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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Appeals Colorado Ballot Ban To U.S. Supreme Court; Appeals Court To Hear Trump's Immunity Claim Next Week; Biden To Open Campaign With Jan. 6 Speech Near Valley Forge; White House Condemns Israel Ministers' Calls To Remove Palestinians From Gaza After The War; Jimmy Kimmel Threatens To Sue Aaron Rodgers For Claim Linking Him To Jeffrey Epstein. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the White House is lambasting members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet it specifically to right wing extremists to whom critics say are calling for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza. With U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Israel now, some in the Biden administration wonder if Netanyahu is going to have to soon choose between Biden or the extremists in his government.

Plus, a federal appeals court is coming down on the Biden administration for trying to protect emergency abortions ahead. A closer look at abortion in America since Roe v. Wade was overturned. But leading this hour we have some breaking news for you, a brand new court filing from Donald Trump. This time, he is going to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to appeal the decision made by the Colorado Supreme Court to remove him from its 2024 ballot for engaging in insurrection. Let's get right to CNN's Paula Reid who is here with me.

Paula, I know you got a big stack of papers that you just printed out a second ago.


TAPPER: But what can you tell us about this appeal?

REID: I'm a fast. So two weeks ago, the Colorado Supreme Court have removed Trump from the ballot. Now that decision is on hold because previously the Republican Party of Colorado appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. So he will appear on --

TAPPER: To the Colorado Supreme Court?

REID: To the United States.

TAPPER: To the U.S. Supreme Court?

REID: Yes.


REID: So that -- the Colorado decision is on hold. He's expected to appear on the primary ballot. But we need clarity for all 50 states in this country about this issue of section three.

TAPPER: Because it's been popping up elsewhere.

REID: Yes. It's been --

TAPPER: Maine, maybe in Oregon.

REID: New Hampshire, Minnesota --


REID: -- Michigan. And while most states besides Maine and Colorado opted to keep him on the ballot, they left the door open to re litigate this. So the Supreme Court is under a lot of pressure to weigh in here. Trump has now officially filed his appeal. And here, they're asking the court, this is a direct quote, "Did the Colorado Supreme Court air in ordering Trump excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot?"

Now the Republican Party was a little more articulate in the questions that they pose. They want to know specifically, does section three of the 14th Amendment apply to presidents? That's an important question because even within the state of Colorado --

TAPPER: Right.

REID: -- the courts were split there because the word does not appear. We need clarity on that. The Republican Party of Colorado also asked another important question, which is OK, if this applies to presidents, who enforces it? Is it the state which is what we're seeing play out across the country? Or is there a role for Congress?

That is not one of the questions presented explicitly in this appeal, but it's baked in. We need clarity from the Supreme Court. Now we could get an answer at any time about whether the Supreme Court wants to take up this issue, but they now have two separate appeals on this case, one from the Republican Party of Colorado, one directly from the Trump legal team to take up this case, possibly hear oral arguments and hopefully offer some clarity to the country. This is what they do, Jake, they settle disputes among the states and they clarify constitutional controversies.

TAPPER: Meanwhile, there is also this issue with Jack Smith, the special counsel who tried to try President Trump for what he did on January 6, and the Trump people have been arguing, hey, I have presidential immunity for anything I did as president.

REID: Yes.

TAPPER: And Jack Smith says no and has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in. They said no. But Trump has also filed another court filing on this presidential immunity claim.

REID: It's for a theme of 2024, Jake. It's going to be all roads lead to the Supreme Court.


REID: This is likely an issue but there -- the Supreme Court has opted not to weigh in here, instead next Tuesday there are oral arguments on this issue. And late last night, the Trump team filed a brief reiterating arguments they have made. They insist that for 234 years, presidents have not been prosecuted for the actions that they have taken in office. We know a lower court has already held that, look, what we're talking about here was outside the scope of your official duty. And we saw the special counsel in the past few days say, look, if we allow presidents absolute immunity for anything you do while you are president, we know that people are going to undertake a criminal, you know, criminal activity to stay in office.

We can't have that. Now, the entire elections subversion case --

TAPPER: That's a good argument, by the way.

REID: I mean it is pretty good. You know, everyone's trying to come up with something, but look, even former members of Trump's legal team has said the immunity argument, it's not a winner. What they're trying to do here is delay, and so far they're successful. This entire case is on hold until this immunity question is resolved.

TAPPER: By the appeals court.

REID: By whatever the final court is.


REID: If the Supreme Court wants to take this up, they've already passed once, they were asked to just interject, answer the questions.

TAPPER: But they said, no, we're not going to do it.

REID: Yes, they said no, we're going to --

TAPPER: Let it play out in the --

REID: Let it play out.

TAPPER: -- lower court. Yes.


REID: We're not going to step in. I mean that's notable, but Jack Smith was really hoping they would step in, they opted not to because Jack Smith wants to put this trial on before the 2024 election. We're going to have oral arguments on Tuesday, they're moving very quickly, then the Supreme Court can weigh in however they want, they can also opt not to. And then we need to look at the calendar and figure out, does Jack Smith have enough time to put this case on before the 2024 election. Timing is everything here, Jake.

With the Supreme Court appeal on ballot eligibility, it's surprising it took Trump two weeks because we need clarity as soon as possible on this question of immunity. Timing is of the essence because it's really a question of, will you be tried before or after the election? We don't know. It's unlikely he's going to win on immunity. The bigger question is, will you see the inside of a federal courtroom before the election? One of his former lawyers put it at about 50-50.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's talk about this now with former lawyer for Trump, Tim Parlatore.

Tim, so good to see you. Happy New Year. Why do you think, first of all, this is maybe kind of like an insidery question, but it is something that is stumping all of us, why did it take Trump's legal team, do you think, so long to appeal that Colorado Supreme Court decision to ban him from the ballot? Because, frankly, I thought that they were going to move more quickly.

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER LAWYER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, I would have expected them to move more quickly, too. I don't have any specific knowledge other than, as you know, one of the reasons why I left that team is interference, you know, from other people. So I could imagine that, you know, this was definitely litigation by committee have gone back and forth with drafts. And I mean, you know, Dave Warrington, who filed the brief is very smart lawyer, I would expect him to do good work and do it fast. But if he's being interfered with by others, then that would delay it.

TAPPER: Who are the others that interfere?

PARLATORE: Well, in my experience, it was people related to the campaign like Boris. Boris Epshteyn,

TAPPER: Boris Epshteyn, yes. Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court is going to take this up?

PARLATORE: I do. You know, it's a situation where you have a significant split between the states have an issue that really does have vital national importance as to, you know, whether, you know, people in different states are going to be given the same choice as to who they're allowed to vote for, for president. So, I think that, you know, if there was ever a case that falls squarely within the mission of the Supreme Court to solve these issues, you know, this is it, so I can't imagine them rejecting it.

TAPPER: Well, God forbid anybody badmouth the Founding Fathers, but I did read the relevant section of the U.S. Constitution, and it doesn't say how it gets decided whether or not an individual engaged in insurrection.

PARLATORE: Correct. In the section three, it doesn't -- it's pretty silent as to that. Section five, it says that Congress shall be the one to enforce this. And, you know, the way that I've looked at that, Congress has done two separate things to enforce this. They've passed 18 USC 2383, which is the insurrection ban.

That specific statute does provide for a prison sentence. It also provides for permanent baring from public office, it actually expands on who it applies to beyond what the 14th Amendment has, but it requires a federal criminal proceeding. The other thing that Congress can do and that they have done in this case is they can imply -- they can apply impeachment proceedings. You know, President Trump was impeached for insurrection. And in fact, Nancy Pelosi was very open at the time that the reason why he needed to be impeached and tried after leaving office was to keep them off the ballot in 2024. He was acquitted. So that's another thing that Colorado is going to have to overcome is that Congress has already actually taken action on this.

TAPPER: This provision of the U.S. Constitution has been, and correct me if I'm wrong here, you're the lawyer not me, but it has been used before, I think against public officials that engaged in the Civil War, I believe, on the --


TAPPER: -- losing side, but I don't think that they had been -- had they been federally prosecuted or no?

PARLATORE: They had not. And so this is -- you know, this is actually part of the Constitution that was not passed by the Founding Fathers. It was passed in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War --

TAPPER: Right.

PARLATORE: -- specifically to target former Confederate officers. And you know, really, it's something that -- my understanding of it is it was never really litigated. The former Confederate officers just recognize their ineligibility and they really -- the proceeding that they were going for was a separate part in there that allows for a majority of both Houses are actually, I think, is a two thirds majority of both Houses, to relieve somebody of disability and allow them to run again if they've been deemed to be properly rehabilitated from their former insurrection as ways.

TAPPER: I was using Founding Fathers broadly.

PARLATORE: So I -- but I don't think it's ever been litigated in this way.

TAPPER: Yes, I appreciate it.


PARLATORE: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: Tim Parlatore, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: And we are back with our politics lead on the eve of CNN's presidential town halls with Governor Ron DeSantis and Ambassador Nikki Haley. Kate Bedingfield and Doug Heye are back to talk about presidential politics. And we should remind our viewers that there is a Democrat in the race too, President Biden. And Saturday is the third anniversary of the January 6 riots on the Capitol insurrection, whatever you want to call it, President Biden plans a speech near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Valley Forge is a historic Revolutionary War site to warn the public that democracy itself is on the ballot.

Kate, am I cynical for thinking that the message is, OK, you don't like the job I'm doing and you think I'm way too old to be president, but democracy is on the ballot, you got to like that.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that is exceedingly -- that's an exceedingly cynical.

TAPPER: That is cynical. OK.

BEDINGFIELD: That is a cynical thing. I know I hate to break it.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You can be cynical and accurate at the same time, but not actually exclusive.

BEDINGFIELD: I need to break it to you, that is a very cynical thing.


BEDINGFIELD: Those words have not come out of Joe Biden's mouth. But it is true that democracy as an existential issue has been a motivator in the past two elections. We have seen time and again that people come out to the polls to vote when they believe that democracy is at risk, is a threat, there has dubiousness from the chattering class, maybe perhaps even from you, Jake Tapper, I don't remember.


TAPPER: I'm a big supporter of democracy.

BEDINGFIELD: But during in 2020 --

TAPPER: You know that.

BEDINGFIELD: I do know that. In 2022, about whether that was going to be effective, and that was going to actually motivate voters to come out in the midterms. And it did. So, I think what you're going to see from Biden, I would imagine, is a real kind of doubling down and tripling down on the idea that you have to show up, you have to cast your vote, your -- to make your vote count, and that if we are complacent or we sort of allow Trump and, you know, who will presumably be the nominee, and the Republicans to, at the margins, to take away our sense of democracy, that that is foundational to everything. So I would imagine he will really be laying out the existential and urgent case here.

TAPPER: And let me also say, to contradict what I just said, cynically, it's not a bad argument, because Donald Trump has shown that he is willing to go to extreme lengths to hold on to power even after he loses an election.

HEYE: Oh, no, it's not a bad argument. Let's be clear, Joe Biden won fair and square the first time in 2020, Donald Trump won fair and square in 2016, as well. But this has been a message that Biden's gone to before and certainly he used it, I think effectively in 2020. There's a resonance for independent voters on that. But also, I think if we dial back and dial into the polling a little bit and go into the cross tabs, where we see that there are concerns about the state of our democracy, that does include Republicans who feel wrongly that the vote was stolen from Donald Trump or that there was significant fraud, which didn't exist, those voter attitudes are very real. And I hear it every time I leave Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: Yes. Who is this aimed at? Is it aimed at motivating the base and also winning back independence?

BEDINGFIELD: A little bit of both. I would say this is definitely an argument that lands with Independent voters, though. This is an argument that it energizes Democrats. To your point, Doug, it -- in some ways energizes Republicans too, but it energizes Democrats. But it really is an argument that we saw time and again in 2020 appeals to moderates appeals to Independent voters, appeals to those suburban voters who are maybe not dialed in to politics every day, but who look up and say, no, I don't want to live in a country where, you know, the winner and the loser can't agree on who won and lost and we can't have a peaceful transfer of power. So, it's a long way of saying, yes, it is an argument that really appeals to Independent and moderate voters.

TAPPER: All right. Kate and Doug, thanks to --

HEYE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks for coming back.

Coming up next, strong reaction from the White House today. On to far right, extremists who are members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet and what pressure is that putting on Netanyahu. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead now, just yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled that doctors in Texas are not required to perform emergency abortions even in life threatening situations despite the Biden administration arguing that federal guidance supersedes state law. This follows new research published yesterday by the Journal of the American Medical Association or JAMA that uncertainty over access to abortion care has led to 1000s of women who are not pregnant requesting abortion medications such as mifepristone in case they need it in the future. This also includes efforts from a number of Democratic led states, including New York and California and Massachusetts that are trying to stockpile the abortion medications. CNN's Jessica Schneider examines now how the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade continues to impact and complicate abortion policies across the United States.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anger fear and confusion have gripped parts of the country in the 18 months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

SANDY SENN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: A woman who was hell bent to have an abortion is going to have an abortion despite what this legislature says.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): While state lawmakers are passing a patchwork of anti-abortion laws that are often difficult to decipher, women and doctors are caught in the crosshairs.

DR. CAITLIN BERNARD, OB/GYN: It's very scary for physicians to have a patient in front of you that you know exactly what they need, you know how to treat them, and yet you're wondering, well, who's going to -- who do I have to check with? Who's going to second guess me ?

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Dr. Caitlin Barnard performed an abortion for a 10 year old rape victim who traveled from Ohio to Indiana for the procedure just days after Roe was overturned. At the time, Indiana allowed abortions up to 22 weeks, now the state has nearly banned them completely. Barnard was not criminally charged, but she sat at the center of a firestorm for performing the abortion and then talking to reporters about it.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The situation was much more dire last month in Texas.

DUANE: We have the Attorney General second guessing her doctor's judgment and saying, no, no, we don't think Kate is sick enough.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened to criminally charge Kate Cox's doctors if they gave her an abortion at 20 weeks. Her fetus was diagnosed with a rare and deadly genetic condition called Trisomy 18. And doctors determined Cox's life and future fertility were at risk if she continued with the pregnancy.

KATE COX, DENIED AN ABORTION IN TEXAS: There's no outcome here that I take home my healthy baby girl.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Cox's doctor said Texas law which allows for abortions if there's risk of death or substantial impairment and the mother was too vague to risk performing the abortion. The doctors face the potential of decades in prison up to $100,000 in fines and loss of their medical license. After the Texas State Supreme Court ruled against Cox, she traveled out of state to get an abortion.

Unable to travel, another woman Deborah DoorBird was forced to carry her baby who had no kidneys to term. DEBORAH DORBERT, DENIED AN ABORTION IN FLORIDA: I continue to feel this baby move and knowing that I'm going to give birth and watch my child pass.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Only to watch him die as doctors had predicted. She lives in Florida which bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks.

BRIGITTE AMIRI, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ACLU REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM PROJECT: We and other organizations have a number of lawsuits pending right now challenging different abortion bans and abortion restrictions.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Late last month, a woman in Kentucky sued her state for the right to an immediate abortion. Kentucky bans the procedure. It's one of 14 states where abortion is outlawed, and a group of women in Texas are awaiting a ruling from the state Supreme Court after they sued saying "Texas' narrow exceptions harm women facing difficult pregnancies."

AMANDA ZURAWSKI, DENIED AN ABORTION IN TEXAS: The barbaric restrictions our lawmakers have passed are having real life implications on real people.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Abortion access is also at risk for women who live in states that allow the procedure. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this year from groups urging more restrictions on the abortion drug mifepristone. That's a drug used in the majority of abortions nationwide. And if the Supreme Court allows those restrictions to take effect, it would mean that the abortion pill would be less available, even in states that fully allow the procedure. But either way, abortion is set to be a major issue in the 2024 election. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much for that report.

We are standing by for the first release of unsealed court documents in the Jeffrey Epstein case. Plus, Benjamin Netanyahu's growing diplomatic dilemma. That's next.



TAPPER: Our World Lead now, the White House this afternoon offered a blistering condemnation of statements by two members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition. Both Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich in recent days, have publicly pushed the idea of forcing Palestinians to leave Gaza forever.

Smotrich said this on Israel army radio, quote, we will not allow a situation in which 2 million people live their meaning Palestinians if there are 100,000 to 200,000 Arabs living in Gaza, the discussion about the day after the war will be completely different. I'm for completely changing the reality in Gaza having a conversation about settlements, Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. We'll need to rule there for a long time, a proposition that the leader of the reformed Jewish movement in the United States Rabbi Rick Jacobs called, ethnic cleansing and what the U.S. State Department called inflammatory and irresponsible.

At today's White House briefing here is what National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby had to say.


JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: That statement does speak for the United States government and for this administration in terms of our complete refusal and rebuke of any forced displacement outside of Gaza of any Palestinians. We have made that clear to our Israeli counterparts in private sessions certainly have made that publicly and that's not going to change.


TAPPER: Kirby standing by the statement from the State Department there, condemning what Smotrich and Ben-Gvir have said. Prime Minister Netanyahu, however, has not condemned the two ministers for their incendiary comments. As we have covered before Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are two extremist anti-Arab bigots. Each of them controls seven seats in the Israeli parliament or Knesset, where Netanyahu's government has 64 seats out of 120. So Netanyahu crosses those two at the risk of his own survival as prime minister.

Since the October 7th attacks by Hamas, Ben-Gvir, who until recently had a portrait in his living room of a murderous Jewish terrorist. He's been making life even more difficult for Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel handing out guns to Jewish citizen militias. Smotrich currently has broad powers over civilian issues in the West Bank, where more than 300 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israelis, many of them extremist settlers, just since October 7th.

After Netanyahu formed his government just over a year ago, I asked him about these two extremists in his government.


TAPPER: Smotrich just called himself a fascist homophobe. While he's suggested same sex marriages like incest, the former deputy director of Shin Bet, said he was a Jewish terrorist that he tried to -- you tried to stage an event when the Gaza pull out was going on. And the other day he was saying that he was putting out these horrible conspiracy theories, you must have seen this, about the Shin Bet and the assassination of Rabin. I mean, these seem like rather extreme individuals.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Yes. Well, a lot of people say a lot of things when they're not in power, and they sort of temper themselves when they get into power. And that's certainly the case here.


TAPPER: Perhaps that was wishful thinking because neither Ben-Gvir nor Smotrich has tempered themselves at all. Critics accuse both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich of fomenting settler violence against innocent Palestinians in the West Bank. And matters are currently getting worse with West Bank security officials not even being paid.

Now, this is because of what are called clearance revenues. These are the import and export taxes that the Israeli government collects for the Palestinian Authority and give to the Palestinian Authority. And the PA, the Palestinian authorities budget, relies on this money. After October 7th Smotrich, who is the finance minister of Israel has refused to release these funds to the PA putting the Palestinian government there at very real risk of economic collapse. And frankly, waving a flame of further instability near the tinderbox, that is the West Bank under a brutal Israeli occupation.

In the last few days, President Biden personally has seen that he needs to get involved to negotiate this to keep the Palestinian Authority as a viable alternative to Hamas, including a Biden- Netanyahu phone call. Now while some Biden administration sources believe that Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others can keep pushing and ultimately get what they need from the Netanyahu administration, others say the tensions are building behind the scenes so much they believe President Biden is going to have to ultimately decide whether he has faith that the Netanyahu government, that this coalition government is one that he can ultimately do business with, not just for the current war, but for what is called the day after Israel what happens after the war is over.


A while President Biden is focused on a Gaza-free from both Hamas and IDF control, that is not what you hear from Israel's leaders. Ben-Gvir told his party this week that the war, quote, is an opportunity to develop a project to encourage Gaza's residents to immigrate to countries around the world again. But critics call ethnic cleansing. His response to the State Department criticizing him was to say Israel is quote, not another star in the American flag, and he reiterated his desire for, quote, the migration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza, unquote.

A Biden administration official said to me, at some point Netanyahu is going to have to choose between governing in a way that pleases Ben- Gvir and Smotrich or governing in a way that pleases President Biden and the Biden administration, though it is possible, of course, that Netanyahu has already chosen.

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Beth Sanner, also former Deputy Director of National Intelligence. What do you make of it? Do you think Netanyahu has already ultimately decided, you know what, I'm with Ben-Gvir and Smotrich and Biden, you can take a hike or do you think this is still a delicate balancing act that he hasn't fully decided yet? BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think Netanyahu has decided that Netanyahu is for Netanyahu.

TAPPER: Right. Which means siding with those two.

SANNER: Which means right now, siding with those two, and it's hard to see how that turns out somehow differently. I mean, right now, he can govern without these two, as long as the war cabinet is in place.

TAPPER: Right, the war cabinet put into place after October 7th. And those two don't get a vote in that, right?

SANNER: Exactly. But once that disbands, then he is back to rely on these two parties and these two individuals to stay in power. And why does he need that? He needs that for himself, because he still has these corruption trials going on. So it's not just a matter of like pride and wanting to stay in power, he actually has kind of a Trump thing going on, except more advanced, right?

So you know, so there's real skin in the game --

TAPPER: You mean prison him, actual prison time --

SANNER: I mean, yes, exactly. So not just power, but like freedom.

TAPPER: So I also want to get your take on the deadly explosions in Iran today on the fourth anniversary of Iranian general Soleimani's death in that U.S. airstrike, the drone attack that President Trump ordered.


TAPPER: A senior U.S. official said it looks, quote, like a terror attack what happened? And it's the type of thing we have seen ISIS do in the past. Do you agree?

SANNER: I do. And I think that ISIS Khorasan, the local, the, you know, the South Asian version of ISIS, has a reason to go after Soleimani because Soleimani was, you know, had gone after ISIS Khorasan and other of these militant leaders, particularly in Syria, but also further abroad and inside Iran. And so there's a history there so you know.

TAPPER: But Soleimani is already dead. Why kill all the worshippers just because there might have been some Iranian government --

SANNER: Because of all -- there are all the IRGC folks were there, too.


SANNER: So it's symbolic. It's against Iran. It's against Shia, right?

TAPPER: Right.

SANNER: Because ISIS is a Sunni group. So I think it makes a lot of sense. And you don't see countries like Israel doing this kind of bombing where you just blow up a bunch of people. It's much more targeted.

TAPPER: The -- in 2020, Iran's ambassador to the U.S., actually, I'm sorry, to the U.N. --


TAPPER: -- told CNN that the U.S. strike in Soleimani was, quote, tantamount to opening a war. Do you think that's what we're seeing now in any way with all these Iranian proxies --

SANNER: Yes, yes, yes. Well --

TAPPER: -- ramping up violence? You have Hamas, killed more than 50 Americans when they attacked Israel. And they have, I think, like seven American hostages still.

SANNER: Right.

TAPPER: Not to mention Hezbollah, doing what they're doing against Israel in the north, not to mention the Houthis firing upon ships. Do you think that's what this is?

SANNER: Not to mention, assassination planning plots against the U.S. officials who are behind the strike that continue according to the FBI to be ongoing. So you know, Iran has never given up on retaliating. But I would say that it also is just a product of like, just where Iran is that there goals haven't changed with or without symbol of Soleimani. So you can ask like well was Soleimani -- would Soleimani hit successful and I think this is a question that we could ask ourselves. I don't know the answer to that. All I know is that what I'm seeing in the Middle East right now suggests that they still have the will and the capacity to cause a lot of harm.


TAPPER: Although it is interesting after October 7th when Donald Trump spoke publicly and criticized Israel in its darkest week, ever, one of the things he said about Netanyahu was he blasted Netanyahu for not participating in the Soleimani strike. That was interesting.

SANNER: And weird.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about something else, because there's been some investigated journalism suggesting that reporters on the ground have not been able to verify that the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza that the U.S. and Israel both said there was a Hamas command and control center, either underneath it or there. There have been "Washington Post" and other reports saying that they don't see any evidence of it. The U.S. just reinforced it, the intelligence assessment saying Hamas you use the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza's command center used to store weapons and hostages. They still haven't produced any evidence of it. They just reiterated their previous belief that it was their primary command. We have seen detailed IDF videos of the hospital complex and the tunnels underneath. What do you make of this all? SANNER: So I mean, with the U.S. intelligence released the declassification says is that they were there, but then they withdrew before the Israelis went in. So did we know that at the time?

TAPPER: That they had withdrawn?

SANNER: Yes. I mean, it's kind of a key question for the South African case and in the ICC. The question is, if did we know at the time that they had already withdrawn and that we were, you know, the Israelis were kind of going in after the fact? Or were they going in after a hot target where they thought they would be rescuing hostages? I think they thought the latter, but the U.S. intelligence saying that they seem to have withdrawn before they went in. And that's how I read it. I hope -- I don't know, I hope I'm not getting that wrong, Jake. But that's what I think I read. That would raise some questions for me.

I mean, you know, look, intelligence is tough business. We don't get a blueprint with, you know, this is how it is there's -- there is a lot of interpretation. And these kinds of sources are never going to be definitive. So you have to make judgments.

TAPPER: Yes, it's also worth noting that nobody doubts that there were tunnels underneath the hospital and nobody doubts that Hamas has used that hospital as a command center.

SANNER: And others.

TAPPER: Yes. And a lot of the international outcry doesn't seem to target the fact that Hamas is using a hospital as a command center for its terrorist activities.

SANNER: Yes. Illegal either all international laws and rules.

TAPPER: Beth Sanner, always good to have you on. Thank you so much.

Little by little we expect to see what was inside the newly unsealed documents related to convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, nearly 200 names including some of his accusers, possibly some prominent business people, politicians more. Why these details are coming out now, that's next.



TAPPER: In the Law and Justice Lead, who is connected to dead convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein? Details from newly unsealed documents may be released at any moment. Let's get right to CNN's Kara Scannell in New York in touch with sources. Kara, reporters everywhere had been refreshing court pages looking for any hint as to what is in these documents and when they will be made public. What are you learning?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we are among them. We are looking at refreshing this court docket waiting for these documents to be unsealed. This is all part of a lawsuit brought by Epstein accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre. She sued Epstein's former girlfriend, his longtime girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was convicted as participating and helping him with running a sex trafficking operation involving minors.

So this lawsuit against Maxwell had resulted in numerous depositions taken by other accusers of Epstein in it over time, as well as you know, subpoenas for documents, records and things from other people. Now, Rodgers has been one of the most outspoken accusers of Epstein. She has said that she was his sex slave and was forced to have sex with several famous politician as well as Prince Andrew and if she had reached a settlement with a prince, and he agreed to pay a substantial amount of money to a charity.

So a lot of this information has already been in the public domain, either because people have gone public with their stories, or it came out during Maxwell's criminal trial. And that's one of the reasons why the judge has agreed to the request by news organizations to release all the material that has been under seal with these names redacted, saying that in many instances, it's already public.

And in others instance, the reference of someone's name is not in the salacious way. So we're going to be parsing through this to see what new information we learn about some of these boldface names that are likely to be included in this and we're expecting this to come on a rolling basis. So we'll expecting to get some of these documents, hopefully in the next, you know, couple of minutes, maybe the next hour or so, and then we'll continue to come through it as it comes in, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers is facing intense and frankly well-deserved criticism over comments he made on ESPN's the Pat McAfee show in which Rodgers made false LSAT allegations about accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and a popular late night comedian who has zero connections to Jeffrey Epstein. Take a listen.


AARON RODGERS, NEW YORK JETS QUARTERBACK: So a lot of people including Jimmy Kimmel are really hoping that doesn't --



TAPPER: False, defamatory, wildly irresponsible and not funny if Rodgers was trying to be funny. This is child sex trafficking we're talking about. That's not funny. Kimmel responded to Rodgers on Twitter, posting, quote, dear asshole, spelled with two A's like Aaron, for the record. I've not met, flown with, visited, or had any contact whatsoever with Epstein, nor will you find my name on any list. Your reckless words put my family in danger. Keep it up and we'll debate the facts further in court. And Pat McAfee has apologized for Aaron Rodgers comments on his program.


I should note CNN has reached out to a representative for Rodgers and one for ESPN and one for ABC. They've all declined to comment. But senior writer for Deadspin, Julie DiCaro, interpreted the fallout like this, quote, it's time for ESPN to put an end to Pat McAfee's Aaron Rodgers disaster. How many more lies must the New York Jets quarterback spew before someone pulls the plug. And Julie DiCaro joins us now. Julie, frankly, just the latest example of Aaron Rodgers using his platform to spread misleading and false information.

JULIE DICARO, SENIOR WRITER, DEADSPIN: Yes, you're right, Jake. As you know, Aaron Rodgers has been out hurt all year. He, you know, made it one snap into the season. And frankly, it seems like he's been bored and a little jealous of maybe the attention that other athletes are getting. He goes after Travis Kelce all the time. So when you make these appearances weekly on Pat McAfee show, which McAfee has admitted he is paying Aaron Rodgers to make. He's been using it as a platform to attack Travis Kelce, who's in a Pfizer commercial about getting vaccinated. He's gone after Dr. Fauci. He's hyped up Robert Kennedy Jr. and his anti-vax dance. He, you know, basically he's using it as a platform for to spread the misinformation that he believes and ESPN has done nothing about it so far.

TAPPER: Well, what's weird about this, I mean this to joke even I assume he was trying to joke because, you know, but it's so wildly irresponsible. There are lunatics out there who believe this kind of stuff. I mean, Kimmel is right when he says he's putting his family at risk. What obligation does ESPN have to shut down this type of speculation? And by the way, I think Disney owns both ESPN and ABC where Jimmy Kimmel is their late night star. Why -- like, why is Disney even allowing this to happen?

DICARO: That's a great question. And I'd be really interested to know what went on behind the scenes last night and this morning between ESPN and Disney and Pat McAfee because, like you said, yes, I mean, Pat McAfee has a big show for ESPN. They gave him $85 million for a five-year deal. But I don't think he even touches what Jimmy Kimmel is. And you know McAfee came out today and he apologized and said he apologized for his role in it. But Jimmy Kimmel is right this kind of thing does put people in danger even within moments of Rodger saying this yesterday on Pat McAfee show.

You could see all these people on Twitter running wild saying that, you know, Jimmy Kimmel's on Epstein's list. You just heard Aaron Rodgers say it. I saw people today saying he was on the flightless that had already been released about who's flown on Epstein's plane. You know, people believe what Aaron Rodgers says. And unfortunately, I think we're in a case where, you know, that has happened across a lot of media where there's more money in lighting the conspiracy theorists rant and rave. And nothing much is done to correct that.

I mean, I went to journalism school and I was taught that, you know, you need to have not only a source but a source and corroboration before you can publish something. And that's simply not the case anymore. TAPPER: No, it's crazy. I mean, I've seen on social media, all these fake lists, obviously, nothing has been released. We have been covering this, and we will continue to cover it. And when those lists come out, we'll certainly cover it. You know, would you be surprised if ESPN continues to let Rodgers on air after making this wildly inappropriate allegation? And again, just to underline this point, and I don't want to sound preachy on this, but this isn't funny. This is about child sex trafficking, you know, this isn't like something silly to make light of.

DICARO: Yes, and the fact that Aaron Rodgers immediately went there as a shot at Kimmel, I think really speaks to who Aaron Rodgers is, as a person. You know, I would have thought that ESPN would have said, hey, this has gone too far. We're going to get sued. You know, no more Aaron Rodgers. But you know, Pat McAfee and his apology today, basically said, I can't wait to hear what Aaron has to say about it, which leads me to believe that he's going to be on again next week. So while things may have taken place, behind the scenes, I really think it's important for ESPN to come out and say, look, this is without basis. It's not true. We apologize for having us on our airwaves. ESPN is refusal to do that, frankly, is what has surprised me because if I were ESPN, I would not want this associated with my brand.

TAPPER: Yes, I guess now Bob Iger has a question. Does he allow ESPN and this nitwit continue to, I'm not talking about McAfee, to continue to like have this forum, even when they're smearing somebody who has been working for ABC for I think more than 20 years now on Jimmy Kimmel?

DICARO: Yes. And I really, yes, and I really think that, you know, this may have crossed the line. I mean, if I were ESPN, the very least I would do is that he -- so he can be on the show, but he's got to stick to football. He can't go off on you know, wanting to debate Fauci and calling him all kinds of names and, you know, going after Jimmy Kimmel going after Travis Kelce, who's been the most, the NFL player most in the spotlight this year and it's pretty obvious that, you know, Aaron Rodgers seems jealous that someone else was getting all the glory in a year he thought he was going to do it. It really turned into just an Aaron Rodgers' grievances on a weekly basis, and someone's got to step in and do something.


TAPPER: Yes. I don't know if Rodgers thinks this makes him look good. I think it makes them look pathetic. Julie DiCaro, thank you so much. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Reminder, coming up tomorrow night on CNN back to back Republican presidential town halls, first with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That's going to be moderated by CNN's Kaitlan Collins, followed by a conversation with Ambassador Nikki Hailey that will be moderated by CNN's Erin Burnett. The night kicks off 9:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night only here on CNN.


And then one week from today I'm going to moderate the CNN Republican presidential debate in Iowa with my colleague, Dana Bash, and you can look for that in one week at 9:00 p.m. on January 10th. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, on the TikTok even, you can follow the show on X at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of Lead, you can listen to the show once you get your podcast all two hours sitting there like a big delicious cheeseburger.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.