Mid-East Tensions At A High After Iran Attacks Israel | Crooked Media
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April 14, 2024
What A Day
Mid-East Tensions At A High After Iran Attacks Israel

In This Episode

  • The Iranian government launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday night in what’s believed to be Iran’s first direct attack against Israel from its own soil. Israel reported minimal damage and was able to shoot down most of the drones and missiles, with some help from the U.S. military. Ben Rhodes, former U.S. national security advisor and co-host of Pod Save The World, talks about the significance of the attack and what it means for long-simmering tensions in the Middle East.
  • Former President Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial begins today in a Manhattan courtroom. He’s accused of falsifying business records to cover up payments he made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels in the lead up to the 2016 election. He also becomes the first former U.S. president to face a criminal trial. Attorney Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s majority during Trump’s first impeachment, explains what we can expect during the trial.
  • And in headlines: Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for wartime aid to Israel and Ukraine this week, a dozen news organizations signed a joint letter asking both President Biden and former President Trump to participate in debates, and Nike is under fire over a revealing women’s kit for Team USA’s track and field athletes at this summer’s Olympics.


Show Notes:





Tre’vell Andeson: It’s Monday, April 15th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What a Day and what a day it is because today is the tax deadline. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Yes, it is Uncle Sam’s favorite day of the year. 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s most American’s least favorite day of the year. 


Tre’vell Andeson: And this is why you should file your taxes early. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Not all of us have our lives together. Okay? Some of us will be filing our taxes at 9:30 this evening. And by that I mean filing for an extension. [laughter] [music break]


Tre’vell Andeson: On today’s show, former President Donald Trump will finally have his day in court as jury selection for the criminal hush money case starts today. Plus, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to petition Congress for aid in its war against Russia. 


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, the Iranian government launched hundreds of drones and missiles at Israel late Saturday night. The aerial attack filled the night sky with flashes for hours. The two countries have been dueling for decades, but this is believed to be Iran’s first direct attack from its soil. Despite the ambush, Israel is claiming victory after the country and its allies, including the U.S., were able to intercept most of the drones. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Okay, so what does this mean? Does it mean Israel has two wars on its hands? 


Josie Duffy Rice: All of this is still developing. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Sunday, and President Biden has been in touch with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu. But to help make sense of all of this, I called up Ben Rhodes, our in-house foreign policy expert. He is a former U.S. national security advisor and co-host of Pod Save the World. I started by asking him to explain Saturday’s attack and how we got here. 


Ben Rhodes: The brief background, right, is that Iran and Israel have been in a proxy war for a long time in the Middle East. It’s obviously escalated since October 7th. A couple weeks ago, Israel bombed the Iranian embassy complex in Damascus, killing several senior leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. That’s a unit of the Iranian military that supports a bunch of these proxy groups in the Middle East. And to Iran, that’s their sovereign territory. And so Iran did something they’ve never done before, which is launch an attack from Iranian soil on Israel, mainly drones, some missiles, almost all of which were intercepted by air defense systems that the US provides to Israel or by the US itself. And so the attack had minimal damage, but it kind of represents a crossing of a new rubicon in terms of the Iran Israel conflict. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Related to this crossing of a new rubicon. What is Israel saying about this most recent attack by Iran? And do we have an idea of how they are planning to respond? 


Ben Rhodes: If Iran really wanted to escalate this war they have thousands of rockets that their proxy Hezbollah has in southern Lebanon pointed at Israel. Um. So it felt like Iran wanted to do something, but wanted it to be kind of calculated to not really inflame everything. I know that that sounds weird when you’re talking about sending drones and missiles, but to some extent, Iran knows Israel has really good air defense systems. It’s not to say they didn’t wanna hit something. It just means that they could have done worse. Now, Israel has said that they will respond. The Israeli War Cabinet met on Sunday. They have not announced what the nature of their response will be. Everybody’s just waiting to see. Okay, does Israel kind of revert back to the kind of conflict where, you know, they’re hitting each other through proxies? Or does this kind of direct exchange of fire between Israel and Iran continue? 


Josie Duffy Rice: As we know, the U.S. and Israel are strong allies. Here’s a clip of President Biden from last week ahead of Saturday’s attack. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad. We say it again, ironclad. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So how has that ironclad partnership looked so far, and what can we expect from the US going forward? 


Ben Rhodes: Well, obviously, you know, we can talk about Gaza. The US and Israel have increasingly been at odds about Gaza. On this attack from Iran. I guess the ironclad nature of U.S. support was apparent in the fact that the US helped Israel shoot down all of these projectiles coming towards Israel. And so the US did play a role in the defense of Israeli people and territory in this attack. I think now all indications are that the US and President Biden are telling the Israeli government, hey, don’t feel the need to react by attacking Iran because the US doesn’t want this war to escalate further. If there’s a war between Israel and Iran that escalates, the US could get drawn into that. We have a lot of troops in the region who could be vulnerable. And also Iran controls or has the capacity to kind of shut down waters through which enormous amounts of global economic output travel. So the US doesn’t want that. And so I’m pretty sure that we’re counseling Israel to not react by attacking Iran. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So related to this idea of the war kind of expanding. If you were online this week and you saw a lot of talk about the fear of World War three, so why are people worried about that? And what would you say to people who are concerned that this is going to spiral? 


Ben Rhodes: Yeah, I’ll be honest. You know, I’m worried about that. [laugh]


Josie Duffy Rice: Okay. I was hoping you were going to say the opposite. 


Ben Rhodes: I’ll start with the bad news, and then I’ll try to get to the better news. I mean, the bad news is, you know, there’s a war in Ukraine that is ongoing. There is a war in the Middle East that is ongoing um in Gaza and this kind of proxy war. And, you know, if you look at the map of the world wars, you know, two thirds of the map are activated, right? What’s missing is Asia and the US and China have some flashpoints in Taiwan and in the South China Sea. But we’re uncomfortably normalizing conflict in places where conflict can escalate. And I think that’s why people are right to be concerned. And there’s this kind of alignment of countries, right? Russia, China, Iran, you know, they’re aligned with each other. The US is obviously aligned with our European allies, were aligned with Israel. So that’s the uncomfortable part. I think the reason people might be able to relax about this one incident is this does feel like neither Israel or Iran at this point are kind of looking for an all out war. They’re testing each other, they’re pushing boundaries. They’re doing things they haven’t done before. Like I said, Israel had not bombed an Iranian diplomatic facility like they did a couple weeks ago, Iran had not attacked Israel directly, but they’re trying to calibrate it. Now again, we’re living with too much risk here. We’re living with too much violence. I think that’s the core problem. So we’re not like on the doorstep of World War three, but, you know, it certainly feels uncomfortably plausible. You know, that we’re just living with these conflicts that show very little sign of ending. 


Josie Duffy Rice: How are other countries in the Middle East responding or feeling in this moment where there has been some much more direct conflict between these two countries? 


Ben Rhodes: I think, you know, those countries are uneasy. A lot of the Sunni majority Arab states, and so that’s Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and Jordan, you know, they have no love lost for Iran, but they also don’t want to see a huge war in their region either. And so I think they’re all probably sending messages to both Israel and Iran, um to try to de-escalate things. Don’t ratchet this up. I think the other important thing, though, is that the war in Gaza continues. Right. And the war in Gaza is both the source of, you know, an enormous humanitarian catastrophe for the people of Gaza. And it’s a source of this ongoing sense of the Middle East being a tinderbox, because since the war in Gaza began with the Hamas attacks on October 7th and then the Israeli military operation, that’s when we’ve seen all these proxy attacks escalate, too, because the temperature’s just up. And I think one of my concerns is, you know, this makes it probably less likely that you see a cease fire in Gaza, the kind of deal that was being negotiated in terms of hostage releases in exchange for a cease fire. The Israeli government is still saying they’re going to do this military operation in Rafah, a city of over a million people, that the U.S. doesn’t want them to do. And so it feels like on top of or at least underneath everything that’s been happening. Sadly, the situation in Gaza is kind of where it was and probably probably further away from a ceasefire. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And Tre’vell, that was my conversation with Ben Rhodes, former U.S. National Security advisor and co-host of Pod Save the World. We will obviously keep you updated as all of this evolves. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Thank you for that, Josie. Turning now to some domestic news. Jury selection in the first criminal trial against former President Donald Trump begins today in New York. This is the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Braggs’ office accusing Trump of falsifying business records to, quote, “conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.” Take a listen to what Trump had to say at a campaign rally over the weekend in Philadelphia. 


[clip of Donald Trump] On Monday in New York City I will be forced to sit fully gagged. I’m not allowed to talk. Can you believe it? 


Tre’vell Andeson: You know, we too will be fully gagged [laughed] to see the first criminal trial against a former US president proceed. But unfortunately, though, the trial will not be televised. So we won’t get to see all of the drama inside the courtroom. But we do know the trial itself is expected to last six to eight weeks. So buckle up everybody. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Buckle up. It has been a very long road to get here. Trump has tried to delay this trial several times. You may remember that he also tried to sue the judge. This is kind of the same way he’s tried to delay the other three cases against him. But remind us again what this case is about and what prosecutors have to prove? 


Tre’vell Andeson: This case is involving the hush money payments Trump’s team made to Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who says she had an affair with the former president. The prosecution alleges that Trump knowingly hid the transaction in his campaign finance records, labeling it as a legal service fee. And they are arguing that Trump’s team did this with the intent to deceive voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Legal services fee sounds like a little bit of a stretch. So what is Trump’s defense arguing? 


Tre’vell Andeson: You know, the same old, same old that we expect from him whenever he is under fire, Trump and his team are basically arguing that the former president did nothing wrong and that he didn’t knowingly commit any crime. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, and both sides will obviously be presenting evidence to support their case. So do you know what witnesses could be called to the stand to testify? And is Trump possibly going to testify? What’s going on with that? 


Tre’vell Andeson: You know, inquiring minds definitely want to know. So I spoke to Norm Eisen for the tea. He served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee majority during the impeachment proceedings against Trump in 2019 and 2020. He was also special counsel to former President Barack Obama on ethics and government reform. And he just came out with a book about this very case called Trying Trump: A Guide to His First election Interference Criminal Trial. And I asked him, who will be called to the witness stand. 


[clip of Norm Eisen] For sure Michael Cohen is going to testify. He’s President Trump’s former fixer. He himself pled guilty to campaign finance charges for some of this conduct. Another individual who we can be pretty sure is going to testify is Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels. She is the adult film star that Trump had the affair with. That the hush money was allegedly paid to cover up. Then you’ll get people like Hope Hicks, who was a former top campaign and top White House staffer. I actually took her testimony in deposition form when we were doing the House judiciary investigation. Kellyanne Conway, another senior Trump appointee, is going to testify. Why? Because for the prosecution, those two set up the desperation that was felt inside Trump’s camp after the Access Hollywood tape. And it’s that desperation that led to the purchase of Stormy Daniels’ story and to Michael Cohen engaging in campaign finance violations, which in turn led to his guilty plea. Those are some of the personalities that you’ll meet. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Those are names that we all know and don’t love. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Literally pulled it right out of the depths of my nightmares. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Andeson: But I also asked Norm about what the implications are if Trump himself takes the stand. 


[clip of Norm Eisen] His lawyers are not going to want him to testify. That ensures, if the judge feels Donald Trump got up on the stand and lied, that makes a criminal sentence much more likely. His lawyers are going to try to argue him out of it. But Donald Trump doesn’t listen to people. So he may say, no, I’m doing it. And dig his own grave. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m not a practicing lawyer, but one thing I learned in law school you don’t let Donald Trump testify if you want to win. Pretty sure they said that verbatim. 


Tre’vell Andeson: First day, right? 


Josie Duffy Rice: Your first day. [laughter]


Tre’vell Andeson: One of the other things I asked Norm was about how long Trump’s sentence could be if he is indeed convicted on all counts against him, and if a prison sentence would impact his candidacy for the White House?


[clip of Norm Eisen] Well, nobody knows the answer to that question. The maximum penalty for this charge is four years per count, probably would be less than four years, and probably would be sentenced on all 34 counts to run concurrently all at once. But, you know, any amount of jail time is going to be profoundly humiliating and not fun for Donald Trump. We’ve never had an American president criminally charged, much less jailed. He may very well argue against serving a sentence. But there are other ways to manage that, such as home confinement in the White House. If he’s held to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then these sentencing questions will come into play, and we will, as a nation, have to grapple with them. 


Tre’vell Andeson: So obviously, we can’t know for sure what’s going to go down in the courtroom. These are unprecedented times, but there’s your preview of what to expect over the next few weeks. It’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break] 




Josie Duffy Rice: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Republican House speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for wartime aid to Israel and Ukraine this week. Here he is speaking with Fox News on Sunday. 


[clip of Mike Johnson] The House Republicans and the Republican Party understand the necessity of standing with Israel. We are going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now. We’re looking at the options in all these supplemental issues. 


Josie Duffy Rice: While Johnson committed to bringing up aid to Israel in response to Iran’s drone attack this weekend. He was less specific about what aid to Ukraine would look like. The speaker suggested it might take the form of loans, or that the aid could be backed by the seized assets of Russian oligarchs. But the only legislation that has broad bipartisan support in Congress is a $95 billion foreign aid bill that passed the Senate two months ago. It would send military aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. On Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on NBC’s Meet the Press, the house should bring up the bill for a vote quott, “as soon as possible.” But it’s also unclear how Johnson will get it through the house without angering his party’s hard right flank and potentially risking his speakership. The group is vocally opposed to sending more aid to Ukraine and at least one Republican, our favorite CrossFitter Marjorie Taylor Greene, has publicly threatened to oust him in recent weeks. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military chief said this weekend that the battlefield situation in the country’s east has, quote, “significantly worsened in recent days.” In a telegram post Saturday, General Oleksandr Syrskyi said Russia had intensified its attacks after last month’s predetermined election that saw President Vladimir Putin extend his reign for a fifth term. Syrskyi said the Russians are also benefitting from warmer weather as they look to seize more territory. And earlier in the week, Russian strikes destroyed a major power plant outside of the capital city of Kyiv. In response to Iran’s drone attack on Israel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky prodded the U.S. Congress to take action on the long stalled aid package that would help both countries. He said on X that Iran’s attacks should be, quote, “a wake up call to the free world.” And that, quote, “the world cannot wait for discussions to go on. Words do not stop drones and do not intercept missiles. Only tangible assistance does.” 


Josie Duffy Rice: For those of you who depend on drinking games during election years, we journalists have got your backs. A coalition of 12 news organizations signed a letter published yesterday that asked both President Biden and former President Trump to participate in debates. The group includes the Associated Press, Fox News, C-Span and more. They said in the letter, quote, “there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.” Biden has yet to commit to debates and has mostly shied away when asked about it. Last month, he said to ABC that it depends. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] Depends on his behavior. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign is asking for additional debates. In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates last week, the campaign asked for more than the three currently scheduled and that they come much earlier. If the presumptive nominees do agree to debates, the first is scheduled for September 16th at Texas State University. 


Tre’vell Andeson: And finally, Nike is under fire after giving fans a sneak peek at team USA’s track and field uniforms for this year’s Summer Olympics in Paris. The sportswear company released images of the kits on Thursday. One image of the women’s kit shown on a mannequin features a unitard with a let’s just say the look is just shy of a front thong, if you know what I’m saying. Okay? Long jumper Tara Davis-Woodall, who placed sixth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, put it most succinctly when she said on social media, quote, “wait, my, who ha is going to be out.” On a more serious note, though, the kit is just the latest entry in a long running debate over sexism in sports and the revealing outfits for female athletes in sports like track, beach volleyball and gymnastics. But Nike tried to defuse the social media fallout. It said the questionable kit was just one option for female athletes, and that both the men’s and women’s kits would include dozens of pieces, as well as different competition styles for specific events. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m not an athlete. 


Tre’vell Andeson: You sure? 


Josie Duffy Rice: I think we can all infer that from my general vibe, but I feel like it’d be annoying to be running a race and worried about what’s coming out. 


Tre’vell Andeson: You don’t want any distractions, let alone that one. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I feel like you got to have someone on your staff that’s going to tell you when your outfits are causing people’s vaginas to hang out. And if Nike needs someone to do that, we are available for consulting. 


Tre’vell Andeson: It’s also not even cute. You know what I mean? 


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s not cute. 


Tre’vell Andeson: It’s weird. It’s not even cute. Get it together Nike. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Andeson: Just do it. Praise the Lord. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Andeson: And those are the headlines. 




Tre’vell Andeson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, be grateful you’re not in the jury pool and tell your friends to listen. 


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just proposed military aid bills like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Tre’vell Andeson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


[spoken together] And let us design the kits for the Olympics. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh my God, we would do such a good job.


Tre’vell Andeson: I have watched every season of Project Runway. I think I know a thing or two. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I can figure out aerodynamic cold clothes. Aerodynamic, I guess because you don’t need the oh, I’ll figure it out okay. [music break]


Tre’vell Andeson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production help today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters and Julia Claire, and our showrunner is Leo Duran. Adriene Hill is our executive producer. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.