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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Two Kidnapped Americans Found Dead, Two Alive & Back In U.S.; NTSB Investigating Another Close Call On U.S. Runway; China's New FM Warns Of Conflict With U.S., Defends Russia Ties; Biden To Decide On Controversial Alaska On Drilling Project Soon; DeSantis In Address: "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet"; Intense Fighting Rages In Bakhmut As Russian Forces Close In. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Two Americans kidnapped in Mexico are back on U.S. soil. Two others are dead.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A tragic end after a mother's trip to Mexico with friends to get a medical procedure. Now two in the group are dead. Two others found alive. How the group got lost and ended up in the hands of armed criminals.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm taking over this plane.


TAPPER: Taking over this plane, he says. Terrifying moments on a cross-country flight when a man threatens to hijack the plane. The video as freaked out peak passengers tried to react.

Plus, a not-so open invitation. CNN's up-close look at the great lengths the Chinese communist party will go to control its country's messaging.


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

And we start today with our world lead and new details in the investigation into those four Americans kidnapped in Mexico last week. Local officials say one person has been detained after two of the U.S. citizens were found dead in the border town of Matamoros. The two others are thankfully alive, though one is severely injured, according to a U.S. official, and those two have returned to the United States for medical treatment and observation.

Family members say that the four were a tight-knit group of friends traveling from South Carolina to Mexico so that one of them could get a medical procedure done across the border. But once they crossed from Texas into Matamoros, friends believe that the group got lost and was then abducted.

The Justice Department, White House, and state department said they are trying to figure out exactly what went wrong. U.S. official previously told CNN they believe a Mexican cartel likely mistook the Americans for Haitian drug smugglers.

Our reporters are covering every angle of this story. CNN's Rosa Flores starts us off from the border town of Brownsville, Texas, where officials have identified the victims and the survivors.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two of four missing Americans are back in the United States and receiving medical treatment in Texas, after being kidnapped in Mexico. After what a U.S. official tells CNN was a case of mistaken identity. Two members of the party were found dead, and one of the survivors is severely injured with a bullet wound to his leg, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

In the party of four, Latavia Washington McGee and Eric Williams survived. Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard were killed. They crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas, into Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday for McGee to obtain a medical procedure, according to a friend of McGee's. They drove a white mini-van with North Carolina plates across the border and got lost while trying to locate the medical clinic where they were headed, the friend told CNN.

Before they were able to locate the clinic, disturbing video shows the aftermath of the kidnapping, as heavily armed men loaded them into a white truck and transported them to various locations to evade capture, according to Mexican officials.

The Mexican president saying today during a news conference that those responsibility will found and punished. A U.S. official familiar with the investigation told CNN they believe a Mexican cartel kidnapped the group after mistaking them for Haitian drug smugglers. Mexico's president saying the Americans were caught in a confrontation between two groups.

The State Department has issued its highest level four warning, do not travel to the Tamaulipas state, where the group was abducted, due to heavy crime and kidnapping in the region.

JOHN MILLER, CNN ANALYST: There are many people who cross over that border for these medical appointments.

JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Attacks on U.S. citizens are unacceptable. No matter where or under what circumstances they occur.

FLORES: McGee and Williams are now under the care of the FBI and U.S. officials are making arrangements to bring home the bodies of Brown and Woodard. KIRBY: Our immediate concerns are for the safe return of our



FLORES (on camera): The building that you see behind me is a hospital where we believe the American survivors are being treated. The hospital is not issuing a statement or reporting their conditions. But we do know that they are releasing a timeline of this search. They say they are even releasing photographs of some of the vehicles that were used by kidnappers, and that at least one individual, a 24-year-old who was doing some surveillance on the Americans, has been arrested.

And Jake, it's important to note that the Mexicans and Mexican officials say that the American law enforcement was not involved during this search -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Rosa Flores, thank you so much, from Brownsville, Texas.

Let's bring in CNN's security reporter Josh Campbell.

And, Josh, the Justice Department says it is working closely with the State Department in this case. What is the role of an investigation into this matter in Mexico?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is an entire whole of government approach, how U.S. officials are describing this. So, in the United States embassy, you have the ambassador, but also, in what's called the country team, a host of various different agencies that convene and what's called an emergency action committee, when you have a major incident like this.

All of those agencies bring to bear certain things like the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Department, working the diplomatic angle, and, of course, the FBI, which has been involved from the beginning to leverage their intelligence, their human informants, signals intelligence, working with their close partners in Mexico.

I'm told there are very close relationships between FBI agents and Mexican authorities and so all of that was being leveraged in order to try to identify where these victims are. It is also worth pointing out that although we are now getting a resolution, very tragic here to this incident, investigation is not over. The FBI still offering a $50,000 reward leading to the identification and prosecution of these captors.

TAPPER: Ultimately, do you think U.S., assuming that any suspects are captured, do you think the U.S. will request extradition, given that the crimes were committed against Americans?

CAMPBELL: I suspect the request will be made, it's yet to be seen if Mexican officials will adhere to that. On its face, this appears to be an incident that would fall under the U.S./Mexico treaty, where you have the attack on Americans, the killing, the murder of Americans, so, that could fall under the treaty.

But it's worth pointing out and our colleagues have been pointing this out so important, it wasn't just Americans who were killed in this attack. Of course, there was a 22-year-old girl, a Mexican national, on her way to pick up her child who was also caught in the crossfire of this cartel group that my source tells me, they thought they were attacking Haitian nationals, they ended up killing these two Americans, injuring the others, and then killing this 22-year-old Mexican national.

So, I think to your question, Jake, Mexican officials could also make a case, look, we will prosecute this in our country, ensuring that justice is served. But how that will be done will come later first. The focus now is finding these suspects.

TAPPER: All right. Josh Campbell, thanks.

Mexico is the second and most popular destination for medical tourism globally, according to Patients Without Borders. That's an international healthcare consulting company. That group estimates up to 3 million people travel to Mexico every year to take advantage of in inexpensive treatments.

Americans can save between 40 percent and 60 percent on common medical procedures, but of course, they are also taking risks, because these clinics are not held to U.S. standards.

CNN en Espanol correspondent Gustavo Valdes joins me now.

Gustavo, you've been to the towns that are designed to draw Americans across the border specifically for medical care tell us about that.

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake. Every time you cross into Mexico, the very first thing you're more likely to see is either a pharmacy or a clinic offering some kind of service to Americans who are looking for a cheaper option for health care south of the border.

Typically, in this part of the country in Mexico, in Tamaulipas, you can find dentists services. That is the most common. Cosmetic surgery, weight control procedures are typically done in larger cities where they have larger hospitals, because they require more care after the treatment.

But there is one town in particular in this area in Tamaulipas border, it is called Nuevo Progreso, where you see rows and rows of buildings that could be pharmacies, they could be stores selling drugs. They also have clinics that are offering the services. And right now, they are very popular with Americans who spend the winter south in warmer climates, and now they are going back to their homes with Mexican drugs that are cheaper.

TAPPER: And, Gustavo, what more can you tell us about the town of Matamoros and the surrounding areas? Are they dangerous? VALDES: They are. For the most part, the attacks like the one we saw

are reserved for confrontations amongst the cartels, or cartel members. This is the state that is home to the Gulf cartel, so, it is a very violent criminal organization. But typically, you see these attacks among themselves and what you see is collateral damage like we saw with this woman who was shot in this confrontation with the four Americans.

Typically, Americans are safe, as long as they are there during the day. Typically the criminal organizations don't want to get into this kind of publicity, but the danger is always there. That's why it is -- the State Department has the alert to be careful when you cross into Mexico, especially in this part of the country.

TAPPER: All right, CNN en Espanol correspondent Gustavo Valdes, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, the video that reveals frightening moments on a plane when a man threatened to take over the flight.

And what the Ukrainian president told CNN's Wolf Blitzer about Russia's next move, if it does manage to capture the strategic town of Bakhmut.


Plus, fresh off bowing out of the 2024 presidential race, I'm going to ask former Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland what else he thinks about the possible candidates running.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our national lead now, from forced emergency landings due to birds hitting an engine or unruly passengers threatening violence to airplanes nearly hitting one another on runways, all these tense and often frightening moments involving U.S. airlines are putting America's aviation safety in the spotlight.

Here's CNN's Pete Muntean.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are among the latest incidents concerning your safety in the sky. From unruly passengers --

TORRES: I'm taking over this plane.

PASSENGER: Oh, my God!

MUNTEAN: To another near collision on the runway.

PILOT: American 2172, going around.

CONTROL: American 2172, roger. MUNTEAN: The FAA and NTSB just announced they are investigating a

February 16th incident in Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport in Florida. It is the sixth close call involving commercial airliners at major U.S. airports this year. Investigators say an American Airlines flight was cleared to land on the same runway where an Air Canada route flight was taking off.


DENNIS TRAJER, ALLIED PILOTS ASSOCIATION: This system is as stressed as I've ever seen it in my 30-plus years working in the airlines.

MUNTEAN: Dennis Trajer represents American Airlines Pilot Union.

TRAJER: These incidents, things that we've been talking about well over a year ago are starting to show up on the flight deck and in operations.

MUNTEAN: Problems extend to passenger cabins, where there's been a second high profile, unruly flyer in as many weeks.

TORRES: There's going to be a bloodbath everywhere.

MUNTEAN: The Justice Department says 33-year-old Francisco Torres was wrestled to the ground Sunday onboard a United Airlines flight.

LISA OLSEN, UNITED AIRLINES PASSENGER: A couple of passengers tried to talk to him, to calm him down. It was only making him more agitated.

MUNTEAN: Lisa Olsen recorded the flight from Los Angeles to Boston. Court documents say Torres attempted to open the emergency exit and stab a flight attendant with a metal spoon.

OLSEN: The United crew, plus all the passengers being able to act so quickly, just was very comfortable. I had confidence, complete confidence that they had everything under control.


MUNTEAN: Passengers say at one point, Torres was able to escape his zip ties, Jake, and passengers gathered belts to keep him down.

Right now, Torres is being detained pending a court hearing. The number of unruly passenger incidents fell by over half last year. So, this is not nearly as big of a deal as it was back in 2021, but we're still seeing these incidents, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Pete, all these issues are I'm sure going to come up during a hearing on Capitol Hill tomorrow. Tell us about that.

MUNTEAN: The real focus is safety, and the acting administrator of the FAA, Billy Nolen, will be on the Capitol Hill tomorrow and facing lawmakers, a week ahead of this safety summit that is being held by the FAA. The real focus here is those unsafe runway incursion issues that keep happening over and over again. We just found about that sixth one that happened on February 16th,

another problematic issue on America's Runways, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

From military guards to a COVID bubble, see the high level restrictions put on journalists by the Chinese government, as that government tries to keep a tight grip on who reports what.



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

And a threat of, quote, catastrophic consequences for the United States from a top Chinese communist party official today. After a series of high profile diplomatic squabbles, China's new foreign minister drew a red line with the United States over the issue of Taiwan. And he defended Beijing's relationship with Moscow, Russia.

CNN's Selina Wang went to the National People's Congress in Beijing to find obstacles for journalists covering the foreign minister's tightly controlled debut.


SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands of government delegates across China are gathering for the biggest annual political meeting known as the two sessions. It's the first since China abandoned its zero-COVID policy.

But reporters covering the event are still stuck in a COVID bubble, required to stay overnight at a quarantine hotel and get an on-site PCR test.

We just left the quarantine hotel right now, headed to the venue. Everything is highly controlled.

The foreign media bus gets dropped off at Tiananmen Square.

It is very rare for journalists to get access to this. As you can see, there is heavy security, there are guards everywhere.

Normally, the two sessions is the rare chance for media to get up and close to China's top leadership. Right here on the steps of the Great Hall of the People, this is normally where you will see media trying to door stop the top leadership. But as you can see, this year, we, the media, we're completely separate from the rest of the leaders.

The two sessions is a carefully choreographed event. The new government shakeups that the rubber stamp parliament will vote on have one unifying goal, to strengthen Xi Jinping and the ruling communist party's power. And the COVID restrictions are the perfect tool for Beijing to control the message. So, media has to apply to get access to specific events. We're not

granted approval to all of them. And this is the media area inside the great hall of the people. As you can see, it's pretty empty, so, it's clearly not an issue of capacity.

Some of the events during the week-long meeting allow expect reporter questions, including the first press conference as China's new foreign minister. He said that conflict with the U.S. is inevitable, if Washington does not change course. Qin Gang called Washington's approach a reckless gamble, accused the U.S. of creating a crisis over Taiwan, defended China's partnership with Russia as imperative, and said it has not supplied weapons to Russia or Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See you at the two sessions.

WANG: Meanwhile, Chinese state media is portraying the legislative meeting as an open event where journalists can freely operate.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from Late (ph) news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an amazing country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The assembly offers journalists an opportunity to put questions to the Chinese premier and ministers.

WANG: But under these controls, spontaneous run-ins with top leaders like the premier and ministers, are out of reach. But after today's meeting ended, we had a few minutes to approach some delegates which are a curated group of local representatives.

This delegate is part of ethnic minority from the southwestern Guangxi province. She says this is her first time and she feels happy to see her motherland becoming stronger. The rest of the delegates quickly rush out before we have a chance to approach them.


The question is how much of these COVID controls will remain in post- pandemic China. It limits access even more to China's already extremely opaque political machine. This much is clear. The communist leadership only wants the world to see one narrative from China, that is the image of unity, strength, and victory.


WANG (on camera): Jake, those COVID restrictions were so surprising considering the country has already completely opened up, so, it really seems like those COVID controls were really just an excuse to restrict press access.

Now, this year's two sessions is significant, because it is the first after Xi Jinping secured that third term as party chief last October. Now, during this political event, he's now set to get an unprecedented third term as president. It is a largely ceremonial title, but it is significant. We'll also

see a new slate of government leaders and institutional reforms made. All of that is going to increase the communist party's grip.

TAPPER: And, Selina, this was the foreign minister's first time front and center like this. What did you make of his comments?

WANG: Yeah, it's interesting. This was a very fiery and combative press conference. Before this, he was actually the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. He's known as this very accomplished and measured diplomat. So, very significant here that he made such strong comments.

At one point, he even made a show of reading from a copy of the constitution of the People's Republic of China to emphasize Beijing's claims that the self-governing democracy of Taiwan is part of its quote, sacred territory. He also said that the Taiwan issue is the bedrock of Sino-U.S. relations and that, quote, the red line that must not be crossed.

Now, this press conference came amid reports of a potential meeting between Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in April. Regardless of where that meeting is held, "The Financial Times" said it could be held in the U.S. This is going to draw the ire of Beijing. It's going to increase already tense relations -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Selina Wang in Beijing, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

We should note, of course, by the way, that Xi Jinping, when he is re- elected, it is by the National People's Congress, it's not by the people, the way we do it here in the United States.

Senator, how -- how does the United States transition from this increasingly combative relationship with China, into one that is less hostile? And what was your reaction to the new foreign minister's comments?

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Well, I know the foreign minister, and I think his comments about the United States needing to pump the brakes or there's going to be some kind of conflict, I think China, the Chinese Communist Party, Jake, is the one that needs to pump the brakes.

Look at what they've done in terms of aggressive actions in the last two years. I mean, obviously the pandemic is a huge issue. But with regard to its neighbors, whether it literally was a shooting war on the border with India, the crushing of any kind of liberty and democracy in Taiwan, the crushing of what's going on with regard to the Uighurs, an economic embargo and coercion against Australia, and the aggressive actions that they take almost daily in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, that's just in the last two years.

So, this is a regime that is showing very aggressive actions to its neighbors and all around the world and I think, if anyone needs to pump the brakes on their actions, it's the Chinese Communist Party, not America.

TAPPER: On the subject of Taiwan, there are reports that Taiwan's president is going to meet with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in April.

Now, China's foreign ministry have warned McCarthy not to visit Taiwan, so it's possible the meeting might take place in California. We don't know. Either way, Beijing is likely going to react.

What do you think about McCarthy meeting the president of Taiwan, is that appropriate? Do you support it? We should remind people that then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and that was also considered poking the bear.

SULLIVAN: Well, you remember when Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, I actually led a statement of over 40, I think it was 40 U.S. senators, bipartisan group of senators, that said we should support Pelosi's visit.

Actually, I'm sorry, on Pelosi's visit, it was just Republicans, ironically, I actually think if the speaker, the number three elected official in our government, wants to visit Taiwan, that that individual should be able to do so and we shouldn't let the Chinese communist party dictate where elected American officials can travel.

TAPPER: You represent Alaska in the Senate. I want to ask you about the Willow Project.


TAPPER: It's a massive decades-long oil drilling venture in Alaska. The Biden administration is expected to make a decision soon on whether to approve it. You say, quote, almost every Alaskan is unified in support of the Willow Project, especially the native people.


There are leaders of the Alaskan native community of Nuiqsut who have been vocally opposed to the project, the native movement advocacy group wrote a letter to the Interior Secretary Haaland, saying the community has repeatedly pointed out the, quote, horrendous lack of adequate consultation, the significant impact on the health of Nuiqsut residents and the imminent detrimental loss of access to food/subsistence resources.

What is your message to the Nuiqsut residents?

SULLIVAN: Well, Jake, as I've said, the vast majority of the Alaska native people support it. And with regard to certain individuals in Nuiqsut, we've heard their concerns, but overall, the majority of the people on the North Slope are very supportive. The Alaska Federation is very supportive. This is something that we mentioned to the president in our meeting with him on Thursday.

And what's really frustrating for us, and particularly Alaskan native leaders -- they were here in force last week in front of the Capitol, we held a press conference -- was this idea that, look, the main drivers of shutting down the willow project are Lower 48 environmental groups. And they like to come up and tell Alaskans, particularly Alaska natives how they should be living their lives.

A lot of my -- a lot of the Alaskan native leaders that I know in our state are starting to call this the second wave of colonialism, eco- colonialism from Lower 48 environmental groups that don't know anything about Alaska and come up telling Alaska natives that have been living in our great state for thousands and thousands of years how to run their lives.

So, I think the president, this is exactly the kind of project that President Biden should be supporting. It's got the highest environmental standards in the world, his own environmental impact statement from his administration said that. If you focus on racial equity, environmental justice, the vast majority of the native people support it. The vast majority of American working members, unions, all support it. Every union in Alaska supports this project.

And, of course, we're talking about China right now. One of the biggest things Xi Jinping fears is an American energy dominance. This is really important for our national security, as well as our domestic energy security and jobs, so -- we're hopeful that the president is going to finally support this project. It's been in permitting for many, many years, as you mention, and it's got the vast majority of Alaskans.

One thing I did, I handed the president a resolution from the Alaska legislature, the House and the Senate, back home, every member of the legislature signed that resolution. I presented it to the president in the Oval Office. Democrats, Republicans, independents, native, nonnative legislators, so, it's strongly supported back home in Alaska.

TAPPER: One quick question. January 6th, 2021, is back in the news because Fox is trying to offer a revisionist theory about what happened. That day, you condemned the attack. You called it disgraceful. You said it was a sad day in American history.

I wanted to ask you, because I just learned a few months ago that Rudy Giuliani called you on January 6th. Before the vote to certify the election. He left messages on your phone. What did he say?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, look, that was in the report, the January 6th report, I was even unaware of that. I -- this was a phone call from somebody -- I didn't even know who it was, they left a message. I listened to the message a few days later.

Ironically, Jake, it was actually for the wrong senator. Rudy Giuliani had the wrong phone number. I mean, I've never met him, I don't know him, I -- you know, he was -- I barely even understood what he was saying.

So, it was something about, you know, relooking at this. It was, like I said, for another senator. I had listened to it a few days after and to be honest, it was quite bizarre, and, again, I don't even know Rudy Giuliani.

TAPPER: All right. I -- no, I -- it seemed bizarre. I just wanted to know --

SULLIVAN: It was, trust me. It was bizarre and it was the wrong number, to be perfectly honest.

TAPPER: All right. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska, thank you so much. Good to see you, sir.

SULLIVAN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he won't run for president, blaming a crowded Republican field among other reasons, so, who else might need to step aside? Hogan will tell me when he joins us next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, a possible dress rehearsal for a potential White House run.

Today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis delivered his state of the state address. It was noticeably short on his trademark anti-woke rhetoric, but his closing statement was perhaps a message to both the Florida legislature and Florida voters, as well as Republican voters in the 2024 presidential race.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Don't worry about the chattering class. Ignore all the background noise. Keep the compass set to true north.

We will stand strong. We will hold the line. We won't back down.

And I can promise you this, you ain't seen nothing yet. Thank you all.


TAPPER: To talk about Governor DeSantis and other possible presidential candidates in 2024, we're joined now by Maryland former Governor Larry Hogan, who just announced that he is not going to run for president.

Governor Hogan, good to see you.

When you released your statement on your decision to not run in 2024, you said, among other things, quote, there are several competent Republican leaders who have the potential to step up and lead. You also criticized, quote, many in the Republican Party who falsely believe that the best way to reach these voters, MAGA voters, is through more angry performative politics.


So, that's two distinct groups of 2024 candidates. I'm wondering which group Governor DeSantis is in.

LARRY HOGAN (R), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: Well, I don't want to characterize where Governor DeSantis is, but I think there are certainly people that are focused on, you know, trying to drive a message that they think will be helpful in a Republican primary. And I'm not sure is the right way to, you know, to try to appeal to a general election, you know, swing voters that we've been doing a terrible job of reaching. And the folks I've been focused on for the past eight years.

TAPPER: Your reasoning for not running in 2024 is you want the party to move on from Trump, you want the party to move on from Trump, and you believe the bigger the GOP field, the better the chances that Trump has of winning the nomination. The multi-car pileup, you referred to, in 2016.

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson is also weighing a 2024 run. He seems to take a different view than you. Take a listen.


ASA HUTCHINSON (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: I actually think that more voices right now in opposition or providing an alternative to Donald Trump is the best thing and the right direction. This is not 2016. Donald Trump is a known quantity. He makes his message of revenge clear.


TAPPER: He seems to think that the more the merrier, the more people criticizing Trump, the more effective it will be to get rid of him in the process. You disagree?

HOGAN: Well, no, I don't disagree at all. As you know, Jake, I've been one of the few people that have been speaking out against Trump for many, many years, and I'm very pleased that there are now finally others that are showing the courage to stand up and speak out. I mean, some of them were saying it privately before. But I think it's great that more voices are saying we should move on from Donald Trump. I just don't think they all need to be candidates for president.

And, you know, we can, you know, I believe that, you know, there's a certain lane and there's a certain ability, if we can find the right candidate to overcome the current numbers and the splits in the party, but it can't be occupied by, you know, whole group of people. There's just -- there's a narrow lane, but it can't fit a whole crowd of folks.

TAPPER: I want to get your thoughts on another Republican governor whose name has been floated as a possible candidate, Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia. Unlike DeSantis, he does not appear to be as well-positioned to threaten Trump's hold on the non-college Republicans who have been most receptive to Trump's style. Do you think he should follow your lead and refrain from running, so

as to avoid this multicar pileup or would you like to see him run?

HOGAN: Well, I think everybody needs to make that decision for themselves. And, you know, the multicar pileup was only one of the many reasons. I mean, I really gave it a lot of serious consideration, and some of it was personal, just left it all on the field eight years of being one of the most successful governors in the country. It was about whether I wanted to put my family through a grueling campaign.

But part of it was, I really wanted to put the best interests of the party and the country ahead of my own personal interests. But each of the potential candidates has a right, if they believe they have what it takes, they ought to give serious consideration to running. But I don't think people ought to just jump into the race to make a name for themselves or earn a cabinet position or to get a book deal. They ought to run if may believe they have a chance of winning the nomination and becoming president.

And I think, you know, while I'd encourage people not to have a huge, crowded field, I think people ought to make their own mind up about, and I think more voices in the debate and more people talking about moving in a different direction is probably good.

TAPPER: Meanwhile, Axios is reporting that Trump is strongly considering picking a female running mate early. And the topic is reportedly failed Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake. Kari Lake, of course, know or the notorious election denier, followed by, on Trump's list, Nikki Haley, Arkansas Governor Sarah Sanders and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

What do you think of this idea of him picking a female vice presidential candidate and doing so early?

HOGAN: Well, I don't know whether that's what he's considering or not, but it's certainly not a bad idea to consider picking a woman, and I can see the logic behind picking somebody early, but having somebody like Kari Lake would be an absolute disaster. I mean, it may actually help him solidify the MAGA base, but that would be a -- Republicans would be losing every purple state and every competitive state across the country. It would be a disaster for the party.

TAPPER: Perhaps they can bond over the fact that they both lost Arizona.

HOGAN: Yeah.

TAPPER: This weekend saw speeches from Trump and DeSantis. Trump's message was, I am your retribution. The message, who as of right now according to polls, Ron DeSantis poses the biggest challenge to Trump. He seems more focused on the strategic war on wokism and for conservative values.


Do you think that DeSantis might be a strong enough candidate with a strong enough message to deny Trump the nomination?

HOGAN: Well, you know, it's hard to tell. We're going to have to wait and see how this plays out, I mean, people have to get on the field and actually play the game and we have to see what skills he has if he does get in the race. Right now, they are both trying to fight for that same slice of the MAGA base, which is a big chunk of the party, but there are an awful lot of people that are willing to go in a different direction.

And, Jake, I would just say that, usually a year out from the first primary, whoever all of us are talking about as the next potential guy rarely ever wins. So, somebody we're not thinking about right now might have the opportunity to move up. And, you know, I think everybody, Governor DeSantis certainly has a right to get out there and make the case he wants and he's fighting for that Trump base.

But I think it's far too early to, you know, anoint a winner or to, you know, have a coronation.

TAPPER: You are referring to former Presidents Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty on Earth 2 somewhere, perhaps.

HOGAN: There's quite a few. Yeah. You know, this time in 2015, Jeb Bush was going to be the nominee and Donald Trump was at less than 1 percent. You just never know how this thing is going to play out. We've got to run the race.

TAPPER: Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, good to see you. Thanks so much.

HOGAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, what the Ukrainian president fears may be Russia's next move against his country.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. An intensifying urban fight for Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut.

Russian Wagner mercenaries are pushing defender from nearly every side there while U.S. officials say Russia's capture of Bakhmut would largely be symbolic. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tells our own Wolf Blitzer that that's not the full picture, however.

Take a listen.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Why have you decided not to withdraw from Bakhmut? VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We

understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory, a small victory, even by ruining everything in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there. They need to put their little flag on top of that to show that society. It's more like, you know, like to support -- to mobilize their society in order to create this idea that's such a powerful army.

For us, it is different. It's tactical. We understand after Bakhmut they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, to Sloviansk. It will be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction in the east of Ukraine, that's why our guys are standing there.


TAPPER: You can catch Wolf's interview with Volodymyr Zelenskyy tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

But first, CNN's Alex Marquardt is live for us in Eastern Ukraine.

And, Alex, Bakhmut has been a huge focus but, of course, there is so much more at stake.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, it's interesting to hear President Zelenskyy talk like that, say what a tactical fight this is for the city of Bakhmut and why it's so strategic because we have started to hear Ukrainian and U.S. officials essentially down play how significant a victory would be for Russia in Bakhmut.

President Zelenskyy saying here Russia would use it as a jumping off point to attack other cities in eastern Ukraine. That's exactly what we have heard from Ukrainian forces who we've been speaking to on the front lines. They fear that Russia would continue to push westwards while you have a lot of officials and analysts saying they wouldn't be able to.

We do expect Ukrainian forces to dig in west of Bakhmut if they were to lose the city. So there would be a lot of officials, military commanders and military analysts who might take -- who would quibble with President Zelenskyy saying there, that there would be an open road.

But no doubt that Ukraine has been very successful at degrading those Russian forces. NATO has estimated that for every Ukrainian troop that has been lost that five Russian forces have been lost and so, this fight is far from over but Ukrainian forces continue to stand their ground but no doubt, if Russia were to take Bakhmut, it would be a significant victory for Russia.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt in eastern Ukraine for us, thank you so much.

Coming up, strong words Republican lawmakers used today to describe the selected January 6th, 2021 footage that aired on Fox last night. I'm going to speak with an officer attacked that day as he tries to combat this false narrative that led to the Capitol riot.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, it was a field of dreams for many but was it also a field of death? The hidden dangers lurking in the Astroturf at the old Phillies and Eagles veteran stadium and why your kids might be playing on turf with the same dangerous chemicals.

Plus, a new abortion battle heads to the court as five women sue the state of Texas over the state's controversial six-week abortion ban. We'll hear from one of the plaintiffs.

And leading this hour, misleading and offensive. That is how the Capitol police chief Tom Manger described the presentation of footage from the January 6th, 2021 attack on the Capitol on Fox last night. Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, sided with the police chief's assessment.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It was a mistake in my view for Fox News to depict this in a way that's completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.


TAPPER: On the other side of the Capitol, however, it was House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Republican of California who gave Fox exclusive access to 40,000 plus hours of security footage from that day.