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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Trump Court Hearings In New York And Georgia; Sen. McConnell: Every Argument Against Foreign Aid Bill Is Wrong; Trump Says He Intentionally Mixed Up Haley And Pelosi. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 15, 2024 - 05:30   ET




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

Dueling hearings today for Donald Trump. He's got to decide where to be.

In New York, a judge is going to hear the former president's bid to throw out his porn star hush money case. There he is with Stormy Daniels. That's the indictment that made Trump the first former or current president to ever be criminally charged. He plans to attend that one in person.

In Georgia, Trump's lawyers will be seeking to disqualify D.A. Fani Willis and her top prosecutor over what they say is an improper relationship. Trump is charged there with election interference. And there's a possibility Willis will be testifying herself.

Let's bring in Lis Wiehl. She is a former federal prosecutor and the author of "A Spy in Plain Sight." Lis, good morning. It's great to have you here.

I want to start with the Georgia election subversion case. Fani Willis has admitted that there -- that she did have a relationship with the special prosecutor Nathan Wade.

How damaging is this, and is it enough to disqualify them?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, AUTHOR, "A SPY IN PLAIN SIGHT: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE FBI AND ROBERT HANSSEN -- AMERICA'S MOST DAMAGING RUSSIAN SPY (via Skype): Well, it's damaging in the sense that it shows poor judgment. I mean, it's a big high-profile case and to start an affair with Wade is not in good judgment, let's say. And she's admitted that. She's said she's human, she's flawed. She's said this in public. OK, so poor judgment on the one hand.

Is it enough to disqualify her from the case? No.

They'll have a hearing today. The judge wants to her perhaps even from her and certainly from Wade about when the affair started and what financial gain that she might have had. But that is all -- those are all issues for maybe disciplinary action at some point. I mean, I'm really pulling at straws here, but maybe.

But certainly not disqualification. Because in Georgia, as in most states, to have a conflict, whether it's a real conflict or an appearance of a conflict, you have to have something that's going to damage the defendant, right? It's going to prejudice the defendant.

What's an example of that, Kasie? If Willis, for example, was having an affair with the judge or having an affair with somebody who was going to testify. You know, a big -- a big witness in the -- in the trial. That potentially could be a conflict of interest and could be a prejudicial effect on a defendant -- i.e., Trump and his cohorts here.

But I don't see that here. I don't see their having an affair having a prejudicial impact on the defendant -- no. It's kind of their business and wrong judgment, but it doesn't fit the conflict of interest statute in Georgia and many other states.

HUNT: Basically, because Willis and Wade are already on the same team?

I think we may have lost Lis Wiehl there. We will see if we can get her back up. But otherwise, our thanks to her.

All right, we're going to turn now to Capitol Hill where House Speaker Mike Johnson is telling his conference that there's no rush to address the Senate's $95 billion foreign aid package while other members weigh rewriting it.

And while the package awaits action in the House, the man who helped push it through the Senate -- that's the minority leader, Mitch McConnell -- is maintaining his unequivocal support to aid war-torn Ukraine.


He did an interview with CNN yesterday and he harkened back to his childhood and the warnings that his father, who was a foot soldier in World War II, once issued about the threat posed by Russia.

He says, quote, "Every argument against this is wrong. Every single one of them." He said, "Not a single American soldier has lost their lives in this fight. We've got a bunch of people willing to kill Russians. I can't find any argument against this that makes sense."

McConnell is also blaming former President Donald Trump for the GOP's eroding support for Kyiv, calling it quote "a political reaction."

All right, let's bring in Tia Mitchell, She is Washington correspondent for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Tia, good morning. It's good to see you.

This reality here -- Mitch McConnell doing this interview as foreign aid languishes in the House while Mike Johnson says there's no rush as Ukrainian forces are running out of ammunition on the battlefield -- it is a very stark difference in world view between the old guard in the Republican Party and the new.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. I mean, there's so much to unpack here, especially listening to your previous segment and all the things that are going on with the House Republican Conference.

But at the end of the day, there is just an increasingly isolationist wing of the Republican Party. Also, former President Donald Trump was pretty isolationist himself, both during his four years in office and a lot of his rhetoric now as he contemplates becoming president again as he talks about foreign policy.

And as leader of the Republican Party and as someone who really has a lot of influence over the Republican base, I think there are a lot of rank-and-file Republicans in Congress who feel they need to fall in line with President Trump even if they don't particularly agree with him on all of the issues.

So I think it's both. It's wanting to agree with Trump and fall in line with Trump. And then there are, I think, the far-right -- the MAGA Republicans -- the America First Republicans -- that brand of Republicanism. More and more members of Congress from the Republican Party represent that brand. And again, they're very isolationist in their world view. They do not, under most circumstances, want American dollars going to foreign entities.

HUNT: Yeah. The Trump surrogates will use the phrase "Ukraine first, America Last" when they talk about this. But it really does represent a fundamental change in sort of the perception of what the role of the United States should be in a post-World World II -- you know, the way that the West has been fundamentally conceived.

Tia, there are some other efforts to kind of drop a version of this bill that could get through the House of Representatives. I think it's important to underscore that the issue here is that Mike Johnson, the House Speaker, won't put it on the floor. Like, if it were to get a straight vote on the floor of the House there's enough support in the Congress for this to pass between Democrats and the Republicans who still believe that this is an important thing for the United States to be doing.

Do you see any path forward here for this aid?

MITCHELL: So, unfortunately, the political calculations for Speaker Johnson are what makes it difficult for him to put this legislation on the floor. Because again, when you look at just the Republican Party, not only is there that divide between the more traditional defense hawks and the America First kind of isolationists but right now, in the current makeup of the U.S. House, more and more votes on foreign aid, fewer Republicans are voting in favor, particularly for aid to Ukraine.

And so, Speaker Johnson knows that perhaps more than half of his party is, for different reasons, not willing to support money for Ukraine, whether it's because there are no offsets in cutting federal dollars by equal amounts elsewhere or whether they just don't want money going to Ukraine at all -- or whether, again, they just don't want money going to other countries before border security, for example.

So all of these factions amount to a lot of no votes for money for Ukraine. And it would be very perilous politically for Speaker Johnson to bring a measure to the floor that at least half of Republicans don't support. And so, that's part of the calculus.


Yes, there are other ways measures could come to the floor going around Johnson, like the discharge petition. But again, it would be politically perilous for Republicans to sign onto a discharge petition with Democrats.

So the politics, unfortunately, make it difficult to bring this bill to the floor even if policy-wise it could pass.

HUNT: Yeah. It's very -- it's challenging for those who support Ukraine.

Let me ask you, Tia, as well, the House Homeland Security chairman Mark Green -- he announced yesterday he's not going to seek reelection. Let me show you what Green had to say when he explained his decision.


REP. MARK GREEN (R-TN): You go out with a win, right, and I've accomplished what I wanted to do. I wanted to get a great border security bill done. We did that. And I wanted to hold the administration accountable. And we just impeached, for the first time, a sitting cabinet secretary.


HUNT: So the Republicans also lost Mike Gallagher earlier this month -- a few days ago. And, of course, there are 21 total Republicans not seeking reelection.

What do you make of Green's decision and kind of the exodus here?

MITCHELL: Yeah. To me, Green's decision -- some of these Republicans who are retiring are kind of part of that old guard that we mentioned, and so it kind of makes sense as we see the rightward shift of the party. We see the influence of Donald Trump.

Whereas, Green is pretty conservative. Again, he just talked about their border security bill, which is beloved in conservative circles. The impeachment of Mayorkas. We know that's something that Donald Trump wanted and people like Marjorie Taylor Greene backed. And he says he got that over the finish line.

So, to me, it's not as clear why he's retiring. He's not someone who's been around for decades and is getting kind of up there in age. So I think it remains to be seen. There could perhaps be other reasons behind it. I don't know but I'm thinking is there another -- maybe a local office that he wants to run for, or maybe a job in the private sector that he's eyeing? Those are what come to mind.

But I think in a more global sense, it is interesting that of all -- we all -- I mean, Congress is a big body. There are always lots of retirements going into each cycle. But among Republicans, there does seem to be some panic and concern about their inability to govern, the influence of Donald Trump, and how that makes it --

HUNT: Sure.

MITCHELL: -- not always a fun place for Republicans to serve in Congress.

HUNT: Well, and even if -- you're right that Green is one of the most conservative and he spearheaded the Mayorkas impeachment. It's not necessarily that. But he did -- he was quoted by Axios as saying that being in Congress is, quote, "a lot of something for nothing." And I think that idea -- that frustration -- you know, this guy was a -- he was an Army Ranger -- Army medic.

Like, people who come to Washington want to get something done. They don't find necessarily that Congress is really the place you can do it anymore, which is I think, unfortunately, a sad reflection on the state of affairs.

Tia Mitchell -- Tia, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

All right. Remember when Donald Trump mixed up Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi? The former president now claims that wasn't an accident.

And Kansas City Chiefs players reacting to the deadly shooting at their Super Bowl parade. Our Bleacher Report coming up next.




DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's very hard to be sarcastic. When I interposed -- because I'm not a Nikki fan and I'm not a Pelosi fan -- and when I purposely interposed names they said he didn't know Pelosi from Nikki -- from tricky Nikki -- and they make a big deal out of it. I said no, no -- I think they both stink. They have something in common.


HUNT: Sarcasm -- that's Donald Trump's new defense for why he mixed up the names of GOP rival Nikki Haley and Nancy Pelosi last month. That verbal slip -- whatever it is -- we're going to believe him -- has been seized upon by both Haley and Democrats as President Biden has faced questions about his mental acuity.

The closely related age issue clearly on the mind of voters. The most recent polling shows 59 percent of Americans say Biden and Trump are both too old to serve another term.

Let's bring in senior political correspondent for Puck News, Tara Palmeri. Tara, good morning.

Should we watch what he said --


HUNT: -- originally together and see if we believe him? Let's play the original, like, what he said about --


HUNT: -- Pelosi and Haley. Take a look.


TRUMP: You know, Nikki Haley -- Nikki Haley -- Nikki Haley -- you know, they -- did you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything? Deleted and destroyed all of it -- all of it because of lots of things. Like, Nikki Haley is in charge of security. We offered her 10,000 people -- soldiers -- National Guard soldiers. Whatever they want.


HUNT: OK, sarcasm -- yes, no? What do you make of this denial?

PALMERI: No, because the details -- like, he goes into we offered her 10,000 troops. It doesn't sound sarcastic at all. Like, a sarcastic joke is, like, a witty little offhand thing. This was like a detailed account of what he offered the Speaker of the House as President of the United States.

And Nikki Haley was nowhere near the Capitol. She had nothing to do with January 6 at all. She was probably in South Carolina with her family at that point.

This is not even sarcasm. And then the word he used to say that he switched up their names purposely -- "interposed" -- that's not even the meaning of interposed. Interposed is when you put one thing in between two. This is not -- he wasn't putting Nikki Haley in between Nancy Pelosi and something else.

It's just very weird. It's a weak -- it's a very weak defense and -- but with Trump, does he really care? I don't think so.


HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I think the part that I get stuck on is that he does do this sometimes, right? He'll purposefully misname someone. And I can see a world where he wants --

PALMERI: Covfefe, right? HUNT: -- his voters -- right. Like, he wants his voters to think about Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley in the same breath, right? But -- and so, I --


HUNT: Part of me is kind of turning it over in my head, like, well, is it -- is it possible? But when you actually watch the clip, to your point, I don't -- it's not as clear as some of the other instances.

PALMERI: It's not a joke. Like, that's the thing. If he's saying --

HUNT: Right.

PALMERI: -- it's sarcasm, it's not a joke. It's just the mis-telling of a story. He -- it's not even mis-telling. It's like a totally -- I don't know -- different -- it's a completely different story.

Nikki Haley had nothing to do with January 6. It's just -- it's completely bizarre. And to say it's sarcasm is another even -- it's just compounding the bizarreness of it all. And -- I don't know.

HUNT: Yeah.

PALMERI: I don't think he can get away with this one. But again, his followers will say oh, we're picking on him because, you know -- and point out that he was absolutely wrong and his excuse is pretty lame.

HUNT: On a -- on another topic, Tara, we're about a week out from the release of Robert Hur's report on the classified documents. How damaging at this point do you think this is?

I mean, we've seen members of Congress also -- Jim Jordan is out now demanding to hear from Biden's ghostwriter because there was an interview with him referencing, kind of, the classified material. There's talk of hauling her before the committee getting him to testify.

What's next here?

PALMERI: Yeah, I don't think this is going away at all. It's a legal document from the special counsel that was appointed by the Department of Justice -- the attorney general, Merrick Garland. And it calls into question the mental acuity of the president. And I think it opens up the opportunity for everyone -- the opposition party in the House, the Republicans, the press, comedians following the lead of Jon Stewart who seemed to really eviscerate Joe Biden.

I think, if anything, Robert Hur has just made the conversation about the president's age be a question that is no longer sort of danced around or spoken about in polite circles other than, obviously, the political opposition. And --

HUNT: Yeah.

PALMERI: -- in some ways, for good reason. I mean, it's a real question. It was going to come up anyway but now it's at the forefront.

And, yeah, I think if there is going to be testimony on the Hill, if it's in front of cameras, it's just another opportunity to get it out there. And, of course, that testimony will be cut into ads by the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign.

And it's just not going away. This isn't -- this is a legal document. This is a special prosecutor who was presented to us as unimpeachable when he was picked.

HUNT: Yeah. It also raises some other questions about things Democrats won't say out loud. Questions about Kamala Harris, for example. I know you've been reporting on that. We're out of time but I hope you'll come back and we'll talk some more.

Tara Palmeri of Puck News. Thank you very much.

PALMERI: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Up next here, immigration officials consider releasing thousands of migrants in order to save money.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Kansas City Chiefs players are reacting to the deadly shooting that marred what should have been a day of unadulterated celebration for their back-to-back Super Bowl champions. But unfortunately, it's not what happened.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, good morning.


Police in Kansas City are still working to determine who opened fire and what motivated the shooting that killed one person and wounded more than 20 others. An estimated one million people had gathered just steps away from Union Station for the parade celebrating that repeat championship. Players were still on the stage when the gunshots rang out.

Super Bowl MPV Patrick Mahomes posting on social media, "Praying for Kansas City."

While tight end Travis Kelce posted, "I am heartbroken over the tragedy that took place today. My heart is with all who came out to celebrate with us and have been affected. KC, you mean the world to me."

Safety Justin Reid posted, "This is sad, man! Kids are being shot and somebody didn't come home tonight. We cannot allow this to be normal. We cannot allow ourselves to become numb and chalk it up to just another shooting in America and reduce people in statistics and then move on tomorrow. This is a serious problem. I pray our leaders enact real solutions so our kids' kids won't know this violence."

Turning to the NBA. Phoenix police say Pistons center Isaiah Stewart was arrested for assault, issued a citation, and released. This, after punching Suns forward Drew Eubanks ahead of yesterday's game, according to authorities. CNN has reached out to the Pistons and Stewart's representation for comment.

Here is Eubanks' teammate, Kevin Durant, on the situation.


KEVIN DURANT, FORWARD, PHOENIX SUNS: It's unfortunate what happened before the game. This is supposed to be a brotherhood. But also understand that dudes get into stuff and stuff may happen. But we try to avoid that in this league but it happens and hopefully, you can move on from it. And we all support Drew.


WIRE: All right, some highlights now, Kasie. The Warriors saw their season-high five-game win streak come to an end at the hands of the L.A Clippers.

However, Steph Curry scored 41 points and in the process made NBA history by becoming the first player ever to make at least seven 3- pointers in four consecutive games.

As impressive as that is, you've got to see this. Curry connecting on a pregame shot from the tunnel at the opposite end of the court. Throwing a discus out there. That tunnel is more than a third of a football field away, Kasie. Perhaps Curry getting locked in for his 3- point shooting contest with WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu at this weekend's All-Star Game.

And Iowa star Caitlan Clark stands on the brink of women's college basketball history, needing just eight points in tonight's home game against Michigan to pass Kelsey Plum to becoming the all-time NCAA- scoring leader.


Here's Caitlin.


CAITLIN CLARK, GUARD, IOWA HAWKEYES: I'm not anxious about it really at all. I'm just very excited. It's going to be a special night. I understand the magnitude of this but I think it's just kind of come along with how my four years have gone. And it's crazy looking back at how fast everything has gone but I'm just really thankful and grateful.


WIRE: About 15,000 people there at the home arena. That place is going to be rocking, Kasie. HUNT: It sure is. She's a special player.

Coy, thank you very much --

WIRE: You got it.

HUNT: -- for that report.

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