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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Judge: Trump "Free to Campaign" And Publicly Defend Himself; A Majority Of Americans Favor Raising The Debt Ceiling; Source: Suspect Had Nazi Flag On Him When He Exited Truck; Drug Overdoses In U.S. Cause Nearly 110,000 Deaths In 2022; Lakers' LeBron James Hints At Potential Retirement. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 23, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: It's a distraction. It's a tactic.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: A little bit of distraction. Also a little bit of sour grapes maybe. I don't know. They lost 4-0. He's like maybe I'll stop playing basketball.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I want to see him play with his son. I don't care how it happens. Maybe stick around though.

SANCHEZ: Really a passionate LeBron fan, aren't you, Brianna?

KEILAR: I'm just here for a good story. Father and son together.

SCIUTTO: That would be a great story.

SANCHEZ: A hundred percent.

Hey, thanks so much for joining us today.

THE LEAD with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We now have a start date for Donald Trump's criminal trial in Manhattan. It's right in the heart of primary season.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The former president just learned he will be back in a New York City courtroom for the Stormy Daniels hush money case, and like I said, it will be right in the middle of the presidential primary season next year. Trump says he understands he's not allowed to talk about certain parts of the case.

Then, the charges now facing a 19-year-old accused of driving a U-Hall into the security barrier at the White House. Inside the truck, according to the Secret Service, duct tape, a backpack, and a Nazi flag.

Plus, well, that's going to give them something to tweet about. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis turning to one of the most controversial CEOs in world to help officially launch his 2024 presidential bid on social media.


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

We're going to begin today in our law and justice lead. Today, a New York judge gave Donald Trump an official trial date, March 25th, 2024, next year, in the criminal case related to that hush money payment to porn star and director Stormy Daniels. Now, that will set up no doubt what will be a media spectacle right in the thick of the Republican 2024 presidential primary season.

Mr. Trump himself just wrapped up a courtroom appearance by video conference a short while ago. That was his first visit to the court after pleading not guilty last month to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

The New York judge also imposed a protective order that would bar Trump and his defense team from sharing evidence from the case with third parties or from revealing evidence on social media. Prosecutors requested today's hearing to ensure Trump is aware of these new rules imposed on him.

But the judge also made it clear today he's not imposing a gag order on Trump and that the former president does retain the right to use the First Amendment, publicly defend himself as he makes this run for the White House.

Let's go straight to CNN's Kara Scannell who's outside a New York courthouse.

Kara, what else did the judge have to say to Trump?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, so the judge sets the trial date for March 25th, and as you said that's right in the middle of the primary season. The judge warned all sides, including the former president, that they cannot make any commitments, personal or professional, during that time period beginning March 25th and however long this trial takes.

So that was a clear message to the former president. Now Trump appeared virtually. He was sitting side by side next to one of his attorneys from Florida where they appeared in the courtroom. You know, the judge addressed him. Trump only spoke once when the judge asked him if he'd seen the protective order, the reason he was there. He said, yes, I have.

And then the judge, you know, said, I'm not going to go through this line by line, but he made the point to Trump that this was not a gag order. He said it was not my intention in any way to impede Mr. Trump's ability to campaign for president of the United States. He said Trump is free to deny the charges, free to defend himself against the charges, and free to campaign.

What Trump not free to do is to post any information they receive from prosecutors that could be witness statements, grand jury testimony, he's not allowed to post any of that on his social media pages. The judge explained to Trump if he violates that court order, there are consequences. He said it could be sanctions up to including being held in contempt.

Now, that was the main thrust of the hearing today. I mean, setting this trial date was something that people were waiting to see when it would land. The judge saying it will be the 25th. He's not going to move it, but the next time Trump will be in court will be in early January -- Jake.

TAPPER: How is Mr. Trump responding to these restrictions imposed upon him?

SCANNELL: So, it's very interesting. During the hearing, Trump is up on the screen throughout the hearing, but his microphone was on mute. But we could see him visibly react when the judge set the trial date. He appeared agitated. He was motioning to his attorney.

And then at other points during the hearing he also crossed his arms, was talking to his attorney, but we couldn't hear anything that they were saying because it was on mute and his lawyer did not express or relay to the court any of the concerns Trump may have been expressing to him -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell outside the New York courthouse, thanks.

Joining us to discuss, CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, along with former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

Paula, the judge had issued this order saying to Mr. Trump and his team you can't talk about the evidence, you can't publicly discuss it. So why force Trump to appear by video conference to read him this rule?


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is something prosecutors insisted it was necessary because they said if the former president violates this order they may proceed trying to prosecute him for contempt.

If they do that, they would need to establish that he had knowledge of what was exactly in this order. They didn't want him to be able to turn around and be, like, well, I didn't exactly understand what I was supposed to do according to this order.

So it does feel like a bit of courtroom theater, but it is necessary to lay the groundwork for potential consequences if he violates this order.

TAPPER: Elie, I have to say, I don't -- I'm not familiar with this. Is it unusual to have this kind of limitation placed on the defendant in any way about what he's allowed to say publicly? ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is rare, Jake, but it's

not unheard of. Ordinarily, any criminal defendant has a right to do really whatever he pleases with the discovery, which is the evidence and the witness statements that prosecutors have to turn over.

However, if the judge finds there's a risk that this person would use those materials to harm somebody, to harm a witness, to harm one of the parties to the case, then the judge can put in restrictions.

Now, this case is complicated by two factors. First of all, as the judge recognized, Donald Trump is running for president. He has a First Amendment right to speak, to engage in political speech, our most protected form of speech.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is the very rare defendant where millions of people look at and hear his every utterance. And as we've seen, some fraction -- some small fraction of people do tend to act based on his words. So the judge is trying to strike a balance here.

TAPPER: Yeah. I mean, this is interesting, Paula, because obviously, you know, Donald Trump is not above the law but he's not below it either. He has a First Amendment right to speak. On the other hand, as Elie points out, I mean, when he labels somebody an enemy in some way, that person tends to get death threats, not directly ordered by him, but his fans act, a minority of them perhaps, but they act. What First Amendment issues does this create?

REID: Well, his lawyers tried to argue these were overly restricted, that he's being, quote, muzzled, and point not only to the First Amendment right but also the fact he is the leading Republican candidate for the presidency and that as someone in that position, his speech should not be restricted in any way.

I've lost count of how many times the former president has brought us into a situation where we are asking a constitutional question that has never been contemplated before in the history of the country.

But as the judge noted, this is not a full gag order. There are restrictions that have been placed on the extent to which he can share certain types of information with third parties or on social media. That is because he has a history of not always using his First Amendment responsibly. He attacks prosecutors. He attacks judges. He attacks people who successfully have sued him.

So, that's how he's come to be in this position. I'm curious to see if he'll follow this and if he does not, what exactly prosecutors can do about it.

TAPPER: Elie, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario where some of this evidence comes out in one way or another, leaks or reporting or whatever, and let's say Donald Trump is on a stage doing a debate right before Super Tuesday, which is before the trial, somebody cites this.

Let's say -- I'm just imagining this, Chris Christie, you're about to be accused by so-and-so, Donald Trump not allowed to respond to that? Let's say he responds. He breaks this protective order. What does the judge do?

HONIG: That's a really good hypothetical. This is not an ordinary First Amendment right but a heightened First Amendment right because he's running for office and engaging in political speech, which, going back to our Founding Fathers, they've said that is the most protected form of political speech.

If Donald Trump does violate this order, now that he's been warned in writing and verbally in court today, prosecutors can then seek to have him held in contempt, which is usually punishable by fines in a very extreme scenario that we likely will not get to, there can be prison involved.

Also remember, prosecutors always have the ability under New York state law to bring charges for obstruction of justice, for threatening a prosecutor, for threatening a judge. We have not seen those charges before, but if it gets to a certain point, prosecutors can lodge those kind of charges as well.

TAPPER: And, Paula, special counsel Jack Smith, and another -- it's hard to keep track with all the cases.

REID: Tell me about it.

TAPPER: You're doing yeoman's work or yeowoman's work. We have a healthy graphic, a helpful graphic there. Jack Smith in the classified documents, so that's on the top row, the second one, has obtained dozens of pages of notes from Trump's attorney, Evan Corcoran, memorializing conversations he had with Trump in that case.

How was the special counsel able to obtain these? I mean, again, isn't that attorney/client privilege? Doesn't Donald Trump have the same rights we do?

REID: He does and he did, but there are exceptions to attorney client privilege and this is one of many examples where the special counsel has been aggressive in going to court and trying to get a ruling on executive privilege or attorney/client privilege.


He was able to convince a court that he believes Evan Corcoran's advice may have been used in furtherance of a crime. That crime fraud exception, it's one way to get around attorney/client privilege and how Jack Smith now has access to these, what I'm told are very detailed, perhaps even, quote, overly detailed notes describing conversations with he had with his client. The very critical point in this investigation last spring when the Trump team received that DOJ subpoena asking for the return of classified documents.

Now, he did ask, the former president did ask his attorney how can we fight this, what options do we have? Some people have suggested that's what anyone would ask their attorney. But, again, special counsel Jack Smith appears to think there could be something more nefarious and he was able to convince a court of that to at least get access to this evidence. We'll see what he does with it. TAPPER: Fascinating. Paula Reid, Elie Honig, thanks so much.

Coming up, as the United States careens toward an economic catastrophe, a self-inflicted on, we have some brand-new poll numbers showing what the majority of you good people, the American people think lawmakers should do to avoid that fate.

Then, the deadly cocktail of illegal drugs that is becoming sadly more popular. And some cities and counties try to tackle the crisis by giving people a safe space to use fentanyl.

Plus, is King James abdicating his throne? After a disappointing playoffs run, LeBron James saying he may be ready to retire his crown.



TAPPER: In our money lead, the mission to avoid what would be the first-ever devastating U.S. debt default -- well, it's not going well. That's how Republican negotiators are describing talks today as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy suggests the GOP is unwilling to make any further concessions in their talks with the White House, and time is running out. Officials warn that the nation could default in early June, perhaps as soon as June 1st.

The main sticking point between McCarthy and President Biden continues to center on spending cuts, McCarthy at one point saying today, a deal is, quote, always possible. Americans are sending a clear message to lawmakers about the debt ceiling. A brand-new CNN poll, our director is at our magic wall to break it down for us.

David, what do people think Congress should be doing about this crisis, the debt ceiling?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, our brand-new poll conducted by SSRS shows that a majority of Americans, 6 in 10 Americans, want to raise the debt ceiling only if spending cuts are included as well. So, this is the McCarthy point that he's been making all along.

Remember, months ago, the White House was in this position of no negotiations. A majority of Americans say, no, you should reduce spending as well as raise the debt ceiling. Twenty-four percent say raise the debt ceiling no matter what. Only 15 percent say do not raise it, let the U.S. go into default.

And when you look at this question about what Congress should do, look at it by party, Jake. Overwhelmingly, you see here Republicans, 79 percent, say raise it only if there are spending cuts included as a part of the overall deal. That's near unified position for the Republicans.

The Democrats are split here, 45 percent saying make sure spending cuts are part of the deal, 46 percent saying raise it no matter what. So, Joe Biden is dealing with a more fractured, divided party on this particular topic about what to do in conjunction with the debt ceiling.

TAPPER: And, David, you point out that another concern is outpacing the threat of default. Tell us about that.

CHALIAN: Jake, this is why going forward from this moment is going to be so difficult, both for President Biden and the Democratic leaders and Speaker McCarthy. Take a look here. Three-quarters of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents, 73 percent say that their bigger concern in this scenario is that their partisan leaders negotiating a deal are going to give up too much. Only 26 percent say the failure to compromise is the larger concern and avoiding default.

It is identical on the Republican side. Three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents feel giving up too much is the bigger concern. So, when they have to go back and sell a compromise, if one does come to be, it's going to be very difficult to convince their fellow partisans to get on board with the deal.

TAPPER: More generally, what do Americans think about how President Biden is handling the overall economy?

CHALIAN: So, his overall approval on the handling of the economy is not great. 34 percent of Americans approve, 66 percent disapprove. Take a look at his overall job approval. It's a little better than on the economy, but still low, 40 percent approval, 60 percent disapproval.

And, Jake, take a look at that presidential approval rating matched up against his modern predecessors at this point in their presidency, Joe Biden's 49 percent is between Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump. Of course, they were just one-term presidents. He's hoping for a Reaganesque turnaround.

TAPPER: Oh, boy, David Chalian, thanks so much.

Here to discuss, Stacey Abrams, former Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, founder of Fair Fight Action. And also, and the reason she's here, the author of a brand-new thriller, an exciting book, I've read it, "Rogue Justice."

It's the second book in a political thriller series but you've written many under a pseudonym, I believe, right?

STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Eight under a pseudonym and four as me.

TAPPER: Yeah, this is really good. I'm really enjoying it. I have news questions first, of course.

Let's discuss these new poll numbers. President Biden's approval rating at 40 percent, disapproval at 60 percent, it's a downward trend. Only 34 percent approve of his handling of the economy. I mean, can he win reelection with those numbers?

ABRAMS: Absolutely. We are deeply polarized. He has delivered historic investments. He has made possible so this m things that people are taking for granted. And the part that he will play in the campaign is sharing that information, letting people know what has been done and juxtaposing it with whomever becomes a Republican nominee and what they will do.


TAPPER: So, Donald Trump's going to next month speak at the Georgia Republican Party convention. That's his first event in Georgia since announcing his re-election campaign.

Of course, Governor Kemp and other key officials might want to steer the party away from him. I don't know. The state GOP is still behind him even though, obviously, what Trump has done in Georgia is very controversial. He was against Brian Kemp's re-election. He was against Raffensperger's re-election, the secretary of state, et cetera, et cetera.

Do you think Trump has a chance to win Georgia back into the Republican column despite everything he's done in Georgia?

ABRAMS: I think it's going to be a very hotly contested election. We saw in our last two cycles that Georgia's a purple state, and that means that candidates have to work hard. The atmospherics matter.

But we know that Joe Biden has delivered for state of Georgia. There are new jobs coming into our state that are credited to the national investment that's being made in green energy, the investments being made in infrastructure. And when Biden comes to Georgia to talk about that, when Biden points out what he has delivered, I think he prevails.

TAPPER: Let's about your book. So, you've written four bestsellers. This new novel, "Rogue Justice," out today, the second in the series of league of thrillers. It's about a Supreme Court clerk, Avery Keene. She is a great character.

And this book, I don't -- no spoilers, but, I mean, you plunge right into the action, which is an interesting choice. It deals with an impeached president or the impeachment of a president, FBI -- questions about the FBI, what they're doing, the U.S. court system, legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Obviously, these are themes that are kind of out there. How did you come up with the idea of doing it?

ABRAMS: Well, I will anchor it in the fact that my predecessor novel, when Avery makes her first appearance, was written in 2010.


ABRAMS: And so, I anticipated a number of these issues. I did not expect reality to catch up with my fiction. But --

TAPPER: It happens a lot.

ABRAMS: It does. TAPPER: If you watch "Veep". It seems very quite these days.

ABRAMS: Indeed. But what I wanted to do with the second novel was introduce a read to the consequences. In the first book, it was really about trying to prevent calamity. And now, she's got to deal with the fallout. Sometimes you win, and sometimes what you win isn't what you expected.

And so, she has to grapple with not only the political travails but the challenges facing our secret court, the FISA court. She's got to deal with the challenges of having a mother who is going through her own internal dynamics. And Avery has to figure out who she wants to be in this new world order she's helped to create.

TAPPER: Yeah, her mom is a recovering addict. It's a fascinating subplot.

I have a lot of questions for you. I'm doing a book event with you in Chicago and I will ask most of my writerly questions there. But there is one -- and, again, this is not -- this is early in the book so, it's not a spoiler, but you have a deepfake subplot there, a moment. So realistic that it forces a character to take a drastic action, at least contributes to the drastic action.

How far are we do you think from a deepfake having a major effect on our real life? Are we already there?

ABRAMS: We are already there. Unfortunately, we saw examples of that yesterday.

TAPPER: Oh, with that fake Pentagon bombing photo, yeah.

ABRAMS: Exactly. And the issue is do we anticipate the challenges? We can't predict what will happen and can't stop it from occurring, but we can prepare people for what is to be. That's part of the joy of writing Avery.

I investigate things like what does it mean if the FISA court is being blackmailed? What does it mean to think about our energy grid? What does cybersecurity look like in the 21st century? Not because it's likely but because it's possible.

TAPPER: It is possible, absolutely.

ABRAMS: And what I want us to think about is what would we do, how would we grapple with it? And I want you to have fun, I want you to be a little afraid but a little excited but by the end, I want you feel like a little more and have good questions.

TAPPER: Well, it is interesting because the whole idea of the FISA court, and that's the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which is a very important court that judges whether or not law enforcement can basically wiretap somebody outside the country who might be talking to people inside the country.

ABRAMS: Exactly. TAPPER: I mean, frankly, it's very possible what you lay out here, the

idea that these individuals who are just random judges could be blackmailed.

ABRAMS: Yeah. I mean, FISA court judges are not subject to having their opinions made public, which means they can be making decisions and an intrepid citizen who wants to sort of track what's happening has no way to know what's going on.

Congress can ask for information, but the FISA court is fairly -- fairly cloaked in secrecy. And as we deal with questions of ethics and available information and disinformation, I want to think about what does it mean that we have a court that's literally charged with protecting us from foreign actors when we can't know what they're doing or how they're getting it done?

TAPPER: It's a great -- it's a great thriller. I highly recommend it. It's out today. "Rogue Justice" by Stacey Abrams, and I will say you in Chicago, and we're going to have a great conversation there.


Check it out.

Thank you so much. Good to see you, as always.

ABRAMS: Thank you.

TAPPER: New details about the 19-year-old who allegedly crashed a U- Haul into security barriers near the White House. There was a Nazi flag in that U-Haul. That's next.


TAPPER: We're back with our national lead and the federal investigation now under way after a driver shockingly crashed a U-Haul into the security barrier near the White House. U.S. Park Police say the 19-year-old suspect is facing charges of threatening to kill or harm a president, vice president, or family member. A source tells CNN that the suspect had a Nazi flag with him in the U-Haul.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the investigation.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In law enforcement custody, the alleged driver of this 26-foot U-Haul truck that rammed into the security barriers at the park across from the White House. He told law enforcement he wanted to kidnap and harm President Biden, law enforcement sources tell CNN. He's identified as Sai Varshith Kandula, from Chesterfield, Missouri, 19 years old, who graduated from high school last year.

He faces charges that include threatening to kill or harm a president, vice president, or family member, and assault with a dangerous weapon. JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: That's a pretty

violent act all by itself. Clearly, this individual intended some kind of harm by ramming that truck through those pylons.

TODD: Authorities appear to have recovered a black backpack and a roll of duct tape at the scene and a swastika flag, which a law enforcement source tells CNN he had on him when he exited the vehicle.

ANTHONY CHAPA, FORMER SECRET SERVICE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The flag alone is not a threat, but it is an indication of the mind-set of the person who's behind the wheel.

TODD: But so far, the motive is not clear.

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Investigators are going to key in, was he motivated by some sort of ideological group, and in worst case, was he directed to launch this type of attack? It's too early to tell right now.

TODD: The U-Haul was rented in the suburbs of D.C., a company source says, and there were no red flags against the driver that would prevent him from renting.

An eyewitness says the driver rammed into the barrier more than once.

ALEXANDER GARCIA, WITNESS: They tried to first time and went the second time.

TODD: A bomb squad was seen at the site, but a law enforcement source tells CNN no to explosive explosives were found. Still, The Hay-Adams Hotel across the street was briefly evacuated.

CHAPA: We had to assume that the back of that truck was full of explosives. Luckily, it wasn't, but the assumption had to be that it was.

TODD: The location, outside Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. How much danger was the president in?

KIRBY: Where this occurred was quite some distance from White House property. At no time was the president or first lady in any danger.


TODD (on camera): CNN spoke to two former classmates of the suspect. They both described Sai Varshith Kandula as a quiet young man who kept to himself and never got in any trouble. Sources are telling CNN that authorities are now considering what role mental health may have played in this episode. He is expected to make an initial court appearance here at U.S. district court tomorrow -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller. Also with us, Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. John, we start with you. What are investigators doing right now to

figure out the suspect's motive?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Right now, they're going backwards. They're going to retrace his steps, how did he get to Washington, D.C., did he fly into Dulles and go to Herndon and rent that truck in Virginia? Where was he before that? They think it may have been Memphis.

Tracing his roots back to Missouri. What about foreign travel? He has trips back and forth to India. His latest trip was from Dubai. They'll look at all of that, but right now they're zeroing in on what appear to be mental health issues.

When you look at a guy who says in his interview with Park Police and Secret Service, protective intelligence agents, that he had a plan to kidnap the president, that he wanted to do harm to President Biden, but he shows up with a van that is searched to contain no explosives, no knives, no guns, the plan seems to be more in his head. So, we've got that bifurcated process of going back to his entire history, but also looking at what's going on with him.

TAPPER: Amy, earlier today you tweeted, lots to learn but the usual suspects are already claiming the U-Haul attack is a false flag, that the driver couldn't possibly have been associated with white supremacy because his name doesn't sound white. We since learned that he's obviously not white. We have photograph of him.

You don't have to be white to be a white supremacist, you wrote. So, it's an interesting area that we're in because we've seen a number of individuals who are clearly Latino or at least of Latino heritage who are white supremacists. Nick Fuentes, who had the individual, the shooter in Texas. Explain this.

AMY SPITALNICK, CEO, JEWISH COUNCIL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, that's exactly right. We have seen a wave of white supremacist attacks and white supremacist leaders who are not white but are clearly motivated by white supremacist, the neo-Nazi ideology. Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys --

TAPPER: Right.

SPITALNICK: The shooter in Allen, Texas, Nick Fuentes. And while some of these people might be as Hispanic origin and identify as white, we know there are many nonwhite people who are part of the white supremacist movement. While it's not a huge amount, we see how that -- their existence in the movement is oftentimes used by white supremacists to then distract and deflect from their actual white supremacy.

And we're seeing that in this moment with some of the far right claiming this was a false-flag operation and that because this attacker is not white, but there was a swastika found in the van.


TAPPER: Right.

SPITALNICK: Somehow it can't possibly be motivated by extremism. A lot to learn, but we shouldn't rule out white supremacy as a potential motivation because the attacker isn't white.

TAPPER: John, how has law enforcement training and preparedness changed to combat this threat of extremism, including white supremacy extremism?

MILLER: Well, as the active shooter component to this has really been the game changer, which is you've seen domestic extremists, white supremacists, racially motivated violent extremists gravitate less towards the complex plots involving the large bombs we saw from Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City but much more to this large body count and a couple of weapons and a manifesto, this active shooter thing, Texas being the latest example.

But as my colleague just said, you know, you look at Mauricio Garcia, if you look at the chats going on inside the white supremacist world, here was a guy who was very active in those chats, posting Nazi stuff, communicating with white supremacists overseas, who is being rejected by virulent white supremacist groups as not being white enough.

So, you know, you see confusion in a group that recruits outsiders who are bent on violence and just need a label.

TAPPER: Amy, you testified on Capitol Hill last week. You had some heated exchanges with Republicans. You said violent extremism disproportionately comes from the right, including especially white supremacists.

Do you think Congress has a true understanding of what the threat looks like of white supremacists extremism? Obviously, people can believe what they want to believe but it's the acting that's the real problem, and how to combat it?

SPITALNICK: Look, there are members of Congress who understand the threat, but based what I saw on the Hill last week, it seem like the vast majority are not grasping how serious this threat is in this moment.

It's serious not just because every extremist murder in 2022 was committed by a right-wing extremist, including especially a white supremacist, it's also serious because we're seeing elected leaders, politicians, pundits, normalize these conspiracy theories but then fuel mass shootings and other acts of mass violence, like the great replacement theory, which fueled the Charlottesville attack, the Pittsburg attach, the El Paso attack, the Buffalo attack.

And so, as those theories are normalized and mainstreamed in our politics, it gives license to the violent extremists. And while there's still a lot to learn in today's attack, but it's happening in a broader environment, where we're seeing skyrocketing numbers of violent extremist attacks in this country and, again, in terms of the murders, extremely violent events are disproportionately coming from the right. TAPPER: All right. John Miller and Amy Spitalnick, thank you so much.

Appreciate your expertise.

Coming up, wrongfully detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich makes an appearance in the Russian courtroom. The disappointing but not surprising decision from the Russian judge.



TAPPER: Now to our health lead, a tragic consequence of the COVID pandemic. New data from the CDC shows that drug overdoses surged and 2022 marked the deadliest year yet for drug overdoses in the United States, the main culprit remains opioids and the lethal synthetic drug fentanyl. Nearly 110,000 Americans died last year from overdoses, and fentanyl is behind nearly two-thirds, two-thirds of those lives lost.

Sadly, new numbers out today show fentanyl is being combined with other drugs to make a deadly cocktail. Overdoses involving methamphetamines more than doubled in 2021 compared to 2019, doubled in just two years.

Here to discuss, Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director of Project Weber/RENEW, a Rhode Island-based recovery focused organization joins us.

Colleen, thanks for joining us.

So, you're on the front lines of this crisis. Do these numbers reflect the suffering that you see every day in Rhode Island?

COLLEEN DALEY NDOYE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROJECT WEBER/RENEW: Absolutely. Thank you for having me, Jake. Yes, absolutely these numbers are what we are seeing on the streets every single day. We're seeing preventable overdose deaths, and in Rhode Island in 2021, 435 people died, and last year, it was -- the numbers were higher.

So, absolutely this is what we're seeing. We recognize there needs to be an opportunity for new tools in our toolbox to reduce overdose deaths.

TAPPER: So, one of the questions I have about fentanyl is, are people who are overdosing on fentanyl, are they -- are they trying to get fentanyl and use fentanyl? Or are they using other drugs and the drug dealers or manufacturers not legitimate manufacturers obviously, putting fentanyl into the drug? Because we've been covering this crisis.

And former Congressman Deutch, his nephew died. He took an herbal supplement, completely legal, and there was fentanyl in that. What are you seeing in terms of fentanyl deaths?

NDOYE: We're seeing both. So, we're seeing both people who are using fentanyl knowingly and people who are using other substances that are contaminated with fentanyl and who are dying because they don't knows what in the drugs that they are taking.

TAPPER: So, your clinic, you provide a safe space for people to use drugs in a controlled environment, needless to say it's a controversial approach. Why do you think it can work?

NDOYE: So, right now we don't provide the service, but we are going to be opening in early 2024. But the service is really intended to save lives, and that's the most important feature of any of this -- any of these kind of initiatives is really to save lives.


So, we recognize that people -- that recovery is a process and that recovery is oftentimes a cyclical process, and so we want to give people the opportunity to stay alive so that one day they are able to access recovery if they choose.

TAPPER: So, Pennsylvania and Colorado recently moved to make those efforts illegal, the idea of a safe place to do an illegal activity, to make sure that lives are not lost. There's obviously a lot of shame attached to drug use, stigma, especially when you combine it with mental health issues.

How difficult is it to deal with the shame and stigma while also trying to save lives in this drug epidemic, in this overdose epidemic?

NDOYE: It's huge. I mean, it's a huge issue, and I think it's something that, for our staff, certainly, many of whom are in recovery themselves, the ways that they really are giving back to their communities, the ways that we engage with folks who are currently using and our staff are often people who have experienced overdoses themselves.

So, they're using their own life experiences and their own stories to really overcome that stigma and overcome that shame and show the world that, you know, there's other ways to address overdoses and that we can really do something new and something that's, you know, been proven all over the world.

TAPPER: Colleen Daley Ndoye, thank you so much for your time and thank you for what you do.

NDOYE: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Is the king stepping down? LeBron James drops some hints about his future on the court.



TAPPER: In our sports lead, is the sing abdicating the throne?

Future hall of famer LeBron James appears to be considering retirement after two decades in the NBA. James' comments come after his Los Angeles Lakers' hopes of reaching the finals vanished last night, being knocked out of the playoffs by the Denver Nuggets.

CNN's Coy Wire reports on speculation over whether the 38-year-old has any more left to give.


LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: A lot to think about, to be honest. And just for me personally going forward with the game of basketball, got a lot to think about.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 20 years in the NBA, could LeBron James be leaving the game for good? He hinted at the possibility of the Lakers were swept out of the Western Conference Finals by the Denver Nuggets.

JAMES: I wouldn't say it's a successful year, because I don't play for anything besides winning championships at this point in my career. And I don't -- I don't get a kick out of making a conference appearance. I've done it. A lot.

WIRE: LeBron surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA's all- time leading scorer this season and he put up 40 points last night at 38 years old.

STAN VAN GUNDY, ANALYST, "NBA ON TNT": I think 20 years from now, we're going to be talking about what he's doing at 58 years old. I mean, what he's doing at 38, most guys would give their right arm for one season like that in the prime of their career. He's been absolutely amazing.

WIRE: While retirement speculation swirls, just two weeks ago, LeBron repeated his goal is to play in the NBA with his older son, Bronny James. Bronny committing to playing college basketball next season at the University of Southern California. He's eligible to enter the NBA draft in 2024, the year his father will turn 40.

JAMES: I'm still serious about it. I've got to continue to keep my body and mind fresh. My mind, most importantly. If I mind go, then my body was just okay what we're doing.

WIRE: LeBron has won it all four times. He's been to the finals ten times. That's more than 27 of the 30 NBA teams. Last September, he signed a two-year contract extension worth almost $100 million.

VAN GUNDY: I think he's serious about wanting at least to try to play with his son. I think he'll hang on for a little while longer. He's still playing at a really high level.

JAMES: I guess I'll reflect on my career when I'm done. But I don't know.


WIRE (on camera): Now, Jake, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said just a bit ago that he hasn't spoken to LeBron yet, but he said, quote, LeBron has given as much to the game of basketball as anyone who's ever played and when you do that, you earn the right to decide whether you are going to give more.

Now, the way he looked last night, he might not be for years, Jake. He played all but four seconds of that game and his 31 points in the first half were more points in any half of his playoff career, which consists of more than 280 playoff games. That equates to about three and a half entire NBA seasons, Jake. Legendary stuff.

TAPPER: Yeah, I don't -- my personal gut says he's not going anywhere. I'm sure he was upset last night, but come on.

Coy Wire, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

WIRE: Exactly.

TAPPER: The announcement in the 2024 race that has a lot of people all atwitter. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis turning to Elon Musk to launch his presidential bid. That's next.



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

This hour, the warning from the nation's top doctor that every parent in America will want to hear about kids and the dangers of social media.

Plus, a setback for the American journalist being wrongfully detained in Russia. Why the world was unable to see what really happened in court today there.

And leading this hour, fire up the tweets. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will officially announce his 2024 presidential run tomorrow night during an event on Twitter with CEO, Elon Musk. It's part of what sources say is the DeSantis team's unconventional approach to his 2024 bid. And sure enough, Donald Trump's team has already taken notice and is reportedly preparing a counterattack ahead of tomorrow night's announcement.

CNN's Jessica Dean joins us live from Miami, ahead of a DeSantis donor retreat.

Jessica, most candidates announce their campaigns during a speech, a rally. Why Twitter?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting question, Jake, and it's one so many people are asking right now.