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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Special Counsel Takes Trump Election Case To Supreme Court; Trump Dominates Republican Field In New Iowa Poll; Israel To Open Two Crossings To Screen Gaza But Will Not Allow Aid To Enter Through Them; Global Outrage After U.S. Vetoes U.N. Ceasefire Resolution; Elon Musk Restores X Account Of Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones; Lawyers Of Alexey Navalny Say The Russian Opposition Leader Is Missing From Prison. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 11, 2023 - 16:00   ET



DR. KWANE STEWART, CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: I'll close by saying this, an act of kindness can change your day, change someone's day, an act or gesture of kindness, can change somebody's life. Thank you.



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Wow, it's making me teary-eyed.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Such a powerful moment. Well earned. He also dedicated his award to the other honorees, just a powerful moment there.

BROWN: What an incredible human being. And those pets, they mean everything to everyone and it's incredible what he does. THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: For the very first time, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide can Donald Trump be prosecuted for the things he did as president.

THE LEAD starts right now.

TAPPER: It's an extraordinary move. Special counsel Jack Smith taking his case against Donald Trump straight to the highest court in the land. His question, does Mr. Trump get immunity or not for alleged crimes he committed while president of the United States?

Plus, time is running out as this humanitarian catastrophe worsens. Critical aid into Gaza delayed at one crossing, completely cut off another. What is being done by President Biden and others to alleviate the suffering?

And where is Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader in Russia described as Vladimir Putin's political enemy number one seems to have just vanished from a prison in Russia.


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

And we start today with our law and justice lead, and a major development on whether Donald Trump or any president really has to face accountability for alleged federal crimes committed while in office. It's a basic test of our democracy at the highest level, are we in fact a nation of laws.

This afternoon, special counsel Jack Smith filed a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether the former president is immune from federal prosecution for his actions while he was in the White House. Smith is trying to keep the election subversion trial scheduled for next March on track. He's hoping to avoid delays that are coming as Trump's team fights this issue of immunity through lower courts.

Trump's lawyers are claiming his actions around the 2020 election results are part of his official presidential duties at the time. It's an assessment with which the special counsel's team clearly disagrees.

Let's get straight to CNN's Paula Reid.

And, Paula, this question of immunity is already sitting with a lower court. So, why is Special Counsel Jack Smith going straight to the Supremes?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's all about timing. It's an aggressive move to get the election subversion trial before a jury, before November 2024 election. Here, they're asking the Supreme Court to resolve two questions. One, does Trump have immunity from criminal prosecutions. Or, is he protected by double jeopardy because he was impeached but not convicted for similar crimes?

Now, the special counsel doesn't think either one of these apply but they want this issue resolved because we know that Trump strategy here is to delay, delay, delay. He is litigating these legitimate constitutional questions. Well, Jake, that takes time, it can take months, even well over a year to work these questions through the entire appellate process and get them to the Supreme Court. Which is why the special counsel is saying, look, it's in the public interest for you guys to skip the middleman here, let's go to the court of appeals. You just take up these questions and give us an answer, so we can go to trial as scheduled.

And they're actually citing precedent from the Nixon Watergate investigation. The Supreme Court was able to resolve a couple issues there pretty quickly.

Look, it's unclear what they're going to do here, clearly, this is all about timing but interestingly, the special counsel gave the Supreme Court a middle ground, a compromise. And said, look, if you want to take on these questions, can you at least tell the court of appeals to do this expeditiously. And then try to decide these questions before the end of the term. TAPPER: Would this -- this is just for the federal election subversion

case. There are other cases, the Georgia case, federal classified documents case, the New York case, the New York civil case. Would this have an impact on on any of the other criminal cases Donald Trump is involved in?

REID: It's unlikely because the specific question here is about federal prosecution. Now, we know Trump's lawyers down in Georgia are thinking about launching a similar challenge about state prosecution. Most people if they lost to the Supreme Court on this question would not relitigate this issue in another context, right? Because you have a Supreme Court precedent, but this isn't necessarily about constitutional issues. Primarily, this is about delay. I would expect no matter what happens here, I'll expect the Trump team will continue to launch any similar challenges wherever they can back after the election.

TAPPER: That's what lawyers do.

REID: Yeah, they get paid for it.

TAPPER: Paula Reid, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Elie Honig and former White House communications director under Donald Trump, Alyssa Farah Griffin.

Elie, do you think this was a smart move by the special counsel to try to speed up the decision right now?


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I do think it's a smart move, Jake, I think it's a necessary move in fact because this is as a practical matter, the only real way Jack Smith can hold on to his current trial date which is March 4th, 2024. And here's why, here's where we are -- Jack Smith has won this case in a district court. Now, ordinarily, Donald Trump would get to appeal first to the court of appeals in the D.C. circuit. That could take weeks, maybe a couple months. If Donald Trump lost there, he can then asked the court of appeals to re-hear the case, what we call en banc, meaning the entire court of appeals pack on another several weeks, maybe months, and only then with the Supreme Court even begin its interview.

So, there's really just no way to get all that done between now and March 4th, which isn't that far away. So, he's looking to skip the middleman, to take right to the Supreme Court. I think it's only chance of keeping this case on track.

TAPPER: Alyssa, Donald Trump's team has been trying to delay this case at every turn. How do you think he's going to react to this development?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this is bad news for Donald Trump. Listen, Jack Smith essentially called his bluff. What -- he has the benefit of because Donald Trump has all these dueling investigations, is a sense of the tactics that they're going to use and the number one tactic they've been using is delay. so, I think that this keeps it on course. And Jack Smith, by the way, intentionally did not mention the election. This was simply about a vital public interest in moving forward because I noticed Donald Trump's defenders have said this is election interference, Jack Smith wants to make sure this happens ahead of the election so he's convicted. He very much keep it simple that there's a vital public interest anyone's to keep it on a timeline.

TAPPER: Elie, this -- I mean, it's hard to imagine this not ending up at the U.S. Supreme Court anyway, at least being appealed to the Supreme Court, which is not to say they would not take it up and defer to the appeals court. But how do you think the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on this. Is there a chance to say, no, you have to go -- keep going through the normal process until it gets to us organically?

HONIG: Well, Jake, I suspect that the U.S. Supreme Court will take this case directly. Now, this is an unusual procedure but it does happen sometimes. If we look at recent examples, it happened at a couple times in the past years of. For example, the Supreme Court took a direct appeal and they let him skip the middle on Joe Biden's student loan plan. They also did the same thing on a dispute about immigration policy in Texas. They also did the same thing on the dispute about a Texas law that allowed private citizens to sue over abortions.

So, the question the Supreme Court's going to be asking is, A, how important is this case, and, B, how time sensitive is it? And I think if we compare this case to those three precedents, it's as important or more important, and it's as time sensitive or more time sensitive. So, I do think the Supreme Court's going to take the case on the expedited basis.

How will they rule, that is really an unknown. We don't have anything on point. Of course, this is the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court. However, they ruled against Donald Trump on some major rulings in the past. So, that one will have to wait and see.

TAPPER: Alyssa, Chris Christie at the last debate said something about how in November 2024, Donald Trump will not even be allowed to vote because he'll be a convicted felon. He got booed for it.

But do you think if Donald Trump is a convicted felon, there's a lot of ifs built into that question. Do you think that will necessarily make it tougher for him to win an election?

GRIFFIN: I mean, it will affect him in a general election. I don't think it really moves the needle with the base. So, there's been polling that has suggested some Republican support would peel off if he was convicted. But purely based on the political calendar, the likelihood that he would be convicted felon and not in the midst of an appeals process at the time the convention is extremely low. I think we've seen time and time again the Republican Party is going to stick by Donald Trump win or lose.

But in a general election, that would be absolutely radioactive and hand the presidency to Joe Biden.

TAPPER: And, Elie, Paula said she doesn't think that the ruling on this case would necessarily impact any of the other criminal cases Trump is facing. Do you agree?

HONIG: So, I agree with Paula 99 percent of the time. I slightly disagree on this one. If Donald Trump is to win here, obviously, Jack Smith's federal election interference case is out the window. I also think Fani Willis's case is doomed. Yes, that is a state level case, but the principles of immunity would apply whether it's federal or state level prosecution. Again, that's if Trump wins.

I do agree with Paula, this will have no impact on the hush money case, because that conduct almost entirely happened before Trump was president and it definitely will not impact the federal Mar-a-Lago classified documents case because that conduct was entirely after Donald Trump was president. If he wins here, I think two of the four cases are going to be out the window.

TAPPER: Alyssa, Mr. Trump was supposed to testify in his New York trial today, he announced last night he was not going to. Do you think his team has decided to switch its focus elsewhere given that he's partially lost that case, and it doesn't look like it's going to end up with a good result for him?

GRIFFIN: To be honest, I was bullish when I said last week on CNN that I didn't think he actually would testify. I think it was him, you know, being -- just kind of bloviating and saying that he would show up, trying to appear tough. And I think as often happens, his lawyers around him said that this is not a good idea. He could end up hurting himself anyway. And, of course, there was already a summary judgment in the case.


So, there's a sense of where this is going. But I think it was most likely that people around him said it will do more harm than good.

TAPPER: Elie, how do you think Judge Engoron is ultimately going to roll in that New York case?

HONIG: Well, he's already tipped his hand because he already ruled against Trump on one of the seven causes of action before the trial started. I think he's going to fight against Trump on many more or all the remaining counts. He's shown no interest, no buying into Donald Trump's defense.

And then the big question is what's the penalty, how much money, how much of the 250 million that the attorney general seeking. And most importantly, will the judge revoke Donald Trump's business certificates. I think this charge is going to drop the hammer to Donald Trump and then he will get to appeal.

TAPPER: Right, but we should remind everybody, there's no criminal jail -- prison penalty with that case.

Alyssa Farah Griffin and Elie Honig, thanks to both of you.

Despite all of Donald Trump's legal baggage, he dominates the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, more proof came in today into new CNN polls. The battlegrounds Georgia and Michigan, why his lead in these two states matter so much.



TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead. Cue the music please.


TAPPER: Nice, CNN's election music. You can jump to it.

With exactly five weeks until the first in the nation Iowa's caucuses, a new poll out shows that Donald Trump strengthening his already huge lead amongst his competitors in that state, and as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, this comes as we get a look at how Trump could fare in other crucial states.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump holding a commanding and widening lead in Iowa, just five weeks before the state opens the 2024 Republican presidential contest.


ZELENY: Fifty-one percent of Republicans now backing the former president, according to a new "Des Moines Register" poll, up from 43 percent in October.

The shrinking GOP field has boosted Trump who now holds a 32-point lead. The race for second place is a showdown, with Ron DeSantis at 19 percent, followed by Nikki Haley at 16 percent.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's his own worst enemy by not being able to control his mouth. And that has consequences for governance and as being able to get things done.

ZELENY: On a weekend Iowa campaign swing, DeSantis and Haley sharpening their attacks on Trump's record.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that the economy was good under Donald Trump, right? But what we need to also remember was that we when nine trillion dollars in debt during that same time. And we are paying the price for that.

ZELENY: Nearly half of likely Iowa caucus-goers say their minds are made up. But among Trump supporters, 70 percent say they are firmly committed in their decision.

TRUMP: The first guy that ever got indicted, his poll numbers went up. ZELENY: The former president is increasingly turning his focus to

President Joe Biden, as new CNN poll shows fresh signs of warning for the White House.

In Michigan and Georgia, two of the five states Biden turn from red to blue, the president is facing alarmingly low approval ratings. Our poll showing fewer than four in ten approve of his performance in office.

TRUMP: I will save democracy. The threat is crooked Joe Biden. That's the threat.

ZELENY: In Michigan, Trump leads Biden 50 to 40 percent, in a hypothetical head to head matchup with 10 percent saying they wouldn't support either candidate. That raises the question of a threat from a third party contender.

Asked specifically about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West in Michigan, Trump falls at 39 percent, and Biden to 31 percent. And in Georgia, Trump has a 49 to 44 percent edge over Biden the poll found. With 7 percent saying they would not back either.

The challenges for Biden are coming into sharper view.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trump just talks the talks, we walk the walk. Frankly, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, one of the biggest challenges for the president is the economy. The majority of voters in both Michigan and Georgia say Biden's policies have contributed to a worsening personal economic view for them. Jake, we'll get to that in a moment. Five weeks from tonight, of course, the Iowa caucus open this Republican contest.

Now, Trump has a commanding lead but he's not taking it for granted. He's going back to Iowa on Wednesday. He's been campaigning in an entirely different way. He's actually running a campaign this time. One interesting number from the Iowa poll today was that first-time caucus-goers who Trump campaign is going after, 63 percent of them support Trump. So, you remember eight years ago --


ZELENY: -- very loosely structured campaign. This year, it's the best campaign out there. It's one of the reason he has a commanding lead.

But the race for second place with Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley is still very, very, very aggressive.

TAPPER: Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucus in 2016, yes, and Donald Trump accused him of all sorts of malfeasance that was not true.

ZELENY: A precursor of things to come.

TAPPER: Indeed. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Tomorrow kicks off two big events in the 2024 race. Two CNN Republican presidential town halls in Iowa. I'm going to moderate the first tomorrow between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Iowa caucus participants. Then, Wednesday, Abby Phillip will get a chance to do the same with Vivek Ramaswamy. Both events start at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here and only here on CNN.

Today, the government of Israel's out with what it calls an urgent appeal to civilians as forces target more members of Hamas and Gaza. We're going to show you the overwhelming catastrophic situation on the ground in Gaza, next.



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead, and the utterly unlivable conditions inside Gaza. Now, look, whatever your opinions on the reason for the current conditions of the Palestinian people, whether you blame Hamas entirely for provoking Israel with that horrific October 7th terrorist attack and then for embedding within the civilian population, or whether you lay all of it at the feet of Israeli military and Benjamin Netanyahu, or a combination of both -- regardless, the fact remains that humanitarian catastrophe is worsening for nearly two million human beings, and it needs to be fixed immediately.

In just the last hour, Israel dug in and said it would block from crossing through passageways into Gaza. Despite pressure from the Biden administration, and a worsening bottleneck at the Rafah crossing in Egypt, 61 trucks were able to trickle in today. Before the war more than 450 crossed every day according to the U.N.

And despite homers that the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is just of Rafah, just hopes -- despite hopes that that would open, no aid enter today.


A top Israeli official says at the crossing and one other will be used to screen the truckloads of vital lifesaving aid, but it will still have to ultimately pass through the busy Rafah crossing.

Sources tell me that President Biden has been pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hard to open up that passageway. In addition, sources tell me that President Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, special envoy for Middle Eastern humanitarian issues, David Satterfield, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew, and national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, have been insisting on defined predictable pauses in the violence, and defined predictable areas so Palestinians can move, innocent Palestinians, can move out of harm's way, and aid groups can know where and when to deliver aid, all the efforts to limit the mounting Palestinian civilian casualties. But is Netanyahu listening? That remains unclear sources say. What is

clear, Gaza's dead are piling up as Hamas health ministry says more than 18,000 people have been killed in Israeli attacks since the start of the war. Now, Israel disputes that number, and the IDF claims that it has killed around 7,000 Hamas fighters.

But regardless of whose numbers you believe, no one disputes the thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed, thousands more have been wounded, and hundreds of thousands are struggling to find food, water, and fuel, all while Gaza is teetering on the brink of collapse.

We're going to take you to the Rafah crossing, next. But first, CNN's Alex Marquardt brings us the gripping accounts of the unimaginable suffering inside Gaza.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Israel says after two months of fighting, it is still battling Hamas in two different strongholds in northern Gaza the militants have held out. But Israel claims they're now on the verge of being dismantled.

One area is the Jabalia refugee camp, where residents said dozens of civilians were killed over the weekend. Since the fragile weeklong pause in the fighting ended, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip, focused on the south in Khan Younis, the second largest city where Israel believes senior amassed leaders may be hiding. As Israel expands its operations, the number of civilians killed and wounded grows.

The entire house fell on my head and I was pulled from underneath the rubble, this woman said. I would have been better off dead with my children rather than living in this grim reality.

An urgent appeal was issued by the IDF this weekend for even more civilians to evacuate parts of Khan Younis. But it's unclear how many would've heard the orders. And it isn't a guarantee of safety or shelter, medicine, food and water are all in short supply.

We were displaced from the north in the south for safety, but there is no safety in the south this woman said. It has led to deteriorating, chaotic scenes. The United Nations secretary general warning the public order will completely break down soon.

COL. MOSHE TETRO, COORDINATION OF GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES IN THE TERRITORIES: The situation is very challenging, but the state of Israel does much beyond the obligations by the international humanitarian group.

MARQUARDT: You call the situation in southern Gaza challenging, last month you deny there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Do you acknowledge now that there really is a dire humanitarian crisis?

TETRO: What I'm saying is live I've said, the situation is very, very challenging.

MARQUARDT: But it's not a crisis in your opinion?

TETRO: As I see it it's a challenge, it's a huge challenge.

MARQUARDT: When the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Friday to vote on a cease-fire resolution, the United States was the only country to vote against it, vetoing the resolution. The U.N. vote coming the same day that the Biden administration used an emergency maneuver to bypass Congress and approve the sale of 14,000 more tank rounds for Israel. Today in Jerusalem, Palestinian areas protested the war with a general strike, also seen in the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan.

On a normal afternoon, these small streets in east Jerusalem will be teeming with people who live here, tourists, shopkeepers selling all kinds of things. But today, there are very few people out, shops are all closed, and it's eerily quiet. Business and life really coming to a standstill in solidarity with Gaza.

AYMAN AL SAFADI, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Israel has created amount of hatred that will haunt this region, it will define generations to come. And therefore, it's hurting its people as much of it is hurting everyone else in the region. This is a war that cannot be won.


MARQUARDT: So, Jake, Israel has just announced that the Kerem Shalom crossing will be opening tomorrow. That's a crossing between Israel and Gaza. But as you pointed out, it doesn't mean that aid will be going into Gaza from Israel. Instead, those trucks will have to come into Israel from Egypt, be checked by Israel, and go back into Egypt and drive up to the Rafah crossing with Gaza and then head on into the Gaza Strip.

So, this adds yet another layer to this already complicated process. The good news is that this could double the number of trucks allowed into Gaza. But as we pointed out, there is still major problems once those trucks get into Gaza, that that aid gets to where it needs to be because of the fighting and the sheer number of people in the southern point of the Gaza Strip -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. CNN's Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv, thanks -- thanks so much.

Let's go now to CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, in Arish, Egypt, close to the Rafah Crossing.

Clarissa, tell us what you saw when you were at the Rafah crossing earlier today, how concerned are aid organizations about this bottleneck getting worse with Israel's refusal to let it through that Kerem Shalom crossing?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are desperately concerned, Jake. What they're basically saying is that the Rafah border crossing is not able to function as it should be. That it was never intended to handle this volume of trucks, hundreds of trucks. By the way, we saw them today they go back miles from the Rafah border crossing, all of them waiting with desperately needed aid that is still just not able to get in the quantities that is so desperately needed.

Now, we saw a delegation of various U.N. ambassadors, Security Council ambassadors, they were there not an unofficial U.N. delegation but sort of on behalf of their own countries. They were invited by UAE ambassador to the U.N. to visit the Rafah border crossing. She said that the ambassador, because she wanted to take the conversation away from the corridors of diplomacy in New York and gave people a very real sense of what is happening on the ground.

They visited a hospital. They listened to briefings by the head of the U.N. agency that works in Gaza, Philip Lazzarini, who said that there is about to be a humanitarian catastrophe, who talked about the breakdown of civil disorder who talked about 100,000 Gazans now massing near that border crossing, sleeping rough in a state of just absolute desperation and despair.

Take a listen to what the UAE Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh to the U.N. had to say.


LANA NUSSEIBEH, UAE AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: We also heard and had the opportunity to hear a number of U.N. briefers who are essentially saying, the system is broken, more trucks are not even going to be a plaster on the wound of that. What needs to happen is a radical change, and shift in what is going on in Gaza. And that is the humanitarian cease-fire that the UAE called for in its resolution last week, it was vetoed. I think we're going to continue calling for humanitarian cease-fire. I think that's the main message from the briefers.

WARD: Do you feel frustration at all at your U.S. colleagues that you haven't been able to pass this resolution?

NUSSEIBEH: Look, I think the resolution and the number speaks for itself, 13 countries voted in favor, 103 member states supported the resolution, that's the highest number of votes for a country specific resolution, the highest number of sponsorship. I think it's a strong message.

The people are not dying in the conflict. Today, they are dying because of collapsing medical system, a collapsing nutrition system, lack of food, lack of water. We heard today, some people don't even eat a meal for three days, it's become normal. Hunger was number one of the issues we talked about in Gaza. Massive malnutrition today is.

And so, there is really a moral imperative for us to take these messages back to New York and do everything we can across the board to make sure the civilians in Gaza don't suffer as much as they've suffered today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WARD: Now, Jake, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. was obviously not part of that trip today. The U.S. saying that they already had an extensive presence on the ground and are doing a lot of work on the ground. I should add, when I pushed ambassador to say beyond that question of the frustrations, she said point blank, this is important, quote, U.S. diplomacy is the most effective tool that we have for resolving this conflict.

So, clearly, the UAE and many other member states really view the U.S. as an integral part of this process going on. She also said they played a key role in pressuring the Israelis to open that Kerem Shalom border crossing as Alex Marquardt in his previous report said it did not really open today. But expectations and hope are high that it open soon, Jake. But still, a severe crisis ongoing.

TAPPER: Yeah. And I've also heard criticism of the Egyptians for not letting more refugees out so they can be cared for, and the Israeli say, look, Hamas as the government and military of Gaza, they declared war on us, what do you expect us to do? We're not opening the border crossings. For what it's worth, I'm sure you heard that too?

WARD: Absolutely. I mean, when you come to realize, Jake, when you're covering the story and talking to different parties involved, is that there's a lot of finger pointing.


The Israelis blame Hamas, or they blame the Egyptians. The Egyptians will blame the Israelis, and so on and so forth. And that is what's made it so difficult for the international community to really come together in a meaningful and compelling way and meet the moment, and meet the magnitude of the moment, and ensure that the free, unfettered passage of aid to those who need it most before the situation really crosses the Rubicon, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, no, indeed. Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for your reporting, as always.

Coming up next, Elon Musk with a dramatic reversal, letting chief right wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, back on his platform, X, formerly known as Twitter. Hear what he's saying now about Jones versus what he said just about a year ago.



TAPPER: In our tech lead today, Elon Musk has reinstated the account of right-wing extremists and conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, on X, the platform formally known as Twitter. Jones was banned from Twitter back in 2018, after previous ownership, after spreading false and malicious conspiracy theories, including the horrific ones about the Sandy Hook massacre, the nonsense that -- about the 20 children, six adults that were killed. He said it was a hoax, he said the victims were crisis actors.


ALEX JONES, INFOWARS HOST: Don't ever think that the globalists that have hijacked this country wouldn't state something like this. They kill little kids all day, every day. It's not our government, it's the globalist.

Sandy Hook, it's got inside job written all over it.

Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake with actors, in my view manufactured.


TAPPER: Evil, malicious, lies, every one of them.

Alex Jones was later sued by the families, was ordered to pay more than a billion dollars of damages to the victims' families after these false claims led some of Alex Jones supporters to torment, and threaten the families in person to the point where some of these families had to move, or they couldn't even visit the graves of their lost children.

So, when Elon Musk took over Twitter last year, some people began to push him to allow Alex Jones back on the social media spy site despite this cruelty. At the time, Musk seem to respond in a very human way. Musk wrote, quote, my first born child died in my arms. I felt his last heartbeat. I have no mercy for anyone who would use the deaths of children for again, politics, or fame, unquote.

But I guess that's out of the window because over the weekend, Musk fielded a completely unscientific Twitter survey to his 165 million followers. He asked to reinstate Alex Jones on his platform to which not surprisingly 70 percent of Elon Musk's followers, nearly 2 million voters, said yes. Musk later said, I vehemently disagree about what he said about Sandy Hook but are we a platform that believes in freedom of speech or are we not? That is what it comes down to in the end. And if the people vote him back on, this will be bad for X financially but principles matter more than money, unquote.

We should also note that it was about a year ago that Mr. Free Speech there suspended some journalist for posting things he didn't like, including our friend, CNN's Donie O'Sullivan.

Donie, since Alex Jones's account has been restored, now it's not just up there, it's actively being promoted across the platform?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, Alex Jones, it looks like he's grown his audience by about 100,000 followers, just since being put back on the platform. Our colleague Clare Duffy reporting that people have opened up, X, the Twitter app today, even if they haven't followed Jones. A lot of people have been saying that the algorithm feed promotes accounts suggesting to people that they should follow Jones's account. That is, of course, five years after he was an initially kicked off

the platform. And really, this is so illustrative of what we're seeing happen with X, but also with Elon Musk, because he kind of journeys very publicly at this rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, he's not -- he didn't just bring the account back. He's playing a role in elevating Alex Jones. Last night, he hosted this X livestream interview with him, and a whole bunch of other questionable folks were joining him, Andrew Tate, this mysognystic Internet personality who's indicted on human trafficking and rape charges in Romania earlier this year. And to be frank, Donie, Tate wasn't the only worse dude in that situation.

But why is Musk even engaging with these people?

O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. And, look, I mean, I think he showed there that tweets as he pointed out, human tweet from Musk last year where he said, look, what Alex Jones said that was so false, disgusting, about Sandy Hook that he would never get back on the platform because of that. He's now seen that over the past year, Musk, you know, kind of going further, and further and further to the fringe, even after a few weeks ago agreeing with an antisemitic post which he later try to clarify, and a trip to Israel, and things like that.

But, you know, I spent a lot of the past few years speaking to people who have gone down rabbit holes of radicalization, and conspiracy theories. I speak to families of loved ones. It's quite reminiscent of that when you see that of course.


But in this case, it is one of the most powerful and one of the wealthiest man in the world, and he's promoting these people and I will just say that that body of streaming you mentioned, it had 11 million people, 11 million listeners. Now, of course, numbers online can be a little deceiving, needless to say, millions of people now have access to this junk

TAPPER: Yeah, we should also note, Jones's offenses are more than just Sandy Hook campaign, which was vile enough in and of itself. But, you know, he had a lot of filers at the insurrection on January 6th which were charged with serious crimes. One wonders, is Elon Musk trying to chase normal people off acts, is he trying to chase advertisers away even more than he already has?

O'SULLIVAN: Yeah. I mean, I think the conventional wisdom would say, this is going to push advertisers away. It certainly is going to be interesting what major brands like -- including the NFL are going to do as the platform continues to seemingly descend.

But let's not forget, there's a lot of money in bullshit as well, right? I mean, we saw through the Alex Jones trial how we made a lot of money, if you really tap into this world, along with Tucker Carlson, General Michael Flynn, and others, people who are taking a part in this X community. That can potentially be quite lucrative and potentially that's the direction Musk wants to go. TAPPER: A lot of money, and a lot of votes. Donie O'Sullivan, thanks

so much. I appreciate it.

Coming up, one of Russia's most high-profile prisoners now missing. What happened, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, could his disappearance be connected to Russia's upcoming presidential election?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is reportedly missing from prison. Navalny's legal team says he was supposed to show up for a hearing near Moscow. Remember, Navalny is considered to be one of the most serious political threats to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, even while he's behind bars.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Berlin, Germany, for us.

Fred, Navalny's lawyers say he's been gone for six days and they don't know where he is?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely. And they say this has been building up, we were supposed to visit him in President on Friday. And back then, the prison authority said, look, you just simply can't see him and then today as you mentioned he was supposed to have this hearing that was supposed to take place via video link from that jail he's been in so far. And he simply did not show up for that.

Now, the lawyers were then told, is real -- the lawyers are than told that apparently there was a power failure. The lawyers kept asking and the prison authorities then admitted that he was actually no longer on the list of prisoners who were inside that jail. So, what happened then is that Alexey Navalny's associates and his lawyer as well made a lot of phone calls to a lot of jails in the vicinity of that area and none of them knew anything about Alexey Navalny being there. So, as of this point, he is and remains missing.

This obviously, Jake, leads to a lot of concerns among his family, among his associates as well because one of the things we do know is that over the past couple of weeks, he has had some serious health issues. In fact, the Anti-Corruption Foundation of which he is still the head, said that just a week ago, he actually fainted inside his jail cell, and had to be given an IV because he's been so weak recently, Jake.

TAPPER: As the mystery around Navalny's whereabouts intensifies, one has to wonder whether this is directly connected to the upcoming presidential election in Russia in March?

PLEITGEN: Yeah, you know, it's quite interesting because Vladimir Putin has announced that he's going to stand in that election. Which is set to take place on March 17th, it's around this time now that Alexei Navalny has disappeared.

And one of the things that we've also seen is that the anti-corruption foundation of Alexei Navalny, they actually managed to buy some billboard ads in Moscow and St. Petersburg, on the face of them say happy new year to Russia, but if you click on the QR code, it dissuades people from voting for Vladimir Putin. So, that's certainly something that angered the Russian authorities. So, that's one of the things that the Anti-Corruption Foundation is looking into.

One of the things, Jake, that we need to point out, Alexey Navalny wasn't supposed to be transferred to a different jail with an even harsher regime than the one that he's been in so far. And isn't that uncommon for prisoners when they're in that process of being transferred to completely be out of communication, to not be allowed to communicate at all. In fact, it is something that happened to Navalny in 2022 when he was put in the jail that he's been in so far. Nevertheless, the concern, of course, is massive right now among those who are supporting him because of his health issues, and they simply have absolutely no idea about his whereabouts, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, Germany, for us, thank you so much.

A request today from special counsel Jack Smith. He wants the Supreme Court to decide whether or not Trump is immune from crimes he allegedly committed while president. Why make this ask now, what might this mean from the trials at the start of March? That's ahead.



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

This hour, tracking the flow of money to Hamas. Why his critics say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of all people helped support the terror group by turning a blind eye to that funding. So as to hurt the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Plus, a Texas woman pregnant with the fetus with a fetal condition after fighting to be able to get an abortion in Texas, an attorney for Kate Cox says she has left the state to get the procedure. Could that decision put her in jeopardy for criminal prosecution by the state of Texas?

And leading this hour, the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to intervene in a federal election subversion case against Donald Trump. Special counsel Jack Smith is going around the appeals process and asking the high court directly, is Donald Trump immune from his alleged crimes during his time as president?

Let's go right to CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, this trial will set to start in March. How does this U.S. Supreme Court request impact that?