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Zelenskyy: War Won't End If Crimea Still Occupied; "No Labels" Group Seeks Third-Party Run In 2024; Key DeSantis Ally Acknowledges Campaign Is Way Behind In GOP Primary Battle With Trump. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 03, 2023 - 21:00   ET



JOEY CHESTNUT, 15-TIME NATHAN'S FAMOUS HOT DOG EATING CHAMP: And they're going to be pushing me and supporting me. And I'm going to do whatever I can to deliver.


CHESTNUT: 80's possible -- well I hit it in practice. And things would have to be perfect. And I'm not saying it's -- you know what? It's possible. And that's the way I try not to limit myself and say anything's impossible. But 80 can be tough. And -- but it's -- I can do it, I think.

BERMAN: If you dream it, you can do it.

Joey Chestnut, Godspeed, and the best of luck to you.

CHESTNUT: Oh, thank you. Great talking to you.

BERMAN: Nice talking to you, my friend.

We have mustered all the news we can.

Time now for Kaitlan Collins, and "CNN PRIMETIME."

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST, CNN PRIMETIME: Good evening. I'm Kaitlan Collins.

The night before the United States celebrates its Independence Day, Ukraine is vowing to never give up on freedom, as it is facing new setbacks, in its 4-week-old counteroffensive.

President Zelenskyy has just penned a new Op-Ed, in "The Wall Street Journal," thanking the United States, for providing both, support to his country, and setting an example of liberty.

We are now 16 months, into the Russian invasion. And tonight, there is an ominous new estimate. 180,000 Russian forces, making a push, on two Eastern fronts, in Ukraine. That's according to Ukrainian military spokesman. And for context, that's more than twice the size of the British army. President Zelenskyy has been openly addressing the difficulties that they have been facing, on the front lines, but he does still maintain, progress is being made.

He's also making news, in a new exclusive interview, with Erin Burnett, who sat down with him, in Odessa, as he told her that he does believe President Putin's power is diminishing.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: Have you seen any changes, in how you think he's acting, in his behavior, since the attempted coup?

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Yes, we see the reaction, after certain Wagner steps. We see Putin's reaction. It's weak.

Firstly, we see he doesn't control everything. Wagner is moving deep into Russia, and taking certain regions, shows how easy it is to do. Putin doesn't control the situation, in the regions. He doesn't control the security situation. All of us understand that his whole army is in Ukraine. Almost entire army is there.

So, all that vertical of power he used to have just got crumbling down.


COLLINS: That's the latest, from Zelenskyy.

Now, let's get the very latest, on Ukraine's counteroffensive, and how it's going.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports, from Eastern Ukraine.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, even President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is acknowledging that the going is getting tough, in the Ukrainian counteroffensive. He said, "Last week was difficult, on the front line. But we are making progress. We are moving forward step by step," step by step, indicating things are going slow.

In fact, the Commander of Ground Forces, of the Ukrainian army, visited the front lines, around Bakhmut, and said one of the reasons for the slow progress, is what he called deep Russian defenses.

We also heard this evening, the spokesman for Ukrainian forces, in the East, saying that the Russians have deployed, along the eastern front, 180,000 troops, 50,000 alone, in and around Bakhmut.

So, when President Zelenskyy tells our Erin Burnett that Putin is weak, perhaps politically, in Russia, but on the front lines, that weakness is not being felt.

Now, behind the front lines, today, the Russians fired Iranian-made Shahed drones on the northeastern city, of Sumy. There, they killed at least two people, injured 19, including a 5-year-old child.


COLLINS: Ben Wedeman, thank you for that.

And for more insight, now, on what is actually happening, on the battlefield, retired U.S. Army Major, Mike Lyons, joins me now.

You heard Ben, saying there, kind of summing this up. We've been talking about the weakness Putin is seeing, at home, after that revolt that we saw, by the Wagner Group. But they're not necessarily seeing it on the front lines. What does that say to you?

MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): They just have masks. They have a machine on that front lines that, from the very start, from an expectation perspective, was going to be very difficult, to think that Ukraine was going to do anything, and vanquish them that the counteroffensive is going about as well as it can go, given they have no air superiority, on the Ukraine side.

I think it's in a wait-and-see mode. But it's almost like you can't even call it a counteroffensive. We continue to try to put--

COLLINS: Because it's that slow?

LYONS: Yes. We try to put American military doctrine, and Western, on top of this. And we've handed them this kind of equipment.


But this is World War I. This is the trench warfare that's going on there. And we've got to recognize that Ukraine can hold on, and do as it, what it has been doing with the equipment that it's getting, and maybe would get some more from the West, it'll at least have a chance to get Russia to the negotiation table. That's really about it.

I heard him talk about he's not giving up Crimea. I have a hard time thinking he's got the military assets to take back Crimea. He's going to threaten it. But I don't think he could take it.

COLLINS: Let's talk about that. Because that stood out to me as well, the moment that I heard him, say that.

Obviously, Crimea was illegally annexed, by Russia, in 2014.


COLLINS: This is what he said about the end result of what this entire war could look like, and Crimea, specifically.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): We cannot imagine Ukraine without Crimea. And while Crimea is under the Russian occupation, it means only one thing. War is not over yet.

BURNETT: To be clear, in victory, in peace, is there any scenario, where Crimea is not part of Ukraine?

ZELENSKYY (through translator): It will not be victory, then.


COLLINS: Is that -- do U.S. officials see that as realistic?

LYONS: Difficult. If there are reports of 180,000 Russian troops, within that region, now, he'll need 300,000, in order to mount some kind of counteroffensive, in order to do that.

Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet is in Crimea. Russians have had it. They've controlled it, for hundreds of years. It's before, you know, obviously they took in 2014, Ukraine had a leasing agreement with Russia to it. They have to have that, from a strategic perspective. That's why they took it first, back in 2014, because it was so strategic to them.

So, I don't see Russia giving that up. Perhaps they will bring more resources down there. But again, they don't have the assets, on the ground, to actually take it.

COLLINS: Does Ukraine have the 300,000 forces, to go up against? You cite that 180,000 number.

LYONS: Right.

COLLINS: That's what we heard from Ukrainian military spokesman.

LYONS: I'm not sure. It's difficult to say. They've got brigades that are in reserve, right now. If you look at, each of these units, in Russian and Ukraine are all geotagged.

And so, again, as you look at how you would fight this, neither side is ever going to gain any kind of surprise, in terms of a principle of war, because everybody knows where everybody is. In order to be effective, in a counteroffensive, you have to mass troops along an axis that's usually thin. Think Battle of the Bulge. You're going to attack along a way we were going to have success.

And we can pretend that Ukraine will be able to mobilize troops, and get there that fast. But I don't see they're going to be able to do it, at least with any kind of element of surprise, which is always usually a factor, a contributing factor, of a successful counteroffensive.

COLLINS: Yes. And we're seeing how grueling, this counteroffensive is.


COLLINS: What stood out to me, what he also said about Mike Pence, the former Vice President, who recently showed up in Ukraine, which was notable, in and of itself, because of the split that we have seen, in the Republican field?

And Zelenskyy talked about the importance, of bipartisanship, in this war. And he said, quote, "There are dangerous signals," from the Republican Party, about that support waning.

How much time does he have?

LYONS: Well, let's hope both parties recognize that it's in the United States' interest, to keep supporting Ukraine, at this point, and giving them more equipment, and giving them what they need.

I'd like to see, after this NATO meeting, the NATO countries get together, and up their DPICM (ph), their cluster munitions, their ATACMS, more mine-clearing operations, more drones. I'd like to see them do those kinds of things.

Let's hope that politically, we don't make this an issue, in this election, because it's important, from our European allies, and the NATO -- look how close NATO is now. Look, NATO countries are agreeing, haven't done that in a long time, about how to support this operation there.

And, for Ukraine, to eventually become part of NATO? That border is going to have to be secured, and it can't be any, under duress, on any level. So, let's hope that we don't make a political football out of it.

COLLINS: You mentioned that NATO meeting. That is next week.


COLLINS: President Biden is going.

I mean, Zelenskyy is saying that they need to be invited to it now. Is there any chance of that happening?

LYONS: I don't think so. I think that part of this counteroffensive is to show NATO that they're willing to do whatever it takes.

But we've, again, we've just got to wait and see. We'll continue to provide the military equipment. But I just doesn't -- it's not, again, in our best interest, or NATO's best interest, is to include that right now. That would cause an escalation on the Russian side that we don't know how they would act.

COLLINS: Thank you very much, for your time, always, for your expertise, on this, because you're always so helpful, in breaking it down.

LYONS: Thanks, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: We're also learning new details, tonight, about the CIA Director, and a trip, a secret trip, that he made to Ukraine, to sit down, with President Zelenskyy, and Kyiv's other top Intelligence officials.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live, for us, at the Pentagon, tonight.

Oren, we're hearing about this trip with Bill Burns. "The Washington Post" was the first to report that Ukraine had revealed to Director Burns, this strategy, an ambitious one, to push Moscow, into talks, by the end of this year.

What else do we know about this trip?


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, first, about the visit itself, CIA Director, Bill Burns, was in Ukraine, last month, in June, according to a U.S. official, not only meeting with Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but also with other Ukrainian officials.

According to "The Washington Post," in at least one of these meetings, with Ukrainian officials, the officials told Burns, about this plan, continue retaking territory, and then force or rather enter negotiations, ceasefire, peace negotiations, whatever you want to call them, with Moscow, by the end of the year.

It seems, this is an attempt, to, first, keep retaking territory, as we see the counteroffensive, making slow progress, but also then to enter negotiations, from a position of power, to be on the stronger side, to have more leverage there, by the end of the year.

And it's apparent that that's what Ukraine is looking for, or at least, that's the message they telegraphed, to Bill Burns, while he was in Ukraine. Of course, that comes with all the challenges we just spoke about.

But that, at least is an idea of what Ukraine is looking at, in terms of a grinding slow, very difficult counteroffensive, and perhaps a hint of how Ukraine sees this ending.

But in terms of what those negotiations might look like? That remains a very difficult question to answer.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely.

And, Oren, we're also learning, about the Russian arms dealer that everyone came to know, Viktor Bout. He was this notorious arms dealer, the so-called "Merchant of Death." And he was the person that the U.S. exchanged for Brittney Griner. And we've now learned that he is running for office, in Russia.

Isn't this what critics of that prisoner swap said, at the time that they were worried about, him regaining power and status in Russia?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. That was always the concern with releasing Viktor Bout, in this prisoner exchange, with Brittney Griner.

As you pointed out, he is known as the "Merchant of Death." He is a notorious arms dealer. He was arrested back in 2008, and then sentenced, in 2012, to 25 years, for conspiring to kill Americans, providing material support, to a terrorist organization, and more.

So, there was an open question, a very open question. And critics asked the administration, why trade him for Brittney Griner. But the Administration moved forward, with that prisoner exchange, last year, believing it was, at that point, the right thing to do.

And now, this is what the concern was that Bout was never going to go quietly, into the night. Instead, he's at least more directly entering politics now.

And I want to get the name of the region and the party, right. He'll be running for the Deputy seat, at the Legislative Assembly, of the Ulyanovsk region of Russia. So, I looked it up in a map. It's a bit east of Moscow.

But he has certainly entered party, in this Kremlin-loyal, ultra nationalist party, where we've kind of seen him before, sort of stumping. For the political candidates, of this party, this appears to be a much more direct entry. The exact concern that everyone had raised, back, when this deal was announced, and Bout was released.

COLLINS: From prisoner to politician.

Oren Liebermann, thank you.

Also, tonight, we are monitoring Israel's largest West Bank military operation, in more than 20 years. Hundreds of Israeli troops have stormed a refugee camp, in the occupied city of Jenin.

According to Israel, the camp is a haven, for militants, and weapons, and that is why you're seeing the scenes play out that we have been watching closely, all day today.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health says that at least eight Palestinians have been killed, more than 100 injured, some of them civilians.

Videos that were obtained, by CNN, from Jenin, show Israeli bulldozers, tearing up streets, to disarm, what they say are potential explosives. The Israeli Defense Force has also carried out around 10 airstrikes, using drones.

This operation is ongoing. And we are going to continue to monitor it, tonight.

Also ahead, here in the U.S., a spoiler alert, potentially. There is a hunt, for someone, who can upend the 2024 election, maybe, a third candidate -- third-party candidate, to run for president. But could that mean handing the election to Donald Trump?



COLLINS: Is there room for a third-party candidate in 2024? After all, polls have consistently shown most Americans do not want a Donald Trump versus Joe Biden rematch.

And now, a non-profit political group, known as, No Labels, says it is determined to give voters potentially another option, especially if the country is in store, for that 2020 rematch. But Democrats and anti-Trumpers say that a third party could just end

up playing spoiler, in all of this, by siphoning votes, from President Biden, in swing states, and therefore, handing the election, to Donald Trump.

Joining us now, is a longtime associate, of No Labels, the former Michigan Republican congressman, Fred Upton.

I know you told me not to call you, "Congressman."

So, let's talk about this group, and No Labels, as "The Wall Street Journal" is writing, in its latest report, says "It is called No Labels, but many political strategists have their own label for it: spoiler."

Is No Labels going to end up being a spoiler?


And No Labels has been around since about 2008 or 2009. It was very involved with the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is a House caucus, which I was a Vice Chair of.

It's equal number of Republicans and Democrats. You've had Josh Gottheimer and Brian Fitzpatrick on, a good number of times. But literally 55, 60 members, so, this is a little larger group, bipartisan, bicameral. And they've been, until now, very focused, on the issues. Actually, they still are, whether it was the debt ceiling, immigration, keeping the government open, a whole bunch of very -- CHIPS bill, Infrastructure.

But now, the polling that we've done shows that literally 26,000 people, around the country, it draws equally -- unlike Perot, and the basic tenet back then, in 1992, 30 years ago, was that Perot basically took from Bush, and allowed Bill Clinton, to win the election. The polling now shows that we draw pretty much equally, between both sides, the Republicans, as well as the Democrats.

And our focus, right now, is to like Perot was successful, getting on the ballot, in all 50 states. It's not going to be a down-ticket deal. This is just going to be a president, and a vice president. We're not going to have congressional candidates, or Senate, or State Rep candidates on there.


UPTON: But literally, to get on the ballot.

We had some good news, this last week. Utah approved this, getting on the ballot. So, our intent is to be on all 50 states, by the end of the first quarter of next year.


COLLINS: And I want to--

UPTON: We've got a National Convention, set up, in Dallas.

COLLINS: I want to talk more--

UPTON: Come April.

COLLINS: --about that effort, to get on the ballot, because obviously if you want to win, you got to get on the ballot first. And I'm interested in that.

But when you say that you're pulling from Democrats, and Republicans, equally? We've seen the polling, on how voters don't want a Trump- Biden rematch. But there's very little data, on what this exactly would look like.

We have this history of people saying, "Oh, I'm open to voting for a third party." But when it comes to Election Day, they don't actually do so. And, right now, what we've seen is when people are choosing, they don't like Biden or Trump, they say that they're more likely to go for Biden.

So, how do you know that it would pull from both candidates equally?

UPTON: Well, our polling shows that it pretty much does take equally, from both sides.

So, you've got a lot of folks, and particularly, with all these indictments, anti-Trump, Republicans that are saying, "We're not going to go there again."

On the Democratic side, people are saying, "Man, he's too old. What about Harris? We got real questions about what's that going to happen? Is this going to be our strongest candidate?"

And yet, here we are, now in July. And it looks like both of these two are going to be the nominees, for both sides. I mean, you see that with the way that the Democrats structured their presidential primaries, with South Carolina being among the very first ones.

Here, in Michigan, it looks like it's going to be a sweep for Trump. They've changed the rules, from 2016, where back in 2016, the top three candidates, in essence, got a third of the delegates. And now, it looks like Trump will get them all, because it's going to be decided, pretty much, at a convention.

And you've got many Republicans, I saw a statement, today, from Elise Stefanik, in the Republican leadership, calling Republicans, to now break for Trump. It's over. It's a landslide.

You saw DeSantis' team that one of his top people, today, said that they were way behind, in terms of where they are, and he's losing buddies (ph), I think fourth place in South Carolina.

So, it looks more like it's going to be a Trump-Biden ticket. And much of the country, actually a majority of the country, says, "Enough. We don't want this again."

COLLINS: But I still don't understand the argument--

UPTON: "Can't the two sides elect somebody else?"

COLLINS: I don't understand the argument that it's going to take away, from both of them, equally.

Because we are hearing, from Democrats, and White House advisers, that they are very concerned about what, if it is a Joe Manchin or someone? His name has been tossed around, for example, he hasn't committed one way or another. You don't hear that from Trump advisors. We only hear concerns from Democrats, that a three-way race--

UPTON: Oh, yes.

COLLINS: --is going to benefit Trump.

UPTON: No, some of the Trump folks are quite -- both, the RNC and the DNC, Democratic National Committee, they don't want us to exist. They like the game, as it is. They want their nominee to be there. They don't want a third party to come in.

And we think we actually have a chance, to get more than 270 electoral votes. And we have, until August of next year, 2024, to actually pull back, if it in fact shows that we can't win.

We think we can have a winning ticket with what would likely be a Republican presidential nominee, and a Democrat Vice President nominee running together very much along the lines of what John McCain almost did with Joe Lieberman, back in 2008.

COLLINS: But what's that path to victory? Because I've seen the electoral path to victory map that your group has. And it says it requires wins, in Hawaii, Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Those are all states that in 2020, Biden won, by 30 points or more. So, it doesn't really seem like a viable path.

UPTON: Well, you remember Larry Hogan, who was one of the Co-chairs of No Labels, actually carried the state, in 2020, by what 30 points, a Republican, in a state that Trump got crushed?

So, there is definitely room for people to say, "We don't want this rematch." And the polls show that. "Can you come up with a different ticket?"

And we actually think that there is a pathway for us to get 270, more than 270 electoral votes. But our first goal is to get on the ballot. We've got to get the signatures to get on the ballot. And that's what we're up to now, which is why Utah was a big state, this last week. But we're in play, in a good number of states, across the country, at the moment.

COLLINS: OK. But Biden still did win Maryland, that year, by more than 30 points.

But you mentioned Larry Hogan, and he actually made a comment, about this, yesterday. Obviously, he was one of the Co-chairs, and this is what he told Dana Bash, about him, potentially being that Choice C, for President.



LARRY HOGAN, (R) FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: 70 percent of the people in America do not want Joe Biden or Donald Trump to be president. And if they're going to be the nominees, which it appears that they are, you have Choice A that no one wants, and Choice B that no one wants? There may have to be a--


HOGAN: I may have to be a Choice C.


COLLINS: You just said you believe that there is a path to victory, for whoever this third candidate is? What are the names of people, who can actually beat Biden, and beat Trump? Is it a Larry Hogan? Is it a Joe Manchin?

UPTON: Well, I know both of them well. We haven't figured out exactly what the process is going to be yet. That's in the works. We're going to have it -- citizens are going to make a big decision, here, in terms of the path that we take.

First, we're going to get on these state ballots.

Second, a little bit later this month, we're going to actually release a commonsense booklet, sort of like the Contract with America that Newt Gingrich helped push back in 1994, literally 25 or 30 different principles that will guide where we are, in terms of selecting our candidates.

And then, come fall, I think we'll have a better idea of who they may be. And there's a good laundry list, of Republicans and Democrats, who, I think, could actually fit the bill.

COLLINS: Can you name a few of them?

UPTON: People have talked about Larry Hogan. They've talked about Manchin. Yes, I'm sure that they're on that, a good list of folks that could in fact, attract voters to this No Labels ticket.

COLLINS: Fred Upton, a lot of questions, about what that ticket would look like. And if you can get on the ballot, of course, we will be monitoring this, as Democrats and Republicans will be as well.

Thank you for your time, tonight.

UPTON: You bet.

COLLINS: In the Republican presidential race, one of the candidates, for the Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis, is facing intense backlash, over a new attack ad that was intended to knock Donald Trump. But it may have actually ended up backfiring on him.

Plus, a top official, for his Super PAC, is warning that he could be in big trouble, when it comes to polling. You just heard Fred Upton mention it there. We'll show you what he said, next.



COLLINS: A stark admission, from a key Ron DeSantis ally, today. The Spokesperson, for the Political Action Committee, that is backing the Florida governor, in his presidential race, says his campaign is quote, "Way behind," in fighting to defeat Donald Trump.

That follows what could also be a major misstep, for DeSantis. His campaign posted a video, on Friday, attacking Donald Trump, for his stance, on LGBTQ issues. The message so extreme that one Republican- aligned group, says, it, quote, "Ventured into homophobic territory."


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Caitlyn Jenner would walk into Trump Tower, and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?

TRUMP: That is correct.



COLLINS: Reaction to that video has been intense, on both sides of the aisle, including from fellow Republican presidential candidate, Chris Christie, who said this, on CNN, yesterday.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It is a teenage, you know, food fight, between Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump. And I don't think that's what leaders should be doing. And it certainly doesn't make me feel inspired.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: I'm going to choose my words carefully, partly because I'm appearing as Secretary, so I can't talk about campaigns.

And I'm going to leave aside the strangeness, of trying to prove, your manhood, by putting up a video that splices images of you, in between oiled-up shirtless bodybuilders.

And just get to the bigger issue that is on my mind, whenever I see this stuff, and in the policy space, which is, again, who are you trying to help? (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Joining me now, to answer that question, CNN Political Commentators, Ashley Allison, and David Urban.

Thank you both, for being here, tonight.

David, I see that you are laughing after watching. I mean?


COLLINS: I mean, what did you?

URBAN: Listen, it is -- and I understand. So Christina Pushaw, who's the spokesperson, for the campaign, said--


URBAN: --"Look, we're trying to get across, is our point, is that we're not -- we are not supporting a national movement, here, for recognizing Pride Month."

But the imagery, the ad that was created, and put up by the, and retweeted by the, campaign, it's both homophobic, and homoerotic, at the same time, is, I don't want to have to agree with Mayor Pete. But I agree it's very strange way to make your point.

COLLINS: I mean, it's bodybuilders, Brad Pitt, Gladiator, Patrick Bateman--

URBAN: Spartans and like it's--

COLLINS: --from the American Psycho.

URBAN: --it's very bizarre.

COLLINS: David, what message is -- I mean, is that a message for Republican primary voters that they're receptive to?

URBAN: I don't know. I don't exactly know what the message is.

Look, if Christina Pushaw's point is that we shouldn't be celebrating -- that there shouldn't be a federal recognition, of Pride Month? Well, that's a policy statement. You should make that, and make it clearly and articulate it. And look, that's a debate that people can have that adults can have. People can disagree upon that.

But the way it was -- the way it was presented was so bizarre, that the underlying -- that the message got loud that the underlying policy message got lost in that, whatever it was that you just showed them on the screen.

COLLINS: Ashley, I saw this video after this video -- after that ad came out, of 2018, when DeSantis was running for Governor in Florida. This was when there was a national debate, about transgender bathroom laws.

This is what he said then, as a candidate.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously, I'd have to read the bill. But I don't -- I think getting into the bathroom wars, I don't think that's a good use of our time.



COLLINS: What do you make of his stance, just five years ago, 2018, to now, how he is framing this, as he's not going to push these policy issues, in the way that he claims Trump did?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: When Ron DeSantis shows you who he is, believe him.

He has been governor, been pushing anti-LGBTQ bills, anti-Black bills. And now, this ad is just a personification of who he will be, as President of the United States, because he is showing, who he is, in the policy that he truly believes in, as Governor of Florida.

The ad is tasteless, is an attack, on the LGBT community, in an attempt to use Trump, as a foil, to make you say, "Oh, I'm the better version of the most extreme conservative of my party." It's tasteless.

He is -- should be -- we should be taking very great alarm, because not only is he implementing these policies in Florida, but he's saying he will do this, as President of the United States. So, I'm not surprised he has changed his tone, since 2016, because he's doing whatever he has to do to win.

But that's not the type of leader we want. We want someone, who actually understands, believes in the policy, and wants to create a space, for everyone, to live their full lives, in this country.

COLLINS: Yes. And I should note that if it is about policy, Trump, when he was president, he didn't even recognize pride month, until his third year in office.


COLLINS: He banned transgender people, from serving in the military. Not exactly the most pro-LGBTQ president.

But David, I mentioned earlier, on the political front, here? Steve Cortes used to work for Trump. He's now this top spokesman, for Ron DeSantis' Super PAC. And this is his blunt assessment, today, of how his candidate is doing.


STEVE CORTES, DESANTIS PAC SPOKESPERSON: Right now, in national polling, we are way behind. I'll be the first to admit that, OK? I believe in being really blunt, and really honest. It's an uphill battle. I don't think it's an unwinnable battle by any stretch, OK.


CORTES: But clearly, Donald Trump is the runaway frontrunner, particularly since the indictments.


COLLINS: What do you make of that, David?

URBAN: Yes, look, I know, Steve. I have a great deal of respect for Steve Cortes. And what he's saying is simply the truth, right?

If you look at the polling? And polling is simply a snapshot in time. He's saying, right now, given the state of polling, right now that Donald Trump is far ahead. He is the runaway favorite, in national poll after national poll. And even in these battleground states, these early-decision states, he's 20 points ahead of Governor DeSantis as well.

So, Steve Cortes is just simply, I don't know if it's controversial, for just absolutely recognizing the facts. So, I'm not so sure why it's so shocking, that he's saying, "Look, I can read, and we're behind, and we need to make it up." And I'm not so sure, he'd be happy with the missteps, like this tweet that just went out, a few days ago, on this, on Pride Month. I'm not so sure that's going to help him.

COLLINS: Ashley, what do you make of it all?

ALLISON: Look, I think the DeSantis campaign, their strategy is, "We hope that something happens, where Trump won't end up on the ballot, when we get into 2024, during these primaries, maybe because of indictments, maybe because he's actually in court. Now, he might not be removed from the ballot, but that something happens that is so dramatic, to Trump's brand that he becomes kind of obsolete."

That's a stretch of an imagination. But I think that is what the DeSantis camp is doing. And they're hoping that if that happens, Ron DeSantis can come in, and be a place-filler, as Trump 2.0.

Now, whether that's going to happen or not? I'm not really sure. But I do think that is his strategy. That's why he's going after Trump.


ALLISON: But sometimes not really saying his name.

COLLINS: Yes. And notable, also given--

URBAN: Yes well there's a famous--

COLLINS: Go ahead, David.

URBAN: I was going to say, there's a famous saying in politics. "Hope is not a strategy."


COLLINS: We'll leave it there.

Ashley Allison, David Urban, thank you both.

URBAN: Thanks, right.

COLLINS: Tonight, Arizona's governor says he is surprised he didn't get a call, from the Special Counsel, who is investigating former President Trump. This is according to new reporting. That was after Trump phoned him, in the wake of the 2020 election, and his loss. We'll tell you what the reporting is, next.



COLLINS: Tonight, former Vice President, Mike Pence, says he doesn't recall that Donald Trump pressured him, to call the Governor of Arizona, about their 2020 election loss.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did check in with, not only Governor Ducey, but other governors, and states, that were going through the legal process of reviewing their election results. But there was no pressure involved, Margaret.

I was calling to get an update. I passed along that information to the President. And it was no more, no less than that.


COLLINS: "No more, no less than that."

"The Washington Post" first reported that Trump pressured, then- Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, to overturn the State's election results.

And the story has a really interesting detail that the Governor, Ducey, told a donor later, he was surprised, the Special Counsel, Jack Smith, hadn't reached out to him, about the matter.

CNN's Senior Legal Analyst, Elie Honig, is here, to break down all of these legal threads.

We don't know for sure that Jack Smith has not reached out to the Governor -- the former Governor of Arizona yet. But if he hasn't, what would it signal to you that that's not something Jack Smith was interested in?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. If he hasn't, my first question will be what's he waiting for? Because with all the focus that's been on Georgia? Let's remember,

this was a seven-stage strategy, including Arizona. And if I'm in charge of this case, to me, Governor Ducey's testimony is even more important than Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State.

Because with Raffensperger, there's audio. So, we can hear the call. You don't even really need Raffensperger's testimony. You just play the audio. That's the key piece of evidence.

But with Governor Ducey, there is no known audio. So, all you're going to have is his account of that phone call. That's crucial evidence. And I sort of share the Governor's surprise, as to why Jack Smith hasn't reached out yet.

COLLINS: As soon as I read this story, there was this moment that I remembered. It was right after the election. We were covering Trump's efforts, to overturn the results. And Doug Ducey was certifying Biden's win, in Arizona, and his phone rang. And this is what it played.





COLLINS: For those who can't hear that?

HONIG: OK. That's a power move.

COLLINS: It's "Hail to the Chief." It was former President Trump calling, we believe.


COLLINS: What is it, I mean, just the idea that you can see, seeing that, and then hearing this reporting, reading this reporting, of what was happening, behind-the-scenes?

HONIG: Yes. It's an interesting moment, right, because he sort of quickly silences it. I mean, one of the things you would try to do is confirm that there was a phone call. You would try to pull the phone records, see, was there a call from any number that we associate with Donald Trump that went through to Governor Ducey?

Another possibility here, I should say is that Jack Smith is sort of narrowing his focus, and that he's only -- we know, we talked to Brad Raffensperger, last week, and that perhaps he's only looking at Georgia, and says, "Let me look at the most flagrant of the seven states."

And prosecutors do that sometimes, because it's going to take a lot of resources, to investigate all seven states. So, if he's not gone to Governor Ducey yet, it also could be for that reason.

COLLINS: Yes. And Pence says he did call Ducey. He says, he just basically wasn't delivering the message that Trump clearly wanted him to.


COLLINS: Separately, over the weekend, on the investigation, into Hunter Biden, the U.S. Attorney, in Delaware, David Weiss, whom is a Trump appointee, sent this two-page letter, to House Republicans, defending his investigation, denying that he was blocked, from pursuing more serious allegations, against Hunter Biden.

And he said -- basically, they want information, and he said, "I am required to protect confidential law enforcement information and deliberative communications... Thus, I will not provide specific information related to Hunter Biden," at this time.

HONIG: Good for David Weiss, for doing that. He's standing up for DOJ's core principles. You cannot open up your investigative files to Congress. It doesn't matter how many times Jim Jordan insists on it.

And ultimately, let's play this out. What if Jim Jordan gets serious, and says, "OK, you don't want to give it to us? Here's a subpoena."

What does David Weiss do? He will not give that material over. I guarantee you, that is an ironclad rule of DOJ. Imagine if DOJ just started opening up its files to Congress? It would lead to all sorts of ridiculous results and problematic results.

So, let's say David Weiss, and DOJ, say "No, we're not going to do it." What happens? Jim Jordan is going to find him in contempt maybe? OK, then what? Where does contempt get sent for prosecution?


HONIG: To DOJ. Checkmate.

So, I applaud David Weiss, and Merrick Garland. As much as I've been critical of Merrick Garland, I think they're holding the line here, and appropriately so.

COLLINS: Yes. Doesn't mean House Republicans will stop trying to get that information, right?

HONIG: For sure.

COLLINS: Elie Honig, thank you.

HONIG: Let's see it.

COLLINS: We'll see what that looks like.

HONIG: Up next, we have the latest, on the urgent search, underway, in Baltimore, tonight, still underway, after another mass shooting has left two people dead, and more than two dozen injured, following a holiday Block Party. Will raising the reward help police track down the multiple suspects that are believed to be responsible? And the latest, on another shooting, in the U.S.



COLLINS: Breaking news, tonight, as eight people have been shot, and hospitalized, in a mass shooting, in Southwest Philadelphia. Police say one person is in custody, and a weapon has been recovered.

But, right now, we don't yet know if there are any confirmed fatalities. We are monitoring this incident very closely. We'll bring you those developments, as we're learning them, tonight.

But unfortunately, this also comes as we are following another shooting, as Baltimore Police are still searching, for at least two suspects, in a deadly mass shooting, there, Sunday, after a community celebration. Reward has now been amped up to $28,000 for tips that could help lead to an arrest, of those two suspects.

We know that 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi (ph), and 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzales (ph) were killed. 28 More people, most of them just teenagers, were also injured, in this shooting, on Sunday. One of them, just 13-years-old.

CNN's Danny Freeman is live, in Baltimore.

Danny, what are we learning more about this manhunt that is very much still underway? What a possible motive could be?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, first the motive, we're still waiting for an answer, from city officials, as to what may have motivated this shooting.

Remember, at this point, Baltimore police officers are looking for multiple shooters, in this shooting. And, at this point, they're still looking at an all-out manhunt. 28 people injured, two people killed. And the Mayor promised today unequivocally that they will not stop looking for these people, until they have them behind bars.

But Kaitlan, just want to recap, and step back, for a moment, and remind viewers exactly how this all started. It really happened, and started, I should say, on Saturday afternoon.

And Saturday evening, there was a block party, in Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood. It was called Brooklyn Day. It's an annual event that's been happening for 20-plus years. Normally, a very festive event, attracted hundreds of people.

But then, police say, at around 12:30, early Sunday morning, so just after midnight, on Saturday night, gunshots broke out, and that's when chaos erupted.

We've been seeing and showing surveillance video, all throughout the day. 28 people injured. And of course, those two people that you mentioned, Miss Gonzales (ph) and Mr. Fagbemi (ph), they were both killed.

Now, at this point, Kaitlan, like you said, there have been no arrests. But we heard from police and city officials, earlier today. And, like I said earlier, they are putting all of their resources, right now, to finding at least two, if not more potential shooters, in this case.

COLLINS: All right, Danny, keep us updated, on the latest on that. Thank you for that update, as we are learning more.


COLLINS: Also tonight, switching gears, a territorial dispute, in the South China Sea, and the new "Barbie" movie, now have a strange connection. We'll tell you what it is, next.








COLLINS: It's shaping up to be one of the hottest movies of the summer, certainly one of the most popular. But if you live in Vietnam, you may not be able to see it.

"Barbie" is this fun fantasy comedy that stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. But the movie has been banned in Vietnam, over a scene that includes a map, depicting China's nine-dash line in the South China Sea.

China's long claimed territorial waters, extends hundreds of miles to the south and east, and one of its -- in the east of one of its island's provinces. Vietnam and several other countries are in a dispute with China, over that area.

Right now, I should note that Warner Brothers, our sister company, who made this film, has not commented on the matter.

Thank you so much, for joining us, tonight.

"CNN TONIGHT" with Alisyn Camerota starts, right now.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST, CNN TONIGHT: Hi, Kaitlan. Thank you very much.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to a special holiday edition of CNN TONIGHT.

The Republican infighting is taking a nasty turn. Ron DeSantis is attacking Donald Trump, with a campaign video that slams Trump, for once supporting LGBTQ rights, like this moment, in 2016, weeks after the Pulse nightclub massacre.


TRUMP: I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.


CAMEROTA: Our panel is going to explain--