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The Lead with Jake Tapper

January 6 Committee Subpoenas McCarthy, Four Other GOP Lawmakers; Russian Pullback Reveals New Evidence of Atrocities; Biden Mourns 1 Million U.S. COVID Deaths As "Irreplaceable Losses"; Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas McCarthy, Four Other GOP Lawmakers; U.S. Farmers Under Pressure Amid Skyrocketing Costs, Inflation. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 16:00   ET



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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The January 6th committee demanding that Kevin McCarthy talks.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A significant step with new subpoenas issued for Kevin McCarthy and four other House Republicans. How this could test congressional authority well beyond this investigation. I'll speak to a member of the January 6th committee coming up.

Plus, Putin's army pushed back. How much weight is the U.S. carrying in this war? Hear from the man who led the Pentagon during the Trump administration.

And the frontlines of inflation. Why American farmers warn food prices could soon skyrocket even more.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

We start with breaking news in our politics lead, and a brand new subpoena for the House Republican leader, issued by his colleagues investigating the deadly Capitol riot. This afternoon, the bipartisan January 6th House Select Committee took

the extraordinary step of issuing subpoenas not only for Kevin McCarthy but to four other Republican lawmakers, Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. All five previously rejected the committee's invitations to voluntarily testify.

So what information might these men be able to provide the committee?

Well, this their original request, the panel told McCarthy they wanted to know more about his conversations with then President Trump and others at the White House in the week after the attack on the Capitol. White House call records saw Jim Jordan spoke to Trump on the morning of January 6th.

But the committee also wants to know about Jordan's talks with Trumps allies who were stationed at the so-called "War Room" at the Willard Hotel in the days before the riot. Mo Brooks caught the committee's attention after he revealed that Trump asked him to work to rescind the 2020 election, and somehow magically remove Joe Biden from office. When the committee reached out to Andy Biggs earlier this morning, they said they wanted to discuss his participation in planning meetings at the White House and, quote, various aspects of planning for January 6th.

And text messages given to the committee by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and obtained by CNN show Congressman Scott Perry was pushing to have the nation's top intelligence officials investigate that the baseless conspiracy theories that the election was stolen from Trump.

CNN's Jamie Gangel joins us now live with much more on this.

Jamie, I have to say, this is an extraordinary step for the committee to take, to subpoena the House minority leader. Do we know if any of these men are anticipated to cooperate?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We do not know, but Kevin McCarthy said the committee just wants to, quote, go after their political opponents. That doesn't sound like he wants to cooperate.

Mo Brooks just told our Manu Raju that I believe it's wise to wait and consult among the five to determine whether it's best to present a united response.

Look, that said, the committee, Jake, has laid down a marker. They knew as one source close to the committee's investigation said to me, a political tsunami. They debated it for months. But in the end, do they really think these people are going to comply? I don't think they're optimistic about it, but they felt they had to lay down the marker and do what was right for the investigation, because each one of these members are firsthand fact witnesses to what Donald Trump was saying, thinking, and doing.

TAPPER: Yeah. And we know now because of "The New York Times" reporters, we have heard Kevin McCarthy saying he was going to recommend that Trump resign from office after the Capitol attack. Take a listen. Let's play that tape.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The only discussion I would have with him is I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation that he should resign.


TAPPER: Do you think these recordings can play a role in these investigations?

GANGEL: I think the recordings will definitely play a role in the investigation, along with a lot of other videotape from January 6th, videotape from witnesses, behind closed doors and depositions.


I spoke to a source close to the committee who said to me why don't they just come in? The source said if they have nothing to hide, why don't they come in and tell us what they know?

So this is going to have political fallout. They know there may be, if the Republicans take over the house after the midterm elections, that there may be retaliatory tit for tat.

It is unprecedented. Other than the house ethics committee, this has never happened before, Jake. But I think we have to remember that those recordings and other evidence the committee has will come out in the hearings, whether or not these five members of Congress cooperate.

TAPPER: All right. Jamie Gangel, thanks so much.

Joining us now is a member of the January 6th Select Committee, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

So, this is a major step and a major change for the committee in trying to compel testimony from fellow members of Congress. What are you hoping to learn from them?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, as we outlined in our letter sent to each of the members, we have other information that we've gathered that leads us to believe they have information of various sorts. For example, Mr. McCarthy speaking to the president. For example, Mr. Perry involved with trying to install Jeffrey Clark as the AG, and Mr. Jordan talking to the president and Mr. Biggs in the planning meetings and the like.

We had hoped they would come in simply with the invitation, and they have not done so. The committee didn't do this lightly. We thought about it and talked about it for a long time. But we really think we need them to come in.

So we have issued subpoenas, and you would think that they would want to shed some light on what happened. And we have a lot of evidence leading to a conclusion. I just don't understand why they would not come in and I hope that this little nudge will further encourage them to come in and do the right thing.

They have a legal obligation now to come in and talk to the committee.

TAPPER: You've been -- the committee has been weighing this move for months. Why now? And are you hoping to question them as part of the upcoming public hearings?

LOFGREN: Well, perhaps. Right now, as we've been waiting for some time to hear from them, and they have -- they have not voluntarily come in. As you know, we have set dates in June for our public hearings, and we want to lay out the evidence that we have compiled from a variety of sources that in some cases relate to these members of Congress.

We would like to hear from them. And if they can come in and shed light on these things, it would be very helpful. And whether or not it would be just fact finding, you know, we don't know, because they have declined to do that so far. But I would expect now, since this is a legal obligation, that these members will finally come in and lay out what they know. I do think it's important that the whole truth come out. And I just can't imagine what they think -- why they would -- what are they hiding? I just don't get that?

TAPPER: Your fellow committee member, Congressman Jamie Raskin, says he thinks all five will ultimately comply with a subpoena. What happen if they decide to just defy the subpoenas as Meadows has done --

LOFGREN: Step by step, Jake.


TAPPER: So the house voted to -- yeah. So the house voted to refer Meadows to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress. Almost -- what was it, it was -- it was months ago, right? Almost five months ago for ignoring the committee's subpoena. They haven't acted on that, the Justice Department.

Is there any reason to think that this situation would be different hypothetically?

LOFGREN: Well, let's not go to what we'll do if they don't live up to their legal obligation. I'm assuming that they will comply with their legal obligation. They all took an oath to support and defend the constitution. We all believe, I hope, in the rule of law. And I would expect that they will come in. That doesn't happen, we have other options to discuss.


But I think it's premature to get into that now.

TAPPER: The committee says it wants to have a final report later this year. Is this it? Or should we expect more subpoenas after these? LOFGREN: Well, stay tuned. We'll see. We haven't finished the

investigation. Let me just leave it at that.

TAPPER: Is the timeline being driven at all by concerns that Democrats are going to lose control of the House and the process, Kevin McCarthy as speaker would kill this committee? Or is the timeline independent of that political possibility?

LOFGREN: It's independent of that. But let me put this into perspective. Every Congress is two years old, whether or not the majority changes. And so each committee, each select committee is established for a given Congress, which is two years in length.

Whether or not -- and I don't personally believe there is going to be a change in the minority. But we were given a mission to get this done in this Congress. It's interesting, although we the committee was approved in just a little less than a year ago, and of course, it took a little while to staff up and find typewriters and computers and office space.

So we've worked very quickly and very hard. And we understand that, you know, this is -- this is Congress' committee and we need to get it all done in this time frame. And if in a future Congress, in the next Congress, they want to do this again, that will be up to that Congress. But we want to get this done in this Congress.

TAPPER: I'll bet it did take some time to find some typewriters.

Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, thanks so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, reports of another Russian ship on fire in the Black Sa. Has Ukraine struck again?

Plus, the U.S. marks a tragic milestone. One million lives lost to COVID, as the White House is pressed to explain a wave of COVID cases this fall and winter.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, Ukraine's military says a Russian supply ship is on fire in the vicinity of Snake Island and is currently being towed. The Ukrainians did not say how or why that Russian ship caught fire.

Also today, new satellite photos show a Russian merchant ship loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain at a port in Syria. Ukrainians are accusing Russia of trying to sell it on the black market.

And Ukraine itself fighting in the northeast is getting closer to the Russian border. Ukrainians say more border villages are coming under fire from Russian artillery and air strikes. As Russians fall back, the horrors of their invasion emerge for the world to witness.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The quiet pines around the east of Kharkiv are slowly revealing their trauma. The Kremlin is being pushed back so fast, we are only nine miles from their border. Being closer to the motherland that Russia absurdly claims it is offered no mercy to these civilians.

As they liberate village after village, pushing Russian forces back towards their own border, this is the atrocity frankly that they keep coming across.

This car, hit by a tank shell as the convoy fled. The troops from the Kharkiv territorial defense tell us the intensity of the fire, no match for the innocence of those on board.

A 13-year-old girl and three adults killed by Russian troops here in early May, said Ukrainian officials.

They're saying the concentration of bullets is on the driver's side and the passenger door behind, showing gunman who knew what they were doing.

Just up the road, two Russian corpses that lay here, now buried. But for days, they sat with their prayer books and sleeping bags, and grenades in the spring sun.


WALSH: An RPG hit that? Yes.


WALSH: Their aging armor derailed by a single rocket-propelled grenade, we're told.

This fresh convoy fleeing the village of Rubizhne up the river, further evidence Ukraine is pushing toward Russia's fragile supply lines from across the border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translate): We didn't understand what was going on. We just didn't wait to leave.

WALSH: Up on the hill, a rare sight -- a modern Russian T-90 tank.

These drone images show its destruction. One of Russia's newest tanks, kind of the pride really of this invading force -- what's left of it.

But the big concern here is they're hearing a drone above us, and while we don't know if that's Ukrainian or Russian, we're going the keep moving.

You could not be much closer to Russia here. Yet still, these tiny pines still brutalized, trapped in an endless fight.

Some of those who remain seem unaware of their occupation and their liberation. That does not mean they're unshaken.

VIKTOR, LOCAL RESIDENT (translated): What calm? My heart is about to jump out of my chest. Everything around is exploding.


There's a hole in my garden from shelling. The roof was punctured by a shell.

The fence is gone. It's amazing I'm alive. It's really difficult. We sleep in our clothes. Because it lands all around us.

WALSH: disbelief here that Russian savagery from across the border, now eclipsed by how fast it's retreated back towards it.


WALSH (on camera): And, Jake, that is the extraordinary thing, that village liberated frankly in the last few days. And to its north, we're learning today from Ukrainian officials yet more territory they say taken back from the Russians. The area to the north and east of Kharkiv increasingly absent of the previous occupying force, leaving us this broader question, a matter of weeks ago, there was this talk about the reset of the Russian campaign, a second wave that would push in from the east, possibly from the south, and frankly, we've seen very little of ebb.

The Ukrainian officials suggesting there may have been some territory lost to the Russians in the sort of more central and eastern part. But up here to the north in Kharkiv, right near the Russian border, their forces have collapsed almost back into Russia itself. That is startling, and it does leave you wondering, Jake, exactly what the strategic objectives that Moscow has, if any, that it can actually achieve are in the weeks ahead.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan. She's on the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committee. She also worked at the CIA and was a Pentagon intelligence official.

Congresswoman, today, leaders of Finland are expressing support for their country joining NATO. Finland had been known for being politically neutral, which means Putin's war is backfiring on him. Today, Russia said if Finland joins NATO, Russia will retaliate.

Should the international community be worried that Russia's aggression will soon move beyond Ukraine?

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): You know, I think we were watching that closely, right, when the conflict started and Russia came in with such a full thrust into Ukraine. But now, they've been pushed back, as we just heard, they've been pushed back so consistently and so shrunk their own goals, that while I don't -- I'm not surprised that Putin is saber-rattling at the idea of new powerful NATO members, I just don't think we see them moving into position in a way that makes that threat credible.

I think it's a great thing that Finland and, hopefully, Sweden are going to be joining NATO. Putin was counting on NATO breaking sort of faith with each other and not being a strong entity. And it's a perfect boomerang on him that we have new strong members in NATO at the end of this.

TAPPER: There's been criticism of the U.S. intelligence when it comes to Russia's war in Ukraine. Senator Angus King, independent from Maine, he pointed out in a Senate hearing that some of the failures of the U.S. intelligence community are pretty stark. Take a listen.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): We were told explicitly Kyiv would fall in three days and Ukraine would fall in two weeks. You're telling me that was accurate intelligence?

LT. GEN. SCOTT BERRIER, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: So we were really focused on the Russian forces at the time. And so when we back this up --

KING: You were wrong about that too, weren't we? We overestimated the Russians.


TAPPER: This, of course, comes on the heels of intelligence failures as the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan.

You worked at the CIA and at the Pentagon in intelligence. Do you have confidence in U.S. intelligence? What's going on here?

SLOTKIN: Yeah, I have confidence in U.S. intelligence. And I think to be honest, I've heard a ton of Ukrainians say that they were surprised with, A, how poor the Russian military was. And then B, how creative and passionate the Ukrainians were, when combined with arms and assistance from the outside.

So I don't think that you could have said, and I think we would have been crazy for U.S. intelligence to say oh, yeah, the Ukrainians are going to be fine in a war against the Russians.

So, look, I -- it's a hard thing to do to be in the business of intelligence. And the Russian military, we figured out that between their Soviet doctrine, their inability to feed and fume themselves from a distance, and that conscript army that was not motivated, they were a failure. And I think no one would have predicted that.

TAPPER: Just a few hours, the January 6th committee issued subpoenas to five House Republicans, including the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Are you worried about the precedent this could set, Republicans could use subpoenas in an act of retaliation if and when they regain control of the House?

SLOTKIN: Well, look, I can't say what other also do in retaliation. I can just stay that I'm standing in a building that, you know, a year and a half ago was completely ransacked with people who were using violence and five people were killed, and there needs to be accountability for that.

And we have knowledge that these folks were in frequent contact with the president and the chief of staff before and during the actual event. So speak to that, right? And if you won't come and participate in the committee, then you're going to be subpoenaed. If you're just trying to calm things down, then you can exonerate yourself. You can say that.

But I think they're subpoenaed because they would not participate, and they need to come forward and explain themselves. It's a huge, huge moment in American history what happened here, and we need accountability.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Slotkin of Michigan, thanks so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Cite your sources. New questions after the Biden administration projects a staggering increase of COVID cases in the months to come, but does not provide the data to back that claim up.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, it's a horrific milestone that for many of us once seemed almost unthinkable.

Today, the White House marked 1 million American deaths from COVID, 1 million, 1 million mothers and fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, lost to this awful pandemic.

President Biden reflected on the tragedy today while calling on Congress to pass more funding to fight the pandemic. This has doctors warn about a possible summer surge.

While numbers are nowhere near as dire as they were with the delta or original omicron surges, COVID cases are trending up in almost every state, and hospitalizations have been slowly increasing as well, still lower than January's peak, but up in more than half the states.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, this comes as a warning from the White House puzzles medical experts.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden marking the staggering number of Americans lost to COVID-19.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One million COVID deaths. 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table. Each irreplaceable.

COLLINS: The president lowering flags at federal buildings to half- staff to commemorate the somber milestone and highlighting the global toll as he virtually hosted world leaders for another pandemic summit.

BIDEN: Millions of children have been orphaned with thousands still dying every day. Now is the time for us to act, all of us together.

COLLINS: On Thursday, databases used by the CDC and CNN were just shy of 1 million U.S. deaths, but expected to surpass that number soon. As other nations pledged billions to continue their fight against COVID- 19, Biden called on Congress to authorize more funding so he could do the same.

BIDEN: We have to invest now, now. We have to secure political commitments now. We have to start working to prevent the next variant and the next pandemic now.

COLLINS: The White House has asked Congress for $22 billion for treatments and vaccines, but the proposal has languished on Capitol Hill amid disagreements over immigration.

BIDEN: I continue to call on Congress here at home to take the urgent action to provide emergency COVID-19 funding that is vital to protect Americans.

COLLINS: The president's top aides are warning there will be consequences if Congress fails to pass more funding soon, but they have baffled some experts by declining to say which models are behind their infection projections.

DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We're looking at a range of models internal and external models. And what they're predicting is if we don't get ahead of this thing, we're going to have a lot of waning immunity, this virus continues to evolve, and we may see a pretty sizable amount of hospitalizations and deaths this following winter.


COLLINS: And, Jake, we should note that, again, the White House was asked today about those models and they did not name which ones the White House is basing projections on.

But back here in Washington, we should note any moment now on Capitol Hill, you will see House Speaker Pelosi and other lawmakers hold a moment of silence to mark reaching 1 million American deaths from COVID-19. That comes, just, as Pelosi says they are still in negotiations about what that next COVID aid package is going to look like. We know it's been pared down to about $10 billion now. But it still remains to be seen what it looks like in its final form, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Chaotic days and illegal demands spelled out in black and write. Former defense Secretary Mark Esper will join us, revealing moment where is he said he had to push back on demands of the former president.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: An explosive new memoir is giving a stunningly candid look at former president Donald Trump, detailing the many illegal actions Trump and his aides were suggesting to top military brass, such as shooting American protestors in the nation's Capitol, or firing missiles on Mexican drug labs, withholding aid to Ukraine that Congress had signed off on, and on one occasion, suggesting the U.S. publicly brandish the bloodied head of ISIS leader al Baghdadi as a trophy.

All this in his new book, "A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times" written by Trump's defense secretary, Mark Esper. He served in that position from July 2019 to November 2020, only to be fired by a tweet six days after the presidential election.

Secretary Esper joins us now.

Secretary Esper, I want to ask you about those shocking claims in a moment. But first, the news of the day. Today, we found out that the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection is sending subpoenas to Kevin McCarthy and four other House Republicans. What's your reaction?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: You know, Jake, as you mentioned, it's breaking news. I haven't had a chance to find out what's going on. I think it's important at the end of the day that the January 6th Committee get to the bottom of what happened and understand it. Make sure there is accountability and figure out how we prevent this from happening again. It was a tragic day in our nation's history.

TAPPER: We learned in he cent days that Kevin McCarthy was thinking about at one point or discussing invoking the 25th Amendment that allows a president to be removed from office.


He was doing this in the days after January 6th. He ultimately concluded it would take too long. There are tapes of him saying this. In your book, you said you never believed Trump's conduct rose to the level of invoking the 25th Amendment when you were in the cabinet. But if you had been defense secretary in the days after January 6th, and if it had come up for a vote, would you have voted to remove him from office?

ESPER: Boy, Jake, you know, I don't know. You have to be there in the moment to understand and assess the situation and have a chance to, you know, look at the president under fire in that moment. Clearly, what he did was antithetical to what we believe in as a democracy, right? He undermined the election for weeks. He incited people to come to D.C., stirred them up that morning and failed to come them off.

In my view, that was undermining our democracy, the hallmark of which is a free and fair election and the peaceful transfer of power. So, you know, I don't know where I would have stood, but I would have taken a serious look at it and I think come to the proper judgment.

TAPPER: We've seen in recent months the importance of Ukraine getting that military aid that Donald Trump tried to hold up initially during the actions that led to his first impeachment. In your book, you say you repeatedly warned Donald Trump that withholding military aid to Ukraine was not only illegal, but it would further weaken Zelenskyy's government.

In hindsight, looking back on it, do you think Trump's resistance to helping Ukraine, the way that he behaved towards Zelenskyy, do you think that emboldened Putin in any way to act as aggressively as we're seeing today?

ESPER: Well, first thing's first. You know, it is true, I talk about this, John Bolton, the national security adviser, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state and I at various times would engage individually or together with the president and talk him into releasing this funding for a variety of reasons, right? Just first to bolster this democracy to deter Russia, and then, ultimately, for me, it was the law that Congress had appropriated it.

That said, you know, I don't think it made a material difference. It was three years ago at this point. I do want to give the president credit. I think the administration did the right thing by providing lethal aid in the form of the Javelins. And then, of course, conducting training in western Ukraine, which I had the chance to visit.

I'm not sure three years later it had a material impact on what's happening today.

TAPPER: You write that Trump always had a soft spot for Putin. Why do you think that is?

ESPER: I don't know. He tended to have that same soft spot for other strongmen, whether it was Putin or Xi Jinping. And I couldn't explain it. It is just what it was.

In some ways I think as I write with regard to our China policy, and, by the way, I think the administration was successful in consolidating an American consensus, if you will, that China is a strategic adversary. But in some ways, the president's willingness to engage Xi Jinping and treat him as a friend in some ways undermined that.

TAPPER: In your book, you say Trump and aides were suggesting ideas such as shooting American protestors in the nation's Capitol, using the military to stay in power, bombing America's neighbor surreptitiously, Mexico, and having U.S. commit a war crime by dipping al Baghdadi's head in pig's blood.

What do you say to critics who might say, you know, the time to share those stories was before the 2020 election so that the American people could make an informed choice, not now when you're trying to sell books?

ESPER: Well, look, it's a great question and an issue I struggled with through a good part of my tenure. I write about this in the opening pages in my book, you know, should I stay or should I go? My view was, at the end of the day, given I had the chance to continue advancing good initiatives at the Pentagon, right? Building our cyber capabilities, proposing a new navy, modernizing the armed forces, building trust with allies and partners -- between that and the fact that I was able successfully over a period of months to push back on these outlandish ideas, I thought my higher sense of duty was to the country to stay, not leave.

Because, look, it would have saved me a lot of grief and heartache to walk away, but I just didn't think that would put the country in the right position. I consulted folks like my predecessors from both parties, even the late General Colin Powell, and to a person, they said, look, you need to stay.

And that became my goal, was to get to the election, prevent bad stuff from happening, and continue to try to advance a positive agenda within the Pentagon.

TAPPER: And you say in the book that you never publicly rebuked Trump while you were defense secretary because you thought he would take the opportunity to fire you, and you never resigned, because you worried Trump would replace you with a loyalist, somebody that would carry out any order.


You do also write about how, at least in one instance, Trump's loyalists would work around you in ways. Stephen Miller, for example, directed the Department of Homeland Security to develop a concept to deploy a couple hundred thousand plus U.S. troops to the border, even after you told him that was not possible.

You write, quote, I was shocked. I asked questions no one had good answers for: Who approved this? When did this begin? Why weren't we informed? How far along were they?

While I was not surprised Miller was working, this, I was frustrated that one senior in NorthCom thought to let us or anyone at the Pentagon for that matter know. It's really quite a shocking revelation.

How often do you think things like that were going on that you didn't watch until towards the very end? Or maybe not at all?

ESPER: Well, there were things that happened and picked up more toward -- things like that happened pick up more toward the end of the administration. But you know, first thing's first. You mentioned publicly rebuking him. Of course, I did on June 3rd. I came out and publicly spoke about innovation of the Insurrection Act. I had to speak out in January 2020 when he proposed bombing Iranian cultural and historic sites. I said no, the U.S. military doesn't do that.

Going back to the eddie gallagher episode in the fall of 2019, I said I hoped the president would allow the military process to work its way through. So there were times I had to do that. But after June, for example, I was trying not to get in crosswise with the president, because there was so much going on, and these outlandish ideas kept coming forward that I wanted to make sure I didn't get fired too soon. I wanted to be there to act in what I thought was the best interest of the country.

So, I had to be on guard, as did General Milley and others within the Pentagon, to make sure folks weren't going around us to do this or that. I talk about those things in the book.

TAPPER: I know you said that you'll never vote for Donald Trump again, and you don't think he should be president again. Would you work for a Republican or endorse a Republican in the primary to defeat Donald Trump if it comes to that?

ESPER: Sure, if it's somebody I believed in, somebody that is promoting traditional Republican policies, like lower taxes, a strong defense, of course, border security, things like that. They have to be a person of integrity and principle and, look, they have to put country above self and unify the country and not be decisive. So if somebody meets criteria like, that absolutely I would support them.

TAPPER: Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, thank you.

His new book "A Sacred Oath" is out now. And secretary we'll have you back. We have a lot more questions for you and these issues keep continuing. Tank you so much for being with us.

Get ready for higher prices. The warning from the heartland about America's food supply. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead now, a new warning from farmers across the United States and the myriad of problems driving up food prices.

As CNN's Gabe Cohen reports, prices could still get even higher.


BRIAN BROOKS. BROOKS FARM: It's going to be tough.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just six weeks from winter wheat harvest, Brian Brooks is staring down 4,000 acres of barren Colorado farmland, dried out by a brutal drought that could drive food prices even higher.

There's nothing young salvage here?

BROOKS: Oh, no. We're done. You walk through there and it's so frustrating to see all your hard work sitting here blown away.

COHEN: Now it's time to plant corn. Would it even grow?

BROOKS: No. We would be wasting our money.

COHEN: A severe drought from Kansas to California has put 71 million crop acres at risk, 22 percent of the nation's crops. Farms are rationing water, some destroying crops they know won't survive.

In the Midwest, it's the opposite. Farms are soaked. And planting is weeks behind. It's just one more strain on farmers, with costs skyrocketing for labor, fuel, seed, and fertilizer.

MARC ARNUSCH, MARC ARNUSCH FARMS: We're planting less to live another year.

COHEN: Marc Arnusch, like many, is switching crops and planting half as many acres.

ARNUSCH: Consumers without a question are going to feel the pinch at the grocery store.

COHEN: U.S. food prices keep climbing. Up 9.4 percent from a year ago, and expected to rise at least 5 percent to 6 percent this year.

The war in Ukraine is adding to it, sending global prices sky high and creating a hunger crisis. With Ukraine and Russia's grain industry largely cut off.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're reducing the red tape.

COHEN: On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced new measures to help U.S. farmers, doubling funding for fertilize production and expanding access to double cropping insurance and technologies that reduce the need for fertilizer.

BIDEN: We can make sure the American agricultural exports will make up for the gap in Ukrainian supplies.

COHEN: But a new USDA report is projecting less supply and higher prices in the U.S. on grains like wheat and corn, and there's growing concerns crop problems could add more stress to the food supply chain.

JAYSON LUSK, PURDUE AGRICULTURE: Those drought impacts are going to result in less food being on the market, which is going to further put pressure on food prices, on top of some inflationary pressures we have been seeing.

COHEN: At city bakery in Denver, Michael Bortz has already seen his cost of flour nearly double.

[16:55:02] MICHAEL BORTZ, OWNER, CITY BAKERY: I lost a lot of sleep for it.

COHEN: He's hiked his prices 20 percent to cover it.

If wheat prices keep rising, will you have to raise your prices?

BORTZ: Yes. I mean, there's no way around it.

COHEN: A problem that could grow from this desolate dirt where nothing elsewhere.

BROOKS: So, just pray for rain.


COHEN (on camera): Now, Jake, we may not see price hikes from the drought for some time. And remember, crop prices are just one small piece of what you pay for food. But experts, they hope food inflation will ease in the months ahead, but now, they're warning this could push the clock back -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Gabe Cohen, great report. Thank you so much.

Coming up, a CNN investigation linking specific attacks in Ukraine and the Russian general likely behind the orders to strike.

Stay with us.