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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Republicans Blame FBI After Informant Central To Their Biden Impeachment Inquiry Is Indicted; White House Memo Slams Republicans For Failing To Pass Ukraine Aid; Ukraine Outmanned, Outgunned Amid Shortage Of Western Aid; Russia-American Arrested In Russia For Donating To Ukraine; Israel Struck Aid Truck In Gaza Despite Taking IDF-Cleared Route; Trial For Murder Of Run DMC's Jam Master Jay Reveals Double Life. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Attorneys for Cheeks say that he should be paid out those winnings. We'll, of course, see how this plays out in court. But could you imagine walking into work holding that winning ticket, getting calls from all these relatives you haven't heard from, from years, you're celebrating -- you're on a high and then suddenly --

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: And that high is just taken away.

SANCHEZ: Taken away, right?

DEAN: The answer is no.

SANCHEZ: Back down to earth.

Hey, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

Jessica, great to have you.

DEAN: Thanks.

SANCHEZ: THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts in five seconds. Stay with CNN.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: House Republicans today questioning President Biden's brother.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden appears to be possibly on somewhat shaky ground after the Justice Department alleged that the former FBI informant who appeared to have so much dirt on President Biden was actually peddling lies and getting his dirt from Russian intelligence. CNN has the talking points that Republicans are now using after years trying to sell this informant as a trusted source.

Plus, the woman with the dual U.S. Russian citizenship detained in Russia. Why she was in Russia, her ties to a California spa and the alleged $51 donation that may have led to her arrest.

And 21 years after the murder of Jam Master Jay. A jury will finally examine that ambush that killed a member of the pioneer hip hop group Run DMC.


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

We start today with our law and justice lead, and the major fallout after this former FBI informant at the center of Republican efforts to impeach President Biden was indicted for lying to the FBI about the Biden family's dealings in Ukraine, and then told the FBI that he got the false dirt from officials with Russian intelligence.

That's according to court documents where prosecutors are saying Alexander Smirnov, this informant was, quote, actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections. Today, despite a judge releasing him yesterday, prosecutors have been fighting to put Smirnov back behind bars while he awaits trial. That's him leaving court yesterday. You can see on the screen.

Prosecutors are suggesting that Smirnov's Russian connections and access to cash make him a serious flight, risk while a court iron now -- a court irons out those details, Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling on Republicans to end the impeachment inquiry into President Biden. The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland called it a, quote, wild goose chase built on conspiracy theories and lies.

But House Republicans say they will not back down. Instead, they say they are downplaying the influence at Smirnov has had on their impeachment inquiry and Republicans are going after the Justice Department and the FBI for having trusted Smirnov and used him as an informant in the first place.


REP. WILLIAM TIMMONS (R-SC): You know, I think it's interesting that the FBI didn't investigate the allegations made years ago, and now, they've indicted the confidential source of the trusted for years and made -- paid him a hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, you know, there's -- there's a lot of questions I have regarding that.


TAPPER: House Republicans are also moving full steam ahead with the impeachment process, they say. Today they interviewed President Biden's brother, James, behind closed doors. James is the first member of the Biden family to testify in this investigation and today that businessman reiterated to lawmakers that the president, in his words, quote, has never had any involvement or any direct or indirect financial interest in his 50-year career.

CNN's Manu Raju starts off our coverage of this all from Capitol Hill.

Manu caught up with and asked a number of top Republicans about all of these new developments.



(voice-over): Republicans defiant in the face of a damning indictment, charging an FBI informant of making up a bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son, Hunter, allegations central to the impeachment into Biden and his family's business dealings.

But your promotion of a bribery scheme was false.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Not at all. We're looking at the four facts I just gave you. Those facts are true.

RAJU: Was it right to promote a bribery scheme for the president based on that?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Today, we're asking questions to James Biden. So we're going to ask him about his business relationships with the Chinese.

RAJU: Was your brother involved in any of your business dealings?

Behind closed doors today, the president's brother, James Biden, told House investigators that the president never had any involvement in his business activities.

All as the GOP is at risk of seeing support for the impeachment effort collapsed in the House, since they have yet to prove that Biden acted corruptly to assist his family.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I think it's time for Chairman Comer and the Republicans to fold up the circus tent.

RAJU: After 43-year-old Alexander Smirnov was arrested on charges of lying to the FBI in creating false records, he told the FBI that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in the false Biden bribery allegations.

And today, special counsel David Weiss asked a judge to keep smeared up in jail as he awaits trial.

Yet it was Smirnov's allegations that Republicans ran with, citing an FBI form known as a 1023, that contain the unverified accusations.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.

RAJU: A key GOP chairman, helping lead the probe, even calling it a smoking gun.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know the president took bribes from Burisma. REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Those allegations are consistent with a

pattern that we've seen in Romania and maybe some other countries.

RAJU: And Chairman Jim Jordan indicating the informant's allegations were essential.

JORDAN: The most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible, confidential human source.

RAJU: Today, Jordan downplayed that recent remark.

You said the 1023 is the most corroborating piece of information you.

JORDAN: Corroborates but it doesn't -- it doesn't change those fundamental facts. So, now --

RAJU: It's not true.

Republicans today criticizing the FBI and DOJ for previously calling Smirnov credible and paying him for information, as they circulated talking points saying the Biden probe has secured more evidence and was not reliant on Smirnov's testimony, even as they removed a reference to the informant in a letter sent to a witness.

But what evidence do you have a bribery scheme now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got lots of evidence, yes.


RAJU: Now, as Republicans distanced themselves from that indicted FBI informant, Jim Jordan, told me that they have evidence that could prove Joe Biden acted corruptly with regard to his actions with Ukraine while as vice president, although those have yet to be established. Also, James Comer, the House Oversight chairman's allies, said that their investigation has mostly to do with the Biden family financial transactions, not this indicted FBI informant.

But Jake, the question is, can they convince enough House Republicans to move forward with articles of impeachment, that is still a major question, as Hunter Biden is scheduled to come behind closed doors, right here behind me, next week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Mana Raju, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez, who covers the Justice Department for us, as well as John Miller up in New York.

Evan, did the FBI I tell Republicans in Congress at any point that this information from Smirnov might not be reliable before it became central to the impeachment inquiry.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they warned the Republicans that this information had not been corroborated, that it is, it was raw, unverified information, and this is why they fought for a long time to not provide this information. Normally, these 1023s, these documents that memorialize these interactions with confidential informants, Jake, are not shared outside the FBI, right?

And so, there's a reason for that is that because its not been verified, it's not usable information. They use it to try to find additional information, but they don't use it, it's not something that you would use in court, for instance, and they certainly wouldn't provide it the Congress, unless they were forced to. And in this case, they were forced to by the Republicans that were making threats now.

TAPPER: You have Chuck Grassley, right, the senator from Iowa.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

Here's the wrinkle for the FBI. They were in a pickle. They were getting threats from the congressional Republicans but Chuck Grassley and people in Congress already had a copy of the document. So that's where they were.

Now, it is true though that in their briefing, what they were told about Smirnov is that he had previously provided valuable information and they had found it found him credible in those previous instances.

TAPPER: Interesting.

John Miller, before these charges, Alexander Smirnov did have this extensive history of working with law enforcement and they considered many of -- much of the information he had provided in the past to be credible and reliable. So how did he allegedly get tied up with all this false information that he says was from Russian intelligence?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it's not exactly clear because he admits to talking to Russian intelligence officials, at least according to the charging documents, and the FBI people that I know who are familiar with his work do say that he worked on cases where the evidence was proven and people were convicted. So, you know, he was providing information that was reliable for a long period of time. So at what point did we see that switch?

Now, while they're sorting through this case, I can tell you this, not about this case, but about informants in general, you two people in law enforcement and I control probably the largest number of informants in the NYPD, and the intelligence bureau.

But, you know, I remember my time in the FBI. These people are considered informants, a source of information, somebody to get us from point A to a case.


But oftentimes, they consider themselves international man of mystery. And they may intimate that they have connections with the government. They work with intelligence agencies. They may say that to other intelligence agencies or two people, they're trying to do business deals with. Remember, with Smirnov, you're talking about a guy that the government says has over $6 million cash in the bank and a wife or girlfriend who has another $4 million. So he wasn't being an informant necessarily for the money, even though

he was well-paid. It seems that this was like many informants. Part of his tool set, as he traveled around the world, making business deals, getting in corrupt deals, being able to get out of them, playing both ends off the middle.

This is the key question, Jake, did the Russian supply him information knowing that it would get to the FBI and do damage to the politics that they wanted to do damage to? Was that witting or unwitting? Or was he just making it all up? And that's the impasse that they're at right now.

TAPPER: And, Evan, prosecutors wants Smirnov in jail --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- while he awaits trial, they say he's a flight risk and obviously has ties to other countries.

PEREZ: But a judge released him yesterday. Why?

TAPPER: Well, he -- the judge said that the political ramifications of this case, were not really relevant to his detention and he sort of dismissed the concern that, you know, this essentially -- this guy has become part of an operation -- that is, that is intended to influence the 2024 election.

But, you know, what John Miller was just talking about. I think plays into the complication for the FBI and for the Justice Department in this case, because, you know, this guy is at one point they know that he has antipathy towards Joe Biden. They know that he's associating with foreign intelligence services. They know he's talking to the Israelis and to the Russians.

They know all of that, all of that is acceptable for the FBI. The problem is, you know, at one point, you know, does he you start lying? And at what point does the FBI do something about it?

Jake, that's the biggest question at this point is, you know, for at least three or four years, this information lived inside the Justice Department. Two U.S. attorneys David Weiss, and Scott Brady were aware of this and the question is, why didn't someone just start to at least pull some of the threads to unravel what obviously now are lies?

TAPPER: Although I would imagine prosecuting every single informant who tells a false story --

PEREZ: Yeah.

TAPPER: -- unknowingly so would keep the FBI way beyond their capacity to --

PEREZ: Not all informants are informing on the sitting president of the United States.

TAPPER: Yeah, exactly. Evan Perez and John Miller, thanks to both you. Joining guess now to discuss further, Joshua Skule, the former FBI executive director -- executive assistant director for intelligence.

Joshua, thanks for joining.

So, the FBI's informant program reported to you when you were at the FBI. What do you make of how the bureau at handled this particular case and incident?

JOSHUA SKULE, FORMER FBI EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR INTELLIGENCE: Well, first of all, I'm proud of the fact that they charged the informant for lying what we don't know is when they found out he was lying and how they use those lies to the benefit of the U.S. intelligence community.

Often, the U.S. intelligence community, including the FBI, will turn an informant back against those handlers, providing additional false information. It's a false flag operation. So we don't know that. That's not going to come out in the church -- in the charging document or if he continued to perpetuate lies to the FBI, maybe another reason they decided to charge him now.

TAPPER: But as I understand it, Alexander Smirnov is saying he got this information from Russian intelligence -- I mean, is it not possible that he was not lying, that he was told this and he passed it on to the FBI and he thought it was real?

SKULE: Well, Jake, I think that there's a high threshold for charging a lying case. Lies are sometimes hard to prove for what you're pointing out. However, the fact that they've gone forward and charged him formerly leads me to believe that they had evidence that he perpetuated lies, tried to send investigators and the prosecutors down a rabbit hole and that he got what he deserved in the recent charging in the U.S. court.

TAPPER: How does one even figure out when an informant has been compromised? When an informant is meeting with individuals who have ulterior motives, it seems like the entire world of informants is murky and full of individuals with many competing agendas.

SKULE: That is absolutely true. Choir boys do not make the best informants. You're looking for people that can report on illicit activity that have placement and access. And then you have to corroborate it, then you constantly have to test those informants and make sure so that their motives for why they're coming to you, or at least you know, why they're coming to you corroborate the information they're providing.


In an investigation, one source of information is never used to bring forth the charge or to do any other invasive collections such as a wiretap or something like that. Informants are used in a court of law but as a source of information that has been corroborated, and it's a constant test.

TAPPER: Joshua Skule, always good to have you. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Saturday will mark two full years since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in recent days. CNN's Christiane Amanpour has been in the room with leaders of key NATO allies. What she's hearing, and what she's not hearing about the urgency of supporting Ukraine at this stage in its war.

That's next.


TAPPER: Back with our world lead as Ukraine enters its third year of Russia's full-scale illegal invasion of its country. American political debates are having a major impact on the battlefield, punctuated by Russia's capture of the key eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka this weekend, a costly loss that the White House is blaming directly on House Republicans' repeated failure to approve $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine.


As former Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney put it to me on Sunday, she blames the, quote, Putin wing of the Republican Party.

Today, the White House sent a, quote, vacation reading package memo to House Republicans, saying the least they could do on their two-week break is, quote, read about the harm they are causing.

CNN's chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour speaks with soldiers in Ukraine outgunned and outmanned in the story we're about to show you. But even those with severe battle wounds tell her they want to go back to the front lines and fight for their country.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Snow fall softly on new recruits for the Ukrainian army 3rd assault brigade.

Drill sergeants push them through their paces with urgent basic training for the trenches, urban warfare and assault maneuvers. Every woman and man counts now for a battle that seems to return to the dire days at the start.

Twenty-eight year-old Serhii came back from Lithuania to serve two weeks ago despite his health.

What's wrong with you?

SERHII, UKRAINIAN ARMY RECRUIT: It's asthma. But right now we need to take our best man and no matter what, I will -- I will serve my country until the weeks (ph).

AMANPOUR: The brigade says its training professional fighters, not cannon fodder like Russia. Their soldiers helped evacuate to eight survivors of the battle for Avdiivka where Russia has now raised its flag. But many of their wounded were left behind. Just watch this video call between a severely injured soldier, Ivan (ph), and his panic stricken sister Katerina (ph).

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER (translated): Everyone left, everyone retreated. They told us that a car would pick us up. I have two broken legs, shrapnel in my back. I can't do anything.

SISTER: Are you there alone or what?

UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: No, there are six of us.

AMANPOUR: Ivan and his comrades never made it. Ukraine says there was a deal. Russia would evacuate them and exchange prisoners. Instead, Russia released video of them dead. The brigade says they were shot.

These are desperate times in Ukraine's fight to survive. They need to replenish the ranks of the dead and injured.

And even here at the super humans' facility in the western city of Lviv, therapists and prosthetics specialist work around the clock giving these war amputees a second chance and even a return to the front lines. Twenty-five-year-old Anastasia Sovka (ph) is an army sniper. She stepped on a landmine in November near the Zaporizhzhia front. And she tells me they are scattered there like snow drops in spring like daisies in summer.

We couldn't get out for a long time because we were under very heavy fire, she tells me. To be honest, we were ready to die there. The attacks was so close and we were thinking this was the end.

Olga Rudneva is CEO of the center, which is supported by Ukrainian businessman and the American philanthropist Howard Buffett. Eighty percent of the patients, a military, many of the multiple amputees and that's because Olga says the wounded cannot get out of the battle zone during the so-called golden hour to save their limbs.

OLGA RUDNEVA, CEO, SUPERHUMANS: People are advocated for ten hours by comrades very often because Russians are shelling our medics. So by the time they arrive at stabilization point, we have to cut them high because of the tourniquet. So that's why we have multiple amputations.

AMANPOUR: Not only are they outmanned, they are also outgunned. The gridlock in Congress over military aid is showing up at the front and time is not their friend.

We reach Sergeant Mikola (ph), who's also serving now on the Zaporizhzhia frontline.

Do you have enough weapons? Do you have enough people? Do you have enough ammunition?

Of course, we don't, he says. there is a catastrophic shortage of people the same with weapons. There aren't enough shells for artillery and tanks, or the tanks and artillery themselves.

On a brief hiatus in the rear, they've had to buy their own mortar, small caliber just for self-defense. Problem is no ammunition.

Anastasia practices perfecting her balanced, her endurance, regaining the strength to shoulder her weapons. And she wants to go back to the front.

I think anything is possible, she says, but whatever happens, we all need to fight this together because the enemy is advancing.


No one wants their children to still be fighting the war they and their parents have been fighting ever since Putin's first invasion a decade ago.


AMANPOUR (on camera): Something Anastasia said to me stuck with me in this time of dire weapons and ammunition shortage. She said we cannot advance on the battlefield with assault rifles.

It's essentially in some points come to that, Jake, and these people here, many of them, not just the soldiers, but also civilians. They tell me, look, Ukraine is right there, right in the middle of the Democratic world, and the autocratic world. And we are fighting the fight. We just need the help and the ammunition and weapons to do it full for you and for us and for everyone.

TAPPER: And, Christiane, recently, you've been in the room with world leaders at the Munich security conference. President Biden says, the U.S. is going to stick with Ukraine for as long as it takes. But are Western leaders, other Western leaders, quietly admitting that this is likely going to be a very long war and perhaps the strategy needs to shift?

AMANPOUR: Well, look, the Western leaders say, and many American military analysts say Ukraine can win, but it depends on the political will of Western nations. You know, that President Biden has tried to send more aid to support essentially this battle for democracy and that the Republican Congress, the MAGA wing, some of whom will represented in that room. They have torpedoed it.

So that is a huge problem. As I said, Putin has from the beginning known or at least said and believed that the west didn't have the sticking power. Obviously, for a dictatorship, for a one-party, one leader system, it's much easier to do what you want to do.

But he has been waiting for this moment and every minute that weapon or ammunition or a round doesn't get to the front. He's pushing ahead. Avdiivka, as you know, fell over the weekend, foreign minister told me that it wouldn't have happened if this bottleneck had not been so jammed up. And now, they're pushing forward even further towards the second largest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv in the north east, right close to the Russian border.

TAPPER: It does seem as though the main headline out of the Munich Security Conference is that there's this real sense of anxiety in Europe fueled by individuals who weren't even there, Trump and Putin.

AMANPOUR: Look, you're absolutely right. I told you about Putin and how he's just waiting the west out. And by the way, has turned his economy towards a full defense production economy.

And it's doing really well. They're pumped being out shells, they're pumping out drains -- drones rather, and pumping out armored vehicles and all the weapons that they, that they need. So they are well-armed and very well man with a three-to-one or four to one advantage over the Ukrainians.

Donald Trump on the other hand, is causing a huge amount, amount of anxiety, not just because he's its constantly questioning NATO's Article Five and the basis of NATO's existence, one for all and all for one. But as you know, the last comment, the latest common during a campaign swing was that he said he would invite, you know, Putin to do whatever you wanted to a NATO country.

It doesn't go down well. I'll tell you why, because the Europeans are ramping up their defense spending and they are ramping up their 2 percent requirement I tell you Donald Tusk, who is the prime minister of Poland, a key U.S. ally, reminded everybody that it was America under Ronald Reagan, a Republican president, who actually came to their defense and help all of Eastern Europe when their freedom.

And I have to say, he, he tweeted to the Republicans in Congress stymieing this. He said Reagan would be turning in his grave and shame on you. That's what's happening right now.

TAPPER: Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv, thank you so much.

Coming up next, new details about one of Russia's latest detainees. A woman with dual U.S.-Russian citizenship. What CNN is learning about why she was in Russia, and what this -- why the State Department is having trouble getting to the bottom of her case.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead, 33-year-old dual U.S. Russian citizen Ksenia Karelina is in Russian detention. She has been arrested, Russian authorities say, for treason.

She allegedly donated $51 to a Ukrainian charity. That's according to her Los Angeles employer. It's a charity that Russia's security services, the FSB, say funded an organization that assists Ukraine's armed forces. The FSB also alleges that she quote, took part in public actions, unquote, to support Ukraine. This is while she was living in the U.S.

Now her arrest comes as other Americans, Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, and dual U.S. Russian citizen Alsu Kurmasheva are also serving time in Russia. Paul and Evan have been designated as wrongfully detained by the U.S. State Department.

CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Russia's capital.

And, Matthew, the State Department says that Russia does not recognize dual citizenship. How does that affect the U.S.'s ability to gain information about Karelina's case?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it makes it much more difficult because normally if you're a U.S. citizen and you come to rush out, it will be with on a visa. And that means that you'll still seen as a U.S. citizen when you here.


And so, if you get arrested like Ksenia Karelina has been, it means that the automatic situation is that diplomats get consular access to you. But when you come in on your Russian passport, you regard it as a Russian citizen. Even if you've got a U.S. passport or any other kind of passport, it doesn't matter. You came into Russia on a Russian passport, as Ksenia did, and that means as far as the Russians are concerned, you know, they regarded her as a Russian citizen so that they're treating her as such.

I mean, I think the big question though here is, you know, why someone like Ksenia Karelina, this 33-year-old beauty therapist, who lives in Los Angeles and works there, would have been targeted at all. I mean, her crimes, which you have alleged crimes which was human mentioned, she gave 50 bucks or so to a U.S. charity that helps people inside Ukraine.

She probably posted some pro-Ukrainian images as well, but she's not exactly a political activist. She's certainly not a politician. And it just points to this idea, Jake, that there is an absolute zero tolerance in Russia these days towards any kind of dissenting opinion. I mean, if you're quiet and you don't full-throatedly support the war, then people are suspicious and the authorities of you.

But if you do anything that they construe as being supportive of Ukraine or against the special military operation as they call it here, you could well leave yourself being vulnerable to being called a traitor. And that's the situation at that Ksenia Karelina has apparently found herself in.

TAPPER: And, Matthew, we're also hearing reports of this pro Kremlin military blogger Andre Morozov, that he was found dead days after reporting on Russian losses in the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, which Russia ultimately captured this weekend.

What can you tell us about this blogger?

CHANCE: Yeah. Well, I mean, again, it points to just how difficult a line is to walk, not only if you've got to be, you got to be supportive of Russia's troops in Ukraine, but not too supportive of them. This is sort of a far, you know, kind of nationalists and ultra nationalist blogger. He was known on his Telegram channel as Murz, had about 100,000 followers. He was very upfront with Russian troops in their military operation as they call it here.

The war in Ukraine, inside Ukraine, delivering very hard hitting, truthful, apparently reports about the state of weapons and the state of the forces up there. He went a bit too far though because he said that Russian troops had lost 16,000 people in the assault on Avdiivka, which he compared with the loss of thousands of troops from the Ukrainian side. And that was just too much for many of his comrades. Many of his commanders, and they forced him to take that post down.

And he said, in his last post before he committed suicide that he was being bullied. And so that that was the reason it seems that he took his own life.

TAPPER: CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, a CNN exclusive, tracking one of the last aid trucks to enter Gaza. What we can confirm happen to that truck and the questions now directly is now directed at Israeli forces.



TAPPER: Now to the Israel-Hamas war. As negotiators race to try to secure a hostage agreement before Ramadan begins next month, Israeli War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz says he sees initial signs of progress.

On Sunday, Gantz put it plainly, he said, quote, Hamas has a choice. They can surrender, released the hostages and the citizens of Gaza will be able to celebrate the holy holidays of Ramadan, unquote.

Israel believes about 100 hostages are still alive, but without progress on negotiating their release, Israel's military says it will advance on the densely populated southern Gaza City a Rafah even during Ramadan, where an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians are currently sheltering.

CNN's Katie Polglase has exclusive new reporting that shows an Israeli strike hit a United Nations aid truck, a truck that traveled along route marked safe by Israel.


KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER (voice-over): This is how desperate the people in northern Gaza are. This aid truck filmed at the end of January is one of the last enter the region. And here's why -- aid so often caught in the fighting.

Now CNN can exclusively reveal that this truck carrying vital food headed for northern Gaza was hit on February 5th by an Israeli shell, despite an agreement to provide a safe route. CNN has seen the internal U.N. incident report and the correspondence between the U.N. and the Israeli military that show the route of this convoy was agreed upon in advance. And with starvation imminent for many across Gaza, experts say hitting

a food truck is a potential war crime.

JANINA DILL, OXFORD UNIVERSITY'S INSTITUTE FOR ETHICS, LAW AND ARMED CONFLICT: Looking at it with the available facts, its really difficult to see how this could be a legal attack. And so at minimum, it would look like a very serious violation of international humanitarian law, whether its also criminal, then depends on questions of intent.

POLGLASE: The trucks that off as part of a un marked convoy of ten up Al Rashid road in the early hours. It reached an IDF holding point at 4:15 a.m., stationary for over an hour. It was then hit at 05:35 a.m. fortunately, no one on board was killed.

The U.N. says they were hit by Israeli naval gunfire. And in satellite imagery taken just two hours after the attack, CNN identified ships that could only be Israeli naval boats. They've been deployed along the coast and are attacking Gaza from the west.

JULIETTE TOUMA, GLOBAL DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, UNRWA: We share with the Israeli army the coordinates of the convoy. And only when the Israeli army gives us the okay, the green light does UNRWA move. And the purpose of this deconfliction process is to make sure that aid convoys don't get hit.

POLGLASE: It's not the first time this has happened. Many other aid trucks have been hit since the beginning of this conflict. The U.N. says northern Gaza is still home to reported 300,000 civilians on recess. UNRWA says half of its mission requests to the north have been denied since January and since this latest attack, they've taken the painful decision to stop trying to deliver aid to the north at all.

The IDF says it's helping to coordinate humanitarian relief in Gaza, but aid agencies say they faced repeated delays while some staff are detained and even tortured. A U.N. mission and December described one aid worker who said he was stripped beaten, and blindfolded.

Even when convoys are allowed through, some routes are simply not possible. This large crater blocking Al Rashid Road just weeks before it was designated by the IDF as the main route permitted for humanitarian vehicles.

DILL: Such large percentages of the population are at such dire need at such immediate risk of starvation. From that perspective, its really hard for me to understand what kind of potential military rationale could be advanced to justify actions like this.

POLGLASE: As the humanitarian crisis deepens, the question is whether Israel will be held accountable in a court of law for depriving so many in Gaza of aid.

Katie Polglase, CNN, London.


TAPPER: And our thanks to CNN's Katie Polglase for that report. Here in the United States, the murder of hip hop pioneer Jam Master Jay. What prosecutors describe as a double life that he led in the high-profile trial that could provide answers finally, into the ambush that led to his death.



TAPPER: In our pop cultural lead, Run DMC transformed hip hop. Their collaboration with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way" is heralded as a milestone of genre blending becoming the first hip hop song to reach billboards top five in 1986.

Jam Master Jay was Run DMC's deejay and he spend sounds the transfixed millions. He was murdered in 2002, but only now is tragic case getting its day in court.

As Omar Jimenez reports, the trial has revealed how Jam Master Jay lived a double life in order to keep providing money to his loved ones.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Closing arguments finishing today in the murder trial of two men accused of killing hip hop legend Jam Master Jay, a case more than two decades in the making, going unsolved since his shocking killing in 2002.

Jam Master Jay was part of the collectively legendary group Run DMC. They were the definition of hip hop and Jam Master Jay whose real name was Jason Mizell, was the center of at all. But Jay went from the height of Run DMC fame to being the victim of a brutal shooting death inside his recording studio in Queens, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome, Run DMC into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

JIMENEZ: The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, years after Jam Master Jay's untimely death. Finally, in August 2020, a break in the case when prosecutors unsealed there indictment. According to court documents, Jam Master Jay was at his recording studio on October 30th, 2002, when the defendants, Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr. entered. Prosecutors say Jordan fired two shots, one of which killed the hip-hop legend.

Investigators say the shooting was the result of a drug dispute according to court documents, Jam Master Jay had been involved in transporting kilogram quantities of cocaine between 1990 and 2002, alongside his music career. Then prosecutors say, in or about July 2002, Mizell acquired approximately ten kilograms of cocaine, a dispute between Washington and one of the coconspirators resulted in Mizell telling Washington that he would be put out of the Maryland transaction.

Following Washington's dispute with Mizell, Washington and Jordan conspired to murder Mizell. The killing of Jam Master Jay was a shock to the hip hop community and beyond, made harder by how long it took to make an arrest.

For years, a witness who was also shot that night testified he was scared to cooperate with the investigation. According to "The New York Times", he eventually identified Jordan as the alleged gunman and Washington as the alleged accomplice. Jordan also faces charges of cocaine distribution and concern fiercely to distribute cocaine. Both men have pleaded not guilty.


JIMENEZ: Now, in closing arguments today, both the attorneys for Jordan and Washington argued it was a third man named Jay Bryant, who is actually the shooter and Bryant was charged with two counts of murder tied to this case in May of last year. He's pleaded not guilty. His case was severed from these two.

But prosecutors say he was seen entering the building before the shooting. That piece of clothing with his DNA was found at the scene and that he told a close associate he was the actual shooter. But prosecutors also say the evidence doesn't exactly support those claims.

Overall, this decision will soon be the up to a jury to decide this case that is now been over two decades coming, Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Omar Jimenez, thank you so much for that.

Coming up, the startling headline today that puts a reported timeline on Russia possibly sending a nuclear weapon to outer space.


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

In this hour, an immediate chilling effect in Alabama after a ruling by the state Supreme Court, equating frozen embryos to children. The term, quote, wrath of God, uses to justified the decision. Coming up, the IVF treatment now on hold in that state as clinics and patients in the state consider their legal liability.

Plus, a shocking headline today in "The New York Times" that would grab the world's attention. That headline reads, quote, U.S. warns allies Russia could put a nuclear weapon into orbit this year.

But we're going to start this hour with breaking news. Sources telling CNN that White House is considering new executive action on the southern border.