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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Dow Closes at Record High For Second Day in a Row; Suspected Hamas Terrorists Arrested in Europe Over Alleged Plot; U.S. Intel: Nearly Half of Bombs Dropped on Gaza are Unguided; U.S. Navy Officer Released From Japanese Jail; Putin Holds First End-of-Year News Conference Since War Began. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 14, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Hamas terrorist threat is now in Europe.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Terrorist attacks foiled as Germany and the Netherlands say they arrested members of Hamas who were tied to an alleged plot to attack Jewish institutions in Europe.

Plus, an exclusive CNN investigation into the nation's largest credit union Navy Federal, revealing an alarming disparity between white and black applicants for home loans and those denied.

And it's now in the hands of the jury. Deliberations under way in the defamation case against Rudy Giuliani as Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman seek $48 million in damages for Rudy's lies.


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

We've got a lot for you today, but we're going to start with breaking news on our money lead. The Dow closing moments ago at a record high for the second day in a row.

Let's get straight to CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich.

And, Vanessa, what's driving this surge and what might it mean for Americans wallets?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Another day, another record, the Dow closing up 158 points, meeting the record it just set yesterday and yesterday's record was because the Fed announced that it was holding rates steady and it was projecting three additional rate cuts next year. And this is important because today on Wall Street, we also saw better than expected retail sailors boosting the Dow and mortgage rates drafting below 75 percent since August.

This is obviously good news for anyone who has money in the markets and a 401k, but also for the millions of Americans who don't because stronger than expected retail sales show the strength of the U.S. consumer and mortgage rates are dropping below 7 percent will certainly probably pull some first-time homeowners off the sidelines and, ultimately, they might be able to afford their first time home.

But, Jake, you know, the fight against inflation is certainly not over. Jerome Powell said it himself. We cannot declare victory yet, but the markets today, they are strong economic data points, certainly, pointing in the right direction -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Vanessa Yurkevich, thanks so much.

Turning to our world lead now. We are following major developments in the Israel-Hamas war, a war that began 69 days ago, on October 7th, when homebound terrorist launched an attack in Israel and killed at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Hamas's desire to kill Jews is apparently not just limited to Israel. Multiple suspected members of Hamas were arrested in Europe, some accused of plotting terrorist attacks on Jewish targets there.

Let's get straight to CNN's Alex Marquardt who's on the ground for us in Tel Aviv.

Alex, separate arrest span Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. What more can you tell us about these suspected terrorists?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, a lot of information from different countries. This do appear to be two sets of arrests in Germany, they specifically mentioned Hamas, saying that they arrested four people, three in Germany itself, one in the Netherlands.

And those three that they arrested, they call, according to German prosecutor, long-standing members of Hamas and that they were arrested on suspicion of planning attacks against Jewish institutions. And then in Denmark, they also said they arrested four people. Again, one was in the Netherlands, three were in Denmark, they did not mention Hamas. What they said these people were doing is preparing attacks of terrorism, they did again mention Jewish places.

Here in Israel, we saw statement of thanks from Mossad and Shin Bet, which is their equivalent of the FBI. They thanked Denmark. They didn't mention the arrest in Germany, but they did say clearly that the arrest made by Denmark, were they say, tied to Hamas. They say that these terrorists were acting on behalf of the Hamas terrorist organization. This arrest thwarted an attack, the goal of which was to kill innocent civilians on European soil.

So both the Germans and the Israelis talking about Hamas wanting to carry out attacks on European soil, which, Jake, would be a real change in their goals because they have been focusing all their attention on Israel. Now, it may be expanding.

TAPPER: And, Alex, just moments ago, President Biden spoke to reporters as the White House is struggling to clarify the comments he made to supporters behind closed doors about how Israel has handled the war.


Tell us about that.

MARQUARDT: Yeah, big questions about what the U.S. wants to do in this war, how much longer they want to go on, President Biden saying moments ago that he wants Israel to be a lot more careful when it comes to civilians. But that he does not want them to stop going after Hamas.

But at the same time, Jake, we saw Jake Sullivan, here in Israel today, we're told that he talked to the top Israeli officials about the timeline, saying that he wanted Israel to essentially shift this war from a high intensity phase into a low intensity phase in the near future. We're told the near future is becoming weeks.

We've previously reported that this transition is expected in the next few weeks. That a lower intensity phase would look like more targeted attempts to take out top Hamas leaders, counterterrorism raids, that kind of thing. So, the U.S. certainly exerting pressure but being very careful to say, hey, we're not telling you what to do but as John Kirby at the White House said, certainly, we want this war to be over as soon as possible.

Major question is whether that will be heeded by Israel. We heard Netanyahu after his meeting with Jake Sullivan earlier today saying that they will -- that they are more determined than ever, and they will keep fighting until absolute victory. And then the defense minister also talking about how this war is expected to go on for more than just a few more months. So, the two countries maybe significantly at odds about the timeline for this war -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv for us, thank you so much.

Nearly half of all the munitions dropped on Gaza since the start of the war have been unguided, so-called dumb bombs. That's according to a new U.S. intelligence assessment obtained exclusively by CNN. Dumb or unguided bombs as opposed to more precision conditions, typically, pose a greater threat to civilians. And an Israeli military official told member in Congress two weeks ago that these bombs, dumb bombs, are needed in order to destroy the Hamas tunnels under Gaza.

When asked for official comment, an Israeli military spokesman told CNN, quote, we do not address the types of munitions used.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis, and anchor and chief national security analyst, Jim Sciutto, are with us now.

And, Katie Bo, how did these munitions work and why are they so controversial?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. So, Jake, the concern here is that so-called dumb bombs are less precise than precision guided missions, and as a result, they pose a greater threat to civilians. And this, of course, is a particular concern in a densely populated area like Gaza where the difference between life and death can be a matter of a few feet, right? And this is part of the reason why you've seen U.S. military deliberately phase out the use of unguided munitions over the past decade.

Now, there are ways that you can make unguided munitions more precise through applications of a guidance, simply a guidance package that you sort of build on to these existing munitions. But it's not clear at this point whether or not Israel, how many of these guidance kits that Israel has, whether or not they're using them. And I think maybe most critically, what the rules of engagement are, right? What they consider the acceptable threshold for potential civilian loss of life in any given strike.

TAPPER: Right, Israel insists they have not changed the rules of engagement. There are a lot of people that -- in the military who think that they probably have after October 7th.

Jim, is Israel's use of dumb bombs in Gaza knew and how does Israel's use of these bombs compared to how the U.S. military has use these types of bombs in past wars?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's not new. The U.S. uses dumb bombs less if you look for instance comparable assault -- with the U.S. assault on Mosul against ISIS a number of years ago. Most of the munitions used there were precision-guided weapons. There were thousands of civilian casualties but fewer than we've seen in Gaza. This appears to be largely a map problem for Israel and that they don't have as many guided weapons as they might want to use here. So, they are resorting to the use of dumb bombs.

And to Katie's point, it's not clear how many of them they've a quipped with what are known as JDAMS. This is this guidance package you were talking about, it turns dumb bombs smart as it were. The U.S. provided Israel some 3,000 of them since October 7th. But they dropped 29,000 bombs. They just don't have it seems enough of those kids to do it.

Also, there's another issue here, with many smart bombs, you need teams on the ground to lase that target in, shine a laser in effect at the target and Israel while has forces on the ground, so it doesn't have them in great numbers, particularly in the southern part of the court. So, they may have just, it seems, to your point about rules of engagement, made a decision that they're comfortable using fewer precision guided weapons.

TAPPER: Let me also say that's how they get the tunnels, get Hamas members in the tunnels which are underneath the apartments and everything else.

We also saw today four suspected members of Hamas arrested in Germany and in the Netherlands under suspicion of planning attacks on Jewish targets.


How have Hamas' operations outside of Gaza shifted since the war started?

SCIUTTO: This is a major question as to whether Hamas is making a decision here to carry out operations and direct those operations outside of Israel. We haven't seen that today it in numbers. There's been Hamas operatives, or even some here in the U.S., primarily focused, Chris Wray testified to this number weeks ago on fundraising to make an operational change, in which case they are attempting to carry out directed attacks in Europe, or potential in U.S. homeland, that would be a change.

In these arrests here, the authorities are saying that they were looking at an underground weapons cache in Europe. And we would presume that they were preparing for something. It's not clear if this was a plan underway, if it's credible, if it's eminent.

I'll tell you this -- I know authorities in Europe in the U.S. are watching, not just for directed attacks, ones where Hamas officials call them up and say, carried out in such a way, but for inspired attacks which are frankly harder to track. I mean, these are long wolves, inspired by events there to make their own plan, we've seen it with ISIS not just in Europe but here in the U.S.

TAPPER: All right. Katie Bo Lillis and Jim Sciutto, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Just 32 days until the Republican caucus in Iowa. What voters in that state say about candidates now versus their feelings on the candidates earlier in the year?

CNN's John King is revisiting the conversations. His "All Over the Map" series, next.



TAPPER: Turning to our 2024 lead. Cue the music please.

With just one month and one day away from the Iowa caucus, Republican voters have their first chance to throw their support behind their favorite candidate in that state. Donald Trump rallied in the Hawkeye State last night. I think it was his 15th visit to Iowa since this cycle began. He urged his supporters to show up to the caucus on January 15th, not taking substantial lead in the polls for granted.

But Mr. Trump, as is his want, also took a chance to go after two of his main competitors.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: DeSantis doesn't even like farmers. He doesn't like farmers. I said that's not good, he doesn't want to get that word out.

And I keep hearing about the surge from Haley. Sir, I'll never vote against you, I never run against you. You've been a great president, sir, I'll never do this. This goes on for a year and a half.

Then I hear she's having a news conference, I decided to run. The whole thing.

What's what these politicians, right?

Desanctimonious has been saying for the past six months, wait for the bounce, you know, he's waiting for the bounce. The bounce is going that way. It's going the wrong direction.


TAPPER: Donald Trump is correct when he talks about, at least as of yet, a lack of surging for either Ambassador Haley or Governor DeSantis, at least according to the latest "Des Moines Register" poll in Iowa, which shows Trump at 51 percent, DeSantis at 19 percent, Haley at 16 percent. DeSantis is up 3 points from the paper's October poll, Haley stayed flat. She's focusing more in New Hampshire.

So, where does that leave voters who might like Trump's policies but are looking at other candidates who might bring a little less drama, a little less baggage to the table?

Well, CNN's John King went to Iowa to find out. He joins me now.

John, you followed up with voters that you met earlier this year to see if they've changed their minds at all about this race. What do they say?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We started this five months ago, Jake, and we've been in touch with this group and point out, it's anecdotal reporting, right? You saw the polling right there. There's no question from our reporting, though, Trump support is very solid, even growing a bit maybe. His supporters are bullish.

We do have among our voters some movement toward Nikki Haley. The big question, though, is -- is it enough? And as you noted 32 days, do they have enough time?


KING (voice-over): Trump support is deep here, especially in rural counties like Ringgold, but if there is to be an Iowa surprise, Republican women will power it.

This is Priscilla Forsyth making Christmas crafts with friends in Sioux City. Five months ago when we first spoke, she was leading Vivek Ramaswamy.

PRISCILLA FORSYTH, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I really get the feeling he's brilliant. He's got energy. He's young.

KING: Now she urges friends to vote Haley.

FORSYTH: Usually to me, the debates don't make a big difference, but they kind of did this time. KING: Forsyth caucused for Trump when he won Sioux City back in 2016.

Now she sees something else taking shape.

FORSYTH: I think they're underestimating the people that don't want that chaos anymore.

KING: There's a lot of that in the Des Moines suburbs.

BETSY SARCONE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: We want to turn a chapter. We want to -- we want to go to something new.

KING: Betsy Sarcone hopes Iowa uses its first-in-the-nation vote to elevate one strong Trump alternative. This is what she told us back in August.

SARCONE: I do find -- I'm pulled towards DeSantis.

KING: And this is now.

SARCONE: I am likely a Nikki Haley caucuser.

KING: Sarcone says her brother and parents are also leading Haley, but she's not final just yet.

SARCONE: If people were going to consolidate, I would go with DeSantis, that's not what I'm seeing so far. The suburbs out here, you are likely going to see a lot of -- it's going to be DeSantis-Haley.

KING: But if it's DeSantis-Haley, Trump wins, doesn't he?

SARCONE: He does. I mean, that's -- that's the question, right? How do you get people to consolidate?

KING: This is Chris Mudd's big change. Midwest Solar is growing and needed a new office. Same candidate, though, same confidence.

CHRIS MUDD, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: You know, you got to have thick skin to be for Trump today. And so, I think those people that say that they are for him are going to show up.

KING: When you hear DeSantis say, you know, we got to stop losing, or Haley say, no drama, no chaos, time for a new generation of leadership, you say?

MUDD: They're 30, 35, 40 points behind Trump. I would say that they are the chaos and that they should stand down and support Trump.

KING: Mudd doesn't care about poll showing Haley run stronger against President Biden. He doesn't care of Trump could be both the Republican nominee and a convicted fellow by summer.

MUDD: I think Trump has been pushed into a corner. I think he's got lots of targets on him. And I think he's doing a great job of deflecting every one of them.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING (on camera): Jake, you know how this works. You talk to people on the ground who have their candidate. They think there could be an Iowa surprise. What would define surprise, can anyone catch them in 32 days? That seems pretty unlikely.

A lot of these Haley people think maybe, but maybe the of best option, it would be a second place that had people say, wow, that's better than we thought. Momentum out of it, but I will tell you this, the Trump people say they're going to turn out.


The big difference between now and 2016, the Trump organization in the ground on Iowa is full of professionals.

TAPPER: John, the first Republican voters have not even gotten their say in the caucus or primary yet. But Trump seems primarily to be taking aim at Biden as if he's not really paying much attention to Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. He's really focusing on the general election as if the nomination is his.

KING: He is, Jake. But make no mistake, that's also part of his nomination strategy to try to say, I'm an inevitable. Why would you be for anybody else? Get on the Trump train.

And one of things we did here in Iowa is that people have reservations. You know this -- talking about Trump, being divided, being on the other side of Trump can ruin relationships. It can cause arguments at work. It can cause arguments at home.

One of things we heard in Iowa was people are like I don't want to vote for Trump but he's going to win anyway. So, I'm just either going to stay home or I'm going to vote for Trump because I don't want the grief. I don't want the fight in my life.

So, talking about inevitability is part of the strategy. Right now they have the numbers to backup those speech -- that speech, though.

TAPPER: All right. John King, thanks so much. We're going to keep this conversation going.

Next, why so many Republican voters are able to look behind Trump's record and his legal problems to back, him in 2024? And for President Biden, what's working, what's not, as he pushes for reelection. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Sticking with our 2024 lead, former President Donald Trump in Iowa last night making his final pitch to voters there ahead of the state's caucuses next month. The front runner for the Republican presidential nomination locking in on his target, President Biden and Bidenomics.


TRUMP: The Biden administration's running on the fumes of the great success of the Trump administration. Without us, this thing would've crashed to levels never seen before. And if we're not elected, we'll have a depression the likes of which I don't believe anybody has ever seen, maybe 1929.


TAPPER: Let's discuss with our panel.

Congressman Walsh, Trump wants to press -- also in addition to, that sounded like a, you know, fairly normal campaign argument, but I'm not surprised he also repeated his 2020 election lies last night as he's known for stirring wildly from policy talking points. But let's return to that message on the economy.

That does seem affective to you?

JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, ILLINIOS: It doesn't matter what he says. The more you listen to him now, Jake, it just doesn't matter. His greatest legacy has always been the destruction of truth. And now, all the Republicans copy him.

But he's way ahead in Iowa. It doesn't matter, the "Des Moines Register" poll this past weekend showed he's increased his lead. He's -- he can do whatever he wants right now.


TAPPER: And yet, even with this economic hit, we should know, Karen, the Dow hit a record high today --


TAPPER: -- beating yesterday's record high. Mortgage rates have dropped under 7 percent for the first time since August. All that should be great news for Joe Biden but these things do not necessarily translate to prosperity in the day to day lives of Americans, and inflation has eaten out a lot of --


TAPPER: -- whatever gains have been made.

What's the problem there? And please don't tell me it's a communication problem?

FINNEY: I won't, I promise. But can I say one other thing, the minute I heard that the market was -- had a record high yesterday, I thought to myself, Donald Trump's going to say something about that because remember, he kept talking about the stock market -


FINNEY: -- when he was president. Look, I think we've also seen pretty strong spending around the

holidays which is another sign. Again, I think there is a real disconnect from the traditional economic markers that we look at, and what a lot of folks are facing in their everyday lives. I mean, that's a true fact.

But I do think one of the things that the Biden campaign and the administration can be reminding people, is that parts of the plan that Joe Biden was trying to put in place, lowering cost for childcare, for example, which is an economic issue.

TAPPER: Prescription drugs.

FINNEY: Right, and prescription drugs. But some of the things that didn't go through because Republicans blocked this, right?

I would like to see them talk more about -- here are the things we want to do to keep more money in your pocket, right? Because when you are lowering the costs, that's the thing that the president can control. He can't control interest rates. I mean, it was interesting, Ron DeSantis was like, we need to get those interest rates down. But where is your magic wand?

TAPPER: So, it was interesting, Joe, yesterday after work, a bunch of Trump -- I mean, I'm sorry, a bunch of Biden administration staffers went outside the White House and celebrated the Dow reaching a record high. I'm sorry, that's not what they did.

FINNEY: No, they didn't.

TAPPER: They went outside and largely massed, held a vigil calling for a cease-fire, criticizing their boss for not supporting a cease-fire.

So, I mean, again, the calls are coming from within the house. I mean, he can't get credit from his own staffers. He can't even get attention from his own staffers for the record Dow.

WALSH: But I think it's a really cool opportunity for Biden, Jake, assuming he stands strong with Israel, that he welcomes this dissension within his own house. It's a free country, you can protest. As long as Biden stays with Israel, I think it makes him look open- minded and strong.

FINNEY: You know, I think that's an important point because having been a White House staffer where you feel like you're under such a microscope, and sometimes even the administration does things you don't agree with, and you feel like just because I'm here doesn't mean I agree with everything, but it means I agree with most of or I believe in this individual.

And I hope that's part of what people take away. You can disagree even with the president that you're working for. And it doesn't mean you don't support among other things. And I think that's not a bad thing.


TAPPER: That's a nice spin. I mean, I don't think --

FINNEY: But I think it's --

TAPPER: Well, I don't think you can fire them because it's already doing badly enough with young -- with young voters, that I think that would be a huge negative.

But the conversation I hear about this kind of thing is, this is not my point of view, so don't get mad. The kind of conversation I hear is that this is disloyal. They're making him look bad. Why doesn't he fire them? That sort of thing.

FINNEY: Well, that's ridiculous. I mean, come on, it's a free country that's what we're fighting for.

TAPPER: But they work for the president, and they are empirically making the president look bad.

FINNEY: Well, again, I actually think it is a sign of a strong democracy that you can say, I disagree with the president on this, but I still work here and I still believe on other things.

WALSH: That was the thing, Jake. Most had their faces covered. But I think it's also -- if Biden acknowledges it, I think it's also a sign of -- it will strengthen him, that he's okay with it.


FINNEY: Yeah. Can I say -- the other thing we're seeing, you know, that I thought was a positive and I know the president got asked about it today, what you see behind closed doors, diplomatic speak, is not the same as what you see publicly.

TAPPER: Oh, sure.

FINNEY: And it does seem that the administration is moving further along to more publicly criticize Netanyahu and say --

TAPPER: Oh, of course.

FINNEY: Which I think that's --

TAPPER: Jake Sullivan in Israel today, pushing them publicly, to --

FINNEY: So, you know, again, dissension is part of our democracy.

TAPPER: Joe, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, popular Republican in New Hampshire endorsed Nikki Haley this week. I want you to listen to what he had to say about her today in New Hampshire.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): And when Nikki wins here on January 23rd, think about this -- the entire election gets we reset, right? The assumption that the national media has told us, oh, it's a fait accompli, Trump's just going to win the nomination. No, nope, all of a sudden, the entire country goes, oh, wait a minute, everything we've been told about this election isn't true.


TAPPER: And that's the hope for the Haley people. That's the hope for the Sununu people. Is it possibly true?

WALSH: No, I think it's way too late. I think that endorsement will help Haley more than the Iowa governor's endorsement will help DeSantis. But I still think it's just way, way, too late.

TAPPER: Yeah, do you agree?

FINNEY: I do. But look, I think for Haley though, she can come in at number two, or even a close third and have a bank shot again going into South Carolina, and potentially gain some momentum. I think that's going to be more important than what happens in Iowa.

WALSH: And if she would surprise people to come in second in Iowa, that would really help.

FINNEY: That's exactly right.

TAPPER: All right. Karen Finney and Joe Walsh, thanks to both of you.

Coming up next, Vladimir Putin's first substantive news conference since Russia invaded Ukraine. His latest twist on the war, plus his notable comments on two Americans that the State Department says has been unfairly detained in Russia. He also talks about the chances of their release.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: A major development in the story that THE LEAD has followed closely for years. A U.S. Navy officer detained for more than 500 days in Japan is coming home.

Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis has been a Japanese prison since October 2021. He was convicted of negligent driving and was sentenced to three years in prison. Alkonis says he lost consciousness on a drive with his family from Mount Fuji when he killed two people accidentally. He offered the victims' family over $1 million in restitution as is customary in Japan.

But the Alkonis family claims they are in violation of the status of forces agreement between the U.S. and Japan during the proceedings of the case, adding that his sentence was a, quote, travesty of justice. The years-long effort to secure his release was led by his wife Brittany. She even met with President Biden at the beginning of 2023 to urge him to do more for his release.

In May of this year, she joined THE LEAD and spoke about the toll her husband's detainment has taken on her family. Take a listen.


BRITTANY ALKONIS, WIFE OF U.S. NAVY LIEUTENANT RIDGE ALKONIS: My son asked me the other day, he said, mommy, the president, he said the president is getting daddy home, and why isn't he home yet? And you know, is daddy suffered an emergency why is he in jail? And those are questions I can't -- I can't answer.


TAPPER: The good news for the family is that he was brought back to the United States under an international prisoner convention. He's now in U.S. custody. A Justice Department official told me that this process could take months as the U.S. parole commission compares his prison sentence in Japan to how the U.S. might have handled this tragic incident. Once they determined Alkonis' sentence, he might even end up in home custody. We do not know, though he's not back with his family quite yet, he is headed for American soil and the Alkonis family says they're optimistic he will be home for the holidays.

We will continue to keep you apprise of that story.

Also in our world lead, for the first since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out at his end of year press conference. And apparently, Mr. Putin had quite a lot to say about Russia's war in Ukraine, Israel's war with Hamas, and Mr. Putin confirmed the discussions are ongoing with the U.S. about the fate of two Americans that the State Department says have been detained unfairly, Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

The Kremlin says that more than 2 million questions were submitted for Putin's conference that was combine this year with a call-in show.

CNN's Matthew Chance brings us this report from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was Putin's first big news conference since his invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.

For hours, the Kremlin leader answered carefully picked questions, restating Russian objectives in what he calls a special military operation.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There will be peace when we achieve our goals. They haven't changed. This is the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and its mutual status.

CHANCE: For the first time, Putin revealed more than 600,000 troops are currently in the conflict zone. He gave no indication of losses which U.S. intelligence estimates are extremely high. The Russian leader did however indicate he believed Western resolve on

Ukraine may be crumbling, significantly as American aid for Ukraine is held up, in the U.S. Congress.

PUTIN (through translator): Today, Ukraine produces almost nothing, but they are trying to preserve something, but they produce almost nothing. They get everything -- excuse the bad manners -- for free. But this freebie may end someday, apparently, it is ending.

CHANCE: One Russian reporter asked Putin about recent Ukrainian gains across the Dnipro River. They are just small areas Putin said in which Ukrainian forces are now highly exposed.

PUTIN (through translator): I don't know why they are doing it. They are pushing their people to get killed. It's a one way trip for Ukrainian forces. The reason for these are political because Ukrainian leaders are begging foreign countries for aid.

CHANCE: This was a highly staged event with carefully vetted questions. But a livestream of public texts through up a surprise challenging, how many yachts does Putin have, asked one anonymous message. Why is your reality different to our reality asked another. The glimpse behind the curtain perhaps into what some Russians are really thinking.

In a bizarre moment, a Russian child appeared in a video message asking if her family would never be replaced by robots.

The moderator then played an extraordinary video of what she said was a deepfake image meant for Putin asking the real Russian leader if he had many doubles, the first Putin responding and, of course, there's rumors he has many.

Meanwhile, as Putin held court, the journalist Evan Gershkovich, appeared in one, another appeal against his detention for alleged espionage denied. Though Putin indicated talks to return detained Americans are ongoing.

PUTIN (through translator): It's not that we refused their return. We do not refuse. We want to negotiate and the agreements must be mutually acceptable and satisfactory to both sides.

CHANCE: What Russia wants though remains unclear.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, tonight, Jake, the State Department says it would welcome negotiating with Russia in good faith to bring Americans held in Russia back home. We're talking about Evan Gershkovich and, of course, Paul Whelan as well.

But signs aren't particularly good because one U.S. official noting that so far Russia has rejected every U.S. proposal to bring those Americans home.

TAPPER: Yeah, it's time to bring Evan and Paul home. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks so much.

Coming up, a CNN into the nation's largest credit union, Navy Federal. More than half of Black applicants denied for conventional home loans last year. Why experts say this is part of a larger problem.

Plus, a live look at the D.C. courthouse where a jury is inside deliberating the defamation case against Rudy Giuliani. Will he have to pay tens of millions of damages to election workers after dragging their names through the mud based on lies?

We're on verdict watch -- and back in a moment.



TAPPER: In our money lead, CNN exclusive reporting shows that Navy Federal Credit Union has the widest disparity, the widest disparity in conventional mortgage approval rates between White and Black borrowers of any major lender.

This is the nation's largest credit union. It serves military members, defense personnel, veterans, and their families. CNN's Rene Marsh found that it rejected more than half its Black conventional mortgage applicants from last year.


BOB OTONDI, DALLAS-AREA HOMEOWNER: And it really is a nice neighborhood, you know?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Otondi, a Kenyan immigrant turned Texas entrepreneur, knew this was his dream home the moment he saw it. It's in a highly sought after school district that his son so desperately wanted to attend for its basketball program.

So how many homes did you look at before you found this one and said this was it?

OTONDI: We look at about six. But this was the one that we all wanted. We were all praying to get this one.

MARSH: Otondi's first choice for his mortgage was Navy Federal Credit Union. It services military members, defense personnel, veterans, and their families. And it is the largest credit union in the country.

OTONDI: I was the CEO of my company, so I had a pretty good income.

MARSH: Your credit was in the seven hundreds. You had recently sold your house. You had $100,000 for the downpayment, which was more than 20 percent.

OTONDI: Correct. I mean, what more could you ask for?

MARSH: CNN reviewed Otondi's financial documents. He even had a pre- approval letter from Navy Federal in hand. But just two weeks before closing --

OTONDI: We got a denial.

They sent me a letter saying we are sorry, but your application has been denied.

MARSH: Were you stunned, surprised?

OTONDI: I mean, I was stunned, I was shocked, I was -- hurt


MARSH: The denial letter listed excessive obligations, in relation to income as the reason.

OTONDI: When they denied, when we came back and said, oh, man, there's something else going on.

MARSH: And what did you think that something else was?

OTONDI: Discrimination.

MARSH: But it wasn't just Otondi. Thousands of other Black applicants were also rejected, according to a CNN analysis of federal consumer protection data.

Last year, Navy Federal Credit Union only approved 48 percent. That's less than half of its Black applicants, for conventional home mortgages. White borrowers were approved, more than 75 percent of the time. It's the biggest gap among the top 50 lenders.

The data also shows Navy Federal was more than twice as likely to deny black mortgage applicants than white ones, even when different variables, including incomes, debt, property value, and down payment percentage were the same.

OTONDI: I feel validated, at one point, but I also feel, a bit of anger because it shouldn't be happening.

MARSH: Two weeks after navy federal rejected him, another bank approved Otondi before mortgage.

Navy Federal Credit Union denied CNN's request for an on-camera interview. In a statement, it said it is committed to equal and equitable lending practices, and that CNN's recent analysis does not account for major criteria required by any financial institution to approve a mortgage loan.

That includes credit scores, which are not public. And Navy federal declined to provide additional data. We asked navy federal why Bob Otondi's loan was denied, but they declined to comment, citing member privacy. CNN's analysis does not prove discrimination, but it does show dramatic racial disparities in who Navy federal rejects and approves for conventional mortgage loans. LISA RICE, CEO, NATIONAL FAIR HOUSING ALLIANCE: The Black/White home

ownership gap, and the Latino/White home ownership gap today are both wider than they were, in 1968, when we passed the Federal Fair Housing Act.

MARSH: Lisa Rice has spent decades as a fair housing advocate. She says the disparities in navy federal's lending data are alarming, and an extreme example of a bigger problem.

RICE: There's definitely a larger systemic issue than we know. And we know that we have a long history of redlining, and the long history of lending discrimination in this nation. Well, all of that data, that is sort of tainted with bias, is being used to develop the credit scoring systems.

OTONDI: We got the house, thank God, and we moved on. But, what about the ones who were denied? What about the ones who now don't -- can't get their own dream house? It's something that's going to affect a generation, all the way down to their kids.


MARSH (on camera): Well, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which oversees consumer lending, says that they do not comment on specific institutions, but they do conduct their own investigations to ensure that banks and credit unions are following their lending practices, Jake.

TAPPER: What should people do, if they think they have been discriminated against?

MARSH: Well, you have your local Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Those are two agencies in which you should file a complaint, if you feel you have been discriminated against. I've had people reach out to me since we filed the story and said, should we avoid putting any demographic information on our documents? And, the downside of that is that they no longer have that data to track, like we did with this story today.

TAPPER: Fastening stuff. Rene marsh, thank you so much. Horrible, horrible story.

Coming up next, one of the most daring assignments of any journalist in Israel-Hamas war.

CNN's Clarissa Ward and her team, the first Western media to access southern Gaza without being escorted by the Israeli military. The overwhelming scenes she witnessed, that's coming up.



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

This hour, $48 million, that's how much two Georgia election workers want Rudy Giuliani to pay up for smearing their good names. Jury deliberations are underway right now, after Giuliani abruptly declined to take the stand in his own defense.

Plus, they planned attack for a mass shooting at a synagogue back in September. Court documents obtained by CNN show the suspect was just 13 years old.

And leading this hour, we're about to show you the first look from an independent journalist, not one minded by the IDF or living in fear of Hamas, but what is actually going on in Gaza right now.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, and her team, gain access to bring the story of the horrifying reality on the ground. This, as President Joe Biden today has a new public message for the government of Israel.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not to stop going after Hamas, but to be more careful.


TAPPER: Remember that on Tuesday night at a reception with supporters, President Joe Biden said Israel is about to lose support, quote, by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place, unquote. Indiscriminate.

However much the White House tried to explain away how the word indiscriminate aligns with the White House's insistence that Israel is already doing everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, those two things do not square up.

And President Biden went on to underline that point Tuesday night saying, quote, it was pointed out to me that -- by Bibi -- that well, you carpet-bombed Germany. You dropped the atom bomb. A lot of civilians died, unquote.