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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Haley Vows To Stay In Race After Trump's New Hampshire Victory; Trump Scores Historic Victory In New Hampshire GOP Primary; Tensions Erupt Over Border Talks; Russia: Ukraine Shot Down Russian Military Plane In Belgorod; U.N.: "Mass Casualties" In Gaza After Israeli Attack On Shelter; Alabama To Carry Out First Execution By Nitrogen Gas This Week; Boeing CEO On Capitol Hill To Meet With Lawmakers. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 24, 2024 - 16:00   ET



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Thanks so much for joining us this afternoon.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts in just a few seconds.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nikki Haley's path to victory, impossible? No. Difficult? Yes.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Tonight in South Carolina, Nikki Haley gets ready to make her new pitch. Why she believes she should stay in the race despite losses in both Iowa and New Hampshire? Today, even more GOP heavyweights urging her to get out. Her number one, hype man, Governor Chris Sununu, will be here as Haley assesses her campaign.

Plus, a big endorsement for President Biden today as his campaign sees 2024 closing in on a two-man race between Biden and Donald Trump.

And a new mystery involving Russia, this one, a plane crash and conflicting accounts about who or what was on board that plane. Was it 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war, as Russia claims, or was it weapons for war as Ukraine says?


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

We start today with our 2024 lead and Republican voters delivering Donald Trump another historic victory, sending him one step closer to the White House. Today, Nikki Haley's campaign insists they still see a path forward for the former South Carolina governor to dethrone Donald Trump after his double-digit victory in New Hampshire last night.

In the modern history of elections, it is worth pointing out no non- incumbent has ever before won both Iowa and New Hampshire, ever, until Donald Trump. The Haley campaign has even released its first two ads in her home state of South Carolina, which is set to hold the next true contest between her and Trump, and where she's set to hold a rally in just a few hours.


AD ANNOUNCER: Biden -- too old.

Trump -- too much chaos.

A rematch no one wants.

There's a better choice for a better America.

Nikki Haley delivered thousands of jobs, lower taxes, tough immigration laws -- same old Biden and Trump, or new conservative leadership.


TAPPER: And that is Haley's basic pitch to Republican voters, one we saw her repeated yesterday in her concession speech.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Most Americans do not want a rematch between Biden and Trump.


HALEY: The first party to retire its 80-year-old candidate is going to be the party that wins this election.


TAPPER: But despite Governor Haley projecting confidence, the Republican Party continues to coalesce around the former president with even more elected officials falling in line to endorse him. And the head of the Republican National Committee suggesting that Haley's time is up.


RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: I think she's run a great campaign, but I do think there is a message that's coming out from the voters, which is very clear. We need to unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump. And we need to make sure we beat Joe Biden.

You know, she came in second here. I don't see the path.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN'S John King at the magic wall for us.

John, as Haley's campaign plots a path forward here, they've got to figure out what worked in New Hampshire and what did not. So where did she do well and where did she underperform?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, let's clear this out and take a look. And number one, you did it at the top, like Donald Trump or not, you have to give him his due. That's never been done before, right? A non-incumbent winning both Iowa and New Hampshire.

So, if you're Nikki Haley, you have to change. The map can't fill -- keep filling in Donald Trump red, right? And so what did she do well? Look at this yellow down here. They said they need to win Portsmouth in the suburbs around there. They did. They said they needed to win Hollis just left of Nashua there. They did.

So they met many of their targets. Look at this number. Nikki Haley got 38,000 more votes than Donald Trump did eight years ago when he won New Hampshire. That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment, except turnout was record. Donald Trump got 173,000 votes. We're still counting the final ones there. So, Trump won.

Jake, you just played that ad, the tagline was interesting. She said new conservative leadership. That is her problem.

She's winning moderates. In New Hampshire, she won undeclared voters. Donald Trump is trouncing her among conservatives. As this goes on, her path is getting more narrow. You could argue by the hour she needs to win conservatives, that's the challenge next.

TAPPER: So she says she's staying in the race. What is the path forward for her?

KING: Right. So Nevada is next. Let's pull this out. There's caucuses there, Donald Trump has that state party pretty much on his side. So her next challenge is her home state of South Carolina.

She was the governor for six years. You saw that ad trying to promote her record. So this is what the Haley campaign says that if you look at the primaries ahead and the caucuses ahead, everybody slowed down just like in New Hampshire, they are arguing in the 24 contest through Super Tuesday, early March, 11 of them are open or semi-open, meaning either there's no party registered like South Carolina.


So anybody can show off the Republican Party or its a state like New Hampshire or independents or Democrats, last same-day switch or something can vote the Republican primary. That is all true.

There are states. Missouri is one of them, Virginia is one of them, Texas is one of them where ostensibly, you know, independents could come into the mix, or Democrats could switch and commit to the mix.

However, Jake, you remember this campaign in 2000, that's what John McCain said when he beat George W. Bush, you know, in New Hampshire in 2000, you know? And Bush said, I'm going to South Carolina. This is going to be over soon. They kept saying there -- this is a constant argument. There are states ahead, terrain ahead.

We know from these states in past elections, always keep an open mind. It's a much more conservative electorate than New Hampshire. So the challenge, especially if she can't win South Carolina, her home state is enormous.

TAPPER: And, obviously, staying in this race is going to cost a lot of money.

How were the campaign spending when it comes to ads in South Carolina? Are Trump and Haley equal there?

KING: No, they're not even close and that has been a pattern so far. Trump, because of his name identity, because of the love he has, this -- that's what it is -- among Trump Republican voters, he hasn't had to campaign as much. He hasn't had to spend as much. Nikki Haley and pro-Nikki Haley super PAC so far have $5 million booked or spent in TV ads in South Carolina. The Trump campaign only $384,000.

Now, watch, Trump campaign sources telling our correspondents, Kristen Wilson -- Kristen Holmes and others who cover the campaign the Trump is going to get hard on Haley to make sure he thinks South Carolina should be the end of that. So let's see if they actually spend money or if they do it in other ways.

But right now, Haley is spending. Trump so far, Jake, just hasn't had the need because he's winning. The question is, does that continue?

TAPPER: Yeah, and it gets dirty in South Carolina as I don't need to tell -- as I don't need to tell, Governor Haley.

John King, thanks so much.

I want to bring in CNN's Jamie Gangel.

And, Jamie, you have some brand-new reporting on Haley's plan to stay in the race. What is it?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So this is politics. They are in until they're not in. But as of 4:06 p.m. today, I spoke to a senior adviser on her campaign who says they are in at least through South Carolina. The quote was 100 percent.

I'm also told, you're talking to John about the money question. They say they have plenty of money to stay in and so why are they staying in? There is always that what if scenario what if something happens with Donald Trump? What if something happens with these legal cases? As the source said to me, quote, politics is unpredictable, but Donald Trump is certainly an unpredictable.

TAPPER: That's fair. That's fair. Donald Trump has not participated in any over the Republican debates this election cycle. That hasn't stopped Haley from trying to goad him to join her on the debate stage, including last night.

Take a listen.


HALEY: The other day, Donald Trump accused me of not providing security at the Capitol on January 6.


Now, I've long called for mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75.


Trump, claims he do better than me in one of those tests. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't. But if he thinks that, then he should have no problem standing on a debate stage with me.


TAPPER: So supporters of Nikki Haley say, they don't think Donald Trump has the guts to face her on a debate stage. What -- what do you think?

GANGEL: Look, they know she triggers him. And I can guarantee you, you're going to hear something very much like that tonight at her rally and over and over again.

And what's the reaction? We heard I think last night that Trump was seething --


GANGEL: -- over the fact that she stayed in the race. When you make someone angry as one of the sources on her campaign said, you can make them make mistakes. Like confusing you for Nancy Pelosi.

TAPPER: Right. Although you could argue that this is a mistake-proof electorate for Donald Trump. They seem to forgive quite a bit.

Your sources are looking at a few things Nikki are going to try to take advantage of moving forward. What are they? GANGEL: Well, I think you're going to hear this debate line over and

over and over again. She is going to try to trigger him. They are going to call him a coward for not coming out, but I think the other thing there, the themes we've heard so far. Yes, he got all those registered Republicans and the conservatives, but she's going to say that she gets the independents, the moderates, the suburban women -- the people who in a general election will make the difference. So it's going to be the same themes. But she's going to be going after him harder and harder.

TAPPER: Yeah. Jamie Gangel, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss is New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. He's enthusiastically supporting Nikki Haley, to say the least.

Governor, you were predicting the Governor Haley could pull out a win in New Hampshire.


You must be disappointed with a double-digit loss.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, she's finished strong. There's no doubt about it. Obviously, you always -- you always want to win, but, you know, the victories here are -- there's not six people in the race anymore. There's two, that she served from single-digits to 20 points in Iowa, to 40, 45, whatever it was here in New Hampshire.

She's going into her home state. She has cash. She's put Trump's on his heels, on the defensive a little bit. So, there's still a lot of opportunity.

I think John King really broke -- broke it down very, very well. Still a lot of opportunity there.

This guy gets triggered. He's old. You know, he's kind of counting on that one core base that he has, where she has an entire state that she has a proven record on. So, there's still a lot of positives here going into South Carolina for sure.

TAPPER: But there's a big glaring weakness, according to CNN's exit polls from last night. Registered Republicans overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, 74 percent for him, 24 percent for Governor Haley. If you can't win registered Republicans or even compete, how do you win the Republican nomination for president?

SUNUNU: Well, again, two states down, 48 to go. It's only become a one-on-one race literally in the past couple of weeks. She's really ramped up the attacks on them. I know that drives me crazy, but the fact is he does not have a strong record.

And he is the incumbent. Let's face it, he's effectively the incumbent president. So that's a hard hill to climb to, for sure. But she's -- but every time there's a hill in Nikki Haley's way, she climbed it, she knocks it down, she pushes everybody out of the race. So she's been able to have a lot of success where no one thought she

was able to have it. She's got one more hill to climb and that's to beat -- that's to be Trump in her home state.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to something Donald Trump said last night during his victory speech. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Who the hell was the impostor that went up on the stage before and like claimed a victory? She did very poorly actually. She had to win. The governor said, she's going to win, she's going to win, she's going to win. Then she failed badly.


TAPPER: I have to say, it is obviously pretty rich for Donald Trump to make any comments about a second place candidate claiming victory. But what's your response?

SUNUNU: Right, well, you hit the first point right there. Look, at the end of the day, the polls that she was going to lose my 25, right? And she got it within, you know, 10, 11 points, whatever it was. So, she's constantly surging and constantly outperforming.

So he just wants everyone to clear -- clear the ranks and give him the coronation. But -- and Ronna McDaniel is completely wrong by the way, right? When the head of the Republican Party says we've had the voters in two states have their say, we'll ignore the Republicans in the other 48 states. We're just going to ignore them and just tell Trump that he's the winner, right?

So these are just establishment Washington politicians galvanizing around Trump. He used to be a disrupter, right? He used to be the guy that's going to challenge Washington. Now, he's just part of this elite-ism, if you will, out of the Republican Party in Washington, D.C.

No one wants to tell the -- tell the Senate what to do. They're basically an out-of-place nursing home, if you think of it that way. He's going to be their next resident.

Nikki's the next-generation. She's exciting. She brings energy. She brings this is great conservative record to the table.

That scares him, right? Because he knows that that can surge, that it's going to have energy.

TAPPER: Does she have to win in South Carolina? I mean, I can understand the motivation for a candidate who doesn't win the first three contests. Don't you think it's do or die there?

SUNUNU: I don't and I tell you why. New -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina are always the filtering states if you think of it that way, right? We always want to narrow it down. Now, she narrowed it down way faster than anyone thought. I do think when you get to Super Tuesday, you have to win. You've got to win some states in Super Tuesday, I don't think South Carolina is a must-win, but I have no doubt she's going to do very, very well there.

TAPPER: Today, Republican Senator JD Vance of Ohio, who was supporting Trump, he tweeted, quote, the Republican Party without Donald Trump is a disaster morally and politically. It's endless wars, open borders, and tax cuts for the people who benefit from endless wars and open borders. Basically, it's Nikki Haley's platform, which is why we so desperately need to beat her, unquote.

Your response?

SUNUNU: With Donald Trump at the head of the party, we lose. We lost in 2020. We should have the red wave in '22, that he's a loser. His candidates are losers. I'm tired of losing.

He doesn't bring the right brand, if you will, to the table, and he doesn't galvanize the party or the country together. So I appreciate JD Vance who's hoping to get a job and another job in Washington, D.C. because he joined the Senate, realizes they don't do much, wants another job with the president.

But at the end of the day, all these guys that are kowtowing up to the president, I've talked to them all behind the scenes. They don't respect this guy. They're just kowtowing up to him out of fear and the hopes to get something, you know, another gig.

Nikki -- Nikki bucks that trend. She's not afraid of anything. She just wants his country to galvanize together around the right values. You know, whether it'd be national security, fiscal responsibility, just putting families and people first, not Donald Trump, Donald Trump's still out there to save himself. Nikki Haley is out to save this country.


TAPPER: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, thanks so much. Good to see you, sir.

SUNUNU: You bet.

TAPPER: It's not just Donald Trump calling on Nikki Haley to end her campaign. She's facing growing pressure here in Washington to get out as Governor Sununu just mentioned.

Ahead, I'm going to talk to a House Republican about the rumblings, the murmurs, the whispers on Capitol Hill about what this race could mean for down-ballot candidates and the overall strength of the Republican Party.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: And we're back with our 2024 lead and the record setting night in New Hampshire, Donald Trump winning more than 166,000 votes, the most ever won by any candidate in the New Hampshire primary in either major party.

With me now is Georgia Congressman Rich McCormick, a Republican who after endorsing Ron DeSantis, last night endorsed Donald Trump for president.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

In your endorsement, you say, quote, I am calling on my fellow conservatives to join me in uniting behind Donald Trump.

To be clear are you calling for Governor Haley to drop out?

REP. RICH MCCORMICK (R-GA): I would love for to get a start on this, like we only have 10 minutes -- 10 months before we get into the next election. And I think this is going to be detrimental to our party and to our country if we don't unite under one leadership.


President Trump has done some very good thing for this country. I think he is going to win this primary and I think it's time to unite under one banner and get our message straight right now

TAPPER: So Haley should drop out? You're calling on her to drop out?

MCCORMICK: Well, you know, she's going to determine this. This is United States. Each individual has the right to do whatever they want to do. I just think it's best for the party if we start to unite as the party under one banner and one message.

TAPPER: According to exit polls, 42 percent of the people who voted in the Republican primary in New Hampshire said they don't believe Donald Trump will be fit for the presidency if he is convicted of a crime. The chance that Donald Trump is going to be convicted in one of his legal cases is not zero.

Are you worried about backing the wrong horse right now? What if he gets convicted and then you have a difficult time winning all these Republicans who are telling you when this exit poll, if he gets convicted, he's not fit?

MCCORMICK: Well, the electorate is the one that determines who's winning the primary. Right now, President Trump is winning by, as you said, record numbers.

If you look at what we're dealing with right now on the border, on crime, on debt, on the size of government, on energy, on education -- I think the conservative movement is picking up steam in very real ways. I think that's what we're fighting over the heart and souls and the minds of the people. And I think the people understand what's at stake right now. I think that's why President Trump can lead us to a victory.

TAPPER: Let's just take one of the issues you just raised, the debt. Donald Trump, during his presidency, the national debt went up $8 trillion. What makes you think he would do anything about debt? MCCORMICK: Well, I think we look at different parties and what we

stand for, I think the conservative movement is about controlling debt. You're right. We did a horrible job. I hold our party accountable when we had control the Senate, the House and the presidency, we didn't do a good job on the debt.

That was my biggest my biggest concern and criticism of that administration. I addressed this. And that's why back DeSantis at first. I thought he took the debt the most seriously, but I think for sure, Trump takes that way more seriously than Biden does.

I think he's learned his lessons. I think he's definitely the conservative in this race, and I think he's going to do better job on controlling debt than the Democrats would for sure.

TAPPER: There are some House Republicans and Senate Republicans I'm sure you know, who are worried about Trump being at the top of the Republican ticket because obviously it's going to cost a lot of money to get him elected. It might cost less for Nikki Haley, for example, according to exit poll -- I mean, according to polling.

But beyond that, one House Republican in a swing district told CNN's Manu Raju that Trump as the nominee is going to cost your party control of the House. He went on to say, quote, 20 percent of Republican voters will not vote for him. Independent voters think Biden is weak, but they hate Trump. And Democrats -- Trump motivates them to vote.

Are you concerned? Do you share any of those concerns?

MCCORMICK: I understand the concerns, but the people, the conservative movement makes its choice. Now, it's up to us to have a message that resonates with the people. That's why its not just about one person. I mean, the presidency is the presidency, but we have a House, we have a Senate, we have a body that has to move this country in a certain direction. And I think that's why it's important to have messengers that aren't just one person that we all get to carry a part of this pail of water that that applies to all people that were all able to control the message, not just one person.

I think president Trump has won an election before. I think he's in better position to win than he was in 2016. In many ways because he does have a track record for a good economy, for controlling the border, for things that matter to people. And so, I think this will play its way, way out, but I think the primary process is already deciding who are electorate is going to choose as our primary representatives. So I think we need to back him and get behind him in the messaging and make sure we're clear on that.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Rich McCormick, thanks for joining us today. Appreciate it, sir.

MCCORMICK: My pleasure.

TAPPER: On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans are talking about a tense back-and-forth on another issue, the border, and negotiations over that issue. What they're telling CNN's Manu Raju, next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, sharp tensions over the border in Texas and on Capitol Hill in taxes. It's a standoff over razor wire. U.S. Border Patrol wants the razor wire down. The government of Texas wants to keep it up. Today, as you can see that wire, is still up, despite Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the Biden administration to cut it down.

On Capitol Hill, frustrations erupted yesterday in the Senate Republican lunch. Senators came out describing the back-and-forth as nasty as they were debating best policies to move forward with compromise legislation they've been working on with Democrats.

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, some Republicans were openly questioning Minority Leader Mitch McConnell strategy to move forward with the legislation. Was there any resolution to this disagreement?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, right now, behind closed doors, Senate Republicans are meeting to try to figure out whether or not there is any way forward, but things have gotten incredibly tense. Divisions over strategy, over moving forward with any sort of compromised deal on immigration as well as also sharp divisions about Ukraine funding.

Remember this is all tied together. Republic bookings have insisted that if they move forward, any new aid Ukraine, which is calling for aid immediately, that there must be a deal on the border, something to their satisfaction. But there is no agreement on either, leaving deep divisions within the ranks, some demanding that the free of senators trying to cut a deal on immigration, release more information about those talks and others openly questioning the Senate Republican leader and his handling of all of this.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I don't know anything about what they're doing. I mean, I -- one of the gentlemen under the interstate living on a refrigerated box knows more about it than I do.

RAJU: What do you give his handling of the Ukraine and immigration talks, McConnell?


SEN. JOHN HAWLEY (R-MO): It's disastrous, clearly. Total -- I mean, just look. It's a total shambles. It's a total disaster. I mean, just totally a disaster. It's embarrassing.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): This bill represents Senate Republican leadership waging war on House Republican leadership. SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): Biden has failed. We are here. We've been elected, we have election certificates. When you have an opportunity to make this country safer, you take it and you don't play politics.


RAJU: And that last comment coming from Senator Thom Tillis, who's very much in favor of these bipartisan talks, but the Republicans are facing pressure from their likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, who has come out in opposition to any sort of bipartisan deal on immigration that is not a, quote, perfect deal or is not, quote, everything that they want -- they want. He says that they should they should reject it if it is not to the -- exactly to their liking.

And that does have influence within the ranks particularly among on the fence Republicans, some of them say, let's just wait until the New Year. Some of them said -- are privately saying, let's not give Joe Biden campaign when on the central issue involving immigration that is dominating and animating voters along the campaign trail, all of which is making things much more difficult, particularly among Republicans, to decide whether its right, the right time to cut a deal, or whether they should punt on this issue until next Congress, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu, if the Senate reaches some sort of deal, the big question is not have House Republicans will scramble to support it, they won't, but whether or not Speaker Johnson will even allow a vote on the legislation. What's your take as of now?

RAJU: Yeah, it's really unclear, Jake, because Johnson has not been involved in these negotiations. He has been briefed on them, but he is not a central player. As he's told you, he's told me and he's told others, he's essentially throwing cold water on these talks, uncertain about whether he'll embrace it, in large part, not just because of Donald Trump's opposition, but because there are many Republicans in his conference who either don't support aid to Ukraine or simply do not believe that there should be any sort of compromise deal.

Which is raising a lot of concerns among Senate Republicans who say, why vote on anything now, if has no chance in the Republican-led House? And if the Republican-led House changes the bill dramatically, then that could upset the balance with the White House or Democrats in the Senate, which just shows you how difficult is to get anything done in an election year particularly when it comes to immigration -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, although to be honest, Republicans had the White House and the House and the Senate, they didn't do anything about it then either.

Manu Raju, thanks so much.

New video shows the downing of a Russian plane. And there's a mystery deepening into who or what was on that plane. Russia claims that Ukrainian prisoners of war were onboard. Ukraine says weapons were on that plane. We're going to dive into the efforts to sort this all out, next.



TAPPER: A fiery plane crash near Russia's border with Ukraine tops our world lead today. Russia's defense ministry says Ukraine shot down a military (AUDIO GAP) near Belgorod, and no one onboard survived.

Ukraine says the plane was carrying missiles, but did not claim responsibility for the attack. While Russia swears Ukrainian prisoners of war were all onboard.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in eastern Ukraine for us as the White House is attempting to get more information on what actually happened.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The final moments of the Russian military planes flight, diving to the ground, seemingly out of control. After the impact, the jet explodes in a giant fireball.

I heard only two explosions, this eyewitness says, the first one was adult bang, then an explosion, then big flames.

Russian media showing debris scattered across a large area at the crash site. Authorities say, no one onboard survived including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war set to be exchanged the same day. Moscow blaming Kyiv for the incident, (AUDIO GAP) side launched an air defense missile from the Kharkiv side, Russia's foreign minister said it targeted the airplane and was a fatal strike.

The Ukrainians haven't denied shooting the plane down, but Kyiv says, the Russians never told them they'd be flying the Ukrainian POWs to Belgorod, holding Moscow responsible for the loss of life and the failed exchange.

Landing a transport plane in a 30 kilometer combat zone cannot be safe. And in any case, should be discussed by both sides, because otherwise, it jeopardizes the entire exchange process, a military intelligence statement says. Based on this, we may be talking about planned and deliberate actions of the Russian Federation to destabilize the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for our country.

Ukraine says Russia often uses the IL-76 cargo jets to transport missiles used to target Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure. A recent attack killing and wounding scores in Kharkiv in Ukraine's northeast.

When the missile attack started, I kneel down near the washing machine, this woman says, look, something hit me here, glass, glass, but I'm alive. Some people died and my flat is gone.

The Ukrainians have vowed revenge for missile attacks like these and say, they consider Russian cargo planes transporting missiles to be legitimate targets. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: So as you can see there, Jake, still a lot more questions than answers tonight. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he came out just a couple of minutes ago and said he had ordered all of his top generals to try and establish the fact as best they can because, of course, the crash happened on Russian territory.


The Ukrainians are saying, as of right now, they have no reliable information as to who was on that plane and how many people -- Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen in Eastern Ukraine for us -- thank you so much.

Today in Gaza, the United Nations Relief Agency described, quote, mass casualties from an alleged Israeli attack. The U.N. director says two tank rounds hit a building sheltering 800 people, at least nine were killed, dozens injured. The two days of intense fighting have left Gazans trapped under rubble, others with severe shrapnel wounds. As Israel maintains, there are terrorists with Hamas embedded in the hospitals there, and Israel says it will continue its attack for, quote, several days, trying to destroy Hamas.

CNN's Ben Wedeman brings us now the desperate reality for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians just trying to survive.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With what little they can carry, they try to flee Khan Younis to safer ground, that ground doesn't exist in Gaza. Israeli forces, intensifying their offensive against Hamas, ordered civilians to leave the western side of the city, where three of the last few functioning hospitals in Gaza are located, and where thousands of people and taking shelter.

Another 800 were sheltering in a U.N. vocational training center hit according to the U.N., by two Israeli tank rounds.

THOMAS WHITE, DIRECTOR, UNRWA AFFAIRS: The reality is that these strikes are hitting protected installations, protected facilities. They're hitting facilities that are housing, sheltering civilians or, you know, where you have medical personnel tending to people who are wounded and injured and sick.

WEDEMAN: This man managed to escape Khan Younis under shelling. He asked his children, have you eaten today? No, they respond.

Hovering over the agony of this war is this specter of famine, warns Michael Fakhri, the U.N. special rapporteur, on their right to food.

How would you describe the food situation in Gaza at the moment?

MICHAEL FAKHRI, U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHT TO FOOD, every single person in Gaza is hungry. So that means 2.2 million people are going hungry, a quarter of the population are starving. They're struggling to find food and drinkable water. And famine is imminent

WEDEMAN: Since October, Gaza has become a land of nomads, moving from place to place, desperate as the war moves further south.

For more than 100 days. Ive been in the streets, says Um Mohamed, we don't know where to go. They say it's safe in one place and then it's dangerous with shelling and shooting. We go to another place and it's the same thing.

Hundreds of thousands have fled to and more are fleeing every day to Rafah, on the Egyptian border, now crammed with more than a million displaced. There are a few spots left in the sand. The only place after that is the sea.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Beirut.


TAPPER: And our thanks to CNN's Ben Wedeman for that report.

Coming up, the secrecy surrounding a controversial execution scheduled for tomorrow, Alabama plans to use an untested method to execute a death row inmate. Coming up next, how the state is managing to keep key parts of the process shielded from public scrutiny.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our law and justice lead, the U.S. Supreme Court has just declined to stop the first known execution in the United States using nitrogen gas. Tomorrow, the state of Alabama is set to use nitrogen hypoxia. It's a controversial alternative to lethal injection.

Kenneth Smith was sentenced to death for the stabbing murder of Elizabeth Sennett in 1988.

CNN's Isabel Rosales is live for us in Atmore, Alabama.

And the state is facing a lot of criticism over this never before -- been used execution method. And so, you've -- you've read through the state's execution procedures, how is this supposed to work?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, death by nitrogen gas not only is it controversial, but it's also an untested method. There is no precedent for this.

Alabama is just one of three states, including Mississippi and Oklahoma, that has approved the use of nitrogen gas in death sentences, but it has never been used before.

Now, I did read through Alabama's execution procedure through several pages of this and you're seeing right here part of the problem by the critics, a lot of it is redacted when it comes to the calibration and the use of this nitrogen hypoxia system. Now, experts say that it's shielding key details about what the state of Alabama is going to do in this execution from public scrutiny. But the state says that these redactions are necessary for safety.

And that secrecy is troubling to a lot of these critics because Alabama since 2018 has botched three lethal injections, including Smith, Kenneth Smith's own back in 2022 because they deviated away from this protocol.

So, here's what I could find out from these pages. He will ultimately be strapped to a gurney, a respirator -- a five-point respirator will be applied to his face. A pulse oximeter will be put on him.

The warden will be in the execution chamber reading him the death warrant. He will be allowed to make a final statement up to two minutes.


And then they will pump that 100 percent nitrogen gas in, depriving him of oxygen until his organs fail, and then death comes. So that will be applied for fifth ten minutes or until he flat-lines, five minutes after he flat-lines on an EKG, whichever is longer.

Now, Smith originally asked for execution via nitrogen gas. But when he saw the proposal, he became very concerned that he could vomit inside of his mask and be experiencing pain and die from choking on his vomit. I did speak with his spiritual advisor who experienced orientation, went through orientation today and spoke with Kenneth and he says the state of Alabama is not prepared.



REV. DR. JEFF HOOD, SPIRITUAL ADVISER TO DEATH ROW INMATE: It's lunacy. I mean, it's absolute lunacy. I mean, for months, we have been asking the Alabama Department of Corrections for more information. Is this going to be safe? What's going to happen?

Today, I go into the chamber to orient myself with the warden and one of the captains of the execution squad. And as I ask questions, he's consistently saying either we don't know or we can't tell you.


ROSALES: And that Reverend Jeff Hood is concerned about his own safety. He was forced to sign a waiver to be allowed into the chamber, acknowledging there could be harm to himself.

He does tell me, Jake, that he scheduled to go with a Kenneth Smith around 07:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow and deliver him the Eucharist.

TAPPER: Isabel Rosales in Atmore, Alabama, thank you so much.

Let's turn to our national lead now. Boeing CEO was meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill today and tomorrow in an effort to address growing questions and concerns about the safety of its airliners. You'll recall earlier this month, something called a door plug blew off in Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 during flight, leaving a refrigerator sized hole. The plane made an emergency landing. Thankfully, everyone survived.

Yesterday, the CEO of Alaska Airlines revealed that loose bolts had been discovered on many Boeing MAX plans.


BEN MINICUCCI, ALASKA AIRLINES CEO: We found some loose bolts on many of our MAX lines. So those --


MINICUCCI: Yeah. So those are things that are going to be rectified for the inspection process.

Boeing is better than this. And Flight 1282 should never have happened.


TAPPER: So, CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now in studio.

And Pete, Boeing CEO is in damage control mode after Alaska Airlines seemed to blame Boeing entirely. How did his meeting with senators go today?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, this just broke the chair of the Senate committee that oversees aviation now calling for hearings to investigate what she calls safety lapses at Boeing? Not likely that this was the outcome the Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was looking for. This was his first trip to D.C. since the blow out in Alaska 1282.

And here is the statement from Senate Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington. Quote: In today's meeting with Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, I made it clear that quality engineering and a commitment to safety always have to be the top priority. Cantwell, from Washington state where the Boeing 737 MAX 9 is built.

So far, it's been a very controlled message from Boeing. And true to form, Calhoun answered a few questions from reporters today. This is how he responded when asked if the public should fear his airplanes.


DAVE CALHOUN, BOEING CEO: We fly safe planes. We don't put airplanes in the air that we don't have 100 percent confidence in. I'm here today in the spirit of transparency. Number one, recognize the seriousness of what you just asked. Number two, to share everything I can with our Capitol Hill interests and answer all their questions because they have a lot of them.


MUNTEAN: Tomorrow, Boeing will pause production for the day at the MAX 9 factory. They're calling it a quality stand down. It's like what the military does after a crash. But in this case, a Boeing workers will break into smaller groups, evaluate Boeing's processes on the production floor and make recommendations on to where things can be improved, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Pete, you also spoke with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration. And what did he have to say?

MUNTEAN: Just did a one-on-one interview with FAA administrator Mike Whitaker. He says that the FAA's focus is now really on Boeings quality control. That is what's happening right now with FAA inspectors. Now, on site at the Renton, Washington facility that builds the MAX 9.

Also, what is happening is the FAA is reviewing some details, that they've received from about a quarter of the MAX 9s in the U.S. The planes still grounded by the way, 171 planes. And the FAA administrator, Michael Whitaker says that un-grounding will not happen until he is certain that that airplane and is indeed safe.

TAPPER: All right. Pete Muntean, thanks so much for that update.

Next, the union leader who told me right here on THE LEAD just a few months ago why he was holding back his endorsement of President Biden. But that changed today. We're going to ask him why next when he joins us live here in studio.



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

This hour, CNN exclusive, new information in the ethics investigation involving Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz and allegations -- allegations of crimes.

Plus, a familiar voice injecting himself into this election cycle. Comedian Jon Stewart announces his returned to "The Daily Show". Are the stakes even higher today than when he retired in 2015?

And leading this hour, one day after Republican voters get their say in New Hampshire, President Biden has scored a big endorsement from a major union, the United Auto Workers, back in September. During the auto workers strike, the unions president was here on THE LEAD saying he was nowhere near ready to back Biden at the time.