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The Lead with Jake Tapper

FBI's Search Produced More Classified Documents Found At President Bidens' Residence; Two Students Dead, One Employee Injured At A School Shooting In Des Moines, Iowa; Lunar New Year Mass Shooting In Monterey Park, California, 11 Dead; The Lies Of Rep. George Santos Points Spotlight On Republican Leaders; Sen. Jacky Rosen And Sen. James Lankford Is Interviewed About Their Bipartisan Travel In The Middle East On The Abraham Accord; Sens. Rosen, Lankford Lead Bipartisan Delegation To Middle East; Santos' Lies Put Spotlight On Powerful Republicans Who Backed Him; Philadelphia Inquirer: Trump Poses For Photo With Fmr. Philly Mob Boss "Skinny Joey" Merlino. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 17:00   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: These issues publicly address what is very much an ongoing investigation and over the course of the last two weeks, has seen multiple disclosures seemingly every two or three days of new classified documents discovered, you know, the president's think tank in Washington or at his Wilmington home while also not trying to run afoul of an investigation that is now very much underway.

(Inaudible) the spokesman also did not say whether or not there was an expectation that the president's legal team would be offering other searches, perhaps of his Rehoboth property or anywhere else at this point in time, but we are of the understanding from people familiar with the matter that that is something Justice Department officials are considering.

It's worth noting that as this is going back and forth, White House says they will maintain complete cooperation throughout this process going forward. It's also worth noting that the special counsel, Robert Hur, isn't technically up and running yet. So, this is something that still has a number of steps to go, still very much a live process, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we also learned yesterday, you and Kaitlan Collins reported, the Biden White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, is going to be stepping down in a few weeks after the state of the union address and he's going to be replaced by Jeff Zients. Tell us about Zients.

MATTINGLY: You know, he's somebody who is very well known in Washington, but also very well known in the building behind me. He was President Biden's COVID response coordinator when he first came into office when the pandemic was still raging throughout the country. He was the co-chair of his transition team as well. Before that, he served in a number of high-ranking positions inside the Obama administration.

And look, Ron Klain is obviously a very powerful chief of staff, really has his hands in just about everything that comes across the president's desk, across the administration. His departure is significant, somebody who has known and worked with the president for decades and has been so integral to the operations in the building over the first two years.

But it was also something that was largely telegraphed. Klain telling people internally for several months he expected to leave at the start of the year. Now, Zients will take over that portfolio, and while he might not be the political operator that Klain is, when we talked to White House officials, they made clear it's his operations ability and what he's known for in terms of keeping the trains running on time that they view is so critical in this moment, a moment where President Biden will be dealing with House Republicans now in the majority, but also dealing with the implementation of all of those cornerstone legislative achievements of his first two years.

In part, as this investigation with a special counsel is ongoing, this is deliberate, trying to keep the White House separate from that investigation, keep things running on time, very much in line in the West Wing, as the investigation and the president's legal team keep handling what is still a very uncertain timeline going forward, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Here to discuss, CNN anchor and chief correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN's senior legal analyst Elie Honig. And Kaitlan, this afternoon, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, addressed the Biden document investigation and the Trump document investigation. Take a listen.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The department has a set of norms and practices, and part of our DNA since Ed Levi was the attorney general, the first post-Watergate attorney general, these are essential for us to continue, ensure that we adhere to the rule of law. These mean, among other things, that we do not have different rules for Democrats or Republicans.


TAPPER: Do you think that is how the Trump and Biden teams see this, that there are not separate rules for Democrats and Republicans, everyone is being treated the same way?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House thinks that they should be treated the same way because they think they've handled it differently in the sense that they are cooperating as Phil was talking about there. Trump thinks he's being treated unfairly because there wasn't, you know, a search warrant executed on Biden's property. But we did see the FBI goa and search his property on Saturday -- on

Friday for that 13-hour search. Remarkable, it did happen with a search warrant. It was in coordination with Biden's attorneys, but still, there were FBI agents searching the president's home.

And what was so fascinating there to me about Attorney General Garland when he said was invoking Ed Levi, who was this first attorney general after Watergate. He was credited with restoring order to the Justice Department, bringing it back to normal after what happened during Watergate. People said they didn't really know what his political affiliations were.

And for Garland to be viewing his job through that lens of what he's doing now, dealing with these two massive investigations and the FBI search, you know, underscores the seriousness of the investigation into Biden.

TAPPER: Yeah. And Elie, the FBI conducted the search at President Biden's home this weekend, I guess, on Friday, not just as attorneys. We were asking last week, how come his attorneys were doing it. They don't have the authority to look at these classified documents. What do you think that signals about the investigation?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, it tells me that DOJ and the FBI do not fully 100 percent trust Biden's team, and here's why. From a prosecutor's perspective, in a situation like this, you really have three options. One is you can say we fully trust you, go ahead, you do the search, you give us what you've got, you tell us what we need, and we'll trust you. That's where we started out back in November.

Option two is we don't necessarily fully trust you, FBI needs to be involved, we would like your consent to do a search. And that's what happened now. So, we're up a level. And then the highest level of distrust is to go do a search warrant, which of course has not happened in the Biden case, did happen in the Trump Mar-a-Lago case. So, this tells me that DOJ believes its initial belief and faith in the Biden team was at least somewhat misplaced.


TAPPER: Interesting. Kaitlan, take a listen to what Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, that's the number two Senate Democrat, said about the FBI finding even more classified material at President Biden's home. This is from the search on Friday.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): When the information was found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it's not supposed to happen. Whether it was the fault of a staffer or attorney, it makes no difference.


TAPPER: One of the things that's interesting is you hear, whether it's from Speaker Paul Ryan on this show or Speaker Pelosi talking to Chris Wallace or Dick Durbin or others, it's like these are people who have dealt with these documents and have not taken them home, right? So, how bad do you think this is for President Biden?

COLLINS: Dick Durbin said I never not only took it out of the building, I never took it out of my office, talking about the different natures of that. So, these are people who have been in the situation dealing with classified information and they're saying that we never dealt with it like this.

And so, I think that that's criticism that the White House has opened themselves up to and it's become the situation where it's been handled, you know, Biden coming out last week saying there's no there- there. But there are real questions about this.

Clearly, the Justice Department has real questions about what documents he took. And we don't know what is in these documents. You know, the White House has said they don't even know what it looks like. And it definitely is different in terms of the cooperation and what they're saying about it.

But it still underscores the fact that he did take classified information. It was unknowingly to him, he says, sitting in his garage, I mean, and these other locations. I mean, it raises real concerns. The other thing I'm hearing and I was talking to John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, earlier today. He is no fan of the former president anymore. He goes on, openly criticizes him.

He thinks this is going to help absolve Trump from being prosecuted in this situation because of what the Justice Department is now facing, this question of how they handle two presidents who took classified information when they left office. And so, I think that's why it's put Democrats in such a position saying, you know, the White House was not careful with this, the Biden White House.

TAPPER: And Elie, you know, one of the suggestions you hear from House Republicans who are looking into all of this, and obviously there's a political dimension to what they're saying, but there are people in Biden's family, Hunter and his brother, Jimmy, and his other brother, I think, Frank. Is that his name?

You know, these are people who have lots of business deals and businesses with other countries and businesses with the federal government. And the question of, were they ever in that garage? Were they ever in that room? Were they ever -- I mean, those aren't ridiculous questions?

HONIG: No, those are very fair questions. And in fact, Jake, I think these highlights one of the key questions, which is what is in those documents? What's the content of those documents? Now, we, here in the media and the public may not find that out, but if I'm at DOJ, I need to know that because on the one hand, perhaps they're just sort of random arbitrary documents that relate to esoteric issues.

On the other hand, we don't know this, btu what if those documents do relate to some of those issues that you just raised, some of the family members, some of the business interests. That will shed a very different light on the intentionality here. So, if I'm prosecuting this case, that's exactly where I'm looking.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, this Justice Department investigation is coming at a time when obviously Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives. The new chairman of the House Oversight Accountability Committee, Congressman James Comer of Kentucky, he says he doesn't think that the FBI or Justice Department are taking this investigation seriously and he's calling for any premises where Biden has spent time to be searched. So, however bad it is right now for Biden, it's going to probably get worse.

COLLINS: Well, and that's what makes this so challenging for the White House, is that this is coming at a time that now they are dealing with Republicans who have legitimate authority on Capitol Hill to make these requests of the White House. And you saw that first letter that went to Comer earlier today saying they would comply with legitimate oversight requests.

I've talked to some Republicans who do have concerns about what this ultimately looks like and being too loud about the documents situation and comparing it to Trump's, when ultimately, they fear it may not materialize into anything. And so, they have cautioned or told them to use caution on this and to make sure it does look like a legitimate investigation.

Because the other thing Dick Durbin said earlier is, you know, when he was asked is it going to be reasonable investigation, he referenced Benghazi, essentially implying no that it won't. But the White House does understand that they are going to have to respond to these requests from Republicans. Not everything, but they are going to have to be dealing with what James Comer is going on and saying every day about real questions he has about this.

TAPPER: Yeah. Chairman Comer saying things about the investigation, that's one thing. Oversight committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene saying things about it, that's another.

COLLINS: Right. And so how do they coordinate that? With someone like him wanting to run this investigation and make sure as this (inaudible) of legitimacy, but also dealing with members like that.

TAPPER: Kailan Collins, Elie Honig, thank you so much. Coming up, an update on the school shooting in Des Moines, Iowa that has now turned deadly.

And why George Santos' lies could come back and bite one of the most powerful Republicans in the House. Stay with us.



TAPPER: An update on the breaking news we brought you last hour. Des Moines, Iowa police say that two students are dead and a school employee is in serious condition after a shooting at a charter school in Des Moines this afternoon. CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins us now live. Adrienne, police just gave an update on the shooting. What new details did they reveal?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, not the news folks want to hear. Schools are supposed to be a safe space, but today we're talking about the scene of another shooting. And as you mentioned, two students are deceased and that adult employee was listed in serious condition and is undergoing surgery at this hour. Investigators say this shooting was not random. Listen in.


PAUL PARIZEK, DES MOINES POLICE: It was not random. There's nothing random about this. It was certainly a targeted incident. But as far as, again, motive, that's something that we are going to try and figure out.


BROADDUS: And the sergeant who spoke with us described this school as a charter school. Meanwhile, we did hear from the school district, Des Moines public schools, saying Starts Right Here is a community partner of Des Moines public schools providing two services.


One, it helps to re-engage students who have need some help with recovery, and it also helps students who are no longer in a school building due to behavioral issues. Investigators say they have three people in custody, thanks to a witness. Police were able to gather a description of the suspect vehicle and an officer spotted that vehicle in traffic and was able to take those three people into custody. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Adrienne Broaddus with the latest on the school shooting in Des Moines, Iowa. Thank you.

Turning now to a different American horrific shooting incident, investigators in Monterey Park, California are trying to figure out why a 72-year-old Asian man went on a mass shooting spree Saturday night killing 11 people. The majority Asian community was in a middle of a full weekend of celebrations for the Lunar New Year. CNN's Natasha Chen is in Monterey Park for us now where we're starting to learn about the victims of this horrific attack.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the eve of the Lunar New Year, in the predominantly Asian-American community of Monterey Park, California, there was dancing and joyful celebration, then gunfire.

UNKNOWN: I've got three immediates in here and I got approximately 10 deceased.

CHEN (voice-over): Police say a 72-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic pistol opened fire on people inside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio not long after local streets were filled with people celebrating the New Year.

UNKNOWN: It's scary. It's scary to think that, you know, thousands of people were here at the festival.

CHEN (voice-over): At least 11 people were killed in the shooting at the dance studio, several more seriously injured.

UNKNOWN: Additional units are requested. Multiple victims, gunshot wounds.

UNKNOWN: We're at 17 right now, still trying to get a hold of the number of critical.

UNKNOWN: I got one more critical, one more immediate inside the business.

CHEN (voice-over): After the massacre, the gunman left Monterey Park and police say went to a second dance studio in the nearby community of Alhambra. There he encountered Brandon Tsay at the ticket booth who did an interview with ABC. Tsay said he lunged at the gunman and they struggled for the gun.

BRANDON TSAY, DISARMED THE MONTEREY PARK SHOOTER: I was trying to use my elbows to separate the gun away from him, create some distance. Finally, at one point, I was able to pull the gun away from him, shove him aside, create some distance.

CHEN (voice-over): The gun still in his hand, Tsay said he called police. He's now being hailed as a hero for potentially preventing further violence. About 12 hours after the shootings, law enforcement located the gunman's vehicle, and 72-year-old Huu Can Tran was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Police say they still don't have a motive for the attacks. But evidence inside the van tied Tran to the shootings. Several people who knew Tran tell CNN he had taught informal dance lessons at the studio where he unloaded a barrage of gunfire and his ex-wife says that's where they met.

Mymy Nhan and Lilan Li are among the dead, most in their 60s and 70s. The community of Monterey Park and the tight knit dance community in the area are now coming to terms with the devastating violence during what was supposed to be a celebration of hope and peace.

ARLENE ALEJANDRO, LOCAL RESIDENT: So, there's no words to really describe how I'm feeling. I'm just very sad. There's too much hate.


CHEN (on camera): We are expecting a press conference shortly, so hopefully there will be more updates on this investigation. But we are learning from police in Hemet, California, about 80 miles southeast of where we are, that Tran had actually come into their police department lobby on January 7th and January 9th alleging past fraud, theft and poisoning involving his family in the Los Angeles area. He told police that he would come back with documentation, but never returned there, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Natasha Chen in Monterey Park, California with the update. Thank you.

Coming up, Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen and Republican Senator James Langford join me next fresh off their trip to visit a key U.S. ally. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In politics now, the many problems surrounding Congressman George Santos, Republican of New York, and the various lies he told about his background, are putting key members of the House Republican leadership in a new spotlight. CNN's chief investigative correspondent and anchor, Pamela Brown, joins us now live. And Pamela, attention is now turning to the role of a powerful Republican in helping this liar and con-man get elected.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: That's right, Jake. One of George Santos' biggest cheerleaders throughout his campaign was Elise Stefanik, the number four Republican in the House of Representatives and the most influential Republican in her home state of New York.

A senior Republican strategist involved in campaigns told me, quote, "Stefanik's team was laser focused on electing Santos to Congress, more than just about any other race in the country." Now, Stefanik insists she didn't know about Santos' pattern of deception until "The New York Times" revealed he made up stories in the past including lies about his school, jobs and family history, pretty much everything, Jake.

Throughout Santos' campaign, Stefanik was a significant supporter. We talked to several people who donated to his campaign, including one man who gave tens of thousands of dollars, who said Stefanik's support influenced them to donate.

Stefanik endorsed Santos early in his campaign more than a year before the election and her tweet included a link to a fundraising page that would benefit both her and Santos. She later tweeted that a lunch event raised over $100,000 to help George flip New York through -- his district.


One donor who was at the lunch told CNN the only reason that they donated was because of Stefanik and Santos understood the power of her endorsement as well. He used this photo of the two of them as the banner image for his Twitter page up until last week.

Republican consultants said they heard first of Santos' issues back in the summer of 2022. Of course, you know, there's a big reason here, Jake, why they weren't more outspoken, and that is because they needed that win. Especially for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who admitted recently he always had concerns about Santos' resume, yet he held a fundraising breakfast for him, October 3rd, just before the election. Jake?

TAPPER: So, Pam, as a powerful New York Republican, Congresswoman Stefanik endorses a lot of candidates. What makes this any different than that?

BRWON: So, in this case, we've learned Stefanik didn't just endorse and helped fundraise for Santos. According to multiple sources that spoke to me and my colleague, Greg Krieg, one of her top aides was actually advising Santos' campaign, though there is no record it was in any official capacity. We're told they even helped Santos hire people.

When we asked Stefanik for comment, her spokesperson said no one from her team, her staff -- they use that word -- worked for or advised Santos, saying Congresswoman Stefanik supported all GOP nominees and targeted New York States just like every other New York Republican elected official, and the entire House Republican leadership team. Jake?

TAPPER: Right. That word staff is key. There have been calls for Santos to resign but it looks as though the Republican leadership in the House, McCarthy, Stefanik, et cetera, they are not asking for that at all.

BROWN: No, they're not. Neither Stefanik nor McCarthy nor other prominent Republican backers of his in Congress have publicly asked for Santos to resign. And he's been given committee assignments. He's c-signed bills with Stefanik.

A donor we talked to said Santos is an embarrassment to the party and should resign, but Republican consultants tell me there's very little chance of that happening. The Republican margin in the house is -- I'd pointed out earlier, is so thin, Jake, they just don't want to risk losing Santos' precious seat.

I will note, Dan Goldman, a Democratic Republican from New York who just won his election, he's using our story to call for at least Stefanik to now be -- answer questions and be involved in investigations involving George Santos, including an ethics investigation he says he initiated with Ritchie Torres.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's turn to our "World Lead" now. Despite any private internal Biden administration concerns that the new Israeli government is too far right and not sufficiently committed to democracy, the United States and Israel today launched their largest ever joint military exercise involving a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group and nearly 150 planes from both the United States and Israel.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to move forward with plans to undermine Israel's judiciary, giving the parliament, the Knesset, the power to overturn court rulings, despite massive protests against the move. Let's discuss this with Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada along

with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. They just returned from Israel where they led a bipartisan Senate delegation. Welcome to both of you. Senator Rosen, you reportedly told the Israeli government that you did not want to meet with any members of the controversial far right parties within this ruling coalition during this visit. Why?

SEN. JACKY ROSEN (D-NV): Well, thank you for having us this evening. I can tell you that Senator Lankford and I just returned from a bipartisan congressional delegation focused on the Abraham Accords. We went to Morocco, Bahrain, UAE and Israel. It was very important to us as we met with high leading, high-ranking officials in every country to talk about the concerns and opportunities for the Abraham Accords.

I can tell you that we spoke with all the high-level officials, Prime Minister Netanyahu and others in the Israeli government as we were moving forward on the mission of this congressional delegation. We were quite firm in talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu about not doing anything that would change the status quo and that would impede the process of a negotiated two-state solution.

TAPPER: Senator Lankford, analysts have called this the most right- wing government in Israel's history and questions the government's commitment to democracy given its attempts to undermine the Supreme Court in Israel. One of the ministers, Ben-Gvir, has previously been convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism. I'm sure you must have some concerns about these individual.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Yeah. These are all members that have been elected as the Israeli people have spoken on this. So, as Americans, we have been very strong to stand with Israel. We'll continue to be able to stand with Israel. That's an unbreakable bond that we have with Israel and we've done that regardless of party.

Obviously, they had a different prime minister and a different government 18 months ago.


Had Benjamin Netanyahu then before that. So, the United States still continues to be able to stand with Israel regardless on this. This is a friend that we have in the region. And as went to that area, we were speaking to them about the Abraham Accords, which is the most significant Middle East policy that we've had in a shift and an opportunity for peace in that region that we've seen in a generation.

So the whole reason went as a bipartisan group and visit all the countries from the Abraham Accords was to reinforce, to work on how we can actually grow that partnership, how we can add new countries of that partnership. And what we can do for the existing partnerships, regardless of which government is there to be able to continue, to be able to grow that friendship among the region. It's incredibly important for American national security and for Middle East peace in the region.

TAPPER: Yes, without question, the Abraham Accords are one of the most significant achievements of the Trump administration. Senator Rosen, the accords are for people who don't know, normalization agreements between Israel and various Arab states. Why haven't we seen more on these agreements, more building on this from the Biden administration?

ROSEN: Well, I can tell you that the accords are pretty new, just signed in the last administration. Of course, we're still coming out of COVID some travel has been difficult between the countries. But this is really historical, the foundation and the framework that it lays.

And so when we went to visit the four Abraham Accords countries, we talked about the challenges, the threats from Iran, the opportunities, how they can partner on water security, on food security and energy, technology, and of course, medical partnerships. And what everyone wanted to do was be sure that they talked about peaceful coexistence in the region and prosperity.

That's what they're hoping for and that's what were there to talk about. We have a lot to bring back, not only to the Senate, but I believe, to speak with the administration about as well.

TAPPER: Senator Lankford, you talked about Israel being a friend of the United States, one of the closest friends in the country. Isn't part of a friendship when you see your friend hanging out with individuals with shady ethical or racist beliefs, when you see your friend acting in such a way so as to undermine democracy, isn't it the responsibility of the friend? And maybe you do it privately, but isn't it expressing concern and trying to steer the friend back in the right direction?

LANKFORD: Sure it is. That's the nature of being friends and having a frank conversation. There are frank conversations that occur privately. There's also actions that we continue to be able to work on publicly. I would tell you everything that were focused in on is how do we continue to advance the Abraham Accords, how do we continue to strengthen this?

What we've seen just in the last couple of months is what they call the negative four meetings. These are practical meetings of all those nations meeting together, talking about, as Senator Rosen had mentioned, how they deal with water, energy, all the key things there in that region. If you're going to continue to be able to work towards a peaceful future, you've got to be able to sit down at the same table together.

As I like to tell people all the time, you can't get all the issues on the table until you get all your feet under that same table. They're doing that now in that region through the negative forum and through other ways as well, and they're working towards advancing that. And they have those frank conversations with us and with all the governments.

Quite frankly, with all of those nations, we would say we have differences of opinion on human rights and on different issues that are out there. So it's not just the United States and Israel. As we're building these alliances and friendships, we've got to continue to have frank conversation about what it means to have religious liberty, what it means to continue to advance human dignity and rights, what it means to be able to advance economic freedom for everybody. So this is an issue that we'll continue to be able to work on in the days ahead.

TAPPER: Senators Jacky Rosen and James Lankford, thanks for being here and thanks for being here in a bipartisan way. It's always good to see.

LANKFORD: Good to see you.

ROSEN: Thank you. Our pleasure.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the House Democrat looking to push Senator Kyrsten Sinema out office after she left the party to become an independent. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead. Some Republican donors are now criticizing one of the top Republicans in the House. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik for her endorsement, enthusiastic endorsement of now embattled Congressman George Santos. One telling our own Pamela Brown, quote, "I would never have donated without Elise Stefanik. I assumed she did her homework."

Another remarked, quote, "Santos was after to me to become a big donor. He was such a fraud."

Let's discuss with my distinguished panelists, one of whom, I should note. Philip Bump has a brand-new book, "The Aftermath: The Last Days of the Baby Boom and the Future of Power in America." I hope you take it to those baby boomers.

PHILIP BUMP: Oh, not that kind of book.

TAPPER: I'm joking. I love the boomers. Jonah, let me start with you. Do you find it believable that Elise Stefanik was as hoodwinked as everybody else?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Look, when Elise Stefanik says something of this type, there's a 50 percent chance it's true, right? I mean, let's be fair. So, I think it's very possible. You know, she kind of skyrocketed up to leadership and mostly because of her sycophancy with Trump. It's possible that she didn't know that she was supposed to do due diligence about this guy that she was endorsing.

It's impossible -- it's also possible she found out later in the process. But given the fact that George Santos has revealed himself to be who George Santos is, obviously, lots of people screwed up and were retroactively finding out who they are. And Elise Stefanik is one of them.

NAYYERA HAQ, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: One of the -- to believe her statement face value, you also have to believe that she then didn't really spend any time in New York State politically, which is also happens to be her home turf. Or that she was just woefully politically misinformed.

Neither one of them, those statements, looks good for her political ambitions. But there's also a different political challenge here she's having and that she made a lot of enemies on her rise up in the Republican Party and to be chaired the Republican Conference. So tying her to George Santos does some Republicans, some good as well.

TAPPER: And let's talk about that, because, Philip, Stefanik has gone from a kind of moderate-ish --

BUMP: Right.

TAPPER: -- you know, former Bush White House staffer Republican to one of the most vocally pro-magna trolling reporters on Twitter kind of congresswoman.


This is how one New York Republican strategist describes a, quote, "It speaks a little bit to kind of her shift over the past few years where it's really kind of become a bit of a zero-sum game. Win at all costs, winning is the only thing that matters."

And we should point out New York Republicans had a really a great election cycle.

BUMP: No, you're exactly right. Yes. I mean -- so I think that it's certainly fair to point to Elise Stefanik. There's been a lot of great report, including at the Washington Post, about the way in which she transitioned from this young up and coming Republican who's seen as, you know, in the same way that Kevin McCarthy was once the young up and coming face the Republican Party.

Elise Stefanik was sort of seen as that and then shifted under this Donald Trump -- this style of politics. It benefited her politically to the point that was just made. She ended up becoming, you know, a senior leader in the Republican Party. But at the same time, this is someone who I think -- at the same time that she is transitioning herself, she's also trying to transition the party.

I have to see it through this lens of generation as well. I can't help but wonder if she saw George Santos as this young man of color who was gay, openly gay, who was, you know, a potential new face for the Republican Party which may have blinder. This is someone, Elise Stefanik, who's done a lot of advocacy for bringing and broadening the scope of the Republican Party, trying to get more women elected in the party for example.

Is this something, too, where she's seized upon George Santos as a new Republican without them doing the diligence --

TAPPER: And don't forget, he was also pretending he was Jewish at the same time. BUMP: That's absolutely true.

TAPPER: It turned out he was just Jew-ish, right, as he later said. And Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader, is ignoring the threat from Speaker McCarthy to -- that he wants Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell gone from the House Intelligence Committee. And he's calling out Republicans on this.

He says, "At the same time, the Republicans have threatened to deny seats on the Intelligence Committee to clearly qualify Democratic members, serial fraudster George Santos has been placed on two standing committees of the House and welcomed into your conference. Now, the committees he's on are not significant --


TAPPER: -- like the House Intelligence. But boy, George Santos is going to be very useful for Democrats.

HENDERSON: That's right. They are not going to let Republicans forget that they voted for him and that they're standing by him. Kevin McCarthy has said that he's not going to call on him to resign. The voters decided to put Santos in there, so he's going to stand by Elise Stefanik. And lots of other Republicans are essentially saying the voters have decided and the Ethics Committee is going to take care of it.

We know that the Ethics Committee hasn't always been gutted some of the rules around there, so it'll likely take a very long time to sort it out. In the meantime, if you're George Santos, you're going to stick around, you're going to make, what, $185,000 this year, $185,000 next year. He probably won't run for re-election again, so this might be the best shot he has at a steady income.

TAPPER: It's been -- go ahead.

HAQ: It's also not the first time he's run for office. He ran in 2000.


HAQ: He was the guy who was lining up with Trump, so --

TAPPER: 2020.

HAQ: 2020, rather, thank you. And getting my dates mixed up here. He's a known quantity --


HAQ: -- in the Republican space in New York State. There are many, many questions people had even at the time about who's being run against an incumbent. So there says something about either the New York State Republican Party or the party overall that they're really willing to rubber stamp somebody who just has check some demographic boxes. TAPPER: And what's interesting, I don't know how much you follow George Santos on Twitter, but he's trying to use the playbook of Donald Trump --


TAPPER: -- and Matt Gaetz and just like act as, you know, just attacking the media, attacking us as if, you know, these are unreasonable questions when he's lied about literally everything, including his name.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I mean, like that this whole like, if the media is attacking me, it proves I must be doing something right thing, has been taken to the nth degree for a very long time. I generally find George Santos increasingly less fascinating than a lot of people do. I do find the criminology of all of this, right, because, you know, Kevin McCarthy hears footsteps from Elise Stefanik and putting her down a peg or two about her lack of due diligence, her lack of organizational skills.

You could see a very Machiavellian case that this is being driven by, you know, McCarthy's team in some way or by a lot of other people, because with these margins, everybody is, you know, it's like the crab pot. You know, each crab is trying to pull the one crab that's trying to get out, and who knows?

But I personally think that like he shouldn't be forced out unless he's committed a crime. The Constitution doesn't provide for it and it serves the GOP right to have him. And if he's committed a crime, they can expel him. But I don't, you know, other than that.

TAPPER: So, another big announcement today. Congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona, pretty progressive, is going to run against Kyrsten Sinema, the now independent senator. And, you know, there's a lot of generational politics in this, although both of them are Gen X, as is George Santos, as is Elise Stefanik. So in your brand new book --

BUMP: As are the best Americans.

TAPPER: And the worst, you have a brand-new book looking at how wealth, power and politics will change as the baby boom ends.


You write, quote, "Suddenly members of the baby boom generation see something they've never seen before. These young Americans are more diverse, more likely to come from an immigrant family, better educated, less religious, more liberal. Interestingly, generation acts is actually more conservative, I've seen and I've read in your columns, than almost every other generation, older or younger.

BUMP: Yes, they are. It's fascinating. There's -- when you speak to people about --

TAPPER: Isn't it we are, aren't you a member (INAUDIBLE)? BUMP: I am absolutely. I'm very proud of it. It's odd to have a focus on Generation X. Usually, we get (INAUDIBLE) talking about boomers and millennials all the time. But yes, I mean, to some extent, it is simply because we came up behind the baby boom, right, that we didn't have that same cloud, we didn't have the same ability to affect culture and politics in the way that the baby boom did.

The millennials, however, if you look at the millennials relative to the baby boom at the age of 40, there are almost as many millennials as there were baby boomers, just that the population broadly so much bigger that millennials don't have the same amount of clout. And so, Gen X is absolutely carried up behind the baby boom and echoed the baby boom in a lot of ways. Actually, the generation needs to be called the echo boomers. And as such, our politics do reflect the baby boom to some extent and are therefore more conservative than younger Americans.

And also the issues that were important tended to be -- the political issues -- tended to be boomer issues. And so when we focus on what Gen X politics looks like, it tends to be the same sorts of things that older Americans were interested in and not things like LGBTQ right, climate change and a more important (INAUDIBLE).

HAQ: Well and as the millennial on the panel, I will say that for us --


HAQ: -- where our older siblings, some of us, as I'm a geriatric millennial, we're also latchkey children, but we watched our older siblings and realized that maybe we needed to break from our parents just a little bit more.

TAPPER: All right. OK. That was -- nice to see you to your millennial.

HAQ: I know right.

TAPPER: (INAUDIBLE) don't have her back. Thanks to all for being here.

The former president and convicted Philly mob boss Skinny Joey Merlino photographed with Donald Trump. We've got some questions. That's next.



TAPPER: A photo obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper shows former President Donald Trump with the former Philly mob boss Skinny Joey Merlino earlier this month. The two, along with an unidentified friend of Merlino's are seen flashing the thumbs up sign at Trump International Golf Club at West Palm Beach.

With me now is the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who broke the story and obtained the photo, Chris Brennan. Chris, you spoke with Skinny Joey earlier today. What did he have to say and what does he sound like?

CHRIS BRENNAN, POLITICAL WRITER, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: I would say that he was very terse. My impression was that he was an unhappy mobster this Monday morning. He was not happy that the photo was out there.

TAPPER: And what did he have to say about him and the former president, who you point out he's a big fan of?

BRENNAN: He described a long line of people. He said it was about 100 people at the golf club about two weeks ago. Trump International Golf Course, West Palm Beach and he said he was just one of many golfers who lined up to get his picture taken with the former president. He did call him the greatest president we've ever had. And he said there were -- he said, Donald Trump takes pictures with everybody. He's the nicest guy in the world.

TAPPER: And I know they agree. I know this from reading your story. I know they agree on that people who turn states evidence flippers should be outlawed. He and Donald Trump agree on that issue.

BRENNAN: They have a shared aversion for that prosecutorial method.

TAPPER: Is the Trump team saying anything about this photo?

BRENNAN: Very little. It took several days to get them to say anything, and when they finally did, they just said that Donald Trump takes pictures with a lot of people, and he can't be expected to know who all those people are. But, you know, there's a history of a problem with this, with him having a lack of protective political infrastructure around him to prevent these kind of things from happening.

They said back in November that they were going to put in place protocols, make it a little more difficult to get close to them. It's not clear that those protocols, if they exist, are being enforced.

TAPPER: No, I agree, and it does seem rather loosey goosey. Skinny Joey Merlino, for people who don't know, was convicted of racketeering and in 2001, he skated on five murder and attempted murder charges, despite the testimony of Tommy Horsehead Scafidi and Pete "The Crumb" Caprio.

But he did really know, he did do a decade in federal prison, and then he went back a few years ago, even. He has a reputation for being pretty vicious, right?

BRENNAN: So his latest charge was on a gambling related charge. But, yes, I mean, the way you get to the top of the La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia is generally through violence. And he does have that reputation. His most recent charge, he was indicted in 2016 when Trump was running for president. He pled guilty to a gambling charge in 2018 and was released in the middle of 2020 while Trump was running for a second term.

TAPPER: And this is the second time since Trump announced his reelection bid for president where he's been with somebody controversial and denies knowing who they are. Back in November, and this wasn't just a photo line, he dined. He had dinner with white nationalists and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, and also with the anti-Semitic rapper formerly known as Kanye West Ye. As you know, there doesn't really seem to be much quality control around Donald Trump.

BRENNAN: There is no -- that November dinner, which is quite notorious now, and was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence. That was the reason that the Trump campaign, which had only started a week before that dinner valve to put in place those protocols to prevent this sort of thing from happening.


That dinner was at Mar-a-Lago. This was at his nearby golf course in West Palm Beach. But it doesn't seem like there was any staffer in place to keep Joey Merlino out of the frame for this photo.

TAPPER: Skinny Joey showed up. Chris Brennan, thank you so much. And thanks to the great people at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Appreciate it.

BRENNAN: Thanks for having me.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at JakeTapper. Tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcast, like a juicy strawberry just sitting right there waiting for you all two hours.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in a place I like to call The Situation Room, that's after this short break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're standing by for a new briefing on the California shooting massacre at any moment.