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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Milley: "I Have Done My Best To Remain Personally Apolitical," Especially Since Summer 2020 Controversial Walk With Trump; Biden Agenda Hangs In The Balance As Dem Infighting Rages On; Hundreds Of Convicted Cops Are Raking In Millions In Pension Benefits; North Korea Joins Race For New Hypersonic Missile; Soon: Judge Set To Rule On Britney Spears Conservatorship Case; Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, 22 Other Species To Be Declared Extinct. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 17:00   ET



OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Milley says the purpose of the calls was stability between two nuclear powers.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF: These are two great powers. And I am doing my best to transmit the President's intent. President Trump's intent to ensure that the American people are protected from an incident that could escalate.

REP. VICKY HARTZLER (R), MISSOURI: I understand your intent.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Republicans have seized on the calls as bypassing the president, the commander in chief and the chain of command.

HARTZLER: I think is worthy of your resignation.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Calling for the ouster of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs over the calls --

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Was off, you know, talking to Phil Rucker.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): -- and the revelations in print.

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R-OH), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Those comments were in the press, because that's where you put them. You didn't tell the Intelligence Committee. You didn't tell the Armed Services Committee.

MILLEY: With respect to the intelligence, I have it right here. I'll be happy to share it with you.

TURNER: Great.

MILLEY: I guarantee that that intelligence was disseminated to -- in the President's PDB, the Vice President, the DNI, director of CIA, the Secretary of Defense, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and others. That was significant and there was a lot of it.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The photo from last summer at Lafayette Square, a moment in a walk that lasted 45 seconds, thrust Milley into the political limelight, where he remains whether he likes it or not.

REP. JIM BANKS (R-IN), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: What happens when a military general becomes a political figure? You would agree that's dangerous?

MILLEY: I think it's dangerous. And I have done my best to remain personally apolitical and I tried to keep the military out of actual domestic politics. And I made a point of that from the time I became the chairman and especially beginning last summer.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Milley acknowledged on Tuesday that he spoke to a number of authors who wrote about the final months of the administration.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: General Milley yes or no to this, did you talk to Bob Woodard or Robert Costa for their book "Peril?"

MILLEY: Woodward, yes, Costa, no.

BLACKBURN: Did you talk to Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker for their book "Alone Can I Fix It?"


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): He said he does not regret those conversations.

MILLEY: I believe that part of my job is to communicate to the media what we do as a government, what we do as a military to explain to the people.


LIEBERMANN: And one of the more striking concerns about what Afghanistan looks like and what could happen there in the coming months, General Mark Milley also said that it's possible that Al-Qaeda could reconstitute itself within as little as six months.

Asked whether President Joe Biden still has confidence in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was brought in under President Donald Trump, Jen Psaki said yes. And she also noted that they've worked together very closely over the course of the past few months, and that the relationship between Biden and Milley is probably different than that between Trump and Milley, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Probably a safe bet.

Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling who served as the U.S. Army Commanding General in Europe in Seventh Army. General, thanks so much for joining us.

Given what you just heard in Oren's piece, do you get the sense that Milley is trying to rehabilitate his reputation since the Lafayette Square incident in the summer?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), FMR. ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: It's a great question, Jake. No, I don't think he's trying to rehabilitate. I just know that he knows he made a mistake in the Lafayette Square.

But all of the things he talked about today and yesterday, and I watched most of the hearings, were things that all general officers do. And in fact, if some of the congressmen asking about him or suggesting he was committing treason today because he talked to foreign dignitaries, there's going to be a whole lot of us. My former colleagues are going to be very surprised about that because there is constant communication with your allies, your partners and even your foes. As general Milley says, it is part of your job.

But what he's talking about is not the Lafayette Square incident. He's talking about what is often called engagement exercises or engagement reports that you do with your counterparts in other countries.

TAPPER: General Milley said today that he's done to his best to remain apolitical, especially since the events of summer 2020 that we just talked about. I guess one of the questions I have is how difficult is it for a military general, especially a Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman to remain apolitical? How much of a challenge is that?

HERTLING: Yes, it's a tough challenge, first of all. Secondly, I wouldn't use the word apolitical. And the folks that study civil military relations say it's more an issue of being nonpartisan, because war is politics by other means. If you're a military officer, you're conducting an extension of the political desires of your civilian leaders.

So, you know, I think General Milley has made it clear that he doesn't want partisan politics within the military. And we are taught that from the first day we enter the basic course is brand new second lieutenants, and it gets increasingly rigorous as we go on, and it's especially rigorous when we get to the point of general officers.

You never want to support openly a political party. You want to feign your allegiance to those who were in charge because they are your civilian masters (ph). But you've also, as he has said so many times, support and defend the Constitution rather than an individual.

And that's what I think got General Milley in trouble a little bit during the President Trump regime, because the president wanted him to feign allegiance to him as an individual, as opposed to understanding that his requirement was to pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.

[17:05:25] TAPPER: So a lot of the lawmakers echoed a lot of what we've heard in MAGA media, the idea that Milley was committing treason by talking to his Chinese counterpart, which Milley has explained he did because he wanted to make sure they didn't overreact given the turbulence of the last few months of the Trump presidency. Not to mention his asking the command structure to keep them in the loop if there's any major orders coming down having to do with nuclear weapons.

Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming called out her fellow Republicans today for attacking Milley as treasonous or unpatriotic. Take a listen.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R), WYOMING: For any member of this committee, for any American, to question your loyalty to our nation, to question your understanding of our Constitution, your loyalty to our Constitution, your recognition and understanding of the civilian chain of command is despicable. I want to apologize for those members of this committee who've done so.


TAPPER: Some lawmakers continue to call on Milley to resign, though.

Do you think that he still has respect, Milley within the ranks? Or has his credibility taken ahead?

HERTLING: I think he has respect or let me restate that, I know he has respect from individuals who understand our oath of allegiance to the Constitution, Jake. He may have, you know, there may be some within the ranks, who are feeling that he's treasonous because he talked to the Chinese and it's those who would believe that in the ranks, don't understand what it's like to be a general officer and what you have to do as part of your JOB.

You know, one of -- you know, there are those on the right who are calling him a traitor. There are those that are on the left who are calling him a hero because of what he did. What I would said and what I did say in a CNN editorial is he was just doing his job. And for those who don't understand that, especially on the House Armed Services Committee oversight hearing, you know, they've got a lot more to learn about the way the military does things.

I listened to some of the congressmen today, and I was shocked by some of them and the things they said when they're sitting on the Armed Services Committee. They should know better. They should have a better understanding of what the military is required to do and what general officers specifically have to do to contribute to the diplomacy and the security of the United States.

TAPPER: All right, General, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Good to see you again.

Democratic negotiations at a standstill just hours before the critical vote, and the bipartisan infrastructure plan. Will President Biden's agenda make it across the finish line?

Plus, a hearing underway right now that could change the life of popstar Britney Spears. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, nobody wants to blink. Negotiations have near standstill today among Democrats over the President's massive $3.5 trillion spending plan on social safety net programs which moderate say is too big, and progressive say they want passed before tomorrow's scheduled vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

One source involved in negotiations tell CNN, everyone thinks the other side is about to blink and neither is right.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

And Manu, you just got a brand new update for one of the key players, moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin on where things stand. What does he have to say?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's making clear he is not there, he's not ready to sign off on this larger bill to expand the social safety net. And Democrats in the House have said that Manchin needs to sign on to that larger plan, at least in some legislative tax or a framework or an outline of some sort before that other key vote that's happening on Thursday to move forward and give a final passage vote to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan.

But Manchin says in this statement that much more negotiation is needed. He raises concerns about the expansion of social programs, essentially saying that what the Democrats are proposing is not needed, given the economic state that we're in, he says there needs to be more means testing of sorts. And raises concerns about spending trillions of dollars and new money, says he cannot and will not support trillions in spending or an all or nothing approach that ignores the brutal fiscal reality our nation faces.

Now, this is why this is important, Jake, is because in a 50-50 Senate, every vote matters. One Democrat like Joe Manchin could tank the whole thing.

And Nancy Pelosi order (ph) today made very clear that she will not move forward in the House on that larger plan unless the Senate, all 50 Democrats, sign off on that same approach. And I asked her about that and she explained.


RAJU: Do Manchin and Sinema need to sign off on this legislative language by tomorrow for this infrastructure for it to move forward? REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: What I have also said is we're not proceeding with anything that doesn't have agreement between the House and the Senate. And that's where we're working.

I mean, we could pass a bill anytime. We can pass a bill anytime. But if it doesn't have the support of the Senate, then we're --


RAJU: So now, the big question is, what happens with that Thursday vote? Because right now progressive are saying they have the numbers to scuttle that because they want to use that as leverage to force that larger plan through, to get moderates like Joe Manchin to agree to an approach to move forward.


Joe Manchin says it's going to take weeks for him to get behind anything and says there needs to be much more talks, him and Kyrsten Sinema, the other moderate Democratic senator, have been at the center of these talks for some time.

And the moment Jake, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are at the White House trying to figure out their way ahead. Will they move forward tomorrow? Will they punt? They may be forced to do that, since the votes don't appear to be there on that infrastructure bill as of yet.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's discuss with my august panel.

Kasie, let me start with you. What is the endgame here for Senator Sinema? Well, this is familiar territory for Joe Manchin who represents a very red state. But Arizona is I don't know, purplish, red, and her fellow Arizona and Mark Kelly is not is not doing this. What is she trying to do?

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: He's not, and he's the one who's facing election, again, reelection in a very short span of time.

You know, I think that that's the big question in Washington. I know that certainly the Democrats I've talked to have been pretty frustrated with Sinema and frankly, moderates, and progressives and her fellow senators, just because I think they think she seems to want to step into the spotlight and isn't willing to be clear on what she wants. And until there is a little bit more clarity, it's -- I don't think going to become clear. It's, you know, she wants to be a player.

Manchin, you know, I've talked to him about this, and he's clearly seems personally frustrated. But this statement that he put out, I think, is newsy and that it lays down a line and it says to Speaker Pelosi, hey, the balls in your court. Here's where I stand, I'm not going to give you the agreement you asked for before tomorrow, when you say you're going to have a vote, you got to decide or you're going to lay down that gauntlet or you're going to pull back. TAPPER: And Toluse, there is also growing irritation on Capitol Hill with President Biden for not being more engaged, although he has been in the last day or so. Is this what Biden expected? I mean, this kind of stalemate over his own agenda?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Definitely not. He did not expect infighting in with Democrats. He has progressives, he has moderates.

When he was campaigning in 2020, he basically tried to straddle the line, he said, I'm a moderate, I'm not going to go for Medicare for All. But he then, you know, made this unison, this unity pledge, essentially, with Bernie Sanders and with the progressive and he brought them in. And he made progressive ideals a big part of his agenda. And now he's trying to figure out how to get those two sides of his -- of the wings, both of those wings of his party and get them together.

And it doesn't appear that there's a sense of urgency when it comes to pushing this this bill. There are a number of different deadlines that they have that the Democrats need to get. At the end of this week, they need to pass a bill to keep the government open.

But there's not that same level of urgency, especially when it comes to Manchin and Sinema when it comes to this big, multi trillion-dollar bill. They're not saying that this needs to happen right away. They're saying that this can happen much later over the course of many weeks.

TAPPER: Yes. No, that's what Congressman Pocan said yesterday. He thinks this is going to take at least a couple of weeks to sort out the votes are not there for infrastructure.

Daniella, obviously this is bringing out some very strong raw passions and frustrations, the Democrats, and as you said, it's not just progressives, they're frustrated --

HUNT: It's not.

TAPPER: -- with Sinema and Manchin.

HUNT: Basically everyone who's not Sinema.

TAPPER: And Manchin.

HUNT: But including Manchin.

TAPPER: Here's one of the more progressive newcomers on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Cori Bush, talking about Senator Sinema. Take a listen.


REP. CORI BUSH (D), MISSOURI: Come to my district, have Kyrsten Sinema come to my district and meet with my folks in St. Louis. Have her come and meet with those that sleep on the street. She has her own story that I feel like she's forgotten.


TAPPER: Now, a couple points there, one, she's referring to the fact that Senator Sinema famously grew up in poverty, it was a big part of her backstory. But two, one of the points that Congresswoman Bush is trying to make is that with the exception of Jim Clyburn, the Majority Whip, who's African American, all of this debating is going on among wealthy white people, and she's concerned that that is going to hurt people of color.

DANIELLA GIBBS LEGER, EXECUTIVE VP COMMUNICATIONS AND STRATEGY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I think sometimes she's right, and that we get lost in the politics of it. And behind that, there are real people who will be affected by this policy that Biden is trying to push forward. And it's important to put a human face on what the consequences are of inaction.

And I agree there does seem to be a lack of urgency amongst some people about getting this done. But I don't think we can wait weeks or months to get these bills passed.

Democrats have to act now. So, moderates progresses everybody, you know, my bosses have been saying this, like, get together and figure it out. Obviously, 3.5 is a number that everybody wants, we're not getting it, figure out what your number is, get in a room and figure it out and pass both of these bills.

HUNT: And very briefly, Jake, October 18, that's the deadline that Janet Yellen set for the debt ceiling. Mitch McConnell is trying to force Democrats to put the debt ceiling in this reconciliation package, if they can't come to an agreement, I mean that's in about two weeks.



HUNT: If they can't come to an agreement by then, their hand is going to be forced.


Brendan, as a former Republican aide, I have to ask you, do you think that there is the hatred of the $3.5 trillion spending bill, that there -- that among Independents, that could help a Republican win an election in a Democratic district, that there was, for example, in terms of the passion against Obamacare? I don't see it, but I don't know. What do you think?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER ADVISER TO HOUSE SPEAKERS JOHN BOEHNER AND PAUL RYAN: I don't see it either. And I think that's one of the interesting political dynamics at large, you go back to the Obama era and you had the Tea Party movement. And that was very clear. There were rallies in the street and it led to Republicans taking back the House. And of course, the resistance in the first couple years of Donald Trump led to Democrats taking back the House.

It doesn't feel like the energy is there. Now, Republicans clearly have other plans, they have other issues, cultural issues --

TAPPER: Right.

BUCK: -- more likely that they think are what going to fire up voters. And they've made a bet that playing populist nativist politics is how you turn out your voters. And that's the solution they don't need to focus on the policy.

I wish there was a little more focus on the policy, because there's plenty of things to talk about here. But we are very much a post policy party right now. I don't think there's lot of interest in getting into the weeds on it. They'd rather had these fights, cultural fights, and that's the key that they've -- or at least that's the bet they've made.

TAPPER: And that's interesting, because then you wonder, is Sinema, Gottheimer, Murphy, Manchin, are they -- I mean, do they really face a voter revolt if they support this $3.5 trillion bill? I mean, obviously, people don't only do things for political reasons, they might actually have philosophical differences on this.

HUNT: Sure.

TAPPER: But is there a political cost? I don't know that there is.

HUNT: Well, I think that the thing is that Republicans in their messaging are turning this bill into a cultural issue. They are saying Democrats socialism, they're adding the word woke on the end and they're trying to use it to scare their voters, that everything in their life is going to change if they let Democrats do this. And 3.5 trillion is a pretty big number.

And Democrats, frankly, and I've talked to several privately who've been frustrated with the messaging around this, because it really has been.

And, look, the conversation we're having about a top line number on this bill is being driven by the fact that that's what they're talking about or have been talking about behind the scenes, they've been arguing about how much to spend.

But that means that they haven't been talking about what is actually in it for people. What are you, the person, you know, at home, who's struggling, you know, who's trying to figure out how to get some childcare so you can go to work while your kid is like not getting COVID --


HUNT: -- not of that is actually the focus of the debate here in Washington. It's been a real struggle for Democrats to get that across.

BUCK: And that's the key point. I don't think Republicans really need to insert themselves into this, because all that's really happening right now is Democrats are fighting each other. It's really, really hard.

Even if you've been following this for a long time, it's hard to figure out what's going on right now, it's hard to figure out what this is, is even about.

HUNT: I've covered Congress for 15 years and it's hard to talk about it.

BUCK: The infrastructure bill, reconciliation, what are we even talking about? It's all getting lost. And so, Republicans can sit back right now. And as long as they're shooting at each other, there's no reason to get in the middle of it.

HUNT: And Democrats said all the way along, all we need to do is something.

TAPPER: Something.

HUNT: People need to see that. There's something and they're currently not.

LEGER: Well, I still think, like I said, time is of the essence, but there is time to get this done. And regardless of what that number is going to be, it's going to be a huge improvement in everybody's lives.

And I agree, the messaging has not been great. But the messaging is also being driven by those of us sitting around this table, people in this town who were talking about this. But when I talk to folks in states, they're focused, like at the local level of talking about, hey, in this particular district, this bill is going to do this for your family. It may not be bubbling up to here, but where people live, they're trying to get that message out.

TAPPER: There are, of course, tax increases in the bill to pay for all of these social programs. And those could be harmful politically for some of these Democrats.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, there is a major difference in the Democratic Party about how far to go on tax increases, how far to go on some of these benefits. You know, Joe Manchin wants to think about means testing, maybe not giving, you know, hundreds of dollars to every person who, you know, may not need it or may not want it.

And Democrats are saying we need to make a lot of these programs universal. And not having that argument hashed out before this vote happens. It's going to make it very difficult for them to get anything done.

TAPPER: All right, Kasie, Toluse, Daniella and Brendan, thanks so much. Good to see all of you.

Coming up next to CNN investigation, police officers convicted of heinous crimes, yet still eligible for millions of dollars in taxpayer supported payments. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our buried lead, that's what we call stories we do not think are getting enough attention. A CNN investigation, even though he's in prison for the murder of George Floyd, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin remains eligible for roughly a million and a half dollars in pension benefits once he reaches retirement age. And Chauvin is not alone.

As CNN's Chief Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin discovered, hundreds of officers who have been convicted of serious crimes, including murder and rape, stand to cash in on high dollar retirement benefits.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the country, police officers convicted of crimes violating the very laws they were sworn to uphold are raking in millions in retirement payments. In California, this former sheriff is collecting a whopping $265,000 a year out of a pension that could be worth 10 million after he was convicted of witness tampering and serving time in prison.

In New York, a university police officer found guilty of manslaughter for strangling his girlfriend and setting her body on fire is eligible for a $500,000 pension.


And in Minnesota, fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin convicted of killing George Floyd, sentenced to more than 22 years in prison, is eligible for a retirement pension worth more than $1 million and they are hardly alone.

A CNN investigation finds hundreds of police officers convicted of violent and sexual felonies and on-the-job corruption, are still eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer supported pensions.

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, MIAMI POLICE: The taxpayers should not be on the hook for someone that did not end their career the way they started it, which is with honor and with respect for the rule of law.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In Washington State, Retired Officer Karl Thompson is still getting paid out of a pension that could be worth more than $600,000. It was back in 2006, Thompson responded to a 9/11 call from two teenagers who thought 36-year-old Janitor Otto Zehm looks suspicious. Zehm suffered from schizophrenia.

He'd come to this convenience store to buy a Pepsi and a Snickers bar after work like he always did. He had done nothing wrong. But Officer Thompson responded with his baton out storming into the store and heading straight for an unsuspecting Zehm. And without a single word spoken, without a warning, Thompson beat Otto Zehm to the ground just out of view of surveillance cameras. Backup officers, tased Zehm, sat on him, hogtied him. All these horrified customers heard Zehm's final words, "All I wanted was a Snickers." Zehm who had committed no crime, lingered for two days in a hospital and died.

BRITNI BRASHERS, WITNESS TO ATTACK: We didn't just watch somebody, arrest somebody. We watched a police officer murder someone in front of us.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But no police officer would be charged with murder. For years, Spokane police said the beating was justified in what the Department of Justice calls an extensive cover up. It took a federal civil rights prosecution nearly six years later to finally uncover the truth. Thompson was convicted of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights by using unreasonable force and attempting to conceal evidence.

MICHAEL ORMSBY, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON: This case, in part, was to bring justice to him and to his family.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Karl Thompson was 65 years old when he went to prison and kept collecting his $24,000 a year retirement pension behind bars. Sandy and Dale Zehm, Otto Zehm's cousins find it all appalling.

SANDY ZEHM, OTTO ZEHM'S COUSIN: To have a taxpayer pension go on for years and years and years or the rest of your life, time after you've been convicted of a crime like that, no, I disagree.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): While some states have passed laws stripping pensions from convicted cops in more than 30 states, police officers would keep their pensions even if they were found guilty of murder or rape while on the job. Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo believes the threat of losing a pension can be a powerful deterrent.

ACEVEDO: Pensions are something that are really important to people. And so we need to make sure they have skin in the game. And when officers do the wrong thing in certain circumstances, they absolutely should be taken away.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Police advocates say that can be unfair to the police officers and their families.

ASST. CHIEF JUSTIN LUNDGREN, SPOKANE POLICE: Why build a tragedy when the officer's life is over. They potentially are in prison. They are civilly sued. So, I would be in favor of not punishing the family that has been along the side of this officer.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Former Spokane Officer Karl Thompson is now out of prison. He's retired and has already received more than $150,000 of his pension and could eventually rake in four times that amount. He's refused to speak to CNN.

(on-camera): Is Mr. Thompson in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May I ask who you are? GRIFFIN (on-camera): Yes, Drew Griffin with CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: CNN, as in the television station?

GRIFFIN (on-camera): Yes, ma'am.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): And Otto's Zehm's family believes justice was not served.

(on-camera): Do you think this officer had paid enough of the price?

DALE ZEHM, OTTO ZEHM'S COUSIN: He's out, but I don't think he's paid enough for it, yes. Yes, I don't think he paid enough for it.


GRIFFIN: What's odd, Jake, are the discrepancies and how government's handling incarceration. Social Security payments are halted if you go behind bars. Police pensions are not. Proponents of taking away police pensions point not just to the fairness to the victims, families like Zehm's families, but also to at least one study that shows the threat of losing pensions actually leads to better police behavior by officers. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much. An eye-opening report.

Could North Korea's new missile reach Washington, D.C. in just a couple hours? Well, that's the fear. What we know about the latest tests, that's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, North Korea is claiming that they've tested a hypersonic missile which, if true, experts say could profoundly change the military equation given these missiles can go thousands of times faster than the speed of sound, and no existing weapons system can shoot them down. As CNN's Will Ripley reports for us now, this poses a serious possible threat to the United States and to close allies.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If what North Korea says is true, this may be their most dangerous weapon yet, a hypersonic missile. Analysts say it could change the military equation in East Asia and beyond.

Kim Jong-un's arsenal has exploded during his first decade in power. Analysts say the Hwasong-8 could be unlike any missile he's tested before. Exact specifications unknown. Hypersonic missiles can fly more than five times the speed of sound. Roughly 4,000 miles an hour or about a mile every second.


At that speed, a missile could fly from Pyongyang to Washington in less than two hours. Some hypersonic weapons can theoretically fly four times faster, up to 20 times the speed of sound. Many ballistic missiles already fly at hypersonic speeds, but they follow a set trajectory from point A to point B.

North Korea says this new missile has a hypersonic glide vehicle, making it highly maneuverable descending on a target from a much lower altitude. Experts say almost impossible to shoot down.

It would mean for instance that our ground-based interceptors in Alaska, in California would not work against North Korea's missiles. That means North Korea would be able to intimidate the United States.

RIPLEY (voice-over): South Korea says the North's newly tested hypersonic missile is likely in the early stages of development and can still be detected and intercepted by South Korean and U.S. missile defense systems, at least for now.

JAMIE METZL, FOUNDER, ONE SHARED WORLD: We don't know yet about the full capacity of these hypersonic missiles. But when you connect these new missile capabilities, new launch capabilities and the miniaturization of nuclear weapons, it leads to the conclusion that North Korea will possibly or even likely have an increased strike capability and that's going to increase the threat that North Korea poses to countries around the world.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Right now, just two nations have deployed hypersonic missiles, Russia and China. The U.S. is actively testing and developing hypersonic missile technology. Three world powers and now possibly North Korea, a new global arms race escalating at hypersonic speed.


RIPLEY: At his party Congress in January, Kim Jong-un said he doesn't want to stop with a hypersonic missile. He wants an ICBM with a range of more than 9,000 miles, military reconnaissance satellites and tactical nuclear weapons, all added to his arsenal as soon as possible. But at the same time, Jake, he is signaling a possible return to communication with South Korea.

Just minutes ago, Kim was quoted in North Korean state media denouncing what he says the U.S. and South Korea expansion of arms. Of course, it was just this week, South Korea put a submarine in the water capable of launching ballistic missiles.

Kim says he's willing to reopen a communication line with the South in the coming days, but he is blasting the Biden administration saying that the Biden administration's methods are more sly, in his words, than the Trump administration, more hostile. Even though President Biden's team has been calling for dialogue and negotiations without preconditions, Kim says he believes that is a trick. TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Right now, a hearing is underway that could decide the future of the Britney Spears conservatorship. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our pop culture lead now, a long awaited hearing is underway right now for Britney Spears three months after the pop superstar first spoke out publicly about her unusual conservatorship, calling the arrangement abusive and exploitative. And now, a Los Angeles judge may decide whether her father should be suspended as her caretaker or whether the arrangement should be scrapped altogether.

Let's go straight to CNN's Stephanie Elam who's live outside the courthouse for us. And Stephanie, Britney Spears, who is one of the biggest stars in the world, we should note, has been in this conservatorship for more than 13 years. What's at stake today?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this has been going on for a long time, Jake, the idea that she has been silence and not in control of her own life really coming to a head over the last year or so. And then hearing Britney in her own words, as you were talking about there in court in June followed up in July, where she really said that she thought her father should be charged with conservatorship abuse. So we've heard from her own mouth that she wants this to end, and then we started to see steps moving in that direction.

Now we know that earlier in September, her father Jamie Spears, agreed to say that the conservatorship should be dissolved, that he no longer needed to be the co-conservator because it just go away. That is what is at stake here today.

There are a few things that could happen today. We could see that Judge Brenda Penny could come out and say, you know what, I need more time. Let's set up another meeting. That's not going to happen. That's like the least likely of options.

She could say, let's get rid of the conservatorship, but let's put in some guardrails, some sort of plan for how her finances and her person will be handled. That's one option. She could also say, let's go ahead with what Britney's lawyer wants. Mathew Rosengart and go ahead and suspend Jamie Spears as the conservator, co-conservator of this estate, and then say, let's go ahead and put the CPA in to take over the estate.

Jamie Spears is, for his part, is saying that that is unnecessary because what really needs to happen as that this conservatorship goes away. So, these are some of the options that we're looking to hear from. Right now, I can tell you out here, Britney's loyal fans, they're a huge part of why we're even hearing about this now because they've been out here protesting. They're out here again today. They're marching as we wait for word of what Britney's future will be. But there could be at least a path moving forward for Britney to regain control of her life. We're just waiting for word as it comes out of court today, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles, thanks so much.

Let's discuss this with documentary filmmaker Erin Lee Carr. She's the Director of a brand new doc called Britney versus Spears that debuted

on Netflix last night and shot to number one. Erin, congratulations.

So, you've been working on this documentary for the past two and a half years. You are a self-described Britney fan. What do you want to hear from today's hearing?


ERIN LEE CARR, DIRECTOR, "BRITNEY VERSUS SPEARS" ON NETFLIX: You know, I think that Britney for the first time, these last couple months where it was able to actually get her own lawyer. It had been a quarter prove lawyer, which was Sam Ingham previously. So the fact that she has Mathew Rosengart, who is really, really trying to figure out and seek what is best for Britney.

And today, you know, it's about Jamie wants the conservatorship to end but is there a reason for that? And I think that we're waiting on accounting, we're waiting on, you know, when and where will be the transfer of papers about what happened inside the conservatorship. So, there's a lot going on in terms of Judge Brenda Penny deciding if the conservatorship is going to be removed today.

TAPPER: Your documentary is really interesting. I wonder about a decision, an editorial decision you seem to have made, you made a deliberate choice it seems to not show pictures of Britney Spears at the height of what people think was a mental breakdown, the 2008 photos where she shaved her head and was put in an ambulance. Tell me about that decision.

LEE CARR: Yes. So, those images that you just mentioned, they've been seen millions of times. You just think of Britney Spears, and those images are conjured in your mind. And so, trying to think at it from, you know, an empathic yet journalistic angle, we don't need to see those images again to understand the story.

And so, I think that, you know, you -- in the documentary, "Britney versus Spears", you're going to see the ambulance as she heads the hospital with the Paparazzi chasing her. But you're never going to see her face in that ambulance because we don't need to. And so, I think that we really tried to, you know, think about that every step of the way.

TAPPER: It was an empathy for people with mental struggles, am I hearing you correctly?

LEE CARR: It was an empathy for people with mental struggles but it also was that, I wanted to move the story forward. I think when, you know, I approached Netflix with this story, it wasn't about the, you know, the braid (ph) of images and videos that we've previously seen, but what is going on inside the conservatorship.

And me, two and a half years ago, you know, maybe I can help rack the most -- sort of one of the most mysterious legal mysteries of our time, it was incredibly naive. But if I was going to do it, I was going to do it in a forward facing way.

TAPPER: Yes. And you got a lot of documents leaked to you. What do you think was behind that? I mean, I would love to know who you think the source was. But do you think it was someone inside the conservatorship trying to free Britney as it were?

LEE CARR: Oh, you know, I can't talk about my source, Jake. You know, I think that, in the -- there's a sort of a underworld as it relates to the Britney Spears like verse, Microverse, Multiverse. And so it really was people knew that we were working on this. And so we, you know, we made contacts inside the space. And, you know, people came to us, saying, I really want to help and, you know, show what was going on inside the conservatorship.

So when I initially got a report that was from 2013 where it said Britney does -- you know, lacks capacity in all matters, you know, to retain counsel, to do anything like that, I mean, this is, you know, this was in, you know, years after she had done multiple tours. So, I'm really starting out with those documents from 2013, saying the word incapable, over and over and over again, maybe, you know, need to know more.

TAPPER: And you also, in the documentary, interviewed a controversial person from her life, Sam Lutfi. And there have been critics who say that you don't -- they don't think you should have interviewed him, what do you say to them?

LEE CARR: You know, I think documentaries are really tough because especially when you're sort of making them while the news is evolving. But Sam Lutfi was one of the pivotal figures that was in her life, during that period of duress. He saw things and it was really important to me to, you know, go and meet with you and interview the people that were actually there.

Now you'll see in the film, that it's not about, you know, lending Sam Lutfi credibility --

TAPPER: Yes, right.

LEE CARR: -- because you see in a deposition that had not been seen before, it really said, you know, Britney said he was somebody that would go get her groceries. And, you know, Sam, you know, is saying, I'm her manager, I'm calling the shots. So really showing the viewer that there were these really separate narratives.

TAPPER: Yes. Erin Lee Carr, thank you so much. Congratulations on the documentary. We will be right back.


[17:59:18] TAPPER: In our Earth matter series today, the last laugh for Woody Woodpecker.




TAPPER: It's a tragic story really because from now on, you're going to have to watch that cartoon on television to catch a glimpse of the actual ivory-billed woodpecker. Federal officials announced today that they're declaring it along with 22 other species of birds, fish and other wildlife extinct. As move (ph) comms and scientists say, climate change and habitat destruction are accelerating the rate of extinction worldwide and mourn as many as 1 million species are threatened with being lost forever.

And follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. You can always capture the show wherever you get your podcast if you miss an episode.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."