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WSJ: Bill Gates Left Microsoft Board Amid Probe Into Prior Affair With Staffer; Fighting Vaccine Hesitancy; CDC Mask Guidance; Middle East Conflict; Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) Ally Pleads Guilty In Sex Trafficking Case, Promises Substantial Assistance To Prosecutors; Sources Say, Mysterious Incidents Steps From The White House Sicken National Security Officials. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 17, 2021 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It features the heroes from my previous effort, "The Hellfire" Club, Charlie and Margaret Marder.

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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: The death toll climbs, as the worst Israeli/Palestinian fighting in years rages on with no end in sight.

Also, new questions right now about vaccinated people shedding their masks. Is an honor system enough?

And new details of mysterious incidents that sickened national security officials just steps from the White House.

Lots going on.

Let's go straight to Jerusalem first. Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is on the scene for us once again tonight.

Ben, there are more calls for a cease-fire. What's the latest?


One of those calls for a cease-fire came from President Biden himself, when he had a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The situation, however, on the ground remains grave. The death toll, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, is 212, with 61 children among them.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Destruction again in Gaza City, Israeli firepower destroying the top floors of this building in El-Rimal neighborhood. The Israelis say the targets were militants from Hamas.

The Israeli strike blew out the windows of a health clinic across the street, a key coronavirus testing center, according to officials in Gaza.

"The Palestinian situation is devastated and in crisis for 15 years. Now that crisis is worse and suffering has increased," says Gaza resident Ahmed (ph).

Meanwhile, just a few miles north, the Israeli military continues their artillery assault. Monday evening, the Israeli military claimed airstrikes had rendered 100 kilometers of tunnel inoperable, taking out the network of underground passageways beneath Gaza, where Israel says fighters take shelter and store weapons, a major objective in Israel's campaign.

Another priority, degrading Hamas' rocket-building capability, 80 to 90 percent of that capacity now destroyed, say the Israeli military. For Israelis in towns like Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Be'er Sheva, that's a message they need to hear.

"Two days, it fell next to my house and did massive damage," resident Isherel Shlokel (ph) says. "This time, it went into the building."

Several times a day, the alarms ring out and they run for cover.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We will do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and on the security of our people and deterrence. We're trying to degrade Hamas terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it'll take some time. I hope it won't take long. But it's not immediate.

WEDEMAN: Short shrift for those demanding and immediate cease-fire.


WEDEMAN: And further complicating the situation, Wolf, there are reports that rockets were fired from Lebanon in the direction of Northern Israel. It appears they fell within Lebanese territory. Israeli artillery reportedly fired back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, thank you.

Ben Wedeman, stay safe over there.

Let's go to the White House right now.

Our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, is joining us.

Kaitlan, President Biden, he just spoke within the past little while with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Tell us what you're learning. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, this

is the second time he has spoken to him in just a matter of days, really showing just how much this has elevated as an issue here at the White House after not really being one for President Biden's first several months in office.

And in this readout that we just got a few moments ago of Biden's conversation with Netanyahu today, the White House says that, in a very carefully worded statement, we should note, that President Biden expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end. Then he said that the two leaders agreed that they and their teams would stay in touch.

But, Wolf, we should note that a senior administration official also says this is not President Biden explicitly calling for a cease-fire to happen yet.


COLLINS (voice-over): With all eyes on the Middle East, President Biden is under new pressure to address the escalating violence.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be speaking with the prime minister in an hour, and I will talk to you after that.


COLLINS: Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time since Saturday, amid questions about whether the U.S. will explicitly call for a cease-fire.

TONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Ultimately, it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a cease-fire. Any cease-fire would be, by definition, between them.

COLLINS: Biden's top aides say they're pursuing another course for now.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our approach is through quiet, intensive diplomacy. And that's where we feel we can be most effective.

COLLINS: Despite that, over two dozen senators are calling for an immediate cease-fire.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence.

COLLINS: The progressive wing of the president's party is also pressuring him to take a more aggressive stance on Israel.

REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): To read the statements from President Biden and Secretary Blinken, General Austin and leaders of both parties, you would hardly know Palestinians existed at all.

COLLINS: In addition to Netanyahu, Biden also spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, following an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza building that housed the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and other news outlets.

BLINKEN: President Biden and other members of the administration have raised directly our concerns with our Israeli counterparts about the safety and security of journalists operating in Gaza.

COLLINS: Prime Minister Netanyahu says the strike was justified because Hamas was operating out of the building.

NETANYAHU: So it's a perfectly legitimate target. We share with our American friends all that intelligence.

COLLINS: Secretary of State Tony Blinken says he hasn't seen that intelligence.

BLINKEN: Shortly after the strike, we did request additional details regarding the justification for it. I have not seen any information provided.

COLLINS: And Press Secretary Jen Psaki is also not saying if Biden has either.

PSAKI: I'm not going to be in a position now or ever of committing or confirming who has or hasn't seen intelligence.


COLLINS: Now, Wolf, coming on top of all of this is, we have also learned that the Biden administration has approved a proposed arms sale to Israel for $735 million. We found out about that because the administration notified Congress formally about this on May 5.

That, of course, is before this latest violence broke out. But it does raise some questions about what those congressional Democrats, the ones who are pushing back on Biden's stance toward Israel, what they will say about that. It does open up about a 15-day window for Congress to push back on the sale. That's not expected right now.

But, of course, right now, at this point, a lot of things are tenuous when it comes to the situation, as the White House is monitoring it closely.

BLITZER: Very tenuous, indeed.

Kaitlan, stay with us.

I also want to bring in Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for Walla News and a contributing correspondent for Axios. Also joining us, Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy.

To all of you, thank you very much.

Barak, this is the first time we have actually seen the word cease- fire in a readout of a conversation between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu during this conflict. Based on your reporting -- and you're well-sourced -- how much weight do Biden's words actually hold with the Israeli prime minister?


I think that the Israelis are taking Biden very seriously. One reason for it is that, until now, since the beginning of this crisis, Biden gave Israel quite a lot of support and backing. The Biden administration blocked three Security Council statements on the crisis in Gaza, including today.

But when I spoke today with Israeli officials after the call between Biden and Netanyahu, what an Israeli official told me is that, basically, the message they're getting from the Biden administration was that, we support you, we blocked several attempts to put pressure on you, but the time is running out, and our ability to stop both domestic and international pressures regarding Gaza is becoming harder and harder.

Therefore, it's time to end this.

BLITZER: Shadi, in the written statement that the White House released, President Biden expressed -- quote -- "support" for a cease- fire, but he actually stopped short of calling for one.

Does President Biden need to come out directly, explicitly and call for a cease-fire?


I mean, we have been waiting -- we have been waiting about a week for this for stronger -- a stronger U.S. response. And I think that, at each step of the way, Biden hasn't really been forceful. He hasn't been explicit.

On Thursday, he said that what -- Israel's bombardment of Gaza was not a significant overreaction. And I think it's fair to say that Israel interpreted that as a green light to continue with its campaign. And that's why we have seen this escalation.


Now, we're hearing from White House -- White House officials that the reason for that is that they're focusing on quiet intensive diplomacy. But there's only so long you can try that if there aren't results and Netanyahu isn't actually trying to bring this to a halt.

Then we have to ask ourselves, is this strategy of quiet diplomacy actually working? And if we talk about the U.N. resolution that has been blocked by the U.S., that was a pretty mild statement. It just pretty much expressed grave concern for loss of civilians on both sides.

It wasn't particularly controversial. The U.S. was the only country that opposed it. Do we want to continue standing out as not actually caring about Palestinian lives, as we saw about more than 200 have been killed? Almost half of them are children and women.

So, Israel talks about precision, but what we're seeing in practice is not very precise.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, says he has not personally seen evidence to support Israel's claimed that Hamas was, in fact, operating in that building where the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera and other news media organizations were housed.

What are you learning, Kaitlan, about whether any such intelligence has actually been shared by the Israelis with the U.S.?

COLLINS: Well, I think it's notable that the White House has not gone to great lengths to say, no, we haven't gotten that intelligence. They're just being very cagey about who has seen it and just held tight that circle is, because, of course, they're pushing it to the intelligence community, saying that that is being filtered through intelligence channels.

And so the question of whether or not it's something that Secretary Blinken would have seen as of this morning, that still remains to be seen when he will actually see that whether he actually will actually see that intelligence.

But I think the Israeli side and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been pretty clear that, yes, they did send that intelligence, they did show that to the White House.

I think the bigger question for them is whether or not they have seen that intelligence and both find it to be credible, and find it to be a justified airstrike, as Israel was arguing that it was, given the kind of building and what was being housed in a building, in addition to the Israeli claims that Hamas was operating military intelligence out of there.

And so I think that part remains to be seen. But we haven't actually had a chance to ask President Biden explicitly about this. He's actually spoken pretty little about it in public. Beyond these statements that we're getting, these readouts, he himself has not really talked about it at length publicly.

And I think that plays to what you were just hearing about that quiet, intensive effort behind the scenes. That's really what they're focusing on and don't think it's helpful for the president to be weighing in publicly.

BLITZER: Back in 2014, as I remember, Barak, it took, what, more than seven weeks for the Israel-Gaza -- at that time, the Israel-Gaza conflict to end. And Qatar played a major role. Egypt played a major role in achieving that cease-fire.

What are you learning about how long Israel is prepared for this fight to last?

RAVID: Yes, well, I think this was one of the main lessons from the war in 2014 that took 51 days. And, basically, Israel ended up those 51 days at the exact same point

it started, with no gains whatsoever. So, I think that what I heard today again from very senior Israeli officials, that they said, we have no interest in continuing this for much longer.

A senior Israeli official told me, we're looking at 24 to 48 hours, and that's it, we want out.

So, I think the Israelis are very conscious that they can get much more out of this operation.

BLITZER: You agree, Shadi?

HAMID: Well, I mean, I think that's positive, if it's true. I mean, we will have to wait and see.

I mean, Netanyahu said that this will still take time and that it will continue. So, the public rhetoric that we're seeing isn't very encouraging from Netanyahu. This week, I think, will be critical, because the previous time around, in 2014, there was promise for a cease-fire in week one, week two, but then it continued for several weeks thereafter.

So we're at a very critical moment, where I think decisive action is necessary. And when Biden isn't being forceful and doesn't seem very engaged on this, it does concern me.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. The next 24, 48 hours clearly could be critical.

Guys, thank you very, very much.

HAMID: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Who should be wearing masks here in the United States and where? We're going to take a closer look at all the confusion that was sparked by the CDC's abrupt about-face.



BLITZER: There's new criticism tonight of the latest mask guidelines coming out from the CDC saying that fully vaccinated people can go maskless in most circumstances here in the United States.

But that's not necessarily the case nationwide, as CNN national correspondent Erica Hill explains.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Get the shot, lose the mask.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a little bit of whiplash for the American public, in terms of them saying just a week before, keep your mask on.

HILL: The other issue, is every uncovered face really vaccinated?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You're protected if you're vaccinated. You're not if you're not vaccinated.

DR. CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Public health doesn't work by the honor system. But I want the CDC not only to look at the science, but to think about human behavior and to think about real- world scenarios. That's how we're going to build trust in our public institutions. And that's how we're going to build to population or community immunity.

HILL: That real-world scenario today is a little confusing, CVS and Target the latest chains to drop mask requirements for vaccinated customers, unless local regulations still require them, joining Starbucks, Costco, Trader Joe's, and Walmart.

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: At some point, we have to actually allow for both private responsibility, as well as the opportunity for businesses to do business on their terms.

HILL: Kids still need to ask up at school, but what about camp this summer?


WALENSKY: We're working on that right now.

HILL: Amidst the confusion, more signs the vaccines are working. On Sunday, new cases hit a low not seen since March 25, 2020, hospitalizations down 11 percent in the last week, poised to drop below 30,000 for the first time in more than 10 months.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R-MA): We're safer, smarter, and better equipped in this fight than at any time since it began.

HILL: Massachusetts will drop all COVID restrictions May 29. It's one of seven states where more than 70 percent of the adult population has had at least one dose of the vaccine, President Biden's July 4 goal for the country as a whole.

Several more are closing in, but not these 10, where less than half the adults have at least one shot.

BIDEN: Now's the time to get your vaccine shot.

HILL: President Biden also hoping to boost vaccinations globally.

BIDEN: Over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas.

HILL: A move health experts have been calling for to help close the equity gap.


HILL: We're learning a little bit more about next steps here in New York state, Wolf.

On Wednesday, the state will move forward with those -- that CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people, meaning no masks, no distancing. Of course, that doesn't apply to schools, to health care settings, nor to public transportation.

By the way, today, the subway went back to its 24/7 service. And we also learned, Wolf, that the New York City Marathon will be back in 2021, currently slated for November 7, at 60 percent capacity, which is still 33,000 runners, Wolf.

BLITZER: Wow. All right, Erica, thank you very much, Erica Hill in New York.

Health officials are now working to overcome vaccine hesitancy among some Americans, including white evangelical Christians.

Joining us now, the Reverend Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Reverend Graham, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

I'm sure you saw that Pew Research Center survey that found that 45 percent, 45 percent, of white evangelical Christians said they definitely or probably will not get vaccinated against COVID-19.

So, what's your message to fellow evangelicals who are still very hesitant to get this potentially lifesaving vaccine?

REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM, PRESIDENT, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think a lot of this is changing, these attitudes.

But when Jesus started his ministry, he went about preaching, and he used his power as the son of God to bring healing to people's bodies. And he didn't do that so they'd have a better life. He did it so that they would put their faith and trust in him as the son of God.

And as a Christian, I think it's important that we model our ministry after that of Jesus Christ. We want to try to bring healing to people's bodies. And we can do that through modern medicine. My grandfather was a surgeon to China. He went there in 1916. And he brought modern medicine at that time to China and used his skills as a surgeon to save life.

And he did it in Jesus' name. And I think we want to do the same. And the evangelicals, there are many who are hesitant. I don't think, Wolf, it's just evangelicals. You know, like 40 percent of the United States Marine Corps is not going to get vaccinated.

You have in Germany people -- I think it's close to 50 percent of the doctors and nurses in that country alone have said they're not going to take the vaccine. I think a lot of people are afraid of just something that's just new.

And I thank God for a vaccine. I thank God for the polio vaccine. I was 6 years old, I think, when that came to our school. And I remember they put it on a sugar cube. And we all went down to the lunchroom and they put a little drop of, I believe, it was like a blue virus or whatever it was -- vaccine, and we took it to our mouth, and we ate it, thought, this is kind of fun. It's like candy.

But we -- I remember that vaccine. And now it has been almost eradicated around the world. And so vaccines are important. I would encourage people to pray about it, consider it. I would never tell somebody they had to have it or try to mandate it.

But I think we certainly should encourage people to consider the vaccine. And if you don't take it, there are some real risks for some groups.


And I know you have been fully vaccinated, and you want everyone to be fully vaccinated. I know you told Axios you're willing to work with the Biden administration on this issue. You have a lot of influence out there, as we all know.

Has the White House. Reverend Graham, actually reached out to you about this and asked you to do a public service announcement, something along those lines?

GRAHAM: No, not yet. But I'd be glad to. If they call, I certainly would try to work with them and help them any way I could.

BLITZER: What do you think the Biden administration needs to do right now to effectively reach evangelicals who are, as you and I know, and others, for that matter, who are suspicious of these vaccines?


GRAHAM: Well, it's not just being suspicious. Some people are scared to death of needles. And that's just a fact. And, of course, anything that's new, people are afraid of it.

And I know that they're young adults out there that want to have families. They are afraid, what is this vaccine going to do to the possibility of me getting pregnant or having a child, bringing a baby into this world? Is that going to affect it?

So, there are some questions out there I think that are legitimate. But I think the Biden administration certainly could help by getting some people to speak with him on this issue and try to help get the word out.

Again, I would never want to pressure anybody, Wolf. This is a personal decision. And it's just -- it's between them and God and their families. But I -- for me and my family, my wife and I, we decided to take the vaccine. I'm 68 years old, Wolf. I only have a few more years left on this

world. And I want to try to have as much energy and strength as I possibly can, so I can go as far as I can.

BLITZER: Well, God willing...

GRAHAM: And the coronavirus is the real deal.

BLITZER: God willing, we hope you have many years left on this Earth.


BLITZER: And I'm really happy to hear that, if the -- if the administration, the Biden administration asked, you would go out, speak publicly and do this public service announcement, which could be so important for the lives of a lot of people out there.

I know you're also calling on former President Trump to speak out and encourage Americans to get vaccines -- vaccinated. Are -- have you actually spoken with him since you publicly made that suggestion?

GRAHAM: I have spoken with him, but it wasn't about this particular issue. He called me about a different issue.

But I would encourage the president to do that. There's no downside for him to do this. I think it'd be a very easy thing. And I might try to get ahold of him even tonight and say something to him.

BLITZER: Yes, well, please do, because he has a lot of influence out there. And he could save a lot of lives by doing what you are doing, speaking out publicly. It would be so, so important.

And thanks for everything you're doing, Reverend Graham. We are grateful to you. Good luck.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Wolf. And God bless.

BLITZER: And God bless you as well.

Coming up: An ally of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz formally pleads guilty to six charges, including sex trafficking an underage girl.

We're going to have new details on what he told the judge and what he promised investigators.



BLITZER: Joel Greenberg, a close ally of Congressman Matt Gaetz, has just pleaded guilty to 6 federal charges, including sex trafficking an under-aged girl. Greenberg admitted to a judge that he only paid the girl for sex and promised to give, and I'm quoting now, substantial assistance to prosecutors. CNN's Randi Kaye is all over this story for us. She's down there on the scene. Now, so Randi, does this guilty plea mean trouble for the congressman?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could, Wolf. We know that Joel Greenberg was once an ally of Matt Gaetz and he was facing 33 federal charges, including sex trafficking, fraud, bribery. And then the Justice Department cut a deal with him, allowing him to plead down to just six federal charges.

And today in court and in a plea agreement that was released last week, he pleaded guilty to soliciting and paying for sex with a minor. As you said, he said that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl at least seven times.

He also said, and this is key, that he arranged for others to have sex with that same minor. So the question is who are the others and will Joel Greenberg give up those names? That's perhaps why the Justice Department cut this plea deal with him.

So part of the plea deal is that he will give that substantial assistance that you mentioned. He will have to testify at trials. He will be part of federal grand juries. He will have to work to earn this plea deal, in a sense.

But the judge today telling Greenberg that his cooperation really could impact what his sentence is, the more he cooperates, maybe the better plea deal, the lesser sentence that he would actually get.

So, here is what his attorney said after Joel Greenberg appeared in court when asked why reporters if this plea deal might make Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz nervous.


FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: Does my client have information that could hurt an elected official? I guess this is just, you know, must-see-television. You'll just have to wait and see.


KAYE: And, Wolf, it's important to note that Matt Gaetz was not mentioned in the plea agreement. He was not mention in court today. He says he's done nothing wrong and he hasn't been charged with anything either, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Randi, thank you very much, Randi Kaye on the scene for us.

Let's get some analysis from the state attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, Dave Aronberg. Dave, thanks as usual for joining us.

So, you just heard Joel Greenberg's lawyer dodge that question when he was asked if his client has information that could hurt an elected official. He simply said, this is a must-see-television. What do you make of that? DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good evening Wolf. When he said, must-see-T.V., I think it means that perhaps a major figure is going down. I mean, you got to believe that must-see-T.V. doesn't mean some low-hanging fruit, you know, cousin Ed who lives in his mother's basement. Perhaps it means an elected official like a sitting member of congress. But we'll have to see.

His lawyer needs to be careful about speaking too much in public because prosecutors don't like it when a criminal defense lawyers threaten to reveal confidential discussions because you don't want to tip-off potential targets.


That's why Matt Gaetz's name or anyone else's name was nowhere to be found in the 86-page plea agreement, because you don't want to give a potential target the opportunity to flee or to tamper with witnesses. So he needs to be very careful and probably abide by the rule that silence is golden.

BLITZER: Greenberg's lawyer also said his client is on the path towards rehabilitation. And I'm quoting now, he has a great deal of remorse. Is that enough to ease the legitimate concerns about Greenberg's credibility?

ARONBERG: Remember, Ronald Reagan said trust but verify. And I think when you're talking about this 86-page agreement, I think the reason why they have so much detail in here, 60 pages of facts is to make sure that Joel Greenberg doesn't weasel out of it, doesn't said, oh, I didn't mean that.

They put a lot of detail in this agreement, a lot of facts in here, so that if Joel Greenberg doesn't cop to it, if he tries to weasel out of it, then the Feds can reinstate the 27 charges they dropped and also go after him for the six charges that he plead to and use his admissions against him. So, Joel Greenberg has every incentive to live up to his end of the deal or else he'd been facing life in prison.

And it's pretty telling, Wolf, that the two major charges here that have mandatory minimum sentences are still in this, meaning, he pled guilty to six counts, including the child sex trafficking count, that includes a ten-year mandatory minimum, and the aggravated identity theft count that includes a two-year mandatory minimum. So the feds wanted to lock him in because they probably don't totally believe him.

BLITZER: Greenberg is currently in jail. He was made aware by the judge today that his eventual sentence will depend on the level of his cooperation. Just how powerful is that motivation?

ARONBERG: It's an anvil hanging over his head, like Wile E. Coyote. And as I said, trust but verify. The feds believe he has credibility, only because there is documentation. There are Venmo receipts, there are emails, there are text messages and likely there are other corroborating witnesses, other people who can back up what he is saying. But, really, this is a guy who came up with some of the worst crimes you could imagine. I think he is probably the worst, most corrupt elected official in Florida history now that he's plead guilty. And that is a high bar. Take it from a guy in Florida, he is the ultimate poster child for the Florida man.

BLITZER: Dave Aronberg, you know what you're talking about clearly. Thank you so much, we'll continue this conversation. The story is clearly not going away.

Just ahead, two national security officials are the latest apparent victims of mysterious incidents right near the White House. We have new information. We'll share it with you when we come back.



BLITZER: We are learning new information tonight about mysterious incidents just steps from the White House that sickened two national security officials.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, I understand you're getting that new information from your sources.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are and we're told that one of those two officials needed to seek immediate medical treatment. Adding to the concern tonight, these two officials were struck with those illnesses right here in one of the most heavily secured areas of the entire country.


TODD (voice over): At the president's doorstep, two mysterious incidents that have intelligence officials scrambling. Multiple sources tell CNN tonight two White House officials were struck by a mysterious illness, one hit while they were near an entrance to the White House grounds, the other while they were passing through a gate near the Ellipse on the south side of the White House. Both were National Security Council officials and both incidents occurred in November, sources say.

The cases were consistent with a series of strange, debilitating attacks against more than 100 U.S. diplomats and intelligence personnel. One theory says they came from directed microwave signals.

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: There's also a psychological impact to this in terms of how this attack was launch and why this specific location was chosen. That's sending a message that we can get to you this close to the White House.

TODD: It's called Havana syndrome because the unexplained symptoms started with U.S. diplomatic officials in Cuba about five years ago. But similar attacks also occurred against American diplomats and intelligence officers in Russia, China and elsewhere. Symptoms include ear popping, vertigo, pounding headaches and nausea. Marc Polymeropoulos, a former Senior CIA Officer, says he was hit while in a Moscow Hotel in 2017.

MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER SENIOR CIA OFFICER: I woke up in the middle of the night with an incredible case of vertigo. The room was spinning. I wanted to throw up and go to the bathroom. And you know I had never experienced anything like this. I had that night as my ears were ringing.

TODD: Polymeropoulos says he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after that attack and had to retire from the CIA.

POLYMEROPOULOS: I'd rather would have been shot.

TODD: Who or what is the perpetrator? Current and former U.S. official say it could be Russia or China, but that is largely circumstantial. According to U.S. intelligence documents obtained by CNN, Russia has been developing microwave weapons for years.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: The people who are best at this are the Russians. They're quite amazing, their engineers. I would suspect it's the Russians and it's a flat-out intelligence operation rather than to harm anybody.


TODD (voice-over): Russian officials have vehemently denied responsibility for the attacks, as have Chinese and Cuban officials. Experts say they don't believe President Biden is in danger while he's inside the White House. But what about when he ventures out?

JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: If in the very low probability that that threat would present itself to the president, the time to exposure would be minimal with quick reaction by the Secret Service.


TODD (on camera): Now, how can other Americans defend themselves from these incidents?

Well, current and former U.S. officials tell CNN that multiple agencies are developing some kind of sensor. But they say that can only detect the activity and not really protect anyone from it. CNN is told tonight that these incidents are now a top priority with all U.S. intelligence agencies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It is so worrisome indeed.

Brian Todd, thanks so much for that report.

Coming up, as his divorce makes headlines, Bill Gates' workplace behavior is under lots of scrutiny following reports of a relationship with a staffer.


BLITZER: Tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates left the company's board amid a probe into a prior affair he had with a staffer. This follows news of the end of his 27-year marriage to Melinda Gates.

Emily Glazer is one of "The Wall Street Journal" reporters who broke the story. She's joining us right now.

Emily, thanks so much for joining us.

So, what exactly was going on behind the scenes at Microsoft around the same time that Bill Gates stepped down from the board?

EMILY GLAZER, REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Bill Gates stepped down from the board in March 2020. But that was abrupt. And we learned a lot more since then.

A Microsoft female employee wrote in a letter in late 2019, that board member said she had a multi-year a sexual, romantic relationship with Bill Gates. And, this Microsoft engineer also demanded payments to her job. So, that got to board members and they decided to have a outside investigation to see whether Mr. Gates was suitable as a board director.

BLITZER: Melinda Gates said he was working with lawyers, we're told, on this separation since at least 2019.

Is there any connection between the claims against her husband, Emily, and the Gates' divorce?

GLAZER: Wolf, that's the question a lot of people want to know. What prompted this divorce? Why is it happening? No one knows precisely why. You know, only two people really know the details.

But what we do know is that the female employee that she was having sat there with Bill Gates in discussions with the company did ask that Melinda French Gates read the letter. We do not know if she read the letter. We also know that this investigation is happening in late 2019. And the writing was on the wall for Bill Gates. Board members decided it was no longer suitable for him to be a director, as more became clear.

And as he stepped down in 2020, we know that that same year, Melinda Gates and Bill Gates were working with their own legal teams and working with the mediator on their divorce.

BLITZER: Yeah, and if that were not enough, on top of all this, Emily, you are reporting that same Microsoft board members were also asking questions about Bill Gates is connection to a convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. What are you learning about their relationship and the impact it had?

GLAZER: Indeed. Wolf, we reported last week that Bill Gates' relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, he mentioned, he's a convicted sex offender. And that is something that Melinda Gates found a major concern. We know that Bill and Melinda Gates met with Jeffrey Epstein together in 2013.

Melinda Gates was not happy with that meeting afterwards. And as media reports came out in late 2019 about just how close Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein were, Melinda Gates was in touch with divorce lawyers.

So, board members also in late 2019 asked about those connections. They were told at the time it was strictly philanthropy and nothing more.

BLITZER: What are Bill Gates and Melinda Gates actually saying about all of this?

GLAZER: Not too much. Bill Gates' spokeswoman did confirm the affair in a statement to "The Wall Street Journal" yesterday. Also said the affair was almost 20 years ago. The spokesman also said that Bill Gates did not resign from the board because of that matter. But our sources say differently.

BLITZER: Emily Glazer, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for your excellent, excellent reporting. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, we remember the young reporter who got the interview of a lifetime at age 11. Standby.



BLITZER: Finally, tonight, we remember Damon Weaver, who as an 11- year-old landed the interview every journalist dreams that. He actually sat down with the then-president of the United States, Barack Obama. This was back in 2009.


DAMON WEAVER, AGE 11: What can we do to make our country better?

BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ii think the things that kids can do best is to just work really hard and school and succeed. And if young people like yourself are reading at high and doing their math, doing their homework, and science, and ending up going to college and being successful, that makes everybody better off.


BLITZER: Shortly after that, really, really important interview, I had my own interview with Damon right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: If you want to be a journalist, you've got to practice, and that's what you're doing right now, right? WEAVER: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: So, you're going to practice being a journalist?


BLITZER: Going to keep on doing some interviews?

WEAVER: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let you practice with me right now. Go ahead, interview me.

WEAVER: Why do they call you Wolf?

BLITZER: That's my name. That's my real name. I didn't make it up.

WEAVER: Is that because you have a lot of hair on your face?

BLITZER: No, but that's a -- maybe that's a good example. But it's not why they call me Wolf.

WEAVER: Do you like working for CNN?

BLITZER: I love working for CNN.

WEAVER: Will you give me an internship?

BLITZER: I will, when you finish your sophomore year in college. You work really hard. You'll come and you'll be an intern here on CNN.


BLITZER: Later in a separate interview with "Time Magazine", was Damon asked if you want to be a news anchor, and he replied yes, he wanted to be. These were his words. He wanted to be Wolf Blitzer. Damon when on to graduate from Albany State University last year. He

died sadly, he died (AUDIO GAP) of 23. The cause was not disclosed.

Our deepest condolences to his family. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.