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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Peter Navarro Sentenced To 4 Months For Defying Subpoena; A.Z. GOP Chairman Resigns After Leaked Kari Lake Audio; RNC Reviewing Draft Resolution To Declare Trump Presumptive Nominee; Trump: Haley Donors "Permanently Barred From The MAGA Camp"; The Race For Sen. Bob Menendez's Seat; ; Rep. Any Kim Is Interviewed About Senate Race In New Jersey; Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), Is Interviewed About The Race For Sen. Bob Menendez's Seat; 100th Day In Jail For U.S.-Russian Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva; Hunger Strike Over Execution Of Iranian Prisoner. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired January 25, 2024 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This part of the trial is to determine how much Trump will pay her in damages. Let's start this hour with CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid who's been watching this trial in New York.
And Paula, Trump was on the stand for just a few minutes testifying in his own defense. What did he have to say?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, his lawyer Alina Habba, and the judge spent more time debating what Trump could say on the stand than Trump actually spent on the stand. Because remember, this trial is about damages. Trump's utility as a witness is very limited. And the judge wanted him to stick to the script that he and Habba agreed to and for the most part, they did.
Let's go through the three questions that Habba asked him while he was on the stand. First, she asked Trump, "Do you stand by your testimony in the deposition?" The deposition that he gave in this case. He replied, "100 percent, yes." Then she asked, "Did you deny the allegation because Ms. Carroll made an accusation."
Trump responded, "That's exactly right. Yes, I did. She said something that I considered a false accusation, totally false." But then Judge Kaplan, cut in, he wanted them to stick to the plan. He cut Trump off saying that everything that he said after yes, I did is stricken.
Because remember, they're not litigating here what is true and what is false in terms of what happened in that department store, that was litigated last summer. So here, Habba's final question was, "Did you ever instruct anyone to hurt Ms. Carroll in your statements?" Trump said, "No, I just wanted to defend myself, my family, and frankly, the presidency." Then Trump stepped off the -- he actually he was -- then he was cross examined.
But what's interesting here is it's been days and days of will he or won't he, Jake, and he did. But he only answered questions for three minutes.
TAPPER: What happened when E. Jean Carroll's lawyers cross examined Donald Trump?
REID: She just asked really one question. And that was, "Is this the first trial with Carol that you have attended?" He replied, "Yes." Now that is, of course, a reference to the fact that last spring, the issue of what happened in that department store E. Jean Carroll's accusation of rape in that department store in the 1990s was litigated, along with questions about defamation and damages before jury, Trump didn't attend a single minute of that case. So that's what E. Carroll's lawyer is getting at, that he never attended the trial where a lot of these key issues in this case where a jury found him liable for sexual abuse were litigated.
But now of course, in the heat of the 2024 campaign season, he's attended much of this case and then opting to take the stand when he really doesn't have much to offer in terms of damages.
TAPPER: I remember from his deposition, he was asked if it's true that if you're a star, women let you get away with grabbing women by the genitals, et cetera as he said in the infamous Access Hollywood tape and he said -- he basically said yes, fortunately or unfortunately. Fortunately as it fortunately, wow, wild. I don't think that deposition was very good for him. Paula Reid, thank you so much.
Meanwhile, prison time for another former Trump adviser who defied a congressional subpoena. First, it was Steve Bannon, now today, Peter Navarro, who was sentenced to four months in prison for defying the subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating January 6. Joining us now CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz and former Federal Prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers.
Katelyn, to you first, what did the judge say when he handed down this four month sentence for Peter Navarro?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Jake, frankly, he said, you should have known better, Peter Navarro. Peter Navarro received this sentence of four months in jail as well as a fine of $9,500. So, a little bit less of a fine than Steve Bannon got for doing the same thing. But the same amount of jail time for defying the subpoena, not turning over documents, not sitting for testimony before the House Select Committee. And Judge Amit Mehta over at the federal court in D.C., he said, you know, Peter Navarro, you were happy to talk about what you were doing after the 2020 election, publicly you were writing about it in your book.
And though you're a good guy, and he brought his lawyer shoes when he needed him and he was helping with coronavirus pandemic in the White House, he should have known and he shouldn't have been saying this was a political prosecution, even to the judge today in court. Judge Mehta says specifically to Peter Navarro as he's heading down that sentence, "You want me to believe this is a political prosecution when the evidence is completely to the contrary. You are not a victim. You are not the object of a political prosecution. These are the circumstances of your own making." So the judge making quite clear there, Jake, today the consequences of not responding to a House subpoena in any meaningful way. Even if you're a White House adviser is jail time.
TAPPER: Katelyn, Peter Navarro usually comments on things publicly. How did he or his attorney respond to the four month sentencing?
POLANTZ: Jake, he was drowned out by naysayers of his outside courthouse today so we had a hard time personally responding. But his lawyers appealed very quickly after this. Currently Peter Navarro is released. He's not in jail. And they are wanting to appeal on a lot of questions around executive privilege.
If he has some sort of protection because he was serving in the Trump White House, not on election related issues, but on other issues, if he has some sort of protection of the presidency around him, how that had to have been evoked by someone like Donald Trump when he was president. And his lawyers are asking the judge to not send him to jail right away, let those appeals play out, see where they go, and then see if he will have to report to jail for that four month sentence.
TAPPER: And Jennifer, prosecutors wanted a harsher sentence. They wanted Navarro to be sentenced to six months for each of the two counts he was convicted for and to be fined 200 grand. So were you surprised he was given four months instead of a year and fines just shy of $10,000?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I wasn't, Jake. You know, judges hate to be reversed. So, what they often do is give the prosecutors a little bit less than what they're asking for. It looks reasonable. It's within the sentencing guidelines range.
And the fine in particular, you know, unless it's some sort of corporate crime, or there's some sort of reason that a monetary fine makes a lot of sense as part of the punishment, most felonies and most misdemeanors in federal court actually get the bare minimum fine, which is really called a special assessment, they don't get any true fine at all. So, I wasn't surprised to see where the sentence add up. And I think that the prosecutors are probably pleased with four months. I mean, it's not a lot of time, but it is a misdemeanor. And Peter Navarro, assuming that he doesn't get this overturned or drag it out until former President Trump is president again and gets a pardon, he will go to prison for this.
And that's, I think, at the end of the day, what prosecutors are looking for.
TAPPER: So, yes, let's talk about that. Because you do think that ultimately, because they won't be able to be part -- even if Trump wins in November, that won't -- he won't take office until January. So, in the next year, you think it's likely that Navarro and or Bannon will actually go to prison? RODGERS: Well, so Bannon received a stay of the prison sentence while his appeal is pending. Navarro is trying for the same, which means that they won't go to prison until the appeal is fully adjudicated. If the appeal gets through the process and is affirmed, then they will have to go to prison. There won't be any delay. So, the timing of that will kind of dictate whether or not there's time before the -- if the former president wins again for him to take office in January.
But at least for Navarro, it seems pretty likely if he does get his stay, that his appeal will go on beyond January. So he could get out of it all together, if former President Trump wins again.
TAPPER: All right, Jennifer Rodgers and Katelyn Polantz, thanks to both of you.
Coming up next, a new controversy in the 2024 battleground state involving Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake. Here, the audio recording that led the state's Republican Party chairman to resign.
TAPPER: In our 2024 lead, it's the Godfather Arizona politics edition, Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jeff DeWit has resigned after seeming to make Senate hopeful Kari Lake an offer that she turns out could refuse. The Daily Mail published an audio recording of a conversation where DeWit seems to tell Kari Lake there might be financial benefits for her staying out of the high stakes race for the seat of independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JEFF DEWIT, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: This back east. They -- there are very powerful people that want to keep you out.
KARI LAKE, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE: They do.
DEWIT: But they're willing to put their money where their mouth is, in a big way.
LAKE: So, what's going on, who is it, what?
DEWIT: Forget the who.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: Cryptic. Lake already is endorsed by former President Donald Trump in this race and she still falsely insists she won the Arizona governor's race in 2022. DeWit who was also a former Trump campaign official, then appeared to ask Lake about money specifically.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DEWIT: Is there a number at which -- LAKE: I can be bought?
DEWIT: Not be bought.
LAKE: That's what it's about.
DEWIT: You can take a pause for a couple of years.
DEWIT: Then go back right to what you're doing.
LAKE: No. Ten million, $20 million, $30? No. No. No.
A billion? No. This is not about money. This is about our country.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: After these recordings were released, Lake called on DeWit to resign as Arizona Republican Party chairman and he did, but he unleashed quite a few major accusation bombshells along the way. Writing in his resignation letter, quote, "This morning, I was determined to fight for my position. However, a few hours ago, I received an ultimatum from Kari Lake's team, resign today or face the release of a new, more damaging recording. I am truly unsure of its contents, but considering our numerous past open conversations as friends, I have decided not to take the risk," unquote.
Lake's senior advisors say no one threatened or blackmail DeWit and that the tape speaks for itself. But DeWit says the recorded conversation was selectively edited and not a bribe, just an attempt to offer perspective between friends. DeWit also claimed Lake is the real puppet master here saying she orchestrated this entire situation to have control over the state party. And he says she sat on the recording for 10 months before intending to use it, quote, "To portray herself as a hero in her own story," unquote. Let's bring in our political panel to discuss this and so much more.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: All that may be true, right?
TAPPER: Well --
BORGER: She sat on it, et cetera. But what's on the tape is on the tape.
TAPPER: It's on the tape. But do you think --
TAPPER: -- that DeWit will ultimately ever reveal the very powerful people that wanted to keep Kari Lake out of the race?
BORGER: Who knows? Who knows? Maybe Kari Lake actually knows who that is. And maybe she will reveal it. But you know, this doesn't help the state party at all. And you've had these problems in Michigan and in Florida, now in Arizona, these Republican parties seem to be falling apart at the seams. And this is just another example of that. And that doesn't help with raising money, does it?
NAYYERA HAQ, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SENIOR DIRECTOR F CABINET AFFAIRS: Well, it certainly helps with the Trump campaign and their effort to maintain control over the narrative in some of the key states. Let's not forget Arizona was the first one called for President Biden, it led to a whole series of officials getting fired from Fox News under pressure from Donald Trump because he -- and it's still the place where you have somebody running for Senate who believes the big lie and is a denier of the election. So the tape does sound like a selection of audio from Kari Lake that is all for dear leader and, you know, she is portraying herself and dear leader, President Trump as the real people for the American public.
JASON OSBORNE, FORMER SR. COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST, DR. BEN CARSON CAMPAIGN: I think this is bigger than the state party in an election in Arizona. I think this is honestly Kari Lake, trying to get her name back in the mix to be VP. Because --
TAPPER: Oh, to be VP. Interesting.
OSBORNE: Right. I don't think this is a play for votes in Arizona. I think this is a vote -- you know, a play for, I'm holier than thou. And somebody can offer me a billion dollars. And I'm not going to turn it down because I'm going to run for the sake of the country and it's that important.
BORGER: And she was taping it, right?
OSBORNE: She was taping it.
BORGER: And she said, this is for the country.
BORGER: Yes. So she is --
OSBORNE: And she was taping it. So --
TAPPER: Not even a billion dollar.
BORGER: Not even a billion, right. She's the heroine, yes.
HAQ: But it's for the country and for Trump.
OSBORNE: Hundred percent. There's no question.
And Jeff DeWit is one of the nicest men that I think I've worked with in Trump world.
OSBORNE: And it's unfortunate, honestly, that this came out the way it did. And it was selectively edited. I have to assume that. And even more so like he said, she knew she was recording it, so her answers were going to be --
OSBORNE: -- the way --
TAPPER: Right. Just --
TAPPER: -- according to the screenplay that she was writing in her own head.
There is reporting today in The Dispatch by David Drucker about a two page draft resolution that's being reviewed by the Republican National Committee right now that would declare President Trump the apparent nominee of the Republican Party. The -- as I said, it was first reported by The Dispatch, a draft copy of the resolution was obtained independently by CNN. So, only two states have voted. I mean, it seems likely that Donald Trump will be the nominee, but Nikki Haley, last I checked is, you know, successful conservative governor from South Carolina has every right to run. It's -- again, it's only been two states.
TAPPER: What's your reaction to this move? And it hasn't happened yet, but there is --
TAPPER: -- a move inside the RNC to just like, say it's over.
OSBORNE: Well, first of all, I think there's a certain irony in this and the fact that you have a process to decide who the nominee is for the Republican Party, and you want to circumvent that process. And yet at the same time, you're talking about election interference and all these trials and everything else. Right? So that aside, the practical purposes of this or nothing, right? It still says -- the resolution still says he still has to attain the certain -- the required number of delegates in order to be the nominee.
OSBORNE: So, what it is, is I think it's a movement to say, you know what, let's just stop all this theater. Nikki is going to lose, let's get her out of the race and let's just move forward. But in practical purposes, it doesn't do anything for the RNC.
BORGER: Ronna McDaniel has already declared him the presumptive nominee number one. This is proposed, apparently by David Bossie who is very, very close to Donald Trump.
TAPPER: Oh, sure.
BORGER: And -- yes. And so, you know, this is a way of just sort of kicking her out and saying, you know, we're not going to pay any attention to you and done by, you know, Trump's buddies, because that's exactly what he (inaudible).
TAPPER: And Nayyera, in keeping with this theme, Donald Trump on his social media site Truth Social wrote, quote, "Nikki "Birdbrain" Haley," that's his clever nickname for her, "is very bad for the Republican Party and, indeed, our country. Anybody that makes a contribution to Birdbrain from this moment, fourth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp."
Haley retweeted that and said, "Well, in that case, donate here," with a link. "Let's go." But again, it's been two contests.
HAQ: Well, in the next contest, right, are the ones where she was a governor of that state.
HAQ: And really, you're seeing a Republican Party that is trying so hard to keep this in favor of Trump and have this be like the last gasp of some effort for people like Haley or other candidates to work the process of the Republican Party setup. And it's -- it goes in the face of what we know party politics to be, which people think are corrupt anyway --
HAQ: -- and don't like how parties are controlled by those higher up and the elites. But that it's still a process to go through. And for Trump and his cronies to come in and say forget all that, just declare me the winner, it's more along the lines of the authoritarian mindset. And he takes what she says personally, she worked for him.
TAPPER: Yes, it's a little mobby (ph).
OSBORNE: Yes. I mean, it is. But at the same time the primaries still have to go on.
OSBORNE: Right? So even if you pass this resolution they still have to go on. In South Carolina isn't Nexus, Nevada where he's going to just --
TAPPER: It's not a real contest, though.
TAPPER: It's (inaudible). OSBORNE: And Super Tuesday is --
OSBORNE: -- it is going to be what it is, right?
BORGER: What happens when you get excommunicated from MAGA? That's what I want to know. Do you have a card that they rip up and say OK, you can't donate anymore?
TAPPER: No. I mean like if he wins again --
BORGER: We're not going to take your money?
TAPPER: Well, the RNC won't hire you. And if he wins again you don't get to join the administration.
BORGER: You don't get a job.
TAPPER: I mean, there's a whole -- there's a whole bunch of reasons for this case.
BORGER: That would happen anyway.
HAQ: Well, the Never Trumpers --
HAQ: -- learned that the first time round, and this is a reminder to everybody else who may be on the fence that this will continue to happen.
OSBORNE: I'd be the never Trumpers didn't -- there were some that still got hired in the last administration and still work their way through. I --
TAPPER: I don't think it's going to happen this time.
OSBORNE: -- guarantee you the Trump campaign is not going to turn away money. There's no question. I mean, this is just a statement to be made that we're watching and you better be careful if you donate to somebody else.
HAQ: And for her part to say, yes, continue to donate, I mean, the -- her only path forward or really anyone's path forward in this Republican Party is to try to be a contrast to Trump.
TAPPER: Yes. Thanks to one and all. Appreciate it.
Coming up, the Democratic Senate primary race in New Jersey, we were just talking about machine politics. In New Jersey, one candidate faces federal charges. Another just happens to be married to the state's popular governor. And a third you might recognize from a photo on January 6. And that third one is going to join us next.
TAPPER: Continuing with our politics lead, while President Biden describes the 2024 presidential choice in its stark terms democracy versus autocracy, the Democratic Senate primary in New Jersey is shaping up to be the following, there is incumbent Senator Bob Menendez, who is currently facing trial for corruption challenged by Tammy Murphy. That's the first lady of New Jersey the wife of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. She's a former Goldman Sachs Analyst who has never been elected to public office before, and around whom the Democratic machine in New Jersey is rallying versus three term congressman, Andy Kim. He's the son of Korean immigrants, a Rhodes Scholar and diplomat and a member of Obama's National Security Council, whose district includes counties that Trump carried twice.
Now, you might remember Congressman Kim from this viral photo of him cleaning the floors of the Capitol after the January 6 insurrection. To Congressman Kim and his supporters, the Democratic Party's commitment to democracy in New Jersey at least, looks a bit shaky unless you think machine politics exemplified the best of democracy. The questions that Kim supporters ask, what is it about the first lady of New Jersey that prompted a bunch of Democratic county chairs from the most populous counties in the state to support her? Surely it couldn't have anything to do with fears of reprisals from the governor or his government, right?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLLEEN O'DEA, SENIOR WRITER, NEW JERSEY SPOTLIGHT NEWS: I think it's all because of Governor Murphy. The party bosses, I think we'd like to stay on his good side. And we've also heard though, that, you know, she's really been out there, she's made a lot of contacts herself. Tammy and Phil Murphy are kind of a package.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Another factor at play here preferential ballots in almost every county in New Jersey where endorsements are a key part of a candidate's placement on the ballot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DUSTIN RACIOPPI, POLITICO NEW JERSEY EDITOR: The ballot is the whole ballgame in New Jersey where Tammy Murphy has gained the support of county chairs. In each of those counties, she will be on the line under President Biden. If they want to vote Democratic, they just checked the box right down the line. If they're voting for Biden, they're more than likely going to vote for Tammy Murphy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So Congressman Kim just locked in his first U.S. Senate endorsement, Senator John Fetterman from Pennsylvania across the river. He's also raising issues about New Jersey's cockamamie preferential ballot placement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): I really don't understand how anyone is OK with that ballot. I really don't know why you can weaponize the ballot. That's really not true democracy there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now Fetterman says the last time he had to deal with a Republican from New Jersey, it was during his own campaign against Dr. Mehmet Oz. He's referring to the first lady having been a Republican in total around the time that her husband announced his intention to run for governor. Now charges of bullying are also heating up in the race shortly before the College Democrats of New Jersey endorsed Congressman Kim. A staffer with the New Jersey State Democratic party reached out and told these college kids that their future job prospects and their ability to attend the Democratic National Convention could be in jeopardy because they picked Congressman Kim. The party staffer later told "The New York Times" that they didn't mean to threaten the students and Murphy's campaign later distance itself from the threat saying that the staffer did not work on their behalf.
The Murphy campaign tells CNN, quote, "Tammy is laser focused on listening to New Jersey voters and traveling the state to earn their support. Long before running for office, Tammy has worked to strengthen the Democratic Party in New Jersey to advance issues critical to working families," unquote.
Congressman Andy Kim joins us now.
Congressman, it's good to see you. So, yesterday you got the endorsement from your former Democratic colleague, Congressman Tom Malinowski and the first lady criticized him, noting that he had been investigated and fined by the House Ethics Committee for improper stock disclosures during his time in the House. And I'm wondering what your reaction to that was?
REP. ANDY KIM (D-NJ), SENATE CANDIDATE: Yes, thanks, Jake. Thanks for shining a light on this. And you're absolutely right. You know, the first lady attacked former Congressman Tom Malinowski yesterday when he endorsed me. You saw and talked about what happened to the College Democrats in New Jersey threatened and pressured when they were considering endorsing me. I mean, it's a pattern now and it's a pattern of pressure and intimidation from the first lady, from the state Democratic Party against -- you know what I keep telling them, you don't have to threaten and pressure every single person that endorses me.
That's not what it needs to be. But the problem is, it's not just about those people, you know, they're trying to send a signal to anyone who might be considering endorsing me, and trying to tell them not to, brush them off by showing, you know, the example what they make to those. And I just find that to be kind of the politics that people can't stand here in New Jersey and frankly, around the country, especially on the heels of this scandal with Menendez. People in New Jersey are tired of this kind of soprano state tactics. And, you know, honestly, it kind of resembles a lot of what President Trump's been doing in terms of telling donors not to donate to Nikki Haley, that kind of pressure, that kind of tactic is just got to move beyond that and just ended now.
TAPPER: When those party chairman, Democratic Party chairman, endorsed her, Tammy Murphy, and again, we should point out, she has ever run for anything before. What was your reaction? What was your response? Tammy Murphy's campaign says she's earned their endorsement, what do you make of it?
KIM: Well, first of all, I thought about how, you know, a number of those county chairs never even returned my phone calls, never gave me a real shot at being able to earn the support. And I believe in a democracy of fairness. I believe in a democracy where everybody has the right to participate, not just those who are well off or well connected. You know, I get it. I'm not central casting for what a senator from New Jersey would look like. I'm a public school kid. I'm a son of immigrants.
But I'm a three term member of Congress. I've worked to flip a district that Trump won twice. A district that Democratic leaders in the state told me it was impossible to win. I've been a diplomat in my career. I've served this nation every minute of my life. I deserve a fair shot. And that's not what I'm getting right now. And that's something that I think, you know, certainly I'm frustrated with.
But I'm glad to see that literally, everybody else in Jersey politics seems to be frustrated with as well, which is why while she's got the top level endorsement from party leaders, I'm leading the polls over her by 23 points. So I think it shows that the people want something different. And I hope to be able to bring that about.
TAPPER: Do you think that the continued machine party politics of New Jersey is a contradiction to how President Biden is casting the choice in this election, democracy versus autocracy? Do you think that the Democratic Party of New Jersey in how it's conducting itself going along with OK, let's back the wife of the governor, is undermining Biden's message?
KIM: Absolutely. I mean, I was with the President when he gave his speech about January 6th, talking about how we need to protect our democracy saying, you know, we know who Donald Trump is, but who are we? And I think about that, in terms of who are we as the Democratic Party. We are better than what we see in New Jersey right now. And, you know, to be able to say that we're trying to protect our democracy, when we see our own party and party leaders, putting their thumb on the scale and trying to manipulate a ballot for the favor of someone again, who's well off and well connected. That's not the Democratic Party.
And that's something that I'm standing up against. And, you know, I'm putting my whole career on the line here. You know, I'm not able to run for reelection in the House, putting my entire effort on the line here, because it means that much to me, I want to be able to protect this. You know, I'm someone who ran and wanted to district Trump won, and but voted to impeach him twice. I'm willing to stand up against him. But I'm also willing to stand up against people in my party when I think that they're doing something wrong.
And that is what's happening right here in New Jersey. The Democratic Party needs to change and needs to be able to get on the program in terms of protecting our democracy and showing that we're not hypocrites. We're not inconsistent about making sure that we stand true to our values of this democracy.
TAPPER: So you know, I'm from right across the bridge in Philadelphia, and I'm well acquainted with machine party politics and the Democratic Party and people names like Vince Fumo and Buddy Cianfrani and a whole bunch of crooks that the party would just foist upon citizens year after year. Democratic Congressman Andy Kim of New Jersey, thanks so much for your time today.
Coming up next, another journalist detained in Russia, she holds a dual U.S.-Russian citizenship why her case is so different compared to other Americans jailed overseas. Her husband joins me next.
TAPPER: We're back with our world lead. Right now dual U.S.-Russian citizen Alsu Kurmasheva is entering her 100th day in a Russian prison. She's a Prague based journalist who works for the U.S. funded outlet Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Her employer says she reports on language, ethnicity and minority rights focused on the Tatar population in Russia. Kurmasheva was arrested in October after traveling to Russia in May 2023 to visit her sick mother.
But Russian authorities did not allow her to leave. They say she did not register as a foreign agent and she was fined for failing to notify Russia she was a dual citizen. Her lawyer and her employer say she is innocent. And despite multiple attempts, U.S. embassy personnel in Russia still have not been allowed to visit her. Alsu's husband, Pavel Butorin is also a journalist at Radio Free Europe and he joins us now live. Pavel, thanks for joining us. When's the last time you had any contact with your wife? How is she doing?
PAVEL BUTORIN, HUSBAND OF ALSU KURMASHEVA, JOURNALIST IMPRISONED IN RUSSIA: Well, Jake, 100 days in detention in Russia is 100 days too many for Alsu. For 100 days now, so it has been denied phone calls with the family, with the children for 100 days as an American citizen. She has been denied visits from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. She is able to send letters, those letters to go through censorship we know some things about her conditions, it's quite cold in Russia now. She's held in a pretrial detention center in Kazan.
[17:40:11] You know, she sometimes says that she's fine. But there's nothing fine about her detention in Russia. More than three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alsu is now in jail over a book that she didn't even write, but coedited, again, in a country whose Constitution prohibits censorship, there's nothing fine about her detention. We want her back.
TAPPER: She's the mother of, you reference your kids, you have two girls, 12 and 15. How are they coping?
BUTORIN: This is an incredibly difficult time for a family. They have been without their mother for eight months now of which three months she's in jail. We're lucky to have very supportive friends. Their school has been great. We also have the support of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It's a difficult time but we're, you know, we're very happy family. I think the only thing that's missing is that, you know, that person that we care most about and that is Alsu.
But, you know, music, sports, help us cope with the situation. The girls, you know, play guitar and sing Taylor Swift songs, and we're all runners. So and by the way, Alsu was also at least once I know that she went for Iran in that small prison courtyard. Yes, it's a difficult time, but we have the support of our friends.
TAPPER: So unlike two other Americans, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, both of whom are also in Russian prisons. The State Department has not yet designated Alsu as, quote, wrongfully detained unquote, which is an important status. When asked about this on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman would not say if there was any progress in giving her that important formal designation. Do you have any idea why?
BUTORIN: I honestly don't know. I honestly don't know why they still haven't designated her as wrongfully detained. There's no doubt in my mind that Alsu is detained wrongfully. She is in jail because she's an American citizen. She's in prison for political reasons. The charges that the Russian government has brought against her have escalated into kind of worse and worse. She must be designated as a wrongfully detained American. And hope that happens soon. And the United States government must commit to her speedy and safe release from Russian captivity.
TAPPER: So we mentioned that she's a mom, Alsu, and a dual citizen. She's also a daughter. And the acting president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Jeffrey Gedmin, wrote this about her case, quote, when last summer Alsu traveled to Kazan from her hometown of Prague, she went to visit her elderly frail mother on such a private trip, she thought she'd be safe. A mother in Russian culture is sacred. So Alsu is a mother, and she was visiting her mother, apparently not so sacred to Putin. Did she share any fears about her safety before she went on that trip?
BUTORIN: Well, this was a difficult decision, Jake, I know Alsu is a caring mother, a selfless friend and a devoted daughter to her frail mother. And, you know, she recently shared her letter with us in which she says -- she actually talks about that decision. And she says, you know, there's always tomorrow, but perhaps tomorrow, the person that needs your help the most won't be around anymore.
So she prioritized being a devoted mother, daughter and I made that difficult decision to travel to Russia. We of course, understood the possible risks associated with any such trip. We honestly did not expect Alsu to end up behind bars. She belongs with a family here with her daughters and not in a cold Russian prison cell. The Russian government must drop all of his charges against Alsu and release her from prison and allow her to leave Russia and rejoin her family so that she can hug her children again.
TAPPER: Yes. Pavel Butorin, thank you so much. Stay in touch with us so we can stay on top of the story. We appreciate your time. And we're so sorry about what you and your family are going through.
BUTORIN: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: A man with mental health issues is executed in Iran as that country continues its brutal crackdown on demonstrators and activist taking part in a hunger strike and protest will join us next.
TAPPER: We're back and sticking with our World Lead, a hunger strike by dozens of female political prisoners held in Iran right now is underway to protest the execution of a fellow political prisoner, Mohammad Ghobadloo, was hanged on Tuesday. He was charged with killing a police officer and injuring five others after running them over with a car during anti-government protests in 2022. Ghobadloo's family says that he had a mental health condition. His lawyer says he was executed even before his final appeal had been decided.
Joining us now is Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad who is participating in the hunger strike in solidarity with those being held in Iran. Masih, always good to see you. So According to Amnesty International, Mohammad Ghobadloo is one of at least eight men to be put to death by Iran, the government of Iran, over participation in protests over the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, the teenager who died under suspicious circumstances following her arrest in 2022 for not wearing her hijab correctly. How worried are you that these executions of people practicing civil disobedience, protesting human rights conditions and others, obviously, the circumstances here with Ghobadloo is a little different, but still, that the executions will continue.
MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST: To be honest, not only me, millions of Iranians are worried that the rest of the political prisoners who are on the death row, they might be executed very soon because note, Mohammad Ghobadloo was innocent. Let me be very, very honest with you. They didn't even let him to have his own lawyer. He didn't have any access to any independent lawyer.
But the only lawyer that helped him, Amir Raeesian, he was actually inviting the judiciary system to have a debate with them because he believes that Mohammad was innocent. There was only shame trial. So we believe that the judiciary system in Iran became like a tool to take revenge of their own people to create we fear within the society. That's why we believe that as soon as we get closer to the election, they might execute more people to show their loyalty to their own supporters.
TAPPER: So the 61 female prisoners taking part in the hunger strike that you're joining are being held in Iran's Evin Prison, which is notorious for human rights abuses. What are you hearing from them, if anything?
ALINEJAD: Sixty-one female protesters, prisoners from Evin Prison, which is one of the notorious prison, they actually started the campaign to go on hunger strike, to show that they are united when it comes to save the lives of innocent protesters. But honestly, they're putting their life in danger. They're risking their life, their family members, join them to send a message to the Democratic countries to be united as well, to ask the Islamic Republic to stop the executions and make them accountable because many of these political prisoners like Narges Mohammadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Gelareh Abbasi (sp?), Sepideh Gholian. They believe that if the West do not take action, they will kill more political prisoners.
And now yes, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, they added her sentence, why? Because she's leading other women and asking other women to be loud because she's making a statement writing a letter to the United Nations to ask, you know, the Democratic countries to recoup -- to classify the Islamic Republic as a gender apartheid regime. So they are fighting within the prison, outside prison, miles away from there. I went on hunger strike to show my solidarity with my real heroes who are in prison right now.
TAPPER: And meanwhile, Iran continues to get bolder and bolder. There was the assassination attempt against you, obviously. They're using their proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria, the Houthis in Yemen. And while this is all going on, CNN is reporting that the U.S. government secretly warned Iran recently that ISIS was planning a potential terrorist attack inside Iran, a notable warning from the U.S. since Iran is hardly a U.S. ally. And obviously Iran is supporting the uptick in attacks by these proxy militias on U.S. personnel and U.S. allies throughout the Middle East. But officials in the U.S. say it's part of the U.S.'s duty to warn policy, which applies even to -- what do you make of that?
ALINEJAD: It is shocking. It is shocking, Jake. If it's true, and the U.S. actually warned the Islamic Republic about the attack by ISIS, then why, why they didn't cancel the anniversary of the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Why? And many other Iranians are asking why the children of Qasem Soleimani were not present in that ceremony. Why the high ranking commanders and members of Revolutionary Guards were not there? So that actually shows you if that's true, they don't care about the lives of ordinary people, they actually using them like human shield to play a victim cards.
So I believe that killing, torturing is like in the DNA of the Islamic Republic. And that's why they're not only the threats to Iranian people. They were behind the coordinate war by Hamas on civilians on like, October 7th, because they knew about the retaliation. They knew what the Israeli government going to do. So they bombed within the Pakistan. So they actually sending drones to Putin to kill innocent Ukrainians. That's why all the political prisoners risking their lives and asking the U.S. government instead of negotiating with this murderous regime to have to replace the leaders, the civil society within the country saying no to Islamic Republic.
TAPPER: Yes. Masih Alinejad, always good to see you thank you so much. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Finally for us today in our out of this World Lead, the little helicopter that could and did, can't anymore. NASA today announced the ingenuity Mars Helicopter has flown its last mission as you can see from the jagged shadow in this photograph, at least one of its rotors is damaged probably from striking the ground when the helicopter landed last week. This means that the helicopter cannot fly anymore. The little helicopter was designed to take five experimental test flights over 30 days after the perseverance rover touchdown on Mars in February 2021. It ended up flying 72 times over the course of nearly three years. NASA says it lasted 33 times longer than originally anticipated. If Martian helicopters can do that, why can't my car.
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I'd like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." I will see you tomorrow.