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The Lead with Jake Tapper

New Wave Of Attacks From Russia Using Drones; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Is Interviewed On A New Report That Reveals COVID Leaked From Lab; Rupert Murdoch Admits Fox News Hosts Endorsed Stolen Election Narrative; DeSantis Signs Bill Giving Him More Control Of Disney Special District; Defense Rests In Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial; Los Angeles County Prosecutor Says He Was Suspended For Using Wrong Pronouns For Sexual Assault Defendant; Nation's Fastest-Growing Metro Area Running Out Of Water. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 27, 2023 - 17:00   ET



MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One landed in an area that is a few hours south west of here. Firefighters went on the scene to try and see what the damage had been. Two, sadly, then lost their lives when a second drone hit, three people injured.

But you're quite right, more broadly, that onslaught of drones that we saw overnight, two waves that meant that the air raid sirens here in Moscow is sounded for about 5 1/2 hours. Essentially, there were 14 say Ukrainian authorities that were lunched, of those, 11 taken down including nine by their defense systems here in Kyiv, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Melissa, we're seeing new videos from Bakhmut where Ukrainians are trying to hold on to every inch of territory inside that city. How has that changed the way that each side is fighting the war?

BELL: Well, it's made it on the Russian side, dirtier and more determined. On the Ukrainian, more desperate, Jake, and that's something that we've been seeing over the course of the last few days as the offensive gains in intensity. And as you say, as those conditions on the ground worsen, those images geolocated by CNN that showed the conditions around Bakhmut, pretty grim with mud and floods in some areas, making those roads pretty well impassable.

What Ukrainian authorities and President Zelenskyy has said tonight is that things are getting more and more challenging. What we're seeing over the course of the day are a series of intense attacks in several different parts of the frontline, but it is that battle for the town of Bakhmut that gets worse and more intense by the day with Ukrainian officials describing it very much as the epicenter.

There have been, today, hundreds of artillery barrages and rocket strikes by the Russians as they try and encircle the town, and specifically the areas of settlements to the west of it. And desperate pleas on the part of the Ukrainians once again that they need more weapons. One Ukrainian commander asking once again for those F-16s that

Washington has so far side they will not be sending to Ukraine. But also pleading desperately for more ammunition saying, look, it's pretty simple, with every shell that arrives, every piece of equipment that we get, it is another Ukrainian life that is saved, be it military or civilians. But it is another -- it is another life saved. And this, of course, is that battle to hold that as it gets more desperate. Ukrainians have said, look, we will defend it as long as we can, but not at any cost. That cost is going steeper by the day, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melissa Bell in Kyiv for us. Thank you so much.

As Putin's army blasts through its stockpile, the CIA director, William Burns says he's, quote, "confident that China is considering sending lethal military equipment to Russia. The Kremlin has so far declined to comment, all while the Chinese government attempts to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine, present itself as neutral and repair its frayed ties with western nations.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us. Kylie, do U.S. officials have any concrete evidence that China has sent this lethal equipment for Russia to use against Ukraine, that they've done it yet?

KYLE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, they don't. They say that they're still mulling over that decision. But the fact that they're mulling over it, U.S. officials must have some pretty concrete intelligence to be making statements saying that they are confident that those decisions are being had in Chinese leadership right now.

And the concern here, of course, is that this increased equipment that could be added to Russia to fight this war in Ukraine could prolong the war. That's exactly what U.S. officials don't want. And so, what they're doing now is warning China. They know that they're considering it in an effort to deter them from actually going ahead with this decision. Listen to what CIA Director Bill Burns said over the weekend of those warnings.


WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: We also don't see that a final decision has been made yet, and we don't see evidence of actual shipments of lethal equipment. And that's why I think Secretary Blinken and the president have thought it important to make very clear what the consequences of that would be.


ATWOOD: Now, we also don't know publicly what those consequences exactly will be, Jake, but it's pretty clear that U.S. officials have created some pretty stark warnings in those conversations with Chinese officials. I think it's important to note that the U.S. ambassador to China today, Nick Burns, said that at this moment in time, the U.S. and China relationship is really a challenging one. He said the U.S. is focused on managing the differences in that relationship. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us. Thank you so much.

Today, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made an unannounced trip to Kyiv where Ukraine applauded the United States as a standout in providing financial support to the ravaged country. Secretary Yellen said she expects U.S. sanctions to take a toll on Russia's economy over time. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow for us where emerging cracks among Putin's ranks are apparent right now.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russian Defense Ministry video from the war in Ukraine, showing Moscow's troops on the move, gaining ground, beating back Kyiv's forces. But the reality at least in some cases seems different.


These soldiers said they were mobilized from Irkutsk in Siberia and they're refusing to fight. Due to the current state of affairs, we find ourselves in a desperate position as the commanders do not care about our lives, he says. And later adds, we ask for help. We have nowhere else to turn.

The video was published as the Ukrainians say they've decimated Russian forces trying to assault Vuhledar in eastern Ukraine. And after a public spat between Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner Private Military Company and the Russian Defense Ministry over ammo supplies to Wagner mercenaries around Bakhmut.

While Prigozhin says the issue has been resolved, he took another swipe at the defense ministry. A big number of former soldiers who are now part of Wagner came here because they were looking for more creative freedom since everyone understands the army doesn't always enable that. When we asked Prigozhin whether ties with the defense ministry have been restored, a snarky answer.

"Guys, you're CNN, enemy spies, have a conscience. How can I discuss military issues with you," he wrote on his social media channel. Wagner's forces say they've gained ground around Bakhmut this weekend. Russian state media released this drone footage of the utter destruction there and the Ukrainians claim Wagner's losses are immense.

Former Putin adviser, Sergey Markoff tells me he doesn't believe Prigozhin uses his forces as cannon fodder because he owns them.

SERGEI MARKOFF, FORMER PUTIN ADVISER: They can storm in group but Prigozhin according to my information, he tries to preserve their lives because their lives, his property and he is a businessman.

PLEITGEN (on camera): Their lives are his property?


PLEITGEN (voice-over): But while progress is hard to come by for his army, Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no signs of backing down, instead proclaiming the Ukraine war to be a conflict with the west.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translation): They have one goal, to break up the former Soviet Union and its main part, the Russian Federation. For what? To push the remnants around and put them under their direct control.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And Jake, today we're hearing more such things from Vladimir Putin. Today is Special Operations Forces Day here in Russia. And Vladimir Putin obviously congratulated his special operations forces and he told them that, first of all, they're masters of their weapons, but also that they are defending both the Russian people and Russian lands from what he calls Ukrainian neo-Nazis. We expect to hear more from Vladimir Putin tomorrow when he gives a big speech especially to the FSP, the intelligence service, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us. Thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss is Evelyn Farkas. She is executive director at the McCain Institute and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. Evelyn, first, I want to get your reaction to Fred's reporting in this increasingly public spat between Yevgeny Prigozhin who runs that mercenary force, the Wagner Group, and Putin's defense minister.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND EURASIA: Yeah. I mean, I guess this has been going on for a while behind the scenes, but really burst to the fore more recently. Prigozhin was somebody who seemed to be able to get what he wanted by talking to President Putin. And it seems that now he has to speak to the public and to the cameras.

The defense minister and the head of the armed forces, so, Minister Shoigu and General Gerasimov, they are quite close and they have closed ranks against Prigozhin. And Gerasimov, as you may know, was more recently put in charge of this operation. Prigozhin was close to the general, the bloody general from Syria that they brought in for a little while to oversee this campaign. But they've now put the Kremlin back in charge. Gerasimov back in charge and Prigozhin doesn't like it.

TAPPER: We see Russia relying on these Iranian-made drones in today's attacks. The U.S. believes China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia. And just last week, a top U.S. official said North Korea armed the Wagner army, that private mercenary group Prigozhin is in charge of. What do you make of Putin's reliance on weapons from countries like China, Iran, and North Korea?

FARKAS: Well, he has no choice because of international sanctions. But the Chinese, it sounds like they may want to test our resolve on this front. And while we know that China and other countries are providing dual-use items to Russia, so things like appliances which contain some chips that could be retrofitted, so computer chips that could be used for military hardware, it's a much different thing to actually provide the weaponry to Russia. And if, indeed, this is what China is contemplating, it will be pretty

revolutionary. It will mean that China is going to come under then greater sanctions from the United States and its allies around the world. And this could really hurt China's economy.


So, this move is not a small move for China. And obviously, we all can hope that China doesn't do this. Obviously, we're going to provide more weaponry to Ukraine to try to give them the upper hand, but anything China throws into this conflict will only result in a loss of more lives.

TAPPER: The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces said he spoke to General Mark Milley today, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here in the U.S. and reiterated their desire for F-16 fighter jets. Now, you've said you're hopeful the U.S. will send them specially to help provide cover for Ukrainian troops on the ground. We heard the argument from U.S. officials that training will take a while and sending jets could cause World War III. What's the real issue here?

FARKAS: Well, jake, I have a piece with Air Force general, retired Air Force General Dave Deptula that ran in this weekend in the "Wall Street Journal" exactly on this issue. First of all, as far as I understand, we have been training Ukrainians on F-16s or at least we know they're trained on fighter aircraft. I believe that they may have already been trained on F-16s just in case.

The reality is that we are always kind of going slowly and incrementally and unfortunately driven a bit too much by fear of escalation. Vladimir Putin is not going to necessarily use a nuclear weapon if we provide fighter aircraft to the Ukrainians. They already have them. This of course would mean more capable aircraft and more aircraft in general for the Ukrainians.

It will allow them to break through Russian lines. It will give them air cover for their troops on the ground. It will allow them to strike longer distances. And all of this is necessary unless we want a stalemate and unless we want to give Russia a chance to fight another day perhaps with the help of the Chinese.

TAPPER: Evelyn Farkas, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Coming up, the new intelligence report raising questions about COVID's origins. Were officials too quick to dismiss the lab leak theory?

Plus, after Alex Murdaugh's explosive testimony in his own defense, his attorneys just finished laying out their case. We'll have an update from that South Carolina courthouse next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our "Health Lead." The U.S. Energy Department updated its 2021 report to say that the COVID-19 pandemic likely began from a lab leak in Wuhan, China. The department saying it made the change in their report after more intelligence came to light. Two sources are telling CNN it's issuing the report with, quote, "low confidence." But that doesn't mean they don't believe the report. That means that the evidence for now remains circumstantial.

This goes against four other U.S. agencies that say it's likely the outbreak started after the virus jumped from animals to humans. Though the FBI agrees with the Energy Department's conclusion, with moderate confidence, that it was a lab leak. The National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby weighed in on this debate earlier today.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how COVID started. There is just not an intelligence community consensus. But the president believes it's really important that we continue that work and that we find out as best we can how it started so that we can better prevent a future pandemic.


TAPPER: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California who is on the select committee on the strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. Congressman, good to see you. What do you make of this new assertion from the Energy Department that the coronavirus pandemic might have leaked from a Wuhan lab? And what's your best guest as to whether it was a wet market or a lab leak?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Jake, it's a very concerning report. We need transparency. My concern is that China isn't being transparent. I can't speculate on which agency is right other than to say we have to demand much more transparency from China.

TAPPER: When the lab leak theory was first proposed, there was some very aggressive push back from health authorities. Why do you think, I mean, it does seem like it's a credible possibility. Who knows what the truth is? Why do you think there was such aggressive pushback?

KHANNA: Jake, it was wrong. As you know, I'm a defender of the First Amendment, of free speech. And I think it was wrong to try to censor the folks who were arguing that it was an accidental leak from a lab. At the very least, we know it's a plausible theory if the Department of Energy has put this up.

TAPPER: And the Energy Department says it updated its report after new intelligence came to light. Do you have any idea what kind of intelligence or evidence that could be?

KHANNA: Jake, I don't know, but one of the things I think on the China select committee, is to look at all of these agency reports, to look at what we can do, to demand more transparency out of China. TAPPER: Is this new evidence, do you think, being shared among

intelligence agencies. In other words, there are four agencies who still say no, it was the wet market, it was not a lab leak, but might they change their assessment if they get this new information?

KHANN: That I think is key for the president's leadership, to get these agencies together, to tell them they need to share the relevant intelligence and that there needs to be a consensus recommendation.

TAPPER: China is calling the U.S. Energy Department's new assessment a political smear. Do you think this could lead to even tenser relations between China and the U.S.? Tensions are already rising amid the Chinese spy balloon and China talking about maybe arming the Russians.

KHANNA: Here is why that's not very credible from China. They are holding in secret all the information. They have refused to cooperate with World Health Organization. They've refused to give access to their scientists. So, if they were more transparent, they'd have a leg to stand on. But given how close they've been, they have no right to accuse the United States of propaganda.

TAPPER: Do you have concerns that the politics around the origins of COVID complicate the ability of scientists to communicate openly? Does this make us more vulnerable in a future pandemic if people can't even offer a hypothesis without people jumping on them?


KHANNA: It does. And this is why I think we need a very nuanced, thoughtful policy towards China. On the one hand, making sure we're beefing up the defense in Taiwan to prevent a military invasion, making sure they don't have surveillance of the United States, making sure we're re-balancing the trade deficit. But at the same time, engaging and trying to make some progress on public health, on transparency because ultimately the pandemic that took 7 million lives doesn't know borders.

TAPPER: Exactly. Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, thank you so much. Always good to see you, sir.

KHANNA: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, Fox in the court house, damning new filings in the Dominion Voting System lawsuit. That's next.



TAPPER: New filings from the lawsuit from Dominion against Fox show that CEO Rupert Murdoch acknowledged that many Fox News hosts endorsed the false stolen election claims. CNN's Oliver Darcy joins us now. Oliver, what specifically is Murdoch shown saying in these new filings? OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: That's right, jake. Murdoch

is seen in a deposition being grilled by Dominion in these new filings. A transcript which reveals that he agreed that some Fox hosts, like Sean Hannity, like Lou Dobbs, like Maria Bartiromo, that they endorsed claims that the election was stolen.

He rejects the idea that Fox endorsed those claims, but he concedes that some hosts, and he says, acting like commentators, endorsed those claims, claims that he also acknowledges according to this new legal filing which was just released to the public in a docket a few moments ago, that he called B.S. and damaging. That's how he was referring to, Rupert Murdoch was referring to some of the claims that Donald Trump was promoting after the 2020 election, after he lost that election.

So, these new documents, these new revelations, they add to the, you know, mountain of evidence that shows that behind-the-scenes people like Murdoch, they knew the election was not stolen, but they were seemingly okay or allowed their employees to go on air and to push these falsehoods.

TAPPER: Yeah. I think Jeanine Pirro was named in this as well. Oliver Darcy, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

With us now, CNN senior political analyst and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers and CNN political commentator David Urban, a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign adviser. Kirsten, how significant do you think it is that Murdoch is acknowledging in this deposition that hosts on his network, Lou Dobbs, Jeanine Pirro, Maria Bartiromo and Sean Hannity, a bit, were putting out there these false claims that the election was stolen?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's extremely significant. And you know, he was put under oath, so he had to tell the truth. And it's not shocking to learn that they knew that this was a conspiracy theory and that there wasn't any truth to it. I really don't think it's possible and I say this as somebody who worked there. I mean, it was seven years ago. It was a different place.

But I think at this point, I don't think you can be too cynical when looking at this and assuming pretty much the worst. To me it was always obvious that they knew that what they were saying wasn't true. And had this lawsuit not come about, there wouldn't have been any way to prove it because people needed to be put under oath.

TAPPER: And David, Fox viewers heard these false claims night after night after night, and Murdoch, apparently according to Oliver, said it was damaging. What was it damaging though?

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Right. You know what was damaging? Their brand, their price, how much the company -- how much Fox was valued at, right? That's what it was damaging. They weren't concerned about damaging the body or republic. They were concerned about damaging corporate profits. And that's what I think is the most troubling, you know.

And what Fox viewers and what people don't understand is there's the difference between hard news and the entertainment it is, you know, 7:00 p.m. on, on Fox News, right? Hannity and Tucker and those shows which are purely -- they're the news equivalent of the WWE.

TAPPER: So, let's move --

POWERS: That's not what the viewers think though. Can I just say --

URBAN: I know. Kirsten, that's what I said.

TAPPER: Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead, Kirsten.

POWERS: Well, okay. Yeah, I know. I was going to say that that is something Fox always says but the viewers don't make any distinction. If you were to ask them, they would say these are the only people that we can trust. And they do view it as the news and they don't think that the -- they trust them. They don't think they're lying to them.

TAPPER: David, moving on to the Republican National Committee requirement that every candidate who wants to participate in RNC sanctions debates needs to sign a loyalty pledge so they will promise to support whoever the party's nominee ultimately is. Listen to RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel talking to Dana Bash on CNN yesterday.


RONNA MCDANIEL, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: So, I think they're all going to sign it. I really do. I think the voters are very intent on winning and don't want to see a debate stage of people saying I'm not going to support this guy; I'm not going to support this guy. What they need to say is I'm going to do everything I can to defeat Joe Biden, and that means supporting the nominee of the Republican Party.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POILITICAL CORRESPONDEN: You can't see a scenario where Donald Trump would just skip the debate if he's forced to sign something saying to support others.

MCDANIEL: I think he wants to be on the debate stage. I think President Trump would like to be on the debate stage. That's what he likes to do and I expect they'll all be there.


TAPPER: What do you think David? Do you think Donald Trump would skip a debate to avoid a loyalty pledge?

URBAN: No, no, Jake, but I think the question is, so what if he signs the debate -- he signs the pledge, and then later decides not to honor it, right? What's the -- that's the question.

TAPPER: Right. No, that's a much more realistic scenario. And Kirsten, I mean, the other -- the downside to this loyalty oath is you have people out there, like Governor Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, saying that he thinks what Donald Trump did was, you know -- on January 6 was very damaging to the United States. He doesn't want to have to promise that he's going to support somebody that he thinks is very damaging to the United States.

POWERS: Yes, I mean, I -- yes, I think he sees them as a danger to democracy. So, look, I think this is very much targeted at Donald Trump, who the Republicans don't want to, you know, burn the Republican Party down if he goes down.

But it's delusional to think that you can stop Donald Trump from doing anything. I think that if he wants to be on the stage, he'll just say whatever he has to say and then he'll do what he wants to do. I just don't know where these Republicans have been that they think that I think that -- I think she was even saying, you know, we need people to put the party above their personal interest. I mean, have you met Donald Trump? I don't know what they're thinking.

TAPPER: Yes --

POWERS: He's just going to do what's best for him.

TAPPER: And Ronna McDaniel also said, David, that, you know, that ultimately, the candidates on the stage need to respect the will of the people when it comes to the Republican primary process. What about the will of the American people?

What about the will of the people who voted for Joe Biden that the RNC, Donald Trump, and so many of the people on Capitol Hill, Republicans. wouldn't respect that. Why should Republican voters will of the people matter, but the general American people not?

URBAN: Yes, you know, Jake, I think that's why, as you alluded to Asa Hutchinson and others are running, and they don't want to, you know, sign a pledge that they're not going to want to support either, right? The reason they're running is because they believe that former President Trump isn't suited to hold the office any further.

And they don't want to sign the pledge because they don't want to be forced into supporting somebody they don't want to. It's a real quandary, and I'm not sure that the RNC gets anything out by raising it.

TAPPER: I'd like to have them have a pledge that whoever wins the nomination respects the will of the people in the general election, not just the primary process. But I guess that's a bridge too far.

Kirsten, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is on the shortlist of potential 2024 candidates invited to a major donor retreat by the Club for Growth. Not on that list is Donald Trump. What do you make of it?

POWERS: Well, they're not really fans of Donald Trump. They weren't -- you know, last time he ran, they eventually came around, but they certainly weren't super supportive of him. And they, you know, they're sort of part of the group of people that are looking for the anti- Trump. And, you know, and certainly I guess they're looking at Ron DeSantis.

It's kind of interesting because, of course, Club for Growth is known for limited government. And what Ron DeSantis has been doing with Disney, you know, you're never going to hear me feeling sorry for a big corporation, but it's certainly the opposite of limited government. And it's basically the government interfering with this company.

And Mike Pence has, you know, criticized that from the right, basically saying that's not conservative government. So I think that they're just probably looking for somebody who can stop Trump.

TAPPER: And David, what Kirsten is obviously referring to for our viewers watching, is DeSantis today essentially crowned himself king of the Magic Kingdom today and resorts because he's signing a bill that takes away Disney's special district that it had there. And it seems to be a response to Disney disagreeing and perhaps even mischaracterizing some of DeSantis' proposals and legislation. What do you think about that?

URBAN: Look, politically it's a winner, right, for the governor in terms of, you know, you battle with me, I'm going to take you down. In Florida, right, it's, obviously, it's politically popular there as well. So I don't think in terms of the politics, the Republican primary politics of it, you know, it's a winning issue for him and he's going to, you know, continue to kind of fight on those things like Kirsten alludes to, you know, that may not be, you know, the -- in terms of limited government, you'd say, well, we should stay out of those tights fights.

You should -- the government should be involved in -- should be less intrusive, not more intrusive. But in these instances, I think DeSantis is saying, like, you know, I'm going to -- if you want to invest in ESG stocks, we're not going to let you put your money in there. Whether it's, you know, whether it's a state or maybe, you know, there's movements now to do it at a local level in Florida and to get involved in lots of things where government traditionally hasn't been involved.

TAPPER: All right, David Urban and Kirsten Powers, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

One man who has a lot to say about the 2024 race is Bill Maher. I sat down with the host of HBO's Real Time, the comedian and political commentator for a CNN primetime interview. We talked about everything from presidential politics to so-called cancel culture. Be sure to tune in to my exclusive interview with Bill Maher tomorrow night, 09:00 p.m. only on CNN.


Just in, the major development in the court in the Alex Murdaugh trial down in South Carolina. We're going to go live to the courthouse next.


TAPPER: In our national lead, just a short time ago, the defense rested in the murder trial of disgraced South Carolina Attorney Alex Murdaugh. He's accused, of course, of killing his wife and younger son. It's something that Murdaugh has repeatedly denied on the witness stand last week, although he admitted to lots of other things, including lying to investigators and stealing money from his law firm's client.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is outside the courthouse for us in Walterboro, South Carolina. Who was on the witness stand today, Dianne, and what's next?


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, let's talk about what happened today forth. The defense resting its case this hour in a trial that really was supposed to take three weeks, where double that amount of time. At this point, they closed out with three different witnesses, the final being the younger brother of Alex Murdaugh, John Marvin Murdaugh.

And they obviously use this as a humanizing effort where he talked about the pain that his family has been through. But he also discussed the days after the murders, talking about those interrogations that his brother and that the family went through, interviews they did. And he did something we've seen defense witnesses do, a theme here of painting a messy and incomplete investigation and crime scene response.

He talked about finding, in his words, pieces what's left of Paul, who of course was shot and killed along with his mother, Maggie Murdaugh, back on June 7, 2021. That is testimony that we have heard from other witnesses who were there at the crime scene, who noted that it wasn't fully secured.

But we also heard from these two expert witnesses that the defense brought on. One a pathologist and the other a crime scene expert while they tried to refute testimony that we'd heard from state witnesses and law enforcement witnesses earlier during the trial about how they may have been killed, the direction of the bullets and the shots that may have been shot at them, as well as something that has been, again, a bit of a theme here from the defense. The fact that there was maybe more than one shooter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably than not, whether there was one or two shooters who murdered Maggie and Paul on the night of June 7th.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what's your opinion?

PALMBACH: My opinion is the totality of the evidence is more suggestive of a two-shooter scenario.


GALLAGHER: Now again, the state has tried to refute this. The state saying, of course, that Alex Murdaugh was the one and only shooter. He has maintained his innocence throughout this. But look, we are expecting now that the defense has rested. The prosecutor saying that they expect to call between four and five witnesses tomorrow for its reply.

I will tell you that at the beginning of the day, they said they were only calling two witnesses before court came in. So that expanded through the testimony of these experts and, of course, the brother of Alex Murdaugh, Jake. After that, the judge has said that we can then move on to those closing arguments.

Again, this trial is double what they anticipated it being. The prosecution says he thinks he can get through all of the witnesses tomorrow, but I will be very honest, they've not been great about expecting and predicting their time in this trial.

TAPPER: And Dianne, the judge today agreed to let the jury visit the actual scene of the murders?

GALLAGHER: Yes, and that's going to happen after the prosecution finishes its rebuttal phase with those witnesses. The judge granting the defense's request that the jury visit Moselle. That's the property where both Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were murdered, that Murdaugh family property.

And Jake, something really interesting that we learned here from them was that the defense said they needed security to make sure the scene was secured because there had been people over the weekend who had gone to this murder scene and were taking selfies. Just another example of kind of this true crime fascination that's evolved around this case here, asking for security for the jury during that trip.

TAPPER: All right, fascinating. Dianne Gallagher in South Carolina, thanks so much.

In our national lead, a Los Angeles County prosecutor says he's been suspended for using the wrong pronouns to describe a defendant convicted of sexually assaulting a minor. In 2014, Hannah Tubbs, a transgender woman then 17 years old, sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl. The charges were not brought until 2020, when Tubbs was 26 years old.

Shea Sanna was the prosecutor assigned to the case and argued that Tubbs should be tried as an adult. But the district attorney, George Gascon, had a policy barring juvenile defendants from being transferred to adult court. Instead, Tubbs was sentenced to two years in a juvenile facility.

Sanna publicly criticized the D.A., his boss, as being soft on crime, and now Sanna has been suspended. He says it's retaliation for having referred to Tubbs as a he and by using her former name. Sanna says the courts are being played by Tubbs, who is trying to use gender identity misleadingly to get into a female facility.

CNN's Josh Campbell joins us. And Josh, Sanna claims this is Gascon's office retaliating. Does he have a case to make there? JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he lays out several compelling facts, Jake. I talked to Sanna, and just to walk you through this very complex case, he says that this began when he was made aware of jailhouse recordings of this suspect, now known as Hannah Tubbs, who was convicted of assaulting a child and now stands accused of murder.

That defendant allegedly spoke to her father on the phone, indicating that if she pretended to be transgender, she would be afforded better living conditions in jail. Now, we've reached out to Tubbs' attorney for comment on those allegations.


Sanna says that he brought this to the attention of senior attorneys in the office of L.A. District Attorney George Gascon, but they not only ignored those complaints, but just suspended him for five days without pay for not referring to the defendant by herself identified gender.

Now, Sanna was also outraged over this blanket policy then in place by Gascon, which indicated that minors would not be tried as adults. At the time of the assault, Tubbs was just shy of her 18th birthday, now in her mid-20s. And what concerned Santa was he told me that he was concerned that sending a convicted sexual predator into juvenile detention would put those other kids at risk.

Now, on Sanna's suspension, the District Attorney's office told us in a statement that they don't comment on personnel matters, but I'll read you part of that statement. They say, "The actions taken by the department were the result of the findings conducted by an independent county policy of equity investigation. The transgender community is frequently the target of violent attacks. They're also reluctant to come forward and report their attacks because of how they're treated in the criminal legal system."

Now, this network, Jake, obviously has reported on violence against the transgender community. Certainly, members of the community have been subjected to violent attacks, so the threat is real. But this case raises serious questions about whether a prosecutor was retaliated against for sounding the alarm over someone allegedly trying to gain the system.

Now, just to get some reaction and understanding, I spoke with officials at Equality California. That's the state's largest LGBTQ plus advocacy organization. I didn't talk to them about this specific case, but in general, what the response should be if you have an inmate who's pretending to be transgender.

They told me in a statement, I'll read you part of it. "Equality California believes that all incarcerated people, including those who are transgender, must be treated with fairness, dignity and respect in a gender affirming environment. Any bad actors who have pretended to be a different gender for better conditions should not jeopardize the safety of trans people who have thought about their gender identity for most of their lives and have followed a self-identifying, authentic path."

Now, as far as what happens next, Jake, Sanna told me that he believes that in this retaliation here, that he believes that the D.A.'s office is building an administrative case against him to eventually seek his dismissal, Jake.

TAPPER: But it sounds like Sanna is -- if you listen to that statement you just read from the advocacy group, he thinks, it's a bad actor. He thinks Tubbs is a bad actor if that's the situation. There's also this greater context here, Josh. We're seeing backlash from Democrats or people who work for Democrats claiming that prosecutors are soft on crime, whether Washington, D.C. or St. Louis all over the place.

CAMPBELL: No, that's right. And, you know, although we've seen Republicans try to broad brush Democrats as soft on crime, it's clear that Democrats are not a monolith. We've seen several cases of progressives criticizing other progressives. We've seen that here in Los Angeles with George Gascon. We saw that, of course, in San Francisco, where the district attorney, Chesa Boudin was recalled and kicked out office in an area that's overwhelmingly Democratic. So it's interesting to watch this debate play out often in public about how Democrats should approach crime, Jake?

TAPPER: Yes. And a Democratic Congresswoman was on the show last week talking about how the man that attacked her here in D.C. had -- you know, he was a repeat offender who shouldn't have been walking the streets. Josh Campbell --


TAPPER: -- thanks so much. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: County Utah, it's among the fastest growing places in the United States, and it is running out of water.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): In a bright red county, in a state allergic to government regulations, it is against the law to plant new grass around your business. Only about 8 percent of a home's landscaping can include lawn. And if you want to start an endeavor that guzzles a lot of water, you are free to look somewhere else.

ZACH RENSTROM, GENERAL MANAGER, WASHINGTON COUNTY CONSERVANCY DISTRICT: If somebody wanted to come and build a golf course today, I don't know where they would get the water from. And I'm telling you, I know where every drop of water is.

WEIR (voice-over): Zach Renstrom is in charge of the water of Washington County, Utah, which holds the fastest growing metro area in the nation in a region that's suffering the worst mega drought in 1,200 years.

RENSTROM: We like our independence. We like our freedoms. We do not like government regulation.

WEIR (voice-over): But that combo of a lot more people and a lot less water has forced some of the toughest water laws in the nation.

RENSTROM: We're developing plans that basically say during a drought situation that there can be absolutely no outside watering for any type of -- anything, even for, like, trees. We also talked about cutting off our construction water, and I know that's like, oh, well, what's the big deal with construction water? But if we stop construction water, that act alone would lay off about 20 percent of our county.

WEIR (voice-over): So, like a lot of folks around here, he's counting on Utah to build an estimated $2.2 billion pipeline to pump water from Lake Powell across 140 miles of desert and into this Washington County reservoir, a hugely controversial idea passed by state lawmakers 17 years ago.

But when the Trump administration tried to fast track the environmental review, the six other states that depend on the Colorado River system took a rare step of banding together to stop it.

MATT RICE, SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR, AMERICAN RIVERS: The system is crashing. To be honest, it's kind of uncomprehendable to think of a diversion of that size that would serve 200,000 people in one county in southern Utah at this moment in time. There's just not the water.

WEIR (voice-over): For environmental advocates like Matt Rice of American Rivers, developing with a pipeline mentality makes less sense now than ever.


RICE: We're in a place where everybody across the board, lower basin, upper basin, agriculture, municipalities, we have to be laser focused on doing more with less water, because that's our future. That is our reality.

MAYOR CHRIS HART, IVINS, UTAH: One of the most beautiful places on the face of the Earth is how I describe it. It's like living in a national park.

WEIR (voice-over): Chris Hart is the mayor of Ivins, a town of 10- grand that's growing just as fast as the rest of Washington County.

HART: As you look at our new City Hall, the landscaping around this building requires no water.

WEIR (on-camera): It's beautiful, too.

HART: We don't hear --

WEIR (on-camera): And it fits, it's fits the landscape, right? HART: Yes. I mean, it's exactly what a desert landscape ought to look like.

WEIR (on-camera): You got some attention in just a community meeting, calling it the Lake Powell Pipe Dreamed.

HART: Shame on me.

WEIR (on-camera): No, but I guess it felt like a candid moment there.

HART: I actually use that word (INAUDIBLE), because the serious side of it is that it is an essential part of our plan. I think, from our perspective, from the state of Utah, is we're entitled to that, to our share. When the acknowledgment of what's happening with climate change and the reduction of flow, whatever that translates into, we'll live within that.

We're looking at a situation here that resembles on a much smaller scale what happened in California and Arizona and in Las Vegas. They've had their enormous growth spurts through the years, and the water has been made available for them to do that. And now here we are, Utah, little old Utah.

WEIR (voice-over): But in the meantime, thanks to the new Infrastructure Bill and Inflation Reduction Act, there are billions of federal dollars for towns like Ivins to take water reclamation to the next level, and like Las Vegas, capture, treat, and recycle every drop possible.

HART: So the few drops of rain that we get, if we can use them four or five times --

WEIR (on-camera): Yes.

HART: -- that's a whole different thing than the drop of rain comes, you use it, and off it goes down the river.

WEIR (voice-over): But he knows better than most living through climate change in the west means living with a culture change around water.

Bill Weir, CNN, St. George, Utah.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Bill Weir for that report. Our coverage continues next with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". I'll see you tomorrow.