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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Ally Concealed Social Media Accounts From Investigations; Trump Campaign To Focus On General Election; Koch Suspends Support For Haley; Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) Weighs In On The Alabama IVF Ruling; Texas Man To Be Executed In Days, Gets Support For Clemency; Texas Man Set To Die Wednesday Insists He Is Innocent Of Double Murder; Desperate Aid Delivery Ruined; Biden: Hoping For A Ceasefire By Next Monday. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Plus, behind the book bans in Florida, the organized effort pulling publications with naked characters taken off the shelves. Does this effort go too far? Is it censorship? Is this what parents really want? You might be surprised at the response from the woman leading this charge.

And leading this hour, an investigation by CNN's K-File team, which has uncovered social media posts that a Trump ally concealed from prosecutors, posts that show he was pushing extreme election subversion strategies that could now put him in grave legal peril. We're talking about Kenneth Chesebro.

Chesebro is the right-wing attorney who helped devise the fake electors plot, the scheme to appoint fake presidential electors that Republican legislatures would then use to overturn the actual results of the 2020 popular vote in key states. Chesebro has already pleaded guilty to a crime in the Georgia election subversion case, and he cooperated with prosecutors in other states so that he could avoid additional charges.

Let's get more details from CNN's Marshall Cohen, who is breaking the story with K-File. Marshall, tell us about these tweets, and could Chesebro be at legal risk for seemingly hiding them?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Jake, he could. Listen, when you cooperate, you need to tell the truth. And CNN's K-File team uncovered a secret Twitter that Chesebro concealed from prosecutors in Michigan. There are dozens of tweets from 2020 that undercut what he later told prosecutors about his role in the scheme.

Now, we've also obtained the audio of Chesebro's Michigan interview, so you can hear it for yourself. When he was asked directly if he used social media, if he had a Twitter, he said no. Listen to this.


UNKNOWN: Do you have any social media presence, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter? KENNETH CHESEBRO, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: No. I mean, no. I, for

whatever, I mean, before --

UNKNOWN: Any -- alternate IDs that you're using for that kind of stuff?

CHESEBRO: No. I mean, I don't -- I don't do any tweeting.


COHEN: Now, maybe he had good reason to hide those tweets because they revealed that even before the 2020 election, Chesebro promoted a far more aggressive fake elector strategy than he later led on. So, here's one example, Jake. I'll play for you what he told the prosecutors, and then I'll show you the contradictory tweet.

He repeatedly told investigators that the fake electors were purely a contingency to be used only if Trump won any of his election lawsuits. Here's what he told the prosecutors. Listen to this.


CHESEBRO: So, Eastman, he had this idea that the state legislatures could somehow be effective in overturning the courts, which I thought was ridiculous. I wanted conditional language in all the states that I suggested three times to the Trump campaign on December 12th that they make it conditional on winning litigation.


COHEN: Okay, so look at this from Chesebro's anonymous Twitter account called Badger Pundit. Literally, on the day that Trump lost, he wrote that Trump doesn't have to get courts to declare him the winner. He just needs to convince Republican legislatures that the election was systematically rigged.

It's the tweet right here. You can see it on your screen. He's totally dismissing the role of the courts, embracing the strategy that you just heard him call ridiculous. Jake, this is just one of many examples where his tweets and his testimony, they don't line up.

TAPPER: Is there any reaction today from the Michigan prosecutors to this news and how are Chesebro's lawyers defending what seem clear contradictions?

COHEN: Well, I want to be clear that Chesebro hasn't been charged with any crimes in Michigan, but the experts told us that this could put him in more legal jeopardy. The Michigan attorney general already charged the fake electors in that state last year. They have an ongoing investigation, and their office told us that they are interested in these new revelations about the Twitter, and they will be, quote, "looking into the matter."

Now, Jake, we also spoke to Chesebro's attorneys. They confirmed that the secret account does belong to him, and they acknowledged that there are some inconsistencies here. They have now gone back to the states where he cooperated and told investigators all about the tweets.

But they're also drawing a distinction between Ken Chesebro, the serious lawyer, and Badger Pundit, the online persona. This is what his attorney, Robert Lankford, told us about his client, Chesebro, quote, "when he was doing volunteer work for the campaign, he was very specific and hunkered down into being the lawyer that he is, and gave specific legal advice based on things that he thought were legitimate legal challenges versus Badger Pundit, who is this guy over there, just being a goof."


That's their defense, Jake. He was just being a goof.

TAPPER: Yeah, calling him an other guy over there. It's the same guy. CNN's Marshall Cohen. Thanks for that story. Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig. Elie, on one level, I mean, I suppose, like, if the guy's an election liar, then people should expect him to lie about other things, too.

But do you think Kenneth Chesebro is in even more legal jeopardy than he was before, potentially? And might this have an impact on his agreement to cooperate in the Georgia election subversion case?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, yes, absolutely. Kenneth Chesebro is facing more legal jeopardy now, and he is not and never has been a viable cooperator for prosecutors in Georgia. Now, first of all, as to his new statements, he has apparently provided misleading, at best, outright false, at worst, information to Michigan investigators, to Georgia investigators, and to other investigators around the country.

That defense we just saw from his lawyer is utterly nonsensical. It doesn't get him out of the fact that he provided them incomplete and perhaps incorrect information. But the other thing to keep in mind is, as long as Kenneth Chesebro is out there giving two different stories, not fully embracing what he did, not admitting what he did, he is not a viable cooperator for the Fulton County D.A.

They gave Kenneth Chesebro a softball deal. They let him plead out to probation, and the reason they gave is, well, he's cooperating. No, he is not. He has not come clean. He is a failed cooperator. That's a black eye for the Georgia district attorney as well.

TAPPER: What do you make of the contradiction in just the basic question, do you have social media where he seemed to say no, and then obviously now his lawyers are admitting that Badger Pundit was him?

HONIG: Yeah, Marshall and the K-File team pulled the exact right piece of tape there. There's no ambiguity to that, and to prosecutor's credit, they don't just ask him, were you tweeting? They ask him straight up, did you have some sort of alter ego or burner account, or were you tweeting under any other name? And he says, no. That's the lie, that's the contradiction, and that's where he could be in trouble. TAPPER: Today, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, this is in the Hush Money case, asked for a gag order in the case. This is -- Donald Trump's accused of falsifying business records to cover up the payments to Stormy Daniels. The trial's set to begin March 25th. What would that gag order cover potentially?

HONIG: So, it sounds like what the D.A. has proposed here is really a fairly narrow gag order that actually almost exactly mirrors the federal gag order. What this would do, if adopted by the judges, prevent Donald Trump from making statements that could interfere with or influence the jurors, the witnesses, the courtroom staff, and the prosecutor staff, other than the D.A. himself.

I actually think -- I'm not a fan of gag orders, I never used to seek them when I was a prosecutor, but I think in this case, it's appropriately narrow. It still allows Donald Trump to publicly criticize the case against him. He can say this is a bogus case, he can say I'm not guilty. He can even say the D.A. has bad motives here. So, I think what the gag order sets aside is narrow and fair.

TAPPER: Trump's team is also asking that Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen, who facilitated those payments to Stormy Daniels on behalf of Trump, be barred from testifying. Can they do that? Can the Trump team bar Michael Cohen from testifying?

HONIG: No, that is a ridiculous request. They have to know that if you have a witness who you think is impeachable, has lied or will lie, the answer is he gets to take the stand if one party chooses to call him, and then the other party gets to cross-examine him vigorously. And then it is up to the jury to decide whether they believe or disbelieve that witness.

There is no such thing as a judge saying, I don't believe this witness, I think he's going to lie, therefore, he's off the stand. The DA is going to call Michael Cohen. They will assume all the risk that comes with that, but it's up to the jury, not a judge.

TAPPER: All right, Elie Honig, thanks so much, appreciate it. Let's go to the "2024 Lead." Let's cue the music. Yes. The race for 2024 has moved to the critical battleground state of Michigan. This is the first battleground state primary or caucus. Let's bring in CNN's Eva McKend. She's in Grand Rapids following the Haley campaign. Kristen Holmes, of course, covers the Trump campaign for us.

Kristen, Trump is well on his way to the Republican nomination, of course, but he has been unable to win over a substantial block of Republican voters. It's a minority, but it's still a big chunk.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A huge chunk. I mean, Donald Trump on Saturday night said that the Republican Party had never been so united, but our exit polls told a different story. In South Carolina, and the one I want to point to in particular, showed that 31 percent of the South Carolina voters would be unhappy if Donald Trump was the nominee. That is a huge block there.

So, the question for his team is, how do you fix that? Is that possible going into a general election, which we believe he will be the nominee up against Joe Biden? Now, part of that is that they believe overall that some of these conservatives and conservative leaning independents will start going to Donald Trump if the option is just Donald Trump or Joe Biden, but that's not everybody. The other part of this is what we saw them do back in Iowa. This is very strategic.


What they are going to do in several of these states is try to build out the data that they have from the last several years to expand the MAGA electorate. That means focusing on people who are conservative, right-leaning, who maybe don't know that much about Donald Trump, who have supported him in the past, have donated in the past, but never voted for him. That's going to be part of their strategy there.

We also know they really want to turn to that general election because of this. They know they need to build out their infrastructure, particularly in those critical battleground states. And that's what they want to turn their attention to.

TAPPER: So, Eva McKend in South Carolina Saturday, the split was 60 percent Trump, 40 percent Haley, roughly. This is how Haley tried to spin a 20-point deficit in her home state. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm going to count it. I know 40 percent is not 50 percent. But I also know 40 percent is not some tiny group.


TAPPER: How is the Haley campaign trying to set expectations for Michigan, the Republican primary, and the results tomorrow night?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, by not setting expectations at all, in fact, they are raising the bar for former President Donald Trump. She told us today that right now she is raising every red flag possible. And she argues that Trump, in all of these early contests, is not winning by a mandate, that he's not getting above 90 percent. What the last few weeks have actually illustrated is that he is going to have a lot of problems in a general election with independent and moderate voters.

TAPPER: And Eva, the Koch brothers have announced they're going to stop trying to support Haley in her presidential quest. Given that news, how much longer can she have on the campaign trail? You know, you need money to run for president. She says she's going to stay in until Super Tuesday, which is, I think, a week from tomorrow. Might that be her last stand?

MCKEND: Well, it's unclear at this stage, Jake. Listen, she's got 10 fundraisers coming up. And her team says, after South Carolina, that they actually raised a million dollars. And a lot of that money came from people donating under $200. But it's not clear what upcoming state she can actually win. I put that question to her. Listen to what she told me.


HALEY: We have 21 states and territories that are getting ready to happen. Why don't we wait and see what happens? We don't have to have a crystal ball and say this is going to happen or that's going to happen. We don't live in Russia. We don't anoint kings. We have elections. Let people vote.

MCKEND: Can you name a single state you can win?

HALEY: I can name that 70 percent of Americans don't want Donald Trump or Joe Biden.


MCKEND: Now for her part, Haley already on to Minnesota this evening, where she is continuing to make her case to voters. And when I was speaking to voters here today in Michigan, Jake, they tell me that she's glad that she's still in this contest, that they don't believe that she should be bullied out. And they are hoping for some sort of miracle, for something maybe with Trump's legal cases to happen for her to ultimately become viable once and for all. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Eva McKend and Kristen Holmes, thanks to both of you. CNN will have special coverage of tomorrow's presidential primaries in Michigan. Look for results and analysis starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Coming up here on "The Lead," that controversial ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court about IVF, that one where the wrath of God quote was used to justify classifying frozen embryos as children. Democrats in both Alabama and Congress are pushing back and House Republicans are trying to make sure one side of this debate will become law. Stay with us.




ANTHONY DANIELS, (D) MINORITY LEADER, ALABAMA STATE HOUSE: We have to act immediately and put politics to the side and address this issue once and for all, restoring the rights and the decisions back to women and their doctors, not politicians.


TAPPER: That was the Alabama State House Minority Leader today, a Democrat, pushing a new bill that would clearly define an embryo as not a child, a bill that is in direct response to a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that classified frozen embryos as children. This debate is, of course, not playing out at only the state level in Alabama. House Speaker Mike Johnson put out a statement in response to the Alabama ruling, quote, "I applaud the Alabama legislature for immediately working to protect life and ensure that IVF treatment is available to families throughout the state," unquote.

What's curious about that statement is that Speaker Johnson is one of 125 Republican House members who co-sponsor legislation called the Life at Conception Act. That bill defines a human being to, quote, "include each member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization or cloning," unquote.

That would include a frozen embryo, of course, and the current House version includes no exception for IVF, for in vitro fertilization. The latest Senate version does have an exemption. I want to bring in Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois to discuss.

Senator Duckworth, how do you reconcile Speaker Johnson saying that IVF should be legal and protected and at the same time supporting the Life at Conception Act, which, as I understand it, would declare frozen embryos to be people?


SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Well, you can't believe him. I mean, bottom line, Jake -- the point is Republicans have been twerking for decades to define life as beginning at the point of fertilization of the eggs. They can't have it both ways. They can't go after women and say, hey, we don't trust women to make decisions about their own reproductive health care and we're going to define a fertilized egg as a human being with personhood rights.

And at the same time, because they know that IVF is highly popular among the American people, say, oh, except for IVF, you can't have it both ways. And so, what I say to the American people is listen to Republicans when they tell you exactly who they are. They believe life begin at the moment an egg is fertilized, which makes it completely unable to be reconciled with IVF treatments, which, of course, can often require the discardation -- discarding non-viable embryos, for example.

TAPPER: Yeah. So, you have been public talking about how both of your children were conceived via IVF. First of all, explain how this measure might have affected you had you been living in Alabama. Like, why is there this conflict between saying that IVF is a person and being able to do it?

DUCKWORTH: Well, this is the same fear, type of fear that's a consequence of the definition of life is beginning at a fertilized egg that doctors are also going through in terms of women who are presenting in emergency rooms, you know, where their pregnancy is threatening their life.

And doctors are telling women, go sit in the parking lot and bleed out for a while before we can take care of you until we know for sure you're almost dead before we can, you know, perform an abortion on you. It's the same thing. When I had an IVF, we fertilized five eggs. We discarded three of them because they were non-viable.

The doctors could tell that they were not going to proceed any further because the eggs were not maturing. In that case, by discarding those three eggs, my doctor could have been guilty of manslaughter or even murder in a place like Alabama, where now life begins at exactly the moment of fertilization.

So, a doctor who discards three eggs could be considered to be committing manslaughter. Worse, what about, you know, I have one egg that -- one fertilized egg that is (inaudible) that we are -- that's in storage. Am I guilty of manslaughter? Am I guilty? What happens when my husband and I decide to either donate that that fertilized egg for to another couple or I could donate it for scientific purposes? Am I now guilty of manslaughter? It's very scary, you know, Jake.

And many of these groups like Texas Right for Life say that if you go through IVF, you must implant every single fertilized egg, which is just not viable.

TAPPER: So, this is becoming a very tricky political issue for Republicans. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign told candidates to, quote, "clearly and concisely reject efforts by the government to restrict IVF," unquote. Former President Trump is also expressing his support for IVF. How much is this going to be an issue in the upcoming election, do you think?

DUCKWORTH: It's going to be a significant issue in the upcoming elections, just as access to reproductive choice will be a major issue in this upcoming election. And they can't run away from this. I started talking about this as a consequence of the move to turn Roe v. Wade back in 2018 when Neil Gorsuch was being confirmed. I said the same thing when Amy Comey Barrett was being confirmed. This is going to be the consequence of the fall of Roe v. Wade.

And when you define life as beginning at fertilization, you can't also say that you support IVF. It doesn't work. That's not the way science works. And so, Republicans can try to cover themselves all they want. But at the end of the day, they are the ones after decades of effort who put this into place. And I laid this completely at the feet of my Republican colleagues and Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat from the great state of Illinois, thank you so much for your time today.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you.

TAPPER: In the state of Texas, some rather big names are pleading with the governor, Greg Abbott, to stop an execution. Sister Helen Prejean and Martin Sheen are two of those names. They will be here. Why they believe this execution needs to stop. That's next.



TAPPER: Our "Law and Justice Lead" now. Last ditch efforts are underway to delay the execution of a Texas death row inmate who has maintained his innocence for more than 20 years. And today, one of those efforts failed. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today did not recommend clemency or a reprieve. Now, the final hope of Ivan Cantu rests in litigation before the courts and advocacy from individuals, including Kim Kardashian, who today posted the state will execute Ivan Cantu in two days.

Cantu and his attorneys are claiming multiple issues with his conviction in the 2000 murders of his cousin, James Mosqueda, and his cousin's fiance, Amy Kitchen. They claim the state's key witness -- key witnesses gave false testimony at trial. Plus, they argue new evidence backs up a story Cantu relayed at the time of the killings.

Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera in Dallas, who's been covering this for CNN. Ed, amid this 11th hour effort to delay Cantu's execution, one of the jurors who helped put him on death row is now in his corner?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not just one juror, Jake, but three jurors who sent Ivan Cantu to death row back in 2001 have come forward saying that the 50-year-old death row inmate deserves a new trial.


The jury foreman wrote in an opinion piece in the Austin American Statesman newspaper clearly trying to get the attention of state leaders here. This is what he wrote. This is Jeff Calhoun. He says, "We jurors did not hear the truth you assume you would hear from a person under oath. Bottom line, I feel like I was fooled. This trial had some fabrication, and the course of investigative action is incomplete."

And now many people close to Ivan Cantu will tell you, Jake that early on the prosecution's case seemed open and shut. But in the last three or four years, newly discovered evidence has really kind of raised serious questions about Cantu's called the quality of the defense he got. His defense attorneys called no witnesses on his behalf. And there's also serious questions about whether or not two key witnesses lied in that testimony.

One of the key witnesses, they say lied about a watch that Ivan Cantu had stolen, that was actually never stolen, returned to the victim's families. And another key witness has recanted the testimony that he had made that if it were, he said Ivan Cantu and confessed to all of this. We spoke with Cantu last week as he prepared here for the final days leading up to his execution.


IVAN CANTU, DEATH ROW INMATE SEEKING NEW TRIAL: I'll be the first to tell you, if I was on the jury, I would have convicted myself absolutely with the case -- with the case that was presented, you know, by the prosecution and what the defense not doing anything. Give me a new trial with with the team on what the attorney that I've got today. And yes, I mean, we've already discredited the state's case on appeal and we wouldn't be able to do it in a courtroom also with whatever they were going to bring. I just have to brace for impact. The worst case scenario, they ignore everything and place me on that gurney and kill him.


LAVANDERA: And Jake, full disclosure here Ivan Cantu and I went to grade school together for several years and when we spoke to him last week, that's the first time that I had seen him in nearly 40 years. But here with two days left his legal options are quickly running out. Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera in Dallas for us. Thank you so much.

With us now to discuss actor and progressive activist Martin Sheen. And anti-death penalty activists Sister Helen Prejean, both are fighting to stop Cantu's execution. They're backing a petition with 60,000 signatures delivering it to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, and Collin County District Attorney.

Martin, let me start with you. You have long been devoted to social justice causes. What is it about Ivan Cantu's case that drew your attention?

MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR: Well, clearly the first step was Sister Prejean, who asked me to just investigate on my own and I did, and your report there. I saw a longer report with him on Anderson Cooper's show this past Friday. And he interviewed Matt Duff, who did a documentary called Cousins in Blood, you can see it on YouTube. And that is the most powerful source of evidence that turns this whole case on its head. And that's why I got so totally involved. And now we're down to less than 48 hours. So it's critical that we get a stay for Ivan and that the truth come out, it can save his life and even exonerate him. So that's what we're trying to do.

TAPPER: Sister -- Martin, but what's the name of it again? Cousins and blood?

SHEEN: It's called Cousins in Blood. It's on YouTube.


SHEEN: And it's made by Duff.

TAPPER: Okay. I just want to make sure people know where to search for it so they can watch for themselves. Sister Helen, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis said he remained fully convinced that Ivan Cantu brutally murdered James Mesquita and Amy Kitchen. How likely do you think it is that the courts will stay his execution?

SISTER HELEN PREJEAN, ACTIVIST OPPOSED TO THE DEATH ROW: I'm not sure I hope they do. We have legitimate issues. But people like dive and get caught and a catch 22, by the time because he had miserable, abysmal defense who had no witnesses, no investigation, so he presented nothing. But now when you get investigation like Matt Duff doing it and we get the new information that show the key state witnesses lied. And that's what convinced the foreperson, Jeff Calhoun, he said, Look, we were invested with the responsibility of deciding of our fellow citizen lives or dies. And we didn't get the truth at trial. It wasn't fair to us. That's why he's made his statement.

We have, I believe it's gone to rest finally in the governor's office, and so we have a full-blown campaign to the people to just say there are all these questions over the actual guilt of this man, Ivan Cantu. I'm not surprised that DA's digging their heels say, oh, no, it was a fair trial. And the whole bit and it's been all these years of appeal, but it wasn't. That's in theory what it was supposed to be.

So our full-blown call out to the people is to get to Governor Abbott. He has one of the last vestiges of the Divine Right of Kings he's the safety valve and all this when justice is not done in the courts or you question it, that he can grant a reprieve long enough to be able to look at the new evidence, which no court is yet willing to hear.


So what we're asking people to do anybody within earshot of this is to text the numbers 668366, 668366. And in the message, write, save, and that's going to send a message directly to Governor Abbott. There are too many questions about the integrity of this conviction. Just grant a 30 day reprieve long enough to have an investigative hearing to see if there's any substance to what has emerged.

TAPPER: What's that number again?

PREJEAN: So glad you asked. It. 668366 the message right, save, S-A-V- E, save.

TAPPER: Martin, you grappled with these issues through your day job. There's a West Wing episode where President Bartlet had the opportunity to stop an execution of a criminal but doesn't. And you want that you want said that you wished President Bartlet had stopped the execution but you realize the character was a was a politician calculating all the angles? Right now in Texas, Governor Abbott might be calculating angles. He holds his power to grant Cantu a reprieve. What would your message be to him?

SHEEN: Well, you know, my attorney, who was the advisor on that episode on the West Wing, said that I had to, you know, refrain from a stay of execution. I said, but I would never do that. And he said, But Barton would -- Bartlett woods so you're not bark bark if you if you end it so yeah, we some political decisions. But it was very clear that I couldn't do it personally.

I don't know of anybody that can and I have a great sympathy for people that we authorized to do our killing for us. You know, I believe sincerely that if you support capital punishment, you must look life square in the eye, and choose death. And that's all you get.

TAPPER: Martin Sheen and Sister Helen Prejean, who would remind us that the number is 668366 and the word is saved 668366 to save. Thank you so much for being with us to discuss this issue. Please come back again. SHEEN: Thank you so much, Jake.

PREJEAN: Thanks, Jake. Great show.

TAPPER: Coming up next, incredible video of a desperate attempt to deliver aid in Gaza. That effort was ruined. See the chaotic scene on a beach ahead.



TAPPER: We are back with our world lead. And just moments ago, President Biden was telling reporters that he hopes to have a ceasefire and hostage deal in place for the Israeli-Hamas war. By the end of the weekend. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I hope by the beginning of the weekend, until the end of the weekend. My National Security Adviser tells me that we're close. We're close, not done yet. My hope is by next Monday, we'll have a ceasefire.


TAPPER: His hope is that by next Monday, there'll be a ceasefire. CNNs MJ Lee at the White House for us and CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is also here.

MJ, that's a big announcement from the President to be given in an ice cream shop. What role is the U.S. playing here?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Sometimes, Jake, as you know, big news comes from the president when he's talking freely with reporters in that kind of settings up precisely. But the President appearing to say that he is hopeful and optimistic that the pause a ceasefire that a lot of the negotiators have been working towards, could begin by the end of the weekend. He said perhaps by Monday, that, of course, is within a week or so that we are talking about and it would be an incredibly significant development, of course, because it would be the first cessation in the fighting in the Israel-Hamas war since that first seven-day truce we saw at the end of November. And we've of course been following the negotiations that have been ongoing for the last many weeks or so. And we know that all of the negotiators that are involved have been racing against the clock essentially, to try to get this deal done by Ramadan.

And we have been talking about Ramadan sort of this deadline because that is when Israel has said that IDF would begin its ground incursion into Rafah in southern Gaza, if a deal is not struck before that. And of course, my colleague, Alex Marquardt, has been doing some great reporting on how Hamas has, in recent days, sort of softened some of its demands, and chiefly the most important one being the demand for Israel to pull out of Gaza altogether and bring it a permanent end to the war. So the President, again, seeming to sound optimistic that this could

be in place in a matter of days. Jake.

TAPPER: So thank you so much, MJ. Alex, in addition to what MJ just said, giving you credit for the reporting, that that Hamas is requirement, previous core requirement that Israel pull out entirely from Gaza for the ceasefire to happen. What other requirements requests demands have they softened on? And how soon can this happen? Do you think this could actually happen at the end of the weekend?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It could, in fact that a senior administration official I spoke with just yesterday said that this could happen within days that in fact, the distance between the sides was not all that difficult to bridge, but everybody you talk to cautions that these are very fragile and fluid discussions.

Now, three weeks ago, Hamas put forward a counterproposal that essentially Israel dismissed out of hand. Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it delusional and essentially the talks came to a standstill. Then there were these talks on Friday between the CIA director is Egyptian News Israeli counterparts are the Qatari Prime Minister and that appears to have gotten things back on track. And what I'm told by multiple sources is that Hamas is backing down on some of those key demands, at least for now, at least to get this first phase of an agreement off the ground, primarily reducing the number of Palestinian prisoners that they are demanding that Israel release, dropping the demand that the IDF leave Gaza altogether and dropping the demand that Israel end this war altogether.

That's not to say that they're not going to demand that later on. But this is about an initial phase that would see Israeli hostages released women, children, elderly, the sick, assumed to be around 40 or more of them, and result in a significant pause in the fighting that could last weeks.


TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt and MJ Lee, thanks to both you. Coming up, behind a book ban campaign in Florida the push to cover up illustrated characters without clothes or wholesome classics completely off the shelf. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead as you may have read many in the state of Florida or on a book-banning spree. We've also seen a few cases where school librarians, colored over illustrations in children's books. So is this in the best interests of the children? Legendary author and illustrator Maurice Sendak once said, quote, "Grownups desperately need to feel safe and then they project onto the kids. But what none of us seem to realize is how smart kids are. They don't like what we write for them, what we dish out for them because it's vapid. So they'll go for the hard words. They'll go for the hard concepts. They'll go for the stuff where they can learn something, not didactic things but passionate things."

As CNN's Carlos Suarez reports for us now. Maurice Sendak is one of the authors at the center of one woman's crusade to ban books and now even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has cautioned some of this stuff is just going too far.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a school district meeting in Indian River County, Florida.

JENNIFER PIPPIN, CHAIRPERSON, MOMS FOR LIBERTY INDIAN RIVER COUNTY CHAPTER: Throughout this entire book, there is pictures of people having sex and they're nude. It says I quote --

SUAREZ (voice-over): Jennifer Pippin read it from a book she says doesn't belong in public schools. Her objection was the only item before a committee of parents and educators who will decide whether the book is removed. No one spoke in favor of keeping the book. The committee decides in April, a prolific book challenger Pippin heads the county's conservative parental rights group, Moms for Liberty. She knows a process well.

PIPPIN: We need to remove these materials because they are prohibited per all the laws and statutes.

SUAREZ: How many total number of books have you challenged yourself?

PIPPIN: Myself here in Indian River County 242.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Out of these a couple of titles stand out the literary classic in the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak and a newer book, unicorns are the worst about a grumpy goblin both have illustrations of characters without clothes. Pippin challenged both books under a Florida education law, which allows for the removal of a public school library book that depicts or describes a sexual conduct.

In her formal objection, Pippin said the images were pornographic but in our interview, she walked back that claim.

SUAREZ: What's pornographic about them?

PIPPIN: So they're not pornographic. They contain nudity.

SUAREZ (voice-over): But nudity alone is not harmful to minors. According to Florida law, the content would have to appeal to a prurient interest be patently offensive or without literary or artistic value.

SUAREZ: By keep going back to nudity that is harmful to children. And so a goblins backside on the face of it, to me doesn't seem like it is harmful to children.

PIPPIN: Absolutely. So again you and I can agree on that but some other parents may not agree. SUAREZ (voice-over): Pippin told the district to remove the books or

draw on clothing using permanent markers to cover up the nudity. So school librarians drew shorts, overalls and shirts on the illustrations.

SUAREZ: To see these drawings you think that genuinely could adversely affect a child who otherwise may not know what the backside of a goblin looks like or ever thought.

PIPPIN: Sure. So if a child is possibly maybe being raped by an adult and you know maybe the seeing the nudity in itself, maybe just not the backside but seeing something nude could, you know be detrimental to them.

SUAREZ (voice-over): From her home office in Orlando. Stephana Farrell couldn't believe it. She's part of the Florida freedom to read project and organization that tracks thousands of books being challenged in the state.

STEPHANA FERRELL, CO-FOUNDER, FLORIDA FREEDOM TO READ PROJECT: I have an eight-year-old. As soon as we heard that unicorns are the worst had a drawing was getting drawn on, my son wanted to read it. And so we read through the book and he said to me, mom, she took out the funny part. Why would they do that?

SUAREZ (voice-over): Ferrell said covering up the images is censorship. The publisher of Unicorns Are The Worst agrees telling CNN quote, "There should be no place for this type of literary vandalism in our schools and libraries."

FERRELL: These things are happening because the law is broad, and the rules are punitive. And people are scared. And we're we've lost track of good judgment and common sense.

SUAREZ (voice-over): School libraries across Florida have removed more than 1,400 titles during the 2022-2023 school year. According to writer advocacy group, Penn America, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed the law making all of this possible now admits some book objections have gone too far. He wants a state lawmakers to limit the challenges.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: If you're somebody doesn't have a kid in school and you're going to object to 100 books, now I don't think that that's appropriate.


SUAREZ: All right. So under a proposal moving in the state legislature, school districts would be able to find individuals $100 for a book challenge after they've unsuccessfully objected to five books. Lawmakers are also looking whether to limit challenges from people who don't have children at the school where the book is located. Jake, Jennifer Pepin told us she challenged Unicorns Are The Worst. The book with the naked goblin on behalf of a grandparent.

[17:55:16] TAPPER: Oh God. All right, Carlos Suarez, thank you so much. I can't believe they would do that in the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. That is just preposterous. Coming up next, the major moment scientists expect tomorrow morning and that mission to the moon. Stay with us.