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Isa Soares Tonight

U.N. Warns Of Famine In Gaza; Funeral For Late Navalny Set for Friday In Moscow; Ghana's Parliament Passes Anti-LGBTQ Law; Senate Republican Leader McConnell Will Relinquish His Position; Hunter Biden's Closed-Door Deposition With U.S. Lawmakers As Part Of Impeachment Inquiry; 2024 U.S. Election; Michigan Primary Voted Biden And Trump Winners; Destructive Wildfires Spreading Throughout Texas Panhandle; Smokehouse Creek Fire: Texas History's Second-Largest Fire; Thousands Of People Flee Australian Bushfire; U.S.-Iran Relations; Escalating Worries Of An American-Iranian Conflict; Odysseus Mission To The Moon; Odysseus Lunar Lander Getting Ready To Sleep; NASA And Intuitive Machines Released New Pictures. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, and a very warm welcome, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, the numbers are simply staggering. Nearly, 30,000 people

killed after five months of war, most of them, civilians. Every day in Gaza, grieving families pick through rubble to search for the remains of

loved ones under buildings crushed by Israeli attacks.

We can't always show you the scenes as Israel bars journalists from covering its war on Hamas without a military escort. But tonight, a CNN

special report offers a window into Israel's use of overwhelming and often indiscriminate force at areas where civilians are sheltering.

Our Jomana Karadsheh and colleagues spent weeks documenting an attack in January that killed more than half of the members of one family. And we

warn you, her report is graphic as well as extremely disturbing.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every patient here has a harrowing account of survival. But it is the story of

this one young woman, but as you'll see, would become key to uncovering an atrocity that until today had been hidden in the dark.

"They're all gone. I have no one left", 18-year-old Roba Abu Jibba told us, she offered few clues as to what had happened to her and her family. But a

week later, a cameraman working for CNN in Gaza was out filming as he's done every day for months. He was one of the first to arrive in this area

just after Israeli forces had withdrawn.

It was on that day, January 14th, when he stumbled upon the scene of a horrific incident. At first, we had no idea this was connected to Roba

until they start pulling documents from the rubble. It's Gaza's grim routine of trying to identify the dead.

Then, the startling discovery. Later that day, CNN producer Ahvil Selman(ph) screens a footage and sees Roba's ID. This is where she was

critically injured and the bodies are the remains of her family. The images tell of the brutal force that was unleashed here and people speak of a

massacre of civilians with the stench of death in the air, they pull body after body.

Tiny corpses carried on blankets, and in the corner, a woman sits covered in flies in her decomposing arms, a young man, but we still didn't really

know what had happened here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be really helpful, especially if we could go through the satellite images.

KARADSHEH: This grisly discovery was the start of a weeks-long CNN investigation complicated by Israel's ban on journalists entering Gaza

without IDF escort and frequent communication blackouts. We tracked down seven survivors, gathered video, satellite imagery, Israeli military press


We verified social media content and spoke with ballistic and forensic experts, allowing us to piece together the events of a bloody night of

death and horror amid intense and indiscriminate Israeli military fire that left civilians dead.

We started by asking the IDF about the incident, giving them pictures and exact coordinates. The military said their troops had come under fire from

that location on January 4th, and responded with a quote, "precise strike" to remove an imminent threat and cannot confirm if the bodies are linked to

that strike.

Our investigation raises serious questions about the IDF's actions that day. This is where it all unfolded. There's a wider area of Salah al-Din

Street, before the war, it was an industrial zone. But as Israel designate its Salah al-Din, the evacuation corridor out of northern Gaza, business

owners allowed hundreds of displaced people to stay in these warehouses. All of a sudden in early January, those families could hear war creeping



This was the scene filmed by a journalist in nearby Maghazi. The families decided they would leave when morning came, but it was Israeli forces who

arrived first. Eyewitnesses say the warehouses on both sides of the road we recreated in this 3D model were repeatedly struck from the ground and air.

Families sheltering in the warehouses on the left broke holes through back walls, escaping into the farmlands. For the warehouse on the right, there

was no escape for most. They were surrounded. They say the Israelis shot at anyone who tried to walk out.

SUMAYA ABU JIBBA, SURVIVOR OF ISRAELI ATTACK (through translator): My son along with other relatives started getting our belongings out the door. A

bomb exploded, they struck him in the heart. He bled, ran, fell to the ground and died. Our relative and another guy were also killed, everyone

was screaming and calling for an ambulance.

KARADSHEH: Roba's mother, Sumaya, helplessly watched as her son Hamdi(ph) died in front of her eyes. But nothing could have prepared her for what

would come next.

S. ABU JIBBA: As we were calling for help, another bomb hit, we were all knocked unconscious. When I woke up, I found my children and relatives

killed. Roba was hanging between life and death.

KARADSHEH: What knocked them unconscious was likely a massive 2,000 pound bomb, according to three ballistic experts who analyzed images of the

crater. The blast's shockwave is so powerful that it can rupture the lungs leaving victims to drown in their own blood.

Two forensic experts who examined our video tell us this shockwave is what they believe killed the Abu Jibbas. Roba's sister Diana survived, she ran

out frantically searching for help.

DIANA ABU JIBBA, SURVIVOR OF ISRAELI ATTACK: The Israelis fired a bomb at us, I saw my siblings dying. Hamdi(ph) died in my arms. I went out to get

an ambulance, the tank was closed to us, we started running, they started shooting at me.

KARADSHEH: While the Israeli military says these allegations of shooting at civilians are baseless, Sumaya and three of her children barely made it

out. They wanted to get help for the others, but couldn't return, left not knowing if loved ones they'd left alive would survive their injuries. Five

of the Abu Jibba children were killed.

The youngest among them is Zain(ph), he was 10, and Ali(ph), 13. Their bodies lay rotting in the warehouse. What the family didn't know was that

Roba was still alive, bleeding for four long days among the dead. After a January 7th interview, we tried to find her again.

She was lost in the chaos of overwhelmed hospitals. After weeks of searching, we found her miles away in Rafah receiving treatment.

ROBA ABU JIBBA, SURVIVOR OF ISRAELI ATTACK (through translator): The Israelis were outside shooting and started firing bombs. We were all

injured and fell to the ground. The metal roof and wood collapsed on us. My mother and brother came to take me, but I couldn't get up because of the

injuries to my arm and eyes. So, she left to get an ambulance.

KARADSHEH: With Roba desperate for help, and her little brother, Ali, fighting for his life for days, Israeli forces were right outside.

Satellite images from January 5th, one day after the attack show IDF vehicles by the warehouse and freshly bulldozed ground as close as 70

meters from where the siblings lay.

R. ABU JIBBA (through translator): My family members who were still alive left, a relative and I stayed. They started bulldozing the place and dumped

it on top of the dead people, my siblings.

KARADSHEH: She and her relative felt they had to get out of this shelter- turned morgue, they decided to make a daring escape. They were questioned by soldiers about links to Hamas before making it to the relative safety of

a local hospital.

We cannot confirm the Israeli military's claim that their troops came under fire, and yet survivors we spoke to tell us, there were no militants in the

warehouses. Some witnesses say they heard what they called resistance fire, and local journalists that they reported, clashes in the area.

CNN found that the Israeli military has separately alleged there were Hamas weapons facilities nearby, but never linked them to the warehouse where the

Abu Jibbas sheltered, which we've highlighted here on this IDF map. However it began, there's no doubt the Israeli military used ferocious firepower,

the size of the bomb was by its nature indiscriminate, and survivors say they were not warned to leave by the military as it claims it always tries

to do.

In response to extensive questions from CNN, the IDF claimed it told civilians to leave in the days before the deadly incident, but provided no

evidence when asked.


The first time the military publicly shot, this part of Gaza was no longer a safe evacuation route, came in this post on X at 11:28 a.m. on January

4th, hours after the attack.

S. ABU JIBBA (through translator): They knew we were civilians, their drones saw everything. We had big white flags up, they said it's a safe

area. The south is safe. We came to the south for nothing. They bombed us and killed our children in the south.

KARADSHEH: The events of that January day, only a small window into the vast undocumented suffering that the Israeli militaries inflicted on

civilians in Gaza with tens of thousands already killed, leaving so many like the Abu Jibba family grieving, traumatized, with no recourse to

justice and accountability.

R. ABU JIBBA: He died in front of me. I couldn't do anything. We would love, be silly and play together. Now, those memories are gone.

KARADSHEH: Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


SOARES: Powerful report there from Jomana Karadsheh and team, and you can find much more about Roba's story as well as the investigation that Jomana

just laid out there, head online to And we want to talk about that harrowing report as well as the dire situation inside Gaza with Melanie

Ward; the CEO of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

Melanie, welcome back to the show. I mean, that story that our correspondent just put out there. Jomana, it's -- you know, it's absolutely

devastating to the story of one family -- we're hitting almost 30,000 people killed. You have teams on the ground. Just tell us what kind of

stories you've been hearing from your team.

MELANIE WARD, CEO, MEDICAL AID FOR PALESTINIANS: Yes, I mean, it's a devastating story that we just heard. But as you see, it's emblematic of

what's happening to so many regular Palestinians in Gaza right now, my own staff included.

So, I could tell you about any one of my staff, everybody has lost people, everybody -- almost everybody is displaced several times. So, Asma(ph), who

is our neo-natal specialist? She was displaced from her home multiple times in one of the shelters that she ran to in the middle area, there was an

airstrike there.

It killed her four-year-old daughter. It killed three of her sisters, it killed her grandmother. She was injured, her sister was injured, and her

surviving two-year-old daughter, Rima(ph), had a brain injury from it as well. We managed to medically evacuated her to get better treatment, but I

could tell you also about Mohammed(ph), who also survived an airstrike on his home. These are people who are aid workers.

SOARES: Yes --

WARD: Why are they being hit by missiles? And he survived that. But his niece was killed and then his other niece was admitted to Shifa Hospital,

he had to go and rescue her as Israeli tanks closed in, and he ran down the street with her in a wheelchair as they fired over his head, and then he

was displaced again.

People being continually displaced by extreme violence, in some cases, my own staff being on the end of airstrikes, so far, thank God, managing to

survive somehow. Most people are not so lucky, the one they've all lost loved ones.

SOARES: And the U.N. said today that over half a million people in Gaza -- I want to quote them here, are one step away from famine as a result of

this. You wrote recently on X, I'm going to show our viewers, "colleagues in the north of Gaza have been surviving by eating animal feed.

Today, we heard that the animal feed is running out. Civilians are being starved. This is not an accident. The Israeli military you say could end

this today if they allowed aid in." Well, talk about what's happening in the north in just a moment. Just explain first to our viewers why aid isn't

being allowed in, where is the aid?

WARD: It's very simple. It's because the Israeli military won't let it, and we could end the starvation tomorrow very simply if they would just let us

have access to people there, but it's not being allowed. This is what they said on the 7th of October, nothing will go in, and so it remains the case.

And for people in the north of Gaza, it's even worse because no food is reaching them anymore. And so, my own staff, my own colleague Abira(ph),

has been eating animal feed and horrifyingly, the food that they were eating, which is food for horses and donkeys is now running out, and now

they're eating bird seed.

The statistics also tell their own story, one in six children under the age of two in the north of Gaza are now acutely malnourished. This is the

fastest decline in a population's nutrition status ever recorded. And what that means is that children are being starved at the fastest rate the world

has ever seen. And we could finish it tomorrow. We could save them all, but we're not being able to.

SOARES: And so, when we hear the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying if this assault into Rafah goes ahead, that his commonest solution

was well, people could move to the north. What do you say to that? What are conditions like in the north?

You talked about the hunger, but in terms of infrastructure, is there even infrastructure there to support all these people in Rafah?

WARD: Seventy percent of buildings have been destroyed. There is no longer a single fully-functioning hospital in the whole of Gaza. Electricity has

not been switched back on. The water has not been switched back on.


And you know that the International Court of Justice told Israel, it had to take provisional measures to prevent genocide a month ago. Actually, what's

happened is that the amount of aid getting into Gaza has almost halved --

SOARES: Yes --

WARD: In the last month. That's what's really happened. And so, an assault on Rafah would be a complete blood bath, and it cannot be allowed to take

place, and especially given the fact that the healthcare system has been systematically dismantled.

SOARES: Yes --

WARD: No longer a single fully-functioning hospital to do such an assault and over a million people who have nowhere safe to go, the world cannot let

this happen.

SOARES: And of course, we are waiting to see where we are on the negotiation. France -- President Biden, as you heard said he was hopeful

that something may happen on Monday. We are waiting to see more developments on that, and we'll get to Tel Aviv in just a moment.

But I know you've also -- we've also seen that Gaza conflict spilling in to the West Bank. You were in the West Bank. We have been reporting to our --

to our viewers here that more than 400 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, as well as east Jerusalem since October the 7th. Just talk to

what you've seen and the impact on that violence.

WARD: Yes, so, as you say, it's not been reported as much as the situation in Gaza, but it's very tense, it's violent, more than a 100 children and

more than a 100 Palestinian children have been killed by the Israeli military in the West Bank since the 7th of October.

And so, I was in one of the refugee camps in Tulkarm Refugee Camp where we Medical Aid for Palestinians are working together with UNRWA to provide

mental health and psychosocial support for children and their caregivers, because imagine being a child growing up where there are frequent military

raids on the community that you live in, people around you are being killed and injured, living in constant fear.

And so, trying to help those kids and their parents cope, survive, deal with that stress, have some kind of hope for a --

SOARES: Yes --

WARD: Decent life when really there isn't much. It's incredibly difficult - - and people, my staff in the West Bank as well, everybody is very anxious about what's going to happen over Ramadan, because tensions --

SOARES: Yes --

WARD: Are continuing to rise, and again, that's not an accident either. So, people are very nervous about what lies ahead.

SOARES: And of course, the Ramadan is the deadline, of course, that Benjamin Netanyahu has in place for some sort of deal to go ahead. Melanie,

always great to have you here on the -- onset, appreciate your time. Thank you very much for coming in.

Well, families of hostages still held in Gaza have begun what they call a March of Hope to Jerusalem to keep pressure on the Israeli government to

bring their loved ones home. Israel and Hamas are negotiating through intermediaries, reportedly inching closer to a deal that would return some

hostages in exchange for a temporary truce.

But they are pushing back on U.S. President Joe Biden's assessment, if you remember, when he said that a ceasefire can be reached potentially by

Monday. I want to bring in our Jeremy Diamond who joins us this hour in Tel Aviv. And Jeremy, it is not just families, of course, of the hostages, I

understand that some of the survivors of October the 7th attack also joining this march.

And that adds, I imagine more pressure to Netanyahu to reach some sort of agreement. Where are we on those negotiations, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this has been the mission of these hostage families to constantly be bringing pressure to

bear on the Israeli government, constantly reminding the Israeli public that their loved ones are still held captive in Gaza.

They began this March today, by the time they arrive in Jerusalem on Saturday, they could very well have thousands of additional people at their

sides as they put this pressure on the government. Now, in terms of the negotiations, clearly, we are in a different place than we were last week.

Things are no longer at a standstill.

There is real momentum, but there are also some real obstacles that remain to be solved. Clearly, Hamas has moved off of some of its positions,

reducing the number of Palestinian prisoners that they are demanding be released. Also appearing to back off of their demand that the war, and as a

part of this phase, want agreements that could be struck between these two parties.

In fact, Ismail Haniyeh; Hamas' political leader today in a televised statement nodded to that, talking about Hamas showing flexibility in this

latest round of negotiations. But it's not clear yet if there's enough flexibility there to actually arrive at a deal.

And of course, the fate of some nearly 100 hostages who are alive, an additional 30 bodies of hostages that are still being held by Hamas hanging

in the balance, as is the very desperate and increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

We are getting reports of in northern Gaza, infants beginning to pass away because of a lack of nutrition. The World Food Program is warning that half

a million Palestinians in Gaza could be facing a full-blown famine come May if nothing is done.

And we are seeing these kind of increasingly desperate efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza with these air drops, which -- you know, while

they may look, you know, quite heroic, quite powerful, it's really a sign of desperation because it is not the most efficient way to get aid into



But with aid trucks largely unable to get into northern Gaza, the situation is just growing increasingly desperate and so are the efforts to try and

get aid in. Of course, all of that could be addressed if indeed there was this potentially six-week pause in the fighting to allow for the release of

these hostages that would also allow the entry of hundreds of additional trucks of humanitarian aid.

And of course, when the bombing stops, it actually allows these humanitarian aid teams to deliver that aid to the people who need it most

without fear for their own safety. Isa.

SOARES: Jeremy Diamond there for us in Tel Aviv, thanks very much, Jeremy. And still to come tonight, Alexei Navalny's widow mincing no words about

Russian President Vladimir Putin calling him a mobster as well as a killer. What we're learning about plans for her husband's funeral. That is just


Plus, a major announcement coming out of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., details ahead on the future of Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell. Both

of those stories after a very short break.


SOARES: Well, the funeral for late Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is set for this Friday in Moscow. But Navalny's team reports they struggled finding a

memorial venue and were prevented from holding a ceremony on Thursday. The reason they say, that's the same as Russian President Vladimir Putin's

state of the union -- of the nation address.

An official from Navalny's anti-corruption foundation says they were told no one was available to dig a grave. Navalny's widow, Yulia, addressed

European parliament today. She says she wasn't sure if there'd be arrest at the funeral, she called Mr. Putin a mobster, and she said he must answer

for everything he's done to Russia, Ukraine, and her husband.


YULIA NAVALNAYA, WIDOW OF ALEXEI NAVALNY: Putin killed my husband, Alexei Navalny. On his orders, Alexei was tortured for three years. He was starved

in a tiny stone cell, cut off from the outside world and denied visits, phone calls, and then even letters. And then they killed him even after

that, they abused his body.


SOARES: Strong words. Our Melissa Bell joins me now from Paris. And Melissa, this was a very powerful address in the European parliament by

Yulia Navalnaya. And her message not only for European leaders, but very much directed at President Putin. Just talk us through what else she said



MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This was really a message that he -- she was sending to European leaders. She was speaking there in

the European parliament, and her message to European leaders was look, this is a Russian leader who is still in power even though, two years have

passed since the invasion of Ukraine.

Even though, the sanctions regime has been brought in by the European Union, by the United States to try and bring the Russian economy to its

knees, and yet, here he still is. And at the heart of her message was that it was time for leaders, world leaders, those opposed to the regime to

follow in the footsteps of her late husband, who had always been, she said an innovator.

He'd always come up with strategies, ideas for getting around the fact that he wasn't allowed to be on TV or wasn't allowed to campaign or wasn't

allowed to vote. And that should be a model for anyone wanting to oppose Vladimir Putin's regime.

So, more creativity and more determination she asked for from global leaders looking out -- from outside at what's happening inside Russia, and

that they should work alongside the many millions of Russians that she says have fled, and like her, are hoping for a very different democratic -- what

she described as a beautiful Russia.

But it was a very poignant speech. She got a long-standing ovation from European leaders who followed her to express also the parliamentarians,

their outrage at what had happened. And it is now on Friday that our attention turns to try and figure out how this funeral, once it is allowed

to go ahead then on Friday rather than Thursday, as you explained, Isa, how it goes ahead, what unfolds, what the repression of any expression of

solidarity with Alexei Navalny or any sense of tribute to his memory.

How bad the repression of that will be. And Yulia Navalnaya spoke to that, said she hoped it would be a peaceful event, but that was a question for

Russian authorities as to whether it turn out to be peaceful or not. Isa.

SOARES: And I will stay across this for us, Melissa Bell there for us in Paris, thank you, Melissa. Local authorities said at least five people were

killed and more than a dozen wounded in the latest Russian strikes across Ukraine, attacks over the past 24 hours were reported in Kherson, Donetsk,

Sumy, as well as Zaporizhzhia regions.

Two police officers are said to be among the dead. Meanwhile, Ukraine claims its resistance fighters blew up an office of Russian President

Vladimir Putin's political party in the Kherson region. Early voting began Tuesday in the Russian presidential election in occupied settlements near

the frontlines.

A bill which has drawn international condemnation has just passed in Ghana's parliament. It's an anti-homosexuality bill. And it not only

criminalizes LGBTQ relationships, but also those who support LGBTQ rights. The bill passed unanimously, but it's still unclear whether the president

will sign it into law.

The U.N. Human Rights chief criticized the vote in favor of the bill profoundly disturbing. Still to come tonight, and why Mitch McConnell

saying it's time for the next generation of leadership. Details ahead on a major announcement from Capitol Hill.

Plus, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are one step closer to a November rematch, but both face new warning signs, details ahead on the U.S. state of

Michigan's presidential primaries.




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.

SOARES: Well now to a pair of developing stories out of Washington, D.C. First, a major power player announcing he will give up his leadership


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Senate floor he will step down in November. The Chamber's Republican leader said, "The end of my

contributions are closer than I prefer." Adding that he turned 82 years old last week. Have a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), U.S. SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER: So, as I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always

imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work. A moment when I'm certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so

strongly believe. That day arrived today.


SOARES: OK. Here, his voice breaking there. Well, after his speech, Senators in the room gave McConnell, as you can see there, a standing

ovation. In 2018, he reached a key milestone, becoming the longest serving Republican leader in the chamber's history.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, U.S. President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, sitting for a closed-door deposition with U.S. lawmakers. House Republicans were

expected to question the younger Biden about his foreign business dealings. It is part of a larger effort to carry on their impeachment inquiry into

the president.

So far, they failed to present solid evidence that President Biden illegally benefited from his family's business ventures. In his opening

statement, Hunter Biden accused Republicans on trafficking, conspiracy theories and building a "Partisan House of cards on lines."

Let's get more on both those stories. Annie Grayer joins me now live from Capitol Hill. Annie, good to see you. Look, this is a significant and

historic moment, first of all, in U.S. politics and for the Republican Party. Tell us why Mitch McConnell decided to step down in November. How

his colleagues also are reacting to this?

ANNIE GRAYER, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, McConnell said in his floor speech that the immediate reason for his decision to step down was the

impact that the death of his wife's sister had on him. But beyond that, he said that it was time for a new generation of leadership, and that he had

accomplished everything that he had want to -- wanted to in his long- standing career. The longest lawmaker to be serving in Senate leadership in history.

And his colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, have been commending his leadership. And of course, though, the immediate question is who is going

to fill these massive shoes in McConnell's wake? There is a lot of factors to consider. But most of the Republicans are mummed so far about whether or

not they're going to get into the leadership race.


SOARES: Yes, a brilliant tactician and long-serving. I think it's fair to say, a very well respected. But let's talk about the other blockbuster --

or I should say, not the other. The blockbuster testimony on Capitol Hill from Hunter Biden, who yet again reiterated in his prepared remarks, but

he's not backing down. Annie.

I'm just going to read what he said. Saying, for more than a year, you -- your committees have hunted me and your partisan political pursuit of my

dad. You have trafficked in innuendo distortion and sensationalism, all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face.

So, those are his -- the prepared remarks. What is he saying, do we know behind closed doors?

GRAYER: Well, we're told that Hunter is being very forthcoming. That he is answering questions. He's not pleading the Fifth Amendment. And he is

taking Republicans questions head on. Republicans are focusing on Hunter's foreign business dealings and any interactions that Hunter had with his

father while interacting with his business associates, whether that was a phone call, a stop by at a lunch, a meeting. But Hunter has maintained that

his father was never involved in any of his business dealings, and that's what he reiterated in his opening statement today.

And we're also learning just from Democrats how Hunter is going on offense during this ongoing closed-door deposition. And asking Republicans if they

are concerned about influence peddling and these kinds of allegations. Why they aren't as equally concerned about Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son in

law, and his involvement with the Saudi government, receiving $2 billion after he left the White House.

So, we are hearing that Hunter is just really sitting down, answering these questions. And this is just such a crucial time for Republicans and their

impeachment inquiry, as they have made Hunter the central witness to their investigation. And here he is, behind closed doors saying that his father

was not involved.

SOARES: Annie, appreciate it there on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much.

Let's get more on all these angles. Our Stephen Collinson joins us now from Washington, D.C. And Stephen, let me start on Mitch McConnell. I mean, this

is really a pivotal moment. He has been, I think it's fair to say, a giant of Republican politics. Talk to us a moment, first of all, and the

divisions within the Republican Party, because it's such a different party than when he first started.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: That's right. And McConnell, I think, including all the presidents of the 21st century, is

one of the most influential figures in American politics. He really is one of the last pillars of the old Republican Party. He represents the

globalist, internationalist foreign policy epitomized by Former President Reagan in the 1980s. And it's that foreign policy ideals that the Trump

wing of the party is now rebelling against with their America Firstism, which we're seeing this week in action with the blockading in the House of

the $60 billion in ammunition and aid to Ukraine.

So, I think McConnell, really saw the end of his influence approaching. And I think that's one of the reasons why he's taken this decision to step down

now. While there have been all these bipartisan speeches praising him, a lot of Democrats believe that McConnell absolutely crushed the rather

clubby atmosphere of the Senate with the way that he framed the Supreme Court majority of conservatives.

He refused to confirm President Barack Obama's final nominee but rushed through President Donald Trump's nominee in a few weeks. That has created a

conservative Supreme Court majority that's having a huge impact on American life and will do so for decades after he's left the scene.

SOARES: Yes, let's talk about the minority leader as well as Trump. Because, look, it's looking like Trump is going to be the Republican

nominee. We know that McConnell and Trump don't really get along. How much -- and you hinted at that there in your previous answer, how much, Stephen,

do you think this was part of his decision to step down?

COLLINSON: I think it's a great deal to do with it. McConnell has had several rather alarming health episodes in recent months. Several times he

froze on camera, leading to some speculation about the state of his health, and he has visibly aged in recent years. I think if Donald Trump wins the

November election, McConnell would probably face a challenge to his leadership. And he wouldn't be able to write his own epitaph in history, if

you like. So, I'm sure that that has got a great deal to do with it.

I think there's another interesting angle here. Just listen to him speak there. Talking about how, you know, he was coming to the twilight of his

influence. This is taking place amid a debate over the health and capacity of President Joe Biden, who is not stepping down and is asking Americans

for a second term.


McConnell is 82, Biden is 81. That is also coming into focus today because the president went for his annual physical and we're waiting for the

results of that. But I'm sure that this isn't completely welcome to the White House as long -- as much as Biden has clashed with McConnell in the

past. It brings up, yet again, this whole issue of age and capacity and when a politician should know about when to leave the stage.

SOARES: Very good point. Look, let's talk -- you mentioned Biden. Let's talk of Biden and Trump, because you and I were talking about Michigan

yesterday and the uncommitted vote. And Biden won, but this victory, Stephen, came with a warning. But there were also lessons, I think it's

fair to say, not just for Biden, but for Trump too. Just break this down for us.

COLLINSON: Right. I think we're seeing two potentially quite flawed general election candidates. Biden faced the protest vote from -- more than a

hundred thousand Democrats in Michigan who marked their ballot card as uncommitted. This was an organized protest by Arab-Americans and

progressive voters against his support for Israel and Israel's war in Gaza following the Hamas terror attacks.

Michigan could be the state that decides this election. It's going to be very close. If anything like that number of votes doesn't show up for Biden

in November, he's in a lot of trouble. Having said that, he's got eight months to try and fix this. And I think it shows how much Biden's political

career may hang on and end to the war in the Middle East.


COLLINSON: Once again, we saw Trump in one of these nominating contests. He is losing about a third of the Republican vote to Nikki Haley who's got no

chance of winning because Trump has won all the nominating contests so far. But she is raising the possibility that once again the Trump vote,

especially in suburban areas that will decide a lot of these swing states, might be a little soft. So, both of them are facing a few questions after


SOARES: Both of them facing challenges too as we go ahead. Stephen, always great to get your insight. Thanks very much.


SOARES: And as Stephen just mentioned, U.S. President Joe Biden has received his annual physical. And he says, he's all squared away speaking

at the White House a short time ago. He was asked if there's anything Americans should worry about. And he quipped, they think I look too young.

While the president was seen leaving Walter Reed Military Hospital earlier today, Mr. Biden's stamina as well as mental fitness have become hot

topics, as you heard Stephen talking about there, as election season heats up. And this will likely be his last health update before voters head to

the polls in November.

At 81, he's the oldest sitting U.S. President ever. As a reminder republican frontrunner Donald Trump, well, he's 77. The White House says it

will release a summary of Mr. Biden's physical later today. Well, of course, once we have that, we will go through that here on CNN.

And still to come tonight, hundreds of thousands of acres burned. Families forced to flee their homes. Destructive -- destructive, I should say,

wildfires fueled by the climate crisis spreading fast throughout the Texas Panhandle. We are live, next.



SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. The climate crisis is helping fuel extreme weather across the globe. In the U.S. State of Texas, half a million acres

have burned so far. In the largest of a series of wildfires. spreading rapidly. You can see there through the panhandle. The Smokehouse Creek fire

is already the second biggest fire in Texas history, and it's -- and is zero percent contain at last check.

Thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes, and farmers as well as ranchers are scrambling to protect their property. Researchers say,

climate change has helped ignite wildfires and increase their severity in recent years.

Our Lucy Kafanov is in Fritch, Texas and she joins us now. And Lucy, this really is tearing through Texas. Just talk us through what it's been

looking like today.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, where we are today, Fritch, Texas, doesn't look so bad right now, but this was one of the center points of the

wildfire threat on Tuesday when those flames roared through the small community population, just over 2,000 people. Most of this town was


You're not able to see it, but to my left, there's a church. A lot of folks took shelter there. They were since -- they had since been moved to a

different location where there's more resources for them. This road had been closed. The checkpoints have been removed and slowly we're seeing some

folks able to return to their homes or at least the area where the homes were. Not everyone was so lucky.

We met one neighbor who watched the fire come on. He said it was crazy fast, those are his words. He said in about 30 minutes, the fire completely

destroyed four homes that were across the street. His home miraculously left standing. He described waking up one of his neighbors who had been

sleeping, knocking on the door frantically, trying to get him awakened and out to safety. The neighbor survived. His home is in shambles.

And that is a story that is playing out in so many of these rural communities. You know, the danger or the difficulty in getting a fire like

this under control, besides the fact that, you know, they haven't been able to get air power over the fires because of those high winds is just how

rural and spread out all of this is. It's not easy for the crews to battle these blazes. And it's not just people who are at risk, but a lot of these

are ranching communities. So, there are livestock who had to be taken to safety and it's not possible to evacuate livestock in those numbers.

And so, we are hearing from officials here in Texas that they might be able to get those planes in the air by Friday. We are expecting some rain

tomorrow that could help fix things a little bit, but they worry that those high winds could pick up again by the weekend, and by then it might not be

so easy to get this under control.

Now, one miracle is that while many structures were affected, and some people did get taken to the emergency room, as of now, we are being told no

casualties and no severe injury. So, that is a small silver lining as this part of Texas battles these unprecedented fires.

SOARES: Some good news at least on that front. Let's hope that the wind eases and that rain stays for a bit longer just to try and help the

firefighters there. Lucy Kafanov, appreciate it. Thank you, Lucy.

Meanwhile, firefighters are also battling to contain huge bushfires across Southern Australia. The government ordering roughly 30,000 people to

evacuate the state of Victoria. And this comes as the region experiences extreme, even catastrophic conditions. The temperatures are spiking above

40 degrees Celsius, with winds up to 70 kilometers per hour. Pushing the wildfire into densely populated areas, and that's the concern.

These conditions fueled, as we have been saying, as so many wildfires we have seen in the last couple of years, fueled by climate change as the

blaze stretches toward Melbourne. The state's emergency department says it's not yet under control.

We will, of course, stay across both those stories for you. We're going to take a short break. We'll be back with much more after this.



SOARES: Well, the Israel-Hamas war is causing diplomatic strain well beyond Israel and Gaza. Raising tensions and increasing fears of a direct

confrontation between Iran and the U.S. CNN's Fred Pleitgen looks at how Washington's involvement in the region could further damage its already

difficult relationship with Tehran.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Israel continues its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza with

casualties mounting, Iran warning the Israel-Hamas war risks leading to a direct confrontation between Tehran and Washington, the Speaker of the

Iranian Parliament's Foreign Policy Committee tells me.

ABUFAZI AMOUEI, IRANIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: We think that if there will be no finish for the -- this war, it can go in bigger scale and it can be

harmful for everybody. United States is one of the parties who are in support of the Israel.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The U.S. accuses Iran of arming Hamas for years, aiding the group's attack against Israel on October 7th last year, killing

more than a thousand Israelis and taking hundreds hostage. And for supporting the Houthis in Yemen who are targeting international shipping in

the Red Sea, allegedly to force an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

But it was attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. bases in the Middle East, including one killing three U.S. service members on January 28th and

the U.S.-U.K. military counterstrike in Iraq and Syria that brought the U.S. and Iranian tension to a new level.

President Biden says, the U.S. Is not seeking conflict, but when Americans are harmed, he promises a response.

AMOUEI: Iran has its power to defend itself. But as I know that there will be no place for the United States forces to be hide -- hidden in the -- to

defending themselves. It's -- it -- there will be no place for them to be staying in the Middle East.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): In Tehran, folks hope the calm music ahead of the Persian New Year won't give way to the drumbeat of yet more confrontation.

PLEITGEN: Of course, when you speak to people on the streets here, they will tell you the main concerns that they have are about the economy and

also about inflation as well. But of course, there are also people who really fear that things could spiral out of control between the U.S. and

Iran and possibly even lead to an armed conflict.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Even here, confident tones.

Not only the U.S. is afraid, but also Israel and neighboring countries, this man says. The U.S. does not have the courage to get close to Iran

because of military concerns.

But a fear of what might happen after the upcoming U.S. Elections.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Next year that Trump is coming, it's -- everything going to be much worse than now, yes.

PLEITGEN: How do you think it will be worse? Do you think it could be war?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't think the war is coming, but the economy is going to be awful. Yes, it's going to be awful, yes.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.


SOARES: And our thanks to Fred Pleitgen who is in Tehran for us.

And finally, tonight, the Odysseus Lunar Lander is getting ready to go to sleep in a few hours as its solar generated power runs out. In a news

conference this hour, NASA and Intuitive Machines, the company that built the spacecraft, released new pictures.

The historic mission to the moon's south pole marked the first time a U.S. made lander touchdown in 52 years. Officials said, Ody carried an American

flag from the 1970 Apollo program. Intuitive Machines that flight programs will put the spacecraft to sleep after 144 hours and try to re-awake the

lander in a few weeks to see if the procedure works.

Of course, we'll make sure to be following all the developments from Odysseus. That does it for us for tonight. Thank you very much for your

company. Do stay right here. "Quest Means Business" is up next. I shall see you tomorrow. Have a wonderful day.