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The Lead with Jake Tapper

One Week Until First Contest Of Presidential Race; Trump's Legal Woes To Take Him Off Campaign Trail Tomorrow; Trump Calls Jailed January 6 Rioters "Hostages"; CBP Reports Increase Illegal Crossings By Chinese Migrants; Journalist Mourns Death Of Son While Covering War In Gaza; United Airlines Says It Has Found Loose Door Plug Bolts On Being 737 MAX 9 Jets. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 08, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Anything there you were excited about? The wins there?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: I didn't watch last night. I was watching the Dolphins get destroyed by Buffalos. It's very depressing. How about you, Brianna?

KEILAR: I just watched -- I followed online but I loved -- I loved "Beef" and I loved "The Bear." So, I was very excited to see those.

SANCHEZ: Congrats to them.

KEILAR: Congrats, not condolence. All right.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Michelle Obama says she's, quote, terrified about what 2024 election results will bring.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A crucial week before the caucuses in Iowa, and the Republican front runner Donald Trump, he's not there, he is in New York. He's preparing for court, and he's filing an audacious motion to try to throw out one of the cases against him and falsely calling January 6 criminals hostages.

Plus, a CNN correspondent embedded with a group of migrants, trying to get across the U.S. border from Mexico, a desperate journey. But, please note, they're not from Latin America. These migrants are from China.

And, it could be the smoking gun in the investigation into what went so wrong on that Alaska airlines flight. A missing door found in an Oregon backyard. What did Alaska Airlines know about the risks to this plane and its 177 passengers and crew?


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

It is just one week, one week, yes, only seven days until the first voters get there say. Forget the pundits, forget the pollsters, the voters get their say in the 2024 election. Next Monday, Republicans will gather across Iowa, and they will caucus for their favorite candidates. But in this final stretch, the leading Republican contender is once again off the campaign trail, because of his mountain of legal issues.

Tomorrow, Donald Trump is expected to be in court as his lawyers face off with special counsel Jack Smith, over claims of presidential immunity. That is whether Trump can be prosecuted for any alleged crimes he committed while he was president of the United States. And ahead of that hearing, Donald Trump's team today, moved to get his Georgia election subversion case thrown out on the same grounds, immunity.

We're going to start with CNN chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid with us here in studio.

And, Paula, Trump says he wants his Georgia subversion case dismissed because he had presidential immunity. What exactly is his legal team arguing?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They're arguing everything, Jake. They are throwing every possible constitutional argument at the wall, but it's unclear if any of them are going to stick. They reiterate their argument that he should not be charged because he has presidential immunity. They insist that the charges are based on things he was doing, as part of his official work as president. They argue that talking to state level officials about the process of the election, that that is something that a president does.

But so far, this immunity argument -- this has been rejected at the federal trial level, and it was also litigated, so many similar issues for his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And the appeals court also found that look, things you do related to the election -- those are not granted protections. They also argue under the supremacy clause, that states cannot interfere with your federal duties.

Several arguments already thrown out related to the Mark Meadows case. They also argued double jeopardy, that he's already been impeached, and tried in the Senate. But, of course, an impeachment, that is a very different process than a criminal trial.

Lastly, they are also arguing due process, that he lacked sufficient notice, that his baseless claims of election fraud could potentially expose him to criminal jeopardy. But, look, even if they do not win here on the constitutional merits, if the strategy is to delay, delay, delay -- which we know is a big part of the strategy -- relatively they win just by litigating this.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes who covers the Trump campaign.

This remarkable intersection of the courtroom, and the campaign trail for Donald Trump, once again on display, just seven days before the Iowa caucuses.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, but we've got to note here, he is choosing to do this. He does not have to be in court. This idea of, quote/unquote, juggling between him and his team, between the campaign and courtroom, that's not applicable here, because it is not mandatory.

What he is doing, and we'll take a look at the schedule here, Monday, tonight, he is coming to Washington, D.C. so that he can meet part of his legal team's arguments in that D.C. appeals court on the immunity claim. Then, he is going to Iowa the next day for a Fox town hall. After that, he is back in court for the New York civil fraud case, to hear the closing arguments there. And then, it's back to Iowa to finish campaigning.

He does not have to do this. He is using this as an opportunity. One, yes, he does care about these two cases, particularly more than any of the other cases. He believes strongly that he had presidential unity. Obviously, we know that the New York civil case, we reported this multiple times, it's key to his identity, both as a person and a politician. He has got multiple appearances there.


However, he does not have to do this. They want the oxygen taken out of this race. They want the attention that comes with Donald Trump going to court. But, I will tell you one thing, I am not sure they have thought through what court in D.C. looks like compared to court in New York. There is not the same circus and the same fanfare. He is likely to go into a garage, there are no helicopters allowed anywhere, none of that aerial coverage, because of Washington, a total TFR on all of it.

TAPPER: Right.

HOLMES: The fact that they can't have anyone inside the court, there are no cameras there, there are no microphones for him to walk out to him in the middle. And then, he goes back to his car and goes to the airport.

So, unclear how this is going to play out, because it's not going to be the same circus that we're going to probably see on Thursday, and that I've seen in the past.

TAPPER: And, Paula, as Kristen mentioned, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing Trump's presidential immunity related to Jack Smith's January 6th case, differing from the Georgia case, although similar in some ways. What do we expect from that hearing?

REID: Yeah, it's the same argument. He's once again immunity, but now, it's made up to the appellate court. And to Kristen's point, I don't think this is going to play out

exactly how Trump expects. Because, the federal courts, particularly in D.C., it is very buttoned down, very locked down, but this is about as exciting as appellate arguments get. A special counsel will have about 20 minutes, Trump's lawyer will have 20 minutes to argue, if Trump does or does not have immunity.

But, the judges can make this hearing last as long as they want. They will jump in with all kinds of questions, there are three judges, but, it's not televised. The audio is streamed so people can listen to the questions, but, this is nothing, like, I think the circus that Trump would hope to capitalize on.

HOLMES: We're getting sketches though.


REID: Oh, we are getting sketches, the last art form, the courtroom sketches, and you got to be careful because if you get a bad sketch artist, he might not like his sketch. We saw what they did to Tom Brady. But at the court --

TAPPER: Not to mention also, just on the courtroom sketch thing. Remember, one of them was so angry, "The New Yorker" made it the cover over the magazine. Remember that sketch?

REID: Yes.


REID: Yes, I remember that. Look, I guess this is another argument for cameras in the courtroom, right?

But, we rely on our sketch artists, then it is harder to control the narrative. It's not -- it's not as exciting as Trump might expect. But, at core is a key constitutional question. Does he have presidential immunity? Former members of his team tell me, look, this is not their strongest argument.

But, by showing up tomorrow, not only does he bring more attention to it, but maybe, with his base, pull through this argument, but he is the victim of the court system.

TAPPER: I mean, what does this all mean for the Iowa campaign? All of this hopping back and forth?

HOLMES: Here is what they're thinking is right now. We have seen in the polls, he has a huge margin. There's a lot of skepticism, even among his own campaign, that the margins are that being in Iowa, but, they do feel comfortable. They feel as though he is going to win.

Now, what they are doing right now, I am being told is tampering expectations. One, we have all seen the weather report in Des Moines, it will be negative ten degrees. There is some concern about all of the campaign, it will be lower than expected, the turnout. That is what I am hearing from his advisers and on the ground, like, let's temper expectations, not go into this thing that he will win by 35 points. But, in terms of actually winning, they do believe he's going to walk away with Iowa.

REID: It's wild, though, that he'll be here. Like, why not go to Iowa, hand out hand warmer's and things like that?

HOLMES: Well, that's the whole point, I mean, when he goes up to the camera in New York he says, I'd rather be campaigning, but I have to be here. But the truth is, he doesn't.

REID: No --

TAPPER: He doesn't. He doesn't have to be there.

HOLMES: He enjoys going to the courtroom. He enjoys hearing these arguments. He really does enjoy that part of being in the courtroom.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Paula Reid, Kristen Holmes, thanks to both of you.

Ahead of this trip to the courtroom, Donald Trump, urging his supporters in Iowa to not take polls for granted, as we heard from Kristen, to show up, hand him a resounding victory next week.

And as CNN's Kylie Atwood reports for us right now, Trump, also is ramping up the attacks on former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the Iowa caucuses just one week away, the Republican front runner, former President Donald Trump is urging his supporters not to grow complacent.

TRUMP: You are only 40 points up, but don't believe that either. Pretend you're one point down, okay? You're one point down! You have to get out, and you have to vote, vote, vote!

ATWOOD: And after months of targeting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump, now attacking former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, more than ever before. At his rallies --

TRUMP: Nikki will sell you out, just like she sold me out.

ATWOOD: And in new TV ads.

AD ANNOUNCER: Drug traffickers, rapists, poisoning our country. But, Nikki Haley refused to call illegals criminals.

ATWOOD: Haley, firing back.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If they're lying, it's because they know they're losing. It's that simple. ATWOOD: And after hauling in $24 million in support last quarter, new

pro-Haley messages are leading the advertising game in the Hawkeye State in the closing days.

AD ANNOUNCER: Imagine a president, with grit and grace. A different style. Not a name from the past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nikki will keep the radical left from ruining our culture.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you ready to win in 2024?


ATWOOD: Meanwhile, DeSantis has put tremendous resources into competing in Iowa, pledged to stay in the race, even if he loses the caucuses.

DESANTIS: I'm confident with the organization that we have put together, the enthusiasm we have on the ground.

ATWOOD: And issued a new warning about the upcoming election year if Trump is the nominee.

DESANTIS: If it's about, you know, Donald Trump or his legal issues, or criminal trials, all of that stuff, you know, I think it's going to be a really nasty election.

ATWOOD: Yet, President Joe Biden is officially kicking off the election year, focusing his attention on Trump.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump's campaign is obsessed with the past, not the future. He is willing to sacrifice our democracy, put himself in power.

ATWOOD: And while Trump is using campaign rallies to call for the January 6th rioters to be released --

TRUMP: They ought to release the J6 hostages.


ATWOOD: Biden, speaking today in South Carolina, as he looks to strengthen his support with Black voters, the key piece to his 2020 coalition, is delivering a wholly different message about the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

BIDEN: The same movement, that, throughout the mob, the United States Capitol is not just trying to rewrite history of January 6, they are trying to determine to erase history, and your future.


ATWOOD (on camera): Jake, today we are reminded of the unavoidable impact of the weather on the campaigns in Iowa. Nikki Haley had a campaign event in Sioux City. She was not able to get there from here in Des Moines, because there was a huge snowstorm. Of course, this is something the campaigns have to think about as the weather for next week, one week from today on Iowa caucus day does look like it will be incredibly cold. That could impact voter turnout. Voters might not want to leave their houses or be able to get to those caucus sites, because of this potential snowstorm.

So, that's something that these campaigns are going to have to be preparing for, as best they can -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, I've covered some pretty snowy, frigid caucuses in the past.

Kylie Atwood on the campaign trail in Iowa, hope you brought some wool socks.

We are coming up on a big night in the 2024 race, Wednesday, I'm going to moderate the CNN presidential debate, the Republican presidential debate with my colleague, Dana Bash. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, they're going to share the stage, just the two of them for the first time, ahead of the GOP Iowa caucuses next week to debate. It's live from Des Moines, Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

The GOP front runner of this race will not be at this week's debate and will not get to respond to questions about his record. One of the latest controversies, he called convicted criminals from the January 6th riots, people who attacked police officers, he called them hostages. And the GOP leader backed him up.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead. In just seven days, Republicans will cast their first votes in their party's race for the Republican presidential nomination. This comes as this weekend, the U.S. marked the third anniversary of the Capitol attack.

The U.S. Justice Department has said, an updated numbers from January 6, that more than 1,200 defendants have been charged, 450 of those were charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding law enforcement officers, employees of which 120 were charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against a law enforcement officer -- rampant criminality that Vice President Pence, this weekend, said this about.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: To see people literally breaking windows, ransacking that Capitol, it just infuriated me. I believe everyone that conducted that -- that riot at the Capitol needs to be held to the fullest extent of the law.


TAPPER: Now, despite this, Donald Trump and other Republicans are now falsely calling these criminals hostages.


TRUMP: They ought to release the J6 hostages, they've suffered enough. They ought to release them. I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners, I call them hostages.


TAPPER: With me now, former congressman and January 6 committee member Adam Kinzinger, Republican from Illinois.

Congressman, what is your reaction to Donald Trump calling the January 6 criminals hostages?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it's sick. We get -- we get so, I guess, numb to Donald Trump. You know, Nikki Haley can say that the civil war wasn't about slavery, she took a lot of heat about that, and rightfully so. You know, the presidents that he would've negotiated the civil war. He calls them hostages, was making fun of John McCain.

I just, the tough thing is that there is so much garbage being thrown out, that we just become numb to it. These aren't hostages. These are people that broke the law, points that Donald Trump, like post-January 6, Saturday morning after his Friday night party, he had a little bit where he said they should be held accountable.

And I hear what Mike Pence says, and that's great, but it would have a lot more impact if Mike Pence said, there is no way I could support Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

I think what you have here, Jake, is the reality that my former colleagues recognized that what they have done is violate the Constitution, frankly. They recognized the damage that they are doing, and the only way they can get through this is if they win. You know, they always say history is written by the victors. They made the decision that they have to win so that history re-writes their role in these days.

And it just makes me sad, it makes me angry, a righteous anger, it makes me want to double down for this coming year to make sure they don't get into office.

TAPPER: And just a note, to add what you said about John McCain, he was not just making fun of John McCain, he was making fun of the fact that he could not lift his arms. The reason why John McCain could not lift his arms is because he was a Navy flier, and he was shot down over a Vietnam. And then, he was tortured for five and a half years. That is why he could not lift his arms, while Donald Trump was avoiding military service.


We should also note that Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik parroted Trump's language yesterday on NBC. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R), NEW YORK: I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages. I have concerns -- we have a role in Congress of oversight over our treatments of prisoners. And I believe that we're seeing the weaponization of the federal government, against not just President Trump, but we're seeing it against conservatives.


TAPPER: I mean, she's calling them hostages. Again, these are not hostages, hostages are the poor people kidnapped by Hamas, being held in Gaza. These are criminals.

KINZINGER: Yeah. I mean, look, let's see if Elise starts to introduce a bill to make sure people in prisons are taking care of very well, because she seems very concerned about that all of the sudden. The word hostage is ludicrous. She knows that.

Look, let's not forget, it bears repeating, Elise Stefanik was Paul Ryan's prodigy for a while. She was a very, very intense moderate, until she got praised by Donald Trump because of her role in the first impeachment. And since then, she has been auditioning for his vice president slot.

And if you would think, you know, that maybe she accidentally said hostages on that thing yesterday, she didn't because she has been tweeting out that video, as if she is extremely proud of it, and she gets reaffirmed by people on Twitter, whatever else she is on, Truth Social, telling her she did such a good job by calling the hostages.

This is -- Jake, here's the bottom line. When people ask, why does the base believe this stuff, why does the buy into Donald Trump's lies? Because, everyone like Elise Stefanik is going along with it, and they're not hearing from anybody saying otherwise, except me, and Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney. It's easy to isolate us and demonize us, when you are too scared to tell the truth. And that's the problem right now, is that second tier leadership in the problem which refuses to say the truth to people.

TAPPER: And we should note, that Stefanik in the interview later said, Congress should only certify the election if it's, quote, legal and a valid, which obviously, but, her definition of legal and valid is not dependent on facts or adjudication in court, or before election boards.

KINZINGER: That's right, that's right. I mean, she's -- she has been very clear, I mean, you know, voting against certification, that was not based on a real belief, a real belief that it was stolen. She knew otherwise, these were all things, I'm not going to tell, you take the rank and file member of Congress right now, not the Elise Stefanik's, they are scared to death of next year, looking for ways to hide.

And I think that's where it's going to be incumbent on press and frankly, citizens, to ask them these tough questions like, do you agree that they are hostages? Do you think Donald Trump would've done a good job negotiating in the civil war without bloodshed?

TAPPER: So, after the Colorado Supreme Court took down, or at least announced that they were going to strip Donald Trump from the ballots, because in their view, he had engaged in insurrection, according to the U.S. Constitution, 14th Amendment, he's now ineligible. We have all of these Republican officials in Republican states saying they're going to take Biden off of the ballot.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, son of the former Attorney General John Ashcroft, he was on CNN today, talking about what happens if Trump is removed from the ballot in Maine and Colorado.


JAY ASHCROFT, MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE: This extra means of removing people from the ballot is catastrophic to our country if it's allowed to continue, because, if Democrats can do it, you know the Republicans will do it. And if the Republicans will do it, Democrats will do it --

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Well, to that point --


TAPPER: And he went on to argue that Biden should be removed from the ballot in Missouri because of allegations that Biden engaged in an insurrection. But when pressed, obviously, he was not able to provide any evidence for that claim.

What's your take on that?

KINZINGER: Well, I thought it was a great interview. And it's really how you do interviews, too, which is you bring the receipts. You give people fair shots and you bring the receipts.

The younger Ashcroft was frankly just trying to throw stuff on the wall. He didn't know his argument. He knew it was nonsense. But that's what you need to do evidently, to get reelected in Missouri, evidently, at least in a Republican primary.

And so, this is a dangerous moment, and I think it's important in all of this to call out the victimology that Donald Trump is feeding people into. That's going to be what over the next year becomes obvious to people.

TAPPER: Former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much. Always good to see you, sir.

Coming up next, CNN's David Culver with a group of migrants traveling and trying to cross the U.S. border. These migrants are from China. See the underground industry that's helping them move, and why their journey seems so different than that of other migrants.


[16:29:16] TAPPER: In our world lead, there is a surge of migrants coming to the United States from a country that has the second largest economy in the world. Thousands of migrants from China are illegally crossing into the U.S. southern border, more than 31,000 arriving in the last year alone, according to U.S. border officials.

CNN's David Culver join a group of Chinese migrants on their journey to the U.S. to find out why, and the length to which they are willing to go.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As soon as we pull up, they rushed towards us.

My mic not even on, but that does not stop this crowd of Chinese migrants from venting to producer Yong Shung (ph). They are angry having to wait in the cold for Border Patrol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): What's the place called?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): We're all sick! We have been here two, three days now!


CULVER: This is just one of three makeshift border camps we stop at in eastern San Diego County. Alongside migrants from Latin America at each camp, we meet dozens from China.

The numbers reflect the surge, from 2013 to 2022, CBP recorded fewer than 16,000 Chinese migrants illegally crossing the U.S. southern border. This past year alone, more than 31,000. That's roughly double the prior 10 years combined.

But unlike those fleeing countries in turmoil, like Venezuela, Cuba, or Haiti, these migrants are leaving the largest economy.

What was the reason you left China?

Their answer is very.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His family is poor.

CULVER: Most site deepening financial hardships, despite the Chinese government's narrative of a steadily rebounding economy.

How did you get here? How did you end up in southern California?

Their trek north primarily starts in one Latin American country, where Chinese do not need visas to enter.

To Ecuador. How many -- how many of you here came through Ecuador?

(SPEAKING CHINESE) CULVER: To really understand their journey, and how it differs from other migrants you need to see it in action. We touched down in Ecuador's capital Quito and standing outside of international rivals, we noticed this man.


CULVER: A hired driver, scrolling through photos and messages in Chinese. A few minutes later, passengers began stepping out. They tell us they are from China, and plan to go to the U.S., but most ask we should not show their faces. The driver approaches this group making sure he's got the right passengers.

He's got a booking for them.

We uncovered an assortment of travel packages offered specifically to Chinese migrants. You can pay smugglers who promised to ease some of the planning stress for $9,000 to $12,000, flights, hotels, transportation booked for you. For $20,000 or more it's a premium service, getting you to the Mexico side of the U.S. border, skipping some of the more treacherous crossings.

We drive through Ecuador's capital city with Long Tai Wai (ph), he shows those private homes and Airbnbs where Chinese migrants when they arrive.

Long's lived here in Quito for five years, he runs a travel agency. He has witnessed the recent surge in Chinese migrants. And with it, a spike in businesses catering to them like this Chinese-run hotel.

The owner estimates there are as many as 100 hotels in Quito, but like hers host Chinese migrants headed to the U.S.

And take a look at this. They've got essentially a how-to guide to go from here and to continue north. They tell you here, how many days you should be preparing, vaccinations you might need, other documents you should carry with you. They even mentioned bringing $300 and hiding that amount of money because of presumably being robbed at some point and needing cash as a backup.

It's advice Zheng Shiqing could've used a few days earlier.

Your parents still think you're in China? They have no idea you left?

We met to the 28-year-old back in Quito after he was robbed at gunpoint in Colombia.

I left China because I was not able to save any money. It was really difficult to support myself he tells me. He says some employers in China refused to pay him even after working. Even if they say that Chinese economy is strong, it is all about the upper class he says.

I wish I was never born, living feels so exhausting.

After saving up enough to restart his track, Zheng heads to this Quito bus station where ticket sellers hold up like this one in Chinese it reads, to Tulcan, Colombian border.

More than a dozen Chinese migrants boarded the bus north. We go with them for the four-hour plus ride. On board, Zheng and the others plan their next moves.

ZHENG SHIQING, CHINESE MIGRANT: This is California, California. That's the ultimate goal.

CULVER: Zheng plans to stay here in Tulcan for two nights and then a hire a cab to take him over the border.

As a lot of the Chinese migrants are able to pay their way in taxi to get to the international bridge crossing from Ecuador to Colombia, we've noticed a lot of folks, migrants from Latin American countries like these over here are not having the money to do that. So they walk.

In the cold rain, we've met Anhel (ph) and Isabel from Venezuela.

They say it's really expensive to try to cross so they have to walk.

Tulcan residents tell me they see hundreds if not thousands of Chinese migrants passing through each week. Because they are often carrying more cash, they are now prime targets for corrupt police and cartels. But like Zheng, they remain determined as we return home, he updates on his track over two weeks, Zheng travels through five Central American countries, at times messaging Chinese speaking smugglers who remotely coordinate with local cartels to get him and others on fans, buses, boats and flights. It cuts his travel tandem down to about half that of most Latino migrants, but it's costly though.


By the time he reaches northern Mexico, he has spent more than $10,000, with one more border to go. A camera we set up facing the U.S. southern border captures weeks of crossings, thousands entering the U.S. through this gap in the wall. Group after a group, day and night you can hear these migrants shouting in Chinese.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (translated): Goodbye, my motherland!

CULVER: They end up where we started, San Diego County, burning fires through the night to keep warm, and during the day expecting Border Patrol to pick them up. Just before New Year's, Zheng messages us that he too has crossed into the U.S. and is waiting to be processed for asylum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): America!

CULVER: Joining the thousands who've crossed before him, and the many more to come.


TAPPER: And CNN's David Culver joins us now live.

David, what are the biggest reasons you found that people are leaving China like this?

CULVER: So, we met folks down there, Jake, in San Diego County, a lot of them are telling us it was poor persecution sake. They were Christians, they were Muslims, they were Buddhists. The vast majority, though, are economic reasons.

But this speaks to something I think far more serious, specifically within China and perhaps even indicating a contradiction to what the Chinese communist party says is a rebounding economy there. And that suggests that within China, particularly post-COVID and we lived through those very harsh lockdowns, there are ramifications that are now lingering and they forced a lot of folks within the lower to middle class to say we cannot make it anymore. We need something else and this is the route that they are going.

Interestingly enough, Jake, the numbers under President Xi Jinping specifically of those leaving China have sharply recent just within his control years.

TAPPER: Interesting.

David Culver, fascinating story. Thanks so much.

Coming up next to another global flash point, inside Gaza, and a sobering look at the human toll that the IDF strikes are taking as Israel tries to hunt down and destroy Hamas.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza grows more dire every day. The latest casualties involve journalists -- journalist trying to show the world what's happening while risking their own lives. The three months since October 7th, there have been at least 79 journalists killed in Gaza, Israel, and Lebanon, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And sadly, these reporters on the ground often are also losing family members and having to document those deaths as they manage their own grief.

CNN's Nada Bashir brings us the latest now, and a warning, some of the images you may see will be disturbing to some viewers.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): A final painful goodbye. Not the first for a revered Palestinian reporter Wael Dahdouh. His eldest son Hamza, a fellow al Jazeera journalist killed in an airstrike in the southern region of Khan Younis on Sunday, laid to arrest, just a few short months after his mother, brother, sister and nephew were killed in a strike on Gaza's Nuseirat refugee camp. This family's utter despair seems impossible to put into words. And

yet, day after day, through so much loss, it is the words of Wael Dahdouh that have given crucial testimony to the reality face by all in Gaza.

WAEL AL-DAHDOUH, AL JAZEERA GAZA BUREAU CHIEF (through translator): The world should see through his own two eyes what is happening to the Palestinian people, not through Israel's eyes.

What did Hamza do to the Israelis? What did my family do to them? What did the civilians do to them? They did nothing. But the world has closed its eyes to what is happening in the Gaza Strip.

BASHIR: On Monday, the Israeli military confirmed it had done the airstrike which killed Hamza and fellow journalist Mustafa Thuraya, saying they had, quote, struck a terrorist. They are declining to provide further details.

Israel says categorically that it doesn't target journalists, maintaining that the IDF is targeting Hamas in retaliation for the October 7th attack. But it is hard to reconcile Israel's expressed intentions with the overwhelming number of civilians killed in Israeli airstrikes.

In Jabalia, bodies lay tangled in this residential building. At least 70 were killed here, survivors say -- struck overnight as many were sleeping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My mother, father, brothers and sisters, all of them, my whole family has been part of the civil register. There was nothing here, no fighters.

BASHIR: Such grief it's felt across Gaza. In the central region of Deir al-Balah, there's little hope left as men did with their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors. At the nearby Al-Aqsa hospital, the only emergency care center left functioning in the area, medical teams are dangerously overwhelmed.

Now, fresh warnings from the Israeli military have forced doctors from several international NGOs to evacuate.


Their patients left with nowhere else to turn.

GEMMA CONNELL, U.N. OFFICE OF COORDINATION OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS GAZA TEAM LEADER: What I'm seeing today inside of the hospital is an absolute shame on humanity. I'm seeing children lying in their own blood. I've seen a child who was hit by shrapnel who doesn't know where his family is. I've seen a woman who is hit in the face by a strike who's waited six days, six whole days to access health care because the fighting around her was so ferocious.

So, what I've seen inside this hospital has to end. The war has to end.

BASHIR: As calls for a cease-fire continue to go unheeded, the humanitarian situation in Gaza grows more desperate.

It is a reality painstakingly documented by Gaza's journalists.

Wael Dahdouh, back on air just hours after his son, Hamza, was buried. A symbol of reliance for many.

DAHDOUH (through translator): We will not hesitate for a single moment. We will not stop for a single moment, as long as we live, as long as we are able to fulfill our duty.

BASHIR: But also one of determination. For the world to see and acknowledge exactly what is happening inside Gaza.


BASHIR: And, Jake, today, the U.N. Humanitarian Office has expressed concern over the high number of media workers in Gaza who have been killed as a result of this war. They are now calling for a thorough and independent investigation in order to ensure full compliance with international law.

But, of course, just as Gaza journalists continue to pay a deeply high price for their crucial reporting on the ground, civilians across the Strip are facing a situation that is narrowly being described now as catastrophic, or one that is growing more desperate, or more dire with each passing day -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nada Bashir, thank you so much.

This just in, just days after part of an Alaska Airlines plane fell off midflight leaving that gaping hole, another airline now says it is now loose bolts on the same part in some of its jets. And that story is coming up.



TAPPER: Just into our national lead, United Airlines says that they have now found loose door log bolts on multiple Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes. That is, of course, the same craft involved in that terrifying Alaska airlines incident on Friday evening, when a chunk of the plane blew off midflight, leaving a refrigerator-sized hole in the side of the plane.

Let's get straight to CNN's Pete Muntean in studio with me.

Tell us how serious this report is. Explain -- I call it a door but it's really supposed to be called a door plug. Explain what that is.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's a door that you essentially can only see from the outside, normal window, wall and sits on the inside. This is the latest from United Airlines. It has found dozens of the same -- it has dozens of the same flight involved in Friday's Alaska Airlines incident, a Boeing 737 MAX 9. And the part that ripped off is called a door plug, essentially a sealed door that is only covered up on the inside of the cabin.

United now says it found loose bolts on an undisclosed number of door plugs on its MAX 9. A huge development as the investigation into how this happened is just beginning.


MUNTEAN (voice-over): From inside the damaged airline to a Portland backyard, the investigation into the hole violently ripped in an Alaska Airlines flight has a new smoking gun. The National Transportation Safety Board has now recovered the part of the fuselage that ejected without warning only six minutes after Flight 1282 took off Friday.

The piece tumbled 16,000 feet, only to be discovered two days later by a school teacher named Bob.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: I'm excited to announce that we found the door plug. Thank you, Bob.

MUNTEAN: Investigators are now matching up the bolts, hinges, and roller bearings of the door to the structure of the plane, to provide key clues about why it came off. The size of a refrigerator and weighing 63 pounds, the force of the rupture was strong enough to open the cockpit door 26 rows up.

The noise of 400 mile per hour air, audible as pilots radio in an emergency.

PILOT: Alaska 1282, we just depressurized, we're declaring an emergency, we do need to descend down to 10,000.

MUNTEAN: Investigators say the explosion contorted seats, removed headrest, and threw phone from passengers hands to Portland streets below. Amazingly, nobody on board was seated immediately next to the hole or seriously injured.

EVAN SMITH, ALASKA AIRLINES PASSENGER: You heard a very loud bang, to the left and that we are, like in row 20.

EMMA VU, ALASKA AIRLINES PASSENGER: I just knew something bad was going on because the masks had come down and I have never experienced that before.

MUNTEAN: The plane, a new Boeing 737 MAX 9. It made its first flight just this past October, and has been used by Alaska Airlines on only 150 trips. The Federal Aviation Administration has temporarily grounded MAX 9's until Alaska and United Airlines can make emergency expectations.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: When you look at the manufacture, the design of this aircraft. But we go where the evidence takes us.

MUNTEAN: What is missing from the investigation is audio from the cockpit voice recorder which was not recovered in time to stop its automatic overwrite. Gone are the recordings of the loud bang heard by passengers.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's high time that we improve the amount of data we got out of these cockpit voice recorders, including video.



MUNTEAN (on camera): Investigators have uncovered one more key piece of evidence. They say this Boeing 737 MAX 9 had experienced pressurization problems three times before this incident.

One, cockpit alarm went off just one day before the incident. Following its own protocols, Alaska Airlines kept the plane from over water flights, like to Hawaii. So far, investigators say it's not clear if those alarms foreshadow Friday's in-flight blowout. But at this case, Jake, they're not ruling anything out.

TAPPER: Terrifying stuff.

Pete Muntean, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Today, President Biden used another historic site for a campaign speech. This one in South Carolina church where black members were killed in a racist attack. And there, Biden compare Donald Trump to defeated Confederates. See, the protests that interrupted his moment, next.