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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Fears Grow Of Wider War In Middle East Amid Deadly Attacks; Iran: 100+ Dead In "Terrorist" Attack Near Soleimani Grave; DeSantis & Haley Campaign Ahead Of Tomorrow's CNN Town Halls; Speaker Johnson Leads 60+ House Republicans To Southern Border; One-On-One With House Speaker Mike Johnson; Japan Releases Official Written Transcript Of Aircraft Collision. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Meantime, at any moment, hundreds of newly - unsealed documents linked to Jeffrey Epstein are expected to be made public. We just learned from a U.S. district judge that parties will begin filing unredacted records with the identification of about 150 people at some point today.

Of course, this is all from long-running litigation that began back in 2015, brought by a woman who accused Jeffrey Epstein and his partner Ghislaine Maxwell of sexually abusing her. Epstein, of course, a convicted sexual offender, died in jail while awaiting a trial on sex trafficking charges.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

THE LEAD with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A horrific terrorist attack kills more than 100 Iranians. Who is behind it?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Four years to the day since the killing by the U.S. of Iran's commander, Qasem Soleimani, twin bombings today near his grave site. The blast just one day after an airstrike in Lebanon killed a senior leader of Hamas. New fears today that the Israel-Gaza conflict could erupt into a wider war.

Plus, naming names beyond John Doe, that is. The document drop that could happen any moment and expose nearly 200 names with ties to dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

And, in his first CNN interview as House speaker, Mike Johnson will be here live from the Texas-Mexico border with a big Republican delegation in his face-off with President Biden on the border crisis.


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

From Iran to Lebanon to the Red Sea and Gaza, death, chaos and fear have been in an all-out multi-country conflict in the Middle East.

In Iran, a suitcase bomb followed by a second blast at a top Iranian general's grave killed more than 100 people, according to Iranian state media. That general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. airstrike ordered by former President Trump four years ago today.

Soleimani, whom the Pentagon says was actively planning attacks on U.S. service members and diplomats at the time and had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

We are also closely watching Iran-backed Hezbollah, a group the U.S. considers to be terrorists, as Hezbollah vows a, quote, limitless response in revenge for the assassination of the top Hamas leader in Beirut, much of which is under Hezbollah control. Although Israel has not acknowledged responsibility, a U.S. official confirms to CNN Israel did order the strike against Hamas's number two, as retaliation for the brutal October 7th attack.

In the Red Sea, the Houthi-led Shia militias of Yemen, also backed by Iran, continued to fire missiles at commercial ships, after a U.S. helicopter sank three Houthi boats last week.

In Gaza, meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are facing winter intense without basic essentials, including food, as far right extremists in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are publicly pushing the idea of forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave Gaza for good. We'll tell you more about that and the U.S. pushed back in the next hour.

All of this as Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza continue to hold more than 100 hostages seized from Israel. Today, the IDF revealed one of the hostages was already reported dead by his kibbutz, killed in a botched rescue attempt last month. Sahar Baruch was 25 years old. He had been a member of kibbutz Be'eri.

We're going to start with all this news, with the deadly blast in Iran. CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Israel.

Nic, who might be behind this attack?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There's a possibility of a number of different organizations. There could be internal Iranian resistance movement. It could be Sunni extremist of the ISIS variety, although they tend to use suicide bombings, but both these groups have -- had a history in the past of targeting and killing large groups of civilians.

The bombs, as we know, detonated about 20 minutes apart. The second bomb apparently in an effort to kill people who were going to help the wounded in the first bombing. The first bomb about 700 meters away from the area where Qasem Soleimani's mourners were gathering in his hometown, that was believed to be a suitcase, believed to have been remotely detonated.

The other bomb about 0.6 of a mile, about a kilometer away from the shrine on the tomb there as well, not quite clear what was in that bomb or what it was disguised as. But it does seem to be sophisticated and indications are not suicide bombing, so it tends to lean away from ISIS, but it really isn't clear.


It has to be said, however, that Qasem Soleimani's replacement, the leader of the Quds Force or the IRGC, has really indicated, pointing the finger towards Israel, the United States. Of course, the United States saying not involved and it has no reason to believe Israel involved either.

TAPPER: All right. Nic Robertson, thanks so much.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, the United Nations force there is, quote, deeply concerned about a possible escalation in the Middle East, in their region, after a top Hamas leader was assassinated in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday. A U.S. official confirming to CNN that Israel carried out the air strike there that killed Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas's number two.

CNN's Nada Bashir is in Beirut for us.

Nada, Hezbollah has vowed retaliation for any strike in Lebanon. What exactly are they saying?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, it certainly has been a lot of anticipation around Hezbollah's response. We heard today from the secretary general of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, speaking today. He has previously warned that any attack on Lebanese soil would trigger a response of similar severity on Israeli territory. That warning was certainly reiterated today. Nasrallah saying that if Israel sought to wage a war on Lebanon, the response from Hezbollah would, in his words, be limitless.

Take a listen.


HASSAN NASRALLAH, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF HEZBOLLAH (through translator): Until now, we've been acting on the front with calibrated moves. And that's why we're losing so many people. But if Israel wages a war on Lebanon, then our response will be limitless. We are not scared of war.


BASHIR: We are expected to hear from Nasrallah once again on Friday, when there are indications the focus will be more on the situation in Lebanon, in particular in response to that strike we saw on Tuesday, which as we mentioned, which as you mentioned, as saw the targeting and killing of Saleh al-Arouri, someone who was the number two in Hamas's political bureau and considered one of the founders of the al- Qassam Brigade, Hamas's military wing.

We've heard from Hamas's political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, describing this as a cowardly assassination in his words, placing the blame squarely on Israel.

And while Israel hasn't outwardly claimed responsibility nor denied responsibility, of course, a U.S. official has told CNN that the Biden administration understands Israel was indeed behind the strike, and that the Biden administration was not informed ahead of the strike.

Now, of course, there is mounting concern around the potential for the significant development to see an escalation in the conflict more broadly in the region. We have, of course, seen those continued skirmishes on Lebanese southern border between Hezbollah and the Israeli military from the outset of this war. We have today heard from the Lebanese government, the Lebanese foreign minister saying that the Lebanese government more specifically does not want to see a war break out. They want peace on their southern border, and they are trying to convince Hezbollah not to wage war with Israel.

Meanwhile, we've also heard from the U.S. State Department spokesperson Matt Miler saying earlier today that the U.S. is no more concerned around the potential for this war to escalate as it has been from the outset of this war and responding more specifically to Nasrallah's comments, saying the U.S. says it is not in Hezbollah's interest, nor is it in Israel's interest to see this war escalated more broadly in the region -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nada Bashir in Beirut for us, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Norman Roule. He ran the Iran desk at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2008 to 2017.

Thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

First, after today's events, how likely do you think it is that this broader regional war in the Middle East actually erupts, the once that western officials have been worried about for quite some time now.


There are no strategic drivers, the main regional or external actors to ignite a regional war. If only because the goals of such conflict would be unclear, and this would immediately disrupt their significant political and economic stability. At the same time, Iran and its proxies have multiple incentives to maintain and even increase the intensity and frequency of the current actions against Israel.

The concern should be that any of these activities produces an event that requires retaliation or involvement by other actors that then build on each other, leading to the very conventional conflict we all wish to avoid.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the blasts at Soleimani's grave in Iran. The U.S. State Department denies the U.S. involvement. The U.S. also says Israel was likely not involved.

Who do you guess might be behind it? ROULE: Well, the available details of the attack suggests the

operation was not state sponsored. State sponsored operations historically avoid civilian casualties and it focused on specific actors or facilities. Those behind this operation demonstrated basic tradecraft. They lacked the capability to put the explosives close to the ceremony where officials, senior officials would likely have been present.


And they sought to inflict as many civilian casualties as possible.

There are a number of candidates that come to mind. This does look in some ways like the Islamic State where other such groups who have conducted a high-profile mass casualty attacks in the past.

The initial details and the nature of the explosives also suggest we have a massive security failure on our hands for those Iranian officials who really should have been on alert for an occasion that would have been attended by current and former senior revolutionary guard officials.

TAPPER: Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, says that whomever is responsible, quote, be a target of a severe pounding and a deserving retribution. But you've also -- you heard that they are blaming Israel and the United States, even though on a basic level, it doesn't make sense that Israel or the U.S. would be behind such a thing.

What might that sort of retribution look like assuming that it was a smaller, not a state sponsored, but a terrorist organization of some sort?

ROULE: Rhetoric aside, it would take Tehran some days to investigate assigned responsibility for this terrorism. And Iran would certainly undertake retribution, but this is one of the most significant if not the most significant terrorist attacks in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. If Tehran believes ISIS or a regional terrorist group is responsible, they're responsible range from include arrests of group of supporters that identifies in Iran, to missile attacks against terrorist bases or perhaps even a short term military incursion into Pakistan or Afghanistan.

TAPPER: What purpose would ISIS have in carrying out such an attack? Would it just be because ISIS is Sunni and the Iranians are Shia?

ROULE: Well, ISIS more specifically, ISIS Khorasan, which is an offshoot branch of ISIS based in South Central Asia, primarily Afghanistan, seeks to destabilize and overthrow the existing governments of the region to establish an Islamic caliphate in the area of Afghanistan, Iran, and the southern areas of Central Asia. It's conducted attacks in Iran before and it has sought revenge for Iran's support of Bashir al-Assad, who has fought against ISIS supporters in Syria.

TAPPER: You say there's an absence of recognized Western red lines when it comes to the Middle East. How can the U.S. go about sharpening those red lines?

ROULE: Well, policymakers are traditionally reluctant to set redlines. Big nations can't bluff and failure to act on those red lines risk diminishing credibility and deterrence with both adversaries and current political damage at home. Adversaries will also try and come as close as possible to the red lines and test our will.

The problem is unless adversaries recognize red lines do exist, they will be attempted to normalize aggression and show those red lines are pink. If we tolerate this, the situation erodes, our credibility with partners and adversaries deteriorates, and then we risk an adversary overreaching, achieving what I would call a catastrophic success, that compels us to respond in a way that ignites that broader conflict. A number of regional observers are concerned the West is entering the situation with Iran and its proxies.

TAPPER: Interesting. Norman Roule, thank you so much. Fascinating stuff. Appreciate it.

If you are still in holiday mode and not yet in the political mindset set, wait until you see the 2024 calendar. It is decision time coming up.

Coming up, the big promise we heard today from Nikki Haley, who as you know is not the Republican front runner. Here is the guarantee she made today that came with no caveats.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: The Iowa caucuses are only 12 days away, so let's cue the 2023 election music. Yes, nice. Getting closer and closer.

CNN's town halls with Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis are tomorrow night. Then, our Iowa debate is one week from tonight. The Iowa caucuses, January 15th. The New Hampshire primary just eight days after that. Then you've got Nevada, South Carolina, Michigan coming raring to go over the horizon.

Ron DeSantis today barnstorming Iowa. He's calling his campaign swing Commit to Caucus. Nikki Haley back in the live free or die state of New Hampshire for multiple events.

Our CNN teams are everywhere the candidates are.

Let's bring in Eva McKend and Jeff Zeleny.

Eva, you are in New Hampshire. What is Ambassador Haley's message to the voters today?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Haley will have her third and final stop today in Milford at this athletic center just behind me. And she's telling New Hampshire voters that she can win this Republican primary. She was telling them to disregard these polls that have former President Donald Trump way ahead in several states, and she's very much a viable candidate who can win a general election.

Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to win. No doubt about it. Turn off your TV, these political pundits are trying to tell you what to do. And we've been on the ground and all the political pundits are going to have eggs on their face when they're done with it.


MCKEND: So, some good news from her campaign today. She raised $24 million in the most recent quarter. She raised 11 million last quarter. So, you can really see an illustration of that momentum here. And a suggestion that some of the fund-raisers and the donors supporting other campaigns, like former Vice President Mike Pence or Tim Scott, they have shifted over those resources to Nikki Haley, Jake.

TAPPER: Let's go to Iowa now. Jeff Zeleny is there.

Jeff, Ron DeSantis, he's in Iowa. He is previewing what he calls a sharp contrast between his vision and Ambassador Haley's vision. A voter asked him, why hasn't he gone directly after Donald Trump?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that really is the question that hangs over the final 12 days of the Republican contest here in Iowa. The voting begins here on January 15th. But the Florida governor has been making stops across the state for weeks now. But it was a question earlier today in Waukee, Iowa, just outside Des Moines, when a voter said I hear what you are doing on Haley, but why are you going so soft on Donald Trump?


This is what DeSantis said.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the narrative is this. I think what the media wants is they want Republican candidates who just kind of like smear him personally and kind of do that. That's just not how I roll.


ZELENY: We talked to the voter afterwards. He was not on camera but he said he thinks he needs to go stronger and draw a stronger contrast with former President Donald Trump. Jake, the reason this is complicated for DeSantis, Haley, and other

candidates, because it's a delicate balancing act here. They are still trying to get some of those Trump voters, the ones who maybe having some second thoughts in the final week or so of this campaign, to try and persuade them to join their campaign. But they know that if they go too hard on those Trump voters they might be turned off.

But the reality to all of this is this is a race for second place. So, DeSantis and Haley are going after one another and Trump basically has had a free ride, at least in terms of advertising. And overwhelming amount of money has been spent on advertising against Haley and DeSantis and there are assorted super PACs. Donald Trump has barely been touched, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah. Before we go, how does CNN's town halls and the debate that Dana Bash and I are going to be moderating one week from today, how does that play into the strategy for DeSantis and Haley?

Eva, you go first.

MCKEND: Well, Jake, Haley really seems to be honing in on this electability argument. No doubt a preview of what she might say in our town hall, and during that debate. She is saying that more than her rivals, that she would be the best person to confront President Biden in a general election. And when you speak to voters that show up at her events, it does make sense because many of them supported President Trump in 2016. They've been voted for President Biden in 2020, and are now looking for a candidate to support. She says she is that candidate, Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff, what about Governor DeSantis?

ZELENY: Look, there are still some open minded Republicans here. We met several of them this morning and they said they really are looking at this distinction between Haley and DeSantis. Now, they believe he has a deeper grasp of the policy. That is one thing he has going for him. But the town halls tomorrow and that debate next week is really one of the final words at least on this stage where they will be together.

So, a lot of voters are sizing those two up. Many have already decided they are supporting former President Donald Trump. But for the Republicans who are not and there are still many minds that are still trying to process all this. That's why that debate next week is so important.

So, DeSantis intends to try and draw out some contrast, he believes, on policy where he believes Haley is weak. So, it will be a substantive discussion, no question.

Yes, there are 12 days left, Jake, but as you know as well as I do, the Iowa caucuses have a history of surprising and humbling people. So, we'll see if that happens again this time.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines and Eva McKend in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, thanks to both of you. Get in-depth perspective from two candidates in our back to back

Republican presidential town halls tomorrow night.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is going to moderate a conversation with Florida Governor DeSantis at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Thursday night. And then, right after that, at 10:00, Erin Burnett will host a town hall with former Ambassador Nikki Haley. Again, both are tomorrow night right here on CNN.

And then next week, one week from today, I'm going to moderate the CNN Republican presidential debate with my colleague Dana Bash. That will be next Wednesday, January 10th, live from Des Moines, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up, Republican Mike Johnson live from Texas in his first CNN interview as speaker of the House. His take on members of his party and a standoff with President Biden over the crisis at the border.



TAPPER: In our national lead today, House Speaker Mike Johnson and more than 60 Republican lawmakers went to Eagle Pass, Texas, swarming (ph) the U.S.-Mexico border. At what point, migrants could be seen crossing a river while Speaker Johnson, lawmakers and the media stood on the bank. This comes as the Biden administration is blasting Republicans and Speaker Johnson for, quote, hamstringing border policy. I'm going to talk to Speaker Johnson in just a minute.

But back on Capitol Hill, we should note, the House Homeland Security Committee today announced today that they will begin impeachment proceedings against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Manu Raju have been tracking these developments for months. They're with me now. Pardon me.

Priscilla, walk us through what happened during the speaker's border visit.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Speaker Johnson, along with some of his Republican colleagues, were in one of the busiest areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. That's Eagle Pass, Texas. And they were surveying the area, visiting the facilities there.

Now, this was an area that not long ago we saw lines of migrants waiting to be processed, really overwhelming the federal resources in that area. That's not what they saw today even if they saw migrants crossing the river. The numbers have dropped considerably according to senior administration officials from the thousands to less than 500 this week.

Now, even with that, though, the administration has been contending with all-time high border crossings in December, over 225,000 unlawful crossings. Even if numbers drop, senior administration officials warned that immigration ebbs and flows.

Now, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has credited a series of actions that the administration is taking to try to drive down those numbers.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have taken actions already to build lawful pathways, to deliver consequences, and do what we can. We've promulgated regulations to do what we can within the confines of the law. But fundamentally, the law -- the laws themselves must change, and this is something about which everyone agrees.



ALVAREZ: And what he's referring to there is that there is record migration across the Western Hemisphere and it is an outdated immigration system that is trying to absorb that flow or process that flow. And, oftentimes and over the last week, the U.S. has had to look to Mexico to get them to help with driving down these numbers. Those talks, Jake, are going to continue this month.

TAPPER: Manu, today, bipartisan Senate negotiations are continuing. They're trying to come to a consensus on a border deal that would be added to that money for Ukraine and Israel.

Where do things stand right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, these talks have been going on for weeks. In fact, it's happening right now in the room next to Senator Kyrsten Sinema's office, three senators along with the administration trying to hammer out any sort of immigration compromise. But they have struggled to find a deal because of divisions over how to deal with things such as asylum policy, more restrictions that Republicans in particular have been pushing. Also dealing with providing the administration with more -- expel migrants who have come across the southern border.

Those issues simply have not been resolved. Also a big question here is how close will they get to the House GOP plan, known as HR2, to a more restrictive plan that has sentiment already Chuck Schumer is flatly rejecting and says it's a nonstarter with Senate Democrats. He reiterated that position today and said if House Republicans and Senate Republicans stick to that plan, he said that there will be no deal.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): When the House clings to HR2 as the only solution, we're not going to get a deal. But I think if the Senate get something done in a bipartisan way, it will put enormous pressure on the House to get something done as well and not just to let these hard right people get up and say -- the 30 of them to dictate how the whole country should work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But, Jake, there are so many questions. Even if these three senators along with the administration can get a deal, which is still an open question, getting the votes in the Senate, narrowly divided as it is, will be difficult given the 60 votes can do just that. And many Republicans that we have been speaking to over the last several days who are in the south say if it deviates from their positions, HR2, they simply will not accept it.

So, still so many questions here, and in the meantime, Ukraine aid and Israel aid hanging in the balance because Republicans saying the border must be dealt with first before the greenlight more aid to Israel and Ukraine -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, and Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much.

With me now from the U.S. Mexico border is Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Speaker Johnson, thanks so much for being here. Welcome to THE LEAD. Your first time as speaker.

So, you're at the border today. And I presume you're seeing a very dire situation, hardworking border agents, you know, who can't do their jobs with what they have. They need more money. They need more colleagues. They need more beds for asylum seekers. They need more funding.

How come the House has not yet touched this $14 billion supplemental request from the Biden administration? The White House is hammering you on it. Why not take it up and help these individuals?

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Jake, good to be with you. Sorry it has taken so long to come on with you since I became speaker.

Listen, this is a catastrophe down here. And what the White House is proposing is more money to process and allow more illegals into the country. We need to do the opposite of that.

And this is -- you don't need to take my word for it, listen to the deputy chief of U.S. Border Patrol who was with us last night and he told us in his own words, he said it's as if I'm at an open fire hydrant. I don't need more buckets to dump the water. He said I need to turn the flow off.

That's why we're here today, Jake. We have 64 House Republicans here representing 26 states and one U.S. territory, everybody from California, Maryland, Michigan, to Florida, because every state in America as a border state right now. This catastrophe can come to end if the Biden administration will do its job. And they refused to do it. They're doing the opposite.

TAPPER: So, the $14 billion, there are, you're right, 1,600 asylum officers that would be part of that dispute of processing asylum claims. That's what you're talking about. But there also would be 1,300 more Border Patrol agents to work alongside the 20,200, and also funding to hire a thousand Custom and Border Protection officers with a focus on counter fentanyl.

So, it's not at all -- in fact, most of it is not related to processing asylum seekers. A lot of it has to do with what you're talking about.

JOHNSON: Jake, the president should come to the border. What an idea that would be. He should talk to the Border Patrol agents who are down there.


TAPPER: I think he went last year. I think he went last year, just FYI.

JOHNSON: Well, he went for a photo-op. He should come and spend a couple days like we have, to be with the people here on the ground who are fighting this war on the border. That's effectively what it is.

We have so many people, Jake, 7 million people have come into the country since Biden walked into the Oval Office, and that's a low estimate. Most people believe it might be twice that high. We have nearly 2 million gotaways that we know about, not to mention those who have evaded capture.


Over 300 known terrorists apprehended at the border trying to come in. We don't know how many evaded capture and detection. They're in the country, potentially setting up terrorist cells everywhere. Fentanyl is the number one cause of death for Americans age 18 to 49, flowing over the border like an open sewer.

Human trafficking is the number one business of the cartels here. Estimated, we were told today, Jake, one of the local sheriffs here said that they believe that the cartels are making $32 million a week on trafficking human beings into the U.S. That's over $1.5 billion a year. Transnational criminal organizations, and the Biden administration seems to care nothing about it.

Remember, they could -- they could issue executive orders and fix this overnight. You could restate -- reinstate the "remain in Mexico" policy, you could stop the catch and release policy that the Biden --

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: -- administration insists upon, you could do some -- some very important things but they refused to do it.

TAPPER: So, just one note on the terrorist thing. There are hundreds of known terrorists getting into the country. There are people whose identity have been flagged on a certain database. I just don't want people out there thinking that, you know, 200 members of Hamas have flown into -- into the country and we don't even know about it. It's like --

JOHNSON: Hey, hey, Jake -- hey, Jake --


TAPPER: I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not saying that it's not serious, I'm just saying these aren't necessarily terrorists.

JOHNSON: That's the terrorist watch list, Jake.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: It takes quite a bit to make that list, okay?

These are dangerous people who are coming to the country. And we have hardened criminals who are coming from all these countries around the world.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: They are opening prisons and sending them here. We saw it today, Jake. We know what's happening. We're talking to the people on the ground.

So, these are not Republican talking points. This is reality, and the White House needs to wake up to it.

TAPPER: Right, no. And these criminals and individuals have been coming in for years, Republican, Democratic administrations.

Let's talk about HR2 because that's the House Republican bill that calls basically to resume some of the Trump era policies, including building the Trump era border wall. It would strongly increase restrictions on who could apply for asylum. Critics of that say it would essentially gut the asylum process. It certainly would restrict it.

That deal is not going to get 60 votes in Senate. Whether or not that's a good thing or a bad thing, I leave it to you. But it won't get 60 votes in the Senate. It won't get signed by a Democratic Senate -- Democratic president.

Is there a compromise on border security that's being negotiated right now that you would allow to be voted on even if a majority of House Republicans are not behind it -- something that would improve situation -- the situation at the border even if not to the point that you want it to be improved?

JOHNSON: Jake, the reason that we've insisted on the provisions of HR2, which is a bill we passed seven months ago that's been sitting on Chuck Schumer's desk collecting dust, the reason we've insisted upon that is because each of those provisions work together to secure the border. You can't, for example, just reform the asylum program and leave the broken parole process unrepaired. Then you would have a loophole that we do absolutely nothing. You can

just reinstate "remain in Mexico", even just that action would stem the flow estimated at about 70 percent. But you have to also end catch and release.

All these things work together and so, you can't just pick and choose from them from a menu and expect that you're going to solve the problem.

I'll quote to you one of the sheriffs of Terrell County down here, a border county who has to deal with this crisis every day. He had lunch with us today and he told us, he said he was -- before he became the sheriff, he worked for the U.S. Border Patrol for 26 years. He said he had worked through four administrations who were doing great work, but it took less than six months for the Biden administration, in his words, to unwind 100 years of progress that the U.S. Border Patrol had accomplished, six months.

These are policy choices that got us in this situation and what we're demanding is that the policies change for the good of every single American citizen.

TAPPER: But you -- I guess my question is, if you don't get HR2, that's it, you're not willing to -- let's say -- let's say there was -- I mean, I've seen the White House and the Democrats in the Senate go in your direction on this issue more than I've ever seen Democrats go in your direction.

And I've been in this town for a little longer than you. I've seen President Bush tried to do this. I've seen President Obama tried to do this. And it always comes down to the House Republicans and what they're willing to accept.

You would turn down a compromise that was not 100 percent of HR2?

JOHNSON: Jake, I'm not going to answer hypotheticals, because they've not sent us any -- any suggestion yet. There's no draft bill.

But I would tell you, I don't care if they call it HR2. I do care about the provisions that will seal the border. I don't think now is the time to do comprehensive immigration reform, because to your point, it's very complicated. It's very complex to do.

But we can seal the border. We could do it overnight. The president has the existing authority under existing federal law to do that, and he refuses to do it.

Secretary Mayorkas has administered this. He's in charge of operational control of the border. And what we see here is absolute mayhem.


It -- this is not a Republican or Democrat issue.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: It affects every American and every citizen along here.


JOHNSON: That's why -- that's who they need to listen to.

TAPPER: The argument is that there is only so much a president can, do even Donald Trump could not seal the border. Even when the "remain in Mexico" policy was in place in 2019, there was still a migrant crisis. There was still a crisis at the border.

You might remember all those TV ads that Donald Trump ran in 2018 about the caravan heading into the United States.

A lot of people say this needs to be solved by Congress. You're the guys that write the laws. You're the ones in charge of asylum. And yes, President Trump or Biden could do X, Y, or Z, but it's really up to Congress.

JOHNSON: When President Trump entered the Oval Office, he put in the "remain in Mexico" policy. He ended the "catch and release" policy. He did the fundamental common sense things that stem the flow.

It was down to a tiny fraction of what it is right now. Jake, 302,000 encounters at the border in December alone, it's the highest number in history. And it's going to continue because they're showing no inclination at all to change it. They have rolled out the welcome mat.

By the way, this is costing American taxpayers billions and billions of dollars to house and feed and educate and give health care to all these illegals.

If you're from one of these poor countries, why would you not make the journey? Why would you not submit your children to that dangerous journey? We don't know what's happening to them on the way.


JOHNSON: This is a humanitarian crisis. We walk through the centers today, Jake. It would -- it would make the average American citizen cry to see what's happening here. And it must stop.

TAPPER: Right, which is why some people are saying, why not pass the $14 billion supplemental bill that President Biden has put before you to at least try to help with some of these issues?

JOHNSON: That won't solve -- that won't solve any of the problems, I just articulate.


TAPPER: No, no --

JOHNSON: It won't do a darn thing, no. TAPPER: Well, I'm sure the people, the Border Patrol agents that

you're with think it might do something at least in terms of making their job a little easier for the next month.

JOHNSON: No, no, actually they don't.

TAPPER: They don't want $14 billion?

JOHNSON: No, no, I just quoted to the deputy chief of U.S. Border Patrol. And he said he doesn't need more buckets. In other words, he doesn't need more personnel to handle the flow. He needs to turn the flow off. That's what we're talking about.

This is not about sending more money down here. It's about changing the policy, and the White House seems not to understand that.

TAPPER: Yeah, but even President Trump couldn't turn the faucet off, right? I mean, I understand your point that he did more than Biden did.

JOHNSON: Well, he turned the flow down.

TAPPER: Yeah, but like it's not -- it's the presidency, it's not -- it's not a magician.

But let me ask you one quick question, sir, while I have you. I know you've been generous with your time.

Some members of the House Freedom Caucus are a very important flank in the Republican Party are talking about refusing to vote -- to keep the government open unless HR2 is law. How seriously do you take those threats?

JOHNSON: Well, look, I don't think it's just the Freedom Caucus. I think you have most House Republicans who are responding to their constituents' concerns about this border. So, you're hearing some deep resolve. We said it here in the press conference here within the last hour that we must get this done as the top priority.

So, I'm -- I'm not going to address hypotheticals about what these scenarios, but I'll tell you that we are resolved on that. That and trying to cut non-defense discretionary spending, because we passed an important and dangerous threshold today, $34 trillion in federal debt.

We are in serious, serious dire straits as a nation and we have to address those things seriously. And we will, that's what you're hearing.

TAPPER: All right. Well, we only talked about the border today because you're at the border. I hope you come back. We've got a lot of stuff to talk about.

And it's good to have you on. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Good to be with you. TAPPER: I have the panel seated. We're going to hear their take on

what we just heard from Speaker Johnson about the border crisis. That's next.



TAPPER: Moments ago, House Speaker Mike Johnson in his first CNN interview as speaker told me that it is a catastrophe at the U.S. southern border. He's there right now.

Let's jump into all this with our panel.

Doug, your reaction to what you heard from Speaker Johnson?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, one of the things that members of Congress do, Republican and Democrat, that's always smart, is they leave Washington, D.C., and they go to have field hearings or site visits. They go to see the problem. And what they do when they do that is they bring the media, and they bring attention to that.

So, what did we see? We saw the speaker in front of the border. We saw people crossing as he was talking, as they were visiting. Those are important visuals, and it's part of how they're trying to separate themselves from the policies of the Biden administration here.

What the speaker says is almost less important than what we see. I think that's something the Biden administration realizes with this. It's why they're talking about this $14 billion so much. They see the same polling that we do, that Biden's numbers on the border are terrible, and they're really bad with Hispanics as well, a key demographic that he needs to do very well with.

TAPPER: I know that the position of the Biden White House, which he used to belong to, is that, boy, they've done more on the conservative side of things than any Democratic president in recent history, keeping the COVID era rules in for as long as they could, in their view, you know, tightening up asylum laws to the point that they're being sued, and this is, you know, with a -- with a very important Latino base.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. Well, I thought what was interesting about what the speaker said is you sort of -- you heard him multiple times walk through how we need a comprehensive solution. You heard him kind of a rundown a litany of things that needs to happen, and he said, you know, we can't -- we can't just solve from one part of this problem, we need a comprehensive solution.

And yet, then you heard him say, we stand only on HR2. Now, he wouldn't exactly commit, but, you know, he said HR2 --

TAPPER: Pretty close.

BEDINGFIELD: -- HR2 is the solution.

TAPPER: Right.

BEDINGFIELD: You know, we're uninterested, essentially, in a compromise. That I think is ultimately a vulnerability for the Republicans on this because I think at the end of the day, people do want to see the problem solved. They want to see Democrats and Republicans working together to get it done. You have Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans trying to hash that out now. You have the Biden administration saying we want to be part of this process, we want to solve -- we want to solve some of these issues.


And, you know, if the House Republicans are just going to say, no, we will only support a bill that, you know, for example, would expand the amount of time that kids can be detained at the border, that actually opens up a vulnerability for them. People hated family separation. They hate an immigration process that they think feels cruel. I think there's some risk there for the Republicans in just saying, our way or the highway, and we're not going to try to help find a real solution here.

TAPPER: All right. Kate Bedingfield, Doug Heye, stick around. I've got more to talk to you about in the next hour.

Coming up, how two planes ended up colliding in Japan and bursting into flames. A new transcript revealing communications just before that horrific crash.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world lead, CNN is uncovering new information about that deadly collision between a passenger jet and a coast guard plane in Japan, specifically about lights on a runway and communication before the crash.

CNN's Will Ripley is live for us in Tokyo.

Will, what more are you learning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Jake, the key question that is unanswered and we're going to play some cockpit recording audio for you in just a moment here. But the question is, why was the smaller coast guard plane, this Dash 8, directly in the path of this much larger Airbus 350 -- Airbus 350-900 that was coming down and landing on Runway C at Haneda airport, essentially the small plane kind of pulled right into the path at the last moment of this large aircraft.


They hit each other, and then of course, we saw the video with that explosion in the fireball.

You know, the crash killed at least five coast guard crew members, and even though around 400 people safely got off that plane in a matter of seconds, still, there are serious questions about what this small plane was doing, even though, as we're about to hear, they actually were given an instruction by air traffic control at Haneda Airport here in Tokyo to basically stay at the holding point, the point where the plane sits right before it's about to takeoff.

But listen, because you're going to hear in this recording the commercial airliner was given clearance by the tower to land. Take a look.


SPEAKER: JAL156, continue approach 34R.

SPEAKER: Cleared to land runway 34R.

SPEAKER: JA722A Tokyo Tower, good evening. No.1 taxi to holding point C5.


RIPLEY: So, clearly, there was some sign of a miscommunication because this coast guard plane didn't know that it was about to pull right in the path of a large incoming aircraft. And one theory that we're looking into but I have yet to confirm with the Japan's transport ministry is there were actually some lights out on the runway, and the lights might have been, those particular lights to signal where the plane was supposed to stop and might explain why it basically put its nose out to fire putting it right in the path of danger, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley in Tokyo for us, thank you so much.

We have some breaking news for you now. Donald Trump's lawyers have filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court over that decision from the Colorado Supreme Court to keep Donald Trump off the ballot because they say he engaged in insurrection. That story is next.