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The Lead with Jake Tapper
New Satellite Images Suggest Mass Graves Outside Mariupol; Ukraine: Russia Intensifies Military Campaign In Eastern Ukraine; Biden Announces Another $800 Million In Aid For Ukraine; Ukrainians Begin To Return Home To A Country Still At War; DOJ Appeals Federal Ruling On Transportation Mask Mandate; NYT: McCarthy, McConnell Privately Blasted Trump After Jan. 6. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired April 21, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Someone tell Putin this is not what liberation looks like.
THE LEAD starts right now.
New images show what Ukrainian officials say is an enormous massive grave outside Mariupol, the same besieged city Putin claims is now under Russian control, even while ordering his army to surround the steel plant sheltering innocent civilians to not let anyone or anything in or out.
Plus, CNN talks to one Ukrainian risking his life every time he gets behind the wheel and heads closer to the front lines. The selfless mission to rescue his neighbors trapped by the relentless Russian shelling in the east.
Then, an inside look at just how close the top Republicans in the House and Senate came to turning on Donald Trump after January 6th. "The New York Times" report that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was even going to tell Trump to resign.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start with the world lead and new satellite images today reportedly showing mass graves near Mariupol, Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin brazenly blames his forces have, quote, liberated that port city. The images back up reports from Ukrainian officials that Russia carried truckloads of corpses and simply dumped them at this site. Maxar Technology says the line near the top of your screen, not the road but the one underneath that, expands over time showing more graves being added to it.
The U.S.-based company that captured the satellite images say the pictures are from mid-March through mid-April. And they come as Putin is asserting today that there is no need for his forces to storm the area around a steel plant complex in Mariupol, and that those Ukrainians taking cover there should surrender in order to receive, quote, dignified treatment, Putin says. Let me show you why they are taking cover. Putin's forces have done
this to Mariupol, the town that once had a population comparable to Portland, Oregon, or Austin, Texas. It's now in rubble. Residential areas demolished, in some places leveled, the city unrecognizable in so many different neighborhoods.
Putin today congratulating his forces, calling this, this a great achievement. To add to the brutality, Putin ordered the steel plant be blocked so that even a fly can't get through, which means, of course, no escape routes, no food, no water, no medicine.
Today, President Biden pledged another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine. He said this about Putin's claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's questionable whether he does control Mariupol. One thing we know for sure about Mariupol, he should allow humanitarian corridors to let people in that steel mill and other places that are buried under rubble to get out.
(END VIDEO CLI)
TAPPER: There is also new evidence of Russia's intense military campaign in eastern Ukraine. CNN geo-located new video posted online showing heavy damage to a town in the Luhansk region of the Donbas. You can still see smoke billowing from one building. The video then shows a nearby shopping center or grocery store and an apartment building all destroyed.
Let's start with the show of resistance we're seeing in Mariupol, despite Putin's claims of liberating it. As CNN's Matt Rivers reports, Ukrainian forces inside that steel complex say their mission goes beyond protecting the hundreds of civilians taking shelter there.
ILYA SAMOYLENKO, AZOV REGIMENT STAFF OFFICER: We destroyed one tank today, two armored fighting vehicles, and one armored personal carrier. The numbers of enemy losses are still increasing.
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Ilya Samoylenko, an officer in the Azov Battalion currently fighting for his life and others inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant. The plant has taken constant bombardment for days on end and he strikes a defiant tone.
SAMOYLENKO: Right now, Ukraine not just fighting for ourselves, we are fighting for the freedom.
RIVERS: And yet the reality in Mariupol is that Russia controls the vast majority of the city, apart from the last remaining pocket of Ukrainian resistance, enough that Vladimir Putin felt compelled to declare victory in the city he first tried and failed to capture nearly ten years ago.
Completing the military task of liberating Mariupol is a great achievement, he says. I congratulate you.
But Ukraine and its allies have rejected the notion that Mariupol has fallen. How could that be, the argument goes, when the Russians have yet to force out the remaining Ukrainian fighters? Putin seemingly aware of this acknowledged that fighters remain in the steel plant and essentially said, no problem, just wait them out.
He says there is no need to climb into these catacombs, and crawl underground through these industrial facilities, block this off this industrial area, so a fly cannot get through.
For those inside the plant, this new blockade strategy a sign of weakness of the Russian military, a force that has tried and failed for weeks to force out remaining resistance.
SAMOYLENKO: Russia right now is cowardly, hesitating with the assault, final assault of Azovstal steel works because they know that they will fail, and they will fail.
RIVERS: No matter whether the Russians cannot or will not fight their way into the steel complex, the end result is the same. Ukrainian fighters inside are not only responsible for themselves but the hundreds of civilians they say are sheltering there. Some seen here in unverified video from Ukraine's government.
SAMOYLENKO: Most heart-breaking thing is that we have limited supplies here and we are trying to share everything with civilians. But Russia claims that we use them as a human shield. It's bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). It's complete bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED) because the real military doesn't do this.
RIVERS: And even outside the steel plant in areas firmly under Russian control, tens of thousands of civilians that need to be evacuated cannot. Only a fraction managed to leave in the last few days. Some seen here arriving in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, not thousands, not hundreds, but near dozens after Ukraine says Russian forces violated ceasefire agreements.
VOLODYMYR ZELENKSYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): It is more like not a war, but a terrorist operation by Russia against Mariupol and the people of the city.
RIVERS (on camera): So Ukrainian officials telling us, Jake, that only 79 people managed to get out of Mariupol and arrive there in Zaporizhzhia, which, look, anyone getting out of Mariupol is a really good thing at this point. When you take the 79 number and stack it up against the 120,000 people that Ukraine says still needs to get out of there, and you can just see it is merely a drop in the bucket -- Jake.
TAPPER: Yeah. Matt Rivers, thank you so much.
Just north of Mariupol, Ukraine's military intelligence officials say they have intercepted communications of Russian armed forces referring to an order they received to kill Ukrainian prisoners of war, specifically those in the city of Popasna. That's in the eastern Luhansk region of the Donbas, where Russian forces have intensified their fighting in order to kill POWs.
CNN's Ben Wedeman is also in that region. He joins us now.
Ben, what else do we know about these new audio recordings?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not the first time that military intelligence -- Ukrainian military intelligence has intercepted these communications, given that the Russians seem to have very lax standards when it comes to security of communications. Yes, basically it's a message that says kill all the prisoners. Perhaps save some of the officers, probably because they'll wanting to interrogate them and get intelligence out of them.
But this is just another intercept by the Ukrainians. Now, of course we cannot verify it and CNN has reached out to the Russian ministry of defense. No comment yet -- Jake.
TAPPER: Ben, you're in this region under heavy fighting where Russians claim to have taken over small towns. Are Ukrainian officials conceding that as the case?
WEDEMAN: Ukrainian officials have conceded that they have lost control of the town of Kreminna which we were very near today, but Russians are making claims that we've seen are not true. We were in the town of Rubizhne and there, we definite -- the Russians, and specifically, Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechnya leader who's fighting alongside the Russians, claimed that the entire city, town, was taken over.
Well, we were there. We were a third of the way into Rubizhne and we found that the Ukrainians were very much not only in control of that area, that they had artillery that was lobbing into the Russian- controlled parts of town and the Ukrainians were bolstering their forces in the area. So, certainly, what we saw with our own eyes is that town in particular has not been taken by the Russians and the Ukrainians are putting up a pretty good fight -- Jake.
TAPPER: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
For nearly two months now, for one reason or another, so many people remain in eastern Ukraine as Russia intensifies fighting in that region. Some stayed behind to protect their homes. Others did not want to leave family.
Still others did not have the means or the physical ability to leave.
Now many are forced to find a way to flee just to survive, desperate to find escape routes. It's almost impossible to avoid coming under fire. CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Dnipro, Ukraine, for us, with one man's
brave mission going into the fighting, into danger, to save those who so desperately need to escape.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a road few are willing to take anymore. But every day, volunteer Alexander Prokapenko (ph) makes the dangerous drive toward Russian forces in his hometown of Popasna to rescue fellow residents from the heavy fighting.
They shell everything, he tells us. School buses, the Red Cross, anything that moves.
So, why do you do this work?
I love my town and I can't leave it, he says. I can't leave the people here. Somebody needs to help people.
He's hoping the rain provides some let-up in the relentless artillery. It's better for us, but it's worse for the road, he says. You can't see the potholes and the shrapnel from the shells.
He arrives at the village of Kamyshevakha in the outskirts of Popasna. In the last few days, it has come under heavy shelling.
Anotoli (ph) is being evacuated with his son, Vladimir. He shouts at us to show what the Russians have done.
Those who stay here are now completely cut off from basic services.
So, there's no electricity here, no water at all and you can see they're actually collecting rainwater.
It's time for Anotoli and Vladimir to go. Their entire life now packed into the trunk of Alexander's car. Leaving the village, we spot a house destroyed by shelling.
As we get out to take a closer look, a tearful Galina Nikolaevna emerges. She tells us it happened two days earlier. The first hit was at 5:50 and then there was a second hit, she says. That hit my garage.
She takes us around what remains of her home. The steady thuds of artillery can still be heard.
The roof is completely destroyed.
This is where the first shell hit, she says. Galina had just woken up and was lying in her bed when it happened.
We have nothing left, she says. In the living room, she takes down the drapes that were hung to hide any light. This is how we tried to mask ourselves, she tells us. There's no need for them anymore. Galina and her husband still don't want to leave their home, but she understands that Russia's offensive here as only just begun and it's going to get much worse.
I lived until 60 and now I have lost everything, she says. Honestly, I have no words.
For those like Anotoli and Vladimir who do leave, there are few good options. Alexander takes them to a dormitory in a nearby town of Vakhmod (ph). They can stay five days for free. After that, it's up to them.
In the next store bed, another couple says there is nothing left of their home but they don't blame President Putin.
Thank you, America, she says. It's a horror. It's a nightmare.
So it's interesting. She's saying that she thinks that Russia actually wanted to negotiate here and she blames America primarily for this war.
Putin wants to find a peaceful solution, her husband tells us.
Please don't tell this bullshit to the whole world, Alexander says.
It's not an uncommon view in these parts of eastern Ukraine, making the situation here all the more complex. Alexander says he evacuates anyone, whatever their political views. He knows there are still so many out there who need his help.
WARD (on camera): Now, Jake, according to Luhansk authorities, a hundred people were evacuated from towns around the region today, including 60 from the town of Popasna, the focus of our story.
But Alexander says he estimates there are more than a thousand people still left in that town. When I asked him, why so many consistently refuse to leave, he said again and again, listen, people in this area do not have a lot of money. They have worked so hard to build their homes and they are simply not willing to leave, not knowing where they're going, not having any clear infrastructure to help them get there, and so they are willing to take the chance and try to sit it out.
But the problem becomes that once the fighting really intensifies in these areas , it is then in most cases too late to try to safely evacuate civilians, Jake.
TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Dnipro, Ukraine, thank you so much.
President Biden just announced more military aid for Ukraine, but is it what Ukraine needs and will it get there in time?
Then, millions of Ukrainians have fled their country. Now some are returning. That's ahead.
TAPPER: Staying in our world lead, the U.S. is sending an additional $800 million in new military aid to Ukraine. President Biden says the package will include heavy artillery weapons to assist Ukrainian defenses in the Donbas region.
And President Biden stressed the need for expediency saying there is, quote, a critical window of time as Russia is escalating attacks along the eastern front.
Let's bring in CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond.
Jeremy, what's included in this new round of security assistance?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, Jake, this is more heavy weaponry for the Ukrainians, designed to meet the needs of Ukrainian forces as this news phase of Russia's invasion in Ukraine intensifies in eastern Ukraine. Territory where you're going to see a lot more tank and artillery warfare.
So, this new package, $800 million, includes dozens of howitzer guns as well as tens of thousands of ammunition rounds for those howitzers, drones, tactical vehicles and much more equipment. President Biden making clear amid all of this that the U.S. intends to continue its support for Ukraine over the long term but making clear to do that he needs international support to continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a capacity to do this for a long time. The question is, are we going to continue to maintain the support of the international community and keep the pressure on Putin to prevent him from overrunning the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And the president optimistic that that international solidarity will continue. He also needs more assistance from Congress. The president next week expected to request more money from Congress, a supplemental budget request, so that aid can continue to flow to the Ukrainians -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.
Let's talk about this from a Republican Congressman French Hill of Arkansas. He just got back from a congressional delegation trip to the Polish border with Ukraine.
Congressman, I want to get to your trip in a moment. But, first, you heard President Biden's announcement, the U.S. sending another $800 million aid package to Ukraine on the heels of a similar package a week ago.
How quickly is Congress prepared to act and how big of a package is necessary?
REP. FRENC HILL (R-AR): Well, Jake, it's good to be with you. Look, Congress approved $13.6 billion three weeks ago both for humanitarian assistance and for lethal military aid. This is in conjunction with 31 other countries that are also providing lethal military aid and humanitarian assistance.
One reason we went on the trip is to assess that. How is it being coordinated, is it being delivered in a timely way as the president noted, both on the humanitarian front and on the lethal aid front. So my view would be let's look and see how we have done on the $13.6 billion that Congress approved. This is the second tranche of $800 million the president has essentially used his executive authority to transfer from that $13.6 billion.
TAPPER: So, Congressman, you just got back from visiting the polish border with Ukraine. Tell us what you saw while you were there? What were your main takeaways from the trip?
HILL: Well, takeaway, one, on humanitarian purposes, Romania and Poland are outstanding and caring for the millions of people who left Ukraine, feeding them, housing them, giving them shelter and support. It was really amazing, their outreach.
Secondly, the refugees at the border when we were there just a few short days ago, more people as you noted were going back into Ukraine to help bring relief in support of their families that were coming out.
On the lethal aid point of view, talking to the military in both Romania and Poland, vital lethal aid on the list of President Zelenskyy was being delivered by air and by truck and delivered to the border on all the things that are necessary to make sure Zelenskyy has the equipment he needs to push Putin out of Ukraine.
So I left there optimistic on that, although I'm sure with changing tactics, there needs to be changing equipment.
TAPPER: President Biden has pledged to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and announced the plan to streamline the process. Having just seen the refugee situation in Poland firsthand, do you support these efforts to help shoulder some of the burden from this humanitarian crisis Putin caused?
HILL: I do, Jake. But let me tell you, these are Europeans in Ukraine. They want to go home to their country. They believe that they're being taken care of by Polish and Romanian families and churches and nonprofits in such a beautiful way, but they're eager to return to their country and rebuild Ukraine.
So I don't anticipate that many Ukrainians will want to exit forever. Obviously, it's the worst in the east as your coverage has indicated, but I think a lot of Ukrainians outside the borders of Ukraine are in a wait-and-see mode. If we can defeat Putin, they want to go home.
TAPPER: Yeah, that's what President Zelenskyy told me last Friday, that 95 percent of the people that have fled want to come back to Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the Treasury Department announced a new wave of sanctions to continue to pressure Russia to stop this war. You sit on the House Financial Services Committee. Are the sanctions having the desired impact on Putin's ability to conduct the war, or do you think more sanctions, more dramatic sanctions need to be taken?
HILL: Well, Jake, in talking to the Polish and Romanian heads of government, they don't believe the sanctions are strong enough. Both those countries support an all of the above energy policy and disconnecting from the Russian energy machine.
Even though we have sanctioned the Russian economy and sanctioned the Russian central bank, still in just the past few days of this war, Russia has earned another $30 billion in hard currency by selling its oil and gas.
So this is why the Europeans and the EU are in such strong negotiations about how to turn off their purchases of gas from Russia. This is a top issue because we can't really stop the funding machine of Putin through any sanction other than denying him the income from energy.
TAPPER: All right. Congressman French Hill of Arkansas, thank you so much for joining us. Glad you're back safely. Appreciate it.
HILL: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: What is it like to return to your home after your country has been ravaged by an unprovoked war? Ravaged for weeks. That's next.
TAPPER: Continuing with our world lead, more than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in late February. That's according to the United Nations. More than 2.7 million of those refugees have gone to Poland. That's more than are in any other country.
But the Polish border guard says they're starting to see a shift. They note for the first time since the invasion began, the number of individuals crossing the border to go from Poland into Ukraine is now exceeding the number exiting Ukraine for Poland.
On Saturday, 22,000 people crossed the border into Ukraine compared to 19,000 who left Ukraine. On Friday, a similar trend, 25,000 people entering Ukraine, 24,000 leaving.
CNN's Scott McLean is at a train station in Poland with this look at those choosing to return home.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the early days of war, trains leaving Ukraine were standing room only, packed with terrified women and children. Trains going the other way were virtually empty. As the bombs fell and the tanks rolled, millions desperately tried to get out, most to Poland.
Almost two months later, there are now days when more people go back into Ukraine from Poland than come out.
Do you think that the mass exodus is over?
PIOTR ZAKIELARZ, SPOKESPERSON FOR POLISH REGION'S BORDER GUARDS: We can never say that. It's hard to predict actually the direction of the crisis.
MCLEAN: In Przemysl, the first stop in Poland for many Ukrainians traveling by train, the mayor was once overwhelmed by the number of refugees showing up every day. Not anymore.
MAYOR WOJCIECH BAKUN, PRZEMYSL, POLAND: It looks better, way better organized as well after two months of experience. And we're happy, we are so happy that situation on Ukraine looks better at this moment.
MCLEAN: Inside the station, Natallia Belchik and her family are headed back to their hometown in southern Ukraine, about 50 miles from the contested city of Mykolaiv.
NATALLIA BELCHIK, FLED FROM SOUTHERN UKRAINE (through translator): In our town, we had about seven or eight people killed at a military unit when it was bombed. My child was so scared.
MCLEAN: They fled to a small town in northern Germany where the government put them up in a nice hotel. But they say they had little help beyond that.
BELCHIK: We didn't know what to do. Nobody helped us to find jobs. Well, we were told we needed to speak German.
MCLEAN: Are you willing to take a small risk to get your life back?
BELCHIK: Yes, we want to go back. After all, home is home.
MCLEAN: Down the hall, Nataliia Vyhivska fled Kyiv just days into the war. While she stayed with friends in Germany, her neighborhood withstood Russian shelling. Now that the Russians have retreated, she's going back.
NATALIIA VYHIVSKA, FLED FROM UKRAINE (through translator): It's a bit scary, but I've been looking forward to seeing my husband. I never thought this would last a long time. I thought it would be for a week or two. I don't want to start a new life in Germany without my husband.
MCLEAN: At the border, the lineup to get into Ukraine stretches for five miles. At the Polish side of the pedestrian crossing, there are more volunteers than refugees. Oksana Deresh is going back to see her patients in Lviv.
OKSANA DERESH, FLED FROM LVIV: Actually for Easter because I want to meet my parents. I miss them very much.
MCLEAN (on camera): That lineup of cars at the border by the way is taking some people two days to get across. This lineup is for the next train into Ukraine, which is leaving shortly. These are the kind of lineups I was seeing in Lviv a month ago for people trying to get out of the country. A lot of folks are headed back to Kyiv since Russians retreated from that area but some are planning to go a lot further east, which frankly are a heck of a lot more dangerous.
TAPPER: All right. Scott McLean in Poland for us, thank you so much.
Coming up, will President Biden score any political points because of the removal of the travel mask mandate?
TAPPER: In our health lead, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical advisor, opened up to Kasie Hunt of CNN+ about how he became a lightning rod for criticism during his time in the Trump administration. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: With the divisiveness during the Trump administration, it was no secret that I had to do something that was not pleasant and not comfortable and I didn't desire it, was I had to be publicly correcting misrepresentation on the part of the president and on the part of people in the administration.
You know, the people who were talking about hydroxychloroquine and about ivermectin and about the virus is going to go away and it's going to disappear. I had to maintain my integrity as well as my responsibility to the public to tell them the truth. That clearly alienated a lot of people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And now, there's a new fight the Justice Department is appealing this week's sudden end to transportation mask mandates triggered by a federal judge's ruling. The CDC says masks are, quote, necessary on planes, trains, buses and ride shares. Any decision on the appeal will go beyond this moment laying out a legal framework to respond to future pandemics. While federal agencies and the courts work that out, CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten joins us to tell us how Americans really feel about masks.
So, Harry, how willing are Americans to mask up these days?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Much less than they used to be. So, Ipsos has been tracking this for a while. The vast majority of Americans were either always or sometimes wearing masks, 73 percent. Go to February, it was 67 percent. March, 53 percent.
This is the first time now in April of 2022 when less than a majority of Americans say they are always or sometimes wearing a mask when they're going outside of the home.
And it's more than that, right? A lot of Americans go to work. Are they in fact encountering mask mandates at work? Are their employers forcing them to wear masks?
Back in January, look at that, 58 percent. February, 56 percent. March, 39 percent. Now in April, it's just 22 percent. It's only about a fifth of Americans who are basically encountering these mask mandates every day.
The idea of wearing masks for most Americans is a foreign concept most of the time.
TAPPER: What about masking specifically on airplanes?
ENTEN: Yeah, so this is another trend line that I think is really interesting. Do Americans support or oppose it? If you go back to December, the vast majority of Americans supported it, 68 percent. Now, jump forward to March of 2022 and the Kaiser Family Foundation said do you support extending past April 18th this mandate on public transportation. It dropped to just 48 percent.
The majority, 51 percent, opposed. More than that, it lost the center of the electorate.
So, look among independents, right? That's always what we're paying Look at the opposition to the mask mandates on public transportation from independents. Now the majority oppose it among independents, 55 percent. Back in December of 2021, it was 28 percent. The opposition has doubled. Biden and those arguing for mask mandates on planes, they have lost the center.
TAPPER: Interesting. How is this working for politicians who might have been ahead of the curve when it comes to opposing mask mandates?
ENTEN: I think Ron DeSantis is a great example of this. He was out in front arguing I don't want mask mandates or vaccine mandates.
Look at his popularity in the state of Florida. His approval rating averaged 48 percent in August of 2021. Now it's up to 54 percent.
So the politicians who were against mandates, they might have received a lot of negative attention in the beginning of this fight, but as we go forward, they're actually now on the right side of it and their popularity has risen.
TAPPER: All right. Harry Enten, thanks so much.
ENTEN: Thank you, sir.
TAPPER: New claims about the Republican fallout from January 6th that almost happened. "The New York Times" reporting that Kevin McCarthy came close to telling Donald Trump to resign.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our politics lead, an explosive new report from "The New York Times" previewing an upcoming book and laying out the extent to which top congressional Republicans initially held Donald Trump responsible for the January 6 attack that he incited and explores why they ultimately backed off an all-out fight with the former president.
House Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly told his leadership team a week before the impeachment that he planned to call Trump who was still the president and tell him, quote, I think this will pass and it would be my recommendation that you should resign.
Joining us now, "New York Times" national political correspondents and CNN political analysts Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin, they're the authors of the upcoming book "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's Future", which you can preorder right now at independent bookstores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or whatever.
And I can't wait to read it. I haven't had a chance yet, it hasn't come out.
But, Alex, let's start with you. So, your book offers fascinating examples of how the top two Republicans in Congress initially believed that the January 6 insurrection would be the end of Trump's political career. You write this, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called Trump's conduct atrocious and totally wrong. He vented, I've had it with this guy.
Take us inside McCarthy's mindset at the time.
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in those days immediately after January 6th, I think what we show in our book there is a real recognition among Donald Trump's closest allies in the House, of which Kevin McCarthy is a first among equals, that he went way over the line. He specifically tells other house Republican leaders that Trump is responsible for inciting people, that is what Donald Trump was literally charged with in impeachment. He said he's going to call him and tell him it's time for you to go.
It's a very different Kevin McCarthy from even the one who cautiously says on the floor of the House that Trump bears responsibility for the attack.
He sounds as outraged as virtually anybody else in his party at that point. In those days, you really see the full peril that the United States is facing. A Republican Party that knows what the right thing to do would be or leaders of the Republican Party who sound like they are potentially willing to do that, and then they just don't go there.
JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's what your listeners or viewers, I should say, should keep in mind. This is not just a story about what happened a year and a half ago at the U.S. Capitol. It's also about what's going to happen the next potential year and a half going forward here, Jake, because the stakes are still considerable.
If President Trump tries to run again for re-election, he clearly is going to have the bulk of his party in Congress at his beck and call. We reveal in detail how after talking tough in the first days after the 6th, a lot of these members of Congress in the weeks after returned to Trump's side, most famously Kevin McCarthy by going to Mar-a-Lago to try to make amends with Trump later that month.
This is an active story, this is a live story. This is about the future, not just the past, because obviously, President Trump could well run and become president again in 2024.
TAPPER: And, in fact, you mentioned Kevin McCarthy going down to Mar- a-Lago. Let's put up a tweet from Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger who points out -- his argument is that because Kevin McCarthy did that, he saved Donald Trump from political extinction. And I know Kinzinger is not the only Republican who thinks that way.
MARTIN: No, he's sure not, Jake. And I think, you know from your sources on the Hill and obviously, we talked to many people on the Hill for our book as well, that's a widespread view. Now, most people in the GOP in Congress won't say it like Adam did today in a tweet, but privately, yes, they were very candid.
We talked to them and said that was a seminal moment in the modern history of the Republican Party. Kevin McCarthy before January is even out goes to Mar-a-Lago and poses for that picture, and that basically gives a permission structure to the rest of the party. Okay, it's okay to come back to Trump, to re-embrace Trump.
TAPPER: Yeah. I should note that Leader McCarthy put out a statement this morning about your reporting, calling it totally false and wrong. Just in terms of McCarthy's credibility we should note that he also said that Donald Trump won the election. So, just for those keeping track of his truthfulness and credibility.
But his denial is actually in line with how you describe his acquiescence to Trump.
BURNS: He's doing kind of a Trump impression of this denial. Just broad strokes attack on the media, questioning the motives of the reporters who are reporting information. I want to emphasize, we could not be more confident in the authenticity of those quotes, our descriptions of his behavior in those days. And people at the highest levels of the Republican Party absolutely know, they know today and they knew 15 months ago that that was the mood that was pervasive in Washington, pervasive at the highest levels of the GOP and it simply didn't last.
Look, Congressman Kinzinger I think makes a very good argument about that seminal moment at Mar-a-Lago. But it is sort of a chicken and egg thing, that Kevin McCarthy does help resuscitate Donald Trump when he goes to Florida. But it's also because he and Mitch McConnell in the Senate are following their members in the House and the Senate. And those elected officials are following the voters back home.
It's when they realize that as offended as they might be personally by what Donald Trump did on January 6th, the folks back home are not turning on the outgoing president, that they decide we're not really up for this.
MARTIN: To borrow a phrase, Jake, leading from behind.
TAPPER: Leading from behind, and, in fact, you note McConnell explaining his vote against impeachment, even though he did not approve of what Trump did, saying I didn't get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference, in other words leading from behind. Find out where the party is going and jump in front to lead them.
MARTIN: Right. Instead of seizing a leadership moment and drive the party, drive the caucus toward a conviction vote, instead taking the temperature of the caucus, seeing where they were at, which is -- there just wasn't the appetite to pursue a conviction in the Senate. Why not? Because those rank and file senators are deferring to their voters back home, just the same as McConnell deferred to his caucus.
The sort of common thread here is a vacuum of leadership.
MARTIN: And it's very similar to Access Hollywood. For a few hours, a few days, Jake, in 2016 and again once in January of 2021, it seemed like maybe this was the moment. Once it became clear to the leaders of the GOP the voters didn't care, their voters didn't care, they went back to Trump.
TAPPER: So we'll have you back when the book comes out.
The book is -- Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, authors of the upcoming book, "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America's future." It's out May 3rd. You can preorder it now and get their Amazon number up.
And, gentlemen, I'll have you back in a couple of weeks.
MARTIN: Thanks for having us.
TAPPER: Congratulations, great scoop.
MARTIN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Coming up, what it's like for the children of Ukraine to bury their family and friends as war rages on around them.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
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