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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Florida & Texas Ramp Up Migrant Fight, Send More To Northeast; Biden Celebrates Tentative Deal To Avoid Crippling Rail Strike; Ukraine Claims It Inflicted Heavy Losses On Russians In Donetsk; Biden To Personally Met With Griner And Whelan Families Friday; Mark Meadows Complied With DOJ Subpoena In January 6 Probe. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 15, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And he said that our intel agencies say domestic terrorism fueled by hate is the number one threat in the U.S. And he said loudly, enough, we need to name it and not be silent about it.

And so, that's what he was talking about and how we're much more united than we are divided but we need to talk about it and get back to those values, he said, of hope and unity.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The White House just called it a cruel premeditated stunt.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Immigrants being used as political pawns, critics say, and the decades-long debate over how to solve the border crisis. And now, it's Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis shipping migrants late at night to Martha's Vineyard.

Plus, back on track. Inside the negotiations that went on for 20-plus hours to avoid a rail strike that could have crippled the country's economy. But how long can the U.S. avoid threats to the supply chain?

And, meeting set. After months of pleas, a source tells CNN, President Joe Biden will finally hear directly from the families of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, two Americans unfairly being detained in Russia.


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

And we start today in our politics lead with stark moves by two Republican governors. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott sending planes and buses full of migrants to two specific places, selected, it seems to get a reaction. The liberal enclave of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and outside Vice President Kamala Harris' official residence in Washington, D.C. Volunteers say the migrants seem to be mostly from Venezuela. You can see some standing outside the Naval Observatory here in the nation's capital earlier today.

The immigrants were dropped off by two buses by Texas. No heads-up was given to leaders of Washington, D.C. that they were coming.

In addition, overnight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis shipped two planes full of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard. The Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, is a vacation destination for many, including former President Obama and we're told was not equipped with shelters, nor was it ready with supplies to handle this surprise influx of human beings.

DeSantis and Abbott say they are taking extreme measures because they need to focus attention on the immigration crisis in the U.S. which is being ignored by leaders in Washington. Their detractors accuse them of using human beings in cheap political stunts in the name of raising their national political profiles.

We start our coverage with CNN's Miguel Marquez who is on Martha's Vineyard where the community is scrambling to try to provide support for these migrants.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ubaldo Arcaya was in San Antonio yesterday, along with 50 other Venezuelan migrants. Today, he's in Martha's Vineyard.

When you got off the plane, I ask him, what did you think of this place? Beautiful, gorgeous, he says. The people are very friendly. He says in Texas, he was promised help if he got on the plane, no idea where he was going.

There were three options, he says, Washington, Utah, here in Massachusetts, whatever was available. The plane left and brought us here.

It's a tactic we've seen in Texas, Arizona and now, Florida. Republican governors shipping migrants to so-called sanctuary cities and states with little to no notice.

DYLAN FERNANDES (D), MASSACHUSETTS STATE HOUSE: There's no low that those people will go. They'll keep going lower and lower and they're willing to use humans, children, women, families as political pawns for their own game.

It is depraved. It is evil. It is wrong. But what makes America great is what we see here today which is an island community and a state in Massachusetts is coming together to support the people here.

MARQUEZ: Arcaya, a 27-year-old mechanic from Venezuela, says he's been welcome with food and new clothes here on the island. He tells us he made a difficult month and a half long journey for liberty, democracy and the promise of America. UBALDO ARCAYA, MIGRANT: So, hello, Americano.

MARQUEZ: When you step on American soil, you feel at ease that you're here and well protected. You lose the stress of the journey we had to go through in seven countries. Very stressful across all of Central America.

This parish house bustling with activity, volunteers and organizers working since yesterday to provide food, shelter and immigration services.

LARKIN STALLINGS, MARTHA'S VINEYARD COMMUNITY SERVICES: We've got the bodies to do this. The biggest problem was the short notice. And that was obviously intentional.

MARQUEZ: Just 20 minutes' notice says the airport manager. A deliberate move by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who is taking credit for the surprise trip.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction and, yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.


MARQUEZ: That message not sitting well with officials here in Martha's Vineyard.

FERNANDES: We're going to come together and support whoever shows up here. And we're going to make sure that people have the food, water and shelter that they need. You know, Ron DeSantis and Republicans might want to play political games with people's lives, I believe that's incredibly inhumane to be using women and children and families as a political pawn.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Now, what's truly bizarre about the situation is that Ron DeSantis (AUDIO GAP) and his dislike of the government there, what's bizarre is all of these immigrants came from Texas and it appears only the planes were provided by Florida specifically to bring them here and as you mentioned, within hours, those buses at the vice president's residence in D.C.

But, look, whatever happens here in Martha's Vineyard, they can handle the 50 here. They are getting on it and they believe if there are more planes that come, they'll be ready for them, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.

At first, officials on Martha's Vineyard were unsure who sent the planes of these migrants, but Florida Governor DeSantis quickly took credit saying states like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals through their designation as sanctuary states and support for the Biden administration's open border policies.

Let's bring in CNN reporter and expert of Florida politics Steve Contorno.

Steve, the -- Governor DeSantis has big political ambitions. Every move he makes seems to be carefully calculated and thought out. What does he gain from this?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: You're right. This wasn't something he hatched overnight. In fact, he's actually been quite publicly plotting this in the public eye for months now. He has threatened to ship migrants to anywhere that might give Democrats harbor and he said Martha's Vineyard. He has even said the president's home state of Delaware.

So policy-wise, this is something he has consistently said for awhile. Politically, this checks a lot of boxes for him. It gets his base really excited. It's an issue they care about. It causes a lot of anguish and outrage among Democrats which scores a lot of points in today's Republican Party. And, you know, it gets media coverage.

And that is a formula he has used time and time again to get at the forefront of these issues that are most animating GOP voters.

TAPPER: So some GOP voters in Florida are Venezuelan-Americans. That's kind of like a growing force in Florida politics as I don't need to tell you. A lot of these migrants are Venezuelans. Might there be any risk of any backfire on Governor DeSantis?

CONTORNO: Jake, it's a great question because the governor has been a hard liner on immigrant issues basically since he took office and it really hasn't hurt him too much with the Latino and Hispanic populations that make up such a large part of the voting base there.

But one step back a second. This is -- the Venezuelan population is huge in Florida. It's a large -- half of the Venezuelans that live in the United States actually live in Florida. In fact, 100,000 live in the Miami area alone. And many of them vote, in fact, many of them vote Republicans. A lot of them were Trump supporters in 2020. You know, they actually thought that he was doing a good job of standing up to Maduro, the dictator who runs Venezuela.

So if their political calculus changes, you know, you and I both know a lot of races are won and lost on the margins and already seeing Venezuelan leaders down in Florida. They are holding press conferences today where they were expressing outrage at this decision. If this moves the dial at all, it could be trouble for him.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, because these are -- I'm assuming -- victims of Maduro, victims of him.


TAPPER: Victims of him.

All right. Steve Contorno, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.

Congressman, Governor DeSantis and your governor, Texas Governor Abbott, sent these with no heads-up to officials in Martha's Vineyard, or D.C., no heads-up anybody who might care for them, provide them with food, health care. We see a lot of kids in these pictures.

What's your response to this? Is this a good way to protest the country's failing immigration policies?

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): Clearly, clearly, tragic and it's just a manifestation of DeSantis playing monkey see, monkey do with our governor. And, you know, we have a handful of right wing nut job governors that have been man testing themselves in this way and feeding more red meat to their base and alienating their middle of the road Chamber of Commerce Republicans.

But in state like ours, in Texas, where we already have a massive labor shortage, we're using tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to export people and as in this case, as you mentioned, these are Venezuelans who are broken, who are coming from a communist dictatorship much like the Venezuelans and Cubans in southern Florida who are watching this and probably in disgust regardless of how they may feel politically of what party they follow. This is -- these people are coming from a communist dictatorship.


They made it to our country and normally, we take care of these people, we are good Americans that promote democracy around the world and we're shutting the door on others that are suffering in dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba when we're sending this message to the world. It's shameful.

TAPPER: Governor DeSantis and Governor Abbott say they feel compelled to do this, to bring attention to this issue and to call on the Biden administration and Congress to take action, to highlight the irresponsibility of sanctuary cities and sanctuary states. What's your response to that?

GONZALEZ: We're talking about communist dictatorships that these people -- these are Venezuelans who came from a Maduro dictatorship. I thinks that so something -- they're going to have trouble explaining to Cubans and Nicaraguans and Venezuelans in southern Florida who also fled the same type of dictatorship, maybe in different conditions.

But in their heart, they know what's happening is wrong and that's not who America is and we never have been. So, this is a new radical right wing within the Republican Party that is showing this new face to our country and to the world and it's really shameful.

TAPPER: Congress hasn't passed sweeping immigration reform since Reagan was president. It does seem like theoretically, there should be a compromise that includes humanity and also border security. What would you like to see passed? GONZALEZ: Absolutely. I just filed a bill called the Safe Zone Act

and what the Safe Zone Act does, it creates a place on the border of Guatemala and Mexico for asylum seekers to show up at that juncture, instead of having to make it to our southern border.

It would take the pressure off our border. It would remove the criminal element or the cartel element from hijacking these migrants. They pay $5,000 to $8,000 per head to get to my southern border. Last year, we calculated they made about $5 billion.

This is the only true comprehensive border plan that would bring long- term solutions and we hope that we can get bipartisan support. This is not a show business type of bill. This is something I took the first and only bipartisan group of members of Congress to our border to see what was happening.

During the Trump administration, Dems used to point the finger at children in cages now Republicans are going down every week for political ploys to take photos of migrants that are crossing the border and blaming Biden for it.

We need to come together with a comprehensive idea of what could be bring solutions and clearly, we need an immigration plan that works. But the asylum system that we have right now isn't functioning at its best and I think we can make it safer, more humane. We shouldn't have to force asylum seekers to make a 1500-mile trek to our southern border and pay thousands of dollars to cartels.

TAPPER: I've seen two U.S. presidents, President Bush, also a former Texas governor and President Obama try to get immigration reform passed, and Bush really tried very, very hard to his credit. And the problem always at the end of the day came down to conservative House Republicans refusing to go along with any compromise because they were afraid of their Republican base.

GONZALEZ: That's right.

TAPPER: I thought that President Trump, there was a moment when he gave lip service to the idea of trying to push immigration reform, but I think he too was scared off of the Republican base.

GONZALEZ: I think that's what seems to happen.

TAPPER: Right? And these stunts are being done to appeal to the Republican base, but the solution is right there and it seems like the Republican base doesn't understand that fear of them has kept the solution from happening.

GONZALEZ: Right, and I think more farmers and ranchers and construction companies and manufacturers and people in the hospitality business need to talk to those members and those senators and say, hey, we need this reform. We need normality. We're suffering the largest labor shortage in modern history right now. They need the jobs, we need the labor. We need to find a humane way to get this done.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Congressman Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, thanks so much for your time today. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: To another crisis in the United States right now, crime. How that issue has ignited a midterm race that could tip balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Plus, recession or perception. From the job market to the housing market, what new numbers today reveal about the health of the U.S. economy.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead, today, President Biden is celebrating a tentative deal to avoid a nationwide rail strike which the president says could have caused significant damage to the U.S. economy.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This agreement allows us to continue to rebuild a better America with an economy that truly worked for working people and their families. Today is a win. I mean it sincerely, a win for America. So I want to thank you all for getting this done.


TAPPER: CNN's Pete Muntean is live for us outside Union Station here in Washington, D.C.

Pete, tells us about this deal and what needs to happen before it becomes official.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this deal is big, Jake, because it essentially avoids this strike that would have brought 30 percent to 40 percent of all freight in the U.S. to a grinding halt. Really when you think about it, this all came down to sick time that rail workers wanted because they say they were being punished for simply doing things like going to the doctor, even going to a funeral.

In the end, they did get some of what they wanted. Also a major raise, back pay from 2020, also some bonuses.

I want you to listen now to one of the rail union officials who is in the room hammering out this deal for 20 hours with the labor secretary and the railroads themselves.


JEREMY FERGUSON, PRESIDENT, SMART TRANSPORTATION DIVISION: This is monumental for our employees or our members. They deserve time off, time with their families. They deserve the ability to get medical care without having to worry about any kind of discipline policy or retribution. So we worked hard for that.


MUNTEAN: Now, this is a tentative agreement, Jake, and rail union workers still have to vote to ratify this. Rail union officials tell us that is likely to happen in the coming weeks, permanently avoiding a strike in the long term, Jake.


TAPPER: And, Pete, this deal involved freight railroads but could have a major impact on passenger trains because Amtrak uses those rails for many of its routes.

Does this mean that Amtrak service is back to normal?

MUNTEAN: Amtrak still did cancel some trains as there was a lag in getting all this information out. The big news here is that they are no longer canceling so many trains in all corners of the country. Amtrak planned to cancel all long distance trains as well as trains on ten different state sponsored routes. This also would have trickled down to commuter rails in cities like Chicago, we're hearing from them, that they were able to turn this around soon and no trains will be canceled there. Amtrak says everything on its system will be back to normal tomorrow. -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

Also in our money lead today, newly released data painting a confusing picture of the U.S. economy. While two key figures beat expectations this morning, another one missed the mark and mortgage rates hit their highest level in more than a decade.

CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon joins us live to try to make sense of all this.

Rahel, what do the numbers say about when the economy is right now?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Jake, sometimes the data seems to be pointing in different directions. On the labor front, well, the job market is still strong. We got weekly jobless claims, which is our first look at how many Americans are filing for unemployment -- 213,000 which is lower than economists were expecting. Also lower than what we saw last week.

So, people by and large still have jobs. We learned that people are still spending. Retail sales data which showed some slight increases, the consumer I think the best way to describe it, still proving to be resilient, still holding on.

We saw import prices fall which could mean some more good news on the inflation front down the line. What we are not seeing declines are mortgage rates. Mort -- 30-year mortgage rates are back above 6 percent, double where they were a year ago.

And because of the supportability remains a huge problem and so people are sitting it out, so you're seeing a screeching halt in housing activity, which brings me to the last part of the economy which is, of course, inflation. Mortgage rates have been tracking and sort of following the Fed's benchmark interest rate which we know they've been raising as they try to cool spending and try to cool demand to bring us back in balance and lower inflation.

The problem is, Jake, the fed wants to cool spending but if they overdo it, then we'll start to see some real damage to consumer spending. If we see real damage to consumer spending, we start to see people lose their jobs. So that's not what we're seeing yet but that is the risk here. So the best way to describe this economy I think would be fragile.

TAPPER: And the Fed meets again next week, are we expecting any surprises with their interest rate decision?

SOLOMON: Well, most of the market, most economists are expecting 0.75 percent. That would be the third consecutive rate hike of that magnitude which is quite massive but you're also starting to hear some, some prominent economists actually say the Fed should go for a full percentage point. I think we're still looking at 0.75 of a percent, but it is still a pretty massive rate hike, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Rahel Solomon, thanks so much.

Coming up next, what we're learning about the president's meeting set with the families of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner and what this might say about any efforts by the U.S. government to bring those detainees home.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling upon the United States, Germany, Italy, France and Israel to provide them with air defense systems. This comes in the wake of a critical sweep of victories on the battlefield for Ukraine against Russia and now, Ukrainian officials say they're concerned that Moscow will retaliate with even more air strikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us now live from Kyiv.

Ben, why is Zelenskyy's request so critical in this moment, do you think?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a critical moment because the Russians have suffered such a massive defeat in Kharkiv area, losing 8,000 square kilometers that their only means of retaliation at the moment is to indiscriminately -- it seems -- to hit civilian infrastructure. We've seen it on a water reservoir. They caused some flooding causing the residents to have to flee to dry, higher ground.

We've seen it in Kharkiv just a few days ago where the Russians struck the power system in that city, the second largest in Ukraine was without power for quite some time. And so, this is why we heard this urgent appeal from the Ukrainian president today during a press conference and what he made the point that he has not received any sort of positive response from any of the countries so far for this urgent request -- Jake.

TAPPER: What are you learning about what the Russians left behind when they fled recently in that area that the Ukrainians liberated in northeast Ukraine?

WEDEMAN: Well, in addition to massive destruction and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware, we are learning that much like what happened when the Russians pulled out of the area around the Ukrainian capital, that there are disturbing stories of potential mass graves.

Now, you'll recall when the Russians pulled out in April from around Kyiv, they left the suburb of Bucha where 458 bodies were found, 419 of them showed signs of either execution, beating to death or torture.


Now, we're hearing already from the head of police in the Kharkiv region that they have located what appears to be a grave that holds more than 440 bodies and we're talking about just the first few days after the Ukrainians have been able to take control of that area.

Now, much of that area is still potentially dangerous with mines and booby traps so we're only just beginning to learn what the Russians have left behind. Now, it's important to note that, for instance, some of the cities that have been taken by the Russians, for instance, we were in Severodonetsk that is now under Russian occupation. And even before that, the local authorities were overwhelmed with the number of bodies that they simply weren't able to bury as a result of the shelling.

So, don't know the cause of death of this one site where the police say they found more than 440 bodies, but certainly, it appears that we may see something of a repeat of the atrocities that were uncovered in Bucha -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben Wedeman reporting in Kyiv, thanks so much.

After months of public pleas from the families of Americans detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan's loved ones will finally get an in-person meeting with President Biden.

Let's bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, why now? Why is President Biden agreeing to this now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the White House says one of the family members was already going to be in town and so, President Biden wanted to meet with both of them on the same day. Obviously this is something very much that the families of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner had wanted for some time. They have written letters to the White House. They had met with other officials. They've spoken with President Biden on the phone, but now actually getting an audience with the president in person is certainly something they want so they can make their case of why obviously they want their loved ones to come home and get an update on efforts.

But, Jake, when it comes to whether or not there will be major changes on the efforts so far to get them home this is what the White House said earlier.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I would love to say that the purpose of this meeting is to inform the families that the Russians have accepted our offer and we are bringing their loved ones home. That is not what we're seeing in these negotiations. At this time, look, as we have said the Russians should accept our offer. They should accept our offer today.


COLLINS: And as CNN has reported, that's an offer that the United States made to Russia to exchange a Russian who is detained in exchange for some of the U.S. citizens that are being held abroad, Jake, but that is not something the Russians have really engaged with the White House on. It's caused a lot of frustration internally so that means there's not going to be any big updates tomorrow, but the White House said it was important for President Biden to meet with these families face-to-face to let them know this is still an issue he is working on and does still want to bring their loved ones home.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, this upcoming meeting comes right after prominent hostage negotiator in the past former U.S. Ambassador and Governor Bill Richardson traveled to Moscow. John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, the White House was on THE LEAD yesterday and told us the White House didn't condone this visit and any Americans in Russia should leave including Richardson.

Does Biden's meeting, do you think, have anything to do with Richardson's trip.

COLLINS: Well, the White House is saying to Bill Richardson, thanks but no thanks. Obviously, Jake, as you know he has a history in helping with these kind of negotiations for Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad but the White House is saying it really had to do more with the scheduling of these families that one was going to be in town but when it comes to Bill Richardson, the White House has been saying, you know, he is a private citizen, he does not speak on behalf of the United States government and also as you know, the State Department has a travel advisory in place warning Americans not to travel to Russia at this time. That is including Bill Richardson who, of course, recently did, Jake.

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

Coming up, a discovery reported first on CNN. Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows is complying with a federal subpoena. What sources tell us he handed over to Justice Department investigators, plus, what he held back.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and a story first reported by CNN.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has complied with a subpoena from the Justice Department as part of its investigation into the events on and around January 6th and any potential criminal activity.

As Sara Murray reports for us now, Meadows is now the highest ranking Trump official know to have responded to a subpoena in this federal investigation.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP CHIEF OF STAFF: This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.

MURRAY: Handing over information to the justice department that could shed light on his dealings in the Trump White House. Sources telling CNN he complied with a subpoena, the highest ranking Trump official known to do so in the federal investigation that's extended beyond the U.S. Capitol attack, to examine various efforts to overturn the election.

To meet the obligations of the previously unreported subpoena, meadows handed over the same tears he provided the House Select Committee investigating January 6th.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): There's no doubt some of the stuff. We found has really set off the justice committee into these paths.

MURRAY: That document dump included thousands of text messages and emails like Sean Hannity.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Give it up for Mr. Donald Trump.

MURRAY: Pleading for Meadows to ask Trump to call off the rioters January 6th. Can he make a statement, Hannity said, ask people to peacefully leave the Capitol.

And texts from GOP lawmakers like this from Jim Jordan to meadows saying on January 6th, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence as president of the Senate should call out all elect electoral votes he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.


Meadows responding: I have pushed for this.

While Meadows withheld hundreds of messages citing executive privilege it's unclear if meadows will give DOJ more

PAUL CALLAN, FORMER NEW YORK ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: That's the big question. Will he cooperate? He was the intermediary for Trump with the outside world in a lot of respects. So, obviously, he's very valuable to prosecutors if they're really looking at Trump.

MURRAY: One of Meadows' top White House deputies, Ben Williamson also getting subpoenaed for records and testimony, a source tells CNN. Both Williamson and an attorney for Meadows declined to comment. Even as DOJ fires off subpoenas to dozens in Trump's orbit, the former president downplaying the probe into efforts to overturn the election, falsely claiming plots to put feared fake slates of electors happen all the time.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I wasn't involved with alternate slates, but I can tell you many people have been for many, many years doing alternate slates.

MURRAY: Trump insisting he played no role in that despite this testimony from the RNC chair during a House select committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the president say when he called you?

RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIR: Essentially, he turned the call over to Mr. Eastman who then proceeded to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors in case any of the legal challenges that were ongoing changed the result of any the states (ph).

MURRAY: Even with DOJ scrutinizing efforts to challenge the 2020 election and Trump's handling of classified materials, the former president still believes he'll escape indictment.

TRUMP: I can't imagine being indicted. I've done nothing wrong.


MURRAY: Now, when it comes to that investigation into the former president holding on to these potentially classified documents we are still waiting for the judge to weigh in on a number of important issue, who is the special master going to be. If she'll let the probe of the documents marked classified continue and, of course, we're waiting on that DOJ appeal.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much, excellent as always.

Seventy-five days in jail. That is the sentence handed down by a federal judge today for the Trump supporter who was photographed wearing a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Robert Packer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge for his actions during the insurrection. That sentence is steep compared to other rioters who pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge and were not accused of violence. But the judge said he factored in his lengthy criminal history when deciding the sentence.

By the way, just in case you were thinking don't judge a book by its cover, underneath Packer's nutty sweatshirt, he was wearing a Nazi t- shirt.

The January 6th committee is asking for thousands of more emails from Trump lawyer John Eastman. Eastman is the man who came up with the far-fetched unconstitutional false theory that then Vice President Mike Pence could block Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election win. The House Select committee told a federal judge he needs another 3,200 pages of Eastman's emails so it can complete its report on the events around January 6 by the end of this year.

Earlier, I spoke with committee member, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, for a new CNN documentary that's airing this Sunday. I asked Cheney about another part of their investigation, the role that violent far right militias played in the Capitol attack and possible communications between those militias and members of the Trump orbit.


TAPPER: The Justice Department has indicted several members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, these far right militias for seditious conspiracy. We understand they were inspired and incited by Trump and thought they were doing what he wanted. But there seems to be some missing pieces. I know some of that is because Flynn took the Fifth, pleaded the Fifth. Stone won't testify. Mark Meadows won't testify. Dan Scavino won't testify. I mean, the people who have this information won't give it to the American people.

What's there? What can we expect to learn more about the direct ties between these Oath Keepers and Proud Boy far right seditious conspiracists and the Trump people?

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Those individuals that you've mentioned are people that have -- likely have critically important information and I think that, you know, again, the Justice Department has the ability to get that information in ways that as a committee we may not. You know, Donald Trump, I think it was in the first debate, he told the proud boys to stand back and stand by, repeatedly refused to condemn them. Has since January 6th been very clear about saying that, you know, he thinks that the country owes an apology to those who have been indicted, those who have been convicted, some have pled guilty to seditious conspiracy.

And when we're, you know, at a moment in our nation's history where we sort of let that go so lightly, you know, it's seditious conspiracy. This was an effort to use violence to overthrow the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [16:45:04]

TAPPER: Congresswoman Cheney will be one of many people part of the CNN special report this weekend, along with key witnesses from the January 6th Committee's investigation. Catch "American Coup", this Sunday night 9:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

The increase in threats to law enforcement that a lawmaker described today as stunning, that story next.


TAPPER: In our national lead, gun violence and crime. That's what a majority of Wisconsin voters are very concerned about, according to a recent Marquette University poll. Republicans are very much on offense when it comes to the issue of crime, trying to put Democrats on the defensive.


And now, it's becoming a key backdrop for the Senate race in Wisconsin between incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson and his Democratic opponent Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes.

CNN's Omar Jimenez now takes a closer look at how the "Defund the Police" strategy is playing out in this race.


MANDELA BARNES (D), WISCONSIN U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I'll make sure our police have the resources and training they need to keep our community safe.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): He's going to reallocate money away from the police department.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the dead-even Wisconsin Senate race, incumbent Republican Ron Johnson and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes are engaged in a fierce debate over public safety.

AD ANNOUNCER: Dangerously liberal on crime.

BRIAN SCHIMMING, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Our folks statewide are extremely motivated.

JIMENEZ: Brian Schimming is a conservative political strategist in Wisconsin.

SCHIMMING: There's a lot of people concerned about their personal safety. It's not just a core city problem. It's on a much larger scale the awareness of it.

JIMENEZ: Wisconsin did see a more than 70 percent jump in homicides from 2019 to 2021. Like many states did, red and blue, driven by a number of factors including the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, Republicans nationwide spent $11 million on ads about crime, but $25 million on ads about inflation.

Then, in the first two weeks of September, $9 million on inflation but also now $9 million on crime. And in Wisconsin, jumping on comments made by Lieutenant Governor Barnes weeks after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

BARNES: We need to invest more in neighborhood services and programming. Where will that money come from? Well, it can come from overbloated budgets and police departments.

JIMENEZ: But he's making clear now that's not what he's running on.

BARNES: They're claiming I want to defund the police and abolish ICE. That's a lie.

JIMENEZ: While a statewide poll shows crime is a top issue, it still ranks behind inflation when it comes to voter concerns. It also shows Johnson is supported by 97 percent of Republicans polled and Barnes by 96 percent of Democrats.

JOE ZEPECKI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We're talking about less than 200,000 voters who are genuinely torn right now about what they're going to do.

JIMENEZ: And does that make it difficult to strategize?

ZEPECKI: This crime and public safety issue is a base motivator for Republicans. But I don't think crime or public safety is going to be the issue that ultimately determines where those 150,000 to 200,000 swing voters land.

JIMENEZ: Tom Otto is one of those swing voters, voting Trump and Ron Johnson in 2016, Barnes and Democratic Governor Tony Evers in 2018, then Biden in 2020.

TOM OTTO, WISCONSIN VOTER: I usually don't make my decision until I'm standing in line getting ready to vote.

JIMENEZ: While he mentioned crime is a concern, inflation came to mind first.

OTTO: People I don't think realize how bad it is. Yeah, you come to a farmer's market and it looks wonderful. But how many people can afford it?

JIMENEZ: Democrats in this swing county are hopeful for a pickup and worry about the alternative.

Do you feel optimistic heading into this election?


JIMENEZ: In a deeply polarized state like Wisconsin, both parties are counting on their messaging to persuade voters in the middle and motivate their bases to turn out. SCHIMMING: One thing in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson has shown that when he

speaks directly to the people in his television advertising he wins them over.

ZEPECKI: These crime attacks on Barnes, they might work among Republicans but I don't see them being a game changer to that middle part of the electorate who this is ultimately going to come down to.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, even still, the Barnes campaign today announced a coalition of law enforcement officers from across the state who are endorsing Barnes. Another issue we heard from voters on, Social Security. A majority of voters here in this state are over 50 years old. And Ron Johnson has floated changing Medicare and Social Security from mandatory to discretionary funding to be determined annually. That plus inflation, education and so much more are all going to be considered by these critical swing voters, of course, as we get ever closer to November 8 -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Omar Jimenez in Madison, Wisconsin, thanks so much.

Coming up, what the president of China told the president of Russia in a face-to-face meeting today that has the world's attention.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, an Iowa teenager who killed her alleged rapist after being trafficked is now ordered to pay his family $150,000. Is this justice?

Plus, the severed head of an African tribal chief and a 500 carat clear cut diamond from a South African mine. The queen's death bringing some of the monarchy's dark past into focus.

And leading this hour, in Ukraine where the battle lines are constantly shifting a Ukrainian official says more settlements around the strategic southern city of Kherson have been liberated, as Russia responds. Today Russia bombed a dam it Kryvyi Rih, which unleashed a deluge of water into villages and forced people to evacuate in what a city official called another terrorist act by Russia.

CNN's Nic Paton-Walsh got access to the newest front lines closer to Putin's doorstep. And we want to warn viewers, some of the images we're about to bring you might find disturbing.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: The darkness is breaking quite suddenly up here. And the road to Russia's border with Ukraine strewn with what it left behind in its panic, including its own.