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The Lead with Jake Tapper

WaPo: Trump Workers Moved Boxes of Papers the Day Before DOJ Went to Mar-a-Lago to Collect Documents; CNN Poll: Biden has Wide Advantage Over Democratic Opponents; Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison; Parents of Idaho Student Murder Suspect Testify Before Pennsylvania Grand Jury. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 25, 2023 - 16:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: "The Washington Post" breaking some news with seemingly damning information in the Trump classified documents case. We'll bring it to you right now.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A stunning new chapter in the classified documents saga, sensitive material moved at Mar-a-Lago just one day before those FBI agents showed up looking for it. And apparently, people in Mar-a-Lago were staging dress rehearsals for just such a moment. I'll speak with one of the reporters out with the new details.

Plus, the biggest sentence handed down yet in the attempt to steal the 2020 election. Prison time for the leader of the far-right militia the Oath Keepers. And another sentencing for another Oath Keeper is underway right now.

And, parents subpoenaed. Their son accused of killing four students in Idaho. So why would his mom and dad need to testify before a grand jury in Pennsylvania?


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

We're going to start today with our law and justice lead and new signs of possible obstruction of justice in the Trump Mar-a-Lago documents case, classified documents. According to "The Washington Post," which broke this story just moments ago, two Trump employees moved boxes of paper within Mar-a-Lago just hours before FBI agents and a prosecutor showed up at the Trump Florida property to collect those very classified documents.

"The Post" is also reporting that Trump and his aides allegedly carried out a dress rehearsal earlier, months earlier, for moving government documents that Trump did not want to turn over.

Let's get straight to Devlin Barrett. He is one of "The Washington Post" reporters who broke the story.

Devlin, let's start with these boxes being moved before FBI showed up. Do prosecutors have proof that this wasn't just coincidental timing?

DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So timing can always be coincidental, but the view of a lot of the investigators and prosecutors is that the timing is so close here, that it is, on its face, suspicious and possible obstruction. And just to make clear, remember the sequence. We reported that after the subpoena lands, boxes start moving out of the Mar-a-Lago storage area. What we are reporting today, and as a key hole that needed to be filled in is those boxes we now know come back the day -- into the storage area, the day before the feds are supposed to show up.

TAPPER: And what about this alleged dress rehearsal? Tell us more about that. How did that all gone down?

BARRETT: So, dress rehearsal is used in sealed court filings to discuss some of the allegations of obstruction in this. And what that refers to is a sort of smaller scale version of what investigators believe happened later. So when Trump is arguing with the National Archives earlier in this process about what does and doesn't have to be returned, we're told there is evidence that he takes some boxes and reviews some of the materials, and decides, you know, sort of what he wants to keep.

And so that event was later described in court documents as a kind of dress rehearsal for a larger, similar event that happens after the subpoena.

TAPPER: I mean, this all looks like he's trying to hide documents from the federal investigators who are there to retain them, right? Is that how investigators are seeing this?

BARRETT: Right. These all fit into what some investigators believe is a pattern of obstruction episodes. That doesn't mean they've made a decision on whether or not to charge, but this is -- these are the incidents that are important and alarming to investigators.

TAPPER: And you also got some reporting about Trump allegedly keeping classified documents in his office?

BARRETT: Right. And that goes to the heart of sort of the mishandling crime that is under investigation here, to determine if someone should be charged with mishandling. And, obviously, if you're leaving classified documents out, if you are showing them to people who are not authorized to see them, that is mishandling.

TAPPER: All right. Devlin Barrett with the big scoop, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Here to discuss, CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, and also, Tom Dupree, former deputy assistant attorney general.

So, Paula, a dress rehearsal for moving sensitive papers, followed by Trump workers moving boxes at Mar-a-Lago just one day before the Justice Department swooped in for these documents.


When you put this together, it certainly suggests what Devlin just -- what Devlin just said, possible obstruction of justice.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is possible. The reporting suggests that, but over the past seven years, I think we have seen a lot of conduct in Trump world that looked suspicious that prosecutors ultimately did not deem criminal.

Here, there are a lot of questions in terms of the boxes. We know that Evan Corcoran was searching for documents the day before --

TAPPER: Evan Corcoran, one of Trump attorneys.

REID: Exactly, one of those attorneys who are doing the search for documents ahead of the Justice Department's visit. It would not be that unusual to move some boxes while you're searching.

So, was this part of a search or is this something intentional? If it was intentional, who directed these individuals to move these boxes and why?

Another important thing here is to remember that even if this appears to be evidence of obstruction, this Justice Department, Attorney General Merrick Garland's, not just Jack Smith, has shown a reluctance to bring obstructive cases without another underlying charge.

So, the other outstanding question is, okay, even if this isn't obstruction, is there another crime that they will charge, and does Jack Smith feel the same way about only bringing obstruction we have another crime, or is he willing to potentially move forward with those charges alone? So, a lot of questions.

TAPPER: Yeah. And, Tom, some Trump lawyers and witnesses have argued that people at Mar-a-Lago were not necessarily trying to hide anything. They were simply carrying out what they considered to be routine, innocent tasks, serving their boss. What will Jack Smith need to produce to prove an intent to hide these documents?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY: Right. I think there, he's really going to need to talk to the witnesses themselves. I think he is going to need to understand why the instruction to move the boxes was given on that particular day. If, in fact, it was the former president who gave the instruction to move the boxes, what he knew at the time? Can he link a knowledge of an intending DOJ visit to decision to move the boxes?

Because, look, one person's dress rehearsal for obstruction of justice is another person's innocent movement of boxes. And I think it's going to be incumbent on Jack Smith to draw that link, to get the point that this was not just an innocent reshuffling of things, but this was an effort to obstruct a lawful DOJ investigation.

REID: The dress rehearsal also sounds extremely organized for Trump world. When I saw that phrase I said, that doesn't sound like something that would happen. They are usually not that organized. But that's for Jack Smith, not for us.

TAPPER: So, prosecutors have been told by more than one witness that Trump at times kept classified documents out in the open in his Florida office in Mar-a-Lago, and sometimes showed documents to people, including aides, visitors. Does this undercut the claim that they didn't know that these were classified documents?

REID: Well, they've given four different, right, explanations about the classified documents. The first is that they weren't classified, because he had a standing classification order. The next explanation is that he was able to declassify them with his mind. Yet another explanation is that he followed the process, but then he didn't follow it to the end of the administration. And, of course, the fourth explanation is that he had no idea they were even there.

I mean, they contradict themselves all over the place in terms of whether he knew these were there, and if they were there, if he had declassified them or not. So, the fact that he has them in his office, that is something that we had previously known, that they were found there, but whether he thought they were classified, it is completely unclear because they have not been able to give a coherent story. I even asked Tim Parlatore this weekend to clarify this --

TAPPER: Former Trump attorney --

REID: Exactly. Former Trump attorney, can you clarify these four explanations? He could not.

TAPPER: He could not. And, Tom, "Washington Post" sources say that Smith's team, Jack Smith, his special counsel investigating this, his team believe they have uncovered distinct episodes of what you have heard Devlin described as obstructionist conduct.

And one of those instances, according to "The Post", occurred after the FBI search of August 8th of last year, after. How significant is that?

DUPREE: It's potentially very significant, because right now, everyone has been focused on the activity leading up to the seizure. Basically saying, did they try to scroll these boxes away? And now, if the potential period of obstructive conduct -- weeks, months after this happened, that opens up another possible universe of violation.

So, again we are seeing a lot of increased potential legal exposure here, but I want to wait till the actual evidence. As I want to hear what the defense is, and before we start drawing conclusions about how much this actually strengthens the special counsel's case.

TAPPER: So, one of the things that's interesting here is the dynamic between special counsel Jack Smith, who just going by his behavior, to say nothing of those a very severe photographs of him, is rather aggressive, right? I mean, is that a fair description?

REID: Yeah. TAPPER: Whereas, I think it's fair to say, Attorney General Merrick Garland has not earned that reputation when it comes to going after Trump. Maybe he has in other ways, when it comes to going after Trump. I'm not saying that's wrong, it is a very delicate situation.

Are these going to come to heads? Is Jack Smith going to say, like, here it is, here's my report, this is what I want to do, and Merrick Garland is going to go, oh my God, help?

REID: Well, it is unlikely that Jack Smith is going to come to a conclusion that the attorney general will find outside the bounds that he has to override it. Think of the political saturation that that would put the attorney general in. Jack Smith, look, he is a very experienced prosecutor. I would agree, the picture is terrible, but he definitely have -- we asked for a new one, they wouldn't actually --


TAPPER: He looks like a hang man. That's what he looks like.

REID: He looks like something out of Harry Potter. That's what we're told.

But we are getting off course. The record, the legal record shows that he has been very aggressive in trying to get around various privileges, executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, to try to get certain pieces of evidence to answer these questions about obstruction, about possible mishandling of classified information. So, he will absolutely be able to say that he has turned over every single rock, every single stone, and yes, he has earned his reputation as being aggressive.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where he will give his final report, or present his findings rather to the attorney general, and he has to override or they come to loggerheads.

TAPPER: So, Tom, in 2016, obviously, Hillary Clinton got a lot of blow back, maybe even lost the presidential election, because of her email server and allegations, even once made by the FBI, that she didn't take the classification process seriously enough when sending this -- this is obviously much starker, because this is not just a secretary of state sending documents perhaps with not as much care as she should have or definitely with not as much care as she should.

This is a president taking documents. Is it more serious? And what would you say to somebody who comes up to you tomorrow night at a party and says, I mean, who cares? It's a president of the United States, he has access to anything he wants to. Who cares if he has these documents?

DUPREE: Right. I do think it's more serious. I mean, look, I'm a Republican, but I do think it's more serious. Because I think in Hillary Clinton's case, there you had what I think was gross negligence. In Trump's case, at least arguably, allegedly, it would be willful. We'll see if the special counsel can prove it, you know? But, look, as far as why we could care about this, I mean, these laws exist for a reason. I mean, these classified documents, we don't know what was in them, but very possible that if the information released and that would compromise U.S. national security interest, they could put lives in jeopardy, they are classified for a reason.

Granted, we over-classify too many documents in the United States government, but the documents that had been reported to be at issue here are right at the heart of the core items that we as a society and a government and a nation need to keep secret. Those obligations have to be taken seriously.

BURNETT: All right. Tom Dupree and Paula Reid, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

A brand-new CNN poll just dropped showing the major warning signs for President Biden in his effort to get reelected.

Plus, a new turn in Ukraine's battle for Bakhmut with Wagner group claiming it is leaving town.

And we are learning a sentencing decision for another member of the Oath Keepers after the leader of that militia was sentenced just hours ago to 18 years in prison. We're going to go live to the courthouse when that happened.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead. Horrible news, horrible, for Joe Biden in our new CNN poll. While the president leads his Democratic competitors by huge margin, two thirds of all of the American people surveyed, 66 percent of the public, say that a Biden victory would either be a setback, or a disaster for the United States.

Let's get straight to CNN political director David Chalian at the magic wall.

David, let's start with the state of the Democratic primary right now.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, you noted Joe Biden's lead in this Democratic primary, he's at 60 percent among Democrats and Democratic leading independents in this poll, Jake. Robert Kennedy Jr. is getting 20 percent support inside this primary right now against the incumbent president. Marianne Williamson, you will remember from last time around, she is running again this cycle at 8 percent, 8 percent naming someone else.

You can see inside the numbers where Biden strength is and where the potential warning sign is. If you look at those who identify as Democrats, that's a Biden strength. He is winning 67 percent of them. It's among those that are independents and they lean Democratic, so they're in this sample, but there is a much closer race, 40 percent for Biden, 32 percent for Kennedy.

So Kennedy's support comes from not tried and true Democrats, but more leaners, Jake. And then, take a look here. We asked, might your mind change, a slim majority, 55 percent say they might change their mind. Forty-five percent say they will definitely support who they are with.

I will just note, Biden supporters are locked in. About six in ten of them are committed and are not going to change their mind. So it's the folks that are with Williamson or Kennedy who are probably more malleable in this race.

TAPPER: And, David, when it comes to how voters see Joe Biden and another presidential term, those are some bad numbers.

CHALIAN: Well, I mean, just your basic favorability, favorable opinion or unfavorable opinion of Joe Biden, look at how Americans are rating him, Jake. I mean, 35 percent favorable, that is remarkably low, 57 percent have an unfavorable rating.

And look at this by party. We looked from December to now. So a little take down among Democrats, 82 to 79 percent favorable. That's his hometown team.

But look at this decline among independents from December, 35 percent favorable in December, he is now down to 26 percent favorable with independents. Critical voters in the electorate, Jake. That's a big warning sign.

TAPPER: And, David, how do Biden's numbers here compare to those of the Republican front runner Donald Trump?

CHALIAN: Right. Well, you hear Joe Biden say all the time, compare him to the alternative, not the Almighty.

And, basically, they are both not looking good, Jake, right? This is -- they have basically the same numbers. Biden's favorable number is a tick down numerically from Donald Trump's 37 percent, but this is all margin of error. They are both at 57 percent unfavorable.

They look pretty similar there, neither is a good look. I should note. And you go to that question we ask, what would it mean if Trump or Biden won the 2024 election for the country? Forty-one percent say a Biden win would be a disaster, Trump, 44 percent say that about him, okay?

But if you look down here, would it be a triumph? Only 7 percent say that a Biden victory would be a triumph for America, 17 percent say that about Trump. His hard-core supporters are more into him, perhaps, then Biden's hard-core supporters are into him.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's worse for Biden, but for both of them, most of the American people think electing them would be a disaster or a setback for both Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the current Democratic and Republican front runners.

[16:20:07] CHALIAN: It is not an election the American people want.

TAPPER: What a country. What a country.

David Chalian, appreciate it.

Also in our 2024 lead, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is set to kick off his 2024 campaign next week, with a blitz through early voting states, after his official announcement on Twitter last night was full of technical glitches and delays.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: It just keeps crushing, huh?

ELON MUSK, TWITTER OWNER: Yeah, I think we've got just a massive number of people online, so it's -- servers are straining somewhat.

MODERATOR: All right. Sorry about that. We've got so many people here that I think we are -- we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.


TAPPER: CNN's Jessica Dean is in Miami where DeSantis is attempting a donor retreat.

Jessica, what is the DeSantis campaign strategy moving forward for -- from this not so smooth launched?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it is full steam ahead. They are pressing forward, and as you mentioned, we will see him hitting those early states pretty aggressively, which major swings through Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. He's going to kick it off in Iowa, in Des Moines, and I think that should tell you a lot. He is going to Iowa first. Of course, it is the first caucus for the Republicans, and it tells us a lot that he is going to be spending a couple of days there.

He's then going to go on to New Hampshire, and then also to South Carolina. And this has been a big strategy for him and his team, that he wants to be in these early states often. He wants to be talking to voters on the ground, they make at the pitch that he can outwork any of his rivals, especially his clearest rival at this point, former President Donald Trump.

So we have that, we also have money. As you mentioned, he is at a donor retreat as we speak. He has some of his biggest donors, they are working the phones fundraising.

My colleague Kit Maher is there at the hotel. She reports that it is a very positive vibe, based on what she is hearing from sources. It is very positive in that room, they are really happy that the governor is there. That he is jumping on the phone with people as well.

And when asked about the Twitter glitches and the kick off last night, they say they don't fault him for trying to do something new. Again, it is all eyes forward.

As for the governor himself, he is here but he is also making the rounds on a number of conservative radio stations. What is interesting, Jake, in the months leading up to this, he has not talked directly about former President Trump. That is changing today, listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of what he is doing is showing everybody that he understands that I've got a good chance to beat him, because he doesn't criticize anybody else now. It's only me. They wouldn't do that if they didn't think I had a chance, because I think they realize that I am offering folks a record of achievement that's second to none.


DEAN: So, again, making the rounds on those radio stations, really trying to get his message out. And the team really trying to get multiple bites of the apple to this kickoff. So, they had last night's event, and then, of course, Tuesday Jake, in Des Moines, what they are calling the campaign kick off. That gives them another chance -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean in Miami with the DeSantis campaign, thanks so much.

And two major events coming up in the 2024 race here on CNN. First, the CNN Republican presidential town hall with former U.S. ambassador and South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley. I will moderate that conversation with her and Iowa voters. That will be next Sunday, June 4th, not this Sunday, but the one after at 8:00 Eastern that evening.

And then, we just announce, my colleague Dana Bash will moderate a CNN town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. That will be Wednesday, June 7th. Just three days after my event with Nikki Haley. And that will be at 9:00 Eastern that night. Look for both events only here on CNN.

CNN was the first to report that the parents of the suspect in the Idaho college killings have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. Not in Idaho, but one in Pennsylvania. Why this suggests that a different crime might be under investigation. That's next.

Plus, any minute now, we are expecting a judge's sentence for a second member of the oath keepers. This is after its January 6th plot to keep Trump in power after the 2020 election.

Keep it here, be right back.



TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. Kelly Meggs, another member of the far right militia, the Oath Keepers, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison. Twelve years for his role in the deadly Capitol insurrection. Meggs considered a confidant of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes who separately earlier today was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is following this from outside of the courthouse here in Washington.

Katelyn, what did the judge have to say in handing down this sentence for Meggs?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Meggs got 12 years and he specifically wanted to make sure that he was addressing how Kelly Meggs, the second Oath Keepers to be sentenced today for seditious conspiracy and other crimes, is different from Stewart Rhodes whom this same judge ordered to be spending 18 years in prison.

And some of the things that he was -- he was making sure he was emphasizing was that Meggs was a deputy to Rhodes. So Stewart Rhodes was the person, the reason that the Oath Keepers were in Washington on January 6th, and Meggs, though he wasn't one of the people that wanted to perpetuate violence, at least that's what he said today, he said that he was just going along to protect people in the same way that he had done security details in the past informally.

The judge did make sure he emphasized that he was on call with Stewart Rhodes, but he was still walking away, Kelly Meggs thinking this was just security, and that could not have been the case.


These men together were all speaking to one another about being prepared to die, being prepared to fight. Meggs specifically used the word "prepared to die". But he did stand up and speak to the judge. So Kelly Meggs gave his own allocation today before he received the sentence.

And it was so different from what Stewart Rhodes had to say earlier today. Stewart Rhodes spoke about wanting to remain an extremist and antagonistic towards the current government, and yet Kelly Meggs, when he spoke to the judge he expressed remorse. He apologized, including to a law enforcement officer who was in the capital, one of the victims. He said he never wanted to stand in the way and that he was sorry to be involved in an event that put such a black eye on our country.

But, you know, the judge really did believe his seditious conspiracy was something here that deserves quite a significant sentence. He did give Kelly Meggs 12 years, just six less than Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers.

TAPPER: All right. Katelyn Polantz, outside the D.C. courthouse with this momentous sentences, thanks so much. We're going to have much more to come on this story ahead on THE LEAD, including a reaction from one of the police officers who defended the Capitol on January 6th, as well as a former member of the House Select Committee investigating January 6th. Also in our law and justice leave today, outrage is growing in

Mississippi after Aderrien Murry, an 11-year-old boy who called 911 for help over the weekend, because his mom felt threatened by a man in their house, Aderrien Murry, was shot in the chest, an 11-year-old shot in the chest by the responding officer.

Today, Aderrien's mother and the attorney demanded the officer be fired and then charged.


CARLOS MOORE, ATTORNEY FOR MURRY FAMILY: We gave you 48 hours to do the right thing. An 11-year-old Black boy in the city of Indianola came within an inch of losing his life. He had done nothing wrong, everything right.


TAPPER: Nakala Murry said she asked her son to call police as she was feeling threatened by a man, a man with whom she has another child. The responding officer, officer Greg Capers, then ordered people to exit the house. That is when Aderrien's mother said that her son was shot in the chest. Aderrien luckily survived and is recovering from his injuries. Meanwhile, Officer Capers is on paid leave as an investigation in the matter continues.

The parents of the man indicted for the killings of four University of Idaho students have been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. But not a grand jury in Idaho, a grand jury in Monroe County, Pennsylvania.

By law, a Monroe County grand jury can only review potential crimes that occurred within Monroe County, Pennsylvania.

CNN's Jean Casarez is with us now.

Jean, does this mean the grand jury is potentially investigating their son as part of a different crime? One that has nothing to do with the Idaho killings?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the law you state is exactly correct. And here is what we know, a source has confirmed with us that the parents of Brian Laundrie (ph) were subpoenaed, not voluntary, subpoenaed to an investigative grand jury in Monroe county, right there in Pennsylvania, his mother went and testified on Tuesday. His father, our source tells us, he is supposed to be testifying today before the grand jury.

Now, this is an investigative grand jury. They do not indict. But what they can do, when they hear all of the witnesses, and they were witnesses, they can have a presentment, which means they are recommending that there are charges for whatever case that they are looking at, and also a transcript is formed as witnesses in this investigative grand jury could be sent to a foreign jurisdiction could be potentially Idaho. That's what we know, Jake. TAPPER: Let's turn now to the mother of Brian Laundrie, as people

might remember, he took his own life. But before he did, he wrote in a notebook that he was responsible for the death of his girlfriend, Gabby Petito. Another one of these tragic, horrific stories.

Now, you've gotten your hands on the contents of the letter found in Brian Laundrie's possession. Tell us more about that.

CASAREZ: That's right, next to his remains they were found. This is potentially, extremely important to the civil action that the Petito's have filed against the Laundries of intentional infliction of emotional distress. That you knew that Gabby had been murdered by your son, you knew where the remains were, and you never told us. We were reaching out to you constantly for any information.

Here are some excerpts from that letter. If you are in jail, I will bake a cake with a file in it, Roberta Laundrie writes to her son. If you need to dispose of a body, I will show up with a shovel and garbage bags.

Now, Roberta Laundrie and her defense team say this letter was written a long time before they ever began their trip, Gabby and Brian.


And it was because there was a relationship issue between mother and son and she wanted to bond them together, and it also says that if you fly to the moon, I will be watching this guy for your re-entry. If you say you hate my guts, I will get new guts.

So, the defense is saying, look, you can believe that, how can you literally believe it. But Jake, there is one thing on the outside of that envelope, it says burn after reading. The judge may allow this letter to show the knowledge, or lack thereof, the jury will decide because the whole point is that this outrageous behavior under Florida law, that the Petitos were in anguish and they could not get any answers, or communication from the Laundries. They say there was no duty.

TAPPER: So, the Laundries were pooh-poohing the significance of this. What does the family of poor Gabby Petito have to say?

CASAREZ: Well, they say this shows knowledge. This was with your son when the remains were found. They said "burn after reading". You didn't want anyone to see this but you were talking to your son in very realistic terms that go with what your son admitted. That he killed Gabby. The defense is fighting that hard.

TAPPER: All right. Jean Casarez, thanks so much.

Coming up, Russia's strong response to CNN today when asked about U.S. intelligence that assists Ukraine might have been behind that drone attack on the Kremlin.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, an apparent shift over who controls the bombed out city of Bakhmut, Ukraine. The leader of the Russian missionary group, Wagner, says that the militia is moving out and that would put Russia's military back on the frontlines there. But Ukraine insists pockets of the mercenary group Wagner remains.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports now on how this change of the guard could benefit Ukraine.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Just as the Ukrainian military say their forces are retaking ground on the outskirts of Bakhmut, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says his mercenaries are moving out.

That's it, moving out intend in 10 to 15 minutes, he tells these tankers. Everyone leaves before June 1st. We'll rest, prepare, and then get a new task.

Wagner's exit could mark a turning point in one of the bloodiest battles in Europe since World War II. The mercenaries assaulted Bakhmut for months, often using human waves to try and storm Ukrainian positions.

Prigozhin trying to prove to Putin his hired guns could get the job done where regular Russian units fail. Even during the withdrawal, a swipe at Russia's defense minister. Prigozhin joking that he would leave two scrawny fighters behind to help the army when they take over Wagner's position.

That is Bieber, and that's Dulik (ph), he says. The moment that the military are in a tough position they'll stand up and block the Ukrainian army. Guys, don't bully the military.

While the Ukrainians tells CNN that they cannot confirm Wagner is really pulling out of Bakhmut, they believe that a withdrawal could give them a boost in Kyiv's quest to retake the city.

SERHII CHEREVATYI, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES (through translator): Compared to other units of the Russian army, Wagner did fight better and conducted more offensive actions. But this was literally due to bloody discipline and threats of execution.

PLEITGEN: While Moscow's army struggles in Ukraine, Russians clearly feel threatened on the home front as well. The intelligence service FSB releasing dramatic footage of arrest from earlier this month of what they claim were Ukrainian intelligence operatives plotting to attack two nuclear power plants in northwestern Russia.

While the Ukrainians haven't commented, Russia blames Kyiv. Moscow also lashing out after U.S. intelligence assessment is saying that Ukraine may have been behind a drone attack on the Kremlin in early May.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN (through translator): Behind this is the Kyiv regime, we know this and we are carrying out our work based on this.

PLEITGEN: Russia using the incident to justify its war against Ukraine where Putin's top missionary is regrouping his forces and vowing to return.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Jake, one of the things that Yevgeny Prigozhin before pulling out says that he did do was hand over the body of a retired U.S. former special forces soldier who was killed in Bakhmut.

CNN asked Yevgeny Prigozhin if he had done that as promised before and in a post of his Telegram service, he said that yes, he had handed over the body of retired Staff Sergeant Nicholas Maimer to the Ukrainians. We later followed up with the Ukrainians as well. They have said that they have received the body in a casket draped in an American flag, Jake.

TAPPER: Russia says that it thwarted a Ukrainian attack on one of its reconnaissance ships. But there's new video. Is it true what they said?

PLEITGEN: Well, it seems as though it potentially isn't. The Ukrainians certainly have a different point of view of that. Now, it seems they have a video that seems to back it up. They say that there was an attack with sea drones, essentially unmanned surface vessels on one of their main intelligence ships in the Black Sea and the Russian showed a video of their ship destroying one of those drones.

But the Ukrainians came with a video that seemed to show another drone moving towards that ship and coming towards the ship, potentially hitting it. We are not sure exactly what the damages but in that video, which is quite dramatic, you can see someone from the Russian ship firing at that drone seemingly trying to stop it.

This potentially could be a big blow to the Russians because of course it shows on the one hand that their ships really are not safe from the Ukrainians in the Black Sea but also the ship that was hit, it is called the Ivan Hurs, and it is one of the more modern intelligence ships that the Russians have, only went to surface in 2018. So that potentially in itself could be a big blow and another big blow to the Russian navy and the war against Ukraine, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, Ukraine, thanks so much.

Turning to our national lead now.


This afternoon, President Biden nominated Air Force General Charles Q. Brown, CQ, to be chairman, the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Once confirmed, General Brown would be the second African- American after only Colin Powell to hold that position.

He would succeed, of course, Army General Mark Milley, who held the post since 2019. There is one problem, of course, all U.S. military promotions of flag officers, all of them are being held up right now by one U.S. senator, Republican Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Tuberville is protesting a Pentagon policy allowing leave time for military if they need to travel to out of state to receive an abortion. It doesn't really have to do with flag officers but he's been holding up all of these nominations, much to the chagrin of those who care about national security and the U.S. Senate.

One woman's cautionary tale as a federal judge weighs whether or not to ban a nonsurgical abortion medication.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our health lead now. A woman in Georgia almost died after suffering a miscarriage. She says her doctor did not prescribe mifepristone despite being the trend standard drug used in miscarriage care.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports on Melissa Novak's near-death experience and the consequences that could come for some women if courts ban mifepristone nationwide.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Melissa Novak and Stewart Day met in Florida 15 years ago.

MELISSA NOVAK, HAD MISCARRIAGE: We kissed on new years and then we have not been separate since.

COHEN: They married, move to Atlanta, and earlier this year, they were thrilled when Melissa got pregnant. They had an ultrasound at eight weeks.

NOVAK: We were really excited to go and see the heartbeat.

COHEN: But when you showed up for the ultrasound, was there a heartbeat?

NOVAK: No. There was not.

COHEN: Melissa was having an early miscarriage, which is very common. But what happened next was not, and Melissa nearly died.

To help a woman miscarry safely, it's standard practice for obstetricians to offer these two drugs together, mifepristone and misoprostol. The FDA says the combination is approved to end a pregnancy. Melissa's miscarriage was at the end of March just when a judge at

this federal courthouse in Texas was considering whether to block access to misapprehend nationwide.

Melissa's doctor mentioned the lawsuit and prescribed her only misoprostol, while that drug has shown to be effective, it is less effective when used on its own. Nine days after Melissa took misoprostol, she developed a fever.

NOVAK: My fever was really, it came on hard and strong. Then, suddenly I had incredible back pain. I was having trouble standing.

COHEN: Her medical records show she had a septic incomplete abortion.

STEWART DAY, WIFE HAD A MISCARRIAGE: When she is laying in the hospital shaking with 100-degree fever, there is nothing I can do about it, so the feeling of helplessness, especially when it is somebody that you love so much, we didn't know if she was going to live or die.

COHEN: The mifepristone lawsuit is still winding its way through the legal system towards the Supreme Court. Depending upon how judges role, Americans could lose access to the drug nationwide.

In a statement to CNN, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, an antiabortion obstetrician seeking to take mifepristone off of the market wrote that medical management of miscarriage with misoprostol has been standard of care for decades but didn't provide evidence for that. In fact, misoprostol is not approved on its own for miscarriages and many physicians are worried about what the courts might do.

DR. ERIKA WERNER, CHAIR OF OBSTETRICS AND GYNECOLOGY, TUFTS MEDICAL CENTER: Any of us that care for women who have miscarriages are very concerned. More women are going to have unnecessary surgeries, more women are going to have complications, and we are just not going to be providing the best care across the country.

COHEN: After four days in the hospital and emergency surgery, Melissa recovered, and she and storied already to try for another baby. They said they are telling their story because they are worried about what might happen to others in a similar situation. And a special session either annual meeting this week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledge the confusion about mifepristone, and advised their members that it is still available in all 50 states.

But if the plaintiffs succeed, it won't be.

DAY: The fact that non-medical professionals are able to dictate medical care to like my wife or anyone is absurd.


COHEN: It's clear under Georgia law that Melissa could have been offered mifepristone when she had her miscarriage, but obstetricians tell us in various states that under the current legal climate it is kind of like a fog of war from day today, they are not sure what state and federal laws will allow them to do to take care of their patients and if they make a mistake, they are the ones who go to jail. It is the doctors who will go to jail -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Coming up next, the message from the judge who sentenced an Oath Keepers member and leader of the far-right militia, this just happened at the courthouse. We're going to have that next.

Plus reaction from a police officer who was badly beaten in the Capital riot and from Congressman Adam Kinzinger, part of the investigation into the attack with the House January 6th Committee.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, retailer Target becomes the next Bud Light, responding to backlash from an anti-LGBTQ campaign that went viral online, pulling some of its Pride month march that usually floods the front of the stores in June.

Plus, the White House push to combat hate, a new four-point plan to tackle the rise of antisemitism in the United States today.

And leading this hour, the longest sentence yet for attempts to undermine the 2020 election. Two leaders of the far right group the Oath Keepers have been sentenced for their role in January 6. The group's leader received 18 years in prison as a federal judge presiding over the case ruled that their actions amounted to domestic terrorism. One of his confidence with sentenced to 12 years for his actions.

Let's go straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz who is outside of the courthouse here in Washington, D.C.

Katelyn, the sentence against Rhodes is the longest sentence for a January 6th defendant so far.