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Senior White House Diplomat In Israel For Hostage Negotiations; Israel Warns Of Looming Rafah Ground Incursion If No Hostage Deal Reached; Judge Rules In Case Over Student's Locs Hairstyle; Records: Biden Family Dog Bit Secret Service Members At Least 24 Times. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 13:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hostage negotiations are once again center stage in Israel. A senior White House adviser is meeting with top military and government officials regarding ceasefire talks with Hamas.

U.S. officials are racing to secure a deal before the start of Ramadan on March 10th, which would include a weeks-long pause in the fight.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: But Israelis warning, if an agreement is not reached by that date, the military will move forward with its plan for a ground offensive in the city of Rafah, where more than 1.5 million Palestinians are currently taking shelter.

Much of southern Gaza has already been reduced to rubble following intense fighting and Israeli bombardments in Khan Younis. And aid groups warn that a military operation in Rafah would cause what they call a "catastrophe."

CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us live from Tel Aviv.

And, Nic, Israeli officials as well as military leaders are hoping to have direct influence in these negotiations. Has there been any progress?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, on the surface, it sounds like it. The mood music, I think, probably changed yesterday.

Brett McGurk, President Biden's National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, was in Cairo yesterday. And we heard yesterday as well that is Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of -- one of the political leaders of Hamas, was also in Cairo. There's absolutely no indication that the pair met.

But the fact that Hamas had sent a representative back to Cairo, because the Egyptians have been an intermediary, seem to indicate that Hamas was beginning to come round to perhaps some of the pressure that is Israel has been putting on it. To give in more to Israel's terms of what a temporary ceasefire might look like and what hostages might be released as part of that deal. So that was one indicator.

And then today, Brett McGurk was meeting both with the defense minister and with the prime minister.

The other indicator that came yesterday, I think, was from a member of the war cabinet here, Benny Gantz, saying that he was just a little bit more optimistic that there was an indication that perhaps things -- perhaps things can happen.

And then the defense minister today, after that meeting were Brett McGurk, saying that he thought that the negotiators could be more engaged or more empowered or -- or do more at the next meeting.

These are -- these are words, if you will. This is not the ground shifting and a seismic jump to a positive conclusion here.

But it does seem to indicate, from where we were a few days ago, which was an impasse, which was really this threat of ground forces will go in if there's no hostages handed over, go into Rafah if no hostages are handed over by Ramadan.

Of course, the defense ministers still saying we're preparing for the talks where -- for the torques to progress. But at the same time, we're also preparing for the IDF to go into Rafah if necessary.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Nic, there's already been strikes reported in Rafah ahead of this sort of announced ground incursion, imminent ground incursion. What does the situation look like there now?

ROBERTSON: Yes. There have been airstrikes into Rafah for some time and they're happening with deadly effect.

For example, one of the most prominent doctors in Gaza, with his family, was killed when an airstrike hit their temporary accommodation because they'd moved from the north of Gaza.

He was the Dean at the University for the School of Nursing in Gaza, a significant figure. His daughter was a prominent and rising human rights lawyer. So the civilian casualties continue to mount in Raffa from airstrikes.


Now the IDF say that they are targeting Hamas targets as they become apparent from intelligence and aerial surveillance inside Rafah. A ground offensive would really look different to what we've seen so far.

That 1.5 million, almost, Palestinians who are living right up against the border there with -- with Egypt would really feel that they have no place to run, no hard and good shelter as yet that's been offered by the Israeli government, a safe place to go. That hasn't been told to them yet. So a ground incursion could look awfully different from those -- those

airstrikes that we've seen so far. You would be seeing ground forces going into Rafah and takes and a lot of heavy artillery likely, and airstrikes to support that.

SANCHEZ: Nic Robertson, thank you so much, from Tel Aviv with the very latest.

Coming up, a Texas student had been suspended for months over his locs hairstyle, and a judge just ruled on whether his high school is breaking the law by suspending him. The decision, next.

And a Michigan father has become the first-person charge under the state's new gun storage law. The details of the case, the punishment he could face after a quick break.



SANCHEZ: We're following news just into CNN. An important story that we've been keeping track of. A Texas judge has ruled that a school can restrict the length of a student's natural hair.

DEAN: So this case centered on high school junior in the Houston area, named Darryl George, who had been suspended for months over the length of his locs hairstyle.

Let's go straight to CNN's Rosa Flores, who's following this case for us.

Rosa, what just happened?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a press conference -- it's still happening behind me. This is a press conference that the Darryl George family and supporters and attorney are holding. So that's happening behind me.

What just happened inside the courtroom is what I want to talk to you about right now, because that tells you more about why and how this judge made this determination.

During this proceeding, during this trial, the judge really homed in on the actual language of the Crown Act. Now that is the state law that prohibits hair discrimination.

And I want to give you a few examples because it'll tell you -- give you a sense of what happened inside.

While one of the witnesses was testifying -- and this is a witness who's also the co-author of the Crown Act, State Representative Ron Reynolds. He was asked by the judge, does the act actually say length? Does it talk about the length of the hair? And he said, no.

And then while there was cross-examination, the plaintiffs asked Reynolds if it was possible to wear locs and still be in compliance of the school policy, and his response was, it's possible, but it's not likely.

And the judge came back to that specific exchange and asked him later, the judge said, quote, "You said earlier that it might be impractical, but that you could still do to it, that you could still be in compliance. Reynolds said, I said, "likely." The judge replied, "but possible."

Now, later in the preceding, Representative Reynolds went back and said, quote, "It's impossible to be compliant with the policy and wear that hairstyle.

Now, Darryl George, the 18-year-old, who has been suspended for months now because of this whole policy, his attorney argued in court that this policy is unconstitutional on the basis of race and gender.

Take a listen.


KANSAS MATTHEWS, STATE CHAIR, TEXAS COALITION OF BLACK DEMOCRATS: You can feel the sense of anger. You can feel the sense of confusion. You can feel -- even with Darryl.

Darryl made this statement and told me the straight up with tears in his eyes, "All because of my hair, I can't get my education because of my hair. I cannot be around other peers and enjoy my junior year because of my hair."


FLORES: Now, during the press conference, such you are seeing behind me, we also learned that that representative, the co-author of the law, says that he plans to re-introduce another version of the Crown Act to make sure that it incorporates length so that students like Darryl George are not discriminated in the classroom.

And his attorney also said that she plans to appeal -- Boris, Jessica?

SANCHEZ: Rosa Flores, thank you so much for the update from Texas.

Now to some of the other headlines we're watching this hour.

A Michigan father has become the first person charged under a new safe storage gun law. Prosecutors say that his 2-year-old daughter shot herself in the face. She is alive, though in critical condition in a hospital.

Michael Tolbert is also facing charges of child abuse, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and lying to police officer. He's pleaded not guilty to those charges. The shooting happened just a day after the state's new law took effect.

DEAN: Also, the boyfriend of a Los Angeles ballerina arrested in Russia on treason charges tells CNN she had no fear before returning to Russia for the first time in years.



CHRIS VAN HEERDEN, BOYFRIEND OF KSENIA KARELINA: And I remember the last hour before all of this happened, was she was so excited and relieved that nothing is wrong and you can go home.

And it was a Friday morning, near Russia, which means it was Thursday night here. I went to bed and I woke up the next morning and I never heard back from her.


DEAN: Ksenia Karelina, a dual U.S.-Russian citizen, is accused of donating $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the U.S. That is according to the Californias spa where she worked. If found guilty in Russia, she could face possibly 20 years in prison.

And there's a new obstacle to getting married if you live in Tennessee. Republican Governor Bill Lee has signed a bill that allows people in the state to refuse to (INAUDIBLE) or perform a marriage if they disagree with it.

Critics argue the new law equates to a rollback of progress by the LGBTQ community. One legal advocate telling -- telling CNN the bill is unconstitutional and, quote, "Public officials don't get to assume public office and then pick and choose which members of the public to serve."

New details on some alarming incidents involving the Biden family dog, Commander. Newly released -- revealed records, rather, describes dozens of attacks resulting in ripped clothes to significant blood loss. We'll have more on that after the break.



SANCHEZ: A series of attacks against Secret Service agents has forced the Biden's to send their beloved dog, Commander, away. But newly obtained documents reviewed by CNN give a clearer picture of just how problematic the German Shepherd had become.

The documents describe unprovoked attacks and aggressive behavior towards Secret Service personnel and other White House staffers.

Now, this photo shows a ripped shirt after the dog apparently jumped on an agent, causing two small lacerations. There was another instance that involved an agent who actually bled quite a bit and ultimately needed stitches.

DEAN: The report states Commander ran and bit the agent in the left forearm causing a severe deep open wound. The agent threatened to lose a significant amount of blood.

A source close to the Biden family says the family feels awful and is heartbroken about all of it.

It's sad.

Let's discuss with Brandon McMillan, a dog trainer and three-time Emmy-winning host of "Lucky Dog." He's also the author of "The Story of Your Dog."

Brandon, of course, pets are a first-family tradition. The Biden's have this German Shepherd. They had another one, Major, who also left the White House. What would you recommend in this situation?

BRANDON MCMILLAN, HOST, "LUCKY DOG" & AUTHOR: Well, I mean, you have to understand, German Shepherds historically were bred to be one of the best working dogs on the planet.

You're talking about an animal that it's mind and body is built solely for work. So when you put the dog in a situation, but it's not working, it's probably going to have behavioral issues.

So we'll start there. The history of the dog is very important.

SANCHEZ: Yes, absolutely. And the White House is such a strange circumstance for a dog like that, too. There are a lot of strangers coming and going. Many of them Secret Service agents who are stoic, not necessarily friendly, and also having to enforce strict rules around the grounds of the White House.

So if you have a dog that's kind of wandering, you can imagine a scenario where the dog maybe wants to go a certain place because it's curious and a Secret Service agent intervening may not be received well by the dog.

What do you think about the circumstance that Commander was in?

MCMILLAN: Well, I mean, like I said, it's the wrong environment for the dog. See, in the rescue world, we have a very simple rule. You always pair the dog with his family according to their lifestyle and what the dog's personality is.

In this case, it sounds like it was the wrong situation for the dog because, again, this is a working dog and it was not given a job every day. They tried to put a working dog into a family style, like a pet environment. it's not going to work.

If they -- the White House, it's chaotic. There's hundreds of people there all day long. There's no -- there's no consistency. There's no structure. It's the wrong place for a dog like this.

And the proof is in the pudding when you have 24 incidences. We have 24 bites. That right there says at all.

To put that -- to put this in perspective, any other dog in the country that bit 24 times, they would have been euthanized after the first two bites. This dog was lucky it was owned by the president of United States because that's why it's not euthanized right now. So to Biden's credit, yes, they did the right thing. They re-homed the

dog. But the reality is, this dog was in the wrong environment from the get-go, the White House.

I mean, everybody wants to have a dog, of course, but it is a chaotic environment and most dogs do not -- are not built that sort of environment.

DEAN: Yes, and it sounds like you're really seeing it, and you are, you got to match the dog with the environment that they are going to be. And maybe, maybe like a lap dog or something like that at the White House.

There was also some reports that Commander was one time fighting -- kind of fighting his leash as the first lady struggled to keep control of him. Certainly, they've done an enormous amount of training with Commander.

But is there a point, to your point, where it's just like nature over nurture? It's just kind of how these dogs are built?


MCMILLAN: Yes, 100 percent. You know, I talk about this extensively in my new book. I -- what I do as I talk about the history of breeds and what they were originally bred for.

And suddenly, in the last hundred years, we got rid of all those jobs and we turned them into pets. We said, now we're going to go to work for eight hours a day, sit there, be quiet and don't move for eight hours.

It goes against the laws of nature, what the animal was originally bred for. This dog was not bred to be a pet. It was not bred to sit there in an environment obediently for eight hours a day. It was bred to work.

There are two lines of a German Shepherd, OK? There are the working line and the companion line. The working line is what you see the military and police have. The companion line is what typically we have as pets.

If I had to guess -- I haven't met this dog. But if I had to guess, this was not a companion line. It was a working line German Shepherd, which means it was not meant to be in the White House unless it was there strictly for security.

SANCHEZ: Brandon McMillan, appreciate the perspective. Thanks for joining us.

MCMILLAN: Thanks for having me on.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

There was a massive outage today for AT&T and it may have been a serious wakeup call for people who really love their phones. We're going to look into what caused this meltdown that impacted tens of thousands of AT&T customers in the next hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL.