Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Executive Action To Restrict Asylum At Border; Nuke In Space; Drastic Action In Alabama; Compromised Source; Trump Draws Comparisons Between Himself And Alexei Navalny; CNN Speaks With Father Of American-Israeli Hostage Held In Gaza; Records: Biden's Dog, Commander, Bit Secret Service Personnel In At Least 24 Incidents. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're going to start this hour with breaking news. Sources telling CNN that the White House is considering new executive action on the southern border. Let's get straight to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez at the White House. And, Priscilla, this executive action would target asylum for migrants. Tell us more.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The idea here is to limit asylum at the US-Mexico border for those who are crossing unlawfully because, of course, as we have seen, the numbers of border crossings go up. Many of those who are crossing are seeking asylum in the United States.

Now, what we know about the plan that is under consideration here invokes an authority that's already in immigration law, to try to restrict who is eligible for asylum. Again, if they cross unlawfully, this is something that does not affect people who are going to the legal ports of entry.

Now, what this also notes is the President embracing tougher border measures. We saw something similar to this in that Senate border compromise. That included extraordinary powers given to the homeland security secretary, to essentially shut down the border if certain triggers were met.

Well, it's unclear whether this would meet that threshold. It certainly shows the White House embracing what is a more restrictive measure on the US-Mexico border. Now, sources tell me that no final decision has been made but notable all the same. The White House telling me in a statement "no executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms, and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected. We continue to call on Speaker Johnson and House Republicans to pass the bipartisan deal to secure the border."

Now, Jake, it's also worth noting that this authority that's being considered in this executive action is one that former President Donald Trump tried to use himself in his own proclamation back in 2018. Now, in that instance, he tried to shut down asylum entirely at the border. It's unclear whether this would go to that length are usually exceptions. But all the same, again, the President and the White House considering an executive action here, that would be far tougher when it comes to asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.

TAPPER: Priscilla, what is the current situation at the southern border of the United States? Have the record numbers of migrants, have they -- those numbers slowed at all?

ALVAREZ: They have dropped, though it's all relative. Homeland Security officials tell me they're seeing about 4,000 people crossing a day. That is a big drop from December when we were seeing 11,000 people a day. Now, the reason for that is because there have been ongoing talks between the US and Mexico, essentially for Mexico to double down on their enforcement. And officials I've talked to you cite those ongoing discussions as the reason behind this drop in numbers.

But everyone here is quite cautious about what it means moving forward because oftentimes, in January, there is a drop in numbers. And in the spring, it starts to go up again. So for now, the White House feeling confident about where the numbers are, though, of course, it would be better if they were lower, but there is concern that come the spring, those numbers could go up again.

TAPPER: All right. Priscilla Alvarez at the White House, thanks so much. CNN's Melanie Zanona is on Capitol Hill for us. Melanie, is this going to be a popular move amongst lawmakers?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL REPORTER: Well, look, Republicans had been calling on the administration to use executive authority to secure the southern border. In fact, it was one of the reasons they cited when they decided to kill the Senate bipartisan deal to secure the border. They went from saying we need legislation to then suddenly saying that Biden already has the authority to act.

But I'm sure there will be some praise, even if it's backhanded praise over this move. I'm sure Republicans will say they were justified in killing that bipartisan deal, because they say now Biden is acting and maybe it motivated him to act, but they're still likely going to say that this is short of what their hardline demands are.

And the reason why is because they like this issue of the border as a bargaining chip. They want to hold on to it when it comes to debates over Ukraine aid even though they scuttled that bipartisan deal, top Republicans are still insisting, at least in the House, that they need to secure the border before they provide any additional aid to Ukraine.

Speaker Mike Johnson has not said how you would handle a Senate passed foreign aid package that did come over from the Senate. He's still taking a look at that they have not made a decision on how to proceed. He has requested a meeting though in recent weeks with the President on the border and Ukraine. Biden was asked about that recently, he said he'd be happy to meet with the speaker if he has something to say. But so far, that request has not been granted, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melanie Zanona, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Turning into our World Lead, a new reporting from the New York Times reporting that American intelligence agencies are warning their European allies, "If Russia is going to launch a nuclear weapon into orbit, it will probably do so this year, but that it might instead launch a harmless dummy warhead into orbit to leave the West guessing about its capabilities."

This builds on what CNN reported just last week, when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, sounded the alarm about a serious national security threat and quite frankly, scared a lot of Americans when he posted, "I am requesting the President Biden declassify all information relating to this threat, so that Congress, the administration and our allies can openly discuss the actions necessary to respond to this threat."


We now know that Congressman Turner was alluding to plans that Russia is working to develop this nuclear space weapon with the capability to destroy commercial and government satellites orbiting the Earth. President Biden, as you may recall, downplayed the risk.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: There is no nuclear threat to the people of America or anywhere else in the world with what Russia is doing at the moment, number one. Number two, anything that they're doing and/or they will do relates to satellites and space, and damage, you know, satellites, potentially. Number three, there is no evidence that they have made a decision to go forward with doing anything in space either.


TAPPER: Yesterday, Putin denied these plans that have been reported on by the New York Times saying that Moscow is categorically against the deployment of any nuclear weapons in space. Joining us now is national security correspondent for the New York Times, David Sanger.

David, you're the one that wrote this article. You note there's a sharp divide among American intelligence officials and agencies about whether Russia might launch a real or "dummy weapon." Why is there such a sharp divide in the intelligence community about Russia's intentions and capabilities here?

DAVID SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Jake, I think there are two reasons that the divide exists. The first is that there's every possibility that what Putin wants to do at this point is repeat what he did two years ago. We reported over the weekend, that during the time period right around the invasion of Ukraine two years ago, the Russians sent up a secret payload in a military launch, that appeared to be a test run for putting a nuclear weapon in space. But they didn't actually put one in space.

Now the new intelligence, the intelligence that led Representative Turner, Chairman Turner, to turn out that statement you showed, suggests they're planning another launch. And the division is, are they going to, again, put what would essentially be a dummy warhead into space? Would they put a real one up there as a threat to the United States to essentially say, if you press us too hard for sanctions, if you press too hard in Ukraine, if you cut off our oil and gas shipments along the way, we have a way of taking out your entire communication system. Of course, there are also take out theirs.

TAPPER: Yes. On Friday, President Biden, of course, said that there's no evidence that Russia had decided to go ahead with this plan to put this weapon into space. Your reporting suggests that Russia could launch something as early as this year, 2024. But if Russia wants the West to guess about its capabilities, do you think its goal is to deter other countries that may also want the ability to take out an adversary satellites or space weapons? What do you think is the agenda here?

SANGER: It's a really good question. So one possibility, Jake, is that in to putting this weapon up, if they decide to go do it, the Russians are doing the equivalent of what they and the Chinese have done by putting malicious cyber code in our electric grid or in our communications grid. It's sitting there to be discovered as a threat. If you go to help out Taiwan too much, we could take out your systems.

It's a little bit different than the old Cold War mutually assured- destruction that we all learned about, you know, in school so many decades ago. Because in that case, if one country took out Los Angeles, the other one might take out Leningrad. In this case, the Russians may well be concluding that no one is going to risk a nuclear war over an explosion in space that doesn't have human casualties.

TAPPER: Does the intelligence and assessment by the US agree on how Russia, how Putin plans to use the space weapon?

SANGER: The assumption is for intimidation, right? That nuclear weapons are primarily used for coercion. So a year-and-a-half ago, Jake, we were talking on your show about whether or not the Russians will use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. It would came in a moment that they were losing a lot of territory. And the question was, would they use the threat of that to keep the Ukrainians from pressing too hard? This is another version of using nuclear weapons for coercion.


It's different from the way we think about it. United States primarily uses its nuclear weapons now as the ultimate deterrent if everything else failed and you had to save the state. The Russian doctrine is you can use it as you would use any other weapon for intimidation.

TAPPER: David Sanger, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Let's bring in astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author of "Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military." Neil, thanks so much for being here.

So, US officials say that they're very worried about this Russian space weapon, and how it could pose a significant threat to the United States and its allies by taking out satellite capability. What do you think?

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Well, it's a reminder of why we have a Space Force. Space Force was conceived among other -- with other tasks in mind to protect our space-borne assets. And those assets, of course, not only the value of the satellites themselves, is the value of the information they gather from the spy satellites, but also the commerce that is generated especially via the GPS satellites.

So when you think of as force of military force, protecting the homeland, the homeland includes our space assets. The difference now, of course, is space is not bordered the way Earth's surface is. So satellites are continually have intersecting orbits of different nations with different roles and different purposes. So the idea that someone is going to, or Putin, might put something into orbit that will explode, send out an electromagnetic pulse that fries the circuits of an entire swath of orbiting satellites makes no tactical sense if everybody's got satellites moving through that area. It's not a very targeted weapon.

Meanwhile, we already know how to take a weapon out of orbit. We already know how to take a satellite out of orbit with a kinetic kill. India has done it, China's done it, Russia has done it, we've done it. We can target any satellite we want. It's been done. And the idea that you put a weapon there and somehow drop it on the earth, that's like the least strategic thing you could possibly do when you already have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can deliver a warhead anywhere between two points on earth within 45 minutes.

TAPPER: OK. I hear what you're saying and that makes sense to me. But why do you think that Putin is going through with this weapon that would you argue, would hit him as much as it would hit us?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Yes. I remain puzzled by the idea that here's this thing that could explode. By the way, an actual bomb in space carries no shockwave because there's no air to move that energy, would have to be radiative pulse to do the damage. And I cannot see the strategic value of that.

Yes, everyone is in a tizzy because the word nukes are being used. But the weapon itself, maybe it's powered by a nuke but the nuke itself is not what's getting dropped on cities just the way the President announced in his comments. So no, I don't have an easy answer for what this is or how he intends to use it. Given that there's already the capability to deliver nuclear weapons surface to surface and the capability to target satellites with a kinetic kill from the Earth.

From Earth's surface, you can send up a targeted -- just a kinetic energy impactor that can completely destroy satellite within eight minutes. Meanwhile, if you're an orbit, you got to wait until your orbit is in the right place. So it's near whatever other satellite you might want to destroy. So this it's a big mystery.

And so, I have no idea beyond the physics of what's going on, how this could possibly be useful to Russia. TAPPER: More broadly, when it comes to space warfare, who do you think has the technological edge?

DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, it's worth (inaudible) by space warfare. Space has always been a place not where you drop bombs from, but where you surveil. And it's been that way since the early 1960s. So the United States takes this very seriously. And if what -- who am I going to bet on, I'm betting on America, United States, of course.

But I don't know where he's going with this. And wherever he might go, it seems like an unnecessary path given other paths that already exist, that people might want to invoke to do damage.

TAPPER: All right. Neil deGrasse Tyson, great having on the show. Thank you so much for your insights.

Coming up, that controversial ruling from Alabama Supreme Court, which now classifies frozen embryos used in IVF, in vitro fertilization as children. Today, IVF clinics in the state are taking drastic action that will immediately impact patients.



TAPPER: In our Health Lead, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is now weighing in on the controversial ruling from Alabama Supreme Court that found that frozen embryos are, in their view, people.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, I think -- I mean, embryos to me are babies. I had artificial insemination. That's how I had my son. So when you look at, you know, one thing is to have -- to save sperm or to save eggs. But when you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. And so, I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that.


TAPPER: In his legal opinion, Chief Justice Tom Parker repeatedly invoked his religion writing, "Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a Holy God." And now one Alabama Hospital has paused its IVF care in the wake of the ruling. A spokesman for the University of Alabama Birmingham telling CNN, "We must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally, or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments."


Let's bring in Sean Tipton. He's a Chief Advocacy and Policy Officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Sean, your organization is criticizing this ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court. You say it's medically and scientifically unfounded. In a statement, the president of ASRM wrote, "modern fertility care will be unavailable to the people of Alabama, needlessly blocking them from building the families they want. Young physicians will choose not to come to the state for training or to begin their practice, existing clinics will be forced to choose between providing sub-optimal patient care or shutting their doors."

Now, you anticipated this might be a consequence. You think other medical providers in Alabama are going to stop IVF treatments altogether?

SEAN TIPTON, CHIEF ADVOCACY AND POLICY OFFICER, AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE: Well, there's a lot we don't know about this -- about the impact of this decision. What we do know is that, it's already leading to fewer babies and fewer grandbabies that are desperately wanted for their parents and grandparents in Alabama. So I think this is the first, UAB is the first system to stop. I don't think it's going to be the last.

TAPPER: The ruling has created a lot of confusion for doctors and IVF patients in the state. What are you hearing from them?

TIPTON: The ones in the state are particularly terrified. Our members all over the country are quite nervous, wondering if they could be next. I think that unfortunately, the justices of the Supreme Court of Alabama, and it sounds like Nikki Haley can't seem to grasp the reality that would be apparent for anybody else, that is a fertilized egg in a freezer and infertility clinic is not the same as a born child. And I think that legal reality needs to adjust to empirical natural scientific reality.

TAPPER: You heard Nikki Haley there say she agrees with Alabama's court. Are you concerned that this ruling is going to set legal precedent, not only in Alabama but across the country, with other courts saying embryos are the legal equivalent of a baby?

TIPTON: I think that it's possible. I also think it is possible that ambitious anti-choice politicians will seek to do this through legislation, as well as through the courts. I mean, I don't think you could pass a bill in any state right now that said, let's outlaw IVF. But I think what they don't understand is if you seek to say that a fertilized egg in a freezer is the same as a born child, you can sign patients to getting sub-optimal care.

TAPPER: Sean Tipton, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

Republicans once touted a former FBI informant as a trusted source, that's their term in their impeachment inquiry to President Biden. That sound a little different today after this revelation from the Justice Department and the FBI where that source was indicted for lying. We're going to talk about that next.



TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead with President Biden's brother, James, hold before the House Oversight Committee earlier today, Republicans are going ahead with their impeachment inquiry into President Biden despite the revelation yesterday that the former FBI informant at the center of those efforts told the FBI that he got the false dirt from Russian intelligence officials and he's been indicted for lying to the FBI. Several lawmakers today are blaming the FBI.


Rep. William Timmons IV (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 that they trusted for years, and made -- paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, you know, there's a lot of questions I have regarding that.


TAPPER: Democrats, for their part, are calling on Republicans to end their impeachment inquiry into President Biden.


Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD): I think it's time for Chairman Comer and the Republicans to fold up the circus tent, and we should get back to work for the American people. This impeachment investigation is nothing but a wild goose chase that is based on Russian disinformation and propaganda.


TAPPER: Republican congressman, former congressman Fred Upton from the great State of Michigan joins us now. Thanks so much for joining us, congressman.

It does not appear that Republicans are going to drop this impeachment inquiry into President Biden anytime soon, even though it's now clear that the allegations from this FBI informant, Mr. Smirnov, were false. Why are they continuing to push this inquiry when there is no evidence President Biden did anything wrong? And this one witness who had this, you know, bombshell of an allegation has now been criminally indicted for lying?

FRED UPTON (R), FORMER MICHIGAN REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think the base is demanding it. But at the end of the day, the votes are not -- if this is how it's ends up, the votes aren't there to move this thing forward, let alone send it to the Senate for a trial there. So I think it dies on the vine.

I mean, the evidence that came out yesterday, in some of this with Smirnov, the FBI didn't discover until late last fall. So, I mean, it's relatively new evidence that led we all know the wheels of justice turn slowly. It took that that long and to get the indictment and, you know, hopefully he doesn't escape the country.

TAPPER: Do you think Republicans are doing this just because it's an election year? UPTON: Yes. I think they got ahead of their skis. I really do. They didn't. They didn't have the evidence. It was a reluctant group of Congress to move forward. And now, I think, almost a nail in the coffin. And, you know, let's think about it. You know, how many public laws have been enacted in this Congress?


UPTON: 9, 39. I just look it up.



UPTON: Two of them are for Smithsonian associates.

TAPPER: Yes, there's like post offices.

UPTON: -- post office state, it's all a bunch of stuff.

TAPPER: You know, it's the least productive Congress --

UPTON: Ever.

TAPPER: -- since the Great Depression.

UPTON: Yes, ever.


UPTON: This is like ever. So you got the CR, you got the FISA reauthorization, you have the Farm Bill, which technically expired last September. You've got obviously Ukraine. I mean, the President was asking for money last October. It is, you know, they got to get the job done.

TAPPER: Speaking of Russia and Ukraine, Alexei Navalny died in custody, this Russian anti-corruption fighter and political prisoner who died under suspicious circumstances. Donald Trump last night compared himself to Alexei Navalny, suggesting that his own indictments for, you know, criminal allegations are somehow comparable --

UPTON: Ridiculous.

TAPPER: -- to what Alexei Navalny did. He was poisoned probably by the Kremlin, et cetera. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's happening in our country too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I get into it -- I never heard of being indicted before. I was -- I got indicted four times, I have eight or nine trials. It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your thoughts?

UPTON: You know, it's ridiculous. And again, yesterday, the Supreme Court denied an appeal on hearing the Michigan case in terms of both fraud and fines of $150,000 is still going to be on the Trump lawyers that are there. I mean, this is just -- to think that he's continues to be a victim and -- this is the first time that he has mentioned Navalny, right?

TAPPER: Yes. He has not condemned Putin at all, unlike Nikki Haley or Joe Biden, or many Western leaders.

UPTON: John Bolton said, you know, if Trump wins, there's going to be a pretty big celebration in Moscow.

TAPPER: Well, speaking of Trump winning, you represented Michigan. I know there are a lot of Democrats that are very worried about Biden's chances in Michigan. What do you think?

UPTON: Yes, they should be worried. You know, Trump won Michigan, narrowly 12,000 votes or so back in 2016. He lost it by 154,000 in '20. The polls show that Trump is up by 8, 8 to 10 points. So between the UAW rank and file, they're really not happy with the leadership, the Palestinian issue. African Americans may sit at home.

You know, Trump is doing pretty well right now in Michigan, and they need to be. Democrats need to be worried. I know. Debbie Dingell, my good friend and colleague, is often on your show and she's been sounding the alarm bells for a number of months. And you better get with it if you're going to win in Michigan, because it's not going to be so simple.

TAPPER: She sure has. And you mentioned the Palestinian conflict. Israel versus Hamas is a big Palestinian and Muslim, and Arab American population in Michigan, and a lot of them are saying, at least according to reports I've read, they're just -- they're not going to vote

UPTON: Well -- and you've got my former colleague, Tlaib, saying don't vote, just vote present. Even Andy Levin was saying that former Democratic congressman too, this week saying, you know, just register a vote but don't vote for anyone. Just vote -- in essence, vote present.

TAPPER: That would essentially, of course, help Donald Trump --

UPTON: That's right.

TAPPER: -- who was in favor of what he call --

UPTON: He was in the primary and we got a primary next week.

TAPPER: Right, right. Oh, and the Michigan primary but Tlaib and Levin saying that about the general election too? UPTON: Well, I don't know that they actually talked about the general. But I think for next Tuesday, and that's Michigan primary, they're telling people to either stay at home or don't vote.

TAPPER: All right, fascinating stuff. Michigan Republican Fred Upton, former congressman Fred Upton, former congressman, thanks so much. Always good to see you, sir.


TAPPER: Coming up next, the latest effort by the United States to try to jumpstart hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Plus, I'm going to speak with the father of one of the hostages who says it's really up to two people for a deal to get done. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our World Lead, sources tell CNN that CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to travel to Paris on Friday for further talks with Israeli and Qatari and Egyptian officials over the ongoing hostage negotiations. This is families of the estimated 100 living hostages still being held by terrorists in Gaza are pleading with officials to try to secure a deal. Six American Israeli hostages are believed to be among those in captivity for the past four and a half months including 35-year-old Sagui Dekel-Chen.

And Sagui's father Jonathan Dekel-Chen joins us now. Jonathan, thanks for coming back on The Lead. I wish you weren't -- you didn't have to come back because I wished Sagui had been freed. You and other family members of American Israeli hostages have expressed your frustration with the pace of negotiations after meeting virtually with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan last week. Do you think that the U.S. government, do you think that the Israeli government are doing enough to get a deal to get Sagui home?

JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, FATHER OF AMERICAN-ISRAELI HOSTAGE: Well, look, at the end of the day, there are two people that have to agree in order for all of the hostages to come home and alive and not in boxes. One is Yahya Sinwar, wherever he is --

TAPPER: The head of Hamas.

DEKEL-CHEN: Head of Hamas and the other is Benjamin Netanyahu, our prime minister in Israel. The Biden administration has done and we believe is doing as much as it can to facilitate the freeing of these hostages, more needs to be done clearly. And it's been well over two months since the last hostage was released. The facts on the ground tell us that more needs to be done. And the sides need to work harder. Whether it's the Israelis, the Americans, the Qataris because time is not on the side of the hostages. And we have serious concerns how many of the 133 that we presume are alive, we hope are alive are actually still with us.

[17:40:15] TAPPER: When is the last time you had any proof of life for Sagui?

DEKEL-CHEN: I'm from kibbutz Nir Oz, which was destroyed on October 7th. And that day, 80 of our people of kibbutz members from aged one to age 85. And a number of Thai workers were taken to Gaza. In late November, early December, a wave of releases came and about 40 women and children from our kibbutz were released. Of those, some of the women and some of the teenagers were able to tell us that they had encountered Sagui alive in the tunnels underneath Khan Yunis.

But since that time, we have heard nothing. And in fact, only those people whose relatives, whose loved ones appeared. And Hamas hostage videos have seen any sign of life. And we don't even know for the most part when those were dated.

TAPPER: Pentagon said today that the Palestinian people could enjoy Ramadan, and essentially implying that the war would be over if Hamas would just surrender and turn over the hostages. And I'm wondering what you think when you hear that. That's -- you rarely hear that being acknowledged in the streets when people are protesting, the war and calling for a ceasefire. But what's your take when you hear Pentagon say that?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, I mean, he's stating the obvious. The problem here is that both sides need to agree to that. And from my perspective, there's absolutely no doubt that Hamas needs to be eradicated as a military and governing organization, not just for the sake of Israel and Israelis, but for the sake of the people of Gaza.

And Hamas has held Gaza hostage since its coup in 2007. It's over a million people who are held captive in essence by a terrorist organization that was never supposed to be the one and only ruling authority in Gaza. As for what the end game can be, the expectation that Hamas will simply lay down its weapons and turn over the hostages while hopeful and admirable, is not practical.

We know that if that could happen, the hostages would come home alive. As we've seen, that's not likely. And so Israel and its partners have to be a lot more creative in moving forward on any plan and any action that is going to get these hostages home.

TAPPER: President Biden is vocally growing, frustrated with Benjamin Netanyahu and the way that the Prime Minister and the IDF are waging this war in Gaza. Are you worried at all that that tension will get in the way of negotiations to get Sagui and other hostages home?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, sometimes friends have to argue. And sometimes friends have to push each other. And I think the hostage families, nearly all of them would welcome the United States, pushing Israel, pushing a very reluctant Israeli government towards negotiation because this idea that Israeli forces will go knocking on Sinwar's door in some bunker underground, and he will then release all of the hostages. That's fantasy.

And the only way these people are coming out are through negotiations. The Israeli ministers themselves and the Israeli cabinet has made it clear that they believe that the hostages are not a priority. And that means that for the sake of the six American and the other 120 something Israeli hostages, we need our partners abroad, to make it clear to the Israeli government, that for the good of the hostages, for the good of the Israeli people as a whole. And I believe for the right minded world, these hostages have to come home alive.

TAPPER: Yes. In a recent article you wrote for The Atlantic Council, you wrote, quote, by invoking the Holocaust when talking about October 7, 2023, the Israeli government is released from its accountability for the massacre that day, and it's sacred responsibility to return all the hostages alive. Explain what you mean by that?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, I look at this from a number of perspectives. I'm a -- my day job until October 7th, was as a professional historian, but I'm also the child of Holocaust survivors. So very sensitive to invoking ever the Holocaust in any scenario, in this particular one, and around the events of October 7th, there really is no parallel.

We -- Israel since 1948, has been a sovereign country, generations of Jews and friends of Jews work in order to create a sovereign kind country with a strong army that was meant to protect its citizens if nothing else, its civilians and that basic social contract, not just within Israel, but for the Jewish diaspora was broken on October 7th.


And it failed -- the Israeli government and our army failed on October 7th. But that failure is the failure of a sovereign state with its own powerful army. It bears no resemblance to what happened to the Jews of Europe to a degree North Africa during the Second World War, despite the fact that the carnage was horrific on October 7th.

TAPPER: It's been four and a half months that you and Sagui's wife and Sagui's three daughters have got to go on and get up every morning and deal with this absolute nightmare. There's a picture of Sagui. How are you able to do it? How are the daughters? How is his wife? It's just seem so awful.

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, Avital, Sagui's wife, and she's the hero here in keeping her home together, keeping her three little girls and moving straight on. It's a nightmare every day. That's the truth. And his almost seven-year-old and almost three-year-old girls are completely aware that he's not with us. He's somewhere else. They have many questions. We can't answer any of them. Where is he? Is he OK? When can we go home to our kibbutz? None of these questions have answers. And it rips our heart out every day. As it does, I'm sure, the other 132 hostage families.

TAPPER: And you were saying earlier before we did the interview that kibbutz Nir Oz you're not -- you're probably never going back. It's gone. It's just gone forever?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, was it kind of paradise in the desert, you know, our first prime minister, had a dream that the Israeli desert the Negev Desert would bloom. And kibbutz Nir Oz was one of the living examples of what that looked like in terms of its just physical beauty and hyper productive, hyper productivity in agriculture. And that's all gone.

What remains of kibbutz Nir Oz, the home of about 440 people is a burnt out shell that was looted completely on October 7th by civilians from Gaza, everything from my grandkids tricycle, to the largest of our farm tractors. And there may come a time when the Israeli government rebuilds, you know, plows under the shell that remains and rebuilds.

I do not know if any of the original residents are going to want to return. I am sure that they will only return if our sons, our daughters, our fathers, our grandfathers, our husbands come home alive the same people who were taken from these border kibbutz Tzeelim.

TAPPER: Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of American Israeli hostage, Sagui Dekel-Chen, thank you so much. And hopefully you'll come back with Sagui with Avital with the three girls and we'll all celebrate together and let's hope for peace and the return of the hostages very soon.

DEKEL-CHEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Just into The Lead, the Biden family's German Shepherd, Commander, has been involved in at least 24 biting incidents involving the U.S. Secret Service according to newly obtained documents obtained by CNN. CNN's senior White House producer Betsy Klein joins us now in her Lead debut. And Betsy some incidents with Commander had been previously reported. But these records paints a picture of a much larger issue, really?

BETSY KLEIN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE PRODUCER: That's right, Jake. You'll remember CNN reported in the fall that the President's German Shepherd, Commander, was involved in dozens of biting incidents that was White House personnel, members of Secret Service, residents, staff and others. And it became such a problem that the first family eventually had to send the dog to live with other family members.

And after that my colleague, Camila DeChalus, sent a Freedom of Information request to the Secret Service to really better understand what was going on here. And today, we got back hundreds of documents detailing the nature of the bites over a full year. And there were at least 24 specific incidents with the Secret Service.

And I want to read you this email from an unnamed assistant special agent and charged with team on the presidential protective division. Now these are the agents that most closely protect the President and his family. He says the recent dog bites have challenged us to adjust our operational tactics when Commander is present. Please give lots of room. He added that agents must be creative to ensure our own personal safety.

TAPPER: So Betsy, did the White House send Commander to live with family immediately after this?

KLEIN: Well, no Jake, I mean Commander actually remained at the White House for more than three months after this e-mail was sent and there were multiple incidents in that time. And exactly one month after that e-mail, an agent working at the Biden's Rehoboth Beach, Delaware home was bit in the backyard as he walked to his post. And a report we got from that incident said that it caused a severe deep open wound that the agent started to lose a significant amount of blood.

That agent was treated by the White House medical unit, got six stitches. And we learned that more than 10 of these total incidents required medical treatment. Now the first family really considers this dog to be part of the family. Source close to the Biden is telling CNN that the family is heartbroken and feels awful about the situation.

TAPPER: Yes, I've been in a similar situation. It's rough. It's -- I don't mean that it's, no, no I didn't mean that as a stupid pun like it's difficult.

KLEIN: Absolutely.

TAPPER: But the dog has to go and we thankfully we were able to find a home for ours. Betsy Klein, appreciate it.

Coming up tomorrow, maybe something that has not happened in more than 50 years.



TAPPER: Breaking news, Donald Trump is acting for -- asking for at least an extra month to pay that massive court judgment. The president's attorneys, former president's attorneys are asking for the judge in Trump's civil fraud trial to delay enforcing the $355 million penalty for at least 30 days. They're accusing the New York State Attorney General of a, quote, unseemly rush to enforce that judgment. Trump has 30 days from when the judgment was entered to post bond.

And appeal finally for us today in our Out of This World Lead, it's one big milestone accomplished and an even bigger one to go for the latest Moon lander launched last week aboard a SpaceX rocket. The uncrewed spacecraft, successfully fired its engine and went into orbit around the Moon today. It's named Odysseus or OD for short. It was set up by a Houston based company called Intuitive Machines which posted this picture of OD in orbit a short time ago.


Tomorrow afternoon, we're going to bring you live coverage as OD will attempt the first soft landing on the Moon by a U.S. spacecraft since the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 70s. Happy landings to OD and good luck.

You can follow the show on X at TheLeadCNN. If you ever missed an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call the Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.