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The Lead with Jake Tapper

President Xi Meets Face To Face Russia's Vladimir Putin; Possible Curfew In Miami Beach After Shootings; Trump Facing Possible Indictments; DeSantis Needles Trump As He Breaks Silence On Hush Money Case; Trump Hits Back At DeSantis In Hush Money Probe; Republicans Attack NY Prosecutor Over Possible Trump Indictment; Biden Vetoes Retirement Investment Resolution; Stephen Smith's Family Hopes To Exhume His Body For Private Autopsy; Report: World Running Out Of Time To Avoid Catastrophic Heating. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: How this meeting could strengthen Putin's murderous resolve.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a crucial state visit, the first by a Chinese leader since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. And just days after the Kremlin strong man was indicted for war crimes. Now, one of the world's most isolated leaders gets to sit at the side of one of its most powerful. It's a potent alliance.

XI JINPING, PRESIDENT OF CHINA (through translation): It is true that both of our countries share the same or similar goals. We have exerted efforts for the prosperity of our respective countries. We can cooperate and work together to achieve our goals.

CHANCE (voice-over): But China has so far drawn the line at military aid for Russia's war. There are concerns that may change, but right now it's only Chinese diplomacy on the table. The Kremlin-leaning peace plan calling for talks but stopping short of demanding a Russian withdrawal, a key Ukrainian demand.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translation): We have carefully studied your proposals on settling the acute crises in Ukraine. Of course, we will have an opportunity to discuss these issues.

CHANCE (voice-over): But there's little sign Putin is open to compromise. This was the Russian leader on Sunday, driving through the captured and devastated city of Mariupol. Local residents, according to state media, are shown thanking him and asking to shake hands when a heckler briefly makes her voice heard. None of this is true is the cry. It's all for show.

But the Russian leader seems undisturbed. And now with one of the world's most powerful leaders at his side in Moscow, President Putin may increasingly feel he can afford to ignore his critics.


(On Camera): But Jake, for tonight, the meetings have already come to an end and the leaders, the two of them, are scheduled to hold more formal talks tomorrow on how to bring these two increasingly autocratic countries even closer together and of course, to discuss that Chinese-backed floated peace proposal.

As for Ukraine, they still haven't had a phone call from Xi Jinping about what their role would be in any future negotiations, although I'm told that could change in the days ahead.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow, Russia for us. Thank you so much. CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House for us. Phil, how is the White House reacting to this Moscow meeting between Putin and Xi?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN WH CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, to frame the reaction of White House officials is deeply skeptical as it relates to China's pitch that they would be peacemakers here. It might be an understatement to some degree. But U.S. officials, certainly White House officials and the National Security Council closely watching every moment for what this relationship will go towards next.

And I think we talked to White House officials. They acknowledge the Chinese and Russian officials have certainly gotten closer. The ties between the two countries have grown significantly closer over the last several months and years, but they also believe that this relationship in the words of National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, that is one based on convenience, not necessarily affection.

And the biggest question as Matthew laid out, is whether or not the Chinese are still considering or pushing the idea of providing lethal assistance. This was how Kirby framed things today.


KOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We still don't believe that China has taken it off the table. We still don't believe and hadn't seen any indication that they're moving in that direction or they've made a decision to provide or that they are actually going to do that. We continue to believe it's not in China's best interest to do that, to help Mr. Putin slaughter innocent Ukrainians.


MATTINGLY: And Jake, one of the big questions as these meetings proceed is what's actually going to come with them from a tangible policy basis, deliverables if you want to use diplomatic speak. U.S. officials don't really have a great idea of things, certainly watching closely. As Matthew noted, they are also urging the Chinese to actually reach out and arrange a call between President Xi and President Zelenskyy, something that hasn't happened yet. They're saying that needs to happen in order for Xi to play any type

of, quote, "peacemaker role" if you will. I would also not that when I asked John Kirby today whether or not the U.S. official viewed Russia as a client state of China, he said the certainly are a junior partner in the relationship, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Mattingly at the White House. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Let's go now to Ukraine and CNN's David McKenzie who is love for us on Odesa. David, how are Ukrainian leaders reacting to this meeting?


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they've been careful not to directly criticize or even obliquely criticize China. A foreign ministry spokesman saying they hoped China would use their relationship and their power at least over Russia too and try to push this in a way that makes sense for Ukraine.

Of course, as Matthew touched on, no negotiations will happen from a Ukrainian perspective unless Vladimir Putin withdraws his troops from Ukrainian land. So, the peace plan that China has put on the table is kind of dead-on arrival as it sits. And whether there will be a call between Zelenskyy and Xi Jinping, well, they were always going to talk to Putin first. I think officials here hope that will happen after these meetings wrap up. Jake?

TAPPER: And David, as China symbolically displays its support for Russia with this meeting, there's also a significant ramp-up in support from the European Union for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian cause.

MCKENIE: Yes. It's very much a split screen moment. More than a million ammunition rounds, that's what the E.U. and Norway have pledged of the 155-millimeter round. That's crucial for the artillery pieces that are pounding away at Russian positions, Jake, that are trying to push through towns like Bakhmut in the eastern part of the city.

You also had Norway bringing in more tanks and other key bits of artillery into the country. I think that Zelenskyy in particular is showing this as the moment that he is getting unity from NATO, from the U.S. and other allies at this moment when Putin is talking to Xi. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. David McKenzie in Odesa, Ukraine for us. Thank you. Joining us now, former U.S. Ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, Clint Williamson, and he's now lead coordinator of the atrocity crimes advisory group. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us. So, China, which still refuses to call Putin's invasion an invasion is calling Xi's trip to Moscow a, quote, "journey of peace," unquote. What would you call it?

CLINT WILLIAMSON, LEAD COORDINATOR, ATROCITY CRIMES ADVISORY GROUP: I would call it unfortunate. I think the timing of Xi's visit to Moscow is shameful. Clearly the Chinese have seen what's been going on in Ukraine. And probably might have preferred, otherwise, I don't think they can be surprised at the fact that Vladimir Putin has now been charged with war crimes.

But as Secretary Blinken said earlier today, instead of condemning these atrocities, they're providing diplomatic cover for Russia to continue committing those crimes.

TAPPER: This is a major meeting between two superpowers, even though they may be pariahs to a degree. Does Xi's very public show of support for Putin increase to the threat level -- increase the threat level to the Ukrainian people? Does it increase the threat to the international community, do you think?

WILLIAMSON: I mean, I think certainly Vladimir Putin feels bolstered by Xi coming there, particularly just right on the heels of this indictment or, I'm sorry, this arrest warrant being issued. But I think it's reflective of where China has moved on international justice issues. When I served as ambassador during the Bush and Obama administrations, I dealt with the Russians, I dealt with the Chinese with the security council on these issues. And while Russia was already quite hostile to any sort of international justice efforts at that point, the Chinese had a much more pragmatic approach. But now firmly moved into the same camp with Russia of open hostility to these ideas.

TAPPER: U.S.-China relations were already stretched way thin before Xi is meeting with Putin. The White House National Security Council's John Kirby told CNN this morning that a call between Biden and Xi has not been scheduled, but it will happen at the appropriate time. When that appropriate time happens, what do you think Biden should say to President Xi?

WILLIMASON: I think he should reenforce to him that he's putting himself on the wrong side of history. I think history is going to judge Vladimir Putin very harshly, no matter whether he is ever brought into the dock at the International Criminal Court or not. And the Chinese have always been quite careful at not aligning themselves too closely with people who are committing crimes like this. So, I think it's a strong message that President Biden can deliver and should deliver when he speaks to him.

TAPPER: The State Department's human rights report this year highlights the war crimes committed by Russians against the Ukrainian people. Secretary of State Tony Blinken writes, quote, "There were credible reports of some execution, torture, rape indiscriminate attacks, and attacks deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure by Russia's forces in Ukraine, all of which constitute war crimes," unquote.

This report comes just a few days after the International Criminal Court issued the war crimes arrest warrant for Putin. But we should also note the State Department did not draw specific connections between Putin and the war crimes they allege occurred. Why not?

[17:10:04] WILLIAMSON: I think at this point the administration has not seen all of the evidence that was reviewed by the panel of judges in the Hague. But we have to rely on the fact that you have now an international judicial institution reviewing this evidence that has been presented by the ICC prosecutor, Karim Kahn and it's determined that it's sufficient to link President Putin personally and Maria Lvova-Belova, his commissioner for children's rights, to these crimes that are being committed, particularly these abductions of children and forced assimilation into Russia.

TAPPER: In that same report, Blinken said the U.S. has formally determined that the armed forces on all sides of the conflict in northern Ethiopia, all sides have committed war crimes. What's the best way for the U.S. to help facilitate justice and accountability there. AS you may know, one of reporters, one of our great international correspondents, Nima Elbagir, has done a lot of reports about the horrors that are going on there. What should the U.S. do?

WILLIAMSON: I think the conflict in Ukraine has overshadowed what is going on in Ukraine -- I'm sorry, in Ethiopia. In many ways this has been a hidden conflict for a long period of time. But I think the State Department got it exactly right here. There have been climbs by Ethiopian military forces, Eritrean forces, and the Tigray defense forces as well.

So, I think the United States can push for accountability in the region, trying to put pressure on the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government and the regional bodies like the African Union to do more to try to ensure accountability arising from this conflict which has taken a horrific toll on the civilian population in that area.

TAPPER: And the Biden administration we should note today announced another $350 million in security assistance for Ukrainian forces. This includes more ammunition, missiles, anti-tank weapons, other equipment. The number one thing on Ukraine's wish list, however, continues to be fighter jets. In your opinion do you think it's time for the Biden administration to provide those?

WILLIAMSON: This is probably venturing a little bit beyond my expertise. You know, I'm certainly inspired by my dealings with the Ukrainians in terms of their will to see this conflict through to the end. And this is an attitude they've exhibited since day one. It hasn't flagged at all. And I would like to see the United States and all of our allies being as supportive as we can in providing whatever types of assistance, they need to maintain their defenses.

TAPPER: All right. Clint Williamson, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Coming up, why Miami Beach could institute another stricter curfew during the height of spring break.

Plus, the Oath they camp may now land them in jail. A new conviction related to the January 6th insurrection as Donald Trump potentially becomes the first former president to be indicted on a separate matter.



TAPPER: In our "National Lead," a state of emergency in Miami Beach. Two fatal shootings over the weekend prompting city officials there to put in place a curfew to crack down on unruly spring break crowds. CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Miami Beach for us. Carlos, local officials today are discussing even more measures. What's next?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. So, it's becoming increasingly clear that the city of Miami Beach is going to bring back that emergency declaration and with it, that curfew. It's an issue that city commissioners are at this hour debating before a group of angry residents who want to see a good deal of change for a good part of Miami Beach.

That curfew looks like it's going to come back to Miami Beach on Thursday, the 23rd, and it's going to last through at least Sunday, the 27th. So, what we're looking at here is a midnight curfew that will last until 6:00 in the morning. There appears that there is going to be additional restriction on the sale of alcohol and hotels, they are going to be allowed to stay open. However, they are only going to be able to service guests.

We've talked to a number of businesses, workers up and down Ocean Drive where both of these shootings took place. Everyone out here expressed a great deal of concern about the situation, not only this past weekend but in the weekends leading up to what happened out here. They all say they've already seen their bottom line, their sales, their wages. A lot of their money is being impacted because of all of this violence.

But city leaders, they stress, look, we understand that people's salaries are being touched by this, but so are people's lives. And ultimately what matters to them, at least right now in the short term, is protecting the folks that are visiting South Beach, Miami Beach, from here through about the early part of April when spring break is expected to wrap up. Just a few minutes ago we heard one of the commissioners talk about this very issue and here is what he said.


ALEX FERNANDEZ, MIAMI BEACH CITY COMMISSIONER: These aren't spring breakers, they are law breakers who don't respect police. They don't respect law. They don't respect innocent lives. And I need to follow the recommendation of our law enforcement. When they tell me that they need this emergency order to protect our city. This is not about dollars and cents, it's about law and safety. It's about lives and safety.


SUAREZ: So, the city of Miami Beach has been dealing with this issue for several years now. And one other item that they're taking up is whether or not the city ultimately is going to have to introduce metal detectors. That is something that the chief of police as well as the city attorney said, look, we're not going to be able to do that in the short term. We're not going to be able to do that over the next week or so.

We can take a look at this issue perhaps for next year and the spring break that follows then. But already, jake, there are some constitutional arguments to be made here because a lot of the gathering is taking place in very public spaces including public parks. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Carlos Suarez in Miami Beach for us. Thank you so much.


Still ahead, a look at how Donald Trump's lawyers are trying to fight back against any number of possible indictments in multiple cities. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our "Politics Lead," six people affiliated with the far- right militia group the Oath Keepers were convicted today on charges related to the January 6th, 2021 Capitol insurrection. CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz has been following the trial. Katelyn, walk us through the charges.

KATELYN POLANTS, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, this trial today, it was against six different people who are affiliated with the Oath Keepers. They weren't the leaders of the group. We've already seen those trials take place and the Justice Department earned convictions there for seditious conspiracy.


This, though, this group, many of them were accused of the conspiracy to obstruct Congress during January 6th. And what these charges revealed and what the jury agreed with, what was convicted here, is that members of this group were engaging in stack formation, so they were moving together in a military-like fashion. There were people that were moving toward the Senate chamber.

And so, this is the type of case. It isn't the tip of the spear in the Justice Department's prosecution of members of the Oath Keepers, but it is yet another conviction that they have secured, the third trial in a row where they have gotten convictions where they've been able to highlight the risk of violence at the Capitol on January 6th, that these people affiliated with the Oath Keepers were working together, that they had a plot and that they were also coordinating getting firearms around the Capitol building on Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: All right. Katelyn, stick around. Former President Donald Trump is criticizing prosecutors today after announcing that he expects to be indicted in New York as soon as tomorrow in that Stormy Daniels hush money case. Trump is also staring down possible indictments in Georgia and in Washington, D.C.

Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell and Sara Murray, along with Katelyn. And Kara Scannell, what's Trump's defense team doing today to prepare for this widely expected indictment?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Trump's team has pushed the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to call before the grand jury today a witness that they think might be favorable to them. That's Bob Costello. He is an attorney who's represented several Trump allies that at one point, he represented Michael Cohen. So, Costello was down here in the building behind me today, testifying before the grand jury for about three hours. He left just before 5:00.

And what he was coming in to say, according to Trump's attorneys, was that he had information that could undercut Michael Cohen's credibility. Cohen, of course, is the star witness in this case, the person that facilitated these hush money payments, which he said he did at the behest of Donald Trump.

Now, Costello was going to tell the grand jury and he brought with him hundreds of pages of documents and including e-mails to say that Cohen had told him previously that he believed that Trump had done nothing illegal. So, after Costello left, we also learned that Michael Cohen, who was here as a potential rebuttal witness, he left without testifying and his attorney, Lanny Davis, says that Cohen was available for over two hours but they are pleased to report he was not needed. So, it's not clear if Cohen will be called back. Certainly, we seem to be getting to the end of this with a decision likely soon. Jake?

TAPPER: And Sara Murray, you've been following the case in Atlanta, Georgia, and we've learned that Georgia prosecutors are now considering adding racketing and conspiracy charges I connection with Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. Trump's lawyers were in court today that slowed this down. Tell us more.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, this is another case where we're awaiting to see if there are going to be any indictments, but this is the first legal move we've seen by Trump's team. They filed a very lengthy motion where they are essentially trying to get a lot of the investigative work that's been done over months and months tossed out.

You know, they're taking concerns with the way the special grand jury in Georgia was set up. They're basically saying that a judge should throw out the special grand jury's final report. You know, it's not the kind of grand jury that can issue indictments (inaudible) final report. But they're also saying you should throw all of the evidence that this special grand jury collected.

And so, you know, all of the testimony they got from the 75 witnesses should be trashed, that any documents that they may have subpoenaed and had returned to them as part of the special grand jury's investigative work should also be thrown out. And they're also asking for the district attorney who has been overseeing this case to be disqualified. So, it's a big swing from the Trump team to try to get all or part of this case thrown out before there's even been charges, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. I'm trying to keep track all these Trump investigations. The one in New York, the one in Georgia where he turned the elections, and then also this one at the federal level, Katelyn. We also saw other Trump lawyers in courts in the connection with the special counsel investigation. He's investigating two things, one is January 6th, the other is his handling of classified documents. So, tell us about that.

POLANTZ: Right. So, you hear what's happening in New York and Georgia, but there's still a very precarious situation for Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation that's been going on for a year. What has happened over the past few days there has really put him and his team on the defensive.

That's because the Justice Department had taken this extraordinary step to try and force answers out of his defense lawyer, Evan Corcoran. A federal judge agreed with the Justice Department on Friday, that was judge Beryl Howell in the D.C. District Court. And so, Corcoran now is trying to hold off having to go back and testify to the grand jury and provide even more information about his private conversations with Donald Trump related to the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after the presidency.

So that's a really big thing. We don't know what happened in that proceeding today or that hearing today. We do know that Evan Corcoran, his lawyer and a lawyer for Trump, were all at the courthouse for a short period of time. They're all under seal.


But everything, every time we see these people, they are on the defensive and they are continuing the have to fight for Donald Trump against all of these ongoing criminal probes.

TAPPER: Yeah. It's tough to keep them all straight. We're going to need some March Madness graphics to keep track of all these. March MAGAness. You can copyright that.

Katelyn Polantz, Kara Scannell, Sara Murray, thanks one and all.

So let's talk more about this one with our panel. So this was interesting. In his first comments about the case, Ron DeSantis has been under pressure from Trump allies, please say something please defend or maybe it's not please, you need to defend him, you need to say something. So Governor DeSantis, a potential rival, did finally weigh in today. Here's part of what he had to say.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just -- I can't speak to that. I've got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people. I can't spend my time worrying about things of that nature.


TAPPER: Ramesh? What's your take on that? That was kind of saucy I thought.

RAMESH PONNURU, NONRESIDENT SENIOR FELLOW, AEI: Yes. It's, you know, that's -- that rhetorical technique. It's of, you know, I'm not going to mention even this lurid story about President Trump. I think that, you know, he was -- he struck a balance, because I think a lot of Republicans are going to have no sympathy for Trump's underlying conduct here, but are also going to have questions about whether this is a political prosecution.

And he sounded both notes. He -- and I think he did it in a pretty clever way. And he showed actually, I think he actually made the case against the politicized prosecution better than Trump himself does, because he's in more command of the facts.

NAYYERA HAQ, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS: But here's what he also did. He clearly did not defend Trump but he also pivoted to a culture war argument, as part of that comment. He mentioned that oh, this is a Soros-backed prosecution --

TAPPER: Right.

HAQ: -- which is online code for anti-Semitism. And the idea that one of the world's biggest philanthropists who is a Holocaust survivor is somehow running this investigation.

TAPPER: Well, let me come back to the Soros thing in a second. I got you here. But I just want to note one other thing, which is that Donald Trump did respond to this in his inimitable way. He said on Truth Social, "Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about false accusations and fake stories sometime in the future as he gets older, wiser and better known when he's unfairly and illegally attacked, even classmates that are underage or possibly a man."

This is attached to a story about how when DeSantis was a teacher in his 20s, there's a photograph of him with some high school kids a few years younger than him who knows what's going on. But possibly a man. What's the insinuating there and you say, oh, fate stories are coming your way about maybe even a man Ron?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, some people are saying, right?

TAPPER: Right.

TALEV: So my initial take away from that is that these guys are ready to bloody each other. They are ready to go at it. DeSantis is signaling that he is not going to come rush to Donald Trump's defense to preserve his front runner status in the early nominating contest. And Donald Trump is saying, if you punch me, I'm going to punch you back. And it's going to get nasty. And, and the Soros stuff on the side, too, right? TAPPER: Right.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. No, I mean, I think Donald Trump clearly needs to figure out how he's going to attack Ron DeSantis. There have been all sorts of thoughts about nicknames like meatball Ron, I think was one of them. Ron DeSanctus, Ron DeSanctimonious. And now he is going --

TAPPER: Ron DeSanctus doesn't mean --



HENDERSON He keep saying it, yes, I don't know. But now he's sort of going high school locker room, right --


HENDERSON: -- with this idea that somehow he might be gay, and there are whispers about him. We'll see how effective it is. I think there's going to be more to come. It's going to be nasty. Ron DeSantis, who did very well in Florida hasn't faced somebody who's sort of down and dirty in the way that Donald Trump --

TALEV: But Trump hasn't either. But Trump has not either.

PONNURU: You know, some races end up in the gutter. This one starting there --


PONNURU: he hasn't even started and it's already there. But what strikes me about this is that Trump is not holding anything in reserve. He's already gone to about, you know, the most vicious attack, whereas there are multiple lines of attack that DeSantis has opened on Trump. He hasn't taken yet. He's been very careful in actually not frontally taking on.


PONNURU: Today was as harsh as he's been about him.

TAPPER: He doesn't really need to, he's got --


TAPPER: -- prosecutors in three major cities doing it. OK, now to the Soros thing. So just to give people an update, you mentioned this. George Soros is he's billionaire, philanthropist, and political activist, very progressive. Through a network of nonprofits and affiliated PACs, Soros has contributed more than $100 million to progressive candidates and causes just in the 2022 elections. So he has helped elect progressive prosecutors that is true, but obviously, because he's Jewish and a Holocaust survivor, there's also peep there also people who use the Soros thing as a smear that's also true. Here is DeSantis and Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House both talking about that.



DESANTIS: I have not seen any facts yet and so I don't know what's going to happen. But I do know this, the Manhattan district attorney, is a Soros funded prosecutor.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is a DA, that got more than a million dollars from Soros, that actually funds and for political purposes on who becomes a DA.


TAPPER: So you automatically think that that's anti-Semitic to do that, or?

HAQ: Oh, I think it taps into something that exists online right now. And, yes, you criticize any philanthropist that you want. But when you specifically talk about Soros, giving $32 billion of his personal wealth to charities around the world, but you hone in on him as a Holocaust survivor, and then talk about this the old conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world that has been there throughout the Trump campaign, it has been there for for weeks leading up to this new cycle.

And so it's just a quick catchphrase that signals to all of their followers that are, yes, this is an explanation for what's really going on with our guy Donald Trump.

TAPPER: So we -- and we would see this on the other side, too, just to be fair, like whenever Sheldon Adelson, who has since passed away, whenever he or Netanyahu would do something and they were portrayed as puppet masters leading Donald Trump around, et cetera. People on the left would say that's anti-Semitic. What's your take?

PONNURU: So I sort of view it the way I view criticism of Israel, it can be anti-Semitic, but isn't -- it isn't necessarily anti-Semitic. And we shouldn't allow the fact that sometimes like to criticize it, chill our debate about it. And the case of sorrows, it's not just one guy being singled out.

This is the major funder of this campaign to elect progressive prosecutors around the country. A campaign that has been remarkably successful, and of course, is going to be controversial. This, you know, it would be sort of unnatural to attack without mentioning source, especially since source has been a major liberal funder, and has gotten to be a bogeyman for conservatives for years and years.

Now, I think it's important to try to keep your distance from the anti-Semitic criticism of him. But I think that you just have to allow that the debate going to include criticism.

HAQ: This points to a bigger problem of the fact that DAs have to be elected.


HAQ: And there was recently a story about how President, rather, former New York real estate mogul Donald Trump was one of the biggest donors to the former DA of New York City. So this is the process --

TAPPER: The Morgan Thau (ph) or --

HAQ: Morgan Thau (ph).


PONNURU: There for a long time.

HAQ: And he was the same district.

HENDERSON: And I think there's another sort of disturbing part of this as well, the fact that some of these folks who were involved in these prosecutions are African American, and sometimes you hear Donald Trump, for instance, say these people are going after him because he's white, that their race is --

TAPPER: They call him racist. I mean, he calls them racist. He calls them racist, yes.

HENDERSON: He's the victim --

TALEV: There is been a 20-year campaign in the conservative movement to discredit George Soros and to make his name synonymous with something bad. And I would just say, for anyone who's watching this, if you want to know what you're supposed to think of George Soros like, it's pretty easy to do your own homework. Google the Open Society Foundation, find out what causes he's given to.

He's been part of progressive causes. He's also been part of ensuring people have access to the ballot. The reason a lot of people have negative associations with his name is because of conspiracy theories. And I think that's the trick is.

If you look at George Soros as politics, and you say, I don't like that, that's fine. But if you hear his name and think it's something bad, I don't know what it is. It's some QAnon thing. Like that's where the problem was, it's important to do your own homework and do your own judgment.

TAPPER: Yes. One other defense that I thought was interesting from Speaker McCarthy, let's take a listen to this.


MCCARTHY: Doesn't matter what side of the issue you're on. It doesn't matter if this was President Trump, or if this was a Democrat. It should be equal justice in America and stop going after people because you have political differences.


TAPPER: Now, we should know that in response, New York Congressman Dan Goldman tweeted, "Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden would like a word."

HAQ: Who is he talking to when he says stop going after them? Regular voters or actual lawyers, and people who are working to uphold the rule of law, right? There are three separate cases and -- four separate cases and three different jurisdictions that is not part of any political conspiracy theory. What it is, is trying to hold the commander in chief accountable in the same way that anybody else in the United States would be accountable to the law.

TAPPER: I guess one of the interesting arguments here is that there are more serious charges from Special Counsel Jack Smith, on what's going on in Fulton County. And then this one from Bragg, which which is, you know, as far as we know, based on misdemeanor, based on some accounting procedures, they'd clearly were trying to hide the hush money payment from the voters and probably from his wife as well. But does it taint all of it, I guess?

PONNURU: Well, I think that if you are pro-Trump, you're going to try to use it to taint all of them particularly if Bragg moves first, which is the way it's looking.


But, you know, this is I think has a lot of the markers of a weak case. We're talking about something that the federal prosecutors decided not to take. We're talking about something that Bragg's own office declined to go forward with last year and it led to a lot of protests. And it has all the makings of a political prosecution. Of course, Republicans are going to object to that.

TAPPER: We should also just note, another issue, President Biden issued his first veto today about a resolution to overturn a retirement investment rule that would allow managers of retirement funds to consider the impact of climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when picking investments.

So basically, it's people protesting the Biden administration was trying to encourage what his critics would call woke policies and investment funds. And the House and Senate said no, and Biden saying, yes, but it's again, this woke businesses is --

HENDERSON: Yes, whatever the hill woke means, right?


HENDERSON: I mean, nobody seem --

TAPPER: Well, considering environmental, social and governance factors when picking investments.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes, yes. TAPPER: And Joe Manchin would say you should just be picking what's going to make money.

HENDERSON: Right. Listen, you know, Joe Biden has been in a bit of a tough place, trying to sort of be good on the environment. But of course, he has this other really loud chorus of conservatives who were screaming, woke, they're screaming this about this bank, for instance, and saying that there will policy somehow led to the collapse of this bank, even though it was really about interest rates and general mismanagement.

So no, but I think this whole idea of woke is going to be a big topic and sort of confusing, a nonsensical one in the 2024 discourse among Republicans. So we'll see where it goes.

TAPPER: It's also just tough to explain.


TAPPER: -- which is one of the reasons why -- we'll see how successful it is --


TAPPER: -- but it's difficult to explain what it all means. Some people struggle to define it as well. Thanks one and all for being here.

Coming up, there Murdaugh, murder saga continues in South Carolina. Body could soon be exhumed to see if the family was tied to that death. The new details next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, the body of Stephen Smith, a teenager who was found dead in the middle of a South Carolina Road in 2015 could soon be exhumed. This comes nearly two years after the investigation into Smith's death had been reopened. And that was because new information came to light following the 2021 deaths of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

All this renewed scrutiny over Smith's death comes just weeks after disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife Maggie and their son Paul.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us now from Charlotte, North Carolina. Dianne, why is the Murdaugh family linked to this case, despite there being no connection made by police?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So that's important that no direct connection has been made by police. But in part, the reason why they're linked to it is because of a statement from the state law enforcement division that they put out in June of 2021 where they said they were opening the death investigation into the killing of Stephen Smith, because of new information that was gathered during the course of the double murder investigation of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.

Now, look, from that point on, we've seen rumors and innuendo, a lot of it has found its way into documentaries and podcasts and social media were rabid followers of that Murdaugh murder trial, began to talk about the Stephen Smith case. Buster Murdaugh, the oldest and only surviving son of Alex Murdaugh was a classmate of Stephen Smith's and has been at the center of those rumors.

He broke his silence today in a statement sent to CNN, where he basically said he hadn't been talking about this at all because, look, his father was on trial for the murder of his brother and his mother. He's been grieving. He added, "The baseless -- these baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death. And my heart goes out to the Smith family."

Jake, state law enforce division has never ever discussed what that information they gleaned from the Murdaugh murders investigation was in terms of Stephen Smith.

TAPPER: So what are the next steps into the investigation into Smith's death?

GALLAGHER: So there's two investigations. Now one of them being that state investigation, which we were told on Sunday is still ongoing and active and it has -- they've made progress. And then the other one is a new private investigation that was announced today by the mother of Stephen Smith and her attorneys. And their first step they say, is to petition a judge so they can exhume Stephen's body.


ERIC BLAND, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF STEPHEN SMITH: What we're going to do is start over. We're going to hire experts who are going to come into this case, with a fresh set of eyes, with an open mind, without any preconceived conclusions.

SANDY SMITH, MOTHER OF STEPHEN SMITH: It's important to me because I mean, I just love my son. And since I couldn't protect him, I'm going to fight for him. I want to thank everyone who's donated and supported us from the beginning. And but I hope to find the real reason for Stephen's death and the real why.


GALLAGHER: And look the way that she is likely going to pay for much of that, Jake, more than $70,000 have been donated to a GoFundMe so they can begin this independent investigation, as well as attempt to afford exhuming the body of her son.

TAPPER: Dianne Gallagher in Charlotte, North Carolina, thanks so much.

The climate time bomb is ticking and it may already be too late to reverse the damage. What you need to know, that's next.


TAPPER: Our Earth matters series now a dire warning that, quote, the climate time bomb is ticking. A new report from the United Nations warns that the world is on the brink of catastrophic global warming and basically no nation is on track to keep the promises they've all made to try to stop.

CNN's Bill Weir is here. Bill, tell us more.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, each one of these six reports over the last 40 years has gotten more and more dire. This one is unequivocal. It is worse than we ever thought it was going to be. And the time is ticking in order to defuse this climate bomb.

No miracles are needed in terms of technology. We know what is needed is the political will and that is get off of fuels at burn as soon as is humanely possible. Of course giant oil companies and Petro states have no interest in changing the status quo. That's why we haven't seen any cut in fossil fuel use in recent years.


Just a minor stop in the rate of growth less than a percentage point, this report is calling for a 50 percent cut by 2030, just seven years from now, and then a total cut by 2050. And that alone just gives us a 50 percent chance of holding it at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

TAPPER: Realistically, Bill, can anything be done? Is it just too late?

WEIR: It's not too late. It's never too late. It's a matter of how much is worth saving on the other side of 1.5 right there. And it's the moral thing to do for rich countries. And they can start by helping developing countries not cut down their forest and support the people who depend on those forests.

It can help by helping coal towns' transition in a humane just way. There's so much that can be done and it's going to take everything, everyone in all aspects of life, these little things will add up. But we can't give up on this. And there's so many incredible solutions right there for the taking.

People will be make fortunes on this new transition. It's just the big question about how long, big oil and the lobby can drag out the fight and how much life will be lost as a result of that.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thanks so much.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to it -- if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcast all two hours just sitting there like a delicious giant taco.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM". See you tomorrow.