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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Four Proud Boys Members Found Guilty Of Seditious Conspiracy; CNN Gets Up Close To Front Lines As Ukrainian Counteroffensive Looms; Attorney General: The Justice Department Will Never Stop Working To Defend American Democracy; Man Dies After Being Put In Chokehold On NYC Subway; Wisconsin AG Sues To Overturn State's 1849 Abortion Ban. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 04, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Proud Boys now standing back and standing by for their prison sentences.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Today, four Proud Boys convicted of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the January 6 insurrection, making this the third time federal prosecutors have successfully gotten a guilty verdict on these very serious charges. What might this mean for Donald Trump and the special counsel investigation?

Plus, a homeless man held in a deadly chokehold by a stranger on a New York City subway car. Why this incident sparked a homicide investigation and is sparking important conversations about mental illness and vigilantism.

Then, the fight gets under way to overturn an abortion ban in one state, a ban dating back to 1849. 1849 -- you heard that right -- years before the civil war, decades before women could even vote. We're talking to the attorney general who filed the lawsuit.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today in our politics lead. A major milestone in the prosecution of the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. And an effort to -- in an effort to forcibly keep Trump in power after his resounding and legitimate election defeat.

Today, four members of the far right Proud Boys militia group were found guilty by a jury here in Washington, D.C., guilty of seditious conspiracy for their roles in the deadly attack, aimed at preventing the peaceful constitutional transfer of power. These are of course the same extremists you might remember Donald Trump declined to condemn during a presidential debate in September 2020.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.

DEBATE MODERATOR: White supremacists and -- Proud Boys.


TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and standby.


TAPPER: Stand back and standby -- not a condemnation and they didn't take it as one either.

The guilty verdict includes Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio whom prosecutors portray as the ringleader of this particular element of the violent riot. Jurors found a fifth defendant not guilty on the sedition charge, although he was convicted of several other serious felonies, all five defendants now facing decades in prison.

We're standing by for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland who is going to come before the cameras and address these historic verdicts any minute. When it comes, we'll bring it to you live.

But, first, CNN's Sara Murray starts off our coverage today with a look at what exactly the jury decided and why.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four members of the far right Proud Boys convicted of seditious conspiracy. A jury finding Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl guilty of vicious conspiracy and other charges. In a verdict affirming the prosecutor's central allegation, that they conspired to stop the peaceful transfer of power on January 6 by attacking the Capitol.

In a trial that stretched four months, prosecutors highlighted Donald Trump's earlier pandering to the Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what? Somebody's got to do something about Antifa and the left.

MURRAY: Along with video and messages like this one, it's time for F- ing war if they steal this S -- making the case that Trump's election lies --

TRUMP: It was a rigged election.

MURRAY: -- inspired the Proud Boys to help gin up a revolution against the incoming Biden presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we could storm the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Capitol.

MURRAY: Defense attorneys argued their clients were merely scapegoats and it was Trump who incited the riot.

TRUMP: We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Proud Boys coming in.

MURRAY: But prosecutors said that the Proud Boys were at the front lines of the mob.

CROWD: We love Trump! We love Trump!

MURRAY: Riling up the crowd as the first barriers were breached.

Today's verdict marks the third time prosecutors have notched convictions for seditious conspiracy in their historic prosecutions in the aftermath of January 6, but the jury finding a fifth Proud Boy, Dominic Pezzola, not guilty of seditious conspiracy.

He was not accused of holding a leadership role within the far right group. He did according to prosecutors steal a police riot shield, using it to break a window that rioters used to enter the capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Victory is smoking the Capitol, boys.

MURRAY: The jury found Pezzola guilty of other crimes like obstruction of an official proceeding. Tarrio's indictment is especially significant, because he wasn't in Washington on January 6. Having been arrested two days earlier and ordered to leave the city, but messages presented by prosecutors suggest Tarrio was readying for a revolution and helped create a command structure within the group in the roundup to the Capitol insurrection.

Make no mistake, Tarrio told other Proud Boys on January 6, we did this.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, the judge declared a mistrial when it came to several other charges against these five defendants after the jury deliberated for about a week and could not reach a unanimous conclusion of these other charges. But, Jake, as you pointed out, these five who were convicted are facing potentially lengthy jail time.

TAPPER: And seditious conspiracy of challenging, challenging verdict to get for prosecutors.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Katelyn Polantz, along with former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig.

Katelyn, what's the significance of this verdict in the Justice Department's investigation to the January 6 insurrection?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, this is a very significant verdict. We all waiting to see exactly what the attorney general is going to say about it, but we did get a statement so far from the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney's office that tried this case, and they say that these men are being convicted, found guilty by this jury of crimes that struck at the very heart of our democracy.

That's the statement that we just received. But this is one of those cases where it wasn't a clean result. There are four men convicted and who were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, that centerpiece of this case. One of those men was found not guilty, cleared of that, and what that shows us in this case is how the jury was able to distinguish between the leaders of the Proud Boys and actors on the scene on January 6.

Of course, the leaders are the ones who are being found guilty. Enrique Tarrio, the founder and the leader of the Proud Boys, he did come and he said to our cameras that he is going to be respectful of the jury's verdict today -- Jake.

TAPPER: Elie, it seems and correct me if I'm wrong, but from everything I've read of the testimony, it seems like these leaders thought that they were doing what Donald Trump wanted them to do. And they heard him say stand back and stand by. And they thought what her doing on the Capitol that day was in service of Donald Trump.

Will this verdict make it more likely that the Justice Department will charge Trump for his role in the insurrection?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, I think it should, but I'm not so sure that it will. First of all, these verdicts are a statement. They are proof of concept. Now, for the third time, we've seen that the DOJ is fully capable of charging seditious conspiracy and obtaining convictions.

Also, if you look at the way the prosecutors put this case together, they didn't have one smoking gun. They didn't have a particular communication where somebody said we're going to overtake the Capitol by force and block the electoral count. Instead what they did, they put together all the evidence, testimony and documents showing that there was talk of revolution insurrection and that they had a plan to go to the Capitol and just stay in coordination.

So you can see how that model could be used against Donald Trump and others. But I think on the other hand, it's fair to ask it has been almost 2 1/2 years now. If no charge against Donald Trump thus far, why not?

We just heard Katelyn read the U.S. attorney's statement that this charge goes to the heart of democracy. Well, if DOJ genuinely believes that conduct goes to the heart of democracy and they have the goods to prove it, they would not have taken 2 1/2 years to charge it. So I think it's fair to ask whether they ever will.

TAPPER: Katelyn, the Justice Department has now pursued charges against more than 1,000 of the rioters. What's next? Where does the investigation go from here?

POLANTZ: Well, Jake, those people need to go through the criminal justice system. About half of those, a little more than half, have pleaded guilty. Obviously, the Justice Department is securing convictions at trial as well.

But this is a long process. The Proud Boys who were convicted today all five were found guilty depending on the type of count, Pezzola and the others, Tarrio, Nordean, Biggs, Rehl, they all will need to be sentenced. And how that plays out is going to be very closely watched in this courthouse because until this case, much of what the Justice Department was doing was about people who were setting foot on the Capitol grounds and going past the police line on January 6 into the Capitol complex.

Enrique Tarrio, he was not. He was not even in Washington, D.C. on January 6. So the fact that the Justice Department was able to get a conviction of him today and to see what the judge, Tim Kelly, in this case does at the sentencing later this summer, that is going to be a really significant thing.

The other thing happening still, Jake, is they are still making arrests. There are still 250 or so more people that the Justice Department is seeking to identify who were at the Capitol that day, and that are wanted on various possible charges, including ones like assaulting police officers -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Elie, we've talked about this now for years. Sedition -- seditious conspiracy, that is not an easy charge to make stick. It's not an easy charge to get a conviction for. But this is the third sedition case prosecutors have brought against January 6 defendants, in groups I mean.

What's your take on that? Are you surprised that they have been as successful as they have been?


HONIG: No, Jake, I'm not surprised that they have been successful in the cases they have charged. I think they've made compelling cases. But I also think it's fair to ask whether DOJ has been underly aggressive. They have not been aggressive enough in charging sedition.

Yes, it is a difficult charge to bring and to prove. But if you look at the bigger scheme here, DOJ has now charged over 1,000 people in connection with January 6, that's good. Those are important prosecutions. But they have charged fewer than 2 percent of those people with seditious conspiracy.

And don't just take it from me, various federal judges have criticized DOJ on the record for being too lenient in the way they've chosen to charge these cases. We've seen judges call these charges, quote, baffling and puzzling and I quote, schizophrenic.

So judges have said, why have you been so lenient charging things like trespass but not the more serious seditious conspiracy? I think we'll see Merrick Garland in a few moments take a victory lap. But I think we also need to keep the broader picture in mind here.

TAPPER: All right. Elie Honig and Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss is Jonathan Greenblatt, he's CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

So, your group, the ADL, calling today's guilty verdicts a significant victory for democracy. Why? What actually changes with these verdicts?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well, Jake, this deals a very serious blow to the myth that the Proud Boys are some kind of drinking group, some kind of fraternal brotherhood.

The fact of the matter is, as prosecutors demonstrated, they are a right wing extremist group with a violent agenda. They are misogynistic, anti-immigration, many of them espouse white supremacist, anti-Semitic ideologies. And, Jake, they are committed to a kind of behavior that was on full display on January 6th.

So we've watched this trial began and before, since they've come under scrutiny, this group has mutated like a virus. They are now doing more things locally. But I really think that this pierces their veil of vulnerability. Now everybody knows like the Oath Keepers before them, they are going to be -- you know, their injustice has been exposed.

TAPPER: So the goal of the insurrection was to stop the constitutional transfer of power. Joe Biden won overwhelmingly, legitimately, et cetera. Why were the Proud Boys involved? I mean, if they are a racist extremist organization? What was their interest -- just explain it for us in keeping Donald Trump president.

GREENBLATT: Yeah, so there's a converge -- yeah, so there is certainly a convergence between the kind of white supremacist white wing groups who hate Jews and other minorities and the kind of armed militia types who are looking to suggest that the election didn't legitimately take place all though we know that it did. President Trump and his whole coterie of crazies really exploited the sort of paranoia and you saw that on full display on January the 6th.

So, yes, when the president called on the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by, they thought that they were his armed militia. And so this way riled up and when he called them into action saying that it would be wild on January the 6th, they came en masse, they were -- there is a lot of them who are climbing all over the Capitol building and in the mob on the Mall that day.

And so, while again, it might not seem like there was an agenda there, Jake, there was an entire alignment between this right wing extremism and the hate we've seen play out in recent years.

TAPPER: We only have about a minute left before Attorney General Garland is going to start. Trump is obviously openly embracing many of the January 6 defendants. He has called their imprisonment a disgrace. He talks about pardoning them. He's promoting a song sung by rioters on social media, and during his first campaign rally this year.

What's your reaction? GREENBLATT: It's repellant, it's disgraceful, and it debases the

presidency and the whole democratic process. I mean, I worry deeply about Trump and the people that he would bring with him if he were to return to Washington and I think the Proud Boys are just a start.

TAPPER: All right. Jonathan Greenblatt with the Anti-Defamation League, thank you so much.

We are waiting for Attorney General Merrick Garland to make a statement about the verdict. We'll bring that to you live when he comes to the dais.

But first, ludicrous, that's how the White House is now describing the accusations Russia is flinging at the U.S. over the alleged drone attack at the Kremlin.

Then, new worries about another small bank as more and more Americans want to know if their money is safe. Is it?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead today, quote, ludicrous, quote, ridiculous, quote, a bald lie. Those choice words from National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby earlier today, responding to Russia's latest baseless claim that the U.S. is somehow behind yesterday's drone attack on the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's air defenses repelled the most intense bombardment of Russian air attacks on Kyiv since the start of the year today, according to Ukrainian officials. This one shot down to a round of cheers from residents on the ground.

And now, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh takes us to the ground fight on the eastern front lines.



The shell flies in to the old position this artillery unit used to sit in just ahead of us. This unit of Ukraine's marines keep moving, keep the Russians guessing. Every time they fire, there is a risk that they will be spotted and hit back.

All about increasing pressure on Russian lines as the counteroffensive looms, and that crackle in the distance of small arms fire -- Ukrainians trying to take down the drones being used to spot them.

Something rare is happening here over the hills, far into which the shells land. It is indicated by the unusual sight of Russian jet trails in the sky, one launching a missile here. Russian forces are being pushed back from around the town of Avdiivka, we are told.

From positions Russians have occupied for about nine years before last year's war even started.

SERHIY, ARTILLERY COMMANDER, SEPARATE MEDIA BRIGADE (translated): We moved forward to the left of Avdiivka. In two days, we took up to a kilometer. It's quite a success.

They abandon positions, slowly pull back. They are less and less strong, see they can't hold on and pull back.

WALSH: Well, this is a weak spot in Russia's lines or the counteroffensive in action, we don't know. But this pushback in the east is something these troops from 128th Territorial Defense Brigade training furiously hope to replicate in the south where the counteroffensive will likely focus.

There is little shortage of ammunition here, quite the opposite. And they say the Russians already seem to know something from Ukraine is coming.

RENAT, UKRAINIAN SERVICEMAN, 128TH TERRITORIAL DEFENSE BRIGADE (translated): They are scared and fire more at our positions. They were preparing for some time for our counteroffensive, shelling less to save ammunition. And now they are not holding back.

WALSH: For all the simulation and noise, reality on the front been ugly, brutal. They show us this video taken from a dead Russian that shows his tank trying to escape.

Ukrainians know this horror. too.

DMYTRO, UKRAINIAN SERVICEMAN, 128TH TERRITORIAL DEFENSE BRIGADE (translated): These are enemy tanks and artillery working on use. They use all they have. I lost my best friend, my uncle, and my best friend's father.

WALSH: It will be real again all too soon, heavy losses fueling their steps forwards.


WALSH (on camera): Now, again air raid sirens over Kyiv this night and drones shot out of the sky. Increasingly successful Ukrainian air defenses stopping these persistent waves of Russian drones over the past nights. But, Jake, there are limits in what we're allowed to tell you under reporting restrictions by the Ukrainian military, but a definite feeling here of the counteroffensive building, and momentum growing somehow behind it and I think that there are concerns amongst ordinary Ukrainians as we see Ukraine's forces push toward occupied areas that we may see yet more missiles and drones in the skies -- Jake.

TAPPER: More remarkable reporting from Nick Paton Walsh, taking a -- talking to us right now from Dnipro, Ukraine. Thank you so much, Nick. Appreciate it. Attorney General Merrick Garland is about to speak in any second.

Let's bring in CNN's Elie Honig while we wait for him to come out.

Elie, what are we expecting Attorney General Garland to say? He's obviously been under a lot of fire even from you for perhaps not being aggressive enough against the January 6 insurrection -- I'm sorry. Here he is, Attorney General Merrick Garland.

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, the Justice Department secured the conviction of four leaders of the Proud Boys for seditious conspiracy related to the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

In addition, those defendants and a fifth member of the Proud Boys were all convicted of felonies including obstructing Congress's certification of the 2020 presidential election results and conspiring to prevent Congress and federal officers from discharging their duties.

The evidence presented at trial detailed the extent of the violence at the Capitol on January 6th and the central role these defendants played in setting into motion the unlawful events of that day.

Today's verdict makes clear that the Justice Department will do everything in its power to defend the American people and American democracy.

Since the January 6th attack, the Justice Department has conducted one of the largest, most complex, and most resource-intensive investigations in our history.

We have worked to analyze massive amounts of physical and digital data. We have recovered devices, decrypted electronic messages, triangulated phones, and pored through tens of thousands of hours of video.

We have also benefited from tens of thousands of tips we received from the public. Following these digital and physical footprints, we were able to identify hundreds of people who, often masked, took part in the unlawful conduct on that day.


I am grateful to the Department's prosecutors, FBI agents, investigators, analysts, and others who have worked on these cases with extraordinary diligence, skill, integrity, and courage.

Over the past two years, the Department has secured more than 600 convictions for a wide range of criminal conduct on January 6th, as well as in the days and weeks leading up to the attack.

We have secured the convictions of defendants who fought, punched, tackled, and even tased police officers who were defending the Capitol that day; who crushed one officer in a door and dragged another down a flight of stairs; who attacked law enforcement officers with chemical agents that burned their eyes and skin; and who assaulted officers with pipes, poles, and other dangerous or deadly weapons.

We have secured the convictions of defendants who obstructed the certification of a presidential election as well as the subsequent criminal investigation in the events of January 6th.

And now, after three trials, we have secured the convictions of leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy: specifically conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.

Our work will continue.

At my Senate confirmation hearing just over a month after January 6th, I promised that the Justice Department would do everything in its power to hold accountable those responsible for the heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

And as I have said repeatedly, the Department will conduct all of its work in a manner that adheres to the rule of law and honors our obligation to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of everyone in this country.

Today's verdict is another example of our steadfast commitment to keeping those promises.

The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the democracy to which all Americans are entitled.

TAPPER: All right. That's Attorney General Merrick Garland. Not taking any questions. Speaking after four Proud Boys, four leaders of the far right militia Proud Boys were convicted of seditious conspiracy earlier today for their roles in the January 6 insurrection for trying to stop what Attorney General Garland called a cornerstone of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power.

Garland calling today's verdict proof that the Justice Department will do everything in its power to defend American democracy.

Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Evan, you can tell there that the attorney general feels as though he is doing what needs to be done.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, today's verdict, certainly at least getting four of these leaders of the Proud Boys convicted on this very rarely brought charge, seditious conspiracy, was a big deal for the department. It is something that the attorney general and others really weighed for weeks and weeks and weeks before they actually brought it. And you can see the fact that he came out and spoke about this the importance that they gave having the jury after 18 to 20 weeks here of trial coming back and rendering this verdict.

And let me say -- let's step back a couple minutes to talk about what this means, right? There were a couple parts the effort to try to overturn the election. One of them was simply that the former president tried to claim that there was fraud and doing everything that they could to try to get the states to not send in their electors.

The other part the Justice Department has pointed out, is that the people who gathered there on January 6 to make a last ditch effort after the former president had failed in every other way, these people tried to get into the Capitol to try to disrupt the proceedings of Congress and they nearly succeeded. If it wasn't for the fact that Mike Pence refused to leave and members of the Senate and Congress came back and certified the election that night, it very well could have happened, right? They could -- they could have succeeded in this.

So one of the things that we heard from the attorney general is over 1,000 people have been charged for, you know, breaching the Capitol, the violence related to that, 600 so far have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted.


The big question that remains, and I think you're going to hear from this from Elie a little bit, is whether the former president himself and people around him in the other part of this conspiracy, this effort, rather, whether they will face similar charges. And we don't know.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, Elie, I go to you in a second, but I want to go to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's outside the courthouse here in Washington, D.C.

Katelyn, Attorney General Garland noting that now both the leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, two different far right militia groups, have both been found guilty. And as we talked about for years, that is not an easy charge to prove in a court of law.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE AND CRIME REPORTER: It's not at all. It is very, very difficult for the Justice Department to even get to the point where they want to bring that charge. It was a charge that first was born out of civil war and then in recent years until the January 6 insurrection, it essentially was very, very difficult to gain any convictions on.

And so since then, the Justice Department has used all of the video, garland talked about thousands and thousands of hours of video, all the photos, text messages, other messages that they gathered between these members of the groups to be able to say these aren't just people that arrived at the Capitol on January 6 and were violent there, were swept up in the crowd, grabbed a riot shield and broke into a window like Dominic Pezzola was convicted of today.

But there were people who were in the leadership positions in both the Oath Keepers and in the Proud Boys who were collectively wanting to use politics to spur violence in this country. And they came together, made an agreement and that agreement was that they would want to use some sort of force to disrupt democracy and to disrupt the functioning of the U.S. government on January 6.

It is not a small thing at all for the Justice Department to have these convictions today.

TAPPER: All right. Elie, it has been more than two years since the capitol insurrection. What do you make of the pace of these convictions, aggressiveness of these charges from the Justice Department?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, I think Merrick Garland and the Justice Department absolutely deserve credit for today's verdict. It is a big deal, historic case, same thing for the prior convictions for seditious conspiracy against Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

However, in the big picture, they have not done the job. When you look at seditious conspiracy charges, we've now seen ten people in this entire country convicted of seditious conspiracy in relation to January 6. Ten people, does anyone realistically think only 10 people -- we've seen the video of how many people are storming the Capitol, trying to obstruct the counting of ballots.

So I think that they've been insufficient in the way they've charged seditious conspiracy against the people who physically entered the Capitol. Now, who is the most powerful political person who Merrick Garland has charged with anything in connection to January 6? There is none. Nobody above ground level has been charged with anything.

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, is the first person who wasn't physically present who has been charged in relation to January 6. And Garland quoted himself just now, he went back to his confirmation hearing and he quoted how he said we will see those responsible for this attack. But he said that bunch of times since.

And he said previously three words that he left out today, at any level. That is usually the way he says it. We will pursue anybody at any level. They have not lived up to that in 2 1/2 years and I think it was conspicuously absent from what he said today.

TAPPER: But who would you go after based on what we know today? Who at any level who else should be prosecuted and, you know, keeping in mind what Omar on "The Wire" would say, if you come for the king, you best not miss.

HONIG: Yeah, well, I'm familiar with that quote. First of all, I would charge anybody who breached the Capitol chamber that day, and there were hundreds or dozens of them who went in there. Anybody who physically went into the Capitol and took steps unto that floor, what were they seeking to do, to obstruct the electoral count that meets the legal definition of sedition. If they used any force, if they attack a police officer, if they destroyed property.

So, I'd start with that. As I said earlier, judges have criticized DOJ for not bringing enough charges, for being too timid in their charges against people who breached the Capitol. With respect to Donald Trump, I do think the evidence is there based on what we know to charge him, based on all the things that he said, based on the reasonable inferences that we've heard, they believed had he was instructing them and they reasonably took it to me, I want you to go in there and block the counting of the electoral ballots.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, Katelyn Polantz and Elie Honig, thanks one and all.

Still ahead, protestors demanding accountability after a man is killed on the New York subway after being put in a chokehold by another passenger. What exactly happened on that train?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our national lead. In two recent deadly tragedies, putting mental health back in the spotlight and our country's inability to deal with it. In Atlanta, a suspect is now in custody after allegedly shooting five people, five innocent people, killing one of them, at a medical center yesterday. Deion Patterson waived his right to a first appearance in court earlier today.

Now, his mother is apologizing to the victims. Minyone Patterson says her son was struggling with mental illnesses issues. She told WSB-TV in Atlanta that he was angry that doctors would not give him a specific anti-anxiety drug in the minutes before the deadly shooting.


Mrs. Patterson urged others that when someone is saying that they need help, quote, help them, don't just disregard them. They need help.

In New York City, prosecutors are investigating after a man was killed on the subway after being put in a chokehold by another rider. A witness says Jordan Neely had been acting erratically after boarding the train ranting about being fed up and ready to go to jail. The witness says it didn't appear Neely was looking to attack anyone but a man on the train put Neely in a chokehold for an extensive period of time and that ultimately killed Neely.

Neely's dad told "The New York Daily News" that his son struggled after his mother's death and ended up homeless.

CNN's Omar Jimenez takes a closer look at exactly what happened inside that subway car.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A New York subway ride went from everyday commute to now the focus of an investigation into why a passenger put 30-year-old Jordan Neely in a chokehold, one that ended up killing him. Witnesses say Neely was acting erratically as he reportedly said he was fed up and hungry. JUAN ALBERTO VAZQUEZ, WITNESS: Started yelling, violence, language, I

don't care if I die, I don't care if I go to jail. I don't have any food. I don't have beverage -- I'm done. And then he pulled out a jacket, hit it on the floor.

JIMENEZ: Juan Alberto Vasquez was there and says despite any aggressive and frightening behavior, Neely hadn't attacked anyone even if he was making passengers uncomfortable. Not long after, Vasquez says, another passenger came up behind Neely and put him in a chokehold. Vazquez says he didn't hear any interaction between them before hand, he just heard them fall to the ground. He shot this video minutes into the altercation.

VAZQUEZ: We arrive at the station, the doors open and all the people were running away. And the guys stay in this position about seven, eight minutes.

JIMENEZ: Another passenger appears to be helping restrain Neely. It is unclear what the others seen on video were doing. It is also unclear how long in total he was in the chokehold since this didn't capture the start of it, but Neely later lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The medical examiner office says he died because of compression of the neck. No charges have been filed. The Manhattan district attorney's office says they're assessing all photo and video footage to identify and interview as many witnesses as possible.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: People who are dealing with mental health illness should get the help they need and not live on a train, and I'm going to continue to push on that.

JIMENEZ: Last year, New York City's Mayor Eric Adams was criticized for directing first responders and the NYPD to enforce a law allowing them to involuntarily commit people experiencing a mental health crisis as part of an attempt to address concerns about homelessness and crime. Protests in support of Neely have called for answers.

JERRY, SUBWAY RIDFER: It could have been somebody there to help him, broke it up or anything, stop the whole situation. But at the same time, he don't deserve to lose his life just for being on the train. I think he should still be alive today.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And that last part is the controversy here. Many people feel this shouldn't have ended in death. Now, a law enforcement source has told CNN, our John Miller, that Neely had been arrested more than 40 times previously, some for things like jumping the turnstile and theft, but also in some cases for assault, including reportedly unprovoked attacks on the subway. Unclear if anybody knew that at the time in the moment.

Now, as for the person who did the chokehold, I reached out to him early today and he told me he wasn't interested in answering any of my questions before he hung up on me. But sources have told CNN that the man was interviewed by police and then released -- Jake.

TAPPER: Omar Jimenez, thanks so much.

Here to discuss is CNN law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller, as well as a clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior.

Andrea, let me -- let me start with the case in Atlanta. The suspect's mother is urging people to listen when their loved ones ask for help or appear to be struggling. How does somebody know when it is time to ask for their help for themselves or for someone in their life when they might actually be a harm to themselves or to others?

ANDREA BONIOR, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Right. Well, Jake, we usually look for two factors. One is how much impairment somebody is experiencing in their daily life. So, is their ability to find work affected, is their sleep affected, their eating, their relationships.

A lot of times, that's one of the first areas we can see that somebody's life is really starting to be derailed. And the other area is distress. How much pain does somebody themselves say that they are in, how much distress are they causing others.

Sometimes this can be hidden and sometimes it will come through the criminal justice system first like in the cases of addiction, somebody might deny that they have a problem.


But when we look at impairment and distress and, of course, they are both on a spectrum, then we can see how severe something is.

I'd say always err on the side of looking to connect somebody to help when there is any doubt.

TAPPER: And also people need to be looking to see if their loved ones have guns. I mean, in Nashville, that horrible incident as well as this horrible incident.

John, sticking with what happened in Atlanta, we know that the suspect's mother was cooperating with police. How did knowing the information about the suspect's mental state affect the search and now the investigation?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it informed police about him, about his issues, and how to approach him. In the end, it wasn't terribly relevant to the way he was captured. They found him, they ordered him to get done on the ground and he complied.

But had it turned into a situation where he was barricaded or there were hostages, it gave negotiators a great deal of background information so that they could engage in active listening, engage in a conversation where they could put forth some understanding of him. It gave them the characteristics that they needed to work from as well as some tipping and cuing about where he might run, what he might do.

TAPPER: Let's go to the New York City story now with Jordan Neely.

Andrea, city council speaker, Adrienne Adam, is calling for accountability in the death of Jordan Neely. She said, quote, let's be clear, any possible mental health challenges that Jordan may have been experiencing were no reason for his life to be taken. His killing at the hands of a fellow passenger and response to the violence that took his life have been not only tragic but difficult to absorb, unquote.

What's your take on this and what is your advice for people who see this video and are having difficulty today processing it?

BONIOR: The video is incredibly upsetting. And what I don't want is for people to get desensitized to this. We need to bear witness to these things that are happening.

But we also need to protect ourselves so that we don't get numb. I would say anybody who is upset by this can really think about how can we gain strength and insight from this? How can we be better than this? How can we make a plan that if we saw something like this happening, we would try to intervene or we will try to get help sooner or we would scream that the chokehold can kill someone, which should be known wide and far, right?

And so, I think watching these videos is so upsetting, but if we can gain insight from them and perhaps make a plan of how we would help someone in the future, then we can gain strength from it.

TAPPER: John Neely's death comes more than a year after New York City Mayor Eric Adams launched an initiative to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system, which included a plan to add more behavioral health emergency assistance teams.

Could this be seen as a failure of that plan to be implemented? How do you see this?

MILLER: I see this as someone who was in the New York City Police Department at a time when I was there are we were receiving calls of an emotionally disturbed person acting out on the street at the rate of one every four minutes, 24/7, 365. It can be overwhelming.

And, basically, the medical community, the hospital community has gotten out of the mental health business as a major factor. COVID made that even worse as they took the few remaining mental health beds and turned them into critical care beds. The medical business has figured out that that is not where the money is and the government on the federal level and the state level isn't putting the money into it, it used to.

So you have a growing problem with a shrinking solution. The mayor has tried to counter that by pouring money into it from the city's own coffers and urging the governor to contribute state money. But at the same time, New York City is faced with the homeless problem which has a mental illness factor in it that's fairly significant. And now, a migrant problem that uses many of the same resources in terms of housing and social work. So we're on the edge of a crisis. TAPPER: Andrea, as a mental health expert, how do you see it? It

seems as though maybe in previous years, somebody who was potentially dangerous would be involuntarily committed and -- if he was a danger to himself or others. And it doesn't happen anymore, is that right?

BONIOR: Well, I think that it depends. What we were hearing most of all is that even when there is an attempt to get somebody a bed, or to get somebody committed, or a parent trying to get help for their teenager that's having a psychotic episode or suicidal, that the beds aren't available, that the resources just aren't there.

And this is a widespread problem across many jurisdictions. So I think that we really need to think about funding and how we can truly make a dent in this and not just talk about it.


TAPPER: John, very, very quickly if you can, why isn't the guy who killed him being charged?

MILLER: Well, in the district attorney's view, it is about understanding intent here. This was an aggressive panhandler, as you heard Mr. Vazquez say. He takes his jacket off, he throws it down, the suspect in this case said he saw him ball up his fists and, you know -- was, you know, moving toward people and he decided to act.

The question is, what would you charge him with? If you charge him with murder, you have to prove that intent. If you charge him with manslaughter, you have to prove that he knew that that was a likelihood. So, they want to do more investigation. And I believe it will end up in a grand jury.

TAPPER: Okay. John Miller and Andrea Bonior, thank you so much.

And if you or a loved one find yourself in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, you can call or text the suicide and crisis lifeline at 988, 988 for free and confidential help.

Turning now to our health lead, will an 1849 law, you heard that right, 1849 law banning abortion in Wisconsin stand the test of time?

Arguments began today in a lawsuit that is seeking to overturn that 1849 ban. It was filed by Democratic Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last summer. The Supreme Court decision reverted Wisconsin back to its pre-civil war era law, which penalizes providers who performed abortions even in the case of rape and incest. The only exception is to save the mother's life. A reminder this law passed decades before women got the right to vote.

With me now, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

So, Attorney General Kaul, you argue that Wisconsin should adhere to newer state laws. One would criminalize abortion only after the point of fetal viability. This law, of course, that I'm talking about was passed 12 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortions. Now that Roe has been overturned, why should the state revert to a 1985 law and not the pre-Roe statute?

JOSH KAUL (D), WISCONSIN ATTORNEY GENERAL: We filed suit four days after Roe was overturned. When Roe was overturned in Wisconsin, abortion became generally unavailable for women in the state with very narrow exceptions and we are working to restore access to save and legal abortion.

In our suit, we've argued among other things that there were a series of laws passed after Roe and some laws that directly conflict with the 1849 ban, and that it can't be both legal and illegal at the same time for providers to provide abortion care. Because of that conflict, we've argued that the courts should find that the 1849 law is unenforceable and that the ban is not in effect in Wisconsin.

TAPPER: One of your other arguments for striking down this 1849 law is this legal doctrine called desuetude which allows laws to be rendered obsolete if they're not used. Obviously this law was not in use for 50 years. That's only because roe v. Wade made it relevant again last year, right?

KAUL: That's true, though. Even before Roe v. Wade, abortion bans were very rarely enforced in Wisconsin and around the country. And part of the argument we've made is that to provide fair notice to people that laws are going to be enforced they need to continue being enforced. And part of this is about notice and part of it's about the way that the legislature and other policymakers act.

Because Roe was in place nobody acted to remove the 1849 ban. And because of that this law really doesn't have the consent of the governed. In fact, if you look, Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support restoring access to safe and legal abortion. So for that reason as well as the laws that were passed subsequent to Roe that imply they repealed the ban we've argued that that ban shouldn't be enforceable.

TAPPER: So with Roe overturned, with the 1849 law in effect, what's been the effect on women and girls in your state?

KAUL: Women have been denied access to safe and legal abortion and I've had heartbreaking conversations with doctors, for example, who talk about patients who come in who've either had to make emergency decisions, the doctors have had to, when they're not sure whether they can provide the care their patients need. They've talked about patients who come in. Even when they have healthy pregnancies, concerned about what might happen if they can't get the care that they need.

I've heard from an OB-GYN student who talked about how she wasn't sure if she was going to practice in Wisconsin because she couldn't get the training that she needed and provide comprehensive care. This is having harmful effects on women in Wisconsin right now. And so, the sooner we can get this reversed and restore access to safe and legal abortion, the safer that women in our state are going to be.

TAPPER: Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, thank you so much.

Coming up any moment, police in California are going to give an update on a series of deadly stabbings near a university campus and we'll bring that to you live.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, new questions going into horse racing's biggest day. Four horses died at Churchill Downs, all within days of each other, and right before the Kentucky derby.

Plus, we're going behind the scenes of a first of its kind brain surgery. How it saved the life of a yet to be born baby.

And leading this hour, the White House flat out rejecting Russia's latest brazen claim that the U.S. directed Ukraine to try to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin with a drone. Now a CNN analysis finds the alleged drone attack may offer the Kremlin a chance to rally Russians in support of Putin as Ukraine's counteroffensive looms.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials say their air defenses repelled every single Russian air attack on Kyiv today, the most intense barrage on the capital of Ukraine since the start of this year.

Also happening now, an update on three recent stabbings near the campus of the University of California, Davis. These stabbings left two people dead, injured another, and have rattled the entire community.

Let's bring in CNN's Veronica Miracle who is at the press conference right now.

Veronica, what are we expecting to hear from officials in just a few minutes, I guess?