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Haley Holds South Carolina Rally, Refuses To Quit GOP Race; Russia Accuses Ukraine Of Shooting Down Military Plane; Source: McConnell Warns GOP Is In "Quandary" Over Border Deal. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 25, 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.

The two remaining Republican candidates for president, Nikki Haley and Donald Trump, are gearing up for a long, ugly month ahead as they look towards South Carolina's key February 24 primary. Haley is back in the state where she served two terms as governor. And she hosted a homecoming rally last night firing back at Trump for his bitter victory speech in New Hampshire and promising not to drop out.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Donald Trump got out there and just threw a temper tantrum. He pitched a fit. He was -- he was insulting. He was doing what he does. But I know that's what he does when he's insecure. I know that's what he does when he is threatened, and he should feel threatened without a doubt.


HUNT: Sources say that Trump was seething over Haley's refusal to drop out. One says before, she was a gnat and now she's an enemy. And now Trump is planning to quote "bludgeon" her and he is calling on her allies to do the same.

All of this, of course, very on brand with South Carolina's notoriously nasty politics.

Let's bring in national politics reporter for the Associate Press, Meg Kinnard. She lives in South Carolina and has for a long time, and she attended Haley's rally last night. Meg, it's wonderful to have you on the show. Thank you so much for being here.

Take us to the rally last night. What was the mood like? What did voters tell you about what they're thinking about in the context of this primary because she's been polling well behind Donald Trump despite it being her home state?

MEG KINNARD, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning, Kasie. It is so good to be with you.

Yes, I was at that rally last night right here in North Charleston, South Carolina. And I have heard Nikki Haley's stump speech a lot over the past couple of years, particularly the last couple of months. We heard a lot of the same stuff but when you're in a crowd with a lot of people -- there were at least 500-600 people in that room last night -- it kind of hits different. And I noticed that she was vibing with the crowd and kind of feeding off of their energy in a way that we haven't seen her do a lot along the campaign trail at these smaller events.

So there was a lot of the same information there but the crowd was really into it. It was the typical sign-waving and people cheering and standing up -- all that kind of stuff that we haven't seen as much because she hasn't had these big events. So these folks were really happy to see Nikki Haley back here in South Carolina and very happy she's still in the race.

HUNT: Meg, have you attended Trump events in South Carolina over the years, and how would you compare the energy in that room to what we see at Trump events in South Carolina?

KINNARD: I have definitely been to a lot of Trump rallies in other places but particularly here in South Carolina. And I don't want to get into crowd size or exactly how many people because sometimes we don't really know --

HUNT: No, of course.

KINNARD: -- if we're relying on campaigns the precise number.

HUNT: Yeah.

KINNARD: But there was a lot of that back-and-forth. You know, we see the former president kind of testing things out and repeating them if he's getting a good reaction. There was a little bit of that from Nikki Haley. And again, this is a circumstance we haven't seen her in as much in these big rooms. So I would say that the level of support and the energy vibe was about the same.

HUNT: Interesting.

So, the Haley camp says that they raised $1 million off of her New Hampshire speech coming down to South Carolina. This prompted the former President Trump to threaten anyone that gives her more money. He said, quote, if they do, they will be, quote, "permanently barred from the MAGA camp."

I do know that the super PAC that is supporting Nikki Haley has been full speed ahead. They're probably the ones who may be most likely to be affected by this.

What is your, sort of, sense in your reporting around whether this kind of a threat is going to make a real difference?

I mean, we also had Reid Hoffman, the billionaire LinkedIn founder, say that he's pausing giving money to Nikki Haley, although that's because he is honestly, probably more likely to be in Biden's camp. He was looking for somebody to beat Trump.

How do you think this Trump threat is going to affect Republican donors?

KINNARD: There could be some that are turned off by it, clearly, if they're kind of looking down the pike and thinking that Donald Trump may eventually be nominated. And so they don't necessarily want to get lumped in with the folks he was talking to in that message on Truth Social saying that you'll be kicked out of MAGA and basically persona non grata.

But also, I think it's important to remember messages like this when we're dealing with these closing days ahead of a vote, which here in South Carolina it's just a month from now -- that could actually serve to maybe energize some of those people who are thinking well, I wasn't really jazzed about Donald Trump and I wasn't going to be supporting him when I have another candidate. But now, if he's really seeming to take this personally, maybe that would prompt me further to really want to back that other candidate -- who, in this case, is Nikki Haley. We'll see how it all pans out.


But that message last night wasn't received super well by those who are surrounding Nikki Haley and supportive of her, but they saw it just as something that also could keep them motivated.

HUNT: Meg, let's -- can we talk about Democrats in South Carolina as well, and President Biden? He obviously made South Carolina the first primary because it is the place that kind of sent him on to the nomination back in 2020.

How is that playing out on the ground in South Carolina -- this idea that it's going to be first up in the Democratic contest going forward?

KINNARD: What we've seen in other places that have been these kick- off kind of states -- I'm thinking back to Iowa and certainly New Hampshire. That was kind of a time-tested, long-held tradition of being the first. You would think in a state like South Carolina where we had this long buildup -- and clearly, it was the scene of that revival for Joe Biden in 2020 -- that there would have been a lot of excitement this go-round. That's been kind of slow to come to a boil and I'm not exactly sure why that is.

I've had conversations in recent weeks with Democrats and even people within the party structure who are kind of like is there really a primary coming up? We don't really feel that energy that we would expect leading into that February 3 kickoff.

So it's been kind of a slow-building process. We are seeing the president come. We're seeing the first lady come. Clearly, Vice President Harris has been here a good bit as have many cabinet secretaries, kind of reinforcing that messaging that the president tries to hit on of these are things that I have brought to you. Let me remind you. Please support me in this next election.

But it just kind of -- at least, compared to the 2020 cycle when there were so many Democrats competing for that nomination and it was just kind of like a helter-skelter -- always something going on. Yes, there's an incumbent in that seat. There are people challenging him. But it just really hasn't had the same kind of oomph factor that I would have anticipated seeing South Carolina lead it off this time.

HUNT: I guess we'll see how it plays out in 2028.

Meg Kinnard of the Associated Press. Meg, thank you.

All right. Just hours from now, the former President Trump is expected to return to court in E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against him. The court has been canceled for the last two days because of a sick juror. Now, Trump's lawyers say he wants to testify but it's not yet confirmed that he will.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, always wonderful to see you.

We should note Trump has already been found liable for sexual abuse and defamation here.

Is testifying a good idea for him to do? What are his lawyers telling him?

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

Remember that there is, I think, a different imperative from the former president as it relates to this case. And as you mentioned, right, liability for defamation has been established. This case is about the amount of damages. And I think the president's imperative, right, is not so much to connect with the jury as it relates to damages but to connect to the electorate because we are in an election year.

And so, I think if the president were to testify it would be interesting to see what he has to say and the relevance of what he has to say. Because he cannot, in any testimony, dispute the fact that he didn't defame her, didn't know her -- say any of the other things that he's said in terms of derogatory remarks. It would be limited to damages to her.

So it's not clear to me what he can say, right, to overcome the issue of what's appropriate compensation for impugning someone's reputation. So I think it would certainly be based on a political strategy and not so much a legal strategy to tell the jurors look, don't award her $10 million. Don't award her any million. I didn't do this. That would not be something the judge would permit.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Joey, do you get the sense he's kind of picking fights with this judge for political reasons? JACKSON: I get the sense that the courthouse is going to be a fixture for the president moving forward in terms of airing grievances and using -- judges using and perhaps staff using cases to suggest that he's being unfairly targeted. That the system is unfair. And if they come after me, as powerful as I am, they could come after you.

And so that is a long-winded answer, Kasie, to your question, which is absolutely -- I think it annores (PH) to his benefit politically to go after the judge and everybody else because you know what? It's just a terrible system. It's a system that's predicated and motivated on politics. This is all a witch hunt and I am just an innocent man. That's the narrative.

HUNT: So, Joey, on another topic, Peter Navarro, the former Trump adviser is going to be sentenced today for contempt of Congress. It's unusual -- I mean, that people actually get prosecuted for this but it happened in his case. It happened in Steve Bannon's case. Federal prosecutors are asking for six months. It's up to the judge, at the end of the day.


What do you expect in terms of a sentence for Mr. Navarro?

JACKSON: Yeah. You know -- and that's really the open question. And why do I say that? When you look at sentencings, Kasie, it's about punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. What do all of those mean?

Well, punishment is for there's an obligation if you get a subpoena to come before a committee to appear. And in the event you don't, there's a punishment of up to one year in jail for not doing so. Yes, it's a misdemeanor and not a felony, but a fine nonetheless. And so, to what extent will the judge look at that and say you should be punished for not doing it?

When you talk about the issue of deterrence, judges generally like to send a message not only to you -- specific deterrence, Mr. Navarro, for not showing up -- a general deterrence. We have a system that has to operate fairly that you have to respect, and if a judge doesn't sentence him, what does it say to the next person who gets a subpoena? Oh, you know what? Navarro didn't get any time so why would I appear?

And then, of course, there's the issue of rehabilitation. I think that's a non-issue in this case. Certainly, someone who has a background like him, I don't think the judge is looking to rehabilitate him.

But that will be the narrative. We know the government, Kasie, is asking for six months. His attorneys are asking for probation. I think the judge has to give some teeth to the statute that says when Congress comes calling you must appear. And so, I would look for the judge to sentence him to a term in prison.

HUNT: All right, Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst. Joey, thank you.

JACKSON: Always. HUNT: All right. Russia claims that Ukraine shot down one of its military planes near the Ukrainian border on Wednesday, killing all 74 people on board. The Kremlin says dozens of Ukrainian soldiers were on the plane as part of a prisoner swap. Ukraine's military command will not confirm responsibility but calls the Russian plane a legitimate target.

Frederik Pleitgen joins us now live from Eastern Ukraine. Fred, thank you so much for being with us.

I mean, do the Russians have evidence that Ukraine shot this plane down?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they don't at this point in time. It's something that the Russians are saying. And you're absolutely right, Kasie. At this point in time, there certainly are more questions than there are answers in this case.

The Russians are claiming that they actually tracked this surface-to- air missile as it was launched from Ukrainian territory all the way to when it hit the plane. And they're also, of course, saying that there were 65 prisoners of war from Ukraine on that plane meant for an exchange. But they certainly, so far, have not provided any evidence of that.

One of the things people are looking at is actually, some of the video from the crash site, which doesn't seem to indicate that there were a lot of bodies after that plane crashed there.

However, the Ukrainians, for their part, are acknowledging that a prisoner of war exchange was supposed to take place yesterday and that prisoner of war exchange was then called off. However, they're also saying that they have no indication that there were, indeed, prisoners of war on that plane.

You're absolutely right to say that Ukraine is not denying they shot the plane down, but also not acknowledging it either.

Now, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of this country -- he's come out and he's blasted the Russians for what he is saying they're playing with the emotions of the loved ones -- for those who are waiting for those prisoners of war to come home. Let's listen in.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is evident that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their families, and with the emotions of our society. It is necessary to establish all clear facts to the extent possible, considering that the plane crash occurred on Russian territory beyond our control.


PLEITGEN: Now, Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said that he has ordered his top generals and intelligence officials to try to find out what exactly happened. But, of course, he's also admitting that's going to be very difficult since the crash took place on Russian territory, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Frederik Pleitgen for us in Ukraine. Fred, thank you very much.

All right. Just ahead here, hardline Republicans rail against Mitch McConnell's border and Ukraine funding deal -- one that Donald Trump is trying to sink.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you think of his handling of the Ukraine and immigration talks -- McConnell?

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Disastrous, clearly -- totally. I mean, just look. It's a -- it's a total shambles. It's a total disaster.





SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I don't know anything about what they're doing. I mean, I -- one of the gentlemen under the interstate living in a refrigerator box knows more about it than I do.

RAJU: What do you think of his handling of the Ukraine and immigration talks -- McConnell?

HAWLEY: Disastrous, clearly -- totally. I mean, just look. It's a -- it's a total shambles. It's a total disaster. I mean, it's totally disastrous and embarrassing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This bill represents Senate Republican leadership waging war on House Republican leadership.


HUNT: All right. Amid deep divisions among Republicans over immigration and aid to Ukraine, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is admitting to his party that bipartisan talks on a border deal may be going awry and that the two issues shouldn't even be tied together anymore.

According to a CNN source, McConnell told Republicans during a private meeting Wednesday that they're in a quote "quandary." And despite engaging in lengthy debates, Senate Republicans emerged from that meeting as angry as ever.

On the left, meanwhile, frustration also mounting as progressives warn of backlash over the potential deal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Returning to Trump's playbook -- you know, Trump's greatest hits when it comes to border security is not the answer to the problem.


HUNT: Let's bring in congressional reporter for The Hill, Mychael Schnell. Mychael, good morning. Always wonderful to have you.

Let's talk about Donald Trump. I mean, honestly, on both sides of this you've got the presidential race playing out in the Halls of Congress. Reportedly, McConnell read a quote from Trump (back in 2018) in this meeting and reportedly referred to him as the nominee.

I mean, what is your latest reporting about why this is all kind of -- I mean, it sounds to me like it's basically about to fall apart. What is your reporting?


MYCHAEL SCHNELL, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE HILL: Yeah. Well look, Kasie, first, I think it's important to note that this was always going to be an uphill battle, right? We're talking about something like immigration reform, border security -- matters that have bedeviled lawmakers for decades. We haven't seen real substantive progress on these matters for decades because they're so politically charged and the two parties are so far apart on these two issues.

Now bring in the other dynamics and you mentioned them.

A) it's an election year. We are officially in 2024. The primary season is in full swing. The general election is right around the corner.

The second part of that is that immigration has become an extremely salient issue on the campaign trail. There was a new poll out this week from Harvard and Harris that found that immigration has actually topped the list as the issue that is most important to voters -- 35 percent. Behind that is inflation at 32 percent.

So take that all into account and you now have the possibility that Republicans were going to participate with Democrats and strike a deal on border security, delivering a significant win to President Biden -- again, months before the general election day. Some Republicans it now seems are coming to terms with that and recognizing that they don't want to give the president a win on such a politically charged topic and salient topic so close to the election.

So, yes, it looks like the talks are cracking right now and there's a possibility we don't actually get an agreement here.

HUNT: Mychael, the Democratic perspective on this, too -- I mean, there are progressives that are pushing back against how far the Biden administration was willing to go on some of these policies. How is that playing into this?

SCHNELL: Yeah, this was -- this deal was always going to get a hodgepodge of support from the middle of both parties, right? You were going to have some moderate Republicans and some moderate Democrats. That's always sort of how it is and you know this better than anyone, Kasie, when you have these bipartisan deals. Typically, it's not conservative enough for the right flank of the Republican Party, but it's not progressive enough for that left wing of the Democratic Party. So you typically have that -- again, that support coming from the middle of both camps.

Now, what does this mean for Democrats? I mean, look, Republicans have been sounding the alarm about the border. Democrats -- I'm sorry, Republicans have been sounding the alarm about the border. Democrats have been coming to terms with that and also saying it's a problem. Again, look at the poll numbers. It's difficult to ignore when voters are saying these things.

So, Democrats were willing to come to the table and make some key concessions on these key matters. The fact that Republicans now may be walking away or just that they can't come to an agreement, we're going to see a lot of messaging come from Democrats having them say look, we were willing to make concessions on the border. We were willing to make a compromise. Republicans didn't want to do that. That is the sort of messaging that we are going to see for months to come.

And when you talk about those progressives, they'll probably be breathing a sigh of relief right now because they're not going to see those key concessions on the border.

HUNT: And, of course, amid all of this -- basically, campaigning on the Hill -- there is the issue of Ukraine and getting aid out the door to them. If anything, that makes this -- that seem much less likely to happen.

Mychael Schnell of The Hill. Mychael, always grateful to have you. Thank you.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Up next here on "CNN THIS MORNING," the tale of the tape. Leaked audio of Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake and state Republican chairman Jeff Dewit. Why he's stepping down, coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: It's official. Jim Harbaugh is leaving Michigan to go back to the NFL to coach the Los Angeles Chargers.

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

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, the tone of your voice as a Michigan fan, not too excited about this, Kasie.

But this did seem like the perfect time for Jim Harbaugh to make the jump back to the NFL. He just accomplished his goal of bringing a title back to Ann Arbor. On top of that, he's been dealing with the NCAA investigations. But he's not going to have to worry about those anymore.

The Los Angeles Chargers announcing Harbaugh will be their new head coach last night. Harbaugh actually has the highest winning percentage of any active coach in the NFL. He went 44-19-1 while coaching the 49ers for four seasons, leading them to the Super Bowl back in 2013.

And what a shakeup we've had this offseason in college football. Of the four playoff teams, only Texas still has their head coach, Steve Sarkisian. Harbaugh left Michigan, Saban retired, and Kalen DeBoer left Washington to take Saban's place at Alabama.

All right. In the NBA, it was a very emotional night in San Francisco as the Warriors honored their late assistant coach Dejan Milojevic. Decky, as he was called, passed away last week after suffering a heart attack. The team wore his name on their jerseys before the game and then they placed those jerseys on Decky's seat on the bench.

Now, teams around the league -- they wore shirts with "Brate" on them, which means brother in Serbian and it's how Decky referred to everyone on the Warriors.

And before the game, Steve Kerr delivered this message.


STEVE KERR, HEAD COACH, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Rather than a moment of silence, I'd like for all of us to give Decky an ovation that he can hear up in heaven. Thank you.


SCHOLES: Yeah, and Kerr said afterwards that lots of guys just in tears as they started this game. But they certainly honored Decky. They went out and beat the Hawks 134-112.

All right, Giannis Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, said he was surprised when he learned that the Bucks had fired head coach Adrian Griffin but he does trust the front office. Doc Rivers is going to be taking over the team soon.

In the meantime, the Bucks never trailed against the Cavs last night. They won this one 126-116. Giannis finishing with 35 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists.

All right. In college hoops, Alabama was hosting rival Auburn last night. And after the player introductions, they couldn't get the normal lights back on at Coleman Coliseum so they just started the game with the red lights they use in the pregame, which looked really weird. But after 30 seconds, the refs said we can't play like this. They stopped the game and for about 19 minutes they waited until the normal lights finally came back on.

All the fans there in Tuscaloosa cheering at that point and they got to go home happy. They upset 8th-ranked Auburn 79-75.


All right. And Kasie, Coco Gauff's run at the Aussie Open coming to an end this morning. She lost in two tough sets to reigning champ Aryna Sabalenka. It was Coco's first loss, though, of 2020 (sic) for her best finish yet at the Aussie Open. I'm thinking she's still going to have an amazing year.

HUNT: I bet she does. I would love to see her -- I would love to see her keep going. But best of luck to her going forward.


HUNT: Andy, thanks very much for that.


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