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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Michael Cohen Stands As Star Witness In Trump's Hush Money Trial Day 16; Jury Selection For Sen. Bob Menendez Trial Underway; WAPO: Louisiana Bill Would Classify Abortion Pills Mifepristone & Misoprostol As "Controlled Substances"; U.N. Revises Gaza Death Toll For Women And Children; Small Number Of Students Attempt To Disrupt Graduations. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 13, 2024 - 17:00   ET




UNKNOWN (voice-over): This is CNN Breaking News.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to "The Lead", I'm Jake Tapper. In this hour, today's star witness in the Hush Money cover-up conspiracy case, Michael Cohen, who testified that Donald Trump told him an alleged sexual encounter that Stormy Daniels was claiming would be catastrophic for his 2016 campaign, were that to come out before voters went to the booths, but did Michael Cohen convince the jury that Trump himself directed him to pay off Daniels to protect Trump's election? I'm going to ask a criminal defense attorney who was in the courtroom for today's testimony.

And live images right now from Baltimore, where a major demolition is just minutes away. Engineers plan to use explosives to remove parts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed back in March, and by the way, the 21-member crew on the ship that caused the collapse, they're still on the boat, and they're going to stay on board for today's demolition.

Plus, a frankly puzzling move by Russia's Vladimir Putin. He fired the head of the Russian military and replaced him with an economist, a money man, as Russia is running out of weapons for war.

But let's begin outside the New York courthouse with the New York Hush Money cover-up conspiracy case, CNN's Paula Reid is there, and Paula, it's a wrap on day one of testimony from Michael Cohen, the most critical witness in this case. So far, is this going the way that the prosecution hoped?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, so far, Jake, it's been going well for prosecutors.

Michael Cohen laid out how long before he announced his candidacy for the White House, Trump was worried that stories from other women would come out in the open and potentially impact his candidacy. Now, Michael Cohen also testified how involved he was in suppressing negative stories ahead of the election, and how in the wake of the "Access Hollywood" tape, he facilitated that Hush Money payment to Stormy Daniels.

He testified that Trump told him, don't worry, you'll be reimbursed. And then towards the end of the day, we got to the really critical part of his testimony for prosecutors, which is that he testified that Trump was aware of the scheme to reimburse him by making it all seem like illegal expenses and to really increase the amount he was being paid back so that he didn't, of course, he didn't have to pay taxes so that he would be made whole.

What's not clear, Jake, though, is if Cohen's testimony has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump was aware that business records were going to be falsified.

And of course, Cohen's testimony still has a long way to go. This was certainly not easy for him or for the prosecution, but it really is the easy part because after they get through 2017 and the receipt of this reimbursement, then they're going to have to walk through how Cohen eventually flipped on Trump, how he also pleaded guilty to federal crimes, including lying to Congress, lying to the IRS, lying to banks, also election crimes related to this hush money scheme. And then he has to talk about how he has relentlessly attacked the defendant for years and really made a living doing that.

So, so far, it's been going OK, but, you know, it's only going to get more difficult both for Cohen and prosecutors tomorrow morning when they're back.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thanks.

Let's discuss with "Wall Street Journal" reporter Corinne Ramey and defense attorney Bernarda Villalona. Both were in the courtroom today. Also here with me in studio, former U.S. attorney Michael Moore.

So, Bernarda, let me start with you. You were in the room. You're an attorney. How is Michael Cohen coming across on the stand? Do you think how receptive does the jury seem to him?

BERNARDA VILLALONA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Jake, Michael Cohen definitely, I think, was excellent on the stand, but you expected that because his home court advantage when you're talking about the prosecution doing the direct examination of Michael Cohen.

His cadence was important. His delivery was important. He was making eye contact, especially when he was talking about taking out that home equity loan. So I think he definitely came off credible.

In the end, the one line that sticks out to me is just like Nike, just do it. And that was the theme that Donald Trump gave to Michael Cohen. Just do what you need to do.

I think the prosecution was essential and crucial to Michael Cohen because they finally provided that link, that Donald Trump authorized these payments and the payments were for the purposes of affecting that campaign, of purposes of paying off Stormy Daniels because they knew that story will affect the campaign. So Michael Cohen did deliver. But again, this is only direct

examination. We have to see how he stands up doing cross-examination. I'm not concerned about his prior record. It hasn't come in yet, but I know when it does come in, I'm never concerned with that because I put on witnesses with a criminal record longer than my arm being a former prosecutor, 16 years. So just do it. That's the line of the day.

TAPPER: Corinne, what did you think? How do you think Michael Cohen came across and how receptive do you think the jury was based on their body language and their facial expressions and how much they were paying attention?


CORINNE RAMEY, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think jurors had heard so much about Michael Cohen before Michael Cohen even appeared on the stand.

They'd heard he was a jerk. They heard he was a pants-on-fire type of guy that basically nobody liked him. And then today they met the real Michael Cohen and he didn't seem like a jerk or even a pants-on-fire type guy. He was straightforward. He was a matter of fact. He had an awful lot of yes ma'am, yes ma'am, no ma'am type answers to questions.

And I think, you know, I spent a lot of time looking at the jury today trying to figure out what those people were possibly thinking because some of them looked at Cohen. Some of them took notes. Some of them looked away.

And at the end of the day, I'm not sure, but they were paying attention. They weren't just sort of ignoring him and thinking about other things.

TAPPER: Michael Moore, do you think the prosecution has proven its case?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't. I don't think they have. You know, cases are like a roller coaster. You have a good day and you have a good direct examination of a witness and, you know, then cross- examination comes and you sort of drop to the bottom again. And I think that's where they are.

The idea that sort of Trump is saying do what you just do and take care of it, I don't think that really crosses the line of where the prosecution needs to be.

And I say that because they also talked about Allen Weisselberg and his input into what would be done and setting up the company and even the tape recording that we heard from Cohen when he tape recorded his client, which I thought was ridiculous.

But, you know, that to me was sort of a, you know, it really cut both ways, frankly, I think, more for the defense because it says, I've talked to Allen, everything's fine, this is what we're going to do. You know, and then he tells the jury today and the court, he says, you know, I told Trump and I kept him up to date on everything that was going on, except the fact that he was taping him.

I mean, he's lying again. He's already started lying again. So I don't think they've gotten there. They've got to get to the place where they say, you know, look, Trump knew that the records were going to be falsified. He had actually some input and direction into that specific part, not just pay it off, you know, his former relationship, but, you know, that he had a real hand in falsifying these records or directing someone to do that, not just to sort of clean up his mess that was outside of his marriage.

TAPPER: Bernarda, some of the legal experts we've had on the show have been talking about the missing witness theory, the opportunity that the defense could say, well, given all the references to Allen Weisselberg, the former CFO of the Trump organization, that the defense could say when they want to, and why didn't the prosecution call him? Where is he? Supposedly he's intricately involved in this scheme. Ask yourself why he wasn't asked to testify. Do you think that's a real threat?

VILLALONA: It's definitely a concern because it's an unanswered question. And the reason why is because Allen Weisselberg, his name is being mentioned all throughout Michael Cohen's testimony. And also the only other person that can corroborate what Michael Cohen is saying about that crucial meeting where Donald Trump was there and Allen Weisselberg was there and he was explaining of how he was going to disburse these payments.

So the only person that can corroborate that is Allen. So the way to go about it, I think what the prosecution has to do, and remember that Judge Merchan made mention of this on Friday, is that what steps have you taken to try to compel him to come in and testify? Because the judge is not allowing the agreement that the prosecution has asked for.

The way to go about it is that the prosecution, which I've done before, because you could get a material witness order, is that they should have a detective get in contact with Allen, Rikers Allen, have Allen tell them, I'm not coming to testify. I'm going to exercise my Fifth Amendment privilege. I'm not cooperating.

Then you call that detective to the stand and that detective, you ask him, did you meet with this man? Yes. Where did you meet with him? At Rikers Island. Did you ask him whether he will come in and testify willfully? He said, no, he's not willing to cooperate. And that way you close that hole because it's easy to tell a jury and sell to them.

Of course, he's not going to cooperate. He's a co-conspirator. In for a penny, in for a pound. All three of these people had a role to play. And when you put it together, the conspiracy, because not every one of them has to have done each and every part of the conspiracy. That's how you get to a guilty verdict.

The prosecution has to know, though, how to argue it, doing closing arguments and how to present that evidence about Mr. Weissenberg being missing. TAPPER: Corinne, Michael Cohen, of course, has a slew of social media

posts insulting Donald Trump, some of them in rather crude and personal terms. You're reporting that the defense will likely point to these social media posts. Is the prosecution going to try to get ahead of that in some way or have they at all? Did they at all today in court?


RAMEY: That's a good question. They haven't today, but I would expect they would. I mean, realize we're only at, say, early 2017 here. So the prosecution still has a ways to go.

But yes, I think what we saw with Stormy Daniels is the prosecution raised some of those social media posts before cross-examination. And I think because we can expect a similar thing with Cohen and Cross, that they'll go after just all these sort of names he's called Trump, the crude posts, the TikTok videos, the podcasts and the books, that this will, especially once Cross starts, that this will be a major line of questioning.

TAPPER: And Michael, did you hear anything from Michael Cohen today that you expect the defense to seize on when it's their turn for Cross?

MOORE: Yeah, I mean, I mentioned the part about where he was lying about saying that I'd kept Trump up to date but didn't tell anybody.

And I think they better address this issue with the media posts and all that. I mean, I think that's going to be a big deal. I think the prosecution better do it. If you know your own witness is going to get beat with a ball bat, it's better to take the flyswatter to him first yourself. And so that's what they need to do to sort of disarm the defense.

I think the Allen Weisselberg issue is going to remain because we've been hearing his testimony really through some statements that Cohen is getting in. And I'm surprised that, I mean, that would typically be some hearsay objections, I think. And so that to me will be an issue. And if the prosecution tries to come back, I think the defense will be able to say, wait a minute, they could have cut a deal with him. They chose not to do that. And instead, the only one they're giving you is the guy who's already admitted not telling the truth.

And I think that's something they'll ride all the way in. So Cohen will be, they'll have their day with him. And I think that any feelings of empowerment maybe that the state feels right now after some simple direct examination, I think you'll see sort of their legs cut out from under them when they get to cross.

TAPPER: Very interesting. All right, Michael Moore, Corinne Ramey, and Bernarda Villalona, thank you so much.

Just breaking in right now, breaking news. Just moments ago, that controlled demolition broke down one of the remaining standing parts of that collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. Engineers used explosives on the section that landed on the cargo ship that sunk the bridge on March 26.

It's hard to believe, but 21 members of the crew of the boat that hit the bridge, 21 members are still on board the boat. They reportedly went below deck for the demolition. They've been assisting investigators and union leaders say that crew is struggling with emotional distress. Officials say the ship could be refloated within two days and the port's busy shipping channel could be reopened by the end of this month.

As Donald Trump's motorcade left the New York courthouse earlier today, he passed right by the federal courthouse in New York where another big trial just started, that one for a Democrat, a sitting senator, Bob Menendez. The bribery and corruption case against him has started. We'll turn our attention there when we come back.



TAPPER: In our Law and Justice League, jury selection is underway in the second bribery and corruption trial of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in New Jersey. Prosecutors are accusing Menendez of accepting thousands of dollars and gold bars and a Mercedes and more in order to help Egyptian and Qatari officials. Menendez's wife is also facing charges, but that is in a separate trial.

CNN's Jason Carroll is outside the courthouse in New York. Jason, do we know how long the jury selection process is likely to take?

JASON CAROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was some thought, Jake, that the jury would have been seated already at this point, but that did not happen. The initial phase of jury selection is still underway. Not one juror has been seated so far.

The judge asking prospective jurors a number of questions, including would being seated for a trial that's lasting several weeks, would that be a financial burden? And also do you think, asking jurors, do you think perhaps that anyone that comes from New Jersey, would that mean that they would, do you think that a person from New Jersey is more likely to commit a crime or not? Just some of the questions that jurors are likely going to be asked here. But again, jury has not been seated. Once that does happen, of course, opening statements will get underway. We already know how the prosecution is going to outline its case.

It says that Senator Menendez and his wife accepted thousands of dollars in bribes that came in the form of cash, that came in the form of gold bars that were confiscated from the Senator's home, all in exchange for the Senator's influence.

The Senator, for his part, saying that the government is overreaching here, that they're out to get him, saying that the money that was found at his home in New Jersey is money that he had saved and he stored at home, in part for cultural reasons, and that some of the other money that was found at his home were loans that he had received, that his wife had received. So that is part of the defense that's going to be lined up here once it gets underway. But first we have to get through jury selection, which will continue tomorrow. Jake?

TAPPER: We should note, Senator Menendez's wife is going to have her own trial in July. That's the date for that trial. Could that impact how Senator Menendez's lawyers lay out the defense in his trial? I mean, for example, could they blame it all on her? And then obviously that wouldn't be admitted necessarily in her trial.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, being tried separately, Jake, is exactly what the defense wanted. She's being tried separately, of course, for medical reasons, but we got a hint as to what some of the possible defense might be in pretrial documents.


One passage in particular, very interesting, I'm going to read part of it to you. It says, Senator Menendez intends to present a defense arguing, in part, that he lacked the requisite knowledge of much of the conduct and statements of his wife, Nadine, and did not agree to join any of the charged conspiracies. So it does appear from this statement here that perhaps at least part of the defense will be Senator Menendez blaming his wife, saying if any wrongdoing did happen, and they're not saying that any wrongdoing did happen, but if it did, it was Nadine and not the Senator.

TAPPER: Interesting. And then, of course, in her trial, she could then turn around and blame him and two different juries, neither of which are any of the wiser. Jason Carroll, thanks so much.

Meanwhile, another current member of Congress is dealing with the fallout from his own federal indictment. Sources tell CNN that Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas is rapidly shedding staff members following charges of bribery and money laundering against him and his wife. Half of Cuellar's team is already gone. The few remaining are actively trying to exit. Cuellar and his wife are accused of accepting nearly $600,000 in bribes from two foreign entities. Cuellar claims that they are both innocent of the allegations.

Coming up next, abortion rights in America, the state that could soon be the first in the nation to categorize abortion medications as controlled dangerous substances. Stay with us.



TAPPER: It's time for our Politics Lead. Cue the music, please. '24 election jam. Nice.

The election itself, believe it or not, is just 176 days away. A new polling shows where the race stands in six crucial battleground states. A "New York Times"-"Philadelphia Inquirer"-Siena College poll finds former President Donald Trump is leading in Arizona and Georgia and Michigan and Nevada. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the state of Wisconsin, there is no clear leader. The results there are within the margin of error.

Let's bring in our political panel right now to discuss all of this. So one thing that is interesting, put the polls aside for a second. Let's just look at actual election results.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley dropped out of the race two months ago. She took around 21.7 percent of the vote in Indiana's Republican primary. That's Republican voters. That's not mischief makers. Those are Republican voters. And about a fifth of them voted for her.

And Senator Tom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, he sees that as a warning sign. He told "The Hill", quote, my guess is you're talking a good number of that 20 percent are people that vote consistently. Those folks that vote consistently in Republican primaries are not going to vote for Joe Biden. They may not vote.

So, Scott, how concerned are you about those 20, 50 percent, 20 percent? I mean, one out of five voters there, Republican voters in Indiana.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, somewhat. I think it's hard to put everybody in the same box. I mean, in some of the primaries, when it was more competitive, you know, a lot of the Haley voters were showing up and saying they also approved of Joe Biden. I know in the Virginia primary, that was true. So some of these people probably never voted for Trump to begin with.

Some of them may come around to him because frankly, Joe Biden's doing things that they hate so much right now. I mean, just be honest, since this Israel stuff and Biden going wobbly on this, I've talked to a lot of people who have nothing for Trump, but they are so furious with Biden on Israel that they're warming up. Some of them may not vote, but these, you know, her voters were college educated, high engagement, you know, vote in every election type. So maybe they vote and they leave it blank. I don't know.

But the algebra for Trump is he's got to replace some of those folks with this new working class coalition, non-college whites, Hispanics, African-Americans. And you see that showing up in a lot of this polling that you're talking about.

TAPPER: So Meghan, why is Donald Trump winning in these polls, especially when you consider the fact that he has not really been out there campaigning because he has to be in court at least four days out of five during the week?

MEGHAN HAYS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, I will say again, we don't live and die by the polls in Joe Biden's orbit. If we did, we would have never made it out of Iowa in 2020. So there's a long ways to go between now and the election. But I do think that that folks are, the message isn't resonating right now.

And I think the president has a lot of work to do on the economy and people are going to vote on what their gas prices are, what their milk prices are. But I do think one of the coalitions that he can draw from is this Nikki Haley voters and he can turn them and he can sway them into being Joe Biden voters.

TAPPER: Not on the Israel issue though, right? I mean.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not at all. And I just wonder what percent of these Nikki Haley voters existed in 2020. He's already factored in mathematically to the Republicans who voted for Biden, the never Trumpers who voted for Biden.

I would argue that at least eight to 10 percent of them are more than likely going to vote for Donald Trump. It's also why I think who he chooses as his running mate, Jake, will be incredibly important. They're on the fence. They need some security. Give them something that makes them feel comfortable again. And then they'll come back home. I'm convinced of that.

But the reality is on the whole host of issues from international policies, to immigration, to the cost of everyday goods, people are saying Joe Biden cannot put the country on the right path. He hasn't done so. They thought he would be this great stabilizer.

And what we see that the country is far worse than it was before he became president.

TAPPER: So Meghan, one of the things that Biden is hoping will help him is abortion rights and the degree to which voters care about that. And the degree to which state referenda in places like Florida actually drive out Democratic turnout or at least non-Trump turnout. Now, Trump has said abortion rights should be left to the states. In his interview with "Time" magazine, he said he would release how his administration will regulate access to medication abortion in coming weeks. I'm not holding my breath for the release of that. But in any case, today the "Washington Post" is reporting that Louisiana could become the first state in the country to categorize mifepristone and misoprostol. Those are the drugs used to induce an abortion as controlled dangerous substances, threatening incarceration and fines if an individual possesses the pills without a valid prescription or outside of professional practice. This seems like an opportunity for Donald Trump or Kamala Harris. What do you think?


HAYS: I think that this issue overwhelmingly has been in the polling, has been extremely important to these undecided voters, these middle Nikki Haley voters that could, these are people who are going to vote for Joe Biden. This is a really important issue to folks. This is an issue that the President has a way to make inroads on. In Arizona, it was decided by 10,000 people, as we saw when the last go around with their abortion, their 1864 Abortion Bill. This is hugely important to voters. And women and men alike care deeply about women's reproductive issues.

TAPPER: Scott, speaking of Vice President Harris, she spoke to a group of young people at a leadership summit hosted by the Asian Pacific American Institute today. Here's part of what she said about breaking down barriers and being active. Take a listen.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is as, Alicia said, my mother would say to me, don't you ever let anybody tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. We have to know that sometimes people will open the door for you and leave it open. Sometimes they won't. And then you need to kick that door down. Excuse my language.


TAPPER: You don't like that?

JENNINGS: First of all, I don't even know what that means. Second of all, I do appreciate that Joe Biden has taken her advice. I mean he has definitely told people who he thinks he is even though if 95 percent of those anecdotes are not true, she is a net negative for this ticket. She is a drag on Joe Biden. And I, for one, endorse multiple public appearances from Kamala Harris.

TAPPER: So, and lastly, we should note, Senator J.D. Vance, who's on the short list to be Trump's running mate, joined Trump today in court. Yesterday, the senator from Ohio was asked if he's going to accept the 2024 election results. Here's how his answer compares to two other hopefuls vying to be Trump's number two. Let's take a listen.


SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): Yes. I totally plan to accept the results of 2024. I think that Donald Trump will be the victory. And if it's a free and fair election, Dana, I think every Republican will enthusiastically accept the results.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): The 47th president of the United States will be President Donald Trump.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Yes or no, will you accept the election results of 2024 no matter who wins?

SCOTT: That is my statement.

GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R-ND): I'm looking forward to next January when Vice President Harris certifies the election for Donald Trump. I mean, the American people are the ones that get to decide these elections.


TAPPER: So you were just talking about whoever he picks to be his vice president, Donald Trump, you're looking to see, because that person could really boost the ticket. Did you hear a good answer for those three?

SINGLETON: No. But I don't think it's going to be any of those three. I think Republicans need to be clear. We will accept the results of the election no matter who is going to win. Now, I personally believe that Donald Trump, based on all polls, appear to be headed in the right direction. TAPPER: Sure. I want to know who you want to be vice president though.

SINGLETON: Well, I have my options. I'm not going to throw that out, I mean, you know.

TAPPER: None of those three?

SINGLETON: I respect Senator Tim Scott. He's a good guy. Not him. Doug Burgum is great.

JENNINGS: You can say it. We know who you are.

SINGLETON: He doesn't turn anyone out.

TAPPER: Who does he want? Who does he want?

SINGLETON: And J.D. Vance, you know, who's excited about J.D.?

TAPPER: Who do you think he likes?

JENNINGS: He loves Dr. Carson, and I love Dr. Carson, too. I don't know if he's -- I don't know if he's the clubhouse leader. But you could say it. It's OK. We can be honest out here.

SINGLETON: You know, look, I have my preference Scott.

JENNINGS: All are good options.

SINGLETON: I have my preference.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks to one and all for being here. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, why the sudden change in the number of Palestinians is estimated to have been killed in Gaza? Why is the U.N. changing its number? The confusion when death toll estimates for women and children dropped dramatically. We'll discuss the explanation for that change, next.



TAPPER: Topping our World Lead today, the Israel Defense forces have expanded their operation in the Gaza strip in response to the October 7th Hamas terrorist attack. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled the southern city of Rafah since Israel's first evacuation order last week, according to the United Nations, while in the north, videos show panicked Palestinians attempting to reach safety amid heavy bombings.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in Jerusalem for us. Jeremy, though, of course, we can see the horror on the ground. Clearly, it's been harder to get an accurate estimate of how many Palestinians have been killed since October 7th in Gaza. Last week, the United Nations quietly revised downward its numbers on fatalities for Palestinian women and children. Tell us more about that. What led to the change?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this isn't about saying that fewer Palestinian women and children have been killed during this conflict. This all has to do with where the United Nations is pulling its data from. The United Nations is now listing women and children who have been killed, but only those who have been -- whose identities have been fully documented. That means that they know the names, the dates of birth, the identity card numbers of those individuals.

But that brings the United Nations to more than 7,000 children who have been killed, about 5,000 women. But there are thousands more women and children that the Palestinian Ministry of Health says have been killed in this conflict since October 7th. But in many of those cases, they don't have someone who has identified them by name with a specific date of birth for example, that brings the Palestinian Ministry of Health to about 15,000 children, about 9,900 women who have been killed.

And it's important to note that both U.S. as well as United Nations and other humanitarian aid agencies, these officials have all said that the Palestinian Ministry of Health figures have checked out in previous conflicts. But of course, there is a difference between how the Palestinian Ministry of Health sees the casualty figures in Gaza and what the Israeli government is saying.


We've heard from Israeli government officials, including the Israeli prime minister, now saying they believe that about 14,000 plus militants have been killed and about 16,000 civilians. That's obviously a very big discrepancy with the numbers coming from the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

TAPPER: Right. The Palestinian Ministry of Health, obviously run by Hamas itself, and they don't distinguish between fighters and innocent civilians. Speaking of the U.N., it says a U.N. aid worker was killed and another injured after a marked U.N. van was attacked in Rafah. Has there been any official Israeli response to that?

DIAMOND: The Israeli military has yet to offer any kind of comment on this situation, Jake. And it is important to note that the United Nations hasn't ascribed blame for this situation yet. What we have seen, though, is a clearly marked U.N. vehicle with bullet holes in its windows. This vehicle not only had U.N. letters on it also had a United Nations flag on it.

And it is important to note that this is the first foreign aid worker for the United Nations who has been killed since the beginning of this conflict. Palestinian U.N. workers have also been killed, we should note, before this incident. Now the United Nations secretary general has called for an investigation into this matter. And he is also using this as an opportunity to renew his calls for a ceasefire.

TAPPER: Jeremy, it's Memorial Day in Israel. It's called Yom HaZikaron. It's a memorial for their soldiers. You went to a rally tonight for families of hostages. What did Israelis there at the rally tell you?

DIAMOND: Well, you know, Jake, not only is Memorial Day in Israel to commemorate fallen soldiers, but it's also to commemorate the victims of terrorism. And that, of course, also includes the victims of October 7th, and it includes the hostages, some of whom the Israeli government says are dead and whose bodies are still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

And tonight I saw thousands of Israelis coming out at Hostage Square to call for a ceasefire deal to renew attention on the plight of those hostages. And I got to speak with some of the families of those hostages, including Ayelet Samerano, whose 21-year-old son, Yonatan, was killed on October 7th. He was attending that Nova music festival. Hamas is still holding his body.

And normally, Jake, today would be the day when she would visit his grave to mourn him. But she's not able to do so. Listen to what she told me.


AYELET SAMERANO, MOTHER OF DECEASED HOSTAGE: Where should I go? Where should I do it? I have no place to go.

DIAMOND: You have no place to grieve?

SAMERANO: No. All the parents are going to a special place and they have the time with him. I don't have it. Where should I go? Where is this place? There is no place. I cannot go to Gaza. Maybe this is the place I should go to look for him.


DIAMOND: And Jake, without her son's body, not only can she not go to his grave to be able to mourn him on a day like today, but it's also hard for her to have closure in this instance to believe that her son is actually dead. She told me that she still holds out a shred of hope that perhaps, just perhaps, her son is still alive. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Jerusalem, we should note, of the hostages remaining, five of them have dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, and they are thought to be alive in Gaza. These five Americans include 19-year-old Edan Alexander, 22-year-old Omer Neutra, 23-year-old Hersh Goldberg Polin, 35-year-old Sagui Dekel-Chen and 64- year-old Keith Samuel Siegel. Five Americans that we hope all get home soon.

Now to our National Lead, disruptive campus protests that swept college campuses in recent weeks are starting to wind down. Harvard put students connected to the pro-Palestinian encampment there on a, quote, involuntary leave of absence, while others, such as the University of Wisconsin, reached an agreement with the student protesters to dismantle their encampments. And CNN's Camila Bernal reports, in some cases, a few outspoken students are disrupting graduations for the vast majority.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The disruptions by protesters at graduations far smaller than the headlines they have been garnering. Police pushing back protesters outside the Pomona College commencement. At UC Berkeley, the uproar so loud the dean of students paused her remarks.

SUNNY LEE, ASSOCIATE VICE CHANCELLOR AND DEAN OF STUDENTS, UC BERKELEY: I invite you to speak with me after the event in a space that's more appropriate.

BERNAL (voice-over): At Duke University, dozens of students walking out chanting free Palestine. As Jerry Seinfeld, who visited survivors of the October 7th massacre in Israel to show his support, was introduced. The booing drowned out by chanting.


Senator John Fetterman responding on Twitter, how small the group walking out actually was compared to the attention they got. Protests and walkouts at Virginia Commonwealth University as Governor Glenn Youngkin began to speak.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a harder line, police escorting a few students out of the ceremony. This after they displayed a Palestinian flag while others turned their backs on the school chancellor's speech. But these outbursts not as dramatic as some feared. And there were calmer commencements at some of the campuses where protests have raged in recent weeks.

REV. DR. ROBERT M. FRANKLIN, CHAIR, MORAL LEADERSHIP AT CANDLER SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY: With a charged atmosphere on college campuses nationwide, you are once again adapting to the unprecedented.

BERNAL (voice-over): At the University of Texas Austin, small displays of solidarity with Palestinians at Columbia and Pomona, encampments and protests overrun the stages set for commencement ceremonies, locations and dates hastily rearranged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's sad, and I think it's a really bad way to end your college career.

BERNAL (voice-over): Anxiety remains with more commencements on the horizon, including at protest hotspots like Columbia, George Washington University and NYU later this week. And President Joe Biden's planned address at Morehouse.

Camila Bernal, CNN, Los Angeles.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Camila Bernal for that report. Russia is out with slick new video reportedly showing off its fighter jets on the front lines in Ukraine. That's the public show. But behind the scenes there's drama. Vladimir Putin just kicked his defense minister to the curb, and he put in a surprising replacement. The inside story on that, next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our World Lead, Russia is attacking Ukraine on multiple fronts in the most intense cross border assaults that we've seen in two years. Today, Ukrainians in the northern city of Kharkiv have rushed to escape the new Russian onslaught, some 18 months after Ukraine's army liberated that city. CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports now on Ukraine's waning defenses as Ukraine waits for the delivery of $61 billion worth of U.S. military aid.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russian jets bombing Ukrainian front line positions. This video released by Moscow's defense ministry purporting to show Vladimir Putin's troops on the offensive. But just as Russian forces have started a new assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine, Putin sacking his longtime defense minister Sergei Shoigu, the two last seen together at Russia's victory day parade last week, where Putin once again threatened the West.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia will do anything to prevent a global conflict, but at the same time, we will not allow anyone to threaten us.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While the Russian army has recently made some gains, their losses in soldiers and armored vehicles have been catastrophic, both the U.S. and Ukraine say. Shoigu, often facing heavy criticism. In March 2022, he disappeared from the public light altogether, fueling speculation Putin may have sacked him, only to resurface in a defense ministry call nearly two weeks later.

When Russia's deputy defense minister and close Shoigu ally Timur Ivanov was recently arrested and charged with corruption, it seemed clear the air for Shoigu was getting thinner, Russian political commentator Sergei Markov says.

SERGEI MARKOV, POLITICAL ANALYST: One problem is corruption, because now Russian military budget increase twice and arrest of the Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov shows that level of corruption around defense ministry are quite high.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Shoigu will be moved to head Russia's state security council along with another sidelined former Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev once even viewed as a possible successor to Putin. The Kremlin's new designated defense minister, the former minister for economic innovation, Andrei Belousov. His task, putting Russia's army on a long term war footing, Markov says.

MARKOV: This is very modern war. This not only soldiers, but also a technical system as armies of drones. And the connection between artificial intellect and armies of drone and rocket, missiles and artillery system should play a decisive role. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (on camera): And, you know, Jake, that same expert saying that he believes that with this move, Vladimir Putin wants to make the Russian military more nimble, more lethal, but also more cost effective because he's gearing up for what probably will be a very long war. This, of course, as the Russians right now in that massive offensive to try and take the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen, our thanks to you.

When you jump out of a perfect lit airplane to zoom under one of the world's most famous bridges and you survive. See, you can see more of the unbelievable video, next.



TAPPER: Our last leads now, Canada's wildfire smoke is wafting stateside for the second year in a row, air quality alerts have been issued in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Iowa. Canadian authorities described the raging flames as, quote, extreme and out of control. Thousands of people in British Columbia have been ordered to evacuate after a fire there tripled in size over the weekend.

One of the world's most influential philanthropists, Melinda French Gates, is resigning as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity she helped lead with her then husband, now ex- husband Bill Gates since 2000. In a post on X, formally known as Twitter today, Gates writes, quote, this is not a decision I came to lightly. I'm immensely proud of the foundation that Bill and I built together and of the extraordinary work it is doing to address inequities around the world.

Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is now an African princess. Toward the end of her and Prince Harry's three day private visit to Nigeria, three Nigerian traditional rulers bestowed Meghan with royal titles and christened her with Nigerian names. One of them means royalty. From across the seas, Meghan and Prince Harry focused their engagements in Nigeria on sports, rehabilitation, mental health, and women's empowerment.


New musty video shows the moment a pair of skydivers and wing suits flew through London's iconic tower bridge, making them the first people to ever do so. The two daredevils jumped from a helicopter 3,000 feet in the air and reached a top speed of 153 miles per hour. The duo completed the risky challenge on May 2nd.

You can follow the show on X at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of TheLead, you can listen to the show once you get your podcast all two hours is sitting there. I'll see you tomorrow morning for coverage of the Trump trial. Until then, the news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room.