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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Star Gymnasts Call Out FBI Over Nassar Investigation Failures; Capitol Police Request Help From DC National Guard For 9/18 Rally; Biden Expresses Confidence In General Mark Milley; FDA Set To Consider COVID Booster Shot; CNN Speaks with Afghan Women in Hiding Due to Taliban Threats. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired September 15, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Demonstrating beyond Olympic strength.
THE LEAD starts right now.
How much is a little girl worth? Emotional and powerful testimony today from elite gymnasts about Larry Nassar's abuse, saying the FBI and so many others failed to protect hundreds of girls and young women.
Law enforcement on edge with another right-wing rally planned outside the capitol this week in support of the January 6th insurrection. What the organizer is claiming to CNN.
Plus, the FDA about to decide whether you need another COVID shot. And it is expected to get contentious with dueling data and a president who already tipped the scales.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start today with heartbreaking and sobering and, frankly, infuriating testimony on Capitol Hill. Four star U.S. gymnasts appearing in front of the U.S. Senate, discussing how the FBI grossly mishandled investigations into the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of disgraced Larry Nassar. But they also made it clear there is a long list of adults who failed them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMON BILES, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.
MCKAYLA MARONEY, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: Today I ask you all to hear my voice. I ask you please do all that is in your power to ensure that these individuals are held responsible and accountable for ignoring my initial report, for lying about my initial report, and for covering up for a child molester. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: This is arguably the biggest scandal in the history of athletics.
A Justice Department inspector general's review found FBI officials investigating the allegations against Nassar violated multiple policies by failing to properly document complaints about the abusers or by lying about it. Tellingly, the department never pursued charges against the FBI agents, though today just hours before the hearing, CNN learned that at least one agent had been fired in recent weeks.
John Manley, an attorney who represents a number of Nassar's victims says that the fact that this agent perjured himself and was not charged with a crime sends a message to other agents that they can lie and get away with it.
During Larry Nassar's trial in 2017, as you may recall, more than 150 women and girls testified that Nassar abused them. And now the victims want answers about why their complaints about his abuse, which dates back to the 1990s were ignored by so many for so long.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told Nassar's victims today that he is, quote, deeply and profoundly sorry. But as CNN's Jean Casarez reports for us now, Wray also admitted he does not have a good explanation for how or why the FBI failed so horribly.
MARONEY: They had legal, legitimate evidence of child abuse and did nothing.
ALY RAISMAN, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar's plea deal.
BILES: I blame Larry Nassar, and I also blame an entire system.
MAGGIE NICHOLS, GYMNAST SEXUALLY ABUSED BY LARRY NASSER: Why? Why would the FBI agents lie to investigators?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Maggie Nichols, elite gymnasts and members of the Olympic's United States gymnastics team giving emotional testimony, ripping the FBI for failing to protect them from their sexual abuser.
MARONEY: I was so shocked at the agent's silence and disregard for my trauma.
NICHOLS: The survivors of Larry Nassar have a right to know why their well-being was placed in the jeopardy of these individuals who chose not to do their jobs.
RAISMAN: It was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter. CASAREZ: One by one, the decorated gymnasts told their stories,
recounted the years of abuse by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor.
BILES: I sit before you today to raise my voice so that no little girl must endure what I, the athletes at this table -- and the countless others who needlessly suffered under Nassar's guise of medical treatment, which we continue to endure today.
MARONEY: That evening I was naked, completely alone with him on top of me molesting me for hours. I told him I thought I was going to die that night because there was no way he would let me go. He turned out to be more of a pedophile than he was a doctor.
BILES: Nassar is currently serving a 40 to 175-state year prison sentence after 150 women and girls came forward to expose me abused them over the course of 20 years. But today's congressional hearing, a result of the scathing report from the Justice Department's inspector general's office revealing FBI officials investigating the allegations against Nassar made false statements and failed to properly document complaints by the accusers at the time.
MARONEY: Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said.
CASAREZ: One FBI agent already fired, Michael Langman, according to "The Washington Post," interviewed Maroney in 2015 about her allegations of sexual abuse by Nassar, and is accused of failing to launch a proper investigation.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): The FBI's handling of the Nassar case is a stain on the bureau.
CASAREZ: FBI Director Christopher Wray, who did not lead the bureau at the time, also being grilled today.
DURBIN: What am I missing here? This man is on the loose molesting children, and it appears that it's being lost in the paperwork of the agency.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I share your bewilderment. I share your outrage. And I don't have a good explanation for you.
CASAREZ: Wray apologizing to the victims and vowing to do more.
WRAY: It's my commitment to you that I and my entire senior leadership team are going to make damn sure everybody at the FBI remembers what happened here in heartbreaking detail.
CASAREZ: The Department of Justice was invited here today to testify. They declined. Senator Richard Blumenthal said that since they didn't show up, it appears as though they don't care about the abuse of little girls. And CNN has just learned minutes ago that the Attorney General Merrick
Garland will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. But at this point, Jake, they have declined all prosecutions in this case.
TAPPER: CNN's Jean Casarez, thank you so much.
Joining us now to discuss, retired FBI special agent Jeff Lanza, and 25-year FBI veteran Jane Turner who became a whistle-blower to report the FBI's mishandling of crimes against children.
Jeff, let's start with the Indianapolis field office. Learning there were three allegations against Larry Nassar, the office was told all three females were minors, all three were available to be interviewed, but the Indianapolis field office of the FBI only spoke to one victim and they did that on the phone.
Was this just mishandled from the beginning? I mean, how do you make any sense of that?
JEFF LANZA, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: You can't make sense of it, Jake. It was mishandled right from that very point. So the FBI has a crimes against children initiative in every field office. And it's just appalling to me, it doesn't make sense to me that if Nassar had sent a photo of himself over the internet to a minor, the FBI would've been at his door within a day or two with a search warrant, he would have been under arrest. But yet he's physically abusing people in person, and he's -- nothing happens.
The initial interview, Jake, should've been done in person, number one, not telephonically as it was. It should have been done with the female agent present, and someone with experience in sexual abuse cases.
Now, the FBI may not have had federal jurisdiction to move that case further down the line, and the Department of Justice may have said we have nothing to prosecute effectively. But there should've been follow-up. Michigan has a Bureau of Professional Licensing that could have been, if that was referred to them, they could have put Nassar, suspended his license, and it would've stopped right there. None of those things were done, and any one of those things could've prevented further abuse.
TAPPER: And, Jane, Aly Raisman said that it initially took the FBI more than 14 months to contact her after she requested to be interviewed by investigators. Maggie Nichols said she was not interviewed by the FBI for more than a year after she reported the abuse.
I mean, I understand, none of us find this acceptable. All of us are appalled. But can you give us any insight as to why this might be? Did they just not take complaints of sexual abuse from young women seriously? I just -- I can't even come up with an idea as to -- I mean, are they overworked? What do you think?
JANE TURNER, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thank you, Mr. Tapper, for having me on tonight. I really appreciate this opportunity to speak because I think it's critical.
My sympathy, my heart goes out to these victims. But I did look at the Director Wray's speech, and it was full of platitudes. Having 25 years as a special agent and then another 20 years as a whistle-blower advocate for the National Whistleblower Center, I have a lot of knowledge about what is going on.
And the fact I blew the whistle 20 years ago about this same thing, except it was on Indian reservations, they took no action. We had special agents who were covering up the sexual abuse of children as car accidents. It was written up by Steven Kohn, of Kohn & Colapinto, sent into the attorney general. They did nothing.
And to the FBI, it spoke of how this agent did nothing. We had complaints from the doctor whose staff was traumatized. And I'll tell you the reason most don't, and, in fact, Mike (INAUDIBLE) he was just released from the FBI for complaining about a sexual predator in Louisiana. And he has protected the FBI, his organization.
And most agents do not find this type of crime sexy. It's not what they signed up for. They want to bust down doors. They want to, you know, go out there and kick people. This is not in their wheelhouse.
They don't want it in their wheelhouse. I had agents tell me that. They're just not interested in doing that kind of work.
Director Wray, I'm sure he's a very well-meaning director. But as most agents say, directors come and go, but his executive staff is going to stay forever. And the culture has got to change. The culture there is not good.
TAPPER: And, Jeff, Aly Raisman testified about some of the long-term harm that's come from how this investigation was handled. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAISMAN: The FBI made me feel like my abuse didn't count and it wasn't a big deal. I remember sitting there with the FBI agent and him trying to convince me that it wasn't that bad. And it's taken me years of therapy to realize that my abuse was bad, that it does matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I mean, it certainly seems, Jeff, that the FBI agents did not take this seriously at all, even when they were meeting with the survivors.
LANZA: Yeah, totally inappropriate to try to talk someone down off of what they're saying has happened to them. And the fact that he was doing this interview over the phone, you know, creates part of the problem.
But, still, female agent there present with experience in these sexual abuse cases would've been a lot more helpful. And even without that, there's no way that he should've treated her that way. This is a victim. And you don't treat victims that way. Totally inappropriate. No excuse at all for that interview.
TAPPER: Jeff Lanza and Jeff Turner, thank you so much. Really appreciate your insights.
Law enforcement is bracing for violence. Just minutes ago, the organizer of the upcoming right-wing rally spoke to CNN. The promise he's making that law enforcement is pretty skeptical about. That's next.
Plus, the sad new reality, CNN spoke with Afghan women now in hiding due to terrifying threats from the Taliban. That's ahead.
TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our national lead. The Pentagon says that Capitol Police have requested assistance from the D.C. National Guard ahead of the right-wing protest expected this Saturday. That rally planned in support of the insurrectionists charged in the deadly January 6th Capitol riot.
CNN's Jessica Schneider just spoke with the organizer of the event.
And, Jessica, I don't need to tell you law enforcement is clearly concerned about this event turning violent as the one on January 6th surely did.
What did the organizer have to say about that?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they're taking all precautions for this. But I've spoken numerous times over the past week to this organizer.
So, a little bit about him first. His name's Matt Braynard. He's actually a Trump campaign staffer from back in 2016. He left the campaign after just a few months. And after that he started this "Look Ahead America" group. It's mostly touting conservative causes.
Now, what he is saying is he is assuring me that there will not be any violence. He's expecting this rally to have about 500 to 700 people. And he's saying there won't be any violence because he's stressing it to his supporters. He's blasted out tweets about this saying that everyone should be respectful toward law enforcement. He's reminding people that it is a felony to bring any weapons to Washington D.C. and he's also reminding people that this is a rally that is just fighting for justice, in his words, for those capitol insurrectionists who have been charged.
But, again, law enforcement is still concerned. They are taking all precautions putting up a fence around the Capitol, much like they did after January 6th.
Here's what he said about those concerns from law enforcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: We learned that law enforcement is preparing for some people on Saturday to be armed. What are you doing to ensure there's no violence?
MATT BRAYNARD, RALLY ORGANIZER & FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STAFFER: We've got a largely peaceful crowd. We've had two events in Washington, D.C., so far, at the Department of Justice and to prison. And there have been no incidents so far. No one's going to be bringing in a weapon who's going to be part of our crowd. I can assure the police of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: But still, Jake, of course, law enforcement taking no chances here.
Now, I have spoken with extremism experts who have been tracking some chatter online. But they say it's a far cry from what they saw leading up to January 6th. And they're not really expecting large crowds here. So it could just be a few hundred people. But, of course, it just takes one person to cause issues or to cause violence.
TAPPER: He's saying this is not going to be violent, but he is demonstrating in support of people who were violent, the January 6th insurrectionists who have been charged with crimes related to that violence.
What does he say about these people he's rallying in support of?
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, the rally itself is called "Justice for January 6th."
So he is rallying to help those people who were charged on January 6th. He wants the charges dropped. He's written letters to the Department of Justice and the FBI stressing just that. That's what this rally is all about.
But I pressed him on his false point that these people should have these charges dropped because they did nothing wrong. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: You're calling them political prisoners. But these are people who were charged under the Trump DOJ. These are people who, in some cases, assaulted police officers and/or illegally entered the Capitol.
So, why would they be exonerated?
BRAYNARD: The vast majority of the nearly 600 people who have been arrested have not been charged with any violence. They've been charged with expressing their First Amendment rights at the public building at the wrong place at the right time.
These are buildings where people can ordinarily walk without any incident. And the fact they are being treated so harshly and being held in solitary confinement for nine months without access to medical care.
SCHNEIDER: Let me stop you right there. So the people who are -- the people who are still in jail?
BRAYNARD: No. You ask a question, I got to answer -- I'm going to answer it. I'm going to answer it until I'm done speaking or this interview is over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: The interview, in fact, continued, Jake. But the point is that they're really conflating issues here. The fact is 600 plus people have been charged. All of them have been charged because they either breached the Capitol illegally or they assaulted officers.
And, to my point what I was trying to make in the interview, the people who are still in jail, those people it's just about a dozen or so, they committed violent crimes or they're accused of committing violent crimes. So, his premise that people are being held in jail or just trespassing on the capitol is false.
TAPPER: It's a lie. What a surprise. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Joining us now to discuss, CNN's national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem. She's also the former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Juliette, this former Trump campaign staffer-turned rally organizer, he calls the January 6th rioters political prisoners. He's not alone in making that claim. We've heard that from members of congress, Republicans, of course. How concerning is that notion to homeland security?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So, I think the notion is worse than probably what's going to happen on Saturday. I think this capitol police show of force, they've just requested the National Guard, so the pentagon's considering that.
I think that is different than the lie that keeps on lying, because what they're now doing is claiming that the people being held because of January 6th are freedom fighters. That is simply not true. Now, there are people, I'm willing to admit, are who are what we call the noisy trespassers, people who sort of ended up on Capitol Hill. They didn't know what was going on. They got swept in the moment. Those people, for the most part, are not in jail. The people that are in jail are either the organizers or people who there's pictures of them being violent.
So this is the lie that just keeps on lying. I mean, it keeps feeding it. And it will not go away until either the groups are dismantled by arrest or stopping their funding, and/or the party festering it and embracing it, the GOP, begins to recognize that it's not going to stop unless they do something. They keep thinking they're going to placate it. And I think that a lot of GOP members, it just doesn't go away. You never make Trump happy.
TAPPER: Totally. Telling these lies and placating these lies are like eating Doritos. It just keeps one after the other after the other.
Do you buy Braynard's promise that the rally will not include weapons?
KAYYEM: I think he's saying that to protect himself from a conspiracy charge. He's saying I never told them to do that, but if you actually look on the Internet on what's going on, this has now been embraced by groups that are known to be armed groups or groups that use weapons.
So, he's just doing that for his own self-preservation. But all you need to do is know that he worked for Donald Trump, Donald Trump continues to cultivate the lie. Donald Trump continues to use the word fight and stolen. Those are words that his people understand to mean violence.
And then the GOP continues to cultivate it because they think it helps them win elections or at least primaries at this stage. We don't have proof that they're going to win generals this way, but certainly primaries.
KAYYEM: And that is essentially that line that's connecting the violence with the political strategy, which it clearly is now with the GOP.
TAPPER: Juliette, the Capitol police have now asked the D.C. National Guard for assistance on Saturday.
TAPPER: Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby says they likely want manpower support. What does that tell you about the potential security threat? Or is this more just a question of better safe than sorry?
KAYYEM: Better safe than sorry. It is security feeder at this stage. I don't think the numbers are going to be that big, but thank goodness for it.
I often thought that on January 6, if you had had 200 or 300 National Guard members, you would have cut that rally in, you know, by 19 percent, because when you actually look at these arrests, most of these people were what I would call the noisy trespassers.
You want a show of force because we are in the "we're not messing" around stage. I have gotten more insistent about this over the last couple of days. We are not messing around anymore. You want to -- you want to call these people freedom fighters, you
want a First Amendment rally? Go ahead, but the National Guard will also make sure that you keep to your word.
TAPPER: All right. Juliette Kayyem, thank you so much.
Coming up, a sobering statistic, one in every 500 U.S. residents, one in every 500, has died from coronavirus. Now the FDA is about to decide whether booster shots will help those who are vaccinated.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our health lead today: It could be contentious when the FDA meets Friday to consider COVID-19 booster shots for those who have already been fully vaccinated.
Today, the FDA released a new document that says the benefit is limited if the first and second doses are still effective. This all comes after a slew of conflicting studies on whether a third dose works, whether it's necessary, or what exactly the third dose is supposed to accomplish in the first place.
As CNN's Miguel Marquez now reports, the booster debate comes as Pfizer announces they will be submitting vaccine data for children under 12 soon.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Children's hospitals in Ohio overwhelmed with COVID and respiratory cases, its governor now urging superintendents statewide to mandate masks in schools.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): We all share the goal of helping our kids, keeping those kids in school. Reasonable people may disagree about a lot of things, but we must do everything we can to keep our children in the classroom. We need our kids in school, so they don't fall behind.
MARQUEZ: Ohio has no statewide mandatory mask order for schools. Children are back in school and now on the front line in the battle with COVID-19.
In Georgia, outbreaks up nearly seven times in K-12 schools, making up some 60 percent of all outbreaks in the state. Schools may drive an increase in cases in the Northeastern U.S. as well, says the former head of the FDA.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: We're still here in the Northeast due for some surge of infection from the Delta variant. I don't think that we're through it. MARQUEZ: This as the WHO says cases worldwide have declined slightly, and data from Johns Hopkins University confirms one in 500 U.S. residents have now died from COVID-19.
And booster shots for many Americans under consideration by FDA advisers isn't a done deal, many experts unsure the data is there to back up widespread use of boosters.
DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN AND PUBLIC HEALTH SPECIALIST: There's this debate by a good number of the FDA scientists saying, listen, guys, slow down. This vaccine is doing its job. It's preventing people from falling really sick and dying.
MARQUEZ: And Pfizer's CEO says it will submit data to the FDA by month's end on how the vaccine works in 5-to-11-year-olds. They hope to get the go-ahead soon after to start putting shots into arms.
DR. ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: It is up to FDA to take their time and then make the decision.
MARQUEZ: And the NBA joining other professional sports leagues in not requiring vaccinations for players, but requiring them for coaches, game day personnel and referees.
And "Lion King," "Hamilton" and other Broadway shows turning back on the lights.
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, "HAMILTON" CREATOR: I don't ever want to take live theater for granted ever again. Do you?
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MARQUEZ: And now the Moderna vaccine, those that manufacture the Moderna vaccine says they have completed a small study that shows that boosters with the Moderna vaccine can safely increase immunity in people who have had the double dose already.
And it is worth underscoring that this is now a situation that we are in where kids and schools will be a big driver of this Delta variant and other coronavirus until we get a handle on it. And how schools handle it at the local level with our mask orders and everything else we can do to keep them safe is going to be a telling sign in the weeks and months ahead -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.
Let's bring in Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He's a cardiologist and professor at George Washington University Medical Center, a front-line health care physician.
We should note that, as that, you got the booster.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I did. I got a booster a few weeks ago. I was vaccinated along with most of my colleagues right at the beginning. So, almost nine months ago, we got our first shots. When you look at the data on how the antibodies wane and how the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes, the Israeli data suggests that, every two months, the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes about 6 percent.
And as a front-line health care person who works in a hospital every day with people both exposed to COVID and with COVID, I made the choice to get vaccinated.
TAPPER: But do you think it would be different for, let's say, me?
I am not a front-line physician. The danger and risk for me is much less. And I guess this is one of the debates. Nobody really disputes the idea that at-risk groups, which includes front-line health care workers, should get the boosters. I mean, that's not really the debate.
The debate is whether everyone should have to get the booster.
REINER: I think, eventually, everyone will get the booster.
So, the question is, how do we start with this? So the FDA has already approved boosters for people who have been vaccinated, but where the vaccine hasn't really produced enough antibodies, so that's the immunocompromised. So if you're immunocompromised, you're a solid organ transplant patient, you take an immune-modulating agent for something like rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis, you can get boosted today at your local Walgreens or CVS.
Then the question is, what about for people where the immunity is waning, people who got vaccinated several months ago?
REINER: Which groups should be boosted now?
The question is, what is your risk? And the Israelis believe that most people should be vaccinated. They certainly believe that the elderly should be vaccinated, because the Israeli data showed that, when you looked at who was getting really sick, which vaccinated patients who were getting breakthrough infections were getting hospitalized or getting into ICUs, it turns out it was the elderly.
REINER: So they chose to use -- to vaccinate that group first. I bet the FDA does that as well.
The big problem is that the U.S. has a dearth of information. We are relying on outside sources like the Israelis. And you would think that with 40 million documented infections and 150,000 new infections a day, the CDC would have much more robust data on who is getting infected, what vaccines they received, when they got them, but we don't have them.
We need that data.
Pfizer today said data on vaccines for kids 5 to 11 should be submitted by the end of September. If all goes well, how soon do you think we're going to see kids 11 and younger getting shots in arms?
REINER: I hope soon.
Last week, there are 243,000 infections in kids. That's about a 240 percent increase since the middle of July. That's the reservoir for this virus. The FDA has a process, which we want them to go through. We want them to go through with a sense of urgency, which I know they have.
But in vaccinating children, you have to get the dose right. We want a dose that not just produces an effective immunity, but a dose that is safe. And we need to know that. So the FDA will go through their process. Pfizer believes that they have the data that supports licensing a vaccine for children starting at age 5, and then eventually age 6 months and older.
I expect that we will probably start getting shots into kids' arms hopefully before Thanksgiving.
TAPPER: All right, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much. Appreciate it, as always.
Coming up next: President Biden just weighed in after some shocking revelations about how America's top general was worried that then- President Trump would go rogue with nukes.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our politics lead today: This afternoon, President Biden said that he has great confidence in General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This comes despite a chorus of Republicans demanding Milley's resignation. The rapidly escalating fight was sparked by revelations in Bob Woodward and Bob Costa's upcoming book "Peril" about the chaotic final days of the Trump presidency.
CNN's Brian Todd has more on the revelations and the context and the response.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The now embattled Joint Chiefs chairman for the moment has the backing of his president. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great confidence in General Milley.
TODD: Nonetheless, the pressure on Army General Mark Milley has ramped up exponentially following revelations in the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of "The Washington Post."
Republicans in Congress calling for Milley to be tossed out, even court-martialed, if the allegations are true. They're furious over the reporting in the book that General Milley right after the January 6 assault on the Capitol called a secret meeting at the Pentagon to review the process for military action, including launching nuclear weapons, that Milley instructed top military officials not to take orders from anyone, including then-President Donald Trump, unless Milley was involved.
Woodward and Costa report Milley -- quote -- "was certain that Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election, with Trump now all but manic, screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies."
That rationale doesn't cut it with Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): It is the essence, a military coup, for lack of a better term. That's what it would equate to. I don't think there's any doubt that, at a minimum, you should be fired, if this is true.
TODD: Woodward and Costa also wrote that General Milley was so fearful Trump would start a war with China in the final months of his administration that twice in that period Milley secretly called his Chinese counterpart to reassure him that the United States would not strike China.
Responding to that in an interview with Newsmax, Trump leveled a serious accusation at Milley.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's treason. I have had so many calls today saying that's treason.
TODD: General Milley's office now defends his calls with his Chinese counterpart, saying they were part of a series of calls with America's allies and adversaries at that time -- quote -- "in order to maintain strategic stability."
A defense official tells CNN those calls were not done in secret and followed the same protocols used by other chairmen of the Joint Chiefs.
TODD: Former President Trump, in addition to calling General Milley's reported actions treason, has issued a statement calling the Joint Chiefs chairman a -- quote -- "dumb-ass, weak and ineffective," who Trump says can content a fake news story with the -- with two authors who Trump says he refused to give an interview to because they write fiction, not fact, in his words -- Jake
Of course, he's the one that writes fiction.
TAPPER: Brian Todd, thanks so much.
She says she's not afraid of death, but when the Taliban find her, she hopes they kill her quickly. That's what one women's rights activist in Afghanistan is now telling CNN and we're live in Kabul with that story, next.
TAPPER: In our world lead today, ever since last month's Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, women activists fearing for their lives have been forced into hiding.
And now despite the danger, some of them are agreeing to speak out. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Kabul with their stories of bravery and desperation.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): In happier times, Taranom Seyedi save children from abuse, paid for by profits from a construction company she built. Now she is in hiding from the Taliban in fear for her life.
TARANOM SEYEDI, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND BUSINESS WOMAN (through translator): They are trying to threaten us and execute us secretly as they did to many of my female friends.
ROBERTSON: Her cry in the Taliban's eyes protests taking to the streets two weeks ago demanding equal rights. She was beaten and bruised.
Ever since, Taliban death threats have stalked her. So much fear she now hopes if death comes it's fast.
SEYEDI: I am not afraid of death, but I wish when they find me, they kill me quickly. If they torture me first, then they will me without any honor. Everyone wants to die with dignity.
ROBERTSON: Before the Taliban, she was well-known, popular, ran for parliament, might've been elected if not for endemic corruption. She hoped her high-profile might save her. Now has no idea what to do.
SEYEDI: How long can I be brave? How long do we have to fight? In fact, fight with whom? With whom to talk? With whom to discuss? We are in darkness with no way to get to a brighter future.
ROBERTSON: Across the country, many more women like her hide in fear of the Taliban. They share all the new social media posts of arbitrary abuse. They are both hard to verify and the Taliban deny for now, though, it's the only way the women can protest their plight.
MAHBOUBA SERAJ, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST & CEO, AFGHAN WOMEN'S NETWORK: Everything is at stake right now because we are actually facing a situation that we are so disliked by a group of people who are actually running this country. They can't even look at us.
ROBERTSON: Mahbouba Seraj is Afghanistan's highest-profile women's rights activist. She returned from the U.S. when the Taliban were ousted two decades ago. She won't leave again, she says. We'll stay here to defend women, get the world's attention.
SERAJ: They are going to make problems. They are going to raise their voices. They are going to start, you know -- the world is becoming a very small place now.
ROBERTSON: These are brutal guys with guns who turn them on crowds.
SERAJ: It's true. But for how long? They're going to be killing everybody? Is that what they want to do?
ROBERTSON: Seyedi is facing an agonizing choice. She is the breadwinner, her brother's family and the abused children she rescued depend on her.
SEYEDI: They need me, so I need to be strong and that's really hard.
ROBERTSON: But to stay is to risk death.
SEYEDI: We tried a lot to have a better Afghanistan, to have a better life, to have a better future. In fact, me and my friends didn't expect that one day we will be forced to leave our own country. But they took everything from us.
ROBERTSON: What happens now, she says, depends on her calls for help to the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and others. If she does leave, Seyedi vows to fight on.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Any thought that the Taliban 2.0, this new version of the Taliban might be different to women I think evaporates when you sit in a room with someone like Seyedi. The fear that she's in, the awfulness of it, it pervades the whole space. She was a brave woman to speak out, and I think in a heart of hearts as much as she wants to stay, she desperately hopes that the United States or Britain or Canada do pluck her out of this situation. She just doesn't see another way out right now, Jake.
TAPPER: Nic Robertson in Kabul with that important story, thank you so much, Nick. In moments, President Biden expected to speak on an urgent national
security issue. We'll bring that to you live. Stick with us. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, do you need a booster shot? There is still no clear answer, but new studies breaking this hour may give us more clues.
Plus, another stunning twist in the case of a prominent South Carolina family. Today, we are learning that big-time lawyer paid someone to kill him. Why he says he did it, that's coming up, ahead.
And leading this hour, President Biden set to speak any moment. The president is fresh off a big win for Democrats after Governor Gavin Newsom held onto his seat as California governor in the pricey and ultimately unsuccessful Republican recall election effort. Though today, President Biden is turning his attention back to the pandemic, which is still raging out of control. And a matter of national security we'll bring you those remarks when they start.
But first let's bring in Jeremy Diamond live at the White House.