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Warnock: Walker Pretended To Be A Police Officer; Sanders: Democrats Going All-In On Abortion Battle Is A Mistake; Activist Nazanin Boniadi Meets With VP Harris On Iran Protests. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 14, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Her name was May McLinden. And I haven't talked about her, publicly, much before. But she raised me, and was like a mom, to me.

Again, you can point your cellphone, at the QR code, on your TV screen, right now, for a link to it, or you could also find the podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

And, as always, thanks for listening.

The news continues. CNN TONIGHT WITH JAKE TAPPER starts now.


On stage, tonight, what might be the most important debate, of this entire midterm election cycle, Democratic senator, Raphael Warnock, versus Republican candidate, Herschel Walker, in Savannah, Georgia. A race that could very well decide which party will control the U.S. Senate, for the next two years.

So yes, the stakes would already be insanely high, even if the Republican candidate wasn't facing a major scandal, about whether or not he paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion, despite running on an anti-abortion platform.

Here's how Herschel Walker, addressed his ex-girlfriend's accusation, just a few minutes ago.


HERSCHEL WALKER, (R) GEORGIA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I said, that's a lie. And on abortion, you know, I'm a Christian. I believe in life. And I tell people this. Georgia is a state that respects life, and I'll be a senator that protects life. And I said that was a lie. And I'm not backing down.


TAPPER: We'll get back to that scandal, in Georgia, in just a moment. But to understand exactly what's happening there, regarding scandals, requires a little context. Because, the term, "Scandal," took on a whole new meaning, with Teflon Don, starting with his ride down that golden escalator, in the summer of 2015, which led to bragging about committing sexual assault, demonizing entire religions and ethnic groups, paying hush money, to a porn actress, for a sexcapade, while his wife was home with their new baby, two impeachments, one insurrection. So many calamities, I do not have time to go into them all, in this hour!

Let me try to remind you that before that? We were in a very different place. Historically, the word, "Scandal" has been thrown around, pretty loosely, here, in the nation's capital.

Back in 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle hosted a spelling bee, at a New Jersey elementary school, and told this poor kid, he needed to add an "E," to the end of the word, "Potato." A spelling scandal! How quaint!

For the record, Quayle was working from an inaccurate flashcard, prepared by the teacher. That in and of itself might be indicative of an even bigger, more important problem. But the press thought Quayle was a dun (ph), so they had at it.

Let's be frank. Some of these scandals have been way overblown, or unfair. I mean, oh, how I long for those halcyon days, when a Republican candidate would be savaged in the press, for pursuing gender equity.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks?" And they brought us whole binders full of women.


TAPPER: "Binders full of women," believe it or not, the press savaged him for that. I mean, the horror! "Can you imagine Mitt Romney wanted to make an effort to hire women? What a jerk!"

Now, right-wing media got their idiotic licks in too of course, jumping on President Obama for, well, for just about everything. When President Obama saluted a marine, while holding a coffee cup, or when he made a comment, about buying arugula at Whole Foods.

And lest we forget, this moment, between the future president, and future First Lady, which on that other channel became this.


E. D. HILL, FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: A fist bump? A pound? A terrorist fist jab?

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: "A terrorist fist jab!" Good Lord!

So, those scandals, they weren't real. They were stupid.

A real scandal, is when a politician does something, actually corrupt, such as steal money from taxpayers, or take bribes. Not campaign contributions. Those are generally legal bribery, I mean, more like the Keating Five.

You remember the Keating Five? Senators from both parties, accused of intervening in a regulatory investigation, of this rich dude, by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board? There was--


TAPPER: OK, I get it, you're dozing off. And that's OK. Because the Keating Five story is complicated. And the more complicated the scandal gets, the more likely voters are inclined to forgive, or forget, or not even attempt to care.

But there is one topic that voters do decidedly understand.



Let's talk about sex, baby Let's talk about you and me Let's talk about all the good things


TAPPER: Salt-N-Pepa, they knew what they were talking about, which of course brings us to this.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.


TAPPER: Of course, he did.


And he set a standard, for scandal survival, followed today. Lying and denying, demonizing his critics, and keeping on, keeping on. And just by getting impeached, Clinton's political career survived, hell, they even named an airport, after him.

But, to be frank, or rather, to be Ted? This was nothing. I mean, have you ever tried to tell the story, of Senator Ted Kennedy, and Chappaquiddick, to a young person? I mean, they truly cannot fathom it. When Kennedy was a sitting senator, in Massachusetts, the bereaved brother, of the recently-assassinated RFK, and before that, JFK, did something that is almost unimaginable.


SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-MA): On Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha's Vineyard, I attended, on Friday evening, July 18th, a cook-out, I had encouraged and helped sponsor, for a devoted group of Kennedy campaign secretaries.

When I left the party, around 11:15 PM, I was accompanied by one of these girls, Miss Mary Jo Kopechne.


TAPPER: That woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed that night, in 1969, after Senator Kennedy drove his car, off a bridge. And Kennedy did not report the accident, until the next day, the next day.

And if that blows your mind? Consider this. Not only did Kennedy survive, politically, with the help of his powerful wealthy brood, and perhaps some misplaced voter empathy. Within a decade, Senator Kennedy was running for president.

I guess he didn't think pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident would matter that much to voters. And maybe, maybe he was right. After all, he did manage to get re-elected to the Senate, seven more times.

Of course, plenty of other politicians were drummed out of office, for much, and arguably lesser sins, ones with no corpses, in their wake, such as the tragically-named Congressman Anthony Weiner, who initially lied about accidentally tweeting photos of his "Namesake," which ended up revealing that Weiner had been sending similar messages, some of them pretty gross, to plenty of women, not his wife.

Weiner eventually confessed, and resigned from Congress, in 2011.


REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D-NY): To be clear, the picture was of me, and I sent it.

I lied because I was ashamed of what I had done, and didn't want to get caught.


TAPPER: Four years before that was Republican senator, Larry Craig, perhaps best-known for his 2007 charge, for trying to solicit sex, in an airport bathroom.

Craig claimed it was all just a misunderstanding. He was not toe- tapping, for an anonymous rendezvous, with the dude, in the next stall. He just had a "Wide stance," he said. The charge against him had more stings, since Craig had been a vocal opponent of gay and lesbian rights, in the Senate.

Which brings me back to Herschel Walker, because, it's not the sex that voters really object to here. It's the hypocrisy, not just about abortion, but about family.

Here's Herschel Walker's own son, Christian.


CHRISTIAN WALKER, HERSCHEL WALKER'S SON: My father, Herschel Walker, had all these random kids, across the country, none of whom he raised.

Family values, people? He has four kids, four different women, wasn't in the house, raising one of them. He was out having sex with other women.


TAPPER: As conservative columnist, Peggy Noonan, put it in the "Wall Street Journal," quote, "It is about children born and the father says to the mother: You can raise it by yourself or you can abort it but I won't help you raise it and act as a father," unquote.

Even before this latest uproar, Republicans, who want to win the Senate, were privately grousing that the former football star, did not seem like a great catch.

This attack ad, from Republicans, featured one of Herschel Walker's ex-wives, describing his violent threats to her.


CINDY DEANGELIS GROSSMAN, HERSCHEL WALKER'S EX-WIFE: The first time he held the gun to my head, he held the gun to my temple and said he was going to blow my brains out.


TAPPER: Herschel Walker claims he does not remember the threats because he suffered from dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personalities.

As we head into the midterm elections, candidates are counting on you, to ignore evidence, of their many failings, in this post-scandal world, in which we find ourselves.

The argument essentially being that, for conservatives, "Hey, Donald Trump gave us the U.S. Supreme Court. Who cares how many women have accused him of sexual assault?"

It's tribalism above all else, including the importance of character. In other words, this.


DANA LOESCH, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: I am concerned about one thing and one thing only at this point. So, I don't care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.


TAPPER: It's an argument, to which conservative writer, John Daly responds, quote, "If there are no standards that candidates must meet in order to get your vote... we're telling such candidates that we will hold them to no standards nor even expectations... once they're in office," unquote.


And is that not the point here, in this post-scandal world? We're all flawed, we all have the capacity to grow and change, or not.

But if a candidate is proudly, nakedly, hideously amoral, or immoral, before taking office? What makes you think that getting control, to the levers of power, is going to bring out anything other than more of the same, if not worse? What makes you think they're going to do anything for the United States, for the least among us? For you? I mean, you cannot shame the shameless.

So, who does a politician call, when steeped in scandal? Well, if they're smart, will call the Chief Media Adviser, to five successful presidential primary and general election campaigns. So, let's do that.

Paging "The Spin Doctor," Mark McKinnon. Mark is going to join us live, from the Walker-Warnock debate site, in Savannah, Georgia. That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back. A fiery night, on the debate stage, in Savannah, Georgia.

Herschel Walker, the Republican, digging in, insisting that the allegations that he asked a former girlfriend, to get an abortion, are quote, "All lies." The controversy that has dominated headlines, in that race, for more than a week, was only brought up, once, throughout the 60-minute debate.

Walker's opponent, sitting senator, Raphael Warnock, the Democrat, chose to not engage in the issue. He opted instead to question Walker's relationship with the truth.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): We will see time and time again, tonight, as we've already seen, that my opponent has a problem with the truth.

H. WALKER: And just because he says something doesn't mean it's true.


TAPPER: Joining us now, to discuss, is the former political adviser, to President George W. Bush, among many others, and current Creator and Co-host of SHOWTIME's "The Circus," Mark McKinnon. He was, at the debate, in Georgia, tonight.

And Mark, I just realized, I've known you for 23 years. Oh my god!

So, how do you think--

MARK MCKINNON, CREATOR & CO-HOST, "THE CIRCUS" ON SHOWTIME, FORMER CHIEF MEDIA ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH & JOHN MCCAIN: It goes. I remember, when you were the bad boy of the press corps!

TAPPER: Just because I wore a leather jacket.

MCKINNON: Created fits for George W. Bush, and me!

TAPPER: How do you think tonight went, for Walker and Warnock? Just give us your rough assessment?

MCKINNON: Well, Jake, I mean, unlike forensic debates that are scored on, who makes the most cogent argument, who presents the most facts, political debates are 100 percent about expectations.

Herschel Walker couldn't have had lower expectations. Warnock had very high expectations. And Walker, listen, this is not just me talking. I've talked to lots of friends. Republicans, and Democrats, across the board, think that Herschel Walker exceeded expectations, and that Warnock did not meet expectations. I mean, he reminded me, of Al Gore, in the George W. Bush debates. It didn't seem like you really wanted to be there.

And you make a great point, Jake, in the intro, about abortion. First of all, it's the number one issue, in this race, in terms of the crisis that Walker's facing. It's also the number one issue for a lot of voters, in America. And it literally got 30 seconds of attention, tonight.

And why Warnock has chosen, and he clearly has chosen, strategically, not to engage on that issue, is unclear to me. And I wish there had been more follow-up from the journalists as well.

Because, I mean, Herschel Walker may deny it. But the fact is that this woman has shown receipts, she's shown a "Get well" card, and a $700 receipt that Walker allegedly sent to her, which has not been disproven.

So, it seems to me that that issue, specifically but also more broadly, as an issue, post the Dobbs (ph) decision was likely to get a lot more attention tonight, and just didn't.

TAPPER: It's really shocking. So obviously, you think it's a mistake that Senator Warnock has not addressed this issue more forcefully, or even at all? How would you advise that he do it? Because obviously, he's worried about the sensitivities here. MCKINNON: Well, I think you just have to take it heads-up. And, as many people have observed, there's the issue of the abortion itself, which again, to your point is all about hypocrisy.

This is a guy, who says that, at one point, in this campaign, said he supported no exceptions. He's kind of waffling about on that now, too. But to hold that position, and then to, contrary personal conduct on it, says a lot about character. And the fact is that that you have to confront it in a way to say that this is about character.

But also, to Christian Walker's Point? It's much more than just about abortion. It's about personal responsibility and family. And Walker makes a big point of being a family man. Well, there's nobody in his family that says he's been a good family man. I would have pointed that out, if I were Warnock.

TAPPER: At times, it seemed as though, it's a bit chaotic, on the debate stage. At one point, Senator Warnock did bring up Herschel Walker's past false insinuation that he had been in law enforcement, had trained with the FBI.

Let's take a listen.


WARNOCK: One thing I have not done, I've never pretended to be a police officer.


WARNOCK: And I've never - I've never threatened a shootout with the police.

H. WALKER: And you know what's so funny? I am worked with many police officers.


H. WALKER: And at the same time--


H. WALKER: No, no, no, no, no.

TYUS-SHAW: Mr. Walker? Excuse me, Mr. Walker?

H. WALKER: When he said, I have problem with the truth--

TYUS-SHAW: Please, out of respect?

H. WALKER: When he said, I have problem with the truth, the truth is, it's here.

TYUS-SHAW: I need to let you know, Mr. Walker.


TYUS-SHAW: You are very well--


TYUS-SHAW: --aware of the rules, tonight.


TYUS-SHAW: And you have a prop.


TYUS-SHAW: That is not allowed, sir.


TYUS-SHAW: I ask you to put that prop away.

H. WALKER: Well, it's not a prop.

TYUS-SHAW: It is--

H. WALKER: This is real. And he said I have a problem--

TYUS-SHAW: But it is considered a prop.

H. WALKER: --I never worked with law enforcement?

TYUS-SHAW: Mr. Walker?


TYUS-SHAW: Excuse me, sir.


TYUS-SHAW: You're very well aware of the rules, aren't you?

H. WALKER: Well, he - he brought up the truth--

TYUS-SHAW: Aren't you aware of the rules?

H. WALKER: Let's talk about the truth.


TAPPER: So it's an odd thing. He's not a member of law enforcement. I don't know where that honorary badge came from. It almost doesn't matter. How did that play at the debate?

MCKINNON: Pretty contentious. I mean, I think, there's two issues there.

[21:20:00] There's one, which is, to the extent what - to what extent has Walker represented that he is somehow officially, or unofficially part of law enforcement, which apparently he has done before. And then, of course, the fact that he violated the rules by pulling out the badge.

So, I think that that issue will get litigated. I think that's kind of the one vulnerability, I'd point out, for Walker, tonight. And I think there'll be some follow-up and some clean-up on aisle three on that.

The clean-up for, I think, that for Warnock, is going to be on the issue, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and these evictions. Very unclear about what's happening there, and what the truth of the matter is.

But he didn't knock that down entirely. He used Martin Luther King, as a shield, to sort of say, "You can't attack the church of Martin Luther King," but it's still quite unclear what the story is on those evictions, Jake.

TAPPER: So, you were talking, earlier, about low expectations. And no offense to Sarah Palin. But back in the 2008 presidential campaign, you were prepping her, for her debate, with then vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden. There were low expectations for her.

Let's watch this moment, from "The Circus" that's going to air, this Sunday.


MCKINNON: Then we go in later to do the debate prep. And 10 minutes into it, like two or three questions in, and she locks up, completely.

And it's a pretty basic question. And it was like, "What would our basic foreign policy be towards NATO?" And she's like, "What's NATO?"

And then, everything like stops. We all walk outside.

Mark Wallace, stares at me, like "What do you think?" I said. "Oh, God! We are (BLEEP)."


TAPPER: So, how does one manage the art of low expectations? It sounds like Herschel Walker did it, and his team did a pretty good job of that.

MCKINNON: They did a great job, Jake.

And, I mean, it was Walker that came out, I don't know, a week or so ago, and said, "Listen, you know, I'll just be honest with you. I'm not - I'm not that good an orator, you know? I'm just a poor old country boy that played football, and I'm going to be up against this really articulate pastor, who's been doing this for a living. You know, he's been in Washington, you know, dealing with politicians. And he's, you know, he's a slick talker. And I'm not. But I just tell it like it is." And so that was a very, very kind of standard lowering the bar. "Hey, you know, I'm just a dumb country boy." And then, all he's got to do, when he walks on the stage, is complete a couple sentences, and he's beaten expectations.

But he did a lot more than that tonight, Jake. I mean, he was clearly prepped. I think, Newt Gingrich, and Lindsey Graham, had a hand in that. But they know what they're doing. And Walker clearly followed their - followed instructions, tonight.

TAPPER: So, we only have a - less than a minute left. You were, in Ohio, this week. Tell me about some of the general trends, you're seeing, out there, in the closing weeks?

MCKINNON: Well, this election has really kind of seen three waves.

There was the wave sort of in the spring, where it looked like Republicans were just going to crush Democrats, huge Blue wave, Biden really having trouble.

Then, Biden had a good summer, passed a lot of legislation. Had some things for Democrats to talk about. And then, you had the Dobbs (ph) decision. So, things kind of shifted back Democrats' way.

Now, where you have the bad inflation report, there's a sense that Republicans are getting some momentum, just because the economy, and inflation, are really kicking in.

But this is really a - it's a race that's really clearly divided, between Democrats, who care about protecting democracy, and abortion rights, and Republicans, who are talking about crime, immigration, and the economy. So, it depends on what voters care about.

We don't really have a precedent for this, exactly, this type of election. So, we only have the past, to judge. And this is clearly a new ballgame. So standby.

TAPPER: All right. Mark McKinnon, so good to see you. Thank you so much.

MCKINNON: Kick it, Jake.

TAPPER: So you know, this Republican broken record?


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Our greatest concerns, right now, is the economy of America.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Soaring prices are crushing, crushing the American people.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Reckless government spending has sent our economy into a downward spiral.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: That does seem to be the last thing that Democrats want to talk about.

But Vermont's Independent senator, Bernie Sanders says, ignoring the economy, not talking about the economy, on the campaign trail, is political malpractice. And he's here, with a warning, to the Democrats. That's next.



TAPPER: Many Democratic candidates, if not most, are embracing a focus, on one particular potent issue, in their closing messages, to voters, ahead of the midterm elections.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only candidate fighting for abortion rights.

BRAD PFAFF, (D) CANDIDATE FOR U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I'll never stop fighting for your right to choose.


TAPPER: "Politico" reports that Democratic candidates' campaigns and supportive super PACs have spent nearly $18 million to air more than 100 abortion rights-centered broadcast TV ads, in some four dozen battleground states. But Senator Bernie Sanders says that focus, exclusive focus, is a huge mistake.

Senator Sanders is with us.

Thanks so much, for joining us. Tell us why you think that's a mistake.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Well, Jake, first of all, I happen to believe that the Supreme Court decision, overturning Roe versus Wade, is an absolute outrage.

I think Democrats have got to fight, to make sure that it is women, who control their own bodies, not the government. So, I think, this is a very important issue. But I don't believe it can be the only issue.

At a time, when we have an economy, in which the wealthiest people, the billionaire class, are getting much, much richer, while working people are struggling, to put food on the table? It goes without saying that we have got to focus on the economy, and demand that we have a government that works for all of us, and not just wealthy campaign contributors.

And the irony here, as Republicans say, they talk about the economy?

Really, not one of them is going to vote, to raise the minimum wage, to a living wage. Not one of them is going to vote for legislation that makes it easier for workers to join unions.


Not one of them is going to vote, to do what every other major country, on Earth does, and guarantee health care, for all people. Nor will they vote to raise taxes, on billionaires, at a time when the richest people, in this country, in some cases, pay nothing, in federal income taxes.


SANDERS: So, I have to think the Republican line is phony, and Democrats have got to respond.

TAPPER: So might the concern be, among Democratic strategists that, "Hey, Democrats are the party in power. Underlying the economic problems that you just underlined, might be underlying the failure of the Democratic Party, which controls the House, the Senate and the White House, to deliver?"

SANDERS: Well, that's simply just not accurate. The truth is that inflation, which is a very serious problem, in our country, is a global problem. In the U.K., and in Europe, in many cases, it is worse than it is here, in the United States. So, to blame Joe Biden for it just doesn't make any sense at all.

What the inflation crisis is about is broken supply chains. It's the war in Ukraine. And I'll tell you, Jake, what else it's about. It's about the incredible level of corporate greed that we are now seeing.

People go to the gas pumps, prices are very high, lower than they were, a while ago, but too high? Understand that the oil companies, the big oil companies, ExxonMobil, and the others, are making record- breaking profits. You can't afford prescription drugs? Well, understand that the pharmaceutical industry is making huge profits. Food industry, huge profits.

So, in my view, what's been going on, is a lot of these large corporations, are taking advantage of the terrible war, in the Ukraine, taking advantage of the breaks, in supply chain, and just raising prices to an outrageous level. And I think we've got to go after them on that.

TAPPER: What do you make of the argument, from Democratic former Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, who, last year, was sounding the alarm, about inflation, saying that the government had been pumping too much money, into the economy?

Both, during the early days of COVID's, starting with Trump, and throughout the first year of the Biden administration, he was warning that inflation was going to be really bad. And now he's saying, essentially, "I told you so."

SANDERS: Yes, well, I guess he told the government of the U.K. that, and he told governments all over the world. Inflation is a global problem. In many countries, it is worse than it is in the United States.

Now, Larry Summers, I know Larry, and does a good job, representing his Wall Street interests. But, I think, it is time we had a government that stood up for working families.

And the questions that we should be asking ourselves, is why do we pay the highest prices, in the world, for prescription drugs, when the pharmaceutical industry makes huge profits? Why are we the only major country on Earth not to guarantee health care to all people?

Why do you have half of the elderly people, in this country, earning less than $25,000 a year? And you got Republicans, out there, who want to cut Social Security, they want to cut Medicare, they want to cut Medicaid, so they can give more tax breaks, to their billionaire friends

Those are the kinds of issues that we need to be discussing, in my view.

TAPPER: Right. But that's my point. I mean, the issue is that you feel passionately about, paid family, and medical leave, college affordability, home health care, housing, childcare assistance?


TAPPER: You tried to get all those things done. They got cut from the Democratic proposal.

I mean, there are Democrats, out there, progressives, who are big Bernie Sanders supporters, who are saying, "Why should we vote for Democrats? Bernie, you've been fighting the good fight. But all that stuff got stripped from the legislation that passed the House and Senate, and"--

SANDERS: Jake, good question.

TAPPER: Go ahead.

SANDERS: All right. Jake that, is an excellent question. And let me give you the simple answer.

The simple answer is, with President Biden's strong support, we presented a piece of legislation, called "Build Back Better," which in many ways, would have done more, for the working class, and the middle class, of this country, than any legislation passed in the last 50 years or 60 years. It was transformative.

We had zero Republican support, not one Republican, who believed that we should deal with child care that we should deal with health care that we should deal with education, not one Republican supporting it.

Unfortunately, in a Senate, that is 50-50, 50 Republicans, 50 people, in the Democratic caucus, there were two corporate Democrats, who chose not to support, what the President, and I, and the vast majority of the caucus wanted. That's the reality. We had 48 votes. We couldn't get 50. [21:35:00]

My hope is that we will elect two more Democrats, so we'll have 52, in the Senate, so that we can begin, to address the long-neglected needs, of working families.

It is just not acceptable that we have more income and wealth inequality, today than we've ever had, in this country. It's not acceptable that you got a half a million people, who are homeless in America, rents are soaring, and we're not building the kind of low and moderate income housing that we need.

We need an agenda that speaks to the needs of working families, and not wealthy campaign contributors.

TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders, always good to hear your views. Please come back. We love having you on. Thank you so much.

SANDERS: Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: The crackdown, against anti-government protesters, in Iran, is frankly, brutal, to watch. But the protests are also bringing hope, to young women, fighting against decades of repression, segregation, zealotry, misogyny.

One of those voices, in this country, is actress and activist, Nazanin Boniadi, who, today, took her fight, to Washington D.C. She joins us next.



TAPPER: "Women! Life! Freedom!" That's the chant that has dominated mass protests, across Iran, over the past month, coupled with scenes of women, cutting their hair, and burning their headscarves, in defiance of the Islamic Republic's laws, against women, showing their hair in public, forcing women to wear hijabs.

But what began as unrest, over the death, perhaps, murder, of 22-year- old Mahsa Jina Amini, who showed her hair, in public, and died in the custody of Iran's so-called Morality Police, has become so much more.

Especially, as more women, including two 16-year-old girls, have become new faces of the movement, both of them killed, while joining in protests, their bodies later returned, to their families, bruised and disfigured. They are among at least 144 people killed, by Iran's security forces, since protests began, according to Amnesty International.

CNN cannot independently verify the death toll. A precise figures impossible, for anyone, outside the Iranian government, to confirm.

What we do know for certain, is that Iranian authorities, are intensifying their violent crackdown, on these women, and children, firing metal pellets, and live ammunition, into crowds, beating people with batons. More than 1,000 people, have been arrested, across the country, some of them, students, being taken to psychiatric institutions.

Situation, so dire that Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris met today, with Iranian activists, including one whom you may recognize.


TAPPER: That's Nazanin Boniadi, who joins us now. She's advocated for human rights, in Iran, for years. She's also in the new Amazon series, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," the season finale of which dropped today.

And I will ask you about that, I promise. But I know more important than that is what's going on in Iran. I want to know what you asked, during the meeting, with Secretary of State Blinken, and Vice President Harris. Did you come away with any assurances that the U.S. will do more?


I walked away hopeful. I'm very grateful, to the administration, for making the time, for us, today.

And the message was that the people of Iran are looking to every democratic leader, in the world, to stand by them, unequivocally, just as we did, with the anti-apartheid movement, in South Africa, just as we did for the people of Ukraine. They deserve, and are demanding that we stand by them, in the same way.

And I was assured, by the administration, they will do everything, they can, to ensure accountability, of the crimes, committed by the Islamic Republic, against its own people.

As you know, we've had a 43-year case study, now, on the Islamic Republic. And we've come to the conclusion, based on everything we've seen that reform, the reform movement is dead. Nobody's calling for reform.

TAPPER: Right.

BONIADI: Everybody, on the ground, in Iran, wants the theocracy gone. And that message needs to - our policy, with Iran, needs to reflect what's happening on the ground, over there.

TAPPER: And I know, even before this latest uprising, you dedicated your performance, in "The Rings of Power," to the women of Iran. So, that was even before this, these protests.

What does it mean, for you, personally, to see women and girls, at the forefront, of this fight?

BONIADI: I mean, the bitter irony of, two months before Mahsa Amini's murder, I was at San Diego Comic-Con. And this role that I'm playing, Bronwyn, in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," there's so much resilience and tenacity. And I drew such inspiration, from my 14 years, of advocating, for these women, these brave women, who are at the forefront, of the fight, for freedom and democracy.

Little did I know, in that moment that just two months later, I would be, outside the federal building, in Los Angeles, giving a speech, to 20,000 protesters, who are standing in solidarity, with the Iranian people.

And this global galvanization, uprising, in support of this movement, is a watershed moment that we need to pay attention to. Because, there's nothing more important than freedom. We have to stand by our principles. And we have to ensure that the people of Iran feel that the democrats, in Iran, who are fighting for their freedom, feel supported.

TAPPER: Small-d democrats, supporting-democracy democrats.

BONIADI: Small-d democrats.

TAPPER: You understand the fear that comes with Iran's morality police. You had a run-in with them, when you were just 12-years-old. Tell us about that.

BONIADI: Yes. So, I was born in Iran, 20 days, when - after the Revolution, my parents had to escape. They were political refugees, opposed the Islamic Republic. And I grew up in London.

When I was 12, my mother took me to Iran, to visit family. And I was walking down the street, with my mother walking two, three steps, behind myself, and my uncle walking side by side.

And a plainclothes militia Basij, or Morality Policemen, walked up to us, and asked us, demanded that we presented paper - papers, marriage papers, or certificates. And I was forced to wear a hijab, at the age of 12, which was, in and of itself, something that I was not accustomed to, having that freedom taken away from me.


But that was such a harrowing experience that I would be questioned, about me, just walking with my uncle that I remember thinking how important it is that the girls in Iran are supported against these injustices that they face.

So, to be here, and to be able to talk, to the administration, today, as I witnessed these brave girls, in Iran, who are taking off their headscarves, and defiantly standing up, against this oppressive regime, fearlessly, despite the fact that they know that it could end - it could end up with them, being beaten.

Today, there was a report that in Northwest Iran, 10 - like, a girls' school, high school was raided, by the security's - security forces, and 10 girls were beaten, to the point of serious injury, and one has reportedly died, today. TAPPER: It's just amazing how much zealous, religions are, are fundamentally about oppressing women and girls.


TAPPER: It's, I mean, it's not just Islam.


TAPPER: But other religions, across the board.

What do you want the Biden administration to do? And what do people watching outside, what can they do?

BONIADI: I would like everyone to visit Amnesty International petition, to call for an accountability mechanism, an international accountability mechanism.

Because, what we're not doing, is we're not gathering enough documentation, to be able to somehow hold the Iranian authorities, to account. That is very important. Otherwise, these uprisings happen. They get cracked down.


BONIADI: And they repeat themselves.


BONIADI: So, we need, an international mechanism, to stop this, from happening. So, these petitions are very important.

The hashtags, even though people think they don't matter, over 200 million hashtags of Mahsa Amini's name have created a groundswell. And they allow, for people, in Iran, to have hope. And that's not for nothing.

But more importantly, I think that - what I'm looking for is female leaders, Jacinda Ardern, Liz Truss, please, stand unequivocally, with the women of Iran. I beg you. We are looking to female leaders. The Vice President, Harris, today, was very inspiring, in what she said.

And if you look at the rhetoric that came out of like, Joe Biden - then-Senator Joe Biden, in 1986, addressed the Senate, and unequivocally stood, with the people of South Africa, majority-Black South Africans, and said, "Our loyalty is to the people, and not to the Regime, the Apartheid regime of South Africa." That's what we want.

TAPPER: All right, stick with us. We have more questions for you.

We're going to take a trip to Middle Earth. Because, the character you're playing, in this new series, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," is, to put it bluntly, an Orc-slaying badass. So, we're going to ask you what inspired you to play, Bronwyn. That's coming up.




BRONWYN, FICTIONAL CHARACTER PLAYED BY NAZANIN BONIADI, "THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER": I know I'm not the king you have awaited. But if you choose to stand with me, and fight, this tower will no longer be a reminder of our frailty, but a symbol of our strength.

Who will stand with me? Who among you will stand and fight?


TAPPER: That's a rousing speech, from the character, Bronwyn, as she rallies, her people, to battle, in Amazon's new fantasy series, "The Rings of Power." The story, of course, is a prequel, set thousands of years, before the events of "The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings."

Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Bronwyn, is back with me.

So, what's unique about your character, is that she breaks the rules, for a lead character, in this fantasy genre. Single mom, teenage son, no magic powers, caught in this forbidden love with an elf. I've been there! Just joking!

What did you - what do you like about playing, Bronwyn? I can see why you have dedicated this role, your performance, to the women of Iran. I can see that.

BONIADI: Yes, I mean, it's interesting, because that scene that you just showed, was one of my audition scenes. And I remember doing the scene, and thinking the inspiration is clearly, this woman, it's, sort of talking to the Iranian people of like, "We can do this. And let's overcome tyranny, and darkness, and the shackles of our past," and all these things that she says. And that just resonated with me.

And I just think anyone, who champions anyone else, or is trying to sort of give voice, to somebody else, or motivate people, or inspire people, to take action? I think this role resonates with them.

So, I think, essentially, she's an unassuming, or - she's a leader, but she didn't choose to be a leader. And I love that about her. Hugely multi-faceted. And I think her inspiration is love. Love, she's driven by love, for her son, love, for this elf, Arondir, and the love, for her people.

And I always say in my advocacy work, Jake, that there's two routes, you can take. One is your hatred of oppressors. You can be driven by that, in your advocacy, or your love for the disenfranchised.


BONIADI: And if you choose your love for the disenfranchised? A, you can get a lot more done. And B, there's less burn-out, because you're not constantly consumed with this hatred.


BONIADI: So, I think, in that sense, there's a lot of sort of resonance, with this character, as well.

TAPPER: Yes, I could see it.

The show was very popular, critically-acclaimed, doing really well, picked up for a second season.

When it debuted, there was some criticism, from conservatives, and from J.R.R. Tolkien purists, because the show had women, and people of color. What did you make of that?

BONIADI: Well, yes, it has a lot of strong female characters, which I absolutely love. And it's not unprecedented, for Tolkien - I mean, Galadriel, the lead of the show, is a strong female character, and very much a Tolkien character, and part of the canon. So, I think that criticism doesn't make much sense.

But as far as the race - race diversity issue goes? We've tuned that out. Because essentially, you're watching a fantasy show.

TAPPER: Right.


BONIADI: Of various creeds and cultures, Elves, and Dwarves, and Hobbits, and Humans, and Numenoreans, coming together, uniting to overcome evil. And what better way to represent that fellowship than to bring people of various creeds, and cultures, and races, together, to portray those characters? That to me makes perfect sense.

TAPPER: Yes, I thought it was pretty insipid. My response, when we were talking about it, in the office, was "They're elves! They're hobbits! What are we talking about here?"


TAPPER: "She's a mermaid. Let it go."


TAPPER: Anyway. Nazanin Boniadi, it's so great to see you again. Thank you so much.

BONIADI: Thank you.

TAPPER: For people home, we met at a Council on Foreign Relations event, a decade ago. She's been doing this stuff, for a long time.

BONIADI: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, for being here.

BONIADI: Thanks, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Thanks so much, for joining us, tonight, and this week, in our 9 PM experiment.

Until next week, you can follow me, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the TikTok, @jaketapper.

Our coverage continues now, with the magnificent, Laura Coates, and the excellent, Alisyn Camerota.

Hey, Laura? Hey, Alisyn? How are you guys doing?