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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Officials Update On Iowa School Shooting; Tonight: DeSantis, Haley Face Iowa Voters In CNN Town Halls; Trump Asks Judge In January 6 Case To Sanction Special Counsel; ISIS Claims Responsibility For Deadly Iran Blasts; CNN On French Hospital Ship Treating Gaza's Sick And Wounded. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Peter Valdes-Dapena, thank you so much for the reporting. Much appreciated.

Hey, and thank you so much for being with us today.

Brianna, always a pleasure.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Always a pleasure, as we are bring in this New Year all week, Boris.

SANCHEZ: THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts in just about 10 seconds.

Thanks for being with us.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. A news conference is starting right now after a deadly high school shooting in Perry, Iowa.

Let's listen to the governor.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS (R), IOWA: -- the Iowa State Patrol, DCI, ATF, and the FBI, and multiple health care providers. I have the opportunity a few moments ago to speak with some of the officers involved. And in a situation like this, as we all know, every minute counts. And they are heroic actions today, we can say, saved lives. The response was tremendous and we are extremely grateful. The full resources of the state government will be available to assist and the response, and, of course, the community's recovery, from this tragic event.

That mental health region has social workers that are embedded in the school district and will provide counseling services for the students, the families, and the staff. As you all know, this is an ongoing investigation so law enforcement will brief you only on what they can at this time and they will provide additional information as it becomes available.

And so, with that, I'd like to turn it over to chief -- to the chief.

ERIC VAUGHN, PERRY POLICE CHIEF: Thank you. I'm Chief Eric Vaughn from the Perry Police Department. I want to thank the quick actions of the Dallas County dispatchers who

handled and dispatched calls regarding this tragic event this morning. I also want to recognize the initial offices from Perry and Dallas County sheriff's office and their actions on the scene. Thank you to the massive response from agencies throughout the area, including EMS for their assistance today.

It is truly amazing to see first responders work together and these crisis situations. And I cannot forget to recognize the teachers, faculty, and students involved who acted bravely and heroically in this tragic situation.

Thank you to the community support. We have seen and we will continue to need in the future. All of our condolences to the victims and their families, they need your thoughts and prayers as well as time and space to process and to grieve.

This community has been for tough times before. And it rallied together. I'm sure this time will be no different. Thank you.

Mitch Mortvedt with DCI.


My name is Mitch Mortvedt. I'm an assistant director with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

At 7:37 a.m., excuse me, on January 4th, 2024, the Perry Police Department responded to an active shooter event at Perry High School. Meanwhile, Dallas County communications was also received multiple 911 calls of an active shooter at the high school. Perry police officers responded within minutes. They immediately made entry and witnessed students and faculty either sheltering in place or running from the school.

Once inside, they located multiple individuals with gunshot wounds. Officers immediately attempted to locate the source of the threat and quickly found what appeared to be the shooter with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. As additional officers responded, a systematic approach, search of the school took place. Officers located, there in the research of the school, and improvised explosive device.

The state fire marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rendered the device safe. Numerous officers from multiple agencies were able to secure at the school and verify no additional threats. At the same time, first responders were rendering aid to the victims who were they transported to area hospitals.

The shooter has been identified as 17-year-old Dylan Butler, a student at Perry High School. Butler was armed with a pump action shotgun and a small caliber handgun. Butler also made a number of social media posts in and around the time of the shooting. Law enforcement is working to secure those pieces of evidence. All evidence thus far suggests that butler acted alone.

There are six victims. One of them is deceased. That individual was a sixth grade student at Perry Middle School. The other five are being treated at area hospitals. Four of the surviving students -- four of the surviving victims are students and the fifth is a school administrator.

The law enforcement response was swift and immediate. Roughly 150 officers from local, state and federal agencies responded within the hour.

The investigation into this tragedy is ongoing. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is serving as that lead investigative agency with assistance from the Perry Police Department, the Dallas County sheriff's office, the FBI, the ATF, and the Dallas County attorney's office.

At this time, we will take a few questions.

REPORTER: I was told by a father of a student who was shot, that this son witnessed Principal Dan Marber (ph)-- is he the administrator? What his condition?

MORTVEDT: The investigations until now and we are not releasing any other names, other than Dylan Butler's name at this time.

REPORTER: Can you give us any indication as to motive for this? I know this is ongoing.

MORTVEDT: Anything into the background of him as part of the investigation. We're obviously going to take a deep dive into that. But there is nothing that we can release at this time.

REPORTER: Status of the other --

MORTVEDT: At this time, it's my understanding, as of about -- I should say, as of about an hour ago, one was in critical condition but a period not to be life-threatening. And the other four are stable.

REPORTER: Is there any racial motivation with this two? Are there any Latino victims?

MORTVEDT: As far as the ethnicity of the victims, I'm not sure and there is nothing to indicate at this time it had anything to do with race. As far as motive, again, that's part of the back right investigation. And that's something we're continuing to look into.

REPORTER: Sir, excuse me, there's a video online, is there any kind of credibility to this video of the shooter?

MORTVEDT: I haven't seen the video. I don't know at this time. But we are -- law enforcement is working to secure those pieces of evidence, as I mentioned in the statement. So there is nothing more we can comment on about that.

REPORTER: This is the first time we've heard someone from the middle school being involved in the shooting. Do you have an idea sort of (INAUDIBLE) this suspect (INAUDIBLE) -- MORTVEDT: It all happened in the Perry High School and it was before

school started. So there were not many students. It's our understanding that there is a breakfast program going on. So there may have been students of different grades, if you will, in the school at that time. But it always contained in the Perry High School, not any of the other buildings.


MORTVEDT: That's still part of the investigation. We are trying to determine that.

REPORTER: It was the IED?

REPORTER: An explosive device?

MORTVEDT: I'm sorry? One of you?

REPORTER: An explosive device, what else can you tell us?

MORTVEDT: Not much about it. Other than it was pretty rudimentary and it was rendered safe by, like I said, the state fire marshal and the ATF.

REPORTER: Can I ask a question for the governor?


REPORTER: Given that the investigation is ongoing, this is a local state matter, you know, however, the eyes of the world are on Iowa --


REPORTER: -- for the 11 days. How should the candidates running for presidents talk about what happened --

REYNOLDS: Well, I'll let them, yeah. I'll let them decide how they're going to talk about it. We're going to focus on the investigation and we're going to focus on making sure that we provide the resources that the community, the teachers, that staff, those involved, the families, that we're providing that resources they need during this difficult time.

So that's what I'm going to be focused on. The state of Iowa is going to be focused on. And I'll let the candidates decide what they're going to focus on. Thank you.

MORTVEDT: We're going to take no more questions at this time. Thank you.

REPORTER: What does school safety look like going forward?

MORTVEDT: I mean, as it was commented on by the chief and by the governor as well, that, you now, everybody reacted that way they should. And it's obvious that training, first of all, at the school level, with faculty and students, everybody reacted absolutely appropriately, that way they should, as well as law enforcement as they are entering the building.



REPORTER: Is the suspect --

MORTVEDT: We're done.

REYNOLDS: Oh, we're done.

MORTVEDT: Thank you.

REYNOLDS: Is the suspect dead?

TAPPER: You have been listening to law enforcement given an update to an early morning shooting at Perry High School and Middle School in Perry, Iowa, about 40 minutes northwest of Des Moines, Iowa.

You heard law enforcement say -- that was Mitch Mortvedt from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation saying they responded to an active shooter call before school started and multiple 911 calls. They located multiple victims with gunshot wounds.

One person was killed by the shooter. The shooter has been identified as a 17-year-old named Dylan Butler who came with a pump action shotgun and a small handgun. A sixth grader was killed. He's not been named. Five others were injured, four of them students and what a school administrator, perhaps thought to be the principal of the school.

The shooter is believed to have died but a self inflicted gunshot wound. Today was scheduled to be the first day of school for the new semester, according to the district's calendar. There was also a rudimentary explosive device was found, but that was suggested to have not posed a threat.

We also were told by law enforcement that the shooter posted a number of things on social media and I'm not sure if there is still up or not. They said something like trying to get them removed from social media. TikTok, being one of those social media sites.

Let's bring in former police chief Charles Ramsey. He led police departments in both Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

Also with us, Juliette Kayyem. She served as the assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Chief Ramsey, I hate the fact we have so many of these school shootings and of course it's the first week that from winter break. And here we go, another school shooting. What are your takeaways from what you just heard from law enforcement?

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all, a sixth grader losing their life, that's probably a 10 or 11 year old child. I mean, that's just unbelievable that something like that can take place. But it's happening all the time. This individual, 17 years old, a student of the school, he probably

got those guns from home. He's 17. I doubt if he was able to purchase any firearms at all. He came early.

It would be interesting to know whether or not he targeted anyone or not. He posted a lot on social media. Probably a wealth of information there that the wind up being able to come close to a motive for this individual. But again, just one more tragedy that we are now talking about in our country.

TAPPER: Juliette, what did you make of the update we heard from authorities just now?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think we can't ignore the IED, the idea of it, that either he was going to after first responders who came in, we don't know how big it is. It was described as rudimentary, obviously shows significant preplanned besides just with the entry with the -- with the guns.

And so, they look at that, did people know he was making something? What did the family know? And like Chief Ramsey, sort of possession of the guns and how he possessed them. There was a question, it was hard to decipher what it was, and the chief sort of shut it down about a father. So we don't know what is out there, what people in the community know. So we'll find out more.

Look, this is the first day back from the holidays. What I'm curious about from an investigatory purpose is what happened at the end of the term or the end of December. And over the holidays, that would have this event 17 year old wake up this morning and plan this and perform this attack that killed a sixth grader. I mean, and shot five others.

TAPPER: It is horrific. Authorities have said they found this IED when they searched the school. They said it was rudimentary and didn't pose a threat.

Juliette, how might that impact the investigation?

KAYYEM: Well, so part of this is going to be -- let me go back. So, there is a performative nature in a lot of these shootings, these mass shootings now. Either as we are hearing there is a video, that the person wants to be known. And as we know, that use of explosives, part of that is, it's not just me and the gun, there's going to be a follow-up.

So I'm very curious about what he was into. What he was following. How he got to this kind of violence. And then what did he intend by, even if it was rudimentary, some sort of explosive action that would have caused a lot of chaos.


We don't know if his intention was the IED goes off the kids on campus run out and then they become vulnerable target. So, we don't actually know when that thing was supposed to go off. That's what I'm looking at right now, and obviously the state of mind over the holidays, in terms of him coming back to school or at the beginning of the school term.

TAPPER: Chief Ramsey, we will have more of these, unfortunately. It's very easy to predict in 2024, more mass shootings, more school shootings. There are so many mass shootings in the United States that the American media, only certain categories, only qualify -- people -- mass shootings is when four or more innocent people are killed. This wouldn't even count as a mass shooting event in some of that lists because there are just so many.

And one thing I just wonder about is, I've talked to law enforcement officials about what can be done about this. Because obviously, if this is in effect a pump action shotgun and a small handgun, these would not be affected by so-called assault weapons bans. And one thing I keep hearing is stronger red flag laws, so that law enforcement is where people might pose a threat to themselves and others, and not just stronger laws but more funding and social workers and such that can't deal with that.

And also, laws that require parents to store guns safely so that kids can't get access to them.

Do you agree with that as two potential, not solutions to this problem, but ways to try to stop this madness?

RAMSEY: I do agree with that. But I think it's also important to remember that no one thing is going to be foolproof. There will be exceptions and people will work around loss and things of that nature. But if this young man did get the guns from the house, I do believe, certainly it does point to the effect, firearms need to be secure. If you are not being used but responsible adult, they need to be secured.

I'm sure they're going to be digging into this young man's history. It probably hit a lot of the heavier issues at school before. People need to pay attention to social media posts. Don't take it for granted. If somebody's making threats or putting something out of the ordinary, they need to let someone about. And we don't know yet exactly what this postings were. But as Juliette, say it, he didn't wake up one day and does not he's going to do a school shooting. There is something going on there that -- looking back at it, we should be able to pick up a few red flags for sure.

TAPPER: A horrible first day back from vacation for the community of Perry, Iowa,. Juliette Kayyem and Charles Ramsey, thanks to both of you.

The headline here, a child -- a child only and a sixth grade, around 11 or 12 years old, killed in yet another school shooting in the United States of America. This one in Perry, Iowa, just about 40 minutes northwest of Des Moines, Iowa. A very tragic day for that community and really for of the United States.

We're back in a moment.


[16:21:51] TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead, and take a look from Des Moines. Stage set for two of Donald Trump's Maine Republican opponents to face the voters. In just a few hours, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations ambassador and Governor Nikki Haley are going to take questions from Iowa Republican caucusgoers in two CNN town halls, just 11 days, only 11 days before those Iowans become the very first voters in the nation to pick their candidate for that Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump will not be in attendance tonight, but his dominance over the Republican field could be a main topic of questioners, given that DeSantis has faced not one but two Iowa voters just yesterday who questioned why he has not yet gone directly after Donald Trump.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Des Moines for us, at the site of tonight's CNN town halls.

Jeff, what do we know about the strategies of Governor DeSantis and Ambassador Haley as they prepare to face Iowa voters at the town halls this evening?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the strategies in one respect are the same, and that they're trying to close the sale with any undecided Republican voters. And there aren't many of those.

I spoke with one woman yesterday who said she's looking for a candidate with integrity, but at the end, it's a gut feeling. She'll be watching the town hall tonight. She's been in several events. So she sort of underscores at the end of this race, you sort of just know it when you see it. But separately of that, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to make the argument that he can be sort of the Trump administration's continuation without the drama. He can get the job done.

He talks a lot about the eight years he could serve in office. Of course, if Donald Trump is reelected, he can only serve one more term. That's one distinction.

Also electability, that's becoming a central argument of both of these candidates in the final days of this race. The Florida governor yesterday was making the argument to voters that he said Donald Trump simply can't win. He pointed out the midterm election result from President Trump's time in office.

Nikki Haley has been also talking about electability, looking ahead, past this primary, saying she has the strongest showing against President Biden. But, of course, before any of that can happen, they must convince these Iowa Republicans that they can actually compete going forward.

So Nikki Haley maybe looking for perhaps a few more moderate Republicans. Ron DeSantis may be looking for a few more MAGA conservatives, if you will, who are simply looking to turn the page. But at the end of the day, they are trying to not only peel away some Trump support but also motivate some Republicans who may be sitting on the sidelines wondering what the outcome to all this may be, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, of course, would it not so, but of course money is a big factor as well. How are these candidates stacking up cash wise as we get into that last days of that Iowa race? Because they're going to need money to go beyond Iowa for TV ads, for getting out the vote, and on and on.

ZELENY: Well, Jake, it's pretty extraordinary. The end of this year- long campaign. Nikki Haley is on a very strong financial footing, almost reversing the fortunes of Ron DeSantis.


He is closing in a much weaker position. His super PAC and his campaign are not advertising on television here, with the exception of one new super PAC, simply because they spent much of their money earlier on in the year.

Nikki Haley did not have that money earlier on. She's raised it, raising some $24 million in the last three months alone, more than double what she did in the three months prior to that. So, she is putting that to use.

So, money can build an organization. That's what she is hoping to do. But she's also facing some limited time on that. So, money, of course, helps, but it's not everything, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

You can hear directly from these two candidates tonight in the Republican presidential town halls on CNN. Kaitlan Collins is going to moderate the first conversation with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That will be at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. And then immediately after that, Erin Burnett will host a town hall with former Ambassador Haley. Again, both tonight, right here, only here on CNN.

And next Wednesday, six days, I'm going to moderate the CNN Republican presidential debate in Iowa, alongside my colleague Dana Bash. That will be January 10th, just five days before the all-important GOP Iowa caucuses, and that will be live from Des Moines.

Donald Trump has plans to be in Iowa tomorrow. Today, he's making moves in court, trying to get the same federal prosecutors who charged the former president with crimes also pay his legal fees. His latest challenge and the potential for major impact on the federal charges he faces in the election subversion case from the special counsel.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our law and justice lead now, former President Donald Trump is directly taking on special counsel Jack Smith. In a brand new court filing today, Trump and his legal team asking the judge in the January 6th federal elections subversion case to sanction special counsel Smith and even consider holding special counsel Smith in contempt for allegedly violating a stay order in Washington, D.C.

CNN's Paula Reid is here.

Paula, what exactly is Trump's team arguing here and is it even remotely credible?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No, Jake, it's a bold ask. But we know there's no love lost between the special counsel and Trump legal team. The federal election subversion case is currently on hold while Trump litigates these larger questions about possible immunity. But that does not stop the special counsel from filing motions and submitting discovery. I mean, he had -- his stuff working through the holiday, something the Trump team legally prompted them to accuse him of being a Grinch.

Now, Jack Smith is very clear about why he is doing this. He said, look, I want to bring this case to trial before the November 2024 election. And he hopes if he can get all his paperwork in, if those appeals are resolved in his favor, then they can move to trial faster.

But that is not how the Trump team is describing it. They insist that this is political. Many of these motions, as you would expect, are critical of the defendant, former President Trump, but the Trump argues that Smith is operating as an arm of the Biden campaign and they have a list of things that they want the judge to do in response.

They want Smith held in contempt. They want him to withdraw his motions, be forbidden from submitting other motions, and then assess monetary sanctions in the amount of Trump's legal fees for dealing with these additional filings.

Now, look, the judge overseeing this case, she too has expressed the desire to move things along quickly. It's unclear how she'll rule here. But again, it's unlikely they're going to get everything they've asked for.

TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, former attorney for the former president, Jim Trusty.

Jim, thanks so much for being here. Happy New Year.

Do you think Judge Chutkan will actually comply with this request, to sanction special counsel Smith?

JIM TRUSTY, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: Yeah, too early to know. I mean, we haven't seen a response from the special counsel's office yet. You know, normally, Jake, when you're talking about stayed proceedings, where there's been a court order either by the trial court or an appellate court to stop everything, that's usually reference to simply ongoing hearings, litigation, court appearances.

So it struck me that this is very different, at least from the reading of the Trump motion. When you read the motion, it says, no, we actually talk very specifically to the judge and she agreed that this was something where we are staying all the activity. In other words, don't give us motions during this period, don't give us discovery, and they complain about getting 4,000 pages of discovery and some motions that had been filed by Jack Smith.

They complain about the substance of the motions, too. But they're basically calling fouls, saying a stay means a freeze. And I think that's interesting. I mean, it's kind of new territory for me. I don't usually associate that with a stay.

But if the truly created a record that established this is supposed to be a freeze from the burdens of litigation, that the phrase that use, then nothing has some life. It has some potential.

TAPPER: But you've never heard of such a thing before.

TRUSTY: I haven't seen it myself. I don't want to pretend I can speak for all of federal prosecutions around the country, but again, very factual. It's a question of whether Judge Chutkan specified in her part of the stay that she's saying I don't want any activity that affects team Trump and their labor.

TAPPER: Asking why special counsel Jack Smith should face monetary sanctions, to help cover some of Trump's attorney's fees, doesn't that seem a bit of a stretch?

TRUSTY: Well, that's -- when you're talking about contempt, that's what you're usually talking about. You know, you're talking about claiming misconduct, claiming a willful violation of a court order. And that's a thing that gives the lawyers attention, is when they're told it's going to come out of your pocket.

So, again, it's -- the foundational question of whether or not they violated the stay is going to drive all of the revenues. If they violated the stay, the judge has discretion. She could say, I'm going to give this warning. This is a typical. So, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. I'm going to let your refile.

There's a lot of things she can do it because it's all within kind of equity, you know, in terms of fairness, what she wants to do. But that is a legitimate option when there's content, is to say, I'm going to find you for the attorney fees, for the amount of time that the attorneys had to spend sifting through your motion or through your 4,000 pages.

TAPPER: Right, but when special counsel Smith turns over 4,000 pages of discovery documents, which for the people at home, means, we found these and it's our obligation to present to you, the defendant, these are documents as well. The idea that the Trump legal team would be arguing, well, we're not supposed to be getting anything right now, even though Jack Smith theoretically, let's assume, he doesn't interpret the stay in the same way, he's just doing what he is required to do for a fairness under the law.

[16:35:11] There is also the subtext of, I think, and tell me if you think I'm wrong, the Trump legal team saying, we don't want to be able -- we don't want you to be able to say that you gave us these documents in December and January, right? Like some date, you know, when the court case is about to start, we want to be able to say we only got them a week ago. So we need to push this off even more, right?

Isn't it also part of this delay, delay, delay strategy in a way?

TRUSTY: Well, that the technical part. It's a fair observation. Normally, you welcome discovery, whenever, however. If you're a defense attorney, you want to look at it. It's a fair point.


TRUSTY: Such a fair point. But, you know, look , this is -- a genesis of this is Jack Smith saying we have got to try this case in March, asserting a very nebulous, speedy trial claim on behalf of the public when really a speedy trial claim is the defendant.

TAPPER: Defendant, right, yeah.

TRUSTY: The defense team is saying we need to slow this down. Prosecution, I think, is making a very fundamental mistake here. If you think about it, Jake, you know, for something this important, this unprecedented, this creative, the best tactic the attorney general's office, and the special counsel to do is they're going to be ridiculously transparent, we're going to be ridiculously patient because this is about seeking justice, not about politics.

Instead, they're saying we have got to get this done before the primary, before Super Tuesday. I just think that's that wrong lens to be looking at if you're Jack Smith. To say, we must get this done before the election, basically feeds into that narrative it's entirely political.

TAPPER: A source tells CNN that Trump is planning to next week's federal appeals court arguments on whether or not he can claim presidential immunity for his actions as president that are currently under investigation.

Do you think it's a good idea for him to be there?

TRUSTY: I mean, look, most of the time, the clients I have, they're going to be there. You know, it's different when you're a former president with all the security apparatus and your running for president at some time. I think it's a good idea. I think it's not -- look, not on some tactical level where the bench is going to bow down because he's there, but because he gets to see it unfiltered. He gets to see and hear how his attorneys are being treated, how they're performing, what are the arguments that are sticking or not sticking. So I think it's always generally good for a client to see these things.

TAPPER: All right. Interesting, Jim Trusty, thanks so much. Appreciate it. TRUSTY: All right. Sure thing.

TAPPER: Coming up next, significant admission today from ISIS. The terrorist group is now claiming responsibility for these deadly twin bombings near the burial site of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. What's also striking is Iran's not disputing the claim.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, Iranian state media is repeating and notably not challenging the claim by ISIS that they, ISIS, were responsible for Wednesday's deadly terrorist attack in Iran.

State media, under the control of Iran supreme leader, is cheering accident statement on that one blast that killed 84 people, which is revised gun from yesterday's number. Still, 84 is quite a massacre. Terrorist attack targeted mourners gathering to observe the fourth anniversary of the killing of Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, a U.S. airstrike ordered by president Trump.

Nic Robertson is in Tel Aviv and CNN's Alex Marquardt is here with me in D.C.

And, Nic, before ISIS claimed responsibility, accusations were flying, Iran publicly accused Israel, now they're saying that ISIS did this because Israel commanded them to do so, which is a bizarre thing to say. But more importantly, we keep hearing the phrase fears of a wider war. Is this wider war essentially already happening?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Certainly, the temperature that could lead towards it is there. I sat down and chanted today with the former military intelligence chief for the IDF, who was, by the way, the F-16 fighter pilots that dropped a bomb on Iraq's nuclear plant back in the '80s and develop a military plane to take down Bashir al-Assad's nuclear power plant in 2007. This is a former Israeli official who knows a thing or two about regional tensions.

He told me that right now, everything, all those strikes that have taken place, that Israel has been responsible for, those it hasn't, it hasn't claimed and that the United States has been responsible for are below the threshold I think Iran would have a response that would escalate. But essentially, why so many strikes, so many of these red button hits for Iran, so quickly.


AMOS YADLIN, FORMER HEAD OF IDF MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: Israel took the gloves off. You can see it with Arouri in Gaza. You can see it with the -- the general in Damascus, even though nobody took responsibility. But the Iranians blamed Israel. And --

ROBERTSON: And the Iranians blame Israel as well for that attack, at the grave of Soleimani.

YADLIN: That's nonsense. That's nonsense. It's not the way Israel is operating. Israel is very precise, as you saw it in Beirut. Excellent intelligence, real time intelligence.


ROBERTSON: So I think, to your point earlier, Jake, that Iran is now, well, saying it was Israel that was behind ISIS, kind of no surprise. The Iranian leadership there is obviously trying to save face because it already accused Israel, already said there would be a response. And if they hadn't blamed Israel, they probably would have blamed that United States for creating ISIS, another counter narrative that exists here in the Middle East.

TAPPER: Yeah. But, obviously on its face, it's preposterous that ISIS would take orders from Israel.

Alex, for just the second time in just over a week, the U.S. targeted Iranian-backed militants in Iraq, in retaliation for more than 100 recent attacks launched on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. This time, it was a member of an Iranian proxy group with, quote, U.S. blood on his hands, according to a U.S. official. This comes as Secretary of State Blinken is setting out on a big Middle East trip.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, 115 attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, since October 17th. And this fear of wider regional war is going to be a major topic for Secretary Blinken as he goes back to the region for the fourth time since this war started. He's making nine different stops. He's going to come up in conversations with world leaders from across the Arab world.


We see these attacks in that Red Sea, the escalation with Hezbollah. And, of course, the growing number of strikes and attacks in Iraq and Syria.

And so, that latest response by that U.S., which many have said is not enough in terms of making these attacks stop, was today, the U.S. striking that leader of an Iranian-backed proxy group in the middle of Baghdad, he and his assistant were killed in a car. Very remarkable that took place in the Iraqi capital. The Iraqis are a furious, talking about a violation of sovereignty.

But this is certainly something that U.S. says will continue as long as they attacks against U.S. forces go on. But of course, Jake, the centerpiece of this trip is going to be Blinken's stop in Israel, where he's expected to pressure the Israelis to do more when it comes to civilian casualties in Gaza. When it comes to getting more aid into Gaza. He's obviously going to be talking about hostages.

But there is a real sense of pressure from the White House that they want the Israelis to transition from that high intensity pace that we've been seeing for the past few months, to a lower intensity phase in which civilians -- fewer civilians will be hurt and killed.

TAPPER: All right. And quickly, Nic, not only is that Middle East on edge, Russia's war on Ukraine is nearing its second year. Now, Russia appears to be in active discussions with Iran to buy ballistic missiles as Russia steps up its attacks on Ukraine.

Tell us more about this Russia-Iran defense partnership.

ROBERTSON: Yeah, look, it's been blossoming since they started buying those Shahed drones that they fire every day at Ukraine. That's something that we've just been really escalate the war, escalate the misery of the Ukrainian people.

And Iran has a level of expertise with ballistic missiles. They have been given them to the Houthis, who have been firing them in Israel. They fired them into Saudi Arabia. These are very, very dangerous, and well-tried and tested missiles. This will further add to the suffering in Ukraine.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Nick Robertson in Israel and Alex Marquardt here in studio with me, thank you so much.

In Gaza, nearly all the hospitals are currently unable to care for those wounded in the war. We're going to take you to a ship that has arrived, in the Mediterranean, right off the coast. And it's trying to save lives on sea. That's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead. The U.S. State Department says that Israel's intention of protecting civilians in Gaza is not matching its results. That is, of course, clear to many of the wounded and sick in Gaza who suffer without access to any real medical care.

CNN's Nada Bashir brings us now the stories of a lucky few who are getting lifesaving treatment on a medical ship off the coast.

But first, we do want to warn our viewers, some of the content of this report is disturbing.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The familiar innocent school of a child, but this child has been through the unimaginable, one of nearly 100 patients evacuated from Gaza to the Dixmude, a French helicopter carrier turned hospital ship, kitted out with specialist medical facilities. Doctors here say they've already carried out 130 operations and just over a month, with patients as young as three and injuries spanning severe burns to amputations.

We were going to bed at night. I remember, I covered my face with a blanket, this 10-year-old Mahab (ph) says. Then, suddenly, I found myself in a hospital. I don't know what happened.

Like many his age, Mahab's dream was to become a footballer. The aftermath of the airstrikes still painful in Mahab's memory.

Twenty-two-year-old Mohammed was also evacuated in December, after his leg was severely injured. His aunt says that Mohammed's learning difficulties mean he's unable to fully across the horror they've left behind.

When we call our relatives in Gaza, there are always airstrikes around them, Nisreen says. They've been displaced over and over again. They keep being told to move to the safe areas, but there isn't a safe place left in Gaza anymore.

The photos of family members killed seemed endless. Nieces and nephews, children seen in this video all killed, she says, when Nashilta (ph), a U.N.-run school, was struck.

I hope I can return to Gaza, to pay with whatever family I have left. I just hope they will be okay. That's all we can hope for in this life.

Holding on to that hope, grows more difficult with each passing day. And while that medical team here does its best to heal the physical wounds of its patients, it's clear that the emotional scars of this war run deep.

When the patients arrive here, they all have this look in their eyes, one which makes you feel they have come out of something very, very difficult, Dr. Huber says. It's a bit shocking for us. We are not used to seeing this, especially from children.

Inside Gaza, death seems near impossible to escape. And for the thousands wounded, there is not re-spite. The vast majority of hospitals in the strip are no longer operational. Doctors, forced to work under Israel's unrelenting airstrikes, with limited medical supplies.

Only a small handful of more wounded have so far been evacuated. Facilities like this are few. The evacuation process, precarious.

And while the shuttered poppies of these survivors are now slowly on the mend, some have turned their minds to remolding the fragments of their lives back home.

Gaza is my home, even if I die, I want to die in Gaza, Abdel Raheem says. We'll rebuild everything, even if we have to start from zero.


BASHIR: And, of course, Jake, inside Gaza health care infrastructure is in a state of near total collapse. And, of course, we now have been hearing those warnings from the U.N.'s humanitarian office of the risk of what they described as a public health disaster, with the spread of disease and infection along those displaced in Gaza, because now, those warnings would be very real risk of starvation.

TAPPER: All right. CNN's Nada Bashir is in Beirut for us, thank you so much. Former President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, what they have in common? They are all named in court documents that just dropped in the Jeffrey Epstein case. How and who else might be named in more documents expected to come out? We'll get into that next.


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

This hour, something we don't hear a lot about these days, several big U.S. cities are reporting a drop in murder rates. But, that does not mean crime is not still running rampant.

Plus, in Israel, the terrorist attack carried out by Hamas on October 7th. I'll speak with a man who is at the Nova Music Festival, and saw horrific acts with his own eyes, well beyond everything you'd likely ever heard. He's going to share what he saw, and tell us why he feels it's so important for the world to hear.

And leading this hour, we are standing by for a brand-new batch of unsealed documents and possible VIP names expected to drop any minute now, tied to accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.