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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Trump Disqualified From 2024 Ballot In Colorado; Poll: 42 Percent Of Likely Iowa GOP Voters More Likely To Support Trump Because He Said Illegal Immigrants "Poisoning The Blood" Of U.S.; Barr: C.O. Supreme Court Case Disqualifying Trump From 2024 Ballot Is "Legally Wrong And Untenable"; Israel Returns To The Table For Hostage Negotiations; U.S. And Venezuela Agree To Prisoner Swap; CNN Analysis: Harvard Pres. Claudine Gay's Corrections Do Not Address Clear Instances Of Plagiarism. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired December 20, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, a dramatic new prisoner swap the United States securing the release of 10 Americans, including six wrongfully detained in Venezuela for years. This deal includes the extradition of Leonard Francis aka Fat Leonard, former military contractors who orchestrated the largest corruption scandal in the history of the United States Navy. Coming up, who else is involved in this exchange?
Plus, a top Harvard review board accused of allowing a double standard drawing the line on students in plagiarism but not being so clear on plagiarism questions related to the school's own precedent? And leading this hour, just one day after the Colorado Supreme Court disqualified Donald Trump from his 2024 ballot, the former president is asking the US Supreme Court to stay out of a different dispute having to do with immunity questions in the federal election subversion case against him. How was all of this playing in the 2024 race?
Let's bring in CNN Alayna Treene and Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez.
Evan, the Colorado Supreme Court said last night that Trump is not eligible to be on Colorado's ballot because the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bans insurrectionists from holding office. The U.S. Supreme Court is going to decide whether that ruling stands ultimately. What might this mean for the 2024 election?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, what it means is that it puts the Supreme Court squarely in possibly deciding how this election goes forward, right? Not since the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 have we had the Supreme Court so squarely in the middle of essentially the election race, and that's what we have. I mean, you look at the timeline that we have ahead of us, the former president has until January 4 to file an appeal. We don't anticipate that he's going to do that for a few more days. But he -- we do anticipate that he will go to the Supreme Court because January 5 is the deadline for Colorado to start to certify what names are on their primary ballot.
Of course they go -- the primary voters in Colorado go to the ballot box on March 5th. So, somewhere between now and then we anticipate that the Supreme Court will speak will say something about whether they're going to take this up and review this decision by the Colorado Supreme Court, and possibly maybe render a decision. Of course, Jake, you know that they're also taking a look at other things as well. And so, one of the things that is really striking about this, though, obviously, Jake, is that we have a number of these 14th Amendment challenges that have been going around the states, from Michigan and Minnesota, New Hampshire, all have failed. This is the first state Supreme Court that has now said that the former president is an insurrectionist and also that the 14th Amendment means that he cannot stand on the ballot.
TAPPER: And Evan, the U.S. Supreme Court is also set to weigh a different major case that impacts Trump in 2024. Special Counsel Jack Smith has asked the justices to decide whether Trump has immunity from federal prosecution for the alleged crimes he committed while in office. The Trump team has wanted that to play out in the court system not yet at the Supreme Court. There are some new developments today from Trump's team?
PEREZ: They're telling the Supreme Court to stay out of this at least for now. They want the appeals court process, which is the intervening step for that to play out. Look, the long term plan as you and I we've all known for the former president and his political and legal strategy is to delay, delay, delay. And so, if the Supreme Court takes us up now, it really means that there's a possibility that Jack Smith will be able to put him on trial in federal court here in Washington sometime perhaps in the late spring. And that's not what he wants.
He wants this delayed perhaps to come close to the election or perhaps 2025 when there's a chance that the former president could pardon himself, of course.
TAPPER: Elena, how are Trump's Republican rivals on the campaign trail responding to the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling?
ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, they've all had a similar response, Jake, which is essentially to argue that it shouldn't be up to the judges to decide who is on the ballot in 2024. We heard from Nikki Haley who argued she thinks the election should be in the hands of the voters. And even Chris Christie, someone who has effectively made criticizing Donald Trump, a centerpiece of his campaign said that he doesn't think a court should decide whether or not Donald Trump is on the ballot.
But look, I think we did hear a very interesting response from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who also argued that this decision wasn't fair. But he tried to turn the issue on its head and make the argument that Donald Trump has an electability problem. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do we want to have 2024 to be about this trial, that case, this case having to put hundreds of millions of dollars into legal stuff, or do we want 2024 to be about your issues, about the country's future?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TREENE: Now, Jake, as you could hear there DeSantis arguing essentially that Donald Trump has baggage and do candidates or -- excuse me, do voters want a candidate who comes with all of this drama? And I do think big picture here, you know, this is a very difficult position for these candidates to be out there, crisscrossing Iowa and New Hampshire trying to distinguish themselves from the former president. But time and time again, we've seen them have to defend the former president in light of his legal issues as we saw with his indictments earlier this year as well.
TAPPER: They don't have to defend him.
TREENE: That's fair. That's fair.
TAPPER: Alayna, how is Trump's team framing this?
TREENE: Well, first of all, I think according to my conversations with Donald Trump's advisors, they were very surprised by this decision, they had initially anticipated that the higher courts would side with Donald Trump and clearly that is not what happened last night. But the strategy that they're using to attack this decision is the same strategy they've been using with all of Donald Trump's legal issues, which is essentially to call it political, to argue that the judges on the bench are biased against him. And of course, to fundraise off of this and try to fundraise off of Donald Trump's misfortune here, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Alayna Treene and Evan Perez, thanks to both of you.
Let's discuss with our panel right now. David Frum, let me start with you. You have a column in the Atlantic about how this is an opportunity. Republican rivals of Trumps should cease we read some of it to Bill Barr earlier. I'm not sure if you caught that.
DAVID FRUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes.
TAPPER: He disagreed. But you do hear Ron DeSantis, perhaps not as forthrightly as you would like him to make the case --
TAPPER: -- but him trying to make the case that this trial -- that this finding of the Colorado Supreme Court is part of a problem with Trump's candidacy. But that's not enough, I would guess in your view?
FRUM: When this case or this litigation began to move forward last summer, I cautioned against it, because I worried then the timeline for the litigation would arrive when this was a Trump versus Biden race. And it would look like the courts were siding with Biden against Trump and that could be very dangerous. But they've -- the courts have acted fast, this is not a Trump Biden matter. This is a Trump versus his rivals. This is the primary ballot we're talking about. The beneficiaries of this case or other Republicans.
And this is a chance for the Republican Party to do some housekeeping. And to say, it's not just that he's got baggage, is -- but he's filled the baggage himself with his own crimes. It's going to be very hard that these candidates are all running for second place. As Jerry Seinfeld's would say, you come first among all the losers. They shouldn't be taking the case to the former president say he is -- he did lead an insurrection, the Wisconsin court -- sorry, the Colorado court is right and that's why you should vote against him and vote for me on the Republican ballot.
NAYYERA HAQ, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: They also they also had the opportunity as a Republican Party to deal with this and impeachment or in Congress, right? The insurrection had its time, and now there's a serious legal challenge we find about an insurrectionists being on a major party ballot. And what we're hearing is voters should decide, judges decide all the time who appears on a ballot, whether it's incorrect signatures or whether you had enough people to support you. And it's interesting to see Republicans use the different methods of the legal system at some points respecting rule of law when it works in their favor, and at others as saying that this is strictly a political stunt.
TAPPER: Doug, listened to what an Iowa voter last night told CNN's Jeff Zeleny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIE HEIPIE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's not right, that they should take him off the ballot. It's not what the people want. Isn't it odd that everything that he does, they attack him for, they file court proceedings against him, but the Democrats can get away with everything?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That's vox populi. There's an Iowa voter right there.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. And also, it sounds a lot like what we've heard after indictment, after indictment from a Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. Most of Trumps I'll put rivals in quotation marks because what they've done even with what DeSantis said today, he said very loudly, Trump's a victim, and there might be baggage. What they've done is they've reinforced Donald Trump's messaging. So, we'll see a poll come out in the next week or two, it'll show that Donald Trump is likely stronger than he has been because of all of this reinforcing his core messaging, I'm a victim and they're against me because they're against you.
And we'll say, why did this happen? Well, this has happened because we've had a year of people who are ostensibly running against Donald Trump failing to take the opportunity. They've not just not going after Donald Trump, they've reinforced his messaging. Donald Trump is stronger today because of his Republican opponents. And if I'm one candidate in particular, I'm particularly concerned. This conversation, we're not going to use the term, Nikki-mentum.
We're not going to be talking about the Haley surge. And so, now that her surge, which was real and we've seen polling behind it, falls to the wayside have a front page stories, it's going to be real concern for her campaign.
TAPPER: So, David, let me ask you, because obviously, there are lots of polls indicating that Republican voters don't believe that the insurrection happen, they do believe that, you know, that Joe Biden didn't win in 2020, et cetera, et cetera, what would you advise DeSantis, Christie, Nikki Haley to say in a way that prosecuted the case against Donald Trump based on this Colorado ruling but also was appealing to Republican voters given the lies that they've been fed from Trump, Fox and others?
FRUM: Well, one thing they could say is Donald Trump entered presidential politics in 2011 and shot to the front of the Republican field by arguing that Barack Obama should not appear on the 2012 presidential ballot because he was not a natural born citizen. That Donald Trump was the first person to introduce the qualification disqualification issue into presidential politics. In that case, it was a fantasy, in this case, it's a reality.
HEYE: And Ted Cruz in Iowa as well, he argued against it.
FRUM: He argued that as well.
TAPPER: All right. But Ted Cruz was Canadian --
TAPPER: -- senator. Yes. Also not true, but yes.
FRUM: But what they -- what I would advise any of them is that, you know, you can't know what is the smart tactic. That's too hard to figure out. It's too unpredictable. You can know what is the right tactic. And the question you should ask yourself as a candidate for president is, if you lose, what do you -- how do you want to look back on your campaign?
Did you give it your all? Did you fight the fight as hard as you could or you're too scared, too weak to defeat it already, to pre defeated already on the inside so you lost without even really trying? At least try. If you lose, then you can lose as a fighter and not as a coward.
TAPPER: So last night in Iowa -- I just want to bring this up because I don't want to miss this. Last night in Iowa, Trump repeated his comments about Asian, South American and African immigrants. He never mentioned Europeans. It's always those three groups. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's crazy what's going on? They're ruining our country. And it's true that destroying the blood of our country, that's what they're doing. They're destroying our country. They don't like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf. They said, oh, Hitler said that in a much different way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: All right, so he never read Mein Kampf, no one ever accused him of reading a book. But I do want to note in this 1990 Vanity Fair excerpt, David, you and I are old enough to remember this, rebrand our rights, Trump's first wife, "Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler's collected speeches, "My New Order," which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed." So.
HAQ: What's worse that it's something that he knows from memory or that he stumbles into it by accident, because he just naturally sounds like Hitler and a fascist. This is a guy who thinks it's funny to not declare that he will hand over the presidency as by rule of law, and clearly he didn't. And now says on day one, he's going to just be dictator and put his political enemies into prison. That is what Republicans have in front of them. And they are not running right now as opponents to Donald Trump.
Many of them are running to be cabinet ministers or to potentially have other seats of power at the table in a Trump administration. And the rest of us Americans, I would say Democrats and Americans are looking around thinking, are we really going to find ourselves deciding the election, not by popular vote, but by the Supreme Court again?
TAPPER: We might. This, I want to get both of your reactions to this because this was shocking, a Des Moines Register poll of Iowa voters asked likely Republican caucus goers what they thought about a candidate who used the term immigrants poisoning the blood of America, 42 percent of Iowa Republicans said it would make them more likely to support that candidate, 28 percent less likely, 29 percent does not matter. So, a plurality of Republican caucus goers, David and then Doug, say, more please, I like this Hitler language.
FRUM: Look, I'm just going to go back to the thing I keep insisting to Republicans. You have a chance to run the race you want to run. Who knows what will work? Who knows what -- how the voters will evolve? Who knows what will happen with interest rates and crises in abroad?
What you can know, the only thing you can control is the kind of candidate you are. And if you lose, how you will look back on your loss. And there are candidates who can look back and say, as Ted Kennedy said in 1980, I fought the good fight. Do you want to be the candidate who looks back and says I fought a disgusting fight?
TAPPER: What do you what do you make of this 42 percent support of Republican caucus goers for language that seems cribbed from -- yes.
HEYE: Republican or Democrat, anybody who spent time in Iowa around the caucus knows the term Iowa nice. Iowa voters are the nicest people in the world. But what we've seen in the Trump era is that part of the Republican base is not so nice. And another part of the base, so you combine these two, anything that Donald Trump says they'll just say, yes, give me more of that, whether they think about it or not. And what troubles me isn't just the language that Trump uses, but if he's using it and then wins, what is he going to do within that rhetoric?
What are the actions that follow the rhetoric? And that's what gets us to a very, very un-American place.
TAPPER: Yes. Nayyera Haq, Doug Heye, and Dave Frum, thanks for being here. Happy holidays.
Coming up, a notable conservative scholar who says the Colorado Supreme Court ruling is justified. Retired judge Michael Luttig calls it magnificent. That's quite different from what we heard from Bill Barr in the previous hour. Judge Luttig will join me next.
TAPPER: Staying in our law and justice league and the fallout from Colorado Supreme Court's ruling barring Trump from appearing on the state's primary ballot under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We turn now to Michael Luttig, former federal judge who has been a leading conservative legal voice for decades. Back in August Luttig co-wrote an article for The Atlantic, quote, "The Constitution Prohibits Trump From Ever Being President Again." He argued there that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution should be used in the precise way that Colorado Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Judge Luttig, always good to see you. Let's start with your reaction to what former Attorney General Bill Barr told me about an hour ago. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: I think that this case is legally wrong and untenable. And I think this kind of action of stretching the law taking these hyper aggressive positions to try to knock Trump out of the race are counterproductive. They backfire. As you know he feeds on grievance just like a fire feeds on oxygen. And this is going to end up as a grievance that helps him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So that's two arguments there. One against the decision and the other on the political response. What's your reaction?
J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, RETIRED FEDERAL JUDGE: Jake, thanks for having me on this evening. It's always a pleasure. The Colorado Supreme Court's decision yesterday was a judicial masterpiece of constitutional interpretation of section three of the 14th Amendment. The opinion and the decision are unassailable, and irrefutable. I did not have the opportunity to see the former attorney general on your show earlier.
Based on that segment that I just heard, the former attorney general is categorically incorrect to the extent that he was commenting on the legal sufficiency of the Colorado Supreme Court's decision. It was in every single respect, not only under state law, but more importantly, under the federal constitutional law. An impeccable decision, as I said, irrefutable.
TAPPER: So one of the arguments that Attorney General Barr made was that he didn't think that even though there was a four or five day trial in the District Court in Denver about Donald Trump, which asserted that Donald Trump had actually engaged in insurrection, he didn't think that that was enough of a trial to meet the standard that should exist to find that a U.S. president has engaged in insurrection or former president has engaged in insurrection. He said there was -- there just wasn't enough due process. What would your argument to that be?
LUTTIG: Mr. Barr is simply incorrect in that assessment, Jake.
TAPPER: Now that this is --
LUTTIG: There's not even an argument that -- there's not even an argument that the former president was denied a due process in the course of the Colorado proceedings.
TAPPER: Now that this is likely to be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, you've said this will be the single most important decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in our nation's history. Why do you say that? What do you think is at stake here?
LUTTIG: Well, it is the most pressing and consequential constitutional issue today facing America. And when and if the Supreme Court decides this case out of Colorado, then it's the Supreme Court's decision will be historic. And it will be an historic decision for American democracy, for the Constitution itself, and for the rule of law in America. Needless to say, never before in our history as a former president even been prosecuted for criminal conduct, let alone tried by a jury. In this instance, a former president will be tried for attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election by the terms of the 14th amendment.
According to the Colorado Supreme Court, his conduct constituted an insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution of the United States --
LUTTIG: -- leading him possibly to be disqualified. So when the Supreme Court decides that decision, it will ipso facto be one of the most consequential constitutional decisions in American history.
TAPPER: So, you know, these justices pretty well, many of them, it's a six, three conservative to a liberal division on the court right now. Three of them were appointed by Donald Trump. I find it very difficult to imagine the court, the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Colorado Supreme Court. Do you disagree with me?
LUTTIG: I don't have any comment on your view, Jake. I will just say this, my entire life I've held the Supreme Court of the United States as an institution in -- with high reverence. And I hold the court today with that same reference.
If the Supreme Court were to reverse the Colorado case, I would still hold the court with the same reference that I do today. But I do not believe that the Supreme Court will reverse the Colorado Supreme Court, because based on the objective law, which in this instance, is section three of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, it is unquestionably the case that the former president is -- comes within the ambit of that disqualification clause of the Constitution and that he conducted or engaged in an insurrection or rebellion against the Constitution of the United States.
The Supreme Court justices are bound by oath to apply the Constitution of the United States as it exist without resort to any other extraneous consideration, political or otherwise. And so, we -- all of us Americans, we have to assume that the Supreme Court the United States will do just that in this most historic case.
TAPPER: Judge Michael Luttig, always a pleasure and an honor to have you on, sir. Thank you so much.
LUTTIG: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: Coming up next, inside the new negotiations to free more hostages held by Hamas, what sources tell CNN about a proposal that Israel is now putting on the table. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with our World Lead. A United Nations Security Council resolution that calls for a stop in hostilities in Gaza to allow more aid was delayed for a third time this week as U.N. negotiators trying to get the United States on board with the language. And while the U.N. stalls, Israel has come back to the negotiating table with Hamas in an attempt to secure the release of more of the hostages Hamas seized on October 7th. CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports for us now from Tel Aviv as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes under intense pressure.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Israel and Hamas inching back to the negotiating table.
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages.
DIAMOND (voice-over): Nearly three weeks after a fragile week long truce collapse, top negotiators crisscrossing the globe for key meetings. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas landing in Cairo for talks with Egyptian mediators. Israel's Mossad director, Qatar's Prime Minister and the CIA director, meanwhile, meeting in Warsaw earlier this week, with a source describing the meeting as positive. Israel putting a new proposal on the table. Another week long pause in fighting in exchange for the release of about 40 hostages, sources told CNN and Axios.
Israel would also release more Palestinian prisoners and an Israeli official telling CNN that Hamas is asking for more heavy duty prisoners than before. Until recently, Hamas vowing not to open any negotiations, unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all.
MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: They were hoping for a permanent ceasefire. But I hope that under the pressure of what we're doing on the ground, plus pressure from the Qataris, they will agree to do a deal but it's premature at this phase.
DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also coming under significant public pressure to reach a deal after Israeli soldiers mistakenly shot and killed three hostages in Gaza. Netanyahu telling the families of hostages he dispatched the Mossad director to Europe to advance the process for the release of our hostages, vowing to spare no effort on the matter. But he is also promising more war.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Whoever thinks that we will stop is detached from reality. We will not stop fighting until all of the goals that we have set are achieved, the elimination of Hamas, the release of our hostages and the removal of the threat from Gaza.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For all those who have suffered.
DIAMOND (voice-over): The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, still debating a resolution that would call for the opposite haggling over language calling for a pause in the fighting that the U.S. could support.
DIAMOND (on camera): And we're told that those negotiations are still ongoing at this hour centering over the language around the cessation of hostilities, as well as a mechanism calling for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism in Gaza. President Biden for his part says that they are still negotiating, and he says that he hopes that there will be a resolution that the U.S. may be able to agree to. Jake?
TAPPER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv, thanks so much.
New video just in showing the lone prisoner the U.S. released in exchange for 10 Americans detained in Venezuela. The American should land back on U.S. soil in a few hours. The dramatic details of this prisoner swap with Venezuela that's next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, 10 Americans have been released from Venezuela prison. They're in an aircraft on their way home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was President Joe Biden just hours ago celebrating a deal that led to the release of 10 Americans detained in Venezuela. The group includes six Americans that were classified as wrongly detained. They are currently on route to the United States, are expected to land in San Antonio, Texas this evening. Let's bring in CNN's MJ Lee, who's live for us at the White House. MJ, how did this agreement come about?
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, after months of high level negotiations between the U.S. and Venezuela, you heard the President saying earlier today that for this White House, there's no higher priority than securing the release of Americans that they deem wrongfully detained or our hostages. And among the 10 Americans that are returning to the U.S. are six people that the U.S. government says have been wrongfully detained.
And in exchange, the U.S. is releasing a man named Alex Saab. This is a Colombian businessman who is a close ally of President Maduro of Venezuela, who was behind a corruption scheme allegedly that helped President Maduro to the tune of some hundreds of millions of dollars. And U.S. officials say the decision to grant him clemency was an extremely difficult one for President Biden.
But as we just heard him say here at the White House when he got off Marine One, he believed that this deal was worth making because again, it secure the release of Americans that were wrongfully detained. Now, I should also quickly note that somebody else that is being returned to the U.S. is a man named Leonard Francis, also widely known as Fat Leonard. This is a former military contractor who was allegedly behind one of the biggest corruption schemes in U.S. Navy history.
He had fled to Venezuela. And what U.S. officials are saying about him is that once he is returned to the U.S., they will be able to go after him for the alleged crimes that he is being accused of. Jake?
TAPPER: Because all of this mean, in the context of the very difficult U.S.-Venezuela state of relations right now.
LEE: Yes, I mean, we have certainly seen efforts by the U.S. to improve relations with Venezuela. We saw recently, the U.S. government easing sanctions on Venezuela, for example. And this step would certainly be another step towards the improvement of relations. You know, the administration, as you know, very well, Jake, has been pushing for Maduro and his government to hold fair and free elections. And the President told reporters earlier today that he does believe that Maduro is still on track to doing that, but injected a little bit of skepticism saying, you know, we're not all the way there yet. We'll basically have to wait and see.
You know, Venezuela, needless to say, is a very important country for the U.S. to have working relations with, particularly given the huge numbers of people coming from Venezuela to the U.S. southern border. Obviously, domestically, this has been such an important political issue for this President and this White House. Jake?
TAPPER: MJ Lee at the White House, thanks.
Let's go to CNN's Isa Soares, who's interviewed Alex Saab before he's the Venezuelan released today. Isa, tell us more about this person who has such close ties to President Maduro.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, good to see you. Well, Alex Saab is and has been in fact for well over a decade Maduro's money man or bag man if you want to call him. He is pivotal to Nicolas Maduro. He is his fixer, and the ultimate dealmaker. And to see the extent of this, you only have to look at the press release, in fact, that the Venezuelan government put out in the last few hours. They call him our Diplomat saying, that he was kidnapped, Jake, by the United States for more than three years.
And you only have to look at the moment in fact, you're looking at there now. And the moment he landed in Caracas today to see the importance off him to Nicolas Maduro, he received almost like a hero's welcome with the First Lady. And then if we have the little video there of Venezuela, Cilia Flores and other high ranking members of the Venezuelan government there to greet him.
Now he was arrested just from context for our viewers back in 2020 in Cape Verde while traveling from Venezuela to Iran, his jet actually stopped in Cape Verde to refuel and that's when he was apprehended and extradited to the United States. He was charged with money laundering and bribery, siphoning off some lumps -- something like $350 million from Venezuela as part of a scheme to bribe government officials.
On top of that, Jake, he orchestrated a corruption network that enabled Maduro and his regime to significantly profit from food imports. In other words, using food as a form of social control. Now, context here is important for our viewers. For Maduro, Jake, this is a when he shows the United States who was MJ Lee said who is sanctions on Venezuela in October, that he's sticking to his promise of freeing American hostages.
Domestically, it plays well too because he shows those who backed him, the Chavistas that loyalty matters. And with an election, perhaps around the corner it may play well as well with his base, Jake.
TAPPER: And Isa, tell us more about the 10 Americans being released in this expedition of Fat Leonard, as you noted. SOARES: Yes, as MJ said 10 Americans released in total six of them, Jake, were wrongfully detained. They're releasing includes, I'm going to read some of their names, Eyvin Hernandez, Jerrel Kenemore, Joseph Cristella and Savoi Wright. Now, Luke Denman and Airan Berry are also part of this group of 10 Americans who were released. Luke and Airan are two former Green Berets, who were arrested in Venezuela back in 2020 for their alleged roles in what Maduro called a failed coup.
They were sentenced for something like 20 years in prison. I've been in contact with Luke's brother, Mark over the years. And I can tell you that this moment he's been waiting for a long, long time even when the sit go six (ph) if you remember Jake were released. He was hoping that his brother will be part of that exchange that wasn't. So this moment means you can't imagine what this moment means to him.
As part of this deal, this prisoner swap deal, U.S. also sees the return of course, or Fat Leonard of Leonard France's former military contracted who orchestrated the largest corruption scandal in U.S. Navy history. He pleaded guilty for context in 2013, arrested in 2013, pleaded guilty in 2015 and then was on house arrest awaiting sentencing. He cut off his ankle tracking bracelet, fled to Cuba, then to Venezuela with the intention says the Venezuelan government of getting to Russia. Jake?
TAPPER: All right. Isa Soares, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up next, the debate on Harvard's campus right now over plagiarism to the rules for students also apply to Harvard's president.
TAPPER: In our National Lead, is Harvard University really holding its President, Claudine Gay, Dr. Claudine Gay, to the same standards when it comes to the plagiarism that it would assail for students committing the same offense. You might recall Dr. Gay along with the presidents of MIT and Penn giving, generally seen as disastrous testimony on Capitol Hill earlier this month. They failed to explicitly say that calling for the genocide of Jews on campus would violate their campuses codes of conduct. Now that as well as Gay's commitment to progressive policies have made her many right wing enemies who have recently raised issues about her scholarship.
But regardless of the provenance of these allegations, there is also the matter of whether or not they're true. Harvard's top governing body said a review revealed quote, inadequate citations by Dr. Gay in a few instances, but quote, no violation of Harvard standards for research misconduct, unquote. Now, Harvard's guide on sourcing says this on plagiarism, quote, in academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper, unquote. Now, critics of Dr. Gay and Harvard's review of the allegation say that there is a double standard going on here. CNN's Matt Egan is following this. Matt, what exactly is Dr. Gay accused of here?
MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jake, Claudine Gay's career is under a microscope. And now she's speaking facing accusations of plagiarism. Now Gay recently submitted corrections to two papers that she wrote as a professional academic in 2001 and 2017. However, there are clear examples of plagiarism that occurred in the 1990s when Gay was studying for her PhD at Harvard. And one example, Gay's 1997 dissertation lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from another, from another source without citation.
That offense appears to go against Harvard's current guide on plagiarism, which you stated earlier, Jake. Harvard's plagiarism policy says that students who submit work without clear attribution to sources will be, quote, subject to disciplinary action up to and including requirement to withdraw from the college. Now the first publicly identified instance of plagiarism by Gay comes from a failure to properly cite sources in a 1993 essay.
These instances of plagiarism were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. CNN's analysis led by my colleague Emstek (ph), confirmed some of the main allegations in that reporting. Now Harvard's top governing body said in a statement last week, it became aware of plagiarism allegations against gay in late October, an independent review found a few instances of missing citations, but no violation of Harvard standards.
However, it's not clear whether that review included Gay's 1997 dissertation. Neither Harvard nor Gay have commented on the allegations of plagiarism from the 1990's. CNN reached out to Harvard with a list of questions but the school declined to comment.
In a previous statement, Gay said, quote, I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards. And we should note that the plagiarism allegations against Gay were first circulated by conservative activists. And one of those activists has also criticized Gay on Harvard's diversity policies. And Gay's most outspoken critic hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman has also highlighted the plagiarism charges. And he's argued without evidence that Harvard only hired Gay to fulfill diversity requirements.
Now plagiarism experts that CNN spoke to stress that this is a very complex issue. These experts were divided on whether Gay's omissions weren't any punishment, but none of them called for her to be fired. And they noted it's quite rare for academics to be fired for plagiarism. Jake?
TAPPER: What else are critics and plagiarism experts saying about Harvard's review of these plagiarism allegations?
EGAN: Well, one criticism is the lightning fast speed that Harvard pulled off this independent review. These types of plagiarism reviews, they can take anywhere from six months to two years. This one not even two months, another criticism is that there's a double standard, one set of rules for the students, another for the president of the university. I do think we should emphasize though, that these flames have been fired and fueled by activists, not activists who are really concerned about academic citation methods, but right wing activists who are trying to push out the presidents of ivy league schools who they feel are too liberal.
One last point here, Jake, remember when you talk about plagiarism, it really falls into two different categories. One is copying without attribution. There's also the more serious allegation of stealing someone else's ideas. And in this instance, these allegations of plagiarism are really all in the former camp. So yes, sloppy citations, but no, not ideal theft (ph). Jake?
TAPPER: Yes. The big question I think in the future is, how will Harvard be able to punish any students found guilty of the same offense without inviting a lawsuit because if she gets away with something that students can't get and get away with that could be messy legally for the school, which I'm sure Harvard's lawyers have thought about way before I just said that. Matt Egan, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
A rather symbolic move in Minnesota of all places, it's worth a look. That's next.
TAPPER: Oh yes, it's a big story in our National Lead. Minnesota unveiled its new state flag, Tuesday, after a month long contest to pick a new look. The design was one of more than 2,000 public entries that the state reviewed which included images of Minnesota state symbols such as the Loon, the state bird and the Monarch Butterfly, often seen in the summer. Other options included photo of a residence dog, calls the changed the flag go back as far as the 1960's with critics arguing that the Native American that you see there and on horseback in the center of the seal there that's a reference to the displacement of indigenous people throughout Minnesota's history.
All right, if you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow. I hope you're getting ready for Christmas. See you tomorrow.