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The Source with Kaitlan Collins
Maine Secretary Of State Removes Trump From Primary Ballot; Recordings, Emails Show How Trump Operatives Flew Fake Elector Ballots To D.C. In Final Push To Overturn Election; Trump Ad Slams Biden's Border Policies. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired December 28, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A lot of news tonight. Maine, now the second state, to ban Donald Trump, from the primary ballot.
The news continues. THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS starts now.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And tonight, straight from THE SOURCE.
Donald Trump has just been disqualified, from the primary ballot, in the State of Maine, making it the second state, to remove him, because of his role, on January 6th.
Also, CNN obtaining exclusive new recordings that show just how frantic, that effort, to carry out the fake electors' scheme really was, just days before that Capitol attack, almost chartering a private jet, to fly copies of bogus ballots that were stuck in the mail.
Also, Nikki Haley now says, of course slavery caused the Civil War. That was not her answer, last night.
I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.
History has been made, once again tonight, not the kind that Donald Trump wants, as he has now been disqualified, from the primary ballot, in Maine. A decision that comes nine days, after Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Trump is ineligible to be on that state's ballot, because of his role in the January 6th insurrection, therefore barring him, under the 14th Amendment, of the Constitution.
Here it is, in black and white, from Maine's Democratic Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows, who said that he was, quote, "Not qualified to hold the Office of the President." This is a ruling from the state's top election official, not a court, I should note.
She has already paused her decision, for 20 days, in case there is an appeal, which the Trump legal team says tonight that there will be, in the coming days. They had tried to get Bellows removed, actually, from making this decision, earlier this week, citing her social media posts. But she says she didn't make this decision lightly. Quote, "I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection."
Moments ago, she explained her decision, here on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHENNA BELLOWS, (D) MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: The oath I swore, uphold the Constitution, comes first and foremost.
The weight of the evidence brought forward, under Maine law, in the Section 336 challenge that was brought made it clear that Mr. Trump was aware of the tinder he laid, in a multi-month efforts, to challenge the legitimacy of the 2020 election. And then, in an unprecedented and tragic series of events, chose to light a match.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: The former President's team has argued that efforts, like what has happened here, in Maine, tonight, are undemocratic, and that they are done by people, who were worried, about facing Trump on the ballot.
Tonight, his campaign said, quote, "We will quickly file a legal objection in state court to prevent this atrocious decision in Maine from taking effect."
Joining me, tonight, former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams; and Norm Eisen, who was the House Judiciary Special Counsel in Trump's first impeachment trial. Both are CNN Legal Analysts.
Norm, now that you've read this decision, what stood out to you?
NORM EISEN, HOUSE JUDICIARY SPECIAL COUNSEL, FIRST TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Kaitlan, it's a powerful analysis, on three fundamental legal points, although it's full of very important holdings.
The first point is that as the Secretary of State, under Maine law, Secretary Bellows finds she has the authority, to disqualify a presidential candidate, under the 14th Amendment. That's why we're seeing this variation, with Colorado, and now Maine, on one side, and other states disagreeing. It's about the power. That's unique to the states.
But her second major holding is not. And it has national implications. That is that the 14th Amendment bars a presidential candidate, who engaged in insurrection. I think that's correct. And the majority of commentators agree with that reading, including extremely conservative commentators.
The third question is a factual one. And the most explosive of them all. She finds that Donald Trump engaged in insurrection, under the 14th Amendment. And she relies on the January 6 committee hearings. And there is a powerful factual basis for that as well. It's a historic opinion by Secretary Bellows.
COLLINS: It is historic.
But Elliot, does she have the authority, as the Secretary of State, to make this decision, to kick someone off the ballot, like Trump?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: She has the authority, as the Secretary of State of Maine. And frankly, every state, under the Constitution, has the ability, to set its standards, for who can be on a ballot.
But let's be clear. And this is, and I largely agree with Norm's analysis here. But this is not a question, for Norm Eisen, or Elliot Williams, to be sorting out here.
This is teed up, right now, for the Supreme Court, because there are really open very serious legal questions, to be answered here, that frankly, the Framers of the country, a couple hundred years ago, just left open, and didn't answer.
Number one, who decides what an insurrection is, or even what the definition of insurrection is? And so, again, this is powerfully written prose, in this opinion. But she's largely relying on the opinion of a law professor, to lay out what the definition of insurrection is, number one.
Number two, do you need to be committed of the crime of insurrection, in order to be barred from the ballot? Now, again, I would say no, based on what I've read my understanding of it. But that's for the United States Supreme Court to decide.
And then number three, what do you do, when different states now have vastly different notions, of what is defined, under the definition or under an umbrella of insurrection?
So, all of these very complex constitutional questions still have to be sorted out. And this is, as we know well, not the final word on it. And it just it's sort of Supreme Court, are you listening? This is sort of why the country has a Supreme Court, like it or not, to resolve difficult questions, like this.
COLLINS: Well, Norm, do you agree with that, that this makes this all the more urgent that the Supreme Court does get involved?
EISEN: I do agree. And, of course, the final word will lie with the Supreme Court. I think the power, of the Colorado opinion, the power of the Maine opinion, is the weight of the evidence, and the law is on the side of these opinions. That doesn't mean that Supreme Court will, of course, see it the way that Elliot or I do. They often do diverge.
But I want to just lift up two points that implicit in Elliot's analysis, Kaitlan.
The first is that the extraordinary moment that we're in, that the leading candidate, of one of the major political parties, has been found, by the January 6 committee, by the Colorado courts, including the Colorado Supreme Court, now by the Maine's Secretary of State, to have participated, in an insurrection, against our government. That's extraordinary. And there's a lot of detail, this section of the opinion, is 10 pages long, a lot of detail on why.
And the second point is, I know there's some concern, about these conflicting opinions. They're making their way to the Supreme Court. I see this as a proud moment in our democracy.
COLLINS: There's a lot of cases--
EISEN: This is how our checks and balances are supposed to work. We should take a hard look, at a candidate, who implicates these 14th Amendment concerns of insurrection. And so, this is American democracy in action.
It's wrong, as some people are saying. Trump said in his campaign statement, tonight that it's anti-democratic.
It is never against American democracy, to apply the United States Constitution. The question is, what does the Constitution say here?
COLLINS: Well, Elliot, what do you make of that?
Because the political argument here, and surely what Republicans or the Trump team would argue, is that it's a Democratic Secretary of State, who, she had multiple social media posts that the Trump campaign had cited, why she should be removed from this.
She made very clear how she felt about January 6. She called it a violent instruction. She said that Trump should have been impeached.
The Colorado Supreme Court, that was a 4-3 ruling. You saw the dissents in that.
The January 6 committee, obviously, we know how Republicans feel about that, given Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, two Republicans, who are no longer members of Congress, were in that.
E. WILLIAMS: Yes.
COLLINS: I mean, what's the other argument here, of whether or not this is the authority that they have, to make this decision, and not the decision for the voters?
E. WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, number one, take it up with Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, and James Madison, hundreds of years ago, for giving that power, to the states, to determine how they would apportion, or how they would work out, how elections would be run.
We've had ample opportunity, to amend the Constitution over those, frankly, centuries. And the country has chosen not to do it. So, I don't find that argument all that persuasive. Number one.
Number two, I don't know if you're going to hear the same criticism, of the political appointments, of people, ruling on these decisions, once the Supreme Court rules if in fact, they do rule in favor of Donald Trump. It's very convenient to sort of pick on different aspects, of our partisan system, that has served the country so well, when it serves the argument or serves the position you want to hold.
And then, I think, more broadly speaking, Kaitlan, what I find fascinating here is that after Bush versus Gore, in 2000, the Supreme Court did take a reputational hit, for sort of having been seen by many, in the country, as having thumbed the scale a little bit, with respect to an election.
What happens here, if in fact, the Supreme Court weighs, in a manner, in either direction, either in favor of the former President or not, but in a manner that seems to have--
E. WILLIAMS: --nudged the country, in one direction? That's very dangerous.
COLLINS: Well, it's certainly--
E. WILLIAMS: And I think John Roberts has got to decide (ph).
COLLINS: Yes. It certainly would be one of the biggest decisions before them, since that decision of the 2000 election.
Elliot Williams, Norm Eisen, as always, thank you both.
And for more on this, I want to bring in New York Times Senior Political Correspondent, and CNN's Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman.
Because, I think the question is, we see all the Trump legal team, what they're saying. But how is Trump himself viewing the multiple efforts that have been playing out? Two of them, now successful, at least for now, to get him off the ballot.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, what he's saying publicly is actually not that different than what he's saying privately, to people, Kaitlan, which is that "This is undemocratic." This is an effort to inter -- you know, it's election interference.
As we know, he is very good at projecting what he is accused of, back onto other people. And it's not surprising that he's doing this here.
He is genuinely, he is not happy about this. And it is true that a lot of people, around him, see this as politically helpful. But it's also yet another front they have to fight. And that comes when they are fighting any number of them.
COLLINS: Yes. And are they worried at all about the point that Norm was making there, which is that a Secretary of State, even if she is a Democrat, the Colorado Supreme Court, the January 6th congressional committee, all of these positions of authority, are putting in writing that they do believe he was not only responsible, for what happened that day, and started it.
COLLINS: But he fanned the flames of January 6th.
HABERMAN: Anything like that coming from an official source is not great for him. He knows that. His folks know that. It's not good for him, long-term, I should say. It's not good for him, certainly, if he is kept off the ballots, that that is just logistically problematic.
But while this is fuel, for him, in a Republican primary? If he is the nominee, in a general election, this is just objectively not a helpful fact set. It is not -- it will be used in ads. It will be used on mailers. It will be said at Democratic town halls over and over and over again. And there will be officialdom to point to saying that Trump did it.
This is what didn't happen with the Senate trial for impeachment. This is what didn't happen, for almost two years, from the DOJ. And now, there is something that is quasi-official, even if it's coming from folks, who they're arguing are partisan, it's just not helpful to him.
COLLINS: Does he seem confident at all that the Supreme Court, if they do choose to get involved here, will rule in his favor?
HABERMAN: His folks believe that they are going to rule, in his favor. But he is never certain that anything is going to be the case, until it's done.
And he's been railing about the Supreme Court, for years now. Because despite the fact that he appointed three of the justices, they have not shown much interest, in his election cases, or his election efforts. And so, he doesn't really see them, as consistently being with him, on any of those issues. And he doesn't have certainty that it will go his way.
However, a lot of people he listens to do think that this is likely, the Colorado decision certainly is likely to get shut down, and that the Supreme Court is going to have to take this up, because it's clearly going to be other states now.
COLLINS: Well, and to that point, I mean, I think that there are people, who don't like the way the court has tilted, since the three justices he's put on there. But when it comes to the powers of the presidency, and what he's had, they have had less of an appetite, as you wrote in your reporting, last week, for supporting him, on that.
HABERMAN: Absolutely. They have shown really very little appetite, for getting involved, in this. They did after Election Day in 2020. There has been no sense that they are moving faster. They did not move quickly, on the immunity question, which Jack Smith, the Special Counsel, was asking them to do. There were no dissents on that. But that doesn't mean they won't take it up at a later date.
COLLINS: Yes, we'll wait to see what they do.
Maggie Haberman, thank you for that.
COLLINS: Coming up, next here, inside the final push, to overturn the 2020 election, exclusively obtained recordings, of the scramble, inside Trump-world, to fly fake elector ballots, to Washington, in time for the certification, on January 6th.
What happened when those bogus papers got stuck in the mail?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNETH CHESEBRO, PRO-TRUMP ATTORNEY: The general counsel of the Trump campaign is freaked out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Nikki Haley, also tonight, in damage control, in the crucial days before the first votes, in the 2024 election are cast. How she is trying to clean up her Civil War mess?
COLLINS: Tonight, CNN has obtained exclusive recordings that revealed just how chaotic the last-ditch effort was, by then-former President Trump, and his 2020 campaign, to rush fake elector ballots, from several states, to the nation's capital. The goal, obviously, to get those fake ballots, into the hands of former Vice President Mike Pence, in a final push to overturn the 2020 election.
The plan involved this haphazard chain of messengers, staffers, for two sitting Republican members of Congress, and talks of scrambling the fake ballots, onto a chartered private jet. Yes, they did not actually get that far. But that was something that they proposed doing.
All of this was to ensure that the false certificates, from Michigan, and from Wisconsin, got to the capital in time, for the Electoral College certification that happened on January 6th.
New emails and recordings show the new context, in the dizzying scope, of the unsuccessful plot, including the CNN exclusive audio, of pro- Trump attorney, Kenneth Chesebro, who was the architect, of the fake electors' scheme, according to prosecutors, describing the chaos, after Trump officials learned the fake ballots are stuck in the mail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHESEBRO: The general counsel of the Trump campaign is freaked out that Roman reported that the Michigan votes are still in the sorting facility in Michigan, which doesn't look like they're going to get to Pence in time.
So the general counsel of the campaign was alarmed, and was chartering -- they didn't have to charter a jet, but they did commercial.
This is like, yes, so this is a high-level decision--
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CHESEBRO: --to get the Michigan and Wisconsin votes there. And they had to enlist, you know, a U.S. senator to try to expedite it, to get it -- get it to Pence in time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Here tonight, former Senior Investigative Counsel for the January 6 congressional committee, Temidayo Aganga-Williams.
Remind me. Did Kenneth Chesebro tell your committee anything, when you guys were investigating this?
TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE, PARTNER, SELENDY GAY ELSBERG: Yes, he did, right, he gave some details.
But I think what prosecutors here are able to get, right, the devil is in the details. And I think what's showing here is that there are questions, whether Kenneth Chesebro was going to be fully cooperating. We know he pled guilty to the felony, in Georgia. But the scope of this cooperation is always hard to know, when you're on the outside.
This leaked recording today shows that he's really leaning into the role of cooperator. I mean, he's pointing fingers. He's giving kind of long-form answers. And I think he's had what is often called the coming-to-Jesus moment, where he's accepting responsibility, and he's going to be helping the prosecution teams, across the country.
So, I think, if I were his co-defendants, I'm incredibly worried, because right now, the government's scope of evidence, they'll be expanding. And now, anytime you're going to have someone, in the room, testifying to what they heard. Especially, when that's a co-defendant, that's all going to be admissible testimony. That stuff's going to be able to come in, against the former President, and Giuliani and others.
COLLINS: And he's pretty aggrieved, at how he feels that he was treated by other people, who came, and testified before, before at least the January 6 committee, some of them are now his co-defendants. I mean, you think that this is -- or they were his co-defendants, before he pleaded guilty.
You think this is bad news for those who haven't, the Rudy Giulianis, the Mark Meadows, those types?
AGANGA-WILLIAMS: For sure. I mean, if I'm a Rudy Giuliani, or one of those folks that still has a pending case? What I'm hoping for is that half-hearted cooperation, I'm hoping for someone, who's pleading guilty.
It's basically pulling the Mark Meadows approach, kind of doing enough, to stay out of trouble. It doesn't seem that that's what Kenneth Chesebro is doing here. It seems like he's leaning in, which is dangerous, when you're still have outstanding charges against you.
COLLINS: What about, OK, Matt Morgan? He was a top Trump campaign attorney. He may not be a familiar name to people, who are watching. But he was a campaign attorney. And he testified before your committee. He kind of distanced himself, from the fake electors' scheme, said, "That was Rudy Giuliani and others were doing."
Kenneth Chesebro is saying, "No, no, no, no, no, he was much more involved in this, in these 11th hour schemes of chartering planes, and trying to get these copies, of the fake elector ballots, to Washington in time." I mean, he says his involvement seems to be pretty extensive.
Is that how Matt Morgan portrayed it to the committee?
AGANGA-WILLIAMS: It's not. And frankly, I was in the Matt Morgan deposition. And I found this part of the reporting to be the most interesting.
One common theme we often saw, in talking to, especially high-level Trump campaign folks, this idea that there were the crazies and the normies, short for like normal. And that was repeated again and again. And this refrain that Chesebro talks about, this idea that the normies backed off, and Giuliani and others, the crazies, came in and took over? That was a repeated theme that we were told.
And I think what's interesting about the emails today is that it really counters that. Matt Morgan, who's puts himself out there, at least with the committee, he is traditional lawyer, one of the normies. But here, these emails are saying, right up until the eve of January 6, he was still taking actions, and getting involved, and ensuring that these fake electors were able to get themselves, the certificates to D.C., which was essential for this plan.
So, I think it truly undercuts what he told us. And I think that's something that his lawyers and him will have to answer, going forward.
COLLINS: So, team normal and team crazy had a little bit of a mixing, between the two of them.
COLLINS: Temidayo Aganga-Williams, a fascinating reporting. Thanks for your analysis, on that today.
And for more on this, I want to bring in Trump's former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci.
And I just I'm curious what this new reporting tells you, about just how desperate the efforts. We knew that they were desperate. But they were, "Charter a plane, to get copies of fake ballots, because they were stuck in the mail" desperate, to Washington. What do you make of that?
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER TRUMP WH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, MANAGING PARTNER, SKYBRIDGE CAPITAL: Well, the number one thing is that it was orchestrated by the President. So, you have the normies, and the abnormals, whatever you want to call them, I think they're like abi- normies (ph), Kaitlan.
But basically, the chief abnormal person was the President. So, the President knew he lost the election. He did not want to leave power. He was embarrassed by the loss.
And so, this is the most unique thing, about power. When you're in that seat, you can push people around and get them to do things for you that they wouldn't necessarily do. I mean, I could only imagine what Vice President Pence was thinking, if he were to have received those false elector statements.
So, to me, this all leans back on the President. And it also ties back to the 14th Amendment. Because if you're part of an insurrection, as a sitting president, which is obviously a historic thing, you really can't stand for election again. And so, I mean, that's very clear in the Constitution.
So, I think this really is another smoking gun, in the case. And so, many people think that the President's untouchable. Some people think it's going to strengthen his candidacy. But I do believe he's Al Capone, here, and he eventually goes down as a result of all this.
COLLINS: And you think -- what you're referencing is what we're just talking about, these efforts to keep Trump off the ballot. You agree with those rulings, in Colorado and Maine? Is that what you're saying?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, it doesn't matter whether I agree with them or not. I think the Constitution is very clear. And so, listen, those are Democratic legislatures that control those two states. But I think they have made a decision that the Constitution is with them. And so, we'll have to see what the Supreme Court says.
Supreme Court really rarely gets a law like this wrong. I mean, this is a very serious constitutional issue. And even though a lot of these justices are conservative, I think they will side with the 14th Amendment.
COLLINS: Yes. But--
SCARAMUCCI: It's black and white, Kaitlan. I know you guys have debated this on the air. And I've watched some of those debates. But this is black and white. And just ask somebody like Professor Tribe, how clear this is.
COLLINS: But before -- I mean, we're not even there yet. We're waiting to see what the Supreme Court decides.
But I mean, right now, Trump is still on the ballot. The Colorado Supreme Court, obviously, they're waiting to see what the decision is. Obviously, we know appeals are being made.
But what we are away from, it's 18 days away from the Iowa caucuses. And not long ago, you predicted that Trump wouldn't make it this far. You were talking about all the legal pressures that he was facing, and you thought that he would drop out, before he actually got here. I mean, he hasn't yet. He doesn't seem like he is going to.
Do you still think that?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, I still think that that pressure is there. I think that the President's made a decision that staying in the race, and being politically formidable, strengthens his cards, in the situation. But I do think that the pressure will be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn very slowly. And I would have thought a lot of this evidence that we're now seeing, and that you guys are reporting on, would have happened a few months ago. But that evidence is coming. And so, if this is a March or April situation, as opposed to an October-November situation, I think the outcome is the same.
I don't think the President, President Trump, will be on the ballot, representing the Republicans, in 2024. I just don't see that happening, given the magnitude of the evidence, against him, in terms of what he perpetrated, on the 6th of January, and the days prior to that.
COLLINS: And you're obviously not going to vote for him, even if he is?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, no, I'm not going to vote for him. And again, I'm a patriot first, and a partisan second. This is a constitutional issue. He is a systemic threat to the American democracy, and the American experiment. And so, whatever you think of as my new policies, directionally, you can't put somebody like that, in office.
And I think you and I both, know, his team is very well-organized. And if they win the presidency, they're going to want to expand the Executive powers, and crump the democracy, and ruin the checks and balances system, which has worked successfully, since the Constitution was written, 230 years ago. So, no.
And I will be working for who's ever running against. So, if he gets on that ballot, and he is the Republican nominee, we will work tirelessly, to stop him. And we will explain, to the American people, what it means to lose their democracy, because I don't think people are as focused on that as they need to be.
Every one of the families that have arrived, in this country, had benefited from the flat decentralized system. Totalitarianism doesn't work. Dictatorships may get the trains to run on time, for a few years. But it's not a successful way, to run America. It would really hurt the aspirational opportunity, for the American citizens.
So yes, I will be out there, advocating--
SCARAMUCCI: --why he can't be president again.
COLLINS: Anthony Scaramucci, as always, thank you for your time.
SCARAMUCCI: Good to be here.
COLLINS: As if it were not difficult enough, to beat Trump, for the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley was -- had some momentum. She now has another big hurdle, tonight, though. A cleanup. She says the word "Slavery" after meandering initially, in her response, about the cause of the Civil War, tonight. We'll tell you how she's cleaning up that remark.
COLLINS: Nikki Haley cleaning up, what happened, at a New Hampshire Town Hall, last night, when she did not mention the cause of Civil War, or the cause of -- slavery, when she was asked about the cause of the Civil War.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course, the Civil War was about slavery. We know that. That's unquestioned. Always the case. We know the Civil War was about slavery.
But it was also more than that. It was about the freedoms of every individual. It was about the role of government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: I should note that today, she was also saying that that person, who questioned her, without any evidence, was a Democratic plant, the person at the town hall, who asked her that question. Obviously, we do not have any evidence that that was the case.
Nikki Haley saying this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: It was definitely a Democrat plant. That's why I said, 'what does it mean to you?' And if you notice, he didn't answer anything. The same reason he didn't tell the reporters what his name was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Of course, regardless of who is asking the question, it should be a fairly easy one, to answer. The moment, however, bringing to light her history, as the Governor of South Carolina. She did, at that time, draw national attention, when she removed the Confederate flag, from the State Capitol, after the killing of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation.
This moment has also revived reporting, from our KFILE team, here at CNN that found how in previous years, Haley described the Civil War, as two sides fighting for different values. One, she said for tradition, and one, for change.
Joining me, tonight, to discuss her comments, Jaime Harrison, the former Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, the current Chair of Democratic National Committee.
Jaime, thank you so much, for being here.
What was your reaction, to Nikki Haley's comments, today, acknowledging that yes, Civil War was indeed, about slavery?
JAIME HARRISON, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE, FORMER CHAIR, SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, it was classic Nikki Haley CYA, right? It is, she stepped in it. And now, she's trying to clean it up. But if, of course, everyone knew that it was about slavery, then of course, she should have said it, last night.
And she's still doubling down on the freedom. The question is a freedom of what, Nikki Haley? Is it freedom to own slaves? Is that what it was? I mean, it's not.
She said that this was a gotcha question. It's not a gotcha question. Any fifth grader, sixth grader, can answer the question that slavery was the impetus of the Civil War.
South Carolina, 163 years ago, December 20th, 1863, South Carolina seceded from the nation. And the number one thing that they listed, it was because of slavery. She was a governor of the state, for a number of years. She should have known that. But this is just who Nikki Haley is.
And really, it epitomizes what MAGA extremism is all about. When you think about this, Kaitlan, you have a former President Donald Trump, who talks about -- who's parroting Hitler, and talking about poisoning the blood of America. You got Ron DeSantis, who said that slaves actually benefited personally because of slavery. This epitomizes the MAGA extremism that we got, right now, in the Republican Party. And it's sad.
HARRISON: But it's what we have to deal with. And that's why Joe Biden has to win.
COLLINS: What you said a moment ago, don't you think Haley -- Nikki Haley does, in fact, know that? HARRISON: Well, she should know it. Again, as Governor of the State of South Carolina, and knowing the history of the state, as it relates to the Civil War, she should have known it. And she should have said it.
But Nikki Haley, and the MAGA extremists are all about, going down to the depths of extremism, to get any vote that they can, in order to get power. These are people, who are attacking our fundamental freedoms, right now, in this country. Freedom of people to vote for who they want to, freedom of people to control their own bodies. They believe in banning books.
And we got a contrast here, Kaitlan, in Joe Biden, who understands that this is a moment, you need to have moral clarity. You remember, he got into this race, because he said, we're fighting for the soul of this nation.
And if you can't stand up, as a leader, and just define something that any person that even lives outside of this country? You can go to London, and ask what was the cause of the American Civil War? Nine times out of 10, they'll tell you it was slavery.
And that Nikki Haley wants to be the President of this great nation, the most important person, in the Free World, can't say that? It's a sad state, in terms of where the Republican Party is.
COLLINS: Well, I'm curious what -- she claimed that this person was a Democratic plant. She says it's because President Biden, and Democrats, they're worried about running against her, that you want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee.
There is polling, from the Wall Street Journal, that shows if Nikki Haley was the nominee, at a theoretical matchup, she has a 17-point lead, over President Biden. I mean, would you be more concerned about a Nikki Haley being the Republican nominee, over Donald Trump?
HARRISON: Listen, if anybody knows Nikki Haley, I do. I was the Chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, when she was governor. This is a woman, who is extreme.
There is nothing moderate about Nikki Haley. She epitomizes what MAGA extremism is all about. She believes in national abortion ban. Because she put a ban in place, here in South Carolina. So, Nikki Haley is not a moderate. She's a MAGA extremist.
And I don't care if it's Nikki Haley, Donald Trump, or Ron DeSantis. The Democratic Party, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to be ready, for this contest. Because we know that this is a contest, about hope versus fear, progress versus chaos. And Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are protecting the freedoms of the American people, where we're getting constant attacks, from the MAGA extremists.
HARRISON: Including Nikki Haley.
COLLINS: DNC Chairman, Jaime Harrison, thank you, for your time, tonight.
HARRISON: Thank you.
COLLINS: And Nikki Haley has been on the campaign trail, today, at multiple stops, in New Hampshire. Her rival, Chris Christie, also there, weighing in on this, just a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You've got to tell the truth. And I'll make it easy for you. If someone asked me what the cause of the Civil War was.
(AUDIENCE LAUGHTER, CHEERS & APPLAUSE)
CHRISTIE: It's easy.
CHRISTIE: It's slavery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Christie went on to say that he believes Haley did not acknowledge slavery, in her answer, last night, because she is quote, "Unwilling to offend anyone by telling the truth."
I want to talk about this with two top political veterans.
David Axelrod, who was Senior Adviser to President Obama.
David Urban, a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign adviser.
And David Urban, I want you to listen to something that Nikki Haley just said, to a voter, at a town hall. They were asking her, whether or not she would serve, as Donald Trump's Vice President, a question that she's gotten before. This is how she answered it tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a chance to redeem yourself after last night's slavery thing. Would you be able to say categorically that you will not accept being Trump's Vice President?
HALEY: I could say to you what you want to hear. And you could go check that box and go do whatever. But I'm going to continue to tell you my truth. And the truth that I have always told the truth.
Even when I was in the administration, President Trump and I worked well together. Why? Because I told him the truth.
Now, if you want to talk about Vice President? I will tell you this, now. I've said it before. I don't play for second. I've never played for second.
(AUDIENCE CHEERS & APPLAUSE)
HALEY: I'm not going to start now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: She said she doesn't play for a second, David. I mean, it wasn't an outright "No." What do you make of that answer?
DAVID URBAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's like the rule of holes. Stop digging when you're in one.
She's not -- listen, last night, I think she blew it with the slavery, answer to her question. The first shots of the Civil War were fired, in South Carolina. As your previous guest pointed out, she should know that by now.
And look, no one's going to turn down being Vice President, whether it -- maybe Chris Christie would turn down being Vice President. But none of those other folks, on the campaign trail, would be turning down. And I don't suspect that Nikki Haley would either.
COLLINS: David Axelrod, I wonder what you made of not just that comment, tonight, about whether or not she'd be Trump's VP. But the totality of this.
Because, right now, Nikki Haley needs every non-Trump Republican that she can get, to get behind her, so she could convince people, like Chris Christie, to drop out of the race.
What do you make of whether or not this does hurt her momentum? Or is it just a moment in the campaign that you think she moves on from?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR OBAMA ADVISER: Kaitlan, I've said, many years ago, that presidential races were MRIs for the soul. And whoever you are, people find out who you are. And the better you do, the more scrutiny you get, the more intense the screen, the scan. I think this was harmful to her.
Look, Nikki Haley is an incredibly talented politician. And I think most people in politics would agree on that.
But the rap against her, going way back to her days, in South Carolina, was that she is strong in her confidence, and fungible in her principles that she will take positions that are the position she thinks she needs to take at any given moment. And she will change. She's a shapeshifter.
And this gaffe, if you want to call it that, yes, so obviously, she knew that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. She didn't want to engage it. Because within the Republican Party, looking backward at slavery, and so on, has become an issue. And she didn't want to offend the base, by engaging in that discussion. So, she took this sort of circumlocution around it. But what it does is it raises questions, about her principles, and how fixed she is, in her principles. And it kind of exposes her as a shapeshifting politician.
I think this is -- gaffes only hurt you, when they expose something that is real. The Hillary Clinton gaffe, about "Basket of deplorables" said to the people, in rural America, and small-town America that she disdains. So, when Mitt Romney said that his "47 percent" thing, back in 2012, it said to people, who were struggling that he didn't really care about them.
And so, this has the potential to really hurt her, especially at a time, when she is trying to rally the anti-Trump base. But her play is to try and not antagonize the Trump base, while rallying the anti- Trump base. I don't know if that's a game of Twister, any politician can ultimately win.
COLLINS: David Axelrod.
COLLINS: David Urban.
Thank you both, to both of our Davids.
AXELROD: See you, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Meanwhile, tonight, Donald Trump has already focused, on the general election, despite the fact that we are very much still in the middle of a primary. He is taking aim at President Biden, in a new ad, focused on the border.
More with a Congressman, who represents the border, ahead.
COLLINS: Tonight, the Justice Department threatening legal action, against the State of Texas, warning that they're prepared to sue, because, as they argue, it is not -- its new immigration law, they believe, violates the Constitution.
This is a law that's supposed to go into effect in March. It makes entering Texas illegally, a state crime. That means that local law enforcement could arrest migrants. And it also gives local judges, the authority, to order migrants, to leave the United States.
Here with me, tonight, Republican congressman, Tony Gonzales, who is on the Homeland Security Committee. And his 23rd District covers a large portion of the U.S. border with Mexico.
So, thank you, Congressman, for being here.
I wonder what you make of this threat of legal action, from the Justice Department. Do you agree that immigration law is within the purview of the federal government? Or do you support this new law that your state's governor signed?
REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): I think the lawyers are going to determine that. Essentially, Texas sues the federal government. Federal government sues Texas. Round and round they go. The only person that wins is lawyers.
Meanwhile, the American public are seeing this open-border crisis, and are directly impacted by it. If you're a district like mine, 800 miles of the southern border, you feel it every day. But even if you're across the country, you're feeling it with the rise in fentanyl.
Just a couple days ago, a flight that was headed, full of migrants, it was headed towards New York City, got diverted to Philadelphia. I mean, right now, we're talking about New York City, and Chicago, and El Paso, and other parts of Texas. But very soon, we'll be talking about L.A. and Denver and Philadelphia and other parts of the country.
GONZALES: This border crisis does not end, until we start enforcing our laws.
COLLINS: It's having wide-ranging effects. I think everyone would agree with that.
But on the law that the Texas governor signed, I mean, do you believe that state and local police should be authorized, to enforce federal immigration laws?
GONZALES: I'm no lawyer. I'm a Navy cryptologist. But I would say, I'd like for our local law enforcement, to focus on keeping their local communities safe. And I like for our federal law enforcement officers, our Border Patrol agents, to be able to do their job.
And what I'm seeing is all -- I'll give you an example. Just a few days ago, in Eagle Pass, every single Border Patrol agent was in the processing center. I passed by the Uvalde checkpoint, and there was a sign that said "Pasele (ph)," which essentially says "Welcome, welcome. Come on in." And so, this is some of the frustration that we have.
I'd like to see Border Patrol agents get back out in the field. They would like to get back out in the field. And I'd like for local law enforcement, our sheriffs to get back to taking care of their local communities.
COLLINS: OK. It's interesting to me that you won't say whether or not you support the law, that was signed by the Texas governor, given it has raised so many questions.
But the former President, Donald Trump, obviously, who's the Republican frontrunner, for the nominee, this time, released a new ad, today, on immigration. It is obviously one of President Biden's weakest areas, when we survey voters. This is part of that ad. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the world burns, Joe Biden has created a violent threat in our own backyard. Biden's open border has opened the floodgates to record numbers, including terrorists, fentanyl traffickers, and raises the possibility of a Hamas attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: What do you make of that?
GONZALES: I think 2024 is going to be wild. Yes, I think you're going to see all kinds of different political ads out there.
What I will say though, is the threat is very real. This open-border crisis has not only increased the threat from abroad. We're seeing it on a regular basis, throughout the world. But here, at home.
I mean, I remind people, Oklahoma City bombing. And what happened there, that was a domestic terrorist attack that occurred, because people are angry. And what you're going to see is you're going to see--
COLLINS: But Congressman?
GONZALES: --Republicans (ph) tap into this anger.
COLLINS: I do think -- we've heard that concern, from the FBI Director, and from other officials.
But when you see a message like that? And Trump clearly wants to be able to run on immigration. Is it undermined, when he's at rallies, repeatedly defending his remark that illegal immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country, that they are destroying the fabric of the country? Is that a helpful message?
GONZALES: It's all a mess. It is all a mess. And what is happening, he's tapping into an anger.
And people are angry. People are absolutely angry, because of the high-speed chases, because there's no -- you know, their schools are going into lockdown. Our lives are turned upside-down. This is a very real anger. This isn't made up.
And President Biden is turning a blind eye, thinking that this is a political issue, that's going to go away. This is only going to get worse, until the President sits down, with Congress, and works on a border security package, a national security package, that ultimately gets our border under control. Otherwise, we're going to continue to see this fuel getting thrown on this fire.
COLLINS: Well, he did send top officials, to Mexico, yesterday. The question of whether or not that produced anything is still an open one.
GONZALES: Yes. COLLINS: Republican congressman, Tony Gonzales, thank you, for joining, tonight.
GONZALES: Thank you.
COLLINS: Up next, the Republican congresswoman, who was kicked out of a theater, after she caused a ruckus, at risk of losing her seat. But now, she is changing her strategy. More ahead.
COLLINS: Republican congresswoman, Lauren Boebert, says she is switching districts, ahead of the 2024 election.
The ultra-conservative lawmaker is going to leave Colorado's 3rd District, which is where she lives, and currently represents, to instead run for re-election, in the 4th District. This is an attempt to preserve her spot, in Washington, and the narrow House majority.
The leader of the Colorado Republican Party is not exactly supporting this move.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVE WILLIAMS, CHAIRMAN, COLORADO REPUBLICAN PARTY: From a party perspective, we certainly don't think it was the best move.
I think she's got a serious challenge, on her hands, trying to explain to the voters of CD4, why she felt it was necessary to leave CD3, and have a better chance, at keeping her seat in Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Joining me now, to break all this down, CNN Senior Data Reporter, Harry Enten.
Harry, obviously, Lauren Boebert had a really tough reelection, the last time around. I mean, what do you make of her now switching to this? And obviously, Republicans, in the state, who already had Republicans running in that district, are not very happy.
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: No, they're not.
And by the way, how far is she moving? Her home is way out in the 4th District.
But look, last time around, she only won reelection, by a little bit more than 500 votes. It's well less than a percentage point. And her Democratic opponent, last time around, was running back again. She was potentially facing Republican primary challenge, in the 3rd District. So, this is a move to sustain her political life. But I'm not exactly sure it will work out for her.
COLLINS: And what does it mean for the 3rd District? So, it's going to be left there. Because we saw the Cook Political -- Cook Political Report, which kind of ranks how tough a race is going to be, for a Democrat or a Republican. It was lean-GOP. Now, it's Republican toss- up.
ENTEN: Yes. So, this was a race that if you looked at that 3rd District, what you essentially saw was, in fact, they had previously been toss-up. They went over to lean-GOP.
And if you look, the 3rd District is a district that Donald Trump won by a little less than 10 percentage points. Now, Boebert is going over to the 4th District, the district that he won by a little bit less than 20 points. So, the idea she could better sustain herself, in a general election.
But as you mentioned, there's still a primary, in Colorado's 4th District. There are at least six other Republicans that are running. So, this idea that this is some magical cure for her, to reelect herself, in the Congress, I'm not necessarily sure it is. Yes, the general election will be easier skating. But the fact--
COLLINS: But it's not clear that she'll become the nominee?
ENTEN: That's exactly right. And that's the problem here.
So, Lauren Boebert, maybe she might get back in the Congress. But the fact is, based upon the numbers, we just don't know yet.
COLLINS: Harry Enten, I know you'll keep us updated.
ENTEN: I'm going to try to.
COLLINS: Thank you for that.
And thank you all so much, for joining us, tonight. We'll be back here, tomorrow night.
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