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Now: Closing Arguments In Trump Defamation Trial; Judge To Trump Lawyer: "You Will Not Quarrel With Me"; Still Waiting For D.C. Appeals Court Ruling On Trump Immunity Claim; Wall Street Donors To Hold Fundraiser For Haley; Haley Insists She'll Stay In Race, Attacks Trump As "Unhinged"; GOP Strategist: Haley Should "Go The Full Liz Cheney"; RNC Drops Proposal To Declare Trump "Presumptive Nominee". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 26, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics, waiting and watching. We're about to find out how much Donald Trump will have to pay after being found liable for defamation and sexual abuse. It's now all up to the jury. We'll have live updates from inside the courtroom.

Plus, pushing for a pause. President Biden dispatched his CIA director to help negotiate a deal to release Israeli hostages kidnapped during the brutal October 7 attack. This as we're learning about a very tense call between the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister. And ignoring the Supreme Court. That's what the state of Texas is doing when it comes to the southern border and almost every Republican governor is supporting the decision.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

As we speak, Donald Trump's attorney is giving her closing argument in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial. The jury will start deliberating this afternoon on how much Trump must pay in damages. This morning, Carroll's lawyer told the jury that the numbers should be at least $24 million. Now Trump wasn't there to hear it. He got up and walked out of the room during her closing statement.

Let's get straight to Kara Scannell who has been inside that courthouse for much of this. Kara, tell us what's happening.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Dana, Alina Habba Trump's attorney is giving her closing arguments. She's been talking to the jury now for about 45 minutes. And it's already received two rebukes from the judge, him warning her at one point that if she didn't follow his rules, there may be consequences for her.

So, it's certainly a tense moment in the courtroom. But Donald Trump is back in the seat at the defense table. Listening to his attorney address the jury and she is giving a vigorous defense of him is trying to distance him from the onslaught of attacks that E. Jean Carroll had received on tweets and messages that she said made her fear for her own personal safety.

So Habba telling the jury that they don't know who sent these tweets, that President Trump should not have to pay for the threats. He does not condone them. He did not direct them. And all he did was tell the truth. And she also was saying that E. Jean Carroll was not harmed by this, because this case, as you say, is all about damages. How much Trump may have to pay Carroll?

So, she's saying that, in fact, Carroll knew going public that there would be backlash. She's a public figure. And she said, don't take my word for it, ask E. Jean. And then went on to quote some of the things E. Jean Carroll said in magazine interviews immediately after she went public with her accusations where she was saying she felt buoyant.

Of course, Carroll's lawyers have said that that was just a moment in time. But then E. Jean Carroll did receive an onslaught of messages. People echoing some of the statements that Trump made in the statements that another jury has already found to be defamatory. But this is, you know, kind of wrapping up this case at this point.

Habba is giving the closings now. She's still in the homestretch of that and that follow E. Jean Carroll's closing arguments where her lawyer reminded the jury of the statements that Trump had made and told the jury that Carroll was harmed by them that she lost career opportunities, saying she spent five decades building a careers and advice columnist and it took Donald Trump just 24 hours to shatter that.

She also was telling the jury that what this trial in this case was really about was holding Donald Trump accountable. You know, noting that he never respected the jury's previous verdict because just 24 hours later he was on CNN, repeating the same statements over and over again. And that is when Donald Trump had left the courtroom that first time. Dana?

BASH: Really fascinating stuff, quite dramatic. Thank you so much, Kara, for that reporting. And I've got a great panel here to break it all down. And some other legal developments in Donald Trump's world. CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero is here, CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams, and CNN political correspondent Kristen Holmes, who spends all of her time on the campaign trail and on the Trump trail. So, you can certainly weigh in on the very important politics of this.


Let's start with more of what Kara was talking about. And I just want to read something specific that the judge said to Alina Habba, the former president's lawyer who's making her closing statements right now. Just before the jury was brought in, Alina Habba tried to make a record to refute a ruling that the defense cannot use a slide they planned in their closing presentation. Judge Kaplan just cut her up and said, you are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup, now sit down.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Those are not words that a lawyer appearing before a judge wants to hear. I mean, that is a very, very strong threat that I think the judge is willing to follow up on. If really need be, but that is a about a strong message as a judge can send to the lawyer that she needs to stay within the bounds of the judge's order.

Of course, lawyer, it's her job to defend Donald Trump. And this is about how much money he will or won't have to pay. And so, she's entitled to give a vigorous defense, but she also needs to stay within the judge's orders to maintain the proper context of her closing arguments.

BASH: And we just need to underscore because, again, viewers, voters, Americans have a lot to sift through when it comes to the legal challenges that Donald Trump has. This is a civil trial or was a civil trial. He was found liable already for sexual assault and also for defamation.

And so, the question at this point is how much is he going to pay in damages? And he took the stand yesterday. He talked about why he doesn't think that he did anything wrong. And I'll just read part of what happened Habba who's his attorney?

Again, then asked. Did you deny the allegation because Ms. Carroll made an accusation. That's exactly right. Yes, I did, Trump replied. She said something that I considered a false accusation. Totally false. Judge Kaplan cut him off, instructing the court to strike everything Trump said after his initial confirmation. Can you write that down for us?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, the judge has to carve statements up with a scalpel here because of that nuance that you talked about, which is -- this is not about the sexual assault, a jury has already found that it happened. This is about damages for defamation. When you talk about damages for defamation, did his statements either hurt her reputation or caused her to lose money? That's it. That's what's in the issue here.

Now, the yes, no question. Did you defend yourself? Yes, I did. Once you start getting into the realm of that next sort of monologue. You started saying, well, she was false, and she was lying. That starts challenging the sexual assault allegation and the judge was right to strike it.

Now, the problem is that jurors heard all of this playing out, and juries can't separate. When a judge says, oh, you disregard everything after the word, no, juries can't do that. They're human beings. And so, the seeds been planted, the damage has been done. But most importantly, the judge did limit the official record of the trial to that one or two-words. No, no, that did not happen even if I did.

BASH: Yeah. And again, as everybody knows, but I think it's important to say out loud. This is a man who just made history by winning Iowa, by winning New Hampshire. And he is now in a courthouse trying to defend himself against big money to pay in damages, because of this civil trial in which he was found liable for sexual assault and in this case defamation. What are you hearing from his political team? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I actually have a different take on the Alina Habba portion that you played at the beginning from political standpoint.


HOLMES: Alina Habba is -- yes, she is an attorney. But there's a reason that Donald Trump likes her so much. She wasn't always his lead attorney. She has gone on Fox and vigorously defended himself. Donald Trump wants to show. He wants somebody who he believes is fighting for him and that you can then play clips of later or say then she said this. She put it all on the line. I mean they met because she was a member at Mar-a-Lago and he liked her when they met, and somehow she has ended up with the lawyer.

BASH: I'm going to help make your point for you right now, because these closing arguments by Habba are happening as we speak. And just now Habba tried to deny Carroll's allegations, even though they've already been found by a jury to be true. And the judge cut her off, again just now and said, you will not quarrel with me. Totally makes your point that she wants on the record that she's doing it -- that she's doing that.

HOLMES: She is saying that. And also remember what Donald Trump said and remember what she's doing right now. Donald Trump has said this privately as well. He wants to defend himself. Melania told him that in this case in particular, that he should be out there defending his name when it comes to E. Jean Carroll.

Now you hear Alina Habba going out there. It's hard to be a lawyer for Donald Trump. I would imagine I'm not one, but not a lawyer. But you also have to put out the arguments he's making privately to show him that you believe the same thing in that you're fighting for the things he believes in, even if you're not supposed to be doing that.


WILLIAMS: Yeah. This very idea of this question of whether it's a good legal argument or not a good legal argument that assumes that you believe in the fundamental legitimacy of the system. As I think sitting around this table, we all do. When you go to court, it is your duty to defend yourself and adhere to the law.

If you're a candidate for office, who is thumbing his nose at the entire process and whipping up a major portion of the American people about the legitimacy of it, then it's perfectly a wonderfully sound political strategy to go after the judge in the court and undermine the whole system.

BASH: Carrie, I want to ask you about a different situation that we're looking at. It's here in Washington, the federal courts. It's an issue that Kristen hears every single time, Donald Trump is on the stump. And that's the question of whether he should receive immunity as a former president and shouldn't have to face all of these federal charges that he's facing. We're waiting for a decision. It could happen any moment. It's taking a bit. CORDERO: It's taking some time, although in the bigger picture of how appellate courts usually do their work in this case is with the D.C. circuit. It's not unreasonable. The reason it feels like it's taking a long time for us is because we're thinking about the calendar, where the legal case that this is most relevant in the near term for which is the federal case for January 6 related efforts and the subversion of the election.

Those charges against the former president. That trial could potentially be pushed if these issues don't get resolved. And the issues are one that are not -- are ones that are not just relevant to former President Trump, but the appellate court needs to be thinking about the presidency institutionally. You know, what would this potential decision by the D.C. circuit mean for future presidents in the issue of immunity?

I think his arguments on claiming absolute immunity are fairly weak. But what the D.C. circuit needs to do is create a really, really thorough record on the contingent that then the decision could potentially be appealed to the Supreme Court.

CORDERO: Almost certainly will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. No, Supreme Court doesn't have to take the case.

BASH: That's true.

WILLIAMS: I think people will operate under the assumption that they necessarily will. If the opinions well-reasoned and thought out, there isn't really much of a dispute as to a lot of these immunity arguments. The court could just wash their hands and say, look, it's already been resolved. I'll take it.

BASH: So interesting. All right, well, hopefully we'll see -- we'll see, they'll decide when they decide. Coming up. Burn the boats, go for broke. That's what one never Trump Republican wants from Nikki Haley. Will she follow that advice? Stay tuned. We have some new reporting about high dollar fundraising plans that may help answer that very question.




BASH: Oftentimes, when a candidate calls it quits, it's because the money dries up. That does not appear to be the case for Nikki Haley. One example, sources tell me and my colleague Kylie Atwood that a planned New York fundraising event this coming Tuesday is still on. And some of America's wealthiest Wall Street Titans are hosting, including billionaires like Ken Langone, Leonard Stern and Henry Kravis. With the money is still coming into her campaign coffers. Haley made clear this morning that she's not letting up on her attacks on Donald Trump.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She throws an absolute temper tantrum talking about revenge. He's going to ban anyone from MAGA that donates to me. Think about that. That's a president who's supposed to serve every person in America. He is totally unhinged.


BASH: I'm joined now by my great panel of political reporters to discuss all of this CNN's Kasie Hunt and Daniel Straus, also of CNN and Semafor's David Weigel. Thank you so much. Nice to see you all. Happy Friday. As I like to say on weekends, where I'm working to those who celebrate.

So, I mentioned this reporting about this fundraiser that everybody has kind of been looking at, is it on, is it off. We understand that it's on and it's not just that. That's Tuesday. Then she's going to Miami and Palm Beach in San Francisco.

And there's a long list that I have here of fundraisers, which is a big deal because for the most part when people who have the money, don't feel like they want to waste it on somebody who is not going to win. And she certainly doesn't have the delegates. It's still a big question mark what happens in South Carolina, but she's going to be able to keep pushing.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: She is, and you know, that's the big difference between her and Ron DeSantis, whose money ran out immediately because he was -- let's be real, running as Donald Trump. Light Donald Trump about the person, it's a little hard to describe, which is part of why probably he's out of the race. But for Nikki Haley, it's a completely different calculation at this point.

And I think it really speaks to the fact that there is -- and you know, you saw it in her vote share in New Hampshire. There are independents. There are -- there's this sort of traditional business- oriented wing of the Republican Party. They don't have any place to go. And they've signed up with Nikki Haley, and they apparently likes -- thought that her showing was strong enough in New Hampshire.

BASH: Yeah. And I should say, as you come in, Daniel, not everybody is sticking with her anti-Sabin. This is great reporting from our colleague Eva McKend. He was another donor. The campaign wants to script me and tell me what I should say. They want to make money. They want to keep this going. Rather than tell Nikki what she should hear, they tell her what she wants to hear.

DANIEL STRAUS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah. You got to love a talkative donor, right. But like -- we need to remember since, hey, the beginning of this race for Haley. The entire theme for a campaign has been about momentum. It has been about starting small and then growing from there. She celebrated wins because she's out overperformed. And now the question is, is that -- are there signs that that momentum still exists? Is there a still signs of growth?


And that is what we're seeing with these donors right now that she needs to show strong fundraising numbers that there is really strong blood in the body of her campaign to go on and to go to South Carolina over this next month. And if there isn't that vitality in there, that's going to make it much harder for Haley going forward.

BASH: She has become increasingly sharp and her attacks on Donald Trump. There are a lot of people who are mostly never Trumpers, who say, where was this at the beginning? Could she have gone farther? We'll never know the answer to that. Sarah Longwell who is one of those never Trumpers. Here's what her suggestion was for Nikki Haley.


SARAH LONGWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is time for her to go the full Liz Cheney, right. There is no path for her. There is no math for her. Nikki Haley has a chance to go down swinging and to be a legend and burn the boats.


BASH: Not going to happen. She is not going to go the full Liz Cheney.

DAVID WEIGEL, REPORTER, SEMAFOR: No, what her options. One is that Donald Trump loses in 2024. And she looks like the person who is right all along. I was the Cassandra (Ph) who happen to be correct that he could not win this election. The other is that -- and this is the last panel kind of about this something happens to Trump, TBD. And he's not the nominee. And she's in second place. Those are her options.

What she's doing right now. Keeping up with what (Inaudible) saying. When is the last time you saw something you have a New York fundraiser and bring that his anti-establishment. She is right now running a very smart campaign.

Donald Trump has helped her I think with this heavy-handed move by the RNC that lasted maybe a couple hours by letting her position herself as a rebel inside the party who doesn't want the big boys, the fellas to pick the nominee. I think that is a message that is great for those two scenarios I talked about. I stood up when no one else would. And I was right about this guy.

BASH: Such a great point. You had great reporting on that short lived RNC move, which we'll get to in a second. There was a great moment that you had on your show with Katon Dawson who is a very well-known veteran Republican in the sweet state of South Carolina as Nikki Haley would say about the vigor with which Donald Trump and people around him -- mostly him personally are going after Nikki Haley especially, even about what she was wearing. Let's listen.


KATON DAWSON, FORMER CHAIR, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Underestimating the ability for Trump to polarize as many women in South Carolina with his seedy little comments about what Nikki had on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Katon Dawson has seen it all in South Carolina. And you know, one of the things he said in that interview too, was that he underestimated Nikki Haley when she first came out in South Carolina. I mean, nobody thought she could win. And she figured it out. She brought in Sarah Palin. She did it over the boys, which very -- I mean, if there was ever a boys' club. It is in the South Carolina Republican Party, right.

And she won that governor's race. And Katon was a pretty strong surrogate for her. And you know, I do think gets at -- if she is going to have a path of some sort in South Carolina, he really does kind of have his finger on it. I was talking to Mark Sanford, the former governor today as well.

And he said, he thinks she's got a ceiling of about 40 percent in South Carolina. I will say, if she would have had 40 percent in South Carolina, I think we'd all be having a much different conversation the next morning than if -- than we were after the New Hampshire primary.

And I mean, I'll be honest. When you look at her, you know, I'm honestly interested in what you think Dana too. I mean, the skills that she has shown in the last 48 hours or how many hours, I've lost track of all the hours ---


BASH: You know, I think there's been many hours.

HUNT: Since Tuesday night, I mean, she really has been sharp and pointed. And she has backed down. I mean, totally unhinged. That's the strongest thing I've ever heard her say about Trump.

BASH: And what Donald Trump and his allies are doing in many respects, are making it easier for her to do that. Not just the dress comment and everything else he said on election night. But what you were reporting about, which is this move to have a motion inside the RNC to just declared Donald Trump the nominee.

And suddenly they realized that there was backlash and -- which Donald Trump by up from our reporting. Kristen Holmes and other was -- he was totally behind the move at the beginning and the backlash. And he said, oh, nevermind.

STRAUS: Yeah. And this is -- this shows that there is a level of caution for the Trump campaign right now. They want to make the case that they are winning this campaign organically. That it is not rigged. That he's the one that is interested in fair elections. And that he can be Haley fair and square.

And this push to make him the presumptive nominee to move the RNC and its infrastructure to regard him as their candidate really, really did not fall in line with that argument and that claim right now. And it shows also that like -- as long as Haley is in this race, Trump has to compete with her. He cannot ignore her at any point in time. BASH: David, put a button on this?


WEIGEL: Yes. I think that's what happened in New Hampshire shows though -- how low that ceiling is in South Carolina as Kasie was saying. That was ideal conditions for Haley. We all talked about it. She ended up with about 24 or 26 percent of the Republican vote, South Carolina primaries historically, Republicans make about three quarters of that vote.

So, what did she do to change that conversation? I think this is about -- it is raising questions about Trump's acuity something that is being done by Democrats with less effectiveness. And just saying it every week, the only track she has is next week, Democrats vote that's going to take some people off the board in South Carolina who can't vote my primary. So, we don't know how effective this can be for another -- let's count the hours every other days -- another eight days.

BASH: That's a really good point. We are going to be watching to see how many Democrats vote in that primary next week. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it. Standby because coming up. There was a new push from Washington to trade an extended pause and fighting in Gaza for the release of Hamas hostages. And we're going to get new details of a very tense call between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll be right back.