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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump In Court Today As GOP Rivals Campaign In New Hampshire And Iowa; Haley, DeSantis, Christie, Ramaswamy Spar During Debate; Israeli Military Says IDF Attack Killed Two Senior Hamas Members; U.N. Secretary-General Invokes Article 99 Over Gaza Crisis; The Violent Messages That Could Undermine Democracy; 67-Year-Old Gunman Was Career College Professor; Suspect Arrested After Shots Fired Near Albany Synagogue; Trump In Court Today As GOP Rivals Campaign In New Hampshire And Iowa. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 07, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Donald Trump didn't need to be at his civil case today, so, why did he show up?

THE LEAD starts right now.

If the microphone was on, the former president found it, repeatedly claiming his civil fraud cases in the way of his 2024 campaign.

Plus, Liz Cheney is here to talk about not just Trump, not just Kevin McCarthy, but House Speaker Mike Johnson and her fears for what the U.S. might look like in 2025.

Plus, the one thing she agrees, with Donald Trump about. It has to do with his assessment of Kevin McCarthy. Meow.

And a shocking new investigation, the threats to public officials, lawmakers, and election workers. Who is making them? And why?


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

We start this hour with former President Donald Trump attending his New York civil fraud trial today while his rivals are out on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is just a witch hunt. I should be right now in Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina. I shouldn't be sitting in a courthouse, and I don't have to sit here.


TAPPER: Yeah, he does not actually have to be there. See, for Trump, this is a campaign strategy. It's not even supposed to testify for the second time in his trial until Monday. Trump was just a spectator in court today. He was taking advantage of the presence of the cameras where he can make unchallenged accusations about how this is all a political witch hunt as he runs for president again.

Trump also believes having this attention does more for his campaign does and does attending any debate. Hence why he skipped the fourth such gathering last night at a debate where he would have had to share the spotlight, where he might have been challenged, where he might have been criticized, where he might have had to defend his record, where he might have had to string together sentences and interact with other human beings for an entire hour. Heck, he would've had to be standing in one place for an entire hour.

Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell, outside of the courthouse in Manhattan.

Kara, so what actually happened in court today at this event Trump did not have to attend, and yet was complaining about having to attend. And what can we expect when Trump takes the stand on Monday?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. So, this was Trump's ninth time attending his civil fraud trial, but to the first time he has shown up during the defense case. And today, he was here for the testimony of their final expert witness, Eli Bartov, a professor of accounting at New York University. And Bartov was unequivocal in his testimony, he said that the Trump financial statements were not material and stating, he said there is no evidence of accounting fraud, and asked about the attorney general's case. He said the case has absolutely no merit.

He said that there were some mistakes on the case, you remember, Trump's triplex apartment at Trump Tower was stated three times larger in terms of square feet and value than it actually was. He said that that was a mistake, not fraud and repeatedly saying over the hours that he's been on the stand today that there was no fraud, and that the attorney general's allegations as he put, it are absurd.

Now, the judge in this case has already found that these financial statements have been inflated, and that Trump has committed repeated and persistent fraud by issuing these financial statements to banks, but part of Trump's legal strategy as his lawyers have made clear is that they are laying the grounds for an appeal in this case, so that was the importance of this witnesses testimony.

Now, outside of court, as you said, Trump was praising this witness, and also making a lot of other statements inside. His demeanor was very straightforward. Matter of fact, he appeared to be listening to the witnesses testimony, one time walking back into a court from the break, he'd stop to talk to the sketch artist to look at the sketches that they were making, and other times he called over one of the security detail for his legal team, shaking the man's hand.

So he definitely had a more relaxed demeanor than we've seen in other times, and as you say Trump will be back on the stand on Monday, the last time he testified, his lawyer had told Trump's attorney that he had to control his client. This time, around Trump will have a lot more leeway in what he says. We expect that testimony to go all day -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

Trump's appearance in New York today comes after his Republican rivals did have the spotlight last night in Alabama.


Take a listen.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is the fourth debate, the fourth debate that you would be voted in the first 20 minutes as the most obnoxious blowhard in America. So, shut for a little while.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Chris, your version of foreign policy experience was closing a bridge from New Jersey to New York. Do everybody a favor, just walk yourself off that stage, and enjoy a nice meal, and get the hell out of this place.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDFATE: I have a record of standing up and do what's right and here's the thing --

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a record of lying.


TAPPER: Wow, let's bring in our panel.

So, Jamie Gangel, let me start with you.

Listen to Chris Christie calling out his rivals for refusing to go after Trump in any real way.


CHRISTIE: The fifth guy, who doesn't have the guts to show up and stand here, he is the one who as you just put is way ahead in the polls. And yet, I've got these three guys who are all seemingly to compete with you know, Voldemort, he who shall not be named.


TAPPER: Christie also went after Governor DeSantis for refusing to say whether Trump is mentally unfit for office.

Jamie, you know, we're about 39 days away from the Iowa caucuses. Do callouts from Trump's political opponents even matter at this point? Or Trump's legal troubles, the only real threat he has?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think right now from everything we've seen, it's the legal troubles. Look, Chris Christie is the only one calling him out. And with all due respect to Chris Christie, he is not doing very well in the polls. You will remember well that Jared Kushner once said that Donald Trump had hijacked the Republican Party. Ron DeSantis knows that. Nikki Haley knows that. I don't know what Vivek knows, but it's -- this is Donald Trump's party.

And I'll add one more thing about why certainly, look, Florida, DeSantis and Trump were both from Florida, they can't be a president- vice presidential team. But that could be a possibility for Nikki Haley. So I don't think she's going to go after him.

TAPPER: And, yet I think there is no chance that he would ever pick her. Do you think?


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of talk not in Trump's orbit, and not in his inner circle that she could be vice president, but he is very clear to people around him that he believes that it was disloyal for her to run.

TAPPER: Right.

HOLMES: It's not like the way that she handled one coming out against him, and then essentially trying to meet with him which they turned down a meeting, then saying she would never run for president, now running for president. It would be very unlikely.

TAPPER: Don't you think if he were to win, it would be the 100 percent loyal ride or die lunatics that would be in -- lunatics is, obviously, you don't agree with lunatics. Let me remove lunatics --


TAPPER: It would be like Ken Paxton. It would be Doug Boyd (ph). It would be Kash Patel. It would be Stephen Miller. People who you could not ever question their loyalty to Donald Trump.

HOLMES: In terms of the vice president?

TAPPER: In terms of any position in his cabinet.

HOLMES: Yes, he's going to --


TAPPER: All 50,000 people in the --

HOLMES: The people who believe --


HOLMES: It's not just loyalty that's going to be a huge component of it.


HOLMES: Obviously, it's not going to be people who are actively speaking out against him, or even talking about January 6th likely. TAPPER: I'm talking about no one has ever said one word against him.

HOLMES: It will be people who came out early to endorse him.

TAPPER: Yes, exactly.

HOLMES: It will be people who had never loved his side, or people who quickly came back after January 6th, maybe they took a second. That's who is going to be supporting himself with. But when it comes to vice president, they're going to be looking at all of that as well.

TAPPER: So, why -- who are these people even, and I'm not talking about Chris Christie now, but the other three like what are they even doing? If you're not willing to really take on Donald Trump, and really make a case, why you over him? And not just because, you know, Donald Trump was great but now it's time for someone else. I mean, a really aggressive case as if you're actually running for the most important office in the land. Why even bother?

DOUG HEYE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Nikki Haley said, I like the attention. It turns out they all like the attention. That's why they are there. Some of the may have some other ulterior motives for what that attention gets them, but they like the attention.

TAPPER: I kind of buy that. Maybe for Vivek, but Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, and Ron DeSantis, all three of them actually think they would be good presidents, and you can make an argument for all three of them.

HEYE: So, one, they're running on hope. They hope something happens to Donald, Trump and that therefore they could then become the nominee, otherwise it's about cable TV contracts, book contracts, and things like that. But what is interesting to me is the sound you played of Donald Trump earlier tells me how Republicans can and should have been going after Donald Trump earlier, when he says I should be in Iowa and South Carolina, in New Hampshire.

If you're Nikki Haley, make that case that Donald Trump is not fully focused on beating Joe Biden. If you're Ron DeSantis, say that he might not be able to be the nominee we want him to be, because he's distracted by all of these legal issues.

TAPPER: But he doesn't even have to be in court today. That's the whole joke.

HEYE: Right.

TAPPER: I'm in court today, and I should be in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.


He doesn't have to be in court today. He could be in Iowa, New Hampshire.

HEYE: But there are days that he can, and you can make that or that he has to be in court, and you can make that case.

TAPPER: Not today, not today.

HEYE: Sure, but on Monday, you can make that case going forward that as once these trials really heat up, when we come in the spring, Donald Trump will be too distracted to take on Joe Biden, with a laser focus. And that Nikki Haley can and Ron DeSantis can.

They're not even making that point.


So CNN's going to host two debates. We just announced January 10th, and January 21st. Donald Trump invited obviously, he's the front runner.

Any chance he would come do you think?

HOLMES: Well, I never say never to anything related to Donald Trump because anything could happen. But they have been very happy with their decision to not participate in the debates. I think there was a moment right after -- right on the first debate that they weren't sure it was the right play, that they were kind of concern, that some advisers that they might be missing an opportunity.

But the fact that his poll numbers have continued to go up, the fact that is popularity remains, and the fact that really they feel that these debates have become kind of a sideshow, it seems unlikely that he would participated in a debate.

TAPPER: Let me ask you this.


TAPPER: What if the debates had become moments of other candidates criticizing Donald Trump instead of Vivek Ramaswamy criticizing Nikki Haley and Nikki Haley's daughter, and the four of them -- going after each other, what if they actually spent a lot of time trying to convince voters why their front runner was the wrong guy for the job?

GANGEL: I would just say that the question is, what would the polls? Would have been reflected in the polls?

TAPPER: I don't know.

GANGEL: I'm going to do something terrible. I'm going to say he's never going to show up for any of these debates because he is so far ahead, he does not want to raise their stature.

HOLMES: But that's certainly there --

GANGEL: Right.

HOLMES: That's certainly their posture right now.

TAPPER: Right. GANGEL: Just, he is looking at the numbers, he thinks he has this, he's not going.

TAPPER: But that's not the only reason I don't think.

GANGEL: You don't?

TAPPER: No, I think he's in a bubble, and I think he's kind of campaigning from his basement in a way. I mean, we talked about this before. He is only in the secure places. He speaks with Sean Hannity, who gives them a very friendly audience, and a very friendly venue, and he does not have the most active schedule, he really outworked Hillary Clinton and -- in 2016, and even Joe Biden in 2020. But he's not doing that now.

HOLMES: That is something they have said by the way, when I've talked to his advisors about why they're not participating, yes, they cite the commanding lead in the polls, but they also say that these debates would turn into everyone just attacking him the entire time, and why does he need to be onstage to experience that if he's already leading in the polls? That's their argument.

TAPPER: No, but it's not just that. I'm saying like he's -- it's not like he's running for president. He's golfing, he's relaxing, he's enjoying -- he's enjoying his life. He does some rallies here. How many events does he do a week?

HOLMES: Next week he has three, and then one court appearance, that's four.

HEYE: That's a campaign event.

HOLMES: Yes, it is a campaign event. Look, what he did last time? I mean, he took complete advantage of it. And to your point, he actually doesn't have to appear on Monday. He's been called by some attorneys. He could say he doesn't do that.

TAPPER: But three campaign events in a week is not a rigorous campaign schedule.


GANGEL: But it's working for him.

TAPPER: I'm not saying it's not.


TAPPER: But I'm just saying -- yes, of course, it's working for him, but I'm also saying he's also taking it easy.


TAPPER: It worked for Biden -- I'm saying like the basement strategy work for Biden, too, in 2020. HEYE: He's eight years older than when he ran the first time, when he

did run an active campaign. You're not going to get a 99-county Iowa strategy for him.

TAPPER: Sure. Ron DeSantis, that's my point. Ron DeSantis visited 99 counties, Donald Trump doesn't need to, I also don't know -- I don't know that he could.

HOLMES: I don't know that we -- I'm not going to weigh in on what he could or could not, do --

TAPPER: I just said I don't know that he could.

HOLMES: I certainly will say that --

TAPPER: I didn't say he couldn't.

HOLMES: -- that he hasn't.

TAPPER: I just said I don't know that he couldn't. It's yet to be proven. I saw Ron DeSantis do it. He visited 99 counties. I don't know that Trump could.

Thank you so much.

The next big events on the 2024 race will be two CNN town halls. Next Tuesday, I'll moderate a conversation with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and facilitate his conversation with Iowa voters. Then on Wednesday, CNN's Abby Philip will get to the rare treat of doing the same with Vivek Ramaswamy. Look for both at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN. Plus, also, streaming on CNN Max,, CNN mobile apps.

Today marks two months since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. The Egyptian foreign minister will be here, and we'll ask him about his country's role in this conflict, just crossed its border, and also what is to come.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Today marks exactly two months since Israel launched its war to destroy Hamas after the terrorist group's horrific attack on Israel. Israel Defense Forces released a new photo showing 11 top ranking leaders of Hamas, IDF says, that the five-circled in red there have been killed. The IDF also says it has surrounded the home of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, though IDF officials are not certain whether or not he's inside.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has this report for us two months into the war.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This video of Hamas fighting against Israeli troops, which was released by the militant group, shows not only how intense the battles are, but is a propaganda message from Hamas that they are still fiercely resisting two months into this war. The Israel stated goal of eradicating Hamas has driven Israeli troops straight into Khan Younis where they believe the most senior Hamas leaders may be there, including Hamas' top official in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, who remains on the battlefield.

Mohammed Deif, the shadowy head of Hamas's military wing, is also believed to still be alive. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims Israeli forces surrounded Sinwar's Khan Younis home, though the IDF admits they believe he's hiding out underground. Two months after Hamas carried out the deadliest attack in Israel's history, the response has led to a colossal humanitarian catastrophe.


Experts and officials say Hamas has been degraded, but Israel still has a long way to go to achieve his goals.

OFER SHELAH, FORMER MEMBER OF ISRAELI PARLIAMENT: What the IDF has been tasked with is disabling Hamas as a military threat to Israeli people by killing terrorists, by destroying infrastructure, and by eventually getting to the leadership of Hamas.

MARQUARDT: That effort is very much underway. The IDF released this photo of leaders of Hamas's northern Gaza Brigade, circling five commanders that the IDF says it killed in a tunnel. CNN reached out to Hamas for comment. Israel claims to have killed other senior and mid- level commanders as well as several thousand rank-and-file militants, which is just a fraction of what the IDF estimates is 30,000 fighters.

LT. GEN. MARK SCHWARTZ (RET.), FORMER U.S. SECURITY COORDINATOR FOR ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: I think there have been some successes. My point is there is going to be a lot more ground combat to come. I think that you see over the coming weeks more precision targeting going after Hamas leaders as they, you know, show themselves.

MARQUARDT: In the next month or so, U.S. officials say Israel is expected to lower the intensity of its operations, which have killed thousands of civilians, so many of them children and displaced more than 80 percent of Gaza's population. Israel hears the international pressure and global calls for a cease-fire, but insists there is still much more of Hamas to root out before the diplomacy starts.

SHELAH: We are getting to a tipping point where the major question will no longer be how many people were killed. It will be what happens the Gaza? So that situation there becomes different and nothing like Hamas can grow again to be a threat against Israel.

MARQUARDT: And, Jake, amid this intense fighting, the death toll in the IDF side is, of course, going up as well. Almost 90 IDF soldiers have been killed so far.

And one of the soldiers killed today was the son of a well-known senior minister who serves in Israel's war cabinet. The son, the soldier is Gal Eisenkot. He was 25 years old, the son of Gadi Eisenkot, who served as Israel's top military general for three years -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.

Let's bring in the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. He's a foreign minister.

Thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.

So, yesterday, for the first time in his tenure, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked Article 99, which as you know asked the U.N. Security Council to declare a cease-fire in Gaza.

He posted on Twitter now known as X, quote: The call for a cease-fire -- I'm sorry, the Israeli foreign minister responded by calling Guterres a danger to world peace, and he posted on X, quote, the call for a ceasefire in Gaza constitutes support of the Hamas terrorist organization and an endorsement of the murder of the elderly, the abduction of babies and the rape of women. Anyone who supports world peace must support the liberation of Gaza from Hamas.

What's your response?

SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, definitely, the secretary-general is invoking Article 99 in terms of his responsibility to apprise the Security Council of any threat to international peace and security. All reports from the U.N. agencies is that there is a catastrophe, a calamity that is going to befall the humanitarian catastrophe, in terms of the conditions currently prevalent in Gaza.

The civilians are suffering tremendously from lack of food, water, shelter and medical attention. Sanitation and healthcare is absolutely disastrous. So, this is an issue that has to be addressed. It's a moral perspective that the secretary general must bestow upon the Security Council and the Security Council must undertake its responsibilities.

TAPPER: Egypt I know has played a critical role helping with vital aid to enter, as well as letting some people flee Gaza through Rafah, the only border crossing not controlled by Israel.

Today, Egyptian authorities published a list that includes 63 U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals who were finally allowed to exit Gaza. Why has it taken so long to get people out of Gaza?

SHOUKRY: Well, this is all contingent on the agreements that we are able to make. The --

TAPPER: With Hamas?

SHOUKRY: With Hamas, with Israel, and with the assistance of Ambassador David Satterfield. So, it is totally up to Israelis to define and to provide a list of those who can come out. When they do, we facilitate their repatriation.

So, this is all to maintain the Rafah crossing and not affect the flow of humanitarian assistance. We conform to the arrangements that have been agreed to with the help of Ambassador Satterfield.

TAPPER: I know Egypt doesn't want Gazans to leave Gaza and permanently relocate to Egypt.


I know you don't want that. But there are those who think that Egypt could let more people out into the Sinai to temporarily relocate until Israel is done with his military campaign and let them back in. If Israel and the United States will guarantee that they could go back when military operations are over, why not let them escape?

SHOUKRY: Well, this would constitute a violation to international humanitarian law. Any form of displacement, whether internal or external is a violation. And we will not become basically a party to such a violation. The Palestinians themselves don't want to leave and thereby should not be forcibly displaced. The liquidation of the Palestinians caused by removing them from the territory is unacceptable and as I said, is a violation of international humanitarian law.

TAPPER: So, ever since Hamas took control of Gaza, the elections, of course, in 2006, Egypt has also helped enforce a blockade of Gaza because Hamas, of course, is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, which President Sisi is no fan of, I think it's fair to say.

Do you think Gaza would be better off, the Palestinian people would be better off governed by a different group than Hamas?

SHOUKRY: Well, to begin with, I don't think that it's accurate to say that Egypt participated in the secluding Gaza. The Rafah crossing has constantly been open to bring people out, for medical attention, for education (ph) --

TAPPER: But you haven't participated in any blockade at all?

SHOUKRY: Now, we haven't, we haven't participated in any blockade. The Palestinians have been coming to seek education in Egypt, medical care in Egypt.

TAPPER: You haven't been kept any supplies from going in into Gaza at all?

SHOUKRY: Rafah originally is a crossing for people. It's not a crossing for commodities. It is the Israeli crossings that are responsible for that and it is the obligation of the occupying power, which is Israel, to provide the needs of the Palestinian people.

So, Rafah has constantly been open, has never been closed, continues to have the support of the Palestinian people. And at no time was it close. TAPPER: Well, in any case, what do you -- do you think the

Palestinian people would be better off with a group other than Hamas given how the Sisi government feels about the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood? Do you think they will be better off with a group -- a different group, the group that was more willing to engage in a peaceful coexistence with its neighbors the way that Egypt does than Hamas?

SHOUKRY: Well, I think this is something for the Palestinian people to decide. And we have always recognized the Palestinian Authority as the competent proper governing authority of both the West Bank and Gaza. Its removal from Gaza was a violent removal. Until now it has been unable to return.

So I think that it is necessary for the Palestinian people to demonstrate who they will accept as governance of the strip.

TAPPER: The last question, and it can be quick because I know you don't have details to get into, but when the fighting is over, and hopefully that will be soon, will Egypt be willing to play a role in helping the Palestinian people rebuild Gaza and have self- determination?

SHOUKRY: Well, before this conflict, we had contributed half a million dollars to the reconstruction of Gaza. This is the sixth confrontation between Israel and Hamas and the subsequent destruction of infrastructure in Gaza. We will always be supportive. We will always contribute to reconstruction to the best interest of the Palestinian people in Gaza

TAPPER: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, thank you so much for being here. And as always, we pray for peace in the region.

SHOUKRY: Absolutely. Thank you.

TAPPER: Next to Las Vegas and what we are learning about the professor turned gunman behind the tragic murders on the campus of UNLV.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our law and justice laid, the stunning rise in threats to lawmakers, public officials and election workers, often these threats come via voice mail. We played many right here on THE LEAD.

Now, we've gone further and unanalyzed more than 500 federal cases in the people accused of pushing this garbage.

Kyung Lah has the rare glimpse of who these people actually are, and why it's so difficult to prosecute many of the offenders. A warning, some of the language in this report is disturbing.


CALLER: We're going to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hang a traitor.

CALLER: Give 'em a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Alabama necktie you piece of shit.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what it sounds like to work for the American people.

CALLER: You piece of shit!

CALLER: I will take a bullet to your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head if you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) with my rights anymore.

LAH: From members of Congress --

CALLER: Tell Matt Gaetz to watch his back. Tell him to watch his children. He's going to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) die.

LAH: To your local governments.

CALLER: People that are coming and visiting the homes of the board of supervisors, and basically executing their families.

LAH: But who, and why?

CALLER: When we come to lynch your stupid, lying commie ass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are all lines have heard come out of his mouth hundreds of times.

My dad has been with that whole wave since the very beginning, and it lit a fire.

LAH: Hello, excuse me.

The men were trying to speak with is Mark Rissi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would never talk to you guys. Goodbye.

LAH: He lives in a quiet corner of Iowa, in a suburb of Cedar Rapids. Rissi will go to federal prison next month, convicted for threatening to kill an election official.

CNN reviewed more than 500 federally prosecuted threats to public officials. In the last decade, at least 40 percent were politically motivated. Overall, prosecuted threats to named lawmakers jumped 168 percent during Trump's presidency. Threats to Republicans, making up the bulk of cases. Ninety-five percent of those prosecuted, men, average age 39.

Mental health issues, divorce, loss of loved one, isolation, all recurring themes in the cases. Profile that the son of Mark Rissi of Iowa recognizes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a great dad. He was very present. He's always been a conservative. You know, there'll never take our guns kind of a guy, but over the course of the last ten years, it's gotten really, really intense.

LAH: Your mother at this point was starting to become ill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. She started showing signs of dementia. It turned out she had early onset Alzheimer's. And so, my dad was a her caretaker, taking care of my mother 24/7, how he would get away from that would be to dive into, you know, literature, and politics, and the internet. But getting lost in his news feeds I think was really the main culprit here.

The turning point where I started to realize that this was a serious problem is when he bet me $100 that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would be hung in the next 30 days.

LAH: The final break between father and son happened during protest after the police murder of George Floyd, when his son supported a local Iowa march.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a message from my dad in the middle of the night that said, you know, your boys Antifa are now a terrorist group.

CALLER: You come near my house and I will drop you like the sack of shit you are. I never want to see your stupid (EXPLETIVE DELETED) face again. You are (EXPLETIVE DELETED) moron. I hate your guts you little prick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He really has put aside having family-related interactions, right? He's given up all of that, so that he can 100 percent focus on this whole anti-government operation.

LAH: Rissi's father was also calling someone 1,500 miles away in Arizona.


LAH: Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Hickman. You're going to die you piece of shit. We're going to hang you.

LAH: The county board oversees election day voting and tabulation.

Starting in 2020, lies spread into conspiracies, and threats. There were hundreds upon hundreds of terrifying calls.

CALLER: Hey, Clint, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) liar, or you goddamn CCP, butt-rimming peace of shit. Pile of shit. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) great reset corrupt politician.

HICKMAN: I'd lived through, my staff, this county has lived through a mountain of threats, and this is -- this is basically in my case the one guy that was caught. LAH: Rissi will spend two and a half years in prison for the

threatening call he made to Hickman.

HICKMAN: I'm just a public servant and representative that has the audacity to take part in running fair and clean elections. If law enforcement can catch 'em, I'm absolutely there to see people go to jail because I'm worried about our election workers.

JOHN DIXON KELLER, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHIEF, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PUBLIC INTEGRITY SECTION: The Mark Rissi case epitomizes the type of conduct that the task force is trying to combat. And that's because it threatens the foundation of our democracy. Death threats are criminal, and they will be prosecuted.

LAH: John Keller leads the election threats task force at the Department of Justice, formed after the 2020 election. The task force currently has dozens of active investigations. Keller says it's a drop in the bucket.

KELLER: We can only investigate and prosecute threats of a lawful violence.

LAH: What percentage are cases that just don't meet that standard?

KELLER: Over 90 percent are cases --

LAH: That's a lot.

KELLER: -- that do not meet the standard. It gives you a sense of what the election community is dealing with, and what they're facing, and why we can't prosecute our way out of this problem.

LAH: One in five election workers signal they wanted to quit after the midterms. More than half worried about their safety.

What do you think as we look ahead into this election year? Are there going to be more people like your father?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I hope not, but I know that there is going to be, right? Like I'm actually pretty scared to see what's kind of on the horizon there.


LAH (on camera): Now, Clint Hickman in Maricopa County has not yet decided if he's going to run in 2024. If he does, it will be a determination to take part in our democracy. He's urging other election workers, Jake, to do so, and here's one thing, a fine point that we have to restate. The Department of Justice in 2024 now has their election threats task force fully engaged, if they can, they will prosecute.


TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah, fantastic journalism to you and the whole team, congratulations. Thank you. Coming up next, the professor whom police say was responsible for

yesterday's deadly shooting at UNLV. His online profile focused on conspiracy theories. That's next.


TAPPER: Just moments ago, police identified two of the three victims in yesterday's deadly shooting at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, both victims were faculty members, at Lee Business School. Sixty-four- year-old Professor Cha Jan Chang, and 39-year-old, assistant professor of accounting, Patricia Navarro Velez.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov brings us this report, and what we're learning about the suspect and a possible motive.


DISPATCHER: We have three gunshot victims.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (vovicxe-over): UNLV reeling from a campus shooting Wednesday that claimed the lives of three people, another victim recovering from a gun shot wound but upgraded from critical condition to stable. Law enforcement responding to an active shooter on campus, at 11:45 a.m. local time Wednesday.


Gunfire breaking out on the fourth floor of Beam Hall, which houses the business school.

DISPATCHER: We have more patients inside with an active shooter.

KAFANOV: Students getting an alert to run, hide, fight. One hidden campus bathroom.

BRIANA, UNLV STUDENT: I jumped up on the toilet, trying to make sure my feet are not shown, and I heard the government started coming closer, and I was just freaking out, crying.

ALLISTER DIAS, UNLV STUDENT: It just felt like 56 to 60 kids running across the parking lot, which was then followed by a string of consecutive gunshots.

BRETT JOHNSEN, UNLV STUDENT: If the shooter came into the building in our classroom, we were all just basically sitting ducks.

KAFANOV: Police engaged the suspect who is shooting on multiple floors before he was, quote, neutralized outside. The gunman 67-year- old Anthony Polito described himself online as a semi-retired university professor who taught in Georgia, and North Carolina, until 2017. He also taught classes at Rosemont University in Henderson Nevada, until June 30th of 2022.

But his connection to Las Vegas and his online profile show an unorthodox approach to teaching, including interest in conspiracy theories, like the mystery of the Zodiac killer and multiple references to Las Vegas, including dozens of links and it's personal, websites. Making more than two dozen trips to Vegas over the last 15 years.

Polito's Rate My Professor page for East Carolina University had mostly positive ratings before the shootings, but also multiple references to a, quote, unconventional teaching style, focusing largely on personal anecdotes. Posts dating back to 2014 and 2009 saying he's great, we spend over two months just talking about Vegas, and he loves to go to Las Vegas.

Police have not yet released a motive, but a law enforcement source tells CNN the gunman may have been passed over for a job at UNLV, as Las Vegas deals with yet another tragedy, just six years after one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, more families and friends love to cope with loss and trauma.


KAFANOV (on camera): A law enforcement source tells CNN that the gunman legally purchased this weapon in Las Vegas about 18 months ago, a Taurus PT92 pistol. The school president issuing a statement moments ago writing words are still to hard to come by as we're only beginning to process the grief, loss, anger, and fear. This, Jake, as we await an update from the sheriff in less than 15 minutes -- Jake.

TAPPER: Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much.

And the Las Vegas Police Department plans on holding that press conference in the next hour. We have some breaking news out of New York next, reports of shots fired on the premises of the synagogue.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Some breaking news now. A man is in custody after shots were fired on the promises of a synagogue in Albany, New York, according to the governor of New York.

Let's get straight to CNN's Polo Sandoval.

Polo, Governor Hochul and local officials are both just given updates. Tell us what we know.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And still offering an update as we speak, Jake.

Here's what we can tell you directly from Governor Kathy Hochul, who says that it was earlier this afternoon at a synagogue in Albany, New York that, a 28-year-old man is believed to have walked up to the parking lot and then fired a shotgun. Now, the good thing a report here, no indication that anybody was hurt, but it certainly caused quite a bit of concern there in that community as the synagogue itself there, at the temple of Israel in Albany, there were several children inside a youth center at the time.

So, certainly, having to go into lockdown there, in terms of what we can expect next, authorities say that they're certainly going to bolster law enforcement presence, is certainly it's been the first night of Hanukkah festivities. And as far as the suspect, only 28- year-old man as federal authorities are working to confirm that this was hate motivated -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

Former President Donald Trump spoke after spending all day at a civil fraud trial in New York. Let's take a listen. He's speaking live right now.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: And it shouldn't go forward. The other thing we're asking is that, we were asking -- we want to know in the court of appeals, that they refused to honor that victory.

This is the first that anybody can find in the court of appeals that no choice but to honor, but this judge didn't. This was like something happening a couple of years ago where a developer had zoning, and the zoning was done and completed, and this judge didn't like the zoning so he vetoed it and he said (INAUDIBLE) and then the court of appeals overturned him.

But this is a case that should have never been brought. This is a witch hunt. This is election interference on a level that is never been seen before, it comes out of the DOJ, the White House in order to hurt a political opponent.

Actually, it's driving up my polls because the people of our country get it. The poll numbers are the highest of ever had. The people of our country get it. This is a disgrace to America.

Thank you very much.

TAPPER: All right. So there is Donald Trump with his typical reaction to being in court.

Let's bring back CNN's Kristen Holmes.

Kristen, Donald Trump complaining about the court case. We should note he didn't have to be there today at all. He went there for what reason then?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, part of the reason of going today was to draw attention to the witness that was on the stand. This is somebody that Donald Trump's own lawyers brought in. It was an accountant who as we heard from our court reporters essentially backed up Donald Trump's case. It was a witness who generally was flown low under the radar, but because Donald Trump was there, he wanted to bring attention to.

It's also a way for him to prepare for his testimony, which is expected to be on Monday, when his lawyers call him to the stand again. Now, the other thing to note here is that Donald Trump in this

statement did not actually bring up the attorney general, Letitia James, or the judge in the case.


He instead link this to the other cases that he has faced, and said he was actually a victim of Joe Biden's, in which there is no indication that Biden's Justice Department has anything to do with this case, but as we have discussed time and time again, this is his way of campaigning, of going out there saying this political, and this is also his way of trying to change the messaging about democracy, and put it on Joe Biden, saying he's out for a political opponent.

TAPPER: Right, which as you just noted and I'll note again, there is no evidence that Joe Biden has anything to do with this case. And obviously, the president's alleged lawbreaking as much more to do with him than anything else.

Kristen Holmes, thanks so much.

Coming up next, former Congresswoman Liz Cheney, what you have not heard her asked about her interactions with Donald Trump and the people who surround him, and, of course, the people who have enabled him. My conversation with her, next.


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

We start this hour with our politics lead.