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Trump Clashes With Judge In E. Jean Carroll Defamation Case; U.S. Launches Fourth Round Of Strikes Against Houthi Targets In Yemen; Speaker Johnson Won't Commit To Bringing Immigration Deal To House Floor. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 18, 2024 - 05:30   ET




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

The top story at the bottom of the hour, former President Trump back in Florida today where he'll attend the funeral for his mother-in-law who passed away last week.

It comes after some contentious moments yesterday between Trump and the judge in E. Jean Carroll's defamation trial against him. Trump completely skipped Carroll's case against him last year but this year he says he wants to attend every day of the trial. So, Trump's attorney asked the judge to postpone today's proceedings so he could attend the funeral. The judge denied that request.

Then the judge nearly threw Trump out of the courtroom for being disruptive. Trump kept making comments to his lawyers that were loud enough for the jury to hear during Carroll's testimony. The judge warned Trump he could be removed to which Trump responded, quote, "I would love that." Ultimately, Trump didn't get kicked out.

But after the hearing, he had this to say about the judge.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So he would rather have me miss the funeral or go to the funeral and miss the trial, and that's a nasty man. He's a nasty judge. He's a Trump-hating guy and it's obvious to everybody in the court. It's a disgrace, frankly, what's happening. It's a disgrace.


HUNT: OK, let's bring in CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, good morning. It's always wonderful to see.

Let's start with what we know about the conduct that unfolded in the courtroom yesterday. I mean, in addition to him almost getting himself kicked out, his lawyer -- the woman that you always see next to him -- Alina Habba -- she pushed back against the judge after he told her to sit down. She said, quote, "I don't like to be spoken to that way."

I was a little surprised by that. I feel like, normally, lawyers are a little bit more careful with judges just because the judge holds most of the power in these kinds of situations.

What do you make of all of this?


You know, look, pandemonium. Not surprised that there would be decorum in that way. You know, in a courtroom, Kasie, there are certain rules of engagement, right, and in those rules of engagement there's respect of the judge's rulings. There's certainly deference to the judge in terms of how you need to comport yourself in what the judge does. But obviously, it's not surprising.

I think that they have -- that is, Trump's team -- banked on the fact that they're not going to win this case in a courtroom. When I say win, let me be clear. Obviously, there was already a conclusion made as to the defamation. What they're looking at here is simply damages. That's the monetary amount that Mr. Trump will be responsible for.

When I say win, I mean broader to the concept of public opinion. There's a presidential election happening and so I think that this play is not for the jurors in the courtroom, but I think it's to get out, such that it could be spoken to and spoken about outside the courtroom in terms of election prospects and that type of thing.

And so, that's what I think the play is here. And that, of course, when you get into other conduct -- very quick point -- you then speak about the conduct and the disruption and not the underlying facts and circumstances, which are then diverted and not seen as important. And so, I think that certainly is in the optics of what the Trump team wants to do.

HUNT: Yeah, it really is. It's campaigning from the courtroom.

And I want to show you a little bit more of that. This was what he had to say about E. Jean Carroll herself and I'll ask you about it on the other side. Just take a look at what he said.


TRUMP: The witness today -- the person I never knew -- I never had anything to do with -- it's a totally rigged deal. This whole thing is rigged -- election interference. But this is a person I have no idea -- until this happened, obviously, I have no idea who she was and nor could I care less. It's a rigged deal. It's a made-up, fabricated story.


HUNT: So he says there "I had no idea who she was." I just want to remind all of our viewers that back in 2019 when Trump was President of the United States, he said that she's not my type -- which would, while dismissive and a big part of this case -- actually indicates that, in fact, he did know her and that he is lying now about whether he knew her or not.

I'm interested to know what you think there. But also, does doing that just add to the pile of defamation evidence? I don't understand -- in this context, right, they're trying -- the jury is trying to decide how much money he needs to pay for this. Does this not make this potentially worse for him?


JACKSON: So, let's answer that one first, Kasie. The answer is yes, right? What you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. We're used to seeing that and hearing that, right, in the context of criminal cases. This is not a criminal case; it's a civil case.

But remember, it goes to those statements -- the issue of punitive damages. The issue of malice. The issue of, really, the president's -- former president's state of mind -- his comportment and what the jury thinks of that.

Furthermore, as it relates to him knowing her/not knowing her, that has been decided, right? So there was a determination made already last May as to Mr. Trump's guilt pertaining to not only knowing her but sexually assaulting her. And not only knowing and sexually assaulting her but also defaming her, right, and being awarded -- or at least E. Jean Carroll awarded $5 million in that context.

So this trial is simply about, again, statements for the defamation. And so, this goes to the larger issue of what we were speaking about before. Listen to the bud word -- buzz words -- election interference. You know, Trump-hating judge, totally rigged.

I think this is a play to the constituency and supporters and not a play to the jurors in-house. It's writing a check, and he'll write that check. So I think he's made the calculus let me create my narrative to show it's a system that doesn't support me. Everyone's against me. This is unfair. But you can support me by voting for me. That, I think, is the messaging here and who better the message than the former president who apparently does it very well.

HUNT: Joey, let's just button this with those facts of the case that Trump is trying to kind of paper over in terms of doing all these things that you have outlined.

What did you make of the actual arguments that -- I mean, E. Jean Carroll herself -- it takes a lot to get up on the stand if you are a victim in something like this. What did you make of what she said, and what do you think the jury will do in terms of awarding damages here?

JACKSON: Yeah. You know, Kasie, I think her statements certainly were compelling, right? I mean, obviously, in any case, there is issues of credibility and to the extent that the jury would conclude that she's credible about how this affected her. How she feels and how, really, she's processed the demeaning

statements of the president. The social media barrages. The hate that she's endured. The fact that she fears for her safety. The impugning of her reputation. How that's impaired her in her life and what she's done with her life.

And then the other narrative for the Trump team, which is oh, you know -- essentially, them saying we gave you a bigger platform and so this is exactly what you wanted -- wow. That's their argument -- the Trump team's argument.

So I think what she -- what she had to say -- certainly, if the jury credits that -- is very compelling and believable. As to what the jury will do -- again, Kasie, this is about monetary damages. I think the damages here -- punitive damages, which are designed to punish someone for their misconduct and deter their conduct and others' conduct -- I think it's going to be in the several millions of dollars would be my conclusion at the end of the day when this case is over.

HUNT: All right. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Joey Jackson, thank you as always for being here, my friend. I really appreciate it.

JACKSON: My pleasure -- thanks.

HUNT: Up next -- so, U.S. ships and submarines firing at Houthi targets in Yemen overnight for the fourth time in less than a week. The strikes coming after another American-owned vessel was attacked near the Red Sea. Fourteen Houthi missile sites were targeted. According to the U.S. Central Command, the latest Houthi attack involved a bomb-carrying drone against a U.S.-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden.

Paula Hancocks is live for us from Abu Dhabi. She's tracking all of the latest developments here. Paula, so much concern this morning about U.S. military involvement in the region. What's the latest? Where does this all head?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, there are certainly legitimate questions being asked as to whether or not this does mean now that this conflict from Israel-Gaza has widened.

You look at just what's happened this week. On Monday, the Houthi rebels managed to hit a U.S.-owned or operated vessel with an anti- cruise missile. Then Tuesday, they hit a multi-flagged vessel. Wednesday, they hit a second U.S. vessel.

Now, in all three of those cases there were no injuries. There was some damage to the ship itself but they did manage to continue with their journey. But that just shows that what is happening from the U.S. and the U.K. Navy side to try and degrade the ability of the Houthi rebels to launch these attacks is not working at this point.

We've heard from the U.S. side -- the military Central Command -- saying that they believe that last Thursday when they had more than 60 targets hit, less than a third of the ability and the weapons capability of the Houthis was destroyed. So we can expect further strikes against those weapons capabilities in Yemen.


What happened overnight was 14 missiles were taken out. They say they were ready to be fired and they were an imminent threat, which is why the U.S. military decided to strike -- Kasie.

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

Just ahead here, House Speaker Johnson pours cold water on more potential Ukraine aid and the border deal after meeting with President Biden. We'll have that.

Also, the prosecutor looking into violent gangs in Ecuador is gunned down in broad daylight. We'll have details on that up next.


HUNT: Welcome back.

After meeting with President Biden to discuss the border and Ukraine funding yesterday, Senate leadership projected optimism they'd be able to move a deal to the House. Speaker Johnson, however, threw cold water on those hopes, telling CNN this last night.



REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): If the bill looks like some of the things that have been rumored, of course, it's dead in the House because it wouldn't solve the problem. You can't just do pieces of this and leave, for example, parole untouched. Leave the current broken parole process untouched. Because it's a giant loophole that would allow all these people to continue to come in.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in Mychael Schnell, congressional reporter for The Hill. Mychael, good morning. It's always great to have you.

Can you bring us up to speed here on what happened during the meeting with Biden yesterday and what you make of House Speaker Johnson has been casting it in the aftermath?

MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yeah, Kasie, a fairly long meeting there at the White House with a lot of attendees. The big four congressional leaders, relevant committee chair -- chairmen, and ranking members -- and, of course, those Biden administration officials.

But the meeting didn't actually move the ball at all. Essentially, what happened was President Biden, Democrats, and White House officials making the case that Ukraine is extremely important, of course. This is something that they have been saying for months now. And as we're approaching the two-year mark of Russia's invasion it's become an important and salient issue for the White House.

But essentially, Johnson and Republicans saying look, we need substantive border policy if you're going to want to send more aid to Ukraine. And on the topic of Ukraine, we need accountability measures and we need information on what the U.S.'s strategy is and what the end game is for this war in Ukraine. When congressional leaders returned to the Capitol, this was the same thing they were saying.

So, essentially, the big question is as the Senate prepares to move forward next week with this border bill that's currently under negotiations -- we don't have exact text or details on what is in the legislation -- the idea there is that the Senate and Congress passing that border bill will then unlock aid for Ukraine.

The big question now is will that even be able to muster any support in the House? And as Johnson said last night, it doesn't look like the Senate bill will be able to get Republican support in the House. So that then begs the question of a) is there any possibility for border security to pass this Congress, and b) is there any chance that the U.S. can continue to send aid to Ukraine?

Again, yesterday's meeting short of begging those questions even more but offering few answers.

HUNT: Yeah.

So -- I mean, it seems to me if they can pass this massive package out of the Senate, the Senate -- I mean, there are still details to be worked out between Senate Republicans, the White House, Senate Democrats, but there does seem to be a general consensus that they want to move this bill. They want to get Ukraine aid, Israel aid, and some sort of -- they think that they can probably get there, maybe on the border stuff. They certainly have a halfway decent chance.

If they put that on the floor and it passes the Senate, that kind of puts Johnson in a bind, right? He's got to decide -- there's no way it passes with just Republican votes. He's about to have the most narrow Republican majority in U.S. history, as in, like, he's going to have 218 votes -- the exact number that you need to have a majority in the House of Representatives at all.

The question is going to be does he put it on the floor under a suspension of the rules and pass it with Democrats? Do you see any world in which he does that?

SCHNELL: I mean, this is a political storm -- a political headache for Speaker Johnson -- all of the dynamics converging into one.

Look, we'll first have to see what's actually in this border bill. But as of now, it doesn't look like it's something that Johnson will want to put on the floor. And look, that's going to politically put him into a difficult position because, for months, Republicans have been sounding the alarm about the border. Johnson led a group of about 60 Republicans to the border earlier this month.

They have made it a key priority this Congress, so it's going to be tough for Speaker Johnson to ignore a bipartisan deal that passes the Senate that would address border security and the situation at the southern border and just ignore that because it doesn't go far enough.

But look, we are in an election year. The border has been a difficult and a weak point for President Biden. Polls have showed that. So that's one reason why Republicans may want to keep it in the headlines.

But you talk about potentially putting this on the floor. There is a growing contingent of House Republicans who are extremely skeptical of aid for Ukraine. Marjorie Taylor Greene is threatening to bring a motion to vacate against the speaker if aid for Ukraine passes.

There are so many dynamics here -- it's like three-dimensional chess -- that Speaker Johnson has to play because these political and these policy pressures are really converging. And again, it's a perfect storm because of that extremely slim majority. There is zero room for error here.

HUNT: Yeah. And let's remind everyone a motion to vacate -- that's what happened to Kevin McCarthy that threw our government into chaos for all of that time. It's hard to imagine Republicans would want to go through that again -- but again, I was surprised they wanted to do it the first time.

Mychael Schnell, of the Hill. Mychael, thank you very much for being here. See you soon, I hope.

All right. The prosecutor who was investigating organized crime in Ecuador has been assassinated. The country's attorney general says that Cesar Sanchez (sic) was shot and killed in his car as he zeroed in on gangs in the region. The probe came amid an uptick in violence that included a recent attack on a TV studio during a public broadcast. This was so scary.

CNN's David Culver reports on this from Guayaquil.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Ecuador already under a state of emergency and yet, another spark of violence here, this time involving a prosecutor who was investigating a terror- related case.


Now, this prosecutor was gunned down in his car as he was headed to a court hearing. The prosecutor also happened to be the same individual who was looking into that television station that had been, really, just invaded, essentially, by 13 armed men who went in in the middle of a live broadcast and they had not only guns with them but also explosives. At one point, putting a dynamite in the front pocket of one of the news anchors. They caused terror inside that station for more than an hour.

But the fact that was broadcast live across this city and then amplified, really, through social media around the world is what really sparked a lot of concern and fear more than anything else. Folks, for several days, refusing to leave their home. Kids doing virtual learning, not going to school. And in the days since, we've started to see folks slowly emerge from that, wanting to get back to normal life.

But what played out for that prosecutor being shot and killed says, Cesar Suarez, is an example of this still ongoing internal armed conflict. That's how President Noboa has labeled this. And he says his focus is to neutralize these terror groups.

Now, you need to take a step back and look at why this is going beyond Ecuador. Folks might just say that's an isolated issue with a country that unfortunately was seen as an island of peace. It is no longer. But it's bigger than that.

And President Noboa has hit on this. He's called on the U.S. to help out. To help when it comes to resources for armed forces, for police -- everything from jackets to helmets, to ammunition. And his argument is that if this isn't stopped here in Ecuador that drugs, in particular, could continue to flow north into the U.S. and cause even more chaos for Americans.

Beyond that, though, you have to think if you're destabilizing this country then you have folks here who, for many years, have been very content here and suddenly they'll start to think well, we need to pack up and go somewhere else. Where will they go? The argument is they'll go north and it will add to the crisis at the U.S. southern border.

It's for that reason a lot of the officials here are calling on the international community to step in and to halt the violence here in Ecuador -- one that has really caused a lot of concern, a lot of fear, and one that is not expected to end anytime soon.

David Culver, CNN, Guayaquil, Ecuador.


HUNT: A very tough story there.

All right. Up next, former President Trump taking Nikki Haley's campaign messages and trying to make it his own. How Republican rivals are sharpening their attacks just five days ahead of the New Hampshire primary. That's ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: All right, welcome back.

The Golden State Warriors had their game postponed in Utah last night after the shocking death of an assistant coach. Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

What happened?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, Kasie, it's just terribly sad.

So, Dejan Milojevic -- he was with the Warriors at a team dinner Tuesday night in Salt Lake City when he had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. And the NBA immediately postponed yesterday's game with the Jazz after that happened. But then, yesterday afternoon we got the tragic news that Milojevic had passed away.

He had been on Steve Kerr's staff with the Warriors for three years now. He was a Serbian basketball star and was a mentor to two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

Now, Kerr saying in a statement that the team is just devastated by Milojevic's passing, adding, "This is a shocking and tragic blow for everyone associated with the Warriors and an incredibly difficult time for his family, friends, and all of us who had the incredible pleasure to work with him."

Now, the Lakers holding a moment of silence for Milojevic before their game with the Mavs last night.

Dejan Milojevic was 46 years old.

All right. As for that Lakers-Mavs game, L.A. getting a big night from Anthony Davis. He had 28 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists, just dominating the Mavs in the paint. And in the fourth quarter, LeBron going to work here. He gets the bucket to go, plus the foul. He had 25.

And get this stat. According to the ESPN broadcast last night, LeBron has played against 35 percent of all players in NBA history. That's just nuts.

The Lakers win 127-100.

Elsewhere, the Hawks hosted the Magic and this game coming down the wire. Paolo Banchero hitting the three here with eight seconds left to tie the game up at 104. The Hawks then decide not to call a timeout. Dejounte Murray is going to take it up the floor, make some nifty moves, and then hit the fadeaway at the buzzer to win it for the Hawks -- 106-104 was the final there.

In the NFL, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones surprising a lot of people yesterday, announcing that head coach Mike McCarthy will return despite another disappointing playoff exit. Jones says his team is very close to achieving their ultimate goals and the best way to move forward is with McCarthy at the helm.

The Cowboys have gone 12-5 each of the last three seasons with McCarthy, but only have one playoff win to show for it.

All right. And finally, Eagles star center Jason Kelce hasn't said whether he's planning to retire yet but he's keeping to his routines. Yesterday morning he rolled up to his local McDonald's drive-thru to get two sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins. Helping him out, as usual, was Danielle Bonham. She's gotten to know Kelce in the drive-thru over the years and has taken a bunch of pictures with him. And this time around, Kelce signed her jersey "To Danielle, Go Birds. Thank you."

Just awesome there, Kasie. Jason Kelce, man of the people -- one of the best to ever do it. And he certainly will be missed if, in fact, he's going to retire.


HUNT: Right. I mean, look, I -- people from Philly sometimes get a bad rap. I get it. Like, there's all kinds of incidents. But this man is, like, the best that Philly has I think. And getting to see him with Danielle -- I mean, it's just great.

What do we think he does if he does leave the NFL, Andy?

SCHOLES: Well, he's got his popular podcast with his brother Travis so, I mean, he'll probably keep doing that. And, you know, I -- you know, maybe TV is in his future because it seems like no matter what the guy does --

HUNT: I'd watch that.

SCHOLES: -- he's great and he's so lovable.

HUNT: Indeed, he is.

All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you very much for that.

SCHOLES: All right.

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