Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump's Trial Woes, 14th Amendment Case, Trump Org. Civil Fraud Case, and Trump's Presidential Immunity; Rep. Timothy Burchett (R-TN) in Interviewed on the Bipartisan Border Bill Being Under Fire From House GOP; Nikki Haley Attacks Biden and Trump's Age in New Ads; Trump Recommends RNC Changes; Coleman Hughes Wants a Colorblind Society; Israeli Voters Running Out Of Patience With Netanyahu; Brother Of Israeli Hostage Speaks To CNN; Chinese Post Economic Frustrations On U.S. Embassy Site. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 05, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: To have it resolved before the election. Another 16 percent also want it resolved but say it's not essential. Eleven percent do not believe the case needs to be resolved. Twenty- five percent say it does not matter. We're going to start with New York Times senior political correspondent and CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

And Maggie, here are just some of Trump's legal problems front and center. Just an incomplete list, but just to bring our audience up to speed. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear oral arguments in these case on whether or not he can be on the ballot. Today, his legal team filed a brief accusing his challengers in the case of pursuing a, quote, "anti-democratic case against him." So that's today.

Also, we're waiting on the Federal Appeals Court to rule on Trump's claims to presidential immunity. Then there's also, we're waiting for a ruling in the civil fraud trial against Trump in New York, his sons and Trump organization also on the hook there. And this comes after Trump was ordered to pay E. Jean Carroll $83 million after her defamation suit last month. Can you take us inside Trump's mind right now? What must he be thinking? I mean, we know he's a man who embraces grievance, but this is a lot.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a lot, but he is also an expert compartmentalizer in a way that we've seen very few people who are in the political realm be. And so, he looks at these a couple of different ways. The E. Jean Carroll verdict. We know has infuriated him. We know it's a huge amount of money. We know that it is a huge amount of money he doesn't want to have to pay. And he will have to pay some of it, even as he's appealing it. Some of this is going to have to go forward.

We know that he is waiting for the ruling in the New York Attorney General civil fraud case against his company. The Colorado ballot case, his team actually feels pretty good about its chances at the Supreme Court and they see that as helping them politically, which is why you saw something like that filing today. So, there is no one linear through line for him with all of this litigation. It depends on what we're talking about.

TAPPER: So, can I ask a question about the E. Jean Carroll case, because this is always so strange to me. It seemed to me, just as a legal perspective, I'm not talking about the truth of what happened, I wasn't there, but it seems to me from a legal perspective that case was winnable for him, but he didn't try to pursue it, right, and he didn't participate, he wasn't there. He had Alina Habba as his attorney not exactly who I would want representing me for anything. Why?

HABERMAN: I think a few reasons, but you are correct, there are a lot of people who argue, at least the first case. I don't think the second case --

TAPPER: No, no, but whether or not you were actually quote, unquote "guilty" I mean, in the civil case.

HABERMAN: Well, but again, there were two separate cases. So, one was defamation and sexual abuse, the other was just defamation.

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: Once you had the rulings in the first, you were going to get a defamation --

TAPPER: Right. A hundred percent defamation, but I'm talking about --

HABERMAN: The first one.

TAPPER: -- the abuse.

HABERMAN: Yes. Yeah. No, that one some lawyers have made the point to me privately and I've seen some people say it publicly that that was winnable, that he had approached it differently, if he had, you know, a seasoned trial team --

TAPPER: Right.

HABERMAN: -- which is not what he ended up with. At least initially he did ended up later with Joe Tacopina, but that was late in the process. And if he had shown up himself, to your point, it might have made a difference. I'm not convinced him showing up Jake would have made a difference just based on his behavior in the courtroom that I saw when he was in the second trial.

TAPPER: Sure, he was rude, but what if he enacted like a normal human being?

HABERMAN: I -- okay, and -- and what if he was an entirely different human being who didn't view these things the way he does, right, so.

TAPPER: But if he is -- but if, like, when a policeman pulls you over, not like you've ever been pulled over, when a policeman pulls me over, I am polite.

HABERMAN: Appreciate that, thank you.

TAPPER: I am polite, you know, when I get pulled over for speeding or whatever. I am polite to the police officer, and that is how you treat people in law enforcement.

HABERMAN: I think that Trump has a very different view of how he can behave in certain proceedings, having been president, and frankly, he tended to view those things, you know, he has viewed official proceedings as either something that you sort of deal with through a phone call from one party to another, or if you end up in that situation, there's a lot of showmanship. And I'm not sure what's showing up necessarily would have helped him with.

TAPPER: On Trump's presidential immunity case, whether or not he has the right to do anything he wants as president of the United States, if you're president, how much could the decision impact the second Trump administration if there is one?

HABERMAN: A lot. I mean, but it depends on what that ruling is, right? If there is a ruling that presidential immunity doesn't apply here, then there is generally a belief that he is going to have a problem arguing a January 6th case if it goes forward. Should they rule the opposite way and suggest that there's broad immunity, then that's got massive implications for every president going forward.

But from this particular president, who has basically said any action a president takes should not be considered within the constraints of the law, that has very specific implications.

TAPPER: Maggie, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Let's turn back to our "Political Lead." This evening, Senate Republicans are going to gather to discuss the long-awaited compromise bill on border security, coupled with aid to Ukraine and Israel and other hot spots. Here's what Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of the lead negotiators on the bill told me last hour.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): We didn't get everything in the process on it. Obviously, there's a lot more that I'd like to be able to get.


But again, I go back to the most basic thing. We're getting as much as we possibly can, and we're going to try to be able to move forward because we have got to stop having the thousands of people that are crossing the border every day unchecked.


TAPPER: Let's talk now to Republican Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee. Even before the text of the bill was released last night, he signaled he would be against it. Congressman, thanks for joining us. So, let's start with what we just heard from Senator Lankford. What's your reaction? Isn't getting something done, something that, by the way, the border police, the Border Patrol Union, which is pretty conservative, supports, isn't that better than nothing?

REP. TIMOTHY BURCHETT (R-TN): Well, I think we're starting off with nothing. You're saying that you're going to allow 5,000 people in a day. I mean, obviously, you're saying that something that's illegal, you're making it legal. You know, $60 billion for Ukraine. The single largest expenditure in this thing is directly to Ukraine. They should have just called it Ukraine, right? But let's -- I think everybody's trying to pick a fight. What we should be doing is individually passing these bills. There's aid in here for Israel. Speaker Johnson is -- we're moving forward with something that this week.

And Ukraine, I believe there would be enough money for Ukraine, but everybody wants to fight. I wouldn't vote for the money for Ukraine, but I think there'd be enough to pass it. I think that all the other money would probably pass in some form or another, but they're going to lump it all together. And I just don't see it happening.

I'm not going to vote for something that allows 5,000 illegal folks a day, but I'll tell you what I really think whose fingerprints are on this, if I could go a little deeper. I think it's these national chambers of commerce, you know. They want free or cheap labor. They want people that won't have insurance. They won't have any representation. And they know when they fall off a dad gum (ph) building or hurt themselves when they're cleaning a motel room, that guess what? They're not going to come back against the big business owners.


BURCHETT: That's who we should be directing our anger at right now, Mr. Tapper. I think that's clearly whose fingerprints are on this thing.

TAPPER: You can call me Jake.

BURCHETT: Jake, yes sir.

TAPPER: Let's focus, if we could, just on the immigration part of it because I think it was a Republican (inaudible) at least in the Senate, to combine it with the Israel aid and the Ukraine aid. But I'd love to talk to you about it because you just said it allows 5,000 people, migrants, illegal immigrants into the country and the bill said that's not accurate.

What they say is when the average number of crossings exceeds 5,000 people a week, which it has every week but one in the last four months, everyone crossing illegally every day is rapidly deported out of the country without an asylum screening. So, they're saying it's a trigger. It doesn't let in 5,000. It says 5,000 encounters, which is not the same thing as 5,000 people let into this country, 5,000 encounters trigger an immediate deportation of everyone.

BURCHETT: Well, it should be zero encounters. We should not be allowing anybody into our country. Now, do you honestly think that they're going to stop at 5,000? I mean, we don't have any way now of closing in this gap or anything. They're just -- the border is just wide open. I've been to the border. I know, I guess you've been to the border as well.


BURCHETT: And there is no way in the world we're going to stop at 5,000. If 5,000 is a trigger, well, that's great. But at what point up to that? So, 4,999 are okay. I just don't buy that. The number should be zero. I think that's just a stopping point. And of course, the money for the lawyers and the work permits. And then of course, the District of Columbia is going to be the sole original jurisdiction, a very liberal court system. We know that.

Look, I'm conservative. I'm not angry about it. I'm not mad at CNN. I'm not happy about any of the other stations either. I just don't think this is the way to do about it -- go about it. You do it in a closed dark room with everybody, all the players. You bring everybody in first of all and that's not what happened.

TAPPER: Well, that's not that's not what House Republicans did when you guys passed HR2. I mean that was passed on a purely party line vote with no thought to the fact that whatever you pass is going to have to get through the Senate where it needs to get 60 votes and then have to be signed into law by a democratic president.

Let me just underline the fact that the Border Patrol Union, who anyone who knows anything about this issue knows, is a conservative group that's very frustrated with President Biden. They put out tweets mocking him all the time. They put out a statement endorsing this deal. They say it's part -- it's not perfect, but far better from the status quo. If the Border Patrol is for it, why are you against it?

BURCHETT: With their backs or against the law, they need some relief. They have zero support. I've been down there. Their moral is awful. They just said to me, look Tim, we just like to be able to enforce the laws we have on the books now, and they're not doing it. I don't think there is going to be any okay or enforcement of the past laws.


HR2 was a good solid bill. It went to the Senate. You know what they should have done in the spirit of compromise, they should have taken that bill and added to it or taken away and sent it back to the House. But what did they do? It still sitting on Chuck Schumer's desk. Nothing has come of it. This is all gamesmanship. You know it and I know it.

All they're trying to do is drive people to the polls, their side or our side, and they don't want to solve anything. All they want to do -- this is about staying in power. It's about the deep state or uniparty or whatever you want to call it in Washington, D.C. and the National Chambers of Commerce have got their greedy little fingers involved in it too because it's just about the dollars and that's the only thing this -- that's all the immigration is about. It's about power. It's about getting people the polls. It's about

cheap labor and that's all the bottom line is. And both groups can sell their countries out -- they're selling their country out to stay in power and that's what this is all about, Jake.

TAPPER: Both groups the Chamber of Commerce and who else?

BURCHETT: The Washington, D.C. establishment. (Inaudible) this game.

TAPPER: The D.C. establishment.

BURCHETT: They don't care about this country. They close the door. They don't see the color black or white or brown. All they see is green. And that's what this is all about. It's what it's always been about.

TAPPER: You think that describes Senator Lankford, who's a pretty conservative Republican from Oklahoma, who Donald Trump in the past has praised for being tough on the border? You think he's just part of this sellout establishment who only cares about --

BURCHETT: No. I don't know that for a fact. I talked to him shortly before the prayer breakfast, the bipartisan prayer breakfast, not 20 feet from where I'm standing right now last Thursday, but no. I think he genuinely has gone in, but I just don't think he's dealing realistically with what will happen in America and how this will be perceived. This thing is going to be dead on arrival, Jake. I firmly believe that. I don't even know if the Speaker of the House will even bring it up in the spirit of HR2.

TAPPER: Republican Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee. It's always good to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

BURCHETT: Thanks for having me on, Jake. It's always a pleasure, brother.

TAPPER: In the race for 2024, Governor Nikki Haley not letting up on the age argument using it again and again to go after Donald Trump. Why she's banking on that being effective in her home state of South Carolina where Donald Trump leads in polls. That's next.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- making decisions on our national --




TAPPER: In our "2024 Lead," Republican presidential hopeful Governor Nikki Haley made a surprise appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live this weekend where she hit Trump on his mental fitness and his age. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY: Are you doing okay, Donald? You might need a mental competency test.

JAMES AUSTIN JOHNSON, ACTOR: You know what, I did. I took the test and I aced it, okay? Perfect score. They said I'm 100 percent mental.


TAPPER: As Haley tries to narrow the gap between her and Trump in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary, CNN's Kylie Atwood takes a look now at how Haley's grumpy old men attacks against Trump and Biden are playing among South Carolina's retirees.


HALEY: These are people making decisions on our national security. These are people making decisions on the future of our economy. We need to know they're at the top of their game.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley not backing away from her argument that the American president shouldn't be in their 80s.

HALEY: Mandatory mental competency test for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD (voice-over): It has been a critical piece of the 52-year-olds pitch to voters from day one. One that she has both sharpened --

HALEY: Why are we allowing ourselves to have two 80-year-olds who can't serve eight years, who both are diminished whether it's in their character or in their mental capacity.

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- and played with in recent weeks.

JOHNSON: Sixth Sense, remember that one? I see dead people.

HALEY: Yeah, that's what voters will say if they see you and Joe on the ballot.

ATWOOD (voice-over): Often to an audience filled with retirees, like this bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

MAUREEN BULGER, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I just don't think our country should be with somebody who's going on its way out when we still have so much young blood.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For 69-year-old Maureen Bulger, the idea of moving to a new generation is energizing. South Carolina was the fastest growing state in 2023, largely because of an influx of almost 40,000 retirees. And Haley is betting that they get her argument.

HALEY: I think older people see it too.

ATWOOD (voice-over): 61-year-old Anna Memmo also fits the target audience.

ANNA MEMMO, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: Whether it's the Biden ticket or the Trump ticket, I do feel that it's very important to look at age and consider age and cognitive skills.

ATWOOD (voice-over): But not everyone considering the state's former governor found it to be the best.

RAY MAKALOUS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I do think that we still have people that are 78 and 80 that can be senators and representatives.

ATWOOD (voice-over): For Edward Spears, currently an undecided GOP voter, it's just a part of the game.

EDWARD SPEARS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: She wants to be elected. If I was a younger candidate, I would do the same thing. That's just a strategy.

ATWOOD (voice-over): And for older Trump supporters, even those interested in Haley, like Carol and Greg Carty, who moved full time to Hilton Head nine years ago --

CAROL CARTY, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I think she's a neat person. We read her book.

ATWOOD (voice-over): -- the tactic of going after Trump's age hasn't been a decisive factor because they are squarely set on voting for the former president.

CARTY: It's typecasting the seniors and that's not right because we're individuals.

ATWOOD (on camera): But if she weren't doing these age things, it's not like you would go for her if she had left that argument in the past.

CARTY: If Trump were not running, yes, I would. I'm old so I'm stubborn.


ATWOOD: Now Jake, as you can see from our conversations with older voters, most of them who were looking for an alternative to Trump, pretty much well received those age arguments that Haley has been making. The question is how many of them are actually here in South Carolina where Trump remains quite popular.

And the other thing I want to note on fundraising, Haley's campaign said over the weekend that in the month of January, they hauled in $16.5 million in donations. That is their biggest fundraising month to date, giving them a significant financial boost heading into South Carolina primary in less than three weeks and potentially beyond. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Thanks so much. [17:20:00]

Let's bring in our political panel to weigh in on this and so much more. Former Democratic Congressman Max Rose, Haley's called for mental competency test for politicians over 75. But in her SNL appearance this weekend, she turned her attack line on Trump and Biden's age into a punchline. Do you think that, I mean, do you think it's ageism and do you think it will hurt her?

MAX ROSE, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, NEW YORK: It doesn't really matter. Her campaign's over. I mean, statistically speaking, she's gonna lose South Carolina by 20, 30 points. And right now, she's being funded by an array of anti-Trump forces, obviously of which I consider myself one. What's fascinating though, about the overarching dynamic, is this is actually quite helpful for Donald Trump.

You know, people are forgetting the disastrous four years that was the Trump presidency. And that's why you're seeing an uptick in his general election numbers. The sooner that this primary is over, the sooner that people can understand this election is a very simple binary choice between crazy and normalcy. And the Biden campaign is looking forward to that contest.

TAPPER: S.E. according to its latest filing with the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, the RNC has only eight million dollars in cash on hand that's the party's lowest fundraising in a decade.


TAPPER: The DNC, Democratic National Committee is $21 million cash on hand. Yesterday in an interview on Fox, former President Trump suggested that -- he alluded to possibly the RNC chair, Ronna McDaniel who's been very loyal to him, he alluded to her leaving perhaps unwillingly. Take a listen.


MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS HOST: How's Ronna McDaniel doing?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think she did great when she ran Michigan for me. I think she did okay initially in the RNC. I would say right now there'll probably be some changes made.


TAPPER: That's a polite version of Donald Trump, but he's basically suggesting that she's on her way out and that he's going to be a big part of why.

CUPP: Yeah, and would anyone be surprised if Trump just decided I'll be the interim de facto head of the RNC? I mean, I wouldn't, and it almost doesn't matter who he installs there because it will be someone that will do everything he says. But I'm just reminded of that September in 2015 when Reince Priebus, the then head of the RNC, flew up to New York to beg Donald Trump to sign a loyalty pledge, which should have been the other way around.

You know, Donald Trump should have been begging the RNC, give me your support and all of your infrastructure and resources, even though I'm a very unconventional candidate. And I think the flip of that really just foretold what was going to happen to the Republican Party and the RNC, a total Trump takeover.

TAPPER: We have with us today for the first time Coleman Hughes. Congratulations. You have a brand-new book out tomorrow it is called "The End of Race Politics: Arguments for a Colorblind America." In the book you write among other things, quote, "color blindness is the wisest principle by which to govern our fragile experiment in multi- ethnic democracy."

Can you explain the case you're making for a colorblind society and the obvious rebuttal which is that sounds nice but you have institutionalized racism in housing and in other parts of the country that make that impossible?

COLEMAN HUGHES, AUTHOR, "THE END OF RACE POLITICS": Yeah, so colorblindness used to be the standard liberal philosophy. For a moment in the 60s when we passed the Civil Rights Act the idea was that we are going to get race out of public policy and we're going to deal with the legacy of slavery with racial inequality by an intense anti-poverty program that would benefit the black poor and the white poor alike, but would disproportionately benefit the black and Hispanic poor because blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately likely to be poor.

TAPPER: Right.

HUGHES: But that we could do all that on the basis of socioeconomic class rather than race. In the past 50 years, there have been a group of scholars, and especially in the past 10 years, it's become much more popular with the rise of critical race theory and so forth to say that actually color blindness is not the right way to go. It's a Trojan horse for white supremacy. All it does is allow racial inequality to persist. So, what we have to do is aggressively put race into every public policy, including even COVID emergency policies that prioritized emergency aid based on race.

I argue that actually the civil rights movement had it right. If you go back, you read Martin Luther King's book, "Why We Can't Wait." He says, yes, we have to address the legacy of slavery. Yes, we have to do something special in order to repay the debt to black Americans, but that something should be socioeconomic class-based policy, doesn't discriminate against anyone on the basis of skin color and still tackles poverty. That should, I think, liberals and Democrats should reclaim that as a default position.

TAPPER: So, race and the civil war specifically have been a topic that have come up in the 2024 presidential election.


Here's another clip from Nikki Haley trying to make light of her fumbled answer a few weeks ago.


UNKNOWN: I was just curious, what would you say was the main cause of the Civil War? And do you think it starts with an S and ends with a lavery?

HALEY: Yep, I probably should have said that the first time.


TAPPER: Now, in your book you argue slavery is one of the most heinous examples of race-based policies in the country.


TAPPER: I'm curious as to what you make of the fact that this is still so awkward for some people to talk about like Governor Haley when she gave that first answer and did not mention slavery. I want to ask what the cause of the civil war was.

HUGHES: Well, I'm glad she corrected it. The common talking point on the other side has been that the civil war is really about states' rights. Now, the easiest way to know that that's not true is because when northern states wanted to fight fugitive slave laws, in other words, they didn't want to have to since the extradited slaves that escaped from the south back to the south. No one in the south said actually those northern states have their own states' rights, and they don't have to extradite those.

TAPPER: Right.

HUGHES: It wasn't about some principled concern about states' rights. It was about the clash between half the country that wanted to be a slave society and the other half which didn't.

TAPPER: All right. So good to have you on the show. We'll have you back, and congratulations again on your book. Really appreciate it. Thanks to all of you for being here, and we will be right back.

Coming up, a new report documents President Biden was using rather sharp words to describe Benjamin Netanyahu behind closed doors. The White House denies that he said it, although it sure does sound like him. The critique also gets at mounting criticism about the Israeli Prime Minister as Israel nears four months of war with Hamas. Stay with us.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our World Lead today, even though a spokesman for President Biden is denying to POLITICO's Jonathan Martin that President Biden privately described Benjamin Netanyahu as a, quote, bad effing guy, unquote. He didn't say effing obviously. You don't have to look very far to find other reports describing the President's strained relationship and unease with the Israeli prime minister. And as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports for us from Tel Aviv, the Israeli voters' patience with Netanyahu is also wearing very thin.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Tel Aviv, wartime unity beginning to crack.

NIR SHOHET, KIBBUTZ NIR AM: To call for election in wartime, it's very, very difficult. It's hurt my stomach to speak up against my government in wartime while my friends are inside fighting. But it's a must.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing a mounting wave of anger and discontent that could threaten his hold on power.

After nearly four months of war, Israeli forces have yet to route Hamas from Gaza. Hostage families are demanding he agree to a ceasefire to free their loved ones.

PROF. REUVEN HAZAN, HEBREW UNIVERSITY DEPT. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: The pressure is everywhere he turns. This is an extremely difficult time for him politically. The pressure that he's getting from the right wing is, ironically, from people who are sitting in government with him.

DIAMOND (voice-over): As talk of a ceasefire grows, far right members of his government are threatening to walk, putting his governing coalition at risk.

ITAMAR BEN GVIR, NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER (through translator): I say this clearly. A reckless deal means the dissolution of the government.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Tensions are also rising to the surface between Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, the former defense minister who joined an emergency unity government days into the war. Gantz's right hand man, Gadi Eisenkot, going so far as to call for new elections in the coming months, citing a lack of trust in Netanyahu.

If elections were held now, a recent poll found Netanyahu's party would lose half its seats in the 120 member Knesset, while Gantz's party would nearly triple in size, likely making Gantz prime minister. Sources tell CNN Gantz is looking for the right moment to make his exit, but that he is likely to stick around as long as the war is ongoing.

DIAMOND: Benny Gantz is walking a tightrope.

HAZAN: Yes. But notice that everything he's done, not just in the last three months, but even before, it's as if he's reading the polls and whatever the majority of Israelis want, that's what he's going to do. The polls right now don't want him to leave the government. When you see those polls change, take out your stopwatch.

DIAMOND (voice-over): As for Netanyahu, he sounds like he's already back on the campaign trail, appealing to his right flank.

BENJAMIN NETANHAYU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): My insistence is what has prevented over the years the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel.

DIAMOND (voice-over): And the politics of fear that have kept him in power for so long.

NETANHAYU (through translator): If someone has a different position, they should show leadership and candidly state their position to the citizens of Israel.


DIAMOND (on camera): Now, all of this pressure, Jake, doesn't mean that the next election is around the corner. This is still a country at war. And even the Israeli prime minister's toughest rivals are still being very cautious about how hard they push. But in many ways, the Israeli prime minister's political fate is tied up in this war. The longer this war lasts, the longer the Israeli prime minister is likely to remain in power. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv for us, thanks so much.


Families living through this nightmare are also begging the world. Do not forget their loved ones who have been held hostage by the terrorist group, Hamas, for 121 days now. One of those family members is going to join us next.


TAPPER: In our World Lead, this Wednesday will mark four months since the terrorist group Hamas unleashed its brutal attack against Israel. And for the dozens of families whose loved ones were kidnapped or viciously murdered, October 7th really never ends, including for the family of Or Levy and his wife, Eynav. They were both at the Nova Music Festival when Hamas attacked. Eynav was killed. Or was taken hostage. They have a two year old son, Almog. Or's brother, Michael Levy joins us now. And Michael, first of all, let me say I'm sorry about what happened and that you and your family continue to go through this nightmare. How are you all holding up as you mourn your sister-in-law and care for Almog and fight to get your brother back?

MICHAEL LEVY, BROTHER OF ISRAELI HOSTAGE: Well, as you said, since October 7th, it's been a nightmare. For me, it's one very long and very bad day. All of us, it's -- we pray it will end soon. They'll be back soon.


TAPPER: I know your nephew too young to understand what's happened. How is he? How do you keep the presence of his parents alive? LEVY: Well, unfortunately, he might not understand exactly what happened. But he knows exactly what he feels and he misses them. He calls them all the time. He cries when we mentioned towards dad or mom next to him. So we had to tell him that his mother won't come back. It was the toughest thing we ever had to do. And we tried to support him and show him love, but obviously it's not the same, it's not the same as his mom and dad.

TAPPER: Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to assure representatives of the Israeli hostage families that his government is making any -- at making every effort to get the hostages home. Do you think they are? Do you think that the government's doing enough?

LEVY: Well, I'm a big fan of bottom lines. The fact that they are not here now means that none of us is doing enough. Not me personally, not the media, not the Israeli government, not the U.S. government. We all need to do more in order to get them back.

TAPPER: Do you know that your brother's alive? Is -- have you heard from any of the other hostages who might have seen him?

LEVY: Unfortunately, we haven't heard anything from the other hostages. But we know that he was kidnapped alive and that he wasn't injured, and we have no reason to believe that the situation now is different.

TAPPER: Michael Levy, thank you so much. And we'll be praying for Almog and for your brother. Thank you so much for being with us today.

LEVY: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: And we'll be right back.



TAPPER: I'm back with our coverage of the Middle East. Dozens of people were killed during airstrikes in central and southern Gaza by the IDF. At least 14 people died. Many more were injured after the airstrike hit a mosque in central Gaza yesterday, according to a doctor and other eyewitnesses. Israel tells CNN it is checking on this incident. Here's Nada Bashir. And a warning, you might find this video to be disturbing.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Surrounded by chaos and panic, the wounded lay quiet. This little girl's pain, masked by shock. It is all too much. This mother shields her child's eyes from horror, telling him, don't look.

In the morgue at the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, the bodies of those who did not survive lay shrouded on the ground. The tiles beneath still bloodied. A doctor here says at least 14 were killed as a result of a series of airstrikes by the Israeli military on this mosque in the central region of Deir al-Balah. The IDF, however, did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the incident. Locals here are left to sift through the rubble, retrieving fragments of bodies. Those killed said to have been leaving the mosque following morning prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This neighborhood is full of people who've been displaced, all taking shelter in schools. Clearly, there's nowhere safe anymore, not our mosques, not our schools, not in the streets. Nowhere in Gaza is safe.

BASHIR (voice-over): But just as there is no escape from the airstrikes, it seems there is also no escape from grief. The families of Gaza's latest victims, old and young, left to share in their unending mourning. Elsewhere, in this hospital in central Gaza, at least 20 women and children have arrived seeking safety, forced to flee once again after being ordered by the Israeli military to evacuate their shelter in Gaza city.

WALLA AL-ARBEEL, DISPLACED GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): The Israelis came and surrounded us with tanks. We were not able to go out. There was no food, no drinks, no water. We were not even able to turn on the lights. We were scared they would see us.

ISRAA AL-ASHKAR, DISPLACED GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): They took all the men and started beating them. They stripped their clothes off and took them to the tanks. After that, they told all the women to go down to the basement and they deployed explosives. They wanted to lock us in and then blow up the whole building. They wanted to kill us. We told them that we are civilians, that there are children with us, that we have done nothing to deserve this. We begged them and then they agreed to let us out.

BASHIR (voice-over): Troubling accounts like this shared with CNN by several women forced to flee central Gaza, though CNN has received no comment from the Israeli military. What comes next for these families and for all in Gaza is unclear. But there is little hope left. In Rafah, now home to more than a million Palestinians, tent cities for the displaced continue to grow. This region once said to be a safe zone, now facing relentless airstrikes. Israel's defense minister has warned that troops will soon enter the southern city. They say targeting terrorist infrastructure structure. But there are deepening fears over the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe and the looming threat of untold bloodshed in the south.


Nada Bashir, CNN in London.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Nada Bashir for that report. Will the Chinese government cut off CNN signals as we report this next duty -- next study? Rather odd comments that flooded a social media account for the U.S. embassy in Beijing. What so many people were ranting about, that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: And we're back with our World Lead, tens of thousands of people in China are venting their frustrations with the Chinese economy in an unlikely place, the U.S. embassy's social media accounts. A post by the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Webo, a platform similar to X, about protecting wild giraffes attracted more than 160,000 comments, many of which were rather unrelated to giraffes. One comment read, who can help me? I've been unemployed for a long time and I'm in debt. Marc Stewart is in Beijing. Marc, what's driving this?


MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi there, Jake. The reality is this. The Chinese economy is in bad shape and the government does not want people to talk about it. For young people right now, it's very difficult to get a job. The Chinese stock market has seen record setting declines. People feel defeated. But here in China, there is no such thing as a free speech forum. As we see in the United States and other parts of the world, social media platforms, even editorials that we see in the newspaper, are all monitored. They are all censored. They are all edited by the government.

So in this case, where the U.S. embassy made this innocent posting about giraffes, of all things, there was an opportunity for people to respond. And it was seen as an opportunity by many people here in China as a way to air grievances that simply is usually not possible on these kind of social media forums. So that is what fueled all of this response, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Marc, there have been times, as you know, when the signal for CNN China, the channel in China, goes to color bars when we report certain angles of news stories that the Chinese communist government doesn't approve of. How often does that happen? And are there specific topics that lead to the color bars?

STEWART: Jake, that happens daily, several times a day, in fact, depending on what hour we broadcast our programming from our studio here in Beijing is regularly censored. This is an attempt by the government to control the narrative. So it's a part of life here in China. Any kind of topic, even if it's reported from somewhere else in the world, that could shed China in some kind of negative light, that is censored.

But it goes beyond that, I mean right now economists, economic commentators, they have been told to watch what they say, and if they cross a line that the government seems to be unacceptable, they will face consequences. Their social media accounts will be suspended. I mean I think the real thing, Jake, that the government wants to avoid, especially on this issue of this economic despair, is any kind of public protest because as we have seen over the years, these public displays which happened during the COVID era here in China, they really portray China in a negative light. So the hope is by controlling things early, it will prevent things escalating to perhaps a much larger level.

TAPPER: Fascinating stuff. Mark Stewart in Beijing, thanks so much. New video just into CNN shows cars stuck in a mudslide in Beverly Hills today. That's Beverly Hills, a consequence of the disastrous flooding in southern California. Right now, more than 14 million people are under the rare risk of excessive rainfall, with parts of Los Angeles forecast to get half a year's worth of rain by this time tomorrow. Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Elisa Raffa in the Severe Weather Center. Elisa, walk us through what's causing this and what comes next.

ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We've got a ton of that moisture coming off the Pacific there, Jake. And it's being fueled by warm oceans, and El Nino pattern that's pumping this atmospheric river. Flash flood warnings continue for Los Angeles County, including places like Burbank, Pasadena, Universal City through 6 o'clock local time as the rain just keeps pumping. Look at the hose from L.A. to Las Vegas. I mean, the rain has not stopped really since yesterday, just continuing to fall over the same areas over and over. That's that fire hose of moisture that we call the atmospheric river.

I mean, some of the images that we've seen today have been incredible. Not just the mudslides and the landslides, but the rivers that are raging and angry. And you can see them just overflowing their banks over parts of southern California. I mean, look at some of these rain totals. Bel Air nearing a foot of rain just since yesterday. Woodland Hill is over 10 inches. Downtown L.A. is over 6.5 inches just in the last two days.

Now, when you look at the numbers since February 1st, because it's been a pretty wet week for them, they have already almost gotten their entire winter's worth of rain. And when you look at the annual average, they're almost getting close to that, too, 14 inches is their average in a year. And again, just since this week, they've gotten over 8. It's an incredibly rare high risk that we're continuing to track here.

It's issued less than 4 percent of the time, but responsible to 80 -- for 80 percent of the flood damage and 40 percent of the flood deaths. So just incredibly rare and incredibly impactful, dangerous life threatening flash floods continue. It's already saturated, so any more rain is going to create more flash flooding and landslides. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Elisa Raffa, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, and on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can follow the show at TheLeadCNN on X. 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 in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.