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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Judge Orders Trump To Pay Nearly $335M In Civil Fraud Case; Judge Orders Trump To Pay Nearly $335M In Civil Fraud Case; President Biden Visits East Palestine, Ohio, More Than A Year After Toxic Train Derailment; Russian Prison Service: Alexey Navalny Dead At 47. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 16, 2024 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with major breaking news in our law and justice lead, and an absolutely staggering financial penalty for Donald Trump. This afternoon, New York state Judge Arthur Engoron ordered the former president and his companies to pay nearly $355 million for committing fraud. The judge found Trump submitted, quote, blatantly false financial data when he applied for loans, allowing him to get more favorable rates.

There is one small victory in this ruling for Mr. Trump. The judge is not ordering the dissolution of the Trump Organizations as prosecutors had asked for. Instead, Trump will face restrictions over the next three years when it comes to how he can conduct business.

Let's get straight to CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

Paula, this is a lengthy ruling by Judge Engoron and what else is he saying about Donald Trump and his companies?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, here, he is hitting Trump with his biggest punishment to date. You mentioned that over $350 million penalty, but let's look at some of the other things in this opinion.

First, the judge bars first Trump from serving as an officer or director of a New York corporation for three years. He also bars him from applying for loans from banks registered in New York for three years. But he does not dissolve the Trump business, Trumps business certificates for the Trump organization. He's backtracking there. This is something that he's signaled he was going to do, but this is the so-called corporate death penalty, something the attorney general had sought.

Now some people might ask, well, why didn't he go that far? This is something that is rarely implemented in the state of New York. And the few times it has been, there has been a clear victim, someone who was clearly ripped off or deprived of their money. And that was one of the lines of defense here from the Trump legal team, is that there was no victim. The banks, insurance companies all got their money.

But the judge is imposing what he describes as significant monitoring over the Trump Organization. He is ordering the continuation of an independent monitor. This is someone who is actually installed back in 2022 to make sure that the company was in compliance with the law and regulations. That person will continue to be in place for another three years. And then the judge says that the company has to pay its -- out of its own pocket for an independent director of compliance.

So the judge there installing multiple layers to ensure that the company continues to comply with the law and regulations. Remember, Jake, this case is so personal to Trump not only because it strikes at the heart of his identity as a successful New York businessman, but also because it involves his family.

And penalties for his two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, both of them were found here are liable for a host of civil fraud, both ordered to pay $4 million for their personal profits from the fraud. And then they are both barred from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation for two years.

And, Jake, Trump, his family, his lawyers, they took a very combative approach to this case, regularly attacking the judge, the court staff, the attorney general, something that may be working for Trump in the court of public opinion, but clearly didn't work in the court -- actual courtroom. And they are expected to appeal this ruling.

TAPPER: How are they -- the Trump team reacting to the news of the issued any statements?

REID: Yes. And it sounds exactly what we heard from them every day at the courthouse. It's -- one of his attorneys, Alina Habba, also his legal spokeswoman, issued a statement saying in part, this verdict is a manifest injustice, plain and simple. It is the culmination of a multiyear politically-fueled witch hunt that was designed to take down Donald Trump. Before Letitia James ever stepped foot into the attorney general's office, countless hours of testimony prove that there was no wrongdoing, no crime, and no victim.

Of course, the judge overseeing that case disagreeing with that, finding Trump liable for fraud back last fall and then, of course, there was this months long trial where Trump testified as to three of his adult children, but they did take this very combative, very contentious approach to this whole case. Trump even violated a gag order that restricted him from attacking a court staff.

So while this may be a political strategy to try to frame himself as the victim of an unfair legal system.


We see in this case. And then just a few weeks ago and the E. Jean Carroll case where he and Alina Habba also took a very combative approach and a jury awarded E. Jean Carroll over $80 million. So you see the combined penalties that he is facing suggests that again, while this may be a great political strategy, it's a terrible legal one.

TAPPER: Yeah, $83 million plus today's $355 million were north of $400 million.

Now, Paula Reid, thanks so much.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here as well.

And, Kara, you've been following this case closely from the very beginning, you were in the courtroom during this trial. What's your biggest takeaway from it all?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, the judge here is saying that he is not giving any credibility to the testimony of the Trumps in this trial. You know, he's noting in his opinion that Donald Trump put himself out there as an expert in real estate. But finding here that, you know, that their posture this whole time they've never admitted any he mistakes or any -- any wrongdoing.

And so the judge really seems to be seizing on that in this opinion. You know, he notes by saying, you know, their complete lack of contrition and remorse border on pathological, really underscoring here that even when confronted with things that perhaps were obvious to this judge has being inflated, that they would stick hold their line in that they wouldn't acknowledge that the judge pointing out that.

Also in this opinion, he's pointing -- he's seeing the need for him to take these steps is not even just limited to what occurred over that three the month trial and the testimony of all those witnesses. He's also saying that he's taken to account their past run-ins with authorities, including settlements involving Trump University, the Trump Foundation, which was wound down, also the corporate tax fraud trial where the Trump Organization entities were convicted of tax fraud. That was a case brought by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

So he's showing that they have not taken any steps throughout all of their over the past several years, all of the run-ins, you're not doing anything to try to rehabilitate themselves. They don't even currently have a chief financial officer since their former chief financial officer pleaded guilty to tax fraud.

So he's just pointing out throughout this how they have not tried it to rehabilitate themselves in any way knowing this investigation has been going on. And so that seems to me why were seeing some of these bans, why were seeing the monitor ship continue, and why the judge really wants some independent eyes inside this company as a way to allow them to do business because now as Paula noted, he is walking back, this dissolution of the business certificates.

So that is one benefit to the Trump organization, but certainly this is a significant penalty and significant amount of money that Trump its going to have to pay while he is facing other penalties. You know, all this judgment is coming back to him. He'd been someone who had people had wondered if he could ever be held accountable. And now were seeing both the E. Jean Carroll case of this decision today and now he is going to go to trial next month in the first criminal trial of a former president.

So, you know, lot of shifts and Trump on the legal front, although, of course, he is still very much campaigning for president -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins.

And, Kaitlan, something that Kara just in on is something that really stuck out to me as well to you as well. It's part of the Trump strategy. We've seen in again, the Trump doesn't acknowledge the truth even when it's right in front of him, and everyone can see it.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And it's -- you read this ruling, Jake, it's not saying just Trump, it's his family as well because as we've been looking through this, Ivanka Trump was also part of this. We talked about Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. There's also who mentioned of Ivanka Trump in here who had these interviews.

But the judge said that while she was thoughtful and a poised witness, he said the idea that she couldn't recall certain details are facts have certain documents are certain projects that she worked on, he says its suspect and that the court found her inconsistent recall depending on whether she was questioned, suspect, saying that the fact that she cannot recall is memorialized still and contemporaneous emails and documents. And even though there was an absence of her memory on this, there are the documents here, and that is what the judge goes back to time and time again, and he's saying, you know, the documents don't lie.

And what he was saying here, Jake, that you're referencing is the idea that no one who was questioned in this case really ever admitted any error. And he said ever said, I did that by mistake or here's my acknowledgment of that, and that's a huge part of this ruling right at the end, kind of summing up why this ruling is what it is, why its as high as it is, why there are the repercussions that there are because the judge here is saying that, you know, this Trump's not Bernie Madoff. He says, quote, they're accused of only inflating asset values to make more money and the documents prove this over and over again.

He says it's not a mortal, mortal sin. They didn't commit murder or sin. They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernie Madoff. Yet, and this is the important part, defendants are incapable admitting their error of their ways and instead they adopt a see no evil, hear no evil speak no evil posture that the evidence belies.


And the bottom line he's making there, Jake is saying that if they did not have these repercussions that are in this ruling with this huge financial judgment, that they're worried that it would continue, that there would be no stopping because no one would admit the error of their ways, even though, you know, they talked about the Trump penthouse being three times the size that it was, which obviously it's not.

And I think that really gets at the heart of this years investigation that Trump pushed back on for so long, the judge here is basically saying he needs to be held accountable.

TAPPER: We heard the statement from Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba. How do you think Donald Trump is likely taking this news?

COLLINS: We may hear from him, Jake. We were hearing earlier that he was expected to speak. It's not totally clear that he will now that they got this. I'll tell you that his team wasn't expecting this to be a judgment in their favor. Obviously, you saw the statement from Alina Habba. They will appeal this.

They knew it was going to be ugly, Jake, because obviously they sat there in that courtroom they saw these documents, they saw the emails. But I think when you take the big picture of this between the E. Jean Carroll verdicts, now, this, I mean, it's hurting Donald Trump where it hurts him the most, and that's when it comes to his money. And I think it's a real question of how he's going to be able to pay this.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

And then just a few hours, you can catch Kaitlan on "THE SOURCE". She's got a big interview coming up with 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who I'm sure will have plenty to talk about. That's at 09:00 p.m. tonight, only here on CNN. Can't wait to watch.

The breaking news today, Donald Trump ordered to pay nearly $355 million in a civil fraud case against him. Next, we're going to bring in the lawyers, Laura Coates, Elie Honig. They're going to help us analyze this major ruling. That's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news, former President Donald Trump ordered to pay nearly $355 million in a civil fraud case against him and his businesses in New York.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN anchor and chief legal analyst, Laura Coates, and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig.

Elie, let's start with your reaction to this massive financial penalty. Are you surprised at all?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, we knew this was going to be a big number, but wow, this is a mammoth verdict. And just for perspective here, the attorney general was asking for $370 million and she got almost all of that.

And if you read this ruling, Jake, the judge is meticulous. He goes property by property valuation by valuation, loan by loan, and gives us basically a line itemization of how we reached that number.

Now, the bigger surprise I think is that the judge had signaled that he was going to impose the corporate death penalty. He was going to revoke the business certificates. He did not do that. Instead, what he did was install a monitor and put temporary several years suspensions on Donald Trump and his family members.

So this could have been the death knell for the Trump Organization. It's not quite that, but it's a huge hit.

TAPPER: Laura, why do that? I mean, the New York attorney general wanted Trump to be banned from doing business in New York forever. The judge didn't agree as Elie noted. Is that so as to give fewer grounds for an appeal?

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the corporate death penalty is usually rarely invoked, and only when there's a real tangible victim. Remember, one of the biggest issues in this case was that the banks weren't complaining. Trump was suggesting that no one really was hurt here, and who --when all is well as the ends. Well, what's the big deal?

Well, the big deal was according to this ruling, that they lie, that they were not truthful, they did not credit their testimony. And in fact, they went beyond that. He talked about all the different times in which the Trump organization as an umbrella concept was not truthful.

One of the reasons you impose a very strict penalty broadly, is for deterrence, and to get country tenuous injunctive relief to prevent someone from engaging in behavior. They will engage in again, they went through this. But I found really a really fascinating point here. Michael Cohen -- Michael Cohen was a witness in this case.


COATES: Everyone was wondering whether the judge would credit the testimony of Michael Cohen.

Let me read from just a portion of what he said. He talked about how he credited the testimony of Michael Cohen and talked about the animosity between the witness and the defendant Trump being palpable, but the court found his testimony credible, he says, based on the relaxed manner in which he testified, the general plausibility of his statements and most importantly, the way his testimony was corroborated by other trial evidence.

He said that this fact-finder does not believe that pleading guilty to perjury means that you can never tell the truth. Michael Cohen told the truth.

What a significant moment to have that testimony credited above others and in conjunction with that also signals to you on appeal. It's very hard to undermine a credibility assessment by the fact-finder, in this case, the judge. TAPPER: And, Elie, now there's this monitor that will oversee the dissolution of Trumps businesses. She has access to all of their records. Does that mean Trump or his company could potentially face even more problems if she finds something in those records?

HONIG: Well, it could well be, Jake. The monitor here is a retired federal judge, former Judge Barbara Jones, who specializes in high- profile, high-stakes matters. As one example, she was in charge of overseeing the NFL's response to the Tom Brady cheating scandal. So she understands high-stakes scenarios.

If the goal here is get your company straight, get it back on its feet, there's no better person than Judge Jones to do that. But the flip side is and Judge Jones has been working on this for some time now, she issued a report a couple of weeks ago saying that in her initial review, she found several inconsistencies and sort of inexplicable numbers.

So that certainly could lead to more trouble for the Trump Organization. But if the goal is to rehabilitate the company, then this is the right person for it.

TAPPER: Laura, do you think Trump has any chance of appeal?

COATES: Well, before the Patriots fans come after I say it was the alleged cheating scandal by Tom Brady, Elie Honig, thank you very much.


TAPPER: I don't know about that. I don't want to -- I don't want --

COATES: -- let's not go down that rabbit hole. Let's just say I'm right for a second.

When you think about all the appeals though and going down this route, it's very difficult to try to get an appeal.

TAPPER: I don't know about that.

COATES: It really is. Why? Because that's why they're a painstaking, factual credibility assessments. But I will say the volume and the scope of this ruling is particularly interesting to an appellate court.


But while you have a temporary -- a temporary restraint against those, Trump and his sons and the organization, Allen Weisselberg and the former controller of the organization permanently banned. Remember the controller was somebody who had a very weepy testimony talking about how he left the job because he was is so tired of all of the legal woes of the corporation. He now is one person who along with Weisselberg can no longer serving this function in New York permanently. TAPPER: And, Elie, Trump's argument the entire time has been that there's no victim because he paid the banks back with interest. Did that affect the outcome here in any way?

HONIG: So the judge takes a very legalistic approach here. And he sort of addresses that, he says that technically speaking for the causes of action that were brought here, it doesn't really matter.

Now, it is important to note Jake this is an atypical fraud case because usually in a fraud case, you do have a victim, you have somebody who has lied to shareholders, to investors to unsuspecting members of the public. And here, the people who were lied to, the entities who were lied to were billion-dollar banks. They made loans, they were repaid with interest.

And I do think that's one reason -- it's important to remember this in the bigger for scheme, several different prosecutors offices looked at this and declined to bring a criminal charge. And I'm speculating here, but from my experience as a prosecutor, I think that's an important consideration.

Technically, this is enough that you could have brought a fraud charge under the criminal law, but its really hard to stand in front of a jury and say, oh, the victims here are multi-billion dollar banks that made money. So that's a reality of the scenario here.

TAPPER: All right. Elie and Laura, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

My next guest has built a resume digging into the finances of the former president and the Trump Organization. He's done extensive investigations and will join me in just a moment.



TAPPER: We're back with a breaking news in our law and justice lead, a very bad day in court for former President Donald Trump. A judge in Trump's New York civil fraud trial ordered him to pay nearly $355 million. Trump is also for the next three years barred from participating in New York's real estate industry. He's also barred from serving as an officer or director of any New York company.

Let's bring Ross Buettner. He's an investigative reporter for "The New York Times". He's been breaking stories in Donald Trump's since 2016.

Ross, lets start with your reaction to the judge's decision today, when you started reporting on Trump's taxes and his family's finances, did you ever think we would -- we would end up here?

RUSS BUETTNER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It always seemed like a possibility when you look at the course of Donald Trump's life. He's clearly been sort of toeing the line, are getting close to the line of going over into fraud, things that we found went to tax evasion that we were told could have been criminally prosecuted if they were known at the time. And we're talking now of 30, 40 years ago.

But he never really rose up to the level where those sorts of things matter that much. So again, we saw patterns that would suggest this was a possibility. But to think this day is here, I think and the magnitude of this and the potential impact on our former president, and a man who has fancied himself as one of the world's richest men for his entire life, I think is like a profound and possibly devastating.

TAPPER: Yeah. The judge has now barred Trump from doing business in New York state for three years. He's barred Trumps sons, Donny and Eric, for the next two years. What do you think is going to happen to the Trump Organization which the judge did not order dissolved, we should note?

BUETTNER: Yeah. That's -- that's a huge open question. I think that more than who's going to run the thing, look, the judge ordered that there's going to be a monitor in place, the same one who's been there for another three years. There's going to be a director of compliance in place. He's never had anyone like that.

That's a very intrusive thing for him to make sure. And I think this will make sure that he doesn't reduce the business even more by pulling assets out to a point where he couldn't pay the judgment after an appeal.

But the big thing I think is the number itself, when you combine this with the judgment and the E. Jean Carroll case, you're up to $440 million and he -- there's no evidence he has that much cash. When we looked at his tax returns, 20 years of his tax returns, we saw his cash on hand had been shrinking since "The Apprentice' heyday in 2011, down to about -- greatly shrinking to through 2018, the attorney general found the same thing.

That year, he had maybe $44 million on hand. That's a lot out of money, but you need money to run the business and that's -- if he has to pay any of these judgments. I think what's going to happen is they're going to have to start looking at selling some things or trying to get loans, which is going to be a great challenge for him as well.

And those to meet seem like the things that are real existential threats, the complications and his business. If you pull one of them out, it could bring the whole thing down.

TAPPER: So let me just play devil's advocate for a second because I'm sure there are skeptics out there who think, you know what, New York real estate folks, a lot of them inflate stuff, a lot of them lie, a lot of them are bullshit artists.

What's the truth of that and how was Trump above and beyond? Just run of the mill kind of puffery on this sort of thing.

BUETTNER: Well, I can give you an example that's pretty clear that we uncovered, that was 30 years ago and this sort of thing continued. And that's when he wanted to get some of his father's assets, right, and not have to pay an inheritance tax on it or a gift tax. They set up a shell corporation and they started buying everything that his father bought for his empire through the name of this shell corporation.

And that corporation served no purpose other than to pad those invoices by about 10 to 20 percent, pass the bill along to his father and then spread the proceeds among Donald Trump and his -- and his siblings.


That some years was a more than $1 million a year, just like an invoice padding scheme, straight out fraud went undiscovered.

That's very different from anything that we've ever heard or seen from big reputable real estate firms in New York City. And I think even this like the way he got these loans was basically by assuring the bank that he didn't need the money, that he had two-and-a-half billion dollars in assets, he had $50 million in cash on hand at a minimum, and you see the story that emerges from the documents in this case is that he was having to commit fraud every year to meet those numbers, to the point to get that cash number, he had to sum years claim that he had access to cash that was an investment that he couldn't touch.

It was not his cash, but he had to do that to meet that threshold to get these beneficial interest rates and all of that became increasingly more important to him again, as he lost money from entertainment and licensing deals over the last decade and became more and more cash poor. I think that's very different and it's very unique to him to have cash from entertainment that you're then subsidizing, sort of failing real estate ventures and golf clubs with.

TAPPER: And the degree to which this hurts him -- this gets him where it hurts most, which is like his ego and his -- his sense of himself, and this image he's created, this persona of being this super wealthy businessman, you have a judge here basically saying and I'm paraphrasing, but he's basically saying Donald Trump, you're a fraud.

BUETTNER: Yet, I think that's a really hard blow. You have to remember that when "Forbes" first started their list of the richest Americans back in I think at '83 or '84, Donald Trump right away, started lobbying to get on that list, independent, but that point in time he didn't have much other than what his father had built, and he said his fathers assets were his to try to get himself a place on that list.

That's the course of his life, is trying to get himself in the sort of the upper echelon of the richest Americans. I don't think he's ever actually been there, but its core to his identity. It was corps to the reason that he was put on "The Apprentice," and then that show "The Apprentice", by this brilliant television producer Mark Burnett, help sort of reinvent that ID of him after his failures in the '90s, that he was a super-rich, super successful guy.

Obviously, that was very important to him running for office and getting elected and again, I think you're exactly right, Jake, that is such a core part of his identity, such so core to how he sees his life story, that this, this, and the possible outcomes for better or really heavy burden for him.

TAPPER: So, the ruling today, its specific to New York state, but how might this judge's decision today impact Trump's business empire, which is global? Could it have a ripple effect?

BUETTNER: It could have a ripple, ripple effect. His empire is not quite as global as you think, because a lot of those overseas things are just things where he's leasing his name to the place and then somebody else runs the operation and he gets cash up front. A lot of that cash has dwindled over the years because they're very front- loaded. Those deals are.

But what we noticed in looking at his tax returns is that there's a few properties that regularly make money. Trump Tower retailers regularly made money. The Nike Store around the corner, he's made a lot of money on that. He's got again, this passive investment in two office buildings that he can't really touch, that is really subsidized a lot of what he's done.

And then a lot of his other businesses have lost money over the years and he's had to take money from one to pay off the other. That creates a lot of problems. So if you have to sell off the more profitable businesses, those are the easiest ones in order to pay off these big judgments that could really -- it's kind of a Django game, right? You pull out the wrong log and the whole thing starts tumbling down.

TAPPER: All right. Russ Buettner, thank you so much for your insights. Really appreciate it.

To another big story today, the death of Alexey Navalny. The Kremlin is denying any involvement, but will we ever really know?

CNN senior correspondent Clarissa Ward has spent years investigating Navalny's case. She even helped produce an Oscar winning documentary on him and Clarissa will join me next.

Also right now, President Biden is in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of that toxic train derailment a year ago. He's getting briefed on recovery efforts still more then one year after the crash. He's expected to give some remarks soon. We'll keep an ear out for that.

We'll be right back.



TAPPER: In our national lead, live pictures from East Palestine, Ohio. We are awaiting President Biden to speak in that town impacted by that toxic train derailment disaster. It's now happened more than a year ago. We're going to bring that to you as soon as he starts talking.

But, first, CNN's Jason Carroll returned to East Palestine, where many residents still believe the water is unsafe to drink.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The East Palestine President Biden is visiting is a much different place than it was a year ago.

It is a town bitterly divided. There are those who say there is still suffering from adverse health effects from the derailment and others who say, let Norfolk Southern and the EPA do their work, so everyone can just move on.

Drive around and it's also evident. Many here do not support the president, and some question the timing of his visit.

CATHY REESE, NEGLEY, OHIO, RESIDENT: I don't know what took him so long to get here.

CARROLL: Cathy Reese saw the contamination up close. This creek runs through her property. Last February, we found dead fish there. Reese says she no longer sees fish dying. In fact, she says she doesn't see many fish at all.


What would your message to the president be?

REESE: Give us more information, do more testing.

CARROLL: These business owners in East Palestine have another message for Washington -- do more to get the Rail Safety Act passed?

MELISSA SMITH, FOUNDER & CO-OWNER 1820 CANDIE CO. IN BEST PALESTINE, OH: We see our own senators working together and we can't seem to get once it gets to Washington, dc to get everybody on the same page, the bipartisan legislation created in the wake of the derailment, calls for tougher regulations on the industry, but it has been stalled in Congress partly because the industry is spending millions to stop efforts to regulate them, according to Open Secrets a non-profit that tracks lobbying efforts that rail industry spent more than $24 million last year on lobbying. Norfolk Southern spent more than $2.3 million in 2023, up from the year before when company spent $1.8 million.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There are a lot of people from East Palestine who are frustrated by this, and so am I.

CARROLL: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says, the Rail Safety Act would mean new inspection and new safety requirements for railroads.

So at the end of the day, do you think the Rail Safety Act would be passed or not?

BUTTIGIEG: I think it will if we keep the attention, the focus, and the pressure on.

CARROLL: When asked about lobbying efforts and the Rail Safety Act, Norfolk Southern point to reductions in its accident rates, also saying in a statement to CNN: Our industry can make rail even safer, but it will take railroads, car owners, and manufacturers and our customers. From day one, we've shared these views directly with our elected officials. We see a real opportunity for us to advance policies that will prevent accidents and improve collaboration with first responders.

While the battle continues in Washington, in East Palestine, the EPA says, its tests continued to show the air soil, and water are safe were continues on local creeks where some sheen has been spotted as of late.

DEBRA SHORE, EPA REGIONAL DIRECTOR: And now, we're working with Norfolk Southern to develop a plan to remediate and restore those creeks.

CARROLL: They can keep working. Cathy Reese says, she'll keep drinking bottled water.

REESE: I won't drink anything but.

CARROLL: For how long?

REESE: I don't know. I wish I know.


TAPPER: President Biden is speaking in East Palestine. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- this disaster. And any long-term effects are able to be identified as time goes on, not just here, but also in Darlington, Pennsylvania where I just visited a few hours an hour or so ago, working with the state, we've tested the air, the water, the soil quality deployed teams of health experts provided emergency loans for local businesses. But it's not done yet. There's more to do.

Today, I'm announcing the award of six National Institutes of Health grants to some of America's best research universities to study the short and long-term impacts of what happened here. That includes just north of here, Case Western University. So you have a top researcher with you as long as you need, as long as has to go on.

I also want to restate my support for the bipartisan Rail Safety bill. Senator Brown and Senator Vance, and the congressman from Pennsylvania and others require stronger protective measures when trains are carrying hazardous waste, storage, tank cars. We argued about this for years because shed be stronger. They should be able to survive crashes out, exploding. On day -- on data (ph) brakes that meet higher safety standards. The fact of the matter is there's a lot of discussion ahead of time before this occurred about the safety of the braking systems of many of these railroads, trains.

More staffing on trains, so that there are more people to respond immediately to a crash. And to do so much more raises the safety of transportation. And it's important that the Senate follow the House and pass a tax reform bill which makes sure that folks don't get hit with this tax, a surprise tax bill for compensation owed them by the railroad. That's not taxable income to them. We've got to make sure that that occurred, that no one is taxed for anything that is reimbursed or received from Norfolk Southern.

It's not right. I support the tag -- this tax reform bill and we got to get it done.

All told, we've done in one year, what would typically take many years. And we're going to keep going. Like I said, your compassion and resilience of leadership of this community, and if people, this community, the courage of your firefighters, law enforcement officers, first responders, running to the danger to save others.


They deserve the care and resources we owe them to be followed and their health needs follow as well, because that's what we do. It doesn't matter if you're Democrat or Republican or independent, what matters is we're all Americans. Everyone, everyone, we look out for one another. We've known behind and we come back stronger than before.

That's what you're doing here. That's just happening right here in this community. That's what's going on downtown in your parks as well. You're now -- your downtowns reopened and the parks reopen.

Students were frustrated. Opposing schools wouldn't travel here for sports events. But now you're playing home games again finally. That's pride. That's also progress.

But we have other obligations and that's here to stay here as long as it takes to get everything done and be sure, no one's left behind. In moments like this, let's remember who we are, where the United States of America, for God's sake, we have obligations to one another. There's nothing beyond our capacity, when we do it together. And we're going to stay here and do it together as long as it takes.

May God bless you all and may God protect our troops. We have a lot to do.

Now let me turn this over to the EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, and he'll have a few things to say as well -- Michael.

TAPPER: All right. President Biden visiting East Palestine, Ohio, for the first time since last year's train derailment. He said that Norfolk Southern failed. He called the derailment an act of greed and said that it was preventable. He told the residents of East Palestine that the derailment would not come to define them.

CNN's Jason Carroll is also in East Palestine and has been covering the story closely for a year.

Jason, your reaction?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things that I think that some of the residents here wanted to hear noted -- noted that the president say that he will stay here, that the administration will keep their eye on this. He said for as long as it takes, saying that no one will be left behind. Also talking about that grant that he said is going to be going out there. He said that that grant well cover both a short-term and a long-term sort of study. And the impact of what has happened here in East Palestine.

So those are certainly some of the words that residence wanted to hear, but we also have to say that there are a number of people here, Jake, who feel as though the president showed up too little too late. As his motorcade drove by, our location here, a number of people lined the road here and shouted their displeasure at the presidents motorcade. Some of them shouting obscenities.

But again, the president saying that his administration is going to stick this out and that they will be looking at East Palestine, not just in the short term, but in the long term as well -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll in East Palestine for us, thank you so much.

Inn our world -- in our other major story in our world lead, Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny is dead at 47. That's according to the Russian prison service. Russia, of course, the Kremlin itself, Putin, they all deny any involvement, but they're of course the ones who sent him to that penal colony. After recovering from the 2020 poisonings suspected to have been ordered by Putin, Navalny returned to Russia.

He has been in poor health. He spent the last few weeks in these Siberian prison camp in north of the Arctic Circle. He slept on a newspaper. He had only ten minutes to eat his meals.

Let's get right to CNN's Clarissa Ward in London and Nick Paton Walsh in Munich, where the Munich Security Conference is going on.

And, Clarissa, you were part of the CNN investigation. You interviewed Navalny. It took months of painstaking reporting to present proof that Russia's government was involved. Given -- given that, do you think we will ever know exactly how Navalny died at all?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have my doubts, Jake, because there are some really key differences. Right after Alexey Navalny collapsed in august of 2020 on that airplane from Tomsk to Moscow after being poisoned with Novichok, his team who were still on the ground set in Siberia, found out about it. They went into his hotel room, they began furiously collected the evidence.

He was then medevaced a couple of days later to the Caritas Hospital in Berlin. And there, German doctors were able to do extensive testing. They were the ones who were able to determine that he had been poisoned with this lethal nerve agent, Novichok, then you had Christo Grozev, this extraordinary investigator with Bellingcat who worked with a team of us at CNN going through databases, going through flight manifests, and gradually he really was able to put together a clear and coherent picture of this team of FSB operatives who had been falling pulling Navalny for many years.


But in this instance, how on earth we could expect for there to be any kind of serious autopsy, any kind of transparency from the Russian penal colony services, from the Russian government about exactly what happened to Navalny. I don't think anyone is expecting that.

So I think there will likely remain a large question mark over how exactly Alexey Navalny died today. The broader question though, of who was responsible for his death is much easier to solve. And we have heard many of his followers, leaders, president, U.S. President Joe Biden saying unequivocally that it is the responsibility of President Vladimir Putin and the Russian state and whose custody he was being held.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

And, Nick, you were at the Munich Security Conference today, where not only Vice President Harris condemned what happened, but Navalny's wife now, widow Yulia Navalnaya, she made a surprise appearance and she spoke even -- I mean, I can't even imagine the circumstances, but what was her message?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, obviously, horrific moment for her, but one that she met here referred to as a surprise guest, surprise. I'm sure none of the audience ever wanted to hear. How she met the moment with extraordinary courage and composure.

Here's what she had to say about what she believes -- she hopes might follow.


YULIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S WIFE: I want them to know that they will be punished for what they have done with our country, with my family and with my husband. There'll be brought to justice. And this day will come soon.


WALSH: Now, it may neither be that indeed that Vladimir Putin faces justice for any involvement he may lead to be proven to have had in this. But there's one thing I think maybe the Kremlin did not expect if you most generous assessment of this that they felt and their duty of care to keep Navalny alive. Well, the effect today has been taken security conference that was likely to be caught in a cloud of doubt about the U.S.'s persistent -- likely assistance of NATO in the face of the threat -- from Russia off the president -- former President Donald Trump's recent comments.

Instead, the audience galvanized into essentially seeing quite how clear and present an immediate, the threat of Russia was. The fact of limited funding slowed down for Ukraine from the United States. Now, more furthermore, in the agenda and a real sense of urgency thank where previously many were concerned This conference maybe mired in confusion about quite where this lines stood, Jake. TAPPER: And, Clarissa, people have already been detained attending

vigils for Navalny across Russia, according to a group that monitors Russian repression. How are Russians reacting to his death?

WARD: Well, Jake, as you say, inside Russia, the response appears to be quite muted and that is because of the obvious reason. The Moscow prosecutors office came out and said, do not take to the streets. We have heard from that monitoring group in Russia that at least 73 people have already been detained.

And yet we still have seen images extraordinary, courageous Russian citizens lining up silently carrying red roses, many of them with tears in their eyes and quietly laying them down at a memorial for Alexey Navalny. That seems to be the only level of sadness or grief that Russians are able to express publicly at the moment.

When you talk to Russians, particularly those who are outside of the country they are many of them, millions of them in a deep state of grief, in a deep state of disbelief. What does this mean for the future of Russia's opposition movement, which quite frankly now appears to be in tatters. But there were also some positive words from Mikhail Zygar for example, who is a Russian journalist, also an exile and he wrote something that I thought was quite moving.

He said, Navalny, now will truly become the founding father of the new Russia. And that the memory of Navalny and the example that he set can be rallying cry and an inspiration to people going forward and reminding people that one of the key attributes of Alexey Navalny was an indefatigable optimism which he asked that all Russians across the world and inside the country who are feeling such grievous loss in this moment tried to adhere to -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Clarissa Ward, and Nick Paton Walsh, a somber day, thanks to both you.

Navalny is by far not the first critic of the Kremlin or Vladimir Putin to just somehow end up dead.

In 2006, former Russian agent turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko died after his green tea with spiked with poison at a hotel bar in London. That same year, Russian war critic Anna Politkovskaya was shot and killed outside her Moscow apartment.

2009, Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in prison. A Russian human rights report found evidence that he'd been beaten the day he died.


In 2012, Russian financier Alexander Perepilichnyy died suddenly while on a jog near his home in London. Toxicology experts later found traces of a rare poison in his system.

In 2013, Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky was found dead on the bathroom floor of his home in the UK.

In 2015, former Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was shot dead while on a walk with his girlfriend.

That's just a few. Look for a special encore of Oscar-winning CNN film that follows Navalny's life as an outspoken opposition leader, anti- corruption crusader, and assassination target. The film is called "NAVALNY". It airs tomorrow night at 9:00 eastern, right here on CNN.

We're going to go back to the big story this hour. A judge's ruling ordering to pay nearly $355 million. It had the fallout of this case that hits at the heart of Trump's image as a successful billionaire, and his inflation of his own worth.

Stay with us.


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

This hour, warnings in Russia in the wake of the death, if not murder, of Alexey Navalny Vladimir Putin is shutting down potential protests.