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The Lead with Jake Tapper

DOJ Investigating Dem Rep. Cori Bush's Use Of Campaign Funds; Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman Says He Regrets Years-Old Posts Embracing 9/11 Conspiracy Theories; Former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi Running For George Santos' Seat; Special Election For George Santos' House Seat May Reveal Which Party Has The Upper Hand In Presidential Race; Far-Right Conspiracies: Taylor Swift, NFL, Democrats Working Together To Rig The Super Bowl, Help Biden; U.S. Withdrawal From Kabul Left Thousands Of Afghan Allies Behind; U.N. Watchdog Calls On U.S. To Permanently Stop Funding UNRWA; Current & Former NHL Players Face Sexual Assault Charges. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 30, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Justice Department investigation into Congresswoman Bush.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're told by multiple sources that she's actually the target of a corruption investigation. We also know that there's a federal grand jury, a subpoena was issued. The House actually greenlit the subpoena to go forward. That's how this first came to light.

Now, she denied in a statement today that she has made any misused taxpayer dollars. But she did acknowledge there's an investigation into her campaign fund, how she has used some of those campaign funds, and as you mentioned, the questions about her security services and retaining her husband, who she says has security expertise to deal with security that she needed to be dealt with. She said she had done nothing wrong. The Ethics Committee in the House has already investigated this, but still clearly facing this federal probe. The question is, where does it go next?

She spoke to reporters after she put out a statement, reading for it word for word and saying she did nothing wrong.


REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): As a rank and file member of Congress, I am not entitled to personal protection by the House and instead have used campaign funds as permissible to retain security services. I have not used any federal tax dollars for personal security services.

In accordance with all applicable rules, I retained my husband as part of my security team to provide security services because he has had extensive experience in this area.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, Jake, she said that she was acknowledging this investigation in the interest of transparency, though she did not answer questions from me and other reporters about exactly what is happening in this investigation, the scope of it, whether she's actually spoken to federal prosecutors, whether she is actually being interviewed by the grand jury in any way. She did say she would cooperate fully with this investigation, and she claimed that she would be exonerated, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Manu, like every member of the House and a third of the Senate, Congresswoman Bush is up for re-election this year. How might this investigation impact her campaign?

RAJU: Well, it's really unclear because, of course, this is a very Democratic district in the St. Louis area. In fact, Joe Biden carried that district by some 58 points in 2020. So Democrats will hold this no matter what. The question, of course, is about her primary and whether this will have any impact whatsoever on that.

Her last quarterly reports, which is the third quarter of last year, she didn't have much campaign money. In fact, she had less than $20,000 in cash on hand, which would make her vulnerable to any serious challenger. We have not seen her end of the year, the last quarter of last year. Those numbers are expected to come out later this week. So, at that point, we could get a sense about whether she is truly vulnerable and whether her primary opponents will try to use this to their advantage.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with our panel. Doug, so now we have a DOJ investigation into Democratic Congresswoman Cori Bush, a DOJ investigation into Hunter Biden, the president's son. Republicans, however, continue to say that the Justice Department has been weaponized against Republicans.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They found a message that they really like and they want to stick to it. The problem is these things become problematic for that messaging. It suggests that maybe it's not true, maybe it's not all on the up and up. It may work to your base, but what works for your base is not always great politics outside of your base. Great example.

This week, we've seen a lot of conservatives say that the tight end for the Kansas City chiefs, Travis Kelsey, is somehow the Manchurian tight end, not smart messaging coming from Scott Walker and other conservatives. But we get defined by this, and that's the problem.

TAPPER: But let's talk about this issue with Congresswoman Bush, because back in 2021, she was asked to respond to critics who said it was hypocritical that she spent thousands in campaign funds on private security while she continued to push for, quote, unquote, "defunding the police." She said the alternative to her paying for personal security could be that she gets killed. Take a listen to how she defended it.


BUSH: And so, I end up spending $200,000. If I spend 10 more dollars on it, you know what, I get to be here to do the work. So suck it up. And defunding the police has to happen.


TAPPER: What do you make of today's news in light of her activism in favor of defunding the police?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's beyond irony and all the way to hypocrisy. Congresswoman Bush was one of the few Democrats who pushed this defund the police slogan. By the way, the vast majority of Democrats opposed it. They opposed it in referendum in Minneapolis, even where George Floyd was murdered by a cop. But still, it's terribly problematic. And I don't even understand that answer.

I want security for my members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats. I think we should have more taxpayer money. I want my taxpayer money to protect Congresswoman Bush and every other member of the House and Senate because there are threats. But my goodness, the hypocrisy of that is really pretty outrageous. Now, she has a right to defend herself.

But -- by the way, this long list of Democrats being investigated by the Democratic Justice Department includes Bob Menendez, the senior most Democratic senator from New Jersey, senior most Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's been indicted, I think, twice --


BEGALA: -- by the Biden Justice Department. So it is nonsense and claptrap to say that they've weaponized the Justice Department against their political foes. By the way, Congresswoman Bush votes with the President over 90 percent of the time. They disagree on defund the police, but on everything else, she's been voting with Biden down the line. Not someone you would indict if you were having a politicized Justice Department.


She -- they should not been indicted. I don't want to be unfair.

TAPPER: Right.

BEGALA: She's simply being --

TAPPER: She's being investigated.

BEGALA: Right.

TAPPER: Investigations are not indictments. Indictments are not convictions.

BEGALA: Right. TAPPER: We should always keep that in mind. Meanwhile, awkward day for House Democrats because another progressive U.S. House members under fire, Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York. Web archives from 2014 reveal that he wrote blog posts including original poetry that seemed to embrace some 9/11 conspiracy theories. One stanza reading, "Later in the day Building 7 also collapsed. Hmm. Multiple explosions heard before and during the collapse. Hmm."

Do you like that? It's like by poetic reading?

BEGALA: I like it.

TAPPER: The Robert Frost of our time. Now that's lunacy, the conspiracy theories about 9/11. He's apologizing, saying he doesn't believe this anymore, slamming MAGA extremists for continuing to embrace conspiracy theories. But I mean, what do you think?

HEYE: Two roads diverge in a wood and he took the crazy one. And this is what we see consistently with Bowman. And you know, we saw this obviously most close up when he pulled the fire alarm, but said, I didn't pull the fire alarm. And then we all saw the video of it. He has a very real credibility problem. And it's why, similar to Cori Bush, these are problems not in general elections, but they sure are in their primary elections.

TAPPER: And what do you think?

BEGALA: It's especially problematic in New York. Now, I will say in his defense, it was a very long time, a decade ago, he was not a congressman.

TAPPER: He was an adult.

HEYE: He was a principal. He was educating children.

BEGALA: He was 35-year-old adult. I know. I'm not -- I don't -- look, I'm not trying to defend that, we -- I lost friends on 9/11. I think you guys did, too. But I think maybe here's a hopeful. Maybe it's a glide path out of crazy toward normal, right? 9/11 conspiracies 10 years ago, fire alarm a couple of months ago, maybe next is just like bunny years behind Speaker Johnson.

HEYE: I've been hoping that for my party for about six years now.

TAPPER: You know, but --

BEGALA: It is pretty outrageous.

TAPPER: Marjorie Taylor Green a few years ago was talking about how the plane didn't hit the Pentagon. I mean, it just -- I don't even understand what's going on.

HEYE: We talk about the horseshoe effect in politics.

TAPPER: The horseshoe theory, yes. HEYE: Sometimes people who are on the far right and the far left meet up on policy. They also meet up on crazy, conspiratorial theories quite often.

TAPPER: Does it feel like we have more of --


TAPPER: -- these folks in Congress today? And is that a result of gerrymandering, making Democratic seats more Democratic, Republican seats more Republican? And --

BEGALA: I think, yes. But even more than that, it's social media. Social media puts us in silos. It weaponizes our amygdala against us so that all we see is what confirms our bias and our hate, frankly. So I think social media is a big cause of this.

TAPPER: Paul Begala, Doug Heye, thanks so much.

Also in our politics lead on February 13, the people of New York's third congressional district will get a chance to decide who fills the vacant seat of disgraced former Congressman George Santos, a Republican. Of course, no one can quite fill that seat like Santos. At least we hope. Last week, by the way, he said he misses Congress as he showed up in federal court to face the music for lies he made that are related to alleged fraud.

Santos's vacant seat is not only important for the balance of power in the House, where Republicans are hanging on to a razor thin majority. It's bigger than that. The outcome of this race will offer some important clues about how suburban area voters could opt could go in the 2024 presidential race.

Former Congressman Tom Suozzi joins us now. He's a Democrat running for Santos's vacant seat. He represented a previous version of New York's third congressional district for three terms and vacated the seat to launch an unsuccessful primary challenge against New York Governor Kathy Hochul for governor in 2022.

Thanks so much for being here. Good to have you. Let's start with immigration. It's a huge issue on Capitol Hill right now. There is a bipartisan compromise of some sort coming together in the Senate, but House Republicans say that it is dead on arrival. How do you solve this problem?

TOM SUOZZI, (D) NEW YORK CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It's got to be a bipartisan deal. For the first time in 35 years, we've got a chance to make a deal because the president wants to make a deal, not only because he wants to solve this problem, but he also wants to do Ukraine and Israel. So he's willing to make concessions, and the Democrats are willing to make concessions that they wouldn't normally make. And it's outrageous that the Republicans are saying it's dead on arrival or that President Trump is saying don't make a deal because you'll give Biden a win. As Mitt Romney said the other day, it's appalling that they would try and play politics with such a serious issue. TAPPER: I see you have a twin tower lapel pin on your collar there. If you do win Santos' seat, you will serve alongside your fellow New York Democrat Jamaal Bowman, who today is trying to distance himself from blog posts he wrote about 10 years ago in which he seems to embrace false 9/11 conspiracy theories, talking about the 7th tower coming down and things along those lines. This terrorist attack obviously means so much to you and is so upsetting to you. You have a lapel pen. Does it bother you what Congressman Bowman wrote?


SUOZZI: There's a lot of things that bother me about Jamaal Bowman. He voted against the infrastructure bill, which to me is shocking. He said some things that are just so unsupportive, so negative towards Israel, and the fact that he's trooped in these conspiracy theories of the past is just outrageous. So I'm unhappy with Jamaal Bowman on a lot of fronts

TAPPER: Last June, you said you would welcome an endorsement from former governor Andrew Cuomo. The U.S. Justice Department on Friday dropped its -- released its investigation to Cuomo's office and found that in his office, women employees were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment. Cuomo's office tolerated it, and Cuomo's office retaliated against whistleblowers. All of which, frankly, was known when you said last summer that you would accept his endorsement. Do you stand by that? You want his endorsement?

SUOZZI: No, I'm not seeking his endorsement. And I can pretty much guarantee that Andrew Cuomo will not endorse me.

TAPPER: Why do you say that?

SUOZZI: He's never really liked me.

TAPPER: Since 2021, Democrats have been steadily losing ground in both Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long island. Hence Republican George Santos with thin resume and, I mean, there are a lot of problems with George Santos winning there in 2022, why are Democrats losing ground in Long island? What is your diagnosis of the problem?

SUOZZI: The Democrats have not been speaking to the people about the issues they care about. They care about the cost of living right now. They care about immigration and the border. They care about public safety. They care about climate, quite frankly, they do talk about climate.

But too many issues that people talk about at the dinner table every day are not brought up by the Democratic Party. I have a history of working across party lines to solve problems to try and make people's lives better. I was vice chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Twenty-five Democrats, 25 Republicans, we met every week to try and find common ground. That's how we got big things like the infrastructure deal done.

That's how we got the CHIPS Act done. That's how we got the PACT Act done to help our veterans affected by the burn pits. Democrats have got to do a better job talking to people about the issues that people care about. And that's what I'm focused on doing.

TAPPER: What might you say to a skeptical voter who says you left your congressional seat to try to get a bigger, more powerful job and -- as governor and you failed, why should we vote for you?

SUOZZI: Well, because they know me. They know me well and they know that I fight for the people. And they know I ran for governor because the taxes in New York State are too high, because crime was out of control and because we have a corruption problem in New York State. And I was trying to fight against those issues.

Now, the Democrats primary voters didn't think I was the right candidate, and I accept that fact. But now I'm running for the United States Congress. And people know Tom Suozzi and they know that he fights for the people. He knows that he'll stand up against the extreme right and he'll stand up against the extreme left and he'll work for the people to try and make people's lives better.

TAPPER: Former Congressman Tom Suozzi, thanks so much for being here. I appreciate it.

SUOZZI: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Moments ago, right here on The Lead, a Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed that the Biden administration has plans to retaliate against those who launched a drone attack, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding dozens more. What sources are telling CNN about what that retaliation might look like? That's next.



TAPPER: Back with our world lead, President Biden says he has decided how the United States will respond to Sunday's deadly attack on a U.S. military facility in Jordan. The drone attack by an Iranian backed militia group, according to the Pentagon, killed three American soldiers, left dozens of others wounded. And although President Biden did not delve into any details about the U.S. response, the White House is clearly attempting toe the line between demonstrating strength and preventing a full scale war in the Middle East. CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House. Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon for us.

Oren, lay out what possibilities for what a U.S. response might look like?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we have seen the U.S. carry out strikes in Syria and Iraq over the course of the past few months. Fundamentally, these are expected to be more powerful, according to multiple officials we've spoken with, and the potential for strikes not only in Iraq or Syria, but possibly both. Take a look at these options for a response. Now, a U.S. official said nothing had been taken off the table. That's before President Joe Biden said he'd made a decision.

Still, a strike in Iran itself is expected to be unlikely as the administration tries to avoid an open regional conflict with Iran that could spread and escalate very quickly. Finally, it is possible that we see a tiered approach with multiple actions here, not only one strike, but a series of strikes across multiple targets. Of course, those targets could be weapons and facilities or the U.S. could try to escalate that a level and go after the leadership of some of these groups.

It is worth noting that earlier today, Kataib Hezbollah, one of the most powerful Iran backed groups in the region said they were stopping or ceasing their attacks on U.S. forces so as not to embarrass the government of Iraq. Asked about that statement earlier today, the Pentagon press secretary said actions speak louder than words and pointed to approximately 166 attacks on U.S. forces in the region over the past couple of months.

TAPPER: MJ, some hawkish Republicans have been particularly vocal about how they feel President Biden should respond. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says Biden should attack Iran on Iranian soil itself. And here's Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.


NKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If this isn't the wakeup call that we've got to get out of this chaos in America, this is it, because we are going to have -- you're just going to see Iran escalate. It's only going to get worse from here.


TAPPER: How much are these Republican criticisms weighing into the President's decision, if at all?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the President is obviously weighing a number of different things right now. But top of mind for him since this weekend has been those three American U.S. service members that died over the weekend. We know that the president and his national security team, of course, have been weighing a number of options like Oren was just talking about, including options that could be multipronged, that could happen in stages. But the President earlier today making clear that he has come to a decision on how exactly to retaliate.


And he also made very clear that in his mind there is no question as to who exactly was responsible for the deaths of those three Americans. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do hold them responsible in the sense that they're supplying the weapons to the people who did it. I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That's not what I'm looking for.


LEE: Those two statements really sort of capture the nearly impossible balancing act for the President. He says that he doesn't want a bigger war, but he also wants to show real force in responding. So the question is, how does he do that without a major escalation?

TAPPER: All right, MJ Lee and Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

Are you ready for it, when politics, sports and pop culture all collide? Next, the far right conspiracy theories about the 2024 presidential race, the Super Bowl and Taylor Swift. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our pop culture lead now, far right conspiracy theorists certainly don't seem to be following Taylor Swift's advice to just shake it off. In fact, some on the right are all in on pushing deranged claims that Taylor Swift is part of this deep state psychological operation, or PSYOP plot by the deep state, the NFL and the Democratic Party to help deliver the 2024 presidential election to Joe Biden.

Here's just a small sampling, former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy posting, "I wonder who's going to win the Super Bowl next month. And I wonder if there's a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall," unquote. And then there's whatever Benny Johnson is writing on Twitter, "It's all fake. Taylor Swift exposed as a fed op to rig 2024 election for Biden. Pentagon admits it."

OK. Taylor Swift has previously gone rather public with her political views, of course.


TAYLOR SWIFT, AMERICAN SINGER-SONGWRITER: She votes against fair pay for women. She votes against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is just basically protecting us from domestic abuse and stalking. Stalking.


TAPPER: That was Swift in her own documentary, "Miss Americana," which came out a few years ago, discussing -- showing the scenes, behind the scenes of why she came out against then Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee when Blackburn was running for the U.S. Senate, and why she endorsed Blackburn's opponent, the Democrat who lost. Perhaps the far right could take some heart from that, since this master PSYOP didn't seem to actually work in Tennessee? But let's talk about it anyway.

Democratic strategist, former Biden Campaign Senior Advisor Alencia Johnson and CNN Contributor Kara Swisher, host of the on with Kara Swisher podcast. Kara, when did the NFL come from a red state staple to an arena for liberal deep state conspiracies? And what does it tell you about the world we're in that people are actually talking about this nonsense as if it's a real thing?

KARA SWISHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's just nonsense. I mean, to be against women being beaten up? Wow, that's a really controversial topic, I guess. But what -- you know what it is she's very popular and obviously sways voters. And when she said for people to go vote, they went and signed up to vote, young people. And she has a lot of sway over people. And so they're nervous about what she might do.

She's in no coordination with anybody. I think she does what she wants, as you can see. And so, they just are nervous about someone like that. So they've got to start smearing her in lots of different ways, not just via these conspiracy theories, but these deep fake porn on X and things like that. And so they're trying to neutralize her, which is absolutely impossible, I think.

TAPPER: Alencia, there's this brand new article in Rolling Stone just published. It says, quote, "Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift hasn't even endorsed President Joe Biden for reelection yet. That hasn't stopped members of MAGAland's upper crust from plotting to declare, as one source close to Donald Trump calls it, a "holy war" on the pop mega- star, especially if she ends up publicly backing the Democrats in the 2024 election," unquote.

I mean, would that help him with anyone? I mean, she's an immensely popular performer. Young people especially love her. Women and girls especially love her. I don't really even understand this.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: Yes, I mean, look, they will never talk about policies or positions, and it's interesting that they are going after Taylor Swift, who in the clip that you showed when she was talking about why she was going against Marsha Blackburn was very personal for her, right? The violence against women, reauthorization, that vote against it was her decision around going for Marsha Blackburn's opponent. And it's interesting, because I want to ask these MAGA folks, these conspiracy theorists, are they OK? Because literally, if they're going after Taylor Swift versus looking at the policy positions of the Republican Party, instead, they could actually kind of see why young people, women, LGBTQIA folks, people who support Taylor Swift, would actually support her and understand why she's making this decision.

One thing I do want to point out is that when she tweeted on or posted on Instagram, I'm getting my social media channels mixed up, but she posted on national voter, that organization received 35,000 plus registrations in one day. She understands her power that's why she endorsed President Biden in 2020. And it's just interesting to see these men go crazy over a woman who, quite frankly, is actually helping the NFL, because since her and this, you know, whether you want to believe it's made up or not relationship, she's brought over $300 million to the Kansas City Chief and the NFL. So it's interesting to see what they're squirreling about going into the election, and they're making their target Taylor Swift. [17:30:39]

TAPPER: So my wife and my daughter are big Swifties, especially my 16- year-old daughter. I mean, she's just devoted to her. And this is an encounter with something that I've had to deal with as a reporter for the last eight or nine years now encroaching into this world where teenagers are and young people who are like, what on earth are you talking about? I mean, I can't believe that this -- anybody thinks this is strategically wise, Kara?

SWISHER: Yes, it makes you look old. It makes you look like that old man shaking his fist at the internet kind of meme kind of thing. And so, you know, I don't know, what are they going to do against ice cream next because Joe Biden eats a lot of. It's bizarre and really wrongheaded because she really does have a platform well beyond even theirs.

I mean, look at how much money she contributed. They should embrace her. She's a capitalist. She made billions of dollars for the economy. She, you know, the Fed even said she could have kept us out of recession along with Beyonce and "Barbie." It's just -- I -- it's inexplicable why they're doing this. I see why they're trying to impugn her, but it's just not going to work. And now she's going to the Super Bowl, so and the other choice is San Francisco. So MAGAteers everywhere, I guess with him and for anybody.

TAPPER: Well, you know, I'm an Eagles fan. And congrats on your 49ers, Kara. I'm an Eagles fan. But even I have to be swept up in this beauty -- beautiful relationship with. I mean, it's the wrong Kelsey brother, but like I'm happy for him. I'm happy for him.

SWISHER: All the Kelce.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, it's all nice. I don't understand. Why do people have to yuck the yums? Kara Swisher and Alencia Johnson, thanks so much.

A single night vision photo capturing the last American soldier to leave Afghanistan after decades of war. The U.S. promised not to leave its allies behind. That has not panned out. My next guest trying to make good on the promise, they'll join us next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Now for our Buried Lead, that's what we call stories that we don't think are getting enough attention. In less than 24 hours, we could be hearing some damning testimony on the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It has been two years and five months since U.S. service members left and Taliban fighters poured into Kabul, taking control of the country and taking revenge on many of the same people who helped the U.S. for two decades.

In April of last year, Diana Shaw, the acting inspector general of the State Department, testified before Congress about some of the consequences from that chaotic withdrawal.


DIANA SHAW, STATE DEPARTMENT ACTING INSPECTOR GENERAL: These include the near doubling of the number of Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance since the Taliban came to power, and the severe curtailment of the rights of women and girls. Further, the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program still has more than 152,000 SIV applicants in Afghanistan.


TAPPER: As of September of last year, approximately 10,800 applicants had received chief of mission approval, the key step toward getting a U.S. visa. And about 67,000 additional applicants were being reviewed for a U.S. visa. Tens of thousands more have begun the application process, and tomorrow a house panel is going to look at retribution that the Taliban is inflicting on Afghan allies, the U.S. left behind.

Joining us now is Timothy "Tito" Torres, the executive director of the Moral Compass Federation, and Amy Martin, who will be leading the delegation testifying on Capitol Hill tomorrow. And Amy, let me start with you. Because a U.N. report published last August, quote, documented at least 800 instances of extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill treatment, and enforced disappearance carried out against individuals affiliated with the former government and its security forces. What have you heard is happening to people who used to work side by side with our diplomats and service members right now in Afghanistan? What's happening to them?

AMY MARDEN, TESTIFYING ON CAPITOL HILL REGARDING TALIBAN REPRISAL: First of all, our analysis indicates that number is low across our 25 plus organizations. And along with our partners, we have thousands of documented reports of threats, torture, execution. Everyone who works with us knows that our phones are inundated with messages from people with please for help.

And that includes having to separate from your family and hide in safe houses for months on end. It includes wondering, what has happened to your visa packet? Where is it lost in the system? When will it be approved? And it includes, you know, needing to literally deliver life support to people who don't have food, don't have housing, don't have firewood for the winter.

TAPPER: And Tito, I know this bears seriously on the veterans community, many of whom trusted these interpreters and others with their lives and now feel helpless. They can't do anything to get them out.

TIMOTHY TORRES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MORAL COMPASS FEDERATION: Yes, I'll tell you, first and foremost, helping our Afghan allies helps our veterans. The result of fighting for 20 years is you have an entire generation who spent years in combat, individuals with '17, '18, '19 deployments. And right now they're asking themselves, what was it all for? Why did I miss so many birthdays? Why did I lose my brothers and sisters in arms overseas? And furthermore, what you tend to see is the moral injury impact of what happened there.

TAPPER: Explain what you mean by that, by moral injury?

TORRES: So these individuals believe in something. They believe in a creed, they believe in the constitution, they believe in an oath of upholding American ideals. This is some of America's best who are fighting on the front edge of our battlefields out there. And the loss of trust in institutions, the loss of trust in something that you believe in is something the American veteran is feeling right now.


TAPPER: And Amy, Congress also hasn't passed the bill that was supposed to deal with this. What are you telling lawmakers?

MARDEN: We do understand this is a complex issue. It spans across branches of government. It spans beyond political parties. Our request is clear, ensure viable pathways out of harm's way for our most trusted, embedded Afghan allies and work with us. We are on the ground every day talking to people, working with allies, helping to keep them out of harm's way. Use our organization's experience, our knowledge of ground conditions, and really form a public private partnership with the government so that we can solve this together and end the humanitarian crisis.

TAPPER: And what are the residual impacts of this because this is not the only time in the -- I mean the U.S. might be out of Afghanistan. We're not out of the world, and we're going to have troops. We have troops all over the world. We have troops in Africa. We have troops in Jordan. People just learned tragically because of what happened. What kind of message does this send to our allies when our current service members are currently deployed?

TORRES: Yes, I'll tell you, just because we closed Afghanistan, the GWOT isn't over. We have individuals in --

TAPPER: Global War on Terror.

TORRES: The Global War on Terror. We have soldiers, airmen, marines in more than 150 countries right now. And right now they're sitting across from someone saying, can we build this partnership? And that may be questioned from the person sitting across from them. And that's why there's a second, third order effect. It affects national security. It affects retention within our military and recruitment, that we're seeing those numbers lower than ever right now.

TAPPER: And big picture, what's the -- why is it morally important to uphold our promises to our Afghan allies?

MARDEN: America has values. We stand for something. And part of our standing in the world is having the rest of the world understand that when we make a promise to our allies and to our partners, we keep that promise. Just like when we make a promise to our veterans, we keep that promise.

TAPPER: Amy Marden and Tito Torres, it's good to see both of you. Good luck tomorrow on Capitol Hill. It's the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Oversight Committee. The chair of that is Congressman Mast. Thank you so much for being here.

TORRES: Thank you.

MARDEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: A hearing that just wrapped up on Capitol Hill dug into the largest aid group operating in Gaza. A leading U.N. critic who testified at that hearing will join us next.



TAPPER: Now to Gaza, where a 38-year-old Palestinian mother tells CNN she and her family are, quote, dying slowly. Another displaced Palestinian in Rafah says his family is stuck in northern Gaza and drinking polluted water and eating grass to survive a humanitarian crisis. Their risks spiraling even further because of explosive allegations against the biggest aid organization in Gaza, UNRWA, which led to its biggest government donors to suspend funding over what Israel says are UNRWA employees connections and, in several cases, direct participation in the horrific October 7th terrorist attack on Israel. Director of U.N. Watch, Hillel Neuer, how do you pronounce your last name?


TAPPER: Neuer, OK, I got it right. Testified on Capitol Hill this afternoon, and he joins us now. Hillel, you've called for the complete dismantling of UNRWA, not just because of this, but because of years of such problems in connections to Hamas and other terrorist groups. And you presented even more information beyond what Israeli officials shared with CNN, including a group chat among UNRWA teachers. Tell us what your research has found.

NEUER: Well, we exposed today a telegram chat group of UNRWA teachers in Gaza, which is primarily to share information that teachers need, work schedules, salaries, memos about work stuff, interspersed with lots of messages, photos, videos celebrating the October 7th massacre while it was happening and other terrorist attacks. So 3,000 UNRWA teachers are on this chat group. We identified about 30 of the individuals with their UNRWA contract numbers, their photos, their names. These are UNRWA teachers who are celebrating the attacks.

TAPPER: And as I've noted, you've been looking into this for a long, long time. I want to play part of your opening statement from Congress today where you say you've given the United Nations multiple warnings about some of these problems. Let's roll that tape.


NEUER: We sent them reports in 2021, 2019, 2017, 2015 numerous reports. They never contacted us for information. They refused our repeated written requests to meet to discuss the problem. They cannot say they didn't know. Mr. Guterres knew. The head of the UNRWA knew. The United Nations knew. They simply chose not to act.


TAPPER: Do you think that the U.N. Secretary General Guterres should resign?

NEUER: Yes, I think he should. I mean, the October 7th massacre, he said it didn't happen in a vacuum. And then he listed Palestinian grievances. The truth is, it didn't happen in a vacuum because UNRWA is a U.N. agency that for more than 70 years has taught Palestinians that the war of 1948 is not over. The world is with you. The war is not over. Your homes are not here in Gaza. When you get cement from the international community to build homes, hospitals and schools, the message they got was, of course they're going to use that cement to build miles of terror tunnels into Israel to invade Israel. The message of UNRWA is to perpetuate them as refugees and to tell them that their home is in Israel.

TAPPER: So obviously, there is a humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza right now, 2 million displaced Palestinians. Jordan's foreign minister says stripping UNRWA funding right now means the agency and the Palestinians who rely on them will be collectively punished. If UNRWA ends, what happens to the people who need the aid?

NEUER: Well, look, the supporters of UNRWA are the people who typically care least about Palestinians. The king of Jordan said not one Palestinian will leave Gaza and go into Jordan or Egypt. Not one. So the same folks who, it's interesting, the same folks who say there's a genocide happening in Gaza are the same folks who say, over my dead body will I let one Palestinian leave that area and to find refuge in neighboring Egypt, for example.


So I don't think the king of Jordan really cares about the Palestinians in Gaza. And there is a humanitarian need. Of course there is. It has to be addressed. The U.N. knows how to address humanitarian needs. They can send in trucks in Sudan, in Syria. They know how to do it. The notion that UNRWA is irreplaceable, it's the only agency, it is infiltrated by Hamas, it is dominated by Hamas. There are alternatives. We need to figure them out.

TAPPER: So, OK, forget the king of Jordan. Let me just say as me as somebody who cares about what happens to the innocent Palestinian people, not Hamas, but the innocent Palestinian people. Right now, they're in a crisis you can't end, I mean, do you really think you could end UNRWA right now because, I mean, these people literally are dying of disease and malnutrition and hunger and?

NEUER: Yes, well, of course it's not going to end right now. And even the countries who suspended funding, some of it is performative. The funding was sent recently in Congress today. There were some congressmen who were upset that apparently the State Department just sent a ton of money before making that announcement. So UNRWA will be fine in the near term. And of course, no one's saying in the near term, abandon the Palestinians, but in the slightly more than near term. UNRWA is not the solution. It's the problem.

The Swiss foreign minister five years ago, Ignazio Cassis, said, it's a perverse logic. UNRWA only perpetuates the conflict because they tell Palestinians the war is not over. Keep going. The U.N. refugee agency, I work across the street from them in Geneva every single day. Their job is to resettle refugees, to make you no longer a refugee. UNRWA is the opposite. They want Palestinians to be perpetual refugees. That perverse logic has to stop. Of course, Jake, we have to be concerned about the humanitarian situation and not let that slide. But there are alternatives. Now is the time to begin finding them.

TAPPER: So Washington Post columnist, Josh Rogin, who is a supporter of Israel but also cares about the Palestinian people, he points out that UNRWA also supports an additional 3 million Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon and Syria. And the suspension of UNRWA funding would meet, quote, the means, quote, the Biden administration is placing more burden on regional partners that are already dealing with the added risk and instability caused by the growing regional violence. What do you make of just of that argument like aside from Gaza, that UNRWA --

NEUER: It's elsewhere.


NEUER: Well, look, let's take Jordan, for example. It's a terrific example that Josh brought. There are about 2 million so called Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Most of them have Jordanian citizenship. My great grandparents fled Russian persecution to Canada in 1904. I am not a Russian refugee. My family has been Canadian for over a century. If someone's been in Jordan for more than 70 years, has Jordanian citizenship, why are they refugees from Tel Aviv? They're not refugees. So let's help them. Give the money to the Jordanian government. We have an established government there. Let them run the Ministry of Education.

Let the Jordanian government run the schools and clinics. Why is it a U.N. agency that has an agenda and the agenda is to undo Israel. We need to not support a malign agency that has that malign agenda.

TAPPER: All right, Hillel Neuer, from U.N. Watch. Thank you so much. Good to see you, sir.

Next to sports and some breaking details about a high profile investigation involving players in the NHL. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Just in on our Sports Lead, CNN has learned that four current NHL players and one former player are going to face sexual assault charges in Canada over an alleged incident in 2018. CNN's Paula Newton joins us now. Paula, walk us through the allegations.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the allegations at this point, quite shocking for the entire country, not the least of which are the people that were involved in this incident in terms of having reported it to Hockey Canada at the time.

Jake, we are going back to June of 2018. Allegedly these five, both former NHLers, an NHLers, were involved. The allegations against them are group sexual assault. The alleged victim has not been identified. She is known in court documents as EM. We now know that one former NHLer and one current NHLer have now turned themselves into police in London, Ontario, where apparently this incident allegedly occurred.

I want you to hear now the statement from the lawyer. The first player, NHL player currently playing with the New Jersey Devils is Michael McLeod. His lawyers confirm he has been charged with sexual assault and they say Mr. McLeod denies criminal wrongdoing. He will be pleading not guilty and will vigorously defend the case. And they remind us in this statement that none of the evidence here has been tested in court.

We learned on the weekend that Alex Formenton, a former NHLer who played here in Ottawa, Jake, who was playing in a European League, did surrender as well to police in London, Ontario. His lawyers again confirmed that he is charged with sexual assault. The statement from his lawyers saying Alex will vigorously defend his innocence and asks that people not rush to judgment.

Look, Jake, we have had hearings here in Canada not on naming anyone or the specific allegations, but crucially, that Hockey Canada, that was in charge of the world junior team, which is the team that these players were on at the time in 2018, that Hockey Canada knew about this. So why didn't police continue to investigate and what happened afterwards? Those are the facts that will now be laid out in court. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Paula Newton, thanks so much.

This evening, we have lost another icon of screen and stage. Chita Rivera has died at the age of 91.




TAPPER: That's a part of Rivera's performance in "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Her Broadway career spanned decades from "Westside Story" to "Bye Bye Birdie" to "Chicago." Rivera scored a record 10 Tony nominations for her performances. Her most recent screen credit was in Netflix's 2021 movie "Tick, Tick... Boom!" Rivera's longtime publicist says Chita Rivera died earlier today after a brief illness. May her memory be a blessing.


If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show once you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer right next door in The Situation Room. See you tomorrow.