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Trump Exits Court Defiant After Attending Civil Fraud Trial; GOP Hopefuls Head To Iowa And New Hampshire After Fiery Debate; Intense Fighting In Gaza Two Months After Hamas Attack On Israel; Biden Administration Delays Ban On Menthol Cigarettes; IDF Hunts For Hamas Leader After Surrounding His Gaza Home. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, and on the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of "THE LEAD", you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts.

Our coverage continues now not with Wolf Blitzer, no, no, with Pamela Brown. She's in for Wolf Blitzer, but still, she's in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM, right next door. Happy Hanukkah. See you tomorrow.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Donald Trump defiant as he leaves his civil fraud trial in New York after hearing a key defense witness tried to poke holes in the case against him. Now, the former president is preparing to take the witness stand again. Why this time will be different.

Also tonight, some of Trump's GOP rivals hit the campaign trail in Iowa and New Hampshire after their fourth debate without him got fiery. We're going to break down the lines of attack and Nikki Haley's response to being the top target.

Plus, smoke in the air over Gaza and fierce fighting on the ground, Israeli forces intensifying their hunt for top leaders of Hamas two full months after the brutal attack on Israel that launched the war.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Will Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin this hour with Donald Trump's return to his high-stakes New York civil fraud trial. The former president spending a full day in the courtroom as an accounting expert testified for the defense.

Let's bring in CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Paula, how is Trump's team making its case here?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There's so much on the line right now for the former president. This case strikes at the heart of his identity as a businessman and threatens his ability to even do business in the state of New York.

Now, the judge has already found him liable for fraud for inflating the values of his properties. Now, they're focused mostly on penalties and a few other charges. But Trump, he doesn't have to attend any of this. But when he does, it brings all this attention to whatever is happening in the courtroom.

And today, an NYU professor, an accounting professor, testified in support of the defense. And he testified that people can come up with different values for the same properties and that banks were not relying on Trump's property valuations when they lent him money. So, this witness is really especially helpful for the defense. And this is going to be the last defense witness before Trump is expected to take the stand again on Monday.

BROWN: And you're also following this major development and Trump's push to dismiss the federal January 6 case against him, right? So, tell us about the developments today on that.

Yes, in New York, we're talking about a civil case. What's on the line is significant. It's money, it's his business. But something far more significant coming down the pipeline here in D.C. in March, he faces the first of two federal criminal trials.

So, today, he appealed a decision by the judge overseeing that case who found that you're not immune from prosecution just because you were president on January 6.

Now, presidential immunity is certainly an important question, but the real issue here is delay. And the former president's lawyers are hoping that this can get the case put on hold while this larger question, which could even go to the Supreme Court, is being litigated.

BROWN: All right. Thanks so much. Paula Reid, stick around. We have more to discuss with our legal and political analysts.

So, Elliot, I want to first go to you for just the context here, because you have Trump's attorneys arguing, quote, a stay is mandatory and automatic. Are they right? How likely is a pause in this case?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You sort of have to pause the case on appeal, particularly where you're talking about the rights of the party to go to trial. Here's the thing. If you were to appeal the case and not say it, he could go to trial in a criminal trial that a future court could say should have never happened in the first place. So, it's very common to pause the lower one while the appeal plays out.

Now, look, it appears that the appeals court wants to move very quickly. I would think they would have an interest, too, because I think they read the same newspapers we do. They know there's an election coming. They know the stakes. And I would think they would try to move the case along.

BROWN: All right. So, Gloria, on that, if you look at just the polling itself, it doesn't seem like the indictments to-date have hurt Trump politically, right? So, it begs the know, why is he trying so hard to delay the trial politically? Why?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, he doesn't want to be on trial during the campaign because what if he's convicted? What if he's convicted of a felony? We've had some polls that show us that people could change their minds if the person who's running for president is a convicted felon. So, I don't think he wants that.

But the whole notion is they want to delay it until after the election because he figures, well, if he wins the presidency, he can fire Jack Smith and he can get rid of these cases once and for all. So, there's a reason to wanting to delay this if you think you're to be the next president.


BROWN: And if the Supreme Court does take up this case, as it very well may, Paula, let's talk about what that could look like.

As you just heard Elliot say, there's an appetite perhaps to expedite this. But how much could the case be delayed potentially here? What are we looking at?

REID: Well, certainly, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court would be mindful of the timeline here. It's highly unlikely, particularly the Supreme Court that is sensitive to the increased polarization of that particular entity, that they don't necessarily want to delay this any more than they have to.

So, it is likely that they would move as quickly as possible, but it takes time to schedule arguments, have them heard, appeal to a higher court. I think that this could potentially be delayed months. But it's interesting, the judge overseeing this, Judge Tanya Chutkan, she's made it clear she is not moving this case. It will have to be a higher court. And it's rare that you hear a federal judge commit so strongly to a specific date.

BROWN: All right. So, let's talk about another case. That would be the New York civil fraud trial. Trump showed up today. He didn't have to show up. He is expected to take the stand again. But, Elliot, as you know, this time is different. There's a gag order in place. His attorney has come out to say he's still going to take that stand despite her advice not to testify because of that gag order. What risk is he taking with this?

WILLIAMS: Look, anytime a defendant, a party, not even a defendant, takes a stand, they run the risk of stepping in it and getting themselves in trouble. Number one, he could contradict prior statements that he's made. Number two, he could just say something in response to a question that he's not prepared for that has huge consequences for him. There are $250 million on the line, potentially the loss of his business. And so making a mistake on the stand could be particularly bad. Also, there's still the question you referenced, Pam, the gag order. There's still the risk of the former president going out and saying something that oversteps the bounds of what he's allowed to say. And he could get himself in trouble. So, he is -- it's very fraught with peril, but, look, they have already found -- the court has found that there was fraud. This is the best shot he's got. And so he sort of has to take the stand here, roll the dice and see what happens.

BROWN: He's certainly been taking advantage of the media attention when he walks outside of the courthouse, right, speaking to reporters.

BORGER: It's a campaign rally.

BROWN: Exactly. I mean, that's really how he is using these appearances, right, as a campaign rally, to get his messaging out. And he has repeated a very familiar message. Let's listen to what he said today.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We have a very corrupt country. We have a very corrupt political system, and they're doing this to hurt a political opponent. This is third world country stuff. This is banana republic stuff and it's a shame. It's a shame what's happening to our country.


BROWN: Gloria, we covered the Robert Mueller Russia investigation. We heard very similar rhetoric there. But the bottom line is a lot of his supporters believe that. They really believe that he is the victim, right. How much does that work in his favor?

BORGER: Well, I think it works in his favor a lot. By the way, I don't think he violated the gag order doing that. All he did was say we have a corrupt country and a corrupt political system. That didn't violate the gag order. It works.

And what he's trying to do is push all these trials together and paint one big portrait. And the portrait is of the former president being a victim of the current president who is manipulating, according to Donald Trump, manipulating the Justice Department, manipulating attorneys general to persecute him because he's done nothing wrong.

WILLIAMS: And I think it's really important to note here he is standing outside a state court in New York talking about the federal government. He's conflating to different jurisdictions to different prosecutors. People believe it. They lump it under one roof and assume that it's one vast conspiracy to take down the president. These are totally different jurisdictions. He's made the claim --

BROWN: President Biden would have no bearing on what's happening in the state of New York, and that's --

REID: President Biden has his own special counsel and is getting him as well. WILLIAMS: And he's also made the claim that the Justice Department in Washington is staffing, putting personnel on this case. They are lies and he is pushing them and people buy it.

BROWN: People buy it.

BORGER: Right. They think it's one big picture of the former president being victimized no matter what it is or where it is. And Joe Biden is the instigator of all of this.

BROWN: And that messaging is resonating with supporters who, like you said, believe it.

All right, thank you all so much, I appreciate that analysis.

Just ahead, Donald Trump's Republican presidential rivals engage in some of their most contentious fights yet. How their heated debate impacts the race as they head back to the campaign trail.



BROWN: Tonight, Donald Trump's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination are picking up where they left off during their fiery fourth debate. As CNN's Jessica Dean reports, multiple candidates are hitting the campaign trail hours after their latest face off without the former president.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As former President Donald Trump appeared Thursday in a New York courtroom --

TRUMP: This is a witch hunt.

DEAN: -- the Republican frontrunner's rivals for the GOP nomination spread out across Iowa and New Hampshire following their debate on Wednesday night.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I love all the attention, fellows. Thank you for that.

DEAN: Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley says all the attacks aimed at her mean one thing.

HALEY: I mean, you look, last night, it was very clear we're surging in the polls. Every one of those guys sees it, and they showed it.

DEAN: With Haley showing signs of momentum in the GOP primary, the former South Carolina governor found herself fending off a barrage of criticism. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis accused Haley of opposing a bill in South Carolina to require people use public and school bathrooms based on their sex at birth.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She killed that bill and she bragged that she killed that bill. I don't think men should be going into little girls bathrooms.

DESANTIS: Ron has continued to lie because he's losing. When I was governor ten years ago, when the bathroom situation came up, we had maybe a handful of kids that were dealing with an issue. And I said we don't need to bring government into this.


DEAN: It marked one of several clashes over cultural issues as DeSantis and Haley battle for the support of evangelical voters crucial in the Iowa caucuses now less than 40 days away.

Haley also saw herself the target of personal attacks from entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nikki, I don't have a woman problem. You have a corruption problem.

This is a woman who will send your kids to die so she can buy a bigger house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Haley, would you like to respond?

HALEY: No, it's not worth my time to respond to him.

DEAN: Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie stepping in to defend Haley after one attack from Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: So, reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the U.N. and that makes $8 million after, has real foreign policies.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And Nikki and I disagree on some issues, but I'll tell you this I've known her for 12 years, which is longer than he's even started to vote in a Republican primary. And while we disagree about some issues and we disagree about who should be president United States, what we don't disagree on is this is a smart accomplished woman and you should stop insulting her.

DEAN: But Christie did not spare Haley or any of the other candidates on stage for not speaking out more forcefully against Donald Trump.


DEAN (on camera): It was announced today CNN will be hosting two GOP debates in the lead up to the first two contests in this primary. So, on January 10th, that will happen at Drake University in Iowa, just days before the caucuses there, and then on January 21st at St. Anselm, in New Hampshire, just days before the New Hampshire primary.

And, Pamela, for these debates, candidates must get 10 percent, at least 10 percent in three qualifying polls, either national polls or those state polls in the state in which they will be running and be holding those debates. And so far, former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have hit those 10 percent marks in three different polls. Pam? BROWN: All right. Jessica Dean, thanks so much.

Let's bring in our political experts now to digest all of this. So, Jamie Gangel, I want to go to you first. The majority of the candidates once again avoided taking on Donald Trump. And Chris Christie, for his part, blasted them for that. Let's take a listen to what he said.


CHRISTIE: The fifth guy who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he's the one who, as you just put it is way, ahead in the polls. And yet I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with, you know, Voldemort, he who shall not be named. They don't want to talk about it.


BROWN: And as Christie also pointed out, Trump has no problem attacking them.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, attacking is Donald Trump's superpower. He's always done it, it works for him. And let's face it, if you look at the numbers, it's working. Chris Christie says he doesn't have the guts to show up.

Other times he's called him a coward. But Trump is going to stay away because it will raise the level of these other candidates. He's just too far ahead not to do it. And he's always going to attack them.

BROWN: Yes. And what about them not attacking -- besides Christie, of course, not going after Trump?

GANGEL: Look. Jared Kushner, remember, once said that Donald Trump had hijacked the Republican Party. He's right. They did. And Ron DeSantis knows that. And Nikki Haley knows that. And they want their hoping, despite what happens with the polls, they keep hoping that if they don't go after Trump, maybe some of those voters will go with him.

BROWN: Let's talk about Nikki Haley, because in what could be the clearest sign of her rise, she was the center of attention last night, right? And not just from Vivek Ramaswamy, who clearly has a thing, obsession. And she noted that she is the one, according to the polls, who could actually beat President Biden the most compared to the other candidates. How concerned should Democrats be?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think to what Jamie just said, I would be more concerned if Trump wasn't 40 points ahead of the field in most national polls and then even some of these state polls.

I think it would be interesting to see, though, I mean, one of the things with Nikki Haley, I mean, she held her own beautifully, she used her time well. It would be interesting to see how she does in Iowa and sort of slingshot into South Carolina. And can she keep that momentum going?

I'll tell you as a Democrat, though, I thought last night was a great night for Democrats. I wish every general election voter was watching because the chaos in general on the stage and people actually booing when Chris Christie was trying to tell the truth about Donald Trump, that speaks volumes to where the core of the Republican Party is.

BROWN: This is your party.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I watched last night. Haley had a good night.


I thought Chris Christie had a superb night. I mean his smack down of Ramaswamy, you know, he's going after DeSantis for not answering the questions directly. He is calling out the fact that they need to go after Trump, he scored there, too. He was just on target last night. And I think Haley did well as well. But they need to take on Donald Trump. They all know that.

I mean, I run for office many times and I was always in the lead. I expected my opponents to attack me. They need to tear me down. They need to tear down Trump. They're not doing it.

FINNEY: But that's been the common wisdom, and I'm just not so sure. I mean, look at the way Nikki Haley has done this. She has been critical of him without saying his name, as Christie pointed out, but she's also the only one who's actually, she's now making some gains in the polls. And the way that DeSantis has been doing it is not working. And it hasn't really been working for Chris Christie a little bit in New Hampshire. But I'm just not sure.

I mean, having gone up against Donald Trump in 2016, I can tell you it is very hard to just do the direct attacks, particularly given that he uses every moment to --

DENT: I hope it works for Haley, but she's still down major double digits. So, again, I've done a lot of campaigns, and I found you have to take people on frontally and directly. Maybe it's different with Trump, but what they're doing right now simply isn't working, even though I desperately hope that either Haley or Christie can break through the pack.

BROWN: And it's interesting because Donald Trump kind of gave them an opening with his comment about being a dictator for one day, right?

And we've gotten some reaction from Republicans on the Hill and so forth to that comment. Here's what the House foreign Affairs chairman, Mike McCaul had to entertainment.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): It's entertainment. You know, we've been around him long enough. It's entertaining. I think he is an executive that does make decisions and gets things done. I mean, I think the comparison -- I mean, I don't think you'd see the world on fire the way it is if he were in the White House. I think he projected strength.


BROWN: But the bottom line is, Jamie, is that Trump has shown his authoritarian tendencies time and time again.

GANGEL: Look, this is exactly why it's Donald Trump's party, because that's the way they stay in power. That's the way they make money or they're scared of him. But, look, publicly, yes, that's exactly what they're saying. But, privately, each and every one of them knows two words, January 6th, that is a day he tried to overthrow an election. He tried to seize power. Why not think he'll do it again?

BROWN: Right. And that's sort of the follow up question is, should this really be downplayed as just entertainment? He's just joking. We've seen take him on his word.

All right, on that note, thank you all very much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, new information about shots fired in front of a synagogue in Upstate New York.

Plus, we'll have an update from the war zone in the Middle East as Israel is claiming new success in taking down members of Hamas.



BROWN: There is breaking news out of upstate New York where shots were fired near a synagogue. Police revealing what the suspect apparently said during that incident.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is working this story. So, what do we know at this point, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, though no injuries were reported, New York Governor Kathy Hochul strongly condemn the actions of a 28-year-old Albany man, especially because of what police believe this stands for.

According to what police believe in this investigation so far is that that 28-year-old man took a shotgun and fired two times outside of Temple Israel, a synagogue just west of downtown Albany earlier this afternoon.

Again, nobody hurt. But when you hear from Police Chief Eric Hawkins, he says that the suspect shouted, free Palestine, during the incident before attempting to flee, dropping the weapon and then eventually being taken in by police without any further incident.

The FBI, ATF, leading this investigation right now, possible weapons charges, but I want you to hear the exchange between Chief Hawkins and reporters that really tells you about how police are approaching this and why they believe this was a hate crime.


REPORTER: Did he say anything about the Jewish faith or about Israel or about anything that would be like a hate crime?

CHIEF ERIC HAWKINS, ALBANY POLICE: We were told by responding officers that he made a comment, free Palestine.

REPORTER: Is that the reason the FBI is involved in this situation?

HAWKINS: Yes, that is part of the reason. Yes.

REPORTER: So is it being investigated as a hate crime?



SANDOVAL: And with tonight being the first night of Hanukkah, Governor Hochul ordering an increase of patrols at Jewish centers throughout the state, certainly at synagogues as well, in light of the recent rise in anti-Semitic attacks that we've witnessed since October 7th, Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

And now to the Middle East, in Israel's war against Hamas, exactly two months after the attack on October 7th. We have some disturbing new images from the war zone, just into CNN.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is right on the scene there in Sderot, Israel, near Gaza. Jeremy, some viewers may find these images upsetting, we do want to warn our viewers. Tell us what we know and don't know about them.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, these images show the mass detention of dozens of Palestinian men by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. We don't know exactly when and where these images were taken, but some of them were geolocated by our team inside the town of Beit Lahia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

And while we don't know whether some of these men may be Hamas fighters, we know that all of them are not. And that's because some of these men have already been identified by their relatives, some of whom spoke with CNN.


Among them includes at least one journalist, a correspondent for Al- Araby Al-Jadeed, who was identified by his employer. And they say that he and several members of his family were detained.

You can see these men in these images, they are blindfolded, they have been stripped down to their underwear, and they are in some cases lying in the street. Some of them have been taken then to cargo beds in the backs of military trucks.

One of the relatives of one of these men said that he had simply followed orders to emerge from his house and then he was detained.

CNN has reached out to the Israeli military for comment, they have not responded, but Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, did say that the IDF investigates and checks who has ties to Hamas and who does not.

BROWN: So, two months into this fight, Jeremy, we should note, it is two months in. What is Israel saying about its progress in this war?

DIAMOND: Well, the Israeli military says that it has killed several senior Hamas commanders. They showed an image of 11 senior members of Hamas's northern brigade in a tunnel, and they say that 5 of those 11 have been killed in strikes. At least some of them killed in a strike on a tunnel infrastructure near the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza. They also said that two other senior Hamas members were killed in a strike on Hamas' intelligence center.

The Israeli military right now is focused very much on the southern part of the Gaza Strip. We know that Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry are in the city of Khan Younis. And behind me right now, you can still hear heavy bombardment and shelling of parts of Northern Gaza as well, so the fighting very much continuing in all parts of Gaza.

BROWN: All right. Jeremy Diamond is Sderot, Israel, thank you so much.

And as the war enters a third month, the United Nations is warning of alarming levels of hunger in Gaza.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has more on the humanitarian crisis.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Israa was born the day the truce went into effect, seemingly so long ago. She lives with her parents and brother in a makeshift shelter in Deir al Balah. It lacks the basics of life, for the cold, for the winter, says her mother, also named Israa.

This young family is part of the 1.9 million people, 85 percent of Gaza's population, that has been displaced, displaced, but still in danger.

Smoke rises over Rafah where so many fled to. Wednesday afternoon, this house in the Rafah's refugee camp was bombed. Inevitably in such a crowded place, children were among the dead.

There's no safe place in Gaza, says Eyad Al Hobbi. Any place can be hit.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 20 people were killed in the strike, including 17 members from the same extended family. They told them the south was safe. They came here, the safe place, and they were all killed, says Basam al Hobbi. Death now stalks every corner of this land.

In Khan Younis, the focus of Israel's current offensive, the hospital is overwhelmed with the injury, and yet more come.

The World Health Organization's Gaza envoy says they're doing what they can.

RICHARD PEERPERKORN, WHO GAZA ENVOY: But the health infrastructure is on its knees. It's almost collapsing. That is what the reality is. It's almost collapsing.

WEDEMAN: Collapse, chaos, destruction, and death, such as Gaza's lot.


WEDEMAN (on camera): Also collapsing are the U.N.'s relief efforts in Southern Gaza. Today, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said that because of the disruption caused by the war, the program has become erratic, undependable, and in his words, it's frankly unsustainable. Pamela?

BROWN: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you for that.

And let's get more on all of this with Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thank you for your time.

I first want to go to these men in Gaza who were detained and stripped down in their underwear. You heard our Jeremy Diamond talk about that. CNN spoke to family members who say that some of them are actually civilians.

What is your assessment of these pictures? Does this raise concerns to you that Israel isn't doing enough to discern between militants and civilians?

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Yes, I'm just seeing these pictures for the first time and obviously they're striking. We're not used to seeing that, you know, people lined up without hardly any clothes on.


I'm trying to remember a time just as someone who's a former CIA officer and Pentagon official who worked three tours in Iraq alongside the military when that practice was used. I'm having a hard time coming up with one. And I think it's part of this bigger conversation of how do you determine the difference between a civilian and a militant in an extremely crowded place?

The United States had to deal with the same question, right, when we were in places like Ramadi and Fallujah in Afghanistan. It's one of the most difficult things to do and therefore requires extreme care on the part of the military that's launching these operations. And I think that you're seeing that come out now here in the United States, this real debate about the types of tactics that are being used and whether a tactical victory actually equals strategic success for Israel when they're alienating, obviously, so many people going through pain in Gaza right now.

BROWN: And to add to that, you saw those deadly strikes in Rafah where civilians were told to flee. Israel is saying it's doing everything it can to limit civilian deaths. But do you think the actions are speaking louder than words here?

SLOTKIN: I mean, I think, look, the pictures are, I mean, extremely difficult to look at and to watch. And I think that democracies have special responsibilities in war to limit not only is it not okay to target civilians, but proportionality, right?

If you're going after a militant, someone who legitimately organized this kind of horrific attack we saw on October 7th, I believe Israel has the right to go after those militants, the leaders, the funders, the organizers. But you have to do such an incredible amount of work to make sure you're not proportionally hitting way more civilians than you are militants, and that the militants you're going after are sort of worth the risk to life that's going on there.

So, I think it's getting much more complicated. It was complicated for the United States. We learned some really hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan. And my hope is that the Israeli government will learn those lessons, take them from us and bring them to a change of approach.

BROWN: You mentioned democracies have responsibilities in war. And the bottom line is the U.S. has provided munitions to the Israeli military. And Amnesty International, there's an investigation by them that showed that two deadly airstrikes in October that killed 43 Gazan civilians in their homes, those U.S. made munitions were used in those strikes. What obligations does the U.S. have to make sure its own weapons aren't killing civilians?

SLOTKIN: Yes. Well, I think this is the conversation that's been going on largely in private between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government and is now spilling into the public, right? We're starting to see both on the record and on background officials from the administration talking about the responsibilities the Israelis have on civilian casualties, on the use of these weapon systems.

That's a conversation that's frankly happening on Capitol Hill right now, right? Do we have this idea of conditions on assistance is a very live issue. We got a letter from senators today talking about it.

So, I think it's important that we remember that we have, again, special obligations when you're a democracy, that there are rules to how we do this. And I think the United States, you're hearing very clearly from Capitol Hill that this is going to be a conversation.

BROWN: What do you think should happen then? SLOTKIN: So, I think it's important to understand what is already in place. I think we've been talking about conditions, frankly, all fall, not just for Israel, but for Ukraine, for all kinds of assistance coming from the Pentagon. There are legal requirements on the provision of aids to aid to any ally or partner. There are end-use monitoring requirements, how are they using those weapons, right, and there are rules around that.

There are Leahy Requirements, so human rights requirements. You can't give weapons to a unit that's had human rights violations. Just this fall, there were talks of conditions. We've got to cut a bunch of IRS agents in order to give Israel any assistance. So, that issue of conditioning assistance has been with us, and I'm ready to have that conversation.

My bigger issue is we're not really moving the ball on any aid right now. Negotiations are stuck. So, let's have it. Let's move it. We need that assistance for Israel, for Ukraine, for a bunch of places. And to me, that's the first step, is let's actually start negotiating and then that conversation is going to play out.

BROWN: All right. Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, thank you, and Happy Hanukkah to you.

SLOTKIN: Thank you.

BROWN: Just ahead, a Texas judge is ruling in favor of a woman seeking an emergency abortion. We're going to tell you what that could mean for the state's strict limits on the procedure.



BROWN: A Texas judge has ruled that a woman seeking a court ordered abortion can legally terminate her pregnancy, but the Texas attorney general is warning that any doctors who perform the procedure could face legal jeopardy.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us from Dallas. So, Ed, what happens next here?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has really intensified here this afternoon as the attorneys for this woman, 31- year-old Kate Cox, say it is unforgivable that this mother who is 20 weeks pregnant had to go before a judge today and essentially, quote, beg for an abortion to protect her life and her future fertility.

Kate Cox is pregnant with, in 20 weeks, as I mentioned. The baby has been diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that essentially is fatal and that the likelihood of the baby surviving more than a few hours is very unlikely.

During this temporary restraining order hearing, the judge granted her the ability to have an abortion.


This is believed to be one of the first cases like it since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

The judge said the idea that Mrs. Cox wants desperately to be a parent and this law might actually cause her to lose the ability is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice.

The attorney general here in Texas, Republican Ken Paxton, just a short while ago released a statement essentially threatening the patient and the doctors who would be possibly involved in her getting abortion, saying that the temporary restraining order will not insulate hospitals, doctors or anyone else from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas' abortion laws.

So a very intense and complicated situation here for this case involving Kate Cox, a woman, 20 weeks pregnant, here in Texas right now -- Pamela.

BROWN: Certainly as you say. Yeah, setting a precedent potentially.

Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Well, coming up, the Biden administration is delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes. Why some critics say politics are behind this decision. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Well, tonight, the Biden administration is delaying a long- awaited ban on menthol flavored cigarettes.

CNN's Rene Marsh has this story.


DERRICK JOHNSON, CEO, NAACP: We are extremely outraged.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anger and disappointment from the NAACP directed at the Biden administration for slow-walking a ban on menthol flavored cigarettes. For decades tobacco companies have aggressively targeted minority communities with marketing and it's been effective.

More than 83 percent of Black smokers choose menthols and Black people die at significantly higher rates of smoking-related illnesses.

JOHNSON: If you don't ban menthol flavor, you're sending a clear message that Black lives do not matter. It raises a real question, is this a discriminatory act by this administration to neglect the health concerns of African-American community?

MARSH: But the African-American community is divided on the issue. Government schedules show on November 20th, top administration officials met with prominent Black leaders and representatives, including an executive with Al Sharpton's National Action Network. Also present were tobacco industry stakeholders and lobbyist, including former North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield, now a tobacco industry lobbyist. All opposed the ban saying it would lead to an illicit market and more deadly police encounters like Eric Garner who was killed for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.

MICHAEL BLAKE, FORMER DNC VICE CHAIR: It's becoming a political issue because Black leaders trying to make it such. You know, you have Black leaders taking the stand of tobacco companies rather than saving Black lives.

MARSH: A ban would only allow the FDA to regulate the sale and distribution of menthol cigarettes. That means the enforcement would focus on retailers, manufacturers and distributors, not individuals.

In an election cycle, conservative groups have seized the opportunity to capitalize on the issue.

AD ANNOUNCER: Biden's priority is banning menthol cigarettes.

MARSH: Zeroing in on a potential political liability for Biden. Their strategy includes more ads like this one.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton tweeting: Joe Biden wants to ban menthol cigarettes which are favored by Black smokers. Meanwhile, he wants to legalize weed for White college kids.

Public health groups say the Biden administration is putting politics over people.

YOLONDA RICHARDSON, PRESIDENT, CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO FREE KIDS: There's just no reason for this delay and only one can conclude that the industry has had an influence on the administration's decision.


MARSH (on camera): All right. And, you know, all other flavored cigarettes were banned actually under the Obama administration except for menthol. And the White House has not been clear on their reasoning for this delay, but Republicans, they are -- they see this as an opening and they're sting to strategize and create more ads on this very issue.

BROWN: Yeah, like you Said, Senator Tom Cotton for one.

All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Finally tonight, one of the Israeli military's biggest targets is a top Hamas leader in Gaza who's accused of being a mastermind behind the October 7th assault.

Brian Todd takes a closer look at his background.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESONDENT (voice-over): One of Israel's top targets, the man they call the face of evil, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's highest ranking leader inside Gaza. Top Israeli officials have sounded very confident in recent days that they'll kill him, saying their forces have encircled his house in southern Gaza.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): His house is now his fortress and he can escape, but it's only a matter of time before we get him.

TODD: Without elaborating, Israeli officials say they believe Sinwar is underground, such is the existence of the 61-year-old whose imprinted his hatred of Israel into the identity of Hamas. Analysts say as one of Hamas's top masterminds of the October 7th attacks.

HUSSAIN ABDUL-HUSSAIN, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Yahya Sinwar to Israel is what bin Laden is to the United States. And like Americans went after Bin Laden and eventually got him, I think the Israelis will do the same and this war will not end until they get Sinwar.

TODD: Sinwar joined Hamas in his 20s, arrested by the Israelis for the murders of two Israelis and four Palestinians. He spent 23 years in an Israeli prison, learned Hebrew and it was during that period that the Israelis actually saved his life.

ABDUL-HUSSAIN: A tumor was discovered in his head. Israeli doctors operated on him, took the tumor out and he survived.

TODD: Michael Koubi, a former officer of Israel's Shin Bet security agency says he interrogated Yahya Sinwar for a total of about 180 hours. Kube says he knows Sinwar better than Sinwar's own mother and describes him as the cruelest man he ever met, known to use a machete to kill Palestinians who were suspected of collaborating with Israeli intelligence.

MICHAEL KOUBI, FORMER SHIN BET SECURITY AGENCY OFFICER: I asked him, you are now 28, 29 and how come he's not married? How come he doesn't want family? So he told me the Hamas is my wife, the Hamas is my child, the Hamas for me is everything.

TODD: Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released in 2011 in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Just last year, he seemed to warn Israel what was coming.

YAHYA SINWAR, HAMAS LEADER IN GAZA (through translator): We will come to you, god willing, in a roaring flood. We will come to you with an endless number of rockets. We will come to you in a flood of soldiers without limit. We will come to you with millions of our nation.

TODD: Analysts say the man who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2021 won't be easy to kill this time either.

ABDUL-HUSSAIN: If there's someone who's passing on information to the Israelis, he knows who they are and he takes them out before the Israelis get to him.


TODD (on camera): Analyst Hussain Abdul-Hussain says if and when the Israelis eliminate Yahya Sinwar, it's unlikely that whoever might try to fill those shoes will be as brutal as Sinwar. But if it's someone more moderate, he says, it really won't matter given how determined the Israel is to take out all of Hamas's leadership -- Pamela.

BROWN: It's a good point.

Brian Todd, thanks so much.

I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're wishing a happy first night of Hanukkah to those who celebrate.