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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Michael Cohen Expected To Begin Testifying Monday; Trump Attacks Jewish Voters Supporting Biden; Uproar Over Israeli Singer In Eurovision Final. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 10, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Plus, the high stakes report looming over President Biden on whether Israel violated international laws in its war with Hamas in Gaza.

And leading this hour, the man once known as Trump's fixer, Michael Cohen, could soon be the closer in the New York hush money cover up case. Prosecutors say they plan to call Trump's former lawyer on Monday and they're saying that they may be able to rest their case by next week. CNN's Brynn Gingras is outside the courthouse following all of it for us.

And, Brynn, today's proceedings laid a lot of the important groundwork for the big witness Monday, Michael Cohen. What can we expect on Monday?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, listen, this is the guy that said he would take a bullet for his boss, and he might be who helps the prosecution sink Donald Trump. So we'll have to see. Of course, he's the person who can bring jurors into that room, into the Oval Office in February 2017 when prosecutors say they sort of hatched this plan to make these reimbursement payments ahead of the 2016 election, they alleged that, you know, he conspired with other Trump Org members to figure out how these reimbursements will work. He's expected to be on the stand for a couple of days.

Now, when the defense gets their turn to ask the questions, of course, they're going to attack his credibility like we have seen them do with other witnesses in this case about Michael Cohen. And they're basically going to continue to basically try to pull out the lies that they say he is sort of spreading. So we'll see how that goes. It doesn't help, though, Jake, that, listen, Michael Cohen earlier this week went on TikTok and posted a video. And while in that video, he's wearing a t-shirt that has an image of Donald Trump behind bars in an orange jumpsuit.

Today at the end of court, the pros -- rather, the defense asked the judge to put a gag order on Michael Cohen based off of that video. That was denied. But there was a strong warning against Michael Cohen -- against really for the prosecution to make this warning. And basically, the judge says, listen, this comes from the bench, you need him to stop talking about Donald Trump in this trial. TAPPER: And, Brynn, today Judge Merchan also suggested that the former organization CFO, the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, that he could be brought in to testify. I think he's in prison right now. How would that work?

GINGRAS: Yes, look, Allen Weisselberg's name has come up a bunch in this trial from other witnesses. Prosecutors allege he's a part of this conspiracy, right? So they need to close the loop on why jurors are not hearing test -- him, testify. And they essentially want to bring forward an argument, this is something that they made without the jurors in the room to the judge, basically a severance agreement that Weisselberg has with the Trump organization.

Now, the defense has said, look, that is highly prejudicial. That should not be allowed. But before the judge said he'll make his decision, he says, listen, did the prosecution even ask if Allen Weisselberg wants to testify? And the prosecution said, no. So essentially the judge said, well, let's bring them in without the jurors here.

Let's see if he wants to testify or if he'll plead the fifth. And based off of that, then I'll make a decision on whether or not that agreement can be put forth to jurors. So we'll see where that lands up. But that was certainly asked.

And again, quick note, Jake. We are expecting, according to prosecution, to possibly have them wrap up their case by the end of next week.

TAPPER: All right. But then, of course, the defense gets their turn. Brynn Gingras in New York, thank you so much.

Joining us now, attorney Michael van der Veen from the great city of Philadelphia. He was one of Trump's lawyers in the second impeachment trial. Thanks so much for being here.

So, let me ask you, how do you think the prosecution can convince the jury that Michael Cohen is a credible witness? I understand all the ways the defense can make him a non-credible one.

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: It's going to be really hard, Jake. But, you know what they've done from the beginning of the trial is judge. You know, they had a couple options here. They could have started with Cohen and then put all the underpinnings around him. But what they did, I think, because he's so incredible, is they built a frame around him, all the points to him, and then they're finishing up with him so that when his credibility is attacked, the jury already has in their mind the other factors that they've heard that corroborate the prosecution's theory of the case.

TAPPER: What is your reaction to Judge Merchan today telling prosecutors his order for Cohen to stay quiet and stop things like wearing a shirt with Donald Trump in prison in a jumpsuit, that this comes from the bench? And could Cohen face repercussions?

VAN DER VEEN: A little too little, a little too late. TAPPER: Yes.

VAN DER VEEN: I mean, that should have been done before the trial started. And it's interesting and I think strategic. The defense didn't ask for that. They never asked to shut Cohen up, to shut the other witnesses up. They just didn't want to be shut up themselves.

They could have asked that as well. And the judge could have issued that order right in the beginning of the trial. Look, this trial started juries and paneled, we're not going to have anybody on their social media attacking him, and he's not going to be attacking them. Let's let this case come in pure and simple. But Cohen's been going nuts and, you know, to a certain extent, I think that's going to affect his credibility as well.


TAPPER: So you think that the prosecution -- I'm sorry, you think that the defense did not do that purposefully because it certainly gives them ample evidence of, like, look, this is how much you hate Donald Trump?

VAN DER VEEN: I think that's probably a consider -- a thought process they had. The defense team are good lawyers. They're very thorough. They're strategic in thinking. They've been planning this thing for, you know, darn near a year.

And I think that, you know, obviously, if they wanted to shut Cohen up, they would have brought the motion and they didn't. And that wasn't an oversight. I think that was strategic.

TAPPER: Let me bring a piece from a piece of testimony today, because earlier today the jury heard more about how Trump would sign things without reviewing them first. We just got the official transcript. Here's how Trump attorney Susan Necheles pressed former White House assistant Madeleine Westerhout on this issue. Full screen, here we go.

Necheles, "And there were times, you know, with all these would you say it was hundreds of documents that he was signing?" Westerhout, "Not every day. But sometimes, uh-huh." Necheles, "And this was in between other things that he was doing, right?" Westerhout, "Oh, yes, uh-huh."

Necheles, "And so, would you see him signing things without reviewing them?" "Yes," said Westerhout. Necheles, "And would you see him signing checks without reviewing them?" Westerhout, "Yes." Necheles, "And would you see him signing checks while he was on the phone, right?"

Westerhout, "Yes." Necheles, "Would you see him sometimes signing checks when he was meeting with people?" Westerhout, "Yes."

How strong was that? Do you think, for the defense?

VAN DER VEEN: I think that was very strong. You know, you have to also put it in perspective of the corporation that they're in. You know, they're up at the top of Trump Tower and those offices are very busy.

TAPPER: Well, this was when he was in the White House, though.

VAN DER VEEN: When he was in that White House. I haven't been in the White House --


VAN DER VEEN: -- with him, but it's very typical of him. He's a busy guy. He thinks of a lot of stuff all the time. He'll do 10 things at once and his mind will go from one place to another. And frankly, I don't know anybody who isn't really successful, who isn't operating in the same way.

You know, I'll be signing things and talking on the phone and doing everything else. And most everybody else I know who are busy are prone to do that kind of a thing. You trust the people under you --

TAPPER: Right.

VAN DER VEEN: -- that are putting the things in front of you to be signed.

TAPPER: So, there was a piece of yesterday's testimony that's relevant to what we just discussed. The prosecution asked Stormy Daniels about a 2018 joint filing by Donald Trump and Michael Cohen when they were together admitting that Mr. Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the $130,000 of hush money in pursuant to the DNA or the -- I'm sorry, the NDA, the non-disclosure agreement. Is that a big deal, do you think? I mean, him acknowledging Donald Trump in a different court, acknowledging, yes, I reimbursed Michael Cohen for that.

VAN DER VEEN: Absolutely. I mean, that could even be considered a smoking gun because the defense is contrary to that now. And to go and shift like that both times in a court of law, I think is very -- going to be very difficult to get over.

TAPPER: So very quickly, Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump wanted to be let out this gag order so he could respond to Stormy Daniels' testimony. Judge Merchan said no. Stormy Daniels tweeted, quote, "Real men respond to testimony by being sworn in and taking the stand in court. Oh, wait, never mind." Your fellow Philadelphia attorney Bill Brennan said that tweet could be grounds for a mistrial.

VAN DER VEEN: Well, you know, I don't want to contradict the great legal mind of Bill Brennan, but, you know, that's outside of court. The jury's not supposed to be looking at social media or anything of that nature. And she's not one of the lawyers in the case. You know, she's really just a witness in the case. If a lawyer were to bring up his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, that would be a real problem and absolutely a mistrial at that time.

TAPPER: All right, Michael van der Veen, good to see you. Thank you so much.

VAN DER VEEN: Pleasure. Thank you for having me. TAPPER: Go Phillies.

Every single day, Donald Trump comes out to the cameras in that courthouse hallway and rants about this case. But what's he saying behind the scenes? A guest coming up has new insight into that.

But first, some breaking news. The high stakes report anticipated from the Biden administration is now out gauging whether or not, in their view, Israel and its defense forces violated international law in its war with Hamas. We're back in a breaking moment with that breaking news.



TAPPER: Some breaking news for you in our world lead, the Biden administration just delivered its high stakes report to Congress on whether Israel, in their view, has violated international humanitarian law during its war in Gaza against Hamas. This report has been the subject of intense debate for months across and inside the Biden administration has already led to deep divisions just inside the U.S. State Department. CNN's Kylie Atwood is following the story from the state Department.

Kylie, what does the report find?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, this report finds that it would be reasonable to assess, in the words of this report, that Israel has violated international humanitarian law since October 7, but it doesn't definitively make the determination that they have actually violated law, saying that those assessments, those individual assessments of those specific Israeli strikes are still ongoing. And this report gets into the complexity of making these assessments, Jake, saying that particularly because of how Hamas hides in population centers, hides infrastructure that is used by civilians, it's really challenging to make an assessment here as to whether or not Israel undertook all of the necessary actions to prevent it from breaking international humanitarian law as it continues to go after Hamas in this war.

The other thing that I want to note the report states is that Israel does have the experience. They do have the capability to drive down the death of civilians. But this report says that there are substantial questions as to if Israel is using those capabilities effectively. That's something that the State Department will continue to look at.


The other part of this is that the U.S. and Israel have been going back and forth as the State Department has been working on this report. A senior State Department official described this as a useful tool to push Israel to try and make changes, to drive down those civilian death tolls that we have seen throughout the course of this war, to try and make changes to the way that it delivers humanitarian aid into Gaza. But they also said that as they are probing these incidents, these specific incidents that could be violations of international humanitarian law, Israel has provided some information to them, but there's still gaps in terms of what Israel has provided to them. So this will be an ongoing process. Right now, the State Department not saying there's a timeline by which they expect to get that information from Israel to make definitive conclusions, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood, thank you so much. Let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, what's your initial reaction to this assessment? And what type of weapons do you think this report might be referencing?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, AIRFORCE COLONEL (RET.): Yes, Jake, I think the big reference here is to the 2000 pound bombs in particular, but any type of weapon that the Israelis are using that has had an impact on the civilians in Gaza. And that would include not only those 2000 pound bombs, which are usually delivered by air, as well as 500 pound bombs and then artillery shells. So all of these weapons are the ones that have been used against the Hamas targets that Israel is going after, and those would be legitimate targets. But they've also had the effect of impacting collateral, civilian targets. And that, of course, brings about the issue of collateral damage, which is precisely what this report is talking about.

So my initial assessment here is that, in essence, what's going on is the U.S. is saying that Israel probably violated international humanitarian law, but they don't have all of the evidence yet to make a definitive conclusion that that's the case.

TAPPER: And the question, of course, is how do you think Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to respond to this finding, especially given the political realities that Netanyahu is completely dependent on these far, far right wing religious zealot cabinet ministers Ben- Gvir and Smotrich to survive as prime minister. What do you think he's going to do, just reject it?

LEIGHTON: He might just do that, Jake. One of the key problems that he has, as you point out, is that he's really dealing with this far right element within his government. He can't really rely on other parties within Israel, such as, let's say, the Labor Party or other more centrist parties to get him out of his political mess at this particular point in time. And as a result of that, he may very well reject these kinds of findings.

It is possible, though, that he may try to accommodate or have his military accommodate some of the U.S. questions when it comes to use of weapons, especially U.S. supplied weapons in the war in Gaza. And so he's, in essence, trying to -- you may have to a fine line here, but I think he's going to go for a much more severe response and in essence, be like a cornered animal and go after any target that he possibly can more brutally and more viciously than he has up until this point.

TAPPER: President Biden told CNN's Erin Burnett this week that he has a red line of sorts when it comes to providing weapons to Israel, certain weapons, if Israel goes forward with launching a major invasion on the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Biden says that's when he would halt some specific weapons shipments if there is a major involvement. Israel is already on the ground in Rafah, of course, and Biden didn't say emphatically that he would halt all military aid to Israel, just some of it, if there's a major, major engagement in Rafah. So I don't know how much of a red line that really is, despite all of the hue and cry about it. Do you disagree?

LEIGHTON: Not necessarily, because, you know, we know that Israel has already moved its forces along the border with Egypt. So Rafah, which is right on that Egyptian border, is basically cut off from that particular area right now. We also know that the Israelis have surrounded parts of eastern Rafah. So they have the means to take basically care of each element of the operations that they've planned for the eastern part of Rafah right now. So they really don't need additional weapons from the U.S. to do that part of the mission.

The other parts, though, if they were to go after other elements in Gaza, especially in the western part of Rafah and perhaps other parts of Gaza, that could then present a bit of a problem because they may not have as many weapons of the type that we're talking about in their inventory to really finish that part of the mission. So in essence, what we're looking at is the ability of the Israelis to partially complete their mission and to do it in a way that's most efficient for them at this particular point without U.S. help, additional us help in this case.


TAPPER: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much.

Turning back to our coverage of Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, one of the main takeaways from this week is the salacious testimony by porn star and director Stormy Daniels. She gave some excruciating details about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Trump denies any of it ever happened, but some say this trial might be getting to Trump. Joining us now to discuss former federal prosecutor, senior writer for Politico magazine, Ankush Khardori.

Ankush, thanks so much for being with us. So this week you've been speaking with some of the most deeply entrenched reporters and analysts that you work with at Politico. And they say that this is personally grueling for Trump. I have to say, I was in court yesterday and he really did look not upbeat, not confident, kind of downtrodden. You know, I've seen him looking much more robust.

Is this, whatever he's going through, how difficult this is on him, and no one's asking for pity for him, we're just reporting this, is that solely because of Stormy Daniels' testimony?

ANKUSH KHARDORI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I don't think it's solely because of Stormy Daniels' testimony, but I think that probably has had a lot to do with it in recent days. But you're right. I mean, my colleague Meridith McGraw, who has been following the Trump campaign, my other colleagues who've been in the courtroom, they've detected visibly the same thing. And, you know, what Meredith was saying is like, this looks to be taking a visible toll on him. It's quite grueling.

And our other politics reporters have noted, for instance, this is taking him not off the campaign trail, he doesn't spend much time on the campaign trail, but it's taking him away from things like donor calls and the sorts of touches he has with friends and allies that sort of give him his required ego boosts throughout the day. And I do think you can see it at the end of the day. And I don't think it's entirely just exhaustion or maybe that's part of it despite his claim to be very vigorous. It seems to be taking a toll on him every day like that he's sort of down and just not altogether with it.

TAPPER: So, when talking with your colleagues, you said, quote, "Smart criminal defenses do sometimes concede unpleasant facts in order to get the jury to focus on the material ones that might actually get the defendant off." So just to recap and translate that for our viewers, your legalese, in a way, it's not against the law. It's certainly not Nevada law, where this allegedly happened, for Donald Trump to have done whatever happened in that hotel room, assuming that she even was there because he says she wasn't. But whatever it was, assuming that everything she said is true happened --


TAPPER: -- none of that's against the law. Paying her hush money, none of that's against the law. The crime is just about whether or not he falsified business records to keep this out of the public's eye during the election. You're suggesting that maybe it would have been better if they just stipulated, OK, something happened in that thing and we paid her hush money?

KHARDORI: Yes, that is exactly what I'm suggesting.


KHARDORI: And I think that actually would have been a fairly conventional defense strategy in this circumstance because they, frankly, they just walked right into Stormy Daniels' testimony and they forced the prosecutors, even if they were not going to put her on to put her on. Trump has been denying this account for, you know, her account for years. And crucially, Trump's lead attorney repeated that denial in his opening statement.

So, if you're the prosecutors, you know, that's the start of this story. Maybe they weren't inclined to put the whole thing out there. But now they kind of were forced to put it out in detail because her credibility was attacked. And what they've managed to do this week, if you believe Stormy Daniels account, which I do, I don't think there's any real serious question that the two had, you know, a sexual relationship of some sort, that's my own view. But if you believe her account, then the prosecutors managed to demonstrate that Trump's a central plank of Trump's defense is a lie.

And also that Trump's lead attorney was willing to relay that lie to the jury in his opening statement, thereby undercutting his credibility with them, too. So, I don't think this was a good week for them. I think that they could have substantially mitigated and perhaps even preempted her testimony. But Trump seems to be, you know, determined to continue denying this.

TAPPER: So in a different court case in California, it's already stipulated that he gave -- he paid that money. They paid money and that was introduced in trial testimony, $30,000 to kill a story that wasn't true about some kid he allegedly had. That wasn't true. Why not just stipulate at the beginning? Or could you actually stipulate?

We're not going to stipulate that anything happened, but we're going to stipulate that she had a story that we didn't want out there. We're not going to say whether or not it's true, it's not material, we did pay that money.

KHARDORI: Yes. I don't -- well, first of all, to stipulate, the prosecutors would have had to agree, and I don't think they would have. This would have needed to be a sort of preemptive concession in the trial, right? And then you use that concession, as the prosecution is calling additional witness to say, well, we don't need to hear from this person or we can cabin their testimony to this or that.



KHARDORI: But I don't think it would have worked for them just to say the stories. We're not taking position because the details goes directly to his motive for wanting to kill the story.

TAPPER: All right, Ankush Khardori, thank you so much. Really interesting stuff.

Donald Trump plans to use his weekend break from the hush money trial to hold a rally in a state that leans heavily blue. What his campaign might see as the race for 2024 inches closely to November -- closer to November.


TAPPER: Our politics lead now, former president and current defendant Donald Trump exited court today, airing a long list of grievances after his criminal trial wrapped early today.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's going on today in this court is a very dark day for New York City, New York state, and it's a very dark day for our nation. And in the meantime, I can't be out campaigning.



TAPPER: But now that court is out for the weekend, Donald Trump can be out campaigning from the trial to the trail. So where's he's headed? Well, not the battleground states of North Carolina or Georgia or Arizona or Michigan or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Instead, oddly, he's going to the Jersey shore, holding a rally tomorrow on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey. I've been there. They got a boardwalk and such.

Here now is a group of political voices to weigh in. Elena, why? Well, New Jersey is very, very blue. Like, even if Donald Trump has a really good election day and sweeps every state, plus a couple that we didn't expect, New Jersey is not going to be among them.

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, no, it's definitely not a critical battleground state. Look, I'll give you two answers. What the campaign is trying to say is that, and what they're putting out there is, look, this is, you know, you can get some of the Philly suburbs, some of the Pennsylvania media. You know, Pennsylvania is a critical battleground.


TREENE: We get some of that there. And I will argue, you know, Wildwood, New Jersey, where this will be at the Jersey shore, literally on the beach. I'll be standing in the sand tomorrow. It is a very red district, Cape May district, where Wildwood is. And he has had a rally there in the past. He went there in January 2020, and he had a really enthusiastic crowd there. So it is a small friendlier district to Republicans.

However, I think the real answer, and from what I've been hearing from other people, is like, he doesn't want to travel that far. It's close to his Bedminster Golf Club. He's obviously coming right off a week of very explosive and embarrassing testimony. And that's part of this as well. So he's still campaigning, but he's doing it in a state, as you said, that isn't a battleground. And no hate on Jersey, I'm from there. I love New Jersey, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense for someone like Donald Trump.

TAPPER: I'm from Philly, so I have my thoughts on Jersey, but I'll keep them to myself. Trump is looking to capitalize on the fallout from comments over Biden's warnings to Israel, what happened today about their assessment about possible human rights abuses, a warning about if you go and do a major operation in Rafah. We're not going to provide some serious weapons. And Republicans have really been going after Biden. Even some Democrats have been criticizing the decision. In a string of videos posted on Truth Social, Mr. Trump had to say this.


TRUMP: The fact is that Crooked Joe hates Israel and he hates the Jewish people. There's no question about that. And if Jewish people are going to vote for Joe Biden, they have to have their head examined. He's a disaster for Israel. The problem is that he hates the Palestinians also, and even more so, and he just doesn't know what to do. He's a confused man.


TAPPER: In that same video, Mr. Trump called that white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, quote, a peanut, compared to the anti-Israel protests taking place on college campuses. We should note that Heather Heyer was killed at that Reunite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. And none of these protests, while some of them have been violent, nobody has been killed in any of them. Alice, what's your take?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't think there's a comparison between what happened in Charlottesville and these protests on college campuses. But I will say this, these protests on college campuses are a problem for the Biden administration because this is a very visible optics of people in his party, the Democratic Party, that are disappointed with his way of handling this Israel situation.

And back to the recent policy announcement he made this week with Erin about Israel saying that if they continue into Rafah, that he was going to withhold certain American military might. Republicans are extremely frustrated with this because Israel is our greatest ally in the region. They have been supportive of us and we need to continue to be supportive of them.

You have congressmen like Cory Mills of Florida saying, we shouldn't be doing this, quid pro quo, withholding military information or might in exchange for policy. And also, look, our enemy is not Israel here. This is Hamas. Hamas is the one putting Palestinians in the crosshairs. And as Lindsey Graham said, this is us backwards to try and withhold our aid to them with regard to how they're handling the policy. So I think Trump is using Trump way to highlight some real inconsistencies with this administration in Israel.

TAPPER: Let me just say, this idea of the Jewish people vote for Joe Biden, they're going to have their heads examined. Jews vote for Democrats, roughly 75, 80 percent to say that 75, 80 percent of the Jewish people need to get their heads examined is pretty offensive, empirically. Removing that from it, talking about the Israel policy, what do you think about what Alice just said?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, surprise, surprise, Donald Trump goes to, you know, hateful, offensive language and talking about an issue that is incredibly emotional and passionate and complicated for people. So, you know, to me, that right there is an indicator of what a flawed messenger Donald Trump is, period.

But, you know, going back to the politics on this for Biden, I mean, look, I think what Joe Biden is doing is putting action towards. I mean, we know that President Biden and his team have been working directly with Israeli leadership for the last few months, trying to push them to a more tactical plan in Rafah, trying to limit civilian deaths. They've been very clear.


We've seen a lot of reporting that they've been very clear and very direct. You know, President Biden has been direct with Netanyahu that this was going to be where he was going to need to be publicly if they did not adjust course. So, you know, I think what Joe Biden is doing is showing that they're, you know, the words of an American president matter, and then the action you put behind it matters. It does not mean he's walking away from supporting Israel. We saw, you know, in the face of the Iranian attacks a couple of weeks ago, the United States was there defending Israel. Biden has been very clear we will continue to defend Israel. But he's also saying it's important for an American president to essentially put their money where their mouth is. And I think that's what he's doing. And I think that's what he's hoping that Americans are going to respond to and what he had to say.

TAPPER: Turning to something less complicated, RFK Jr. said in a deposition years ago that a brain ate part of -- I mean, a worm ate part of his brain and then died in his head. Despite that, Trump appears to still see RFK Jr.'s independent run for the presidency as a real threat to his campaign. And he released this video on Truth Social attacking both RFK Jr. and RFK Jr.'s vice presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan. Take a listen.


TRUMP: A lot of people think that Junior is a conservative. He's not. He's more liberal than anybody running on the Democrat side. And his chief funder is the VP candidate that nobody ever heard of except her ex-husband, who's been stripped of a big chunk of his cash. And he knows exactly what she's all about. She's even more liberal than RFK Jr. I'd even take Biden over Junior.


TAPPER: I mean, I think what's most interesting about this is he's obviously really, really worried about RFK Jr. taking his votes.

TREENE: We actually have some new reporting coming out on this right now. But act like -- when I talked to Donald Trump's team, one of his senior advisors made it very clear. They say he's a problem. We recognize it. They think he could be more so a problem on a state by state basis. They mentioned that Pennsylvania is one of the critical battlegrounds where they could actually see RFK Jr. being a problem.

And it's interesting because the Trump team had actually laid out a playbook months ago, back when he announced that he was running as an independent over how to attack him, which is essentially what we're seeing play out now. Attack him as a liberal in conservative clothing. They keep doing that. Trump himself, though, has actually, in recent interviews said that he's a nice guy. He's not sure if he hurts Biden more than him.

And then we've been starting to see in recent days these more very pointed attacks. And I think that just shows that they're telling him, no, he is a threat. You need to define him.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Thanks to all. Sorry, I did want to get your thoughts on brain worms, but maybe next time.

BEDINGFIELD: Next time. Next time.

TAPPER: There's the epidemic of it going on in Washington. We'll revisit brain worms, I assure you.

Up next, the uproar at one of the biggest competition shows in the world after an Israeli singer made it to the final round. The pressure coming from fellow contestants and pro-Palestinian mobs calling for a boycott of the show. Stay with us.




CROWD: Free, free Palestine. Free, free Palestine.


TAPPER: In our World Lead, anti-Israel protests gripping Sweden, the site of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, one of the most watched events around the globe. Demonstrators are upset that Israeli singer Eden Golan has made it into tomorrow's final competition and they are calling on Eurovision to eliminate her from the contest because she Israeli and she doesn't like what -- they don't like what the government of Israel is doing in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a good luck message to her, noted her success while, quote, contending with an ugly wave of anti-Semitism. John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting posted on Twitter, Eden Golan, our fellow artist, cannot leave her hotel room in fear for her life because she is Jewish. I call on every artist to join me in condemning publicly this despicable act of hate, unquote.

Eden Golan is under extra security to get her between her hotel and the competition venue. She's also been rehearsing with the sounds of booing in case that happens during the live show tomorrow. CNN's Anna Stewart has more.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her song is about facing down a hurricane. And Israel's Eurovision entry this year is certainly finds herself at the center of a storm. Through to Saturday's final of the music contest but while Eden Golan enjoyed a rapturous response from the studio audience in Thursday night semifinal, the crowd outside the venue in Malmo, Sweden struck a wholly different tone.

Thousands gathered to protest against Israel's inclusion in the event, saying it should be barred by the European Broadcasting Union because of its military campaign in Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The E.U. has allowed Israel to participate in Eurovision, but not Russia, and I think that's just that -- it's wrong.

ANNA STEWART (voice-over): Climate activist, Greta Thunberg, amongst the crowds calling for further demonstrations against Israel.

GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I think they should be everywhere and once again young people are leading the way.

ANNA STEWART (voice-over): Israeli singer, Golan, seemingly not deterred by the outrage on the streets.

EDEN GOLAN, ISRAELI SINGER: Of course there's like stress and nerves and excitement and many, many, many things around and thoughts, but at the end of the day I'm very focused.

ANNA STEWART (voice-over): The atmosphere has been tense around the Eurovision Song Contest venue, amidst one of the largest security operations in Malmo has ever seen, according to Swedish police. Eurovision has always proclaimed to be apolitical. Organizers already intervened earlier in the year when Israel's initial entry, titled "October Rain," was deemed too closely reference the Hamas-led attacks of October 7th.

Protests organized in Malmo to coincide with Saturday's final have promised to draw bigger crowds than the venue audience itself. Eurovision slogan "United by Music" facing perhaps its biggest challenge yet.


Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


TAPPER: And our thanks, Anna Stewart, for that report.

We're debuting a very brand new series here on The Lead, it's called WTF. We'll explain why we think you'll find it fitting for Friday. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Time to debut our WTF Lead. This week was jam packed with news, including the trial of a former president, a revealing CNN interview with the current president, and a presidential candidate announcing that a worm ate part of his brain and then died in that noggin. You would think other stories couldn't hold the Stormy Daniels altar candle to that.

And yet, coverage of one particular story went by way too fast for us, way too fast, WTF. So let's slow it down. South Dakota's Republican governor, Kristi Noem, may have shot her political goals in the foot by revealing she shot her dog in the head. She's been playing defense ever since. An excerpt from her book, "No Going Back" went viral, where she admitted to killing her 14-month-old dog, Cricket, saying the dog was untrainable and dangerous and less than worthless as a hunting dog. I hated that dog, she wrote. Kristi Noem put Cricket down by shooting Cricket in a gravel pit after Cricket attended, a local families -- attacked a local family's chickens and bit her.


And if that's not enough controversy, Kristi Noem's book also contained a bizarre and really highly unlikely claim that she somehow met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and stared him down. Now, when pressed on that claim, a spokesperson said that that was included in the list of world leaders and shouldn't have been saying that the story would be removed from future editions of the book.

Still, Kristi Noem will not straight up acknowledge that she never met with Kim Jong-un. She seems to be leaning into this pretense that she learned of this excerpt when staff brought it to her attention, despite the fact that Governor Noem herself narrated the audiobook. So here's just some snippets of her disastrous media tour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you asked me a month ago who's at the top of the list to run with Donald Trump, I would have said your name. If you asked me that same question this morning, I don't even think you're on the list.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So my question for you --

NOEM: And why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, really. And it's because of things that have come out in this book, like your claims that you met Kim Jong-un. And then over the last week --

NOEM: I bet it was TMZ. I should not have put that anecdote in the book. And I'm not going to talk about my meetings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the anecdote indicates that it happened, right?

STUART VARNEY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Did the dog story come up in a conversation with Trump?

NOEM: I talked to President Trump all the time.

VARNEY: Did you bring up dog?

NOEM: Yes. Enough, Stuart.

VARNEY: Did you bring up the dog with Trump?

NOEM: This interview is ridiculous what you were doing right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you recorded your own audiobook, you didn't notice --

NOEM: I'm not going to discuss about my meetings with world leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you about recording the audio.

NOEM: Did you want to talk about something else today?


TAPPER: I mean, all of those perfectly legitimate questions. On Sunday, Governor Noem took the even more curious step, you're not going to believe me when I tell you this, if you miss this, but it took the even more curious step of suggesting that President Joe Biden's dog Commander should be shot because of multiple incidents of his biting secret service members.


NOEM: So how many people is enough people to be attacked and dangerously hurt before you make a decision on a dog and what to do with it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, he's not living at the White House anymore.

NOEM: That's the question that the President should be held accountable to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're saying he should be shot?

NOEM: That's what the President should be accountable to.


TAPPER: Silly. President Biden decided to find a more suitable home for a Commander instead of grabbing the White House Luger and showing that mutt who the real commander is.

With damage control spiraling out of control, Governor Noem then canceled an interview last minute with CNN's Dana Bash and another one with Greg Gutfeld at "Fox."


GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I don't believe it. I just think it's a little late to keep her on a short leash. I'd hope she'd reconsider, but I'm not going to sit up and beg.


TAPPER: Governor Noem appears to have underestimated the fact that America's love for dogs transcends politics. Here are my dogs, Bear and Moose and Clementine. Here are all the dogs The Lead team loves and has loved. Ginger and Lucky and Louie and Gypsy and Sienna, Illa, Winston, Phoebe, Charlie, so many more. So our very first WTF stories that flew by way too fast is Governor Noem writing herself off the Trump VP shortlist. Here's Megyn Kelly this week suggesting that dog won't hunt.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: He likes her because she's been in his camp since very early on in 16. And he likes that. But Trump, say what you will about him, is not dumb and he knows she's a loser and she will hurt his ticket. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ouch. If there's anything that Governor Noem got right in her book, it is the title. Because for Christy Noem, there truly may be "No Going Back."


Stunning new images to show you of a severe solar storm happening right now. Such a unique event, CNN is hosting an entire special about it in just a few hours. What's all the hype about? We'll tell you next.


TAPPER: Our last leads now, this begins with a very brief health update on Catherine, Princess of Wales. During a public appearance today, her husband, Prince William, said, quote, she is doing well. That's all he said. But it's more than the royals or Buckingham palace officials have said since Catherine disclosed back in March that she'd been diagnosed with some form of cancer and was in the early stages of treatment.

In our Tech Lead, Apple is apologizing for this ad, which provoked a lot of mockery and criticism. The ad shows lots of really cool, neat, expensive, creative stuff, musical instruments, paint cans, artworks, books, stereo equipment, all getting crushed, ending up in a very, very thin new iPod. In a statement to Adage magazine, an Apple official admits, quote, we missed the mark with this video and we're sorry. Yes, you did.

You don't have to live near the North Pole to see the northern lights this weekend. And that's thanks to the massive solar flares that have prompted the U.S. to issue its first severe geomagnetic storm watch in nearly two decades. Auroras have popped up and carried countries where nighttime has already passed. You're looking at stunning pictures from New Zealand right now.

Here in the U.S., auroras may be visible as far south as Alabama starting tonight and for a couple more days. Even if you don't see anything, heads up that the solar storm might disrupt communications and even cause some power outages. CNN's going to have special coverage of the severe solar storm tonight on NewsNight with Abby Phillip at 10:00 Eastern. She's going to take viewers through this spectacle of the northern lights and the risks positive by the solar storm here on earth.

Coming up Sunday on State of the Union, Republican Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, that's Sunday morning at nine eastern and again at noon only here on CNN.


Up next, the New York hush money cover up case and a retired judge who's been inside the courtroom to watch throughout the trial. He's going to join my friend Wolf Blitzer next in the Situation Room. I'll see you back here on The Lead Monday. And before that, we will have trial coverage on Monday morning, first thing. That's what I'll see you next. Have a great weekend.