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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Pressures Republicans To Block Border Deal; Chaos Grips Ecuador As It Tries To "Neutralize" Gang Members; Alleged Leaked Netanyahu Audio Reveals He's Very Angry With U.S.; Gaza Officials Say Crowd Waiting For Aid Attacked In Gaza City; U.S. Economy Grew At Powerful Pace In Fourth Quarter; Three Kansas City Chiefs Found Dead Days After Game. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 25, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: But it did give Dunlap a PGA tour exception through 2026 where he can now haul in any prize money he wins moving forward. He makes his first start as a probe next week at Pebble Beach, not a bad place to start.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: No, that is amazing, all the best to him. That was an amazing show and he had, really good.

SANCHEZ: The best.

KEILAR: All right. THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Would Donald Trump rather see the border crisis fixed, or would he rather campaign on it? Why don't you take a guess?

THE LEAD starts right now.

A bipartisan Senate border deal is at risk of death with Donald Trump urging Senate Republicans to kill it so he can use the border as a central campaign issue against Joe Biden. All the latest from Capitol Hill coming up.

Plus, CNN on the ground in the streets of Ecuador where gang violence plagues the country where just this month, gunmen took over a TV station. See what our crews captured, as police tried to crack down.

And damaging audio leak. What Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly said on a hot mic that could ruin negotiations to free hostages held by Hamas.


Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our 2024 lead. The immigration deal that we reported on for you during the show for months, which Republicans insist on being part of a package of aid to Ukraine and Israel, well, that whole deal might go up in smoke, why? Well, at least partly because Senator Mitch McConnell -- one of those powerful Republicans other than former President Donald Trump may end up deferring to the desires of Donald Trump to keep the border issue alive as a campaign issue.

And a reminder, that Trump is not even officially the Republican presidential nominee, Nikki Haley is still in the race, but still, the former president is now publicly bashing this potential Senate deal on immigration that both parties have worked across the aisle to try to secure. According to a Republican source, Senator McConnell yesterday admitted to his fellow Republicans that the party is in a, quote, quandary because Trump wants to campaign in 2024 on the border crisis. And if there's a deal that would help resolve the border chaos, Trump can't exactly run on that.

So is it possible that Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell, who doesn't even have a great relationship with Trump will back out of this deal? It would be a big about-face for McConnell who just this week said that Congress needs to pass the border security bill and unlock billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I've never been under any illusion about why America was backing Ukraine's fight. This has never been about charity, not about charity. It's not about virtue signaling or abstract principles of international relations. This is about cold, hard American interests.


TAPPER: Those cold hard American interests apparently growing a little bit lukewarm and squishy.

So will this plan for border security ever make it across the finish line?

A little history last time, comprehensive to have immigration reform passed in this country, I was 17 years old. Gas cost $1.23 a gallon and here is the bang on who was our president at the time at the bill signing in 1986?


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: It's an excellent example of a truly successful bipartisan effort. The administration and the allies of immigration reform on both sides of the Capitol and both sides of the aisle work together to accomplish these critically important reforms to control illegal immigration.


TAPPER: But further reform has been needed since then. And in the nearly four decades since that signing, we've had Republican presidents, Democratic presidents, and comprehensive immigration reform has still never made it to their desks, even though at times it seemed possible under both Bush and Obama. Here's Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida back in 2013, he was one of the gang of eight in the U.S. Senate who worked hard on a comprehensive deal.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): In essence, we're not awarding anybody anything. All we're doing is giving people the opportunity to eventually earn access to our new, improved and modernized legal immigration system.


TAPPER: Despite all that bipartisan work in the U.S. Senate, the bill still did not become law almost entirely because House Republicans constantly refused to get onboard with a compromise legislation or even allow a vote on it.

And the border has remained a crisis, and obviously, it's gotten worse. The compromised legislation right now is by many accounts more conservative than previous compromises, prompting many Senate Republicans to urge their colleagues in the Senate and the House to take the win and pass the bill, though that will at least try to help alleviate the problem.


But others, frankly, seeing more invested in the chaos. Here's Republican Senator Mitt Romney earlier today, breaking it all down.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump and the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling.


TAPPER: The border is in crisis as we've, as we've been saying on this show for months, and Republicans have a case to make -- an argument to make to voters that President Biden's leadership on the issue has been lacking.

But this fall, when you hear politicians describing accurately the risks to the live and safety of migrants as they make the dangerous journey to the porous border or the dangerous criminals who have been able to cross the border and victimized people in the United States, more often than not Latinos or the resources being exhausted in localities that cannot handle the influx, including in New York and Chicago. You might want to also remember those who see this big problem and are designing right now, let's keep the wound exposed and untreated because it will make a more devastating attack ad in October and November.

We're going to start today with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, we just heard what Senator Romney told you. Trump's behavior is, quote, appalling. So where did border talks stand and what are other lawmakers telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, senators who are trying to negotiate this deal tell me that they still are pushing ahead and hope to get something out as soon as next week. But the prospects are incredibly grim in no small part because as you mentioned, former President Donald Trump trying to sink this effort and they're already have been a number of conservatives who believed that whatever deal is cut won't be to their liking will be too weak and that they simply won't be able to support it.

And there were other on the fence Republicans who don't want to cross Donald Trump, who is on his way to winning the Republican nomination, and want to putt on this issue. And then there's Republicans who want this deal now, believe that Democrats have conceded a number of key issues and say that they don't act. That means aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel will fall by the wayside, jeopardizing international and domestic security, and said that now is time for action.

That is the view from a number of Republicans, including Trump allies, who say that they should not use this for campaign purposes. And it's time for Congress to pass legislation.


SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): I just reject the idea that we should reserve a crisis for a better time to solve it. You know, that's -- people -- what's interesting to me is there a lot of angry people out there, and that's why the border crisis is the number one issue for voters. I don't see how we have a better story to tell when we miss the one opportunity we have to fix it and we go to say, you know, I would love to fix it, but it was election seasons, so I thought I'd wait.

SEN. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): Anything that interrupts that negotiation I think would be tragic.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): I don't doubt that he wants a perfect deal, so do I on it, but we've got to be able to figure out how to be able to do something right now to get as much done as we can possibly get done.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I hope we don't live in a world today in which one person inside the Republican Party holds so much power that they could stop a bipartisan bill.


RAJU: Now behind closed doors, today, Senator McConnell tried to clear up confusion about where he stands on this issue. He reaffirmed his support for those trio of senators, including Republican Senator James Lankford, for trying to get a deal on this issue. He said that he would be behind that.

Now, can they get a deal? They still are hopeful that they can get it out by next week, but Jake still getting the votes in the Senate, getting into the Republican-led House, all huge questions in large part because of Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. Mana Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

With us now, Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, his district stretches from San Antonio to the U.S.-Mexico border.

So, Congressman, you just heard CNN's Manu Raja report that the border deal might be falling apart, might be dead because Donald Trump does not want a victory and does not -- and he wants to be able to run against Biden on this in November. What's your take and who do you blame?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): You know, certainly, I think what Mitt Romney said and what Manu said from talking to the senators that it is sad that one person can stop the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House from moving ahead on bipartisan legislation to address this, keep in mind that the Republicans have been saying there's a crisis, there's a crisis, there's a crisis. Let's act now.

And guess what? Now they're saying, well, let's wait for President Trump to get reelected and then we can address it next January, its something that we need to address right now and some people are going to regret that, you know, this moment because we are -- have really gotten Democrats from some of their comfort zones in two places that I thought I could not see something like fellow Democrats at, and I've seen some Republicans move over, which means that Chris Murphy Sinema, you know, James Lankford have been doing and others have been doing a good job to get people off their comfort zones to do something. And I think, you know, we're going to regret that were not able to do something at this moment because then it's going to get very difficult to get done as we get closer to the election.

TAPPER: So just in case viewers don't know, you have been also is calling this a crisis. You're a Democrat. You've been critical of the Democratic Party for not taking this issue more seriously. You've been saying this for years, literally, and this is a bill as you noted, that is more conservative than previous compromises.

I guess one of the questions I have for you is, even if this were to pass the Senate, it's still an open question if Speaker Johnson would even allow it to come up for a vote because it might pass, but not with a majority of Republicans supporting it. What's your -- what's the latest on that? Would Speaker Johnson even let this come up for a vote if it were to pass the Senate?

CUELLAR: If I go on some of the tweets that he's put out, I think about a week ago where he said the border deals, Senate border deal is dead. We're going to wait for President Trump, I think I would be very hard for him to put it on the floor and it's unfortunate because I think both sides are going to get probably something that they probably won't be able to get a later time.

And it's unfortunate, you know, when we talk about the Hastert Rule, which is, you know, the majority of the Republican majority or should we let the will of the House and let Democrats and Republicans vote on it as Americans, not as Democrats, Republicans, you know, I think we could get something passed.

But the question will be, will they put something on the floor and while we're waiting for this Senate bill, I said as the ranking member for homeland appropriations, we don't have the numbers, the allocations, and part of it is because we don't know where you're going to put $14 billion in supplemental. How does that affect the allocation for homeland appropriations? So, there's a lot of things that are affecting the appropriations because we don't have the allocations.

And guess what? March 1st, March 8th are just around the corner before we know it.

TAPPER: Yeah. And your argument that the momentum is here and these are -- opportunities are rare when something can pass, something is controversial its immigration reform. I want to play for you what independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema, one of the three senators that's been negotiating on in this said about all of this just a few minutes ago.


SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): I think because we're at a unique period of time where we've never had a border package, this substantial, this serious in front of United States Congress, frankly, in my lifetime and this is the time in which it can pass. This is the time in which it should pass. And it is attached as we know, to a priority for people on both parties, which is obviously fighting Putin's aggression and standing with our ally, Israel.


TAPPER: I guess the question I have for you is if Donald Trump were to win in November, do you think it would be as easy or easier or harder to arrive at this negotiation?

CUELLAR: I think goes much harder. I think the senator is right. She is right. We're in a moment right now that we've gotten people off their comfort zones. Like you played a Ronald Reagan, the last time we had bipartisan immigration was in 1986. You know, we almost pass it under Obama. We almost past that under George Bush, we almost got it done during those times, but it just didn't happen.

This is another moment that I see in my experience. And we're there, and if we lose this window, it's going to get much harder because, you know, President Trump is going to want something that a lot of Democrats are not going to want. So we've gotten people off their comfort zones, all Democrats and Republicans. We are to take advantage of this, but I -- the way I've been hearing and talking to some folks, it doesn't look good and that's unfortunate that one person can dictate to the U.S. Senate, the most part after the U.S. House, you know, one of the most powerful institutions in the world, and the House of Representatives, and get them to not do this border deal and leave it as an attack ad against Biden, against Democrats.

TAPPER: Yeah. CUELLAR: And it's very unfortunate to lose this opportunity.

TAPPER: Yeah, and lest we forget, Donald Trump was president for four years. And there was no such success in a compromised legislation for border security at all, did not happen.


Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, thank you, as always. Good to have you on the show.

This back-and-forth over policy goes well beyond the border. In Ecuador, crime and drug cartels run rampant. CNN's David Culver went there. He spent some time with the police in Ecuador. See what so many people there are trying to flee. That's next.


TAPPER: Topping our world lead today, once known as the island of peace between the world's largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia, Ecuador has since descended into chaos and just the past month, armed men took over a TV station and held its anchors hostage live on air. One of the country's most notorious gang leaders apparently escaped prison. And Ecuador's brand new president declared an official internal armed conflict as his army began to target some 30,000 suspected gang members and house to house raids, 30,000.

The U.S. may be in some ways partially responsible. I mean, how do these gangsters have this money? Well, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says multi-ton shipments of cocaine transit through Ecuador destined for the U.S. and Americans, we are among the world's latest -- leading consumers of cocaine.


And we spend billions of dollars on cocaine every year.

CNN's David Culver rides along with Ecuador's police force and military. And a warning to our viewers, some of the images in this report are disturbing.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're the fourth in the convoy of what looks to be about four pickup trucks, all of them unmarked, no lights, no sirens, all the officers in plainclothes.

(voice-over): We're with Ecuador's national police force as they're dispatched to a house with suspected ties to terror groups. They won't tell us where exactly were headed. And they ask us to blur their faces.

It shows you the level of concern and fear that existed right now.

So, we'll keep it vague. We're just outside Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, and headed into one of the most violent areas, Duran. More than a dozen officers storm what could be mistaken for an

abandoned barn? But their intel suggests otherwise. They cuff two men and search the high grass and weeds. On each corner, security cameras strategically positioned, officers hack them down.

As they leave here, we notice even he's carrying some evidence. It's like a gun and several rounds in that baggie.

This is just one of thousands of raids across Ecuador carried out over the past two weeks. Ecuador's military now deployed to neighborhoods. We went with them.

Over here, we see two guys who have been detained for now.

Officials arresting more than 3,000 people so far. Ecuador's latest surge in violence sparked by this suspected prison escape of notorious gang leader Jose Adolfo Macias, known as Fito, reported missing from this massive prison compound on January 7. If you look over here, this is where officials tell us Fito was being held, possibly is still being held. They really don't know.

A top military commander telling me the prison system is rife with mismanagement and heavy gang influence, so much so that Fito could still be hiding inside. Fito's disappearance led President Daniel Noboa to declare a state of emergency, vowing to neutralize terror groups. A day after Noboa's declaration on January 9th, 13 armed men took over a television news studio in Guayaquil, they put guns to the heads of employees, forcing them to the ground, and held up what looked the sticks of dynamite.

Folks watched it all unfold on live TV. Among them, Camille Gamarra (ph), her husband, Diego Gallardo. Feeling the unease, Diego decided to pick up their 10-year-old son. But minutes before reaching his school, someone opened fire on the streets.

Diego stopped messaging Camille, who was frantically trying to I call him a police colonel eventually answered and told Camille, Diego had been shot. Chaos rocked Ecuador that day, especially in Guayaquil, where barricades went up and streets shut down. This young girl still in her school uniform, also hit by a stray bullet. The hospital later saying she survived thanks to it was guard who drove her to the emergency room.

A family friend was able to get Camila son to safety, but Diego died before Camille could get to him.

CAMILLE GAMARRA, HUSBAND KILLED IN ECUADOR VIOLENCE (translated): I couldn't do a thing left sitting here, I couldn't do a thing.

CULVER: Across town, national police and armed forces stormed the television studio, capturing the gunman before they could kill any of the hostages.

And this is the studio, but the terror group entered and 13 of them.

We saw firsthand the damage left behind. So this is the studio door and you can see I can count here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, about half dozen bullet holes.

The day after our visit and a brazen strike against the government suspected gang members assassinated the prosecutor investigating that studio takeover.

Can say he's pulling this car over right now.

Police and military now stepping up their efforts, setting up random checkpoints. Every possible hiding place searched.

I just saw one of the soldiers signaling to the other -- look at his arm, looking his arm.

They checked tattoos for any gang affiliations and even scroll through people's phones. They also board commuter buses to get intel.


He's asking, do they have anything they need to tell them they were informed about, he says, we're doing this operation for you all.

Residents here struggle with what's happened to their country over the past few years. They tell me gangs are growing bolder and holding people and their businesses hostage, demanding protection money, known as by vacunas.

What happens if you don't pay the vacuna? If you don't pay the extortion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They get a contract killer and kill you. They put explosive outside your store.

CULVER: The military tries to weed out those responsible, raiding homes like this one, holding the suspects at gunpoint as neighbors, including kids, watch.

It's a lot to take in.

She says the fact that there are police here, it's comforting. She accepts that, and that there's military now patrolling the streets. What she doesn't like is that it goes into peoples homes and it's now pouring out onto the street.

But this is war, at least that's how the government here sees it, and they're asking the U.S. for support, desperate for tactical equipment, ammo, and intel.

Why should the U.S. help? Because people will look at this from the U.S. and they'll say, well, that's Ecuador's problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if you don't help us, probably you will see more people trying to grow the voters in because these people is in the middle of gunfights on their neighborhoods. What would you do?

CULVER: You're not going to stay there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to stay.

CULVER: Back on the front lines, after executing their raid, we're reminded of the fear instilled by these gangs. Even among law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): I'm going to cover my face.

CULVER: This officer putting on a ski mask in 90 degree heat and thick humidity before stepping into frame.

And yet beneath those tactical layers, a soft spot. This soldier's not been home in a week, telling us the reason he's fighting is for his little girl. She wrote him a letter in English. I want you to know that everyone misses you here at home and we want you to return safe and sound, and I asked you to help the country to be a better place. You're number one.


CULVER (on camera): There was a moment, Jake, in the midst of one of those raids where we asked one of the soldiers, aren't you scared? You're not going in with any helmet and really not that much protective gear. And he said, I wish I had it. We just have been running out.

There are low on a lot of the year needed to go into these situations and they say that they're limited to about a dozen bullets a day. So they're saying that they don't have enough to sustain this, which is why we're hearing now just from the White House, just from our Priscilla Alvarez, she passed this along to me just in the past few minutes, that the White House is now urgently increasing aid to Ecuador. They see this as a state that's quickly deteriorating and one that they need to step in on.

And, Jake, as you and have talked about, this is something that is all connected with everything else, with immigration, with drug flow. If you don't stop it at the source, the concern is its going to come right into the U.S.

TAPPER: Absolutely. David Culver, thank you so much for that report.

CNN is also on the ground in Israel today. Coming up, the problematic comment apparently made by Prime Minister Netanyahu in a leaked recording and fears today that it could undermine efforts to free the more than 100 hostages still being held by the terrorists of Hamas.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Back with our world lead now, tell us how you really feel. A leaked audio recording almost certainly at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aired on Israel's Channel 12 this week where the person speaking bashes the country of Qatar for its role as mediator in the Israel-Hamas war, and said he's very angry with the Americans for renewing a lease on a military base in Qatar without extracting a concession on hostages first.

CNN's Nic Robertson reports now from Tel Aviv as anger grows with the longest serving Israeli prime minister in history.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): During a testy meeting with hostage families Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have strained his one regional relationship with Qatar, that matters most to those very families.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): You don't hear me thanking Qatar because Qatar is essentially no different from the U.N. or the Red Cross and in some ways, even more problematic, they have leverage because they're financing them.

ROBERTSON: These comments caught off mic, triggered a rapid and barbed diplomatic put down from Qatari officials who helped negotiate the release of almost 100 Israeli hostages in November saying in a tweet, we are appalled by the alleged remarks attributed to the Israeli prime minister, if validated are irresponsible and destructive to the efforts to save innocent lives but not surprising.

Just days earlier, Qatar have been talking up relations with Israel and the potential for Hamas to release more hostages.

MAJED AL-ANSARI, QATER FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: We are engaging in serious discussions with both sides. We have presented ideas to both sides. We are getting a constant scheme of -- that applies from both sides.

ROBERTSON: Qatar's frustration now seems personal with Netanyahu, Qatar concluding their criticism with a view increasingly suspected by some Israelis. Netanyahu wants to keep the war going, saying in a tweet, the Israeli prime minister would only be obstructing and undermining the mediation process for reasons that appear to surface political career.

Hostage families who were in the meeting with the prime minister released a terse statement, appearing to blame Netanyahu who for the leak, although he denies it.


The fact that the censorship was given permission to publish this audio recording is serious, and indicates a loss of judgment.

This leaked audio also suggests he may be trying to draw the White House into confrontation.

NETANYAHU: I was very angry recently and I didn't hide it from the Americans, that they renewed the contract on the military base they have with Qatar.

ROBERTSON: President Biden hasn't openly spoken to the tensions, but this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticizing Israel for taking Gazan territory to create a security buffer.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been very clear about maintaining in effect the territorial integrity.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And to that point, has Qatar actually decided to possibly pull out of the mediation talks. There's absolutely no indication that they're going to do that indeed. CIA Chief Bill Burns is on his way to meetings with his Israeli counterpart, Egyptian officials and yes, Qatari officials as well. And that is all about trying to get those remaining hostages released, Jake.

TAPPER: Nic Robertson in Tel Aviv for us, thank you so much.

Staying in our world lead, the conditions in Gaza grow more dire each day as Israel's military confirms it is expanding operations against Hamas in the city of Khan Younis. The U.N. said today more than half of the more than 2 million residents of Gaza are now crammed into the Rafah area of the country. Hunger is now creating chaotic scenes as those desperate for food rush to whatever aid arrives.

And as Ben Wedeman reports, one of those aid cities was just hit, according to Hamas. A warning, this story contains some graphic images.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Once again, the wounded are sprawled on the floor of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, victims of what a civil defense official says was Israeli tank and machine gun fire on a crowd of people waiting to receive desperately needed humanitarian aid.

People were going to get food and flour because they have nothing to eat, he says, then suddenly tanks appeared and started firing shells at people.

Mohamed al-Rifi was injured in the hand and leg. They shelled us four times, he says.

Wednesday, at the same spot, to Kuwait Circle in Gaza City's southern outskirts, there were scenes of panic when according to eyewitnesses, Israeli forces opened fire during the distribution of aid. CNN has reached out to the Israeli military for comment but has not yet received a response.

To the south, thousands are streaming out of Khan Younis, where intense fighting has been raging for days, leaving however, they can traumatized by what they've seen and what they've lost.

This is a third time we've moved, she says, all they have left in the world, piled onto a shopping cart.

This is as far as you can get safely from Khan Younis, between a sea of tents and the sea, some supplies are available. Close to 90 percent of the people in Gaza are now displaced, many now living like this.

Winter rains have turned parts of this makeshift camp into a muddy pond.

I'm looking for our things, he says, what they have found is anger, the man who pose as the leaders.

Look, Ismail Haniyeh. Let him see us, shouts this man, referring to Hamas's political leader living in Qatar.

The war has raged now for more than 110 days.

For three-and-a-half months, we've been on the run says Iyad Abu Musaid. Let us go back to our homes. We're sick of this life, death would be better.

According to the forecast, another winter storm is coming.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Beirut.


TAPPER: Thanks to Ben Wedeman for that report.

In our money lead, moments ago in Wall Street, another record day for both the Dow and the S&P 500. You see the Dow, they're finishing up 243 points. The headline today helping to drive this record that even surprised some top economists. That story next.



TAPPER: Good news in our money lead, new numbers show the U.S. economy grew at a powerful pace in the fourth quarter as consumers and businesses continued to spend, crushing expectations of a recession.

CNN's Richard Quest is here to break down the numbers.

And, Richard, these numbers surprised even economists. Just how much did the economy grow?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Three point three percent on an annualized basis, which whilst less than the previous quarter was a gangbusters, all things considered. And its given rise to people saying basically the soft landing that everybody talked about is actually here. We don't really need to talk too much about whether it will or won't or whatever, because you've got strong growth, low unemployment, and falling inflation.

Now this is the scenario -- exactly the scenario, Jake, that the Fed had been hoping to engineer, and it seems to be happening at the moment.


And there's no obvious reason to suggest why it would go wrong other than some exogenous event, for example, the Middle East oil prices and the like, which you can't necessarily factor in. But this is impressive for an economy that's face such high interest rates.

TAPPER: Richard, polls across the U.S. continued to show that the American people have a pessimistic outlook on the economy. An exit poll from New Hampshire this weekend showed only 25 percent the economy is good, 75 percent see the economy as not good or poor. Now, that's a sampling of Republican voters and one state, but it is true that Americans do not see the economy as rosily as many economists do.

Why not? Is it because of inflation?

QUEST: I've got a new word for you -- vibe-session. It's basically the idea that people's feelings of what's happening in the economy are not matched by the reality of the data. And the vibe-session has been going for some time now. And people will basically tell you, we don't feel well off, we don't feel this, we don't feel that, we don't feel the other.

And then you stop pointing out what actually your incomes went up quite sharply. You're all in work, you're all earning good money. You've got health, et cetera, et cetera.

And this disconnect is what's probably Joe Biden's biggest worry and problem because as long as the vibe session continues and people don't have a good vibe about the economy, then they're to think it's all his fault. But the reality is this is not a political statement one way or another. The reality is this economy is doing in the U.S. much better than expected. It is robust growth.

And, Jake, on that point, you're starting to see a slight increase in consumer sentiment. So, people are starting to feel better about it. If you look at things like the Michigan statement, you can see that his growing up. Can it go up fast enough?

One point to note, Jake, the Republicans in New Hampshire and indeed Republicans elsewhere, it doesn't matter what the economy is doing. They will tell you, of course, that they don't feel as well and that is the president's fault as a result of his -- of his inflation.

TAPPER: Vibes-session, new word. I did not know that word before today. I appreciate it, Richard Quest. I always learn something. Thank you so much.

QUEST: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, the mystery outside of Kansas City home. Three men all in their 30s, found dead. Police suspect no foul play. So how did these three men die? What family members are saying and what has policed so puzzled.



TAPPER: In our national lead, the mysterious deaths of three Kansas City Chiefs fans continued to puzzle investigators and torment their families. The men were last known to have gone to a friend's house around the time of the game. They were found dead two days later outside the house. Police are waiting for toxicology results and have not said how the three men died, but they do say so far, no foul play was observed or suspected.

CNN's Whitney Wild has more now on this evolving tragic mystery.


WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT REPORTER (voice-over): More than two weeks after 38 year-old Ricky Johnson, 37 year-old David Harrington, and 36 year-old Clayton McGeeney were found dead in the back of a Kansas City home. There are few details and frustration is growing.

Adrianna Juarez, who shares a child with Ricky Johnson says she feels too many questions remain about how long it took to find the three friends.

ADRIANNA JUAREZ, RICKY JOHNSON'S FIANCEE: How do you not know there's three dead bodies?

WILD: According to CNN affiliate KNBC, the three men visited a friend's home, a rented house in northwest Kansas City after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Los Angeles Chargers January 7. Two days later, a worried fiancee who hadn't heard from her loved one, looked for him at the home. According to police, when there was no answer at the door, she broke into the basement of the residence and found a dead body on the back porch. When police arrived, they discovered two more bodies in the backyard.

CNN is not naming the friend because he hasn't been accused of a crime or charged in the deaths. His attorney, John Picerno --

JOHN PICERNO, ATTORNEY: The early morning hours, around 2:00 a.m., he believes he got sleepy. He said I'm going to crash on the couch and he said goodbye to his buddies and he thought that they left out the front door.

WILD: Kansas City police are waiting on autopsies and toxicology reports to determine how the men died. At this point, police consider this a death investigation not homicide, noting it is still the case that no foul play was observed or suspected.

Johnsons' niece, Stephanie Walling, said they want answers and some sense of closure.

STEPHANIE WALLING, RICKY JOHNSON'S NIECE: I never thought it would get as much attention as it has. I mean, I'm hoping that with the attention that it is getting, that it wont get us closer to getting answers


WILD (on camera): Jake, it can take a month or more to get toxicology and autopsy reports back. Every moment there isn't an answer is just gut-wrenching for these families, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Whitney Wild, thank you so much.

This just in, a source tells CNN that Donald Trump is expected back in court tomorrow for the defamation case against him brought on by E. Jean Carroll. He was there today, briefly was on the witness stand. Why the judge cut him off during one of his responses. That's next.

Plus, the prison sentence today for a former top Trump adviser who defied a subpoena from Congress. How much time did he get?

Stay with us.



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

This hour, another journalist jailed in Russia. This one holds a dual U.S. Russian citizenship. She's coming up on 100 days behind bars. Why hasn't the Biden administration declared her wrongfully detained? Her husband will be here live.

Plus, allegations of bribery and blackmail igniting Republican politics in Arizona. The leaked audio leading to the state's top Republican chairman to resign. The Republican Senate candidate in the scandal, Kari Lake, has a track record herself of pushing election lies and now she's allegedly threatening to release more recordings.

But leading this hour, Donald Trump back on the witness stand, this time briefly in the E. Jean Carroll civil defamation case. Last year, as you might recall, a jury found Trump sexually abused the former magazine columnist in a New York department store in the 1990s, then he defamed her when he denied the claim and aggressively attacked her credibility and character. This part of the trial is to determine how much Trump will pay her in damages.