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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Taking Reporters' Questions; Biden Makes First Public Comments About Attacks In Syria; Biden: U.S. Airstrikes Targeted Those Who Attacked Our Personnel; U.S. Forces Targeted For The Second Time Friday By Suspected Iranian-Backed Forces In Syria; Judge Orders Top Trump Aides To Testify In Jan. 6 Probe. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 17:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you think many leading countries are choosing to form competing partnerships? And what does that mean for the world?

Prime Minister Trudeau --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Canada recently banned TikTok on government devices. Knowing what are you comfortable with the idea of your children or family members using TikTok? Thank you.

BIDEN: I've respond to the question first. Well, first of all, look, in 10 years, Russia and China have had 40 meetings, 40 meetings. And I disagree with the basic premise of your question. I have -- we have, you know, significantly expanded our alliances. I haven't seen that happen with China and or Russia or anybody else in the world.

We're in a situation in the United States where NATO is stronger. We're all together. The G7, the quad, the ASEAN, Japan and Korea. I have -- my staff pointed out to me I have now met with 80 percent of the world leaders just since I've been president. We're the ones expanding the alliances. Opposition is not.

Name for me where that's going and tell me what -- I don't mean literally, but rhetorically, tell me how, in fact, you see a circumstance where China has made some significant commitment to Russia. And what commitment can they make economically? Economically?


BIDEN: Pardon me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their trade has increased, sir.

BIDEN: Yes, their trade has increased compared to what?

Look, I don't take China lightly. I don't take Russia lightly. But I think we vastly exaggerate. I've been hearing now for the past three months how about China is going to provide significant weapons to Russia, and they're going to -- they've all been talking about that. They haven't yet.

Don't mean they won't, but they haven't yet. And if anything's happened, the west has coalesced significantly more.

How about the quad? How about Japan and the United States and South Korea? How about what we've done in terms of AUKUS?

How about what we -- I mean -- so, I just want to put it in perspective, I don't take it lightly what Japan -- what China, excuse me, and Russia are doing, and it could get significantly worse. But let's put it in perspective. We are uniting coalitions. We, we the United States and Canada.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: On TikTok, we made a similar decision to -- the American government and others when we said that we do not feel that the security profile is safe for government issued phones. There are concerns around privacy and security, and that mean -- that is why we have banned TikTok from government issued phones.

Your question, Josh (ph), was about what I do as a parent of teenagers and my kids on social media and on that, I am obviously concerned with their privacy and their security, which is why I'm glad that on their phones that happen to be issued by the government, they no longer access TikTok. That was a big frustration for them. Really? This applies to us too, dad? Yes, I just did that.

But I think as parents we are understanding, particularly of teenagers, just how much of our kids lives are lived online and how much they are impacted. Not just by influence, the way their friends are and peer pressure that all of us went through as teenagers, but a degree of misinformation, disinformation and malicious activity that is allowed for by incredible advances in technology that we are benefiting from in so many different ways.

As governments, we have to make sure we're doing what we can to keep people safe in the public square, making sure we're pushing back against hate speech and incitations to violence online. And we're carefully calibrating legislation to do that.

As a parent, spend a lot of time talking to my kids about what's online and how they should try and, you know, go outside and play a little more sports and not get so wrapped up in their phones. We're going to continue to do that. Our concerns around TikTok are around security and access to information that the Chinese government could have to government phones. It's just a personal side benefit that my kids can't use TikTok anymore that I recommend everyone to use my encouragement to try and do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To a Canadian question.

CHRISTIAN (PH): Mr. President, bonjour. Mr. Trudeau, bonjour. (through translator) Good afternoon. Mr. President, good afternoon.

Mr. Prime Minister, I'd like to ask a question about Roxham Road. The agreement has been ready for a year. Why did you wait so long? And for the 15,000 migrants that Canada will welcome, why so few? What have we offered to the U.S. in exchange?

TRUDEAU (through translator): Thank you, Christian (ph). We've known for a long time, theoretically, what modernization needed to be made to the Roxham Road to the agreement. We couldn't simply shut down Roxham Road and hope that everything would resolve itself, because we would have had problems. The border is very long. People would have looked for other places to cross.

And so, that's why we chose to modernize the Safe Third Country agreement, so that someone who attempts to cross between official crossings will be subject to the principle, the same principle as someone who should seek asylum in the first safe country they arrive at.

Now, for people who are coming from the U.S., that is where they should be asylum seekers using this means of uniformly applying the agreement, which we knew theoretically would be the solution. But it takes complex processes to manage the border. It took months before we could move forward with the announcement. But by doing so, we protected the integrity of the system, and we are also continuing to live up to our obligations with respect to asylum seekers.

At the same time, we continue to be open to regular migrants, and we will increase the number of asylum seekers who we accept from the hemisphere, the Western Hemisphere, in order to compensate for closing these irregular crossings. Thank you.

CHRISTIAN: Mr. President, this question is for you. But Mr. Trudeau, (through translator) please feel free Mr. Trudeau to answer as well. Are you disappointed that Canada is not part or hasn't taken a bigger role in the multilateral forces in Haiti? And what would you like Canada to do more in addition to the $100 million announced today?

BIDEN: Well, no, I'm not disappointed. Look, this is a very, very difficult circumstance. The idea of how do we deal with what's going on in Haiti where gangs have essentially taken the place of the government, in effect, they rule the roost, as the saying goes.

And so, I think that what the Prime Minister has spoken about makes a lot of sense. The biggest thing we could do, and it's going to take time, is to increase the prospect of the police departments in Haiti having the capacity to deal with the problems they're faced. And that is going to take of time.

We also are looking at whether or not the international community, through the United Nations, could play a larger role in this event, in this circumstance. But there is no question that there is a real, genuine concern because there are several million people in Haiti and the diaspora could cause some real, how can I say it, confusion in the Western hemisphere. And so -- but I think that what the prime minister is suggesting, and we are as well going to be contributing to see if we can both increase the efficiency and capacity of the training and the methods used by the police department, as well as succeeding if we engage other people in the hemisphere, which we've been talking to, and they're prepared to do some. So this is a work in progress.

TRUDEAU (through translator): To try to stabilize the country. To help the Pearl of the Antilles. And the situation is atrocious. It's affecting the security of the people of Haiti.


We must take action. And we must keep the Haitian people in the approach that we build for security. And that's why the approach that we are working on with the U.S. involves strengthening the capacity of the Haitian national police, bringing more peace and security and stability. This won't happen. Tomorrow, it will, of course, be a long process, but we will be there to support the capacity of the police in Haiti, the national police.

At the same time, part of the insecurity and instability in Haiti is because of the Haitian elite who have, for too long, benefited from the misery of the Haitian people. They work for their own political gain, their own personal gain, and this has prevented the country from recovering. And that's why we're proceeding with sanctions. We will continue to bring pressure to bear on the elite, the political class in Haiti to hold them accountable for the distress facing the Haitian people, but to hold them accountable for ensuring their well-being.

We're going to continue to work together. We fully understand how important this task is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, over to you.

BIDEN: Can I follow up with one point on Haiti, and that is that any decision about military force, which often raised, we think, would have to be done in consultation with the United Nations and with the Haitian government. And so, that is not off the table, but that is not in play at the moment. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over to you for the question, Mr. President.

BIDNE: Jordan (ph), you have a question?

JORDAN (PH): Thank you, Mr. President. Some on Wall Street have expressed frustration that it's unclear what more your administration is willing to do to resolve the banking crisis. The markets have remained in turmoil. So, how confident are you that the problem is contained? And if it spreads, what measures such as guaranteeing more deposits, are you willing or not willing to take?

BIDEN: First of all, have you ever known Wall Street not in consternation? Number one. Look, I think we've done a pretty damn good job. People's savings are secure, and even those beyond the $250,000, the FDIC is guaranteeing an American taxpayer is not going to have to pay a penny. The banks are in pretty good shape. What's going on in Europe is in a direct consequence of what's happening in the United States. And I -- what we would do is, if we find that there's more instability than appears, we'd be in a position to have the FDIC use the power it has to guarantee those loans above 250, like they did already.

And so, I think it's going to take a little while for things to just calm down. But I don't see anything that's on the horizon that's about to explode. But I do understand there's an unease about this, and these midsize banks have to be able to survive. And I think they'll be able to do that.

JORDAN: And Mr. Prime Minister, the U.S. has included Canada in electric vehicle subsidies, as you've discussed, that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act. But the IRA also raises some competitiveness concerns and challenges for Canada. President Biden supports buy American provisions very strongly, and that has historically led to some trade tensions.

So, are you planning to announce anything in your budget to keep up, so to speak? And are you asking the U.S. government for exceptions to the buy American provisions in other areas?

TRUDEAU: First of all, there's nothing new about Canada having to make sure that we remain competitive with the United States as a place for investment. That's something that we have long known as a friendly competition between us that has led to tremendous growth and benefits in both of our countries.

Right now we're in a time where Joe talked about it as an inflection point. I think that's exactly right. We can feel the global economy shifting, shifting in very real ways towards lower carbon emission technologies, cleaner tech, great jobs in the natural resource and manufacturing industries that are going to be increased on our continent after years of outsourcing and offshoring. There is a real opportunity for both of us.


And the IRA, which is bringing in massive investments and massive opportunities for American workers and companies is also going to have strong impacts on supply chains and producers and employees in Canada. Yes, we're going to have to make sure we're staying competitive and targeting the areas where we think we can best compete. We'll have more to say about that in our budget next week.

But let us take a moment to step back and see that North America, Canada and the United States in particular, are incredibly well positioned to be the purveyors of solutions and economic growth that the net zero economy around the world will need over the coming decades. The innovation, the knowhow, the ability of us to make big things together leave us in a time of global uncertainty, extremely certain that we are well placed for the future.

Whether it's investments that have seen Canada go from fifth or 6th in the world in terms of battery supply chains to now second in the world in terms of battery supply chains, whether it's continuing our leadership, on the cleanest aluminum in the world moving towards cleaner steel and zero emission steel, whether it's moving forward on critical minerals that the world is understanding they can no longer rely on places like China or Russia for, that they can rely on Canada to be not just a purveyor of ores, but of finished materials that will be built in environmentally responsible union or good middle class jobs, wages, strong communities and the kind of leadership that the world is increasingly looking for.

There's long been a bit of a weakness, I think, to our argument that we've made over the past decades as Western democracies that says that our model is the best one, it leads to the most prosperity. But so much of our model, we sort of turned our back to the fact that it relied on cheap imports of goods or resources from parts of the world that didn't share our values and weren't responsible on the environment or on human rights or on labor standards. And what we are doing right now is showing that we can and will build resilient supply chains between us and with friends around the world that adhere every step of the way to the values that we live by, that make sure that there are good jobs for workers in communities, urban and rural right across our continent. There are good careers for kids long into the future, not in spite of a changing world, but because of that changing world and how well we are positioned to see the future and meet the future.

That's why it's so exciting to be able to work alongside Joe in these challenging times where we know we are better positioned than just about anyone else. And those friends of ours who share our values and our democracies around the world will benefit from the strength and the relations they have with us. And those who choose to continue to turn their backs on the environment and on human rights, on the values of freedom and dignity for all, will increasingly not be able to benefit from the growth that our societies, that our communities are creating every single day.

BIDEN: And by the way, we each have with the other needs. We each have with other needs. The idea that somehow Canada is somehow put a disadvantage because we're going to probably be investing billions of dollars in their ability to package what is coming out of the semiconductor area, I don't get it. How is that, in any way, do anything other than hire and bring billions of dollars into Canada?


I also don't understand how when we talk about it, we greatly need Canada in terms of the minerals that are needed. Well, you guys, we don't have the minerals to mine, you can mine them, you don't want to produce -- I mean, turn them into product. We do.

I mean, it's -- I'm a little confused, at least thus far, on why this is a disadvantage for Canada and the United States. I think we each have what the other needs.

And let me conclude by saying, you know, when I started talking about we're going to build our economies from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down, I was being literal. Because what happened is, if you think about it, and Democrat and Republican administrations beginning over 30 years ago or more in the United States, corporate America decided that they're going to do is they're going to export jobs and import product because there's cheaper labor.

Well, guess what? Now, we are making sure they import jobs here, jobs here, and we export product. Canada is doing the same thing. So this is a real -- this is a real shift in the world economy in terms of what we're prepared to do.

And I'll be darned if I'm going to stick in a situation where as long as I'm president, where we have to rely on a supply chain in the other end of the world that is affected by politics, pandemics or anything else. We're not hurting anyone in terms of having access to the start of the supply chain. It's available.

But again, I predict to you, you're going to see after we're both out office, both China out of the game in terms of many of the products they're producing. And the United States and Canada pretty solid economically situated for the future in terms of also bringing back manufacturing jobs.

Sorry. They're telling me I'm talking too long because we got to go to dinner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. (Through translator) we'll take one last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first question is for the Prime Minister. But Mr. President, feel free to weigh in before my follow up.

Prime Minister, we know that you've -- we know that you've appointed a special rapporteur, but with what we've learned about Han Dong's communication with the Chinese consular general, do you believe he advocated for the delayed release of the two Michaels?

TRUDEAU: First of all, Han gave a strong speech in the House that I recommend people listen to, and we fully accept that he is stepping away from the Liberal Caucus in order to vigorously contest these allegations. But I do want to take a step back and point out that foreign interference, interference by authoritarian governments like China, Russia, Iran and others is a very real challenge to our democracies and is absolutely unacceptable. It's why over the past number of years, the President and I have had many conversations about this, and indeed, we'll continue to work together with our democratic allies around the world to keep our institutions and our democracies safe from foreign interference.

In 2018, when Canada hosted the G7 in Charlevoix, we actually created the G7 rapid response mechanism to protect our democracies in cases of interference. And we will continue to work together to make sure we're doing everything necessary to protect our democracies, which by definition, are more open and therefore more vulnerable to foreign actors trying to weigh in our politics, in our business, in our research institutions, and particularly impact on citizens themselves. Which is why, over the past years, Canada like our allies around the world has given itself new rigorous tools to counter foreign interference. And with the work that our expert rapporteur will do with the work that our National Security Committee of Parliamentarians will be doing, and other institutions, we will continue to do everything necessary to keep Canadians safe.


BIDEN: I have nothing to add.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. And, Mr. President, when you took office, you canceled the Keystone Excel pipeline. This week, your government delayed the environmental assessment to reroute Enbridge line five, and at the same time you're approving oil drilling in Alaska. So, what's your response to people who say it's hypocritical to stymie Canadian energy projects while allowing your own?

BIDEN: First of all, I don't think it is, but I'll be very brief. The difficult decision was on what we do with the Willow project in Alaska, and my strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board. But the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, I may very well lose in court and lose that case in court to the oil company and then not be able to do what I really want to do beyond that. And that is conserve significant amounts of Alaskan sea and land forever.

I was able to see to it that we literally able to conserve millions of acres, not a few, millions of acres of sea and land forever so it cannot be used in the future. I am banking on we'll find out that the oil company is going to say not -- that's not going to be challenged and they're going to go with three sites. And the energy that is going to be produced there estimated would account to 1 percent, 1 percent of the total production of oil in the world. And so I thought it was a better gamble and a hell of a tradeoff to have the Arctic Ocean, the Baron Sea and so many other places off limits forever now.

I think we put more land and conservation than any administration since Teddy Roosevelt. I'm not positive with that, but I think that's true.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you all. This is what concludes today's press conference. (Foreign Language).

BIDEN: Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You have been listening to a joint news conference with President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The two men are in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. President Biden making his first public comments about that drone strike in Syria and retaliation by the U.S. The U.S. believes that the drone strike was carried out by Iranian affiliated groups that strike killed an American contractor and wounded five American service members yesterday.

President Biden, as I said, ordered that retaliatory airstrike, although he just insisted the U.S. is not looking for conflict with Iran. While President Biden was speaking, CNN learned of another attack targeting U.S. forces in Syria. Let's go straight to CNN's Natasha Bertrand who's at the Pentagon for us.

Natasha, what do we know about this latest attack?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Jake. So we are just hearing this within the last few minutes that Iranian backed groups have launched yet another attack on U.S. forces in northeastern Syria. Now it is unclear whether there are any casualties or any damage at this point, and we are told that the U.S. is still assessing that. But it comes, as local residents did tell CNN that they had heard multiple explosions and we are told that this attack was carried out using rockets.

Now, the big question, of course, is whether the U.S. is going to now retaliate against this attack because this is the third attack in two days by proxy groups associated with Iran. And that is, of course, really an escalation here of what Iran has been doing.

Just earlier this morning, we had heard that Iran backed groups had also launched 10 rockets at yet another U.S. base in Syria. Now, that caused no casualties, but it did wound two women and two children. And then, of course, yesterday, the Iranian backed militias, they launched a drone attack against a coalition military base in Syria as well, and that killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. Service Members and an additional U.S. contractor.

So all of this kind of tit for tat, kind of violent volleying between the U.S. backed -- the Iran backed militias and the U.S. in Syria, it was really reaching kind of a boiling point here. And the big question is whether the U.S. is now going to respond to this latest attack like they did yesterday with that U.S. airstrike on Iranian backed facilities in Syria that house munitions as well as were used for intelligence gathering. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Natasha Bertrand with all the latest from the Pentagon.

Joining us now to discuss, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, who is the Press Secretary for the Pentagon.

General, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, do we know anything about casualties in this latest strike of Iranian backed militias against the United States?


BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Hey, first of all, thank you very much, Jake, for having me. As Natasha highlighted, we're assessing those reports right now, and when we have more information to provide, we'll certainly do that. In the meantime, our focus in Syria remains squarely on the enduring defeat of ISIS, and that's why we have forces there. And that will remain our focus. As demonstrated by our airstrikes last night, when our forces are threatened, we will certainly take appropriate action to defend them. TAPPER: How much is the United States fighting ISIS in Syria versus these Iranian-backed militias, which are, of course, Shiite, not Sunni, these ISISs?

RYDER: Yes. So let's just make one thing clear. We have one mission in Syria, and again, that's the enduring defeat of ISIS. Working with our partners in Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and as part of an international coalition to ensure that ISIS cannot resurge.

When it comes to these Iranian-backed militant groups, again, we continue to see this destabilizing activity, these attacks, not only in Syria. You've seen IRGC-backed groups, IRGC navy in the Gulf? You've seen activities in Iraq. You've even seen Iran providing drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.

So, again, we're very cognizant of the threat that Iran poses to the region through groups like what we're seeing in Syria. But that does not in any way negate our primary focus and the focus that will remain, which is combating ISIS in Syria.

TAPPER: We refer to them as Iranian-backed militias. And just for anybody wondering what IRGC is, that's the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. We refer to them as Iranian-backed militias. What's your understanding to the degree that they are taking commands from Iran as opposed to being given weaponry, and these militias just do whatever they want with that weaponry?

RYDER: Well, look, this is not something that's new for Iran. This is a tactic that they've employed for a very long time in terms of, you know, that loose command and control relationship, in terms of providing them with resources, providing them with guidance, providing them with sort of the broad brushstrokes from enacting Iran's policy throughout the region.

It does not, in any way, though, put Iran in a situation where they're not culpable for these kinds of things. So, again, we're going to continue to focus on fighting ISIS in Syria, but if our forces are threatened, we will take appropriate action to ensure that they remain protected and that we can deter future attacks.

TAPPER: Well, your acknowledgment of the culpability of the Iranian government is interesting because President Biden just said that the U.S. will act forcefully to defend its people. Does that mean that the U.S. will go after these proxy groups only, or will the U.S. also go after the alleged suppliers of these weaponry and perhaps command and control in Iran?

RYDER: Yes, well, we're not going to preview any type of future operations. Again, as evidenced last night, we will take appropriate and proportionate action as necessary to protect our forces wherever they're serving.

TAPPER: You said in your press conference earlier today that the radar was working properly at the facility that was struck by the Iranian affiliated drone. If that's true, why was the drone not shot down before it killed the U.S. contractor and wounded five service members? RYDER: Yes, sure. Well, as you know, anytime there's an attack like this or some type of incident, U.S. Central Command will do a review to go back and look at what exactly happened. It doesn't change the fact that an American, a contractor, as you highlight, was killed in this. And that, in response, the United States took retaliatory action, proportionate action, to again send a message that we will protect our forces.

The Syrian and Iranian governments, as I understand it, have not yet commented publicly since the drone strike against the U.S. Have you, the U.S. government, heard anything from either government privately?

RYDER: Here at DOD, not to my knowledge. Again, that may be something for you to talk to your contacts at the White House about. Again, our focus when it comes to Syria will continue to be on that enduring defeat of ISIS mission. And we'll stay squarely focused on that, working with our allies and our partners and our SDF partners on the ground.

TAPPER: You're, of course, familiar with the British-based group monitoring the war in Syria called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They say that eight Iranian affiliated fighters were killed in the U.S.'s retaliatory airstrike. Can you confirm that?

RYDER: Well, right now, Jake, CENTCOM is continuing to assess the battle damage assessment, as we call it, the BDA. And so we don't have anything to provide on that. But certainly as information comes in and we're able to release it, we'll be sure to provide what we can.

TAPPER: And lastly, General, and we do really appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions. Is the Biden administration -- is President Biden worried that this is all going to escalate tensions with Iran?


RYDER: Well, I'm not going to speak for the President. Again, I think it's been very clear that we do not seek conflict with Iran. We do not seek to go to war with Iran. When it comes to Syria, we are there to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS so that we don't have a situation where ISIS can resurge.

As you remember very well, at one point in time, they owned a large sloth of Syria, a large part of Iraq, beheadings, forced slavery, you know, entire populations of cities subjugated. We don't want to go back to those days. So we're going to continue to stay focused.

We are incredibly proud of our military members who are in that region doing this important work. And, Jake, if I can, the last thing I'd like to say is, you know, look, the reason we're talking today is because there was an attack on one of our facilities, and unfortunately, we had an American who was killed.

And so, again, we want to express our sincere condolences, our thoughts and our prayers to that Americans families, family, friends and colleagues. And again, we're going to continue to do everything we can to protect our people, no matter where they're serving.

TAPPER: I certainly agree with that last sentiment, sending prayers and thoughts to the family of that American contractor killed.

Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

RYDER: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Abby Phillip and David Sanger are still with me. David, your reaction to this latest attack, I mean, how escalatory is this going to get? It doesn't sound as though the Biden administration wants it to become particularly escalatory.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That certainly does not sound that way. But at the same time, President Biden knows that he's got to maintain some of what in the business they call escalation dominance, which is to say, once the U.S. has counterattacked, if there is a response, they've got to come back hard.

And that runs the risk that you get up a ladder that you don't really want to be climbing. I don't think it's going to worry them that much if this is contained in the Syrian theater. I think it will worry them if it begins to spill over into anything that deals directly with Iran, because as we discussed before the press conference, they've got an ongoing issue with the provision of weapons to Russia, which a pipeline, I think, the U.S. and certainly the Ukrainians would like to stop.

And they've got the ongoing nuclear issue, which is getting considerably more perilous. The Iranians haven't made a decision to make a nuclear weapon, but they've certainly set themselves up to make one quickly if they ever made that decision.

TAPPER: And then also, Abby, I mean, you mentioned this earlier. President Biden campaigned on wanting to reopen the Iranian nuclear deal, and since then, at time after time, the Iranians have made it clear that they're not interested at all.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're not. And they are taking steps to really up the ante. But it is notable the way in which Biden -- and he's done this in other areas as well, he's trying to take the rhetorical temperature down. So as to not let Iran and their provocations be the cause of an escalation in rhetoric, at the very least.

And so that seems to me, the administration basically saying, we see the game that you're playing, we're not playing that same game. We are, you know, we're going to deal with these attacks as they happen, but we're not going to expand this into a broader conflict with Iran per se.

I mean, I noted that the Pentagon press secretary, as you were just speaking with him, too, also was clear to say, we've got a mission in Syria. It's about ISIS -- TAPPER: Yes.

PHILLIP: -- and we're going to handle Iran separately in a separate lane. They don't want to mix the two too much in spite of these recent attacks.

SANGER: The President had a choice. He could have come out very hard against the Iranian leadership at the beginning of that press conference. He chose not to --

TAPPER: No, he stuck to a script --


TAPPER: -- and he didn't stick to a script when it came to a whole number of other topics, but he did when it came to Iran. David and Abby, thanks so much.

And don't forget, you can catch Abby on Inside Politics Sunday in her brand new time slot, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, our other big story, a major new twist in Donald Trump's legal challenges. Why a number of his closest White House aides are now being forced to testify before a grand jury? Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our politics lead, a potentially seismic development in the special counsel's criminal investigation into Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the will of the American people. A federal judge ordering several high profile former Trump White House aides and administration aides to testify before a grand jury.

That includes Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, along with top aides Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is digging into this. Katelyn, who are the Trump associates the Special counsel could now force to testify?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, my colleagues Zach Hoe (ph) and Kristen Holmes and I, we came together to learn a list of about half a dozen names who may be forced to go back into the federal grand jury in Washington, looking at January 6.

Those people are some of the top people in the Trump administration and specifically in the White House around Donald Trump. They include Mark Meadows, his chief of staff at the time, John Ratcliffe, the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Adviser, Robert O'Brien, Ken Cuccinelli, the Homeland Security Secretary, and then two top aides, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino.

That's a pretty robust list of people who were witnessing Donald Trump up close leading up to January 6 and then on that day. We don't know how much any of these people have been willing to share so far in the grand jury investigation. Those grand jury proceedings are sealed.

But we do know that some of them were refusing to speak to House investigators previously when they were asked questions in the separate Capitol Hill investigation. Now, this ruling from Judge Beryl Howell last week before she left the bench as chief judge, it does say that if Donald Trump was trying to block some of their answers claiming executive privilege, the special counsel can call those people back in and get them to answer now.


TAPPER: This, of course, is just one of many legal probes that Trump is facing. This news comes on the same day that Trump's attorney had to go before a different federal grand jury in the investigation into the classified documents. What do we know about that and any other cases that you want to talk about?

POLANTZ: Right, Jake. There are many cases, and one of the features of all of these is Donald Trump keeps trying to block certain people from testifying, and he keeps losing. And I know we've mentioned a lot of names, a lot of attempts, a lot of rulings against him, but this is the one to really watch, especially in this classified documents probe.

That's a very serious investigation. So serious that the FBI had probable cause to go and search Mar-a-Lago last August and take out more than 100 classified records. The person that was compelled to testify, who was forced back into the grand jury today to speak about his direct conversations with Donald Trump, is his primary defense attorney who was responding on his behalf to the Justice Department, and he spoke for about three and a half hours to the Justice Department. The question now is what they do with that.

TAPPER: All right, Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in Tom Dupree, former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Dupree, good to see, as always. How significant a development is this in the special counsel's investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the order that these individuals cannot assert executive privilege or Trump can't to block them, they have to testify.

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's a very significant development, Jake. Look, these are all, for the most part, fact witnesses who were placed very close to the President both on January 6 and, of course, in the days following the election.

They're also his top advisors. And so, presumably, when the former president was communicating with them, he thought it would be under a shield of privilege. He probably had even more candid exchanges with them than he ordinarily would. And now we're going to hear the stories that they have to tell. Big development today.

TAPPER: Which of these witnesses, we have the eight of them up -- well, we just had them up a second ago. There they are. Mark Meadows, who was the chief of staff. John Radcliffe, who was the Director of National Intelligence, Robert O'Brien, the National Security Adviser, Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, Nick Luna, John McEntee, all of them White House advisers. And Ken Cuccinelli, who was at the Department of Homeland Security. Which of them would you most want to hear from?

DUPREE: I'd want to hear from Mark Meadows, Jake. Look, he was with the President on January 6. As we know, he was a bit of an intermediary from people, from the outside who are calling in saying, could you intervene with the President? Be very interesting to hear what he has to say about that day.

He presumably was also involved in the President's efforts to overturn the election. He was at his side listening to the President strategize. He was on that call to Georgia, to Raffensperger. I'm sure he has a lot to say that the special counsel will be very interested in.

TAPPER: And what is the likelihood that all of these aides ordered to testify will actually cooperate? Would any of them be able to invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying?

DUPREE: You know, it's a possibility here. I mean, I would be extremely surprised, to say the least, if all of them pled the Fifth. It's possible one or two might. But look, pleading the Fifth carries reputational consequences. You also have to have a genuine belief that whatever you say could subject you to criminal charges.

And I'm not sure that any of those witnesses would want to place themselves in the role of co-conspirator as opposed to the role of simply an adviser to the president, trying to give him lawful advice.

TAPPER: I'm not sure reputationally that all of them have the same concerns that you might. But let me just hash out something that Elie Honig told us earlier, which is if they invoke the Fifth, Elie Honig said, the prosecutor could say, we're going to give them immunity.

We're going to give them immunity so they can't invoke the Fifth against self-incrimination, because we're saying that there is no self-incrimination possible, and then there's actually just a contempt of court charge and potential jail time if they continue to refuse to testify. Is that a real possibility?

DUPREE: It's absolutely a tool in any prosecutor's playbook. If you have a witness pleading the Fifth, you can offer immunity. I'd be a little surprised if Jack Smith did it here. I mean, immunity often you will do if you want the cooperation of a witness who you think probably hasn't done anything wrong and maybe has misplaced fears. I'm not sure any of these people fall into that category from the perspective of the special prosecutor.

So although he could offer an immunity deal, I guess I'd be a little surprised knowing what we know if he actually offered immunity to these people.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Dupree, thanks. Really appreciate it.

Our other top story U.S. forces targeted for a second time in Syria by forces believed to be backed by Iran. More from the Pentagon ahead in The Situation Room. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In our pop culture lead, a little break from all the death and destruction that we've been covering elsewhere. Join us tonight for a special one on one interview with comedian and actor Jason Sudeikis. His Emmy Award winning show "Ted Lasso" is back for a third season produced by our sister company, Warner Brothers. Here's a bit of what Sudeikis told me about the future of this hit show.


TAPPER: How are you going to feel the last time you perform as Ted Lasso? I mean, I would think that that would be tough and how do you think your fans would -- fans of Ted Lasso would react?

JASON SUDEIKIS, ACTOR: Yes. I mean, impermanence is a big, is another theme of the show, you know. I think one of the reasons Ted liked being a college coach because maybe, I mean, look, I'm not a psychologist and I'm just BS-ing through a lot of this stuff but just these things make sense to me, is that being a college coach, there's impermanence.

You only get them for four years. I would have had my time with it. I've been lucky enough in most instances of my life, been involved with things that when I no longer got to do them, I want to know that at least I did them as well as I could while I could.



TAPPER: You can see our full interview this evening CNN Primetime, "The Ted Lasso Phenomenon Jason Sudeikis One-On-One at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN. And then coming up on Sunday on State of the Union, I'm going to talk to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, James Comer, House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who just had a hearing on TikTok, and Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, who is contemplating a Senate run. That's all Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon here on CNN.

Then, Sunday night, join CNN for a special night of laughter. The Kennedy Center presents the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor celebrating Adam Sandler, that's at 08:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN on Sunday. Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN.

If you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to podcast all two hours just sitting right there from once you get your podcast all two hours like a big and juicy carne asada at El Patio. Our coverage continues now with "THE SITUATION ROOM". Alex Marquardt in for Wolf Blitzer. I will see you tonight.