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The Lead with Jake Tapper

TikTok CEO Testifying On Capitol Hill As Lawmakers Call To Ban App; Trump Mocks Calls For Supporters To Be "Peaceful"; Politico: Sinema Ridicules Senate Dems As "Old Duded Eating Jell-O"; Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-TX), Is Interviewed About Afghanistan Withdrawal; Rep. McCaul Vows To Get Answers On Botched Afghanistan Withdrawal; Milley: "Failure" Of Afghanistan The Result Of 20 Yrs. Of Decisions; New Book Highlights Behind-The-Scenes Drama & Internal Tensions Among Justices. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 23, 2023 - 17:00   ET



SHOU CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK INC.: This is a complex topic. Today, all data --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, it's not that complex. Yes or no, do they have access to user data?

CHEW: We have -- after Project Texas is done, the answer is no.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER (voice-over): Project Texas is TikTok's name for its ongoing effort to move all U.S. data onto servers hosted by the American company Oracle, which is based in Texas. That defense, however, falling on deaf ears.

CHEW: I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us. We have not provide it.

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D-CA): I find that actually preposterous.

REP. JAY OBERNOLTE (R-CA), ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: I don't believe that it is technically possible to accomplish what TikTok says it will accomplish through Project Texas.

BERTRAND (voice-over): Lawmakers provided no evidence that the Chinese government has used the app to surveil Americans. But they repeatedly pointed to an episode from last year when four TikTok employees, including two based in China, were fired after improperly accessing journalist data.

CHEW: We do not condone the effort by certain former employees to access U.S. TikTok user data in an attempt to identify the source of leaked confidential information.

BERTRAND (voice-over): Even so, governments around the world are moving to ban the app, including the Biden administration, which now prohibits TikTok on federal devices. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the app to, quote, "be ended" in a separate hearing on Thursday. REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Is it a threat to the United States security?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe that it is, yes.

BUCK: And shouldn't a threat to United States security ban?

BLINKEN: It should be ended one way or another, and there are different ways of doing that.

BERTRAND (voice-over): The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee also hinting that the U.S. knows more about TikTok's risks than has been publicly revealed.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: One of the things that my legislation would do is require the intelligence community to declassify as much information as possible. So it's not don't just trust the government.


BERTRAND: So, Jake, the CEO of TikTok clearly trying to convince lawmakers here that TikTok does not pose a national security threat to the United States because the parent company that owns TikTok, Byte Dance, does not have a lot of control over the use and where the U.S. data actually goes because that data is being stored on American servers in Texas, overseen by an American company. But the underlying theme of this entire hearing was lawmakers essentially telling him that they do not believe him. And I should note that TikTok issued a statement after this hearing saying that while Chew, the CEO tried to answer lawmakers questions, the hearing was dominated by, quote, "political grandstanding." Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The Republican Commissioner of the FCC, Federal Communications Commission, Brendan Carr, joins me now. Thank you so much for being here. Always good to have you.

So, in order to ban the app from the United States, Congress or President Biden would need to prove TikTok is a national security threat. Did you see any hard evidence presented that it is?

BRENDAN CARR, COMMISSIONER, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION: I think we have that evidence now. And I think this hearing really couldn't have gone any worse for TikTok.

The number one job I think they had today was to try to establish some level of credibility, some level of trust, I think you saw on a bipartisan basis it wasn't there. But the evidence is clear. Look, they've been telling us that there's very limited, if any, data flows back to China. We have internal communications now showing, no, that's not true, everything is seen in China.

They have denied reports earlier on that they were using the app to illicitly surveil the location of Americans, calling the stories on reporting on that lacking journalistic rigor. They've had to come forward now and admit, yes, were engaged in that conduct. The FBI and DOJ are investigating them for that conduct. And we have evidence that ahead of our most recent midterm elections, they allowed CCP state media to set up accounts without disclosing that affiliation and run divisive videos targeting U.S. politicians ahead of those midterms. So, we're at a point now where we have the evidence that really didn't exist, at least publicly two or three years ago when we last went down this path.

TAPPER: And is there more? We heard the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, talk about there's more -- basically suggesting there's more than what we know already. We know it came out in Natasha's piece just now about them accessing American journalists' data, trying to find out who was leaking them information about TikTok. Is there a lot more stuff there that we don't know about?

CARR: I think so. It almost seems every week a new drop comes out back. Just this week, Forbes reported that a TikTok employee reached out to them and identified a tool called NSA to go as the employee referred to it, that allows them to collect real time information, including on U.S. users, to build what they called a digital dossier. So I think the tide has been moving out here on TikTok for quite a while. But I think today's hearing shows that maybe the dam is about to break.

It takes a while to get stuff done in Washington, so there's still some hurdles to actually getting a ban or a divestiture. But there's a chance here that this could actually move very quickly, given how poorly this hearing went.

TAPPER: So, the CEO of TikTok made the suggestion that they don't collect any more data than any other social media company, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera. And what do you think about that? I mean, those social media companies do collect a lot of information. I mean, they know who I am and what I like when I log on. There's always some, you know, Philadelphia Eagles T shirt they're trying to sell me or something.

CARR: Yes, look, there's some studies that have come out that showed no, in fact, there's more data and more vulnerabilities with TikTok. But we also based on level of concerns with all that data that you're mentioning that other social media companies hoover up, and we need to put some baseline privacy protections in place. But we can't kick the can down the road and wait to get that done when we have so much evidence on the clear and present immediate danger that TikTok. So let's deal with TikTok. And then, yes, let's put some baseline protections in to get consumers for every social media application that they're on.


TAPPER: So, earlier today at the hearing, Congressman Gary Palmer asked the CEO, Mr. Chew, about this exchange I had with a TikTok executive, Michael Beckerman. Here's that clip from the hearing. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GARY PALMER (R-AL): Yes, I want to know why, when Mr. Beckerman was on with Jake Tapper on CNN and asked repeatedly to condemn Chinese Communist government's treatment of the Uyghurs, when that treatment has been classified by the United States as a genocide, when a U.N. report classified as a crime against humanity, why after multiple questions, Mr. Beckhamman refused to address that.


TAPPER: So, the reason I had asked that was because I wanted to see how afraid they were of the Chinese government, given that they say that they're an independent company. Here is part of that exchange with Mr. Beckerman.


TAPPER: Do you acknowledge that the Chinese government has these Uyghurs and others in concentration camps?

MICHAEL BECKERMAN, V.P., HEAD OF PUBLIC POLICY, AMERICAS AT TIKTOK: Well, that's not something that I focus on.

TAPPER: What do you mean it's not something you focus on? You work for a Chinese government company, and the Chinese are accused of concentration camps and ethnic genocide.

BECKERMAN: You can look - you can find all this content on TikTok --

TAPPER: But why won't you acknowledge that? I mean --

BECKERMAN: I'm just not an expert on what's happening in China, so it's not an area that I'm focusing on.


TAPPER: And the reason Palmer cited that interview is because the idea is you work for TikTok and you're under control of the Chinese government.

CARR: Yes. One of the points TikTok tries to maintain is that they are totally independent from the communist regime back in China. I think that exchange shows that doesn't really seem to be the case.

We have other evidence as well that show that there's employees that are double or triple hated. They work for TikTok, they work for Byte Dance, and they work for the CCP. In fact, there's CCP committees within these organizations. So I think that was one area of concern today where bipartisan, Republicans and Democrats, exposed some pretty serious weaknesses in their claim that there's a firewall between them and the Chinese government. In fact, the Chinese government recently came out and said we would not support the sale or divestiture of TikTok, which is something the White House has come out and indicated that they're wanting. Again, if you claim to be independent from the CCP, but yet the CCP can veto the sale of the company, it kind of falls apart.

TAPPER: And the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, again, the members of Congress tried to get TikTok to criticize the treatment of the Uyghur minority, Muslim minority by the CCP, they wouldn't do it.

CARR: That's right. Yes, I think this is very challenging. There's another report that came out just in the past week, 113 pages that just detailed the controls and links that the CCP has. TikTok has said, look, don't worry about this Project Texas, it's going to minimize the risk. But I think the testimony today showed that that plan has, you know, more holes than Swiss cheese and it really wouldn't block.

In fact, I think really that was the key coming out of the hearing. Democrat Ranking Member Pallone said, I don't believe that your Project Texas mitigation measures would actually prevent the CCP from having control. So that was one big thing out of this hearing.

TAPPER: All right. FCC commissioner, Brendan Carr, always good to have you on. Thank you, sir.

And join CNN's Abby Phillip tonight for a Primetime special, "Is Time Up for TikTok? That's at 09:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

Coming up, I'm going to speak with the House Republican chairman threatening to subpoena Secretary of State Antony Blinken to find out exactly what he's asking for. Plus, owe the shade from Kyrsten Sinema. The senator once a Democrat now an Independent, hear what she reportedly said about the Democrats who she used to caucus with and hang out with. Stay with us.




REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't think people should protest this, no. And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn't believe that either.

I mean, I think the thing that you may misinterpret when the -- when President Trump talks, when someone says that they can protest, he would probably be referring to my tweet, educate people about what's going on. He's not talking in a harmful way.


TAPPER: Golly. Speaker McCarthy always takes the bright side of things when it comes to Donald Trump and interpreting. It's really quite remarkable.

But I have to say, this morning, Donald Trump took to Truth Social to explain what he means about the protests he wants. He wrote in all caps on Truth Social, "Everybody knows I'm 100% innocent, including Bragg," the Manhattan D.A., "but he doesn't care. He is just carrying out the plans of the radical left lunatics. Our country is being destroyed as they tell us to be peaceful."

I mean -- all right, our panel is here. Heidi, that really sounds like he is belittling the idea of protests being peaceful.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, here's the bad news. We were all told six years ago that this type of behavior would escalate, and it has, because this is an open call for protest. Actually, you could argue different on January 6, even though a lot of people thought that was direct call for protest, this is.

And also, even if there are not massive protests, it can -- there can be a very small group of determined people who can really cause a lot of danger and harm. At the same time, it does seem that given that there have been such significant consequences for a lot of those who did participate in January 6, that a lot of his protesters are -- who participated last time are saying, no, you know, I'll take a pass. Folks that you had on this network, for instance, were saying that there wasn't much activity to that extent outside the courtroom on Tuesday when we all expected this to happen.

TAPPER: Kevin, how did you interpret that, our country is being destroyed as they tell us to be peaceful? It sounded to me, and I showed it to a law enforcement officer who was there on January 6, and he couldn't -- he wasn't surprised, but again, shocked. He considered it to be an incitement to violence.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right. And for me, I'm not surprised. I mean, if there's one thing that we've always known about Donald Trump, is he just doesn't have the same concern for process, for rule of law. And he only has one speed, and the one speed is to attack anybody that he believes is a perceived threat. And that's exactly what he's doing here.

And he's actually playing to the worst instincts of many of his supporters in the sense that he's trying not to make it about him, but he's saying, this is an affront towards you, and so you should rally to my defense and rally against this miscarriage of justice against me. And so, it's a huge concern, especially after what we know happened on January 6.


TAPPER: Yes. And look, obviously, everybody has a right to peacefully protest, but that sounds like he's belittling the idea of peacefully protesting. And also he's lashing out against all of his perceived enemies on Truth social today. He's attacking Ron DeSantis, Special Counsel Jack Smith, the New York Attorney General Letitia James, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis, and the Manhattan -- about the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, he writes, quote, "He is doing the work of anarchists and the devil." He is doing the work of anarchists and the devil.

Now, look, I -- like on one level that's like -- look how wacko this is getting. But on another level, if you convince your followers, many of whom believe in the devil, that this person is actually the devil, I mean, they might take action accordingly. AUDIE CORNISH, CNN HOST, THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH PODCAST: I want to acknowledge where we are in a different place. First of all, he's doing all of this on Truth Social, which has a far, sort of, lower reach, right, than Twitter and all the other, sort of, social media networks he was using before. We're not seeing protests in the streets. So I think people have learned from the hundreds of people who ended up under investigation due to January 6 that maybe you don't run out in the street when Donald Trump says so.

And I think for us in the media, we've learned that this whole idea of him being -- saying something figuratively, but not literally, all this kind of nonsense, it doesn't work anymore. He says what he means, we believe what he says, and we take it seriously in a far different way than maybe we did a few years ago. And so, it sort of takes away the need to have all of this speculation about what he might mean.

He means what he's saying. If he had his way, he would not like to see any of the people investigating him hold on to their jobs. And we know from his behavior during his term that he can easily take action to move people out of jobs that he doesn't want them and when they are investigating something he doesn't like. So, on the one hand, yes, it is very outrageous. On the other hand, all of us have learned so much in the last four, five, six years, and maybe this means our entire system is sort of better prepared to handle it.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: He's also trying to weaken the people's belief in the government institutions, right? Like he's continuing to make these attacks on the Department of Justice, on all of these prosecutors, people who are either, you know, duly elected by voters or also appointed by someone. And so, I don't think we should minimize what that is doing and how that is eroding our democracy as well.

CORNISH: I'm interested in what this means for the FBI or law enforcement agencies. We watch what happened when the president -- when the former president systematically denigrated the intelligence apparatus while he was in office, constantly sort of speaking ill of them. You know, there are a lot of Trump supporting Republicans supporting people in these law enforcement agencies. I just wonder sometimes what they're feeling as he is constantly bringing his entire like media circus down on them.

TAPPER: Some of them showed up on January 6 and got arrested.

CORNISH: That's true.

TAPPER: There were members of law enforcement and former members, too.

Let's turn to a story that's more fun. So, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes that Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is courting Republican donors. And in these meetings she is, according to JMart's reporting, ridiculing her former Democratic colleagues, describing their weekly caucus lunches as old dudes eating Jell-O with everyone talking about how great they are. What do you -- I mean, it is funny. What do you make of it? JOHNSON: It's funny, but it's also scary because here's the reality, Democrats have an uphill battle when it comes to maintaining this very small Senate majority in 2024. And to the point, like, Democrats in the Senate have kind of been playing nice with her, and yet here she is going to court the Republican Party by, you know, making all of these statements. And so, it is really challenging and frustrating, especially as we see what's going to happen in Arizona, how she could potentially split.

TAPPER: But I mean, old dudes eating Jell-O talking about how great they are, is that wrong? Is that inaccurate?

PRZYBYLA: No, but there's a lot of Republican old dudes --


PRZYBYLA: -- that like to eat Jell-O, too. And by the way, there's a lot of private equity donor, white old dudes who eat Jell-O in the room that she was talking to in courting those donors.

TAPPER: Right.

PRZYBYLA: My guess is that she's considering a couple of paths here, and both of them probably include Republican donors. One, she runs again and tries to run as an Independent and pull off some Republicans. But more likely, potentially, she's looking for a job outside of the Senate because there's not really a good path there for her. This is a three way race, it would just help the Republicans elect whoever the Republican candidate is.

And I think the writing was on the wall when she stood up and blocked the, you know, closing the loophole for private equity, having different tax rates because those people are not her people. Those are not her constituents. But they are if she's looking for a job after the Senate.

TAPPER: In the story, I think it was Mitt Romney says that he theoretically would be willing to campaign for her.


TAPPER: Mark Kelly was on my show last Sunday saying that he's worked great with her. I think people are still afraid of her, alienating her.

MADDEN: Well, I think the Washington read on this, which I tried to resist doing, was, OK, what's the strategy here? Try to parse out like, some, you know, unique new strategy. I don't think there is one. I really don't.


I mean, all the leverage that she had was going to be playing nice with Democrats. So.

You know, unique new strategy? I don't think there is one, I really don't. I mean, all the leverage that she had was going to be playing nice with Democrats so that they maybe wouldn't put up another candidate and she could run as an Independent and sort of thread the needle against with Independents and Democrats against a Republican in Arizona. I just don't see how that happens now. Now, I think this emboldens all of her critics and enemies.

TAPPER: What do you think?

CORNISH: Yes, I mean, I think you can't have this kind of conversation in private anymore. Maybe you could back when these were all young men eating Jell-O, but we're not in this period. So, any strategy she might have had, it's playing out in public in real time with both her supporters and the people who are agitating for the Democrats to put someone up against her to make their move.

TAPPER: And there's this other story in the Politico article Sinema telling the story to a group of Republican lobbyists about a reaction to a White House phone call, quote, "that was Klain," meaning then White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, "as she quickly flashed her middle finger in the air to demonstrate what she thinks of the powerful and now departed White House Chief of Staff." But again, Schumer is trying to keep Sinema at least partly aligned with Democrats. Asked about this article, and Schumer praised her as a very effective legislator, which, by the way, we should know is true.


TAPPER: She has really been a very successful legislator in terms of bringing coalitions together.

JOHNSON: I mean, that's the hard part, right? We actually need her to pass some pieces of legislation, but at the same time, what we're talking about, what does this do in 2024? We want to get rid of her because at times she has stalled some big pieces of legislation for the President's agenda. And so, I think you see Democrats trying to figure out, OK, how do we play nice so we can get these few things passed through Senate? But also, we all would like to get rid of her.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks to one and all.

And don't forget, if you look at your calendar what day is it? It's Audie Cornish Thursday. That means you should check out the newest episode of Audie's podcast. This week, she helps make sense of the very confusing economic headlines, from inflation and job numbers to the bank failures. "The Assignment with Audi Cornish," available now from whence you get your podcasts.

And happy Audie Cornish Thursday to you as always.

Coming up, an emotional plea for answers and accountability for the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Stay with us.


[17:26:33] TAPPER: Some emotional opening remarks during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing today, Chairman Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, featured the mother-in-law of 23-year-old Marine Nicole Gee. She is one of the 13 U.S. Service Members killed in the 2021 Abbey Gate bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Take a listen. \


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I'll never forget giving her a hug and she said, I'm devastated to know that this tragedy could have been prevented and my daughter could still be alive today.

BLINKEN: I am humble in your presence. I think of the 13, I think of the 2,402 Americans who lost their lives over 20 years in Afghanistan serving and protecting our country.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Kylie Atwood.

And Kylie, Chairman McCaul also warned the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, that he needed to hand over these key documents regarding the botched withdrawal or he would face a subpoena. What documents does the chairman want?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the committee has asked for a tremendous number of documents from the State Department for this investigation. But there are three sets of documents that they have made clear are their priority. The first are evacuation plans that the State Department drafted up for the embassy in Kabul, so that the committee can see what kind of plans were underway to evacuate that embassy. How those plans change?

Those plans were actually provided to the committee yesterday, along with about 3,000 documents, I'm told, according to a source familiar. But then there's two other sets. There is the after action report that the State Department did, looking at how it actually conducted the withdrawal from Afghanistan and lessons learned. The Secretary of State said that that report would be shared with the committee over the course of the next few weeks. That seemed to make McCaul satisfied.

But then there's a third set of documents that's really the key here. It is the holdout because it is a dissent cable that diplomats wrote to the Secretary of State before the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, saying that there were going to be a series of problems if they didn't take action sooner to get Afghans out of the country. And the Secretary of State says that he doesn't want to provide that document because this is a way for diplomats to confidentially express their concerns to the Secretary of State. He is happy, he said, to provide briefings on the document. He just doesn't want to provide this dissent cable.

But that didn't seem to appease Congressman McCaul, the chairman of the committee who is leading the investigation into this withdrawal, saying that he still plans to issue a subpoena for that document by Monday night if they don't actually get the document. So it is teeing up a legal battle between the State Department and this committee that is investigating this withdrawal. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much.

And joining us now is the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul. Also with us, Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a 25-year-old active duty Marine who was severely wounded at Kabul Airport's Abbey Gate bombing on August 26, 2021 where 13 U.S. Service Members were killed. Sergeant Vargas Andrews is now a double amputee.

Sergeant Vargas-Andrews, let me start with you. First of all, let me just say I heard your testimony a few weeks ago and I have a lot of reverence for what you do and thank you for your service and the sacrifice you've made. It can't be easy. But there are a lot of Americans, I'm sure a lot of viewers right now who appreciate what you've done more than you can ever possibly know.

SGT. TYLER VARGAS-ANDREWS, SEVERELY INJURED IN ABBEY GATE BOMBING AT KABUL AIRPORT: That means a lot, Jake. I really appreciate it. It's something that need to be done, and I have the ability to do it, so, it is my responsibility to do so.

TAPPER: Let me roll some of your moving testimony from two weeks ago on Capitol Hill.


VARGAS-ANDREWS: My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast. My abdomen had been ripped open. Every inch of my exposed body, except for my face, took ball bearings and shrapnel. The withdrawal, the withdrawal was a catastrophe, in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence. The 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for.


TAPPER: So you refer there to an inexcusable lack of accountability. What does accountability look like for you?

VARGAS-ANDREWS: For me, accountability looks like regardless of who's in what leadership roles in our military or our government, you know, those people are responsible for the lives that they send overseas, you know, the lives that are lost, the lives that are impacted mentally and physically, as well as the families. I think accountability looks like, you know, one answer for myself and the men and women that I served with as to why our rules of engagement were not clear, why weren't given some of those answers in the situation they're in Afghanistan at Abbey Gate? Yes, I would say those are the largest ones.

TAPPER: Perfectly reasonable.

Chairman McCaul, today you vowed to get answers going, quote, "all the way up the chain" if you need to. Retired General Frank McKenzie, the commander who oversaw the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has criticized both Trump and Biden for what occurred. Do you mean that far up the chain?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, the rules of engagement go all the way up to the National Security Council. It appeared from the testimony there were no rules of engagement on the ground at HKIA surrounded by the Taliban.

TAPPER: HKIA is the airport.

MCCAUL: Yes, the airport in Kabul. And I think most importantly, you know, Tyler saw the suicide bomber in his sights. He got his team together. He got the PSYOPs intelligence team. They identified him as the suicide bomber through an intelligence bulletin and then ran it up to his commanding officer, who then replied, you don't have permission to engage because I don't have that authority.

Well, and then they said, well, who has that authority? He couldn't answer that question.


MCCAUL: So I want to go as far I don't know how high this goes, but the idea he's not giving permission to engage, and then hours later, the bomb goes off. You have 13 servicemen and women killed, including, we saw the mother of, you know, Nicole Gee, 140 Afghans and 50 injured, including Tyler, who obviously doesn't have a leg, arm has -- had almost 50 surgeries, somebody's got to be held accountable.

TAPPER: So, Sergeant Vargas-Andrews, you posted this picture one-year after 13 of your fellow service members were killed in action, if we could put that picture up visiting one of the graves, have you been in touch with their families or the families of other service members that you were there with? What are you hearing from them?

VARGAS-ANDREWS: Yes, I have. You know, I can't say that I keep an extremely close relationship with all of them, but, you know, I talk to the ones that reach out and the ones that I can as much as I'm able to. You know, I think it's -- from what I've been told by multiple parents of the killed in action family, friends, is that, you know, there's a thank you for being that voice for their, you know, the ones that they lost. And for me, it's not a thanks that I ever need. They want answers more than I want answers.

That's not to downplay how badly I want to advocate for the men and women I served with, but, you know, there's not many other people to turn to than Chairman McCaul and those congressmen and women who've reached out to us.

TAPPER: Yes, no, you're serving in, obviously, a critical role for these individuals. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, testified before the House Appropriations Committee today. He declined to blame place -- to place blame on any one administration. He took a more holistic view, saying that the, quote, "strategic failure of Afghanistan was the culmination of decisions over 20 years." What's your response to that?

MCCAUL: Well, I do think there are a lot of bad decisions made throughout the 20 years, but the one decision that this president made was to evacuate. And the problem is he didn't really have a plan of evacuation. So, when I got briefed by the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, it was a very grim picture. And then when I talked to the State Department, a complete lack of preparation. That's precisely why I want this dissenting cable that came from the embassy in Kabul.


Twenty-three State Department employees registering dissent with a policy of the administration is very extraordinary event. This is the one document, as it was reported, that they are not willing to turn over. I think the American people deserve to know what was in that. I think the veterans deserve to know what was in that and the Gold Star Mothers. And if it is not provided by close of business Monday, I will serve that subpoena.

TAPPER: So, you're not actually a veteran, you're still an active duty --


TAPPER: -- Marine. And I wonder if you're getting any pushback for being as outspoken as you are. I hope you're not, but are you?

VARGAS-ANDREWS: No, I'm not. Honestly, I've had full support, you know, from the bottom of the Marine Corps to the top. I can't say anything bad about that at all. I've -- they've helped me along the way, given me those outlets through the Pentagon to talk to and legal aid and assistance as well, knowing and expressing that I have, you know, I can speak about what happened to me and what happened to the men and women that I served with. I've never been told otherwise, so.

TAPPER: All right. Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews and Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, thanks to both you. I really appreciate your being here. I especially appreciate your being here.

VARGAS-ANDREWS: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: My next guest has a rare perspective of the U.S. Supreme Court. She's covered it for nearly 30 years. What or rather whom, she blames for its polarizing direction. That's next.


[17:41:00] TAPPER: In our politics lead, a new book out in a few weeks, here it is demystifying one of the least transparent institutions in the entire United States, the United States Supreme Court. CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic gives us a look behind the scenes in her book "Nine Black Robes, Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and its Historic Consequences."

And Joan joins us now. She's covered the Supreme Court for nearly 30 years. And in fact, 22 years ago, in a book I called you the best Supreme Court reporter in the country.


TAPPER: That was 22 years ago.


TAPPER: And you've been doing it ever since.

BISKUPIC: I know. And I appreciated that, and I will never forget it, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: I've always -- but -- you know, it's just a fact.

So you write how the Trump era reshaped the judiciary. Hard to argue with three new justices. And also that it launched the court further into political polarization. Was there a specific moment or case when you realized this was happening?

BISKUPIC: I think I noticed it on two levels. First of all, think of the disdain that he showed for the judiciary right from the start when he --

TAPPER: Trump?



BISKUPIC: When referred to Judge Couriel out in California, who was hearing that Trump University fraud case, he derided him as a Mexican judge.


BISKUPIC: And then he talked about an Obama judge to deride him on that. So he was already bringing the judiciary down into the muck. The thing that got me that I feel like I show here, Jake, is how Trump then changed the maneuvering behind the scenes.

Chief Justice John Roberts when he was in control up to 2020 when Amy Coney Barrett came on, he would do as much as possible to avoid five four splits along partisan lines just because he was aware of how Trump's effect was tainting the public image of the judiciary. So, it was happening on two fronts, and Chief Justice John Roberts no longer has that power because he's no longer a key swing vote. And that era of avoiding any kind of real polarization behind the scenes at the Supreme Court is over.

TAPPER: It's over. You gave an in depth look into the days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, including how her office was cleared out faster than normal. Was that symbolic of what was to come?

BISKUPIC: I thought so. Here she -- you know, she had just died after these struggles with cancer, after 27 years on the bench, her aides were grieving, and they get word that they have to clear out her chambers, move everything down to a dark, windowless old theater space in the building, this is still during COVID, to sort through all her possessions there, you know, essentially tossed out. And I found that to be symbolic of what then quickly happened on much of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy, notably, reproductive rights.

TAPPER: So, yes, obviously one of the most consequential decisions from this current court --


TAPPER: -- was the overturn of Roe v. Wade --


TAPPER: -- which Chief Justice John Roberts did not vote for. But just a few months before that, Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion was leaked. You made an interesting observation. You write, quote, "the justices who joined Alito before the 98 page document became public never wavered after the leak. Perhaps they never wavered because of the disclosure. Do you think it's possible that the person who leaked it was a conservative who wanted to make sure that these people stuck with where they were at that moment?

BISKUPIC: Well, I can tell you what the effect was. The effect was it locked in those votes. Once the five, four was out there with the leak, once the tone of that Alito opinion was out there, it made the chief's efforts at compromise, negotiating between both sides nearly impossible. I do wonder if he ever was going to make headway with someone like Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett but it became impossible just because everything was so public.

So, I know it looks then that it was a conservative who did it, but I still have no evidence of that. But I don't know who did it. But I know the effect of it.

TAPPER: Yes. And you know who I think that is. We'll talk about that off camera.


Joan Biskupic, thank you so much. Her new book is "Nine Black Robes, Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and its Historic Consequences." It comes out April 4, but you can order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever right now, so please do so.

Turning to our National League, the Anti-Defamation League has published a frightening new report about the rise again in anti- Semitic attacks in the United States. Let's head over to the "Situation Room" where Alex Marquardt is in for Wolff Blitzer.

And Alex, you're going to dig into this report tonight.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, we are. A horrific and dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents all across the country. According to the Anti-Defamation League they've been keeping track of these incidents since 1979. And in this new report, they say that last year, 2022, saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since they started keeping track. Some 3,697, almost 3,700 antisemitic incidents.

Compared to the year prior, 2021, that's almost 1,000 more or a 36 percent jump. So our colleague, Brian Todd, is going to be digging into this report. He spoke with the head of the ADL, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Thank you so much, Alex. We're going to see you in a few minutes for that important reporting.

Severe does not begin to describe what California's drought has been like over the years. So, has all this recent rain, this deluge, helped? New numbers just came in. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead, a bit of welcome weather news in California as drought conditions in that state continue to improve for the fourth consecutive week. But there's a catch. As CNN's Stephanie Elam reports, drought conditions are only improving because of the terrible storm systems that have been pummeling the region since December.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From relentless rain to suffocating snow and widespread flooding, even tornadoes and fierce hurricane force winds, California's wet season has been anything but normal, with at least 12 significant atmospheric river fueled storms sweeping into the state since December, wiping out much of the oppressive multiyear drought.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report, California's conditions improved for the fourth week in a row. More than a third of the state still falls in drought conditions. But compare that to December, when nearly all of the state was in some level of a water deficit, a dire situation that held for nearly two years.

Since October 1, parts of Northern California have measured 150 percent to 200 percent of their normal annual rainfall. On the first full day of spring, five daily rainfall records were broken in the Los Angeles area, including a downtown measurement that had stood for 130 years. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the snowpack, California's frozen reservoir continues to expand to unprecedented depth. The Southern Sierra is approaching 300 percent abnormal, marking a level never reached since formal record keeping began in the 1950s.

While many reservoirs that previously held just a fraction of their capacity are once again water abundant, officials say it's not enough to completely pull California out of drought.

JEANINE JONES, INTERSTATE RESOURCES MANAGER, C.A. DEPT. OF WATER RESEOURCES: The only thing which isn't going to recover this year will be groundwater levels, because groundwater basins have been depleted due to many years of drought, and that depletion is too large to refill in a single year, even if it's a very wet one.

ELAM (on camera): If people say to you that they don't need to conserve water anymore in California, what do you say to them?

JONES: Well, we have this little thing called climate change, in which in most years we will have hotter and drier conditions. We expect, in the relatively near term, say 2040 or so, Mother Nature will have cut our water supplies and in the 10 percent to 20 percent range, depending on where you're located.

ELAM (voice-over): So despite all of this rain and snow, scientists say climate change is demanding Californians rethink how we consume and conserve water.


ELAM: And, Jake, I want to show you where I'm standing right now and what a difference a year makes, because 13 months ago, I was on your show to talk about how bad the drought was, I was standing down there. Now, if you take a look at this river where I was standing, you can't even get to. All the plants that were growing there are now being overtaken by the water.

And speaking of the plants, that's actually a concern because there has been so much water in California. This vegetation is going to grow all over the place. But then as the dry months get here, it's going to dry out. And that means we could be in for a very tough fire season this year, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles, thank you so much.

In our pop culture lead, now a behind the scenes look at when Jason Sudeikis and the rest of the cast from "Ted Lasso" visited the white House this week to discuss mental health.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of the reason we're probably asked by the universe to go through hard things is so that we could tell the tale about it afterwards, make some positive come out of it.


TAPPER: Join us for a special sit down interview with Jason Sudeikis on a wide range of topics. CNN primetime, the Ted Lasso phenomenon, Jason Sudeikis one-one is tomorrow night at 09:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @jaketapper. Tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD from whence you get your podcast. All 2 hours just sitting there like a delicious lemon meringue pie.

Our coverage continues now with, one, Alex Marquardt in the "Situation Room." But first, you can follow actress and activist Eva Longoria as she explores her Mexican roots and shares the connection to the country she calls her second home in a brand new CNN original series.



EVA LONGORIA, ACTRESS AND ACTIVIST (on camera): I don't know the secret to happiness. All I know is every time I eat Mexican food, I'm happy.


LONGORIA (voice-over): I'm Eva Longoria, born and bred in Texas with Mexican American roots.

(on camera)I'm going to get a T-shirt that says more salsa.

(voice-over): I'm exploring Mexico to see how the people, their lands and their past have shaped a culinary tradition as diverse as its 32 states.

(on camera): We're here.

Today, we are going to be making our food pilgrimage.

Look at that. I don't know if I've ever been this excited to eat anything.

How do I do this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Cut it like this.

LONGORIA (on camera): I was going to do this, that's why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You can also do that.

LONGORIA (voice-over): The people here are so secure in who they are and where they come from.

(on camera): You are an artist.

You guys are amazing storytellers.


LONGORIA (voice-over): Mexico is going through a major makeover to emerge as one of the world's greatest food destinations. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what brings people to Mexico? The food culture. I fell in love with it.

LONGORIA (on camera): Long live Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eva Longoria, Searching for Mexico, premiere Sunday at 10:00 on CNN.