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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Michael Cohen Endures Intense Afternoon Of Cross-Examination; Speaker Johnson Defends Trump At Criminal Trial; Biden Raises U.S. Tariffs On Chinese Imports; Trump On Biden's Tariffs: "Should've Done It Long Time Ago"; Canada Fires Causing Air Quality Warnings In U.S.; CNN In Ukraine As Russia Makes Its Biggest Push In Two Years; Displaced Gazans Return To Destroyed Neighborhoods. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 14, 2024 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the lead. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the combative cross examination of Michael Cohen as Donald Trump's legal team picks apart his testimony in the New York City hush money cover up case. Who will the defense call, if anyone, will Trump himself take the stand? The former president has evolved on that question.

Plus, Israel's deadly strikes in Gaza. Local hospitals reporting at least 40 people killed. Israel says they were targeting a Hamas war room embedded in Gaza. Hear what witnesses told CNN about the attack.

And a reversal from President Biden announcing new tariffs on Chinese goods. But didn't he knock Trump for that when he was candidate Biden? We'll roll the tape.

Let's start the hour with the hush money cover up case, though. CNN's Paula Reid is at the court in Manhattan.

Paula, today the defense got its first crack at questioning Michael Cohen and they came out swinging.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They sure did, Jake. Everything Cohen has said about Trump can and will be used against him in this cross examination. Under this intense questioning from Todd Blanche, Cohen was painted as someone who was, quote, "obsessed with Trump." The defense attorneys brought up the fact that prosecutors have asked Cohen multiple times to stop talking about this case and he would not. They also laid out how he has profited from his relentless attacks on the defendant, including millions of dollars that he has received for his book deals.

Now for his part, Cohen copped too much of this appeared pretty steady on the stand, though, as I'm sure you saw, Todd Blanche was really jumping around a lot to a lot of different lines of questioning. I'm told this was tactical. His, Cohen's year long preparation with prosecutors was for a linear, chronological direct examination. He appeared quite comfortable there. But here, defense attorneys trying to knock him off his game.

Now, tomorrow there's no court. And, Jake, the last time the Trump defense team had a break between their cross examination, it was Stormy Daniels. And they came back on Thursday with a lot of new material after working long hours to continue to prepare and also after getting some feedback from their clients. So Thursday should be wild.

TAPPER: Earlier in the day, prosecutors asked Michael Cohen about the alleged crime that is at the heart of this case, these invoices that he wrote to Trump that were reportedly falsified to cover up the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. Tell us what Cohen had to say about that.

REID: Well, this was some of the more sober testimony. It is the most important to prosecutors in this case. Cohen testified while prosecutors introduced or showed him each of these checks that he received in 2017, eventually totaling $420,000. And for each check, Cohen confirmed that, yes, he falsified an invoice saying that it was for legal services, when in fact it was part of an effort to pay him back for this hush money. Also give him a bonus and pay him back for some other money that Trump owed him.

Now, he also testified to a meeting between Trump, Allen Weisselberg, the former Trump Organization CFO, is currently in Rikers and himself where they agreed to this alleged conspiracy. The question now, Jake, is whether defense attorneys can do enough to undercut Cohen's credibility to make jurors doubt his account of what happened in that meeting.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thanks so much.

Let's discuss with "Washington Post" Justice reporter Perry Stein, who's the co-author of the "Trump Trials Newsletter." We also have with us criminal defense attorney Bernarda Villalona.

Perry, yesterday you wrote that the jury in Trump's trial for weeks had been told Michael Cohen is difficult, aggressive, and even a jerk. But you think that jurors are seeing a kinder, gentler version of Cohen on the stand? Does that include today when the defense got their shot at him? How did the kinder, gentler Cohen fair when faced with a tough inquisition?

PERRY STEIN, JUSTICE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it included today up until cross examination started after lunch. What you saw is you saw Todd Blanche, Trump's attorney, really do these rapid fire questions to really point out the lies that Cohen has told in the past. Instead of having these decisive, calm answers, he was a little more wishy washy. He said, that sounds like something I would say, or I don't recall. He seemed to, you know, remember a lot less this time around.


But I think part of the intent of that questioning was to be fast, was to skip around in chronological order and to get him a little confused.

TAPPER: Bernarda, today Cohen testified about the documents that were allegedly falsified, his invoices and the other ones that Trump did to cover up the Stormy Daniels payments before the 2016 election. The falsification took place in 2017. This is the crime at the center of the case. It's a misdemeanor and it bumps up to a felony if the jury buys the idea that this was done in furtherance of election interference, from hiding this from the American people. Do you think the jurors got all that?

BERNARDA VILLALONA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think so, Jake, because when you think about it, from watching Michael Cohen testify yesterday and today, one thing that is clear that I got from Michael Cohen is that Michael Cohen was a loyalist to Donald Trump. Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's ride or die and was willing to do anything, including being in shot for Donald Trump. So that was clear.

And no mention doing Michael Cohen's testimony, did you get that this had to do with trying to save the emotions of Melania or trying to prevent her from finding out this information. Instead, everything was driven of Stormy Daniels and this story coming out because they knew it would affect the campaign. So in terms of his testimony, I think it was clear to the jury that that was the purpose in hiding these payments.

TAPPER: Perry, Trump had a bunch of allies with him today in court, not just including his legal team or his son and daughter-in-law, it included North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, who might be on the VP short list, perhaps, Congressman Byron Donalds, and Cory Mills of Florida. CNN's Kara Scannell reports that when they went back into the courtroom in the middle of Cohen's testimony, Judge Merchan looked visibly annoyed at their coming in in the middle of the trial. Did you notice this? And how typical is that for trials?

STEIN: Yes, I mean, every judge has their different rules, different leniency. I didn't particularly see that. But it has been an odd day today just because this whole thing has kind of played out like a veepstakes, right? I mean, you have Donald Trump running for president who is, you know, stuck in court all day, and these people who seem to maybe want to be his vice president, they're showing his support here, even saying things that the gag order prevents for saying. They came out, attacked Michael Cohen, which Trump can't do under the gag order. So this whole situation is unusual.

TAPPER: Bernarda, the prosecution spent a lot of time today introducing a new character, criminal defense attorney Robert Costello, who worked closely with Rudy Giuliani. Cohen said Costello offered this back channel communication from Costello to Rudy to Trump in spring 2018 to make sure that Cohen was not going to flip, explain why this is important to the crime in this case. And do you think jurors were following all that and the importance of it as well?

VILLALONA: I think the jury was able to see that this Robert Costello guy, this attorney, was definitely a shady character, that he didn't have the best interest of Michael Cohen. That was definitely clear because he was also so brazen in terms of his e-mails to Michael Cohen about what his desire is, about how he has close connections to Rudy Giuliani, and it would be in his best interest to go with him. And at one point saying that he was even upset that Michael Cohen was entertaining, trying to go to another attorney.

What's clear from that testimony to me is that you can argue consciousness of guilt on the part of Donald Trump, that you're pushing this attorney as a joint defense agreement to be able to cover yourself and make sure that this attorney is looking out for the best interest of Donald Trump and not that of Michael Cohen.

I have to say this. I think because Michael Coleman was a former attorney, was an attorney at the time, that he was able to see through the BS and see that he was being used. And part of this is what hurt his feelings and actually woke him up to see that he's no longer part of that cult and that he needs to be looking out for his own best interests.

TAPPER: It's still a bit of a mystery who the defense will call to testify, if anyone. Let's look back at what Trump himself has said about the possibility of his testifying.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would have no problem testifying. I didn't do anything wrong.

I'm testifying. I tell the truth. I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there's no case. They have no case.

Well, I would if it's necessary. Right now, I don't know if you heard about today. Today was just incredible. People are saying, the experts, I'm talking about legal scholars and experts, they're saying, what kind of a case is this? There is no case.


Well, I'm not allowed to testify. I'm under a gag order. I guess, right? I can't even testify enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the gag order stop you from testifying?

TRUMP: No, it won't stop me from justify. The gag order is not for testify.


TAPPER: Bernarda, you're a defense attorney. Would you let Trump take the stand in this case if you were representing him?

VILLALONA: If I were representing Donald Trump, two things, I'll make sure that I get paid up front. And second, I would strongly advise him not to testify because of course, the decision to testify is of the defendant alone, not of the attorney. So several reasons why he shouldn't testify, each and every tweet, each and every post that he's placed, every statement that he's made in his book, he's going to be confronted with it. So everything that the prosecution has put in evidence, he's going to be confronted with it and he's not going to have a good explanation. He's not going to play well in front of this jury.

Secondly, about that, the Sandoval hearing, he's going to be cross examined as to the E. Jean Carroll final findings, the New York attorney general findings, and also how he was fined a $5,000 and $10,000 in contempt. So he's just too open to so many things that he's not going to fare well in front of this jury. So the answer is no.

TAPPER: Bernarda Villalona and Perry Stein of "The Washington Post," thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it. Great to see both of you.

As the Trump trial plays out in New York, legal action in D.C. might put a former Trump adviser closer to prison himself. The Department of Justice wants a federal judge to order Steve Bannon to begin serving a four month prison sentence. CNN's Evan Perez is here.

And Evan, Bannon had remained out of prison while his appeal of a contempt of Congress conviction played out. But that conviction was just upheld.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. It was upheld, Jake, by the D.C. Court of Appeals. And now the Justice Department is telling the judge who oversaw the case and who had put his time of imprisonment on hold, they're asking for the judge to order him to report to prison. And they're pointing out that, you know, because the D.C. circuit has already rejected his appeals, that there's really no good reason. And unless he's just trying to delay that process, of course, that is part of the game here because Steve Bannon, of course, is hoping that Donald Trump wins in November and perhaps could wipe away this whole thing.

The judge, Carl Nichols, who's overseeing this case, Jake, has ordered Bannon to respond by Thursday on what to do about this. Ill point out, Jake, that his attorney, David Schoen, has already put out a statement saying that they're planning to continue fighting this. They're going to ask for a further appeal with the court of appeals and perhaps beyond that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

A gag order may keep Donald Trump from saying anything publicly about witnesses such as Michael Cohen, but that is certainly not stopping his supporters. What the House Speaker Mike Johnson said outside the courthouse about the prosecution star witness.

Plus, as a candidate, Joe Biden criticized Donald Trump for the tariffs on Chinese imports in 2019. But now President Biden is announcing his own version of these tariffs. What's the difference? We'll dive into that next.



TAPPER: In Manhattan, Trump allies and potential running mates have been lining up to show their support for the former president. The latest and most senior Republican to defend Trump outside the courthouse is the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is the fifth week that President Trump has been in court for this sham of a trial. They are doing this intentionally to keep him here and keep him off of the campaign trail. I came here again today on my own to support President Trump, because I am one of hundreds of millions of people and one citizen who is deeply concerned about this.


TAPPER: Under a gag order, Trump himself risks jail time if he attacks witnesses in his trial. So now his political allies, including Speaker Johnson, are doing what Trump is legally not allowed to do right now, hammering the credibility of the number one witness who is testifying right now, Michael Cohen, outside the courthouse.


JOHNSON: This is a man who is clearly on a mission for personal revenge and who is widely known as a witness who has trouble with the truth. He is someone who has a history of perjury and is well known for it. No one should believe a word he says today.


TAPPER: Also showing their support, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Florida Congressman Byron Donalds and Corey Mills, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Let's bring in the panel and talk about this. So shortly after Mike Johnson became speaker, he told Sean Hannity that the best way to understand his worldview was if you pick up a viable. And today he is defending Donald Trump in this porn related case. And the speaker of the House is also fundraising off of his appearance at Trump's trial.

Former congresswoman Liz Cheney criticized Speaker Johnson on X, saying, quote, "Have to admit, I'm surprised that Speaker Johnson wants to be in the, I cheated on my wife with a porn star club. I guess he's not that concerned with teaching morality to our young people after all."

David Polyansky, what's your reaction, fair or unfair from Liz Cheney?

DAVID POLYANSKY, FORMER DESANTIS DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, look, I mean, if you want to be vice president of the United States, and let's be clear today with the polling as we see it, not just nationally, but more importantly in the battleground states, if the election were held today, Donald Trump would be president again.

TAPPER: If the polls are accurate.

POLYANSKY: If the polls are accurate, usually when you're arguing against polls, you're losing. TAPPER: I'm not arguing one way or the other. I'm just saying that's the caveat. Yes.

POLYANSKY: And I think in this case, I think, look, if you want to be the number two on this ticket, not just chosen with a real opportunity to be in that White House as vice president of the United States, you show up at that trial and you make an appearance.

TAPPER: Do you think Speaker Johnson is on the VP short list?

POLYANSKY: No, I don't, but I think he's -- look, it's a very difficult job for him to wrangle every single Republican in that conference, which a diverse setting of views, a handful of Republicans can change, not just --


TAPPER: But it helps him in that task. Speaker Johnson, sure.

POLYANSKY: Absolutely.

NAYYERA HAQ, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS, OBAMA ADMIN.: Well, because he didn't have to do this press conference. Let's be clear.

TAPPER: Right.

HAQ: There is, considering how much is at stake in Congress right now, and they barely have that one vote majority. The only reason anything's gotten done is because he's had to work across the aisle and get Democrats to support some of these most basic provisions, passing a budget, passing national security funding. Speaker Johnson is clearly now running towards that. Well, the bible is about power and what I can do with that power and access. I'm shocked, actually, that he was talking about Michael Cohen in that clip when he talks about perjurer, criminal, somebody who has a hard time with the truth, that actually sounded like he was talking about Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Well, listen to what Speaker Johnson had to say about this trial itself. Cause it's pretty stark.


JOHNSON: I'm an attorney. I'm a former litigator myself. I am disgusted by what is happening here, what is being done here to our entire system of justice overall. The people are losing faith right now in this country, in our institutions. They're losing faith in our system of justice.

And the reason for that is because they see it being abused as it is being done here in New York.


TAPPER: Now, by the way, across the street, the Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey has his own trial going on for corruption. And also there was just a recent indictment of a Democratic congressman in Texas. So, just some context here in terms of political prosecutions.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Listen, you know, I think if you're Donald Trump, this is, you know, obviously a message he wants to hear. He wants more people to say it, right? And people who are sort of more establishment in some ways, who are more well-spoken, I think, obviously, Mike Johnson sort of fits into that category. It also, I think, gets to the fact that Donald Trump might be a little worried about what we've been seeing in the courtroom over the last couple of days with Stormy Daniels testimony wasn't really flattering to him so he gets, you know, a real boost from somebody like Mike Johnson and all of these vice presidents or want to be vice presidents --

TAPPER: Right.

HENDERSON: -- going out there and sort of engaging in this reality show contest that is going to be the vice president's race.

TAPPER: So hold on one second, because I want to bring in something else that happened today. I want to go to the White House, where President Biden announced today he's raising tariffs on Chinese imports, including electric vehicles and solar cells and semiconductors. CNN's Kayla Tausche live for us at the White House.

Kayla, interesting move by Biden. Some might even say Trump ask. And interesting timing. Why is he doing it now?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the administration, Jake, has been studying this for several years, but there are a few reasons why now. The first is that the U.S. wants other allies to follow suit. Specifically, it wants the European Union and the G7 to discuss this very issue at some of the summits coming up this summer. The EU has its own investigation into tariffs on electric vehicles with a July deadline, and they really want Europe to join them in this fight. But today, two of the leaders from the more auto heavy countries cast some doubt on that.

In a joint appearance, Sweden's prime minister said this when asked if Sweden and Germany would be putting tariffs on EV's, he said, "It is fundamentally a bad idea to dismantle global trade. A wider trade war where we block each other's products is not the way to go for industrial nations such as Germany and Sweden."

But of course here at home, it also helps set the political agenda going into the election and helps Biden keep pace with Trump politically. Trump, you may remember, has proposed increasing tariffs on all goods from China to 60 percent. And there are also, Jake, many inside the White House who are pushing Biden to announce this policy before his Pittsburgh speech. But they were worried that doing this earlier would have potentially disrupted some diplomatic visits that happened last month.

TAPPER: So, Kayla, in 2019, when he was running for president, Joe Biden criticized Trump for imposing tariffs on China. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump may think his being tough on China. All that he has delivered as a consequence of that is American farmers, manufacturers and consumers losing and paying more.


TAPPER: But now Kayla, Biden is keeping those tariffs that Trump imposed.

TAUSCHE: He is, and despite some within the White House suggesting that some of those tariffs on consumer products should be removed. But ultimately, that debate was lost because there were worries about the message it would send to labor and to send to manufacturing heavy states. But today, Jake, Biden's top trade official tried to explain this seeming about face. She said that the reason why the Trump tariffs were ill conceived was because they brought about chaos and instability. And she argued that the link between tariffs and higher consumer prices has since been debunked, even though economists largely agree that importers do face higher prices.


It is worth noting, though, that some of the financial pain that was wrought during the last administration was because of really hefty retaliation from Beijing. There's some retaliation expected this time around, but because it's such a smaller group of imports, it's going to be impacted and phased out over two years. The hope within the administration is that some of that counterpunching will be limited here.

TAPPER: Interesting stuff. Kayla Tausche, at the White House, thanks so much.

Today, Trump responded by accusing Biden of taking a page out of the Trump playbook. Take a listen.


TRUMP: On the electric vehicles that Biden is pushing down everybody's throat, even though people don't want them. He wants to put a big tariff on China, which is a suggestion that I said, where have you been for three and a half years? They should have done it a long time ago, but they've also got to do it on other vehicles and they have to do it on a lot of other products because China's eating our lunch right now.


TAPPER: So first of all, fact check. I don't, I think demand for electric vehicles in the United States has never been higher. So the idea, nobody wants them, not true. But Nia-Malika, more importantly, what are these tariffs actually going to do? How will they affect consumers?

HENDERSON: Yes, well, listen, I think this is the Biden's attempt to really get tough on these issues, right? If you look at electric vehicles, semiconductors, these batteries and sort of emerging markets, this is their attempt to really get ahead of where China is. So, listen, there could be some blowback from China in terms of higher prices that could be passed along to consumers. But I think politically, you know, this is a real reversal from Biden, who was down on these tariffs, $300 billion or so that Trump imposed, he's keeping those and then $18 billion more in tariffs. I think it's a real attempt to get around this idea that Trump was better on the economy.

TAPPER: And Nayyera, I'm coming right to you. Colorado's governor, a Democrat who considers himself kind of like a pro-business Democrat, he's criticizing Biden. He says, Jared Polis, who says "This is horrible news for American consumers and a major setback for clean energy. Tariffs are a direct regressive tax on Americans and this tax increase will hit every family."

HAQ: It's going to be a real challenge because Democratic caucus and members of Congress are not unified on what the trade war with China should look like. Should it be permanent relations, trade relations? Should it not? The reality is, though, that our economies are so intertwined. And what Biden --


HAQ: -- has been trying to do is decouple. It's a fancy way of saying let's make sure we supply chain is connected with Vietnam. We're boosting other countries, that is in combination with tariffs, whereas Trump was more just a pull in a China shop.

TAPPER: What do you think of this? And how much do you think this is about, like Michigan or the industrial Midwest?

POLYANSKY: Well, look, I think there were stories disporting that the president, some of his advisors don't believe the polls. And I think this is further evidence that might be right. Look, the fact of the matter is voters have been telling us inflation is their top issue and what the numbers that came out today back it up. And instead the administration leads today with tariffs. But the headline of it is quadrupling tariffs on electric vehicles.

And while at the same time the president's going to have to go into Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And by the way, where he's probably going to have to run the table looking at the sunbelt numbers of late. And instead his EPA has regulated and demanded that they're going to phase out gas powered vehicles over the next several years and mandate electric vehicles in its place. That's a real tough sell in those states. And leaving today on tariffs in support of electric vehicles is only another needle in their eyes.

TAPPER: All right, thanks to one and all. Appreciate it. Good to see all of you.

Coming up next, how ancient tree rings, a dire warning, and why zombie fires are causing alarms. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Time for our Earth Matters series, ancient tree rings, revealing a stark new warning. A study finds last summer was the hottest summer in at least 2,000 years for planet Earth, going back to the year 246, when the Roman Empire ruled Europe and the Mayans controlled Central America. This warming is obviously creating dangerous extremes.

In Canada, wildfires are scorching tens of thousands of acres, creating air quality warnings once again. In the U.S., where we are apparently downwind, elsewhere in the U.S., more than 200 tornadoes so far in just the month of May, many leaving paths of death and destruction. There are also floods, destroying hundreds of lives all over the world, from Afghanistan to Indonesia, where there's also an active volcano, by the way, to Brazil and Argentina. All this week, just this week, CNN's Bill Weir is here to explain what is going on.

So, Bill, what is going on? Let's start with the fires in Canada. There are a number of new ones burning, but also zombie fires still smoldering from 2023?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. These are zombie or holdover fires, Jake, where they are not fully extinguished over the winter, not enough snowpack to snuff them out, or they sort of smolder there underground in these boreal forests. And then comes summer, then comes warm winds, then comes dry fuel. Then you can see those fires rekindle again over 100 going right now, three really big ones.

Yesterday, the air quality index in Minneapolis, St. Paul was among the worst, 10 worst cities in the world. A little bit better today. But this is something we may have to think about all summer, Jake, because as you've seen last year from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, you had folks breathing this stuff.

And if -- as a reminder, the air quality index is a number from zero to 300, anything over 100 is dangerous for the elderly, for the young, for people with lung problems. Anything over 150 is dangerous for everybody. That's going to be the watchword this summer.

TAPPER: So the floods and the tornadoes, all of this are linked to the climate crisis, right?

WEIR: Well, tornadoes is a little thin. The data on tornadoes is not like hurricanes, which you can watch for days and weeks as they form. Tornadoes are only on the ground for maybe minutes. And the record only goes back to 1950. But so far, this is the second most active season going back to 1950, over 781 of them. We do know that tornado alley is shifting eastward. So the place where these storms form is changing along with the climate as well. But scary stuff we're seeing in the Midwest today.


TAPPER: Is it only going to get worse this year? I mean, it's only May.

WEIR: It is only May, yes. And we've yet to bend the biggest curve of all, that's the carbon dioxide curve. The planet trapping pollution, it's now keeps going up right now. And just physics tells us that the temperatures will follow.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir. And please check out Bill's great new book. It's called Life as We Know It (Can Be): Stories of People, Climate, and Hope in a Changing World. A fantastic book, check it out. Bill, thanks so much. Always good to have you on.

On the global front, two years into war, and Russia is making significant new gains in Ukraine. Can a new $60 billion aid package from the U.S. help hold Putin's forces back? The reassurances today from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in Ukraine, that's next.



TAPPER: In the world lead, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Ukraine's capital late last night armed with the message, you are not alone. As Ukraine waits for the billions of dollars' worth of American military aid that it took Congress six months to pass, Russia is pushing closer to the key Kharkiv region, using new positions and Ukraine's diminished defenses to strike residential apartment buildings.

Earlier this year, Ukrainians in Kharkiv were relatively safe. In just the past few days, Ukrainian officials say more than 7,000 people have been forced to flee. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh just arrived in the region. He's on the ground in central Ukraine. Nick, always good to see you. How much longer will Ukraine have to wait for the U.S. military aid? And what are you hearing from Ukrainians?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Look, important to say, we don't always have full transparency about when and where U.S. weapons get delivered, for obvious reasons. But it does look like weeks until they really start feeling the benefit of that long delayed $61 billion held up by a dysfunctional Republican Congress. That is the reason why the Russians are seeing success to the north of the second city in Ukraine, Kharkiv. This is essentially, you might call it a third invasion, a completely new prong of attack back into areas that Russia was kicked out of in the end of 2022.

They're moving fast. They clearly have better resources, better ammunition, and clearly, too, the Ukrainians failed to build defenses there, but also don't have the artillery you'd normally rely upon to stop an invading force like this Russian movement here. They claim to have taken nine villages off the Ukrainians, and they're pushing towards an important one called Lyptsi, where if they got into that, well, they might be able to shell the second largest city, Kharkiv, intensely, taking the people there back to the dark days of 2022, where their daily life was interrupted by often random Russian shelling. So it is a definitely a stark moment here where, despite the very positive noises from Secretary Blinken in Kyiv. It's like playing guitar, they're almost sounding like he hadn't necessarily felt the severity of exactly what's happening north of Kharkiv. It's really a reflection on the ground of quite how slow that aid is being. We've seen morale deteriorate here over the past five or six months because that money was held up. Well, now we're seeing the Russians move over land because of that delay. Jake?

TAPPER: While attention is focused on Kharkiv, Russia's forces are trying to exploit other areas on the front lines, in particular along the Russian occupied city of Donetsk. Tell us more about what's going on in Donetsk.

WALSH: Yes, great concerns. What we're seeing actually in the north in Kharkiv is a bid to try and draw Ukraine's limited resources away from the Donetsk front lines and enable Russia to get gains in that Donetsk area where it's been moving pretty fast forward over the past months or so. Now they took Avdiivka, a key town there back in February, and they've since been edging forwards. And they've got some key parts of Ukraine's military infrastructure in that region in their sights, towns like Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Pokrovsk. These are all essential to Ukraine's military operations there.

And now the unthinkable is happening where the Russians are taking field after field, small, tiny villages you wouldn't know of, frankly, where maybe hundreds of people live before the war broke out. They're taking one after another after another. Ukrainians are struggling to hold their lines there.

And that's really leaving this significant eastern front, fought over since 2014, deeply vulnerable to Russian strategic advances. The summer is ahead of them, yes, western weapons will start coming in the next month or so, but the Russians have momentum here and they spot a window of acute Ukrainian weakness and they're exploiting that. Jake?

TAPPER: Are Russian attacks on Ukraine increasing in frequency or size, or is it just that Ukraine's air defenses are not able to keep up or a combination?

WALSH: Yes, I think it's a bit of both, to be honest. The Russians have got ammunition and personnel here in ways that far outstrip anything Ukraine is able to field. The Russian economy has really got behind this war effort now, and they appear to have firepower, airstrike capacity that they didn't have months back. And we've seen that reflected in the airstrikes taking on some of the northern towns -- north of Kharkiv, like Vovchans'k, repeatedly hit by huge half ton bombs dropped by the Russians.

So certainly the Russians have got more. Ukrainians have certainly also got less. And were warned back in December when we knew that U.S. aid was going to start being slowed by that congressional impasse, that the first thing potentially you would see weakened in Ukraine are the air defenses.

They've been bombarded heavily over the past months or so, a bitter winter, targets on infrastructure. So they need more patriot missiles, more air defense as quickly as possible. They'll start getting that certainly soon. But the key thing to remember here, Jake, is this was essentially avoidable. They've ended up getting that $61 billion. The five or six months delay in it has caused the damage to morale, damage to manpower, damage the capacity on the front lines, and they've lost a lot of territories.


They're going to go into the summer hugely on a back foot with territory they could have kept taken back and given to Russia. And Putin feeling that his war after the narrative for well over a year being that they were faltering and just expending endless amounts of manpower and resources to take tiny amounts of territory.

Now Moscow can point to key and at times even strident success because the west, frankly, hasn't been looking so hard and they've taken advantage of that. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh back on the ground for CNN in central Ukraine. Nick, thank you so much. Please be safe.

In two overnight strikes, Israel says it was targeting a Hamas war room, one embedded in a refugee camp in Gaza. The result at least 40 people killed, including nine children, according to local hospitals. The heartbreaking aftermath as this war continues to rage, next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our World Lead. Israel's military claims that it struck a Hamas war room in central Gaza in its effort to root out the terrorist group following the October 7th attack on Israel. The war room Israel says was embedded inside a school in Nuseirat, that's the town, and operated by the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees, or UNRWA. Israel says it killed more than 10 terrorists. Though CNN cannot independently confirm Israel's claim. It is clear the IDF is pounding that area. CNN's Paula Hancocks reports on the horrors of war. And we must warn our viewers, this will be hard to watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dazed and bloodied, a young boy is pulled from the rubble of a four-storey building. Others remain trapped under slabs of concrete after an Israeli airstrike hit this residential building in the early hours of Tuesday while people were sleeping.

This mother finds her son being carried away by rescue crews. She throws herself at his lifeless body. More than 100 displaced people were believed to be sheltering here in Nuseirat in central Gaza, entire families now entombed beneath the concrete debris. This man says, my children, girls and boys are under the rubble. My wife, my father, we were targeted while we slept. He continues his desperate search for his family. Another man calls out his brother's name. He says he was sheltering here with his wife and four children displaced for a fourth time, this time from Rafah.

This woman says, my brother arrived from Rafah three days ago after being forcibly displaced. We don't know where he is. His wife, his five children, they didn't have any connections to anyone. This is how Gazans are forced to search for their loved ones, little equipment using their bare hands, against the constant backdrop of Israeli drones overhead.

Another Israeli strike at a nearby unrest school caused a fire which engulfed the buildings. There, too, the displaced became the victims. U.N. staff collect human remains from the schoolyard. The daily search for a safety that does not exist continues as hundreds of thousands leave, Rafah moved on yet again by the Israeli military, some setting up tents in cleared areas, others returning to what's left of their homes.

We are returning to our destroyed homes in Khan Yunis, this man says, where there's no shelter or basic necessities, no water or electricity or even a house to shelter in. For the residents of Gaza, it is a constant battle to find the next meal, clean water and a place to sleep, and a desperate hope to survive the night.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Abu Dhabi.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Paula Hancock for that report. Remember, five dual American Israeli citizens are still being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas right now. Today marks their 220th day in terrorist captivity. Their names are Edan Alexander, who's 19, Omer Neutra, who's 22, Hersh Goldberg Polin, who's 23, Sagui Dekel-Chen, who's 35, and Keith Samuel Siegel, who's 64. Five Americans still being held hostage by Hamas.


Rudy Giuliani faces criminal charges in an election subversion case in Arizona. But prosecutors have a slight problem. They cannot seem to find him. Where on the earth is Rudy Giuliani?



TAPPER: Where in the world is Rudy Giuliani? Arizona prosecutors say they can't find Rudy Giuliani. They need to serve him with notice of his indictment. Giuliani is among a group of Trump allies indicted in Arizona last month over their efforts to overturn Trump's 2020 election loss. The state's attorney general in Arizona says its team of investigators has made multiple attempts to locate Mr. Giuliani, including traveling to his New York apartment. Giuliani is scheduled to appear before a judge in one week if he is ever found.

In New York, the other major trial is the bribery and corruption case against democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. After two days of jury selection, the judge expects a jury to be seated tomorrow. Prosecutors are accusing Senator Menendez of accepting thousands of dollars and gold bars and a Mercedes and weapons to -- from a foreign government, among other things.

In our beauty is in the eye of the beholder lead, we present without comment the first official portrait of Britain's King Charles III since his coronation, apparently after he massacred a small village. You don't get the full effect on T.V. It's over 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and it's framed. The artist Jonathan Yeo says his aim was to communicate Charles's deep humanity.

OK, the world lead, sounds like the sequel to Moby Dick, a 50 foot yacht sailing in Moroccan waters near the Strait of Gibraltar has been sunk by whales, orcas, to be exact, better known as killer whales. The couple on the yacht, neither related to Captain Ahab, as far as we could tell by press time, says they felt sudden blows to the hull and rudder before water began seeping into the yacht. They were rescued unharmed. Experts are not sure why exactly this happened, but say the whales may have just been playing.


OK. CNN's coverage of the New York hush money cover up case picks up next with Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call the Situation Room. I'll see you back here on The Lead tomorrow.