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The Lead with Jake Tapper

China Warns "Those Who Play With Fire Will Perish By It"; Pelosi Now In Taiwan, Defying China's Threat Of Retaliation; Taiwan Says Cyberattacks Knocked Some Govt. Websites Offline; U.S. Drone Strike Kills Al Qaeda Leader & 9/11 Plotter Al-Zawahiri; Rep. Elissa Slotkin, (D-MI), Is Interviewed About Al-Qaeda, Taliban; W.H.: Taliban Could Face Consequences For Harboring Al-Zawahiri; Defense Department Wiped Phones Of Key Military Officials, Including Any Text Messages From Jan. 6; Trump & Pence Back Dueling Candidates In AZ GOP Gov. Primary; Today: Voters In Five States Head To Polls; At Least 37 Dead From Floods In Eastern Kentucky; Miami Dolphins Owner Fined & Suspended By NFL For Violating Anti-Tampering Policy. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: As CNN's Will Ripley reports for us from Taiwan's capital city of Taipei right now, China is launching a series of targeted military operations surrounding the self-governing Island.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A resounding show of American support for Taiwan in the face of escalating threats from China, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landing in Taiwan Tuesday, a display of defiance, ignoring days of perilous warnings from China.

Minutes after Pelosi's arrival, China announced a series of targeted military operations in response to the House Speaker's visit. State media publishing a map of the drills which began during the overnight hours, some just miles from the Taiwanese coast.

As Pelosi's convoy arrived at her Taipei hotel, a heavy police presence, two groups of protesters gathered outside, some welcome Pelosi support for Taiwan.

JERRY LIU, DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS, NEW POWER PARTY: Speaker of house is Nancy Pelosi has been supporting Taiwan for decades. And it's very important for me as a Taiwanese to be here tonight to welcome her.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Others accuse her of escalating tensions.

MISS HUANG, DOES NOT SUPPORT PELOSI'S TAIWAN VISIT (through translator): Right now Pelosi and the United States are treating Taiwan as a chess piece. Once she lands in Taiwan, Mainland China will retaliate using their own methods. RIPLEY (voice-over): China's foreign ministry spokesman calling Pelosi stop in Taiwan a serious violation of the one China principle that will have a severe impact on the political foundation of China-U.S. relations. Taiwan says cyberattacks knock some government websites offline, no immediate claims of responsibility.

Beijing calls Taiwan a breakaway province of China. The mainland communist rulers have never controlled the island of almost 24 million people. They refuse to recognize Taiwan's democratically elected government. Taiwan says China's sent more than 20 warplanes into the islands air defense zone Tuesday, part of what Taiwan calls an ongoing campaign of bullying by Beijing, using its massive military and economic power to isolate the island.

In "Washington Post" op-ed published shortly after her arrival in Taipei, Pelosi writes, "In the face of the Chinese Communist Party's accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation's visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom." That sentiment echoed by other U.S. officials Tuesday.

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: For China to try to turn what is in the historical norm into a crisis or to try to use it as a pretext for aggressive action around Taiwan, that's on them, and they would be the ones who'd be escalating.


RIPLEY: So, why is China escalating? Well, this is all happening at a very sensitive time for China's most powerful leader since Mao, Xi Jinping. He's just months away from a crucial political gathering that is almost pretty much certain to rule for -- he's going to allow him to be president for an unprecedented third term. And Jake, this eventually sets the scene for him to be president for life, potentially, theoretically.

And it's so important to President Xi that there'll be calm and stability. So to have him saying that he's tight, you know, he's going to eventually reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force if necessary, and that Nancy Pelosi showing such support for the government there, that's why we're seeing what we're seeing now, these military exercises, some of them literally miles, possibly within earshot of the Taiwan east coast, Jake.

TAPPER: Wil Ripley in Taiwan, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Max Baucus. He was the U.S. Ambassador to China during the Obama administration. Before that, a Democratic senator from Montana.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us. So the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement on the Speaker's visit earlier today, which reads in part, "These moves, like playing with fire are extremely dangerous. Those who play with fire will perish by it.

Now, Ambassador, you know China very well, you're critical of Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Why?

MAX BAUCUS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Well, it's unnecessary. In fact, I think it's irresponsible. The goal of U.S. foreign policy toward China should be to reduce tension, not increased tension. And we know perilously fraught with tension, the relationship already is.

In fact (ph), there's no reason for her to go. Our military is present in the region. Many American officials were showing their support of Taiwan, there's no reason for her to go. And so it's really a provocation.

And frankly, when you read the reasons in her op-ed why she's going, it's -- they're pretty -- it's almost disingenuous. She doesn't really recognize our current policy, our one China policy very well. It uses lots of hot rhetoric and they're critical of China.

So, there's no reason to go. It's irresponsible. And I think there are going to be consequences. I hope they're not great, but I worry they might be.


TAPPER: What consequences do you think there will be?

BAUCUS: I don't know. They range from some minor military action, perhaps taking a small island off the coast, more military drills, or maybe something more fundamental. They may decide contrary to U.S. treaties to China where we've asked China not to help Russia and Ukraine, they may decide, what the heck, you can't depend up on U.S. anymore, so we might start helping Russia. I don't know. But there -- it'll be calculated.

It'll probably be something that's pretty strong. But not one is too strong, because the Chinese like stability, they don't want to rock the boat too much. They're worried about their economy, just as we are about ours. And President Xi knows that the more they take some action, which disrupts the growth of the Chinese economy, the more that puts him in jeopardy.

He's already strong, he's going to get reelected. That's not a question. In addition to that, the people that China that I talked to were very opposed to Pelosi's visit. So he has the backing of the Chinese people as well. We'll take some action.

TAPPER: Right. And Speaker Pelosi, you know, her argument, as she lays out in her "Washington Post" op-ed is that she is showing support for democracy in Taiwan. And there are a lot of people on Capitol Hill who support she's -- what she's doing, including Republican senators. Senator Roy Blunt said this earlier today. Take a listen


SEN. ROY BLUNT (R-MO): Do not use four words in a row that I haven't used in this way before. And those four words are, Speaker Pelosi was right when she decided to include Taiwan on her visit to Asia or if she'd just been going to Taiwan, that would have been right. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Isn't there something to be said about taking a stand for democracy for the people of Taiwan?

BAUCUS: Oh, yes, clearly there is, but the United States has already done that. We don't have to do it more. Taiwanese know where we stand.

But this is a provocation because the Chinese government is very opposed to the visit. Don't forget, she's speaker, she's not just an ordinary member of Congress. Add to that, she's a very strong hawk. She's very critical of China.

And really what this is doing, it's pushing the support of democracy a little closer to crossing the line into independence. That's the real problem here. And the more that China will not formally declare independence, that would be a disaster. But they're going to get close to it. If they get too close to it, China has no recourse but to take action.

This is existential to China. It was driven home to me when I was serving there, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, it's just not -- it's nonnegotiable. And we're -- we are playing with fire where we get pretty close to light.

And Pelosi is pushing us much, much closer to recognizing Taiwan as an independent country. And when once we get there, we're going to pay a price.

TAPPER: Taiwanese government websites experienced cyberattacks of Russian and Chinese origin today. Do you expect that we're going to see more of this cyberattacks? And might they attack the United States?

BAUCUS: I obviously don't know. The Chinese government is opaque. They -- you don't know what they do until they do it. There aren't leaks in China, as there are in the U.S. We're democracy, they're authoritarian, you just don't see leaks. So it's hard to know.

But it could be cyber, it could be cyber to Taiwan, it could be cyber against U.S. I don't know. They're trying to calculate something that strong, very strong, because they got to save face here, but not too strong so as to cause some kind of either military engagement or military action, which could escalate to something much worse.

The deeper problem here really is that the visit by the Speaker is really pushing America moratorium recognizing China's independent country. That's a big problem here.

Don't forget too, Speaker Pelosi, it's a free pass for her. She's not the president, she doesn't have to worry about conducting foreign policy worldwide. She is a member of Congress, you don't have to worry about it. She does a little, bit not much.

To poor Joe Biden, he looks weak because he either told her not to go, looks weak in the Chinese guys. Or he's weak because they told her not to go and she went anyway. And that access look a little bit weak to the Chinese.

And I got to tell you, during the time I was serving in Beijing, one thing I really learned Chinese understand strength better than do people in any other country and they could smell a weakness 100 miles away. We've got to be strong, but strong in the best sense that really means where they respect us, not where we take silly actions like when the Speaker just thought (ph).


TAPPER: Yes. Former Ambassador Max Baucus, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

Coming up, new pictures of the compound that house the most wanted terrorist in the world before he was taken out by a high tech U.S. missile.

Then, what happens when Donald Trump endorses Eric in a Senate race, but there are three Eric's running in that Senate race? Well, Missouri voters are about to find out. Stay with us.


TAPPER: One of the masterminds behind 9/11 has been killed. U.S. forces killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend by precisely targeting his safe house in downtown Kabul with a hellfire missile drone. President Biden ordered this strike after months of secret planning with a close circle of advisers.

One senior official tells CNN Biden was deeply engaged and immersed in planning, studying a scale model of the house, you can see it there in the photo and asking detailed questions about how to minimize any risk to civilians. And now CNN's Nick Paton Walsh investigates what's next for the notorious terrorist organization.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The target was the same as it was at the start of the war on terror 9/11 mastermind turned Al-Qaeda 71-year-old leader, but the method startlingly precise. Two missiles hitting Kabul's fanciest streets.


The Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri stepping onto a balcony that had likely for years house rich Westerners working for NATO, but stepping out onto it dawn Sunday for the last time.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all.

WALSH (voice-over): The Biden administration so confident they got the right guy, they built a model of the house. They said they didn't need boots on the ground before the strike or after.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not have DNA confirmation. We're not going to get that confirmation. And quite frankly, based on the multiple sources and methods that we have gathered the information from, we don't need it.

WALSH (voice-over): It was a staggering counterterrorism success born of a failure the U.S. had tried to close (ph) over. As the U.S. rush to leave Afghanistan, at the end, losing control at the close of its longest war. It had tried to suggest Al-Qaeda degraded no longer a threat there.

But in truth, the group were finding a safe haven there again with concerns. Last year, they might have been able to strike the West again as early as next year.

They weren't the threat they were when Zawahiri masterminded savagery at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi or on the USS Cole and their brutal star had been eclipsed by the mayhem of ISIS. But their franchises had spread across the world, often encouraging locals to target other locals and Zawahiri remained their figurehead with his hands on some buttons. Analyst felt his recent messages suggested a man more at ease even complacent.

U.S. officials saying they had followed family members to get him. His most likely successor Saif al-Adel recently in Iran, according to the U.N. One former Afghan official telling me he may have recently left for Afghanistan. But terror leaders last less long these days, still the enduring harder questions for the Taliban. Few believed they had truly renounced terror like they promised the U.S.

But after 20 years of war, they still brought exactly the same Al- Qaeda figures back into the safest of their havens central Kabul. Yet found the United States also had a long memory and now didn't even need to be there to kill the most wanted.


WALSH: Now, what's important here, Jake, fundamentally, is the next question, not so much whether or not that Al-Qaeda managed to reconstitute themselves after the loss of yet another leader. But whether this strike impacts again the worsening daily life of ordinary Afghans sanctions, the isolation of their country taking a daily toll on ordinary people.

And something like this so boldly exposing the safe haven that Al Qaeda clearly have there under some parts of the Taliban could make the country's relations with the outside world harder still, just making daily life yet more agonizing, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin joins us now. She's a former Middle East analyst for the CIA.

Congresswoman, you joined the CIA because you were in New York on 9/11. So what went through your mind when you heard that the U.S. had killed Zawahiri? REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Yes, honestly, it kind of stopped me in my tracks. You know, I know that there's lots of different strikes that happen over the years, but this guy was just so integral to everything that's gone on with Al Qaeda since they attacked us.

And before that, it just -- it's a big, big win in a big moment. We've now taken out really the top leadership that attacked us on that day. And I just thought about all that has come from those attacks, the wars, the spread of Al Qaeda and their ideology all over the Middle East and Africa, and he had a lot to do with it. So I was glad he was taken out. And I was really stopped in my tracks when I heard the news.

TAPPER: The house where he was killed is only about 1000 feet away from the U.K. Embassy in Kabul. Does the fact that Zawahiri felt comfortable enough to hide out in this area of downtown Kabul, doesn't that suggest that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan left a chasm, a void that Al-Qaeda is clearly taking advantage of?

SLOTKIN: Well, it certainly means that he felt completely comfortable coming back to a crowded city, you know, kind of more posh neighborhood. He was out with his family. I mean, he certainly did not feel a whole lot of fear. I mean that's a real problem, right? Then we want these groups to be under stress so they can't organize, they can't mobilize or they have a harder time doing it.

But I think one of the answers to that was what happened with the strike, right? I mean, a real precision strike right in the heart of Kabul clearly wasn't -- he wasn't expecting it, like Kabul, the Taliban government were not expecting it. And so I think it's an important answer to that brazenness with which he and probably the Taliban are thinking about Al Qaeda in harboring them.


TAPPER: As a former CIA officer, what do you know about the type of weapons that might have been used in this strike? We've seen reports that it was a CIA drone with so called sword bombs.

SLOTKIN: Yes, you know, I don't know that a ton of details other than, you know, they weren't packed with a traditional ordinance so that the -- would literally be a precision strike on the very human being they were trying to get, not as kids, not as family, you know, not the -- we gave him the respect and the community the respect that he never gave any of us when he hit us on 9/11. But you know, this is modern day warfare, it's much more precise.

What I think is really interesting, and I will admit that I was skeptical about whether we could pull off so called over the horizon strikes in Afghanistan after we left, right, how do you have a strong intelligence presence? How do you understand targeting and make sure you're accurate? We had a lot of open questions on the Armed Services Committee, both sides of the aisle about whether we could pull that off. And I think this past couple of days is a real answer to that. Not only can we pull off a strike when we need to against a senior leader, but we can do it with extreme precision. So, I will admit that I was surprised to hear about the attack, and heartened to see it. And I give the president credit for making a tough call.

TAPPER: The White House seems pretty confident that senior Taliban figures knew Zawahiri was hiding out in Kabul, which obviously is a direct violation of the Doha agreement, not that anyone expects the Taliban to uphold agreements. But what do you think the Biden administration should do to hold the Taliban accountable and show that there are consequences to this type of thing?

SLOTKIN: Well, we know that the Taliban has been quietly talking to the U.N. and others about how they can get control of their economy again, how they can get some reserves, how they can get control of their food aid, you know, how can they be treated as a normal government? We know that a lot of those senior Taliban leaders really enjoyed living abroad, going shopping at the, you know, shopping malls of the golf, they want to be treated like a normal government. And I think what happened this past couple of days proves they should not be treated like a normal government and in anytime soon.

Their feigned outrage over the strike, give me a break. They had what was coming to them. And in my mind, they are just not credible as a real government in that capital.

TAPPER: Aren't you concerned that while Zawahiri, obviously it's great that he was targeted successfully and with limited, if no civilian casualties, but he was 71, he was infamous, he'd been on the FBI most wanted list since 1998 for the embassy bombings, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, and because we're out of Afghanistan, the U.S. is out of Afghanistan, we don't have the Intel, the people on the ground, the knowledge to go get the person who might be 35, unknown and yet rising through the ranks?

SLOTKIN: I don't know. I mean, I think that pulling the strike off is a pretty strong demonstration that we're capable of an over the horizon strike. Do we have perfect intelligence on everyone? No, it took us a while to find this guy. But I think it's an important deterrent to go after these senior leaders, to make sure that they know it may take years but we are coming for you and you're not going to be safe if you attack us.

So, you know, look, nothing's perfect. I would prefer to have an embassy, a traditional intelligence presence, but we clearly have something there, right? We clearly have the ability to pull off that kind of high impact strike. And that's not because we're doing everything remote, it's because we have eyes on the ground, confirmation, redundant sources and methods.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman from Michigan, which is having primaries today, Elissa Slotkin, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

SLOTKIN: Thanks, Jake. TAPPER: Now it seems the text messages of several top Pentagon officials around January 6 are also missing. Wow. Real eraser problems during those last few days of the Trump years.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, CNN has learned that the cell phones of several key Pentagon and military officials were wiped when those officials left their posts at the end of the Trump administration. So they deleted any text messages that might have been sent or received on or around January 6. This according to government court filings from the Department of Justice. CNN's Kara Scannell is following this.

Kara, tell us more.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we're learning about these deleted text messages from a lawsuit filed by the government watchdog group American Oversight. They sued the Department of Defense and the Army after they had filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and didn't receive the documents and the messages that they were looking for.

So, what they're asked for were any text messages sent from Donald Trump, Mark Meadows or anyone acting on their behalf with seven top Defense Department officials. Those officials include the Department of Defense Secretary Chris Miller, his chief of staff Kash Patel, General Counsel Paul Ney. They also were looking for any text messages with members of the Army, the Secretary Ryan McCarthy, General Counsel James McPherson, and two current active members, the Chief of Staff James McConville and the director of Army Staff Lieutenant General Walter Piatt.

Now, the position of the Department of fence was laid out in a joint status report that was filed in this case, in this litigation.


And in that, the Department of Defense's that the "DOD and Army conveyed to plaintiff," that's American Oversight, "that when an employee separates from DOD or Army he or she turns in the government issue phone, and the phone is wiped. For those custodians no longer with the agency, the text messages were not preserved and therefore could not be searched.

Now, they said that they will search for those records of the two members that are still there. And they say it's possible that some text messages may have been memorialized in emails or other matters. But there still is a big question here about what this full policy is and why the Department of Defense and other government agencies are not retaining these text messages.

You know, none of the individuals, there's no suspicion here or suggestion that they were involved in the deletion. This seems to have occurred after they left the government and retired their phones. We reached out to all of them, we either cannot reach them and one. Secretary Miller declined to comment, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes. This comes, of course, with DHS and Secret Service text messages similarly wiped. Kara Scannell, thank you so much.

Donald Trump throwing a wrench into the Missouri Republican Senate primary endorsing Eric. There is a problem of course. Three men named Eric are running in that primary. What else do you need to know about today's key primary races? Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, fewer than 100 days remain until the midterm elections and that means the final rounds of primary contests will hit in quick succession over the next six weeks starts tonight, with key races in Missouri, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and Washington state. We're watching, among other things, how former President Trump's influence will affect Republican voters and how many candidates who don't believe in democracy are going to make it through Republican primary.

CNN is live on the ground closely following these primary fights. Let's go first to CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's live in St. Louis, Missouri. And Jeff, Trump dropped last minute endorsement of sorts in the Republican Senate primary there. But it was bizarre and, you know, just objectively a weird endorsement. Explain it for us.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the former president said the good people of Missouri will have to make up their own minds in the Senate race and that is exactly what they've been doing. He went on to endorsed a candidate named Eric. There are three Erics who are on the ballot of some 21 Republicans who are running for the U.S. Senate seat here. Of course, he was talking about one of the two Erics, former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, or Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

The former president simply could not decide, did not want to decide between those two candidates who are believed to be locked in a close race with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler. Sort of going into the final hours of the voting here. There's about two and a half hours or so left to go. Those three Republicans are thought to be leading the way but we will see, we will see what voters decide.

Jake, the reason this race is important, it's to fill the seat of retiring Republican Senator Roy Blunt. And Democrats believe that they could have a shot to win this race. If Greitens wins, of course, he's a disgraced former governor who's accused of abuse allegations. But he is also still, of course, running strong here in Missouri, Jake.

TAPPER: Weird race. To Arizona's gubernatorial race now, CNN Senior National Correspondent Kyung Lah is live for us in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. And Kyung, this Republican primary race in the governor's part of it really doubles as a proxy war between Trump and his former Vice President Mike Pence who have endorsed different candidates.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And not just is it a proxy war, it's also a test of Trump's influence on his party here in Arizona. But to that proxy war, who are these foot soldiers in that war? What you have is the Trump-backed 2020 election lie embracing Kari Lake. She is running against who former Vice President Mike Pence is backing, Karrin Taylor Robson.

There's actually very little policy sunlight between these two candidates. The big difference is how much they believe in the 2020 election like. Lake has fully endorsed it and made it a part a centerpiece of her campaign. But there are candidates who have been backed by Trump up and down this ballot, from governor, to attorney general, to U.S. Senate, to the Secretary of State.

That been critical, Jake, because the Secretary of State will actually administer the elections in this state. And all of those candidates that Trump has endorsed, they believe in his lie. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kyung. And CNN's Nick Valencia joins us now live from Topeka, Kansas. Kansas is where abortion rights are on the ballot. And Nick, the ballot language is a little bit confusing in Kansas. A no vote support to the right to an abortion. And a yes vote opens the door to more abortion restrictions or an abortion ban. Do I have that right?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And it's a big reason why abortion rights advocates have spent a lot of time going door to door to not only educate voters on this amendment language, but also encourage them to get out to vote. This critical issue has been put on the primary ballot where traditionally more Republicans vote and historically there is lower voter turnout. Abortion rights groups believe that that was an intentional move by Kansas Republicans to skew things in their favor.

And, look, while this is not a vote for an outright abortion ban, it is a big step in that direction. What this amendment would do, if passed, it would give the power to the super majority Republican legislature which has already indicated that they would move swiftly to draft legislation, banning abortion outright in the state. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia, Kyung Lah, and Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Let's discuss. Leigh Ann Caldwell, let me start with you. So, Kansas is a reliably conservative state. It does have a Democratic governor, because their -- the Republican nominee last time was so out there. Is there any indication of what's going to happen with this abortion rights measure this to change the constitution?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, "EARLY 202" CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, we're going to have to wait to see. As a reporter just said that both sides are extremely animated on this issue. For weeks, they have been trying to educate voters on both sides of the aisle. But you're right, it does have a Democratic governor. And I asked Chuck Schumer about this today, what is this going to mean for the rest of the country on the issue of abortion? He tried to say that, well, it's a conservative state.

He really downplayed what the results might be. So maybe that's an indication of how this is going to turn out. But everyone who were all across the country is absolutely watching this to see what this means for conservative or swing states cross country.

TAPPER: And just to remind people, if you support abortion rights, it's a no. If you're against abortion rights, if you want abortion restrictions, it's a yes. Just to anyone watching out there who's confused --

CALDWELL: To make it really easy.

TAPPER: Well, they made it tough. And, in fact, some people are playing up that confusion and trying to trick people.


TAPPER: Maria, so big night last night for anyone in Missouri named Eric. Donald Trump writes, quote, "I am therefore proud to announce that Eric has my complete and total endorsement." Both Eric Greitens and Eric Schmitt were quick to claim they were the intended recipient of that endorsement, which is just bizarre. I've never seen anything like this.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a little crazy, Jake. I think this goes to show you just, you know, what a snowball of idiocy, I think, not just that election, but this whole midterm election season has become. And frankly, Donald Trump, at the front end of any kind of Republican candidates or Republican primaries is a good thing for Democrats. Because, you know, he clearly did this because, you know, Eric, he can't go wrong. Somebody named Eric is going to win.

But either Eric is either a criminal or an election denier, or both, and the more that Trump is front and center with these incredibly flawed candidates, the better it is for Democrats as a whole because we can continue to make this election as a huge contrast between candidates who are criminals, who are flawed, who are election deniers who are truth deniers --

TAPPER: Right.

CARDONA: -- and candidates who will actually support democracy, support the truth.

TAPPER: Yes, except it's probably going to be a red wave year of sorts. It usually is historically --

CARDONA: It might not though. It might not though, Jake, because I think we have a spectacular chance to defy conventional wisdom and history because of that and because of other factors (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: I don't want to discount though the significance of all these people who whether they believe it, or just pretend they believe it in these lies. I mean, I think the Secretary of State nominee that Trump has endorsed in Arizona has already said he's not going to support the results of the election.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's hedging sort of like endorsing two Erics who say it was rigged if you lose and it was, you know, a legit election if you win. But Missouri is interesting because it also is, we're going to see in Arizona, hits different potential 2024 endorsements against each other. So Josh Hawley is backing Vicky Hartzler who 20 traditional Republican conservative, she would be the obvious successor to a Roy Blunt. But obviously, the former president is with the two Erics. One credibly accused of sexual assault, of violence toward women.

I do think --

TAPPER: By both his girlfriend and his wife.

GRIFFIN: And his wife.


GRIFFIN: Yes. And then, obviously, in Arizona, the Mike Pence endorsement, the, you know, former Governor Doug Ducey endorsed Robson, whereas, the former president is, obviously, with election denier Kari Lake.

TAPPER: Speaking of Kari Lake, Francesca, take a look at this. Here, you can't even make this stuff up. Here is Kari Lake, who by the way, used to be a never Trumper, who used to be a TV journalist, who used to, by all accounts, be a rational human being. Here she is last night.


KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GOV. CANDIDATE: We're going to win. And if we don't win, there's some cheating going on. And we already know that. Every poll since I've been in this race has shown me ahead. They want to cheat so bad. They don't want Arizona to win. They don't want this country to survive.


TAPPER: So just to bring out the part that she said, We're going to win. And if we don't win, there's some cheating going on. That's what she said.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: And -- well, you had brought up Mike Pence, the former vice president, and you heard him say recently that these are things that he feels like you need to move on from these sorts of things and think about the future. And that's what I'm hearing from a lot of Republicans behind the scenes, Jake. They are concerned about some of these Republicans who could be the nominees that it will give Democrats an upper hand in these elections, whether it's at the gubernatorial level or it's at the Senate race level. [17:45:00]

You talked about Missouri that's exactly the concern that I'm hearing from Republicans when it comes to Eric Greitens in that race that you could be handing Democrats a victory in that race just by nominating him.

TAPPER: That's where Claire McCaskill was able in Missouri to win her second race, I think, by -- she helped in the -- medal in the Republican primary, Todd Aiken, who had some crazy comments about rape became her opponent and she was able to get reelected.

Speaking of meddling, tonight is going to be a scorecard for three members of the Impeachment 10, the 10 Republicans who voted in the House for Trump's second impeachment. Congressman Peter Meijer of Michigan whose opponent has been boosted by the DCCC --


TAPPER: -- which is gross. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler and Congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington. And really anything can happen.

CALDWELL: Yes, that's right. And so far, out of the 10 Republicans, of course, there's a couple of primaries later on with Liz Cheney. But only one has survived either not retired or survived their election so far. And that is, in California, it's very close with Kevin McCarthy.

But tonight is very clear. Trump has endorsed in 25 races, maybe 26, or 27, if you count all the Erics, but he's also endorsed in down ballot races, especially in Michigan as well. And after tonight, we're -- and all of these people have one thing in common, they're all election deniers. And it will be clear tonight on if that is a prevailing thought among the Republican base from east coast down to the Midwest.

TAPPER: And Maria, I have to say, I disagree with you that, you know, all the contrast is going to necessarily help Democrats. I think there are a lot of people who think it's gross that -- I just said, that was gross, so I'm obviously one of them -- that it's gross that the Democrats, that DCCC are getting involved in racist to defeat people like Congressman Peter Meijer to boost election deniers.

And when I asked Congressman Kinzinger, about this, who's one of the Impeachment 10, he said, not only is it a risk, he predicts that the right wave is going to sweep some of these wackadoodles into office.

CARDONA: Sure. And, clearly, that is a huge danger. And I actually don't think they necessarily have to boost them, because in most of the races, they are already ahead. And that's what the DCCC will tell you. But I think it comes down to all of these wacky things that we're talking about are not things that happened when the historically red waves or blue waves, depending on the party that was in power, out of power happened in the midterm election right after president won.

I think we can, not necessarily we will, but we have a huge opportunity to defy that history. I think we're going to keep the Senate, for example.

GRIFFIN: The problem is, though, that the big lie is so -- is resonating so strongly within the base of the Republican Party. As many as 60 percent of Republicans believe it because national figures aren't telling the truth. So that continues to be a very animating factor. And, unfortunately, I mean, the state of the economy right now --


GRIFFIN: -- s going to be --

TAPPER: 9.1 percent inflation.

CARDONA: But I think that hurts Republicans that big lie.

TAPPER: 9.1 percent inflation. Anyway, thanks so much for being here, everybody.

Rescue crews in Kentucky are still struggling to get a grasp on how many Kentuckians are missing after the hideous horrific, disastrous flooding. And now another dangerous weather threat is actually expected there. That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth matters series, the McKinney fire in Northern California is still burning out of control despite help from cooler weather. The fire which broke out near the California-Oregon border last Friday has burned more than 56,000 acres. Four people have been killed. And officials fear today severe thunderstorms could fanned the flames and spread the fire further.

Meanwhile, in Eastern Kentucky, the death toll from last week's devastating flooding now stands at 37. And Kentucky's governor says it will take weeks to know the exact number of those still missing. Rescue crews are scrambling to get to people trapped in areas where roads and bridges have been washed away. And while the region avoided any new overnight flooding stifling heat is now expected tomorrow.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Hazard, Kentucky. And Evan, there are reports of people stranded in need of resources such as food, water, insulin. Are rescue crews able to get to them?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are in some cases, but it's very, very difficult. I want to show you some video that our photojournalist Mark Biello shot today that kind of explains this. This video shot in the lower river Caney and upper river Caney here in Perry County, those are two of those hollows that we talked about. Places that like are only accessible by one road in or out collection of houses back there.

There -- we went out there with a group of doctors and medical workers who are going out there to try to see people who are trapped and ask them what they need and help them out. And what we've learned today, the number one thing they're asking for is tetanus shots, because there's so much debris everywhere. People are trying to clean up and they're stepping on it and they're getting cut by it and they want to get protected from it.

But that's the level of things that we're dealing with out here. People are trapped in their houses because they're the only accessible world to the outside world that didn't washed away. And they need a tetanus shot because you're getting cut on the debris that swept into their yard from a historic flood. It's an unbelievable situation, Jake, and it just -- is a really, really harrowing thing that people are dealing with.

TAPPER: All right, Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Claims of player tampering and even game fixing in the NFL. The league today releasing its findings and punishing one team owner, if you call that a punishment. That story next.



TAPPER: In our sports lead, the NFL has suspended Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross through mid-October and fined him $1.5 million for violating the league's policies relating to the integrity of the game. A six-month investigation found that Ross violated a policy against tampering with other teams players on three separate occasions. On two of those occasions, communicating with quarterback Tom Brady, but the investigation did not find that Ross offered then head coach Brian Flores financial incentives to intentionally lose games to improve the team's draft position.

The investigation found that he talked about tanking for a better draft position but they found he was not really serious about it. Flores issued a statement saying, quote, "I am thankful that the NFL's investigator found my factual allegations against Steven Ross are true. At the same time, I'm disappointed to learn that the investigator minimized Mr. Ross's offers and pressure to take games, especially when I wrote and submitted a letter at the time to Dolphins executives documenting my serious concerns regarding this subject at the time which the investigator has in her possession," unquote.

This NFL slap on the wrist comes after the Cleveland Browns Deshaun Watson who has been accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women was suspended for only six games. I guess it's a good thing neither of them was caught doing something really bad like smoking a joint.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with the great Pamela Brown in for Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM".