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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Access To Abortion Pill; Biden Meets Key U.S. Allies As Trump Courts Republicans; Trump Returns To Capitol Hill To Rally GOP Behind Him; Sen. Durbin: Justice Thomas Took More Trips Aboard GOP Megadonor's Private Jet Than Previously Known; Biden Campaign Aims To Keep January 6 Top Of Mind; Biden Meets With Key Allies At G7 Summit; Evan Gershkovich To Stand Trial, Accused Of Spying For CIA. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired June 13, 2024 - 16:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Most hot dogs eaten in the Nathans hot dog eating championship.


The last time these two faced off was in 2009 when Chestnut edged past Kobayashi. So it's going to be a pretty big competition when we do finally get to see them together.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: It is a big deal. And you can laugh at me, but it is extremely competitive. And these are legit athletes. They train and it's --

KEILAR: Oh, Boris, come on!

SANCHEZ: I mean, Joey Chestnut -- Joey Chestnut elbowed somebody in the face as he --

KEILAR: Legit athletes?

SANCHEZ: -- broke a world record. He's a beast.

KEILAR: Let's go to --

SANCHEZ: All respect to Joey Chestnut.


SANCHEZ: THE LEAD starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump back on the Hill for the first time since January 6 attack.

THE LEAD starts right now.

From Nancy Pelosi to Taylor Swift, Donald Trump was on a tear in private meetings with House and Senate Republicans.

His direct quotes from Republicans in the room, coming up.

Plus, his face-to-face with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, their very first since the 2020 election.

And breaking now on THE LEAD, some brand new accusations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas coming from a top Senate Democrat. We'll bring you those details.

But first, the major ruling today from the U.S. Supreme Court and the significant setback for the anti-abortion movement. But not so fast.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

A huge day for the U.S. Supreme Court today, and I don't just mean that bombshell unanimously ruling on abortion medication. Also, Democrats are now leveling a brand new claim against Justice Clarence Thomas. It's breaking right now.

But let's start with what you need to know about the headline you've seen all day that the justices unanimously ruling that yes, as of now, women can still use the abortion pill mifepristone. That is far from the end on attempts to limit abortion and abortion medication, in this post-Roe era, of course.

The justices' reasoning in this case is important. The court found that the doctors in the anti-abortion groups who had challenged access to mifepristone did not have this standing to sue. So this was not a decision on the merits of mifepristone and access to it. So that does leave the door open for other potential challenges to mifepristone in the future.

Justice Kavanaugh wrote in the opinion for all nine justices: What we recognize that many citizens, including the plaintiff doctors here have sincere concerns about and objections to others using mifepristone and obtaining abortions. But citizens and doctors do not have standing to sue simply because others are allowed to engage in certain activities -- at least not without the plaintiffs demonstrating how they would be injured by the government's alleged under-regulation of others.

In addition to that news breaking, right now, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Democrat, is now claiming that Justice Clarence Thomas took several additional free trips on the private plane of GOP megadonor, Harlan Crow. Thomas traveled on Crow's private jets, Durbin says, during trips within the United States in 2017 and 2019 and 2021, as well as on a previously known 2019 trip to Indonesia, where Thomas and his wife Ginni, stayed on Crow's mega yacht. Senator Durbin says, Thomas did not disclose these additional trips on financial disclosure forms.

Now this all comes after last week when we brought you the reporting that Justice Thomas is far and away the justice who has received the most gifts while serving on the court. The liberal organization Fix the Court told us that Thomas received 103 gifts worth more than $2.4 million.

We're going to go deep on both of these stories today. But first, let's get straight to CNN's Paula Reid, who has been poring through this opinion about mifepristone all day.

Paul, what does this opinion say exactly?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, look, this is one of the most closely watched cases of this term. And here are the judges unanimously -- justices unanimously swerved around this question about mifepristone. It did so for good reason. They're saying, look, you don't have standing. They can't have everyone bringing every grievance or concern to the high court or trying to.

So, you have to have what is called standing. You have to illustrate that you have had some injury or otherwise can establish standing before they will hear your case.

Now they understand, Kavanaugh wrote, that they understand that people have some concerns and he said citizens and doctors who object to what the law allows with regard to mifepristone allows others to do may always take their concerns to the executive and legislative branches and seek greater regulatory or legislative restrictions on certain activities.

So here, the justices, they have effectively preserve the status quo for access to mifepristone. And this case was being watched closely because it could have an enormous impact not only on women who use this drug, but also on the FDA, the entire regulatory process.


A lot of pharmaceutical industry representatives were very concerned about what this could do because that was the basis of the case, arguing that the FDA had overstepped its authority in broadening this access, also concerns Jake about the impact this could have on the 2024 race.

Now, because this swerved around the issue they didn't actually decide it. It is likely that this issue could come back to the court in a few years, with someone or someone's who actually have standing. Now, all eyes are on another abortion case before the high court, and that comes out of Idaho and deals with what you do when you have restrictive state laws related to abortion, and they come up against more permissive federal laws.

So, definitely now, especially one to watch.

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

And here's who we have to talk about this, CNN's Joan Biskupic, who knows the court in detail, dare I say, she's the best Supreme Court reporter in the United States of America.

We also have with us, Carrie Severino, who clerked with Justice Thomas. She's president of the Judicial Crisis Network. Also with us, Victoria Nourse, chief counsel for Joe Biden when he was vice president.

So you guys have brought up the average IQ at this table considerably, considerably, please, please be kind to me.

Joan, a bombshell decision from the court on mifepristone. What's your reporting on what happened in the court room and how this decision came about? I mean, a unanimous decision on a controversial issue, kind of rare.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Very rare. I can't remember the last -- I don't think we've ever had a unanimous decision on anything related to abortion. In fact, we haven't.

You know, this case was just argued on March 26th, Jake, and to have a decision this quickly really shows that this was not a case about abortion rights, per se, it was about how does somebody get into court. And let me just bring you into the room as Justice Brett Kavanaugh began to read and the courtroom's packed, his wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, is there in special guest seats. He goes on for ten minutes explaining that there is a very important threshold question here before the justices could even assess where the FDA was right to find mifepristone safe and effective and to actually enhance access to it.

That was key in terms of if they had reached the merits, there would be things about how easy would it be for women to obtain these drugs at, for example, 10 months of pregnancy. Pardon me, 10 weeks of pregnancy rather than seven weeks, and whether so they could get it by mail.

But Justice Kavanaugh laid out exactly what the barrier is for people trying to bring cases and he went through the group of anti-abortion doctors who tried bring this, had said, for example, that they have conscience concerns that because of religious and moral reasons, they don't want to be backed into performing abortions, for example, under emergency situations, if the -- if mifepristone is improperly used. And he said there's no problem with that because there's already a conscience provision in federal law. So no physician is going to be forced to perform an abortion.

And then he went through all the --

TAPPER: Or prescribe the medication, right?

BISKUPIC: Yes. Or even to even to handle medical emergencies that might arise from a woman who's used mifepristone because that's what they were arguing is that they are the ones who in emergency situation might have to handle the fallout from women using this medication.

And Justice Kevin are rejected that and you rejected their other claims about why they had some injury here. And that's the bottom line. These anti-abortion physicians said that they had been injured. Justice Kavanaugh with the backing of the full court, said, no, you haven't. TAPPER: Carrie, can you imagine somebody who might have standing to bring -- to bring this? Because I'm sure it's not going to stop, the attempts to stop this medication from being prescribed the way it is. Who might have standing?

CARRIE SEVERINO, PRESIDENT, JUDICIAL NETWORK: Well, we know that even according to the FDA's own information, one in 22 women who take this drug actually do have to seek emergency room access. So it's not that these doctors weren't necessarily dealing with these cases, it's just that that isn't enough to bring them have standing.

However --

TAPPER: The women might have.

SEVERINO: -- if a woman, a woman who experienced some of these adverse consequences, and we've had dozens of women who unfortunately died as a result of these -- these drugs. If they said, hey, because of and remember this isn't about, is mifepristone on the market, period? This is about additional safeguards that were removed in 2016.

So you don't have to see a doctor beforehand. You don't have to have a follow-up visit to make sure there isn't excessive bleeding. You don't have to test for ectopic pregnancy with the doctor. All of those things do decrease the safety.

And so if a woman said, hey, if they had caught this ectopic pregnancy, I wouldn't have had this consequence. Maybe they could bring a case like that.

TAPPER: Okay. And you, Victoria, you wrote an article two months ago were you said even if the justices were to say the plaintiffs don't have standing in the case, mifepristone is far from protected. So you don't -- I mean, I imagine that you two agree on this, like it's not over. This is not over.

VICTORIA NOURSE, FORMER CHIEF COUNSEL, VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's not over. It's going back to the FDA. I mean, this is a procedural holding and its a complicated standing question. But now lawyers are going to argue in the FDA about whether the FDA is acting lawlessly.


And they're going to use a granted administration law called the Comstock Chastity Law.

And what Dobbs did was it resurrected a whole bunch of ancient law that existed in a world where we didn't think it applied because of Roe. So it did this in Arizona and Wisconsin and now, there's a federal law.

TAPPER: Right. Arizona had that 1840 something law, whatever.

NOURSE: Right.

TAPPER: 1860 maybe. NOURSE: And then the legislature had to step in.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

NOURSE: And so, the feds have the same law. The Comstock Chastity Law says you cannot. It was amended to get rid of the contraception piece, but you can't mail anything. It's a crime to mail anything that would accomplish an abortion. So that would cover abortion pills.

And so the Trump campaign has said that they will seek to enforce that. But even without regard to the election, mifepristone is going to have to continue to fight this at FDA in my opinion.

TAPPER: So let's talk about the politics of this. As you noted, here, is how Vice President Harris reacted to the decision today. I'd like to get your reaction to her.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This ruling is not going to change the fact that Trumps allies have a plan that if all else fails, to eliminate medication abortion through executive action. So we must remain clear-eyed about the threats to reproductive freedom in America, and we must remain vigilant.


TAPPER: As I mentioned, your president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network. What's your response?

SEVERINO: Well, organization really deals with the legal side of it, so we don't have a position on whether this should be reviewed or to what extent Trump's administration should look at it.

But she's correct at the answer here. And this is what the court is saying, is this not the court's job necessarily to check all of these things and make sure they're correct. In some cases, there might not be people who easily have standing to bring a case. And so, that is why it's really important to them and look to the president and the agencies.

It's also why it's a little concerning to see this case kind of shows us the overgrowth of the administrative state. You have this behemoth administrative state that doesn't answer to anyone. So, it's not members of Congress debating how should we address this issue? Is this what level of safety or we comfortable with on these pills to make widely available? Do we want to make sure women are more safe? How do we balance that?

That's something that the American people should have some input into. And unfortunately, because this has been done all through the regulatory state rather than through Congress, its something that then the regulatory apparatus is the only place that can, that can then go back and fix that.

TAPPER: There's another abortion case in front of the Supreme Court this term. I want you to tell me what it is and I want you to talk about it, Idaho versus the United States. It's about federal law and whether hospital emergency rooms have to provide abortions, if a woman's life is in danger.

BISKUPIC: There is a federal law on the books that says that anyone who comes to an emergency room needs to be treated and then some cases, a woman with complications from a miscarriage or something may need abortion care what happens then in states like Idaho that have virtually outlawed all abortions?

Idaho only has an exception for the death of -- a woman who might be near death and the key issue here was what if she's not close to death, but her -- something would be happening with their reproductive organs or health would be imperiled, what happens there? And I can tell you that that decision which we'll probably get in the next two weeks will not be so easy to resolve. There's just much more attention there about the intersection of now new state bands in a post-Dobbs world that have been enacted in some 15 or so states, and just where the federal emergency health care law would, would come into play.

TAPPER: Victoria, you'd think that they're going to -- how do you think they're going to rule?

NOURSE: Well, I think it's up for grabs, but I think there are enough people who worry about the -- on that court were worried about the extension of federal power. They're going to show this over and over again in a series of cases, in these two weeks that it could come down and say no. You know, look, they just -- Donald Trump said let the states do it.

TAPPER: Let the states do it and he might say the same thing about this.

NOURSE: Let's the states do it.

And they don't like federal preemption. Justice Thomas does not like federal preemption. There's a whole sort of background assumptions that the federal government should back back-off these things. So I wouldn't be surprised if they said, oh yeah, Idaho keep shipping women to another state, which I find frankly very odd and that the state would want to do that, but that's what they're doing, and this is a states rights court.

TAPPER: All right. Stick around, everyone, because we do want to talk about that. Clarence Thomas reporting, but not right this very second. We're going to squeeze in a quick break.

Coming up a moment years in the making with dramatic backstory, Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell face-to-face the incredible quotes from behind closed doors as well, as former President Trump met with House and Senate Republicans today.

Plus, President Joe Biden's response just hours ago, while one stage with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when asked about the potential conviction -- I'm sorry, the conviction of his son, Hunter Biden, and what potentially might do. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


TAPPER: It's a split-screen moment in our 2024 lead today. President Biden rallying global allies in Italy to support Ukraine. Donald Trump rallying Republican allies here in Washington, D.C. to support his presidential bid and the Republican Party.

For President Biden, it's the annual G7 meeting of world economic superpower. He just wrapped up a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He promised the us will stand with Ukraine against, quote, tyranny.

CNN's MJ Lee is traveling with President Biden and joins us ahead. But, first, lets start with Donald Trump returning to the Capitol for the very first time today since the January 6 insurrection. Trump met with both House and Senate Republicans in separate meetings.

He weighed in on everything from his recent conviction in New York to Taylor Swift. And for the first time since he left the White House, he was reunited with Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell telling reporters after the meeting, it was, quote, entirely positive.

CNN's Kristen Holmes on Capitol Hill for us right now, catching up with other Republicans who were in those closed-door meetings with Donald Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to take this, this beautiful place and we have to make it really something very special again. Right now, it's not special.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Former President Donald Trump returning to Capitol Hill as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and a convicted felon.


TRUMP: This is an outstanding group of people. I'm with them 1,000 percent. They're with me 1,000 percent.

HOLMES: Hoping to rally congressional Republicans and streamline the messaging ahead of the presidential election.

House Republican leadership, unsurprisingly, giving the meeting positive reviews.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): We just concluded a very successful special political conference with our special guest, President Donald J. Trump. We are at 100 percent unified behind his candidacy.

HOLMES: The Trump team said his meetings were expected to focus on policy, but sources inside the House meeting told CNN at Trump tore through a list of complaints, lamenting about his legal woes, calling the Justice Department, quote, dirty, no-good bastards. Wondering about Taylor Swift's endorsement of President Joe Biden, quote, why would she endorse this dope? Calling Milwaukee the site of the upcoming Republican convention, quote, horrible, a comment allies said was in reference to crime in the city.

But Republican said Trump did also talk about some policy, offering guidance on how Republicans should discuss abortion rights.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He said, make sure that you exercise your own conscience, to talk about it and share your conviction and do that in a way that makes sense to people. I think he had, made a good point. He has said that after the Dobbs decision that the states are handling the issue right now and that's where he's comfortable keeping it.

HOLMES: And Trump addressed intraparty politics after a year of infighting over the speakership.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): He saw me in there and he was like, hello, Marjorie. He's always so sweet and recognizes me. And he said, are you being nice? He was joking, are you being nice to Speaker Johnson? And I said -- and he said, okay, be nice to him, and I nodded my head.

HOLMES: After the meeting with House allies, Trump moved onto the National Republican Senatorial Committee for another closed-door meeting.

TRUMP: Everybody here, you're all either elected or you're going to be elected again and reelected. And with every one of you and you know that.

HOLMES: Ahead of Trump's return to Capitol Hill, the Biden campaign, releasing a new television ad, seeking to remind voters about Trump's role leading up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

AD ANNOUNCER: There is nothing more sacred than our democracy, but Donald Trump, ready to burn it all down.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, unsurprisingly, senators, Republicans senators were not nearly as chatty as those House Republicans about what happened behind closed doors, but perhaps the most notable moment wasn't necessarily what Donald Trump said, but was this moment that I believe we have a photo of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump shaking hands the first time the two of them have spoken since January 6, since the election was certified and McConnell congratulated President Joe Biden.

McConnell, as you said, described the meeting as entirely positive. The one thing I will point out though, is that after the meeting, several senators lined up alongside Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell was not one of them -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kristen Holmes, thanks so much. Brand new claims about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

More trips on a GOP megadonor's private plane than previously known. This new information coming from the top Senate Democrat, next.

And Russia's major step today in its espionage case against jailed American Evan Gershkovich, the journalist from "The Wall Street Journal".

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Turning back to our law and justice lead, brand new claims by Democratic senator and Judiciary Committee chairman, Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat, that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has taken more trips on a private jet than he has disclosed trips on the dime of Republican megadonor, Harlan Crow.

Justice Thomas came under fire last year, you may recall after "ProPublica" first revealed Thomas's luxury travel that had not been disclosed.

My panels back with me.

So, Joan, some minutes ago, Dick Durbin, Senator Durbin broke this news. What is it exactly?

BISKUPIC: Okay. He's pointed to at least three new trips that he got from information that he obtained from Harlan Crow himself that says that in 2017, 2019, 2021, that Clarence Thomas traveled by Harlan Crow's private jet, undertook other luxury, luxury travel that Justice Thomas did not report.

Let me just give the context and I'll give what some of Justice Thomas's backers have said in his defense. You know, this has been a fight that's been going on for decades over Supreme Court ethics, and it's all been heightened by reports of trips and undisclosed travel. Justice Thomas just recently caught up by some past trips that he listed in his current financial disclosure reports.

And what Senator Durbin is saying this, is that he hasn't caught up all the way. He needed to have claimed the 2017, '19, and 2021 luxury travel.

Now, Justice Thomas has not given any kind of response to CNN, so far, but several of his defenders say, look, there had been some ambiguity over whether some personal hospitality should have needed to be reported, and he thought -- at least as I understand their position is they feel that these particular trips may not have needed to be reported at the time.

TAPPER: Carrie Severino, you clerked for Justice Thomas. What's your response to the new information and to the scrutiny on Justice Thomas overall? SEVERINO: Gosh, another day especially in June and another insane ham-

fist attempt to smear Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, whoever the left is worried is going to have the next important decision.

This is literally nothing new. We know that until 2023, personal hospitality was not something that judicial conference itself said should be disclosed. That's why Justice Breyer, who took at least 233 trips, 68 of them overseas, didn't have to disclose them. Justice Ginsburg took 157 trips, 28 of those overseas, again, all of these from a private hospitality, mega donors for the Democrats in their case, didn't have to disclose them.


This is an attempt to change the rules after the fact and try to make Justice Thomas look bad. I think it's just people who are trying to either raise money for their campaigns, or trying to distract from a court that's trying to apply the law and try to attack the court as an institution. Maybe they're trying to garner votes for packing the court or other legislation to -- the Congress to control the court, but there's nothing here in terms of any real ethical concern.

TAPPER: Justice Alito said something yesterday or the day before, I believe critical of the "ProPublica" story, but his basic point was these people, I'm paraphrasing here are these people who are leveling these accusations. They don't like the decisions we're making. They didn't like the rulings. That's what's behind us.

NOURSE: I think Americans want to code of ethics. Justice Barrett wants a code of ethics.

SEVERINO: They have a code of ethics.

NOURSE: That is not enforceable and they have less restrictions on them than my lawyers inside the VP's office. Every top government lawyer, there are enforcement mechanisms for them, including the president and vice president. They don't have any enforcement. If you'd have no oversight, what happens? Absolute power corrupts.

The average American thinks they have to have an ethics code. The average appellate court judge thinks they have to have an enforceable ethics code, and this is just -- it's not about the cases, Carrie, it's about the rule of law.

No one is above the rule of law. If he were a statesman and cared about the institution of the court, he would have been extra careful just like we were in the White House, to be extra careful.

TAPPER: You were required to do so and --


TAPPER: The Supreme Court isn't.

SEVERINO: The standard that the judicial conference itself, when he was the first on the court, he was disclosing some of these things. The judicial conference said, no, you're doing it wrong, and they say -- they claimed there were concerns with safety and other reasons. We don't disclose these things. You're filling this out wrong.

NOURSE: Look --

SEVERINO: He's following the rules set before him and now after the fact, people are going back and said, why didn't you do it a different way? That's absolutely unfair and today --


NOURSE: Judicial Watch does this all the time for people inside the White House and you know that.

TAPPER: But let me ask you --

SEVERINO: The issue an ethics code because people complain they didn't, and then everyone says, well, if it's not an ethics code that Senator Durbin himself gets to kick a justice off, it's not enforceable enough. Come on, folks. You can't have -- you can't have the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, subject to someone else who gets to pick and choose what cases they sit on. You don't think that's going to be gamed?

NOURSE: The Congress can pass ethics laws. They are more important. They represent the American people who are supreme and who are the top authority who says what the law is in the United States. Not nine unelected people.

TAPPER: Well, let me just ask Joan this.

Do you think that if there were a new set of ethics? Laws enforceable by the marshal of the court or, whoever, somebody that's part of the court, that that would do anything to instill more confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court?

BISKUPIC: Tell you what they don't have. They don't have a way to air any of these grievances. For any lower court federal judge in America, if you have a claim, if you have a complaint, at least it's heard out by someone.

You know, they would take the evidence, take information from both sides, and at least it would be aired. Once you get to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices are not covered by the rules that lower court judges are covered by, at least in terms of having a way to air this.

And I think that if they had some mechanism where someone, you know, legitimate claims could at least be heard out to see is there an adequate grievance here? What does the justice say? I think it would inspire more confidence.

NOURSE: Hire judges, ask some retired judges to do this.

SEVERINO: You're asking someone to be higher than the highest court in the land -- NOURSE: They are not above the law.

SEVERINO: There's not -- we haven't shown any issue with actual --

NOURSE: They're not above the law.

SEVERINO: They're not above the law, but they are bound by the same recusal guidelines as any other judge. And those are federal guidelines.

TAPPER: OK, I don't --

SEVERINO: Where it's simply not the case that we have a court that it has been responding to anything other than the law itself. So if there were a case where we had a court that was taking bribes or something, we might have to -- and then, of course, we could impeach them. That is the constitutional process for that check because they're not above the law, but it's not to say, let's find some federal, some retired federal judge. It gets a veto power over Supreme Court cases.

TAPPER: So, let's have you two back, or your three back --

BISKUPIC: Yeah, hey.

TAPPER: -- to discuss if there is legislation that actually go somewhere in Congress on this issue, we can talk about that.

NOURSE: I have a very --

BISKUPIC: We have more June cases, okay?


TAPPER: We got more to talk about. Thanks all three of you for being I really appreciate it.

Donald Trump's reported advice to Republicans today on the abortion issue. Don't be afraid of the issue, he said. So what are Democrats telling each other about the 2024 race when they're behind closed doors? Well, we'll ask a close confidant of former President Obama who's been in the middle of these conversations for decades.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our 2024 lead, as Donald Trump made his first visit to Capitol Hill since the January 6 attacks, the Biden campaign is out with a new TV ad airing in battleground states trying to remind viewers so what exactly happened here in Washington nearly four years ago.


AD NARRATOR: On January 6, Donald Trump lit a fire in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One hundred forty officers were injured. The siege lasted for seven hours.

TRUMP: We will give them pardons.

AD NARRATOR: Inciting them to try again. There is nothing more sacred than our democracy, but Donald Trump, ready to burn it all down.


TAPPER: Democratic strategist David Axelrod joins me now.

David, so Biden in the Democrats are really emphasizing to a great deal the threat that they say Donald Trump poses to democracy.


How satisfied are you with the messaging? Do you think it's effective? And do you think this is something that they should be talking about as much as they are?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think today it made sense when Trump was returning to the Capitol after, what, 1,254 days or whatever it was, you know, 1,254 days after he sent a mob rampaging through that building, I think it was an appropriate time to raise this. I will see how extensively they use that ad.

I look, I've said before, I mean, I'm Jake, I'm, you know this, I'm a son of a Jewish refugee from Eastern Europe. And I so love this democracy and I think this is a central concern.

But I've also said, if you are talking about democracy over the dinner table, it's probably because you don't have to worry about the cost of the food on your dinner table. And I think that these campaigns are fought out on issues that are very close to the ground and close to people's lives. And I would -- I would think the messaging should address that.

I think the people who are hanging out here, the people who need to be reached and motivated are more motivated by those kinds of issues, then they probably are by the issue of democracy.

TAPPER: So how would the Biden campaign talk about the economy given the fact that inflation is a real concern, inflation up, wages down? If you look at some charts, the price of good groceries -- how would you address that issue?

AXELROD: Look, elections are about the future and the question is, what would you do and what would the other guy do? And there's so many contrasts that he could point to over the things that he's doing to reduce the cost of health care. Donald Trump, who would like to scrap the Affordable Care Act, the action he took to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals, Donald Trump would repeal that law. Donald Trump just offer the oil industry a blank check in terms of

their ability to make all the rules governing their own industry at a time when people are concerned about energy and in exchange for $1 billion in campaign contributions, there are a lot of contrast between the two.

I think Biden should return to the thing that got him elected last time, which was Joe from Scranton the guy who understands the experience of everyday people, who -- so I think its fine to say in many ways, we've outperformed the world coming out of this pandemic. But in one big way, the world is still struggling with inflation and we are, too, and we got to fight that fight and I'm on your side and this is what I'm doing and this is what he would do.

TAPPER: Do you think he needs to sharpen his attacks on Trump, President Biden?

AXELROD: Well, I think that will -- yes, I think that, you know, no president, very few presidents can win or referendum. But in this particular case, the country's in a sour mood. I don't think we've ever gotten past the post-pandemic PTSD. We've felt.

There are the concerns about cost of living issues and both these -- both these candidates or unpopular right now. So this has to be a comparative race. It has to be a contrast and I don't think that, you know, I think one of the mistakes was last fall spending a lot of time. Heralding the economy at a time when people weren't feeling it and try and -- and really turning it into a referendum rather than a choice. I think there's -- they're clearly now focused on the choice. They've got to focus voters on the choice.

This debate that you will be moderating will be an important signpost along the way as to whether they have Donald Trump clearly in their sights and they're defining this race in comparative terms.

TAPPER: Last night, radio host Charlamagne Tha God, host of "The Daily Show". Take a listen. This is what he had to say is the problem with Democrats.


CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD, RADIO PERSONALITY: Before Democrats even worry about explaining their side of an issue, they need to learn something more basic, how to talk like real people, yeah. And I'm sure that's possible, yeah, yeah.

And I'm sure that's possible because, you know, it was good at it. Told not as Republicans.

Congress could pay off the whole deficit by giving Marjorie Taylor Greene a swear jar. Yeah.

And, yeah, I know Marjorie Taylor Greene is a whole foods market, but that's authentic. Okay? That's real America. That's what a waffle house sounds like at 3:00 a.m., okay? Yes.


TAPPER: What do you think?

AXELROD: I think he has a point. First of all, authenticity is the coin of the realm in presidential politics. One of the reasons I think Trump has gotten as far as Trump has gotten his nobody ever says jet, which Donald Trump would speak his mind. That never happens, okay?

And if you look at history, the more authentic candidate tends to win.


Joe Biden has his own authentic authenticity but sometimes he speaks in the language of Washington, sometimes and a lot of people speak in the language that Charlamagne was mocking in that piece on Comedy Central. I do think, you know, listen, there are times when I wonder why Joe Biden, who is from Scranton and has that Scranton chip on his shoulder, why he doesn't just say acting like a jackass isn't strong. That's not strength. Let's not mistake the two.

I mean, he should say stuff like that because that people will understand.

TAPPER: Yeah, the chip on his shoulder comes out when he talks to journalists quite often.

AXELROD: Yeah, it's misplaced, misplaced. It should let, you know, point directly at the other guy.

TAPPER: David Axelrod, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

AXELROD: Good to see you.

TAPPER: For more than one year now Russia has held "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges and extend extended his detention over and over and over. Today, a move by Putin's government may change Evan Gershkovich's situation. We're back with that next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead.

President Biden is overseas today. He's meeting with key U.S. allies at the G7 summit of world economic superpower.

CNN's MJ Lee is in Italy where President Biden pledged to stand by ally Ukraine against, quote, tyranny.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Joe Biden back on the world stage, but unable to escape a deeply sensitive and painful saga for his family back home. After a full day of meetings with fellow G7 leaders here in southern

Italy, the president signing a historic bilateral security agreement, on everything from training Ukrainian armed forces to joint cooperation on weapons production and intelligence sharing.

Biden pledging America's continued support for its ally.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine's credible defense and deterrence capabilities for the long term, a lasting peace for Ukraine must be underwritten by Ukraine's own ability to defend itself now, and to deter future aggression anytime in the future.

LEE: The president also facing questions about his son Hunter, who just days ago was convicted on three felony gun charges. Biden publicly commenting on that painful development for the first time.

BIDEN: I'm extremely proud of my son Hunter. He is overcoming addiction. He is -- he's one of the brightest, most decent men I know. I said and advised by the jury decision, I will do that. And I will not pardon him.

LEE: When reporters asked whether he would commute Hunter's sentence, Biden giving a one word answer.


LEE: President Zelenskyy, who had also spent time with Biden the previous week in France, thanking the U.S., including members of Congress to continue to send funds to aid Ukrainian war-time efforts.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: I thank you very much, Mr. President, for your leadership which is reflected in particular in this agreement and in your years of support for Ukraine. And I'm really grateful to all Americans, to everyone in America, who strengthens American leadership.

LEE: MJ Lee, CNN, Fasano, Italy.


TAPPER: And our thanks to MJ Lee, who's traveling with President Biden in Italy.

Also on our worldly today, American journalist Evan Gershkovich is finally heading to Russian court to stand trial in his espionage case, one, the U.S. says has, quote, absolutely zero credibility, unquote. Russian prosecutors claim that they have proved that "The Wall Street Journal" reporter was acting on quote, instructions from the CIA, unquote, when he was arrested on a reporting trip in March 2023.

Gershkovich has been in Russian prison for 441 days and is considered wrongfully detained by the U.S. State Department.

Let's get right to CNN's Matthew Chance who's in Moscow.

And, Matthew, have Russian prosecutors provided the evidence that they claim to have gathered?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no, they haven't. Of course not. We'll probably never see that because I expect the trial is going to be behind closed doors.

But in the indictment that was released for the first time today, they gave some details about what Evan Gershkovich is actually accused of. They said he was working on instruction as you mentioned, from the CIA, collecting secret information on a tank factory in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg, where he was arrested in March of last year. The factory was named as Uralvagonzavod, which is a producer and a repair of military vehicles.

The indictment goes on to say he did this with careful measures of secrecy. Now, you're right, there's no indication been given yet by any evidence, no indication of when the trial will start either. That's still up in the air.

But the U.S. special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, has been saying that he believes that Evan Gershkovich could be moved to Ekaterinburg where the trial is going to be held in the weeks ahead.

Take a listen.


ROGER CARSTENS, SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY FOR HOSTAGE AFFAIRS: If it's anything like what happened to Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, there'll be a period when he leaves Lefortovo where we won't have any contact with them, it'll almost be like it's gone dark. But eventually, an American, or I would say detainees surface in Ekaterinburg and we'll have a chance to re-establish that connectivity from there.


CHANCE: Yeah. In the meantime, the editor in chief of "The Wall Street Journal" has issued another scathing statement against Russia, saying the Russian regime smearing of Evan is repugnant and disgusting and assault, Jake, on the free press.


TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thanks so much.

The photo of the day Donald Trump's handshake with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. A lot has clearly changed since the last time they spoke.

Coming up next, what Republicans are saying about the private meetings on the Hill today with Donald Trump. CNN's Manu Raju is on the chase. That's next.