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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Voting Underway In Crucial Races In P.A., N.C.; Buffalo Suspect Planned Shooting For Months, Online Posts Reveal; Biden Condemns "Venom" Of White Supremacy After Shooting; Suspect's "Murder-Suicide" School Project Incident Raises Questions About Red Flag Law, Ability To Buy Guns; CNN On Ground Where Ukraine Says Russian Forces Suffered Major Defeat: Estimate 80 Vehicles Destroyed, 1,000 Men Mauled; Soon: First Polls Close; Some Candidates Embrace Election Lies; Congress Holds First UFO Hearing In 50 Plus Years. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 17, 2022 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, President Biden's blunt warning, the President saying the hate and fear that has been allowed to fester in the United States is now threatening America's democracy as he made an emotional visit to Buffalo to meet with the families who lost loved ones in that racist massacre over the weekend.

Plus, the truth is out there and lawmakers want to get to the bottom of it. Today, holding their first public hearing on UFOs in decades. Why lawmakers warn UFOs pose a potential national security threat.

And leading this hour. It is primary day, the first polls are about to close in what is one of the most consequential primary days of the year. In the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania we're just learning that the leading Democratic Senate candidate, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, is about to get a pacemaker implanted after suffering a stroke last week. CNC's Jessica Dean is now live for us in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following Fetterman's campaign.

Jessica, lot of health questions for Fetterman in this closing days of this race. How is his campaign dealing with it?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just spoke with his campaign spokesperson just within the last 15 minutes, Jake. He says that Lieutenant Governor Fetterman is still undergoing that procedure. They expect him to be out shortly. He said that they feel very blessed that they've had an outpouring of support and that they feel like a lot of people have their backs right now.

We learned about 3:30 this afternoon Eastern time. So, just about 90 minutes ago that this was happening.

I'll read you the statement from the campaign at that moment. They said, "John Fetterman is about to undergo a standard procedure to implant a pacemaker with a defibrillator. It should be a short procedure that will help protect his heart and address the underlying cause of his stroke, atrial fibrillation, A-Fib, by regulating his heart rate and rhythm."

And we were in Lancaster yesterday, that's where the lieutenant governor is currently at the hospital. It's about a four hour drive from Pittsburgh.

I spoke with his wife. She told me he was doing well but that their priority right now was his health and their family and making sure he got the treatment that he needed. Separately, I did ask the campaign just a few minutes ago how they were feeling, they said they feel pretty good about tonight in terms of politically how things will be moving forward. But the bottom line is, Jake, Fetterman will not be there in person and likely not even virtually to greet supporters. Instead, it will -- that will fall to his wife Gisele, who I'm told is still expected to be here in Pittsburgh to talk to supporters later tonight.

He is the front runner. Is expected to win this race. But again, polls don't close here for several hours. But keeping an eye on the lieutenant governor as he comes out of this procedure, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, obviously our well wishes are with him.

On the Republican side, there's a lot of hand wringing over the surprise surge of Senate candidate Kathy Barnette. She has a record of quite controversial comments, discrimination against gay people, bigotry against Muslims. How was her campaign feeling tonight?

DEAN: Well, certainly they feel very good about the surge that they've seen over the last several days, the last several weeks.

Just to give you kind of the bird's eye view here. Of course, Dr. Mehmet Oz who is a well-known television doctor who was endorsed by former President Trump and then Dave McCormick, a former hedge fund CEO, who have also has been -- they both been spending millions of dollars, millions and millions of dollars over the airwaves over the last several months, Jake. And we've seen them just go at each other both over the airwaves but also in their campaign and stops and stump speeches. And as that happened, Kathy Barnette, really just creeped up and now she is surging right at the right time during this Republican primary. So it will be interesting to see how that all plays out and who will ultimately emerge victorious.

Here in Pennsylvania, it's whoever wins the most votes. There's not a 50.1 rule. So we will we will certainly see how that all plays out tonight, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Former Pennsylvanian Jessica Dean, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Turning to another big story this Election Day, the fate of scandal prone Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live for us in Hendersonville, North Carolina outside Cawthorn campaign headquarters.

Dianne, a lot of Republicans in North Carolina and on Capitol Hill would be happy to see Cawthorn lose his primary tonight. But unlike in Pennsylvania all he needs tonight to avoid a runoff is 30 percent of the vote plus one.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And so, it's not enough just to be the top vote getter, he does have to get that 30 percent plus one. But Jake, there are seven other Republican candidates running against him. And so, experts say that it is possible that just because of the sheer number of candidates and that fractured base here in District 11 Cawthorn could come out even amidst all of the scandals that he has left over the year and a half that he has been in Congress. That is sort of the factor here.

And I spoke with Madison Cawthorn not too long ago today. And he said that he's feeling very confident that he's going to be able to avoid a runoff, because if he doesn't get that 30 percent then it would go to a runoff in late July. He thinks it may all end tonight.

But of course, there's a lot of other factors that go into this, not least of which is the candidates own behavior. That is why Republicans across the state of North Carolina including U.S. Senator Thom Tillis has sunk six figures and also the reputations on trying to unseat him.

Polls close at 7:30 in North Carolina, Jake. And at that point, we will see if Madison Cawthorn will have some awkward encounters, if he in fact, is still the Republican nominee.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher in North Carolina, thanks so much.

Let's discuss all this now with David Urban. He advised Trump's 2020 campaign. He's a CNN political commentator, and he's supporting Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania Senate primary. We also have with us Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, and a CNN political commentator.

David, let me start with you. You've worked on elections in Pennsylvania since '97. Republicans could very well nominate gubernatorial and Senate nominees who you fear might be too risky to win in the general election. How concerned are you?

DAVID URBAN, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP'S 2020 CAMPAIGN: Jake, so you and I discussed this, you know, Pennsylvania is a purple state generally, right? When Donald Trump won in 2016, we won by about 50,000 votes and he lost by about 75,000 votes in the 2020 election. So, even in these big races, the margins are razor thin. And so I'm just concerned that, you know, the Republican nominees will be too hot and too conservative for the general electorate.

Look, I'm for the most conservative person that can win in the general election, and I think that's Dave McCormick. I think, you know, Republicans across the state are nervous going into this election tonight. TAPPER: Mayor Bottoms, let's talk about the Democratic front runner Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. He is right now undergoing what his campaign calls a, quote, "standard procedure" to install a pacemaker in his chest. That's a device that will help control his heartbeat following the stroke that he suffered last week. Do you think this is going to have an impact on the election, on voters turning out for him?

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, DNC VICE CHAIR, CIVIC ENGAGEMENT & VOTER PROTECTION: No, I don't think it will have an impact at all. He is going into this Election Day with 53 percent, I believe, is where he is with the polling. The closest person behind him, I believe, was around 14 percent. So, I do think that he will win.

And I think that Americans understand that pacemakers are very common. It's not common for a 52-year-old man to have a stroke. But now that we know what the issue is, and he is getting a pacemaker, I think that gets -- that will give comfort to people and I think it is great that he has been very open about what his health challenges have been. So, the people of Pennsylvania don't have to speculate about that.

TAPPER: David, let's talk about Dave McCormick, because as a fellow Pennsylvanian, I have to say like he to me fits in, generally speaking, into the mode of other Republicans that have won statewide election. And yet he's involved in a race with two candidates who are very unusual for Pennsylvania, Kathy Barnette and Dr. Oz, neither of whom are traditional Pennsylvania Republicans. What's going on here? Why is this such a race?

URBAN: Jake, look, I think it's no surprise, right? Donald Trump is incredibly popular in the state of Pennsylvania. His message resonates across the Commonwealth from Beaver County to Blair County to, you know, Tioga County, everywhere he goes.

TAPPER: Among Republicans.

URBAN: Among Republicans, right?


URBAN: So, you know, the party has shifted in that direction. I think, you know, Dave McCormick still espouses those same traditional, you know, Trump values just in -- he's a different messenger.

I think, Jake, you'll see here -- I think the McCormick campaign is counting on, you know, all these undecided. There was a huge amount of undecided voters here, 20 percent undecided, I think the McCormick campaign is counting on all those undecided votes to break in their favor. I think you have a lot of people going to the polls right now in the next few hours. And I think when they have to go in there and pull the lever, I think they're going to kind of gravitate back towards where they are normally kind of in the middle of the road in Pennsylvania. I think McCormick will pull out at the end (ph).


TAPPER: We'll see.

Mayor Bottoms, when Fetterman is opponent, Congressman Conor Lamb, won his -- the primary opponent, won the special election in 2018 in that Pittsburgh area House seat, Democrats that they had a star in their ranks, but it looks as though Pennsylvania Democrats today are going to go with the more progressive campaign in Fetterman Is this a sign do you think of the direction the Democratic Party is going?

BOTTOMS: Well, Fetterman is a tested candidate. He has served as lieutenant governor, he served as a mayor. And people, I think, really appreciate that he seems to be an authentic candidate.

I was looking at his website, I saw one picture of him in a suit and I think that grittiness really appeals to voters. And what we know is that people are often moving away quite often from traditional candidates. They want someone more relatable, more authentic, and that seems to be what he's offering.

TAPPER: Yes, he was in gym shorts a lot even in the winter.

David Urban, Keisha Lance Bottoms, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll see you tonight.

Coming up next --

URBAN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: -- troubling new details emerging of how the alleged gunman in the supermarket massacre spent months plotting his racist attack.

Plus, Russia says hundreds of Ukrainian fighters have surrendered to Putin's forces at that sprawling steel plant in Mariupol. What is Russia saying about their future?



TAPPER: In our national lead, President Biden today rejecting the venom of white supremacy after meeting with families devastated by that racist massacre in Buffalo over the weekend.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: White supremacy is a poison that's been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes. No more. I mean, no more. We need to say as clearly in force as we can see that the ideology of white supremacy has no place in America. None.


TAPPER: This comes as we learn the alleged gunman spent months preparing for this attack and detailed all of his plans online. CNN Shimon Prokupecz joins us now from Buffalo.

And Shimon, what are investigators learning from these online posts?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as the President said in talking about this poison, what they have found is that the hundreds of pages of documents and posts made by the alleged shooter that he was consuming this poison that the President talked about months and months and perhaps as long as a year, maybe even longer a year, studying mass shootings, studying white supremacist. And then he wrote about a lot of it.

What they recently found was a social media posts where he came here in March, police say, and where he drew maps of the supermarket where he noted different exits were and the people that were inside the supermarket. In the post on March 9, he wrote that in hindsight, that was a close call. He was talking about the security guard that he encountered who was questioning him about what he was doing inside the supermarket. He also then the next day was back here and wrote that on March 10, that he was going to have to kill the security guard, "I hope he doesn't kill me or even hurt me instantly."

And of course, we know that the alleged shooter wore body armor, that a security guard tried to stop him, that he fired at him. He fired his weapon at him, but it had no effect because he was wearing the body armor. The mayor here and police officials calling that security guard or hero.

But overall, Jake, what investigators have been finding is certainly so disturbing and so troubling because of what the alleged shooter spent so much time reading about that ultimately led him to become radicalized they say and then ultimately led to the shooting, Jake.

TAPPER: Shimon Prokupecz in Buffalo for us, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Anthony Barksdale. He's a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and the former acting Baltimore police commissioner. Also with us, Phil Mudd, CNN Counterterrorism Analyst and a former FBI Senior Intelligence Adviser.

Commissioner Barksdale, let me start with you. You just heard Shimon laying out new details about the suspected shooters online posts. He wrote about visiting the grocery store in March. He said he thought about attacking an elementary school or a church instead. He documented all of this online and people have said, oh, why couldn't he be stopped? The Secretary of Homeland Security says it's, quote, "virtually impossible to monitor all of the threats on social media." What do you think?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that when you have an individual who is committed to taking action like this, and they're self-documenting, they're not hiding, they're putting it out there, I completely disagree that something like this could not have been detected earlier. If not by the social media platform, then perhaps law enforcement or maybe his parents, where the parents at? So, I disagree with that.

And if you tell yourself it can't be done, then it won't be done. So, I disagree. We could have done better here, in my opinion. TAPPER: Phil, President Biden forcefully calling out individuals on the right who are -- have been pushing the so called replacement, white replacement theory, conspiracy theory, this nonsense of white Americans is a --


TAPPER: -- conspiracy to replace whites with immigrants and minorities. Take a listen to the President.


BIDEN: The Internet has radicalized angry, alienate lost and isolated individuals into falsely believing that they will be replaced, that's the word, replaced. I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit.



TAPPER: How concerned are you about these racist conspiracy theories moving from the fringe to the mainstream?

MUDD: I think I would step back for a moment Jake and think not just about white supremacy but think generally about human beings and validation. Twenty-five years ago before the internet, if you want to be a white supremacist, you've got to physically interact with someone who validates you. By validation, that's a term we use to use it the FBI, by validation that is interacting physically with somebody who says, the views you have on black people are appropriate.

Let me let me step further back. If you want to abuse a child 25 years ago, you can't interact with somebody on the internet, you have to have somebody who physically says the abuse of a child is OK.

What the President is talking about is appropriate, because in the internet age, whether you're abusing a child or believing that killing a black person is appropriate, on the internet, you can get someone three counties away, three states away, in Europe, in Asia to say that what you think is appropriate. Validation is really important because psychologically, somebody like this need to say it's OK for me to act, Jake.

TAPPER: And Commissioner Barksdale, state police say that this suspected shooter was investigated last year for using the words murder suicide on a school project. He wrote about this on social media saying, quote, "I got out of it, because I stuck with the story that I was getting out of class and I just stupidly wrote that down. That is the reason I believe I am still able to purchase guns. It was not a joke. I wrote that down, because that's what I was planning to do."

It's interesting that you have him there, this killer, recognizing that he was able to evade the state's red flag law just by simply lying. Isn't -- I mean, isn't this exactly who these red flag laws are for?

BARKSDALE: It is who it's for, the red flag laws. But if they can -- if the laws can be defeated, then there's work to be done. But this is the second time, there was the kid in Michigan where he's drawing on the desk saying, oh, he's going to shoot people. Teacher catches him and he says, oh, now I'm just playing around here.

Yesterday, you started the show with an amazing quote by Maya Angelou. And there's another quote that she used that Oprah Winfrey says was one of the greatest that she'd learned from, "When people show you who they are, believe them." They're telling us who they are right now face. And then even with contact with law enforcement, they're going right on ahead and killing people. And we've got a lot of victims because of not enough being done.

So, if we need to tighten up these red flag laws, then politicians, police get to work. Law enforcement, please get to work because this can't continue.

TAPPER: Yes, and I know Phil, you echo what Commissioner Barksdale said earlier about where are the parents?

MUDD: I agree. I would have a different view on red flag laws. Look, I think they've been powerful tools for law enforcement, I think critical tools.

But let me tell you something, if you're expecting state local police or Silicon Valley 25 years ago to figure out what's in a kid's head, and friends and family don't speak up, this kid bought weapons. He altered weapons, he bought and spent money as an 18-year-old on a vest. He checked websites and had to change, a radicalization change, over the course for months and years. And you want to expect somebody in state and local police to find it, it's family and its friends see something say something, Jake.

TAPPER: Absolutely. Phil Mudd, Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate your insights.

Coming up next, what Russia is now saying they're going to do to the hundreds of Ukrainians they say surrendered at the Mariupol steel plant. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead tonight, Russia vowing to, quote, "interrogate" the Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, calling them, quote, "surrendered militants." About 600 soldiers tried to defend the plant. They laid down their weapons after the weeks long siege ended most who were then taken on buses to the Russian backed separatist region of Donetsk.

This, as CNN gets an exclusive up close look at what may be one of the biggest single defeats for the Russian military and Ukraine. Sam Kiley has more from the front lines. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): the first signs of a Russian disaster, Zima (ph) two Russian tank being salvaged by Ukrainian troops. A few days ago. This was the scene on the edge of these woods, Russian pontoon bridges and a ferocious Ukrainian artillery attack.

The Ukrainian commander with us cast an eye to the sky looking for Russian drones. This is no place for complacency. Ukraine and NATO have claimed that Russia suffered badly here. They estimate 70 to 80 vehicles destroyed and a whole Russian battle group of 1000 men mauled.

(on camera): So we're at the edge now of the area where the Russian army was caught after it had crossed the pontoon river. You can see down here, there's a destroyed tank next to it, an armored personnel carrier. And if we look down the road here, got another armored personnel carrier and another and another.

The Ukrainians were able, they say, due to their superior reconnaissance and intelligence to work out where the Russians were going to cross and then bring in devastating levels of artillery. And this is the result. This is only the edge of it.

(voice-over): Russia has now shifted its attacks elsewhere at least for now.

(on camera): When you see this, how do you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Great. I understand that our artillery is working and our troops are working to because there was both artillery and ground fighting. The units in cooperation with other troops were pushing the enemy across the river on foot.

KILEY (voice-over): Shattered Russian armor is scattered along this path through the woodland. On the ground, we can't move forward. The track is mined.

(On camera): A real disaster for the Russians, but something that the Ukrainians now are saying here, that means that the pressure is off this particular front for now, and that they believe that the Russians are focusing more of their efforts elsewhere.

(Voice-over): Ukrainian soldiers pick over the debris of this victory. But the chilling truth is that many of their comrades have ended up like this. And while this is a success in the grinding war for Ukraine, Russia remains an immediate threat.

(On camera): And they've asked us to get out of here with their military commander because the -- they're worried that our cars are going to attract attention and therefore attracting coming. This is still clearly an extremely active area.

(Voice-over): And one as it was for the Russians, that a considerable relief to leave. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY: Now, Jake, we mentioned that the Ukrainians believed that there was extra pressure being brought to bear by the Russians elsewhere about 10 miles to the Easter in the town of Bakhmut. That's exactly what happened there was a pretty ferocious tank battle on the outskirts of that city. At least one person was killed in some kind of missile strike in the central part of the city and a factory was set ablaze and that is because the Russians have been trying to punch through these Ukrainian defensive lines now for weeks so far without success, Jake.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley reporting from Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Joining us live to discuss, Ian Bremmer, he's the president of the Eurasia Group and author of a new book called The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats, and our Response Will Change the World. Ian, thanks for joining us. So Vladimir Putin undoubtedly sees today's apparent surrender in Mariupol is a huge victory for Russia. But as our last report showed, there have also been major setbacks for Russia. Putin's forces are behind schedule, they're being pushed back in the Kharkiv Region by the Ukrainians, Finland and Sweden are both racing toward NATO membership. Do you think there is any part of Putin that regrets what he's done?

IAN BREMMER, EURASIA GROUP PRESIDENT & FOUNDER: Yes, I do. And I know that when he spoken to European leaders, recently, he has said that mistakes have been made on all sides, including Russia. And it's the first time I've heard that, frankly. So I mean, look, he's getting the news. He certainly understands how many Russians are getting killed in the field. Lord knows he knows that this war is not going the way he intended the special military operation as he calls it to go. Even President Lukashenko, one of his very few allies, on the global stage, admitted last week, to his people that it's taken a lot longer, it hasn't been great.

It's true that Mariupol is important in the sense that it allows the Russians not only to mop up that town of 400,000, and move redeploy those troops elsewhere. It also gives them that land bridge between the Donbass and Crimea. The fear, of course, is that they're going to start actually annexing territory that they didn't hold before February 24. And that, of course, makes the prospects of any frozen conflict or negotiations a very, very distant prospect indeed.

TAPPER: Let's talk about your book, you write about the threat of the next global pandemic, the COVID pandemic is hitting North Korea for the first time that we know of, here's how Human Rights Watch explained it, "North Koreans have had almost no access to the COVID vaccine and many are chronically malnourished, leaving them with compromised immune systems. Medicines of any kind are scarce in the country, the healthcare infrastructure is extremely fragile, lacking medical supplies such as oxygen and other COVID therapeutics." How bad do you think it's going to get in North Korea? And do you think that Kim Jong-un ultimately will allow outside help? BREMMER: Jake, it's like they've refused the Chinese vaccine. They don't think it's any good. The Chinese have refused to license the American, the European vaccine. It's like, it's turtles all the way down. This is a global virus. It's a -- COVID hits every country around the world. And it's very obvious that the absence of international cooperation, as well as the absence of cooperation inside the United States has made it a lot more expensive, a lot more painful for the world to effectively respond to. It's really sort of debilitating, to watch that governments around the world just absolutely refused to get out of their own way to follow the science on this issue.

In North Korea, I mean, given the fact they literally have no vaccines available. I think that the only countries other than Eritrea where that's true and they also clearly don't have the health care capacity, this is going to be very ugly for them.



BREMMER: And what worries me is usually when they have that kind of a problem, they distract. And usually a distraction is another missile test, maybe a nuclear test. I'd be more worried about that in the coming weeks than I have been at any point in the past year, frankly.

TAPPER: You're right that one of the emerging global threats is disruptive technology. You're talking about artificial intelligence or cyber weapons, sophisticated algorithms and on and on. As you know, billionaire Elon Musk is making a tumultuous on again off again, bid to takeover Twitter, do you think it matters who runs Twitter? Can the CEO ultimately be more disruptive than the social media product?

BREMMER: Look, it's very clear that we have a lot of technologies that affect both the anxiety level of human beings, the disinformation, whether or not economies work, and cyber weapons, and even, you know, sort of how our political system functions. In the case of Twitter, the person that runs Twitter, I mean, they decided not because of a regulatory authority, but they decided to remove the sitting President of the United States from that platform.

Elon Musk has made very clear that if he does -- if he ends up owning, and if he buys, it doesn't look very likely at this point, that he would re-platform President Trump. So simply for that reason, I mean, this is a much more important decision in response to January 6 than anything the United States Congress or the Supreme Court has possibly done. I think that's a pretty big deal.

TAPPER: Eurasia Group President and Author of the new book, The Power of Crisis, Ian Bremmer, thanks so much for joining us today. Best of luck with your book.

Coming up next, as Republican candidates continue to push lies about the 2020 election, there is growing concern that Trump supporters will try to overturn future elections but they might be able to pull it off next time. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: In our politics lead, the first polls closing on this election night in less than an hour on the ballots and all five states are Republican candidates who have openly embraced election lies. As CNN's Pamela Brown reports there is real concern that Trump supporters will try to overturn future elections and next time, they might be able to pull it off.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was the 2020 Trump team plan spelled out in the open just weeks before the January 6 insurrection.

STEPHEN MILLER, ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: As we speak today, and ultimate slate of electors in the contested states is going to vote and we're going to send those results up to Congress.

BROWN: But that failed plan define alternate electors and challenge certifying Biden's win could have a better shot at working in 2024.

JUDGE J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, FORMER U.S. COURT OF APPEALS: According to appoint and ascertain electors.

BROWN: That's the warning from retire conservative Judge J. Michael Luttig, who famously advised former Vice President Pence to ignore Trump's overtures, follow the Constitution and faithfully count the Electoral College votes as they have been cast. Now, he's once again trying to ensure it doesn't happen.

LUTTIG: The former president has been telling this to the world for a year and a half and most recently, the legislature's in the States, you know, that they're populating themselves with Trump supporters, in order that they can exploit the Electoral Count Act.

BROWN: Luttig warned, there's a blueprint for how he says members have his own party plan to execute successfully in 2024 the very same plan, they failed in executing in 2020. And to overturn the 2024 election if Trump or his anointed successor loses again, the GOP could have more favorable state governments, the majority of state legislatures are Republican, the key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Arizona all have Republican legislatures.

KATIE HOBBS, (D) ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: If they're able to put forward alternate slates of electors that they can actually get state officials to sign off on that might give them more credibility. And certainly, they might have a little more success there either in Arizona or other states.

BROWN: In addition, the now conservative supermajority Supreme Court could support an obscure and not widely accepted legal theory where state legislatures have supreme power over elections without checks and balances. That theory stems from Article I, Section IV of the Constitution, which says the times places a manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed by the legislature thereof.

DAVID BECKER, EXEC. DIR. CENTER FOR ELECTION INNOVATION & RESEARCH: Those that are promoting the independent legislature doctrine, are suggesting that that means just the legislature, it's a strict reading. It just says legislature it means just the legislature. What they're failing to recognize is that every state has a constitution that defines what its legislature does, and does not make the legislature predominant over other aspects of government, including the executive and the judiciary.

BROWN: Supreme Court observers believed some justices hinted they'd accept that theory and response to challenges to the 2020 election. At the same time, state legislatures across the country are passing laws to overhaul the election process. According to the left leaning Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states passed new restrictive voting laws last year alone, like Florida, restricting ballot boxes and Iowa proposing strict punishments for election workers who make errors, and over 250 more bills are being considered as of mid-January.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting legislation that is basically making nonpartisan election offices. They're being politicized and that is making it harder for us to do our jobs.

BROWN: Many conservatives say the bills are not about voter suppression, but rather just reflect policy differences between the parties, and in some cases make voting easier.

DAVID RIVKIN, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Essentially policy choices as to how many ballot boxes you're going to allow. I think the whole concern that there is a fundamental restrictions in franchise are silly.


BROWN: In Texas, new election rules passed in 2021 limit voting hours and makes it harder to vote by mail. The Texas Secretary of State says more than 24,000 voters had their ballots rejected in the March primary. A big jump over previous elections. Republican Texas lawmaker Travis Clardy talked to CNN just before the bill passed last year.

TRAVIS CLARDY, (R) TEXAS STATE HOUSE: It's been 10 years since we voted kind of an overhaul of our election laws. And I think it was very much time to do this.

BROWN: At the same time, many pro-Trump Republican candidates are top contenders to take control of election oversight as Secretary of State and they're all running on the same campaign message, the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

MARK FINCHEM, (R) ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE CANDIDATE: I think we know it, and they know it. Donald Trump won.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Arizona's ballot by mail system works. BROWN: Democrat Katie Hobbs' Arizona Secretary of State and is now running for governor. She worries what will happen in future elections.

HOBBS: It is so concerning to see the number of election deniers running for not just secretaries of state across the country, but attorneys general governors and even down to state legislature legislatures. It is not an accident. We know part of why democracy prevailed in 2020 is that there's checks and balances on the system.


BROWN: And one key step election experts say would help protect the rightful winner of future elections is making changes to the Electoral Count Act. That's a federal law from 1887. That is very convoluted, could be easily abused. And Jake, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say they're looking at ways to amend it such as making it clear states cannot send an alternate slate of electors if it's different from the candidate with the most votes.

TAPPER: Yeah, they might want to hop to it on that bill. Pamela Brown, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, paging agents Scully and Mulder, U.S. lawmakers pondering a different kind of national security threat, the kind perhaps from another world.



TAPPER: In our out of this world lead, key lawmakers today warning that unidentified aerial phenomena, popularly known as UFOs must be investigated as a potential threat to national security. Today's hearing, the first on UFOs in decades coming almost a year after a U.S. intelligence report on UFOs provided few answers as to what military pilots have encountered in more than 140 incidents.

Joining us now to discuss Luis Elizondo, he's the former Director of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program and unpublicized U.S. government program created in 2007. Committed to the investigation of UAPs or UFOs. Luis, thanks for joining us. As part of your job you had access to the Pentagon's UFO data. You've also interviewed military eyewitnesses who encountered UAP, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena on an almost daily basis. Are lawmakers right to be concerned about this as a threat to national security?

LUIS ELIZONDO, FORMER PENTAGON INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: RAN UFO PROGRAM: Yeah, Jake. Great question. Absolutely. I think with all the military eyewitness testimony that's come forward in recent years. Along with the videos, we have the telemetry data, we have the radar data, we have the electro optical data. I think it paints a very convincing picture to our members of Congress that this is a national security issue. And what we saw today really is historic, not in the last 50 years, has our Congress been briefed by members of the government on the UFO topic. TAPPER: I want to show you some of the declassified videos the Pentagon shared today. In this video, you're going to see a small object that appears to zip past and military pilot. Here you can see some glowing triangles in the night sky. What do you think we're looking at there?

ELIZONDO: Well, Jake, look, those -- that video was taken after I left the Department of Defense, I really can't comment on that specific video. But I think what the problem is here is that we have a bit of a schizophrenic approach to this topic. On one hand, we admit that they're real, but on the other hand, we're wrapping them up as air trash, air clutter issue, i.e. drones, quadcopters, and not for what they should be, which is breakaway technology. This history of videos and eyewitness testimony goes back decades. And interestingly enough, I'll make this quick, they acknowledged today the existence of my program, AATIP, and they also acknowledge the existence of the program called Project Bluebook. That closed in the 70s. But they're not discussing anything that happened in between and there's no plan to collect data from any government efforts that may have existed between them the 70s and my program, and I think that's problematic.

TAPPER: UFO's first appeared on the American public's radar, popularly about seven years ago, maybe, the stigma around discussing UFOs have kept many people from taking them seriously. Do you think today's hearing was a turning point?

ELIZONDO: I do, Jake. And I think it's also a step in the right direction. And I think the American people in Congress can expect more hearings. I think this was mostly pro forma. I think it was to get the -- let's not forget, during -- Bluebook we had, the head of the Air Force come up and testify. Now, we have the head of DoD, the intelligence organization, the Undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, now testified with one of his colleagues. I think what Congress is doing he's very smart. If you listen to the questions that were specifically asked by members of Congress, they know what's going on. They're no fools and they're asking the right questions. And I think they're going to keep asking until they get the answers.


TAPPER: All right, Luis Elizondo, we're going to have you back sometime soon to discuss even more. Thanks so much, always good to have you on. We're going to take a quick break we'll be right back.

ELIZONDO: My pleasure. Thank you.


TAPPER: This Sunday, it's my honor to tell you that I'm going to be anchoring a program that's very special. A CNN special report called, Finally Home. It's our interview with former Marine Trevor Reed who has recently freed from Russia. I sit down with Trevor Reed and his family for his first exclusive interview. Since returning to the United States after being held in a Russian prison so unfairly for more than two years. I'm also going to talk to the families and loved ones of other Americans being wrongly detained -- wrongfully detained around the world. What Trevor Reed wants us to bring attention to their stories to. This airs Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

I will see you back here for our special election coverage in just one hour. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."