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The Lead with Jake Tapper

21,000 Plus Dead And 75,000 Plus Injured Three Days After Quake; U.S. Aid Convoy Able To Reach Northern Syria Three Day After Quake; House GOP "Weaponization" Of Govt. CMTE Holds First Hearing; Reporter Arrested While Covering DeWine News Conference On Derailment; Biden: Classified In My Home Are "Stray Papers" From 1974; Biden: Classified In My Home Are "Stray Papers" From 1974; GOP Rep. Nancy Mace Roasts Members Of Her Own Party; House Dems Introduce Resolution To Expel Santos From Congress; Biden Brings New Fight With GOP To Home Turf Of Sen. Rick Scott. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 09, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: More than 21,000 people now killed.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Rescuers rush in these buildings first three floors have collapsed down, but left their upper floors upright. And little Yamal (ph), aged eight, is inside possibly alive. By the time they get her to the ambulance, though, it's clear they were too late. Her mother, outside, only able to watch her. Everything vanish.

My little one, she says, don't take her. Don't let her get lost.

Antakya street, a chilling patchwork of what's left standing and what's not left. And its ruins anxious crowds of rescuers and locals thinking they heard someone alive, demanding silence so they could listen again.

Down here is Ahmed (ph), the rescuers say, alert, responsive, a Syrian refugee. The building next to him, barely hanging on at angle, their work desperately wishing it were quicker. Across the city, hell has landed. This man guarding his neighbor's books with his father in law next to the body of his mother in law. He gestures behind him to where he once lived.

(on camera): It's kind of hard to get your head around just how inhabitable a city of this size has become so fast. Literally every street you walk down has a scene like this. And the roads out while they're jammed, full of people trying to get away with safety because the building still could collapse. And the roads in rescuers, people even trying to get their possessions back. And those who've stayed, lining every part of the green spaces we can find, with tents to try and stay warm.

(voice-over): The trees, perhaps in just enough space, away from buildings that could crumble. A new world for children smiling, neither oblivious nor somehow shaken too hard. And the smoke of fire settles with the dust to choke the streets.

But back where were an hour earlier, there has been relief. Ahmed was saved, pulled out from the hole, his family perhaps still inside. The medics keep asking him, did you hear any signs of life from them? No, he says. They say he cannot wait for them, that he must be treated after 86 hours entombed, the weight of grief even as he is saved.

His friend Jameel (ph) was pulled from the rubble earlier. I've been given life again, he says. I saw death before my eyes. I saw my own grave.

The same twist of fate here. There have been noises deep inside the bottom of what was once an apartment block. First, out comes one man, Suleiman (ph), age 21. The frantic work of medics here suggesting he did not make it.

(on camera): I think it's the impossibility of hope here that somebody could emerge. After all this time alive from the wreckage that's driving this large crowd of rescuers most intense work done by hand right at the front of the rubble there.

(voice-over): Out comes a four-year-old boy named Al Pazlan (ph), rescuers said alive, seen trying even to take off his oxygen mask. His father Toga (ph) who follows shortly does not seem to move. Eighty- nine hours in the rubble that both tore a world apart, but found enough mercy to spare its youngest.


WALSH: Now, Jake, I'm standing in front of that scene at the end of the report there, and very different now. Clearly no thought that life could potentially be spared. In fact, bodies still taken out, a stench of death there, and the excavators until just recently, working exceptionally hard indeed.

But you can hear around this extraordinary sight every second apartment block gone uninhabitable, those in between so perilous cracked, some tilting at angle like this. This whole neighborhood, frankly, will need to be entirely reassessed, if not demolished. And you can see what that means for people behind me here.

In an open space where you know you can spend the night safely, you are, of course, freezing in these temperatures and burning anything people can lay their hands on.


Now, this city Antakya, better food, better infrastructure, fractionally warmer than when we've been earlier on in the week. But still staggering how life here has been completely turned on its head in just a matter of days, but also staggering to see someone holding on for just under 90 hours. Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh with an important report from Antakya, Turkey. Thank you so much.

Joining me now, Emergency Manager for Doctors Without Borders, Ozan Agbas.

Mr. Agbas, thank you for joining us. The Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, Avril Benoit, was on The Lead earlier this week, she said the ideal rescue window is 48 hours. It's been more than that. But we keep seeing these miraculous stories of people getting pulled out of the rubble alive as recently as today. What is the most pressing medical need those individuals have?

OZAN AGBAS, EMERGENCY MANAGER, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Well, thanks for having me here tonight. And thanks for the question. What are the most pressing needs obviously is a good period is about the good needs of these survivors, basically mostly around the surgical needs or trauma related care.

But as Avril also mentioned, the window is closing down. There's a tremendous support to still look for people under the debris and rubbles and some reckless news are still coming along. But unfortunately, as the time is passing, we are likely to see less of those good news.

TAPPER: The delivery of urgent supplies to quake hit areas of northern Syria, of course, has been very complicated because of the long running civil war between opposition forces and the Syrian government. Syrians at the only United Nations approved humanitarian corridor, which is called the Bab al-Hawa Crossings, they're frustrated. They say bodies were delivered before aid was delivered. What is the situation right now?

AGBAS: Well, this situation is not great. As you can imagine, Syria has been war torn country for the last 12 years. There's a record of 14.6 million people needing humanitarian assistance already prior to the earthquake. And with this earthquake, we see the impact, the negative impact in health care provision. We see the impact on the public services and obviously it's translating into casualties, injuries.

The access has been challenging in Syria for humanitarian organizations for a long time. And now with the control in different areas and limited access, it's just making it harder to provide medical care that is much needed for the survivors and victims of the earthquake.

TAPPER: A top United Nations official says he's open to the idea of delivering aid to Syria via additional border crossings beyond just Bab al-Hawa Crossing. He added that many non-United Nations relief agencies are already doing that. Is Doctors Without Borders using other crossings? And is it safe to do so?

AGBAS: Well, at the moment as Doctors Without Borders, we're exploring all potential ways. Any option to find a way to get the much needed aid to deliver to people is what we're aiming for.

It's hard to tell which crossing points would be used at this stage, there are negotiations ongoing. But as I said, as Doctors Without Borders, we are in contact with all the relevant authorities and we are trying to explore all potential ways. We are present in Syria, in the northwest and also in the northeast for a long time. And up to now, we have managed to support more than 30 hospitals, health facilities through donations of emergency kits, trauma kits, medical supplies, blankets, anything that we could think of.

Is this enough? Obviously not. We're looking at massive scale here. Population that has been already affected from the conflict, the displacement, problems like malnutrition, chronic diseases, outbreaks, and now with the earthquake, it's just compounding to a degree that is going to be catastrophic maybe.

TAPPER: Ozan Agbas with Doctors Without Borders, thank you so much.

AGBAS: Thank you.

TAPPER: And if you want to donate, go to For even more ways to help the victims of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, you can go to


Coming up, President Biden gives a new explanation for the classified documents found at his home and office. Plus, a change of pace in D.C. as lawmakers roast members of their own party.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): -- Republicans a bad name, and that's Lauren Boebert's job. Just kidding, Lauren, don't shoot.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, a new House panel investigating the alleged weaponization of the federal government against conservatives held its first public hearing today. It aims to probe claims that the Justice Department, the FBI and other agencies are biased against the Republican Party. Democrats say the GOP is simply weaponizing -- weaponization itself. CNN's Sara Murray has been following the hearing.

Sara, what was the new panel aiming to accomplish in this first hearing? And did they succeed?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, we've heard a lot from Jim Jordan, who's the Chair of Judiciary Committee leading this subcommittee. About this allegation, you know, he says it's backed up by whistleblowers. He hasn't offered much other evidence, but the notion that the federal government is essentially targeting conservatives.

Democrats, meanwhile, on the subcommittee committee say the whole premise of this thing is bunk. So take a listen to Jordan today and Delegate Stacey Plaskett. She's a top Democrat on this subcommittee. [17:15:10]


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Protecting the First Amendment shouldn't be partisan. Protecting the Constitution shouldn't be partisan. And protecting the fundamental principle of equal treatment under the law should not be partisan.

STACEY PLASKETT (D), VIRGIN ISLANDS DELEGATE: I'm deeply concerned about the use of this select subcommittee as a place to metal scores, showcase conspiracy theories, and advance an extreme agenda that risk undermining American faith in our democracy.


MURRAY: Now, look, we heard from Senator Chuck Grassley, we heard from Senator Ron Johnson, we heard from former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And essentially what we heard from were a lot of their personal grievances, Hillary Clinton's e-mails came up, the Hunter Biden laptop story came up, more coronavirus disinformation came up. And essentially their complaints that they believed that they were essentially described as misinformation agents and that the government worked with the media in order to make that possible.

We also heard from a former -- couple of former FBI agents who raised a few concerns. But again, a lot of what we heard were personal opinions, not so much evidence to back up Jordan's claim.

TAPPER: Well, hopefully he'll produce some evidence coming forward.

MURRAY: Si. So early.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, appreciate it.

Joining us now to discuss, Ohio's Republican Governor Mike DeWine.

Governor, you just heard Sara Murray reporting on this committee hearing investigating the alleged weaponization of the federal government. Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, he was one of the panelists in front of the committee. I want you to take a listen to what he said.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Conceivably become part of a proud history of serious bipartisan oversight, or it could take oversight down a very dark alley filled with conspiracy theories and disinformation, a place where facts are the enemy and partisan destruction is the overriding goal.


TAPPER: Now, obviously, we shall see what this special committee does, but you've had to contend as -- in your time as governor with all sorts of conspiracy theories and misinformation. Are you concerned at all?

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Well, I've rarely -- Jake, to tell you the truth, not been following that. I've been dealing with a train derailment in the eastern part of Ohio, I've been dealing with -- we just submitted our budget. So my focus is, you know, right here on the state of Ohio and I've not, you know, didn't follow the hearings today, so.

TAPPER: How is the community in East Palestine doing with that derailment and the chemical situation?

DEWINE: They're doing well. You know, we had so many volunteers. The fire department that is made up of almost all volunteers did a phenomenal job. We had the National Guard come in to be of assistance, as well as the Highway Patrol.

But people just rallied together. And the end of the story is not over. But people were able to go back in their houses yesterday.

And, you know, I worked with my friend across the line in Pennsylvania, you know, the governors and I talked a lot and -- because a lot of this -- the people affected were in Pennsylvania. And I think it was a good, great effort by a lot of people, and things look good. I mean, people this thing could have turned out very, very bad.

TAPPER: So, that's interesting that you say that, because I remember when you were a senator, and now you're talking about working with Democratic Governor Shapiro across the state line in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And you seem to be somebody, even though Ohio is pretty Republican these days, you seem to be somebody that has an interest in an appreciation for bipartisan work.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave the Republican response to President Biden State of the Union address. She said, the dividing line in America is no longer between the left and the right, but between the normal and crazy. Do you agree that the Democratic Party and Democratic public are crazy?

DEWINE: Well, I always tried to look at things from the point of view of let's fix it. And I think governors are in a unique position to do that, because the problems that we have many times are not partisan. You know, there's not a partisan way to go deal with the train wreck. There's not a partisan way, really, to educate our kids.

One of the things that we did, for example, in this budget that I just submitted to the state legislature, is really focus on literacy, reading, the science of reading. The evidence is in that that is the best way to teach kids how to read. So, it's these types of debates that I think, you know, governors engage in. And maybe, you know, we're lucky, in a sense that the things we focus on many times are just not very partisan at all.

TAPPER: Your state address also focused on creating employment opportunities for Ohioans with new jobs, especially for the younger population, so they'll stay in Ohio and not move to another state. Is Ohio getting enough resources under the Biden administration to do that?


DEWINE: You know, look, we're moving forward. Ohio is doing well. The President came out to, you know, talk about a bridge we're building across the Ohio River. That's, again, a joint venture with Governor Beshear in Kentucky, myself and the federal government, you know, all putting money in. It's all going to make a difference since it's a bridge of really national significance.

I do want to say one thing, you mentioned the President, and I noticed that in his State of the Union speech, he talked about children and mental health. And this is something that we have really put an emphasis on in Ohio. I'm very proud of some of the things that we're doing, some of the things that we presented in our budget that will be coming up. But when you talk to teachers, when you talk to parents, you talk to superintendents, the mental health of our children is certainly something, is very much a grave concern.

TAPPER: Yes, a lot of damage because of COVID and the policies that followed.

I have to ask you, yesterday at your news conference, there was a reporter from NewsNation, he was arrested while doing a live shot while you were speaking. NewsNation says the reporter ended his live shot just moments after he was asked to stop, but police claim a physical altercation left to his arrest. What have you sassed out about what happened? And can you assure journalists in Ohio that's not going to happen again?

DEWINE: Well, we just released a short time ago the video from the state highway patrol, so people will have the opportunity to look at that. I made it very clear yesterday that the reporter never should have been stopped from reporting.

You know, I've held, I think, since I took office, over 500 press conferences. I usually stay there until the last question is asked. I have a great deal of respect for people in the news media. Many times they're reporting live, that's what he apparently was doing. And someone thought that he was too loud and approached him about that.

But he should not have been approached. He should have been allowed to continue to report and do his job.

TAPPER: Well, that's good to hear. Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

DEWINE: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, President Biden taking a trip to the past, to 1974, to be exact, trying to explain how classified documents ended up at his House. The latest attempt at brushing off this controversy. That's ahead.



TAPPER: In politics, President Biden attempting to deflect blame for his classified documents controversy. He's refusing to accept responsibility for the mishap, essentially blaming his staff and downplaying the significance of the classified documents he was improperly in possession of. This is him with Judy Woodruff.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To the best of my knowledge, the kinds of things they picked up were things that from 1974 and stray papers. There may be something else I don't know. But one of the things that happened is that what was not done well is as they packed up my offices to move them, they didn't do the kind of job that should have been done to go thoroughly through every single piece of literature that's there.


TAPPER: 1974, literature. Let's bring in CNN's Paula Reid.

Paula, Biden is really downplaying what these documents were. We should note that the President sometimes, it happens, makes incorrect statements.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That is exactly right. In the course of this investigation, he has publicly said things that turned out not to be true. And so far the White House and his legal team are declining to comment on this claim that some of these materials were from 1974, which would be the year after he was first elected to the Senate.

What you also heard there is this argument that they're making in the court of public opinion that passes responsibility for this situation off to the staff. Now, specifically, there is one former staffer, Kathy Chung, she was a top aide when he was vice president, she was one of the people overseeing the packing up of these boxes. I spoke with someone close to her who said, yes, she feels partly responsible for this situation. And it's clear the Biden team, they're happy to let her be the fall person here. She has spoken to investigators in the initial review, it's fully expected that the special counsel will also want to talk to her, and she's also been targeted by oversight requests.

Now, even if they want to make her the central figure here, right, much of the public isn't going to buy the argument that even though you're the one in charge, you're not responsible.

We also heard him say there, Jake, that there's some things he doesn't know. It's not clear from our reporting exactly how much information he is getting about the ongoing day to day in this investigation, but we know from our sources that the FBI, they're still combing through all the material that they collect in these two houses. So there's more that we're all likely going to learn in the course of this probe.

TAPPER: Paula Reid, thanks so much. Let's discuss with my august panel. And Margaret, President Biden proverbially throwing staff members under the bus and also downplaying what these classified documents are. 1974? I mean, what is that? Nixon's secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, perhaps.

MARGARET TALEV, AXIOS SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Look, if this is limited to 1974 in a few straight papers, a lot of the stuff's probably declassified or in the declassified category since. But he is betting a lot on the fact that the future release of information is going to exonerate him on this.

And I think President Biden has made the calculation and his team that drawing a distinction between contemporaneous documents that Donald Trump had and things from his early days as a senator is a distinction the public will understand. But I think people do want to hear some degree of humility. Like what people want to hear from all public officials is, no one should take classified documents and have them in their possession. That was a mistake.

It may be a mistake I made 49 years ago, but it is a mistake nevertheless, and I'm going to own it. And that's not the way he's playing it right now. So I think we'll see where this goes.

TAPPER: But also, Jonah, I think it's something like 20 documents at this point. I mean, we're going to find out at some point --

TALEV: That's it.

TAPPER: -- what the top points are, and if it doesn't line up with that then --


TAPPER: -- that explodes into another controversy.

GOLDBERG: And also, the thing I keep focusing on is, you know, they had the statement where they found another tranche of things, and they said, we've recovered six items.

TAPPER: Items, right.

GOLDBERG: Right? So, I actually happen to know a very prominent criminal lawyer in Washington who does high profile things, and when he picks up from the FBI when he gets his clients evidence back, it comes in an envelope or whatever, and it is, you know, say, item one, a USB drive, item two, a hard drive, right, item three, a document. The hard drive could have 10,000 documents on.

TAPPER: Right.

GOLDBERG: We just don't know right now. And I also just don't think, as a political matter, reminding people that he has been in Washington since 1974. I mean, this is a guy who took office the same year The Godfather came out. It kind of it kind of raises the thing, so you've had classified documents floating around for half a century, and you're only discovering it now? It's not necessarily the best. TAPPER: Right. Not the defense he thought it was.

Alencia, Republican congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina was at a speaker at a dinner party here in D.C. She poked fun at some of her Republican colleagues, and she was pretty funny. So, I want you to take a look.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Did you watch McCarthy during the Speaker's vote? I haven't seen someone assume that many positions to appease the crazy Republicans in Stormy Daniels.

Lauren used to own a restaurant called Shooters. That's like Matt Gates owning a restaurant called Jail Bates. Like, who lies about being a -- about playing college volleyball? Like who does that?

If you're going to lie, at least make it about something big, like you actually won the 2020 presidential election. And I know everyone thinks Republicans aren't funny, but if you get a bunch of us together, we can be a real riot.


TAPPER: I mean, holy smokes props. That was some -- that was actually good stuff.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I mean, look, the material rights itself, she needs to go to SNL if Congress doesn't work out for her.

But you know, hearing the Republicans laugh hysterically at that is a little concerning because they won't hold any of their colleagues accountable for all of the egregious things she's making a joke about. And so, I think it will be interesting to see the Republicans as we go into this Congress where they have a slim majority, but also in the 2024 election, how they're trying to define themselves against some of these extremists. I feel like she was trying to do some of that by, you know, making a lot of jokes. But you know, those laughs while they, you know, were laughing about them and it was entertaining to watch, are they actually going to do something with, I don't know, this con man, George Santos, instead of just laughing about it?

TAPPER: Well, it's --

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's like cynicism in a way, right?



CORNISH: It's like, if this is what you think, because the jokes did sound like they were written by a Democratic comedian somehow, you know. And even as she's delivering them --

TAPPER: Well, most comedians are that way, so yes. CORNISH: -- a little bit (INAUDIBLE), well, well, she's saying Republicans are funny. But yes, there was something really cynical about laughing at the item she was pointing out, specifically, the things that have brought the most concern to people within the party and outside of it.

TAPPER: There is a group of House Democrats who introduced a resolution today to expel Congressman George Santos from Congress. It is unlikely to reach the floor of the House for a vote, but at least one House Republican tell CNN they would vote for it. McCarthy has a tight margin.

Nancy Mace has called for Santos to resign. Other Republicans from New York have called on him to resign. I guess the question I have is, ultimately, are Democrats better off with Santos there as this freak that dishonors his party day in, day out?

CORNISH: That's a description. I think, that he really, like, he does draw some of the new cycle every day and it sort of gives them something to bat around that's not other issues that they might be concerned about. I do think people are going to get tired of this, though.

And at a certain point, are they going to just look at Kevin McCarthy and say, OK, but seriously, like, all of these voices, your whole New York delegation is saying, at the baseline, can't we just agree to this? The flip side is now you're hearing this talking point about Biden and whether Biden is a liar, and there's like a strange defense of George Santos that in the, sort of, right wing media sphere that hinges on the idea that everyone lies and definitely Biden lies.


And again, that's just a very cynical argument to make to the public that this liar is OK because you're defending your liar and we all have liars. It's like this is not the place we want to be in American politics.

TALEV: Well, there's really no equivalency to George Santos. There's yet another revelation today about the ominous (ph) case with the dogs.

CORNISH: But it's happening. You are hearing it very much as an argument that is made. And, you know, honestly, it's been surprising.

TAPPER: To be fair, President Biden, then Vice President Biden, then Senator Biden, has said a lot of things that aren't true, including stories about himself and his livelihood. I do want to get -- and his, like, career. But I do want to give him credit because he actually is the one telling the truth in this face off with Rick Scott about whether or not Scott proposed --


TAPPER: -- sunsetting every five years, every federal program, which would presumably include Social Security and Medicare. And Biden was hitting him again in Florida. Take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Republicans seemed shocked when I took out the pamphlets they were using about cutting Medicare and Social Security. Read from, you know, Senator Scott's proposal. Maybe he's changed his mind. Maybe he's seen the Lord, but he wanted the sunset. Meaning if you don't reauthorize it goes away.

The very idea that somebody from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare in the chopping block every five years, I find to be somewhat outrageous.


TAPPER: What's weird to me about this, Alencia, is I mean, Rick Scott keeps pushing back on this, but it's just factually correct, he did propose sunsetting these -- every federal program every five years.

JOHNSON: Yes, I mean, in the interview that he did this morning with your colleague, he was pushing back and also a big fan of you, actually.

TAPPER: Oh, yes.

JOHNSON: He kept referencing some of your coverage of all this.

TAPPER: I don't think it was supportive, but yes.

JOHNSON: Right. But no, you know, it is -- it's very interesting that he continues to deny what is actually, as President Biden said in the State of the Union, like, I have the receipts.


JOHNSON: I can show you the plan. And yet, he is continuously trying to pivot and say that, for some reason, democrats are not on board with this plan. But I will say, again, and I'm sure we've been talking about this all the time, President Biden did a layup and got us a campaign slogan for the next two years or campaign add for the next few years --

TAPPER: Finish the job. Yes.

JOHNSON: -- to finish the job in the State of the Union, but also to continue to go into these states and actually show folks what their plan is. You know, I think it's going to help us in the long run but continue --

GOLDBERG: I thought the slogan was good luck in your senior year.

TAPPER: But, Jonah, do you agree with Phil Klein of the National Review that both parties are being irresponsible on Social Security and Medicare by saying no one should touch any of this? I mean, there is an issue here in terms of their solvency. GOLDBERG: That's what was gross about the whole thing to me is there was this roaring consensus about denying the reality that these entitlement programs are going bankrupt and that we need to do something about them. And Joe Biden did not tell the truth when he said you could just tax the richest people to pay for -- to fix it all. It's not true.

TAPPER: Yes. And we'll keep talking about that because it is a bigger issue than this whole Rick Scott Joe Biden thing going on.

Thanks to all for being here.

And don't forget, it's Audi Cornish Thursday. The latest episode of Audi's podcast, "The Assignment," dropped today. It is very timely, ahead of the Eagles pending win on Super Bowl Sunday. It dives into the future of football and safety in the wake of DeMar Hamlin's collapse last month. Audi Cornish's "The Assignment" available now wherever you get your podcast.

And thanks for being here again on Audi Cornish Thursday. I appreciate it.

CORNISH: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Coming up, a CNN exclusive, leak police files in China give families a chance to track down their long lost relatives after years of forced separation and silence. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our buried lead, that stories we believe deserve more attention. Several exiled ethnic Uyghurs from China's Xinjiang region are learning for the first time what happened to their families after years of no contact. Thousands of hacked Chinese police files reveal an ominous reality, relatives being punished, thrown into detention centers simply for being related to dissidents. CNN's Ivan Watson got exclusive access to these files.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The search for missing loved ones.

ABDUWELI AYUP, UYGHUR EXILE IN NORWAY: I am putting in my younger sister's ID number.

WATSON (voice-over): Abduweli Ayup is a human rights activist and ethnic Uyghur from China's Xinjiang region. From exile in Norway, he looks for the first time at a Chinese police file from 2017 on his sister's Sajida (ph).

AYUP: It's really in detail.

WATSON (voice-over): He hasn't spoken to her in years. AYUP: She got arrested September 6, sent to the education camp, stayed there about a month and then sent her to detention center and sentenced 11 years.

WATSON (voice-over): The Chinese police file states that Sajida Ayup is a two faced or treasonous government official. Police apparently flagged the high school geography teacher because of ties to her brother, an outspoken critic once jailed by the Chinese government.

AYUP: The government document told me that, yes, it is, it is related to you and it is your fault.

WATSON (voice-over): Ayup got early access to this new search engine. It's linked to tens of thousands of files that were hacked from police computers in Xinjiang.

ADRIAN ZENZ, VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM MEMORIAL FOUNDATION: It's 830,000 different people are in these files. And it's clear from the files that tens of thousands of them are detained.

WATSON (voice-over): Adrian Zenz, a researcher with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, first released some of the hacked police files last year. The Chinese government has not denied their authenticity, but state media has slammed his analysis of the data, calling it disinformation.


Beijing denies it committed human rights abuses while detaining up to 2 million ethnic Uyghurs and other minority groups in reeducation camps in Xinjiang, a campaign of mass repression the U.S. government claims amounts to genocide. Zenz launched the search engine, hoping it will provide the Uyghur diaspora information about family members back home in Xinjiang.

ZENZ: The black hole is the most terrifying thing, and I think that's part of why the Chinese state creates this black hole. It's the most terrifying thing that can be done that you don't even know the fate of a loved one is -- are even alive or dead.

WATSON (voice-over): Mamatjan Juma remembers June 12, 2006, the last time he saw his family.

MAMATJAN JUMA, UYGHUR IN U.S.: I remember that day, I was passing the airport checkpoint and they were waving, and I saw them. Their image is still in my mind, you know, the picture, it comes to me sometimes. That's the last time I saw my brothers.

WATSON (voice-over): Juma is now a journalist with Radio Free Asia's Uyghur Language Service in Washington, D.C., which Beijing labels as anti-China propaganda organization. Unable to go home for fear of arrest and unwilling to even call his relatives for fear they could then be punished.

JUMA: Let's see. I'm going to search one of my brothers.

WATSON (voice-over): So now he can only look at their police files.

(on camera): Did the files confirm the detention of any of your loved ones?

JUMA: Yes. Detention of my -- three of my brothers, yes. And then, I found one of my brother's pictures in that file.

WATSON (voice-over): A mugshot of his younger brother Isajan (ph), taken in detention.

(on camera): How does he look?

JUMA: He looked he lost his soul. It gives you a feeling of guilt, you know? Because of that, they're tied to you and they're persecuted. It's not really kind of easy feeling to digest.

WATSON (voice-over): A photo of Juma and his brothers in happier times.

JUMA: I wish I could go back to this moment, you know? I wish I could go back to this moment.

WATSON (voice-over): Today, Juma is left piecing together what happened to his family through the Chinese police files. And the level of detail, even on people who were never accused of crimes, is chilling.

JUMA: Fingerprints, DNA samples, voice samples, profile pictures, Irish skins, these are the biometric information they collected on my mother. When you look at it so, you see this perfect example of a full blown surveillance state.

WATSON (voice-over): Half a world away in Adelaide, Australia, Marhaba Yakub Salay just found a police file for her 17-year-old nephew.

MARHABA YAKUB SALAY, UYGHUR IN AUSTRALIA: That's insane. That's terrible. No, I didn't expect that.

WATSON (voice-over): The file states that in 2017, when the boy was only twelve, police labeled him Category 2, "a highly suspicious accomplice" of a public security or terrorism case. And that's not all.

SALAY: Yes, this is my niece.

WATSON (on camera): Your niece has a police file?

SALAY: No way.

WATSON (voice-over): The file claims that by the age of 15, Marhaba's niece traveled extensively, something her aunt denies.

SALAY: Algeria, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Dubai, Egypt, Pakistan, no way. Does that mean -- does that mean they are saying that she has been in this country? WATSON (voice-over): So far, neither child has been detained. But Salay worries for their future. Their mother, Mahila (ph), her sister, has already been in and out of detention for years, accused of financing terrorism for wiring money to her parents in Australia to help buy a house.

(on camera): If you could tell them something, what would you like to tell them?

SALAY: I am sorry what's happening to them. I'm sorry what's happening to their mother and my sister. I'm sorry I can't help them. They deserve so much better than this. They are innocent.

WATSON (voice-over): The more than 800,000 police profiles only provide a partial snapshot of the broader system of surveillance and repression in Xinjiang. They don't alleviate the survivor's guilt shared by many relatives living abroad, desperate to learn anything about their loved ones back in China.


WATSON: Now, Jake, I have interviewed dozens of ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs from Xinjiang in the diaspora, I cannot stress the pain these people feel being cut off from their loved ones. CNN has reached out in writing to the Chinese government for comment about this story, has not heard anything back. The U.S. government accuses the Chinese government of committing genocide in Xinjiang. The Chinese government denies any human rights abuses whatsoever there. Jake.


TAPPER: Evan Watson, shining a light on the human rights abuse is committed by the Chinese government, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, two seemingly unconnected murders within a week shaking New Jersey communities. For the second time in about a week, a New Jersey council member has been murdered. Stay with us.


TAPPER: For the second time in roughly a week, a New Jersey council member has been shot dead. Councilman Russell Heller, who represents Milford, New Jersey, was found dead in his car last night. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins me now.

Shimon, is this considered an isolated incident?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, and authorities there in Milford say that they don't believe this is even politically connected. What they believe was that this was a coworker of Russell Heller. They suspect that he is the person that shot him as he was getting out of his car to go to work over at PSE&G.

[17:55:03] The suspected shooter, Gary Curtis, was found dead a couple of hours later, police say from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They don't believe that this is connected in any way to a second shooting that happened about a week ago in New Jersey, where in a separate county, in Middlesex County, 30year-old Eunice Dwumfour was found dead. The police don't know the motive there. They are still investigating that. That happened about a week ago.

But you know, of course, obviously, this is bringing great shock to both of these communities, as police continued their investigation on the one that happened a week ago and then the one that happened yesterday. Jake.

TAPPER: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

Coming up next, the desperate search for survivors as the death toll rises in Turkey and Syria. An update from the ground. Stay with us.