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The Lead with Jake Tapper

IDF Expands Operation All Over Gaza; U.N. Special Session On Sexual Violence By Hamas On October 7th; "The Atlantic" Staff: Trump's Second Trump Would Be Worse; American WSJ Reporter Evan Gershkovich Held For 250 Days. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 04, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to "The Lead," I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, what if Donald Trump wins? I'll speak with some of the authors behind 24 new essays in "The Atlantic" magazine, breaking down what they call Donald Trump's threat to the United States and the world and the lack of guardrails to keep him in line.

Plus, 250 days detained unfairly, unjustly in Russia. I'll speak with the parents of American journalist Evan Gershkovich.

And leading this hour, Israel expanding its ground operation against Hamas in Gaza, all of Gaza, including southern Gaza, saying it hit about 200 Hamas targets, including a school in the northeast that housed tunnel shafts and stocked weapons and explosives. Today the Red Cross described the level of human suffering in Gaza as intolerable.

We're going to start today with CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who's in Sderot, Israel. Jeremy, tell us about how Israel is expanding its ground offensive in southern Gaza.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we saw how critical tanks were as Israel made its way into northern Gaza over the last month and I sat down with Israel's top tank commander to talk about how tanks are going to play a central role in the offensive in the south as just today the first Israeli tanks were spotted in southern Gaza.


DIAMOND (voice-over): As Israel expands its ground offensive into southern Gaza --

HISHAM IBRAHIM, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: I think it's no more a question if the tank is relevant or not relevant for this war.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Brigadier General Hisham Ibrahim, the head of Israel's Armored Corps, says tanks will once again be central to Israel's urban warfare strategy.

IBRAHIM: Our tanks are everywhere in the urban area. When you attack, you have in the beginning the tanks firing and the attack first and then just the infantry come and be close with the tanks. DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli tanks were at the tip of Israel's offensive into northern Gaza in late October, clearing the way for infantry troops to move into dangerous and densely populated cities.

(On Camera): So, you're using the tanks to clear the area so that infantry troops can move in?

IBRAHIM: Yes, exactly.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Ibrahim says this kind of coordination is a lesson learned from Russian failures in Ukraine.

IBRAHIM (through translation): We saw that where the Russians fought only with tanks alone, they were more vulnerable. This combination of combined power overcomes almost every problem on the battlefield.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli tanks are pushing through, not around, residential buildings, producing entire neighborhoods to rubble to minimize the risk to Israeli troops.

(On Camera): But that also means that you have to destroy a lot of residential buildings.

IBRAHIM: Yeah, that's exactly what we do. We're firing for the buildings, we destroyed, but we make sure that this building is empty from citizens and we just destroy what we have to destroy.

DIAMOND (on camera): We've seen a lot of civilians die in Gaza.

IBRAHIM: Yeah, but we make sure before that we attack Gaza that the citizens go south. You know, this is war.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli tanks have also become a top target.

IBRAHIM: They have RPG and they want to destroy the tank because for them this is the win picture.

DIAMOND (voice-over): In a series of propaganda videos, Hamas's fighters are seen ambushing Israeli tanks. But General Ibrahim says these fiery explosions often show the tanks anti-missile systems in action.

(ON Camera): No tanks have gone out of commission?

IBRAHIM: Zero. Zero. We have tanks that we take to us some, maybe few days to fix them and they go back to the battlefield. But destroyed? Zero. Zero.

DIAMOND (voice-over): His troops, though, are paying a heavy price.

EITAN, ISRAELI MILITARY RESERVIST WOUNDED IN GAZA (through translation): The first RPG that was fired hit the tank, penetrated it, and I got hit by the shrapnel.

DIAMOND (voice-over): During a visit to wounded soldiers, General Ibrahim says his corps has suffered more casualties per capita than any other.

IBRAHIM (through translation): This is because we are on the front line. The Tank Corps is the Corps that is winning this war. This is our war.


DIAMOND (on camera): And General Ibrahim made very clear that that cost is likely to continue to rise as the Israeli military pursues the same strategy in the south. This time they will be facing an enemy that has prepared, that has learned from the way in which tanks have operated in northern Gaza. So, while the Israeli military pursues the same strategy in the south, General Ibrahim made clear that it is likely to be more complicated. Jake?

TAPPER: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much. A seminar earlier today at the United Nations revealed horrific stories of rape and sexual violence during Hamas' attack on October 7th. I want to warn viewers some of what I'm about to describe and the images you might see coming up are disturbing.


Survivors of the Hamas attack are sharing what they witnessed on October 7th, descriptions of women lying dead without clothes, elderly women without underwear, girls with their pelvis broken reportedly from rape, women bleeding from their private parts, horrible, nightmarish descriptions of Hamas's barbaric attacks against Israeli girls and women.

Today, the United Nations held a special session focusing on the sexual violence committed by Hamas.


GILAD ERDAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: On October 7th, Hamas perpetrated rape and sexual violence, exploiting these unforgivable crimes as weapons of war.

TAPPER (voice-over): Nearly two months after the October 7th attacks, the international community is finally beginning to investigate and recognize reports of brutal and inhumane rapes and sexual assaults by Hamas's terrorists, torturing and terrorizing the people of Israel.

For weeks, Israeli police have been collecting eyewitness testimony, video and forensic evidence detailing countless accounts of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by terrorists on Israeli women and children. And for weeks there has been very little outcry or condemnation from the international community, including from the United Nations.

ERDAN: Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women showed that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable. To these organizations, Israeli women are not women. The rape of Israelis is not an act of rape. Their silence has been deafening.

TAPPER (voice-over): But Monday, the United Nations held a gathering hosted by Israel, examining sexual and gender-based violence committed during Hamas's attack on Israel. Hamas has denied committing any rapes or sexual assaults.

SHERYL SANDBERG, FOUNDER OF NONPROFIT "LEAN IN": There are exactly no circumstances that justify rape. None. Rape is targeted. Rape is terror. Rape is torture.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): It doesn't just strike fear in the hearts of Israeli women, it strikes fear in the hearts of every woman and girl around the globe. Their bodies are not worth defending.

TAPPER (voice-over): The chief superintendent of the Israeli police read numerous accounts of the atrocities witnessed by survivors and first responders.

YAEL RICHERT, ISRAELI POLICE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT: Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on, without tops, without underwear. People cut in half, butchered, somewhere beheaded. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive breaks. Their legs were spread wide apart in a split.

A police officer testified; I couldn't drive because there was a baby cradle full of blood on the road. A baby that was outside this cradle and a naked woman lying next to the baby's body. She was naked, badly injured, bullets in her body.

A witness from the rape party (ph) testified, we heard girls that were pulled out from the shelters. Girls that shouted, they raped girls, burned them just after that. All the bodies outside were burned. A rescuer that arrived to a house on a kibbutz testified. Inside the shower there was a body of a cuffed woman. She was without her underwear. The body was in the corner and her hands were tied.

Another testimony from the rave party (ph) survivor, women without clothes. Some without the upper body clothes. Some without the lower body clothes, blood over the lower body. Everyone was full of blood. Butchered people. We found a woman's body dumped outside, without pants, without underpants, burned. Barely any hair left on her.

TAPPER (voice-over): And videos were played from a first responder, a paramedic and a survivor of the music festival, detailing firsthand what they experienced.

UNKNOWN (through translation): The two we had were bound by their hands. Their hands were behind their back. There was a body of a woman that had a blood stain on her genitalia.


UNKNOWN (through translation): There was a lot of gun wounds there. Shooting was targeted at sexual organs. We saw that a lot. They had a thing with sexual organs, both in women and in men. The women we received; they were civilians. We mainly saw either breast amputations or gunshots just to the breast, simply shooting from one side of the breast to the other. They were conscious when they got to us.

UNKNOWN (through translation): They laid a woman down and I understand that he's raping her. He's basically shifting her position and then they pass her on to another person. Was she alive, the girl they raped? Yes, she was alive. She had long hair. He was pulling her hair. She's not dressed and he cuts her breast. He throws it on the road, and they're playing with it.

TAPPER (voice-over): Another survivor of the attack describes seeing a horrific rape at the Nova Music Festival to "London Sunday Times." I saw this beautiful woman with the face of an angel, and eight or 10 of the fighters beating and raping her. She was screaming, stop it already. I'm going to die anyway from what you're doing. Just kill me. When they finished, they were laughing and the last one shot her in the head.

SANDBERG: Do we believe Hamas' spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden therefore it couldn't have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last minutes of their lives? Who are we going to believe?


TAPPER (on camera): The Israeli government says there are still 17 women and children who are either still being held by Hamas or are missing. They include three children, four-year-old Ariel Bibas, 10- month-old Kfir Bibas, 18-year-old Liri Albag, and four women not in the military, 26-year-old Noa Argamani, 19-year-old Karina Ariev, 19- year-old Agam Berger, 32-year-old Shiri Bibas, who's the mother of Ariel and Kfir Bibas.

Hamas claims that the Bibas family members, the mom and the two kids, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, although that has not been confirmed. The IDF says it's continuing to look into the claim -- 28- year-old Amit Buskila Esther, 38-year-old Carmel Gat, 19-year-old Daniella Gilboa, 23-year-old Romi Gonen, 27-year-old Inbar Haiman, 19- year-old Naama Levy, 30-year-old Doron Steinbrecher, 70-year-old Judi Weinstein-Haggai, a dual US-Israeli citizen, 28-year-old Arbel Yehud, 24-year-old Eden Yerushalmi, 28-year-old Eden Zacharia.

Hamas claims that some of the women still being held captive are, in fact, soldiers. It's a claim that Israel rejects. Now, you might have noticed that most of those women are in their teens or 20s. One of them you saw being kidnapped and she had a bloody stain soaking her pants between her legs. And if you are worried about what Hamas might be doing with these women in their teens and twenties, you are not alone.

Sources tell me that this is in fact a big fear among top Israeli officials. And we heard a bit more about this fear, and that's all it is as of right now, a fear, from the U.S. State Department earlier today.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Near the end of that pause last Wednesday, Thursday, when we were getting towards the end, Hamas was still holding on to women that should have been the next to be released. They refused to release them. They broke the deal, came up with excuses why. Ultimately, I don't think any of those excuses were credible, and I shouldn't get into any of them here.

But certainly, one of the reasons that a number of people believe they refused to release him is they didn't want people to hear what those women would have to say publicly. I won't say fact because I don't know it for a fact.


TAPPER: Now when pushed on this, State Department spokesman Miller went on to note and underline, Hamas has never given a credible reason as to why they reneged on the deal to release these women. And he underlined he does not know definitively as to why they have not released these women.

A senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will join us next.



TAPPER: We're back with our "World Lead" and the 17 women and children that Hamas continues to hold hostage, not including the men, not including the soldiers. I want to bring in Mark Regev, who is a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Mark, the U.S. State Department said today that its worried Hamas is not releasing these young women hostages possibly -- possibly because Hamas doesn't want them to speak about how they have been mistreated. Why do you think they haven't released them?

MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: So, I can only speculate and of course we have grave, grave concerns. You know, today the head of the children's hospital that is treating the children who've been released gave a briefing and she -- her report was very grave and troubling. And here we're talking about the small children. Yes, who she said looked like shadows of children when she first met them.

And they had all sorts of issues and both medical issues, physical conditions that they also had obviously psychological trauma. And we know who we're dealing with when we talk about Hamas. We're dealing with a brutal organization capable of the most horrific violence. The fact that they took a nine-month-old baby hostage, two-year-old's, four-year-old's, it's truly horrific.

So, unfortunately, we're very lucky that we managed to get over a hundred people out during the humanitarian pause. But those people who remain, we have to be very, very concerned about their fate and have no illusions about who's this enemy that we're dealing with, Hamas. [17:20:05]

TAPPER: Mark, what did you make of the comments by the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, that ultimately the campaign has been so brutal by the IDF that you may be strategically losing the larger battle by chasing the Palestinian people into the arms of Hamas.

REGEV: So, we were having a close dialogue with the Americans. They are our best friend and we take seriously everything that they say, and we are very attentive. But I think ultimately when this war is over, Hamas's path of extremism and radicalism and terror, horrific terror, as we've just discussed, will be discredited because the people of Gaza, when they are finally free of this autocratic regime, they'll be able to speak out and though they might not be in love with Israel as all sorts of reasons for historic animosity, they will be about this pent-up anger against Hamas for bringing this crisis.

I mean, they know the people of Gaza know who started this war. They know why Israel is responding. They know that Hamas refused to leave every small hostage and therefore the humanitarian pause was not extended. The people of Gaza know this better than anyone else. And when this is over, I'm sure you'll see an explosion of pent-up rage by the people of Gaza against Hamas for everything that they have brought upon Gazans.

TAPPER: That might be wishful thinking, Mark. There are a lot of innocent people being killed by bombs that Israel is raining down upon Gaza. And even if, as I know, the IDF believes that you have -- that Israel has killed 5,000 members of Hamas, that's thousands of innocent people, including women and children, babies, that Israel has killed. And even if it's an accident, even its collateral damage, it's a lot of innocent lives that have been killed by Israel.

REGEV: So, you are correct that we don't want to see a single innocent civilian caught up in the crossfire between the IDF and the Hamas terrorists. We're making a maximum effort. I mean, we've been leafleting and urging people to leave areas of combat from day one. And the truth is most Gazans did (inaudible) and did exit areas of combat and wisely so.

We don't want to see a single Gazan civilian caught up in the crossfire. But we're working against a brutal enemy who deliberately wants to use Gaza civilians as a human shield to protect its war machine. And it makes our job just so much more difficult. But I think, and I've seen the numbers and I can't share with you yet, but when this is over, we can have a serious discussion when the fog of war is behind us.

But I am convinced though every single civilian death and especially children is a tragedy, and we don't want to see it. In comparative numbers, if you compare Israel to perfection, of course we'll fall short. But if you compare Israel to other Western armies who've been fighting terrorists in built up urban areas, I think Israel will not come out badly in the comparison on the contrary. I think it will be seen that the IDF really has done everything that is humanly possible to try to safeguard innocent civilians.

TAPPER: It's very hard to believe that, especially on a day when one of our producers lost nine members of his family, nine members of his family who were not members of Hamas, not members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, not members of any group, just nine people just trying to live their lives.

REGEV: First of all, I extend my sorrow to him and my sympathies. But if I saw your report correctly, and please correct me if I say something wrong, that happened in northern Gaza, in Gaza city, where a month ago we already asked all the civilians to leave. And most of them did. If there was like 1,200,000 people there, there was only a couple of tens of thousands left.

And one has to ask, yes? They had an ample opportunity to leave. I don't know what happened, I don't have the specific circumstances. I know there's deadly combat going on now in the north, still between these IDF and Hamas terrorists, yes? And we don't want to see anyone caught up in the crossfire, but why didn't they heed the advice and leave the area?

TAPPER: No, you can't blame -- you can't blame them. There's not fighting --

REGEV: I don't blame them.

TAPPER: But you can't -- there's fighting in the south now. I mean, I've been asking this since October 7th, where are these people supposed to go?

REGEV: So, in the beginning it was easier because the fighting was concentrated in the north and we just asked people to move south and that was relatively simple, yes? So not saying totally simple, but relatively simple, just go south of the river. But now we're being more specific because it is more complicated in the south.


We've actually designated areas in the south which are safer areas, which are -- especially there's a number of them. We've shared the maps with the with the United States. It's been shared also with the U.N. and the other humanitarian organizations. Listen, we have to hit Hamas in Khan Yunis. They've got a strong military infrastructure there. They've got a network of tunnels. If we want to destroy Hamas' military machine and we must, we have to act in the south as well.

Senior Hamas commanders are there under the ground in Khan Yunis. We can't not go there. But in going there and to defeat Hamas, we're also going to make a major effort once again try to safeguard civilian lives and that's why we're urging people there now to move to the new areas that we've specified.

And as the operation, ground operation starts, I can assure you that the escape routes, the humanitarian corridors that will allow civilians to get out of harm's way will still be there.

TAPPER: Mark Regev, thank you so much.

REGEV: Thank you for having me, sir.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the slew of new warnings today about Donald Trump if he were to win a second term.



TAPPER: A stark warning in our 2024 Lead, a special issue of "The Atlantic" magazine today lays out a detailed compelling case about specifically, what can happen if Donald Trump returns to the Oval Office. Two dozen essays by "Atlantic" writers outline how the threats to democracy will be bigger than ever before potentially changing America forever.

Some of those "Atlantic" editors and contributors join us now. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor, let me start with you. These essays cover how Trump could carry out a revenge or retribution presidency, what might happen to NATO, how women could be targets, how Trump will get away with it all this time and an Editor's Note you write, the country survived the first Trump term, though not without sustaining serious damage. A second term if there is one, will be much worse. Tell me about why you decided to publish such a sprawling account of what might happen, the impetus of this issue.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE ATLANTIC: I think that people have normalized the possibility of Trump coming back to office. We get used to anything. It's one of our, to the credit of human beings, we can get used to anything. And I think we're too accustomed to the idea that he's coming back. And I don't think people understand that the Trump who comes back is going to be very different than the Trump we had the first time. And the Trump we had the first time is culminating in January 6th was a pretty troubling phenomenon.

But I think this time, he is coming bent on revenge. David Frum has a very excellent essay about that. He's coming with the idea of revenge. He knows how government works. He knows how he was rewarded the last time. He's not going to be hiring the so called grownups to run the cabinet.

You remember Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, all these establishment figures who were there to --

TAPPER: Bill Barr.

GOLDBERG: -- Bill Bar to keep him in check. No more people keeping him in check, right? And so, you know, it wouldn't be surprising, and Anne's an expert on this, it wouldn't be surprising to find him pulling out of NATO in the first day. TAPPER: We'll let's talk about that. So Anne, your essay focuses on NATO, which is the European treaty, existing since World War II, basically to be a check on what was in the Soviet Union. Now Russia as Trump ones notably said, quote, I don't give a shit about NATO, that's my second shit this, oh, that's third. But every time I'm quoting somebody, I think Trump, every time I'm quoting Trump.

You argue that even if Trump is prevented from leaving NATO, it might not matter you write, quote, when I asked several people with deep links to NATO to imagine what would happen to Europe, to Ukraine, and even to Taiwan and South Korea, if Trump declared his refusal to observe Article 5, which is an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all, all of them agreed that faith and collective defense could evaporate quickly. So explain what that looks like.

ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: So what people, most people don't realize is NATO isn't just a treaty, it's a kind of psychology. So it's not that Russia is afraid to attack Poland, because, you know, we wrote something down in a treaty and somebody signed it and ratified it. It's because he genuinely believes that if he attacks Poland or he attacks Germany or he attacks Britain, that the United States will come in, and all the NATO countries will come together and fight.

And once we have a president who makes it clear that he won't do that, under any circumstances, even if there's pushback, even if the military starts shouting, even if the Senate tries to prevent him, that psychological barrier is down. And then really, you know, at any moment when Putin says, right, all these arms are coming into Ukraine via Poland or via Romania, why don't I hit the train stations are coming in on.

And without the assurance that the United States will do something about it, he's therefore much more likely to do it. And of course, once we lose the assurance of collective defense in one part of the world, and why would we have it in another part of the world if you can't trust America to help its NATO allies, which are its oldest allies, then why do you think America would help Taiwan or South Korea.

TAPPER: And remind our viewers that Article 5 has only been invoked once and that was when?

APPLEBAUM: It was to help the United States after 9/11.

GOLDBERG: Could I add one quick point about this to show the importance of the United States to this security infrastructure? The American military is bigger than the combined militaries of Europe. So in other words, Putin knows that without the U.S., if the U.S. withdraws from the scene, he could have his way in a way that he wouldn't have otherwise.

TAPPER: McKay Coppins your essay titled, loyalists, lapdogs and cronies in a second Trump term, there would be no adults in the room. It's a point that Jeff was just talking about. It's also a point that John Karl made earlier in the show about how there will be no Cipollones, no Bill Barrs. Trump believes that Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, his two attorneys general, betrayed him even though they were really just doing their jobs and they were frankly rather sycophantic as it were on many these other issues. What would happen to the Justice Department under a second Trump presidency?


MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, Trump has already made clear that he wants to use the Justice Department to visit revenge on Joe Biden for one other political enemies. He also wants to use it to protect himself, right? He's obviously currently in the process of going through many, you know, lawsuits.

What I've heard repeatedly talking to people in Trump's orbit is that he will prioritize in all positions, but especially attorney general obedience over everything else. He wants an attorney general who will do exactly what he says when he says it and not question his orders. So to that end, who -- some of the names that have been floated Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Pam Bondi in Florida.

These are people that Donald Trump believes will do exactly what he tells them to do. And really, that is the ethos that I think he hopes to, you know, reign over all of his government. He wants people both at the high profile levels, and at the lower level, the rank and file level of government bureaucrats, people who he can bend to his will, because he feels that, you know, he was burned by the deep state in his first term. And he doesn't want to repeat that mistake.

TAPPER: And so for instance, he just declared that he would do everything he could against MSNBC the other day, because he doesn't like their coverage, because they're a progressive channel. What might that look like?

COPPINS: So he could use the Justice Department to, you know, tried to, well, there are a number of mechanisms, right? He's talked about trying to bring the FCC into the White House and use that to decide which networks he can punish or shut down, revoke their license. MSNBC is not a, you know, it's a cable network.

TAPPER: Right. So it's not governed by the FCC.

COPPINS: Right. But he could try to use the Justice Department to find innovative new ways to crack down on them legally. You know, the question -- the attorney general is one thing, the question is, what about the rank and file loyals -- lawyers at the Justice Department who, for example, have to file subpoenas or do the actual work to put these lawsuits together?

Part of the work that's being done is that he wants to essentially politicize up to 50,000 federal workers with this plan that he has put in place through an executive order that would make it so that everyone at the Justice Department is on board with his agenda and if they're not they can be fired at will.

TAPPER: Absolutely chilling, absolutely chilling. Everyone stay with me we're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with the team from the Atlantic in one second.



TAPPER: And we're back with the 2024 Lead, and the team from "The Atlantic," they're out with a special issue today laying out what could happen if Donald Trump wins the 2024 election. And Jeffrey you also wanted to talk about a piece that Tom Nichols said, he have 24 different essays about all the different things that might change for the worse should Donald Trump elected to a second term. Tom Nichols has one about the military, how that could be affected. The military is obviously supposed to be removed from politics.

GOLDBERG: Right. And remember that Donald Trump has directly threatened to prosecute the former -- now former chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, who he thinks subverted Trump. I mean, what Mark Milley did was stand up in defense of the Constitution.

And so the worry, obviously, is there's an extremely stringent process for picking generals, right? Very, very a political process. It's always about competence. It's always about sterling character and experience. And there's a real worry that Trump will reach down into the pool of colonels, let's say, which is a much bigger pool and pick people again, who are obedient to him.

The thing that Trump never understood about his, quote unquote, generals, so he used to say my generals, they're not his generals. They're the Constitution's generals. The generals are there to defend the Constitution. They report to the President, but they are mandated by law to resist illegal orders. And so the worry in the next Trump administration, if there is one is that, he will pick people again, as he might do in the Justice Department, pick people to be generals who are loyal to him and not to the Constitution. And that is a serious anxiety that people should have.

TAPPER: Liz Cheney this morning on the Today Show, McKay said that it's very possible that if Trump actually is returned to the White House, this might be the last presidential election of in our lifetimes, because he could subvert the Constitution, subvert democracy, that he is just president until his death. Which sounds silly, but if you know history, there is democratic backsliding.

Go -- people out there, go ahead and Google democratic backsliding, it's a term. There are countries that have thriving democracy, and then they don't anymore.

COPPINS: And the way it happens is it's slow at first and then all at once, right? This is what you hear all the time. I mean, look, a lot of the things that we talk about could have -- that might happen in a second Trump term might sound paranoid are alarmist, right? But the reality is, you have to look at the record of the man who is seeking the presidency. And he has shown time and time again, that he doesn't acknowledge democratic guardrails. He doesn't care about democratic institutions. He cares about himself and his own preservation of power.

And so what the basement of that, what the floor of that is, is open for debate. But I think that none of us are going to err in being too cautious about speculating about what happens. I think that it's all rooted in his own record and what he's saying out loud as a presidential candidate.

TAPPER: After January 6th, it's really hard to argue anybody's paranoid.

APPLEBAUM: No, I don't think anybody can now be paranoid. And it's also important remember that after January the 6th, the rest of the world has been watching what's going on in the United States. And some of what we're seeing already whether it's the Russian invasion of Ukraine or whether it's the breakdown of order in the Middle East, some of that is happening because people no longer quite trust United States, so some of these processes have in fact, already begun.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff, Anne, McKay, thanks one and all for being here. I wish you could -- I could say that it's an uplifting issue. It's not. But it is a must read "The Atlantic" magazine out today. Thanks so much.


Today marks 250-long days in American journal Evan Gershkovich, which has been locked up behind bars unjustly in Russia. His parents will join me next.


TAPPER: We are back with our World Lead, 250 days ago today American journalist Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia. His crime practicing journalism on March 29th, Russia's intelligence service, the FSB, detained him on trumped up espionage charges which he his employer, the Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny and for which the Russians have provided zero evidence.

Twenty days later a Moscow court denied him bail in a closed door hearing and sent him to the notorious Lefortovo Prison where Evan has been since 55 days. After he was detained, his pretrial detention was extended. On day 85, the court upheld the extension on day 148, 148 another extension just last week. Day 244, it was extended a third time until January 30th. If convicted, Evan faces 20 years in prison.


And Evan's mother, Ella Milman, and his father, Mikhail Gershkovich, join us now. Ella, do you have any hope today, this 250th day of your son's unfair detention?

ELLA MILMAN, EVAN GERSHKOVICH'S MOTHER: Well, we are still -- we embrace the American trait of optimism. And I -- we're still very, very hopeful that the promise that President Biden gave us, that rings in my ears every single day, that he is going to do whatever it takes, and that he understands our pain as a parent, that will bring Evan home and the U.S. government will act and do whatever it takes to bring Evan home after 250 days, over eight months. That's what we are hopeful for.

TAPPER: Yes, I went through this with the Reed family, with Trevor Reed. And Trevor is home so it can happen. Mikhail, what has the U.S. government, what has the Biden administration shared with you lately about the effort to get Evan home?

MIKHAIL GERSHKOVICH, EVAN GERSHKOVICH'S FATHER: Unfortunately, we know as much as public at large, we don't have -- we're not privy to what the U.S. government is doing behind the scenes. But we appreciate that they're working very hard, but Evan has missed his birthday celebration. We kept the table for him, cheer for him for Thanksgiving. And he's going to miss Christmas and holiday season.

TAPPER: Ella, "The Wall Street Journal" story today said Evan got 300 pages of letters all translated into Russian for his 32nd birthday in October. His friends even made a website, mailing lists, social media accounts to keep people updated. How has this outpouring of support helped Evan in this horrible situation, if at all?

MILMAN: Well, he is in Moscow at the Lefortovo Prison, which is a tough one. It's designed to isolate you, to break you down. And the letters that he receives gives him a lifeline to keep your spirits up. He needs to fight every single day, as he puts it in his letter to me that it's like swimming against the stream every single day. He is fighting to keep his spirits up, his mental strength, his physical strength. He exercises. He walks outside of his cell. It's six steps, six steps, six steps and six steps.


MILMAN: And it's tough. And we are urging the United States government to bring Evan home after 250 days and over eight months.

TAPPER: Mikhail, we've heard Evan's friends and colleagues talk about his wit, his humor, his empathy. What do you miss most about him?

GERSHKOVICH: All of that and a lot more. I miss my son.

TAPPER: Yes. I can't imagine. Ella, what's the best pep -- what best way for people who don't know Evan personally, what's the best way for them to support him?

MILMAN: To support him is writing letters of keep this positive attitude. He don't talk to him about in past sense. Evan is thinking about his future. We are waiting for him. And we expect him to come back and everyday is wait a day too long. And we want him to come back.

TAPPER: Mikhail, what do you want the world to know about Evan?

GERSHKOVICH: President Biden called him absolutely courageous. He is a journalist. He went to Russia to report, to let the world know what's going on. It was important work. And he's a young man. He's a journalist. And I want him home.

TAPPER: We all want them home. We all want them home. And he needs to come home now. Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, thank you so much. We will keep --

MILMAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We're going to stay on top of this story until he's home.

MILMAN: Thank you so much.


TAPPER: And we'll be right back.



TAPPER: Expelled Republican Congressman George Santos appears to already have a new line of work and if for some reason you really miss hearing his voice, you can just shell out 200 clams and you can get your very own personalized video message from the so called former congressional icon that's literally what Santos is biography says on Cameo, the website where you can pay celebrities to send you messages.

It's unclear how many of these he's making but for those willing to pay for it, you can get your hands on Santos, given a pep talk. And we know at least one person who bought one. Well, embattled Democratic Senator of New Jersey Bob Menendez got one. Thanks to his colleague, Democratic senator of Pennsylvania John Fetterman, exactly who I would want advice from, it was kind of a needling as it were. This now, Senator John Fetterman will be on Newsnight with Abby Phillip tonight at 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show once you get your podcasts.

Our coverage now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.