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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Supreme Court Extends Access To Abortion Drug While Considering Case; Docs Suspect Jack Teixeira Charged With Violating Espionage Act; WSJ Reporter's Family Speaks Out For First Time Since Arrest; CNN Treks The Darien Gap With Thousands Of Migrants; Unsealed Documents Show Racist Comments, Threats Of Violence From Man Convicted Of Killing BLM Protester. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired April 14, 2023 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD.
We're going to start with some breaking news. Just minutes ago, the U.S. Supreme Court hit pause, pause on the battle in the case of the abortion drug mifepristone. This means women, girls, doctors can continue to have full access to one of, if not the most common method of abortion amid mifepristone, without any restrictions, at least for now. The ruling, the decision takes us back to how the situation was in the United States before that Texas judge ruled in which suspended access theoretically to mifepristone,
We're going to start with CNN's Jessica Schneider.
And, Jessica, this came down just minutes ago. Tell us more about the ruling and this isn't the end of this fight, right? I mean, the U.S. Supreme Court's going to still make a decision on this.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is not the end, Jake. That is right. This merely put this on pause for about five days. I mean, you can see it's a very short order here.
What this does is this is -- this is Justice Samuel Alito, granting in part what the DOJ and FDA was asking for here. They were saying, if you -- if you can't give us anything else, give us an administrative stay, which basically puts a very brief pause on any of the changes that the Fifth Circuit had ordered.
So what does this mean practically? Well, this means that full access to mifepristone remains. It remains just like it did before that Texas judge ruled one week ago because the concern was that if the Supreme Court did not do what it just did moments ago, that overnight tonight, 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time, there was concern that all of the rules surrounding this abortion pill mifepristone would have to be changed.
That would mean that doctors would be instructed not to allow women to take this past seven weeks of pregnancy, because right now it's at 10 weeks of pregnancy. There are also concerns that they make them change the rules about telemedicine and getting this drug in the mail. For now, none of those rules are changing, as was feared, and things
will remain the same. However, this is a very short window of relief for the DOJ and the FDA. The Supreme Court is saying that as of 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, this stay will expire. So presumably, sometime on Wednesday, we will once again be waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh into this and to see if there's a longer stay put on this.
You know, the appeals process is already moving forward in the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit has already set a very aggressive briefing schedule. They've already set oral arguments for May 17th so things are moving along at the appeals level, because, remember, this is just about pausing what the Fifth Circuit put into effect.
So, the Supreme Court is doing that, there will be no changes. But, Jake, as you mentioned this legal battle continues to play out, and once again on Wednesday. All day will probably be on pins and needles again, much like we were today, waiting for the Supreme Court to once again, weigh in and see if they will continue to put these rules, or these changes once again on hold, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider with the breaking news, thanks.
Let's bring in CNN senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic, along with Tom Dupree, who's a former principal deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration.
Joan, help us better understand what Justice Alito did here and also whether or not it's still possible that this conservative U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately make a decision to ban mifepristone, which is a legal drug the FDA approved two decades ago, whether or not it's still possible that they will ban it nationally.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yeah, Jake. What they did was -- what Justice Alito did was actually very sensible, just putting this pause in place. Think of how fast moving everything has been in the past seven days, there are conflicting lower court decisions out there that the Justice Department had said caused regulatory chaos. You know, the courts down in Texas had said that the FDA had to decrease the availability of the drug. Meanwhile, a judge in Washington state has said that no, the FDA could not change -- alter access for women to this drug.
So there's just been so much happening in the past seven days, and what the -- Justice Alito has said is we're going to pause this for five days. The original challengers, the antiabortion physicians and medical associations will now respond to the Department of Justice and drug manufacturers' request that a longer stay be put in place while appeals are actually heard. They're going to be able to respond by Tuesday noon to make their case for why, actually, the drug should not be as available.
But, you're absolutely right that this action today does not foreshadow which way they're going to go. Now, you know that I think this is a very different case than what the
justices did last June when they completely eviscerated constitutional abortion rights and put the matter in the hands of the states. I think, given the nature of the FDA authority and expertise here, they could eventually side with the FDA. But what you're saying is also a possibility they could at the end of everything, after hearing arguments, or seeing what the fifth circuit does, could agree that the FDA overstepped its authority and maybe even completely was wrong when it approved and endorsed the safety and effectiveness of this drug.
TAPPER: Tom, is that possible? Do you think, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court and I can only think of three votes that will that are guaranteed to say that the FDA was right and has a right to allow access to mifepristone, I can only think of three of the nine, is it possible the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately rule that this ban should be national?
TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's very possible, Jake. Look what makes this case particularly complex is that on one hand, yes, obviously, it's an abortion case, and we all know the way the current Supreme Court splits on questions of abortion. We saw the voting lineup in the Dobbs case from earlier -- from last year.
But at the same time, this case is more complex.
TAPPER: We're losing -- we're losing your volume. You're losing your sound there.
Let's go back to Joan, while Tom Dupree figures out his audio.
Joan, what is the case here? I mean, my understanding is the mifepristone is safer than other drugs that the FDA has approved like penicillin, like Viagra. Is there a safety issue here that scientists and doctors seriously acknowledges a problem? Or is this because, this is on theological grounds? That the judges religiously opposed to abortion and looking for a way to bring his religious views to the law?
BISKUPIC: Well, you know, that's a very real concern and what the federal government and the drugmaker have said, is that look, this -- these scientific terminations are longstanding. The studies are deep. It's -- it is not a dangerous drug, and that has been shown over time.
What the judge in this case, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a 2019 appointee of Donald Trump, who, as you're suggesting did have a background in anti- abortion advocacy, he reevaluated everything. He went, and, looked at his own studies, his own field of evidence to make his determination that this drug is not safe and that it really harms women and that it hurts the physicians that brought the case because what he has asserted in his opinion is that they end up having to care for women where these medication abortions have gone wrong.
And what the Department of Justice has said is this is, you know, bologna. They used better legal terms, but basically what they said is that he had no -- he has no real evidence for finding this and it was -- and furthermore, what they say is, it's unprecedented for a federal district court judge to try to put himself in the shoes of the agency, where the expertise resides.
So I can see indeed why many people would be challenging that, and that's why I actually think in the end and you know, in the abortion context now, you know, any kind of predictions are really fraught in so many ways, but I think that there's so much at stake in terms of the power of the Food and Drug Administration to use its knowledge and its experience to assess all sorts of drugs, not just mifepristone, but any existing and new drugs for the market, Jake.
TAPPER: Yeah, but, Joan, let me just ask you, playing devil's advocate here. Okay, we have the three left leaning judges, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sotomayor and Kagan. They will -- they will vote to keep mifepristone on the market. You can argue, maybe Chief Justice Roberts, who was trying to propose this, for want of a better term, middle path of a 15-week abortion ban being okay, but nothing before then.
But where's the fifth vote, Joan? Where's the fifth vote for mifepristone to be legal?
BISKUPIC: Yeah, you know, I hate to be put on the spot, defending where the Supreme Court is going to go. But let's just use it as an example what Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was with the majority in the Dobbs decision back in June, that as I said, completely gutted constitutional abortion rights, what he wrote separately in a concurrence, and I know you're well aware of this, Jake.
What he wrote was I said. We are definitely not trying to outlaw abortion nationwide. He said that he said, well, you're leaving it to the states. Judges so should not be in position -- and these were words he used -- judges should not be making policy and moral decisions, and that's what Judge Kacsmaryk has done in some ways. He took on the responsibility as a decision maker.
And, you know, Brett Kavanaugh, just again, I'll play along with your devil's advocacy here, Brett Kavanaugh, maybe someone who would give a vote to say no, we're in a whole different scheme here because, bottom line, if you diminish or completely eliminate access to this medication abortion drug, you are -- you are making it almost impossible then down the road to have abortions in the states that currently have it legalized because, as you know, medication abortion is now the dominant means for women to end their pregnancies. So, that's what I'm saying.
TAPPER: Yeah. I hear what you're saying, but you're saying the -- your -- it's theoretical, of course.
BISKUPIC: Yeah, everything is theoretical.
TAPPER: But Justice Kavanagh would not take an action that would contradict something he has said before, and I'm wondering if Senator Susan Collins, among other people, might think that they don't know that Kavanaugh can be counted on to be consistent like that based on things, he said before he was confirmed, but it's all theoretical.
Joan, thanks so much, really --
BISKUPIC: Your point is well-taken, Jake. Thank you.
TAPPER: All right. Just -- what Susan Collins might say, I'm just -- I'm channeling her.
TAPPER: Thank you so much, Joan Biskupic.
TAPPER: Coming up, the alleged leaker of secret US. documents makes his first court appearance and is charged with violating the Federal Espionage Act. New details unveiled in court documents today.
TAPPER: That massive leak of classified U.S. documents tops our world lead today. Jack Teixeira, a relatively low ranking 21-year-old airman for the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was in court in Boston today. Teixeira is facing two charges, including one for violation of the Espionage Act. This is over his unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information, allegedly.
He was arrested yesterday. The leaks have already strained relationships with U.S. allies and jeopardized access to crucial information that gave the U.S. government insight into Russia's moves in Ukraine.
Despite all this, an official tells CNN that Teixeira underwent, quote, a very rigorous background check and held a top secret security clearance since 2021.
CNN's Jason Carroll is outside the courthouse in Boston for us where we heard from Teixeira's family today.
REPORTER: Do you have anything to say?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jack Teixeira's family leaving federal court in Boston Friday afternoon, refusing to answer any questions. The 21-year-old Massachusetts air national guardsman made his first appearance in front of a federal judge today. He's now charged with unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents and/or material. An unsealed affidavit shows that to share was granted top secret security clearance back in 2021 and had access to highly classified programs. The affidavit alleges he began posting classified documents starting in 2022. And then recently on April 6th, used a government computer to search a database using the word "leak" once it was publicly revealed that someone was leaking classified documents.
MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is not just about taking home documents, people who sign agreements to be able to receive classified documents acknowledge the importance to the national security of not disclosing those documents.
CARROLL: Teixeira was an IT specialist, and entered the air national guard in September of 2019 and was recently promoted to the rank of airman first class.
According to official U.S. sources, Teixeira is believed to be the leader of a small group of the social media platform, Discord, a site popular with video gamers and where the classified documents had been posted.
The leaked classified documents included a wide range of highly classified information, including eavesdropping on key allies and adversaries and blunt assessments on the state of the Ukraine war. Investigators ultimately narrowed in on the chat group, according to a U.S. government source familiar with the case. Teixeira a was under surveillance for at least a couple of days prior to his arrest.
While President Biden played down the security damage on Thursday, today, released a statement saying, in part: I've directed our military and intelligence community to take steps to further secure and limit distribution of sensitive information. And our national security team is closely coordinating with our partners and allies.
But the ultimate national security impact of the leak still to be determined.
GARLAND: The department of defense is leading an important effort now to evaluate and review the national security implications.
CARROLL (on camera): And, Jake, Teixeira's father briefly showed support for his son while he was in court today. During the end of the court proceeding. At one point, he shouted out, "Love you, Jack," and at that point to share a look straight ahead and said, "You, too, dad". His next court appearance is scheduled for next Wednesday. That will be his detention hearing here at federal court -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in Boston, thank you so much.
Let's bring in David Priess, who's a former CIA officer and author of "The President's Book of Secrets".
David, why would the Massachusetts Air National Guard need to have access to these secrets? DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Yeah, Jake, this is not the
National Guard that some older viewers might remember.
It is an integral part of the Air Force, and if you think about the last 20 years with Afghanistan and Iraq, you have had National Guard deployment, Air National Guard deployments to both conflicts, in some cases, people serving in those units have deployed even more than some straight line Air Force officers.
So they need that intelligence to do those missions. There are legitimate questions about what types of intelligence? Did they need the type of strategic intelligence judgments that are in some of these documents, and I'm sure that that is something that the Department of Defense and other senior policy makers are going to be having some very serious discussions about in the future.
TAPPER: Encrypted messaging apps such as Discord where these classified documents were disseminated are becoming only more and more popular. Is it possible for the intelligence community to even police them?
PRIESS: It's really a high bar, if you think about it. There are probably tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of private chats going on all the time. And a lot of these various networks that support everything from Minecraft to Fortnite to Call of Duty. And if you want the U.S. government monitoring every single one of those for the very slim chance that somebody is discussing classified information. First of all taxes are going to go way up because you've got to hire thousands of people to be monitoring that, and I'm not sure that the American people really want that level of monitoring of protected speech.
The issue really comes with this individual and what he was motivated by in order to do this, and what safeguards were there to make sure that classified information was not removed from the premises, which, according to the documents today, it appears that the suspect did take documents out. It has to be proven in a court of law, but they brought some of the receipts in the documents today, and they showed some good evidence that he was bringing documents out and there were no safeguards taken to ensure that didn't happen.
TAPPER: Yeah, that's the primary issue, not Discord. And obviously, policing and monitoring every U.S. phone call, Discord conversation, et cetera, as untenable.
The leak reveals how far U.S. intelligence was able to infiltrate the private Russian Wagner group, a mercenary group led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin has posted, quote: Perhaps 21-year-old Jack Teixeira was stupid enough to leak the documents. Perhaps he was part of an undercover operation. If this leak had not happened, it would probably have been invented the next day, unquote.
What's your take on that? PRIESS: I think that reveals more about the paranoid Russian mindset of always thinking there's a conspiracy behind the conspiracy than the most straightforward answer. Occam's razor really applies here. The documents lay out somebody who felt like he had access to these documents, wanted other people to see them and took extraordinary means to do so, first transcribing them, realizing that that was actually hard to do, would be easier just to print them, take them home and take pictures of them and then share them with friends, at least virtual friends.
I'm not sure we need to go to the level that Prigozhin goes to in terms of assuming deeper motives here when we've seen no evidence of that.
TAPPER: Yeah. David Priess, thanks so much. Always good to have you on.
Coming up, a family's hope and pain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the American qualities that we absorbed. Be optimistic. Believe in happy -- happy ending. That's where we stand right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: We're going to hear from the parents of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich he sits in a Russian prison falsely accused of spying. America's top negotiator to free detained U.S. citizens joins us.
TAPPER: In our world lead today, the family of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich speaking out for the first time publicly since Russian authorities arrested their son Evan, and accused him of espionage, a charge that the us government calls baseless. "The Wall Street Journal" has released clips of its exclusive interview with his family.
And as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, Moscow court is set to hear an appeal against Gershkovich's detention next week.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Feeling both pride and pain, the parents of Evan Gershkovich are speaking publicly about their son, languishing in a Russian jail and facing a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel that I've failed in some way as a father.
ELLA MILMAN, EVAN GERSHKOVICH'S MOTHER: Totally crushing, that experience all came back from the Soviet Union.
MARQUARDT: The Gershkovich parents are Soviet Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. in 1979. Evan and his sister grew up speaking Russian. When Gershkovich decided to move there as a journalist, his parents knew there was little they could do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't have stopped him when he was 15, let alone, let alone now.
MARQUARDT: Gershkovich bounced around different media outlets, landing at "The Wall Street Journal" just before Russia invaded Ukraine and started to crack down on journalists, many of whom left.
MILMAN: I know that he felt like it was his duty to report and he loved Russian people, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He still does.
MILMAN: He still does, yes.
EVAN GERSHKOVICH, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: No longer is Russia fighting Ukraine --
MARQUARDT: Gershkovich's pieces were well-reported, often shining a light on the Putin regime, like this one in December on the Kremlin inner circle, which made his family nervous.
MILMAN: I think when that article came out about Putin in December, got me worried a lot. Like my mood was changing.
MARQUARDT: Late last month, Gershkovich was arrested on a reporting trip to the central city of Ekaterinburg. The internal security service, the FSB, quickly accused him of espionage. The U.S. government has declared it a wrongful detention, the attorney general said today, and an attack on press freedom.
MERRICK GARLAND: The United States will do everything in its power to get the reporter back.
MARQUARDT: Other Americans who are recently held by Russia, and the family of Paul Whelan, who still is, have been vocal in their support.
TREVOR REED, FORMER PRISONER IN RUSSIA: Taking a journalist that kind of puts it into perspective for you how desperate the Russians have become.
MARQUARDT: Next week, a Moscow court will hear an appeal by "The Wall Street Journal's" lawyers against Gershkovich's detention. His parents are hopeful. But know all too well the reality of Russia's judicial system.
MILMAN: It's what's one of the American qualities that we absorbed. Be optimistic. Believe in happy -- happy ending. That's where we stand right now.
But I am not stupid. I understand what's involved. But that's what I choose to believe.
MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Jake, a major question after Gershkovich was arrested was whether the Russians were doing so in order to be able to exchange him for someone who they really want. An exchange is something that is possible that would be considered, according to Russia's deputy foreign minister, but only after a trial and verdict. Unfortunately, we almost certainly know what the verdict would be considering that the Kremlin said that Gershkovich was caught carrying out espionage red-handed -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yeah. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.
Let's bring in Roger Carstens. He serves as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. He had that position under Trump and continues to have it under President Biden.
Good to see you. Thanks so much for being here.
So, you recently met with the Gershkovich family. Russia says it's only -- there only will be a swap potentially after a trial. What's the status of negotiations? When do you think you can bring this innocent reporter home?
ROGER CARSTENS, SPECIAL PRESIDNETIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: Jake, first off, thanks for having me here. I didn't have a chance to see the family yesterday. We went up and spent about three hours with them. Members of my team, the family members and members of "The Wall Street Journal" staff, and it was a good -- good meeting. I know you didn't ask about this. I want to say the family struck me as positive, resilient, and had a chance to learn a little more about, Evan. And that's important to us as we start to map out our strategy.
In talking with the families, and we always do, we take a new case, we sometimes come up with ideas and thoughts that we might not have had otherwise. And frankly, the family partners with us and then we get a sense of how they'd like to take any possible negotiations as well.
In terms of negotiations, it's in a way too early right now. In our mind, we've mapped out where we think we might want to go. But a lot of it's going to baby based on whether we can get him out before that. I mean, you said at the beginning, Evan is innocent and these charges are baseless. It's our deepest hope that as we press the Russians, they'll come to that realization and just let Evan go. And if not, we'll have to progress further into probably some sort of negotiated settlement.
But we're hopeful that maybe we can get something done before that by just making sure that the Russians are aware that he is innocent. He's not a spy. He's never been a spy, never worked for the U.S. government.
CARSTENS: He's a reporter and he's doing his job. TAPPER: Yeah, one presumes that they're doing this, if not just
because it's in Putin's nature to not be a good person, but also because they want something they want someone in particular.
Russia's ambassador to the U.S. says he had a very harsh conversation with the U.S. government over the detainment of Gershkovich, adding that the meeting achieved no practical outcome, and he went on to say that the Kremlin might order rules that would reduce the number of American journalists permitted in Russia.
CARSTENS: I think there will be a shame. I mean, part of the importance of journalists that they can speak truth to the public. They can speak truth to power.
TAPPER: That's -- there you go. That's why they don't -- that's why they don't want journalists in Russia.
CARSTENS: That's exactly right now. No, I think some journalists have talked too afraid that it's going to have a chilling effect, not just in Russia, but in other countries. I think it's in the interests of everyone to try to resolve this as quickly as possible in a way that allows journalists to keep doing their job.
TAPPER: Have the Russians indicated anybody that they want that's retain. I mean, there was just a young spy that was masquerading as a student that was arrested, maybe, like, maybe, like a week or two before Gershkovich was arrested. I mean, have they said anything behind the scenes, we want this guy?
CARSTENS: They have not. But you're asking a good question. Their negotiations, I've had in the past, not with the Russians, where the other side is actually throughout secret channels, said, we're doing something and by the way, here's what we want to get out of this. In this case, there had been no discussions of that sort and we don't yet know.
TAPPER: So, obviously, you know, the sister of Paul Whelan, Paul Whelan's been imprisoned for so long, years and years, former U.S. marine wrongfully detained in Russia, she released a video expressing frustration at her brother's continued imprisonment in Russia.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S SISTER: The job is to get Paul Whelan home. But what is being conveyed right now to the Whelan family with these red lines and talks of impossible trades is that not only is Paul Whelan worth less than some Russian criminal, he is ultimately worth less than other Americans. Paul Whelan deserves better than he is getting for results. He has the White House attention to his case, and now he needs the White House to get the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Obviously referring to Trevor Reed and Brittney Griner, who were imprisoned too long but less time than their than her brother.
CARSTENS: Indeed, this is a tough one. I understand her frustration. I've been talking to Elizabeth for almost three years now. I've been talking to Paul Whelan.
Paul and I talked as early as last Monday. We spent 15 minutes on the phone. And frankly, I brought up Evan's case. I told Paul what was going on gave him a sense of what was happening and told him that he was now wrongfully determined to be wrongfully detained.
We're not taking our foot off the gas, we're going to find a way to bring Paul and Evan home, but I want you to know that Evan and Paul, and I'm going to say Paul because I've been working on this case for so long there front and center in our minds. We are going to find a way to get this done.
TAPPER: The Chinese government announced yesterday, it's upholding a death sentence for American Mark Swidan who has been detained in China for more than a decade on drug trafficking charges. Swidan has just had a two-year reprieve before he's executed.
What's going on to stop this?
CARSTENS: We were disappointed in that ruling. We were hopeful that the Chinese would perhaps relent and allow Mark to come home. As you said, he's been held for 10 years now in pre trial detention, some pretty tough conditions.
I've had a chance to fly down to see his mother on a few occasions. My team is actually flying down tomorrow to see her to spend some time with her to discuss what we're doing, but we have a -- we have an effort right now with the Chinese and we have to just kind of let things play out. This is tough.
At the end of the day, the Chinese -- just like the Russians, they hold the key to the gel cell, and it's going to be up to us to find that way to bring him back.
TAPPER: All right. Roger Carstens, special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. You have a tough job. We appreciate your coming here.
CARSTENS: Thanks for having me on, Jake.
TAPPER: Coming up, it's one of the most dangerous treks in the world. CNN spends five days walking through the Darien gap, the same journey thousands of migrants make every year.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our world lead, we are learning more today about the more than 200 migrants who were found trapped and screaming for help in an abandoned trailer on the side of a Mexican highway. The Mexican National Guard found the truck Wednesday night, and officials say they could hear people inside, begging for air, begging for water.
The discovery is a reminder of the lengths people will go to get to the United States. Some of those migrants in Mexico had already likely survived an incredibly treacherous journey across the Darien Gap.
Recently, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and his team actually hiked the entire Darien gap for CNN's new program, "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER". The Darien Gap, if you don't know, it's a dangerous 66-mile trek, through dense jungle with no roads that connect South and Central America.
Every year, thousands of people attempt it, all to get them closer to the U.S., 3,000 miles away. Along the journey, CNN came across dozens, dozens of unaccompanied children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Football shirts are porters, each numbered, charging to carry bags, even children uphill. But it doesn't always work out.
Wilson is separated from his parents, porter raced off ahead.
My Nick is Nick. Nice to meet you. You are here all by yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Yes.
WALSH: You're waiting for your parents? Where are they?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: They are behind.
WALSH: Are you going to America? Where are you going?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: To Miami.
WALSH: What do you like about Miami?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Daddy is going to build a swimming pool.
WALSH: He will build a pool for you? What do you want to be when you grow up?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: To work.
WALSH: What work?
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: School work.
And my sister has chosen nurse.
WALSH: Nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children were found on the route last year, the U.N. have said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now.
It's heartbreaking. Nick, you and your crew spent five days in the Darien Gap. What surprised you most about what you saw?
WALSH: Certainly the volume of people, the volume of children there, the numbers are staggering. A record 250,000 made this trek last year. But in the first quarter of this year, we're talking about a seven fold increase compared to the same period in that previous record breaking years.
So there could be over a million, and at times that translates into a traffic jam of people in the jungle or waiting at choke points to get over a tree root or passed through a particularly difficult ravine. It's startling to turn around and see hundreds of people behind you trying to make their way, including very young children, some sick being carried by their parents.
And also, too, I think the thing that really struck me was how the grit and determination of people to keep going and get through this danger is a reflection of the horrors really that they leave behind.
You talked about the migrants in Mexico. They're being discovered. These are people willing to endure pretty significant risk to themselves and their family because of the lives they flee in Haiti, Venezuela, Ecuador, China, the top four nations so far on the trick this year.
But the wonderful thing Jake to witness was the moments of generosity, of extraordinary humanity among strangers, looking to be sure that nobody was left behind on the trek, picking up a stranger who hurt their ankle, carrying somebody else's disabled child for a day simply to be sure that they could feel good about what they've seen on their way on that perilous trek.
It's a cynical process run by a drug cartel trying to get money out of people, promising them an easy ride when it's far from that. But really came away from that with something edifying, frankly, that even in the worst moments born of desperation through utter peril to get to something better, a dream, you see some of the best of humanity, Jake.
TAPPER: Incredible, and you can see more of Nick's journey in the very first installment of the brand new scene in series, "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER", "The Trek: A Migrant Trail to America". Ad it's this Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.
Texas Governor Abbott intends to pardon a man convicted of murder, but now, text messages and online posts not introduced in the trial show that same man has a history of racist and violent rants. We'll break down the details, next.
TAPPER: Topping our national lead today, some shocking, newly unsealed documents show that the Texas man convicted one week ago today of murder in that fatal shooting of a protester's -- protester to Black Lives Matter rally in 2020, whom Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced he intends to pardon, that that individual described himself as a racist, compared Black Lives Matter protesters to a zoo full of monkeys and talked openly on social media about wanting to kill people.
CNN's Ed Lavandera reports on these disturbing messages, most of which were not shown to the jury.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country in the summer of 2020, newly released court documents revealed Daniel Perry intensely watched the chaos, quickly becoming angry.
In a social media post, he described the protesters as a zoo full of monkeys. The unsealed documents include 76 pages of social media postings and text messages, most of these details were not shown to the jury that convicted the army sergeant of murdering protester Garrett Foster and raises new questions about why Texas Governor Greg Abbott is rushing a push to pardon this convicted murderer.
Foster's family and longtime partner have called the governor's call for a pardon disgusting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been a complete nightmare.
LAVANDERA: The court documents show Perry talked about killing people and shared racist memes and comments on social media, including a 2019 message saying: Too bad we can't get paid for hunting Muslims in Europe.
And in a Facebook message in May 2020, just months before the deadly shooting, Perry wrote: He might have to kill a few people on my way to work. Another text said: I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.
Perry's attorneys called the release of the documents a political move by prosecutors and said Foster also made posts advocating violence. In this 2020 post, Foster praised the burning of a Minneapolis police station. Perry's attorneys are calling for a new trial, saying they want to introduce evidence that Foster repeatedly instigated confrontations and was the, quote, first aggressor.
When the murder happened on July 25th, 2020, Perry, now a 35-year-old Army sergeant, worked as a rideshare driver and had just dropped off a passenger near a BLM protest. Prosecutors say Perry drove into the protest and instigated a confrontation. Perry's attorneys say Foster, a 28 year old Air Force veteran, motion to Perry as protesters were beating on his car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to practice some -- some of our rights. LAVANDERA: Foster was legally carrying an assault style weapon that night. Perry had a handgun in his car, and at some point in the exchange, he fired multiple times, killing Foster.
During a police interrogation, Perry gave several versions of the position of Foster's gun.
DANIEL PERRY, CONVICTED MURDERER: I believed it was aimed at me. I believe he was going to aim it at me. I didn't want to give him a chance to aim at me, you know?
LAVANDERA: Perry also told police he did not try to kill Foster. A Texas jury rejected his claims of self defense.
LAVANDERA: Now, Jake, it was the day after Perry was convicted that Governor Abbott announced that he wanted a swift resolution to this and a pardon of Daniel Perry. We asked the governor's office today if they still stand behind those words, and we got a one sentence response from his spokesperson, saying: All pertinent information is for the board of pardons and paroles to consider, as this is part of the review process required by this -- the Texas constitution.
So this will still take some time. It's not exactly clear when that board will issue its recommendation to the governor, and this important reminder here, Jake. This trial isn't even over. Yet there were still awaiting when the sentencing phase of this trial will take place -- Jake.
TAPPER: Ed Lavandera in Austin, Texas, for us. Thank you so much.
Coming up at the top of the hour, breaking news out of the U.S. Supreme Court and the fight over medication abortion. What that means for women and doctors across the U.S.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, extreme drought conditions made this lake disappear. But now, torrential rains and record snowfall have brought it back to life. And with it, a whole new set of problems.
Plus, new problems for Boeing 737 MAX planes, the same airlines that were grounded for months after a deadly technical problem was causing the plane to fall out of the sky. This time, Boeing says the planes are safe.
And leading this hour, the U.S. Supreme Court just hitting pause on the battle over medication abortion. This means girls, women and doctors will continue to have full access to mifepristone without any restrictions for now.