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The Situation Room
Chris Christie Suspends His Presidential Campaign; Judge Says, Trump Can't Give Closing Argument At New York Civil Fraud Trial; Hunter Biden Makes Surprise Appearance At Contempt Hearing; Gaza Hospital Reports Dozens Of Casualties After Israeli Airstrike; ADL Reports 361 Percent Increase In Antisemitic Incidents Compared To Same Period A Year Ago. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 10, 2024 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If someone like Chris Christie can't even stay in the race long enough to get a single vote with the level of integrity he's shown, what does it say about him? What does it say about the party? And what does it say about the future of this country under the possible leadership, once again, of a Donald Trump?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We'll see what happens next. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
We're watching all of these historic, very dramatic developments. We're crossing the top of the hour right now. We're following the major breaking news, the Republican presidential candidate, Chris Christie, suspending his campaign just days before the Iowa caucuses.
The former New Jersey governor declining to endorse any of his Republican rivals, at least for now, even as he urges his supporters to choose a candidate with character.
And this comes as we're just now a few hours away from CNN's Republican presidential debate. Later tonight, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis about to come face-to-face for the final time before the Iowa caucuses, it's a critically important test as both candidates look to close the gap with Donald Trump.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
And it's major breaking news indeed with Chris Christie suspending his run tonight. The race is on for other candidates to try to pick up his supporters.
Let's get an update right now from CNN's Kylie Atwood. Kylie, the remaining campaigns are clearly interested in bringing Christie voters over to their side. What are you hearing?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are indeed, and there was a hot mic moment that wasn't actually included in that speech that we aired, but Chris Christie, before he went on stage, he was caught talking about Nikki Haley, saying that she was going to get smoked. That's a significant statement. Chris Christie's campaign isn't commenting on it.
But the folks that are commenting on it are, as you would predict, former President Donald Trump. He is saying on Truth Social that he essentially agrees with that statement from, excuse me, Chris Christie tonight. And then you're also hearing from Ron DeSantis a similar message.
So, one of the things that we'll be watching for during this debate tonight is how Nikki Haley responds to Chris Christie actually dropping out of the race here. We haven't heard from her yet. We know that Christie made those demeaning comments about her campaign just before he announced that he was dropping out of the race. So, a key question is how she'll respond. Is she going to really make a plea to try and get his voters to support her?
One of the key things, Wolf, is that the majority of Chris Christie supporters in New Hampshire said that they would choose Nikki Haley as their second pick. And so she does have the opportunity to potentially pick up some of these supporters. We'll see if she tries to go for them on the debate stage tonight.
BLITZER: Yes, it will be fascinating to hear what he has to say and what Ron DeSantis has to say as a result of this very, very dramatic development.
Kylie Atwood, thank you very much.
I want to bring in CNN's Omar Jimenez right now. He's there on the scene in Wyndham, New Hampshire. That's where Christie just wrapped up by his words where he announced he's suspending this campaign. What are you hearing over there, Omar?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a pretty big moment and I can tell you I've attended a lot of his campaign events over the course of his presidential campaign that's stretched back to last summer and he's never really read off of the script, particularly when he is in a town hall situation, which is the situation he was in tonight.
Tonight was one of the first times I have seen, if not the first time I have seen him, he was referring down to a piece of paper or a script of some kind, indicating he wanted to be very intentional about the words that he was saying tonight and these were the most critical words he said. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm suspending my campaign tonight for President of the United States. I know, and I can see it from some of the faces here, that I'm disappointing some people by doing this, people who believe in our message and believe in what we've been doing. I also know, though, it's the right thing for me to do, because I want to promise you this. I'm going to make sure that in no way do I enable Donald Trump to ever be president of the United States again. And that's more important than my own personal ambition.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JIMENEZ: Now these comments are really in sharp contrast what we saw less than 24 hours ago where, essentially, Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire here talked about or mentioned that there were discussions about him potentially ending his campaign.
So, we put some of those comments to Christie's campaign, and they pushed back pretty hard on that.
Christie even went so far as to tell one of our local affiliates Sununu is a liar. Then less than 24 hours later, here we are with Chris Christie actually suspending his campaign. So, we'll be pushing some of their officials to figure out what changed again from yesterday into today.
There were also some very key moments over the course of this campaign, among them whether Governor Chris Sununu would endorse him or Nikki Haley. Sununu went with Nikki Haley despite Sununu and Christie having known each other for a long time.
Then last month, Christie and I sat down together, and that was really when there were many questions about whether Nikki Haley and Chris Christie could coexist in this race and whether one of them being in would hurt the other. And Christie told me point blank he wasn't going anywhere in this race.
He went so far as to tell me personally, Omar, you're going to see me on January 23rd, which is New Hampshire primary day, shaking hands until the polls close. And then a little bit over a month later, here we are with Chris Christie officially suspending his campaign for president.
BLITZER: Very significant indeed. Omar, thank you very much for being on the scene for us.
I want to get some more on the breaking news right now, and I want to get reaction, immediate reaction coming in from the Trump campaign.
CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us with more. I know you're covering the Trump campaign, Kristen. What are you hearing?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, so we'll start with what they're saying and then we'll work backwards into what exactly led up to this and what they're thinking has been around the race in New Hampshire leading up to this moment.
So, what they are saying, and I talked to a senior adviser who said essentially that, yes, sure, there will be some impact on unaffiliated voters. However, they don't believe that this is going to change the trajectory of the race.
Now, I do want to point out one thing. That hot mic moment that Kylie mentioned where saying that Nikki Haley got, he also -- Christie also mentioned Ron DeSantis. I have been sent that moment by several Trump advisers. They are blowing it up on social media, only the part about Nikki Haley. And that really goes to what we have seen with their strategy in New Hampshire in the last several weeks. They have been watching her rise in the poll very carefully.
And I have to say, obviously, we do not know if Christie's voters or potential voters are going to move to Nikki Haley. That's something that we might not know until they actually get to the ballot box, but it doesn't mean that Trump's team hasn't already been concerned about Nikki Haley. We know that the campaign, along with the super PAC MAGA, Inc. that is supporting Trump, has spent $4.5 million in advertisement in New Hampshire hitting Nikki Haley alone.
Just to give you an idea here, the campaign is no longer spending any money hitting Ron DeSantis, neither is MAGA, Inc. The super PAC is spending $1.3 million a week hitting Nikki Haley on immigration in New Hampshire leading up to that primary.
This was already a concern of there something that they were watching very closely. They do believe that he will ultimately take New Hampshire, but this is a wrinkle. And this idea of where Nikki Haley's -- or, excuse me, where Chris Christie's voters could go, obviously not likely to go to Donald Trump, or at least large swath of them, if they end up with Nikki Haley, that's yet another threat.
BLITZER: Yes, that's important indeed. Where do those voters go, the Chris Christie voters, now that he has suspended his campaign? Thanks very much, Kristen Holmes reporting for us.
I want to bring in some of our political experts into this conversation for some serious analysis. And, Nia-Malika Henderson, how do you think Christie's leaving the campaign right now, leaving the effort to win the Republican nomination is going to play out as far as the other candidates are concerned?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, I think the immediate eyes are turning to Iowa. Of course, there's this debate tonight between Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Chris Christie wasn't really playing in Iowa, so probably won't have much impact there. I think the big question is New Hampshire. Does he endorse Nikki Haley before that primary, before people go to the polls, that they were kind of drawing from the same pool of voters, the sort of never-Trumpers, which are about, what, 30 percent or so of the party? So we'll see.
Listen, I think the question that Chris Christie finally asked was, did he have a path to the nomination? It's the same question that somebody like Nikki Haley has to ask, right? New Hampshire isn't its own path to the nomination. You have to win a collection of states. And, so far, even Donald Trump in a state like South Carolina, which is Nikki Haley's home state, the last poll I saw from last week, Nikki Haley was down 30 points to Donald Trump in her home state. So --
BLITZER: But her numbers in New Hampshire, according to the latest poll, are going dramatically up. HENDERSON: I think that's right. I mean, I think the question for her is how many other states are like New Hampshire, right? In so many ways, even a state like South Carolina is more sort of culturally built for Donald Trump than it is for Nikki Haley right now.
So, she still has a ways to go, though she is making some progress in New Hampshire. And we'll see what she's able to do on the debate stage tonight against DeSantis.
BLITZER: Let's see what she has to say that. We'll watch that closely.
What do you think the immediate impact, Gloria, is going to be?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think we're going to see any immediate impact in Iowa because Chris Christie wasn't playing there. You may see some impact in New Hampshire.
But what was so stunning to me about Chris Christie's speech, which I thought was really heartfelt and quintessential Chris Christie, because he left no stone unturned and when he wanted to criticize somebody by name he did, was the disdain that he showed for his opponents in the race.
This wasn't like, you know, you've got a lot of other great people to choose from. You know, I'm sure you'll make the right pick. I mean, what he said was anyone who is unwilling to say that Donald Trump is unfit to become president is unfit to become president. And we all recall that point in one of the debates where Nikki Haley refused to say he's unfit and they went back and forth on that.
So, I was sort of -- it was -- again, it was Chris Christie saying, look, we're -- the party has destroyed itself because we can't even come up with any candidates who wouldn't raise their hands and say they wouldn't vote for a convicted felon.
And I think he's a man without a country right now and he knows it. And you could see it in his demeanor. And he was clearly not depressed just because he's getting out of the race but I think he's really concerned about his party.
And he even admitted, look, I made a mistake when I endorsed, you know, Donald Trump early on and that was because of my own ego. I did that. That's not an easy thing to say to people, but he said it. And, you know, so I think in terms of political speeches, this one is going to go down in the history books.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you're absolutely right. Alice, what was your reaction? What do you think is going to happen?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think the fact that he, as Gloria said, went after the other candidates says a lot, I break his speech down into three different buckets. One, fitness, one, the focus, and one, his future. He talked about Donald Trump and his fitness for office, saying he is unfit for office to be the president of the United States and return to the White House. But he also said any of these other candidates that support him and don't push back on him, they are unfit to be president as well.
And he talked about the focus of these other campaigns, spending so much time in the smallness of these campaigns, spending time on when is this Republican candidate going to get out, when are you going to drop out, instead of going after the frontrunner who he sees as a threat.
But then he also talked about his future, what he's going to do, and he has doubled down and recommitted to making sure that he does everything he can to keep Donald Trump from the White House.
And, look, it sucks to drop out of a campaign, it sucks. And I think everyone who's saying, who are you going to endorse, who are you going to support, needs to sit back, give him time to rest, recuperate and regroup and let him decide what he wants to do moving forward. But, clearly, his supporters more than likely will go to Haley and that is in her best interest.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, I want to just read a statement we just got from Nikki Haley reacting to Chris Christie's decision. Let me put it up on the screen. Chris Christie has been a friend for many years. I commend him on a hard fought campaign.
Voters have a clear choice in this election, the chaos and drama of the past or a new generation of conservative leadership. I will fight to earn every vote so together we can build a strong and proud America.
Gloria, what's your reaction?
BORGER: That is looking for an endorsement, right? You're a great guy, Chris Christie, and we've been friends for many years. And so please endorse me. But I didn't see that forthcoming tonight. It could come at some point, I guess. But unless he sees her get tougher on Donald Trump, I just -- I don't see where that goes.
KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think it's tough for him to make the statement he made tonight about how he doesn't feel there's any other candidate in the race who's willing to call out Donald Trump and the fundamental threat that he believes Trump poses and then turn around in the next 12 hours and endorse one of those candidates.
BLITZER: We'll she does tonight, if she really goes out.
HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, I think that's when he's sort of -- that's the big test, I think, and he's seen if Nikki Haley is going to pass it.
Alice, you talked about, oh, he has to have this timeline and he's got to rest and recharge. You know, the clock is ticking, right? I mean, if he really wants to have an impact in New Hampshire and Nikki Haley sees New Hampshire as a launching pad to defeat Donald Trump, then, you know, Chris Christie has kind of got to get on it.
BORGER: He may be on the phone to Liz Cheney right now. I mean, who knows, right? He sounded an awful lot like her when he said he's going to devote the rest of his time to defeating Donald Trump.
Who does that sound like?
BLITZER: Yes. Kate, I want to get your reaction to a key part of Chris Christie's speech that we just heard. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Please understand this. I have known him well for 22 years, more than anybody else in this race has known him. And I can promise you this. If you put him back behind the desk in the Oval Office and a choice comes and a decision is needed to be made as to whether he puts himself first or he puts you first, how much more evidence do you need that he will pick himself?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
BEDINGFIELD: Well, this is a really effective general election argument against Donald Trump. I mean, you can imagine Chris Christie as a surrogate in the general election campaign for Joe Biden making this argument. I mean, you know, we see for the base of the Republican Party who is loyal to Trump, that's not persuasive to them. They believe Donald Trump has their back, that he is taking on the system, he is taking it on, on their behalf.
But most voters in the country, outside of the base of the Republican Party don't feel that way. And it is an excellent way to exploit a lot of the pieces of a Trump presidency that would be chaotic. So, hearing Chris Christie kind of lay down that umbrella, it kind of shows you what he's thinking about.
We've been talking about he's thinking about his own future. He's definitely leaving a pathway to be a critical voice against Trump in the general election. It will be interesting to see if he chooses to do that. But that's an argument that Joe Biden and the Democrats are making about Donald Trump.
And it's helpful to hear Chris Christie as somebody who knows Trump, who obviously was incredibly close to Trump in 2016 and can vouch for him as a person, or I shouldn't say vouch, can speak to his character or lack thereof. Yes, it's helpful to have him do that.
HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, it's a great ad for Joe Biden, right? I think the further question, I think, for Chris Christie is how far will he go, right, in a general election, if Donald Trump is the nominee? Would he endorse Joe Biden, right?
We saw some Republicans do that. Governor Kasich, for instance, in 2020, he was kind of a big part of the nominating convention for Joe Biden. Is that something that Chris Christie would really think about doing?
STEWART: But I think the argument that we just pointed out, Christie calling out Trump as being a threat to democracy, many Republicans certainly agree with that. But if you've noticed, Haley and DeSantis have really stopped short of attacking him on that. Instead of that avenue of attack, they're more going after Donald Trump for the chaos and drama and painting themselves as a new generation of optimistic leaders that will look forward for the American people instead of look past for your past grievances.
I think that is a great message to rational Republicans. Unfortunately, it's not really cutting through and it's really not stopping Donald Trump from having a 20 and 30-point lead in many of these states. I'm anxious to see how they navigate that field in this debate.
BORGER: Well, as Chris Christie, I think he asked Nikki Haley once, what chaos? Tell me the details. What drama? Tell me the details. Just don't say chaos and drama. That's an easy way to kind of toss it off. And she also has said in the past that she thought Donald Trump was the right president at the right time. And --
BLITZER: That was four years ago.
BORGER: Right. And I think after January 6th, that is really when -- according to my sources who are close to Christie, that is really a moment for him, when he really turned completely on Donald Trump. I mean, I'm not saying he wasn't halfway there already, but I don't know who he joins with, who his compatriots are.
There's got to be a rebuilding of the Republican Party to a degree. And does that amount to a third party candidacy, which could give the White House to Donald Trump again? So, he's got a lot of decisions to make.
BLITZER: How important, Gloria, would a Chris Christie endorsement of Nikki Haley be in New Hampshire?
BORGER: It would help, I think. Yes, sure. Because those who supported him said that she was the second choice. And I think, sure. I think it would help. I'm not so sure we're going to see it, but I think it would help her. I don't think he will be out there deriding her, but he certainly did that in his speech tonight.
HENDERSON: And he seems to also be hinting that maybe Nikki Haley is sort of hedging her bets and eyeing being number two on Donald Trump's ticket, being his vice president. And so that's, I think, one of the things that he sees and maybe leaves him not necessarily wanting to throw any support behind her in advance of New Hampshire.
BLITZER: And we'll see if there's a direct face to face meeting between the two of them before New Hampshire. And, potentially, that could be Significant, if, in fact, that happens.
Do you expect him to endorse her?
STEWART: Look, whether or not he does right away, I think remains to be seen. The question is -- I think he's done a tremendous job. I applaud the fact he took it right to Trump. The reality is he's got very high, unfavorable numbers. And so the fact is, if he does, will that help?
I think voters are smart. His voters are going to say, let me make my own decision where I want to turn my support. And if you look at where they stand on the issues, they are more naturally aligned with Nikki Haley. So, I think that bodes well for her.
And in our recent polls, we had Haley within single digits of Donald Trump. Chris Christie had 12 percentage points. If his people all went behind Nikki Haley, she leapfrogs Trump in New Hampshire. The question is how that impacts her in Iowa remains to be seen. But that would certainly give her momentum as she heads into South Carolina and Nevada and certainly into --
BLITZER: She would really challenge Trump in New Hampshire if she got all of those Chris Christie supporters.
BORGER: But the one thing they do have in common is foreign policy, I think.
BORGER: And so, you know, they're very pro-Ukraine. And you heard them talk about it tonight, pro-Israel. And so that's one area where they can sort of find some way to get together because she is very strong in the way that he likes, that may be one thing he can point to that he likes about her.
HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, they're from the sort of establishment wing of the Republican Party. She is trying to kind of, I think, soften her language on abortion, too, to contrast herself with Ron DeSantis in particular. So, we'll see.
I mean, ultimately, I think endorsements are sort of overrated in this political environment. It wouldn't hurt her to get that endorsement. But I think to Alice's point, voters are going to make up their mind as to who they think would serve them best.
BLITZER: Nia, as we've been noting just ahead of his announcement, Christie appeared to be heard on a hot mic talking about Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. I want to play this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: Yes. And she's going to get smoked. And you and I both know it, she's not up to this.
DeSantis called me petrified that I would --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's probably getting out of (INAUDIBLE), right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What did you know?
HENDERSON: I don't know what the context of this is. Does he mean smoked in Iowa? Does he mean smoked overall? Listen, he's looking at the same polls we're looking at, which is that Donald Trump has the heart and soul of the Republican Party. He's at 50, 60 percent in some of these polls. So, it's hard to really look at this race and point to a single state that Nikki Haley, that Ron DeSantis can win outright and sort of catapult themselves to an outright victory.
I mean, listen, a lot of these candidates came in with sort of wishing that they had the kind of base that Donald Trump has, that they could maybe tear away from his base, that Trump was experiencing sort of fatigue from his voters. It turns out that's not true. It turns out they love Donald Trump in some ways more in 2024 than they did in 2016, in 2020.
STEWART: And you also have to think about in that speech tonight, he really got somewhat choked up at one point in the speech when he talked about, I'm putting my ambitions aside. I've looked at this. I do not see a viable pathway forward. And he felt as though he let his donors down and his supporters down. And I think, ultimately, Chris Christie is going to listen to what do his donors and his supporters want him to do moving forward and what is his best way to contribute to not just the Republican Party to 2024, but his endgame of preventing Donald Trump for getting --
BLITZER: Do you think the Biden campaign should be making a plea for Chris Christie supporters?
BEDINGFIELD: I think not in this moment, but I think not right this second. But I do think as we move into the general election, and if and when, presuming Trump becomes the nominee, then it is absolutely for the Biden campaign, it's going to be all hands on deck, because what are they trying to do? They're trying to rebuild the 2020 coalition that put Biden in the White House.
So, it's voters of color, it's moderate suburban voters, which presumably Chris Christie and the kind of never-Trump wing of the Republican Party, a voice from that wing of the party can be helpful. Having a Republican endorsement shows Joe Biden is somebody who can speak to the middle, who can find compromise, which is, I think, sometimes an underappreciated message, something that voters appreciate that doesn't always sort of get picked up in the same way.
So, having a Republican like Chris Christie come out and say the stakes are so high that I believe Joe Biden should be re elected president, rather than giving Donald Trump another shot at the Oval Office, that would be valuable. So, I would say not right this second, but once we get into the general election --
BLITZER: But eventually?
BORGER: On that open mic, did he say that he heard from DeSantis?
BEDINGFIELD: He says that DeSantis reached out petrified, but what, we don't know.
BORGER: Whatever that means.
BLITZER: And I assume he was petrified that Nikki Haley would get Chris Christie's endorsement.
BEDINGFIELD: Book him on your show tomorrow.
BLITZER: All right, everybody, thank you very much. We're following the breaking news.
And a reminder, very important reminder for all of our viewers, CNN's Republican presidential debate with Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis begins later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, live from Iowa, only here on CNN. And we'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We're watching all of the breaking news developing out of Iowa, New Hampshire, just ahead of the CNN debate later tonight, just a few hours from now. But there's other important news we're following as well, including a New York judge has just barred Donald Trump from delivering a closing argument at his civil fraud trial tomorrow.
Our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz has more on the judge's new ruling. Katelyn, how is this all unfolding just ahead of tomorrow's proceedings?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Trump -- sorry, Wolf, it has given Donald Trump a new opportunity to criticize the judge in this civil fraud trial, a judge that has already found him liable for defrauding the state of New York and is looking at assessing damages, of determining how much the Trump Organization should pay in consequences, and if they should be barred from doing business in the state of New York because of their business practices.
Now, what happened over the course of the past week or so really culminated earlier today because Trump's team had so unusually told the judge, Donald Trump would like to give some of the closing arguments in this case.
Usually, that's just the attorneys summing up everything that had been presented at the trial. This trial has been going on for a long time, so there's a lot of evidence, a lot of witness testimony. The judge said, okay, Donald Trump can speak during these closing arguments if he wants to, but he said some terms.
About a week ago, the judge said, this is Judge Arthur Engoron in an email that's now publicly available through the court, he may not seek to introduce new evidence, he may not testify, he may not comment on irrelevant matters in particular, and without limitation, he may not deliver a campaign speech. So, basically, Donald Trump would have to stick within the parameters of how trial proceedings are supposed to go.
And then he gave them a deadline of today after quite a bit of hemming and hawing, where there wasn't a conclusion of whether Trump would agree to these terms. He didn't hear from Trump's lawyers at this noon deadline, and so Judge Arthur Engoron writes back to Trump's team, not having heard from you by the third extended deadline, I assume that Mr. Trump will not agree to the reasonable lawful limits I have imposed as a precondition to giving a closing statement. Therefore, he will not be speaking in court tomorrow.
So, that is the conclusion that the judge has drawn. He is the presiding person in that courtroom, but that doesn't mean Donald Trump will not make this an opportunity where he can speak going into and out of the courtroom to take every opportunity he can, as he has recently, to deliver the political messages he's wanted to, and there will be cameras not in the courtroom tomorrow, but very likely catching the former president walking into and out of those proceedings.
BLITZER: Yes. We call it stakeout cameras just outside the proceeding, and I'm sure Trump will want to take advantage of that.
All right, thank you very, very much, Katelyn Polantz reporting.
I want to get some analysis right now from Conservative Attorney George Conway. Do you think that this ruling by the judge that we just heard about, George, will fuel Trump's arguments that he's a victim and that he's being muzzled?
GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: He's going to make that argument anyway. And so, I mean, he made this request no doubt, knowing that it would probably be denied. It's a highly unusual thing for a party who is represented by counsel to act on his own behalf to give -- to cross-examine a witness or in this case to give a closing argument.
And all the judge did here was saying, okay, well, I'll let you do it, which I think is more than he really had to, but you have to obey the rules that lawyers have to follow when they're making closing arguments. You can't testify when you're giving a closing argument. You have to make -- you didn't add this one, but you have to tell the truth. That's something Donald Trump probably wasn't capable of doing. And you have to adhere to the general rules that govern trial proceedings, including the relevance, and you can't make personal attacks from.
But, basically, that would be, I'm sure, 80 or 90 percent of what Trump would do. And it's understandable that he would -- it's actually kind of understandable, from his narcissistic standpoint, that he would put this out there to force the judge to choose, to either apply the rules to him, in which case he'd be saying he's muzzled. If he agreed to them, he's not going to agree to them because he believes rules shouldn't apply to him. And then he knows that if the judge tries to enforce the rules and he refuses to come to accept the rules, which Trump would normally do, he gets to play the victim.
So, he's going to do that anyway. He's going to do that regardless of whether this particular request was made or granted. He's going to always claim the victim. He is always the victim. Everybody is always doing something wrong to him and he's never wrong.
BLITZER: What do you think his strategy is in showing up at these various court proceedings, even though he doesn't necessarily have to be there, he could avoid them, but he shows up there?
CONWAY: Yes. I think it's -- you know, first of all, I mean, it's just -- again, it's a function of his extreme narcissism. He thinks he has to be the center of every proceeding. He thinks he can affect the outcome of the proceeding. He then loves to set it, as a situation up, as narcissists do, to try to play the victim, because he knows if he loses, then he wins that way as well.
But there's an initial reason. I mean, he showed up at this argument down the street the other day at the D.C. Circuit, in part because that one really matters to him, that his liberty is at stake there.
He really does need to get that proceeding pushed off. And the immunity arguments he's making were basically not only function, they really would serve in the end is delay with a very, very long, almost infinitesimal shot at getting actual immunity. It's about --
BLITZER: Here in New York, it involves his money.
CONWAY: That's about money. That's important, too. That's important. If you spend the rest of your life in jail, he can't make money. So, he's got problems on both ends.
BLITZER: So he does. We heard the arguments, as we all remember, from Trump's attorneys about the scope of presidential immunity. And now Trump has reacted to that. He wrote this on his Truth Social site. He said, if a president does not have immunity, the court will be opening the floodgates to prosecuting former presidents. An opposing hostile party will be doing it for any reason all of the time. Do you think there's any merit at all to this?
CONWAY: No. I mean, look, the reason why he's been charged with 91 counts in four different jurisdictions is he's a criminal. And we haven't had a president with -- I mean, Nixon committed crimes. We have not had this level of criminality, though, ever.
And Nixon would have been prosecuted if he had not been pardoned by Gerald Ford. I mean, the fact is we're not going to see floodgates because this is an extreme case, an unusual case. I mean, we've had a run of good luck until now that we're having presidents who are not attempting to overthrow the government and try to retain power. This is unusual, and it happened because he is unusual. It's his fault. And we can't expect -- this is never going to happen again, I hope. I mean, if it does, then we've got bigger problems. BLITZER: And if all of this winds up before the U.S. Supreme Court, we know that three of the nine justices were Trump appointees. How does that play into this?
CONWAY: I honestly think, in this particular case, I don't think they're going to vote for Trump because he's Trump. I think they're going to vote on the merits of the claim. And I think people are underestimating the possibility. I'm not saying it will happen, but there is a not insubstantial possibility that the Supreme Court won't even take this case. If the D.C. Circuit writes a very good opinion, which I think, based upon the questioning I heard yesterday, I think they will.
BLITZER: Yes, very dramatic indeed, very significant and historic, we should say, as well.
How do you think Republican voters are looking at this whole issue of presidential immunity?
CONWAY: I don't think they're really focused on it at all. I mean, I think they just -- I think Republican voters, the bulk of them, are the kind that Chris Christie wasn't able to reach. And I think they basically have tuned out reality. And tuning out reality means that they're taking what Trump says at face value and just saying, oh, it's a witch hunt. It's a multiple jurisdictional witch hunt. Everybody's out to get him. And if they deny him immunity, well, then the courts are fixed. The District of Columbia is a terrible place. And if the Supreme Court denies him immunity, they're going to, oh, what unfaithful appointees they are. That's the Trump-ish.
BLITZER: All right. George, thank you very much, George Conway with excellent analysis, as always.
Just ahead, two House committees are now moving to hold Hunter Biden in contempt just hours after his surprise visit earlier today to the U.S. Capitol. We'll get reaction to all of today's chaos, that's next.
BLITZER: Chaos erupted on Capitol Hill today after President Biden's son, Hunter, showed up at a House hearing where Republicans were starting the process of holding him in criminal contempt of Congress.
CNN's Manu Raju has the very latest from Capitol Hill.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): House Republicans moving to hold the president's son, Hunter Biden, in contempt of Congress, but not before he appeared on Capitol Hill unexpectedly infuriating the GOP and setting off a sideshow.
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): You are the epitome of white privilege, coming into the oversight committee, spitting in our face, ignoring a Congressional subpoena to be deposed. What are you afraid of? You have no balls. What a coward.
I think that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here, right now, and go straight to jail. Yes, I'm looking at you, Hunter Biden, as I'm speaking to you. You are not above the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Debacle. I just -- you know, he shows up, it's just a show.
REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): He should have had his ass over to the judiciary hearing because we're doing a contempt over there.
RAJU: Two House committees moving to refer the matter to the full House next week, coming as Hunter Biden's legal team implements an aggressive new strategy to take on Republicans directly.
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR HUNTER BIDEN: What are they afraid of?
RAJU: Republicans had subpoenaed Hunter Biden to appear before a private deposition in December. But he defined that subpoena, saying he would only testify publicly. That offer rejected by Republicans, where demanded he first testify behind closed doors.
REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name. All Americans must be treated equally under the law.
RAJU: Hunter Biden already facing a criminal indictment for tax violations and gun charges. He's set to appear in court for an arraignment on Thursday.
LOWELL: Chairman Comer made an explicit offer that people like Hunter and had, like him, the option to attend a deposition or a public hearing, whichever they chose. Hunter chose a hearing where Republicans could not distort, manipulate or misuse that testimony.
RAJU: The chaotic scene from Capitol Hill comes as Republicans are moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry into Hunter Biden's father.
REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA): In my opinion, this committee is not interested in prosecuting Hunter Biden. The facts show that President Biden profited from his name and the person that arranged the deals was Hunter Biden.
RAJU: But so far, they do not have the votes to bring articles of impeachment as they continue digging for anything connecting Hunter Biden's business dealings to the president's actions, something they have yet to prove.
REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): I think it should go to the House floor for a vote but I don't know if we have the will to do it. I don't know if it would pass. I
(END VIDEOTAPE) RAJU (on camera): And therein lies the challenge for Speaker Mike Johnson, as he supports an impeachment inquiry to Joe Biden, but simply does not have the votes, Wolf, because a lot of those members in swing districts, those Republicans, are saying they need more before they would vote to impeach Joe Biden.
But the chance of impeaching Alejandro Mayorkas, homeland security secretary, are improving. He had his first impeachment hearing today over Republican demands in contention he has not done enough to secure the border and the chairman of that committee, Mark Green, telling me earlier that he does have the votes to move forward of impeachment of the homeland security secretary -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He's a member of the House oversight committee, he was there earlier today.
Were you and other Democrats, Congressman, aware that Hunter Biden would actually show up for today's hearing?
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Wolf, I was not. But it was four hours of a circus. I mean, while the American people want us to focus on actual issues, wages, jobs, we are debating whether Hunter Biden should give public testimony or should give testimony behind closed doors -- almost the entire day debating that small detail.
BLITZER: Hunter Biden, as you well know, Congressman, has refused to submit to a closed-door deposition as ordered by the subpoena. Why should he get to decide not to obey this lawful subpoena?
KHANNA: Well, he has said, as Chairman Comer had previously asked on television, he said he would come before the committee and testify in front of the American public, in front of the cameras. I think he is -- he is concerned, rightfully, that if it's in close doors and if those transcripts are not going to be released, that the Republicans are not going to do that in good faith and that they are going to try and set traps, and he's not going to be able to get his story out.
So I don't understand why they don't just have him testify before the American public.
BLITZER: But can someone who's subpoenaed by Congress, Congressman, go ahead and dictate whether it's going to be an open session or behind closed doors?
KHANNA: Wolf, this is I think a question that will eventually go to the courts. When the chairman has said that what he would like to see is Hunter Biden comes before the committee, if Hunter Biden is accepting that, but now, the chairman is saying, no, he wants it behind closed doors, is that in good faith complying with a subpoena? And I think that's a judicial determination that should be made.
My hope would be that they would try to negotiate it and find some common ground instead of having this go to the courts. BLITZER: Are you concerned at all, Congressman, that by not comply
with the subpoena as currently written, it looks as if Hunter Biden has something to hide?
KHANNA: No, Wolf, because he's open to testifying in front of the congress. And you know from the university president's ordeal, that is no easy task, to subject yourselves to the questioning of Congress.
Hunter Biden is willing to do that. He's willing to take questions from every Republican on the committee, five minutes each. I don't understand why Chairman Comer doesn't just have him there, get it over with, let the facts come out, the American people will decide.
BLITZER: You and other Democrats voted to hold Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, and others in contempt for defying a subpoena. Why is Hunter Biden subpoena any different?
KHANNA: Well, if he had refused to come, then it would be different. But right now, what they are arguing about is the means of his testimony. Hunter Biden is saying he wants it public. Representative Comer is saying he wants it behind closed doors, so I think this is a good faith disagreement in terms of testimony.
I do think if Hunter Biden had just ignored the subpoena, then he would face the same consequences. He has not done that.
BLITZER: Are you completely confident, based on the evidence you have seen so far, that President Biden was not involved in Hunter Biden's business dealings?
KHANNA: I am completely confident that the president, as either president or vice president, did nothing that was illegal or wrong. And that there has been no evidence that suggests that he has done anything to use his political office to gain any favor or to make any money.
BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks as usual for joining us.
KHANNA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza injures dozens.
And a group of first responders is among the casualties.
BLITZER: A hospital in Central Gaza is reporting dozens of casualties after an Israeli airstrike, including first responders.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond has the story.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They emerge from the dust screaming.
Another Israeli airstrike, this time hitting a market less than 200 feet from the largest hospital in central Gaza.
Here, even the injured must dig themselves out of the rubble. Piece by piece, bloody and covered in dust, they emerge from their boss with that. Doctors say at least 70 people were injured, some carried to the hospital amid tense for the thousands of displaced Palestinians who have sought shelter here.
At least six were killed, including two men working at this falafel stand.
DR. MOHAMMED RAYYAN, AL-AQSA MARTYRS HOSPITAL (through translator): The street was full of people, and many of the injured had arrived to the hospital. There were many, many injured, and martyrs on the floor.
Hours later, first responders turned casualties of war. Four members of an ambulance crew dead after the Palestine Red Crescent Society says the Israeli military targeted their ambulance. Two patients were also killed.
The Israeli military did not respond to CNN's request for comments. One hundred and twenty-one ambulances have been struck during the war, according to the Palestinian minister of health. Inside the hospital, Fouad al-Maani (ph), a paramedic, can do nothing to save Fati (ph), the son who followed in his footsteps. He can only say goodbye.
After three months of horror, these first responders are inconsolable, unable to put into words the unending nightmare they cannot escape.
BLITZER: Thanks -- and thanks to CNN's Jeremy Diamond for that report.
Also tonight, we're getting new data showing us a disturbing, very disturbing surge in antisemitic incidents across the United States in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7th.
Brian Todd is looking into this for us.
Brian, how bad has it gotten?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has reached horrific levels, Wolf. The Anti-Defamation League, which is out with a new report on this, says there's been an explosion of acts of hate against Jews in the United States.
TODD (voice-over): Outside a D.C. synagogue, a man is arrested for allegedly attacking a congregant with a foul-smelling spray and menacing others.
RABBI HYIM SHAFNER, KESHER ISRAEL SYNAGOGUE, WASHINGTON, D.C.: He was yelling "gas the Jews".
TODD: A Cornell University student was charged with threatening to kill Jewish students on campus. These are among thousands of incidents fueling a new report by the Anti-Defamation League, which says antisemitism has gone off the charts in the U.S. since the three months since Hamas' October 7th attack on Israel. The ADL says it's tracked nearly 3,300 antisemitic incidents in the United States between October 7th and January 7th, an increase of 361 percent compared to the same period the year before.
JONATHAN GREENBLATT, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: It is shocking to think that while the numbers were high before, they have skyrocketed to a level we've never seen.
TODD: And the ADL broke it down into types of incidents targeting Jews during that period, including 60 acts of physical assault, 553 incidents of vandalism, 1,353 cases of verbal or written harassment. Who is committing these acts?
PASHA DASHTGARD, POLARIZATION AND EXTREMISM RESEARCH LAB, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Mostly these are white supremacist groups. They are able to use the Israel-Hamas war to both condemn and villainized Jews and the Jewish community and Israelis.
TODD: And analysts say the same groups also target Muslims, Muslim institutions and individuals have also seen a dramatic uptick and threats and incidents of biased since the Israel-Hamas war started.
JONATHAN LEWIS, PROGRAM ON EXTREMISM, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It is certainly one of the most dangerous times to be a Jews or Muslim in the United States.
TODD: One monitor of extremism is worried about where this war will take the level of hatred from here.
DASHTGARD: What I am most worried about is the way the Israel-Hamas conflict can be used to recruit young people into extremist groups in the future.
TODD: But experts say what makes the Israel-Hamas war unique is that it's motivated not just white supremacist and other extremists to target Jews and Muslims, but also many who otherwise might not act out.
PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, "UNITED STATES OF JIHAD": The emotional reaction to what is going on in Israel and Gaza is very, very strong. This is not just a news story for a lot of people. This is a story that they feel very strongly about emotionally.
TODD: It's led to a pervasive climate of fear. The rabbi of that Washington synagogue says people have asked him if it's safe to go to that synagogue, or even to walk around with a head covering. SHAFNER: We are a country where you should be able to worship freely,
everyone should, whether Jew, Muslim, our question. And it's going to a point where we're worried about harassment, more worried about violence, what does that say?
TODD (on camera): How to cover this horrifying trend? The ADL's Jonathan Greenblatt points to three ways to attack it. Greater moral clarity among leaders in places like colleges and universities. Citizens have to hold their leaders more accountable. And he says Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others have to ban together to fight all of this, because, Wolf, as you know, this is clearly not just a Jewish problem.
BLITZER: It's a serious problem indeed. Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.
And we are now just a couple of hours away from the final Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses. At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis face off right here on CNN, with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating. It's a critical test for two of the top remaining candidates in the race, right here only on CNN.
Thank you very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.