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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Wanted To Fight Subpoena For Classified Documents; Ukraine Denies Russia's Claim Of Capturing Bakhmut; Paul Whelan Remains Confident He Will Be Brought Back Home; Biden And McCarthy Resume Debt Ceiling Negotiations; Republican Sen. Tim Scott Launches Presidential Campaign; Transgender Teen Misses Graduation Ceremony After Her Request To Wear A Dress And Heels Was Denied; R.K. Russell Discusses Racism, Mental Health And Sexuality In His New Memoir "The Yards Between Us". Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 22, 2023 - 17:00   ET



PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: But it is extraordinary that we even have access to these kinds of details. And the Special Counsel has this information because he went to court and he fought to get around attorney-client privilege.

He argued that this legal advice may have been used in furtherance of a crime. He argued that successfully, which is how he got this evidence.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's extraordinary, though, because usually conversations between a lawyer and the clients are completely considered privileged and walled off. I mean, Donald Trump's not above the law, but he's also not below the law.

REID: Exactly.

TAPPER: What do you make of this decision?

REID: Again, they went to court to fight. Special Counsel Jack Smith has been extremely aggressive in trying to get around, of course, executive privilege, attorney-client privilege.

There are certain pieces of information that he believes he needs in order to answer these questions about whether classified documents were mishandled and whether there were any efforts to obstruct. So, he went through the proper channels to get around attorney-client privilege.

But to your point, that privilege exists for a reason, because you want to be able to speak freely to your attorney about your options, express frustration, a bat around some ideas without it coming back to potentially bite you.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Paula, stick around. I want to bring in Tom Dupree, a Former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. So, what do you make of the contents? Obviously, it's extraordinary that this was allowed to be revealed, but what do you make of the contents?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: In some respects, it's not surprising at all. In other respects, it's very surprising. The way it's not surprising is that the President wanted to fight the subpoena. That's what we've seen.

His lawyers often, over the course of his time in office, would urge cooperation with the Justice Department or other investigators. That's not his nature. His nature is to fight. Doesn't surprise me. That was his first question. What can we do to battle this?

TAPPER: Right.

DUPREE: The thing that does surprise me, though, is that apparently from this great reporting is that we're starting to hear that he may have had much greater involvement in the subpoena response than we knew previously. In terms of instructing people to remove documents in terms of the logistics, how are we going to prepare the documents for the Justice Department.

I think that is, in particular, what the Special Counsel is after. He wants to prove President Trump's intent. He wants to prove President Trump's mindset. He wants to prove that President Trump obstructed the Justice Department's investigation.

TAPPER: How damaging do you think it is?

REID: We don't know the full extent of what is in these notes. At this point, you can see why the special counsel wants to know, how did they respond to this subpoena? Because they've been trying to get a lot of these documents back for quite some time. We know they had concerns about whether things were being moved.

We also know Walt Nauta, sort of a lower level aide who serves as a valet, is mentioned in these notes. And he's significant because he is caught on surveillance footage moving some boxes out of a storage room, the same storage room that Evan Corcoran had gone in to look for classified materials and not found everything that was at the premises.

So, I do think it's clear why the Special Counsel would want to see these notes, why they could be important. But it's too early to judge, because we don't have all the notes or all the evidence to know if this is truly incriminating.

TAPPER: Obviously, this is speculation but based on what we do know, how could these notes be used to make a potential case against Trump by Jack Smith?

DUPREE: If I were the Special Counsel, I would say that this shows President Trump, number one, knew that he had a legal obligation to return these documents. Number two, he knew that there was classified information stored within those documents. And number three, he instructed his agents to basically remove the documents, otherwise make them inaccessible to the search. That's how I would use this if there were the Special Counsel. The

Special Counsel, as you said, has been very aggressive in piercing the privilege. He's been cutting through the privilege like a side through a wheat field. Every time the President asserts privilege, it seems like it gets overruled. Absolutely extraordinary, but that's how the Special Counsel is gathering evidence and making his case.

TAPPER: And Paula, there's also a lot of drama inside of Donald Trump's legal team. I guess that's as -- is par for the course of Mr. Trump.

REID: Yeah. Yes.

TAPPER: Former Trump Attorney, Timothy Parlatore left the team last week and he talked to you about it and why he left. He said it wasn't because of the case itself or Trump. Let me play part of that exchange.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: The real reason is because there are certain individuals that made defending the President much harder than it needed to be. In particular, there's one individual who works for him, Boris Epstein who had really done everything he could to try to block us, to prevent us from doing what we could to defend the President.


TAPPER: So, the parliamentary is claiming that Epstein kept the rest of the legal team from doing their jobs. How?

REID: Well, quite remarkably, he said that he prevented them from wanting to, from being able to do the searches for additional classified documents that they wanted to do after the search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago. That is an extraordinary accusation to make about another lawyer. I mean, he walked right up to the line of accusing him of obstruction. And again, that's one of the things the Special Counsel is looking at. Did anyone try to obstruct this investigation?

Now, we'll note a spokesman for the former president responded to that interview and said that look, Tim's no longer on the legal team and what he said about the lawyers currently representing the former president, that is untrue. But look, like you said, we're used to infighting --

TAPPER: Right.

REID: -- in legal circles. That's nothing new.


But something like this spilling out into public view, a lot of questions about whether the former president will be listening if he'll change his approach. And of course, we do think the special counsel will likely take note of this.

TAPPER: This is -- it's odd and it's unusual Parlatore not only leaving the team but I mean, no offense, that was a great interview, congratulations, big scoop. But giving the interview and naming names?

DUPREE: It shocked me, Jake. Honestly, it shocked me. I mean, lawyers just don't do that sort of thing. And I guess what's particularly remarkable about this whole thing is that so much of the evidence the Special Counsel is gathering to use against the former president comes from his former lawyers.


DUPREE: In other words, he's getting notes. He's getting their legal advice. They're saying things on TV. The Special Counsel is out there gathering it all. Normally, your lawyers are a bulwark, a shield to protect you from legal liability. In this case, they're the ones generating the evidence that's gonna be used against President Trump.

TAPPER: Yeah, that's a lot. I mean, if what he's saying is true, that's a lot of power for Boris Epstein, who let's be frank, he's not exactly F. Lee Bailey. Paula, it does appear like the Special Counsel is nearing the end of his investigation into the clandestine of the classified documents.

REID: Yes.

TAPPER: Given what we now know about his legal team, what sort of defense strategy do you think we will see?

REID: So, this was part of the disagreement within the legal team is how aggressive should they be behind the scenes in pushing back directly on the special counsel and prosecutors and how aggressive should they be in the court of public opinion.

But the big question I have right now in terms of where are we is what's up with Mark Meadows, right? He is the most important witness potentially for the January 6 investigation possibly useful in Mar-a- Lago, as well. Radio silence from him. No communication between his legal team and the former president's team.

So, a lot of questions about the extent to which he is cooperating, when and if he will testify and really once we see him, then we'll know that the evidence gathering phase is concluded which we think they're pretty close to the end. But big question about Mark Meadows, then they'll write the report and we'll see if he brings any charges.

TAPPER: Fascinating, fascinating. Paula Reid, Tom Dupree, thanks to both of you, really appreciate it. Turning to our Worldly Now, after weeks of a brutal and deadly assault, the Russian mercenary group Wagner claims it has captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Wagner posted a video of its soldiers holding up the Russian flag and claiming that they had captured the town after 224 days of brutal fighting.

Now, the leaders of Ukraine deny this. They say Ukrainian forces are still in control of buildings flanking Bakhmut. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Eastern Ukraine for us. And Nic, you're near the frontlines. Is this potential defeat problematic for Ukraine in the long run?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (on camera): Yes, it is. It's a morale issue. It's a morale issue for them and for the Russians. The Russians gained something. This is a tough war for the Ukrainians.

They've lost this. It makes many soldiers question their political leaders. Did they make the right decision, lose so many soldiers? The canon narrative is it sucked up and killed a lot of Russian troops.

But if Russia pushes through Bakhmut and comes over the hill and through the countryside beyond, it moves on to the next towns and there's no doubting that that's their targets. We were along the front lines that are very, very close to Bakhmut. And you get the real sense from soldiers there that this war just is giving them a kicking.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Barely out of the armored troop carrier, incoming artillery.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): We're just gonna wait in this little basement until the shelling's over. Then they think it will be safe to move forward to the front positions.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): A few minutes later, safe to come out at this army outpost a few miles from Bakhmut. Last night was hard. A lot of shelling. Gambit tells us the soldier is still shell-shocked from an anti-tank rocket attack.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): I'm gonna get back in the vehicle, try to get a little closer to the frontlines.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Ten days ago, these troops pushed the Russians back around Bakhmut. But their advance is slowing and harder. We get to a small HQ, Fox, a former farmer, is readying his troops for their coming shift on the frontline, stopping the Russians in Bakhmut from advancing.

ROBERTSON: How hard is that? It's impossible to describe these feelings, he says. You can only experience it. No words can express it. They shell a lot. As we talk, it is clear this war is taking its toll.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): You only have to look at the soldiers' faces here to know how tough this battle is. They all look worn. They say morale is high. But their faces are telling a different story.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): We move on towards other positions and stop as the shelling increases.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): We've just been told the place that we were going to is under heavy shelling, so we're going to pull back from here, go somewhere else. As the shelling increases - [17:10:00]

ROBERTSON (on-camera): We've just been told the place that we were going to is under heavy shelling, so we're gonna pull back from here, go somewhere else.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): In the battalion bunker, the commander tells us the Russians have ramped up their shelling on his troops since they advanced. Tons of ammo, shrapnel, tanks firing, everything. His unit's drones recorded their recent successes, but now the Russians have re- grouped and in a moment of candor following losses the previous night admits morale is flagging.

Let's be honest, he says, we are fighting heavily for more than a year. My soldiers went through many battles and two rotations near Bakhmut. Troops are exhausted, but we endure.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): Bakhmut, which is just over the hill in that direction, has become an object lesson in how Russia's wealth in men and ammunition can prevail. And then, unless Ukraine gets the modern weaponry support from its allies, it's gonna struggle to tip the balance.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Fox and his unit load up for their hard miles at the front, an end of war getting back to their families, what drives them into the shelling.


TAPPER: And in another bizarre development, some separatist Russian forces who are allied with Ukraine have crossed the border and actually invaded Russia.

ROBERTSON (on-camera): Yeah, look, what the troops are doing in and around Bakhmut and in other places along the frontline is to try to find a weakness in the Russian lines, to force the Russians to pull more resources, more troops in from one area to another.

And that's happened around Bakhmut. And I think what we're witnessing at the border there, I mean, how bizarre that Ukrainian, essentially Ukrainian allied forces can drive across the border into Russia.

Russia is at war with Ukraine. Okay, they call it a special military operation. But how can the border be so weak? A handful of Ukrainian armored vehicles can drive across the border, create havoc in a town, cause injuries, apparently take prisoners, put the governor there or the local mayor at least on the back foot under assault from citizens who are saying, you're not doing enough to protect us.

What is it actually designed to do? It appears as if the Ukrainians are trying to force the Russians to redeploy troops out of the fight in Ukraine to get along the border and defend these many, many hundreds of small border crossings that apparently they're not defending. I think that's Ukraine's ploy right now because it wants to create weaknesses so it can get through with a big counteroffensive and this is one way to try to do it. TAPPER: Nic Robertson, please stay safe in Eastern Ukraine, appreciate

it. Also in our world lead, the sister of Paul Whelan is gonna join me live. Her brother, just spoke with CNN's Jennifer Hansler, an exclusive interview from the Russian prison camp where he is being wrongfully detained, plus a potential solution in an enormous water fight impacting 40 million Americans.

Then we're talking to R.K. Russell about his time in the NFL and being the first openly bisexual active player on an NFL roster. Stay with us.




TAPPER: And we're back with more. In our world lead, a surprisingly upbeat conversation with Paul Whelan, one of the Americans wrongfully detained in Russia. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has U.S., Irish, British, and Canadian citizenship, was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage charge that he vehemently denies.

In an exclusive conversation with CNN's Elizabeth Hansler, Whelan says he feels, I'm sorry, Jennifer Hansler, Whelan says that he feels confident that his case is a priority for the government, but he wishes it could be resolved faster.


PAUL WHELAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: Well, you know, I've got the usual aches and pains of forced labor and poor living conditions, and that's a daily reminder of where I am and how long I've been here and the need for our government to get me home. So, I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that, yeah, the wheels are turning. I just wish they would turn a little bit more quickly.


TAPPER: Paul Whelan, talking to Jennifer Hansler. I'm joined now by Paul Whelan's sister Elizabeth. Elizabeth, thank you so much for joining us. So, how long has it been since you've heard from your brother? And what do you think of what he said to CNN?

ELIZABETH WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S SISTER: Well, Paul can talk to my parents relatively frequently. We were thrilled that he was able to talk to Jennifer Hansler. I'm amazed at his resilience and he has to bring that courage every single day.

He has to wake up every day remembering that he is in IK 17, the forced labor camp and to -- and to get that back, it's amazing that after four years and five months, he is still able to do that. And I hope the U.S. government has a response for the Russians that is worthy of that kind of faith. TAPPER: Your brother, of course, was left behind when Russia freed

Brittney Griner last December and since then the Russians detained another American, The Wall Street Journal's Evan Gershkovich. I wanna play you something else that your brother told us last night.


WHELAN: I have been told that I won't be left behind and I have been told that although Evan's case is a priority, mine is also a priority. And people are cognizant of the fact that this is having a -- extremely negative impact on me and my family.


TAPPER: Are you confident that Paul's case is a top priority for the U.S. government, for the Biden administration?

WHELAN: Yeah, I am. And what I need to know -- what I need to have confidence in is that we're moving forward with alacrity. You know, this is taking a very long time. I realize this administration inherited this particular problem. That's why, you know, we're almost four and a half years into it. But we need to know that there's a current very good plan and that there's an exceptionally strong backup plan if this doesn't work.

[17:20:00] Paul has been waiting too long to come home and there is absolutely no reason Paul should not be on the next plane out of Russia back to Michigan.

TAPPER: Last month, you spoke at the United Nations and you attended a Security Council meeting chaired by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. It turns out your brother was watching. Here is what he told us last night.


WHELAN: It was funny because we stood here in the prison watching the TV, and watching my sister speak at the U.N., and everyone was mesmerized that this sort of thing could happen. And I said, you know, in America, in Canada, England, Ireland, this is the sort of thing that we do. We have the freedom to speak out and to speak at a place like the U.N.

TAPPER: What's your reaction hearing that? We were amazed that he could see, that he could view that. That was just incredible. And I hope it gave him some fortitude, some confidence that we're doing everything that we can.

And now we need to press Russia, that's the important part. I do believe our administration is doing all sorts of things they can to try to get Paul home. But we have to push Russia. The security services are obviously in some kind of chaos right now. This is all taking too long, and we can't allow the Kremlin to continue to have the upper hand in these cases where they're detaining Americans wrongfully. TAPPER: Listen to your brother's message for President Biden.


WHELAN: Mr. President, I've been held hostage for more than 52 months, and the only crime I have committed in Russia is that of being an American citizen. Freedom is not free and it comes at a price, but the loss of freedom is even more costly, and I pay that cost every day Russia holds me. Please follow through with your promises and commitments, truly make my life a priority, and get me home. Thank you very much.


TAPPER: Anything you want to add?

WHELAN: Oh, I just you know, that's heart-breaking isn't it, to hear something like that? And you just hope that all of the people who are working on Paul's case, you know, those who are having three meals a day, sleeping in a comfortable bed, you know, realize what he has gone through for four and a half years and do what's needed to get Paul home.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Whelan, thank you so much. And obviously we're gonna continue to cover your brother's story.

WHELAN: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: It is the meeting that could avoid financial ruin for the United States. In just minutes, President Biden and House Speaker McCarthy will try to reach a deal at the White House when they meet. Stay with us.




TAPPER: And we're back with our money lead in just a few minutes. President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will resume negotiations over the debt ceiling, the two of them meeting at the White House with just 10 days to go before the U.S. defaults on its debt, according to the Treasury Secretary.

Earlier today, McCarthy sounded the alarm to CNN about the looming crisis, telling Manu Raju that a deal will have to be agreed to this week in order for the legislation to be drafted and for the bill to pass the Senate and the President to sign the bill before the June 1st deadline.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us now live from the White House. Jeremy, what do we know about the remaining sticking points in the negotiations?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, with just 10 days to go until potential default. We're not just talking about a few sticking points, but really most major areas of this negotiation remain unresolved.

We're looking at the issue of spending caps, for example, for how long would those spending caps last, at what level would they be, what's the breakdown between defense and non-defense spending. And then of course, there are all of these other policy issues that they're trying to work through in terms of work requirements for social safety net programs, permitting reform.

But one thing that you do get a sense of, and I've gotten a sense in talking to folks here, is that today's meeting between President Biden and the Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, could be a potential inflection point, in particular after we saw sputtering talks over this past weekend with talks starting and stopping.

Today, though, President Biden and Speaker McCarthy will get together and they will be together in the room with just their teams. The other congressional leaders who have previously been in these meetings will not be there, and I'm told that that's a reflection of the state of these negotiations, and ultimately, the fact that this is a deal that's going to need to come down to President Biden and Speaker McCarthy, with both of them needing to deliver votes from their respective caucuses.

TAPPER: And the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, just sent a new letter to Speaker McCarthy with an update on the timeline here. What did she have to say?

DIAMOND: Yeah, that's right, Jake. She is reiterating the fact that these potential defaults will come as early as June, potentially as early as June 1st. She says in a letter to the congressional leaders, quote, we estimate that it is highly likely that Treasury will no longer be able to satisfy all of the government's obligations if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by early June and potentially as early as June 1.

And you hear there, she says highly likely that is increased confidence from last week when she sent a similar letter where she simply said that it was likely they would hit that timeline. So, a ramped up warning there from the Treasury Secretary. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House for us, thanks so much. Let's discuss this with Former Democratic South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers along with Former Trump Campaign Advisor David Urban. Bakari, what do you think? Is the U.S.-- do you think, ultimately headed towards a default?

BAKARI SELLERS (D), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I don't think so. I honestly think that Joe Biden is someone who's made deals, bipartisan deals, whether or not it's the infrastructure bill or COVID relief, he's been able to go in when times get tough and be able to pull people together.

I anticipate he'll be able to do that again. That's one of his major selling points during this time of partisanship. He's actually somebody who uses his 40 plus odd years of experience in getting things done. He knows he's gonna have to give a little bit. I'm interested to see what Speaker McCarthy can do rounding up his troops in the House.

TAPPER: I think it's more than 40 years. I think it's closer to 50. No offense. David, let's turn it --

SELLERS: I will talk about that, Jake, I'm sorry.

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: He's had a soft part. He's trying to undersell it.

TAPPER: I get it. David, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, he's now officially a presidential candidate. Let's play of what he said earlier today.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm living proof that America is the land of opportunity and not a land of oppression.

This isn't just my story. It's all of our stories. The circumstances and the situations may be different, the details may change, but every single one of us are here because of the American journey, where there were obstacles that became opportunities.


TAPPER: Scott is often described as being a happy warrior, more in the model of Ronald Reagan than perhaps Donald Trump. Do you think that sort of messaging, that message, works in today's GOP?

URBAN: Yes. I sure hope so. I watched that -- I watched his announcement today, and he's a spectacular order. It felt like you're in church listening to it. I know Bakari is probably saying, can I get an amen, Bakari, right? I mean, he is very good at what he does. And look, his message from the beginning, he said, look, I like to think, I like look forward out of the windshield, not backwards, out of the rearview mirror. I think that's, you know, what he projected today.

I think not just the Republican voters, but Americans would love to hear that kind of talk from all their politicians, right? And by doing so, I think he's kind of taking not so subtle swipe at the former president and others who want to look backwards.

He said, look, this is about looking forward. I think the message that Americans want to hear is not the bad situation we're in now, not about being victims, like he said, but about victory moving forward.

TAPPER: So, Bakari, obviously you've known Tim Scott for a long time, a fellow South Carolinian. Senator Scott went on the offensive against Biden and Democrats at times during his address. Let's run a little bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCOTT: When I cut your taxes, they called me a prop. When I refunded the police, they called me a token. When I pushed back on President Biden, they even called me the N word. I disrupt their narrative. I threaten their control. The truth of my life disrupts their lives. I'm the candidate the far left fears the most.


TAPPER: What do you make of that? And do you think that Democrats actually fear him the most getting the nomination?

SELLERS: No, Democrats actually fear somebody who can win the primary. But let me say this. Tim Scott is the most principled politician we have on the playing field out there, Joe Biden as well. But I want to talk about Tim for this moment because today is his day. He's somebody of a very, very high character, and I say that with all the honesty that I have.

We disagree on policy. In fact, I think that Tim was flat out wrong in many of those statements he made. Tim's story is a phenomenal story, and he talks about this being the land of opportunity. But in that same story, he acknowledges that he himself is a miracle. So this isn't the land of milk and honey and opportunity for us all because he himself had to be a miracle to get to where he is today because of the color of his skin.

I also think that Tim brings up a unique point that we're going to have to talk about. Tim actually goes out and he acknowledges the fact, I believe, that most African Americans are conservative, particularly in the south. They sway or have a conservative bit.

The difference, though, with black Republicans is that they don't stand up to the truth of white supremacy and racism in this country. And Tim Scott refused to do that too. I think he's a very honorable man. I think that he has the characteristics of looking forward.

However, I think this campaign is going to prove to be tough because this Republican Party is the Republican Party of Donald Trump, and there's a currency of racism, whether or not they want to admit that or not. I don't know how he navigates that.

TAPPER: And, David, Senator Scott has right now, little -- it's early, yes, but he has little name recognition. He's pulling in the low single digits. He does have some money. For that reason, some have speculated that maybe he's really running for vice president more than President.

The messenger dug, which is a new publication, they dug up a 1995 interview with a then 30-year-old Scott in which he was asked about one day running for the White House.

And this is how he replied back then. He said, quote, I thought about that, but as vice president, you get to speak more and have a forum to deliver messages unquote. Now, that's 1995. But what do you think? Do you think he's really running for the whole thing?


URBAN: Listen, I'm sure that how I shouldn't say this. I'm sure he's shooting for the top of the ticket. I don't think anybody gets in the race and says, I'm running for vice president. But I think that in my opinion, I think he'd probably be happy with accepting the vice presidency knowing that Donald Trump's only going to serve one term and he'd be likely teed up to be the next President of the United States.

So, you know, he's going to introduce himself to America in these coming weeks. I think he's going to do very, very well. You know, he's going to -- if I was both President Trump and Tim Scott and others, I would use the Biden.

And don't compare me the almighty, you compare me to the alternative. AP-NORC poll out just recently has Biden at a woeful 33 percent and on the economy, 24 percent. On Americans thinking that the economy is in a great shape, his favorability is about 40 percent.

So, you know, the sitting president and the sitting vice president are in pretty bad shape. I think that Tim Scott will provide a nice contrast to those folks in the White House right now.

TAPPER: And Bakari, Donald Trump went on his social media account, Truth Social, and wished Tim Scott the best. He attacked Ron DeSantis in the process. Writing in park, quote, Tim is a big step up from Ron DeSanctimonious, who is totally unelectable. That does seem as though that it's a pretty clear sign that he views DeSantis, not Tim Scott, as a threat, at least right now.

SELLERS: I mean, I think so, but I think it also goes to the character and who people know Tim Scott to be. Look, Tim Scott is not going to get in the mud with Donald Trump. We have a saying in South Carolina that you get in the mud with pigs, everybody gets dirty, but the pig likes it, right? He's not going to roll around and get dirty with Donald Trump. I don't think Donald Trump's going to do that with Tim Scott by any stretch.

I think he's going to run a campaign, although I don't see it being successful. And I tell people I love Tim Scott. I would give him a kidney. I would just never vote for him. And I think a lot of people are going to have that same opinion of Senator Scott being a good, honorable man, just not President of the United States.

TAPPER: Bakari Sellers and David Urban, thank you.

URBAN: We're going to get your vote, Bakari.

TAPPER: We'll see. David Urban and Bakari Sellers, thanks, both of you. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the dress code drama that has put a high school graduation in Mississippi in the national spotlight after two students were banned from walking across the stage. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our National Lead, a second high school senior in Mississippi was banned from walking in her graduation ceremony because of the clothes she was wearing underneath her gown. That student's mother tells CNN she was pulled out of line just minutes before walking across the stage to receive her diploma. As CNN's Isabel Rosales reports, this comes after another student from the same school missed out on the ceremony for a dress code reason, but also a little bit more.


L.B., TRANSGENDER TEEN WHO SKIPPED GRADUATION: I would rather stand up for what's right than be humiliated and feed into their thoughts and their opinionated feelings on, you know, what's right and what's wrong with gender identity.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This 17-year-old wants to go by her initials L.B. out of concern for her safety. She tells CNN less than two weeks before her graduation ceremony, she got pulled into the principal's office at Harrison Central High School in Gulfport, Mississippi.

L.B.: She had asked me what I was going to wear at graduation. And I told her that I was going to wear a white dress. Then she told me that I was not going to be allowed to wear a dress and I would have to wear boy clothes.

ROSALES (voice-over): According to the district's dress code, girls should wear dresses or a dressy pant-suit and boys dress pants, shirt and a tie. The policy does not specify students should dress by their sex assigned at birth.

SAMANTHA BROWN, MOTHER OF L.B.: I feel like there shouldn't be gender in it.

ROSALES (voice-over): L.B. says she's been openly transgender since her freshman year. During prom last year, she wore this dress, she says, without a problem.

L.B.: I couldn't understand why they would change it so suddenly.

ROSALES (voice-over): So L.B. and her parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, took the school district to court. The district pointed to this agreement L.B. and her mother signed two months before graduation consenting to honor the dress code.

L.B.: Because when we signed it, were under the impression that I would have the girl's dress code.

BROWN: Right, because she identifies as female. So went by the female's dress code.

ROSALES (voice-over): Superintendent Mitchell King wrote in court documents, they rely on birth certificates to record a student's sex. U.S. District Judge Taylor McNeil, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, denied the family's request for L.B. to attend graduation dress as a girl.

L.B.: It was detrimental, you know, to know that I won't be able to experience my graduation.

ROSALES (voice-over): On Saturday, a second student was accused of violating the dress code at the same high school commencement ceremony. Karen Dallas tells CNN a school supervisor pulled her daughter out of the lineup 20 minutes before she was set to walk the stage for wearing black pants. The family says the outfit was never flagged during the hours long rehearsal.

CARIN DALLAS, MOTHER OF STUDENT PULLED FROM GRADUATION LINEUP: She tells her that she could take her pants off and walk the stage, but she needed white shoes so she could walk in her underwear, but she can't walk in pants.


ROSALES: And Jake mothers to both of these students, they're evaluating their legal options. CNN has reached out to the Harrison County School District and also to Harrison Central High School. We have not heard back, but the superintendent, Mitchell King, did comment to our affiliate WLOX, simply saying, quote, we follow the graduation policy of the Harrison County School District. Jake?


TAPPER: Isabel Rosales thank you so much. He's the first openly bisexual player in the NFL, now R.K. Russell is opening up about football and coming out in a new memoir. He's going to join us live, next.


TAPPER: In our Sports Lead, in 2019, former NFL player R.K. Russell, who played for the Dallas Cowboys in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made history by becoming the first active NFL player to publicly identify as bisexual. In his recently released memoir, "The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Life, Love, and Football," Russell describes how he was led to the sport, the hardships he faced, and the painful yet powerful journey of accepting who he is.

And R.K. Russell joins us now live. I have the book here, R.K. Congratulations. Why was it important for you to share your story?


R.K. RUSSELL, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Thank you. Thank you so much. It's important for me to share because in sports, specifically in male sports, we don't see a lot of our athletes, not since the four years ago when I came out, not now, especially in football. You know, we've had problem that come out since then.

But is the sports culture really changing? Are these stories really being shared? And, you know, just in the handful of people that have come out as male professional athletes, those stories are far and few between. I think it's important to champion those for all athletes.

TAPPER: You all have faced racism. You were open about the racism you encountered as a child in Texas. You write, quote, as a black man in Texas, you know that when white men see you, they inevitably react, usually with fear, prejudice, or hate, unless you have on the right color jersey, the right helmet, unquote.

And later on, you mentioned the fallout from Colin Kaepernick protesting police brutality and racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016.

Now, since 2016, we've seen much more public protests of this sort of thing, of police brutality and inequity, in the NBA, in the WNBA, MLB, the list goes on. How important is it that athletes or those with a major platform speak up?

RUSSELL: I think it's very important, especially when you are a part of this community and though you are an athlete or a person at this level that not many are at, it's important to always remember where you came from to remember the people that have gotten you there, the people that support you in the communities that you also are a part of and that you embody as allies as well.

It's important, you know, to be an ally not only to your teammates, but to the communities that they come from in the places that they feel very connected to. So I think to have the means to really affect change for people like you and unlike you, is a part of being a professional athlete.

TAPPER: You're pretty candid in this book, not only about the acceptance of your sexuality, but also about your struggle with grief, your struggle with alcohol. You wrote, quote, black people don't go to therapy. They go to church, unquote.

You explained in your view that the need to demystify the stigma around mental health, especially within the black community. Why do you think that stigma exists in the black community, in your view?

RUSSELL: I think that a lot of things, specifically here in America, around the black community, have been put in places to either oppress or to erase or to hold back or to restrain. I think that we can all agree, and if not, I surely believe in things like systemic racism, things that are inherently anti-black in our society.

I think the stigma around mental health and wellness is something that is specifically hushed for black people, because those are the people that have had the most trauma here in this country.

And to realize that and to realize the unrest that being black in America has caused us will also, I think, incite change or resistance, incite, you know, a fight in black people that for a long time people have been afraid of, that we've seen at the head of what Black Lives Matter movement in the protests that are ensuing now. TAPPER: And you talk about being more than a football player. Towards the end of the memoir, you write, quote, I'm no longer strapping on a helmet and shoulder pads every day to clash with other individuals. Today, my opponent is hate unquote. How are you tackling hate? That's a tough opponent to tackle.

RUSSELL: Definitely. And I think it's an ongoing thing. I think that just like the game of football, it's something that requires lots of people. It's something that requires a team of people with the same desire and the same goals.

I think that it starts on the very micro level of just making sure that you are challenging systems that are rooted in hate, that you are educating those around you, that you are creating and living an example.

And I think in the bigger picture is to incite or to be a part of a movement beyond yourself, to also create ally-ship because there are people affected by racism, by homophobia, by sexism that did not create those things and you need to assist and ally those people.

TAPPER: R.K.'s book, "The Yards Between Us: A Memoir of Life, love, and Football" is out now. R.K. Russell, congratulations on the book and thank you so much for joining us.

RUSSELL: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: President Trump's comments at the CNN town hall may have just landed him in more legal trouble with E. Jean Carroll. That's next on The Lead. But first, here's CNN's Wolf Blitzer with a look at what is coming up in The Situation Room. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, we're following some really fast moving developments right now in Ukraine, where Russian forces are claiming victory in Bakhmut after several months of truly excruciating fighting. I'll get reaction from the former Ukrainian defense minister. He'll join us.


We'll also get his thoughts on the apparent attack on Russian soil, which a top local official is blaming on a Ukrainian sabotage group. All of that much more coming up right at the top of the hour in The Situation Room.


TAPPER: Just in our Law and Justice Lead, writer E. Jean Carroll is now asking a judge to amend her initial defamation case against former President Donald Trump to seek additional damages after he made the following comments at our CNN Town Hall with Mr. Trump. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said he didn't rape her. And I didn't do anything else either. You know what? Because I have no idea who the hell she is. I don't know who this woman is. They said, sir, don't do it. This is a fake story and you don't want to give it credibility. That's why I didn't go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thing you did do in this.

TRUMP: And I swear and I've never done that and I swear to -- I have no idea who the hell, she's a whack job.


TAPPER: Now we should know this is a separate legal case than the one we saw earlier this month when the jury found that Trump sexually abused Ms. Carroll and awarded her $5 million for that and for defaming her. This lawsuit is about separate comments Trump made about E. Jean Carroll when he was president. That lawsuit is currently in the hands of a lower court judge.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bluesky if you have an invite in the TikTok at JakeTapper, you can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever missed an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead once you get your podcast. All 2 hours, just sitting there like a big delicious birthday cake. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. See you tomorrow.