Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Uvalde Families Demand Police Accountability For Failed Response; Trump Attacks Haley Using Her Birth Name; Trump Amplifying False Claims About Nikki Haley's Eligibility To Be President; Some Republicans Say Trump Could Scuttle Immigration Deal; Trump's Team Files With Supreme Court On Ballot Eligibility Case; Trump Ramps Up Attacks On Haley As New Hampshire Primary Nears; Analysis: At Least 16 Cemeteries Hit By IDF Since Gaza War Began Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 18, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: He has been falsely suggesting she cannot be elected president because her immigrant parents were not citizens at the time of her birth. He has been using her first given name named Nimarata, which he misspelled instead of her middle name Nikki, which she has gone by, since she was a little kid. Coming up, we're going to talk to a house Democrat who has experienced similar taunts against him in his life. He's going to come to her defense.

Plus, one of the most pressing questions to consider if the war between Hamas and Israel ever ends, what should happen the day after to Gaza? The proposed deal push by the Biden White House said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is already turning down.

And leading this hour, the Justice Department out today with its report on the Uvalde massacre detailing a list of failures on May 24, 2022 when an 18-year-old gunman made his way inside Robb Elementary School. Young students and teachers were left trapped in a classroom with a killer more than an hour after the first officers arrived on the scene. Instead of confronting the gunman, the Justice Department found that officers asked and waited for more responders more equipment. And again, instead of storming into the classroom, police were waiting around for a set of keys, keys to open the classroom door that was probably already unlocked. Not to mention the terrified parents left waiting outside for hours wanting to run into the school told they couldn't, learning little to nothing about the status of their children.

Just hours after the Justice Department released its report on Uvalde, the Attorney General Merrick Garland sat down with CNN, specifically with CNN Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, who joins me now live from Uvalde.

And, Evan, you asked Attorney General Garland about what he believes are the most significant failures of that day. What did he have to say?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, everything that could go wrong that they did go wrong. This is obviously something that families have been very frustrated with, the idea that they feel there's been a lack of accountability as a result of everything that happened that day. And the attorney general, you know, really brought back a lot of those feelings by coming here and unveiling this report, 570 pages that really does expose everything that that could have -- that could have been done. And that could have potentially saved live. Listen to the Attorney General talk about this.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have long go read the entire report. But --

PEREZ: Right.

GARLAND: -- being there, seeing how small the two school rooms are and their attachment to each other, the holes in the wall left by the shooters, the places where the children tried to hide, it's just a different experience, both in terms of understanding why tactics were long, but also in terms of understanding what happened. We then went to the murals that are painted of each of the children who died. And we saw joyous figures, they intentionally painted them to express the children's joy of life, and enormous energy. And just think about the difference between that and what happened to them. And then after that, we went and met with the families who was -- said expressed pain, anger, every human emotion that you would expect.

PEREZ: What -- one of the things, you know, reading this report nearly 600 pages, you know, some of the things that stand out, you know, 45 rounds fired by this shooter while law enforcement is present, you know, families being told that their loved ones are alive when they were not, you know, the false information that was coming from those press conferences, beginning with the one by Governor Abbott and then going through the Department of Public Safety, do you -- looking at what you see in this report, do you believe that anyone who was involved in that response still belongs serving in law enforcement right now?

GARLAND: Look, so the Justice Department doesn't have jurisdiction over these kinds of personnel questions. What we can do and what we've done in this report is to identify minute by minute, sometimes second by second, what was happening with the failures of leadership of law enforcement on the scene work, as well as the failures of preparation in advance, and of the aftermath of the way things went afterwards in terms of communications, in terms of medical assistance and when it was provided, and in terms of misinformation thereafter. And I think it's now up to the community, the state and local officials to make the appropriate determinations.


PEREZ: Jake, one of the lingering things that happened that remains in this community is this idea that law enforcement circle the wagons. They were trying to protect their own instead of protecting those children. And so, there is still a pending investigation by the local district attorney. That's something that certainly you hear from the families who met with the attorney general, they met with Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general, they spent two hours answering their questions. I think that's one of the remaining big, big questions that a lot -- that the families of those victims have is -- could perhaps there be charges against anybody as a result of what happened.


And certainly, for some of those law enforcement, people who are still working here in this community, Jake, some of them have gotten promoted. All of those things, obviously, keeping a lot of this alive for the family members. Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, the sheriff is still in office and running for reelection. Evan Perez in Uvalde, Texas, thanks so much.

Joining us now, Joshua Koskoff. He is a lawyer who represents many of the victims' families. Thanks for joining us.

So you along with the families you represent you were there listening to the U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland detail a series of major failures in leadership and police tactics and preparedness and much more. We know this review mainly reaffirmed what the families already knew. Was there anything in this review that surprised you or any of the families?


No, not really. I mean, the bottom line is -- was clear to all of us or more so than to the families day of the shooting, which was -- that this was a historic failure of law enforcement in what is really there (inaudible) and that's to protect our children at a time of crisis. So they already knew that. And some of -- and the report, as your colleagues said, is yes, it's 570 pages. So, nobody's ready yet but that level of detail certainly was beating (inaudible).

TAPPER: So, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell has not finished her inquiry into what happened that day.


TAPPER: She hasn't charged any law enforcement personnel with anything. Are there any specific criminal charges that you would want filed against anybody in law enforcement?

KOSKOFF: Well, I think it's not really my place as (inaudible) the comment. But I would say that long frustration, not only with local authorities and her failure to be transparent in place (ph). There's the impression, Jake, of a cover up. Whether or not there is or not, we don't know. But families in this situation should not get that impression.

And I think that's what the DOJ did well today was they made it clear to these families that they were taking their case very seriously. There was no sense of a cover up and anything there was so much detail that vetting (ph) to the family. That's not what they're here in Texas at the local level.

TAPPER: Are you surprised it's taken so long for the district attorney there in Texas to either file charges are announced that no one's going to be charged, given that this happened in May 2022? We're almost coming up to the two year anniversary.

KOSKOFF: Yes, I mean, I think the proof is in the DOJ report. I mean, the federal government is not known to operate at lightning speed. And here I am sitting -- I have a 570 page report right here that was conducted over the course of months. So, I think it really shines a light on the failure of the DA to move with speed and deliberate speed. I mean, it's going to take some time, but I think there's a lot of fear about that.

TAPPER: Are there other legal avenues that you and the victim's families are pursuing?

KOSKOFF: Well, right now, you know, we have to keep all options on the table. So, we're looking at all angles of this, Jake. One of my first -- they didn't focus at all on the acquisition of this weapon by this 18-year-old kid. And just a reminder, this was an 18-year-old, a kid who just turned 18, who single handedly held off over 300 federal officers who are heavily armed. And I think the lead that's been buried here how did 18-year-old kid so easily accessed an AR15, not just one yet you actually bought two of them within a week, and not set off any bells. So, that's a concern that we lose track of what could have made difference here.

TAPPER: Joshua Koskoff, thank you so much for your time today. Yes.

KOSKOFF: Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: Joshua Koskoff, thank you so much. We're in -- our thoughts and our prayers and our condolences to the families. I cannot imagine their grief.

We have some breaking news for you on Capitol Hill. The results of being on that House vote, Congress did stop a government shutdown again, but only temporarily again. How long will your lawmakers keep repeating this process? CNN's Manu Raju is on the Hill chasing reaction. We're going to check back in with him next.



TAPPER: Breaking news in our politics lead, the U.S. government will not shut down, at least not this time. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill for us where the U.S. Senate and just now the U.S. House passed the legislation to keep the government open until early March.

And Manu, it took Democratic votes to make the difference in the House?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact the vote was 314 to 108. There were just 107 Republicans who voted for this bill and there were 207 Democrats who voted for the bill. It was only barely a Republican majority supported that. That is -- it was 106 Republicans voted against it. And that is a critical threshold for the speaker.

Typically they want to move legislation that only gets a majority of the majority. They barely cleared that threshold because of the opposition on the right flank, Jake. Many Republicans not happy with the speaker's deal cutting on this issue, but they'll have another day to fight since they're simply kicking the can down the road until March on once again and had to deal with government funding or face another shutdown threat because Congress has been unable to pass your long spending bills and will have to deal with this again. Now, they're kicking down the road for just a handful of more weeks, Jake.


TAPPER: Yes, it used to be Republicans would call it the Hastert Rule, which mandates that they would only bring up a bill if they knew it was going to get a majority of the Republican majority. The Hastert Rule is a thing of the past, it was named after former House Speaker and serial child molester Dennis Hastert.

Manu, there's new reporting also on a deal that you have, to have Hunter Biden come for a deposition in February.

RAJU: Yes, this is significant. This has been going back and forth for about a couple months now. Now that Hunter Biden had refused to go behind closed doors, but facing the threat of the House holding him in contempt and pretty defied a subpoena to appear behind closed doors. In December, they were planning to move forward in a contempt vote in the House for him for prosecution for contempt. Now, Hunter Biden has agreed to sit down behind closed doors on February 28 with the House Oversight Committee and the House Judiciary Committee.

Those two committees have been trying to -- have been investigating Joe Biden, pushing forward an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden trying to establish any sort of connection between Hunter Biden and his business dealings and his father's actions while in office, trying to show that Joe Biden profited off of Hunter Biden's business dealings. They do not have proof to show that -- any of that has actually existed, but they believe that Hunter Biden could shed new light into all of this. Will he do any of this? Will he provide any of that information? That is a different question.

Hunter Biden has said publicly but not under oath that there was no nefarious dealings with his father and his father was not involved with his business whatsoever and had refused going behind closed doors because of concerns the Republicans would distort his testimony, leaked details of it and not provide a full picture. But now that he's faced his contempt threat, deciding he will go behind closed doors, that will again will be a high key moment as Republicans are still trying to move forward to impeach Joe Biden. They don't have the votes yet. But will Hunter Biden's testimony changed things? That is going to be a big question in the weeks ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with two big breaking news stories for us, thanks so much.

Coming up, a Democrat coming to the defense of Nikki Haley as she faces an attack from Donald Trump focused on her heritage as an Indian-American. That Democrat tells me he has a unique perspective on the dangers of this kind of rhetoric. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Continuing with our politics lead and the latest example of former President Donald Trump using what critics would certainly call racist dog whistles against his opponents, Trump now is using Nikki Haley's given first name Nimarata, although he spelled it wrong in a Truth Social post attacking her speech after the Iowa caucuses. She's gone by her middle name Nikki since she was a kid. Haley is of course the daughter of Indian immigrants to the United States. She was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She took her husband Michael Haley's last name after they married.

Joining us now is Illinois Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. Also Indian-American, if you could not tell.

Congressman Krishnamoorthi, obviously you disagree with Nikki Haley on any number of issues. But I thought that you could provide some insight into this because you're Indian-American, you've told me that you have faced similar kinds of taunts. What do you think Donald Trump is trying to gain by calling Haley Nimarata and by falsely suggesting that she's not eligible for the presidency?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): I think he's trying to -- it's a put down and so it's racist and reprehensible. I hope that my Republican colleagues more of them would call him out for what he's doing. But I think that ultimately he's also trying to appeal to certain elements of his base that would respond to this type of thing. And that's, of course, unacceptable.

At the end of the day, I think that the American people will reject this. But right now, I think Donald Trump see this as a tactic for political advantage. And I hope that others call him out for it.

TAPPER: What was it like grow -- did you grew up in Illinois? I know you represent Illinois. But wherever you grew up, was it tough being Raja Krishnamoorthi?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and then moved to Chicago later on in life. But, you know, it was not tough. I mean, Peoria is a place that where people really embraced our family and my background. And later in life, of course, you start to realize some of those types of things that Nikki Haley is going through, but the fun -- you try, and you also get a sense of humor dealing with it. When I introduced myself in Chicago, I said, hi, my name is Raja Krishnamoorthi. And the person said, Roger, Christian Murphy (ph), nice to meet you. So that's the type of thing that happens often too.

But what Donald Trump did, of course, the intentional denigration of someone based on their ethnicity. I mean, that's very hurtful, obviously, and something that we all have to call out, even though we may not be of the same political party.

TAPPER: Trump also is pushing this falsehood that Haley is ineligible to run for president supposedly because her parents were immigrants from India, were not U.S. citizens at the time she was born. That's crap. It's not true. Haley was born in Bamberg, South Carolina. She's a U.S. citizen, she's completely eligible for the presidency. And this is not unlike when Donald Trump first really in the modern era burst onto the political scene by pushing this racist lie that Barack Obama was not eligible because Barack Obama was born in Africa, which is obviously not true.


KRISHNAMOORTHI: That's exactly right. And he's done the same thing with Kamala Harris as well. And there's some weird political theory and certain extreme right wing circles that you can't be a natural born citizen even if you're born on American soil to immigrants. And that is just unacceptable. But all that being said, I think Donald Trump knows exactly what he's doing, he knows that what he's saying is false.

But he's trying to both put her down and trying to curry favor with this white supremacist base, which I think, again, most Americans would reject.

TAPPER: So, I have you on the show often to talk about legislation, and you work hand in hand with a number of Republicans on legislation. You're very bipartisan, you have to be because Republicans are in the majority. But even when you were in the majority, you also work with Republicans, what do they tell you behind the scenes about why they don't call this out?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think some of them are fearful. I think that they fear that going after Donald Trump will invite a counter attack, and then problems with their base. I think others are, you know, cynical about it, too. I think they know that other folks will call him out for it. People like Mitt Romney, and so forth, and they don't need to.

And I wish that more of them would, because this type of thing, as you know, is dangerous for our democracy, and sometimes results even in violence. And so, we've got to call it out every time we can, stand shoulder to shoulder with Jews who face anti -- rising anti Semitism, Muslims who face rising Islamophobia, Hindus who face increasing bigotry, and of course, Indian-Americans like Nikki Haley.

TAPPER: CNNs Manu Raju is reporting that Trump, I tried to scuttle this possible compromise bill on immigration, there's this big effort in the Senate to come up with a compromise and immigration which actually would, would be I think, more conservative legislation than I've ever seen Democrats get behind before when it comes to immigration, and some Republicans in the Senate are saying, you know, take the deal, but Trump rallying against it, et cetera. Do you think that there's any chance this is actually going to happen? KRISHNAMOORTHI: I hope. I hope that we come to some compromise on this particular issue, because we have to have obviously order at the border. But on the other hand, when I talk to some Republicans privately, what they tell me is that some folks want to leave it as an election issue. They want this to be something that Donald Trump can run on. And so, even if Democrats were to compromise, put forward a reasonable suggestion for what to do at the border, they won't take yes for an answer.

I'm talking about Republicans. And so that would -- that would be very, very disturbing. And I hope that's not what it is ends up because as you know, Ukrainian aid is also in the balance, so as aid for Israel, so as aid for the Gaza Strip.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now on the U.S. Supreme Court and Donald Trump's legal team, filing its first brief in a 14th Amendment case. Let's get right to Paul Reid.

Paula, what do you got?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, this is former President Trump's brief going before the Supreme Court in that major ballot eligibility case. This is their appeal of the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to remove Trump from the ballot, because they believe that he engaged in an insurrection. Now, this is interesting, this brief because it's expanding on the arguments that they've made previously. But I know from speaking to sources in and around his legal team, that they're going to go much further, mostly because they have a higher word count here.

But the first thing that strikes me is their question presented. The Supreme Court has not made it clear exactly which questions they are going to entertain in this case. But the Trump team has phrased this very broadly. They're just saying, look, the question before the court should be, did the Colorado Supreme Court err in ordering President Trump excluded from the 2024 presidential primary ballot? And that is significant, Jake, because I'm told they want to give the Supreme Court the opportunity to decide this as broadly as humanly possible.

They're basically letting the Supreme Court choose its own adventure in terms of how it decides this case. No other briefs that have been submitted, laid out more specific questions, but here they're leading -- leaving it very general. I've only gotten through the first few pages, but they're saying that the Colorado Supreme Court had a, quote, "dubious interpretation of section three of the 14th amendment." And we know of course, that section of the 14th Amendment is at the heart of this controversy, right? Did they intend, right, this ban on insurrectionists to apply to presidents?

Well, we've seen even courts within the state of Colorado come to different answers on that point. And here they're asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue and provide clarity. And here they're asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on this issue and provide clarity. As we know, this is an issue that is now being litigated across the United States. And if the Supreme Court can weigh in on this critical constitutional question, that can give some clarity to all the states and of course, the candidates as well.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much, Paula.

Let's bring in CNN senior Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic. Joan, what do you make of Trump's filing here?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Sure. It's pretty straightforward. Just looking at the summary, Jake, it echoes what the key points from his petition to even get the Supreme Court to agree to hear the case. He starts off by saying he's not an officer covered by Section 3 of the 14th amendment. That's the provision that says that any officer who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and then who engages in an insurrection should be barred from future office.

And, you know, one of the key points he makes in this filing as he did in his petition to the justices is that the president is not an officer. It's so it's not covered that way. The other thing he says his second point is that President Trump did not -- former President Trump did not engage in any kind of insurrection. So he would not be covered by that provision. And then finally, another key point, in the summary of his argument is that this provision, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, that would bar someone from holding office who had engaged in insurrection, doesn't stand on its own, it has to be -- it has -- actually has to be enforced through some sort of congressional legislation.

It isn't to use a phrase that has been used before. It's not self- executing. So hitting the main points, points that are being reinforced as we speak by others who are filing briefs on the president's behalf today, today being the deadline. So this is -- he's using the main points that he started with going forward with this. And then in about 10 days, we'll see what the Colorado voters side does to counter these arguments. Jake?

TAPPER: Very interesting. Joan Biskupic, thank you so much.

When we come back, we're going to talk to our political panel about all the day's political news. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: And we are back with our 2024 Lead, we just heard about some of the dog whistles Trump's being -- Trump's using to attack Nikki Haley. He's also using another line of attack from his playbook, attacking some of the very best people that he picked to work in his administration. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nikki Haley is a disaster. She worked for me for a long time. I mean, I know it very well. I figured if I took her out of South Carolina governorship, put her someplace any place, I put her someplace, then Henry McMaster, who was my friend and who's turned out to be a great governor in South Carolina, Henry McMaster will become the governor. So I moved her to the United Nations. And honestly, she was not a good negotiator.


TAPPER: Haley's campaign appears to have anticipated those attacks. They released this video yesterday.


TRUMP: I like Nikki Haley.

Nikki Haley. I think Nikki is going to do a good job, great job.

And I want to also thank your former Governor Nikki Haley, who is doing an awfully good job for us. She's representing America very well as our ambassador to the United Nations. She is doing a spectacular job.


TAPPER: Let's bring in the political panel South Carolina's Bakari Sellers and Scott Jennings. Thanks to both of you. Bakari, Haley has wanted a two-person race against Trump. Did you think she needs to sharpen her attacks?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She definitely has to sharpen her attacks. But one of the things that Nikki Haley can do is actually take the attacks. I mean, Jake, this is South Carolina. I mean, our politics are rough and tumble. And many times people don't make it to the national level just because of how dirty our politics are. I mean, Nikki Haley has seen everything.

I mean, we've, you know, I actually was on the ticket against her in 2014. I remember when she ran for governor in 2010. I mean, she was called all types of derogatory names by former state senators, people posted pictures of her parents in their native garb. They picked on her for her religion, or the -- or her former religion. They talked about her by her first name. I mean, they did all of the things that you would imagine they would do to a candidate in South Carolina. And she was able to beat back all of those things.

And so I don't think any of the attacks Donald Trump is going to launch, the racism and xenophobia are going to work. But she does have to sharpen her attacks against him, so that there's some space between the candidates.

TAPPER: Scott, Ron DeSantis, has pretty much waved the white flag of surrender here in New Hampshire, he's going to focus on South Carolina. DeSantis was asked today by Hugh Hewitt. If he plans to stay in the race through March, this is what DeSantis had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My goal is to win the nomination. I don't want to be V.P. I don't want to be in the cabinet. I don't want a T.V. show. I'm in it to win it, and at one at some point, you know, if that's not working out for you, like I recognize that this isn't a vanity thing for me. But I do believe that, you know, we have an opportunity in November to do very, very well.


TAPPER: Hugh Hewitt followed up by pressing DeSantis on whether he has the resources and staff to compete through March. DeSantis said 100 percent. But Scott, it seems as though there might be some magical thinking happening here, right?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, certainly it's long shot thinking. I mean, first of all, I think DeSantis has been a pretty good candidate the last couple of months. But when you look at what happened in Iowa, when you look at the polling, and you just look at Donald Trump's raw job approval among Republicans, not necessarily Independents, some of whom may vote in New Hampshire, but just among Republicans, he's very popular.

And so if he keeps racking up victories, like I expect him to do In New Hampshire and like he could do in South Carolina, it's hard to make a reasonable claim that you could stay in the race if you just keep losing states. So it strikes me that Haley's Alamo is New Hampshire. DeSantis is maybe South Carolina. If someone gets lucky and beats him in a state, the ball keeps bouncing. And then you go from there.


TAPPER: All right. Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. The conversation continues in the CNN town hall tonight with Governor Nikki Haley. I'm going to moderate this discussion between Governor Haley and the voters here in New Hampshire. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN and streaming on CNN Max.

Coming up, CNN looks into why the Israel Defense Forces have been targeting cemeteries in Gaza including a major new discovery of bodies that the IDF exhumed from one of those cemeteries, and those remains were sent back to Israel. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back with our World Lead, yesterday we brought you the news of Israeli strikes disturbing a Gaza cemetery. Today we are learning likely why that happens. CNN's Jeremy diamond has been investigating this. Jeremy, this isn't the first time the IDF has targeted cemeteries tell us more.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Today the Israeli military acknowledged that they rolled into a cemetery, took bodies out of graves, as part of what they say is a search for Israeli hostages remains but as the Israeli military put out that statement, we were completing our investigation into the Israeli military's desecration of cemeteries. And what we found is 16 cemeteries across Gaza damaged or destroyed. I do want to warn our viewers that they may find some of these images disturbing.


DIAMOND (voice-over): In Gaza, even the dead cannot escape the indignities of war. More than a dozen cemeteries like this one In Jabalia desecrated by the Israeli military, gravestones destroyed, soil upturned, tread marks leaving little left for the living to honor their dead. This is that same graveyard before the war. One month later, a series of tread marks can be seen on the northwestern edge. It is no exception.

A CNN analysis of videos and satellite imagery found that 16 cemeteries have been damaged or destroyed by the Israeli military since it launched its ground offensive. As Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza, they crushed the graves of thousands of Palestinians between November and January. Janina Dill, co-director of Oxford University's Institute for Ethics Law and Armed Conflict, says destroying graveyards violates international law, except under very limited circumstances.

JANINA DILL, CO-DIRECTOR, OXFORD UNIVERSITY'S INSTITUTE FOR ETHICS LAW AND ARMED CONFLICT: Cemeteries are not military objectives. They are in fact what international law would consider an object that is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, like places of worship generally. So this is protected from intentional attack that can only be intentionally attacked or destroyed if it becomes a military objective.

DIAMOND (voice-over): In some cases, like this cemetery in the Shajaiye refugee camp, Israeli bulldozers turned cemeteries into military outposts, parking armored vehicles behind freshly raised berms. The damage is often deliberate and progressive. Over two weeks in December, the military bulldozed more and more of this cemetery east of Khan Yunis, building defensive fortifications.

CNN witnessed firsthand the results of Israel's bulldozing of graveyards while embedded with Israeli forces last week. The armored personnel carrier CNN was traveling in drove right through this cemetery in Al-Bureij on a freshly bulldozed dirt road. And then there's this, tombs opened at a cemetery in Khan Yunis this week, bodies removed from their graves.

In a statement, the Israeli military acknowledged exhuming bodies from the cemetery as part of its search for the bodies of Israeli hostages. An IDF spokesman could not account for the damage to the 16 cemeteries identified by CNN. But said that in some cases, there is no other choice, providing this photo of what it says is a Hamas rocket launcher at a cemetery in Gaza. CNN could not independently verify where it was taken. The spokesman could not account for the military posts over graveyards, but said we have a serious obligation to the respect of the dead, and there is no policy to create military posts out of graveyards. In at least one case, the Israeli military appears to have taken pains to maneuver around a graveyard. The Deir El Belah War Cemetery, which holds the remains of many Christian and Jewish soldiers from World War I, left intact despite devastation all around.

At the El Toufah Cemetery, a very different picture, residents say bodies were uprooted by Israeli bulldozers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We're currently retrieving the corpses of the martyrs that are present in the cemetery. The occupation forces have run over most of them with their bulldozers, and we've only identified a small number of corpses and masses. As for the rest, their identities remain unknown.

DIAMOND (voice-over): South Africa has cited Israel's destruction of cemeteries as part of its case, arguing Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. Israel denies the allegation but experts say cemetery destruction could be evidence of Israel's intent.

DILL: There is huge symbolic meaning to the notion that not even the dead are left in peace. It suggests that this respect towards the kind of spiritual life of your enemy their cultural property inherited it's an evidence of an animus against your enemy that is unhelpful in this context.


DIAMOND (voice-over): The Israeli military is still desecrating graves in Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through audio translation): They dug up the graves, these are the graves.

DIAMOND (voice-over): At the Khan Yunis Cemetery where the military dug up bodies this week, the damage is extensive and all too familiar. Tombs destroyed, shrouded bodies sticking out of the soil, the dead roused from their final rest.


DIAMOND (on camera): And the Israeli military pointed to Hamas using some of these cemeteries for military purposes to justify what we've documented here. But what we're talking about isn't just strikes on the cemeteries. In some cases, it's the bulldozing of entire cemeteries putting military outposts, their heavy armored vehicles driving right through the graves showing very little care for the dignity of the dead. It speaks to something far more systematic than what the military acknowledged. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, CNN's Jeremy Diamond in Israel for us, thank you so much.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia proposed a plan for what should happen in Gaza if and when the war between Israel and Hamas ever ends. But the Israeli prime minister is not on board. Hear what he had to say about it, next.



TAPPER: More now on the Israel-Hamas war in our World Lead. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned down a U.S.-Saudi proposal that would have normalized relations with Saudi Arabia in Israel in exchange for Israel agreeing to provide Palestinians with a pathway towards statehood. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked about the rejected proposal first reported by NBC. Listen.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): With or without agreement, the Israeli -- State of Israel must control security between the Jordan River to the sea. And it clashes with the sovereignty idea and I'm telling our American friends, I stopped in reality which would have hurt the security of Israel, the Prime Minister of Israel should have the ability to say no, even to our greatest friends, when it has to.


TAPPER: Joining us now former Israeli consul general in New York and columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Alon Pinkas. Mr. Pinkas, good to see you as always. The U.S. is set on a workable two-state solution. And this afternoon, a U.S. official said they don't take Netanyahu's statement is quote, the final word on this matter. Do you think that the Biden administration is being naive?

ALON PINKAS, FORMER ISRAELI CONSUL GENERAL IN NEW YORK: Yes, I do, unfortunately. I -- and I've been you know, I've been saying this for two and a half, almost three months. Netanyahu has set a deliberate collision course with Biden, not only is he in great, but he's doing it for his political purposes. He wants to blame Biden for not achieving the goals which could not have been attained anyway.

And this is him, you know, this is him on brand. He's been doing it with Clinton in '98. He's been doing -- he did it again with Obama in 2015. And now he's taking something far more serious, because what the Saudis, the Qataris and the Emiratis and the Americans are saying, Jake, is something that Israel dreamt about for decades, that is normalization and a regional peace in exchange for a silver lining for the Palestinians. And he's flatly saying no, for political reasons, and no other substantive reason.

TAPPER: What are President Biden's options here, do you think?

PINKAS: Well, I, look, President Biden's support for Israel was genuine, was visceral, was real, and it is ongoing. So we understand that he finds it somewhat difficult sentimentally emotionally even politically to pivot. But he, yes, he does have options to force Netanyahu to change his mind or indeed, to bring about any election in Israel. I mean, this Palestinian state issue is nonsense. It's not imminent, it's not feasible. It's not on the table, the U.S. is delineating or crafting a far reaching, futuristic framework. All Netanyahu had to do was say was let's talk about it.

So now Biden has three or four options. He can call Mr. Netanyahu's bluff and say that he's not behaving like an ally, not behaving like, you know, a like a friend and not being part of this axis of stability, opposing the axis of instability and chaos led by the Iranians, the Syrians and mentored by Russia.

Second, he can threaten to vote for or abstain and the U.N. Security Council resolution on the ceasefire. Third, he could do something which I'm sure his political advisors would tell him not to. And that is come to Israel, come to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset and speak above Mr. Netanyahu's head, the same way that Mr. Netanyahu tried to do to Obama over the Iran deal in March 2015. The fourth thing that is the worst of all options is conditioned military aid. I hope it doesn't get to that.

TAPPER: Alon Pinkas thank you so much. I really appreciate your observations at this point. We'll have you back again soon.


I'll be back here tonight at 9:00 p.m. sharp, Eastern, live from New Hampshire for the CNN Town Hall with Governor Nikki Haley. She's going to take questions directly from New Hampshire voters tonight in this very room. This is happening just five days before next week's primary. And you can watch the CNN town hall tonight on CNN and streaming on CNN Max.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I will see you in roughly three hours. Here is Wolf.