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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trevor Reed Joins The Lead After His Release From Russia; U.S. Hostage Envoy Suggests Biden Does Not Need To Meet With All Families Of Detained Americans; Biden, McCarthy Running Out Of Time To Reach Debt Deal; Feinstein's Office Says She Is Making "Progress" But No "Timeline Yet" For Return To Washington; Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) And Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Is Interviewed About Online Safety Act To Protect Kids On Social Media; WSJ: Jeffrey Epstein Scheduled Meetings With CIA Director And Others. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 02, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A large portion of those are likely private Wagner mercenary fighters killed around the area of Bakhmut where you see these apocalyptic scenes we're showing you right now.

Despite the total destruction, Ukraine says Russia has not completely captured the eastern city, now largely a symbolic goal rather than a strategic one. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, for us right now.

Nick, British intelligence, you say, shows Russia is afraid Ukraine could achieve a, quote, "major breakthrough." They're building up an extensive system of trenches in the south. Tell us what you're seeing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, there has been an extraordinary network, Doug (ph), possibly according to this British intelligence report, the largest we've seen since World War II across the southern area of Zaporizhzhia. We've driven along the Ukrainian side of it for quite a past number of weeks here.

Often these are deep trenches followed by a significant sand bank backed up with razor wire. And then these dragons teeth, sort of pyramid shaped pieces of concrete that form a complex series of defenses not insurmountable with modern weaponry and explosives and targeted missiles at all, but certainly a challenge that will be very much in the mind of Ukrainian forces, as they probably in the days ahead, if not already in the days behind, begin the counter offensive in these areas. We simply don't know the full details of their plan, to be honest. And weather is potentially playing into it. There's been an extraordinary lack of videos from Ukrainian military over the past weeks.

They normally post from the front, but those we have seen have talked about the mud slowing down their capacity to move around the battlefield. Odd that, frankly, that would be advertised. We've also heard from the Ukrainian ambassador to the United Kingdom that, in fact, this bad weather is playing a part, but sunny one day, rainy the next. All this plays into the broader issue here, Jake. And we are, of course, also hearing from around the city of Bakhmut so deeply symbolic that Russian forces there are expressing concerns about a lack of artillery shells and the possibility that might mean they have to start pulling back, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick, we're also hearing about increased attacks and sabotage in occupied areas in the south. Tell us about that.

PATON WALSH: Yes, certainly building up this broader anticipation of the counter offensive are a number of attacks, what you might refer to as inoccupied areas behind enemy lines, particularly in Melitopol, a key target city for Ukraine to liberate in the weeks ahead. A few days ago, we heard of a police official there that was working for the Russian occupying forces. He was killed, according to sources there. And in the last hours or so, we've heard of another attempt to target an official working for the occupying Russian forces there as well.

On top of that, too, now, a number of explosions in Bryansk targeting rail facilities in that area. One may have been an improvised explosive device. Suggestions of another potential explosion just today. So, increasingly, as we head into what many believe is now the beginning of Ukraine's counter offensive, something they've been absolutely clear they will not announce, we are seeing more sabotage of targets inside occupied areas, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, for us. Thank you so much.

Today, some rare praise from the White House for Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after McCarthy pushed back on a Russian reporter who asked him about, quote, "not supporting unlimited aid to Ukraine" during McCarthy's trip to Israel. Take a listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I vote for aid for Ukraine. I support aid for Ukraine. I do not support what your country has done to Ukraine. I do not support your killing of the children either.

And I think, for one standpoint, you should pull out. And I don't think it's right.


TAPPER: This after McCarthy repeatedly said there would be, quote, "no blank check" to Ukraine from his Republican majority House of Representatives. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she was glad to hear McCarthy swat down that Russian propaganda.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that U.S. dialogue with Russia is, quote, "irregular" when it comes to Americans detained there as families and advocacy groups continue to push the Biden administration for more action. The Bring Our Families Home campaign will hold a vigil in Washington, D.C. this evening to implore President Biden and his administration to do more to bring wrongfully detained Americans held hostage all over the world home. Ahead of the event, a billboard truck circled the White House and State Department displaying messages such as, POTUS, that's President of the United States, stop ignoring us.

One of the attendees at tonight's vigil, U.S. Marine veteran detained in Russia for nearly three years, Trevor Reed. Trevor and his parents, Joey and Paula Reed joins us now. And I think our viewers know you guys by now, although we're all keeping up with your various looks. First you got huge, and now you got the beard.

Trevor, before we get tonight's vigil, for over a year, I'm sorry, just over a year ago, you were released from the Russian prison. I want to play a part of our conversation last May.



TREVOR REED, DETAINED IN RUSSIA FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS: When they told me that I was leaving, I thought that Paul, you know, was leaving with me. And when I found out that they left him here, that was tough.

TAPPER: You didn't want to go without him. You didn't have a choice, Trevor.

T. REED: Sorry.

TAPPER: You didn't have a choice. There's nothing you could do.

T. REED: Yes, I realize that, but the fact is that the United States should have got him out, and we have to get him out at any cost.


TAPPER: First of all, I have to say, the fact that you got out and that you and your family are as involved still on trying to get other people out is just remarkable and such a testament to the character of your family. But here we are a year later, Paul Whelan still there. Now another American, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is there. If you could speak right now directly to them, what would you say to those two men?

T. REED: I would tell them that they have to hold on and that, you know, we're fighting here and we're not going to stop until they come home and to not give up and to keep making noise.

TAPPER: How are you doing? It's been a year, you've been out of prison. How's everything?

T. REED: I'm doing really well.


T. REED: Yes, it takes a couple of months to kind of adjust, but then after that, you just kind of go back to doing what you were before and fitting back into things, so.

TAPPER: That's good. Well, you look great. And your parents look 10 years younger than last time I saw them.


TAPPER: No, it's not. So, Joey and Paula, the Bring Our Families Home campaign's vigil and rally's goal is to get President Biden to meet with the detained American families, and not just the ones that are, quote unquote, "famous," not just the ones that are notable. I want to play a part of lead U.S. hostage envoy Roger Carstens on Christiane Amanpour show when asked why Biden wouldn't meet with families of less famous detained Americans. Take a look.


ROGER CARSTENS, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: We've brought back 27 Americans in 27 months. Of that number, only two of those families met with the President. So there were 25 Americans that were brought home in the last -- over two years whose families never met with the President of the United States.

The real measure of success is whether someone comes home, steps on a tarmac on U.S. soil and falls into the loving arms of their family. That's the metric that we're shooting for.


TAPPER: And I know you love Roger Carstens and he's an American hero. Did this job for Trump, doing it with Biden. All praise to him.

At the time, we should note, your family was the only family of a detainee held in Russia to have met with President Biden. Do you think that actually made a difference?

JOEY REED, SON DETAINED IN RUSSIA FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS: There's no doubt. There's -- we said for a year and a half before that meeting, we just need to get through the bureaucracy to the man who makes the decisions. And once he hears about our son personally and what he's going through, that he will make it happen. And 27 days later, Trevor was a free man.

TAPPER: And you heard President Biden the other night saying something -- talking about this issue.

P. REED: Right. And the thing was, like you said, more famous people or whatever, we weren't famous, we're just regular people. But I think it was because we just never let up, and we just kept going and going and going. And then after that happened, and because the President is a compassionate person, he could see the pain in our family's eyes from not having Trevor with us and he decided to do something about it.

TAPPER: So you think it made a difference? Do you think it made -- it was the difference between President Biden saying, well, I don't know about that swap, and President Biden saying, just do this for the Reeds.

P. REED: Absolutely.

J. REED: Yes, it was a combination of things, but absolutely that -- there is that personal issue, you know, with the President wanting to do the right thing. And we also were here to implore the President to meet, you know, with the families, especially the ones that are here in town. I mean, he CNN meet with the group and it would be -- it would be -- even though it would not be individual, but at least even if they just had a minute or two with the President so he could put a face with the name --


J. REED: -- and it would be a great thing for the President. I know he'd love to do it, and it, you know, it would help him politically, if nothing else.

TAPPER: Trevor, you told me last year that you thought before you traveled to Russia there was no way that Russia would detain another American like they had Paul Whelan. And that would make Russia, you know -- now they've done it again with Evan Gershkovich. You said it would make Russia like North Korea, in your words. Is no American safe in Russia, do you think?

T. REED: No. I mean, when I said that, things, you know, with Russia hadn't really escalated to the point that they're at now. But I think that it's, you know, extremely clear that right now any American that travels to Russia is in grave danger of being, you know, taken hostage by Russia, being wrongfully detained. And I think that amount of desperation that the Russians have right now is going to continue to mount until, you know, eventually, maybe even diplomats are going to be at risk of that, so.

TAPPER: Well, we're going to continue to cover the story of all those Americans held and detained unfairly, unjustly abroad. And honestly, you three are -- you're one of the reasons that we all continue to do it. So, thank you so much.


P. REED: Thank you for continuing to do it, because it means a lot to -- a lot of families.

J. REED: And we couldn't have done what we did without people like you, Jake. So, thank you.

TAPPER: Well, I'm just glad that you get to give him hugs and kisses.

P. REED: Yes, I do.

TAPPER: Trevor, Joey and Paula Reed, thanks so much.

Coming up, we're live on the picket lines with thousands of T.V. writers going strike. What that might mean for your favorite shows and the people behind them. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our pop culture lead, the writers' strike is already claiming victims. New episodes of "Saturday Night Live" have been canceled. NBC will air old episodes in the Meantime. The Strike is creating the ultimate Cliffhanger for tons of your favorite shows, Halting Production, possibly delaying the start of new seasons later this year. CNN's Stephanie Elam is outside Netflix and Hollywood where picketers are lining up.

Stephanie, tell us why writers are making this drastic move and what impact it could have on shows across the industry.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a lot of people are saying -- are thinking that this is just a Hollywood story, but it's much broader than that. And these are people who are out here today saying that they want to make a living wage for their craft for what they do. They're saying that they want to be paid in this era of streamers. They want to make money so that they can continue to live.

And many of them live in these very expensive cities of New York as well as Los Angeles here. And so they are saying things need to be renegotiated for how they get their wages. And also how many writers are in the writing room. I want to introduce you quickly to WGA's chief negotiator, also a writer, Ellen Stutzman, not a writer.

OK, Ellen Stutzman, tell me, how far away are you between what the studios are saying, saying that they can't afford to keep paying this way, that Wall Street is asking for contractions, and also the writers saying that they need to have their craft taken seriously and to be paid for what they're doing? How far apart are the two sides?

ELLEN STUTZMAN, CHIEF NEGOTIATOR, WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA: In dollars and cents, we're hundreds of millions of dollars apart because what the studios want to do is destroy the profession of writing and turning it into a gig economy. And so, writers are on strike so that they can share in the value of the immensely profitable work that they create for these companies and continue writing as a good career that allows people to live in places like L.A. and New York.

ELAM: And just to -- just look at how many people are out here today, the last time you had a strike like this was 15 years ago, and that went for 100 days. Is there any idea if their sides are further apart now at this time compared to last time or no?

STUTZMAN: Last time, were facing an existential threat of the Internet and the companies not wanting to cover writing and allow that jurisdiction to be Writers Guild. Now, we're facing a similar existential threat about the future of writing as a profession. So, Writers Guild remains ready to negotiate, but these companies have to recognize what they've done to their workforce and come to the table and be ready to reach a deal.

ELAM: Ellen Stutzman, thank you so much.

But again, for the corporations, the studios behind this, they are saying that they can't continue to pay this much when there's -- you know, for all of this content that is out there, that things have changed, the market has changed, and they don't want to just have to pay writers for shows when they don't need them at that particular time. That is what you're seeing the difference here.

And of course, this is going to affect right away, immediately, the shows that you watch. Late night talk shows are already dark. "Saturday Night Live" will not be on this weekend. It's going to affect your shows, but not immediately, because a lot of those shows may have already have some shows that are in the tank. Obviously, though, as you get further on into the summer, if this drags on further on the year, then you could see it affect some of your favorite programs, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam, thanks so much.

Senator Diane Feinstein's office just weighed in on her return to D.C. And it's probably not going to quiet her critics. That's next.



TAPPER: Less than 30 days, that's how long the Biden administration says the U.S. has before the country can no longer afford to pay its debts, putting the nation at risk of a catastrophic default for the first time in the history of the United States. Hoping to avoid that, CNN has learned that House Democrats have taken a key behind the scenes procedural step that could be used in case of fire break glass to bypass House Republican leadership to force a vote to raise the debt ceiling, a clean bill, although they would need some Republicans to go along with it.

Joining us now, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, along with Democratic strategist and CNN Political commentator, Karen Finney.

So, just to bring people up to speed on that --


TAPPER: -- there's a thing called the discharge petition.

FINNEY: Right.

TAPPER: Very nerdy thing. But what you can do is if 218 members of the House go and sign this petition, they can force any legislation onto the floor for a clean up or down vote.

FINNEY: Right.

TAPPER: So how many Democrats are there, 210? And I forget what it --

FINNEY: Yes. Right. You would need --

TAPPER: You need a handful of Republicans to go along.

FINNEY: Correct. And the assumption here is that putting it on those 18 Republicans who are in Biden districts.

TAPPER: Right.

FINNEY: Districts where Biden won, and really forcing the middle to say, OK, are you willing to stand up to the right wing of your caucus? I mean, this is what the play looks like, right, and help us force a clean debt, particularly given that, you know, we've heard grumblings from some of those same moderate Republicans. They don't like some of the things that the farther right folks have made McCarthy agree to. Well, this is a way to stand up to them and flex your own power. We'll see if they'll do it.

TAPPER: So, what would you say if you were, like, advising Congressman Mike Lawler, for example, who's a Republican in a Biden district in New York? Is this something that he should consider at the end of this process? What do you think?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think -- yes, maybe the end of the process. But I think it also ignores the fact that a clean debt ceiling bill cannot pass the House. It's -- I think it's outside --

TAPPER: Well, they would need all 200, whatever, Democrats. And then the people -- the Republicans who signed the discharge, it would be like a last minute measure only to avoid.

MADDEN: Right. But they still want to see, I think, both in the House and Senate, there's still a big majority of folks that still want to see a debt limit bill move that has accompanying spending cuts.


FINNEY: But this is --

MADDEN: And so, that, I think, is the problem is that it's a strategy that's sort of outside the realm of the possible right now when it comes to counting the votes in both the Senate and the House.

FINNEY: But I think, again, the assumption is that we are -- we know that there are some of those moderate Republicans who would need to vote with Democrats on this discharge petition.

TAPPER: It's a last minute in case of fire break glass --


FINNEY: Right. It's a --

MADDEN: Right.

TAPPER: -- before there's a default.

FINNEY: Correct. Some of them are unhappy with --


FINNEY: -- the proposal that McCarthy put forward and the promises that he made to folks during that 15 rounds of voting when he became the speaker of the House. I think, you know, the White House has been very clear on this, right? Number one, they are not going to negotiate. I've talked to them recently, and they seem very resolute. They are not negotiating on the default. They'll negotiate -- have conversations about a budget, but not default.

MADDEN: And so --

TAPPER: I want to ask you because one of the -- one of the ways that the White House, the Biden people are making their argument is they're saying House Republicans are voting to cut veterans benefits in the debt ceiling bill. Now, to be clear, there's nothing specifically in the bill that cuts anything, it just -- it brings -- talks about an overall budget cap. But the VA has gone out there and said that this would cut veterans funding by 22 percent.

So here is what Biden said. Biden on Twitter wrote, "I hear House Republicans out on T.V. saying they would never vote to cut veterans benefits. In case there's any confusion, I made a little chart that could help them out."

Now, if you zoom in on the chart, at the top, it says, did you vote for a bill that cuts domestic spending by 22 percent? Yes, no. If it's no, you voted to protect veterans benefits. But yes is what Republicans did.

Then it says, does the bill say this does not apply to veterans' benefits? Yes, no. If it's no, you voted to cut veterans benefits.

Now, I get that's not technically accurate, but also, aren't Republicans trying to have their cake and eat it, too, by saying we want to cut domestic spending by 22 percent? But no, we don't mean that and no, we don't mean that.

MADDEN: Yes. The answer to all of that is yes. But --

TAPPER: Right.

MADDEN: -- here's the thing, the White House is making a mistake here because they think they have more leverage than they really do. And the problem here, I think, for the President, is that any sort of movement towards a default is going to create chaos in the markets. Chaos in the market is going to create big problems for the institution of Washington.

And the President is the titular head of the institution of Washington. He has more at stake here --


MADDEN: -- forget whatever your partisan inclinations are, than the House Republicans do.

FINNEY: But --

MADDEN: And so, as a result of that, he has less leverage, and he has to find a way to really take control of the situation, get rid of all these small little political gestures and really find a way to start negotiating directly with this so they can avoid the bigger problem.

FINNEY: But here's the thing I would say to that. I mean, so, again, they laid down the marker. We'll talk about the budget not default. Then they said, show us what your budget would look like. Well, McCarthy had to get that done.

Then they said, well, give us specifics. And that's where we get to, if you're going to say we're going to fund at 2022 levels in 2024 and you're not going to include defense spending, this is what -- that's how they got to these veterans, the VA numbers, right?


FINNEY: This is what it means, make them have to -- I mean, it's like McCarthy wants the President to do his job for him to negotiate with this crazy --

MADDEN: McCarthy passed a bill.

FINNEY: He won't do it barely.

MADDEN: But he passed a bill.

TAPPER: He did pass the bill.

MADDEN: And so he has more leverage. The President has less leverage than he thinks, and McCarthy has a little bit more leverage as a result.

TAPPER: So, Kevin, reporters got to look at talking points for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Today, in those talking points, we saw the leader had prepared answer should a question about Senator Feinstein coming up. Feinstein, obviously, has been out sick. She's been not at full capacity for several years now. Her absence from Washington has been a real problem for Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And it says, quote, "I spoke with Senator Feinstein yesterday. We were both hopeful she can return next week. I was captured in a photo." After that came out, Feinstein's office announced she's making progress, but said there's no timeline yet for her return.

Look, this is not a new phenomenon. You and I are old enough, I don't know about Karen, but you and I are old enough to remember Strom Thurmond --

MADDEN: Right.

TAPPER: -- like basically spent the last 10 years of his life wandering around not knowing where he was on Capitol Hill. But this is actually causing problems for the Democratic agenda.

MADDEN: It is, but I think if -- you know, I still remember Senator Feinstein, the video of her in her office when she had, like, a bunch of, like, 6th graders come in to protest them want her -- them wanting her to support the Green New Deal. And she looked at a bunch of 6th graders and basically said, I don't care. I've been elected by the people of California to do the job that I know I'm ready to do, and that's what I'm going to do.

So, a lot of the criticism that you see from people on the outside, they haven't been elected by the people of California, they haven't -- they're not in the Senate, and -- so they can weigh in as much as they want. But I think she's going to do what she thinks is right and stay in the Senate.

FINNEY: As someone who grew up in California and remember the moment that Senator Feinstein stepped up after Harvey Milk was killed --


FINNEY: -- she was a hero. And this is a moment where she could again be a hero and step down, take care of her health, and create a pathway for someone else. And I think many of us hope that she will do that. And by the way, my mother is a voter in California, so I will -- if that helps.

MADDEN: She probably voted for her.

TAPPER: By the way, it's not as if Gavin Newsom would appoint a right wing Republican for the seat. I mean -- but anyway, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it. Good to see both of you.


Coming up, can the federal government protect kids from the dangers of social media? We're going to talk to a Republican and Democratic senator who can believe it can.

MADDEN: Thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was nine when I wanted to die, 13 when I found a solution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): You're watching the For You page of a teen's TikTok account.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love will not heal me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): CNN created this TikTok profile with the help of a 14-year-old and their parents before taking control of it. Over six days, we use this account to see what kinds of content the app would serve to a young person.

(on camera): It seems to be sort of giving you a guide for how to develop an eating disorder, how to restrict your eating.


TAPPER: That's just one little glimpse of what CNN was shown when one of our reporters took over a 14-year-old's TikTok account. It shows just how easily and quickly dangerous content can appear on the social media of children, teenagers, younger than teenagers. Today bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would require social media platforms to try to provide more safety mechanisms for kids and their parents. The legislation is called the Kids Online Safety Act, or KOSA. It would, among other things, require social media to provide minors with options to protect their information. It would give parents new controls over social media apps.


It would create a duty for online platform to prevent certain risks to minors, such as promotion of suicide or eating disorders or sexual exploitation. It would provide academic researchers with access to data for research purposes as well. The version of the bill reintroduced today has been revamped after the version introduced last year was criticized by groups such as the ACLU and other groups for potentially leading to censorship of items involving LGBTQ healthcare resources, for example. Joining me now are the two co-sponsors of this bill in the U.S. Senate Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Thanks to both you for being here. I really appreciate it.

Senator Blackburn, let me start with you. Last year, about 90 organizations across the political spectrum signed a letter warning about the dangers of last year's bill, last year's, KOSA. They wrote, KOSA would require online services to prevent a set of harms to minors, which is effectively an instruction to employ broad content filtering to limit minors' access to certain online content. At a time when books with LGBTQ themes are being banned from school libraries, KOSA would cut off another vital avenue of access to information for vulnerable youth. Obviously not talking about sexual exploitation of children, but in terms of resources for gay kids, lesbian kids, how would this new version of the bill address that criticism if it does?

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes. And thank you so much, Jake, for covering the legislation. And we're so pleased to have the support of hundreds of organizations on this legislation. And we've made certain that this is focused on the process and that it is focused on how social media platforms are to perform that duty of care, have that standard and to make certain that children are and parents are going to have the ability to exercise what they need to prevent these algorithmic black boxes from pushing their children down certain routes that maybe the child does not want to go. But being certain there's transparency on those algorithms that, as you mentioned, that duty of care that is there, those are just primary components of this legislation.

TAPPER: Senator Blumenthal, this new version of the bill still includes the enforcement clause that reads in part, quote in any case in which the attorney general of a state has reason to believe that an interest of the residents of that state has been, or is threatened or adversely affected by the engagement of any person in a practice that violates this act or a regulation promulgated under this act, the state may bring a civil action on behalf of the residents of the state.

I have to say, Senator, you might have a lot more faith in state attorneys generals than I do, but this really allows state attorney generals, which, generally speaking, are elected officials no offense to politicians, but elected officials. And it opens up possibly an avenue of censorship or even just sloth, just widespread, well, I don't want to deal with any of this, so I'm just going to ban any of it. Aren't you worried about that? I don't have to go into the particulars of attorneys general that you might not like or that Senator Blackburn might not like, but I bet you could rattle off lists.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), CO-SPONSOR, KIDS ONLINE SAFETY ACT: As a former attorney general for 20 years in Connecticut and a former federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney there, I have perhaps more faith than you do, but I'm not relying on faith in attorneys general. We, in fact, have met that criticism by narrowing the duty of care so that now it applies to very specific kinds of toxic content that are driven toward kids, and that the big tech companies have a duty to reduce. And remember, Jake, that those organizations that formerly oppose many of them now have dropped their opposition.

We have 32 of our colleagues co-sponsoring it, more than double the number during the last session, reflecting that increased momentum that we see and the diminished opposition. There were some suggestions that enabled us to clarify this legislation and make it so that the burden is on big tech to be held accountable, but also more tools, more means for parents to disconnect those algorithms and for children to take back their online lives.


TAPPER: So, Senator Blackburn, here's an example that I think really gets at some of the difficulty here. How will a platform such as Instagram be able to distinguish between a video that is promoting young women to develop eating disorders versus a young person talking about their experience with an eating disorder in a way that is helpful and constructive?

BLACKBURN: And what we know is the content moderators for these social media platforms are constantly working on this. And, Jake, we -- one of the things we found out, as we did five hearings with the social media platforms, as we talked to dozens and dozens of parents, is that many times parents or children would report to a social media platform that there was something that was encouraging self-harm or something that was illegal activity and the social media platform would do nothing.

That is why our legislation actually requires a dedicated channel, a pathway for this to be reported, and a requirement for the amount of time that the social media company has to respond so that you're able to remove some of these things. We've talked with parents who have reported some of these videos, these challenges, things that have caused death in children. And they never are responded to, or it takes weeks for the social media platform to come back.

And then they say something like, well, this doesn't violate our community standard. And when we hear about the mental health crisis that is taking place in this country, the increase in suicide, one in three, teenage girls having suicidal thoughts, when you read the CDC report, what you know is the actions that social media have been taking are not working. That is why we have to have this transparency, these accountabilities that are required of these platforms.

TAPPER: Senator Blumenthal, there's a competing bill, as that would ban kids under 13 from being able to join social media platforms. You've spoken out against it. You said it would create a national database with personal information on kids. Is there a better way, do you think, to verify kids ages using these apps and then maybe even have some rating system in terms of what a 12-year-old is able to look at, is very different in terms of like a coherent assimilation of the information than an 18-year-old.

BLUMENTHAL: I welcome new ideas and allies in making kids online safer. And certainly if those ideas come forward, we would incorporate them in our bill. Remember, to do age verification, there has to be data and information submitted, private, confidential data, whether it's passports or driver's licenses or some other means of data. And it goes then to a national database, or more likely as a gold mine of information to the big tech companies.

They already have so much information. Kids are their product, not their customer. They sell data or monetize it in gaining more advertisers. And so we want to protect kids and also put the burden on big tech, not on parents, to be the police force. Here we are in the midst of a mental health crisis. And big tech is, in effect, preying on the pain of teenagers having this repetitive, almost addictive content driven to them by the algorithms. And the default ought to be disabling the algorithm so that teens are better protected.

TAPPER: Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Good to have you on. Thank you so much.

BLACKBURN: Thank you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.


TAPPER: Dozens and dozens of meetings scheduled with some powerful and influential people. What we're learning from Jeffrey Epstein's private calendars about his continued circle of power and influence even after he got in trouble with the law.


TAPPER: In our National Lead, private schedules kept by notorious insidious sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein have been obtained by the Wall Street Journal, revealing a whole new list of prominent contacts. Those names include the current CIA director, William Burns, who was deputy secretary of state at the time, President of Bard College, Leon Botstein, former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak and more. Incredibly, all of these meetings took place after Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.

With us now, Khadeeja Safdar, who co-authored this brand new reporting, Khadija, congratulations on this big scoop. Why were prominent people, including the now CIA director, meeting with Epstein multiple times, some more than three dozen times within four or five years?

KHADEEJA SAFDAR, ENTERPRISE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: So the documents in many cases don't reveal the purpose of the meeting. So we reached out to people to find out why they were meeting with them. Most of those people told the Journal that they visited for reasons related to his wealth and his connections. Several said they thought that he had served of his time and that he had rehabilitated himself. I think Mr. Botstein said that he was trying to get Epstein to donate to Bard College. And then Chomsky, he said that he was meeting with Epstein to discuss political and academic topics.


TAPPER: Your reporting says many of the meetings happened at Epstein's Upper East Side townhouse, one of the locations where he's alleged to have sexually abused women and girls. Does this raise any new questions, do you think, about what some of these powerful people might have witnessed while there?

SAFDAR: I mean, it does make you wonder, but the -- we don't have any reporting to suggest that they witnessed anything beyond what they've told us or that they participated in anything. These were meetings that we didn't know about. They'd been hidden for several years, and these names had not appeared in the black book or in the flight logs.

TAPPER: What surprised you the most as you went through these new documents? And do you know if there is any law enforcement investigation in looking into any of these connections?

SAFDAR: I think what surprised me the most was just the wide range of people that were associating with him after 2008. I mean, we have the CIA director, we have Goldman's top lawyer. We have Noam Chomsky. We have a longtime college president, a Kissinger consultant, a Rothschild. So it just runs, I mean, it's across different fields, different industries.

TAPPER: Yes. In addition to the 2008 conviction, of course, Epstein continued to face public accusations of abuse for years before he was finally charged in 2019 with a sex trafficking conspiracy. Here's how billionaire Bill Gates once justified meeting with Epstein.


BILL GATES, FOUNDER, MICROSOFT CORPORATION: He had relationships with people he said, you know, would give to global health, which is an interest I have. Those meetings were a mistake. They didn't result in what he purported, and I cut them off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you do when you found out about his background?

GATES: Well, and, you know, I've said I regretted having those dinners. And there's nothing, absolutely nothing new on that.


TAPPER: All these powerful people who wanted to let's, you know, give them the benefit of the doubt do good things with Epstein's wealth. But they were prepared to turn a blind eye to some horrific crimes and a conviction. Does there need to be accountability for them?

SAFDAR: It's hard to say. I mean, the Epstein case had generated waves of media coverage around 2006, 2008. So if you did like a Google search, you could have figured out what he was accused of. And he was a registered sex offender at this time. And at that time, like, one of his big clients, Les Wexner, in 2007, he says he cut ties. And then we later find out that JP Morgan cut ties with him in 2013, even though some bankers kept going there for years.

So people did have some idea, but it wasn't until "The Miami Herald" reported the extent of all his behavior, and I don't know if they even reported all of it but they just really documented a lot of it, and that led to his sex trafficking conspiracy arrest in 2019.

TAPPER: Yes, the great Julie K. Brown down there. Well, you're doing some yeoman's work, some great work yourself. Khadeeja Safdar, thank you so much. Still a lot about that whole hideous episode we don't know about and we need to know more.

Despite a White House meeting set up for next week, top Senate Democrats are resisting demands from House Republicans to tie any spending cuts to paying off existing debt. Wolf Blitzer is going to get into that and more, right next in The Situation Room. Wolf, who do you got tonight?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, the second ranking senate Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin joins me live tonight in The Situation Room. We have a lot to discuss. Durbin is, of course, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he's pushing for new ethics legislation for the Supreme Court Justices amid a series of scandals. I'll get his thoughts on the latest developments in the debt ceiling fight as lawmakers scramble to avoid a default before the end of the month.

Joining me as well in the coming hour, the Pentagon Press Secretary, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, we'll discuss President Biden's plans to send U.S. troops to the southern border with Mexico, just ahead of an expected surge in migration. All of that and a lot more coming up right at the top of the hour right here in The Situation Room.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf. We'll be listening now for what Durbin has to say. We'll be watching.


Still ahead on THE LEAD, the new development in the Ed Sheeran versus Marvin Gaye trial involving 80 other songs. What's going on? Stay with us.


TAPPER: And our Pop Culture Lead what may be the beginning of lawsuits depending on how the copyright case plays out, alleging similarities between Marvin Gaye's hit song Let's Go -- Get It On and Ed Sheeran's Thinking Out Loud. First, let's hear the songs.

Oh, man. Wow. I mean, I'm no expert, but OK. Anyway, it turns out Let's Get It On may not have been the first song to use the same musical chord progression. A witness for Ed Sheeran's defense team testified today. At least 80 songs used those same chords, and 33 of those songs were created before Marvin Gaye's hit top the charts in 1973. All right, all right, we'll see how it plays out.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and if you have an invite, Bluesky at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD once you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting there like an incredible Marvin Gaye record just waiting for you to enjoy. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer right next door, in a place I'd like to call "SITUATION ROOM". See you tomorrow.