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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Roe V. Wade In Jeopardy AS Supreme Court Weighs Abortion Case; Report: Former W.H. Chief Of Staff Says Trump Tested Positive For COVID Three Days Before First Debate; GOP Leaders Ignore Party Infighting In Closed-Door Meeting; GOP Lawmaker: McCarthy Not Discussing Greene-Mace Feud Publicly Because He "Doesn't Want To Pour Fuel On That Fire"; Doctor Oz Running For U.S. Senate Seat In Pennsylvania; Secy. Blinken: Putin Preparing Capacity For Invasion Of Ukraine; NATO Chief: Russia Aggression Will Come At A "High Price"; Witness: Jussie Smollett "Wanted Me To Beat Him Up"; Baldwin Says " I Didn't Pull The Trigger" In Fatal Accident. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 01, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- happens next.


BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason this issue's hard is that you can't accommodate both interests. You have to pick. That's the fundamental problem.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the Supreme Court, six conservatives, they're questioning during two hours of arguments on Mississippi's 15 week abortion ban signaling they're inclined to uphold the law.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: But if it really is an issue about choice, why is 15 weeks not enough time?

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Chief Justice, John Roberts, seem to be pushing for compromise. Let Mississippi enact its law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks with limited exceptions, but stop short of completely striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1972 case that established women have a constitutional right to get an abortion that Chief Justice emphasizing the importance of precedent.

ROBERTS: We look at it from today today's perspective, it's going to be a long list of cases that we're going to say were wrongly decided.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But the courts other conservatives repeatedly questioned why Roe should be upheld when the Constitution says nothing about abortion.

KAVANAUGH: The constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It is a case that could remake the legal landscape surrounding abortion in the United States. The arguments through hundreds of protesters on both sides of the emotional debate to the steps of the Supreme Court. The stakes high as a dozen states have triggered laws on the books that would immediately ban abortions if the court overturns Roe.

SONIA SOTOMAYOR, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The three liberal justices railed against the possibility that conservatives could rule against roe, saying it would call the courts legitimacy into question.

STEPHEN BREYER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: To overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason, to reexamine a watershed decision would subvert the courts legitimacy beyond any serious question.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): All sides seem to be bracing for seismic change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Almost 50 years of the slaughter of innocent babies is too much. We're done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am just full of eggs that we could take this huge step backwards.


SCHNEIDER: And the two hours of questioning today points to that strong possibility that abortion rights will be rolled back by this court. And the impact here could be immediate.

If the court limits their ruling and simply allows Mississippi's 15 week abortion ban to take effect, other states could write similar laws. But if the court overturns Roe v. Wade completely, abortion rights advocates estimate that half of the nation states would act quickly to completely ban abortion. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Let's discuss all this. Carrie Cordero, let me start with you. Based on the questions asked today it appears that the courts conservative justices are leaning towards upholding the Mississippi law which would ban abortions after 15 weeks. It's less clear what this would mean whether or not they overturn Roe versus Wade. What were your takeaways?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think fundamentally, this case is about whether or not American women are going to have less liberty in the 21st century than they did in the latter part of the 20th century. And the court is -- has the opportunity to either stick with its precedent over the last 50 years, or come up with a reason to overturn it. And based on the arguments today, what was unclear is whether Mississippi is really bringing any new arguments to the table. It didn't sound to me like they were.

TAPPER: And Joan Biskupic, you're inside the court today listening extra closely to a few key justices. What did they ask, do we have an idea of which way they're leaning?

JOAN BISKUPIC, SUPREME COURT ANALYST: It was so dramatic. You know, the justices weren't wearing masks, the rest of us were and you could see the weight of the moment on their faces. They divided in predictable ways with the more liberal justices wanting to keep Roe as is, the more conservatives wanting to get rid of it.

I was surprised Jake about Brett Kavanaugh, who seemed very clear about one -- thinking seriously about returning this whole matter to the states, which would essentially end the right to abortion overall. And there was a real struggle for whether there will be any kind of middle ground that won't exactly please anybody, but will preserve some right to abortion, but it will not be the right that Americans know now. It will not be the right that Americans know now.

TAPPER: Katie Watson, a big picture, if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds this Mississippi law, this ban on abortions after 15 weeks, what could this mean for abortion rights nationwide?

KATIE WATSON, AUTHOR, "SCARLET ACOSTA: THE ETHICS, LAW, AND POLITICS OF ORDINARY ABORTION: Well, I think the unspoken question of this case is whether women are people under the Constitution. And I think the only thing that Justice Kavanaugh got right, and it's in that quote that you played earlier, is the idea that you have to pick.


And the reason you should pick women is because they are people under the Constitution, and embryos and fetuses are not. So in terms of changing this landscape from the viability standard, which is the only principled gestational line, and that's because it's the only line that accounts for the fact of the person in home the relationship between the embryo or fetus and the person in whom it lives. To pick 15 weeks, there's no logic behind that number, so that is an utterly unworkable standard, and it reduces abortion rights significantly.

TAPPER: And Joan, you were talking about an attempt to find a middle ground. Chief Justice Roberts maybe signal that he was attempting to do something like that?

BISKUPIC: Yes. Here's the deal, you've heard these references to fetal viability, which was at the center of Roe v. Wade --

TAPPER: Right.

BISKUPIC: -- and Casey. What the chief was suggesting, and he's probably the only one on the bench who thinks this, that you can actually lift that viability line, but not overrule Roe. He was suggesting that the 15 week cut off could be constitutional, which is what Mississippi has, but that he wouldn't roll back some right to abortion. But what I believe, Jake, is that he's going to have to get -- he will get the three liberals to agree at least that they wouldn't discard Roe wholesale. But he was -- he's going to have to pick up someone from the conservative side. And that's where it's going to be very tricky. Someone who will say now is not the time to completely eviscerate Roe v. Wade.

TAPPER: And Carrie, what happens immediately if they just decide to overturn Roe v. Wade, which it's possible, honestly, I mean, if you listen to the arguments, it's quite possible. I don't think it's necessarily the probable decision, but it could happen first in Mississippi, and then in other states what happens?

CORDERO: So the impact of this case will have practical real effects as soon as it is decided because as the earlier reporting described, there are statutes in over 25 states that would be triggered by a change and an overturning of Roe versus Wade and Casey. And so those state laws would then immediately go into effect, and that could immediately have the practical effect of limiting women's access to a lawful abortion.

TAPPER: Thanks to all.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who we just discussed, he came to today's hearing armed with a list of precedents that the Supreme Court has overturned in the past. Kavanaugh sounded quite different in his confirmation hearing three years ago, of course.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): What would you say your position today is on a woman's right to choose?

KAVANAUGH: As a judge --

FEINSTEIN: As a judge.

KAVANAUGH: As a judge, it is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. By it, I mean, Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey, then reaffirmed many times, Casey is precedent on precedent, which itself is an important factor.


TAPPER: His comments on Roe v Wade led key Republican Senator Susan Collins to vote for Kavanaugh's confirmation. Here's Collins in 2018 speaking about her sit down with Kavanaugh.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): We talked about whether he considered Roe to be settled law. He said that he agreed with what Justice Roberts said at his nomination hearing in which he said that it was settled law.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: CNN's Manu Raju joins us live.

And Manu, there's no nice way to say this, Kavanaugh sounded very different on the subject of precedent today than he did when he was trying to get Susan Collins to vote for him. How did she respond to today's oral arguments?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, she said she didn't see it. She told our colleague Ali Zaslav, I did not see his questioning or hear any of the arguments. I hope to later tonight play them so that I have firsthand knowledge of what the arguments were today. But I can't comment on what I didn't see.

Now, recall how critical Susan Collins was to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. He was confirmed 50 to 48. There were three Republican senators whose votes were in play (ph). One of them was Jeff flake of Arizona, he sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was one of the first of those three to say that he would vote yes, he voted for that.

Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican, she voted against Brett Kavanaugh. And all eyes at the time were on Susan Collins. Collins was listening to the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Brett Kavanaugh, of course, denied that. She had meetings with Kavanagh and taught about abortion because Kevin -- Collins supports abortion rights. And those comments that she heard from Kavanaugh, that he contended to be, quote, "settled law" was significant, pivotal for Collins to ultimately vote yes.


And ultimately after she went to the Senate floor, said she would vote for Kavanaugh. That immediately after it may have triggered the support of a key Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who said that he also would support Kavanaugh who was narrowly confirmed by the Senate after that intense confirmation proceeding. But now in the aftermath of this, perhaps Kavanaugh could be a decisive vote striking down row at that point. We'll see what Collins has to say. And we'll check in with her also tomorrow, Jake, to see if she has listened to those comments, and if her views on Kavanaugh have changed.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

How long did Donald Trump and the White House know that he may have had COVID before they told the world? We'll talk to a former Trump White House official next.

Plus, the trial of the actor accused of faking a hate crime against himself. One witness says Jussie Smollett changed his description of the alleged attacker. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, it appears that the former president, rather notorious for lying, also lied about his coronavirus diagnosis. In a new book by former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows obtained by The Guardian newspaper, Meadows claims that Trump first tested positive on September 26. That was three days before his first debate with Joe Biden and nearly a week before Trump publicly acknowledged that he had in fact contracted the virus. On September 26, then President Trump hosted a White House event both inside and outside for then Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, at least 12 attendees later tested positive.

Later that day, Meadow says Trump was looking tired on their way to a rally in Pennsylvania when White House Dr. Sean Conley called saying that Trump had tested positive for COVID. Meadow says Trump was tested a second time and that one came back negative. The next day, Trump hosted an indoor White House reception for Gold Star families, followed by a maskless news conference in the White House briefing room. Two days later, on September 28, Trump hosted two outdoor events, one with business leaders, another on COVID testing.

Then of course, we had debate day where Meadows reports Trump was moving slower than usual but quote, "nothing was going to stop him from going out there." A few days after that, six days after his first positive test, from finally acknowledged that he had coronavirus and was hospitalized.

The former President responded to the new revelations today calling them, quote, "fake news." Though we should note again, this news comes from his loyal former chief of staff in his book, a book that Mr. Trump has previously endorsed as, quote, "fantastic" and "a great Christmas present."

Let's discuss this with former White House Communications Director under Trump, Alyssa Farah Griffin and Dr. Jonathan Reiner, the former physician to Vice President Dick Cheney and consultant to the Obama and Trump White House medical units.

Alyssa, congratulations on your wedding.


TAPPER: Thank you for being here.

So, reporters asked you and other White House officials multiple times about the timeline leading up to Trump's diagnosis. This is what your colleague, Kayleigh McEnany, said followed by something that you said.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How can I give you a detailed readout with timestamps that every time the President's tested? He's tested regularly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was the president's last negative test?

GRIFFIN: I can't reveal that at this time. The doctors would like to keep it private since it was private. My understanding is that it's just private medical history.


TAPPER: So were you intentionally misleading the public on that? Or was there something else going on that we don't know about?

GRIFFIN: No, absolutely not. Jake, very few things shocked me and this revelation shocked me. I was getting inquiries from reporters, credit to Maggie Haberman, I think she suspected that this may have been the case, because she was hounding me for the timeline.

So I went to Dr. Conley, I went to Chief of Staff Meadows and said, when was his first test? When did he first positive? And I was told, we're not revealing that for HIPAA reasons. So that was the instruction I was given from our chain of command.

TAPPER: For HIPAA reason. Yes.

GRIFFIN: But let me say this, full stop, this demonstrates a flagrant lack of regard for public health and for the wellbeing of others. At this time in the White House, I had staffers who were pregnant, I had one who's a multi time cancer survivor. We had plenty of people in the West Wing who were over 65, we could have killed one of our colleagues. And instead they decided to not tell anyone, putting every single one of us at risk.

TAPPER: But you didn't know, is the point.

GRIFFIN: Oh, absolutely no. No.

TAPPER: You didn't know.

And Dr. Reiner, we don't know which kind of test the former president took when he got that positive result. But the second test he took was an antigen test. Is a negative result from an antigen test enough to clear somebody who had previously tested positive to go back into the public?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No. But we know that the White House was relying heavily on Abbott's rapid molecular PCR tests, their ID NOW test.

There was -- you may remember sort of towards the beginning of the pandemic, there was a ceremony at the White House where Abbott delivered several of these machines for use. And this is how they screened press and visitors to the White House with these rapid -- a relatively accurate PCR devices. So, my strong guess is that the president's positive test came back with the ID NOW test, which takes about 15 minutes. And then according to the book, they tried to stop the president from leaving but he wanted to continue. And onboard Air Force One it appears he was tested with a antigen BinaxNOW test.

Now, the thing about the antigen test is that --

TAPPER: Yes. REINER: -- they have, although their ability to detect a -- to tell that you don't have the virus is quite high. Their ability to detect the positive test, particularly in patients at the beginning of their illness is less good. And you would never verify a positive test with an antigen test. So, the President was positive on the 26 --



REINER: -- and the White House physician knew it. What's astonishing to me is that the White House physician kept the fact that the president of United States was positive for COVID secret --

TAPPER: Dr. Conley, Sean Conley.

REINER: -- for three days, allowing multiple events including the Amy Coney Barrett thing --


REINER: -- the Gold Star family event, and then the debate.

TAPPER: Yes, no, it's crazy. And when you think about Joe Biden is certainly in a vulnerable group. He's a man in his late 70s.

Alyssa, so, here you have, I mean, I can't even make sense of this, but Mark Meadows, who has a very loyal person to Donald Trump, he reveals this in his book. Trump calls it fake news, even though it's from Meadows book. His spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, Trump's spokesperson puts out the statement and then Mark calling it fake news and Mark Meadows retweets it. Can you explain this to us?

GRIFFIN: Not really. But I will say this, the vast majority of the people working in the White House, especially around the task force under Trump took COVID seriously. But there were a handful of senior most staff who genuinely thought it was nothing short of the common cold, even when we had over 150,000 Americans who had died at that time.

And I think the fact that Mark published this suggests that he still thinks that. He doesn't seem to have reflected on the fact that this was a terrible move in how to handle this and that he absolutely should have disclosed to the public and quarantine the president. So that's what like makes me nervous about that whole orbit is they still seem to not get that this is a terrible, serious, deadly virus, and that this action was deeply reckless.

TAPPER: And I mean, we should just know, you talked about physician, Dr. Sean Conley, who at the very least hid this from the public. But when you think about people who are in vulnerable groups who met with Donald Trump, right, you talked about cancer survivors, a pregnant woman, Chris Christie, who contracted coronavirus probably got it at that White House event. He's certainly in a vulnerable group. There are others. I mean, isn't that a violation of Dr. Conley's Hippocratic Oath? REINER: Exactly.

Dr. Conley has really two -- in this instance, he has really two responsibilities. One is to do the right thing for his patient, which clearly at that first positive test is 10 days of isolation, 10 days of isolation after testing positive. And then his responsibility is to start contact tracing everyone the president has been with, because everyone that the president might have infected might have infected someone else. This is how viruses work. And we've seen --

TAPPER: Right.

REINER: -- how this has gone for the last two years.

So, Dr. Conley had, not just a responsibility to his patient, but he had a responsibility to the public. And communicable -- some communicable diseases are reportable as is COVID.


REINER: Which is why people get phone calls when they test positive, and they are contact traced. So, he just breached his duty --


REINER: -- as a physician. Now, if I were the White House physician and I was told, don't say anything about this, I would resign.

TAPPER: Why do you think Meadows is doing this now? Just to sell books? I don't understand.

GRIFFIN: I think you thought that whole ordeal was not a big deal.

TAPPER: Not a big deal.

GRIFFIN: That's my best guess.

TAPPER: It was just that it was like --

GRIFFIN: I don't think he would do anything that would --

TAPPER: Isn't this a funny story?

GRIFFIN: Right. That would make President Trump angry with him, which he seems to be based on the statement.

But let me just say this, because it bears repeating and we can't say it enough, it's never too late to do the right thing. Donald Trump should still go out and tell his supporters, I got the vaccine, my wife got the vaccine, my kids got the vaccine, you can trust it and it's safe.

He's yet to do that. It could make a huge difference when half the country still isn't vaccinated. So, maybe this will be a wakeup call to him. TAPPER: And just so people know behind closed doors. Oh, actually, we did this on Twitter. I got my booster and I'm advising you or to get your booster. These vaccines work. They're great.

And Donald Trump was part, I mean, he you know, he OK'd the funding of it.

GRIFFIN: He should take credit. Yes.

TAPPER: Operation Warp Speed.

All right, Alyssa Farah Griffin, I'm going to get used to the Griffin, and Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thanks for your time. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next, a messy feud between Republican lawmakers happening all in public view. And where is Kevin McCarthy? Where's the House leadership?



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Republican leaders in the House are attempting to present a united front and encouraging their members to stay focused on the issues. This is a nasty civil war breaks out among three House Republicans. Lawmakers inside a closed door Republican meeting this morning tell CNN that Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy did not say one word today about the nasty back and forth among Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and Nancy Mace. Let's discuss.

Let me start with the former Republican congressman at the table right here. One Republican lawmaker, Congressman, told CNN McCarthy doesn't want to pour fuel on the fire. But it doesn't seem like his strategy of addressing this fight -- all the fighting behind the scenes has done anything to calm the tensions.

And to be quite frank like Congresswoman Mace is sane, and the other two, I have more questions about.


TAPPER: There's certainly bigots.

DENT: Yes, there's no equivalence here. Yes, Nancy Mace deals in reality. She's serious, she's thoughtful. And the other two are, you know, out of bounds.

You know, I remember when John Boehner was speaker after the Tea Party wave, I can't tell you how many times he had conversations with members privately about conduct, standards of conduct, language, and he wouldn't tolerate it. I mean, in people got in trouble, you saw some resigned for far less. You know you come into the office and see that letter on the desk, if it's true you better sign it.

I mean this is the kind of stuff that we used to do. But now that these -- lot of these members don't feel shame, in fact, it's worse than that they monetize their notoriety. And I don't know how you control that, Jake, to be honest with you, but how do you -- it turn to maintain standards of conduct and enforce those is hard. I always share the ethics committee that's like being head of Internal Affairs and the Police Department of Congress.

TAPPER: Right. Very popular.

DENT: It's no fun. And you have -- and it's no fun, but somebody's got to do it.


DENT: And it's not being done, but that falls on the shoulders of the leaders. I saw Pelosi, Boehner and Ryan deal with uncomfortable cases, forcing resignations of members for far less.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But there's a build Boehner quote, and I know we've all heard it. It -- if you're a leader, and no one's following you, you're just a guy taking a walk.

DENT: Taking a walk.

KUCINICH: And that what's happening -- I mean, that seems to be what's happening with Kevin McCarthy. They don't -- he tells them to knock it off. And they either do kind of a -- you saw Congresswoman Boebert do this week and say I'm so sorry. And then go about her business and do exactly what she was -- what, criticized for in the first place. Or they just don't listen to him at all and they go -- Marjorie Taylor Greene called Trump and talked about having a challenger to Nancy Mace this week.

TAPPER: But Marjorie Taylor Greene says she is the mainstream of the base of the Republican Party. She's not some extremist. And the truth of the matter is I don't know if that's right, no offense.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Listen, I mean, part of the reason Kevin McCarthy doesn't want to act is because he's afraid of Donald Trump and he's also afraid of the base. And Marjorie Taylor Greene as well as Boebert are pleasing Donald Trump and getting all sorts of kudos from other members of the base and other members of the party because of what they've said.

I think one of the problems in the Republican Party and I'm quoting Colin Powell here, there is a dark vein of intolerance in the party, right? And it used to be smaller. You saw Donald Trump tap into that in 2016 and is -- it keeps going back to that well, and you see these other members being able to monetize this bigger tree, and it pays dividends for them in terms of popularity and actual fundraising as well.

TAPPER: And Hilary, Republican Congressman Don Bacon, he represents a swing district in Nebraska, the Omaha area, he said this about the infighting. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. DON BACON (R-NE): We're trying to show that we're -- we want to be the governing party next November, going into January of '23. And that requires winning people's confidence, I think. And right now all the polling is great for us, but this undermines that effort of taking back to speaker's gavel. We should not be shooting ourselves in the foot within fighting. And it's so appropriate.


TAPPER: Do you think it actually will hurt Republicans though?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, one of the things that happens when you're not in charge actually is you don't actually -- have to be too responsible. You can spend a lot of energy just attacking the other guys and playing games like they're playing. So whether or not this --

TAPPER: If you're attacking each other, though. I mean, they're not even attacking Democrats.

ROSEN: Right. And, you know, the fact is there is no more Republican Party for Nancy Mace in the House, like that doesn't exist anymore. I mean, there is no -- there's no caucus that supports a Republican voting in their district on an infrastructure bill or on a, you know, a belief about a big lie. And that is a sad state of affairs. But as a practical matter, you know, they're going to nationalize this message in the midterms. And I don't think this internal fight is going to matter as much as whether Democrats are delivering and talking about the things that people care about.

TAPPER: Congressman, you're from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and so I have to ask, TV personality, Dr. Oz has officially entered the race for Senate as a Republican. He has huge name recognition. In fact, I think they took them off the air in the Philly area just because of the equal time clause, but for -- medical experts have criticized him significantly in the past few years for pushing hydroxychloroquine, for peddling all sorts of magic diet pills and miracle cures, but he's might be a strong candidate.

DENT: He might be, but I think he's got a little carpetbagger problem. And I --

TAPPER: Just because he doesn't actually (INAUDIBLE)?

DENT: Yes, that's not a small list in Bergen County, New Jersey.


DENT: And, you know, I first ran for Congress in 2004. I ran against the guy who was not from my district, never lived there. It was an 80 percent issue. I talked about nothing else other than his residency. How can you possibly represent a constituency if you don't live there, if you don't know them?

So I think that's going to be a bigger issue for him. Then he realizes. And so, I find the whole thing bizarre. Apparently, he's registered to vote at his mother-in-law's home in Montgomery County.

TAPPER: Montgomery County, yes, where poplar is (ph).

DENT: Yes.

TAPPER: So, what do you think? I mean, he -- again, name recognition can go a long way --


TAPPER: -- in a primary and certainly in a general election.

KUCINICH: I just don't know why he wants to go back to the Senate. Last time, he was there. Claire McCaskill just really --


TAPPER: Devastated (ph) him.


KUCINICH: Devastated (ph) him, that is a very nice word for -- that was not going through my mind. But over --

TAPPER: For being --


KUCINICH: For alleged quackery.


KUCINICH: And it just, you know -- but in this country, even a snake oil salesman cannot be a politician, so isn't bad.

HENDERSON: Where have we seen that?

KUCINICH: I don't know.


HENDERSON: Yes. And that's what he's really trying to do, hugging Donald Trump, really going for Donald Trump's endorsement. I think we saw from the Virginia race, that gubernatorial race, that hugging Donald Trump might not be the best option if you want to win statewide as well as you really need to be well versed in local issues. You're not from Pennsylvania.

Dr. Oz, you're a great surgeon, I'm sure. But in terms of the kind of day-to-day and ins and outs of folks in Pennsylvania, I don't know that he's going to really --

TAPPER: We love people from New Jersey, don't we, Congressman.

ROSEN: Hey, hey, don't put down New Jersey.

TAPPER: They're great drivers.

KUCINICH: But the idea is someone like this succeeding. Someone like Pat Toomey, who is Pennsylvania.


KUCINICH: Through and through, it just --

TAPPER: And Kinsey.

KUCINICH: And Kinsey, there's a kind of a head scratcher.

ROSEN: But this seat is open because Pat Toomey was going to be facing a tough re-election and large measure. And so you do have to think about this hugging Donald Trump's strategy, that going way to the right is not where Pennsylvania is generally as a whole. You know, it went for Biden, it's elected Democrats statewide. It's the governor's all, you know -- I think that they're going to have trouble running a Trump campaign in Pennsylvania.

TAPPER: I don't know. I would just -- I would -- Trump won it in 2016, I would describe it as a purple state. I mean --

DENT: I think statewide actually, in some respects, it's getting better for Republicans. I mean, just in 2020, the statewide row office is auditor general and treasurer where two Republicans who are good candidates, but they had no money, they beat incumbents.

TAPPER: Yes, Republicans --

DENT: (INAUDIBLE) losing the state by 81,000 votes.

TAPPER: Republicans did great in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania --

DENT: They did.

TAPPER: -- except for Donald Trump, except for some reasons, none of those Republicans who were re-elected that same day had any issue with the ballots that elected them.

DENT: And in a midterm like this, you know, this should be a good Republican year for a Republican Senate candidate, should be as long as the candidate --

HENDERSON: Isn't Dr. Oz.

DENT: Isn't Dr. Oz or Sean Parnell or someone else.

TAPPER: Thanks for all for being here.


TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Today, the Secretary of State delivered a warning to Russia's Vladimir Putin. We're going to talk to the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, setting the stage for an invasion. That is exactly what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warns Russia is currently doing, as Russia significantly increases its military presence along the border with Ukraine.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Now, we don't know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order, should he so decide. So despite uncertainty about intentions, and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to it that Russia reverses course.


TAPPER: Here to discuss, Retired Admiral and the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis. He's the author of the new book, "The Sailor's Bookshelf: Fifty Books to Know the Sea." Admiral, good to see you again. Do you agree with Secretary of State Blinken, Russia appears to be on the verge of invading Ukraine?

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I do, Jake. You know, we always say crime is where motive meets opportunity. The motive is pretty clear here. Putin truly deeply wants to pull Ukraine away from the West, away from NATO, away from the European Union. That's the motive.

The opportunity is exactly what Tony Blinken was talking about. There 90,000 troops on that border. He's actively seeking to undermine the government of President Zelensky reports of a potential coup.

And finally, Jake, you got to look at the history here. He invaded Georgia in 2008. Still Russian troops there. He invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea in 2014. A lot of Russian troops there. So opportunity motive in history kind of come together. I'm worried.

TAPPER: So NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told my colleague, Jim Sciutto earlier today that NATO can make Russia pay a high price for its aggression with, quote, economic sanctions, financial sanctions, and political restrictions. Of course, as you just noted, he's done this already. He took Georgia, he took Crimea, why aren't they doing the sanctions already, and would they work?

STAVRIDIS: I think there is another level of sanctions that we could think about. One would be to, Jake, personalize and go after very senior leaders potentially all the way up to Vladimir Putin himself. Number two, at the end of the day, it's John McCain used to say Russia is only a big gas station. Its economy is a one trick pony oil and gas. I think you could move sanctions there, although complicated because of Nord Stream 2 coming online. And I think thirdly, Putin wants his athletes to go to the Olympics. That's an obvious one. So hopefully, Putin will not be as reckless as he's been on a couple occasions, but it's pretty hard to rule that out.

TAPPER: So Secretary Blinken sets and meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov tomorrow, what message do you think he should deliver to get the Russians to stand down to not invade Ukraine, to not support a coup against Ukrainian President Zelensky?

STAVRIDIS: I think there are three things he can say quite credibly. One is if you do this, it will not be you versus Ukraine. It will be you versus the world in terms of opinion and then deliver the economic sanctions message.


Number two, he can say NATO, the 30 nations of NATO are deeply opposed to this. We're going to continue to press against you in every dimension including, for example, cyber activity. So that allied component, I think, is significant.

And then a third thing is to say to the Russian Foreign Minister, who he knows quite well, I know him quite well, you're making an enormous mistake here if you underestimate what our response will be. He's got to look him in the eye and deliver that message credibly.

TAPPER: Do you think that this situation could credibly grow into a military conflict between Russia and NATO?

STAVRIDIS: I think it's a very low probability of that occurring. I think that the dark end of the spectrum, the worst case is Putin becomes reckless. He goes in, he actually carves out a chunk and simply claims the Donbass area in the southeast corner, creates a land bridge between Crimea and Russia, which he seeks to do. I think that's probably the extent of military action. But then you're really on a rocket ride back to a true cold war between the United States and Russia.

He doesn't want that, he can't afford it. And I think that, therefore, it's not likely he'll make the ultimate move here. But again, I'll close by saying, Jake, history, motive, opportunity. He's put all the pieces in play. Let's hope he shows restraint.

TAPPER: All right, Admiral James Stavridis, thank you for your time and congrats on the book.

Coming up next, the trial of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, what detectives said on the stand about the alleged hate crime he had committed against himself. Stay with us.


[17:51:16] TAPPER: In our national lead, big developments on day three of the trial of actor Jussie Smollett accused by police of staging a fake racist and homophobic attack against himself in 2019. Prosecutors today calling one of the most significant witnesses in the case, one of the two brothers who police say Smollett paid to stage the attack.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is live outside the courtroom in Chicago for us. And Omar, you've been inside listening to the testimony. What is he saying?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the most crucial day of testimony we've seen so far in this trial. So this is Abimbola Osundairo, otherwise known as Bola and the crux of it began when he described being in the car with Jussie Smollett days before this alleged hate crime took place and described that Smollett asked him to beat him up.

And I'll read some of the testimony here to where Bola said he was confused then he, Jussie Smollett, explained he wanted me to fake beat him up. I agreed to do it because most importantly, I felt indebted to Jussie.

At the time, Bola was working as a stand in on the show "Empire" and had developed a friendship with Jussie Smollett over the good portion of two years prior to this week of January 25th, 2019. He told me we would need another person to fake beat him up and he mentioned could my brother be a part of it. And that's how the second Osundairo brother got involved.

And after the two eventually, or after everyone got in the car, they went over the details of what Jussie Smollett wanted them to say and do, again, according to the testimony. And it literally says, or I should say, Osundairo said that they wanted him to say "Empire," the show used to be a star on, the F word, the homophobic slur, the N word and MAGA.

Then the conversation moved to what they wanted him to do specifically to punch him in the face but to pull those punches so that he wouldn't get actually hurt, but to leave at least a bruise, Jake. So, again, the heart of this trial playing out in testimony today.

TAPPER: And Omar prosecutors also called today Chicago detective who spoke with Smollett shortly after the alleged attack in a subsequent interview, what did he say about the inconsistencies in Smollett's story?

JIMENEZ: That's right, Jake. So this was one of two detectives who initially responded to Jussie Smollett's report of an alleged hate crime on January 29th, 2019. And this detective said at the time, he described his one attacker that he could identify as a white person that he could see through the eye holes, the bridge of the nose and part of the eyes.

Well, weeks later, after these Osundairo brothers had been arrested, though Smollett didn't explicitly know that at the time, he was asked again about the identity of his attackers and the detective said, well, this time he said they acted like they were white. And that was a discrepancy the detective took issue with though the defense tried to say that the detective's words weren't as credible because that interview was not recorded. Jake.

TAPPER: Omar Jimenez, thank you so much.

Coming up next, actor Alec Baldwin, giving his first interview since that deadly movie shooting, saying that he never pulled the trigger more from the emotional interview. That's next.



TAPPER: Back now with our pop culture lead., Alec Baldwin sitting down for the first time to talk about that fatal shooting on the film set of "Rust." The actor revealing more about what happened to ABC News and growing emotional when speaking about Halyna Hutchins who was killed.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: It wasn't in the script for the trigger to be pulled.

ALEX BALDWIN, ACTOR & PRODUCER, "RUST": Well the trigger wasn't pulled. I didn't pull the trigger.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you never pulled the trigger.

BALDWIN: No, no, no, no, no. I would never point a gun to anybody and pull the trigger at them, never. She was someone who was loved by everyone who worked with and liked by everyone who worked with and admired.


TAPPER: Baldwin side of the story comes as investigators have a new lead on how that live bullet may have gotten on set. Authorities were granted a warrant to search a prop store where they believe some of the rounds originated. They're investigating various scenarios on how that live ammo made it on set.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD wherever you get your podcasts.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.