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The Lead with Jake Tapper

AG Garland On Possibly Prosecuting Trump: Everyone Responsible For Insurrection Will Be Held Accountable; Americans' Views On The State Of Democracy Largely Unchanged After January 6 Hearings; Biden Admin Considers Naming Monkeypox Coordinator; Brittney Griner Set To Testify At Her Drug Trial; CNN CREW Travels Along Southern Front As Ukraine Preps For New Fight; House Republican Who Voted To Impeach Trump Faces Tough Election. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 26, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: That's better, right? It's -- come on, Victor. That's better. Every single bite.

So, the Reddit cofounder is already launching a campaign to save the Choco Taco. He tweeted at Klondike's parent company, I would like to buy the rights to your Choco Taco and to keep it from melting away.

Thank goodness somebody is on top of it.


CAMEROTA: No, no. No, Victor.

BLACKWELL: See, I like tacos, I like ice cream. This -- I'm not in love with it. I'm not sold, but I'm glad they sacrificed this to preserve the Reese's ice cream bar. Thank you, Klondike. Thank you.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The attorney general just weighed in on the chances of former President Trump being charged with a crime.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowing today to prosecute anyone who tried to interfere with the transfer of power, anyone. So how far up will the Justice Department go? Might that include Donald Trump?

Also ahead, monkeypox cases surging as the White House considers upgrading the virus to a public health emergency. What's behind the failure so far to contain this virus?

Plus, WNBA star Brittney Griner is set to take the stand in Russia, while the family of another American also held by the Kremlin, also on drug charges, calls for more attention to his case.


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

We start today with our politics lead and Attorney General Merrick Garland saying moments ago that the Justice Department will not hesitate to hold Donald Trump accountable for the events around January 6th even if Trump is the Republican nominee for president, if that's where the evidence leads them.

Listen to what else Attorney General Garland just told NBC's Lester Holt.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We pursue justice without fear or favor. We intend to hold everyone, anyone who is criminally responsible for the events surrounding January 6th, for any attempt to interfere with the lawful transfer of power from one administration to another, accountable. That's what we do. We don't pay any attention to other issues with respect to that.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So if Donald Trump were to become a candidate for president again, that would not change your schedule or how you move forward or don't move forward?

GARLAND: I'll say again, that we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the transfer, legitimate lawful transfer of power from one administration to the next.


TAPPER: This comes as "The New York times" is now reporting on new emails discovered among Trump campaign aides that provide more insight into their scheme to over turn the election. The emails show aides using the term "fake" to describe the so-called electors they would send to Congress.

"The Times" citing this email exchange in particular that reads, quote, we would just be sending in fake electoral votes to Pence so that someone in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes and start arguing that the fake votes should be counted. Now, that email is from December 2020 from an Arizona lawyer to Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn.

In a follow-up email, the attorney wrote: Alternative votes is probably a better term than fake votes, which was followed by a smiley face emoji.

Now, the January 6th committee is considering holding more hearings in September as they gather even more evidence of the efforts behind the insurrection and attempts to overturn the election, but how much have their presentations so far changed American thinking on the insurrection? In just moments, we'll have some brand-new polling on just that, but we're going to start today on Capitol Hill.

With CNN's Ryan Nobles because Garland's comments today come with the background of the Justice Department's investigation into the White House picking up its pace.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the first sign that Justice Department is reaching inside the Trump White House. And the most aggressive public step taken by prosecutors looking at January 6th.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Obviously, we have two different interests. Ours is to get to the bottom of what happened, put out recommendations the Department of Justice to look at any possible criminality. If they're moving forward on looking at this stuff, that's positive for the country.

NOBLES: Two high profile members of the Trump White House, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, both reportedly appearing in front of the federal grand jury, testifying as part of a criminal investigation that has expanded to attempts to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: I can confirm I got a subpoena for the federal grand jury and I comply with that subpoena. But under advice of counsel, I really can't say much more than that.

NOBLES: Short was Mike Pence's chief of staff. Jacob, his chief counsel.


Both were key witnesses to the House January 6th Select Committee. With Jacob testifying publicly about the pressure campaign on Pence in the build-up to the Capitol riot.

GREG JACOB, FORMER PENCE LAWYER: Mr. Eastman was opining that there were two legally viable arguments as to authorities that the vice president could exercise two days later on January 6th.

NOBLES: The expansion of the DOJ probe comes as there are more signs the house select committee is not slowing down. They promised to bring in members of the Trump cabinet and campaign, while at the same time taking a hard look at the role of Secret Service and their missing text messages.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I don't really buy that for one minute. For one thing, isn't it a little odd that all of the texts would vanish for January 6th and January 5th? You know, of all the days, what an odd coincidence that is.

NOBLES: That probe is now complicated by new questions raised about the Homeland Security inspector general who first raised concerns about the deleted texts. The House Oversight and Homeland Security Committees sending Joseph Cuffari a letter asking him to recuse himself into any investigation related to the Secret Service and their text messages.

We're writing to express our grave concerns with Inspector General Cuffari's failure to promptly notify Congress of crucial information while conducting an investigation of the Secret Service. The letter was written by Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney and Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson, who also chairs the January 6th Committee.


NOBLES (on camera): And while all this is taking place in Washington, in Georgia, the investigation into election interference is moving ahead at a rapid clip as well. The district attorney there making it clear that her interests in the fake elector plot goes beyond just calling these individuals as witnesses. They could potentially be targets. Some of them could testify in front of a grand jury in Georgia as soon as this week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan nobles on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian who has our brand- new polls on January 6th.

David, have the committee's hearings and I think there have been eight so far, have they changed how the public views the Capitol insurrection in any way.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Jake, this brand-new CNN poll conducted by SSRS was taken entirely after the committee wrapped that primetime hearing last Thursday, this summer series of hearings and the answer to your question is not much has changed. A little bit at the margins.

We asked, you know, do you see that the Capitol riot on January 6th represents a crisis, a major problem, a minor problem, or not a problem at all? We asked that in January and February, Jake. You see very little movement here, 27 percent now say it's a crisis, 42 percent call it a major problem. A little uptick from January. Minor problem, 19 percent, about the same. Not a problem at all, 13 percent.

And then look over time, over the trend here by party. Okay? These are people that call it a crisis or a major problem -- 96 percent of Democrats say so. Back in January, that was 91 percent. Little uptick. Independents, you see a slight uptick from 63 percent in January, now 71 percent of independents call the attack major problem or a crisis.

But look at this, Jake. Among Republicans, it's a slight decrease. 43 percent in January saw it as a crisis or a major problem. Now that's only 36 percent of Republicans.

TAPPER: David, what did voters have to say about Donald Trump's actions or lack thereof on and around January 6th?

CHALIAN: Yeah, when we talk about voters overall, versus Republicans, that's going to be key to look at in these results. So, overall, 45 percent of Americans say Trump acted illegally, 34 percent say unethically, but not illegally. 21 percent did nothing wrong.

Compare that with Republicans. Only 10 percent of Republicans say illegally is how Trump acted. 45 percent say unethically but not illegally. Add that up, a majority of Republicans do think Trump acted as least unethically, and look here, 45 percent of Republicans say that Donald Trump did nothing wrong.

Did his statements leading up to the 6th encourage political violence? Overall, 61 percent of Americans say yes. Only 20 percent of Republicans say yes, 39 percent say no, 79 percent, 8 in 10 Republicans say no, his statements did not lead to political violence.

And then we asked this question about Trump and Pence, both in Washington today, Jake. Who did more to act in the best interest of the United States on January 6th? 67 percent of Americans say Mike Pence acted in the best interest of the country, 32 percent, Donald Trump.

But among Republicans, look at this, a slim majority, 52 percent, say Donald Trump acted in the best interest of the country, 46 percent say that of Mike Pence.

TAPPER: Just astounding.

David, what are voters saying about elections moving forward?

CHALIAN: So, we asked, you know, how accepting should the Republican party be of candidates who think the 2020 election was stolen? This is just among Republican and Republican-leaning independents.


Seventy-two percent, nearly three-quarters of Republican and Republican leaners say the party should be very or somewhat accepting of candidates who say the 2020 election was stolen. As you know, it was not. 28 percent say not at all.

And then this key question looking at 2024, again, among Republican and Republican leaners, who should the GOP nominee for president, 44 percent of Republicans say Donald Trump, 55 percent, a majority of Republicans here, say it should be someone else. That is a slight diminishment of standing for Donald Trump among Republicans since January. But still, 44 percent of Republicans would like to see Trump renominated.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

I want to bring in Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California.

Congresswoman, let's start with your reaction to those numbers we just heard from the new CNN poll. After eight public hearings, the American public's views on the Capitol riot and the threat it posed to democracy are essentially unchanged.

Why do you think that is? Do you think the committee has miscalculated how much the American people care about this or have open minds about it?

REP. BARBARA LEE (D-CA): I don't think so. I think the committee, and thanks for having me, Jake. I think the committee has done a phenomenal job at putting forth the facts and the truth.

This was a violent attempted coup. It was an attempted coup to violently overthrow the government of America, the United States government. This is a very serious threat to our democracy.

And in fact, the committee has put forth the facts and what concerns me about these numbers is the understanding that our democracy is fragile, and I'm wondering and questioning how people at this point believe and understand what it means to have a democracy versus an autocracy. And so, I think the committee is moving forth with the facts in a way that everyone, at least, knows what happened and now whether or not people understand that and vote accordingly is the question.

But it is a very, to me, dangerous moment for people to accept the fact that the United States can foment a violent attempt to overthrow the government and allow people to get away from that. No one is above the law.

TAPPER: So you saw in the poll results that a majority of the American people feel the way that you do in terms of how serious this was. A majority of Democrats feel that way. A majority of independents do.

What's astounding is that the percentages of Republicans who either think that what happened on January 6th was no big deal or actually a slim majority of Republicans asked between Pence and Trump, who acted in the best interest of the United States on January 6th. Most Republicans said Trump did.

Why do you think this is?

LEE: Well, I think the big lie has taken hold with a lot of people in the Republican Party. And it really is concerning because when you have people believing a lie and believing one autocratic leader, a cult-like mentality sets in.

So I believe that in many respect, what we're seeing is a buy-in intellectually and emotionally of a lie that is very dangerous. And so if people don't understand that this almost was a coup, and it almost destroyed our democracy, then I'm not clear on what they believe this country should be about and do they really accept a dictatorship or an autocracy?

And so, I think a lot of education has to happen. I think people need to understand and I think the hearings are really showing what the facts are and what took place. But I don't think what the numbers you showed in terms of the Republicans, they really believe that this was a threat to our democracy or if they do believe it, does it matter to them? And that's the question I have.

Does it matter?

TAPPER: Yeah. You just heard Attorney General Garland in an interview with Lester Holt suggest that he wouldn't hesitate to prosecute anyone, including Donald Trump, if that's where the evidence leads. Do you believe him?

LEE: I believe him. Let me tell you, no one is above the law. You know, we have a state of lawlessness in many respects.

Look at Steve Bannon. Look at what people are doing, just turning their head to what the laws of the land are. That creates anarchy.

What do our young people think when criminals get away with committing crimes and not being held accountable? This is something that I hope the Justice Department continues to move forward with. I think that our attorney general is serious.

And I think what the committee is producing, the facts will help formulate the case to move forward to really bring criminal charges against these criminals, because that is what they are.


They attempted a violent coup. Come on. This is a very serious crime.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Coming up, how the aftermath of the Capitol riots is now putting the political career of a Republican congressman in jeopardy more than a year and a half later, and Democrats might be on the wrong side of that one.

But, first, two alarming health crises for the White House as the administration weighs new COVID vaccines and the next steps to get rising cases of monkeypox under control.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our health lead, can you wear a COVID vaccine patch? Could you inhale a COVID vaccine? That's what doctors discussed today at the White House COVID vaccine summit. A group of scientists gathering to figure out what the future of vaccinations might look like.

This comes as the White House is tackling a different health crisis, monkeypox.

CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House where the Biden administration is considering naming a monkeypox coordinator.

MJ, do they have someone specific in mind?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They don't yet. There has certainly not been a decision or an announcement, but it does speak to the seriousness of the outbreak as the White House is continuing to monitor the situation that they are considering naming someone to that position.


This is somebody who would obviously oversee and sort of direct the federal government's response to the outbreak, not so different from the White House COVID coordinator whose job, of course, is to make sure that the government is working together to respond to COVID across the country.

Now, the actions that the administration has actually already taken on monkeypox, they in many ways mirror the actions that we have seen as the government has responded to COVID. From everything like vaccines, making sure that they are being manufactured and distributed to the people that need them, treatments, making sure those are readily available, ramping up testing, and then there's also the public education side of things, Jake.

And a big part of the concern and what the White House and the administration wants to accomplish is making sure that they are preventing any kind of sort of homophobic or transphobic backlash given that the majority of cases that have been seen in the U.S., they are being seen among men who have sex with other men. So this is a very important part of the outreach and the public education that the administration is doing right now.

TAPPER: And, MJ, the White House hosted that summit on vaccines. Tell us more about what they had to say about the future of vaccines?

LEE: This is just one more sign that there is this growing acceptance COVID is basically here to stay. This was a meeting that was attended by pharmaceutical executives, members of the administration, scientists, and they were basically just sitting around for a number of hours to discuss the development of COVID vaccines going forward and particularly given that we know this is going to be something that is continually evolving.

Now, one challenge that the White House has talked about a lot is the fact that Congress has now authorized additional funding, and they have said they have actually had to start pulling funding from other areas to make sure that the important work can continue.

Obviously, the context, of course, right now is that the president is recovering from COVID. He has finished his full course of Paxlovid -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. MJ Lee, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk to Dr. Megan Ranney now. She's a professor of emergency medicine and is the associate dean of public health at Brown University. And she joins us in the studio because she attended the vaccine summit at the White House. So, we have that opportunity today.

So, you were at the summit today at the White House. Doctors spending most of the day discussing the next generation of COVID vaccines. We are, of course, seeing a drastic rise in hospitalizations across the country since April 1st because of COVID.

Do you think the day could have been better spent discussing how to prevent the current spike we're in, I mean, if you would call that a spike?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE DEAN OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BROWN UNIVERSITY: I mean, I think we know how to address the surge of cases that we're clearly in the midst of now. The thing about the vaccines we have is they are holding hospitalizations and deaths down.

If we were having the number of cases that we're experiencing right now and we didn't have the current vaccines or boosters, or if we didn't have Paxlovid, we would be in a situation like what we had last year or worse yet, in 2020, pre-vaccines. So this discussion is critical, because the worry is these variants are going to keep changing and that we will get back to that bad space. We have to think ahead so we don't get caught flat footed when the next variant comes.

TAPPER: So, we heard authorizations of second booster for all adults being discussed. I have my second booster. I'm over 50, though. But now, we're talking about whether everyone who is over 18 should get one.

At the same time, we're also working to have the next generation vaccines for the new variants for the fall.

Do you think the strategy should be boosting now with the original vaccine or wait to boost with a next generation vaccine?

RANNEY: So, for anyone who is over age 50 or has high risk conditions, they should get boosted now with the current version of vaccine. We know that that second booster makes such a difference in hospitalization and death rates for those folks who are higher risk.

But for people who are under age 50, who don't have diabetes or cancer or other chronic conditions, waiting is fine because those first two shots plus the one booster is holding off hospitalizations for folks of my age group. I'm a little under 50, so for us, we can wait until we get that new omicron specific vaccine, which we're already expecting to see.

TAPPER: So over 50, get it now. Under 50, wait for the new one.

New data from Kaiser shows 43 percent of parents with kids under the age of 6 say they're not going to get their kids vaccinated. That's a huge, huge percentage. 43 percent, significantly higher than parents who said the same thing three months ago.

What's going on here?

RANNEY: So I think this is a great example of the harm caused by misinformation. We have a lot of parents of young kids who are confused. Both about how dangerous COVID is to kids, and let me be clear, COVID was among the top ten killers of kids of all age groups 1 and up, prior to vaccines, and are confused about the safety of the vaccine.

The data on the safety of these mRNA vaccines is stellar.

[16:25:02] And so, they're miscalculating that risk versus benefit. You and I are both parents. We, of course, thought carefully before getting our kids those vaccines. The parents that are saying they're hesitating are also thinking carefully, but unfortunately, are listening to the wrong sources when making that decision.

TAPPER: My kids are vaxxed and boosted. Just to note.

Let's turn to monkeypox. You heard MJ talking about the line that the administration and public health officials are walking here because this is a disease that the majority of people who have it in this country are men who have sex with other men. And yet at the same time, there is a desire to not demonize the gay community or the trans community.

What might -- I don't want to -- what might the sensitivity be holding people back from doing? I mean, in other words, I remember, I'm old enough to remember the AIDS crisis, the HIV crisis, when authorities in San Francisco, for example, got demonized for shutting down bath houses, if I'm remembering that correctly, because the gay community thought they were being unfairly stigmaed.

How does this rear itself? How does this rear its head?

RANNEY: So, I think there's a couple parts. One is that if we think of this as a, quote/unquote, gay disease or something only men who have sex with men get, it stops us from mounting the type of national or international response that we really need to get this under control.

TAPPER: Obviously, that's a majority of people, but not the entirety of it.

RANNEY: That was one of our issues with HIV and AIDS, that folks said oh, it's a segment of the population. Failing to see first of all, it's all of us. Second of all, segmenting the population is inaccurate, it doesn't work. It's a huge part of who we are, et cetera.

But the other part is let's be clear on how this is spread. It is skin to skin contact. It's not a sexually transmitted disease. We're seeing cases in kids, as you mentioned, and a community spread continues, we're bound to see more cases outside of the community of men who have sex with men.

If we stigmatize that community, they're not going to get tested. They're not going to show up for treatment. They're not going to show up for vaccines, and they're not going to collaborate with the rest of the public health infrastructure in order to stop the spread of the disease, which is what we need.

But we have to show up for them with those doses of vaccine and easy testing.

TAPPER: Well, that's the thing, I have heard from members of the gay community who are extra sensitive and want to make sure they don't get monkeypox because of the disproportionate way that community is taking the hit on this.

They say that it's tough getting the vaccine for it. Do you think the Biden administration is doing everything it can do?

RANNEY: So I think that if they name a monkeypox coordinator, they will then be doing everything they can do. I think that what we have seen over the last two months is honestly a little bit of a debacle, but what it comes from is the fact you have a whole bunch of different agencies that are all trying to run this.

No one person taking charge and saying it's time to get vaccines. It's time to release the vaccines from Denmark and get them here. It's time to roll out testing and to make it really easy for clinicians to get it.

So I think having a single person at the helm of all of that would be ideal. Whether it's in the White House or the CDC doesn't matter but there needs to be someone driving the response.

TAPPER: All right. Megan Ranney, thanks so much. Good to see you in person.

RANNEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Basketball star Brittney Griner is set to testify in a Russian courtroom tomorrow. The defense that the WNBA star might give, that's next.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, detained WNBA player Brittney Griner is set to testify tomorrow in a Moscow court. It's been another intense week for the 31-year-old Olympian who has pleaded guilty to bringing cannabis oil into Russia.

Today's trial session featured a drug expert brought in by Griner's attorneys to present the case that Griner used the oil for medical purposes, a common practice among athletes. Griner's lawyers say she did not purposefully bring the drugs to Russia and accidentally put the oil in her suitcase when she packed in a hurry. She faces up to ten years and Russian prison.

While her trial has caught the world's attention, she's not the only American detained in Russia on cannabis charges. Marc Fogel has been held by a Russian court for the better part of a year and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. His family says he used medical cannabis to treat chronic back pain.

CNN's Kylie Atwood reports on the American teacher's lesser known case as the Russia-U.S. relationship gets icier by the day.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're watching the last moment of freedom for Marc Fogel, an American teacher heading back to Moscow last August for his tenth year teaching the children of U.S. diplomats. Airport personnel going through his bags, just minutes before he was detained for carrying cannabis into the country.

His sister says no one in his family has heard his voice since. All they have are letters written in Russian.

ANNE FOGEL, SISTER OF AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He says what he wants in English. Someone translates for him, one of his cell mates, and depending on how good their English is, is how accurate a picture we get of what is happening. Very convoluted, and it's incredibly worrisome because we can't really have -- there is no honest conversation. Everything goes through the censors. It's -- it's harrowing.

ATWOOD: Fogel was convicted of smuggling drugs into Russia and last month sentenced to 14 years in prison, in a high security penal colony. His family and lawyers have said he was carrying cannabis for medical reasons, treating chronic back pain.

FOGEL: He made a terrible mistake by taking medical marijuana into Russia. But 14 years in a hard labor camp is essentially a death sentence for him.


He's 61 years old and he has a very long history of spinal injury.

ATWOOD: The circumstances of his detention have some similarities to the arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner. But Griner was declared wrongfully detained by the State Department less than three months after her arrest. Fogel's family is still waiting.

FOGEL: He is wrongfully detained. There's no question about it. This is an outrageous, outrageous sentence.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: As we learn more about the circumstances of detention, the charges, fair trial guarantees due process or lack thereof, we're always weighing those developments against the criteria to determine whether an American is wrongfully held or not.

ATWOOD: While Fogel was carrying about 20 grams of cannabis, much more than Griner, his American lawyer says that his sentence cannot be explained without there being a political motive.

FOGEL: This is a person who has served the American diplomatic community and schools all over the world for well over the majority of his career. I need my president and my first lady to stands up for him. He needs to come home.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now, the importance here of deeming him wrongfully detained would mean that that would then launch the Biden administration, the State Department, to engage in efforts, negotiations with the Russians to get him home as quickly as possible.

And, Jake, we should note that this week is Marc Fogel's birthday. And so, it's an incredibly emotional week for his family, as he has to celebrate that birthday for the first time in a Russian prison -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us. Thank you so much.

As the Kremlin holds these Americans overseas, Russia is also bombing Ukraine, going after its southern coast. And CNN is in the region.

Coming up, see how Ukrainians are trying to fight back with the help of U.S. military equipment.


TAPPER: Ukraine's south is lighting up. Russia just bombed another key port on the Black Sea. This time in Mykolaiv, the attacks starting just after Russia signed a deal promising to allow Ukrainian ships at those ports to transport grain safely.

Now, Ukraine and Russia are bracing for a massive land fight, as Russia gears up to deploy more troops to the cities it once easily occupied.

CNN's Ivan Watson has been traveling the southern front for weeks. He has this exclusive e report for us


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scenes from Ukraine's southern front in the first months of the war.

Footage shared exclusively with CNN shows a Ukrainian Senior Lieutenant Andrii Pidlisnyi hiding in shell craters, flying a drone to call in artillery strikes on Russian positions.

But the team of spotters also narrowly escapes long-range fire from the Russian military.

Months after filming these videos, Pidlisnyi is still fighting on the southern front.

Where the Russians in this village before?


WATSON: The Ukrainian military is fighting to claw back territories seized by what this commander describes as well prepared Russians.

PIDLISNYI: It's very slow, the process, to take back all of our territories. But step-by-step, with the help of Western guns, vehicles, and so on, artillery systems, we do that.

WATSON: This month, my team and I travelled the length of the southern front, from the critical ports of Odesa to the edge of the Donbas region. I spoke to people willing to risk their lives against the Russian war machine.

In the city of Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian forces stormed a building. It's actually a training exercise to prepare these men for one of the most dangerous forms of modern warfare, urban combat. The commander here was gravely wounded pushing Russian-backed separatists out of cities in the eastern Donbas region, in 2014.

We have a duty to liberate our territories, he says. This is our land and we will not give it to anyone.

That confidence shared by a regiment of frontline troops in eastern Ukraine. They show off recently arrived British-made Land Rovers, and this armored personnel carrier.

I just noticed something, take a look over here, at this tire, made in Russia. This was Russian.

VILNYI, AZOV KYIV REGIMENT: It was a Russian car. But our soldiers fight him and take this car.

WATSON: You captured it?

But the war is taking a dreadful toll here.

Day and night, Russian rockets, S300 surface-to-air missiles repurposed to strike ground targets pound the frontline city of Mykolaiv. More appear to be on the way.

Ukrainian resistance group shared this exclusive footage with CNN taking just days ago, showing the arrival of a train full of missiles in the occupied southern Kherson region, alter confirmed by these satellite images provided to CNN by Maxar. But with the help of U.S. long-range rockets known as HIMARS, Ukraine has been targeting ammunition depots.

Senior Lieutenant Pidlisnyi says he noticed the difference on the front lines.

PIDLISNYI: We've had about three to there weeks, when they haven't enough ammunition to fight us.

WATSON: Still, he predicts it will take a long time for Ukraine to win the war in the south.


PIDLISNYI: I'm not sure that we will win within the end of this year. It might be the end of next year.


WATSON (on camera): Jake, part of the Ukrainian strategy is also to target Russian supply lines. So they have been using the long range rockets to hit bridges that the Russians rely on to get from Russian controlled Crimea to these southern regions in the south of Ukraine that they have more recently occupied. Three of those bridges have been hit by these rockets in the last couple of weeks. All of this intended to try to make it harder for the Russians to re-enforce and resupply their occupation forces -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ivan Watson in Ukraine for us. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, he was one of only ten House Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump. Now that vote could put his job in jeopardy, and Democrats are piling on, backing his opponent.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, will a vote to impeach Donald Trump cost another Republican his job?

Congressman Peter Meijer currently represents Michigan's third district. He's an Army veteran of the war in Iraq and was one of ten Republicans who supported impeachment after January.

Now, Meijer's primary challenger is a man named John Gibbs who has Trump's backing, but Meijer is also up against Democrats who despite all their talk about democracy in peril, are actually boosting Gibbs, the MAGA candidate in the primary, because they think Gibbs would be easier for their Democratic candidate to defeat in November.

Democrats playing with anti-democracy fire for crass, cynical political objectives.

CNN's Manu Raju takes a closer look at the race.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESIONAL CORRESOPNDENT (voice-over): Three days into Congressman Peter Meijer's freshman term, pro-Trump rioters attacked the Capitol. A week after that, he voted with just nine other alarmed Republicans to impeach Donald Trump over his role.

Now, he could lose his job because of that vote.

Was that a concern of yours, that you got defined by this?

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): I think you always have a moment where you say, I could take the easy way or I can actually follow where my conscience is.

If your number one job in office is to stay in office, you should find another job.

RAJU: You don't regret that vote.

MEIJER: Not for a second. RAJU: Despite hailing from a storied Michigan family and a

maintaining a conservative voting record, Republicans see Meijer as the clear underdog in next Tuesday's primary.

JOHN GIBBS (R), MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Oh, yeah, I think that was the biggest career ending move in history possibly.

RAJU: John Gibbs, a former housing official who has a former president's backing is embracing false election claims.

You think the election was stolen?

GIBBS: I do think there was a change in results. Yeah.

RAJU: So, what do you say to folks who say that rhetoric is dangerous?

GIBBS: Don't blame the messenger.

RAJU: It was never -- it was never proven. There was never widespread fraud. What do you say to the fact that never really materialized?

GIBBS: I think one analogy you could look at is the mafia. For many years you couldn't arrest them. I think we will get there just like they did with the mafia.

RAJU: It's that kind of rhetoric that has Democrats hoping to face Gibbs in November with the Democratic campaign arm propping him up with this ad.

AD ANNOUNCER: Hand-picked by Trump to run for Congress, Gibbs called Trump the greatest president.

RAJU: Part of a national strategy to boost far right Republicans in primaries, even as they call them a threat to democracy.

HILLARY SCHOLTEN (D), MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think that Gibbs has certainly fired up a certain portion of the electorate over those claims. And I think it's dangerous.

RAJU: Democrats could flip the seat with a boost from redistricting.

SCHOLTEN: This district is so winnable. We can do it this time.

RAJU: Moving the district nearly 12 points in the Democrats' direction. But Democrat Hillary Scholten will first have to overcome President Biden's sagging approval and concerns over inflation.

Is the president helping or hurting you in the race?

SCHOLTEN: You know the president isn't in this race.

RAJU: Yet both Biden and his predecessor loom large.


RAJU: Like the former president, Gibbs downplays the January 6th attack by the Trump inspired mob.

Trump supporters, do you play them who were there? Were they the ones who came into the Capitol?

GIBBS: I don't know, but from the pictures I have seen, the vast majority of people were standing around and holding flags and things like that. So, those people obviously didn't do anything wrong.

RAJU: Meijer, though, lived through the deadly riot of that day.

MEIJER: For three hours, the president did nothing. I think that was a shameful dereliction of duty.


RAJU: Now, another big issue in the race could be the issue of abortion. That could be a matter that will be debated in a general election if Gibbs were to win. Gibbs told me he does not support exceptions for the issues of rape, if a woman is raped and has to carry the baby to term. He said it's, quote, really unfair to kill a baby over rape.

He said, punish the rapist appropriately, but, quote, don't kill the baby. It's not their fault -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

From all the flight cancellations and delays, the summer travel from hell. Two Democratic senators now say the Biden administration can track down -- can crack down on it all. I'm going to talk to one of those senators about how to do it next.



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

This hour, Donald Trump back in Washington, D.C. for the first time since he left office. Some say returning to the scene of the crime. His message just moments ago.

While his number two, Mike Pence, also in D.C. today, says he wants to talk about the future, suggesting Trump is mired in the past.

Plus, Russia shows once again it is operating in its own orbit, pledging to leave the International Space Station now and end a decades-long partnership that always found a way to rise above Earthly conflict until now.

And leading this hour, a new report shows Americans are less optimistic about the economy for the third month in a row. Confidence dropping to its lowest point in a year and a half. The viewpoint coming at a critical time with interest rates likely going up tomorrow and corporations raising red flags about rising prices and the chances the U.S. is headed toward a recession. Joining me, CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon.

Rahel, tell us why this new consumer confidence number is so important.