets of the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The Biden administration has warned the group multiple times that there would be consequences for the repeated drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. For weeks, Biden has been hesitant about ordering direct strikes due to the prospect of escalating the crisis in the Middle East, but Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said last night that action had to be taken.


MAJ. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There had been multiple warnings to include, early in January, a statement by many nations saying that there would be consequences. Clearly, none of us want to see an escalation of conflict. No one wants to see the tensions rise in the region but it's unacceptable to see the kind of behavior that we've been seeing. And so, again, tonight was intended to disrupt and to degrade their ability to launch those attacks.


HUNT: So, in a statement, President Biden says he ordered the strike in direct response to the Red Sea attacks and said that he will not hesitate to direct further measures.

Let's bring in CNN's senior national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Julia, good morning. It's always good to --


HUNT: -- see you.

So you listened in on an administration briefing last night. I mean, what can you tell us --


HUNT: -- about what they had to say about this?

KAYYEM: Well, I think just to give context of what was going on and what this area means, right? So I think -- we tend to think of it -- oh, it's the Houthis and some random rebel group, and why are we expanding our efforts.

But look, 12 percent of world trade goes through this area. Thirty percent of global maritime trade goes from the Red Sea through the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. So this was having a direct impact on all of us -- on the global economy as we started to see.

And the option for the, sort of, carriers -- the ones that were the shipping industry was to go south to the Cape of Good Horn, which is incredibly dangerous and adds weeks. So the impact on what we would just call the free navigation of oceans was having a tremendous -- was being harmed by what the Houthis were doing.

So then you had this escalation over the last three weeks. I wrote about this for The Atlantic December 24 that this thing was getting out of control because you had this escalation the Houthis weren't answering.

So the attack last night was in response to the largest attack by the Houthis the day before, basically making it clear that they were not listening to the message that the multinational consortium was telling them. And it was essentially to downgrade their capabilities -- radar and missile capabilities so that they could not target the ships. One hopes that this doesn't escalate it.

But there's a -- I have to say, like, there's a pretty large global consensus, whether the countries will say so or not, not to mess with -- not to mess with the Suez because it's just all of our economies are depending on it.

HUNT: Right. Sort of a mutual, non-destruction --


HUNT: -- pact if you will.


HUNT: Julia, what is your sense -- I mean, we've heard already that the Houthis are saying that they're going to retaliate. I mean, did you hear anything --


HUNT: -- from the administration in terms of what they anticipate that to look like? How significant it might be?

KAYYEM: No, the Houthi -- I mean, one would expect the Houthis to do that. For one, they've got their own fighting going on in Yemen. Look, everyone has their interests and that is that whether they can't -- they can't get more at the negotiation table themselves by looking like they're having a global influence. I think that the administration certainly will probably wait to see how their capabilities are downgraded.

The Houthis don't really have global reach. It's the Iranians that have the global reach -- who support the Houthis. The Iranians, so far, not going to applaud them -- but, so far, have also not wanted the conflict in Gaza and Israel to extend to include great nation- states.

In other words, they -- we're hearing stuff about Hezbollah. Certainly, their support for Hamas. But they have not taken overt steps to make an Iranian-U.S. conflict more likely than not because they have their reasons, too. They certainly know that a global regional conflict is not something that they want to -- that they necessarily wanted to rely on what the Houthis are doing. And honestly, it is just not clear how much control the Iranians have on whatever the Houthis are doing right now. The Iranians are also impacted by the closing of the Suez Canal.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure.

So, Juliette --


HUNT: -- how does Sec. Austin's health factor into what's --


HUNT: -- going on here? I mean, how worried are they about his being in the hospital?


HUNT: I mean, my understanding is that this went through him. You know, they said the president ordered --


HUNT: -- you know, gave these orders to the Secretary of Defense who executed on them.


It seems concerning that this is the reality considering --


HUNT: -- what's going on.

KAYYEM: Yeah. I mean, it is. And look, no one can defend his actions. The question is whether that action should justify him not being Secretary of Defense. I'm of the school, no. He made a big mistake.

We have continuity of government and continuity of operations for a reason. He should have delegated to his deputy. He should have told the White House. He understands that -- but then going forward.

Look, this -- the administration didn't wake up -- none of us woke up last night and thought oh, what happened there? Why are they bombing the Houthis? This has been a slow roll conflict since the Gaza and -- since the Israeli attack in Gaza. And the reason why is because the Houthis have been saying oh, we're only doing this to support the Palestinians.

That's -- you know, that's not true. They are attacking boats and ships that have nothing to do with the conflict. These are not Israeli ships. These are ships from all sorts of backgrounds.

And so, this conflict and the plans for the escalation that we saw last night had been already thoroughly vetted, already planned for. And now, he's able to -- because he's not under general anesthesia -- sort of lead this.

I'm of the school -- I've seen this enough -- that yes, he made a mistake. He obviously has the capabilities to lead. And the president has confidence in him during two wars. So we can all be mad at him for five minutes but the world goes on and he certainly is showing his capabilities to be able to make such missions and oversee such missions even from a hospital room.

HUNT: All right, Juliette Kayyem for us this morning. Juliette, thank you very much.

KAYYEM: Thank you so much.

HUNT: So we are just three days away from the Iowa caucuses but there really only may be two days of campaigning left because of the snowstorm that is sweeping across the state today bringing potentially life-threatening conditions and causing campaigns to rethink their event schedules.

And on Monday, as caucusgoers head to their caucus locations, wind chill temperatures are expected to plummet to -20 to -40 degrees and stay there all day long. That's going to make for the coldest caucus ever.

So, for more on how the weather is really the main storyline right now let's bring in Jess Bidgood, senior national political reporter for The Boston Globe, who is there in Des Moines right now. Jess, thank you very much for being with us.

It sounds like you and all these candidates have been grappling with this weather all week long. There's been some back and forth between the candidates. What are you hearing from them in terms of how they're planning to deal with it in the final stretch?

JESS BIDGOOD, SENIOR NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE BOSTON GLOBE (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning, Kasie, and thank you for having me.

And I have to say I'm sitting in a hotel room in Des Moines right now and I can just hear the wind screaming past the window. There's tons of snow coming down. This does not seem like a state where it's going to be safe to travel for much of today. We're under a blizzard warning until 6:00 p.m. This is real weather.

So we've seen Nikki Haley cancel her in-person events today. She's holding those as telephone town halls instead. We'll see what Gov. Ron DeSantis, of Florida, and Vivek Ramaswamy do. They haven't yet canceled their events as of -- as of last night. But it is really tough to move around the state today.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure.

What does it -- what does it look like in terms of turnout for the caucuses on Monday? I mean, obviously, none of the snow is going to melt so there's going to be all kinds of snow on the ground. I will say Iowa is pretty good at dealing with large quantities of snow once it has fallen and it can be taken care of. But still, asking people to leave their houses when it's -20 outside is a big ask.

BIDGOOD: It is. It's a huge ask. The Iowa caucuses are generally kind of a low-turnout affair to begin with. In 2016, I believe turnout was something like 187,000 people.

So when you think about weather like this -- weather this cold, it could take a big bite of turnout and that could actually -- that could inject some real uncertainty into a race that has seemed pretty baked in and pretty steady for some time now. You can see that it's worrying the campaigns.

I was -- I was at a Trump surrogate event earlier this week with Ben Carson. Other surrogates of Trump have been -- have been doing events, too.


And they have really been telling his supporters get out there. Get out there. Don't let the weather dissuade you. Don't let the cold cause you to stay home. Go and caucus.

And we're hearing -- we're hearing the same message from Haley and DeSantis, and Ramaswamy as well. Everybody's really pushing their supporters to get to the polls even though it's going to be cold when the caucuses begin. Right now, the temperature is forecast to be seven degrees below zero and that's before wind chill.

HUNT: Yes. No, I've been scrambling to get the right clothes, I have to say, because I'm coming out to join you this weekend.

Jess, I mean, the reality is -- I mean, in some ways, it's lucky that caucuses are done the way they are because it means it's less likely that people are going to be waiting out in the cold in a line to vote, right? They all go into the high school gym or whatever.

But Donald Trump is supposed to hold all these rallies and, you know, I mean we've all seen the pictures of people waiting in line to get into those rallies. It's kind of hard to see how that happens. I mean, look at it. You can kind of see it there. This is often what

it looks like. In negative-20, I think people are going to be a little less cheerful. This one's from Arizona so obviously, it was warm out there.

But he has been leading this -- the field, of course. And I know you've been out there. I'm curious, like, how they're thinking about their weekend. And also, just your take on, like, what it feels like on the ground, especially for Haley, as we're starting to get some data points that show she might be on the rise in Iowa in addition to New Hampshire.

Oh, we lost --

BIDGOOD: Absolutely. It's been really interesting to see -- it's been really interesting to see Haley contest Iowa in a pretty intense way over the past couple of weeks. For much of the (audio difficulty).

HUNT: All right, I think we're losing Jess. Perhaps that blizzard is having an impact on the Wi-Fi.

Jess Bidgood, of The Boston Globe, thank you very much.

All right. Up next, former President Trump speaking inside and outside the courtroom in his New York civil fraud trial.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a political witch hunt the likes of which nobody's ever seen before.




HUNT: Welcome back.

During the final day of his civil fraud trial yesterday, former President Donald Trump found a way to be heard. He spoke outside the courtroom, he spoke inside the courtroom, and at one of his New York he also spoke, and he used some familiar lines.


TRUMP: This is a political witch hunt the likes of which nobody's ever seen before. They owe me damages for what they've done.

We didn't have a jury. We had no rights to a jury.


HUNT: OK. His most important speech was, of course, off-camera inside the courtroom where he gave a 5-minute monologue. He was initially instructed to focus on the facts of the case. Trump did the opposite. He attacked the judge and the attorney general, and the judge ultimately was forced to cut off his courtroom rant and tell his lawyer, quote, "Control your client."

Let's bring in CNN political reporter Alayna Treene. Alayna, good morning. It's always great to have you.

This is not the first time that Judge Engoron has had to tell Trump's lawyers hey, control him. Obviously, this was the kind of final day here.

What do you make of how he handled this because he wasn't initially supposed to talk in court at all?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (via Webex by Cisco): No, that's right, he wasn't. And the judge seemed to change his mind and allow him to speak while in court yesterday.

But look, Donald Trump did what yesterday -- excuse me, did what we've seen him do many times. He didn't want to talk about the facts of the case. He actually said -- when the judge said please keep this to the facts of the case, he said well, I dispute those facts. I think that what we're talking about here goes outside the facts.

And he did use that monologue inside the courtroom to make somewhat of a political speech. And that's what he did last time when we saw him speak in the court -- the courtroom last year. He kind of used the opportunity to go after the judge, to go after the attorney general. To claim that the entire case is a witch hunt against him. The same type of rhetoric you're hearing him use outside the courtroom as well as on the campaign trail.

And I think the thing to keep in mind with Donald Trump is really, how he views these court appearances that he's doing. He is choosing to take himself off the trail. He did not have to be in court yesterday. He was in court earlier in the week in D.C. He didn't have to be in that court either.

He is choosing to show up and attend these hearings and trials and he's using them as a political campaign stop. His team really does see his political strategy and his legal strategy as largely being one and the same. And Donald Trump has really been eager to try and use the courthouse -- use his legal issues to continue to convince voters of his argument that he thinks that he's a victim of political persecution.

HUNT: Yeah. Alayna, do you think -- like, next week he's got this E. Jean Carroll defamation suit. That's obviously going to come after Iowa. But there's only a week between Iowa and New Hampshire and if he's going to have his, sort of, the sense of inevitability around his nomination get dented at all it's going to be in New Hampshire.

Is there a risk for him in focusing on that trial instead of focusing on New Hampshire?

TREENE: I think there could be, and I think you're totally right. New Hampshire is an entirely different state. The dynamics in New Hampshire are completely different than the caucuses Iowa on Monday. And it is something that I know from my conversations with Trump's advisers that they're concerned about.

But from a strategy standpoint, his team is not betting that it will make an impact. They really do believe that him being outside the courthouse and attending these trials is working for them.

And, you know, I think what's really important about yesterday and just looking at him attending the closing arguments in New York in his civil fraud trial, it was the day after the CNN debate. It's the day before a lot of his rivals are really trying to gain that last-minute traction ahead of Monday.


It's going to be a similar thing next week. His rivals are going to be hitting the ground in Iowa trying to gain as much attention as they can before the New Hampshire primary.

And Trump -- in many ways, it's -- it is an effective strategy because he's able to suck the media attention and the oxygen away from his rivals and keep it on himself, and that is exactly the goal.

And when I've talked to Trump's advisers they've told me that look, even if he's not on the campaign trail, the people who are in these early-voting states -- these key voters are watching what Donald Trump is saying. And they think that the message is still getting through to them when he is standing outside a courtroom and railing against the charges that are against him.

HUNT: Right. I mean, it's -- all politics is national now, right? I mean, it's really a fundamental -- been a fundamental shift in kind of the way a lot of this works over the course of the last decade.

Alayna, let me ask you about this, too, because, of course, we've talked about the inevitability of the way -- of the thinking around a Trump nomination.

The Biden campaign -- the Biden White House clearly making sure that they are running against Trump at this point. They put out this video on the economy of the president watching what Donald Trump had to say about the economy. Take a look at that.


TRUMP: When there's a crash, I hope it's going to be during this next 12 months because I don't want to be Herbert Hoover.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's acknowledging that my economy is doing pretty darn well because he doesn't want that to continue.


HUNT: So, I don't know what you make of that video by itself but they are trying to make hay out of what Trump said. TREENE: Oh, they are, and I think we've seen them do that increasingly in the last several weeks. I think it's important to note that Biden largely stayed away from talking about Donald Trump or really going after him too heavily, last year, for most of the months, really trying to focus on his own record.

But we've seen that shift in strategy, particularly when he went to Pennsylvania earlier this month to talk about Trump being a threat to democracy. I think this is keeping in line with that. They are recognizing that going after Donald Trump is one of the best ways to continue with the Biden reelection campaign.

But look, I think from Trump's perspective -- and we heard him talk about the stock market during a Fox News town hall on Wednesday in Iowa -- Trump is claiming that he thinks the economy is doing well. And his case -- or his argument because he thinks that a lot of people are looking at the polls and think that he is going to win.

Of course, I'm not an economist. I can't tell you what people are thinking. But I think a lot of people disagree with that argument.

And it is pretty remarkable --

HUNT: Sure.

TREENE: -- just to hear Donald Trump say that I hope the economy crashes before I could potentially be elected. I think that's a truly remarkable thing for a former president to say.

And Biden and his campaign, for their part, have pointed out that look, a president should want the economy to always be good. They should always want --

HUNT: Always.

TREENE: -- Americans to be enjoying the economy, and they're making that stark contrast.

HUNT: I feel like we're going to have to retire the phrase "quiet part out loud" in the course of covering Donald Trump because it's just everything. It's all -- it's all out loud.

CNN's Alayna Treene, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

TREENE: Thank you.

HUNT: And stay warm in Iowa. I'll see you there in a little while.


HUNT: All right. Up next here, we are following breaking news this morning. The U.S. and the U.K. hit back at Houthi rebels who have been taking shots at commercial ships in the Red Sea. We're going to have much more coverage up next on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest NFL coach of all time, has parted ways with the New England Patriots after leading them to six Super Bowl titles over nearly a quarter of a century.

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

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

You know, the Patriots, under Belichick, truly one of the greatest dynasties in all of sports. You know, his teams made it to nine Super Bowls, winning six of them. And to put it into perspective how good the Patriots had it with Belichick, the other 31 teams in the NFL used 162 different coaches during Belichick's 24-year reign in New England.

But yesterday, it all came to an end. During a news conference, the 71-year-old reflected on his time in Foxborough.


BILL BELICHICK, OUTGOING NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HEAD COACH: There's so many fond memories and thoughts that I think about the Patriots, and I'll always be a Patriot. I look forward to coming back here. But at this time, we're going to -- we're going to move on and I look forward and am excited for the future.


SCHOLES: Yeah. Patriots owner Robert Kraft called Belichick the greatest coach of all time and acknowledged that it was a difficult decision but needed at this time.


ROBERT KRAFT, OWNER, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: What Bill accomplished with us, in my opinion, will never be replicated. And the fact that it was done in the salary cap and free agency era makes it even more extraordinary. It'll be difficult to see him in a cutoff hoodie on the sideline. But I will always continue to wish him continued success, except when he's playing our beloved Patriots.


SCHOLES: Yeah. So, Kraft basically saying there Belichick will be coaching somewhere else next season. The betting favorite right now with the Atlanta Falcons.

All right. Alabama, meanwhile, is also trying to replace a legend. Nick Saban retiring on Wednesday after 17 seasons and six national titles with the Tide. The 72-year-old told ESPN that he made his decision to retire five minutes before meeting with his players. Saban said it basically came down to his age.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NICK SABAN, OUTGOING ALABAMA HEAD COACH: To be honest, this last season was grueling. It was a real grind for us to come from where we started to where we got to. It took a little more out of me than usual. When I was young, I could work until two in the morning and get up at six and be there the next day, and be full of energy and go for it. But when you get a little older that gets a little tougher, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that.



SCHOLES: Yeah, Kasie, I'm only 40 and I can relate to that. So, props to Nick Saban and congrats on an amazing career. He certainly will be missed.

HUNT: I still have not yet hit 40 -- yeah. I mean, I guess it just gets worse but here we are.

All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you very much. Have a great weekend.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: And that's to all of you for joining us. Have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kasie Hunt. I will see you live from Iowa in negative temperatures coming up on Monday. But don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.