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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Now: House Debates Holding Mark Meadows In Contempt; Trump: Pence Is "Mortally Wounded" Inside GOP; Rep. James Comer, (R-KY), Is Interviewed About Kentucky District Devastated By Tornadoes, Mark Meadows; 88 Victims Killed In Tornado Outbreak, 100 Plus Still Missing; Pfizer: COVID Pill Reduces Risk Of Hospitalization & Death By 89 Percent; Airline Execs To Testify Tomorrow About Staffing Levels & $50 Billion In Federal Aid; Putin Asks For Immediate NATO Talks As Ukraine Bolsters Military; Putin Accuses Ukraine Of "Being Pumped Up With Modern Weapons"; S. Dakota Teachers Scramble For Dollar Bills In "Humiliating" Game; Nike To Start Selling Digital Sneakers In The Metaverse. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 14, 2021 - 17:00   ET




PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, history on the House floor, lawmakers debate referring former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS), CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: If you are making excuses to avoid cooperating with our investigation, you're making excuses to hide the truth from the American people about what happened on January 6.

REID (voice-over): Meadows turned over 9,000 pages of records to the House Select Committee investigating January 6 before he suddenly stopped cooperating and refuse to comply with a subpoena to testify.

THOMPSON: When the records raise questions as these most certainly do, you have to come in and answer those questions.

REID (voice-over): The committee publicly released text messages from Meadows phone that revealed just how much the White House knew about what was happening at the Capitol in real time.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY), VICE CHAIR, JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: These non-privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes.

REID (voice-over): And how many Trump allies were pressing Meadows to get the president to act, including a plea from Donald Trump Jr.

CHENEY: He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.

REID (voice-over): And from several Fox News hosts. CHENEY: "Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy," Laura Ingraham wrote. Quote, "Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol?" Sean Hannity urged.

REID (voice-over): Ingram went on to repeatedly downplay the insurrection on her show.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: More than 99 percent had to be our peaceful, but because of a small contingent of loons, these patriots have been unfairly maligned.

REID (voice-over): The committee also looking at how involved Meadows was in efforts to undermine the 2020 election and revealed a message from an unnamed lawmaker apologizing the day after the Capitol riot for failing to stop the counting of electoral votes in key states Trump lost.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the six states. I'm sorry, nothing worked.

The day after a failed attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power through violence, an elected lawmaker tells the White House Chief of Staff, I'm sorry, nothing worked. That is chilling.

REID (voice-over): Meadows insists the committee is trying to weaponize the evidence he voluntarily provided.

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's not about holding me in contempt, it's about coming after President Donald Trump. And sadly, that's what tonight's vote was all about.


REID: If the referral goes to the Justice Department, it will ultimately be up to the Attorney General whether to prosecute Meadows. Now this is a more complicated case than the one against Steve Bannon as Meadows has engaged with the committee, he's provided extensive evidence, and former President Trump is still litigating over any potential executive privilege protections in this investigation.

But Jake, no matter what happens at the Justice Department by revealing these extraordinary texts yesterday and today, the committee clearly building its case for contempt against Meadows in the court of public opinion.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's discuss this with one of my favorite panels, former Republican Congresswoman Mia Love in Utah and former Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Congressman Love, let me start with you. These texts to Mark Meadows reveal so much about who privately was trying to change the President's mind during the insurrection while publicly and since then, downplaying the significance of it.

Let's review Brian Kilmeade, "Please get him on T.V. Destroying everything you have accomplished. Laura Ingram, "Mark, the President needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy." Sean Hannity, can you make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol?"

Congresswoman, what goes through your mind when you hear these texts?

MIA LOVE, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, it's -- unfortunately, really shocking, because I still believe that people need to have some human decency, and at least admit what was going on. And the fact that all of these people were calling and saying this is a problem, this is a problem, do something about it. And the President didn't do anything about it is really disheartening to me.

But I want to make it very clear, the panel was very clear about making this contempt not about executive privilege, which I think was smart. Because all of these, all of these conversations weren't with the president. And they're -- and they know very clearly, which is why I think it's so important to have Liz Cheney and Adam there also is because they're making this about the American people. They're saying, hey, there's some information that was here that has nothing to do with the executive privilege, but we also recognize that presidents need to have that on both sides of the aisle to have Crucial Conversations.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

LOVE: So I think it was incredibly smart.

TAPPER: Congressman Kennedy, let's take a look at another text.

The president's son, Donald Jr., he writes to Meadows, "He's got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough." Meadows writes back, "I'm pushing it hard. I agree." Then later, Trump Jr. writes, "We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now it has gone too far and gotten out of hand."


How does this fit in with the investigation do you think?

JOE KENNEDY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, Jake, the idea that you have as Congresswoman Love had said, you have a public cover up at the highest degree here, while private acknowledgement of just how dangerous this was, including from President Trump's own son. There's no way to get around the fact that people at the highest levels of the White House knew at some inkling of how severe and how dangerous this moment was.

So, then go around and say, hey, nothing to see here. Oh, what happened was just a regular old Capitol tour, that these are a bunch of patriots that didn't actually weren't doing anything that were egged on or maybe only a violent few, all of that falls apart. It's falling apart years ago -- a year ago, but it certainly falls apart now. So, I think what you see is, again, the evidence building for a full on clear recital of the facts before the American public as to just what happened and then what did you know and when did you know it.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, Mark Meadows will almost certainly be held in criminal contempt of Congress when this vote happens in the next couple hours. You used to work with him, he was Congressman Mark Meadows. Is this the same Mark Meadows that you knew?

LOVE: Well, I don't know. I don't know if he's throwing himself under the bus because he feels like he needs to protect the former president. I just don't get it.

But here's what I do know, everybody knows that Joe Kennedy and I are on completely different ends of the aisle. We agree on a lot, we disagree on a lot, but I have no doubts that if any one of us were sitting in the Oval Office and we saw this happening to another colleague, we would jump in and we would never let that happen. I would bet my life on that. So, that is what I think is most harmful to the American people is for them to see that the President could have done something about this and did nothing.

TAPPER: Congressman Kennedy, my colleague, Isaac Dovere (ph) has an excellent story today about the messaging conundrum facing Democratic governors. They argue that American democracy has never been in more danger, but these Democrats are also worried about running on a message like that in 2022. They say voters are too drained to care about this idea, it's not a winning strategy. What do you think?

KENNEDY: Jake, look, this is one of the big challenges of politics, right? You have a severe, consistent and persistent threat that has been strategically deployed to undermine our democracy, to ensure that we actually don't -- that the results of an election do not lead to our -- the proper elected officials taking power, while also recognizing that you're in, you know, year two plus of a pandemic, people are trying to -- still figure out what to do about booster shots and kids and job and housing and everything else, that trying to dive into the nuances of what's happening in a Secretary of State's race in some other place far across the country, they just can't handle all with. This is a challenge. But it doesn't mean you can -- we have the choice of running away from it. You have to -- you might not campaign on it, but you have to inform.

You can't just pretend that it's not happening. But we also have to recognize that for many people across the country, that decision isn't going to be the part that motivates somebody.


KENNEDY: Somebody to vote or what their vote is. But you can't ignore it. Dear Lord, you can't do that.

TAPPER: So, Congresswoman Love, I want to play some sound from an event this weekend. It's former President Trump speaking to a crowd hosted by former Fox host, Bill O'Reilly. He talks about Vice President Pence. And before you run the sound, I just want to note, Pence obviously did not do what Trump wanted him to do on January 6. There were all sorts of concoctions and conspiracy theories and plans for Pence to refuse to acknowledge the electoral votes from six states voted for Biden. Pence did not do that. Here's what Trump had to say just last night.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Mike has been very badly hurt by what took place with respect to January 6. I think he's been mortally wounded, frankly, because I see the reaction he's getting from people.


TAPPER: So that sound from Trump over the weekend rather, not last night. Is he right? Is Pence damaged goods in the Republican Party because for this brief moment on January 6 he disobeyed Trump and stood up for democracy?

LOVE: Look, for a lot of people I can say that here Pence says he's conservative. He has done everything he could to support the president, but when it came to actually doing his job and certifying the votes, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. And for so many Republicans who have felt completely lost and didn't want to follow blindly a president, he actually -- that was a great redeeming quality.


And I think that the person that is damaged from all of this is actually Donald Trump, because remember, this is the person that stood behind him. Remember, I keep saying that he requires 100 percent loyalty and will -- and won't give it back. This is a prime example of that. And he actually attacked his own vice president.

So, I think the person that's damaged here is not Mike Pence. I think that actually that was a redeeming quality. And the president, I really think is bad for Republicans. I hope he does not run again.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Mia Love, Congressman Joe Kennedy, thanks to both of you as always. Good to see you. And if I don't see you before, Merry Christmas to both of you and Happy New Year.

At least 88 people were killed in those devastating tornadoes. More are still missing.

Coming up next, one harrowing story of survival. Plus, a dystopian seeing teachers on the ground desperately grabbing cash for their classes. We're going to try to explain what's going on here. It's difficult though. That's coming up.


[17:15:27] TAPPER: In our national lead, search teams believe they have located everyone who was in that Kentucky candle factory, Mayfield consumer products that was destroyed in Friday's tornadoes. But there is a sobering caveat. The governor says the debris is so dense. It's possible that cadaver dogs just cannot detect anyone else who might be buried underneath.

Eight of the 74 deaths in Kentucky were in that factory which supplies stores such as Bath and Body Works and others. There are at least 88 known victims so far across multiple states from these tornadoes, making this the deadliest tornado outbreak in December on record.

And as CNNs Brynn Gingras reports for us from Kentucky, more than 100 people are still missing.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A massive effort to clean up in eight states devastated by Friday's catastrophic storms. And now, an Amazon facility in Illinois under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky by the state's labor division.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (R-KY): Everybody is expected to live up to certain standards of both the law of safety and being decent human beings.

JIM DOUGLAS, SURVIVED CANDLE FACTORY COLLAPSE: I was just praying that God would take me because I don't want to endure the pain no more.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Jim Douglas worked at the candle factory for more than two years and says the company treated him well and was prepared for Friday night's storms. From his hospital bed in nearby Paducah, Douglas reliving what it was like inside when the tornado struck.

DOUGLAS: It was like different layers would come down and I can feel my body would, like, compact more. I was getting -- my face was already underground. But there was something trapped in my pelvic area.

GINGRAS (on camera): You were being crushed.

DOUGLAS: I was definitely being crushed.

There were people trying to escape from there. And what they were doing is walking over at least me, and when they are doing that is pushing my chest flat. So it was really difficult breath.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Douglas telling CNN he estimates 15 feet of debris lay between him and the rescuers using heavy machinery to get to him.

DOUGLAS: I think the guy said I see him right below this glass, and there's a door with glass in it. And it said, Jim, close your eyes. So I closed my eyes and they broke the glass. And the guy who was at my feet, he kind of grabbed the back of my shorts and a couple guys grabbed my arm and they just shake me up.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Those rescuers or heroes as Douglas calls them remain on site continuing to sift through the debris where at least eight people died. More than 100 people are feared dead in Kentucky alone according to the governor, some of them infants.

BESHEAR: The age range has gotten even harder. It ranges now from two months to 98 years of the Kentuckians that we have lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard cries for help.

GINGRAS (voice-over): The weight of the loss is heavy here. This woman is still traumatized because she couldn't save the life of a little boy who was trapped in his home.

CARILLA SMITH, TORNADO SURVIVOR: As a mom to know that my son is safe and I can't help save the life of that baby, I just kept on trying to breathe loud in him (ph).

GINGRAS (voice-over): Now, a test of resiliency as residents look to the future. Douglas says nothing will get in his way for what he knows is a long road toward healing.

DOUGLAS: I believe I get a second chance. And a lot of people did.


GINGRAS: And Douglas thanking each and every one of his rescuers. Amazed that they were even able to find him that night.

Recovery efforts continue all across the state with dozens of National Guard members joining in on that effort. And Jake, as we await the President's arrival tomorrow, we are expecting more bad weather which could impact the reference.

TAPPER: Brynn Gingras in Mayfield, Kentucky, thanks so much for that report.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky. He's planning to lead a moment of silence on the House floor for tornado victims this evening.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I'm sorry, it's under the circumstances. The tornadoes swept through so much of your congressional district. Is your family OK? Were they impacted?

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY), REPRESENTS KENTUCKY DISTRICT DEVASTATED BY TORNADOES: No. My family, we live three hours east of where the tornadoes hit. My districts very wide. It's about a third of the entire state of Kentucky. So, six hours from east to west and we fortunately weren't anywhere near the path.

TAPPER: OK, good. Just wanted to make sure I hadn't seen reported, I wanted to ask before returning to Washington.

[17:20:00] You toured some of the hardest hit areas of your district. What is the most urgent need right now?

COMER: Well, the most urgent need is to get power back. We still have several 1000 people without power. And we still have people without water. And I know crews are working day and night trying to restore the utilities in Mayfield and the surrounding areas, even parts of the counties that weren't impacted by the tornado directly, they've gone without power and water. And as you know, it's getting down into the low 20s at night at temperature.

TAPPER: How has the federal response been? How has the state response been? Are you -- I know you're a conservative Republican and Governor Beshear is a Democrat, President Biden's a Democrat. Is there anything you need? Or is everything -- are you getting what you need, you and your constituents?

COMER: I've been on the phone constantly with all of my elected officials and first responders and everyone will agree that the state and federal response has been exceptional thus far. This isn't about politics, this is about disaster relief and disaster recovery and everybody's come together.

You know, the local officials are all Republican, their congressmen and both U.S. senators are Republican, the governor and president are Democrats, but that doesn't matter right now. And so far, everybody's been working together very well.

TAPPER: It's good to hear that.

One tornado survivor in your district told CNN that he worries that they Mayfield community, which was so hard hit, may be gone forever. Take a listen.


COLTEN JONES, TORNADO SURVIVOR: A lot of these places will just get -- this gets bulldoze down and flattened and they're just be grass grown here in two years. Everybody's come together to help but in a few months, you know, people won't be here. You know, the news crews will be gone and our families will either just be a bunch of condemned houses. And it's rough.


TAPPER: That's tornado survivor Colten Jones, talking to Kentucky's own Pamela Brown.

Folks in Congress, such as yourself, pledged money to rebuild. But how do you encourage people to put in the time and effort to rebuild in these hard, hard hit towns where they won't be able to go back to normal for years?

COMER: Well, we just hope that they rebuild. And I think that after the initial shock wears down, the overwhelming majority of people will want to rebuild Mayfield, Dawson Spring, Central City, Kentucky. These communities have an enormous sense of community pride. They love their small towns.

And if you want to see the best of rural America, go to those communities right now and see how much help is coming from all over the United States, financial help supplies. The utility crews from six or seven states are down there right now working and it's really does your heart well to see everyone coming together in the small towns. And I think that most people will want to rebuild there.

We're going to do everything in our ability to see that people come back to those great communities because we've got to have that, we can't give up. And I know it's going to be a struggle for all the property owners. You know, a lot of people had insurance, but they were probably grossly under insured when you look at the cost of building materials now and things like that. So, it's going to be a struggle. And I just, you know, we're going to do everything we can on the federal level to help people and hopefully they'll make the decision to build back in the small towns.

TAPPER: Before you go, sir, I want to ask you about your former colleague, Mark Meadows, he faces a contempt of Congress vote this evening for failing to testify before the January 6 committee. I know you replaced Meadows as ranking member of the House Oversight Committee when he became Trump's chief of staff. How do you plan on voting on the contempt of Congress charge?

COMER: I'm going to vote no. It's very unfortunate that this committee has been so politicized. This is not an impartial jury. I believe that we had committees in place. But even when you have select committees, the Democrats pick their committee members and the Republicans pick their committee members.

And I understand Pelosi didn't want Jim Jordan, for example, on the committee. But I can assure you, Republicans didn't want Adam Schiff or Jamie Raskin on the committee. So, I think that the vote would have probably been different if it had been more legitimate of a committee. But unfortunately it's not, it's not an impartial jury, and I'm going to vote no.

TAPPER: All right. We'll have you back to talk about that. This interview today is focused on your constituents. So, come back soon and we can discuss the committee.

Republican Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, thank you so much. Our thoughts and prayers, and best wishes are going to your constituents.

And if you want to know how to help, go to

Thanks again, Congressman.

COMER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Dr. Anthony Fauci says it could be a, quote, "lifesaver" for everyone. What we know about Pfizer's new anti COVID pill, that's next. Stay with us


TAPPER: In our health lead, just now, a moment of silence from lawmakers on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building as we approach a grim milestone, nearly 800,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus during this pandemic. But today, there is a possible new drug that is raising hopes of further controlling the deadly impacts of the virus. Let's get right to CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, this is a new Pfizer COVID pill that treats people within days of their first symptoms. The company released its final set of data today. What did it say?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. This is an antiviral pill. Clearly, it's better to get vaccinated and not get COVID at all. But if you are to get COVID, man, these numbers really are quite impressive.

What Pfizer did is they did a study with about 1400 people divided equally in two groups. The folks who got a placebo over the next month, 66 of them ended up in the hospital with COVID and 12 of them died. Those who received the drug, the antiviral that Pfizer makes, eight of them were hospitalized, and none of them died.

So this is really quite notable. Merck also has an antiviral drug that already has received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. Pfizer is waiting for that authorization. And it also has impressive results. One note, you have to take this early, the results I just gave you, that's when you take it within five days of feeling symptoms. The results are even better if you take it earlier than that.

The way that testing is in the U.S., that can be tough. That can be tough to find a place. It can be tough to get results in a -- quickly then you have to call your doctor, they have to prescribe it. So the trick to this drug is going to be, can people get it soon enough after they start having symptoms of COVID. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Elizabeth, the majority of new COVID cases are still caused by the Delta variant but Omicron is more transmissible we're told, so what are we learning about this new variant, Omicron?

COHEN: Right. Today, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Director of the CDC, she had an interesting statistic. She said what they're finding in other countries. We haven't found this yet in the CDC, is that rates are doubling approximately every two days. That's fast. As you said, that is faster than Delta.

Now let's take a look at a study that came out today. This is a very large South African study, more than 200,000 people. And what they found is that when you look at folks who had two doses of Pfizer, it was 33 percent effective against infection with Omicron, but 70 percent effective against hospitalization.

That's, you know, good news and bad news, right? We wish it were more than 33 percent effective against infection, but it is still good that it is 70 percent effective at keeping people out of the hospital. Jake?

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

The threat of the Omicron variant likely will not slow holiday travel. AAA estimates that more than 109 million Americans are planning trips in the week between Christmas and New Years. That's not far off the 2019 record of 119 million. That was, of course, before the pandemic.

Let's go to CNN's Pete Muntean at Reagan National Airport just outside D.C. And Pete, this year's holiday calendar is a big factor into these early estimates.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. You know, it's partly the calendar and partly the confidence that travelers haven't getting out again, according to AAA. But what's so interesting here is that AAA compiled all this data before the Omicron variant really struck and it is still sticking by these numbers.

AAA projects 100 million people, will drive 50 miles or more. Between December 23rd and January 2nd, 6 million people will take to the air. Look at these numbers, really not all that different with what we saw back in 2019 before the pandemic. Now Airlines said they've seen a bit of wavering in ticket bookings because of the Omicron variant.

The TSA says we will come just shy of a new pandemic era air travel record. Pretty hard to beat the last one. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2.45 million people pass through security at America's airports.

But never say never. We just saw 2 million people pass through security at America's airports this past Sunday, not even a holiday. TSA says the busiest days, December 23rd and January 3rd. So if you haven't bought a ticket yet, you may want to consider booking for Christmas day itself.

TAPPER: And Pete, tomorrow airline executives are going to be on Capitol Hill to testify about the $50 billion they got in 2020 to keep aviation workers employed. Are staff shortages in aviation still a problem as we see these travel numbers pick up?

MUNTEAN: While airlines insist that they are out of the woods and they really point to Thanksgiving when there were no major scheduled meltdowns, like we saw at Spirit, Southwest and American in the fall and in the summer. But also during Thanksgiving, there were no major weather or ATC issues and that really causes the slide of crews being out of position. Now airlines are paying crews time and a half up to three times their normal pay. So we see if that will truly pay off during this holiday season compared to what we saw during Thanksgiving.

TAPPER: All right, Pete Muntean at Reagan National, thanks so much.

Putin now calling for immediate talks with NATO as the world fears Russia is about to invade Ukraine once again. We'll talk to a congressman who just got back from Ukraine, that's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, today Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its allies. He requested immediate talks with NATO and said Ukraine is, "Being pumped up with modern weapons." Weapons partially funded by the U.S. to deter a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine which Putin has been teasing for weeks with a massive buildup of troops along Ukraine's border.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance back from Ukraine is live for us in Moscow. Matthew, what does Putin want from these negotiations?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What Putin wants, he spelt out repeatedly over the past couple of weeks. Today with Emmanuel Macron, the French President, he spelled it out with President Biden last week in their video conference call. And namely, he wants NATO, the Western military alliance to stop expanding eastwards towards Russia's borders. He says that threatens Russia's national interests.

He also wants to make sure that NATO countries stop pouring in sophisticated weaponry into NATO, which basically challenges Russia's supremacy, I suppose, in that in that theater. I think the big question, though, the real question is what happens if Putin doesn't get what he wants? Will he settle? Will he agree to accept some sort of compromises from United States?

I mean, there's a whole load of carrots the U.S. could offer Russia, as well as the sticks that it's laid out. Or does he insist that this is an existential issue, and that he will take military action? I mean, he does have tens of thousands of forces building up near the border of Ukraine. So if you wanted to act militarily, he certainly could, Jake.


TAPPER: Now did we have -- do we have any idea how the Russian people feel about another potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia?

CHANCE: Yes, it's a good question. I mean, I -- there's not a great deal of enthusiasm for it. Opinion polls suggest that, you know, Donbas, Eastern Ukraine does not have the same kind of emotional resonance, the Russian people that, for instance, Crimea did, which was annexed by Russia back in 2014 and 2015. And so there's not a lot of appetite in that sense.

At the same time, you know, Putin has been very careful to describe and characterize this challenge, if you like, in Ukraine as something that threatens the existence of Russia or an existential threat. And so that sort of lays the groundwork that if he decided he did want to go in and send the troops in, you know, a significant proportion of the Russian public could be brought along with that. TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers flew to Kiev to talk to Ukrainian officials directly. They just got back. Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton from Massachusetts, who was part of that delegation, and served four tours in Iraq as a Marine and sits on the Armed Services Committee in the House.

Congressman, I'll get to the trip in a second, but I do want to ask you about Putin, trying to meet with NATO. Are the West's efforts to deter Putin working do you think?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, he's clearly trying to divide the alliance. And in a sense, they're obviously starting to have some effect because he's meeting with us, and he's trying to get some congestions. But I don't know that we're acting quickly enough. He's moved very quickly to move these troops in the place. We need to respond even more quickly to show him the true costs of a potential invasion.

TAPPER: And you're sending a memo to President Biden summing up what you think you learned on the trip to Ukraine. You say, "We need to be less concerned about provoking Putin and more concerned about deterring him. We need to make it clear not only to Putin, but to Russian people that a lot of Russian boys will die on day one." If there is an invasion, another invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

Now publicly, President Biden has not done that, he has not said anything like that, instead, he is threatened sanctions. Do you disagree with Biden's approach?

MOULTON: Look, I think fundamentally, he's taking the right approach, but I don't think he's acting as aggressively as he could. And Putin doesn't care about provocations, because he'll manufacture a provocation whenever he wants. So we shouldn't be concerned about them, either. We should be concerned about deterring him and deterring him from any -- taking any action at all, is about preventing a conflict, not just responding to it.

A lot of what the administration has put forward are good response measures if Putin chooses to invade. What we saw in the Crimea in 2014 is that responding after the fact maybe too late. So what we need to do is get a real airtight sanctions regime in place with our allies that will go into in place the second he invades. We need to make it clear that our weapons will make this very painful for Putin, not just over the course of a long occupation, but immediately upon crossing the border into Ukraine on day one.

And I think we also have to communicate this to the Russian people. Your question earlier was well taken. A lot of Russians don't want another war. But the propaganda they're getting from Putin, their leader, is that this will be easy. We need to change that perception at home.

The Russians don't mind communicating directly with the American people sowing disinformation through the internet. We ought to be willing to tell the Russian people the truth.

TAPPER: So President Biden has ruled out unilateral American military action boots on the ground, as it were, that doesn't, of course, rollout Americans being part of some sort of NATO force. What do you think the United States should be doing or saying publicly when it comes to actually putting men and women, military members on the ground in Ukraine or nearby to go into Ukraine if they need to?

MOULTON: Well, I don't think anyone wants a direct U.S. on Russia conflict. We don't want to see Americans dying in Ukraine. I don't know if I would have led with that. As the President, we need to make sure that Putin recognizes we're going to do everything we can to support an ally.

You know, Ukraine is not part of NATO, but they very much want to be a part of NATO. They -- these are the freedom, loving people. They are fiercely independent nation. This idea that they are going to welcome a Russian invasion is purely manufactured by Putin's propaganda machine.

It's very clear, it was very clear to us on the ground, they want to be a part of the West. And we need to make it clear that we will stand with them even if that doesn't mean actually putting American troops in harm's way.

TAPPER: You traveled with Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida, also a veteran. He tweeted, "We made the people of Ukraine a promise in 1994 to provide defensive assurances in exchange for giving up their nuclear arsenal. Our credibility is on the line."

We should point out that Russia made a promise during that same event in Bucharest, I believe. Do you agree with Waltz -- with what Congressman Waltz is saying?


MOULTON: I mean, fundamentally, I do. And let's be clear, President Biden is in a very good position here because he's made it clear he's willing to confront Putin, not consoled him like his predecessor. He's made it very clear that he wants to strengthen the NATO alliance, rather than antagonize it like Trump.

So the Ukrainians have high expectations from the Biden administration. They feel much more comfortable with President Biden than they did with President Trump. But now President Biden has a short window of time in the next few weeks I judge, to make good on this -- on these intentions and to really come through strongly with a clear plan to deter Putin from even taking that first step. And that's now up to the Biden administration to execute.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, thank you so much for being here today. Appreciate it.

MOULTON: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: It has been compared to the show swinging teachers, desperately scrambling to grab cash for school supplies. It's not fiction, though. It's not from Netflix. The story of this humiliating event, that's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, you are watching a group of school teachers in South Dakota in the United States racing to grab cash off the ground to pay for school supplies. If what you're just saw bothers you, you're not alone.

The jarring spectacle sparked backlash across the country. One headline likening it to Netflix's hit horror TV show "Squid Game". And CNN's Lucy Kafanov reports for us. Now critics say the giveaway meant to help teachers is actually doing much more to demean them.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A very different face off at this junior hockey game in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Not athletes but teachers jostling at center ice, frantically scrambling on hands and knees for $5,001 bills donated by CU Mortgage Direct, a Sioux Falls lender.

The President of the Sioux Falls Stampede Hockey team told local television station KELO that the giveaway was meant to help teachers.

JIM OLANDER, PRESIDENT, SIOUX FALLS STAMPEDE: We know this day and age schools are in need of funding and we're just trying to play a small part to help them out and have some fun while doing it.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The unusual optics of the event sparking criticism.

ERIN HEALY (D), SOUTH DAKOTA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I think it was a well-intentioned event, but teachers should never have to grovel for money that's needed for classroom improvements.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Video of the event went viral on social media. The backlash swift. Some Twitter users describing the event as humiliating and dystopian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every person standing here in this room is living on the brink of financial ruin. You all have debts that you can't pay off.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Others comparing the spectacle to the Netflix series "Squid Game" in which people facing financial despair played deadly games for the chance to win millions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those who win all six games will receive a hands on cash prize.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): We can't invest into our workforce without supporting the hard workers that we already have here and that includes teachers.

KAFANOV (voice-over): In her recent budget address, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem proposed a 6 percent salary increase for educators.

NOEM: School districts should invest the 6 percent increase directly into our teachers.

KAFANOV (voice-over): But South Dakota teachers are among the lowest paid in the country, earning an average annual salary of about $49,000. Only ahead of Mississippi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On average, teachers are spending $750 out of their own pockets to give their students the supplies they need to learn. We have a statewide educator shortage, teacher shortage.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The organizers apologizing for the event on Monday, writing in a statement, "Although our intent was to provide a positive and fun experience for teachers, we can see how it appears to be degrading and insulting towards the participating teachers and the teaching profession as a whole. We deeply regret and apologize to all teachers for any embarrassment this may have caused."


KAFANOV: So in addition to apologizing, the Hockey team and CU Mortgage Direct provided an additional 500 bucks to each of the participating teachers as well as 21 other educators who had applied but were not selected for the event. They say they promised to work with local educators to continue to support teachers in other ways in the future. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much.

Nike just added another shoe brand to its lineup but you cannot actually put this one on your feet. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We are continuing to follow the breaking news on Capitol Hill right now. The House of Representatives is continuing to debate whether to move forward with criminal contempt proceedings against former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for refusing to testify before the January 6 Committee. That's Congressman Elaine Luria of Virginia right there, speaking right now. A vote is expected in the next few minutes. We will keep an eye on that and bring it to you when it happens.

But until then, let's turn to our money lead right now because former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has 30 days to cough up $5.1 million after an Ethics Commission found that the Democrat used state resources for his book about the COVID pandemic. A state assembly report says that members of Cuomo's staff were assigned non-voluntary book related assignments during work hours. And senior state officials had to take book meetings on behalf of the then-Governor Cuomo.

Despite Cuomo's promised that he would write the book, quote, entirely on his own time without the use of state resources or personnel. Cuomo's attorney immediately fired back calling the decision, quote, unconstitutional.

In our tech lead, it's got to be the virtual shoes? The next pair of Nikes you buy you might not be able to actually wear. The company announced it is purchasing virtual sneaker company RTFKT, becoming one of the largest brands so far to enter the so called metaverse.

So what exactly might this mean for your closet? Well, not much really. RTFKT sells only online items. Meaning, you're spending real money to buy things you will never be able to hold or put on your feet. Though, if you have a 5-inch vertical in real life, maybe you'll be the next LeBron in the virtual realm.

Nike said in his statement, "This acquisition is another step that accelerates Nike's digital transformation." Call me crazy, I prefer sneakers I can actually put on my feet.

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