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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukrainians Asked To Leave Eastern Ukraine; U.S. Approves Ammunition Sale To Ukraine; Story Of A Couple Besieged By A War; Non- Ukrainian Refugees Battle Discrimination; Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) Is Interviewed About Secretary Of State Blinken And Defense Secretary Austin's Travel To Ukraine; China Erects "COVID Cages" In Shanghai As New Cases Emerge; COVID-19 Hospitalizations Up In 21 States; Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Biden From Ending Title 42; Mark Meadows' 2,319 Text Messages Reveal Trump's Inner Circle Communications Before And After January 6; Texas Court Grants Stay Of Execution For Melissa Lucio. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 17:00   ET




MARIA SHTERN, UKRAINIAN VOLUNTEER (through translation): I'm asking people specific question. Are you ready to hear children crying and saying mom, I'm scared to die? It gives me the creeps to hear them say that myself.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian forces have captured Izium a few miles to the north. Pounding nearby towns with artillery and rockets, they're slowly advancing south towards Sloviansk and the city of Kramatorsk. Russia's aim is to capture this territory.

To do so, it needs to overrun this landscape. Maria is heading towards them, about three miles from the latest reported Russian forces and heavy shelling. She ignores air raid sirens. A family who had become friends are hanging on in their home and she's bringing them food.

On arrival, good news. They have agreed to pull out. A last run in the spring time garden for Ifgenya (ph) and Oleksandra (ph) who ignored the town's sirens.

NATALIA MALIGON, RESIDENT OF MYKOLAIVKA, UKRAINE (through translation): My sister woke up this morning and said, we have to leave. So, we packed up. We didn't want to leave until the last minute, but then something made her want to. So, we had to.

KILEY (voice-over): It's an emotional wrench, but it's a relief.

The importance of groups like (inaudible) part of a volunteer army right across Ukraine, here in the frontline villages is not just humanitarian. It's political. It's about trying to hold on to as much Ukrainian government territory as is possible for as long as is possible. The lessons from Bucha and other towns captured by Russia is that many

civilians may not survive occupation. A neighbor herself frightened and confused still refuses to go. She's got a job at the local power plant. Joining Ukraine's millions of refugees risks a life of deeper poverty.

SHTERN (through translation): It's simply genocide of the Ukrainian people. I don't know how else to explain it to you. You just ask for what?

UNKNOWN (through translation): We're not planning to leave here. This is my homeland. And my relatives are here. I cannot leave anyone here. My elderly grandmother is 80 and can hardly walk. I can't leave her. Do you understand?

KILEY (voice-over): There's no joy in escape for grandmother Luga (ph). Not for anyone in this family. Tens of thousands of people are staying on in their homes across this region. In a nearby church, Orthodox Easter services are dominated by prayers for peace, but the unholy ghost of war looms heavily here.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Jake, clearly, both the Russians and the Ukrainians are racing against time because actually the Russian forces are spread almost as thinly as Ukraine's. Now, as Secretary Austin indicated during his visit to Kyiv recently, the Americans and others are doing everything they can to rush weaponry through to the Ukrainians to prevent the Russians from closing the doors on this city, on Kramatorsk and creating another disaster on the scale that's been seen in Mariupol.

I have to say also, of course, we have seen substantial Ukrainian reserves and other material moving towards the front lines here. And as I stand here, just off in the distance, I can continue to hear the steady rumble of artillery, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sam Kiley reporting live for us from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Thank you so much.

The U.S. State Department has approved a foreign military sale of $165 million worth of ammunition to the government of Ukraine. This on the heels of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's trip to Kyiv with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now live near Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

And Oren, this is just the latest round of military aid coming from the U.S. after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine can win the war if they have the right help.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And part of that help is more than $3 billion in security assistance, weapons, and more that the U.S. has already sent Ukraine. This $165 million is on top of that. And what's worth noting about this is its nonstandard ammunition. Meaning it's Soviet-era ammunition that will go to the Ukrainian forces for the equipment they already have and know how to use.

A lot of the equipment the U.S. is sending in now, for example, the Howitzers that have started arriving and will continue to arrive, require some extra training. So that adds to an already difficult and challenging job of getting into Ukraine, getting Ukrainian forces trained in the middle of a war.

But that is a challenge that Ukraine and the U.S. and the U.K. and many other allies are now undertaking. Part of that will be the conference here hosted by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Base behind me tomorrow.

A question with some 20 other nations of who else has equipment, who else can send equipment, and what's the best way to get it in.


Not only in the short term for the fight right now, but in the medium term and the long term so Ukraine can better defend its sovereignty. Jake?

TAPPER: -- and says American diplomats are headed back into Ukraine as President Zelenskyy wanted. What's that process going to look like?

LIEBERMANN: This will be a process that takes time, but it is a process that we expect from Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comments to begin within the coming days here. First, they'll shuttle in and out of Lviv, so essentially working from Poland overnight and then head into Lviv for the day.

Then as the situation improves, they'll stay more in Lviv, perhaps overnight. And then when the situation allows, they'll begin working in Kyiv. But Jake, all of these require difficult conversations about security because normally embassies have a Marine presence with them. That would mean U.S. troops back in Ukraine.

TAPPER: Oren Liebermann reporting live for us from near Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Thank you so much.

In the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukrainian authorities say Russia continues to refuse to provide safe passage for civilians trapped inside the Azovstal steel plant, one of the last remaining pockets of resistance there.

New videos from inside the plant appear to show women and children sheltering in an underground bunker at the site. CNN's Matt Rivers spoke with the wife of one of the soldiers trapped inside the plant who tells her he will not give up the fight even if it cost him his life.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before Mariupol became a hellscape, before Russian military depravity turned the city into a cemetery, there was love here. Just two weeks before the war began, Natalka Zarytska spent Valentine's Day with her boyfriend in the city. They took this picture at a cafe and this one after eating. And a few days later, she snapped this one of him from her window seat of the train that would take her back to Kyiv.

NATALKA ZARYTSKA, HUSBAND FIGHTING IN MARIUPOL: He kissed me and told, Natalia, I don't know when I will see you again.

RIVERS (voice-over): Resignation from a man who understood the realities of the war to come. Natalka's boyfriend, who we are not naming or showing for security reasons, is a soldier in the Azov battalion, a unit that has fought the Russians in Mariupol for months. We went to see Natalka (ph) at her home in Kyiv where she told us her boyfriend was given a command to "fight until the last drop of blood."

RIVERS (on camera): What did you think when he told you that?

ZARYTSKA: I recommended him to save his life, but he answered, no. I should keep on the command. I am a soldier and I have to be here.

RIVERS (voice-over): She says her boyfriend lost cell service on March 3rd. His silence was as deafening as the bombs that by then had started to fall around Kyiv. Forcing her and her family down into this cellar. It was in here that after two weeks she heard from him.

ZARYTSKA: When he called, it could be 10 or 15 seconds and then bombing and no connection.

RIVERS (voice-over): But with what connection he did have, he would send her videos of the utter destruction that surrounded him. We can't show you those for security reasons.

RIVERS (on camera): What do you think when you watch these videos?

ZARYTSKA: I think they are empty. I feel the empty. Absolute empty.

RIVERS (voice-over): Along with the videos were selfies and texts, and on his birthday, a particularly special message.

ZARYTSKA: He gave me a proposition that I couldn't --

RIVERS (on camera): Say no to.

ZARYTSKA: Say no, yes.

RIVERS (on camera): What did he write to you?

ZARYSTSKA: (Speaking in foreign language). So, I love you and do you want to be my wife?

RIVERS (voice-over): A few days later, a marriage certificate made it official. Now a wife, she says she refuses to cry. Her husband is stoic in the face of death, so she will be, too. How else to describe her reaction to the last message he sent?

ZARYTSKA: My husband told me that Natalka, please, be glad because very soon it will finish.

RIVERS (on camera): When you say it's going to finish very soon, what are the two options?

ZARYTSKA: Very simple. They will alive or they will be killed. Just two options.


RIVERS (on camera): And Jake, in her-- in his -- this soldier's last message to his wife a few days ago, she hasn't heard from him since then, but in that last message, he took several pictures of a hand written letter that he wrote. He said that this would be his "final letter." He said to her don't read this letter until after you know that I'm gone.

She told me she's still holding out hope that maybe he can get out of that steel plant complex alive if there's some sort of evacuation possible. She said in her heart, she hopes it's possible. In her head, she thinks that it might be impossible. Jake?


TAPPER: Matt Rivers in Kyiv, thank you so much.

Where do people living in Ukraine go if they're not able to use most refugee shelters? CNN visits a special shelter in Poland.

Then, the supply chain problems now affecting a vital source for new moms. That's ahead.


TAPPER: Topping our "World Lead," more than 5.2 million refugees have now fled Ukraine since the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion. As we have reported, many of these people have been taken in by neighboring countries. But as CNN's Erica Hill reports for us now, some refugees say they've had a harder time finding help.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After fleeing the war in Ukraine, a chance to just be a kid.



UNKNOWN: She says here she's grateful.

HILL (voice-over): Poland has welcomed nearly 3 million people since the war started. Yet, not everyone is greeted with open arms.

DEMBINSKA: It's clear that we are more open for, you know, those Slavic people, ethnic groups.

HILL (voice-over): While Ukrainians arriving in Poland can stay for 18 months, work legally, and have access to health care and social services, non-Ukrainians can't. These three women knew they could help.

MAGDA WRONISZEWSKA, MANAGER, HOSTEL FOR NON-UKRAINIAN REFUGEES: They have only two weeks to think about the next steps and I can't imagine, actually, how to do it when you are a war refugee.

HILL (voice-over): Overnight, they started a shelter for non- Ukrainian refugees run by (inaudible), a Catholic NGO in Poland. With space for 70 guests, they're turning people away daily.

UNKNOWN: And from the beginning, it's full.

HILL (voice-over): Joel (ph) and Daniel (ph), students from Nigeria were studying management in Kyiv when the war broke out and were reluctant to leave.

OYEBANJI TOLUWALASE, NIGERIAN REFUGEE PREVIOUSLY STUDYING IN UKRAINE: It was fun for me and I (inaudible) love to go back to Ukraine just like that. It's a very good country.

HILL (on camera): You told me when you were looking to leave, that it was harder for you because of the way you look, because of the color of your skin.

TOLUWALASE: Yes. To be honest, yes. It's a challenge.

HILL (voice-over): They finally left two weeks ago and are now trying to figure out what's next.

DEMBINSKA: We also tried to support our guests in organizing their next steps. So sometimes it's a trip to other countries. But also, we try to find flats or apartments, places to stay.

HILL (voice-over): Volunteers at least a dozen a day, keep the shelter running and help connect refugees to essential services. Among them, 27-year-old Khaled, an I.T. Professional who fled Afghanistan seven months ago.

ABDUL KHALED MOHEBI, AFGHAN REFUGEE & VOLUNTEER: I do anything I can do. It's very good for me because I don't have any other job and its better idea to spend time here.

HILL (voice-over): This effort relies on donations, from clothing and toiletries to food and flowers. Even the space which has now welcomed more than 500 people from 36 countries is donated. A generous offer that runs out at the end of May.

HILL (on camera): How long do you think your help will be needed?

DEMBINSKA: We should be ready to invite new refugees until the end of the next year.

HILL (voice-over): And they're dedicated to meeting that challenge.

UNKNOWN: I have a feeling that we are really helping those people who are here. We cannot, you know, solve our problems, but this is a small part that we can do. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (on camera): So, in terms of that small part, Jake, they are determined to keep it going, to provide this safe space. Now, initially, they thought they would just limit their guests to three nights because they knew how big the need would be, but they said they can't just kick them out after three nights.

So, some people have stayed far longer. Again, they have families there, single men, a number of students. In fact, they said they were surprised to learn just how many international students are studying in Ukraine. Something that, of course, became quickly apparent as people began to flee the war.

TAPPER: Erica Hill reporting live from Warsaw, Poland. Thank you so much.

Fenced in, China is turning residents into prisoners in their own homes in one city in order to stop the spread of COVID, they say. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our "World Lead." And a show of solidarity from the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other key Ukrainian leaders.

After that meeting, Blinken declaring Ukraine will be around "a lot longer than Vladimir Putin." Joining us live to discuss, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey who serves as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us. So, Secretary of State Blinken is going to testify before your committee tomorrow. What immediate questions do you have for him following his trip to Ukraine?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Well, Jake, good to be with you. I want to hear what he heard from President Zelenskyy. I want to hear specifically what is the type of assistance that President Zelenskyy is looking for. What is our ability to provide that? What is the success of the overwhelming lethal equipment that we've provided the Ukrainians, and how are they using that?

So, I want to get a clear picture from the State Department about what has happened in terms of that, which we provided. What is the plan for that which we will provide so that the Ukrainians can continue to successfully fight for their country and defeat the Russians at the end of the day?

So, while tomorrow's hearing is a bigger hearing, it's about the budget, but obviously, this is the issue of the moment and I'm sure there will be many questions along those lines. TAPPER: A senior State Department official tells CNN that Secretary

Blinken said that American diplomats are going to start to return to Kyiv this week, I believe, Kyiv. Definitely Ukraine. Are you concerned about their safety?

MENENDEZ: I'm always concerned about our diplomats abroad and their safety anywhere in the world. This is obviously a country that is at war, but we have had diplomats in countries at war before.


So I'm sure that the secretary has been working through diplomatic security to make sure that to the (inaudible) that diplomats are returning. They are returning in a way that they can be helpful in our bilateral relationships with Ukraine, be a source of direct communications with the Zelenskyy government, but do it in a way in which they're safe and secure.

I'm also very glad to hear that the administration has named someone to be a career person, the ambassador to Ukraine. I look forward to reviewing her file and having her before the committee as soon as possible.

TAPPER: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says America wants to see Russia "weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine." What will it take to weaken Russia that much?

MENENDEZ: Well, I think to, as I understood the Secretary Austin's statement, it's basically about saying not giving -- not having Russia have the wherewithal to continue to attack Ukraine in the way that it's had, and not to bring that belligerence to another country. You've seen some of the suggestions by some of the Russian high establishment in terms of the military about talking about Transnistria and other targets to come.

And so, it's a combination of really continuing to inflict enormous pain on the Russian military, which the Ukrainians have courageously done with the use of our weaponry. And secondly, to continue to tighten the economic noose around Putin's neck and to create unrest in Russia because of the economic consequences of that the Russian people are facing as a result of Putin's decision to unjustly invade Ukraine and violate the international order.

That has to be a continuant. Every day we are looking at different ways in which we can create those economic pressures on Russia and on Putin. But at the same time, create enormous consequences. You know, and I think Russian mothers are beginning to ask, where is my son? And that will continue to be a real problem for Vladimir Putin.

TAPPER: You talk about economic pressure. Last year, the European Union paid Russia almost $300 million every single day for energy, oil, coal, natural gas. Ukrainian officials when I was in Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, they told me this is unacceptable, that Germany and other European countries need to stop their funding Putin's war. Even if they take an economic hit, these European countries, they need

to do this. Do you agree? Does the U.S. need to take more of a leadership role in helping Germany and other European countries to end their energy dependence on Russia as soon as possible?

MENENDEZ: Well, certainly ending the energy dependence on Russia for not just Germany but Europe is one of the most important things we can do. And we have been engaged. We have been engaged with the Qataris and others to provide liquefied natural gas to Germany and other countries.

We are looking at other sources of energy to help diversify the European dependency that they've had on Russia. But let's be very honest. You just can't turn the switch overnight. If it could be done and if there were other sources that could replace it, it's not just an economic hit.

It's what that energy supplies to the people in those countries, to the businesses in those countries, to the economy of those countries that are helping to fuel the supplies necessary for Ukraine to fight against Russia.

So yes, we want to see it end yesterday. But by the same token, we have to deal with the realities of how do we create the alternatives? And what I hope and what I know wile will happen, this is why Putin has made one of the most strategic blunders of his life, is that Europe wants to diversify away from Russia.

Before they were happy and content to have Russia as their gas station. That's not the case anymore. And that's going to have long- term consequences for Russia. The quicker we can do it and the quicker we can help Europe be able to do it, it's going to take some difficult choices.

Do we want to turn to some of our Gulf partners which we have some strained relationships with and say, you know, crank up the output? They'll probably do that, but they'll probably have things that they are concerned about in return. That's one of the policy decisions that's going to have to be made.

TAPPER: All right. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey. Thank you so much, sir. Good to see you.

A shortage of baby formula leaving some new parents desperate. Who's to blame? What's being done to fix this. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, you're watching government officials in Shanghai caging people into their homes to prevent them from leaving. Leaders in the city of 25 million people refusing to ease up on draconian COVID containment measures even as residents shout from their balconies for basic necessities such as food and medical care. There are the fences right there. CNN's David Culver is in lockdown in Shanghai.

And David, China's censorship efforts have gone into overdrive they've even censored their own national anthem.

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is remarkable. The first line in particular, Jake, the national anthem, the words rise, those who don't want to be enslaved initially directed towards foreign oppressors. But on social media folks here who are suffering amidst this lockdown started using it against their own government. So those lines now censored.

What was really shocking to witnessed over the weekend, Jake, was this rare digital uprising on social media that involved a six minute video called Voices of April. I think we can show you some of that as well.


The clip uses greyed out drone footage of Shanghai and includes voices of people's desperation in the city over the past several weeks. It highlights a shared misery and helplessness. The video points to dysfunction, mismanagement, what many here see as a city in chaos, and it resonated with so many this weekend who really just feel trapped.

So they in turn went to China's heavily controlled internet to vent. They shared the video so quickly and cleverly, Jake, that China's censors struggled to keep up so no sooner with a block one version did another resurface rapidly multiplying and just flooding China cyberspace.

TAPPER: And we're seeing a video of older residents in Shanghai in wheelchairs and government quarantine facilities. Is the Chinese government policy really to take every single person who tests positive to one of these places?

CULVER: Well, that is certainly the direction coming from the very top and one of China's vice premiers is actually here in Shanghai directly in the response to this outbreak. She's obviously here to enforce President Xi Jinping zero COVID strategy.

And you see videos of folks inside the quarantine facilities. It's heartbreaking. Some of the conditions are just terrible. And many elderly folks were sent there as well. We're hearing stories of people in their 90s in wheelchairs taken from their homes to these facilities really given just a thin mattress and blanket to make do.

And Jake, it's not only positive cases were required to be isolated, but also close contact. So in some situations, Jake, you've got entire nursing homes that have been sent there.

TAPPER: All right, David Culver in Shanghai for us. Thank you so much. Turning to the pandemic here in the United States hospitalizations are up 9 percent compared to last week in the U.S., it's a concerning sign pointing to the strength of the new Omicron subvariant. Thankfully, deaths remain low. They're about a third of what they were a month ago. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, yesterday the White House said that the Biden administration would have had a different reaction to this uptick a year ago. But do you think individuals should still take the same precautions they would have a year ago during a surge?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I think so much of this is now up to the individual with fewer rules. You have to say look, what do I want to do? Do I want to wear a mask when I want -- when I go to the supermarket? Do I want to wear a mask on an airplane? Dr. Josh's point is look a year ago, we didn't have as many vaccinated and boosted people a year ago, we didn't have the therapeutics that we have.

But still take a look at these numbers. We still have about 373 new deaths per day, that's a 14 percent drop from last week, it's about a third of what they were a month ago. But still it was lower in July of last year, 227 deaths per day.

So we have not gotten back to that low that we were at the summer of last year. So again, it really does come down to individual choice at this point. If you feel safer wearing a mask, you should it goes without saying of course that you should be fully vaccinated and boosted. Jake.

TAPPER: Elizabeth, the pandemic side of this domino effect on the global economy including supply chain issues with vital products such as baby formula. Now adding to the shortage of baby formula, certain formulas have been recalled. What is the FDA saying about this and what's being done about it?

COHEN: So these formulas are made by Abbott nutrition and the FDA says look, our inspection showed that Abbott did not take steps to prevent contamination during manufacturing. I will tell you, Jake, having covered countless recalls, it is highly unusual for the FDA to come out and just flat out say that a company did something like that or you know that they didn't take certain steps that they should have. That's very unusual for the FDA to be that critical of a company.

Let's take a look at what we have -- what has happened so far. So, what's happened so far is that Similac Alimentum and EleCare formulas are involved in this recall. And that's because for infants have had Cronobacter infections. Two of those infants died, the other two infants were hospitalized. Abbott Labs says that they are continuing to take corrective actions and that they have already done some actions and they will continue to do more. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much. The thousands of text messages Donald Trump's then Chief of Staff received about January 6 everything, everyone from Trump's kids to members of Congress. The CNN exclusive, that's next.


[17:43:54] TAPPER: We have some breaking news in our politics lead. Just moments ago a federal judge temporarily blocked the Biden administration from ending a Trump era pandemic restriction on the U.S.-Mexico border it's known as Title 42. It currently allows border authorities to turn migrants back because of -- back to Mexico or their home countries because of the public health crisis.

The Biden administration plans to end the restrictions on May 23rd. That's a move that drew bipartisan criticism.

Also in our politics lead, newly obtained text messages by then Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, shedding new light on what members of Congress were saying and thinking on January 6 in the days after, including staunch Trump supporter Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who texted Mark Meadows about a week after the insurrection, saying quote, in our private chat with only members of Congress, several are saying the only way to save our republic is for Trump to call for martial misspelled, martial law. I don't know on these things. I just wanted you to tell him the president they stole this election. We all know they will destroy our country now. Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anyone else.


So that's what Marjorie Taylor Greene said. But let me Alyssa, let me start with you. This is what she said in a text message. But just last week on Friday, she was asked in court, when she's being there's this effort to get her off the ballot because of this legal theory that because she participated in an insurrection. She shouldn't be able to run for office, according to, you know, Civil War era legislation anyway.

She was asked if she'd ever advocated for martial law. This is what you had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Greene, did you advocate to President Trump to impose martial law as a way to remain in power?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not denying you did it? You just don't remember?

GREENE: I don't remember.


TAPPER: So I guess generally speaking, that's what people say when they did it. But they don't want to admit it.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, FORMER WHITE HOSUE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS UNDER TRUMP: Right, you would think you would recall something as significant as calling for martial law that the thing that's notable about the Marjorie Taylor Greene texts was January 17th. This is two weeks after the insurrection days before the swearing in of President Biden.

And keep in mind, Secretary Esper is out of DOD. It's now Trump's hand picked defense secretary and Chairman Milley if he had been asked, we're invoking martial law, you would have had a full blown constitutional crisis, the Department of Defense probably would have had every general officer walk out because they would not do this. I don't think we fully appreciate how crazy some of the theories being espoused in those final weeks were.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I totally agree. That's what I was most struck by. This is 11 days after January 6, a violent insurrection in which five people died more than 100 Capitol police officers were injured and police officers generally are injured. And three days before Joe Biden is going to be president. This wasn't not that it's forgivable.

TAPPER: Right.

CILLIZZA: Right. Not that oh, well, it was December 20th. So it's fine. But I do think it speaks to how deep they had gone down this hole so close to Joe Biden being sworn in. You know, if we all -- we all prior to this, I think, you know, the peaceful transition of power. At the end of the day, we have that. We had that with Bush- Gore, we have that always.

We almost didn't have --

TAPPER: We didn't have it. No, we didn't.

CILLIZZA: Right. We didn't in any meaningful way. You're exactly right. We -- it could have been significantly worse, because to Alyssa's point, it's not that for we weren't that our way days away. This is Marjorie Taylor Greene and other members of Congress sending it to the White House Chief of Staff. This is not just like a conversation on conservative talk radio.


CILLIZZA: Right? I mean, this is serious stuff.

TAPPER: And it's like when there were several Republicans in Trump's orbit pleading for Trump to act while the insurrection was happening. Mick Mulvaney, the forming Acting Chief of Staff's Mark, I was talking about Mark Meadows, the acting -- the Chief of Staff, then, Mark he needs to stop this now. Can I do anything to help, Republican Congressman William Timmons, the President needs to stop this ASAP Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff and RNC chair, tell them, all caps, tell them to go home. Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. to Meadows, he's got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough. Meadows response I'm pushing it hard. I agree. Trump Jr. writes back, this is one you go to the mattresses on, they will try to F his entire legacy on this if it gets worse.

And yet, quite a number of those individuals still lying about the election, still lying about the insurrection.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And one of the notable messages to me in the moment of the insurrection that you didn't read was former congressman who told Mark Meadows, this does not help our causes.

So you really -- it was -- and it's also stunning to see too. And the Meadows texts kind of laid this out how quickly these Republican members and these Republican officials turned from, you know, panic and concern and urging the President to call this off to so quickly saying, well, maybe we can explain that this was Antifa. Like I think that Antifa was involved here or there were other explanations.

And you saw this with Kevin McCarthy too who said last -- who keeps kind of hanging on to his claim that it was actually Democrats who are responsible for the insurrection when we know from what McCarthy said at the time that he held Trump -- he said Trump bared some responsibility.

So these text messages are very illuminating. And that count and you see why the January 6 committee wanted to talk to Mark Meadows so badly for their investigation.

TAPPER: Yes, although he stopped cooperating with the committee after he turned over those texts. But I have to say, these texts are very helpful to the committee.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Yes, they're very helpful. And they're very, they give us a lot of information about the fact of what people were thinking real time, which is very contrary to what they said in public, which just reiterates the point that the GOP is not leading. They're following. What they do is they have their feelings about things and then they find out oh, the MAGA people want us to do something different. So we'll do that. And we'll pretend like we never thought anything else.

But I think the more important thing here for me is the fact that they obviously recognize that Donald Trump had the ability to stop this.


POWERS: And that's the dereliction of duty.


And so there's just -- there's no other way to read these texts than them clearly saying, there's one person who can stop this right now. And it's Donald Trump. And Donald Trump never did that.

TAPPER: And Alyssa, take a look at this because David Perdue, former senator, formerly respected CEO, is now challenging the incumbent Republican Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia, Georgia, one of these places where Donald Trump falsely claimed a whole bunch of fraud that did not exist, et cetera, et cetera. In fact, Jared Kushner, and these tax sends forwards a story showing how like one of these allegations of conspiracy theories was just nonsense. Anyway, here's David Perdue, in a debate.


DAVID PERDUE (R) GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Let me be very clear tonight. The election in 2020 was rigged and stolen, rising gas prices. Unbelievable inflation. The brink of war, All that started right here in Georgia when our governor K did allow radical Democrats to steal our election.


TAPPER: Does he believe that?

GRIFFIN: I don't think so. I've spent a decent amount of time with a Purdue. He knows better people around him deal. And by the way, he lost that race because he echoed election fraud claims. I was advising the Georgia Senate runoff. People weren't turning out because everyone was saying, Hey, your vote doesn't count. It's all rigged. So that it's just the fact that was his opening statement. By the way, this wasn't like a one off point in the debate he is running on. It was stolen. And Governor Kemp should not be governor for upholding the democratic election.

TAPPER: And I want to bring you in because you pointed something out to me that I completely forgotten. So Jamie Gangel and I in December reported that there was this tax that the committee thought Rick Perry wrote, basically pushing this crazy theory --


TAPPER: -- about not recognizing electors and we reached out, it was traced to Rick Perry's phone. We reached out to his office, his spokesman denied it. And then today --

CILLIZZA: In these trove of texts, not only was it traced to Rick Perry's phone, as you report it, he signed the texts, Rick Perry. So, either someone got his phone and I mean it's, you know, it's strange credulity to think that this is not, it was right than it is right now. The idea that you would lie about this we've seen with Kevin McCarthy too, you know, just boldface lying is now OK I guess.

TAPPER: Yes. McCarthy lying again today about his denial of that story.

KIM: Right, right. And it's constant and, you know, unfortunately it's not a crime to lie to the press. But I think politicians should remember, everyone should remember that when you're lying to the press, you're lying to the public.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. The last minute reprieve for a Texas mother facing execution for the death of her toddler, that's next.


[17:57:04] TAPPER: Breaking news, the execution of a Texas mom on death row is now on hold. The Texas trial court has been ordered to review new evidence in the case of 52-year-old Melissa Lucio. He was convicted of murdering her two-year-old daughter in 2007 as CNN's Natasha Chen reports.


SONYA VALENCIA, MELISSA LUCIO'S SISTER: Were just so excited and we're waiting, we're waiting for Melissa to come home.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With just two days before the scheduled execution of Melissa Lucio, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay that might give her a chance to prove that she did not kill her two-year-old daughter Mariah Alvarez in 2007.

In a statement Lucio said in part, I am grateful the court has given me the chance to live and prove my innocence. Mariah is in my heart today and always.

BOBBY ALVAREZ, MELISSA LUCIO'S SON: It's a really tough time for all of us right now.

CHEN: Bobby Alvarez and his siblings have been visiting their mother in a central Texas prison where she has been on death row.

Her family says that day they were in the middle of moving. When Lucia was packing in their second floor unit, Mariah who was unsteady on her feet due to a mild physical disability fell down the stairs. She didn't show signs of severe injury but became lethargic and two days later, unresponsive.

ALVAREZ: We needed to call the ambulance from there you know that taken away. It just -- it was just an overnight.

CHEN: Court documents show Texas Rangers interrogated Lucio for hours about extensive bruising and suspected child abuse. The clip of this interview was provided by Lucio's lawyers,

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably you're not cold blooded. How are you going to change our minds and prove to us you're not cold blooded?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you can start by telling us the truth. Start by telling us the truth.

VANESSA POTKIN, MELISSA LUCIO'S ATTORNEY: It wasn't going to stop until she told the interrogators what they wanted to hear

CHEN: Lucio's lawyers say after hours of questioning the night her daughter died, Lucio was pressured into agreeing that she was responsible for her daughter's injuries, but never said she killed her child. Her defense team says the new evidence includes testimony the jury never heard from witnesses saying Lucio did not abuse her child.

Lucio's lawyers also say the jury was not shown how Mariah is bruising could have been explained by a blood coagulation disorder caused by head trauma sustained in the fall. Now a lower court must review some of these claims, including that she is actually innocent. Five jurors have said with new evidence they feel Lucio should have a new trial

POTKIN: Mariah's death was a tragedy, not a murder. And the reason that we're seeing the jurors come forward, the reason that we're seeing such an outpouring of bipartisan support is because people recognize that Melissa Lucio is innocent.


CHEN: Now the trial court will have a hearing to review evidence on certain defense claims and based on that she could get a new trial all of that could take months and she will remain behind bars in the meantime, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Natasha Chen, thanks so much. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM.