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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Judge Sets Up Possible Release Of Redacted Affidavit Justifying Mar-a-Lago Search; Ex-Trump Org. CFO Pleads Guilty In Tax Fraud Scheme; Trump Appeals Order Allowing IRS To Release His Tax Return To A house CMTE; Trump Considering Releasing Mar-a-Lago Surveillance Footage; Cook Political Report Shifts Pennsylvania Senate Race In Favor Of Democrats; FCC Cracks Down On Scam "Auto Warranty" Robocalls; NFL Quarterback Deshaun Watson's Suspension Increased To 11 Games. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 18, 2022 - 17:00   ET



SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But they do get a little bit more specificity about the crimes that were under investigation. Things like the willful retention of National Defense Information, the concealment or removal of government records, and of course, obstruction of a federal investigation. But we are still waiting to see, what if anything, the judge is going to make public about that affidavit.


MURRAY (voice-over): An extraordinary legal battle playing out in Florida.

DAVID SCHOEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I think the country depends on information. We want to know what's in there.

MURRAY (voice-over): Over what the public deserves to know about the search at Mar-a-Lago. A judge setting in motion today the possible release of a heavily redacted version of the affidavit where the FBI laid out why they believe there was probable cause a crime was committed.

"I'm not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed," U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said, giving the Justice Department a week to propose redactions and explain why each piece of information should be kept secret. This comes after several news outlets including CNN asked the judge to unseal the affidavit that led to a search warrant resulting in FBI agents walking out of former President Donald Trump's home with boxes of classified material.

ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S SON: It's a fishing expedition.

MURRAY (voice-over): The Justice Department opposing the release of details in the affidavit echoing concerns from an earlier file where DOJ said, "If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps."

The head of the Justice Department's counter intelligence section, pointing out the court already found probable cause that evidence of obstruction could be found at Mar-a-Lago, and that releasing the affidavit could chill cooperation from future witnesses. The government also raising concerns about the risks the FBI is faced in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search.

Despite the Justice Department's preference for secrecy,

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Much of our work is by necessity conducted out of the public eye.

Federal law, long standing department rules, and our ethical obligations prevent me from providing further details as to the basis of the search at this time.

MURRAY (voice-over): The judge still appeared inclined to make at least portions of the document available to the public. Trump meantime has been eager to learn why the FBI targeted as Mar-a-Lago estate posting in part this week, "I call for the immediate release of the completely unredacted affidavit pertaining to this horrible and shocking break-in.

This is Trump's inner circle is split on when and whether to release security camera footage of the search. Video recorded despite the FBI asking Trump's lawyers to turn the cameras off when they got there.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: You still have the surveillance tape. Is that correct -- will you-- are you allowed to share that with the country?

TRUMP: Absolutely, Sean, at the right time.

MURRAY (voice-over): Some close to Trump say the video could energize the GOP base and appear in a campaign style ad. But others worry raw footage showing agents removing more than a dozen boxes could further damage the former president.


MURRAY: Now after today's hearing, a Trump spokesman tweeted that the complete unredacted affidavit should be released to the public. But Jake, this is not an argument that Trump team has made in court, at least not yet.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Also in our politics lead former Trump Organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to his role in a 15-year long tax fraud scheme that benefited both him and his employer, including pleading guilty to 15 felonies and admitting he failed to pay taxes on $1.7 million in income. The plea puts him at odds with the Trump Organization which could face its own real estate tax trial in October.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins us now from outside the courthouse.

And Kara, part of Weisselberg's guilty deal includes his agreement to testify against the Trump organization at that possible trial. How significant could that be?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jake, it's very significant, he can provide an insider's look into how these alleged crimes were committed. Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, today calling this testimony invaluable.

Weisselberg has been with the Trump Organization for 40 years. Now, he's pleading guilty to the crimes that he committed which were not paying income tax on certain corporate benefits he receive. But will also be shedding a light on how this worked inside the Trump Organization. It's important to note he is not expected to implicate former President Donald Trump or any of his adult children. They have not been accused of any wrongdoing in the scheme.

Weisselberg is also not cooperating with the Manhattan district attorney's ongoing investigation into the Trump organization's finances. And in a sign of how committed both sides are to each other, the Trump Organization put out a statement today calling Weisselberg a fine and honorable man.

And just to recap, he pleaded guilty to 15 felonies today. He's agreed to pay back more -- about $2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties. And he is required to testify at that trial coming up in October. And in exchange, prosecutors agreed that he would serve five months in jail. His lawyer says that could turn out to be about 100 days, Jake.

TAPPER: And Kara, one of the one of the items Weisselberg admitted to was that he did not pay taxes on some of the luxury perks he received. Can you tell us more about that?


SCANNELL: Yes. So, according to prosecutors and Weisselberg's own plea today in the courthouse behind me, Weisselberg received a corporate apartment that was paid for by the Trump Organization. They also paid for his utilities, there's garage there. The lease (ph) is on two Mercedes Benz as well as furniture that he used for that apartment and a home in Florida, and they also paid the private school tuition of two of Weisselberg's grandchildren, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you so much.

Joining us to discuss, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Preet, today, a federal judge in Florida is setting up the possible release of a redacted version of the affidavit that would detail the justification for why the judge allowed the FBI to search the president's home at Mar-a-Lago. What might we --


TAPPER: -- learn from it, assuming that there are significant redactions?

BHARARA: Well, I guess the answer depends on how significant those redactions are. If they're minimal, and not particularly significant, we're going to learn a whole lot.

Remember, the affidavit is the thing that went before a federal judge to provide the basis for probable cause to believe a crime was committed and there was evidence of the crime at the location. So you'd learn probably the origin of the investigation, why they were concerned about it in the first place, you'd learn how much probable cause they have and given the nature of the premises being searched, and the owner of those premises, what some people would call probable cause plus, was probably the case. So you'll learn how many witnesses came before the government and provided evidence that they thought that these documents and classified materials were still being held at Mar-a-Lago, against the law and against policy and against norms. You'll find out how many there were probably depending on the level of redaction. And you'll find out who else is possibly under investigation.

Search warrant affidavits, sometimes are very, very lengthy and provide very significant narratives of all the things that the government is doing because the government tends to rely on the idea that these things will not become public. That's the argument the government is making to the court right now. Given how sensational the issue is, given the substantial public interest, I think the judge is taking a very, very careful look, and would do something that's extraordinary in releasing part or all of the affidavit.

TAPPER: Several news organizations, including CNN, are asking the judge to unseal the affidavit because without question, there is a public interest in knowing the justification behind the FBI conducting this search, which is unprecedented. The Justice Department argues there's a different public interest in the judge not impeding this investigation. How does the judge weigh these two competing interests?

BHARARA: You know, it's difficult. I think a judge is very hard. And what's interesting in this particular case, is one of the competing interests against disclosure is risk of harm to people who would be identified. There has already been, apparently, the threat of harm against the judge himself because there a lot of people who are upset about the authorization of a search in the person who signed off on the warrant.

There's also concerned that if you'd learn the identity of various investigating agents or cooperating witnesses or confidential informants, if those are being cited and recited in the document, that harm may come to them. You know, I think the strength of the law is on the side of the government, the strength the president is on the side of the government. What you have here is a series of extraordinary things that beget other extraordinary things.

So, it's extraordinary and unprecedented that the president United States, former president, maintain secret files, classified documents against authorization and his residents. It then becomes extraordinary and unprecedented for the government to seek a search warrant to go after the premises of the former president. And now here, maybe because of those two extraordinary things that happened back to back, a judge is considering yet a third extraordinary thing, which would be to release an unredacted or, you know, significantly unredacted version of the affidavit. It's a tough call. I still think the weight of evidence and precedent is against release or full release of the affidavit

TAPPER: Turning to New York and the Weisselberg case, should Donald Trump be nervous that his CFO of the Trump Organization pleaded guilty?

BHARARA: No, I don't think so. This has been speculation from the beginning. You know, by the beginning, I mean, from the time that we learned publicly that Alan Weisselberg was under investigation, remember, we knew about that due to various reports and leaks before he was actually charged. And the storyline is, if you're looking at somebody who's high up in an organization, they may be able to flip and give evidence against someone higher up in the food chain, in this case, the former President Donald Trump.

He made clear that he was not prepared to do that during the investigation, then they charged him presumably under the impression and with the hope that that would cause him to flip. He made clear he wasn't going to do that. And by all reports, and from the plea proceeding today, it's clear that Allen Weisselberg, you know, has limited obligations to testify only against the organization and it's not implicating Trump. And nothing in, you know, in the indictment against the organization or against Weisselberg makes much specific reference or indirect reference to Donald Trump either. So, you know, there are other areas of concern for Donald Trump, maybe Georgia and elsewhere, but probably not with respect to Allen Weisselberg.


TAPPER: There's also, I mean, you note all the places that Donald Trump is facing legal problems, you have Florida, you have Atlanta, Georgia, you have New York. There's also on Capitol Hill where the House is trying to get Donald Trump's tax returns. And just this afternoon, the former president appealed the ruling that would have -- that greenlit the IRS releasing his tax returns to a House committee. He has been fighting, of course, to keep his tax returns private for years. Is that significant?

BHARARA: No, I don't know how significant it is. I think, you know, on its face, Congress receiving records of taxes, tax returns themselves and documents related to tax returns is significant, because you don't see that. It's an unusual thing.

But remember, there's a -- there was a -- there is and was in Manhattan, DA's investigation into Donald Trump and his finances that involve the subpoenaing and the seizure and receipt of Donald Trump's tax returns. It looks like that's not ending up with a criminal prosecution. Whether the Congress gets those tax returns or not at the end of the day when all appeals are exhausted, you know, maybe they'll do a report. Maybe they'll have some kind of hearing in Congress, but there's no criminal liability to the extent that Donald Trump has to be most worried about with all these legal fronts is his personal liberty of being convicted of a crime, that doesn't really exist here.

TAPPER: Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, a Saudi woman is sentenced to prison for her tweets. What's even wilder, the jail time went way up after her appeal.

Then, the NFL goes beyond a judge's order and makes Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson pay up. The details on the punishment and the fine. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, a grand jury has indicted the man accused of stabbing award winning author Salman Rushdie on stage in Western New York. The 24-year-old suspect just made his first court appearance in a hearing it wrapped up a short while ago. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now live from New York.

Shimon, what else happened in court today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So Jake, prosecutors revealing this new indictment against Hadi Matar, the 24- year-old, he appeared there in court. And what we've learned is that there were two charges that the grand jury considered, one of them was attempted murder in the second degree and then assault in the second degree. He's facing up to 25 years in prison. This of course all comes after the attack that prosecutors say Hadi Matar stabbed Salman Rushdie several times as he was preparing to give a lecture.

But the big question here, Wolf, obviously remains the motive here. And this is something that investigators are still working through. Matar is 24 years old.

This death threat that has existed over Salman Rushdie's head it's been over 30 years now. What prompted this attack suddenly in the day that it happened, that is something that investigators along with the FBI, which has now joined this investigation is still trying to figure out, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, it seems obvious to me as a spectator, I mean, the Ayatollah Khomeini did issued a fatwa, a death sentence against Rushdie for, you know, insulting their -- his Islamist sensibilities and his life has been -- Salman Rushdie's life has been threatened ever since. Iran renewed the fatwa just before this attack. Why are prosecutors having such a difficult time assessing the motive? Because he's just not admitting it?

PROKUPECZ: Well, he's not been cooperative in the investigation. He's not spoking with the investigators there. But it's more involved because they need to go through some of his communications, his social media.

The big thing that I've been told is that they want to see if anyone overseas, someone overseas what's trying to influence him, trying to direct him to do this attack. There was planning that went into this. He had to find Salman Rushdie, where he was giving this lecture. And so, that took some level of planning.

And so, there is some belief perhaps that maybe someone -- somewhere was helping him. But I don't know that investigators have been definitively been able to determine that. And also using their investigative techniques, I'm not sure that they're at a point right now that they would want to reveal that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Now for our buried lead, that's what we call stories we think are not getting the attention they deserve. This week, Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison for her activity on Twitter on behalf of women's rights.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is monitoring the story. She joins us now from Istanbul Turkey.

Tell us who this woman is and why she's been given such a harsh sentence.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really harsh and shocking sentence even by Saudi justice standards, Jake. Salma al-Shehab is a 33-year-old women's rights campaigner. And she's not one of the well- known campaigners in the kingdom.

She was also a PhD student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. She was detained in January of 2021 because of her Twitter activity. And later on, late last year, the specialized criminal court in the country sentenced her to six years in jail because of those tweets.

Now, al-Shehab, who was the mother of two young children, appealed that decision on the ground saying that she has two young boys who are three and five. Her mother is ill, she needs to be there for her boys. And this week, the Saudi court increased her sentence to 34 years followed by another 34 years of a travel ban where she won't be able to leave the kingdom.

Now, CNN was able to review the court documents, Jake, and it appears that the public prosecution brought this case against her. They say because of tweets where they say she was spreading false information, she was spreading rumors, she was supporting people who they accused of trying to destabilize the kingdom and undermine its security. But if you go through her Twitter account and you see the kind of people that she has been supporting over the past couple of years or so, she was defending human rights activist dissidents and women's rights campaigners in the kingdom who were behind bars because of their activism and because of speaking out for freedoms.


The Saudis haven't said anything publicly about this case. We understand she will have the ability to appeal this sentence. But, Jake, human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and beyond are saying that this is the kind of scenario they were warning about last month when President Biden made that visit to Saudi Arabia and that controversial meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince, saying that this was only going to embolden MBS and Saudi authorities to continue this brutal crackdown on freedoms in the kingdom. Jake.

TAPPER: Exactly. Not just predictable, but predict dead.

Jomana Karadsheh in Istanbul Turkey, thank you so much.

It could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the warning about ongoing fighting in and around Europe's largest nuclear power plant which is inside Ukraine. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Russia's continued slaughter of Ukrainian civilians tops are world lead. The death toll has risen to 12 in a Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. That's according to Ukrainian authorities who say all, all of the victims were civilians, many of them elderly, and disabled. This comes, of course, as world leaders are expressing increasing alarm about ongoing Russian shelling around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants. Turkey's president warned today that this situation could result in, quote, "a new Chernobyl."

CNN's Sam Kiley spoke with some of the residents who live around the plant under constant assault from Russian strikes.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an all too routine seen, a Ukrainian home destroyed by a missile. But here, the lucky escape of a young couple is overshadowed by a potential catastrophe. The first Russian rocket hit the local soccer pitch and sent them scrambling into their basement safe from the second.

After what happened we jump at every sound, Andrei (ph) says. The Ukrainian authorities say that both rockets were fired by Russian troops from the grounds of a nuclear power station captured in March.

(on camera): The international consternation over the future of the Enerhodar (ph) nuclear power stations very obvious when you stand here. And you can see the six reactors of the biggest nuclear power station in the whole of Europe. The United Nations, the international community are all reacting in horror at the mere thought that this could be at the center of fighting.

(voice-over): Ukraine blames Russia for using the nuclear plants as a firebase and insist that it's not able to shoot back for risk of blowing up the nuclear facility.

The Russian occupies shoot all the time to provoke the armed forces of Ukraine and to spread panic among the people. We understand that the power plant may explode because of their actions. I just don't understand. Maybe they just don't get it, he told us.

The United States, the United Nations and Ukraine have all called for Russia to leave the nuclear plant and for it to be demilitarized. These demands are growing in volume as the bombardment of Ukrainian towns allegedly from around the six nuclear reactors has intensified.

Andriy Tuz worked at the plant until he escaped the Russians. But then he was recaptured, he says, and tortured before being released. Now he's in hiding in Western Europe. And he says the possibility of a disaster is very high.

I would say 70 percent to 90 percent, if we're talking about the most optimistic scenario. I'm very worried about it.

And civilians in the Russian occupied town next to the plant have been stuck in traffic jams, trying to flee a potential nuclear escalation. Ukraine's claims that it hasn't shelled the nuclear site cannot be verified. But there's no doubt that Russia has used it as a safe location to attack Ukraine from.

Ukrainians have been conducting nuclear disaster drills in cities nearby. And both sides have said that some kind of incident is imminent and could cause massive radioactive contamination or a meltdown. A cataclysm that could be felt far beyond Ukraine, even in nearby Russia.


KILEY: Now, Jake, that is really the military picture. But there's also a technical issue here in potentially endangering that nuclear power plant, which is that Russian technicians have been brought in by Moscow to run it alongside Ukrainian technicians who are effectively hostages there, although many believe that they should be staying on in order to protect the facility.

And there are also Russian plans, perhaps they've announced plans to shift its product of electricity to Crimea. Now, if they were to try to do that, a number of potential chain reactions could unfold. And it's one of those a breakdown in the cooling system, particularly for these reactors that the technical authorities are most worried about, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Thank you so much for that story.

The campaign back and forth between Dr. Oz and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is right for impact on the Pennsylvania Senate race and it's already leading to some spoils for one candidate. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, CNN has learned that Donald Trump is weighing whether to release security camera footage that would show the search and seizure process at his Mar-a-Lago estate during the FBI raid, a move that critics say could theoretically endanger the security of the FBI agents who were doing their jobs conducting the approved search.

The Trump team. Last week we should note provided to friendly MAGA media an unredacted copy of the warrant that listed the names of the FBI agents who conducted the search thus putting targets of assault on their back.

Let's discuss. Gloria let me start with you. Some people close to Trump, our team reports, are urging him to release this surveillance video even though obviously it would potentially pose a risk to the agents.


One person familiar with the discussions tell CNN that the footage could be used in campaign style ads to bolster Trump's claims of political persecution. Maybe that's how MAGA would see it. I'm not sure about swing voters.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not I'm not sure about how swing voters would see it. How many documents are there? What will they be going through? Do you really believe that these agents weren't behaving properly? And by the way, the early narrative, as we heard during all of this was that the evidence had been planted. Well, if the evidence had been planted, wouldn't they be videotaping them planting the evidence?

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: So I don't think so. So this could backfire. And I think that's why there's the back and forth about whether they ought to be doing it and also when they ought to be doing it.

TAPPER: Right.

BORGER: They want to do it after he announces for president and portray him as the victim. Who knows.

TAPPER: And Rina, we should note, this isn't just, I mean, this has been publicly discussed it discussed, Trump's son, Eric told Sean Hannity, the footage will absolutely be released at the right time. What do you think?

RINA SHAH, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, it's what they do, right? It's the victim mentality that Trump takes on, but showing the common man that if they're coming after me, they can come after you. That's the narrative all the time, and he has people in Congress pushing it forward.

So why wouldn't they think it would work? They are taking this on their terms, because they think it's going to help them all the way through November and beyond. There's nothing that tells us that the Republican Party won't win with this narrative that they are the victims over and over. The Democrats are the demons and that our institutions shouldn't be trusted. Because why should we trust them? They want nothing but Trump out of office.

That's what Republicans went on over and over what they haven't got, right, Jake, is this frustration that Trump is distracting us from the bigger picture and it's playing out in places like West Virginia where I talk to a recent young lawmaker from that state because I'm from that state.

And I have when -- I have these conversations with them, and they say we're out there campaigning, and we'd knock dozens of doors, and we don't hear the name Trump very much. And I find that intriguing because that tells you that there's an appetite for something else. People get frustrated. After a while they don't want this shoved down their throats this way. And the Trump universe, MAGA land, doesn't see that coming. I think that'll be the real shock.

TAPPER: And let's turn to the Senate because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said something interesting. He said that he predicted the midterm elections will turn -- where results an extremely close majority in the Senate. And he said that it's possible the Republicans will not even recapture the Senate. I've never really heard Mitch McConnell say anything like that before. He said that explain. He said, candidate quality has a lot to do with that.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Listen, you're talking about Republicans and Democrats over the last days or so Democrats now cautiously optimistic in a way that they weren't on to the Senate and Republicans worried a bit. Mitch McConnell reflecting that because of the candidates, the Trump backed candidates who have emerged in some of these states, states like Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, sorry, Ohio, Arizona, in Georgia, you know, and they're worried that these are sort of first time candidates going up against much more experienced candidates.

Some of, you know, the rhetoric might work in smaller sort of House races, but when you try to take sort of MAGAism and Trumpism to a state like Arizona or Georgia, it might be a bit more difficult. So that is the kind of worry that Mitch McConnell is talking about privately. I mean, it's sort of Trump fatigue, coming home to roost and Mitch McConnell worried about what that might mean in the Senate races.

TAPPER: Paul, you're from Texas, but you made your bones the common --


TAPPER: In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania working on the Harris- Wofford race in what was it 1991?


TAPPER: 1991 --

BEGALA: When some on this panel were born. TAPPER: And the -- and that your partner at the time James Carville, I believe it was him maybe it was you said you have Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and implicating you of Alabama.

BEGALA: Right.

TAPPER: It's a deceptive state. The Cook Political Report is shifting their outlook for the open Senate race. This is retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey see from toss up to lean Democrat. This is coming in the wake of a video showing Republican nominee Dr. Oz, Dr. Mehmet Oz shopping for crudite which I must confess I had to look up. We call it a bit, normally we call it a veggie plate in Philly at least. And it went viral. He also confused the names of two separate Pennsylvania grocery chains. He called it like Wagner's or something like that.

BEGALA: Right. Wagner's and Wegman's.

TAPPER: Yes, people make mistakes. But in any case, the Fetterman campaign made a big deal out of it. Take a listen to how Dr. Oz explained the blunder.


MEHMET OZ (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I was exhausted when you're campaigning 18 hours a day you've -- because I got my kids names wrong as well. I don't think that's a measure of someone's ability to lead the Commonwealth.


TAPPER: I mean, he has a point but I should note this is a video that he put out. So like I wonder about the staffing he has around.

BEGALA: He grew up there. He's running in a Commonwealth where people actually work where there are firefighters, school teachers, bus drivers still some steel workers God bless them.



BEGALA: And really they're going to say, Oh, this TV doc was too tired. The problem he's got is authenticity. It's a strength that Fetterman has lieutenant governor, the Democrats, and the weakness that he has is that he is looking more and more like a phony. Somebody you can't trust. And by the way, I checked in with the Fetterman campaign, they raised $600,000 off of the crudite --

HENDERSON: Which is old, which is from April. I took an old video.



BORGER: I can just say, it's early. OK.


HENDERSON: Yes, totally.


BORGER: There are 80 days, and you know how candidates try to paint caricatures of their opponents. So we have the caricature, but in the end, are people going to say, Well, I'm feeling a little better about the economy. I'm feeling a little better about gas prices. And that -- will that do more for Fetterman? Then, you know, cudite, who knows, you know, who knows at this point.

TAPPER: Rina, to be fair, we need to point out also, obviously, John Fetterman, who we all hope for the best when it comes to his health. He had a stroke right before the primary. And, you know, three months later, there's still questions about how he's doing. He hasn't really subjected himself to the kind of vigorous interviews that others, not that Dr. Oz is either I should know, but like --


TAPPER: -- there's still questions about where he is in the recovery process. So I mean, it is early and that also was an issue.

SHAH: Well, I think it's easy to be in the Washington bubble and just think that we are subject and we need to know all that information. He's a real guy. Authenticity being the name of the game. And one thing I love about Fetterman, he's steady on the drumbeat. I mean, this criticism of AWS has been brilliant in every way. If you've seen the stuff he puts out on social --

BORGER: They did not respond.

SHAH: -- it is just so good. And his wife coming out during the time that he was sick and dispose. I think it really serves him well in Pennsylvania. I know Pittsburgh quite well. I went to school not too far from there for four years. And I tell you, I think people can see this guy and see him for what he is. He's a real leader. And he's that sort of strong, tough that they want out there. And I think that's going to serve him well when he's up against AWS who doesn't look (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Do you think he's going to have to do debates and all that?

SHAH: Yes, he will. I think he will.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all, appreciate it. Talk is cheap, except for robocalls. The government now cracking down on one of the largest robocalls scams ever how you can avoid being scammed in the future, how your mom and dad can avoid more pointedly.



TAPPER: In our national lead, is that your phone ringing? Someone's been trying to reach you about your car's extended warranty. You've probably heard robocalls like that because similar calls were made more than 8 billion times scamming Americans out of millions of dollars.

Now it looks as though officials are close to shutting down one sophisticated illegal robocall operation. CNN's Gabe Cohen investigates how state and federal officials are teaming up to dial in the scammers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi there, this is Shasta calling regards to your Volkswagon warranty.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Odds are you've received a bogus Auto Warranty call similar to this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The warranty is up for renewal.

COHEN: Now authorities are cracking down on a scheme and FCC official calls the most sophisticated illegal robocall operation they've ever seen more than 8 billion spam calls to Americans and a new lawsuit claims two California men are behind nearly all of it.

Aaron Michael Jones and Roy Cox Jr. are accused of violating telemarketing laws by tricking Americans into buying vehicle service contracts and making millions of dollars off the scam. CNN tried to track them down dozens of calls, texts and emails but no response.

Both Cox and Jones had been sued by the Federal Trade Commission in the past and ordered never to tell the market again. And yet like many robocalls scammers they're accused of just retooling their operation.

DAVE YOST, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're coming in to try to take them down.

COHEN: So now Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is suing Cox, Jones and their associates, potentially for millions of dollars.

YOST: It is enough to take back everything they've made. If a slap on the wrist doesn't work, punch him in the face and knock him down.

COHEN (on camera): Did you consider criminal charges here?

YOST: Criminal charges are not off the table.

COHEN (voice-over): Yost is part of a new Anti-Robocall Task Force, attorneys general from nearly every state working with federal officials to ramp up illegal robocall enforcement in 2021. Americans received an estimated 21 billion scam robocalls, costing them nearly $40 billion in a 12 month period.

MARGOT SAUNDERS, SR. COUNSEL, NATIONAL CONSUMER LAW CENTER: It's usually very hard to find the callers all of these unwanted robocalls are undermining the value of our telephone system. COHEN: Most of the calls come from overseas and tracing them is a fairly new technology. So up to now, authorities have struggled to stop them and the callers that do get caught often go right back to scamming according to an FCC official. So authorities are turning attention to the gateway providers, the telecom companies that let those robocalls onto the U.S. phone network,

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Specifically those that we believe may be turning a blind eye to these kinds of calling scams.

COHEN: When a call comes from overseas, typically several small carriers get paid to pass it along before it reaches your cell. Investigators are using a technique called trace backs to Identify the original source of these illegal calls, then agencies like the FCC can order the rest of the industry to stop doing business with those carriers.


JAMES EVANS, GENERAL ATTORNEY, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: If there are not this tier of providers who are willing to take this bad traffic, then the robo callers will find themselves with nowhere to place their calls.

COHEN (on camera): That's the case with the Auto Warranty scam. In July, the FCC ordered all telecom companies to block all robocall from Cox, Jones, and eight voice service providers they say are linked to the scheme. Since then, those calls have nearly vanished, according to a robocall analysis company.

Do you think you can really stop these scammers?

YOST: I think we can significantly decrease it.

COHEN: How long will that take?

YOST: Years, not months. It's an arms race between the enforcers and the criminals. But we're getting smarter and we're on to their ways.


COHEN: Now data show illegal robocalls are trending downward though now tech schemes are on the rise. But look, this Ohio case is a good example of the added attention that robocalls are getting from authorities. And in this case, the calls are down to nearly zero. So Jake, it looks like that enforcement strategy is working. Although consumer advocates say much more needs to be done, especially with telemarketing laws.

TAPPER: All right, Gabe, thanks so much. Excellent work. As always, let's bring in Alex Quilici. He's the CEO of That's a software company, a private company that helps protect consumers and companies against harmful calls like these. Alex, not only are these robocalls annoying, they can be really harmful besides never answering an unknown number ever again. How does one avoid falling victim to these scams? ALEX QUILICI, CEO, YOUMAIL.COM: Well, there's a couple of things that people can do. The first is there are now robocall blocking apps you can get for your cell phone, our company YouMail has one but there are others. These apps tend to filter out lots of those calls, so you don't have to. So that's number one.

Number two is as you said, don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Let them roll to voicemail. And number three is do your homework before calling a number back if it claims to be Citibank, don't trust that it's Citibank, go to the Citibank website, get their phone number and call that number to see if they were calling you.

TAPPER: Do you think the state attorneys general's plan to go after telecom carriers? You heard Attorney General Yost from Ohio there. Do you think it will work?

QUILICI: I think it's going to make a big difference. There's plenty of examples of illegal calling activity. In fact, our company collects a lot of that and gives it to the attorneys general and others to help them. So there's enough evidence of what's going on to make good cases with trace back you can find out who's doing it and with enough enforcement, you can really shut both the robocallers and the carriers that support them down.

TAPPER: Sometimes I'll get a call. I assume it's a robocall, but I don't know I'll answer it. And then they'll just hang up. But it's definitely a robocall. It's like from an 888 number. What is that? Is that someone just trying to figure out if it's a real number or something?

QUILICI: Usually that thing that their robocall campaign is having more people answer than they can handle. So they're hanging up on some people because there's just nobody to transfer them to.

TAPPER: As we heard in games reporting, obviously, these scams are getting more and more sophisticated, and seniors, for whom this technology might be new. And maybe they just have an inherent trust in the good in the good nature of man. They seem especially susceptible to some of these scams, what can we done to protect them?

QUILICI: So interestingly enough, the Car Warranty scam hit everybody, because everybody has a car, and everybody's interested in lowering maintenance costs. But for things like Medicare and other things, you're right, seniors are a big target.

There's a couple of things to do. One is to actually educate seniors that they can no longer trust the phone network, that it's really up to them to never give information to anybody who calls them and always be the person calling, always call the bank themselves before they give information out. You can also go and help them put a robocall blocking app on their phone. We know lots of people who've put it on their parent's phone, and it's helped a great deal.

TAPPER: That's a good idea, I might have to do that. Robo texts are also becoming more of a threat. How can you avoid or stop those? QUILICI: So there are actually apps that block robo texts. We do some there are other apps out there. I think the biggest thing is to just have a very suspicious mindset. It's unlikely you really won the lottery. It's unlikely there's a free car waiting for you. It's unlikely that Medicare is texting you to figure out what's going on with your account. So keep a very suspicious mind and ignore anything that's not from somebody you know.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Quilic, thank you so much for your time.

What is $5 million when you've got a guaranteed $230 million contract. The Cleveland Browns Deshaun Watson is about to find out.



TAPPER: Our sports league now the National Football League today not quite doubled the suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson whom more than two dozen women accused of sexual misconduct during massage treatments. Watson will now be suspended without pay for the first 11 games of the football season instead of merely the first six games. He also has to pay a $5 million fine and be evaluated and treated by behavioral experts. You can decide whether his response today was appropriately contrite.


DESHAUN WATSON, CLEVELAND BROWNS QUARTERBACK: I'm moving on with my career with my life. And I'm continuing to stand on my innocence just because, you know, sediments and things like that happen doesn't mean that a person is guilty for anything.


TAPPER: And NFL statement said Watson's fine along with contributions from the league and the Browns will create a $7 million fund for organizations that educate young people on healthy relationships and prevent sexual misconduct. I think they expect us to stand up and cheer now for that but it's your call on that to.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at Jake Tapper. You can tweet the show at THE LEAD CNN. We actually read them if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcast. It's two hours just sitting there like a ripe peach. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right the next door the place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM". You see tomorrow.