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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Five Americans Freed By Iran En Route To U.S.; Trump Co- Defendant Wants Case Moved To Federal Courts; CNN Tracks Down Wagner Forces In Africa; 12,000+ UAW Workers Strike In Missouri, Michigan & Ohio; Hunter Biden Sues IRS Over Release Of His Tax Info. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It really is. It's such a beautiful part of Lahaina and it's so -- I think it just means so much to the community and anyone who has ever been there.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yeah, I'm glad we took up that time, and I was supposed to toss to myself. I'm supposed to tell you to toss myself.

KEILAR: I'm Boris Sanchez.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: American prisoners released from Iran and almost home.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A nightmare almost over for five Americans who spent years behind bars in brutal Iranian prisons. One was a father locked up when he was tried to visit his jailed son. Coming up, we're going to go inside the negotiations to get these Americans released which some critics are calling hostage diplomacy.

Plus, annoyed on the bench. A judge expressing irritation with Jeffrey Clark who Trump almost appointed as attorney general and who didn't bother showing up for today's hearing.

And CNN undercover. Looking into what the mercenary Wagner Group is up to in Africa, even after its warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed under suspicious circumstances.


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

We're going to start with our world lead with five Americans whom the U.S. says have been wrongfully detained in Iran, the longest for almost eight years, headed home. We saw them for the first time today stepping off a plane in Qatar after leaving Iran. Right now, the five are back on a plane headed to the United States. They're expected to arrive at a military installation outside of D.C. around 3:00 a.m. Eastern tonight, tomorrow morning, according to the family of the one of the released Americans.

Tomorrow marks the end of a year's long nightmare for these five Americans and their family, 51-year-old Siamak Namazi, 59-year-old Emad Sharghi who's detained in 2018, 69-year-old Morad Tahbaz, also detained in 2018, all three of them facing unsubstantiated charges relating to spying by the Iranian government. The identity of the other two has not been released publicly. They want to remain private.

And this is a deal in which the U.S. agrees to dismiss federal charges against five Iranians accused of violating U.S. sanctions and to unfreeze $6 billion of Iranian oil revenue. Iran is only allowed to spend these unfrozen funds on humanitarian purchases. We're told that that will be monitored by the U.S. Treasury.

But President Biden is facing criticism from Republicans including from former Vice President Mike Pence who is expected in a speech this hour to say that unfreezing those Iranian funds will, quote, foment terrorism across the Middle East. Given that Iran is a U.S. designated state sponsor of terrorist groups in Gaza, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East.

But President Biden is defending the deal. In a statement, he said, quote, reuniting wrongly detained Americans with their loved ones has a priority for administration since day one and we will continue to impose costs on Iran for their provocative actions in the region.

Our coverage starts today with CNN's international anchor Becky Anderson. She's on the ground in Doha, Qatar, with what we know about each of the five Americans now on ther way home.


BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): smiles, hugs an tears, as five Americans detained inside of Iran for years are finally freed and on their way home.

Among them, Siamak Namazi. He was arrested in 2015 while on a business trip to Iran, and charged with having relations with a hostile state. After nearly eight years in prison, Namazi was Iran's longest held American prisoner. Feeling abandoned by the U.S. earlier this year, he appealed directly to President Biden in an unprecedented interview with CNN from inside of the notorious Evin Prison.

SIAMAK NAMAZI, AMERICAN RELEASED FROM IRAN (via telephone): Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home.

ANDERSON: Also freed, dual Iranian-American citizens Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi. Tahbaz, an environmentalist, was arrested while on a trip to Iran in 2018. Sharghi, a businessman who moved with his wife to Iran from the U.S. in 2017, was also detained in 2018, on similar charges to that of Namazi.

[16:05:03] For years, their fate tied to tensions between the two countries. But with the help of a common friend in Qatar, breakthrough diplomacy brought us to this very moment.

Iran freed the dual citizens in a deal to release five Iranians held in U.S. prisons, and to unblock $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea. That cash moving from Seoul to Switzerland before being transferred to Doha, after the Biden administration last week issued a sanctions waiver clearing the way for the money to move.

The role of Qatar now changing from mediator to guarantor, ensuring Washington's demands that Iran's billions are strictly controlled and spent only on humanitarian goods like food and medicine. But critics worry even with Doha's oversight, the monies could be spent however Tehran decides. There is also concern this latest deal enables what many critics have dubs Tehran's hostage diplomacy.

But for the freed Americans, today, at least, politics will likely be a secondary concern as they finally get to go home after years of mental and physical anguish.


ANDERSON (on camera): Well, this, Jake, was a deal 18 months in the making. It started, it was a very much bigger agreement that the U.S. and Iranians were looking at. They were looking at nuclear talks but as things deteriorated and as we got into the protests in Iran and September of 2022, the women's protest, the deadly protest and the deadly crackdown but the Iranians and a number of other issues, this deal became very much more focused as far as the U.S. was concerned around these U.S. detainees.

Joe Biden, the president, thanking his partners today, particularly the emir of Qatar and the sultan of Omar for what he described as extremely difficult negotiations. Eight rounds of negotiations culminating just last month in those detainees being released into house arrest and today arriving here on the tarmac in Doha.

As you rightly point out, they will be back in the U.S. in the wee hours of the morning -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Becky Anderson in Doha, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Jared Genser. He's the lawyer representing the family of Siamak Namazi. We've watched him board the plane in Doha. He called you the moment he stepped on the ground. What were his first words to you?

JARED GENSER, ATTORNEY FOR IRANIAN-AMERICAN FORMER PRISONER: He said, Jared, I'm free. And you know, it was a long time coming to say the least. It was extraordinary for me to see him. On a massive screen, I'm traveling abroad and in a big screen in my hotel room and coming down off the plane on CNN and then moments later for him to call me and it was incredible moving and I'm just so happy for him and the family because it's worth calling it. It wasn't just Siamak, who was a hostage, but his dad who was called

back to Iran who was trying to reach his son who had been held incommunicado in an Iranian prison for many, many months was called back with a one-time chance to see his son and then he got taken hostage and spent three years in jail and almost died and was trapped in Iran for several more years and got out a year ago. So this family has been through something that I think nobody could begin to imagine.

TAPPER: Siamak in 2015 was charged with having relations with a hostile state. He was handed down a 10-year sentence. The U.N. called his detention arbitrary. The U.S. says he was innocent. Can you explain exactly how Siamak ended up in an Iranian prison?

GENSER: He went back like many Iranian Americans do to visit his family. Her parents -- the who family came in 1982 to the United States after the Iran Revolution and became naturalized Americans and after -- after many years in the United States, the parents decided to retire there and Siamak went back to visit his parents.

And he was there and one day, the IRG, Iranian Revolutionary Guard, show up, they take his passport and they saying to come with us, and they start questioning him on a daily basis about his connections and relationships with people in various places. And, you know, and then on October 13th of 2015, they said you're not going home and he was taken and held incommunicado for many, many months until then his father was induced to come back.

But, you know, it is interesting because we talk all about this deal and the $6 billion and is it hostage-taking and the reality is, is that if you look at it from Namazi's perspective, there's literally zero difference between the policies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Let me just explain that briefly.


Siamak Namazi was left behind by President Obama, the only American left behind when the nuclear came into force in January of 2016. Secretary Kerry said he'd be out within a few weeks and instead dad gets grabbed and becomes a hostage. And Barack Obama and John Kerry don't get the Namazis out. At the end of the Obama administration, they are sitting in jail.

And Donald Trump comes into office with this whole, you know, maximum pressure campaign on Iran and the Namazis and I had hoped maybe he's going to do something different. Maybe he'll bring the Namazis home. But the Trump administration doesn't impose a single sanction on Iran of any significance connected to hostage-taking.

Even worse than that, even after promising the Namazis they wouldn't do it, they brought home two other Americans leaving the Namazis be home -- you know, leaving the Namazis two more times and at the end of the Trump administration, guess what? The Namazis are still in jail.

So what's the difference between the Trump policy and the Obama policy? From the question of the hostage-taking, nothing at all. I guess the last thing I would say as well is if you look at the criticism of the president, I think it's kind of rich candidly if someone like Vice President Pence to be going after the president about the $6 billion deal because the only reason why Joe Biden had to make a deal is because Donald Trump and Vice President Pence failed to bring the Namazis home, and, well, Joe Biden had to go ahead and do it.

TAPPER: So, Siamak was hold in one of the most notorious prison in Iran. What did he experience there?

GENSER: Well, I mean, now, we could talk about it more now. But in the first two years, he -- I mean, he lived -- lived through hell.

He was in a cell that was maybe five or six feet by five or six feet, concrete floor and no bedding of any kind, just rock hard. He had a bucket to go to the bathroom in, and really nothing else in the cell. No reading materials, no contact with the outside world, primarily incommunicado.

He was literally taken out every day to be interrogated relentlessly over and over again. He was beaten. He was tased. He had electrodes connected to his genitals.

And, you know, this is all bad enough. But actually the worst thing they did to him over that time was after his dad was detained. They showed him the video of him being detained and Siamak knew his father was clearly in prison somewhere, not far from him as it turned out. And, you know, about a month later, they came to him and said, we have some sad news, your father just died, and we're really sorry but you're not allowed out to go to his funeral.

And they left him that way in the cell for a full week until they came and told him -- well, we were just joking about that. He's just fine. And this is the kind of monsters that we're talking about.

TAPPER: Jared Genser, thank you so much. We're so glad that he's on his way home.

GENSER: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: I'd like to turn now to Nazanin Boniadi. She has advocated for human rights in Iran for years. She's been on the show several times.

Nazanin, good to see you again.

President Biden facing a lot of Republican criticism for agreeing to this deal to release the Americans, specifically unfreezing the $6 billion of Iranian oil revenue. What do you think? Do you think it was a good deal or do you think otherwise?


You know, it is complicated, because I'm friends with one of the hostages, the Namazis, who I'm very happy that these innocent hostages are coming back. Keep in mind that every single hostage is a victim of that regime, and deserves to come home and they are innocent and should be reunited with the loved ones.

My heart however goes out to Jamshid Sharmahd and Shahad Dalili who are U.S. nationals who have been left behind, and as Jared who I know well and I've worked with, to get to others released knows very well when we fail to bring all hostages home, another deal has to be done down the line to bring other hostages, the ones who are remaining in prison home.

So what it does, it incentivized hostage-taking and that's what I'm afraid of. And two days after the one year anniversary of the murder and custody of Mahsa Zhina Amini, what this sends a message of to I think the people in Iran who frankly are more than 80 million hostages taken by this regime, it's 2,500 years civilization that's been hijacked by this 44-year theocracy, frankly, and it doesn't bode well for them.

So I think what we have to do is find the policy once and for all that puts an end to hostage diplomacy. I'm very happy that these hostages are coming home. I hope the rest come home soon and I hope the foreign minister has said, which is we won't stop taking Americans prisoner which essentially means hostage is false. But from their track record from the past 44 years, they will continue to do this and they've been incentivized to do so.

TAPPER: It's been one year and two days since the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini. As you know, she was the 22-year-old woman died, killed in the custody of Iranian so-called morality police. She was arrested for not wearing her hijab properly.


You closely followed her story and the women's rights movement in Iran. We've set up this interview a long time ago for you to talk about this, not the freeing of the hostages.

What could you tell us about where things stand right now for the protest movements in Iran?

BONIADI: You know there was a resurgence of protests on the day of the anniversary of Mahsa's killing, worldwide, frankly, not just in Iran. The defiance, the resilience of the people in Iran is awe-inspiring. The revolution is very much alive in their hearts and their souls. Their numbers aren't as high on the street.

But if you look at past 44 years an the constant uprising, you know, yes, they've been briefly cracked down on but they keep standing and they keep rising. The time between the ebbs and flows of these protests are getting shorter and shorter.

But, of course, we have to be ready the next time this happens to tip the balance of power in favor of the protesters. All we've done for the past 44 years is really deal with the symptoms of the problem when it comes to Iran. So, hostage taking, terrorism, the nuclear issue, but the cause is the Islamic Republic itself.

TAPPER: Yeah. Nazanin Boniadi, good to see you again. Thank you so much.

BONIADI: Thanks.

TAPPER: One American not included in this release today, Bob Levinson. The White House notes it's been 16 years since he vanished, thought to be abducted in Iran. Levinson's son Daniel will join me here on THE LEAD in the next hour.

Also ahead, Donald Trump's admission in a Sunday interview that may dig himself deeper in legal trouble.

Plus, the threat of that auto workers strike expanding to more assembly lines as unions leaders get little to nowhere at the bargaining table over the weekend.



TAPPER: In our law and justice lead today, another one of Donald Trump's 18 defendants, codefendants in the sprawling Georgia election interference case wants his trial moved to the federal courts.

Jeffrey Clark, remember him? He's the Trump political appointee who despite the objections of his bosses at the Justice Department tried to help Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election by pushing conspiracy theories about an international scheme to rig voting machines against Republicans and drafting a letter to states instructing them to flip the results. At one point, Trump even considered installing him as acting attorney general.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz kept tabs on today's hearing and joins us from outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta.

Katelyn, Clark wasn't in the courtroom today? I would assume that irritated the judge?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, he didn't have to be in the courtroom today but he didn't take the necessary steps in advance and so there was a bit of a hitch at the beginning of this hearing where Jeff Clark had to sign a form to say, I consent to not being there as a criminal defendant. And from there this issue did create a bit more of a problem for Jeffrey Clark moving forward in that his lawyer had tried to submit into this case as evidence, something that Jeffrey Clark had written, essentially what's called a declaration, a sworn statement of what his life was like, what his role was as Justice Department official saying that he hadn't been acting on behalf of Trump.

But the prosecutors took issue with that and they said, wait a minute, we don't get the chance to cross-examine Jeffrey Clark's statements here. And so, the judge didn't bring that into evidence which puts him at a disadvantage because today in court, it was Jeffrey Clark's burden to try to show the judge that everything that he was doing after the election was part of his role as a federal official and they were left with very little evidence to be able to show that. And so instead, it was much more about the arguments that his lawyers was making versus the prosecutors.

TAPPER: All right. Well, how about those arguments? How did the judge take the arguments that Clark's attorney was making?

POLANTZ: You know, Jake, there was some skepticism today from Judge Steve Jones here in the federal court. He's already ruled against Mark Meadows bid to move his case out of state court into the federal system. And Jeffrey Clark, at times was a hearing where he was questioning Jeffrey Clark's attorney Harry MacDougald. Specifically, they're talking about this draft letter that Jeffrey Clark wanted Justice Department officials to sign and send to the state of Georgia. And prosecutors say that in that letter, there were falsehoods about the election. That Jeffrey Clark wanted to have the Justice Department say false things that he was unauthorized to say. That his superiors didn't want him to say and that Trump was telling him to say and had no role to tell him to say.

And the judge basically pushed back and said isn't that opinion. And so that also didn't go particularly great for Clark, Trump's attorneys in the courtroom did not seem to be too pleased with those arguments and how they went for Clark's attorney.

TAPPER: All right. Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Michael Moore. The former U.S. attorney in Georgia.

Mr. Moore, good to see you. What do you make of Jeffrey Clark's arguments that his case should be moved to the federal courts because he was acting at the president's request. Therefore, it belongs in the federal purview.

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's not surprising that he would make the argument and the truth is he worked for the Justice Department. And most people know and remember that the Justice Department is under the executive and the president is the chief executive at the time. So he could make the argument he was told to do by the highest supervisor he could regardless of what was told to him by his immediate supervisor above him like an assistant attorney general or the acting attorney general at the time.

I'm not surprised to hear some skepticism met by the court. It is a stretch of an argument to make and I think after we saw Judge Jones' ruling, that this is going to be an issue that has to be hammered out in the appellate courts and whether or not this scenario, when the highest ranking federal official in the nation gives a directive, does that mean that you need to follow it, and that is a reason to have your case removed to the federal court? And the 11th circuit will look at it and it may very well the Supreme Court is the final arbiter on that question.

TAPPER: Turning to Donald Trump himself. I went to get your reaction about his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.


Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC HOST: The most senior lawyers in your own administration and on your campaign told you that after you lost, more than 60 legal challenges, that it was over. Why did you ignore them and decide to listen to a new outside group?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Because I didn't respect them.

WELKER: Were you calling shots, though, Mr. President, ultimately?

TRUMP: As to whether or not I believed it was rigged -- sure.


TRUMP: It was my decision. But I listened to some people. Some people said that.


TAPPER: So he didn't respect the lawyers, the White House counsel telling him the truth and trying to overturn the election, quote, was my decision.

Does that get him into legal trouble?

MOORE: It could. You know, it is always tough to have a client who disagreed with you just because you give them bad news. And clearly, he had bad news and he had lost the election. So he just went to the next snake oil salesman to tell him whether or not that he won.

So it does put him in legal trouble. Remember that the cases are decided in a major part of the case is decided by the defendant's intent. Did they have intent? Did they have knowledge? Was this was a knowing act?

So he's crossed that line a little bit. He tried to clean it up in the second part where he said, well, other people told me and I respected them so I thought their opinion might be better.

You know, that's an effort to clean it up but it is certainly not something that his lawyers want to have to deal with as they go through a criminal trial and this is what makes it difficult for him to ever take the stand. This kind of free wheeling, let me tell you this, how I feel one day and something else the next, and so that's -- that makes it hard for a lawyer to defend him and to be effective at it as he thinks about moving forward in these various cases.

TAPPER: All right. Michael Moore, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, a stunning discovery when CNN went undercover in Africa looking for evidence of the mercenary Wagner Group and Russia's power.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, growing and serious questions about the current operations of the notorious Russian mercenary army the Wagner Group. Wagner's warlord leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, you might recall, was killed under suspicious circumstances last month in an explosion on board his private jet.

But the notorious private army was not just operating in Ukraine and Russia. Numerous CNN investigations revealed that Wagner when led by Prigozhin fueled unrest and even participated in bloodshed in parts of Africa.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has been following Wagner's influence in Africa for years. She just returned from the Central African Republic where she secretly filmed at least one member of Wagner at a mysterious site.

She joins us now.

Clarissa, welcome back.

The Wagner Group is still clearly operating in Africa. What did you discover when you went there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been so much speculation as to what happens to this empire that Prigozhin built in Africa. The Central African Republican is really at the heart of that empire and it's not just mercenaries.

It's not just manpower. It's gold. It's diamonds. It's timber. It's alcohol. We're talking millions and millions of dollars.

And we know the mercenary have fallen under the purview of the Russian ministry of defense. There's still a lot of questions about what happens of that commercial enterprise and we found out where the nerve center of is of that enterprise. It's not somewhere you would expect. It's a cultural center in Bangui, the capital.

Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): This is one of the last places that Prigozhin was seen alive during his final tour across Africa. It's called the Russian cultural center, only it has no connection to Russia and was run until recently by Prigozhin's closest associate here.

Photographs taken on that visit show a new face, a woman known as Nafisa Kiryanova.

After days of asking for permission to visit, we decide to film covertly.

So, you were here when, Yevgeny Prigozhin, when he was here and in the photographs? There's the photographs of you with Prigozhin together?

NAFISA KIRYANOVA, WAGNER DIRECTOR: Oh my god, can you show me that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Yeah. I think it was just over in that corner.

WARD: Yeah.


KIRYANOVA: Hmm. OK. OK. That's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is Mr. Prigozhin, no?




WARD: Do you think he knew they were going to kill him?

KIRYANOVA: My gosh. What is the question there. Who knows such things?

WARD: What does it mean for your work here? Does it change anything?

KIRYANOVA: Does it change anything if, I don't know, the president of your country dies? Does it mean that your country stops to exist?

WARD: She shows us one of their daily Russian classes as we step back outside, we see a Wagner fighter.

Hi. Who are you?

You could just make him out retreating to the back of the center, where according to the investigative group the Century, Wagner sells its gold and diamonds to VIPs and manages its timber and alcohol operations.

Who is that?

KIRYANOVA: A personnel.

WARD: A person?

Can we see what's there?


That's weird.

KIRYANOVA: Actually, well, what are you going to see there?

WARD: Like most of Wagner's activities here, it's clear there is still so much that is hidden from view. We've pushed the visit far enough, it is time to go. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WARD (on camera): Now, Jake, there are still questions as to who takes over all of these different commercial enterprises but on the surface of things, Wagner really wants to send a message that it is business as usual. They say that while Prigozhin may be dead, they serve Russia and service will continue, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, that service means that people in the Central African Republic like Wagner and by extension Russia. One person you to talk had a shirt on that said -- I am Wagner.

WARD: Right. I mean, Wagner has been accused of all sorts of atrocities in the Central African Republic, but many people there do credit the group with basically bringing about a modicum of security and stability after many, many years of war. And we spoke to a presidential adviser who said, listen, we wanted the French to come. We would have accepted that. We wanted the Americans to come. We asked them.

But the Russians were only one who took us up on this. Essentially, Russia really saw a vacuum here, Jake. They saw an opportunity to go in, to give themselves, you know, a geo-strategic heft by being there to diminish the influence of France and America and the West by extension, and to make a lot of money in the process, Jake.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Clarissa Ward, thanks so much.

And you can watch Clarissa's full report tonight at 8:00 p.m. on "AC360".

Turning to our national lead, the U.S. military seems to be confusingly stumped when it comes to the whereabouts and wreckage of an $80 million F-35 fighter jet that crashed yesterday, presumably somewhere in South Carolina. The pilot ejected from the plane and we're told is in stable condition. The jet's last known position was near Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion, a pair of lakes northwest of the Charleston.

And they took the step of posting a message or twitter or x asking members of the public to call if they run across any plane wreckage. Okay.

Coming up next, how close the auto workers strike could be expanding beyond those three assembly plants where they're striking now. I'm going to talk to one union leader close to negotiations.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead, day four of the United Auto Workers strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Stellantis is the international company that owns Jeep, Ram and Chrysler. And while bargaining tasks are ongoing, there are no clear signs that the strike will end any time soon.

There are currently 12,700 workers across three assembly plants in three states on strikes. The UAW says it could announce walkouts at additional plants soon. And the strikes could soon go international.

The union that represents auto workers up north in Canada is preparing to go on strike against Ford as early as midnight this evening. Unifor's president told CNN over the weekend that the two sides are far apart.

I want to bring in Tony Totty, president of UAW local 14 in Toledo, Ohio. He represents the GM facility that was on strike in 2019 that could possibly shut down again in a current strike.

Thanks so much, Tony.

You oversee about 5,000 members, 1,400 of which are active, currently working at this facility and they're on the job right now. How are they feeling right now? Do they want to go on strike? Are they excited? Are they anxious? Are they worried? What's -- what's the emotion there?

TONY TOTTY, PRESIDENT, UAW LOCAL 14: Thanks for having me, Jake. We're a little anxious.

You know, we've been through this before and we've done it and nobody is excited to go on strike. Once you've been on strike recently. But we're prepared. You know, that's the thing about President Fain's strategy. Every single victory local was prepared to go on strike.

We tried to calm them down and let them know that we weren't going to just because when you take us down, you're going to take a lot of General Motors down. So we're waiting to see what next phase looks like. But, you know, we're showing support to our cross town union family over at local 12. We just have a caravan of people go over yesterday to show the support that they showed us back in 2019.

TAPPER: How long was your facility on strike for in 2019 and how did that impact the community?

TOTTY: It was 40 days. And facilities such as ours, we have a major impact on the community if we're down. You look at the tax revenue, police and fire rescue, local businesses that we normally go to every single day when we're going to work and leaving. They all took a hit and it is a major impact to the local economy and local 12 in the jeep workers have 6,000 members there. So, it's even larger hit on the local community right now.

TAPPER: The union wants a 40 percent wage increase over four years. Is that the only acceptable deal? I know that's the starting position. But, you know, is the union willing to come down from that?

TOTTY: Well, we'll see at the table. But it is much more than just the pay, right? We're structurally broken from the bankruptcy deal that we're still working under. These temporary employees that go years on end without being permanent employees, that means working in years without contributing to your 401(k), that is not getting the big profit sharing checks that Mary Barra and other employees get but we don't.

You know, there is a lot of things, when you look at our pensions, we haven't had a increase in our pension in 20 years and we're just falling behind while these corporations make record profits and the CEOs make record compensation.


You know, we got that 40 percent number from Mary Barra and the $30 million that she's received a year and they all sit on each other's boards. So they all approve these increases for themselves. And they do all of this stock buybacks for the shareholders, but when it gets to us, they say, whoa, we can't afford that. Well, yeah, you can. Because your profit margins show you can.

TAPPER: Yeah, and just so folks know, I mean, those numbers you're saying are real. Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, makes about $29 million a year. She's received a 34 percent -- a 34 percent increase in her salary over just the last four years.

Do you believe this sort of secretive, coordinated approach of which plants go on strike and when and is working and frustrating the Big Three automakers so far and it's effective?

TOTTY: I think it is. I mean, I know the unintended consequences the entirety of our members. It's a new strategy that we've never tried before. We're in it, so we'll see if it works. Hopefully, we could get to a settlement pretty quickly. But it is going to depend on the corporations on whether or not they want to give us this fair deal.

This sounds like a lot of money that we're asking for. But it really isn't. If we were being treated fairly for the last decade, this wouldn't be such a big hill to climb. But we're not accepting bad deals any more. It's a new day.

Like you could see it across country. And you could see Americans supporting us by 75 percent, the polls show. You look at the different industries, the airline industry, the Teamsters, with UPS, and what we're seeing out in California with the writers strike and the actor's strike.

This country is tired of working for those companies through high inflation and the rest of it, we feel like we're falling behind and these corporations are making out like bandits and we're not accepting it any more.

TAPPER: UAW president local 14, Tony Totty, thanks so much. Good to hear from you, sir.

TOTTY: Thank you for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: Just days after Hunter Biden was indicted on federal gun charges, the new lawsuit today filed by the president's son. The accusations he's making against the IRS as he faces even more charges from the special counsel.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back with our law and justice lead, and the ever growing legal mess surrounding Hunter Biden. The president's son and his attorneys are suing the Internal Revenue Service now.

CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez has details.

Evan, this does seem to be signaling a more aggressive legal strategy even as Hunter Biden remains the target of a special counsel investigation.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly. And, look, this lawsuit is going against the IRS. It's only naming the IRS. But the allegations center on these two IRS agents who have come forward --

TAPPER: The whistleblowers, yeah.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

You've had one of them on the air here. The other one has appeared also on CNN, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, and the allegations that they have made in some of their public statements. According to Hunter Biden's lawyer, they have not only confirmed obviously that there was an investigation of Hunter Biden and that it had to do with his tax issue, but they also according to this lawsuit, they've confirmed things that are his personal tax information which they say is -- goes beyond what the law allows.

And among the things that they have talked about is his deductions, they say that his tax liabilities, his claiming of prostitutes and other expenses on his taxes that he shouldn't have. These are things should never have been made public as part of their conversation about Hunter Biden when they came forward as whistleblowers.

TAPPER: I would think that would be a red flag. We still haven't seen Hunter Biden appear on court on those gun charges he was indicted on last week.

What do we know about that?

PEREZ: There's a negotiations it appears behind the scenes. According to the judge who just posted an order, she's ordering -- he's ordering the -- sorry, she's ordering. I'm confusing the two judges.

But this judge in Delaware wants the justice department, wants the special counsel and Hunter Biden's attorneys to come forward and explain what exactly they want him to do for his -- for his arraignment. Does he show up in person or as Hunter Biden's attorneys are asking for, for him to do it over zoom or some kind of video conference. That appears to be opposed by the Justice Department.

So we'll see whether Hunter Biden has to come to court like Donald Trump did and other defendants or whether he can do it over Zoom, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, presumably. He has a new laptop.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

California Governor Gavin Newsom weighs in on the politics of Hunter Biden and President Biden's age. She just sat down with CNN's Dana Bash for an exclusive interview, and you'll see the very first clips right here on THE LEAD, coming up.

Plus, the son of Bob Levinson, thought to have been abducted in Iran, he's presumed dead tragically. His family says they faced 16 long years of lies by the Iranian regime. We're going to have more of their reaction, next.



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

Our first look at Dana Bash's exclusive one-on-one interview with California Democratic Governor Newsom, often floated as a future presidential candidate. Some frankly wish he were running right now. His hopes for the Democratic Party as President Biden faces challenges ahead of 2024.

Plus, comments today from former Vice President Mike Pence are just in, what his campaign is calling an opportunity for the Chinese government to exploit the United States. How a potential President Pence says he would combat it.

And leading this hour, five American prisoners freed from Iran, headed home right here near D.C., right now on their final leg of their journey, their time behind bars ranges from more than five years to nearly eight brutal years.

CNN spoke with the attorney representing the family of Siamak Namazi, held the longest of the detainees. The lawyers said that Siamak spent several years in a small cell, sleeping on a concrete floor with no toilet taken out every day only to be beaten and tased. They said that they told him falsely that his dad had died and then a week later came back and told them they had only been joking.