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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Soon: House Expected To Vote On Debt Limit Bill; Montana GOP House Votes To Censure Transgender Lawmaker; Oklahoma Death Row Inmate Richard Glossip Denied Clemency; Disney Sues Florida Governor Ron DeSantis For Violating "Constitutional Rights"; Trans Missourians Brace For Gender-Affirming Care Ban; Hunter Biden's Lawyers Meet With Justice Department Officials; Xi And Zelenskyy Speak For The First Time Since Russia's Invasion. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 26, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Does Speaker Kevin McCarthy have the votes?

THE LEAD starts right now.

A critical vote possibly just minutes away as Speaker McCarthy pushes House Republicans to sign off on his grand debt limit plan. I'll speak with one GOP holdout about McCarthy's last minute offers.

And clemency request denied. A parole board votes against sparing the life of Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip. Glossip's attorney joins THE LEAD along with the state Republican trying to help save the inmate's life.

Plus, Disney versus DeSantis. The major new lawsuit from the house of the mouse accusing the Florida governor of weaponizing his political power.


GOLODRYGA: Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga, in for Jake Tapper today.

We start the day with our politics lead. Do they have the votes?

Right now, House Republicans are in the middle of last-minute negotiations as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tries to get this party's debt ceiling planned across the finish line. We expect that vote to start in just minutes.

Now, McCarthy has zero Democratic support and he can only lose four Republicans, a narrow margin that forced him to make some 11th hour concessions.

And here's the tough reality. Even if McCarthy can get this bill across that finish line, it is dead on arrival in the Democratic- controlled Senate. And the U.S. keeps taking even closer to its first ever debt default, which would, of course, wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.

I want to bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly who's at the White House, and CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

A busy day for both of you.

Manu, let's start with you. Speaker McCarthy has been meeting with holdouts all day. At this point, does he have the votes necessary?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The leadership is confident that they will get the votes, but, Bianna, this will be very close, expect to be a razor thin majority, to get this over the finish line. There are several members who are holding out, some who are flatly opposed like Tim Burchett of Tennessee. And as you mentioned, he cannot lose more than four Republican votes.

But McCarthy has succeeded in flipping some votes, adding some changes to provide ethanol tax breaks that won over some Midwestern law breaks, including from Iowa, making some changes in the Medicaid requirements, to win over some hard right members, and also winning over Congresswoman Nancy Mace who had some concerns for some time about the plan's failure to completely balanced the budget. But she said she had some commitments from the speaker to take on that issue in the future.


RAJU: Your critics would say that you talked a big game here, but then you've got rolled by the leadership. How would you --

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I haven't gotten rolled yet by the leadership on anything. So, negotiating this, and meeting with him, I was going to be a no or yes. I could go either way on this, but having my voice heard on this issue is very important, and getting that commitment from him to work with us on this is very important to us, because otherwise, my vote -- otherwise, I was going to be a no.

RAJU: What happens to happen next?

REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): Well, I mean, listen, that's why they've been talking. Even -- even if those talks, you know, are not productive, you know, they've got to start finding areas that they might agree on.


RAJU: And that last comment from Jared Moskowitz, a freshman Democratic from Florida, who is voicing concerns around some moderate Democrats with the lack of discussions between the White House and Speaker McCarthy. McCarthy has been calling for those talks, the White House has said absolutely not. They will not negotiate raising the national debt limit, saying there shouldn't be any cuts to that tied whatsoever.

But the question will be whether Democrats will continue to stick to the White House's position, especially as we move closer to going over that cliff, which could occur as early as June, potentially the first ever U.S. debt default -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, potentially just weeks away.

And, Phil, given what Manu has said, how closely is the White House watching this unfold now? Given that it has signaled that it is not planning to negotiate with Republicans at all on this issue?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Bianna, they've been watching very closely. Look, there's been a lot of skepticism inside the building behind me that Kevin McCarthy could actually wrangled 218 votes to get anything across the finish line. And, clearly, as Manu and the Hill team have reported, it's been quite an effort to get there. And yet, they are making clear here at the White House that it's an effort all for naught.

There has been some thought -- there's some precedent here, particularly for negotiations like this, where what Speaker McCarthy is doing will unlock, providing some leverage to start negotiations, to start the talks.


Well, if that is his plan, this was the president's response today when asked about it. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm happy to meet with McCarthy but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That's not negotiable. I noticed they quote Reagan and they quote -- they quote Reagan all the time, and they quote Trump. Both of which said -- I'm paraphrasing, it would be an absolute crime to not extend the debt limit.


MATTINGLY: The president, Bianna, making it clear that there's no shift in their position right now. Manu hits at a key point. That position holds so long as Democrats stick together and stay united on Capitol Hill. White House officials making clear they want to maintain that position, working behind the scenes to ensure that that stays the case.

But it also raises the question, what happens next, what happens now? And right now, there doesn't seem to be a great answer to it.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, so far, Democrats are united on this issue. We'll be watching closely.

Phil Mattingly, Manu Raju, thank you.

And joining me now to discuss is Republican Congresswoman Victoria Spartz of Indiana.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

So, I know you were undecided on how you would vote earlier today. At this point, have you made up your mind?

REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): I have, and I'll be open-minded. But I'll be honest with you, it's very unfortunate that we have grandstanded and not willing to have a serious conversation with what's happening, was always spending and debt (ph).

We did it after World War I when Congress actually decided to -- took seriously this issue. And now, we are not doing that. And we have some bipartisan issue.

It's unfortunate that President Biden is not willing to have discussions on issues like site neutrality, which is fraudulent overbilling by large monopolies of Medicare, to save it for seniors, which President Biden and President Trump supported, and bipartisan think tanks have supported in that. Why couldn't we actually move the needle and just show the American people that we have a backbone to challenge like special interest group and challenge the Senate. I think the Senate is so broken.

And this is our chance, and we're not doing it in bipartisan way, and I'm disappointed. But I think we need to have conversation, and I'll see if I want to just have the conversation before I make decision first (ph). But I don't like what's happening right now.

GOLODRYGA: Well, Congresswoman, I should just point out that the president has said, and Democrats have said they would be open to any budget discussions and negotiations but that would be separate, and they want to see happened what has happened in the past, and that is raising the debt ceiling with a clean bill. That's what their predecessors had done.

So why not do that? Why not have a separate path for budget negotiations, and on this, point, given the seriousness of it and the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, just do that first?

SPARTZ: I hate to say, but I have very low confidence, as most American people, in the capability of this institution to do anything if it's not a must pass-situation. We actually have, you know, two thirds of our spending is mandatory, automatic. And 80 percent of discretionary spending is unauthorized by Congress. It means that over 90 percent of spending we even don't make any positions on.

I mean, this is reckless disregard of our duties to this republic and it's unfortunate that the only way we can actually can force the Senate is if we could do it as a part of this discussion because we need to ensure that we pay our bills, but we need to make sure that we don't burden our children, don't destroy programs that we promised to seniors, and give money to big special interest group that get (INAUDIBLE) and a lot of billionaires and oligarchs, and oligopolies.

GOLODRYGA: So, you have a lot of doubts, a lot of questions, a lot of skepticism, but I want to know where your vote will be given that the voting will begin within just 40 minutes or so. Are you a yes or a no on Speaker McCarthy's bill right now?

SPARTZ: I would see where the vote will be. I'll be honest with you. I would prefer not to vote for this bill. If I have to vote just reluctantly to move this discussion, I might do it, and see where it's going to land at the end.

But I hope that my Democrat colleagues will start really talking with us seriously because we can only save this program if we have a bipartisan conversation about fraud and abuse in the system. And what is the cost, it's not good (ph) to we the people, because there's no lobby for the people in Washington, D.C., unfortunately.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, this is coming down to the wire, it looks like for you, and it's reminiscent of your vote of present back a few moments ago in the speakership fight for Kevin McCarthy, and we know that took 15 votes.

Does your hesitancy reflect any sort of doubts you have in his role of speaker right now?

SPARTZ: Listen, he has a very difficult job. But it is a big test for him. You know, leaders are tested in tough situations. So ultimately, you know, the final judgment will be when he come back with -- come back with the final, you know, resolution of this and that will decide what he's able to do, and I think it's good that he's trying to deal with some of these issues.

And I hope that the other side will care what's happening in the country because this is very destructive for our economy, and also unpredictability, creates uncertainty, creates a lot of problems for our businesses and for the people. And we need to start dealing -- we need to start governing.


People really in a real need and we disagree in a lot of issues, but let's find common ground and move forward in this country. It's extremely important for safety and security of our people and our country.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Republican Congressman Victoria Spartz, we'll see what you end up doing in just a few minutes. Thank you so much for your time right now.

SPARTZ: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: And ahead, drama on another House floor, this time in Montana, as Republicans vote just moments ago to censure a transgender state lawmaker who they say violated their rules on decorum.

Plus, the new terrorism charges against Alexey Navalny today, despite the outspoken Putin critic already being behind bars.

And E. Jean Carroll on the witness stand, her chilling testimony today accusing Donald Trump of defamation and rape. That's ahead.


GOLODRYGA: In the national lead, just moments ago, Montana state lawmakers voted to censure Democratic State Representative Zooey Zephyr, the state's first openly transgender legislator. Republican lawmakers punished Zephyr because she claimed she violated rules of decorum when she criticized the legislature for a bill that would ban transition related medical care for minors.


Okay. And we're going to go to Lucy Kafanov now with the latest on this development. She joins us by phone.

Lucy, what happened as the result of this censure?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yeah, Bianna, this vote literally just happened. It was a two-thirds vote. It passed.

The lawmakers, the majority Republican lawmakers in the Montana House just passed the motion to effectively block Representative Zooey Zephyr for participating in person in the rest of the session. She's not allowed in the House floor or the gallery. She will be able to vote remotely.

But this is all the culmination of several days of a standoff effectively between the Republicans in the Montana State House, and Representative Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender lawmaker. This began on April 18th, when the lawmaker Zephyr was criticizing a bill to limit access to gender affirming care for minors and she accused her colleagues of having blood on their hands for voting in favor of this legislation.

She then -- since then had been blocked from speaking on the floor. On Monday, we saw a large group of protesters come out in support of her outside the state capitol. They then entered the gallery. There were shouts. She was blocked from speaking again, and riot police were brought into the house gallery, seven demonstrators were arrested and released.

When the lawmakers introduced this motion today, they actually cited the disruption on Monday as the reason for pushing this measure through. Again, there is just a few days left in the states legislature. They will be able to vote remotely, but she will not be able to participate in debates or speak in the House floor for the remainder of the session -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Lucy, have we heard from Zephyr today?

KAFANOV: She did. She spoke quite a bit. She said the legislature, and I quote, has systematically attacked our community. We've seen bills targeting our art forms, our books, our history and our health care.

She said that she rose up in defense of her community and she said in defending the blood on their hands comments, quote, I was not being hyperbolic. I was being speaking to the real consequences of the vote that we as legislature taken as body. And when the speaker asked to apologize on behalf of decorum what he's really asking me to do is to be silent when her community is facing bills that get us killed. These are her words on the House floor earlier today. She also said

that the speaker was asking her to be complicit in the legislature's eradication of the transgender community, and that she refuses to do so and she will always refuse to do so -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Lucy Kafanov, we'll continue to follow the story, thank you so much for bringing us the latest.

KAFANOV: Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: Also today, Oklahoma's parole board voted against recommending clemency for death row inmate Richard Glossip, which means Glossip's execution date is still set for May 18th. Now, after the decision, Glossip's attorney released a statement saying, quote: We call on Governor Stitt to grant a reprieve of Richard Glossip's scheduled execution on May 18, 2023, because the execution of an innocent man would be an irreversible injustice. We will pursue every avenue in the courts to stop this unlawful judicial execution.

The 60-year-old has been on death row for more than 24 years now, and has narrowly avoided death three times. Glossip was convicted in 1998 of murder, for hiring someone to kill his boss. He's always maintained his innocence.

And over the past few months, several missteps such as witness tampering and missing evidence were uncovered through a report commissioned by state lawmakers and just a few weeks ago, a special counsel report commissioned by the state's attorney general revealed new evidence and suggested vacating Glossip's murder conviction. But none of that was enough to convince the board to grant clemency.

Joining me now is Glossip's attorney, Don Knight, and Republican -- Oklahoma Republican State Representative Kevin McDugle. Both attended today's hearing and testified on Glossip's behalf.

Welcome both of you.

Don, let me begin with you. What is your response to the parole board's decision today?

DON KNIGHT, ATTORNEY REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD GLOSSIP: It was a shocking decision. I thought the hearing went very well. I just applaud the Attorney General Drummond for standing up and doing what was right, and to insist that the fact that Mr. Glossip did not get a fair trial be known, and that he was supporting a new trial.

There are serious problems with this case. I think now, everyone knows that there are serious problems with this case. Even the state admits that Rich Glossip did not receive a fair trial, and that his primary accuser, the man who murdered Barry Van Treese, is a liar. And despite the fact that this was presented today, we had a 2-2 vote, and because one of the members had to recuse, and there's no law in Oklahoma that allows that person to be replaced, we were denied an opportunity to get that third vote.

[16:20:07] It was a very shocking development.

GOLODRYGA: Have you spoken to Richard since the board's decision?

KNIGHT: Yes, we talked to rich. He's -- he's down but not out. I think he was hoping that this would give Governor Stitt a chance to commute his sentence. That's what we were looking for today. That's all he had to do was to say yes. It wasn't to let Rich out or anything, just to give the governor the chance to commute his execution.

And they -- those two voting members wouldn't give us that. That's a stunning development really -- he's hurt, and -- but he's still hopeful.

GOLODRYGA: Representative McDugle, do you now expect the governor to step in?

KEVIN MCDUGLE (R), OKLAHOMA STATE HOUSE: I'm hopeful that he will. I went by his office as soon as I got back to request some time with him. He's tied up today. I'm hopeful to get a meeting with him tomorrow. I'll ask him to do a 60-day stay, which is the only thing he has power to do right now.

By state law, he can't do anything other than give a 60-day stay, because the pardon and parole board denied his ability to do so.

GOLODRYGA: When do you expect that to happen? I know this just took place and this decision just passed down a few years ago, but are you expecting it perhaps even today?

MCDUGLE: I don't know that he'll decide it that quick. I know that Don and his team are filing paperwork on some other things. I'm hopeful to get the time with the governor. I think this creates a -- doesn't create it, actually highlights in Oklahoma, as embarrassing as it is, a systemic problem that we have with some of our DAs. Some of our DAs want you to rubber stamp everything that they do, and they were aggravated and had a number of them show up at the hearing today, and the two members that voted no on the pardon in the parole board happened to be district attorneys, who are the five members on our court of criminal appears happen to be district attorneys.

And they would rather no one look under their hood or no one verify or no one check their cases, but in this case, it's egregious. The number of things that have gone wrong with this case, so much so that the Attorney General Drummond, who is very tough on crime, sided with the defense.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. And he's been siding with the defense for a while now. I know that he was there for this hearing, as well.

Don, we mentioned how the vote went down 2-2, that fifth person recusing himself because his wife had been a prosecutor involved with the case in 2024. How does this conflict of interest even happen?

KNIGHT: Well, I think Representative McDugle was right, two of the five were prosecutors, but actually three of the five were prosecutors. Richard Smotherman was the other voting member placed there by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. He was also a very long-time elected prosecutor. So this board was staffed with prosecutors.

He recused because his wife was the chief prosecutor for Richard Glossip -- against Richard Glossip. So we were facing a lot of head winds going in, that's why we knew we were going to need everything. And I think Attorney General Drummond, Rex Duncan, his independent counsel, the people from Rick Smith, these independent investigators and what they found were so important to us.

It was very difficult for me to understand how, when you have all of these investigators looking at this case, all of these people who have nothing to do with my team, they're out there doing this stuff. And yet, you know, these entrenched prosecutors look at this case, and just simply won't accept that there can be something new, or that maybe something went wrong, because we have lots of new evidence that we have been uncovering since 2015. The last trial was in 2004. And yet the prosecutors in this state won't look beyond the second trial. It's shocking.

GOLODRYGA: Representative, you told CNN in the past if Glossip is executed, you will do everything in your power to fight to end the death penalty in this state. Do you still stand by that pledge?

MCDUGLE: One thousand percent. And it's a shame. We need the death penalty in Oklahoma. We need to have a mechanism for people who deserve it. But that bar has got to be set high, and it should be set high. And Richard Glossip's case doesn't come close to meeting that bar.

We know for a fact Richard Glossip did not commit the murder. The murderer is the one that pointed to Richard Glossip, and the jury never saw the video of how they coerced him to get Richard Glossip's name by mentioning Richard's name six times before Sneed ever mentioned it.


There are so many issues with this case that highlights in Oklahoma the systemic problem that we have. And yes, I will stand against the death penalty, and I will stand against the DAs of Oklahoma who believe that they never make mistakes and they just want everyone to rubber-stamp and believe everything they say and do is clear, and that we should just approve them, to put people to death because they say so. It's egregious.

GOLODRYGA: Well, this is a case that has garnered attention nationwide. We, of course, have been covering it extensively and we'll continue to do so.

Don Knight and Representative Kevin McDugle, thank you so much for your time.

MCDUGLE: Thank you.

KNIGHT: Thank you, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And still ahead, Disney is taking on DeSantis. How new lawsuit from the house of mouse could threaten the political future of the Florida governor.



GOLODRYGA: In the politics lead, the happiest place on earth is headed to court. Disney today filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his political allies, alleging that they had violated its federal constitutional rights.

CNN's Steve Contorno is with us with the latest.

So, Steve, what does Disney allege in this lawsuit, and has DeSantis responded yet?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, in the 77-page lawsuit, Disney is essentially says that over the course of the past year, DeSantis has engaged in a revenge campaign against them, in a violation of their constitutional rights.

Let me read you exactly what they wrote, because it is pretty striking what this lawsuit says. They write, Disney regrets that it is come to this, but the company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests and local development parties from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials.

And Disney is now asking a judge to essentially step in and say, DeSantis attempts to take over its special taxing district in Florida were illegal retaliation against the company, and that this action should be null and void. Now, DeSantis's board met today, they actually took action to say Disney's agreements were null and void. We also had a statement released from DeSantis's office, shooting back at Disney saying, quote, we are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government, or maintain special privileges, not held by other businesses in the state -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: This is getting really ugly, and has been for sometime now. We also know the GOP presidential candidate, Nikki Haley, has weighed into this fight today. What did she say?

CONTORNO: That's right. She was on Fox News today, where she criticized DeSantis and sort of welcomed Disney to her state.

And then she posted this on Twitter: Hey, Disney, my home state will happily accept your 70,000-plus jobs if you want to leave Florida. We've got great weather, great people and it's always a great day in South Carolina.

South Carolina is not woke, but we're not sanctimonious about it either. And this is part of a trend that we're now seeing of DeSantis's

potential 2024 rivals using this -- they're seizing this to criticize the governor and create a wedge between him and GOP voters. Governor Christie over the week has also gone after DeSantis on this. We've seen Governor Hutchinson, Governor Sununu, even President Donald Trump.

So, DeSantis and Disney is really creating an issue for him in the 2024 Republican primary. And he hasn't even entered in yet.

GOLODRYGA: And now headed to the court, Steve Contorno, thank you.

In Missouri tomorrow, transition related medical care for transgender people could be nearly impossible to obtain. And not just for minors, but for anyone. This move by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey would make his state the first to ban this type of health care for adults. Now, right now, 11th hour efforts in court to stop these new rules are underway.

CNN's Kyung Lah has been speaking with patients who are scrambling to figure out what comes next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hoping to get as many people establish for care as possible, because we're really feeling that deadline.

KHARRI, MISSOURI PATIENT: I'll be doing it today.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And the clock is ticking for patients like 19-year-old Kharri, a Missouri resident crossing state lines to Kansas, because of the battle over gender-affirming care.

How long have you not felt like you?

KHARRI: Since I was 14, that's when I was like, you are not correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, some of the side effects of testosterone are permanent.

LAH: All patients in this Planned Parenthood clinic today are beginning gender transitions. A pop-up clinic to beat the deadline set by Missouri's attorney general in an emergency rule. Established patients could continue care once the order goes into effect, but new patients face a slew of requirements that would widely limit access. It's why Kharri is here for the state imposed deadline.

How do you view this executive order?

KHARRI: I -- I view it as someone is afraid of something, so they're trying to eradicate people.

We are terrified. I've been afraid since I was 15. It's really terrifying. It's talk with us, like to sit there and talk with us, listen to what

we're saying. We're not trying to indoctrinate anyone. We're just saying, hey, this is us.

LAH: In another exam room, 20-year-old Andi moved up a May appointment to beat the impending order.

Why is it important to you to have access to this care?


ANDI, MISSOURI PATIENT: It's a constant disconnect from my own body, my own being. I look in the mirror, I feel like an impostor, a stranger. I always have. I'm going through a personal journey now, and hopefully, I can start to feel comfortable in my own skin, and maybe feel like I recognize the person in the mirror, after I start to see these changes.

LAH: Across Missouri, advocates say, it's uncertainty and panic among patients.


LAH: Angela Huntington is a patient navigator for Planned Parenthood.

HUNTINGTON: I was just calling to confirm your appointment.

LAH: Scheduling patients across Missouri.

HUNTINGTON: I think we have a fight. I think we have a fight in front of us.

LAH: What kind of pain are you hearing on either side of the phone line?

HUNTINGTON: I've got patients calling me from all over Missouri that are just scared. They just don't know where they're going to get their care.

LAH: Especially in a shifting battleground of politics and legal orders, say the doctors and nurses.

ASHLEY MILLER, NURSE PRACTITIONER, PLANNED PARENTHOOD GREAT PLAINS: You want to believe people when they tell you who they are, or what they want for their life. And you don't want to say, well, you know, I believe you, that you are transgender, maybe we should phone your local politician to see if you agree.

It's hard not to feel like your local politician is in the room with you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, next I'm going to do is go over screen questions with you.

LAH: Kharri established gender-affirming care in this visit. Rejected by some family members, Kharri says he fled Tennessee a year ago, and is ready to move again, unsure of what happens next in Missouri.

KHARRI: I can't live in any state that won't let me be who I am, I have a 24-hour plan, well, they do this, you have to leave in those 24 hours. Like, close, pack up in the trunk kind of things. I felt like a refugee in my own state, in my own country.


LAH (on camera): Kharri, Andi, and other Missouri patients are actually waiting for the outcome of a hearing that is happening as we speak, Bianna, this hearing is to hear a lawsuit that's been filed by the ACLU of Missouri and Lambda Legal. The attempt here is to try to stop this emergency rule from going into effect, if this lawsuit fails and goes into effect at the stroke of midnight.

And what's happening, Bianna, at these clinics behind me, they're seeing the very last new patients before the rule goes into effect -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, we saw some of then a very powerful piece. Thank you so much, Kyung Lah.

And next, lawyers from Hunter Biden at the Justice Department and only CNN captured their arrival. The investigation leading to this meeting about the president's son -- that's ahead.



GOLODRYGA: First on CNN, lawyers for Hunter Biden met with Justice Department officials today. The president's son is under federal investigation for tax evasion.

CNN's Paula Reid joins me now with more on this.

Paula, what more do we know or know about this meeting and who was there?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know this was a meeting between some of Hunter Biden's criminal defense attorneys and top Justice Department officials. Our colleagues, Eileen Gray, and Steve Williams, got that exclusive video, there, you can see one of Hunter Biden's attorneys, Chris Clark, along with some of his associates entering that building, which is the Justice Department headquarters in Washington.

Now, on Friday, we broke the story that there would be a meeting between these two sides, and that is significant, because there has not been a public development in this criminal investigation into the president son in nearly a year. Now, we've learned this meeting was requested by Hunter Biden's attorneys. They're seeking an update on the status of the case, the Justice Department said, sure, come on in, and they set a date.

Now, we're told today, in attendance, where representatives from the Justice Department's tax division and I will note, the tax division currently does not have a politically appointed chief, so that's a career official who's in charge of that division. As well as the U.S. attorney's office in Delaware, and the Trump appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, David Weiss, he stayed on after former President Trump left office to continue overseeing this investigation.

GOLODRYGA: So, what do you and your sources know about the current status of this criminal investigation?

REID: Well, it's interesting how little has changed since our colleague Evan Perez reported last summer, the prosecutors had really narrowed down the charges to potentially tax charges and possibly one false statement charge, related to the purchase of a gun and not disclosing his addiction. But then, nothing happened for nearly a year.

At this point, it's unclear whether they got any disposition on the case, I was told by sources, not to expect one. We're still reporting out exactly what happened when these two sides met, of course, at this point, the Justice Department is not commenting.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Paula Reid, I was on top of it for us, good to see you on set, thank you.

Well, dramatic testimony from E. Jean Carroll today, who took the stand in her battery and defamation case against Donald Trump.

Carroll began her testimony with the statement: I am here today because Donald Trump raped me. Carroll alleges that Donald Trump groped and raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid- 1990s. Trump has denied all charges.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse.

Kara, what else did Carroll say today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Bianna, Carroll was on the stand today in her case against former President Donald Trump, and she described it to the jury, in graphic detail, just what she says happened to her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman. She said she believed it was a Thursday night in the spring of 1996, and she says, it began as a flirty encounter, they ran into each other at the door. He said, hey, you are that advice columnist. She said, hey, you are that real estate tycoon.

Then he asked for some advice to buy a gift. She said that they look at handbags, look at hats, and then they made their way to the sixth floor in the lingerie department. She said they were joking and engaging in some banter about a piece of lingerie, and then Trump removed her into the dressing room, that's when she says things turned violent.

She says he's shoved her up against the wall, she banged her head, he pulled on her tights, and then he raped her. That's what Carroll's allegations are. She said, since then, the damage to her has been that she has been unable to have any under the romantic relationships, she said, because when she began at the flirty encounter, it landed her in trouble.


Now, Carroll also testified that she confided into friends real time, her attorneys plan to call both of those women to testify, she said, one of those women advised her not to go public with the story, saying that Trump would bury her.

Now, the lawyers also got to the second piece of this case, not the defamation claim, and Carroll testified, that once she went public with the story, and Donald Trump denied it, she said she wasn't his type, she said she received mountains of hate mail. She said that she lost her job at "Elle" magazine, where she wrote that column, and that she even bought bullets for a gun that she had out of fear for her safety.

Now, she -- her testimony completed today, we're just waiting for her to exit the courthouse behind me, she will be back on the stand tomorrow morning, for about another 40 minutes of questioning by her own attorney. And then cross-examination will begin, Trump's lawyers expected come out of the gate hard here. They deny that this ever happened -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Keep us posted if she says anything when she leaves that courthouse. Kara Scannell, thank you.

And up next, a first today, more than a year after Russia launched its war in Ukraine as China now appears to play a role of peacemaker.



GOLODRYGA: In our world lead, Putin critic, Alexey Navalny, could face life in prison on new terrorism charges. Today, he appeared on video, from his prison cell, in a Moscow court for separate charges. Navalny questions how he could have incited a terrorist attack from within his prison cell. Meanwhile, his team thinks his severe stomach issues are the result of being poisoned once again.

And now to Ukraine, where China is attempting to position itself as a broker of world peace. For the first time since Russia's brutal invasion last year, China's President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Now, in comparison, President Xi has spoken with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at least five times since the invasion, including face-to-face in Moscow last month.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

And, nick, what was discussed on this call because regardless of the relationship, it was significant that they finally spoke.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly. The Chinese readout of this conversation was that, essentially, they recognized significant international economic damage and impact from this war. The only way out is some sort of negotiated settlement. Zelenskyy, Ukraine's president, said, well, look, Ukraine would desperately love a path to some sort of peace being laid down an important condition, essentially, Ukraine's 1991 borders would have to be recognized in any meaningful, enduring settlement, essentially means, Russia and its proxies have to get out of the Crimean peninsula and other occupied parts of Ukraine.

That's going to be very hard sell for Moscow to get anywhere near that in this current situation. It's very important to recognize that timing of when this indeed occurred. And the fact that China said, we are now appointing a special envoy, a diplomat with a track record of serving as an ambassador in Russia, to try and begin the diplomatic process, where a matter of days, even hours, you might say, we've already into Ukraine's counter offensive here and China positioning itself for what comes out after the clashes were expecting, rather than influencing them ahead of it -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, they famously introduced that 12-point peace plan which seemed to be dead on arrival.

Nick, we also know that in the meantime, you're reporting Russian strikes are picking up where you are there in Zaporizhzhia. What more are you learning?

WALSH: Yeah, as far as we can tell, all my reporting happens under Ukrainian military restrictions, but certainly, we've heard a lot of silence frankly over the past week or so, as Ukraine's counteroffensive is expected to get underway. But in the last 24 to 48 hours, we've seen videos like this, that show a pinpoint artillery strike on a Russian position, and a number of others to, which have shown Ukraine's forces doing very precise strikes, often on very valuable Russian positions.

That, along with a push on the east of the Dnipro River, make people feel perhaps the beginning of this counteroffensive maybe underway, or at least that Ukraine wants people to see that publicly -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, once again as always, doing important reporting for us, thank you so much.

Well, the special counsel investigating the January 6th insurrection now wants access to audio recordings from a former Fox News producer who was suing the network.

Let's bring in Wolf Blitzer who is getting ready in "THE SITUATION ROOM", just minutes away.

So, Wolf, the attorney for former producer, Abby Grossberg, is joining you today. Tell us more about that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": That's right, Bianna. The attorney, Gerry Filippatos, tells CNN he's in serious discussions right now with the federal special counsel, Jack Smith, about turning over to a trove of recordings made by his clients, Abby Grossberg, while she was working at the right-wing network. She was a producer for host Tucker Carlson and Maria Bartiromo.

We're going to press him for details on those recordings, and what specifically piqued the interest of the special counsel, as he investigates former President Trump, and efforts to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

It's all coming up, right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM", at the top of the hour -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: As always, we'll be watching. Wolf Blitzer, thank you.


And up next, why the Memphis zoo had to give up a giant panda today, and put it on a plane back to China.


GOLODRYGA: China is taking back what was once a gift on loan to the U.S., a giant panda named Ya Ya. She's on a plane right now back to Shanghai. For 20 years, Ya Ya has lived at the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, but when her male counterpart died back in February, images began circulating on Chinese social media, saying that Ya Ya looked unwell, and emaciated, speculating that she was being abused.

The U.S. and Chinese scientists say Ya Ya has a genetic skin and fur condition, and is healthy. Since China is the only known country with pandas in the wild, China loans the animals to other nations as a practice of panda diplomacy.

Well, our coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks so much for watching.