Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Inside The Final Push To Get Trump Fake Elector Ballots To D.C. By Jan. 6; Haley On Damage Control Over Civil War Remarks Amid Backlash; Thousands Of Desperate Civilians Swarm Relief Convoy In Gaza; Maine's Top Election Official Removes Trump From 2024 Ballot. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 28, 2023 - 18:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, as recordings obtained by CNN reveal how Trump operatives race to get fake-elector ballots to Washington in time for January 6th. This hour, the Michigan secretary of state will react to our exclusive reporting on the Trump team's final push to overturn 2020 election results from her state.

Also tonight, Nikki Haley is doing damage control after the Republican presidential candidate is facing backlash over her failure to mention slavery when asked about the cause of the civil war. Are voters buying her explanations, plural?

Also, there are desperate scenes that we are seeing out of Gaza, civilians here swarming a relief truck in search of food and water. This as we are getting new reaction to video that appears to show men and young boys detained by the Israeli military and stripped to their underwear. An IDF spokesperson will join us live.

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

We do begin with that breaking news this hour as there are new revelations on just how far Trump operatives went in their frantic final push to try to keep their boss in the White House and overturn President Biden's legitimate 2020 election victory.

CNN's Marshall Cohen is part of the team that broke this exclusive report. Marshall, what are we hearing and learning in these recordings about just how deep and clearly frantic that fake elector scheme really truly was?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Hey, Kaitlan. We've known bits and pieces of this story, but now we're getting the full picture. And it comes from Ken Cheseboro, who, in many ways, was the architect of the fake electors plot. CNN has obtained recordings of his recent sit-down interview with Michigan investigators. We've also obtained hundreds of emails that he turned over. They reveal the last-minute scramble on the eve of January 6th to get those fake certificates to D.C. Here's a clip of Cheseboro describing what happened when Trump campaign officials realized that the ballots from Michigan and Wisconsin were stuck in the mail.


KENNETH CHESEBORO, PRO-TRUMP ATTORNEY: The general counsel of the Trump campaign is freaked out that Roman reported that the Michigan votes are still in the sorting facility in Michigan, which doesn't look like they're going to get to Pence in time.

So, the general counsel campaign was alarmed and was chartering -- they didn't have to charter a jet, but they did commercial.

This is like -- yes. So, this is a high level decision to get the Michigan and Wisconsin votes there. And they had to enlist a, you know, a U.S. senator to try to expedite it, to get it to Pence in time.


COHEN: A high level decision. Now, remember, Kaitlan, they needed to get those ballots to the floor of the house because they wanted Mike Pence to throw out Biden's real electors and replace them with Trump's fake electors.

In the end, the campaign didn't charter a jet. Staffers booked some last-minute tickets for commercial flights and they ferried the ballots to D.C. on January 5th. Once they got to D.C., there were a series of handoffs and couriers that even included some help from Senator Ron Johnson's office.

The ballots eventually did reach the Capitol in time, Kaitlan, but Pence's team said they didn't want them. They refused to go along with the plan.

COLLINS: Yes, they told Ron Johnson's chief of staff, don't give those to him under any circumstances. You know, as you listen to Kenneth Cheseboro in these recordings, Marshall, he seems pretty aggrieved at how his role is being cast, how others are being portrayed. What is he saying? Is he blaming the Trump campaign for the legal issues that he is now clearly facing?

COHEN: He is. He's pretty upset, you know, and he thinks he got burned out of all this. And it's true that some Trump campaign lawyers did tell the January 6th committee that they basically washed their hands of the fake electors plot. But the emails that we've obtained show that at least some of them were involved in these 11th-hour discussions about how to get the ballots to pence.

Here's Chesebro, we can listen to what he says to Michigan prosecutors telling them basically that he was thrown under the bus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHESEBORO: to have the three top campaign lawyers in interviews with Congress claim they pulled out of this on December 11th, and I ran off and did it with Giuliani when, in fact, they were day-by-day coordinating the efforts of more than a dozen people with the GOP and with the Trump campaign.

For them to basically say they had nothing to do with it, it's because me and Giuliani is that's what really rankles.

So, I could avoid it all. So, it's been a lesson and not working with people that you don't know and are not sure you can trust because it really went south on me.



COHEN: So, he says he learned the hard way and that's probably why he's now cooperating with the prosecutors in Michigan, Wisconsin and other key states. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Marshall, this is fascinating reporting. Stay with us because I do also want to bring our law enforcement and our legal experts here into the conversation.

And, Andrew McCabe, let me start with you because just looking through this reporting and seeing how deep and frantic this effort truly was, I mean, what do you make of the fact that they didn't charter the private plane to get these fake electors to Washington but they were prepared to do so if they needed to?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think that fact alone, Kaitlan, shows you the level of intent and intensity that they were applying to this issue. They were prepared to get past any potential hurdle.

Now, it sounds like, ultimately, they figured out a way to get the ballot seat without chartering a plane. But if you read through these emails, they're really remarkable in how deeply they intertwine the lawyers at the very top of the Trump campaign with Cheseboro and others. There are numerous references to conversations they're having with people in the Republican Party about these issues. So, you have to kind of give some credit to Cheseboro's comments and you understand his frustration.

This was clearly much bigger, more complicated, a lot of people putting a lot of effort into getting these fake certificates signed by the fake electors into D.C. just in time. So, it's a really fascinating inside-look at what happened in this conspiracy.

COLLINS: Elliot Williams, what do you make of this?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I want to pick up on a word Andrew used, and that's intent. And, frankly, if there is anything I can teach the world about being a prosecutor, it's how important establishing a defendant's intent is. And you have to prove not -- prosecutors have to prove not just that the thing happened but that the thing that's alleged or charged happened and that the defendant carried some level of criminal intent, that they knew what they were doing when carrying out these acts.

And something and in a matter about election subversion and the provision of false or fake or faulty electors, taking extreme lengths to move ballots to Washington, D.C., be a plane and chartering jets and so on, is exactly that kind of evidence. And I'm sure the prosecutors -- you know, it doesn't look like anybody else knew what will be charged I think on account of the revelations that have come out here, but this is certainly valuable evidence. That's point one.

And point two is don't email if you're committing a crime, that literally, and this is also to Andrew's point, there is tremendous value to prosecutors in electronic media. This happens in courts all the time.

Now, look, I'm not in the business of giving free legal advice to people, but as a general matter, it's a statement of how valuable electronic information is in the court.

COLLINS: Well, and Katelyn Polantz, you're also on the byline on this great reporting. And who Kenneth Cheseboro was talking about there when he was talking about people's testimony in front of the January 6th Congressional Committee was Matt Morgan, who was this top Trump campaign attorney who in that testimony, I went back and re-read it, really distanced himself from the fake elector scheme, kind of saying that he handed it off to Rudy Giuliani and people like Kenneth Cheseboro.

But Kenneth Cheseboro was saying that he was way more involved than he let on in that testimony.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That is what Ken Cheseboro says. But when you read the Matt Morgan testimony, he's talking about delegating, shifting the responsibility. So, he still has the title of general counsel within the campaign, but his lawyers say that he stands by everything that he was saying to Congress still at this time.

But when you look at the emails that he has with Ken Cheseboro, you see, it just escalates quickly, right? He initially asks, hey, the campaign just wants to check in on this. How are the elector certificates going? Where are they? And then you go from that to Ken Cheseboro and another person that he was working with, Mike Roman, very quickly realizing we don't have them all. They're stuck in the mail. Do we need to charter a jet? We need to get people on planes right now.

And so Morgan looking into this as somebody with the campaign formally at this 11th hour, that really gets this conversation going.

And one thing to note about the congressional testimony is that Matt Morgan, several other people who were with the campaign and sort of had split off from Ken Cheseboro, Rudy Giuliani, some of these other people that were trying to really contest the election and make these fake electors work for Trump, they were testifying and explaining what they knew, what they believed, and everything.

They were under oath with Congress. We have those transcripts. Ken Cheseboro, he was taking the Fifth. So, now that we have these proffers, it's the first time we're seeing Cheseboro's words, Cheseboro's retelling and how he felt about what happened there.


COLLINS: Well, and, Marshall, speaking of that, now that he is talking, we are hearing his side of the story. You note in your reporting that Cheseboro's attorneys reached out to Jack Smith's team before he pleaded guilty, had a guilty plea in this. He says, their attorney says that they have not heard back from Jack Smith's team. Why do you think Jack Smith hasn't reached out to them? I mean, wouldn't this be helpful to his case that he's making, that he's trying to prosecute in Washington?

COHEN: I'm sure Jack Smith's team would love to talk to anybody who was involved. But don't forget, they've already built a very robust criminal case against President Trump and they did it without any help from Ken Cheseboro.

Look, this indictment does vaguely reference this episode in terms of getting the ballots to Washington, D.C. There's one paragraph tucked in. It's kind of vague. It doesn't have all the details that we've been discussing here today.

If you look the paragraph before, that's about Donald Trump tweeting about Mike Pence. All he has to do is send it back. The paragraph after is about how Donald Trump called Mike Pence and pressured him, in Jack Smith's words, to fraudulently reject the Biden electors.

So, Jack Smith already has a case against Trump. This is part of it. And this whole last-minute scramble to get those ballots, it's tucked into a section about Trump and his behavior that day.

COLLINS: Yes, we'll see what kind of a role it could play at a potential trial. Thanks to all of you for that and for the great reporting.

Just ahead, we're going to go live to New Hampshire, where Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley tonight is trying to clean up her remarks about the Civil War. What she is saying now that she did not say yesterday.



COLLINS: Tonight, Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley says it is a given that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. That is not what she said last night when a voter in New Hampshire asked her that very question and left her scrambling to explain herself today.

CNN's Eva McKend is on the ground in the Granite State and was there as she made this comment last night. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned, always the case.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nikki Haley playing cleanup today after this exchange with a voter during a New Hampshire town hall Wednesday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the cause of the United States Civil War?

HALEY: Well, don't come with an easy question, right? I mean, I think the cause of the civil war was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn't do.

MCKEND: After not mentioning slavery in her initial response, Haley acknowledging in interviews and campaign appearances the Civil War was about slavery.

HALEY: If you grow up in the south, it's a given that it's about slavery. To me, it was about freedom. It's bigger than slavery. That was such a stain on our history. But what do you take from it going forward?

MCKEND: The former South Carolina governor also claiming without evidence the questioner was a Democratic plant. The audience member who asked the question declined to share his full name or party affiliation when asked by reporters.

HALEY: It was definitely a Democrat plant. That's why I said what does it mean to you? And if you notice, he didn't answer anything.

MCKEND: The episode sparking swift blowback from Haley's primary rivals.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just think that this shows this is not a candidate that's ready for primetime.

MCKEND: And Vivek Ramaswamy saying, when you try to be everything to everyone, you're nothing to anyone. President Joe Biden also weighing in, saying, clearly, it was about slavery.

Haley's handling of the question also drawing fresh attention to her complicated public posture toward the Confederacy.

HALEY: I say that as a southern governor who removed the Confederate flag off the statehouse ground, and I say that as a proud American of how far we have come.

MCKEND: CNN's K-File found in 2010, Haley said this about the Confederate flag.

HALEY: This is not something that is racist. This is something that is a tradition that people feel proud of. MCKEND: But in 2015, a shooting at a historically black church in Charleston spurred then-Governor Haley to call for the flag's removal from statehouse grounds.

HALEY: We heard about the true honor of heritage and tradition. We heard about the true pain that many had felt.

The Confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse.

MCKEND: The stumble by Haley comes as she has steadily gained momentum in the GOP primary with a recent New Hampshire poll showing her securely in second place behind former President Donald Trump, but well ahead of DeSantis and Chris Christie.


MCKEND (on camera): And, Kaitlan, this entire ordeal has really brought into focus the way that she has run her campaign. There have been ramped up questions about that, this do no harm strategy, this avoid controversy strategy. Clearly in this scenario, it has its limits.

But, listen, there is still a lot of excitement for her here on the ground here in New Hampshire. She is going to be on stage soon with Chris Sununu. We hear him about to introduce her now. And many residents in this state tell us that they are ready for a new generation of leadership and think she is the right person to confront former President Donald Trump. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Eva McKend, thank you for that reporting from New Hampshire.

Our political commentators are here, and Kristen Soltis Anderson, you and I were on air together as this comment had first happened last night. Since then, Nikki Haley has tried twice now to clarify her comments. It obviously has not appeased the backlash from her critics or her rivals. They are happy to seize on this. But what do you make of how she's handled this today?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I wish the response had been a little quicker pretty clear right away that it wasn't the right answer.


But, you know, with kind of 24 hours to think about it, I've actually gotten even a little more frustrated by her response. And part of that is because rather than going on the defense or even just trying to say, well, it was about slavery, let's move on, I wish she had actually gone on the offense and talked about her record as governor of South Carolina, said, yes, the Civil War was 170 years ago, but, you know what, as governor, I saw that the scars still really show themselves. And I was there to try to help our state heal in the wake of tragedy where nine people were killed at a black church during bible study. And I, as governor, am good at unifying people. I want to help us heal and move forward. She could have turned it into a rock star moment instead of this kind of cleanup that we're seeing today.

COLLINS: Jamal Simmons, I mean, Nikki Haley obviously does have that history as the governor of South Carolina. One thing that she touted today was how she ordered the Confederate flag to be removed from the capitol grounds after that shooting at a historically black church in Charleston in 2015. But, you know, she doesn't often mention bringing down the Confederate flag when she's out in the campaign trail. It's not part of her stump speech. What do you make of how what happened last night, that moment fits into her broader handling of race as a Republican presidential candidate?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The questioner asked her about slavery in the end, and her answer was, what do you want me to say about slavery? I mean, she's trying to have it both ways.

Listen, I did a lot of my political work in Georgia. I've campaigned in South Carolina with presidential candidates. She is very well adept. She knows what she's doing. This issue of the Confederate flag, this issue of the Confederacy, the Civil War, slavery, it is very ripe in these states. Nobody is that far away from it. She's trying to have it both ways. That is not leadership.

And that's the problem about what's happening right now is she's positioning herself as somebody who's a truth teller, somebody who's willing to stand up and do it the right way. But when push came to shove, she danced with the same part of the Republican Party that Donald Trump is trying to dance with, and it's wrong.

COLLINS: And I should note, we're seeing her in Lebanon, New Hampshire right now. This is her second or third campaign event of the day. She addressed it unprompted at the first one. She has not since talked about it then, but her rivals are talking about it.

And so, Kristen, given the fact that she has been very disciplined on the campaign trail, they don't have her take questions from reporters very often at events like this. I mean, what does it say about how she operates, though, in this environment?

These are a test. This is a spotlight moment. When you're a presidential candidate, you're under scrutiny, obviously, much more than when you are not. What does it say about how she and her campaign handled this big picture?

ANDERSON: Sure. I'm sure she wishes the last 24 hours had gone very differently than they have, but I also am pretty skeptical that this will in any way majorly derail her campaign. I mean, she's already facing huge challenges from Donald Trump. I think the kind of voter who would be offended that she says the Civil War is about slavery was probably not voting for her anyways.

So, I think at this point, I'm skeptical that this is going to move polls or even really throw off her momentum a ton. I'm sure she wishes the last 24 hours had been different, but I don't think that this is going to be a huge speed bump in her campaign.

COLLINS: It is something that others have certainly tried -- go ahead Jamal, because President Biden, who you used to work for, was posting about this right after that town hall saying simply that the Civil War was, quote, about slavery. I mean, it took them two hours, I think, to respond to this.

SIMMONS: You know, Donald Trump had the most deft kind of response about this, which is when -- you won't hear me say that very often, but that it shows that she might not be ready for primetime. Look, I've said it a lot. I thought she's the best candidate running. The problem is the whole bunch of them is a pretty weak field.

The thing about these candidates, and let this be a warning to every candidate out there, it doesn't matter what you practice in the game room, it doesn't matter what you do when you're trying to do prep. You got to get out on the track and run that car around a couple of times and see whether or not it can take the corners. And these voters who are asking you questions live time and you don't know what those questions are going to be, they're the ones who are going to help predict whether or not you're up to being able to be the leader of the free world.

COLLINS: Jamal Simmons, Kristen Soltis Anderson, thank you both.

Coming up here tonight on THE SITUATION ROOM, the fighting in Gaza is intensifying as the Israeli military is telling residents to evacuate shelters. Also, the humanitarian crisis only continuing to get worse than it already was. We're going to talk about this and more with a spokesperson for the IDF in just a moment.



COLLINS: It's almost difficult to watch these new videos that CNN is getting out of Gaza tonight. As you can see, thousands of civilians so desperate, they are swarming a relief convoy carrying flour and water, one man telling CNN that he has not had access to flour in a month and has instead been barely living off of tidbits of rice.

Meanwhile, all of this is coming -- this scene is playing out as we are hearing that tensions along Israel's northern border with Lebanon are escalating, as an Israeli official says time is running out for a diplomatic solution for its fight against Hezbollah.

CNN's Nada Bashir has our report.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Smoke billowing from the mountains of Southern Lebanon, a troubling and now increasingly frequent signal of escalating hostilities. Iran-backed Hezbollah claiming to have targeted an Israeli border city on Wednesday with 30 rockets, this in response to Israeli airstrikes on the Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil just hours earlier.

There is nothing residents here can do to shield from the growing tensions gripping the embattled border region, each airstrike bringing with it more fear and more grief. This latest attack killing at least three, according to state media, but only one said to have been a member of Hezbollah.


AFIF BAZZI, MAYOR OF BINT JBEIL, LEBANON: This neighborhood, which is in the heart of the city, is supposed to be a safe area. Civilians were were sleeping in their homes when suddenly we heard the sound of aircrafts above, and these houses were destroyed.

BASHIR: The situation on the border has long been tenuous, underpinned by a U.N. resolution adopted following the 2006 Lebanon war calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. But Israeli officials are now warning of an escalation which could open up a new front in the Gaza war.

BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI WAR CABINET MINISTER: The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out. If the world and the Lebanese government don't act in order to prevent the firing on Israel's northern residents and to distance Hezbollah from the border, the IDF will do it.

BASHIR: Israel's unrelenting military operation in Gaza and the devastating civilian toll has sparked anger across the region. And while the U.S. continues to call on Israel to move towards what's being described as a lower intensity phase of the war, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have warned of a long fight ahead with plans to expand their military operations southwards already underway.

Overnight Thursday, the foreboding red glow of fire illuminated the dark winter sky over Rafah, this the very place civilians have been told to take shelter, a so-called safe zone and a crucial gateway for aid, once again targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

In nearby Khan Younis, emergency teams work day and night to tend to the wounded and to recover the dead. Israel says it is targeting Hamas and has issued renewed calls for civilians to evacuate. But there is nowhere left to turn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People sheltering in schools do not know where to go. First we were displaced to Nizarat (ph), then to Rafah. We keep on getting told to move from one place to another.

BASHIR: For the 2.3 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, the vast majority now displaced in the south, there are no guarantees of safety, surrounded by a war which has shown them no mercy and engulfed by a humanitarian crisis of unimaginable scale, leaving little hope for an end to their suffering.

Nada Bashir, CNN, London.


COLLINS: And our thanks to Nada Bashir for that report. For more on what is happening in Israel, I'm joined now by the IDF spokesperson, Major Doron Spielman. Major, thank you for being here tonight.

And we are now hearing from a hospital telling CNN that women and children were part of those killed in an Israeli airstrike on a residential building in Rafah, where civilians told to flee for safety. Can you confirm that the IDF did strike this residential building in Rafah? And do you know how many people were killed as a part of this strike?

MAJ. DORON SPIELMAN, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Thank you for having me, Kaitlan. These scenes coming from Gaza are incredibly difficult scenes for me. I think for anybody that's watching them, to see the suffering of the Gazan people.

Rafah is supposed to be a humanitarian area. There should be no fighting whatsoever going on in the Rafah area. We designated it as a humanitarian area. That is where humanitarian goods come into. The issue is that Hamas are firing constant rockets from that area towards Israel. We had numerous rockets that have been fired. We've had thousands of rockets that have been fired since October 7th, and many of them, especially today, come directly from that area.

And I think, like any army in the world, if there is rocket fire coming from a location before those rockets hit your people, you try to disable them and eliminate them. The problem is Hamas are firing them from civilian areas. That is constantly the problem again and again and again in Gaza.

COLLINS: So, the IDF did strike a residential building in Rafah?

SPIELMAN: I have no consistent idea about that specific strike. There are strikes taking place in Gaza all throughout the day, and if there is, that information is available, we will announce it. What I can tell you is it's consistent that Hamas is firing from next to mosques and hospitals and schools. We've seen all of their tunnels, one of which I was in yesterday, that their tunnels go directly under hospitals, as we've shown.

They purposely planted their infrastructure in this area way before this conflict began, Kaitlan, so that you and I would have this conversation. It goes right into their playbook. How can we divert pressure from Hamas, they ask themselves, by burying ourselves into civilians so that the world will pressure Israel to stop. We have got to stop playing into their hands and realize they are the address for everything happening in Gaza.


COLLINS: Major, I do want to ask you about other video that we have not really gotten an answer from the IDF on. I'm hoping you can provide a more fulsome one. It's from an Israeli photojournalist and it shows a group of men, but it also shows two young boys who were stripped down to their underwear. There were the other males. They appear to be teens and adults. These two young boys obviously are not. Why did the IDF detain these two young boys and why were they forced to also strip down to their underwear?

SPIELMAN: I can tell you, Kaitlan, we have to ask ourselves a question, why are there two young boys in a lineup with Hamas terrorists in the middle of the football field? Why this is -- again, we have this protocol where we don't want our soldiers to be blown up by explosives that are body wrapped around explosives. We've seen them on children. We've seen them retrofitted for children. And it is common that when before we get close to a Hamas terrorist, we ask them to lift up their shirt and make sure, pull down their pants, that there are no explosives on them. They then get dressed and they leave.

But why are these children with Hamas? And this is another example where we can see how Hamas are using civilians and children and schools and mosques. They never should have been there in the first place. I don't want to see these pictures. As a matter of fact, I don't want to see any of these pictures because we didn't want to be in Gaza in the first place. But it's time that we call, Kaitlan, on -- the world calls on Hamas, remove yourself from all civilians immediately and the humanitarian crisis will end.

COLLINS: But the IDF did detain these two young boys. Do you have information on why they were detained? Were they with Hamas fighters, because we haven't even gotten that confirmed from the IDF? And is it IDF protocol to have children also part of this larger group of teens and adult males stripped down in this stadium?

SPIELMAN: Again, I can tell you, Kaitlan, our protocol is to move all civilians out of the way. As we've seen day after day after day, we lose our element of surprise calling on families.

COLLINS: Okay, but nothing on these two young boys specifically.

SPIELMAN: Move out of the way of the Hamas fighters. What I can see in front of me, and I see the scenes just like you do, there is a protocol that if we are afraid of explosive devices. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we have found suicide vests that were retrofitted for children. And so they -- Hamas, would any of us be surprised if Hamas would send a child with a suicide vest to blow themselves up, I don't think so, because Hamas is no problem killing Israeli children and burning them alive. They have no problem hiding underneath the ground beneath the Gazan children and they have no problem sending a Gazan child with an explosive vest.

So, unfortunately, they should never be there in the first place. But if they are, I wouldn't want to see my son go close to one of those kids and have them blow himself up. It's an unfortunate reality of the way Hamas plays the game. And, again, it's deplorable that they use civilians. We've got to call an end to them doing this.

COLLINS: Okay. We've asked the IDF multiple times for context, for comment on this specific example, and, so far, no one has provided us with that more than 24 hours later. I'm still hoping that we can get more details on what this is here. But I do want to ask you, Major, about this warning that came from Benny Gantz yesterday, saying that the quote was a stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out. Does that mean that Israel is threatening that there will be action in this war on a second front against Hezbollah?

SPIELMAN: I can tell you, Kaitlan, that from the 7th of October, we've had 1,500 rockets. I was just up there two days ago from Hezbollah towards Israel. This is a totally unprovoked attack. We never crossed over border. We never initiated a single attack against Hezbollah. But we have an entire northern strip of Israel. You've been to Israel. You know those communities. Tens of thousands of people cannot go home and their homes are being hit by rockets.

At the very minimum, we have to enable our people to go home. And the only way that's going to happen is if Hezbollah stops firing. We've been incredibly patient, pinpoint hitting their forces. As we've said, this cannot go on any longer.

COLLINS: But is that a yes?

SPIELMAN: Yes. The diplomatic community, the stopwatches ticking very clearly, Kaitlan, if they cannot rein in Hamas, we will rein in Hamas and we have operational plans to do so.

COLLINS: And does that mean strikes or going into Lebanon? What does that look like?

SPIELMAN: Whatever it's going to take from an operational point of view. Obviously, we want to risk our soldiers as little as possible, but Hamas are burrowed into the ground. They have -- let's not forget, they are five or six times larger than Hamas. Their arsenal includes GPS guided weapons that can take down buildings all throughout Central Israel. They literally could create an entire terror umbrella over the state of Israel. They've been backed and trained by Iran for decades, and they are a serious terror army.


When push comes to shove, if the diplomatic community cannot take care of this, we will use whatever weapons and means at our disposal to take them out.

COLLINS: Major Doron Spielman, thank you for your time tonight.

SPIELMAN: Thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Just ahead here, we'll also get reaction from the secretary of state for the state of Michigan to that exclusive CNN in reporting on Trump's inner circle frantically trying to get Michigan's fake elector ballots to Washington ahead of January 6th.


COLLINS: More now on our exclusive reporting on the efforts to keep former President Trump in power. CNN has obtained emails and recordings that show a chaotic scramble as the Trump campaign and operatives there were flying copies of the fake elector ballots, yes, copies, because they're worried the original fake elector ballots from Michigan and Wisconsin wouldn't make it to Washington in time for January 6 to get them to then-Vice President Mike Pence as he was set to preside over the Electoral College certification.

Michigan's Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson joins me now, and it's so good to have you here.

I mean, given the fact that your state has charged these 15 fake electors, what do you make of this reporting that shows just how frantic these efforts were to get those fake electors the copies of that to Washington in time concerns that they might have to get a private jet if they couldn't actually get them there?


SEC. OF STATE JOCELYN BENSON (D-MI): Yeah. Well, thanks for having me.

And this really underscores the direct line between what individuals were doing in Michigan and the nationally coordinated effort they were part of and the line between what was happening in Michigan and Wisconsin in the other states in the wake of the tragedy at our U.S. Capitol on January 6th. And we've asked and I know our attorney general has been asked a lot why she's focused on the individuals in Michigan but truly the plan that was at the highest level of government never would have worked had you hadn't had these ruling coconspirators at the local level.

So, when we're seeking accountability, you have to look at all who are part of this national effort to undermine the will of the people from those in the states like Michigan, all the way into the Capitol in D.C.

COLLINS: Yeah. I mean, it even involves lawmakers. Senator Ron Johnson, Representative Scott Perry from Pennsylvania. I mean, the efforts to not only get them to Washington but to get them from Washington into the Capitol, into the hands of the former vice president.

What do you make of the answer that we got from Senator Ron Johnson, who said, you know, this doesn't matter because Pence's office didn't ultimately want them? Do you think that changes anything here?

BENSON: Yeah, the fact that this plan failed does not absolve those who were a part of it, from the accountability and justice that we need to see. Because we need to ensure, number one, that this never happens again, that it is never successful, and we can't forget that it really just came down to people of integrity on both sides of the aisle who refused to go along with this plan, that enabled us to ultimately protect the will of the people and enable the transfer of power.

And so, whether it was a few seconds or whether there was a failure or not, everyone who is a part of this plan, this truly anti-American plan to overturn the will it has to be brought to justice, has to be held accountable. And we need this wide net to make all of the connections that these multiple investigations are making to ensure that we capture everyone and address every element of this extensive coordinated effort to block the will of the people from coming to fruition.

COLLINS: On another issue, as Trump is trying to seek a second term in office for a third time, we are waiting any moment here for the Maine secretary of state about whether or not Trump can stay on the primary ballot there. There was a similar challenge that played out in your state of Michigan, with the Supreme Court rejected, ultimately saying that Trump can stay on the ballot there. You are asking that the Supreme Court should move quickly here.

What are the consequences and implications if they don't?

BENSON: Well, in all things, when we're administering elections, we need to provide clarity to the people who are participating in them, the voters, as well as political parties and election administrators. So with this legal theory and it's, you know, it's a viable theory, when the state Supreme Courts have adopted in the others have not, has injected this uncertainty into this question of one candidate's ability to serve in the constitution. And so, as different states work through their legal processes, the way that constitution actually requires that gets resolved and the 14th Amendment ultimately interpreted with some finality and clarity and universality, is that the U.S. Supreme Court.

The sooner the U.S. Supreme Court provides that interpretation of what was an insurrection, what is aided and abetted, do the facts as they stand here meet any standard the constitution would require, that type of clarity of all these ambiguities an unresolved issues can only come from one court, and the sooner it comes, the more clarity all of us will have on this particular candidates eligibility moving into the 2024 election season.

COLLINS: Yeah. I mean, it's chaos otherwise, with all the states eventually deciding different things.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thanks for your time tonight.

BENSON: Thanks for having me.

COLLINS: Coming up here, it has been five, long and excruciating years since Russia wrongfully detained Paul Whelan, an American. Tonight, he has a new message for President Biden.



COLLINS: We have breaking news this hour as Maine's top election official has now disqualified Donald Trump from the ballot in that state, an effort that was underway since.

Katelyn Polantz has just read this filing and is following this. Katelyn, what is the secretary of state saying in this decision here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Kaitlan, the secretary of state of Maine is saying that Donald Trump is not qualified to be on the ballot in the primary in the state of Maine after reviewing petitions from different people who came to her and wanted to remove Trump from the ballot.

I'm still looking through it, but one of the findings here from the secretary of state is that Trump must meet certain qualifications to be able to be on the ballot, and his finding that he is not meeting those qualifications and thus cannot be on the ballot. Now, this is a big decision from the secretary of state of Maine. Make no mistake about that. It is in line with what Colorado appears to have done here as well with the Colorado Supreme Court looking at Donald Trump being on the primary ballot there and saying he couldn't be.

But the thing about Maine is that there is going to be a lot of opportunity to appeal this. So the secretary of state is the person here making that decision instead of the court system, but what happens next is that Trump and others all have the opportunity to go to Maine's court system to appeal this and all of that can play out in a very short amount of time. We could have some sort of resolution in the courts, depending on how fast the courts move and how fast everyone goes to the court.

It could be a decision where we're hearing the Maine's court system also coming in and interpreting the state law within a month or so, basically by the end of January.

COLLINS: And so, Katelyn Polantz, just because this is breaking news, we've truly just gotten this, and I want to be clear. The secretary of state here is pausing her decision pending potential action from the Supreme Court?

POLANTZ: I have not gotten to that point in reading this conclusion yet. I would have to look at that little more closely. Things get very complicated when it comes to pausing rulings.

But one of the things with this that we should be very clear about here is that the court are almost certainly going to be weighing in. Both state courts in Maine because there's all kinds of things in the law for a Maine to allow Trump or others to appeal this decision from the secretary of state.


The state court can look at it.

And, of course, Kaitlan, the Supreme Court of the United States is already looking at that petition from Colorado's Republican Party saying please weigh in because every state has a different process and is making different decisions about Donald Trump being on the primary ballots in 2024.

COLLINS: I mean, Katelyn, this is fascinating given what happened in Colorado just last week when the court, the Supreme Court they are decided to remove Donald Trump from the primary ballot in a 4-3 decision. That was unprecedented. We had never seen that happen in our nation's history. Now it's happening for a second time in the state of Maine, following the decision by the Michigan Supreme Court to say, you know, we're not getting involved in this. He can stay on the ballot.

I think what's important here is a bit of background because for those who haven't been following closely, there are three complaints here. And two of them are based on the same section of the Constitution that that decision in Colorado was, which is, you know, Section Three of the 14th Amendment, basically finding that Trump could not hold office again because of his actions on January 6th.

Given the difference here and how this went not through the courts but to the secretary of state, what could that mean for the -- for the future of the decision that has just been made by the secretary of state in Maine?

POLANTZ: Yeah. Well, who is making this decision is always going to be a question, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court looks at this. So in the situation in Colorado, it was the Supreme Court of Colorado, the highest court in that state, looking at basically holding a trial to determine Trump was an insurrectionist in their view and also determining they had the ability to take him of the primary ballot under the states law.

Now in all of the other states, including in Maine, there is always going to be a question before the Supreme Court, can these people even do this? Can a secretary of state make this sort of decision in party primaries related to who voters can cast their ballots for? And so, whenever this goes to the Supreme Court, it's very unlikely, at the very beginning, right now, where we are still in this primary process, this first emergency application is before the U.S. Supreme Court, that the Supreme Court, the nine justices in Washington, D.C., that they are going to be making a call on whether Trump isn't insurrectionists are not.

There are very likely going to be looking first at the sort of thing that Colorado GOP wants them to look at, saying you can't remove the ability for voters to vote for certain people. And that's just the big question that is before the Supreme Court as far as the papers we have right now.

COLLINS: Katelyn Polantz, standby, because I know you are reading through this decision. We also have Norm Eisen and Michael Moore here with us.

Norm, what's your reaction to this decision by the Maine secretary of state saying that Donald Trump can't be on the ballot there?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kaitlan, it's part of a pattern now. It's not just that the Colorado courts came to this decision. Remember, the January 6th committee looked at the scene issues and also determined the Donald Trump had engaged in insurrection. So I think it validates the concerns of those who believe that the

former president is not qualified. As we've talked about, every state addresses this question of how they will or will not apply the 14th amendment differently under their state laws.

Here in this decision that we are still reading from Maine secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, what she says is, that Donald Trump's petition to be on the ballot, where he says he's qualified, is not accurate because he's not qualified under the 14th Amendment. Very momentous.

COLLINS: Michael Moore, this aligns with what -- with what Colorado found. Now, you know what we have been hearing from Trump attorneys that I was talking is Colorado is an outlier. They were just surprised by that decision last week, caught off guard, they do plan to appeal it.

What do you make of this decision from the Maine secretary of state?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is just more fodder for the Supreme Court. I mean, remember the secretary of state is one person. Just on the first pages of her order, her findings, she says, you know, I find this, I find that. So it's one person.

And I just don't think the Supreme Court is going to stand by and allow one person who is partisan elected official in one state somewhere to keep a presidential candidate off the ballot. And so that's been the issue with these cases going forward. When you compare those cases which have decided that the petitions to inviolate or against those who say that the petitions should be granted to keep him off the ballot, there's such a disparity.

The Supreme Court will have to find some way. This will be our standard practice going forward. I mean, you just can't have some presidential candidates running in some states and some cannot in others. And that's where the issue is, the process. Has there been a process?


MOORE: And so, there has not been an adversarial process at all if this things goes forward. It's January 6 committee report, but I don't think anybody seriously will say that process stood up during cross examination or anything else. And so, that's -- that's going to be the issue if they have a chance to do it. So, we'll soon see.

COLLINS: Yeah, a lot weighing on the Supreme Court. It's hard to see how they don't take this issue up now.

Michael Moore, Norm Eisen, Katelyn Polantz, breaking this reporting for us.

I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be back at 9:00 here, 9:00 Eastern for "THE SOURCE" as we continue to talk about this breaking news, with Donald Trump removed from the ballot by the secretary of state in Maine. Our coverage continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT" right now.