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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Three Killed, 40+ Injured In Attack On U.S. Forces In Jordan; At Least Half of UNRWA's Top Government Donors Suspend Funding; NRA Head LaPierre Testifies To Luxury Lifestyle At Group's Expense; Smartmatic Accuses OAN Execs Of Potentially Violating Privacy Laws; Judge To Rule Soon On Murdaugh Retrial Request. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired January 29, 2024 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Because she went into the same hospital about 13 days ago, and then she left today, hidden from the cameras.
You just saw a bunch of flowers in the cars she was traveling in. She's now going to Windsor where she will recuperate for months. We don't know how long for. Prince William is off work as well, because he's supporting her, and we don't know when they're going to come back on duty either.
So this was the last time we saw her. We probably won't see her for months longer and there is mystery around what the operation was about. But the palace would argue it's just private information I think.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Well, we hope that she's okay.
Max Foster, thank you so much for that.
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Three U.S. soldiers killed in action. What is President Biden going to do?
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Biden vows the U.S. shall respond after a drone the U.S. says was fired by Iran-backed militias kill three American servicemembers in Jordan. Coming up, new details on how that drone ended up over U.S. forces in the first place, and the efforts to shoot it down -- how they were delayed.
Plus, behind the charge, Israel spells out the actions of 13 United Nations aid workers accused of participating in the October 7th Hamas terrorist attacks, including infiltrating Israel and kidnapping Israelis. What the allegations now mean for this major relief groups still operating in Gaza. And the push for a new trial for Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina attorney in prison for killing his wife and son. Why a juror who helped convict Murdaugh, now says his verdict was inappropriately influenced.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we start today with big news in our world lead. Top White House officials say they do not want to go to war with Iran, but they are promising a serious response after a weekend drone attack killed three U.S. Army soldiers and wounded more than 40 others. The attack happened at a small U.S. outpost known as Tower 22 in Jordan. This is near the border with Syria and Iraq. This happened early yesterday morning.
This afternoon, the Pentagon identified the fallen soldiers as 46 year-old Sergeant William Rivers, 24 year-old specialist Kennedy Sanders, and 23-year-old specialist Breonna Moffett. This is the first time U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire since the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
Some of the most gravely wounded have been evacuated to a medical center in Germany, and the number of injured is expected to keep rising because it can take time for symptoms of traumatic brain injuries to appear.
Moments ago, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called this the most dangerous time in the Middle East in more than 50 years. U.S. official say they're still trying to figure out exactly who was behind the attack.
But this afternoon, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said the Pentagon is confident that the militia is a group supported by Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SABRINA SINGH, DEPUTY PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I don't have more to share on in terms of an intelligence assessment on -- if leaders in Iran were directing this attack. But what I can tell you is that we know these groups are supported by Iran and therefore, they do have there fingerprints on this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's MJ Lee at the White House for us, CNN's Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon, and CNN chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, who is in Tel Aviv, Israel.
MJ, President Biden met with his national security team earlier today, as he considers his options for response to the attack. Do we have any idea what the options might be?
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake, we know that the president and his national security team are currently actively discussing the possible acts of retaliation. The two things though, that are heavily weighing on those deliberations is, one, the desire to keep the conflict in the Middle East contain. The White House has said from day one that they do not want to see any scenario where the Israel-Hamas war broadens out into a wider regional conflict. And second, of course, is the desire by the president to respond to these attacks from Sunday with real force.
Officials here at the White House say that the situation is now fundamentally altered, now the three American families have received the worst possible news imaginable. And if you listen to my exchange with John Kirby, the White House spokesman, a few minutes ago in the White House briefing room, you can tell that there is a real tension in trying to balance these two considerations.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARD: Can you confirm, is the president currently actively considering potential attack inside Iran?
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We are not looking for a war with Iran. We are not seeking a conflict with the regime in a military way. And as I said, in the opening, we're not -- we're not looking to escalate here.
This attack over the weekend was escalatory. Make no mistake about it, and it requires a response. Make no mistake about that.
I will not get ahead of the president's decision making.
LEE: We're not seeing either way whether striking inside Iran is or isn't --
KIRBY: We are not taking for a war with the Iran, MJ. I am not going to speak to the president's decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: And part of the intelligence gathering that is ongoing right now is whether the attack over the weekend was directed specifically by Iran or was the doing of a proxy group largely on their own.
But for now, the White House is saying that it is no secret that Iran supports these groups, provides resources to these groups and certainly doesn't discourage these groups from taking these kinds of actions. They're also just making very clear, Jake, at this point that any kind of retaliation by the U.S., that is going to be a very complicated and very delicate decision -- Jake.
TAPPER: And, Natasha, you have some reporting about how this drone got over the U.S. base and how it led to confusion and a delayed response. Tell us about that. NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Jake. So what
appears to have happened here is there were two drones that were kind of approaching the U.S. military outposts called Tower 22 in northeast Jordan, roughly at the same time, there was an American drone that was returning to base. And then shortly thereafter, there was that enemy drone, that kind of managed to sneak in and it was flying low according to U.S. officials, which also may have contributed to air defenses being -- it being able to evade the base's air defenses.
So there was confusion about just who this drone belonged to. And that may have contributed to a delay in the U.S.'s ability to respond here.
But one other question that we had in which I asked the deputy Pentagon press secretary today is just how one drone could cause so much damage. Because in previous strikes that these Iran-backed groups have carried out on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. There have been small number of casualties, very light injuries, usually a couple injured here and there, but never before have we seen one of these attacks injure upwards of 40 service members and kill, of course, three U.S. service members.
And the answer I got is that essentially this drone hit a living facility where the service members were sleeping. They were in their beds. It was early in the morning on Sunday, and essentially there was just not time to evacuate the area. And so now the question that central command is going to be trying to figure out, among many other questions, among them, who was responsible for this is what needs to be done to bolster security at this base because there are 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel currently stationed there.
TAPPER: And, Clarissa, today, one Iranian-backed militia came out and said the attacks against U.S. soldiers will continue until the U.S. leaves the region.
How --we heard Admiral Kirby talk about this being escalatory, how big of an escalation was this drone attack do you think?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a major escalation, Jake, there can be no question about that. Since October, there have been more than 170 attacks from these Iran-backed militias on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, and now Jordan. But this is the first time we've actually see them kill U.S. serviceman.
The question is, was the intention to escalate or was this somehow happenstance? You heard Natasha talking about the various issues with air defenses there. Was this a deliberate attempt to escalate? We've seen Iran come out already and say, we did not have any part in this, that may be an attempt to try to avert a direct escalation with the U.S.
But ultimately, I think at this stage, Jake, for President Biden, it doesn't really matter what the intention was. He has to respond to the reality. This is a moment where the U.S. has been leading a military campaign against the Houthi militia in Yemen. And so far, it has done very little to avert those attacks on the shipping channels in the Red Sea. And so, this really is a crucial instance where the White House needs
to show a forceful and compelling response. But as we've seen so often, with the Biden administration, they tend to prefer a very sort of carefully calibrated goldilocks response. And in this instance, with all the various proxies at play, whether they go for an attack on one of these Iran-backed militias are on Iran itself, it is a very delicate moment and it is a very difficult needle to thread, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward, Natasha Bertrand, MJ Lee, thanks to all three of you.
Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
So based on what you have seen and heard, does the U.S. know who exactly was behind this attack?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): We will soon, Jake. As you sense from the Pentagon briefing, its attribution is not 100 percent done yet, but we know who's operating in the area. We've got -- we've got the capability ultimately to figure out exactly who.
You know, at the end of the day and it's a somber day around here because you look at the pictures of those young people who are just serving their country, you know, attribution is important, but whoever it was, it was somebody who is operating with the permission of Iran. Iran knowing that every time they attacked a U.S. base, there was some chance you're going to get fatalities. A lot of us have spent time thinking what happens when there are U.S. fatalities, and now we are in that world.
So the response is going to be important and hopefully calibrated in such a way is to send a very strong signal without increasing dramatically the odds that we get into a shooting war with -- with Iran.
TAPPER: But how much do you blame Iran? And do you see this as a direct escalation between Iran and the United States, given that American soldiers have now been killed?
HIMES: Well, remember Iranian proxies have been shooting at U.S. military bases for a very long time, and it's sort of been the grace of God and good luck that we have not seen fatalities until now. So we, you know, Iran cross that Rubicon long ago and they're not dumb. They know that when they're shooting ordnance at U.S. bases, that there is some probability that they kill Americans.
Well, they did that. And so now they are going to see hey, response that really is going to have two objectives. Number one, to send a deterrent effect and that's why that response needs to be very, very strong. If it were me, it would be about taking out an awful lot of the infrastructure of these proxy groups in places like Syria, maybe hitting the Houthis harder, but also without escalating.
You know, I have colleagues that are calling for attacks inside Iran, you know -- you know, what would also be escalatory if we killed a whole bunch of Iranian civilians as tragic as the death of American servicemen are -- was in Jordan, we need to be careful that we send a very strong signal that this will not be tolerated without putting the Iranians in a position where now they're going to start shooting in our ships and we find ourselves in a war in the Persian Gulf.
TAPPER: I want to go here, reaction to comments from former United Nations ambassador and presidential candidate Nikki Haley today. She called for President Biden to take out the leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard who obviously are in Iran. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to figure out which Iranian leaders are making the decisions. And you take them out. This isn't about hitting Iran. This is about being strategic and smart about what you do take out, find one or two of them that are making the decisions. It will chill all of them when you do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your take on that?
HIMES: Well, my take and, of course, I've seen very, very hawkish things. I saw a couple of United States senator saying target Tehran.
You know, in national security, you can almost always see the inverse correlation between the aggressive suggestions of somebody and the actual responsibility that they bear for the decision that will be made. So, Nikki Haley is a long way from occupying the Oval Office.
Now, look, they killed U.S. service people, right? So the right response here would be painful, not just to militias, but to the IRGC, right? So again, I hope that the White House comes up with a response that, that brings a lot of pain to the IRGC.
But again, taking shots inside Iran with the risk, the attendant risks that we kill a lot of innocent Iranians, civilians, that would be a pretty good way to escalate this even further into a -- you know, into a spiral that might not, that we might not be able to control.
TAPPER: When the U.S. and its allies first carried out strikes against Iranian-backed Houthi targets in Yemen, President Biden said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything.
REPORTER: Will you continue with the strikes, sir?
BIDEN: We will make sure that we respond to the Houthis if they continue this outrageous behavior, along with our allies. REPORTER: Are we in a de facto proxy war with Iran?
BIDEN: No. Iran does not want a war with us.
REPORTER: Are you willing to call the Houthis a terrorist group, sir?
BIDEN: I think they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So at the very top of that, the president said, I've already delivered the message to Iran. They know not to do anything.
Do you think that around notice not to do anything? I mean, their proxies are killing American soldiers.
HIMES: Yep. And we need to remember that in the case of the Houthis, there is no respect for life. They're their own or anybody else's. The best thing that have happened to the Houthis, which probably, you know, until three weeks ago, nobody had ever heard of and at least in, you know, around dinner -- American dinner tables. The best thing that ever happened to these guys was to find themselves in a war with the United States.
So what that says to me, Jake, is that the response needs to go beyond just sending a message. The response needs to also be about taking away capability that is finding the missile launching sites, finding the drone launching sites, finding the logistical supply lines, and taking those out because deterrence alone won't work.
Now again, I still think its a very dangerous thing to call for strikes inside of Iran because of the risk of civilian Iranian deaths in that instance but, you know, the Houthis are not going to be deterred. So we need to take away their weaponry.
TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, he is also the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence -- thank you, sir. I appreciate it.
Staying in the region now, financial support dwindling fast for the main United Nations relief group operating in Gaza. This after some damning claims and evidence about 13 staffers accused of participating in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.
And now, Israeli intelligence is laying out the allegations and evidence including one worker accused of kidnapping an Israeli woman.
What else is detailed in the report? That's next.
TAPPER: Back with our world lead, new intelligence from Israeli officials today details the extent to which the biggest aid organization in Gaza is in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quote, perforated with Hamas.
As of this hour, ten of the top 20 government donors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA, have suspended funding. Those ten countries donated more than $700 million in 2022, according to UNRWA.
CNN's Nic Robertson is in Israel as we learn more about the dozen UNRWA employees fired for allegedly participating in the horrific October 7th terrorist attack on Israel.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): More than 110 days into the ugly war Hamas' brutal attacks triggered, Israeli allegations that 13 U.N. staff took part are themselves threatening to bring more suffering.
According to a document shared with CNN, six UNRWA employees infiltrated Israel as part of the attack. Four were involved in kidnapping Israelis and three additional UNRWA employees were, quote, invited via an SMS text message to arrive at an assembly area in the night before the attack and were directed to equip with weapons -- although it's not known if they showed up.
Israeli officials brief U.S. counterparts Friday, who quickly paused UNRWA's funding. A dozen other countries have followed, raising concerns the agency's absence could escalate suffering in Gaza.
JAN EGELAND, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: The impact will be devastating of cutting aid to the organization that is the backbone of services to Palestinian civilians. There was no other organization including my own, we're all there in Gaza that could take over what UNRWA is doing.
ROBERTSON: UNRWA is the only organization bringing aid into Gaza. Most of Gaza's 2 million residents depend on them.
They provide food, water and shelter, desperation already so bad, aid trucks often looted before they reach warehouses. A cut in funding here is feared on a par with Israel's bombs.
This will mean more starvation, poverty and deprivation, this university professor tells us, which ultimately means more deaths.
This decision means killing us, killing the human being, she says. This is a death sentence. This is the only thing we live on and you want to cut it?
UNRWA has fired nine staff over the allegations and is investigating two others. One person is dead.
The U.N. promising a comprehensive and transparent investigation.
Israel's foreign minister is calling for UNRWA's director, Philippe Lazzarini, to step down and canceled a meeting with him Monday. As other government lawmakers press for scrapping UNRWA altogether, a
long-held aim for some.
DANNY DANON, LIKUD KNESSET MEMBER: For many years, we have said that UNRWA is involved with terrorism. They collaborated with Hamas for generations. The U.N. is in charge of the UNHCR, which take care of order refugees worldwide. Why do you need a special agency for the Palestinian refugees?
ROBERTSON: Egeland points to the ICJ ruling, Israel must enable humanitarian aid for Gaza.
EGELAND: There would be epidemic disease because of this, unless it is reverse. The stakes are enormous here, and I'm very disappointed with these donors who spent zero time in suspending aid to an entire organization for the sins of a few staff.
ROBERTSON (on camera): And I think its very interesting that this has reached such a level over the space of the weekend since the allegations became clear on Friday. It is only now today Monday that the U.N. spokesman said that internal investigation body has actually started the investigation, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, CNN's Nic Robertson is in Tel Aviv, Israel, for us. Thank you so much.
Now, UNRWA says a majority of its budget goes towards education and at the beginning of 2023, UNRWA operated nearly 300 schools in Gaza, taught almost 300,000 Gaza children and employed more than 9,000 teachers and staff. UNRWA says it follows the host authorities curriculum and, quote, supplements these with its own materials on human rights, according to the aid group's website.
But an organization that analyzes textbooks worldwide, the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education or IMPACT-SE finds, quote, UNRWA's educational materials incite violence, glorify martyrs, and suicide attacks, demonize Israel and promote antisemitism.
With us in studio is CEO of IMPACT-SE, Marcus Sheff.
Thank you so much for being with us.
So I want to read an example that your organization translated from textbooks used in these UNRWA schools in Gaza. In a grade seven science lesson, Newton's second law is demonstrated through an image that you can see there on the right of use, right side of your screen of a mass Palestinian boy aiming a slingshot at approaching soldiers. If they're not identified specifically as Israeli soldiers, but there's only one kind of soldiers that would be in Gaza or the West Bank.
Students are asked, what are the forces that influence the object after it's released from the branch, the slingshot, and the coil? So they're trying to teach Newton's second law. You're testifying before Congress tomorrow. You're using examples such as this.
Are you going to recommend that the U.S. stops funding UNWRA entirely?
MARCUS SHEFF, CEO, IMPACT-SE: Well, we are going to recommend that UNRWA is simply not capable of educating children. It is failed in its duty of care to children. It teaches a curriculum. We've been warning about this for years, a curriculum which every single day incites young people to violence.
A curriculum tells him that jihad and martyrdom are the most important meanings of life. A curriculum which tells them that they must sacrifice themselves, that an attack on a bus of civilians using firebombs is above two parts in should be celebrated. They are thought in math to add up by using martyrs of the first intifada and the second intifada. And that example you point to there is the recent example.
You know, I think what this points to is that this curriculum uses every single possibility across all grades and across all subjects to radicalize young people, and that is appalling. You know, what we saw on October the 7th is directly connected to the school curriculum. As you say, they run the majority of schools in Gaza. And so imagine 3,000 terrorists who came over that international border on October 7th, raping, murdering, and beheading, they -- the majority of them, more than likely statistically -- went to these UNRWA schools.
So it is just not possible that UNRWA can continue to educate children. They have failed entirely in their duty of care.
TAPPER: So, nobody's in school right now in Gaza, right? I mean, people are running for their lives and she was a horrible humanitarian crisis. We just heard in Nic's peace a displaced Palestinian saying that the suspension of UNRWA aid means a, quote, death sentence for Gazans.
Do you think that that aid in general should be suspended at this time? That so many Gazans are literally starving to death?
SHEFF: No, no, of course not. We are an institute that focuses on sands of peace and tolerance in education. And we will look across the whole Middle East where we see remarkable improvements by the way. But, but no, You know, we are not experts on aid.
One thing I can tell you, by the way, is nor UNRWA. UNRWA actually asked that aid that was going through, one of the crossings on Saturday was stopped because they could not cope with it. I think this is part of the problem and I think there are solutions. There are an enormous amount of agencies and organizations who are capable of doing this job much better within the United Nations, outside of the United Nations, aid, of course, should not be stopped.
But to be focusing on education for a moment, you know, that cannot continue one day longer. It is just not conceivable --
SHEFF: -- that children can be incited to hatred, to violence, to the kind of actions that we saw on October 7, one single more day. And there are really good solutions to that. The curriculum can be changed quickly. PDFs within the textbooks can be swapped. A brand new curriculum can be taught which meets UNESCO standards for peace and tolerance.
So, it does not have to be this way. UNRWA was warned year on year that they have to stop teaching hate. They refused.
TAPPER: So, devil's advocate here.
TAPPER: Hamas is a brutal terrorist group.
TAPPER: Nobody knows them more than the Palestinians whom they've been oppressing in Gaza.
TAPPER: Is it possible with Hamas in charge for any educational organization, any charitable or aid organization to function without that kind of hateful propaganda becoming part of the curriculum?
SHEFF: Yes. Listen, I think it is absolutely be possible. And I think textbooks are the key. Education is uniquely authoritative. Textbooks stand at the center of that. They can act as a wonderful barrier to radicalization.
And so, change the textbooks and we've seen this happen all over the Middle East. Change the textbooks, teach peace, teach tolerance, and you can change societies.
It's a matter of will. And I think the international community is aware of this. They have known for years about this UNRWA hate teaching. I think the reaction that we saw over this weekend was not just a one-off. It was the international community saying, you know what, this is enough. We've heard this for months. We've heard this for years. That can no longer be this kind of indoctrination and we can no longer support it.
TAPPER: All right. Marcus Sheff, we'll be following your testimony tomorrow on Capitol Hill on the hearing on UNRWA. Thank you so much thanks for coming in.
SHEFF: Thank you, sir.
TAPPER: Appreciate it.
One of the most powerful non-profits in the United States now faces a major corruption case today. The outgoing CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, took the witness stand. What did he say about years of billing his lavish lifestyle to the
charity group? We'll tell you next.
And this just into the money lead, another record close for the S&P 500 and the Dow seen here up more than 200 points. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: In our law and justice lead what was intentionally kept in the shadows for decades now clearly laid out in court. The head of the National Rifle Association admitting under oath to lavish spending from private jets to luxury yachts, all paid for by member dues and vendors. Wayne LaPierre leaving the top job after driving the nations most powerful lobbying group into filing for bankruptcy in the face of this civil corruption trial.
Guns are now of course, the leading cause of death for Americans age 1 to 19 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But we would not know that if the NRA had continued to get its way because the NRA helped block any government funded research on gun deaths for decades, along with many other efforts to ensure there are more guns than people in the United States.
Mike Spies over the reporting group The Trace and writer for "The New Yorker" has long reported on the NRA and it was in court today.
Mike, what stood out from LaPierre's testimony today?
MIKE SPIES, SENIOR STAFF WRITER, THE TRACE: Well, one thing that really stood out is that he's in some respects falling on the sword now. I mean, there's no question anymore about whether or not he had done the wrong thing. He's basically openly saying that the arrangements that he entered into prior to 2018 specifically hiding payments through the NRA's long time PR firm or going on these fancy vacations to his vendors, yacht or the Taj Mahal and those kinds of places that that was clearly the wrong thing to do.
And that he should have been disclosing it to the board all along, but also at the same time, it wasn't done in bad faith. He just -- he just sort of made a mistake and didn't know better and then embarked on a course correction as they kept referring to it in 2018.
And now, according to him, the slate has more or less been wiped clean and they're on solid footing.
TAPPER: Remind us what's at stake in this case and in this larger corruption case for the NRA.
SPIES: Well, in some ways really the major thing that was at stake was whether or not Wayne was going to stay in power, but he voluntarily stepped down before the proceedings began. So now it's really a matter of whether or not he and several other defendants who were also, or the other individual offenders are going to have to really like pay up at the end of the proceedings and how much money in fact, they owe to the organization.
TAPPER: With LaPierre stepping down, regardless of the verdict, do you think that the American people are going to see a different landscape going forward in terms of lobbying efforts around guns as violence prevention groups like Everytown, Sandy Hook Promise and Moms Demand Action play a larger role because Wayne LaPierre, as you know, but maybe our viewers don't, he really change the NRA from what it was, which was a hunters organization and sportsmen's organization to a major maybe the most successful lobbying organization in American politics.
SPIES: Right, I think his legacy is that he made the issue extraordinarily binary and even tribal.
And having been so successful that, the way it is now is, you know, I would say the Republican Party is just effectively absorbed the entire NRA platform and it just, its sort of became an extension of the organization and now just acts the way that preview -- it acts in a way that lobbying wants was necessary for it to act. And now, maybe it's not so necessary anymore based on the way it's socialized its constituents and, you know, its like in some ways its more similar to abortion. You know, it's sort of like you have the Democratic Party that is in some ways uniformly in favor of regulation.
And you have the Republican Party that's uniformly in favor, or opposed to it. And that's -- that's sort of the landscape. And I think until people start understanding that pointing to an outside group as opposed to lawmakers who are the ones who are now truly an officially accountable, it will be tough to make real headway.
TAPPER: Yeah, Max Spies of Trace and "The New Yorker", thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up next, the far right network One America News or OAN, responding to explosive claims, that OAN may have engaged in criminal activities with an email sent to a former Trump campaign attorney.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our law and justice lead today, the voting technology company Smartmatic, which is suing Fox and other right-wing outlets for defamation over their 2020 election lies, Smartmatic, is now making a new end truly shocking allegations this time against perhaps the Trumpiest of the pro-Trump networks, One America News or OAN.
Let's bring in CNN's Marshall Cohen. And Marshall, you've been looking through court documents where
Smartmatic says OAN's executives may have engaged in criminal activities while promoting 2020 election lies.
But what specifically are they alleging?
MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, this is a pretty wild story. Jake, according to court filings, after the 2020 election, OAN president Charles Herring sent an email to former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, of all people. And in that email was a spreadsheet that claimed to contain the passwords of Smartmatic employees.
This has not been previously reported and we put this story together by examining court filings in three separate defamation cases. It's not clear how Herring and OAN obtain that spreadsheet and it's not clear if the passwords were real. But Smartmatic is arguing that this is a real problem for OAN.
Let me read for you something that they told a federal judge last month in a court filing, they said that Smartmatic believes that OAN executives, quote, may have engaged in criminal activities because they appear to have violated state and federal laws regarding data privacy.
Remember, this was back when both OAN and Sidney Powell and a bunch of other pro-Trump figures were brazenly peddling the lie that the election was rigged and Smartmatic was to blame.
TAPPER: And how is OAN responded?
COHEN: Well, they deny wrongdoing. First of all, they deny defaming anybody and they're also refuting the allegation of any criminality. I'll read for you a statement from their lead attorney, Charles Babcock. He said that this, quote, vague accusation is a clumsy attempt to smear OAN, and to divert attention from Smartmatic's own misconduct. He went on to point out that the DOJ has actually implicated some Smartmatic employees in a bribery scandal in the Philippines.
But, Jake, go back to 2020 remember what was happening back then, this email from Herring to Powell, it was remarkably just one day after that breach of the election systems in Coffee County, Georgia. Powell's associates down there were looking for evidence to backup those crazy voter fraud claims that was getting so much airtime on OAN. And she actually has pleaded guilty in Georgia to state crimes related to that breach.
TAPPER: Oh, wow, crazy stuff. And, of course, Smartmatic's suit against Fox Corps, it's been expanded to Fox Corps, not just Fox News, continues, more than $2 billion in that suit for those lies.
COHEN: That's right.
TAPPER: Oh, what a tangled web we weave. Marshall Cohen, thank you so much for joining us.
A juror who helped send Alex Murdaugh to prison now says someone influenced his vote in the verdict. Might that testimony today lead to a new trial for the South Carolina attorney, who is in prison for killing his wife and son? We're now expecting the judge to weigh in at any moment.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Also in our law and justice lead today, any moment, we expect a judge to decide whether Alex Murdaugh will get a new trial. As you may recall, the disgraced former attorney from South Carolina is serving two life sentences for the murders of his wife and his youngest son. One of the jurors who voted to find Murdaugh guilty last year testified today that the court clerk influenced her decision to convict.
Let's get straight to CNN's Dianne Gallagher, who is outside the courthouse in Columbia, South Carolina.
Dianne, how did we get to this point?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It will, Jake. The question is whether or not that one juror is testimony which has some caveats that we learned today is going to be enough for this, judge. She is the retired chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, known for her very intense and decisive rulings. We expect in a matter of minutes to learn if Alex Murdaugh will get a new trial in the murders of his wife and son. They argue that the clerk of court was tampering with this jury. At least one juror says she was influenced.
REBECCA HILL, COLLETON CLERK OF COURT: I did not pressure the jury.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): But that's exactly what Alex Murdaugh is trying to prove happened in his quest for a new murder trial. Back in court again today, nearly one year after a jury found him guilty of shooting and killing his wife and son at their family hunting estate in June 2021.
HILL: Guilty verdict.
GALLAGHER: At the center of today's hearing, Colleton County clerk of court, Rebecca "Becky" Hill, a fixture of this six-week murder trial, and the allegations for Murdaugh's defense team that she tampered with that jury to secure a book deal and media appearances that they say she wouldn't get if there had been a mistrial.
HILL: It didn't matter to me if it was guilty, not guilty, or a mistrial. JUDGE: Well, in your book, you suggest that the guilty verdict was
what she wanted.
GALLAGHER: Hill repeatedly denying this on the stand Monday.
CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR, ALEX MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL: Did you interact with any juror in an attempt to influence their view of the facts in the state of the Murdaugh case?
GALLAGHER: The judge set a high bar for the defense. They must prove not just the Hill tampered with the jury, but that it had an impact on the jury's verdict, disguising their identities as she questioned juror after juror.
JUDGE: Did you hear Ms. Becky Hill make any comment about this case before your verdict?
GALLAGHER: Nine out of 12 saying they did not.
JUROR: No, ma'am.
JUROR: No, ma'am. I did not, no.
GALLAGHER: But others saying they did.
JUROR: It was the day that Mr. Murdaugh was taken the stand?
JUDGE: Yes, sir.
JUROR: And she made a comment about watch his body language.
JUDGE: What did Ms. Hill say?
JUROR: To watch his actions.
JUDGE: To watch his actions, what else?
JUROR: To watch him closely.
GALLAGHER: That's juror Z who shocked the courtroom with her answer to the judge's next question.
JUDGE: Was your verdict influenced in any way by the communications of the Clark report in this case?
JUROR Z, MURDAUGH MURDER TRIAL JUROR: Yes, ma'am.
JUDGE: And how was it influenced?
JUROR Z: It felt like she made it seem like he was already guilty.
JUDGE: Did that affect your finding of guilty in this case?
JUROR Z: Yes, ma'am. GALLAGHER: The only juror out of the 12 to say that her decision was
influenced by Hill, but attorneys quickly pointing out that her testimony differed from her signed affidavit, which the judge then read back to her.
JUDGE: I had questions about Mr. Murdaugh's guilt but voted guilty because I felt pressured by the other jurors. Is that an accurate statement about your verdict?
JUROR Z: Yes, ma'am.
GALLAGHER: Despite objection's from Murdaugh's attorney.
RICHARD "DICK" HARPOOTLIAN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Ms. Juror gave two statements under oath. One, an affidavit, and one here to you today. It could be both.
GALLAGHER: The judge would not allow further clarification, but the decision on whether Murdaugh will get a new trial could hinge on that one response.
GALLAGHER (on camera): And we will find out what that decision is in a matter of minutes. Jake, the judge said to be coming back from her chambers where she was reviewing today's testimony, any minute now.
This is again, her decision and if she decides that Alex Murdaugh should get a new trial, his convictions for the murders of his wife and son will be thrown out. And well start this all over again. Of course, just about a year ago, we were in Colleton County beginning that six-week trial and it is quite possible, although his attorneys have said they think that the burden of proof maybe too high, but it this is quite possible we could be doing the same thing all over again.
TAPPER: Potentially devastating testimony.
Dianne Gallagher in Columbia, South Carolina, thanks so much.
We're going to bring you that decision the moment it comes down, but until then, in Oklahoma, the Republican Party just censured their own U.S. Senator James Lankford, condemning him for leading negotiations on a border deal.
All right. Why is that a bad thing? Well, we'll tell you, next.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.