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State of the Union

Lessons Learned From Afghanistan Withdrawal?; Interview With Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD); Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 13, 2022 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): On the brink. As Russian troops close in around Ukraine, the White House says Americans need to get out now.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time.

TAPPER: Can war still be averted? I will ask National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan next.

And bowing out. With his party still enthralled to former President Trump, a key Republican says he will not run for Senate.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): That does not mean I plan to sit on the sidelines.

Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan joins me to discuss his political future and the state of his party ahead.

Plus: Changing tune? With COVID cases falling, Democrats switch gears and roll back public health restrictions.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): We are stating affirmatively that we can responsibly live with this thing.

TAPPER: Is this being driven by science or politics? Our panel breaks it down ahead.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is bracing for a potential war in Europe. The White House warning in stark terms this weekend that Russia is poised to invade Ukraine any day now, a senior administration official saying yesterday that military action that will cause -- quote -- "profound damage" to Ukraine and to European security is a -- quote -- "distinct possibility."

As Russian forces with heavy-duty military equipment close in on Ukraine's borders. President Biden in an hour-long phone call Saturday warned Russia's Vladimir Putin of -- quote -- "swift and severe costs" if he chooses to invade. But the call did little to convince the White House that Russia will not attack.

Those fears have led the U.S. and a growing list of other nations to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, as the U.S. almost -- the U.S. also evacuates most diplomatic staff stationed at its embassy in Kyiv.

Part of the Biden administration's warning is an extraordinary public declaration that they believe Russia may use a false flag operation to try to justify bombings and missile attacks in Ukraine. That is, the Russians would stage a fake attack on themselves to justify an invasion.

That could ultimately kill tens of thousands and destabilize key American European allies in what Biden has said would be the largest invasion since World War II on that continent.

As a reassurance to NATO allies on Friday, President Biden ordered the deployment of 3,000 additional American service members to Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west.

Joining us now to discuss, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Jake, thanks for joining us.

You said Friday afternoon that all Americans in Ukraine should get out within 24 to 48 hours. That 48 hours is almost up. Do you anticipate this invasion could happen as soon as tomorrow? And what can you tell us about reports that U.S. intelligence believes Russia is considering Wednesday for an attack?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Jake, we cannot perfectly predict the day, but we have now been saying for some time that we are in the window.

And an invasion could begin, a major military action could begin by Russia and Ukraine any day now. That includes this coming week, before the end of the Olympics. Of course, it could take place after the end of the Olympics.

Or it is still possible, we believe, that Russia could choose the diplomatic path. But the way they have built up their forces, the way they have maneuvered things in place makes it a distinct possibility that there will be major military action very soon. And we are prepared to continue to work on diplomacy, but we are also prepared to respond in a united and decisive way with our allies and partners should Russia proceed.

TAPPER: You have been warning about a Russian invasion of Ukraine since early November. That's three months ago.

It does seem as though something has changed in the last few days. You and your colleagues seem more alarmed than ever. What specifically have you learned in the last few days to prompt such urgent warnings? And do you now believe a Russian invasion of Ukraine is more likely than not?

SULLIVAN: Well, when we began -- excuse me -- when we began warning about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine in November, we were pinpointing sometime after the turn of the year, sometime in the January or February time frame.

So what we watched then happen over the course of November, December, January was the buildup of Russian forces in both Russia itself and in Belarus, which is the country that borders Ukraine to the north. And what we have seen just in the last 10 days or so is an acceleration of that buildup and the movement of Russian forces of all varieties closer to the border with Ukraine in a position where they could launch a military action very, very rapidly.

We -- that is also consistent with the information we're picking up from a variety of sources.


I'm not going to handicap what will happen. I cannot sit here today and predict. What I can do is make sure we are prepared. And we are prepared. We are prepared to respond immediately and decisively, flanked by our allies and partners, if Russia moves forward. We will defend NATO territory. We will impose costs on Russia.

And we will ensure that we emerge from this, as the West, stronger, more determined, more purposeful than we have been in 30 years, and that Russia ultimately suffers a significant strategic cost for military action.

TAPPER: You have been warning about the Russians using a false flag operation to justify invading Ukraine. That's a strong claim to make without presenting a shred of evidence.

Is there anything more you can tell the public, a public that might be justifiably rather skeptical of claims about intelligence?

SULLIVAN: Well, let me make three points on this.

First, we're not putting forward this intelligence to start a war, which has happened in the past, Jake. We are putting forward this intelligence to stop a war. And I think that fundamentally gives it, at the outset, a different level of credibility.

Secondly, this is consistent with the Russian playbook. We have seen them do this before many times. You ask any Russia expert, they will point to examples of where Russia has used false flag operations as pretext to start military action.

And then, third, if you look at the Russian media, they are laying the groundwork for a potential pretext by raising the possibility of attacks by Ukrainian forces on either Russians themselves or Russia's proxy forces in the Donbass.

And then, finally, what we have said, stood at the podium and shared with our allies that we have information that we have gathered through intelligence that indicates that there is active planning for this. And it's not just the United States saying it. We have our NATO allies stepping out and saying it as well, because they have been able to review that intelligence, assess its credibility and reach the same conclusion we have reached.

So, I do think the world should be prepared for Russia staging a pretext and then launching a potential military action.

TAPPER: Ukrainian President Zelensky said at a press conference this week that -- quote -- "the best friend for enemies is panic in our country. And all this information helps only to create panic. It doesn't help us."

Zelensky also questioned public reports about a Wednesday invasion. Is the U.S. sparking panic in Ukraine, or is the reason you're releasing all this information and making all these claims to try to knock Putin off course?

SULLIVAN: Only one country has amassed more than 100,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. It's not the United States. It's Russia. That is the source of the alarm.

And what we are trying to do publicly is be transparent to American citizens that they should leave Ukraine immediately, because there will not be a military evacuation in the event of an invasion. And we are trying to tell the Ukrainians to prepare and be ready for this as well, as well as coordinate with our NATO allies and partners, so that we are able to defend NATO territory and deter any further Russian aggression should they move on Ukraine.

But, fundamentally, our view is that we're not going to give Russia the opportunity to conduct a surprise here, to spring something on Ukraine or the world. We are going to make sure that we are laying out for the world what we see as transparently and plainly as we possibly can, and share that information as widely as we can.

That's what we have done. That's what we will continue to do.

TAPPER: You urged all Americans in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.

The secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, ordered 160 service members out of Ukraine Saturday. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is drawn down its staff. Are you worried that American citizens who stay behind could be killed? And can you guarantee that service members and diplomats in Ukraine will ultimately be able to get out of Ukraine safely, if need be? SULLIVAN: Jake, if there is a military invasion of Ukraine by Russia,

it's likely to begin with a significant barrage of missiles and bomb attacks.

Those are never as precise as the army would -- any army would like them to be. And we don't even know how precise the Russian army would like them to be. So, innocent civilians could be killed regardless of their nationality.

It would then be followed by an onslaught of a ground force moving across the Ukrainian frontier, again, where innocent civilians could get caught in the crossfire or get trapped in places that they could not move from.

So, that is why we are being so clear and direct to American citizens that, while commercial transport options are still available, they should take advantage of them.

As for the embassy, we are ready to complete the drawdown of the U.S. Embassy, should that become necessary. We have been drawing it down to a bare minimum in Kyiv, so that we are prepared in the event that we need to move.

TAPPER: I read an interesting piece in "The Atlantic" by Anne Applebaum -- it just posted last night -- saying that the big problem here is that Western diplomats need to reimagine how you all engage with Russia, that you should just try to -- should end, not just limit, Russian money laundering, stop Russian oligarchs from buying property in London, Miami, make Europe become independent of Russian energy supplies.


Her basic argument is that you and your colleagues are abiding in a world of diplomatic niceties that Russia has nothing but disdain for. Russia doesn't respect treaties, It doesn't respect borders. And you're treating them as if they are just another actor in the world of diplomacy.

SULLIVAN: Well, first, I would just point out, before we were dealing with this particular contingency, President Biden signed an executive order, the first time ever, that lays out a set of authorities to sanction Russia for its harmful activities with respect to election interference, the use of chemical weapons, cyberattacks, and many other destabilizing activities that Russia has been involved in over the years.

And then he used those sanctions over the course of the past year. So the notion that we have merely been talking and not acting is not correct.

But, more broadly, I think Anne Applebaum's piece actually does lay out a number of steps we are taking. President Biden and the president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, signed a statement together for a blueprint for moving towards European energy security from Russia. And we are actively working to divert gas cargoes to Europe in the event that Russia turns down the taps.

We are also drawing up lists of Russian economic elites who will be sanctioned and will not be able to move freely or spend freely going forward. And that will have an impact on people around President Putin.

If Russia moves on Ukraine, we are prepared with a package of potential economic consequences that will hit many of those oligarchs and make clear to Russia that there are real costs to pay for this. And, most importantly, we will send the message of solidarity and clarity in the values and the vision of the West.

And you will see again, as I said before, a stronger, more determined, more purposeful West than you have seen in a very long time.

TAPPER: Before you go, I want to ask about two Americans that are being held in Russia, former U.S. Marines Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed.

Plus, we also just learned about an American being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. What's the latest on how these three Americans are doing? What's the latest on efforts to get them home safely?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, I have personally met with the families of both Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. I have communicated to them directly from President Biden that it is a priority of ours to get them home safely.

The Russians have been willing to engage in various channels to discuss a way to make that happen. And we are actively engaged in an effort to do that. And I'm not going to share more here because of the obvious sensitivity of it. But we would like to get Paul and Trevor home as soon as possible.

There is an individual who was picked up by the Taliban, is being unjustly detained, alongside a number of U.K. nationals. This individual went to Afghanistan after the U.S. drawdown had been completed. We are actively working to get his release as well.

And, again, I'm not going to get into the sensitivity of it, but I can assure you that it is being handled at the highest levels of our government.

TAPPER: Jake Sullivan, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

And, obviously, we're all praying for no war in Europe. Thank you so much.


TAPPER: He could have been one of the Republican Party's best chances to retake the Senate, so why did Maryland Governor Larry Hogan say no?

He's going to join me live in studio next.

Plus: A flood of Democratic-led states bucking the Biden administration, removing indoor mask mandates, are they following the science or the polls?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Republicans need to flip just one seat in the Senate in November to regain control of the U.S. Senate. Party leaders had hoped Maryland could be one of their best chance for success.

But after a behind-the-scenes campaign to try to recruit Republican Governor Larry Hogan, a popular GOP leader in a blue state, Hogan this week told Republican leaders, thanks, but no thanks.

And Maryland Governor Larry Hogan joins us now.

Governor, we will get to that in a moment.

But, first, I do want to ask you about COVID, because you're calling for an end to mask mandates in Maryland schools. The state Board of Education says it will review mask requirements later this month.

The CDC is still requiring -- I'm sorry -- recommending universal masking in schools. So, who should school officials and parents be listening to, you or the CDC?

HOGAN: Well, we -- we have got the lowest case rate in America in Maryland. And we're really making tremendous progress.

We lifted our statewide mask mandate back last May. But the school systems, which are autonomous and have their own authority -- I don't really have direct control over them -- but we're recommending very strongly that they lift it. And that's what all of our epidemiologists and virologists and public health doctors are suggesting.

And, yes, I do think the CDC is far behind. They have had confusing and delayed decision-making, confusing guidance. And I think there's general consensus. We were at the White House with all the governors a week or so ago. And it's nearly universal, bipartisan support for moving forward, and putting this thing behind us, and not living in fear of the virus, but finding a way to live with it.

And it's going to be an endemic for a long time. But the kids have suffered so much. And I think the CDC will likely have to take action, but, in the meantime, I believe our schools, our state Board of Education is going to act in the next week or so to move forward and take masks off the kids.

TAPPER: And, just to be clear, when you say kids have suffered, you're referring to kids being isolated because they're learning at home, the cost of masking, where kids can't even see the faces of their friends, and the low risk for children?


HOGAN: Look, I was one of the ones that was pushing all of the mitigation efforts. I think we had one of the best responses in America.

But I believe now we're at the point where, yes, the kids just are having difficulty catching up in learning. We had all of the closures, people trying to work remotely, now working with masking. And I think it's safe enough for our kids to just try to get back to normal.

TAPPER: You dashed the hopes of Republican leaders in Washington this week when you announced that you're not going to run for Senate this November.

"The New York Times" reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deployed Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney to try to convince you. McConnell even had his wife lobby your wife.

If you want to help change the direction of the Republican Party and provide a model for pragmatic, fact-based conservative leadership, isn't the U.S. Senate a better place for that kind of activity than being an ex-governor?

HOGAN: Well, look, I -- first of all, I was very flattered that they were expressing interest and encouraging me to run, and certainly made the argument that I could be a voice of reason and sanity in Washington.

But I just have never had a desire to be a U.S. senator. And my heart wasn't in it. And I still have another year to be governor of Maryland. I wanted to focus on finishing that job strong. And then we will take a look at what happens after that in 2023.

But I listened. It was good reasoning and logic, but I just didn't see myself. I have been a lifelong executive. I have much more power as a governor of Maryland. I make decisions every day that impact people's lives, and I like to get things done.

And, in Washington, it seems as if there's just a lot of divisiveness and dysfunction, and not a lot gets done. So, it wasn't the right job, right fit for me.

TAPPER: Do you agree with New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, another Republican who also rejected a Senate run, that Washington Republicans, in his view, are too focused on being a -- quote -- "roadblock" to Biden and not focused enough on actually getting things done?

HOGAN: I think they're sometimes focused on the wrong things, not just being a roadblock to Biden. I mean, there are certain things that we want to stand up to President Biden.

The inflation is out of control, and we're talking about billions in more spending -- trillions in more spending. We want to make sure that we do stand up and speak out. But I'm concerned that they're focusing too much on looking at the past and trying to relitigate the last election and arguing about things, instead of having a positive, hopeful vision for America.

TAPPER: So, shortly after you made that announcement, your nonprofit advocacy group and America United released this video.


HOGAN: To those who say that America is too divided, I would argue that we have already shown a better path forward. Let's continue to set an example for the rest of the nation, so that America can once again be a shining example to the world.


TAPPER: That's a nice video. And it just lacked the Hogan 2024 banner at the bottom.

Are you considering a presidential run?

HOGAN: Well, we put out great videos like that almost every week. That was taken from my state of the state address last week. And it's pretty well done.

But, like I said, I'm going to be -- I'm going to run through the tape as governor until January of next year. I'm going to try to be the very best governor I can be. I'm going to continue to stand up and be a voice. I'm not going to sit back and not be involved in the issues of the day.

I'm concerned about the direction of the party and the country. And I will make a decision about 2024 after I finish this job.

TAPPER: So, you are considering it?

HOGAN: We're certainly going to take a look at it after January of '23.

TAPPER: What makes you think that there's a lane for a moderate-ish, blue state, anti-Trump, sane Republican like you, when you look at your party right now?

HOGAN: Well, I consider myself a commonsense conservative. I have been a lifelong Republican. I believe that that's where most people in America are.

About 70 percent of the people in America are completely frustrated with politics on both sides, Republicans and Democrats. And the latest CNN poll came out and said, right now, only 50 percent of the Republicans would like to see Donald Trump run again.

I believe that there is a pretty large lane of sane Republicans. And they're looking for a voice.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at something you told me on this show almost exactly a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HOGAN: I think the final chapter of Donald Trump and where the Republican Party goes hasn't been written yet.

And I think we're going to have a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party over the next couple of years.


TAPPER: So, as you note, there's a new CNN poll out this morning showing that about half of Republican voters want Trump to be the nominee in 2024. But that means a half don't.

But, also, CNN polling shows three-quarters of Republican voters don't think election results reflect the will of the people. Republican candidates up and down the ballot are actively lying about the election in 2020. And the Republican Party just declared, the RNC, in a censure declaration against Kinzinger and Cheney, who I imagine are two House Republicans you respect and admire...


TAPPER: ... they just declared January 6 -- quote -- "legitimate political discourse."


So, the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, are you losing it?

HOGAN: Well, I think we have still got a long way to go.

Like I said, we have until 2024. Right now, I think we have made tremendous progress, because we went from about 80-some percent that wanted to reelect Donald Trump to 50. That's a huge drop.

But you're -- yes, I have been speaking out loudly and strongly about this battle for the soul of the party. To say it's legitimate political discourse to attack the seat of our Capitol, and smash windows, and attack police officers, and threaten to hang vice president, and threaten to overthrow the election, it's insanity.

And it's a -- there's a circular firing squad where we attack Republicans. The Republican Party that I want to get back to is the one that believes in freedom and truth, and not one that attacks people who don't swear 100 percent fealty to the dear leader.

TAPPER: The National Archives wants the Justice Department to look into former President Trump's handling of White House records after it was revealed he frequently tore up documents and took at least 15 boxes of official documents, including potentially classified material, with him to Mar-a-Lago.

Republicans spent years attacking Hillary Clinton for her handling of government records, but I don't hear anything coming from Capitol Hill -- again, always Kinzinger and Cheney accepted -- but I don't think hear anything from Republican leaders. What do you say to voters out there, maybe like ticket-splitters, who

say, hey, I agreed with Republicans when they expressed concern about Hillary Clinton and how she handled classified material, but there's no one saying anything about how Donald Trump did it? So did they actually even care about this issue?

HOGAN: Well, I'm not sure that no one's talking about it. It's certainly been in the news a lot lately.

TAPPER: Republican leaders, though.

HOGAN: The fact that Republican leaders are not standing up, just like they're not standing up to talk about the lies on the election or what happened on January 6, it is very concerning, which is why I continue to speak out.

And I can just tell you, I feel as if there are more and more people. You saw more people speak out after the RNC took the action. It was a step too far. Even people that -- big supporters of the president said, we can't censure people because they don't agree with us 100 percent, because they stand up for what they believe in.

And there were, I think, 140 elected Republicans who came out against that. So, we're making progress. But it's slow. A year, two years is an eternity in politics, and I'm still hopeful we can change things.


And I just want to remind people, Governor Hogan's dad, Congressman Larry Hogan Sr., is somebody who you might want to go on Google and read up about, because he showed tremendous courage standing up against the insanities of the Nixon administration.

And every time you're here, I think about him.

HOGAN: Well, thank you.

TAPPER: I'm sure you do too.

HOGAN: I sure do. And thank you for mentioning him.

TAPPER: Yes, good to see you, Governor.

HOGAN: Great.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

President Biden sends 3,000 more American service members to reassure Eastern Europe, as fears grow of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. But how could a war in Ukraine affect the United States?

That's next.


[09:32:18] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: They also deserve a significant amount of criticism for doing too little and too late.

The senior policy-makers didn't seem to come around to this threat until really quite late. This is probably not going to be enough to factor in or really deter Russian action.



A stark warning and chastising a bit from former national security official Alexander Vindman, who says what President Biden is doing to try to prevent Russia invading Ukraine is -- quote -- "too little, too late."

Let's talk about this with my panel.

And, Alyssa Farah Griffin, let me start with you because you used to work at the Pentagon during the Trump years. Has Biden been doing too little, too late?


So think of where this started. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about a minor incursion, which, by the way, there's no such thing as a minor incursion. And then we were hearing projections that Putin was likely going to try to take the Donbass region, so the southeast portion of Ukraine.

But now we're hearing assessments from Capitol Hill that they're talking about Kyiv potentially being invaded, potentially falling within 48 hours. So this has escalated dramatically quickly. And the idea that we're just going to send some troops into Poland and that that is enough, I think is a very flawed perspective.

And I would note, we still don't have a named Ukrainian ambassador.


What do you think, Hilary? Do you think Biden is surviving and thriving the commander in chief test here?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think two -- well, I think two things he's doing right.

One, we know about this because the administration is being really transparent around the intelligence they're getting. And that's something we haven't had before. And that, I think, speaks well to their desire to keep international pressure, to keep public pressure on Putin and not be the -- kiss his butt, the way that President Trump did. I think the other thing that we're doing is staying in line with our allies as much as possible in Europe and in the U.K. And that's all you can do.

We have no control over what Vladimir Putin does. We can only control our reaction to it, our allies' reaction to it. We -- so, I think a diplomatic solution is obviously great. Nobody wants to be -- have these troops go to war. And I think that they're doing what they can do at this point, making consequences.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To Hilary's point, disclosing the information that we're receiving as we're receiving it, and actually talking about the threat, being as transparent about the threat, I think, has been very valuable, because now the world has been able to see what Putin is considering to do.

The reason we know about the threats is because this information, unlike in many administrations in the past, has been disclosed. And you also have a unified front with allies.


But the fact is -- and this is something that's very important -- we saw this in the Obama administration. We did not see this in the Trump administration, but Vladimir Putin is scared to death about being isolated again. He's scared of the economic sanctions that Barack Obama put on him.

He's scared of the fact that we can literally crush and cripple his economy, and he will be isolated and alone. And that looks as if what's about to happen.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But 2014, he annexed Crimea during the Obama administration

I would say this.

SELLERS: And what happened after that?

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, that's true. Crippling -- and crippling sanctions are valuable.




JENNINGS: ... election.

I mean, the reality is, whenever Joe Biden's in the White House, Russia runs wild.

The politics of this are so fraught.

SELLERS: But that's not accurate, though, because, after Crimea... JENNINGS: I'm sorry. What's not accurate? He annexed Crimea. He meddled in our election, and Biden was in charge, and so was Obama.

Now Biden's in charge. Now he's back on the border. The politics of this are so fraught...


JENNINGS: ... because the air of competency was let out of the balloon over Afghanistan.

Look at the Pentagon report about our evacuation from Afghanistan. The air of competency is gone. So I don't think the American people, A, have an appetite for more engagement overseas. And, B, they don't trust this administration could do it.

SELLERS: I think that the richness...


ROSEN: Oh, my God. They meddled in our election. You're letting that lead go right by you, Bakari.

SELLERS: I know. I'm not.

TAPPER: Scott has acknowledged that before.




JENNINGS: Every time I'm here. It's a true story.

SELLERS: But let's be honest about the richness of this conversation, because now we're talking about someone taking a stand to Vladimir Putin, when, the last four years, Hilary, that was the antithesis of what happened.

After Crimea, after Crimea, Russia was literally simply a gas station with a nuclear weapon. The sanctions that were placed on Vladimir Putin crippled that country economically. That's what Barack Obama did.

FARAH GRIFFIN: But Joe Biden ran on restoring our alliances. NATO is going to lead again.

And now he's taking a complete backseat in all of this. I mean, the Brits are stepping up with this kind of like trilateral agreement with the with the Polish. Where is American leadership in NATO right now?

TAPPER: I do want to move on to another issue, because we learned some new information from "The New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman's new book this week that -- quote -- "White House resident staff periodically found papers had clogged the toilet, leaving staff believing Trump had flushed material he'd ripped into pieces."

This comes as the National Archives says the former president also took 15 boxes, including classified information, to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House.

And, Alyssa, I do want to ask you because you worked in the Trump West Wing, what do you know about Trump ripping up documents or even -- I'm sure you didn't go into the bathroom with him -- but flushing stuff down?

FARAH GRIFFIN: So, I did witness him ripping papers. I think it was kind of just he does that. And I know staff secretary then had to piece back together papers to archive them.

The bigger issue here among the many grievances I have with Trump, I don't know that the not archiving is a huge issue. But the classified information mishandling is huge.

I was -- I criticized Hillary Clinton for doing the same thing when she mishandled classified information in the State Department. So the idea that he himself also may have done exactly what we hit her for, for five years is just remarkable. And it just -- it's that level of hypocrisy that drives me crazy.

SELLERS: I just...

ROSEN: I think it's worth pointing out, actually, that Hillary Clinton didn't mishandle classified information.

SELLERS: Did not actually mishandle classified information.

ROSEN: And that's what all of the investigations showed.

She had a personal e-mail account where she talked about her daughter's wedding. So...


TAPPER: There was classified information on the e-mails.


ROSEN: But there was not a mishandling. It was not a destruction of property, et cetera.

FARAH GRIFFIN: You can't have classified information on a private server.

ROSEN: There was no -- there was no result of an investigation that showed that was a problem.

But where we have now is literally the government had to raid Mar-a- Lago to get the truth out of Donald Trump. And no surprise. No surprise.

SELLERS: But -- but -- go ahead. I'm sorry. JENNINGS: I mean, in fairness to the president, former president,

there was a national toilet paper shortage in 2020.


JENNINGS: I mean, you couldn't find bathroom...


TAPPER: All right.


SELLERS: I don't know. Do you want me to go after that?



TAPPER: Let's bring it out of the...

SELLERS: Out of the toilet? There you go.

TAPPER: Senate Republicans have lost multiple key races -- recruits, rather, for Senate races, from Sununu in New Hampshire to Governor Hogan. You just heard him talking about why he's not running.

Here's what "The New York Times"' reporter Jon Martin writes this morning: "As Mr. Trump works to retain his hold on the Republican Party, elevating a slate of friendly candidates in midterm elections, McConnell and his allies are quietly, desperately maneuvering to try to thwart him. The message that Mr. McConnell delivers is unsparing, if debatable. Mr. Trump is losing political altitude and need not be feared in a primary."

You are close with McConnell and his office. He's losing some of these recruiting efforts.

JENNINGS: Yes, I think some of them are more disappointing than others. I'm dubious that the Maryland Senate race, even if Governor Hogan, who's quite popular as governor, would have developed as a top- tier race, the way some of the other ones have.

Sununu was pretty disappointing. Overall, I think the board looks pretty good for Republicans. And I think it's actually a bigger map today than we ever thought it could be a year ago. And the political environment is so good that, in some cases, the recruits may matter less than just the overall mood of the country.

So, right now, I think Republicans, despite some of these setbacks, feel pretty good. I mean, I think it's a mortal lock they're going to take the House. I think the Senate, I would still call it 50/50. But I'd be on the leaning good side of 50/50 right now about where the party stands in its opportunity to take back the Congress.

[09:40:05] TAPPER: Yes, well, you just heard him say that even if some of these recruiting candidates don't...


TAPPER: Like, even if the same Republicans don't get the nominations in individual states, they might win.

That's basically one of the things you just said.

McConnell privately, according to this J. Martin story, is calling some of these people goofballs. He doesn't want them to get the nominations. But we just heard the Trump effect and the bad headwinds for Biden might bring some goofballs to The Senate.

ROSEN: Look, our prospects are pretty depressing in the midterms right now. And I think Democrats have a serious, like, connect-on-the- message issue. We're not meeting people where they are. We're not dealing with parental exhaustion.

We're not -- and there's a lot of things. But the one silver lining in this might be the Republican-on-Republican war that could happen in a bunch of these primaries over the next several months that we will end up seeing, so that hope that they can blow themselves up a little bit.

SELLERS: And, to your point, you're seeing that in places like Ohio, which should be a solidly red state, is leaning to be ruby-red.


SELLERS: But you just have this primary...

TAPPER: It's like "Fear Factor," yes.


SELLERS: ... of insanity.

And you have J.D. Vance, who used to be like...

ROSEN: Right.

SELLERS: Have common sense, who's now running at 5 percent in the polls.

And so you're going to have races. I think the Doug Ducey in Arizona, if he decides not to run, is going to be a blow to Republicans. But you're going to -- this is all going to come down to Pennsylvania. This is going to come to Wisconsin. And we will all be focused on Georgia.


SELLERS: Herschel Walker is going to be a very, very bad candidate for Republicans, and we will see what happen .

TAPPER: But it's going to be a very, very favorable climate for Republicans.

SELLERS: Oh, it's...

TAPPER: Thanks, one and all, for being here.

Has the U.S. learned any lessons from the disastrous exit from Afghanistan? The men and women who serve there are talking. Is President Biden listening?

That's next.



TAPPER: A U.S. Army review of the chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan last summer was obtained by "The Washington Post" this past week.

In the review, the commander on the ground during the operation reported that the military would have been -- quote -- "much better prepared" to conduct a more orderly evacuation -- quote -- "if policy- makers had paid attention to the indicators of what was happening on the ground" -- unquote.

A few days ago, NBC News asked President Biden about the accounts in these documents.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It interviewed many military officials and officers, who said the administration ignored the handwriting on the wall.

Another described trying to get folks in the embassy ready to evacuate encountering people who were in essentially in denial of the situation.

Does any of that ring true to you?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. That's not what I was told.


TAPPER: "That's not what I was told," the president said, not what he was told.

The documents go into detail about how, in the views of the service members on the ground, the U.S. ambassador and others in the Biden administration did not see the security threat for what it really was and did not adequately prepare for withdrawal, that there was a lack of urgency in the White House's National Security Council.

The day Kabul fell to the Taliban, U.S. troops are described as going room to room at the embassy, pushing State Department personnel to prepare, but some were -- quote -- "intoxicated and cowering in rooms" and others were -- quote -- "operating like it was day-to-day operations, with absolutely no sense of urgency or recognition of the situation" -- unquote.

Now, President Biden's denial of this reflects the same attitude seen in a Biden administration official quote about that allegation to "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "Were there any truth to it, we presumably would not be learning of it six months after the fact" -- unquote.

Yes, that's not how it works. Bad information not flowing upward, that's a longstanding tradition. Almost 10 years ago, as then- President Obama prepared to try to leave Afghanistan, I asked him this question suggested by a soldier friend.


TAPPER: Do you feel that the reporting you received from the Pentagon fully represents what the on-ground commanders assess? Is there any disconnect between what leaders feel the public and president want to hear vs. what is actually occurring on the ground?

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things that I emphasize whenever I'm talking to John Allen, or the Joint Chiefs, or any of the officers who are in Afghanistan is, I can't afford a whitewash.

I can't afford not getting the very best information in order to make good decisions. I think the reports we get are relatively accurate, in the sense that there is real improvement.


TAPPER: We know now the degree to which so many of these reports were whitewashes, so optimistic as to have been false.

The thing is, President Biden knew this then. Biden has been a skeptic of the war in Afghanistan for years, precisely because he did not buy into the rosy scenarios from Foggy Bottom and from the Pentagon.


HOLT: Are you rejecting the conclusions or the accounts that are in this Army report?

BIDEN: Yes, I am.

HOLT: So, they're not true?

BIDEN: I'm rejecting them.


TAPPER: It's difficult to overstate how insulting Biden's sweeping rejection is to so many service members and veterans, given the full content of the 2,000 pages of documents in this U.S. Army investigation, which CNN has also obtained. Many accounts are from troops who were on the ground at the gates near

the canal around the airport, noncommissioned officers, junior officers, Joes, people with little political motivation to lie, and heavy legal and moral obligation to tell the truth in sworn statements, people like the men and women that Biden visited with last November at Fort Bragg.


BIDEN: The thing that is amazing to me is how proud I am to be your commander in chief. You are the most incredible group of women and men warriors that we have ever seen.



TAPPER: People in that North Carolina crowd served with staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, a special operations soldier stationed at Fort Bragg before deploying to Kabul.

Testimonies about what happened are a big chunk of the report. And one details Knauss' final moments. He was one of 13 American service members killed during the Abbey Gate suicide bombing in August. Though the name and rank are redacted from the record, it's clear the service member giving the testimony knew Staff Sergeant Knauss.

He describes the chaos at the scene, the crowds of Afghans pushing and shoving their way into Abbey Gate. He tells of being knocked to the ground by the explosion of the suicide bomber, getting up and dragging his unconscious, but still breathing teammate, Staff Sergeant Knauss, away from further danger, trying to keep him from choking on his swollen tongue.

He loads Knauss into the bed of a truck. He clears his weapon and tucks it beside his teammate, and the truck drives away.


BIDEN: You do so much and your families give so much. I really mean it from the bottom of my heart.

And so I just -- we came because we wanted to thank you, tell you how much we care.


TAPPER: I don't doubt President Biden cares.

But I do not understand why he would not manifest that care into taking this investigation more seriously, absorbing the tragic details, contemplating the obvious failures of his administration, failures that cost lives.

Now, Biden always bristles at this because he feels confident that ending the war in Afghanistan was the right decision. But that's not the question at hand. It's not whether, but how the war ended and what that means to the people who were there when it did finally end.

No part of these military interviews ring true because that's not what I was told?

If this was not what you were told, then what was? And don't you have an obligation, sir, to be told? Don't you have an obligation to Ryan Knauss' family, to his grieving mother?


PAULA KNAUSS, MOTHER OF KILLED U.S. SOLDIER: They were sitting ducks. How do I feel? I feel grief, and I feel anger. I am angry for the waste of life.


TAPPER: Isn't that how you demonstrate how much you care? Otherwise, isn't it just words?

We will be right back.



TAPPER: What might President Abraham Lincoln have to say about today's Republican Party?

Well, a new look at Lincoln's life has a surprising lesson for his party now. That's up in the next hour.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

Fareed Zakaria is next.