Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Now: Full House Vote On Charging Steve Bannon With Contempt; Tonight: Biden To Pitch Economic Plans In CNN Town Hall; CDC Panel To Vote On Moderna, J&J Boosters; Local Police: Skeletal Remains, Clothing Found In Search For Laundrie; Next Texas Secretary Of State Defended Trump's Fraud Claims In PA; Danger For Relatives Of U.S. Service Members Stuck In Afghanistan. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 21, 2021 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER continues with breaking news right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Congress sending a message right now to seditionists.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The House is voting right this second to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress and refer the matter to the Department of Justice for prosecution as the former president desperately tries to keep secret White House records.

President Biden about to face the American people in a special CNN town hall. Will he have a deal to show them legislatively by the time he takes the stage?

Plus, it may be the last chance to find out what really happened in Gabby Petito's final moments after police find human remains. What's inside the notebook that Brian Laundrie might have left behind?


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in the politics lead. Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives is voting to hold top Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena from the January 6 Select Committee.

Today's vote puts on full display just how far lawmakers are willing to go to penalize those who refuse to cooperate with the investigation into what was a deadly insurrection on their own workplace. But the vote is expected to fall largely along party lines.

Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the select committee is criticizing her own party for downplaying the deadly attack. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There are people in this chamber right now who were evacuated with me and with the rest of us on that day during that attack -- people who now seem to have forgotten the danger of the moment, the assault on the Constitution, the assault on our Congress.


TAPPER: The decision to prosecute Bannon will ultimately be made by the attorney general and the Justice Department. When asked this morning by lawmakers, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ will, quote, do what it always does, apply the facts and the law and make a decision, unquote.

Le's get right to CNN's Ryan Nobles. He's live on Capitol Hill for us.

Ryan, we know that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two members of Congress who are Republican who are on this committee, we know how they voted. Will any other Republicans, have any other Republicans voted to refer this criminal contempt of Congress charge?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. In fact, they have. Even though the vote as you point out has really been largely along partisan lines there are now eight Republicans that have voted to refer the criminal contempt of Congress charge to Steve Bannon, of Steve Bannon, to the Department of Justice. You mentioned Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, also Representatives Meijer, Gonzalez, Simpson, Upton, Katko, and Mace all voting in the affirmative. Those eight votes along with the Democratic majority assuring that this criminal contempt referral will pass.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISOIR: Thank you. Thank you. very much.

NOBLES (voice-over): Steve Bannon, a long-time adviser of former President Donald Trump and the man who predicted this on the day before January 6th --

BANNON: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

NOBLES: -- is now in a legal predicament. The House of Representatives set to refer him to the Department of Justice for criminal contempt of Congress because he has refused to comply with the subpoena of the January 6th select committee.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): On January 5th, Steve Bannon said on his podcast that all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. He promised something unprecedented, unforeseen, and told everybody to buckle up or fasten on or whatever. I mean, you tell me.

NOBLES: The vote now triggers a process in the hands of the Department of Justice. They will decide if Bannon's defiance is worthy of prosecution. If convicted Bannon could face fines and jail time.

Attorney General Merrick Garland will have the final call.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNE GENERAL: The department recognizes the important oversight role this committee and the House of Representatives and the Senate play with respect to the executive branch.

NOBLES: He was on Capitol Hill today being grilled by Republicans over things like the independence of the DOJ and conflicts at school board meetings.

But when Democrats asked about Bannon, he refused to tip his hand.

GARLAND: The Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution.

NOBLES: Meanwhile, the committee continues to negotiate with other Trump allies to get them to cooperate with their investigation. They've postponed depositions for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Pentagon official Kash Patel. Dan Scavino, the former deputy White House chief of staff, is now scheduled to appear before the committee on November 4th, as some lawmakers sound the alarm about future elections.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Even now, however, the ex-president and his allies continue to cast doubt on the last election and appear to be drafting a plan to overturn the next one. And next time, we may not be so lucky.

NOBLES: All this while Trump, himself, continues to peddle false rhetoric about the 2020 election in attempts to whitewash the violence and chaos of January 6th.

The insurrection took place on November 3rd, Trump wrote in a statement. January 6th was a protest.


NOBLES (on camera): And we're just learning now an update to the vote total, remaining eight Republicans that voted yes though it was Representative Simpson changed his vote to a nay. Fitzpatrick being the other Republican that voted to refer this criminal contempt charge of Congress to the Department of Justice.

And, Jake, Steve Bannon the man at the center of all of this controversy, he said very little about the Congress's attempt to bring him before the January 6th Select Committee. He just sent letters through his attorney to the committee saying he wasn't going to cooperate.

Tonight, he will be giving a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to a group of Republicans there showing he doesn't seem to be all that concerned as to what is happening here in Washington -- Jake.

TAPPER: Or trying to convey that at least.

Ryan Nobles from Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Here to discuss Democratic Congresswoman Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. She's the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

So, Congresswoman, the House is voting right now we are told that the -- there are eight Republicans who have voted along with the Democrats to refer the matter of criminal contempt of Congress to the Department of Justice. They include, not surprisingly, Liz Cheney, and Adam Kinzinger, but also Congressman Upton of Michigan, Meijer of Minnesota, Gonzalez of Ohio, Katko of New York, Mace of South Carolina, and your fellow suburban Philadelphian Congressman Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.

What's your reaction to the vote so far?

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): I am not surprised it is along party lines and I am pleased we have at least eight Republicans who see the truth, who recognize the essential oversight role that Congress plays, and that we should not be fooled with by the likes of Steve Bannon.

So, we will refer this matter by way of this vote to the attorney general, to the Department of Justice, to hold Mr. Bannon accountable to his subpoena and to make sure that we continue our oversight role into a heinous set of crimes that took place right here on January 6th.

TAPPER: Earlier this week, Congresswoman Cheney said Bannon's refusal to participate appears to reveal that Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. Do you agree with that assessment?

DEAN: Well, I've been saying all along, anybody who has any knowledge of what led up to January 6th, what happened on January 6th, or what happened after January 6th when, of course, you know, it took hours for the president to actually call the rioters off as he told them he loved them.

Anybody should come forward. They should be patriots. So, Mr. Bannon, I don't expect patriotism out of him. But the other members of Congress, Mr. Meadows who was chief of staff, these folks need to come forward and tell the truth. And when they don't, when they try to evade subpoena and lawful process, it can say nothing else than they have something to hide.

TAPPER: I want to remind our audience what Steve Bannon was saying around that time. Here is a clip from his podcast just one day before the January 6th insurrection. Take a listen.


BANNON: I'll tell you this. It's not going to happen like you think it is going to happen. Okay? It is going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is strap in. The war room, a posse, you have made this happen and tomorrow it is game day. So, strap in. Let's get ready.


TAPPER: Do you have evidence or knowledge to suggest that that's more than just bluster?

DEAN: And hyperbole.

What the evidence is is what happened here on that day. You can see that he's not just saying it ought to be interesting. He said it will be hell. And I was here that day. It literally was like a scene from hell, where Americans attacked Americans.

And what is shocking to me because you know I was in the hearing with Attorney General Merrick Garland as we were leading up to this vote, I was also a participant in the floor debate on the contempt resolution we are voting on right now. What we have to remember is we have to protect our democracy.

You know, I quoted Elijah Cummings who said when we are dancing with the angels, what will we be remembered for? What will we have done to protect our precious democracy?

And so, that's what I say to the strange arguments coming out of the other side of the aisle, from most of them, who are talking as though they're not even in the same hearing, as though they're not talking about the same piece of legislation.


How is it that they would put their head in the sand and not want to hold everyone accountable who attacked our democracy?

Let's be honest. There is a complicitness about the silence. There is an appalling silence from so many Republicans. I hope that Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger can reclaim that party. I'm heartened by the six other votes. Maybe there will be more by the time this vote tallies. The Republican Party is in a death spiral.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thank you. Good to see you.

DEAN: Good to see you.

TAPPER: Will Joe Biden be empty handed when he steps on the CNN town hall stage this evening? The late curveball thrown into negotiations on his massive economic plan. And in just a few minutes, a key vote that could have millions more COVID booster shots going into arms by tomorrow.

Stay with us.


[16:15:05] TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. In just a few hours, President Biden is going to take the stage in Baltimore for a CNN town hall but just now, the House of Representatives voted to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress. The vote I believe was 229- 202, with nine Republicans voting with the Democrats and Congressman Herrera Beutler was the ninth one.

President Biden is preparing right now to take the stage in Baltimore, Maryland for a CNN town hall. Capitol Hill aides say they are hoping to have a framework that he can present to the American people this evening on what exactly will be in his compromise plan to expand the social safety net and combat climate change. Before that can happen, of course, Democratic lawmakers are still trying to negotiate all of the final details behind the scenes.

So, let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins who is at the town hall site in Baltimore, as well as CNN's Lauren Fox who's on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, let me start with you. It appeared Democrats were making progress but now we're learning what is called the pay for, the way to pay for everything, there is debate over that. We are learning the planned tax increases on corporations and on the top tax bracket, wealthy individuals, which was a key way to pay for the provisions in the bill we are now hearing that might be off the table?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, remember, the Democrats have campaigned for years on the idea of raising the corporate tax rate after Republicans passed their 2017 tax bill. They also have campaigned on raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans. You hear Democrats talk all the time about everyone having and paying their fair share in the U.S. tax system. Well, Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat from the state of Arizona, has been telling the White House she opposed to an increase in the corporate tax rate as well as increases on wealthy individuals.

That is a key sticking point now for Democrats because they are scrambling to figure out where they are going to get this revenue to pay for this bill. You heard the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi say earlier today this bill is going to be paid for and she left on the table a bunch of option that may have to be used instead of raising the corporate tax rate.

But I asked one progressive just a little while ago about what she thought of the idea of not including a corporate tax rate increase in this bill. She said it would be outrageous because she argued this is a popular provision. This is also something that Democrats have made the foundation of their campaign both for the White House and in congressional races around the country.

So it is a huge issue right now on Capitol Hill and that framework still doesn't exist -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, White House officials met with Senators Sinema and Manchin, the holdouts. What is the president's plan for ironing out the last few details? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly,

of course, this is critical to actually having a plan and a framework by tomorrow which the White House is counting on as much as Democrats are. Of course, certainly tonight as well.

And so, when it comes to Senator Sinema, they have been in touch with Senator Sinema or her staff nonstop over the last several days as they are trying to put this framework together, see what Senator Sinema and Manchin will come to. Senator Sinema says she has been very clear with the White House about her priorities and what her red lines are when it comes to this, though she has not of course been so publicly when it comes to telling people.

And so, after this meeting, she said she could not say whether there is going to be agreement by tomorrow. She said she wouldn't negotiate in the press when asked about whether she was still against increasing taxes on corporations.

And so, the White House says they believe she is negotiating in good faith. Of course, there are several people in her own party, as CNN has reported today that would not agree with her and have a lot of frustration with how she has been negotiating.

But the White House has to kind of trend bal -- lightly, here because they need her to vote for this. Of course, if she doesn't vote that will derail the president's economic agenda. And so, they're kind of in this balancing act of trying to talk to her about what it is she'll be on board with but also it is sending them scrambling at the last minute as they try to figure out another way to pay for this bill potentially.

TAPPER: And, Lauren, CNN has new reporting today about legislators' growing frustration with Senator Sinema, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, not just among progressives but even some of her home state colleagues.

FOX: Well, that's exactly right. Our colleague Manu Raju reporting earlier that one of those colleagues, Ruben Gallego, isn't even saying if he would rule out a primary challenge against her in 2024, saying that people back in the state are unhappy with the position she is taking and that she is not aligning herself with the politics of Arizona.


That coming from your own colleague in the House of Representatives and someone who could potentially run against you is a significant divide within the Democratic Party and within the Democratic party in the state of Arizona, Jake.

TAPPER: It's different also from what the congressman told me a few weeks ago. He was rather deferential to Senator Sinema then. But since then, there's been much more frustration with her.

Kaitlan, aides on Capitol Hill are hoping to have a framework President Biden can present to voters during his town hall on CNN this evening. What are you learning about how the president will sell his plans to the American people?

COLLINS: This is the struggle for the White House, Jake, because the president has been on the road. He was last night in Scranton, Pennsylvania trying to sell this deal but, of course, the specifics still aren't there. It is hard to sell something when you don't know the full picture of what it is going to look like or how it is going to be paid for.

And that is kind of the struggle for them because for example one thing the president has touted time and time again was that he wanted to have two years of free community college included in this plan. We now know he has told progressive Democrats earlier this week during a meeting in the Oval Office, that is likely not going to make the final cut.

And so, yesterday, even he was doing this kind of dance where he is saying I want the child tax credit but not mentioning specifics because of course we now know it may only be extended for one year.

And so, that's the struggle for the White House. They are hoping to focus just on the larger picture and telling voters tonight what is in here, how they can benefit from what they do know is going to be in here like universal pre-K. Billions for climate change. All of those factors and the expansion for Medicare.

So, that is likely what you're going to hear President Biden focus on here tonight in Baltimore.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins and Lauren Fox, thanks to both of you.

And the town hall with President Biden starts tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Any moment, a CDC panel voting on booster shots, that could impact tens of millions of Americans, that's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, moment, a group of CDC advisers are going to vote on whether to recommend booster shots for eligible adults who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If that group of advisors votes yes, then the recommendation will go to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky's desk for the final okay.

As CNN's Athena Jones reports, those eligible could get their boosters as soon as this weekend.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Decision day the CDC vaccine advisers set to vote this hour on whether to recommend COVID vaccine booster shots from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and who should get them after the FDA authorized their emergency use. If the CDC panel and the CDC director sign off, people could start getting these additional shots within days

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think there is growing recognition that the vaccines we have are excellent, but they'll provide you with even better protection and longer lasting protection if you were to get a booster dose.

JONES: The CDC also expected to recommend mixing and matching of vaccines, meaning people could get a booster dose of any of the three approved vaccines after the FDA OK'd it.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The mix and match really gives a good deal of flexibility to people in whatever it is that they want to choose.

JONES: This as new data from Pfizer show a booster dose of the company's vaccine is 95.6 percent effective. Meanwhile, the CDC says more people are getting booster doses than are getting their first dose, convincing more of the 64 million people who are eligible for a shot but haven't gotten one to get one will be key to slowing COVID's spread.

Key to slowing COVID spread, vaccinating some 28 million children ages 5 to 11, some of whom have suffered gravely from the virus.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL: Fundamentally, we've seen over the last 18 months that COVID has not been benign among children even though they do better than older adults. We've had hundreds of children who lost their lives, thousands hospitalized, and whose lives have been disrupted because of COVID. We want to protect our kids, get their lives back.

JONES: FDA vaccine advisers will meet Tuesday to discuss authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in 5 to 11-year-olds

FAUCI: I hope the vast majority of parents will realize the real benefit for the children to get vaccinated.

JONES: Meanwhile pushback to vaccine requirements continues. In Illinois, a group of parents sued 150 school districts over a mask and quarantine mandates and the fight rages on in the Sunshine State.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I think we have got to stand up for people's jobs and their livelihoods.

JONES: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis now calling a special legislative session to ban COVID vaccine requirements in the state.

DESANTIS: At the end of the day, you know, you shouldn't be discriminated against based on your health decisions.


JONES (on camera): And there is more news about the uneven impact of COVID in the U.S. According to a study published by JAMA Network Open, in the first year of the pandemic, racial and ethnic minority groups including Hispanic, American Indian, black, and Asian people were more likely than the white population to experience severe COVID-19 infection requiring hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit, and leading to death in the hospital -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Athena Jones in New York City, thanks so much.

Joining us to discuss, CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, good to see you as always.

Any second, the CDC advisory panel could vote on authorizing boosters for the Moderna vaccine and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. We just got the first match of data on Pfizer's booster efficacy.

What's the significance of all of this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is interesting, Jake, because what we had heard from Pfizer was mostly that their antibodies went up in these people who received the booster so now we're getting real world data. Did those elevated antibodies make a difference? They looked at 10,000 people over the summer during the delta surge. This covers delta.

And what they found was that people who got the booster versus people who got a placebo, there was a big difference. There was only five people who developed symptoms in the actual booster group versus about 109 people who had symptoms in the placebo group. So that was some data now to show, look. We're not just increasing antibodies when we give the booster. But it makes a difference in terms of the likelihood of people getting sick

TAPPER: I want you to listen to Dr. Fauci when he was asked about the confusing messaging some people are hearing from health agencies when it comes to boosters.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think now with the announcement that was just made from the FDA and the recommendations that will almost certainly come imminently very soon certainly from the CDC that things will really be very clear of what people can and should do.


TAPPER: What's the clearest way to present booster guidance to the American people do you think?

GUPTA: If you're someone who is vulnerable to COVID, you should get a booster. You could be vulnerable by virtue of your age, 65 and older. You could be vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions. I'll put a list up in a second. Or you could be vulnerable because you are at high risk of exposure, front line worker. Things like that.

That's what the FDA is basically saying with regard to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. J&J, a little different. They're basically saying if you are an adult 18 or older you should get a booster if you received the J&J vaccine at least two months after the single dose.

But, Jake, you know, again, who is considered vulnerable? Let's put up this list, people who have all sorts of different pre-existing conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, obesity. Jake, when you do the math on this you're talking probably, you know, more than half the population, adult population in the United States.

So there's a lot of people who will probably be eligible for boosters and that is who is now going to be recommended to get one

TAPPER: I have some questions for you about Florida. The governor of Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis is calling for a special session of the legislature there to block the Biden administration plan to impose vaccine mandates on large companies. We just heard in Athena's piece Governor DeSantis say at the end of the day you shouldn't be discriminated against based on your health decisions.

But it's not as simple as your health decisions, right? I mean, whether you get vaccinated affects other people's health potentially, right?

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, that is -- that is the thing that I think has been true from the start and maybe gets missed a lot is when you get the vaccine, if you are a vulnerable person, you certainly dramatically reduce the likelihood that you'll get sick, you'll, you know, have to be hospitalized. We can show that.

I mean, you know, as much as we talk about the boosters the real story is still primarily among the unvaccinated who are far more likely to end up in the hospital than the vaccinated. And there is this issue of transmission.

I think one point that gets misinterpreted a lot, Jake, is people say well the vaccine doesn't make a difference in terms of whether you can catch and spread the virus. That's not true. People who are vaccinated are about eight times or so less likely to become infected in the first place.

So, yes, they can get infected but far less likely to spread and the ongoing pandemic as you can see there, that blue line is primarily a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

TAPPER: That was my next question about Florida. The surgeon general of Florida said something about how breakthrough infections were believed to be rare and now we hear they're common and that shows that vaccines don't create safe work places.

And he said that's -- you know, it's not backed up by science that vaccines create safe work places, but you're arguing that is incorrect.

GUPTA: Yeah. I mean, I think people expect things to be perfect. Nothing is perfect. The vaccines make a huge difference with regard to transmission. If I'm spending time with a vaccinated group of people, the likelihood

the virus is circulating among us is dramatically lower. They are far less likely to be infected and even if they are, they have narrower window which they might transmit.

It can still happen. That's why we hear stories. But far rarer, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much

Breaking news, brand new details about what exactly investigators found in the Florida nature park while they were searching for Brian Laundrie. That's next.



TAPPER: We have breaking news in our national lead.

Local police say the apparent human remains discovered yesterday at a Florida nature reserve are skeletal remains and they are definitively human.

CNN's Randi Kaye joins us now live from Sarasota County, Florida.

Randi, what else did the police say about the remains?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jake. Our colleague, Leyla Santiago, just spoke with North Port Police, and what we're getting from that interview is, yes, indeed, a confirmation that these are human remains and skeletal remains.

We're also told that clothing was found alongside these remains and the clothing is consistent with what Brian Laundrie was believed to be wearing.


Now, I spoke with a source close to this investigation just yesterday who was telling me that these remains do indeed look like they've been there for a while. The area had been under water. And given the condition of the remains, it does look like it will take a little time to be able to officially identify them because of what was left of them.

Also, Jake, I'm getting new information today about this notebook. We know that a notebook and a backpack was found along with these human remains. This source close to the investigation telling me that this notebook was found outside the dry bag as it is called. That bag was discovered by Chris Laundrie, Brian Laundrie's father who was here with law enforcement searching for his son.

The bag was found by him but I'm told the notebook was clearly wet and they are going to use any means possible to dry it out before even opening it but it is possibly salvageable, Jake. So, of course, that could have some real information for the family

perhaps if this is Brian Laundrie. He might have written down what happened to Gabby Petito and they may get some answers, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Randi Kaye in Florida for us, thank you so much.

In our politics lead, one of Trump's big lie lawyers is now in charge of elections in Texas. Today, Republican Governor Greg Abbott appointed a man named John Scott to be interim secretary of state, a position Scott can now hold without confirmation for about two years.

Let's get to CNN's Dianne Gallagher.

And, Dianne, Scott, people might remember, he represented Trump's fake fraud claims in the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was a very brief tenure as an attorney for the former president in his attempts to stop the certification of the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania. But it is also something that Governor Greg Abbott does in the mention in his announcement, saying that John Scott is his appointment to be the next secretary of state in Texas.

I want to review a brief bit from that announcement. It says John understands the importance of protecting the integrity of our elections and building the Texas brand on an international stage. I am confident John's experience and expertise will enhance his oversight and leadership over the biggest, and most thorough election audit in the country.

Now, look, Democrats today have been raising plenty of red flags calling this an architect of the former president's big lie about election fraud in 2020. John Scott signed on to be an attorney for President Trump around November 13th. He asked to withdraw his counsel on November 16th. So it wasn't a very long tenure.

But people in Texas, Democrats, civil rights, voting groups are already crying foul, saying that he has until 2023 and can serve in the interim over elections in the meantime.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much.

Breaking news about the American missionaries kidnapped in Haiti. New threat from the kidnappers, that's next.



TAPPER: Breaking tragic news in our world lead, the leader of the Haitian gang who kidnapped 17 missionaries for ransom now says he will kill the hostages if he does not get the ransom money he has demanded. A source tells CNN the gang has provided proof that the hostages are still alive.

CNN's Matt Rivers joins us live from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Matt, you're breaking this news. What more do we know about this new


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a pretty striking development, Jake. In a video posted to Facebook that CNN is choosing not to show nor quote directly from, the leader of the 400 Mawozo gang which is the gang that authorities say kidnapped the 17 missionaries here in Haiti over the weekend, he basically says that he is willing to kill these hostages if his demands for ransom money are not met.

We can show you a picture of Wilson Joseph. He is the alleged leader of the gang from a wanted notice that authorities actually put out back in December of 2020. We know according to a source that his demands so far have been $1 million per person, which would total up to $17 million, Jake, in a total ransom demand. And he made this threat in a video that was taken allegedly at a funeral for fellow gang members.

In the video, he said that these gang members were killed by Haitian police. But it is a very striking development and something that we know speaking to sources in Haiti's security forces that they are taking very seriously. It shows you how tenuous these negotiations can be because just a few days ago we reported from a source again that the calls that have taken place between the kidnappers and the Christian Aid Ministries, which is the group that these missionaries were working for were calm, but obviously, this video, Jake, really changes the nature of these negotiations.

TAPPER: Seventeen missionaries including five children and they're asking for a $17 million ransom. Matt Rivers, thanks so much.

Also on our world lead, despite the more than 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, many U.S. service members, well, they still have family in that country. Now, these are the relatives of Afghans who came to the United States and joined the military, many becoming U.S. citizens.

And as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, as the Taliban cemented their control of the country and seek to punish those with ties to the U.S., well, these family members of our service members are in extreme danger.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It was from this quiet Virginia cul-de-sac that, Fahim Masoud, a lieutenant in the National Guard, orchestrated a dangerous evacuation half way around the world in Afghanistan.

SECOND LT. FAHIM MASOUD, ILLINOIS NATIONAL GUARD INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: It was incredibly difficult. I cannot tell you how many challenges, security challenges you had to go through.

MARQUARDT: The mission could not have been more personal. Masoud's family was desperately trying to get out. Lieutenant Masoud is an intelligence officer in the Illinois National

Guard. He became a U.S. citizen after serving as an Afghan interpreter for American troops and then moving to the U.S. His family stayed in Afghanistan. As the Taliban took over, his parents and siblings needed to escape. Their connection to him making them targets for the Taliban.

Masoud's family headed to the Kabul airport, like thousands of others, just as an ISIS suicide bomber attacked killing almost 200 people including U.S. troops.

MASOUD: I saw they had definitely been killed. Immediately, I mea, I went into a panic and started calling my sisters.

MARQUARDT: They were okay. Nearby on a bus sent by the CIA. They waited at a gas station as Masoud helped by a CIA contact inside tried to find another way for them into the airport.

MASOUD: A lot of my family members have worked for the U.S. government in the last 20 years in Afghanistan. I thought the process would be a lot easier than it was.

MARQUARDT: Masoud was desperate. He was cold calling everyone he could think of

MASOUD: I reached out to very, very senior government officials, senators, congressmen and women. A number of U.S. military generals, including General Milley, including General McConnell (ph) --

MARQUARDT: Who you didn't know.

MASOUD: Who I did not know. Here is the most junior officer in the United States Army reaching out to these senior, senior government officials.

MARQUARDT: His efforts underscoring the chaos and now the widespread criticism that the Biden administration has not done enough to evacuate the families of Afghan American troops.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): If you look at prioritizing of course any American citizen but certainly family members of the United States military should be at the highest priority.

MARQUARDT: Congressman Michael McCall believes there are around 100 family members of Afghan American troops like Masoud still in Afghanistan.

MCCAUL: Our embassy is not there anymore. We have no military on the ground. And if we have to rely on the Taliban to get them out, that's not a good assurance.

MARQUARDT: Masoud's calls worked. His family was directed to a secret CIA controlled gate at the airport. But a State Department official refused to let them pass. Masoud, a former CIA official, and a national guard colonel, all pleaded on the phone. MASOUD: I told them, look. This family is a special case. When he

said everybody is especially said, you have to hear me. You have to know who I am, and where I come from.

MARQUARDT: Masoud managed to convince the official. His family was through, escorted to a waiting C-17. His sister's worried face turned to joy. They were on their way to the United States.

MASOUD: I broke down and I said, I just can't believe that so many people came together for so many hours for essentially so many days to make this happen.


MARQUARDT (on camera): Lieutenant Masoud told us he will never be the same again after this ordeal trying to get his family out of Afghanistan. Jake, the point he was making here really was the official channels were not working. They were in his words overwhelmed. He had to do this himself with his own connections the same way so many have had to rely on these private operations to get themselves and loved ones out of Afghanistan.

TAPPER: And there are at least three dozen or so people like Lieutenant Masoud.

Thank you so much, Alex, for that important story.

We are just a few hours away from a special CNN town hall with President Biden. Chances of getting a deal on his economic plan, well, they may have just plummeted at least for the short term.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, the guy with the best poker face in geopolitics all of a sudden acting a little weird on the world stage. What do Vladimir Putin's strange moves mean for the United States?

And it's the race that could be the magic 8 ball for the midterms and 2024. Two weeks out, the Virginia governor's battle is anyone's guess. And mail-in voting could be the deciding factor again.

But first, leading this hour, we're just hours away from a special CNN town hall with President Joe Biden. Right now, it remains unclear whether he will be able to announce he is delivering a deal to the American people when he takes that stage. The Democrats are still haggling over expansion of the social safety net in the ballpark of $2 trillion. 0

A short time ago, the degree of difficulty took a giant leap with the number 2 Democrat in the Senate saying tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations which had been planned to help pay for the massive bill might be off the table in order to get it passed.

As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports for us, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate appeared confident today they could have a deal within the next 48 hours but wild card Joe Manchin tells CNN this afternoon he remains unconvinced.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you do well, we all do well. That's keeping the promise of America.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden going all in with an optimistic public push for his sweeping domestic agenda.