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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Music Legend Tina Turner Dies At 83; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Files To Run For President; Uvalde Grapples With Grief, Lingering Questions Over Police Response To School Massacre; Trump Attorneys Request Meeting With U.S. Attorney General. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Simply the best.

THE LEAD starts right now.


TAPPER: Remembering an entertainment legend. Tina Turner dead at the age of 83.

Plus, Ron DeSantis bucking the trend. Less than two hours to go before the Florida Republican using Twitter and Elon Musk to launch his campaign for president. Coming up, how Donald Trump, the front-runner, is responding to DeSantis' unconventional approach.

And --


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're not going to default. We're going to solve this problem.


TAPPER: Oh, really? How's that going to happen? We have only eight days left until the U.S. possibly hits default. Hear what else is and is not on the table as negotiators on both sides go back to the drawing board to try to avoid economic catastrophe.


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

We start today with some sad news in our pop culture lead. Music legend, Tina Turner, has died at the age of 83. A post on her verified Facebook account gives no details but says in part: Today, we say good-bye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work, her music. Tina, we will miss you dearly.


The queen of rock and roll rose to fame from humble beginnings and overcame an infamously, horribly abusive marriage to become one of the most popular female artists of all time.

CNN's Stephanie Elam takes a look now at Tina Turner's extraordinary life and career.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Proud Mary was one of Tina Turner's signatures, showcasing her unique sound, look, and moves.

TINA TURNER, MUSIC LEGEND: That's my style. I take great songs and turn them into rock and roll songs on stage.

ELAM: Icon, survivor, a queen of rock and roll.

Tina Turner began life as Anna Mae Bullock in rural Tennessee. As a teenager, she moved to St. Louis where she met rocker, Ike Turner.

TURNER: Ike was very good to me when I first started my career, started to sing weekend with him. And we were close friends.

ELAM: The Ike and Tina Turner review's first hit came in 1960 with "A Fool in Love". A song they performed on shindig. They married in 1962 and in 1966, recorded "River Deep, Mountain High".

It was a hit overseas but flopped in the U.S.

Off stage, Ike's drug abuse fueled violent outbursts.

TURNER: I had had a lot of violence. Houses burned. Cars shot into. The lowest that you think of in terms of violence.

ELAM: After years of physical and emotional abuse, Tina left Ike in the mid '70s with nothing but her name, at one point, relying on food stamps to survive.

In the early '80s, Turner's cover of "Let's Stay Together" reignited her career.

"Private Dancer" followed in 1984, a runaway critical and commercial success. The album featured her only number one song.

Though she wasn't a fan.

TURNER: I didn't like it. I wasn't accustomed to singing those kinds of songs.

ELAM: It was also the title of a 1993 film starring Angela Basset based on Tina's autobiography.

LARRY KING, FORMER CNN HOST: Did the picture do it justice?

TURNER: Yes, I think in a way I would have liked for them to have more truth, but according to Disney, it's impossible. People would not have believed the truth.

ELAM: Turner herself appeared in movies such as The Who's "Tommy" and "Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome". She sang its theme song.

As well as the theme to the James Bond film, "Golden Eye".


One major role she turned down would go to Oprah Winfrey in "The Color Purple".

TURNER: It was too close to my personal life. I had just left such a life, and it was too soon to be reminded of.

ELAM: The "What's Love Got to Do It" soundtrack gave Turner another hit. Her personal favorite --

TURNER: It's very special because at the time when I got it, no one believed in it but me.

ELAM: Turner continued recording and touring into her 80s.

She was honored by the Kennedy Center in 2005 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo act in 2021, 30 years after her first induction as part of a duo with Ike Turner.

All the while, her Buddhist faith kept her going.

TURNER: Because you make this lifetime can be the effect of a better life the next lifetime. It will be better and gets better and better.


ELAM (on camera): The word, icon, may get used a lot. It is not overused when he talk about Tina Turner. We talk about that voice. As soon as you hear a few notes, you knew it was Tina Turner, those dance moves, those legs. And most importantly, the way she protected herself. You knew her story but she also continued to live in her happiness and her joy as she broke barriers for women, for female performers, for also Black artists as well saying she would not be siloed.

If you take a look now here in Hollywood, you can see that people are out there giving her her flowers, literally right now, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As people are remembering Tina Turner, who was beloved across so many boundaries for all of the barriers she broke down and all of the wonderful music and performances she left us with, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, also, incredibly important, survivor of domestic violence for others, a real inspiration that one can move beyond such trauma.

Stephanie Elam, thank you so much for that powerful report.

Moments ago, though, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean- Pierre, noted the life and career of Tina Turner. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Tina Turner was an icon. A music icon. Who had many stages and many amazing moments in her career. Very sad to hear the news and it is a massive loss. Massive loss to the communities that loved her. And certainly to the music industry and her music will continue to live on. Very sad news. Our hearts go out to her family and her friends.


TAPPER: And as Stephanie pointed out, Tina Turner was a Kennedy Center honors recipient here in Washington, D.C. Former President George W. Bush congratulated her class at a White House reception in 2005.

Joining us now to discuss is longtime radio DJ, Donnie Simpson, the former host of "Video Soul" on BET.

Thanks so much for joining us. You've been in the industry for decades. What is your reaction to the sad news?

DONNIE SIMPSON, RADIO DJ: I'm just shocked. Just shocked. Like everyone. I never thought we'd lose Tina. You know? I guess I felt like if she could survive Ike, she could survive life. She could survive death. You know, it's just, just never crossed my mind that we would lose this woman.

Such an iconic figure on so many levels, you know, not just in terms of music and entertainment, but empowering women. In situations like hers to show them where to find that strength, you know? To move on from situations like she was in.

I mean, you just -- you cannot overestimate the power of this woman. The word icon is used a lot. In this case, it's 100 percent correct, in all caps. This woman was iconic.

TAPPER: How do you think she'll be remembered? What do you think she'll be most known for and most remembered for?

SIMPSON: Actually, i think it would be the lasting. I mean, I know her music was incredible. She was the queen of rock, but also R and B. But just that one personal thing that she let us in on. We didn't know what was happening at the time, but that she let us in on her life, how tragic it was living under Ike Turner, if you will.

To let people in to that, to show them how to get out of it, to take control of your not just your life, but your career, you know, was just so empowering for women. I think. That I really do believe that when all is said and done, that that is the thing that will be most remembered about Tina's life. It meant so much to others.


TAPPER: I was just watching a clip of Tina Turner performing with Beyonce and thinking about how she, how Tina Turner paved the way for other stars such as Beyonce. Tell us more about that. SIMPSON: Well, she did. She was knocking doors down. I mean, Tina,

you know, she did stuff that most -- I mean, to be able to perform as a rock star, you know, to tour the world with Mick Jagger and the Stones. I mean, it's just -- while it's different, looking at it is different for the time, she's doing something others aren't doing but it is opening doors for those who are yet to come, you know?

Beyonce is arguably the biggest star in the world, between her and Taylor Swift, I guess. But you're talking about a woman who is in control 100 percent of her career, of what she does.

You know, I don't know if that comes directly from Tina Turner, but I can tell you this, Tina Turner has a lot to do with recreating that mold, saying that you can do this yourself. You know. We don't need men to do what we do. You know? We can control this.

TAPPER: Indeed. Indeed. Donnie Simpson, thank you so much for those memories. Really appreciate it.

We're going to have much more on the life and career of Tina Turner coming up on the show.

Also this hour, the new CNN poll on the race for president in 2024, just as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is about to launch his campaign in just under two hours.



TAPPER: Now, it's time for our 2024 lead. The man who currently appears to pose the biggest threat to Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination for president has officially entered the race. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis filed the paperwork this afternoon and in less than two hour, he is set to make his public announcement during a audio event on Twitter with Elon Musk.

But in the hours leading up to his grand reveal, the attacks against DeSantis have escalated, giving the governor a taste of what he can expect as the campaign begins to ramp up.

Other presidential hopefuls are on the trail today. Ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, Congressman, I'm sorry, Senator Tim Scott in Iowa.

One of the reasons why DeSantis is thought to pose such a serious threat to Trump is his ability to fund raise. DeSantis and his allies currently have more than $100 million in the bank.

So let's start with CNN's Jessica Dean who's in Miami where a DeSantis donor retreat is currently underway.

And, Jessica, DeSantis-aligned group is already out with a new video, labeling DeSantis a president for the people.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, and so begins the official rollout of DeSantis' presidential campaign and it just keeps going. We saw that super PAC releasing the video not too long ago and interestingly, zeroed right in on his biography and took swipes not at his Republican rivals, but at President Joe Biden and Democrats.

That is something we can expect to see more and more of as he tries to contrast himself with President Biden and with the Democrats in power, saying that he can be the one that can move the country forward in the direction that Americans want it to go. That's going to be a big part of his pitch.

We also saw him, as you mentioned, filing that official paperwork with the FEC today that will make him a candidate for president in 2024 and the donor retreat that is underway, $100 million. It's an historic figure that's behind him once he launches his campaign, and they want even bigger number.

They really want a fundraising blitz out of this. That's why they've gathered all these donors together here in Miami to really start bundling the money as this campaign getting underway.

And then, of course, we go to the big announcement today, Jake, which is unconventionally going to be on Twitter. Audio only is what we are ex expecting. That we will only be able to hear this conversation between Elon Musk and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he talks about his announcement to run for president.

So, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. It is certainly an unconventional choice. That is not by accident, Jake. His team wants to do this in a different way. They want to make unconventional choices and reach people in a way they can directly and this goes right in with that.

And looking ahead, we can see -- we'll anticipate seeing him hitting that campaign trail in early states aggressively, as early as next week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean in Miami, thanks so much.

Let's turn now to the new CNN poll numbers I told you about showing how Republican voters feel about DeSantis and other Republicans running for president.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian.

David, what do you got?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, if you take a look at the snapshot that is right now the horse race among Republican and Republican leaning independents, you see that Donald Trump is the formidable front-runner.

Take a look, 53 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners support Donald Trump, again, right now, where we are; 26 percent support DeSantis. He's got about half as much support as Trump. When you see he's in a category by himself because everybody else not named Trump is in single digits.

I want to show you how this race has moved over the last few months as Trump has been hammering away at DeSantis while he's be doing his day job at governor of Florida. So, again, now, 53 percent to 26 percent, but a little over two months ago in March, it was a much closer race between Donald Trump and DeSantis in our polling.

You see 40 percent to 36 percent. So, clearly, Trump has opened up a significant lead here, but I don't think that should fool us to think that's where this race ends up. This is just a starting gate.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's very early. And, David, our poll also asks voters who they would consider supporting other than their first choice.

CHALIAN: I think this was a fascinating result, exactly. So, we wanted to get a sense of who are you open to? Who have you ruled out? And if you look here, overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Republican leaners are open to supporting DeSantis, 85 percent say he would consider him or he is their first choice, 84 percent say so for Donald Trump and then smaller majorities say that for Nikki Haley, 61 percent would consider. Tim Scott, 60 percent.


Mike Pence even has a slim majority of Republicans and Republican leaners here who would consider his candidacy.

That if you're in that group there, you see a potential opportunity for growth. But we asked the flip side, too, Jake. Who are you ruling out? Who are you not support at all? These are some rough numbers for someone like Chris Christie, 60 percent of Republicans in this poll suggest they will not even consider supporting Chris Christie for the nomination, 55 percent say so of Asa Hutchinson, and Chris Sununu, 47 percent Larry Elder, 46 percent say that about Vivek Ramaswamy, and again, 45 percent, say that about Mike Pence.

You see the Republican Party is split almost in half about whether or not they would consider Mike Pence.

One other note here and I think this is really telling, too, we asked folks, who do you want to learn more about, okay, besides your first choice? And this I think is where opportunity exists, 29 percent of these Republican and Republican leaners say they want to learn more about Tim Scott, 28 percent say that about DeSantis, 24 percent about Haley and Ramaswamy.

Those are large chunks of potential newcomers to their cause. Those are the folks looking to buy or at least hear what those folks are selling and so there's opportunity there.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, stick with us. We're going to talk about this more.

Donald Trump is, of course, taking note of today's launch by DeSantis. See how he's trying to make it clear he is very different than the Florida governor. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back and sticking with our 2024 lead. Florida Governor DeSantis set to announce his presidential campaign officially just over 90 minutes as brand new CNN poll numbers show how he is fairing amongst Republicans compared to Donald Trump, the front runners, and other rivals.

My panel joins me now.

And, Dana, let me start with you because David brought us these new numbers which include this comparison of a Trump/DeSantis match-up. Trump has gained 13 percent of Republican support in the last two months. DeSantis has lost 10 percent of support. Does that surprise you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, given what we've seen on the campaign trail from Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. Donald Trump has benefitted from the indictments which is still hard to say because it's so antithetical to what is supposed to happen in the world of politics, but he has.

And Ron DeSantis has had stumbles on a number of fronts, but his campaign is looking at, also odd to have a reset on the day that you are announcing. It should just be a set. But they are.

And my understanding in talking to sources who have talked to Ron DeSantis is that he seems to be more understanding of some of the things that he has done wrong, basic things like when it comes to approach to campaigning, when it comes to his approach to Donald Trump, and when it comes to kind of the way that he has framed, the way that he has framed the voters and his connection or maybe lack of connection until last couple of weeks in Iowa with voters.

TAPPER: So one of the other reasons why I think it's fair to say that Trump has gone up a little in the polls and DeSantis has gone down is because Trump has been punching DeSantis and DeSantis hasn't really mentioned Trump's name or even until recently, even alluded to Donald Trump, not by name.

The Trump team is out with a brand-new attack ad calling DeSantis a swamp creature and using some leaked video from one of DeSantis' debate prep sessions from 2018.

Take a look.


AD ANNOUNCER: In Washington, one was a leader and one let us down. Even DeSantis admitted there are big differences between him and Trump.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: (INAUDIBLE) leader because I've -- I mean, I voted contrary to him in the Congress.

AD ANNOUNCER: It is obvious, Ron. President Trump is the only one ready on day one to deliver for us again.


TAPPER: So it's funny because it used to be that Donald Trump was playing the ingrate card, like I made Ron DeSantis by endorsing him in 2018. He's so ungrateful.

Now, he's completely memory hold the idea that he endorsed him and he's just calling him a swamp creature.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, he's playing every card, frankly. He's attacking him on his positions on Social Security, on the national tax plan, sales tax plan, basically everything. But that is obviously one of the reasons, probably a leading reason, that Governor DeSantis is entering this race in a weaker position.

There's a sense of arrogance around the DeSantis team. Back when I was in Tallahassee when he was being sworn in for a second term, that is gone. I mean, the reality is he is I guess you can, I guess, look charitably on this, his expectations are now in check.

The reality here though is there is still a hunger for Republican voters for an alternative, at least among some Republican voters. Of course, with every new Republican who gets in the race, the pie is sliced up a little bit and helps Donald Trump. I think we just have to see how the governor does once he is out of the friendly confines of Twitter this afternoon, this evening, after his Fox interview.

Once he hits the road, potentially this weekend and definitely next week, how does he do with those voter questions? There are going to be many who have questions about his policies. Some are popular but every state does not necessarily want to be like Florida.

So, I think today is important, but tomorrow and the next day, more important.

TAPPER: What do you think is his biggest challenge, Ron DeSantis?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think his biggest challenge is figuring out how to hit Trump without missing out on the huge chunk of voters in the Republican Party that like Donald Trump.


A lot of times I will see in focus groups Republicans will confess to you that there are lots of things about Donald Trump that drive them nuts, but the moment that someone from outside the camp starts criticizing Trump, the moment that they start hearing kind of never Trump arguments, they immediately put up that defensive wall. Don't you dare come after my guy. And it will be interesting to see, does Ron DeSantis have the

credibility with the conservative base because of all the things that he has done as governor of Florida, to be able to lob those attacks at Trump and actually make them stick rather than the attacks themselves pushing DeSantis to be on the outside.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think that is why what you were pointing out is why we're seeing Nikki Haley take the attack, which is to make her a Donald Trump twin or an echo as she calls him because she wants to force him into the same camp to free up what you're saying, Jeff, an avenue for her in the non-Trump world.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's interesting. Let's run this ad, Nikki Haley, I'm sorry. It is not the ad. It's during a campaign stop today. She accused DeSantis of copying Trump. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You look at the fact the way he speaks, the way his hand gestures are, the fact he's moved his policies, whether it's Ukraine and Russia to entitlement reform, he's done a total 180, all of it is copying Trump. He needs to be his own person.


TAPPER: It's interesting. There are policy differences she's talking about there but she's basically saying that he's not even his own man, Ron DeSantis. He's just copying Donald Trump.

CHALIAN: Yes. And in the ad I was referencing, they actually show him side by side doing the hand gestures she's talking about or the imitation. But again, it's to -- the goal here it seems is to narrow Ron DeSantis' ability as best she can to reach out beyond the Trump base and the Trump fans.

TAPPER: Do you think that will work for her? And the idea that like, it's a way of diminishing Ron DeSantis to say he's copying Donald Trump.

BASH: It's pretty much one of the most important plays she has right now, because Nikki Haley is like Tim Scott, like others who are not Donald Trump. They are in the hunt for voters who just don't want Donald Trump. They just don't want Donald Trump.

And right now, Ron DeSantis is at the top of that field. What she's trying to do is say to voters, oh, really, you don't like Donald Trump? Well, this guy's just like Donald Trump. It's her only play right now.

ZELENY: It's calling him weak, too. I mean, she's essentially sort of emasculating him there. You know, he's basically following suit with Donald Trump.

We'll see how much attention that actually just -- for the times I've been out on the road with Governor DeSantis and voters, they are interested in him and know him much more than a young governor for the general because he's been such a part of the moment -- he's in the moment in terms of the laws he's passed. He's on Fox constantly. So the others have a lot of ground to make up and they know that.

TAPPER: One of the other things Nikki Haley is doing and that is talking about issues and portraying DeSantis and Trump as not per se isolationists but weaker on foreign policy in her construct than her. She portrays herself as a muscular foreign policy person in the vein of Ronald Reagan.

ANDERSON: Well, no -- I don't think it's a coincidence that Ron DeSantis' numbers began to fall a little bit around the time he did take that position on Ukraine where he called the conflict there a territorial dispute instead of an invasion by Vladimir Putin.

I think anytime you assume that Republicans are not here for fighting Russians, you have forgotten about some sort of every old DNA in the Republican Party going back to the Cold War. Now, certainly, there's a new strain in the GOP, particularly younger Republicans, who are not necessarily interested in say robust engagement in Ukraine.

But I think Nikki Haley is gambling that even if it's not a majority yet, there are still some longing and hunger for what the Republican Party looked like a little bit before Donald Trump with some bits and pieces of things Donald Trump changed for the better in her view, but some he's changed for the worst. Let's go back. That's where I think she's trying to go.

BASH: Quickly and what happened with Ukraine, I was talking to a Republican lawmaker who does not want Donald Trump to be the nominee, does want DeSantis who said to him point-blank, whatever you do, know you can never out-Trump Trump, so stop trying.

TAPPER: Interesting. Thank you all. Appreciate it.

Nikki Haley will face voters at the next CNN town hall. I'm going to get to moderate that one. It's going to be in Iowa. That's next Sunday, June 4th, 8:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

It was right around this hour last year when we began learning about a gunman's rampage in an elementary school. How the victims of that horrific day in Uvalde, Texas, are being remembered one year later.



TAPPER: Church bells ringing, a moment of silence in Texas' Senate chambers, flags flown at half-staff. Just some of the many tributes today marking one year since the horrific massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. For the families, it is of course yet another day reliving the moment when 19 fourth graders and two teachers were mercilessly slaughtered by a gunman. It's also a reminder of the police and them not doing their jobs, waiting 77 minutes to intervene, failing to save the people, the children, who needed them to save them. Just a short while ago at the White House, President Biden called upon

Congress to do more on gun reform.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How many more parents will live their worst nightmare before we stand up to the gun lobby?


TAPPER: Joining us now to discuss, Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales of Texas who represents the city of Uvalde.

Congressman, it has been a rough year for Uvalde, rough year for people watching this.


Just tragic, gut-wrenching massacre. And yet, even though it's year, parents still fighting to get answers, still fighting for accountability. Why is it taking so long? Will they ever get the answers they deserve?

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): Yeah, thank you, Jake, for having me back on. And they absolutely deserve the answers to what happened that day. It's not only the families that were impacted, it's the entire community, it's the entire country, to be honest.

You know, here in a few minutes, here in the House of Representatives, I'm going to lead a moment of silence to honor those families but in my eyes, there's no better way to honor the victims than to bring light to what happened. And I met yesterday with the associate attorney general about a Department of Justice investigation on Uvalde that I think we're going to see wrap up here in a few months.

I don't have any details just yet. It's an ongoing investigation. But I think this is very important. This is going to lead us to ideally an outside look on what happened that day and ultimately how do we prevent it from happening again.

The other part of it, too, I agree with the president. The Congress has a role to play. The president also has a role to play. And I am less interested in pointing fingers and blaming other folks and I'm more interested in working with others to get meaningful pieces of legislation done.

You know, I'm a conservative. I'm a Republican. I believe in protecting the Constitution. I think we can do both that and protect our children in schools.

TAPPER: So you have supported some gun safety legislation such as the bipartisan Safer Community Act. That was signed into law last June, after Uvalde. According to the gun violence archive, there have already been 241 mass shootings in the United States just this year, 241. Does more need to be done to stop it? It seems like the very obvious place to do it is to try to keep people

who are obviously risk, at risk of harming themselves or others from being able to obtain weapons. We've seen so many incidents of people that family and friends knew what the person was in a bad place and yet they were able to go legally purchase guns and commit horrific acts of violence.

GONZALES: You're absolutely right, Jake. More has to be done. I was proud to have supported the bipartisan Safer Community Act. Since that bill has been signed into law, there's been over 160 cases in which minors that had mental health issues were not able to purchase a firearm. I think that's a success.

It was a largest investment in mental health in our nation's history, but part of the problem has been getting the money from Washington, D.C. down to the communities. I'll give you an example.

Last year, I had six of my communities submit cop's grants and guess what, I put a letter of support behind these and they were all denied. I met with the attorney general afterwards and we're working together on how to fix that, but it can't just be legislation without the money and resources making it down to the ground. Also, I started myself and the representative who represents Parkland, Florida.

You know what happened there nearly five years ago. We started this bipartisan school safety and security caucus. We kicked it off today. I thought it was a very productive conversation. I'm looking at what can we -- how can we pass meaningful legislation in the 118th Congress. I get what other people want, but how can we move the ball forward today in this Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Well, that's really important and I hope you and the Congressman Moskowitz come on the show and talk about the proposals you have. You have faced intense criticism from Republicans in Texas, Republican Party officials. You were even censured in March.

Are you confident you can continue to fight for meaningful reforms when your own party is attacking you?

GONZALES: I am confident in that. You know, Jake, I spent 20 years in the military as you know. Five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also have six children. So, what does that mean? That means I don't scare easy.

So, I think it's important we put politics aside and do what's right for the country. I think we can protect the Constitution and protect our kids. It doesn't have to be either/or. But it does take political will, political courage and it takes those like myself and Representative Moskowitz that want to come together and not point fingers but find solutions. I'm very confident in that, and I think the American people are looking for that as well.

TAPPER: It also takes people in the community to use these red flag laws. Red flags don't mean anything if family and friends aren't actually the ones raising the flag.

Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales of Texas, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

GONZALES: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A new letter from Donald Trump's legal team that may be a sign, may be, that special counsel Jack Smith is nearing the end of his investigations into the former president.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our law and justice lead now. Attorney General Merrick Garland, you've got mail. It's from Donald Trump's attorneys and they're requesting a meeting with him in what could be the final days of the investigation into Donald Trump by special counsel Jack Smith.

The letter from Trump's attorneys claims, quote, no president of the United States has ever, in the history of our country, been baselessly investigated in such an outrageous and unlawful fashion, unquote.

CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is here, along with former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers.

Paula, the big question, I guess, does this letter indicate that Trump and his team are under the impression that he's about to be indicted?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, multiple sources tell us, Jake, that the Justice Department has not signaled to the Trump legal team that there are any indictments imminent or that they have even finished their investigation.


It is not unusual for defense attorneys to meet with prosecutors at the end of an investigation when they have been informed that perhaps their client could be indicted. They're allowed to come in sometimes, make a presentation why charges shouldn't be filed. But that's not what we are dealing with here.

What we have reported is that it does appear that the special counsel's Mar-a-Lago investigation, the probe into the possible mishandling of classified documents is in its final phase. We know that investigators are still receiving new evidence, even as recently as today. We also expected we could hear from more witnesses.

So this investigation is not over. There's no indication that there are indictments pending right now. It appears that this is just a request for a meeting. I mean, the legal team is saying we don't like this, and we want to talk to the manager who, in this case, is the attorney general of the United States.

TAPPER: Well, does Garland actually have to agree to meet?

REID: Well, I don't think he has to do anything at all. Politically, though, what's a little tricky here is several weeks ago the Justice Department did grant a similar request from attorneys for Hunter Biden. So, let's just be honest here, I mean, these are two highly political investigations, right, a lot of people are watching.

And even though they are different in subject, in nature, in content, even where they are and how long they've been ongoing, to the average American, if Hunter Biden's lawyers can ask for an update and the opportunity to present their arguments to the Justice Department and Trump asks for the same thing and doesn't get it, I think the average American is going to have a lot of difficulty understanding that.

So the Justice Department is going to have to find some way likely, optically, to accommodate this request. But the idea that they're going to get an audience with the attorney, that's a stretch. It's unclear who else they could meet with, because again, the special counsel is supposed to operate independently just with answering to the attorney general. So it puts the Justice Department in a tough spot.

TAPPER: Jennifer, today special counsel smith is said to have received a batch of documents from the National Archives that we're told show that Trump and his top advisers had been told of the correct process for declassification while Trump was president.

Could these documents be significant for Jack Smith's case, do you think?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: These are important, Jake, because in the normal case you might infer that the president would know the classification procedures.

And yet he continues to say they were automatically declassified and other things that indicate he doesn't know or rejects the actual classification process. So, it's important for the Justice Department to be able to prove that he actually does know that things don't get automatically declassified.

So, these documents coming over from the National Archives that demonstrate that he and his advisers actually did know the law are going to be important for the Justice Department to prove intent here.

TAPPER: So, Paula, you said they had not been told, the Trump people, that this was over, that indictments were imminent. But you had a great interview with Tim Parlatore, who had just left the legal team of Donald Trump, and here's what he said, here was his view of the state of the special counsel investigation.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ATTORNEY: At this point, they have kind of turned over every stone and interviewed every witness. Now they just have to write up the report to Merrick Garland to say, this is all of the stuff we've done.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: So, Parlatore claims the special counsel has overturned every stone, but as you note, it's not clear whether Jack Smith has interviewed Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Has he?

REID: Exactly, I think that was my next question to Tim. Wait a second, you say that, but one of the most significant witnesses certainly in the January 6th investigation, but someone who could also be used for the Mar-a-Lago probe is the former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

And interestingly, the Trump legal team has no indication with what is going on with Mark Meadows. From our reporting, we also don't know what is going on with Mark Meadows.

It's very difficult to believe the Trump team when they are, like, yeah, everything's been done, they have spoken with everyone if they're completely in the dark and had no communications with Mark Meadows' attorney. So that's the big outstanding question right now, if he's cooperating and if and when he'll go before the grand jury.

TAPPER: Paula Reid, Jennifer Rodgers, thanks so much.

A busy afternoon here on THE LEAD as the U.S. gets closer to a possible default. Some Democrats are starting to blame their own party for a debt limit deal not having been done.

Plus, the passing of legendary singer and entertainer Tina Turner. New reactions coming in.

And what really led a Florida school district to request access to a poem from the poet who spoke at President Biden's inauguration. We'll get into all that.



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

This hour --


TAPPER: This hour, we bid adieu to music legend Tina Turner. The new statement just in from her family.

Then, this inauguration poem is back in the news.


AMANDA GORMAN, NATIONAL YOUTH POET LAUREATE: We braved the belly of the beast. We've learned that quiet isn't always peace, and the norms and notions of what just is, isn't always justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Astoundingly, Amanda Gorman's poem has been removed from the elementary school section of a Florida public library, after just one parent complained that that line can indoctrinate students.