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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Biden Faces Tough Setbacks In Courts, Congress, Pandemic & Economy; Pentagon: "Very Credible" Intel Shows Russia Is Prepping An Operation To Justify Invading Ukraine; Senate Democrats Send Stinging Letter To White House On COVID Testing; Many Hospitals Halt Certain Procedures, Rely On National Guard As COVID Hospitalizations Rise; Any Moment: Australia Officials To Detain Novak Djokovic; South, Carolinas, Northeast Brace For Snow, Sleet, Freezing Rain. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired January 14, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, at least Joe Biden's new puppy hasn't bitten him yet? That we know of.
THE LEAD starts right now.
An awful week for the president, only getting worse. Right now, there's a group of Russian operatives inside Ukraine. And according to a U.S. intelligence official, those operatives are looking to create a false pretense for Vladimir Putin to give the orders for Russians to invade. We're going to talk to the president's national security adviser.
Then, in a sign of how overwhelming the omicron variant is, two of the country's largest pharmacy chains are shutting down some stores because so many of their employees are out sick.
And -- the world's number one male tennis player may not even get a chance to play. Novak Djokovic is once again on the verge of being kicked out of Australia. He's meeting with immigration officials right now and is about to be detained.
TAPPER: Hello and happy Friday. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin this hour in our politics lead and a bruising week for President Biden. Nearly a year into his presidency, he's surrounded by dead ends and crises, the fate of his economic agenda is uncertain. His push for election reform appears to be withering on the vine. The U.S. Supreme Court swatted down his vaccine mandate for big businesses. The pandemic is continuing to rage. Inflation is soaring. North Korea is firing missiles eastward. Russian troops are poised to move westward, as talks to de-escalate around Ukraine went nowhere fast.
As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, President Biden who in one poll this week stood at only 33 percent approval, desperately needs a reset as he embarks on his second year in office.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden's week going from bad to worse.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: There's a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven't gotten done. We're going to get a lot of them done, I might add. But this is something we did get done.
COLLINS: Biden highlighting his infrastructure bill after being forced to confront one setback after another, putting his presidency in a perilous position as he approaches one year in office.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The truth is an agenda doesn't wrap up in one year.
COLLINS: A key component of the legislative agenda was brought to a halt after two Democratic senators rejected his call to overhaul Senate rules to pass federal voting laws.
PSAKI: Right now, we are dealing with the realities of the fact that we have a very slim majority in the Senate and in the House. That makes things more challenging than they have been in the past.
COLLINS: Senate Democrats also going after the White House on testing, asking in a new letter why officials didn't act sooner to ramp up supply amid the omicron surge.
Starting next week, the administration will distribute half a billion tests for free nationwide which are expected to take seven to 12 days to ship and are limited to four per household.
This week the centerpiece of Biden's effort to mandate vaccinations was also dismantled by the Supreme Court, alongside a blistering opinion.
PSAKI: We are, of course, immensely disappointed by that decision. It's up to the states and individual employers to put in place vaccination requirements.
COLLINS: On the foreign policy front, Biden's top aides were also unable to convince their Russian counterparts to withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border amid concerns of an incursion.
JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It is certainly the case the threat of military invasion is high.
COLLINS: Meanwhile, the White House is pointing to other markers of a successful first year.
PSAKI: The other way to look at the last year is that 200 million Americans are now vaccinated. More than 80 percent of Americans have received at least one dose. If you look back to a year ago, only about 35 percent of people were willing to do that.
COLLINS: And, Jake, coming off this challenging week for President Biden, Press Secretary Jen Psaki did confirm he will hold a press conference next Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern where, of course, he will face questions on all of this from testing to what's happening in Ukraine. That will come one day before he marks one year in office.
TAPPER: All right. That will be during a special edition of THE LEAD, I guess, next Wednesday at 4:00.
Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.
In our world lead, the Pentagon says it has very credible intelligence indicating that Russia has prepositioned a group of operatives ready to conduct a false flag operation in Eastern Ukraine. This kind of operation in which an attack against Russia is faked by Russians would, therefore, create some pretext for Putin to order a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins me now live.
What more do we know about this group of operatives, and what does it mean for the standoff at the Ukrainian/Russian border?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: What we know according to U.S. officials is these operatives who Russia has allegedly prepositioned in Eastern Ukraine are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives. And they are potentially preparing to carry out attacks of sabotage against Russia's own proxy forces.
And what U.S. officials are telling us is that would preface any invasion using the Russian forces stationed at Ukraine's borders right now because it would give the Kremlin an excuse to say that it was only acting in self-defense and, thereby, justify an invasion. Now, notably, the administration now believes this could lead to that Russian attack and it could result in widespread human rights violations and even war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives.
According to all U.S. officials who have spoken to CNN this week, adding to the apprehension is the fact these diplomatic talks, this week between the U.S., Russian and NATO officials in Europe that have been aimed at de-escalating, as Russia has continued to build up the forces have yielded no breakthroughs. There have been no agreements by the Russians to pull back those forces. So, alongside all of this, the U.S. has seen Russian influence actors
prime Russian audiences for this kind of intervention and that includes by emphasizing narratives about the deterioration of human rights in Ukraine, increasing militancy of Ukrainian leaders, creating this perception that it's dangerous right now in Ukraine for ethnic Russians.
So, all of this is adding up to U.S. officials as a very ominous sign of where things are heading.
TAPPER: And, Natasha, the Biden administration says this is the same playbook Russia used in 2014 for their invasion and annexation of Crimea. How similar is this operation?
BERTRAND: Well, U.S. officials are comparing this to 2014 because Russia used the politically chaotic situation in Ukraine following the ouster of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 to justify that incursion into Crimea. They said that Russia had a duty protect ethnic Russians from the instability and dangerous volatility that Ukraine was experiencing at the time and Vladimir Putin is using similar justifications right now, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much.
And joining me now to discuss is the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Jake, thanks for joining us.
I want to start with your reaction to CNN's reporting that the U.S. has very credible intelligence indicating Russia is preparing a false- flag operation in order to create a semblance of a justification for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. You hinted at this during a briefing yesterday.
How can you be confident the intelligence here is accurate? This is a very strong claim to make about Russia. What's the proof?
SULLIVAN: Well, first, I'm not going to get into the details of the intelligence beyond what has been reported in the press. But I think the most compelling thing, Jake, which anyone who has watched closely in Ukraine or with Russian activities elsewhere on his periphery would tell you is that this is straight out of the Russian playbook. This is what they did in Ukraine in 2014. They've done it in other contexts. And so, it comes as no surprise that they would be planning for the possibility of creating a pretext.
Now I say possibility because, of course, the intelligence community does not yet assess that President Putin has made his decision but they're putting themselves in a position to try to create a circumstance in which they try to put the blame on the Ukrainians when in fact, it's the Russians that are causing the escalation in this situation.
TAPPER: Ukrainian government website says, you know, were targeted in a massive cyberattack overnight. It's not clear yet who is behind the attack. Ukraine is pointing a finger at Putin and Russia.
Do you believe that the Kremlin is to blame?
SULLIVAN: We haven't made an attribution on that and we'd like to be disciplined in the way that we go through the technical specifications of the attack and trace it back to where it came from. As soon as our experts have done that, we'll be prepared to attribute.
I will also say, though, this, too, is part of the Russian playbook to engage in cyber activity of this kind. On the other hand, this was a relatively sophisticated attack. We don't think some of the claims made on the website when they were hacked about all the data getting grabbed and leaked and so forth have borne out yet. So we're still getting to the bottom of it.
TAPPER: The former Ukrainian defense minister wrote in an op-ed for the Atlantic Council this week that, quote, given the right equipment and tactics, Ukraine can dramatically reduce the chances of a successful invasion, unquote.
At what point is the Biden administration prepared to offer military support to Ukraine that goes beyond just defensive capabilities?
SULLIVAN: The focus of our defensive capability equipment, the focus of the assistance that we've provided and that we continue to provide, week by week, is to help the Ukrainians defend themselves. And we believe that that does have a deterrent effect. Does put them in a position, if Russia attacks, to be able to capably and successfully defend themselves.
That's the whole point, Jake, is to put the Ukrainians in a position, not to attack Russia but to defend themselves in the face of a Russian attention and that's the focus of our assistance.
TAPPER: I want to read a quote from "The New York Times." This is by a Russia expert, Lilia Shevtsova, quote: Western partners clearly have yet to work out how to respond to the Kremlin's policy of suspense by forcing the world to guess what Russia is up to and pursuing mutually contradictory policy lines simultaneously. The Kremlin keeps the West disoriented, accustomed to functioning in rational, risk-averse ways. The west doesn't know how to react to such organized chaos.
It's a well-written argument about the fact that we are living in one world determined and predicated on rational acts that Putin is not necessarily in. And that creates a situation where it seems like the U.S. is constantly a step behind Russia and the Biden administration in this case playing defense.
What's your response to that?
SULLIVAN: Look, I think if you go back to October and November, weeks and weeks ago, when we started talking about this, we laid down a very clear, straightforward line and we have stuck to that line day in, day out, week in, week out, no matter what the Russians say or do. And that line involves two basic thrusts.
One thrust is to indicate to the Russians that there will be severe cost to pay if they go ahead in Ukraine, including economic costs, force posturing, capabilities moving east and support to Ukraine. The other thrust is a diplomatic thrust to say that we are prepared, along with our allies and partners to talk about issue issues related to European security.
At this point, we're ready either way. If Russia wants to continue on the path of diplomacy, we're ready to continue on it. If Russia wants to move forward with a military escalation, we're ready to respond.
So my view is that we've had a clear, firm and consistent policy and, in fact, have been out front in raising the alarm about what Russia is doing and clarifying ourselves and our allies what we would do in response.
TAPPER: Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz's legislation to sanction the Nord Stream 2 national gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe was defeated in the Senate, even though a majority of senators supported it. It did not break essentially a Democratic filibuster. Ukraine wanted that bill to pass.
How has the administration defended its decision to Ukraine because we know the State Department was lobbying Democratic senators to vote against the sanctions.
SULLIVAN: I have spoken with my Ukrainian counterpart, the national security adviser of Ukraine seven times in the past month. We've talked about every aspect of this crisis, including Nord Stream 2.
And the answer, Jake, is very simple. We need transatlantic unity in order to stand up effectively to Russia, no matter what they do. And that transatlantic unity rests in no small part on the United States and Germany coming together around a package of severe economic measures if Russia invades.
What kind of sense does it make for us to undermine our relationship with Germany in a decisive way right now when we're trying to build that unity? It makes no sense.
And then, secondly, and this is a critical point for your viewers to understand, there is no gas currently going through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. There will not be for months at least. And we've made clear to the Russians that pipeline is at risk if they move further into Ukraine. That is leverage for us.
You slap sanctions on it right now you take that leverage away. So from our perspective, the right thing to do is to continue on the course we're on right now. There isn't gas flowing through the pipeline. It sits there as leverage for the United States, for Europe and frankly for Ukraine, and we are unified with Germany, our European allies speaking with one voice against Russian aggression.
TAPPER: While I have you, I want to turn to North Korea in the little time we have left. South Korean officials say the North fired two suspected ballistic missiles early today. This comes just days after another ballistic missile launch caused a temporary scramble when it appeared briefly the missile could hit the U.S. the FAA grounded some airplanes on the west coast. Was that urgency just precautionary or is there something new in the intelligence that sparked something as drastic as a ground stop in the U.S.?
SULLIVAN: It was purely precautionary. There was nothing in the information that we have with respect to that launch or any launch that we've seen of late that it threatened the United States. These launches do threaten Republic of Korea, South Korea and Japan, our allies. And we're in close coordination with our allies to make sure that we have a firm response, including sanctions we impose this week.
Look, our goal here, Jake is the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We're prepared to engage in serious and sustain diplomacy to get there but we'll respond firmly if there continue to be these missile launches and provocations.
TAPPER: All right. Jake, I have lots more questions about Iran and China and the Middle East, but I know you have to go. Please come back soon so we can talk more substance.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, thank you.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Some small signs the omicron wave may be retreating from parts of the United States. That's next.
Plus, off the court and on the verge of being kicked out. Tennis star Novak Djokovic is meeting with Australian immigration officials right now after being told to pack his bags.
SULLIVAN: In our health lead, in the Northeast, COVID cases are on the downswing as hospitalizations across the entire country are still surging. Crippling the nation's health care systems, and now FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is helping struggling hospitals by deploying military medical teams to six new states and giving more money and more flexibility to governors who enlist their national guard in this mission.
As CNN's Nick Watt reports, 19 states that have fewer than 15 percent of their ICU beds left -- well, this help cannot come soon enough.
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This administration placed all of their eggs in vaccination.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are doctors who agree with those Democratic senators that the Biden administration has been too reactive to omicron. Not proactive.
DR. BERNARD ASHBY, FLORIDA STATE LEAD, COMMITTEE TO PROTECT HEALTH CARE: We saw South Africa getting ravaged with this virus. We knew it was highly transmissible but we didn't ramp up our testing capacity.
WATT: Reasons to be cheerful, West Virginia's COVID-19 positive governor is feeling better saying, without question, the fact that I chose to get vaccinated and boosted saved my life. That's all there is to it.
And this was the map beginning last week. Cases raising almost everywhere except Maine. Today, there's a lot less deep red, most of the Northeast looking better.
REINER: I'm very encouraged these counts are dropping now in this area. Unmistakably.
WATT: Still, nationwide averaging nearly 800,000 new infections every day. There are now twice as many new infections a day than there are people getting their first vaccine shot. Walgreens and CVS now temporarily closing some stores on weekends due to staff shortages. The National Guard deployed to hospitals in some states and one Maryland school district now asking for guard members to drive school buses.
New York City's new mayor determined to keep schools in person is now open to other options.
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: If we're able to put in place a temporarily remote option, we're welcome to do so.
WATT: And we're still waiting to hear how the Biden administration will get more good masks out there and still waiting for the CDC to give us information that's already out there.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We are preparing an update to the information on our mask website to best reflect the actions that are available to people, as you note and the different levels of protection, different masks provide.
WATT (on camera): But we do now know how you can get your hands on some of those free at-home tests promised by the Biden administration. A website COVID tests.gov launches next Wednesday, but I wouldn't rely on this site for all of your testing needs. It will be limited to four tests per household and once you place your order, we're told it will take 7 to 12 days for those tests to ship -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much.
Joining us now to discuss, Michael Osterholm. He's the director of the Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Thanks for joining us. So you've developed a bit of a reputation for being the voice of doom
and gloom. Not that I should note -- not that your dire predictions have been proven wrong throughout this pandemic. So, let me ask you. Are you seeing any signs of hope at this stage of the pandemic?
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: Well, of course, the news of the cases peaking out and potentially starting to drop in the northeast is very good news. But I think, if anything, I hope my predictions have been reality based and time tested. And I said five weeks ago that we'd be hitting this viral blizzard, which as we are now in.
And I think we still have four more weeks probably as a nation where we're going to see very high levels of cases. We're going to see major, major challenges in our health care system. And as a country, the economy, as we know it. I'm not talking about money economy. I'm talking about critical services, food, pharmaceutical drugs, et cetera will be severely challenged.
TAPPER: You know that there are many states in the country, generally red states, where people, adults, got vaccinated and now are just living their lives. They're not masking. They didn't get their kids vaccinated and they look at people like you and me who see more urgency in this and think we don't know what you're going through or why you're freaking out about this. What do you say to those people?
OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, let's divide the country into two parts. Those that are vaccinated and those unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated. The data are clear and compelling with omicron that those who are fully vaccinated are having a much, much lower risk of either being hospitalized, serious illness or death.
Those not vaccinated, we are still seeing major challenges. Right now, we see in this health care system and in this country, literally challenges, more than we saw in the early surges of what's happening or has happened with COVID. So, it's not as somehow omicron, while often thought as a milder disease, it is on an individual basis, but the overall number of people being infected is so high that we're actually, right now, seeing as many hospitalizations, as many ICU admissions, as we saw during the worst surge that we've had.
TAPPER: So you co-wrote an op-ed in "the Washington Post" about in- person learning for kids. You wrote, safety implies an absence of risk. While we can and must implement tools to make schools safer, we know that transmission can and will occur in these settings, particularly with omicron. Existing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not remedy the situation especially the notion that three feet of distancing can prevent the spread in educational settings.
So assuming that we all agree that it's important for kids to learn in school, given the emotional, psychological and academic damage we saw in the first year or so of the pandemic, what do you think the CDC should be telling schools to do so kids can learn in person in a safe a way as possible? OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, again, let's just take a step back. We all
want kids in school. That's not a debate. We do know that transmission of this virus will occur to kids, by kids, with kids, whether they're in school or at home.
The whole point of what we emphasized there is how do you actually safely run a school if you have 30 to 35 percent of the teachers, the support staff and the bus drivers out. And that's what's been happening all across the country.
And so what we said is just give it three to four weeks. And understand that this is not a semester. This is not for the rest of the year but just common sense should say, if nobody is going to be there in the school to watch over my kid, is that really a safe environment to put them in? And just know we just have to get through this surge.
TAPPER: You mean you have it be virtual for three to four weeks?
OSTERHOLM: Virtual, however we can. There are those who don't do virtual because they believe that gives into their promise that they basically would not hold online learning classes. I think too many politicians have made too many statements, knowing under any condition will we have schools. If we had a big blizzard like we're going to see in large parts of the country, people shut down and feel like somehow that they violated the children's learning experience.
I'm just saying for the next three to four weeks when you have so many teachers, support staff and bus drivers, we don't have any choice. And for parents who say, but I got to work, which I understand, just know we're going to continue to see more and more of the kids sick themselves who will be home with likely sick parents during this next three to four weeks anyway.
TAPPER: Michael Osterholm, thank you so much. Stay warm during the blizzard.
OSTERHOLM: Thank you.
TAPPER: Next, we're going to talk to the governor of the one of the states where the federal government is sending military medical teams to help hospitals. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Sticking with our health lead, states are cutting back services amid crippling staff shortages brought on by the omicron wave. Washington state is halting all non-urgent medical procedures. California is making it easier for schools to hire replacement teachers, and Oregon says the variant has become so widespread that it is outpacing the state's ability to track the spread.
Hoping to provide some relief, the Biden administration announced today that it is giving governors more flexibility to try to use National Guard members to support hospitals.
Here to discuss, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat.
Governor Murphy, you and other governors are on the front line dealing with the omicron wave as hospitalizations reached record highs. How is the Garden State, how is New Jersey dealing with the surge?
GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D), NEW JERSEY: Listen, Jake, good to be back.
First of all, you're getting me after a good couple of days. Good in the context of still 20,000-odd positive tests, just under 6,000 hospitalizations. But the positive tests have begun to creep down. Two days in a row with 100 fewer folks in the hospital than the day before. We've been clobbered, as you know, but it feels like we may be seeing early signs of that light at the end of the funnel.
TAPPER: You've already deployed your state's National Guard to support long-term care facilities and vaccination sites deal with the staffing shortages brought on by the COVID wave. FEMA says that it is expanding flexibility for governors such as yourself to deploy the National Guard to also support hospitals. What other options might that give you?
MURPHY: Well, the National Guard, for moment one in this pandemic has been indispensable. As you rightfully point out, they're now in long- term care facilities and helping vaccines, but the more flexibility you have to deploy the outstanding members, the more alternatives you've got.
And as you rightfully also point out, staffing -- early in the pandemic, in New Jersey at least, the constraining factors were beds, PPE, ventilators.
Today, as we sit here, while the bed numbers are up and all of that is a reality, staffing is the big challenge. So, any amount of resources we can get to come in and back and fill is welcome. And we're doing just that.
TAPPER: Today, several Senate Democrats sent a stinging letter to the White House saying that the Biden administration has fallen short in making testing readily available. President Biden says he's going to purchase an additional 500 million tests, but the tests are needed now.
Why do you think the Biden administration has been so slow on this?
MURPHY: I can't give you an assessment necessarily of that, Jake, but they have been, as far as we're concerned, very reliable partners across the whole spectrum, including testing.
But clearly, listen, omicron is -- every time you think you have this thing figured out, you're humbled. It takes a turn you don't expect and 8 out of 10 of them are negative. And omicron I think just drenched the country in this disease. Perhaps less -- thankfully less lethal but with a lot more cases.
And I suspect that has a lot to do with it. But we welcome whatever steps they're taking right now to get us more tests. We'll take them. I promise you.
TAPPER: So, President Biden also says he's going to deploy military medical teams to six hard-hit states, including New Jersey. Is the Biden administration doing enough to right now in the middle of this wave?
MURPHY: I think so. They're one of the hospitals they're going to is university hospital in Newark, New Jersey. It's the one hospital that the state actually operates. And we needed that help and we deeply appreciate it.
So, whether it's loosening of the National Guard restrictions or that strike team, as you mentioned, testing, vaccine supplies, FEMA has been a great partner. And we needed it, by the way. God knows from moment one would be a strong, robust federal response and for the most part we're getting it.
TAPPER: So the U.S. Supreme Court blocked President Biden's vaccine mandate for large businesses. You have a vaccine mandate in New Jersey, I believe for state employees and for teachers and staff at schools.
Do you have any plans to push a vaccine mandate for private businesses or any other group in New Jersey?
MURPHY: At this moment, no, although the plan the Supreme Court rejected was either a vaccine mandate or a testing option, which is why I'm surprised that they ran afoul of that. I'm with the president on that one.
I think you are clearly going to see this because the Supreme Court upheld the health care mandate. So, yes, you're going to see in New Jersey the reality here as you will everywhere else in hospitals and long-term care. But beyond that, I don't see it in the private sector, but it's strong encouragement to either be vaccinated or testing opt- out and I suspect that will continue to be the case.
TAPPER: All right, Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, our thoughts are with the people of New Jersey. Thanks for being with us.
MURPHY: Thanks for having me, Jake.
TAPPER: Right now, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic is meeting with Australian immigration officials after he was told to pack his bags again.
Stay with us.
[16:42:06] TAPPER: Some breaking news for you on our sports lead right now, in moments, unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic is going to be detained in a, quote, undisclosed location after the number one seed in the Australian open got his visa revoked for a second time over his refusal to get the life-saving vaccine.
Joining us now from Melbourne, Australia, CNN's Phil Black.
Phil, Djokovic right now meeting with immigration officials. Is that right?
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, under the terms agreed in court late last night. This hour, Djokovic is handing himself over to Australian officials. He'll be allowed to visit his lawyer's office under close guard.
But tonight, once again, Novak Djokovic will be sleeping in an Australian detention center.
BLACK (voice-over): The latest volley landing this match in court, served by Australia's immigration minister Alex Hawke, canceling Novak Djokovic's visa a second time, citing health and good order grounds on the basis it was in the public interest to do so.
In a quickly convened court hearing, Djokovic's lawyer claimed the minister's reasoning is very different from everything argued in this case so far. The underlying new rationale is not a direct risk to others. It's that Mr. Djokovic, being in Australia and Melbourne in particular, will excite anti-vax sentiment. That's the point, a radically different approach.
The matter will likely be heard in a court in detail on Sunday, keeping alive Djokovic's hopes of a quick legal win, which would allow him to play in Monday's opening round of the Australian Open.
But no player has ever prepared for a grand slam title like this. Once again, the world's number one tennis player must spend the weekend detained by Australia's border force.
ABUL RIZVI, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY, AUSTRALIA DEPARTMENT OF IMMIGRATION: Cancellation means mandatory detention.
BLACK: Abul Rizvi is a former senior official in Australia's immigration department. He says politically the Australian government had no choice but to try again. But it's a high-stakes move.
Because there's the possibility that if they push through with this, they lose and that means more humiliation.
RIZVI: Yes, they'll be very aware that legally, they could lose this case and that would be truly embarrassing. It would be a really bad look. I mean, the real implication is how badly Australia looks in the eyes of the world if it loses a second court case.
BLACK: One immigration lawyer says the minister's powers are wide and not easily changed.
MARIA JOCKEL, IMMIGRATION LAWYER: They would have to articulate very strong grounds that the minister made a jurisdictional error and under Australian immigration laws, I believe that would be a difficult hurdle for them to jump.
BLACK: This unprecedented saga may finally be approaching a resolution, one that could carry powerful consequences for Australian politics and the career of one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
BLACK (on camera): Jake, the insight we've had so far suggests the coming legal debate will be very different to what we've heard before. No one is going to be talking about whether Djokovic was writing, thinking he could enter the country unvaccinated because he recently recovered from COVID-19. Instead the focus is going to be whether or not Djokovic is a risk to the Australian public or might be a risk to the Australian public because his presence here could encourage other vaccine skeptics -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Phil Black in Melbourne, Australia, for us -- thanks so much.
Millions of people are about to get walloped by Mother Nature who has a massive winter storm. What is being done to make sure drivers don't sit on the highway for 27-plus hours again?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Our national lead, a powerful winter storm is about to hit around half the country. We're talking heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain. Virginia notably is taking note deploying crews now to pre-treat the roads. You'll recall that storm not long ago with the inadequate Virginia response, the one that had drivers stranded on I-95 upwards of 24 hours.
CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking what's to come.
Jennifer, this new system could also be crippling.
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, it really could. And I do think when the system is said and done, the ice component to this is what people really are going to be talking about. You can see that ice storm warning now into effect across portions of South Carolina. That has just happened within the last hour.
But more than 50 million people under winter storm warnings, weather advisories for this winter storm. So right now, you can see the snow is already coming down in places like Iowa where they could see 6 to 12 inches of snow. And this system is really just going to dive due south and a lot of
these areas will get rain, and it will switch to a wintry mix and then they'll get snow and then as the system reaches the south and southeast, that's where the forecast gets even more tricky, because just a difference of a couple of degrees can mean the difference if someone is going to get all rain, frozen precipitation, meaning freezing rain or snow.
So it is going to be sometimes just a game time call is what determines what we're going to get. You can see through north Louisiana, potential for icing through places like Atlanta could get some sleet, freezing rain and then possibly a switch over to snow.
But across South Carolina and even North Carolina, that's really where we're going to be watching for ground zero. We're talking about the icing potential. We're talking about roads will be completely impossible to travel on.
We could see downed trees, downed power lines. That means power outages at a time we're going to see freezing temperatures, temperatures well below freezing after this passes. And so that could be trouble for this region.
Snowfall continuing on Sunday on the back side of this. Then it crawls up the I-95 corridor. I do think the I-95 corridor in the big cities will mostly be rain. Could get a quick shot of snow on the front end but mostly rain.
So, here are the ice totals through Sunday. You can see the different forecast models still not agreeing completely. But even if we go on the low end, see outside of Charlotte, forecasting half inch to three quarters of an inch of ice, that's enough to just devastate a city and also weigh down those power lines. It only takes about half an inch of ice to add 500 pounds to a power line.
TAPPER: Jennifer, in last -- in the previous storm, transportation officials said they could not pre-treat the roads because the rainfall before the snow would have washed it away. Quickly if you can, is that going to be an issue this time?
GRAY: I think so. I think it will be an issue. You're going to have rain and then it's quickly going to be switching over. You have a small, small window of time to get that treatment on the road.
I was talking to somebody from Minnesota Department of Transportation. They were telling me that you have to be pre-staged and ready to get those plows out but some of these cities in the south, Atlanta, for example, we only have about 40 plows. So that's not near enough to cover the entire city in a short amount of time, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jennifer Gray, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Just moments ago, two of the Oath Keepers went before a federal judge arraigned on the most serious charges yet for the insurrection, seditious conspiracy. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, for the third time in two weeks, the United States is facing ballistic threats just hours after North Korea threatens a stronger reaction, they fire two more ballistic missiles.
Plus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just tried to clarify its mask recommendations, but they may have missed the mark. What do you need to know about masks and how to spot fake ones?
And leading this hour, the wheels of justice turning. The leader of the far right extremist group, the Oath Keepers, and another member of the group make their appearances in federal court. Both arraigned on the most serious charges to date in relation to January 6th, seditious conspiracy.
Prosecutors allege the Oath Keepers armed themselves for battle and coordinated a plan to go to war in order to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power. We've also learned these charges almost didn't happen. People briefed on the matters say Attorney General Merrick Garland initially balked at the higher charges but over time, the overwhelming evidence changed his mind.
The charging documents allege in stunning detail extensive planning by these 11 defendants from encrypted communications to purchases of weapons and tactical gear, paramilitary training, even a plot to dock a boat near the Capitol. A boat loaded with weapons.
CNN's Paula Reid starts us off with the case prosecutors are building.