Return to Transcripts main page
The Lead with Jake Tapper
Zelenskyy Worries Russia's Renewed Offensive Is Beginning; U.S. To Boost Military Presence In The Philippines To Counter China; House GOP Votes To Remove Rep. Omar From Foreign Affairs Committee; Sources: FBI To Search Pence Home, Office For Classified Documents; Hunter Biden Wants Criminal Probe Into "Weaponization" Of Private Info; Top Trump Organization Executive Appears Before Manhattan Grand Jury Investigating 2016 Hush Money Payments; New Jersey Councilwoman Found Shot To Death In Her Vehicle; United Nations: Thousands Killed In Myanmar's War Against Civilians. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired February 02, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I always wanted to go to this, but I only remember the day that it happened.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: You have got to set your timer for this.
BLACKWELL: Looks like fun, I mean -- are there other black people in --
CAMEROTA: Oh, no. Again, you would make history going there.
BLACKWELL: On this day in Black History, Victor Blackwell became the first Black person to attend.
CAMEROTA: Next year.
BLACKWELL: Black History Month.
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Republicans vote to kick Congresswoman Ilhan Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
THE LEAD starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): My leadership and voice will not be diminished, if I am not on this committee for one term. My voice will get louder and stronger --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Republicans removing Omar from a key committee, blaming comments that Omar has made critical of Israel, some using anti- Semitic tropes, comments for which he has apologized or ones she retracted. The Minnesota Democrat and only Muslim refugee in Congress asks today, how might this look to the rest of the world?
Plus, a despicable act. A young New Jersey politician shot to death in her SUV just steps from her own home. Was she targeted or was she a victim of random violence?
But first, Russia ramping up strikes against Ukraine, with warnings of a larger offensive on the horizon. CNN is in one town hit more than 70 times in just one day.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we start today with our world lead.
Russia's renewed offensive against Ukraine may already be beginning. That's at least the assessment of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier today, as a barrage of missiles rained down upon two key Ukrainian cities just ahead of the one-year anniversary of Putin's brutal invasion.
In Kramatorsk in the east, CNN crews were on the ground when two missiles hit a neighborhood this morning. Local officials say at least five people were hurt and the damage to buildings included a children's clinic and a school. Ukraine says that the missiles used by the Russians are typically used to target aircraft.
Dozens of search and rescue workers were already in the neighborhood, because they were searching through the rubble of a nearby apartment building struck by Russian missiles last night. That attack killed at least three people.
And in the southern city of Kherson in Ukraine, local residents were woken up by explosions from Russian shelling that killed at least two civilians. A total death toll for the war so far, nearly one full year in remains illusive, but is thought to be in the tens of thousands.
CNN's Sam Kiley just returned from Kherson. He joins us now live from nearby Mykolaiv.
And, Sam, you describe Kherson as deserted, as desperate. Tell us, how bad is it on the ground there?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's bad, Jake. It's very bad. And the reason for this is really rather straightforward.
When in November the Ukrainians were able to liberate Kherson from the Russian occupiers, Russians pulled back across the Dnipro river, stopped their guns, turned them around and began bombarding Kherson. That's a bombardment that's been really increasing a pace, particularly this year. They captured -- recaptured the city the Ukrainians in mid-November, they're now talking about 70 rounds a day, from an assortment of direct fire from tanks from mortars, from GRAD multiple launch rocket systems, bombarding the city, pretty much through the day. Now, we were there on the ground for several hours. We lost count,
frankly, of how many detonations we heard. There were outgoing destinations from the Ukrainians who were shooting back.
But the only people we really came across were the desperate, the poor, the people who were too poor to leave, Jake, who can't find accommodations or can't find jobs to sustain themselves if they can, and many of them had come to the center of the town to seek help from the administration.
I met one elderly man who actually tore a plastic sheet off of municipal building that had been hit four days ago, in fact, the municipal headquarters, to take it home to patch up his windows and he's got line of sight to the Russians. His neighborhood, he says, gets hit all day every day, Jake.
TAPPER: And, Sam, we're about three weeks and change away from the one-year anniversary of Putin's brutal invasion. Ukrainian officials expect that Russia will try to mark this anniversary in not only a significant way, but in an aggressive way.
How are they preparing, the Ukrainians?
KILEY: The Ukrainians make any preparations militarily covertly. We know that now from when we were here at the beginning, or before the beginning of the war, this time last year. They were very, very subtle and hidden in terms of how they were preparing, but President Zelenskyy certainly been preparing the international community for support at this stage, increasing his cries that there is an anticipation of a Russian offensive, because he says he needs, and he does militarily speaking, need the defensive capabilities, the anti- aircraft missiles.
But also, the longer range, more offensive missiles, and ultimately fighter jets. The more he says he needs them, the more, he says, likely he'll get them -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Sam Kiley in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, thank you so much.
Joining us now to discuss, Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska. He's a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan. He's also on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Good to be on the show, Jake.
TAPPER: Do you agree with Zelenskyy's assessment that this new Russian offensive might have already begun?
SULLIVAN: I do. And I think it's a concern. And I think it's something that we need to help them on, and by the way, shout-out to your reporter and all the other reporters doing incredible work there. But he highlights an issue, and President Zelenskyy highlights an issue that I think it's really important, and that's this slow rolling of the ability to get the Ukrainians the weapons systems they need.
You know, Jake, since the begin beginning of this war, there's been a consistent pattern. The Biden administration -- and look, I agree with what they're doing, especially not committing -- not committing U.S. forces, but when the Ukrainians make requests to do something, it takes months and usually the bipartisan pressure from the U.S. Senate in particular, think about it, whether it's Patriots, whether it's HIMARS, whether it's tanks, now F-16s, the pattern is the same. It takes forever.
We put pressure on them, they finally relent. And a couple days ago, it looked like they were going to do something in terms of making a commitment on F-16s at the pentagon, the president came out of nowhere, said, we're not going to do that. Mark my words, I bet that happens in about a month or two, but it should be happening now.
SULLIVAN: And that's one of the big problems we're seeing.
TAPPER: So, on the point you just made, today, the Polish prime minister said that he would be willing to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine if NATO partners all agree. The U.S. and Germany, however, have ruled out F-16s as an option for now.
SULLIVAN: For now.
TAPPER: What is your understanding about why they're saying no, the U.S.?
SULLIVAN: Well, you know, I don't know. There was Ukrainian pilots that were in D.C., I hosted them, with a bunch of senators, I got them meetings in the Pentagon. This past summer, I followed up with the letter to General Milley on the need for F-16s for these pilots. They can fly these after some training. They've shown the capability to do really good flying missions with their MiGs, but they want something more advanced.
And as I mention, it looked like the Pentagon was moving that way, you know, I have my sources there, and I think it makes sense. And then all of a sudden, we get to this idea that the Biden administration keeps raising it's going to be somehow escalatory. And I think we get into this point where we're self-deterring ourselves.
It's not going to be escalatory to get the Ukrainians the weapon systems they need. And right now, I think there's a good argument to get them F-16s or help our NATO allies like Poland get them F-16s and sign off on that.
But again, this is a pattern that's literally happened with every single advanced weapon systems, they end up getting it. By the way, as you know, it's bipartisan pressure that we keep putting on the administration, but it just takes too long. We're losing months in this battle and the Ukrainians don't have months.
TAPPER: Right. And Russian President Putin said that the West is threatening Russia with the Leopard tanks being sent to Ukraine. Putin said, we're not sending our tanks to their borders, but we have something to answer with and it will not end with the use of armored vehicles, unquote. That's Putin.
What do you make of that threat?
SULLIVAN: Look, Putin has been saber rattling, including nuclear saber rattling, throughout this entire conflict. What they always forget, you know, what he always forgets to address is that they are clearly the aggressor, they've been using tanks in the east, so, this is just more Putin saber rattling.
Now, we have to be careful of that, of course, but what I -- as I mentioned earlier, what I think is happening is that some of this idea at senior levels in the Pentagon that our actions are going to be escalatory, it's their actions that are escalatory, and when we delay, you know, it's self-deterrence on us and it doesn't help with regard to what we want, which is to eject the Russians from Ukrainian territory.
TAPPER: Yeah. Turning to China and the Asian -- the Pacific area, the U.S. and the Philippines have announced that the U.S. is going to get expanded access to the Philippines military bases. The deal, of course, gives the U.S. closer access to Taiwan. China says that jeopardizes peace and stability in the region.
What are your concerns there? Do you think this move could further provoke China?
SULLIVAN: Well, look, what's happening in Ukraine, as you know, the Chinese are watching very, very closely.
So -- they're very linked, and they're linked in other ways. You know, I've been referring to this Ukraine invasion as the beginning of the new era of authoritarian aggression, led by Xi Jinping and Putin. They are increasingly isolated. They're working together. They have no problem invading their neighbors, if they think they pose threats. Not security threats, but threats because they're democracies.
And I think, you know, the United States, we need to be ready with our allies to deal with this new era of authoritarian aggression for years to come. We have strategic advantages way more than they do, these dictatorships, and one of them is our professional lethal military. I support what Secretary Austin announced today, having more distributed forces in the region is good, in terms of our posture.
Right now, I've been telling the Pentagon this, we have -- we're too heavily concentrated in Guam, so, this is a good move with regard to distributing our forces. But you know, Jake, we have so many other strategic advantages, our network of allies, our energy, our dynamic, economy.
And here's the one thing I don't think we don't talk about it enough, our commitment to liberty. TAPPER: Yeah.
SULLIVAN: That helped us win the Cold War. You know, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the biggest thing they fear, their biggest vulnerability, they fear their own people, and we need to play that up a lot more.
TAPPER: All right. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska and the Senate Armed Services Committee, thank you so much. Appreciate your time as always.
SULLIVAN: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Next, what sources tell CNN about plans for a second search for classified documents at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence. What would make this time so different?
But, first, tempers on the House floor, as Democrats come to the defense of their colleague, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America. Don't tell me, because I didn't get a single apology when my life was threatened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time has expired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: More reaction to today's controversial vote by House Republicans. That's next.
TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead now. This afternoon, House Republicans voted to remove Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This, they said, because of her comments about Israel that members of both parties have criticized as anti-Semitic.
As CNN's Manu Raju reports, Congressman Omar says this is actually just about revenge.
OMAR: Like I was.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): House Republicans in one of their first moves in power, ousting Democrat Ilhan Omar from a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, over past remarks condemned as anti-Semitic.
REP. MAX MILLER (R-OH): She's brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.
RAJU: A 218-211 vote, a response to 2021, when Democrats booted Republicans Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene from all of their committees over their rhetoric.
But Speaker Kevin McCarthy claims this is different, since Omar can serve on other committees, just not foreign affairs.
Is this the message you want to send to voters as you come into power here?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No, and that's the clear part, how it's not tit for tat. We're not removing her from other committees. We just do not believe when it comes to foreign affairs, especially the responsibility of that position around the world with the comments that you make.
RAJU: Then Speaker Nancy Pelosi set the precedent in 2021, but told CNN at the time she was not concerned the GOP might retaliate.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We would not walk away from our responsibilities for fear of something they may do in the future.
RAJU: Now Democrats say the vote was an act of pure political vengeance.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): But what's going to take place on the floor today is not a public policy debate. It's not about accountability. It's about political revenge.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): It's not just --
RAJU: But Omar has apologized, even signing onto a resolution recognizing Israel as a legitimate U.S. ally. And today, defiant.
OMAR: I'm an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted?
RAJU: Even some Republicans uneasy about the vote.
REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): Not excited about the direction that -- the direction that we've kind of taken this place, this tit for tat.
RAJU: How you feel about this being one of the first major actions of the new Republican majority to kick Ilhan Omar off the committee?
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Well, certainly, I'm concerned, representing a swing district, that we're distracted from the real issues facing Americans who are struggling, talking about inflation.
RAJU (on camera): Now, those two Republicans did end up voting to kick Omar off the committee. Mace said she got some assurances there will be a difference process going forward if a member had to be kicked off their committees. And, Jake, in one of the first moves, of course, in the new Republican conference, new Republican-controlled House, Kevin McCarthy did put Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene back on their committee assignments in the new year.
TAPPER: Right. Both of them attended a white supremacist convention recently.
Manu Raju, thanks so much.
Sources tell CNN that the FBI is expected to search the home and office of former Vice President Mike Pence soon. This comes after lawyers found several documents with classification markings at his home last month.
CNN's Evan Perez joins us.
Evan, when might this search happen?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it could happen as soon as tomorrow, right? Jamie Gangel and I have been tracking this for a number of days, and we've been tracking this conversations that have been happening between the Pence team and the Justice Department.
Pence team is trying to project that they are very cooperative. They believe there are no more documents that would be of concern, no classified documents, so they've invited the FBI to come and do a search, not only of the home in Carmel, Indiana, but this think tank office that he has right across the street from the FBI building here in Washington.
They hope for the Pence team is that, you know, if the FBI doesn't find anything else of concern in those searches, they can try to wrap up this investigation that is ongoing right now and avoid having a special counsel do a longer term investigation, as you have going on with President Biden and, of course, with former President Trump.
You know, obviously Mike Pence is thinking of running for office, we all know that. But because he's not a declared candidate right now, it doesn't present some of the same conflicts of interest for the Justice Department, and I think the Pence team would like to keep it that way.
TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Next, President Biden's son Hunter on the offensive, as Republicans zero in on his laptop.
Plus, why my next guest describes Donald Trump as a lawless Houdini.
Stay with us.
[16:25:10] TAPPER: In our politics lead, Hunter Biden, the president's son, just went from defense to offense. In a series of scathing letters, Hunter Biden's new lawyers are asking the Delaware attorney general, the Justice Department, and the IRS to target right wing personalities such as Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon for what the lawyers say is illegal access or illegal dissemination of Hunter Biden's personal data.
As CNN's Jessica Schneider reports for us now, this is the first time that the president's son and his legal team have publicly acknowledged that information purportedly taken from a laptop is legitimately his.
HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF PRESIDENT BIDEN: I tell you what kind --
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESOPNDENT (voice-over): Hunter Biden is on the attack. His new team of lawyers sending letters to the Justice Department and Delaware's attorney general, urging criminal investigations into the computer repair shop owner who they say improperly accessed his personal data from a laptop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was hired by Hunter to do a data recovery --
SCHNEIDER: -- and a number of prominent right wing figures including Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon who lawyers say released and weaponized Hunter Biden's personal information in the lead-up to the 2020 election, all in an effort to damage now President Joe Biden.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: On the form, Hunter Biden claims --
SCHNEIDER: Hunter's legal team also demanding Tucker Carlson and Fox News retract stories they claim are false. The letters also acknowledge for the first time that it was Hunter's personal data purportedly found on a laptop left at that Delaware repair shop in 2019.
Hunter Biden was asked about the laptop in 2021.
INTERVIEWER: Was that the your laptop?
BIDEN: For real, I don't know.
INTERVIEWER: I know, but you know --
BIDEN: I really don't know is the answer.
INTERVIEWER: OK. You don't know, yes or no if the laptop was yours?
BIDEN: I don't have any idea.
SCHNEIDER: The laptop appears to contain a massive trove of information, from business documents to emails and some potentially salacious materials. Details were flashed across "The New York Post" and repeated again and again on Fox News just before the 2020 election.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: They say, right, look, this is the laptop from hell.
SCHNEIDER: Now, Hunter Biden and his team are fighting back, just as House Republicans are ramping up their investigations into what they say were Hunter's questionable business dealings with foreign companies and as the U.S. attorney in Delaware continues to investigate Hunter's tax dealings and possible false statements while making a gun purchase.
INTERVIEWER: There's a current Department of Justice investigation into your finances.
INTERVIEWER: What is it about? Can you say anything more?
BIDEN: I can't. But I can say this -- I'm cooperating completely. And I'm absolutely certain, 100 percent certain, that at the end of the investigation, that I will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
SCHNEIDER: (AUDIO GAP) investigation is still ongoing. It's separate from that onslaught of attacks that Hunter Biden is bracing for from congressional Republicans as they prepare to hold hearings into his business dealings.
So, Jake, the swirl of all of this likely the reason for this new legal team, the change in legal strategy, as his lawyers definitely go on the attack here.
TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Former President Donald Trump is facing a swarm of legal challenges, as his 2024 presidential campaign begins to ramp up, including one challenge that has recently been revived by the Manhattan district attorney's office. That is Trump's alleged role in the 2016 hush money scheme to pay off adult film actress and director Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. Today, a top executive of the Trump Organization appeared before a grand jury.
And CNN's Kara Scannell is following this.
Kara, tell us more about who this Trump executive is and what his alleged role in this hush money deal might have been.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. So, the Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney was scheduled to appear before the grand jury today.
Now, he was one -- he is one of the top financial officers of the company and as part of his job, he oversees the book and records. That's the money coming in and the money going out. Now, that's key to this Manhattan district attorney investigation.
What prosecutors are looking at is whether Trump and the Trump Organization falsified business records in how they reimbursed Michael Cohen, who advanced that $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels.
A key question here, if the Trump Organization improperly classified this reimbursement as a legal expense.
Now, federal prosecutors who brought that case against Michael Cohen that he plead guilty, campaign finance violations in connection to these payments, they said that was an improper and a false statement. So, now, we have the local prosecutors here in New York looking into this and exploring this.
And that's why McConney is key because he would know how things were marked, who approved this payment? And what we're seeing is a real acceleration in this investigation, which once seemed dormant. We've had McConney coming in today, earlier this week, that former publisher of "The National Enquirer," David Pecker, who was involved in this deal, he came and met with prosecutors.
And just two weeks ago, Michael Cohen, the man at the center of this, met again with prosecutors, the first time the prosecutors under the current district attorney Alvin Bragg, a real sign that this is picking up, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Let's talk about Trump's legal problems with Elie Honig. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and he has a brand new book out this week called "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away with It".
Elie, congratulations on the book, I know the last one was a best seller. Wishing nothing but the best for this one.
What do you make of the Manhattan D.A. taking up this alleged hush money scheme again after it looked like they had dropped it, now they're bringing it up. Do you think this will go anywhere? And is this Trump executive a credible witness?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, what's remarkable to me, Jake, is that two years ago right now, the federal prosecutors across the street, my former office, the Southern District of New York, was considering this same question. Donald Trump was getting ready to leave the presidency and they were considering, do we now charge him on this hush money scheme?
I have the reporting in this book of exactly what happened behind closed doors. There was some contentious, high stakes, heated debate within the Southern District of New York. Of course, we know the outcome. They did not indict him, but I found it really interesting to learn the reasons why. Some of that reason was political. One of the people told me, I'm
paraphrasing here, he said, we were well aware of the prudential concerns of indicting a former president. When it comes to the evidence, generally speaking, the feds across the street from the Manhattan D.A. did think there was enough evidence to support and indictment it was a close call, but when it comes to some of the witnesses that we just talked about, who are now going across the state to the state grand jury, there are questions, including this Jeffrey McConney. Some of the prosecutors felt he was marginally credible, and others thought there were real problems.
So, we'll see if the D.A. perhaps reaches a different conclusion about their credibility, and if so, maybe there will be a different outcome.
TAPPER: So funny you say that, because it was a few weeks ago, you and I were texting about the fact that Skinny Joey Merlino, a Philly mob boss from Jersey and Philly --
TAPPER: -- had just posed for a picture with Donald Trump, Trump said he had no idea who he was, blah, blah, blah. So, it set me back on reading about the case and the people who testify against mobsters, Skinny Joey went away for like 11 years, are mobsters. I mean, bad guys,
I mean, bad guys, often the witnesses, often the people testifying against a bad guy or an accused individual are also accused individuals and bad guys, no?
HONIG: Yes, this is one of the great protections that powerful people have. If you sit at the top of a hierarchy, whether a mob family, a political organization, and corporation, you have the luxury of limiting who you talk to and the people who use around herself with who you have do your dirty work, they're criminals, too. I tell plenty of mob stories from my time as a prosecutor in that book.
HONIG: And so, if they ever flip on you, how do you attack them? He is a criminal, he has bad motives, it was all him, and all you have is his word, jury, and you should not trust them. So, it's a built-in protection from powerful people.
TAPPER: Skinny Joey said after he got out of prison that he agreed with Donald Trump, he's -- because he's against flippers, both Trump and Skinny Joey are against flippers.
HONIG: Trump has used that very term. I checked to that, I mean, look, Trump is very good at intimidating anyone who might testify against him and it's helped to save him several times.
TAPPER: Let's talk about that because you refer Trump in your book as a lawless Houdini. You say, quote, at this point, the cold reality is that Trump is unlikely ever to be convicted and imprisoned, even if he eventually does face a criminal charge. Why? HONIG: So, here we are two plus years since Donald Trump has left
office. He has been sued, he's been deposed, he's been subpoenaed. He's taken the Fifth. We just saw that video the other day.
He's been impeached. He's had criminal referrals against him, but nobody has ever indicted him. So, you ask, why is, that right? How could that possibly be? I, frankly, fault prosecutors for much of that.
If you look at it, he's never been charged for the hush money. He's a run charge for obstruction of Mueller. He's never been charged for January 6, he's never been charged for Mar-a-Lago.
Now, that could change, Jake. We're seeing signs perhaps in Fulton County, perhaps --
TAPPER: In Georgia, Atlanta -- the Atlanta area.
HONIG: Exactly, but everyone's very focused on indictments and if there is an indictment of Donald Trump, it would be monumental, historic.
However, as a prosecutor, I was always trained to think about the end result. Can you convict him? Can you get a jury, unanimously, got to be 12 to 0, 11 to 1 is not a convicted, to find not only of president who's very unpopular, but also very popular, and sent him to prison?
And as time passes, as we get closer and closer to the 2024 election, it will be a much harder task. Prosecutors, by their delay, have made their own job more difficult.
TAPPER: And your book also touches on a concern with the U.S. Supreme Court, in your view, watering down federal corruption laws. You write, quote, the Supreme Court has shown a recent penchant for gutting the ability of prosecutors to pursue elected officials, even beyond the president. You go on to say the only way this can be solved is through congress.
I should note that there is, and you and I have talked about this, this bigger argument, and idea, one whether it comes to former Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, or current New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, about what some people call the criminalization of politics.
TAPPER: Obviously, there are a lot of, you do this for me, I will do that for you, without explicit quid pro quo's being uninitiated. What do you mean?
HONIG: Well, for all the division on the Supreme Court, ideological and political, the six conservatives, three liberals, the one thing that they really been unanimous on, the last several years, is in narrowing down the scope of the corruption laws. We've seen a series of decisions out of the Supreme Court that have made it all but impossible for federal prosecutors to bring corruption charges.
In fact, since this trend started, six years ago, we have not seen a successful, major federal corruption prosecution using these laws of any high ranking powerful public official. Now, Congress can fix it.
They can come back, passed new laws. They can say no, we intended that law to be very broad. But Congress, under Democratic control and Republican control, has declined to do that.
TAPPER: You also criticize U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and how he essentially feel to go after Trump and his malfeasance in the January 6 insurrection. Although we don't know what the future will look like, but you're right in the book, quote, Garland could've gone right for the jugular. Instead, he poked at each individual capillary. So basically, you're saying that he went for the foot soldiers and not the general.
HONIG: He had to go after the foot soldiers. They've done a good job of that -- the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the people who assaulted police officers.
TAPPER: I would call that maybe the majors.
HONIG: Half step up.
HONIG: But Merrick Garland is very fond of the saying, we start at the bottom and we work our way up. And it sounds good, but that's not how good aggressive prosecutors approach it. The good, aggressive prosecutor says, where is the highest point I can start? Why on earth would Merrick Garland not have gone after and spoken with, and interviewed Cassidy Hutchinson and Marc Short and Pat Cipollone two months into the job? Why did he get beat to the punch by the January 6th committee? Why did it take him over a year and a half?
Again, I think the and result of that is even if DOJ, even if the special counsel comes back and they indict, Merrick Garland, by his delay, has made his job infinitely more difficult.
TAPPER: Elie Honig, thank you so much for joining us.
Look for Elie's new book. It's called "Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It," which is out now. And, Elie, before you go, go Birds.
TAPPER: To a tragedy out in New Jersey, a 30-year-old politician shot and killed. Is her party affiliation connected to the crime at all? We're back with the investigation. Stay with us.
[16:41:27] TAPPER: In our national lead, New Jersey authorities are looking for a suspect, as well as for answers in what a town mayor has called a despicable criminal act. Last evening, police discover the body of a town councilwoman Eunice Dwumfour just after she had been gunned down in her SUV.
CNN's Jean Casarez joins us.
And, Jean, they believe this may have been a targeted attack against this Republican councilwoman?
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the working theory at this point and what the police are saying is that she was in her car and that just multiple gunshots went through her windshield and her windows. And when authorities arrived at the scene, she was deceased.
Now, our affiliate, WABC, is reporting that it was her vehicle that she was in, that she was actually outside her own apartment complex. And after all of those shots went into the car, that her car went forward at an ascending speed and hit a lot of parked cars in the parking lot of the apartment complex right there.
And so, she was a council member in Sayreville Borough, New Jersey. She was the first term. She was elected in 2021 for a three-year term. Thirty years old, it was her first elected office.
She ran as a Republican and she actually unseated a Democrat. It was a huge -- it got so much publicity at the time. And today, Democrat and Republican alike absolutely adore her because she cared about her community, they said. She wanted the best of her children and the people, and she was very devoted.
Now, on her LinkedIn page, she also talks about that she is the director of churches for the Champions Royal Assembly. And she's Nigerian, it is a ministry out of Nigeria, but she also said that she was looking for new work opportunities. She's a certified business analyst, she says.
Here's what she says about herself, that she recently wrote in pursuit of new opportunities. Quote, lastly, I'm teachable. I can get the job done faster, swifter, effectively, and without errors.
As for those around me, I add colors, the brightest colors with my bubbly personality and strong work ethics.
And, Jake, that investigation is continuing tonight.
TAPPER: What a loss, what a horrible loss. Are there any leads at this point?
CASAREZ: Well, you know, the governor of New Jersey, Governor Murphy, came out today talking about it and he said that her career in public service was just getting started. And he said that the New Jersey state police are assisting in all of this, and he himself, personally, is asking anyone who has any information on this to come forward, so it can be solved. TAPPER: All right. Jean Casarez with a tragic story, thank you so
Coming up next, the war that does not grab headlines every day. CNN obtained exclusive images from inside Myanmar, where one U.N. official says the lack of attention has proved to be a death sentence for civilians.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Time for our buried lead. That's what we call stories that we feel deserves more attention. This week, citizens of Myanmar learned they will be subjected to yet another six months of a state of emergency. This is how the country's military leader has been calling the shots for two years now, after overthrowing the democratically elected leader.
Images from the ensuing brutal civil war are rare, by design, as a military limits access to almost all outside observers.
But CNN's Ivan Watson obtained exclusive images showing how civilians in Myanmar are using combat medic skills and homemade weapons to fight a powerful, brutal military dictatorship.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Racing into battle. Images shared exclusively with CNN filmed by combat medics in Myanmar. They extract a rebel fighter wounded in a clash last October with government forces. Scenes from a vicious conflict raging across the heart of Southeast Asia, a war that's rarely seen by the outside world.
TOM ANDREWS, U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR: It has been forgotten.
WATSON: The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar is trying to focus international attention on the crisis.
ANDREWS: It's been two years of the military at war with its own people. We've seen 1.1 million people displaced. We've seen more than 28,000 homes destroyed. Thousands of people have been killed.
WATSON: Before the war, this group of medics included a high school student, a lab technician, and a hospital nurse.
Why are you guys doing this? Why are you risk your lives right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If we don't fight, then we know we won't get democracy, and that is what we want. WATSON: On February 1st, 2021, Myanmar's top army general announced a
military coup, imposing martial law and throwing members of the elected government in jail. A deadly crackdown crushed anti-coup protests, forcing the opposition underground, and into the jungle. Armed rebel groups calling themselves peoples defense forces sprouted up across the country, allying themselves with armed ethnic militias that have battled the military for decades.
No foreign country publicly offers them support, so these fighters arm themselves. Using ammunition produced in a jungle workshop. Homemade rounds stored in refrigerators. He shows drone bombs, mortar rounds, and something he calls rifle grenades tested nearby. Compare these makeshift weapons to the military, boasting an arsenal that includes tanks and warplanes.
One of the military's deadliest airstrikes on record involved what was promoted as a local golf tournament last October. The competition and subsequent concert organized by an ethnic opposition group called the catch an independents organization. Survivors say, a famous local singer named Aurali was about to perform his second song of the night when -- an airstrike demolished the building, throwing this local businessman, who doesn't want to be identified for his safety, up into the air.
People, who have been happily greeting each other, clapping and drinking wine, were now corpses, he says. They were in pieces. It was horrific.
Kachin officials say the attack killed the singer and at least 67 other people.
In response to a CNN request, Major General Zaw Min Tu claimed responsibility for the attack in this letter published in the state newspaper. He called it, a necessary military operation, targeting a den where enemies and terrorists were hiding. Adding, throughout history and until now, the military has never attacked civilians.
ANDREWS: That statement is absurd. It's ridiculous. There is clear evidence. We have video of airstrikes on villages.
WATSON: Evidence that points to a growing number of civilian casualties from a conflict with no end in sight.
ANDREWS: If it remains in the shadows of international attention, then we are providing a death sentence to untold numbers of people.
WATSON: With no help on the horizon, the next generation has little choice but to prepare for a life at war.
WATSON: Jake, the U.S. State Department issued a statement opposing the six month extension of martial law from the dictatorship in Myanmar. The U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia have coordinated sanctions against the regime on this two-year anniversary. The European Union issued a joint statement calling for a return to civilian rule and an end to the human rights abuses.
From Southeast Asian nations, neighbor's of Myanmar, we've heard crickets. There's a five point peace plan that has had very little movement, but these countries, which arguably could have the most influence on what's happening inside, some of them have very undemocratic systems of government, also dominated by their own militaries, and have really taken no leadership, really, on this crisis -- Jake.
TAPPER: One of the -- one of the many reasons why it's so difficult to bring attention to this story, because it's so tough to get in there or even get nearby, because of all the autocracies.
Ivan Watson, thank you so much.
Coming up, two striking comments today from Maryland's former governor, Republican Larry Hogan. First, what Hogan said about supporting Trump in 2024 if he becomes the nominee, and then how Hogan tried to clean it up.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, at the White House, President Biden sits down with the Congressional Black Caucus, as that group pushes the president to try to do more on police reform, in the wake of the killing of Tyre Nichols.
Plus, inside the DEA's secret lab, finding more than 50 million -- 50 million prescription pills laced with deadly doses of fentanyl. CNN will show you where most of these drugs are popping up.
And leading this hour, CNN on the ground in eastern Ukraine, as Russian missiles continue to strike. What our crews witnessed firsthand, as an unexpected attack hit Kramatorsk. This comes as Ukraine is warning the Kremlin is planning to launch a new offensive, but timing it to coincide with its invasion hitting the one year mark later this month.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen and his crew bringing us their harrowing experience from earlier today, just one glimpse into Putin's brutal campaign of terror.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Two missile strikes on the city Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.