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The Lead with Jake Tapper

National Archives Plans To Share With Special Counsel 16 Records Showing Trump And Advisers Knew Of Declassification Process; Prince Harry & Meghan Allege "Near Catastrophic" Car Chase In NYC; State Legislatures Consider Or Pass Abortion Restriction Bills; Fight Now: SC State Lawmakers Debating 6-Week Abortion Ban; New Questions About 89-Year-Old Democratic Senator. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 17, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It kind of works, but it's not my favorite. My favorite is, it's not a tumor. It's not.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yeah, it's a great one.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: I mean, there's also, come with me if you want to live, you know?

SANCHEZ: Who is your daddy? And what does he do? That's the eternal question.

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SCIUTTO: Ladies and gentlemen, the great Boris Sanchez. We'll toss now to the great Jake Tapper. Thanks for joining us.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news right now, some exclusive new CNN reporting about Donald Trump and the investigation into the classified documents found on his property.

THE LEAD starts right now.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have no classified documents. And, by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.


TAPPER: It does not quite work that way, though. New to CNN, sources say Trump was aware of the declassification process before he left office. The new evidence that could soon be in the hands of the special counsel.

And, paparazzi following Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in New York in a scene described as, quote, near catastrophic. We have new descriptions to CNN from a member of their security detail.

Plus, tonight, a vote on taking action against Republican Congressman George Santos after his many lies in a federal indictment. And he pleaded guilty to a crime in another country. Is there enough bipartisan animus to kick Santos out of Congress?


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

And we begin today with a CNN exclusive. Major developments today in the Justice Department special counsel's investigation into Donald Trump's handling of classified materials taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and then taken from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI last year.

Multiple sources tell CNN that the National Archives has informed former President Trump that it plans to hand over the special counsel Jack Smith 16 records, 16 records from Trump's time in the White House, 16 records that may provide critical evidence showing that Trump and his top advisers were aware of the declassification process during his time as president.

It is likely a key element of Jack Smith criminal probe into the former president. And, of course, that awareness would fly in the face of Trump's public comments about de classification.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Is there a process? What was your process to declassify?

TRUMP: There doesn't have to be a process as I understand it. You know, there's different people say different things. But as I understand, there doesn't have to be. If you are the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, I'm -- it's declassified, even by thinking about it.


TAPPER: A source close to Trump's legal team tells CNN that the former president may go to court to try to prevent those presidential records, those 16 records from being handed over from the National Archives to Jack Smith, but he'll have just one week before the National Archives says they're giving the records to special counsel Jack Smith.

CNN's Jamie Gangel is here.

And, Jamie, you obtained this copy of a letter that the archives sent to Trump.


TAPPER: Tell us the key headlines.

GANGEL: So, what the letter -- can I just start by saying you can't declassify just by thinking about it.

TAPPER: No, there's a very intricate, long process.

GANGEL: It's -- and what these 16 records show are that Trump and his closest allies were aware, his closest advisers were aware during four years in the White House that there was a correct process to safeguard classified material. It didn't just happen with a wave of a -- of a hand.

TAPPER: Or just by thinking about it.

GANGEL: Correct. So, the acting archivist, yesterday was her last day in the job, Ms. Wall writes in the letter, quote: The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally -- to Mr. Trump -- concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.

Just to underscore those words. Some of them directed to you personally. We don't know what's in those 16 records yet. But it suggests these records provide evidence Trump had firsthand knowledge that you don't just classify records, that there is a formal process to do it.

TAPPER: And, of course, it was just even one week ago today that he told Kaitlan Collins, Mr. Trump, at the town hall, that, he said this, again, it's incorrect, that he had every right to take the records with them and in so doing, they became declassified. Take a look.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN MODERATOR: Why did you take those documents with you when you left the White House?

TRUMP: I had every right to under the Presidential Records Act. You have the Presidential Records Act -- I was there and I took what I took. It gets declassified.


COLLINS: Do you still have any classified documents in your possession?

TRUMP: Are you ready?

COLLINS: Do you?

TRUMP: No. No, I don't have anything. I have no classified documents. And by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.


TAPPER: It's interesting that he's citing the Presidential Records Act and then he says things that are not what the Presidential Records Act says. That's not how it works. GANGEL: Let's say, for the dozen time, not only isn't that how it

works, he had no right to take them. When a president leaves the White House, those records go to the national Archives. They are the custodian of them. And, again, he could not have automatically declassified just by thinking about something.

TAPPER: Or taking them with him. And Trump is trying to exert executive privilege, right? Tell us more about that.

GANGEL: So, what we know is that he tried to exert executive privilege. The White House also plays a role in this. They said they would not stand in the way. What's key here is the special counsel's role. They said to the archives, quote, it is likely that the 16 records contain evidence that would be important to the grand jury's investigation. And they also said they were prepared to go to court to prove that.

So, while Trump now has seven, eight days to object in court, in the past, he hasn't, and these records seem to indicate very strongly that it is critical to the investigation.

TAPPER: Let's bring in Paula Reid and Evan Perez to this conversation.

Paula, you have a background as an attorney. Why are these 16 records that would, if it is what we are told, seem to suggest that Trump was aware of the actual process -- why would they be important to the special counsel's probe? And do you think that this could suggest that he is nearing a conclusion of his probe, special counsel Jack Smith?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know one of the crimes, the special counsel is looking at, is the possible mishandling of classified materials, which requires that you knowingly remove them without proper authorization.

Now, his legal team, they have put out a couple explanations for how these classified materials were removed. One is, of course, the automatic declassification, which is, of course, false. But his lawyers have also argued that in fact it was the process that was flawed and these things, some of them were inadvertently packed away.

So, if you have these records where the process was explained to him, it could help prove in part that he knew how this was supposed to work and he just chose to ignore it.

In terms of where are we in the investigation, this letter in and of itself is not necessarily suggestive that we're at the end of the probe. But we know from other reporting with the rest of our team, based on the witnesses we've seen, the loose ends, they're tying up, and the other work that they're doing, that there are likely (AUDIO GAP) unclear when the final report will be submitted.

TAPPER: So, Evan, the special counsel really seems to be honing in on whether Trump knew the declassification process, the actual one, not the fake one. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the issue for the

special counsel and for the Justice Department there, in all of these cases, is to prove intent. Every defendant will say I didn't really know that I was breaking the law. In this case, you're dealing with a former president, right, who has this ultimate classification and declassification authority.

And I will say, as laughable as his claim is that just by thinking it, I declassify it, nobody has ever tested the limits of what the president can and cannot do with declassification. So, for the Justice Department, they have to -- I think they're moving very cautiously.

They're trying to make sure that they have everything ready if Jack Smith decides to prosecute the former president in this historic decision, right, to prosecute him for possessing documents after the government had given him a subpoena and after -- which he knew that the documents should have been returned.

TAPPER: So, these 16 documents from the National Archives that would seem, if they are as build, to suggest that Trump knew the process. He knew the declassification process. Trump could go to court to try to prevent the National Archives from giving them to special counsel Jack Smith. What is his track record when it comes to that?

REID: Not great so far. The special counsel's very aggressive in trying to pursue all sorts of evidence. From witnesses, from documents, trying to get around various privileges, executive privilege, attorney-client privilege. Well, the former president has not been successful in blocking most of those, at least one of them is still pending.

But we have to remember, they continue to do this even though they lose. I have asked his attorneys, why do you keep challenging? Well, part of it is the sport. The former president is incredibly litigious.

But part of it is also principle. They argue that they want to continue to defend this important question about executive privilege. So, there's a lot of different reasons as to why did they do this.

There's also just bad blood between the special counsel's office and the former presidents attorneys. They don't speak. There's no accommodation process here. And even publicly, the former president's lawyers have attacked them even though the client is under investigation.


So, again, some of this is just sport for them. But they would argue also that they are trying to perfect his privileges.

TAPPER: So, Evan, correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not just the Presidential Records Act, although that is one of the things we are looking at. It is also handling classified materials. These are two different potential criminal offenses.

PEREZ: Right. And don't forget that a big part of this is obstruction, right? That the former president is under investigation for willfully retaining these documents, even after his own lawyers were working with NARA, and they acknowledge that these were records that should be returned to the government. And they continue to say that, you know, they had provided everything when in fact they had not, right?

So, a lot of this is building blocks for prosecutors. Again, if Jack Smith decides he has enough here to bring a case -- these are the building blocks to get to that point, right, to be able to say that you not only were disregarding the Presidential Records Act, but all of these other laws that govern the way you handle classified information.

The former president, once he left the White House, was no longer able to just be classify things, right? So, that's going to be key for the prosecutors. Once you leave, you can no longer wave that want even if you think you have that power.

TAPPER: And, Jamie, Trump has tried arguing that he has standing order for documents that he took from the Oval Office to be declassified -- I think you and others at CNN have looked into that to see if anybody from the Trump White House knew anything about that, right?

GANGEL: For the record, let us just remember that all of these claims about standing orders or classify, it -- they did not come up while he was president, this was all a defense after he was found to have these classified documents.

So, Trump claimed there was a standing order. We went to 18 senior Trump officials, who said there was no such thing. The quotes were ludicrous, ridiculous, complete fiction.

PEREZ: Even just one last thing -- on the final day that he was in office, he wanted additional documents declassified. And in the end, what he did was he ordered it declassified, but he acknowledged essentially that there was a process that needed to be adhered to for those documents to come out.

So the president himself has acknowledged that the process exists. And that's going to be a problem for him when he goes to try to defend himself in the various --


TAPPER: Oh, interesting. So, one time, he tried to do the right thing, or maybe more than one. But that's -- nonetheless, he tried to do it the right thing and tried to do it the right way --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- that could come back and bite him.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Thanks to one and all. I appreciate it. Joining us now, former Trump White House communications director

Alyssa Farah Griffin, along with a senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod.

Alyssa, from what you observed during your time in the Trump administration and his communications director for President Trump in the White House, was there an awareness by President Trump and his top advisers of this existing declassification process?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, there was certainly an awareness among senior advisers. I handled classified documents in the West Wing. I can think of at least two occasions where the former president wanted items declassified. Frankly, they were kind of in the public space but maybe not being reported entirely accurately, or they didn't have all the information.

And some of the senior staff actually ran through the traps of declassifying those -- that information and was unable to, which again to Evan's point, acknowledges that there was an understanding that there is a process. I want to give credit to people like former national security Robert O'Brien, who somebody who would stop something if it wasn't -- didn't meet the threshold to be declassified.

When I was at DOD, we had to go through derivative declassification training. I mean, there is a process. There was also an absurd notion that he can just snap his fingers and that makes -- that eliminates the chain of custody, the reporting to the intelligence agencies, you know, the different sort of things that you need to do to make sure that you're protecting sources and methods.

TAPPER: David, you were a senior adviser to President Obama. What was your understanding of the process for these classified documents?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jake, this whole discussion is so alien to me. It is so different from what I experienced in the White House. We were so alerted to proper handling of documents. Not just classified documents, but unclassified documents. We had to turn in every scrap of paper, you know, of ours, for the National Archives.

And this was made clear to us by the White House counsel's office. It was drilled into us again and again. So, the idea that the president did not know what the rules were seems absurd to me.

I would also point out that there are different levels of this. Evan was getting at this. Obstruction is a big, heavy charge that they are obviously exploring.


But there's also the Espionage Act. He has classified materials. The question came up, I think, Kaitlan asked him, did he share these materials with anyone else?

So, you know, people rarely get prosecutor certainly do not get jail time for violations of the Presidential Records Act -- but there are gradations of violations here. And he is under investigation for all of them.

TAPPER: And I think his answer to Kaitlan when she asked about that, about if he had shared any of those classified documents, was it was not 100 percent no. It's something like, I don't remember doing so.


TAPPER: I don't think I did.

Alyssa, you understand Donald Trump psychology at least as well as anyone. Why did he take these classified documents do you think? I mean, obviously, those letters from -- he loved those letters. They meant a lot to him. There was a reason for that. He was proud of the relationship. But this is boxes and boxes.

GRIFFIN: And that's going to ultimately be the million dollar question in the investigation. If there ends up being anything that there is an outside value to or there something that an ally or an adversary could benefit from it there's any notion that he may have share, that that's when things become very problematic and you get to the Espionage Act territory.

The notion as I see it is, these are kind of two separate areas. So, of course, there's the Presidential Records Act, which is as simple as, Jake, if you had texted me when I was in the West Wing about official matters, I would have been required to screenshot your text and then sent it to my email, and the White House got archived, because that is a presidential records.

But the classification side of this is so important and so serious, and that's I think where the special counsel's going. We are probably never going to find out specifically what was in the documents he took, nor should we, because of the level of classification, they pose a risk to national security.

But I think that's what the special counsel needs to get out and at least be able to high-level show the public why it was a danger for him to take those documents regardless of this claim he has, this false claim, of blanket ability to declassify.

TAPPER: And, David, obviously, President Biden is also under investigation for the documents that turned up in different places in the Biden Penn Center here in D.C., in his garage in Delaware and the like. It's a big difference in terms of willingness to turn it over. Of course, the Biden people alerted the FBI.


TAPPER: But do you think that makes this an issue that Biden cannot use against Trump if they do face each other in 2024? And is this an issue that voters care about at all?

AXELROD: I mean, it's a really good question. I think it's an issue that they may or care about. I don't know if it's a voting issue. But as part of a larger question about a president who flagrantly, wantonly disregards rules and laws and norms, that he thinks don't -- you know, that he believes don't apply to him. And this is sort of the essential critique of Trump.

But, as you know, there are also two questions here. How does that affect the primary and nominating process? And how does it affect the general election? What Trump has successfully done so far eastern every one of these probes into a persecution of him as the avenging angel on behalf of his voters against the deep state, and he depicts this as the empire striking back.

He has had some success with that. As you, know he gained popularity, at least among Republican voters, after the indictment in New York. And the question is, are there -- how many bricks can this low take? Or does each brick signify more and more piling on and gives him more energy with his voters?

TAPPER: Yeah, interesting. I guess we'll find out.

David Axelrod, Alyssa Farah Griffin, thanks to both of you.

Coming up next, that paparazzi incident involving Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a member of their security deal -- security detail is describing to CNN what happened.

And Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina will be here. We'll get her take on Democrats in South Carolina trying to block a new abortion ban.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We are following reports that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were involved in a, quote, near catastrophic car chase, unquote, with paparazzi last night. That's according to their spokesperson. After leaving an event in New York, the duke and duchess of Sussex, along with her mother, allege they were part of a pursuit by paparazzi that went on for more than two hours.

They say they had to switch cars more than once. The NYPD says that while the photographers pursuing that made a challenging, there were not any collisions and there had not been any arrests.

CNN's Max Foster spoke to a member of the royals security detail.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prince Harry and Meghan along with her mother, Doria Ragland, caught on what they say was a near catastrophic paparazzi car chase, just after this event.

A law enforcement official, telling CNN they were swarmed by paparazzis in New York City on Tuesday night, followed by photographers on cars, motorcycles, and scooters. It was meant to be a night of celebration with Meghan being honored for her global advocacy to empower women and girls.

Meghan stepping back into the spotlight after keeping a low profile, while Prince Harry attended his father, King Charles's coronation alone earlier this month.

A spokesperson for the couple said they were involved in a chase at the hands of a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi. This relentless pursuit lasting over two hours resulted in multiple near collisions, involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians, and two NYPD officers.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK: The briefing I received, two of our officers could have been injured. New York City is different from a small town somewhere. You should not be speeding anywhere. But this is a densely populated city.

FOSTER: New York's mayor on Wednesday, sounding the alarm over the incident, calling it irresponsible.

MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I realized you are never going to be protected.

PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: I was terrified. I don't want history to repeat itself.

FOSTER: The chase in New York, speaking to all the fears that Harry has been so vocal about, including in a recent Netflix series, since his mother Princess Diana died following a high speed car chase in Paris in 1997.


Prince Harry's team told CNN, half a dozen blacked out vehicles were involved in Tuesdays chase, driving on sidewalks, running red lights, and reversing down a one-way street. The couple left the UK for a life in North America in 2020, partly over press intrusion, examples of which Harry recounted in his recent memoir, "Spare".

And even after leaving the U.K., his fight with the British tabloids in court continues. Harry in March appeared at London's high court for a legal case against "The Daily Mail", and last week on the first day of a phone hacking trial, receiving an apology from the "Mirror" newspapers.

A spokesperson for the couple urged that images obtained from Tuesday's car chase should not be disseminated and reiterated that being a public figure should never come of the cost of anyone safety.

The New York police department said that although photographers made the couples journey challenging, there were no reported collisions, injuries, or arrests.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOSTER (on camera): And no comment from Buckingham Palace, which represents King Charles, no comment either from Kensington Palace, which represents Prince William. In fact, we heard from the Sussex side, Jake, that no one has reached out from the family behind the scenes either to see if they are okay.

TAPPER: So, we understand that they changed cars a number of times. A cabdriver told "The Washington Post" on the record that he was one of their drivers and he would not consider this to have been a car chase.

What are you hearing about that?

FOSTER: So, they changed cars a couple of times. I don't think they're suggesting there is a high-speed chase. That was the initial rumor across social media. They are saying they were trying to stick the security -- the security detail were trying to stick to the rules of the road and the speed limits. There is a lot of chaos around them. So, it went on for a long time.

They were not suggesting it was a big chase. They were concerned about what was going on around the cars and, you know, pedestrians and other vehicles, having some sort of collision. So, they were fearful for other peoples lives, but not the lives of the people in the car itself.

TAPPER: Yeah, understandably traumatic for the prince, who lost his mother during a horrible chase by paparazzi. Thank you so much, Max.

Coming up next, marathon efforts by Democrats beginning now, trying to block South Carolina's new six-week abortion ban.



TAPPER: In our health lead, it has been a pivotal 24 hours and the move by conservative lawmakers, coast to coast, to ban abortion.

In Nebraska, a Republican lawmaker secured enough votes to pull the proposed 12-week abortion ban into a bill that would ban hormone treatment, puberty blockers, and gender reassignment surgery for minors.

In North Carolina, in late night vote, the Republican-led state house voted to override their Democratic governor's veto of a 12-week abortion ban. That 12-week ban will now go into effect on July 1st.

Today, in South Carolina, Democratic state lawmakers and the minority there are taking drastic steps to try to stop the passage of a six- week abortion ban. They have filed 1,000 amendments for a bill that has already passed the state senate.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Raleigh, North Carolina, where abortion rights advocates are expressing dismay.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North Carolina, the latest southern state to add new restrictions to abortion access.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: When women's health is on the line, I will never back down!

GALLAGHER: But even a veto by the state's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, was no match for the legislature's Republican super majority. Both chambers voted Tuesday along party lines to override Cooper's veto, banning most abortions after 12 weeks with exceptions. Also, adding new steps like multiple in-person appointments for medication abortion, and a host of restrictions, regulations, and licensing requirements that Republican leadership's calls mainstream.

KRISTIN BAKER (R), NORTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: Senate Bill 20 is common sense. It balances protecting the life of the unborn child. It balances that with a woman's need for a lifesaving care.

GALLAGHER: But state Democrats, medical associations, and abortion advocates say the changes will put more lives in danger.

NATASHA MARCUS (D), NORTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: It feels like a slap in the face, a muzzle on our mouths, and a straitjacket on our bodies

GALLAGHER: Meanwhile, in South Carolina, protesters making their voices heard today as lawmakers and the state house reconvene after debating for more than 12 hours on Tuesday on an abortion bill that would ban most abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what you are currently advocating for is real. This is affecting women in your district and in your state. This is detrimental.

GALLAGHER: South Carolina's general assembly finish its legislative session last week. But Republican Governor Henry McMaster called lawmakers back for a special session to continue to work on the bill.

MURRELL SMITH (R), SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE SPEAKER: So, let me say this. Some of these amendments are frivolous and absurd.

GALLAGHER: Prior to Tuesday's debate, Democratic lawmakers filed over 1,000 amendments to the proposed abortion ban and warned they plan to try to make fellow lawmakers debate everyone.

JOHN KING (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE: I want you all to know that the Republicans have left the room.


Because women are not important, enough in this state for them to stay in their seats and listen to the debate of how important women are.

GALLAGHER: With North Carolina's new law and South Carolina on the cusp of passing an even stricter ban, abortion in the Southeast since the Dobbs decision last year is becoming increasingly difficult to access.


GALLAGHER (on camera): And those Democrats in the House there in South Carolina are continuing this filibuster by amendment, if you will, about 19 hours in total so far. And I am told just a few moments ago by text from a member there on the floor, they are going to keep going as long as they can.

There are still several hundred amendments to go. They tell me they are not sure how long the Republican speaker is going to allow this to proceed, many of these amendments have been killed in large batches by the house there, Jake.

But they say that they are going to make it as painful as possible even though they know they don't have the power to stop it, for the Republicans to get this through during that special session.

TAPPER: All right. Diane Gallagher in North Carolina, thank you so much.

Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina has urged her colleagues to try to find some sort of middle ground on abortion. I'm going to ask her next about the marathon efforts to block the abortion ban in her state.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our national lead. A look at the South Carolina state house floor right now live, where representatives are currently debating a bill that would ban abortion after six weeks. The Democratic representatives have filed 1,000 amendments in an attempt to delay the vote and a long shot attempt to possibly block the bill.

Joining us now is Republican U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

So, this abortion bill being debated in your home state of South Carolina would ban abortion, essentially, after six weeks, with some exceptions after 12 weeks. What's your take on this legislation?

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Well, my understanding is this bill will pass the state house this week. They've gotten through just over half of those 1,000 amendments, and will make it to the governor's desk to be signed into law. I have grave concerns, as a rape victim, about the reporting requirements for rape victims within this legislation.

One of the things that we have to do is show compassion to women who've been raped and girls who are victims of incest. And requiring reporting of their rapes to law enforcement doesn't do that. I can't imagine the horror a woman who's been raped would have to go through to relive that rape, relive that trauma, if it's reported to sheriffs or to other law enforcement agencies inside the state of South Carolina.

The other thing that the bill does, it goes -- it's a six-week bill, the exceptions only go up to 12 weeks for rape and incest. I believe that those requirements should be further along to 15 weeks, or 20 weeks. We want to make sure that victims have enough time to process what they've been through. And see what -- and do what they feel needs to happen throughout their case and throughout the trauma that they've just experienced.

TAPPER: Yeah, just for those watching, the bill, you can't just claimed to be a victim of rape and incest to be able to get an abortion legal in South Carolina after this becomes law. You have to have filed, I believe, it's a police report or restraining order.

And my understanding of the realities of survivors of rape and incest is a lot of them are very reluctant to come forward at all, right? I mean, that's -- that's your concern.

MACE: The last thing -- yeah, no, the last thing you want to do as a victim of rape is to re-live the rape that you've had by having to report to police -- the shame, the humiliation, the embarrassment, the horror, the trauma, the mental and physical trauma that you've gone through.

I can tell you, I was horrified to tell my mother, it took me seven days to tell her what happened to me and I was a wreck. When I dropped out of school, I was suicidal for months afterwards. It was a horrific experience. And we see a lot of stories about rape and rape victims, and whenever they come into the media, once those reports are made public, those women are dragged through the mud. The reputations tarnished forever.

And so, reporting -- reporting it to police is the last thing many women want to do. And when you look at the ability to collect evidence, usually, there's not enough time to. There hardly ever any convictions for rape. We have over 100,000 rape kits on the shelves across states nationwide today that aren't in quotas, that have been processed. Those victims won't see their day in court anytime soon.

TAPPER: Yeah, not to mention of course victims of incest who lived, obviously, quite often they live with their rapists.

How concerned are you that South Carolina, if this does become law, the six-week ban, that women will not have any access to abortion in the southeast because, obviously, abortion is severely restricted or banned in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, and now, North Carolina, with all of them with restrictions up to 12 weeks.

MACE: Right, my focus has always been on the victims of rape and incest. That someplace where we can find a lot of middle ground. The other thing that we need to put profound significance and

investment in is access to birth control and contraception. We want to make sure that where abortions are going to be banned, that women have access to birth control, so there is -- not an unwanted pregnancy. We know that in the state of South Carolina, there are 14 counties across the state that don't have a single OB/GYN doctor.

And that's the case in many states across the country. I have filed bills to protect women and their access to birth control, I am working on a rape kit bill right now, I filed legislation earlier this year that, if a woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy and wants to give her baby up for adoption, that she has the financial resources, the prenatal care, the medical care, the health care she needs to give her baby up for adoption.

I'm working on legislation now to address foster care in states where abortions have been banned, what are we going to do with the children who are on wanted who are -- who are born?


We want to make sure that we have a stronger foster care system. We also have to strengthen childcare in this country for those children who were born, who are unwanted. So, those are all the things that we should be working on, especially in states where the abortion has been banned, so early on at six weeks.

TAPPER: Do you think that your party will face any sort of electoral blowback for these bans? Many of which do not align with polling, in terms of what people want, even in conservative states. People want, in many polls, some sort of middle ground, maybe a 12 pin, a 15-week ban, no ban for victims of rape and incest, et cetera.

Do you think that your party will suffer at the polls?

MACE: Well, we suffered in 2022, and I do believe we'll suffer 2024 if we don't have a message that shows compassion to women. Both for women's rights in the right to life, you can balance the two.

I would garner that if you were to do a ballot referendum on abortion in a conservative state like South Carolina, the majority of voters would not be supportive of a six-week ban, that allowed very few exceptions for a very short period of time, and required women to have their rapes reported to police. That's really not going to fly with most people whether they're men or women.

I saw this in our own district in a very purple district last year. I saw how the issues suede voters, it was the number to issue in a race. I ran -- I even ran TV ads talking about rape, I was probably the only recover Republican in the country who is willing to have that very uncomfortable conversation, because I wanted women to know, I was going to fight for them regardless of their circumstances, especially for the worse that is happening to those women, those children who are victims of incest.

TAPPER: Yeah, I didn't say it earlier, but, I -- you know, I'm so sorry about what happened to you, Congresswoman.

MACE: It's not your fault.

TAPPER: I know. But thank you so much for being brave and talking about it. We appreciate it, Congresswoman Nancy Mace.

MACE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Really appreciate.

MACE: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, hear the audio raising questions about the health and cognitive abilities of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.



TAPPER: Back in our politics lead, and new doubts today about the cognitive abilities of 89-year-old Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

It has only been one week since she returned to Capitol Hill after a three-month absence.

But as CNN's Jessica Dean reports, Feinstein's answers to some reporters' questions are renewing previous doubts about her ability to serve.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning, senator

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Dianne Feinstein's fitness to serve, under a fresh round of scrutiny, since she returned to the Senate following a months-long absence to recover from shingles.

The 89-year-old has faced similar questions about her ability to serve in the past several years. Those questions, and even criticism, have intensified in recent weeks, as some on Capitol Hill and beyond wonder if he's healthy enough to continue working.

REPORTER: What made you decide that now is the time to come back to the Senate?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): I felt better.

DEAN: On Tuesday, "Los Angeles Times" reporter Benjamin Oreskes recorded this exchange between himself and Feinstein.

REPORTER: What have you heard?

FEINSTEIN: What have I heard about what?

REPORTER: About your return. How have they felt about your return?

FEINSTEIN: No, I haven't been gone.


FEINSTEIN: You should follow -- I haven't been gone. I've been working.

REPORTER: You've been working from home is what you're saying?

FEINSTEIN: No, I've been here. I've been voting. Please, either know or don't know.

DEAN: He later said she may have been confused about his question. But Feinstein is far from the first senator to draw such questions, Senator Strom Thurmond served until he was 100. West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd died in office at 92. Both men faced similar concerns from their colleagues.

Senate majority whip and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee had this to say when asked if he's confident she's fit to serve.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I can't be the judge of that, but I will tell you, that she has to make a decision for herself and her family as to going forward.

DEAN: Durbin and others have refused to say if they think she should resign.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): She's a dear friend. As a friend, you can see she's hurting.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): She's my friend, and the only thing I can say is, she's a wonderful, beautiful person. Tremendous public servant.

DEAN: The prolonged absence on the judiciary committee has made Democrats did not have the votes to move some nominees out of committee.

DURBIN: We're glad she's back. She was present four key votes in the committee last week and on the floor.

DEAN: In recent weeks, Feinstein has either been forced to give up or has voluntarily given up powerful positions. Senate Democrats denied her the powerful Judiciary Committee chairmanship in 2021, following her performance in the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Feinstein also passed up the position of serving as president pro tem of the Senate in January, due to health issues.


DEAN (on camera): We have not seen the senator here on the Hill today, including at this morning's Judiciary Committee meeting, Jake. But there is one last round of votes coming up here at 5:00, and it includes the nominee for Democrats might need to vote for, we are thinking we might see a little bit later today -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean on Capitol, thank you.

Coming up next, a CNN exclusive -- new evidence that may undercut Donald Trump who claims he was able to automatically declassify documents.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, right now, South Carolina Democrats are trying to stop state lawmakers, Republicans, from passing a six-week abortion ban and become the latest state to make access to abortion near impossible.

This as CNN talks with some women in their twenties who say they're choosing to be sterilized instead of risking an unwanted pregnancy.

Plus, Harry and Meghan claim they were chased by paparazzi through New York City for two hours. The royals even into hideout inside an NYPD police precinct to get away safely, according to sources close to them. But one of their drivers, the cabdriver, says it wasn't that aggressive.