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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Dow Tumbles 1,100+ Points Amid Inflation Fears; Oz, McCormick Deadlocked In Pennsylvania GOP Senate Race; Russian Soldier In Trial For War Crimes Pleads Guilty; House Expected To Vote On Bills To Address Formula Shortage; White House: FDA Moving With "Urgency" To Approve Vaccine For Kids Under 5; Suspected Gunman Posted Plot Online 30 Minutes Before Attack; WSJ: Flight Data Suggests Intentional Crash Of China Eastern 737. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So now Republicans want to count all the votes in Pennsylvania.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Nail biter results in crucial races yet to be called. The printing error leading to a crunch to count votes with the nonsense of the 2020 election lie playing out in real time as Pennsylvania Republicans eagerly count outstanding mail-in ballots.

Then, the CDC said COVID cases in the U.S. tripled in one month. From the testing through treatments, what the White House is now saying about this state of play.


Plus, the startling reported evidence suggesting someone intentionally crashed a plane packed with passengers, causing China's deadliest air disaster in decades.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

We start with breaking news. A dramatic selloff on Wall Street as investors freak out over inflation and the distinct possibility of the U.S. economy sliding into a recession. The Dow industrials lost more than 1100 points, the broader S&P 500 and Nasdaq also falling sharply.

Let's get right to CNN's Matt Egan.

Matt, what specifically sparked today's sell-off?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jake, the big fear is that inflation is so high that it's starting to eat into corporate profits. Retail giant Target gave investors a scare by reporting a stunning drop in earnings, largely because of supply chain turmoil and rising costs. Target lost 25 percent of its value today alone. Its worst day since Black Monday in 1987. This comes a day after Walmart sounded the inflation alarm, also

suffering its worst day since 1987. The big concern is companies are having trouble passing along higher costs consumers and that perhaps corporate profitability has peaked. That's normally something you only see during big economic slowdowns. Put all this together, you have the S&P 500 losing the most in one day since June of 2020, in nearly two years. The Nasdaq plunging even deeper into a bear market.

Jake, I should note markets were up big yesterday, but these wild swings, up one day, down the next, really do speak to the deep uncertainty about what comes next for the economy.

TAPPER: And, Matt, a new conference board survey suggests -- you know what? Let's move on. Matt Egan, thank you so much.

Turning to our politics lead and an election cliffhanger in Pennsylvania, in a race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.

Right now, Trump-backed Dr. Mehmet Oz is leading retired hedge fund executive Dave McCormick by the slimmest of margins, just over 2,100 votes in the Republican primary, with thousands of mail-in ballots yet to be counted.

Now, the delayed results are partially due to a printing error on 22,000 mail-in ballots in Lancaster County that now have to be fixed by hand before they're counted. There are also thousands of other mail-in ballots still remaining to be counted. Provisional, military, overseas ballots as well.

It is worth pointing out, we do not know who won the GOP Senate primary in Pennsylvania because the margin is so thin and there are so many legal ballots that need to be counted, legitimate ballots -- legitimate ballots today, just as they were in 2020 for the presidential race.

Now, Dr. Oz last night said, quote, when all the votes are count counted, we win, unquote, but former President Trump is now urging Oz to take a page out of his anti-democracy playbook and just, quote, declare victory, unquote. Because as of now, without all the votes counted, Oz is ahead.

The other major Republican race in Pennsylvania was not a close one. Doug Mastriano, one of the biggest backers of Trump's election lies and who tried to overturn the 2020 results and disenfranchise every voter in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, well, he easily won the Republican gubernatorial primary. If Mastriano wins, he will be in charge of appointing Pennsylvania's secretary of state. The secretary of state is the person in charge of elections, in one of the nation's most important battlegrounds.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports now from Delaware County. He's just outside Philadelphia with a closer look now at the neck and neck primary battle.


DAVE MCCORMICK (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: We're going to win this campaign.

ZELENY: -- and Dr. Mehmet Oz --

DR. MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win.

ZELENY: -- locked in an extraordinarily tight battle for the Republican Senate nomination. With Dr. Oz holding a razor thin edge of about 2,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast.

A day after the election, both campaigns tell CNN they see a path to victory, with McCormick relying on mail-in votes still being counted, and Oz hoping his strength at the polls holds.

In Lancaster County, election workers scrambled to sort through about 22,000 ballots printed with an incorrect code that could not be scanned, a process officials said that could take all week.

KATHY BARNETTE (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: This campaign has always been about you.

ZELENY: Kathy Barnette, whose candidacy surged in the final week of the race fell short.


But her imprint in the race was a factor in the duel between McCormick and Oz. After the counting, the race could head to a recount if the margin is one half of a percent or less.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By next Tuesday, we'll have a good sense as far as whether or not there will be an automatic recount.

ZELENY: Donald Trump who lived large in the race weighed in today, saying: Dr. Oz should declare victory. The winning Republican will face John Fetterman, who won the Democratic Senate race but is still recovering from a stroke with a defibrillator implanted on election day.

GISELE BARRETO FETTERMAN, WIFE OF JOHN FETTERMAN: John is going to be back on his feet in no time.

ZELENY: The stage is set for a raucous general election in Pennsylvania. With Doug Mastriano winning the Republican governor's race, campaigning on a platform of lies about the 2020 election.

DOUG MASTERIANO (R), PENNSYLVANIA GUBERNATORIAL NOMINEE: There's this movement here that's going to shock the state here on November 8th.

ZELENY: As some Republicans openly worry about Masteriano's prospects, party leaders expressed pleasure with results from North Carolina, as controversial Congressman Madison Cawthorn conceded defeat. And in the Senate race there, Ted Budd swept to victory.

REP. TED BUDD (R-NC): And, friends, I want to thank President Donald J. Trump and --


ZELENY (on camera): And Dr. Mehmet Oz was also thanking the former president for his endorsement in this race, but, Jake, the counting is still going on here in Pennsylvania. At this moment at least, Dr. Oz is leading by about 2,100 votes or so. But this is why this is still too close to call. There are slightly more than 100,000 mail-in ballots and others not yet counted. Now, all of them are not on the Republican side. Many Democratic ballots are in there as well.

But we're here in Delaware County where there are 4,800 mail-in ballots being processed as we speak. It will probably take a couple days or so, but the margin is so close almost sure to be under that automatic trigger for a recount. The margin would have to be about 6,000 votes or more. As of now, it's 2,000.

But, Jake, this is what happens in close elections. Dr. Oz and the McCormick campaign think this could take at least a week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Chester, Pennsylvania, thank you so much.

Let's discuss now with our panel.

Jonah Goldberg, let me start with you. Are you surprised how close this race is between Oz and McCormick? Which candidate do you think stands a better chance against John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm a little surprised. I think that one of the great ironies of all this, as you noted, is that they want to count every vote. The interesting thing is that the more MAGA you are, the more Trump-aligned you are, the less likely you are to trust mail-in voting, so that's why McCormick's team thinks they have an advantage, because they think more of their voters are likely to have been mail-in voters rather than day-of voters.

More broadly, my gut says that McCormick is the better bet against Fetterman, because he's sort of a more traditional Republican who is less likely to sort of antagonize, freak out the suburbs and that sort of thing. At the same time, you can't discount the energy and passion of the Trump base, and presumably, Trump would work harder for Oz, his endorsed candidate, to win than he would work for McCormick. So it's anyone's guess at this point.

TAPPER; Kirsten, on the Democratic side, Lieutenant Governor Fetterman easily beat Congressman Conor Lamb, a moderate from the Pittsburgh area, for the Senate nomination. It's not going to be an easy general election for Fetterman. You know, there are a slew of issues Republicans are going to attack him on. It's going to be a tough year for Democrats.

And then there's that 2013 incident where when he was a mayor, he thought he heard shots. He chased down and pulled a gun on an unarmed Black jogger.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, these are all obviously things that are problematic and even if you just made him a generic Democrat, frankly, it would be a very difficult -- it's a very difficult terrain just because of what's happening in the country in terms of the economy and inflation and that Joe Biden's numbers are so low.

So I think that it's hard to say. You do have to wait and see who he would be running against and also say if it was Dr. Oz, is he going to be able to pivot away from some of the more extreme things he's said. And the truth is, even McCormick being the so-called establishment candidate, he's -- you know, he's refused to admit Joe Biden is actually our elected president. So it's pretty Trumpy regardless of where you go, and the fact McCormick went down to Mar-a-Lago to try to get Trump's endorsement.

So I think we have to wait and see who wins on the Republican side, and then also how they behave in a general election.


TAPPER: Jonah, let's talk another key Pennsylvania race because Doug Mastriano won the Republican primary for governor. Mastriano was pictured outside the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. He attempted to launch an Arizona-style partisan not credible review of Pennsylvania's ballots. He wanted to disenfranchise every voter in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Now, Republicans on Capitol Hill are warning that Mastriano might need to change his strategy and Senator Lindsey Graham said I don't think 2020 is what people want to think about.

What's your take on Mastriano?

GOLDBERG: I think Mastriano, at least according to a lot of Republican strategists, is Italian for Sharron Angle. I think he's an incredibly problematic candidate.

And he's going to create real, real problems for whoever the Republican Senate nominee is. Because are you going to campaign with a guy who is an election denier and a conspiracy theorist and kind of a QAnon adjacent character? How does that work? How do you separate yourself from that brand?

And frankly, since I'm not really a partisan Republican, I am a conservative, there's a real worry that, you know, if that guy gets elected governor, he is simply not a reliable public leader for the 2024 election, which I think just a lot of, you know, saner heads are like, dreading that possibility going forward.

So, I think he's a radioactive figure which will create problems, will radiate out problems for other Republicans in the state. And you know that Trump is going to egg him on to keep up with all the election lie stuff.

TAPPER: Jonah Goldberg, Kirsten Powers, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, the first war crimes trial since the start of Russia's invasion. What we heard in witnessed testimony against the Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian.

Plus, the risky moves many mothers are now being forced to make, to substitute for the nation's baby formula shortage.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world today, an expansion of NATO, perhaps Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare, is under way. Finland and Sweden have formally handed in their applications for membership. The NATO secretary-general calling it an historic step.

This as the first Russian soldier charged with a war crime in Ukraine pleaded guilty today in Kyiv. Prosecutors say he killed an unarmed civilian back in February. Russians officials are calling the trial unacceptable and staged.

As CNN's Melissa Bell reports for us now, some Ukrainians are concerned this trial could create backlash for the captured Mariupol fighters currently in Russian custody.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war now facing a reckoning. In a Kyiv courtroom too small for the 150 journalists who turned up, the first Russian soldier to be charged with a war crime pleaded guilty. Vadim Shishimarin led away after the hearing was suspended until a larger courtroom can be found.

The 21-year-old is accused of killing an unarmed civilian, prosecutors say, after he and several other soldiers escaped a Ukrainian attack on their convoy in a stolen car.

One of those Russian soldiers traveling with Shishimarin that day now expected to testify on Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was in the car with him. He saw the moment of the shot. He saw Shishimarin fire. He saw how the bullet hit the victim and how the victim fell after that. That is, he was a direct witness to the crime.

BELL: Over in Russian-held territory, meanwhile, the latest pictures released by the Russian ministry of defense showed some of those Ukrainian soldiers evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Looking gaunt and dejected, they are now also prisoners of war.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): Qualified medical help is being provided to all the wounded. The norms of humanitarian law are basic for us, so no one should have any doubt about that.

BELL: But will they be handed over as part of the prisoner swap that Ukraine had been hoping for?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I want to emphasize, Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. To bring the boys home, the work continues. And this work needs delicacy and time.

BELL: For now, though, they remain in the breakaway Donetsk people's republic. Its leader suggesting on Wednesday that the fighters might now be put on trial. Comments mirrored by the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament in Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nazi criminals should not be exchanged. They're war criminals. We should do everything to insure they are put on trial.

BELL: The Russian side now claiming that the commanders of the Azovstal fighters are not amongst the evacuees. Even as the fate of the surrendered soldiers takes a far murkier turn.


BELL (on camera): Jake, the point is that the surrender of these Azovstal fighters to the Russian side essentially gives them leverage, and beyond that, the fall of Mariupol as a result of their surrender also changes the dynamic on the ground. What you're talking about is a huge swath of Ukrainian territory that goes from Crimea to the self- declared Donetsk and Luhansk Republics that can be claimed by Russia.

And that's what we have been seeing over the course of the last 24 hours. Russian positions pounding those areas to the west of Luhansk, the north of Donetsk, and what it looks like they're trying to do is fortify their positions, take the entire regions in order they can claim that part of Ukraine as their own, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Melissa Bell reporting live for us from Kyiv. Thank you so much.

Coming up, the new efforts to get vaccines for your young children, as COVID cases rise. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our health lead in just a few hours, the House of Representatives is expected to vote on two bills to address the baby formula shortage in the country. The legislation would provide $28 million in emergency funding to help alleviate the shortfall.


The bills are expected to pass the House but will need to be approved by the Senate. This comes as desperate moms are turning to other moms for help by sharing breast milk. But is that safe?

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen spoke to a pediatrician about the risks.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like many parents, Heather Nicholas is terrified, searching and searching near her home in Wesley Chapel, Florida, for baby formula for her 5- month-old son Roman.

HEATHER NICHOLAS, MOTHER OF 5-MONTH OLD: I don't have the formula I need, so your mind doesn't stop thinking about it, especially at night. I hate to say, I have lost a lot of sleep.

COHEN: Desperate, Heather turned to social media.

NICHOLAS: I had other local breast feeding mothers who came to me and they're like, listen, there's these groups.

COHEN: And in one of those groups, someone not too far away saw her plea.

KALEIGH AYERS, MOTHER OF 5-MONTH OLD: I have so much of a supply that I have a deep freezer that is absolutely full of milk.

COHEN: Kaleigh Ayers, mom to 5-month-old Elizabeth, has pumped so much extra milk that she wants to give it away to other moms.

AYERS: Putting myself into the shoes of those mothers is really what motivated me. I can't imagine how scary that would be.

COHEN: So last week, Heather and Kaleigh decided to meet in the parking lot of a nearby grocery store.

NICHOLAS: Nice to meet you.

AYERS: I brought you a lot. This is full.

I think I could tell that she was very stressed out, trying to figure out how to feed her baby. I could just see like the stress lift off her.

NICHOLAS: I'm going to try not to cry right now.

AYERS: You can cry. Can I give you a hug?

NICHOLAS: Yes, you can.

AYERS: Okay.

I was in your shoes when my baby was first born.

COHEN: Heather and Kaleigh aren't the only ones doing this. Facebook full of parents sharing breast milk with one another, but the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend this kind of unregulated sharing. Its spokesperson saying the quality and safety of the milk cannot be assured.

DR. EDITH BRACHO-SANCHEZ, PEDIATRICIAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: You're not going through the process of getting that breast milk screened for infectious diseases or getting screened for things like drugs. You also don't know how old that breast milk is. You don't know what the process has been to keep it refrigerated.

COHEN: Heather says she feels comfortable with Kaleigh.

NICHOLAS: She was upfront about her situation, her lifestyle, her diet. All sorts of things.

COHEN: And was relieved to give Roman his first bottle of Kaleigh's milk.

NICHOLAS: If I can't find a donor, per se, for milk for him, then what's my next option?


COHEN (on camera): Now, because of the infant formula shortage, the American Academy of Pediatrics is telling parents of children six months and older that whole cow's milk may be an option. Before, they said wait until the first birthday -- Jake.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Also in our health lead, the White House holding its first White House coronavirus briefing since the beginning of April. This comes as the CDC says COVID cases have tripled in the past month.

Joining us now, Dr. Paul Offit, who's on the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Offit, right now, additional COVID funding is stalled in Congress. This comes as the White House has warned that 100 million Americans could be infected with coronavirus this winter.

I want you to take a listen to this warning from Dr. Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator.


DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Without additional funding from Congress, we will not be able to buy enough vaccines for every American who wants one, once these new generations of vaccines come out in the fall and winter.


TAPPER: What could that do to case numbers if not everyone is able to get a vaccine this fall who wants one?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Well, certainly, cases are increasing. The good news is, we have probably about 95 percent population immunity from people who have been vaccinated or naturally infected or both. So, what you're seeing, although you're seeing case numbers increase, what you're not seeing is much of an increase in hospitalization, a little increase in hospitalization, but virtually no increase in deaths, which is what you would expect.

You're getting protection against serious illness, but you're not getting very good protection against mild illness. What worries me is that a variant would arise that resists protection against serious illness. Were that to be true, we would need a variant specific vaccine to be given to the entire population. Now, you want to make sure you have money in place to be ready were something like that to occur.

TAPPER: Yesterday, the FDA approved the use of a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, a booster for kids age 5 to 11. The FDA did not consult its vaccine advisory committee as it has done for other vaccine decisions saying, quote, the FDA concluded the request did not raise questions that would benefit from additional discussion by committee members.

Does that strike you as odd in any way?

OFFIT: I'm on that committee.

TAPPER: Right.

OFFIT: So I actually wish they had consulted us. The reason being that so we have now recommended -- the FDA has recommended a third dose. That will go to the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices in the next couple days and we'll see how they weigh in.

But, you know, there's been a little bit of mission creep here. During today's press conference, Dr. Walensky said accurately these vaccines continue to protect against serious illness. But if we're trying to get protection against even all symptomatic illness, even mild illness, now you're talking about frequent boosting which is a bit of mission creep from where we started which was protection against serious illness.

So, that needs to be explained to the American public. The good news about having a FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting is it's open to the public, it's transparent, and you can hear the discussions which can inform your decision.

TAPPER: Dr. Jha also said today that the FDA is moving with, quote, urgency to get a vaccine approved for kids under 5. We have been in this pandemic for over two years. There's been a vaccine widely available for adults for over a year.

How do we still not have a shot for young kids under 5?

OFFIT: Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. We tend to group people at some level arbitrarily, so the 6-month-old to 5 or 6 year olders are all in one group, but it may be the dose is not the same for each of those different ages. And so, you need to prove that. And that does take time. So, we'll see. I know that Moderna has

already submitted with their two-dose data. Pfizer is in the midst of the three-dose trial. I suspect we're likely to hear about that at the FDA vaccine advisory committee in June, but we'll see.

TAPPER: The White House saying today they're looking into cases of COVID rebound after individuals take Paxlovid. Paxlovid is a coronavirus therapeutic, a treatment drug. Some people are reporting experiencing a return of COVID symptoms after finishing the five-day regimen of Paxlovid. Do you advise people to take Paxlovid?

OFFIT: Yeah, if they're older and certainly have comorbidities or health problems that put them at risk of serious disease, absolutely.

Remember, antivirals are not antibiotics. I mean, antibiotics can kill bacteria. Antivirals don't kill viruses. So, what this does is decreases the virus's capacity to reproduce itself.

So, when you stop, there may still be some virus particles that can reproduce themselves. But -- this has been reported. Even in the package insert, there was essentially a rebound of about 2 percent. Which when you now give the product to tens of thousands of people, now you're seeing many people that are having this problem.

But again, it's still, although there's a rebound, it's still not nearly as severe as not treating.

TAPPER: Dr. Paul Offit, thanks so much. Good to see you.

Coming up next, what we're learning the suspected Buffalo shooter did just minutes before his deadly racist rampage, and the federal legislation moving quickly on Capitol Hill in the wake of his attack.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, an invitation to watch a horrific massacre. Chilling new details show the alleged gunman in the Buffalo supermarket terrorist attack sharing his plans with others online, using a private communications app, approximately 30 minutes before opening fire and killing ten people. The suspect's chat log also revealing that he claims to have scouted the Buffalo grocery store in March and planned his attack for one of the busiest times at the store that he targeted because it's in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Buffalo with the latest on the investigation.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty minutes before the Buffalo mass shooting, the suspect revealed his plans to a small group on social media. In the gamer chat room app Discord, he invited a group to access the private diary he had been writing for six months. The chat log shows he chose the zip code in Buffalo because of a high percentage of black people.

He visited the supermarket three times on March 8, surveying its layout, drawing a map, and taking note of how many black customers and white customers were there, and he planned his attack for March 15th but delayed it several times.

JONATHAN LACEY, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It's coming to light now that this person planned this very methodically.

TODD: Discord says their records show no one saw the chat prior to 30 minutes before the shooting. One former FBI special agent believes the posts were intended to recruit others.

LACEY: He was trying to radicalize other people, just like he was radicalized online. I think we're going to learn who his contacts were. That's critical right now, because we don't know who else is out there that's a potential threat to this community or some community somewhere else in the United States or elsewhere.

TODD: And today, New York's governor asking her attorney general to investigate the social media platforms the suspect posted on.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: The social media platforms have to take responsibility. They must be more vigilant in monitoring the content and must be held accountable for favoring engagement over public safety.

TODD: She also called for tighter gun control and established a domestic threat assessment program for the state.

HOCHUL: We're going to insure that we have the best in the nation cybersecurity teams to monitor the places where radicalization occurs. We're watching you now.

TODD: In Washington, House Democrats planning a vote tonight on a bill that would set up FBI and DHS offices to monitor and analyze domestic terrorism threats, including white supremacists and neo- Nazis.


But concerns over civil liberties have Republicans lukewarm.

Also today, authorities reveal that one 911 call during the incident was mishandled, although they say it did not affect how fast police responded. The caller spoke in a whisper.

MARK POLONCARZ, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Our intention is to terminate the 911 call-taker who acted totally inappropriately, not following protocol. We teach our 911 call takers that if somebody is whispering, it probably means they are in trouble.

TODD: Today, the ten victims killed and the three who survived were honored by members of the Buffalo bills football team, who came to pay their respects, show their support for the community, and help distribute food outside the shuttered grocery store. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): The suspect is scheduled to appear in court tomorrow for a pretrial felony hearing, which will likely in part determine whether this case goes to a grand jury. The Erie County sheriff says there are cameras in the suspect's cell and he's on suicide watch, also, the first funerals for the victims will be held this Friday, Jake.

TAPPER: Brian Todd in Buffalo, New York. Thank you so much. Joining us now to discuss is the senator from New York, one of them, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

You visited Buffalo with President Biden yesterday. You placed flowers at the memorial outside the Tops grocery store, where this horrific shooting occurred. You met with the families of the victims. Tell us how the community is doing after this horrific attack.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): The community in Buffalo is reeling. They are trying to deal with extraordinary anger and sadness and fear about the future. And so having President Biden and First Lady Biden come to not only empathize but to comfort them and to tell them that this is a fight that they are committed to.

We have to get justice for these victims and their families. We have to make sure we go after these large magazines and military style assault weapons and better background checks. And we have to go after white supremacy, as truly a domestic terrorism that it is.

White supremacy has grown. These white supremacist extremist groups have grown. They grew under the Trump administration, many of them culminated in the attack on the Capitol on January 6th, and through the Internet and these platforms, we have people who have gone down these rabbit holes and have themselves become extremists. And so, we need to take action across the board, and it's the least we can do for these families in this community that is suffering.

TAPPER: The House is set to vote today on a bill aimed at tackling domestic terrorism. It calls for assessments of the threats posed by white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis. Republican House leadership is telling its members to vote against the bill. It will still probably pass the House.

Will it have enough Republican support to pass in the Senate, do you think? And what do you think of the legislation? Does it -- does it accomplish what it needs to?

GILLIBRAND: I haven't looked at the House legislation, but I do know through my work on the intel committee that the FBI has prioritized domestic terrorism and has actually gone into these different white supremacy groups and not only monitored them for this type of illegal activity but monitoring how it is spread.

So the work is being done, and I think if we give them more resources, as well as designating neo-Nazism and white supremacists as domestic terrorist ideologies. I think that helps because it's not about free speech. It is about people using terrorist activities and crimes to kill innocent people. And so, we have to create a better framework about how to protect people and how to give law enforcement more tools.

TAPPER: The suspected gunman was taken in for a mental health evaluation last year, after he wrote in a high school essay that he intended to commit a murder-suicide. Police asked him about it, he claimed he was just joking, and the matter was dropped. Then he was able to buy an AR-15 to allegedly commit this mass murder.

Now, as you know, the Empire State, New York state, has a red flag law under which state police or high school staff or his family members could have requested that he not be permitted to purchase a firearm under what's called an extreme risk protective order.

No one did that. The tools were there. How does the system need to improve, do you think?

GILLIBRAND: Well, first of all, I think those requests should have been made. And there should have been a red flag placed on his identity so that when he went in to buy a firearm, it could have been denied. But there's also a problem, Jake, with an 18-year-old being able to buy a military style weapon that our members of the military train for years on to use appropriately and safely.

This individual should never be eligible for buying a military style assault weapon that with a clip from Canada could kill ten people within one minute. That is the challenge here. We had a law enforcement -- retired law enforcement officer as the security guard. He was able to fight back, and police were on the scene within one minute.

But despite all that, because of the weapon he had, he was able to kill ten people so quickly. We need to ban those military style assault weapons.

TAPPER: I have lots more questions on that, but there are a couple other topics we need to get to. One of them, today, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is announcing a bipartisan agreement to provide care to veterans who were exposed in Afghanistan and Iraq to toxic burn pits you and Republican Senator Marco Rubio have been working together, out in front of this for a long time.

How will this bill impact the more than 3.5 million people who have been exposed to toxins while serving in the military?

GILLIBRAND: So, it is ground changing. It's so important for our veterans and our active duty service members. Unfortunately, because of the war on terror over the last twenty years, our service members have been put in harm's way all across the globe in places that where they were stationed they opened up burn pits and threw every type of material to be burned, any waist, human waste, medical waste, building materials, computers, clothing, everything. And those toxins were lit on fire with jet fuel. If you can imagine,

that's the same toxic mix that was at 9/11 when the towers fell. And so we know from that experience that when you breathe in these horrible toxins you get terrible disease and cancers. That's what's happening to our service members in their 30s and 40s.

And so, we now have legislation that is going to be voted on in the next couple weeks to actually make a presumption that their health care will be covered. This is enormously important. This is justice for people who deserve it. And we will be able to now get them the life-saving care they're often denied.

TAPPER: I want to have you and Senator Rubio on to discuss this because it's so important.

Thank you so much, Senator Gillibrand. Appreciate it.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, a new report suggesting someone deliberately, deliberately crashed a passenger plane.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, flight data from a Chinese plane crash that killed all 132 people onboard in March suggests it was an intentional act. That's according to a new report in "The Wall Street Journal" today.

CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now live.

Pete, the report also says it's unclear who may have caused the crash but it cites a preliminary assessment indicating the plane deliberately nose dived into a mountain. How would investigators know that?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this "Wall Street Journal" reporting is coming from those in the U.S. familiar with the flight data recorder onboard Flight 5735. Remember, the Chinese sent the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data reporter to Washington for analysis.

What is so interesting about this whole notion this could have been a deliberate act is it's only confirmed the suspicions that aviation experts had in the early days after this crash. It was so telling to them was that vertical dive, that video where you saw that plane plunging from 29,000 feet, its cruising altitude, in less than two minutes time, it ran into a Chinese mountainside, all 132 people on board were killed.

"The Wall Street Journal," a source telling them that the plane did what it was supposed to do because of somebody in the cockpit. Now, the question is whether or not that person was a passenger or whether or not that person was a pilot. Remember, China Eastern insists that its pilots before this flight were in good health. They also had no family or finance drama.

What will really be telling is here what's on the cockpit voice recorder. That will show the communication not only between pilots and air traffic control, but on the intercom between the pilots themselves and also the ambient noise, and that could be key in determining whether or not there was any sort of struggle onboard.

The Chinese who are leading this investigation, and the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority insist its investigation will be rigorous and scientific. So, still a lot more to come out here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The historic deal announced today finally giving professional women's soccer players equal pay to their male counterparts. I'm going to talk to a former star player about why this is only a small step in this decades-long fight.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, as one woman's soccer player put it, quote, there are going to be girls who are going to grow up and see what we accomplished and recognize their value instead of having to fight to see it themselves. The women's soccer team win. That's a potential victory beyond the field.

Plus, the pain at the pump about to get even worse. Now there's talk we could soon be looking at average prices of $6 a gallon.

And leading this hour, a small sign of hope in Ukraine as the American flag is raised above the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. The flag marks the reopening of the facility that was evacuated in February before the start of the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine.

From the capitol to the south and the critical port see of Odesa, along Ukraine's Black Sea coast where a fancy hotel once enjoyed by Russian tourists now lays in ruins, as CNN's Sara Sidner reports for us now, the owner now says the only way he'll allow Russians back to his hotel is if they're the ones cleaning it up.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hotel is called Grand Pettine. In Italian, it means big shell. Most of the guests came here because it's 30 meters from the beach.

We're right on the beautiful Black Sea. Let's go. I'll show you what happened after the missile strike.

His security cameras caught the missile strike as it happened. This is the first time it's been seen by the public.