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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Closing Arguments Expected In Trump's NY Civil Trial; Trump Opposes Draft RNC Resolution For Presumptive Nominee; Soon: "Emergency" Verdict In Israel Genocide Case; CIA Director To Meet Israel & Egypt Intel Chiefs On Hostages. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2024 - 05:00   ET




The GOP tries to pull an end-run around their own voters, dropping a plan to declare Trump the presumptive nominee after backlash.

Plus, Nikki Haley taking a page from Trumps playbook, fundraising off of calls for her to quit the race.

And President Biden's campaign reportedly closely watching that bitter feud between Trump and Haley, maybe even enjoying it. Will the incumbent -- it help the incumbent president come November?


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Friday, January 26. Happy Friday. We made it.

It is 05:00 a.m. here in Washington and it's also 05:00 a.m. in New York. That's where Donald Trump is expected back in federal court this morning for closing arguments in the civil defamation case brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll.

He closed out the trial with just three minutes of testimony Thursday. He was admonished several times by the judge, his comments stricken from the record after he repeated the original defamation against Carroll.

Trump's lawyer asked, quote, did you deny the allegation because Ms. Carroll made an accusation? Trump responded, that's exactly right. Yes, I did. She said something I considered a false accusation, totally false.

That's when the judge interrupted and said everything after "yes, I did" is stricken.

It was a pretty rough day on the trail, honestly, in the courtroom and elsewhere because on the same day yesterday, the Republican National Committee had to reverse course on a resolution declaring Trump the party's presumptive nominee, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, had said this after Nikki Haley lost New Hampshire.


RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: I'm looking at the math and the path going forward. And I don't see it for Nikki Haley. I think she's run a great campaign, but I do think there is a message that's coming out from the voters, which is very clear. We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.

HOST: You're telling Nikki Haley that she needs to get out?

MCDANIEL: I just don't see the path and the math. I hope she reflects tonight. I think it's time to move forward.


HUNT: So after those comments comes this resolution where the committee itself was going to say that that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The president meanwhile, initially seemed to support the resolution and then announced on social media he was against it for, quote, the sake of party unity.

Nikki Haley's campaign, brush it off as irrelevant to voters, despite later fundraising off of it in an email.

Let's bring in Julia Manchester. She is national political reporter for "The Hill".

Julia, good morning. Always wonderful to see you.

I want to talk about this RNC resolution, this back-and-forth because our reporting is that initially Trump was totally fine with this and that would absolutely track with how the former president tends to handle these things. We know just how angry he is about Nikki Haley continuing, we've seen it from the stage.

But clearly something happened where he seemed to get the message that no, this was going to cause problems for him with Republicans because it did seem like an end run around their own voters. What's your understanding of what played out here and how big of a mistake was this by the RNC?


I think initially, obviously, the former president was flattered by this resolution. The sentiment to automatically make him the nominee, it would make his life a bit easier, right? Not having to go through, you're talking Nevada, then South Carolina, Super Tuesday.

However, you know, I think the former president and his team understood that in the end, the long game, this wouldn't have been a good look, because remember, the former President Trump is trying to position himself as the anti-establishment even though in a way, in many ways, he is the establishment, but the anti-establishment outside of the beltway, Washington, D.C. guy. It was very easy yesterday for Nikki Haley's campaign, Chris Sununu,

the governor of New Hampshire, big surrogate for her, to say this is some backroom deal and Washington happening. So I think it ultimately would have been a bad look for the president who wants to position himself as being anti-establishment, outside of the beltway.


And he ultimately understood that and sort of backtracked.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting that one of the parallels here honestly is on the Democratic side with Bernie Sanders, who always argued that the system was rigged against him because of the superdelegates and all the various things that came out of the party committee.

Julia, what's your sense of where -- I mean, Ronna McDaniel's comments really went farther than they usually do if you're a party chair during a contested primary. How do you think this is going to ultimately reflect on her?

MANCHESTER: Look, I think Ronna McDaniel is under a lot of pressure because the writing does seem to be on the wall, that on the Republican side, President Trump is slated to be the nominee. And I think there's pressure to obviously unify the party as quickly as possible because remember, the Biden campaign, Kasie, is already in general election mode, hitting Joe Biden directly and, you know, putting all of their, you know, sort of ire towards hitting excuse me, President Trump directly, putting all of their ire towards him.

Trump wants to do the same thing. The Republicans want to do the same thing. However, while Nikki Haley is still in the race, that's going to be a distraction for the former president. Obviously, the former president has a number of other distractions happening in the form of legal cases, including his federal election trial -- the trial to -- about his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election results happening before Super Tuesday.

So they don't want there to be any distractions. Nikki Haley is a distraction and as we saw a few nights ago and New Hampshire, President Trump was irritated by her. He is -- she is getting under his skin by just being in the race still. So they want -- I think there's this pressure campaign to get her to drop out, so the party can focus on Biden.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, really what it does is give everyone a glimpse of that's the Donald Trump Democrats want to run against, right, the one that gets so angry about Nikki Haley, that that's what we see from him on stage in New Hampshire.

Let me ask you to circle back to the court case. Donald Trump testified yesterday, had to have his comments stricken from the record by the judge. This case is one, you know, he's using it to campaign, but it also is something that the subject matter of it, you know, there's a reason why suburban voters, particularly women turned against Donald Trump and states that places like Phoenix and Atlanta, states that Donald Trump would have to win.

How does focusing on this help him? And do you think he cost himself, I realize you're not a lawyer. The question seems to be how much money mighty have cost himself by testifying here.

MANCHESTER: Look, I think it negatively impacts ultimately the Trump brand are very well could impact the Trump brand beyond politics in terms of business. So that's definitely a big risk he took in that could very well backfire. But, you know, in terms of testifying -- look, I think it could definitely backfire against him from maybe some outside groups. I don't really see the Biden campaign wanting to approach these cases just yet, and try to include them in their campaign messaging. I think they want to be laser-focused on kitchen table issues like the economy.

I think they realize that a lot of voters view these -- these legal issues against Trump as maybe inside legal baseball, inside political baseball. But at the same time, if he makes a big gaffe, if he makes a big mistake, that could play negatively on the campaign trail.

HUNT: All right. Julia Manchester, for us this morning -- Julia, thanks for getting us started. Have a great weekend.

MANCHESTER: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Right now, CNN is monitoring the International Court of Justice. We've got a decision due this morning in the Israel genocide case. What it could mean for the future of the war in Gaza, next.

Plus, rain has been soaking the Gulf Coast. It is not over yet. Millions of Americans are facing flood threats. That's ahead.

And NASA's mission on Mars, a final flight for a space-exploring pioneer.



HUNT: Welcome back.

The International Court of Justice about to deliver a verdict in a genocide case brought against Israel. South Africa brought the case claiming that Israel's military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide. The court will not be ruling on whether the Israelis committed genocide. They are instead going to focus on whether emergency measures are needed here.

Melissa Bell is live for us at The Hague.

Melissa, how do we expect this to play out?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, in a couple of hours' time, we're going to get that initial ruling, as you said, Kasie. This is very much about those emergency orders that South Africa has requested, essentially amounting to an injunction if the judges here at the International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s highest court behind me, rule in favor of South Africa's request, it could come in the shape of demand that Israel pause, suspend its military operation in Gaza. But they could come slightly shorter that. They could find some middle ground, sort of fudge, in which they would suggest that Israel needs to change the way it's going about its military operation in Gaza.

As you said a moment ago, these are substantive allegations that will be considered by this court, possibly for years, Kasie. What we're going to hear today is whether the judges believed that the case is sufficiently strong that South Africa's request be granted, then the question will come about what Israel does about that. Will it take on board? And he rooting it comes here today that it needs to change your suspend its military operation. How would it take that? And how quickly will it respond?

A lot of people who've been watching these proceedings that began a couple of weeks ago here in The Hague, Kasie, have been saying, look, the fact that Israel is chosen to defend itself, the fact that it is taking pardon these proceedings does suggest that it intends to take any rulings seriously -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Melissa Bell for us on the scene at The Hague -- Melissa, thank you

CIA Director Bill Burns is set to meet in the coming days with the intelligence chiefs for Israel and Egypt along with Qatar's prime minister, they're going to discuss a deal to try to trade the remaining hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in the fighting in Gaza. A U.S. official says that meetings are expected to happen somewhere in Europe.

CNN's Max Foster joins us live from London with more on this.

Max, Good morning.

What are the dynamics here? I mean, there's a lot that's been going on behind the scenes in terms of trying to figure out how to get the rest of these hostages out of Gaza.

What do you see them trying to accomplish?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it feels like something big, doesn't it? The way Burns is traveling around -- why were getting these different bits of information from many different sources. We know that he's spoken to, you know, counterparts in Europe, and he'll be holding meetings, bringing all the allies together, trying to get some sort of agreement.

So there has to be a reason for him to believe that there is a deal to be done between Hamas and Israel. Of course, then we look at the situation of hostages, what happens to them. But also what happens in terms of a pause in fighting. The sensitive parts of that, or how many hostages Hamas are reeling to release. Also, what happens after a pause in fighting? Does it transition into

a permanent cease-fire? And crucially, what happens to her mass military leadership are they allowed to leave Gaza? And if so, whether they go?

So this is all stuff that's going on in those corridors of power.

HUNT: Yeah, really interesting. Max, there was audio leaked of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was talking with hostage families, but he criticized Qatar and the U.S. and other media areas saying that they haven't been squeezing Hamas hard enough on this.

How has Netanyahu's -- how of those comments been received here? And have they made these negotiations harder?

FOSTER: They made them incredibly hard because Qatar is meant to be the independent mediator here. And the reality is, we don't have another one. Egypt is obviously closely involved in all this, but Qatar is the central pivot point in any sort of negotiations.

So in terms of getting hostages out, they are crucial. In terms of getting a ceasefire with the Palestinians, they are crucial. So undermining that undermines all of those discussions. But at the moment, you know, they've got full support of the U.S.

I mean, Qatar is in quite a strange situation, isn't it. It is home to Hamas leadership. It has also home to a major U.S. base, a very unusual situation. But it's not entirely unprecedented. It's a bit like having allow -- Sweden's got embassy on Pyongyang and the U.S. contacts Pyongyang through the Swedish embassy. You now, there are not direct links, but, you know, it's a unique position that Qatar's in, but they really central and crucial to this whole process.

HUNT: Yeah, there are some fundamentals of diplomacy. We don't talk to North Korea officially, but we actually do need to -- yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

Max Foster, thank you very much, my friend. Have a wonderful weekend. See you Monday.

FOSTER: Thank you.

HUNT: All right.

Up next here, do you remember infrastructure week? Just ahead, President Biden, using that memory sake shot at former president.

And road rules. A new bill could make speeding nearly impossible. That's next.



HUNT: All right. We've got quick hits across America now. Former Trump adviser Peter Navarro is appealing his four-month sentence for contempt of Congress. Navarro defied a subpoena from the January 6 subcommittee. His lawyer says he'll appeal.

A California lawmaker wants to make it nearly impossible for you to speed. He just introduced a bill that would require cars built and sold in California and beyond 2027 to be equipped with the device to restrict the speed of the car to just ten miles an hour above the speed limit. That's going to go over really well.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter mission ending after three years and 72 flights on Mars. One of the choppers rotor blades was damaged during its final flight this month, and Ingenuity is no longer to be able -- is no longer able to fly.

All right. Let's get now to the weather. We've got more rain on the way for the South today after heavy downpours this week, deluged areas from Texas to Alabama, triggering flood warnings for millions across a region that has already been saturated.

Also, widespread fog will impact the Northeast and Central U.S. We've also got a wintry mix in New England, sounds like quite mess.

And our weatherman Van Dam has been tracking all of it for us.

Derek, good morning to you.

I had -- the fog was shrouding the roads here this morning, but it really sounds like that flood threat in the South is pretty dire.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah. Montgomery County in Texas had 17 water rescues yesterday, even over a dozen pets rescued from the swift water that move through the region. This is just north of Houston overnight in Conroe, Texas. And you can see some of the flooded roadways and even the local park as well.

Houston just did a little bit of digging. They have received nearly two times their entire monthly average of rainfall for January. So, just incredible amounts of rain. That gives you an understanding.

Some of the more local readings that we found have topped the foot mark. And this is from the storm total. Montgomery, Texas, 15.25 inches of rain.

Now, there was a lot of concern yesterday evening about the potential for flash flooding overnight across the New Orleans region. Fortunately, that has not materialized, the bulk of the rain has stayed off shore.


But look at the swath of heavy rainfall, some locations receiving over ten inches. This is the latest radar and you can see the rainfall still located across the Gulf of Mexico, at least the heaviest rain, light showers into New Orleans. If that bulk of that rain starts to shift in, the potential still exists today through Saturday morning with a few different waves of rain that will impact New Orleans and the surrounding southeastern Louisiana area. So, we're going to keep a close eye on that.

Elsewhere still millions of Americans, including metropolitan Atlanta, under a flood watch, this is part of a larger storm system that stretches from the Gulf, all the way to the border of Canada over for spreading rain and yes, warmer temperatures. This is not falling as snow with the exception of the high elevations of northern New England.

There's a secondary storm that will bring more rain overnight tonight and into Saturday morning for the Deep South. That slides to the Northeast and brings the potential of some snowfall. But this flood threat, we got to talk about it, New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, it spreads to the southern Appalachians for this time tomorrow, and a lot of rain still on our way across the Deep South -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Derek, our weatherman, Van Dam -- Derek, thank you. Have a good weekend.

VAN DAM: Have a good weekend.

HUNT: All right. Up next here, anger on the Hill. Senator seething as Donald Trump tries to kill a bipartisan border deal. It was most definitely not easy to broker.

And a state lawmaker who says he knows best about abortion because he was a veterinarian. We'll show you that.