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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Trump Back In Court, Haley & DeSantis To Fight For A Path; Blinken In Davos As Tensions Rise In The Middle East; FBI Investigating Roger Stone "Assassination" Comments. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2024 - 05:00   ET




Former President Trump heading back to court today as his GOP rivals rush to prove they still have a path to the nomination.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking now in Davos hours after the U.S. fired more strikes against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

And the call that sparked an FBI investigation into Trump ally Roger Stone. What he allegedly said about assassinating two Democratic lawmakers. We'll let you hear it for yourself.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, January 17th, 05:00 a.m. here in Washington.

Also, 05:00 a.m. in New Hampshire, where Republican candidates, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are scrambling to keep their presidential hopes alive after Donald Trumps decisive win in Iowa this week.

The GOP front runner made a detour to a New York courtroom yesterday and he's going to be back there again today where the writer E. Jean Carroll expected to testify and a jury will weigh how much Trump owes for defaming her.

But Trump also touched down in New Hampshire where he took aim at his two remaining rivals.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: She came in third and she lost her not a particularly great candidate, obviously, as you've seen. She lost to somebody that beat her by about two-and-a-half points, Ron Desanctimonious.


HUNT: DeSantis spent some time campaigning in South Carolina before heading to CNN's town hall last night, where he insisted he still has a path to the nomination.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She still had roughly half of the Iowa caucusgoers that made another choice. And so that shows me that tells me that there is an appetite for different leader.


HUNT: And Nikki Haley, despite placing third in Iowa, pitching herself to voters as the alternative to the Biden-Trump rematch


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The majority of Americans think that having two 80-year-olds running for president is not what they want. And what are Biden and Trump both focused on? Investigations, past issues, things that aren't taking us forward. We can either have more of the same or we can say its time to change and move forward.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in CNN's national political reporter, Daniel Strauss.

Daniel, good morning. It's always great to have you.

So big picture here. I mean, both of these people, I mean, Nikki Haley is trying to say this is a two-person race. It's me and Trump.

Ron DeSantis is saying, you know what? I actually should still be in this race. I beat Nikki Haley in Iowa.

The reality having just been in New Hampshire is that Donald Trump still feels so much bigger. He has -- his presence looms over this race in a way that makes it more and more difficult to really wrap your head around the idea that either one of them have a real shot at him.

What is your latest reporting around how things may play out in New Hampshire?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, the expectation game is at play here. But again, it's a make-or-break state for Nikki Haley. The view is that Haley will be competitive in New Hampshire, but she needs to have a strong showing in either beat Donald Trump or come close to it to have any sort of chance of continuing and being viable in this race long term.

And at the same time, there -- for a state that has a lot of independent and centrist voters. It's one word for Donald Trump in his last two presidential races competed well, and won. So this is a place that Haley and Trump are looking to dominate in the next few weeks. HUNT: So, Daniel, Nikki Haley obviously has been under heightened

scrutiny. I mean, the last month or so month or two have really been the time when she has faced the highest level of pressure that you faced in the crucible of a presidential campaign as there were -- she was obviously showing, she possibly could take on Donald Trump. She had comment about slavery.


Yesterday, she was asked a question about her own personal chances. I want to show you the Q&A she had. It ultimately led her to say that the U.S. has never been a racist country which has gotten a lot of attention.

Take a look.


BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you racist party? Are you involved in a racist party?

HALEY: No. We're -- we're not a racist country, Brian. We've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect if every day that we can.


HUNT: That was also she was also asked if she could win as a person of color in the Republican Party. That is something -- those comments, you know, having spent a lot of time covering Republican, the Republican campaign trail, unlikely to be something that caused trouble in a primary election necessarily.

What is your overall view of how that's going to play for her long term?

STRAUSS: I mean, this is one of a number of questions or comments that in the Republican primary are fairly benign, but in a general election, could be a liability later. And it's something that in some cases these are comments that candidates walk into.

Donald Trump, for instance, likes to say that he is the president that put these three Supreme Court justices on the panel that helped overturn Roe v. Wade in a primary or in the Republican primary. That is an asset to highlight. But in a general election, it's probably a liability. Same here, there won't be much blowback for being unable to have a very succinct response to questions on slavery. But in a general election, it could be really bad.

HUNT: So, Daniel, the other -- the other sort of angle here on Haley is that she's going to need independents, undeclared voters to win this nomination, to win the primary in New Hampshire.

I mean, briefly, do you think there's enough of them to really make a difference? I talked to a couple of sources on the ground who thought there's a real overestimation of how many people there are like that up there.

STRAUSS: I mean, it's -- this is the Republican Party of 2024, right? Like it is much more conservative. It is much more Trumpy than anything we've seen in the past. So that's the big question hanging over New Hampshire.

I mean, this is a state that not only we elected Trump and voted for him handily, but also in 2016, picked Ted Cruz as its second choice. I mean, this is not one that's leaning on moderates anytime soon.

HUNT: All right. Daniel Strauss for us this morning -- Daniel, thank you.

Up next here, the U.S. intensifying its strike campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. The new warning for ships in the region, up next.

Plus, Hamas agreeing to a deal on medicine for the Israeli hostages. What Israel has agreed to exchange.

Plus, a storm racing across the U.S. just snapped the Northeast snow drought. What to expect from the storm that's coming right behind it. That's next.



HUNT: Happening now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. The annual meeting gathers hundreds of heads of state lawmakers, business leaders to discuss the globe's biggest challenges, including two major wars, Red Sea trade disruptions, climate change, and more. It all comes as tensions rise in the Middle East with the U.S. launching new strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Now, U.S. officials are warning ships to avoid the Red Sea until further notice, as its campaign against the Houthis intensifies. The Biden administration also expected to redesignate the Houthis as a global terrorist entity.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Abu Dhabi with more.

Paula, the White House says these strikes are aimed at ensuring that the Middle East conflict doesn't widen and escalate. Are they meeting that goal at this point?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, the immediate view is that things are not getting better when it comes to the Houthi rebels. So we heard that the U.S. military in the early hours of Tuesday morning had actually targeted for anti-ship missiles that were actually on the launching pad. It was an imminent threat. Were being told by the U.S. military and they took those out.

But then just several hours later, we saw that they did manage to hit a Greek owned motor flagship. Although that was able to keep sailing and it had no injuries, but the damage that the Houthis are doing to this area, to the commercial shipping industry is significant.

Now, we heard from the U.S. military that they believe, remember back on Thursday overnight into Friday, there were more than 60 targets hit by the U.S. and U.K. Navy. They think they destroyed less than a third of the weapon capabilities of the Houthis, which just shows how significant the capabilities of this group are. They are being restocked and refunded by Iran and certainly they would have their weapons capabilities dispersed across a large area of Houthi- controlled territory in Yemen.

So, certainly, there is an expectation that this has a long way to go -- Kasie.

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

Israel and Hamas, meanwhile, reaching a new deal that will see medicines delivered to Israeli hostages in Gaza. Under the agreement mediated by Qatar, medicine and humanitarian aid will also be delivered to Palestinian civilians.

The supply is expected to leave Doha today, but it is unclear when the medicine will reach Gaza.


Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster live for us now in London.

Max, good morning. Always wonderful to see you.

What -- how do you see this deal? Especially in the context of how Israel has been defending itself against these genocide accusations and are under more pressure to aid the Palestinians?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure the court has put this pressure on Israel. I think it's more domestic and from the families of hostages who've been pushing really hard to get medication to hostages in Gaza who need it.

So, it's -- I think its largely in response to that Qatar has managed to reach a deal on this. They are always the intermediate -- the mediator here, along with Egypt, of course as well. But Qatar has cut this deal where those hostages will get the medication they need. But in return, medicine will be allowed into Gaza for Palestinians as well.

So I think that's what's happened here. And it's not necessarily pressure from outside, even from the U.S. This isn't part of a wider aid package. I think it's specifically to get these medications to the hostages.

HUNT: Yeah. I know it makes sense.

I mean, Max, what's your sense that that pressure from the families mean? It does make it feel as though we are pretty far from resuming any sort of situation where hostages start to be released. If this is kind of -- as far as they could get right now, what's your sense about how far off that might be on the horizon if it's possible at all.

FOSTER: Yeah, it's difficult, isn't it? I mean, reaching any sort of deal always difficult when the fighting continues and stay, we had these rockets as well coming from policy from the Palestinian areas into -- towards Israel as well. So that inflamed tensions a bit, always sets back any sort of negotiations. I think when -- you know, discussions of a ceasefire, the defense minister of Israel has ruled out a ceasefire.

What they really looking is looking at the south of Gaza and continuing the pressure. They're reaching a deal according to, you know, a lot of people in the Israeli government is really about putting pressure on Gaza as opposed to taking it off. So, we're looking towards a ceasefire, but it's not going to happen now.

I don't think if you listen to the latest soundings we're really getting from the Israeli government. They're not considering that they really talking about scaling back if anything, as opposed to a ceasefire.

HUNT: Of course. All right. Max Foster for us in London -- Max, thank you as always. I'll see you tomorrow, my friend.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right, ahead here on EARLY START: the gunman who admits to killing five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado will not be facing the death penalty. The plea deal just reached by prosecutors.

And U.S. Capitol police investigating whether Roger Stone disgust assassinating to well-known House Democrats. We'll roll the tape.



HUNT: We have quick hits across America now.

Capitol police and the FBI investigating comments allegedly made by Trump operative Roger Stone in weeks before the 2020 election.

Listen to Stone apparently discussing assassinating two prominent House Democrats.


ROGER STONE, ADVISOR TO FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's time to do it. Either Swalwell or Nadler has to die before the election. They need to get the message. I'm just not putting up with this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) anymore.


HUNT: Stone has denied making the comments, claiming that the audio was made using artificial intelligence.

Plea deal for the gunman who killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado. Twenty-three-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich will plead guilty to 74 counts of federal hate crimes and guns charges, but will not face the death penalty.

And shares in Spirit Airlines tanking 56 percent after a federal judge blocked its proposed $3.8 billion merger with JetBlue. The judge expressed concerns about the likelihood of increased fares for passengers if the deal goes through.

All right. Let's get now to weather. The record breaking bitterly cold temperatures will ease a bit today. But another round of Arctic Air set to hit the U.S. later on this week and more lake effect snow expected in Western New York, plus a storm in the Pacific Northwest brings freezing ice and rain. Wow, that is a lot.

Meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us with all of it.

Allison, the weather has played an extraordinarily outsized role in my life in the last few days. Tell us how it's going to be affecting all of us in the next week because --

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think there's just a little bit of something for everybody. We're pretty much missing the kitchen sink, and that's about it.

Yeah. We start with the arctic air because it still is not gone just yet. You're still feeling that focus across the Northern Plains, but that very cold air over the much warmer great lakes is what's triggering that additional lake effect snow, and that will continue today, tomorrow and into Friday. But we're also keeping an eye on that system out to the west. That's going to be the next big storm that makes its way across the country.

In the short-term, however, these are still all of the wind chill alerts we have, and you can see scattered them over more than a dozen states. The difference will be in the next 24 hours, we fast forward. This is what we will look like tomorrow morning. So, a lot of those wind chill alerts are going to fade away in the next 24 hours, but then fast-forward the next day. And we're very likely to get them back because we have another blast of cold air that will be coming in by the end of the week.

Right now, the current temperature is seven in Cincinnati, 14 in Atlanta. It's still positive numbers. Thankfully, in Minneapolis, looking at a current temperature of two degrees. But again, as we mentioned, those are going to change in the coming days.

You're still looking at 11 in Kansas City, seven around Little Rock, 21 in New York.


And here's what feels like temperature though -- again, it feels like its 14 below in Chicago, feels like its 13 below in Minneapolis, even Atlanta, barely feeling like they are positive numbers at this point. Out to the West, though, the big concern here is ice, especially for areas of Oregon, snow for the higher elevations, a lot of ice storm warnings and winter weather alerts. That ice storm warning does include the city of Portland.

You already you have some of that moisture ongoing ice, freezing rain, and some snow coming down across Washington and Oregon, that is going to continue as we go through the rest of the day today, and into tomorrow as this system continues to spread off towards the east. So, the concern there is the ice accumulations and unfortunately for areas of Oregon, they're still dealing with power outages from the previous storm.

The next blast of cold air does impact the West, but also begins to spread out to the east. So, again, Kasie, for those who were hoping for a long break from the cold, its only going to last maybe about 24 to 48 hours for most people.

HUNT: Oh my gosh. Okay. Everyone should stay -- stay warm out there. Allison Chinchar for us, thank you, Allison.

All right. Up next here, Nikki Haley refusing to participate in any more debates unless Donald Trump or Joe Biden are also on the stage.

And CNN visits a store in Virginia where Donald Trumps criminal charges are good for the bottom line. That's ahead