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IDF Rescues Four Israeli Hostages From Gaza Refugee Camp; Gaza Officials: At Least 236 Killed In IDF Hostage Rescue; Protest In Israel Demand Deal To Bring Home All Hostages; U.S. Official: U.S. Used Intel To Aid Israel In Hostage Rescue; Biden Praises Israeli Rescue Operation Of Four Hostages; Blinken Going To Middle East Next Week To Push Ceasefire Talks; Biden To End Trip To France With Military Cemetery Visit; Biden Affirms Close Alliance With France At State Dinner; Ex-Wife, Former Sister-In-Law Both Witnesses In Hunter Biden Case; ISIS-K Threat Prompts Extra Security For India Vs. Pakistan Match; Caitlin Clark Left Off Team USA Roster For Paris Olympics. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired June 09, 2024 - 06:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to CNN THIS MORNING. It is Sunday, June 9th. I'm Victor Blackwell.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Amara Walker. Here's what we're working on for you this good morning. It is the first full day of freedom in eight months for four Israelis taken hostage during the brutal Hamas attack last October. The new information about the deadly military operation to rescue them and how the U.S. played a role in it.

BLACKWELL: President Biden is wrapping up a five-day visit to France that included commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day in a lavish state dinner. His visit to a military cemetery today and what he says about America's relationship with its oldest ally ahead in a report from France.

WALKER: And a catastrophic landslide closest part of a critical highway linking Idaho and Wyoming indefinitely. The investigation happening right now, that's a little later.

BLACKWELL: And a massive show of force expected in Nassau County, New York today, as terrorist target a key match in the Cricket World Cup on Long Island.

About the rescue of four hostages from a refugee camp in Gaza. But there are questions about the Israeli operation to get the hostages back, as well as about the number of Palestinians reportedly killed.

The four former hostages are said to be in good medical condition this morning after more than eight months in captivity. But they were taken to hospitals for medical exams. So, more to come on that. That's where many were reunited with their families. Now, the IDF released video showing some of the emotional moments. WALKER: Yes, very emotional. Those happy, of course, reunions are contrasted by the reaction coming out of Gaza. Israel carried out heavy airstrikes and shelling in central Gaza during the hostage operation. One witness called it hell on earth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): A crazy bombardment started hitting everywhere. Something we never witnessed before. Maybe 150 rockets fell in less than 10 minutes, while we were running away more fell on the market.

There are children torn apart and scattered in the streets. They wiped out Nuseirat. It is hell on earth.


WALKER: Hospital officials in Gaza say at least 236 Palestinians were killed and more than 400 injured. The IDF says the number killed was less than 100. CNN cannot verify the numbers on either side.

On the streets of Tel Aviv, clashes between demonstrators and police. Thousands protested across Israel -- across Israel despite the hostage rescue. They're demanding the government do more to bring home all of the hostages. Many are also calling for new elections to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

BLACKWELL: We have team coverage on this, this morning. Ben Wedeman is standing by in Beirut. We're starting with Elliott Gotkine, though. Elliot, hello to you. Do we know anything about the conditions of the hostages now?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN REPORTER: Victor, as you mentioned, the hospital said yesterday they are in pretty good physical condition. We just heard a few moments ago, we spoke with the families and missing -- the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, excuse me, telling us that they were, in their words, relatively good psychological and physical states. But let's not forget, there are more test, as you say, to come. They have been in captivity for some eight months, and no doubt more information will come out.

In terms of the hostages in their -- in terms of their individual stories, of course, Noa Argamani, the 25 woman who became kind of the face of the October the 7th atrocities that she was sped weigh on a motorbike, pleading for her life as her boyfriend was frog marched away as well by Hamas militants. She, I suppose, has become one -- more iconic figures. She was reunited with her father. And it was actually her father's birthday as well. So that was a birthday present.

And I suppose at the same time there was another side story there, which is that her mother, who was also a Chinese citizen, has been suffering and is suffering from terminal brain cancer. And her dying wish, she has repeatedly been begging over the last few months, including to President Biden to bring her daughter home so that she could see her daughter before she died. And now she has -- had that dying wish granted.


So, very emotional scenes there. In terms of the other hostages, we had Shlomi Ziv, who was a security -- was a security guard at the Nova Music Festival when he was kidnapped. He lives on an agricultural settlement with his wife. He has been there for 17 years.

There was also Andrey Kozlov, a 27-year-old Israeli, also a Russian citizen. He had only moved to Israel several months earlier. He was also working as a security guard. And his family flew in from Russia. They arrived today, so they only reunited today after his rescue.

And I suppose the other final story, the fourth hostage, who was rescued, also very bittersweet for him. This is Almog Meir Jan, a 22- year-old was due to start a job in hi-tech the day after he was kidnapped. So, he was rescued as well yesterday. But when the IDF went to the home of his father to tell him the news, they found that he had died that very same day. His wife telling -- excuse me, his sister telling Israeli media that he died of grief.

And I suppose overall, despite the joy and the euphoria for these particular families and their loved ones that they are finally home safe in Israel, many of them were saying directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you know, it's great, it's wonderful, they're unbelievably appreciative of these, you know, efforts made to bring their loved ones home.

But let's not forget, there are still 116 Israelis remaining in captivity in Gaza. About a third of whom are believed to be dead. And it is imperative to do a deal or to find a way to bring them home.

So, as I said, euphoria for the individuals and their families. Some bittersweet moments as well for them. But the overall, amid the overall joy, still not forgetting that there are still many more in captivity who still need to be brought home. Victor, Amara.

WALKER: Bittersweet moments, indeed. Elliott Gotkine, thank you for that.

Let's go now to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Beirut. Ben, tell us more about what you're hearing regarding this rescue operation that happened inside the Nuseirat refugee camp.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Keep in mind this is a refugee camp, Amara and Victor, was full of people because many of them had come from the area of Rafah where the Israelis are currently conducting an offensive, a town that's, basically, now a ghost town. Everybody has left. And so, many of the people who were killed yesterday in Nuseirat were, in fact, coming from that area.

Now, we've just received the latest numbers from the Gaza ministry of health who say that yesterday's death toll from that Israeli operation was 274 with 698 wounded. That brings the death toll since the 7th of October -- in October -- in Gaza, according to the ministry of health there, to 37,084. Now, yesterday, the scenes in the hospital, were absolute pandemonium. Lots of wounded women and children. The morgues were full. They ended up having to put the dead simply on the pavement outside.

We did speak to one doctor at one of those hospitals in central Gaza who told us that yesterday was the worst day of his entire professional career, which is something given what people in Gaza have seen over the last eight months. So, there is anger in Gaza and there is a feeling that certainly, once again, this shows just the completely different worlds Israelis and Gazans live in.

Israelis yesterday, obviously, very happy with the news of the release -- of the freeing of these four hostages. But for Palestinians yesterday was probably one of the bloodiest Israeli assaults since -- since this war began. Amara, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Two very different perspectives there. Ben Wedeman for us in Beirut. Thank you, Ben. We've also learned that the U.S. helped the IDF prepare for this mission.

WALKER: A U.S. official says, that while there were no American boots on the ground, the U.S. offered Israel intelligence support. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez has more.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: The United States, on Saturday, commending Israel for its rescue of four hostages with President Biden welcoming the news alongside the French president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to echo President Macron's comments welcoming the safe rescue of four hostages that were returned to their families in Israel. We won't stop working until all the hostages come home and a ceasefire is reached. That is essential to happen.


ALVAREZ: A U.S. official tells CNN that an American cell in Israel supported the rescue efforts, working with Israeli forces. That in reference to a team that has been assisting Israel since October 7 to information gather on hostages. But a source also confirming to CNN that there were no U.S. boots on the ground in this mission.


Now, of course, the U.S. has been pushing for a hostage deal that would also include a ceasefire in Gaza. President Biden himself outlining that three-phase proposal that, again, would include the release of all hostages, and a temporary ceasefire, and potentially a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

In fact, just this week, U.S. and 16 other countries urged Hamas to close -- to quote -- "close the deal." Just another example of the ongoing pressure by the United States. Senior U.S. officials have also been back to the region to try to give more traction to those talks. And while it's still unclear where those talks will lead, the U.S., at the very least on Saturday, commending Israel and applauding what they called a successful operation.

Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, Washington.

WALKER: All right. Let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, and Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst. Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

Colonel, let's start with you, and I'm struck by a couple of things. The first thing that Hamas was holding these hostages inside of a refugee camp. The second, the high number of civilian casualties, though those numbers we cannot verify here at CNN, but over 200 is the word from Gaza officials. Israeli officials have the number at about half.

Could this operation have been successful without this number, this high number of civilian casualties?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Amara, good morning. It depends on a variety of different factors. But generally speaking, by initial impression is that yes, it could have been successful with far fewer civilian casualties.

I think one of the problems that the Israelis had was that it appears that the hostages were actually held in private homes, at least for part of the time during which they were being held captive, and that presents some other difficult problems when you're going into -- conduct a hostage rescue operation. So, that might have exacerbated this civilian count. Plus, of course, there was a lot of firepower the Israelis were using, and that should have probably been a lot -- a lot less to achieve the same end.

WALKER: You know, as this unfolded yesterday, we were live on the air as we learned about the rescue of these hostages, Peter. And of course, we were also anticipating an announcement from Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet member, Benny Gantz, about his resignation. And then of course, the news came that the four hostages were rescued. Then that news conference was postponed.

And then Benjamin Netanyahu called on Benny Gantz not to withdraw. That right now is a time for unity. What do you make of this and why does Netanyahu need Benny Gantz?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Amara, I think, you know, it's a parliamentary system in Israel, so you need as many people in your cabinet, you know, as possible. He doesn't have a huge sort of majority.

Benny Gantz is a very popular figure. And, you know, Benny Gantz is also -- you know, basically, I think, quite rightly said Netanyahu needs to have a plan for the day after in Gaza that goes beyond just saying we don't really have a plan.

I also want to return to what kind of Leighton was saying. Look, if this -- if this was a U.S. special operations raid there's -- you know, think about the Osama bin Laden raid. The Obama administration debated at what to do for literally months. And one of their big considerations was dropping -- a bomb on the compound would kill a lot of people in the city, in Abbottabad.

Think about -- also the Trump administration also debated for many, many weeks about killing the leader of ISIS in 2019 in Syria. Also, with the issue of civilian casualties.

And I don't -- Colonel Leighton can correct me. I don't think there's a universe where the U.S. special operations would have approved this raid with this level of casualties, whether it's 100, as the Israeli say, or 270 as we've just learned from Ben Wedeman. Clearly, it's an unacceptably large number of casualties.

You know, it's great that the hostages were returned but I don't see a world in which this -- which the U.S. special operations community would have gone forward with its raid, knowing having this level of potential number of casualties.

WALKER: Do you agree Colonel Leighton?

LEIGHTON: I do. I agree totally with what Peter just said because -- he's right when it comes to the planning for these kinds of operations, U.S. Special Forces are very, very meticulous. And one of the key things is to avoid those civilian casualties.

WALKER: Colonel Leighton, what about the U.S.'s role in this? I mean, we heard there from Priscilla Alvarez's reporting, you know, that the U.S. was, obviously, involved with the intelligence. But what more do you know or presumed in terms of how much the U.S. was involved in this?

LEIGHTON: Well, what it sounds based on Priscilla's reporting and some other reports, Amara, it sounds like this was an intelligence fusion cell that was set up in the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.


That is a very standard practice when we're helping a country with specific military operations. We do it in countries in Asia, other countries in the Middle East. I have done it in Latin America in the past.

So, these are the kinds of things that we do where we bring together or fuse the intelligence, help them, the host country, look at that intelligence, added to their own intelligence. So, this seems to be that same kind of operation. And it's a multi-agency affair include -- just -- not just the military, but also the intelligence agencies and other elements that are necessary for that particular situation.

WALKER: Peter, before we go, as you know Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be heading back to the mid-east this week. I think it's going to be his eighth trip, obviously, to put pressure on both sides to, you know, get a deal, a ceasefire, a peace deal. What changes on the ground include -- especially the dynamics when Blinken lands? BERGEN: Yes. I mean, the people who know the answer to that question are very limited group of people. You know -- I mean, yes, I think President Biden laid out the only plan which is the three-phase plan, you know, having some hostages released in the first six weeks, that getting to the second tranche of hostages that include male Israeli soldiers, and then getting to a final kind of deal where you begin to start reconstruction.

There's no other deal that is on the table. That is the Israeli deal, by the way, Biden announced it, that it's the Israeli deal. And it's pretty close to the deal that Hamas was looking for just a few weeks ago. So, that is the deal.

You know, the question is, you know, there -- Sinwar, the leader of Hamas, has some reason to keep fighting because every dead -- dead Palestinian helps his cause (ph) at least in his mind. But, you know, we can only hope that on this eighth trip that Secretary Blinken, you know, gets everybody to, you know, begin to agree because there's no other plan. There's no other -- unless you're just going to fight this war, you know, indefinitely. This is, I think, the only way out.

WALKER: Peter Bergen, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: Still to come, President Joe Biden is in France on a state visit. And today he'll visit the American cemetery honoring World War I troops. So, live report from France is next. Plus, now that the prosecution has rested in Hunter Bidens gun trial, we'll take a look at the tangled backstory of these pretty unusual charges.

And ISIS-K has threatened the Men's T20 Cricket World Cup in New York. We'll take a look at the security measures to protect the players and the spectators.



WALKER: President Biden wraps up his state visit to France today following a string of formal events with French president Emmanuel Macron, Saturday. Biden called his visit to France the most remarkable trip as he showed off the close ties with one of Washington's closest allies.

BLACKWELL: Well, before they return home, President Biden and the first lady, will lay a wreath at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery today. Thousands of American soldiers who died in France during World War I are buried there.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Kayla Tausche is live in Paris. So, Kayla, what else did the president had to say about this trip?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor and Amara. Last night, the president praised the close ties of the U.S. and France. He said that France helped the U.S. secure its freedom in 1776 and the U.S. repaid the favor 170 years later at the end of World War II. He said he was touched by the memorials that took place here in France this week. And really touched by the warmth and the dignity with which President Macron and the first lady in France memorialized American veterans in this country. But he said, in his toast last night, that with populism on the rise at home and autocracy on the rise overseas that he reiterated, once again, that he believes the world is at an inflection point. Here's the president last night.


BIDEN: Generation after generation, people across both our nations have upheld these ideals because they know, when we stand as one, our countries are stronger and, literally, the world is safer.

Emmanuel, you've heard me say it before. We stand at an inflection point in history. The decisions we make now will determine the course of our future for decades to come.


TAUSCHE: The ideals he was referencing there being liberty, equality, and brotherhood, the founding principles of the French republic. Now where domestic politics are concerned, the White House believes that it's communicating just as much through what the president does as what he says. That's why it's so symbolic that he's going to be visiting Aisne-Marne Cemetery in just a few hours today, located outside Paris, where thousands of Americans who died during World War I here in France are buried.

Notably his predecessor and current opponent, former President Donald Trump, declined to visit the cemetery during a visit in 2018. At the time citing weather concerns, and later reporting revealed that he said that the people who are buried there, he described them, according to his aides, as losers.

The Biden campaign releasing two ads slamming Trump's record on the military, in particular. And so, Biden himself is going to seek to establish a contrast with that when he visits that very cemetery himself, Victor and Amara.


BLACKWELL: Kayla Tausche for us in Paris. Thank you, Kayla.

The Hunter Biden gun trial is reaching a critical point. Big question here, will Hunter Biden take the stand? Or rather should he take the stand? We'll discuss, next.


WALKER: As Hunter Biden's historical trial resumes tomorrow, one quick key question looms over the proceedings. Will the first son take the stand? Hunter Biden struggles with drug addiction were a central focus last week with federal prosecutors trying to prove their claim that he lied about using drugs when he bought a gun in October 2018.


BLACKWELL: Jurors heard emotional and at times salacious testimony from a range of witnesses, including Hunter Biden's ex-wife, and former sister-in-law with whom he also had a romantic relationship. They testified that they found drug paraphernalia and they urged him to get help. And in his sister-in-law's case, how she got rid of the gun at the center of this trial. But none was able to definitively say if he was on drugs at the time as alleged by the special counsel.

Well, Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to three charges of illegally purchasing and possessing a gun while abusing drugs. They were filed by the Justice Department after a plea deal fell apart last summer.

Let's bring in now civil rights attorney and legal commentator Areva Martin. Areva, good morning to you. Let's talk about this testimony because it was very emotional and could be critical here. How effective do you think Naomi Biden's testimony was? She is Hunter Biden's eldest daughter and she testified that her father seemed good around the time in 2018 when this is all happening, probably the best you'd seen him since her Uncle Beau died in 2015. Does it matter much that to her she see he seemed good? What's the relevance here? If there is also this evidence of contemporary -- contemporary evidence of drug use around the time generally.

AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Yes, I think that's the issue in this case as you put it so well, Victor, is there's a lot of evidence that's been introduced about his overall addiction and about his drug use during the general period, but there wasn't any evidence produced by the prosecution, no photographs, no text messages, no eyewitnesses that could say that on the date in question when this form was completed, when signature was made, and the gun purchased, that Hunter Biden was addicted to drugs or some kind of unlawful or controlled substance, and that could be a problem the jury.

And another thing, Victor, that could be a real problem for this jury is the fact that the day or the day after that Hunter Biden was indicted, a conservative panel of judges in Louisiana for the fifth circuit, they determined that the law that is being used here is unconstitutional as it related to an individual that was charged and convicted and he was found to have been using marijuana at the time that he bought a gun.

So, there's some real legal issues in this case. So, even if there is a conviction, I believe that there's going to be a substantial chance on appeal for Hunter Biden to prevail.

BLACKWELL: There's also no underlying crime or attached to another crime, armed robbery or burglary, the use of the gun. It was in his possession for 11 days and then it was disposed of. The relevance of this being the only charge.

MARTIN: Yes, it's really significant. And we've heard, Victor, from the head of the office, the office -- the prosecuting office that assistance -- U.S. Assistant Attorney's Office that's filed these cases -- well, this is a special counsel, but the office that used to would have been in charge, I should say, of filing this case. And they said they never would have filed a case like this when you didn't have, as you just said, someone who was a felon at the time that the gun was purchased or someone, you know, who did not commit a felony or even use the gun as in the case of Hunter Biden.

So, this is very unusual. Prosecution cases like this aren't typically filed and particularly in this jurisdiction. And you know, there is something called jury nullification, Victor, where jury decides that this law is unjust or this prosecution is unjust. So, we may see that happen in this case. I would say that to the extent there's any case that would be a good candidate for jury nullification, it is this case.

BLACKWELL: And all the emotion we're seeing from the witnesses might play into that as well. Let me ask you the big question here. Prosecutors rested their case on Friday. We heard from the first few defense witnesses. Do you think that Hunter Biden should testify? And then I'll couple that with do you think he will?

MARTIN: I don't think he will and I don't think he should. I think his team has done a good job of, you know, cross-examining the witnesses that have been put on by the prosecution of, you know, really personalizing Hunter Biden, telling the story in a way that I think pretty much every jury, every juror can identify with so many Americans suffer from addiction. So many Americans have individuals in their family who have gone through are going through the same thing that Hunter Biden went through.

And when you look at the fact that no crime was committed, he only had the gun 11 days, he wasn't a felony he has no prior, you know, felony or criminal background, I think it's going to be really hard on the basis of what has been put forth today for this jury to find him guilty.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll watch as testimony resumes. Areva Martin, thank you.


WALKER: Security will be tight today for the India-Pakistan T20 Cricket World Cup match following an ISIS-K threat. Coming up, a look at the measures New York is taking to keep the event safe.



BLACKWELL: Some headlines for you now. Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters rallied outside the White House to condemn the Biden Administration's response to military strikes on Gaza. They stretched a massive red banner around the White House to symbolize what they say is a red line for President Biden's support of Israel.

WALKER: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has agreed to testify before Congress following Donald Trump's conviction in New York on all 34 felony charges of falsifying business records. In a letter to Congressman Jim Jordan, Bragg said he would work with the House Judiciary Committee to set a date and understand the purpose of his testimony. But Bragg indicated any testimony would only come after Trump is sentenced next month. Republicans have railed against the convictions and attempted to discredit the verdicts as they try to defend Trump.

BLACKWELL: Well, local officials are calling a catastrophic landslide has closed an important highway between Idaho and Wyoming. A section of the road collapsed yesterday. Look at this. Crews had tried to to fix a crack that initially appeared Thursday, but the road still collapsed. The good news is no one was hurt but crews are now at the scene trying to figure out how long the road will have to stay closed.

New York officials are ramping up security for today's India versus Pakistan cricket match in Nassau County because of threats from an ISIS-linked group targeting the game.

WALKER: Yes, the terror group issued the threat earlier this year followed by more specific warnings and even references to a viral video calling for lone wolf attacks. CNN's Gloria Pazmino is joining us now from Nassau County International Cricket Stadium. Tell us more about these threats and the security that's in place, Gloria.

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Amara, it is a massive security operation here this morning, as you said, following that alleged threat that police officials here in Nasau County have been on watch for. This is one of the largest security operations here in Nassau County for the Cricket World Cup.

And we have been watching since early this morning as all of the staff, the people that are coming into this event to work have been going through security. Everybody is getting screened, bags are checked, K-9s are brought in. And I actually -- I do have the po police commissioner who is joining us live right now.

Thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.


PAZMINO: Talk to me about the state of the threat. Where are we as of this morning as we prepare for this big game?

RYDER: So, we received the secondary one that was more generic in as far as the threat goes, asking lone wolves to do and stand up against the -- this event. We are prepared for it. We've been preparing for six months. We have extra resources that are out there today. And we got a great partnership with the State Police, FBI, all of our state and local partners.

PAZMINO: What is your message to the people that are coming out here today to watch this game in terms of their safety and that everything here is going to go as planned?

RYDER: Always concerned about alcohol because it doesn't help me. But I will tell you, I want you to come and have a great time, but also be of your own situation awareness. Know where you're standing, know where you're -- where you're around. And if you see something, call us. Let us come in and inspect it.

PAZMINO: And talk a little bit about some of what we're seeing here. I've been watching K-9 units, bag checks, metal detectors, the cars are being swept, mounted police, some of the all the different layers that we can't -- that we see. The ones that we can't see, talk about that.

RYDER: So, in the world of security, we have layers, layers of protection. So, it starts outward. It's outside the park, outside by the coliseum, by the parking venue. Then as you start to come in, we tighten the security. Right now, when you come through here every car gets inspected if they come in the park. We will physically inspect it. We'll scan everyone.

We do radiological detection and we also do the physical inspections. Everybody must go through a magnetometer to come in today, as you guys did today as you came inside. Your camera gets inspected. We got to make sure that nothing comes inside the environment that can hurt anybody.

PAZMINO: Thank you very much, Commissioner. I appreciate it. And Victor, Amara, you know as I send it back, I also have to be -- mention just what a big day this is for the sport of cricket for the South Asian Community here in New York. This is the second biggest sport watched by millions of people around the world, so also a really big moment for the South Asian Community for this sport. And hopefully, everything set to go as planned here today. Victor, Amara?

BLACKWELL: Gloria Pazmino, thank you very much.

Well, she's already one of the most recognizable players in the WNBA, one of the best in college ball, but Caitlin Clark likely will not be representing the U.S. Women's Basketball at the Paris Olympics. Coming up, why so many are calling this a terrible decision.



WALKER: The U.S. Women's Basketball Team's Olympic roster has been leaked. And to the surprise of many, WNBA Superstar Caitlin Clark has been left off the roster. The WNBA has been around for nearly 30 years but Caitlin Clark's debut has propelled the league to new heights. More than 20,000 fans showed up to watch her and the Indiana Fever play the Washington Mystics on Friday. That is the largest for any WNBA game since 2007.

Now, the roster is expected to include WNBA stars and past Olympic Champions Brittney Griner and five-time gold medalist Diana Taurasi. Every player has international experience and most are former Olympians. Still, some see Clark's exclusion as a snub.

Joining me now is USA Today Columnist and CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan with a very strong opinion. Good to see you, Christine. Let me just read a portion of your opinion on this in USA Today. And you close that article by saying, I've seen some bad team and athlete selection decisions in the 40 years I've covered the Olympics, but this is the worst by far. Then again, we probably shouldn't be surprised. As we've known for years, the last amateurs left in the Olympic games are the people running them.

Wow. OK, we know where you stand. Tell me more. Why should Caitlin Clark have made the cut?


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well, she has played on international teams as a younger play player so she certainly has international experience, not Olympics of course. But Caitlin Clark has taken the nation by storm. This isn't just a story of a basketball player obviously. Everyone who's watching us knows her name, arguably the most popular athlete in the country male or female right now. Obviously, people can argue about that as they can argue about anything with Caitlin Clark. But she has just been a terrific role model and a huge name in the sport, and as you mentioned, the attendance, the TV ratings, records in the NCAA, records in the WNBA.

And my point that I make in that column in USA Today is simply this. Whatever you think about her, guaranteed if she's on the Olympic Team, she will bring eyeballs. And I've covered -- I started in kindergarten, but I started -- covered the Olympics for 40 years and -- since '84 in L.A. I've covered, reported on the Women's Basketball Team every Olympics in some way or other. And I've covered at least five of gold medal matches of the women's team, Amara. And the Press Tribune is basically tumbleweeds.

I'll be there, a couple of other reporters, and what the problem is, is this team is too good for their own good according to many of my male sports writer colleagues who don't want to cover them. And this has been happening throughout the decades. They just do not get the attention they deserve. They are great players but they win all the time. They last lost in 1992. The most dominant team in the world is the women's basketball team from the U.S.

WALKER: It is.

BRENNAN: Better than any team and yet they don't get the coverage. Well, guess what. You put Caitlin Clark on that team and everyone is watching, and all the players would get the attention, the coverage, the headlines that they so richly deserve.

WALKER: So, is your argument then based on the fact that Clark is just an international sensation, that she's so popular versus merit? And I guess the follow-up would be, well, what talent would you bring to the team that's not there now?

BRENNAN: Certainly, a three-point shooter, which we know Caitlin Clark is that, is always, always coveted in international basketball. And she -- I was at the game the other day in Washington, that one that you mentioned that first time in seven -- the biggest crowd in 17 years in the WNBA. She had seven three-pointers electrifying the crowd. It's extraordinary. It's magic. It's like the highwire act at the circus. I'm not saying other players aren't great, but what she brings to the table is grandma, you know, and grandpa in the produce section, you know, who don't watch sports, they'll tune in for her. But you asked about merit, and I went through the statistics, they're in that column. And in several categories, Caitlin Clark is ahead of Diana Taurasi.

We can go apples and oranges, we can go category by category, but it is not -- the notion that it would be some kind of gift or P.R. play, that is a huge piece of the conversation. Caitlin Clark is good. And I think over the last couple weeks in the WNBA there's been this this idea that she's not playing well. She's playing really well. She is getting statistically the toughest defense of any player in the WNBA, any player.

So, I would make the case she's the most important and focused on player in the WNBA at 22 in her first month. She was the Rookie of the Month. She is leading or close to the lead in several statistical categories, fourth in assists, second and three-pointers made. Again, better than Taurasi, better than a couple of other women who are going to be on the team. So, that argument about merit, you have to really push that aside because on merit, you can make the case she deserves to be on the team.

WALKER: Great. You know, I was just going to ask you before we go who you would replace then if -- because you would have to make room for Caitlin Clark, but I think you just, you know, somewhat answered that question.

Well, we're going to have to leave it there. Christine Brennan, thanks for the conversation.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Amara.

BLACKWELL: Anti-government protesters blocked roads in Tel Aviv's Democracy Square. They're calling for the release of all of the hostages in Gaza and a ceasefire deal. We'll have details at the top of the hour.



BLACKWELL: Wildfires, I have covered a lot of them. They are fast and deadly disasters. CNN's "ORIGINAL SERIES VIOLENT EARTH" with Liev Schreiber takes a look at if there is a way to protect homes and families. Here's a look.


LIEV SCHREIBER, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: Paradise California burned from an ember attack from a plume miles away from Paradise.

This is like 9:00 in the morning and it's pitch black. Given the smoke, it almost appeared as though it was the middle of the night and it was snowing. Ash and embers began to rain down. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in the middle of a (BLEEP) firestorm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it safe to stand here like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know it's safe anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fire was moving at a football field per second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out! Watch out!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the way it did that of course was by jumping ahead and starting these fires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They would immediately take hold and rapidly grow into it 100 acre, 200-acre spot fire. That was happening all through town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That resulted in the town starting to burn all at once.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 30,000 people were trying to be evacuated while being overrun by fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go forward and turn around. Turn around and go north. Turn around and go north. This is bad.


BLACKWELL: The CNN "ORIGINAL SERIES VIOLENT EARTH" with Liev Schreiber airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.