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The Lead with Jake Tapper

CNN Identifies Unindicted Co-Conspirators From G.A. Case; Sources: News Conference Trump Teased On Baseless Georgia Election Fraud Claims Unlikely To Happen; Giuliani Desperate Plea For Trump To Pay Legal Bills; Trump Advisers Believe He Is Not Planning To Debate; NYT: Defend Trump And "Hammer" Ramaswamy; DeSantis Allies Reveal Debate Strategy; NYT: Defend Trump And "Hammer" Ramaswamy, DeSantis Allies Reveal Debate Strategy; Idaho Teacher Of The Year Leaves School, State After Conservative Backlash; Son Begs Biden Admin To Help Free His Dad Jailed In Iran. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 17, 2023 - 17:00   ET



ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Obviously not mentioned in the charging document itself. And a couple of the specific details that really make queer it is Epshteyn (ph), is the reference to a November 2020 press conference held by then Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, where he was talking about various claims about voter fraud and, you know, based on who we know was in attendance and who wasn't. Epshteyn is really the only person, given the context in that indictment, who they could be referring to. And the next example is a mention of e-mails that were sent between John Eastman, Ken Chesebro, who are both attorneys working for the Trump legal team, and the third recipient, we know was Boris Epshteyn. So, really, that allows us to nail down who this individual, co-conspirator number three was.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: An attorney for one of the co-conspirators also apparently confirmed their identity to CNN?

COHEN: That's right, Jake.

Former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik, his attorney, confirming to us that he is conspirator number five in this indictment. And there are similarly details that also help us identify Kerik as the individual listed as number five. We know that Bernie Kerik was deeply involved with Rudy Giuliani's legal team trying to help find evidence of widespread voter fraud. And we know that Bernie Kerik was specifically at a White House meeting in November 2020 where Trump was present, and they were talking to a bunch of state legislators from Pennsylvania, trying to pressure them to hold a special session in their bid to overturn the election. So, his presence at that meeting, in addition to the confirmation from his lawyer, made clear.

We also know that another individual co-conspirator number six is also at that meeting in November 2020. Phil Waldron, an election denier, a member of Giuliani's team. We were able to find out through context clues and his attendance at that meeting that he too is one of the unnamed individuals. TAPPER: Also, CNN was able to piece together the identity of two other unnamed individuals using surveillance video from the Coffee County election center?

COHEN: Yes, Jake, as you know, the Coffee County voting system breach was really a key part of the indictment from Fulton County DA Fani Willis and we had previously obtained hours and hours of surveillance video showing various operatives coming in and out of the elections office. But there's only two individuals who were let into that election office on January 18, 2021, and those are Doug Logan, the Cyber Ninja CEO, we know him from the Arizona audit, and then this man named Jeffrey Lindberg (ph). And both of them do appear to be these unnamed individuals in this charging document. And we see both of them in the surveillance video that I just mentioned. So, that helped us really narrow down the specific dates and the specific times that these people entered the office. It makes clear that this -- it could only be those two individuals.

TAPPER: And I'm also told that based on reporting, CNN thinks that individuals two, individual nine, individuals twelve through 19, all of them are fake electors from Georgia?

COHEN: Yes, Jake. Obviously three of the fake electors from Georgia are facing criminal charges now, but the rest of them were listed as unindicted coconspirators. You'll remember the district Attorney Fani Willis told all the fake electors at the outside of her investigation that they were considered targets in the probe. We're now learned that she's only charging three, but the rest of them do appear to be unindicted, unnamed co-conspirators in the indictment. So, they do make an appearance in the charging document itself, just not facing criminal charges.

TAPPER: All right. Some good sleuthing there. Zach Cohen, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins now.

Kaitlan, let's talk about this. Is the Trump team prepared for the possibility that some of these co-conspirators unnamed could enter into a plea agreement with the prosecutor and become witnesses against them in the case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, THE SOURCE: I mean, I think that's even the concern with those who are named the co-defendants that are listed here. I mean, certainly there's a lot to choose from. And when I was talking to people in Trump's orbit after, you know, this indictment came out the other night when were on air, that was one of the first things they pointed to. The fact that there are these 18 other co- defendants that were listed in the actual charges, but also these 30 unindicted co-conspirators that Zach was just referencing there. I mean, several of them, some of them still work for him, including Boris Epshteyn.

Some of them are still high ranking officials in the state of Georgia, including the lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, he's unindicted co- conspirator number eight CNN believes. And so, just to look at the magnitude of that and the people who are not just always people who are close to Trump like a Boris Epshteyn, but also a lot of these officials who were in Coffee County who aren't in Trump's inner circle at all. I think there is a lot of room for some potential plea deals here. Of course, we don't actually know if that's something that some of them are going to pursue, but it's certainly an open and fair question in Trump world. And they themselves were trying to figure out who these names were that Zach was just going through here, trying to identify each of them.

You know, not even just in this case, in other cases, Jake, they've also been trying to figure out who the unindicted co-conspirators were and if there are people who are still actively in Trump's orbit.

TAPPER: Donald Trump has said that he wanted to hold a press conference next week where he would release the proof of the voter fraud in Georgia. The conservative Republican Governor Brian Kemp pushed back on that. There was no fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election, he said. What's the status of that press conference?


COLLINS: I think this is something that everyone was understandably skeptical of the moment that Trump said he was going to be having, you know, anything described as a major news conference. And really a lot of that had to do with, Jake, you know, we were talking to people immediately about it, and a lot of people did not know that he was going to post that, people who were advisors to him, they were surprised they saw it for the first time when we saw it, when he posted it. And I have been making some calls on this, Jake, and I am now told that it is unlikely, that is, to go forward in any real capacity if anything happens on Monday at Bedminster at all, when he teased that it's going to happen there at his golf course, in part that is because we are told that his advisors have warned him and cautioned him against having a press conference on baseless claims that he's been making for three years now that don't have anything to back him up but also while he is facing several trials precisely for that.

And so, we'll see what actually happens on Monday. But right now, Jake, I'm told it is unlikely and there should be real doubt on the idea of any press conference happening at all. Of course, there was already doubt on whether or not there would be actual evidence three years after the election.

TAPPER: Yes. Governor Kemp said nobody in three years has come forward under oath with any evidence at all. When it comes to one of the co- conspirators charged alongside Donald Trump in Georgia, CNN has reported Rudy Giuliani is struggling under mounting legal bills. And you have some reporting about a trip that Giuliani made to try to get some financial assistance from Trump. Tell us about that.

COLLINS: Trump has never wanted to pay Giuliani's legal fees when he was actually representing him or his legal bills now. And what I was told is that a few months ago, Giuliani and his attorney, Bob Costello, went down to Mar-a-Lago in late April, they met with Trump and they were basically making this pitch, Jake, that it is in Trump's best interest to be paying Rudy Giuliani's legal bills. What we have seen come forward in recent days from other attorneys in court is he is cash strapped. He is basically broke, that they say he cannot afford the legal bills that he has right now from that Smartmatic lawsuit. And basically they went to Trump trying to get him to cover all of Giuliani's legal expenses, given he was doing stuff at Trump's behest.

Trump only agreed to pay $340,000 to this data vendor. That might seem like a lot of money. It is a lot of money, but when you look at what Giuliani is up against, he has seven figure legal fees, Jake, right now, and he is really struggling. And so it speaks to, one, something not surprising. Trump does not want to go into his own money to pay for someone else's legal fees.

Certainly he's paying a lot of people's already. And two, it just speaks to the immense financial stress that Rudy Giuliani finds himself under. And it's not even close to being over because he's facing disbarment proceedings, he's got lawsuits, and now, of course, he's been indicted in the state of Georgia.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

On that subject, Rudy Giuliani, a CNN original series is looking into Rudy Giuliani's troubles. It's called "Giuliani, What Happened to America's Mayor?" It's airing this Saturday night at 8:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

CNN's Alayna Treene joins us now. Let's first talk about the Republican debate next week. If Trump does not debate, it would seem very trumpy to make plans to draw attention away from the debate that he has said there's no sense in him going to, to him. Does he have plans?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: He does, or at least he's been throwing ideas out there. In my reporting from my conversations with Donald Trump's team is that Trump himself has been throwing out ideas like doing an interview with Tucker Carlson and calling into different cable news shows during the debate as part of some sort of counter programming strategy. They also say he's very much not likely to attend that debate, of course, but they have the caveat that it's Donald Trump --

TAPPER: Right.

TREENE: -- for years, you never know what he's going to do. He could decide in the 11th hour. Of course, there are logistical questions about whether that's even possible, but he's not expected to be on the debate stage.

He has also been reaching out to his surrogates, people like Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz, both congressman of Florida, and Kari Lake, to represent him in the spin room. And I'm told some of Donald Trump's advisors will also be there that night. So clearly, even if he's not there, he wants to have some sort of representation. But the other thing I'm hearing, Jake, is that Donald Trump this week even, has been telling people in conversations that he thinks Fox News is worried about ratings. He had a dinner last month with Fox News executives, the president, Jay Wallace, and chief executive Suzanne Scott, and they really encouraged him thoroughly to join the debate. And he's been telling people, I remember -- I talked to someone on Monday who just spoke with him about this, saying that he thinks this means that they're very worried that they're going to do poorly without him there. And so, he's feeling very strongly that he doesn't have to show up.

TAPPER: All right. Alayna Treene, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

A week after the fires on Maui, more than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for. Now some residents are returning for the first time to see what is left of their homes.

And another investigation that could affect the 2024 campaign, Hunter Biden. Does President Biden have a blind spot when it comes to his son? That's next.



TAPPER: Back with our national lead, nine days after those horrific Maui wildfires, 111 individuals have been confirmed dead so far and more than 1,000 are unaccounted for. That's according to the governor of Hawaii. The burn zone search is not even half over. And now people who have called Lahaina home for decades are trekking back to see what is left. Take a listen.


HELEN KAAL, LAHAINA RESIDENT: It's hard to take in, you know, just seeing all this devastation, I don't know what to think. We grew up here. This is home to a lot of us.


TAPPER: CNN's Bill Weir is on the island of Maui. And Bill, you've been talking to first responders. Walk us through the process of searching through that massive burn zone in the town of Lahaina.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, yes, I just literally just spoke to an urban search and rescue official who's a veteran of 15 years, he's out of the Houston area, he's been on over 90 disasters and he says he's never seen anything like this. Because you've got almost three and a half square miles here where they are searching at the granular level. This is not a hurricane where, you know, a few houses on a street have slumped over. This is an entire city blocks burned to ash.


And we met with one of the dog handling teams from the L.A. County fire department, a dog named Prentice (ph), a black Labrador, a lot of the 40 dogs here are Labs, Prentice had a burned foot from yesterday as they have to worry about the heat both from the sun and the actual ground surfaces as well for these dogs. So it's sort of a painstaking process. They go in with two dogs. If one hits something or needs a break, the other one will come in either to confirm it or relieve them as they cool off. And so, it's just a methodical, very liberate thing.

But they also tell me they are inspired, these people who have come here from over 15 states around the country. L.A. Fire is here, New York, NYPD is here as well, and they're working alongside Maui firefighters and cops who have lost everything and are still out here every day doing this meticulous search work.

And really, the -- we keep coming back to that missing persons number, Jake. You know, in previous disasters, you normally hear that, there's so much confusion, but now a lot of the cell towers are back up, a lot of the power has been restored. You can see the Hawaiian electric crews down here. There's still a couple thousand homes, but you would think by now, eight plus days after, if someone was lost in the confusion, they would have made contact with someone. So we have to come to grips with the idea that this could take a very long time and there could be hundreds of people who are never identified.

TAPPER: Yes, it's staggering. I, too, was waiting for that number to go down as communication efforts improved, and it's very upsetting that it has not. You've also been tracking active fires on other parts of the island of Maui. How are local officials ensuring that those fires don't become a second disaster?

WEIR: Well, they got some much needed backup. There's a couple of Chinook helicopters provided by the Pacific Command here in addition to Maui's choppers. And they're just sort of dropping buckets of water, seawater pulling water out of swimming pools up near the Coola (ph) fire, they say about 80 percent contained.

How they define that around here is if a fire is still burning, but they know they have it contained. That's 100 percent contained. When they say it's extinguished, it's out, you can not worry about it anymore. So there are still these little hotspots up in the canyons. Right now the winds are cooperating.

The trade winds are a little bit gusty, but nothing like the firestorm we saw before. They could really use some rain. And that's the thing you don't realize when you think about the tropical islands in the Pacific, they're so green and lush. On a warmer planet, as the clouds hit the mountains, they suck all the moisture out of that. And then the leeward side on the other side of the island is just bone desert dry and that's where all this fuel is coming up. So keeping one eye on that and of course so much attention here looking for souls.

TAPPER: CNN's Bill Weir on Maui doing incredible reporting, thank you so much. Appreciate it. And you can help victims of these horrific wildfires in Hawaii. You can head to That's for options to donate, vetted options. You can also text the word Hawaii to this number 707070. Hundreds of wildfires are also burning in Canada. About 20,000 people are being forced to evacuate from Yellowknife. That's the capital of Canada's northwest territories. They need to go by tomorrow afternoon. CNN's Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center for us.

And Chad, the blaze in Canada, it's expected to reach the city of Yellowknife by this weekend if there's no rain?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right. The wind is now pushing the fire from the west to the east right into the town of Yellowknife. Now the problem is, a lot like Lahaina, to the east of Yellowknife is a large lake. There's no way to go out there. You have to go north or south or northeast or southwest to get away from this fire line.

So they are really pre staging people here because they know even though we may be days away, some gusts could take some sparks, move them along and all of a sudden you don't have days anymore.

But look at Canada in general right now for this fire season, 33.8 million acres have already burned. That is 10 times the size of Connecticut. In a normal year, 5.6 should have burned year to date. So we are way ahead of where we could be or should be this time of year. And that is going to continue because these fires are completely out of control.

The fire lines are so large now, you can't really get your head around your fire equipment around one of these fires because the fire lines go for miles and miles. And so, 33.8 last year, at this time, only 3.6 million acres had burned. Fires are in the tree tops, fires are on the ground. There is Yellowknife. There's the lake I'm talking about and the hotspots there on the map that is blowing into Yellowknife proper.


Now there may be some rain, but really what I'm worried more about are these winds probably somewhere between 25 and 30 miles per hour. And if that blows a spark, 20 or 35 mile per hour, all of a sudden you have these fire lines jumping rapidly.

TAPPER: And, Chad, you're also tracking hurricane Hillary, which is forming off --


TAPPER: -- of Mexico's pacific coast and is expected to bring heavy rain to the southwestern United States. That's unusual.

MYERS: Very. Very unusual for a storm to be a category four and trying to run over Baja, California into southern California and possibly even in toward Arizona. There is the storm right now, 110 mile per hour, here's Mexico, there's Puerto Vallarta, there's Cabo San Lucas up there. This storm travels to the north in very warm water, at least for a while as a category four hurricane. Then it gets into much cooler water and begins to die off.

It also is going to suck in this dry air from the Mexican desert and also the dry air along Baja, California. But by the time it gets to southern California, the forecast still calls for 60 miles per hour winds and an awful lot of rain. The rain may be more of an issue than 60 miles per hour winds because I've watched models today go six to 10 inches of rainfall in places that don't get six or 10 inches of rainfall in the desert for an entire year. So, yes, that is certainly possible right through San Diego, especially east of the city, and then all the way to Vegas, and for that matter, L.A. of course on the Santa Barbara County, all these areas could pick up very significant flooding rainfalls Sunday into Monday.

TAPPER: Chad Myers, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the first Republican presidential debate is less than a week away. So who does governor Ron DeSantis plan to attack in Donald Trump's absence? The leaked debate strategy, that's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead. Cue the music. Yes, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

DeSantis' debate strategy or possible debate strategy is being revealed in plain view. "The New York Times" is reporting that a trove of documents were posted online by the main Super PAC backing the Florida governor. They're not allowed to directly coordinate with him, remember. So, in one memo, a DeSantis ally outlines four debate must do's for DeSantis. They include, one, attack Joe Biden and the media three to five times. Two, state his positive vision, two to three times.

Three, hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response. And four, defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack.

My panel joins me now. Former Michigan Democratic Congressman Andy Levin. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us. Defend Donald Trump in response to a Chris Christie attack and hammer Vivek Ramaswamy. Is this good advice?

ANDY LEVIN, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, (D) MICHIGAN: First of all, this is just astounding that a campaign or that a Super PAC does this. I've never seen anything like it. It's not good news for DeSantis that this happens. And whether it's good advice or not, I'm not sure.

I mean, Ramaswamy is coming up in the polls a little bit, so they're freaking out about him. Some people say he wants to defend Donald Trump so he can really be vice president because that's what his real aim is, because there's no way DeSantis is going to win this nomination.

But it's really quite the spectacle to see this kind of advice out there in broad public view. Tens and 10s of pages of it. It's astounding.

TAPPER: Yes. Republican Strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson, one of the memos describes, quote, "Roger Ailes' Orchestra Pit Theory, quoting a well-known maxim that a candidate who lays out a comprehensive plan on foreign policy will draw less coverage than the one who accidentally falls off the debate stage. And the memo lists a recommendation for a Trump style insult take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy, call him "Fake Vivek" or "Vivek the Fake."

And just in the last hour, Ramaswamy fired back and called DeSantis' Super PAC puppet with prepped lines. What do you make of all this?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, on the one hand, voters don't tend to react well to things that are overly choreographed. Recall the demise of the Marco Rubio campaign at the hands of Christie some years ago. You know, he had a line that sounded clearly canned. He had repeated it and eventually got called out on it, and that was curtains.

On the other hand, there is some strategy and preparation that has to go into it. And so prepping a candidate to say, hey, this is your main rival, this is the person you've got to take out, that's all pretty normal. I do think, though, that, for instance, the nickname "Fake Vivek" watch --

TAPPER: Am I mispronouncing it?




ZELENY: It's Vivek like cake, yes.

TAPPER: I apologize. Fake Vivek.

ZELENY: It rhymes, you see. It rhymes.

TAPPER: And I apologize for mispronouncing his first name.

ANDERSON: Fake Vivek --

TAPPER: I spent a lot of time focusing on Ramaswamy.

ANDERSON: The reason why I think it won't necessarily work is --

ZELENY: You did well.

ANDERSON: -- when all of you have all these other nicknames that Trump uses, they always speak to something voters kind of already believe about somebody, right? They just amplify it.

TAPPER: Right.

ANDERSON: So, I love Jeb Bush, but, like, low energy Jeb, that didn't come out of nowhere, right? But Republican voters don't think Vivek Ramaswamy is fake. It's true that he said a lot of things about Donald Trump and Republican policy, in the not too distant past, they're very different than what he's saying now, but you have to all that out and lay that groundwork before a nickname will stick. So, I'm a little skeptical, and especially now that the cat's out of the bag, that would be a smart strategy.

TAPPER: And CNN Chief National Affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Then there was this suggestion urging DeSantis to attack Christie with a, quote, line accusing Mr. Christie of appealing mainly to Democrats. And it says, quote, Trump isn't here, this is the proposed line, Trump isn't here, so let's just leave him alone. He's too week to defend himself here. We're all running against him. I don't think we want to join forces with someone on the stage who's auditioning for a show on MSNBC. That's the proposed DeSantis line attacking Christie. What do you think?

ZELENY: Look, these might be decent lines, but now that the cat's out of the bag, I mean, they are going to sound the rehearse. But what all of this does is a couple of things, one, it raises the bar for Governor DeSantis to actually pull all this off. It raises the bar for him to go after Vivek Ramaswamy in this way. But it also points out perhaps one of the biggest challenges and flaws of his campaign. That is he effectively has outsourced virtually everything to his Super PAC. That's why this had to be published online, so he could see it, so he could see the smart advice, if you will, from Jeff Rowe, who's leading the Super PAC because his campaign can't talk to the Super PAC. So this is the challenge. He's outsourced all this field work to the Super PAC as well. So this is essential part of this.

But back to the actual debate itself, I think the idea of going after Chris Christie like that, who's very practiced on a debate stage, he's done this before, pretty risky to go after him. And at the end of the day, the voters I talked to in Iowa and New Hampshire, other states want to see some differentiation. If they're turning the page from Trump, that's what they want them to do, turn the page from Trump. So defending Trump by going after Christie, I'm not sure that works.

TAPPER: So a couple Twitter reactions from journalists out there. Benjy Sarlin from I think he's "Semaphore," writes, a Florida candidate attacking Christie with a canned line. What could possibly go wrong? That's a little reference to Marco Rubio's ill-fated 2016 campaign. Noah Rothman from "National Review" says, defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack, the tombstone read. So the reviews for the advice are not particularly positive.

ANDERSON: Well, there's also a piece of that defense of Donald Trump that calls Donald Trump weak, which I think is really interesting because, again, to the point of insults, having to line up with what somebody kind of already believes, there's one thing that Republican voters, even those that don't really like Donald Trump, tend not to think, and it's that he's weak. The word strong is something I often hear in focus groups when I'm talking to Republican primary voters about Trump.

Now, as an objective matter, you may disagree vehemently with that characterization, but the idea that -- TAPPER: But you're talking to Republican voters. Yes.

ANDERSON: -- that DeSantis is going to tell Republican voters, Trump is too weak to defend himself by not being here. That's a bold strategy.

LEVIN: Jake, I mean, here's the thing, that from a Democratic point of view, it's like, wow, this -- the idea of going after Christie because he's occupying the lane that he's decided to occupy doesn't make a lot of sense. The rest of these people are all just out -- trying to out MAGA each other and Trump is despite being indicted for the fourth time on so many charges, completely leading the pack.

TAPPER: Far and away.

LEVIN: You know, far and away. And it seems like, I as a Democrat, I really want to have another American political party that stays within the realm of democracy and that we can really debate issues with. And this -- none of this debate seems, I don't think this debate is going to produce anything like that at all.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Biden administration because Jeff you have some new reporting that President Biden might have a blind spot, according to people around him when it comes to his son Hunter Biden's legal troubles and concerns about how this might impact his desire to be reelected. What do you got? What are you hearing?

ZELENY: Well, look, this is something that the President was hoping to put behind him. They were hoping that the plea agreement would go through, et cetera. Now there is very likely to be a trial unfolding at the same time as a presidential campaign. Even worse, a second special counsel's investigation on top of the one that's already investigating the President for classified documents.

So the point talking to a bunch of advisors is that this is something that is not discussed around the President in his orbit because they do not think voters care about it. They think voters care about the economy, other matters. They're probably right about that. However, we know that this is going to be a central piece of the Republican debate and Republican talking points next week and beyond, the Hunter Biden situation. So what do swing voters think of Hunter Biden? As of now, they've never sort of drawn a correlation or blamed the President for his son's conduct. They feel sympathy for him, et cetera.

But is there a blind spot directly around him and the campaign by not talking about this? It's verboten. You can't talk about Hunter Biden. We'll see. This is definitely going to be a topic on the debate stage this week.

TAPPER: Yes. And Kristen, Glenn Kessler from "The Washington Post" had a fact check about Joe Biden from earlier this month noting that Hunter Biden admitted in court in July that he was, in fact, paid substantial sums from Chinese companies. Kessler wrote, Hunter Biden reported nearly 2.4 million income in 2017 and 2.2 million income in 2018, most of which came from Chinese or Ukrainian interests. But this -- and this directly goes against what Joe Biden said in the debate in 2020 with Donald Trump. Take a listen.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My son has not made money in terms of this thing about what are you talking about, what are you talking about, China.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow --

BIDEN: That is simply not true.

TRUMP: -- and various other places.


TAPPER: So this is from two different debates. But I mean, Trump was right. I mean, he did make a fortune from China, and Joe Biden was wrong. I don't know that he was lying about it. He might not have been told by Hunter. But this blind spot is a problem.

ANDERSON: It's a problem, one, because Republicans aren't going to let it go, that's for sure. But also these problems are continuing through the legal system. It's not as though this is something that's been settled in other jurisdictions, and Republicans are just harping on it. It is an ongoing thing in our courts. It's not going anywhere.

TAPPER: This is a blind spot. Does it concern you as a Democrat?

LEVIN: Well, I think dads sometimes and parents sometimes have blind spots about their kids, for sure, and the President may be no exception. But nothing has tied the President to any of Hunter Biden's dealings. There's no whiff of him being involved or him being implicated in it. And it's, you know, I think it's not something the voters care a lot about.

TAPPER: All right, my thanks to the panel. Thanks once again.

Coming up, she was once Idaho's teacher of the year, but now she's leaving the profession and leaving the state of Idaho. I'm going to ask her why, next.



TAPPER: She was voted Idaho's Teacher of the Year. But a few months later, she left behind her fourth grade classroom at Treaty Rock Elementary School in Post Falls. That's near the border with Washington State in the western Idaho. And she left the state of Idaho for good after 12 years. Karen Lauritzen says after she was named Teacher of the Year, local right wing media outlets attacked her, going through her social media accounts, calling her a, quote, left wing activist, and accusing her of promoting gay pride and Black Lives Matter and transgenderism in her classroom.

I'm joined now by Idaho's 2023 Teacher of the Year, Karen Lauritzen. Karen, first of all, tell us what happened after you were named Teacher of the Year, which my understanding is that the governor ultimately decides after a thorough process, and the governor's a Republican.

KAREN LAURITZEN, 2022 IDAHO TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Well, it's actually the state superintendent who makes the ultimate decision, but she was a Republican as well. But right after I was named, I was super excited. I was very thrilled to share it with my students and my community. Right after I was named, however, like you said, conservative news outlets in Idaho started putting out all of this horrible press, saying that I was influencing the students in my classroom in negative ways. And that, you know, not a person who represented Idaho and the type of Idaho that they wanted and that I was pushing things in my classroom, like you said, such as transgenderism and LGBTQ issues of which I never spoke of in my classroom at all.

And there were some things that they said that I did do in my classroom, like social emotional learning, which is true because I think that's best practice. But a lot of what they said was absolutely false and, you know, put a lot of parents, I think, off what I did in my classroom. And ultimately, I think sowed a lot of distrust for me and our -- in my community.

TAPPER: So the Idaho Tribune and Action Idaho said they went through your social media pages. They found posts where you were attending LGBTQ community pride events. They looked through who you followed on social media, which I guess included some drag queens posts where you say critical race theory is not taught in Idaho schools. I mean, you're allowed to have a personal life. It's just I don't understand exactly what the argument is being made that you are not allowed to have views like this. Did you -- you didn't teach anything having to do with LGBTQ or Black Lives Matter or anything in the fourth grade classroom, right? Is that what you're saying?

LAURITZEN: Yes, exactly. And I was, you know, a proponent of, you know, all students making their own choices. But I never spoke of any of those things in my classroom. In fact, I did say that CRT was not taught in Idaho schools. But all of these news outlets said that I was teaching it in my classroom. And I actually, you know, had parents asking me if I was teaching these things in my classroom, which, you know, hurt, because, of course, I would not speak of these things in a fourth grade classroom. That's completely inappropriate.

TAPPER: Right. I mean, fourth graders are about 10 years old, right? You've been a teacher for more than 20 years. Is it tougher to be a teacher today because of all this misinformation and this sentiment that teachers are bad guys and they're jamming, you know, far left wing agendas down into the brains of little kids? Is that making it tougher to be a teacher these days?


LAURITZEN: I think it can be, and I think a lot depends on the community in which you teach, you know, for me it's, you know, I have devoted my entire life to kids. And I want all of my students to be the best people they can be. And I want to bring out the best in them. I don't want them to be versions of me. I mean I want them to be themselves. And that's what I've always tried to do as an educator.

But I feel that, you know, especially in the past few years, there's been a lot that's happened where us educators, our professional expertise is not trusted. And especially as an educator who's taught for 20 years and, you know, was named as one of the best educators in Idaho, I would hope that my professional expertise would be trusted and respected. And it really hurt when it wasn't.

TAPPER: Well, I hope you don't give up teaching because I'm sure those fourth graders got a lot out of your lessons. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. And we should note CNN reached out to the school and the school district. We have not heard back. Karen Lauritzen, thank you so much for your time.

LAURITZEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: One man's desperate attempt to get the attention of the Biden administration. We're back in a moment.



TAPPER: More in our World Lead now, Russian state media says that a Russian-born U.S. citizen has been charged with espionage. Gene Spector was already serving a sentence in Russia on bribery charges, also according to Russian reports. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow. And Matthew, last hour, White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby said he had no further information on Spector. They were just trying to get up to speed. What are Russian outlets reporting?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, they're not reporting a lot because there isn't much information out there. We know from Russian court documents and Russian state media that the Lefortovo Courthouse in the center of Moscow charged Gene Spector, this U.S. citizen originally born and raised in Russia and then becoming a U.S. citizen later under Section 276 of the Russian criminal code, which is espionage, but no further details because of the security situation around that kind of serious charge, no further details were made public.

There's been a lot of detail given in Russian press, though, about the fact that he's in prison at the moment, serving a sentence in Russia for bribery. Back in 2021, he was found guilty of bribing an assistant to a deputy prime minister here in Russia. It's not clear whether the espionage charges are connected with that or not. The U.S. Embassy says it doesn't have any information either, but clearly, as there's all this talk of more prisoner swaps and things like that, this is another potentially card in Russia's hands.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Moscow for us. Thanks so much.

Also in the World Lead today, a passionate plea outside the White House from an Iranian-American man. For seven years now, he's been begging the U.S. government to help his father, who has been detained in Iran. This week, he staged a hunger strike and protested outside Joe Biden's White House and at the State Department, where CNN's Kylie Atwood learned more about his father's story.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shahab Dalili planned to come back to the U.S. in 2016 after visiting Iran for his father's funeral. But on the way to the airport he was detained. When news reports broke last week about a brewing deal between the U.S. and Iran to secure the release of five American detainees, two of whom are still unknown to the public, his son Darian thought his father might be headed home.

DARIAN DALILI, FATHER IMPRISONED IN IRAN: We were getting somewhat hopeful and to have that all basically get crushed. Last week Thursday, that was heartbreaking.

ATWOOD (voice over): Shahab was charged with aiding and abetting a hostile nation. It's the same charge that Siamak Namazi faces. Namazi is one of the five Americans who U.S. officials are hoping will be home by next month. But when top U.S. officials said the group of detainees they were working to release were all deemed wrongfully detained, it quickly became apparent that the 60-year-old behind bars at Evin Prison was not in the mix. Shahab has not been formally labeled as such by the State Department. Darian quickly e-mailed the State Department last week in protest.

DALILI: I included this line on the bottom, you are leaving my father there to die. And I think that got a reaction.

ATWOOD (voice over): He got a call from a top State Department official, but still no answers as to specific efforts underway to secure his father's release.

VEDANT PATEL, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We assess the circumstances of detentions and look for indicators of wrongful detention. And when appropriate, we will make a determination.

ATWOOD (voice over): Shahab is an Iranian citizen and a legal permanent resident of the U.S. He was a trading ship captain in Iran before he retired in the U.S. with his wife and his two children.

DALILI: My emotion is just exhaustion. I have been in contact with so many people over the past seven years trying to tell my father's story.

ATWOOD (voice over): This week Darian is protesting outside the State Department even though he's clear-eyed about the near term possibility of his father's release. DALILI: The prospect of getting him on that same plane as everyone else, that's unlikely, that's getting lower every day. It's not zero. I'll never say zero until that plane lifts off.



ATWOOD: Now, Shahab was initially put into solitary confinement. He's no longer in solitary confinement. But just this week, he and his son Darian both went on a multiday hunger strike as they try and attract more attention to this case. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you so much.

Coming up next, who could have the highest grossing forever?


TAPPER: Are you ready for it? Taylor Swift's Eras Tour is poised to break $2 billion. And that's just in North America. Long story short, according to August survey data, the tour is expected to gross $2.2 billion in ticket sales. That's for both the leg she just finished, as well as the second North American leg next year. The average price of presale and first sale tickets was $455, with an average audience size of 72,000 Swifties per show. With numbers like that, Taylor Swift has earned a spot in a category all her own, touring Taylor's version.


Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".