Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Rudy Giuliani Declares Bankruptcy In Federal Court; Gunman Kills 14, Wounds At 25 At The University In Prague; Hamas: No Hostage Talks Until Israel Ends Military Operation; W.H.O.: "No Functional Hospitals Left" In Northern Gaza; House Committee Launches Plagiarism Probe Into Harvard President; CNN Flies Over Lava Field From Volcano In Iceland. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 21, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: What a moment. I feel like Maury Povich has resolved some family issues. He has made a name for himself in clearing up really the nebulous father of parenthood.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Normally, people don't cheer.

SANCHEZ: Some people do back flips. You've got to watch those YouTube compilations.

KEILAR: Well, that was funny.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Fourteen people shot and killed at a university in Prague.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Terrifying scenes in the Czech Republic's capital city. A gunman's deadly rampage, killing his father and the targeting a school. You see these students left hiding outside on the ledge of a building. What we're learning at this hour about this rare type of attack for Europe.

Plus, all eyes on the U.S. Supreme Court as special counsel Jack Smith pushes back today against team Trump. Will the justices weigh in on whether or not Trump has immunity before Christmas?

But first, a new low for Rudy Giuliani, filing for bankruptcy today. His list of people he is trying to skip out in paying includes, how about this? Hunter Biden.


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

And we start today with our law and justice lead, and Rudy Giuliani facing the steep cost of his campaign of lies and disinformation and service of Donald Trump. If you thought Mr. Giuliani's lowest point came outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping, just north of the Tacony- Palmyra Bridge. Or perhaps that infamous hair dye drip press conference, I forgot how bad that was.

Anyway, if you thought those were the low points, think again. Today, the former New York City mayor filed for bankruptcy in federal court. This is less than a week after a jury ordered him to pay nearly $150 million to two former Georgia election workers for defamation. This is the latest embarrassing chapter in the spectacular fall from grace for "Time Magazine's" person of the year 2001.

And it's a move that Giuliani's lawyer said should surprise no one. That settlement to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss is not his only financial, headache after all. According to the bankruptcy filing, Giuliani has nearly a million dollars in unpaid taxes. He owes his lawyers and accountants hundreds of thousands of dollars. He still faces a number of upcoming defamation cases, ones that have not even yet gone to trial.

Let's get straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz.

So, Katelyn, now that Giuliani has filed for bankruptcy, will any of these people get paid?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is going to be remaining to be seen because, in this sort of situation, he is filing for Chapter 11. So, he's going to be able to try and restructure his debts and have his assets doled out. There are liens already filed on some of his property. IRS have filed for a lien previously.

But one of the things that is so important to look at when you think about this, he's filing for bankruptcy. He's laying out all of these deaths that he has, the almost $2 million for lawyers and consultants in the past, almost a million dollars in taxes. That all pales in comparison to what he now owes Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss for the defamation, for what happened last week at trial, that jury verdict.

And that is the sort of thing he can go to the bankruptcy court and asked the judge, please, discharge this debt. But he has already agreed in that case as part of the final judgment that it was malicious. That is the sort of debt you can't get rid of through bankruptcy. So, he is going to be indebted to them, very likely, after some court proceedings, for the rest of his life.

TAPPER: And we mentioned these other defamation lawsuits that are still pending against him. What are they? And could that mean he's going to actually owe even more money?

POLANTZ: Very well could. And Jake, you won't be surprised, there are three of them related to other statements he was making after the 2020 election when he was working on behalf of Donald Trump. So, he clearly had a defamation case that he lost with Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, the two Georgia election workers.

But there is also someone who worked for one of the voting machine companies that is suing him. They're the two voting machine companies that have major lawsuits that are progressing steadily in court. Dominion and Smartmatic, those are ongoing, could result in additional major findings against Giuliani if they go the same way as the Freeman and Moss case.

And then, on top of that, there are other lawsuits. Some of them are your grab bag lawsuits, grocery store employee suing him for an altercation that they had with a grocery store employee was arrested. A former employee suing him for harassment.


And then Hunter Biden, you mentioned, that is a lawsuit that is in a very early stage. We have no idea if Giuliani is going to end up owing Hunter Biden money. But it is a lawsuit out there. And so, he does have to disclose it in his bankruptcy now in case it gets to the point where he owes more money later.

TAPPER: We don't know if he's going to end up paying Hunter Biden money. We know he tells a lot of lies and defames a lot of people, and we've seen courts come to that conclusion.

Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Ken Frydman. He served as a spokesman for Rudy Giuliani's 1993 mayoral campaign. Also with us is Jared Elias, a bankruptcy professor at Harvard Law School.

Jared, help me understand this because I am not an expert on bankruptcy and I'm guessing most of our viewers are not.

Put this -- put this into context, how big of a deal is it for somebody, especially somebody of Rudy Giuliani stature, who is once worth a lot of money as the, you know, founding member of Bracewell Giuliani, et cetera, to file for bankruptcy? How big a deal is that?

JARED ELIAS, BANKRUPTCY PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, it's unusual. It's not unheard of but it's unusual for someone as rich as he once was to end up needing bankruptcy protection, especially to need bankruptcy protection for this type of litigation.

TAPPER: And, Ken, as somebody who used to work for and admire Rudy Giuliani, what goes through your mind as you watch this man for whom you used to work now having to file bankruptcy because he can't stop lying?

KEN FRYDMAN, SPOKESMAN, 1993 GIULIANI MAYORAL CAMPAIGN: Well, my first thought is his lawyer's, correct it doesn't come out of a surprise after the judge ruled that he has to begin paying Moss and Freeman immediately, no coincidence that he filed for bankruptcy the next day.

Katelyn is right, the damages and the law -- the bankruptcy professor certainly can speak to this, the damage awards for intentional misconduct are not entitled to a bankruptcy protection, reduced or discharged. He owes Uncle Sam first, a million or more dollars, the federal government and the state government, for unpaid taxes. After that, the secured creditors will be compensated for the remaining assets that Rudy -- that's determined that Rudy has. He says he has between $1 million in $10 million in assets. The funny thing about all of this is he never cared about money. That

is until he started making big money. And then he married a very expensive third ex-wife.

TAPPER: Right.

And, Jared, part of the final judgment in the 2020 election defamation case against Giuliani included his acknowledgment that he defamed Ruby Moss and Shaye Freeman -- I'm sorry, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. That he defamed them with malice. That obviously makes it harder for him to escape that debt.

What happens? Does the government just come and start taking money from his bank account after the million dollars that he owes in Texas has already been settled? I mean, he obviously -- we just saw pictures of him, he's wearing expensive suits, expensive ties. You know, he's riding in a limo. I mean, this is not a man, you know, outside wearing a barrel.

ELIAS: No, in the bankruptcy petition, he says he has between $1 million and $10 million worth of assets. So, he's not indigent. As you mentioned, there are other signs that he, in fact, might have resources. So, what's going to happen here is that the judge will hold a hearing to confirm that this debt can't be discharged. Which means you can't ask bankruptcy judge to release you from the amount of money that he owes the election defamation claims as well as some of the others.

And, you know, if that's true, which it most likely is, then, at some point, he will leave bankruptcy and have to start paying some amount of money if he has any to all the people who are suing him. But he can't use the bankruptcy process to get out of this debt --


TAPPER: And, Ken, do you think Giuliani would have gone down this path of election lies, crazy conspiracy theories, seemingly mindless decisions to keep repeating these lies even after he's been found guilty and liable, if it weren't for Donald Trump? And what is this hold that Donald Trump has over him, do you think?

FRYDMAN: Probably not, to answer your question. They are attached at the hip now, you know? Trump is --

TAPPER: Except Trump won't pay his bills. Trump won't pay his legal bills, right?


FRYDMAN: Right. But Trump has -- he held a fund-raiser, didn't raise much money as you know, because he's worried that Rudy will flip on him, all right? But he's not going to pay $148 million judgment.

And speaking of judgment, I think that's where Rudy went wrong.

[16:10:00] You know, people still ask me what happened to him. His judgment has been eroded, you know, by money, by renewed relevance, alcohol possibly, Ambien possibly and direct access to the White House. It's been an intoxicating, seductive brew for Giuliani, and addictive.

TAPPER: Yeah, I mean, the Ambien is an interesting wrinkle, we'll have to follow up more on investigatively.


TAPPER: Jared, will Giuliani -- I mean, Giuliani is not staying at the YMCA. Is he ultimately going to have to sell the property is he owns and move to some sort of more modest housing?

ELIAS: It really depends on a lot of things, like what exactly does he turn out to own. It's hard to say right now exactly where this is all headed. More than likely, what will happen instead is somehow he's going to be living somewhere, it won't quite be clear how. He's going to get sued by the plaintiffs. You know, it's kind of like O.J. Simpson has experienced with Ron Goldman over the years. I think that is the more likely outcome then he's going to move to the YMCA.

TAPPER: Yeah. All right. Ken Frydman and Jared Elias, thank you so much.

Go inside Rudy Giuliani's rise and dramatic fall in the CNN original series, "Giuliani: What happened to America's mayor?" Ken helped us with that series, with that special. The series and airs this Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

And, man, oh how the mighty have fallen.

Coming up next, that horrific scene earlier today in Prague, in the Czech Republic. At least 14 innocent people killed, 25 others injured. A mass shooting that left people hiding on a building ledge. The terrifying scene, that's next.



TAPPER: You know, the world lead, a deadly mass shooting today at a university in Prague. Czech police a shooter killed at least 14 people and wounded 25 others at Charles University. It's one of Czech Republic's worst mass shootings in decades.

Let's get right to CNN's Melissa Bell.

Melissa, what are we learning about the victims?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was a busy campus, part of the town of the Czech Republic's main city center, inside Prague. Very touristy, people milling around, lots of students of course. We don't know exactly the occupations, the ages, the exact names of the victims. We do know there were at least 14 people killed. But given this wasn't

a busy university, we assume, sadly, that many of them were students. And what we are talking about were extremely violent scenes earlier and images that were fairly used to seeing in the United States, much less so on the European continent. Images of students hiding and cowering on allege several stories up a building to try to stay away from the shooter's fire.

But also images of students barricading themselves inside these rooms in the university campus as this active shooting situation continued.

We had the chance to speak to one of them just a short while ago. Here's what Jacob Weizman had to tell CNN about what he had seen.


JAKOB WEIZMAN, STUDENT AT CHARLES UNIVERSITY: So, it was just me and my professor during -- when I was taking the exam. And so, we barricaded the door, locked the door to make sure that there was no way for the shooter to come in because he was going through different classrooms to see who is inside and who he could do what he was trying to do. And, yeah, so, thankfully, we locked the door in time and he was not able to open our door.


BELL: Terrifying scenes for all the students inside the faculty of arts inside of Charles University. Again, Jake, in a city on a continent where these kinds of mass shootings are extremely few and far between.

TAPPER: Melissa, right before the suspect was on campus, we understand he allegedly killed his father?

BELL: That's right. We were getting a clear image of exactly who this young man is, 24-year-old philosophy student who was enrolled at the university where he carried out his rampage. And what the police have said is that they understand they found his father dead, believed that he may have killed him before heading to the university to take on his fellow university students.

Now, the police had been tipped off that he was armed and wanting to kill himself. They had gone to the university, entirely evacuated the building in which this young man, this 24-year-old student was due to have a lecture. It was in fact another part of the campus that he struck with this terrible loss of life resulting in that.

TAPPER: The student had no criminal record, we can understand, but he obviously had access to weapons.

BELL: Well, the Czech Republic is an unusual European country in so far as -- for it's very small size, it has a relatively high per capita possession of firearms. It's a relatively liberal weapons law that they have, this young man had a permit, he had access to several firearms but no criminal record. There's no reason for him to be on the police's radar. And yet, what we are hearing is that you may have been responsible for

a double homicide early last week in which a young man and his young baby were killed -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that update.

Next to Israel, where hopes for a new hostage deal may now be off. Talks shot down by Hamas.

Plus, a look inside hospitals in Gaza and what is described as unbearable conditions.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. Just as hopes have been reignited briefly for a new hostage deal, Hamas has seemingly snuffed to those hopes out. Hamas says there will be no talks about prisoner exchanges until Israel completely ends its military operation in Gaza.

Jeremy Diamond is live in Tel Aviv for us. And CNN's Alex Marquardt is here in studio.

Jeremy, today, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, quote, we will not stop the war until we achieve all of its goals, completing the elimination of Hamas and releasing all of our hostages, unquote. Are there any indications that Israel will move to a lower intensity phase of the war anytime soon, as the White House has requested, if not demanded behind the scenes?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is certainly no public indications to that effect. In fact, Israel's military campaign is proceeding full steam ahead. They're working to dismantle the last remaining Hamas strongholds in northern Gaza and adding thousands more troops to their offensive in southern Gaza, deep into the city of Khan Younis.

Publicly, officials like Netanyahu are vowing that there is no end in sight to this war. But privately, I can tell you from speaking to several senior Israeli officials, there is at least an acknowledgment and an understanding that they will indeed need to move to transition this war effort at some point. Exactly when that happens is not clear.


One senior Israeli official told me that it would not be long, but exactly what long means for them versus for the Americans maybe two different things. One other thing that Israeli officials are really emphasizing is, that while the Americans would like to see a set date for that transition to happen, Israeli officials are not going to allow that. They keep on emphasizing the fact that conditions on the ground will dictate when they can ratchet down this campaign, and they're also emphasizing that, just as much as they can ratchet it down, they can also ratchet it back up.

TAPPER: All right. Alex, the United States still has major concerns over the United Nations draft resolution on Gaza that keeps getting delayed. The U.S. thinks the way the draft is worded could lead to delays in humanitarian assistance. Explain that, and what else is hanging up the U.S.?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is a resolution that is focused on aid rather than on calling for an immediate cease fire. We are told both publicly and privately that what is being pushed for by several Arab countries, including the UAE and Egypt is a U.N. monitored mechanism for aid going into Gaza. Now, that sounds pretty, good the United Nations monitoring aid going into Gaza.

But the U.S. is arguing that that would actually add a layer of -- would make it more complicated. It would slow it down. It would be more cumbersome. And so, the U.S. was really pushing for the aid to get in as quickly as possible.

There's also the question of the fighting and what this resolution calls for. Initially, in the earlier draft, I'm told that they were calling for an urgent cessation of hostilities, which is not what the U.S., wants, certainly not what Israel wants. I'm told that they are working on watering down that language to a place where the U.S. and Israel are happy.

The focus really is, however, on this mechanism. Once they can figure that out, then that language on cessation of hostilities, I'm told, we'll get figured pretty quickly.

TAPPER: Jeremy, the IDF says it has uncovered, quote, a substantial elaborate network of tunnels used by Hamas in Gaza City. I should, say under Gaza City. Isn't that the crux of some of the IDF's mission, to find and destroy these tunnels. And could that mean, in any way, that Israel's mission in Gaza might be approaching an end phase of some sort? Because it will -- obviously, getting rid of those tunnels will remove some of the threat of Hamas.

DIAMOND: Well, uncovering these tunnels has certainly been an important part of the Israel military's mission in Gaza. It's also an important way that they try and demonstrate that they are actually making progress, especially in the eyes of the Israeli public. This latest video filmed by the Israeli military shows a whole underground tunnel complex below the center of Gaza City, Palestine Square near where there are a number of government buildings, residential buildings as well.

The Israeli military uncovered it. They say that Hamas's senior most leaders in fact may have used these tunnels since they were below some of the officers that they used. And they also say that this was the most expensive and expansive project in Gaza, a construction project in Gaza.

Now, there are other ways in which the Israeli military is trying to show progress. They said tonight that they've killed about 2,000 militants in the last three weeks since the end of this weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas. But there is still a lot more that remains to be done. If this kind of underground tunnel complexes being uncovered in northern Gaza, you can be sure that similar tunnels exist in southern Gaza and the Israeli military's campaign is certainly not near done in southern Gaza.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Jeremy Diamond in Israel, and Alex Marquardt here in studio.

Now, on to Gaza where just nine of the 36 hospitals in the war battered densely populated strip of land are functioning. Nine, according to the World Health Organization.

Israel has said for years that hospitals in Gaza are used by Hamas. Earlier this week, Israel's domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, says that they are investigating the directors of at least two hospitals in northern Gaza. The Shin Bet also released an edited video of the interrogation of one of those directors, where he admits he is a member of Hamas's military wing, along with other members of the medical staff.

Even if all that is true, of course, that does not mean there are not also, in those hospitals, severely wounded people and doctors and nurses and some of those wounded people are just waiting to die. There are too injured to be transported to a safer location.

CNN's Nima Elbagir shows us now scenes inside some of those hospitals, which one WHO official on the ground described, as quote, unbearable.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Airstrike after airstrike after airstrike, and the daily bombardment, Gazans rarely find a reprieve. When the smoke clears, it's back to the daily routine. Searching the rubble, hoping for miracles, hoping to find survivors -- a journey that leads many to the overflowing morgues.

At the European hospital in southern Gaza, there is no relief in identifying the dead. Roughly 20,000 people killed in Gaza after 11 weeks of Israeli bombardment, according to the Palestinian ministry of health in Ramallah.

A number CNN can't verify but U.N. officials say they found the ministry's figures from past conflicts to be accurate. A grim landmark.

With every lost life, the pain is inconsolable.

RIDAAN ABU MA'MAR, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): There's nowhere safe in the whole of the Gaza Strip. My whole family is gone. We are only four people left out of family of eight.

ELBAGIR: In southern Gaza, the bombs don't stop. Nor does the flow of the injured to overwhelmed hospitals. Disrupting the rare moments of respire where children can play. UNIDENTIFIED GIRL (through translator): I was at my aunt's house and

we were playing, we saw a big and fast air plane flying over and it suddenly bombed our place and stones fell on me and then people removed me from the rubble.

ELBAGIR: Israel's ground offensive continues across Gaza.

Despite the U.S. raising concerns about civilian casualties, it continues to back Israel's war. The U.N. warns of a toxic mix of disease, hunger and lack of hygiene and sanitation. Outbreaks of infectious disease add to the impossible task of survival. Most of the 2.2 million population is displaced and struggling to find food and clean water.

The World Health organization says there are no functioning hospitals left in northern Gaza. The ones sprawling Al Ahli Hospital complex is barely providing relief.

SEAN CASEY, WORLD HEALTH ORG. EMERGENCY MEDICAL TEAM: What we found here is a hospital that's really almost completely stopped functioning. Two days ago, a number of staff are detained.

ELBAGIR: Instead for preparing for Christmas, this church has become a hospital ward.

CASEY: They're not able to perform surgery. They're able to only provide pain management, some wound care, some trauma stabilization. They're doing their best with a very small team of only about 10 clinical staff left at this hospital.

ELBAGIR: Hours after posting this video of the first aid center at the battered Jabalia camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said the center was raided and communication was cut off.

Yet, the dead and dying just keep coming.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Nima for that report.

Coming up next, the president of Harvard is making it more changes to our past work as she faces a growing plagiarism investigation at the university.

Plus, just in, sexual battery lawsuit just filed against "Fast and Furious" star Vin Diesel.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Just into THE LEAD, in our pop culture lead, actor Vin Diesel has been accused of sexual battery and creating a hostile work environment. That's according to a new lawsuit filed by one of his former assistants.

CNN's brand-new entertainment correspondent, Elizabeth Wagmeister, is here.

Elizabeth, what else does this lawsuit have to say?


So, this lawsuit comes from a former assistant of Vin Diesel. It says that back in 2010, during filming of the fifth "Fast and Furious" movie, that this assistant was in a hotel room with Vin Diesel and that she was trapped. And that was when according to this lawsuit, she accuses Vin Diesel of forcibly pinning her up against a wall, kissing her and groping her.

Now, this lawsuit also says that, shortly after this alleged incident, that she was let go from the company. She is suing not just Vin Diesel but also his production company. She says that he will she was let go, which per the lawsuit, she believes was in response to this alleged incident.

TAPPER: All right. Elizabeth Wagmeister, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Turning now to our national lead. Harvard University president Dr. Claudine Gay is going to make additional citation corrections to her past academic work. This time, to her 1997 dissertation which was not part of Harvard's initial independent review of Dr. Gay's published work. Despite the new findings, Harvard is maintaining that Dr. Gay stopped short of research misconduct.

Regardless, the scrutiny of both Harvard and President Gay does not appear to be subsiding anytime soon, and Republicans -- sorry -- Republicans eager to target Dr. Gay have now decided that it is the providence of the House Education Committee to investigate the matter, as CNN's Danny Freeman reports now.



DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harvard University president Claudine Gay back in the hot seat after the elite school said it found two more incidents of an adequate citation in the embattled president's writings. The latest development coming a week after Harvard's top governing board unanimously stood behind Gay following intense calls for her to resign over her congressional testimony on antisemitism on college campuses.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): So, the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?

GAY: Again, it depends on the context. FREEMAN: Now, a U.S. House committee already investigating

antisemitism at Harvard says it will also look at the plagiarism allegations.

In a new letter to Harvard's highest governing body, the committee's chair cites Harvard's honor code that states: Members of the college community must commit themselves to producing academic work of integrity, and asks, does Harvard hold its faculty and academic leadership to the same standards?

Last week, Gay submitted corrections to a pair of papers she wrote as a professional academic in 2001 and 2017. But a CNN analysis of her writings documented other examples of plagiarism from the '90s, when Gay was studying for her PhD at Harvard.


Gay's 1997 dissertation lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from another source without citation.

Jonathan Bailey is a plagiarism expert.

What troubled you about the specific dissertation allegations more than others?

JONATHAN BAILEY, PLAGIARISM EXPERT & COPYRIGHT CONSULTANT: That paragraph showed a length of texts that clearly could not have been produced any other way than through copying. It was not quoted and was not properly cited in the paper. So, that's what made me worry about that one.

FREEMAN: A Harvard spokesperson told CNN in a statement Thursday the university reviewed more of her writings and Gay plans to update her 1997 work to correct these additional incidents.

Harvard said the inadequate citations were regrettable but were not research misconduct. In a previous statement about the earlier allegations, Gay defended her work, saying, I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I've worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards.

The allegations against Gay, who is the first Black woman to serve as director of Harvard have largely originated from conservative activists. But the question persists, is the school holding its president to the same standard as its students?

BAILEY: Plagiarism really exists on the spectrum between completely original writing and completely copied and pasted and trying to pass off somebody else's work. And right now, the best we have on Claudine Gay is sitting somewhere in the middle between the two.


FREEMAN (on camera): Now, Jake, our expert also noted that, unfortunately, it is not unprecedented for higher education leaders to get caught up in plagiarism scandals. He cited that there have been some instances of presidents getting caught on the job accused of plagiarism. But he did say he's never seen before a congressional investigation for this kind of behavior -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Danny Freeman at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Let's bring in Frederick Lawrence, who served as president of Brandeis University. He's a distinguished lecturer at Georgetown Law.

First of all, let me just start with something that I think is on the mind of a lot of people following the story, which is, they think the story is unfair because it originated with conservative critics of Dr. Gay.

And, obviously, it's true, a lot of right-wing politicians and activists are targeting her not because I really care that much about plagiarism or academic integrity, they're targeting her because she is a progressive and has brought progressive values or reaffirmed progressive values at Harvard. And, also, I'm sure for some of them, because she's Black and a woman.

How does a university deal with legitimate issues raised by bad faith actors? Does that matter?

FREDERICK LAWRENCE, FORMER PRESIDENT, BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY: It matters to a certain extent. I would certainly be skeptical about the intent of what is driving some of these allegations. At the same time, the university takes us over, does it internally, does its own investigation, it has to make its own decisions.

Plagiarism is a very, very serious matter within university. Obviously, academic integrity is important for undergraduates or graduate students, and obviously, for members of the faculty and the administration. So, it's an important matter wherever the allegations come from.

TAPPER: And I would think at Harvard, also, you want to have like the highest possible standards when it comes to academic integrity, at the university, you know, considered to be the most prestigious on the world.

LAWRENCE: Every university would care about this, and Harvard obviously holds itself to the highest level.

TAPPER: So, let's read Harvard's guide on sourcing when it comes to plagiarism. It doesn't matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a website without clear authorship, a website that sells academic papers or any other person. Taking credit for anyone else's work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident.

Now, in the same guide as their plagiarism policy, students who, for whatever, reason submit work either not their own or without a clear attribution to sources will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including requirement to withdraw from the college.

If I were Harvard student that had been disciplined three months ago for plagiarism, I would be pretty mad right now.

LAWRENCE: With good cause. I think the fact is that all of these cases and become highly contextual. How much? When was it done? Was it actually passing a work of somebody else as your own? That's the kind of thing the internal investigation would do.

But clearly, one of the reasons one worries about this from administrator is that it is a signal to the rest of the community.

TAPPER: Well, it is a signal to the rest of the community and obviously effort anecdotally about a lot of American institutions of learning not taking plagiarism as seriously since COVID, because of all the difficulty students faced during that period. I also just wonder, does it subject university to any sort of legal potential lawsuits from a student that might have been disciplined and it's something that, in one opinion, isn't as bad as what Dr. Gay is accused of doing?

LAWRENCE: I wouldn't think so. I think if a student is disciplined for violation of the plagiarism guidelines, that will stand on its own merits. The fact that that's done in some other case is not going to be a defense.


TAPPER: Plagiarism experts that we spoke with were divided on whether o not her omissions warrant punishment of any kind. Not one of them, we should note, called for her to be fired. Not one of them.

What do you think?

LAWRENCE: I think that it is in that middle ground, it is clearly not passing off a major part of the work as her work. On the other hand, it's not just inadvertent.

So, this is why it's very hard from the outside to make these decisions, which is why I find myself a little skeptical that there were those who were very ready to tell Harvard how it ought to be handling this. I think Harvard has to give it a close look and there's every reason to believe that they are.

TAPPER: So, CNN did a look, took a look at her PhD thesis and found examples of unattributed citations. And Harvard had not. What does that tell you about how thorough the reviewers if they're not looking at the PhD thesis from what she was at Harvard?

LAWRENCE: It doesn't surprise me. In the search for president, you look at the quality of somebody's work overall, to do the kind of work that one of your investigative reporters probably did, by putting the work next to other sources, that's not the kind of thing you do in a presidential search.

TAPPER: OK. Here's a term that we hear a lot at universities and academic institutions, teachable moment. Is this a possible teachable moment for her? To, say look, I obviously in some instances was sloppy. And I shouldn't have been and I should have been a higher standard. And I hope we all can learn from my experience -- I mean, it is --

LAWRENCE: I think it is a teachable moment. It's not just university story. You know this network has had issues with plagiarism. And other historians, other rioters had issues with plagiarism. Every one of these is an opportunity to say that, when you look at somebody else's work, you simply have to get credit for it.

No one is saying you can't even use somebody else's work or quote from, but you have to give credit.

TAPPER: Right, and mistakes do happen, obviously. I do wonder how artificial intelligence might make this even more complicated in the future.

LAWRENCE: I think artificial intelligence is going to make this and so many other things so much more complicated in saying whose work is what. I will say, one other piece of this that I find particularly disturbing, however, is that this conversation we're having is about Harvard ought to do with its allegations of academic integrity violations.

None of this is the providence of the congressional committee on education. This is a private university. I'm shocked that those who call themselves conservatives and believe in small government would take this as the opportunity to force a national investigation and a national standard on private institutions. That's not how we do business in this country.

TAPPER: We've certainly seen some conservative universities have problems in recent years. I'm thinking of Liberty University. They weren't subject any sort of congressional hearings even though potentially -- we'll, let's just leave it at that.

Frederick Lawrence, thank you so much.

LAWRENCE: Good to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, coming up, first here on THE LEAD, incredible views of that volcano erupting in Iceland.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen, he took a flight over the eruption zone, and we're going to bring you those pictures next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, it has been three days, three days since the volcano in Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula erupted, but that volcano is not quite done yet.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joined the Icelandic coast guard in a fight over Grindavik where authorities are monitoring the lava field.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Iceland's coast guard flying into the eruptions on any arctic night.

These flights are extremely important for the Icelandic coast guard. On the one hand, they have to survey the area, but they also have to practice in case they need to do mass evacuations at night.

Iceland was prepared for the massive eruption that started early this week, a more than two-mile-long fissure spewing magma hundreds of feet into the air. But while residents have been evacuated, authorities are still working in the area.

JENS POR SIGUROARSON, COMMANDER, ICELANDIC COAST GUARD: So, this is highly important for us to do this during the night. And it is a lot of hazards involved.

PLEITGEN: The crew even spot a person walking close to the lava and say they notified police to check it out.

The eruption has weakened considerably, but magma is still bubbling below us. The crew strap me in for a closer look.

This is an amazing thing to be witnessing from up here. You can see just how active the volcanic zone still is. You can see the lava. You can smell the magma. You can feel the power that our planet is unleashing.

The chopper drops off right by the lava field to train evacuations.

This is extremely challenging, flying for these aviators. Right now, they are practicing hoist operations in case they have to medically evacuate a casualty from this area in the dark.

As furious as the eruption was initially, it also seems to be subsiding fast.

Seismologist Kristin Jonsdottir tells me.

KRISTIN JONSDOTTIR, ICELANDIC METEOROLOGICAL OFFICE: It was quite active in the beginning, four kilometers long, a fissure that opened. Very high rates of magma flow. So, it was a bit of a surprise that it has all culminated.

PLEITGEN: Those evacuated cannot return home yet, as the magma tunnel here remains active and authorities say further eruptions are still possible.


PLEITGEN (on camera): And, Jake, the authorities say one of the main issues they have is that the magma tunnel that caused a massive eruption in the first place, that is actually right underneath the town of Grindavik, which of course was evacuated about a month ago. Authorities now coming up and saying the residents of that town can return for about an hour or two per day but they certainly won't be able to go home for Christmas -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Iceland for us, thanks so much.

New court filings about multiple cases the U.S. Supreme Court could decide about Donald Trump may seem incremental.


But the overall impact could be quite consequential. Coming up next, a step back on it all and the unprecedented nature of the questions. The justices are weighing them right now.


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

This hour, another man out of prison after yet another wrongful conviction in the United States. If you think you've heard several of these stories recently, you're right. CNN is digging into why. What is leading to so many convictions being overturned recently?

Plus, Republican Party in a must-win battleground state described as an incompetent dumpster fire. A party mismanaged in financial debt, and bogged down by infighting, just weeks before actual voting in the 2024 race begins in that state.