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The Situation Room
Intense Strikes, Shifting Focus As Putin's War Enters Week Six; Biden Says, Putin May Have Put Some Advisers Under House Arrest; Ukraine-Russia Negotiations To Resume Tomorrow; 1/6 Committee Member: Kushner "Volunteered Information" In Interview; Oscars Exec Producer Speaks Out About Will Smith Slap. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 31, 2022 - 18:00 ET
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, hellish scenes from the battle field as Russian forces launch intense new strikes, shifting focus to Eastern Ukraine while continuing to pound Kyiv and other major cities. Tonight, the Pentagon says it's not entirely clear what Kremlin troops will do next as Vladimir Putin's war enters its sixth week.
We're also learning more about Putin's isolation now and whether it's being misled by his inner circle, President Biden weighing in, on how the foreign leader may be punishing advisers amid the military setbacks and possibly setting them under house arrest.
Our correspondents standing by on the frontlines in Ukraine, with refugees in Hungary and with top officials here in Washington, for CNN's live war coverage.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news out of Ukraine now as Russia's war enters a new phase and Vladimir Putin is keeping the world guessing about his next moves. In just a moment, we'll go live to Christiane Amanpour, she's in Kyiv, and to Kaitlan Collins, she's over at the White House.
But, first, we have this war report from CNN's Alex Marquardt.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Ukraine is taking back territory, troops here walking through the town of Sloboda near the northern city of Chernihiv, where Russia said they would deescalate the fight, but it rages on, as well as near the capital Kyiv, where Russia is still striking the outskirts. A senior U.S. defense official says that Russia has increased the number of aircraft munitions against Kyiv as well as other targets in Ukraine. President Joe Biden now saying he's skeptical of Russia's claim of withdrawing from Kyiv.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm a little skeptical. It's an open question whether he is pulling back and going to say, I'm just going to focus on the Donbas and I'm not worried about the rest of the country. I'm a skeptic.
It appears so far that he has not pulled out all the I.D.s, pulling all the troops up from around Kyiv and moving south, there's no evidence that he has done that.
MARQUARDT: Even as the Ukrainian see some gains in the north, Russia has not let up its deadly decimation of the southern city of Mariupol, both sides today agreeing on a corridor to allowing for residents in the city t escape on buses. And Ukrainian emergency services now say at least 20 people killed in a Russian strike in the besieged city of Mykolayiv earlier this week.
Military governor of the second largest city, Kharkiv, also saying that the region has come under heavier fire. Talks between Ukraine and Russia do go on, but the Ukrainian president, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, is not sounding optimistic.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Yes, we have negotiations process but they're only words without anything concrete. We will not give anything away and we will fight for every meter of our land.
MARQUARDT: Zelenskyy has repeatedly called for face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom U.S. officials say is being kept in the dark about how his war is really going, an assessment that is shared by British intelligence, which believes the Russian invaders are having serious morale issues.
JEREMY FLEMING, U.K. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: We've seen Russian soldiers short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidently shooting down their own aircraft.
MARQUARDT: Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Alex, for that report.
Let's go live to the Ukrainian capital now. Our Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour is on the scene for us.
Christiane, Russian military continues to strike the area where you are around the capital despite moving a small number of troops away from the city. President Biden said today he is skeptical of Putin's plans for those so-called repositioned of forces. Tell us what you are experiencing there.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, precisely that, that, yes, there are some forces which have been observed moving back towards Belarus, to regroup, to refit, to resupply, and then who knows where they'll be sent. But in the meantime, and, additionally, as a senior Defense Department official told me, that they will continue using their aircraft and missiles over places like the capital, Kyiv.
And sure enough, a few hours ago today, we actually heard and saw two very, very large missile strikes inside the city.
It's very, very rare. It was the first time I had experienced that. Very rare to see these missile strikes so close to the heart of downtown. And that was really quite an extraordinary situation.
In the meantime, I was up at outskirts of Kyiv, to the northeast where we were shown some rare footage, or rare, actual, you know, column of armored vehicles and tanks that had been taken out by the Ukrainian forces in the early days of the war as they actually stopped that column from moving on to the capital.
And we saw -- we saw the tanks, we saw the APCs totally blown out, we understand all the soldiers, according to the Ukrainians, were vaporized, they said, I mean, they were all killed. And I spoke to the actual soldier, the Ukrainian who took out one of the tanks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice over): 40-year-old Yevgeni (ph), a veteran fighter, proudly tells us this was his handy work. We all here have one role, to keep the enemy off our land, he says. First thing they did after seeing the village, they started to shell houses, just like that. They didn't see us. They didn't know we were here. So, they just started to work on houses. And so I took the tank in my sights and fired a rocket and goodbye to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (on camera): Now, it's very important to really focus on what he said, because that was in the very early days of the war. And even then, this indiscriminate shooting at just civilian targets was a pattern that started right then.
And the soldiers, the Ukrainians were really, really surprised. They couldn't believe it. They said there was absolutely no reason why that should happen and yet they did fire at the houses with their tanks and with their heavy machine guns that were affixed to those armored vehicles.
In the meantime, President Putin, we understand, as you've reported, isolated, unsure of what kind of facts or advice or truth he's getting from anyone around him. But those who have spoken to him believe that he still thinks, for instance, in Mariupol, he calls the people in there, the Ukrainians, all extremists.
So we're in for a potentially long haul to try to get relief to Mariupol because the buses that was sent down there, they couldn't even -- they had to stop, they weren't able to pick up the residents, and the French government said even the short number of hours that the Russians allowed for these buses before stopping them was nowhere near enough time to actually do a proper evacuation. Wolf?
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting from Kyiv, Christiane, be careful over there, we'll stay in touch.
Let's go to the White House right now, where President Biden is sharing new information about Putin's isolation and how the Russian leader may be, may be punishing his own advisers.
Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, this was a pretty revealing moment. Tell us more about what the president of the United States had to say.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPODENT: Well, Wolf, he's really echoing these intelligence assessments about what's happening inside of Russia and apparently state of tensions between President Putin and his top advisers. Though when President Biden was speaking with reporters today, he did add one caveat about what the U.S. is hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: There's a lot of speculation, but he seems to be -- I'm not saying this with a certainty, he seems to be self-isolating, and there's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers. But I -- I don't want to put too much stock in that at this time because we don't have that much hard evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: And, Wolf, when it comes to the self-isolating aspect of the president's comments, we should note President Biden and President Putin have not spoken since this invasion began. And I asked the White House today if they made any plans for the two of them too speak, they said no and basically set a really high bar for a conversation at that level to happen, saying that there ought to be significant signs of de-escalation on Russia's behalf for that conversation to go forward between President Putin and President Biden.
BLITZER: As you know, Kaitlan, the president also today took some historic action in an effort to help ease gas prices in the United States.
COLLINS: Yes. He's tapping into the emergency reserves, Wolf. As you have seen prices only go up since this invasion started. Obviously, that is something that Democrats are worried, it could affect them when the midterms happen in just a few months from now. And the president saying today he empathizes with people who are feeling that pain at the pump. So, now, they are going to be releasing a million barrels a day for the next six months, that's going to be up to about 180 million barrels of oil released from the strategic reserves, Wolf.
Though we should note, industry experts say they believe that this summer you could still see those record-high prices happening. There is a big concern about that. And even as President Biden is calling on companies here at home to ramp up domestic production, they are noting that is likely going to take months, not days, Wolf.
So this isn't a problem that is going away anytime soon.
We should note what President Biden did today, taking this step of this reserve, tapping into these reserves with this release, that is the biggest release that has happened since this strategic reserve was formed back in the 1970s, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Kaitlan, thank you very much, Kaitlan Collins at the White House.
Just ahead, an urgent new attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged Southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol where 100,000 people remain trapped.
BLITZER: The breaking news we're following tonight, the exodus from the Russian invasion of Ukraine now topping, get this, 4 million people and it includes not only Ukrainians but also non-Ukrainians who call the country home.
CNN's Matt Rivers has spoke to one of them who's now trying to help fellow refugees.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the play area of a temporary refugee shelter in Zahony, Hungary, kids sketch out their recent traumas on paper, burning tanks drawn in crayon, deadly battles fill out the chalk board.
Just outside that tent, Anmol Gupta (ph) can't erase their pain but he can get one of those kids a stuffed animal and a smile in the process.
When someone says, I'm scared, what do you say to them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then we tell them what's going to happen next and everything will be okay, so you don't have to worry. And then I start joking with them.
RIVERS: You're good at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, that I know.
RIVERS: A smile he says goes a long way. Anmol (ph) is a volunteer, having spent the last month just across the Ukraine border helping weary Ukrainians navigate the first few steps of new lives as refugees in Hungary. The native of Northern India is fluent in Russian, a skill honed over his years studying for a medical degree in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine.
He was living there when the bombs first started falling. His apartment was destroyed, his motorcycle hit by bullets and shrapnel and his nights spent in bomb shelters. He fled to Hungary, but still he wanted to help. As a foreigner, he says, he lost very little, while his friends, Ukrainians, have lost everything.
Is that part of the motivation that you have being here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it can be, it can be, because I have been with them for nine years and it feels like they are also my family.
RIVERS: And he's not the only foreigner once living in Ukraine that still wants to help. Behind kiosk restaurant's fancy dining room in Budapest works a man who just weeks ago was fleeing from explosions.
Even Azrudo (ph) works in the kitchen. But in early March, he was in Kharkiv. He fled when the Russians attacked.
So, were you scared?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I was so scared, so scares, because I saw they're bombing stuff. So, it was shaking our building.
RIVERS: He's was studying there for a degree in business and administration and wants to go back, but for now, he and his colleagues spend a part of their day cooking free meals for refugees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least I'm happy so that we are going to give some people food, some people that doesn't have anything to eat.
RIVERS: Back at the border, hundreds of refugees are headed in Budapest's direction. Anmol (ph) picks up some tickets, hands them out, then picks up some bags and walks people to the train. He has done this every single day for a month now. So, from us, a question.
How long do you think you're going to stay here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as needed.
RIVER: As long as needed. And when will that be?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No idea. That is the thing, I have no idea. But I believe that there will be some point when people will stop coming.
RIVERS: But that time hasn't yet come, and so he keeps helping amidst a crowd of people who need it. It's right where he wants to be.
RIVERS: And, Wolf, Anmol (ph) actually thought about seriously going back to Northern India where he's from. He made it all the way here to Budapest before he said, you know what, this is not where I need to be going. He made it here, he turned around, went back to the border, that was a month ago. And like you just heard, he's going to be there for the foreseeable future. BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Matt Rivers in Budapest for us, very important report.
Joining us now, Anastasia Paraskevova, one of the millions of displaced Ukrainians. Anastasia, thank you so much for joining us.
I know you fled your home in Kharkiv earlier this month, so what goes through your mind, Anastasia, when you see this latest brutal Russian bombardment?
ANASTASIA PARASKEVOVA, FLED KHARKIV, UKRAINE: Well, as everybody else in Ukraine, the thing I think about the most is will there be my city to return to, will there be something to rebuild, will I have a home, will people who I know, who I knew my whole life, who I care about, will they be there, will they be alive, things like that. It's hard to watch something you love that all of us have built to be a beautiful city, one of the best cities for living in Ukraine, to be just destroyed.
BLITZER: Are you still in touch with anyone in Kharkiv right now?
PARASKEVOVA: Yes, pretty much everyone. My father is in Kharkiv. My -- one of my best friends is fighting, currently, to protect Kharkiv. Many people I know are still living there. They're hiding mostly in basements and metro station. But, yes, I keep in touch with everyone I know and some people I know have left, but many are still in Kharkiv.
BLITZER: And our hearts go out to them. I hope they're going to be okay.
What does this crisis, Anastasia, reveal to you about your fellow Ukrainian people and what they're fighting for right now?
PARASKEVOVA: We fight for the same things that Ukrainians of previous generations have fought for. It's -- for us, it's not a war. It's the war. It's the same war we fight against tyranny, against imperialism, against anyone for all those years who are trying to destroy Ukraine. It's not the first time Russia has tried to destroy us. It's -- we hope it will be their last attempt at doing so.
We fight for our rights to (INAUDIBLE) our government, as we did all those years. We fight for democracy, for the right to elect our government. We fight for freedom. We fight for everything we love and we want future generations to have everything we did have, all those years of independence and more, better.
BLITZER: Let's hope it's -- you're successful in this fight. Anastasia, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you and good luck everyone in Ukraine right now. Our hearts go out to you.
And this important note to our viewers, for information about how you can help these humanitarian efforts in Ukraine, go to cnn.com/impact and help impact your world. The breaking news continues next. 100,000 people trapped in a besieged Ukrainian city right now. We'll have the latest on the desperate effort to try to get them to safety. That's next.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news out of Ukraine on a new effort to evacuate civilians trapped into the besieged city of Mariupol.
Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson in Southern Ukraine for us. So, Ivan, the Ukrainian government now estimates that some 100,000 civilians, men, women and children, are simply trapped in that besieged city of Mariupol, which essentially is already in ruins. Update us on the rather complicated effort to try to evacuate these people to safety.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is tricky. I mean, Ukrainian government this morning started by saying that they'd gotten a message via the International Committee of the Red Cross that the Russian military was going to allow evacuations today. So, they announced that they were going to have their own cease-fire and send about 45 buses from Zaporizhzhia, where I am now, in the direction of Mariupol.
At the end of the day, the Ukrainian government says almost 1,500 people made it out of Mariupol in their own cars, their own private cars, but the buses were held up at a town occupied by the Russians near Mariupol, about 30-plus buses have been held there at the entrance to the town overnight. Another 12 buses, I believe, the Ukrainian government says, were held at another Russian occupied town called Melitopol, and they had been carrying 14 tons of food and medicine, which the Ukrainian government now accuses the Russian military of confiscating.
Meanwhile the Russian government, the defense ministry has just announced that it will have another humanitarian corridor evacuation day on April 1st, on Friday. They want it to be organized with the ICRC, the Red Cross, and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees. So, there is the chance that more people could emerge on Friday.
There is a wrinkle to this story, Wolf, and that is that the leader of one of the Russian-backed separatist regions in the east of the country has announced that he is going to be setting up his own administration to govern Mariupol, which has a number of complicating factors. First, as you mentioned, there are still around 100,000-plus Ukrainian civilians still believed to be trapped in Mariupol, that's one, number two, there are still Ukrainian troops still controlling part of the city and fighting deadly battles against far greater Russian numbers of military there, and then the third thing is if, in fact, he does want to create an administration there, it does look like the first step towards trying to annex Mariupol, to a proxy of Russia in Ukraine. That fits a pattern that we've seen in the past here, certainly, with the occupation and the annexation of Crimea of 2014. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there, Ivan, thanks very, very much, Ivan Watson reporting.
Now, to another war-ravaged city in Southern Ukraine. We're joined by the mayor of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Syenkevych, who is joining us right now.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.
What does the fight look like around Mykolayiv right now? Are you succeeding in pushing the Russians back?
MAYOR OLEKSANDR SYENKEVYCH, MYKOLAIV, UKRAINE: We are. We have some success in pushing them back, but we -- last two days we have fights on our (INAUDIBLE) of the sea. They're trying to attack us, but our troops fighting them and they fell back.
But as you know, I think you heard about it, they used, recently, the day before yesterday, the cruise missile, the guided missile that hit into the -- our regional government building, the building of regional administration.
BLITZER: Because the death toll, we understand, has now risen to at least 20 in that Russian strike on Mykolayiv's government building that you're referring to. You say the strike deliberately targeted the governor and the civilians. What are you racing for as this war now enters week six?
SYENKEVYCH: First of all, I think they lose in their informational campaign, information campaign, and one of our, let's say, first voices is our governor, Vitaliy Kim. And let's say that missile was like aimed right into his office. Only four people, military people who were as guards and on the first floor died while this attack. All the other people, 17 people that -- already found bodies of 17 people and three more are missing, were just civilians, and let's say 38 injured people were also civilians, office workers, whose work is to, you know, work with humanitarian help and with help to refugees.
BLITZER: I know you have said in the past that you started actually preparing for a war years ago. You actually expected a brutal Russian invasion like this would happen at some point. What are you bracing for now? What do you anticipate, Mayor, will happen in the next few days and weeks?
SYENKEVYCH: For sure, we are expecting new attacks. We still do these fortifications. We build block posts. We are working with our army to build things that they need now and what they ask us for. And for sure, we are, let's say, back office of our army now.
BLITZER: Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych, please be careful over there, please -- we will stay in touch with you, and please pass along our best wishes to all the people who live there, indeed, all the people in Ukraine. Thank you so much for joining us. SYENKEVYCH: Thank you.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news coming up next. We have details of Russia's apparent refocus on Eastern Ukraine. Is Vladimir Putin looking at a land grab to strengthen his hand in negotiations?
BLITZER: More on the breaking news, relentless Russian shelling of key Ukrainian cities despite Moscow's promise to reduce attacks.
Let's take a closer a look at the situation with CNN Military Analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, thanks so much for joining us.
As you know, the senior U.S. defense official has told CNN that the Russians are now focusing in on four specific areas, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Izyum and the Donbas region. Tell us why the Russians seem to be targeting these areas with major air power.
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. Here's the major deal here. So, of course, we have Kyiv right here, that's the capital of Ukraine. We have Izyum right here. We have the Donbas. We have Kharkiv and we have Chernihiv right here. So, these areas that you've mentioned here are the ones that they are looking at because they believe that the Russians believe that they can take this area using air power and rocket strikes alone.
This makes more sense for them to do than to use their armed forces, which, of course, have gotten into a lot of trouble with all the different situations that they've had A to B when it comes to their convoys that didn't work, they personnel that didn't obey orders and the other things that have become problems that way.
BLITZER: As you know, the Polish prime minister said today that he thinks what the Russians want to do is to take over about a third of Ukraine right now in order to strengthen their hand in potential negotiations. Tell us why they would go for this area and do they even have the capability to do this?
LEIGHTON: So, that's a really interesting question, Wolf. The area that they're talking about here is actually the Donbas region. And if you take a look at this line, you'll see that part of this line is actually not covered by Russian troops or their separatist partners. So, what the Russians want to do is they want to take this area right in here into Kramatorsk and beyond Donetsk. That also gives them added areas behind Mariupol, that area that has been affected so much by the devastation that we've seen in all the reports that we've had from the scene there.
So, this is about a third, little less than a third of the country. They could move that out a little further this way, regardless, this would be the area of Eastern Ukraine that they would take a look at and they would want to grab because it is Russian-populated and it is also an area that is very rich agriculturally and industrially.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that the Russians apparently have decided to withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear facility, that's not very far away from Kyiv. Tell us about that.
LEIGHTON: Yes, Wolf. The area there just north of Kyiv, this is Chernobyl. And this is, of course, the scene of the nuclear devastation in 1986 when the reactor actually malfunctioned and radiation spread throughout large portions of Europe. Well, what has happened here is that Russian troops have come in, they have gone into this area, occupied parts of it, and they have actually been affected by some of the radiation potentially and that was perhaps the reason that they moved because of potential radiation affects to their health and also their inability to really move the Ukrainians out of there.
BLITZER: Colonel Cedric Leighton, as usual, thank you very, very much for that explanation.
There's more breaking news we're following, new details just coming in about what former President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. We'll have details for you.
Plus, Chris Rock breaking his silence on the Oscars slap seen and heard around the world.
BLITZER: We have much more on the coverage on the war in Ukraine, that's just ahead. But there's more breaking news we're following as well, including new details right now about what former President Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner, told the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Our congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles is working the story for us.
Ryan, let's start with what is happening today. Kushner meeting remotely with the committee, you have some new information.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, first of all, Wolf, this was a lengthy deposition between the committee and Jared Kushner started this morning. It went well into the afternoon, and we're told by at least one member of the January 6th committee, of Virginia, that in her mind, Kushner was cooperating. She pointed out that he came in voluntarily and that he did offer up information that the committee was looking for.
She didn't get into real specifics but this is an encouraging sign for the committee, Kushner may be the person closest to the former President Donald Trump that sat for deposition with this committee, is of course, his son in law, also one of the highest ranking advisers in the Trump White House.
Now, Kushner wasn't in Washington, D.C. on January 6. He was traveling at the time. However, he was involved in the activities after the election in November. He was still serving in that capacity in the Trump White House, and of course, Wolf, we know that he committee is very interested in that period of time between the election and January 6th where the former president ramped up that rhetoric, his false claims about the election being stolen, and they were likely to ask Kushner questions in that vein, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's turn to the Justice Department, Ryan, while I have you. There were some signs tonight that the Department of Justice is broadening its investigation related to January 6th. What's the latest?
NOBLES: Yeah, that's right, Wolf. And this is significant because up until this point, all of the work that we have seen from the Justice Department has really been centrally focused on these individuals who actually broke into the capital and cause all that violence on January 6th. But we are now seeing by a group of subpoenas that have gone out is that they are widening that scope to those who were evolved in organizing the rallies and also raising money for those rallies that will allow for people to come to Washington and for those rallies to be stage.
Now, at this point, it appears that this is more of a fact-finding mission. They are not necessarily targets of an investigation or could potentially be targeted for indictment. But it shows that as Merrick Garland has promised that he will not leave any stone unturned, and this could just be the beginning of what will be a very long-term investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig.
Elie, as you heard, we're hearing that Kushner volunteered information you wouldn't necessarily expect someone in Trump's inner, inner circle to be especially forthcoming, would you?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, Jared Kushner is in a really interesting I think unique scenario. First of all, he's always trying to keep himself separate from January 6. He was never a big proponent of the big lie, election fraud. He wasn't in the country in the lead up to January 6.
On the other hand, he's the ultimate inner, inner circle adviser. He's the highest ranking White House adviser to testify thus far. So if I was examining Jared Kushner, I will try to use some purely as a witness.
What were other key players doing? I'd try to use that access. What did Mark Meadows do? What did Dan Scavino do? Perhaps even, what did Ivanka Trump do?
Because he has that unique insight and access, that's what I would be interested in questioning him. In
BLITZER: Very interesting. Our senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, thank you very, very much.
Up next, Chris Rock speaks out for the first time about Will Smith's violent Oscars outdoors, as new details are emerging about what happened right afterward.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: I have like a whole show I wrote before this weekend. And I'm still kind of processing what happened.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Some breaking news on this lap that will go down in Oscar's history. The executive producer of the Oscar telecast spoke out about the confrontation between Will Smith and Chris Rock in a new interview just a little while ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL PACKER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, OSCAR TELECAST: You know, this is battery, that's the word they use in the moment. They said, we will go get him. We are prepared. We are prepared to get him right now. You can press charges. We can arrest him. You have -- they were laying out the options.
And as they were talking, Chris was -- he was being very dismissive of those options. He was like, no, I'm fine. No, no, no. And even to the point where I said, Rock, let him finish. The officers finished laying out what his options where and they said, would you like us to take any action?
And he said no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Chris Rock also is breaking his silence on Will Smith's attack. As we learn new details about what happened immediately afterwards.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. He's getting more information as well.
Brian, what's the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight we have new reporting on the disputed accounts of whether Will Smith was actually asked to leave after the slapping incident or not. And, as Wolf mentioned, Chris Rock has spoken up publicly for the first time in dropped hints that there will be more coming from him.
ROCK: Yo, let me do a show y'all. Y'all got me all misty and (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
TODD (voice-over): Chris Rock had tears in his eyes as the crowded Boston Wilbur Theatre gave him back to back standing ovations. And then he made his first public comments since being slapped at the Oscars by Will Smith.
ROCK: How was your weekend? I'm not I don't have like a bunch of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about what happened. So if you came to hear that, I'm not -- I have like a whole show I wrote before this weekend.
TODD: CNN has obtained audio of the first of two standup shows Rock did last night in Boston.
ROCK: I'm still kind of processing what happened, like -- like I --
So, at some point, I'll talk about that (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And it'll be serious, it'll be funny.
TODD: As some in the crowd shouted F Will Smith, Rock seemed eager to move on.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Will Smith.
ROCK: I'm going to tell some jokes.
TODD: In his second show, Rock reiterated that he plans to talk about this incident in more detail at some point.
ROCK: That was a nice one. Okay. I'm out here -- uh-oh. Richard -- oh wow! Wow!
TODD: Seemingly referencing whether he's spoken to Smith since the incident, Rock told the audience in the second to, quote, I haven't spoken to anyone despite what you heard.
And uncensored feet from a Japanese outlet, the night of the Oscars, shows how Rock and Smith reacted immediately after the slap.
ROCK: Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me.
WILL SMITH, ACTOR: Keep my wife's name out of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) mouth.
ROCK: Wow, dude.
ROCK: It was a "G.I. Jane" joke.
SMITH: Keep my wife's name out of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) mouth!
TODD: There have been multiple published ships reports disputing the Academy's claim that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscar ceremony after the slap but refused.
But tonight, a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN leaders of the Academy firmly asked Smith's publicist for the actor to leave, but he refused. And that message was communicated back to the Academy. Smith did not respond to multiple requests for comment today.
How much pressure is the Academy under two disciplined Smith in a consequential way?
NISCHELLE TURNER, HOST, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": I think the Academy does have to have a real definitive action here. Will they revoke his membership to the Academy? Which I do believe that that will happen. And will they take his Oscar? I'm not sure that it will go that far.
TODD (on camera): Nischelle Turner says that she expects Chris Rock's career to benefit from this moment. And she raises the possibility of him to host next year's Oscars. A broadcast which he says will probably draw a lot more viewers regardless of who host, Wolf, you can bank on that.
BLITZER: So, what are you hearing? Because I know you've been working this as well from all of the experts out there. How is this going to affect Will Smith's career?
TODD: Well, you know, it's interesting. You know, he's an incredibly powerful figure in Hollywood. Nischelle Turner calls him the mayor of Hollywood because of how powerful he is. She believes that you may see him take a step back if they're a couple of weeks are few months.
But he's too powerful a figure in Hollywood, Wolf, to really fade from the scene. He's got projects in the works. Probably his career does not get affected too much long term by this. But it will be interesting to see in the next months to see how public a figure he's going to be.
BLITZER: What are the experts you're talking to think about this? Will we be hearing more from Will Smith anytime soon?
TODD: Well, I mean, we may not, actually. Because he -- I think he feels the need, from what we're hearing, to take a step back. Maybe his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, has a podcast, he may appear on that. So watch for that. Watch that space because he may appear there.
But it's going to be interesting to see what Chris Rock is going to say when he comes out and gives more detail about this entire incident and how he really feels. He didn't lead on very much last night during those shows in Boston. Now, he will gradually say more about it in his standup shows going forward.
But as Nischelle Turner says, when he lets loose, Chris Rock is a very raw figure. It's going to be very explosive.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. All right. Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back in half an hour on our new streaming service CNN+ with my new show called "The Newscast". You can coach me here at 9:00 p.m. Eastern later on tonight as well.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.