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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Hurricane Fiona Batters Puerto Rico; A Day Of Mourning In United Kingdom As Queen Is Laid To Rest; Ukraine: 440 Unmarked Graves Found In City Liberated From Russian Occupation; U.S. Navy Veteran Held In Afghanistan Freed In Prisoner Swap; Calls Grow For Investigation Into Migrant Transports; Questions Surround Possible Links To QAnon During Trump Rally; Report: Efforts To Ban Books In The U.S. Near Record Level. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 19, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Almost five years since Hurricane Maria, and Puerto Rico is getting walloped again now.

THE LEAD starts right now. Rising water washing away bridges and roads as hurricane Fiona slams into Puerto Rico. So far, emergency crews have rescued a thousand people trapped by the floods and the majority of the island has lost electricity.

Then, President Biden's administration securing another detainee's freedom. An American held captive in Afghanistan for more than two years is released in a prisoner swap with the Taliban. What this might mean for Americans that the State Department says are wrongfully detained in Russia.

Plus, an alarming, growing trend across the country. More books are being banned from school libraries and reading lists in more districts and states, according to a new report.


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

We start today with our national lead. Hurricane Fiona wreaking havoc on several Caribbean Islands. The storm made landfall this morning in the Dominican Republic as a category 1, but is expected to become a major hurricane by Wednesday, that's after Fiona hit Puerto Rico on Sunday, dumping more than two feet of rain on some parts of the island and knocking out the entire power grid there.

Puerto Rico, which is still recovering a devastation caused by hurricane Maria in 2017, once again is suffering catastrophic flooding, rivers overflowing, causing major infrastructure damage. You can see this bridge, this bridge which was rebuilt after hurricane Maria, being swept away by the rushing waters.

Another river, the Guanajibo, rising to 29 feet, surpassing the record set in 2017. We're going to start our coverage with Leyla Santiago, who is in Puerto Rico, where most communities are still struggling without power.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost the entire island of Puerto Rico remains in the dark after Hurricane Fiona slam into the southwestern coast of the island Sunday afternoon, pounding rainfall causing catastrophic mudslides and flooding. The storm coming just as parts of the island were finally recovering from Hurricane Maria's destruction five years ago.

JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ, RESIDENT AND BUSINESS OWNER: It's been rough. We've been struggling to get this neighborhood back from Maria. Everything was destroyed, restaurants, houses, everything was destroyed. And we just -- we just -- not all the way back, but we just halfway back. A lot of people more than Maria lost their houses now. Lost everything on their houses because the flooding.

SANTIAGO: This is the barrio, the neighborhood where the national guard had to come and rescue people. Still a lot of flooding. I can hear generators powering the home. And it is still pouring down with rain. Neighbors looking out, wondering exactly what will come next, as hurricane Fiona, the remnants of it, continue to demolish this area.

The family rescued overnight now safely in a shelter.

She says this was worse than Maria.

She's pointing out that they've already been under water for 24 hours and the rain is still coming down, so, she's concerned about the 2,500 families that she says are impacted by this here.

About 1,000 people rescued from flood waters. Hundreds more rescue efforts still under way, as emergency responders try to navigate through difficult to reach areas. The interior part of the island saw this bridge wash down the river.

On the west side of the island, rainfall swelling a river, the Guanajibo River in Hormigueros, surpassing its previous record high at 28.59 feet, set during Hurricane Maria, now gouging to over 29 feet, the National Weather Service said. While a few hospitals have regained power, emergency workers are racing to get electricity back to the island.

THOMAS VAN ESSEN: It takes so long to get things back up because so many of the systems are connected, and some of the main lines go through the hills there and if those main lines get damaged, they don't have the ability to get the other sections up and running.

SANTIAGO: Overnight, President Biden approving an emergency declaration from Puerto Rico that authorizes all emergency measures needed, including FEMA.

ANNE BINK, FEMA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR FOR RESPONSE AND RECOVERY: There's 300 responders on the ground for FEMA, working hand and glove with the commonwealth and their emergency management structure.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And, Jake, we've just learned the governor confirming that there have been two deaths in the shelters at this point, they believe they were natural causes, but you know, that is part of the concern. People here are fearing the worst. And I have got to mention the timing here.


Tomorrow will be the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. So, there's a lot of anxiety and trauma, people remembering that five years ago today, they were left for months without power and water. So, there was a lot of anxiety among people who were looking out, wondering what will happen next, when this will stop, how quickly will emergency crews be able to respond.

But given that now, you're likely going to see a lot of runoff coming from the interior and the mountainous areas, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Major General Jose Reyes, he's the commanding officer of the Puerto Rican National Guard.

General, you are leading the National Guard response in Puerto Rico. What are you seeing on the ground there? Do your officers have what they need to manage the storm and help the people of Puerto Rico?

MAJ. GEN. JOSE REYES, THE ADJUTANT GENERAL, PUERTO RICO: We do have all the resources. Many lessons that we learned after Hurricane Maria, starting with the prepositioning of equip equipment and personnel 72 hours before the impact of this type of natural disaster. So, we did preposition all of our personnel and equipment, within the 27 armories that we have around the island.

With that said, we have currently conducted over 30 missions of search and rescue and to protect the life that resulted in over 1,000 people being rescued in areas that were completely flooded. Biggest difference between Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Fiona is the amount of rain that the hurricane brought to Puerto Rico. Many areas, over 30 inches of rain.

Yes, Hurricane Maria brought about 40 inches, but it was in a specific area along the center of the island. That's not the case with Hurricane Fiona. It brought rain all over the island and many of the areas and suburban areas were completely flooded, so, we have been searching and rescue missions, as well as clearance missions.

TAPPER: So, the storm wiped out the entire power grid. Some power has been restored to parts of the island, but most of the people on the island are without power. In 2017, after Hurricane Maria, some homes didn't have power restored for months. Might that repeat itself with this storm?

REYES: I don't think that will be the case. The private company that runs the electricity in Puerto Rico now used to be run by the government, they are doing their assessment, they are ready, utilizing their three helicopters and flying over the main distribution lines in Puerto Rico to conduct an assessment of the damages, but most of the damages on the island were caused by the amount of rain, not by the speed of the winds that we -- that we experienced here in Puerto Rico that average about 75 miles, because most of the wind or damages caused by the winds were on the southern part of the island. That's not the case in the rest of the island.

TAPPER: So, we have video of the Salto Arriba bridge being swept away from flooding from Hurricane Fiona. This bridge was rebuilt in 2018 after it was damaged by Hurricane Maria. The construction cost, more than $780,000. Can the island afford to keep rebuilding every few hurricane seasons?

REYES: Well, it is important to mention that that bridge was a temporary bridge. It was not the scheduled permanent bridge to be located there. Yes, the National Guard helped to put together this type of bridge. These are typical bridges that we use in the armed forces that the government of Puerto Rico did acquire to cover some areas that were isolated as a result of Hurricane Maria.

But it was not the permanent bridge, scheduled for it. As a matter of fact, that bridge was scheduled for construction to begin next year, 2023.

TAPPER: All right. Mayor General Jose Reyes, thank you. Please stay in touch with our team. Sometimes if people aren't able to get the help they need from the federal government, it helps to have the news media shining a light and we are willing to help our friends in Puerto Rico with that. So, thank you so much.

REYES: Greatly appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity.

TAPPER: Let's turn to our world lead now and the Queen's final journey today. Leaders from around the globe joined the royal family to say their final good-byes to Queen Elizabeth II.

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster followed every step of the funeral attended by thousands and watched by millions in a final tribute to seven decades on the throne.



MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prime ministers, presidents, leaders, and dignitaries from around the world. More than 2,000 inside London's Westminster Abbey, joined together in chorus.

"The Lord is My Shepherd", reputedly the Queen's favorite him. Sung during her wedding to Prince Philip in this very hall when she was a 21-year-old princess. The younger royal generation, Charlotte and George, joined the procession. Their attendance something the prince and princess of Wales took time to consider, CNN understands.

Decades of meticulous preparation and centuries of tradition. The Queen was instrumental in planning this funeral. Her family escorted the coffin, drawn by one 142 royal navy personnel, the short journey from Westminster hall to Westminster Abbey.

Draped in the royal standard and topped with the imperial state crown, the sovereign's orb and sceptre. Amid the wreath, a hand-written note from the king. "In loving and devoted memory, Charles R."

MOST REV. JUSTIN WELBY, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: Few leaders receive the outpouring of love that we have seen.

FOSTER: After readings and blessings for two minutes, the attendees, the choir, and the nation all fell silent. Big Ben tolled 96 times. Guns unloaded as the procession continued on its final journey.

Crowds lined the streets, all the way along the route, from London to Windsor. The military flanked the three-mile long walk leading to the castle. At the end of the ceremony, the crown, the orb, the sceptre, were removed by the crown jeweler, separating the Queen from her crown for the final time.

For the first time, performing the ritual on camera, the most senior official in the royal household, the lord chamberlain, broke his wand of office and placed it on the coffin, symbolizing the end of his and the monarch's service.

As the coffin lowered, the sovereign piper, who for decades played for Elizabeth every morning as her personal alarm clock, sounded the final lament that at her majesty's request.


FOSTER (on camera): The period of national mourning in the United Kingdom has officially ended, but for the royal family, it continues for another week, a chance for the family to reset, recuperate before royal diaries start again with King Charles as the monarch -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Max Foster, thank you so much for that report.

And along with thousands of mourners, a sendoff from the Queen's beloved animals. Royal Welsh corgis Sandy and Muick usually at her majesty's feet, or following her around the castle, they awaited their owner's coffin today along with the Queen's favorite horse, Emma.

Let's bring in CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward in Windsor, England.

Clarissa, we understand the Queen has been officially buried now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. So, there was a private ceremony for the royal family at about 7:30 p.m. and we are now learning that the Queen has been laid to rest in her final resting place now, in a sort of annex in that chapel, in the King George VI memorial chapel. She's buried there with her sister, with her mother and father and her beloved husband of 73 years, Prince Phillip, has also been moved to be buried alongside her. And this was something, Jake, that the Queen had really participated

heavily in the planning for her own funeral. Every single detail carefully choreographed over many years to make sure it was just exactly as she wished for it to be, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, we saw the Queen's crown removed from her coffin today. The next person to wear it will be King Charles at his coronation, presumably after it's been adjusted to better fit him. Do we know when that will happen?

WARD: Well, that's the big question, and the answer simply, Jake, is that we don't know exactly. It should happen within the year, from what we're hearing, no one expects it to happen this year. But there's been some possible discussion about spring of next year, but really, that's speculative.

What you're referring to today was this sort of extraordinary symbolic moment, where you saw the sceptre, the orb, the crown taken from atop of the royal coffin, placed on the mantle and then sort of a symbolic handover of power, as you will, a seamless transition from the Queen, that crown taken away from her for the last time, as King Charles III now assumes his royal duties, Jake.


TAPPER: And you've been working all day there, from early morning to now. Give us a sense of the day, was it somber, was it respectful, was there anything about it that was celebratory, I mean, 70-year reign is unheard of.

WARD: It is, and I think everybody who was out on the streets today, the hundreds of thousands in London and here in Windsor, seemed to be really cognizant of that, and feeling the intensity and the weight and the import of the moment, in terms of the sense of witnessing an historic event. It was interesting, because it felt very somber, very reverential at times, very quiet and thoughtful, and then in other moments, particularly as you saw the royal hearse drive by in that procession, you would see the crowd sort of spontaneously erupt into applause, cheering, clapping, wanting to show not just sadness at the passing of the Queen, but also joy at having witnessed and lived under her reign and being able to participate in this historic moment to bid her farewell, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

The Russian invaders may be gone, but life in newly liberated parts of Ukraine is far from easy. We're going to visit a city where they do not have any electricity or running water.

Plus, a new look at the lengths that Florida's and Texas's governors went to convince migrants to travel to Massachusetts.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead now, Ukraine's defense ministry says it's found at least 440 unmarked graves in a mass burial site in the recently liberated city of Izium. It sits near the border of the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions and served as a key hub for Russia during its five months of occupation. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy says some of the bodies discovered showed signs of torture. Zelenskyy blaming Russia for what he calls cruelty and terrorism, a charge, of course, the Kremlin disputes.

CNN's Ben Wedeman traveled to Izium as its residents are struggling with day to day life.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Help arrives in Izium, bags of barley meal, tins of food.

Waiting her turn, Anissa (ph) shrugs off the tribulations of late. She's seen worse.

We survived World War II when I was little, she tells me.

A surgeon Oksana Karapetian hands out medicine. Sedatives are in high demand.

OKSANA KARAPETIAN, SURGEON & KYIV RESIDENT: Half of a year, six months, without any help. You can understand what do they -- just imagine what do they feel?

WEDEMAN: Liberation from Russian isn't the end of Izium's troubles. Much of the city was severely bombarded before falling to Russia in spring. There's no running water, no electricity, no heat.

Crowds gather to charge cell phones off an army generator and make calls. Ten minutes per person, using internet provided by a satellite connection.

Lubov (ph) and her daughter Anzhela are calling relatives. They want to leave. Winter is coming.

People will freeze, Anzhela warns. Older people won't survive.

They also fear the Russians could return. Nearby, the signs of their hasty retreat. Helmets strewn outside a house Russian soldiers commandeered. Bread crumbs still on the table. Insects make a meal of fruit half eaten.

On the edge of town, the remains of Russia's once vaunted army, before a monument harking back to a different time, which now seems like the distant past.

Natasha shows me a newspaper distributed during the occupation.

What does she think of him?

I haven't thought anything good about him since 2000, she says. He destroyed everything in Russia.

The paper does, however, come in handy.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And the Russians may be down, but they're not out. Just a few minutes ago, we heard air raid sirens here in the city of Kharkiv and our producer saw what looked like a missile interception. In fact, this morning, four missiles landed just over a mile away from here, so, the Russians, they may have taken a bit of a blow from this Kharkiv offensive, but they can still cause a lot of damage -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah. Ben Wedeman in Ukraine, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, an American man is heading back to the U.S. after the Biden administration conducts a prisoner swap with the Taliban.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with more in our world lead. An American held captive in Afghanistan for more than two years is now free. The U.S. engaged in a prisoner swap with the Taliban government of Afghanistan.

U.S. Navy veteran Mark Frerichs who was kidnapped while doing construction in the country in 2020 was traded for a prominent member of the Taliban who is in U.S. prison for drug trafficking.

Let's bring in CNN's Kylie Atwood, who has been tracking the developments.

And, Kylie, this prisoner swap has been a top priority for President Biden.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A senior administration official said that this release was months in the making, saying that it became clear over the last few months that the key to securing Mark Frerichs released was this Afghan drug trafficker who was serving a prison sentence here in the United States, Bashir Noorzai. And once the figured that out, they then move forward when President Biden decided in June that he would grant clemency to Noorzai.

It took, obviously, a few months, from the time that this green light was given to get the wheels turning here. And the Biden administration said they did do a U.S. government review that assessed there wouldn't be any material change to the risk emanating from Afghanistan to Americans or to the current drug trade in Afghanistan by freeing Noorzai.

We should note that Mark Frerichs is currently on his way to Germany, where he is going to get medical treatment as part of a post-captivity program that the U.S. government runs.

TAPPER: And, Kylie, there are talks with another possible prisoner swap, this one with Russia. The U.S. obviously has been trying to get back women's basketball star Brittney Griner, as well as former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is at the U.N. general assembly gathering today, along with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Do we know if they are meeting to discuss this at all?

ATWOOD: Well, listen, the State Department has said there is no scheduled meeting, between those two diplomats, and that is an area that we'll be watching, however, because the State Department has said if there is, you know, any remote possibility that a meeting could actually advance their efforts to get home Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, then they would entertain it.


But as of right now, it doesn't seem like that's the direction they're heading in.

And we should also note that Linda Thomas Greenfield, the ambassador to the United Nations for the U.S. told you, Jake that the Russians will be isolated here in the United Nations for the General Assembly -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie, with some good news, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Turning to our national lead, and growing calls for an investigation after migrants were shipped north by Republican Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, whom Democrats and activists accuse of engaging in a political stunt by luring immigrants onto planes and buses with false promises of jobs and housing, only to leave them stranded. That's the accusation.

But as CNN's Miguel Marquez reports, Florida's Governor DeSantis is not backing down from his gambit to bring attention to the border crisis using these techniques.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An indication of how some migrants are being convinced to travel from red states to blue. A pamphlet provided to asylum seekers going from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. The information provided by whoever the state of Florida contracted with to identify migrants willing to take a chance.

The pamphlet offers refugee assistance, including cash and employment services. All the migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard were seeking asylum, not refugee status. More buses, more migrants, shipped from Texas to New York City. No heads up, no coordination.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: This is, as we stated, a humanitarian crisis created by human hands and it is an all hands on deck moment.

MARQUEZ: Mayor Adams blaming Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who continues to send bus loads of my grants to New York City. Six buses already arriving today, at least 22 over the weekend.

ADAMS: When we reached out to Governor Abbott and stated, can we coordinate, can we identify, you know, who is traveling here, that we don't have to guess this, they refused to do so.

MARQUEZ: The influx pushing New York City's shelter system to its limit, the mayor says. More than 11,000 asylum seekers passing through New York City's shelter system since May. Some 2,500 arriving on buses from Texas alone.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: To relief our communities, we have to continue these busing operations.

MARQUEZ: With a sharp increase in border crossings over the last two years, Republican governors say sanctuary cities and states are legitimate destinations. This man says he had a 40-day journey to the U.S. border with a child. They were sent from Texas to D.C.

We didn't know where we were going, he says. The bus left us here and they didn't tell us where we were, they just left us here. And that's it.

These Republican governors say the migrants are willingly going and vow to continue their relocation programs.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: There's also going to be buses and there will likely be more flights but I'll tell you this, the legislature gave me $12 million, we're going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we're protecting the people of the state of Florida.

MARQUEZ: Florida's governor defended sending two planes of asylum seekers to Martha's Vineyard last week with funds provided by his state legislature. The law says migrants must be in Florida and illegal. Those shipped to Martha's Vineyard were in Texas and here legally. All those we spoke to having applied for asylum to escape the repressive Venezuelan regime.

DESANTIS: So, they've been in Texas, identifying people that are trying to come to Florida and then offering them free transportation to sanctuary jurisdictions.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, mayors and governors across the country, while all this, are trying to figure out what they can do to stop the practice, if they can do something legally, even going so far as to ask the Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of justice to step in. It is not clear at this point that they can or they will.

Keep in mind, Republican governors who are doing this say everyone going is doing it willingly -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, thanks so much.

Growing questions about some weird moments at the Trump rally over the weekend. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politic lead, former President Trump is returning to Mar-a-Lago for the first time since the FBI search and found dozens of top secret documents improperly stored at his Florida estate. The comes as the Justice Department asks a federal appeals court to put on hold a Trump-appointed judge's order requiring a special master to review those seized materials.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is following this for us.

Jessica, why is the Justice Department filing this appeal?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, Jake, they want two things here. They want to actually get back to using those 100 classifies documents that had seized from Mar-a-Lago that they've since been restricted from using. The lower court judge here, Aileen Cannon, said that they could no longer use those 100 classified documents with their grand jury proceedings, as well as the overall investigation.

The second thing they want is, they want to restrict Trump's lawyers and the special master from looking and getting their hands on that classified -- those classified documents, as well. So, they're looking for both of these things and really time is of the essence here. Trump's team has to reply to this appeal by tomorrow at noon. And it's possible, the appeals court can rule or actually move on this pretty quickly here.

And that's because the special master is ready to get to work. He's been ordered to review 11,000 of these documents by the end of November.


That includes the 100 classified documents that are at issue here, and, of course, as part of their appeal, DOJ wants to restrict the special master from even looking at these documents. So, we'll see how quickly the appeals court gets moving here -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jessica, both sides are set to meet with the special master for the first tomorrow. What should we expect from that?

SCHNEIDER: Right. So, this is the first move by the special master. The special master here is Judge Raymond Dearie. He's the senior judge in Brooklyn at the federal courthouse. So, that's where the hearing will be, a preliminary conference tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. This was all ordered by Judge Aileen Cannon. She wants to get a scheduling order put into effect. So, he has to

confer with Trump's attorneys as well as DOJ attorneys. They have to decide how this schedule, how this review process is going to move forward, because again, time is of the essence. The special master has to get the documents reviewed by the end of November. But the big question here, will the appeals court step in the meantime and maybe restrict what the special master can review as it pertains to those 100 classified documents -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

In Ohio, former President Trump addressed supporters during a rally for Republican this weekend. There were many bizarre moments, including what appears to be echoes of the propaganda put out by adherence of the derange and occasionally deadly QAnon conspiracy theory, propaganda that Trump has repeatedly and unequivocally shared in recent weeks on his social media accounts.

CNN's Sara Sidner joins us now live with more on this.

Sara, can you point to the things that Trump said or did that are linked to the QAnon conspiracy?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. You know, this weekend, Trump made a very ominous speech about the decline of America and while doing so, music began playing and the music sounded exactly like a song called "WWG1WGA", where we go one, we go all, so that's what stands for. It's a slogan used over and over and over again by QAnon conspiracy theorists and use and over and over again.

For some in the QAnon world, this was another symbol, a wink and a nod to them, that Donald Trump is a believer in their conspiracies. But that pales in comparison to something much more overt, that Trump did, that indicated a synergy with QAnon. Last Tuesday, Trump uses Truth Social website to repost an image of himself, you see there. He's using a Q lapel pin with the words the storm is coming emblazoned across the bottom there.

This is a direct reference to the QAnon conspiracy that Trump is going to return to power and get rid of his opponents by jailing or executing them. Some QAnon believers say that Trump's Democratic opponents are evil, that they drink the blood of children, and that they are part of a shadowy cabal of pedophiles, all of which is hogwash. But the belief has created a large enough following of people who are motivated enough to make waves politically and it appears that Donald Trump wants to engage them.

These are not at all the first links that Donald Trump has made with QAnon, but this past weekend, have been the most overt. We were able to speak to a Trump spokesperson who responded to questions about the song that was played, saying it was not a QAnon song at all, but a song called "Mirror" and then said this, that the fake news is a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America and is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty free song from a popular audio library platform. Now, the way that Media Matters, a group which tracks right wing

political extremists in media, says Trump has posted or reposted more than 100 messages linked to QAnon since the beginning of the year, Jake.

TAPPER: It's unsettling because people who believe in this insane theory have actually taken the law into their own hands and killed individuals. What is the danger of a president engaging and winking and nodding with this group of conspiracy theorists, just beyond the sheer madness of what they believe?

SIDNER: Yeah, I mean, it's a really good point that needs to be made. In June, CNN reported that the FBI warned lawmakers that QAnon conspiracy theorists may carry out more acts of violence as they move from what they call themselves digital soldiers to taking action in the real world, violent action.

The report suggests the failure of QAnon predictions to materialize has not led to followers leaving and abandoning their conspiracy theories. Instead, there's a belief that individuals need to take a greater control of the direction of the movement than ever before, and the FBI thinks that may lead to more violence, Jake.

TAPPER: Insane. Sara Sidner, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Who is behind the growing book banning movement happening in more schools and libraries in more states?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our buried lead --that's what we call stories we do not think are getting enough attention -- at least 50 groups are fighting to ban books in U.S. schools. That's according to PEN, a nonprofit literary advocacy organization. A new report says these groups are fighting to ban material related to race and LGBTQ rights and critical race theory and more.

Joining us now to discuss, Jonathan Friedman, he's the director of free expression and education programs at PEN America.

Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

Your report breaks down the subject matters that there are pushes to be banned. A majority of them have LGBTQ plus themes or a protagonist of color. Explain more if you would. And obviously the devil's advocate argument might be to a parent out there, hey, I don't want my first grader reading anything having to do with sexuality, much less LGBTQ or heterosexual or anything.


You know, in district after district, we've been tracking book bans, efforts to remove and restrict and diminish access to literature for young people. And the trends are very clear, that LGBTQ books, books that touch on race and racism or books that have any kind of sexual content, you know, whether it's a book, a young adult work of fiction that has a couple kissing or a book teaching a young person about puberty is on the chopping block. And it's the same books being targeted everywhere.

Now, parents do have a right to get involved, have a voice, bring their concerns to teachers, to librarian, to school districts, but increasingly, we are not seeing any kind of regular processes being instituted in response to those demands. Some demand the book is removed and they don't want it for their own child but immediately, that book is taken away from everybody else. You can't run schools that way.

TAPPER: And I've also seen in the news media, I've seen stories of basically librarians getting death threats, where they have to remove the books because otherwise they're afraid to come into work.

FRIEDMAN: They're afraid to come into work, they're harassed on their daily jobs. Some have been threatened for speaking out even in their role as public citizens. And in a lot of cases, you know, you see the same kinds of ideas circulating online and now being enacted. In Pride Month in January there was a movement called Hide the Pride, to remove from school -- from public libraries, not just school libraries, any books with any LGBTQ content whatsoever, to hide them from people who might want to take them.

That's sabotaging a public institution for the sake of one ideological contingent.

TAPPER: So I have read over the course of the years instances of progressives trying to ban books, "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Huckleberry Finn," "Tom Sawyer."

For this study, is it all just from the right or is it a mix?

FRIEDMAN: Well, book banning is not a partisan issue. You see indeed efforts over time to challenge books in schools from both the left and the right. And what we need to do is come together and understand that literature exists for people to read it, to consume it freely and publicly. And, you know, our concern really is with the encroachment upon those rights for young people.

It's true that in the past there have been threats from the left and it's not to say there won't be again. But right now, when you look at the 2,500 plus bans that we have tracked in the '21-'22 school year, overwhelmingly, the groups behind this lean conservative and they want to remove books that reflect what they see as progressive ideologies.

TAPPER: The report also breaks down demands by state. Texas has more than 750 bans in the state, Florida coming up second. Second most bans. Are we going to start to see a divide in the country where kids in blue states and red states are receiving a vastly different education, or are we already there? FRIEDMAN: You know, we may indeed already be there. Textbooks

historically have been written in different ways for different parts of the country, and there is no question that this issue is breaking down along those traditional battle lines. But for even in red districts in red states, there are many people who live there who represent diverse intellectual perspectives, different viewpoints, and they all ought to be able to go to a school library, feel welcome and find books that speak to them and their identities.

TAPPER: So, the PEN report says that while this movement has existed for more than a decade, you've never seen it operate at quite this scale. What do you think is behind this new push to ban books?

FRIEDMAN: I mean, there are a few things making this moment unprecedented. One is that it's not just about book banning in local school districts, it comes at the same time as we've seen a raft of legislative bills proposed in states around the country. What we at PEN have called educational gag orders. And those are bills to restrict or censor what teachers can talk about in classrooms and the curriculum that they can employ.

So this is happening on multiple tracks at once. It parallels really historical periods like the red scares after the first and Second World War. Then it was about rooting out communism but today it's anything that a particular contingent doesn't like.

So, it's kind of a roving target and that's what's making this unprecedented. A lot of politicians are getting involved. And across the board, more and more school districts are failing to uphold basic process when it comes to these demands.

You can't run a school library if you remove books just because one person objects to them. And just how do I know? Is that across the country, in so many places, people are demanding that books be removed from school libraries when the books aren't even in those libraries to begin with.

TAPPER: Jonathan Friedman, thank you so much.


This just in, a judge has vacated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed, whose case gained attention after the "Serial" podcast. Now, Adnan Syed has been released. But how long will he be a free man?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the hit podcast serial made millions of us aware of his legal fight. And today, a judge vacated Adnan Syed's murder conviction for the 1999 strangling death of his ex-girlfriend. He's been released but his fight is not over yet. We'll tell you more about that.

Plus, a decision made on a new push to get more commercial pilots in the air faster in order to help alleviate the pilot shortage.