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The Source with Kaitlan Collins

Haley: Trump Last Night "Threw A Temper Tantrum"; Powerful Union Endorses Biden After Months-Long Holdout; Russia Blames Ukraine For Military Plane Crash, Claiming Ukraine Killed Its Own Prisoners Of War. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired January 24, 2024 - 21:00   ET




SHAMAYIM HARRIS, KNOWN IN DETROIT AS MAMA SHU: And that's what I do, right now.

So, I know that they're gone. I know that they're dead. I know that they're not here. I know that they're ancestors. But I also know that they are still here, because they are part of me.

And I'm still able to work with those boys. And I do. And I feel them. I know when they're around. I know when they have their hand in certain things that happen. I just, I just feel it. And so, I'm very thankful for being able to--

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And you still have a relationship with them?

HARRIS: Yes, I have a full relationship with them, full relationship.


COOPER: You'll find the episode, and others, on grief and loss, on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcast. You're not alone in your grief.

That's it for us. The news continues. "THE SOURCE WITH KAITLAN COLLINS" starts now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: And tonight, straight from THE SOURCE.

Nikki Haley is fighting on. And Donald Trump is fighting mad. Instead of celebrating, he is seething. And I have new reporting about what set him off, and what he's now demanding of his inner circle.

Also, tonight, a plane crash mystery, after a Russian jet, said to be carrying 74 people, plunges to the ground, killing everyone on board. Russia claims that Ukraine shot it out of the sky, killing dozens of their own prisoners of war.

Also tonight, an execution starting as soon as midnight, as Alabama is about to kill a convicted murderer, using a method that no state has ever tried before.

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

Tonight, Nikki Haley is refusing to quit. And Donald Trump is enraged about that. She says that her campaign has raised a million dollars, since she came in second place, last night, money that she is spending on rallies, and on TV ads, in South Carolina.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump got out there, and just threw a temper tantrum.


HALEY: He pitched a fit. He was -- he was insulting. He was doing what he does. But I know that's what he does when he's insecure. I know that's what he does when he is threatened. And he should feel threatened, without a doubt.



COLLINS: She says that he should feel threatened.

But tonight, a growing list of big-name Republicans are already calling the race. That includes the Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.


RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.


COLLINS: In the meantime, the same people, who once tried to keep Trump, from returning to the White House, are now professing their love for him. Quite literally.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: She actually appointed you, Tim?



TRUMP: And think of it, appointed and you are the senator of the state, and she endorsed me. You must really hate her.


TRUMP: Now, it's -- it's a shame. It's a shame. SCOTT: I--

TRUMP: Uh-oh.


SCOTT: I just love you.


COLLINS: That effusive embrace is now running through, to the party's very core. It is a grip that is now really embodied by the House of Representatives.

Look at these numbers that we looked at today. 122 House Republicans have endorsed Donald Trump (inaudible) once again. That column you see on the right is Nikki Haley's. She has just one member of Congress.

And that lone House Republican, endorsing Haley, a South Carolina representative, Ralph Norman. And he joins me now from North Charleston, where that Haley event that you heard from her, just wrapped up.

And Congressman, I'm so glad you're here, because truly, you have a singular perspective on this, at least when it comes to the halls that you roam, on a daily basis.

I think the question is, if there is still a path to victory, for Nikki Haley, why are you the only member of Congress, who seems to see it?

REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): Well, first of all, Kaitlan, I was the one of three, when she ran for governor, which she won twice.

Nikki has been against Establishment from day one. And you know this. You cover politics. The Establishment is just that. And people get behind candidates for different reasons.

I endorsed Nikki in February of last year. I called Donald Trump before, because I respect him. I said, President Trump, I'm going to endorse Nikki. And he was real kind. And I think, at the time, he didn't think she had a chance. But I knew Nikki had a chance.

And I wish every American could have seen her backstage. I introduced her, tonight. She is as resolved and determined as anybody I've ever seen. So, the 48 states left, she will compete. And I think it's good for the system.


Competition is good, Kaitlan. People can say all they want, particularly news media. Get out and do this. Ronna McDaniel (ph) saying you got to unify. Unify what? Let's go through the process. Let the -- let the voters speak.

COLLINS: Yes. I should note, it's Republicans who are calling on her, to drop out. Not the media. I mean, you heard from Ronna McDaniel, there. Typically, a neutral member until the candidate is selected.

But in South Carolina, where you are, that is the next stage. She says that she believes she's going to do well there. She's been proven wrong and done well. Do you think that South Carolina is a must win for her?

NORMAN: Well, obviously, she'd like to win all of them. I wish she would love to have won New Hampshire. You try to win all of them. That's not the real world. I will tell you, she will do well in South Carolina. And she's in this thing. She's not going to quit.

And the fact she's willing to risk that, she's going to go to town to town, just like she did, tonight. She had probably 800 people, tonight. That's what she's going to do, across the state. That's how she won as governor. And that's how she's going to -- she's going to put up a fight. It's the same grit that I saw in her, when we went in the state legislature, together, when she beat a 13-year incumbent.

COLLINS: You mentioned the word, risking them. What do you--

NORMAN: So, that's what American--

COLLINS: What do you think she's risking?

NORMAN: I don't think she's risking anything. I mean, you got to remember it. She's willing to put the time in. She's willing to spend the money. She's willing to get up at 6, and go till 10, 11, 12, at night. She's willing to do all the interviews. And it's just courage that she's doing this.

I don't think I've seen another politician, like her, in my life, to be honest with you. Everybody else would have gotten out. You saw it started, what, 14 candidates? It's down to two? They all typically with -- they don't see a path to victory. She sees a path. And it's two words. Hard work.

She doesn't care -- she'll risk the -- when she goes up in South Carolina, to put it to a vote, could she flounder? Yes. But she can also do very well. And she's anxious for South Carolina.

COLLINS: And when did you make--

NORMAN: For Super Tuesday as well.

COLLINS: You just mentioned that you talked to Trump after -- when you said you were going to endorse her.

I wonder what you made of his speech, last night, where he claimed that she said she won, when she congratulated him on his win. He made fun of her outfit. He implied that she'd be under investigation, if she did win the Republican nomination. What did you make of how angry he was?

NORMAN: I didn't understand it. I mean, he won. I mean, he won New Hampshire, as he did Iowa. And I've known President Trump. I've loved his policies. I like him as a person. Now, last night, it really surprised me.

And I'm one that the press has always asked me about his comments that he makes, the names he gives people. It's actually funny. With Pocahontas, like Low Energy Jeb, like Little Marco, all those names, he can get away with that.

But last night was a little bit more cutting that -- and it really surprised me, really. I mean, to make fun of somebody's dress, and the way Tim Scott, you must hate Nikki, or -- you know, I didn't understand that.

But look, Donald Trump has been successful. He can say what he wants. And you're not going to change him. I'll tell you that.

COLLINS: When he calls her Birdbrain, I think people would say that that's classic Trump.

But Congressman, one thing that you have said, on the campaign trail, for Nikki Haley repeatedly, when questioned about what is her path to victory, is you talk about the voters, and you say the voters should be the ones to decide. Obviously, everyone agrees with that.

But when you talk about what the voters decide, I have to ask you because you and I have never spoken before, in an interview, about a text message that you sent to Mark Meadows. It was three days before President Biden was inaugurated. And you were urging the White House, to use the U.S. military, to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.

Do you regret sending that message?

NORMAN: The only thing I regret I misspelled martial law. I misspelled that.

No, I didn't -- I didn't -- won't -- look, everything happened so quick, in that election, the time that was given to see if the ballots were real, see if -- you know, you've seen 2000 Mules. Most people have. There's a lot of questions. What's wrong with taking time? And I was just--

COLLINS: That was created by a guy that Trump pardoned.

NORMAN: Created by who?

COLLINS: Wasn't that created by a guy that Trump pardoned? I mean, the point of it is that movie is not based in reality.


COLLINS: There is no election fraud. And there -- courts have proven that. Republican judges that were appointed by Republican presidents have noted that. I mean, there was no elect--

NORMAN: Well--

COLLINS: --there was no evidence of that by the time January 17th rolled around, Congressman. NORMAN: Well, there were questions, as you know, there were questions, throughout the election process. What happened in Georgia was unusual. What happened in Arizona was unusual. Look, I've talked to the congresspeople that served those particular states.


But no, I don't regret that at all. And it's still questions that linger today. But -- and we have got to get our vote in line.

COLLINS: Sir, what questions are there, that linger today?

Because this is really important. We are approaching another election. And when you talk to Republican voters, in CNN exit polls, half of them don't believe that Joe Biden legitimately won the election, which he did.

And calling for martial law, because you have questions about the election, I think most people would agree, is subverting the will of voters that you often talk about that are so important.

NORMAN: No. Look, to keep this system honest, photo voter ID, which the Democrats try to circumvent, they'd been trying to circumvent that. What they're doing with the illegal aliens, with the vote, get them registered to vote, is not right. That's what I'm talking about.

COLLINS: What does that have to do with--

NORMAN: Making sure every vote--

COLLINS: That's you calling--

NORMAN: Every -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: You're calling for martial law, Congressman.

NORMAN: Look, I've texted Mark Meadows. That's the only person. He didn't have the power. I ask him. Donald Trump was shocked too.

COLLINS: He was the Chief of Staff at the White House. Did he respond to your message that day? I don't think you've ever--


COLLINS: --ever made clear what his acknowledgement of your message was.

NORMAN: I don't, you know, I don't think he -- everything was going on -- everything was so fast, I don't think he did.

But the bottom line is we got to have secure elections. And whatever that takes. There are a lot of questions that still exist. You've seen the lawsuits that were there. But no, I wouldn't take it back. I misspelled it. I should have taken the time. I was in a hurry. And -- but no, I would not. I don't regret that. COLLINS: Those lawsuits were all thrown out. None of them amounted to anything. The only place where they found they miscounted, Biden actually had a bigger margin than he initially did.

Congressman, it is striking to hear you say that you stand by, asking for martial law to be declared, three days before Biden was elected. I just wanted to make sure we talked to you about that.

So thank you, Congressman Ralph Norman, for your time tonight.

NORMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

COLLINS: We'll talk about that -- back half of that, in a moment.

I am joined tonight by CNN Political Analyst and Senior Political Correspondent from the New York Times, Maggie Haberman.

I mean, we're supposed to talk about Trump. And I have a lot of questions on your reporting. But I'm--

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You have other things, on your mind, right now?

COLLINS: --kind of stunned that--


COLLINS: --he says the only -- because -- and for people, who didn't see the text, he spelled martial, M-A-R-S-H-A-L-L, not M-A-R-T. He didn't spell it correctly. He says that's the only thing he regrets about that.

HABERMAN: Continuity has not really been anybody's strong suit, in talking about elections, at least on the Republican side since 2020. He's sent -- he, as you noted, he is talking about how it's up to the will of the voters. Martial law would not be in keeping with that, three days before the inauguration, so.

And saying there's still questions. There's still questions because Donald Trump keeps saying there's questions. And so, there's a whole group of people, who follow him, who are going along with that. But it is a prelude, I think, to what we are going to see over the next nine months.

And so, if you are hearing that, from the only person in the House, who is backing Donald Trump's opponent, think about what that's going to look like, on a broader scale.

COLLINS: Yes. And it is amazing, because he's a really conservative member of Congress. And he is backing Haley over Trump--


COLLINS: --who has been appealing to more moderates.

And when you look at the numbers, last night, the people, who were voting for Nikki Haley, based on CNN's exit polls, they were -- they believe that Biden won the election, by overwhelming margins. It's Trump voters, who do not.

HABERMAN: Well, and that's a reminder to your point that the Congressman is a very conservative member. When people talk about how a lot of folks are up for grabs, or a number of folks or a swath of Republicans are up for grabs, there's a lot who are not. And who -- have Donald Trump is the nominee, people like Congressman Norman are going to be right behind him, and will, I suspect, promote what the former President says.

COLLINS: Well, and even when he -- you know, we're talking his reaction, last night. When he wins elections, which he did handily, last night, he won New Hampshire.


COLLINS: He didn't come out like he did after Iowa where he was, so happy and thrilled. Last night, he was essentially seething.

You talked about what the next 10 months could look like. I mean, what could the next three weeks look like, or as long as Nikki Haley is still in the race?

HABERMAN: I suspect it will be very ugly. And I thought the Congressman was sort of leaning into that, without actually saying it. He mentioned something about risk. And then, he said something about courage.

Seemed to me that was pretty obvious what he was talking about, which is that people, who go against Trump, in ways that Trump does not like, are often subjected to an array of humiliations, or criticisms, or insinuations, or vague threats. And Ron DeSantis certainly got a lot of that.

We saw the former President turn his sights, on Nikki Haley, last night. We know that he wants his allies to go after her. I expect his campaign will start to do so, more actively. I suspect the Super PAC will, although they have not reserved TV time yet, but I think they're waiting to see what happens.


COLLINS: He also went after his former White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany--


COLLINS: --for saying something that, you know, I went back and looked at what exactly it was that she had said, because before she had said something nice about Ron DeSantis.

And last night, she kind of just said something that was accurate, about what happened. This is what she told viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'd go home and I'd look under the hood. And when you look under the hood of our Fox News voter analysis data, you find that 32 percent of Republicans say, we won't vote for Trump.

I've got to unite the party, that's the argument Nikki Haley's making. And number two, I would look, Nikki Haley won Independents, according to Fox News voter analysis, 59 to 33.


COLLINS: He called her a RINO for that, Republican In Name Only, and told her to save her advice for someone else, for Nikki Haley.

HABERMAN: Because it's a warning shot to anybody else, who might be around him, who is -- or who was once around him, and is seen as having cred with the -- with the right, and with the MAGA movement, for saying anything that's based in fact that he doesn't like. That's all that is.

COLLINS: Does he realize -- does he, when he wins, like he did, last night?


COLLINS: Does the campaign see, does he see the vulnerabilities that were also exposed, last night? Not for Republican primary, but for the general election?

HABERMAN: Some folks do. I just want to take a pause, for one sec, though, to your point that he won last night. It was the most scorched-earth victory speech I have ever seen. I mean, it was -- it was astonishing. You would have thought he lost, based on the speech that he gave.

And look, Nikki Haley, absolutely, seized the moment, and went ahead of him, while the voting was still tighter. It's not new in politics. This is just sort of a thing people do. Bill Clinton very famously did it in 1992, in New Hampshire. He called himself the Comeback Kid, he did not win. So this--

COLLINS: And she congratulated him on his win.

HABERMAN: And she said he won. She was clearly very aware of that. So, I just think that's worth noting, because it was quite something, number one.

Number two, they're not sure what to make of these numbers, because remember, it's the -- the unaffiliated voters, many of them, are still pretty Democrat-leaning. And so, they're not sure what a harbinger this is, for the rest of the country.

What they are aware of is the number of Republicans, who say a criminal conviction would be a problem, for them, in terms of seeing him as fit for office. And so, it really, a lot of this comes down to the court cases. And I think that is just going to be the story of this election.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely.

Maggie Haberman, thank you, as always, for being here, for responding to that interview.


COLLINS: Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, there was a critical endorsement, today, for President Biden. Also, another interruption. Pro-Palestinian protesters interrupting President Biden, once again. The question is, what does it mean, for November? I'll ask a key ally of his in Congress.

Plus, dozens, tonight, are reportedly dead, after a plane crashed, near the Russia-Ukraine border. Russia claiming that that flight was carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war. Ukraine says it was carrying missiles. What happened and who or what was actually on that plane?



COLLINS: Tonight, President Biden got a major endorsement, from one of the largest unions in the nation. It is the United Auto Workers Union. And the President, Shawn Fain, praised President Biden, for standing with the union, coming after a lengthy strike, against the Big Three automakers, last year.


SHAWN FAIN, UNITED AUTO WORKERS PRESIDENT: This choice is clear: Joe Biden bet on the American worker while Donald Trump blamed the American worker.

So, if our endorsements must be earned, Joe Biden has earned it.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Let me just say I'm honored to have your back and you have mine. That's the deal.



COLLINS: They made President Biden work for that endorsement, I should note, because for months, Fain had not endorsed Biden. Neither had the UAW, after endorsing him in 2020.

It was a rift, and became this kind of uneasy political reality, for the President, as the White House worked to get that endorsement, because President Biden needs blue-collar workers, to fortify this blue wall that he had, in the Midwest, states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, all crucial, for his chances, come November.

Joining me, tonight, is the co-chair of President Biden's reelection campaign, Senator Chris Coons. Senator, it's great to have you, here tonight.

I wonder how much you think this endorsement will matter, what it will mean, come November.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Kaitlan, I think it matters a lot, because Joe Biden has always fought for America's middle class, to have the 380,000 members of the UAW, strongly endorse Joe Biden for reelection, is just a reminder of the long relationship they've had.

He fought to save American automakers, and the auto unions in 2008, 2009. And as President, he's presided over the strongest growth, in manufacturing, in decades. So, he's got a strong record. They've got a great relationship. And I think this will strengthen him, going into the election, this fall.

COLLINS: Yes. And he's obviously resonated with the unions that he has always called himself the most pro-union president, even though they did make him work, for this endorsement.

But I wonder what you make, because when you look at their own internal polling? And Shawn Fain was talking about this, with Jake Tapper earlier. The members, a third of them actually voted for Trump, in the last two presidential election cycles.

And so, for President Biden, what do you want to see him do, to shore up his support, with the rank-and-file members, these blue-collar battleground states, where a lot of these rank-and-file members are?

COONS: Well, in announcing his endorsement, UAW president, Shawn Fain, gave a sharp and clear contrast, between former President Trump and President Joe Biden. And his conclusion was Joe Biden stood up, showed up and fought for us, and Donald Trump didn't, that Trump represents the interests of billionaires and of management, and that Joe Biden fights for the American middle-class.

That message spread throughout all of the middle-class of the United States, and all the different industrial unions, the Building Trades and the UAW and many others, government workers as well, teachers and public employees, will help strengthen the margins, by which I think he's going to win.

We've seen some good news, in just the last couple of days, polls in New Hampshire and in Pennsylvania, showing Joe Biden beating Donald Trump, by seven or eight points.

COLLINS: Yes, and of course, we've seen polls that have shown it pretty close. Obviously, with the polls, it's just a snapshot, not a prediction.


But one thing that has happened every time that President -- almost every time that President has spoken at these public events lately, where he's interrupted by protesters, people who are protesting the Israel-Hamas war, pro-Palestinian protesters. And it happened today at the United Auto Workers event.

Just listen to what happened, while he was speaking and getting this big endorsement.


BIDEN: No matter what that was, it should be built--



BIDEN: Jill and I had a chance to sit down--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Genocide Joe, how many kids have you killed in Gaza?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you really care about the lives lost here, then you should honor the lives lost and call for a ceasefire in Palestine.




COLLINS: Now, Senator, as you know, in politics, there are protesters all the time, especially for presidents.


COLLINS: I've seen it from Democratic and Republican Presidents.

But these are protesters, who want a ceasefire in Gaza. There were 12 instances, today, according to Kevin Liptak, on CNN's White House team that that happened, just in that one event alone.

I wonder how worried you are that his stance towards Israel, his support for Israel, could hurt his chances with younger, more progressive voters, come November.

COONS: Well President Biden showed, in how he conducted himself, in both those tapes, you just showed, that he respects the right of protest. That he doesn't have folks, as former President Trump did during his rallies, and as he does now during his rallies, he doesn't call on the crowd to set on them, or attack them, or abuse them, as they're being hauled out, as former President Trump did.

And President Biden is working tirelessly, to increase the humanitarian aid, going into Gaza, to change the IDF's tactics on the ground, in a way that will reduce civilian casualties, and to pressure the IDF and the Israeli government, to reduce settler violence in the West Bank. He is making a difference, in the circumstances, on the ground, in very tough circumstances.

Hamas uses Palestinians as a human shield. It is well-demonstrated that they have their military storehouses, the tunnels in which they continue to hold hostages, and the reserves of their fighting forces, underneath mosques and hospitals and apartment blocks. And that has made the conduct of this war, in Gaza, awful.

The civilian deaths are unacceptable. And President Biden continues to push. I am optimistic, Kaitlan, that there will be soon announced a next phase in a negotiated ceasefire that will allow for the release of hostages, and a significant increase in humanitarian relief. And all of us are working and praying for an outcome here that reduces civilian deaths.

COLLINS: Yes, it's been a devastating toll.

Senator Chris Coons, thanks for your time, tonight.

COONS: Thank you.

COLLINS: Still ahead here, on THE SOURCE, a mystery, after a fiery plane crash, in Russia killing everyone on board. But was anyone on board besides the crew? The Kremlin says it was filled with Ukraine's prisoners of war. Ukraine is saying something else. We'll tell you ahead.



COLLINS: One downed Russian plane and two competing stories about why, tonight.

It all comes down to what, and who brought down a Russian transport plane that you see here, when it was just miles from the Ukrainian border. Moscow claims, without evidence, I should note, that Ukraine shot it down, which the Russians says was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, and nine others, none of whom survived.

This video that you see here was geo-located by CNN. It appears to show the plane's final moments before it crashes and burst into flames.

While Ukrainian officials acknowledged that a prisoner exchange was planned for today, they've declined to say if their forces fired on this aircraft. They also dispute that the plane was carrying these prisoners of war, alleging that it was actually carrying missiles.

CNN, tonight, cannot independently verify either side's claims.

But for more on this, I do want to bring in Nina Khrushcheva, the historian, and great granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, who led the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

And I'm so glad, to have you here tonight.


COLLINS: Because obviously, we're hearing two disputing accounts. But I wonder what you just make of what we're looking at, and what they're -- what both sides are saying?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, of course, both sides probably blame each other, because Ukrainians claim that they -- they don't confirm that they were prisoners there on the plane.

That Belgorod region, where it all happened has been shot by the Ukrainian artillery and the drones. So, it has been attacked quite often, in recent month, in particularly recent weeks. So, it is possible that it is a Ukrainian plane -- sorry, it is a Ukrainian missile.

And of course, that's the Russians are seizing on, is that they were supposed to be prisoner exchange. And because Ukrainians have been shooting, in that region that must be the case. So--

COLLINS: And we're seen them do this before?

KHRUSHCHEVA: And they've done it before. And actually, that's when we say without evidence, they may have some evidence.

And it's not without a realm of possibility that even the Ukrainians may be thinking, if they were shooting at the plane, they were shooting at a Russian military plane. They may not have known what's in that plane. That's absolutely entirely possible.

But at this point, we're just guessing. It's a guessing game.


KHRUSHCHEVA: And ultimately, I think both sides claim that there need to be an investigation, and they find the truth and whatnot.

But how you find that really the truth, at the time of war, in right -- on the territory of Russia that nobody is allowed to go? That's a bigger question.

COLLINS: Right. There's no real way to get a straight answer.


COLLINS: I mean, no one knows that better than you.

And you were telling me, you just got back from Moscow? What was it like?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I mean, look, you don't have a -- your program is not long enough, for me to explain how is it like. It's--

COLLINS: We'll give you the rest of the hour.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Right. And well -- thank you. Well, it's a country at war that pretends not to be at war. So, you have billboards, with all this calls to serve with endeavors (ph), the call for duty, so implying that those who are not serving are not endeavors (ph).


At the same time, Vladimir Putin, just in November, they opened this giant exhibit, in the Stalin-era exhibition complex that was sort of dead after the Soviet Union. And now, it's all back to life. And it's so incredibly Stalinesque, happy people with Putin in charge and whatnot.

So, they're competing accounts. The country's at war. At the same time, the future generation, it's actually the year of a child, which is interesting in the time of war. So, for the children of the future, they are creating this sort of Potemkin village, the illusion of how great Russia is. And it's always sort of this absolute tension between what Russia really is, and what the propaganda wants to present it as.

COLLINS: It must be hard for you to see that. And, I mean, Putin is running for reelection.

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, running for reelection is a very wide--

COLLINS: "Reelection."

KHRUSHCHEVA: It's a giant way of putting it.

COLLINS: I mean, I wonder like, what were you thinking on the flight back? Like, how were you reflecting on your time?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I'm not very emotional. I don't cry. But I cry, because the country that I knew -- and I'm a Soviet person, let's remember that. So, I grew up in the Soviet Union. So, it was a reasonably oppressive society.

What's happening now is incomparable. It's a very Stalinesque time, in Russia. I mean, it's not mass purges. But there's certainly mass arrests, and mass prosecutions and whatnot. So, it is a dramatic thing.

But also because my great-grandfather denounced Stalin. And so, suddenly, we are seeing that he was a great man and a great manager, and he -- everything he did was right? And so, I'm like, wait a minute, so Khrushchev was wrong in 1956?

All the things we thought Russia gained after De-Stalinization, now is essentially wasted. So, in many levels, it's a big tragedy, for many of us, who are there, and who had to leave, and those of us who are born Russian.

COLLINS: Does it surprise you?

KHRUSHCHEVA: Yes, and no. What happened doesn't surprise me because it's very typical of Russian history. Because the whole Russian history, it's like pendulum swing, remission, oppression, remission, oppression, remission, oppression.

But the fact that it happened after 30 years, of exposure to the world? Because Russia has never had that openness, to that amount of the population, it's never been -- Russians never lived, because under Putin, Russians lived better than -- than ever before.

And suddenly, he himself essentially -- my argument to myself is that he himself just had a coup against himself, in the Kremlin. For the 20 years of reasonable prosperity and stability, he said, oh, no, OK. We don't want it. We just want to go back into what Stalin was, and oppressions and despotism.

COLLINS: It's remarkable to hear you say that. Thank you for sharing that with us.


COLLINS: Thank you for coming on tonight.


COLLINS: Still ahead, here, on the 2024 race at home, Nikki Haley has been leaning into the message that she launched her campaign with, has to do with age, saying that Trump and Biden both lack the mental acuity to be president.

More with our political experts, after a quick break.



COLLINS: Tonight, Nikki Haley, campaigning in her home state of South Carolina, challenging Donald Trump, when it comes to his mental acuity.


HALEY: We talked about how (ph) he was having a moment, he was confused. But it also goes back to why I've continued to push for a mental competency test, for anyone over the age of 75.


HALEY: And so, he got upset, and he said that he would take one, and he challenged me to one, and that he would beat me.


HALEY: Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn't. But what I said is OK, well, if that's the case, then get on a debate stage, and let's go.



COLLINS: She's not just going after his age. She's also said that President Biden is quote, "Too old" to be in office.

I want to talk about all of this with two very young people. Former adviser to President Clinton, Paul Begala; and Georgia's former Lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan, who are just shy of 30-years-old.

I mean, what are you -- is this an argument that's going to resonate with Republican voters?

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's call honest balls and strikes. The average life expectancy of an American is 77.6. Both of these guys are playing on borrowed time, right now. And quite honestly, I mean, we--


DUNCAN: --we would--

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They're not buying any green bananas, yes.

DUNCAN: I mean, we wouldn't hire these people in any job, in any setting, in any county, in any state in America. But yet we want to -- we want to interview them, to run the country.

Look, this is hard to fathom that this is the best our parties can do it. In fact, I think both sides should be embarrassed that this is the best we can produce, in some of the most difficult times.

COLLINS: Are we -- critics will say that she's being ageist and that she's being a little too out there, on age.

BEGALA: I mean, I think, look, Democrats said it about Ronald Reagan, and he carried 49 states. So, I'm a little hesitant to be too harsh about people, who criticize other people's age, because when I was young, that's what I was saying about Reagan. I was wrong, then.

And I think Biden at least needs to lean into it. And I think his argument needs to be something like this. Yes, I'm old. But with age comes wisdom. And wisdom is important in this job. And then, he can point to some of the things he's gotten done. And I think that he can use that as an advantage.

I don't think very many independents think that Mr. Trump has become more wise with age. But I do think they think that about Biden. But he can't run away from it. He's got to lean into it.

COLLINS: Well, Geoff, you wrote something today that was interesting to me. You said that the country's on a collision course for a sequel that nobody wants. And you said that Trump could be a convicted felon by Election Day. And you were comparing it to this sense of when you saw people in baseball, taking steroids, to the regret that they had years later.

DUNCAN: Yes, I watched this mistake play out, where great friends, good people used steroids, to try to embellish their stats, trying to get to the next level. I'm watching the same thing happen with Republican politicians.

They're just endorsing Trump. It's not like they believe the election was rigged. It's not like they believe he's an honest human being, or he's a great leader. They just see it as a politically expedient step to take.

I mean, to watch Tim Scott do what he's doing is painful. I can't imagine him having to go back, and watch that, when he goes back to his hotel room at night. He must cringe.

COLLINS: Yes. Well, we're seeing them fall in line so quickly. And Nikki Haley is still in this race. She has not gotten out yet, much to Trump's clear chagrin, as he made clear in his speech, last night.


He's just posted, as she's in South Carolina, that anyone who makes a contribution to her, and he called her "Birdbrain," which has been the nickname, he's been using, "from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp."

BEGALA: He seems like a nice guy, doesn't he? He likes to threaten. And I think this thing is over. And I bet that she's probably out by the weekend. And yet, as Zell Miller from Georgia, one of my mentors and old bosses, used to say--

DUNCAN: Former Lieutenant Governor.

BEGALA: Former Lieutenant Governor. A hit dog will holler.

So, he is afraid. He's clearly afraid of her. And I do think there's a problem he has with strong women, right? He didn't like Hillary. He didn't like Nikki Haley. He didn't like Nancy Pelosi, you know? So he's -- he, by the way, doesn't like a lot of these judges and prosecutors, who are women.

And so, there's something going on here that I'm not seeing, because as a strategist, I can tell you this thing's over. There's no path that I can see--


BEGALA: --that gets Nikki Haley, the nomination. So, why is he panicking? What he needs to be doing is create the space for her to get out with some dignity, and then win over those voters.

You lose about half of Haley voters, in Iowa 43 percent, to be precise, said they would never vote for Trump. Yesterday, in New Hampshire, 35 percent of all the Republicans said they would never vote for Trump, and that he only lost about 7 percent or 8 percent of Republicans against Biden. He can't lose 35 and win.

So, it's not -- it's not a rational thing. So, I'm trying to think, as a strategist, what he's doing. And I think he's just scared. I'm not sure why. But he's -- something about strong women, Kaitlan, it scares him. I think we saw that when you did that Town Hall with him. COLLINS: Yes, but no comment on that.

But what did you -- I mean, is that a legit argument, in your sense, that Haley clearly has a pool with moderates and with independents? Would it not more -- make more sense for him to bring her into the fold, instead of barring her contributors, from his camp, as he's calling?

DUNCAN: Breaking news, Donald Trump does not do what makes good sense.

BEGALA: Right.

DUNCAN: He does what he wants to do, when he wakes up, and he wants to do something that feeds his ego. And for whatever reason, picking on qualified strong-willed people, it makes him feel good.

Look, Republicans are headed for a cliff, within days or weeks, a cliff that that's going to destroy our party. We're going to nominate this guy, for a second time. And I will sit here today and tell you that Donald Trump is a worse candidate than Herschel Walker. And everybody knows how I felt about Herschel Walker.

COLLINS: Wow. That is for you, that's a real--

DUNCAN: It's a high bar.

COLLINS: It's a real criticism.

Geoff Duncan, Paul Begala, as always--

BEGALA: Thank you.

COLLINS: --lovely to have you both.

Paul, Roll Tide to you.

BEGALA: Ha-ha.

COLLINS: Coming up here, we could be just hours away, from something in Alabama that is getting a lot of national attention, tonight. There's a reason why. It's the first of its kind execution, a convicted murderer being put to death with nitrogen gas. It's very controversial, because it's the first time it's ever happened, in any state, as his attorneys have been fighting it.

We have details, on the ground, ahead.



COLLINS: Tonight, the State of Alabama is on the brink of executing a death row prisoner, using nitrogen gas, a method that is unprecedented and untested.

The Supreme Court today cleared the way, for this execution, after Kenneth Smith's attorneys asked them to intervene. He'll be the first inmate, if this goes forward, ever put to death, by nitrogen hypoxia, essentially, the inhaling of pure nitrogen gas to the point of suffocation.

His lawyers have objected, arguing that the state could botch the procedure, the way that it did with its failed attempt to execute Smith, by lethal injection, two years ago.

He has spent more than two decades, on death row, for the 1988 killing of Elizabeth Sennett. Her husband, a pastor, hired Smith, and two other people, to kill his wife, for a $1,000 each.

CNN's Isabel Rosales is in Alabama, covering this story.

And Isabel, obviously, we've seen his attorneys pushing back. It's a method that's never been used before. What else are they saying, tonight?


They are arguing this is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of Kenneth Smith's Eighth Amendment right. Essentially, they are arguing that this amounts to torture. This is something that the U.N. has criticized as well, saying that -- his lawyer saying that Kenneth Smith is essentially being used as a test subject, on a never-been- used-before execution method.

And now, it's going to be used on a man that as you mentioned, they attempting to kill before, back in 2022, and failed to do so, for four hours, trying to find his vein, to do lethal injection, and then the time ran out, on the death warrant.

Now, Smith is the one who originally asked for nitrogen gas to be used, in his execution. But then, he reversed course, when he saw how the state, reading their protocols, how they would use this gas. His biggest sticking point is the mask, the five-point mask that's going to be used on his face, to pump that gas.

There is real concerns there. We could see from the court documents that he will vomit inside of that mask, and then choke to death in that manner. They argue, his attorneys that that will lead to excessive pain, and thus torture, and could lead to other things, including stroke, and being in a vegetative state, if this procedure fails.

Now, I spoke earlier on, with his spiritual adviser, Reverend Jeff Hood, who is worried about his own personal safety too. He had to sign a waiver, saying he understood the harm, of actually being in the execution chamber, with Smith. And he is worried about the nitrogen, potentially getting out of that mask, the seal not working correctly. He feels that the State of Alabama is unprepared.

He also checked out a safety mechanism, today, these oxygen monitors, that will alarm, if there is tainted air, if there's a gas that's out there.

Here was his response.


REV. JEFF HOOD, SPIRITUAL ADVISER TO KENNETH SMITH: I was even told today, Isabel that if the oxygen monitors go off, they are -- they have no sort of a requirement that they evacuate the room.

So, what we're talking about is people, who have put these monitors in place, and basically told me today that they have no plan, on how to follow them.


I don't think that it's alarmist to say that this is a group of people, who have consistently failed, to carry out executions, and I believe that they are on a fast track to fail again.


ROSALES: And Reverend Hood tells me he is scheduled to go into the execution chamber with Smith, sometime after 7 PM Eastern, tomorrow.


COLLINS: Isabel Rosales, we'll be tracking this closely, obviously in the state, thank you for that report, on the ground, in Alabama.

Up next, for us, tonight, a surprising return, for a hugely popular Late Night host.


COLLINS: Jon Stewart is returning to "The Daily Show." Back in 1999, he began a 16-year run, on the show that spawned a generation of Late Night talent.

Culturally, the show hit its peak, under Stewart. Clips from his time, behind the desk, still go viral to this day, like when he mocked the angrier reaction that came, with trying to talk about Israel and Palestine.

In 2010, The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington showed how he had crossed from comedy, to also real-world influence with young voters.

The show has been using a series of fill-in hosts, since Trevor Noah left as the permanent host. And at the same time, Stewart's show on Apple TV+, ended, last year.


We're told that he is set to return in two and a half weeks, but only on Mondays. The other days, he's in work with a rotating cast of comedians, as hosts, and also executive produce the show. That is a Moment of Zen, for many of his biggest fans, here tonight.

Thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.

"KING CHARLES" starts right now.