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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. & Germany In Standoff Over Sending Tanks To Ukraine; New Mexico Attorney General Investigating Pena Campaign Finances; Erin Brockovich Takes On Cases Of Water Contamination At Camp Lejeune; First "March For Life" In D.C. Since End Of National Right To Abortion; Investigator Of Supreme Court Leak Spoke To All Nine Justices; Treasury Secretary Yellen Warns Of "Global Financial Crisis" If Congress Does Not Raise U.S. Debt Ceiling. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Or if I am laying on that horn. I lay on that horn.



CAMEROTA: That I heard behind.

BLACKWELL: Yes. If you're driving too slowly, and you know what? If you're behind someone driving too slowly, I'm talking like egregiously, maybe 40 miles per hour, 45, let them know.

CAMEROTA: By the way, the left lane is for passing, not parking.

BLACKWELL: Passing, yes.

CAMEROTA: Passing.

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes.

CAMEROTA: THE LEAD with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Ukraine wants tanks. NATO countries have tanks, but they insist it's not that simple.

THE LEAD starts right now.

No deal -- the failed talks as the U.S. tries to push Germany to give some Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, while holding back the American made Abrams model. What's the difference? Can Ukraine get tanks before Russia ramps up its war in the spring?

Plus, a new investigation opened in New Mexico into a Republican candidate's campaign, possibly being laced with money from fentanyl sales just days after his arrest, accused of plotting to shoot the homes of his Democratic rivals.

And Julia Roberts made her a household name. Coming up, the real Erin Brockovich is here on a mission to help military families.


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

And we start today with our world lead in what appears to be a standup between the United States and Germany when it comes to giving more heavy weapons to Ukraine. More than 50 countries and organizations met at Ramstein Airbase in Germany earlier today. It's a group known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. It's led by America's top military leaders. But the group failed to come to an agreement on one of Ukraine's most pressing requests, whether Germany will send some of its leopard two tanks to Ukrainian forces. These tanks are seen as a crucial modern weapon.

There are nearly 2000 of them spread across Europe right now, 2000. Allies such as Poland have them and are willing to send some of them to Ukraine, but export laws require Poland to get permission from Germany where the tanks were made, permission that has not yet come from the German government.

Now, Germany did announce today an aid package for Ukraine worth more than a billion dollars, But as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us right now, despite that generous offer, thanks but no tanks.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Time remains a Russian weapon. We have to speed up.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A desperate plea today from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to defense officials, from the U.S. and allied countries meeting in Germany to discuss further lethal aid for Ukraine.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Based upon the progress that we have made today, I am confident that Ukraine's partners from around the globe are determined to meet this moment.

MARQUARDT: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hosting a meeting on the heels of the U.S. announcing a new massive $2.5 billion aid package. But no progress in breaking a cortical log jam, convincing a reluctant Germany to allow transfers of its coveted Leopard 2 tanks.

BORIS PISTORIUS, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We're not really hesitating. We're just very carefully balancing all the pros and contrary.

MARQUARDT: Germany has said it doesn't want to be alone, but the United Kingdom has committed to sending their tanks. Other European countries are also eagerly awaiting German permission to send Leopards that they hold.

AUSTIN: They have not made a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks. We are really focused on making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now. MARQUARDT: Germany and the U.S. are now denying that Germany is

requiring American M1 Abrams tanks to be sent alongside German tanks. U.S. officials have been arguing for the Leopard, saying the Abrams makes little sense for Ukraine. It's a gas guzzling beast that is complex to operate and difficult to maintain.

SABRINA SINGH, PENTAGON DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is a tank that requires jet fuel whereas the Leopard and the Challenger, it's a different engine. They require diesel. It's a little easier to maintain. They can maneuver across large portions of territory before eating to refuel.

MARQUARDT: While Germany's Leopard 2 is a modern heavy tank with a large number in Europe, it's easier to support and be trained on with the ability to accurately hit moving targets with its night vision and laser range finders.

Secretary Austin emphasized a window of opportunity when Russia begins a counteroffensive. The main fighting in Ukraine has been around the city of Bakhmut where Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian Wagner mercenary group, whose power has grown. And today, the U.S. designated Wagner a transnational criminal organization.


JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: It will open up additional avenues for us to continue to not only sanction Wagner and put more squeeze on their ability to do business around the world, but it will assist others in doing the same.

MARQUARDT: The White House also released new satellite imagery showing Russian rail cars heading into North Korea then being filled up and sent back with rockets and missiles destined for use by Wagner.


MARQUARDT (on camera): Now, the White House believes that Wagner will continue to receive weapons from North Korea. Next week, the group as well as into support network, according to the White House, will be hit with more U.S. sanctions. Now, Wagner has been recruiting huge numbers of fighters from Russian prisons, Jake, sending them to the front to die as cannon fodder. The U.S. believes that of the 50,000 Wagner mercenaries currently in Ukraine, 80 percent of them were recruited from prisons and our convicts -- Jake.

TAPPER: It says a lot. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Well, the Ukrainian military waits to see how the diplomatic tank standoff plays out. Its forces are forging ahead, fighting Putin's army within the battle capabilities they have right now.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen was north of Kyiv today. He witnessed Ukrainian troops preparing for a possible large-scale Russian invasion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Preparing to defend against a second gigantic attack even as they are already under assault by Russia, Ukrainian units held large- scale drills to prepare for bigger battles to come. The head of Ukraine's joint forces command tells me, we need to know what exactly to prepare the forces for and how they should be prepared, he says. That's why this is so important.

We are in the Chernobyl exclusion's own, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. Ukraine Special Forces are practicing urban combat in the abandoned buildings.

The U.S. and its allies believe the Russians could mount a massive offensive when the spring comes. That is why Ukrainians are getting their forces ready even as they are already fighting the Russians on several fronts in this country. The Ukrainians say that to win, they need more modern Western weapons, especially main battle tanks.

In terms of quality, there is a big difference, the general says, because of the fire control systems of Western equipment are far superior to Russian weapons. As the battles in places like Bakhmut and eastern Ukraine remain brutal and casualties mount, Ukraine's leadership says it is grateful for the massive military aid announced at the Ramstein meeting.

But Kyiv is disappointed Germany still has not signed off on sending Leopard 2 tanks, which would be key to help them turn the tide, a top presidential adviser tells me. Our guys will not leave in the battlefield even if they are not provided with equipment, he says, a more of them will die. This must stop. We want our people to have a better chance of saving their own lives.

The Ukrainians say the new aid announced Friday is going to go a long way to help them beat Russia back. Mykhailo Podolyak says he hopes the U.S. and its allies will keep weapons flowing in the long run. I think our allies have the perfect understanding of the price we are paying, he says. It's very important for Russia to lose. They understand the nature of this war, the nature of Russia, and why it is impossible to negotiate with them.

The Ukrainians say they need to grasp the initiative before the Russians can recover from their losses and they are gearing up for what could be a brutal spring.


PLEITGEN (on camera): But, Jake, the Ukrainians say there's a whole another facet to this as well. They say they are having increasing problems getting spare parts for Soviet-era tanks and ammunition as well. On the other hand, those modern Western tanks would have better capabilities, but it's also about staying in the fight, especially as the Russian offensive looms -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, Ukraine, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with William Cohen, former Republican senator from Maine and defense secretary in the Clinton administration.

Secretary Cohen, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's start with a tank standoff. Germany's defense minister says there are good and bad reasons for giving Ukraine the Leopard 2 tanks that they are desperately asking for. Why do you think Germany is so hesitant here?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Well, I think part of it is political and emotional on the part of the Germans. We don't give Germany enough credit for what they have been doing and the amount they are contributing both in material and equipment and now money. So,I think anyone who is trying to divide Germany and separate them as being a bad ally, they are wrong. Germany is a great ally.

The problem is they have a history. They have another issue not, only their history, but I don't think they want to be seen as the country that is triggering any kind of escalation.


If there's going to be an escalation, they want all of us to be involved in that. That's why I don't think it's unreasonable for them to say, we will put our best battle take their, but we want you to have yours there as well, even though the capabilities are quite different, even though it doesn't necessarily translate into more effectiveness. Symbolically, it's really important. I hope they are able to work this out.

Secretary of Defense Austin has said they are still working on it. I hope they do it quickly. Time is of the essence. I would say, whatever it takes to get the Leopards there, if it takes some Abrams to go, I would say to do it.

TAPPER: So, if you were secretary of defense right now, you would say to send two or three Abrams tanks if that is what the Germans needed as cover even if they -- I mean, they really need a lot -- it's out of the Ukrainians are saying they need dozens if not hundreds of the Leopard 2 which are more agile than the Abrams.

COHEN: They are more agile. They are more modern. They use fuel, which is easily obtained. You need the fuel from the Abrams. It's basically jet fuel they have to have. There is a supply chain problem for the Abrams.

But I would say under the circumstances, what they need our tanks. We can help get the Germans to say that it's okay. If you are in it, we are in it.

I think let's -- the most important thing is saving Ukraine from Russian extermination, as such. What the Russians are doing, they are engaged not only in what they call denazification, depopulation of Ukraine. They're annihilating the people of Ukraine.

So, anything we can do to prevent more of that slaughter from taking place, we ought to do it and if it's a question of we're providing something that's not that combat effective under the circumstances, let's do it anyway so we can get the Germans to satisfy their local political problems, which are real. And we ought to address them.

TAPPER: If Ukraine doesn't get these tanks and the other heavy weaponry that they are requesting like long range missiles, how do you see their fight against the Russians going forward in the next few months especially if there is a spring offensive?

COHEN: Well, it's a war of attrition at this particular point. What the Russians are doing, they are trying to just destroy the will, obviously, but the means of survival in terms of heat, electricity, water, food, energy, et cetera.

So, what they are trying to do is wear down the Ukrainians. If it's a war of attrition, we have to give whatever the Ukrainians need to take the battle against the Russians and to defeat them on the ground. The notion that the Russians are saying -- well, if we lose on the ground on a conventional basis, we might give them weapons. They've said that before. That is something we have to be concerned about, but you can't have Russia wrapped itself in a nuclear jackets and threatened to blow itself up and the rest of the world.

That is simply not going to happen, in my opinion. We can't have the world is standing by, terrified that they are putting on this vest and saying they're going to blow not only Ukrainian up but much of the world.

TAPPER: Well, that's just it. The Russian minister of foreign affairs issued a warning about the increased supply of weapons, saying, quote, we regard all of this as an open, provocative incitement by the West and increasing the stakes and conflicts which will inevitably lead to an increase in casualties and dangerous escalation.

Do you think there is an actual red line here for Russia? Because they've been saying --


TAPPER: -- that sort of thing from the beginning. Every time the U.S. or the West get incrementally involved, anytime they say that the line, do you think there's an actual line?

COHEN: There may be. We can't, you know, not take that into account. If we're going to allow the Russians to say, if we don't win, the world loses, that is what they are saying to us and to the rest of Western democracy and much of the world.

There are 54 countries in the Ramstein right now. That is more than NATO. That's a lot more the NATO. The world is looking at this in terms of the Russians engaging in an act -- a war crime by invading a neutral country. And now, they are saying, if we don't take possession of our, quote, a little beauty, we're going to blow the world up. We can't accept that.

We have to tell the Russians that there will be a terrible penalty that they will pay the day they think about using nuclear weapons in this battle or any other. We can't afford to have extortion being waged against the United States. Either you let us win, allow -- or else we might pull our nuclear button out and destroy much of Europe and much of India, China, all of the Middle East, there is no end to it once you start on the nuclear path.

So, I think we have to tell them, get out of Ukraine. You violated the law. You are causing world economic problems. You're putting us on a path of open conflict with the rest of the world.


Now is the time to settle this. That would be to get out of Ukraine. I think we have to give them, the Ukrainians what they need to defeat the Russians on the ground and do it as quickly as we can. The longer this goes on, the longer the war of attrition, Ukrainians end up on the losing side of that.

TAPPER: Yeah. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

Right now in Washington, crowds are filling the streets in the first march for life since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Antiabortion activists say they are preparing for a, quote, crazy year. What are they preparing for? But, first, the questions about money in a House legislation campaign -- it prompts a new investigation just days after the arrest.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our national lead now, the New Mexico attorney general opened an investigation into the campaign finances of the failed Republican state legislature candidate who is also accused of a revenge plot targeting Democratic officials.

Albuquerque police say Solomon Pena who lost his race in November decidedly gave gunmen addresses and paid them cash to shoot at Democratic officials to injure or kill them.


And now, a source tells CNN that investigators are looking at the possibility that Penn's campaign was partly funded by laundered drug money.

CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller joins us.

John, this is a crazy story. Walk us through what raised authorities suspicions and how they think this worked.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this starts on our end with Paul Murphy, the CNN reporter, going through the campaign contributions of Solomon Pena when he was the candidate for the state house. He notices that the accused gunman who was arrested with the two guns, the pile of fentanyl, and the large amount of cash in the candidates' car 38 minutes after one of the shootings is also the number one contributor to the campaign. In fact, if you bundle him and the contribution that his mother is listed as making, they paid for half of the contributions to the Pena campaign.

Interestingly, his mother says, I never contributed to the campaign. I don't know where that came from.

So, with a guy who was sitting with $15,000 worth of fentanyl in the car, according to police, the question is, was that the source of the money that the person claims who -- was sending to the campaign coffers?

TAPPER: So, what's next for Pena in his encounter with the law?

MILLER: Well, Jake, what is next for Pena's he has been charged in this case. Those will go into pretrial hearings. What's really next for him is there are three coconspirators who haven't yet been charged in this case but are described in the court papers as being among the gunman who were hired and paid to shoot up the homes of these Democratic leaders that Pena had visited the homes of prior.

So, the scenario is that one of them is already talking according to our sources. I think that others will have the opportunity to do that is they dig for the answers about where the money came from, how the shooters were paid, how the mechanics of this conspiracy work for a candidate for state office who had to go to court in order to get on the ballot because he was a convicted felon from having been arrested, smash and grab gang that used to drive cars through the windows of electronics stores and steal high-end items.

Like I said, it's kind of a bad episode of "Breaking Bad" meets "Better Call Saul" meets some other show that hasn't been invented yet.

TAPPER: Yeah, next time, he should shoot for U.S. Congress instead of the state legislature. Maybe he might find more protection there.

John Miller, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

Hollywood made a movie about her investigation into toxic water. The real Erin Brockovich however is going to join me next. She's taking on yet another contamination case, this time involving military families.

Stay with us.




JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS: By the way, we had that water brought in special for you folks. It came from a well in Hinkley.


TAPPER: Julia Roberts helped make her a household name. Almost 23 years later, the real rife Erin Brockovich is still on a mission for environmental justice. Her latest fight is this today's buried lead. That's what we call stories that we don't think are getting enough attention. Brockovich is trying to help military families who are victims of toxic water at Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Discoveries date back to the 1980s, but families who are not widely notified about the contaminated water there, for another 17 years.

We're joined now by the real life Erin Brockovich, founder of the "Brockovich Report" newsletter, and she joins us with retired marine master sergeant Jerry Ensminger, who lost his nine-year-old Jamie, in 1985, after she was diagnosed with leukemia.

Erin, I want to start with you. Just last August, President Biden signed the PACT Act, which allowed in part people exposed to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to file new lawsuits. But your finding is not that simple, right?

ERIN BROCKOVICH, CONSUMER ADVOCATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: No, it's definitely not that simple, and yes, that the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was part and is part of the PACT Act. And I want people to understand about Camp Lejeune, which is a marine base here in North Carolina.

And for decades, the marines and their families were being exposed to and drinking highly toxic water. They've been suffering the loss of their children, their spouses, multiple different diseases, conditions and cancers.

This has been one of the most egregious, largest toxic contaminated water issues we've ever seen in this country.

And so, being included in part of the PACT Act, which actually, Jake, I thought was a great moment, Congress passing an act, put into a bill that would be doing the right thing for these marines and their family, and those who have been poisoned. To find out here we are today, six months later, where original claims were being dismissed, these claims are being filed with lawsuits which are now being dismissed, and they're being told to refile.



BROCKOVICH: So it's like a circle here with not well intentions of expeditiously filing these claims, and doing what is right by these marines and those family members.


Justice delayed is justice denied, as they say.

Jerry, first of all, I know I speak from all my viewers and my staff, and team here -- our hearts go out to your daughter. You filed as I understand it a wrongful death came for your daughter in 2002. It's more than 20 years ago, and now, the Pentagon says they want you to file a brand new claim and start the process all over again? Do I have that right?

MASTER SGT. JERRY ENSMINGER, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): That's correct. Well, to make this story complete. They came out in 2019 and dismissed all of the claims that they had on file at that time, and that was 4,400 claims. Now, when the president signed this into law on the 10th of August, and in the law, it says there is no for us to re- file these cases, these claims, these administrative claims.

So, the navy went to the department of justice, and they went to the court of the Eastern District of North Carolina, to the judges, and they filed a motion for them to dismiss all the legacy claims. That's what they're called.

TAPPER: That's incredible.

ENSMINGER: The court went along with that but in the spirit of what Congress and the president had in mind about this is been delayed long enough because of all the lies and hiding of information and documents. They said this is gone on long enough. They wanted this resolved, they wanted to resolve quickly.

Well, it's time, Jake, that the executive branch step up and put the hammer down on these federal bureaucracies, that are now doing everything in their power to slow this down.

TAPPER: Yeah, absolutely, this has been a very long fight for you. It's been 37 years since your sweet daughter Jamie died. You are at the White House when Biden signed the PACT Act back in August. In 2012, President Obama signed a bill named after her daughter. That extended V.A. medical care to the Camp Lejeune families.

All this red tape and bureaucracy, it just -- as somebody who served and sacrifice for the United States, it must be just so maddening, given the fact that like, you've done so much for your country and then your country returns the favor by fighting you.

ENSMINGER: I know, and what makes it even stronger disappointment for me. It's to see the conduct of the leadership of the United States Marine Corps who've actually put their signatures on lists of lies that they came out with about this issue. I mean, it's just mind- boggling.

I served as a drill instructor at Paris Island for two and a half years. I train new marines, over 2,000 of them. And to see the upper echelon of leadership conduct themselves the way that Marine Corps conducted themselves in this has been repulsive.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's a disgrace.

And, Erin, obviously, Julia Roberts in the film "Erin Brockovich" put you on the map after your fight for families exposed to toxic water in Hinkley, California. We just showed a little clip of that. And since then, we've seen so many high-profile cases, in Flint, Michigan, in Jackson, Mississippi, the attorney commercials were nonstop for Camp Lejeune.

Is there a commonality in these cases?

BROCKOVICH: Well, oh my gosh, yes. You know, lack of leadership, nobody implementing appropriate executive decisions, as Jerry hit upon, and a cover-up. I mean, every single time, and in Camp Lejeune, they've known for decades that people were being exposed this poison to children. They knew in Flint what was happening before it happened. They knew that there was going to be a failure in Jackson, Mississippi, before it happened.

So we're just covering these things up. We're concealing them, and we're thinking it's okay to go along and let these families be poisoned, and come down with cancer, their children die, and then run to be none the wiser? This just has to stop, Jake, across the board.


And I'm telling you here on this Camp Lejeune, these marines, these families, this is -- this is enough.

I'm a military mom, these men and women came home to their families, alive to be poisoned on their own soil. I don't possibly know what we're thinking anymore. This behavior has to stop. And as long as I'm around, I'm going to do my best to hold them accountable, for what they've said they will do to make it right.

TAPPER: As long as I'm around, I'm going to help you, and Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger, to tell your story. So, stay in touch. We'll continue to have your back.

ENSMINGER: And, Jake --

TAPPER: Yes, please?

ENSMINGER: Yeah, I'm Jake, Mike Partain and I put on a timeline about events, it's 56 pages long, but it's the most comprehensive piece of information for people to go to. And learn about this issue. And I would like for them to go to and they can read all about it.

TAPPER: Thanks to both of you.

BROCKOVICH: Jake, thank you so much.

TAPPER: Make sure that you spell Lejeune correctly, people, when you're doing that. It's not how it sounds exactly.

Thank you so much. We'll have you back.

Coming up, new information just in about the investigation into the leak of the Supreme Court opinion that overturned Roe v. Wade. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, antiabortion activists from around the United States are here in Washington, D.C., today for the annual March for Life. This is their first gathering since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion in 1973.

CNN's Brian Todd's been out among the many demonstrators all day.

Brian, what's the mood and what are the priorities?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the priorities now are shifting the agenda, shifting tactics in the movement, because as much as this was a celebration today of the fact that Roe versus Wade was overturned last June. They realize it's a pivotal moment in the antiabortion movement.

As this march was getting underway, I spoke to Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life. Take a listen.


TODD: Is this a celebration? Is this a shift in tactics or policy? Why do this now after such a big victory?

JEANNE MANCINI, MARCH FOR LIFE PRESIDENT: Well, all of the above. We've become the largest, longest running human rights demonstration worldwide. And so, we don't and because the human rights abuse of abortion is still very much happening in the United States.


TODD: And we talked to a lot of marches themselves who said this is a time when they need to change tactics to get their agenda across. Going to the states, maybe holding marches in all 50 states, and doing things at the grassroots level, is kind of locally knocking on doors across the country to push their agenda. And one lady telling me that her focus is going to be on trying to stop the flow of what she called, the flood of what she called abortion pills coming into the country since Roe v. Wade was overturned. They're turning things to a local and a grassroots level at this point.

TAPPER: Brian Todd, thanks.

Just in to CNN, the Supreme Court marshal is now clarifying that she did in fact talk to the Supreme Court justices as part of an investigation into the leak of the Dobbs draft opinion, which ultimately overturned Roe v. Wade. Her investigation could not figure out who did actually link it.

CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is here with more.

So, she says she talked to that, but where these formal interviews, or these just talking? JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: She suggests they weren't

as formal as with the justices. Let me read what she said, at least part of, it Jake.

This is Gail Curley, who is the marshal of the Supreme Court, who had conducted the investigation. During the course of the investigation, I spoke with each of the justices, several on multiple occasions. The justices actively cooperated, she says that they asked questions about their own and they answered hers.

She said she followed with all credible leads, none of which implicated the justices or their spouses. On this basis she said, I don't believe it was necessary to ask the justices decide sworn affidavits. Now, I should tell you that for the longest law clerks, who were interviewed by marshal Gail Curley, they were asked to sign affidavits, other employees some -- 80-some employees actually closer to 90 some employees were interviewed more formally as far as yesterday's report suggested.

I do have to say that this statement which is the first we've gotten about any kind of interactions that the marshal had with the individual justices followed a lot of questions that were raised yesterday when the Supreme Court put out its report, and showed frankly many shortcomings and its security and its protocols for confidentiality.

TAPPER: Yeah, you and I were raising some of those questions on this very table yesterday.

But I have to point out, the U.S. marshal reports to the Supreme Court justices, right? I mean, you can't -- there are critics who are saying, God bless, are you can't investigate people that you work for, and that's the inherent problem with this kind of investigation.

She's not asking Justice Smith, to sign an affidavit, or the power imbalance just too big.

BISKUPIC: That's right. That's the reality of this. Chief justice John Roberts oversees the entire thing and I think what she wanted to convey today, at least there was some conversations with the justices by virtue of this terms that she was in this report. It does sound more casual, less formal, less penetrating than it was for the employees.

And those were the people who were focused in yesterday's report.


TAPPER: Yeah. That's why they're some in Congress who want to make leaking a draft opinion a federal crime, so it will be someone other than the marshal who's in charge.

Joan Biskupic, thanks so much.


TAPPER: Coming up next, the back up plan to the rising cost of eggs. But is this plan all it's cracked up to be.


TAPPER: Back with our money lead now. Today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of a financial crisis as soon as June if the U.S. Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. That's the limit set by Congress on how much the federal government can borrow to pay its bills.

We're not talking about news spending here. This is money the U.S. government currently owes.


Secretary Yellen tells CNN's Christiane Amanpour if that debt limit is not raised, the consequences could be felt by all Americans.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We would certainly experience at a minimum, a downgrading of our debt. If that happens, our borrowing costs would increase, a failure to make payments that are do whether it's to bond holders, or to Social Security recipients, or to our military would undoubtedly cause a recession in the U.S. economy.


TAPPER: Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill need to come to an agreement to raise the debt limit, but right now, neither side seems open to negotiations. The soaring cost of eggs at the grocery stores anecdotally prompting more Americans to start raising chickens, in their own backyard, an investment some family say is saving the money in the long run.

But as CNN's Gabe Cohen reports, some experts are quite skeptical about such savings. And caution would be hen owners not to count their chickens before they hatch.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every morning, Cassidy O'Donnell fetches a feast from her Pennsylvania yard. Fresh eggs from eight chickens, an idea she hatched last spring, as food prices surged.

CASSIDY O'DONNELL, CHICKEN OWNER: We've seen that the price of eggs have gone up quite a bit. Now they've gotten even more expensive. So, grateful for the decision we made a year ago.

COHEN: The price of eggs, is up 60 percent in a year, largely driven by a deadly avian flu outbreak across 47 states that's left some store shelves empty, inspiring more Americans to invest in backyard chickens, hoping to save some scratch.

MIKE HIGMAN, OWNER, MY PET CHICKEN: What we're seeing right now is a wake up call from a lot of our customers. COHEN: Mike Higman owns My Pet Chicken, which sells chicken supplies

for backyard flocks. He says business is booming, up 80 percent this month, compared to a year ago.

MIKE HIGMAN, OWNER, MY PET CHICKEN: We're looking at record numbers, people are saying that prices of eggs are going up in stores, and that they're out of stock. This people that are concerned with what things are going to look like for food prices and food availability over the next 12 months.

COHEN: Rene Ruiz built this coop last May, and purchased three chickens, with eight more just hatched, concerned with the cost of feeding his family of five.

RENE RUIZ, CHICKEN OWNER: I just don't think it's sustainable for people to continue to just pay what they're being asked to pay in the supermarket, without having an alternative, and that's what this is.

COHEN: But his hands haven't laid their first eggs. And he's already spent more than $1,000 on this project.

RUIZ: Do you think this will be worth it in the long run, as opposed to just buying eggs?

COHEN: Yes. It's going to pay off, not only after my first year. But just long term if I continue this process.

But some experts are skeptical.

Do you think most families won't actually end up saving money?

BRIGID MCCREA, POULTRY SPECIALIST: No, the numbers don't really work out.

COHEN: Bridget McCray is a poultry specialist that teaches chicken owners how to raise small flocks, and she's warning them not to wing it, as costs like feed, housing, equipment, electricity, and time she says can drive up the average cost of backyard eggs to more than $20 a dozen.

MCCREA: The reality is, you're going to spend more money on your chickens at home then you are on eggs at the grocery store.

COHEN: But Cassidy O'Donnell says her hands are already fluffing the family's bottom line, laying roughly eight dozen eggs each month, which could cost more than $40 in a store. Instead, she's spending about 20 bucks on chicken feed.

O'DONNELL: So, we're saving a lot having them in the backyard right now.

COHEN: And she expects roughly 150 eggs a month once the weather warms up, and says they'll try to sell what they can't eat.

O'DONNELL: That's like $70 an egg at the store right now. So, yeah, we'll see a return on it. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (on camera): And, Jake, there is some good news this week. The Department of Agriculture says egg prices appear to be dropping at least a little bit. But there are still major supply concerns and of course concerns about the avian flu. That even small flock owners need to watch out for -- Jake.

COHEN: All right. Gabe Cohen, thanks you so much.

Coming up, how an Instagram post led to the rest of three active duty U.S. marines who work in intelligence, and are now accused of participating in the January 6th Capitol riots.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, a school yard battle in Florida after the governor's office blocks a new advance placement course for high-schoolers on African American studies. State officials claim the course is a little educational value and violates Governor DeSantis's new Stop Woke Act. How?

Plus, three active duty marines who work in intelligence have been arrested in connection with January 6th insurrection. And one was reportedly pushing for a second civil war.

And leading this hour, the Biden administration designating the Russian mercenary, Wagner Group, as a transnational criminal organization. The ruthless Wagner Group has been operating in Ukraine since the war began. And as CNN investigation found, they recruit criminals and drug users directly from Russian prisons.

Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is known as Putin's chef, not only have as restaurants and catering companies hosted dinners, attended by Putin other leaders. But Prigozhin's known for serving up corpses through his work with the Wagner group that he founded in 2014.