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Is Donald Trump Eligible to be President; Bellows: Sole Consideration is Oath to Uphold Constitution; Maine Joins Colorado in Removing Trump from Ballot; Christie Blasts Haley's Civil War Answer, says she's Unwilling to Offend by Telling the Truth; Haley does Damage Control after her Civil War Answer. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 29, 2023 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on INSIDE POLITICS, disqualify. The State of Maine becomes the second to say Donald Trump is an insurrectionist barred from seeking the Presidency. Now it's up to the Supreme Court.

Plus damage control mode with just days to go until the first votes are cast Nikki Haley is trying to move past a controversy for opponents are not so eager to let her. And where have all the Democrats gone? I'll talk to a leading liberal political analyst about how he thinks the party lost its way with working class voters and the dilemma Democrats face in turning it around. I'm Danna bash. Let's go behind the headlines and INSIDE POLITICS.

First step is Donald Trump eligible to be President again? That's the legal questioning -- question facing this country after Maine became the second state to say he's not because of the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists holding federal office. It is a recipe for constitutional chaos that the Supreme Court will almost surely have to solve. CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz joins me live, Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dana, there are two states that are saying now Donald Trump is not eligible after looking at cases brought before them and determining that he did engage in inter in insurrection and that meant he could not be on their primary ballots as President for the 2020 elections that are upcoming as soon as March in Colorado and in Maine.

But there are several states that say Trump is eligible to be on their ballots and have looked at this already looked at challenges to his candidacy. So now, the big question, Dana is will the states get to decide this one by one? Or will the Supreme Court step in?

The next thing that happens in Maine, at least now that we have this decision from Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is that Trump and his team will go to the Maine state courts and they will appeal, the courts will make a decision very likely by the end of January, under the laws there. And then in Colorado, that decision from the highest court in that state. It's now before the Supreme Court. The Republican Party in Colorado is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and provide some clarity, not just for the ballots in Colorado, but for everybody, because there are states splitting in different ways.

And the Colorado GOP warns that if Colorado made this decision, there will be other states that follow. We just saw that with Maine yesterday.

BASH: And yeah. And sticking with Maine Katelyn, how did the Secretary of State there say that she made her decision?

POLANTZ: Well, she made a pretty robust set of findings. She wrote a 34 page ruling to explain what happened here. She saw the petitions that she received from different voters in the State of Maine, there were three different petitions. And she looked at evidence.

She looked at things like the January 6th House Committee report. She looked at Trump's own words. She looked at testimony from people in his administration determined that yes, January 6th, was an insurrection. And yes, Trump did engage in that insurrection, it was quite clear his supporters wanted to overrun the Capitol and block the constitutional transfer of power of the presidency in 2021.

And Trump was someone who was not only behind that, but took no steps to call those people off. He was engaged in it. And so she then in addition to that found she was responsible. Here's a little -- responsible to make that decision. Here's a little bit more about what Shenna Bellows said.


SHENNA BELLOWS, MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: Maine law specifically delegates to me as Secretary of State, a requirement to review the qualifications for any candidate running for office. My obligation and duty my sole consideration is my oath to uphold the constitution.


POLANTZ: So Dana, quite a significant finding, but it is not the end of the road there in Maine. There's very likely to be some court action coming very soon.

BASH: Yeah, no question about it Katelyn, thank you so much for breaking that down for us. Let's bring in our panel CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes, CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paul Reid and CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams. Happy last Friday of 2023 everybody!


This is really fascinating in the whole notion of this being untested and when it comes to the federal courts when it comes to the Supreme Court, I know you both -- all three of you have been talking about the fact that it is almost certain that the Supreme Court will have to take this up never mind Maine, but because of what we've already seen in in Colorado. And if they don't take it up, that's effectively making a decision.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is. I mean and that's a choice that -- it's an excellent point Dana. That's a choice that Supreme Court can make. We operate under the assumption that everything that's sent to them that they have to review or whatever they could decide that well, the way things have played out as is the way it ought to be.

The Former President won't be on the ballot in Colorado. He won't be on the ballot in Maine, and so be it. Now look, this is -- the framers of the country were very long on vision and very short on details. And they really did leave this open here. It's got to be resolved by the Supreme Court. It's such an open, important area of law. It's got to be done.



REID: I mean, that would be a disaster, not just for Former President Trump other candidates, but for the country. I mean, here we have a split across the states on multiple constitutional questions that have never been resolved. This is what the Supreme Court is designed to do.

Give us clarity on what the 14th Amendment means and the power that state officials do or do not have to remove people from the ballot. And this other question, OK, even if they have the power to do that, does that conflict with the First Amendment right that political parties have? We don't know. The Supreme Court must win.

WILLIAMS: That's a hugely important point, sort of why we have a Supreme Court. It's not just an additional course that things go to. It was designed to resolve debates between the states or debates between federal courts around the country. This is a debate. It's not resolved. The Supreme Court's got to fix it.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And by the way, I mean Trump's team is banking on this going to the Supreme Court --


HOLMES: -- of all of the legal problems that Donald Trump has, this is really the one they feel the least concerned about. They believe at the end of the day, he will be on the ballot in all 50 states. And that's because they believe they have strength in their arguments.

They also look to the various states who have already either had a Secretary of State rejected this now that's Democratic and Republican states Democratic and Republican Secretary of States people who have spoken out against him, Brad Raffensperger.

They didn't want to take this on. They kept him on the ballot there in Georgia. The other part of this is that if this does go to the Supreme Court, because of the strength of their arguments, they believe that they can make in the public case, the public opinion that this was just done, politically, based on the Colorado judges, Secretary of State of Maine.

BASH: Well, somebody else who is not happy about this, this just kind of gives a window into the politics of this is Democratic Congressman Jared Goldman of Maine. He is somebody who is always one of the most endangered Democrats because he's in a pretty conservative district in Maine.

Here's what he said, I voted to impeach Donald Trump for his role in the January 6th insurrection. I do not believe he should be reelected as President of the United States. However, we are a nation of laws, therefore, until he's actually found guilty of the crime of insurrection, he should be allowed on the ballot.

Now, you're shaking your head because you're probably going to say -- what -- what the Secretary of State in Maine says, Secretary of State Bellows, which is in response to him, the 14th Amendment does not say conviction, it says engaged.

WILLIAMS: With all due respect, Congressman wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. It's a perfectly valid position that he's taking. But nowhere in the constitution doesn't say that someone needs to be convicted of insurrection or whatever else before being removed from the ballot.

And say it again with me. This is why the Supreme Court -- decision well, because there's these questions of how you even define what the term insurrection means? How you establish whether somebody is an insurrectionist? Who makes the decision altogether? These are all open and just need to be resolved.

REID: Because I would argue on the other side, though, I don't think what the crafters of this amendment intended was for officials who here appointed or elected political appointees or elected to office to be interpreting the constitution in taking decision about their political rivals.


BASH: It was put in because of a confederate --

REID: The confederacy, yeah.

BASH: -- of the confederacy after the Civil War. Let's talk a little bit more about the politics of this and the way that Donald Trump's Republican rivals for the nomination, are responding to this is quite telling about how potent an issue it is. That could help him Donald Trump. Let's listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It really opens up Pandora's Box. I don't think that this ultimately will be legally sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court. But I do think that this is going to be a constant throughout the election year where there's going to be different parts of these legal cases that are going to be front and center.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That makes him a martyr. You know, he's very good at playing poor me, poor me, this should be decided by the voters of the United States. It should not be decided by courts. And the fact is that while there may be -- people may think there's some justification for doing this, it's not good for our democracy.


HOLMES: So, Donald Trump has said all of his legal issues that he is facing are political. They are Joe Biden coming after him, all of his political opponents, persecuting him for running against the Democrat, Joe Biden. However, that argument works with his base and some outside Republicans, but not a wide swath of people.

They believe privately that this actually helps him with many more people, because you're starting to hear Democrats -- Republicans who don't like Donald Trump coming out and saying this is not right. And that's exactly what Donald Trump needs.

He needs people to rally around him. They have tried to do that with the other legal cases. Sure, it has worked; he has seen a boost in the polls. He has seen a boost in fundraising. But that's not really getting anyone outside of that group.

BASH: I don't want to leave this discussion without turning a couple of notches to some excellent reporting that our colleagues have done on the question of the fake elector scheme, and new information that our colleagues have gotten Paula.

REID: So this is from our justice team. And they learned that in the days leading up to January 6th, that Trump operatives were planning to fly fake electoral certificates to Washington for possible consideration by then Vice President Mike Pence that they did not follow through with this plan.

But it's really interesting, because we know that the fake electoral scheme is important part of the indictment against Former President Trump and that January 6th trial which is currently on hold this, this is kind of vaguely reference, and it's unclear, really the extent to which this will factor into any potential trial against the Former President.

But it speaks to this larger concern that a lot of people in and around January 6th should have about cooperating witnesses. This information came from Ken Chesebro, who is a Former Trump Lawyer; he has a plea deal down in Georgia. He's talking to prosecutors and other states.

And he has a particular animus towards Trump lawyers. He believes they lied to him. They lied to Congress even said I don't have particularly warm feelings about them. So they should be really concerned. Clearly, he's sharing a lot of really damaging information with the government. BASH: Wow. So fascinating. It is great reporting, such a great

discussion. Don't go anywhere because coming up. We're going to talk about cleanup on the campaign trail. Nikki Haley is still in New Hampshire trying to recover from her Civil War gaffe. We're going to get an update from the Granite State when we come back.



BASH: There Nikki Haley is heading to Iowa after her swing through New Hampshire didn't go quite as planned. She's spent the past 36 hours trying to recover from a Town Hall moment when she conspicuously failed to say slavery when asked about the cause of the Civil War.


NIKKI HALEY, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's the easy part of it. What I was saying was what does it mean to us today? What it means to us today is about freedom.

By the grace of God we did the right thing and slavery is no more. But the lesson of what the bigger issue with the Civil War is that let's not forget what came out of that.

If it required clarification I'm saying yes, the Civil War was about slavery. I'm happy to do that. If you were up in the South, it's a given that it's about slavery. To me it was about freedom.


BASH: Now, Haley did not mention the controversy this morning at her Town Hall in New Hampshire. CNN's Eva McKend spent the week following Nikki Haley in the Granite State where she still is. Eva, you know, her competitors are very eager to condemn these remarks and keep this going as much as she wants to move on.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: They are Dana, because this entire episode really gave them an opening to advance an argument that they have long need. So they argue for instance, that she's inconsistent on some policy issues, and that she doesn't answer questions directly out of fear of offending any constituency. Here's Governor DeSantis.


DESANTIS: She's asked a very simple question and responded with just really incomprehensible word salad. This is not a candidate that's ready for primetime not that difficult to identify and acknowledge the role slavery played in the Civil War.


MCKEND: So her critics aside, Dana, really the most important judge are the voters. And I have to say, as we were speaking to them at her various stops this week in New Hampshire, they seem to largely forgiving. They understood sort of her backtrack here. And they seem more concerned about other issues.

So one man telling me that he thinks that she would be a strong President, another person telling me that she thinks that she could go up against the Former President Trump so that is something that they -- that these voters told me that they're more concerned about than this episode, but we'll have to see if it adopts her with certain voters.

There was one man last night in Lebanon, who was peeved by this whole thing. And he was really upset because Haley would not definitively say that if she were to lose the nomination and Trump were to win the nomination that she would refuse to be his Vice Presidential Nominee.


She only said that she doesn't play for seconds. But again, that's sort of that cute sameness that her rivals object to not a definitive response, Dana.

BASH: Eva, thank you for that reporting. And we're going to play that moment for our viewers in a bit. Thank you so much. And let's bring in our panel of political reporters CNN's Kristen Holmes is still here along with Margaret Talev of AXIOS and CNN's Priscilla Alvarez.

We just heard an Eva's report, Ron DeSantis. The person who I think is most interesting, and seizing on this, in the State of New Hampshire is the person who has the most to gain politically in the State of New Hampshire Chris Christie. Let's listen to some of what he said. Because at every stop every chance he has in front of a microphone for the past 36 hours he's talked about it.


CHRISTIE: What she has said over the last couple of days here in New Hampshire, is it because she doesn't get it? It isn't because she's not smart. She's smart, and she knows exactly what she's doing. And when she didn't bring that up, it's because she has had a history of being unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth.

How can you want to be the Republican Candidate for President and not be able to tell people that that's where we stand? It's because some people in her home state are still fighting that war. She has come accustomed to not offending anyone.


BASH: Margaret, is that what it is? Is it that she appeared to just be so careful? Or is it something else? Or is it as Eva's hearing, most importantly, on the campaign trail that people are ready to move on to the people who matter the most to her are the voters?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: Well, I can't get aside Nikki Haley's head; the way I read it, when it first happened was she didn't want to use the word slavery, because she didn't want that to become the sound bite that everyone would be talking about. And guess what? We've been talking about it for the last 48 hours.

BASH: Right.

TALEV: So that plan didn't work. Does Nikki Haley well know the history of slavery in South Carolina, the South in the United States? Yes, obviously, is Nikki Haley trying to stitch together a coalition of Republican voters or people who can vote in a Republican primary or in an open primary that tries to cobble together people who are extremely anti-Trump, people who are pro Trump or want an alternative?

People who were, you know, old school, people who are progressive, like, she's kind of tried to do it all because she needs to do it all if she's going to get anywhere close to Donald Trump. And these are sort of the politically catastrophic consequences when you try to thread the needle that way.

For Christie, where there's been pressure on him to get out to try to consolidate support around Haley, this is a great predicate for him to say, I'm the only person who's willing to just say what's true. And this is why I need to stay in the race.

BASH: That's exactly right.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: And I don't think we should overlook the Ron DeSantis either because not long ago, we were talking about his state and the Board of Education passing new standards on how they taught black history. And it was in that moment that the Vice President was deployed to the state in a rapid response way to give a fiery speech about how Republicans were revising history.

BASH: Are they going to employ her you think on this one?

ALVAREZ: Absolutely. I mean, it's the holidays --


ALVAREZ: -- were a different time of year, in the year to come. This is her role deploy her. She's the rapid response. We saw examples of it already this year with Florida, with Tennessee when she went there when the lawmakers were expelled over gun control.

So this, I think, is how the White House views the Vice President in this moment, when there is a moment to capture or seize on, she can go there and she can give those fiery speeches and so far she has been able to perform on that front.

HOLMES: I think my biggest takeaway from this, that Donald Trump still seems to control the Republican Party and the narrative given the fact that look at the way these rivals are responding. They are not willing to give her any leeway, any sort of break.

Yet when Donald Trump goes up there and says that immigrants are poisoning the blood of America, not really a peep other than maybe he shouldn't use certain words. And that is really telling to me of where we are here. Everyone's willing to go after her who is a strong second in Iowa. Maybe I mean, DeSantis will be second, she'll be third. But that's where the fight is. It's just --

BASH: Right.

ALVAREZ: Switching it --

TALEV: -- to completely different standards --

HOLMES: Different standards yeah.

TALEV: -- because the expectations are different.

ALVAREZ: Right, exactly. She's being held to the old school political --

BASH: She's been held to a normal standard.

ALVAREZ: Right, the old school political standard --

BASH: Yeah.

ALVAREZ: -- before everybody's lives were overturned in 2016 --

BASH: And everybody is held to a standard of like that, unless they're Donald Trump, which is part of the frustration of all of these -- up all of his rivals. Eva talked about a moment last night I believe it was with Nikki Haley and a voter who like New Hampshire voters are want to do stood up and was very direct with her about his feeling about what happened with this gaffe but also asked a question going forward relating to Donald Trump.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a chance to redeem yourself after last night's slavery thing? Would you be able to say categorically that you will not accept being Trump's Vice President? And you know, the reason is, I've got this ballot here and I'm trying to figure out whether I'm going to mark, you are Chris Christie.

HALEY: You may heavily dislike Trump, I get it. And Chris is obsessed with his dislike for Trump. But if you go in with that kind of obsession, you're not going in with the clarity of moving our country forward. I've never played for a second. I'm not going to start now.


BASH: There was no answer there.

HOLMES: There was there.

BASH: -- which probably didn't help with that particular voter who was looking for anybody but Trump.

HOLMES: And I'm also sure that Nikki Haley saw the same reports that we all did that Donald Trump was floating her name around for Vice President. Now, to be clear, he has floated probably at least that I know of more than a half dozen names to various associates, to reporters to donors. But she clearly does not want to make any defined decision here, even when put on the spot.

ALVAREZ: Well, and it's interesting, because when you talk to Biden campaign officials, it's moments like this, they can point to you and say there's still a primary playing out within the Republican Party. They're still deciding who's going to be the nominee, even if it's clear who the front runner is.

And that's why they've withheld some of their most aggressive responses to the Former President, from their perspective until he's the nominee. They don't have to go in as hard, even though some of what the former president has already said as a candidate are very important.

BASH: They have stepped up their response to Nikki Haley, which I thought has been really interesting. You know, we showed yesterday the tweet from the President.

ALVAREZ: Yeah, he simply said --

BASH: The answer is --

ALVAREZ: -- it was about slavery.

BASH: It was about slavery. And he doesn't engage very much at all, when it comes to politics, particularly on the Republican side. And that's the argument that she makes that -- well, she argued that this voter was a democratic plant. We don't have any proof of that.

But regardless of whether he was or not, she argues that the Biden campaign the White House is very concerned about the notion of a Nikki Haley Republican Nominee -- nomination rather because she is the biggest threat to Joe Biden. And if you look at the poll, she's not wrong.

TALEV: Yes. Although the White House may be slightly less concerned after the last 48 hours.

BASH: Maybe.

TALEV: But fundamentally look, if you're a Republican who's decided or an independent who's decided Nikki Haley is the candidate for you. I don't think this is going to fundamentally shake your game plan my guess. I don't know we should be talking to more voters.

But fundamentally, when you're 35, trying to close the 35 point gap in Iowa, and a slightly smaller gap in New Hampshire, I'm not sure that incremental is going to get you where you need to be either. Sometimes maybe the direct answer is the right answer.

BASH: Before we go to break I just have to ask you do you see on Newsmax that Don -- Donald Trump Jr., said that he'd go to great lengths to prevent Nikki Haley from being his father's running mate. HOLMES: And it's not just on Jr. It's a lot of his closest allies we've heard this on the record from Marjorie Taylor Greene. There is an entire sector of MAGA right wing aligned Republicans who have said that there is no way that Nikki Haley will be Vice President because they will make sure of it. There's clearly a movement there that is trying to.

BASH: And we are --

HOLMES: -- changing ties.

BASH: -- to be to be sure we are getting ahead of ourselves.

HOLMES: Very early.

ALVAREZ: Very early. We have to continue --

BASH: But it was interesting that his son said that. Everybody stand by. Up next Russia launched the biggest barrage of strikes into Ukraine since the war there began. President Biden just responded. We'll tell you what he said next.