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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Right Now: Closing Arguments In Trump Civil Fraud Trial; Hunter Biden Pleads Not Guilty In Federal Tax Case; Haley, DeSantis Back On Campaign Trail After CNN Debate; South Africa Outlines Genocide Cases Against Israel In U.N. Court; W.H.O.: Gaza Aid Workers Face "Nearly Insurmountable Challenges"; Alarming Increase In Swatting Incidents Targeting Politicians And Public Officials. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 11, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Swift, we should point out, has more than 279 million followers on Instagram and she is increasingly speaking out on political issues. Last September, her calls for voters in the United States to register saw a report a 23 percent jump in registrations compared to the year before. So she is rocking the boat.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yeah, I mean, harnessed that, right? You sure want to if you're anyone.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This hour, Hunter Biden is going into court, Donald Trump is coming out of court. We're following it all.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump gets a second chance. He's allowed to speak at the closing arguments in his civil fraud trial. What he said, and why a judge then shut it down.

And one day after Hunter Biden's shock appearance on Capitol Hill, he is now back home in California facing federal charges and now, the first lady, his mom, is weighing in.

And a stunning rise in public officials targeting in -- targeted in dangerous swatting incidents. That's when hoax 911 calls report fake violent crimes to get a police response and possibly real police violence against innocent victims. I'm going to speak with a Republican who has faced threats and asked him what needs to happen for these cases to stop.


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

We start today with our law and justice lead. The final moments of Donald Trump's civil fraud trial are playing out right now in New York courtroom, a trial that cuts to the heart of everything that Donald Trump has built his name on. The New York Attorney General Letitia James's office is finishing up their closing arguments right now. They are trying to make the case that Donald Trump and his adult sons, Donny and Eric, and their company defrauded banks and insurance companies by lying about the value of their asset.

The New York attorney general wants Trump to pay $370 million in fine and for him to be banned from ever doing business in New York state again. The judge, we should note, has already found Donald Trump liable on one of the seven counts. Trump's team has rejected all of the claims of fraud from the very beginning, and they're alleging without proof that Donald Trump is being prosecuted because he is running for office.

Donald Trump once again, tried to turn the courtroom into a campaign appearance today. He delivered a five-minute monologue full of complaints in the courtroom that led the judge to tell Trump's lawyers to get his client under control.

Mr. Trump then took his grievances down the street to the microphones at one of his New York properties. There he speculated without evidence that his legal troubles are the fault of Joe Biden and they are helping him in the Republican primaries.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It's a shame to have to have gone through this for years and years and years. And now, we'll see if were going to get an honest verdict. We have our best poll numbers, we have the best everything despite this, and maybe because of this, because the people of the United States, all of those people back there, but the people of the United States really get it. They get it better than anybody else


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Paula Reid now. She's outside the courthouse of Manhattan.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is also with us at 40 Wall Street where former President Trump spoke this afternoon.

Paula, Donald Trump's lawyers spoke in that courtroom behind you for more than two hours today, the most consequential part, however, might have been the few minutes when Donald Trump spoke in court. Tell us about that.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A dramatic conclusion to this months-long case that has enraged Trump and that threatens his family business. As you noted, his lawyer, Chris Kise, kicked off the day by presenting about two hours of closing argument summarizing that theory of the case, which is they argue that this is a political pursuit, that their client never intended to defraud banks, and that these institutions benefited from their relationship with Trump.

But then after Kise's argument, Trump was granted permission by the judge to address the court for just a few minutes. Now, despite the judge previously saying that he did not want Trump to give a campaign speech, Trump launched attacks against the judge, the district attorney, and declared himself an innocent man.

Now, predictably, this prompted a contentious exchange with the judge where Trump said, quote, they don't want me here. Let's get rid of Trump. I've done a lot of great things. The judge interrupted and said, one minute, that's all I'm saying. Trump told the judge, you have your own agenda. I understand that.

The judge then asked Trump's lawyer, Mr. Kise, please get your client under control. Trump said, your honor, look, I did nothing wrong. They should pay me for what we had to go through, what they've done to me reputationally and everything else. The judge then turn to Trumps lawyer and said, Mr. Kise, this could have been done differently when you would have had a lot more time.


Mr. Trump, thank you.

So look, Jake, while this is a legal proceeding, this is very personal to Trump and he often uses these proceedings to make political arguments. But I want to note, the attorney generals office is now offering their closing statement, wrapping those up, and they made a really important point.

They said, look, none of the Trump arguments address a key part of this case, which of those false financial statements. They were off by billions of dollars and they're at the heart of this case -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kristen, you were at Donald Trump's press conference after this. Did his team make any legitimate legal points?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One interesting part of this, and I've been to several of these, and this was the first time or at least one of the very few amount of times that he's actually taken questions from reporters. Usually, it is an airing of grievances. I want to note events and an event on purpose well from really turning it into part of the campaign trail or what we saw --


TAPPER: So, Kristen, I'm sorry, the audio is not working on your feed right now, so I'm sorry about that.

But let's bring in CNN's Jamie Gangel and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, let's start with what's at stake here because Donald Trump can -- he can say whatever he wants, but the attorney general of New York is asking for him to pay $370 million and for him to lose his ability to do business in New York.

How do you think the judge is ultimately going to rule?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, I don't think there's too much mystery to this because the judge, as you said, already has found against Donald Trump and in favor of the attorney general on one of the seven counts in this case. And what's at stake here really is the ability of Donald Trump to do business, period in the future. The A.G. is asking for an enormous monetary judgment here, up to $370 million. Even if the A.G. gets a fraction of that, that's a huge check.

But really, the bigger concern for Donald Trump here is the A.G. seeking the suspension of his business certificate, which would mean he cannot do business here in New York. It would vastly complicate his ability to do business anywhere else. It could mean quite literally the end of the Trump Organization.

TAPPER: Jamie, would Donald Trump have shown up in court today if the case weren't essentially about deciding the fate of his business empire in this image, he has built for himself that has served him so well as this master of the universe, this successful Manhattan businessman?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fairness, we don't always know why he shows up in court.


GANGEL: But there is no question. This one, as you say, is personal to him. This is about his business, it's about money. It's about the brand.

And I think what was interesting is Donald Trump is not new to court as a businessman. This isn't his first rodeo and what we saw is actually very typical of him. He fights, he spins, he delays, he tries to exhaust his opponents. And even when he loses, he says, he has won.

So I think what we saw here today, no question was personal

TAPPER: And, Elie, help us fact check a few of the claims Donald Trump made this afternoon. He says he was denied a jury trial. What's the deal there? What really happened?

HONIG: He didn't even ask, Jake. Now, it's debatable whether Donald Trump would have been entitled to a jury given the nature of this lawsuit. But Donald Trump's team absolutely could have argued we want a jury, we're legally entitled to a jury and then litigate it. They never did any such thing.

The judge said right off the bat this is going to be me, the judge deciding, and Trump and his team never contested that. So it's disingenuous to claim he was denied something that he never even asked for.

TAPPER: He also claimed that he has already won at the court of appeals. Is that true?

HONIG: So that definitely cause some head scratching. I think if you're watching at home thinking if he won at the court of appeals, how can we be on trial now? The fact is he did get a win at the court of appeals, but a narrow win.

The court of appeals ruled that some of the claims in this case, were too old and had to be removed from the case. That happens. Those claims were thrown out of the case.

All the claims against Ivanka Trump were thrown out of the case, but everything that remained in the case is now the subject of the trial. So he did win, but only in a very limited fashion.

TAPPER: Elie, Trump also claimed that Michael Cohen has taken back, has recanted all of his testimony. I don't remember that.

HONIG: Yeah, that's not quite -- not quite accurate. Michael Cohen on the stand was asked at one point, did Donald Trump ever tell you specifically to falsify these amounts and what Michael Cohen said and he's been consistent on this, that's not how Donald Trump operated. He didn't give us explicit instructions. We understood the general marching orders.

So he didn't take everything back. And his testimony didn't completely backfire. Michael Cohen's certainly got some credibility issues, but it was an overstatement as to what happened with Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: And, Jamie, this is probably one of the clearest examples we've seen today. And there have been a number of them of Trump using his many, many legal problems as his campaign platform, are there any signs that this strategy isn't working for him?


GANGEL: It seems quite the opposite to be working for him. I mean, we see the numbers going up as we've discussed, he sees this, Jake, as very effective. He shows up, he gives these speeches. He thinks it helps him with the voters. He thinks portraying himself as a victim helps him, I think with fundraising, with getting his base riled up.

So I think that, you know, obviously he showed up today as we discussed because it's his business. But he thinks it is effective. And maybe the thing to point to is this: Donald Trump likes to brand. And what did we hear over and over today that it is a witch-hunt and that it is election interference. The fact that he keeps using those two phrases over and over, he thinks this helps him politically.

TAPPER: Well, it certainly helps him with Republican primary voters. I don't know about the general election voters.

Elie, in a normal fraud trial, as -- I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that in a normal fraud trial, there are victims, people who actually lost money. As Mr. Trump pointed out in court today, the banks involved got all their money paid back, even if he was -- you know, he is not granting the fact that he overinflated the value, but even if he had, they got all their money back. Does the fact that everyone was paid back, might that affect a judges decision here?

HONIG: Well, it could, Jake. Some of the remaining claims do require what we call materiality, meaning, did somebody actually rely on these misstatements and then lose money as a result. If we cut through all the bluster, this is one of Donald Trump's defense, stronger points here. This is not your typical fraud case where somebody was ripped off, where somebody made a representation to investors and then the money was taken or even in a bank case where someone made a false statement, got a bank loan and then defaulted on it.

And what Trump's team has argued is these are sophisticated multibillion dollar banks. They did their own diligence, they willingly made these loans. They got repaid and they got repaid with interest.

Now legally speaking, if there was still fraud, if the numbers were vastly inflated, that can still hold up on some of the counts, including the count that judges already ruled in Trump's -- excuse me, in the A.G.'s favor on. But that I think is the strongest line of defense in trying to perhaps bring down the amount of the damages here.

TAPPER: Yeah. Thanks to both. I really appreciate it as Trump today uses a New York courtroom as a campaign platform. Other Republican candidates are actually campaigning in Iowa and their closing messages with only four days to go before Monday's caucuses is next.

Plus, what Governor Nikki Haley and Governor Ron DeSantis are saying after last night's CNN debate.

Stay with us



TAPPER: Breaking news, the president's son, Hunter Biden, has just pleaded not guilty in a federal courtroom in California.

Let's get straight to CNN's Evan Perez. He's outside court in Los Angeles.

Evan, walk us through what just happened.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot less drama here today, Jake, compared to what Hunter was involved in yesterday on Capitol Hill. He walked in quietly, just about 15 minutes before the beginning of this -- of this proceeding. Went through some paperwork, seem to be signing some of his paperwork. Typically, they present him with bond paperwork which allows him to leave this courtroom after he entered his plea. He formally entered his pleas, stood before the courtroom and entered his plea for all nine charges.

Jake, he's facing here three felonies among those nine for evading taxes, for failing to file and for filing false tax returns. According to prosecutors, Hunter Biden made millions of dollars working for companies in Ukraine and China and didn't pay his taxes for a period for 2016 to 2019. According to prosecutors, he spent that money on funding, a lavish lifestyle from exotic cars to exotic dancers. But now, he's facing these charges here in Los Angeles. In addition, Jake, to his other indictments which relates to his

purchase of a firearm during the time that he was prohibited from owning firearms. He's facing those charges in Delaware.

Now, we're not sure how quickly this case is going to go to trial. Jake. Obviously, all of this landing in the middle of the political season, his father, of course, running for reelection. Hunter Biden and his team have said that the only reason why he's being prosecuted like this is because of Republican pressure on the Justice Department to go after him, Jake.

TAPPER: Evan Perez in Los Angeles, thanks so much.

Moving on to our 2024 lead. Cue the music. Yeah, that's my jam. CNN's election music.

Donald Trump might be in court, but his political rivals are out there in the homestretch, trying to make their final pitches to Iowa Republicans today with just four days to go until the very first contest, the election and hours after they faced off in the CNN debate.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on the campaign trail in beautiful Des Moines.

Jessica, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis last night, and today, not shying away from attacking each other.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, they're certainly not, Jake, and what were seeing, it's a continuum of what we've seen in this kind of unconventional GOP primary over the last year, which is two realities. You have the reality here on the ground where Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have been all over the state today attacking one another. And then you have the separate reality with the undisputed front runner, former President Donald Trump in the New York's -- in that New York City courtroom dealing with that. And that's what continues to play out as the big question continues to swirl, that will be answered on Monday. Will anyone emerge here as an alternative to Trump?


DEAN (voice-over): In what has become a common split screen in this presidential primary, GOP front runner, former President Donald Trump, spent his day in a New York City courtroom. As the other 2024 GOP candidates were back on the trail in Iowa.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So get excited four days until caucus.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I'm a guy. I'm running on your issues and your family's issues and this country's issues. You know, not running for any other reason.

HALEY: Ron doesn't defeat Biden. Trump is head-to-head with Biden. On a good day, he might be up by two. In every one of those polls, I defeat Biden by double digits.

DEAN: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley clashing on the CNN debate stage Wednesday night, attacking one another on competency, character, and conservative convictions.

HALEY: Leadership is about getting things done. How did you blow through $150 million in your campaign?

We went and saved our money. We made sure we spent it right because you have to understand it's not your money, it's other people's money and you have to know how to handle it. If he can't handle the financial parts of a campaign, how's he going to handle the economy when it comes to the White House?

DESANTIS: I think here's the problem -- you can take the ambassador out of the United Nations, but you can't take the United Nations out of the ambassador. We don't need another mealy-mouthed politician who just tells you what she thinks you want to hear, just to try to get your vote, then to get an office and to do her donor's bidding.

DEAN: Trump continued his practice of not debating the other candidates. Instead, taking the stage alone on Fox News.

TRUMP: I'm not going to have time for retribution. We're going to make this country so successful again. I'm not going to have time for retribution.

DEAN: DeSantis and Haley largely avoided sustained attacks on the former president.

HALEY: I think he was the right president at the right time. I agree with a lot of his policies, but his way is not my way.

DESANTIS: If Trump is the nominee, it's going to be about January 6, legal issues, criminal trials, the Democrats and the media would love to run with that.

DEAN: All of this unfolding just hours after former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out of the race, criticizing rivals who've refused to call out Trump.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone who is unwilling to say unfit to be president of the United States is unfit themselves to be president of the United States.


DEAND (on camera): And, Jake, there's one more additional factor that we are keeping an eye on as we get closer to Monday. Take a look around. You see the snow. That's not uncommon. It snows in Iowa in the winter.

However, Iowa is set to have its coldest caucus date ever on Monday. It's the coldest day in January here in five years, with wind-chills up to negative 40. We know Iowans, are hardy. They can get through a winter, no doubt, but it comes down to turnout and that can be a joke sometimes in covering politics, but it comes down to turnout, especially in caucuses. And will that factor in at all?

We know that these candidates in these campaigns are working very hard to make sure they can get their voters to those caucus sites on Monday night -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean in Des Moines for us, thanks so much.

Coming up, the dangerous trend of swatting. That's fake 911 calls, generating a large police presence. One wrong step, and you could get killed. Lately, several have involved elected officials. See the stepped up efforts to get them to stop coming up.

Plus, the strong, some would say false genocide allegation today being waged against Israel as Israel is waging its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, for the very first time since the Genocide Convention was drawn up in 1948 after the Holocaust, the nation founded at least partly because of the Holocaust, Israel is being tried and accused of genocide in the United Nation's highest court, the International Court of Justice. South African officials are claiming that Israel's leadership are intent on destroying Palestinians in Gaza, committing genocide against them, in Israel's retaliation for the atrocities committed on and since October 7th by Hamas, the government of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who just wrapped up his Middle East trip, says South Africa's case is, quote, meritless and distracting, CNN's Melissa Bell reports for us from The Hague now as Israel prepares to defend itself on the world stage..


PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine!

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Passionate protests on the streets outside of court, as inside, South Africa laid out the details of their case.

RONALD LAMOLA, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTER OF JUSTICE: Even in a talk involving atrocity crimes can provide any justification for all defense to breaches to the convention

BELL: Israel has denied all accusations, calling the case a, quote, blood libel. South Africa is accusing Israel of breaching the 1948 genocide convention through its military response to the Hamas attack which it says has killed more than 23,000 people. ADILA HASSIM, SENIOR COUNCIL, SOUTH AFRICA: At least 200 times. It

has deployed 2,000-pound bombs in southern areas of Palestine designated as safe.


BELL: But South Africa is also accusing Israeli leaders of making no distinction between Hamas and the civilians of Gaza.

NGCUKAITOBI: That genocidal intent behind these statements is not ambiguous to the Israeli soldiers on the ground. Indeed, it is directing their actions and objectives. These are the soldiers repeating the inciting words of their prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We know our slogan, there are no uninvolved civilians.

BELL: The moment welcomed by international groups in support of the Palestinian people, with many noting the importance of Israel's presence, too, there to defend its response to the Hamas attacks on October 7th that killed at least 1,200 people.

BALKEES JARRAH, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The fact that they are here, that they're represented, and that they are presenting their formal response to South Africa's case is significant and suggests that they attach legitimacy to the court.

BELL: Israel will be making its case here on Friday, but just after the South African delegation had finished, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry dismissed their claims as groundless and false, accusing them of being the representatives of Hamas in court.


BELL: But South Africa's goal, a call for the world court to order Israel to stop the war.

MADONSELA: The consequences of not indicating clear and particularized specific provision measures would fear the very brave indeed, for the Palestinians in Gaza who remain at real risk of further genocidal acts.


BELL (on camera): We will hear tomorrow morning, Jake, the specifics of Israeli's defense when Israeli lawyers to take the stand here at The Hague. But already, we've had a taste of some of the indignation that were likely to hear from their side from the mouth of Benjamin Netanyahu speaking live, televised address tonight as speaking of South Africa's hypocrisy that he said stank to the high heavens. This was at a time when Israel is fighting a genocide, a moment when Israel was being accused of genocide, that's something you're likely to hear more of tomorrow as well, the idea that this is self-defense. Still, we've been speaking to the South African delegations tonight. They believe that whatever the international jurisprudence that is established here by the court, whatever its final decision on those provisional measures around the broader question of genocidal acts, South Africa believes that they have done something important here today by forcing Israel to explain itself on the specifics of what and how it is going about that campaign inside the Gaza Strip -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melissa Bell at The Hague, thanks so much.

As the intense strikes in Gaza continue, getting food and aid inside Gaza to innocent Palestinians has become an incredibly difficult task. Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Senator John McCain, and the head of the World Food Programme, helps lead one major effort. She's going to join me right after the break.



TAPPER: Now to Gaza in our world lead where, quote, nearly insurmountable challenges face aid workers according to the World Health Organization. The agency said it recently cancelled six planned missions to northern Gaza because requests for a safe passage were simply rejected.

Just yesterday, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, part of the International Red Cross, said four of its medics were killed when Israeli airstrike hit their ambulance in central Gaza. Israel's military has not commented.

All this as hunger and disease grip the Gaza, nearing the 100th day of war. The executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, joins us now.

Cindy, good to see you as always.

So a new analysis from the integrated food security phase classification shows a quarter of Gaza's population of roughly 2 million, a quarter face the highest possible level of food insecurity that's called catastrophic hunger.

How unusual is this rapid acceleration to that status, and the sheer scale of hunger and food insecurity in Gaza?

CINDY MCCAIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.N. WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: Well, what we're looking at right now and you reflect the numbers very accurately is famine -- the lack of food, the inability to obtain quality food, all the things that produce the kind of situation that the people of Gaza are in right now, are exactly what's happening. We are looking at famine.

The only way that we can prevent this is by a ceasefire, number one. And number two, safe and unfettered access in for our trucks and for our people to be able to feed, not just those people that are in the shelters, but people there within the small our communities as well. We've got to get in there. We have to. People are starving to death and a lot of them are children unfortunately.

TAPPER: How difficult, if not impossible, is it to get an aid truck with medical supplies and food and water into Gaza today?

MCCAIN: Well, it's a challenge. Although we now have an extra gate open, Kerem Shalom is open, it's still -- it's still a complicated process, and in some days, it just simply doesn't work. We need more than Rafah Gate and Kerem Shalom to be able to get in. We need at least two more. We need to talk about opening a port.

Everything that we -- that we need is as humanitarians feel to feed the population of Gaza is what we need to be able to do.

Most importantly is the ceasefire though. We've -- that's what's going to enable us to get in there in a more in a way that's just more bulk, more -- more people, more trucks, more food, et cetera. Right now, where it's just a dribble, and although we've got more trucks than we had before, it's still not enough.

TAPPER: How much is the World Food Programme speaking directly with the government of Israel? I know Israel says they can't do a ceasefire because Hamas poses an existential threat to the Israeli people. Is there -- is there any talk even about like a temporary pause, just so some of these trucks and aid can get in and maybe some people, some refugees, if they're allowed to, get out?


MCCAIN: Yes. No, I mean, we have been talking to the Israeli government as have as you know, every world leader on the planet right now has been talking to them as well. It's the kind of situation when we start using the word "famine", with regards to what's going on in Gaza, this is something that is catastrophic. It's not just a lack of food. Then becomes an inability to regain what children have lost in all of this is major, major impacts to their brains, et cetera.

It -- this is such a tragic situation and again, a ceasefire unfettered access, safe access for our par drivers and for our people, and also the ability to make sure that they're not -- that they are de-conflicted in the process.

TAPPER: France and Jordan have been able to air-dropped, to airdrop tons of medical aid. Is that something that could be done with food as well? Has the World Food Programme looked into that?

MCCAIN: You know, I doubt that that much has been dropped in there. We were talking about a very condensed population. To drop aid in could be -- could be harmful to the people on the ground.

You know, WFP has been doing this as for 60 years. We know what we're doing. We know what works. And so right now for us and for what we do, trucks are the only way to get help in there right now.

TAPPER: What is the best way for people watching at home to help? MCCAIN: Well, of course, you know, the usual -- usual thing is, of

course, give money, to give money to WFP. We simply right now don't have the kind of money that we need. The world has been overloaded with crises within the last year, two years.

And so, a lot of countries are kind of backed off a bit. So what I'm telling everyone I speak to and, of course, I'm going to Davos this weekend to reiterate all this, is that we need everybody in this. We need every country, every world leader, everybody to help us make sure that we can do the best so we can to save those people who are suffering tragically in Gaza right now.

TAPPER: And we should just underline for anybody watching, Cindy. I know you're a strong supporter of Israel and I know you're horrified by what happened in October 7th, but this isn't about that. This is innocent people of Gaza.

MCCAIN: Right, right. And it's about -- it's about the innocent people, not just in Gaza, but around the world. There are other major crises going on right now. And I'll use Sudan as a perfect example of that. We -- that's why we're talking about raising, making sure that we can gather more money, of course, the immediate crisis for all this is Gaza, but I can't forget. It's the other countries as well as Gaza that keep me awake at night.


MCCAIN: And people that are suffering there.

TAPPER: And you've been here to talk about those before October 7th and well keep having you back and keep bringing attention to this.

Cindy McCain, thank you for the work you do. Appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, what's being done to crack down on swatting? Why is it so difficult for authorities to track down who is behind these hoax calls leading to dangerous police responses to places where nothing bad is going on, as more incidents are reported involving public officials?



TAPPER: In our national lead, police in New York are investigating a bomb threat, made it the home of the judge presiding over Trump's civil fraud case. The threat may just hours before closing arguments were set to begin today.

This comes after law enforcement officials in D.C. say a federal judge in Trump's election case was the victim of an appearance swatting incidents on Sunday when police responded to a report of a shooting at her home, only to determine there was not a shooting at their home when they arrived. CNN's Rene Marsh looks at the alarming rise in swatting incidents

targeting public officials.


DAVE YOST (R), OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: He claimed that I had shot my wife.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ohio's attorney general, Dave Yost.

LT. GOV. BURT JONES (R), GEORGIA: They had shot their spouse and that they had somebody else tied up.

MARSH: And Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, both police say targets of a dangerous trend on the rise, called swatting.

It's a hoax where the caller makes a panic false report to 911 about a violent crime in progress at their targets home, triggering a large police response with armed officers, like the one Georgia State Senator Clint Dixon experience when he says he was swatted on Christmas Day.

CLINT DIXON, GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: I went to the front door and open the door and answered the door and was met by six officers that were carrying ARs.

MARSH: Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene says she was targeted the same day. The police report says the caller told an emergency dispatcher he shot his girlfriend and Greene's home was the scene of the crime.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The intent is to harass the individual who's a subject of the swatting call, but there are serious consequences potentially. Officers responding very quickly to the scene, thinking that there's some major crime in progress. It puts the person who is the subject of the swatting at risk.

MARSH: In a divisive and toxic political environment, both Republican and Democratic political figures seem to be increasingly the targets. Many of them viewed by Trump supporters as political opponents.

This Sunday, D.C. police responded to a 911 call for a shooting at the home of the federal judge in Donald Trump's election interference case, Tanya Chutkan. The police report says once units arrived, they realized the judge was not injured and there was no one in her home.

Last month, Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel overseeing two federal cases against Donald Trump, was swatted, a law enforcement source tells CNN.

So was Maine secretary of state after she ruled Trump ineligible to appear on the state's ballot. And just hours before Thursday's closing arguments, a bomb threat at the home of the judge presiding over Trump's civil trial.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These threats of violence are unacceptable. They threaten the fabric of our democracy.


MARSH: In May, the FBI set up a database to track swatting cases for the first time. Since then, the agency says it has received more than 500 reports, but finding the perpetrators who often masked their caller ID data can be difficult. And that's why political figures who have fallen victims to the prime are urging Congress to act.

DIXON: If there was, you know, a federal law on the books, giving that this person is calling from another state that, you know, you'd have that jurisdiction and hopefully be able to apprehend those folks more effectively.

MARSH: As elections drawn near states are doing what Congress has not last year, Ohio passed a law making swatting a felony, and Georgia has drafted similar legislation.


MARSH (on camera): Well, Jake, its not just high profile political figures falling victim to swatting. It runs the gamut from Jewish and other religious institutions, government buildings, schools, to election workers and members of the military.

So law enforcement officials are stressing that this is a dangerous hoax and they point to a 28 year-old man in Wichita, Kansas, who was actually killed after someone called in a fake 911 emergency about a hostage situation at his home -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thanks so much.

Let's bring in the Republican former lieutenant governor of Georgia and CNN political commentator Geoff Duncan.

Geoff, let's get your reaction because this is disturbing and dangerous. It's happening not just to Democrats, not just to judges, not just to prosecutors, not just to Republicans. It's happening all over the map.

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. This is an America problem. And for me, it feels like it's a direct result of just the unfortunate feverish pitch that follows politics every which way. I mean, we watched this play out even before the 2020 election. It just seems like the whole golden rule of love your neighbor has just turned into just something of punch your neighbor.

And it's a form of intimidation. And quite honestly, when you're trying to raise a family in the public eye, it's intimidating for your wife to call you and tell you that she just received a death threat.

TAPPER: You know, firsthand, what this is like. You received threats for the 2020 -- for saying that the 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen. Basically, you received death threats for stating facts, facts affirmed by the governor, facts affirmed by the secretary of state, facts affirmed by election boards -- Republican all. How did it affect you and your family?

DUNCAN: Yeah. You know, the part that really kind of crawled under our skin was how coordinated at all felt, right? There would be a tweet or a statement made by Donald Trump. It would go out and within minutes, either I'd get a call or calls or my wife would get a call and it would be a death threat or some other sort of just to be extremely intimidating, you know, message.

And the point was you couldn't track the call. We turn it over the GBI, the language that they use, the tone and tenor. I mean, it just felt really coordinated. It almost felt like a professional death threat.

TAPPER: How is it that they can't track the call? You didn't use to be that way, right? I mean, you and I are old enough to remember a time when like every call was traceable.

DUNCAN: That I think its just because its coordinated, it's planned, right? Either there's just a group of individuals that sit outside as a rogue element, and it's scary, right? It's scary in that, who knows when its actually going to be for real.

But, you know, as you watch this play out, Gabe Sterling and I had this conversation a number of times.

TAPPER: Election official in Georgia.

DUNCAN: Yeah. And Gabe and I, you know, he was receiving similar issues and threats that I was, and same with Brad Raffensperger is when January 6 happened -- I mean, certainly, it was shocking and it was a surprise to us all, but you could -- you could see the math happening. You could see this feverish pitch just building and building and building to where somebody -- groups of individuals, thousands, tens of thousands of folks showed up and just complete hate.

TAPPER: And there's this normalization of violence or the threat of violence. Are you worried about it getting even worse in 2024?

DUNCAN: Yeah. As I watched this election cycle of 2024 starting to play out, I mean, once again, Donald Trumps key resource that he uses his sowing seeds of doubt and chaos and he -- you continue to pick up even today elements that he leaves that the election could be rigged or there would be chaos if -- if he's found guilty or just continues to leave those doubts out there and it almost lets give air cover, not almost, but to actually give air cover to those individuals that would even think that this would be something that they should do.

TAPPER: Yeah, he does so in a very specific way. Listened to Donald Trump on Tuesday following his court appearance in the January 6th case. He offered this warning, if he loses the election while being prosecuted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I think they feel this is the way they're going to try and win. And that's not the way it goes. There would be bedlam in the country. It's a very bad thing. It's a very bad precedent as we said. It's the opening of a Pandora's box.


TAPPER: Now, a reporter asked if he would rule out violence by his supporters and he walked away without answering.

I wouldn't exactly say that he was -- he's condemned it strongly when he was asked about it last night in that town hall on Fox about political violence. What's your take on his use of political violence?

DUNCAN: You could call it a dog whistle, but it's really full lights and sirens.


He's telling you exactly what he's thinking. He's sowing that extreme seed and putting that that line in the sand.

And this is what -- I've said this often -- the most important thing about a president is it's not so much the tax policies that affect our day-to-day lives, or how safe are streets are, how good our kids schools are. It's about setting the tone and temper, temperament for the country.

And this country has starred for a leader that can put out there a whole new culture change. This would be like a CEO, a new CEO coming in where there's a culture issue. We need a new culture in this country.

TAPPER: All right. Geoff Duncan, thank you so much for being here.

Only four days until the Iowa caucuses. Next, former Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, he's still in the race. What does he see going into Monday? Who might he endorse if he chooses to bow out?

Stay with us.


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

Moments ago, the president's son, Hunter Biden, pleaded not guilty in a federal case against him where he's accused of not paying more than a million dollars in taxes. The court appearance as Republicans keep trying to connect Hunter's financial dealings to his dad, the president.