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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Congressman Connolly's Staff Attacked with a Bat; Special Counsel John Durham Releases Report on Trump-Russia FBI Probe; Wagner Group Leader Denies Sharing Intelligence with Ukraine; Gov. DeSantis Signs Law Banning Funding Diversity Programs. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 15, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: CNN's Jessica Schneider is in Fairfax, Virginia outside Congressman Connolly's office. Jessica, are these young people, okay? What more do we know about the suspect and his motive?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they seem to be okay, Jake. They were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. But as for the suspect, our John Miller is actually reporting that this suspect was in fact known to Congressman Connolly's office, that's according to a law enforcement source.

So, all of this happening just before 11:00 a.m., just inside the district offices here. We're in Fairfax, Virginia just about 20 miles outside Washington, D.C. Now, police have identified this suspect as 49-year-old Xuan Kha Tran Pham. They say that he entered the office and then struck two staffers with a metal bat. One staffer was a senior aide struck in the head, the other one an intern, it was actually her first day on the job.

Now, our Capitol Hill team actually did talk to Congressman Connolly on the phone. He says that this attacker really went on a rampage, smashing some of the windows inside in the conference room, also breaking computers. Here is more from the Fairfax City police sergeant.


LISA GARDNER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, FAIRFAC CITY POLICE: You could absolutely tell that the people inside were scared. They were hiding. I mean, someone swinging a bat around, I would be scared as well.


SCHNEIDER: So, the suspect is now being held without bond. He's facing two charges. Congressman Connolly basically said that he went on a rage inside the office. Congressman Connolly releasing a statement saying in part, "The thought that someone would take advantage of my staff's accessibility to commit an act of violence is unconscionable and devastating."

And what's interesting here, Jake, is that the U.S. Capitol Police chief, Tom Major, he testified just last month saying about or talking about this increased threat to lawmakers. In fact, he says in the past six years, the threat has increased 400 percent. So today we're seeing this attack at this district office of Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly, two staffers struck with a metal bat, the suspect, though, in custody, but definitely a lot of concern tonight. Jake?

TAPPER: Jessica Schneider in Fairfax, Virginia. Thank you so much.

Another major story we're following tonight, Special Counsel John Durham finally released his report finding that the FBI in his view should have never launched a full investigation into possible connections between Donald Trump, his campaign, his advisors and allies and Russia during the 2016 election. Let's bring in CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

And Evan, this report, it's more than 300 pages long. He spent about four years on it. What else did he have to find?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the bottom line that John Durham finds is that, you know, there was reason for the FBI to at least do some preliminary investigations, some lower- level types of investigations, but he repeatedly says that he doesn't believe that the FBI took into account a lot of information that was -- that they had in their possession.

TAPPER: That was exculpatory.

PEREZ: That would have been exculpatory.

TAPPER: Yeah. Yeah.

PEREZ: That would have explained some of their suspicions that they had about Donald Trump, about some of the people surrounding his campaign. Of course, we know that, you know, there was plenty of suspicion be in part because the former president brought on a person in Paul Manafort as his campaign chairman, who was deeply indebted to a Russian oligarch, somebody who is very close to the Kremlin.

That is just one of the many points of -- data points that the FBI was following up on and why they did this investigation. And the bottom line he says is that, you know, the evidence gathered in the multiple exhaustive and costly federal investigations of these matters including the instant investigation, neither U.S. law enforcement nor the intelligence community appears to have possessed any actual evidence of collusion in their holdings at Kremlin with -- of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

He's saying, look, he spent four years looking at this. He investigated a lot of different things. The FBI made a lot of mistakes. I'll read you just a statement right now just we got from FBI director Chris Wray who says that they made a lot of reforms at the FBI and he says had these reforms been in place in 2016, the missteps identified in this report could have been prevented. And he notes that a lot of this -- these mistakes happened before Chris Wray became FBI director. TAPPER: A lot of people who follow law enforcement might not be

surprised that in general sometimes there is an overzealousness and an effort to --

PEREZ: Confirmation bias is what Durham calls it.

TAPPER: Yeah, confirmation bias.

PEREZ: Not political bias.

TAPPER: It doesn't only happen with presidential candidates and presidents. So, it happens with, you know --

PEREZ: To the little guy.

TAPPER: To the little guys on the street and they don't get a four- year multi-million-dollar investigations to exonerate them, but you know, it's good to have accountability.


Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Adam Kinzinger, former Republican congressman from Illinois. Let's start with your reaction to the Durham report. On first blush, I mean, there's nothing -- no criminality that he found, but pretty damning for the FBI.

ADAM KINZINGER, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think you guys hit it on the head when you talked about confirmation bias. I mean, we went into 2016 -- this is the first presidential candidate at least in my lifetime that had expressed sympathy for Vladimir Putin. You had the Paul Manafort issues. You had -- remember at the Republican convention they pulled out support for Ukraine out of the platform there.

So, I think a lot of people were looking going, what's going on here? And including myself, we had some real concerns with, you know, the sympathy that the former president, frankly still has for Vladimir Putin. But that shouldn't govern what the FBI does. The FBI should not allow their either bias on that or whatever to come to fruition.

And hopefully this report by the independent counsel will change things at the FBI. Hopefully some stuff has already been implemented. We want to make sure no matter if somebody is on the left, right or in the center, that everybody -- and by the way, this includes the former president on January 6th -- everybody is treated equal under the law.

TAPPER: Yeah, I mean, when the text messages came out between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, it was pretty shocking, not that two people in law enforcement would not like Donald Trump, but that they were part of the investigation. And it seems that their emotions, they weren't able to even control the fact that they were saying very inappropriate things about somebody that they were investigating.

KINZINGER: Yeah. And I think that was pretty damning, you know. Again, I mean, we're not asking law enforcement or even DOJ officials to not have a political opinion. You get to vote every couple of years and, you know, that's your duty as a citizen. It's good that they do. But when it comes to the enforcement of the law, when it comes to whether (inaudible). And again, when you launch an investigation on a presidential campaign, that's not a small feat. That's a big deal. And that has real potential to disrupt politics. We've seen it really has.

I mean, a lot of folks in the Trump camp have been claiming that this has been a witch hunt. I don't think this actually rises to the level of witch hunt, but this today kind of gives him a little credence on that. I think, you know, this report appears to be -- I haven't read the 300 pages, but appears to be kind of in the middle ground between it wasn't truly a witch hunt, but also there were some real issues here. So, I think each side kind of take what they want from it.

But I hope we take from this. Everybody needs to be treated equally under the law, whether you agree with the person's politics or not because this is America and it's the only thing that keeps democracy upright and surviving, is that knowledge that we all get treated equal.

TAPPER: Yeah. So, we should remind people the Mueller investigation, it outlined a number of contacts and issues between Trump and his allies and Russia that were odd, but did not conclude that there was a conspiracy that -- a prosecutable conspiracy. But they did -- they did note a number of attempts to interfere and obstruct justice.

KINZINGER: Yeah, that's right. And so that whole thing, I mean, obviously, William Barr came out and kind of biased everybody to what that was going to say, but what it really said is I'm not going to make -- Mueller said I'm not going to make a prosecutorial decision. That's for Congress. Obviously, Congress then took it and put it through the political machine of, you know, whose side are you on.

But, yeah, it showed real concerns. Now, it didn't necessarily show that it rose to the level of the former president having directed, you know, corrupt activities with regards to Russia, but certainly there was inappropriate stuff there. So, I think we should take from both of this independent counsel report, the Mueller report is, you know, no matter who you are, no matter what your politics, when you run for president, look at American interests first. And when you're in DOJ or law enforcement, make sure that everybody gets treated equally regardless of their political opinion.

TAPPER: Yeah. We should remind people also that the Mueller investigation did lead to a number of charges and convictions including Manafort for tax fraud, I believe, and then a number of Russian nationals because there was an attempt by Russian nationals and the Russian government to interfere in the election. We should note, Donald Trump just responded on his social media app, Truth Social.

He said, quote, "Wow! After extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes the FBI never should have launched the Trump-Russia probe. In other words, the American public was scammed, just as it is being scammed right now by those who don't want to see greatness for America."

Okay, you know, I don't know exactly what that means. But he, I mean, he at least -- he described it accurately, that Durham concluded there shouldn't have been a full-throated investigation.


And just for people who don't understand the difference between kind of like a less serious investigation as opposed to a big one. For instance, you can't like go and pursue a FISA warrant under the kind of level of investigation that John Durham seems to be saying would have been appropriate as opposed to the major investigation.

KINZINGER: Yeah, I mean, that's right. And look, the president is going to claim victory here. I don't think it's necessarily a huge victory for him and it certainly doesn't translate to some of the other concerns we have about his sympathy for Russia, but he'll take for what he wants to take it.

TAPPER: Yeah. Former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much sir. Good to see you as always.

KINZINGER: Yeah, you, too.

TAPPER: Coming up, the head of a Russian mercenary group denying a report that he offered to leak the location of Russian troops to Ukraine. We'll talk to the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine next.

Then, how a cyberattack stopped the presses at a major U.S. newspaper.


TAPPER: In our "World Lead," the head of the Russian mercenary, Wagner Group, is denying an explosive new report in the "Washington Post" that he allegedly offered to share intelligence with Ukraine on Russian troop positions. This would be an exchange for Kyiv pulling its troops from the area surrounding the embattled city of Bakhmut.


That's where Wagner has taken some heavy losses. CNN's Sam Kiley joins us now live from southeastern Ukraine. And Sam, this report comes from previously unreported leaked U.S. intelligence documents. Tell us more.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, it's a very weird story indeed, but essentially it relates to Prigozhin allegedly making contact with the intelligence chiefs in Kyiv. And as you say, offering to reveal to his enemies or to his country's enemies the positions of their troops in return for allowing his people from his mercenary company a less -- to come under less pressure in Bakhmut.

Now, this overture, according to these documents was rejected by the Ukrainians who (inaudible) enough, didn't trust the leader of the mercenary organization that is on the verge of being designated a terrorist organization by the French parliament among others. But at the same time, he also has rejected this allegation saying that this -- the meeting that was supposed to bring this about had occurred between himself and the Ukrainian intelligence officers somewhere in Africa.

He's claiming that he has never actually set foot in Africa during the whole period of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so couldn't have been attending that meeting. It's a very murky story indeed. There is no proof positive one way or the other. This is U.S. intelligence that's been unverified.

But I think it's also partly, potentially now, even if it wasn't designed as such, playing into the psychological operations ahead of what is assumed to be a major summer offensive from the Ukrainians, sowing discord and this certainly does just that in the ranks of the Russians. The Russian government has dismissed this as a hoax, but they won't entirely do so privately, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley in Ukraine for us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who is the author of the book "Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir." It is now out in paperback. We have her when it came out in hard back. Always a great book, highly recommended. So, what is your reaction to this explosive reporting from "The Post" that the head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin offer to give Ukraine the location of Russian troops. Do you believe it?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: It's really hard to know, Jake. I mean, you know, just when you think you can't be surprised anymore by things coming out of Russia, you can be surprised. But clearly, I mean, there has been -- Prigozhin has been on the outs with those in the defense ministry and --

TAPPER: Why is he on the outs with them? I mean, his mercenary group is in there -- I mean, I hate what they're doing, but they're in there fighting.

YOVANOVITCH: Yeah. I think they're scorpions in a bottle. I mean, they're fighting, you know, presumably they're on the same side, but they're all like trying to advance themselves as well in the eyes of Putin, right? And Putin plays one off against the other. So, I think, you know, I think it's a pretty tense situation.

TAPPER: Russia has poured vast amounts of resources obviously into this war and manpower, but they're still struggling. Two senior Russian military officers were killed yesterday in eastern Ukraine. Russia admitted that, uncharacteristically. And it comes a day after Kyiv shot down four Russian military aircraft near the border. How do you think -- how much longer do you think Putin can afford to wage this war?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, I think that he, you know, he's determined to keep on going. So, price in terms of blood and treasure is not an obstacle for him, at least not at this point that we can see.

TAPPER: Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, he's touring Europe right now trying to get more weapons, heavy weaponry especially, as well as financial aid and other assistance for his fight. Today, the U.K. promised to train Ukrainian fighter pilots, but they're not giving them the actual planes. Do you think that Europe is doing enough to help Ukraine?

YOVANOVITCH: I think Europe is doing a lot, just as the U.S. is doing even more. But we need to keep on giving Ukraine more and more quickly so that Ukraine can win. I mean, that's important for Ukraine obviously for existential issues, but it's also important for the west.

TAPPER: If you were president right now -- I'm making you president right now hypothetically, what would you do for Ukraine that we're not doing?

YOVANOVITCH: That's a really good question because, you know, so I just levied this criticism. But I think partly what we're seeing is logistical miracle in terms of getting Abrams tanks to Germany this month and then on to Ukraine. So, I think the Biden administration and Europe in general and Germany just over the weekend in terms of a $3 billion package are doing a great job, but we need to do more and more of the same. And looking at other systems as well. You know, should we follow the U.K. lead for example with long-range -- longer range missiles? Should we be thinking about fighters and so forth? I think these are all very valid questions.


TAPPER: So, your book, "Lessons from the Edge" among the stories to tell, and it tells a lot, talks about how when you were ambassador to Ukraine during the Trump administration you were ultimately fired after you refused to pledge loyalty to Trump. You write about that in the book. I want to get your reaction to comments that Mr. Trump made about Ukraine last week at the CNN town hall.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If I'm president, I would have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.

UNKNOWN: How would you settle that war in one day?

TRUMP: So, I'll meet with Putin, I'll meet with Zelenskyy. They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths, and within 24 hours that war will be settled. It'll be over. It'll be absolutely over.

UNKNOWN: Do you want Ukraine to win this war?

TRUMP: I don't think in terms of winning and losing.


TAPPER: Now, Zelenskyy responded to that noting that obviously Russia was at war with Ukraine during all four years that Trump was president. They hadn't seized the whole country. They just seized some of the area to the east as well as Crimea. But what do you -- how do you take his remarks?

YOVANOVITCH: Well, I think it's Trump being Trump, you know, where he makes statements with -- that aren't necessarily tethered to reality.

TAPPER: Yeah. He also said at one point that he and Putin had talked about Putin invading Ukraine and -- do you know anything about that?

YOVANOVITCH: No, I don't know anything about that.

TAPPER: Yeah. Who knows if it's true or not? I'd love to know more. Former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, author of the great book "Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir" now out in paperback. Thank you so much for being here. Good to see you.

YOVANOVITCH: Thank you. Thanks.

TAPPER: Coming up, after a busy weekend in Iowa, are Republican voters getting their first glimpse of DeSantis 2.0?




TAPPER: In our "2024 Lead," fresh off his weekend in Iowa, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is back in the sunshine state and signing a new law, this one impacting Florida's public colleges. The Republican governor today banned funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities and colleges. DeSantis says those programs promote a liberal agenda and encourage racial divisions.

Let's bring in CNN's Steve Contorno. Steve, how is DeSantis explaining this legislation?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Jake, DeSantis says that colleges and universities have gotten too far from the mission of educating students and he wants to institute more of a, quote, "classical mission of educating kids." And that means getting rid of these kinds of programs. And this law he just signed also bans gender studies. He said, if you want to study that, go to California and go to Berkeley. But in Florida, we're only going to teach the topics that can help you get a job.

And he also -- this bill also gives universities -- administrators put them on notice and gives precedents and his political opponents more power in the hiring and firing process of faculty. And I should note that this bill was signed today at New College, which is a university DeSantis has orchestrated a takeover of sorts.

He has put his own people in charge of the board. They have been in charge for about six months and has spent that time pushing out the president, ripping up the curriculum and reinstituting the school as sort of a Hillsdale central of the south, which is a private college in Michigan. So, this is all part of a broader education agenda that DeSantis has been pushing in the state for the last year. TAPPER: And this comes after a big weekend where he made lots of

campaign stops in Iowa.

CONTORNO: That's correct. We saw Governor DeSantis continuing to share the Florida blueprint in all of his political victories in the state, now taking that message to Iowa, making a strong contrast with Donald Trump and presenting himself as someone who makes -- gets a lot of stuff done and isn't distracted. Listen to how he described President Trump without directly talking about President Trump this weekend.


RON DESANTIS, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: At the end of the day, governing is not about entertaining. Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media.

For victory, we must reject the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over. We've got to demonstrate the courage to lead --


CONTORNO: Now, Jake, DeSantis ended that trip in Iowa by appearing at a -- making an unscheduled visit to a barbecue joint in Des Moines, Iowa, which is right by where Trump was supposed to hold a rally but had to cancel because of weather. So, a bit of trolling on his campaign part there.

TAPPER: All right, Steve Contorno, thank you so much. And my panel is here with me. Now, let's discuss. So, David, you just heard Steve Contorno describing the bill that DeSantis signed. It prohibits public colleges in Florida for spending state or federal money on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Why sign something like that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, because it is completely on brand with how he is positioning himself inside the Republican primary, which is this war on woke, as he says. He says Florida is where woke comes to die. And so, this is a continuation of his -- the bet that he's placing that he can carve out a substantial level of support inside the Republican primary electorate by taking on these cultural issues that he puts under the umbrella of an anti-woke agenda.


TAPPER: What do you make of it?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, David is exactly right. But I think when he says comments like, if you want to study niche things like critical race theory or Women Gender Studies or African American Studies look, I went to the Ohio State University, which is not Berkeley. It is in the heartland of America. It is a red state now.

And I studied African American Studies and Women's Studies and part of colleges having those opportunities to take courses that aren't a part of a traditional curriculum. I'll also say, though, if Ron DeSantis wants to be president, he needs to really think about what happened beyond just the governor's races in 2022.

A lot of things like school board races, ballot initiatives, did not align with Ron DeSantis political agenda. And I'll give you an example. In Michigan, in suburban areas and in rural areas, approximately 70 percent of people who subscribe to Ron DeSantis lost their races in 2022.

And so if he thinks he can go to someplace like Michigan and win with policies like this as the potential Republican nominee, I think he's mistaken.

TAPPER: What's the argument against diversity, equity, and inclusion? I understand. Certainly some programs might go too far, et cetera, but just the existence of an office to make sure that the faculty and the students are serving a diverse student body, a diverse faculty, why is that inherently bad?

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: The foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonpartisan group concerned about free speech, has written that DEI, bureaucracies, and college campuses have frequently and repeatedly been involved in threats to free speech.

Now, they came out with model legislation where they wanted to rein in these offices. Given the track record, I think it is reasonable for somebody who's concerned about that issue to say, these organizations just end up taking on this mission that ends up being antithetical to the purpose of a university.

TAPPER: So the governor had seemed from coverage to have a good weekend in Iowa, doing two scheduled events and stopping by Des Moines, where Trump had canceled his event because of the weather. Do you think it was a good weekend for him?

CHALIAN: Well, clearly it was a better weekend than he had previously in Iowa. There's no doubt about that. And the reporting from our team and from others is that DeSantis was able, with his wife with him, to share more of the personal side than we've seen before. That's a good thing to do when you're before Iowa voters.

The reality is he also his super PAC rolled out a slew of legislative endorsements, which is always helpful to have when you're running there in Iowa. The issue here is he's not a fully engaged candidate yet. So, when he actually launches his campaign and gets in this race, we'll enter a new phase.

So where you make some reference to Donald Trump but clearly not wanting to take him on directly, that calculus will eventually have to change if they're on a debate stage together and the contest becomes more engaged.

TAPPER: So, Ramesh, I mean, he has these implied criticisms of Donald Trump, right? He doesn't mention Donald Trump's name, but he says, for example, this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: Florida is getting out of that game. If you want to do things like gender ideology, go to Berkeley, go to some of these other places.


TAPPER: No, I want from number four, question four, who's talking about the Republican Party and a culture of losing. Let's run that bite.


DESANTIS: 2018, we lost the House, we lost the Senate. 2020, Biden becomes president. Or no, excuse me, we lost the Senate in 2020, Biden becomes president. And it's done a huge amount of damage, very unpopular in 2022. And we are supposed to have this big red wave. Other than, like, Florida and Iowa, I didn't see a red wave.


TAPPER: His argument is, I'm a conservative, but I actually win.

PONNURU: That's right. I think that right now, there are two problems with that. One, it's not direct enough. And I think once he gets in the race, pretty soon after, I think he has to make a more direct attack on President Trump if he wants to actually beat him.

The second thing is, I do wonder if an electability attack is really going to work against Trump, given that all Republicans were told over and over again in 2016, sometimes by me, Trump can't win --

TAPPER: Right.

PONNURU: -- and then Trump won. I think that there is a particular kind of force field that Trump has that protects him against that particular attack.

TAPPER: So, Ashley, the former President Trump is perfectly willing to be direct.


TAPPER: And he did an interview with Mark Caputo at a new media startup called The Messenger that launched today, in which he said, regarding this criticism from DeSantis, quote, Ron's not a winner because Ron without me wouldn't have won as governor in 2018. If I would have left it alone, he would have lost by 30 points or more. He's got no personality, and I don't think he's got a lot of political skill.


Now, moving away from the personality and political skill part of it, he has a point that his endorsement really helped DeSantis go from trailing the agricultural commissioner, Adam Putnam, in the race for the primary race for governor to beating him. I mean, I don't know that's an argument against him, but he's right about that.

ALLISON: Yeah. In 2018, it wasn't like he had the margin of victory in his gubernatorial race as he did in 2022. I've often said, though, in 2022, without Trump's endorsement, Florida's politics weren't best situated for Democrats. And so he ran against Charlie Chris, and it wasn't ever really seemed to be a close and tight race.

So, whether you want to call Ron DeSantis a winner or a loser, I'll let Trump decide that. What I'm really interested in is if Ron DeSantis gets into this race, but anybody else also gets into this race, is he going to be able to win enough Republican votes to win a Republican primary to become the nominee?

TAPPER: I want to get to this thing because DeSantis posted a tweet praising Daniel Penny. Daniel Penny is the former Marine who was arrested on second degree manslaughter charges after he did that chokehold on the homeless man, Jordan Neely. DeSantis tweeted, quote, we must defeat the Soros funded DAs, stop the left's pro criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens. We stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny. Let's show this Marine America's got us back. And he linked to a fundraiser that's now raised more than $2 million for a Penny. What do you make of that?

CHALIAN: Ron DeSantis's mission here inside the Republican primary, Jake, is to stitch together a difficult coalition to stitch together because he wants to appeal to some of the never Trumpers out there, obviously, as an alternative. He also wants to carve out a huge part of Donald Trump's face.

Remember, Donald Trump is winning this race right now, according to most polls. He needs to dig into some of that. So there's no conservative right wing cause that he's not willing to embrace at the moment as a way to do that. But it may complicate the other part of his coalition building message, which is to get some of those moderate Republicans and independents and some from the never Trump world or some that were with Trump and left him to join the fold as well with DeSantis. That, to me, is the constant balance we're going to watch Ron DeSantis try to do in this camp.

TAPPER: Yes. He refused to say when asked that Joe Biden had won the election, he refused to say it. He said something like, Joe Biden is the President. Interesting. All right, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. Coming up, the results of a new study that may be painful for your sweet tooth and for your diet. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Politics are now top of mind in the commonwealth best known for horses and bourbon. Tomorrow, Kentucky voters head to the polls to decide which Republican candidate will face popular Democratic Governor Andy Bashir. CNN's Eva McKend reports for us from Lexington on what could be one of the biggest bellwether elections of the year as Republicans try to rally behind a single candidate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Three, two, one.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voiceover): Republicans in the Bluegrass State heading to the polls Tuesday to pick a nominee to take on Democratic Governor Andy Bashir. In a race that's testing former President Donald Trump's influence with GOP voters.


MCKEND: State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a former staffer for Senator Mitch McConnell and a rising star in the party after his 2020 Republican convention speech.

CAMERON: That's why I am voting for Donald Trump for President.

MCKEND: Cameron is considered a top contender, along with Kelly Craft, who served as Trump's ambassador to Canada and later the United Nations.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Kelly. You're doing fantastically well.

MCKEND: But Trump has endorsed Cameron, joining him in a telleralli Sunday night.

TRUMP: Have no doubt he's going to be a fantastic governor.

MCKEND: The endorsement resulting in bitter barbs traded between the two candidates.

CAMERON: And then I got the endorsement. Your team has been scrambling ever since.

MCKEND: And in TV ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only one candidate for governor has been endorsed by President Trump.

MCKEND: While Kraft has focused in on Cameron's ties to McConnell.

KELLY CRAFT, KENTUCKY REPUBLICAN GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: My opponents, career politicians who'd rather follow than lead.

MCKEND: And his handling over the Breonna Taylor case allowing the Justice Department to investigate Louisville's Police Department.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They failed Kentucky's Law Enforcement.

MCKEND: Craft, who is the wife of a billionaire coal magnet, has loaned her campaign more than $9 million, while Cameron has raised a total of nearly 1.5 million.

PENNY GERTING, KENTUCKY VOTER: They both are cutting each other's throat. That's what I think.

MCKEND: And you don't like that?

GERTING: No. They're slandering each other.

MCKEND: Cameron has focused on a law and order message and would make history as the first black Republican governor elected in the US.

MCKEND (on camera): Why do you think that you are best suited to take on Governor Bashir?

CAMERON: We've seen a governor who has sat idly by as the far left has tried to move into our state. We need us to have a governor that says enough and will stand up for the values of Kentucky.

MCKEND (voiceover): Craft has centered her campaign on culture war clashes.

CRAFT: We have to take woke not only out of our education, but out of our government, out of our family, out of our businesses.

MCKEND: Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles has focused his campaign on rural areas of Kentucky.

RYAN QUARLES, KENTUCKY AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER: Let me be the candidate that unites our state.

MCKEND: Hoping to win over voters who may be turned off by Craft and Cameron's Trump fueled fight.

TRES WATSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: All politics is local. That's kind of a test here. Can you still run a campaign in the state talking about local issues, running a very localized campaign and win? Or have we entered an era on politics where if you're running for local office, you have to have a position on the Ukraine?


MCKEND: And Jake, presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy on stage now with Ambassador Craft. Really the challenge for Ambassador Craft and all of the candidates is turnout.


The Secretary of State's office telling me just ten to 15 percent of registered Kentuckians, about 3.4 million voters registered in this state are actually going to turn out and participate in this primary. We've been talking all about the Republicans, Democrat Andy Bashir. He's not facing a competitive primary. Democrats confident he'll win reelection. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Eva McKend, thanks so much. NBA star Ja Morant suspended again for another Instagram live video involving a gun, again, will the league go further than they did last time. That story is next in our sports league.


TAPPER: Our sports lead now, NBA star Ja Morant has been suspended by his team for allegedly brandishing a gun on Instagram live. Again. Over the weekend, another video of the Memphis Grizzly star went viral. It appeared to show Morant holding a gun while in a car with others.


This comes just two months after the leak suspended Morant for eight games for a similar incident. He was allegedly seen with a gun at a Denver nightclub before coming back to the court after serving his initial suspension, he told ESPN this.


JA MORANT, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: The gun wasn't mine. It's not who I am. I don't condone and any type of violence. I'm going to show everybody who Ja really is, what I'm about, and change this narrative that everybody got painted over me.


TAPPER: Morant also went to counseling here to discuss sportscaster and CNN contributor Bob Costas. Bob, it's not that complicated. They want to give you millions of dollars to play basketball. Just stop brandishing guns on Instagram live. He doesn't seem to be able to do that.

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he's making about $39 million a year on a five year deal. 23 years old, a terrific player. Averaged 27 points the season before the one just ended and 26 this past season. A tremendous future ahead of him.

He's on the verge of messing up his own life, screwing up his team and doing some irresponsible thing for the league itself. No informed person begrudges athletes tremendous riches. If the market is there for it, fine. But you have a responsibility to yourself, to your team and to the league.

There are many players within the league who are easy to root for. Ja Morant is making it very difficult to root for him. He said only a few weeks ago or a couple of months ago, whatever it was, that's not who I am. I'm going to prove to people that's not who I am. Instead here he is right back in the same situation.

Obviously the gun part brandishing a gun in an irresponsible fashion, which has nothing to do with the second amendment or someone's legitimate and responsible and lawful exercise of that right. But throughout the sports world, there are irresponsible attitudes toward guns. Just Google athletes and guns. It's a litany of folly, criminality and tragedy and very little on the other side where you said to yourself, boy, I'm really glad this guy had a gun.

And there are aspects of pop culture that glorify brandishing guns and that influences young people, including young people with lots and lots of money. The first time this happened with HJa Morant, he had dropped 50 grand the night before at the same strip club in Colorado, I guess near Denver at nearly dawn when he was brandishing the gun. If he doesn't learn his lesson soon, he's going to send his career swirling down the drain.

TAPPER: What do you make of people who say this is a double standard? We see lawmakers, members of Congress posing with guns in their Christmas cards, they don't get in trouble. This is a double standard for an athlete?

COSTAS: Well, they're supposedly responsible to the voters who can vote them out if they come to their senses and don't want imbeciles like that representing them. In this case, Ja and others are under contract to their teams and have a responsibility to the league, so they're answering to a different court, so to say, so to speak.

TAPPER: Bob Costas, always great to have you on. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

COSTAS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Donald Trump may be the dominant Republican 2024 candidate, but a voice trying to make sure Trump does not win is going to join Wolf Blitzer up next in The Situation Room. Wolf, who are you going to be talking to?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, my guest tonight is going to be the Republican presidential candidate, the former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson. He's got a lot to say. We'll get his thoughts on the just released Durham report on the Trump-Russia investigation, the growing feud between Donald Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis over abortion, as well as his own bid to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

We expect the Republican field to grow even more crowded in the coming weeks. All of that coming up much more right at the top of the hour in The Situation.

TAPPER: We'll be watching. Can't wait about seven and a half minutes. Six and a half minutes. Thanks so much Wolf.

Still had the sugar rush you might have, and that it will have you questioning what you put in your coffee. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Health lead now it turns out artificial sweeteners might not help you lose weight at all, at least not in the long run. A new study from the World Health Organization found using non-sugar sweeteners such as Splenda, Stevia or Sweeten Low can actually increase your risk of developing type two diabetes and cardiovascular diseases instead of keeping the weight off.

The study also showed these sweeteners may cause premature birth for some pregnant women. But sticking to real sugar might not help you lose weight either. Either the World Health Organization director says the better way to go is cutting off sugar as well as its substitutes entirely and only eating food with naturally occurring sugar.

For our tech leads, Stop the Presses, the great Philadelphia Enquirer newspaper has been hit with a massive disruptive cyberattack, according to the paper, just days before a key election in the city of more than 1.5 million. Philadelphia's Democratic primary for mayor, journalists and staff have been barred from entering the newspaper's offices through at least Tuesday.

Sunday's paper did not go out as planned, and it's unclear when systems will be fully restored, according to the publisher. The Philadelphia Inquirer says it's the greatest disruption to Inquirer publication since the massive blizzard of 1996.

Struggling Philadelphia sports fans such as myself might have to now look harder for trusted opinions on why the Sixers didn't win last night. Let's just put it that way.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Jake tapper. Also on Blue Sky if you have the beta. You can tweet the show at The Lead CNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead. Once you get your podcast, it's all 2 hours just sitting there like a big, delicious slice of Lorenzo's pizza. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Happening now special counsel John Durham just released his long awaited final report after years of looking into the Justice Department's Trump Russia investigation.