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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukrainian Military Reclaims Territories East Of Ukraine; Putin Facing Criticism In Russia For His Handling Of The War In Ukraine; Russia Retaliates After Ukraine's Territorial Gains; Columbia University Admits Giving Incorrect Data For College Rankings; New "Best" List Sparks Debate About Relevance Of College Rankings; NYT: Election Polling Could Be Overestimating Democratic Support; Some GOP Candidates Try To Soften Position On Abortion; Fmr. Trump U.S. Attorney: DOJ Pressured Office To Bring Criminal Cases Against Trump Enemies; Evangelical Leaders Cite Bible To Combat Climate Change; Webb Telescope Captures New Image Of Stellar Nursery. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 12, 2022 - 17:00   ET



ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was going to devote to this. And he and his wife, Jill Biden, launched that Biden Cancer Initiative aimed at research. And so, this is absolutely something that he feels very, very close to having lost his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in 2015. You heard him there announce several initiatives. He talked about naming a new director or the first director of a newly established agency called ARPA-H.

That's the -- he compared it to the Department of Defense's DARPA agency which did a lot of research to help the military and national security, but they came up with things like the internet and GPS. Technologies that had a lot of tools beyond the military.

That is the idea behind this new agency, to really drive biomedical research, to drive new technology, whether it's testing or treatment to deal with cancer. He also spoke about this executive order also dealing with research. And he said something also that was very interesting, which is that, you know, a lot of people, most people can relate or most people have been touched or know someone whose life has been touched by cancer, but this is not really something political.

Cancer doesn't care if you're Republican or a Democrat. Everyone can come together to fight this and he compared it to the moonshot saying you have to harness the resources of U.S. scientists and doctors and technology to be able to do this.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Elizabeth, in general since 1991, cancer deaths are down 31 percent according to the American Cancer Society. A lot of that is because of prostate cancer deaths down 50 percent, breast cancer deaths down 40 percent, but a lot of that, I have to say, is because of screening, early screening and preventive measure, not necessarily curing the cancers itself. How feasible, how realistic is it to cut cancer deaths in half in 25 years do you think?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I reached out to a variety of cancer experts asking that very question this afternoon. I thought they'd say, I don't know about that. They actually were quite positive. They pointed to the statistic that you just pointed to, in 28 years they went down 32 percent. Whatever reasons there were, we can do more of the same.

And they pointed to several of the things in the president's plan, for example, investing more money. For example, doing more to get people to quit smoking, getting people to eat better, all of those things that we can do to cut down cancer rates. They thought that this was attainable, Jake.

TAPPER: Great news. Athena Jones and Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much. This is THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. And this hour, fire, drought, floods, problems of seemingly biblical proportions and now some evangelical Christians believe that combating climate change is a matter of following God's word.

Plus, it has been considered the holy grail of college rankings, but new information about one university fudging its data for the U.S. News & World report annual list is raising series questions about whether it's time to ditch these rankings once and for all.

And leading this hour with new developments in our "World Lead," according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian forces have recaptured more than 2,300 square miles of territory from Russia. Russian forces have also retreated from large sections of the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy sent a telegram to Moscow asking, quote, "Do you still think that you can scare us?" We're going to start our coverage today with Melissa Bell who is in Kharkiv where Ukrainians are starting to uncover Russian perpetrated atrocities committed in these newly recaptured regions.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The tanks spoke to a hasty Russian retreat as Ukrainian forces swept eastwards over the weekend. Triumphantly raising the flag over Kupiansk on Saturday. Local police forces providing CNN with exclusive access to a key town now meant to be under Ukrainian control.

We still feel uneasy because we've been bombed for four days in a row, says Vasyl, and nothing is certain yet. Which only became clearer as we headed further in to Kupiansk.

A first artillery strike, too close for comfort. Then a second, much closer.

BELL (on camera): That was the sound of artillery landing just next to our car, our armored car. We have come into Kupiansk hoping to get to that flag to see where it had been plotted only yesterday, but as you can see, the mood this Sunday afternoon and still the scene of some pretty fierce fighting, hearing the sound of outgoing artillery fire. That was the sound of incoming. (Voice-over): The policeman tells us our car was deliberately

targeted. Time for us to head back to those parts of Kharkiv region now fully under Ukrainian control after six long months.


PAVLO, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: Generally, yes, people are happy. They feeding the soldiers, they cheering, they are celebrating. Feel great. Feel like redemption. Yeah. Eager to advance.

BELL (voice-over): But in villages like Zaliznychne Ukrainian investigators know all too well what they'll find after Bucha and Borodyanka that were under Russian control for only a month. Yes, according to our information, we are recording war crimes in almost every village, he says.

This, the body of one of two civilians killed in late February. An early victim of the invasion and evidence now of what six months of Russian occupation have cost.


BELL (on camera): Jake, in that village alone, war crimes prosecutors found the bodies of four civilians they said the subject of the first war crimes investigations since those advances began, but bear in mind that those villages that the investigators can have access to, few and far between the very first ones ever captured as part of this eastern counteroffensive because so many of those towns still seeing fighting, still just too dangerous to get to.

And, yet, as you mentioned, Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to the amount of territory captured. It is, say analysts, some 10 percent of all the land that Russians took since the start of the February invasion. That is huge and much more than Ukrainians could ever have hoped for. It is hard, every square mile being fought for, but it is, Jake, happening.

TAPPER: Alright, Melissa Bell, thank you so much. Appreciate it. The Ukrainian gains have resulted in a stunning transformation of the battlefield. Let's bring in retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, rather. Colonel, what area was Ukraine able to recapture specifically and tell us why and if it's significant.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Jake, it's usually significant. The area that Ukraine has basically been able to recapture is primarily here in the northeast. This is the early round, Kharkiv. There've been a little bit of -- there's been a little bit of action in the south with Kherson but the main area that Melissa was reporting from is right here, right on the Russian border and right near the second city of Kharkiv.

TAPPER: What did Russian control look like let's say a month ago?

LEIGHTON: So, a month ago, it looked like this. When you look at the amount of Russian territory that you have right here, this is the red striped area is what Russia controlled, what Russia occupied and was really close to Kharkiv. The big fact is that the Ukrainians were able to take all of this and move the Russian forces out of that region.

TAPPER: What's happening in southern Ukraine because it seems as though Russia is still, you know, largely in control there?

LEIGHTON: They are and the key thing is that the Ukrainians are trying to move into the Kherson region to capture the city of Kherson. This is really important because the Russians are still threatening Odessa and if they cut this area off, that could strangle Ukraine and create some huge economic difficulties for the country.

But right now, the Ukrainians are holding their own and moving forces into this area. So, there is activity there. It's just not as much as you see in the northeast.

TAPPER: Alright, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much. After a string of defeats, the Kremlin is still insisting that it will achieve its military goals in Ukraine. CNN's Matthew Chance now takes a look at the Russian reaction to Ukrainian recent gains and how Russian President Vladimir Putin is handling this bad news.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are one people with Russia, read this Kremlin propaganda poster and no one is reading it anymore. As Ukrainian forces tear it down, the words of a celebrated Ukrainian poet are revealed thinly papered over.

Fight and you will win, he writes. It's one poignant moment in a stunning weekend of dramatic Ukrainian gains.

In towns and villages across vast swathes (ph) of this war-ravaged country's Kharkiv region, Ukrainian troops are being greeted as liberators.

For months, these people have lived under Russian guns. Now, it's Ukrainian guns, celebrating the recapture of strategic towns like Izyum, once a key supply point for Russian troops. Troops who appear to have been (inaudible), with equipment destroyed or just abandoned in the face of a lightning Ukrainian offensive. Heavy armor, ammunition, even food and clothes left behind.


As Ukrainian commanders say their Russian enemy simply turned and ran. Powerful, humiliating blow for the Kremlin and its military. But Russian officials are putting on a very different spin. In order to achieve the goals of the special military operation, as they still call it, a decision was made to regroup Russian troops, says this defense ministry spokesman. It's an orderly withdrawal, he suggests, not the chaotic rant it seems.

But even on pro-kremlin television, the once triumphant mood seems to have shifted towards reality and the blame game is now in full swing. The people who convinced Putin this special operation would be fast and effective really set us up, complains this pundit. Someone must have told him, Ukrainians would surrender, he says. Six months ago, did anyone really believe we will be surrendering

towns, asked another, and trying to repel a counteroffensive in Kharkiv? This is a serious army and their weapons are serious too, admits a third, amid heated exchanges.

Ukraine's dramatic advance seems to have genuinely shocked Russia. And that makes its leader who oversaw Moscow anniversary celebrations at the weekend even more unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Already, Russian hard-liners are calling for President Putin to act, mobilize troops and double down in Ukraine. Calls he may no longer be able to resist.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Jake, tonight there are other calls in Russia as well, from Russian local lawmakers, for instance, in St. Petersburg and Moscow who are calling for Vladimir Putin to resign because of his actions they say are detrimental to Russia's future. Last week, another group of local Russian lawmakers called for Putin to be tried for treason, all signs of dissent that were once rare, now seem to be coming increasingly common, Jake.

TAPPER: Alright, Matthew Chance, thank you so much. How will Vladimir Putin respond to these new losses in Ukraine and this criticism of his handling of the war? I'm going to ask a former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director, next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our "World Lead." Do you think you can scare us? That's the message from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to Russian President Putin. This comes as Ukraine is recapturing from Russian control huge swaths of territory in eastern Ukraine.

Joining us now to discuss former Defense Secretary and CIA director during the Obama administration, Leon Panetta. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. So, President Zelenskyy says Ukraine has successfully regained roughly 2,300 square miles of territory recaptured from Russia. Is this a turning point in the war, do you think?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: I think it is a pivotal moment because it really has changed what otherwise was a war of attrition and clearly given Ukraine an advantage here that gives them momentum at a critical time. You know, gaining 1,200 square miles by having the Russians kind of fall apart and move quickly to avoid the offensive that the Ukrainians were commanding, it was well-planned, well-executed.

I think the key is going to be whether they can consolidate their gains and keep the pressure on the Russians. This is a moment when they ought to continue to strike because the iron is hot.

TAPPER: Secretary of State Blinken warned that while he is impressed with Ukraine's gains, he believes the war could go on for several more months if not longer. What more do you think Ukraine needs to actually win this war?

PANETTA: I think they need to maintain the momentum that they've established now. They've got to get the continuing support of the United States and our allies to provide the arms and the assistance necessary. I think if they can continue to move, they don't have to capture everything all at once.

What they can do is consolidate their gains, continue to put pressure on the Russians, continue to make gains. I think that is the strategy that ultimately will force Putin to decide on whether or not he's going to continue to struggle with what is a war he can't win or whether he's going to try to negotiate some kind of offering.

TAPPER: We've heard some criticism of Putin from within Russia which is rare. We shouldn't make too much out of it, but do you think it's at all possible that Putin's future as the leader of Russia could be in jeopardy, especially if Ukraine ends up winning this war?

PANETTA: Well, I don't think there's any question, that's the history of Russia. Any time they've been engaged in a conflict that doesn't turn out well, usually whoever is leader has moved out and moved on. And that could happen here. You've got criticism back in Moscow. His military leaders, his political leaders, his loyalists are all being very critical, some are calling for his resignation.

There is no question that he's losing any kind of political base that he had in Moscow. And so, it is a moment where Putin is clearly being tested as to whether or not he can find a way to, in essence, save himself or whether or not he's going to be replaced.


TAPPER: So, other allies of the United States are seeing the success in Ukraine because of the weapons that the U.S. has given to Ukraine and now they're now requesting the weapons for themselves, specifically a multiple launch rocket system. What do you think of that? Is that a dangerous precedent to set?

PANETTA: Well, you know, every -- there are a lot of countries that would love to have weapons that the United States has in a number of fronts and frankly, we do provide allies with some of those weapons and we'll probably continue to do that. But clearly here is a case of war in which Ukraine is being challenged.

We gathered together with our allies to provide these weapon systems to the Ukrainians. They've used them very successfully which is, you know, which is very encouraging in terms of their ability to really fight back and protect their country. So, I think the United States has shown that we have the capability to be able to assist countries who are trying to protect their own sovereignty.

TAPPER: Alright, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, good to see you. And for anybody wondering, that's Buddy behind him in the corner. Buddy, his new puppy. Thanks so much, Mr. Secretary. Appreciate it. PANETTA: Thank you.

TAPPER: A numbers game. Do college rankings even mean anything when some top universities admit to fudging their data to get ranked higher. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our "National Lead," a college scandal that for once has nothing to do with overzealous rich parents or recruiting athlete. Instead, this scandal is about the famous "U.S. News & World Report" ranking of colleges and universities. The magazine itself stopped actually publishing in 2010, but the website still exists with much of its focus on ranking universities.

And some universities have been caught fudging their numbers. CNN's Martin Savidge is here to explain. And Martin, Columbia University in New York, it's one of the best schools in the world, but

Columbia felt the need to lie about their data to improve their ranking?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Jake. Yeah, this all began to unravel for Columbia back earlier in the year when a professor of mathematics at Columbia University began to ponder a question. How is it possible that the university had a pretty meteoric rise in the rankings over the years going from 18th in the nation to the number 2 spot.

So, that mathematician crunched the numbers, the same numbers that Columbia supposedly had been crunching such as class size, the level of education for faculty, also the student to faculty ratio and others. And when he crunched the numbers, he came up with different results. He found that Columbia had made significant errors, errors in their favor.

So, then Columbia did its own internal study and what do you know, they came out with this particular statement saying, quote, "We determined we had previously relied on outdated and incorrect methodologies. We have changed those methodologies for current and future submission." The secretary of education's been very critical of college rankings. Listen to what he had to say.


MIGUEL CARDONA, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Too often our best resource schools are chasing rankings that mean very little on measures that truly count. College completion, economic mobility, and narrowing gaps and access to opportunity for all Americans. That system of ranking is a joke. In case I haven't been clear yet, allow me to restate it. We need a culture change in higher education now.


SAVIDGE: And he called those rankings a joke as you heard there. The question now is if Columbia fudged the numbers, who else on those lists might have done the same, Jake?

TAPPER: And we should note, I mean, these lists, not just "U.S. News" but other lists, they have a big ripple effect on --

SAVIDGE: Of course.

TAPPER: -- admissions, research grants, tuition, fund-raising, alumni relations. It's not clear that these lists should be used seriously, though, but they are.

SAVIDGE: They are, indeed. In fact, millions of parents, prospective students, educators, and then on top of that, many others are sort of grading their own schools against these numbers. So, it really is questionable, but critics have been saying for a long time, these numbers, these rankings, the methodologies, they're all greatly up for question, and now it would appear those critics were right, Jake.

TAPPER: Alright, Martin Savidge, thanks so much. Let's talk now with a former college president, the former president of Brandeis University, Frederick Lawrence. He's also secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. So, thanks for joining me. When you talk to college presidents and reporters aren't around, what do they think about these lists, especially the "U.S. News & world Report" list?

FREDERICK LAWRENCE, FORMER PRESIDENT, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY: People want information to be able to evaluate which schools are better than which school, how to make decisions about things that are very hard to know about. So, they're desperately trying to find something. The problem is these rankings for all the reasons you were just discussing are methodologically flawed in very serious ways, but they are relied upon very seriously.

So, university presidents find themselves in the situation on the one hand saying that these are methodologically flawed. Why do we take them seriously? But we know why we take them seriously. Because other people are relying on them. So, it's very much a whipsaw that you're caught in.


TAPPER: Is the U.S. News and World Report ranking, which is probably the most famous or infamous of them, is it the same as it was in the 80s, when I was applying to college, because U.S. News and World Report is not even remotely the same as it was in the 1980s?

LAWRENCE: They've added different factors to it, they've tried to improve in certain ways. One very good example, as many of your listeners probably know, recently, many schools have gone test optional. That means students don't have to provide SATs scores. At Brandeis when we did that, the other way of applying required turning in graded papers by faculty members from high school that had specific comments on them.

So we had a different way of evaluating besides just numbers. It used to be as recently as last year, if fewer than 75 percent of your students turned in test scores, SATs or ACS -- ACTs, they would then just randomly assign you a very low number. They've lowered that to 50 percent. So you could have as many as 50 percent of your students not taking tests. So that's an improvement. But it doesn't get it there with a major issues here.

And the major issue here really, is that you have something that purports to be able to rank schools, from one to 100, from one to 300, which is ludicrous. But if you want to have some kind of ranking, do it in bands, you know, say these -- this group of 50 schools, these are the most selective schools in the country. This next group of 30 schools, they're highly selective.

And let us see them in some sort of range that way. But the notion of one through 50, is ludicrous. And it leads to people like Columbia University. As you said, one of the top universities in the world, cheating, that's the word for it, cheating on the numbers that go into these rankings.

TAPPER: And the other thing, it's -- I take your point that it's important for data to be out there, for instance, how much does a university spend per student? What's the average class size, et cetera, et cetera? But it seems like there's a way to put that information out there without whoever these people are at U.S. News or wherever deciding which factor is more important. And therefore, California Institute of Technology is the number one school and MIT is number 20. Or, I mean, that's the part that seems stupid, not the information itself.

LAWRENCE: Look -- and, Jake, the other piece of this, when students would say to me, is Brandeis the right school for me, or is this a better school than that school? My stock responses, ways to say, before I answer that question, tell me a little bit about yourself. Is UCLA a better school than Brandeis? Tell me about yourself. Do you want to be at a big school with a big division one football program? Do you want to be at a smaller place? You want a school with this particularly strong program and this, basically strong programming and that? You can't rank universities in that kind of a very, you know, ordered way?

At the end of the year, we'll look at the table of school -- of teams in Major League Baseball, and you'll see who won more games and who. You can't do that with colleges.

TAPPER: Exactly. Frederick Lawrence, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and expertise.

Coming up, a warning for Democrats, are they about to fall victim to the same blue mirage that others have fretted about in the past? Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Democrats heading into the November midterm elections with some electoral optimism that they have not felt in months brought about by falling gas prices. Reaction to the decision overturning Roe v. Wade and a string of legislative achievements which have seen democratic poll numbers rise, but a new analysis in the New York Times could provide cause for concern, quote, "That warning sign is flashing again, Democratic Senate candidates are out running expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016. It raises the possibility that the apparent Democratic strength in Wisconsin and elsewhere is a mirage -- an artifact of persistent and unaddressed biases in survey research."

Laura, let me start with you. How do you think Democrats should take this New York Times analysis?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that compared to, you know, 10 years ago or so. Democrats are far more skeptical when they see that they're way ahead in polling. I mean, the Democrats that I talked to say that they don't by any means think the Senate is in the bag, they just think that it's a much better landscape than it was, say, five, six months ago, because of the fact that they see the landscape on the ground changing dramatically after the Dobbs decision.

And of course, voter registration is a big aspect of that. But a lot of them expect the races to be really tight. And, you know, I see that too. I mean, just because of the fact that the Senate Democrats have to hold on to all the seats that they currently hold and then plus gain to others. And they're talking about feeling more optimistic in places like North Carolina and Ohio, but those are still going to be really big lifts for them.

TAPPER: There are big lifts. And Scott, Republicans seem to win just two of the most competitive races which are in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona as of right now. Current polling has Democrats up in all of those races. Are Republicans counting on polling, overestimating Democratic support as some of these polls have in the past?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know that they're counting on it. But there is a memory that the Senate polling really going back to 2014 that we're all privy to in the public domain has been absolute garbage, and most of it has overestimated Democrats. That doesn't necessarily make it true, again, and you won't know until after the election so you can't count on it. But it is in the back of every Republican operative's mind.

On those states you just mentioned, by the way, right now Republicans are feeling really good about Georgia, really good about Nevada.


If Democrats are banking on North Carolina and Ohio, I mean -- so I think that the conditions in the landscape exists for Republicans to do it. But there is a lot of clear eyes right now about some changes in the polling, some changes in the enthusiasm numbers. And also the fact that these are purple states, they were incredibly close in almost a couple of (INAUDIBLE). TAPPER: Yes, absolutely. And Democrats are really leaning into the messaging on protecting abortion access in the wake of the Dobbs decision. And I want you to take a listen to the Democratic Senate candidate, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, talking yesterday before voters.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE NOMINEE: Women are the reason we can win. Let me say that again. Women are the reason we win. Don't piss women off.


TAPPER: Do you think this will be a decisive force in some of these races?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, listen, I think it's going to certainly be a motivating force for so many voters out there, particularly suburban women, suburban white women in particular. And those -- that's a group of women that Republicans have, frankly, struggled with. You know, one of the things I think when Dobbs came out, it was unclear how Democrats would really message around this because they hadn't really been successful around abortion, it had been a real talking point for Republicans.

In so many ways, it's women's own experiences that are becoming the sort of messaging for Democrats and the experiences of the little girl, for instance, in Ohio, who was raped and then had to go to Indiana. So I think it's a much more favorable environment because of the Dobbs decision. And Democrats have figured out how to message around and we saw what happened in Kansas, we saw what happened also in that New York special election race of the idea that abortion rights were about freedom. That kind of messaging seems to be resonating with the kind of independent swing voters that are really going to be decisive in these contests.

TAPPER: And Ana Navarro, we've seen some Republican candidates who, before the Dobbs decision, were talking about how they were 100 percent pro-life, no exceptions, except for maybe the life of the mother, et cetera, et cetera. We've seen them try to etch a sketch, their position on this. Blake Masters, for example, in Arizona, the Republican candidate there is now acting as though he has a moderate abortion position. Do you think these are examples of people moderating their views? or are they lying to voters?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they're lying to voters because they were either lying in the primary or they're lying now. Either way, they're lying. And look, I think what's happened is that many Republicans underestimated the consequences of this decision. For so long, it was about catching the bus, right? And now that the bus has been caught, they've got to live with the consequences.

And every day, every day, we as women are reading horrific stories. The 10-year-old girl, the woman in Texas having to delivery child without a skull. The woman who can't get a DNC after a miscarriage, and that threatens her life. Every day, we are seeing what the horrific consequences to women's health, to families are from this decision. And it's not going away. It's not going away because these stories aren't going away. And I think Senate Republicans and Republicans running anywhere are having to deal with these consequences of catching that bus.

TAPPER: I also want to talk about the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman. He has a new book out and he's doing interviews about it. He makes a shocking allegation in his new book. He's a Republican, about the Trump Justice Department pressuring his office, the Southern District of New York, to go after Trump's perceived political enemies, including former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry. Take a look.


GEOFFREY BERMAN, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: President Trump attacks John Kerry in two tweets, saying that Kerry engaged in possible illegal conversations with Iranian officials regarding the Iran nuclear deal. The very next day, the Trump Justice Department refers the John Kerry criminal case to the Southern District of New York. Two tweets by the President, and the John Kerry criminal case becomes a priority for the Department of Justice. And the statute they wanted us to use was enacted in 1799 and had never been successfully prosecuted.


TAPPER: We hear a lot from like the Steve Bannons of the world about how this is the, you know, the -- he's being persecuted for political reasons. But this is actually an example because you have a Republican U.S. attorney saying that this happened, of trying to use the Justice Department for political reasons.

JENNINGS: Yes, I want to hear the response from the people that he alleges, you know, did this pressuring in his book but, you know, look, I also think Joe Biden has commented on certain Department of Justice issues, even when he claimed he was going to be totally independent of it over time. So I don't know that it's totally unique to a Donald Trump --


TAPPER: This -- but this is a call to prosecute people. This isn't a --

JENNINGS: He tweeted out his views about an issue. I mean, you know, after the border security -- Border Patrol guys, you know, got accused of whipping the immigrants, Joe Biden went to the podium with no evidence whatsoever and call for them to be -- they'll pay, he said they'll pay. I mean, when he wants to get involved in criminal justice matters, he does despite --

TAPPER: You don't see a difference between somebody commenting and I agree with you that it's inappropriate for a president or vice president to comment on a Justice Department or comment versus a comment and Justice Department officials referring a criminal case to a specific U.S. attorney.

JENNINGS: Yes, I want to hear more about it. Look, I don't -- I'm not here to defend it, but I am here to tell you that hardly the first president of the United States to ever weigh in on criminal justice matters.


NAVARRO: Well, two things. Look, first of all, let's think about things like the IRS audit, right, of Comey and McCabe. How incredibly coincidental. The two of Donald Trump's enemies, political enemies get audited at the same time. The experts have said how rare that was, it was no coincidence.

But the second thing that just drives me crazy and irks me so much, are all of these complicit, cowardly Republicans who were part of the administration, were part of this problem and kept quiet for all this time, and now have the gall to write books and try to monetize on what they kept quiet about when they were part of the problem. So I hope that nobody write these books -- buys these books from people like Bill Barr, and John Bolton, and this gentleman. And maybe if they buy them, or they get them for free, they can line the cages of their birds with those pages.

TAPPER: All right, thanks to all.

The distraction from climate change is reaching biblical proportions, and some evangelical Christians believe it's their duty to tackle it. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth matters series, tackling the climate crisis with faith. The National Association of Evangelicals is looking to convince its followers, a group that has been historically resistant to accepting the science of climate change. To finally address and combat the issue, CNN's Rene Marsh now takes a look at how evangelicals are using a biblical basis for environmental activism.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The First Baptist Church of Glenarden is an evangelical mega church in Maryland's Prince George's County and the congregation believes its commitment to God's word is synonymous with protecting the planet. On its sprawling campus is a seven-acre solar farm with more than 6,000 solar panels that supply 55 percent of the worship centers electricity. Another 600 solar panels dot the rooftop of the church's Family Life Center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The resources he gives to me --

MARSH (voice-over): The congregation's electric car driving Senior Pastor John K. Jenkins is leading the way.

SENIOR PASTOR JOHN K. JENKINS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF GLENARDEN: Psalms 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. And they that dwell there in it." It's God's creation. He made it. We shouldn't abuse or neglect something God created.

MARSH (voice-over): That's the case being made in a new climate change report by the National Association of Evangelicals. The report uses Bible verses to compel evangelicals to play a role in addressing the climate crisis. Citing passages such as Genesis 2:15, "The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it."

DOROTHY BOORSE, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS: You can't say that you love Jesus and you care about others and not care about climate change.

MARSH (voice-over): The new report uses real life people in events like the 2017 dual hurricanes Harvey and Irma to illustrate the devastating impact of climate change on the world's most vulnerable populations, saying, "Christian relief organizations provided more aid than FEMA. They need to see not only that we will clean up after the disaster but also that, whenever possible, we will help prevent situations that displace millions."

BOORSE: The science is not what convinces people, narrative stories that they can connect to, connecting their values. Those are what convince people.

MARSH (voice-over): The report acknowledges the Bible does not specifically say how to respond to the changing climate but argues it does give guiding principles, care for creation and love our neighbors. It comes on the heels of a summer of extremes from wildfires and drought to extreme rainfall and epic flooding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Climate change is not a fiction. It is here. Our people, poor people are paying the price.

MARSH (voice-over): Yet a divide remains in the evangelical community over climate change. Reverend Franklin Graham called it a part of the Earth's natural cycle writing in a Facebook post last year, quote, "Climate change is nothing new. The Bible records it over 4,000 years ago." Pew Research found white evangelicals were the religious group least likely to agree that human activity contributes to climate change.

JENKINS: I'm not going to allow political pundits to influence what I believe the Bible teaches.


MARSH: And Jake, in the last couple of months alone, we have seen extreme weather and temperatures in many red states. That also happened to be areas with high concentrations of white evangelicals. Take a state like Texas where they've seen flooding droughts, epic ice storms. But the fact of the matter is that in the United States politics influences religion, so much so that even when they are living the reality, there are certain segments of the evangelical community that will not acknowledge climate change.


TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A star is born and we're getting our first look at it. Thanks to the amazing new pictures from the world's most powerful telescope. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our out of this world lead, the latest image from the new Webb telescope revealing the inner regions of the Orion Nebula more clearly and in greater detail than even the Hubble telescope. You're looking at what scientists call a stellar nursery, where a brightly glowing new star is surrounded by a disk of dust and gas where planets eventually will form. Scientists say this environment is similar to our own solar system when it was forming, you know, about 4.5 billion years ago.

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