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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Nearly 7.3 Million Ballots Cast So Far Across 39 States; Justice Thomas Temporarily Shields Graham From Testifying In Georgia Probe; Jury Selection Begins In Tax Fraud Trial Of Trump Organization; Teen Pleads Guilty In High School Shooting That Killed 4 Students; Next British PM Is Youngest In 200+ Years, First Person Of Color; U.S. Disputes Russia's Claim That Ukraine Plans To Use "Dirty Bomb". Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 24, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A lot can happen in 15 days.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Fight for control. Brand new CNN polls into the tightest races in the country. The clues in the data that could determine the balance of power.

Also, what prosecutors call a landmark case, a mass shooting suspect pleads guilty to killing his classmates. His parents accused of giving him easy access to the guy. Why his legal troubles do not end with today's play.

And Republican Senator Lindsey Graham getting Supreme Court help for now in his fight against subpoena in a case try to get into the bottom of election interference.


BERMAN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.

We are 15 days away from the midterm elections and U.S. voters are hitting the polling booths, nice and early. Almost 7.3 million ballots have been cast in 39 states so far. Florida and Georgia, critical battlegrounds, both reporting huge numbers. In other words, great news for democracy at work.

But not so great news, complaints of voter intimidation in Arizona. Two armed men we're seen last Friday attack tactical patrolling near a ballot drop box. That's according to Maricopa County election department. The man left when deputy showed up.

This afternoon, Attorney General Merrick Garland responded to that incident with a pledge to voters.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Justice Department has an obligation to prevent, to guarantee a free, fair vote by everyone who's qualified to vote and will not permit voters to be intimidated.


BERMAN: This year, nearly every race could determine which party controls the Senate come January. In just a moment, brand new CNN polling dissecting which races to watch closely.

But first, how Democrats are trying to hold their slim majorities, and as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, how Republicans are trying to counter that message.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the eve of a critical debate, all eyes are on Pennsylvania. In the fight for control of the Senate, as Democrat John Fetterman and Republican Mehmet Oz share a stage for the first time.


ZELENY: A new CNN poll shows Fetterman with a narrow edge, 51 to 45 percent, just outside the surveys margin of error, as Oz works to burst his campaign two weeks before election day.

The race to fill the seat of retiring Republican Senator Pat Toomey has played out as a bitter long distance dual, with a sharp focus on Fetterman's recovery from a near deadly stroke in May.

JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: It's the elephant in the room, having a stroke.

ZELENY: At a weekend campaign stop, Fetterman explaining how he will use close captioning during his face to face encounter with Oz Tuesday night.

FETTERMAN: The lingering issue is, they call it auditory -- which makes it, here are, and I understand everything in terms of words on paper and understand what I hear. When we're talking a very specific and having things like, we're going to need captioning.

ZELENY: Today, Oz unveiling a plan to fight crime.

OZ: We're going to deal with the crime and drugs that are creating lawlessness.

ZELENY: An issue that has been front and center in their contests.

With President Biden spending most days off the campaign trail, he made a brief visit today to the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in Washington.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whether we maintain control of the Senate and the House, it's a big deal. And so far, we're running against the tide and we're beating the tide. ZELENY: It's yet another reminder that November elections will have

lasting consequences for the 2024 presidential campaign. Particularly, governors races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all states that form Biden's blue wall just two years ago after Donald Trump carried them in 2016.

In Pennsylvania, the new CNN poll finds Democratic candidates Josh Shapiro with a 15 point lead over Republican rival Doug Mastriano. In Michigan, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer holds a narrow six point edge over Republican Tudor Dixon. In Wisconsin, an ever tighter race between Democratic Governor Tony Ever and Republican Tim Michaels.

The economy is top of mind for voters, and should more of a priority for Democratic candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders told CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I'm worried about the level of voter turnout among young people and working people who'll be voting Democratic. And I think, again, with Democrats have to do is contrast or economic plan with the Republican.


ZELENY (on camera): Now here in Pennsylvania, half a million voters have already cast their ballots. But certainly, so many more are waiting until that debate tomorrow evening here in the Commonwealth against John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz.


For weeks and months, Dr. Oz's been suggesting that Fetterman is not up to the task of being a senator, of course, talking about that stroke and heart attack he suffered earlier in the year. Fetterman says he is, he will be using close captioning at the debate tomorrow evening.

John, one thing is clear, this will be the first time that many voters here in Pennsylvania have seen either one of them outside their TV sets in those 30-second TV ads. So, this debate actually could shape this important Senate race -- John.

BERMAN: No doubt about that. Jeff Zeleny in Philadelphia, home of the national league champion, Philadelphia Phillies -- Jeff, thank you very much.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BERMAN: To Florida now, and today's high stakes debate between Republican Ron DeSantis and his challenger, Democratic former governor, Charlie Crist, who has lagged behind his rival.

CNN's Kasie Hunt is live in Fort Pierce, Florida.

And, Kasie, Crist is trying to engineer a comeback in this race, how vital is tonight's debate for him? KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it may well be

his very last chance, John, to derail what has been a train picking up momentum in the wake of that terribly tragic hurricane that hit the state of Florida two weeks ago. This debate was postponed because of hurricane Ian.

So, Chris has been out there arguing that Ron DeSantis only wants to run for president in 2024. And that really, the bottom line, those are the stakes for Ron DeSantis. You remember, he won his last race for governor just barely over the Democrat. This is still a string state despite the fact that it's become really a stomping round for conservatives in the post-Trump era.

But there are a lot of thing here about whether Crist we'll do anything along those lines. So far, his cash disadvantage is so enormous. It's just going to be hard to catch up.

BERMAN: So, Kasie, how has Ron DeSantis been handling that criticism that he only has eyes for 2024?

HUNT: Well, he claims that he's focused solely on the governor's race here in Florida. But everything he's been doing behind the scenes tells a completely different story. He's been very careful and how is rolled out endorsements around the country just this morning a gondola spat with the former President Donald Trump, or at least Trump tried to pick a fight with them, criticizing his decision -- DeSantis's decision to endorse a moderate Republican that's running for the Senate in Colorado.

DeSantis, I'm told by sources, has been careful to stay out of races in Iowa and New Hampshire, places where he may need support should he run that 2024 campaign. So, while they may be obviously, here, talking about the 2022 election, DeSantis' eyes are clearly on 2020, John.

BERMAN: Yeah, you can't do anything casually in Iowa or New Hampshire if you might want to run for president.

Kasie Hunt in Fort Pierce, Florida, Kasie, thank you very much.

Let's talk more about the new CNN polling. I'm joined by CNN political director David Chalian.

David, let's focus on Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, always key states, key Senate races. What issues are these voters most energized about?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, these are the two states where Democrats see a hope to try and actually pad their majority or at least get an insurance policy against maybe potential losses elsewhere on the map.

Currently two Republican-held Senate seats in Pennsylvania, the slight edge for John Fetterman, 51 percent to Mehmet Oz, the Republican, at 45 percent. Top issues, John, economy and inflation going away, sort of dwarves everything else, 44 percent of voters say the top issue.

Look at this broken down by candidate. Among those economy inflation voters, again, 44 percent of the likely voter pool in this poll. Oz is winning 2-1 those voters, 64 percent to 32 percent.

Now, abortion, fewer voters say it's their top issue. Fetterman's winning that, 79-21 percent.

Out in Wisconsin, we have no clear leader. A razor thin race between the Republican, Ron Johnson at 50 percent among likely voters, Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor, the Democrat, 49 percent. No clear lead. The top issues in Wisconsin, a similar picture. 47 percent say economy and inflation is the number one issue. Everything is much lower down after that.

And we see an even bigger discrepancy here among those economy voters in Wisconsin, they go for Ron Johnson, 78 percent to 21 percent. Again, total flip on abortion rights, but fewer people say that is their top choice.

BERMAN: So, David, this poll also sheds light on what is motivating voters to get to the polls this cycle.

CHALIAN: I think this is one of the most fascinating questions we have in our polls, John. Take a look here. We asked, candidate issue positions or are you a strategic voter and which party controls the Senate matters or the character of the candidate? You see here the plurality, 48 percent say it's a candidate issue positions in Pennsylvania among likely voters.

But look at this. When you look at how it breaks for the candidates, the folks who say that which party controls the Senate is a driving factor, they go for Oz, 57 percent to 42 percent.

That is a different story in Wisconsin. Here, okay, the issue voters overwhelmingly go Johnson,58 percent to 41 percent, again, the plurality. But among those that are concerned about party control, which party controls the Senate. What you see here, that benefits Mandela Barnes 54 percent to 45 percent. The strategy voters here are more leaning towards the Democrat in Wisconsin, John.

BERMAN: That is interesting to see discrepancy there. I wonder why. David Chalian, as always, thank you so much for being with us.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Let's dig deeper now. Tara Palmeri from "Puck News".

Thank you so much for being with us.


BERMAN: You've had a chance to look at these polls. Which party's happier with where things stand right now?

PALMERI: It's an interesting question. I look at Pennsylvania and you see the race tightening, right? Fetterman had a double digit lead over the summer and I have to look at the numbers being sent from independent expenditures, specifically from the Republican. I think it's been like $60 million almost at John Fetterman. By the end of this week, they will have spent $100 million outside groups in Pennsylvania Senate race alone.

So I think that's a big reason you're seeing the numbers start to tighten. I do wonder how this will shake out because Josh Shapiro is the Democratic candidate. He's polling --

BERMAN: For governor.

PALMERI: For governor in Pennsylvania. He is polling double digits ahead of Doug Mastriano, he's a Democrat. Could he help Fetterman along in a race that's really starting to tight? Or are we going to see ticket splitters, people who vote for a Democrat governor and then a Republican senator, being Dr. Oz. So, we're going to have to see what happens in that case.

And the same thing in Wisconsin, the amount of outside spending going into these races, I think that's why you're seeing them tighten up. Mitch McConnell has his eyes on Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and that Senate leadership fund is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in these races.

BERMAN: Money matters, issues matter, too, Basil. If you look at the -- Basil Smikle, very nice to see you, by the way.

And you look at the issues we had them on the screen before, the economy and inflation, clearly the most important issue. That's in the mid 40s in both of these key states then below that, abortion and also election integrity and voting rights here. So, what does that tell you?

BASIL SMIKLE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECOTR, NY STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, let me to the issue about ticket splitting, because I think that's really important. You may see a lot of voters, particularly Democratic voters, that say we want to make sure Democrats control the Senate because of Lindsey Graham's bill on nationalizing abortion restrictions, for example, but may vote for Republican for governor. So the ticket splitting is something I'm looking at around these a lot of these issues like inflation but also abortion.

But I also think what Bernie Sanders was saying is really critical as well because Democrats know how to talk about these issues. We won in the suburbs over the last couple of cycles, so Democrats clearly have the talking points to talk to those voters, but, you know, this -- the word that was in our lexicon in 2016 which we purged, which is pivot, that function still needs to exist and while the Democrats were really good at putting threats to democracy out there and it was polling very well in the sort of the early fall, we needed to turn the table and start talking about inflation, crime, for example, gas prices. All of those economic issues, which we have in our quiver, we just probably didn't do quickly enough, but there's still time.

BERMAN: So you think pivot to the economy, yes?

SMIKLE: Absolutely, absolutely. Because if you're motivated for reproductive rights, because you're concerned about threats to democracy, that's already built in. So, let's start talking about other things, which we do have in our vocabulary. BERMAN: It's funny you should say that because President Biden, who

is the top Democrat in the country, seems to be doing that.

Charlie Dean, I want you to listen to this in how he is leaning into the economy with this very specific language. This was the president at the DNC today.


DEAN: Democrats are building a better America for everyone, with an economy that grows from the bottom up and the middle out, where everyone does well. Republicans are doubling down on a mega MAGA trickle down economics that benefits the very wealthy, failed the country before and will fail it again if they win.


BERMAN: Mega MAGA trickle down, Charlie. How will that work?

CHARLIE DEAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I don't think it's going to help Joe Biden very much. The mood is clearly moving towards the Republicans. The Democrats are playing defense in Oregon, in Rhode Island, and Nevada and a number of places. Inflation and the economy are driving everything.

It seems to me right now that I think Democrats are in this very defensive position on the economy because they're being hit with some justification about some of the spending and the American rescue plan that overspent and juiced the demand even more, helping to contribute to inflation.

So I think they're in a defensive position and people are feeling it, and wherever you are, and it's not just the economy. I like to follow up on the crime issue in Philadelphia. This is a huge issue. It's an enormous issue that people are talking about, and they're not just talking to people in Philadelphia. People in the whole media market who are playing close attention.

So, I'm not sure what Biden said today is really going to do much to help them.

BERMAN: Is there anything that Democrats or Biden could say about the economy that would scare you as a Republican?

DEAN: Well, I mean, it seems like, right now, let's take a student loan bill they're talking about that could be a half a trillion dollars. That's going to juice inflation according to the economists because again, they're going to juice demand. I mean, that's a solution to a problem from their perspective, but that's not going to help on the inflation matter.

I mean, I can point out a number of things that they've been proposing that even their Inflation Reduction Act has little to do with inflation. It was a price control bill on drugs and climate change, but it really didn't deal with inflation.

BERMAN: So 7.3 million early ballots cast. That's a lot.


BERMAN: Seven-point-three million people have already voted in this election. Again, the number is up from four years ago, but also we're seeing this video of voter intimidation, what looks like voter intimidation in Arizona. How do you think that's going to play out?

PALMERI: Well, high turnout is generally good for Democrats and it seems people are starting to embrace the COVID changes that we've seen, the ability to vote early, to mail in your ballots, not feeling like you're an absentee voter, just to vote early. And maybe you know, people have changed in their style of voting. At the same time, this change has caused a lot of unrest and caused some politicians to create a sense of fear and the change means you can't trust the ballot and you can't trust the results.

And that's why you're seeing this intimidation. You see poll workers, they don't even want to work in polls anymore because they don't want to work there because they're afraid of being harassed and people don't want to vote. I mean, it's a really terrifying thing. I think the anxiety around the change is being exploited.

BERMAN: Look, and you can see it working in the poll numbers right now, some stunning numbers within these polls. When you ask among likely Pennsylvania voters, 70 percent say they're somewhat confident their vote will be cast as intended, but only 46 percent of Republicans say they're confident their vote will be counted carefully. IN Wisconsin, it's 51 percent of Republicans. Michigan is 41 percent.

Charlie, Republicans don't believe in elections.

DEAN: Look, I would tell anybody in Pennsylvania that we know how to run elections in Pennsylvania. We're very good at it. They are generally very fair. And they're pretty transparent.

And so I think that's totally misguided for people to think. Our problem in this country frankly is what happens after the election. That's what we witnessed in 2020 and you know, I hear all this stuff about oh, Republicans not liking mail-in votes.

Here's my absentee ballot application. I've already voted by absentee, but Republicans were also very good at this because of Donald Trump, he told Republicans not to vote by mail even though in Pennsylvania, we were better at it than the Democrats.

BERMAN: One other thing that may not be helping is the way some politicians talk about the last election. Ted Cruz was on "The View" today and pressed repeatedly about whether Joe Biden won the 2020 election, which he did. You can watch some of that here. Listen.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Listen, Biden is the president today. There's a lot of folks in the media, anytime -- hold on, I'm answering exactly that question. There are a lot of folks in the media that try to, anytime a Republican is in front of a TV camera, try to say the election was fair and square and legitimate. You know who y'all don't do that to? To Hillary Clinton who stood up and said Trump stole the election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She didn't try to kill my former boss.

CRUZ: Who said the election was stolen. They sat here and said it was illegitimate and you guys were fine with it.



BERMAN: What's he trying to do here?

SMIKLE: Yeah, I don't know. Listen, you know, as much he could try to step away from what was called the big lie, I like to call it the big conspiracy. Why? Because there's so many people around the country who have spent a lot of money, put a lot of resources into and through talking points in front of a lot of candidates to do exactly what I was saying -- drive fear in the minds of a lot of voters about the outcomes of elections. That fear is what's driving so much of what's -- what we're seeing on the right.

When you layer that with the conversations around crime as you were talking about, which is being racialized and urbanized, that fear is one of the biggest drivers for the right and that's what Democrats have to contend with in this cycle.

BERMAN: My friends, great to see you, 15 days left.

Next, how Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas today stepped into Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's subpoena fight.

Plus, a once super rich banker, now he's the first person of color to be Britain's first prime minister, and that's not the only historic precedent for this new leader.



BERMAN: We're back with our politics lead.

Senator Graham is off the hook for now. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas today agreed to temporarily block a subpoena for the South Carolina Republican. Graham's testimony is sought by a special grand jury investigating possible criminal interference in Georgia's 2020 presidential election.

I want to bring in Sara Murray.

Sara, why was Justice Thomas solo in making this decision?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if Justice Thomas has jurisdiction over the lower courts that were considering this matter and the lower court said they were not going to press pause on this. Graham has been arguing he should not have to appear before a grand jury. He said anything he did around the election essentially had to do with this role as a U.S. senator.

The D.A. there has been wanting to ask him questions about calls he made to Georgia election officials and lower courts have said if you were trying to cajole these election officials into doing something, we don't believe that's part of your legislative activity. Now, though, this subpoena is on pause. Well, we wait to see what else the Supreme Court may do, John.

BERMAN: Pause for how long? What's the deadline for prosecutors to respond to the temporary?

MURRAY: We don't know how long the pause is going to last. But prosecutors have until Thursday to respond to this and again, just because Clarence Thomas decided to put a pause on this, to delay Lindsey Graham's subpoena, that still doesn't tell you where the full court is going to come done on this matter, John.

BERMAN: All right. So, watch this space carefully.

Sara Murray, thank you very much.

In New York, jury selection underway in the criminal trial of the Trump Organization, the company.


The company is charged with tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records and faces fines of more than a million dollars.

CNN's Kara Scannell is live outside the court house here in Manhattan.

Kara, Donald Trump is not a defendant exactly in this case, so how much legal exposure does the former president have here?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The former president is not a defendant in this case and he's not expected to be implicated when the trial gets underway, but of all the criminal investigations that have swirled around the former president, this is the one that has resulted in charges and it's against the company he built from the ground up nearly 40 years ago.

So while the former president is not personally exposed and on the hook here, this is about the company he built and he has very close relationship still with the company and still owns it. So when jury selection is underway today, they're starting this process of questioning each juror. One was excused for saying she had a bias against the former president, but there are a number of who are still in there and seated it can be fair and impartial.

The Trump Organization has been indicted on nine counts. That includes grand larceny, falsifying business records, scheme to the fraud and tax fraud. They also could face a fine of as much as $1.6 million if they are convicted of these charges. But if they are convicted, this is not likely to spell the end of the organization. This conviction doesn't have that kind of effect.

But it could impact the business if it scares away business parties. If it makes lenders who are unwilling to lean with the company that's been convicted. You know, of course, the former president could have negotiated a plea deal. He was not interested in doing so. He wanted to go to trial on this case, not wanting to, doesn't believe that the company has done anything wrong so they're forging ahead here.

The judge signaling that jury selection will continue tomorrow as they continue to work though this to try to get 12 unbiased jurors and several alternates to hear testimony in this case, John.

BERMAN: Kara Scannell, watching all the twist and turn, great to have you there, Kara.

And on CNN tonight, Jake Tapper speaks with veteran investigative journalist, Bob Woodward, on his hours of interviews with former President Trump. Hear what he has. That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN.

Ahead, he pleaded guilty to killing his classmates. Now why a possible life sentence is just not enough and how families of those killed are demanding more.



BERMAN: Another deadly school shooting in the U.S. tops our national lead. Two people, a woman and teenage girl were killed this morning at Central Visual and Performs Arts High School in St. Louis. Police confirmed the suspect is also dead. School officials say he was shot and killed by an officer. Investigators did not say how he got into the school or whether the shooter was a current or pas student.

Meantime in Michigan, 16-year-old Ethan Crumbley has pleaded guilty to charges at a high school last year. He now faces up to life in prison without parole for killing four students and wounding seven others.

As CNN's Jean Casarez reports, Crumbley's plea could also impact a criminal case against his parents.


MARC KEAST, OAKLAND COUNTY ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR: Is it your own choice to plead guilty?


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixteen-year-old Crumbley pleading guilty to all 24 charges against him, including one charge of terrorism and four counts of first degree murder for the mass shooting at Oxford High School last year. KEAST: Is it true that your actions on November 30th, 2021 caused the

deaths of Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, and Justin Shilling?


CASAREZ: Prosecutors asking Crumbley to admit to each of his actions that day.

KEAST: Did you bring a 9 millimeter Sig Sauer handgun and 50 rounds of 9 millimeter ammunition with you at the Oxford High School?

CRUMBLEY: Yes, sir.

KEAST: Is it true that when you exited the bathroom, you began shooting at students and staff at the Oxford High School?


CASAREZ: In addition to the four students who were killed, six others and a teacher were wounded.

JUDGE KWAME ROWE, OAKLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: You understand that the maximum possible penalty you face here on the underlying offenses is up to life in prison?

CRUMBLEY: Yes, sir.

CASAREZ: The guilty plea, a surprise given his attorneys said they intended to file an insanity defense.

KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: I want to be very clear. There were no plea negotiations, no plea offers, no reductions and no sentencing agreements.

CASAREZ: This may not be the last time Crumbley speaks before the court. He could be called to testify at the trial of his parents. Jennifer and James Crumbley were arrested after going on the run following a shooting. Both are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors argue they gave their son easy access to a gun they bought for him and disregarded signs he was a threat.

Crumbley's parents both pleaded not guilty and their attorneys have argued they should not be held responsible for their son's actions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously, if he's called as a witness, that's something that may play out.

CASAREZ: And a possible preview today of what that testimony might be.

KEAST: Is it true that the firearm you used on November 30th was purchased on November 26th, 2021, by your father, James Crumbley?


KEAST: Is it true that you asked him to buy that firearm?


KEAST: Is it true you gave him your own money to buy that firearm?



CASAREZ: And the case against the parents, this is truly a precedent setting case. Their next hearing is on Friday.

As far as Ethan, the question remains what is the proper punishment? Our U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for a minor is unconstitutional. There has to be other options. He will be in this court in February as the attorneys argue term of years or life in prison without that possibility of parole -- John.


BERMAN: Jean Casarez, that was just chilling to see. Thank you so much for being there and doing this reporting.

I want to discuss with Ven Johnson. He's an attorney for several of the families of victims in the Oxford High School shooting.

Counselor, thank you so much for being with us. You were in the courtroom as this man pled guilty to all 24 charges. How are the families you represent reacting to this?

VEN JOHNSON, FIELD CIVIL LAWSUIT OVER SCHOOL SHOOTING: Well, John, it was a sad, somber day just as you've noted. Difficult to see for my clients that were there this young man was 15, now 16. And then hear him in a very monotone straightforward way without any remorse to say yes, he killed each and every one of them and injured them and pled guilty to terrorism and all the other charges. It was a real tough day.

BERMAN: So, you filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families against him, his parents, and the school district. What effect does the guilty plea have on your civil case?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it's going to have a large impact on the civil case for some of the reasons that you've already mentioned. Number one, Crumbley testified today because he was in court. He was under oath so this is a non-hearsay statement. He testified that his dad bought him that gun, used Ethan Crumbley's match up. First and foremost, that is some of the elements of a federal gun crime. So we'll see what happens in the United States attorney's office on that.

And three, that of course Ethan asked to have that gun purchased for him. They referred to it as his gun. We know that because Mrs. Crumbley in any her text messages as crazy as they may be, when the school officials on Monday, November 29, 2021, were trying to reach her and figure out why is your kid on his phone in classroom looking at bullets. One of the texts she sent to him was along the lines of, you didn't tell them we bought your gun, did you?

So, there's no question that's going to come into evidence and certainly one of the other things mentioned, he testified today, is the gun was not locked and it was not secured in other words from him. So that he had obvious access to it.

We also heard from him today that the gun was in his backpack. Just as we've been telling everybody from day one and the school officials we've taken the depositions of lied under oath when they said it wasn't in backpack, it was somewhere in the tiles of the bathroom. All nonsense.

So, Crumbley said today, testified today, in my backpack, 60 rounds of bullets. So had Mr. Ajak (ph), Mr. Hopkins done their job, especially on Tuesday the 30th of November, less than two hours before the shooting, and looked in the backpack, searched it like they should have, they'd have found the gun and ammunition, John. The whole thing would have been averted.

BERMAN: What are the families you represent, what are they hoping to get out of the lawsuit?

JOHNSON: Accountability, full accountability. And remember to this day, we still have not seen all the evidence. This has been one of the most painful things with Oxford community schools concealing and covering up all that went down that day. My clients still haven't heard the ins and outs of exactly what happened by whom and what.

So bits and pieces of evidence are still coming forward. We expect now that this prosecution is done hopefully that we can prevail upon our judge in Oakland County, Judge Rowe, to give us more access to all of the evidence, but there's evidence we still haven't even been given yet, John. So there's a long way to go for full and complete accountability here.

BERMAN: Ven Johnson representing several of the families of the victims killed in this shooting. We appreciate you being with us. Our thoughts are with the families.

JOHNSON: Thank you so much. I'll share that.

BERMAN: Coming up, Britain's next chapter. The new leader assuming office after his predecessors briefed six weeks in the same role.



BERMAN: In our world lead, a truly historic choice as the conservative party's leadership today united behind Rishi Sunak to be the next prime minister. He will be the youngest prime minister in more than 200 years and the first person of color to hold the job.

As CNN's Bianca Nobilo reports, he is being handed an economic mess.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After making the runoff in the second leadership contest in as many months, it's second time lucky for Britain's new prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

RISHI SUNAK, CONSERVATIVE PARTY LEADER: I will serve you with integrity and humility and I will work day in, day out to deliver for the British people.

NOBILO: But that is where his luck runs out. Sunak inherits a party at its lowest levels of popularity in a generation, changing prime ministers at a pace never seen.


NOBILO: The last, Liz Truss, became Britain's shortest serving leader ever at a mere six weeks.

But the former chancellor has not sugarcoated the challenges Britain faces, assuring he has the economic credentials to steer the nation through the crisis.

SUNAK: Borrowing your way out of inflation isn't a plan, it's a fairy tale.

NOBILO: Born to parents of Indian descent, Sunak is Britain's first person of color to become prime minister. But his path to power is a tale as old as time.

Educated at one of Britain's most exclusive school, Winchester College, on to Oxford University like over half of the country's prime minister, then into the finance industry.


After being praised for slick performances during the pandemic, he was tipped to become the next leader and his wife, Akshata Murthy, the daughter of the Indian billionaire founder of Infosys, came under fire for her non-domicile status, sparing her a huge tax bill.

Sunak ranks among the U.K.'s richest and has been labeled out of touch with ordinary voters.

SUNAK: As our friends who were, you know, working class. I'm not working class, but I'm mix and match.

NOBILO: This 2001 BBC documentary clip when he was still at university later went viral and it didn't help.

Now, Sunak leads Britain at a time when millions fear they won't be able to afford their food and heating this winter. Sunak will be tested and judged immediately.


NOBILO (on camera): John, Sunak is also Britain's first ever Hindu prime minister and serendipitously, he'll be taking it on the helm and becoming prime minister officially during Diwali, one of Hindu's biggest festivals which is taking place this week.

And tomorrow, we understand that Liz Truss will be going to see King Charles III at Buckingham Palace to officially resign, then Sunak will follow shortly after, be invited to form a government and officially become prime minister.

Then just a meter from where I'm standing tomorrow behind that famous podium, he'll address the nation as prime minister for the first time, setting out his stool and largely introducing himself because in many ways, he remains a political unknown, John.

BERMAN: Really is history. Doesn't mean he'll get much of a honeymoon, but history nonetheless.

Bianca Nobilo in London, thank you so much for being with us.

Next, Russia's new allegations of a dirty bomb that may be a ploy to set up Putin's next move.



BERMAN: Back with our world lead, Ukraine says an out of the blue accusation from Russia could be foreshadowing for Putin's next sinister move. Russia's defense minister is trying to convince other nations Ukraine is scheming to use a dirty bomb or destructive cocktail of traditional and radioactive explosives. NATO allies are convinced Russia made it up and welcome Ukraine's idea to have a United Nations watchdog come check it out.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine.

And, Clarissa, finger-pointing aside here, what are civilians on the front lines, far from where you are, what are they most worried about?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a whole lot of things they're worried about right now, John. This southern port city has just been hit very hard, really throughout the war, but particularly I would say in the last few weeks. You can see behind me it is pitch black because there is a mandatory blackout at night.

There are regularly missile strikes, drone strikes. We went today and yesterday to the scene of where two large S-300 missiles hit in a residential area in the outskirts of the city. One slammed into an apartment building. By some miracle, no one was killed, five people were injured.

So in addition to worrying about their actual, you know, the potential that they could be hurt or killed, they're also worried about the fact that there are now rolling blackouts here as a result of this sort of relentless targeting of civilian infrastructure. There's no fresh water here, and that's been the case, actually, since back in April because one of the pump plants got hit by a Russian strike, so people here now use saltwater essentially to bathe and then they go and line up every day to wait for fresh water that they can collect and take home for their cooking and drinking.

So, a lot of challenges facing people here, John.

BERMAN: And, Clarissa, one of the areas of focus right now is Kherson, which is south of you. And the confusion over what is actually happening there. We think pro-Russian officials there are encouraging evacuations. Are some people sticking it out?

WARD: So we have spoken to somebody who is still living in Kherson who has witnessed these kinds of evacuations, what the Russians are calling evacuations, the Ukrainians are likening them to forced deportations. He said that he and others who support the Ukrainian army intend to stay in Kherson until that city has liberated. I think there had been a moment of optimism that with this what appeared to be some sort of Russian withdrawal with at least the civil administrative services being pulled out of the city that maybe Ukrainian forces would be able to take it back soon.

But today, we heard from the head of Ukraine's military intelligence who said he does not think that is the case and he thinks Russia is recalibrating and regrouping and preparing to continue to fight for that city, John.

BERMAN: Uncertainty in a very crucial city.

Clarissa Ward in Mykolaiv, stay safe as always, Clarissa. Thank you.

Next, what caused the loss today of a TV sitcom star who came such a hoot for so many of us on the Internet.


BERMAN: Such sad news today in our pop lead. Beloved actor and comedian Leslie Jordan died today after being involved in a single-car accident in Hollywood. Jordan may be best known for his work on "American Horror Story" and "Hearts of Fire", and for his fan favorite recurring role on "Will and Grace" for which he won an Emmy Award.


LESLIE JORDAN, COMEDIAN: I walk in on a naked man, a man in his underpants and a woman who needs to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beverly, this isn't a good time.

JORDAN: And I'm saying it could be.

Well, hello, fellow hunker downer.


BERMAN: Jordan became a viral Instagram sensation early in the pandemic, filming these funny videos and sharing stories from his life. His "Will and Grace" co-star, action Sean Hayes, remembered his friend on twitter saying, quote, anyone who ever met him loved him. There will never be anyone like him, a unique talent with an enormous, caring heart.

He made so many people smile. What an incredible gift.

Leslie Jordan, may his memory be a blessing.

And a heads-up, fresh off tonight's debate in the Florida governor's race, Jake Tapper will speak with Charlie Christ, the Democrat once Republican, trying to get his old job back from the current Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. You can catch that at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

If you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen wherever you get podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter @JohnBerman.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."