Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Senator From Arizona Leaves Party To Become An Independent; Sinema Won't Commit To Supporting Biden In 2024; Biden Admin: Griner In "Good Spirits" After Landing Back In U.S.; DOJ Seeks To Hold Trump In Contempt Over Classified Documents; Musk Says Twitter Will Roll Out New Feature In Response To "Shadowbanning" Claims. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 09, 2022 - 16:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Not just any old bones. This is a 200- pound T. Rex skull dubbed "Maximus". It was discovered in South Dakota a couple of years ago, and it's about 76 million years old.

Today it sold at Sotheby's as an auction for a little over $6 million. The auction house was expecting to fetch up 20 million. Six million is still a lot of dough, though.

Thank you so much for joining me today.

THE LEAD starts right now.

KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST: Just as we thought the Senate count was settled, along comes Kyrsten Sinema.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Kyrsten Sinema declaring her independence. She is done with Democrats. This hour, what you haven't heard in her exclusive interview with Jake Tapper. Why she's announcing this now, why she's switching parties a second time, and will she support President Biden in 2024?

And will a judge hold former President Donald Trump in contempt of court? The frustration building after more classified documents were found.

Plus, those who dare. Self-proclaimed lava junkies risking the law and their lives to see volcanoes up close.


HUNT: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Kasie Hunt in today for Jake Tapper.

We start with our politics lead and that major shake-up on Capitol Hill that could have major ramifications not just immediately, but in 2024 as well. Today, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced she's leaving the Democratic Party and registering as a political independent. The top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and the White House are downplaying the news, pointing to ways they've worked with Sinema before in a bipartisan fashion. And Sinema says in an interview with Jake, that she doesn't see much

changing, but her move does cause uncertainty about how Democrats could control the Senate in the next Congress given their incredibly slim majority. And it could throw the 2024 Senate map into chaos if Sinema runs as a third-party candidate in the crucial battleground state of Arizona.

In just a moment, we're going to bring you part two of Jake's exclusive sit-down with Senator Sinema.

But, first, CNN's Jessica Dean with new reaction from Republicans and Democrats so Sinema's announcement.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Friday brought a bombshell for Senate Democrats.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): I've registered as an Arizona independent.

DEAN: Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate who wielded enormous power in the evenly split, Senate over the last two years, telling CNN's Jake Tapper she has left the Democratic Party and is now an independent.

SINEMA: I just -- not worried about folks who may not like this approach. What I am worried about is continuing to do what's right for my state.

DEAN: Following her announcement, Sinema talked with reporters at an Arizona food bank on Friday saying she's not focused on re-election, but on her constituents. Her term is up in 2024.

SINEMA: Today's announcement is a reflection of any values and I think the values of most Arizonians who are tired of a political system that pulls people to the edges and really doesn't reflect who we are as a people.

DEAN: Sinema gave the White House and Chuck Schumer advance warning of her announcement. On Friday, Schumer said in a statement Sinema will keep her committee assignments adding, quote, I believe she's a good and effective senator and I'm looking forward to a productive session in the new Democratic majority Senate. We will maintain our new majority on committees, exercise our subpoena power, and be able to clear nominees without discharge votes.

Fellow Senate Democrats and the White House echoing that sentiment, saying Sinema's decision won't change much.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): If she were to is a no, I am not voting with them anymore, that's a different thing. That is nowhere near what she said and she has tended not to go to the caucus meeting, something she said. So I'm not, like, telling something out of school, except for rare moments where she's advocating for something she cares about. And that's not going to change either. DEAN: Practically, Democrats will maintain their Senate majority with

three independents now. Plenty of Democrats have sharply criticized the move, though. Arizona Representative Ruben Gallego, a potential challenger to Sinema should she run again in 2024, blasted in a move in a statement saying, quote: Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is, once again, putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonians.


DEAN (on camera): So, again, the Senate Democrats and also the White House not expecting a ton of change in the immediate future. The White House saying today they see her as a key partner moving forward and, remember, Senator Sinema has been at the center of a lot of bipartisan legislation in the last couple of years, including the infrastructure bill, CHIPS, the marriage equality legislation that just passed, Kasie, the guns bills over the summer. She's been in the center of all of that and we expect to see more of that from her.


What this likely does do, though, is really opens up, as you alluded to, a lot of questions about 2024 and that Arizona Senate race, how does that shape up? We'll just have to see -- Kasie.

HUNT: We will. It's been quite an evolution since she arrived in the House of Representatives. Jessica, thanks very much for that report.

Much more of our CNN exclusive interview now with Senator Kyrsten Sinema, including how she came to this decision, whether she thinks Democrats are being pulled too far to the fringes and if she has any plans to run for president.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: For the Democrats in the Senate, having 51 votes versus 50 votes means the committees, they have more control over their committees. It means they have subpoena power. It means they'll have an easier time getting judges through and other federal nominations.

What you're doing today will not change that, because that is an important part of governance and the Senate?

SINEMA: Nothing about my decision to registration as an independent will change the way that I show up to committees or the way that I show up to the Senate.

TAPPER: So, it's an interesting time for you to be making this move because as you note, there has been a lot of bipartisan legislation that this Senate has passed. You've been a key part of a lot of it. I don't actually have time to go through all of it, but there's the CHIP Act, the PACT Act, which helps veterans who were victims of burn pits, obviously, the infrastructure legislation. There's a lot.

SINEMA: The marriage bill that we just passed on. TAPPER: The marriage bill which you just -- what you just voted for.

SINEMA: Historic gun violence prevention and investment in mental health.



TAPPER: So, how does leaving the Democratic Party change that or does it not change that?

SINEMA: I don't think it changes that at all. You know, Arizonians elected me to be an independent voice for the state. They also elected someone who promised to get things done. And I think we've been incredibly successful at doing that.

Building these bipartisan coalitions, reaching across the party lines, you know, getting rid of the noise that comes with partisanship. Nothing about that is going to change.

TAPPER: Right now, you're working with Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina on immigration and a bill that would both provide extra security for the border and also provide a path to legal status for the Dreamers.

SINEMA: That's right.

TAPPER: People who are in this country illegally but through no fault of their own. They were brought here as children.

SINEMA: Right.

TAPPER: Will this help you achieve that or might it hurt your cause here, the mission you're making by alienating Democrats whose votes you need?

SINEMA: You know, I don't think it will have any impact whatsoever. You know, Thom and I are working with a coalition of members in the parties right now to build the support to try and pass this legislation.

We all understand the urgency. And to be honest, Jake, I don't know if we can get it done or not by the end of this year. But we're trying to hard.

TAPPER: You started out in the Green Party to my knowledge. And you supported Ralph Nader for president in 2000. Your journey has been an interesting and complex one. You're the second openly LGBT individual in the Senate.

Can you walk us through your evolution as a politician from, I don't know, far left is a fair description, but Green Party --

SINEMA: I don't think it is.

TAPPER: You do or do not?


TAPPER: OK. But Green Party activist to Democrat to moderate to conservative Democrat to independent. Are you just getting more conservative or are you just in search of a home? How do you see it?

SINEMA: So my values have never changed. I have always been the person I am today. And, frankly, I'm grateful to my parents and the life that I've had that's led me to here. With all the experience that I've had, all the opportunities I've had to learn.

But one of the things I tell folks at home is that I really pride myself on my willingness to learn and grow. And I know in this town, people don't like it if you ever grow or change. But I believe that it is fundamental, it is fundamental to being a strong, good human, right?

It's the idea that you're willing to continue learning, you're willing to grow. And that you're willing to, if presented with new information, perhaps change your mind on something. What I pride myself on is my interest and willingness to grow and learn.

TAPPER: When you say the parties are being drags to the fringes, what have you seen in the Democratic Party that has made you uncomfortable with the direction it's taken?

SINEMA: Well, that's a good question. I would say generally speaking, the national parties are spending a lot of time thinking about how to get one over on the other party, right? How to win in the next election? How to use a talking point or an issue not to solve a problem or make a difference in people's lives, but to win a point, right, here or there?


And that's just not what I'm interested in. Not what I'm interested in at all. And, frankly, I think that's what most Americans are not interested in either.

And so, you know, the movements to really highlight how the other party is bad or wrong and both parties do this, I find that not only tiresome and exhausting but I find it counterproductive. It doesn't help us get to the solutions that we so desperately need in our country.

TAPPER: You have mentioned a few times in this interview your upbringing and your folks and one of the things that is intriguing about your life story is that you really come from very humble beginnings and, in fact, your family at one point, you lived in a gas station for a few years.


TAPPER: Essentially, you were homeless?

SINEMA: Yes, that's right.

TAPPER: What was the circumstance of that? And how did that affect you both as a person and as a politician?

SINEMA: Yeah. My family faced tough times when I was a kid. So, I was born into a middle class family but my parents got divorced when I was little. That's pretty common, right? There are lots and lots of families that go through that situation.

But after my parents got divorced, things were tough, and so we ended up living in a -- kind of an old gas station.

TAPPER: It was an abandoned gas station and you made it your home?


TAPPER: Did it have plumbing? Did it have electricity?

SINEMA: You know, we didn't have running water or electricity and that was a challenge.

TAPPER: How old were you?

SINEMA: From about the age of 8 until not quite 12. So it was -- those were formative years.

TAPPER: You were going to school the whole time?

SINEMA: Oh, yes, I loved school. I never missed school. Yeah, those were tough times. You know, what I'm grateful for was during that time, I learned a lot about independence, about the importance of, you know, working hard and overcoming challenges.

I also was really grateful that we had folks helping us. You know, my parents' church helped us a lot during those times, family and friends helped us during those times, and so I think that's how I really developed this -- what some people would say is an interesting mix, but I actually think is pretty normal, of both wanting to encourage folks to work really hard and do their best, to get that shot at the American dream, and absolutely recognizing that sometimes we have to help people on their path to that American dream.

TAPPER: It sounds like a very traumatic experience for a little kid. Did you have heat in the winter? I mean --

SINEMA: No. It was tough.

TAPPER: How did -- I mean, did you light a fire? I'm sorry to be intrusive, but it's just -- it seems so sad.

SINEMA: Well, I mean, I know it sounds kind of strange, but --

TAPPER: It doesn't sound strange, it sounds traumatic, it sounds rough.

SINEMA: Jake, there are a lot of families in our country today who are living in that kind of insecurity. Lots of families.

And so, actually, that's one of the reasons I decided to enter public office because I want to create an economy and a community that ensures there are fewer families living in situations like we struggled through and that we create more opportunities for folks to get that shot at the American dream and that we're making sure that we're creating an economy that works for everyone.

TAPPER: How did you get out of that situation?

SINEMA: Well, we were quite lucky. My parents' church helped --

TAPPER: Is this the LDS?

SINEMA: That's right. I was raised in an LDS church. And as you might know, the church has a very strong commitment to community and taking care of each other, and some of the leadership in the church helped my stepdad make a down payment on a little farmhouse and so we were able to move into a little farmhouse.

It had a little stove heater which was wonderful. It was so warm. And things got better.

TAPPER: Looking forward to 2024, will you support Joe Biden for president if he runs?

SINEMA: Folks know this about me, I don't talk much about partisan politics and I don't talk much about elections --

TAPPER: He ran in 2020 and you supported him.

SINEMA: Yes, I did. I felt at the time he was the best candidate running for president.

TAPPER: So you really are going to view the 2024 election as an independent? You're not automatically going to go with the Democratic candidate? You're going to see which one you prefer?

SINEMA: Jake, that's how I view everything.

TAPPER: Right, but generally speaking, I mean, have you ever voted for a Republican for president?

SINEMA: I'm not going to tell you that.

TAPPER: Well, I would guess you haven't just looking at your career. You voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. But since then, I would guess you didn't vote for George W. Bush, et cetera, et cetera. But your vote -- you're up for grabs is what you're saying.

SINEMA: No, I always make my decision which I think is consistent with Arizonians and frankly most people across the country, I always make my decision based on who I think is right for the country, who is the best person for the job.

[16:15:10] And it doesn't matter to me much whether that person is affiliated with party or which party they're affiliated with. What matters to me is the quality of the person and whether or not he or she is the right person for that job.

TAPPER: Would you ever run for president?


TAPPER: Never?

SINEMA: I don't want to president.

TAPPER: Senator Sinema, thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

SINEMA: Thank you.


HUNT: Fascinating.

Ahead, we're going to get a quick response to Sinema's announcement from one of her sharpest critics.

Plus, the court hearing that could have major implications for Donald Trump. Will a judge hold him in contempt and the side bar fight to get that answer?

Plus, what we're learning about WNBA Brittney Griner who is now back on U.S. soil.


HUNT: We're back now with our politics lead.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona's shockwave announcement to our Jake Tapper that she has left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. Let's discuss with former Utah Republican Congresswoman Mia Love and former special assistant to President Biden, Michael LaRosa.

Thank you both for being here.

And, Michael, let me start with you because this is your party.


Democrats obviously a little stressed out about what this means for control of the senate. I want to show you what Jake told Senator Sinema about that and we'll talk about it.



TAPPER: What you're doing today doesn't change that? It's still basically going to be 51-49?

SINEMA: I know you have to ask that question, Jake, but that's kind of a D.C. thing to worry about.


HUNT: Is it a D.C. thing to worry about? I mean, 51-49. It actually is a critical difference.

MICHAEL LAROSA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah, I think it actually is. She was a little bit evasive on that, I thought. But, look, the truth is, that Joe Biden wouldn't be one of the most successful first-term presidents in modern history without Kyrsten Sinema. I mean, without her, there would not be a provision for RX drugs and the ERA. She led on infrastructure.

So, you know, she's been tremendously helpful to the administration and they got a lot done because of her. But what I would say is that it doesn't take a lot of courage to leave a party.

Her role model, her personal hero, John McCain, he showed a lot of courage when he protected Obamacare, but he didn't leave his party, he tried to make his party better. And there are plenty of independents who outnumber Republicans and Democrats in states like New Hampshire and Nevada. Those states just re-elected their Democratic senators because they went and sold their accomplishments. They didn't leave their party to appease independents.

HUNT: I am hearing a lot in your answers here that we're going to dig into it. But let me go to the congresswoman for a second because I'm curious, I mean, you're from out west. You know the terrain and what it's like out there. Do you think this is just a re-election gambit for her? It does seem like a risky one, but it's in some ways it seems like the only explanation because she says she's not planning to upend the composition of the Senate.

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I'm not surprised at this decision at all. I worked with Kyrsten Sinema in the House of Representatives. As a matter of fact, we served on the same committee, Financial Services, together. She was the one that we would go to when we needed a bipartisan partner because we knew that our bill would have a chance because she would look at it and see if it actually helped Arizona or if it fit her philosophy, her political philosophy.

We knew she was going to just shut it down basically and mainly because the party leadership didn't want you to pass a bill or didn't want a Republican bill passed. She's -- it doesn't surprise me at all. She's always been the person that we can go to or we could be -- we would be able to go to, to see -- to try and get a bill passed.

As a matter of fact we got a couple of bills passed together, Kyrsten and I, that helped Utah and Arizona just because of the demographics and how close we are when it comes to some lands issues. So this doesn't surprise me. And I respect her for this decision.

HUNT: Very interesting. And, you know, you're not the only Republican cheering this move, frankly, although, I'm not sure exactly what you may think of one of the others who is, former Arizona GOP candidate for governor Kari Lake called the move on Twitter great news. Senator Thom Cotton is inviting him to join the Republican Party. Watch.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): She want to dip a toe in the Republican Party's pool, we would be happy to have her jump in with us as well.


HUNT: Do you see that being in the cards, Congresswoman?

LOVE: I don't see that being in the cards. As a matter of fact, it won't -- I don't see it changing the way she operates in Washington. She's always been that independent thinker. She's always been -- we worked on several bills together again on industrial loan companies, ILBs, we have worked together. And it makes sense to me.

This doesn't -- this is not a change in the way she's going to work in Washington. As a matter of fact, I think this actually helps Washington become more of a persuasion vehicle when it comes to bills instead of just assuming that you're just going to go along with the party.

This is -- this is good news because Republicans can go to her too and earn her vote. Both sides should be earning the support from their colleagues.

HUNT: So, Michael LaRosa, I see -- I've noticed you smiling throughout. Weigh in here. Do you agree with this assessment?

LAROSA: Yes, I mean --

HUNT: You do?

LAROSA: Sure, I mean, she's bipartisan. I worked for a blue dog Democrat. They're tough votes. You work across the aisle, that's how you get things done. We'll see.

HUNT: Is she doing this because she wants to get re-elected? I mean, what do you think is the motive?

LAROSA: They just elected a Democratic governor, a Democratic senator, a Democratic secretary of state and a Democratic attorney general in Arizona and they elected Joe Biden, a Democrat for president, the first president they elected since 1996, I believe.

So I'm not sure -- it doesn't make much sense to me.


It seems like she's sort of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, especially with how important she's been in delivering these massive wins for President Biden and his legacy that he's going to run on.

HUNT: All right. Michael LaRosa, Congresswoman Mia Love, thank you very much to both of you for being here. We really appreciate it.

And Brittney Griner is back in the United States as we learn more about her experience in a Russian penal colony, including why she cut her own hair.


HUNT: She's back on U.S. soil. Brittney Griner landed on a plane in San Antonio early this morning and the Biden administration says she's in good spirits.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in San Antonio where Griner is now undergoing an extensive medical exam.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are absolutely gratified that Brittney Griner is back on American soil.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome news today on Griner's return. We can confirm Brittney Griner arrive at Joint Base San Antonio. Brittney Griner now in her home state after nearly ten months in a Russian prison. Most recently, serving her nine-year sentence in a Russian penal colony.

President Joe Biden's National Security Council spokesperson says she appears to be in good health.

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: She was incredibly gracious, kind, humble on the flight, appreciative of the effort to get her home.

FLORES: Griner is now undergoing a medical evaluation before being reunited with her wife Cherelle and the rest of her family.

A senior Biden administration official saying the negotiations to bring Griner home were separate from any talks about Ukraine.

The deal came together about one week ago, after the U.S. offered to swap convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, for both Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. Whelan was detained in Russia in 2018, convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison, a charge he denies. The Russians rejected that proposal.

KIRBY: It was either make this exchange, get one back, and the only one that they were willing to trade was Brittney.

FLORES: The inner workings of the controversial prisoner swap were discussed only among a tight group of U.S. officials.

PRICE: These are not decisions that we take lightly. We studied all the angles. We do all the analysis, but at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to Americans.

FLORES: President Biden didn't sign the papers for Bout until Griner was on the ground in Abu Dhabi, in sight of a U.S. delegation. Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the Russian Federal Security

service took charge of the swamp, adding, there is a possibility for further negotiations, raising hopes that Paul Whelan could be the next American freed.

PRICE: We are committed to seeing to it that Paul Whelan will have the same faith.

FLORES: For now, Griner's family, friends and teammates say, they are just happy to have her home.

CATHY ENGELBERT, WNBA COMMISSIONER: Britney really deserved to be home, she was wrongfully detained and we are happy that she is reuniting with her family.

VINCE KOZAR, PRESIDENT, PHOENIX MERCURY: We are incredibly gratified and thankful that she is back.


FLORES (on camera): Britney Griner's attorney telling CNN that the WNBA star cut her iconic hair in prison to make it easier on herself, because of the Russian winter. She also says, in this prison that Brittney Griner was detained, that women sewed uniforms, but that Griner was too tall for the work table, her hands were too big for the sewing machines, so according to her attorney, what Griner did all day was carry fabric.

HUNT: Rosa Flores, thanks very much for that report.

Coming up next here, the frustration of the Justice Department with Donald Trump and his legal team has escalated to a judge's courtroom today.



HUNT: And we're back with our politics lead.

Today, a federal judge weighed whether to hold former President Trump in contempt, after Trump failed to comply with the Justice Department subpoena to turn over classified documents. The DOJ is worried he still hasn't returned everything, after his lawyers found two additional classified documents in a Florida storage unit just before thanksgiving.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now.

Evan, what punishment could he face for this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are usually settled with finds. Usually, a judge punishes somebody with fines if they are in contempt of the court. And that could, you know, add up daily, weekly, for as long as they are not satisfying the terms of the subpoena, which was for him to return all items, all documents, those were -- that were marked as classified.

One of the more interesting wrinkles of this is, is that, you know, one of the ways that you could solve this is for someone, usually Trump's lawyers, to attest to sign a document saying, we swear, we have searched everywhere, and we find no additional documents. So this would satisfy the subpoena. One of the interesting things here is that none of Trump's legal team, the members want to sign that.

HUNT: Amazing.

PEREZ: Which kind of gives you a sense of the level of trust that exists on that team. We have seen one of his lawyers previously sign an attestation and that obviously was not true, when she said that they had turned over everything.

So, I think that is where this is. A judge could, in the end, forced Trump himself to sign such an attestation.

HUNT: Really, really remarkable. There is also a sidebar to this case that I want to ask you about. A group of media organizations including here at CNN are asking the judge to allow access to the hearing. Where does that stand?

PEREZ: Well, the hearing just wrapped up and we never got in, a couple of dozen reporters were sitting outside and they never actually got let in. The judge at least acknowledged that this hearing occurred which is very unusual, by the way, this is supposed to be sealed, secret, we were never even supposed to know that it happened. Obviously, we do know that the Justice Department is insisting that Trump being held in contempt because he is yet to satisfy the terms of the subpoena that were issued in the summer.

HUNT: Fascinating all around, interested to know the outcome of that hearing that just wrapped up.

Evan Perez, thanks for your reporting as always.

Let's bring in former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Wehle to talk more about this.

Kim, for this to happen this way, I mean, the Justice Department must be getting really frustrated with the former president. Are you surprised that they took this step?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. SECRETARY: I'm not. We have seen over almost two years, the Trump team saying they would overturn the documents. We have no more documents. As of June, there was an attestation that everything had been turned over. And then there was the execution of the warrant in August, when thousands of documents were found. And as was indicated just recently in the last week or so, additional documents.

So, you know, this reason that the proceeding is sealed is because we are talking about classified information. We are talking about national security. This is important to broader interests beyond Donald Trump and I think the Justice Department is tired of the games. As Evan said, that lawyer over the summer who signed that erroneously

reportedly has her own criminal defense counsel at this moment. Donald Trump is running out of options to delay the proceeding, to delay the investigation, but he is also running out of lawyers, and good lawyers, and that is not a good thing for the justice system overall. Good lawyers produce better outcomes.

HUNT: It's remarkable, sometimes it's a joke in Washington that so many people who were in the Trump administration left with lawyers, and to that point I want to ask you, how unusual is it for anyone's legal team to refuse to appoint a documents custodian in this way? Basically saying, no, I don't trust my client enough to actually attest to this in court, that we have turned everything over?

WEHLE: Well, a lot of organizations have their own custodian, a systematic way of keeping and storing records, and responding to subpoenas. Companies get these kinds of subpoenas routinely, nothing like national security, but they deal with legal stuff all the time. Donald Trump, you know, stuffed this stuff in boxes along with photos, and Celine Dion, et cetera.

So, it's kind of chaos on that end. But it's unusual to have lawyers really have to be careful about representing their client. They will attest that a diligent search has been done, they just won't promise you that there is certain stuff that they didn't find, that has not been turned over.

That's sort of understandable, but it's, of course, not acceptable from the bigger perspective, that is how severely did he compromise national security? And he did compromise national security, because that stuff should have never left the White House.

HUNT: So, let me ask you about another Trump administration investigation and that is January 6th. Sources are telling CNN the committee is planning referrals for Trump himself, as well as Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and Rudy Giuliani, his circle of lawyers.

This is likely to be symbolic, but what in your view is the meaning for the historical record?

WEHLE: Well, Kasie, I thought all along that one of the major rules of the January six committee is to educate the public on what happened, and keep in mind that the lawyers behind that effort were former prosecutors, well-respected former prosecutors. So they built a record in a way that would be built, presumably, by a grand jury for a trial. And I think when we are talking about potentially indicting a former president, that has such massive historical implications and implications for future presidents, that warming the public up to just the idea that this is tolerable and necessary, I believe is one of the most important aspects of what the January 6 Committee is doing, in addition to just establishing the record.

And my guess is when that report comes out with the detailed information that the January 6 Committee believes it rises to crimes, people will believe that when read it as they should. HUNT: All right. Kim Wehle, thank you very much for your expertise

today. We really appreciate it.

And up next here, Twitter's new transparency feature after an uproar over a term known as shadow banning.



HUNT: Twitter plans to rule out a new feature that they say would let users see if the company has limited how many people can see their posts. This comes in the wake of Elon Musk's so-called Twitter files and concerns from some conservatives that they were shadow banned in the past, meaning that they were last less likely to trend or show up on other people's feeds.

CNN's Brian Fung joins me now.

Brian, can you explain the accusation of shadow banning? How do we get here?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: So shadow banning is a idea that if you are platform you're going to make it harder for accounts to be viewed or scene in search results or make it harder for that account to be amplified. And the reason we are talking about this now is because Elon Musk, the new owner twitter, has made a bunch of internal documents and files available to a number of journalists including the former conservative to columnist Bari Weiss, and allowed them to go through this material. And Bari Weiss has shared this information with the public in a long Twitter thread.

Now, it's important to point out here that CNN has not apparently verified the files that she is sharing but she is saying that here is a number of examples where Twitter has used its internal tools to make it harder for users to see certain accounts. And as an example, she's tweeted screenshots of accounts that have been restricted from search or restricted from being able to be shown on trends.

It is unclear at this point whether these types of activities extended to both conservatives and liberals.


HUNT: Right.

FUNG: Right now, Weiss has mainly pointed out that this appears to be affecting conservatives. But we just don't know at this point how far this goes.

HUNT: So what does Elon Musk saying he is going to do about what we have learned from these files?

FUNG: Moscow saying that he is going to launch a new feature that will allow users to see whether or not Twitter has shadow banned them, so to speak. It is important point out here that Twitter has been public about how it ranks these materials and user counts in the past. It just hasn't been public about week to the accountant, selves the count owners when this happened to them.

So this change would increase transparency potentially by having account owners to be able to know when Twitter is taking the sorts of actions.

HUNT: All right. Interesting. I guess we will see how plays out. Brian Fung, thanks very much.

Up next, the volcano erupting in Hawaii could destroy everything in its path. CNN met a group of people who actually run toward the lava.



HUNT: In our national lead, officials say the lava flow from Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano has stalled, about 1.7 miles from the big island's main highway.

As CNN's David Culver reports, that's not stopping these so-called lava junkies from trying to get as close as possible to the active volcano.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seemingly photogenic from every angle, there is a striking beauty to Mauna Loa's eruption, especially as captured by this photographer C.J. Kale.

C.J. KALE, PHOTOGRAPHER: The volcano is different every single day. Every single time you go, it's always different.

CULVER: C.J. driving us to his picture perfect spot, at 4:00 in the morning. The best view he believes the rising sun greeting the glowing lava. Many hours of sleep sacrificed for just a few minutes of perfect lighting, weather permitting.

KALE: Yeah. That is -- that is super thick.

CULVER: We step out into the cold rain hoping it'll burn off. As we wait, CJ admits to us he is a particular kind of thrill seeker.

KALE: A lava junkie. Kind of the term here. We all call ourselves lava junkie. It's kind of our fix. It gives us our excitement, what gives us our adrenalin for the day.

CULVER: This lava junkie has even gone swimming with it, catching these fiery waves in 2018's Kilauea eruption.

Is there a range of lava junkie? Those who get a little bit too close and too extreme?

KALE: My group of friends is definitely the far outer limits of that range. I wouldn't recommend pushing it far for everybody. CULVER: But some are still pushing it.

Well, good morning.

If you caught our live report Monday for "CNN THIS MORNING", you might have noticed this person, head lamp on, returning from a trek to the lava's edge. Officials have repeatedly warned folks of the dangers getting that close to the flow. Not to mention it's trespassing.

SHERRY GRUMBLES, HAWAII RESIDENT: You know you can live caged up and have a pretty boring life or you can go see for yourself and take the chance.

CULVER: Curtis and Sherry Grumbles perhaps rookie lava junkies, hiked five hours round trip over unstable lava rock out to the edge of the flow. They recorded this video about 50 yards from the crawling lava.

Then, there are those going to the source of the lava, the expert lava junkies if you will. USGS scientists in protective gear, collecting samples of the lava and bringing them here.

PROF. CHERYL GANSECKI, UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII AT HILO: So, we put them in the drying oven.

CULVER: The University of Hawaii at Hilo is helping run the rapid response lab for the Mauna Loa eruption. We got a rare look inside. These samples collected since the lava started spewing.

GANSECKI: It was thrown up in the air and landed and was -- they scooped it up while it was still molten and quenched it and if you look at it you'll see it is very, very bubbly, soft, like you can break it in your hand.

CULVER: Researchers here quickly turning out data to help the USGS chart where the lava flow might be heading especially as it is inching closer to crossing Saddle Road, a major highway connecting east and west of the big island. They warn the slower pace is deceptive at times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, it might look like a big wall of hot rock and it doesn't look like it is moving much but they can surge where all of a sudden the front breaks off and lava comes spewing out.

CULVER: Dangerous perhaps but for C.J. Kale, an eruption is never destructive.

KALE: At what point did it become destruction, when you put a house in the way? You can't do that. I lost property during the 2018 eruption. I have many friends that lost properties. My mom lost a house.

We don't view it as loss. We view it as borrowed time.

CULVER: Speaking of time, sun's up and our view is still this.

Does it feel like a washout when you get to this point and suddenly there's nothing? Do you feel disappointment?

KALE: You know, it is all part of the journey. If every single time we pulled up it was absolutely amazing, it wouldn't be as special as it is on the days it is amazing.


CULVER (on camera): And, Kasie, as you can see, we don't always get that picture perfect view. Well officials say that the flow of the lava has slowed in recent days and is no longer an imminent threat to that main highway, they warn this volcano is still are updating. It is still really unpredictable -- Kasie.

HUNT: David Culver, thanks very much for that report.

And, coming up Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION", special presentation envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, who helped negotiate Brittney Griner's release. Plus, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. That is Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon.

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