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The Lead with Jake Tapper
13 U.S. Service Members, 170 Afghans Killed in Kabul Bombing; Evacuations Continue After 13 U.S. Service Members Killed; Judge Rules Against FL Governor's Ban on School Mask Mandates; Renewed Fears Of Political Violence Grip Capitol Hill; GOP Anger Toward Biden Intensifies In Wake Of Afghan Terror Attack; Sources: Serious Discussions Underway To Reinstall Fending At Capitol; 7 Capitol Police Officers Sue Trump, Jan. 6 Rally Organizers; Republican-Led Texas House Passes New Voting Restrictions; Robert Kennedy's Assassin Sirhan Sirhan Granted Parole. Aired 5-6pm ET
Aired August 27, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Afghans are still trying to get to Kabul's airport and to freedom.
Just over the blast walls, the mission continues. Nearly 13,000 people flown out in 24 hours. The wounded American servicemembers have been transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany.
Now, there is a second mission. Hunting down the ISIS-K terrorists behind Thursday's attack. To accomplish that, America will need continued cooperation from the Taliban, which still controls checkpoints like this one in Kabul filmed today. They're implementing a harder ring around the airport and crowds have thinned Abbey Gate where the attack occurred remains closed.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We still believe there are credible threats. In fact, I'd say specific, credible threats and we want to make sure we're prepared for those.
KILEY: The Pentagon warning that these could be rockets or vehicle bombs.
In Kabul, families collect the bodies of their loved ones, and survivors come to terms with what has happened. This man says that he was an interpreter for the British and was among the hundreds of Afghans wounded.
(Through translations) I fell into the stream and thought I was the only one still alive. I saw all the other people were dead. More than 5000 evacuees are waiting for flights at Kabul's airport. And I realize like Italy and Spain have already ended their missions in Afghanistan.
MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM "HANK" TAYLOR, JOINT STAFF DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR REGIONAL OPERATIONS: We have the ability to include evacuees on U.S. military airlift out of Afghanistan, until the very end.
KILEY: The walls of Kabul's airport are now stained with blood, as Afghanistan counts down the final days of America's longest war.
KILEY: Jake, in the final days of the reign of the previous Afghan government in Kabul and the arrival of the Taliban, large numbers and unknown number of ISIS prisoners held by the government and held by the Americans at Bagram Prison, were released in the general chaos. They weren't deliberately released, they suddenly escaped when the cell doors were opened. And there is great concern that those of course will have swelled the ranks of the so-called Islamic State and the chorus on at a time when actually the Taliban had been very effectively trying to crush them. Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: CNN's Sam Kiley live from Qatar, thank you so much. Today, President Biden said that the evacuation operation is dangerous, but a worthy mission he called the loss of 13 U.S. service members tragic.
And now is CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, we're learning that Biden's national security team has warned him that another terrorist attack in Kabul is likely.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We will complete the mission.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden facing the most stark crisis of his administration.
BIDEN: Mission there being performed is dangerous and it is now come with significant loss of American personnel.
MATTINGLY: In the reality that things are likely to get worse.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the most dangerous part of the mission.
MATTINGLY: Biden's national security team warning in a morning Situation Room briefing, "another terror attack in Kabul is likely." Military commanders calling the days leading up to the August 31 withdrawal deadline, the most dangerous period to date. Biden as he sat with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for a meeting that was postponed to Friday by the attack, undaunted.
BIDEN: It's a worthy mission because they continue to evacuate folks out of that region.
MATTINGLY: The scale of the tragedy and its fallout laid bare by the White House.
PSAKI: The loss of lives of U.S. service members of Afghans is a tragedy, is horrific, is one of the worst things if not the worst thing we've experienced during President Biden's time in office. MATTINGLY: Biden planning to call the families of the 13 dead officials say, yet the White House remains primarily focused on two missions, evacuating remaining Americans and Afghan allies by the looming August 31 deadline.
PSAKI: I think our focus right now is on doing everything we can to get the remaining American citizens who want to depart out of the country.
MATTINGLY: And now hunting down those who perpetrated the attack.
BIDEN: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
MATTINGLY: With no grey area of what that pledge means.
PSAKI: I think he made clear yesterday that he does not want them to live on the earth anymore.
MATTINGLY: The prospects for both exceedingly fluid, officials acknowledge, as the administration continues to grapple with what officials called a real acute threat of more attacks and hundreds of Americans, 1000s of Afghans remain in the country waiting to depart.
PSAKI: That threat is acute, it is ongoing. Our troops are still in danger, and they are taking the steps they are taking to save lives and evacuate people because of their commitment to the mission.
MATTINGLY: And Jake, that mission is still extraordinarily reliant on the Taliban even in the wake of that attack were U.S. officials know that the attackers got through Taliban checkpoints. The reality White House officials say is it is a necessity at this point in time. It is the only way they have gotten more than 100,000 evacuees out to this point and is the only way they will be able to get the rest of the Americans both trying to get to the planes and the military personnel out as well. Jake.
TAPPER: Phil Mattingly at the White House for us. Thanks so much.
In our world lead, the Pentagon just confirmed there are still more than 500 Americans by their count, who are still trying to get out of Afghanistan following yesterday's deadly attack at the Kabul airport.
CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now. And Oren, do we have a sense of how long these evacuations of these 500 remaining American citizens will take?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no doubt this is very much in crunch time. The final weekend, the final four days at this point, it's already past midnight in Kabul, perhaps much more difficult to operate at night. But the U.S. has shown that the evacuation operation continues. State Department spokesman Ned Price said there are 500 Americans they're in touch with and giving them directions for what it will take to get them to the airport and get them out. Whether that means simply walking there which could expose them to danger or going in a vehicle which could also expose them to danger, or some sort of helicopter mission to get them out.
We've seen a few of those to the airport, or general Frank McKenzie, the Commander of U.S. Central Command, acknowledging that there are special forces on the ground there and perhaps a type of covert mission.
In addition to the 500 that the U.S. is already in touch with and trying to give them instructions to get out. It was State Department spokesman Ned Price who said there are several 100 more, we still haven't made up their mind or are still determining whether they want to leave the country or not. Jake, I think it's obvious to say at this point, that decision has to come incredibly soon.
TAPPER: And it's not just us citizens who need evacuating, we should point out, there's legal permanent residents of the United States or green card holders, there's also obviously those Afghan allies who applied for this Special Immigrant Visas. We're just a few days away from this August 31 deadline. What is the larger operation look like?
LIEBERMANN: The U.S. won't put a number in the end on how many Afghans whether it's the SIV applicants or others, evacuees that it will get out simply because at this point, it's difficult to make a promise and then try to keep that promise given how dangerous it is on the ground with the possibility perhaps even the likelihood of more terror threats.
But you're right, the evacuation continues the latest update from the administration 12,500 in a 24-hour period, 8500 of those from the U.S. airlift operation. So that continues. We'll keep an eye on those numbers. It's not the 20,000 or more than 20,000 from just a couple of days ago, but that is still a very high number especially because of the incredibly dangerous environment on the ground there in Kabul, one that becomes only more dangerous as the withdrawal officially begins and the number of troops begins to come down.
TAPPER: So incredible work being done to evacuate these people. Oren Liebermann thanks so much.
Many Republicans are calling for accountability from President Biden in the wake of the Kabul terrorist attacks. That's next. And words you never want to hear in the same sentence, Hurricane in New Orleans, tracking Ida, which is quickly gaining strength, ahead.
TAPPER: Welcome back, topping our worldly today Republican lawmakers divided today over how tough and how quickly they should go after President Biden in the wake of Thursday's deadly terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Some Republicans were quick to call for the president's resignation or even to call for impeachment.
Joining us now Democratic Congressman John Garamendi of California. He's the chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. You have said that President Biden made the proper decisions along the way, given the terrorist attack yesterday. Do you stand by that statement? Do you really think there wasn't a better more organized way to exit?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D-CA) CHAIR, ARMED SERVICES SUBCOMMITTEE ON READINESS: There probably was, but it wasn't going to happen. Nobody anticipated the complete collapse disappearance of the Afghan government. It just simply was gone. And then all of the plans that had been made, we're not going to be executable.
And a shift was put in place in which we are now working through one of the most extraordinary evacuation airlifts ever in the history of America or the military. But 105,000 in the last 10 days from beginning to this moment.
So sure, if the Afghan government had not collapse, we would not be in this mess. But we are where we are and the loss of those 13 marines and soldiers is a terrible tragedy. Could it have been prevented? Not given the situation in which we were faced with, we had to find a way to get those men and women and families into the airport. And that required personal interaction or military with a very, very unruly crowd. And unfortunately, in that crowd, there was a suicide bomber.
TAPPER: The Pentagon has confirmed that American officials have been sharing some information on evacuees with members of the Taliban because they need their help and relying on Taliban help for these evacuations.
President Biden said yesterday, he didn't know if there was a list of names or not when he was asked about the political report. What kind -- that kind of list could include, of course, Afghan special immigrant visa applicants who are terrified that the Taliban are going to come find them and kill them after the U.S. leaves. What do you know about this story and how did this happen?
GARAMENDI: Well, I don't -- one thing we do know about all this information coming out of Kabul is that a lot of it is simply not true. There's a lot of hearsay going on and the facts are probably quite different than that.
I do know that the information that we receive is very, very closely held. And we received probably well over 500 requests, including names, addresses and phone numbers. And we share that with the State Department. I am confident the state department is not sharing that with the Taliban. We do know that the Taliban is informed that there are certain people that need to be moved to the airport so that clearances can be given for them. Beyond that, I don't believe that they're given any other information, nor should they. TAPPER: Can the drawdown continue without the Taliban's help? And how much do you think the Taliban will help with the evacuation of any American citizens or green card holders or Afghans after August 31?
GARAMENDI: I believe it is in the Taliban's interest to work with all of the countries who have evacuation or who would like to evacuate people from Afghanistan, it is not in their interest to stop that. The Taliban now is responsible for some 40 million people and one of the most difficult countries in the world. They're going to need a lot of assistance from around the world to get just to provide food, and clothing and other essentials of life. So, they're going to have to be cooperating.
Now, they also are faced with ISIS, they're also faced with an ongoing disruption within the Taliban. I wouldn't say it's a full-scale Civil War amongst them. But clearly, there are parts of what we call the Taliban, which are really various tribes or clans within Afghanistan, that are not yet on board with the government, the Taliban government in Kabul.
So, there's going to be a very difficult period. We do have ways of working not only with the Afghans that want to leave. They want to evacuate. But we also have the ability to work with other countries. And this needs to be noted in that in this evacuation. United States has had enormous cooperation first, with other countries that are there, some of which have been mentioned, but not all, we need to recognize their role. Perhaps a third of all the evacuees did not come out on American planes and work with others.
Beyond that, Jake, we have the necessity of extracting from the from Afghanistan. Afghans had worked closely with us. And that's going to be an ongoing effort to probably take days, weeks, months and perhaps even years to accomplish all of that. But that's an ongoing effort. The President has clearly placed to do that and carry it out. It needs to be noted.
GARAMENDI: That there is an incredibly effective network operating within the U.S. government. Members of Congress and Senate. We have access to the State Department, we have a hotline, we get our constituents contacting us we have -- and they take it up, actually my office has a direct line to sergeants at the gates at the airport. And if something comes up that is in a desperate situation. We phone and say hey, we got somebody waiting outside call their name, they're ready to go.
TAPPER: Yeah. And I know that you help to -- you and your office, helped get a big group out of the country and they arrived through the gate today. Thank you so much, Congressman John Garamendi, appreciate your time today.
GARAMENDI: Sure. Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up, the battle over masks in schools, the judge's ruling in Florida on the governor's orders. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
TAPPER: And our health lead, a Florida judge has ruled against Republican Governor Ron DeSantis saying that the governor does not have the authority to issue a blanket mandatory ban on mask mandates in schools. The ruling today was in Leon County in the Tallahassee area, one of 10 school districts in Florida that has mandatory mask rules. CNN's Leyla Santiago joins me live from another one of them, Miami Dade County.
Leyla, so this ruling has implications statewide, huh?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, this is a lawsuit brought on by parents. But really it was school districts across the state that were paying close attention, in particular, the two -- the 10 school districts that right now have mandates that go against the governor's order.
But you know what, the judge ruled in their favor saying that the governor does not have the authority to do so, and actually pretty much attacked a lot of the research and what the governor has called science that he says supports him. The judge basically said that that was information that was not interpreted correctly.
Now, the parents in the school districts that want these math mandates in place, you might imagine they celebrated this, saying they were elated. I want you to listen to the attorney for the parents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRAIG WHISENHUNT, PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY: When there's a bully in the room that's beating up on children, it shouldn't take more than a few people to stand up and I'm glad that an army did. And I'm glad I could play some small part of that, but someone has to tell the bully to put down his stick and go home. And I think we did that, and I think Judge Cooper added an exclamation point on that directive today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: Now, the governor is saying that he will appeal and believes that he can be victorious if he does so, but that's not the only thing that happened today, Jake. All the districts that have these mandates also received letters from Commissioner Corker and saying that he plans to investigate them for non-compliance with the governor's executive order that the judge has now said he doesn't have an authority to do.
TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago. Thanks so much.
Let's bring in Dr. Ashish Jha. He's the Dean of Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, good to see you. So, schools nationwide with mask mandates are trying to prevent what we see going on throughout the country in Alabama. More than 5500 students tested positive for COVID last week alone, in Frederick County School Maryland 41 cases of COVID, 600 students in quarantine. These are just reports coming in today. Do you see mask mandates for schools, at least for now, that just the mask mandates have to be part of our lives and the fights over the masks are just part of our lives?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yeah, Jake, first of all, thanks for having me back. You know, what we know right now is we know how to get kids back to school safely. We really do. And mask mandates are a part of that. They're not the only thing, we got to do ventilation and testing and get everybody vaccinated, who can be vaccinated. But the bottom line is that we've got to stop fighting about these things and focus on protecting kids and helping them to get back to school safely.
TAPPER: The Biden administration says that it does not have the authority to issue a National Vaccine mandate, but they're encouraging the private sector to create their own mandates, their own vaccine requirements. Today, the head of the White House COVID response team put it pretty bluntly. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-?19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If you're an American who is not yet vaccinated, or if you're an employer who has yet to adopt vaccination requirements, we have a very simple message, get off the sidelines, step up and do your part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Only a little more than half of the United States is vaccinated. That number hasn't really budged much in the last month. Do you think that private companies and such should impose their own private vaccine requirements?
JHA: Yeah, absolutely. And I've been talking to a lot of companies and what they are realizing I think what's going to motivate them, Jake, is they're realizing they can't bring people back to the office safely. They can't get back to normal unless all their employees are vaccinated. So, if companies want to get back to what life was like and when we need it to be like after this pandemic is over, getting people vaccinated is a critical part of it. So, I see a lot more private sector vaccine mandates coming in the weeks and months ahead.
TAPPER: In Florida COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths have reached record highs this week. Governor DeSantis there is pushing a monoclonal antibody treatment, the state opened its 21st site for that treatment today, is that an effective option to help get COVID numbers down?
JHA: You know, so monoclonal antibodies do work, but I always remind people is that these are synthetic, expensive and short-term antibodies. There's a way to get natural long-term antibodies for free and that's called vaccines. We can't scale up monoclonal antibodies for millions of people. We just don't, we don't have enough of it. So much, much easier to go with vaccines, but as a saving grace for a small number of people, yeah, it can be helpful.
TAPPER: Italy is reissuing an outdoor mask mandate in Sicily because of the Delta variant. Here in the U.S. starting today Oregon's new outdoor mask mandate goes into effect, are outdoor mask mandates necessary?
JHA: You know, I haven't seen any data, Jake, that we need outdoor mask mandates, because I haven't seen any data that outdoors the virus is spreading with any level of efficiency.
Now, you can make the case that for a super packed concert or a super PAC rally, maybe. But even there, the data is not very clear, but in general outdoors is very safe. And I don't want to see outdoor mask mandates unless we have evidence that there's a lot of transmission happening outdoors.
TAPPER: Follow the science, Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Coming up, officials are discussing, fortifying the U.S. Capitol, once again, as a right-wing rally plans to gather at the site of the insurrection. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead, lawmakers and law enforcement officials are raising the alarm about the potential for more violence coming possibly on two key dates, one, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and, two, September 18th, that's when right-wing protesters will hold a rally in support of the jailed January 6th insurrectionists.
CNN's Melanie Zanona joins me now. Melanie, how is law enforcement preparing?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well the Capitol is always a target. But there are heightened security concerns right now from both lawmakers and law enforcement officials ahead of this rally that is going to be on the Capitol grounds and it's being organised by a former Trump campaign staffer in support of those jailed January 6th rioters.
Now, security preparations are underway. There's discussions about bringing back that temporary fencing around the Capitol Complex. The MPD is going to be fully activated that weekend, which means civil disturbance units will be on standby throughout the entire weekend. And the Capitol Police received a memo warning that this group tends to attract far-right extremists, so there could be the potential for violence and unrest. But the same memo also notes that similar demonstrations in the past have not turned violent. And so far, only 300 people have told the event organiser that they plan to attend. Not to mention, it's taking place on a Saturday while the House is still in recess. So far fewer people will be here than there were at the Capitol or be on a normal day. But look, these new fears come as Capitol Hill is still reeling from both the January 6th insurrection, as well as the recent bomb scare that ended without incident, but sent a chill through the community nonetheless.
Congresswoman Madeleine Dean told me that she is most concerned about her staffers and the Capitol Police who are strained and have been through so much this year. And Democrats, in particular, are getting worried about the rhetoric that they are still hearing from their Republican colleagues who continue to spread and embrace Trump's lies about the election. They are amplifying their warnings that that type of language can really lead to more political violence.
So look, the bottom line, Jake, here is like no one wants to be alarmist or overly alarmist, but they are on high alert and they are taking every precautionary step that they can because nobody wants a repeat of January 6th. Jake?
TAPPER: And Melanie we should just point out that that bomb scare that happened not long ago, it was an individual with clear animosity to Joe Biden and Democrats --
TAPPER: -- clear supporter of President Trump. He had the ingredients for a bomb, I think he was charged for possessing the ingredients of a weapon of mass destruction or something along those lines. And one of the first responses we got in the public here is Congressman Mo Brooks, the Republican, who was one of the people who helped incites the violence that day in that rally on January 6th, decrying acts of terror, but then expressing an understanding for what might lead somebody to such a moment on the brink. It was truly outrageous.
ZANONA: It was. He essentially offered measured sympathy for the bomb suspect. And Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who I spoke to, said it's that type of language that is so dangerous and said could send all the wrong messages to bad actors out there who are looking to cause harm, or might commit politically motivated attacks.
He, of course, is on the January 6th Select Committee, which is looking into some of the security failures as well as the root causes of this type of domestic terrorism and political violence and hoping to put out a report that will outline steps to hopefully prevent it from happening ever again.
TAPPER: You also have some reporting on the Republicans divided in the House over how to respond in the political realm to the terrorist attacks that killed 13 U.S. servicemembers and more than 150 Afghan. Some people have been calling for President Biden to resign. Others have not. How is the House Republican leadership handling this?
ZANONA: Well, Kevin McCarthy actually had a private call with his members last night and he directly pushed back on those immediate calls for Biden's resignation and impeachment, saying, we need to focus right now on getting Americans out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The politics can come later, but they so far want to focus on the Oversight and Investigations. And I think that really underscores the reality for Republicans is that, if they get too political too quickly, it risks looking disrespectful and craven and like they're just trying to score political points.
And so it's a bit of a balancing act here for McCarthy because he isn't facing an increasingly agitated right flank. A growing number of rank and file Republicans are pushing for some sort of action. They want their leadership to follow them. And even Elise Stefanik, the number three House Republican said in a tweet just moments after reports were unfolding about these blasts that Joe Biden is unfit to serve as president.
TAPPER: All right, Melanie Zanona, thanks so much.
ZANONA: Thank you.
TAPPER: So let us discuss. Amanda, Republicans are pushing back against the idea of putting up that fence again to protect the Capitol even though there's a September 18th rally in which I guess it's a pro-insurrection rally of some sort of calling these people who attack the Capitol, political prisoners. What do you think?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, the fence is really the least of my concerns. There's been so much political violence over the past year, and that threat exists now. It continues each and every day. And it is my belief it's largely because people still have not been held responsible for their actions leading up to the events of January 6th. I mean, many of those actors who organised the rally are acting freely. They're organising more rallies at the Capitol in the States, using language about the stolen election lie to spur people into action.
The stuff that's happening in Afghanistan is compounding it. You hear hot language about how Joe Biden is responsible for terrible things now. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that leads people to taking action and they continue to be spurred on by a former president who also has faced no consequences. And so, yes, the fence -- I don't want to see the fence go up. But I'm much more worried about how this movement continues to thrive in organizing going forward.
TAPPER: And we should note, Ryan. It's not just the people who organized the rally, for whom there has not been any serious accountability. You know, it has -- there have been, I think, more than 500 people who invaded the Capitol who had been arrested.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
TAPPER: But the people who sold the big lie -- I mean, Kevin McCarthy, Elise Stefanik, and Steve Scalise, the three top House Republicans --
TAPPER: -- they're part of this. They spread the lie. They voted to take away the votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania based on that lie.
LIZZA: Yes. Look, I mean, first of all, on the security issue, there are experts who deal with that at the Capitol, we should defer to the people whose job it is, is to defend the Capitol. If they think a fence has to go up, then fine. I mean, we got to be careful about saying a certain group at large group of people don't have a right to protest. Of course they do.
TAPPER: Right. Of course.
LIZZA: We're would -- I think, you know --
LIZZA: Right, lawfully. What we're concerned about is violent rhetoric, overtaking this movement and the leadership of this country of one of the parties basically looking the other way, at the least, and sometimes endorsing it as the famous Mo Brooks statements after --
LIZZA: -- this bomb suspect where he seemed to suggest this guy was motivated by something that was legitimate. And it's the same issue we've been dealing with for years as this has gotten worse and worse and worse. It's the leadership of the party being, you know, it's the sort of tail wagging the dog here and Republican leaders being afraid to upset their base, afraid to say anything that's difficult and tough. And that they think is accusatory, right? And until that changes until that fever breaks --
CARPENTER: But that's going to change. I'm just saying we saw January 6th, we see the same people continuing to organize --
CARPENTER: -- base on the lie. I just -- I'm not sure how much more we need to see. We can't keep asking for Republican leadership to take action. I'm hopeful that the January 6th committee will actually produce a meaningful report that shows us how these network thrives, how this happened, because that's the only potential for accountability that I see ever had.
TAPPER: I think that's likely and one of the latest developments in this is the Capitol Police officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt as she was part of that violent mob trying to burst into the Speaker's chamber, he finally came out and did an interview and talked about how his actions save lives. Which, by the way, Republican members of Congress were saying after the incident, but here's a little bit of that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. MICHAEL BYRD, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: I have been yelling and screaming as loud as I was, please stop, get back, get back, stop. You're ultimately hoping that your commands will be complied with and, unfortunately, they were not. LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: What did you think this individual is doing at that moment?
BYRD: She was posing a threat to United States House of Representatives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: But we are in the upside down now, Ashley. We're in the upside down where a political party that normally backs the blue no matter what is demonizing this officer and turning Ashli Babbitt into a martyr (ph) when the truth is she was a sadly diluted unstable woman who had been lied to by a bunch of politicians starting with Donald Trump.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I mean, no one ever really likes to see a life loss, particularly at the hands of the police. But let's be really clear. This is not a police officer putting a knee on a man's neck for over nine minutes.
This is not a police officer mistaking an apartment and going into someone's home and killing them unjustly. This was a woman who was trying to overthrow our democracy. And we saw the violence that they were willing to take and the officer follow the protocol. He was saying he told her to stand down, stand down, and she wouldn't, and he needed to take action.
If folks really want to talk about police reform, there are ways to do it. But these folks are not interested in police reform. They don't think the rules apply to them. And January 6th was the perfect case. And if they're saying they're going to do it again, we need to take their threat seriously and take the necessary steps.
TAPPER: Now that's a great point because during the Trump presidency, look, those of us who live in Washington, D.C., we be become somewhat accustomed to somebody who is violent and has serious problems, often trying to hop the fence at the White House.
LIZZA: Yes, yes.
TAPPER: And often that person ends up dead. And if they're --
LIZZA: It's a suicide.
TAPPER: If -- well, then that's not necessarily why they do it.
LIZZA: Right --
TAPPER: It perhaps sometimes --
LIZZA: -- 100 percent. We all know that we've seen --
TAPPER: Yes, it happens all the time. Anybody who works in the White House knows this. And as you say, if we want to have a debate about the use of lethal force by police, instead of tasers or whatever, fine, let's have that discussion, let's have that debate. But when that happened when Trump was president, when somebody who people -- Secret Service thought he had a gun and he was near the White House, not at the White House, they shot him, he ended up in the hospital. I think he survived, but nobody said anything at that point, because it's not about that.
CARPENTER: Yes. And what's sad about that interview is that he felt he had to go on TV to clear his name. He had been hunted by an online mom for months who wanted to out him so that --
TAPPER: Lead the president (ph).
CARPENTER: -- they could -- yes --
TAPPER: Former president.
CARPENTER: -- accused him of murder. But he's not the only one. We're seeing other Capitol Police officers to fend for themselves in the public square, Michael Fanone, Harry Dunn, the Capitol Police officers that are filing a lawsuit. Why are they left to fend for themselves? It's not just the Republican Party that's hanging these people out to dry, it's people with the Fraternal Order of Police union.
CARPENTER: Their leadership who's leaving them without any kind of meaningful --
ALLISON: Same folks working the Justice for George Floyd Policing Act.
TAPPER: Yes. And take a listen, Ryan, I'll get your reaction. Here's Lieutenant Michael Byrd asked by Lester Holt of NBC to respond to Trump actually calling him a murderer. I mean, it's pretty incredible. He said that it was disheartening. He went on to say he would defend the former president and his family should he be assigned to do so. I mean, that's remarkable. I wouldn't expect nothing less from a police officer, a good police officer, but it's pretty remarkable. That's what he said.
LIZZA: I mean, just to reiterate what you said. We've been in Washington covering these institutions for a long time. When I was watching the events of January 6th unfold, the thing that I was just blown away by, or I shouldn't use that term, but I was shocked by is, how easy it was and how back -- how much the police backed off in the initial phases. Now there might be all kinds of reasons they felt overwhelmed.
And when you saw that group of people amassed outside the Speaker's lobby, I just thought like, I can't think of how many times I've been in that situation at the White House or covering Congress, where you know, if you do something stupid, you could be endangering yourself. Example of jumping over the fence is a good one. But up on Capitol Hill, it's the same thing.
And they were restrained in a lot of ways that day, and it was awful, and to watch what happens. But the idea that anyone could think that that officer wasn't doing his job, when that group of people was violently assembled in front of that --
TAPPER: Breaking through the door.
CARPENTER: And that of training and discipline to only fire a single shot, didn't hit anybody else. The one person that was trying to break in. I mean, it is incredible that it didn't spiral into something else.
TAPPER: And Ashley, the seven U.S. Capitol Police officers, and you just noted this a second ago, are suing former President Trump and the organizers of the so-called Stop The Steal riot -- rally and riot, and yet Donald Trump remains the number one prospect to be the nominee in 2024.
ALLISON: But see this is a bigger issue that we're having in our country is that people have literally been brainwashed and it's scary by the mis and disinformation that is online that is being the propaganda on Fox News. It is another epidemic that our country is facing.
And until we really hold platforms accountable, until we really do some deprogramming to make people understand our democracy is functioning, Donald Trump lost, it's scary. I mean, you said leadership didn't stand up, Liz Cheney did try to stand up and they got the boos (ph), she got the boos (ph).
CARPENTER: Well no, no, she's on the committee now.
CARPENTER: She's going to do a lot of good work. And they're going to be looking into the role that social media networks have played in propelling that doesn't proficient (ph).
ALLISON: But it's not the first time, they did it in 2016 too.
TAPPER: We should just note that because it's an excellent point. There are brave Republicans who are outraged by this, not just Amanda, but Congressman Kinzinger and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, former Congresswoman -- former Congressman Denver Riggleman from Virginia is now on the staff of this January 6th committee looking into it. So they're Mitt Romney obviously as mince no words about it.
TAPPER: Mitch McConnell at one point had mince no words about it. There are people that see clear-eyed, but you're right, it's taken over too many people, too many Republicans.
LIZZA: Yes. How to get through to those people is -- I mean, that's hard, because I think it's -- I hope it's OK to say that when you see Ashli Babbitt and you learn about her background, and you -- there is -- you have to have some sympathy for some of the people and what got them to that point that day.
TAPPER: They were lied to, lied to. Yes.
ALLISON: They're being lied to now about vaccines, about the election, about so many things. And until leaders truly stand up and put country over politics are -- we are in a very dangerous situation.
TAPPER: I just want to note, Amanda, the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection, has now sent letters to 15 social media companies requesting data on the rioters and regarding how election misinformation spread on those platforms. What do you think they're hoping to find?
CARPENTER: I'm hoping -- I think they're going to provide a narrative of how that right rally was planned and executed and communicated. I mean, the entire thing was pretty much planned online and uploaded to the internet. I mean, this is a publicly source investigation that we can have. And it would be remiss not to look at the role that social media networks played, and how they continue to turn a blind eye to their role in this crisis.
TAPPER: And yes, we should point out, Ryan, that, I mean, they've asked for a lot of information from Trump and from others, and, yes, they have subpoena power, but it's going to end up in court.
LIZZA: To them.
TAPPER: It's going to take years before there's resolution. And I would not be surprised if Attorney General Garland actually ultimately sided with the Trump team on some of the information --
LIZZA: On the privilege issues.
TAPPER: -- yes, because of the precedent of executive privilege.
LIZZA: If -- forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think some in the administration have already signaled that they are going to cooperate with some of those requests. But Trump has already put out a statement, you know, saying that his executive privilege applies here. For the tech companies, I don't think it will be particularly difficult. It will be -- they should respond to those subpoenas. I don't know what their arguments are going to be, but you're right, the court is going to be tied up in the courts for a while.
TAPPER: Thanks, everyone. Have a great weekend. Appreciate it.
This afternoon, the Republican led fight to overhaul voting laws in Texas took a key step towards its seemingly inevitable conclusion. Despite Democratic lawmakers flying to Washington, D.C. to get out of town despite the need for two special sessions of the state legislature, the Texas House finally passed a bill that contains significant new restrictions on voting compared to what voting rules were in 2020. CNN's Ed Lavandera has been watching the battle. First, Ed, tell us what's in this new bill that got through the House today?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, as you mentioned, Texas Democrats have been spending the summer trying to block the passage of this bill that they describe as one of the most restrictive voting bills in the country.
Some of the things that it includes would be a ban on drive-thru early voting, restricts early voting hours, new restrictions on mail-in voting, and protections for partisan poll watchers. And a lot of this really aimed at the Harris County, Houston area, and many of the big cities here in the state of Texas that are led by mostly Democrats now at this point.
But Texas Democrats stage two different walkouts from the legislative process this summer to try to block the passage and prevent the required number of lawmakers on the floor to conduct business. But in the end, that wasn't enough. Republicans say this is about protecting the integrity of the election process here in this state. But Democrats are saying with the way this state of Texas is -- and the demographics are quickly changing, that Republicans will come to regret making these changes in this vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENFRONIA THOMPSON (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: If you think that you're winning today by the things that you have put in this bill, let me give you a prophetic statement. You will reap what you sow. And you know what? It won't be years or decades from now. It'll be sooner than you think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: But what will happen sooner is that this bill, Jake, will be eventually signed here in the coming days by the Republican Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. The bill now heads over to the Senate side to hammer out some final differences in the language of this elections bill, and then it will be sent to the Governor's desk.
In the meantime, Democrats here in Texas are continuing to urge federal Democrats and Congressional Democrats to pass a federal voting rights bill that they hope would help protect them from some of the measures taken in this Texas version of the bill. And not only here in Texas, Jake, but as you well know, in several other Republican led states, across the country where similar bills have also been passed in recent months. Jake?
TAPPER: So Ed, beyond getting the word out and bringing attention to this issue, did the taxes Democrats accomplish anything by running away to Washington, D.C.?
LAVANDERA: You know, they're going to try to put the best possible spin on it at this point, saying that, you see like Beto O'Rourke saying today that they did a good job of raising awareness across the country of the measures that were being pushed here by Republicans here in Texas. But, you know, but in the end, you know, they walked out of the legislature at -- toward the end of the legislative session in May, they essentially forced the Governor of Texas to call two different special sessions to get this bill passed.
You know, the immediate impact is that this is not going to stop the inevitable signing of this bill here in the state of Texas. Now, what they continue to do here in the months ahead, and what this and how this will play out in the election process, next year, perhaps, there will be fights in court over this and obviously depends on what congressional Democrats do. But Democrats are touting that they've raised awareness of what's in this bill, and they hope that politically that will garner them a lot of support in the future.
TAPPER: Ed Lavandera in Texas, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
We have some breaking news for you internationally, the California Parole Board has granted parole to Sirhan Sirhan who was convicted of assassinating then Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. This was Sirhan 16th parole hearing. He's been in prison for more than 50 years. Prosecutors did not oppose his release. The board's decision could still be reversed by California Governor Gavin Newsom who will review the case.
Sirhan is now 77 years old. He was just 24 when he shot Kennedy to death in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The Palestinian American was said to be outraged by Kennedy's support for weapons sales to Israel.
CNN's Natasha Chen joins me now from Los Angeles. Natasha, surprisingly, perhaps, two of Kennedy surviving sons were supportive of Sirhan's parole. What are you learning?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. Well, Douglas Kennedy was actually present for this hearing. And I can read you a little bit of what he said during today's hearing. He said, "I do wish him well in life. And I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released".
RFK Jr. also submitted a letter showing his support of his release saying that, "While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan's impressive record of rehabilitation".
Now, we did speak with the Los Angeles County prosecutor's office yesterday about this new directive of theirs. Since D.A. George Gascon was elected to office, this directive of not appearing at parole board hearings, the hope there is to allow the board to make an objective decision based on how an inmate has behaved since the crime. Of course, as you mentioned, Sirhan has been in prison now for more than half a century. And so this decision, as you mentioned, is now going to be under review. And Governor Newsom does have the opportunity to reverse it if he chooses to do so. TAPPER: All right, Natasha Chen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Also in our national lead, mandatory evacuations are underway across the Gulf Coast as the region braces for Hurricane Ida, including in areas outside New Orleans levee system which, of course, broke during Hurricane Katrina. Ida is set to make landfall Sunday as a category 4 storm exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
CNN's Allison Chinchar joins me now from the CNN Weather Center. Alison, what areas are most at risk?
ALLISON CHINCAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So it's really going to be the areas right along the coastline, but you could see areas say inland in Ohio, they could end up having impacts from the storm. So let's take a look. Right now, sustained winds of 80 miles per hour moving to the northwest, it's just about 15 miles per hour.
We have the hurricane watches and warnings, that's the red and pink color you see here in effect already in anticipation of this storm making landfall as a hurricane, not just a regular hurricane, but a major hurricane because we anticipate that it's going to continue to strengthen especially once it gets over the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, all the way up to a category 4 strength storm. Unfortunately, it's also expected to make landfall as a category 4 storm before finally beginning to move inland.
We talked about the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and that's really going to play a key role in how much the storm has strengthened over the coming days. Storm surge expected to be strongest here where you see the pink color about 10 feet to 15 feet, but even the surrounding areas six to nine on the west side, seven to 11 feet on the eastern side. So that's certainly going to be a major impact.
Widespread power outages likely because of how strong the winds are expected to be. Even some areas in like Jackson, Mississippi could end up having 60 mile per hour wind gust. Plenty strong enough to bring some trees and power lines down.
Rain, this is going to be the most widespread problem because look at how far inland it comes. Nashville, Memphis, even as far south as southern Ohio could end up picking up several inches.
TAPPER: Allison, how devastating do you predict this hurricane will be? Could it be another hurricane like Katrina?
CHINCHAR: So the one thing to note about Hurricane Katrina is it made landfall as a cat 3, this one is forecast to make landfall as a cat 4. So the potential there to have much stronger winds than Katrina is a likelihood. The other thing that's going to be a key thing to watch is the speed. The slower the storm makes landfall, the more time it has to dump rain. So that's going to be a key thing to keep an eye on in the coming days.
TAPPER: All right, Allison Chinchar, thank you so much. Also breaking today, U.S. intelligence community reached in inconclusive assessment about the origins of the coronavirus after a 90-day investigation ordered by President Biden according to an unclassified summary of the probe that was just released.
CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us now, Alex, did this assessment give us any more clues as to where this virus originated, even if not 100 percent so?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, Jake, not really. In a word, no. I mean, this was a very short summary that they put out today, barely two pages a summary of the key findings of this 90-day investigation. Not only did they not say what the origin of the virus is, they didn't even really give an indication of which way they are leaning as an intelligence community.
This report was highly anticipated because, of course, everyone wants to know the answer to that question. But, Jake, there was also no real expectation that there would be any sort of smoking gun. And there isn't. What they say is that the intelligence agencies, and there are 18 of them in this country, are united around the fact that there are two plausible scenarios, the famous lab leak theory that it -- that escaped from the lab in Wuhan, or that the virus jumped from an animal to a human in nature.
What might be most interesting about the summary that they put out today was they show how divided the different intelligence agencies are saying that there are four intelligence agencies that support the theory that it jumps from an animal to human but only with a low level of confidence. Then they say there's one other agency that assesses with a moderate level of confidence that it escaped from the lab. And then there are plenty of others. Three, they say, that simply say they don't have enough data to make any sort of assessment.
One thing that they make clear is that the intelligence community does not believe that this was a bio weapon, that most agencies do not believe that this was genetically modified. And Jake, they call on China. They say, basically, that they won't be able to get to the bottom of this, because they haven't been given enough access by China, that China has not played ball. And so, there is a possibility, Jake, that we never actually find out the origin of this virus.
TAPPER: Are there plans for the intelligence community to try to continue investigating until an origin is confirmed? I mean, it's not as though we don't have spies in China and vice versa.
MARQUARDT: Right. So they will not stop looking for this question. This formal investigation is over, they put an immense amount of effort into it. This was really an exercise in transparency. But when you talk to people familiar with the intelligence, if China is not more cooperative, they really will not get to the bottom of this question, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Well, you don't have to be the intelligence community to know that China's not going to be more cooperative. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Join me for a special two-hour edition of State of the Union this Sunday. We're going to have an exclusive interview with Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as the first joint interview with Congressman Peter Meijer and Seth Moulton following their controversial trip to Afghanistan. In addition, we're going to have Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, and much, much more. That's at 9:00 in noon Eastern.
Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in The Situation Room.