'This Week' Transcript 2-19-23: Secretary Antony Blinken and Sen. Lindsey Graham

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, February 19.

ByABC News
February 19, 2023, 10:57 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, February 19, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.


ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.


MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: A sobering anniversary.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia has committed crimes against humanity.

RADDATZ: One year after the invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. escalates pressure on Russia and Ukraine’s leaders push for faster aid.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: There is no alternative to speed.

RADDATZ: As the U.S. continues to arm Ukraine, President Biden seeks to calm security concerns here at home amid rising tensions with China.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We seek competition, not conflict, with China.

But I make no apologies for taking down that balloon.

RADDATZ: All the fallout this morning with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Senator Lindsey Graham.

Disaster zone.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): The science indicates that this water is safe, the air is safe.

RADDATZ: Two weeks after the train carrying toxic material derailed in Ohio, residents still fear returning home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need FEMA housing. People are getting sick.

RADDATZ: Alex Presha on the growing environmental concerns in the region.

And --

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am running for president of the United States of America.

RADDATZ: Nikki Haley launches her 2024 bid as new details emerge on efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Jon Karl with an inside look. Plus, analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.



Here now, Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK.

After weeks of heightened tensions between the United States and China over the downing of that Chinese spy balloon, a direct confrontation this weekend as Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. The first high-level meeting since canceling his trip to Beijing.

It came just days after President Biden confirmed that those three additional objects shot down over North America were not part of China's spy operations, and days before the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

We spoke with Secretary Blinken earlier from Munich about all of that, and we'll get to it in a moment.

But first, what got us to these pressure points with Russia, Ukraine, and China in the first place?


RADDATZ (voice over): For weeks, our eyes have been on the skies. First, the shootdown of that massive Chinese spy balloon after it swept across the country, targeting sensitive military and nuclear signs. Politicians from both sides demanding answers.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Why this spy balloon was allowed to spend two days over our waters.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Why didn't we know more earlier?

RADDATZ: And then, amid criticism, unidentified objects seemed to be everywhere. Over Alaska, Canada, Lake Huron.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The size of it, it's so slow and so small, I can't see it.

RADDATZ: Multi-million-dollar fighter jets quickly taking out the objects.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The intelligence community's current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation or research institutions.

RADDATZ: President Biden now calling for a better way to keep track of what's in our skies, tasking Secretary of State Antony Blinken with creating global norms in this largely unregulated space.

The discovery to of the spy balloon canceled diplomatic talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but this weekend the secretary meeting with his counterpart in Munich.

President Biden, too, looking to temper tensions.

BIDEN: We seek competition, not conflict with China. We're not looking for a new Cold War.

RADDATZ: This as the war in Ukraine heats up, as the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion approaches. The toll of that war, evident everywhere. Cities, devastated. Lives, destroyed.

RADDATZ (on camera): Behind me was once a mass grave containing the bodies of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians slaughtered by Russian troops.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the case of Russia's actions in Ukraine, there is no doubt these are crimes against humanity.

RADDATZ: The U.S. has sent nearly $30 billion in military aid thus far, arming Ukrainian forces with missiles, howitzers and ammunition.

But as Russia prepares for a spring offensive, there's concern Ukrainian troops are firing through ammunition at a pace that allies' production can't keep up with.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking to leaders of the U.K., U.S., France, and Germany, urging quick action on future aid.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE: There is no alternative to Ukrainian victory. There is no alternative to speed.

RADDATZ: President Biden will return to the region Tuesday, visiting Poland, where he's expected to echo the same message he gave one year ago.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the history of this era is written, Putin's choice to make a totally unjustifiable war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.


RADDATZ: Secretary Blinken and I discussed all these issues yesterday during his trip to Munich. I began by asking him about that high-stakes meeting with China's top diplomat.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We had a very direct, very clear conversation about the Chinese surveillance balloon being sent over our territory in violation of our sovereignty, in violation of international law. I told Wang Yi, my Chinese counterpart, that that action was unacceptable and must never happen again.

We also had an opportunity to talk about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We're here in Munich, and many of the countries here are focused, as we are, on that aggression. And one of the things that I shared with him was a growing concern on our part that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia and its aggression against Ukraine. And I made clear, as President Biden has, almost from day one with President Xi, that that would have serious consequences in our own relationship.

Finally, it was important for me to underscore the importance of having open lines of communication between us in continuing to engage in direct diplomacy. We have a responsibility to manage the relationship responsibly. I think the world expects that of us. It's also in our interest. And so that's also something I underscored in the meeting with Wang Yi this evening.

RADDATZ: And I will say that Wang Yi has said of the Chinese spy balloon, the whole shootdown incident, that it was absurd and hysterical and said, Cold War mentality is back.

Is that the message you got from him?

BLINKEN: I don't want to characterize what he said to me, Martha, but I think here in Munich too, what we know is, we are not the only ones on the receiving end of the Chinese spy balloons. More than 40 countries have had these balloons go over their territory.

And this goes back some years. This program’s been around for a few years. So, there's a real concern that I'm hearing here from other countries, from allies and partners alike, about this program. And I think countries are -- I was going to say pleased, but pleased is the wrong word. They appreciate the fact that we've exposed it.

RADDATZ: I will assume you’ve got no apology.

BLINKEN: Again, I don't want to characterize what he said, but you're – you’re correct.

RADDATZ: And you talk about this lethal aid. What evidence do you have of that? What makes you think they're about to send lethal aid to the Russians for the war in Ukraine?

BLINKEN: Martha, what I can tell you is this. First of all, from day one, almost quite literally because President Biden spoke to President Xi a couple of weeks into the Russian aggression back last March, and said to him that it would be a deep concern to us if China provided lethal support to Russia or helped in the systematic evasion of sanction. And part of that reason for that conversation going back to last March was, just a few weeks before President Putin and President Xi had met and they talked about a partnership with no limits. And we were very concerned that no limits might including significant support to Russia and its aggression.

We’ve been watching this very, very closely. And, for the most part, China has been engaged in providing rhetorical, political, diplomatic support to Russia, but we have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia in the war against Ukraine. And it was important for me to share very clearly with Wang Yi that this would be a serious problem.

RADDATZ: And, Mr. Secretary, I want to go back to the Chinese spy balloon.

Some U.S. officials believe it's possible the Chinese didn't intend for the spy balloon to go to the United States, to cross the United States.

Do you believe that was their intent originally?

BLINKEN: Martha, I can't speak to their original intent. But what I can tell you is this, once over the United States, the balloon attempted to surveil very critical, important military installations. We protected the sensitive information that it was trying to surveil. We, at the same time, got information about the balloon itself as it was traversing the country going west to east. And then, when it was safe to do so, there was no danger to people on the ground, President Biden ordered that it be shot down.

RADDATZ: Okay, there were, of course, those three other balloons. I know President Biden has said he wants to keep America safe, but how can Americans feel safe if we have the most sophisticated weaponry in the world and surveillance, and we thought those three balloons were a threat, not just weather or recreational balloons?

BLINKEN: Martha, here's what's happened. When we began to track the Chinese surveillance balloon, one of the things that we did was to recalibrate our radars and other systems that were looking up in the sky. And as a result, we began to see things that in years past, we simply weren't looking for or looking at, including the objects that were subsequently shot down.

And the difference between the Chinese surveillance balloon and the objects that were shot down afterward is that the Chinese surveillance balloon was flying at about 60,000 feet, did not pose a threat to commercial aviation. The other objects were flying lower, and when we saw them, and within the band that commercial planes might fly in. So the President made a determination that they posed a threat to commercial aviation. And the prudent thing to do was to shoot them down.

RADDATZ: I want to ask you finally about the war in Ukraine, of course, it's the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion. I'm talking to Senator Lindsey Graham in a moment who has advocated for sending fighter jets, long range missiles, whatever Ukraine needs. You've also got the former NATO commander James Stavridis saying: Putin is all in and we should be as well.

Why not give them what they say they need to win this war?

BLINKEN: Martha, every step along the way, even going back to before the Russian aggression, we have been providing Ukrainians with what we believe they need to defend themselves and now to take back territory that was seized by force. If you go back before the aggression started when we saw the storm clouds rising --


RADDATZ: But they say they need fighter jets. They say they need fighter jets, they say they need -- they say they need longer range missiles. So you say you're sending them what you think, not what they think they need?

BLINKEN: No, we're in very close collaboration and coordination with the Ukrainians precisely on this question of what do they need at any given time. But what's very important is this: what we should not do, any of us, is to focus or get fixated on any particular weapons system because the weapon system itself, as important as it is, is not -- is not sufficient. You have to make sure that Ukrainians are trained on the systems that are being provided. You have to make sure that they can maintain them. If they're not trained on them, they can't use them. If they don't know how to maintain them, and they fall apart within a week, it's not going to do a lot of good.

And you also have to make sure that they're using all of these things in a comprehensive way that can be effective on the battlefield. That's been what we've been doing all along.

We're also looking at the next months because what's going on now is this: the Russians are engaged right now in an offensive along the eastern lines trying to push through the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are holding very strong, the Russians are suffering horrific losses in this effort. Ukraine’s also preparing for a counteroffensive in the spring, and the focus has to be on what will they be able to use and use effectively over the next few months, not the next few years, to make the greatest gain possible against the Russian aggression.

RADDATZ: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Secretary. We appreciate your time.

BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

RADDATZ: Joining us now is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, also in Munich.

Good morning, Senator.

You heard what Secretary Blinken said about the war, and particularly those weapons I know you want to get over there. Your reaction?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, number one: there are 30 United States senators in Munich, along with a big House delegation. Senator McConnell and Schumer both came. Virtually unanimous belief that we should be training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 today so they can get the jets as soon as possible.

The British are training Ukrainian pilots. I believe a decision will be imminent here when we get back to Washington that the administration will start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16. They need the weapons system.

And let me just stress this -- how can you call this war by Russia a crime against humanity, and that's what the vice president did in Munich -- now, we're talking about Germany. We're talking about the vice president of United States declaring that Russia is involved in crimes against humanity in Germany of all places, you know, echoes of World War II. How can she say that -- and she is correct -- and not give the victim of the crime against humanity the defensive weapons they need to stop the crime?

So we need to do two things quickly, make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law, which would make it harder for China to give weapons to Russia, and we need to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 now.

RADDATZ: I know one of the things the allies have worried about is that it could provoke Russia if you have longer range missiles.

GRAHAM: Right.

RADDATZ: If you have F-16s.


RADDATZ: If you could provoke them anymore.

GRAHAM: Yes. Right.

I don't know, you know, you know, a year ago everybody here was in denial. I was preaching as loud as I could, Putin really means it.

Here's the good news. I've never seen NATO so united. The Germans have stepped up to the plate. There's bipartisan support for winning this war in Ukraine, for giving the Ukrainians the weapons they need to defend themselves.

I'm not worried about provoking Putin. I want to beat him. And how do you beat him? You beat him by giving the Ukrainians the military capability to drive the Russians out of Ukraine. You label Putin’s Russia as a stage sponsor of terrorism. You create international tribunals so we actually can try Putin and his cronies in the international court, like we did after World War II.

Don't worry about provoking Putin, worry about beating him. And I’ve never been more optimistic about winning this war in Ukraine than I am right now. I see solidarity across the aisle in America and across the seas.

RADDATZ: You say you think they'll win this war. How do they win this war, and do they take Crimea?

GRAHAM: Great question. OK. Here's how you win the war. You expel Russia from territory -- in 1994, the Ukrainians gave up the third largest nuclear force on the planet. After the Soviet Union failed, there were like 1,700 nukes in Ukraine. They turned the missiles over to Russia. Russia, the United States and Great Britain said, in exchange for you giving up your nuclear weapons, we will guarantee your territorial integrity, your sovereignty. And the '94 map included Crimea as being part of Ukraine.

So, to not honor that commitment would be tricking the Ukraine, would be rewarding Putin for rewriting agreements involving nuclear weapons. To forgive and forget would be allowing Putin to commit major war crimes on an industrial scale. It would send a signal to China that we're all talk, we're not going to defend Taiwan.

What's at stake here is the rule of law, human decency, and world order. So, here's what I believe. Once you call Russia being engaged in crimes against humanity, you have to have actions consistent with that statement. So I’m looking for this administration to follow up on that statement by designating Russia a state sponsored terrorism under U.S. law. One hundred senators urged the administration to do that. And I’m also urging the administration to start F-16 training now for Ukrainian pilots. Don’t worry about provoking Putin, let’s make sure we beat Putin in Ukraine because he will not stop if we do not.

RADDATZ: And, Senator Graham, I want to turn to China. The U.S. says it does not have a spy balloon program. But given what has happened, are you worried that China has surpassed the U.S. in this so-called near space?

GRAHAM: You know, I’m trying to help the administration. Listen, I like Tony Blinken. And the response about the balloon was slow. But the Chinese are lying. It's not a weather balloon. It's a spy balloon. So, yes, we need to deal with that.

But what Secretary Blinken said is big news to me. He believes that the Chinese are on the verge of providing lethal weapons to Putin. Now, if that happens, the world needs to come down hard on China because if you believe, as I do, and the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, believes, that Russia is engaged in crimes against humanity in Ukraine, any country that comes to their aid should pay a heavy price. So, that's why we should designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism because if you do that under U.S. law, and China provides lethal weapons, they will get sanctioned.

And to the Chinese, if you jump on the Putin train now, you're dumber than dirt. It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after you saw the movie. Don't do this. The most catastrophic thing that could happen to U.S./China relationship, in my opinion, is for China to stop – to start -- to give lethal weapons to Putin in this crime against humanity. That would change everything forever.

RADDATZ: And, Senator Graham, I want to, if we could, quickly here talk about the Georgia grand jury. The grand jury in Georgia investigating allegations that former President Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election.


RADDATZ: The grand jury released this statement. We find by a unanimous vote that no widespread fraud took place in the Georgia 2020 presidential election that could result in overturning that election.

You appeared before that grand jury in November and were asked about a call the Georgia secretary of state said you made to him after the 2020 election. First, do you accept the grand jury conclusion, and do you have any regrets about calling the secretary of state? And any concerns about perjury?

GRAHAM: No concerns about my testimony. The grand jury analysis that there was no widespread fraud in Georgia, I agree with that. I think the voting by mail had problems, but I found no evidence of widespread fraud. And I had to decide as a senator whether or not to validate the Georgia election. I thought it made sense to call up the Georgia secretary of state, and I did. I asked hard questions, but at the end of the day, I voted to certify the election results in Georgia for the 2020 election.

RADDATZ: thanks so much for joining us this morning, Senator Graham. Safe trip back.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

RADDATZ: The round table is coming up. Plus, the growing fallout on the toxic train derailment in Ohio. We're back in 60 seconds.



MAYOR TRENT CONAWAY, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: I have the village on my back and I'll do whatever it takes, whatever it takes, to make this right. I'm not leaving. I'm not going anywhere. This is my town. I'm not going to sell my house. I'm not going to move my kids out of the schools. I'm here to stay. And they're going to make it right. They screwed up our town. They're going to fix it.

RADDATZ: This morning and every day for the past two weeks, Ohio residents are demanding answers and accountability after that train derailment that unleashed a toxic mess, with questions still lingering about the safety of the water and air. ABC's Alex Presha reports on the mounting fears and frustrations within the East Palestine community.

ALEX PRESHA, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: For more than two weeks, a cloud of concern has hung over an eastern Ohio city, since a train loaded with toxic chemicals derailed, the release of hazardous chemicals still causing major worry and skepticism for many East Palestine residents, despite officials saying they're safe to return.

ASHLEY MCCOLLUM, EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: I don't believe the -- the reading is accurate. If I can smell it and it's alarming enough that it's not a good smell, it makes me feel like I shouldn't be in the area.

PRESHA: Ohio officials reiterating this week that the town's water and air are safe.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE, (R) OHIO: We know that the science indicates that this water is safe, the air is safe. But we also know, very understandably, that residents of East Palestine are concerned.

PRESHA: The governor echoing the words of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan during a visit to East Palestine this week.

MICHAEL S. REGAN, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I am asking that they trust the government. And that's hard. We know that there's a lack of trust, which is why the state and the federal government have pledged to be very transparent.

PRESHA: But some residents are weary, fearful to return home.

KRISTINA FERGUSON, EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: You get a -- a tingling in your tongue and on your lips, heaviness in the chest. It's not a headache. It's pressure. It's dizziness. But it -- it feels -- it just doesn't feel right.

PRESHA: Ohio Senator J.D. Vance showing a similar lack of confidence.

SEN. J.D. VANCE, (R) OHIO: It's a frightening situation, and my guidance to people was to continue to drink the bottled water.

PRESHA: East Palestine's mayor, Trent Conaway, calling on additional aid from state and federal officials.

CONAWAY: I need help. I'm not ready for this.

PRESHA: On Friday the Biden administration announcing medical personnel and toxicologists are deploying to set up testing clinics. The derailment also calling into question broader train safety standards within the country.

DEWINE: The law doesn't require them to notify the state of Ohio or anybody that this is coming through our state. This is crazy.

PRESHA: Some lawmakers now considering legislation to change how the federal government classifies hazardous materials carried by trains.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (R-OH): We think we might need a change in federal law.

PRESHA: Norfolk Southern, the railroad company responsible for the incident, has agreed to pay for the cleanup and released a statement Thursday saying, in part: We are here and we’ll stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive.

But the National Transportation Safety Board announced an investigation is under way.

For "This Week," Alex Presha, ABC News, East Palestine, Ohio.


RADDATZ: Our thanks to Alex for that.

There's been a lot of political finger-pointing in East Palestine. So, we wanted to bring together a panel of experts who can give us the best information about that chemical spill and the response.

Joining us is Samantha Montano, professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Peter Decarlo, professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University.

Thanks for joining us this morning, both of you.

And, Professor Decarlo, I want to talk to you first. Let's start with those health concerns. You hear people saying they're having headaches. They say everything's okay there.

But should people still be concerned?

PETER DECARLO, JOHNS HOPKINS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Based on the available data that we've seen on the EPA response site, we just don't have the information we need to understand what chemicals may be present. We know it started as vinyl chloride, but as soon as you burn that, all bets are off. You have a lot of chemical by-products that can happen from a combustion process like that.

RADDATZ: Even though officials are saying you're safe?

DECARLO: The monitoring equipment that they're using to determine things that are safe doesn't give us chemical specificity. It doesn't tell us what chemicals are present. It just says they're below some level. There’s plenty of chemicals that can be created from that fire that can be toxic at much lower levels.

RADDATZ: So, what would you say to residents who have returned to East Palestine?

DECARLO: I would ask -- I would suggest that they ask for more testing of surfaces in their homes, understanding and getting the results from air sampling that has been done by the EPA. But I haven't seen any results posted since February 9th.

RADDATZ: And, Professor Montano, there's confusion about who's actually handling this. State, local? Why are they so confused? How does this happen, this confusion?

SAMANTHA MONTANO, MASSACHUSETTS MARITIME ACADEMY PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Yeah, well, it's a confusing process, and really it's kind of a combination of all three levels of government, many different government agencies that are involved, and all taking on a small piece of the puzzle.

RADDATZ: So what would you say when you look at the situation has gone wrong with this response?

MONTANO: Yeah, so first of all, there are a lot of unknowns as Dr. Decarlo was mentioning in terms of actually understanding what the immediate health concerns are. That really is what needs to be driving the rest of the response. In addition to that, however, the communication with the public has really been off base from the start and has really opened the door for a lot of misinformation, a lot of confusion, even conspiracy theories.

RADDATZ: And specifically what kind of miscommunication?

MONTANA: Yeah, so --

RADDATZ: Different messages?

MONTANA: Yeah. So, definitely, right from the start, there were kind of conflicting messages coming from local agencies that were involved. As you start to see the state become involved, you start getting statements from Norfolk Southern, the responsible party here. There's these conflicting messages going back and forth that are really confusing for anyone to interpret.

RADDATZ: And, Professor Decarlo, should the Biden administration who sent CDC and HHS personnel sooner or is the distrust of government just so big at this point, it's really hard to tackle that?

DECARLO: I mean, I think it's hard to tackle it. I think this is a situation where you definitely want all the expertise you can bring soon -- as soon as possible to really address these sorts of concerns

RADDATZ: And train derailments as we know, Professor Montano, are not uncommon. What -- when you look at that and the regulations on that, what has to happen? Obviously, they're taking a hard look at that as well.

MONTANA: Right, exactly. Train derailments are something we plan for a lot of emergency management, but it is very clear that regulations need to change. Congress needs to stand up to the railway lobby, and force them --

RADDATZ: This has gone on for a long, long, long time.

MONTANA: It has for decades, right. They need to force them to implement these safety regulations that we know we need. We also need a better investment in local emergency management. So when these events do occur, they can be more proactive in the response.

RADDATZ: And, Professor, Governor Mike DeWine, Ohio's governor, announced Friday that FEMA would be deploying a senior response official. They now have done that. But did that delay hurt?

DECARLO: I -- it's possible. It's a little bit beyond my expertise. I don't know what FEMA is going to bring to the table. I think we just need more data on what people are being exposed to, and especially people, young children, elderly, people who are vulnerable.

RADDATZ: Bottom line, would you move back to East Palestine if you were living there?

DECARLO: I have two little boys. I would not.


How about you?

MONTANA: Not yet. Not until there's more testing.

RADDATZ: Very disturbing news, but thanks, both of you for your expertise.

Up next, as the race for 2024 heats up, explosive new accusations that Trump allies tried to undermine the 2020 election. Jon Karl has the details and our roundtable weighs in as well, next.


RADDATZ: The roundtable is ready to go. We'll be right back.



NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're ready, ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past, and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future.

For a strong America, for a proud America, I am running for president of the United States of America.


RADDATZ: Former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, jumping into the 2024 race. The first Republican challenger to Donald Trump.

But as the primary race gets underway, the fiction that Trump won the 2020 election still looms over the field. And a new court filing from Dominion, a maker of voting machines, reveal a new twist on what Trump's most vocal supporters really thought about his false election claims. We'll talk about it with our roundtable after this report from chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP’S FORMER LAWYER: We use largely a Venezuelan voting machine, in essence, to count our vote. If we let this happen, we're going to become Venezuela.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell were making wildly false claims about rigged voting machines after Trump lost in 2020, private communications reveal that pro-Trump voices at Fox News were calling it nuts.

Watching Giuliani, Rupert wrote in an email, really crazy stuff. And damaging.

Sidney Powell is lying by the way, Tucker Carlson wrote to fellow Fox host Laura Ingraham. I caught her. It’s insane. Ingraham responded, Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy. Carlson, it's unbelievably offensive. Our viewers are good people, and they believe it.

At the time, Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani were the top lawyers pushing Trump's lies about the election.

That whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, said Fox host Sean Hannity, I did not believe it for one second.

These revelations are contained in a preliminary filing by Dominion Voting Systems, which is suing Fox for spreading Trump’s lie that its vote counting machines somehow rigged the election. Dominion contends that while the top people at Fox new the allegations were false, they continued to broadcast them.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FBN ANCHOR: What can you tell us about the interest on the other side of this Dominion software?

SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, obviously, they have invested in it for their own reasons and are using it to commit this fraud to steal votes.

KARL: Some on Fox did express doubts on air. Fox anchor Neil Cavuto even cut off a briefing by then White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for what he suggested was spreading lies.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY (November 9, 202): And we want every illegal vote to be –

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Whoa, whoa, whoa, I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging -- the other side is welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can't, in good continence, continue showing you this.

KARL: When Trump falsely claimed that Dominion machines cost him 2.7 million votes, Fox Reporter Jackie Heinrich responded with a tweet saying, Dominion voting and top election infrastructure officials categorically deny this.

Some of Heinrich’s colleagues at Fox wanted her to be punished, even though they knew that what she was saying was true. Please get her fired. Seriously, Tucker Carlson wrote hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.

The lawsuit contends that Fox didn't want to publicly call out Trump's lies because doing so would drive away viewers who believed those lies.

In response to Dominion's filing, Fox said, quote, "Dominion has mischaracterized the record, cherry-picked quotes stripped of key context," and that, quote, "Statements Dominion challenges are not actionable defamation because Fox News' coverage and commentary are not only not defamatory, but also protected by the First Amendment."


RADDATZ: Our thanks to Jon. So let's bring in the roundtable, Politico senior Washington correspondent and Playbook co-author Rachael Bade; ABC News deputy political director Averi Harper; the New Yorker staff writer Susan Glasser; and Wall Street Journal White House reporter Catherine Lucey.

Welcome to all of you this morning. Susan, I want to pick up where Jon Karl left off. In your book with Peter Baker, your husband, "The Divider," you talked about this relationship between Donald Trump and Fox News. What surprised you, if anything, about what's happening?


SUSAN GLASSER, NEW YORKER STAFF WRITER: It's shocking, Martha, but once again maybe not surprising, the story of the Trump presidency, but really significant. I think that these were almost smoking-gun-type emails. This is in some ways the most serious media scandal, I think, of recent memory. Because what it -- these emails document essentially is fraud, and its senior executives and hosts perpetrating a fraud on their own viewers that they knew not to be true.

I mean, it is really breath-taking to see it in their own words. Our reporting in the book very clearly showed Fox made the right news call, the news side did, and they got rid of the people who correctly called Arizona for Trump (sic), and then went into a crisis. They went into an absolute crisis. And by the way, Fox officials, for our book, incorrectly said to us, "Oh, no, we weren't in a panic over the ratings," you know, "Don't you dare report that." But of course these emails show that that's exactly what happened.

RADDATZ: And, Averi, do you think it will resonate with Fox viewers, with anyone?

AVERI HARPER, ABC NEWS DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I -- I don't think it's changing any minds. I mean, certainly when you look at what these court documents lay out, it is quite an eye-opener because this is just another indication that there was an entire ecosystem that was bolstering the big lie. And so, yes, it's not a surprise to see that some of these hosts were trafficking in conspiracy. But it is remarkable to see that curtain pulled back.

RADDATZ: And whether it resonates or not, Rachael, this had a huge impact?

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT AND PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR: Yeah, and, I mean, we're going to have to watch how this is going to affect Fox News going forward. I mean, defamation suits are rarely successful just because there's a very high bar legally to prove in court to win them. But, you know, Dominion has to prove actual malice and recklessness, and, again, when you look at this evidence, there's a lot there that the court can work with in terms of actually finding Fox News guilty, and them having to pay potentially $1.6 billion, when they have about $4 billion on hand right now.

So this could affect them going forward. And, you know, will it change their -- their -- the whole way they move forward in terms of their own coverage? We'll have to see, but, yes, it was very influential in 2020 and impacted their viewership, clearly.

RADDATZ: And, Catherine, whether it resonates with their viewers, whatever happens legally, Donald Trump will not stop talking about the 2020 election?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, certainly, if we take a step back and look at the big picture, that is the truth, right, is that former President Trump is running for re-election. He is continuing to make these claims, and certainly some of his supporters believe him. And that is going to continue to be an issue as this Republican primary gets going, as more candidates get in the race and they continue to talk about this.

RADDATZ: And I -- I want to turn to 2024. We've heard and seen Nikki Haley -- Susan, she announced her bid for president this week, becoming the first challenger to President Trump. Do you think there's a path for her?

GLASSER: Well, you know, a lot of people who watched that announcement thought it had a very 2015 feel to it, you know, sort of, saying, "Well, it's time to move on for a new generation." One of the big problems for Nikki Haley is that you never know which side of the Trump question she's on. She was against Trump; then she was for him and served in his administration. Then she was briefly against him after January 6th. Then she said, "I'll never -- I won't run against him." And now, of course, she's running against him.

And I think that's the problem. Trump remains the front-runner in the Republican field. And, you know, if there's Trump versus, sort of, Trump-ists, why not just pick Trump? And I think you see in the polls reflected that he's a pretty strong leader right now.

RADDATZ: So, Catherine, what is her base? How -- how does she do this? How does she navigate, given so many sides of this?

LUCEY: I think what she is probably looking at, as are a number of the other Republicans who are looking at getting into this race is this idea that certainly there are some Republicans who are going to stick by President Trump. We know there's a -- a core group that like him. But there's definitely people who are not interested in Trump and some who are open to persuasion.

And she's trying to make the argument that she has experience as a governor, that she has experience at the U.N. But we have to see, I think, what her actual policy arguments are. We haven't really seen, sort of, you know, her full argument in terms of what policy proposals she's talking about. And it's going to get very crowded probably pretty soon. There's a lot of people looking at getting in, and it's not really clear...

RADDATZ: Including Tim Scott of...

LUCEY: Including Tim Scott. And, I mean, one key piece of her argument, I think, will be that, you know, she has a strong base in South Carolina, an early state tjhat she can capture. And if he gets in, that gets harder. And President Trump is still popular in South Carolina.

So the path is tricky. She's also making this generational argument that I think you'll hear from other people as well. She's not going to be the only younger person than Donald Trump running, certainly.

RADDATZ: And -- and, Rachael, Trump, former President Trump, quickly hit on her.

BADE: Of course.


RADDATZ: Will she withstand these attacks from him, or will we hear just more and more from him, obviously, depending on how she does, right?

BADE: You know, I think a lot of people were surprised that he didn't go after her harder. And that just speaks to, you know, the fact that he doesn't view her as a threat. But, I mean, Nikki Haley has been underestimated before. She was an underdog when it came to running for the state legislature. She was an underdog running for governor. And each time she, sort of, defeated the odds and won.

I mean, can she replicate that on a national stage? That's a fair question, of course, especially in a crowded field. But one thing I think is interesting about her campaign is that she's really leaning into her gender.

And, you know, I've covered Republicans for a long time. Republican women, I have tried to talk to them about, you know, what it means to be a woman in office. A lot of times they dismiss you. I remember when Diane Black used to tell me she -- she wanted me to call her Chairman Diane Black, never chairwoman.

But Nikki Haley is doing something different and, sort of, betting that this might actually boost her in a field of men. I mean, will that resonate with Republicans who don't really play identity politics? It's anyone's guess at this point. But I do think that that is an interesting flip in terms of campaign strategy.

RADDATZ: And -- and, Averi, let me take that to you about gender. You've got a big concern with Democrats about Kamala Harris. A Quinnipiac poll showed just 5 percent of Republicans backing Nikki Halo -- Nikki Haley. So it begs the -- she'll like that, Halo, Nikki Halo.


So it begs the question. How much do you think gender is a factor?

HARPER: Well, I think it plays differently with Republicans than it does with Democrats. I also think, when you look at the fact that she is a woman of color, that is also something that's very interesting about her campaign and the way that she's launched her campaign. She has really spoken to the exceptionalism that she is. She talked about being raised in this South Carolina town that was divided by race but still rejecting the notion of race playing into any of our nation's structures. So it will be interesting to see how that plays going forward.

RADDATZ: It -- it will indeed. Just a quick word from you on that, Catherine, on the gender?

LUCEY: Yeah, I think one of the things with gender is that you see this, particularly with Republican women, they have to try and show both toughness but also approachability. And you see them try and straddle that line, right? You know, Sarah Palin talking about being a hockey mom, or more recently Sarah Sanders, running for governor of Arkansas, talking about her kids. How that plays in a field of men, we have to see, but it's -- it is a difficult line to walk, and they're always trying to straddle that.

RADDATZ: A lot of people have tried to walk that line over the years.


Thanks very much. We need to take a quick break. When we come back, more with the roundtable and that difficult news about Senator John Fetterman.


RADDATZ: And we are back with the roundtable.

And, Averi, let's start with John Fetterman. We heard this week that he checked himself into Walter Reed for clinical depression. Of course, we know he had that stroke last year.

This is a tough one.

HARPER: Right, of course, you mention this is not the first time we've seen him deal with a health issue. What I think is really important to note is if you look at that statement from his office, they were very deliberate in pointing out that he has dealt with bouts of depression in the past, and in a change from probably previously, where mental health issues could be stigmatizing or derail a political career, we've seen lawmakers on both sides of the aisle really come out in support of him.

So, we are told that he could be away from the Senate for weeks, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens there.

RADDATZ: And it could be -- I think I read it could be a month, probably not two months, but could be a month.

Rachael, Dick Durbin, the Senate Democrats' number two, said they didn't see any signs of Fetterman struggling which I think is probably frequently the case. He said he also believes Fetterman will be able to finish his term.

BADE: Yeah. I mean, look, and it wasn't just Democrats. I think, you know, you mentioned support for him that was expressed. I thought it was particularly noteworthy that Senator Ted Cruz who, you know, often will take an opportunity when an opponent is down to sort of kick him, right, said, you know, people should respect his privacy, that he wishes him well.

And so, you know, it very much shows a difference in tone I think from just a few years ago. I mean, you can go back to the early 1970s and talk about Senator Tom Eagleton who was then the VP pick with George McGovern and, you know, he came out and said he had been treated for depression with electric shock therapy. A week later, McGovern dropped him from the ticket, and he was re-elected twice.

But, you know, a lot of times when senators and members have talked about mental health issues, it really can hurt their political careers going forward. And hopefully, you know, in this day and age, people are talking about it more. There's an understanding that this is very, you know, usual. A lot of Americans sort of struggle with this, and because of that hopefully, these sort of situations are dealt with, with more grace.

RADDATZ: And, Catherine, Pennsylvania voters really connected with him through his stroke, and through the election.

LUCEY: That's right. I think one of the things we really saw, and there were a lot of questions around how would he perform, and how would people respond to his debate performances where, you know, we saw he needed assistance because he has some auditory processing issues.

And what we heard from a lot of voters was, I have someone in my family who had a stroke. I understand what it’s like to live with someone who’s been through this. Or, I've been through this myself. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the same response some people have to hearing that he has mental health struggles. That we are in a moment where people are being more open about this. The pandemic really has, I think, created a broader conversation about mental health, how to take care of your mental health. And we did, we saw a lot of empathy from his voters during his campaign for his sort of – his public acknowledgment of the things he was going through.

RADDATZ: And, Susan, I want to talk about someone else's health here, and that is Jimmy Carter. We learned former President Jimmy Carter is going to be in hospice care now. Has accepted the end of life. Just some thoughts from you about Carter's presidency, what he meant.

GLASSER: You know, it's so remarkable because Carter has been so remarkably long lived. And I should say, he's actually already the longest lived former president ever in the United States. So, he will have that as part of his remarkable record. Many people thought of him as America’s best ex-president. Although he only served one term in office, he's had a remarkable humanitarian career for decades ever since then. But --

RADDATZ: Habitat for Humanity. He did so much.

GLASSER: Well, that's right, and all around the world, I should say.

But, you know, I do think at this moment of extraordinary division and polarization in the country, remember that, you know, Jimmy Carter was a southern Democrat. He came from a previous era in our politics as the governor of Georgia. He was uniquely positioned to sort of push back on what ultimately was the very successful Republican sweep to take over the south.

So, you know, to me, 1976, that was an election when as many as half of our states were competitive. No more. We're a divided country in a way that we weren't at that time.

RADDATZ: Well, we all wish the family the best.

Thanks so much to all of you.

We'll be right back.


RADDATZ: And that's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a great Presidents’ Day weekend.