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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Shoots Down "High-Altitude Object" Near Alaska; FBI Removes One Classified Document During Search Of Pence's Home; 23,000+ Dead As Hope Fades For Finding Survivors In The Rubble. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 10, 2023 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: A lot, yes, there is. Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much for the reporting.

President Biden just weighed in on the unidentified object shot down over Alaska. He says it was a success. Earlier this afternoon, the White House announced that the president will be going to Poland ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war with Ukraine, between Russia and Ukraine.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with breaking news in our world lead. The United States military has taken down another high-altitude object flying over the United States this afternoon. The White House announced the object was shot down at 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time at the direction of President Biden.

U.S. officials say it was flying off Alaska's northern coast at an altitude of 40,000 feet and was approximately the size of a small car. As of now, the administration is not offering many more details than that.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We're calling this an object because that's the best description we have right now. We do not know who owns it, whether it's -- it's state owned or corporate owned or privately owned. We just don't know.


TAPPER: The context, of course, is crucial. Last Saturday, less than a week ago, the U.S. military shot down what the Biden administration says was a Chinese surveillance balloon. They did this off the coast of the United States after it had traveled across the entire United States.

We are covering this breaking news from every angle.

We're going to start with Phil Mattingly at the White House.

Phil, President Biden just addressed this issue. What did he have to say?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, the president was waiting on the south lawn for the arrival of Brazilian President Lula Da Silva and was asked by our colleague D.J. Judd if he had comment on the shoot-down of this object. He called it a success. He didn't say anything further than that, I think in part because there's still a significant number of outstanding questions.

But the timeline here is important. The broader timeline is six days ago, the U.S. fighters shot down the Chinese surveillance balloon. This is very much a different object in terms of how it's been described on size, on capabilities, what it actually has on its -- in the object itself.

But last night the U.S. became aware of the existence of this object. Late yesterday evening, fighter jets were sent up to actually kind of basically view the object, try and get a sense of what it actually was. It was not responsive. They determined it was unmanned. But they did not get a lot of information because it was in the evening.

They were sent up again this morning to try to get a better sense of what the object actually was. After that effort by the two U.S. fighter jets, the president who had been briefed on Thursday night, the recommendation was given to the president by the Pentagon that they should shoot the object down. Given the lack of information, given the lack of responsiveness, the president ordered the shoot-down of the object.

And at 1:45 p.m., that object was shot down. Recovery efforts are under way. They believe that it landed in the Arctic Ocean which is currently frozen, so that process is under way right now, but still a significant number of questions, and obviously a very different approach than we saw with the Chinese spy balloon.

One thing officials have made clear, though, they saw no indication of any military risk to U.S. civilians from this object itself. Clearly, moved to action very quickly.

TAPPER: Natasha Bertrand, what happens next in terms of the investigation and in terms of all this debris that now exists?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: What we were told by the White House and by the Pentagon just then is that debris is kind of sitting on frozen waters in U.S. territorial waters and just kind of waiting to be picked up now. U.S. army helicopters have been launched as parts of this recovery effort. And ultimately when they are able to kind of pick up that debris, it will likely go through very much the same process that we are seeing taking place now with the Chinese balloon. It will likely go to an FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, to be analyzed, and they will have to see whether there is anything significant in terms of an intelligence capability that the U.S. could potentially gather on.

You know, it remains unclear, of course, whether or not this is actually something that is significant in terms of the U.S.' capability to collect intelligence on it because it apparently was not transmitting at the time that it was shot down. But ultimately, you know, the U.S. decided that this was the right call because it posed a threat to civilian aircraft. And moving forward, I think they are going to try to do this in a faster way because there is not the -- the complication that we saw with the Chinese balloon in terms of its being under water. This is kind of sitting on top of the surface, and the U.S. has been able to launch that recovery effort already.

It is also, we should note, very small. It is only the size of a small car. Not the size of three buses as we saw with the Chinese balloon, and the payload, the part of the object that actually carries the key equipment there, it is also very small. So, this should not be an overly complicated recovery effort, but, of course, we'll have to see how it goes.

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, we can't ignore obviously the context less than a week since the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon.


How big a deal could this end up being and is there any determination as of now whether this was Chinese, as well?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is really hard to tell at this point how big of a deal this incident will be in comparison to the Chinese spy balloon.

I think we can say that as of now they really just don't know if this is a Chinese object. If it were to be, that would definitely enflame U.S.-China tensions even more. But U.S. officials are saying they don't know who's responsible for this, if it's a state-owned actor or if it's a private actor. And we are expecting, however, that there's going to be some confrontation between the United States and whomever is responsible for this object going into U.S. airspace once they figure out who that person or who that entity actually is.

What's becoming clear, Jake, however, given the context of what's happened over the last week is that the Biden administration, the U.S. government is treating U.S. airspace with incredibly intelligence vigilance right now. And the question going forward is what does that policy look like when any kind of identified objects comes into the U.S. airspace, are they going to shoot it down immediately? There's a lot of questions going forward here.

TAPPER: And, Natasha, how high was this object flying? Because it was lower than the Chinese balloon, right, which was around 60,000 feet in the air?

BERTRAND: Pretty substantially lower. So, this object was flying around 40,000 feet, which is above the top end of what civilian aircraft would fly at. The Chinese balloon was flying at 65,000 feet. So it did not pose as much of a risk to civilian aircraft.

There was a notice to flights around the Chinese spy balloon when it was being shot down, of course, to avoid the airspace. But in this case, the really big concern here was that it was flying really at the same altitude or just above where civilian aircraft would fly, and President Biden apparently thought that was a risk that he was not willing to take, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Natasha, Kylie, Phil, thanks so much on this breaking news story.

Joining us to discuss, Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida. He's on the Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he's a former Green Beret who served in the U.S. Army for more than two decades.

So, Congressman, what's your reaction to hearing this object was just shot out of the sky just a couple of hours ago?

REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): Well, I think it's going to continue to beg more policy questions. Okay, so this one was at 40,000 feet, the president determined it was a safety of flight risk, does that then imply that if this happen at 60,000, 65,000 feet like the first balloon, we would have continued to let it traverse into Canada and possibly the United States? Is that the new criteria now? Is some type of interference with civilian aircraft?

So that's kind of question one. I still have the question if it had not been for some enterprising photographers in Montana, whether we would be taking this more decisive action at all. Was it really kind of the public outcry, the violation of our sovereignty and airspace that's driving this change in policy?

And then finally, I think, Jake, you know, that the big outstanding question is why if this was a -- yet another Chinese balloon, why are -- is Xi deciding to do this now? You know, right on the heels of his meeting with Biden, there was kind of an attempt for a reset button there in the relationship.

Obviously, Blinken's canceled his trip. And yet they're either going to double down, or the Chinese military's making moves that their leadership weren't fully apprised of. Either way, that's credibly disturbing, and we have more and more questions.

TAPPER: What do you think the policy should be?

WALTZ: Well, look, I think a violation of our airspace by an entity that can surveil, that can gather information to inflict harm in the future shouldn't be tolerated, should be shot down. And I think what's been left out of the discussion is the message that it sends to our adversaries by not doing so.

And you know, we still have a lot to learn, but it could have been that the Chinese, once they got away with it for the last several years, believed that they could get away with it again. It turns out they did. We still have yet to learn what they collected with that first one that hovered over not just our missiles but one of our stealth bomber bases and the strategic command responsible for all command and control over all of our nuclear arsenal.

That's incredibly significant. We want to know what was transmitted back real time, what were they able to collect. We'll see, you know, what we do with the forensics, but I'm glad at least now, we're taking action on the West Coast before it enters rather than waiting until the spy craft is done spying.

TAPPER: You said we should shot down -- the U.S. military should shoot down any surveillance aircraft. Is that regardless of if it's manned or unmanned?

WALTZ: Well, I think that's a great question. And in our rules of engagement, I do think so if it's entering our airspace and we deem it's going to be -- again, if it's going to collect significant intelligence, that could harm us in the future, I think that should fit the criteria.


And we need to make that -- we need to make that red line well-known to our adversaries.

TAPPER: CNN's Oren Liebermann just asked the Pentagon press secretary about the decision to shoot the object down. I want to play that exchange to get your reaction.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Decision to shoot it down before it entered too far into the U.S. air space, the Pentagon bowing to political pressure from the Hill?

BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Look, again, we're going to judge each of these objects its own merits. It entered into U.S. air space on February 9th. We sent up aircraft to assess what it was. The decision was made that it posed a reasonable threat to civilian air traffic. The president gave the order to take it down, and we took it down.


TAPPER: It sounds to me, though, that you think that President Biden made this call because of political pressure. Am I reading you right?

WALTZ: Well, I'm -- you know, I'm trying to -- that's what it seems like, Jake, to be candid. I'm trying to understand why this much smaller by their own admission, much less capable balloon with a much smaller payload was deemed such a threat that the other one wasn't. And it can't just be the altitude. To your point on what our red line should be, I guarantee you if we put an object over Beijing or sensitive sites at 40,000 to 60,000 feet for days, collecting sensitive intelligence, they would take action.

We need take reciprocal action and, again, make that clear up front. TAPPER: Yeah, Senator Marco Rubio, your senator from Florida, said to

me on Sunday that if we sent the Goodyear blimp over there, they would shoot it down.

Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida, good to have you on. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

WALTZ: All right.

TAPPER: A busy Friday afternoon playing out here. President Biden's ordered to shoot down this new object over Alaska came just hours before he welcomed a world leader to the White House.

Plus, the discovery of yet another classified document. This one during an FBI search at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: We're back with our breaking news as the United States government confirms that President Biden ordered the downing of yet another high-altitude object today, this time near Alaska. This happening at the same time that President Biden is hosting Brazil's new president, Luis Inacio Lula Da Silva, known as Lula, at the White House, hoping to set the reset button on relations with that country.

CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour is here.

Christiane, it's been quite a day here. You sat down for an exclusive interview with Lula. But before we get to that, I do want to get your reaction to the news about the Biden administration shooting down another object, this time over Alaska somewhere.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, look, it does seem extraordinary, and I think what was really extraordinary is both the White House and the Pentagon had briefings in which they could tell us nothing. What exactly is this object? We don't know. We won't until they retrieve it and tell us what it is.

But, clearly, it is very politicized in this country. Obviously, we know that balloons have flown around in this country through previous administrations, and it is a mystery. It comes at a time -- they haven't said whether this is a state-owned object, but the last one they assigned to China, where the relations are so bad that anything like this can -- you know, can potentially cause accidents.

And I think it really does go to the point that the country like the United States needs to have better relations with really important countries like China.

TAPPER: Yeah. And the Secretary of Defense Austin called his counterpart in China a few days ago, and they didn't take the call.

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

TAPPER: Let's go to your interview with Lula now, who has adopted a policy of non-intervention when it comes to the Ukraine defense of its own border from Russia, intervention. That's a sticking point with Biden.

AMANPOUR: It is a sticking point because they are both going to be talking very, very, very sharply about supporting and reinforcing democracy. Both obviously had their January 6th moments.

TAPPER: Right.

AMANPOUR: And both were subject to right wing, fake news, conspiracy theories around legitimate elections, and both have survived. Lula wants to make sure does survive -- of course, they have had military dictatorships in the past. He has to be very careful about making sure the military there is now completely out of politics.

But on Ukraine, he's a good old-fashioned leftie.

TAPPER: Right.

AMANPOUR: He is not the kind that believes in intervention or invasion. He's basically saying -- he's toned down a little bit before he used to say it takes two to tango, implying that maybe Ukraine was a blame. Now he's saying -- now he's saying that Russia made a mistake but there needs to be some credible sort of peace process. So, I talked to him about that.

TAPPER: Tell us -- let's run the clip.

AMANPOUR: Let's run it.


AMANPOUR: Do you believe that a country which is a sovereign, independent, democratic country like your own, like Ukraine, has the right to self-defense? And to defend itself against an illegal invasion?

PRES. LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA, BRAZIL (through translator): Of course, it has the right to defend itself. Of course, of course, it has that right because the invasion was a mistake on the part of Russia. Russia couldn't have done that, and after a while, it was part of the U.N. Security Council.

And so this was not discussed at the U.N. Security Council, so what I want to say is the following -- the mistake was already done. The mistake was already done. Now we have to find people to fix the mistake, to fix the error that was made. I know that Brazil doesn't have that international political clout (ph) to promote that in this rationale of conflicts of the world, but I can say to you that I will dedicate a lot of my time to find a way, a road for someone to start talking about peace.

I was with the German chancellor a week ago, and -- AMANPOUR: And he asked you about sending Leopards to Ukraine and you

said no.

LULA DA SILVA: No, it was not tanks, it was ammunition.

AMANPOUR: OK, ammunition.

LULA DA SILVA: I didn't want to send, because if I send the ammunition, I would join the war. If I sent the ammunition from Brazil, the ammunition that you're asking for --

AMANPOUR: You agreed it was defense --

LULA DA SILVA: I don't want to join the war, I want to end with the war. I don't want to join the war, I want to end with the war. This is a dilemma and this is my commitment.


TAPPER: So a real conflict between him and President Biden, although they possibly bonded over Biden's nemesis, Donald Trump, and his nemesis -- Lula's nemesis Bolsonaro.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. He has good relations with Putin, with Xi, with Modi, the BRIC alliance. And he says he wants to talk to them about this issue.

You know, the U.S. says there's no basis for any peace negotiations right now. But yeah, on the Bolsonaro/Trump thing, he said Bolsonaro was a faithful copy, like a photo copy of Trump. They both hate the press, they both hate women, they both hate their indigenous people -- he went on. I mean, he was really -- he said we cannot allow this to take the place of democracy, and we've both been tested and both absolutely have to shore it up.

And don't forget, Lula and the U.S. had great relationship, Trump and Bolsonaro essentially, you know, threw it up in the air. So, now, he's trying to reset the relationship.

TAPPER: Fascinating, can't wait for the rest of it. Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much.

Coming up next, what we're learning about the classified document found today at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, FBI agents removed one additional classified document after a search of former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana home earlier today. That's according to a Pence spokesperson.

Agents are expected to search his Washington, D.C., office in the coming days. Pence's aides say they have been fully cooperating with the Justice Department since a dozen classified records were found at Pence's home last month.

All of this, of course, coming just hours after Pence was subpoenaed by a special counsel, Jack Smith, who is investigating Donald Trump and his role in the January 6th insurrection.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FBI agents arrived at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence Friday to search for classified documents. In a statement released after the search, Pence's team revealed investigators removed one document with classified markings and six additional pages without such markings that were not discovered in the initial review by the vice president's counsel.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Let me be clear, those classified documents should not have been in my personal residence. Mistakes were made, and I take full responsibility.

REID: The Justice Department is now reviewing how those documents ended up there especially after he denied taking any such materials. Pence consented to allowing the FBI in his home after his lawyers found a dozen documents marked classified in the residence last month.

PENCE: There'd be no reason to have classified documents, particularly in they were in an unprotected area.

REID: A member of his legal team was present as agents scoured the home, while Pence was on the West Coast visiting family after the arrival of two new grandchildren.

MARC SHORT, PENCE AIDE: The vice president asked for full compliance.

REID: His team publicly touting their cooperation in the search, in contrast to another Justice Department matter as pence now faces a subpoena from special counsel Jack Smith in his criminal investigation into January 6th.

Pence's lawyers have been in negotiations for months as he's a key witness to what was happening inside the White House around the election and eventual Capitol attack.

PENCE: I told the Secret Service I was not leaving the Capitol.

REID: And to Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us.

REID: And the wrath he endured when he refused.

CROWD: Hang Mike Pence!

REID: Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done, Trump tweeted as the Capitol was under siege.

PENCE: When I saw those images and when -- when I read a tweet that President Trump issued saying that I lacked courage in that moment, it angered me greatly.

REID: Pence could try to assert privilege over certain conversations with the former president, but he'll have a hard time refusing to answer questions about ones he included in his much-publicized memoir.

PENCE: I looked at him and said I guess there are two things we'll never agree on. He looked up and said, what? And I referred to my role on January 6th. Then I said, never going to stop praying for you.


REID (on camera): Contemplates a presidential run. He is clearly trying to be cooperative regarding the search for additional classified documents, in contrast to Trump. When it comes to the January 6th investigation, he won't go so far as to voluntarily cooperate against his former running mate and his aides are insisting that that subpoena is the result of a very contentious process. And, Jake, of course, a subpoena gives him political cover if he hits the campaign trail, if he does wind up having to give testimony in that probe.

TAPPER: Yeah, but he hired a very -- a lawyer, Emmet Flood, who's very hawkish on the executive privilege idea.

REID: Exactly. And I can't wait to see how this all plays out. Look, he opened the door with his memoir, right? You can't go before the grand jury and say, sorry, I can't answer that question, but you can read all about it in my book. He muddied the waters a little. But it will be interesting, questions about privilege.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Paula Reid, thanks so much.

Joining us to discuss, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman.

Nick, thanks for joining us.

The FBI found another classified document in Vice President Pence's possession. Does that complicate things for him?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTION: I don't really think so. I mean, I think what he did, the sail thing that Joe Biden did, was they basically invited the FBI in. It put the onus on the FBI as opposed to their own legal team to come up with whatever was there.

And certainly allowing the FBI to do it allows them basically to say, both Biden and Pence, to say, look, we let them in, we cooperated. They looked -- this is what they found. I think that really ends the matter. There is totally unlike the situation with Donald Trump. TAPPER: Well, explain how. Because, I mean, there are going to be

people who think that if all three men are not held accountable in the same exact way, then it will be unfair. But explain why you don't agree with that proposition.

AKERMAN: Well, it's because Donald Trump basically for a year didn't turn over the documents each though he was asked -- even though he was asked on numerous occasions to do so. He finally turned some over but didn't turn them all over. He was given a grand jury subpoena which he claimed to produce documents in response to. Instead, there were no other documents, which was a lie.

And as a result, the government found out it was a lie, they put together a search warrant based on probable cause from probably people that are insiders with Trump, and executed the search warrant and found a lot of other documents.

So, basically, you had an individual who purposely took the documents in the first place, purposely refused to return them, purposely lied about them, and obstructed a grand jury investigation. That is a totally different kettle of fish than what we have with President Biden and Vice President Pence, completely different.

TAPPER: Interesting. So separate from --

AKERMAN: I think --

TAPPER: Go ahead --

AKERMAN: Yeah, I was going to say, look, the big problem here is why doesn't the government keep better track of these documents? My local library kept better track of the books that I borrowed and knew when to come after me when I didn't turn them in.

Why doesn't the government do that as a general practice?

TAPPER: So, there are two different things going on with Vice President Pence. One is the classified documents, the second and separate issue is the special counsel that had been appointed by attorney General Garland, Jack Smith, has subpoenaed Pence because they want to ask him about his interactions with then-President Trump leading up to the 2020 election and on January 6th. Subpoenaing Pence seems rather adversarial, and that's what his aides suggest is going on.

And this comes on the heels of Pence's team publicly complaining that they think in that first issue that there's a double standard between how Pence and Biden have been treated. What do you think?

AKERMAN: Well, Biden is no witness in the January 6th case with respect to the -- you talking about --


TAPPER: In the documents. In the documents, yeah. AKERMAN: Yeah, I don't know if Biden did receive a subpoena. I don't

think we know that one way or the other. It really doesn't make a difference, but it would be interesting to know if President Biden did receive a subpoena, as well.

Don't forget there are different prosecutors looking at this. So they may be just handling it in different ways. Normally with documents that you're trying to obtain, a prosecutor tries to get cooperation in the first instance. Sometimes they might give a subpoena, sometimes they might not. I don't really think it says a lot when you probably have two different prosecutors dealing with two different people on the same issue. It just doesn't really say a lot.

TAPPER: Yeah. I only know of a subpoena having to do with the special counsel's investigation when it comes to the vice president, not the documents.

But in any case, Nick Akerman, thank you so much for your assistance and conversation.

Coming up, how much politics may have played into President Biden's decision to have this new high-altitude object over Alaska shot down.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with two big stories. The White House announcing that President Biden today ordered the military to shoot down yet another high-altitude object. This time hovering over Alaska, and the FBI removing one document marked classified from former Vice President Mike Pence's home.

New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu is with me now.

Governor, your average Friday. Nothing much going on.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Yeah, nothing much going on in D.C., right?

TAPPER: What do you make -- what do you make of how Biden handled this new object --

SUNUNU: Sounds like he handled it better. Swift, decisive action. I think a lot of folks understand China's poking at us. They're kind of testing us, seeing if our political divides are enough to make us --

TAPPER: We don't know this is from China.

SUNUNU: We don't, we don't, of course.

TAPPER: It might be.

SUNUNU: It might be, might not be. In this instance, whoever it might be from and whatever the result is, they seem to have handled it swiftly and appropriately.

TAPPER: So then the other thing, of course, is all these classified documents that apparently presidents and vice presidents can't keep track of.

SUNUNU: But the question is, is it just presidents and vice presidents, is it senators? Who knows how many classified documents are out there? I think that's one of the things a lot of folks are -- we hear so and so had another classified document, people go, yeah. I mean, there seems to be a lack of public trust in terms of the transparency about the fact that we have no system to manage this stuff.

Hopefully, they create one going forward. It's not that difficult, by the way. They try to make like it is. And where are they? Who else has them? How long have they been out there?

My sense is there's a lot more classified documents in a lot more hands than we know of.

TAPPER: I think that's probably right. We had former Speaker Paul Ryan on the show a few weeks ago. He said when he read these -- you know, he would read classified documents, he would go to a special room in the Capitol, a SCIF it's called, and he would read them there and go into a safe. And they would go back up into his office. But apparently, presidents and vice presidents are just -- they're like leaflets or something.

SUNUNU: Yeah. As governor, we do the same thing.


We have a SCIF. We have -- I read a classified or secret document and literally make sure -- or my staff -- we hand it right back. We're in a secure area, we hand it right back. I don't want it, we have the information. We'll act on it or not.

But yeah, I don't know -- apparently there's no protocols when you hit the White House.

TAPPER: So, your dad was a White House chief of staff and your brother was a senator. Have you ever talked to them about this? I mean, are they on your page? Like --

SUNUNU: There is one room my father won't let us in.

TAPPER: Is that true?

SUNUNU: No. No, no --

TAPPER: He has the good brandy in there. That's what that is.

SUNUNU: No. I've never talked to him about it. Again, when you talk about presidents and vice presidents, they always have a whole different level of access. And look, I think there was flow -- sounds like there were no protocols, there was no system which is pretty shocking frankly. My guess is -- and I've seen very sensitive information here.

TAPPER: Yeah. It is weird. Let's turn to 2024 because you've formed the "Live Free or Die" committee, if people don't know, the motto of New Hampshire.

SUNUNU: It's how we live.

TAPPER: I know, it's a very extreme license plate.

Live free or die. It's a national political fundraising group. In other words, possibly testing the waters for a presidential run, possibly. You can if you want just to get all the flirtation out of the way and just announce right now.

SUNUNU: Jump in here and now?

TAPPER: Right now if you want.

SUNUNU: I wouldn't want to step on Nikki's toes.

TAPPER: I don't think she's doing it on my show.

SUNUNU: Yeah. Well, look, this organization has been around a little while. New Hampshire is getting national attention. That's really cool. So I've been traveling for the last year. We talk about the fact that it's a purple state and how Republicans can win, how to expand our base.

The real focus of this organization is to try to get more Republicans into our base. And younger generations especially more independents saying, hey, look, you might not love some of the leadership that has been out there, the imagery and being part of that, but the Republican Party really does stand for low taxes, limited government, local control, individual responsibility, all of those tenets of live free or die.

The fact that in New Hampshire, we have no sales tax, we have no income tax, but we have the most efficient government. How do we do it? How do we win on that? How do conservatives win? I love that stuff.

And I love going around not just brag being New Hampshire but showing other states how they can copy that model and be successful. So, that's kind of brought it into maybe you should think about running, so we're having conversations.

But it's a great opportunity to highlight what New Hampshire has, what live free or die is all about. Be positive. Be aspirational, inspirational instead of spending all our time in leadership yelling at the other party. That doesn't get you anywhere, doesn't get people excited.

TAPPER: Is there room for a Governor Sununu in the Trump era? Or are we --

SUNUNU: Trump -- I think we're beyond the Trump era. TAPPER: We're not in the Trump era anymore?

SUNUNU: No, no. Look, I think we're in the death throes, if you will.

Look, I -- thank the president for his service. He did his time. But as a party, I think everyone can say we're moving on. I'm not anti- Trump, I'm not pro-Trump. We're just moving on.

And I think you'll see a lot of great candidate jump into the race in '24.

TAPPER: So, New Hampshire often is a very close election when it comes to the presidential.


TAPPER: Were you surprised that President Biden was pushing this new primary calendar in which the New Hampshire first in the nation primary is shunned? Did that surprise you? I mean, that could be the difference, right, 4,000 votes?

SUNUNU: Absolutely. Look, that could -- that could be the difference. But more importantly, what it showed me is they didn't think it through. I get what the former -- the current president is doing, he's just trying to give personal political payback to his buddies in South Carolina.

But if you think about the problem, it's now created for Joe Biden, our primary's going first, whether the Democrat party likes it or not. We're going first. We'll be probably in late January sometime.

And what it does is it opens a huge opportunity for anybody to challenge him. If's not going to be on the ballot, someone's going to get all that earned media with very little money, get a lot of political momentum to challenge him as they go forward and come out a big winner in New Hampshire. It just opens up his political flank, if you will, to be challenged. And I have no doubt a lot of folks are going to take advantage of that.

TAPPER: Now, the argument is that New Hampshire is so white, it doesn't represent the Democratic Party. I mean, I think that's --

SUNUNU: Look, I would say this -- I heard that argument. Oh, you need more -- you need --

TAPPER: More diversity.

SUNUNU: Diversity. To a state of South Carolina where the voter turnout is about 16 percent versus New Hampshire that sets records in voter turnout. So what's the point of having a lot of diversity if you don't encourage and get people to come out and vote and participate in the process?

We have the highest voter participation, whether you're low income, high income, inner city, rural, it doesn't matter. Black, White, Latino, doesn't matter, everyone participates. So, I'll put our diversity of participation up against anybody's

because we engage the folks that want to come in. We don't -- we don't want -- care about their money, we don't care about their name ID. We got to look you in the eye and say, we knew when he was a person, now we'll get to policy. That's a wonderful first filter for America.

TAPPER: The governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, it's always good to have you on. Thanks so much for being here.

CNN is also on the scene of the earthquake disaster where telephone signals are faint. Tapping sounds are motivating crews to keep digging despite grim discoveries along the way.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Days after that 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria, at least 23,000 people are dead. But there are many people helping and the hope of finding survivors in the rubble is fading fast, according to a Syrian aid organization. Syria's civil defense volunteer organization better known as the white helmets gained global recognition for rescuing civilians from bombed buildings from the more than decade-long civil war in Syria. It's been called the most dangerous job in the world.

And now, the White Helmets are back at it. Let's bring in a White Helmets volunteer Ismail Alabdullah in Idlib, Syria.

Thank you so much for joining us.

In the past, White Helmets trained with Turkey's elite earthquake response team so everyone could be better equipped to pulling people out of buildings responding to bombs.


How is responding to an earthquake different than responding to a bombing?

ISMAIL ALABDULLAH, VOLUNTEER, WHITE HELMETS: Responding to a bombing somehow is different because the earthquake caused many buildings -- collapsed buildings in many different areas. (AUDIO GAP)

We responded to bombs, maybe one, two, three buildings at one time. But 100 sites at the same time and a large number, big number of people stuck under is different. The bombing is dangerous and another attack or another air strike hit us while we are responding, but it's a little bit far -- this natural disaster was a big part from our usual response. That's why we called in and said it was beyond our capacity.

TAPPER: Ismail, we heard that aid workers in Aleppo, in Syria, say the hospitals are under tremendous strain. What are you seeing in Idlib where you are?

ALABDULLAH: The hospital here is overwhelmed with injured people. We have in northwest Syria five hospitals and those hospitals are not enough to receive all the injured. There are not enough doctors. Most of them left the country years ago.

But there are supplies, the bombings that destroyed many hospitals, they were -- those hospitals were a target for the bombing before. So that's why the hospitals are not able to receive all the injured and provide the proper treatment.

TAPPER: Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, criticized Western countries in his first televised comments since the earthquake struck. He said Western sanctions are the reason aid is not arriving. But American officials insist that humanitarian efforts are not included in sanctions.

What do you make of that? What are you seeing on the ground there?

ALABDULLAH: In the area here in northwest Syria, it is totally different. There is across border. We received aid from the Assad regime controlled areas. Assad regime, in the first place, it's the same regime that destroyed the cities. (AUDIO GAP)

They didn't -- this regime, they didn't save those people who are trapped by the earthquake in many cities. We received many reports that many people are under the rubble and reports of the Assad regime were not enough to receive them.

And all of that, the main player and this was the Assad regime bombing the infrastructure back in 2016 and the bombing of hospitals in Northwest Syria.

TAPPER: Ismail Alabdullah in Idlib, Syria, thank you for all that you do and thank you for joining us.

Many of you want to help and I know you are reaching out and figuring out ways that you can do so. Check out CNN's "Impact Your World". Head to for more.

We are going to live to the Pentagon next where we're learning about that new high altitude object spotted just last night and shot down this afternoon by the Pentagon.

Stay with us.



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

The Biden administration facing crises on multiple fronts. In Ukraine, a new barrage of Russian strikes. Is this the beginning of a new Russian offensive? Plus, American rescue crews on the scene of that devastating

earthquake in Turkey and Syria. I'll speak with a responder helping nonstop to try to find survivors.

And leading this hour, President Biden giving the order to shoot down a new high-altitude object. This one near Alaska, the decision coming less than a week after a Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina.

Let's start this hour with CNN's Oren Lieberman who's at the Pentagon for us.

Oren, the Biden administration is not saying much about this object. They said it's not a balloon, though.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't have a good description of what this object was other than we know its size, roughly that of a small-size car. We have no description beyond that in terms of what it looked like, how it operated, how it even floated for that matter, or if it was a balloon. It's just dramatically smaller than the Chinese balloon we followed across much of the United States.

We heard a short time ago from U.S. officials that it was shot down about ten miles off the northern coast of Alaska. So, if we take a look at this map and look at where they established a temporary flight restriction, it was essentially right in the middle of that area, right near Prudhoe Bay on the northern end of Alaska.