Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

1/6 Committee Says, Evidence Will Shot Trump's Involvement in Fake Electors Plots; Biden Weighs Pause in Federal Gas Tax Amid Record Fuel Costs; Thousands of Flights Canceled as Summer Travel Surges; COVID Vaccinations to Begin Tomorrow for Younger Children; Two Americans Reportedly Held in Russian-Backed Separatist Region; Israel Facing Fifth Election in Less Than 4 Years. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 20, 2022 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 19th, 1865, when a union major general announce the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas.


Slaves there were unaware of their freedom, however, until two-years after President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1863.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the January 6th select committee just revealed new details about its hearing tomorrow. Aides are promising more evidence that former President Trump was involve in a fake electoral plot in part of his bid to overturn the 2020 presidential results. Witnesses will include the Georgia secretary of state who was pressured by Trump to, quote, find favorable votes.

Also tonight, President Biden says he is considering a pause in the federal gas tax. He is aiming for a decision this week as Americans are clamoring for relief from record prices at the pump.

And U.S. airlines are trying to untangle a holiday weekend mess due to thousands of canceled flights with staffing shortages and bad weather causing chaos. Will air travel be a nightmare all summer?

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.

Aides say the January 6th select committee plans to reveal new information about the origins and the scope of former president Trump's direct efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including his role in a fake electoral scheme.

CNN Jessica Schneider has more on what to expect tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The January 6th committee getting ready to shift its focus to Trump's role in a scheme to submit fake electoral, all in a bid to overturn the 2020 election. They will call three Republicans on Tuesday, all expected to testify about how Trump pressured them to overturn Trump's loss at the polls in their states.

Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will talk about this phone call with the former president just days before January 6th.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

SCHNEIDER: Raffensperger's chief operating officer, Gabe Sterling, will also appear. And from Arizona, the Republican speaker of the state's House will testify as well. Rusty Bower said Trump asked him directly to replace the electors in the state with a rogue slate.

RUSTY BOWERS (R) ARIZONA STATE HOUSE SPEAKER: I talked to him a couple of times. And they will -- they'd asked me to take some steps that I just wouldn't do. And I told him, I voted for him. I've campaigned for him but I told him I wasn't going to do anything illegal.

SCHNEIDER: Bowers also received emails from Ginni Thomas urging him to set aside Biden's election win by replacing Democratic electors with a Republican slate. The committee has asked Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, to testify.

Ginni Thomas issued a short response to a conservative publication saying, I can't wait to clear up misconceptions. I look forward to talking to them.

Thomas was the only justice to vote against releasing White House records to the committee in January. Now, Schiff says Thomas should recuse himself from any cases involving the committee.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Justice Thomas, to avoid even the appearance of the propriety, should have nothing to do with any cases relating to January 6th, particularly regarding our investigation.

SCHNEIDER: A new poll out from ABC News after three hearings shows nearly six in ten Americans believe former President Trump should be prosecuted. It's a case the committee is making.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): The president is guilty of knowing what he did, seditious conspiracy. What we are presenting before the American people certainly would rise to a level of criminal involvement by a president.

SCHNEIDER: But so far, DOJ refusing to comment, though prosecutors recently complained that the committee's refusal to hand over all of its records complicates their job. Committee Member Zoe Lofgren says the dispute could be resolve as early as July, once the hearings conclude. And meanwhile, Schiff is leaving the door open to subpoena Vice President Mike Pence.

SCHIFF: There are still key people we have not interviewed that we would like to. We are not taking anything off the table in terms of witnesses who have not yet testified.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And also scheduled to testify tomorrow, Shane Moss. She is a former election worker who Trump actually accused of carrying out a fake ballot scheme in Fulton County, Georgia. Committee aides are saying that she will speak about the threat that she received as the result of Trump's false claims. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thank you, Jessica Schneider reporting.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Political Analyst Kirsten Powers, a columnist for USA Today, and CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich, the former Republican Governor of Ohio.


Jeffrey, how important is it to hear from these election officials. Some of whom actually spoke directly with then-President Trump.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think Georgia is the weakest part of Donald Trump's defense. He has got a real problem in Georgia because, you know, in other areas, the president can say -- the former president can say, look, you know, I had legal advice that we were just trying to get all the votes counted, but when you look at the -- when you start with the tape of the audiotape of his statement to Raffensperger where he says, I need 11,780 votes, that is not about counting all the votes, that is not about getting accurate results, that is about getting enough votes to win. And that is a very different scenario than one where he can claim good faith.

So, I think Georgia is really one where there is an active criminal investigation already underway and I think that is one where he is very vulnerable.

BLITZER: You know, Kirsten, how will the committee make the case this wasn't just one state, this was a widespread, coordinated scheme by the former president?

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the broader picture of this entire, you know -- these hearings is laying out this that was a multi-pronged effort that had various tranches where the president was going around and trying to overturn the election. And so, tomorrow, it will be focused on looking at these states, Arizona and Georgia, where he couldn't really have been more explicit, as Jeffrey is saying.

This doesn't -- you know, if you are wondering what his intent was, well, his intent was quite clear. His intent was find votes that don't exist. You know, whether it is saying I want this number of votes or whether it is saying get a new slate of electors but do something to change the outcome of the election. You know, Joe Biden has won the election. Do something to overturn that and make it so I won. That is clearly election fraud in a minimum and puts him in legal jeopardy in all sorts of different ways.

BLITZER: You know, Governor Kasich, as you heard, the committee isn't ruling out asking the former vice president, Mike Pence, to speak to them. The mob was chanting, as we all know, hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence. Should he step forward and actually share what he knows about that day?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he should, Wolf. I wouldn't bet a lot of money on the fact that he is going to do it but I think what would mean if he testified is he would be able to give some unique insight. Obviously, he had been talking to the president. He was there inside the Capitol 40 feet away from a raging mob and I think, most important, it would draw a lot of attention.

I mean, what the committee needs are a lot of eyeballs, a lot of people who -- and this would stoke great interest. As it stokes great interest, then you might have even more people beginning to say, yes, you know what, Trump didn't win. The guy is out of it here. And that's the most positive thing about having Mike Pence testify. I would not -- I do not think he will, though.

BLITZER: Interesting.

You know, Jeffrey, nearly six in ten Americans say they believe former President Trump should face criminal charges for his role in January 6th, according to a new poll by ABC News, but the attorney general has to weigh other factors, doesn't he?

TOOBIN: Right. You know, I am very glad I live in a country where we don't prosecute people based on popular demand. And I think it's a good thing that the Justice Department is conservative, that is, with the lower case C, about bringing criminal cases, because it is a very serious thing to try to put someone in prison. And we should only do it if there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime.

However, given what has gone in this committee, there is certainly a basis for a criminal investigation, not just a President Trump but also of John Eastman. You know, how that result will actually -- how that investigation will turn out, I don't know, but, certainly, there does seem to be enough evidence, not in the poll but in the evidence presented in public that an investigation needs to go forward here.

BLITZER: I'll make it quick. Governor Kasich, over let the weekend, the Republican Party of Texas actually adopted a resolution rejecting president Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. They also called being gay, quote, an abnormal lifestyle choice. What does that say about today's GOP? And I ask you, you're a Republican.

KASICH: Yes. Well, Wolf, what I can tell you is what happened in Texas was a clown show. And I think even clowns were embarrassed by what they saw down there.


You know, it brings up one important thing, Wolf, for all people who are interested in commonsense and politics. If you leave the field and you let the crazies, you let the people who are really extreme take control, then these are the kind of things you get.

And it works on both sides, in both the Democratic and Republican Party in these primaries. If you let the extremes dictate who the nominees are, what the public, what the policies are, and you're going to end up in extremes and things that don't make sense and further polarize the country.

So, what happened down there was a bunch of people who were very extreme, ran the program, they jammed through whatever they wanted, and it is an embarrassment. Think about what they did to that Afghan veteran, Cawthorn, who was mocked down there, and John Cornyn, who is trying to cut a deal on -- a reasonable deal on guns. He was booed. It's just crazy. That was the clown show. That's what that was Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: This was the actual Republican Party of Texas, not just a bunch of wild guys (ph). This is the actual Republican Party in Texas, Kirsten.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I think it's -- you know, in a way -- to call it a clown show, in a way, sort of makes it sound like they are fringe people, right, which, in the past, would absolutely approximate true. But, unfortunately, this is becoming much more mainstream of the Republican Party. And this is scary stuff and that is -- if you are a gay person living in that state, how are you going to feel if you have a guy gay child? How are you going to feel? I mean, this is so for outside the mainstream of how people think today and certainly how a political party takes a position.

They are extremist on guns, obviously, you know, booing Senator Cornyn, who is as conservative as they come, which is what this always comes back to is that even very conservative people, if they step one step out of the line, are ostracized.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, one of the two Republicans on the House January 6th select committee warns of political violence around the 2024 election and reveals the death threat he and his family actually received. We are going to talk with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He is standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans on the House January 6th select committee, says he and his family have received a death threat and he warns of chaos and violence as the 2024 election approaches. Listen to this.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): This threat that came in, it was mailed to my house. We got it a couple days ago, and it threatens to execute me, as well as my wife and five-month-old child. Never seen or had anything like that.

There is violence in the future, I am going to tell you. And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can't expect any differently.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss this and more with former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

Do you agree with that warning that there is more politically motivated violence to come?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, first, the death threat sent to Representative Kinzinger is very serious. I hope it is aggressively investigated by the FBI and the Capitol police. If it is any comfort to the congressman and his family, the overwhelming majority of statements like that are all talk and no action issued by deranged cowards.

Now, in terms of the threats around our Democratic process, our election process, we are now in a tense environment, Wolf. I looked at the last DHS bulletin that was issued a couple of weeks ago, which warned of all manner of threats ranging from violent extremism to those who harbor personal grievances. That's an obvious reference to mass shootings like Uvalde. Whenever the American public reads a statement like this, when I was in office, I always made an everyday to try to also convey what is expected of the public. Because the public reads something like this, they are concerned, and they want to know what can I do?

And I think the answer, reading between the lines of the warnings being put out, is law enforcement has to be vigilant. Americans should continue to go to public events around the holidays, like July 4th. We obviously must continue to participate in our democracy, vote. We should all continue to vote. But be aware. Be careful. And if you see something, obviously, say something.

BLITZER: Yes. And as I know, he is not the only member of the January 6th select committee getting these kinds of horrible, horrible threats. Congressman Kinzinger also is raising the alarm that the 2024 election could be a mess with, quote, people that don't believe in democracy, authoritarians, he calls them, in key election roles. Do you fear, Mr. Secretary, other politicians will try to mimic the Trump' playbook?

JOHNSON: Yes, I do, and we are beginning to see signs of that now. The reminder that those of us with a public voice, a responsible public voice, has to, be words have consequences. People do listen to their leaders, and so responsible, reasoned rhetoric at a time like this is vital. [18:20:06]

Outrageous, outlandish vocabulary words do have consequences. They make unacceptable behavior acceptable and for the deranged among us, violence inevitable. So, words do have consequences.

We should all, however, continue to be careful, be vigilant and, by all means, continue to participate in our Democratic process in a peaceful, orderly way.

BLITZER: While I have you on, I want to ask you about an important article you wrote, an op-ed article in USA Today. You are calling for Democrats, your fellow Democrats, to embrace a platform of public safety. Why do you see this as a weak spot for Democrats supposedly being accused of being soft on crime?

JOHNSON: The reality is that rising levels of crime affect urban/suburban areas of our country more than rural areas. Put another way, it affects communities that are principally Democratic strongholds in the big cities and in many suburban areas.

This issue, therefore, is vital and intensely personal to a lot of Democratic voters, which is why I think I think it is crucial in our Democratic platforms, and I am Democrat, we make public safety the centerpiece of what it is we need to do to address people's concerns.

This is not just simply a political issue. This is an intensely personal issue for a lot people. I know a lot of people who have progressive values but who are afraid to, for example, ride the New York City subway. So, history shows that for us of us in the Democratic Party, if we fail to address this, the void will be filled by extremist rhetoric on the other side that does no more than frighten and divide us.

BLITZER: The former homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, Americans hit hard by record fuel prices may get break. We will have the latest on the gas tax holiday President Biden is considering, and how much of a difference it might make.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: President Biden says he is nearing a decision aimed at easing the pain at the pump that Americans are feeling right now big time.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent M.J. lee. M.J., as Americans are paying record gas prices, tell us about the options President Biden is exploring, including possibility of a federal gas tax holiday.

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. There is no question that record high gas prices remain such a stubborn problem for the president. We've heard him saying in recent weeks numerous times that dealing with inflation remains his number one domestic priority.

And keep in mind, the bigger context here too, right, the president has recently pulled on the number of limited levers that he already has at his disposal. The biggest one, of course, being tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve more than once, and that hasn't had the effect of meaningful lowering gas prices.

And now, this morning, the president saying he is considering supporting a pause on the federal gas tax. What this would do is effectively save people around 18 cents per gallon when they go to fill up their gas tanks. Take a listen to what he said this morning.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: That is what I am considering.

REPORTER: How soon can we expect that decision?

BIDEN: Well, I hope I have the decision based on data I am looking for by the end of the week.


LEE: Now, important to note that this is not a unilateral decision that the president can take. This would require action from Congress and, so far, we have not seen a lot of traction for lawmakers to go down this route. Another thing that the president said to reporters this morning was that he is considering gas rebate cards.

But I think it is important it note here too that CNN has previously reported that this is an idea that officials do have concerns about because it is difficult to administer and essentially track how people would spend the money that are on these cards.

Now, the last thing that I would note is that the president also said he did have a conversation this morning with Larry Summers. This is the former treasury secretary official, of course, who has been predicting that a recession is likely, the president pushing back on that idea and saying that he doesn't believe that a recession is inevitable. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. lee at the White House, thank you.

National average for gas prices here in the United States just took a slight -- key word, slight -- dip after months climbing higher and higher.

CNN's Matt Egan is on streets of New York joining us right now. Matt, the average price of gas is just under $5 a gallon nationally right now. Should Americans expect the price to keep dropping? MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, gas prices are finally going lower a little bit, the national average at $4.98 gallon. That is down four cents from the record high set just last week. And we could see prices go a bit lower because oil prices have gone down significantly due to all of those recession fears. But I don't really think anyone is going to be celebrating with prices at these levels because it is still 39 cents higher today to fill up your tank than it was a month ago.

Now, as M.J. Lee just mentioned, the White House is still deliberating whether or not to back a federal gas tax holiday and it is easy to see why that would be popular, because it would pretty quickly cause gas prices to go down by as much as 18 cents a gallon but there is also some drawbacks that could prevent it from getting through Congress.


One, this doesn't really do anything to address the supply problem. Two, it actually supports demand at a time when demand can't keep up with supply. It would also sap federal funding for repairing and building highways. And one other problem here, Wolf, is that once you implement a gas tax holiday, it would become pretty hard and pretty politically unpopular to reverse it.

BLITZER: Yes, it would. It seems also, on another sensitive issue, Matt, that the Fed isn't done raising interest rates. Could loans get even more expensive? What are you hearing? What are you seeing?

EGAN: Well, Wolf, the Fed is signaling that its war on inflation is really just getting started. Last week, the fed announced its biggest interest rate increase since 1994 in a bid to try to get inflation under control. And then over the weekend, a top Fed official said the Fed is going, quote, all-in to try to get prices back under control. And he endorsed a similar sized rate hike at next month as meeting.

This means higher borrowing costs for families. Credit cards, car loans, student upon debts, and the big one, of course, is mortgage. Mortgages are going up at the fastest pace since 1987. A year ago, average mortgage rate was around 3 percent. Today, it is rapidly approaching 6 percent.

And so what does that really mean? Well, let me show you. If you look at monthly-mortgage payments on a home that was $250,000, those payments are $335 higher today than they were a year ago. On a $500,000 home, those payments are $670 higher. And, again, those are monthly payments and those payments -- that extra money, it's not going to get you an extra bedroom or extra bathroom. It is really all going to the bank.

Wolf, I think ns this is another reminder of how, while inflation is very painful, getting inflation back under control, that can be painful as well.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly could. That is real money we are talking about. Matt Egan, thank you very much. Just ahead, a travel weekend nightmare here in the United States. Thousands of flights canceled as the U.S. sees the busiest travel day of the year so far. So, what does it mean for the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend? Stand by.



BLITZER: Tonight, U.S. airlines are struggling with a huge backlog of passengers after thousands of flights were canceled over the holiday weekend, leaving unlucky travelers stranded. And that is sparking deep concern about the upcoming July 4th holiday.

CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean has details.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many people are still trying to get home even after this huge weekend of cancelations. You know, these new cancelation numbers are huge but the cause of this is not new.

We have been reporting for months about how airlines got smaller because of the pandemic. There are massive flight crew shortages and the deck of cards really come tumbling down when summer weather strikes. In fact, there were bad thunderstorms on Thursday and airlines have been trying to get back to normal ever since. More than 1,700 flight cancelations nationwide on Thursday, according to FlightAware, more than 1,400 on Friday.

Airlines really tried to play catch-up unsuccessfully on Saturday and Sunday, more than 800 flight cancelations on Saturday, more than 900 on Sunday.

United Airlines' CEO Scott Kirby just spoke to our Richard Quest about this and he pinned some of the blame on all these cancelations on the federal government. He says, the Federal Aviation Administration needs to help by hiring and adding more air traffic controllers. This is coming as so many people are traveling not only the long Juneteenth holiday weekend but also Father's Day weekend.

This could be one of the busiest travel weekends since the start of the pandemic. 2.38 million people was passed through security at America's airport on Sunday, according to TSA, 2.44 million people at airports nationwide on Friday. That is the highest number we have seen since Thanksgiving 2021.

This all comes with an urgent message from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He told airlines last week that they need to get their schedule acts together with the July 4th travel period on the horizon. In fact, he, himself, had his own flight canceled between New York and Washington. He had to drive, like so many people had to pivot to, after their flights were canceled this weekend. Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Pete Muntean at Reagan National Airport, thank you. This holiday weekend has seen a fresh wave of mass shootings all across the United States as well, including right in Washington, D.C., the latest of dozens since the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This was an early sign in downtown D.C. last night that tensions were building, panic, people being trampled after hundreds had gathered for an unpermitted concert.

Later, despite a heavy police' presence in the area, gunfire broke out, a 15-year-old boy, three others, including a police officer, wounded. The police chief and mayor frustrated with the gun violence in their city.

CHIEF ROBERT CONTEE III, WASHINGTON, D.C., METROPOLITAN POLICE: There is a theme that you see here, illegal firearms in the hands people who should not have them. This is unacceptable.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D-WASHINGTON, D.C.): With guns involved and with our police managing a crowd on site, somebody used a gun and a child is dead.

TODD: In Harlem, nine people were shot, one of them killed, after people had gathered for a midnight barbecue.


The deceased victim, 20-year-old college Basketball Star Darius Lee, his sister, distraught.

TIARA LEE, SISTER OF NEW YORK CITY SHOOTING VICTIM: Humble, star basketball player, didn't bother nobody.

TODD: The weekend shootings in New York and Washington are among the 278 mass shootings recorded so far this year in America, including 65 more since the Uvalde school shooting, with 349 shot, 69 of them killed. CNN and the Gun Violence Archive define a mass shooting as one that injured or kills four or more people.

PROF. GARY LAFREE, CRIMINOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Violent crime has definitely been heading up. We have definitely seen a significant upturn in big cities in particular, in the last about four or five years now.

TODD: In Chicago, it was another horrific weekend. Officials saying at least 32 people shot, three of them fatally. The causes for these spikes, the criminologists we spoke to point to the proliferation of guns on America's streets. They say gun violence typically goes up in the warmer months with more people out and about interacting with others, and they point to overwhelmed, understaffed police departments, as well as a lack of trust between the public and police.

LAFREE: When the public starts to doubt the efficacy of the police and their fairness and they stop reporting crimes to the police, you get into a situation that some criminologists call self-help, where people are more likely to -- instead of calling the police, they are more likely to solve things on their own.

TODD: This all comes with the backdrop of a federal government seemingly unable to stem this tide. The U.S. Congress continuing to struggle, negotiating new gun safety laws and a Supreme Court decision looms, the court possibly about to strike down a New York law which places restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon outside the home.


TODD (on camera): And Criminologist Gary LaFree points to another disturbing factor in the proliferation of some of these crimes in America. LaFree and his colleagues at the University of Maryland Research, the numbers of clearance rates for homicides and other violent crimes in cities, like Baltimore, Washington, and other places, they are shockingly low, many, many of these crimes, Wolf, in D.C., Baltimore, and elsewhere simply not getting solved.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right. Brian Todd reporting from Washington, thank you.

Coming up, millions of American children under age five can start getting COVID vaccines tomorrow. But many parents still have lots and lots of questions. We have some answers when we come back.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: U.S. pharmacies are announcing plans to vaccinate young children now that vaccines have been authorized for kids under 5 and as young as six months.

CVS, for example, says it will start administering doses as early as tomorrow, with other changes clearly to follow.

Let's get some more from CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, thanks for joining us.

What's the first step for parents right now? Should they jump on these appointments or actually make a call or visit their pediatrician first?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think there are a lot of parents who are ready to go, who have made the decision to vaccinate their children. I definitely think it's worth checking in with your pediatrician's office, although many of them many not have the vaccine in store, and if you really eager, check with your local pharmacies. Many of them are not going to have appointments for, especially young kids, for example, the 6 month to 2-year-old group.

And so, call your pharmacy. Make sure your kid and their age is going to be serviced by that particular pharmacy. BLITZER: That's really an important point. According to an April poll

by the Kaiser Family Foundation -- and I am sure you have seen this, Dr. Wen -- only 18 percent of parents of kids under 5 say they will get this vaccine as soon as it becomes available. More parents -- nearly 40 percent -- say they will wait and see. Do you expect to see slower vaccine' uptake among this age group?

WEN: I do think that we should expect for there to be slower vaccine uptake, in part because the rollout is more complicated because most kids are up this age range are used to getting vaccines at the pediatrician's office and it takes time for the vaccine to get there. That, itself, is a bottleneck.

But yes, some parents are going to take the wait-and-see approach and I actually think that that's fine because there are so many parents very eager to get their kids vaccinated -- I am among them. And many physicians' parents that I know are in this group as well.

So, I say let those who are so eager go first. Then, we are going to get a lot more experience from these initial hundreds of thousands of children. And then, I think a lot of people in that wait-and-see category are going to get off the fence and their kids vaccinated once they see for themselves just how safe and effective these vaccines are.

BLITZER: As you can imagine, I am getting swamped with a lot of questions from parent out there. What is your advice, Dr. Wen, to parents of kids who are about to turn five? Should they wait to get the higher dose? Or get vaccinated now, with the under 5, a lower dose?

WEN: I am in this category myself. My son turns 5 in August. We deciding to go ahead with the vaccine now and this is the CDC's recommendation, as well.

Do not wait. Get your child the vaccine now that corresponds to their current age. And then, if they turn to their next birthday, if they turn five before their second or third dose they end up getting Pfizer, they can still get the higher dose that corresponds to their next birthday. So, don't wait.

The one situation I would say that people can perhaps wait is if their child just recovered from COVID. If they just had COVID, I think it is reasonable to wait a couple months because the chance of reinfection in that time period is very low.

BLITZER: Dr. Leana Wen, as usual, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Up next, new information coming in about two American volunteer firefighters reportedly being held by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.


We go live to Ukraine, when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Russian state media says that two Americans fighting for Ukraine have been captured and are being held by Russian backed separatist in Donetsk.

CNN senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is in Kharkiv, joining us right now.

Sam, new details are emerging about these two American volunteer fighters. What more are you learning?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the detail is emerging from an interrogation or interview, depending on how you want to see it, given they are prisoners of war and it is illegal under the international convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war that they should be interviewed.


But they have been by a Serb TV station at some length.

Now, Alex Drueke, a former servicemen who volunteer to fight near with the international legion or initially with the international legion, he and his colleague were captured, his colleague, Andy Huynh, were captured north of Kharkiv on June 9th. That much we know.

We now know they are alive. We also know from that interview that emerged as a slip of the tongue from the off- camera interviewer that they are in Donetsk, which is the capital of so-called -- of the so- called Donetsk People's Republic, the breakaway republic backed by Russia here inside Ukrainian territory. Now, that is potentially bad news for them and their families, wolf, because earlier this month, before they were captured two Britons and then Moroccan, also foreign fighters who had been captured close to Mariupol were sentenced to death by a court in that breakaway republic.

That is a case being appealed. It has no standing in international law whatsoever. They were sentenced to death for being mercenaries and other terrorist related charges. It's not clear at all whether Huynh or Drueke are going to face any kind of charges. But we have heard repeatedly from the Russians that they consider all foreign fighters here to be here in Ukraine on the Ukrainian side to be mercenaries.

Now, the upshot of this interview, it indicated that Alex Drueke said, he managed to slip in he had been roughed up, he had been beaten a few times. He also said he had been better treated more than he had been mistreated. He was also able to signal he was in reasonably good health. He'd only been fighting for one day when he was captured. At least that's what he claimed in his interview.

BLITZER: Let's hope they are freed soon.

Sam Kiley, thank you very, very much.

Other international news, the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his key coalition ally, the Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, have agreed to dissolve parliament, the Knesset, saying efforts to stabilize their eight party coalition, and I'm quoting now, have been exhausted.

CNN's Hadas Gold is joining us in Jerusalem right now, she has the latest.

Hadas, the major political shakeup in Israel comes, what, just a year after Prime Minister Bennett took office. Give us the latest.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One year and one week they've been in office. This government has been fragile, teetering for weeks, especially after two members of Naftali Bennett's own party deflected from the coalition, leaving this government with a minority and essentially no political future. But I don't anybody expected things to happen this way where it was the prime minister and the foreign minister dissolving their own government, essentially taking that opportunity away from former prime minister and now opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was trying to do so himself.

After this vote is presented to the Israeli parliament next week, after the terms of the coalition that were struck when they ousted him from office, Yair Lapid, who is currently forming minister will become the caretaker interim prime minister and elections will likely be held, the fit elections Israelis will be going to the polls for in under four years. Those will likely be held sometime in the fall, likely in October.

Now, this does provide an opening, a path for Benjamin Netanyahu to return to power, especially if the our elections despite he's facing an ongoing corruption trial. And while the polls do show him facing and having quite a strong showing, it's not clear that even then he will have that 61 or more majority needed to form a stable and running coalition.

This also means, Wolf, that it will be the one Yair Lapid who will be the one who welcome President Joe Biden to Israel when he is expected to make that visit to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia next month. It will be Lapid who would welcome him on the red carpet and not Naftali Bennett as planned.

And despite the political shakeup, the White House is indicating that Biden will still come to Israel as planned, saying we have a strategic relationship with Israel that goes beyond any one government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. The president -- President Biden is affected to arrive in Israel on July 13th.

Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

Finally, we want to wish all our viewers a happy Juneteenth. This is the second year of the official federal holiday honoring the day back in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed more than two years earlier by the emancipation proclamation. Vice President Kamala Harris mark this day with a surprise visit to a

group of schoolchildren at the African- American History and Culture Museum here in Washington. She told them that Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the principle of freedom.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.