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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Congress Grills FAA Chief Over Delays, Safety Concerns; Police: Motive Unclear, Gunman Had Not Ties To Michigan State University; Nikki Haley Formally Announces Her Presidential Run; Justice Department Alleges Crime To Compel Trump Attorney To Testify; Mother, Two Kids Rescued Alive 9 Days After Earthquake In Turkey. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 15, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Are you going to buy them?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: No. But what is with sodas trying to add other stuff to it? We had Pilk and now there's --

GOLODRYGA: Pepsi clear. What was that?

BLACKWELL: Not Pepsi clear, the new -- like -- pour something in your Coke or your Pepsi.

GOLODRYGA: Oh, yes. You drink a soda to drink a soda, right? Not a fan of peeps.

BLACKWELL: I am not.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Maybe you want to keep those seat belts fastened.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Major questions raised today about your safety in the air as senators grill the FAA. Why the agency cannot be so sure there will not be more runway near misses and grounded flights.

Plus, Nikki Haley officially kicks off her 2024 campaign, bringing a pledge to bring in a new generation of leadership. But how long can she maintain this delicate dance, throwing subtle shade at Trump while not alienating his supporters?

And hey, you know, that first flying object shot down, the one that was deemed a Chinese spy balloon -- U.S. intel says maybe it wasn't supposed to be over the continental U.S. after all.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with our politics lead and the airport chaos taking over Capitol Hill after the series of near collisions and the nationwide ground stop that led to thousands of delayed and canceled flights. The acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Billy Nolen, today faced bipartisan criticism and probing by lawmakers who hauled him before the Senate Commerce Committee where Nolan admitted there remain vulnerabilities in the system that led to that ground stop, a computer system known as NOTAM.

The issue with the NOTAM system last month led to the first nationwide stoppage of flights since the September 11th attacks in 2001, and, of course, it left tens of thousands of Americans stranded across the country.

Just two days later, a Delta flight had to abort its takeoff from Newark's JFK airport after an American Airlines flight crossed right in front of it.



Delta 1943, cancel takeoff plans!

Delta 1943, cancel takeoff plans!


TAPPER: Then earlier this month, a FedEx plan trying to land in Austin had to change course to avoid potentially hitting a Southwest flight on the same runway. And just moments ago, we learned of a third near collision under investigation.

CNN's Gabe Cohen starts off our coverage now as the FAA chief announces an extensive safety review of the agency.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A series of system meltdowns and near disasters.

BILLY NOLEN, FAA ACTING ADMINISTRATOR: We cannot and must not become complacent.

COHEN: Landing the FAA's acting administrator Billy Nolen in front of a Senate committee just hours after announcing a sweeping safety review for the agency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a backup, redundant system. Why couldn't we go to that system?

NOLEN: Thank you, ma'am, for the question.

COHEN: One focus, the NOTAM system that failed last month, triggering the first national ground stop since 9/11. The cause: a contractor accidentally deleting files during system maintenance.

NOLEN: They no longer have access to either the facilities or the NOTAM system. COHEN: The FAA says it's moving to a more modernized system by 2025,

and for now, it's put in safeguards to prevent a repeat.

NOLEN: We're about halfway through it in terms of our modernization of the NOTAM system.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Is there redundancy being built into it, or can a single screw-up ground air traffic nationwide?

NOLEN: We do have redundancy there. Can I say there will never be another issue on the NOTAM system? No, sir, I cannot. What I can say is we are making every effort to modernize and look at our procedures.

COHEN: But now, aviation safety is under the microscope after two near collisions at JFK and Austin and a United 777 diving toward the ocean after takeoff from Hawaii. Reasons the FAA and United are keeping confidential.

Administrator Nolan offering little on the incidents themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking if you have an answer today about why this occurred.

NOLEN: No, ma'am. That investigation is still ongoing.

COHEN: And now, the FAA is planning an extensive safety review of the agency, including a summit with industry partners next month to game plan solutions and then dig through flight data to find out if more of these incidents are happening.

NOLEN: Can I say to the American public that we are safe? The answer is that we are. If the question is can we be better, the answer is absolutely, and that's the piece we're working on.


COHEN (on camera): And this afternoon, we're learning about yet another incursion, another close call, the third in recent weeks.


This one on January 23rd in Honolulu, where the FAA says a United 777 crossed the runway despite being told not to by air traffic control right as a cargo plane was landing on that same runway. Now, the FAA says the two aircrafts were just a little more than 1,000 feet apart, but now both the FAA and the NTSB, Jake, are investigating. We don't know why this is just coming to light today.

TAPPER: All right. Gabe Cohen, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

With us now, Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska. He's a Marine Corps veteran, member of the reserves who serves on the Senate Commerce and Armed Services Committee and participated in today's hearing.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Are you confident -- REP. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: -- that a catastrophic meltdown like what happened last month will not happen again?

SULLIVAN: No, I'm not confident, that's why we held a hearing. Actually, this is the second hearing we've held on aviation safety and issues just in the last two weeks on the commerce committee. You might remember the Southwest meltdown over the holidays, then this NOTAM meltdown.

This is a big wake-up call for our country and certainly, the FAA, and it's this -- it's old technology. We need to update technology to make sure our systems are able to function well, function during storms like we saw over the holidays, and make sure we continue to have the safest aviation travel system anywhere in the world.

TAPPER: Is there appetite on Capitol Hill to spend the money to update the technology so that we have the systems we need?

SULLIVAN: Oh, I think absolutely, certainly from this senator you do.

And here's the reason, Jake. I mean, Americans take for granted that we have, like I said, the safest air travel of anyplace on the planet. It's a great record. But what we don't want, and we're starting to see indications that it could happen, we don't want innovations and technological advancements spurred by some kind of major disaster. We want to be able to be in front of this.

To me, the signals are out there already that we need to be proactive, not reactive. And I'll tell you this, in my state, in the great state of Alaska, boy, we need huge upgrades to our aviation system. We have over 250 communities that aren't connected by roads, and you need safe travel by air in Alaska but across the country. So the answer to your question is absolutely yes.

TAPPER: And now we're talking about three near collisions involving huge passenger planes. There was one we just learned about in Honolulu. All of these were within a month of each other. Did you get answers on how this is being addressed?

SULLIVAN: Well, to be honest, the news of the third one is something that I just learned about as well. But it makes the point that I've been making, which is we need to get in front of this. Three warnings, three warnings, and in addition, like I said, to the meltdown of southwest over the holidays, to me is a very significant warning that we've got to take preemptive measures, proactive measures to make sure we have safety.

That's why we've had two hearings in the last two weeks on this. We'll continue to do it. We also need an FAA administrator. You saw today the witness was an acting administrator. We need a full Senate- confirmed administrator soon, have the hearings soon to press on these issues when he goes through his confirmation.

TAPPER: Let's urn to another issue that I know is important to you as an Alaskan. The Chinese spy balloon.


TAPPER: The Senate got a classified briefing on China in the last hour. Do you think President Biden handled this correctly, both the spy balloon and also the three subsequent aircraft -- had that have been shot down from the sky?

SULLIVAN: Look, the first thing you mentioned in Alaska. The first thing I want to do is a shout-out to the Alaska air forces, active duty National Guard. Think about what they've done in the last ten days. They tracked this big balloon. They went and intercepted it. They tracked these smaller radar signatures of objects. They went and intercepted those, shot two of those down, the one over Alaska, the one over Canada. Those were Alaskan base forces that shot the Canadian one.

And then just yesterday they intercepted a bear bomb we are two fighter escorts that was trying to get into Alaska. That was weeks of work. Our military forces in Alaska, which by the way is the top cover of America, were so critical to our nation's defenses, they've been working overtime.

But I will tell you this. I've been satisfied with the briefings I've gotten from the military. General VanHerck, the NorthCom commander, has kept me well-informed on the tracking of the object Friday. I strongly encouraged him, by the way, in a bipartisan manner, to shoot that aircraft down, which is what they ended up doing.


But where I have not been satisfied is the broader administration's lack of transparency. There are a number of things we learned in the briefing yesterday that I've been aware of that I think the American people should know about. And, you know, there's things that they should let us know. There's things they should tell us they don't know.

Of course, they shouldn't let on to sources and methods. But I don't think they've been transparent enough. As you know, when they're not transparent, then, you know, the wild speculation, unfounded fears can result in the public. They need to be more transparent.

TAPPER: Anything you want to share with us from the briefing? I'm sure our viewers would love to hear.

SULLIVAN: Well, look, today's briefing was actually -- yesterday's briefing was on the balloons. And I pressed them to share more, which I think is up to the executive branch to do.

Today's briefing was on the broader China threat. It was the assessment. It's still going on. It's a highly classified briefing, but I will tell you this, it was a sobering briefing, because our military advantage relative to the Chinese continues to erode. And we need to focus on that, and I'm calling on the president to focus on that. It was his administration giving this briefing that I just walked out

of about the erosion of our advantage relative to the Chinese. And each year, the president sends up a budget for defense that's defense cuts.

And, you know, it's a huge disconnect. His administration is literally telling 100 senators right now about the challenges and the erosion of our military advantage, and each year, they send up cuts to the Pentagon. It makes no sense. And I think they need to put forward a budget that reflects the threats that they're briefing senators on right now.

TAPPER: And, also, U.S. intelligence officials are investigating the possibility that that Chinese spy balloon was meant to fly over Guam, where the U.S. has military facilities, but instead was blown wildly off course because of strong winds. What do you make of that?

SULLIVAN: So, again, this is what's a little frustrating. I've been in several classified briefings about these spy balloons. I have not heard that in any of the classified briefings. We had briefings yesterday that said in a classified setting that the Pentagon and the intelligence community was not sure where these additional balloons and objects have come from. I still think we should suspect the worst, like our adversaries, China and Russia.

And then you have right after that briefing, Admiral Kirby at the National Security Council staff saying he doesn't think it's China at all. Again, that's a disconnect to what 100 senators were told yesterday, so I think they need to get their story straight. My understanding of that Chinese spy balloon had propulsion to do some directional travel, so I'm not sure it was subject fully to the winds, and it seemed to be directed over Alaska and the rest of the country in a way that was purposeful.

But we'll listen more, obviously, as we recover those, the spy balloon and the other objects.

TAPPER: Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, always good to see you, sir. Thanks so much.

SULLIVAN: Good to see you, Jake. Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up, the bold step as prosecutors consider whether Donald Trump committed a crime and talked about it with his lawyer.

Plus, students at Michigan state taking a lead. Their new push to change gun laws just days after a mass shooting on the campus.

And the striking moment in court just before a judge sentenced the gunman responsible for a different mass shooting.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our national lead, new questions over whether the massacre at Michigan State University Monday evening could have been prevented in any way. Police are still trying to figure out what led the lone gunman to commit such a violent act. This as the community prepares for a campus vigil tonight to honor the three lives cut short and the five students who remain in critical condition.

Here's CNN's Miguel Marquez.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The community will never be the same.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michigan State University students, Spartans, rallied the state capitol for gun laws to prevent more mass shootings.

SIERRA WATTS, TRANSFERRED FROM MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I was shaken up. I can't imagine what they went through. I'm here to support everybody through what they went through.

MARQUEZ: How tough is it to sort of process what happened there?

KOSTA SARINOPOULOS, SENIOR, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I still am. I don't know. It's hard. You never think it's going to happen to you, but then it does.

MARQUEZ: The sense of anger here palpable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one should have to live through this.

MARQUEZ: Also a sense that maybe, just maybe, the tide for meaningful gun reform laws could be changing.

STEPHANIE HICKEY, POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHER, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I think our community is just trying to band together and support one another and, you know, hopefully we can make a change here.

MARQUEZ: The dead just starting out in life, 19-year-old Arielle Anderson who wanted to be a pediatrician; Alexandria Verner, a junior, described as a perfect student who loved sports; Brian Fraser, a sophomore, was president of his fraternity.

JACK SHANNON, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FRESHMAN: I'm just -- I'm sad. I'm devastated at, you know, what's happened. I'm wishing nothing but the best for those recovering in the hospital right now.

MARQUEZ: One of the five critically injured, Guadelupe Perez, the daughter of farm workers, a junior studying the hospitality business, a GoFundMe page has now been set up to support what's expected to be a long recovery.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): I really think that the elected officials who are refusing to talk about this are -- they've got -- they're out of touch. They haven't realized that from Oxford and Uvalde and now this that the average gun owner in Michigan, the average person who feels strongly about their Second Amendment rights also feels strongly about keeping their babies safe in school. MARQUEZ: Still unclear after two handguns found on the shooter, who

took his own life, were purchased legally. In 2019, he was charged with a felony for carrying a concealed weapon.


He pled guilty to a misdemeanor and served probation until May 2021. A law enforcement source tells CNN the gunman purchased the two guns that same year.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, the attorney general's office and the state police in Michigan are still trying to sort out whether those guns were, in fact, legally purchased. Meanwhile, here on campus, memorials are growing at different locations across campus. There will be a vigil later tonight. I can tell you, Jake, in East Lansing, there are lots of tears and growing anger.

Back to you.

TAPPER: Miguel Marquez in East Lansing, Michigan. I will tweet out that GoFundMe you mentioned when you send it to me, Miguel.

Coming up next, Nikki Haley's big campaign launch today and the shade she threw at Donald Trump without calling him out by name.

Stay with us.




CROWD: Nikki, Nikki, Nikki!


TAPPER: That's former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in front of adoring fans. She officially tossed her hat into the 2024 race for president today, making herself the first major Republican challenger to former President Donald Trump's candidacy, Haley noting in her speech today it's time for a new generation of leadership. She even called, jokingly, I think, for mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has the big moments from Charleston, South Carolina.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a strong America, for a proud America, I am running for president of the United States of America.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley throwing her hat into the ring for the 2024 presidential race.

HALEY: We're ready, ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past.

ATWOOD: The proud daughter of Indian immigrants calling for a generational change in American politics.

HALEY: America is not past our prime, it's just that our politicians are past theirs.

ATWOOD: The twice-elected governor of South Carolina turned 51 last month, even caller for competency tests for older politicians, which would include President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump u no her rival for the GOP nomination.

HALEY: A mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD: She detailed her vision for America's future and for the direction of the Republican Party.

HALEY: We've lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Well, that ends today.

ATWOOD: As the former ambassador to the United Nations, she focused in on the threat from China, too.

HALEY: It is unthinkable that Americans would look at the sky and see a Chinese spy balloon looking back at us.

ATWOOD: Highlighting her identity as a woman of color, she waded into the culture wars animating her party, claiming that America is not a racist country.

HALEY: This self-loathing is more dangerous than any pandemic. It's a system of a lack of pride in our country and a lack of trust in our leaders.

ATWOOD: If her bid is successful, Haley would be the first woman and the first Asian American nominated by the Republican Party for president.

HALEY: This is not the America that called to my parents. And make no mistake: this is not the America I will leave to my children.

ATWOOD: With the announcement, Haley is the first major Republican challenger to Trump, who's criticized her decision to enter the 2024 fray despite saying he encouraged her to run.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I said, look, you know, go by your heart, if you want to run.

ATWOOD: For her part, Haley only mentioned Trump once in her speech today, with the two likely to be joined soon by other Republican hopefuls in the coming months.

HALEY: As I set out on this new journey, I will simply say this -- may the best woman win.



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, Nikki Haley had something in this speech for all Republicans. We should note that even though it's officially her and the former President Trump that are candidates in the race right now, the other Republicans who are expected to get into the race are leaning in.

Tomorrow here in Charleston, South Carolina, it will be Senator Tim Scott, and today in Iowa, Asa Hutchinson and former Vice President Mike Pence -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. It's heating up.

Kylie Atwood, thanks so much.

Let's bring in former South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers, a Democrat, and former staffer for then Governor Nikki Haley, Gavin Smith.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

Bakari, let's start with you. I want to start with one of the key moments from Haley's speech. Take a listen.


HALEY: Every day, we're told America is flawed, rotten, and full of hate. Joe and Kamala even say America is racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. And take it from me, the first minority female governor in history, America is not a racist country.


TAPPER: Now, this is a factual matter. I've looked and I cannot find any quotes of President Biden or Vice President Harris saying that America is racist. In fact, they have said the opposite.

But beyond that factual issue, what do you make of her pitch there?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think she's wading into the cultural wars that define this Republican Party headfirst. One of the things that Nikki Haley is going to present to the country is something we know in South Carolina, that she's very shrewd and cunning, and she's a really, really good politician.


But with that, though, you'll see the inconsistencies. With that, though, you'll see these statements and many of her positions ring hollow. I mean, the fact is she made this announcement, and she knows this, and I was talking to Governor Haley, Ambassador Haley, Nikki right now, she knows this. She made this statement and this remark a mile away from where nine

people were murdered in a church simply because they were Black. And she also knows that she's being intellectually dishonest, that we're not saying America is racist, we're not saying there's anything irredeemable about this country. We are saying that America has never dealt with the issue of race or racism, and we need to learn that history in its full concept so that we can actually have reconciliation and healing.

She can throw out any talking points she wants, but it's that type of intellectual dishonesty which is going to trip her up against somebody like Donald Trump.

TAPPER: And, Gavin, there was another clear theme throughout Haley's speech, that it's time for a new generation of leadership. Obviously, Biden is in his 80s, Trump is in his late 70s. Nikki Haley is 51.

Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America is not past our prime. It's just that our politicians are past theirs.

In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire.

We'll have term limits for Congress.

And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.


TAPPER: What do you think of that? It seemed to me like a way for her to say she was going after Biden while also going after Trump. But how did you interpret it?

GAVIN J. SMITH, FORMER NIKKI HALEY STAFFER: Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more, Jake. I think that she made a clear distinction between herself, President Biden, and former president Donald Trump. She distinguished, hey, she's 50, in her 50s, and Donald Trump turns 75 in July.

And President Biden, as we know, is in his 80s, you know? So, at this point, I think it's very clear she's trying to distinguish herself as a new generation of leadership for America.

TAPPER: And, Bakari, how long do you think Hailey is going to be able to walk this line, distancing herself from Trump in vague ways but not attacking him by name?

SELLERS: I mean, this is the thing that Republicans are -- the conundrum the Republicans are going to have. You can't be halfway in this race. Either you're going to take Trump on or you're not. I mean, you can't toe this line that long, which is the reason that somebody like Nikki Haley probably won't be in the race much longer than the Clemson/Carolina football game in November. I doubt she'll make it to Iowa.

But the fact is the person who was able to take on Trump, the person who can beat Trump is going to be somebody who launches a full frontal attack on Donald Trump, not just trying to tiptoe around him, tiptoe around his insecurities, tiptoe around his failures, tiptoe around who he actually is and his lack of character. If Nikki Haley -- it goes back to the Nikki Haley of 2010 when she beat Gresham Barrett, when she beat Andre Bower, when she beat Henry McMaster, when she beat all the boys and beat them at their own game, where she was cunning and strong and stood for something, that Nikki Haley is formidable. The Nikki Haley that goes with the wind today, I don't know who she is, but she can't beat Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Gavin, within an hour of Haley finishing her speech, Trump's campaign sent out an email entitled "the real Nikki Haley." They went after her for saying that Hillary Clinton was an aspiration to her. They said she's threatened Medicare and Social Security. She supports sending more American fighters to Ukraine, and on and on.

You worked for the Trump administration as well as for Nikki Haley's administration. Do you feel Trump feels threatened by her candidacy at all?

SMITH: Yeah. I think unquestionably Donald Trump and his campaign feels threatened by Nikki Haley.

And, Bakari, you know I love you, but I think you're dead wrong. Nikki Haley is someone that Donald Trump should be scared of, and I think today's day one of her candidacy for president. And I think you'll see that the Nikki Haley that we know, that I know you and I know, I think you'll see that person come out and the gloves will come off. And she'll be unafraid to take on Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Gavin Smith and Bakari Sellers, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

And coming up, the new legal problems for Donald Trump, bound to complicate his political life, including the trail of evidence that might, might point to a crime.



TAPPER: Continuing with our politics lead and what appears to be the most aggressive move yet in special counsel Jack Smith's rather aggressive investigation into Donald Trump's handling of classified documents.

As CNN's Paula Reid reports, federal prosecutors have told a judge they believe there's evidence of a possible crime or fraud and they need more answers from one of Trump's attorneys.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Justice Department making its most aggressive move yet in its investigation into former President Trump, prosecutors telling a judge they have evidence Trump may have committed a crime through his lawyer in an effort to compel Evan Corcoran to provide additional testimony to a grand jury about the former president's retention of classified material and alleged efforts to obstruct federal investigators.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: They rifled through the first lady's closet drawers and everything else.

REID: Sources say in Corcoran's first grand jury appearance, he invoked attorney/client privilege to some questions. Investigators now want to ask him about all that led up to the FBI's search of Mar-a- Lago last August.

TRUMP: And even did a deep and ugly search of the room of my 16-year- old son.


Leaving everything they touched in far different condition than it was when they started.


Can you believe it? The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters.

REID: Investigators had subpoenaed any classified documents still in Trump's possession after he turned over an initial batch of government records to the national archives.

TRUMP: They should give me immediately back everything that they've taken from me because it's mine. It's mine.

REID: Corcoran helped to draft a statement attesting that there were no more classified records at Mar-a-Lago before the FBI scoured the Florida property and found hundreds more.

Corcoran is one of three Trump lawyers who have gone before the grand jury.

ALINA HABBA, TRUMP LAWYER: What they did was to try and criminalize Donald Trump, as they always do. They found these three mundane statues, espionage and the two others, obstruction.

REID: Attorney Alina Habba took the stand in mid-January. Prior to the FBI search, Habba personally looked through several Trump properties, including Mar-a-Lago, for documents in a separate civil case against the Trump family business.

Trump lawyer Tim Parlatore insists his client has done nothing wrong.

TIM PARLATORE, TRUMP LAWYER: Nothing we have found has any implications on him personally.

(END VIDEOTAPE) REID (on camera): The special counsel is going to have another legal fight to get testimony from former Vice President Mike Pence. On a trip to Iowa today, Pence said he intends to fight the subpoena he received related to the special counsel investigation into January 6th and, Jake, he's relying on a novel legal theory to shield himself from testifying, but the Feds will take the fight all the way to the Supreme Court.

TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid, thanks so much for that. Appreciate it.

Let's get some additional insight from former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

Elie, what do these latest court filings tell you? Is special counsel Jack Smith going after Trump specifically, do you think, for obstruction of justice?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Jake. I think there's no question now that Jack Smith is focused squarely on obstruction of justice. And I think even more specifically than that, we can tell what really is drawing the most attention is this affirmation, this statement that Donald Trump's lawyers gave to DOJ last summer saying we've given you all the classified documents. It turned out there were many, many classified documents.

And I think the DOJ is trying to figure out who made that statement, who made a knowing falsehood. There are two huge indicators here. First of all, when they got the search warrant to search Mar-a-Lago in the first place, one of the crimes they established to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt, was obstruction. Now they're saying we should get access to these attorney client conversations because they related to a crime of obstruction as well.

TAPPER: Take us through the ins and outs of attorney/client privilege. What could Trump be forced to disclose if the judge goes along with this request?

HONIG: So, ordinarily, conversations between an attorney and client are privilege, meaning you don't have to testify about them. However, prosecutors can break through the privilege if they can establish that the conversations related somehow to an ongoing crime, not talking about a crime that was committed in the past, but you and I as attorney and client are talking about something that is a crime itself.

If you can establish that, then you can get access to testimony about what those conversations were. And of course, if that's the case, that'll go right to the heart of the obstruction issue here.

TAPPER: And how politically significant would an obstruction case be, or might it add fuel to the fire, all these Republican allegations of the Justice Department being weaponize by the Biden administration?

HONIG: So, here's the real world dilemma that these prosecutors face. Ordinarily, if you're a prosecutor and you want to charge obstruction, it's the last count in the document. You charge an underlying crime and then obstruction.

TAPPER: Right, here's the crime, another crime, another crime, and here's all the attempts to cover up through obstruction.

HONIG: Exactly, it's a kicker, it's an extra point at the end. However, the law says you don't have to have an underlying crime. You can just charge an obstruction.

The Mueller investigation, perfect example. Mueller said there's no conspiracy crime with Russia, but he suggested there could be evidence of obstruction. But we remember what the political attack was, obstruction of what? So, legally you could do that, but it doesn't carry as much force with a jury, and I think politically as well.

TAPPER: Yeah, that's what we saw in a number of investigations that ultimately resulted in not guilty verdicts or that were thrown out to not much consternation, the idea they lied to an FBI agent, oh, they weren't straight with, you know, during the investigation, not an actual crime underlying that, though.

HONIG: Yeah. One of those issues where there's a difference between what the textbook says. The textbook says you can charge obstruction. But standing in front of a jury of 12 normal human beings, they're going to be thinking, okay, obstruction, but obstruction of what?

TAPPER: Of what, yeah.

HONIG: And it really undermines your case if you don't have that.

TAPPER: All right. Elie Honig, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Ahead, the lessons American crews say they're learning in Turkey right now as they sift through earthquake rubble with fears of the big one someday happening back home here in the U.S.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the world lead, rescuers doing that incredibly hard work once again defying expectations, pulling a mother and her two children alive from earthquake rubble today. This was on hour 228. That's more than nine days since last Monday's earthquake.

New drone video from the same province shows buildings barely standing.

CNN's Sara Sidner is in Turkey for us and caught up with U.S. search teams carefully navigating which buildings to search next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rescue teams from around the world attack the piles of crushed buildings, sometimes with brute force, and other times as carefully as possible. It's a delicate balance, trying to save any possible life underneath, or, at the very least, keep bodies intact.


CHRIS ALLENDER, USAID RESCUE TEAM MANAGER: It's going to take the thousands of rescuers here, not just the United States, but it's going to take a collaborative effort of all the rescue teams here.

SIDNER: People are actually just hoping to find anybody, even if they're dead, so they can bury them.

ALLENDER: And that's very important, too.

SIDNER: The teams do this as bereaved families look on, watching their every move.

I swear I have lost my days and nights, he says in tears. Our sorrow is great.

While he waits, he prays for the four members of his extended family to emerge, and remembers the terror of waking up to the sway of his own building. Our building was bending like this, but unlike this one, his building did not break apart.

Los Angeles County civil engineers are on the site with USAID to help the Turkish government sort out which buildings have light damage, major damage, or which need to be demolished.

KAITLIN HANNON, LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIL ENGINEER: I think it would be okay to live here.

SIDNER: You would?

HANNON: Yeah. I think, you know, from this viewpoint, the main concern is actually the building next to it falling on top of it.

SIDNER: We are there when the owner of an apartment building approaches, asking whether it's safe for her to live here again. And engineer Hannon goes with her inside.

While the homeowner decided she was too afraid to stay in her building, despite Hannon saying it was assessed as being safe, others Hannon has met are relieved to hear an assessment like that.

HANNON: A lot of them that we've gone in and are actually doing well, and once we tell those people that, they'll start crying, give us hugs, and it's heartbreaking, but to be able to tell someone, your house is safe, and it kept you safe during this -- you know, it's -- it's something we can help with, something small we can do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over 6,000 structures we put eyes on just to assess at a very quick glance. SIDNER: The findings of civil engineers are then put into a grid

created by Los Angeles County Fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we can see where rescue is needed.

SIDNER: It's a guide for the Turkish government to see the status of thousands of buildings affected by the quake.

Still, nine days on, miraculous rescues are rare, but happening.

In Adiyaman, a man is left speechless and grief while he awaits any signs of life. Five of his family members are buried in this rubble. A few hours later, an 18-year- old is pulled alive from this pile of death. Once again spurring hope in those waiting for more people to be pulled to safety.

Even in the disaster zone, children find a way to sooth themselves despite the grief that continues to weigh heavy on everyone here.


SIDNER (on camera): That battalion chief with L.A. County Fire also working with USAID here in Turkey said he'd been to many disasters, including the earthquake in Haiti that was devastating in 2010. He says this is perhaps the worst or at least one of the worst he's ever seen because it is so vast.

To give you some idea of how vast it is, you know, it stretches about 100 kilometers, the damage, and we're learning from the Turkish government now that they have determined that 50,000 buildings need to be demolished immediately. It is an unbelievable amount of work that is going to be left here for many, many months to come, Jake.

TAPPER: A hundred kilometers, more than 60 miles -- Sara Sidner, in Turkey for us, thank you so much.

In our national lead, a shelter in place order is in effect for parts of Tucson, Arizona, because of this, a nitric acid spill that started emitting fumes. Truck carrying the hazardous liquid crashed today, the driver dying in the accident. Homes nearby were evacuated as crews worked to clear the scene.

Interstate 10 in Tucson is closed in both directions as a precaution. Exposure to nitric acid can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes according to the CDC.

Coming up next, nervous residents in Ohio don't know whom to believe as they learn soil possibly contaminated from the train derailment has yet to be cleaned up.


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

This hour, emotional moments in court. Families and victims confronting the Tops market gunman who carried out that racist mass shooting, killing ten innocent people in buffalo.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On that day, this terrorist made the choice that the value of a Black human meant nothing to him. Whatever the sentence is that he receives, it will never be enough.


TAPPER: We're bringing you the judge's decision and what the shooter said.

Plus, a new report offering proof that thousands of Ukrainian children are being rounded up and sent to Russian indoctrination camps. CNN follows one mother's journey to be reunited with her daughter.

And leading this hour, confusion and uncertainty in East Palestine, Ohio, after the toxic derailment. Is the water safe to drink? Is the air okay to breathe?

Moments ago, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced the water is safe to drink after new tests detected no contaminants, but property owners with private wells are encouraged to keep drinking bottled water until their wells are tested.