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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Supreme Court Temporarily Extends Stay On Abortion Pill Restrictions; Ukrainian Prosecutor General Investigating 80K Potential War Crimes; U.K. Defense Minister: Ukraine "Receiving Supplies That It Needs"; Trump Racks Up Hill Endorsements Amid DeSantis's Trip To Capitol Hill; Aviation Leaders Differ On How To Keep Pilots In Airline Industry; IRS Agent Seeks Whistleblower Protections, Alleges Mishandling In Hunter Biden Probe; Japan To Dump Tons Of Treated Water Contaminated In Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Into Pacific Ocean. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 19, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, a warning ahead of what is already shaping up to be a record breaking summer travel season. Will there be enough pilots to fly your plane? Answers up in the air.

Plus, a close call near Ukraine's frontlines as a missile strike narrowly misses a CNN crew. The new onslaught of Russian attacks and how Ukraine is trying to defend itself.

Leading this hour, the Supreme Court weighs in by kicking the can down the road. The High Court temporarily extending access to an abortion drug until 11:59 p.m. Friday night. Women and girls and physicians across the U.S. remain in limbo unsure if the strict new restrictions will severely limit the use of mifepristone moving forward, not just used for medication abortion also used for women who experienced miscarriages or women who are going through menopause. CNN's justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now live.

So Jessica, what happens next?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we're really now in a holding pattern yet again until the Supreme Court issues what will likely be a more definitive decision before late Friday. That continues to mean uncertainty for women, doctors and even drug manufacturers. But the good news, I guess, for them is that it does keep everything status quo when it comes to the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone. So, the abortion pill will in fact continue to be fully available while the Supreme Court continues to weigh this decision.

And come Friday night, we'll know if the Supreme Court is going to extend that pause on the lower court ruling even further, which would mean restrictions would not go into effect while the appeals process plays out. Or, of course, the Supreme Court could decide to let some of the restrictions go into effect. Or finally the Supreme Court could really decide by Friday night to let all of those restrictions go into effect. That would include no more mailing of the pill, no more telehealth visits to get access to the pill and no availability for the pill past seven weeks of pregnancy.

So, Jake, right now the justices are likely conferring and writing. And we will find out more about a definitive decision likely sometime on Friday. Jake.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN Supreme Court Reporter Ariane de Vogue.

Ariane, what do we know about what's happening behind the scenes at the high court right now? And what will happen over the next two days presumably until the deadline?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right, Jake. Someone wanted more time here. This is a play for time. And maybe it's because when the Biden administration and the manufacturers came to court in the last couple of days with a lot of legal briefs, they really put it on strong that there would be chaos, unless if these lower court orders aren't blocked, for instance, the generic drug that takes place -- that takes care of two thirds of these abortion medication drugs, that would go on hold, right?

It wouldn't be able to be mailed. You could only take it seven weeks into pregnancy. Even the label changes could take months, that would be a lot of chaos.

The court as it's looking at this now, they may say -- see this as less as an abortion case and more. Did the FDA have the authority to do what it did? But then they might think do judges -- can judges play doctors here? Do they have a better opinion than the doctors?

Finally, they all know that this comes almost a year after they decided Roe v Wade in that decision, they allowed the issue to go back to the States. But here, if these lower court opinions do go into effect, that would mean that even in states that allow abortion, it could be severely restricted. That could give justices like Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, that could give them pause. They're all meeting Friday morning behind closed doors for their regular meeting, they're likely to talk about this again, and then finally issue this opinion.

TAPPER: Ariane, is there a chance that the court could kick the can down the road again if they need more time to deliberate?

DE VOGUE: Here's what happens sometimes. Sometimes someone writes something really fiery, and they're like, wait a minute, do we really need this? And sometimes they just want to have a little bit more space, that could be occurring. There's so many questions about what's going on behind the scenes. It's really hard to tell. All we know right now is somebody definitely wanted more time here.

TAPPER: All right, Ariane de Vogue, and Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Dr. Jessica Shepherd. She's an OB-GYN in Texas.

Dr. Shepherd, what does this temporary pause mean for doctors and patients?

DR. JESSICA SHEPHERD, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, VERYWELL HEALTH: Yes, you know, being based in Dallas, Texas, here a state where, again, abortion is illegal, we're talking about as we've talked about before the states which can still have access to surgical and medical abortions in this case. And medical abortions actually are still legal in a lot of different states. And mifepristone is one of those two pill regimens that is needed for a safe and reliable nonsurgical mean of an abortion.

TAPPER: So you have performed surgical abortions in the past, you also have prescribed abortion medications in the past but because Texas has a ban on any abortions after about six weeks, a ban that went into effect in 2021, you no longer do either of those because it's against the law. What kind of impact has that had on women and girls who might want to access this care?


SHEPHERD: One word that we've heard significantly through this segment alone is chaos. And the chaos not only comes in the community of women who are needing this access for the decision that they want to make with their body, but also in the medical aspect and for the -- from the pharmacy perspective, because as you stated before, when we look at mifepristone and misoprostol, both of those medications can be used in different instances. But now we are seeing the pushback, even in prescription of these medications, of getting it released. And I've even had that happen for patients that need it for another type of procedure but getting the pushback from pharmacy just to get access to the medication.

TAPPER: So, we talked to Professor Katie Watson in the last hour in the previous hour and she said that misoprostol, this the other pill in the regimen, could be taken alone, but actually has more risks being taken in a higher dose, taking two of those instead of mifepristone and then misoprostol. Tell us about those higher risks.

SHEPHERD: Now, when you look at actually both of the medications, and this is why we're looking at this specific case, and why it's so important that the FDA does the work that they do is because they're really doing rigorous research when we look at actual data, looking at side effects and possible complications. So when we actually look at both of those medications together, we know that the complication rate is significantly low, which is why we've had access to this four medical abortions for more than 20 years. Now, if you look at both of the drugs, misoprostol is the one that you asked about. Now, when we look at complications in a high dose that can mean anything such as significant cramping, discomfort, possible bleeding. But when we look at medical complications, rather that are going to significantly impact the life of a woman, those are so low. And this is why we've been able to use this medication very safely and effectively for such a long time.

TAPPER: Do you worry -- beyond the issue of abortion and how people feel about that, do you worry about the precedent that could be set if the Supreme Court decides it's OK for judges to just put their wisdom above that of the Food and Drug Administration?

SHEPHERD: Now this case is a challenge to how we practice medicine as health care providers because we know what we're doing based on research and how we have been able to treat patients for decades and centuries. And then also looking at the FDA and what they are allowed to do, this is again going against the expert judgment from two different perspectives, FDA looking at medication and safety and efficacy, and also physicians being able to provide their patients confidentially and in the safety of an exam room what is best for that patient at that time.

TAPPER: Dr. Jessica Shepherd in Dallas, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up new Russian missile strikes in Ukraine and a close call for a CNN crew near the frontlines. How Ukraine's military is trying to fight back. Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis now expanding the ban in schools of discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was K through three, third grade, now it's proposed all the way through the 12th grade. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Off to Ukraine in our world lead today, Russia fired at least 60 missiles into Ukraine overnight, especially in and around the beleaguered eastern city of Bakhmut, that's according to the Ukrainian military, and further south and onslaught of drone attacks. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in southeastern Ukraine where he and his team narrowly escaped a missile strike to bring you this report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Close to Ukraine's imminent counter offensive in the south east where Russia has long been brutalizing, pain is commonplace and the damage often everywhere, an indiscriminate. The quiet is a blessing that rarely lasts. We're warned of a missile strike in coming and leave.

(on camera): Holy (bleep).

WALSH (voice-over): We can feel the pressure of the blast just behind armored car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was right behind us.

PATON WALSH (on camera): Nat, can you hear me?

(voice-over): Natalie Gallon, our producer, is in our second vehicle just passed the smoke -- (on camera): Nat, can you hear me?

(voice-over): -- with driver Igor Muggeridge (ph) and isn't answering.

(on camera): Nat, can you hear me?

(voice-over): The missile landed right between our cars.

(on camera): Nat, can you hear me? Nat, can you hear me?

(voice-over): For 10 seconds, we have no idea if they are live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) She just said something.

PATON WALSH (on camera): Nat, can you hear me?

NATALIE GALLON, CNN PRODUCER: Yes, yes, I can hear you. Are you guys OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're fine. Just please, drive out the way we left.

PATON WALSH (voice-over): We leave together.

For so many, that choice of leaving is something imaginary that happens above ground. The only power and water in town are down here.

(on camera): Our life underground here has been hard for quite some time, but it will get harder when the counter offensive begins pushing certainly in this direction.

(voice-over): If there is space for laughter, it's from this, a screechy slapstick Soviet era comedy about a drunken goofball briefly bending the fixed set grimaces here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Today wasn't quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Morning?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They bomb, planes bomb. With all arms they hit us, they try everything. It's very noisy, day and night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): At home? If I am with God, with Jesus Christ, who protects us, cares for us, with guardian angels, we endure.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): Guardian angels seem here to flit by in a town where 50 died in the war and 200 were injured. Safety is just a word here and rubble is a place.

(END VIDEO TAPE) PATON WALSH: Now, Jake, that town of Orikhiv is pretty close to the front lines, essentially. And today locals told us they heard small arms fire on its outskirts. Essentially, they think Russian troops probing towards Ukrainian positions as Ukraine seems to be mounting forces for a counter offensive, long awaited, long Ukraine -- sorry, long NATO supplied and bolstered and planned. And so, I think there are concerns here that the bombardment you saw there, which we briefly experienced, which locals have been enduring for months may intensify as that potential move by Ukraine pushes forwards, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, so glad you and your team are OK in Zaporizhzhia. Appreciate it.

Back on Capitol Hill, House lawmakers heard from victims of Russia's wartime atrocities. Take a listen to this 57-year-old Ukrainian woman from Kherson speaking through a translator.


LYUBOV, UKRAINIAN WOMAN TORTURED BY RUSSIAN FORCES (through translator): In January of this year, they came for me. And then they took me to their torture chamber and kept me there for five days. Forced me to undress, cutting my body with a knife and threatening to rape and kill me. Also forced me to dig my own grave.


TAPPER: Just one of so many stories like that. Joining us now, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin.

So good to have you here, Prosecutor General.

So we just heard one of the 80,000 reported war crimes by your office's count including torture, murder, rape, the forced deportation of so many Ukrainian children to Russia. You said today you finished cases about half of the 310 perpetrators of the crimes. Unfortunately, we're hearing about new cases every day. You know, CNN has teams on the ground in Ukraine. How do you even keep up with the caseload?

ANDRIY KOSTIN, UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR GENERAL: Of course, we prioritize our work. And for us, the priority are cases where people, civilians were killed, injured, or ill-treated in different manner, when they have been victims of harm, sexual and any other type of attack. And prioritizing these cases, of course, we -- the most challenging for us is to identify the perpetrator because many of them are hiding their faces. But for cases we have already finished, we not only identified the perpetrators, but we also collected evidences that they initially committed these war crimes. And hundreds and 1000s of cases are ongoing.

And this is our primary job to deliver justice to Ukrainians in our national system, while we have already great results in international level.

TAPPER: Right, so you met with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday of this week, and he announced the U.S. Justice Department would detail a prosecutor to The Hague to assist you in investigating these Russian war crimes in Ukraine. What else do you need from the United States, your office?

KOSTIN: We have a unique cooperation with the Office of Attorney Merrick Garland. And the deployment of the prosecutor to the International Center for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression into the Hague, who will work shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian and other international prosecutors, is a clear sign, clear example of our support with regard to making highest Russian political and military leadership accountable for the crime of aggression, the leadership crime, because if crime of aggression would not have been committed, there would be no 80,000 incidents of other war crimes.

TAPPER: So there's a warrant out for Putin's arrest for the deportation of the Ukrainian children, do you think he will ever face any accountability?

KOSTIN: We all know that he will face accountability, we will do anything possible. And our task as a lawyers is to prepare everything, to prepare cases, to collect evidences and to prepare all legal framework. It's not our -- we have no time actually to think about the future whether we will capture him or not. But I will give you an example of our senior advisors from all over the world who started as young prosecutors in cases in tribunals for future war criminals in the conflicts of former Yugoslavia territories, they never imagined that people like Milosevic and Karadzic would be in the dock of international tribunals when they started their war. But at the end of the day, both of them were tried and prosecuted. So our aim, together with the International Criminal Court is to go ahead, not only against Putin, but also against other high ranking officials who occur -- who are responsible for the 1000s of war crimes committed in Ukraine.


TAPPER: I want to turn to Ukraine's current battlefield needs. I spoke with the U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace. Here's a little bit of what he told me.


TAPPER: Does Ukraine have what it needs for the counter offensive? And why isn't the U.K. providing Ukraine with Typhoon jets right now as they've requested?

RT HON. BEN WALLACE, U.K. DEFENSE MINISTER: First of all, Ukraine is getting ready and is receiving the supplies that it needs, whether that is artillery shells or whether that is specialist anti air equipment. A huge amount has been donated over the last year. And that is building to a significant capability.


TAPPER: He says Ukraine is receiving the supplies that it needs. Are you receiving everything you need?

KOSTIN: I don't think that anyone in Ukraine can say that we receive everything we need. We understand that we need more and we need it quicker in order to liberate our territory as soon as possible because it will save lives of our people, because every day more people are killed.

And not only actually we're talking about civilians, let's also think about our servicemen, because they are protecting our country. They're defending our country, but they are victims of the crime of aggression committed by Russian Federation. And as quick as we liberate our territory, more lives will be saved not only civilians, but servicemen because many of these servicemen they are civilians yesterday.

TAPPER: Right. Right.

KOSTIN: And it's about their families and their lives. So, we are grateful for any assistance we have, but I think that we need more and quicker.

TAPPER: All right, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, thank you so much. It's always an honor to have you here. Thank you so much.

KOSTIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, Mr. DeSantis goes to Washington, but it doesn't look like the trip paid off at least not as far as Donald Trump says. Does the Florida governor have a likability problem? That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a rare appearance on Capitol Hill for a meet and greet with House Republicans as he ramps ups an unexpected presidential campaign. That visit resulted in four sunshine state lawmakers publicly declaring their 2024 support for Donald Trump. Ouch. CNN's Steve Contorno joins us now live from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Steve, the Politico headline that Donald Trump was nice enough to e- mail out is pretty vicious. It says, "DeSantis is in a rut. His trek to D.C. didn't help." I want to thank the Trump campaign for sending that. I would have missed it, otherwise. You have covered DeSantis for years. What's going on?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Jake, Ron DeSantis, even though he was a member of Congress for almost six years and has been Florida's governor for almost five, he doesn't have much of a relationship with Florida's congressional delegation. It's something he's actually almost bragged about it at times. In his book, he noted he wasn't in D.C. to socialize.

I talked to one of his former colleagues, David Jolly. He was a House representative from Florida, also Republican. He said quote, "I don't remember a single Florida delegation meeting he attended. We had lunch once a month, just to casually just to catch up. I'm not sure he ever attended a single one. He was not a team player. It doesn't surprise me that he doesn't have much loyalty in the delegation." And Trump, what he has done has exposed this chiasm and he made a concerted effort to pick up support among these Florida Republicans early and raise this question, why are these Republicans endorsing Trump over their home state governor. And DeSantis' team recognize that this was going to be trouble for him. They started scrambling trying to get some of these people to at least wait until DeSantis had announced before they made an endorsement. Instead, several of these people have come out since those phone calls were made and endorsed Donald Trump, Jake.

TAPPER: Also on the policy front, DeSantis is locked in this battle with Disney. And that all started with that law that banned discussion of sexuality and gender in grades kindergarten through third grade. Today, the state of Florida said that they're going to expand that ban up to senior year in high school.

CONTORNO: That's right, Jake. The State Board of Education made today and made good on this promise to expand this law all the way through high school. Governor DeSantis was in South Carolina today where he touched on that action as well as the Disney feud. Take a listen to what he said.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Gender ideology has no place in our K through 12 school system. And we've made that very, very clear. It is wrong for a teacher to tell a student that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice. And so, we don't let that happen in Florida and if Disney objects to that will so be it.


CONTORNO: Now, DeSantis is also promised to do a whole bunch of retribution against Disney as well. He even floated the idea, Jake, of potentially building a prison next door to Disney's theme park.



Steve Contorno in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thanks so much.

Let's discuss with my august panel. So dozens of House Republicans have already lined up behind Donald Trump, including eight from Florida, including one just a few hours ago, I think Vern Buchanan, maybe it was. And for doing so this week on this big trip of DeSantis to meet with Capitol Hill Republicans. What's going on?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: We've said often that it's -- even with Trump indictment, even after January 6, that there were multiple indications that Trump still had a grip on the party. But on the DeSantis side, what I think is interesting is things like this ongoing fight with Disney.

You saw members of Congress, Republican members of Congress also question whether or not that was going to be effective. It's almost like you have this collision of sort of leaning into these culture wars that we did see galvanize some of Trump's base, but that kind of running head on to the traditional pro-business values as well of the Republican Party.

But, you know, it's not just today. This week we've seen that ongoing battle with DeSantis and Disney. You know, you've seen some Republican members of Congress that question whether or not that is effective as well.

TAPPER: Yes, and Tiffany, DeSantis team made this last minute push to try to pick up some endorsements ahead of the trip to Capitol Hill. This is what a source close to a Republican House member told CNN about that, quote, "If the governor wants the endorsement, he should be picking up the phone and calling directly instead of having an aide doing the reach out. You know, who calls for the Trump endorsement? Trump himself," unquote.

TIFFANY SMILEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN WASHINGTON SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, look, you know, what's going on here is politics.

TAPPER: Right.

SMILEY: And it seems very, very early in the presidential primaries to be, you know, taking up the airwaves with this. What I found in my new project with Rescuing the American Dream is that voters are tired of politics. They want to hear solutions.

Americans are suffering right now. Majority of them, 70 percent in our survey, agree that America is on the wrong track. And their top three, number one, government, big government, and politics. No one's talking about solutions to help the American people. I want to give the microphone to the American people. I'm excited about the work we are doing. That's what should be dominating the airwaves right now.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, in the midterm election, an historically high percentage of people who said the country was on the wrong track, or said the economy was in bad shape, or said they disapproved of Joe Biden still voted for Democrats anyway because they viewed the alternative as unacceptable to a degree that we have never seen before in exit polling.

And that is kind of the challenge that Republicans are rolling toward in 2024. People are dissatisfied with things, the way things are going in the country. But there are a lot of voters who believe that putting Trump back in the White House is kind of an existential risk to American democracy.

And the way DeSantis has chosen to try to beat him by trying to -- you know, I have this image in my head of the Republican race being this big interstate highway. You have Trump rumbling down the right lane at 70 miles an hour.

TAPPER: In a huge mac truck.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, in a mac truck. And then you've got like a center right lane, a center lane, a center left lane that really isn't that crowded. And Ron DeSantis is trying to pass him on the right shoulder.


BROWNSTEIN: Like the 6 inches before the guardrail. And it kind of raises the question, I think, part of the problem he's having. You saw that donor in Florida, that Republican mega donor, said, look, I was Ron DeSantis because I thought he could win back the suburbs of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. If he's banning books, banning abortion, fighting with Disney, maybe he can't do that.

So in some ways, that the strategy that he's pursuing both creates the problem that Republicans had in '22 if he does win and drains away some of the support he would need to actually get past Trump.

TAPPER: And Ashley, know what's interesting about that is also is I've met Democrats, liberal Democrats in Florida who voted for DeSantis. I mean, he won reelection with almost 60 percent of the vote. And one of the reasons was people perceived him as a good governor. They liked what he did, you know, after storms.

They like -- and the impression that the national audience is getting is somebody focused on these culture wars that the voters in Florida I had talked to, liberal Democrats, like I said, did not have.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think DeSantis had such a large margin of victory this past election cycle because of also his opponent. I would say that a lot of people didn't really favor --

TAPPER: Charlie Chris?

ALLISON: -- Charlie Chris.


ALLISON: I still think, though, people in Florida did like the way DeSantis governed during COVID keeping things open. But what DeSantis is also doing is playing to the base that still supports Trump with the book bans, with silently signing a six-week abortion ban.

These are all issues that play to an extreme right of the Republican Party. What Trump is trying to do, though, is he knows DeSantis is his stiffest competition, whether announced or not announced, and he's actually playing good politics. He's picking up the phone, we call it call time when you're organizing.

TAPPER: Right.

ALLISON: You're talking to people, you're saying a politician needs support and it needs voters, so you better talk to them and you better ask them for what you need.


And DeSantis is, you know, saying, oh, maybe I don't need these Republican lawmakers. But at some point, you're going to need to announce and at some point you're going to have momentum, and he better hope it's not too late.

TAPPER: So, Tiffany, you ran for Senate in Washington State, and you have this new group that you're starting, and one of the things you're doing is you're trying to get more outside or you're an outsider. You've never been elected anything before to run for office. Why is that important, do you think?

SMILEY: Well, I think it's important because life is a great teacher and we need people who have unique life experiences in the halls of Congress. Career politicians aren't the future of ou country. That's evidence in our polling. That's evidence -- again, big government and politics.

The American people are tired of hearing about it when they are suffering, when they're trying to put food on the table and gas in their car, when they're trying to ensure that their children have a good quality education.

I'm a mom of three boys. I've seen our education slip in Washington State. So, look, we need to ensure that we are giving the American people a voice. That's what's unique about my survey is it's not a top down. D.C. is so top down. We like to tell the American people what our ideas are and get their opinion.

What we did in the survey is we asked them what their beliefs are, what their hopes and their fears are. And I think that's important going forward into this next cycle.

TAPPER: And, you know, one of the things when I'm hearing about this, I always think that's what people say when they're surveyed. Just like they want term limits and then they ultimately go and they vote for the incumbent all the time, you know?

KANNO-YOUNGS: Right, no. And look, I mean, when it comes to some of the concerns among people, they're also going to be focused on what's causing them immediate stress.

TAPPER: Right.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Whether it be immediate economic stress, whether it be high prices as well. People are concerned about what's affecting them day to day. So, you know, often when you hear sort of things being proposed that may be either long term and effective or sort of sprawling ideas that people may not digest as improving their lives on a day to day basis, that's where some of that frustration can come into.

TAPPER: Thanks, one and all, for being here. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, a new warning about flying just as the summer travel is about to heat up. Who and what is the culprit? Stay with us.


[17:41:28] TAPPER: In our money lead, some U.S. aviation leaders warned lawmakers today that the nationwide pilot shortage is about to get worse, which would of course lead to fewer flight options and higher fare prices. But not all aviation officials see eye to eye on how to solve this problem. Some say there isn't really a pilot shortage. So who's right?

CNN's Pete Muntean is at Reagan National Airport outside D.C. Pete, why the disconnect and what are some of the proposed solutions the airline industry might be looking at?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the alarm bells here are really getting louder about the commercial airline pilot shortage. And the head of the Regional Airline association that represents those smaller airlines that operate flights between big hubs and small cities said today on Capitol Hill that in the next 15 years 50 percent of all commercial airline pilots will be forced to retire.

Here is what she says that means to you. More delays in cancelations, fewer flights, in fact, some cities losing service entirely. There are some controversial ideas now that are emerging. Changing the 1,500 hours rule, that's the rule. That is the base leg for pilots coming in to the airlines and also maybe changing the retirement edge, upping it from the mandatory 65 year retirement to 67.

We will see as this develops, Jake. The big thing here is that everyone industry wide agrees there are challenges, but there's a bit of a disconnect on what they say should be done here. And the top airline pilot union says that really this is a training backlog and there is no pilot shortage. Listen.


CAPTAIN JASON AMBROSI, PRESIDENT, AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INTERNATIONAL: Help is around the corner. Pilots are training as fast as they can. So we do need to get, as we said previously, keep outreach, get more people involved in this, more diverse backgrounds. But the pilot supply is good.

FAYE MALARKEY BLACK, PRESIDENT AND CEO, REGIONAL AIRLINE ASSOCIATION: Some say there is no pilot shortage, just a pay shortage. Regional airlines starting pay averages $100,000 for pilots. Bonuses can exceed $125,000. 500 jets are parked. Pay hasn't solved this. We need better career access.


MUNTEAN: The bottom line here, Jake, is it's a great time to learn to fly especially for young people. The under 30 core at the commercial airlines, they represent only about 8 percent of all airline pilots right now. So it's a good time to get into the industry to try and solve this pilot shortage whether or not you agree there is one or not.

TAPPER: Pete Muntean, thanks so much, appreciate it. Just in, a potential whistleblower alleges mishandling and political interference in the Hunter Biden investigation. What a source is telling CNN, that's next.



TAPPER: Just in to our politics lead, an IRS special agent claims to have evidence about alleged mishandling and alleged political interference in the ongoing criminal investigation into President Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

CNN Sara Murray is on Capitol Hill for us. Sara, this IRS agent you tell us now wants whistleblower protections to share his information with Congress?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, his attorney wrote a letter to some Republican and Democratic members of Congress seeking these whistleblower protections and saying his client, who as you point out, is an IRS agent, has information to share about alleged mishandling of the Hunter Biden criminal probe that's of course, been ongoing for a couple of years. It's being overseen by a U.S. attorney in Delaware.

And the letter doesn't get into a ton of specifics, probably because this person does not have these whistleblower protections yet. It suggests that this person could contradict information, a senior political appointee shared in testimony before Congress. It doesn't say who that is. It suggests there's some political interference in the decision making that's going on in this criminal investigation.

But again, not getting into a lot of specifics there. Obviously, this is something that members, especially Republican members of Congress would be very eager to obtain this information. So we're waiting to see what the next steps are and if they are able to get information, get testimony from this IRS agent. We've reached out to the IRS as well as the U.S. attorney in Delaware for comment, both declined to comment, as did a spokesperson for Hunter Biden, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray on Capitol Hill with a breaking and evolving news story. Thank you so much.

In the national lead, today, the family of Tyre Nichols filed a $550 million lawsuit against the city of Memphis, its police department and officers who brutally punched and kicked the 29 year old black man back in January. Nichols died three days later from those injuries.


CNN's Alex Marquardt is in for Wolf Blitzer and he's in The Situation Room. And, Alex, you're going to be talking to the family's attorney, Benjamin Crump.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Jake. An important interview with Ben Crump, who, as you noted, is representing the family in that $550 million lawsuit against members of the Scorpion Unit, that infamous Memphis police unit. That lawsuit also against the city of Memphis for the beating and killing of Nichols back in January.

And Jake, Crump also represents Ralph Yarl, the 16 year old black teenager who was shot by 84 year old Andrew Lester. We'll be speaking to him about that case, particularly because Lester pled not guilty today.

And then, Jake, we are also going to be getting a report from our colleagues Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer, who are on the ground in Warsaw for the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which, of course, saw young Jewish residents taking up arms against Nazi occupiers in 1943. So all of that coming up in just a short time in The Situation Room.

TAPPER: All right, Alex, thank you so much. We'll look out for that in just a few minutes in the Sit Room.

Coming up, 12 years since a powerful earthquake and tsunami caused one of the worst nuclear disasters in the world. New radioactive fears at Fukushima this time are manmade.



TAPPER: In our world lead, in just a few weeks, the government of Japan plans to dump 1.2 million tons of wastewater into the Pacific Ocean, wastewater that was contaminated during the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011. Now the water has been treated, and Japan's prime minister insists it is safe to release into the ocean.

CNN's Marc Stewart now gets rare access to the plant ahead of the dump and talks to fishermen who are condemning this decision.


MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's just after 9:00 in the morning. The crew of this ship is back in port at the Onahama fishing village in Fukushima, Japan. Kinzaburo Shiga is a third generation fisherman starting at elementary school, going on trips with his father.

He told me he's happy on the boat, but he faces challenges. His catch is tested for radiation. That's because the port is around 40 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

In 2011, there was a meltdown here after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

For six years, he couldn't fish, told to stay off the water. When he heard he couldn't fish, he was sad, disappointed the ocean was off limits.

(on-camera): Twelve years later, fishermen face yet another challenge. Treated wastewater that accumulated inside the plant will soon be released into the ocean. A threat to their reputation and way of life.

(voice-over): He says the decision made his blood boil. He wonders why the government made the decision without the consent of the fishermen. At the time, the prime minister said it had to be done to decommission the plant.

We wanted to see the plant for ourselves, and were allowed to after agreeing to a strict safety protocol.

(on-camera): This is as close as we can get to reactors one through four. The cleanup worked here will take at least 20 more years.

(voice-over): We also saw a lab where fish are tested and lots of construction on the water treatment facility.

(on-camera): Let me show you the tanks behind me, row after row, enough to fill about 500 Olympic swimming pools. The treated water will be let go gradually through a tunnel that will take it offshore and then eventually into the ocean.

(voice-over): According to the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, the water has been treated by taking out most of the radioactive particles. It's then diluted with seawater, taking it to a level much lower than the World Health Organization's clean drinking water standard.

An official from the utility told us he recognizes there's distrust because of the past, but they're listening to concerns. He knows not everyone will accept their plan, but points out the support they're getting from third parties such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Still, neighboring countries have expressed concern.

(on-camera): Is there a public health risk by releasing this water?

IAN FAIRLIE, RADIOACTIVE CONSULTANT: Yes, there is a public health risk. And it's relatively low, but the risk exists. I think that they should store the water so that it decays naturally.

STEWART (voice-over): While other options were considered, this was seen as the best plan, as tanks near capacity.

Japan's Pacific coast has been a point of pride and promise for fishermen like Kinzaburo. He says he doesn't know what will happen, but hopes leaders won't work against the fishermen.

The water release is expected to begin by the summer, bringing with it more years of anxiety and uncertainty.


STEWART: And, Jake, despite everything that has happened, Japan still views nuclear power as part of its future. It's seen as a way to be energy independent. It's viewed as a greener energy source. And then on the topic of safety, the prime minister feels the next generation of plants will be safer, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, our thanks to Marc Stewart for that report.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead from whence you get your podcast all two hours just sitting there like a big plate of ribs at Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill.

Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt. He's in for Wolf Blitzer in a place right next door I like to call the The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.