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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Adviser Steve Bannon Indicted By Federal Grand Jury; Poland: Belarus To Blame For Manufactured Crisis, Pushed Thousands Toward Border; Razor Wire, Armed Guards Trap Thousands In Migrant Camp; Myanmar Military Sentences Detroit Native Danny Fenster To 11 Years Behind Bars; Judge Ends Britney Spears' Conservatorship. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 12, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Let's get straight to CNN's Jessica Schneider. She's outside the courthouse where this all just took place.

Jessica, when should we expect to see Bannon in court?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question here. Now, Jake, we're waiting to see how exactly this plays out. But I was inside the courtroom when this Magistrate Judge, Judge Robin Meriweather, said she would sign this arrest warrant. So now the question becomes, does Steve Bannon surrender or is he arrested?

An arraignment date for him has not yet been said, but his case was just assigned to a Trump appointed judge, Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed by Donald Trump in June 2019. So the question is, when does Steve Bannon possibly get arrested? When does he surrender? That's still remains to be seen.

But of course, a federal grand jury handing down this two count indictment this afternoon. This is a grand jury who at least heard from one witness as we saw today, our producer Hannah Rabinowitz has actually been staking this out for several weeks. And today she noticed the activity.

We came down to the courthouse, we saw an FBI agent going into the grand jury courtroom, presumably testifying. And then shortly thereafter, that's when two prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office came out of the courtroom, walked two courtrooms down to the magistrate courtroom, and that's where they handed down this indictment that was returned by the grand jury.

The foreperson of the grand jury was also in the courtroom. And the Magistrate Judge said that she would be signing this arrest warrant for Steve Bannon.

This is a Justice Department, according to the Attorney General's statement, who has acted according to the rule and the law, we saw that play out today with the federal grand jury returning this indictment. Attorney General Merrick Garland, he issued a statement very shortly after news of this indictment came out, Jake, saying that they adhered to the rule in the law -- and the law here. And that's something that the Attorney General has stressed all along, obviously not wanting to appear like the DOJ under President Biden is playing any sort of politics here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Snyder outside the courthouse, thanks so much.

Let's turn now to CNN's Kara Scannell for more breaking news.

Kara, you have some new reporting about former President Trump's own legal problems.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jake, I do. I mean, first, I just want to add something to what Jessica was reporting. We just learned from one source familiar with the matter that Steve Bannon will self-surrender on Monday to face these charges.

But as for the former president, he just scored two big legal victories. I'll start with the most significant. You remember the former apprentice contestant Summer Zervos serve the former president -- sued the former president for defamation after she said that he lied about her allegations that he had sexually assaulted her. And we're learning today through a court filing and her attorney that she is agreed to drop that lawsuit, to dismiss the lawsuit.

There are very limited details here. But her attorney did say in a statement, that today the parties have ended Zervos versus Trump. After five years, Ms. Zervos no longer wishes to litigate against the defendant and has secured the right to speak freely about her experience. Ms. Zervos stands by the allegations in her complaint and has accepted no compensation.

So, she and the former president have agreed to drop this litigation. And that's very significant because a judge had just ordered Trump to sit for a deposition in this lawsuit by December 23. So now that is now complete.

The other big legal victory for Trump today is his former fixer, Michael Cohen, had sued -- his -- the Trump Organization for legal fees. A judge just dismissing that lawsuit and Trump will have to pay no damages. The judges miss boat (ph) that with prejudice, so Michael Kohn cannot read bring this lawsuit.

We reached out to Michael Cohen, he said that he is considering whether to appeal this ruling, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kara Scannell, well, with two decisions or two happenstances that are good for former President Trump. Thanks so much.

I want to bring in former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Trump.

We have so much to talk about, Preet.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: We do. TAPPER: First, obviously the big story, Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon was indicted for criminal contempt of Congress today by a federal grand jury who is expected to turn himself in on Monday. What is your reaction?

BHARARA: So I've been predicting it. A lot of people have been predicting it. It's a very unusual thing. As people I'm sure I've been pointing out in the last hour or two and before, this is the first time that the DOJ has charged someone with criminal contempt of Congress in something like 38 years.

And one of the reasons it's uncommon, is that you rarely have a situation where someone has been so defiant of a congressional subpoena. And whether it claims to privilege or some other reason for not being able to testify are so weak. So, I think it was expected, people were losing patience a little bit. It's been only 22 days to bring any kind of criminal case against someone, particularly one that the whole world will be following. You got to make sure that you cross all your T's, dot all your I's.

But I think the case is clear. I think it's important both for the case of Steve Bannon and getting information from him both testimony and documents, but also for, you know, sending a message to all the other people who are going to be defined, you know, with varying levels of defense to the subpoena. But I think it's an important message to them that the Justice Department means business.


TAPPER: How much do you think this will actually have an impact on the other people in Trump's world who have been subpoenaed or the committee, the January 6 committee, is trying to get information and testimony from them?

Because you can certainly argue that Bannon does not have a claim to executive privilege at the time he was a private citizen. He had been out of the White House for years. But Mark Meadows was White House Chief of Staff at the time, so many of these other individuals worked in the White House at the time.

Joe Biden, the President, who actually it's up to, in terms of waiving, or asserting the executive privilege has just said, no for Meadows, for example. But might court see it differently?

BHARARA: Yes, it looks -- I think, the different people have different levels of argument that they can make. Among the whole crew, and it worked out this way for a reason, Steve Bannon has the least. He wasn't even in the employ of the executive branch at the time, he was an outside person.

He also was, you know, completely blanket refusing to come testify. You'll see that Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ official basically did what Steve Bannon did, but he did it in a more subtle way. He showed up, showed respect to the committee, invoked privilege at various junctures, answered probably some mundane questions that didn't get them very far. But that's a way of showing respect for the committee. And reasonableness in the minds of that person.

So, someone like Mark Meadows has a better argument. And I think that the committee is going to have to pick and choose (ph). I don't think they're going to make referrals, as to every single witness with whom they have some difficulty getting information from. I think they're going to have to pick and choose for precisely the reason that you say that there's a sliding scale of the argument they can make.

Now I think most of them have poor arguments. But when you do something like this that is so rare, and it's so fraught, and so, you know, sort of politically charged, the clearer the case you can make, and I think it's very clear in Steve Bannon's case, the better. So you get -- you know, folks don't think that they can just betray and defy subpoenas with impunity, but it depends on the person.

TAPPER: But there's nothing -- what happens if on Monday, Steve Bannon goes to court. He's released on his own recognizance, and then he says to President Trump in a private conversation, look, I did what I did, but now they're threatening to send me to jail.

I'm just going to do what Jeffrey Clark did, which is just not be an idiot about it, and still not share anything but show up and tell them that the day of the week is Tuesday, and that I have, you know, anything they already know, and then just assert the -- they can't assert executive privilege but he can assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. I mean, I guess what I'm saying is, I don't think this ends with Steve Bannon ever testifying, does it?

BHARARA: Well, it need not. I mean, the only thing you can do in this case is bring a criminal charge with the Justice Department is done, then he gets a fair trial. And then if he gets convicted, he goes to jail for between one and 12 months.

That doesn't, you know, they don't they don't take you into a courtroom, administer sodium pentothal, and at gunpoint, tell you to talk. This is a statute that's designed to incentivize someone to talk and to punish somebody who defies an appropriate subpoena and doesn't talk. It doesn't force the testimony at all.

As for the scenario you laid out, you know, it depends on how cute Steve Bannon wants to be. He's already taken the position that he doesn't respect the committee. He doesn't need to turn over any documents or say anything.

I think rehabilitating him by being, you know, cute by half, and now coming in and saying, I'll tell you some stuff like my name, rank and serial number, I don't think it's going to stop the criminal proceeding.

And by the way, in the case of Jeffrey Clark, all I'm saying about that is that he's gained some amount, some amount of argument, that he was respectful to the committee, and that a criminal charges unwarranted. I don't know that it's necessarily not going to happen in Jeff Jeffrey Clark's case, either. I just think that Steve Bannon played it in a way that almost compelled the Justice Department upon getting the referral to bring the criminal charge. TAPPER: If there is suspicion of criminal activity by Steve Bannon, why can the FBI not just seize his e-mail and see if there are any records? I mean, I guess that's the question I have, because if they don't think that there's actually possible criminal activity, then what is this all for?

BHARARA: Well, you know, we don't know what documents they have. So yes, the documents that the committee is seeking from Steve Bannon are things that Steve Bannon has in his possession, presumably, electronic and otherwise. But the committee has the power, as I understand it, to subpoena third parties, and that includes documents relating to e-mail records, financial records.

TAPPER: No, but I'm talking not the committee, I'm talking about like the FBI.

BHARARA: Yes, no, sure. I mean, the FBI, certainly, I don't know what the FBI is doing in that regard. We know that the FBI is seeking and has sought and received, you know, 1000s and 1000s of pages of documents and records and total records and communications with respect to all sorts of people who have been charged and probably yet uncharged in connection with the January 6 insurrection. So, as far as I know, the FBI is seeking an opinion, that kind of information from Steve Bannon and from the people who he used to communicate with.


TAPPER: All right. Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Always good to see you.


TAPPER: More on the breaking news. Next, Steve Bannon indicted for contempt of Congress. What does that mean for the rest of the Trump associates refusing to cooperate?

Plus, good to be the very end of the control over Britney Spears? We're expecting a ruling on the pop star's feature any moment. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Back with our breaking news, former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of contempt of Congress. Let us discuss.

First of all, I do want to say, Kirsten Powers you do have this new book which I wanted to talk about today but we have all this breaking news. It's called "Saving Grace," and it says "Speak Your Truth Stay Centered and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts." We will talk about this at a future date.



TAPPER: But it is a lovely book and wonderful reviews.

So, your reactions to this big news, Steve Bannon, one of Trumps most powerful advisors who has built an entire cottage industry around War Room, MAGA, Stop the Steal, blah-blah-blah, what do you think?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: I think Steve Bannon is it makes sense that he would push the limits of legality. It's not the first time that he's done this. Recall that if it were not for President Trump's pardon, he would still be dealing with the legal entanglements of alleged fraud, where he was alleged to have pocketed a million dollars from Trump's supporters who wanted to donate to build the wall.

So this is not Steve Bannon's first brush with the law, but he doesn't have a President Trump in the White House to save him this time. And I think when it comes to him versus the other people who are in potential trouble here, his set of incentives are different because him being a bomb thrower or a martyr, that's different than if you're someone who's a more establishment person.

But nevertheless, the rule of law is the rule of law. Just because you're someone who has a really popular podcast and commands a lot of Trumps base, does not get you out of that.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right. I think that, you know, Steve Bannon does fashion himself as a martyr, I don't know if this will be change as much of the calculation for him. Now, this is not a conviction, so we'll see if he actually --

TAPPER: He might like this.

SIDDIQUI: -- serves jail time. But he might like this, whereas if you're Mark Meadow and if you're some of the other former Trump administration officials who've been subpoenaed by Congress and are refusing to cooperate, this may send a message that there will be consequences for refusing to do so.

And that's why this decision is so significant, because it really does reinforce that Congress has the authority to carry out oversight of the executive branch. In fact, that is one of its core responsibilities, and you will be held -- but you will potentially be held accountable if you defy, you know, a subpoena request or refuse to cooperate with an investigation.

And the Biden administration has also made its position, I think, pretty clear here where they don't really see this as a case where executive privilege applies. They've said that this is something -- this attack on democracy on January 6 is fundamental for the American public to really get to the bottom of what happened, who was involved, what they knew, when they knew it. And so I think this is a very significant ruling that could have implications for the rest of the committee's work.

TAPPER: In terms Adam Kinzinger, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, called in at the top of the show and said that he fully expects that if Republicans take the House in a year, they'll kill this committee. So, he wants this to go quickly, because he thinks that it -- they're living on borrowed time.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, the clocks, obviously running and all of the, you know, delay tactics have been meant to try to run out that clock. I think this is obviously good for the Bannon brand, different for if you're a working lawyer who needs good standing in a bar, for example, not that kind of a bar, the bar.

TAPPER: Right. The bar, yes.

TALEV: Then, if you were to be indicted and then, you know, convicted, that would obviously impact your ability to practice law. But if you're operating outside the system anyway, and the worst penalty is a month in, not a prison, but a jail, maybe that's worth it for your brand.

I'm watching somebody different. You saw Jim Jordan kind of tease it just within the last few minutes, which is the idea that in letting this go forward, the Biden administration is undercutting its own executive privilege or the future of executive privilege.

TAPPER: Right.

TALEV: I understand why that's a captivating argument. I'm not sure it's true, but I'm interested in hearing more about that.

TAPPER: And just to give some background on that. So Congressman Jim Jordan, who is one of the big MAGA guys in Congress, Republican of Ohio, if Republicans take a control of Congress in -- of the House in a year, he likely will be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

And I'm already hearing buzz from the Hill that within a couple of months, he will start impeachment proceedings against Joe Biden. And I asked a member of Congress who told me this, for what? And the member of Congress said for whatever polls best.

POWERS: Yes, that's problematic, I think would be the right word. I think that -- the thing that I'm actually looking for is I do think it's great for the Bannon brand. That's when people are sort of saying why didn't he just go in and just talk to them? I think this is exactly what he wants to do. He wants to be a martyr, he would love to go to jail.

And I also think it's something that Republicans are going to weaponize, and it's going to be look at the lawless Democrats and the politicized Justice Department and Joe Biden going after his political enemies, even though that's not what happened.

TAPPER: Right.

POWERS: But that is how this will be spun. I can almost guarantee on the right this will be used as another way to get the voters ginned up. And for -- if you're Steve Bannon, it will be another way to say, you know, I'm being persecuted by the Biden administration.

TAPPER: And just to remind folks, I ran this clip not long ago, but Kinzinger referred to this when I was interviewing him in the last hour about why Steve Bannon's testimony is so important, because people think that he had knowledge of what was about to happen on January 6 from his popular podcast. Take a listen.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this, all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen. OK? It's going to be quite extraordinarily different.


And all I can say is strap in. The War Room a posse, you have made this happen, and tomorrow it's game day. So strap in.


TAPPER: Well, I mean, he's either the second coming of Nostradamus or maybe he knew something that was going to happen.

ANDERSON: Well, and in that clip, he sounds almost be sort of trying to take credit for, hey, it's my posse. It's the people that listen to my show. We're going to be doing things tomorrow.

So, I mean, in a way, yes, it's important to do an investigation, but he's already put a lot out there sort of putting himself at the center of a lot of what happened on January 6.

I was interested by something you said, Kirsten, though, about the impeachment question and, you know, the idea that this is something Republicans would pursue if they got the House back. I think it would be a gross misreading of the mandate that Republicans would get.


ANDERSON: If they -- look, Republicans are doing quite well in the polls right now.


ANDERSON: They're feeling good about next November, and they have every reason to be. It's highly likely that there will be a Speaker Kevin McCarthy. And I am sure that he is not interested in continuing the January 6 Commission. And I'm sure that if Jim Jordan wants to bring impeachment proceedings, there won't be a lot of resistance.

But that is not why Americans will be electing Republicans, at least what we know now about why they're dissatisfied with Biden. It's that they don't like the way the economy is going. It's the cost of living is going up. It's there -- have questions about handling of COVID. It's not because they believe Biden has done something worth impeaching.

TAPPER: If you had subpoena power, and sodium pentothal, what questions --


TAPPER: -- would you want answered by Steve Bannon? Because I'm of the opinion that we will never get a full accounting from him, because ultimately he will either go to jail or -- and he will and be glad to do so. It will be great for his brand. Or he will end up doing what is a smarter course, which is just to agree to testify and just take the fifth and plead the fifth and not answer any questions. But what do you want to know?

SIDDIQUI: What did he mean when he said tomorrow is game day? What did he mean when he said that you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow? There is a lot of subtext in what he was talking about there.

And you know, there were these efforts, of course, to undermine the outcome of the election to delay the certification of the vote. But I think it's pretty clear and Steve Benton's comments in that podcast that there was more planned on that day. And it wasn't just going to be a rally and then, you know, a peaceful protest at the Capitol. It ended up, of course, it culminated in the insurrection.

And for Steve Bannon and for a lot of these other officials, what did they know in the weeks, months, days prior to those events? And I think, you know, there's this select committee and the investigation there and then there's also these records from the White House, from the Trump White House, they're also still sitting with the National Archives, and there's a protracted legal battle over that. So there's a lot of communications in Trump's inner circle that we still haven't been able to see that could reveal a lot more about what they knew before, during and after January 6.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you all.

And just a reminder, "Saving Grace, Take Your Truth, Stay Centered and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts." Kirsten Powers is the author and we will have you back to talk about the book.

POWERS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: But in the meantime, buy it. Getting great reviews.

Coming up next to CNN exclusive, we're live on both sides of the Belarusian-Poland border where humanitarian crisis is unfolding.



TAPPER: And we are back with a CNN exclusive in our world lead today, 1000s of innocent people stranded, trapped in the middle of a humanitarian and geopolitical crisis amid threats of hunger, hypothermia and what the United Nations is calling catastrophic conditions. This is happening on the border between Poland and Belarus. And there is fear that the situation could escalate into a military confrontation with the U.S. and E.U. allied on one side and Russia on the other. Today, Russia and Belarus held joint paratrooper drills near Poland, exercises that the barrel Belarus defense ministry says was in connection to the border situation.

CNN has exclusive coverage of this crisis on both sides of the Belarus-Poland border. Fred Pleitgen is in Poland, Matthew Chance is in Belarus. Let's start with Matthew who went to that migrant camp and has had a closer look at the dangerous conditions they're facing.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the desperate trapped on the front line of Europe's latest refugee crisis. We gained exclusive access to the burgeoning camp at the Polish border in Belarus.


CHANCE (voice-over): Help, help, the little boy shouts. But there's barely enough help here to keep everyone alive. Already people have died in the cold as Polish forces stand guard on the other side.

(on camera): We can see how close we are just across this razor wire fence. Our Polish security forces there on Polish territory keeping a close eye on the situation trying to prevent refugees, migrants from this camp here in Belarussian territory from crossing over that frontier line. You see there are 1000s of people here.

(voice-over): Two thousand now see Belarussian officials, but with migrants still flooding in from the Middle East and Asia, it could be 5,000 they told CNN in just another week for Europe. That's a threat.

(on camera): Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.

You're warming your children's gloves here?


CHANCE (voice-over): Most like Bina (ph) have already paid big money to traffickers or Belarussian travel agents just to get this far.

(on camera): You're telling me you've paid $2,000?



CHANCE (on camera): Which is a lot of money, right, to come from Iraqi Kurdistan to here?


CHANCE (on-camera): Do you think you're going to get through? Do you think you will go to Germany?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. CHANCE (on-camera): You do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We are -- all people staying here want to go to the Germany.

CHANCE (on-camera): Yes, but do you think it will happen? You'll try?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll try. We don't want to stay in Poland.

CHANCE (voice-over): And the more migrants arrive, the more desperate their plight. We witness these refugees frantically scrambling for firewood, essential supplies, as temperatures here (INAUDIBLE).

(Speaking Foreign Language)

CHANCE (voice-over): When Belarusian aid workers arrived with food and water, the scenes are even more food (ph).


CHANCE (on-camera): I hope you get some food. You can see these are pretty extraordinary scenes, you've got Belarusian military forces, essentially, trying to push back the crowd of migrants that's gathered round this distribution of aid.

They're just giving out bottles of -- plastic bottles of water. But the people here are so desperate for any kind of nutrition, any kind of food, water, shelter, look, that being asked or now to kneel down in front of the Belarusian security forces. When they kneel down, look, then some of them are being allowed to go through.

Who's this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His name is Ashi (ph).

CHANCE (on-camera): Hello, Ashi (ph). How are you?


CHANCE (on-camera): You good? You speak English too. Do you speak a little bit of English?


CHANCE (voice-over): Shuhan (ph) and her four-year-old son also traveled to Belarus from Iraqi Kurdistan to help her child, she told me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came here from -- because of my son, because he needs an operation.

CHANCE (on-camera): He needs an operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, big operation in the back. CHANCE (on-camera): Oh, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He can't walk away without this.

CHANCE (on-camera): Ashi (ph), he's got this splint on his leg.


CHANCE (on-camera): I see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he can't walk away without this shoes.

CHANCE (on-camera): Why didn't you do this operation in Kurdistan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because not very good. Maybe he failed. The operation failed. And we need to go to Germany, everyone -- and the doctor told me that the operation in Germany very good.

CHANCE (voice-over): But now Germany looks a long way off. With Belarus and the West blaming each other for this crisis, it's these people stuck in the middle who were paying the price.


CHANCE: Well, Jake, tonight, Belarusian border officials are warning that the number of people in that refugee camp or the border with Poland could double in size in the next week if the crisis remains unresolved. Back to you.

TAPPER: Stay with us. I want to bring back Fred Pleitgen who's on the Polish side of the border and let's talk about this. Fred, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she's trying to de-escalate the tensions along E.U. borders. We're learning that twice this week, she spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is obviously on the Belarusian side of this. Exactly what is Merkel calling on him to do?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and of course, it's clear why she's trying to do that. It was so interesting in Matthew's piece where you really saw that pretty much everywhere, there -- the people who are there, they wants to go to Germany. And so Angela Merkel really feels she needs to get involved.

Essentially, she admitted that she wanted Vladimir Putin to play a constructive role. She said she asked Vladimir Putin for help. And she's actually getting some criticism here in Europe now for thinking that Vladimir Putin would actually play a constructive role.

From the last readout that we have from their phone conversation, the most recent one, apparently all Vladimir Putin said is that he believed that the only way out of this was for the E.U. to restart dialogue with Alexander Lukashenko. Of course, the European Union has no interest in doing that.

After you had those elections in Belarus, which the E.U. says they believe we're not free and fair after the opposition was crushed in Belarus after Belarus brought down an E.U. flagged a commercial airliner. And now after this is happening, certainly right now the E.U. is talking about tougher sanctions rather than new dialogue with Alexander Lukashenko. Jake?

TAPPER: And Matthew, Russia, it's not just closely allied with the dictatorship in Belarus, it is brazenly inserting itself into the standoff participating in paratrooper drills with Belarus near the border. I can't imagine, I mean, the sight of uniformed troops literally raining down from the sky is going to be very concerning for those on the ground.

CHANCE: Well, I think it's concerning for those on the ground across the border on the European side, because yes, there have been these joint paratroop exercises that took place today, just a short distance from the border, linked precisely because of the escalation in tensions with European countries, with Poland, in particular, over this refugee crisis.


There have also been a couple of, you know, very high profile overflights by nuclear capable bombers from Russia in the region as well. And so, you know, Russia is really sort of backing to the hilt, it's Belarusian ally. And, you know, just like Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader has been warning of the possibility of a military confrontation if this crisis escalates. It's been made quite clear by Moscow that they stand for square behind their ally if it comes to that.

TAPPER: And Fred, Poland is accusing Belarus authorities of using green lasers to temporarily blind Polish soldiers. It seems that a provocative act could push this already tense situation into a much bigger kinetic conflict.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it certainly could. And I do think that the threat is really real from being here on the ground, and they've pulled out to release video of that incident where they said that those laser pointers were used. And in general, you can see from a lot of the videos that are being released from that border region have been released over the past couple of days, that there is a good deal of belligerence between the Polish forces and the Belarusian forces, which of course, are in very close proximity.

And that's why I think you're absolutely right, Jake, to say that this is a humanitarian crisis that's unfolding there that could have very, very big implications for the region, if it spirals out of control. Certainly, it seems, though, the threat is there, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance and Fred Pleitgen with excellent reporting from both sides of the Belarus-Poland border. Thanks to both of you.

Coming up, an American journalist sentence two years in prison in a place where the military has been wiping away democracy and freedom. We're going to talk to another journalist who was imprisoned abroad next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the world lead today, 11 years behind bars, that's the unjust sentence today on trumped-up charges from Myanmar's military imposed on an American journalist. 37-year-old Danny Fenster from Detroit, we've told you about him before, he was the managing editor at Frontier Myanmar, which is an independent newspaper in that country.

The paper now says that the military impose the harshest sentence possible on him, charging Fenster -- and really we shouldn't even mention this because it's all bogus, but three crimes under its laws against publishing content that causes fear, or spreads false news. It's nonsense. It's crap.

This isn't a democratic government convicting this American journalist today, it's Myanmar's military running the entire country, pushing propaganda in lies after its successful coup back in February that ousted the democratically elected government.

Let's bring in another journalist who sadly knows all too well about being detained by a power-hungry undemocratic regime, Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post journalist who spent 18 months locked up in Iran on their trumped-up charges. He's author of the book, "Prisoner" and the podcast "544 Days" about his time in prison. The Lead recommends both.

Jason, thanks very much for being here. So Danny Fenster is now convicted of violating what's considered basic freedoms of the press here in the United States and in the Western world. What's your reaction today to the sentence, 11 years?

JASON REZAIAN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, you know, my heart goes out to Danny and his entire family. I know the feeling of being unjustly detained. A single day is a nightmare. 11 years is a prospect that no one should have to accept for the crime of doing journalism.

I'm hopeful that the U.S. government's able to intervene on Danny's behalf and do whatever it can to get him home sooner. But, you know, he's already been behind bars for more than 150 days. And that's a long time for someone who simply was in a country that he cared about telling the truth.

TAPPER: Yes, sharing facts about what was going on in the wake of a military coup. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Danny Fenster's sentencing today. Take a listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I will say that, obviously, we are always concerned about the detention of individuals around the world. Journalists, dissidents, people who are speaking freely and speaking on behalf of the media as well. In terms of direct action, it's really would be under the purview at this point of the State Department.


TAPPER: I hope that that statement is as it is because it's diplomatic. Jen Psaki used to be a State Department spokeswoman, so she would know diplomacy, and they're trying to get him out and not that it's a weak statement.

REZAIAN: Look, I think that there's very few things that they can say publicly that will make a difference. The real work is done behind the scenes often in secret. But we have to remember, Jake, that there are Americans who were detained in various countries on legitimate charges.


REZAIAN: Hundreds, maybe --

TAPPER: Drugs smuggling, whatever.

REZAIAN: -- thousands. Currently, there are dozens of Americans who were wrongfully detained by governments and that's just a diplomatic euphemism for being held hostage. Danny Fenster is one of those people. And the State Department considers him one of those people and I hope that they are actively pursuing every diplomatic means available to them, including asymmetrical ones, right?

This is not the sort of thing that is done in a public negotiation that has a press conference that follows it. It's done behind the scenes. And I hope that's taking place right now.

TAPPER: Well Frontier Myanmar, the newspaper that Danny Fenster work for said the military is trying to intimidating, whatever -- intimidate all remaining journalists in Myanmar by punishing him for speaking truth, for reporting facts, and that his arrest is really retaliation for economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on the country because of the coup. When you talk about what the Biden administration can be doing, obviously, we don't want to reward bad behavior as a country, what are you talking about?


REZAIAN: Well, you have to look for the carrots (ph) as they say that might work and I think that the challenge in these cases is always how do we bring that American, who's being wrongfully detained held hostage, home without encouraging further actions like this, by Myanmar or other governments. And I think that lifting some of those sanctions, if that's a possibility, is something to pursue. There might be something else that the Myanmar government wants.

But hear them out because, at the end of the day, there's an innocent American, an innocent journalist being held hostage the other side of the world for doing nothing other than his job.

TAPPER: Frontier says that the charges are falsely based on allegations that Fenster worked for another outlet, which was banned in the country called Myanmar Now, which Fenster resigned from that outlet, back in 2020. He was arrested almost a year later on his way back home to see his family. I mean, I guess even raising this is silly, because this is all just nonsense. They're just wanted to take an American hostage for reporting the truth.

REZAIAN: Again, I've been through one of these and every time I read the reporting of my own case, or the reporting on cases of journalists who are being held in other parts of the world, I always sort of push aside the charges --

TAPPER: Right.

REZAIAN: -- the actual charges, because not only are they bogus, they're oftentimes based in nothing more than innuendo scraped together from e-mails and things that they've been able to access. But ultimately, I don't think that there's any merit to the case and I don't think that the Myanmar government thinks that there is.

TAPPER: But it's an excellent point that the media, the news media has a responsibility when reporting on this not to both sides it, these are trumped-up charges against a journalist.

REZAIAN: 100 percent.

TAPPER: Jason Rezaian, thank you so much. And congratulations again on the podcast.

REZAIAN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Breaking news in Britney Spears long legal fight to get back control of her life. That's next.



TAPPER: Breaking news in our pop culture lead today, Britney Spears long battle to win her freedom is over. Supporters of the pop star celebrated outside of Los Angeles courtroom just moments ago, after a judge granted the singer's request to terminate her 13-year conservatorship under which she had no control of her life really including her own reproductive freedom.

Let's go live now to CNN's Chloe Melas in Los Angeles. And Chloe, you're inside the courtroom when the decision was announced. Tell us what happened.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Hey there, Jake. By far, the most important, significant momentous day of Britney Spears's entire life. Her 13-year conservatorship has come to an end. Britney Spears goes to bed tonight, wakes up tomorrow and control of her finances, in control of her medical decisions. For the last 13 years, that's a role that her father had held.

Then a woman by the name of Jodi Montgomery was in charge of her medical decisions for a while. I want to read you a quote from Judge Brenda Penny. She said, "Effective today, the conservatorship of the estate and person is hereby terminated." It's official.

Now also, Jake, something that Britney Spears said multiple times during her emotional testimonies over the summer was that she wanted the conservatorship terminated without a medical evaluation. And Judge Brenda Penny agreed to that, that Britney does not have to undergo any more doctor's appointments or medical evaluations in order for this conservatorship to be over.

But the temporary conservator of her $60 million state, a man by the name of Mr. Zabel, he has a few loose ends to tie up when it comes to her finances. But otherwise, it's over.

TAPPER: And Chloe, this ruling follows a tumultuous, long, highly publicized legal battle between the singer and her father. Obviously, conservatorships in general have been part of this debate and discussion, but specifically when it comes to these two, Britney and her dad, does this mean her legal fight with her father is over?

MELAS: Unfortunately, no. So, Britney Spears's father is actually set to potentially be deposed by Britney Spears's new attorney Matthew Rosengart. And when I say unfortunately no, because of course, obviously, it's sad to see Britney be estranged from both her mother and her father.

But again, Britney Spears and her attorney have said all along that they believe that Jamie Spears mishandled her finances, something that he says that he has not done. They also want to talk to him about these alleged recording devices that he potentially placed in her bedroom, according to The New York Times. So this will continue, Jake, outside of this courtroom.

TAPPER: All right, Chloe Melas, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A record number of Americans just quit their jobs. What might be replacing them? That's next.



TAPPER: In our money lead, is the labor shortage setting the stage for a robot takeover? Companies added a record 29,000 robots in the first nine months of this year, a greater than 37 percent increase over the same period last year. The rush to add robots comes as a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September.

Many firms say they view the machines, the robots as a necessary alternative as they have struggled to retain and hire workers amid the great resignation. So perhaps the robot revolution isn't coming, it's already here. And what I say, what could possibly go wrong?

Please check out the Homes For Our Troops Fifth Annual Veterans Day Celebrity Auction, a lot of great items up on bidding on eBay including a gorgeous fancy dress worn in a movie and donated by Mindy Kaling, you could zoom with Wynonna Judge or Elizabeth Banks -- Wynonna Judd rather or Elizabeth Banks. Two tickets to a Mets or Phillies game, watch the game with Bob Costas, Ron Burgundy memorabilia autographed by Will Ferrell.

All proceeds go to build specially designed homes for severely wounded veterans and their families. You can see all the items at, Homes For Our Troops. Bidding ends on Sunday.

Until then, be sure to tune into State of the Union Sunday morning. Among the guests, Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, Republican Congressman Fred Upton, plus more of our exclusive interview with Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzalez, 9:00 and noon Eastern on CNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues now. See you Sunday morning.