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New Evidence Raises Questions About Ivanka Trump's 1/6 Testimony; Biden Calls For Three-Month Suspension Of Gas Tax As Congress Balks; Senate Poised To Pass First Gun Safety Legislation In Decades; January 6 Committee Calling On Ex-Trump White House Counsel Cipollone To Testify; On The Front Lines As Ukrainians Fire U.S. Guns On Russian Positions. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 22, 2022 - 18:00   ET



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Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new evidence is raising questions about Ivanka Trump's testimony to the January 6th select committee. This comes on the eve of the next hearing as we're also learning that panel members are boosting their own security because of increasing threats of violence against them. I'll talk with a key committee member who has been targeted, Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

Also tonight, President Biden is now calling for a three- month suspension of gas taxes. But Congress is all ready balking, questioning whether it will give Americans relief from record fuel prices.

And as gun violence rages, the Senate now appears poised to pass the first gun safety legislation in decades. But there are major hurdles ahead as House Republican leaders are mobilizing against the bill.

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.

We expect to see more disturbing testimony tomorrow when the January 6th select committee takes a deep dive into then President Trump's attempts to influence the U.S. Justice Department. But tonight, there are new questions, very serious questions about testimony we've all ready seen from a key witness, Ivanka Trump. Here's our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, new evidence is emerging as the January 6th committee prepares to hold its fifth public hearing tomorrow. That new information includes extensive footage from a British filmmaker who interviewed former President Trump, his family and others before and after the January 6th insurrection.

A source tells CNN it includes an interview with Ivanka Trump from mid-December 2020 where she says her father should, quote, continue to fight until every legal remedy is exhausted. Her comments then seem to contradict what she told the committee under oath at a deposition, acknowledging she believed then-Attorney General Bill Bar when he told her in November 2020 that there was no widespread election fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did that affect your perspective about the election when Attorney General Barr made that statement?

IVANK TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr. So, I accepted what he was saying.

SCHNEIDER: According to extremist experts, calls for violence against members of the committee are circulating on some of the same online platforms that helped fuel the lies that led to the insurrection. Members have told CNN they are taking additional precautions and several have security details.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I had no involvement in an altered slate of electors.

SCHNEIDER: Tonight, Senator Ron Johnson is denying any role, getting the name of fake electors into then-Vice President Mike Pence's hands after the committee unveiled texts Tuesday showing one of his staffers texting an aide to Pence saying Johnson wanted to hand deliver slates of fake electors for Trump from Michigan and Wisconsin to replace the legitimate ones for Biden.

JOHNSON: We got handed an envelope that was supposed to go to the vice president. I don't know. So, we called up the vice president. He didn't want it. We didn't deliver it. I said it straight. Guys, this is such a non-story.

SCHNEIDER: The committee is now continuing its push for Trump's White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to testify publicly after he spoke with them behind closed doors.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Our committee is certain that Donald Trump does not want Mr. Cipollone to testify here.

SCHNEIDER: And Chairman Bennie Thompson says Ginni Thomas has responded to the committee's request to speak with her but no word on when that will happen or if it will be public. On Thursday, former top officials from the Justice Department will testify about how they pushed back on Trump's pressure campaign to overturn the election, including then-Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue. RICHARD DONOGHUE, FORMER TRUMP DOJ OFFICIAL: And I recall toward the end saying, what you're proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And after tomorrow's hearing, the committee is actually delaying all future hearings until mid-July because of what Congressman Jamie Raskin calls a deluge of new evidence. That includes that new documentary material, plus new tips that have been coming in to the committee's tip line. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jessica reporting for us, thank you very, very much.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts, including CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates, and our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash is standing by as well.


Laura, what do you make of the discrepancy between what Ivanka was telling the filmmaker in these interviews back in December versus what she actually told the select committee under oath behind closed doors ?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's called the oath. It's the idea of one might lead you to being accountable perhaps in a court of law, in a court of public opinion, perhaps the congressional level. And the other is ability to essentially try to go along with whatever was stated inside the White House and maybe placate those around you.

You see the oath, is intended to give people the truth serum and actually to have them tell you what they were truly thinking under the threat of additional consequences. A documentary filmmaker is about a legacy, about trying to craft a narrative. The testimony in front of the congressional committee is just that, testifying under oath with the hopes that the honesty essentially will set you free.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, this British filmmaker was documenting the final weeks of the Trump campaign and reportedly interviewed Trump himself directly after the January 6th attack. How critical is this evidence potentially?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, potentially, it's very important because, you know, so much of the issue in this investigation is what is Donald Trump's state of mind? What was he really thinking as the election aftermath took place? Was he honestly of the belief that he had won and honestly pushing for votes to be counted or did he know he lost and was he just using whatever corrupt mechanism was available to him to overturn the election?

What did he think about the election? Did he really know that he lost? Because we know he lost because we know how the votes were counted. But did he know? That's certainly what I would be looking for in the taped interviews in real-time of his state of mind right after the election.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

Laura, what does it say that the committee is all ready planning for another round of hearings next month as clearly more and more evidence is pouring in?

COATES: Well, on the one hand, it suggests that they maybe are not thinking about the sort of Damocles of the midterm elections, as people have thought. They're not under this sort of time pressure of just trying to get things done with an eye towards a political clock, the idea of trying to allow for time for it to breathe. When new evidence and information is coming in, they have asked and requested from the archives and beyond, the documentary filmmaker, they're going to allow the time it's going to take to have a holistic and thorough review. And that should undercut any accusations that they are either partisan or that they are attempting in some ways to just try to have the world drink from a fire hose. It should be very, very encouraging.

On the other hand, however, they're up against the clock of the attention span of the American electorate and the frustration we've seen in the past and people who have said, look, this is going on too long, can we either move on or go beyond this? And so they're battling toward this delicate dance right now, Wolf, of how much is too much, how long is too long, and I'm not sure they've got the right calculus yet.

BLITZER: Yes. I want to bring in Dana Bash into this conversation. Dana, how important will it be to hear tomorrow from these former Department of Justice officials who are interacting directly with then-President Trump?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Incredibly important. We saw the state version of this yesterday, which was tremendously powerful to hear from top Republicans talking about the pressure they were feeling on a state level.

This is going to be that plus-plus because it's going to be the former president's own top justice officials. How he was trying to use the federal government to keep himself in power. And so that is going to add a more fulsome view to the very, very widespread painting that this committee is -- picture that this committee is painting about the lengths to which Donald Trump was going to stay in office and will paint a -- some version of a coup, if these people are going to testify the way we believe that they have done behind closed doors.

TOOBIN: And the key thing about these witnesses, like the previous witnesses, is that they're all Republicans. They are all loyalists who can't be accused of being like Adam Schiff, a political opponent of the president's. Whether you have the vice president staff on the first day or the state officials, Republican officials the second day, now, we have Republican Justice Department officials. These are not Democratic partisans. They are people who were trying to do the right thing, or so it appears. BLITZER: And, Dana, these Justice Department witnesses will testify tomorrow aren't necessarily household names.


But Steve Engel was actually in a meeting where Mr. Trump held what was being described as an Apprentice-style contest over whether to fire the head of the Justice Department. That's pretty extraordinary, isn't it?

BASH: It is so extraordinary, and whether to fire the head of the Justice Department for one reason, apparently. And we're going to hear presumably from him in his own words tomorrow. And that reason is because they weren't going along with his scheme to stay in office despite the will of the people, which was the opposite of that. And so, again, I think what Jeffrey just said --

BLITZER: Yes, we're just losing your audio a little bit, Dana. Thank you very much. Laura Coates, Jeffrey Toobin, guys, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, I'll ask Select Committee Member Adam Kinzinger about the new evidence the panel is getting as he prepares to take the leading role in tomorrow's hearing. I'll also ask him about the death threats that he and other committee members are facing right now.



BLITZER: The January 6th select committee is preparing to spotlight the pressure then-President Trump put on the U.S. Justice Department to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election, this on the eve of the next hearing. We're also learning that panel members are beefing up security because of very ugly and violent threats against them.

We're joined now by a key select committee member, Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

I know that over the weekend you revealed that you received a very disturbing death threat directed at your family and you. Are these threats ongoing? Are you among the members who are now getting a security detail?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): So, look, I'll tell you the threats are constant. They've increased. I've even heard a voicemail just this morning that we got last night threatening execution. That kind of seems to be the normal thing nowadays. Let's just threaten execution. But this, the reason I released this letter, this was sent directly to my home, directed to my wife. And it went on to threaten execution, not just of me but of her and my five-month-old child.

And I think it was important to put out to show the depravity of what's existing out there, the fact that there are people that literally would come up with this idea of killing a five-month-old because you disagree with me being on the January 6th committee. So, we have security. We have had to up our security posture. And we're aware but we're going to move on. It's not going to hinder us and it's not going to intimidate us.

BLITZER: I've been in touch with some of your colleagues on the select committee and they've been getting really ugly, threatening emails and voicemails and all sorts of things like that as well. Have they been receiving beefed up security as far as you know?

KINZINGER: Look. I think if they need it, they're getting it. You know, the Capitol police and all those agencies are very focused on what they need to do. But, yes, I mean, look, they're all getting these threats, I mean, particularly Liz and I because we are considered RINOs in the GOP because we want the truth.

But what that shows is when you stir up evil, when you bring in light to a dark place, you see cockroaches get angry and scatter. And we're bringing light. We're bringing truth to the lies that have permeated in many people's minds and that's not going to make them happy.

BLITZER: You're referring to the vice chair, Liz Cheney of Wyoming. You say she's been getting these kinds of ugly death threats as well?

KINZINGER: Well, I haven't talked to her about it but I can make an assumption that if I am, she probably is too.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about tomorrow's hearing. It's going to be very significant. I know the focus will be on the pressure that former President Trump put on the U.S. Justice Department. You're going to be leading the questioning. What can we expect to learn?

KINZINGER: So, I think what we've done so far -- when January 6th happened, I think a lot of people's focus became that day and the violence. And that was important. It was a terrible day. But what a lot of people forget is all the pressure points leading up to January 6th.

By the way, nothing's changed to prevent anything like that from happening again. So, we saw the pressure on the vice president. We saw the pressure Tuesday very emotionally on these state leaders. And now we're going to talk about the Department of Justice.

A lot of this information is known. A lot isn't. We're going to show what happened as the president was doing his best to basically put the Department of Justice stamp on his lies and conspiracies to embolden people.

So, I would encourage folks to tune in and see yet another prong of what the president, the former president tried to do to take away -- no matter who you voted for, to take away your vote.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll be watching, of course.

The former Trump White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, isn't appearing publicly, we understand, but did your committee actually tape his closed-door interview with the panel? Will we see or hear any of that tomorrow?

KINZINGER: Well, I don't want to talk, again, get into the details of what you'll see or hear tomorrow. I will say this, we do want Pat Cipollone to come in and cooperate more. You're going to see tomorrow men that did not necessarily want to be out there talking about this stuff but they understand their oath to the Constitution and their responsibility to the country. We want Pat Cipollone to come in and cooperate in a robust way. There is no reason he shouldn't and we hope to see more of that.

BLITZER: This is closed door interview with the panel on tape. Did you record it?

KINZINGER: Again, I don't want to go into the details because we may or may not talk about some of that tomorrow but we certainly want to talk to him again and we hope he obliges.


BLITZER: Let's see if he does. Will you provide any more information, Congressman, on the Republican members of Congress your committee says actually requested pardons, pardons from then -President Trump?

KINZINGER: Again, I wish I could give you all of that preview, but I would say tune in tomorrow. We're going to do a very fulsome look at this aspect about DOJ. And we'll see if that question you asked is addressed or not. But just know, we continue to get new information, literally daily, new tips that come in, new information. This investigation isn't over. This is us presenting what we've seen so far.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of new information, I know you've said you've seen at least some of the footage from this British filmmaker, Alex Holder, who was filming with the Trump campaign before and after January 6th. How revealing is this footage?

KINZINGER: So, look, any time you get any more information, particularly when it's close to family or close to the former president, we're very interested in that. There are areas where we think we're very interested and we can piece together.

But I'll leave that to the investigators that are going through that. They know the depth of where they would like to see that plugged in, what it confirms, what it denies. But I appreciate the filmmaker doing that. He was asked to subpoena and it worked out well. It's what he should do.

BLITZER: Your committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, says Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has responded to your committee's request to speak with her. Do you expect her to testify publicly or privately?

KINZINGER: My expectation would be probably privately, a deposition. We'll see what those details are. You know, look, we're not out to get anybody but it's obvious that she has said and we have seen things that she may know stuff. We hope she comes in and doesn't plead the fifth like some have. Some are concerned about what it means for their own self. Just come in and tell us the truth.

Again, we're not out to get anybody. And I hope it's obvious that, you know, despite what some of my colleagues and my party try to say, this is partisan, this isn't partisan. This is an American investigation to put out the facts. And, by the way, if there's anything partisan about it, it's that all the witnesses have been Republicans mostly appointed by Donald Trump.

BLITZER: We're grateful to you, Congressman, for all you're doing. Stay safe over there. Please give our best wishes to your family as well. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us.

KINZINGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Biden calls on Congress to pass a federal gas tax holiday. But will it really make a difference to what Americans are paying at the pump? We'll have a closer look when we come back.



BLITZER: Tonight, lawmakers, including top Democrats, are balking at President Biden's call for a three-month suspension of the federal gas tax as Americans have been paying record prices at the pump.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now, he's got the latest. So, Phil, what exactly is the president proposing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, over the course of the last several months, White House official haves been urgently meeting behind the scenes trying to figure out options to deal with a policy or at least an issue when it comes to gas prices largely devoid of federal policy options.

The president today deciding to endorse a three-month federal gas tax holiday, that's the 18.3 cents the federal government takes each gallon of gas you pump. The president also put his support behind the states doing the same thing with their gas taxes as well.

The president making clear this would be modest in terms of whether it would get passed down to consumers but it would be something, something at a moment where Americans are increasingly concerned about gas prices that have averaged $5 a gallon.

Now, the president also had very sharp words for the oil and gas industry. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: My message is simple. To the companies running gas stations and setting those prices at the pump, this is a time of war, global peril, Ukraine, these are not normal times. Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you are paying for the product. Do it now. Do it today.


MATTINGLY: An urgent message, a message to some degree of desperation, and a message that comes the day before the White House senior team and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm are expected to attend an emergency meeting at the White House with oil and gas executives.

But, Wolf, you mentioned it up top, a key point here when you talk about the federal gas tax holiday, is this, it has to pass the United States Congress. At this point, it doesn't look like there's going to be any support to do so, not just in the Senate where they would need ten Republicans to support it but also the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, giving a rather tepid response when asked about -- when she put out a statement earlier today not even committing to a vote, Wolf, saying she'll talk to her caucus about it.

BLITZER: Yes. They're not even clear that all the Democrats in the Senate are going to vote for it. Phil Mattingly reporting for us from the White House, thanks very much.

Let's bring in CNN's Pete Muntean right now. He's at a gas station in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.

Pete, these are big questions. There are major questions still about whether a three-month gas tax holiday would even help consumers much, right?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A gallon of regular here in Alexandria, Virginia, $4.85, and this federal gas tax holiday could bring that down to $4.67. But some of the biggest critics of this plan say the savings in all of this are not all that certain.



MUNTEAN (voice over): Jazmynn Jenkins says she is leaving Los Angeles after paying $6.11 per gallon of gasoline but knows there's no running away from high prices


After the national average for a gallon of regular peaked at $5.01 last Tuesday, AAA says the average has dropped but only to $4. 96.

JENKINS: I don't know what's going on, like why are we still paying so much for gas? I mean, it's an everyday necessity.

BIDEN: They need relief now.

MUNTEAN: President Joe Biden insists his newest proposal is a start at addressing soaring prices, a 90-day suspension of the 18 cent federal tax imposed on each gallon of gas. But even fellow Democrats, like House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio, say a gas tax holiday will take a multibillion dollar chunk out of a fund that repairs roads and bridges.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D-OR): It's not going to provide significant savings at the pump.

MUNTEAN: There are also questions about whether savings will even get passed on to consumers. One report cautions that oil companies and distributors could pocket more than 80 percent of the savings.

DEFAZZIO: It's an attempt to provide some relief but the people who are screwing the American consumers are the oil companies.

MUNTEAN: This newest attempt comes after years of skepticism over gas tax holidays, even the president's former boss, then-Candidate Barack Obama, poured cold water on the idea in April 2008.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We're arguing over a gimmick to save you half a tank of gas over the course of the entire summer so that everyone in Washington can pat themselves on the back and say that they did something.

AMOS HOCHSTEIN, SENIOR ADVISER FOR GLOBAL ENERGY SECURITY, STATE DEPARTMENT: In the conditions that we're in today, that's not a gimmick. That's a little bit of breathing room for the American people as we get into the summer driving season.

MUNTEAN: Biden's announcement comes a week before AAA anticipates 42 million drivers to start hitting the road for the long July 4th weekend, undaunted by pain at the pump.

ANDREW GOSS, AAA SPOKESPERSON: Maybe folks have decided to dial down the scope of their vacations. Maybe they're going to do something that I've heard called a nearcation. They're not going to go quite as far away.

MUNTEAN: For Jazmynn Jenkins, the solution is now picking up extra shifts at work and staying home more since a gas tax holiday will not be enough for her July 4th holiday.

JENKINS: Cutting gas tax maybe a temporary fix but we need something to get this kind of handled and get the reins on this. This is ridiculous.


MUNTEAN (on camera): There one is more maneuver left here, states can pause their own gas taxes, something that some states did at the out outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which initially caused these prices to spike in a big way.

The Biden administration says if states act on their own, it could lead to an average of a 30-cent savings per gallon of gas for Americans. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Pete Muntean in Alexandria, Virginia, for us, thank you very much.

Just ahead, gun safety legislation in sight for the first time in decades. We are going to have the latest on the bill's progress.

Plus, details of new pressure on President Biden to get Americans detained overseas released. Tonight, their families are speaking out very dramatically.



BLITZER: The Senate is now poised to pass the country's first gun safety legislation in decades with bipartisan support following the deadly mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

Our Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean is working the story for us. Jessica, this is very significant. If this bill passes, it will be the most significant gun legislation here in the United States in nearly 30 years. Give us the latest.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. So, the latest tonight, Wolf, is that we are seeing this process play out here in the Senate. They did their first procedural vote last night to move it forward. We saw 14 Senate Republicans supporting this legislation. And we also know that the lead Republican negotiator on this, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, spoke here at the GOP luncheon today here at the Senate to his fellow Republican senators trying to grow support for this bill as they head into future votes that are likely to happen starting tomorrow.

And what he did was talk about some of the NRA wins that they got into this legislation, even though that powerful gun lobby does not support this gun safety legislation. But he talked about the fact that closing the boyfriend loophole will not be retroactive. He also mentioned that they will sunset in a ten-year provision that will allow them to check juvenile records for gun buyers ages 18 to 21. He talked about mental health funding and hardening school security, again, Wolf trying to build even more support as they head into the next procedural vote for this.

And just in terms of big picture, Wolf, they do think that they are on track to get this bill passed before they leave for the July 4th recess. That was a very ambitious timeline but it is one that these negotiators really wanted to keep to. And at this point, it appears like that is going to happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you point out, the deal has the support of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate. But for the Republican leadership in the House, it's clearly a very different story, right?

DEAN: That's right. We're hearing very different things from House GOP leadership with the number one, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, coming out against this bill as well, as Steve Scalise, Elise Stefanik. So, the top three GOP Republicans -- the top three House Republicans coming out against this bill, and not just coming out against it but actually whipping votes against this bill as well. But we do expect to still see some bipartisan support out of the House. We know that the congressman that represents Uvalde, Texas, plans to vote in support of this bill.

But, Wolf, it really shows you that stark contrast within the Republican Party. You see the House -- or the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, supporting this legislation. You're seeing the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, against it. And it really shows you that divide.

BLITZER: Jessica Dean up on Capitol Hill, thank you very, very much.

Meanwhile pressure is growing big time on President Biden to do more to get Americans being held overseas released, including WNBA Star Brittney Griner.


CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. He's got the latest. Brian, I understand family and friends of these detained Americans are becoming increasingly vocal, demanding that the president of the United States get more involved in helping free all these Americans.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're getting more vocal, Wolf, and they're genuinely angry that the administration has not moved faster, hasn't worked hard enough in their view to secure the freedom of their relatives. The question tonight is can this new pressure campaign work?


TODD (voice over): Families of detained Americans overseas ramping up the pressure on the Biden administration to secure their release. In a call today with the secretary of state, in an open letter this week to President Biden demanding action, and in press conferences and T.V. appearances, the coach of basketball star Brittney Griner detained in Russia since February on drug charges among those dialing up the volume.

VANESSA NYGAARD, HEAD COACH, PHOENIX MERCURY: We need President Biden to step up and help bring B.G. home. And we need action from the Biden administration at this point. That's the only person. Those are the only people that can help to bring B.G. home right now. And so we need everyone to be pressuring them.

TODD: The State Department all ready under pressure for bundling Griner's first chance to speak to her wife over the phone on their anniversary.

NED PRICE, SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak to her wife over the weekend because of a logistical error.

TODD: Griner tried nearly a dozen times to get through. Her agent tweeting on Monday, quote, imagine the heart break, 123 days without hearing her voice. My heart breaks into pieces every time I think of it. Adding, if Brittney Griner is a priority, POTUS will meet with Brittney's family and this administration will do what is necessary to get her home.

Griner is not alone. 19 families signed a letter to President Biden on Monday asking for his personal involvement, saying nothing is more critical to the nation than bringing them home. One relative telling CNN, quote, bringing our loved ones home is urgent and this administration doesn't seem to get that.

The family of Matthew Heath held In Venezuela since 2020 says they also don't detect any urgency from the White House even though his life is in danger. They said he recently attempted suicide.

EVERETT RUTHERFORD, UNCLE OF MATTHEW HEATH, AMERICAN WRONGFULLY DETAINED IN VENEZUELA: We do not think he's out of the woods. This particular suicide attempt was not successful, thank goodness. We have every confidence that he will try again.

TODD: Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post Writer who held in Iran for nearly a year-and-a-half sympathizes with the families but says pressuring the U.S. government is only a bank shot.

JASON REZAIAN, WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: It's not the U.S. government's fault that any of these individuals are being held hostage by foreign governments. But, ultimately, it will require U.S. government intervention to bring them home. So, yes, I think it's only appropriate.

TODD: But one former official says winning the release of Griner or fellow American Paul Whelan from the Russians would have a cost.

EVELYN FARKAS, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: The Russians are very transactional. So, if we have something they want, we can make a trade with them. But, again, it comes with the danger that they'll take more people.


TODD (on camera): Responding to the latest complaints from family members, a White House official told CNN they have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas, that they're grateful for the family's feedback and that they're in regular contact with them, Wolf. Just a lot of pressure tonight on the Biden team.

TODD: Yes, you're right. Brian Todd, thank you very much. Let's hope these Americans are home and home soon. I appreciate it very much.

Coming up, why it could be crucial for Trump's former White House counsel to testify publicly in the January 6th investigation. I'll talk with the star witness from the Watergate hearings, the former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, he's standing by live.


[18:48:01] BLITZER: Tonight, there's growing pressure on the former Trump White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to testify publicly in the January 6th investigation and have what many people are calling a John Dean moment. In case you need a reminder of what that means, take a look at the former Nixon White House council's bombshell testimony during the Watergate hearings. Listen to this.


JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency. And if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately.


BLITZER: John Dean is joining us right now.

John, thanks for joining us. Thanks for all the important work you've done. That stunning moment from your own testimony during the Watergate hearings helped shape the course of American history. It wasn't that much longer after that when Nixon was actually forced to resign from the presidency. Have you seen any moment like that at least yet so far during these hearings?

DEAN: Not yet. I've seen some hints of people -- actually I probably did a hundred stories that Nixon had to deal with. He said, you know, I wasn't so worried about dean's testimony on Watergate, it's everything else he released. And I put it in context. And he said you never recover from that.

BLITZER: I know you feel strongly, correct me if I'm wrong, that Pat Cipollone, the Trump White House counsel, should publicly testify. That's the job that you had. You were the White House council during the Nixon presidency. What specifically do you think he could shed some light on?

DEAN: Well, I think for example, we have rumor that he advised Trump not to do what exactly he's doing. How strongly did he do that? What context did it happen in?

He doesn't represent Trump. He represents today, post-Watergate, the office of the president. That's his client. He should be protecting the presidency. And I think he's got a moral obligation to come forward.


On three occasions, he swore an oath to the Constitution that he'd support and defend it. When he got his two bar licenses, and when he took the job he's in right now. That's a moral obligation.

BLITZER: He did sit for an informal meeting with the January 6th select committee. I don't know if it was videotaped or not, but is that not enough? DEAN: I don't think it is enough. Because he is in such a unique

position, when a client -- excuse me, when somebody damages your client, as Trump has done the presidency, I think that counsel has a job to do to protect that office.

BLITZER: When it comes to potential criminal prosecutions down the road related to the January 6th investigation, the select committee member Jamie Raskin, congressman from Maryland, he told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and I'm quoting here now, most classic mob investigations work their way to the top, and I think that's what's happening?

Do you agree with him?

DEAN: I think -- I have watched the Justice Department and I think they are slowly building their case. I've never been concerned that they're going the let it go. I don't think the career prosecutors would tolerate that. So, I'm the one who has great faith.

I worked in the department, and it's always been a very professional organization.

BLITZER: That's what I hear. This new videotape that this British filmmaker has of interviews he did before and after with the Trump campaign. How significant potentially could that be?

DEAN: I think it could be very significant. We don't know vis-a-vis the existing clips we have seen from the committee exactly how it fits in to what they have got. Jeffrey Toobin and I were talking about nit the green room, as to whether that's really admissible evidence even in a criminal trial. He thinks it is and I think I agree with him.

BLITZER: And when you say what's been going on now with this insurrection investigation, and the presidency, is worse than what happened during Watergate?

DEAN: The underlying conduct is much worse. The investigation I think is better. I think the way they have narrowed their hearings down, they presented the evidence. The -- you'll remember that it went on for seven months, the Watergate hearings. It was the summer of Watergate. There's a lot of attacks (ph) of the American a long time.

BLITZER: John Dean, thanks very much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very, very much.

Up next, the future of Ukraine hanging in the balance, as the country endures some of the worst days of the war. We're live on the scene when we come back.


[18:56:59] BLITZER: We have breaking news out of Uvalde, Texas. The superintendent of schools announcing that the school police chief, Pete Arredondo, has been put on administrative leave effective immediately. This comes nearly a month after the shooting massacre that killed 19 students and two teachers, and amid growing evidence about police failures to confront the gunman on Arredondo's watch.

Superintendent Hal Harrell saying they are putting him on leave as he awaits results of the investigation into the massacre.

We're also following the war in Ukraine right now, where Russian forces have advanced into several villages around the last city in the Luhansk region still held by the government in Kyiv.

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman reports that Ukraine is enduring the worst days of the war since the fall of Mariupol.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New rounds soon to be loaded into the breach. These Ukrainian troops wait for the order.

They're preparing to fire this gun. Ukraine has received more than 100 M777 howitzers, but we've seen steadily the Russians are gaining more and more ground. This helps, but it may not be enough.

With sophisticated U.S.-made and supplied 155 millimeter howitzers like this, Ukraine hopes to counter Russia's massive superiority in firepower. That superiority has allowed Russian forces to push forward, subjecting cities like Severodonetsk and Lysychansk to intense bombardment.

This drone footage shows Russian tanks entering the town of Toshkivka just outside Severodonetsk. Outnumbered and outgunned in the east, Ukraine has warned Russian forces may soon intensify their attack.

This artillery is firing rounds with a range of around 20 kilometers or 12 1/2 miles. The target, we're told, Russian armored personnel carriers.

Thanks to the Americans, I think we can win this war, says Bogdan. The only problem is we need more barrels, more artillery, and more ammunition. Or in plain English --


WEDEMAN: His comrade Grach puts a number to it.

We need at least 500 of these guns, he says.

This has become an artillery war, and victory in this war will come from the barrel of a gun.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WEDEMAN (on camera): And we had to leave that area very quickly, Wolf, because there's fear of Russian drones overhead. We know that one of those M-777 batteries was hit just the day before. The Russians claim they have knocked out 15, according to their ministry of defense -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in the warzone, thanks very much. Stay staff over there. Appreciate it very, very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.