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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Trump Urges Oregon Supreme Court To Dismiss 14th Amendment Case; Russia Launches Largest Air Attack On Ukraine Since Start Of War; Prisoners Sue Alabama For Forced Labor, Allege "Modern Day Form Of Slavery". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 29, 2023 - 21:00   ET



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And the next best decision you can make, is to stick around, because the news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.


Donald Trump, asking another state, not to kick him off the ballot, like Colorado and Maine did. It's a ruling that could come at any moment now. We're standing by for that.

Also, Ukraine reeling tonight, from the largest Russian bombardment, since the early days of the war. More than 150 missiles fired, in total, across the country, as President Biden says that President Putin must be stopped.

And you can't make this one up, or I guess maybe AI can. Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, says he didn't know that he gave his lawyer bogus cases that were then submitted to a judge.

I'm Kaitlan Collins. And this is THE SOURCE.

We have the latest update, tonight, in the battle for the ballot. Donald Trump is now urging Oregon Supreme Court, to dismiss a case, that's attempting to remove him, from the ballot there as well. His lawyers, arguing that Congress, not the courts, should enforce the Constitution's insurrectionist ban. Oregon's High Court could issue this ruling at any time.

And this comes in the wake of Colorado and Maine's historic decisions, to disqualify Trump, from the primary ballot, pending appeals. Appeals that we know, we are told by sources, tonight, Trump's legal team is expected to file, on Tuesday.

We're told that the justices in Colorado, who ruled in the majority, to bar Trump from the ballot, are now being inundated with threats, after making that call. So is Maine's Secretary of State, who made her decision, and announcing it just last night.

This is what she told me, earlier this evening.


SHENNA BELLOWS, (D) MAINE SECRETARY OF STATE: We have received threatening communications. Those are unacceptable.

I certainly worry about the safety of people that I love, people around me, and people who are charged with protecting me, and working alongside me.

We are a nation of laws. And that's what's really important. And so, I've been laser-focused on the obligation, to uphold the Constitution.


COLLINS: Here to help us make sense of the constitutional confusion that's at play here. Shan Wu, former federal prosecutor; and Ashraf Ahmed, a constitutional law expert and associate professor at Columbia Law School.

Glad to have both of you, here, tonight.

Shan, when it comes to Oregon? We are now talking about another state, another ballot battle. A key question here, because each one has been different. With Oregon, is the dispute over who decides if Trump could be on the ballot. The states or Congress.

And Trump's legal team has cited Oregon's Secretary of State, saying, who I should note is a Democrat, saying she doesn't have the power, she believes, to make the decision, when it comes to the primary ballots.

What are you expecting that ruling to look like? And how could it affect what we've seen overall?


I mean, that language Trump's lawyers are using, it's up to Congress to enforce the 14th Amendment, I mean, on its face, that doesn't make any sense. Congress generally doesn't enforce things. Justice Department enforces criminal violations. And courts enforce or rule on rulings. That doesn't seem to make any sense, to me.

And the states do have different processes. And to me, that's the way it should be. I mean, 50 different states, 50 different rules, there could be 50 different outcomes.

And when it does reach the Supreme Court, if it does, likely it will, I think they have to be careful not to overreach. There may be a temptation, to want to establish some sort of national uniformity. But the last thing they do is to -- need to do is to overreach, which I think will even further hurt their credibility.

COLLINS: Well, and Ash, when it comes to what we're expecting, on Tuesday, these appeals, not just for the Maine decision that we got yesterday, but also the Colorado decision. I mean, what do the arguments, from the Trump team, look like in that? Just saying that it's not their decision.

Because I mean, obviously, those are different arguments. You've got a Supreme Court ruling, in one of them and a Secretary of State's decision, in the other.

ASHRAF AHMED, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Yes, I mean, I suspect the Trump team is going to throw the kitchen sink at whichever, state court, they're appealing in. And it's going to depend from state to state.


So, for instance, in Colorado, you might see them bringing up due process arguments, arguments about the fact that the process was deficient, no ability to subpoena and the like. Elsewhere, you'll probably see arguments like what Shan just discussed, which is arguments about Congress' role, being primary. You might also see them bringing up First Amendment defenses.

Again, they're going to make every single claim they -- possible and see where the chips fall.

COLLINS: Well, and when we look at this, one of the things that we could maybe see in Maine, Shan, is this request that came, from the Trump team, which Shenna Bellows, who's the Maine's Secretary of State that you just heard from there, where they wanted her to recuse herself, the Trump team, because they were citing this social media posts that she had.

But she told me that actually, she believed they needed to make that before the hearing happened, according to Maine law.

This is what else she said about why she wouldn't have recused, if they had made it in time.


BELLOWS: They actually did not ask me to recuse myself, until after the hearing. Maine law required me to issue a decision. And should they have made that in a timely way? I would not have recused myself, because of my obligations, but also, because my political affiliation, and my personal views of January 6 have no bearing on this case.


COLLINS: She had called January 6th, an insurrection. She had said that Trump should be impeached.

Shan, when they do appeal this, to the Superior Court, in Maine, do they take this into consideration?

WU: They can take it into consideration. I'm not an expert on the Maine administrative law, or the Maine law.

But generally, to me, recusal is a pretty weak form of rules, because it's going to be up to the initial presiding officer, whether administrative or judge, to decide if they have some sort of conflict, if they don't think that they can be impartial. And if they decide that they can be, absent something very egregious, I don't think that's going to get overturned judicially.

COLLINS: OK, that's an interesting note, because that's kind of the only complaint that we had heard from them, until she had this ruling.

But Ash, as you look at this, it's very clear all of this is going to come down to the Supreme Court. We don't know yet whether or not they are going to take this up. But it seems almost like the pressure is just building on them.

What do you expect their decision to look like, when they do take this up, in the sense of what are they deciding on? How big of the scope, is that decision? Is it a yes or no? Or are there multiple paths that they could -- paths that they could potentially take here?

AHMED: Great. I mean, it's an enormous decision. And they almost certainly will have to take it up, especially given how different state governments, state courts, and state secretaries, are basically forcing their hand.

My instinct is that they are going to try to keep Trump on the ballot, not because of, let's say, baldly partisan motives, but probably out of self-preservation. This is the sort of most momentous decision they'd have to make, since Bush v. Gore, when it comes to an election.

And so, they have particular procedural outs, they might be able to take that sort of kick the can down. So, for instance, I brought up Colorado, and due process arguments, and the like.

Or they might go and say, "No, actually, we're going to follow the one appellate court opinion there is on this," which is from the 19th Century, which basically takes the position that Congress has to implement it, even though as I agree with Shan, the language of the 14th Amendment certainly doesn't lend itself to that reading. COLLINS: Well, I'm glad you brought up that case, Bush v. Gore, because obviously, that was one of the most consequential, if not the most, that they've decided, when it comes to a modern election.

I mean, Shan, that case, when they made that decision, that hurt the Supreme Court, and damaged their standing, in some voters' eyes, obviously, who didn't agree with them. Is that something that they would take into account, when they're making this decision, if they do make this decision?

WU: Well, I think, internally. I mean, I doubt, we'll ever hear about it. But I mean, since that case, it's gotten far, far worse, for them, in terms of really does bleed out of their credibility with the public.

I think the moderate lines, the sort of the institutionalists, that Chief Justice Roberts is, is certainly going to try to shape something, which can preserve their credibility, and not look too partisan.

As the professor said, this is a tall order. It's a very complex case. Threading the needle isn't easy. But that's what they get paid the lifetime tenure for, is to find a way that has integrity, in terms of the analysis, but yet does not venture into areas, that look like it's a partisan type of decision.

COLLINS: Shan Wu, Ash Ahmed, a lot that we are going to be discussing. Luckily, we have two legal minds here. Thank you both, for being here, tonight.

WU: Good to see you.


COLLINS: Of course, when you look at this, there's also a political aspect to this. It's undeniable here.


And for more on that, I want to bring in the former Biden White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield.

Also, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings, who is also a former Senior Adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell, I should note.

Scott, when you look at this, and what the warning kind of has been, from people like Chris Christie that, that this could turn Trump, into a martyr? If this collapses, if it is overturned, by the Supreme Court, these decisions? I mean, do the people who sought to get Trump off the ballot end up potentially politically helping him?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO MITCH MCCONNELL, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, no question. I mean, look, every time he's had an engagement, with the legal system, it's helped Trump, in the primary. Now, does this help him in the general election? I don't know.

But the moment in time we're in, where he's fending off Nikki Haley, where he's fending off Ron DeSantis, where he's trying to consolidate that Republican base? These legal challenges are helping Trump.

And when you have Chris Christie, who's running the most anti-Trump campaign saying, "This is wrong. We need to leave him on the ballot. The voters need to decide," you can see where virtually every Republican is on this except the most perhaps ardent never-Trump voices, which are very, very few, right now, in the Republican Party.

So yes, I do think it's helping him. And I think it's helping him look like a victim and, in to some degree, a martyr. And although the people, who hate Donald Trump, and are never going to vote for him aren't going to feel that way.

I got a text message, from an old friend of mine, this morning, not a Trump guy, never been a Trump guy. First thing, it said, "They're going to make me vote for Trump again. Aren't they?" And that was after the Maine decision. And you hear this in Republican circles, all over.

COLLINS: Kate. I mean, obviously used to work for President Biden. You have a vested interest in him being reelected, and obviously believe that he should.

I mean, what do you make of not just a message like that that Scott gets, but this argument. Should this matter? Or should the people who feel that Trump shouldn't be on the ballot, because of January 6, and the role that he played, should they still proceed anyway?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would argue the courts should certainly make their decisions, based on the legal parameters, and not think about the politics.

I don't, you know, there are not a lot of things that Scott Jennings and I agree on. But we do agree on this. That it is helping Trump, in the Republican primary. I think there's really no question about that. We've seen over the course of the primary, as he's dealt with these legal woes, he's only gotten stronger, with the Republican base.

And I agree, anything that kind of bolsters his argument that he's the victim that his campaign, and his potential second term is about retribution, seems to be helping him, with Republican voters, where I think it is a much, much murkier question is, is this going to be helpful to him, in the general election? I would argue, no.

I think the more that his legal troubles are front and center, and the more that these arguments are about him, the more it's about his own personal vendetta, about his idea that he's wrong? We see that moderate voters, general election voters, swing voters, have been turned off by that.

You see that in the polling now, which certainly shows head-to-head, a really close race, but also pretty consistently shows that independent voters, that swing voters, don't like Trump's legal problems.

And having this be sort of front and center, in a general election campaign, I think probably gives Joe Biden, a good platform, to say, "Do you want this chaos again? Do you want this guy, who sits in the White House, and thinks only about himself, and how he can get revenge on his enemies back in the White House?"

So, I do think this is a backdrop that I think the sort of knee-jerk reaction right now, is, well, this is good for Trump (inaudible) large across the course of a general election, I'm not so sure that's true.

COLLINS: Scott, there are people, who disagree with this decision, maybe on the merits. I mean, we have legal experts, people like Elie Honig, who think that this was the wrong decision, by the Maine's Secretary of State, but disagree or emphatically agree.

She told me earlier, when we were speaking that she is getting threats, because of the decision that she announced, yesterday, disqualifying Trump, from the ballot, in her state, which she feels, and we went at length, we talked about the criticisms of this, her basis for this.

But on just the judgment itself, the fact that she is getting threats that she's worried about, not her safety, she said, but that of the people that she loves, the people who protect her? I mean, what does it say about the reaction, from the Trump base, from the influence that we clearly see that the former President has, over his supporters?

JENNINGS: Well, unfortunately, I think we have seen a rising tide of threats, from hyper-partisans, in both parties, over judicial issues they don't agree with.

I mean, ask the United States Supreme Court, ask Brett Kavanaugh, ask Justice Roberts, what kind of threats they're getting there. What did it look like when Chuck Schumer, went in front of the Supreme Court, and threatened all the justices, that lo and behold, they start getting threats?

So, I denounce all this. I think it's terrible. I think you can disagree with politicians. I think you can be mad about things. And I think the way you solve your problems in this country is to vote. And I think that's ultimately what people are mad about is that, "Hey, I want to vote. I want to express myself. And now, this person is telling me I can't even vote for the person that I want to vote for."


But the reality is, these threats are wrong. All Republicans and all Democrats should denounce it. And nobody should indulge. Nobody should indulge these ideas that threatening, particularly the judiciary, people in a position to make judgments, on the law, this is not how you get your way in this country. And it's wrong. And it really ought to stop.

COLLINS: Kate, what do you make of it? BEDINGFIELD: Right. I, again, that's twice in one segment. I totally agree with Scott Jennings. I mean, yes, I think that the rise of this kind of, like these personal attacks, this kind of threats of violence, against public officials, obviously incredibly dangerous.

I think -- I do think it is damaging, on both sides, in part because it sort of, again, it just, it causes voters in the middle, who aren't engaged in politics, every day, and thinking about which team they're on, it causes those people to tune out as well. And that's another sort of dangerous byproduct, I think, of the heated rhetoric, on both sides.

Obviously, these kinds of threats, and threats to personal safety, I would argue, come from Donald Trump, in a way that is unprecedented and terrifying.

But I think that when the extremes, on both sides, get incredibly vitriolic, it turns off people, in the middle. And we need people in the middle to vote. We need people, who may not necessarily feel like the process, is about one team versus the other, to sit down, to look at who they want leading their country, and to go out and vote.

And so, in addition to obviously, the incredibly dangerous rhetoric, and the personal threats, which we've seen play out, just most recently, in Georgia, and other places, which are awful. The other kind of unintended byproduct of this is that it causes people--


BEDINGFIELD: --to turn away from democracy, and to turn away from believing their vote counts and matters. And that is a really, really dangerous thing long-term.

COLLINS: Well and the -- I mean?

JENNINGS: Can I just comment on that?

COLLINS: Well actually--

JENNINGS: I totally agree with what she just said. That last piece, people turning away from democracy, and turning to mobs? That's when we get off the rails. I could not agree with what she said there at the end more than that. That was a great point.

COLLINS: Well, and then, when you look at that Scott and Kate, I mean, we're in -- it's not even January yet, of the election year. And the hyper-partisanship, the extremist views of this, and the responses to it, like threats to the Secretary of State, I mean, it's kind of concerning, to think about what the next several months could shape up to look like.

And Scott, when you look at even just the political calendar, what just the month of January 2024, looks like alone? I mean, it is calendar chaos. I know you've advised political campaigns, obviously, repeatedly. When you look at this, and you see all -- it's kind of almost dizzying, to look at this calendar, because we've got the deadline on January 4th, for Trump's legal team, to have this appeal. We know they're expected to do so, on Tuesday.

Then, you've got the others here, Trump, facing oral arguments, for trial issues, in Jack Smith's trial, which is put on pause; the closing arguments, in the New York civil trial; the trial to determine damages, in E. Jean Carroll's second lawsuit, against him. I mean, all of that's on there (ph). Obviously, you've got the Iowa caucuses, on the 15th. The New Hampshire primary, it's just a little over a week later.

I mean, what do you make of a calendar like that, just getting started? We haven't even gotten close to what could be maybe the Republican nomination, and then the general election.

JENNINGS: Well, the piece of that you mentioned that I am most intrigued by is what could happen in March. That's when the Jack Smith trial is supposed to start, although it's on hold.

And obviously that's when the Super Tuesday is, and when in theory, Donald Trump or somebody, but probably Donald Trump, could be putting away the Republican nomination, at that time. If that trial gets delayed? When does it get kicked back to? Back towards when the conventions are starting?

And then once you get closer to the general election, will arguments be made that it's not fair, to put somebody on trial, who's a general election candidate, so close to the election?

So that piece of that what happens in March, when the Supreme Court rules on this, whether that gets punted, back to the conventions, and the proximity of the general election, tensions could be high in this country, if Donald Trump is on trial, at one of those critical periods.

And when we get into 2024? You can make an argument other than just sort of like May, June, July. The rest of it is a critical period. You'll have elections and primaries, or you'll be at the convention period, or then in the general election, near the debates.


JENNINGS: It's a real -- it's a real big question for our political system, about do you want a candidate, who's on the ballot, in a courtroom, at the exact same time? And how do the American people react to that?

COLLINS: We might see that play out, and learn for ourselves.

Scott Jennings, Kate Bedingfield, as always, thank you both, for joining, on this Friday night. Happy New Year, to both of you.

And by the way, I will be hosting a special CNN Presidential Town Hall, next week, put that on your calendar, with Ron DeSantis. Tune in. It will be a critical stop, for the Florida governor, just days before the Iowa caucuses are set to happen.

And after that, Nikki Haley and Erin Burnett, will be right after us.

Up next for us, tonight, though, Russia has launched the largest air attack, on Ukraine, since it invaded. Putin using nearly every kind of weapon in his arsenal, according to officials. Why now? We'll talk about the timing and the tactics, with a former Secretary of Defense.


Also, as I mentioned, former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, now blaming AI, artificial intelligence, for a major mistake, after passing on bogus cases that ended up, in a judge's hands. That story, coming up.


COLLINS: One of the largest assaults, on Ukraine, in months, now prompting new calls, from President Biden, for Congress, and the international community, to step up and help stop Vladimir Putin.

With more than 150 Russian missiles, and drones, being fired, on multiple Ukrainian cities, across the nation, it killed dozens, injured more. It's an aerial bombardment, unlike anything that Ukraine has seen, since the beginning of this war, almost two years ago. Schools hit, parks, malls, homes, hospitals, including a maternity ward.

Ukrainian president Zelenskyy says that Russia used nearly every type of weapon, in its arsenal.

Reporter, Helena Lins, was on the ground, in Kyiv, earlier, inside the ruins of a warehouse that was hit.



HELENA LINS, CNN REPORTER: The warehouse was hit. Though it caught fire, when we arrived here, the smoke was still very visible, from the outside.

The structure is completely destroyed. The roof of the warehouse is totally destroyed.


COLLINS: Just a small sliver of the damage.

And I should note that this onslaught comes, as Ukraine got its last package of military aid, from the United States, unless that is Congress approves President Biden's latest funding request, or comes up with one of its own.

The President is warning lawmakers to act tonight, without further delay, arguing that this is a reminder that Putin is trying to obliterate Ukraine, and there won't just be consequences for Ukraine here.

Joining me tonight is Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary, under former President, Donald Trump.

Secretary Esper, thank you for being here.

I wonder what you make, and what you read into Putin, launching this massive attack, as Congress is at a standstill, over whether or not there will be more aid, coming from the U.S. at least, to Ukraine?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, well, good to be with you, Kaitlan, first of all.

Look, I think there are a few reasons why this happened now, and with regard to the scope and scale by which it happened.

First and foremost, Putin had a bad week. At the beginning of this week, one of his landing ships was destroyed, in Crimea, where it was moored. There are still 30-some sailors unaccounted for. He lost several top end aircraft, Su-34s, to Ukrainian air defenses. And so, it kind of hurt him tactically, and probably politically, back home.

So, one way to get rid of bad news is to present some good news, to the Russian people, particularly when they are a week away or so from their Christmas, the Russian Orthodox Christmas, which is in about seven, eight days, is to provide good news. And the good news was this onslaught. That's number one.

Number two, I think it's a message to the Ukrainian people that Russia still has the ability, to strike, to strike powerfully, and to strike across the country. They hit multiple cities, as you mentioned, with a broad range of weapons. And they did so effectively, in a number of areas.

And then I think the third thing is to show, also, the Ukrainian people, that Russia still has the means, is developing arms and munitions, at a time when, as you noted, continued funding for Ukraine is up in the air, here in Washington, D.C. And just a few days ago, Hungary blocked an E.U. package of $55 billion of military aid to Ukraine.

So, there are a lot of things swirling around, right now, that I think prompted Putin to make this attack.

COLLINS: You mentioned there what Russia was using here. I mean, they basically appear to be using every weapon that they have, these hypersonic missiles, cruise missiles, air defense ones -- air defense ones.

What is the tactic do you think here? Is it to overwhelm and confuse the air defenses that Ukraine does have?

ESPER: That is one reason, because Ukraine does have fairly effective air defenses. We've provided them over the past year and a half, with -- from Germany, France. Of course, the United States provided Patriot and other weapon

systems, like Stingers. And the Patriots have been very effective. They were the ones that have downed both their hypersonic weapons, from Russia, and recently the Su-34s.

So, a way to defeat air defenses is to overwhelm them, make it so difficult for them, to sort through and destroy, and then rearm, reload, that you get some missiles through. And the proof is, Russia launched 158 or so weapons, 20 percent, 30 percent were not destroyed. And those are the ones that made it through, and caused the damage that you've been reporting on.

COLLINS: Well, given they have that capability, if Russia continues what we saw today, over the winter, which is what Ukrainian officials have been dreading and warning? I mean, how long can Ukraine make it, without another package, based on what we know, they've said so far, about what they need, and what they're running out of?

ESPER: Yes, and first of all, that's a part of this, too, is we're really heading into the dark part of winter, in Ukraine. January is typically the coldest month. So, it's another message to the Ukrainian people, who are openly tiring of the war. Recruiting is a problem, right now, in Ukraine. The war is going on for almost two years now.

So, look, I think, when you look at Russia, you see that they've actually moved their economy, their economy, to a war footing. They've doubled the defense spending.

And at the same time, you see, in western capitals, weariness setting in. And you see, again, blocking by Hungary. And this package sits there now, being negotiated between the White House and the Senate.

Now, we recently gave them a $250 million package. There are other arms and ammunition and munitions in the stockpile, or in the pipeline, I mean, that can move through. Same with Europeans. But we have not got on to a full footing yet, when it comes to having the ammunition, and let alone the political support, to continue funding Ukraine, indefinitely.


I think most importantly, when President Biden hosted President Zelenskyy, here, a week ago, it's very important the words he used. For the longest time, he was saying that we would support Ukraine, for as long as it takes.

And then the words came out recently, I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like, "As long as we can." And that's a big difference, the signaling that's going on there.

COLLINS: Secretary Esper, we're thinking on the same track, because I had made note of that tonight, when we were thinking about, what to get your perspective on, is how that language has changed. And of course, the question of what that looks like, if your former boss, Donald Trump, is the Republican nominee, if he ends up back in the White House. And speaking of him, while I have you, I am curious what you make, of

the fact, of what we've been talking about, this week, with Trump being removed from the ballot. Because you're someone who said, that you've -- former President Trump incited people to come to Washington. You said that he's a threat to democracy.

Given that view, what is your position, on what these Secretaries of State, and these -- the Supreme Court in Colorado, this decision that because of that, saying that Trump did incite the insurrection, and added fuel to it that he shouldn't be on the primary ballot?

ESPER: Yes, look, I'm not a lawyer. But I've been paying close attention to the legal experts, who've been commenting on this. I always go back to first principles.

And look, I'm not a supporter of Donald Trump. I've been very clear about that. But I do think in this country, everybody's innocent until proven guilty. And that the proving of one's guilt has to go through some type of process, a due process. And I have not seen that yet.

And so, in my mind, what has happened, in Colorado, and Maine isn't warranted. And I suspect it'll be overturned by the Supreme Court. And again, I say that as somebody who does not want to see Donald Trump, on the ticket, let alone in the Oval Office. But that's just kind of my read on it, based on what I see, right now.

COLLINS: If he is back in the Oval Office, do you ever think about who he might pick, to take the job that you had, Defense Secretary? I mean, what are your biggest concerns about that?

ESPER: Well, I think that one of the biggest lessons he took out in the last year, his last year in office, is that you have to pick the right people.

And for him, the litmus test will be about loyalty, number one, number two, and number three. Competence will probably be number four. And so, I think that's going to be the litmus test for anybody he brings into his administration.

He's not going to want people who push back. He's not going to want people, who challenge his assumptions, or his views, or his ideas. He's going to want people to do what he wants.

And that was apparent to me, at the time, and others since. Because he's already talked about the things he wanted us to do. There were some of the things he talked about, during the first term that we were able to push him off of.

But look, that's my biggest concern is who he will put into office.

COLLINS: Secretary Mark Esper, as always, thank you for your time, your expertise, and your experience, on all of this.

ESPER: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: A strained relationship, leading to another testy phone call that happened, between President Biden and, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. More reporting on that in a moment.

Also, brand-new reporting on the hostage talks that are underway, after a quick break.



COLLINS: Tonight, Israeli officials say that Hamas has quote, "Agreed in principle" to negotiate a new deal, for the release of more than 40 hostages, still being held in Gaza, tonight. Axios reporting that the agreement, mediated through Qatar, as all of these hostage talks have been, will be in exchange for a month-long pause, in the fighting that is underway, between the IDF and Hamas, in Gaza.

We're also learning more about what was being described, as a frustrating phone call, between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden, in just the latest sign of continued tensions, between those two leaders, as this war is now set to enter its third month.

Joining me now, Barak Ravid, the Axios Political Reporter, who is breaking the news, on all of these angles, who is also a CNN Political and Global Affairs Analyst.

Barak, great to have you here.

And what you're hearing from your sources is that Hamas has agreed in principle. I mean, how likely is that? How firm is that in-principle agreement? And when could this happen?


Well, I think we will know, during this weekend, how serious Hamas is, about resuming those talks, about a possible new deal, to secure the release of least, at least 40 hostages, maybe even more, in return for something like a month of pause in the fighting in Gaza, and obviously release of Palestinian prisoners.

This thing started something like between 24 and 48 hours ago, when the Qatari mediators conveyed the message from Hamas, to the Israelis, saying that Hamas, for the first time, agrees to go back to the table.

In recent weeks, Hamas said they're not going back to the table, before Israel stops the war, and withdraws all of its forces. The Qataris claim now that there's some sort of a positive change, in Hamas' attitude, towards this issue.

COLLINS: Without asking you to guess Hamas' intentions, I mean, given Israel has very much not stopped the war, what do you think, or what do your sources think is the reason that Hamas is potentially prepared to come back to the table here, then?

RAVID: I think there are several factors here. The first one is that Hamas is under pressure, by both Egypt and Qatar, the mediators, and by the Israeli military operation on the ground.

And I think that Hamas, for some time, thought that when the high- intensity phase of the war is over, the war will just end. And I think that recently they understood that after the high-intensity phase, there's a low-intensity phase. And this means the war continues. Therefore, a long pause in the fighting is certainly in their interest.

COLLINS: OK. Well, obviously, if you think that movement could come, this week, and that would be important and incredible news, for these families, many of whom have just been left with despair, for the last several weeks, as this has been completely, not really something that's been happening.


But I also want to ask you about this reporting that you have, on this call that happened, the latest one between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu, which was described to you, as frustrating. Why was it so frustrating?

RAVID: Well it wasn't only frustrating. It was, according to U.S. officials, the most difficult phone call, between Netanyahu and Biden, since the Gaza war started. And there have been -- there have been something like 20 such phone calls.

And the main issue, in this call, was the U.S. requests that Israel releases funds, Palestinian tax money, that it's been withholding, for several weeks now.

And the Biden administration is very concerned that without that money, the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank, might collapse, which obviously will cause another huge crisis, in the region, on top of the war in Gaza, on top of tensions with Lebanon, on top of Houthi attacks. And the Biden administration doesn't think this is something that would improve the situation, in the region.

And Netanyahu basically rejected Biden's request, claiming that he has coalition problems, with Biden pushing back and saying, "I'm fending off pressures in Congress by Democrats, on my policy, towards the war in Gaza. Now, it's your time to fend off, on your radicals, in your coalition."

COLLINS: Well, that's interesting, because when I interviewed Prime Minister Netanyahu, maybe a month or so before October 6th, maybe six weeks before, we were talking about this deal, to normalize relations, with Saudi Arabia. And I asked him.

Because there are those far-right members of his government. And they had said things, like, Palestinians didn't have a right to exist. And obviously, they wanted concessions for Palestinians as part of that deal.

And when I asked him, are you going to have difficulty getting this through, he said, he's the one who makes the ultimate decisions, that it's actually up to him. But I mean, if he's telling President Biden, that's not really a decision that he can get through his government, I mean, what does that say about his political standing?

RAVID: Well, obviously, Netanyahu is not in control of his government. He was not in control of his government, from day one. A year ago. This government is the most right-wing government Israel has ever had. And it's controlled by its most radical elements.

And right now, with the war in Gaza, there are three big issues, that Netanyahu is not able to do anything about, because of those radicals, within his government.

It's the Palestinian tax money we just talked about.

But it's also the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian workers, from the West Bank, are not coming into Israel. And the reason they're not coming into Israel is because those far-right ministers oppose that.

And the last thing, which is the most important one is that Netanyahu still did not conduct any serious discussions, within his cabinet, about the policy, on the day after the war in Gaza, how Gaza will look like. And the reason he's not doing this is because those members of his coalition oppose to that, too.

COLLINS: So, where does that leave us? I mean, what does that mean, for the next steps here? If that is such a grave concern that the White House has? Netanyahu is saying, "There's nothing I can do about it" on top of the other issues? I mean, what does that mean for the future of the Biden-Netanyahu relationship?

RAVID: I think it's going to -- the tensions are going to grow. And I think this is exactly why, at a certain point of this call, Biden just told Netanyahu, "You need to figure it out. You need to solve it. And this conversation is over."

And he just ended the call, which, it's pretty amazing when we think about how the relation has been pretty -- pretty good, during this war. And I think Biden is getting closer and closer to the end of his patience, when it comes to Netanyahu.

COLLINS: So, he just ended the call abruptly?


COLLINS: I mean, I assume the President didn't hang up on him. But I mean, what did you hear about that?

RAVID: I just heard that, they have been discussing this issue of the Palestinian tax revenues, for several minutes. And at a certain point, Biden just told Netanyahu, "You need to solve it. You need to figure it out. And this conversation is over." And that was that.

COLLINS: Barak Ravid, as always, reporting is on point. Thank you so much, for sharing that with us, tonight.

Up next, a story that is ever so fitting, in the saga that is Donald Trump, and his former fixer, emphasis on the word "Former" there, Michael Cohen, who said, in the court filing, he used AI to get a bunch of information, to his attorney, for a case that turned out to be bogus. He says he didn't know that. More on that in a moment.



COLLINS: Sometimes, you just can't make it up, truly. President Biden -- or -- excuse me.

President Trump's former attorney and his fixer, Michael Cohen, says he didn't realize he was using an artificial intelligence tool that gave him fake legal information, information, I should note that he passed on to his attorney, who apparently did not also verify it, but then submitted it, as part of a court filing, to a judge, as a part of Michael Cohen's request, to end his supervised release from jail.

Washington Correspondent, for New York Magazine, Olivia Nuzzi, joins me now.

Olivia, I just want to make this clear. Because what Michael Cohen is trying to do here, for people who aren't paying attention, to his legal developments, is to end his supervised release. Obviously, he served time in prison, for campaign finance violations.

And his explanation, in this court filing that was unsealed today, said, "As a non-lawyer, I have not kept up with emerging trends (and related risks) in legal technology and did not realize that Google Bard was a generative text service that, like" ChatGPT, "could show citations and descriptions that looked real" but were actually not.

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NY MAGAZINE: I mean, it is tempting to view this, as just like another Michael Cohen blunder, in quite a long career of Michael Cohen blunders. But he's not the first person to submit false information, generated by AI, to a court. And I'm sure that he won't be the last.


This technology is widely available, super-accessible. And there's no vetting process, for the people, who use it. So, I suppose if you're the type of person, inclined to think that you are Googling something, but you're actually inputting it into an AI technology, there's no guardrail to stop you from submitting it to a court.

COLLINS: I mean, I guess, it is small print. But there is a little window when you are typing on Bard. And it says "Bard may display inaccurate info, including about people, so double-check its responses."

I mean, Michael Cohen, he says, as a non-lawyer, because he's not an attorney anymore, after going to prison. But he was an attorney for a long time.

NUZZI: Yes. I decided to consult ChatGPT, about this matter, just thematically. I thought it might be fun. And I decided to start with some questions, about you, because I know you better than I know Michael Cohen.

COLLINS: Oh god.

NUZZI: And I just wanted to test out how accurate this technology is. So, I just started with some basics.

I learned like Kaitlan Collins is from Prattville. Alabama. That's correct.

Kaitlan Collins is a reputable journalist. I agree with that. I think all your viewers here agree with that as well.

But then I posted a more complex question, which is, if Kaitlan Collins is my emergency contact, and I have a life-or-death emergency that requires her intervention, at the same time, as an Alabama football game, how likely am I to die?

And ChatGPT's response was, "It's reasonable to assume that someone like Kaitlan Collins would prioritize your well-being in a life-or- death situation." So, this technology isn't perfect. I think that's proof of that.

And it was reflected when I asked about Cohen as well. They said that Cohen was sort of known as a reputable person, who's demonstrated legal and strategic acumen, in his career. I don't know if that's the overwhelming impression of Michael Cohen's career, as Donald Trump's personal lawyer and fixer.

And then, the -- sorry, the term, for when you have false information, from an AI, it's actually called a hallucination. And I think it's important to remember that this technology is just a reflection of the flawed human beings that created it. And you have to exercise caution, even if you're Michael Cohen, and you're not used to doing that.

COLLINS: Well, I'm glad ChatGPT answered that question for me. I mean, because on Monday night, like when Alabama is playing Michigan, I don't really know the answer to that.

Olivia Nuzzi, as always, thank you.

NUZZI: Thank you.

COLLINS: Ahead. An important story on my home state. You just heard Olivia mention there, Prattville, Alabama.

This story, 10 Black prisoners are now suing the State of Alabama, because they say that they have been forced into what they are calling a "Modern day form of slavery," forced to work, for fast-food chains, like McDonald's and Burger King, for what they say is next to nothing, with a lot of consequences if they don't.

We'll be joined by one of the attorneys, representing them, in that case, right after a quick break.



COLLINS: It's been called a "Modern day form of slavery." That is according to a new lawsuit that has been filed, by a group of 10 current and former prisoners that participated in the Alabama's prison work program.

This is a new complaint that alleges that the Alabama governor, Kay Ivey, the Attorney General there, in the state, Steve Marshall, and the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles, quote, "Conspired to subvert the operation of Alabama's parole system," by forcing prisoners to work, for about $2 an hour.

Some of the nation's most recognizable fast-food brands are named, in this suit, which accuses the private companies, of knowingly exploiting prison labor.

Joining me tonight is one of the attorneys, in this case, B.J. Chisholm.

So glad to have you here. And thank you for being here.

And I should note that all of the people that you're representing here are Black. That is underscored, in your lawsuit, as part of this argument, of what they are alleging here.

And what is it that they're saying, about this work-release program? Not just -- I mean, this is not just in Alabama. These are in multiple states. But the one in Alabama, what leads you to believe that there's a case here? What are they telling you, that has caused you to come and represent them?


So, in Alabama, the Department of Corrections has a work-release program that allows incarcerated people, to go and work in the community. But actually, folks are being forced to do this, and are disciplined if they do not work. And they're working in a variety of areas, as you mentioned, for private companies. They're also working for counties and cities and state agencies.

And so, this is really a modern version of the infamous convict leasing that Alabama implemented, after the Civil War. And we are, through this lawsuit, hoping to shut down that program.

COLLINS: And for those who are watching, CNN, I should note, has reached out to the Governor Ivey's office, as well as the companies that I just mentioned, and that you saw on the screen that are named here. We have not heard back from them, on this.

But your clients, what they're alleging here, is that basically, not only did they work for little to no money, but they also, if they refuse to work, they believe they risk severe punishment, including solitary confinement.

I mean, what were their concerns here, if they didn't go to work? CHISHOLM: So, Alabama's prisons are notoriously violent, and a lot of the people, who are working, are doing so, because they fear being in the prisons. And so, working outside in the community, is one way, in which they are able to get away, from the violent conditions.

Additionally, as you note, the Alabama Department of Corrections actually disciplines people, who refuse to work. We have numerous documented instances of people, being disciplined, for refusing to work, including up to solitary confinement, as you noted.

COLLINS: And so, what's next here, for the legal case? I mean, what are -- this is a civil suit. So, what happens next, here? What are you expecting?

CHISHOLM: So, last week, we filed a motion, for preliminary injunction, challenging an unconstitutional parole system. Part of the complaint, is also challenging a parole system, that really traps people, into this forced work scheme.

So, for example, that people who are working out in the communities, and have been doing so, for years, are still being denied parole. They're also being denied parole at a rate of two to one, Black to White. And people are just being trapped inside of this system.


So, we are bringing a preliminary injunction, to try to stop the constitutional violations that we are seeing, in the parole system. We filed that last week, and are hoping to have a hearing, in the next month or two.

COLLINS: B.J. Chisholm, we'll be paying close attention, to this, here, especially, on this show. So, please keep us updated, on where this goes, from here.

CHISHOLM: Absolutely.

COLLINS: Thank you, for joining us, tonight.

CHISHOLM: Thank you.

COLLINS: And thank you all so much, for joining us, tonight, and every night, since THE SOURCE has launched, this year. A great moment, for us, as we close out 2023.

Hope you all have a very safe and happy New Year. I hope you're all rooting on Alabama, on New Year's Day, when they play against Michigan.

We'll see you in 2024. Because up next here, CNN is going to take a special look-back at 2023 with "ALL THE BEST ALL THE WORST" starts right now.