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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Regional Banks Bounce Back After Two Bank Failures; Russian Fighter Jet Damages & Forces Down U.S. Drone Over Black Sea; CNN Poll: Trump, DeSantis Top Choices For Republican Nominee; Prosecutors Weigh New York State Criminal Charges Against Trump; Biden Speaks On Efforts To Curb Gun Violence. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 14, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A U.S. drone is down after colliding with a Russian jet.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Russian fighter jets intercept an unmanned U.S. drone, forcing it down over the Black Sea. How will the U.S. respond?

Plus, 2024 is clearly on. Donald Trump makes his first election stop in Iowa, this cycle. He takes aim at his first Florida competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who is not even officially in the race yet.

But, first, protecting your money. Multiple investigations reportedly launched into the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, or CBB, as panicky tweets are partly to blame for banks losing $40 million in a single day.


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Any moment, President Biden is expected to speak in Monterey Park, California, about efforts to reduce gun violence. He'll also meet with families and victims from one of this year's many, many mass shootings. We'll bring you the president's remarks as soon as they begin.

Until then, we turn to money lead. Markets closed, moments ago, up 334 points as bank stocks rebounded in a stunning turnaround from this time yesterday. The biggest winners specifically today, regional banks, some of which are double-digit losses after yesterday. Experts were feeling more bank failures after two went down within just three days of each other over the weekend.

Today, CNN learned that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the collapse of SVB, Silicon Valley Bank, which was the biggest failure of any American bank since 2008. The Securities and Exchange Commission, we're told is also investigating, according to "The Wall Street Journal." and also boosting new economic confidence, new data has shown that inflation has fallen for the eighth straight month.

I want to bring in CNN's Matt Egan.

And, Matt, this has been a roller coaster for the U.S. economy. What does rebound for regional banks mean?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jake, this is one sign that confidence maybe starting to return. That perhaps cooler heads are prevailing. This collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was driven by psychology, emotion, panic, specifically. And then we saw regional bank stocks collapse yesterday, despite the fact that the federal government launched the massive rescue of uninsured investors over the weekend.

So, it is certainly encouraging to see a reversal today, as you see on the screen, regional banks closing sharply higher. Although I would note that some of these gains kind of lost as the day went on. More important than stock prices is what's actually happened with deposits.

Now, we don't -- unfortunately, we don't have that much transparency into deposit flows, but a senior treasury official told CNN's Phil Mattingly, that deposit outflows from small and midsized banks, those have eked. And that, of course, is exactly what officials want to see.

They want to stop the panic before it spreads elsewhere. They want to restore confidence. Of course, Jake, that's not going to happen overnight. Confidence is a fragile thing and it was clearly shaken over the last few days.

TAPPER: So, Matt, we know that the Justice Department is investigating the collapse of SVB, Silicon Valley Bank, and reportedly, according to "The Wall Street Journal", the SEC is also investigating. What might these investigations look like, what might the outcomes be?

EGAN: Well, Jake, I think there's two big questions here. I mean, was this just bad management or actual wrongdoing being done here?

Now, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting there's two points of focus from these investigations. One, the actual collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. Two, stock sales done by executives at this bank in the days before the collapse.

Now, we should caution that these investigations are in the preliminary stage. And we don't know yet whether any civil or criminal charges, whether any findings of wrongdoing will come out of this, but, Jake, clearly, the government is very interested in finding out what happened, and making sure it doesn't happen again.

TAPPER: All right. Matt Egan, thank you so much.

There is a new warning sign in all of today's economic data. Credit ratings firm Moody's has officially downgraded its outlook for the banking industry. And it is keeping an eye on six specific banks.


I want to bring in Justin Wolfers. He's a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.

Justin, thanks for joining us.

Moody's is downgrading the outlook for the banking industry.

What does this mean in practice? What does this mean for people watching right now?

JUSTIN WOLFERS, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: I think one answer is not very much. So, when we see bank stock prices fall or their credit ratings start to get cut, it could be that there's a liquidity problem. That's a sort of bank-run problem.

But I think what's really happening is, at the end of all of this, there's going to be another regulatory look at what the small and medium-sized banks are doing.

Silicon Valley Bank took some big bets. It put people's money at risk. It wasn't okay. That's going to have big implications for how we regulate the industry and for the profitability of some of those banks.

TAPPER: Do you think other banks are still at risk of failing?

WOLFERS: No. First of all, Silicon Valley Bank was special. Most of your viewers, those who have left than $250,000 in the bank, don't need to worry about any of this at all because your funds are insured by the government. They say if there's no money in the vault, we'll send you the money anyway.

The problem with Silicon Valley Bank, its customers, mostly venture capitalists and startups had gobs of money in the bank, way more than $250,000. The money was effectively un-insured. That's what meant that customers were willing to run away at the first sign of trouble. Other banks aren't in the same situation, that's why we're not seeing broader contagion.

TAPPER: The chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Patrick McHenry, said the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank was driven by, quote, the first Twitter-fueled bank run. Explain what that means.

WOLFERS: Well, let's go back and think about what a bank run is. Bank run is when all your customers trying -- too many customers turn up and want to take all -- more money out of the vault than you've got in the vault.

If you're a bank with one customer and that customer shows up, you're necessarily going to get a bank run. Fortunately, most banks have millions of customers, that's not a problem. Silicon Valley Bank, though, first of all, it had a large number of customers all in the same industry. They were startups .They're all answering to the same VC firms.

So it was likely having a small number of customers. They're all very closely tied. They're all tweeting to each other, get your money out. They're texting each other, get your money out.

And so, normally, a bank run happens in a period of hours as you literally have to try to get to a branch and try to get cash out and discover there's nothing left in the vault. In today's supercharged digital world, it can happen a lot faster.

TAPPER: New data shows that inflation fell for the eighth straight month. It's still at 6 percent. The Federal Reserve wants that number to be 2 percent.

How much longer do you think we'll be paying higher prices because of higher interest rates, in order for the Fed to achieve their goal of much lower inflation?

WOLFERS: There was both good and bad news in the inflation report. Inflation has come down from the dramatic levels of 7 percent, 8 percent, 9 percent. It's currently 6 percent. In the last few months, it may be closer to 4 point something or 5 point something.

But that's still a long way above where they want it to be, and it's not clear that inflation is trending down anymore. So the Fed is going to continue to raise interest rates until it starts to see inflation come down. And it's probably going to continue on that path, maybe a little slower, because of Silicon Valley Bank, but pretty much on the same sort of interest-raising part that we saw before.

TAPPER: All right. Justin Wolfers, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Joining us now to discuss, former Republican Senator Pat Toomey from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Toomey was the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee until he retired from the Senate a few months ago.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

In 2018, you were one of the senators to roll back parts of the Dodd- Frank Financial Reform Act, which eased restrictions on some banks.


TAPPER: We've heard President Biden and others saying that this rollback could have contributed to the banking failure.

Take a listen to Bernie Sanders -- Senator Sanders on the floor of the Senate in 2018, warning that a bank pretty much this size as Silicon Valley Bank, failing would be likelier with this deregulation. Let's roll that clip.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Just yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office told us that the legislation we are debating today will, and I quote, increase the likelihood that a large financial firm with assets of between $100 billion and $250 billion would fail. End of quote. That's the CBO. In other words, this legislation makes it more likely that we will see

another financial crisis.


TAPPER: So, here's the CBO report Senator Sanders is quoting.


The part about it is not a huge part of it, but the basic argument is that the stress tests that have been required, that are no longer required, could have caught Silicon Valley Bank's interest rate risks. So, the problems they were having investing in treasury bonds too much.

Is that not possible?

TOOMEY: Extremely unlikely. And here's why, Jake. There's actually two arguments that people who objected to this very modest rollback of regulation cite. With respect to the stress test, what they don't point out is, while we relieve the obligation to do one category of stress tests to a biannual, rather than an annual frequency, they're still obligated to do ongoing stress tests for other purposes.

And here's the more important thing fundamentally, I don't think anyone designs a stress test to test the result of losing 40 percent of your deposits in 24 hours. That's what happened. So, I think that's completely specious.

They also sometimes cite the relief from liquidity coverage rate. The fact is despite the fact that SVB wasn't no longer mandated to meet that, it almost certainly exceeded that requirement also. So this had nothing to do with 2155, nothing at all. And Jake --

TAPPER: I take your point on the run on the bank, but wouldn't the stress test have discerned -- somebody would have been able to say -- it doesn't sound like the bank was managed too well, hey, you have too much invested in treasury bonds. And when inflation goes up, that's -- interest rates go up, that's going to be a real problem?

TOOMEY: Yeah. I mean, the duration this much they had would have been obvious on many levels without requiring the stress test. The point is, the stress test is usually designed to measure what happens under various stresses. And I'm saying there's no stress test that's designed to measure the results of something anywhere near as severe and radical and immediate as what SVB underwent.

What I think, Jake, we've got to focus on here it's very overstate the role of the Federal Reserve in this. Just think of it this way, while the unprecedented easy money sloshing around on a massive scale, combined with the spending going on, absolutely was a big source of the surge in deposits. That's the first one.

Maintaining zero interest rates, and in fact, negative real interest rates, pressure all the banks to move out of the risk curve. Now, in the case of SVB, it wasn't a credit risk curve but it was a maturity risk courage. And then, finally, when the Fed eventually realized how badly they had gotten this wrong and they very quickly raised rates, they drove under water the very bond portfolio that they themselves had created at the bank.

So, you know, coming and going, this has the Fed's fingerprints all over it.

TAPPER: Do you think that the people who might have encouraged the run on the bank, venture capitalists, individuals on Twitter or other forms, bear any responsibility for this?

TOOMEY: You know, it's hard to fault people observing what they think is a problem, and notifying people of that, right? They may be right, they may be wrong, I don't know what will their motives are. But, you know, free speech is a very important bedrock of our country.

TAPPER: Senator Toomey, thank you so much. Sir, good to see you again.

TOOMEY: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: Any moment, President Biden is expected to speak about efforts to reduce gun violence and we will bring that to you live.

Also ahead, a Russian fighter jet colliding with an American drone, forcing the U.S. to take down its own drone. We'll go live to the Pentagon and the White House for reaction.

Plus, Donald Trump revealing one regret, that explains his tone in the speech last night in Iowa that went pretty hard on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're topping our world lead now.

Moments ago, the Russian ambassador to the United States arrived at the U.S. State Department here in Washington, D.C. He had been summoned there by top U.S. officials this afternoon. This, after a Russian warplane collided with a U.S. drone over the Black Sea earlier today, forcing the U.S. to bring down its unmanned aircraft. The U.S. Air Force said the Russian attack was, quote, reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional, and warned that the clash could lead to, quote, unintended escalation.

A U.S. official tells CNN that a Russian jet intentionally flew in front of the U.N. -- in front of the unmanned U.S. Reaper drone, such as the one seen here. And then the Russians dumped jet fuel in front of it, and then damaged a propeller on the drone which forced the U.S. Air Force to then bring the drone down.

We're covering this from the Pentagon, from the White House and in Ukraine.

Let's start with CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us.

Oren, U.S. aircraft flying over the Black Sea's international waters is not uncommon. Is it clear whether or not the Russians did this intentionally?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the Pentagon and U.S. military have been very careful not to ascribe an intent or goal to the Russian pilots inside those two Russian aircrafts. But it's also very clear that if you look at the description of how this played out, it certainly looks in part deliberate. The Pentagon says over the course of 20 to 30 minutes, two of these SU-27 fighter jets repeatedly flew in front of, sprayed fuel in front of, and ultimately one of them collided with the MQ-9 Reaper drone, damaging the propeller and forcing the U.S. to bring down the drone over international waters. It should be noted all of this played out over international waters, according to the U.S.

Russia firing back just a short time saying they did not use airborne weapons or come into contact with the MQ-9 Reaper drone. The Pentagon has said however that there is video that they're working to put, imagery that they're working to put out, which was certainly a clearer picture of how this played out.

But, Jake, repeatedly crossing in front of a U.S. drone over the course of 30 or 40 minutes, whether you meant to hit it or not, that sort of interaction comes across as very intentional. The U.S. calling this unsafe, unprofessional, even so far as to call it reckless.


And let's bring in now Ivan Watson who's in eastern Ukraine for us.

Ivan, anything more that you can tell us about what the Kremlin is saying about this incident?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, I mean, the Russian ministry of defense issued a statement, within the last hour, basically, confirming that, yes, in fact, something had happened there that resulted in the loss of this U.S. Air Force Reaper. They are arguing that the drone was approaching Crimea, and that it was operating, it was flying without its transponders on. And that prompted the Russians to scramble the SU-27 jets to intercept it.

And they, again, as you just heard from what Oren had said, they did not come in contact, they say, with the drone, the Russian jets. And they also did not use their weapons. So, we have kind of two narratives here for what may have taken place out there. This will certainly ramp up tensions in an area that is already beyond tense.

I'm standing 20, 30 miles away from front lines, where Ukrainian and Russian troops are killing each other, day in and day out. And much of the rhetoric, the propaganda coming out of months now Moscow right now is arguing that, hey, Russian troops are already fighting NATO and the U.S. on the ground, even though neither organization have sent troops to engage directly in this terrible war.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, Phil, at the White House, officials briefed President Biden about this incident this morning. Is there any expectation that President Biden might reach out to Russian President Putin to reach out to Russian President Putin, to talk about this, to try to de-escalate tensions?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, the president was briefed by national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, this morning about the events what transpired over the Black Sea. But there's been no indication from White House officials or U.S. officials writ large, that the president is considering reaching out directly to President Putin. And these two leaders have not spoken since before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While the president said he's open to discussions with President Putin, it was only on the grounds of trying to find a pathway to end the current conflict.

What will you have seen, though, there's been obviously harsh and sharp language as Oren laid out in terms of the response, but there's also a very methodical, diplomatic approach here in terms of summoning the ambassador to the State Department, making it very clear the statements they put out, their displeasure for what transpired and how they felt this has been significantly problematic.

But there's no sense from officials right now there's any desire to escalate anything further right now, just using words and cautioning Russian officials about what happened, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann, Phil Mattingly, Ivan Watson, thank you to all of you.

Let's bring in the former secretary of defense for Donald Trump, Mark Esper.

Mr. Secretary, good to see you.

Do you agree with the U.S.'s assessment that this incident could lead to, quote, unintended escalation?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: It's certainly reckless, and I would say that it's certainly intentional. The question is, did it emanate from the cockpit or was it directed by somebody further up the chain of command. And, yes, indeed, it could lead to intentional escalation if not controlled.

You know, during my tenure, we had similar incidents happen where Russian aircraft would overfly our ships or approach very closely our bombers but never nothing like this.

So, I think it needs to be addressed very seriously. I don't think we should overreact. I suspect right now, within the Pentagon, from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on down, they're reaching out to their Russian counterparts to find out exactly what happened, to communicate with them and to find out what the Russian explanation really is. I think that will dictate in some ways our response. TAPPER: Not long ago, the State Department spokesman Ned Price said

while he didn't speak to that, but, quote, the motivations mean more than what actually transpired. I guess the idea that the Russian jet was following, you know, playing chicken with this drone for 30 or 40 minutes. Do agree with that?

ESPER: No, intentions do matter. That makes a big difference.

But regardless, the behavior by the pilots is reckless, unsafe and unprofessional. They shouldn't be dumping fuel on our aircraft. That breaks the rules of the road. And I suspect what will they were trying to do is fly so close that the Reaper drone would get caught up in jet wash and plummet into the sea on its own and they just happened to bump into it as well.

All this is very dangerous behavior and again, it could lead to unintentional escalation. That's why I think reaching out behind the scenes to the Russians is very important. I think we'll know more in the next 24 hours.

But we also need to assert privately as well as publicly, look, we're not going to tolerate this behavior because if you don't do that, then you'll see an uptick from the Russians against us and our allies in the Black Sea region. And, of course, we're flying in international airspace, so it's completely unjustified.

TAPPER: The latest poll of Republican presidential candidate has your former boss, President Trump, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis basically neck and neck.


DeSantis told Fox News last night that the war in Ukraine is a, quote, territorial dispute. He said it's not vital to U.S. interests. Do agree?

ESPER: Well, look, there are only two countries in the world that threaten the United States' existence, and that's China and Russia. And Russia has invaded a sovereign country, overtaken a large chunk of its territory. I do think it's in our vital interest, because, you know, we have to help defend the democracies of the world, you have to push back against autocrats like Vladimir Putin.

And if you don't push back, that means they'll go elsewhere and eventually it comes home to your shores.

I think the other thing, the reason why we want to help Ukrainians as well is they're knocking down and beating back the Russian army in the way that only helps us, and at the same time, the Western resolve with regard to Moscow sends a clear message to Beijing that we will stand up to them, as well if they decide to take action against Taiwan.

TAPPER: What do make of the fact that the two leading candidates for president in the Republican Party right now has such a different view and different assessment of this than you do? ESPER: I don't know. I think you can only chock it up to politics. I

mean, I consider myself a Reagan Republican I would ask myself how would President Reagan support this? I suspect that President Reagan would support a young democracy fighting for its life. And that's kind of how I look at it, the lens to which I look at it.

And I think we as Americans, the United States have the responsibility to lead the free world. Now, look, it doesn't mean there can't be blank checks and there should be accountability but I think we have to manage all of these things. We have to abide by our principles and live up to our values.

TAPPER: Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, thank you so much. Good to see you again, sir.

ESPER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: As we get closer to a 2024 presidential race, a brand-new poll shows how much of a hold Donald Trump still has on Republican voters. We'll have the numbers, next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, regrets, he's had a few, but he's certainly done it his way. Former President Donald Trump told reporters this week he regrets endorsing then Congressman Ron DeSantis for governor in 2018.

A brand-new CNN poll might tell us why he regrets it because 36 percent of people who said they may vote in 2024 GOP primary say they would back DeSantis. Trump is just barely ahead at 40 percent. That's within a margin of error, though.

Trump's Iowa appearance yesterday was a DeSantis-bashing fest.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Desanctimonious. Now, Ron DeSantis strongly opposed ethanol, do you know that? And we don't even know if he's running, I might as well tell you. If he's not running, I'll say, he was fine on ethanol. Don't worry at all.


TAPPER: Just one of many, many shots he took. But, ethanol, that means a lot to Iowans.

David Chalian, our CNN political director, is here to discuss.

So, we heard some very enthusiastic Trump supporters in Iowa.

So, looking at the poll, how loyal are Trump supporters right now overall? DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, I thought this was one

of the more interesting findings. Obviously, commitment and enthusiasm are not bad things to have among you supporters, Donald Trump has them here. So, if you look at our poll, among Trump supporters, 76 percent say they're locked into him and they're not going to change their mind, 59 percent of DeSantis supporters say that about their candidate. That shows that Donald Trump has real commitment.

Also we look at enthusiasm, 51 percent of Trump supporters consider themselves, call themselves, to be very or extremely enthusiastic about participating in the 2024 primary. 43 percent of DeSantis supporters say that, Jake. So, again, he wins on the enthusiasm score, he wins on the commitment. But when we looked at like first and second choice put together, DeSantis actually tops Trump.

So, DeSantis has room to grow, Trump may have a lower ceiling, but with that stickiness, it could be sufficiently higher to win the nomination.

TAPPER: Yeah, people who will come out in the winter and vote in an Iowa snowstorm.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

TAPPER: The CNN poll shows a very clear education divide.

CHALIAN: Right. So, we know education is a political fault line overall in American politics, but so too in the Republican Party. College graduates, DeSantis has the advantage, 41 percent to 23 percent for Trump. Nearly 2 to 1.

If you look at the non-college graduates, you see it's a Trump home court advantage there, 48 percent for Trump, 34 percent for DeSantis, Pence at 6, Haley down at 3 percent.

Here's what I think it shows. DeSantis, if you watch how he's operating, clearly thinks he can dig into that non-college-educated base support of Trump, win some of that over, while trying to maintain that college educated, he sees that as the path to nomination.

TAPPER: That's interesting. What are Republicans looking for in a Republican nominee?

CHALIAN: Jake, above all else, they're looking for somebody with sharpness and stamina. Obviously, they see that as a contrast with Joe Biden. That's one in particular. But then 59 percent say maintaining social security and Medicare is essential to their supporting a candidate, followed by the person representing the party's futures.

You notice, you were talking about Ukraine in the last segment, way down there at 36 percent. Opposing U.S. involvement in Ukraine is essential. DeSantis is not taking a position here that is high on the essential needs list for the Republican primary voters.

TAPPER: Right. OK. Interesting, David Chalian, thank you so much.


TAPPER: As Trump appears to be top of mind for many Republican voters, he's also top of mind for Manhattan prosecutors who are nearing a decision on whether to charge the former president over that $130,000 payment made to adult film star and director Stormy Daniels in 2016, just days before the presidential election, hush money, to stop her from going public with her encounter, or affair with Trump a decade earlier.

With us now, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York.

Elie, what are the New York State charges that are -- that could be in play and the possible consequences if there's a conviction, ultimately?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, Jake, this is the Manhattan district attorney who has the power to charge New York state criminal laws. So, there's two laws we're looking at here. So, the first one is falsification of business records. The idea that the payments to silence Stormy Daniels were booked improperly as legal fees to Michael Cohen. If there's a conviction on that, though, that is a misdemeanor, meaning the max penalty is up to one year in prison. But, realistically, nobody goes to prison for a first time misdemeanor.

The second potential crime is if prosecutors can tie it to some other crime, in this case it would be campaign finance violation, meaning this payment actually was meant to protect Donald Trump's electoral process. If they can prove that, it's a felony. It's the lowest level New York felony. It's class E, out of A to E. The maximum penalty there is four years. However, it's quite common for people to get convicted of class E felonies and also not send to prison. That will be up to a judge.

TAPPER: So, we're clearly, election season has begun. Donald Trump is in Iowa attacking Ron DeSantis who was also just in Iowa. Does the fact that Trump has declared candidate, and the race is on have any legal or practical impact on whether or not the prosecutors go forward with this?

HONIG: So, legally, no, there's no impact here. A person can run for and even hold the office, up to and including the presidency, even if they're indicted, even if they've indicted.

But, Jake, I think as a practical matter, this is going to make prosecutors' jobs that much more difficult. It's hard enough to get a jury of 12, unanimously, to convict a former president for the first time in U.S. history who as David Chalian's data just showed is quite popular in some quarters, never mind asking a jury in 2024 when a trial would likely to happen in the middle of primaries to convict a person who is probably going to be among the leaders of one of the major party nominations.

So, I think prosecutors' job is going to be extremely difficult here.

TAPPER: This payment to Stormy Daniels happened almost seven years ago. How does that play legally, or just practically?

HONIG: So, prosecutors are okay under the statute of limitation which is usually five years but there's an unique provision of the New York state law that puts that time on hold if someone has been living out of state as Donald Trump has been. However, again, juries are human beings. If you're standing in front of a jury as a prosecutor talking about something that happened almost seven years ago, I mean, the president at the time was Barack Obama. That's how long ago this is.

It's hard to then tell the jury this is urgent, this is important, this is serious. So I think the period of time that's passed undermines the urgency and in some sense the credibility of these charges if we do see them.

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

Coming up, the impact of two major storms -- flooding on the West Coast, dangerous snow, wind, and rain in the Northeast. CNN is live with both scenes, ahead.



TAPPER: President Biden speaking now in Monterey Park, California, on gun violence. Let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- first responders, faith leaders, community members all here today.

You've shown up for this community, and I know you always will.

To the families of victims who spend time -- I get a chance to meet with today and whom Vice President Harris spent time with a few weeks ago, I'm here on behalf of the American people to mourn with you, to pray with you, to let you know you're loved and not alone.

Every case is different, but I know what it's like. I know what it's like to get that call. I know what it's like to be told. I know what it's like to lose a loved one so suddenly. It's like losing a piece of your soul. It's like a black hole in your chest you feel like you're being sucked into.

Suffocating, hardly able to breath. The anger. The pain. The depths of the loss so profound it's hard to explain. The suddenness tends to magnify the grief.

And as time passes, the shock and numbness slowly make way for the sobering reality of their absence.

That empty chair at the dinner table. The birthdays, the anniversaries, the holidays without them.

Everyday things, small things, the details you miss the most. The scent when you open that closet door. The park you go by that you used to stroll in. The morning tea you shared together. The bend of his smile. The perfect pitch of her laugh.

As Judy shared with me, this is a tight-knit community with intergenerational households and deep reverence and respect

for its elders. A community that's opened its heart and its homes to friends and neighbors, and stood strong throughout the pandemic as anti-Asian hate crimes rose.

A community that in the face of horrific tragedy has become a symbol of hope and resilience. Pushing forward together, healing together.

People from all faiths and backgrounds rallying to show their love and support, raising money for funeral costs and memorials, providing counseling and translation services to the victims' families. Providing and proving that even with heavy hearts we have unbreakable spirits.

As a nation, remember them: immigrants from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan -- all of whom found a home in America.

Mr. Ma, age 72. A pillar of the community. A beloved manager and dance instructor at Star Ballroom. He'd walk patrons to their cars at night. Helped new immigrants find jobs. His children and grandchildren will carry on his legacy in the spirit of one of his favorite Chinese proverbs, "Cherish the people in front of you." "Cherish the people in front of you."

Andy Kao, 72. "Mr. Nice" for his kindness, his positivity, his infectious smile. A free spirit always ready to lend a helping hand. He died shielding his dance partner.

Xiu Juan Yu, 57. Devoted mom, wife, sister. A woman of faith. Always there to help others bringing food and newspapers to family members who had trouble walking. Always -- always working tirelessly with her husband to build a future for their three children.

Nancy Jian, 62. Known as "Sister Sunshine." She loved to play cards, piano, and a weekly volleyball game. Always sharing her homegrown plants and vegetables with neighbors and friends.


A dedicated mom married nearly 40 years -- a husband and wife who were always together, even in their last dance.

Valentino Alvero, 68 years old. A servant of God. Life of the party. Storyteller who made the whole room laugh. A man devoted to his children and his grandchildren.

Mymy Nhan, 65. Bedrock of her family and friends. Eternal optimist. Avid dancer who'd visit the studio every weekend, often leaving snacks behind for her classmates. She radiated positive energy through her laughter, her kind words, and her smile.

Muoi Dai Ung, 67. Refugee. A community builder. A cherished friend, known for her kindness, her sweetness, her generosity. Her beloved family, the center of her world.

Diana Tom, 70. Devoted daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother who loved to sing karaoke. A giver and an adventurer who loved to explore new foods and travel the world.

Charles Yau, 76. Grateful. Reflective. Believed in living to the -- life to the fullest. He constantly showed his family and friends and showered them with warm words of encouragement, hope, and love.

Wen-Tau Yu, 64. A lifelong learner, he retired as a business manager and was pursuing a second career as a pharmacist while caring for his elder mother -- elderly mother. A man beloved by his wife, children, and friends for his compassion, his determination, and his wisdom.

Lily Li, 63. A matriarch with absolute strength, optimism, and grace. Her daughter wrote: Stolen is the grandmother whose granddaughter fell asleep many nights nestled between her loving arms. Taken away is the opportunity for her grandson to feel her love and warmth.

All of them lived lives of love, sacrifice, and service for their families, for their community. They represent a bigger story of who we are as Americans, embodying the simple truth that our diversity -- our diversity is the strength of this nation.

We saw that strength in Maria Liang, owner of Star Ballroom, who I want to thank for pouring her heart into creating a warm and welcome space to bring the community together, especially seniors.

And we saw that strength in Brandon Tsay, who met me at the airport, whom Jill and I have gotten to know. Twenty minutes after the rampage at Star Ballroom, Brandon saw the same shooter walk into his family's own dance studio just two miles away, pointing a gun at him. In an instant, he found the courage to act and wrestled the semi-automatic firearm away.

Brandon saved lives. He protected the community.

At Half Moon Bay, just two days later -- you've got it.


Brandon, stand up.


At Half Moon Bay, just two days later, we saw heroism from police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who rushed into the danger to save lives.

As many of you know, Jill and I invited Brandon as our guest at the State of the Union message because we wanted the country to know all of you -- not just Brandon, all of you. The character of this community. The faith you have in this community. The pride. We see across -- we see it in you across all of American life.

Just this week, a film about resilience and power of the Asian American immigrant family made history at the Oscars --


Echoing the heart of so many in this community.


But we also hear a message we've heard too often, including two years ago this week, after the spa shooting at the Atlanta -- in the Atlanta area: Enough. Do something.

We remember and mourn today, but I am here with you today to act.

Last year, after the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, I signed into law, after being in both places, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety law in almost 30 years.

That was in addition to me signing more executive actions

to reduce gun violence than any of my predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Today, I'm announcing another executive order that will accelerate and intensify this work to save more lives more quickly.

First, this executive order helps keep firearms out of dangerous hands, as I continue to call on Congress to require background checks for all firearm sales.


And in the meantime -- in the meantime, my executive order directs my Attorney General to take every lawful action possible -- possible to move us as close as we can to universal background checks without new legislation.

I just -- it's just common sense to check whether someone is a felon, a domestic abuser, before they buy a gun.

The executive order also expands public awareness campaigns about the "red flag" orders -- the laws -- which my son, when he -- before he died -- attorney general of Delaware -- was a great proponent of it and instituted it. So more parents, teachers, police officers, health providers, and counselors know how to flag for the -- a court that someone is exhibiting violent tendencies, threatening classmates, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that make them a danger to themselves and others and temporarily remove that person's access to firearms.

And it promotes -- this executive order -- safe storage for firearms, something every responsible gun owner agrees with.

The second thing it does -- the executive order ramps up our efforts to hold the gun industry accountable. It's the only outfit you can't sue these days. It does that by calling out for an independent government study that analyzes and exposes how gun manufacturers aggressively market firearms to civilians, especially minors, including by using military imagery.

And it directs the Attorney General to public release -- publicly release Alcohol, Tobacco, and -- and Firearms inspection reports of firearms dealers who were cited for violation of the law.


That way, policymakers can strengthen laws to crack down on these illegal gun dealers and the public can avoid purchasing from them.

Third, the executive order improves federal coordination to support victims, survivors, and their families and communities affected by mass shootings the same way FEMA responds to your natural disasters in California and all around the nation. And it will help folks recover and build after -- that -- they help folks recover and build after wildfires and superstorms and droughts.

For example, we need to provide more mental health support and grief -- for grief and trauma --


And more financial assistance when a family loses the sole breadwinner or when a small business shuts down due to a lengthy shooting investigation.

There's more in this executive order, but I'm not stopping there.

Last week, I laid out in my budget that we invest more in safer communities and expand access to mental health services for those affected by gun violence.


Congressional Republicans should pass my budget instead of calling for cuts to these services or defunding the police or abolishing the FBI, as we hear from our MAGA Republican friends.

But let's be clear: None of this absolves Congress the responsibility -- from the responsibility of acting to pass universal background checks, eliminate gun manufacturers' immunity from liability.


And I am determined once again to ban assault weapons and high- capacity magazines.


I led that fight in -- to ban them in 1994. In the 10 years that law was in place, mass shootings went down.


Our Republicans friends let it expire, and it -- and 10 years later, and mass shootings tripled since then. Tripled. So let's finish the job. Ban assault weapons. Ban them again. Do it

now. Enough. Do something. Do something big.


Folks, let me close with this. Scripture says: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. A lot of us have been there.

As we gather here today, I know your hearts are broken, but I know your spirits are strong.

And as you remember and heal, I know the light of your loved one is once again going to lead you forward.

It takes time. I tell everyone -- at least it did with me -- it takes time. But I promise you -- I promise you the day will come when the memory of your loved one brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. The tear will never fully go away.

But when you had that smile first, remember it, that's when you know -- that's when you know you're going to make it -- you're going to know you're going to make it.

And my prayer for all of you is that day will come sooner than later, but I promise you, it will come.

God bless you all. I admire you so damn much. Thank you.


TAPPER: We've been listening to President Biden speaking in Monterey Park, California, discussing efforts to reduce gun violence in a city still grieving after one of this year's many mass shootings. The president is expected to meet with families and victims of that attack from January 11, that's when the gunman opened fire during a lunar New Year celebration.

I want to bring in Josh Campbell who's in Monterey Park.

Josh, President Biden is taking some executive actions today. What do they do? Is it significant?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, what this is is essentially what the White House saying that we know that this isn't what gun control advocates have been asking for in totality. This isn't an assault weapons ban. This is not universal background checks. It's not universal red flag laws.

But, you know, it depends on how you measure success. The White House saying we're not going to just throw up our hands in the wake of these mass shootings in the United States, but we're going to try to do something. As he just laid out, what will be in this executive order includes a focus on more background checks. He's directing the U.S. attorney general to focus more on assuring that firearms sellers are doing their due diligence that's required by law to ensure that background checks are conducted in certain circumstances.

And that is a different frame of mind for the Justice Department. The president saying don't just go out and prosecute people who aren't following the law, but try to get ahead of those violations to begin with, and make these gun sellers aware of their duty to conduct these background checks.

The second aspect has to do with what are the so-called red flag laws. That is, if you have a loved one that you think may be a danger to themselves or someone else, in 19 states, including the District of Columbia, you can go to a judge and petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from the possession of that individual.

So what the Biden administration here is doing is basically charging his entire cabinet to create an awareness campaign so people who are out there that are in these states where these red flag laws apply, they know how to use these tools in order to try to save lives.

It's worth pointing, Jake, that the location where I'm at here, this is not an accident. This location, Monterey Park, the scene in January of a mass shooting that took 11 lives here, injured nine other people by a shooter who took his own life. The president here speaking in front of survivors, as well as local lawmakers, as he continues to call on more action by Congress.

Of course, he's laying out what he's going to do with this executive action, but pointing out the more stringent requirements will require a compromise in Congress. It appears very likely it passes as any prelude of what is to come.

TAPPER: All right. Josh Campbell in Monterey Park, California, thank you so much.

And this is THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, what is in your water? The so-called forever chemicals that linger in the human body and can cause serious illnesses such as cancer, it turns out they're in drinking water everywhere.

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And leading this hour, a U.S. drone is forced down by a Russian fighter jet while flying in international air space over the Black Sea.