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Don Lemon Tonight

U.S. Kills Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri In Drone Strike In Afghanistan; Key House Democrats Renew Call For DHS IG To Step Aside From Investigation Into Missing Texts, Citing CNN Reporting; NBA Hall Of Famer And Civil Rights Activist Bill Russell Dies At 88; Tensions Flare Between U.S. And China Ahead Of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Expected Visit To Taiwan. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Our top story tonight, the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden's second-in-command and successor. President Biden announcing that al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan's capital.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him. And the mission was a success. None of his family members were hurt. There are no civilian casualties.

I am sharing this news to the American people now after confirming the mission is a total success through the painstaking work of our counterterrorism community and key allies and partners.


LEMON: The FBI updating its most wanted terrorist tonight with the word "deceased."

I Want to bring in now CNN national security correspondent Alex Marquardt, also military analyst and retired Lieutenant -- General Mark Hertling and counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. Good evening, gentlemen. I appreciate you joining us.

Let's start with Alex. Alex, what are you learning tonight about this mission and how it all went down?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, this was a remarkable and complex mission. We've got a lot of the details from a senior administration official who spoke with reporters shortly before President Biden spoke with the nation.

Now, this was months in the making. It was back in April when President Biden was first briefed on the fact that al-Zawahiri was believed to be not just in Afghanistan but in the Afghan capital of Kabul, living in that city and living there, he was told, with family members, his wife, his daughter, his grandchildren.

Now, the Intelligence Community believed that he never left the house, that it was only his family members who went out, and that his wife and daughter use what this administration official called a terrorism trade craft to make sure that they weren't tracked or detected. Now, they failed on that front because patterns were detected. In fact, Zawahiri went on to be seen on the balcony of the safe house.

Now, a priority of President Biden, we are told, is to make sure that if a strike was to take place, that no one else would get hurt. So, as confidence grew in May and June about the whereabouts of Zawahiri, he kept asking questions, we are told, to make sure that there is very little collateral damage, that no one else was hit.

On July 1st, President Biden held a situation room meeting with his top National Security officials. In fact, they brought a model of this house so that President Biden could inspect it. Three weeks later, on July 25th, when President Biden was recovering from COVID, he convened a final meeting with his top advisors at which point he gave the greenlight for the strike, to make sure that it was a very precise strike that only took out Zawahiri.

And so, on Saturday night, Eastern time, Sunday morning, Kabul time, an unmanned aerial vehicle, a drone, fired two hellfire missiles at that building where Zawahiri was living. He was on the balcony at that time. He was killed, and no one else, we are told by the administration, was hurt. It is a remarkably precise strike against the most wanted terrorist in the world, Don.

LEMON: Phil, let's talk about some of that intelligence. What kind of intelligence would President Biden have needed to ultimately give this operation the greenlight?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: We needed a Don Lemon special on this. This is -- let me talk about different categories of intelligence. The first is human intelligence. That is -- remember the bin Laden raid. You have a courier or someone within the organization who can identify where your target, in this case Zawahiri lives, so you might have on the ground intelligence, including in a place like Kabul, you've got overhead intelligence.

Once you identify a potential target, again, remember the bin Laden compound, you can use a drone. It is not just about hellfire missiles. A drone has visual on the target to say, what is the pattern of life there, are there, for example, women and children on that balcony?

You can also technical intelligence. Are you getting transmissions from that building? Are you getting, for example, cell phone calls? So, it is sort of a kaleidoscope, Don.

This combination of on the ground, in the air, and then intercepted communications, that allows you over weeks and months to say, not only is that the target we want, but can we confirm that if we hit that target, we are pretty sure that we won't take down civilians in the strike, Don. LEMON: Yeah. General Hertling, how much more difficult is this kind of operation without any troops or military facilities on the ground or available in Afghanistan?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL: Don, I want to go back to August of last year when we were departing Afghanistan and talk about how so many people said that we could not conduct over the horizon-types of attack.


And there are many of us that said, yeah, the military and intelligence community is much better than that, don't underrate their capabilities. And, yes, it is tougher because you don't have the so- called reconnaissance on the target, you don't have the so-called eyes on the target, but still, there is still the capability, as Philip just said, to target signals intelligence, human intelligence from other areas other than just U.S. forces on the ground.

There are, you, know basically spies that would say, hey, this guy is worth $25 million with a bounty on his head, we would certainly like to provide information on him to get some of that money, but you also have satellite imagery, and there are all sorts of various intelligence capabilities that will allow you to target somebody.

And, you know, I got to give kudos to the Intelligence Community, to the CIA, to whoever conducted this strike. We will probably know not -- never know the exact method in which they employ their capabilities. But this is a pretty good strike in this individual who is the head of al-Qaeda worldwide. He is basically the CEO of the al- Qaeda network.

It is going to disrupt their capabilities, certainly. Now, there are going to be people replacing him. You know, whenever we conducted a strike, when I ordered a strike in Iraq, there was always someone to step up behind the individual that we destroyed -- that we killed or destroyed, and they will gladly step in the place, but then they are going to be the targets of the next round of strikes. That is what happened tonight.

LEMON: Yeah. Alex, I want to talk about the senior administration official who is saying that senior Taliban leaders were well aware that al-Zawahiri was in Kabul more than 20 years after 9/11. Is Afghanistan once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists?

MARQUARDT: I mean, it is almost impossible to believe that, you know, that the top al-Qaeda leader, a guy as well-known as Ayman al- Zawahiri, would be living in Kabul with his family without permission from the Taliban.

So, the Biden administration believes that senior Taliban leaders, in particular those from the Haqqani network, were not only aware that Zawahiri was living there but were supporting him. In fact, in the wake of the strike, established a perimeter around the building, kept people away, and actually moved the family. This is, according to the U.S., a violation of the DOHA Agreement, which is an agreement that was struck between the U.S. and the Taliban that they would not provide safe harbor for terrorists. No one believed that they were going to really try to root out al-Qaeda.

There certainly is a growing presence and a growing strength among two main terrorist groups in Afghanistan, ISIS-K, which is an offshoot of ISIS, of course, and al-Qaeda. ISIS-K, they are the sworn enemies of the Taliban. So, the Taliban has their own interest in going after them. Al-Qaeda, as we know, it certainly has close ties with the Taliban.

So, while these groups are growing in strength in Afghanistan, because they do have a bit of a foothold there, Don, the good news is that they haven't gotten to a level yet where it is believed that they can carry out significant strikes beyond Afghanistan.

LEMON: Phil, I want to play this for you. It is the president's comments, and then we'll talk.


BIDEN: Now, justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm.


LEMON: No longer need to fear. Is that how you see it, Phil, or should the U.S. be concerned about potential retaliation from al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda sympathizers?

MUDD: I would not be thinking as much about retaliation as what Alex was talking about. The fact that Zawahiri said, I can live in relative comfort in a rich area of Kabul, what does that tell you, don? Let me tell you what it tells me, that al-Qaeda people are saying, I have not only sympathizers but supporters within the Taliban movement that now owns Afghanistan.

What I would be thinking in the government is that in an area that we would call safe haven back in the counterterrorism business, that is an area where you -- where al-Qaeda and ISIS-K feel relatively safe operating. Where will be in a year, two years, three years?

To close two pieces of this, one, you got to worry that leadership in al-Qaeda over the course of years, not weeks or months but years, will say, we want to resuscitate what we had 20 years ago before 9/11.

But the converse is the big story today. The converse is not the al- Qaeda. The converse is that the American Intelligence Community can look at a city where we have very little presence and say, we can take this guy out with a precision weapon and without significant jeopardy to civilian lives.


Incredible intelligence, Don. That is incredible.

LEMON: Phil, general, Alex --

HERTLING: Don, if I can add to that --

LEMON: Yes, general, go on.

HERTLING: -- if you don't mind me adding to that. You know, what Phil just said is critically important. Comfort leads to complacency. What have you seen Zawahiri do in Kabul and in the (INAUDIBLE) area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, you've seen the traveling of individuals, the connection with the Taliban government.

But in addition to Zawahiri, there are several other senior leaders that are residing in Afghanistan, the American people don't know these names, but you've got guys like Saif al-Adel, Muhammad Khan, Osama Mehmood, Atif Ghouri, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is a member of the Taliban parliament. So, you've got a bunch of individuals who think they can do this kind of activity.

And remember, I go back to, again, August of last year when everybody said there is no way you conduct - we can conduct over-the-horizon attacks. We just conducted an over-the-horizon attack on the leader of al-Qaeda.

So, there is continued intelligence in this and there is continued strikes. There are people waking up like Phil Mudd every single day saying, how do we attack these guys? How do we kill them so that they don't provide a danger to the United States? That is critically important.

LEMON: Thank you, all. I appreciate it. We got much more in our big news tonight. President Joe Biden announces the United State has killed al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. What does that mean for al- Qaeda? Fareed Zakaria weighs in. He is next.




LEMON: President Biden saying justice has been delivered after a U.S. strike killed al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Let's talk more about that tonight. We've got some major stories. CNN's Fareed Zakaria is here. He is the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Fareed, thank you. I appreciate you joining us this evening. This is a major strike and it was successful in killing Ayman al-Zawahiri. What does this mean for al-Qaeda?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, the symbolic blow is shattering. Ayman al-Zawahiri was in some ways more the architect of al-Qaeda even than bin Laden. Ayman al-Zawahiri was the original Islamic Jihadi militant. He was a radicalized when he was 15 years old. He goes to jail as part of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, when he made peace with the Israelis. He has been the mastermind behind all of this.

In some ways, you could argue that al-Qaeda was a marriage or a fusion between Egyptian brains and Saudi money. Zawahiri was the Egyptian brain. Bin Laden was the Saudi money. And so, in some sense, he is the original, the founder, the symbol for many of the card race probably even more so than bin Laden. So, symbolically, a huge, huge setback.

The truth is al-Qaeda is in bad shape, anyway. It is a shadow of what it used to be. And so, I think that -- I'm not sure exactly how much effect it will have operationally because it is already a pretty (INAUDIBLE) operation, but without question, the single biggest blow you could give to al-Qaeda would be to decapitate Zawahiri.

LEMON: Last year, Fareed, when you marked the 10th anniversary of the killing of Osama bin laden, you said that Islamist terrorism isn't the threat. It used to be. What do you think of a threat after this strike?

ZAKARIA: Well, I have been saying for a while, Don, that what we need to look at is -- the most important question is, are they inspiring people? Are they getting new recruits? Are they able to win people over to their cause? And in country after country, what you're finding is, the answer is no.

You know, it is almost as though they had this -- there was this sense of desperation and futility and hope in a lot of Islamic countries. They look to al-Qaeda as some kind of radical way out, but very quickly, the throng wore off. They realize these are band of thugs when they got into power, you know, whether it is ISIS or al-Qaeda. They were, you know, horrible. Nobody wanted to live in those countries.

So, they've now established a track record of misery, of brutality, of oppression. So, they're still getting people. You know, young men look for adventure and this becomes a kind of daredevil thing to do. But it is really not what it was 10 years, 15 years ago.

By every measure, you can look at -- the radicalization of these societies has gone down a lot, and the power of al-Qaeda and even ISIS is much lower.

There still is some of it in places like Syria where you have these no man's lands or bad lands. You know, places that have no government. And so, you have thugs who takeover and these thugs often have an Islamic flavor.

But I think we should be looking -- we should begin to think to ourselves, you know, this is a chapter in American national security strategy that is coming to close. Did we overreact? Did we -- we built a massive security apparatus between the homeland security operations outfits, the huge increases in intelligence and defense spending. We invaded two countries. It would be -- it would be useful for us to sort of ask ourselves whether we need to recalibrate given -- you know, if you think about the last 10 years, the greatest number of terrorist attacks in the United States have come from extreme ring-wing terrorists, not from Islamic Jihadi terrorists.


LEMON: Yeah, homegrown terrorists. Domestic terrorism. So, listen, President Obama, Barack Obama, reacted to the strike tonight, saying it is proof that it is possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan. Can U.S. continue to be a leader in fighting terrorism with this kind of strategy and without boots on the ground?

ZAKARIA: Absolutely. You know, what this proves in some ways, Don, is that the core competency of the United States is not really in occupying countries. We're not very good at that. It is just -- I actually think it is just this -- fundamentally, that is not in the DNA of a country like the United States.

What is our core competency is something like this, which involves technology, training, high degrees of confidence, discipline, but you're not trying to rule over another country, you're not trying to be in another land where people -- where you provoke nationalism and resistance and stuff. That is not a game we can play well.

This game -- I once said when somebody said -- what I was advocating is this over-the-horizon counterterrorism tragedy. They said, you're playing whack-a-mole strategy with a terrorist. And I said, you know what, yes, but whack-a-mole is no fun for the mole. I mean, you're getting smacked all the time. You know, it's a fraction of the cost. This just means terrorist leaders everywhere at all times have to be aware.

And I think your guest in the previous segment was exactly right. The technology has now gotten good enough that you can do this kind of thing with minimal civilian casualties, with maximum accuracy. You know, it is looking like a bad world for the bad guys out there. It's becoming much easier to hunt them down, to find them, and with pinpoint accuracy to take them out.

LEMON: Fareed Zakaria, thank you so much, sir.

ZAKARIA: Thank you.

LEMON: An insurrectionist who brought a gun to the Capitol on January 6 and threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sentenced today. We have that and more on the investigation, next.




LEMON: Things are looking worse and worse for the Secret Service. Top House Democrats demanding the inspector general step aside from the investigation into missing Secret Service texts. The new calls coming after CNN reports revealed that investigators knew more than a year that texts have been erased.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN political analyst Alex Burns, co-author of "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future," and Kim Wehle, a visiting professor of law at American University and also the author of the upcoming book, "How to Think Like a Lawyer." So good to have both of you on. Good evening.

Kim, these lawmakers are demanding transcribed interviews with key staffers for the inspector general about the dropped efforts to recover these text messages. How does this need a broader investigation?

KIM WEHLE, VISITING PROFESSOR OF LAW, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, there is a potential number of statutes, federal statutes, both criminal and civil, that could have been violated here. You know, the big question for me is, you know, where does the buck stops? The buck stops at President Trump who was in charge of homeland security at the time that Congress on January 15th, 2021 asked for this information.

And, you know, Don, it doesn't take a cyber expert to understand that having your employees themselves do the transition, that is upload all of the documents and the things from your texts but that reportedly was done, is not a safe and effective way of protecting these kinds of documents.

And as you indicated, this inspector general, who was also appointed by Donald Trump, sat on this and declined, even after these investigations started, to even inspect the phones. So, there's a lot to unpack here, and it's very, very -- potentially very, very serious.

LEMON: Alex, I had Senator Dick Durbin on earlier and I asked if the I.G. was acting in bad faith. Listen to this.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): It's a choice, bad faith or incompetence. You know, the bottom line is when this kind of critical information is not transferred from one administration to another, that isn't routine, and he treated it as such.


LEMON: So, the timing of these texts makes them crucial. And if they're never found, imagine that. That could hang over the Secret Service as much as anything that could be in these text messages.


LEMON: Alex.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: -- from Senator Durbin there was, you know, he was sort of, I think, being diplomatic in saying whether it's bad faith or incompetence, the outcome is unacceptable. But the question of whether it's bad faith or incompetence is potentially really important here. If it was bad faith, if it was a matter of trying to cover up, then that obviously has a potential legal implication. It's very, very relevant to the investigation Congress is doing now and to potentially investigation that the Justice Department might be doing.

Don, the other thing that I would point out here is that there is something a little bit tricky here for the mainly Democrats on Capitol Hill who are trying to get accountability from Secret Service.


It is that to whatever extent, that investigation becomes driven entirely by the House of Representatives and the Senate while Democrats may only control those chambers for a couple more months, and after that point, it'll be a real question mark of who is going to finish the job getting the answers.

LEMON: Yeah. Last hour, I spoke, Kim, with retired D.C. Police Sergeant Mark Robinson, who told me about what he heard over at the events in the presidential SUV on January 6th. Watch.


MARK ROBINSON, RETIRED D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE: We've heard it several times while I was on the motorcade, I think during the speech, shortly thereafter, yet finished the speech, that the present was getting to the motorcade, he was upset, and he adamantly wanted to go to the Capitol.

And even when we departed from the Ellipse, it was repeated again that the president, it was a heated argument in the limo, and he wanted to definitely go to the Capitol. So, when we arrived at the white House, the motorcade was placed on standby.


LEMON: Kim, look, this is coming to light. It put a spotlight on the Secret Service. So, beyond these very pivotal texts, how important is it going to be for investigators to get to the bottom of what happened after the speech at the Ellipse?

WEHLE: Well, the meta data reportedly demonstrates or suggests that 10 of 24 Secret Service agents engaged in text messages on that day. So, when it comes to the potential criminal implications, that is DOJ, not so much what the committee is doing, Congress which cannot prosecute, but when it comes to what DOJ might do, having text messages with and around the president's security detail that could give rise to information relating to Donald Trump's state of mind, that is, you know, the centerpiece of any potential criminal charge.

And, of course, we also know that Mike Pence refused to get in to his car and leave the Capitol in that moment as well. So, those text exchanges with the Secret Service, all of that, they fear for their lives, all of that that we are hearing sort of in a very tiny amount out of the January 6 Committee, these are critical pieces of real-time information that doesn't lie, it doesn't die unless it's removed or, you know, either fraudulently or incompetently, and that's really a loss for the American people.

LEMON: Alex, what do you think is happening with the committee now that they're getting so much more information? Do you expect more interviews to happen and revelations before they officially come back again in September?

BURNS: Oh, I think every indication, Don, from the committee that we've had, from conversations I've had with people close to the committee, is that, yes, we should expect a whole lot more of a whole lot more. If they set out with that first set of hearings to really move the needle in terms of public awareness of the fruits of their investigation and public opinion about the nature of what happened on January 6th, you know, mission accomplished.

But what we saw, especially towards the end of that sequence hearings, was that the revelations that they were bringing forward were themselves giving rise to additional revelations. And I think it would take a really stark shift in the whole strategy of this committee if suddenly they were to stop conducting interviews and stop leaking out the contexts of those interviews because that has been a very, very, very productive approach so far.

LEMON: A whole lot more of a whole lot more. Very well put. Alex Burns, thank you very much. Kim Wehle as well. I appreciate it.

NBA Hall of Famer and civil rights activist Bill Russell passed away yesterday at 88 years old. His friend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is here with me, next.




LEMON: This weekend, we lost a legend on and off the court. NBA Hall of Famer and civil rights icon Bill Russell passing at 88 years old yesterday, and the tributes, well, they're just pouring in.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver writing, in part, Bill stood for something bigger than sports. Michael Jordan calling him a pioneer. Former President Barack Obama writing, today, we lost a giant. As tall as Bill Russell stood, his legacy rises far higher.

Joining me now, someone who is has major legacy as well. I call him a living legend. I'm not sure if he would agree with that. NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he met Bill Russel when he was just 14 years and was lucky enough to call him a mentor and friend. Kareem, thank you for coming in really to honor your friend. Thank you so much.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA HALL OF FAMER: No problem, Don. Nice to see you. How is everything?

LEMON: Good to see you as well. I wish we are talking at a better circumstance. Bill Russel was an inspiration to so many people. What was it that made him a role model for you when you were growing up in Harlem?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, for me, he became a role model when I realized that some of the things that scared me and bothered me about race relations in America were things that he addressed. And he gave me a way to speak about it that had all the elements of trying to make something better rather than just being angry.

And he really helped me define that in my life and make choices that were better suited to getting positive change rather than just expressing your anger.


He was the exact person to -- whose example should be followed in that area.

LEMON: He was active in the civil rights movement, obviously, attending the 1963 march in Washington led by Dr. King. He spoke out against segregation in Boston public schools. And you said that he inspired you as an activist, right, not just so that you felt that there was a place for you in the league and in society, but he spoke to you as an activist. Tell me about that.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, being an activist means that you use your position of public prominence to try to effect change, to call attention to things that aren't right, and to try to help make those things right again. So, you know, the whole idea of athletes earning a lot of money and accolades, that's a wonderful thing, but what are you going to do with that?

LEMON: Yeah.

ABDUL-JABBAR: I mean, living well is wonderful, but not everybody gets that opportunity. How do we affect change in a positive way that opens the door for other people to have opportunities?

LEMON: Yeah.

ABDUL-JABBAR: That's what we should be thinking about and that's what other athletes and other prominent people who have made it, they need to keep the door open for other people to follow.

LEMON: You know, Kareem, the word accolades, that's a good word because we think about, you know, all these accolades are coming in now. He really -- he went through it. He faced racism in Boston, the city he played for. His daughter, Karen, wrote about this piece in "The New York Times," addressing the racism that her family endured during his time as a player.

She wrote that her family, one weekend, discovered that their home had been broken into, that it was in shambles. The B-word was graffitied on the walls. His father's trophy smashed. Her parents discovered that the burglars have defecated in their bed.

So, he endured racist abuse from fans, yet this was all going on while he was a superstar on the court. Explain that. I mean, you know, the dichotomy is unbelievable.

ABDUL-JABBAR: I can explain it. You know, the vandalism that Bill experienced was just an expression of the anger of people who felt that he should not be given the opportunity to be as successful as he was as an athlete. They resented his success. They wanted to show him that he had a place in society that they did not respect, and they were going to put him in his place.

But, you know, Bill was bigger than that. Bill just kept his chin up and kept moving forward. The Celtics kept winning world championships and Bill showed the world what class was all about.

LEMON: Yeah, he did it with class. You're reading my mind, as you are talking about that. I was going to say he did it with class. You wrote something. This is your piece and it is called, "The Bill Russell I Knew for 60 Years. Here's what you said, you said, what especially struck home was his refusal to become the stereotypical angry Black man that many tried to force him to be. Instead, he chose to focus on finding a path to change and social justice through specific actions and programs.

How did he inspire you to be a better man?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, he inspired me to be a better man by handling situations like you just described without giving in to all of the anger and rage that he must have felt. He handled that in a way that really shamed the people who had tried to tell him to find the door and leave the Celtics. He kept winning. The Celtics kept winning. They kept doing it with a number of Black athletes. I remember, I was in high school when the Celtics started an all-Black first time. That was the first time that happened. They acquired Willie Knowles from the Knicks. And the best team in the country was an all-Black team. That was something for a whole lot of (INAUDIBLE) like myself to be proud of and to try to emulate.


And he continued to set examples like that for athletes and do it with so much class and focus. He never made any of us, at least I'm speaking for myself, he never made any of us feel ashamed or not feel proud. He amplified it. He was a banner holder for pride for Black athletes.

LEMON: We are so grateful to have you speak on the show but also just to have you do what you do and contributing so much to society and the culture. So, thank you for that and thank you for helping us to honor your friend.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, thank you. It's really neat that the nation can share this moment in a positive way. We've lost a giant but he leaves a giant example for us all, and we will benefit from it in years to come.

LEMON: We'll be right back.




LEMON: Tensions flare between the U.S. and China ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's expected visit to Taiwan during her trip to Asia this week.

I want to bring in now CNN's Selina Wang in Beijing. Also, here with me, Max Boot, columnist at "The Washington Post." Good evening to you. Selina, Speaker Pelosi's visit to Taiwan would be the first by a House speaker in 25 years. China certainly isn't happy about it. What officials there are saying?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, officials here are furious. They are threatening serious consequences. They say that this visit would be a direct challenge to China's sovereignty. China's military is also saying it won't -- quote -- "sit idly by if she goes."

Pelosi is in the line of succession to the presidency. And from Beijing's perspective, this is essentially tacitly supporting Taiwan independence, which is a clear line for Beijing.

Now, the kind of rhetoric we're hearing from China, we have heard this language before when it comes to Taiwan, but this time around, the timing is sensitive, it is provocative. We are just months away from a key political meeting when Xi Jinping is expected to seek an unprecedented third term. He cannot afford to look weak at this moment.

And we are already seeing the show of military force and propaganda videos with the message to prepare for more. There have also been several recent military drills, including, just this past weekend, around Pingtan (ph) Island, which is China's closest point to Taiwan.

Now, Don, to your earlier point, there was a House speaker who visited 25 years ago, but China today is extremely different. It is more powerful and virtually every regard, economically, militarily. This is a China that does not take insults or humiliation lightly. And the leader at the top is China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

LEMON: And, Max, how could this expected visit by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, (INAUDIBLE) an already strained relationship between the U.S. and China?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, clearly, it's an irritant, Don, and it is unfortunate that things are working out this way. I'm kind of exasperated with everybody involved. I think it was a mistake for President Biden to publicly say that the U.S. Military didn't think that Speaker Pelosi should go. That turned this visit into a diplomatic hot potato and led to this massive Chinese rhetorical response threatening action of the various kinds if Pelosi makes the trip.

I mean, if she was going to go, the way to do it would've been for her just to show up in Taiwan unannounced, in the way that U.S. leaders show up or perhaps shown up in the past in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, you know, we don't need a crisis with China at this moment when our focus needs to be the crisis with Russia and the Russia-Ukraine war. We're trying to prevent China from supplying and supporting Russian war and this certainly is not helpful.

But, at the same time, we cannot let China dictate who gets to visit Taiwan. This is simply bullying behavior, trying to prevent a show of support for an embattled Asian democracy. And so, you know, we can't give in to Chinese bullying here. So, it's a very unfortunate situation in the way it has been handled and it seems like very little good is going to come of it.

LEMON: One of the points that Max is making, Selina, the U.S. is saying that it won't take the bait or engage in saber-rattling, but the fact is Taiwan is a huge flash point. Are there concerns that this could escalate into something more serious?

WANG: Yeah, well, Don, most people don't think that China is going to make any direct hostile action. But the concern here is that with all of the military hardware in the area, that this increases the risk for miscalculation, for an accident that could spiral into real conflict.

Because on one hand, yes, Xi Jinping needs to look strong, but he also needs stability at this moment leading into the party congress, especially given all of the challenges at home with the economic devastation from zero-COVID.

So, really, the question is, how does China make a move? That proves it's not a paper tiger, that they're angry, it saves face, but also stopped short of resulting in any risky standoffs.

So, when I've been speaking to experts, they say that this could include flying more war planes around Taiwan's self-declared air space, which China already regularly does. It could also include things like economic and diplomatic backlash as well.


It is, however, impossible to overstate just how central this Taiwan issue is to the DNA of the Communist Party, to its legitimacy, but that being said, when China does make a move, the viewpoint here is that it's not going to make a move depending on when a U.S. official visits, they're going to choose a timing that they feel is right. Don?

LEMON: Max, I have a short time left here. Is there anything that U.S. can do to de-escalate tensions with China at this point?

BOOT: Well, I think that President Biden has already tried to do that by having a phone call with Xi Jinping and, you know, sending clear signals that we are not trying to support Taiwanese. This is not an initiative plan by the Biden administration.

But at the same time, we also have, you know, an aircraft carrier and two amphibious assault ships in the region near Taiwan to make clear that we will not tolerate hostile actions from China. So, I think that's the right stance to take even if this is a crisis that nobody would've chosen to provoke at this present time.

LEMON: Yeah. Thank you, Max. Thank you, Selina. I appreciate it.

BOOT: Thank you.

LEMON: And thank you, everyone, for watching. Our coverage continues.