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The Lead with Jake Tapper

GOP Candidates Turn To N.H. After Trump's Landslide Win In Iowa; Nikki Haley Says U.S. Has "Never Been A Racist Country"; DeSantis Calls Early Projection Of Trump's Win In Iowa "Irresponsible" Because Delegates Were Up For Grabs; ABC News Cancels GOP Debate Scheduled For Thursday; U.S. Launch Fresh Round Of Strikes On Iran- Backed Houthis; Israel; Intense Stage Of Gaza Offensive Will End Soon; Far-Right Israel Minister Ben Gvir Slams IDF For Pulling Elite Division Out Of Gaza; Video Evidence From Oct. 7 Show Hamas' Tactics Mirroring ISIS; Gilgo Beach Murder Suspect Charged In 4th Killing; Navy Lt. Alkonis & Wife, Brittany, Speak After His Release From Prison. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 16, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: He will be here today on The Lead for his first interview.

And leading this hour, Donald Trump's first campaign event since his historic win last night in Iowa and his day in court today in New York, now he's headed to New Hampshire, and will take the stage with a brand new supporter by his side, a gentleman by the name of Vivek Ramaswamy, who suspended his own campaign after a dismal fourth play single digit finish last night hours after saying he would win the Iowa caucuses outright.

Meanwhile, the spin cycle is going on. Here's how New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, one of Haley's biggest supporters, tried to play -- tried to downplay Trump's big win in Iowa last night.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE): He's effectively the incumbent, if you think of it that way. So the incumbent president barely could get 50 percent of his own base voters? I don't know. I don't think that's -- I think that's a huge opportunity for America saying, let's move forward with something new.


TAPPER: CNN's Kristen Holmes is in Atkinson, New Hampshire.

And Kristen, we're waiting on Donald Trump to speak there. What do we expect to hear following his big victory in Iowa?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're likely to hear him attacking Nikki Haley. Now we've talked a lot about the fact that Nikki Haley keeps saying that this is a two person race despite the fact that she came in third in Iowa. But when it comes to New Hampshire, Donald Trump's team does see this as a two person race. And just to be clear, that is not the entire primary. But this state in particular, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis does not have a ground game here. But Trump's advisors have been watching closely as Nikki Haley's poll numbers have risen.

This is a completely different electorate here. And they are aware of that. So expect new attacks on the former South Carolina governor and expect him to really take aim at her just like we have seen the campaign and the super PAC do. I spoke to a senior advisor today. And they're looking at this in two parts, one, securing Republican and conservative leaning independents, they are doing that by taking on Nikki Haley on immigration, which they believe is a key issue for Republicans in this state.

Now, they are also hitting her on Social Security and Medicare. That is their way of taking her on with independence, moderates and even left leaning Independents. They believe this is two parts. What they know is going to happen here in New Hampshire is that some of these left leaning Independents and moderates are going to come out to vote just to vote against Donald Trump. Their goal here is to make that as small as possible and to chip away at those Independents so that there are more Republicans who support the former president coming out next Tuesday.

TAPPER: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

Let's discuss with our panel. Let me just start with the social security attack, if I can, Margaret with you? Because Social Security is on a path to -- either they will not be able to pay out full benefits to everyone. That's just a fact.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We're going to have to work toward 90. Yes.

TAPPER: So, and it is also just the fact that either benefits need to be cut or means tested, taxes need to go up, some combination of the two. I mean, like, these are just facts.

TALEV: Right.

TAPPER: And this is why doesn't get solved this because Nikki Haley barely acknowledges this fact and she gets hammered.

TALEV: Absolutely. But because this is about politics, and there are some third rails in politics, so one is true telling on things like this. But why is that an argument that you would pursue in New Hampshire? Because it's the live for your die state. So, we've all been talking about how Iowa is a different contest than New Hampshire.

It's not just because there's not as many evangelicals, it's not just because it's a primary state and not a caucus state, but it is because sort of taxation and the government's reach into you. From a fiscal standpoint is a much more salient issue in New Hampshire, and that's where Nikki Haley, she may not have the momentum she wanted to have to go barreling into New Hampshire, but she's still, you know, done a lot of the groundwork, got a lot of fans there, Independents as well as Republicans. Social Security is an area that could make a difference.

TAPPER: Let's talk about what happened last night. Doug, not only did Trump score resounding victory, historic victory in Iowa, 51 percent of the vote. In our CNN entrance polls of caucus goers what was on their minds as they walked into the caucuses, most Iowa GOP caucus goers refuse to accept the fact that Biden won legitimately in 2020. It's just a fact in '20, and 66 percent of them deny that fact. They also say they would view former President Donald Trump as fit for office, even if he is convicted of a crime, 65 percent say, yes, they'll still vote for him. What's your reaction to this?

And what should the campaigns of Haley and DeSantis do with that information?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, this also reflects where the Republican candidates are, most of the Republican candidates overwhelmingly would pardon Donald Trump and would vote for him if he were convicted. So maybe voters shouldn't behave very differently or shouldn't be expected to. But this is why Donald Trump has become so powerful over not just the past year, but over the past several years. He's able to be the insurgent and the incumbent at the same time. He's able to be the hero and the victim at the same time, both of those are very powerful.

And what we've seen over the past year is anytime that Donald Trump gets indicted his opponents, Nikki Haley ally Ron DeSantis and others everybody, except for basically Chris Christie not only don't attack him, they use his own language to defend him and say that he's a victim that there are two tiered system of justice. So if this primary season is smooth skating for Donald Trump as it's icy outside, I think he can thank Ron DeSantis's campaign and Nikki Haley's campaigned for being a Zamboni to make sure that there was no cracks in that ice for him.


KAREN FINNEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the other thing though, it was so important about that data point is, that's why he keeps repeating the big lie. That's why we are going to hear it all the way to Election Day 2024, because it works. Because it solidifies --

TAPPER: And repeating it works.

FINNEY: Right, exactly. Just like for those who follow the last cause mythology about the Civil War, who just repeated those lies, right? It's a similar kind of mindset. And you'll be heard going into the caucus, a lot of voters said -- of his voters specifically saying, I don't care about the general election, maybe she can win, he was robbed, he deserves another chance. And so I think what that means, both for the other Republicans, I think it's part of why you're seeing Nikki Haley rather than a frontal attack like Chris Christie, trying to just say, look, this is about generational change, this is about we don't want chaos, and he's focused on the path, trying to create a lot more of a bridge to people who maybe are open to not voting for Trump.

TAPPER: So earlier today, Nikki Haley made a claim that the U.S. has never been a racist country. Take a listen.



BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Are you a racist party? Are you involved in a racist?

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've not a racist country, Brian, we've never been a racist country. Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No.

I know, I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you today is a lot better than it was then.


TAPPER: Haley's campaign followed this up with a statement later on saying, quote, "America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country. The liberal media always fails to get that distinction." What do you make of this?

FINNEY: Racism is alive and well and thriving in the United States of America. I actually I have a piece that'll be going on

TAPPER: But is the U.S. a racist country is the issue?

FINNEY: No, but I think we have I believe that systemic racism, which is an outgrowth of white supremacy, which came out of, you know, reconstruction in the Civil War, and became the last cause mythology, which justified white supremacy, which created racist systems. To absolutely just like, they're still sexist systems, it does still exist. That doesn't mean that what's in -- and I know this in my own life as a person who was biracial, right, that that does not mean that what is in people's hearts is always that they are racist or that they have hate, for some it is. But for others, it means maybe they just don't have a way to see the other side or understand how we all live differently and experience this world differently.

TALEV: I mean, the country was founded on the premise that all men are created equal as long as they were white and men.

TAPPER: And landowners.

FINNEY: And land owners (inaudible).

TALEV: And land owners. So, I mean, you can --

TAPPER: And Christian.

TALEV: -- you can be honest about history, and still have a positive outlook on how far the country has come. But you can't change history.

HEYE: And that's where if Nikki Haley wants to continue to make a general election argument, the courage that she showed in taking down -- FINNEY: That's right.

HEYE: -- the biggest symbol of that, when she took down the Confederate flag in South Carolina and did so by bringing Republicans and Democrats, politicians and business interests together, that's something -- that showed real leadership and real courage under pressure.

FINNEY: But that was an interview with Fox.


FINNEY: So of course, she wasn't going to acknowledge it there. And look, she's giving voters a bit of an excuse to say, look, I'm a brown person from the south and I'm saying it's OK.

TAPPER: So, the race was called last night, including on -- actually, I think CNN was the first to call then AP a minute later for Donald Trump the caucuses -- before some caucuses even began submitting ballots. It's not unusual this is how it's been done for a long time. And yet, we will, once the doors are closed, the caucusing begins. And when there's enough information, people call it. Listen to what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said about this decision by really everybody, although CNN and the AP were first.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had people that decided to leave because I was given a speech interview, they got off the stage, they said oh, they called it, AP called it. But wait a minute, these people haven't even voted yet. And proportional delegate, who knows? Maybe there would have been a percent or two I don't know. Clearly, Trump would still won, I get that.

But I was irresponsible. I mean, what's so hard to just wait for people to actually vote?


TAPPER: What do you think?

TALEV: I'd be saying that if I were him. I think this is an issue where the uniqueness and the history and the legacy of the caucuses has not changed the pace with modern technology. If this is something that has to be reconciled with, so be it. But you know, a caucus isn't a primary, a primary is not a general election. And the reality is, every bit of news is instant. If you can walk into a caucus with the phone, you're going to know what happened.

FINNEY: But we have people --

HEYE: But campaign people are going to disagree with you.


FINNEY: Yes, a 1000 percent. Because if we're going to say we're for democracy, then we got to be for people get to vote before we call it, period, full stop. I mean people were calling races in 2022 and 2024 when literally people were -- I mean, waiting in line for hours in the heat to vote. Does that man who actually ended up getting arrested and thinking this one guy in Texas, he doesn't deserve to get to have his vote and have to say before you tell him it doesn't matter?

HEYE: I remember being in a Collin Center in California in 2000, when elections were called, we're calling voters get to the polls, and they said it's already over. This was in California.


TAPPER: Yes. All right. Well, yes, and one thing I will say is that if there is a change made, it needs to be network wide, it needs to be every channel, every new service.

Doug, this news just in, ABC News, was supposed to have a debate. They invited Trump, Haley and DeSantis Thursday night, they've canceled it. This -- because Trump is obviously not going to be there. He's never gone to a debate --

HEYE: Yes.

TAPPER: -- this season. But also a comments from Nikki Haley and Governor DeSantis both pushed to debate Donald Trump. Take a listen.


HALEY: That's who I'm running against. That's who I want. That's -- at the end of the day, he's the front runner. He's the one that I'm seven points away from. He's the one that we're fighting for. There is nobody else I need to debate. If he's on that stage on there.

DESANTIS: We're supposed to have a debate on W -- with WMUR on Thursday night. I committed to it. She now is saying she's not going to debate. And I understand why.


TAPPER: What's your reaction?

HEYE: Well, I understand, they both want to take on Donald Trump. And Nikki Haley certainly lost some of the Nikkimentum that we were talking about with that one-on-one debate with DeSantis. And the reality is, if you want attention at this point, it comes through Donald Trump and the nomination is always not going around. Donald Trump has gone through him. So I think tactically, this is smart for Haley to do.

TAPPER: What do you think?

TALEV: I think if the voters don't demand that everyone participate in the debate, then people will not participate in debates. And that's what you're seeing, and she's trying to make the best of it.

TAPPER: Donald Trump has done, I have to say, I mean, it is rude to the voters that he refuses to take questions from, you know, non-right wing media, and that he refuses to go to debates and take questions.


TAPPER: But it's worked for him. They haven't voted seven and I -- voters in Iowa weren't bothered by it.

FINNEY: I was just going to say, look at the results out of Iowa. So, for -- from his perspective, I agree with you, your voters should get to hear, you know, you debate. However, for his team who clearly pull it out in Iowa, they don't think he needs to do it.

HEYE: And Trump did do obviously a CNN townhall with Kaitlan Collins. Also did the Univision townhall, which I think caught a lot of people by surprise. He's trying to communicate his campaign at least is in a different way than he did in 2016.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, the town -- Trump townhall, I think was last April, it was quite some time ago. And you know, we've been trying to get an interview with him. And he won't sit down with me. I mean, I think there were some questions about whether he's willing to take on tough questions.

TALEV: Absolutely. But I think what we've seen so far in the GOP debates is the candidates use his absence to go after each other --


TALEV: -- instead to go after him. So he has even less incentive to show up.

HEYE: That's the reason we know the word Vivek.

TAPPER: Margaret Talev, Karen Finney, and Doug Heye, thanks so much for being here.

The conversation picks up tonight in the CNN Republican presidential town hall. Governor Ron DeSantis is going to take questions from voters in New Hampshire. My colleague Wolf Blitzer, will moderate. That' tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN and streaming on CNN Max.

The breaking news today from the Middle East, the Pentagon confirming a third U.S. strike on the Iranian backed Houthi group, and their supply of weapons. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper is here. We'll get his take on actions by the Biden administration and what's going on in the Middle East. That's next.



TAPPER: Back with our world lead and another U.S. led bombing campaign in Yemen. It's at least the third round of U.S. strikes to dismantle the well-armed Iran backed Houthi militants as they belligerently attack commercial ships in the Red Sea. This as U.S. Central Command announced the U.S. Navy seized Iranian made ballistic missiles destined for Houthi militants in Yemen last week while the Navy's complex operation was successful in taking weapons that would have been used likely to target commercial ships in the Red Sea had ended with two Navy SEALs going overboard due to rough eight foot swells. The Navy says those two sailors still have not been found.

Joining us now the Secretary of Defense under Donald Trump, Mark Esper. Thanks so much for being here.

Let's start with this latest U.S. led airstrikes on Houthis in Yemen. Why space out these attacks as the administration is doing now and not just bombard all the Houthi strongholds at once? Is there a strategy to that?

MARK ESPER, FORMER TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I don't know exactly what their strategy was or is but of course, we're trying to achieve deterrence. And I assume that they given the breadth of the strikes, they hit over 60 targets, right, in one night, that they thought that would be sufficient to deter further attacks not hasn't so far. It was important to note that last week when attacks were conducted, the DoD said it was about degrading and disrupting their ability to conduct attacks, which I think is probably been achieved, but looks like the Houthis are going to continue to go at this until we keep knocking out their radar sites, knocking out their launchers. I think we should go after their command and control, that'll send even a stronger message about our seriousness as well.

TAPPER: And back to the U.S. seizure of these Iranian made weapons, these ballistic missiles destined for the -- destined for the Houthi militants, it sounds like it was a complex mission. The first of its kind since the Houthi attacks on ships started in the fall. How big of a dent as a seizure such as this making the Houthis capability to target ships in the Red Sea?

ESPER: Yes, well, first of all our hearts, thoughts and prayers go after --

TAPPER: Awful. Yes.

ESPER: -- Navy SEALs and their families who right now are, you know, we're still looking for them. But look, they are complex missions. I think the importance of it is we're trying to nip at the Iranian supply chain to the Houthis. They've had a few years now to build up their capacity. The nature of the operation also points the fact that these weapons are coming from the -- from Iran. Iran is supplying this, just like they are Hezbollah, Hamas Shia militia groups in Iraq and Syria, you name it.

So, again, it goes back to Iran and it's important that we do these things and others. We need to cut those supply lines that are going not just to the Houthis but to Hamas as well.

TAPPER: Let's turn to Israel, because Hamas fire 25 rockets into Israel today, the largest barrage in weeks. Often those rockets are aimed just at population centers not at military centers at all. If Hamas is still able to conduct a coordinated attack at this scale, what does that say about the IDF's efforts to dismantle this terrorist group months into this operation? [17:20:20]

ESPER: Yes, well, Jake, I don't think the attacks ever relented. Frankly, they've been firing rockets nearly daily, at least weekly in Israel in the three plus months the complex --

TAPPER: Sure. Yes, when I was there, they were doing it.

ESPER: Sure. So, look, we know that they've -- they, the Israelis have largely cleared the northern half, but it's the southern half, they have to go after as well. They're doing operations, they still say they're going after pockets of resistance in northern Gaza. But they had to get to the southern part, they have to clear out these tunnels. They now think that the tunnel system was 300 miles, maybe twice as long as that. And so it's quite a complex problem, that type of urban warfare.

TAPPER: I was talking to a general, a retired general about all the civilian deaths in Gaza. And obviously, the Biden administration is pushing the Israelis to launch more targeted attacks. But this general had a much more, I don't know if sanguine is the right word. But his view was just, this is war. This is what war is.

It might be worse because Hamas embeds within the Palestinian people and it's so compact. But this is what war is. And this is why we should only go to war very, very reluctantly, because this is what it is. It's the murder -- month of murder, the death of children, the death of innocent people. Is that your attitude kind of?

ESPER: Yes, look, it's tragic what's happening over there. It is the nature of war. You hate to say it that way, because it sounds like --

TAPPER: It sounds cold.

ESPER: -- no empathy, sounds cold.


ESPER: Look, my war, the Gulf War, my unit we took -- we had civilian casualties as well. It's -- you try to avoid them. I think the United States does a tremendous job trying to avoid civilian casualties, limit collateral damage, but it is the nature of conflict. And unless Israel is willing to walk away from the fight right now and say to Hamas, you're left intact, your leadership, whatever capability you have remaining, then there's going to continue to be severe losses.

I think the key is, do you have processes and procedures in place to limit them as much as possible? And continue to make those assessments about the value, the proportionality, et cetera, of a strike versus not conducting a strike.

TAPPER: Well, and you know, one of the things Clarissa Ward said to me when she visited Gaza with that, I think it was an Emirati Medical Group. she came back and she basically said, and I'm paraphrasing, so nobody should hold her responsible for what I'm saying right now, but something along the lines of, this is going to incite a whole new generation of terrorists.

ESPER: Sure.

TAPPER: Because this is -- this -- the death is horrific. Even Israel says they're killing more civilians than they are killing members of Hamas.

ESPER: Right.

TAPPER: Maybe they've killed eight or 9,000 members of Hamas, but that's still more than 20,000 people total. That's got to be part of the consideration to beyond just the idea that it's bad to kill civilians, that ultimately as Secretary Austin said, at some point, you're actually doing more damage?

ESPER: Sure. You want to make sure you're not -- for every terrorist you kill you're not creating two or three more. And look, I don't know how you break this cycle of violence, right? Because Israel's argument is, unless you go out -- go in and clear out Hamas, they no longer able to govern Gaza. You take other steps, such as telling the Palestinians both in the West Bank and Gaza, you can't educate your children, the next generation, that Jews are bad and Israel shouldn't exist, and whatever other things they're teaching, because that cycle has to be broken. And, you know, they're in a tough situation right now, disputes within the Israeli cabinet about what to do, what the next steps are, not surprisingly.

TAPPER: So, on that matter, there's a, you know, there are a couple of members of the Israeli cabinet that are just horrific anti-Arab racists. One of them is the National Security Minister Ben Gvir. He says the IDF's decision to pull military divisions from Gaza is, quote, "A grave error that will cost lives. And conquering Gaza is the only way to realize Israel's goals." He wants to re occupy and create more settlements in Gaza. How does this dysfunctional Israeli cabinet continue?

ESPER: Yes, I think the withdrawal the division, the infantry division is a tactical matter. The bigger one is the one she mentioned is there is a far right in Israel that views Gaza as part of the Promised Land. And they disagreed with the withdrawal in 2007 of Israel from Gaza and they want to see that area that land reoccupied and resettled.

And look, I don't see that in the cards. Most Israeli leaders across the political spectrum thought that that was the right move to get out of Gaza in '07 or so. So, we'll see. I mean, that's the fundamental question with that far right lawmakers putting out as well as what does governance look like when this war is over? Is there a temporary or permanent occupation of Gaza by the Israelis?

And if it's temporary, who comes in to govern? Is it United States, Europeans with Arab militaries? Is it the Arabs? Is it Fatah and the Palestinian government in Ramallah? Those are the big questions right now. What happens when it's all over?


TAPPER: Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, thanks so much for your thoughts. Appreciate it.

Coming up, Israel's argument Hamas is exactly like ISIS in its tactics and strategy. CNN taking a closer look at the brutal tactics of Hamas, the similarities with ISIS and the differences. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Continuing with our world lead, Israel is accusing Hamas of carrying out, quote, "psychological torture" after the terrorist group released three videos in 24 hours featuring the same three hostages being held in Gaza. The first two showed 50 -- showed 53-year-old Yossi Sharabi, 38-year-old Itay Svirsky and 26-year-old Noa Argamani. The last video appeared to show Yossi's body and Itay's body with Noa saying that they were killed in an Israeli airstrike. The video was highly edited and obviously Noa is speaking under duress being held by kidnappers.


The IDF denies that the two men were killed in an Israeli strike and they insist they did not strike and don't strike where they think hostages are being held. The Government of Israel continues to underline that Hamas is not an Arab government with which they're at war that Hamas is a terrorist group not unlike ISIS. CNN's Matthew Chance takes a look now at this comparison for us. But first, we must warn our viewers the images in this report are extremely graphic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to imagine the sheer brutality of the rampage. In more than 20 Israeli communities, Hamas gunman moving house to house, room to room in an orgy of violence. You can barely show the horrors of October the 7th. But the torture, mutilation and killing of more than 1,200 people, as well as abductions of hostages still held in Gaza went to a radical gut wrenching shift in tactics.

This is one video shared with CNN by an Israeli source that we are showing you. Security cameras the Nir Oz kibbutz in southern Israel, show a knife wielding gunman soaring the necks of dead Israelis. Evidence of beheadings cementing an Israeli view that Hamas is now akin to jihadi groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State or ISIS.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas is ISIS. And just as ISIS was crushed, so too will Hamas be crushed. And Hamas should be treated exactly the way ISIS was treated. They should be spit out from the community of nations.

CHANCE (voice-over): ISIS, which controlled parts of Iraq and Syria before being dispersed in a multinational effort, also used to beheadings, torture and sexual violence against their captives. While the two groups use similar brutal tactics, their goals remain different.

PETER NEUMANN, PROFESSOR OF WAR STUDIES, KING'S COLLEGE LONDON: So Hamas is an Islamist organization, but its principal enemy is Israel. Now ISIS is a global transnational jihadist organization that wants to establish a global caliphate, who considers every country in the world to be its enemy. Hamas doesn't attract foreign fighters. Hamas only wants Palestinians to fight for it. ISIS wants people from all over the world to come and fight for it.

CHANCE: But is it becoming, is Hamas becoming more, more like ISIS?

NEUMANN: So I would say that ideologically, it's not becoming more like ISIS, but tactically and strategically it is. It is widening its area of operations. It's considering terrorist attacks abroad, and also its tactics are becoming more like ISIS.

CHANCE (voice-over): Recently, Western security services say they've identified several Hamas threats, policing Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, making arrests in suspected Hamas length plots to strike European targets. This, amid growing international outrage over Israel's hardline response.

CHANCE: And that response in which thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in Israeli strikes, has further thrust Hamas into the spotlight, raising concerns say analysts that the October the 7th rampage and the Gaza war could inspire a whole new generation of terror attacks in the West.

CHANCE (voice-over): Attacks with groups other than Hamas exploiting the crisis.

NEUMANN: Groups like ISIS, even though they weren't responsible for October 7th, are now trying to jump on the bandwagon. They are trying to say, look, look what's happening in Israel-Palestine, get inspired by that. Join us and commit acts of violence and terrorism abroad.

CHANCE (voice-over): Revitalizing an ISIS campaign in Western countries may not have been a driving force behind the Hamas attacks on October the 7th. But ISIS could now benefit from the atrocities Hamas carried out.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Jake, Israel has been arguing for years that Hamas should be treated exactly the same as ISIS, although frankly, many Western governments have been reluctant to accept that view. But in the wake of these terrible October the 7th attacks, there is something of a shift taking place. Officials in the United States for instance tell CNN that they are now reassessing the threat that Hamas may pose. Back to you.


TAPPER: All right Matthew Chance in London, thank you so much for that report. The suspect in the Gilgo Beach killings is charged with the murder of a fourth woman. Coming up, how investigators say new DNA evidence helped make the connection to another victim.


TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead today, Rex Heuermann, the murder suspect in the Gilgo Beach serial killings charged today in the death of another woman bringing the number of women he's accused of murdering two four. You might recall the name of the fourth woman Maureen Brainard-Barnes referred to in the group called the Gilgo four. Her remains along with those of Amber Costello and Megan Waterman and Melissa Barthelemy were found near Gilgo Beach on Long Island in 2010. And now Heuermann is charged with the murder of all four after he was originally charged with only three last July.


Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to all charges. CNN's Brynn Gingras was at today's court hearing and Riverhead, New York, that's a town in Long Island. Brynn, how did investigators linked Brainard-Barnes death to Heuermann?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, so when Maureen Brainard- Barnes body was found in 2010, her legs and her ankles were bound by belts. And on the buckle of one of those belts was a hair. And authorities say in this new indictment that they were able to do an advanced DNA analysis which show that that hair DNA matches the DNA of Heuermann's wife, Asa Ellerup.

Now, she has since filed for divorce from him and she -- investigators believe was not in town along with her children when any of these murders actually occurred. But that was today's new information coming out in this charge, the new charge of murder against Heuermann for the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

But we also learned that investigators have found new evidence using that new DNA analysis to connect Heuermann to the other three women as well sort of advancing their investigation. They also said that they found evidence that includes web searches of his computers, his burner phones to show communications between these four women, so that all came out in this new indictment.

But as far as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, she was a 25-year-old woman from Connecticut, a mother. And her family did speak out today. Take a listen.


MELISSA CANN, MAUREEN BRAINARD-BARNES' SISTER: Losing Maureen has became a wound that never truly heals. It remains a part of me. Maureen was a mother of two amazing children, and they will forever be without their mother.


GINGRAS: And Jake, that is the younger sister of Maureen Brainard- Barnes. If you remember after her sister went missing, she received a phone call from her sister's cell phone from the killer. So you can imagine this is something she has been living with for a very long time saying she's happy to see justice served today.

TAPPER: Brynn, might there be additional murder charges against Heuermann?

GINGRAS: Yes, listen, the district attorney here says this concludes the investigation when it comes to those four women known as the Gilgo four. But there were other bodies that were found on that stretch of highway. And investigators believe they can use some of this advanced DNA technology to sort of look into those cases as well. So this is still very much an ongoing investigation, so we'll have to see, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras, in Riverhead, New York, thanks to you.

Coming up, Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis, the U.S. Navy officer sent to prison for a deadly tragic car accident in Japan, he had suffered a medical condition at the time, he's now out of prison back with his family in the U.S. His first interview since his release right here on The Lead, next.



TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead today, some good news in a moment we had the lead of all been waiting for. The Lead has been following the story of U.S. Navy Officer Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis since he was sent to a Japanese prison for car accident that tragically killed two people and injured another in May of 2021. Alkonis was driving with his wife and three children from Mount Fuji when he lost consciousness after suffering acute mountain sickness though he paid the family restitution and cooperated, Lieutenant Alkonis and his supporters say he was dealt with more harshly for this tragic accident than he might have been had he not been an American.

His wife, Brittany Alkonis has worked tirelessly to advocate to bring him home. Back in December, Ridge was released by Japan only to be sent to a federal prison in Los Angeles. Now he is finally out and back home. And Lieutenant Ridge Alkonis and his wife, Brittany, join us now. It's great to see you Lieutenant. We should note you're still in the service with all that entails. What is it like to be home out of prison with your wife and kids?

LT. RIDGE ALKONIS, U.S. NAVY: Well, first of all, I'm going to say I am still active duty. And so, therefore, what I say today is in -- are my opinions alone and do not represent those of the Navy, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government as a whole, but the feelings are indescribable. And honestly, I haven't found words for them all.

And since -- from the moment the accident took place, my number one priority was to take care as best I could of those that were hurt as part of the accident. And, you know, that feeling has not wavered at all. And I still carry that with me today. But being home is incredible. Doing things like taking my kids to school, making them breakfast in the morning, teaching my son how to surf have been true joys.

TAPPER: And I think it's important to underline what you just said, because no one is diminishing the horrible tragedy that took place during that accident. Just the question is, given the facts of the case, whether you were dealt with as a Japanese person would be dealt with in a similar situation, right?

R. ALKONIS: You know, I don't feel comfortable speculating on whether or not I was treated fairly or on failure -- fairly by the Japanese judicial system. But I will say that those that supported me, while I navigated that process were incredible. And without the unwavering support of my friends, families, loved ones, met -- various government entities that would have been exponentially harder than it was.

TAPPER: Brittany, here's the moment. I told you it was going to happen. I told you were going to get him back. Your advocacy for him is -- has been incredible. How is it for him to be back in your arms playing with your kids?


BRITTANY ALKONIS, WIFE OF NAVY OFFICER RELEASED FROM PRISON: It's incredible. It's incredible. Friday morning, I drove the kids to school, we pulled that, we were getting out. And I got the phone call to drive to NDC and L.A. and so I yelled at all the kids to get back in the car. Seeing him walk out those doors was -- it was a moment that I thought would never happen. It was surreal when it did. But I don't know, I -- whenever they come home from deployment, you know, there's always that reintegration period. And I thought to myself what that would be like, and it was so much better. So much better, somehow, a year and a half went by with him in prison, and he's back home and it feels like nothing happened.

TAPPER: And Ridge, how are the kids other than teaching your son to surf? What else have you in the family been doing?

R. ALKONIS: Everything that you would want to do with your own children, we walk the dog, we cook dinner together, we eat together, we play catch out in the yard. It just feels good to fulfill my primary responsibility as a husband, a father, and again, that's what I missed the most when I was gone.

TAPPER: I know you would never go through the ordeal again. But do you think what you went through will make you appreciate freedom more, appreciate life more in a, I mean, obviously I don't -- I'm not happy that you went through it. But is there any sort of enhanced new way of looking at the world?

R. ALKONIS: Oh, for sure. I mean, though, the moment I went into prison, I was focused on making sure that it wasn't all negative, that it wasn't just a traumatic experience that I had to endure that I was -- that I would -- that I needed to find something that made it made me better. And some of it is what you spoke of. It's just a mindset and an appreciation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of and the pursuit of happiness, and other things that are more concrete. I mean, I worked in the prison tailor shop, and now I can saw. And I look forward to making clothes for myself and my family. And yes, and I'm glad that I was able to do that. That I was able to find something tangible, to bring home that is positive.

TAPPER: And Brittany, all told, what has this ordeal been like for you and the kids?

B. ALKONIS: It's been awful, you know, I'm not going to underplay that. It's been awful. But, like Ridge said, we've had so many people helping us. You know, my pace of life has changed dramatically since Friday. I have spent two and a half years, over two and a half years fighting every single day, you know, speaking weekly, if not daily, with members of Congress, with various military leadership, the NSC, the embassy, and now suddenly, it's just done. It's done. He's home. And I'm grateful for it. I'm grateful to not talk to them anymore, so grateful for everything that that they've done.

We're not done. You know, there's still a lot of advocacy that needs to take place. I believe strongly that the changes made with the SOFA and South Korea needs to happen in Japan as well. There's a lot of families, not in the military. You know, a lot of wrongful detainee families that need help advocating for themselves. And we're going to take a break, you know, we're just going to enjoy our time as a family, we need to find our way forward.

TAPPER: Right.

B. ALKONIS: But once we get a little bit of that, you know, we're going to figure out how we can use what we learned to help others.

TAPPER: Lieutenant, do you have any messages for the families of other U.S. citizens wrongfully detained abroad?

R. ALKONIS: Take one meal at a time. That's how I did it. I focused on just making it to the next meal. And then once dinner, I'm just getting to where I could fall asleep. And for them to know that there are people that love and care about them. You know, I am here today not because of myself, but because of all those that stood behind me. And it is the same for those others that are incarcerated. And I look forward to being that person for them as well.


TAPPER: Yes, I'm thinking of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan right now who are detained unfairly and inappropriately in Russia, different circumstances, but the same pain. Lieutenant Ridge and Brittany Alkonis, it's great to see you together. Go play with your kids. Good to have you on the show. We'll be right back.

B. ALKONIS: Thanks Jake.

R. ALKONIS: Thank you so much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our money lead today, major turbulence for Spirit Airlines its shares plummeted today down 47 percent or down 47 percent after a federal judge block Spirit's $3.8 billion merger with JetBlue, the U.S. Justice Department sued in March to block the acquisition by JetBlue arguing that the merger would increase air fares for travelers and reduce competition in the market. Both spirit and JetBlue told CNN they disagree with that ruling. And JetBlue shares seem to be doing just fine, rising 4.9 percent this afternoon.


One week before the New Hampshire primary, Governor Ron DeSantis will make his case before voters. Tonight in a CNN town hall, my friend and colleague Wolf Blitzer will moderate that affair. That's tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN and streaming on CNN Max.

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