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Oath Keepers Leader Pleads Not Guilty To Seditious Conspiracy; New CDC Mask Guidance And Details On Getting Free COVID Tests; Djokovic Detained, Faces Hearing After Australia Revokes Visa Again; Former AG Holder On Biden's Path Forward For Voting Rights; U.S. Intelligence Indicates Russia Is Preparing A "False-Flag" Operation To Justify Ukraine Invasion. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 14, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Also breaking, the CDC just release a highly anticipated update of its mask guidance as the Biden administration attempts to clear up COVID confusion. Officials also assuring new details on how and when Americans can get free at-home rapid tests.

And the tennis star, Novak Djokovic, was just detained and now faces a hearing this hour after the Australian government revoked his visa again. We are standing by for a decision on whether he'll be deported or allowed to stay and compete in the Australian Open.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin with the breaking news. The leader of the extremist leader Oath Keepers appearing in court to face the most serious charges yet in the insurrection investigation.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from the hearing in Texas right now. So, Ed, what happened in court?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. About 24 hours after Stewart Rhodes was arrested here in Texas, he made his initial court appearance. It was brief but Stewart Rhodes essentially saying he is not guilty.

Federal prosecutors laying out a 48-page indictment against the Texan, where they accuse him of plotting to forcefully stop the peaceful transition of presidential power. In this indictment where Stewart Rhodes faces criminal charges, five different charges, including seditious conspiracy.

Prosecutors say that Stewart Rhodes text messaged and organized a plot to bring weaponry into the D.C. area. They say them have text messages that say-- that have quoted Stewart Rhodes is saying that we will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That's what is going to have to happen. Also going on to say, we aren't going through this without a civil war. Prepare your body, mind and spirit.

The prosecutors also say that Rhodes and his counterparts are created quick reaction forces with weapons stashed in a hotel room in Northern Virginia. Despite all of these evidence laid out in the indictment, friends and attorneys force to Stewart Rhodes say all of this is being overblown.


JON MOSELEY, ATTORNEY FOR STEWART RHODES: They were quite fixated on the idea that Trump was going to activate them as a militia on the Insurrection Act. But what's interesting is that they didn't bring any of that into the District of Colombia. They left that in Virginia. So, if they were going to do this, they would have brought weapons into the Capitol, and they didn't do that.


LAVANDERA: After today's court appearance, Stewart Rhodes remains in custody, being held in a jail here in Texas. His attorneys say their focus right now is to get him out of jail, so he can wait trial outside of jail and there's a detention hearing scheduled for next week to try to get him out.

BLITZER: If convicted of these charges, he could face 20 years in prison. Ed Lavandera in Texas for us, Ed, thank you very much.

There's new evidence also tonight of the top House Republican's shifting claims about the Capitol riot and former President Trump's role in it. Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles. He is working this story for us. So, Ryan, tell us about this radio interview that Kevin McCarthy did earlier last year and what it reveals.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a radio interview that Kevin McCarthy did just about a week after the Capitol insurrection, where he tells a radio host in his hometown at Bakersfield, California, that he spoke to Donald Trump shortly after the insurrection, and that the former president admitted that he did bear some responsibility for the violence that took place here at the Capitol on that day.

Now, this echoes a statement that McCarthy made in a closed-door phone call with members of the Republican conference that our team has also reported out.

Now, in his press conference that he held this week when McCarthy was asked serious questions about the January 6th select committee's desire for him to come forward and testify before their committee, McCarthy said he had no recollection of what he told Republican members at that time. But this phone call and this now radio interview show that around that period of time, McCarthy was interested in holding the former president responsible for what happened here.

His tone, of course, dramatically changed shortly after. He ended up rejecting the idea of a bipartisan commission to look into the violence on that day. He also has been a huge person that was against the activities that took place here in terms of the select committee.

Let's play a portion of that interview for you now.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA) (voice over): I say he has responsibility, he told me personally that he does have some responsibility.


I think a lot of people do. But what I proposed, which I think history will say I'm right, because it's the right thing to do, I believe, is have a bipartisan commission and get all your facts, actually work through the grand jury, to find out at the end, instead of predetermining whether someone is guilty or not.


NOBLES: So, obviously, that sound a lot different than the Kevin McCarthy that we saw this week, Wolf. And that's part of the reason that the select committee wants to talk to him. They believe that he has a lot of information about what happened leading up to the Capitol insurrection, what happened on that day, and then what happened afterwards that they believe is central to their investigation. At this point though, Wolf, McCarthy says he is not interested in cooperating.

BLITZER: Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's get some more in all of these. Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman, the Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, and CNN Senior Legal Analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig.

Maggie, your reaction to what Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said last year compared to his twisting and turning, what he's saying now.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's interesting, Wolf. You know, we know that Kevin McCarthy had a phone call with Donald Trump during the riot that was taking place. McCarthy was in the Capitol trying to explain to the then-president that people were coming in his windows and breaking in his office and Trump response was, I guess, they're not as angry as you are. This takes at much further. We know that McCarthy was interested in some kind of a censure.

But the fact that McCarthy was putting out there that not just that Trump deserved some blame, but that Trump had assume some blame with his conversation with McCarthy. My take, Wolf, is that McCarthy believed that Trump is going to say that publicly. Trump clearly never did. So, what end up happening was, McCarthy and other Republicans changed their own tunes instead.

BLITZER: You know, Elie, Kevin McCarthy claims there is nothing, in his words, and I'm quoting now, nothing that he can provide to the committee. But just listening to his own words, that's clearly not true.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's complete nonsense, Wolf. It's completely counter factual. It makes no sense. And it is simply not true. This new piece of tape that CNN has uncovered, where Kevin McCarthy says, Donald Trump acknowledged that he has some responsibility, that is extraordinarily powerful evidence. That is an admission, an admission of some culpability by Donald Trump to Kevin McCarthy. And the committee is right to be very much focused on that. Of course, that was the old Kevin McCarthy. That was before his voyage down to Mar-a-Lago, and he seems to have emerged a very different person with a very different take on the facts and reality.

BLITZER: Do you think, Maggie, this request from the committee actually potentially could be a gift to McCarthy? Could he use his defiance of their investigation to try and prove his loyalty to Trump?

HABERMAN: I'm sure, Wolf. I mean, I think that we've seen him and other Republicans do that in various settings around the January 6th investigations over and over. I think that, you know, Trump knows that McCarthy needs Trump's help to become the next speaker. I think that McCarthy wants to be the next speaker. And at the moment, certainly, the climate does not looks good for Democrats and looks good for Republicans in the midterms. So, McCarthy is looking towards the future. Yes, it could help him politically.

But in terms of trying to record the history of what happened, he is not participating with his own colleagues. And that's going to, I think, continue to at least come up among some people over the next couple of years.

BLITZER: Yes, I totally agree.

You know, Elie, on this Oath Keepers indictment that just happened, we're reporting that the attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, was reluctant to use this charge of what's call a seditious conspiracy. Does that reflect how complicated this specific charge is to prove?

HONIG: I think it could, Wolf. My first take is better late than never on this seditious conspiracy charges. Under the law, what that means is that two or more people planned to use force to interfere with a governmental function here, the counting of the electoral ballot by Congress.

Now, if you look at this Oath Keepers indictment, the evidence is extremely strong. It's straightforward. This is a slam dunk case of seditious conspiracy, if there ever would be one. But looking at this more broadly, we've now had 700-plus people charged by DOJ, and only these 11 have been charged with sedition. That is 1.5 percent of the who have been charged.

I think this is charge that should have and should be in the future used much more aggressively towards anybody who used force to try to block that counting of the electoral votes, including people at higher power levels, if applicable as well.

BLITZER: Maggie, I find it interesting that former President Trump has done a few more appearances and interviews lately. What does that say? What does that say anything to you? Does it say anything about his 2024 ambitions potentially?

HABERMAN: To an extent, Wolf. Look, I mean, two things can be true at once. I think that every indication is that he is running for president. I was hearing conflicting things about where he was about this over the course of the last several months. Everything I'm hearing now is that he's planning to run and he's behaving like somebody who's planning to run.

In terms of him looking for attention, I don't think that this is necessarily his strategy.


I think it's about the fact that he misses being in the middle of the conversation and more people are willing to talk to him now as we are getting closer to 2023.

BLITZER: Maggie Haberman and Elie Honig, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, there is breaking news we're following right now, the CDC finally releases updated guidance, urging Americans to upgrade their masks to N-95 or KN-95. We're going to have details of the announcement information you need to know right after the break.


BLITZER: We're following breaking pandemic news right now. New mask guidance just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as the COVID omicron variant aggressively spreads in the United States, nearly 800,000 cases on average just yesterday.


Let's talk about the breaking news with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, what do you make of this updated mask guidance from the CDC now encouraging Americans to upgrade their masks to the -- either the N-95 or the KN-95 for better protection?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I strongly agree with the CDC recommendation, although I wish that it came out much sooner because we have known for over a year that COVID is airborne and our mask quality really matters, that it's best that if you wear an N-95, KN-95 or KF-94 masks. If you're unable to do that, at least wear a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top of that. But a single layer of cloth mask just is not enough.

I think back to the CDC had changed their guidelines months ago, we could have reduced the delta surge and we might not be where we are with omicron. So I wish this came out sooner and I hope the Biden administration will also make these high-quality masks widely available, free of charge.

BLITZER: Yes, because they're not all that cheap right now. Let's me get your thoughts also, Dr. Wen, on the Biden administration now announcing that Americans will soon be able to order a rapid test online, have them shipped directly to their homes. Is that the best way, do you think, to distribute these tests?

WEN: I do. I think it's a really big step in the right direction, because, otherwise, their other plan was to have people go to a pharmacy, find tests, get them reimbursed through an insurance company, which we know is not easy. This plan is going to have four tests delivered for free to Americans who want them, but it's four per household, which is not nearly enough. And it's certainly not going to come in time for us to stop the omicron surge.

What I would like to hear from the Biden administration is a plan going forward, as in, can we anticipate the next surge and then say that we will give all Americans who want them, two tests every week, if they want to take them. Something like that would be the moon shot kind of goal that we really need so that we stop being reactive but we're actually being proactive.

BLITZER: And what is the latest science, Dr. Wen, tell us about accuracy of these rapid tests specifically against the omicron variant, which is obviously so dominant right now?

WEN: These rapid tests are picking up omicron, but we have to be using them the right way. The rapid tests are not as sensitive as the -- and as reliable as the PCR tests, if somebody is newly symptomatic. But here is how we should be using them. They are effective right before you do something. So, if you're getting together with friends and family, somebody who is vulnerable, take it right before you see them to see if you're currently infectious right now.

If you have symptoms and your initial test is negative, these tests are meant to be serial. So, take another test the next day. If that is still negative and you still have symptoms, take a PCR test for confirmation.

Something else that the rapid test is particularly good for is to see if you're still infectious after an illness. After an illness, you do not want to take a PCR test because that PCR is going to still be positive for a long time. So, take the rapid test in that circumstance too.

BLITZER: Yes, excellent advice, as usual, from Dr. Leana Wen. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, President Biden trying to recover from a brutal week of setbacks on multiple fronts. Does the White House now have a plan to try to get his agenda back on track?



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is closing one of the most brutal weeks since he took office nearly one year ago, including some significant new defeats on vaccine rules and voting rights.

CNN's Phil Mattingly explains the president can't ignore the disappointment within his White House and within his party. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: There's a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven't gotten done.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden acknowledging a clear reality.

BIDEN: But this is something we did get done.

MATTINGLY: Even as he touted the infrastructure law that served as a cornerstone success of his first year, the White House faced with a week of roadblocks and setbacks.

BIDEN: I know we're all frustrated as we enter this New Year.

MATTINGLY: From COVID in the courts --

MARTY WALSH, LABOR SECRETARY: What it is, it's disappointing. I mean, it's disappointing the court ruled this way.

MATTINGLY: -- to a legislative agenda stuck in the mud.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now, we're dealing with the realities of the fact that we have a very slim majority in the House and in the Senate. That makes things more challenging than they have been in the past.

MATTINGLY: The omicron variant driving home the reality that a pandemic designed to be in the rearview still very much dominating American lives, and five Senate Democrats raising concerns about a White House that has, quote, been reactive rather than proactive.

The administration now scrambling to secure hundreds of millions of tests, surge federal resources to hospitals and coordinate messaging. And despite historic efforts to deploy the COVID vaccine --

PSAKI: The other way to look at the last year is that 200 million Americans are now vaccinated. More than 80 percent of Americans have received at least one dose.

MATTINGLY: The Supreme Court blocking federal vaccine requirements for large employers, the same day, Biden's voting reform push was dealt a fatal blow by opposition from two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to changing the filibuster.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

MATTINGLY: Frustrating the White House and infuriating some progressives.


NINA TURNER, CO-CHAIR, BERNIE SANDERS' 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: He needs to hold a press conference, let them know, either you are going to be by side, saying you're going to be with me in getting rid of the filibuster, or I'm gassing up the jet on your behind, and I will be in Arizona and West Virginia, and let the American people know who is standing in the way of my entire agenda.

MATTINGLY: Biden's $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act, also on ice, the latest in a series of priorities with no clear path forward, all as a robust economic recovery driven by job gains or growth has been overshadowed by consumer prices jumping in 2021 at the fastest pace in 39 years, a crippling beginning to the New Year for a White House vowing to keep fighting.

PSAKI: The truth is an agenda doesn't wrap up in one year. We continue to fight for every component of his agenda.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, President Biden will have an opportunity to address all of those issues and likely more head on next week. On Wednesday, he will be holding a formal press conference, his first formal press conference since November 2nd of last year. And it's a date that has a lot of symbolism. It's one day before the one- year mark of his time in office since his January 28th inauguration, but it's also the same day Senate Democrats plan to vote to try and break the filibuster on voting rights. We know that vote is going to fail. The president will likely be speaking shortly after. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, I'll look forward to that. Thanks very much, Phil Mattingly, reporting.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod and our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, welcome back. I know you're just back from your maternity leave. We're thrilled that you're back.

Let's me start, Abby, with you. You just heard Nina Turner suggest Biden should, in her words, gas up the jet to remind Senators Manchin and Sinema where their loyalty should lie. Is there any appetite at the White House for that at all, for the president to actually go to West Virginia or in Arizona and lobby against these two Democratic senators?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, almost certainly not to West Virginia. There is really no political reason for Joe Biden to ever step foot in West Virginia, frankly, because Joe Manchin is sitting in a state where Donald Trump won by double digits, by probably more than any other state in the union. And he is probably the only Democrat who could win in West Virginia today.

Arizona, on the other hand, maybe be a little bit of a different story. There is an appetite among some Democrats in that state to challenge Kyrsten Sinema. We will see where that goes. But I don't think that -- I think the reason that we are in this position in the first place is that Joe Biden doesn't have much political leverage over either of these senators, and I don't think that's going to change, whether he gasses up the jet or not. BLITZER: Yes. And, David, you've been on the inside of a White House going through some tough times, as a lot of us remember, during the Obama administration. How badly does President Biden need a win right now?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he does need one, Wolf. Look, I was there in some difficult times in 2009-2010. I lived by these words. You're never as smart as you look when you win and you're never as dumb as you look when you lose.

And when these things start rolling and some bad things happen in sequence, a few things follow. One is that everyone in Washington, on television and off, is very generous with their advice. You've got politicians on the Hill of your own party who begin to panic, thinking about the election that is at hand, which is theirs, and figuring out ways to kind of try and separate themselves from you.

And a lot of the things that you achieved are obscured. Biden has had some pretty big wins this year, some that defied conventional wisdom, like the infrastructure bill. Right now, there's not a lot of discussion about them. So, he does need a win.

But I think more than anything else, he needs to stop setting up losses. I think going to Atlanta this week and making the speech he made set expectations at a place that were unrealistic, and they knew they were unrealistic, and they were trying to speak to a base and signify their commitment.

But the result of it is they're going to -- it ups the ante on the loss that is almost certain to come. So, I would be careful about that. And I'd focus on the things right in front of people, which is the virus -- which are the virus and the economy.

BLITZER: Abby, I suspect the president's formal news conference next Wednesday is going to be a tough one for him.

PHILLIP: No question about it. I mean, this is one of the toughest periods of his presidency. I mean, perhaps really only rivaling that period just before the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the president is in a difficult spot. He's also not been taking a lot of questions in this kind setting from reporters in quite some time.

So, there are going to be a lot of questions, and I don't know how many answers he has. Some of these problems are not easily to be fixed. Some of them, they don't really have many levers to control, especially when it comes to the economy.

So, the question, I think, a lot of reporters will have for this administration, is on the future.


What is the plan, what is the plan for his Build Back Better and what is the plan for voting rights? Because right now, it just seems like both of those things are dead in the water.

BLITZER: Abby Phillip and David Axelrod, guys, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, an important note, please be sure to join Abby this weekend, this Sunday morning, as she anchors Inside Politics Sunday, that's at 8:00 A.M. Eastern only here on CNN. I know I'll be watching.

Just ahead, Novak Djokovic has now been detained by authorities in Australia as the court considers whether to deport the Serbian tennis star just days before the Australian Open. I'll discuss with Bob Costas, he's standing by live, right after the break.


BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following tonight. A hearing this hour to determine whether the world men's tennis champion, Novak Djokovic, will be deported after Australian officials have now revoked his visa once again over COVID protocol concerns.


Let's go to Melbourne right now. CNN's Phil Black is on the scene for us.

Phil, I understand Djokovic has now been formally detained once again by Australian authorities, this, for a second time. Give us the latest.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, yes. So, a court ordered Novak Djokovic to present himself to Australian officials this morning, Melbourne time. He has been detained. He will be allowed over the course of the day to spend time with his lawyers to prepare his case. But he will be closely supervised, under guard. And, tonight, he will once again be sleeping in an immigration detention center.

Today, there's a preliminary hearing in a virtual courtroom, pointing ahead to the main hearing tomorrow, where it is expected detailed arguments will be heard over this latest decision to cancel his visa. The arguments will be different this time, because the reasons given by the Australian government for canceling the visa have changed.

No one will be talking about whether Djokovic was right and think he could come to the country unvaccinated because he had recently recovered from COVID-19. Instead, the focus will now be the potential impact that his presence will have in the country, on the community of vaccine skeptics here, the potential risk to the Australian public. Through that is what has been cited by the Australian government as its reasons for canceling the visa here.

Crucially, what this court timetable means is that each will find out by tomorrow if his appeal is successful, and that means he could still play in the Australian Open on Monday, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Phil Black in Melbourne for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the breaking news. Joining us now, CNN Contributor Bob Costas. Bob, thanks, as usual, for joining us. Have you ever seen anything quite like this in all your years covering sports?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, COVID has created unique circumstances going back a couple of years now, so there's always something we haven't seen before. But in Djokovic's case, we're obviously talking about an individual sport athlete, not a team sport athlete. But still, this is worth noting. Counting the women's side, 128 on both sides, 256 competitors at the Australian Open. If somehow Djokovic is allowed to play, he will be the only one who is unvaccinated.

And what we have with him -- I don't know him personally, I haven't covered much tennis in my career, but I've followed it as closely as most people have. Now, what we have is a guy who has shown a continued, and in this episode, a continued pattern of evasions of the truth and contempt for the rules that apply to everyone else. So, you know, it's very difficult to take his side in this.

BLITZER: Because you've said in the past that he has shown this -- what you call this contempt for the common good, that he really doesn't believe the rules actually do apply to him, does he?

COSTAS: Evidently not. I'm not going to sit here and analyze him from this great distance, but evidently not. And there's a pattern of that. Look, he's the number one player in the world. He may have the case to be the greatest player of all time. He's important to the success of the Australian Open. We understand all of that. But that doesn't give him carte blanche and he's learning that. Because even if somehow he should prevail, and it seems that the chance is slim that he would, and even if he is permitted to play, it will be at some obvious expense to his reputation because this has played now out internationally in stark terms, and he doesn't look good at all.

BLITZER: While I have you, I want to turn to a subject, a very different subject, while one that's very, very close to my heard. As you know, my Buffalo Bills are taking on the New England Patriots tomorrow night, Saturday night. Tell us -- you're an expert in this area -- what are you expecting from this game?

COSTAS: I am expecting a lot of shivers, temperatures in the single digits. It's a night game in January, in Buffalo. It's going to be a test against the elements, not just against the opponent. As you know, because you followed this closely, the Bills beat the Patriots in Boston, which gave them home field advantage. But earlier under adverse conditions, rain and heavy winds, the Patriots beat them in Buffalo. So, the road team has won each of the first two meetings. The Bills are home, and I think they're favored by four or five points. And I know you have your fingers crossed that that will turn out in their favor. On the other hand, I saw John King wearing his Patriot jersey, so there's a dispute going on at CNN.

BLITZER: It certainly is. We shall see what happens. Bob Costas, I'll be watching the game. I know you will as well. Thank you so much, as usual, for joining us. I appreciate it very much. Coming up, President Biden's push to expand voting rights hits a major roadblock in the U.S. Senate. Just ahead, I'll discuss this and more with the former attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder.



BLITZER: It's the end of a difficult week for President Biden that included an apparent fatal blow to his push for voting rights. Let's discuss this and more with the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, Eric Holder. Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, as all of us know, the president, at least for now, doesn't have the support for these voting rights bills, he doesn't have the votes to change the rules to try to pass them either. Where does he turn now? Does he have a path forward on this critically important issue?

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, you never want to say never.

And I'm confident that the president and the vice president will continue to work with the senators to try to get these bills passed.


They are vitally important to the health of our democracy. They would stop partisan gerrymandering. They would stop election subversion. These efforts that are underway in the states by Republicans.

But the reality is I think we have to get ready for the possibility that these bills are not going to become law. And so, we're going to continue doing the work that I've been doing for National Democratic Redistricting Committee to fight partisan and racial gerrymandering, we've had success there.

And we'll also have to redouble our efforts when it comes to voter registration, and making sure that people have the ability to get to the polls in spite of these obstacles that Republicans have put in place.

BLITZER: Do you -- would you and some others are suggesting -- want to see Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona for example face a primary challenge over her opposition to filibuster reforms? She's up for reelection in 2024.

HOLDER: That will be up to the people in Arizona to decide. My hope would be that Senator Sinema will look at the situation, understand what the stakes are, understand the negative impact of not passing on these bills will be. My hope is that through continued interaction with people in the White House and other folks, that she will reach what I would consider an appropriate -- an appropriate decision and support the bills. BLITZER: The White House is clearly on the defensive, after the

president compared voting rights opponents right now to Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. Even the number two Senate Democrat said perhaps that rhetoric went too far.

Did it, from your perspective?

HOLDER: No, I don't think so at all. The consequences of leaving these bills in place, leaving these actions unmet, will result in what we had to confront in the '60s, when there was a concerted effort to keep people away from the polls, and in particular people of color away from the polls. That is the intent of the bills that have been passed by too many Republican legislatures. They say they act in a race neutral way.

Btu the reality is, that the steps they've taken make it more difficult for people of color to vote. If you look, for instance, in Atlanta, and the time it took to vote in the 2020 election, if you were white in Atlanta, it took you about six minutes to cast a ballot in the 2020 election. It took about 51 minutes if you were a black Atlantan. So, you know, that is as a result of poll closures, 1,700 poll closures since the Shelby County decision in 2013, disproportionately in states of color -- where you have African- American populations.

And so, you know, all of these things -- we don't like to talk about race in this country. But I think what the president said in Atlanta is a harsh reality. And I think his rhetoric was spot-on.

BLITZER: When it comes to redistricting, the Ohio Supreme Court just rejected the new map drawn by state Republicans. I know your organization has challenged that map as well. But overall, nationwide, redistricting isn't actually giving Republicans much of an edge, as of now, is it?

HOLDER: No, not as of now. That's because of the work that we've doing at NDRC, the way in which we have filed lawsuits like the ones that we did and were successful in Ohio, where the Supreme Court threw out not only the congressional maps but also the state legislative maps.

We have independent redistricting commission in Michigan did a good job by redrawing the lines. By getting the American people to focus on this issue, and being more transparent. We're in a fundamentally different place than we were in 2011. And so far, so far, we've been able to pretty much blunt that which the Republicans have tried to do, except in states like Texas and Georgia, where we have lawsuits still pending, and where Republicans have gone to town when it came to their gerrymandering efforts.

BLITZER: The former attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, thanks so much for joining us.

HOLDER: Just ahead, we're learning new information right now about the North Korean missile launch that grounded flights on the West Coast, including fears that it could have reached the United States. And this programming note, mark your calendars, this Sunday night,

9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, for the CNN original series "Reframed: Marilyn Monroe."

Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twenty-one-year-old Marilyn Monroe decides to pursue another one of Hollywood's biggest players.

LOIS BANNER, BIOGRAPHER: Joe Schenck had a huge estate. And he would just hold Saturday night parties. A lot of people from Hollywood would be there. And Marilyn is invited to his parties. Lot of contract girls are.

MIRA SORVINO, ACTOR: It was understood tacitly among the studio heads, that these girls were there for the men at studios to date.


And then, once their contract was up, they'd be discarded and in would come a fresh, new crop.



BLITZER: The Pentagon says there is intelligence indicating Russia is preparing a so-called false-flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. He is working his sources, got new information for us. What is the latest on this U.S. intelligence?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what is alarmed the Pentagon from the beginning here is the multilayered approach that the Russians have taken from the beginning here. It's not just these soldiers on the border or the tanks, the military equipment.


It is propaganda efforts to justify an invasion. It is the presence of intelligence operatives, including teams that have the intention of assassinating Ukrainian political leaders. And now, you have this latest piece, which is the possibility of creating false-flag operations. In other words, sabotaging Russia's own pro-Russian forces inside Ukraine to create a pretext to allow for the Russian invasion.

And now, we are seeing all of these things play out here. The concern is that at any point, Putin, the Kremlin, pull the trigger here and then that would bring a full-on invasion of Ukrainian territory.

BLITZER: You know, what's really interesting, and I want you to elaborate on this, Jim, it comes as Ukraine is now blaming Russia for a wide-ranging cyberattack against Ukraine. Is that a precursor for a possible Russian invasion?

SCIUTTO: Based on all of Russia's war plans, their shadow war plans, hybrid war plans, this is absolutely part of the -- the Russian playbook here. We have seen it, before. In other countries that Russia has taken territory from. From Georgia to Moldova, attacks on Estonia in the past.

This fits the pattern. As you say, the U.S. has not yet attributed this, the Ukrainians have, and by the way, the U.S. strongly suspects this cyberattack comes from Russia because it fits a pattern. You set the ground for a formal invasion and cyberattacks, often a way to weaken their opponents before they come in.

BLITZER: This is all so, so worrisome, indeed. A major, major threat on the horizon over there.

Let's hope it doesn't happen. Jim Sciutto, thanks for your excellent reporting as usual.

We also following new missile launches by North Korea, as we learn how concerned FAA officials were by a launch earlier this week, that temporarily grounded some U.S. flights on the West Coast.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's got new details on these latest missile launches by Kim Jong-un's regime.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Kim Jong un is continuing his aggressive push to ramp up missile capability and keep the U.S. and its allies on edge.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Pentagon officials say the two missiles Kim Jong-un's regime test fired today from a rail car were, quote, ballistic in nature. This is North Korea's third missile launch in two weeks. The previous two, in recent days, were what Pyongyang claims were successful test firings of hypersonic missiles, which can maneuver in flight, making them much harder for U.S. forces and their partners to shoot down.

PROJ. JEFFREY LEWIS, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT MONTEREY: North Korea is fundamentally afraid of being invaded and seeing what happened to Saddam Hussein happening to Kim Jong-un. And so, North Korea is investing heavily in both conventional and nuclear missiles so they can both retaliate against U.S. invasion but also to strike U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan.

Part of doing that means being able to defeat U.S. missile defenses.

TODD: And there is new information tonight on the ground stop issued to some pilots along America's West Coast on Monday as a result of North Korea's missile test that day. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Ground stops to all departures, all airports

right now.

TODD: Two sources familiar with the matter now tell CNN initial telemetry readings, which can be inaccurate, mistakenly suggested the North Korean missile could pose a threat to the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, or the California coast. Within minutes, NORAD and U.S. Northern Command correctly assessed the missile posed no threat to the U.S.

But in the few minutes of uncertainty, communications weren't clear. And the FAA grounded some planes. The FAA is now reviewing its response.

LEWIS: What is really dangerous is the possibility that you get a false alarm when you are already worried about an attack and then a U.S. president or South Korean president takes some precipitous action that actually creates a crisis and turns it into a war, instead of deescalating it.

TODD: Scares like this, some analysts say, likely thrilled the North Korean dictator.

JEAN LEE, THE WILSON CENTER: I'm sure he loves it. I'm sure that every time you get one of those false alarms, it's terrifying and that's exactly what he wants to do is to terrify us and show how he can disrupt our society.


TODD (on camera): While U.S. officials continue to condemn the recent North Korean missile launches calling them destabilizing, and the U.S. just leveled sanctions on North Korean individuals for supporting its missile programs, Kim's regime has responded like it often does, his foreign ministry saying North Korea has right to bolster its national defense and using one of the regime's favorite phrases to describe U.S. officials saying they are quote using gangster-like logic criticizing Pyongyang -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know U.S. intelligence officials are looking very closely at all this. Deep concern among U.S. allies in the region, South Korea, for example, Japan. They are watching all of this, very closely, as well. We will see what happens.

Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you, Brian, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

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