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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine Lawmakers Meet With Congress In Weapons Assistance; GOP Commission Refuses To Certify New Mexico Primary Results; Source: Trump Pondering Moving Up Potential 2024 Announcement. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 17, 2022 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, on the ropes, the man who is World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon, is stepping down as the chair as allegations are made public that he paid millions of dollars in hush money to cover up scandals.

Plus, the ongoing threat of Trump's election lies playing out in New Mexico. A county commissioner defying the state Supreme Court there and refusing to certify votes by today, which happens to be the same day he's being sentenced for his January 6 conviction for trespassing at the Capitol.

Leading this hour, President Biden warning Americans do not travel to Ukraine as the United States works to track down three American veterans who went missing there. The Americans who volunteered to assist Ukrainian forces are now feared to be in Russian hands. Retired U.S. Marine Grady was last heard from in Ukraine around April 23 according to a family friend. Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh went missing last week. Video surfaced today on pro-Russian social media appearing to show those two men in an unknown location. We're not showing the video because it appears to show the men under duress.

CNN's Sam Kiley is in the Kharkiv just miles from where those two American veterans were last seen. He spoke with an American who was fighting with Andy and Alex just before they went missing.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These two American fighters have their hands bound behind them. They're dressed in uniforms not their own and they may well have been captured by the very Russians that they've been fighting. This as far as it goes as good news for the comrade who last saw a T72 tank open fire on his two friends.

(on camera): Does that give you any kind of cause for hope?

PIP, FORMER U.S. SERVICE MEMBER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I wish I could say with 100 percent certainty that it's not a fake but I'm -- I have a lot of hope that it's them.

KILEY (voice-over): A former U.S. servicemen, he was in the same battle, as Alex Drueke and Andy Huynh when they went missing in action. He fears Russian reprisals in Ukraine and beyond. And once his identity and voice hidden, he uses the codename Pip. But for the first time on T.V., he described what happened on June the ninth about 20 miles northeast of Kharkiv.

PIP: The team was sent out on a mission on the ninth and they showed up in the area of operations and a full scale Russian armored assault was underway. A hasty defense was set up, two anti-tank teams were set up. Alex and Andy fired an RPG at a BMP that was coming through the woods and destroyed it.

A T72 then turned its turret and fired upon them, drove a few more meters forward and hit the anti-tank mine that our Ukrainian officer had placed. We suspect they were knocked out by either the T72 tank shooting at them or the blast of the mine.

KILEY (voice-over): So far, Russian officials have denied any knowledge of the missing Americans.

Two Britons, both with UK and Ukrainian citizenship were recently sentenced to death on charges of being mercenaries by a so called caught in the Russian back rebel area of Ukraine that calls itself the Donetsk People's Republic. They were long standing members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Huynh and Drueke had served alongside Pip in a three man team since April.

PIP: As far as I'm aware, were paid about the same if not exactly the same as the Ukrainian soldier who's on the front. And money is certainly not my motivation for being here. And I know it's not Andy's and it's not Alex's either.

KILEY (voice-over): Ukraine has been appealing for urgent supplies of ammunition and heavy weapons. It's also recruited large numbers. The details are kept secret of foreign volunteers into its international legion.

(on camera): So what advice would you give, finally, for anybody thinking of wanting to join the legion?

PIP: Oh, wow. Well, if you have no military background, if you don't have any combat experience, if you expect to come here with air support, intense helicopter support, then stay home because that is not the case. It is the Russian army. And they have massive amounts of artillery. They have massive amounts of armor, and the Ukrainians are giving it their damnedest.

KILEY (on camera): Did you make the right call?

PIP: I'll admit to questioning it once in a while, but I think yes.

KILEY (voice-over): For those captured by Russia, that answer may no longer be quite so positive.


KILEY: Now, Jake, of course, huge numbers of Ukrainians are also being captured and even more killed every day. The government estimates for Ukrainian dead that they admit to is some 100 to 200 a day with about 500 being injured. That effectively is what would NATO would define as a battalion of infantry dying or being wounded taken off the battlefield every day. This is going to come to a desperate turn now in Ukraine, which why the president downwards in this country is asking the international community for all of those heavy weapons and ammunition to go with them. Jake.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley in Kharkiv, Ukraine, thank you so much.

Russia is trying to put on a brave face, rejecting the notion that Western sanctions are hurting its economy while President Vladimir Putin hammered the United States at an economic forum today.



PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): When the U.S. declared they won the Cold War, they declared themselves messengers of the Lord on Earth, who have no responsibilities only interests. And they have declared those interests sacred.

TAPPER: CNN's Fred pike and was at that forum where Putin scoffed at the mountain of sanctions against Russia.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin laid out his plans to counter U.S. led sanctions. Putin making clear Russia will not back down from what they call the special military operation. Old goals of the military operation will be accomplished, he said.

Putin also claiming Russia was forced to invade because the U.S. was bringing Ukraine into its orbit. Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced, he said, difficult, of course, but forced and necessarily.

Putin then threatening the U.S. moment as the world's top power is coming to an end. When they won the Cold War, the U.S. declared themselves God's own representatives on earth, he says, people who have no responsibilities only interests, they have declared those interests sacred.

The U.S. and its allies reject any notion of fueling the conflict in Ukraine and have hit Moscow with massive economic sanctions. But Putin says the measures aren't working. The calculation was clear, to crush the Russian economy with a swoop, he says, obviously, it didn't work.

The U.S. accuses Russia of worsening world hunger by blockading Ukrainian ports and causing a massive spike in gas prices. Putin again blaming the West. Even higher prices threatening famine in the poorest countries and this will be entirely on the conscience of the U.S. administration and the euro bureaucracy, he said.

As Western companies pull out of Russia in droves, Moscow was trying to reorient its economy. A top Russian Senator saying he believes Russia's invasion of Ukraine prevented a larger war with NATO even as Russia's own losses mount.

KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV, RUSSIAN SENATOR: We are all aware about the losses, which take place now. But I am absolutely sure that we have managed to prevent a huge war, probably assert ruled war.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And Vladimir Putin says the operation in Ukraine will continue until Russia feels it has achieved its aims.


PLEITGEN: And Jake, I think it's really important to point out that Vladimir Putin, the moment that he took the stage and started talking, ripping into the United States, and it certainly didn't seem like a Russian leader that was rethinking what is going on in Ukraine, what his military is doing in Ukraine. In fact, he seemed as though he was very sure of himself and certainly doesn't appear to be looking to change course anytime soon. In fact, I think that's the point in time he believes that he's in a fairly strong position.

There were two things that were quite surprising though, this happened after the actual speech took place. He was part of a panel discussion. On the one hand, he said that he had no issues with Ukraine joining the European Union, if that's something that's going to happen. And he also said that he believed that at some point, inevitably, relations between Russia and Ukraine will normalize. Of course, the Ukrainians might think very differently about that, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen in St. Petersburg, Russia for us, thank you so much.

We're joined now by Ukrainian Member of Parliament, Yevhenia Kravchuk.

First of all, Madam Legislator, I want to give you the opportunity. I know the Russian government and Russian government officials, especially Vladimir Putin, tell a lot of lies. Is there -- are there any in particular that you heard them saying just now that you want to respond to?

YEVHENIA KRAVCHUK, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, you know, I just see that they sort of believe in their own propaganda because they live in their own world. And Russia wants to show that it's a superpower, but in fact, the GDP of Russia is the same GDP as state of Texas. So it does have oil, it does have gas, he want to -- this country wants to blackmail the whole world to threaten the Western civilization but the West is much stronger. It shouldn't be, you know, current that the West is stronger.

You know, Putin understands only the language of force. You know, I took to the studio a piece of Russian jet, Sukhoi-34, it was shut down by our military in March at the Kyiv region. And at the same time Russians were selling the propaganda that Ukraine doesn't have anything left in their aircraft, not -- no defense system, just fly there kill people, you know, nothing happens here. You know what happened? You know, we shot them.

And we are defending our country. Push them away from the nose of the country. We're planning the operation to counter attack to the south and, of course, to stand, you know, and defend the Donbass area, Donetsk and Luhansk, we need those heavy weapons.


Because you know, it's impossible. I mean, your people in this piece of video told that it's a lot of hot artillery that Russians are using.

TAPPER: Right.

KRAVCHUK: So we need, you know, at least to get closer with the numbers of artillery that we use. And then you know, their morale is really low.


KRAVCHUK: Our morale is much higher. So you know, they will flee. But we need those weapons on the ground.

TAPPER: Right. And the United States has been providing a lot of heavy weaponry and a lot of money. I know a lot of countries, other countries in the West have talked a big game, but not actually provided the weaponry that they have promised. Most notably, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, called out Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor of Germany this week. What countries need to step up more?

I mean, I understand that you think the U.S. keep -- needs to keep doing more as the United States government is, it's one of the few things that our Congress votes on in a bipartisan way. What other countries need to step up more?

KRAVCHUK: Well, I think that leadership of America is crucial, because everyone is looking to America as a little of a free world. And then, you know, sort of say, OK, Americans are given that much weapons, we will not give, you know, more, but at least it won't be a much less. So, Great Britain is backing us up as well. And, of course, you know, Germany and France would expect could do more as the leaders, you know, in the European Union.

But first of all, I would like to thank, for bipartisan support, for the Affordable Care Act that was voted in the Congress. And I'm here -- I came here with delegation from Ukraine and Parliament to meet our counterparts both in Senate and House of Representatives to thank them for watching this, and to make sure that those money that were allocated are being, you know, transferred to the --

TAPPER: Right. KRAVCHUK: -- weapons that we need. And that you know, needs to happen as soon as possible because I mean, we do not have a lot of time before the winter. And Putin is just waiting so West would forget about us.


KRAVCHUK: You know, it will go out of the news, then, you know, the winter, the gas prices is sort of like -- so, he will be just, you know, sort of waiting for West to blink first.

TAPPER: Right. Well, we haven't forgotten about it here at CNN, but I know other news channels --

KRAVCHUK: And thank you for that.

TAPPER: -- other news channels have moved on.

You -- last time you and I spoke was in Ukraine, and you're talking about the importance of designated Russia as a state sponsor of terror. I know that you met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and you say you had a good conversation with her about that. Why is that important to you? And are you frustrated that President Biden has not taken that step yet?

KRAVCHUK: Thank you for this question. And we did had a good conversation with Nancy Pelosi. And she totally agrees that it's a good step to put forward. Of course, I understand it should be, you know, put in the right way, the right definitions to talk to the Department of State, but she supports it.

And actually, as I understood from the meetings in the Senate, there will be a vote for the resolution, might be vote, I would say might vote for the resolution next Wednesday in the Senate. And I really hope, you know, it will get moving.

Why it's so important, because then other countries, especially in European Union, will not sort of have other choice. I mean, it's a black list, black list of terrorists, you know?

TAPPER: Yes. It's so great to have you here. Good to see you again.

KRAVCHUK: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: And I will see you again maybe in Ukraine again.


TAPPER: Thank you so much for being here.

Will the White House's new messaging on inflation backfire even among Democrats? Then, a river is about to run empty for a famous fly fishing destination all because of a drought hundreds of miles away. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our money lead, a wicked time on Wall Street. the S&P 500 closing out its worst week since March 2020 when the pandemic hit. The Dow also closing below 30,000 for a second straight day. But President Biden is trying to reassure the American people that a recession is not inevitable even if soaring inflation and rising interest rates have consumers feeling understandably quite battered.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, this comes as the White House swats down reports that it is considering one potential kind of gimmicky solution or dealing with rising gas prices.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Higher prices are plaguing President Biden as he promises the nation he's working on bringing them down.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm using every lever available to me to bring down prices for the American people.

COLLINS (voice-over): The White House only growing more concerned after mortgage rates surged over half a percentage point this week amid rising inflation and a big interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve. Biden defending his record and highlighting how the U.S. is not the only nation battling inflation.

BIDEN: With Russia's war driving up inflation worldwide, threatening vulnerable countries with severe food shortages, we have to work together to mitigate the immediate fallout of this crisis.

COLLINS (voice-over): But it may get worse before it gets better. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers who was criticized by the Biden administration for saying inflation would rise is now predicting a recession in the next two years.

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: We are likely to have a recession I think we have overheated the economy and gotten some bad luck. And when the pendulum swings too far one way, it tends to swing back the other way.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden disagrees, telling the Associated Press a recession is "not inevitable" and declaring the U.S. is in a "stronger place position than any nation to overcome this inflation." Still, the White House is scrambling for solutions.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We understand that anxiety, the President understands the anxiety, is focused on what he can do to lower costs for families, to address the price of gasoline, although that is said on the world market.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden's economic team debated sending rebate cards to millions to help pay at gas stations. But one official told CNN today, that option is unlikely due to the complicated logistics.

JEAN-PIERRE: All options are on the table because he understands the pain that this is causing for families.

COLLINS (voice-over): As the President's poll numbers on the economy have continued to slide, Biden telling the Associated Press that people are, quote, "really, really down," following two years of COVID a volatile economy and soaring gas prices. Biden saying quote, "They're really down. Their need for mental health in America has skyrocketed because people have seen everything upset."


COLLINS: And, Jake, in that interview, the President also pushed back on this criticism of often coming from Republicans that the American rescue plan that he got passed through Congress last year has contributed to higher prices. He said the idea that it caused inflation he believes is, quote, "bizarre."

And Jake, we should note that as the President is on this messaging push saying that the economy is better than people think, this is a pretty rare sit down interview for him to do especially with a print outlet.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

What happens when you put advocates of Trump's election lies in charge of actual elections? Well, some voters in New Mexico are finding out.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now, U.S. embassy officials visited Paul Whelan in a Russian prison today. It was the first time officials have visited him since last November. Whelan as you know has been in Russian custody since December 2018 when he says he was wrongfully detained and later convicted of what he calls bogus espionage charges.

Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, quote, "Paul's resiliency throughout his nearly 3.5 years of detention by Russia is remarkable. We will never stop advocating for his release."

And our politics lead today, a New Mexico county official convicted of trespassing during the January 6 insurrection is now refusing to certify election results from the state's 2022 primary last week. Commissioner Couy Griffin and the other two members of the Otero County commission are claiming without evidence, of course, that Dominion voting machines cannot be trusted. They are echoing former President Trump's conspiracy theories since disproven about the 2020 election.

Let's discuss with CNN's Drew Griffin.

Drew, first of all, this is just nuts. New Mexico's secretary of state says the county commissioners are breaking state election laws by refusing to certify the results based on these lies. So, what happens now?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these three commissioners have until, I guess, end of business today to certify that June 7th primary in their county or face legal action from their own state. And Jake, it shows you just how far these conspiracy believing elected officials are willing to go to now manipulate elections in this country.

There's no evidence of any fraud in that primary election. But these three commissioners, all Republicans, say they believe their own counties Dominion voting machines can't be trusted. Part of that completely debunk conspiracy first push by Donald Trump's disgraced attorneys explaining his loss in 2020.

And as we heard in the January 6 hearings this week, Jake, even Trump's own attorneys found no issues with the machines or the votes. But Couy Griffin doesn't seem to care much about the facts. I interviewed him at length last year, he simply refuses to accept the truth.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ordered Couy and these two commissioners to certify this election, but unclear what the punishment could be if they do refuse. Griffin says he doesn't -- it doesn't matter to him. He will not certify.


COUY GRIFFIN, (R) OTERO COUNTY, NEW MEXICO COMMISSIONER: If they want to throw me in jail, if they want to criminally charged me with a felony, I would rather go down with dignity and honor making a sacrifice for the good of my country than try to save myself in this. It's a war right now. I feel like it's just like a battle. And whenever you're in a battle, you're engaged, you take it to the end no matter what the personal ramifications may.


TAPPER: To quote former Vice President Pence, that's rubber room stuff.

Drew, Couy Griffin was arrested and put in jail after January 6. He was charged with trespassing at the Capitol. He was sentenced today after being convicted on that charge. So what happened there?

D. GRIFFIN: There was some speculation he could get up to a year in prison because he has refused to accept responsibility. He did make the government go to trial. And he hasn't had any remorse for his involvement, but he only trespassed on the grounds of the Capitol. He basically convicting himself by posting that video right there showing him trespassing.

He wasn't violent at the rally, and today a federal judge sentenced him to time served the nearly three weeks he's already spent behind bars for that, along with a year's probation and $3,000 fine. Jake, knowing him, he'll no doubt wear this like a badge of honor.

TAPPER: Yes. Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with my panel.

Alice, le me start with you because this is just a preview of what we're going to get if election liars in Nevada and Pennsylvania and all over the country win, except it won't just be one county, it will be entire states.


ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, that's a concern. Thank goodness we have secretaries of states across the country that are working hard to make sure and protect the integrity of the election because that's what we need to get out of 2020 more than anything is, restoring the confidence in the election process.

Look, I think what we need to see in each state and across the country is making sure that people follow the law and what is constitutionally obligated at the state level and the U.S. level in terms of certifying the election at the state and also here in Washington, D.C., because the worst fallout of what we saw on 2020 and on January 6 is people watch what this guy is doing there and across the country. And they're saying, why should I even go vote? If someone's going to hold up my vote because they see false claims of election fraud, why am I going to vote? We need to reach still competence in the voting process.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But just as a note, I mean, a lot of the people running for Secretary of State in some of these states are also people actually running on these election lies. They're running on the conspiracies about Dominion voting machines, conspiracies about, you know, fraudulent ballots appearing out of nowhere, all kinds of things. That's the real challenge. I think that's the next frontier is what do you do when the person who's supposed to be counting the votes, doesn't actually believe that the votes are valid?

And the problem, I think, right now is that there's a lot of denialism in the Republican Party that this is still happening and that these folks are still running. We don't know yet in some of these cases whether they will actually win about the fact that they're running and they have a lot of grassroots support from rank and file Republican voters who also still believe these lies should be a source of concern

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, that's the problem, Jeff Zeleny, is, look, I think Adam Laxalt, who is an election liar, who is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate --


TAPPER: -- in Nevada, I think he's been endorsed by Mitch McConnell. Now to give Mitch McConnell, you know, the Senate Minority Leader, his due, he was very clear about the election law -- lies and came out in December about it was time to put aside the silliness and Joe Biden was the president-elect and then obviously, he criticized President Trump after the insurrection. But he -- if you are still part of a system that is supporting people like this nutso Nevada County Commissioner, then you can't pretend you're not supporting it.

ZELENY: I mean, it's not a red line. I mean, clearly, Senator McConnell wants to win the Nevada seat. I mean, that is the point here, that is one of the most competitive seats coming up over the next few months. So, it's not a red line for Senator McConnell or sadly other Republicans.

I wish this was just an isolated incident, but as Judge Luttig said yesterday, President Trump and his allies are, you know, fomenting this, you know, the continuation of this lie. But even more, if you look at county election officials across Georgia, across Michigan, many of them are not the same people who were in office in 2020. So the 2022 election will be a very serious precursor for 2024. There are many people installed in these local election offices who do not hold the same standards that people used to. So it is one of the biggest worries for democracy without question.

TAPPER: So, Maria, here's a question, I saw a poll this week that showed that when it came to which party do you think will better advocate for democracy? Republicans actually had a one point advantage.


TAPPER: How are Democrats losing this when it is so clear and obvious? And you have people like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and Michael Luttig and others talking about what's going on in the Republican Party? How are Democrats losing this messaging war?

CARDONA: That's -- that is a great question, Jake. But I think one of the things that Democrats need to do more of in this election cycle and I know the one issue that is front of voters mind right now is inflation in the economy, but Democrats need to do both. They need to talk about inflation and the economy. And I've said this so many times on your show, they also need to continue to talk about what a danger our democracy is in, especially when Donald Trump was not an isolated incident. And Donald Trump was perhaps the beginning of trying to figure out how the Republican Party can be the party that at some point will steal an election.

"The Washington Post" had a story about how there were 120 candidates who won their primaries in the last couple of weeks that are all election deniers, right? They are supporting the big lie, and many of them are running as secretaries of state as people who will actually have their hands on the ballots who could throw them away if they wanted to and figure out how to fix elections. That should terrify every single American.

STEWART: Those people certainly are election deniers, which is unfortunate. And to Jeff's point, Luttig said yesterday, what we're seeing, unfortunately, across the country is constitutional mischief at the state and federal level. We need to get away from that.

But the people you're talking about in that article, yes, they're election deniers but there are also Republicans who are focusing and campaigning and going to win in the House and Senate on those issues that you talked about. They're focused more than anything front and center out on the campaign trail about inflation, about the crisis at the border, about crime about foreign policy and those are the issues that are -- they're pushing and resonating with the voters. This is one part of their platform and their campaign that they're pushing, but the economic situation is far outweighs what we're seeing in terms of the election.


CARDONA: And many of those candidates are also election deniers and supporters of the big lie? And this is going to be part of the contrast that Democrats need to make going into the midterm elections.

TAPPER: So, meanwhile, Jeff, sources close to Trump tells CNN's Gabby Orr that he is trying to decide whether to announce that he's going to run for president in 2024 before the midterm elections or not. What effect would it have do you think if he announced this before the midterms?

ZELENY: Well, he's almost walking up to that line. He was giving a speech in Nashville this afternoon to the Faith and Freedom Organization A, and he said, you know, who wants me to run for president? Of course, in that room, huge applause. But the bigger question is talking to people in his orbit. They don't necessarily want him to be the issue in the midterm election campaign, Republicans are doing just fine here in terms of likely winning back the House possibly either the Senate. So that is the worry among some Trump advisors that they don't necessarily want this to become about him that could motivate Democrats.

We'll see what he wants to do, though. There's no question that he has his eye on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That is the person, I'm told, who worries the former president more than anything, so that's why he's sort of agitating for possibly announcing now to try and keep some Republicans out.

The real question is probably less if he's going to run or not, it sort of looks like he is. Who is going to stay out of the race? Who will he scare out of the race? We'll see.

PHILLIP: And probably not DeSantis.

ZELENY: Probably not him, yes.

PHILLIP: And I think --

ZELENY: He's also on the ballot run for governor.

PHILLIP: Right. To Jeff's point about why Republicans might not see a Trump early announcement as being advantageous to them, a lot of these Republicans that Alice is talking about who are running on maybe economic issues, and then a little side of election lie, the election lie kind of recedes as you get to the general election. Well, that's not going to be an option if Trump is out there every single day. That is what he is talking about. It's what he talked about.

Today, he talked about potentially pardoning people who were convicted of crimes related to the January 6 riot. He was re litigating the disproven and debunked lies and unconstitutional scheme that he had for Mike Pence. That is front and center for Trump and it will be for anybody who's running at the same time that he's running. And if he does it in 2022, that'll be up and down the ticket.

STEWART: And that group is his base. Those people give him a standing ovation for just walking out there. And the truth is, he's more of a populace than a conservative Republican and there's a shelf life for that. And many people think, Ron DeSantis and others think that it's time for someone to step forward that represents the policies of the Republican Party.

TAPPER: Good. I hope they support democracy, though.

Thanks to one and all. Appreciate it.

If you didn't get enough of Abby Phillip just now and really winking in again, if you get enough Abby Phillip, be sure to join Abby for "Inside Politics," that's Sunday at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up, hush money and the sex scandal, the chair of World Wrestling Entertainment is out of the ring and on the road. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead, World Wrestling Entertainment boss Vince McMahon is stepping back as CEO and Chairman while the company's board is investigating report that McMahon paid millions of dollars in hush money payments to a former employee to keep quiet about an alleged affair. McMahon has had control of the company since 1982. He turned it into a publicly traded company global wrestling powerhouse and a media conglomerate.

The McMahon family also has powerful ties to the political world. You might recall McMahon's wife Linda held a cabinet level position in former President Trump's White House as the head of the Small Business Administration. But now as CNN's Jason Carroll reports McMahon's daughter will step in as the company's interim CEO.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome chairman of WWE, Vince McMahon.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Larger than life, Vince McMahon, more famous than some of the wrestling stars he helped create.

DAVE MELTZER, JOURNALIST, WRESTLING OBSERVER: He's the guy. I mean, he's -- WWE is Vince McMahon. You can't separate them.


CARROLL (voice-over): Now, McMahon forced to step back from his role as chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE, while the company's board investigates misconduct claims against him.

His daughter his interim replacement. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting, McMahon paid a former employee who he allegedly had an affair with $3 million to keep her quiet. According to the "Journal" the Separation Agreement prevents her from discussing her relationship. The investigation also looking at other non-disclosure agreements involving misconduct claims against McMahon and another executive.

MELTZER: What would have been considered boys will be boys, which wrestling was built on for decades and decades and decades and by today's standards, it's not quite as much.

CARROLL (voice-over): "I have pledged my complete cooperation to the investigation by the special committee," McMahon said in a statement. And "I have also pledged to accept the findings and outcome of the investigation, whatever they are."

Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer says it is tough to predict the fallout from the allegations.

MELTZER: Their big defense is that any money that he paid, any hush money that he paid was his own money and it was not company money. And I think that's the key to the investigation.

CARROLL (voice-over): Over decades, McMahon turned the WWE into a billion dollar entertainment juggernaut, including deals with Fox and NBC. He will still be in charge of creative content while the investigation is underway.

McMahon has weathered past scandals. In 1994, a jury acquitted him of conspiring to distribute steroids to his wrestlers. In the years following always center stage and always the showman. In 2007, then reality T.V. star Donald shaved McMahon's head and a made for the masses feud. Now the wrestling world waiting to see how this latest real world match will end.



CARROLL: And Jake, the WWE is out with a statement of their own saying that the board has retained an independent legal counsel to assist with what they call an independent review of the allegations. As for McMahon, he is staying in front of the cameras. He's expected to be on SmackDown later on tonight. Jake.

TAPPER: Of course he is. Jason Carroll, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

A river may not run through it anymore, all because of a water shortage hundreds of miles away. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth matters series now, the Green River in Utah is one of the greatest trout fishing streams in the world. But now its waters are being released toward the Colorado River, which leads into the diminishing Lake Powell, which desperately needs water. CNN's Bill Weir reports on how those who depend on the Green River are worried that it will be ruined forever.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For those who love to chase trout, this stretch of the Green River provides some of the best fly fishing on the planet.

STEPHEN LYTLE, GREEN RIVER FISHING GUIDE: It's phenomenal. I mean, you get people from all over the world coming to fish this. There's guides from New Zealand people come from South America, Eric Clapton been up here, Tiger Woods. I mean, it's -- if you're a fly fisherman, this is one of the places to hit.

WEIR (on camera): Come here buddy. Oh, it's a rainbow. Here we go. Chunker (ph).

LYTLE Oh, yes, that's pretty.

WEIR (voice-over): A big reason why is Utah's Flaming Gorge dam, because it's one of the few dams able to control the temperature of the gin clear water flowing downstream.

(on camera): Wow, these guys are (INAUDIBLE).

(voice-over): Not too hot, not too cold, creating a Goldilocks zone for bugs, trout, and people who also flocked to the reservoir behind the dam and keep the economy alive. So you'd understand if locals get upset at the sight of this. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation released enough raging water this spring to drop Flaming Gorge reservoir by up to 12 feet, a desperate move to help things downstream on the Colorado where Lake Powell is down 170 feet and could evaporate into a dead pool with not enough water for hydropower or the 40 million people who drink farm and ranch this system from Denver to L.A.

LYTLE: There's a lot of people who just get angry, and it's their water, it's their kind of geographic possession. And so they don't like it going down to desert cities that also need it.

WEIR (voice-over): Because the lower Flaming Gorge gets, the warmer it gets. And no more Goldilocks trout.

LYTLE: And then any effect on the fishery, especially up here, I mean, that's people's livelihoods.

WEIR (on camera): Yes. Yes.

LYTLE: And so, people get pretty upset -- WEIR (on camera): I can imagine.

LYTLE: -- if all these heated

WEIR (on camera): Whiskeys for drinking water for fighting, right?

LYTLE: Yes. That's the phrase.

WEIR (on camera): The phrase.

(voice-over): Long considered rivals of the fishing guides are the rafting guides who love high flow for more exciting rides and more customers.

BRUCE LAVOIE, OARS RAFTING: Sometimes we're on the sides of the fisherman, and sometimes we're not.

WEIR (voice-over): But everyone agrees that for the West to survive, the most important two words today are water conservation.

LAVOIE: I mean, I always try to remind myself that these water molecules are going to end up in a hot tub in Hollywood.

WEIR: (on camera): Right.

LAVOIE: Or watering a putting green in Palm Springs. And we're all part of the system.

WEIR (on camera): How do you think people understand that these days?

LAVOIE: So yes, that's great. I don't think we do. I come from Connecticut. I grew up on the east coast where water law is totally different. Here, it's first in line person right. It's treated like a mineral.

WEIR (voice-over): Some farmers in Arizona are some of the last in line, forced to let fields go fallow as allocations are cut. And this week, the Bureau of Reclamation warned members of the Senate of the need to cut up to 4 million acre feet in 2023. That's more than 1.3 trillion gallons or almost as much as California is allotted in a year.

LAVOIE: John Wesley Powell who ran this river in 1869, he stated it to the federal government. There's not enough water to support the way we have developed.

WEIR (on camera): The first guy down the Colorado tried to warn us --

LAVOIE: Absolutely.

WEIR (on camera): -- that this would happen right now, right?

LAVOIE: And now it is, like there's this assumption that it's always going to be there.

WEIR (on camera): Yes. LAVOIE: And I don't think people will change until it changes.

WEIR (on camera): Until it's not there.

(voice-over): But as long as there is fun to be had and water to drink, it's easy to ignore the villains warning and Mad Max Fury Road, do not become addicted to water, it will take hold of you and you will recent its absence.

Bill Weir, CNN, Vernal, Utah.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Bill Weir for that report.

Coming up, the terrifying video of a family's encounter with a black bear. Bear with us, it has a happy ending.



TAPPER: A frightening encounter one that will make you pause and reflect.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's following you, babe.


TAPPER: A Utah family was hiking in British Columbia, Canada when they discovered a black bear blocking the trail to their car. The bear following the parents and their kids up the trail as they tried to escape.

Now the bear never got aggressive and eventually it lost interest more than half a mile later. Thankfully.

Be sure to tune in to CNN's State of the Union this Sunday. My colleague Dana Bash will talk to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, January 6 Select Committee member Congressman Adam Schiff, Republican Congressman Fred Upton and Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. That's at 9:00 noon Eastern.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. You can download our podcast.

Our coverage continues now with one, Mr. Wolf Blitzer, right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you Monday.