Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

New Evidence In Special Counsel Probe May Undercut Trump's Claim That Documents He Took Were Automatically Declassified; Fifth Circuit Court Hears Arguments On Abortion Pill Ban; House Refers Santos Expulsion Resolution To Ethics Cmte; Pence Swings Through NH As He Weighs Presidential Run. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 17, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Mar-a-Lago last year. Multiple sources tell CNN the National Archives has informed Mr. Trump that it plans to hand over to Special Counsel Jack Smith 16 records from Trump's time in the White House that may provide critical evidence showing that Trump and his top advisers were actually aware of the actual declassification process during his time as president.

Trump's public comments seem to suggest that the declassification process is quite simple. Listen to what he told CNN's Kaitlan Collins in that CNN town hall last week.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why did you take those documents with you when you left the White House?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 and 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: Source close to Trump's legal team tells CNN that the former president may go to court to prevent the presidential records from being handed over, the ones that suggest he knew the actual declassification process, not that invented one he just told Kaitlan. But he will only have about a week before the National Archive says they're giving the records to the special counsel. CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid joins us now.

Paula, what does this letter mean, this letter from the National Archives mean for Special Counsel Jack Smith's criminal investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we know the special counsel is looking at several potential crimes, including the possible mishandling of classified materials. And it appears that he's focused on these records because these will help answer a question about whether the former president knowingly removed classified documents without authorization.

Because, according to this letter, exclusively obtained by our colleague Jamie Gangel, the archive says that these "16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you," former President Trump, "personally concerning whether, why and how you should declassify certain classified records."

Now here, if these records could show that the former president was on notice of this process and chose to ignore it, that could help the special counsel as it contemplates whether or not to pursue charges against the former president. Though at this point, Jake, it is not clear from our reporting whether anyone will be charged with mishandling classified materials.

TAPPER: So, Paula, investigators seem to be working to get to Trump's intent what he knew when he took those documents. Why is that important? And do you think that any of this suggests that the special counsel, Jack Smith, is nearing the end of his probe on this issue?

REID: On the first part of that question, as they contemplate whether they want to file a charge if possibly mishandling classified documents, they would need to be able to prove that he knowingly removed these without going through the proper authorization channels.

That's why these documents are critical to getting at that question of intent. In terms of whether this indicates where they are in the investigation, take this letter in and of itself doesn't tell us where they are in the probe, but our other reporting with our justice team does suggest they are likely in the final phase.

If you look at the kind of witnesses that they're calling, including former Vice President Mike Pence, we don't know if they've spoken to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but they really are getting to that top tier of witnesses recalling other people. Based on what we know about the kind of things that they're doing now, we do think that they are in the final stretch, but it's unclear when that final report will be submitted.

The other question, Jake, is how many other court battles will there be? As you noted, the former president's legal team could challenge this. That would extend this out a little bit longer, but it's unclear if they will file a challenge, though I am told by someone familiar with their thinking that one of the reasons they want to file this challenge, even if it may not be successful, is because they want to continue to defend both constitutional and presidential privileges.

TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid, thanks so much.

Let's bring in former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's now a CNN Senior Political Commentator.

Congressman, what's your reaction to this exclusive reporting that the National Archives is apparently going to give the special counsel these records showing that Trump was fully aware of the declassification process and apparently just ignored it?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, first off, it's good reporting. But let me just say this, it's -- this idea that Donald Trump thought that he could just declare things declassified, I mean, I get it you have to prove this in a court of law, so that's a bit of a different standard. But let's just put it through the smell test, back when there were a lot of his allies pushing him, in fact, this may be some of the 16 documents.

Remember, he had a lot of allies pushing him to declassify things around the Mueller investigation or around the Russia investigation, they all knew by their own admission, that there was a process to declassify things. The president can't just take stuff home and thereby deem it declassified.

So I think what's interesting is on the front end, if this is showing, and I don't know, but if this is showing or attempting to show that the president knew that he shouldn't have taken those documents without declassifying them, I think that's potentially even a bigger, like, an additional charge to what appeared to be an obstruction of justice case.

Because where it appeared that they had evidence was when the president found out that this was classified, he tried to obstruct law enforcement or obstruct the archives from getting a hold of this information.


If and again, this is just an if, because we don't know what's in those documents, if this is showing that from the outset he knew he shouldn't have taken those, this could be even bigger. So, either way, I think, look, Americans in their heart of hearts know that the President knows he can't just deem things declassified, ipso facto, after the fact.

TAPPER: You were on the January 6 special committee, obviously. Did you learn anything during your participation in that committee that speaks to Trump's attitude when it comes to classified documents?

KINZINGER: Well, not really specifically on that, but you know, what you see is, and you saw this through the January 6 investigation, for instance, when the former president said to the Department of Justice, just say the election was corrupt and let me do the rest, me and the Republican congressman, the former president has this idea. And, I mean, it's not far-fetched because it's kind of worked for him,

where he can just declare things to be the case. For instance, I can just take classified material home and it becomes -- I deem it declassified at that point. And as long as he has a significant amount of, you know, the media that supports him, a significant amount of voters that believe that he's in good shape, and to date, that has worked out.

So, I think from the thing that we would see from the former president on the January 6 committee is he could just declare things, he could just say things and people would believe it.

I think that's what you're seeing in this attitude here when it comes to this. Look, every -- almost every former president and vice president apparently has had classified in their possession, that's not the issue. The issue is when they found out about it, what did they do?

TAPPER: Right.

KINZINGER: And that's what we're going to probably learn a lot more about.

TAPPER: Former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much. Good to see you.

Let's discuss with our political and legal experts.

Tom Dupree, if these 16 documents that the National Archives says are going to turn over to the Special Counsel Jack Smith, if they show that Trump had been informed in detail about the declassification process, which, of course, is not just, I think that it's declassified, therefore it magically becomes declassified, is there anything that the special counsel would need to do before bringing a charge, or do you think that would be enough for a charge in and of itself?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think he'd need other evidence, in other words, it need to obviously show kind of what documents were held, the timing and all of that, but it would be a key element of what the special counsel would need to prove.

In other words, we've already seen the president's legal defense here. In all likelihood, at least part of it is going to be I declassified them when I removed them from the White House.

And if the special counsel can show that that argument is a total sham, that in fact the president knew the opposite, he knew that by taking them out of the White House, it wouldn't have the effect of declassifying them.

That goes a long way toward establishing motive not just for the initial removal of the documents, but for everything that followed. For all the pursuit of these documents at Mar-a-Lago, if Trump knew all along he never should have had them, that's a big deal for the special counsel.

TAPPER: Do you think, assuming that Jack Smith does actually go forward and bring some sort of charges related to this, do you think that that will have any impact whatsoever on Trump's standing among Republican members of Congress, Republican officials and Republican voters?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: Those are different constituencies, to be sure, right?


GOLDBERG: Yes. I mean, no. Look, I think there is a possibility, it's not one that I think is necessarily one I would bet a lot of money on, that the slow accretion of more baggage, more hassles, there's always something going on with this guy, hits a critical mass point when Republican voters are starting to pay attention to the primaries, which they are not now, and they're just going to say, look, I like the guy's policies, but like we need someone with less baggage, younger, blah-blah-blah-blah, that's possible.

I think, for leaders of the party, for members of Congress they're there psychologically, a lot of them, but they're not there politically because the voters haven't gone that way yet. And no one wants to -- you know, there are all these closet normals on the Hill who would very much like --

TAPPER: Closet normal.

GOLDBERG: Yes, would very much like to move beyond the Trump era, but they can't until the voters do you want do.

TAPPER: You want to out them for us right now?

GOLDBERG: That's a lot.

TAPPER: Kirsten, so obviously special counsel is also investigating President Biden, and we should, you know, we should point out it's not the same thing. He did have classified documents, but they found them, the Biden people, and then alerted the authorities and have, you know, provided them.


TAPPER: But do you think politically that really does, not to mention the Pence matter, they did the exact same thing as Biden, they found some documents and alerted people, do you think that makes it more difficult politically for Democrats to say -- you know, to use this incident with Trump as an issue?

POWERS: No, I don't think it makes it more difficult for Democrats to say that. I think it makes it easier for Republican voters, though, to say it's the same thing. Right? So, Republicans will come in and muddy up the waters and sort of say it's the same thing, and then the voters can go, oh, there's our out. Like, here's how we get around having to be upset about this, because everybody does it, right? [17:10:14]

I think the thing for me that I don't entirely understand is the idea of a president who doesn't understand that there's a classified system for documents.

TAPPER: Right.

POWERS: Like the average television viewer understands that, right? If you've ever seen like movies about like the White House or anything with the intelligence community, like we know this. Everybody knows this. So, we're supposed to believe that the president of the United States didn't know that there was a system in place that he needed to -- well, that he was surely briefed on?


POWERS: I mean, there's no question. But also that he would even need to, if he somehow forgot the briefing, ask somebody. It's just not -- it's not plausible. I don't even understand why this is the standard, you know, that it has to be intent. I mean, if Donald Trump murders somebody and he says he's never heard of murdered, then is he off the hook? Why is he only responsible if there's intent?

TAPPER: Well, answer the question.

DUPREE: Yes, it's a great question. I think the answer would be, look, that if you had a situation where it was unclear exactly what the president's responsibilities were or if it was unclear precisely how a president will go about declassifying documents, you could at least construct a plausible legal argument to say, look, my lawyers told me this is what to do.

So I think that there would be room for this kind of advice of counsel defense. I think in this particular situation, it's difficult for two reasons. One, is because if some lawyer was actually saying, you can declassify by taking it out of the White House --

POWERS: Right.

DUPREE: -- that lawyer should be disbarred. That's terrible advice. It's obviously wrong. And number two, what we're hearing now is the lawyers were apparently giving him the opposite advice, saying, you can't do that, and yet he knew that but apparently disregarded.

GOLDBERG: So, I have a slightly different, admittedly subtle problem with this, which is that, yes, the legal argument about declassification and the process argument totally legit, let's have that argument, let's have that discussion, but the actual documents, right, they're classified for this thing called a reason.

TAPPER: Right.

GOLDBERG: Right? And, like, let's say they were the nuclear codes, Trump says, well, like, I declassified them, so there's no problem with me taking them and just keeping them on my desk at Mar-a-Lago. It's like, maybe even if that were legally true, there's a huge

judgment problem involved here where he's taking stuff that's classified for a really important reason and saying, I can show it off to my friends when they visit me in Mar-a-Lago because it's fun --

TAPPER: Right.

GOLDBERG: -- as if the actual secrets don't matter.

TAPPER: And can I just note somewhere Hillary Clinton's head --


TAPPER: -- is it floating, right? I mean, like one of the reasons that Donald Trump is president is because Republicans successfully made the argument that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was cavalier and did not take seriously enough the classification process for her home e-mail service.

GOLDBERG: An argument I agreed with, by the way.

TAPPER: Yes, no, I'm not saying it's a wrong argument.


TAPPER: We covered it, we took it seriously. It's been mocked by liberals about her emails, et cetera, et cetera. But like that was one of the reasons Donald Trump is president.

POWERS: Well, I mean, I'm sure you've gone into this a million times, but the viewers should know, like what happens when this information gets out. It puts people's lives in danger. I mean, it's really serious. It's not just the secrets of the United States, which it is a lot of time, it's the sources that are getting this information are endangered. So, it's an extremely serious thing.

And it was -- I think it was serious with Hillary. And I think this is vastly more serious, though. I mean, this --

TAPPER: Because it's the actual document in boxes and boxes.

POWERS: -- this is actually -- I mean, this is -- yes, this is just -- and just the like flagrancy with which he's done it, and the way that he's defending and claiming that he has the right to do this, that's not the same thing that happened with Hillary.

TAPPER: Yes, no, but I mean, like, literally, they were yelling at the Democratic -- I mean, at the Republican National Convention, lock her up --


TAPPER: -- lock her up, about this exact issue. I mean, obviously, he's the president, she's the secretary of state different, but is there any substantive difference here? DUPREE: There's not a lot. Look, it's all nuanced, it's all fact, it's all trying to draw a very, very fine distinctions that I think will be lost, frankly, on most people. To me, at least, one of the interesting things here is that I can't think of another time in our nation's history where the National Archives has become one of the key --


DUPREE: -- suppliers to a grand jury investigation, right? That just doesn't happen. It's another unique aspect of the Trump era. And I think, actually, it will be interesting to see if the Trump team can prevent the release of these documents.

We've heard that they're going to argue privilege. They're going to argue that they're protected because apparently it's advice from his lawyers. We'll see what the courts do with that. But it is interesting how so much of what we're learning now behind the scenes was, in fact, advice from Donald Trump's lawyers to the president himself.

TAPPER: Fascinating stuff. Great to have all of you on. Thank you so much.

Coming up, the paparazzi chase Harry and Meghan are describing as near catastrophic, but a New York City cabby who drove them, he's now talking about the chase. What does he have to say?

Plus, an update on those horrific murders of four Idaho college students. Why this means a suspect will be in court next week. That's ahead.



TAPPER: Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle say they were involved in a near catastrophic car chase with paparazzi last night in Manhattan. They allege a, quote, "relentless pursuit." They say it lasted for more than two hours.

New York law enforcement officials say that it was clearly annoying and uncomfortable and dangerous but there were not any accidents and there have not been any arrests. Tonight, the New York City cab driver who drove the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for some of their trip, they changed cars a few times, says the chase wasn't really all that aggressive.


SUNNY SINGH, NEW YORK CITY TAXI DRIVER: We're just crossing on 67 going across town, and I see a security guy asks me if I want a fair, and I said, of course. And then next he'll pull over and next minute I know they were jumping in back into my cab. We were just making left turns and right turns and that's it. They were not being that aggressive while they were driving behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: CNN's Jason Carroll's at the police precinct where the couple had to shelter in place during the incident.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A near catastrophic car chase with Paparazzi. That's how the spokesman for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex described what happened to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and her mother immediately after they left an event in New York City Tuesday night.

A member of the Duke and Duchess's security detail called the incident "chaotic," telling CNN it involved a dozen vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, and scooters that were jumping curbs and running red lights.

The NYPD did not report any collisions, injuries, or arrests, but a law enforcement source called the incident dangerous and said there were several close calls between the car the Duke and Duchess were driving in and the car behind them and said an NYPD protective detail following the couple had to use evasive maneuvers.


The Duke and Duchess released a statement that said, in part, the "relentless pursuit, lasting over two hours, resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers." New York City Mayor Eric Adams questioned whether their pursuit was two hours, but chastised the paparazzi.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, (D) NEW YORK: You shouldn't be speeding anywhere, but this is a densely populated city. I thought that was a bit reckless and irresponsible.

CARROLL (voice-over): The couple took refuge at the NYPD's 19th precinct on the Upper East Side before returning to the private residence in Manhattan where they had been staying. The incident, reminiscent of the crash in Paris that killed Prince Harry's mother, Princess Diana, 25 years ago.

The late Princess of Wales died from internal injuries after a high speed car chase and crash involving paparazzi. Princess Diana, who was 36 years old at the time of her death, had faced intense harassment by British paparazzi. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married five years ago and share two children, Archie and Lilibet.

They have consistently raised concerns about their family's safety, particularly Prince Harry, who has been open about his trauma and grief stemming from his mother's death when he was 12 years old saying this to ITV in 2019.

PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: Every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back. So, in that respect, it's the worst reminder of her life.


CARROLL: Now that cabbie, Sunny Singh, who picked up the Duke and the Duchess said that the couple appeared nervous when they got inside his cab. He said he drove them for about 10 minutes, drove them right here to the 19th precinct. The NYPD, for its part, said it's going to be reviewing all sorts of security cameras, including red light cameras, to see if they can identify anyone. Jake.

TAPPER: Jason Carroll, thanks so much. As one of the most conservative courts in the nation, here's a key case that could ban an abortion medication mifepristone, CNN talks to three women in their 20s who say they have chosen to get sterilized due to the current abortion restrictions and their desire to never have an unwanted pregnancy. Their stories ahead.



TAPPER: In our health lead, a pivotal hearing today in the fight over the abortion pill mifepristone. The Fifth Circuit Court of appeals in New Orleans is considering whether the main drug used in the medication abortion mifepristone should be pulled off the market.

The case centers around the FDA's approval of the drug, it's been legal for 20 years, an actions that the FDA took to make obtaining it easier. This all comes after a conservative Texas judge ruled last month that the drug should be pulled off the market, which the U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on while the case continues to play out in various courts. CNN's Joan Biskupic is with us.

Joan, obviously we talked a lot about this case last month, and now it's back before the courts. It's not just access to the abortion pill that's at stake. It's also the regulatory process of whether the FDA has the right to approve drugs or if random judges here and there can express disapproval and say, well, I don't think the birth control pill should be legal, and I don't think Viagra should be legal.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Right. And, Jake, it didn't sound good for the FDA, not just in this case involving mifepristone, the first drug of the two pill protocol to end abortions, which most women nationwide used to end a pregnancy.

But it doesn't sound good also for its authority. One of the judges, James Ho, a Trump appointee who's pretty conservative said, you know, what's all this about the FDA can do no wrong, he said that to the Biden administration lawyer. And she answered, you know, that it's not necessarily that they're saying they can do no wrong, in this case, it's that the FDA did something right.

But those kinds of questions really went to the core of FDA authority, and it's the authority to review not just, you know, abortion medication, but all existing and future drugs.

And what the FDA is arguing is that, you know, with Department of Justice Biden administration lawyer representing it down in New Orleans in this case is saying that the studies, the scientific evidence that it used was all valid to find that mifepristone is safe and effective and that those findings should not be disrupted by a lower court judge.

Now the fifth Circuit, as you suggested, is a very conservative court, as is Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was the original person who ruled invalidating the FDA approval, they might end up being far to the right on this and not being embraced by the Supreme Court.

But given what we heard today, Jake, this is the kind of case that probably is destined to end up in favor of the challengers to the FDA authority and likely to get up to the Supreme Court where we might actually see a whole different story given how far to the right these judges are.

TAPPER: We'll see.

BISKUPIC: That's right.

TAPPER: We'll see. All right, Joan Biskupic, thanks so much.

As the fight over access to abortion and abortion medication is ongoing across the country in this post Roe v. Wade world, we're also hearing anecdotally that more women are opting for sterilization because they're afraid of unwanted pregnancies in post Roe world. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen talks now to a doctor who says she's seeing three times more of these requests for sterilization than before Roe v. Wade was overturned.


KARA NEILS, CHOSE TO BE STERILIZED: I'm Kara. I had my tubes taken out last week. This is one.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kara Neils, 25 years old, opted six months ago to be sterilized. Dani Marietti, also 25, had a picnic to celebrate her sterilization last July, complete with commemorative cookies. Mariah Marsh also had her tubes removed as a 28th birthday present to herself in January. All three have known for a long time that they don't want children. And after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, they got sterilized.

MARIAH MARSH, CHOSE TO BE STERILIZED: I knew that the only way I could really protect myself is to go ahead and get the surgery.

COHEN (voice-over): Mariah, an admissions officer at Indiana University, has a neuromuscular disease that can make pregnancy risky. She said the ongoing legal battle over mifepristone makes her even more grateful she got sterilized. The legal challenge to this drug, one of two used together in medication abortion, could bar its use for abortion nationwide in the future.

MARSH: It does make me happy that I made the decisions that I made because it validates my thought process, which was they're just going to come for any access to care that a woman can make on her own.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Leah Tatum, an obstetrician gynecologist in Austin, Texas, said she hears this frequently from patients.

DR. LEAH TATUM, OBSTETRICIAN-GYNECOLOGIST: Their concerns are if medical abortions are no longer accessible, what if their reproductive rights are restricted even further.

COHEN (voice-over): She says, as abortion rights are getting chipped away.

TATUM: I have definitely seen an increase in the request for sterilization. I see about three times the consults for sterilization as I used to.

COHEN (voice-over): Women like Mariah, Dani and Kara find.

NEILS: Somebody in your area, find somebody who's covered by your insurance.

COHEN (voice-over): Are secure in their choice, as some options for choosing a life without children are being taken away.


COHEN: Now this might seem like an unusual move for women who are so young, but, Jake, these women told us they're 100 percent sure they don't want children. The Dobbs decision last year spurred them into action into actually getting sterilized. And this mifepristone litigation, well, they say that litigation makes them very glad that they did make that move. Jake?

TAPPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

In South Carolina, the fight to pass a stricter abortion ban is heating up, after the state's governor called the legislature back into session, the State Senate passed a bill in February that would ban abortion after six weeks and that's frankly, before a woman might even know she's pregnant.

The bill is now being debated right now in the State House and Democratic state representatives are trying to stop it. They are filing more than 1,000 amendments to the legislation to try to slow down debate and delay the vote.

Let's bring in one of the Democratic lawmakers trying to slow this process, if not stop it, State Representative Beth Bernstein. State Representative Bernstein. Thanks for joining us. So you and your fellow Democrats have filed a thousand amendments to this six-week abortion ban that passed in the State Senate. There is a rape and incest exception up to 12 weeks, but we should note you have to have filed a police report or get a restraining order.

Do you think that this is going to work? Are you going to be able to use this delay to convince House Republicans to take a different position, or are you just delaying the inevitable, do you think?

REP. BETH BERNSTEIN (D-SC): Unfortunately, we are delaying the inevitable, but I think what's important is we are becoming, we are a voice for so many women in this state who don't want this, who want abortion access, and who do not want the state to regulate these issues. The polling is clear that most South Carolinians, more than 78 percent, want abortion access. So it's unfortunate.

And the reason these amendments are being filed is so we can have that voice and so people can understand what we're doing at the State House is we're effectively banning abortion.

And I should note that this same bill, the six-week abortion ban bill that was passed in this legislature last year, was deemed by the state Supreme Court as violating the privacy rights that are guaranteed under our state constitution. And that was just decided in January. And now we are coming back to debate this bill under the same, very similar terms, which is unfortunate.

TAPPER: You say the polling suggests that this six-week ban would not enjoy popular support among the residents of the Palmetto State. And I know Senator Lindsey Graham, who is against abortion, has proposed more of a I think it's 12 or 15-week ban as some sort of compromise.

We had Congresswoman Nancy Mace on the show, also an opponent of abortion, but she said that she finds the -- she's a survivor of rape, and she said that she finds the requirements for rape victims and the 12-week limit to be onerous.

And I think she thinks it's cruel. Is there any chance that there will actually be repercussions to lawmakers who support that or are you just in a conservative state and this is how it is?


BERNSTEIN: Well, I've got to be optimistic, but we are in a very conservative red state. Congresswoman Mace, who I have served with in the South Carolina, you know, House of Representatives when she served that one-term and Senator Lindsey Graham would not be advocating for something between 12 and 20 weeks if it was not what people wanted.

And I think they recognize that I -- by putting all of these amendments on the desk and debating these issues, I think we're highlighting what really women want in the state and in this and, you know, in America. And I should say that, you know, only -- we're in a super minority. This is my 11th year in the legislature, my sixth term, and this is the first time we've been in a super minority that the Republicans have a supermajority.

There are only eight women out of the 36 Democrats to the 88 Republicans, which are comprised mostly of men. This has been a group effort among the Democratic caucus, particularly the eight women whom we are referring to ourselves as the Mighty Eight.

And I don't want to think that it's just me out there doing this. I mean, it is a group effort. And I'm so proud of particularly the women in my caucus who are really becoming voices for all the women in this state, whether you're Republican, Democrat, Independent, whatever you are. We know that this is not what we want as women and for our daughters and our future generations. It's just unfortunate that the girls now are going to have less rights than I did growing up, my daughters.

TAPPER: Democratic South Carolina State Representative Beth Bernstein, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: The House U.S. -- the U.S. House just wrapped a vote that could bring Congressman George Santos a step closer to getting expelled from Congress. That's next.



TAPPER: Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to refer an expulsion resolution for Republican New York Congressman George Santos to the House Ethics Committee. Democrats have been pushing to just expel the embattled New York Republican who has admitted to repeated lies and is currently under federal indictment and pleaded guilty to a crime in Brazil.

But Republicans instead opted to send that expulsion resolution to the House Ethics Committee, something of a punt. The Ethics Committee already investigating Santos. CNN's Manu Raju has the latest on Capitol Hill. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. This vote just wrapped up, the final vote 221 votes to refer the matter to the expulsion of George Santos to the House Ethics Committee. All Republicans voting in favor of doing that, 204 Democrats voting against that effort, seven Democrats voting present. Most of those Democrats voting present are members of the Ethics Committee themselves.

But this came down along party lines. Because Democrats argue that this is an effort to just protect George Santos. They said that by putting this into the Ethics Committee, it's unclear if the House will ever vote to expel Santos.

Santos, in order for him to get kicked out of Congress, it would require the support of two-thirds of the full House. Now, the Republicans say that Santos should at least go through this Ethics Committee process. And then the Ethics Committee can recommend whether or not to kick Santos out of Congress.

But there's another wrinkle. There's a question about whether the Justice Department may ask the Ethics Committee to stand down as it is done with other indicted members, because the Justice Department has an ongoing case against George Santos, who's indicted on those federal charges. Earlier today, I asked the speaker whether or not this could happen, whether or not that the Justice Department could essentially squash this Ethics Committee investigation. He contended he's going to tell the Ethics Committee to go forward. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Will ethics have to wait until Justice is done with its investigation and the court case before moving with its investigation?


RAJU: What assurance do you have right now, that they won't have to wait?

MCCARTHY: We have no ties, they can do their own thing. It will be our choice to make. I want our Ethics Committee to do it.


RAJU: Now even the members who have called on George Santos to resign from Santos' own party voted just now to send this to the Ethics Committee, including several New York Republicans who have been some of the most vocal members of calling for George Santos to step aside to resign.

They said that this should go through. The Ethics Committee process itself. And one other member, Jake, voted to refer this to the Ethics Committee. George Santos himself appearing on the House floor, voting in favor of an investigation into himself. We'll see what that investigation ultimately yields.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. In our Politics Lead, former Vice President Mike Pence is testing the 2024 Waters. He's on a multi-day swing in New Hampshire, where he is reintroducing himself as Mike Pence, the candidate, not Donald Trump's number two.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I debated Donald Trump many times, just not with the cameras on. You know, I'd welcome the opportunity to bring my ideas forward if I'm a candidate, and I promise to keep you posted on our plans.


TAPPER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now with the latest from Dover, New Hampshire. Jeff, what are we expecting to hear tonight?


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the former vice president has been meeting with small groups of Republicans here in New Hampshire, which he'll be doing shortly here in Dover. And he's been making the case for what he believes needs to be discussed in this Republican presidential race, beginning with the budget, beginning with the Social Security program that he says is on the verge of growing insolvent.

And he does not mention form President Donald Trump very often by name. But he did pointedly essentially compare him to President Biden in terms of the fact that he says both of them are unwilling to talk about the future of the Social Security program, the future of other entitlement programs.

So what the former vice president is trying to do is draw a distinction between his candidacy, which we are told is likely to become official next month, if he takes the step to become a candidate.

And he said he simply wants to revert the conversation back to the Reagan era, if you will, of fiscal conservatism. But Jake, it's an open question if there is a market for that in today's Republican Party that is still very much Donald Trump's Republican Party. When you talk to Republican voters, they've been receiving him in a respectful way, but it's very unclear if there is room for him in this field.

However, his advisors and his outside advisors say he is likely to go forward with this by going back to the future, if you will, and talking about fiscal conservatism and responsibility. Of course, that was not a hallmark of his administration with Donald Trump, who he mentions very little, but of course hangs over everything in this Republican race. Jake?

TAPPER: So Jeff, a Super PAC just launched one supporting Pence. So what do we know about that?

ZELENY: We do know that the Super PAC is, you know, an alliance of old supporters of him, and he's given them their blessing. And the Super PAC, largely run by Washington insider, Scott Reid, who ran Bob Bill's 1996 campaign, Jeb Hensarling, a former member of Congress from Texas. They are putting together a group essentially to provide some backing former Vice President Mike Pence, so essentially putting a ground game in place.

And they are going to focus on Iowa, I'm told. That, of course, is the state that begins the Republican nominating contest, focusing on evangelical voters where they believe have a strong connection with Mike Pence. So he does have some backing on that front. But the question is, is there room for him in this field? He says he's going to try it out and see. Of course, the voters will see how they respond, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Dover in beautiful New Hampshire. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up on The Lead, the grand jury just returned a decision about the Idaho College student murders. Why that means the suspect will be back in court next week. Stay with us.



TAPPER: The grad student accused of killing four University of Idaho students last November has been indicted on murder and burglary charges. Bryan Kohberger is expected to appear in court next week to be a rank. Jean Casarez has been covering this case for us. So Jean, a preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for next month, but this indictment will allow the case to move directly to a higher level court?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the district court, which is the trial court. So what this means is this case is headed to trial because the whole point there was going to be that preliminary hearing. That is where it was out in the open. Witnesses would testify, they'd be cross examined, new information could be learned. That will not happen anymore, because unbeknownst to anyone, prosecutors convened a grand jury.

That grand jury is secret. They are private, and they heard testimony from witnesses. We will never know who, because there is an order now sealing all of the witnesses that testified, at least their names in this grand jury. But the defendant is not able to be present, according to Idaho law.

There is no cross examination. But when the grand jurors determine that there should be a criminal proceeding, it is now then transferred in the hands of a district court judge. And on Monday, he will be there in court and he will have to enter a plea.

TAPPER: And since January, lawyers, police, witnesses have all been under gag order requests by news organizations to lift that have been denied. What does that suggest about this judge's thinking?

CASAREZ: Well, obviously, on its face, we could say that this is a very secretive proceeding, right, because the grand jury determined and heard witnesses, which we will never know about. There's a gag order, so parties cannot speak at all. But the other line of thought is that this is a small community. They want to preserve that jury pool. They do not want to taint prospective jurors because this community owns this case.

And many times, prosecutors want a community to have their case, to hear their case. On the other hand, they could have done this months ago. This came out of the blue after the dates were established for the preliminary hearing. But let me tell you what to look for next. Idaho is a death penalty state, and will there be notice given by the prosecutors following Monday's proceeding of intent to seek death. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jean Casarez, thank you so much.


Rain, snow, or sleet may not stop postal workers from delivering the mail, but they are facing a very different threat. Plus, ahead in The Situation Room, a look at the military spy satellite North Korea might be launching in the near future. Stick around.


TAPPER: In our National Lead, attacks on U.S. Postal workers are rising at an alarming rate. There have been more than 2,000 assaults or robberies on postal carriers just since 2020, with more than 300 being reported from October of last year through March alone, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Today, members of the House Oversight Committee pressed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about the issue and asked him why the Postal Police were not better protecting carriers. Here's what DeJoy said about the lack officers available.


LOUIS DEJOY, POSTMASTER GENERAL: If I had 60,000 of them, I would come to you and ask for the authority to do what you're asking us to do. I don't. I have 600.


TAPPER: DeJoy says the Postal Service is partnering with local and federal agencies to combat this issue.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Bluesky if you have a code at JakeTapper, you can tweet the show at the LeadCNN if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead. Whence you get your podcast, all 2 hours just sitting there like a delicious filet mignon. CNN continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I'd like to call The Situation Room. Thanks for watching.