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The Lead with Jake Tapper
21-Year-Old Guardsman Arrested In Pentagon Docs Leak Case; Rep. Jim Himes, (D-CT), Is Interviewed About Jack Teixeira; Florida House Passes Six-Week Abortion Ban; DOJ Asking Supreme Court To Intervene In Abortion Pill Case; Women's Tennis Association Ends Suspension Of Tournaments In China; Some Violent Protests Erupt In France On Eve Of Pension Bill Ruling. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 13, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We are told they expect to find numerous weapons in the search based on his social media posts. Our coverage starts today with CNN's Natasha Bertrand who's at the Pentagon for us.
And Natasha, what is the Pentagon saying about Teixeira's arrest and how are they explaining why he had access to such highly classified information?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Jake. Well, the Pentagon has not yet issued a statement on the arrest of Jack Teixeira itself. They have simply referred to the Justice Department for any comment on that. But they took a lot of questions today, the Pentagon Press Secretary did, about just why this 21-year-old Air National Guardsman was allowed apparently to have access to such classified material.
And what Pentagon Press Secretary Ryder told reporters is that essentially the military entrusts highly classified information to people of all ages, including very young service members. It essentially depends on what your job is and what you need to do that job. He gave the example, of course, of very young service members leading people into combat. He said that basically it doesn't matter what your age is, it is just the job that you need to do.
And so, the Pentagon did say, however, that they are taking steps to mitigate any potential leaks like this in the future. They are limiting the amount of information, for example, that they are disseminating widely across the U.S. government. We have been told that people who were receiving these kinds of highly classified documents over the last several months have simply stopped receiving them in recent days as the Pentagon does begin to whittle down its distribution list.
But look, this 21-year-old guardsman, he joined in 2019, he's very new to this and he was a cyber-transport systems journeyman. He was essentially responsible for I.T., for this particular wing of the Air National Guard in Massachusetts. So, it is totally unclear at this point whether he had access to these documents himself, whether he took them, how he printed them, if he even printed them himself. Just a lot of questions here that investigators are going to be looking at, Jake, as they look into his background and motive.
TAPPER: Yes, I don't think of the idea. The question is about being 21, I think it's a question of like he's obviously, if his story is to believed, incredibly immature. So why would somebody who's immature, if that's preferential language to your friends at the Pentagon, why would he get access to the classified documents?
Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon for us. Thank you so much.
I want to bring in Malachy Browne. He's a senior Story Producer on "The New York Times" Visual Investigations team. They worked with Bellingcat to follow the trail of digital evidence that led them to Jack Teixeira.
So, Malachy, connect the digital dots for us. You guys used an online gaming profile under Teixeira's name and also pictures of a kitchen countertop inside his childhood home. Explain how that was relevant.
MALACHY BROWNE, SENIOR PRODUCER, "NEW YORK TIMES" VISUAL INVESTIGATIONS: Well, yesterday, Jake, we obtained a tranche of 27 new documents, classified documents, and some of your viewers will remember the first tranche were photographed among hunting equipment. These ones were photographed in a different location on a granite countertop, which was intriguing to us.
At the same time as were doing that, were working with Eric Taller (ph), who works at Bellingcat and our Visual Investigations team, to run down some of the gamers that we knew played together, that we knew the games and the platforms that they were on and see if there was anybody of interest there who may have more documents, but also who might be the person that they refer to as the O.G., the original guy, who leaked the documents. And so, there was one particular person who caught our interest. It was Jack.
And you know, using the gaming profiles, we were able to find connections with other more popular social media websites, which of course, had family photographs online, including that countertop, that granite countertop. And looking more closely, you could see it was the same countertop, the same kitchen.
TAPPER: Yes, let's show that again. Just if we could, go to the first picture, guys, if you could, of the document itself. There it is. It's not -- what you need to understand here is it's not -- forget the document for a second, look at the table and then look at the floor and then go to to the next picture, and you'll see that the table and the floor are what Malachy and his brilliant sleuths at the "Times" used to figure out it was Jack Teixeira.
Malachy, what other digital evidence did you and your team use to track him down?
BROWNE: Well, it was a combination of details that we got from some of the gamers in this community that we spoke to last weekend who provided personal information about the leaker, his habits, the fact that he was a gun enthusiast, exchanging equipment, you know, some things about his personal beliefs that they often shared racist memes in their private chat group. And in fact, the reason that they had a private chat group is that some of them were kicked off another more public forum for their racism.
And so they created this intimate space of trust into which he started sharing these documents. And so that was profile information and background information that allowed us to then find where people were playing these games and some of the same usernames from the private server who are also playing it in more public spaces. And that was the starting point.
We also found information confirming that he was in the intelligence wing of the National Guard in Massachusetts and that he was promoted to first class airman last July. And according to one of the sources that we've been talking to, he started leaking documents several months after that into the discord chat.
TAPPER: Malachy Browne, great sleuthing by you and your team. Thanks so much for your time today.
Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Jim Hines of Connecticut. He is the Ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
Congressman, thanks for joining us. We talked to the Chairman Turner in the previous hour. Let's start with this arrest today. He's been identified as 21-year-old Air National Guardsman, Jack Teixeira. What more can you tell us about him?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, you know, Jake, there's just so much that makes me crazy about this story. I mean, yes, let's talk for a second about the arrest and the story that you just ran, right? "The New York Times" knocks on his door. I mean, I just -- you know, I've spent a lot of time around the Intelligence Community, a lot of time around the FBI, I spent -- you know, I have a lot of respect for them, but "The New York Times" beat the FBI to this person, right?
And the reason that's serious is because what if he has suitcases full of documents and he's in the process of, sort of, sending them out, mailing them out, faxing them out? What if he hands all those documents to "The New York Times?" Now, we've got, sort of, an interesting constitutional issue. And so, you know, I'm still, as you can tell, not exactly calm about that fact.
And then, of course, is the fact that this is apparently allegedly a 21-year-old kid, Air National Guardsman who was trying to impress his friends. This is not exactly Beijing and Russia's best cyber operators doing here. And so, clearly there's an awful lot of work, a lot of congressional oversight work we need to do to fix these systems that are constantly allowing or at least regularly allowing our secrets to get out into the wild.
TAPPER: And beyond that, we just heard from Malachy Brown, one of "The New York Times" researchers that tracked him down, and we also heard from "The Washington Post" that this individual, Jack Teixeira, is somebody that seems to hold antisemitic and racist views and that chat room was partly at least founded for that. So, you know, we'll find out more about that in the days and weeks to come. But I mean, the other thing, Congressman, that you haven't mentioned yet, not that you're going to shy away from it, is that this information, this classified information was reportedly on discord for months. And I don't have to tell you because I don't know, you might know the answer, how many tens of billions of dollars the U.S. Intelligence Community gets each year from the American taxpayer. But it really seems like there was -- a lot of people dropped the ball here.
HIMES: Yes, that's exactly right. You just touched on the third reason I want to light my hair on fire right now, which is, you know, again, this wasn't exactly advanced trade craft. These apparently were documents that were folded up, stuck into a pocket, photographed, and that raises all sorts of questions, right?
You know, first of all, how was this guy able -- and this is all allegedly right, we don't know the facts yet, how was he able to print them out? How was he able -- how was he able to remove them from a secure facility? And as you point out, we had an unclassified briefing with the Department of Defense yesterday in which were told that the Department of Defense became aware that these documents were out in the wild on April 5. And there is reason to believe that they might have been out there for months.
Now, in a, you know, in a world of ADVANCE.AI and, you know, ChatGPT and these incredible technological capabilities, the notion that highly classified stuff was just plain out there being traded like, you know, baseball cards and we didn't know about it. Again, a subject for some serious congressional inquiry.
TAPPER: Well, the other thing that I don't know the answer to, yesterday reporters were being told, and I don't know if it was by the Pentagon or by the Intelligence Community, but somebody in the Biden administration was suggesting that they think maybe this was done. This was the child of somebody who had access to this information. Now maybe that was a false storage so to sheer, wouldn't suspect that they were on to him, possibly. Or maybe they really have no idea what the hell's going on.
HIMES: Yes, that doesn't do it for me, Jake. You know, I've got two children, too. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that in the 12 years I've been working on intelligence matters and having access to classified information, that has never even come close to happening.
So, again, if, you know, there's other culpable people here, we'll want them to face the consequences. But this is a system and a process which obviously failed in a very substantial way. And that's where the Congress comes in. Our job is oversight and you can bet we're going to be doing it.
[17:10:03] TAPPER: Yes. And I have to say well, first of all, you know, good luck getting my kids interested in anything I do for a living. But beyond that, there is the bigger issue of this individual, allegedly, has done serious damage to the U.S. government here in terms of what our enemies know about what the United States is up to, in terms of awareness of what the Chinese are doing, awareness of what the Wagner group, the Russian affiliated militia are doing. And also Ukraine, South Korea, Israel mad to learn that the United States is spying on them and also that the United States is not really very careful with the secrets that they've picked up.
HIMES: Well, that's the part -- look, he may have done harm to the United States government. And the reason I have of emotion in this conversation is because I've seen a lot of these leaks before. I've never seen a leak like this that may, and I do emphasize may, have a real effect on the battlefield in Ukraine if, in fact, sources and methods have been compromised that could translate into dead Ukrainians that didn't need to be dead because we didn't get the process and the protection of that information right.
And, yes, as you point out -- now, look, you know, other than within the five eyes, you know, Canada, U.K., New Zealand, et cetera, Australia, I think our allies know that we keep a track, you know, that we're interested in what they're talking about, the fact that the United States might be spying on other countries will come as a surprise to precisely nobody. But we rely on those countries to share their sensitive information with us. That's what makes us good at what we do.
And I would forgive the South Koreans or the Israelis or the French or whoever from saying we may not be able to share our most sensitive information with the Americans because they can't seem to keep it out of, you know, 21-year-old's hands or ex-president's garages or people named reality winner or whatever. I mean, again, there's just too much of this going on that it will ultimately compromise not just the Ukrainian battlefield, but our ability to work with our allies to keep the American people safe.
TAPPER: All right. Top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, thank you so much. Good to see you.
HIMES: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Josh Campbell and CNN's Evan Perez, as well as former Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem.
Josh, what do we know about Jack Teixeira, the alleged leaker? And how would an arrest like this have been planned and executed?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, so this 21-year-old was a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. He was a cyber- transport systems journeyman. In layman's terms, that's a cyber-guy. He works on I.T. systems, both computer systems in offices, but also on aircraft, on electronic warfare systems. And so, there obviously is a question about how he got access to this information. Was he able to through that role, gather that information? That is part of this ongoing investigation.
To the question about the arrest, and I want to show you that just dramatic video we saw from our affiliate there, the aerial view of the FBI taking this suspect into custody, this is quite textbook. What you're seeing on your screen is the FBI tactical operators are calling the suspect back to them. He has his hands on top of his head. That's to ensure that he doesn't try to reach for a weapon. And rather than agents rushing in, which is often more dangerous, they're bringing him back to the rear of that bearcat vehicle and then he is ultimately taken into custody.
What FBI agents do, and I can tell you this from experience, when you're preparing to execute an arrest, you do an operations plan. You try to determine what threat does this person possibly pose? In this case, the reason why we're seeing such a heavy footprint here by the FBI SWAT team is we know based on "The Washington Post's" reporting, that this individual was described as a gun enthusiast, had been to shooting ranges, he's obviously a member of the military. So that would all factor into the amount of force that you bring to bear to try to take someone into custody.
I will also note in, you know, due respect to the Congressman who we just heard from, we don't know that the media beat the FBI to the suspect. In fact, in so many espionage cases, we've seen the FBI special surveillance group set up on a location. In this case, if you're going to take someone into custody, you would rather do that in the light of day rather than trying to breach that home. And so a lot of questions remain there.
And the final point I'll note is that although he's still -- he's in custody now, the FBI's work is far from over. They'll still have to go through his residence, through his place of work in order to determine are there additional classified information, you know, documents that could be in those locations. The damage assessment is still very much underway, Jake.
TAPPER: Well, to defend the congressman for one second, you're right that we don't know that "The New York Times" figured out his identity before the intelligence community or the FBI did, but we do know that "The New York Times" got in contact with him before the FBI did. And in fact, when you think about how long this classified information was out there on discord, I would say "The New York Times" was operating a lot faster than the FBI. But I know you used to work there. So, you know --
CAMPBELL: Well, I just point that out just when it comes to actually taking someone into custody --
CAMPBELL: -- they're going to want to check all the boxes until they go overt.
TAPPER: I hear you.
CAMPBELL So, a lot for us to learn on.
TAPPER: It's not a proud period for the Intelligence Community.
TAPPER: Let's say that.
Juliette, you were a Homeland Security advisor for former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. You oversaw both the army and Air National Guard there. Is there a reason that this individual who, yes, he's 21, but beyond that he seems rather --
JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DHS: Yes.
TAPPER: -- immature, would have been trusted with access to this information?
KAYYEM: It depends on what the nature of his job was. So, to call him an I.T. guy is sort of -- is broad, right? Is he the person fixing the wires or is he the person transporting classified information to say more senior level people?
It is just simply unclear at this stage why he would have had access to not just the content, but his ability to print it, right? Because if he's just the I.T. guy, he's just a pass through.
So the questions I have having worked with the National Guard, worked with them in this intelligence unit is he recently got a promotion, right. So what is that telling me? That's telling me that someone had confidence in him, that possibly they did a background check. Why are they not capturing this really weird behavior online? And I'll be honest with you, Jake, the idea that he was just trying to impress friends when they have racist and antisemitic stuff on it, I'm not buying it, right.
There's the idea that this is an apolitical leak, who knows, right, at this stage? And so, he's releasing this stuff, no one's capturing it. And I think this is the -- or questioning him.
I think the bigger question, of course, is the one that everyone's asking, which is we talk a lot about what we classify. Once it's classified, we now need to start talking about who has access to it. We are reporting that the Pentagon is clearly doing a sweep right now that may not be the best thing for our national security. We may be denying entities that should have access to this from seeing what they should see. From my position, from a state Homeland Security position, is unless they were in federal capacity, unless they were working to fight a war, I don't see why this information is floating as it seems to have been.
TAPPER: And, Evan, what do we know about the charges Teixeira faces? I would imagine espionage. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that may be part of the charges. But you know, at the outset right now, what the attorney general said just this afternoon, Jake, was that this -- it's going to be disseminating classified national security information. And that's a very serious charge, and it all depends on what -- you know, how they charge it, but every single document is -- you know, could be a separate charge. And so, he's looking at a very serious set of circumstances ahead of him. And so, we know that the FBI and the prosecutors in Eastern District of Virginia, which is where he is likely to be brought eventually to face these charges, you know, they're working right now to put together a case.
One of the things that I think, you know, Juliet and Josh have been pointing to and actually the congressman before, was that the Defense Department is sort of one of the weakest links of the system that we have in place. You know, the government has spent millions of dollars, I spent a lot of time covering this, you know, millions of dollars after the Snowden leaks, right, and they have done a lot in the intelligence community to put better systems, for example, to track your printer. Anybody who prints something, there is a tracking for that. Anybody who accesses document, there's a record of who accesses these documents.
What seems to not happen is that the Department of Defense doesn't really know a lot about the people that it is entrusting with this. And so that's where the failure seems to be in this case, Jake.
TAPPER: Yes. And I think there's also a question is why would anybody with the National Guard in Massachusetts need to know anything about what's going on in Ukraine necessarily?
PEREZ: There were thousands of people who had access to these documents.
TAPPER: Well, Josh Campbell, Juliette Kayyem, and Evan Perez, three of the best, thank you so much for joining us.
Coming up, we've got breaking news out of Florida where state lawmakers have just passed a brand new abortion ban. Governor DeSantis is expected to sign it. That's ahead.
TAPPER: And we're back with more on the arrest of 21-year-old National Guard airman Jack Teixeira, who authorities say, leaked troves of highly classified documents over the course of months, an act that has damaged U.S. relationships with allies and revealed key pieces of intelligence to America's foes.
With me now is Evelyn Farkas. She's the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. She now heads the McCain group. I'm forgetting the exact name, McCain Institute, I apologize.
So, Ms. Farkas, what's your reaction to this story? Twenty-one years old and National Guard airmen had access to the sensitive classified information, leaked it on a group chat on discord. It was apparently there for months. He's been arrested today, obviously innocent until proven guilty. But assuming this is what it is, what it looks like, what do you make of it?
EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECY. OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE AND EURASIA: Yes, I mean, Jake, there are so many elements to this. First of all, I tweeted, you know, this is kind of the loneliness epidemic, which was something that the surgeon general called kind of a crisis that we're experiencing in the United States meets COVID, right, where loneliness gets worse. And then you pile on top of it the age of impunity where there are a lot of articles, a lot of things in the media about the former president and others mishandling top secret and secret, you know, intelligence documents and information. And so far, you know, a lot of people seem to be getting away with it. And if you're a young man, lonely, trying to make friends and demonstrate that you have some power, you might be tempted because you think you can get away with it.
So that's what it looks like on the face of it. Obviously, it's a disaster. Why was this young National Guard guy allowed access to slides from the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff? I mean, that should be very restricted.
And you know, whether you have a clearance or not, there's also another standard which is need to know. And I'm afraid that after 9/11, maybe the Intelligence Community went overboard and allowed too many people access in an effort to tear down silos.
TAPPER: So, Pentagon spokesperson, Patrick Ryder, today when it was pointed out that this individual was 21, he noted accurately that the Pentagon, the United States government, gives young people in the military a lot of responsibility. They lose their lives in battle, you know. And so, being 21 and having a lot of responsibility is not unusual for the military. But maybe you think rules need to change in the military, given what happened today, and just in terms of access to sensitive intelligence.
FARKAS: I mean, Jake, I don't think it's an age issue. There are plenty of 21-year olds who understand what the law is, that they can't break the law and share classified intelligence. And there are plenty of 21-year olds with excellent judgment who can lead and do lead troops in war.
So, the issue is not age. The issue is clearly if this guy had a clearance, I mean, it is a question, he didn't have good judgment. But he also did not have a need to know all of this information. And so, that is what has me most concerned.
TAPPER: Evelyn Farkas of the McCain Institute, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Florida lawmakers just passed a brand new abortion ban just hours after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene over the fight over medication abortion. All the latest, next.
TAPPER: Let's go to Florida now. Just this afternoon, the state legislature passed a six-week abortion ban. The bill, when signed, which Governor Ron DeSantis has already signaled he will do, will make abortion access even more difficult in the Sunshine State, which right now outlaws abortion after 15 weeks.
CNN's Steve Contorno is with us from St. Petersburg, Florida. And Steve, the current 15-week ban is on the books has no exception for rape and incest. But this law is a six-week ban, but it would include exceptions for rape and incest?
STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Jake, but only to a point. And opponents of this bill say it will still make Florida one of the most restrictive states in the country to get an abortion. Let me go through what this bill actually does. As you said, it bans abortion in most cases after six weeks.
There are exceptions for rape, incest, and for victims of human trafficking up until week 15. But after week 15, the only exceptions are for if the life of the mother is at risk or if there's a fatal defect. And even then you have to get two doctors to sign off on it. It also prohibits abortion by telehealth and via mail, so you can't get medications sent to you by the postal service in Florida.
And then it also requires the state Supreme Court to take action or a change in the constitution before this takes effect. There's a quirk in Florida's constitution that includes a privacy clause, and in the past, the state Supreme Court has interpreted that to include a right to abortion. But that Supreme Court has shifted dramatically in recent years, and now DeSantis has actually appointed four of the six members, and he'll get to appoint another one soon.
So, Jake, abortion rights advocates believe that this Supreme Court is likely to overturn that privacy clause, and really, at that point, it'll be a six-week ban in the state.
TAPPER: I just saw a polling suggesting that it's -- a majority of the American people oppose a six-week ban and that even among Republicans, it's like 45-45 against and in favor of a six-week ban. I assume that Governor DeSantis, in addition to supporting the principles behind this bill, thinks this is going to help him politically perhaps?
CONTORNO: Well, certainly if he's going to enter the Republican primary for president, this is an issue that is often a litmus test. He's going to be going up against President Donald Trump, who appointed several of the Supreme Court justices that overturned Roe v. Wade. But like you said, this is an issue that Democrats believe has given them an advantage and given them some tailwinds in recent elections. We just saw what happened in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race there, and a whole bunch of midterm races. Abortion loomed large as well.
But in Florida, where Republicans control both chambers by a large margin, if DeSantis didn't take action, it would have been an issue for him in the GOP primary, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Steve Contorno in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thanks so much.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is preparing to take the fight over the abortion pill to the U.S. Supreme Court. This comes after an appeals court declined to ban the abortion drug mifepristone in a ruling late last night, but it made access to the drug more difficult.
CNN's Joan Biskupic is with us to explain. Joan, what did Attorney General Garland have to say about bringing this case before the Supreme Court? What's the timeline here?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. Good afternoon, Jake. This is what the Attorney General said in a statement around noon. "The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Fifth Circuit's decision. We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA's scientific judgment and to protect Americans access to safe and effective reproductive care."
Now, Jake, we haven't seen the full filing yet, but I imagine that the Attorney General will take strong issue with yet another court second guessing the FDA's scientific expertise here. As you know, the validity of the drug dates to the year 2000, and then the restrictions on access that are at issue, they date to 2016.
So we've got a lot in place and just a reminder that this medication abortion protocol is the most common form that women are using today in America to end their pregnancies. So there's a lot at stake here.
And, you know, it's now going back to the Supreme Court that completely eliminated the constitutional right to abortion and left it to the states. So medication abortion is a very crucial part of that ability for access.
TAPPER: Also, for women who have suffered miscarriages rely on mifepristone. As we mentioned, this all comes after the ruling from the Appeals Court last night, which didn't ban mifepristone but kept restrictions around the drug. What are those restrictions look like?
BISKUPIC: Yes, exactly. One would be just in terms of how a woman could actually obtain the drug. Since 2016, there was no longer an in person requirement after a woman had actually met with physician. Now we're back to if everything stays the way the Fifth Circuit wants it over the next 24 hours, no longer could a woman get the drug by mail after the initial consultation with a physician. So that's one thing. And the second thing is the window for availability would decrease generally from currently 10 weeks down to seven weeks of pregnancy. So those are significant access issues that would be rolled back if the Supreme Court does not stop the effect of the two lower court decisions.
TAPPER: Joan Biskupic, thanks so much.
Just ahead, the Women's Tennis Association just reversed course on its decision to suspend tournaments in China because of the concerns about the safety of one of its stars. Why did they do that? That's next.
TAPPER: In our sports lead, the Women's Tennis Association says it will resume hosting tournaments in China. You might remember that it had previously suspended events in China in 2021 over concerns about the safety of tennis player Peng Shuai. Peng disappeared from public view in November 2021 after she accused a high ranking Chinese government official of sexually assaulting her.
In a statement, the WTA explained its decision, saying, quote, "After 16 months of suspended tennis competition in China and sustained efforts at achieving our original requests, the situation has shown no sign of changing. We have concluded we will never fully secure those goals, and it will be our players and tournaments who ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices, "unquote.
Peng has not been seen in public since a series of carefully orchestrated appearances during the Beijing Olympics in February of last year.
Joining us now are two former professional tennis players, Rennae Stubbs and Patrick McEnroe. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Rennae, the WTA received a lot of praise for its principled stand, but 16 months later, mired in the stalemate, the organization has retreated. What do you make of this move?
RENNAE STUBBS, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: Yes, I mean, listen, Jake, I have to say that for me, this comes down to finances. That's what it comes down to. I think that the WTA will probably look back on this in some respects, and you have to be proud of them for the stance that they took originally.
But I think a little bit of lack of strategy in the understanding of what if you don't get what you want? Is this where we're going to be? And this is exactly where they've gotten to, because to think that they could strong arm a country like China into doing what they wanted to do was, you know, a rather large stretch, putting it mildly. So I think this comes down to finances, and that's why they're going back.
TAPPER: Or maybe they were hoping that others would follow their lead. Patrick, the WTA says that despite returning to China, they're not forgetting Peng Shuai. But isn't that exactly what they're kind of doing? We still don't have independent, verifiable evidence that she's safe and free.
PATRICK MCENROE, FORMER PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: Well, Steve Simon, Jake, who's the CEO of the WTA tour, I have a lot of respect for. I think he went out on a limb when, let's be honest, most other sports organizations wouldn't do it, the NBA wouldn't do it, and big companies don't do it. I mean, look at all the business we do with China.
So at the end of the day, I think it was really the only move that WTA could make. I think when they do go back there, they'll have the ability for their players to speak out, to make to -- at least attempt to make this an issue.
Now, the men's tour, the ATP Tour, never stepped up. They never joined in with the WTA, which I had hoped that they would do throughout this process. So while it was a little bit of a hit in the gut, to me, as a tennis person and as someone who was so proud of what the WTA did, when I heard this news, Jake, you have to realize, is it so much about China or is it really about what we all know it's about? It's about money.
And Rennae, Human Rights Watch released a statement on this decision saying, quote, "The road to expose the Chinese government's human rights abuses and hold it accountable is difficult and often incurs a cost. And it's not a straight road, "unquote. Do you think the WTA backtracking means that the boycott was ultimately in vain and for naught, or was something achieved?
STUBBS: Well, I mean, only, you know, history will answer those questions, won't they, really? But, I mean, we're in the same exact situation we really were a couple of years ago. I mean, the word is that, you know, friends or friends of hers or acquaintances are saying that she's doing OK in Beijing. But really, we haven't, as Patrick said and you have said, we haven't verified it one on one with her.
Steve Simon or anyone from the WTA has actually not spoken to Peng Shuai. So they don't really know how she is. So it's kind of interesting that we're talking about this a couple of years later. And let's face it, a lot of this is also -- the WTA could not play in China over the last few years because also -- because of COVID restrictions.
So it's kind of interesting now that those COVID restrictions are sort of being a little bit lax at the end of this year. So that allows them to go back and play without those restrictions. So it's kind of a little bit of like, what was it all for in the end?
TAPPER: Patrick, if you were still playing, would you participate in the Chinese tournaments, do you think?
MCENROE: Yes, I think I would, Jake, to be honest. I think you're a professional athlete. You're a player. Look, we saw what Brittney Griner did, right, who got taken hostage in prison in Russia. Many basketball players go there to make a living, to make money as a professional tennis player.
We go to China. We go to plenty of countries in the Middle East which have some sketch human rights violations going on in those countries, yet many tennis players go there because it's part of what you do. And I think the way you rationalize it, Jake, as an athlete and as a player, number one, this is part of my job.
And number two, if by going there, which, by the way, is a big part of the WTA's argument, by going back there, can we help influence change in the long run? As Rennae noted, that's a question that we can't answer right now. But I think in some instances, Jake, we've got to play ball. We've got to try to work with China.
We went to the Middle East for the World Cup as well, for Qatar. We know all the issues they had over there. Yet the event, the World Cup was extremely successful. And the soccer players, guess what they did? They played soccer.
TAPPER: Yes. Patrick and Rennae, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
MCENROE: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: Coming up, flares and sirens ripping through high end designer stores as massive protests are up throughout Paris once again.
TAPPER: In our world lead now, you're looking at stunning scenes from across France on day 12 of nationwide protests over the Macron government's pension reforms, which would hike the retirement age from 62 to 64 in order to ensure the retirement system stays solvent.
Today, mostly peaceful demonstrations were punctuated by violent clashes. Louis Vuitton's owner's headquarters were ransacked and trash piled up once again. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in the midst of the chaos in Paris ahead of Friday's crucial court ruling that is set to make the pension bill a law.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Outbursts of anger rip across France.
(on-camera): I just got a full load of tear gas.
(voice-over): Police in Paris charging a crowd of demonstrators, flares and sirens taking over the headquarters of luxury giant LVMH, which owns the likes of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Tiffany. Chants from rail workers echo through the halls of the metro.
Trash bins, blocking off schools and streets with garbage set ablaze. These are the sights and sounds of rage by some protesters, stirring tensions in what was largely a peaceful day of protest across the country. France citizens, young and old, coming together for the 12th day of nationwide outrage against President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pensions bill, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
FABIEN VILLEDIEU, SUD RAIL UNION REPRESENTATIVE (through translator): I would lie if I was telling you that there is no fatigue. We are tired. But mobilization is like a marathon. It's the last kilometers at the end that are the hardest.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): While protesters say they are here for the long run, the final hurdle for the bill comes Friday at the country's Constitutional Council. The contested reform will either be greenlit, partly scrapped, or in a highly unlikely situation, entirely thrown out.
The court's decision will bring to an end a month of deliberations. However, French unions and protesters say they are going to continue to fight the reform regardless of the ruling.
PLEITGEN: And Jake, that decision is set to come down in the late afternoon hours of tomorrow. And if indeed the Constitutional Council deems that law to be constitutional, it would go into effect this September. Jake?
TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Paris for us. Thank you so much.
The world lead, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman now under arrest, accused of leaking classified U.S. documents. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is covering this next in The Situation Room. Wolf, what's coming up at the top of the hour?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, the arrest of this U.S. Air National Guardsman in connection with the Pentagon leaks case, raising all sorts of very important questions about the security of America's military secrets. We'll discuss that with a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, who is also a U.S. Military Veteran, Congressman Jason Crow.
We'll get his reaction to new details that are emerging right now about the suspect, his possible motive, and what happens next in this investigation. It's all coming up, Jake, right at the top of the hour right here in The Situation Room.
TAPPER: All right, we'll be watching. We'll see in a few minutes in The Situation Room. Thanks so much.
Coming up, new flash flooding warnings in Fort Lauderdale after the area is still drying out from a one in a thousand year rain. Stay with us.
[17:58:20] TAPPER: In our national lead, a new flash flood warning just issued for the Fort Lauderdale area of Florida as even more heavy rain moves in. This is on top of more than 2 feet of rain that swamped that area in just a few hours yesterday in a once in 1,000 year weather event.
CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Fort Lauderdale for us. And, Carlos, all this rain is creating a dangerous situation there.
CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Jake. The last thing that the city of Fort Lauderdale needs right now is more rain, especially after more than 2 feet of it fell yesterday. The rain began this afternoon and is going to go into the night.
This is some of the worst flooding we have seen. You can see just what we're dealing without here. Over by Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport just to the south of us, we're told two-week tornadoes hit that part of Broward County yesterday, causing some minimal damage.
Now, water rescue operations have been taking place here in Fort Lauderdale the entire day. We're talking about various law enforcement agencies as well as fire departments going door to door, trying to make sure that anyone that is trapped inside of their home can safely get out.
As for when Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport might reopen, officials hope to get a better sense of that overnight. But, Jake, I got to tell you, depending on how this rainfall event goes into tonight, well, then that will determine whether or not the airport reopens sometime tomorrow. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Carlos Suarez in Fort Lauderdale, thank you.
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