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NH Gov. Chris Sununu Poised To Endorse Nikki Haley Tonight; One-On-One With DeSantis Campaign Manager; Biden Tells Donors Israel Is Losing Support, Says Netanyahu Must Change His Government; House Rules Committee Expected To Vote Soon To Advance Bill Authorizing Impeachment Inquiry; Exclusive: Mar-A-Lago Employee-Turned-Witness Was Repeatedly Contacted By Trump And Associates Before Charges Were Filed. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 12, 2023 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Five weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is in the Hawkeye State where he will join CNN for a town hall tonight with my colleague Jake Tapper.

Here with me now is Ron DeSantis's campaign manager, James Uthmeier. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. Let's actually begin in New Hampshire where Governor Chris Sununu is poised to endorse Nikki Haley. You remember when the Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds endorsed your candidate last month, the governor touted it as very meaningful. Is this meaningful for Nikki Haley in New Hampshire?

JAMES UTHMEIER, DESANTIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Sure, it's meaningful, but I think the thing that's going to influence New Hampshire the most is the very first in the nation state to go out and vote the Iowa caucus. I think on January 15th when people go out and cast their vote and everybody sees Ron DeSantis as the true Trump alternative, when they see him below projections and expectations out of the water, that momentum will go into New Hampshire.

And that momentum will certainly be more important than any one endorsement. But let's not forget, Ron DeSantis has endorsements from over 60 state legislators. I think Nikki Haley has fewer than five. So he's the grassroots candidate.

He's building this campaign from the bottom up and we expect there to be a lot of momentum because his themes of freedom, you know, making Florida the free state focusing on freedom from government overreach, eliminating state agencies, COVID freedom, medical freedom, that theme ties in nicely in New Hampshire and people love it.

BASH: You talked about the endorsements that your candidate, Governor DeSantis, has, in addition to the Iowa governor. He has a top evangelical leader in Iowa Bob Vander Plaats and he visited all 99 counties in Iowa, the full Grassley as we call it. So given all of that, why is Governor DeSantis still trailing Donald Trump in Iowa by more than 30 points? What's happening? UTHMEIER: Look, I know you guys liked the polls, but the polls are the polls, the same polls that predicted Donald Trump would win the Iowa caucus back in 2016. They were not accurate. The same polls that predicted a sweeping red wave for Republicans across the country last year, they were inaccurate.

No public poll predicted that Ron DeSantis would soar above expectations with a 20-point win --

BASH: So what do you have that's going to defy those polls?

UTHMEIER: -- and the ones, you know, purpose state of Florida. It's the organization. Team DeSantis has an organization in the caucus state that is second to none. It is the most robust infrastructure of any presidential primary team in Iowa to date, county chairs and every single county, caucus site captains, precinct captains.

Hundreds of people spread across the state inclusive of evangelical and church leaders that are going to make sure when it's -- you know, in the teens freezing on caucus night, that their strong network of DeSantis supporters goes out to make their case to bring their friends, bring their neighbors and see DeSantis fight, win and then ultimately lead following that great night and moving on into New Hampshire with the momentum.

BASH: And James I remember the Iowa caucuses back in the beginning of 2016, and you're right, the polls show that Donald Trump would do well. But we also knew him reporting very aggressively about the fact that he had like no organization on the ground in Iowa. He does now.

The campaign is more of a real campaign. So you're going to have to compete with that. And the fact that Donald Trump is pulling in a lot of support from first time caucus goers, which is appear -- it appears to be different from Ron DeSantis. I mean, would you concede that that is a real challenge for your campaign in Iowa.

UTHMEIER: Listen, if Donald Trump were really winning by 30 points and this election were over, Donald Trump would not be shifting attention and moving personnel into the state. I think Donald Trump and Nikki Haley both of their behaviors, says it all.

They see DeSantis as the truth threat, the real challenger that can take that victory on caucus night. So they are moving teams into the state. They're spending tens of millions of dollars jointly together attacking DeSantis not attacking one another.

And that actually, you know, causes reason to believe that maybe Nikki Haley's running for something other than president, maybe a VP pick or Cabinet pick, maybe it just a spoiler. But the reality is they are moving teams in but it is far too late.

The teams that are there to support Ron DeSantis, they've been there for over six months, building out robust networks across the state. That's what it takes to get out the vote on caucus night. And it's too late for any other candidate to be able to successfully do that.

BASH: You don't think Nikki Haley is truly running to be president of the United States?

UTHMEIER: In a head to head race with Donald Trump, Nikki Haley would lose significantly. She can't reach far and wide throughout, you know, all --

BASH: But that's different from wanting to be president.

UTHMEIER: -- angles of the Republican Party. So I think she's running for something else and, you know, I don't think it's a surprise that she's not spending money or attacking Donald Trump on air and is instead attacking Ron DeSantis.


BASH: Well, on that note, your boss, your candidate, Ron DeSantis, he, I guess, in recent times has been a bit harder on Donald Trump, but it's not as if he is going as far as other candidates and other Republicans who are saying Donald Trump is not fit to be president.

UTHMEIER: I think Ron DeSantis has been clear that, you know, we don't need presidents in their 80s. It's time for younger, you know, more energetic leaders with true, you know, experience results. Somebody like Ron DeSantis, who, you know, following a hurricane in the state of Florida.

He's working 20-hour days. He's working with engineers to fix bridges in three days, fix roads, get people back in their homes. He's delivering results, hard work day in and day out.

BASH: Yes.

UTHMEIER: And I just think the American people deserve a new, more fit younger, energetic leader, and that is Ron DeSantis. Does he point out the contrast between he and the former president? Absolutely, he does. He's not a guy that plays in the mud.

He doesn't name call. He just sticks with the policies. And he knows what's right and just and he stands behind it. He's --

BASH: Let me just --

UTHMEIER: -- a principled leader with conviction. And that's what people want today.

BASH: Let me just drill down on that for a second. Because if you just look at where the money is, and where the money is being spent, the DeSantis campaign which you run, the Super PAC, multiple Super PACs that are supporting him, they've spent nearly $5 million in recent months on ads attacking Nikki Haley.

Only 120,000 has been spent explicitly attacking the clear front runner, Donald Trump. That's according to our -- my colleague, David Wright, who has crunched these numbers. So if you are trying to get the guy out in front, why not actually aggressively go after him? Isn't that the same thing you're saying Nikki Haley is doing? UTHMEIER: Well, I think Ron DeSantis has pointed out the areas where he's certainly disagrees with the former president, namely, I mean, the former president coming out of COVID added over, you know, almost 8 trillion to the national deficit. That is not the type of spending that Ron DeSantis believes in.

He vetoed appropriation after appropriation after appropriation in the Florida legislature, and ultimately sent back a record setting 300 million plus in tax reliefs to Floridians through toll relief and permanent tax relief on family goods, baby products, diapers, clothing, things of that nature. So he's pointed out the contrasts.

Obviously, we can't control what all the outside groups are doing. But I have seen some of the ads and I think they're rightly pointing out some of the contradictions that Nikki Haley has had in recent past, namely China. She gave away almost half of her state, it seemed to China through corporate welfare and subsidies, and then now turns around and pretends to be tough on China.

Her stances on immigration have also seemed to change. She says she's tough on the border, but then ultimately says, you know, we should let people in if it's necessary for corporations to have adequate employment.


UTHMEIER: So I think those ads are pointing out again, inconsistencies. The typical type of D.C. politician talk that frustrates people. At the end of the day, Ron DeSantis, never backs down from his principles. He is convicted and consistent.

BASH: Never backed down. I've heard that before.

James Uthmeier, how did I do? Uthmeier.

UTHMEIER: That's pretty close. Uthmeier, yes, ma'am.

BASH: OK. All right.

UTHMEIER: Thank you for having me and --

BASH: No, thank you for coming on. Appreciate it.

UTHMEIER: ...and thanks for having the Boston. I really appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you. And be sure to tune in tonight for CNN's town halls with Governor Ron DeSantis. We are live in Iowa tonight. Catch it at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Stay with us.



BASH: This just in, a new candid message from President Biden on Israel. At a fundraiser in Washington just a short while ago, Biden told donors that Israel is losing support around the world. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to change his hardline government.

CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us from the White House. Wow. These are pretty stark words from a president who has been in a robust way supportive of what the Israeli government has been doing.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Dana. These are very candid comments. Perhaps President Biden's most candid comments about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The President made these comments at an off camera closed door fundraiser.

So we have a pool report that's offered some quotes from that. And it said that President Biden had warned that Israel was beginning to lose support amid its heavy bombardment of Gaza. And the President suggested that it may be time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change his government.

The quotes say that Netanyahu has a tough decision to make and, quote, "This the most conservative government in Israel's history", Biden said, adding that the government doesn't want a two-state solution. The President added that Israel was beginning to lose support around the world and said Netanyahu, quote, "has to strengthen and change the Israeli government".

But it does come as you have seen President Biden very publicly stand shoulder to shoulder with Netanyahu but there have been some warnings specifically about the campaign in Gaza and the mounting civilian casualties. There has been widespread criticism about that.


And President Biden has warned Israel to take more caution to protect civilian life but these are certainly some of the President's most candid comments is he is worrying that Netanyahu is losing support around the world.

BASH: Thank you so much for that, Arlette.

And our reporters are back here. Jeff Mason, to me up, obviously, what Arlette was just reporting is kind of the headline that he warned that Israel is losing support. But also this the second quote, which explains maybe the first quote, "This is the most conservative government in Israel's history", adding that the Israeli government doesn't want as a two-state solution.


BASH: Am I reading too much into this to say that never mind the war, that the administration is -- and the President himself is starting to see a finish line for Prime Minister Netanyahu and kind of saying the quiet part out loud that maybe it's time for that government to change which people in Israel expect to happen after the war is over anyway?

MASON: I think they absolutely do. And I don't think you're reading too much into it. I think the Biden administration is focused on what happens when the war is over. And you've heard the President and others in his administration talk about a two-state solution a lot in the last few weeks.

They want to be sure that there's somebody in place that actually supports that. And this government does it. I think it's also telling that he said, Israel is doing indiscriminate bombing over Gaza. And it comes after last night, he was -- he had a reception at the White House for Hanukkah.

And he gave an anecdote about having a picture taken with Bibi Netanyahu decades ago when they first met each other. And he said, on the back of that picture, I wrote a description saying, I love you, but I don't agree with anything you say.

And he followed up by that and he followed up with that last night saying, and that pretty much applies today, too. So there's a shift. And today, the fundraiser comment in this comment last night is a signal of that.

BASH: And Paul Kane, you spend all your time on Capitol Hill where there certainly is a lot of support for Israel, bipartisan support, but there is a rift among the President's own party.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Look, the -- Israel for Democrats is -- I'm not comparing the -- how the wars are being conducted and the players but in terms of the politics, Israel for Democrats, in some ways, is becoming like Ukraine for Republicans.

Like they -- their base, the Democratic base is not happy with how Israel is conducting this war. And they are -- they're showing up at senators offices here in Washington and back home. They are showing up everywhere and protesting. And so they're -- right now, they are the loudest voices on this issue in the Democratic coalition. And Democratic lawmakers are reflecting that.

BASH: And yet you have the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as soon as recently as Sunday on with Jake Tapper, who has said for some time that Israel needs to be more careful when it comes to civilians, and killing civilians as they try to root out Hamas. But also said again, he understands and the U.S. government understands that Israel is doing its best to root out Hamas and that Hamas is using its own civilians as human shields.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They've been saying both things all along, which is they aren't going to tell Israel how to conduct this war, but then also saying that they need to make sure that they minimize civilian casualties, abide by the laws of war. And they've stressed that over and over again.

And you can see that the President as well as his White House -- their patience is wearing thin because they feel as though they've been saying that privately, publicly in the conversations that the President has with Netanyahu. He has said this and yet it appears as though Israel is not really listening to the White House.

BASH: Yes. The President is clearly looking for a finish line. And that finish line the White House does not believe includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the top of the Israeli government. Really, really interesting development.

Stay with us. CNN has new and exclusive reporting on Donald Trump's classified documents case. What our team uncovered about the person who allegedly moved some of the boxes at Mar-a-Lago.



BASH: Quick clarification on a story we brought you earlier. The House Rules Committee is voting today to move forward with a bill to officially launch an impeachment inquiry to the President. The vote has not actually happened but will shortly and is expected to pass.

Now let's talk about golf tickets. Legal representation and reminders that a job at Mar-a-Lago is still available. New exclusive CNN reporting found that's what Donald Trump and his associates offered to a former Mar-a-Lago worker turned witness in declassified documents case.

CNN Katelyn Polantz broke this story. Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dana, this is something that happened very curious between the FBI search of Mar-a- Lago last summer and the time that Donald Trump was charged. This employee had been a long time working under Trump at Mar-a-Lago, had quit his job around November.

And at that time, just days after, got a phone call from Donald Trump. Something he very rarely did. And Trump just wanted to ask him why he was leaving his job and also wanted to communicate to him after they had that very gracious phone call that he was a good guy.


POLANTZ: This former employee had been witness to quite a few things that ended up making the indictment of Donald Trump. And ultimately, notice that not just this phone call from Trump, but there were several interactions he had with other people who are now accused of being conspirators with Donald Trump in this case.

That they wanted to know about his legal representation, why wasn't he using a lawyer paid for by Donald Trump. One of his close friends, in this case, also talked to him about tickets to a golf tournament. Donald Trump would really love to see him very likely at that golf tournament.

And then also repeated reminders that he could always return to that job at Mar-a-Lago. Something the Special Counsel's Office heard about, and it very least gives us a little insight into how this world around Donald Trump works, how interconnected these people are.

BASH: So fascinating. Such great reporting as always, Katelyn. Thank you so much.

Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.