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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Leader Of Oath Keepers In Court On Seditious Conspiracy Charge; Biden Faces Tough Setbacks In Court, Congress, Pandemic & Economy; Manchin, Sinema Reject Changing Senate Rules For Election Reform; Biden Faces Tough Setbacks In Courts, Congress, Pandemic & Economy; North Korea Launches Third Ballistic Missile Test This Month; Virgin Orbit Launches 7 Satellites From Under The Wing Of A 747; CNN: Former Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu Negotiating Plea Deal Which Could Bar Him From Political Office. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A boat loaded with weapons. CNN's Paula Reid starts us off this hour with the case prosecuting -- prosecutors are building.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The leader of the Oath Keepers, Stuart Rhodes, made an initial appearance in court today in Texas as one of the first people charged with seditious conspiracy related to the U.S. Capitol attack.

JONATHAN MOSELEY, ATTORNEY FOR OATH KEEPERS LEADER STEWART RHODES: Even the government says that they're accused him of an organizational role. They admit that they did not commit any violence. They did not hurt any police officers. They did not damage any property, but they're charging them as being conspirators. The organizers are aiders and abettors, that sort of thing.

REID (voice-over): But a detailed indictment lays out a sprawling, methodical plot to disrupt the counting of 2020 electoral votes starting in the days after the election when Rhodes allegedly told his supporters, "We aren't getting through this without a civil war."

Prosecutors allege Rhodes and his 10 codefendants traveled from across the country to D.C. with stockpiled weapons, ammunition and other tactical equipment. Video from January 6 captures Oath Keepers wearing military gear forcing their way into the building in a military stack formation. Prosecutors say the group even stationed "quick reaction forces outside D.C." to rush into the Capitol if needed. And that Rhodes was planning for violence well beyond January 6.

Rhodes' estranged wife also spoke to CNN.

TASHA ADAMS, ESTRANGED WIFE OF STEWART RHODES: He sees himself as a great leader. He almost has his own mythology of himself. And I think he almost made it come true as seeing himself as some sort of figure in history. REID (voice-over): Meanwhile, some Trump allies like Senate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are refusing to voluntarily cooperate with the House Select Committee investigating January 6, even though McCarthy previously supported an investigation and said that President Trump admitted responsibility for the attack. CNN surfacing this interview from shortly after the riot.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I say he has responsibility. He told me personally that he does have some responsibility. I think a lot of people do.

REID (voice-over): Yet on Thursday, McCarthy said he could not recall such conversations.

MCCARTHY: I'm not sure what call you're talking about.

REID (voice-over): But other Trump allies are willing to talk. On Thursday, former New York City Police Commissioner and close ally of Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, spoke with the committee virtually for over eight hours. And today, former Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller also spoke with investigators.


REID: CNN has learned that Attorney General Merrick Garland was initially reluctant to bring the weirdly use seditious conspiracy charge. But people briefed on the matter say federal investigators spent months building the case with help from cooperators, internal communications among the Oath Keepers and Rhodes himself, even provided an interview to the FBI. And if convicted, the charge carries up to 20 years in prison. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Paul Reid, thank you so much.

Let's go now to CNN's Ed Lavandera in Plano, Texas, just outside Dallas, where the leader of the Oath Keepers, a far right group just appeared in court.

Ed, you were able to watch this hearing. Walk us through what happened.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a brief hearing. Stuart Rhodes showing up in a dark t shirt and jeans before the judge. He waived his right to have the 48 page indictment read out loud in the courtroom. But attorneys for Stuart Rhodes say right now they are focused on getting him out of jail while he awaits trial.

And the judges announced that next Thursday they will hold a detention hearing where both sides, prosecutors and defense attorneys, can present evidence to determine whether or not Stewart Rhodes will be held in jail and confined until his trial. He's facing five federal criminal counts, including that charge of seditious conspiracy. All of these face up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted.

Rhodes appeared very calm, kind of unfazed by everything that was going on, even as he was standing there in the courtroom shackled in handcuffs today. Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Joining us now, George Conway, a conservative lawyer, husband, of course, of Kellyanne Conway who was counselor to former President Donald Trump. George was considered, at one point, to -- for the role of solicitor general.

George, the Justice Department is filing its most serious charges yet in its investigation into the January 6 attack, seditious conspiracy charges against 11 attendance. It's a very high bar to prove in court. What do you make of the filing?

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, the filing is extraordinary in the amount of detail that it provides. I mean, an incredible amount of work had to have gone in by the FBI and by the U.S. Attorney's Office to prepare this indictment. Contains a lot more evidence than you ever actually need to charge somebody.


And what it shows, though, is that the seditious conspiracy charges fit like a glove here. I mean they were clearly -- what seditious conspiracy prohibits is a conspiracy to, by force, either overthrow the government or to undermine or hinder and delay the execution of any law of the United States. And that includes the laws in particular here that were cited in the indictment, which are the 12th and 20th amendments of the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, all of which guarantee the peaceful transfer of power. And it's clear that this was a long conspiracy designed to affect you -- to delay, if not prevent, the transfer of power. It goes to the heart of our democracy.

TAPPER: We should note, Stewart Rhodes entered a not guilty plea in court today. I want to play a part of the defense for Rhodes that came from his attorney who spoke to CNN today. Take a listen.


MOSELEY: I want to see the entire documents because the planning was about events in Florida, it was about December 12, it was about November 14, and it was about their somewhat fanciful idea that they thought the president was going to call them up under the Insurrection Act, which I don't pretend to understand. But they were quite fixated on the idea that Trump was going to activate them as a militia under the Insurrection Act. And so, we think that most of the quotes are misrepresented.


TAPPER: What do you make of that defense, George?

CONWAY: Well, it's basically he's hanging his own clients with the rope that he's dangling because he's basically saying, if they were there falling for -- with the -- conspiring to use force, because there's no legal way that Donald Trump could have authorized them to use force on behalf of himself in order to maintain power illegally. So, it's just, I mean, the fact that he's, you know, he's admitting what's the core element of the indictment, which is that these guys were stashing weapons away in a motel in Boston right across the river from Washington ready and had something called a quick reaction force, they call it in a fake military jargon, to bring these people across the river and to commit violence. So, it was a conspiracy to do -- to commit sedition by force, which is exactly what the statute prohibits.

TAPPER: So prosecutors say that the day Trump was projected to have lost the election in 2020, Rhodes wrote in a chat, quote, "We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election, refuse to accept it, and march en-mass on the nation's Capitol."

You know, that lie, the stolen election lie, is the same rhetoric Trump repeats to this day. Why do you think Republicans on Capitol Hill and on other news stations, MAGA media, loyal to Trump? Why do you think they're so unwilling to call him out and put an end to this lie, which is obviously, and we all said it before January 6, dangerous?

CONWAY: Right. Well, first of all, they're afraid of him, they're afraid of his ability to mobilize the base against them and cause them to face primary opponents. And secondly, the more they talk about it, the more they will show -- they don't want to show how closely aligned the President of the United States was with people such as these Oath Keepers because they were trying to accomplish exactly what he was trying to accomplish, which was to stop, delay or hinder the electoral college vote count, and therefore allow him, it wouldn't have worked, but allow him to stay in office. They were trying to accomplish the same thing, which is essentially to overthrow the Constitution.

TAPPER: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is now refusing to speak with the January 6 committee. He claims he has nothing else to offer them what he said publicly. CNN's K file found an interview that McCarthy did with the California radio station the week after the insurrection. Take a listen.


MCCARTHY: Look, I spoke to the president during the riot. I was the first person to call him. I told him to go on national T.V., tell these people to stop it. He said he didn't know what was happening. Went to the news then to work through that.

I asked the president if has any responsibility. You know what? The President does. But you know what? All of us do. He didn't say, go get the members. What he did rally. I say he has responsibility. He told me personally that he does have some responsibility.


TAPPER: My sources tell CNN that McCarthy also made similar comments to Republicans privately. But Manu Raju asked him yesterday and McCarthy says he doesn't remember any phone call, what is Manu talking about? What do you make of McCarthy going to such great lengths to avoid telling the truth whether to the committee or to the American people?


CONWAY: Yes. Well, he's either lying or you need to see a very, very good neurologist because he's got an incredible case of amnesia. That's a conversation no one could ever possibly forget.

And, you know, his willingness to lie is akin to basically Trump's willingness to lie, and the entire, you know, a lot of the Republicans in the House that are willing now to lie about what happened on January 6. And Trump is saying that November 3 was the real insurrection. And that it was a great people and patriots and people who were ushered in, lovingly by the police, I mean, you know, there is just this huge fantasy world that Trump and McCarthy and others are creating about January 6, which is every bit, you know, it's another set of lies, every bit as bad as, if not worse than the election lie that started it all. It's just a total fantasy world. And they're just -- there's a fear of acknowledging the truth because the truth does not shed good light on them to say the least.

TAPPER: All right. George Conway, good to see you again. It's been too long. Come back and talk to us more.

CONWAY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Any moment, the CDC could start pushing higher quality masks like the N95. Coming up next, we're going to take a look at why those kinds of masks work better. And what you need to know to avoid buying a fake one.

Plus, President Biden probably cannot wait for this week to be over from the Supreme Court to Democrats. It's been a bad week stay with us.



TAPPER: There's a breaking news for you. In our health lead right now, the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just moments ago put out new updated information for masking that headline, "Wear the most protective masks you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently," unquote.

There remain a lot of questions why are certain masks best? How much should we spend on a mask? How often should we replace them? How do we even know if it's fake?

Thankfully, we have CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta with answers to your questions.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the United States, we are being drenched with Omicron a variant so contagious that it is caused daily cases to double in the past two weeks. Now, just like you would put on a better raincoat in a bad storm, we need better masks more than ever. Our best bet, an N95 mask.

AARON COLLINS, MECHANICAL ENGINEER: You're going to wear a mask, wear the best mask possible.

GUPTA (voice-over): Aaron Collins, a self-proclaimed mask nerd is a mechanical engineer with a background in aerosol science.

A. COLLINS: There are significant improvement in the amount of aerosol that you're going to be exposed to when everyone's wearing N95 and you're wearing N95. That's why they're such a powerful tool.

GUPTA (on camera): I think it's worth reminding people why exactly they work so well. It has to do with the actual material, there are electrostatically charged fibers in here. So it's not just filtering particles, it's actually attracting particles. Kind of like a blanket, might attract your socks in the dryer. Also, it works well not just for air that's potentially coming in, but also for air that's potentially going out.

Now one key thing about the N95 masks is you got to make sure they actually fit really well. Having these two bands around the back of your head, and then making sure no air is escaping around your eyes or your cheeks or your chin.

(voice-over): Studies have shown that cloth masks can have about 75 percent leakage, a surgical mask 50 percent. But with an N95, it can go down to as low as 1 percent. Even with the CDC's updated mass guidance, there is still no explicit recommendation to wear an N95. However, on Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a step in the right direction.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Next week we'll announce how we are making high quality masks available to American people for free.

GUPTA (voice-over): If you buy your own, the average cost of an N95 is just under $2, that's according to project N95, a nonprofit dedicated to educating people about high filtration masks. But how to pick the right one can be bewildering. There are more than 6000 different models of NIOSH approved respirators. NIOSH being the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that evaluates safety equipment like masks.

KELLY CAROTHERS, DIRECTOR OF GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, PROJECT N95: It's an incredibly difficult market for consumers to navigate. And unfortunately in this circumstance, bad information could cost someone their life.

GUPTA (voice-over): Kelly Carothers is the director of government affairs at Project 95. The problem she says is that counterfeits have infiltrated the market. You can find a list of NIOSH approved products on the CDC's website.

But here's some of the things to look for. Remember those head straps, NIOSH approved N95s are always going to have head straps instead of ear loops. And the mask itself will say NIOSH, along with the manufacturer name and an identifying number starting with TC.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: If you can tolerate an N95, do it. If you want to get a KN95, fine. Wearing any mask is better than no mask at all. But there is a gradation of capability of preventing you from getting infected and from you transmitting it to someone else. So we should be wearing the best possible masks that we can get.

GUPTA (voice-over): The KN95 Dr. Fauci just mentioned, they're another type have high filtration mask. But finding the right one of these can be even trickier. That's because KN95 is a Chinese standard, meaning none of these are currently approved in the United States. Even worse, the CDC says about 60 percent of these masks are fakes. Yes, even the ones you buy online.


CAROTHERS: There's no way to tell if a manufacturer has met those qualifications or not. It is very difficult for someone to discern whether or not it's a safe mask.

GUPTA (voice-over): Now, that doesn't mean all KN95s are bad, but it does mean you're going to have to do more homework, such as checking to see if the manufacturer has a valid lab report.

A. COLLINS: We recommend better hyper filtration mask. And we need a mask standard a general public mask standard so that we can cover all of the range of mask that people want to use. We can go back to pretty much normal, quote unquote, "life," if we all had really good respirators.

GUPTA (voice-over): Something so simple that could help us slow the pandemic.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Sanjay to that report.

Too little too late, that's what members of the Senate are calling the White House's plan for free COVID tests and masks. And this scathing critique is coming from a bunch of Democrats. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead today, President Biden eager to reset the narrative today after a brutal week of defeats and bad news. The President touting the success of his bipartisan infrastructure bill and making clear he was able to achieve something that eluded his predecessors. Joining us live to discuss, CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Kaitlan, President Biden obviously campaign making the argument that he had the chops to handle a lot of crises at once, and that he knew how to make deals in Washington. And this week, put a lot of that to the test.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And he's got this press conference coming up next week, Jake. And I was looking back and thinking about his first formal press conference last March, of course, shortly after he had taken office, and he was talking about the fact that he believed, you know, he could make deals because he knew the Senate so well, because he's served there for over three decades. And we've seen just how much of a challenge the Senate makeup currently, as it stands now, has been for President Biden.

And of course, just this week, when it comes to the voting rights legislation that was brought basically completely to a halt with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema saying, yes, they don't support the President's call to make an exception to the filibuster to get voting rights legislation passed. And so, I think you're just seeing the challenge for President Biden. And the White House is openly acknowledging that yes, his domestic agenda and his legislative agenda is being hampered by those incredibly slim majorities that they have.

TAPPER: And Manu, on Capitol Hill, the Biden's agenda is in bad shape, at least right now he's push for election reform doesn't seem to be going anywhere, the -- especially because there aren't the votes to get rid of the filibuster for them. The future of his economic agenda, Build Back Better appears bleak. And yet, Biden administration says they're going to keep fighting. Is there a path forward for either election reform or Build Back Better?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not on the election bill. And, Jake, that had been clear for months that there was no path to get that through. Republicans had no interest in the Democrats proposals here. They were not going to get 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema have been abundantly clear for some time they would not support any sort of exception to allow this to pass and change the filibuster rules to do just that. But inexplicably to some Democrats and a lot of Republicans, the administration and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, have made this front and center and their agenda knowing full well that the votes simply are not there.

I asked Chuck Schumer earlier this week, why go through this when you know, you don't have the votes on this election overhaul bill? He said, we need to have the vote and show where we are. So they will still have that vote next week. It will fail in this issue, electoral reform is going to be pushed aside.

Now that Build Back Better plan, Jake, is on life support. Joe Manchin told me he had that -- there's been no discussions on this issue since before Christmas. Now he did go to the White House last night.

But even though getting him on board would require a lot of compromise trying to get liberals on board. They're going to move closer to the midterm election season. And it just uncertain how that can come together and get everybody on the same page over the next couple of months.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, the Biden administration is facing intense scrutiny from a group of Senate Democrats over the shortage of COVID tests. Not good timing.

K. COLLINS: Yes. This has been a real weak spot for the White House where even members of the President's own party have said, why didn't you ramp up test sooner than this? Well, we are having this shortage happening right now. Sending this letter to the White House today asking Jeff Zients, who is the President's COVID coordinator for answers on that and what went wrong with testing which, of course has been a focal point here at the White House for the last several weeks since the Omicron surge took over the United States. And it became quite clear how difficult it was to get your hands on a test.

And so, when you talk to the administration about this, they will openly acknowledge, President Biden himself saying they should have ordered more tests sooner than they did.

Of course, we should note, next week, that website where you can get a free test is launching. Though, there will still be a bit of a delay because they're estimating about seven to 12 days between when you order that test and when it actually gets shipped out to you.

TAPPER: And Manu, I saw an article about Bill Clinton recommending, hey, Joe Manchin, just pick the parts of the Build Back Better law that you like, and then the Senate can pass that. And then Democrats have something to run on both the achievement, whatever that is, free daycare or whatever. And then also they can run in campaign on the stuff they didn't get. Why is that not on the table?

RAJU: I think that could be on the table. But it's still uncertain exactly where Joe Manchin is. And if he even wants this bill, Jake, he's been concerned that spending to the level that Democrats want even much less than what Democrats want still could be too high for him, given his concerns over the debt and inflation and his fundamental belief that these programs that they're going to try to make on a temporary basis, maybe fund them for two years.

He believes it would go for 10 years or permanent, the funded and so it would not actually reflect the true nature to the taxpayer if they were to only provide a couple of years of benefits under the Democrats proposals here. So there's still some philosophical differences between Joe Manchin and many in his party, and that's what's going to be very difficult to bridge here.

But they will try again, Jake, they'll try to get something together. But as we get closer to midterm election season, and with the President's approval numbers, slumping, it's going to get harder and harder to legislate and get his party on the same page.

TAPPER: All right, Manu, Kaitlan, thanks to both of you. Let's discuss. Van Jones, I want to start with you in that letter from a group of Senate Democrats criticizing the testing shortage. It was signed by Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. What do you make of this public criticism from Democrats of Biden?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you want a friend in D.C., get a dog. I mean, it's not -- the Republican Party has a leader that is not always loved, but it's always feared. Democrats have a president who's loved and he's -- Joe Biden is beloved in this party, but he's not feared.

What we are seeing now is a party that is willing to defy this President on his worst week, kick him when he's down. And that's very bad sign for where Joe Biden is politically. There's only one way for him to go down, which is up. But if you want a friend in politics in D.C., get a dog.

TAPPER: Scott Jennings, the White House is walking back to a degree. President Biden's comments earlier this week comparing opponents of election reform and filibuster changes to pass election reform to Jefferson Davis and Bull Connor and George Wallace. Here's Jen Psaki today.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everybody listening to that speech who's speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans, he was comparing the choice to those figures in history, and where they're going to position themselves if they -- as they determine whether they're going to support the fundamental right to vote or not.


TAPPER: What do you make of it?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, with all due respect to our good friend, Jen, and I mean that with all sincerity, I mean, if you're not comparing them on a human level, how -- I mean, what are you comparing them to? They're humans who did terrible things that made terrible choices and had, you know, terrible views. And Joe Biden was casting anyone who disagrees with him as though they were them. I mean, it absolutely --

TAPPER: Or their side. He says you're -- on their side is what he said. Yes.

JENNINGS: Yes. And that's not a side I would want to be on. If you're looking to line up histories of people that you don't want to be on their side, I guess I'd put those people on that side. Jen is constantly in a position where she's having to walk back Joe Biden's comments or say, well, here's what he really meant. It happens all the time. And it's been happening since he took office.

And so, I -- what I make of it is, is that this is a White House that thought they hit a home run and quickly realized that this was a massive swing and a miss by Joe Biden. And it's seriously damaged him. I think in Washington, also out in greater America, I think this thing went over like a lead balloon politically, and they now know it.

TAPPER: And Van, that language definitely didn't win over Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, the Democrats that have been reluctant to change the filibuster rules, even though they support the election reform bills. It didn't work to change their mind on changing the filibuster rules. Is there any sort of viable path forward with any sort of election reform do you think?

JONES: Look, I should hope so. I mean, I hope at some point, people can take a deep breath and step back and look at where we are. We're now in a situation where both sides don't have confidence in our election system.

You have Democrats who are concerned about voter suppression, gerrymandering and voter subversion. You have Republicans that are concerned about voter fraud. That's an opportunity to come together and get something done positively.

Unfortunately, where we are right now, I think the President felt that he needed to signal very strongly to the African American base that he was doing all that he could and he understood of the frustration there. I think he's crossed that bridge, he's checked that box. But we're now still in the same situation, but possible double legitimacy crisis, neither side accepting the election or feeling good about it. There's work to be done to bring people together.

TAPPER: Scott, obviously, there was an effort to overturn the election by Trump and his minions in 2020 and leading up through the inauguration of Joe Biden. Obviously, there are efforts right now to, at the state level, for Trump allies to be elected or appointed to positions so that who knows, maybe they will not allow legal votes to be counted.


Do you think there's any path -- because I'm sure Senator McConnell does not support such measures -- do you think there's any path to any legislation that would prevent what happened in 2020 -- what almost happened in 2020, from being successful in 2024, something that McConnell could support?

JENNINGS: Yes, I do, actually. And I'm looking back at the infrastructure bill model, as I think about what could be possible. You know, when that whole bill started out, they had Build Back Better and infrastructure together. And then ultimately, it was split, and they split off what could pass in a bipartisan majority. And that was the infrastructure bill.

I think what actually has bipartisan support in Washington right now is reforming the Electoral Count Act, which would essentially raise the threshold or eliminate the possibility altogether that Congress could up and a legitimate Electoral College count as was attempted, by the way, in January. And so if you want to find something where I think you have broad support, and it could be done right now and signed into law and be germane to what happened on January the 6th, that's it. And I think you would find Republican support for it.

TAPPER: All right, Scott and Van, good to see both of you. Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to CNN State of the Union. I'm going to be talking to the House Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn, also Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Texas Republican Congressman Mike McCaul. That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern only on CNN.

Coming up, saber-rattling sending ripples across the Pacific but instead of swords, it's North Korea's missiles raising alarms across the globe. Why the latest aggression surprise the U.S.? That's next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, new provocations from North Korea, the Kim Jong-un regime firing two suspected short-range ballistic missiles overnight. It's their third missile launch in just the last two weeks. It comes after North Korea threatened to respond to any new U.S. sanctions with, quote, stronger and certain reaction."

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now live from the Pentagon. Oren, this latest test comes on the heels of Tuesday's launch, which caused a bit of a scramble among U.S. officials. Tell us about that.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It did, Jake, that's because the initial telemetry readings. Essentially the data and the information on where this thing was going suggested it may have been briefly an ICBM that could have threatened either the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska or perhaps even the West Coast. Now that was quickly revised with more information either from something like infrared satellites or from radar. And the U.S. realize this was not a threat to the U.S. or to its territory.

But in that brief window there, the FAA issued a ground stop for just about 15 minutes for some airports on the West Coast. That was quickly removed and the FAA hasn't issued a statement other than this is a precautionary measure which we take somewhat often. But this is really not something you see very often, ground stops even if only regional are pretty serious steps. The FAA says they're reviewing the decision making process that went into that.

TAPPER: And Oren, North Korea claims that Tuesday's launch was a hypersonic missile. What are U.S. officials saying about that?

LIEBERMANN: Well, the only official U.S. statement about it so far has been that they're assessing what this was and what it wasn't. We haven't gotten more information from that openly. But we have spoken with U.S. officials who have told CNN as well as analysts that this does appear to be a more of a maneuverable re-entry vehicle, essentially a type of hypersonic weapon. It doesn't have the gliding ability, the range, the maneuverability of some other hypersonic weapons, but it does have some of that. And that shows pretty significant advances in North Korea's weapons technology and where they're going with this.

Now, just after this, the U.S. issued sanctions against North Koreans and Russians for essentially working on the ballistic missile program there but North Korea remains defiant saying there's -- they'll still keep pushing on all of this.

TAPPER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.

He's one of the billionaires launching himself and others into space but that's not the only thing Sir Richard Branson is sending above the Earth. Sir Richard will join us next.



TAPPER: In our outs of this world lead, satellites, those machines flying tens of thousands of feet above the earth are a crucial piece of our everyday comforts including GPS or access to thousands of TV channels, accurate weather predictions. And now the Spaceflight giant Virgin Galactic is going small. Virgin Orbit, the new spinoff company and brainchild of Sir Richard Branson, fired off its third successful mission to put several small satellites into orbit Thursday afternoon.

Joining us now, Virgin Orbit founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. Sir Richard, let me start with you. First of all, what will the satellites be doing?

SIR RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN ORBIT: Oh, and they will be doing a lot of different things. They will be monitoring agriculture as one thing. They will be -- the Minister of Defense will be putting satellites up to make sure that, you know, should satellites be knocked down in certain parts of the world, they can be replaced quickly.

And so the exciting thing about Virgin Orbit is it can, you know, fly to anywhere in the world. It can launch into any orbit at any time. And that's the first time that that has happened. It's now done it three times in a row very successfully. And so I think, you know, people who need to get satellites up there now know that they have this option that any country in the world can now launch satellites through Virgin Orbit.

TAPPER: And Dan, Virgin Orbit's retrofitted 747 shoots the satellites in rockets from under the wing of the plane. It sounds a little dangerous. Walk us through the preparation and safety measures for launching these small pieces of tech.

DAN HART, CEO, VIRGIN ORBIT: We're ready to -- the rocket and the airplane on the ground and we make sure everything is good to go and healthy. We fly the 747 out to sea to make sure that when the rocket flies, it's in a safe place. We verify that it's good to go. And then we release the rocket.

The rocket waits a certain number of seconds before it lights its engines and then it goes active and climbs up. So every single part of the process is monitored and is designed for a safe successful flight.


And I will add that this flight that we just did could not have been done with a ground launch rocket in California. Both the orbit that we achieved was the first time this orbit has ever been achieved from Western United States. And the weather conditions were such that a ground launch rocket would have been grounded.

TAPPER: And Richard in November, Russia blew up one of their own satellites as a test, it was widely condemned as reckless, because the operation created so much space debris. There are thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth at this very moment. Why launch more?

BRANSON: Well, just to let you know, one of the satellites that we put up yesterday is designed to mop up debris in space, and that's one of the jobs that, you know, people who are, you know, working with us are working hard on to make sure that if there is any debris created in space, that it can be got rid of. Why do we need more satellites? We need more satellites for connectivity, for monitoring rain forests, for monitoring illegal fishing, to monitoring agriculture.

I mean, there's incredible amounts of benefits for mankind back here on Earth. And, space is big. So there's, you know, there's still plenty of room for a lot more satellites.

The other thing is that with low Earth orbit satellites, they will come out of the -- out of space every five years. They need to be replaced. And that's one of the other big advantages of Virgin Galactic -- sorry, Virgin Obit has, having a Virgin Atlantic 7.7 converted, you know, to be able to just take off a 24-hour notice to replace satellites that have fallen out.

TAPPER: And Dan, SpaceX is also launching these small satellites on a larger scale, though, in a sort of rocket ride share. Would it be more cost-effective to send a big batch of satellites up all at once, like SpaceX or if not, why not?

HART: Well, if you want to look at an analogy, I mean, it's a difference between an A380 that is flying everybody from New York to Paris versus, you know, point-to-point transportation in aircraft where business jets and smaller jets need to take people where they want to get to, when they want to get there. The same for satellites. I mean, they have businesses that they need to get revenue, generating assets on board for.

They don't have time to wait. They don't all need to go to the same place. As I mentioned, we went to a very special orbit yesterday. And they don't want to drift in space for long periods of time. And so it really kind of is the difference between a business jet or a 737 and an A380.

TAPPER: And Richard --

HART: Time is money.

TAPPER: Richard, NASA just released a report showing ocean temperatures hit a record high in 2021. It was also the 45th year in a row with a warmer than normal global temperature. I'm sure you've heard the criticism that rich guys like yourself are flying your rockets into space while people on Earth are suffering from the climate disaster. How do you respond?

BRANSON: Well, I mean, it used to be incredibly expensive to the environment to put people into space. We have actually brought the environmental cost of putting somebody into space to around about the same price as a London to New York and back flights on Virgin Atlantic. So it's a dramatic decrease in carbon output.

But, you know, but the other major thing is that, you know, the technology that goes into creating these ventures, I mean, we have 1,000 engineers roughly working on Virgin Galactic, another 1,000 working on Virgin Orbit. Dramatically better and it will do so. And it may even, you know, be the answer to some of the, you know, some of the big problems back when it is the answer to a lot of the big problems back here on earth. But they may also be, you know -- sorry, leftover COVID -- new breakthrough technologies that will come as a result of it.

TAPPER: Glad you're feeling better. Sir Richard Branson, Dan Hart, Sir Richard, thank you so much appreciate your time.

In our world lead, Benjamin Netanyahu's long political career may be over for good. Sources tell CNN that the former Israeli Prime Minister is discussing a possible plea deal with Israeli prosecutors. The deal would see Netanyahu given community service after he pleads guilty to corruption charges.

A key sticking point in the negotiations is the length of service. If it's longer than three months, prosecutors can insist that the sentence carry with it the stain of moral turpitude, which would bar the 72-year-old from politics for seven years. Netanyahu who was the longest serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel. He held the office for 15 years.


Coming up, tennis star Novak Djokovic is now detained in Australia a second time. Bob Costas will join Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room ahead. I will see you Sunday morning.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The most high profile defended in the January 6th investigation pleads not guilty to a very rare and serious charge of seditious conspiracy. We'll have the latest on the hearing for the leader of the far-right, Oath Keepers, and on the U.S. Justice Department's case against him.