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The Situation Room
U.S. Receives Russia's Responses To U.S. Proposal On Ukraine; CNN Exclusive, Top Pence Aide Testifies Before 1/6 Committee; Governors To Biden, U.S Needs To Move Away From The Pandemic; Justice Department Responds To Federal Judge Rejecting Plea Deals For Ahmaud Arbery's Murderers; Former Miss USA And Correspondent For "Extra" Cheslie Kryst Dead At 30; New Report Condemns "Failures Of Leadership" Over British Prime Minister's Lockdown Parties; North Korea Ramps Up Missile Provocations With Seventh Launch So Far This Year; U.S. & United Arab Emirates Intercept Ballistic Missile As Israeli President Makes Historic Visit To New Peace Partner. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 31, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Coast Guard was not able to move the cruise liner out in time.
Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, the United States has received Russia's response on Ukraine as the two countries haves been growing over the crisis over at the United Nation. The Pentagon is warning that Moscow has positioned even more troops for a potential invasion and President Biden insists the U.S. is ready for whatever happens next.
Also, tonight a CNN exclusive, we have learned the January 6th select committee have spoken with the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, this is as Donald Trump is publicly admitting for the first time that he wanted his V.P. to overturn the 2020 presidential election. We're going to breakdown all the new provocations by the former president.
And as COVID cases decline, America's governors and health experts are urging the Biden administration offer clear guidelines and how to lift restrictions and move away from the pandemic.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, I am Wolf Blitzer, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get straight to the breaking news, on the escalating tension right now between Russia and the United States over Ukraine.
We are covering all the angles of this story at this hour. Our CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is in Eastern Ukraine, CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is in Moscow for us.
But, first, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, I understand you have new developments that we are just learning about right now.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The United States has now just received the written response from Russia in the response what the United States sent them also in writing, seeking to de-escalate the conflict, of course, that is unfolding in Ukraine.
Now, we don't yet know what it is that Russia said in their response and the State Department is basically leaving that up to Russia to disclose. But we do know it comes amid a very tense day at the United Nations Security Council meeting happening in New York City, and a meeting that was requested on behalf of the United States, where you saw basically a diplomatic brawl playing out, where the two sides accusing each other of fueling the tensions in Ukraine, fueling this unfolded crisis that we are seeing happening.
And listen to the representative for Russia said and then, of course, that push back that followed from Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who was from the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VASILY NEBENZYA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: They themselves are whipping tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalations.
You are almost calling for this. You want it to happen. You are waiting for it to happen as if you want to make your words reality.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: You've heard from our Russian colleagues that we are calling for this meeting to make you all feel uncomfortable. Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops sitting on your border.
This is not about antics. It is not about rhetoric. It is not about U.S. and Russia. What this is about is the peace and security of one of our member states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now, Wolf, comments were very striking, the first time we've really seen these tensions play out at such an international forum as that one. And it comes also, as we note, that the White House has said pretty clearly, if Russia does go in and invade Ukraine, that there will be severe financial penalties for them to pay.
And today, for the first time, Jen Psaki, the press secretary here at the White House, did confirm that some of those sanctions and some of those penalties would apply to Russian elites and their family members, including Russian President Putin's inner circle. Of course, there are still big questions of whether or not that invasion is actually going to happen, given we have heard U.S. officials say repeatedly that they believed it is imminent.
We know tomorrow that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to speak with the Russian foreign minister. We'll see if anything comes out of that conversation. But, today, briefly, when President Biden addressed this with reporters, he said the United States is ready, quote, no matter what.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a very, very tense situation indeed. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you very much, from the White House.
Let's head over to Eastern Ukraine right now. Our Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is on the ground for us tonight. Clarissa, you are there on the frontlines of this extremely tense situation. Give us the latest.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, we are here in the city of Mariupol, which is if the Russians do cross this border and invade, the people of this city will probably be the first to know. It's a city of half a million people. Russia is about 25 miles behind me. You go the Sea of Azov down to the left, Russians ships on that sea as well.
But what's extraordinary here, and we have been here a couple of days now talking to people moving around the frontline areas is how calm things are and just how normal life seems to be.
The Ukrainian leadership has really been pushing hard against the narrative that there might be an imminent invasion, saying that they don't have intelligence that supports that, that they don't believe it will be possible at this stage. And what we have been talking to people on the ground, they seem to also share this idea that they don't believe that war will take place. Many of them do see President Putin as being an enemy but they are somehow optimistic that this can be resolved diplomatically.
Over on the frontline areas, I have to say, Wolf, I was here two years ago, the frontlines looked largely the same as they did before. There is no sense, at least in this area, that there has been a large bolstering of defensive forces on the Ukrainian side. There may be a number of reasons strategically for that. But if the Russians did start to push through that border it's hard to see how the Ukrainians, at least in this area, would hold them back, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. Clarissa, I want you to standby. Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House for us.
Kaitlan, what a difference what a half a year makes. So, back in June of last year, you and I were in Geneva, when President Biden met with President Putin. They had what was described by both of them very constructive, productive talks, and all of a sudden things have collapsed to this point right now.
The window for diplomacy, what are you hearing over there at the White House? How much longer of a timeframe is there?
COLLINS: Publicly, they will say that there is still that window for diplomacy. But, privately, if you talk to officials, they're very concerned about what they are seeing play out and the numbers of troops that you are seeing and the Russians put their amassed on border, something that the Pentagon has said had only continued to grow, when you've heard from top brass at the Pentagon on Friday, talked about how concerning it is if Russia went in right now with what they have put on the border, when you look at the makeup of the air power, the manpower, the naval power that they have there of what it could do.
And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that it would be -- I believe he used the word, horrific, to describe the level basically that would happen if you saw that go forward. And so I do think that this has been a complete deterioration since what we saw in Geneva. That was a big question of what that was going to lead to, what the U.S./Russia relationship would look like after that. Because remember, Wolf, President Biden said he wanted to achieve that stable, predictable relationship with Russia.
And when I talked to the president last week about whether or not that's still possible given the antics that you have seen from Putin in recent weeks, even if he does eventually, in the end, draw down these forces and not invade Ukraine in the way that U.S. officials fear that he is preparing to do, he says it remains to be seen and to stay tuned on what that relationship is going to look like going forward. Because remember that summit in Geneva happened after they had been building up forces, you would see some Russian forces moving, and it was a concern for the White House, of course, that led to a lot of dialogue between the two sides. And I think the question now is what he plans to do.
But the Pentagon press secretary said today that they are still seeing forces moved. They are still seeing Russian forces being added to that. Their other major concern that's happening right now is the forces that they are putting in Belarus and the concerns, of course, of what Putin could be preparing to do with that.
BLITZER: You know, Clarissa, what's interesting is then, what, three or four days, the Winter Olympic Games will begin in China, in Beijing. And I wonder if that potentially -- it's going to last for almost a month, if that potentially could either delay the start of some sort of Russian invasion of Ukraine or would the Russians go ahead and invade, even upstaging the Olympic Games.
WARD: So, Wolf, there are really two schools of thought on this. There is the one school that says, look at president Putin's track record. We saw what happened in 2008 during the last Beijing elections, when Russia troops went ahead and launched an incursion into Georgia. Then look at 2014, as the closing ceremony was taking place in Sochi after the Winter Olympics in Russia, little green men were popping up in Crimea. So, people who adhere to that school of thought would say it is very naive to think that President Putin will not launch an invasion simply because it is the Olympics.
At the same time, this Olympics is a little bit different. First of all, President Xi Jinping is now the leader of China. He has asked the U.N. to adopt a sort of Olympics truce that would start a week before the Olympics and go all the way a week after the Olympics, during which all countries in the world would agree not to sort of launch attacks on other countries. And President Putin really does rely quite a lot on his relationship with President Xi. They are the two leading autocracies in the world.
So, another school of thought would say that he will not want to alienate President Xi. But if he doesn't do anything during the Olympics, then, of course, you are looking at the ground, the weather change, things start to thaw out and it would be a very different picture.
BLITZER: Clarissa Ward in Ukraine for us, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, we're staying on top of the story, thank you to both of you.
There's more breaking news we are following. Just ahead, exclusive new reporting on key January 6th testimony from one of the highest profile witnesses to appear before the select committee so far. We are talking about Marc Short, there you see him, the chief of staff to the former vice president, Mike Pence.
BLITZER: We have breaking news this hour on new cooperation by a key witness in the January 6th investigation. Let's go straight to our Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel. She's got the exclusive reporting. What are you learning, Jamie?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, along with my colleague, Gloria Borger, we have learned that former Vice President Mike Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, has gone in.
He went in last Wednesday in-person to testify to the January 6th committee. I am told he spoke at length. Just for clarity, let's remember that he was under subpoena. And I am also told that any documents he handed over were under subpoena.
I think, Wolf, it is important to remind people Marc Short is a firsthand fact witness. He was in the Oval Office with Vice President Trump when then-president -- with Vice President Pence when President Trump was pressuring Pence to overturn the election. He was also with him up on Capitol Hill when the rioters broke in and were yelling, hang Mike Pence.
So, he's a critical witness for the committee because he can really tell them what was going on in the Oval Office, what then President Trump was trying to do. For the record, the committee declined to comment about the story, and I reached out to Marc Short, he also declined to comment. Wolf?
BLITZER: I want you stand by, Jamie. I also want to bring in CNN Senior Commentator, the former Ohio governor, John Kasich, and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Michael Fanone, a former D.C. police officer who was attacked by the rioters back on January 6th. Governor Kasich, this reporting you just heard from Jamie comes from the heels of former President Trump actually putting out a statement this weekend targeting his former vice president, saying Pence, and I am quoting now, could have overturned the election. Is he actually admitting in writing what the select committee is investigating?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, can you imagine that he was trying to tell Pence to overturn the election, which he could not have done anyway. And, by the way, listening to Jamie, there is nobody that tells a better story and with reporting than she does, and she sheds a lot of interesting light on the fact that that guy was in there, that he spent a considerable amount of time in there, and he's telling people on that committee exactly what happened.
But, at the end of the day, Wolf, it is Donald Trump down there at that rally in Texas saying these crazy things, about the fact that if he gets to be president, people how participated and some of whom who may participated to hurt the police officer, who we're going to hear from next, could be pardoned. I mean, it is just -- it is nuts is all I can tell you. It makes no sense.
BLITZER: Jamie, the former president had these choice words over the weekend about what he would do for the Capitol rioters if he were to become president again. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly. We will treat them fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, what's your reaction? What are you hearing from your sources to what the former president said?
GANGEL: Look, it's quite apparent. He is dangling pardons out there. This is tampering with witnesses potentially. But there is something else, Wolf, that's very clear in these statements. He is attacking the rule of law. He is attacking the judiciary. The Trump -- the language that Trump used before January 6th is the language that he is still using today. And he knows what happened on January 6th. He knows how dangerous it is. And he is continuing to recite the same things and potentially cause more violence.
BLITZER: It is interesting, Governor Kasich, that the former president is now also railing, railing against the prosecutors who are investigating him. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have this country the biggest protests we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere, because our country and our elections are corrupt. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He clearly seems to be threatening, Governor, political violence. Is this a reminder of how dangerous he could be?
KASICH: Yes. And I think, Wolf, we are beginning to see it's almost desperate, in a way. I kind of look at him like you remember when Dorothy threw a bucket of water on the wicked witch of the west, and she was shrinking. And now, you're beginning to see people peel off. It's not just Mitt Romney but Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, we're hearing him being critical, Chris Sununu from New Hampshire, now, people are beginning to say, enough is enough.
And I think as he begins to realize he's losing support, his rhetoric will be more and more extreme, which is really unfortunate. But in the end, he may do himself in.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see about that.
Jamie, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney is warning that Trump would, in her words, do it all again if given the chance. But the GOP isn't necessarily heeding that warning, at least not completely, is it?
GANGEL: Look, I think one of the most shocking things, frankly, that we have seen is there were ten members of Congress who were the impeachment ten. Now on the committee, you have Liz Cheney and Adam Kingzinger, you are down to two.
So, I think that, and I hear this all the time from Republican sources, and Governor Kasich knows this better than I do, people, like Liz Cheney, are frankly astounded that more Republicans are not speaking up against Trump.
That said, I think what Governor Kasich just said about the shrinking Trump is true. There are, slowly, one by one, people who are just saying enough, you are seeing the polls change slightly, more and more Republicans don't want him -- you say, yes, don't want him to run again.
BLITZER: Jamie Gangel, John Kasich, guys, thanks you very, very much, because they say, enough is enough.
Coming up, governors are pressing the Biden administration to plot a clear path forward as declining COVID cases and hospitalizations renew hope that the U.S. could be moving potentially away from the pandemic.
BLITZER: Tonight, the Biden administration is under growing pressure to offer clear guidelines for easing COVID restrictions as cases decline. America's governors say they told the president, the nation needs to move away from the pandemic. And former FDA Chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb says the U.S. may need to rethink what counts as low transmission in determining when to lift mask rules and other precautions.
Let's discuss with Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Dr. Paul Offit, a former member -- a current member, I should say, of the FDA Vaccines Advisory Committee and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital pf Philadelphia. Thanks, doctors, for joining us.
Dr. Jha, if counting cases and positivity isn't necessarily the right way to measure the pandemic right now, what data should we be using to make decisions about lifting restrictions?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. So, Wolf, first, thanks for having me back. It is definitely true that we are at a point of the pandemic where so many Americans have gotten vaccinated, that infections among vaccinated, particularly boosted people, just needs a lot less.
So, one, is I would care about infections among unvaccinated people because that can become a problem but the key metrics have to be hospitalizations and deaths. And tracking those and making sure our hospitals have plenty of capacity to care for people has got to be probably the most important thing we should be tracking as we move forward.
BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts, Dr. Offit, as well. Should people not be looking at the positivity rate anymore or at least not necessarily exclusively?
DR. PAUL OFFIT, MEMBER, FDA VACCINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Definitely. I think what's happened especially with omicron, which is somewhat off target for vaccine-induced protection against mild diseases, a lot of mild illness out there. And so there's a clot of infections, either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections, people are going to test positive.
But I completely agree with Dr. Jha. I mean, what you really care about is prevention of hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths. We are in a transition period now when you still have a lot of cases out there, you still have a fair amount of hospitalizations and ICU admissions. And I think we're just on the cusp of that changing. And so I think people are right, the Biden administration is right in trying to determine sort of how we are going to be assessing when we move from a pandemic to an endemic stage.
BLITZER: Yes, cases and hospitalizations clearly going down. Sadly, at least so far, deaths still, sadly, about 2,300 a day, which is way, way too many.
Dr. Jha, governors are pushing the president for clear guidelines on how to lift restrictions. How should restrictions be lifted over the court of the next few weeks and months?
JHA: Yes. So, I think if we follow from the last conversation, Wolf, the key issue is, again, hospitalizations and deaths and looking at hospital capacity. In places where hospitals full and there's really no ability to take care of additional people, probably not the right time to be lifting restrictions. But as hospitalizations fall and capacity gets better, cases are heading in the right direction, I think that's the moment to start pulling back on some of these public health restrictions.
Also important to communicate that if there is a future surge, we may need to put them back in but, really, tracking hospital capacity seems to be the most critical measure.
BLITZER: Dr. Offit, let me get your thoughts on this new subvariant of omicron, which appears to be a little more contagious but does not seem to be any better at evading vaccines. Should we be concerned?
OFFIT: All the data so far looks reassuring. This BA.2 or sort of sister of omicron variant doesn't appear to be more dangerous, meaning more likely to cause you to be hospitalized or go to the ICU or die. And it does appear to also be sensitive to vaccine-induced immunity in terms of protection against serious illness. So, I think all the evidence to date is that, no, we should not be any more concerned than we are about the current omicron strain.
BLITZER: Dr. Jha, as I mentioned, cases and hospitalizations are going down here in the U.S., but the U.S. is still averaging more than 2,300 deaths a day.
When will deaths begin to decline as well?
JHA: Yes. So, throughout the pandemic, Wolf, as you know, deaths have always lagged three, four weeks beyond cases. We started seeing cases go down a couple of weeks ago, hospitalizations about a week ago. I expect deaths will start turning the corner and heading down in a week or two weeks. That time lag has been with us from the beginning and I expect that that means we will see some real progress in the couple of weeks on this.
BLITZER: Let's hope. What do you think, Dr. Offit?
OFFIT: No, I agree. I think the other is it's really population immunity that counts. And so it's not only those who are vaccinated or vaccinated and boosted but those who have been naturally infected, also, to some extent, are protected against moderate to severe illness. So, if you look at that, we probably have about 90 percent population immunity right now.
So, I do think we're on the cusp of getting a lot better. But I think for the next few weeks, just hang in there and protect yourself until things settle down. But when they settle down, I think they really will settle down by the time we hit certainly spring and summer.
BLITZER: It would be great news if that happens. Dr. Offit, Dr. Jha, thank you, thanks to both of you for joining us. There's more news we're following. Coming up, troubling new information, we now know just how close Kamala Harris came to a pipe bomb planted outside the Democratic National Committee Headquarters here in Washington, D.C., on January 6th of last year. Stand by for CNN's exclusive reporting.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning that on January 6th, then-Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris may have been in even greater danger than we earlier realized. CNN has now information about her proximity to a pipe bomb that was planted at DNC Headquarters here in Washington, D.C.
Our Law Enforcement Correspondent Whitney Wild is on the scene for us over at the DNC. She's got exclusive reporting.
How close, Whitney, was then-vice president-elect to this pipe bomb?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: She was within yards, Wolf. When you come out here, you realize just how close she was and it is simply chilling.
Let me walk you through the chronology here so you understand kind of the timeline here and why that matters. So, let me bring you back to January 5th, 2021, sometime between 7:300 and 9:00 P.M., a suspect planted a pipe bomb right here. Back then, Wolf, there were benches here, there were bushes here, it's much easier to hide something back then. Even still, she was just within a few yards, and that's because around 11:30 A.M., the next day, January 6th, so more than 12 hours after this pipe bomb was placed, Kamala Harris drove around this street corner right into this garage, Wolf, again, just yards away from where this pipe bomb was placed.
A law enforcement source tells CNN that the Secret Service, who was responsible for her protection that day, swept the drive way, they swept the parking deck, they swept the entrances and exits, as well as the areas inside this building where she would be. However, clearly, something was missed. And further, Wolf, when you look at the timeline here, arrival at 11:30 A.M., the pipe bomb was not discovered until 1:06 P.M. So, she was in there for more than 90 minutes before that pipe bomb was discovered and then she was evacuated using an alternate route far from this pipe bomb around 1:14 P.M., so, again, putting her inside the DNC for almost two hours.
Wolf, this is an example of the security gaps that existed throughout Washington that day, just mainly because the situation was so chaotic, the strain on law enforcement so immense. And what the perfect environment created was this opportunity for bad actors to exploit these security gaps. For this to have been a catastrophic event, the timing would have had been impeccable. I mean, the pipe bomb would have gone off right as she was pulling around the corner.
But, Wolf, even still, there are many questions now about this was missed and a reminder that things can always be so much worse that was never more evident than it was on January 6th.
BLITZER: Yes. And we are showing our viewers that that security video that shows this individual planting the pipe bomb right where you are standing right now outside DNC headquarters here in Washington could have been a real, real disaster. A real pipe bomb didn't go off, thank God for that. Whitney Wild on the scene for us, thank you very -- yes. Whitney, thank you very much. But do you want to make one more point?
WILD: Well, yes. And what you said about the real pipe bomb is important because the FBI has said over and over these were viable. They didn't detonate but they were viable and, again, illustrating the security risk here that existed not only at the DNC but throughout Washington.
BLITZER: Yes, good point, very important. All right, Whitney, thank you for that reporting.
Let's discuss with the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, he's a CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst. So, what do you think then where the future vice president of the United States was potentially at risk on that day? How big of a failure was this that this individual who planted that pipe bomb is still at large?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, there is two really important things here, Wolf. There is the continued investigation of the individual who planted those devices, and that is apparently from what we know from public releases not proceeding very quickly. I am not surprised by that. These investigations are incredibly hard to pursue. The bureau has done, of course, everything reasonably possible at this point but they have not stumbled across that lead that leads them to the bomber just yet. If you think Unibomber, I mean, you can see that these cases can literally take decades.
The second issue is how close the vice president came to a potentially really dangerous, potentially devastating situation. And that is something that I'm sure has leadership at the Secret Service really questioning and doing a thorough after-action to determine what got missed and how do they avoid having a problem like this in the future.
BLITZER: Why do you think, Andrew, we're just finding out about this now? Is that due to the ongoing investigation, do you worry that the Secret Service may have been trying to keep this embarrassing episode relatively quiet?
MCCABE: That's a good question, Wolf. I don't know that we have enough details to point in one direction or the other. I can tell you that the Service and particularly the Service's inspector general should be taking a close look at all of the events that took place around the vice president on that morning. Typically, we would hear from an inspector general if that sort of inquiry was undertaken. We haven't heard that so far. So, I think these are all good questions to put to the Service to better understand not just what they did but how they are reevaluating what they did to ensure that this doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: Let's hope so. Andrew McCabe, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, there's more breaking news we are following. A federal judge has just rejected plea deals on hate crime charges for two of the men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Just ahead, I'll get reaction from an attorney for Arbery's mother.
BLITZER: Breaking news in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a federal judge has just rejected a plea agreement reached by federal prosecutors and two of the men convicted of murdering Arbery.
The attorney for Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Lee Merritt, is joining us right now.
Lee, thanks very much for joining us.
So, what was a reaction Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones's reaction to hearing judge would reject these plea deals today?
LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: Wanda Cooper-Jones and I were extremely relieved to see the judge listen to the family of Ahmaud Arbery and reject this plea deal. This was a huge relief for her. She was desperate to see these men stay in the state of Georgia prison custody. And this plea deal would allow them to transfer over to a federal custody, where she was certainly not in favor of.
BLITZER: Let me read to you part of the response from the Department of Justice just released, I'm quoting now, before signing the proposed agreement reflecting the defendants confections to federal hate crime charges, the civil rights divisions consulted with the victims attorneys, the Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victim's attorney inform me that the family was not opposed to it. Is that true?
MERRITT: It's a misrepresentation of the facts. We were consulted but we were not told terms of the plea agreement. The DOJ was well aware the family was completely against the transfer in custody of the conditions of confinement was really important to the family. And that's not something that was covered.
The term, the Senate's terms was fine with the family. It's not something they're opposed to transferring these men from straight to federal custody something that they've always been against. The DOJ was well aware of. That
BLITZER: So, Lee, I just want to be precise what you're saying is that you wanted a plea deal but you were opposed to these two men serving let's say the next 30 years in a federal prison as opposed to a state prison, was that your concern?
MERRITT: That's exactly it. That was part of the plea deal. The last one of the puddles that they would go to federal prison, and that was not communicated.
BLITZER: So they never -- they never told you that they would go to a federal prison? Tell us the difference between serving 30 years in a federal prison as opposed to a state prison where they are now?
MERRITT: Wolf, if this is any indication they clandestinely wanted to go to federal prison. They want to go to federal prison because there's a lot more money available into federal prisoners. The DOJ is currently suing the Georgia Bureau of Prisons because of the conditions of those presidents. It's a much tougher.
BLITZER: So you never knew that they were going to be sent to a federal prison as opposed to a state prison in Georgia. The judge is now giving the McMichaels until Friday to consider whether they want to withdraw they're guilty pleas in these federal charges.
Is it the families wish that if they maintain their guilty plea or found guilty that they do not serve any time in a federal prison?
MERRITT: Wolf, it's the family wish that they serve their sentence. Which is life without the possibility of parole in Georgia state president.
So, no, the family would not approve any deal that would move their transposed to federal prison.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks for clarifying that. The attorney, Lee Merritt, appreciate it very, very much thanks for joining us.
MERRITT: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's more news we're following right now. New York police are now investigating the very sad death of a former Miss USA and TV correspondent, Cheslie Kryst, who died yesterday at age 30.
CNN national correspondent Brynn Gingras has the latest.
ANNOUNCER: North Carolina.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the family of Cheslie Kryst remembering the Miss USA winner and activist. She cared, she loved, she laughed, and she shined.
Police in New York confirming Kryst died after jumping from a high rise building on Sunday morning, in apparent suicide.
In her haunting final post on Instagram she wrote: May this day bring you rest and peace.
Kryst stepped into the spotlight after winning the Miss USA crown in 2019, a historic victory as the crown of the top five beauty pageant that year all went to women of color. CHESLIE KRYST, FORMER MISS USA: It's exciting to know that I can be
an example for other people.
GINGRAS: Hours before her death, Kryst congratulated the new pageant winners on social media. Miss America Organization saying: Cheslie was an incredible example and a role model for so many.
DENZEL WASHINGTON, ACTOR: You stumped me.
GINGRAS: Soon after winning, Kryst landed a job as a correspondent with the TV show "Extra", and was spotted on the red carpet interviewing celebrities.
Our hearts are broken, the show said in a statement.
KRYST: This is my current wash-and-go routine.
GINGRAS: She also maintained a video blog giving tips on beauty and style.
Behind the camera, the North Carolina native was a track athlete holding three degrees from two universities, including a law agree which she used to fight for criminal justice, oftentimes for free.
KRYST: My work can be very difficult sometimes. I think it can be frustrating at times, especially seeing slow-moving change in the justice system, especially change that needs to be made. But I'm excited that I get to do. It
GINGRAS: Kryst was open about her personal struggles speaking on World Mental Health Day in 2019.
KRYST: I think time at the end of every single day to just decompress. I unplug. I shut my phone off. I don't answer messages. I just sit and watch my favorite movie.
GINGRAS: The NYPD says her death remains under investigation, a routine step. A source telling CNN a no left behind that's included in that probe. She was just 30 years old.
GINGRAS (on camera): And a small memorial is set up outside the building where Kryst lives. We're continuing to see people come here. The tributes just continue to keep pouring in.
And remember, Wolf, she gained national just over two years ago. So, it's just a huge reminder, all of this love, of the impact she made on so many women and others in such a short time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Cheslie Kryst, such a wonderful, wonderful woman. My deepest condolences to her family. May her memory be a blessing.
And if you or someone you know is struggling, there is help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, 800- 273-8255.
Just ahead, North Korea has tensions with yet another provocative missile test,, the seventh launch this year.
Stay with us here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's new pressure tonight on the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down after a damning investigation into multiple parties during the country's strict COVID lockdown.
CNN's Bianca Nobilo has details.
BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the prime minister is fighting to keep his job after a report into the 16 events held in government buildings during COVID lockdowns dealt yet another blow. Findings included failure of leadership and judgment. Too little thought into the strict rules that the rest of the country were abiding by, not observing the highest behavior expected of government and even excessive drinking.
But it got worse. More of the prime minister's own MPs and loyalists came forward to condemn his behavior in the House of Commons. One even resigned from her post citing deep disappointment the way he's handled party-gate.
So Johnson spent Monday trying to shore up support and convince wavers that he meant it when he said he was sorry -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bianca Nobilo in London for us, thank you very much.
We're also learning some troubling new details tonight about another missile launch by North Korea.
CNN's senior international correspondent Will Ripley is working the story for us -- Will.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the State Department is condemning this latest North Korean missile launch, the longest range missile that we've seen North Korea launch in nearly five years, since 2017. The intermediate range Hwasong-12 has the capability of traveling up to an a altitude of more than 1,200 miles.
And while this missile in this test only travel about 500 miles splashing down in the waters between Korea and Japan, this intermediate range missile test has the potential to strike U.S. military installations in South Korea, Japan and crucially the U.S. territory of Guam. It was a number of years ago that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam when tensions were high between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And now, as tensions are ratcheting up again, some in the White House are speculating that the North Koreans are using this launch to gain leverage ahead of possible negotiations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Will Ripley reporting for us, thank you very much.
Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen are claiming responsibility for a ballistic missile launched at the United Arab Emirates coinciding with an historic visit by the Israeli president.
CNN's Hadas Gold has details -- Hadas.
HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel President Isaac Herzog's first ever trip to the United Arab Emirates was punctuated by a missile launched from Yemen from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are targeting Abu Dhabi. Now, the rebel was specifically tied launching this missile, their third such attack in about a month with the Israeli president's visit.
The Emiratis said that they successfully intercepted the missile and the Israel president spokesperson said he was not in any harm and his schedule would continue on as normal. In fact, he barely acknowledged that a missile was launched during his entire trip, only giving a statement shortly before he departed back to Israel saying his trip was a symbol of hope and peace as the two countries building a relationship after signing the Abraham Accords and that Iran is a destabilizing force in the region and using its proxies to employ terror.
The U.S. State Department also condemned the attack with its spokesperson saying on Twitter while Israel's president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Houthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hadas Gold, reporting for us, thank you 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. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.