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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine Reports "Casualties" After 5 Russian Strikes On Train Stations; Ukraine: Russia "Continuously Attacking" Mariupol Steel Plant; CNN Obtains More Than 2,000 Of Mark Meadows' Texts Revealing Exchanges Between 2020 Election And Biden's Inauguration; 2020 Election Misinformation Grabs Ahold Of GOP Grassroots; McCarthy Deflects Questions About Leaked Audio. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: But I mean, I think you're right. This is old school. It's antiquated. Let the president pick out the glassware. How about that?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Red cups for everybody.

CAMEROTA: There you go.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: If this is indeed Russia failing, as the Biden administration now says, I would hate to see what Russia winning looks like.

THE LEAD starts right now.

No signs of Putin relenting, as a CNN team is forced to take cover in Ukraine, witnessing heavy bombardment way too up close.

Plus, the standoff in Mariupol as Ukrainians shelter in a steel plant. I'm going to speak with the CEO of the company that owns that plant.

Also ahead, a CNN exclusive, more than 2,000 texts revealing what Trump's inner circle and allies were really saying behind the scenes about the big election lie and the deadly Capitol riot on January 6th.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with the world lead and the intensifying Russian assault on targets full of innocent Ukrainian civilians. Ukrainian officials say Russians struck five train stations in central and western Ukraine, all within the span of an hour earlier today. This is the aftermath of one of those strikes -- thick, billowing black smoke filling the air in western Ukraine, not far from Lviv in the town of Krasne, where an electrical substation near the train station was also hit, we're told.

The country's railway company says casualties have been reported although we don't know as of now how many people were killed or injured. Ukraine's train system has, of course, been vital in the country's war effort, transporting millions of innocent civilians to safety and bringing in essential life-saving supplies. The situation is also further deteriorating in Mariupol in the south where one Ukrainian official says Russian forces are continuously attacking a steel plant where hundreds of civilians are sheltering. This has been described as the last stand for the Ukrainian soldiers on the ground in Mariupol.

And in Kyiv, a show of solidarity from the United States. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveling by rail to the Ukrainian capital to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other key Ukrainian leaders. After that meeting, Austin and Blinken traveled to Poland where the defense secretary shared this about the United States' goals in this war.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. So it has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.


TAPPER: We're going to have much more on that diplomatic visit and the new military aid the U.S. is sending to Ukraine ahead on THE LEAD, but we're going to start with CNN's Scott McLean who visited one of the train stations that was attacked by Russia today.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We took a train into Kyiv from southwestern Poland. So didn't see a lot except looking out the train windows on our way in. In Kyiv itself, we went right to the presidential palace.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just hours after the U.S. secretaries of state and defense left Ukraine by rail, air raid sirens sounded in Western Ukraine. The head of Ukrainian railways says that within one hour, rail infrastructure in five places was hit by Russian strikes. The farthest west was near the town of Krasne.

Natalia Rudak was working in this building next to the tracks when she heard the explosions.

NATALIA RUDAK, HEARD AIRSTRIKE ON RAIL STATION (through translator): From this side, air defense shot down a missile, then silence. The second explosion was on that side. We have seen black smoke.

MCLEAN: How loud was it? RUDAK: Very loud. Windows rang and we panicked. We were afraid.

MCLEAN: The governor's office released this video showing fire and heavy smoke near the tracks. They say an electrical substation was hit, though on the ground, we weren't allowed to get close.

In several places, scattered throughout this area, police and military are finding what they say are remnants of a Russian rocket. This is one of them, a twisted pile of melted, charred metal. They're finding these all over the place.

What they have not found, though, is a large crater, so they think this one was shot down.

In the Vinnytsia region, the governor there said that two separate strikes killed five and injured 18. Ukraine's military command said in an online post that Russia is targeting vital railway supply routes in order to disrupt arms shipments from Ukraine's partner states.

Just across the border, Russia reported that a fire broke out at an oil storage facility on Russian soil. Russian officials say the cause of the fire is unclear, but it comes not long after the Kremlin accused Ukraine of striking another Russian oil depot in the city of Belgorod.



MCLEAN (on camera): Now, since the war began, virtually every foreign delegation visiting Kyiv has taken the train. Ukrainian Railways is constantly adjusting the routes to avoid damaged tracks and other hazards. And while we don't know the exact route that Blinken and Austin took earlier today, there is a good chance that they would have traveled through that same stretch of tracks that we were at today, just hours before they were targeted by Russian missiles -- Jake.

TAPPER: Scott McLean in Lviv for us, thank you so much.

Ukrainians rescue workers face increasing danger as they work on the front line of Putin's war. Russian forces are using the same tactics that terrorists use. Attacking the same target twice in an effort to also kill those who rush to save and help survivors.

CNN's Clarissa Ward was traveling with a paramedic team in Kharkiv, Ukraine, working to help the injured as Russian forces began shelling nearby buildings.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the beginning of a 24-hour shift for paramedics Alexandra Rudkovskaya and Vladimir Venzel. They prepare their ambulance for the carnage that Kharkiv residents confront every day. We have two tourniquets, Vladimir says. Alexandra's mother stops by the dispatch center to give her daughter a

hug. This is one of the most dangerous jobs. Every moment together is precious.

A loud stream of booms signals the day's work is beginning.

That's incoming now, this ambulance worker tells us.

Alexandra and Vladimir answer the call. The code used when someone has been wounded by shelling. Their flak jackets on, they're ready to roll out.

So they have said that they have got reports one person at least has been injured in the shelling and they're hearing some rockets as well, so we're going to see what's going on.

The shells hit a residential apartment building. The paramedics need to act fast. Russian forces are increasingly hitting the same target twice. It's called a double tap, a horrifying strategy to take out rescue workers as they respond. As we see for ourselves.

Get in, Vladimir shouts. Faster, faster, faster. We take cover under the stairwell. Alexandra is trying to find the wounded person. But there's no signal.

At that moment, another barrage goes off. We brace for the impact.


WARD: "Is everybody okay?" Alexandra asks.

Our team member Maria Avdeba (ph) has cut up her hands on broken glass. Vladimir treats her injuries, as Alexandra calls the dispatch again to find where the wounded are.

We've got no connection, we're sitting in the entrance, she says, and they're shelling the shit out of us. The connection keeps dropping. Finally, she gets through to the person who called for the ambulance. Tell me your damn house number, she says. I repeat, 12G. I have told you 1,000 times, he replies. The man is dying. We decide to try to make a run for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maria, come on. Come on, Maria. Come on. Go, go. Get in the car. Get in the car get in the car.

WARD: Okay, so we were just in an apartment building. They were looking for an injured man. A bunch of rounds came in and hit the next door building, so now we're getting out as fast as we can.


While we run out, Vladimir and Alexandra run back in. We find them treating the injured man on the side of the road. Their back window has been blown out by the blasts. He has shrapnel injuries and head trauma. Once they have stabilized him, they rush him to the hospital. Vladimir asks about his pain. The man has been deafened by the blast.

Arriving at the hospital, they have done their part. It's up to others now to save him.

I have to say, I think you guys are like the bravest people I have ever met.

Back at base, we ask them why they continue to do this work. With all of the danger it entails.

It's normal, this is our work. Of course it's scary, like for everyone, Alexandra says. Today, you were with us in the hottest place, in the oven. But we're still alive, thank God.

You feel it's your duty or obligation, Vladimir tells us. To help the people who are still here.

And what do your parents say? What does your family say? Aren't they wanting you to stop this work?

VLADIMIR VENZEL, PARAMEDIC: No comment. It's very difficult.

WARD: They must be scared.

VENZEL: Yes. Yes.

WARD: Proud, but scared.

VENZEL: Call all day, all night.

WARD: We saw your mother.


WARD: She's worried to the point of hysteria, Alexandra tells us. She says you need to leave. You need to go to some safe place. Why are you doing this? I have only one child. Stop it.

And what do you say?

I have to do it, she says simply.

And with that, they go back to cleaning their ambulance. Their shift only halfway through.


WARD (on camera): Jake, we spoke to the head of emergency services here in Kharkiv. He told us that out of 250 ambulances, 50 of them, 50 of them have already been taken out of commission because they have been hit by shrapnel. And they're no longer available to drive. They also desperately need more equipment. You may have noticed they were not wearing helmets. There is one helmet for each vehicle and three workers in each vehicle.

And they're also not using a radio system, as you saw there, relying on cell phones. As we experienced, the minute those shells start raining down, the cell phone service disappears and becomes spotty for quite some time afterwards.

So this is really challenging work that they're doing. The only other thing I wanted to add because I was so struck by it is their ages. Sasha is just 23 years old. Vladimir, Jake, is just 25.

TAPPER: And Sasha and Vladimir are not the only incredibly brave people in that piece.

Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for your reporting, you and your crew. We appreciate it.

Next, to southern Ukraine, and that standoff at the Mariupol steel plant. How long can Ukrainian civilians hold out? I'm going to talk to the CEO of the company that owns that plant.

Plus, the Republican congressional trip today to the U.S. border with Mexico led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, trying to deflect questions about audio recordings that reveal quite contradictory statements he made about Donald Trump.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we are back with our world lead.

A new video that reportedly shows the worsening conditions inside a steel plant in Mariupol in southern Ukraine where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are sheltering. The Azov Regiment shared this video to social media feature some of the women and children stuck in a basement for eight weeks hiding from the constant Russian bombardment.

Just listen to the desperate pleas from some of the civilians.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My city is completely destroyed. There is not a single place that's intact. Everything is bombed out.

The children here are crying all the time. They want to play. They want to live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We can't even go outside. We have children who haven't been outside, haven't seen daylight for weeks. Children not going outside, we have maximum weeks worth of water, food. In a week's time, I don't know what will happen to us.


TAPPER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in southern Ukraine, in the town of Kryvyi Rih.

Nick, how does this battle for Mariupol fit into the larger campaign of the Russians to take control of the south of Ukraine?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, first, I think for the whole south of this area, it shows how brutal Russia is prepared to get. Frankly destroying anything that remains in Mariupol, and despite Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that really a fly shouldn't be allowed around the steel plant, there were suggestions of a humanitarian corridor that were roundly unjustified but dismissed frankly rejected by Ukraine because they couldn't trust the Russians to let them out safely. In the event Russia moves things away from Mariupol, it frees up troops to start moving further west.

Last week, Russia announced a lofty goal, a second phase of its operation to try to push across the Black Sea coast, through Mykolaiv, through Odesa, even to Moldova, part of the European Union on Ukraine's west, so a break away region that Russia has assisted there as well.


That was a lofty goal, almost impossible. Something they have been trying to do for the past two weeks. What we have been seeing here, Jake, near Kryvyi Rih, important because it's President Zelenskyy's home town and an industrial hub, a build-up of Russian forces to the south of where I'm standing.

In fact, today, we drove down to observe, and they may be 30, 40 kilometers to the south of where I'm standing here, pushing up, increasing their numbers. Those fleeing Russian held areas along the west side of the Dnipro River here, near Kherson, the first Russian city to -- sorry, Ukrainian city to fall to the Russians, are suggesting there are increasing numbers of Russian troops here. The thought is perhaps they may try to move in on this industrial hub or go further west towards Zaporizhzhia, towards the eastern offensive so many are talking about, important though in the next 48 hours, that city will hold what many are calling a sham referendum, essentially a bid to suggest that they want as a population to become part of Russia.

Many fear this push we're seeing of Russian forces is about advancing their control around there and also up towards where I'm standing here, too -- a surprise development, frankly. I think few were expecting it, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, the Russians love these illusions of democracy after they have killed a bunch of people.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining us now to discuss, Yuriy Ryzhenkov. He's the CEO of Metinvest, that's the company that owns the Azovstal steel plant. I guess I want to start by wondering what goes through your mind when you see this new video of civilians sheltering inside your plant. How hard is it to watch knowing they're still facing constant Russian attacks? YURIY RYZHENKOV, CEO, METINVEST: Well, it's an absolute humanitarian

catastrophe there. It's not only watching this video, but we also literally on a daily basis, we're meeting people who come out of Mariupol, came out of Azovstal, and welcoming them in Zaporizhzhia. We have the humanitarian rehabilitation center there with a psychologist. It's hard to hear what those people are seeing and really we're just appalled at what the Russians are doing.

TAPPER: We heard women in that video say they only have enough food and water to last a few more days. Is there any way to get supplies in to the plant right now, or the Russians just won't let it?

RYZHENKOV: Well, we stopped the shelters before the war, we stocked with food and water. Which we thought was enough for two or three weeks. Now we are well over months. So to be honest, I'm surprised they sill have food and water in the shelters. We couldn't get any help into Mariupol because the Russians did not allow us to do this humanitarian convoy into the city.

TAPPER: President Zelenskyy told me when I interviewed him about a week and a half ago that the Ukrainians have been trying for weeks to get evacuation corridors out of Mariupol. Russia claimed it agreed to a humanitarian corridor today to get civilians out of the plant. Ukrainian officials say that's not true.

What have you heard? Has anybody been able to leave the plant today safely?

RYZHENKOV: Well, I don't know if anyone left today safely. But I can confirm that for the last over a month we have been trying together with the local authorities to provide this humanitarian convoy. We have used our buses to get food and water into the city and try to get people out.

But every time when the Russians confirm that there is a corridor, as they call it, a green corridor, they would continue shooting. So, the only people that get out of the city, they do it at their own risk, on their own cars or with volunteers. Or even on foot. That's what's happening.

TAPPER: Do you know how many people remain stuck inside the plant and how many of them are civilians?

RYZHENKOV: Well, we don't know anything about the military, but for the civilians, about 1,000 civilians still at the shelters, at the plant.

TAPPER: So your company had more than 10,000 workers at the Azovstal plant before the war broke out. As of last week, you said you had heard from fewer than half of them about their whereabouts.

Do you know where the rest of your workers are? That's more than 5,000 people. Could they be stuck inside?

RYZHENKOV: Well, they could be. The shelters, they have enough space for about 4,000 people, which is like 1 1/2 shift at the mill. So I don't think all of them can be stuck, but obviously, we do have some of our employees still stuck at the plant. The rest of them are scattered around the city, probably in basements or in the other bomb shelters which are in the city.

TAPPER: Yuriy Ryzhenkov, thank you so much. Please stay in touch. If there's anything we can do to help the people in your shelter, in your steel plant, let us know.

Coming up next, only here on CNN, see some of the 2,000 text messages that reveal what Trump allies were saying in private about the 2020 election and about the January 6th riot versus what they were saying publicly.


Stay with us.


TAPPER: Breaking news in our politics lead.

CNN has exclusively obtained more than 2,000 text messages send and received by then Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, including exchanges with Trump family members such as Ivanka and Don Jr., and more than 40 current and former Republican officials from Election Day 2020 until President Biden's inauguration in January 2021.

Let's get right to CNN's special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, one of the team that broke this incredible story.

And, Jamie, some of these messages have never been seen before. Give us a sense of the scope of what you and your fellow reporters have obtained.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, most of them have never been seen before. We obtained all 2,319 text messages that Mark Meadows voluntarily turned over to the committee.

The texts provide the most revealing picture yet about what was going on behind the scenes. From Trump family members, as you mentioned, Ivanka Trump, to campaign officials like Jason Miller, to Republican members of Congress, to activists, to people like Sidney Powell, who are fighting the case. It's also interesting because let's just go through some of the 40 members, more than 40 members of congress. You have Ted Cruz, you have Mo brooks, you have Jim Jordan, and you have Marjorie Taylor Greene. So, you really see a spectrum, and this is from Election Day to January 20th.

Big picture, 30,000 feet, what do you see? This is not normal. Mark Meadows is not acting as a White House chief of staff. He's acting as a campaign manager. He is never pushing back on Donald Trump from what we have seen in these logs about January 6th.

TAPPER: One of the most alarming things we have heard about the plans back then, Michael Flynn, the former general, and others were talking about declaring martial law, seizing control of voting stations in various battleground states. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, was -- she testified on Friday she was asked if she remembered advocating for Trump to invoke martial law. She said she didn't remember.

Anything in the texts about that?

GANGEL: So, let's prompt her memory, three texts. Interesting. January 6, she's alarmed. She is one of the first members of Congress, according to these texts, to actually reach out to meadows, and she says, quote, Mark, I was just told there is an active shooter on the first floor of the capitol. Please tell the president to calm people. This isn't the way to solve anything.

Now, she is one of Trump's most ardent supporters, and she's saying stop it. January 7th, her tone changes. And the next day, she's not so scared. And she's apologetic.

And she texts Meadows and she says, quote, I'm sorry, nothing worked. That's about stopping the process.

TAPPER: Stopping the counting.

GANGEL: Stopping the counting.

TAPPER: Of the vote of the American people.

GANGEL: She was sorry they couldn't get that done. On January 17th, this is the critical text. She is still looking for a way to keep Trump in power.

Quote: In our private chat with only members, several are saying the only way to save our republic is for Trump to call for martial, she doesn't know how to spell it, law. I don't know on those things. I just wanted you to tell him they stole this election, we all know they will destroy our country.

Next: Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anything else.

Three days before the inauguration, she is trying to encourage the White House to invoke martial law.

TAPPER: It's terrifying. You also have messages coming into Meadows from people like Donald Trump Jr.

GANGEL: Right. Some of these things we have seen, but one of the starkest things is that on January 6th, all of his staunchest allies are reaching out to Meadows saying, please get the president to stop. And we know he doesn't.

Mick Mulvaney, former acting chief of staff: Mark, he needs to stop this. Can I do anything to help?

Representative William Timmons: The president needs to stop this ASAP.

Reince Priebus, former chief of staff, all capital letters: Tell them to go home, three exclamation points.

And now we get to his son, Donald Trump Jr.: He's got to condemn this, you can read it, ASAP. The Capitol police tweet is not enough.

Meadows says: I'm pushing it hard. I agree.

And then this is brand-new. Donald Trump Jr. says: This is one you go to the mattresses on. They will try to F his entire legacy on this if it gets worse.

TAPPER: So all of these allies who subsequently have acted as those this is not a big deal or this was Antifa or everybody is making too big a deal of it, all of them behind the scenes saying not only that they know it's a big deal, but they all believe President Trump can stop it.

GANGEL: In real time, in black and white. And that goes to people like Jared Kushner who on December 5th sends a text message to Meadows with a link to a news article that says: Video from Georgia does not show suitcases filled with ballots pulled from under the table.


He gets that this isn't real. And he's telling Meadows that.

Then on January 13th, Jason Miller, campaign spokesman, says in a group text to Meadows and Kushner, quote: I tried to walk the president through this earlier, but he won't have any of it.

Here's the interesting part: Two-thirds of the MAGA base wants us to move on.

They all knew, Jake, to your point, but they either weren't telling Trump, but they certainly were not telling the public and their followers.

Just for context: Meadows replies, they tend to be very short, as far as the logs are concerned. Sometimes it looks as if he does not reply at all. We don't know if that's because things were deleted or withheld for privilege.

TAPPER: It's very disturbing but amazing reporting. Jamie Gangel, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The problem goes well beyond those text messages, of course. Almost two years later, the big election lie is still very much alive. How 2020 conspiracy theories have flooded some campaigns that are thriving today in 2022. That's next.



TAPPER: Back in our politics lead, across the country, Republican candidates are campaigning on former President Donald Trump's big lie about the 2020 election. In Michigan, the state Republican Party just formally endorsed two

candidates known for spreading misinformation about the 2020 election, including the woman who, if elected, would supervise elections in the state.

And CNN's Sara Murray reports for us now, Michigan is sadly far from alone.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The presidential election was rigged and stolen.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The big lie is still the big motivator for many Republican voters.

KRISTINA KARAMO (R), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: We're insurrectionists. We're traitors, big lie proponents for asking questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 2022 Michigan state convention will come to order.

MURRAY: In Michigan, Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed Kristina Karamo who spread conspiracies about the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection to be their nominee for secretary of state, the state's top election official.

KARAMO: Thank you.

MURRAY: While there are other candidates with election experience, Karamo is on track to take on the Democratic incumbent this fall.

KARAMO: Guess what, Jocelyn Benson? I am your worst nightmare.

MURRAY: In the run up to the midterms, national Republicans stay they're focused on economy and inflation and crime. But in Republican primaries, the magic words are Donald Trump and a litmus test is denying the results of the 2020 presidential election, without any evidence of widespread fraud.

TRUMP: Kristina Karamo, she is a fearless champion for election integrity.

MURRAY: In Colorado, State Representative Ron Hanks, an election denier, running for U.S. Senate with an ad featuring footage from January 6 insurrection --

AD ANNOUNCER: Restore grassroots political parties.

MURRAY: -- was awarded the top slot at a Republican primary ballot from conservatives at the GOP assembly.

Mesa County clerk Tina Peters, who faces criminal charges for her alleged role in election security breach, charges she calls politically motivated, is running for Colorado secretary of state. TINA PETERS (R), COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: It's a

pleasure to be here to sound the alarm. I'm Tina Peters --

MURRAY: And also won Republicans backing for top billing on the GOP ballot.

In Arizona, home of the infamous Cyber Ninja's review, GOP Senate hopeful and sitting Attorney General Mark Brnovich is getting hammered on the airwaves by other Republicans for his role in certifying the state's 2020 election results.

AD ANNOUNCER: Mark Brnovich says President Trump is wrong on voter fraud, really?

MURRAY: In Georgia --

DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Brian Kemp sold us out and allowed radicals to steal the election.

MURRAY: David Perdue is going after Governor Brian Kemp for certifying the election in 2020, as the two face off in a GOP gubernatorial primary.

Putting up election deniers in November could prove risky for the GOP.


MURRAY: Republican strategist Jason Cabel Roe says even with the challenging environment for Democrats, Republicans still need to strike a broader appeal.

ROE: Relitigating the 2020 election is popular with Republican voters. It's not popular with non-Republican voters. The idea that we can win without independents and some, you know, conservative swing Democrats coming our way is ignoring the reality of Michigan politics.

MURRAY: Over at the GOP endorsement conventions, appearances from election deniers like Mike Lindell and Rudy Giuliani, as Republicans convene for more than 10 hours, after two rounds of voting, two hand recounts, a ballot snafu that pause voting for an hour --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do not resume voting. All voting is paused.

MURRAY: -- and left Republicans grumbling over election integrity, the Trump backed candidates cleaned up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Support the America First agenda. Support the President Donald Trump.

MURRAY: With Matt DePerno securing party support for attorney general after months of trying to revive an unsuccessful election lawsuit and spreading lies about 2020.

MATT DEPERNO (R), MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL CANDIDATE: We've proved how corruptible our election is and we proved how fraud occurred in this state. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (on camera): Now, it's clear that the Republican delegates that met over the weekend were energized by all this misinformation about 2020, but when I tried to ask Kristina Karamo and Matt DePerno how they were going to appeal to a broader base of voters here in Michigan, they refused to answer the questions -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, what Republicans had to say at the U.S. border with Mexico as the party looks to sharpen its message against Democrats ahead of the midterms.


Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are visiting the U.S./Mexico border right now as President Biden's decision to end a Trump era pandemic border restriction faces opposition from both sides of the aisle and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is bearing the brunt.


McCarthy and more than 50 other House Republicans sent Mayorkas this letter, writing, quote, your failure to secure the border and enforce the laws passed by Congress raises grave questions about your suitability for office, unquote.

Let's get right to CNN's Melanie Zanona live in Eagle Pass, Texas, for us.

And, Melanie, moments ago at the press conference on the border, you asked McCarthy about the big story involving McCarthy, the audio revealing that he had in fact told House Republicans that he would recommend that Donald Trump resign after January 6th. That's something that McCarthy brazenly had denied and proven publicly that he was lying, what did McCarthy have to say?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, I asked him flat out, Jake, why were you not truthful about the private conversations? Remember, he flatly denied that reporting and then the audios were released. Take a listen to what he had to say.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The reporter never asked me that question. The reporter came to me the night before he released the book. And my understanding was he was saying that I asked President Trump to resign. No, I never did. That's what I was answering. If you're asking now did I tell my members that we're going to ask --

ask them if I told anyone of them that I said President Trump, the answer is no.


ZANONA: So, essentially, what McCarthy is trying to say here is that he thought "The Times" was reporting that he had asked Trump to resign, that is not what "The Times" reported. They just reported he had told other House Republicans that he planned to ask Trump to step down.

And also, it is very important to point out here that McCarthy issued a statement vehemently denying "The New York Times" reporting, calling it false and wrong, after "The Times" had already published their article.

So if he was confused about the reporting at the point when he was denying it, he should have known what was being reported.

TAPPER: Doesn't even make sense, his denial. As you know, his denial came out after the story. It's -- anyway, I mean, there's --

ZANONA: Yeah, it's confusing but I think he's trying to make it confusing, yeah.

TAPPER: Yes, you can lie and then you can be good at lying. He's not that there's any great thing about being good at lying but that's a horrible lie.

Anyway, let's get back to the border visit. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who's the chair of the House Republican Conference, the number three House Republican, she tweeted this photo of migrants waiting to be processed, wrapped in Mylar blankets in Eagle Pass, Texas, today.

Tell me about how Republicans are using this border trip to showcase their disapproval of President Biden's policies. Obviously, they want to talk about this a lot ahead of the midterms.

ZANONA: Right. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. They want to put the spotlight on immigration. This is an area where they feel like they have an upper hand in the midterm elections.

And specifically, they use the press conference today to call to attention to President Biden's decision to lift a Trump era immigration policy known as Title 42. They heard from Border Patrol agents earlier today who warned lifting the policy could lead to an influx of migrants at the border.

And they also used today's press conference to call to attention a tragedy that occurred here in Eagle Pass, a national guardsman by the name of Evan Bishop was found today. He had died after he went into the river to try to save two migrants that appeared to be drowning. I'm told House Republicans signed a note and presented the Texas National Guard with a flag in his honor. TAPPER: Yeah. It's a tragic story with that National Guardsman.

Melanie Zanona in Eagle Pass, Texas. Thank you so much.

Coming up, trapped inside, the Shanghai lockdown reaches a new level. The extreme measures happening in Shanghai right now to try to contain COVID cases in one of the world's largest cities.

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TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking this hour, the death sentence of a Texas mother is put on hold days before her scheduled execution for the death of her 2-year- old. The new evidence the lower courts must now review. Is she actually innocent?

Plus, caged in. The extremes one city is going to stop the spread of COVID. Now, fences are being installed so people can't leave their home.

And leading this hour, the U.S. secretary of defense and the secretary of state visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. needs to weaken Russia's military capabilities, something that cannot come soon enough of the Ukrainians.

And just hours after the Blinken/Austin visit, Russia hit five train stations in Western and Central Ukraine, targeting innocent civilians again. And the rail lines which have become lifelines in Ukraine.

Turning to Ukraine's Donbas region in the Southeast, striking new video shows a small village in the Luhansk region after intense fighting. This place was once densely populated. Now it appears totally uninhabitable. Little is left.

As CNN's Sam Kiley reports, some frontline volunteers in the Donbas are begging civilians to try to escape while they still have time.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 21, Maria Shtern is a war veteran. She's been a volunteer on Ukraine's front lines in the Donbas for five years.

Today, she's delivering medicine and food to villages within range of Russian artillery. A new phase in Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine is under way. And it's sometimes hard to understand why people stay in frontline villages.

MARIA SHTERN, UKRAINIAN VOLUNTEER (through translator): I'm asking people a specific question.