Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Lawyers Work To Undercut Cohen's Credibility; Source: Defense May Call Cohen's Former Attorney As A Witness; Judiciary Committee Advances Contempt Proceedings Against Garland; Sen. Romney: Biden Should Have Pardoned Trump; Texas Governor Pardons Man Who Killed BLM Protester; Univ. Official: Demands Taped To My Door In Middle Of The Night; CNN Team In Desolated Ukrainian Town After Russian Advance. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 16, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the New York hush money cover up case, Michael Cohen on the stand facing more questions about the many lies from his past. Sources told CNN yesterday that the defense wanted to paint Cohen as a, quote, "liar" today. And that indeed was theme addressed today. Cohen's lying to Congress in 2017, lying in a tax evasion case in 2018, lying to a federal judge about that case in 2018. Does the prosecution have an airtight case?

I'll let my next guests debate that.

Also ahead, did these University of Michigan protesters cross the line? Masked anti-Israel activists putting fake corpses and bloodied stuffed animals outside the homes of several regents at the university? One regent who woke up to a list of demands on his door will join me this hour.

Plus, the latest in our series homeless in America. City and park service employees closing homeless encampments in Washington, D.C. Today, I went out to see their efforts. Are they fixing a problem or just chasing it a few blocks away?

But let's start with Donald Trump's hush money cover up trial in Manhattan, where the defense went after Michael Cohen and his past lies under oath, even suggesting that some of his testimony in this current trial has been dishonest. Cohen's cross examination will continue on Monday, we're told. CNN's Paula Reid is outside the courthouse.

And Paula, the defense challenged Cohen's memory that he testified about just earlier this week about this October 24, 2016 phone call. Cohen said that call was with Trump about the hush money reimbursement. But tell us about how the defense tried to undermine that today.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So the first thing they did is they brought up exactly what he said under direct examination by prosecutors. When he was asked, why did you need to speak with Trump at that point in the evening of October 24? Cohen testified, to discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it. "And did you have an understanding about whether during that conversation you resolved that, you were moving forward to fund the deal?" "Yes," Cohen said.

And the reason this was significant evidence for prosecutors is that this suggests that Trump was aware of this conspiracy to conceal this hush money payment to Stormy Daniels in the days leading up to the election. There's also new evidence. This is not something that we'd ever heard previously. But today, Todd Blanche came with receipts and he pointed to a log, a timeline of events from that day where that evening Michael Cohen texted Keith Schiller, so Trump's body man, about prank phone calls that he had been getting from a teenager. Schiller then tells Cohen to call him. Cohen then calls Shiller and they have a 92nd conversation.

The defense attorneys, of course, asked, OK, why are we supposed to believe that you called him after that exchange when you have a 14- year-old prankster who's begging you not to stick the secret service on them? We see these receipts, we see this evidence. Why would we think that 92nd call was about Stormy Daniels? Cohen responded saying that part of the call with Schiller was about the 14 year old. But I know that Keith was with Trump at the time, and there was potentially more than this.

Now he says, "That was a lie, you did not talk to President Trump. You talked to Keith Schiller, you can admit it." Cohen replied, "No, sir, I don't know that is accurate." And at one point in this exchange, Cohen kind of fell back just saying, look, I don't recall. But this was a significant blow to Michael Cohen's credibility about this specific phone call because, again, they came with records and Michael Cohen has never testified to this before.

So in terms of sowing seeds of doubt about this significant piece of evidence, it appears that Todd Blanche was incredibly significant. So, Jake, over the next three day weekend, prosecutors have from this case, you can bet they're trying to brainstorm ways to clean this up.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thanks so much. Let's bring in attorney George Conway, who was inside the courtroom today, as well as in studio here with me, former Trump attorney Tim Parlatore.

George, you were in court, do you agree with Paula Reid's assessment and the assessment made by other journalists, other people in the room that Todd Blanche really took a hammer to Michael Cohen's credibility, especially on that October 24, 2016 phone call assertion. What was your take?

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: I thought it was a mixed bag. I don't think he was particularly effective all day overall. I thought that there were some good points that were scored here and there, particularly about the, you know, about his history of lying and the history of misstatements. But it was scattered. It was -- he took too long the questioner. He took too long to get to each point.

It should have been done much more quickly. And as a result, it just felt meandering and ineffectual.

And the thing that also surprised me was that how little of the cross examination really addressed the case. I mean, Paula refers to that one circumstance just before lunch about that October 24 phone call that went to Schiller's phone. And yes, that was good cross. I would have been -- you know, if I were the cross examiner, that would have been a good thing to cross examine Michael Cohen on. But I didn't think it was done particularly effectively.


And I thought, OK, wow, then they must have some more after lunch where they're going to pick apart some of the other calls because there's just a mountain of evidence that really shows President Trump's involvement and Weisselberg's involvement and lots of phone calls. And that was it. In the afternoon, there was like, it went back to meandering, even more weak meandering than in the morning stuff about, you know, how many times has Maggie Haberman of the New York Times written about you? And it was really hard to follow.

And I don't know that, you know, the thing I would be worried about if I were the defense is that good point just before lunch was lost in all the sort of the meandering and ineffective examination that occurred the rest of the day. Now, maybe they've got something they're saving for Monday. And I mean, for their sake, I think they better hope so. But by and large, I don't, you know, overall, after looking at the effects, this is a direct examination from 2015 on through, you know, past the election and all the corroborating documentation and the corroborating phone records.

You know, just nitpicking at this one call I just don't think is going to be enough. And I have a feeling that on redirect, it's going to get all cleaned up by the prosecution. I think I know how they can do that.


CONWAY: But we'll see.

TAPPER: Yes. So, Tim, there is going to be redirect. The prosecution has said so. They said it's going to be less than an hour. How to clean it up? What would you recommend that they do to clean it up for Michael Cohen?

TIM PARLATORE: FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I kind of disagree with what George said there because I think that was a significant point. Yes, sure, there was a lot of meandering there, but how do you clean it up? You have to find some way to explain the fact that he lied on direct --


PARLATORE: -- about this and to really plug that up, because the prosecution's biggest problem here is they have a lot of corroboration for the things that are not in dispute. They have a lot of corroboration for the things that are not elements of the crime, but the pieces that actually put Donald Trump into the alleged crime, those elements, those are the things that there is no corroboration for. You have to rely upon Michael Cohen's word. You have to rely upon his word of what they said in a conversation that's not transcribed.

And when you can show, OK, this one call that you were very specific about, that was a lie. You may not have those perfect text messages to show that the other calls were lies. And so if all you're relying upon is there is a phone record showing there is a call, and then there's Michael Cohen saying what happened there, that's not something you can rely upon. And you know, a lot of what cross is you're building points for the summation.


PARLATORE: So, I don't know how you really rehabilitate that.

TAPPER: So, George, obviously, during the testimony -- go ahead. Go ahead.

CONWAY: I have a respond to that.

TAPPER: Please do.

CONWAY: If I can just respond to that.

TAPPER: Yes, do. Do.

CONWAY: I think that Mr. Parlatore is grossly overstating that the prosecution showed that Michael Cohen lied at that instance. I mean, it shows that he didn't initially recall that part of the call may have had to do with this 14-year-old person who was making phone calls about harassing phone calls. But it's not inconsistent with the proposition that both he might have talked to Schiller about that very briefly and then told, hey, boss, put the boss on. Hey, boss, we fixed the problem. And it's, there's -- you know, that's, we'll see what they say on redirect.

But, I mean, I didn't get the overall feeling that Michael was flummoxed and that he had been shown to have lied. He may have been shown to have forgotten a particular aspect of something that happened that day and may or may not have been a part of that phone call. But to say that it was, you know, this devastating lie that was shown, they didn't get there and they needed to.

PARLATORE: I was in the courtroom and I saw it.

TAPPER: Yes, yes. Go ahead.

PARLATORE: This may be the difference between George as a civil lawyer and me as a criminal lawyer, because ultimately, this is about reasonable doubt. And by showing this is something that raises reasonable doubt. And the moment that you start saying, well, it's possible that it could have been the way that he said, it's possible that he -- possible, that's reasonable doubt. And so, yes, I appreciate George's opinion, but -- CONWAY: the answer to that is -- the answer to that is that's just one

small piece of the puzzle and piece of the story. It's not the whole thing. And you have to look at reasonable doubt in terms of the whole story and whether there is a plausible set of facts that is consistent with the entirety of this massive record that somebody could say, you know, I think it's possible that Trump didn't know what the hell was going on, and I think you have to be half brain dead to think that.



CONWAY: And maybe you -- they maybe get one -- they may get one or two jurors to say that. But who knows.


PARLATORE: I think an unbiased juror is going to take a look at this and they're going to take the evidence from both sides and make a reasonable decision.

TAPPER: And you think -- and you think they will find reasonable doubt based on what you heard today?

PARLATORE: I think that reasonable doubt has been -- not just from this single point. And I know George doesn't like that, but not just from this single point. But there's a lot of different things here. Plus, there's the defense case to put on. You know, if they put on Bob Costello, that's going to be a lot of reasonable doubt.

TAPPER: George, what do you make of that, the idea that the defense might put on Bob Costello, who would, as if he follows what he did in Congress yesterday, will take a hammer to a whole bunch of assertions Michael Cohen made.

CONWAY: Well, I mean, that could be very helpful for defense. They need something. They need to put on some kind of case to contradict these critical but small pieces connecting the various documentary, the documentary trail. And we'll see if they come up with somebody. They may come up with somebody, but they need something because they didn't quite do it.

They didn't come -- they didn't do enough or nearly enough to my mind, with the cross today, which was largely ineffectual. I wouldn't say that they didn't lay a glove on Michael. They brushed him a little and maybe slapped him once. But I just don't see that's enough to establish reasonable doubt on this record.

TAPPER: George Conway and Tim Parlatore, thanks so much both of you for being here. Appreciate it.

Another big story this hour, President Biden asserting executive privilege over the release of audio recordings of his interview with the special counsel investigating his classified documents case. Why? Well, we'll check the transcript to see what he may want only kept to paper, to a transcript. Plus, this just in, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a pardon for a former U.S. army sergeant convicted of shooting and killing a protester at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020, the details of that coming up.



TAPPER: In our 2024 lead today, President Biden is denying House Republicans the audio from his interview with special counsel Robert Hur over his handling of classified documents. President Biden asserting executive privilege today. Hur's report, as you may recall, concluded that no charges should be brought against the president, saying that he would likely -- suggesting that he would likely come across well to a jury because he was a, quote, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory, or that's how the jury would take him. There is a written transcript of the two interviews which happened the day after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. And there are parts of the transcript that read as though the president is struggling to remember key dates and years.

For example, on page 83, President Biden, "And what's happened in the meantime is that as -- and Trump gets elected in November 2017? Unidentified male speaker says, "2016." President Biden, "'16, 2016. All right. So -- why do I have 2017 here?"

Mr. Siskel, that's the White House counsel, "That's when you left office, January 2017." President Biden, "Yes. OK. But that's when Trump gets sworn in then, January," Mr. Siskel, the White House counsel, "Right."

Today, Attorney General Merrick Garland defended the move to not release the audio to House Republicans.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the committees get responses to their legitimate requests, but this is not one. To the contrary, this is one that would harm our ability in the future to successfully pursue sensitive investigations.


TAPPER: For full disclosure purposes, we should note CNN is also trying to get that audio as well for journalistic purposes. Let's bring in our panel.

I want with former Congressman Ken Buck. Where is he? He's over here.

So, the House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance contempt proceedings against Garland. If you were in Congress, how would you vote?

KEN BUCK, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I would not vote for it. I think as a prosecutor for 25 years, Jake, the key issue for me is what is the evidentiary value here? They have the transcript. They know what was said. And then how could this be used in a way that would chill future witnesses from wanting to give testimony.

President Biden wasn't required to give testimony. He was the target of an investigation. He could assert the fifth and walk away. He gave that testimony. And now that tape will be used in campaign commercials in a way that I think will chill future, especially politicians, from cooperating.

TAPPER: The White House counsel says pretty directly that they think that -- the White House thinks that House Republicans only want to use this to chop it up and misuse it, mislead people.

ASHLEY ETIENNE, FORMER VP HARRIS COMMS DIRECTOR: Absolutely. I mean, if you don't mind Congressman, I'll quote you, he called it a political stunt. You know, what we've seen in Congress lately is that Republicans are great at political stunts, less so legislating. But here's what really gets me, is the hypocrisy of the Republican Party right now. I remember during the Mueller investigation, Chairman Jordan said that the executive privilege should be a serious consideration here.

Barr, they allowed to withhold documents, redacted the report. He put a spin on it before it was released. Very different than what we're seeing here with AG Garland. He's gone above and beyond, as he said, to give the committee what they want. But it seems to not be enough.

That's really the challenge here with the Republican Party. It's the stunting rather than the legislating, which is leading to a lot of Republicans, like the congressman, to leave the body.

TAPPER: What do you think?

MARC LOTTER, FORMER DIRECTOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: If the tables were turned, I can guarantee the Democrats would be demanding the audiotape if it was of an interview with President Trump. And they would be losing their minds if he claimed executive privilege and not released it. I don't see how you can claim executive privilege. Release the written transcript, but not the audio. I mean, it's the difference between radio and television and a print outlet, emotion, context, verbal interaction does change things from just the written word.


ETIENNE: I thought Raskin made a great point, which is, what more could you uncover by the audio tape than the transcripts themselves? Are you going to somehow uncover some high crime and misdemeanor based on the audio versus the transcript? That's why this just reeks of a political stunt.

TAPPER: There are moments in the transcript where the special counsel appeared to praise the president's memory. We should note on page 47, he said, "Understood. That was very helpful. We have some photographs maybe to show you, but you have -- you appear to have a photographic understanding and recall of the house." I mean, why not release it and use some of the audio to bolster defense of the president?

ETIENNE: Well, I mean, because I think, as Chairman Jordan said, you know, that executive privilege should be taken very seriously and the president has a prerogative to assert it, and he did.

So last night, Senator Romney, this is a -- I'm changing subjects now. Last night, senator -- I don't think we're going to reach agreement on this. A vocal critic of Trump and one of the few Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump over January 6 said that Biden should pardon Trump or should have pardoned Trump. Take a listen.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Had I been President Biden, when the Justice Department brought out indictments, I would have immediately pardoned him. I'd have pardoned President Trump. Why? Well, because it makes me, President Biden, the big guy and the person I pardoned the little guy.


TAPPER: What do you think?

BUCK: I think that President Trump is entitled to a trial. He should get his trial. If he is found not guilty at trial, he doesn't need a pardon. He gets his story out that way. If he's pardoned, he is, in effect, doesn't have a voice and doesn't have that opportunity. So, I disagree with Senator Romney on that issue.

TAPPER: What do you think?

LOTTER: I think it would be very difficult for President Biden to do it. I think it might win him some support and look magnanimous and the big guy in the middle. But I think the radical woke left would lose their minds if he did it. And he is the one that he needs them right now, out knocking on doors and voting November.

ETIENNE: Absolutely. I mean, I -- with all due respect to the senator, he is one of the only good guys left in the body. He voted for conviction. I ran the first impeachment war room, and our closing argument in that case was, if we don't hold Donald Trump accountable today, it's only going to get worse. And it did.

A national scheme to try to cheat the 2020 election. He initiated an insurrection on January 6. So it only got worse. And the reality is, if we let him off the hook, it sends a signal to the next president, but it also weakens the Constitution and weakens the office of the presidency.

TAPPER: At least nine House Republicans traveled to New York to stand alongside Donald Trump in court today. Congressman Bob Good from Virginia, who had to stand next to his primary challenger, a guy named John McGuire. What is your reaction? You just giggled a little bit. What is your reaction when you see this parade of House Republicans and Senate Republicans and others coming to, and a North Dakota governor, et cetera, coming to stand with Donald Trump and then go outside the courtroom and attack the proceedings?

BUCK: I think it's a sad day in politics, frankly. I think that President Trump has his ability to defend himself. He obviously --

TAPPER: Well, he has a gag order, right?

BUCK: Well, in court, yes, he has ability to defend himself. Outside court, he doesn't have an ability to continue to stir up the emotions of folks. But I think that just having this line of politicians go up, many of whom are seeking the vice presidency, it does not engender a lot of faith in Republicans to think that politics is getting to a new height.

TAPPER: Bryan Lanza was here earlier, former member of the Trump Pence campaign in 2016. He says he hears from the Trump campaign folks for 2024 that when these officials come into the courtroom, members of the jury notice, they sit up, they take note of this.

ETIENNE: I mean, that's the whole point, is this, to some degree, intimidate the jury. But I think to the congressman's point, I mean, this is really signifies how the Republican Party has just fallen, the depths to which they've fallen, that they're prostrating themselves outside of the courtroom. For a man who said he would get rid of the constitution, that he would be a dictator on day one and add $8 trillion to the actual debt. So it's, you know, it signifies really how far off and, you know, and that the Republican Party, in my opinion, is going through this identity crises.

LOTTER: Yes, I mean, I think basically this is a political witch hunt of a trial, and he is turning it to his advantage. So every time they try to lock him down, every time they try to silence him, he will find a way, whether it's reading headlines so he's not actually violating any -- the spirit of the gag order or getting other members out there to show their support for him. He's doing whatever he can to win under very challenging circumstances.

ETIENNE: But at what cost of the country?

TAPPER: Thank you. I don't think we're going to settle that one at this moment either. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The pardon issued in Texas today in a controversial deadly shooting at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020. Plus, a University of Michigan official, one of several targeted by protests at his home in the middle of the night. Stay with us.



TAPPER: News for you. In our law and justice lead this afternoon, convicted murderer and former U.S. Army Sergeant Daniel Perry is now out of prison. Just moments ago, Texas Governor Greg Abbott granted Perry a full pardon. Perry had shot and killed US Air Force veteran Garrett Foster, who was protesting at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020. CNN's Ed Lavender is live for us in Dallas. Ed, Abbott's action, Governor Abbott's action came after the Texas Parole board recommended a full pardon. Yes?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's the way it has to work here in Texas based on that recommendation from the Texas board of pardon parole, which you voted unanimously today to grant Daniel Perry a full pardon, and then moments later, Governor Greg Abbott here in Texas issuing that full pardon. Perry's case has become a cause celeb among in right wing media over the last few years. But let me give you back some of the details of this case.

Back in 2020, prosecutors said that Daniel Perry intentionally drove into a crowd of Black Lives Matters protesters in downtown Austin. And that's what led to the altercation that led to the shooting death of Garrett Foster. Attorneys for Daniel Perry say that Perry acted in self-defense. Garrett Foster was legally carrying an assault style rifle. Perry says that Foster pointed at him and that's when he fired at him, killing him there in the streets back in 2020.


A jury in Austin last year convicted Perry of murder and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Part of the trial also included very troubling text messages that Perry had sent people close to him at one point saying, as the protests were unfolding on the street, saying that he might kill a few people on my way to work, that they're riding outside of his apartment. And he compared Black Lives Matters protesters to, quote, a zoo full of monkeys.

Now, the reaction to this pardon has been intense and coming in quickly here in the last hour or so, Jake, the family and the mother -- the attorney for the mother of Garrett Foster says she is shocked and believes that this pardon is politically motivated. Whitney Mitchell, who is the girlfriend of Garrett Foster, the victim in this case, says that she believes that only certain, the governor believes only certain lives matter. That she went on to say that the governor has declared that citizens can be killed with impunity as long as they hold political views that are different from those in power.

And the Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza is criticizing the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles and the governor, saying that they have put politics over justice and have made a mockery of our legal system and that the board and the governor should be ashamed. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, steadfast in this pardon, saying that Texas has one of the strongest stand your ground laws in the country and that that cannot be nullified by a jury and a progressive district attorney there in Austin.

We've reached out to Daniel Perry's attorney, who tells us that he has since spoken with Perry, that he is thrilled and elated. And just moments ago, he was actually, Jake, released from prison already. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera in Dallas, Texas for us, thanks so much. In our National Lead, in the middle of the night, Wednesday, around 30 masked student protesters at the University of Michigan put fake corpse wrapped in bloody sheets in front of the private home of a university official. The anti-Israel activists appeared to target at least five members of the university's board of regents, who are essentially the institution's board of directors in what the university is calling a, quote, significant and dangerous escalation, unquote.

Before these students ran from police, they marched, chanted, and taped lists of demands on the doors of these regents, according to an official university statement. One of those regents targeted is Jordan Acker, who joins us now. Mr. Acker, thanks for joining us. So we're showing ring camera footage from your house. When you say your kids were inside sleeping, it shows a masked individual walking straight up to your door, taping a list to it. When did you figure out what was going on outside your house? What went through your mind when you realized it?

JORDAN ACKER, BOARD OF REGENTS, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: well, first, thank you for having me on, Jake. I learned about 6:00 a.m. that this had happened when several of my other colleagues were woken up to people engaging in some protest activities and some masked people coming by themselves. And I had learned that about 4:40 a.m., someone had come to my home alone, completely covering their face, took some pictures, placed some things on my door of my home as my children were inside sleeping.

TAPPER: Several student groups say that they were behind this coordinated effort. They're wearing masks in the videos. Is the university, has the university been able to figure out who did this? Is -- are there disciplinary procedures? Were any laws broken?

ACKER: Well, Jake, I can't speak obviously to any specific internal, ongoing investigations. But I can tell you that some of the students felt emboldened enough to go on local T.V. in Detroit and admit they had engaged in this behavior last night. It is an unacceptable, an unbelievable violation of the privacy of elected officials.

In Michigan, me and my colleagues are elected statewide, and just like our colleagues like Jocelyn Benson and Dana Nessel and Gretchen Whitmer were violated at their homes in 2020, this is the same sort of illiberal activity that is, frankly, against all of what we believe both at the university and in our state.

We elect people to make decisions and then we vote out people when we disagree. We do not come to people's homes and intimidate them. That is not appropriate behavior from our students. It is not appropriate from anyone in our community, period.

TAPPER: I don't know how old your kids are. Did they see this? What was the reaction when they saw, if they saw it?


ACKER: Thankfully, my kids still don't know that this happened. And we're very, very lucky. My kids are very young. But, you know, as someone who ran for elected office at 34, who had kids around those age, I teach my children the importance of political engagement, of walking doors, of doing those sorts of things because I think it's important to our community.

What is not important to our community, what is never acceptable is showing up at someone's home in the middle of the night with their face masked. That is behavior that cannot be condoned by either the right or the left in this country.

TAPPER: So tell me what you would say to if any students who participated in this, if any of them were there and they are watching and they say this was peaceful, we didn't hurt anybody, we didn't do any death threats or anything like that. And we are outraged by what's going on in Gaza and we are trying to protest. I'm not exactly sure. I guess they want the university to divest, I suppose, from any holdings it may have.

ACKER: Among other things.


ACKER: Yes. They ask things like defunding the university police as part of their demands. Ultimately, Jake, this is not about peaceful protest. There is nothing peaceful about showing up at someone's private home in the middle of the night with a mask on. It's extremely dangerous, both to the homeowner, to my family and to the student who would do something like this.

This is not the same as showing up 30 people. This is one person who did so in the middle of the night. It is not peaceful protest. And let me remind you that this university has taken a very hands off approach in allowing some freedom of speech to occur on our campus. I don't like some of the language. Globalizing the intifada is personally offensive to me.

But there's a certain level where you have to understand these are kids, and sometimes they do things and they say things that might be offensive. The flip side of that is that once you show up to my house, that is no longer a peaceful protest. You are looking to intimidate, not be part of our political system in this country.

TAPPER: Jordan Acker, one of the regents of the University of Michigan, thanks so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

ACKER: Thanks, Jake. Go blue.

TAPPER: Next to Ukraine where Russia is making brand new advances. It's creating pressure and anxiety on the ground. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is next in the region where the Ukrainian people are trying to get out of the way.


[17:41:33] TAPPER: In our World Lead today, China's leader Xi Jinping today rolled out the red carpet for his close friend and fellow autocrat, Vladimir Putin, a symbolic show of their deepening partnership as Putin officially begins his fifth term as Russia's president. In a sweeping statement, the two despots say they aligned on energy and trade and security and geopolitics, with specific references to Ukraine, Taiwan and the Middle East.

Russia's economy has become increasingly reliant on China's since Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine in 2022. And on the subject of Ukraine, Russia does not have the number of troops it needs for a, quote, strategic breakthrough in Ukraine's Kharkiv region, according to a senior NATO commander today. Still, Russia's recent surprise cross border assault is causing immense anxiety on the ground as Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking civilians from evacuating towns near Kharkiv, where there is intense ongoing fighting.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Kharkiv city for us. And, Nick, you were in one of those towns just northeast of Kharkiv today. Tell us what you saw.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, just hours ago, Jake, we're in Vovchans'k, which has been bearing the brunt of Russia's extraordinary new ferocious assault. It's a border town, and it's where so much Russian force has been applied. We saw inside there ourselves tanks, Ukrainian tanks. We saw blown to pieces. U.S. supplied Humvees, flipped over. Literally every street, it seemed to be aflame.

We traveled with the Ukrainian police unit trying to evacuate one of 35 groups of families they said wanted to get out that morning. They took three people out with them, including an 85-year-old lady, Maria, hard of hearing, could barely hear the constant explosions around her but still wanted to get out. Let me just tell you behind us here, because all of this violence north in Vovchans'k is really about trying to exert influence on Kharkiv here, Ukraine's second largest city.

In the last hours, we've been hearing pretty constant explosions behind us. I say constant, probably about probably single figures still at this point. But reports of drones, missiles that we've been hearing, we've seen anti-aircraft fire. We can't go into too much detail. But still another sign of the intense pressure Russia is trying to put upon Kharkiv and why they're aiming at border towns like Vovchans'k.

Now, the civilians being pulled out of there at extraordinary numbers. And it's clear to say intense fighting inside the city. From what we were hearing, the Russians appear to have got into the north of it. They're still separated from Ukrainian forces by a river, but the distance between them is getting smaller and smaller. And the small arms fire, we heard ourselves suggesting that there are street to street clashes potentially between both sides.

But elsewhere, Russia's seeing other success in this northern area. Remember, Jake, this is not another front line that's been contested for years, suddenly seeing a change. This is a completely new offensive by Russia occurring to the north of Kharkiv here, the second biggest city of Ukraine and pushing pretty fast, frankly taking the most territory that we've seen since the initial days of the invasion, so quite startling progress. And that's reflected in the volatility of tonight here in the city. Jake?

TAPPER: And Nick, you were also with Ukrainian police as Russian drones flew right overhead.

WALSH: Yes. Look, I mean, this is a new part of the war, disposable drones, single use that fly into targets. And we've heard about them. We've seen them used by Ukrainian soldiers on Russians. We've seen the impact on Ukrainians, too, both sides using this extraordinary cheap and vicious technology. But this is the first time were on the receiving end.


And heading back into Vovchans'k, we stopped under a tree line to ask the police where they were headed to next, heard the buzzing noise of drones. And above us for quite horrifying, it's fair to say, three, four minutes, three drones sat, one large one, it seems, spotting two smaller ones, the ones that were going to drop their payload.

We may not have been spotted, we may not have been seen worthy of being a target. But that noise hanging above you for minutes, utterly nerve shredding. You simply don't know what's about to happen next. We got out of there fast and that appears to have been the best move then. But that's the kind of threat that Ukrainians, and indeed Russians, too, face every single hour, an extraordinary departure on the battlefield, one that's very precise, very vicious and hard to counteract.

Frankly, once you're spotted, you either have to run and expose yourself or you have to hope that you're not considered worth dropping a rare payload upon, quite horrifying to experience that. And that's something Ukrainians are seeing every day. Jake?

TAPPER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Ukraine. Thank you so much. Please stay safe.

Coming up, the latest in our Homeless in America series, city and park services closed encampments in D.C. today. But what about the larger problem, where do these people go? My attempt to get at those very questions, that's next.



TAPPER: It's an issue now basically synonymous with American cities, the rise of homelessness. Here in Washington, D.C., the numbers are staggering. D.C.'s annual the point in time count found homelessness went up 14 percent just last year. Today, city officials tried to clear out several encampments, and they say they will clear more out in the coming weeks. Hundreds of people who are homeless will be moved from their encampments. But does that solve the homelessness problem in any real way?

As part of our Homeless in America series, I visited one of those camps with workers on the front lines of the crisis who think that what D.C. and the Park Service did today is actually, in some ways, going to make the problem worse.


WESLEY THOMAS, ADVOCACY SPEAKER, MIRIAM'S KITCHEN: The average American is only one paycheck away from being right here.

TAPPER (voice-over): Just blocks from Washington, D.C.'s most picturesque landmarks, a community of roughly 70 people is being torn down. The residents scattered. It's on both federal and city land. And now the city and the National Park Service are both saying these people have to leave.

ADAM ROCAP, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MIRIAM'S KITCHEN: Our outreach team has been working diligently for, you know, months, helping people prepare, thinking about where you want to go, walking them through the shelter options. But there's nothing major. All the shelters are mostly full. We're doing everything we can to try to get people a solution. But for most people, there's nothing definite that it's being offered.

TAPPER (voice-over): Staffers from the non-profit Miriam's Kitchen have been going tent to tent, trying to help. This is one of seven such encampments around Washington, D.C., that will be cleared in the next few weeks. The city says the closures protect residents from, quote, dangerous circumstances such as fires, traffic collisions, assaults, and rats.

TAPPER: The federal government says homelessness shot up 12 percent last year, with more than 653,100 Americans currently without a place to live. This is the highest and sharpest increase in the largest number since they began keeping records. And experts say this cuts across demographics and populations. It includes veterans and families with children.

TAPPER (voice-over): The city of D.C. says it will keep trying to help people connect with support services, including housing. But advocates say clearing these camps is not a solution, it's a setback.

TAPPER: moving the problem from here to there, but the support problems not solved.

ROCAP: Right. And that's the, you know, part of the history of this encampment. There's people who are living here who used to be at McPherson Square, who used to be the other encampments that are being cleared.

TAPPER (voice-over): Advocate Wesley Thomas was homeless himself for decades, living on the streets near the White House until he finally got help from an outreach worker like him.

THOMAS: I didn't know anybody, but it came to a point where I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I knew where to go, who to talk to turn my life around.

TAPPER (voice-over): He says kicking people out of these encampments breaks trust.

THOMAS: They no longer trust the outreach workers. They no longer trust the city. And the main issue when you are displaced from an encampment is finding a safe place to rest your head. So all that goes away and then they have to start all over again.

TAPPER: What's going to happen to these people when they're cleared out?

THOMAS: They're going to try to find another place to rest ahead. But see, encampments are communities, their safety in numbers.

TAPPER: So this is like a town almost?

THOMAS: Yes. Encampment is a community.

ROCAP: I mean, every person here has an individual story. You can see the big picture of things. You can see people are here because they're very low income and housing and D.C. and everyone in the country is just far too expensive. You see people who, because of that economic vulnerability, if I am living with a mental health issue, if I am living with trauma, then I'm more likely to be here.

TAPPER (voice-over): These individual stories advocates tell me, are at the heart of the solution. One person finally getting a housing voucher or another knowing how to access emergency rental assistance.

TAPPER: Your shirt says end homelessness. Your hat says end homelessness. How do we do it? How do we end homelessness?

THOMAS: One case at a time.

TAPPER: One case at a time?

THOMAS: One case at a time.


TAPPER: And this morning, outreach workers at that encampment in D.C. told CNN a few people have been placed in temporary housing, but the majority are just moving to more unsafe places, closer to dangerous roads, closer to overpasses scattering throughout Washington, D.C., which makes it even more difficult for those outreach workers to help them get off the streets into homes.


Just around the corner from Trump's hush money cover up case, a New York trial is happening in the corruption case against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Today in court, where prosecutors say he stashed gold bars and nearly half a million dollars in cash. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Last lead today, testimony in the criminal corruption trial of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey. An FBI special agent testified today that nearly half a million dollars in cash was found in boots, bags, boxes and jackets around Menendez's home. The agent also told the court that 13 gold bars were seized from the home back in 2022.

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of taking bribes from two New Jersey businessmen in exchange for Menendez's support for the governments of Egypt and Qatar. They've all pleaded not guilty. Also today, Senator Menendez revealed that his wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will undergo a mastectomy. Nadine Menendez is set to go on trial in a separate case in July.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter, and on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can follow the show on X at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode, you can listen to the show once you get your podcast, all two hours just sitting right there.

The news continues on CNN. Alex Marquardt sitting in for Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.