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The Lead with Jake Tapper

American Trevor Reed On His Way Home After Release From Russia; Russia Halts Natural Gas Flow To Poland And Bulgaria; Putin Threatens "Swift" Response To Foreign Interference In Ukraine; Ukrainian Volunteers Deliver Gear, Military Equipment To Troops; Rent Prices In U.S. Jump Record 20 Percent Since 2020; Dr. Fauci: U.S. "Out Of The Pandemic Phase." Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 27, 2022 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Baby looks completely unimpressed by this. Just like, all right, all right, this is what dad does. Turns out mom had been telling dad, watch out for the fly balls throughout this game.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: That's awesome. So team effort, and he'll get dad of the year. That was great.


CAMEROTA: OK. And the lead with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Madeleine Albright once predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a historic error. May her memory be a blessing.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A brief moment of diplomacy as Russia agrees to a prisoner swap and frees U.S. marine veteran Trevor Reed, but what about the other two Americans still detained in Russia?

Plus, the Kremlin accused of blackmail after Putin turns off the tap supplying two European nations with gas. The provocative move going beyond Ukraine's borders.

And housing crisis. What is pushing the cost of rentals so high, and how the lack of affordable housing could soon lead many lower-income renters without a place to live?


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. And we start today with our world lead and a homecoming nearly three years in the making.

Right now, U.S. citizen and former marine Trevor Reed is on his way back to the United States after 985 days of detainment in Russia. Reed's release is part of a prisoner swap authorized by President Biden that sends a convicted Russian drug smuggler back to his home country. Russian TV releasing this video earlier, which they say shows Reed being escorted to a plane at an airport outside Moscow.

One driving factor for President Biden in these negotiations, we're told, was his fear over Trevor's deteriorating health. His family has been raising concerns for months now about Trevor's possible exposure to tuberculosis and the lingering effects from his bout with COVID.

Trevor's mother Paula confirmed that there is a doctor onboard the plane flying him home during a CNN interview this morning, and sharing her plans for the moment she is reunited with her son.


PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED: I'm going to try not to cry because he doesn't want me to cry, but obviously, I'm going to cry a little bit, give him a big hug, and just you know, give him a hug, and it will be the four of us together again in a few years. So it's going to be great.


TAPPER: Biden administration officials adamant that Reed's release will not impact the U.S. approach to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and slaughter of the Ukrainian people, a war that is still inflicting a horrific amount of suffering on innocent civilians.

CNN's Matthew Chance starts us off today with a look at the years-long diplomatic efforts to secure Trevor Reed's release in 2019, an imprisonment the U.S. ambassador to Russia called a gross injustice.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the moment Trevor Reed, looking frail, took his first steps towards freedom. Shown on Russian television being escorted by masked security guards. And onto a waiting plane. Amid fraught U.S./Russian relations, this is an unexpected win.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: This is a good day for the United States. It also speaks to President Biden's commitment and this entire administration's commitment to do everything we can to secure the release of Americans who are held hostage or otherwise wrongfully detained around the world.

CHANCE: Trevor Reed is a former U.S. marine, imprisoned for supposedly endangering the life of Russian police. Prosecutors said he assaulted an officer after a night of heavy drinking. He was sentenced by a Moscow court to a harsh nine years, his shocked Russian girlfriend broke down.

This is the reputation of Russia, she screamed, before being escorted out.

His parents spoke to CNN at the end of their son's three-year ordeal.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And tell us how Trevor's feeling. Tell us what he said about this. JOEY REED, FATHER OF TREVOR REED: He sounds kind of subdued. I think

he's a little overwhelmed.

P. REED: Yeah, he seemed to be in shock a little bit.

J. REED: They had moved him to another prison. They had move him to a Moscow prison this week. We didn't know that.

CHANCE: Of course, Trevor Reed's freedom wasn't for free. This is the dramatic moment broadcast on Russian television when the American was swapped for a Russian convict held in a U.S. jail. You can see Reed on the left walking towards the U.S. plane.

Crossing back into Russian hands, Konstantin Yaroshenko sentenced to 20 years in the U.S. for conspiracy to smuggle drugs. His conviction and subsequent treatment has been a major thorn in U.S./Russian ties.

Two years ago, amid talk of a swap, CNN spoke to Yaroshenko in an exclusive interview from his U.S. federal prison, when he accused U.S. authorities of illegally abducting him and then torturing him in custody, allegations U.S. officials deny.

I can talk about gross violations, of fundamental laws, international rights, and what the Americans did in my case regarding extradition, he tells me. There was no extradition. Do you understand? These are very serious things.

I have not violated a single law. I'm not some kind of soulless creature. I'm not an animal that can be kidnapped, beaten, tortured, and then illegally transported to the United States, Yaroshenko said. He also told me he believed he was a pawn in a political game between Washington and Moscow, a game that has, for him, and for Trevor Reed, now finally come to an end.


CHANCE: Well, Jake, tonight, Russian officials have put out a statement saying that they will continue to make every effort to free all Russians who have, quote, in their words, fallen into the millstones of punitive American justice. In other words, there are Russians still in U.S. jails and indeed Americans in Russian jails who could yet still be swapped.

Back to you.

TAPPER: Matthew, stay with us, actually. I want to bring in national security correspondent Kylie Atwood who is live at the State Department and ask both of you some questions.

Kylie, a senior Biden administration official says Trevor Reed's release took months and months of careful hard work. What are you learning about these negotiations?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a senior administration official saying this was months in the making. And of course, those efforts accelerated in recent days and weeks. There are two significant points here. First of all, they are describing these negotiations, these conversations as focused really explicitly only on Trevor Reed. They didn't bleed into other diplomatic situations between the United States. They didn't at all discuss the Ukraine war. So, that is one significant aspect.

Another part of this is Trevor Reed's health. We are told, we have reported that it has been deteriorating over the last year. He had COVID-19 last year. He has experienced symptoms of tuberculosis. His family has said at times he's been coughing up blood.

So that is something that accelerated the conversation surrounding his release. We heard just this afternoon from his mother talking about seeing images of him being released and saying he really doesn't look all that well -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Matthew, you heard Kylie there, the administration saying these negotiations happened completely separately from diplomatic talks about the war. How does that even work?

CHANCE: Very encouraging and very surprising, but very encouraging for the other Americans in Russian jails. Paul Whelan, Brittney Griner, that there can be these negotiations taking place in parallel or despite the fact that the relationship with the United States and Russia has deteriorated to sort of unprecedented depths, specifically over the war in Ukraine.

And so, the fact that there can be this absolutely awful relationship between Washington and Moscow on the one hand. On the other hand, they can still be backroom negotiations that results in this kind of deal, which sees the freedom of an American citizen in a Russian jail, will give, I suspect, people like Paul Whelan, people like Brittney Griner a high degree of hope that their futures can also be settled in such a positive way.

TAPPER: Kylie, what about Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan? Both of them remain detained in Russia. What do we know about the efforts to get them released?

ATWOOD: They're active. The State Department is continuing to work on both of those cases. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia earlier this year. Paul Whelan has been detained since 2018.

And I think it's important to note that Paul Whelan's family very much was welcoming of Trevor Reed's release today. His brother saying that they were elated by the news, while they were surprised, and of course, they hoped it was their brother, their son who was coming home, they did welcome this development. But of course, they were very sad that Paul Whelan is still in Russia -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood, Matthew Chance, thanks to both of you.

Despite Russia's repeated denials that its forces were responsible for the atrocities committed in Bucha, Ukraine, CNN has now obtained drone video that shows Russian vehicles and forces on a Bucha street near the corpses of civilians. CNN has confirmed the three objects you see there highlighted on the right of the screen behind the Russian military vehicle. Those are the same bodies seen in this video recorded after the Ukrainian forces retook control of the town weeks later.

So, let's bring in CNN's Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, you've seen first-hand the devastation that Putin's forces left behind in towns near Bucha. How do you think Russia will respond to the further proof its own soldiers were behind these war crimes?



TAPPER: We're losing the audio there for Clarissa. We're going to try to bring her back.

In the meantime, let us turn to our guest. Joining us to discuss, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, who served under President George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump to a degree, as well, I suppose.

I want to start with your reaction to the release of Trevor Reed. Why do you think Russia was willing to make the swap now in the middle of really the worst possible relations between these two countries since the Cuban missile crisis, probably.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Worse indeed. All that's going on right now is just terrible between the two countries. However, it's important for the United States to get people back. And so, a lot of effort went into that, as you heard, as you reported. Months of work, discussions, even in the midst of this terrible relationship, it can be separated out.

We're not negotiating with the Russians on anything having to do with Ukraine. That is between the Ukrainians and the Russians, even those notions are a low level.

TAPPER: Right.

TAYLOR: But there are reasons to have conversations, and that's why we have an ambassador.

TAPPER: Do you think this portends, obviously, the reason why the families of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner are happy about the news is this could mean good news for their loved ones down the road. Do you think this portends anything positive about ending the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

TAYLOR: No. Not at all. I think these are totally separate. I think they're rightfully totally separate. What the Russians are doing, what you just reported in Bucha is something that is just horrible to see, and how do you negotiate with those kinds of people? So those are totally separate issues.

TAPPER: What about Whelan and Griner? What about getting them out? TAYLOR: We should be pushing. I'm sure we are pushing. Very hard to

get those people out, just the same way we got this person out here today. So that will continue.

TAPPER: Tell me about this development today, the Russian energy giant Gazprom halted gas supplies to both Poland and Bulgaria. These are EU countries, NATO members. Both countries refuse to pay in rubles, the Russian currency, and that's why this supposedly happened.

The head of the EU commission called this a provocation by the Kremlin. How big of an escalation is this?

TAYLOR: This is a big escalation, Jake. However, it comes as the heating season ends. As we're going into spring and summer, the warmer time, less use of gas. However, it is a demonstration that the Russians can cut off gas, but they lose revenue.

TAPPER: Right.

TAYLOR: They need revenue to run this war, to fund this war. And they're cutting themselves off from that.

TAPPER: And that's my next question, which is obviously, we don't want our Polish and Bulgarian allies to suffer, but there truly is a goal now for NATO countries to wean themselves from Russian fuel because basically somebody estimated the Europeans are giving the Russians, what is it, a billion --

TAYLOR: Billion dollars a day.

TAPPER: A billion -- I think it's euros. But a billion euros a day or something like that.

TAYLOR: That's exactly right.

TAPPER: Paying for the war.

TAYLOR: Paying for the war, and those funds continue to go in, as long as Europeans buy oil and gas from the Russians.

TAPPER: So this is exactly, hoisting themselves on their own petard though in a way.

TAYLOR: They are indeed. They're demonstrating they're an unreliable supplier. Who would want a contract with the Russians in the future for long term oil or gas? They won't. They're looking for other sources.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to something Putin said today in a speech to Russian lawmakers. It seems to be another threat to the West. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If someone intends to intervene in what is happening from the outside and creates unacceptable strategic threats for us, then they should know that our response to oncoming strikes will be swift, lightning fast.


TAPPER: How do you interpret that? How seriously should the U.S. take it?

TAYLOR: We should take all of it seriously, no doubt. However, this has been the same category of his rattling the nuclear saber. They do it over and over. They want to get attention.

It probably demonstrates they're concerned about what's going on from the NATO allies into Ukraine. And so this is a demonstration, I think, of success on the part of the allies.

TAPPER: All right, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, always good to see you. Thank you so much.

Today, officials in southern Ukraine say a Russian military strike did this to a hospital, blew out windows, leaving a trail of debris. CNN is also in this town where a group is making dangerous deliveries to Ukrainians who still refuse to leave.

Plus, the concerns of a superspreader event at the return of one of the most popular Washington, D.C. gatherings.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, despite Russia's repeated denials its forces were responsible for it atrocities committed in Bucha, new drone video obtained by CNN shows Russian military vehicles and Russian forces on a Bucha street strewn with the bodies of dead Ukrainian civilians.

Let's bring back CNN's Clarissa Ward live in Kyiv.

And, Clarissa, how is Russia going to respond to this further proof, this evidence that their troops were responsible for war crimes?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I don't think you'll really see any kind of formal response. And it's important to note that video will probably never see the light of day in Russia. President Putin is very much focused on his own internal domestic audience. He cares less about what the rest of the world is saying.

And as we have seen before, when the atrocities of Bucha were first revealed, the response of the Kremlin was to throw out a variety of kind of absurd narratives that could possibly explain what had happened. One of them that was actually forwarded to me, if you can believe it, by a Russian friend, was that these were not dead bodies but actually actors, and they had doctored a video to show one of the bodies reportedly appearing to move at one stage. Then you had several other possible scenarios that were put out there

in the public sphere.


And the purpose is not to persuade the Russian people that any one specific narrative is the correct one. But just to bombard people with so many different possibilities that they are simply left shrugging their shoulders and saying, well, I guess we'll never really know what happened.

So, I would expect to see more blind flat denials and more preposterous possible narratives thrown out there. But I would not expect any meaningful substantive statement.

TAPPER: Clarissa, it does appear that Russian forces are making some kinds of gains in the east of Ukraine, in the south of Ukraine. What is the latest on the fighting?

WARD: So Ukrainian officials have come forward today and said that Russia has managed to take some villages and towns in the East. And this is pretty significant because up until this point, this offensive has been pretty slow moving. They have been making incremental progress, taking weeks to take just one town, the town of Kreminna.

And of course, this is all happening as we're seeing a renewed push in the south. We're also seeing that offensive pushing down from the north through the city of Izium. So there's no question that this three-pronged offensive is gaining some momentum. At the same time, though, one doesn't want to get it out of context. The reality is that towns, Popasna where we were on the outskirts last week, are still contested despite Russia's best efforts and despite battles taking place for well over a week now. So it is slow moving, Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward live for us in Kyiv, thank you so much.

Also on our world lead, Russia is stepping up the ground offensive. Blasts were heard in three Russian regions bordering Ukraine and Ukrainian officials are acknowledging the loss of several eastern towns and villages.

Now, as CNN's Sam Kiley reports for us, local police are trying to get aid to civilians sheltering in basements.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Severodonetsk, on the front line with Russia. It's an artillery front line.

Let's get into the basement.

Local police are delivering aid to civilians unable to leave. There's no time to wait out the bombardment. There's no likely end to the shelling either. Supplies need delivering and fast. She tells me there are three people next door including a granny of

92. Upstairs, a bedridden woman. She says that normally they stay in the flat and only use the basement when it's bad. Thank you for not forgetting us, she adds.

The urgency of these sorts of deliveries cannot be exaggerated. Just in this block, there's mostly old people. One gentleman is dying of cancer in front of his wife. She's saying she's living in a double hell.

Since we have been here, there are been five, six, eight impacts very, very close. And almost every tree, every corner, every bit of this local neighborhood has got the signs of recent impact. And Russians are just a kilometer, maybe three away.

Russian guns are so close you can hear the whole arc of their shells. From Kyiv to Mariupol, from Kharkiv to here, this is the Russian way of war -- pound civilians, flatten cities, and maybe occupy the ashes.

Alexander says we're in danger now, they're shelling us so it could come at any moment and shrapnel could hurt us. We try to hide there in the bomb shelter.

Two months of war has driven these people underground. And there's no end in sight.

The fear, Alexander confesses, he tries to keep inside. But it creeps out.

There's one more delivery that the police have got to make, but every time we try to get out the front door of this building, there's another impact. There's another one now. They're saying the hospital, which is nearby, is under heavy shelling. We were planning to go there. We couldn't get through nor can we even get out of this bunker. The hospital was hit, images of the damage done that morning posted online by the local administration.

Officials said that one civilian was killed, others injured, and several floors were badly damaged. The humanitarian effort goes on. This woman asks only for the basics of existence. Water and candles for light.

Good job. You do this every day?


KILEY: He tells me most people left here now have nowhere else to go. They have lived here all their lives and don't want to abandon their homes.

Do you think the Russians are going to take this?

Never, he says, we will stand our ground to the last man. No one will leave here.

That may be a dangerous claim. It's likely that Ukrainians will destroy this bridge to hold up the invasion. And anyone still here would then be trapped in Russian hands.


KILEY: Now, Jake, the town of Rubizhne, just to the north of Severodonetsk, has been confirmed as having fallen to the Russians. It may get retaken, of course. This is a back and forth war.

Similarly, the town of Lyman even closer in and clearly, what the Russian agenda here at the moment is to try to capture at least the northern banks of the Donetsk River, which is forming a natural barrier for Ukrainian forces. The mayor of the city that I'm in at the moment, Kramatorsk, which is the prize for the Russians, says that he expects the fighting to start in earnest next week -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley reporting live from Kramatorsk, Ukraine, thank you so much.

The U.S. and allies may be sending military aid, but Ukrainians are pretty resourceful themselves. Coming up next, a supply mission organized by a Ukrainian TV star.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back in our world lead, a well-known Ukrainian TV host is turning his popularity into action, raising millions through grassroots efforts to help equip the Ukrainian army with the help of ordinary citizens and volunteers.

One of those volunteers is Roman Sinicyn.

He joins us now from Dnipro, Ukraine.

Roman, you work with Serhiy Prytula, that's a TV-star-turned- politician-turned-army-volunteer, and together, you are supplying equipment such as helmets and bulletproof vests and drones and thermal optics and so on to the Ukrainian army through Serhiy's charity foundation.

Explain how you're getting these resources to the people who need them.

ROMAN SINICYN, ARMY VOLUNTEER & COORDINATOR, PRYTULA VOLUNTEER CENTER: How do we get them these sources? Actually, we make the fund-raising, but how we transport the supplies to the front line.

TAPPER: Well, both. I mean, so you raise the money, and then how do you buy the supplies and how do you get them to the front line?

SINICYN: Okay. We are buying supplies from different ways. Some of the supplies we are buying in the United States with the help of some people, Ukrainians in the United States. For example, we are buying night vision goggles. We are buying thermal

scopes sometimes in the United States. We are buying helmets and vests in the United States.

But most of the supplies we get from European countries.

TAPPER: And then how do you get them to the front lines? You just get in a truck and drive them?

SINICYN: We have a few stocks in Europe and Ukraine and logistics chain. Actually, we have offices in a few Ukrainian cities like Kyiv, Dnipro, Lviv. And every day, I think from three to six or seven trucks are driving directly to the front line, supplying everything that our guys need. Starting from --

TAPPER: Yeah, it -- go ahead, I'm sorry.

SINICYN: Starting from some ordinary things like, I don't know, like helmets and sometimes we're buying serious drones, like the cost of one drone is like $1 million for the drone, so it depends.

TAPPER: Wow. So you first started volunteering with the army, I'm told, in 2014, after Russia invaded Crimea. How have the needs of the Ukrainian army changed since then?

SINICYN: I think they are totally changed because like now we have a full scale invasion of Russians, and to compare with eight years ago, there were no fighter jets. There were no such heavy artillery shellings and such a lot of enemies.

This conflict was, how to say, I think local, but now it's -- this conflict is very full scale and we have rocket attacks every day and every night, different parts of our country, to the western regions and actually all the country and all Ukraine is now the aim of Russian terrorists.


TAPPER: Yeah. Roman Sinicyn, thank you so much. Best of luck to you in your mission.

On average, home rentals in the U.S. are up a record 20 percent, 20 percent just since 2020. And that's just the average.

Coming up, see where rent is really skyrocketing.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our money lead, a growing affordability crisis in the housing market, forcing many Americans to rent. With rising inflation eating into household budgets, many Americans are feeling the sting of spiking rent prices, up a record 20 percent from two years ago.

[16:40:08] As CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich reports for us now, that is now forcing some Americans to have to leave their homes.


LAURA GUILMAIN, FLORIDA RENTER: Less and less and less --

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Laura Guilmain and her daughter Carson have 30 days to find a new home.

How many properties do you think you've explored?

GUILMAIN: Thousands. Thousands.

YURKEVICH: For three years, Guilmain has been paying $2,100 a month for this 3 bedroom in Palm Beach gardens, Florida. But last month, she got a letter from her landlord.

GUILMAIN: Due to unforeseen circumstances --

YURKEVICH: Her new rent, $3,200 a month. An attorney for her landlord tells CNN rising property taxes and mortgage rates are to blame.

GUILMAIN: I freaked out. We can't afford it. Can't do it.

YURKEVICH: There's a housing affordability crisis. Home prices are sky high forcing more Americans into a competitive rental market.

Guilmain, a single mom and disabled veteran, is reliant on rental assistance from Housing and Urban Development or HUD. She already had fewer options. But now, landlords looking to capitalize on rising rents are less willing to accept her rental voucher.

How critical is the HUD voucher to your existence?

GUILMAIN: That is our existence. Without it, we would be homeless.

YURKEVICH: Rents are rising across the country. Up a record 20 percent on average in two years. Double that in cities like Memphis, Tampa, and Riverside, California, but the Miami/Palm Beach area tops them all at 58 percent, nearly three times the national average.

GUILMAIN: When there's a hurricane, it's illegal for gas stations to jack up the prices. Why is there not a cap in the state of Florida? Why am I looking at a 43 percent increase?

YURKEVICH: In fact, it's illegal in Florida to impose rent controls.

SARAH ESPINOSA, RENTER: That gives me a lot of anxiety.

YURKEVICH: Sarah Espinosa is facing a 106 percent increase on her rent in Coral Gables, Florida.

For 22 years, she's called this three-bedroom home. She raised her son here. She says the $1,700 she pays in rent is below market value, but the $3,500 her new landlord is charging is out of her budget.

ESPINOSA: It's not reasonable at all. I guess right now everybody's just price gouging because people need somewhere to live.

YURKEVICH: She set a new budget of $2,800. This week, she found an apartment right next door, but it's smaller and overbudget by $400.

How does that rationalize in your mind?

ESPINOSA: It doesn't. It doesn't rationalize at all and I just think it's very unfair. It makes me upset.

GUILMAIN: You know how many people have reached out?

YURKEVICH: For Laura and Carson, their search continues with no prospects in sight.

So, where does that put you?

GUILMAIN: Puts me out on the street.


YURKEVICH (on camera): And just a few states have rent control protections in place. Most do not, including Florida. But on a local level, the city of Miami just passed a new law which requires landlords to give tenants 60 days notice if they plan to raise the rent more than 5 percent. But, of course, Jake, that does not help folks pay the rent, and it doesn't help them find a more affordable place to live. Those are the issues that many Americans are struggling with right now -- Jake.

TAPPER: Vanessa, are there any signs at all that these skyrocketing rental prices will stop skyrocketing anytime soon?

YURKEVICH: Unfortunately not. It's just the opposite. A lot of people we spoke to estimate that prices will go higher. We're seeing really high inflation. Many landlords trying to recoup concessions they gave to tenants.

Miami is one of the cities with the hottest inflation in the country, and more people are moving here to Miami than anywhere else across the country, making it very difficult for renters here in this area and across the country to find any affordable deals right now -- Jake.

TAPPER: Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A major shift in tone from Dr. Anthony Fauci after more than two years of the U.S. dealing with COVID cases. Take a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase.


TAPPER: The major caveat Fauci is also making as he makes that declaration. That's next.



TAPPER: In our health lead, conflicting messages from President Biden's top medical adviser after appearing to declare the COVID pandemic over, Dr. Fauci has now clarified to CNN that he believes the country is moving instead into a transitional phase of the pandemic.

Fauci's abandoning plans to attend this weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner over COVID concerns about the event. Attendees do need to show proof of vaccination and proof of a negative at-home COVID test from the previous 24 hours.

CNN's MJ Lee joins us now live from the White House.


And, MJ, President Biden is 79 and he's still planning of attending the dinner. What is the administration saying about concerns he could get COVID there?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is saying that President Biden is still going to attend this dinner. But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki just told reporters that they are going to be taking some extra precautions, including he is going to be skipping the dinner, the eating portion of this dinner, and he is going to be masked whenever he is not speaking. But as you know very well, the White House has been pretty open in talking about and acknowledging that they know this latest BA.2 variant is very, very contagious, but they have consistently said that they feel good about the protocols that are in place, particularly here at the White House, calling these protocols very stringent.

But these protocols have come under questioning and more scrutiny because we have seen officials here in Washington at the highest levels, including of course, this week the vice president herself testing positive for COVID. But again, the White House is saying that some of these decisions about where the president travels, what kinds of events he attends, he is involved in making those decisions as well. That these events that are sort of personally important for him to attend, that he gets a say in what he wants to do. And that it is a risk assessment that the president himself is making in consultation with others at the White House, Jake.

TAPPER: MJ, President Biden earlier today gave the eulogy for Madeleine Albright, the nation's first female secretary of state. How did he remember her?

LEE: Yeah, you know, this was obviously a personally meaningful eulogy for the president. He was speaking, of course, in front of U.S. leaders. He was speaking in front of global leaders that were gathered. Not to mention family members and friends who were close with the former secretary.

One part that was so striking was the reference that he made to what is going on in Ukraine. In fact, he said that when he found out that she had passed, he was en route to Europe and that when he got to Poland, he was speaking to a crowd and got this very striking response from the crowd when her name came up. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I mentioned the name of Madeleine Albright, there was a deafening cheer. They all stopped everything and started to cheer. It was spontaneous. It was real. For her name is still synonymous with America as a force for good in the world.


LEE: Now, in that eulogy, Jake, President Biden also described Albright as somebody who could go toe to toe with the toughest dictators, probably wasn't lost on anybody listening to that speech that that is, of course, precisely what global leaders, including President Biden himself, are doing right now with Vladimir Putin.

TAPPER: And, MJ, President Biden is planning to visit an important weapons manufacturing plant next week. Tell us about that.

LEE: Yeah. This is a trip that was just announced today. He's going to be visiting a Lockheed Martin facility that makes among other things Javelin anti-tank missiles. Now, this is so striking because it comes at a moment when U.S. officials are increasingly openly and publicly talking about sort of the goal of wanting to weaken Russia militarily.

Now, this visual is probably going to be just very striking because this will mark the president not only talking about some of the weapons that the U.S. is sending to help Ukraine, but will actually be getting a tour of such a facility that makes these kinds of weapons. Again, this seems like it is going to be the president not just talking about this but almost showing off the fact that this is a way in which the U.S. wants to continue helping Ukraine.

TAPPER: MJ Lee at the White House, thank you so much.

Extending the investigation into war crimes outside Ukraine. Next, hear from a lead prosecutor in Poland as that country takes in the testimony from refugees of war.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, tense moments behind closed doors. How House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to defend himself today after leaked audio revealed his true fears that fellow Republicans were in danger of inciting more violence after January 6th.

Plus, escaping Ukraine. The warning from the Biden administration as refugees look toward the U.S. for safer ground.

And leading this hour, video obtained exclusively by CNN showing Russian forces on the streets of Bucha near civilian bodies after the Kremlin lied, denying the same forces had been responsible for those atrocities.

CNN's Matt Rivers joins us now live from the capital of Kyiv.

Matt, I want to start with this exclusive new video from Bucha. What more are we learning and why is it such important evidence of what happened in Bucha?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, we want to show our viewers this video, but first, let me say it is graphic in its nature, but it's important to show because of the evidence that it shows what Russia did in Bucha and the fact that as you mentioned the Kremlin just really not telling the truth here.

So, what this video shows from March 12th and March 13th, this is video that has been geolocated and authenticated by CNN.