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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Classified Documents Discovery Creates Growing Crisis For Biden; DOJ Wants To Interview People Hired To Search Trump Properties; Idaho Killing Suspect Will Spend 5 Months In Jail Without Bail Until Next Hearing; House Foreign Affairs Committee to Probe Chaotic 2021 U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan; Death Toll Rises After Tornadoes Sweep Across the Southeast. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Here's what I don't understand, if more than 7 170 of them are unexplained, there are explanations for the rest of them. Why do they count?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Yeah. Well, yeah, they thought that they -- well, because they were balloons, they were drones or weather balloons. So they figured out what they were.

BLACKWELL: We should only be focused on the ones, yeah, I know.

CAMEROTA: They can't figure out.

BLACKWELL: There seems like there should be some sound effects for this segment.

CAMEROTA: There you go.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: On Biden's classified documents, the White House has begun to construct its stone wall.

THE LEAD starts right now.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm going to refer you to the Department of Justice. I'm not going into any specifics from here. I would refer you to the White House's counsel office.


TAPPER: The White House's refusal to answer questions is not going to stop them from mounting. Why did the Biden White House wait so long to acknowledge classified documents have been found at Biden's private office and home and garage and who has access to those rooms.

Plus, a rising death toll, after tornados sweep through Alabama and Georgia. Today, the search for even more victims as homeowners sift through piles of debris.

And body cam footage capturing the cousin of the Black Lives Matter co-founder confronted by LAPD officers after a car accident, only to end up tased and dead. What went so terribly wrong?


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

And we start in our politics lead with the White House on defense amid the growing probe into President Biden's handling of classified documents, which in addition to the special counsel now includes investigations by two Republican-led House committees. This afternoon, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that President Biden takes protocol around sensitive information quite seriously.


REPORTER: Just to be clear, you're confident he followed whatever protocol was in place?

JEAN-PIERRE: Again, this is something that he takes very seriously. The president, when it comes to classified documents, when it comes to classified information, I'm not going to go into any specifics from here.


TAPPER: This comes as a special counsel is investigating how a small number of classified documents from Biden's time as vice president ended up in his private office and in his home and in his garage next to his '67 Corvette.

Today, CNN is learning new details about the kind of information that could be in those classified documents including a memo from then Vice President Biden to then-President Obama as well as two briefing memos prepping Biden for phone calls with the British prime minister and with a former prime minister of Poland.

But the headache may just be getting started for Biden. This afternoon, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan announced an investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer is asking the White House for more documents for his committee's probe into Biden's classified documents, pointing out that the address of President Biden's home where more documents were found was the same address listed on Hunter Biden's driver's license in 2018, the same year Hunter Biden was conducting business deals with foreign countries.

This investigation coming just a few months after President Biden criticized former President Trump's handling of classified documents.


INTERVIEWER: When you saw the photograph of the top secret documents laid out on the floor at Mar-a-Lago, what did you think to yourself looking at that image?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How that could possibly happen. How anyone could be that irresponsible. And I thought, what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods. By that I mean names of people helped or et cetera. And it just is totally irresponsible.


TAPPER: Let's start with CNN's Phil Mattingly at the White House where the Biden administration is struggling to get this crisis under control.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the first full day of a president under investigation, an attempt to focus on business as usual.

BIDEN: You know, we meet a remarkable moment in our lives.

MATTINGLY: President Biden welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Kishida to the White House to highlight a transformation shift in the Pacific nation security posture.

REPORTER: What was your reaction to the special counsel, Mr. President?

MATTINGLY: As he ignored questions about the special counsel now investigating his handling of classified documents after his time as vice president.

His press secretary continued to deflect or declined to answer critical outstanding questions.

JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not going into think specifics from here. If you have any questions, anything further that's related to the review or -- I refer you to the Department of Justice or my colleagues over at the White House counsel's office.


MATTINGLY: Or Biden who has maintained this --

BIDEN: People know I take classified documents and classified materials seriously.

MATTINGLY: Even as the scale the problem has mushroomed into a crisis just over five days.

BIDEN: We're cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department's review.

MATTINGLY: The outward appearance of normalcy serving to cover what has been described by officials behind the scenes as a scramble to adjust to a new normal. All as new details emerge from the initial batch of 10 classified documents discovered at a Biden-affiliated think tank, stored at a closet in Biden's office there, including a memo from Biden to then-President Obama, as well as two briefing memos prepared for Biden phone calls with the British prime minister and the president of the European Council.

JEAN-PIERRE: We have been transparent in the last couple of days in, remember there is an ongoing process. We have spoken when it is appropriate.

MATTINGLY: Even as details of another set of classified documents found at Biden's Wilmington home, in his garage and an adjacent room remain under wraps, after their existence was publicly revealed nearly a month after their discovery.

BIDEN: My Corvette is in a locked garage, okay? So it is not like they're sitting out on the street.

MATTINGLY: That's one of the many questions that remain unanswered for a White House facing a most perilous moment.

JEAN-PIERRE: We have said that we are going to continue go up to fully cooperate. We have been. The president's lawyers and team have been fully cooperating with the Department of Justice and we're certainly -- they are certainly going to do that with the special counsel.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, senior White House advisers maintain, they believe want all the facts are out it will show that the right steps were taken with those documents throughout this process. And for the most part, advisers, many of which have no involvement in the next steps in the mastication say that they are going to be laser focused on what they have been prior to the investigation then becoming a thing at all.

However, the reality is, it is a thing. And it is certainly one that brings a lot of uncertainty going forward. For now, though, officials in the president himself trying to act like it is business as usual -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House, thanks so much.

The appointment of special counsel Robert Hur to investigate the Biden documents marks the second time in just as many months that Attorney General Garland has had to appoint a special counsel. The other special counsel, Jack Smith, is looking into former President Trump and his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago which is quite different in how he behaved, and also the quantity of documents.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now.

Evan, what kind of political pressure are both special counsels experiencing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can just see all the political pressures that are built around all of this, Jake. The attorney general we are told was aware of the finding of the at least in the initial batch of these documents at the time that he announced Jack Smith was investigating the two Trump investigations. And, of course, just the past week as the attorney general traveled to Mexico City with the delegation led by the president, he had already made a decision that he needed to appoint a special counsel to investigate his boss.

Now, you've already seen the reaction from Trump world and from Republican allies attacking the investigation that has been ongoing by Jack Smith, as special counsel. The new special counsel who is just on the job 24 hours is going to face different pressures. There is going to come a time where investigators need to talk to other officials around the president. Maybe even the president himself.

Those are things that it will have to be waived and perhaps approved by the Justice Department, by Merrick Garland. What kind of pressures surround that is going to be another thing.

Keep in mind, both these men are running for president, potentially, for 2024.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here. Good to see you. Happy New Year.

Are you at all concerned about the inappropriate way these documents were handled from 2016 until they told the Justice Department and the National Archives about Alaska cyber? And also, who might have had access to them?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Jake, we don't expect our leaders to be perfect. We do expect our leaders to have character and integrity. Obviously, people make mistakes. I mean, documents should not be in a private residence or outside of the agencies. But, the point is that the president is showing character.

He is cooperating fully. He is not attacking the Justice Department, he is respecting the independence of the process. And I think people will look at this and say, this is why we elected him.

TAPPER: The White House did not disclose this for months and to this day, all that we officially know about the documents is what Biden's lawyers have told us. There hasn't been some sort of impartial or law enforcement source that is coming, given us an explanation. You saw Karine Jean-Pierre, White House press secretary, not answer questions today.

What grade would you give them on how they've handled this?

KHANNA: I think they're fully cooperating. Look, I think eventually we need all the answers out. But right now, you have a special counsel. You have an investigation. The main thing is that they need to be cooperating with them.


And who knows what the Justice Department has said. They may not want people talking about it publicly until the investigation is going on. But, at some point, I do think that the president and his team are going to have to answer all the questions.

My guess is, the president probably wants to get all the facts before coming and giving the answers.

TAPPER: He had some -- he had some questions for Trump on that "60 Minutes" clip from a few months ago where he said, he was worried he doesn't understand how anybody can do something so irresponsible. He's worried about sources and methods being compromised.

Obviously, the two situations are somewhat different, but in both of them, you have information that is not supposed to be out there, out there.

KHANNA: One of the things we could just be constructive about this. You know, as a member of Congress, when I got to see classified information, I can never take it out of the SCIF. I can't bring it to my house or to my office.

Why can't we have that kind of a protocol in the executive branch? I mean, I don't see why these documents should ever be leaving the White House executive branch.

TAPPER: It's the end of Speaker Kevin McCarthy's first full week on the job. And this week, the Republican majority took its first full start steps into launching its long list of investigations, including Hunter Biden's business dealings, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden's withdrawal of Afghanistan, U.S. troops, DHS Secretary Mayorkas handling of the border crisis. Now of course we have added to this, Biden's handling of classified documents.

Do Democrats have a strategy for dealing with all of this? And some of them that might be constructive such as the origins of COVID or that withdrawal from Afghanistan, might Democrats cooperate?

KHANNA: Jake, I know you get outside the beltway. Do you real people ever talk about the stuff? They talk about.

TAPPER: Afghanistan and COVID, sure.

KHANNA: Not -- here's what I hear in my district. The price of bags, inflation, are we going to have a recession, what are we in doing to improve the economy? That is -- those are the issues. That is what the Republicans campaigned on.

They want the American Congress to work to solve problems. They don't want endless investigations. Do they want accountability in Afghanistan? Sure. I'm not saying don't have accountability. I'm on the armed services committee. Fine. But don't make that the central focus of what you're trying to do.

TAPPER: McCarthy made a lot of key concessions to the rebels to get the gavel. One of them was a green with just one member, one member regardless of party could force a vote to vacate the speaker. He also did a lot to liberalize the process, to make it easier for any member of Congress to introduce amendments, to introduce legislation.

This is something you might like as a progressive, right? I mean, like, I can imagine people who are progressives, who kind of felt constrained by Pelosi's leadership or whoever before that, Tom Foley, before your born, thinking this is a great opportunity. Like to -- I mean, did you see a silver lining here I guess is my point?

KHANNA: Well, let me be fair-minded, there are certain forms that are good. The fact that a bill has to be introduced 72 hours before. The fact that you have an open rule which means any member can offer an amendment. That's a good thing. The fact that it does give some rank and file members more of a say.

But here's my problem. In doing all of this, Kevin McCarthy made a commitment to some of the far-right in his caucus that he was going to hold his country up and not increase the debt ceiling, not pay the debt that we already owe, not about future spending.

And that's what I find so concerning. It's not the reforms. Those reforms are fine.

TAPPER: Well, what he agreed to I think is some kind of countervailing spending cuts when -- to accompany any vote to raise the debt ceiling. I mean, just as a member of Congress, the U.S. government spends much more money than we take in. This has been a problem for decades. I'm not blaming it on you.

But this is a problem. We can't keep undoing this as a country forever, because -- I mean, the amount of money that our country spends just on paying the interest on the debt, that's money that could be spent feeding kids.

KHANNA: We have a $32 trillion debt. I acknowledge that's a problem. But let me put it simply. You got a credit card bill that's due for past debt you've accumulated. You might as a family think, let's think about better future spending.

Are you going to say, no, we're just going to default on the credit card debt? No, you pay the debt. And the United States government should certainly pay the debt.

If you want to have a conversation afterwards in how we cut spending and I can say we ought to cut defense spending and we can have the debate. But don't hold the prestige of this country hostage on debt ceiling. We pay our debts. We're the United States of America.

TAPPER: I hear you. I guess their point is nobody pays attention to the need to rein in spending or at least have the balance sheets lineup unless they are forced to. But I get, you don't agree with that method. Last question before you go. It seems likely that Senator Dianne

Feinstein is going to retire. Are you going to run for Senate?

KHANNA: I said I'm looking at it. But we have got a number of great people in the race. I'm particularly interested what Barbara Lee will do. She's been actually someone I have admired since I was a kid, one of the strongest anti-war voices. So I'm going to wait to see what she -- what she decides.


TAPPER: All right. Ro Khanna, congressman from California, good to see you. Thanks for being here.

KHANNA: Thank you.

TAPPER: And then, there are the classified documents found at Donald Trump's property. Many more of them. Why the Justice Department wants to talk with two specific people connected to that case.

Plus, the reported discovery after a deep dive into the online history of the man police say is behind the tragic murders of four college students in Idaho.

Stay with us.


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

The U.S. Department of Justice wants to question two people whom Donald Trump hired to search his properties in November. Sources say this is part of the investigation into whether Mr. Trump returned all the classified documents to the federal government as required.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins me now.

Katelyn, what exactly are federal investigators looking for here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake. These federal investigators are going to want to know everything that happened at this search in November. And that was a search that turned up to classified records from a storage facility in Florida that wasn't Donald Trump's possession. That came a year into a criminal investigation and obstruction of justice investigation were many other classified documents in Trump's possession had already been found after the presidency.

So since November when those two people did that search on behalf of the Trump team that's hired people to do it, there's been a back and forth between the Justice Department and Donald Trump's lawyers twice now. One of Donald Trump's lawyers, Timothy Parlatore, has done two certifications explaining this is how we did the search in November, how we found these two documents.

The Justice Department keeps asking for more and more detail. Now, they found a way to court and got the names of these two individuals from a judge's order. Why do they want? Because there are witnesses.

TAPPER: Interesting. Has the Trump team responded to this request?

POLANTZ: Well, Kaitlan Collins and I in our course of reporting this did come to the conclusion that there are negotiations going on right now between the Trump team and the Justice Department in this. The Trump team, their lawyers are saying, the Justice Department isn't letting them be cooperative enough.

But at the end of the day, it does appear that they are trying to limit some questions that the Justice Department can ask these two people. They are represented by the same legal team that Donald Trump's people would be repre -- that Donald Trump himself would be represented by.

And so, you know, at the end of the day, Donald Trump and his allies are never an open book when it comes to criminal investigation.

TAPPER: They want to limit what the Justice Department can ask?

POLANTZ: They do. That is what our reporting, what we found. They basically want to say that these people who are hired, where -- they are not lawyers themselves, but they were hired as part of the legal team. And so, what they did may be part of the work product of attorney. So that may be confidential.

TAPPER: Doesn't sound particularly cooperative to me. Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Also today, a New York judge fined the Trump Organization $1.6 million, the maximum possible penalty for running a decade-long a tax fraud scheme. This comes after two Trump Organization companies were convicted last month of 17 felonies, including falsifying business records. Trump and his family were not charged.

But one prosecutor claimed during the trial that Trump explicitly sanctioned the tax fraud in response to Trump organization said in a statement. Quote, we did nothing wrong and we will appeal this verdict. Of course, earlier this week, the Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, was sentenced to five months in Rikers after he pleaded guilty to 15 felonies related to the tax fraud scheme.

Coming up, he was the cousin of a Black Lives Matter cofounder. He was involved in a car accident. But after police showed up, they teased him. Why? The LAPD body cam footage under review as a family demands answers.



TAPPER: In our national lead, the cousin of the cofounder of the Black Lives Matter organization is now dead after Los Angeles police repeatedly tased him following a traffic accident. Authorities say, after police recite arrived on the scene, 31-year-old Keenan Anderson resisted arrest, they say. They say he attempted to flee. They say he was warned multiple times before the Taser was used.

Police body camera footage shows Anderson in the distress, and begging for help. At one point saying, quote, they are trying to George Floyd me, unquote.

CNN's Stephanie Elam reports on what happened and what went so terribly wrong.


POLICE OFFICER: All right. I'm going to tase -- I'm going to tase him. Okay.

KEENAN ANDERSON, BLACK MAN: They're trying to kill me.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The end of a police encounter, the beginning of a nightmare for the family of 31-year-old Keenan Anderson. The cousin of black lives matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors who posted, keen into serves to be alive right now. His child deserves to be raised by his father.

POLICE OFFICER: Sit with your legs crossed.

ANDERSON: They're going to try to kill me, please.

ELAM: Police say it began with a traffic accident, that witnesses said Anderson caused.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That guy right there, he caused that accident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that guy's in a very paranoid state.

ELAM: Anderson was running around near the scene, police say, when an officer caught up with him.

POLICE OFFICER: Have a seat against the wall over here.

ANDERSON: I don't want to be in the black. I want people to see me.

ELAM: He initially complied, dropping to his knees putting his hands behind his head as he pleaded with the officer.

ANDERSON: Please, sir, I didn't mean to, sir. Please.

POLICE OFFICER: Hold on, hold on.

ELAM: Anderson later jogged into the middle of the road.


ELAM: Where police restrained him, and eventually tasered him.

POLICE OFFICER: Turn over on your stomach right now.

Watch, watch your elbow, partner.

ANDERSON: They're trying to George Floyd me. They're trying to George Floyd me.

POLICE OFFICER: Stop it. Stop it. I'm going to tase you. Okay, stop it or I'm going to tase you.

Stop it or I'm going to tase you. Stop resisting. Stop resisting.

ANDERSON: Please, please, please.

POLICE OFFICER: I'm going to tase him. I'm going to tase him.

ANDERSON: They're trying to kill me. They're trying to kill me.

ELAM: The video, edited and released by LAPD, shows Anderson is tasered five times. He died later of cardiac arrest at the hospital.

MELINA ABDULLAH, CO-FOUNDER, BLACK LIVES MATTER: Keenan Anderson said they are trying to George Floyd me. They're trying to George Floyd be. And guess what happened? They did.

ELAM: Police say early test results indicate cocaine and marijuana in Anderson's system. Keenan Anderson was a high school English teacher in Washington, D.C., visiting L.A. during winter break. His death is one of three involving LAPD officers last week.

CHIEF MICHEL MOORE, LOS ANGELES POLICE: This cluster of events, while miles apart deeply concerned me. But police say, officer involved deaths are falling to all-time lows. The chief vowing a full investigation, as Anderson school calls him, a deeply committed educator and father of a six-year-old son. He was beloved by all.


ELAM (on camera): And, Jake, according to the LAPD of the 2,000 times that there was a use of force last year, 31 of those resulted in death, and of those 31, 80 percent involved drugs or alcohol.


Now, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department says that that number is still too high. But it is the lowest it has been for the department. As for Patrisse Cullors, the founder of BLM, but is -- co- founder I should say -- but who is also the cousin of Mr. Anderson, she tweeted earlier today, or put on Instagram that her cousin would be alive if there were no cops at traffic stops -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles with a sad story. Thanks so much.

Now to Idaho. Newly-unearthed online post from the past are giving some insight into the mental state of Bryan Kohberger, the PhD criminology student accused to quadruple first degree murder and those horrible stabbings of the four University of Idaho undergrads. Kohberger appeared in court yesterday for pre-trial meeting with judge. Now he'll wait in Idaho jail without bail for five months until his next hearing.

Let's bring in Brynna Fox, a former FBI agent and associate criminology professor at the University of South Florida.

Thanks so much for being with us.

This case has been of huge national interest with a particular focus on the suspect's field of study. You recently wrote an opinion article in "The New York Times" where you say in part, quote, it might make us feel safer to believe that something overt such as someone's field of study is a red flag for extreme violence as opposed to say, a personality feature that is difficult to detect. This leads us to think that we can identify a person with an attitude to create such a crime and prevent them from victimizing us, unquote.

So you think his intention for allegedly committing this crime is likely much more complex and unrelated to his criminology background. Do you think prosecutors are -- what do you think prosecutors are going to look for to determine his motive in these coming months before trial?

BRYANNA FOX, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: First, thanks for having me, Jake.

I -- that's exactly what I think. That this is a very complex set of facts. There is no one silver bullet that we can use to either prevent crime, understand crime. It's a multitude of factors.

And that's actually what our field is intending to do. I think it is actually just a red herring to say he was studying criminology to become a better killer. Research that we do in our field actually shows that criminologists are actually less likely to commit crimes compared to other people. So, I don't think that is the reason why he was in them.

TAPPER: "The New York Times" combed through Kohberger's online post from when he was a teenager. One post he wrote, quote, I feel like an organic sack of meat with what no self worth. This was in 2011 when he was 16. He added later in the same post, as I hugged my family I look into their faces, I see nothing. It is like I'm looking at a video game, but less, unquote.

What does that tell you about his psyche, at least at that point in time when he was a teenager?

FOX: Well, if he is in fact a person who committed these crimes, which obviously the prosecutors and police are working on at the moment, that would indicate that he has a low sense of emotion and empathy, which are two of the strongest predictors of whether people would commit violence. Another choice of major or the way they look at their intellect. Those are things that we often use a shorthand, again, to try to say well if I could spot this person I could prevent myself from being victimized.

In actuality, people can fake emotion, fake empathy. So that is one of the things that it is hard to spot. It is difficult to detect. But, I think what he was posting is actually that insight into where his heart was that. TAPPER: Is there any piece of evidence so far that strikes you as

inconsistent with the typical picture of how a serial killer or multiple murderer normally would act?

FOX: Well, we are seeing that when he's in court, when he was stopped by police, after he was traveling with his father back to Pennsylvania there was a very low affect, low emotion. So, that is consistent with what we would say a person who was able to commit extreme violence would act like.

But, again, he was trying to you conduct very high-level research. He was seemingly engaged in the field in a way that was tens of thousands of dollars and years of his life all dedicated to crime prevention, which is what criminology does. So I would say, again, that that is an outlier. That is not what people on our field tend to do, which is a misperception in the public.

TAPPER: Do you think we will ever know a true motive for whoever killed these four innocent young people?

FOX: That is so difficult. Obviously, the police and prosecutors number one are trying to find out who did it. That can be achieved through data, evidence, witnesses. But try to understand ending motive, getting more at the head of somebody is more speculative and oftentimes the only way we really know it is when they say it themselves.

But people who always want to maintain their innocence don't want to give that kind of closure sometimes will never admit to it.


So we may never know.

TAPPER: Brynna Fox, thanks so much for your time and expertise today.

Coming up, the new voicemail capturing a cry for help from an Iranian soccer player just spared execution.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back now with our world lead. With questions coming from the new Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a pending congressional hearing, the Biden administration faces new scrutiny over the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

This comes as the State Department is taking action now to allow the families of Afghans who frantically fled to the U.S. during the withdrawal to be reunited with their loved ones here in the United States.

CNN's national security correspondent Kylie Atwood joins us now.

Let's start, Kylie, with this new investigation by the House Foreign Affairs Committee led by Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas.

What can we expect?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, a vast number of questions that Chairman McCaul asked to the State Department in this letter yesterday.


It was ten pages. And, it is very clear that the committee is trying to cast a wide net as they look into the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan. They want to know what went into the planning, they want to know what U.S. Taliban meetings look like around that time.

But they also want to look at, you know, the after-effects, and what is going to be the future of U.S. assistance to Afghanistan, the status of those Afghans who came here to the United States.

It is very clear that this committee is casting a wide net to try to put a finger on the failures of the Biden administration because although, of course, there are reasons to reflect on this crisis moment in U.S. foreign policy, this chaotic withdrawal, this also comes with political considerations. This is a house that is led by the Republicans who are investigating the Biden administration.

TAPPER: Wasn't the Biden administration doing their own review of the withdrawal? What ever happen to that?

ATWOOD: That was concluded almost a year ago, Jake, and we still have seen nothing from that review, which I think is hugely significant. It demonstrates that this administration really doesn't want to talk about this event which was a dark stain on their foreign policy agenda, on their foreign policy history here.

And I think it's important to watch to see if they share the findings of their own review with this house committee as they are conducting their own investigation.

TAPPER: And, Kylie, when the withdrawal happened, tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom had worked to help the U.S. government, they got in these evacuation flights fearing retaliation from the Taliban fleeing for their lives. Now, there is a move for those evacuees to be able to bring some of their family members from Afghanistan, or wherever they might've escaped to, to the U.S.?

ATWOOD: Yeah, that's right. I mean, a lot of these Afghans were scrambling to get out the country. They were worried about what the future of the country would look like, when the Taliban was poised to take over. And, a lot of them lost touch with their family members. They were left behind while they were able to come here.

So, now it is this new tool. The State Department has ruled out for those Afghans who were here in the U.S. on parole status, to apply for their family members who are still in Afghanistan to be reunited with them.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Also in our world lead, cries for help from an Iranian soccer player spared execution for now as his country's brutal leaders sentence other protesters to death. In a span of just six weeks, Amir Nasr Azadaani went from arrested to sentenced. He was accused back in November of being involved in the killing of three security officers. This was in the wake of Mahsa Zhina Amini's death at the hands of the morality police one way or another, as of Iranian regime tried to round up protesters.

As CNN's Don Riddell reports for us now, supporters of Azadaani say he was forced into confession, put through a sham joke trial, and is being tortured behind bars right now.


DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amir Nasr Azadaani has been living the dream as a professional football player in Iran. But within the last few weeks, his situation has turned into a nightmare. After protest swept through that country in September, Iranian state media accused Nasr Azadaani of being a member of an armed group that was charged in the killing of three security officers in November.

The government says that he confessed to participating in the crimes, and now faces 26 years in prison.

Nasr Azadaani denies that he is guilty and his supporters claim that he made a forced confession almost tortured in jail. In an exclusive voice message obtained by CNN with the help of the activist group Mammal Cat, he can be heard appealing for help from within the prison walls. .

AMIR NASR AZADAANI, IRANIAN SOCCER PLAYER (translated): Whoever you are in contact with, my friends, footballer friends, send this message to them, so they know what conditions I am under. Hopefully, one day we can be together again. My hope is first of all with God and then the people outside.

RIDDELL: He has been in jail since December where his family is worried for his safety, as the government has already begun executing protesters. Last Saturday, the Islamic republic executed two more young men, including the karate champion Mohamed Mehdi Karami, bringing the total number of executed protesters to four. That's according to the U.S. human rights office.

Karami took up karate at the age of 11 and went on to win medals at Iran's national championships. But during anti-government protests, he was accused of killing a security officer and following a rush trial supposedly based on a forced confession, he was found guilty and executed just a month later. The human rights organization, Amnesty International, says that his

trial was a sham. His fate echoes that of the Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari who was jailed for participating in protests and then executed in 2020. His defiance inspired other athletes to speak out as well, including the former karate champion, Mahdi Jafargholizadeh who fled the country in 2008.


MAHDI JAFARGHOLIZADEH, FORMER KARATE CHAMPION: I've got plenty of messages from young 17, 18 years old kids that when they see all these killings and torture on the streets, all that kind of stuff, they're just -- they are just telling me, okay, they know me because of my background, they just, like this life, it's done for me, like I'm going to kill myself.

RIDDELL: Athletes in Iran seem to be battling a new fight against what activists are calling an unjust judicial system, and they are making a plea, hoping the international community will pay attention.

AZADAANI (translated): I hope that they continue to support me, because all these really harsh sentences that were issued to me, I really do not deserve. Me? 26 years? Is it possible?

RIDDELL: At this point, the recording cuts out. Amir Nasr Azadaani says he'll have much more to say when he gets out of prison, but for now, he needs others to be his voice. Otherwise, he could be silenced forever.


RIDDELL (on camera): You know, I asked Mahdi Jafargholizadeh who featured just then what athletes in other countries who are watching this can do. He said simply that they should share what's going on to make sure as many people as possible know what's happening right now inside Iran.

CNN has reached out to the Iranian government for a comment about both, Amar Nasr Azadaani's case and also the fate of Mohamed Mehdi Karami. Jake, we have not yet received a response. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right. Don Riddell, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, the destruction after a string of tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia, including one ripping across at least 50 miles, a young child tragically among those killed.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, communities across the southeastern United States are cleaning up after a line of storms spawned deadly tornadoes. CNN's Ryan Young is in Alabama, where one tornado may have stayed on the ground for 50 miles, causing damage across seven counties.


CORETTA SMITH, SELMA, ALABAMA, RESIDENT: It's a lot to take. I've been trying to salvage what I can all day. It's just hard. It's hard.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN N ATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Residents in Alabama trying to come to terms of the catastrophic damage left behind by violent tornadoes that ripped through the state Thursday afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God, yeah. Oh my God, it's the building beside us.

YOUNG: At least nine deaths have been reported following the severe storms. They spawned more than 45 reported tornadoes across the Southeast. Seven of the deaths in Autauga County, Alabama.

RICKY ADAMS, DIRECTOR OF FIELD OPERATIONS, ALABAMA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: It was a very intense storm and may have been more on the ground more than 50 miles.

YOUNG: Alabama residents describing the sound of the storms as something like no other.

ALDRICK LANG, MOUNT VERNON, ALABAMA, RESIDENT: Just out of nowhere, I heard a sound I never heard before. It sounded like a freight train coming through here. And the wind picked up -- it was so strong, had to jump out and Iran out because everything was shaking, like never before.

YOUNG: Many roads are blocked with fallen trees and debris, making it unsafe and difficult for some residents to get back to assess damage at their homes.

ADENA PUGH, MOUNT VERNON, ALABAMA, RESIDENT: I've not been able to get back there to see what it looks like. The road that leads to my house is blocked, and I couldn't even go around it otherwise.

YOUNG: In Georgia, a five year old boy was killed when a tree fell on a vehicle he was traveling in.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: Unfortunately, it's been a tragic night and morning in our state.

YOUNG: Tens of thousands of customers in Alabama and Georgia are still without power, and officials are warning residents that just because the storm has passed, the threat of damage from the storm has not.

CHRIS STALLINGS, DIRECTOR, GEORGIA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AND HOMELAND SECURITY: There's still some wind and a front moving through, so anything that's loose will still fall.


YOUNG: Yeah, from above, we really had a chance to see how this storm has damaged almost every single building near this main thoroughfare, because the buildings and the rules have just been torn to pieces. In that win, you could hear the roofs flapping all around here. Right in front of us, Jake, this is the railroad crossing. This was standing maybe about eight feet away over there and you can see the wind just tossing that.

But the thing that stood out to all of us, we talked to all the people who were inside that rental center early on, and they told us when the roof got pulled off, they were terrified to get on the ground as the windows were blown out. The roof was pulled off. They were shaking. Everyone said they started to hold hands and praying to god to be saved from this, and even as we speak, there are more aerial assessments going on, if you look right this direction, you can see a helicopter passing over right now. They are still trying to assess the damage in this general area -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Young live on the ground in Selma, Alabama, thanks so much.

Coming up, Republican Congressman George Santos caught in yet another controversy, this time an alleged Ponzi scheme.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, a chilling police report comes to light. Back in 2014, the now missing Massachusetts mom told police that somebody had threatened to kill her. Police say it was the man she ended up marrying.

Plus, is there anything Congressman George Santos actually told the truth about? Newly discovered lies by the freshman Republican congressman uncovered by CNN, this time involving an alleged Ponzi scheme and other people's money.

Leading this hour, the Ukrainian soldiers say they have not lost the fight for control of the eastern town of Soledar, refuting Russia's claim that they capture the town with the help of the Russian mercenary group Wagner. Fighting in Soledar has been nonstop all week.

CNN's Ben Wedeman was just 25 miles from the fighting. He takes us to the front lines now.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One mortar round off, the crew prepares for the next.

The target: Russian positions in Soledar. The leader of this national guard mortar unit who gave us only his nickname, Engineer, says they need help to stop the enemy from advancing.

We need 120 millimeter rounds for the mortar, he says.