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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Attorney General Garland, House Republicans Face Off In Tense Hearing; CNN New Hampshire Poll: Support Drops For Governor DeSantis; GOP Divided Over Ukraine Aid Ahead Of Zelenskyy Visit; Georgia Fake Electors Fight To Move Case To Federal Court; Reports Of 200 Dead In Azerbaijan Military Action In Disputed Territory, Ceasefire Declared. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 20, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A shocking accusation from Cassidy Hutchinson against Rudy Giuliani.

THE LEAD starts right now.

In her new book, the star witness in the January 6 committee hearings, Cassidy Hutchinson now says Rudy Giuliani groped her. This according to an excerpt obtained by "The Guardian". Now, Giuliani is responding.

Plus, interrogated on the Hill. Tough questions put to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the special counsel investigations into Hunter Biden, into former President Donald Trump and the Justice Department's decisions to proceed with charges.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Who does he report to?

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Again, I'm not going to get into.

JORDAN: Is it you?

GARLAND: I'm ultimately responsible.

JORDAN: Is it the DAG?

GARLAND: Mr. Weiss did not have to report to anybody. He was the supervisor and decision maker in these matters.


TAPPER: Also this hour, a brand-new CNN poll zeroing in on the first of the nation primary state of New Hampshire, a state Trump won the primary for in 2016 but lost in the general election then and in 2020. Where does he stand with the voters of New Hampshire today?


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

We begin with our law and justice lead, the attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, forcefully attempting to rebuke Republicans who are accusing him and the Justice Department of political bias.


GARLAND: As the president himself has said and I reaffirm today, I am not the president's lawyer.


TAPPER: This Republican-led House Judiciary committee hearing earlier today is the culmination of months of tensions. Today, those House Republicans accuse the attorney general of weaponizing the Justice Department to work in favor of President Biden's son Hunter, while targeting President Biden's opponent, Donald Trump.

Garland defended the independence of the Justice Department and the special counsel, saying no one has told the special counsel to indict Trump, no one has told him to indict Trump and he has not interfered in any way in the Hunter Biden probe.

CNN's Sara Murray begins our coverage of this intense day of questioning for Garland over his role in the Hunter Biden investigation and how that plea deal fell apart in July.


JORDAN: And believe, so help you God.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorney General Merrick Garland squaring off against his toughest Republican critics on Capitol Hill today.

JORDAN: The fix is in. Even with the face saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in.

GARLAND: I am not the president's lawyer. I will add, I am not Congress's prosecutor.

MURRAY: Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee hounding Garland for details about the criminal investigation into Hunter Biden after his plea deal imploded in July and he was indicted last week in connection with a 2018 gun purchase.

JORDAN: After five years what stage are we in? Are we in the beginning stage, the middle stages, the ends stage, the keep hiding the ball stage? What stage are we in?

GARLAND: I'm not permitted to discuss ongoing investigation.

JORDAN: Isn't that convenient? I think it's -- two brave whistle- blowers came forward and a judge called B.S. on a plea deal you guys tried to get past them. MURRAY: Garland rebuffing Republicans' questions and referring to

special counsel David Weiss who is overseeing the Hunter Biden probe.

GARLAND: I left it to Mr. Weiss whether to bring charges or not. That would include whether to let statute of limitations expire, or not. Whether there was sufficient evidence to bring a case that was subject to the statute of limitations or not. Whether there were better cases to bring or not.

MURRAY: The attorney general reiterating that he stayed out of the Hunter Biden investigation.

GARLAND: I promised the Senate when I came before it for confirmation, that I would leave Mr. Weiss in place and that I would not interfere with his investigation.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Has anyone at the department told President Biden to knock it off? With Hunter?

GARLAND: No one that I know of has spoken to the White House about the Hunter Biden case?

MURRAY: But the political interference accusation is sure to reemerge as the GOP-controlled House proceeds with an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption.

MURRAY: Leaving Garland to fend off threats of being held in contempt.

REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): Aren't you in contempt of Congress when you refuse to answer?

GARLAND: Congressman, I have the greatest respect for Congress.

MURRAY: And Democrats to defend Garland, pointing out Jim Jordan's refusal to comply with the January 6 Committee's subpoena.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): That is quite rich because the guy who's leading the hearing right now, Mr. Jordan, is about 500 days into evading his subpoena.

MURRAY: Garland beating back criticism of the department and career civil servants, (AUDIO GAP) as they barrel ahead in their probe into alleged political bias --


GARLAND: -- out individual career public servants who are just doing their jobs is dangerous, particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families. We will not be intimidated.


MURRAY: Now just today, special counsel David Weiss said Hunter Biden should have to appear in person for his first court appearance on those gun charges to promote the public's confidence that he's not getting any special treatment. Jake, a judge just agreed with prosecutors and said Hunter Biden does have to appear in person in court in Delaware next week.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, the attorney general also tried to shut down the claim that Donald Trump made without a scintilla of evidence, I should note, that it was President Biden who ordered Trump be indicted.


Look, the overall theme of the day was that the Justice Department has been politicized, that the attorney general is doing the bidding of Joe Biden, the president, in order to attack his chief opponent, Donald Trump, of course, in those indictments, those two federal indictments.

Here's the former president making that claim over the weekend in an interview.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: He went to the attorney general of the United States and he told them indict Trump.


PEREZ: Not surprisingly, the attorney general pushed back very forcefully against that saying that there has been none of that, none of those instructions especially because the charges that have been brought have been brought by a special counsel. Listen.


GARLAND: No one has told me to indict, and in this case, a decision to indict was made by the special counsel.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): So that statement the president made on Sunday was false?

GARLAND: Just going to say again, that no one has told me who should be indicted. And any matter like this and the decision about indictments made by Mr. Smith.


PEREZ: Jake, you saw a lot of careful wording from the attorney general but you also saw a lot more fire in him than you have seen in some of the previous hearings. Certainly, he pushed back when Congressman Van Drew from New Jersey accused him of being -- of discriminating against Catholics. He said that was absurd claim. He also pushed back against claims that the Justice Department is targeting parents for speaking outside at school board meetings -- Jake.

TAPPER: Evan, stick around. Let's bring in former Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger and former U.S. attorney -- assistant attorney, Carrie Cordero.

Adam, Attorney General Garland refused to answer questions related to ongoing investigations led by Special Counsel Weiss. There were calls to hold him in contempt of Congress. But Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell on the committee pointed out that Jordan refused to comply with your January 6th committee subpoena to testify.

How do you interpret the back and forth?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean it's just show, I think look, yeah, Jordan refused to -- refused our subpoena, refused to talk to us, he and others did the same and also happens to be some of these that are the loudest. It is completely appropriate for the attorney general not to comment at this hearing on ongoing investigations.

As far as I know, that's what pretty much every attorney general does especially on issues like this. All of this is, you know, Jim Jordan knows, the others on the committee know that he can't comment and so they try to fashion questions in a way that make it look like he's hiding when there's not anything he's hiding.

He oversees the Justice Department and Justice right now is being done, for instance, against Donald Trump and against Hunter Biden. But their goal is to try to make it look like there's some double standard. As we know, that's what they've been saying even though that's not the case.

TAPPER: And, Carrie, they're making their big attempt, these House Republicans to paint Merrick Garland as some Democratic hack. But the truth is, there are Republican former attorneys general, including Trump's own Bill Barr who have pointed to the strength of the cases against Donald Trump.


CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Well, in this particular hearing, the attorney general really took pains to demonstrate that he is trying to lead the department in a nonpartisan, impartial way and what that has meant is that he has appointed special (AUDIO GAP) where there could be any possible appearance or interference that he would be making decisions for any inappropriate reasons. So, when it pertains to the former president, he has appointed a special counsel and given special counsel Jack Smith wide discretion and decision making about the cases regarding former President Trump.

When it comes to the current president's son, he has now appointed the U.S. attorney in Delaware as a special counsel to be able to make the final decisions in that case. So, he is showing how much he is trying to keep his position as attorney general impartial and run the department in a nonpartisan way. But then what that means is that he is extricated from the facts of the cases himself in some ways which then can make him appear like he's not answering questions.

TAPPER: Evan, I wonder if Hunter Biden's lawyers are kicking themselves for not making that plea deal work, for getting their back up with the judge was pushing and probing on it because now he faces -- Hunter Biden faces federal gun charges, special counsel investigation that's ongoing, he's likely going to face some tougher charges on tax issues in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Do you think his lawyers wish they could take a mulligan and do it -- do it over again?

PEREZ: I think Hunter Biden certainly believes that and certainly wishes that were the case. Look, I mean, the judge had not unreasonable questions, Jake, when she asked these very, very questions at that hearing. What does this cover? Do you understand Hunter Biden and you know your team what this agreement covers?

And in the end, what happened was Hunter Biden's lawyer got his back up and said essentially you don't have a deal. And that is something that you see now David Weiss, the special counsel bringing up. He points out that it was Hunter Biden's attorneys who couldn't simply just answer the questions from the judge and that's one reason why they're saying Hunter Biden has to come back and present himself in court, you know, for his arraignment.

He can't do it over zoom or over video conference. So, look, I do think there's a lot of wishing by Hunter Biden that this had gone through because this is obviously going to be a very painful process, and it's going to be front and center as the Republicans pursue their impeachment inquiry in the coming weeks, Jake.

TAPPER: Adam Kinzinger, how do you see these attacks by your former Republican colleagues on the Justice Department? Attacks by Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, and Tom Massie? What do you think they achieve in terms of the public's perception of the Justice Department?

KINZINGER: Well, first off, they're dishonorable and I think that's important to keep in mind as we talk about the political impacts. The political impacts is I think they will somewhat effective because as Donald Trump is facing legitimate charges, whether it's handling a classified documents, whether it's January 6th and all these other issues in Georgia and New York, they're going to try to throw as much spaghetti against the wall to create people, they're going to flood the zone as Steve Bannon would always say, that that's what you're going to see.

You're going to see them continue to try to flood the zone and I think it's going to be somewhat effective but I think people need to keep in mind that this is about a president that broke the law and not a president's son that wasn't in government.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, Carrie Cordero and Adam Kinzinger, thanks all of you.

CNN has a brand new poll out this hour on the race for 2024 and the person coming in closest to Donald Trump in New Hampshire, not Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. A former attorney for Donald Trump who pushed election lies now on the list to testify against him in the Georgia case, alleging a conspiracy to steal the state's 16 electoral votes.

Plus, we're going to have that stunning accusation by Cassidy Hutchinson reported in "The Guardian" from her new book, claiming that Rudy Giuliani groped her.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our 2024 lead, a new CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire shows voters in that state are not yet sold on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis becoming the Republican presidential nominee. This poll revealing a tight race among three other candidates despite being behind the front-runner, former President Donald Trump.

CNN's David Chalian is at the magic wall for us to break it all down.

David, who's in that battle for second place among Republicans in New Hampshire?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, as you note, Jake, in our brand new CNN poll, in partnership with the University of New Hampshire, Donald Trump is the clear front-runner here. He's at 39 percent support. This is among likely Republican primary voters.

Jake, there is a four-way tie basically, this is all margin of error for second place. DeSantis at 10 percent, Christie at 11 percent, Haley at 12, and Ramaswamy at 13. So, there's a four-way hunt here for second place in this race.

And take a look at how this compares to where we were in the battle in the first in the nation primary state in July. If you take a look, Donald Trump has remained the same since July. Ramaswamy is way up, Haley is way up, Christie is way up, Ron DeSantis is way down. He has dropped from 23 percent to 10 percent. Again, they are in a battle for that second place slot there.

We ask Republican primary voters who do you think has the best chance of winning the general election? Fifty-one percent, a majority, say Donald Trump, 16 percent say Ron DeSantis, 10 percent say Nikki Haley.

I just want to note, remember Donald Trump is at 39 percent support. So, about 20 percent of voters who are supporting someone else still think that Donald Trump has the best shot at winning.


And although we see Chris Christie on the rise in this poll, take a look at his ceiling. It's pretty low. Sixty percent of New Hampshire likely Republican primary voters say they would never ever support Christie. Mike Pence is at 42 percent on this score. That creates a low ceiling for someone like Chris Christie, Jake.

TAPPER: What are New Hampshire Republican voters' top issues and what are they looking for in a nominee?

CHALIAN: So in terms of the top issues, 39 percent say it's jobs and economy. Nineteen percent say immigration. 6 percent cost of living, also related to the committee of course. Six percent foreign policy.

But Jake, I find this fascinating, look at how it breaks when you look at Trump supporters versus all the other voters that are supporting candidates not named Trump. You see a difference here. Among Trump supporters, the issue jobs and the economy, and immigration are sort of tied for the top position of the most important, personal freedom comes next at 20 -- 10 percent.

But look, if you are not supporting Donald Trump, overwhelmingly, nearly half, 48 percent say it's jobs and the economy, 14 percent say immigration. And you said what are they looking for in a nominee? We also see big differences between Trump supporters and those supporting someone else. Among Trump supporters, 97 percent looking for someone who says what they believe, 60 percent strong morals, 93 percent fighting for conservative values.

You know less important to them is someone being respectful. But look here if you're not supporting Donald Trump, 74 percent have strong morals, 88 percent says what they believe, 75 percent are looking for someone who can attract non-Republican support to win, 73 percent are looking for someone respectful.

You see the different sort of qualities in a candidate that are important to voters who are supporting the former president, and those that are not, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. David Chalian, fascinating. Thanks so much.

Joining us now, someone who has been spending a lot of time talking to those very Republican voters in New Hampshire, CNN chief national correspondent John King.

John, how does this new CNN New Hampshire poll compare to the voters you've been personally speaking with?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It matches up quite closely, actually. Reporting, when you talk to voters, as you know, it's an anecdotal, but then you look at the numbers and you say, okay, we found good voters, what does it tell you. As David just laid out, six in 10 Republicans or people who plead to vote in Republican primary in New Hampshire want somebody else. So Donald Trump can be beat.

But do not mistake that for Donald Trump will be beat. With the fractured field, it's very difficult. As David noted, nobody has emerged as a clear alternative to Trump. But, Jake, if you want to say something to watch over the next couple

months, listen here. These are two Trump voters, Natalya Orlando, Andrew Konchek. They are both for Trump. They were -- she was for Rand Paul last time in the primary, he was for Trump last time in the primary, both say it's a little different this time.


NATALYA ORLANDO, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN VOTER: I personally don't think that he's as strong he was in 2016. I have people who argue with me about with me about that and tell I'm wrong and get mad that I'm saying this, but I'm going to be honest and say, no, I don't see it.

KING: Why?

ORLANDO: I just don't see the same enthusiasm that I did in 2016 behind him.

KING: Then, compared to now same different, less, more?

ANDREW KONCHEK, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think it would be less now. Yeah, I think more people in New Hampshire were for like New England or whatever were for more Trump than they are now, because, all the legal cases and yeah, it did impact them around here.


KING: The challenge though, Jake he's not the new guy. He doesn't sound as insurgent, he's not tweeting up a storm which Natalya really likes, Andrew not so much.

So, Trump's not new but he still has that big support in the crowded field. The question is, can anybody else and can one somebody, not four or five somebody else come up a little? Can somebody else emerge? At the moment, it looks a lot like 2016. The answer to that question today is no.

TAPPER: One of the voters with whom you spoke is a commercial fisherman registered as an independent, voted for Trump in 2016, leaning toward a different candidate in 2024. Let's take a listen.


LUCAS RAYMOND, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I'm extremely likely to vote for Robert Kennedy, yes. He is willing to state that we should not blindly trust corporations or our government.


TAPPER: RFK, Jr., really?

KING: Really, really. And Lucas Raymond there says a lot of his Republican-leaning friends in the commercial fishing industry are with him. What is that? Part of it is when they went to Trump in 2016, they wanted a nontraditional politician, they wanted somebody knew. They view Trump now, some of them, as a politician. Andrew -- Lucas, excuse me, voted for him in 2016 but doesn't like --

didn't like the chaos, said he liked a lot of the policies but didn't think Trump could be as effective.

Why does he want Robert Kennedy? Number one, a Republican friend shared Joe Rogan podcast and he liked what he heard. Number two, politics is so personal to these people. The fishing industry in New Hampshire is decline, Jake. They think they're on the verge of extinction.

Robert Kennedy has an environmental lawyer, whatever you think about him on other issues like vaccines, has helped fishermen in the past, has helped them fight commercial pollution in their waters.


They see someone who might help them protect their job, that's it. They'll excuse everything else.

TAPPER: Yeah, sure, there's a very attractive anti-corporation, antiestablishment message from him, combined with all the other stuff there.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: As you mention, some of the New Hampshire voters with him he spoke are focused very much on the economy. That's also reflected in this new CNN University of New Hampshire poll.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: But on a nationwide abortion ban after 15 weeks, 78 percent of Trump supporters back it, compared to the 40 percent who support other Republican candidates. What are you hearing about voters' thoughts on this?

KING: In New Hampshire, you hear almost nothing unless you ask the question. And I think that's a very important point. New Hampshire voters, it tends to be a less ideological, more of an independent, more of a libertarian electorate.

They don't bring up the abortion issue unless you ask them about it. That's not universal but it's close to universal. This is an interesting challenge going forward, Jake, and the difference between Iowa and New Hampshire. Can Governor DeSantis rebound? He has to get a win in an early state.

The abortion issue will play a lot more, about six in 10, maybe more of that voters in Iowa will be evangelicals, only about 20 percent in New Hampshire, 20 percent identified that way. So that's what they think but it's not a big voting issue in New Hampshire. Watch Iowa.

TAPPER: Yeah, New Hampshire, very different, New Hampshire Republicans than Iowa Republicans.

John King, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Today, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he will not sign

any government spending bill that includes funding for Ukraine. I'm going to get reaction from retired Navy pilot turned astronaut turned U.S. Democratic senator, Mark Kelly. That's next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, as House Republicans argue over a spending agreement to try to keep the federal government from shutting down, U.S. military aid to Ukraine has become a central issue after making his plea for continued support on the world stage. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is headed to Washington, D.C., to take his pitch directly to U.S. lawmakers.

Joining us to discuss, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly from Arizona who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

So, President Zelenskyy is expected to meet with President Biden in D.C. tomorrow. You and your Senate colleagues are going to soon get a classified briefing on Ukraine ahead of Zelenskyy's visit. His return comes as the House is locked in this contentious government funding fight in part over U.S. aid for Ukraine.

How do you respond to your colleague Senator Rand Paul who says he will not consent to expedited passage of any spending measure that provides anymore U.S. aid to Ukraine, unquote? Do you think funding Ukraine should be tied to the spending bill, the government spending bill?

SEN. MARK KELLY (R-AZ): Well, Jake, I just got back from Ukraine last night at about 10:00 p.m. and this is my second trip. And it really reinforced in me the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people under horrific circumstances. Vladimir Putin -- I mean, is committing war crimes daily against women and children.

And this is really a fight of good versus evil and the American people have always stood on the side of good here. We've got to fund Ukraine. At the same time, we've got to keep the government open. Closing down the federal government hurts people. It will hurt my constituents and hurt people across the country.

TAPPER: What did the Ukrainian commanders with whom you met tell you that they need to defend themselves against Russia, things that they're not getting maybe?

KELLY: Well, we talked a lot about F-16s. I met with F-16 or MiG29 pilots that will hopefully transition to the F-16. So I had a rounds table of commanders and pilots. These were some of the colleagues of the MiG29 pilot that was killed in that tragic accident a couple weeks ago. When we talked about like specific capabilities, so they need to

transition to a fourth generation fighter, we're doing that. They also need a longer range surface to surface missile. The artillery that we've sent them, that goes about 18 miles. HIMARS about 45. The ATACMS missile system goes about 190 miles. That will really make a difference.

So we have those discussions. I'm interested to see what DOD says today and compare it to what I have learned in Ukraine over the last few days.

TAPPER: So, about the ATACMS, yesterday, Secretary of Defense Austin was asked if Ukraine's request for this long range ATACMS missiles, if it included them. This is how he answered.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: In terms of whether or not that request is a legitimate request, you know, I -- I won't endeavor to evaluate Ukraine's request if they requested it. They believe that they need it.


TAPPER: Do you think it's a mistake to not include ATACMS in any aid package.

KELLY: Well, we're discussing it. It's a significant increase in capability. It will help them. I mean, there are targets right now that they can't engage with HIMARS and other systems. We -- you know, had this discussion with military commanders, it's, you know, something that they feel is necessary and I think it will make a difference in this fight.

TAPPER: I want to turn to the news of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer caved to a demand by Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville to bring up a small handful of votes on military promotions after Tuberville threatened to force a rare procedural vote to circumvent his months long blockade on 300 other nominations promotions because he objects to the Pentagon policy that provides a travel allowance for troops and their families who want to travel to other states if they want to get abortion care.


What is your response to this move by Schumer?

KELLY: Well, first of all, what Senator Tuberville is doing is unconscionable. I talked to 10th Mountain Division soldiers about this, this is having an affect in Poland with the U.S. military. Anything that affects the U.S. military in Poland, supporting the fight in Ukraine, it affects that fight as well.

So this is having an impact in the war of Ukraine against Russia. It's really up to Tommy Tuberville to release this hold. It's doing significant damage to our military. At the same time, I mean, some of these -- you know, the commandant of

the Marine Corps, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, chief of staff of the Army, it's important that we get these individuals confirmed.

TAPPER: I just have a few seconds left, but I wondered what you thought of Schumer changing the Senate dress code. It will accommodate the -- what can perhaps best be called the broski takes the garbage to the curbs on Sundays outfits that Senator Fetterman from my beloved commonwealth of Pennsylvania favors. Do you like these more casual look? Should they be allowed on the Senate floor?

KELLY: I don't like it. I think it would have been better if we had a discussion about it ahead of time.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, good to see you, sir. Thanks so much.

KELLY: Thank you. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Witness for the prosecution, a pro-Trump election-denying lawyers is now cooperating with the Fulton County D.A. in the Georgia election subversion case. That's next.



TAPPER: In our law and justice lead, lawyers for the former President Donald Trump were inside a Georgia courtroom today attending the hearing for three fake electors who were trying to get their case in the Fulton County indictment moved to federal court. This as we learn a former election-denying pro-Trump lawyer is now a witness for the prosecution.

Nick Valencia is outside of Fulton County, Georgia, courthouse.

Nick, this was supposed to be a routine hearing today but things got pretty heated?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. This hearing was intended to address a technical motion by the fake electors who were trying to get their case moved from state court to federal court in hopes of getting it dismissed. But this quickly derailed into a pitch class between the state and defense attorneys over whether or not this case was political in nature.

The defense attorney for David Shafer, one of the fake electors trying to get his case move, said that this is, quote, a sad state of affairs in this country that any supporter of the former president who participates in the political process is at risk of being indicted by the Fulton County district attorney's office. Shafer's attorney went onto saying that these fake electors were simply doing their civic duty and trying to preserve the former president's right to contest the 2020 election.

The state's attorneys, though, they pushed back on this claim, saying that it was categorically false and that any indication that this was political in nature was just not true at all. They called it borderline offensive and that prosecutor for the D.A.'s office went onto say that anyone whether or not they were Republican, Democrat, libertarian or whatever, anyone who signed a fake elector certificate would have been charged by this district attorney's office.

As for that motion the judge did not rule at the end of the hearing saying he would decide at a later date but perhaps the biggest bombshell of the day is what you alluded to Jake, and that Lin Wood, the former pro-Trump attorney and perhaps one of the biggest peddlers of conspiracy theories in 2020, the post-2020 election cycle. He is now listed as a witness for the state here.

We did reach out to Lin Wood, to see if he's potentially cooperating or if he has flipped on the former president, but Wood did not immediately respond -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Valencia, thanks so much.

Also joining us is Robert James, former DeKalb County, Georgia district attorney.

Mr. James, good to see you again. What do you make of the idea here that Lin Wood, a pro-Trump lawyer, who filed several meritless lawsuits filled with wild and false election fraud theories, somebody who had really built up a reputation for unhinged behavior in claims is actually a witness for the prosecution, is helping the D.A.'s office. What level of cooperation might he be provided, do you think?

ROBERT JAMES, FORMER DEKALB COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, it may be complete corporation or it may not be complete cooperation, maybe a scenario where, you know, his -- his lawyer and him have gotten together with the D.A.'s office and they've decided, you know, that they're going to cooperate and assist or it may be a situation where he knows something or has said something that's documented and he's going to be called as an adverse or hostile witness and be forced to testify. Time will tell.

TAPPER: What do you make of the fact that Trump's lawyers were in court today for this hearing for these three fake electors who were trying to move their case from Fulton County court to federal court. Why would Trump lawyers be there possibly?

JAMES: Well, look, Trump's lawyers are going to be there. Number one, you know, if in a conspiracy, that's essentially what's been charged here on the RICO statute in Georgia, you want to hear what the other lawyers have to say, right? You wanted to understand how it works but your theory of your case.

Number two, I suspect if these lawyers for these, quote/unquote, fake electors are successful, then it's going to embolden and empower Trump's lawyers and other lawyers to follow suit and do the exact same things and file the exact same motion. So if you are Trump's lawyers, you want to hear all of it.

TAPPER: How concerned do you think the other defendants lawyers should be?


JAMES: How concerned -- you said how conservative? Or concerned?

TAPPER: How concerned -- how concerned should the other defendants' lawyers be?

JAMES: Well, look, they should be very concerned if, you know, if -- you know, if you're talking about a situation where people are cooperating, you know? Otherwise, you know, listen getting out of, in my opinion, getting out of Fulton County superior court into federal court is a long shot.

It's already been disfavored and turned down multiple occasions by federal judges. I don't think it's going to happen. I think the further you get away are being employed as a federal employee and you're making arguments that you were acting as an elector, the less likely you are going to be removed. So I don't think it's going to work. But I think that the lawyers are just doing their jobs.

TAPPER: All right. Robert James, it's good to see you. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

JAMES: Thank you.

TAPPER: As the world watches the horrors in Ukraine, another conflict is very worthy of your attention. This one in a region where there have been known calls for genocide. We're going to tell you where and why, next.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, while the Western world's focus is on the largest ground war in Europe since World War II in Ukraine, there is a new cease-fire amid an explosion of violence this week at the heart of one of the world's longest conflicts. It's happening south of Russia in a majority Armenian territory within Azerbaijan, which has seen decades of ethnic clashes and bloodshed. And Russia is supposed to be trying to keep the peace.

CNN's Nic Robertson explains what led to this latest round of deadly fighting.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Casualties from Azerbaijan's deadly artillery assault rushed to hospital in the majority Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian death toll growing, as a historic foes' fragile peace explodes into dangerous warfare with potentially disastrous consequences.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We are concerned and it is important that both parties now deescalate.

ROBERTSON: A ceasefire agreed Wednesday but they have been here before, two wars in the past 30 years over the disputed region. But in June, Azerbaijan began blocking the strategic Lachin Corridor, the only link between Armenia proper and 120,000 people living in the enclave. Internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, humanitarian aid convoys were denied access. Russian peacekeepers couldn't or wouldn't get them through. Food and fuel in the enclave were in short supply.


ROBERTSON: Respected international lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo wrote a legal opinion, calling the blockade genocide. Azerbaijan disputes his analysis.

And in recent weeks, Armenians claimed Azerbaijan forces were massing weapons readying for a new offensive. Tuesday, their fears of attack were realized. The enclave's de facto capital, Stepanakert, echoing to gun and artillery fire, frightened women and children cowering in the street.

OLGA GRIGORYAN, STEPANAKERT RESIDENT: You don't know how to live in such a situation, how to raise your children, when you constantly live in stress, tension and no one wants to help you.

ROBERTSON: Civilian homes smashed as Azerbaijani officials claim they have launched an offensive against terrorists, demanded the Armenian army leave and that the Nagorno-Karabakh government disband and depart.

Armenia denies it's the aggressor.

E.U. politicians while calling for calm also calling out Russia's peacekeepers in action and Azerbaijan's intransigence.


ROBERTSON (on camera): The fear for many Armenians is that Azerbaijan's terms for the ceasefire will be so tough, they will feel forced to leave Nagorno-Karabakh, and that, they say, would be ethnic cleansing.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

TAPPER: Nic Robertson, thanks so much for that report.

Coming up, "The Guardian" newspaper is reporting a stunning claim by Cassidy Hutchinson in her new book, Hutchinson, of course, the star witness for the January 6th Committee. She's making groping accusations against Rudy Giuliani.

Plus, what today's intense hearing on Capitol Hill with Attorney General Merrick Garland actually accomplishes.

Stay with us.



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

This hour, funding fight drawing more intense. A group of House Republicans have derailed the plan to fund the government, while fellow conservatives call them out.

Take a listen.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): It's completely inexplicable. And I think it's indefensible. So, you know, here we sit. So, now, we got to go and try to figure how to move the ball forward.


TAPPER: Now, ten days left to fund the federal government, even Republicans are warning, the chances of a shutdown are growing more and more likely.

Plus, this hour, a stunning claim by a former Trump insider, Cassidy Hutchinson, in her new coming book coming out next week reported by "The Guardian". She writes in that upcoming book that Rudy Giuliani groped her on January 6th. Giuliani just responded.

And leading this hour, Attorney General Merrick Garland's long, long day on Capitol Hill, trying to defend the Justice Department from Republican accusations, that it has become politicized. Republicans say Garland has weaponized the DOJ to work in favor of the president's son. A claim that Garland attempted to forcefully push back against.

Let's bring in CNN's Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, what exactly did Garland say in response to this claim?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the attorney general repeatedly insisted, throughout this very long five and half our hearing, that neither he nor anyone at the Justice Department has ever interfered in any of the ongoing special counsel investigations, of course, those include investigations into the former president, Donald Trump.