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Trump Testifies In His Own Defense At Civil Defamation Trial; RNC Weighing Move To Declare Trump The Presumptive Nominee; U.S. Stocks Set Records After Economic Growth Beats Expectations; Netanyahu Under Fire For Alleged Leaked Remarks Criticizing Qatar; Michigan High School Shooter's Mother Will Testify In Own Defense. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 25, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: NASA says it lasted 33 times longer than originally anticipated. If Martian helicopters can do that, why can't my car?

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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I'd like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Donald Trump takes the stand in the civil defamation trial against him. We ill break down what he said under oath and why the judge struck down some of his very brief testimony as the case is now heading to closing arguments.

Also tonight, the Republican National Committee is considering an unprecedented move to declare Trump the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, siding with the former president and against his remaining opponent, Nikki Haley. I'll get reaction from a top Haley supporter, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

And breaking news, a record close on Wall Street after new evidence of a booming U.S. economy with growth beating expectations. It's a boon for President Biden as he visits a key 2024 battleground state and ramps up for his expected rematch with Trump.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with Donald Trump on the witness stand testifying in one of the slew of court cases where the former president is now a defendant.

CNN's Kara Scannell has our report.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In an extraordinary move for Donald Trump, the former president briefly taking the stand in the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial against him, as the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner continues his strategy, a bouncing between multiple court appearances and the campaign trail.

Trump testified for less than three minutes in the civil trial that will decide how much money, if any, he must pay Carroll in damages for statements he made about her sexual assault allegations against him.

Trump Attorney Alina Habba asking Trump, do you stand by your testimony in the deposition? 100 percent yes, Trump replied. He was then asked if he made the statement in 2019 in response to Carroll's accusation. Yes, I did. She said something that I considered a false accusation, totally false, Trump testified.

Judge Lewis Kaplan immediately cut Trump off saying everything after yes, I did is stricken. Finally, Trump's lawyer asked if he intended to hurt Carroll with his statements. No, he responded. I just wanted to defend myself, my family, and, frankly, the presidency.

After a brief redirect, Trump was off the stand and the defense rested. The judge allowed only very narrow testimony, ordering restrictions that Trump could not deny assaulting Carroll or say that she lied about the rape allegation because those questions are not before this jury.

A civil jury already found that Trump sexually assaulted Carroll and then defamed her in a 2022 statement. The judge previously ruled that verdict would carry over to this defamation trial.

Before Trump's testimony, Carroll's lawyers rested her case after playing a series of video clips of Trump disparaging her and misidentifying Carroll as his wife, Marla Maples, while looking at a photo.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're saying Marla is in this photo?

TRUMP: That's my wife, yes. That's my wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which one are you pointing to?

TRUMP: Here. Is that Marla?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The person you just pointed to is E. Jean Carroll.

TRUMP: This ridiculous situation that we're doing right now is a big fat hook. She's a liar and she's a sick person, in my opinion, really sick, something wrong with her.


SCANNELL (on camera): Well, if Trump is expected to be back in court tomorrow, then both sides will give closing arguments in this case. Then it will go to the jury. Wolf, Carroll is seeking more than $10 million in damages.

BLITZER: Kara Scannell in New York for us, thanks for that report.

We're also following a new legal move by Trump in Georgia, where he's trying to get the elections subversion charges against him dismissed.

Zachary Cohn is here. He's got details for us. Zach, CNN's exclusive new reporting related to the Georgia case, update our viewers on that, and how is Trump trying to derail this entire case?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. Trump officially joining this push to get Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis dismissed from this case. And he's arguing in this new court filing that allegations that she and her top prosecutor, Nathan Wade, had an improper romantic relationship should disqualify her from prosecuting Trump and his fellow co-defendants in Georgia.

Now, look, experts say that this motion is unlikely to get the case completely thrown out. But, you know, Trump's lawyer also adding in this filing today that Fani Willis intentionally tried to foment racial bias against Trump and his co-defendants.


It was in a statement that he said. He put this responsibility clearly on the judge. He says, although this court may not have the authority to disbar D.A. Willis, it certainly does have the power to dismiss the indictment and to disqualify her, the special prosecutor she hired and her office from any further involvement in this case.

So, sources on both sides of this case do acknowledge that getting Fani Willis dismissed is an uphill battle for defense attorneys. But, look, she has come under fire and an increasing pressure since these allegations first rose.

And this coming as we're reporting exclusively today that defense attorneys are looking to subpoena Fani Willis, Nathan Wade and several others. They want them to take the stand and testify under oath when there's a hearing on February 15th to discuss these allegations that were in this motion about an improper romantic relationship. You know, that obviously sets up the possibility of pretty explosive testimony and a pretty explosive court hearing because we know, Wolf, that these hearings in the Georgia case are all televised. They're all broadcast live. So if that does happen, we'd be able to see it.

BLITZER: Zachary Cohn reporting for us, Zach, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our legal and political experts right now. Let me start with Laura Coates. Start with Trump's defamation trial. What were your major takeaways from the former president's rather brief testimony today?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he came, he saw, he made a campaign stop, didn't he? Of course, he had an opportunity at this particular apple to bite it last year when he was challenged on whether or not he'd actually committed sexual assault. He chose not to attend that particular hearing, and now he's attempted to use a backdoor entrance to do so here, the judge not having it. Why? Because at the end of the day, this is no longer a matter of whether a jury ought to find or will find that he committed the acts alleged. Now, it's a matter of what the damages will automatically be for this particular now plaintiffs, in this case, the defendant. And so when you look at this, you have to think about why they're here.

Now, why that jury is there as opposed to why Donald Trump is appearing, very different things. But look at that narrow questioning, trying to almost contort oneself into pretzels to try to even have a reason to be on that stand that would speak to the very important issue of damages. He did not have that opportunity to do so today because that had already been resolved as to what he wanted to talk about.

So, what you saw here today was an opportunity, I think, in some ways to show that he was present and before this jury, but not for the reasons that he articulates now for having wanted to be, I guess, a year ago.

BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins is with us as well. Kaitlan, how does Trump's court appearance today fit into his bigger strategy and mindset, for that matter, around this defamation case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it fits into his whole argument on the campaign trail, certainly, Wolf. I mean, you can see that in his post online today saying, you know, that he wished he was out on the campaign trail, but instead he's in court where, we should, note his presence is not required. He chose to go there and wanted to testify. That is an optional presence by him in that courtroom today.

But what stood out to me was there was this moment where the jury was actually not in the room. And that was when Alina Habba, Trump's attorney, was asking the judge, Judge Kaplan, about Trump getting on the stand to testify before he did ever so briefly. And during that back and forth, the judge and the attorney were talking, but Trump could be overheard also making statements in the court and also talking to Alina.

Now, the jury was not in the room to hear Trump saying things like, I don't know this woman, this is a made up story, which is what he was saying about E. Jean Carroll, but reporters in the room could certainly hear those comments.

And I think it fits into Trump knew that was not something the jury itself was going to see, but it's something that gets amplified and it fits into how he is using the courtroom as this political platform while he's trying to lock up the Republican nomination.

BLITZER: An important point. Elie Honig, do you think Trump taking the stand today for what only three minutes or so helped or heard him with the jury as it weighs damages?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I don't think it hurt him as much as I probably expected. There were a couple of surprises today. First of all, I definitely expected that if Donald Trump testified it would be brief. I don't think I expected it to be three minutes brief.

The other surprise is that the judge, Judge Kaplan, really set a tight set of parameters about what Donald Trump was allowed and was not allowed to testify to, as Kaitlan just laid out. And Judge Kaplan absolutely is in firm control of his courtroom. And as a result, Donald Trump actually, more or less, stayed within those parameters.

And I think the most important thing that Donald Trump said in his limited testimony is, he testified, my intent was not to hurt E. Jean Carroll. My intent was to protect myself, my family, and he says the presidency.

Now, it will be up to the jury, A, whether they believe that, whether they credit that, and, B, if so, how much weight they give that.

And it's important to note, Wolf, they're not making that judgment in a vacuum. They're going to get to weigh that testimony against all the other evidence, all the other testimony, the videotape deposition that we saw, and we're going to see all that reflected in their verdict, which I do expect will come sometime tomorrow.


BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're probably right. Laura, I want to turn to the Georgia election subversion case against Trump. What do you make of Trump's efforts now to get rid of the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis?

COATES: In many ways, this was predictable, given the already now efforts to try to get her off the case by another defendant in this action, alluding to her personal relationship, as alleged, through divorce proceedings and beyond.

The interesting part about all of this, of course, Wolf, is though this does not actually go to the heart of the facts alleged against these defendants. Certainly, it appears to be, if true, an unforced error to have appointed somebody with whom you have a personal romantic relationship, why? Because judges are likely to recuse themselves for the hint of impropriety. In an instance like this, it serves as quite a big distraction.

And the last thing you want to have as a jury is looking at a prosecutor and wondering why they're there. Is the length of the trial or the nature of the charges somehow intended to elongate and prolong a relationship of some kind? You don't want these conversations happening. So, this is going to be very important to going forward as to whether it actually implicates the underlying facts.

We've seen no evidence whatsoever yet that it actually goes to the heart of the matter for what Donald Trump has been accused of doing, but a distraction, it certainly is.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Kaitlan, how much does Trump potentially benefit from this controversy over Fani Willis and the lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade?

COLLINS: I think a lot remains to be determined and we'll see how the judge views this next month, Wolf, in just a few weeks when he holds that hearing on this. I think that could shed a lot of light.

But I've been speaking to a lot of sources about this and legal sources who, you know, have been very doubtful about Trump's chances when it comes to this case, as he's tried to, you know, remove it from state court to federal court, when he's tried to plead presidential immunity. This is where they say that it could be really problematic, obviously, not for Trump, but for Fani Willis here.

And I think it's not even just whether or not she recuses herself. It's the optics of this case because we've seen, you know, what's been laid out in this indictment, how damaging this was. We watched all of these co-defendants have to come and plead not guilty.

But now that there is this little hint of impropriety, whether or not it turns into something bigger, could certainly be something that the Trump legal team plans to use to their advantage and could use no matter what happens when it comes to Fani Willis and the prosecutor here.

BLITZER: Yes, that's significant. Elie, now that Willis and Wade are expected to be subpoenaed over their alleged misconduct, will we get definitive answers on this case in February?

HONIG: Well, it's a great question, Wolf. And I do think there are some real questions here and real problems for the D.A. Yes, if they are subpoenaed, I actually expect them to try to fight that and say we shouldn't have to come in and testify.

But there are really two different categories of problems here. First of all, as Laura mentioned, there's questions over the relationship between D.A. Willis and Mr. Wade. There's questions over why someone who was underqualified, in my view, to handle a case like this was appointed. There are questions about why he's been paid seven, eight, nine times more than the other prosecutors on the case. And separately, as Zach Cohen just told us, the D.A. went in public and said that the defendant's motivation in bringing their motions here was racist.

Now, that's potentially prejudicial to those defendants when it comes time to pick a jury. So, we've got two sets of substantial issues here.

BLITZER: Lots of legal issues going on. Guys, thank you very, very much.

This note, Kaitlan, we'll be back later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern to anchor The Source. And Laura will be back at 10:00 P.M. Eastern for Laura Coates Live. We'll be watching both excellent programs.

Another significant legal development unfolded today, the former Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, was actually sentenced today to four months in prison for defying a subpoena related to the House investigation of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. He was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress back in September. Navarro is appealing the sentence.

Just ahead, new science Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party is only growing stronger. The Republican National Committee weighing a resolution to declare the former president its presumptive nominee after just two contests. This, as some Republican senators seethe over Trump's meddling in Congressional talks over immigration.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Republican National Committee is weighing a truly extraordinary, unprecedented move to declare Donald Trump the party's presumptive nominee, even though months remain on the primary calendar.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has details for us. Kristen, tell us what's in this proposal and what it means for the GOP primary race.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Okay, Wolf. So, essentially, this is a resolution, meaning it would have to go through two steps before it could actually be approved. One of the committee members, an ally of Donald Trump's, brought this forward to the resolutions committee so that eventually it might go before the 168 members.

This would be a huge departure from what the Republican National Committee usually does. It effectively says that they would back Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee if this was to be approved, even though Nikki Haley is still in the race.

And that's really the key here, that it's not just that it's early, it's that there are still two rivals who are both Republicans. Again, a huge break from how they normally handle the nominating process, which is to remain neutral.

Now, the one thing to keep in mind here is that we've already heard from the chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, also an ally of Donald Trump's, effectively saying it was time for the Republican Party to unite around Donald Trump because he was going to be the nominee. That in itself was already a break. This would take it a step farther.

So, if this was to get approved, here's what this would give Donald Trump access to. It would give him access to the RNC data operation, he would benefit from the fundraising with the RNC, and it would give him access to the ground operation.

Now, we have already heard a reaction from Nikki Haley's spokeswoman, the campaign spokeswoman, saying if Ronna McDaniel wants to be helpful, she can organize a debate in South Carolina unless she's also worried that Trump can't handle being on the stage for 90 minutes with Nikki Haley. [18:20:08]

Obviously, we know that something Nikki Haley is pushing for is the debate. Donald Trump himself, no indication that he is going to do that.

And I will tell you one other thing. There was a little bit of pushback from the Republican National Committee who sought to clarify that Ronna McDaniel herself does not offer up these resolutions and it still has to be voted on and approved.

But, again, it is a pretty striking proposal right now and a huge departure from the way the Republican National Committee usually handles this.

BLITZER: Usually, they're almost always there, supposed to be neutral until there is an official candidate already declared.

All right, thanks very much for that.

I want to get some reaction right now from a key Nikki Haley supporter, the New Hampshire Republican governor, Chris Sununu. Governor, thanks for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction to this RNC draft proposal to declare Trump the presumptive presidential nominee.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Yes, it's absolutely awful. You know, the Republican Party, we like to talk about civics and the process and the voters having a say, but then when it comes to Donald Trump, his attempts -- I mean, the hypocrisy, right, is just so silly because his attempts to now manipulate the process that he claims was so rigged against him a couple of years ago.

And it is right out there in the open, right? I mean, they don't even have the courtesy to go into the backrooms and smoke cigarettes and do it like you see in the cartoon.

So, look, the RNC is -- from the very beginning, they hired David Bossy, a former Trump guy, to design the system to do the debates. And then they never forced Trump onto the stage to do the debates. And now, Ronna is taking a side and now they want to do this resolution. It's just dumb. It's awful. So, the good news is this, the voters decide. They really do. There is going to be an election in South Carolina. And if these Washington elites think that they're going to step all over the voters of South Carolina, my guess is the voters are going to have something to say about that.

BLITZER: If the RNC, Governor, does get behind this resolution, will it ultimately force Nikki Haley to end her campaign?

SUNUNU: Oh, goodness, no, no, no, no. Nikki Haley -- look, Nikki Haley fights the establishment. She fights those that are trying to break the rules. She believes in the process. She believes in the voters. She's not going anywhere because Ronna McDaniel says so, or Trump tries to keep manipulating things. No, she's going to fight hard.

And she went from, again, 5 percent to 20 percent to like 44, 45 percent going into her home state. She has all that wind and momentum at her back. That's why Trump is so scared. He's very nervous about what could happen there.

And, by the way, two months ago, was anybody saying that if Trump wins the first two states, we're going to call it, it's going to be over? They're moving the goalpost. They're changing the rules. But when you do that, that's usually done because they're afraid.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, I did some checking, I don't know if you've looked at the numbers. Right now, Trump has 32 delegates, Nikki Haley has 17 delegates. You need 1,215 delegates to be the Republican presidential nominee. So it's very, very early in this process, it's almost unprecedented. But you obviously are against this resolution. Would you actually leave the Republican Party if this proposal is approved?

SUNUNU: No, no. Look -- what's a good way to say it? Look, are ultimately our institutions in this country are strong. Bad leadership in idiots can come and go but our institutions are strong. It doesn't mean you bail on the whole the entire process. I'm an engineer by trade. I believe in a feedback response is that. If they try to step on the voters and remove the process and change the rules, I'm a strong believer that that's when the people step up and say, no, no, we want we want big change here.

So, you got to let this stuff play out. I'm hoping that they'll still be smart and back away from this idiotic idea because it just sets such a bad precedent for the party, for the nation, ultimately, would it would hurt any of the -- whoever the nominee is ultimately in the general election. It would just hurt the party, hurt our candidates. We'd all have to be explaining and answering for this kind of nonsense.

So, I feel pretty confident that bad ideas can come but hopefully they'll go even quicker.

BLITZER: Yes, let the voters decide in the primaries and the caucuses. As you know, Reed Hoffman and Andy Saban, two big dollar donors, said today they won't back Nikki Haley anymore. Saban saying she should drop out to spare embarrassment. Why hasn't Nikki Haley been able to convince them to keep supporting her?

SUNUNU: Look, those are just two of many. I mean, she's with big donors today. She raised millions of dollars in small dollar donors in just the past 48 hours. So, no, the money is coming in. There's no question about that. The donors are with her. The voters are with her. A lot of the big-dollar folks are with her. And that's maybe one of the frustrations that Trump has. He tried to threaten people. If you give money to Nikki Haley, I think he said you're not part of the MAGA community. God knows what that means, right? You don't get a discount on Trump's stakes or something. I don't know.

But the money is coming in to Nikki Haley, and that's why he's nervous. She's got momentum in her home state.


She's going to have the cash to fight for the next month.

BLITZER: We shall see what happens. Governor Chris Sununu, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

SUNUNU: You bet.

BLITZER: And coming up, how Trump is infuriating some Republicans right now up on Capitol Hill by trying to call the shots in the very high-stakes negotiations. New reaction to his controversial intervention, that's next.


BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning more about a major source of tension between Donald Trump and Senate Republicans. The former president and GOP frontrunner working to blow up a compromise on one of his signature issues, immigration.


Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju has the latest from Capitol Hill.


TRUMP: I'll seal the border and we'll shut down the invasion of our country, number one.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): It has been a GOP rallying cry for the last three years. The border is in crisis and Washington has failed to act. But as senators are nearing a bipartisan deal with President Joe Biden, there's one major hurdle, former President Donald Trump.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): The border is a very important issue for Donald Trump. The fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and Congress people that he doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.

RAJU: As he tightens his grip on the GOP, Trump has privately and publicly tried to kill the effort, arguing that the party should reject anything short of a perfect deal, unless they get everything to secure the border.

Yet senators in both parties believe Trump is simply trying to preserve an issue to wield against Biden, as polls in early primary states confirm that immigration is an animating issue for GOP voters.

SEN. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): I hope no one is trying to take this away for campaign purposes. RAJU: The stakes are enormous. Republicans are demanding tough border restrictions before green-lighting desperately sought aid for Ukraine and Israel. But now all of it at risk of collapsing.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I would hope that one person isn't so powerful inside the Republican Party to hand Ukraine to Vladimir Putin.

RAJU: Behind closed doors today, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell reaffirming his support for the push by a trio of senators to find an immigration deal, a day after suggesting that Trump's position had created a quandary and threatened passage of the entire package.

SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): I just reject the idea that we should reserve a crisis for a better time to solve it.

RAJU: Senate negotiators still believe they can cut a deal as soon as next week.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): this issue for the last 30 years is not passed Congress because it's hard. It's emotional.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): Look, we're at a place where this package is almost done. And when the text comes out, senators will be able to review it and make their own decision. Do they want to secure the border? It's a choice.

RAJU: Yet many conservatives are skeptical about the White House's intentions and believe the deal would be too weak and wouldn't pass the GOP-led House.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): What they want is for the bill to fail in the House, so they can go around saying, we tried to fix the border, but it was Republicans in the House, those crazy, MAGA Republicans who blocked it.


RAJU (on camera): And just moments ago, Donald Trump responded to those comments from Mitt Romney and attacked him saying that he had not spoken to him in years and that he is happy that he's leaving the Senate after this year.

And, Wolf, he said in this social media post, we need a strong, powerful and essentially, quote, perfect border. Unless we get that, we are better off not making a deal. Even if that pushes our country, temporarily, quote, close up for a while.

So, reiterating his demand, Wolf, for everything that he wants, which is almost certainly would not be the case in a bipartisan deal that would be cut by the Senate and the White House, and the call that he's making reject that deal if it's not exactly to his liking.

BLITZER: Yes, an important point, indeed. Manu Raju, thanks for that report. Let's get some more on this with CNN Political Commentator, the former Trump White House official, Alyssa Farrah Griffin and former adviser to the Biden 2020 campaign, Alencia Johnson.

Alyssa, first to you. Trump is tanking potentially these bipartisan talks that have been going on for weeks and weeks. And while some senators are privately furious, the party's support for him is only growing right now. How do you square that?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, it's very hard to square out. The reality is this Donald Trump is more or less the de facto speaker of the House. Mike Johnson might as well just be a figurehead because when Donald Trump calls and says, we're not going with this legislation, House Republicans are going to circle around it. And talking to the McConnell folks, they're very confident this bill is going to get through the Senate but it's dead on arrival in the house.

And as a lifelong Republican, I just have to say, it is so disingenuous and it is so counterproductive to the cause of wanting to secure the border to say that we're going to hold off on this crisis and not address it until the earliest January of next year if a new president were to be sworn in. This is a mistake for Republicans and it frankly could end up really jeopardizing the House majority.

BLITZER: Alencia, how big of a problem potentially is this for President Biden?

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN 2020 CAMPAIGN: Well, look, I think the reality is there's so much evidence here that the Republicans are trying to use immigration, a very real crisis that both parties talk about. The Republicans want to use this as a political moment for them, that the Biden campaign could actually use this as election campaign material in order to show that this is what Donald Trump would look like as a leader. He would put party politics over making sure that the border is safe, making sure that we have comprehensive immigration policies in the United States.


And so it is going to be a challenge for the White House to push through, right, to make sure that there's a package that could hopefully get through the House. But I do believe that they are going to continue to press forward because this is an issue that both sides of the aisles care about, even Democrats care about immigration.

And so they're going to try to do whatever they can in at the same time, making the case that it is not presidential for someone like Donald Trump who's running to be president to be using this as political football.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right. Alyssa, the Republican National Committee, as you know, and as we've reported, is circulating a draft resolution to already name Trump the presumptive presidential nominee. But Trump actually, just moments ago, spoke out against this. He said, and I'm quoting now, I feel for the sake of a party unity that they should not go forward with this plan, but that I should do it the old fashioned way and finish the process off at the ballot box. Are you surprised? Does that surprise you to hear that from Trump?

GRIFFIN: So, at first, I was surprised, but what I'm reading into that is that I think state party chairs were furious over this. The RNC was essentially saying 48 states primaries do not matter. We've only had Iowa and New Hampshire at this point. I think he was certainly hearing from more people than he expected to that there was going to be pushback.

Listen, Nikki Haley is getting in his head. She is running a smart and serious campaign. But the work has already been done. The deck is stacked in favor of Donald Trump. Even if she would have to pull off a miracle at this point, the rules that were changed for Super Tuesday states making many winner-take-all, all favor him, the Nevada caucus, for example.

So, I'm not surprised that he's actually just okay with keeping things as are because things are very much trending toward him being the nominee.

BLITZER: Alencia, what do you make of this?

JOHNSON: Listen, I think it's a very interesting backtracking that he's doing, right, because he's been very bullish about everyone should rally around him, but now he understands that he has to play within the political parties, right, the state parties that should hopefully, you know, support him should he become the nominee.

But it is interesting, to Alyssa's point, Nikki Haley is getting under his skin. And for him to have to take this tone while also wanting her to get out of the race so that he can focus on being the nominee is really challenging for him.

And we will see how long Donald Trump will stay disciplined on this. I do believe in a primary process on both sides of the aisle. And it is interesting to see how he is doing in this primary process and not enjoying it as much as one would think he would, the fact that he's still winning, right?

Yes, Nikki Haley is probably making him a sharper candidate. He has to talk about certain issues that he doesn't really want to talk about. But the primary process actually could bolster him to understand where exactly his support is, but it is interesting to see him walk backwards on his full-on attacks of Nikki Haley wanting everyone to unify around him, and this time go against the RNC.

BLITZER: Alencia Johnson, Alyssa Farrah Griffin, to both of you, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, an eye-popping report on U.S. economic growth gives stock prices a huge lift and gives President Biden new ammunition against Donald Trump.



BLITZER: There's breaking news on Wall Street tonight, the Dow Jones industrials and the S&P 500, both hitting record highs at the closing bell. Investors encouraged by a surprisingly very strong report on economic growth here in the United States that trounced expectations.

Let's go to CNN Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee. M.J., so, what is President Biden saying about this?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House, Wolf, is certainly pointing to today's GDP as one more data point in what they see as an economy that is continuing to move in the right direction. GDP last quarter of last year grew by some 3.3 percent. This far exceeded expectations of around 1.5 percent growth.

And what White House officials say is that it is that, in addition to a number of other indicators that have them feeling optimistic. Of course, inflation has been trending down for some time. The Consumer Confidence Index, which is one data point that the White House watches particularly closely, that jumped up last month. And we also have seen the jobs market be robust for quite some time.

Now, when we saw the president traveling to Wisconsin earlier today to try to sell his record on the economy and infrastructure, we saw him doing that in part by taking a jab at his predecessor, Donald Trump. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: My predecessor, though, he chose a different course, trickledown economics, cut taxes for the very wealthy and big corporations, increasing the deficit significantly.

He talked about infrastructure every week for four years.

On my watch, instead of infrastructure week, America is having an infrastructure decade.


LEE: And, Wolf, I don't have to tell you how important it is politically for both the White House and the Biden campaign for this positive economic streak to continue. The health of the economy is always a top concern for so many voters.

So, the hope right now for White House officials and campaign officials is that the public sentiment on all of this will have improved significantly by the time it is November when the Biden campaign now believes that they are very much likely to face up against Donald Trump come Election Day. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us, M.J., thank you very much.

Coming up, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, infuriates a key player in hostage negotiations. What he allegedly said behind closed doors and what it potentially could be for efforts to bring the captives home.



BLITZER: We're following new developments in the Middle East where alleged remarks from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have deeply angered a key player in the hostage negotiations.

CNN's Nic Robertson has the latest.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): During a testy meeting with hostage families Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have strained his one regional relationship with Qatar, that matters most to those very families.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): You don't hear me thanking Qatar because Qatar is essentially no different from the U.N. or the Red Cross and in some ways, even more problematic, they have leverage because they're financing them.

ROBERTSON: These comments caught off mic, triggered a rapid and barbed diplomatic put down from Qatari officials who helped negotiate the release of almost 100 Israeli hostages in November saying in a tweet, we're appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli prime minister, if validated are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives but are not surprising.


Just days earlier, Qatar have been talking up relations with Israel and the potential for Hamas to release more hostages.

MAJED AL-ANSARI, QATER FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: We are engaging in serious discussions with both sides. We have presented ideas to both sides. We are getting a constant scheme of -- that applies from both sides.

ROBERTSON: Qatar's frustration now seems personal with Netanyahu, Qatar concluding their criticism with a view increasingly suspected by some Israelis. Netanyahu wants to keep the war going, saying in a tweet, the Israeli prime minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process for reasons that appear to surface political career.

Hostage families who were in the meeting with the prime minister released a terse statement, appearing to blame Netanyahu who for the leak, although he denies it.

The fact that the censorship was given permission to publish this audio recording is serious, and indicates a loss of judgment.

This leaked audio also suggests he may be trying to draw the White House into confrontation. NETANYAHU: I was very angry recently and I didn't hide it from the

Americans, that they renewed the contract on the military base they have with Qatar.

ROBERTSON: President Biden hasn't openly spoken to the tensions, but this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticizing Israel for taking Gazan territory to create a security buffer.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been very clear about maintaining in effect the territorial integrity.


ROBERTSON (on camera): Despite all this, Wolf, there's absolutely no indication whatsoever that Qatar is pulling out of its mediation role. Indeed, CIA Director Bill Burns is on his way to meetings with his Israeli counterpart and Egyptian and Qatari officials. That again, to push for the release of those hostages, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope they come home soon? Nic Robertson in Tel Aviv, thank you.

Coming up, a mother is set to take the stand and a historic case that tests whether parents can be held responsible for their child's heinous crime in a school shooting.



BLITZER: Prosecutors and defense attorneys presenting their opening statements in the trial of a mother of a Michigan high school gunman, and what legal observers say is a history-making case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jennifer Crumbley didn't pull the trigger that day, but she is responsible for those deaths.


BLITZER: Brian Todd is following the story for us.

Brian, the mother is seeking to avoid criminal responsibility. The trial unlike anything we've seen before.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, we've never seen a parent of a mass shooter face charges that are this serious. The mother looking at four counts of involuntary manslaughter, the scene in the courtroom today, reflecting a highly charged trial.


MOLLY DARNELL, TEACHER, OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL: I locked eyes. He didn't hesitate.

TODD (voice-over): That's a teacher at Michigan's Oxford High School, recalling mass shooter Ethan Crumbley's attempt to kill her.

DARNELL: I texted my husband, I love you, active shooter, and then I started feeling blood dripping down my arm,

TODD: Molly Darnell testified today in the historic trial of the shooter's mother, Jennifer Crumbley. It's the first time a parent of a mass shooter has faced charges. This serious, the mother facing four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection to her sons rampage in November 2021 which claimed the lives of Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling. Jennifer Crumbley has pleaded not guilty. This case will test the limits of who is responsible for a mass shooting.

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This case, which is seeking to hold Jennifer and James Crumbley criminally culpable for the death of the four victims that Ethan Crumbley shot.

TODD: Prosecutors accused Ethan Crumbley's parents of disregarding the risks when they bought a handgun for their son just days before the shooting, even though they knew he was struggling with mental health issues.

MARC KEAST, ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR, OAKLAND COUNTY, MICHIGAN: Despite for knowledge of his deteriorate mental crisis despite her knowledge of his growing social isolation, despite the fact that it is illegal for 15 year-old to walk into a gun store and walk out with a handgun by himself, this gun was gifted.

TODD: Prosecutors say the parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, met with a school counselor on the day of the shooting after Ethan Crumbley made troublesome drawings on a worksheet. At that meeting, the parents didn't mention that they bought a gun for him, that they didn't take their son home, and that they didn't schedule an appointment with a medical professional as the council requested.

KEAST: On November the 30th, Jennifer Crumbley was still given the opportunity to prevent these murders who ever happened. Instead, she chose to do nothing.

TODD: The defense argued that when she heard there was a shooter at the school, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son, quote, Ethan, don't do it. And that before that day --

SHANNON SMITH, JENNIFER CRUMBLEY'S ATTORNEY: She did not have it on her radar in any way that there was any mental disturbance that her son would ever take a gun into a school that her son would ever shoot people.

TODD: At his sentencing hearing, Ethan Crumbley, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, said this about his parents.

ETHAN CRUMBLEY, CONVICTED SCHOOL SHOOTER: They did not know and I did not tell them what I plan to do. So they're not have fault what I've done.

MARRIS: The defense is going to say, you heard it from Ethan himself. No one was going to be able to stand in his way.


TODD (on camera): Jennifer Crumbley's attorney says she will testify in her own defense. If convicted, the shooter's parents could each face up to 15 years in prison. The father, James Crumbley, will be tried separately. His trial tentatively scheduled to start on March 5. James Crumbley has also pleaded not guilty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.