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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Kidnapping Survivor Says She Watched Her Two Friends Die; DNI: China Challenging U.S. Is An "Unparalleled Priority"; Ukraine's Bakhmut Once Thriving Tourist Town Now Under Siege; Six Airline Incidents Prompt Questions About Flight Safety; COVID Origins Hearings Open With Arguments For Lab Leak Theory; Senate Expected To Vote To Block DC Crime Bill; National Highway Traffic Safety Admin Investigates Whether Autopilot Was On When Tesla Crashed Into Fire Truck In California. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Families of the kidnapping victims in Mexico are now revealing how that tragedy unfolded.

THE LEAD starts right now.

She watched her friends die. A woman's dramatic story after armed men kidnapped her and her friends and relatives in Mexico. Today, we're learning more about what happened on that horrible day.

Also, cops describing Black citizens as monkeys, as animals, calling them boy, the Justice Department today singling out police and a major U.S. city, for racist and abusive practices.

And, Tesla under fire. New questions about its self-driving feature after yet another crash. Plus, an investigation into Tesla's steering wheels on one model -- steering wheels that could apparently fall off.


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

We start today our world lead and in new heartbreaking details about the kidnappings of those four Americans in Mexico.

We are learning about from one of the survivors today, Latavia Washington McGee, that her cousin and her friend were that two victims killed in the attack. She says that you were immediately shot when gunmen approached their car. She watched them die. The autopsy of those two victims, Shaeed Woodard, the cousin, and Zindell Brown, the friend, we're finished this morning, the remains are expected to be returned to the U.S. soon.

Today, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, pledged to see the investigation through and to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher starts off our coverage today with more details on where this group was found after the kidnapping, and where the investigation stands now.


BARBARA MCLEOD, BURGESS, MOTHER OF MEXICO KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: I feel good to know that she's coming home and she's safe.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mother kidnapped survivor, Latavia Washington McGee, relieved she will see her daughter soon.

BURGESS: I was praying for all of them.

GALLAGHER: But not all of them will make it home alive. Just two of the four Americans kidnapped in Matamoros, Mexico, survived the terrifying ordeal.

McGee, the only one not physically hurt by the captures, and her friend Eric Williams, who was shot three times in the legs, according to his wife.

MICHELE WILLIAMS, WIFE OF MEXICO KIDNAPPING SURVIVOR: There's a joy I guess that he is alive. I didn't even want to imagine what he was going through or what any of them are going through.

GALLAGHER: But McGee's cousin, Shaeed Woodard, and longtime friend Zendell Brown, did not survive.

BURGESS: She watched them die and that's what hurt her, she said.

GALLAGHER: The group rented a minivan to travel from South Carolina so McGee could undergo a medical procedure. Just days later, this terrifying video appears to show one of the Americans being shoved into the bed of a pick up truck at gunpoint in broad daylight and taken from the scene.

Burgess tells CNN about her first call with her daughter.

BURGESS: She was crying because she said, I said, are you OK? She said, yeah. She watched Shaeed died. Shaeed's dead. Him and her the only ones who survived out of the four.

GALLAGHER: And what she feared when she got the dreaded call from the FBI, who she says confirmed her daughter was in danger.

BURGESS: They were going to kill her and I would never see her again.

GALLAGHER: The Mexican government saying, the group was found in a wooden home and had been moved around to create confusion and avoid rescue. They also say, one person in connection to the two deaths has been detained, but the investigation continues.

From McGee's family, the relief clouded by sadness for those who won't make it back home.

BURGEE: I will miss them. But I love them all to death.


GALLAGHER (on camera): And the bodies of Shaeed Woodard and Zendell Brown, again those autopsies completed this morning. We are told, by a source in Mexico federal prosecutors office that the repatriation of those bodies should happen soon.

Jake, the mother of Latavia McGee, said that she actually took in her cousin, Shaeed Woodard, when he was a teenager after his mother died and raced him as a son to her. She is, of course, experiencing immense grief and intense relief that her daughter is at least coming home. And she expects it could be as early as today.

TAPPER: Diane Gallagher in South Carolina, the home state of the four victims.

Let's discuss with CNN chief law enforcement and analyst John Miller, as well as CNN in Espanol correspondent Gustavo Valdes.

John, let me start with.

A Mexican official says U.S. law enforcement was not on the ground in Mexico during the search for the kidnapping victims. Do you think it is likely that Americans are on the ground now assisting with the investigation?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, I think they were before these victims were recovered. They were working in the streets of Matamoros.

This is two things, Jake. I mean, one, it's an area of sensitivity for the Mexican government because, particularly this president does not like the idea of four Americans getting in trouble and the FBI taking over and the appearance of Americans operating on the ground in Mexico. So, it is a sensitivity.

But I have been told by people who were briefed on the operations that FBI agents, DEA agents, HSI agents from Homeland Security who have worked in that area before, and knowing the dangers were out there trying to run leads and look for things, and that the cartels that have their lookouts and spotters were right there watching that.

TAPPER: Interesting. And you obviously, when you say the president doesn't like the sensitivities, you're talking about Mexican President Lopez Obrador.

Gustavo, Lopez Obrador said today, political adversaries are making a scandal out of the kidnappings.

How do you assess how the Mexican government is handling this?

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: So, he is trying to first appease his base in the Mexican citizens. Showing that the fast solution to this problem is an example of how he is dealing with violence. He started four years ago promising a change of policy that would result in less violence. Something that we are seeing saying is not assigned the case. But then when we hear that people, politicians and United States, like

Senator Lindsey Graham are suggesting that the U.S. military should intervene in Mexico, that is an opportunity for him first to criticize intervention from the United States, but also to link those comments from the United States to media that are basically telling what is happening in the United States. And then he blames this media that he haves and relationship with. And so, they are all trying to come after me.

TAPPER: John, what do you think about how this is all being handled? It seems Mexican officials would like to resolve this as quickly as possible and try to get it out of the headlines.

MILLER: Well, it is certainly bad for business,. Jake and you know, Gustavo will tell you this is complicated for the Mexican president in the Mexican government. They have got three things to contend with here.

Number one, they need to hear that they acted quickly, swiftly, and in control of this, which they have done a reasonably good job of in that people were recovered. Two of them were alive, and that happened in a really short time.

Number two, there's the tourist industry. And, you know, their messaging here has been a little bit contradictory, saying, first we think those people were targeted because the golf cartel mistook them as Haitians. Then, saying no we don't think it is not because they may be concerned of the tourism, even the medical tourism that comes over the border from grounds for coming to a sudden halt, especially for people of color. If they think they're going to be targeted their.

And the third thing of course is the cartel, which is a fact of life that the government task to work with, work, around sometimes even deal with. I think that they really would like this problem to get out of the news, go away, and then figure out next steps with their U.S. counterparts on what is justice look like in this case.

TAPPER: Gustavo, you and I talked yesterday about how towns like Matamoros drew millions of people each year for medical tourism. Is there concern among these businesses that this tragedy could really hurt them?

VALDES: Yes, certainly, in the state of Tamaulipas. You know, we have these businesses all over the border. Not all of them have the same issues as we see intimately best, which is really a hot spot for this kind of incidents.

But, it is not just the medical community that is worried about it. It is also the people who go and just basic shoving into Mexico where some products might be cheaper. And, right now we are about to get into spring break, Easter season. That is a big attraction for Mexican tourist trying to get to the American side, South Padre Island. They might be rethinking their travel plans that they have to go to Matamoros we're having these kind of issues. So, it is an issue that is going to affect both sides of the border financially. TAPPER: And, John, just last week, the Biden administration

sanctioned Mexican companies that they said were connected to a notorious drug cartel.

How does the situation affect the broader efforts by the U.S. to deal with cartels and illegal drugs?

MILLER: Well, I think this all tells the story, Jake. I mean, what you see here is cartel violence on the street affecting Americans. Two of them killed. A harrowing experience and a story that is going to be told. But, when you look at these companies, Mexican companies that were sanctioned, they were in the timeshare business, the financial services business. What it shows is that the cartels are diversified. They are spreading out.

You know, you've got narcotics, and now the chemical and fentanyl, which they have been in four years. Fentanyl has become a giant moneymaker. The gulf cartel alone is probably a ten billion dollar entity.

But then you have human trafficking. The smuggling of migrants across the Mexican border which runs for many miles has become a boom for a number of the cartels who are making millions and millions from that.

And then you have to launder that money, which, you know, there is timeshare scams, financial services companies, things that they are doing with Chinese money launderers, and organized crime groups. How do you clean off billions of dollars and get to spend it? That case last week is a sign of their diversifying and looking for other ways.

TAPPER: John Miller, and Gustavo Valdes, thank you so much. I appreciate.

Coming up, the increasing global challenge for the U.S. The director of U.S. intelligence today ranked as a, quote, unparalleled priority.

Plus, the rare view of Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut, once a tourist attraction, and what it did happen if Russian forces do take it over.

And, the stern message for the FAA today in the wake of a string of serious airline incidents in recent weeks.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Of all the threats and the challenges around the world, today, the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, says by far one is the most significant.


AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The people's republic of China, which is increasingly challenging the United States economically, technologically, politically, and militarily around the world remains our unparalleled priority.



TAPPER: Director Haines testified before the Senate intelligence committee today alongside the FBI director, the CIA director, and other top intelligence officials.

And as CNN's Oren Liebermann reports for us, between China and Russia, COVID and fentanyl, the hearing touchdown in a variety of things around the world.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, a look at worldwide threats to keep coming back to China. The heads of U.S. intelligence agencies telling senators that Beijing is modernizing its military, expanding its influence, and working to control life supply as it tries to replace the U.S. as the global leader.

HAINES: The Chinese Communist Party or CCP under President Xi Jinping will continue to achieve efforts of cheese vision of making China the prominent power in East Asia. The CCP is increasingly convinced that it can only do so at the expense of U.S. power and influence.

LIEBERMANN: China is using its economic force and its tech to spy on adversaries.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Could they use TikTok to control data on millions of users?


RUBIO: Could they use it to control the software on millions of devices give you the opportunity to do so?

WRAY: Yes.

LIEBERMANN: Senators pushed for a consensus on the origins of COVID- 19. The FBI believes, at least from a lab in Wuhan. But there is no smoking gun and no definitive answer.

HAINES: The Department of Energy has changed its view slightly. With low confidence says the lab leak is most likely but they'd use over different reasons than the FBI does and their assessments are not identical.

LIEBERMANN: Relations between Beijing and Moscow came under scrutiny with the U.S. watching closely for any signs that China is considering providing weapons to Russia.

HAINES: We do see them providing assistance to Russia in the context of the conflict and we see them in a situation which is becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the level of assistance not looking to do it as publicly as it might otherwise occur, and given the reputational cost associated with it.

LIEBERMANN: One year into the war, Russia's manpower spread thin, its military resources strained.

But President Vladimir Putin is playing for time, not for short term victory.

HAINES: We do not foresee the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains. But Putin most likely calculates that time works in his favor, even if it takes years.

LIEBERMANN: There is bipartisan outrage on the investigation of classified documents found at former President Donald Trump's home of Mar-a-Lago, and the offices of President Joe Biden and former President Mike Pence.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): We still have unfinished business regarding the classified documents that we need to see in order for this intelligent committee to effectively oversee its job on intelligence oversights.

LIEBERMANN: Members of the committee pressing the intelligence leaders to provide documents or even just to characterize what's in them.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Our patience is starting to run out, and at least some of us are prepared to start putting our foot down if we don't get better answers and stonewall doesn't stop.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): One of the other issues that got quite a bit of attention here was fentanyl. The intelligence community pointing out that many of the 100,000 annual drug overdoses in the country are because of fentanyl. Even that becomes back to China. Although, with Mexican cartels it import the finished product into the U.S., it is China where they say a lot of the raw materials for those drugs come from -- Jake.

TAPPER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

As Oren noted, U.S. intelligence officials do not believe that Russia will make very major territorial gains in Ukraine this year. That's despite recent headlines about Putin's army closing in on the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Today, Ukraine said its military is holding off the Russians. But Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group say that parts of Bakhmut are under their brutal control.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in Ukraine with this look at what the city under siege was like before all the troops moved in.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bakhmut, now a byword for horror and death.

Before the war, Bakhmut was about life. It's sculptured hedges and Rose Gardens regularly Instagrammed, a picture of peace.

And, one of the oldest cities in the Donbas, it's genteel facades builds on the prosperity of salt mines.

Maryna Zhvaniia is the fourth generation of her family born and raised in the city. Now she and the people she taught have had to flee, her life, she says, lies in ruins. Like the old theater in which she had her wedding photos taken.

MARYNA ZHVANIIA, BAKHMUT SCHOOL TEACHER (through translator): They started by destroying the buildings that would be hard to rebuild, the priceless historical heritage of our city. Because I think they want to erase our nation.

BELL: A history celebrated only recently for the 450th anniversary of the founding of Bakhmut.


Its grand buildings proud reminders of better times. Seven months of Russian artillery have pulverized it, driving more than 90 percent of its people out, and those left to the edge of sanity.

HANNA HOLUBTSOVA, BAKHMUT HUMANITARIAN WORKER (through translator): It's not living, it is surviving. People can get used to living without heat, water, you can never get used to explosions.

Before the war, Bakhmut was famous for the winery built in its all salt mines and for its bubbles. A tourist attraction, now plundered by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group. His men closing in on the center of the city, and making it harder for civilians to get in and out.

This is the so-called Road of Life, one of the last arteries into the town center, bogged down and muddied, usable only now by armored vehicles.

Home in Bakhmut is no more. The view from above, from heaven to hell.

How would you describe what's been lost?

ZHVANIIA: It's as if my heart has been pulled out and thrown away. And I'm trying to pick up the pieces and put it together again. I don't know how else to describe it. Absolutely everything is lost.

BELL: And, soon, most likely in Russian hands.


BELL (on camera): For all that has been lost there, Jake, in terms of history and for the people of Bakhmut, of course, Ukraine more widely has been preparing for sometime that at some point its forces were likely to make that tactical retreat. And, what they have achieved, according to Western officials is that real degrading of the Russian war capability. What Western officials say is that they have essentially given up space for time, holding onto that down as much as they good. Because it means that, as a game time, they believe that it would be very difficult for Russia once it has taken Bakhmut to launch any other major offensive for sometime.

This is the first one in many months. Jake, they will take it. Beyond that, Western officials just don't believe that they have the depth that they need, the reserves elsewhere in Luhansk and Donetsk to mount much more else in terms of defensive action.

On the Ukrainian side, having gained that time and expecting more on the Western equipment that they should be getting up the next few weeks, we know them to be preparing the next counteroffensive. And that was also what Bakhmut was about, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melissa Bell in Kyiv, thank you so much.

And be sure to tune into Wolf Blitzer's interview with President Zelenskyy this evening, at 9:00 p.m.

Is the number of airline close calls going up or are we just hearing about them more often? The acting head of the FAA weighed it on that today and why he insists flying is perfectly safe right now.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, head of a major pilot association today had a message for the FAA, do your job. This after six recent incidents involving airliners prompted renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins us.

Now, Pete, lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee have been grilling the acting FAA chief.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Jake, troubling listed term used by Ted Cruz. Acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen face lawmakers for the second time in a month. But this hearing was really supposed to be on reforms following the 737 MAX disasters. But these repeat close calls at major airports got a lot more attention. They are known officially as runway incursions, a new incident in Sarasota just came to light on Monday. That is on top of the incidents at JFK, Austin, Boston, Burbank, and Honolulu.

Now, pilots have told us they think these are an outgrowth of a system under too much pressure, not only by airlines, but also by air traffic control. But, today, Nolen insisted that flying is safe right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILLY NOLEN, ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Our nation has the safest, most complex system in the world. And I want to assure the American public that we are safe. We are also resilient.

Safety is always a journey. We are never going to declare victory. And if there's something to learn, we are going to look for ways and opportunities to learn it.


MUNTEAN: Nolen says that will be the focus of a next week safety summit by the FAA. The idea is to bring together airlines, and the FAA. Nolen says, if there are dots to connect, they will connect them. Both the FAA and NTSB investigating all six of these incidents.

But Nolen today said, other than the type of these incidents, there's really no common cause that's apparent right now. Never before though, Jake, have there been so many of these incidents back-to-back.

TAPPER: Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

In our health lead today, another high profile hearing on Capitol Hill. This one on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic at the first public hearing by the House panel investigating COVID. Witnesses called by Republicans made the case that the virus may have been the result of a lab leak in Wuhan, China.

We know now that two U.S. intelligence agencies in the Department of Energy and the FBI have now issued low to moderate confidence assessment that the virus was most likely the result of a lab leak. That means that they believe the evidence was largely circumstantial. But, there's still no consensus among all U.S. intelligence communities.

With us now, Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio. He's the chair of the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. He's also a physicians and an Iraq war veteran.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.

First, I want to get your overall takeaway on what you and your committee learned in today's hearing. Is the U.S. any closer, do you think, to finding solid definitive evidence about how and where this virus originated and spread?

REP. BRAD WENSTRUP (R-OH): Yeah, I don't know that we'll ever get exact, definitive evidence though. There is no smoking gun at this point. But I think we did make some progress today because, you saw all the witnesses today and really all the members agreeing that it is important that we try to find the origins of COVID.

If we are going to move forward, and hopefully this committee can produce a product as we move forward, that will help us to try to predict if there is going to be another pandemic and prepare for it and maybe preventative possible and protect the American people. So, we have to have the serious conversations. So, I thought that was a good start today, as we went forward in that direction.

You know, there were interesting moments to. When you talk about nature versus the lab, I think it is hot healthy to have the conversation about both. We had the chance to do that today.

But we've seen some curious thing that came out of the testimony today. Dr. Redfield was talking about things that happened in the fall of 2019 in China, where they destroyed the sequences. They had a couple of researchers they got sick during that time. They changed over from civilian control to military control at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

So, we see some things that raised some eyebrows. They also change their ventilation system within that layout. So, those are things that make you curious.

And, you know, look, I love for this thing to be from nature. I think that would be the safest thing for mankind is that it came from nature. I do want to look at that. I hope that is what we find.

But I do have grave concerns that if it came from a lab, and it was created in the lab which we know that capability exists. We were finding that type of research over there. But if it came out of the lab and was man-made, that's a threat to us and so many ways, and I worry about nefarious behavior with anything.

TAPPER: So, let's listen to testimony from Robert Redfield, the former CDC director who has long supported the lab leak hypothesis. Let's roll that tape.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: This virus was immediately the most infectious virus -- not the most, I think probably right behind measles -- virus that we have ever seen in fact man. So I immediately said, wait a second, this isn't natural. And then you go back and look at the literature and you find in 2014, this lab actually published a paper that they put the H2 receptor in dehumanized mice so it can infect human tissue. And then you learn that the new COVID, which came from bats, now can hardly replicate in bats. How does that happen?

I don't think that answer is going to come from the scientific community. I think that answer is getting from the intelligence community.


TAPPER: So, Dr. Redfield said he concluded that the virus was a result of an accident. If that's proven to be the case, what do you think accountability would look like for the Chinese government?

WENSTRUP: Well, that might be tough to say. But I think there would be a worldwide response. We cannot just let this take place and, if there is accountability that needs to be placed on China, it needs to happen. The World Health Organization is an organization that is there to

serve all of humankind. And, if you have members of an organization that aren't there for the same purpose or not willing to cooperate, then there needs to be some repercussions in some way.

But, you know, look, this virus was novel. And no one has seen anything like this before. As we went along in America, people were making decisions, in some cases flying blindly. I don't fault anyone for that. The question is, when we found, when we got more data, when we understand more about the virus. Did we make the correct decisions to?

So -- but, as far as the lab goes, I think it is extremely important, especially if we were conducting this type of research or finding it in some way, even their fungible means. There are scientists going back to 2012. There was an interview with Dr. Fauci, where he said I think we can learn a lot by creating these types of viruses, and if we can create them, and I'm paraphrasing here, Jake. If we can create these types of viruses and cure them, then maybe we can take care of any pandemic that comes down the road.

I can see where that scientific mind with either. But he was also asked, are you concerned about this potentially coming out of a lab in creating a pandemic? And his thought at that time was, he thought the benefits outweigh the risk and the risk of it looking from a lab is very little.


WENSTRUP: Yeah, go ahead.

TAPPER: So, I just want to -- we are running out of time, but I want to know what you made of the testimony from Jimmy Metzl, senior fellow for the Atlantic and researcher, who testified that in his view, the scientific community discouraged investigating the lab leak hypothesis.

WENSTRUP: Well, he said that, and so did Dr. Redfield. They both came out saying that we really should look at this coming from a lab, and we think it may have come from a lab.


And they got boxed out. Dr. Redfield certainly got boxed out. And then it became the small group of scientists. They're not neurologist like Dr. Redfield. They excluded Dr. Redfield and, within a week of saying this looks engineered, they came out with a paper that said definitively, in their mind it came from nature.

Big question on that is, why. And I think it is only fair that we asked that question.

TAPPER: All right. Chairman and Republican Congressman Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, thanks so much for coming here. Appreciate it.

WENSTRUP: You bet. Thank you. TAPPER: Coming up, the Senate's plan to go through with a vote that critics call symbolic and unnecessary.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, the U.S. Senate is expected today to block D.C.'s controversial crime bill even after the D.C. city council tried to withdraw the legislation after getting a lot of pushback from not only the mayor of Washington, D.C., and more than 30 Democratic members of the House, but from President Biden himself.


The council chair called today's Senate action nothing more than a symbolic vote.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill for us.

Jessica, we are expecting a number of Democratic senators to join Republicans in overturning the D.C. crime bill.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jake. We know that the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will be joining Republicans along with a number of Senate Democrats, a lot of whom are frankly up for reelection in 2024. And, of course, crime has been a very popular Republican attack against Democrats, and it will likely continue to be into the next election season in '24.

We have spoken to a number of the Senate Democrats that will be voting with Republicans. I talked to Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey a few days ago. He said it is not that he is a pretty Republicans on this. He told me it is just that he is against what D.C. did here. He said, if anything they should be raising penalties, not lowering them in crimes like robberies and carjackings.

Now, other Democrats like Elizabeth Warren will be voting against this. She said this is stomping on Washington, D.C.. Those were her words. And there are some other Democrats that of course will be voting against this.

But on the whole, we are going to see pretty bipartisan support in favor this resolution that will block this D.C. crime bill. And as you mentioned, the president kind of angering some House Democrats on this. When it went through the House, he had not yet said what he would do if this were to get to him. That he would veto it, or just let it be.

And when he came to speak to Senate Democrats, he said he would just let it be. He would not veto. And some 173 House Democrats voting against the measure that would rescind this bill, they were kind of thought they were hung out to dry this. Issue of course, they will be out in 2024 as well, Jake.

TAPPER: And the debate over whether Congress should meddle in the district affairs, it is contentious among Democrats, especially when it comes to this issue of crime.

DEAN: Absolutely. And of course, there is always this issue of D.C. statehood, which many Democrats do support. But, on this specific issue of crime, as you mentioned this is such a popular attack line from Republicans. It is something the Democrats to have their eye on politically. As they head into 2024. The presidential election, of course the Senate races, the House races as well.

So, this is the particular issue where we do see them kind of breaking with an issue that they generally support which is the right for D.C. to govern itself and even to become a state -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Brian Schwalb. He's the attorney general for Washington, D.C.

General Schwalb, thanks for joining us.

So, the D.C. city council is now working on a new version of the crime bill. Do you have any influence as to what changes they white make, such as not lessening penalties for carjackers?

BRIAN SCHWALB, D.C. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, Jake, thank you for having me.

Now, as the chief law officer of the District of Columbia, I'm now a not a legislator. I'm not a politician. I'm enforcing the laws and I think it is important for me to be to spending the loss that are passed by the District of Columbia Council.

It is a sad day for the District of Columbia, and the 700,000 people who live here. It's a sad day for democracy and core Democratic values and really highlights how important statehood is. Until the District of Columbia is recognized as a state, we are going to continue to be used as a political football, as a pawn in a game that is being played in a hyper partisan divisive national politics.

And it's undemocratic, it's unfair, and frankly it is insulting to the people who live here in the District of Columbia. Nobody cares more about safety in the District of Columbia. Nobody cares more about democracy in the District of Columbia than the people who live here. The nearly 700,000 people who live here and vote and pay taxes.

The idea that officials elected elsewhere think they know better than about how to make her city safe unfair is just insulting.

TAPPER: So, I am one of those almost 70,000 piece axis and votes and doesn't have the enfranchisement that others do outside D.C.

But don't you think a crime bill like this current one, which was opposed by Biden and the mayor, actually might have hurt the cause of home role in D.C.?

SCHWALB: Well, I think unfortunately that crime bill and the narrative that started around the crime bill was not true to what was actually in the bill or the process that went into passing this bill. This was ten plus years of legislative efforts to try to make our criminal code consistent, modern, one that is not full of things that are internally inconsistent and hard to follow, recognizing that criminal justice system that works efficiently as one that enhances public safety.

This crime bill increases sentences on many crimes, including attempted murder and robbery. And so, the narrative around what this crime bill actually did was divorced from the facts.


And that takes me back to what I said at the beginning. This was a political battle. Not one that was really aimed at making the District of Columbia safer. All of us who are elected in D.C., need to keep us our number one priority, how do we make sure people in the District of Columbia are safe.

And everybody deserves to feel safe in their neighborhoods. That is what we are elected to do.


TAPPER: But crime is rising in D.C. It's not a narrative --

SCHWALB: Go ahead.

TAPPER: It's not a narrative. Crime is rising in D.C., carjackings are up for a fifth straight year. Carjackings are an inherently violent crime.

I talked with D.C. Councilwoman Janeese Lewis George on Monday about this. Listen to this, here is some what she said when it comes to preventing crime.


JANEESE LEWIS GEORGE, D.C. COUNCIL MEMBER: What deters crime is the likelihood that someone will get caught and prosecuted, not a lengthy sentence.


TAPPER: So, what's your reaction to that? Why are carjackings rising in the city? Why is crime rising in the city? Is there not enough catching of criminals and prosecuting of criminals?

SCHWALB: So, we need to remember that under the current law, the current law that as a result of this disapproval vote is going to remain the status quo, we have had an increasing in carjacking. So, the mere fact that there is a threat of a long sentence is not deterring carjacking in our city.

We do have to prosecute cases. We have to hold people accountable. We need to make sure that everybody understands that the terrifying crime of carjackings is totally unacceptable.

We need our police and our law enforcement to work together so we can effectively prosecute cases.

But Councilmember George is exactly right. The deterrent effect for criminal loss is when people know with certainty and swiftness that there are going to be consequences. Long, long prison sentences have not proven to be a deterrent. That is something that we will get you in terms of having a safer system if we can have a sane conversation about how we really reduce crime and address the root causes of crime. When it gets politicized -- go ahead.

TAPPER: I mean -- we have to go, but long prison sentences not serving as a deterrent doesn't mean that lesser prison sentences will better serve as a deterrent.

Let's have you back and talk more about this.

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb, thank you so much, we appreciate it.

SCHWALB: Thank you.

TAPPER: Next, the new questions about Tesla cars after a deadly crash, plus reports that steering wheels in one testimonial can actually fall off while in use.



TAPPER: In our national lead, renewed scrutiny on Tesla today as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA is now investigating a deadly crash involving Tesla and a fire truck. NHTSA is looking into reports that steering wheels on one Tesla model became detached while the vehicle was being driven.

CNN's Gabe Cohen joins me now.

Gabe, let's start with that crash last month involving a Tesla Model S, and a fire truck in northern California. It's once again putting Tesla self-driving system in the spotlight.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, it is. And this is part of a broader NHTSA investigation into Tesla's controversial self-driving technology which now includes more than 40 Tesla crashes and 20 fatalities. You can add that a tragic crash in California to the list because NHTSA says they're investigating whether Tesla's automated features may have played a role in that violent crash, that Tesla plowing into a fire truck that was parked on a free way, blocking lanes after another collision.

It killed the Tesla driver and it critically injured a passenger inside the vehicle. Four firefighters were in the truck, but fortunately only had minor injuries. And, Jake, we don't know is that if that self-driving feature was

actually turned on at the time. But if it was, NHTSA documents show that it would be at least the 17th time that a Tesla with that autopilot feature engage has hit an emergency vehicle while it is parked in the road.

And, just last month, Tesla was required to issue a recall of 363,000 vehicles because of that software, because of the full self-driving software that investigators felt was not sufficiently obeying traffic safety laws, like, for example, running soft signs.

As you said, Jake, this technology has really been under the microscope for a while but it does seem to be intensifying this year.

TAPPER: Gabe, what we know about this instance of a steering wheel possibly coming off while that test load was being driven?

COHEN: Yeah. So, Jake, we've heard about the software concerns, this was a hardware concern with regulars now investigating Tesla's model Y SUV after at least two incidents where drivers said the steering wheel detached. It came off while the car was being driven.

Now, in those cases, the cars were actually delivered to the owners without that bolt, that attaches the wheel to the steering column. At this point, we don't know, Jake, how that happened.

And to be clear, so far, this is not a recall. It is an investigation, but it could impact up to 120,000 of this year's model Y, the 2023, if this does eventually become a recall -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Gabe Cohen, thanks so much.

Coming up next, the results of a federal investigation launched after the death of Breonna Taylor. The damning report today finding a pattern of racist and abusive conduct by Louisville Kentucky Police.


Stay with us.


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

This hour, it's only the second week in March but you may already be suffering from a runny nose, sneezing, and irritated eyes. Why pollen allergies are already worse than ever.

Plus, tears on the Hill, as one Marine recounts the chaos of the Afghanistan withdrawal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thrown 12 feet unto the ground and I knew what had happened. I opened my eyes to marines dead or unconscious lying around me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Veterans and service members describing what went wrong and warning about the disaster, still building.