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11/6 Committee Will Expose Links Between Trump Allies, Extremists Tomorrow; Biden Defends Controversial Trip To Saudi Arabia This Week; New Efforts To Win Release Of Griner And Whelan From Russia; Private Wake Held For Assassinated Former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe; Explosions Rock Russian-Occupied Town In Southern Ukraine. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 11, 2022 - 18:00   ET


RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: And I know you too are a bit of a space enthusiast, so I'm sure you're just excited as the rest of us to see these images, Jake.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I am. I'm a little impatient, to be honest with you. Let's pick it up NASA. Rachel Crane, thanks so much, I appreciate it.

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I will be back tomorrow for CNN special coverage of the January 6th hearing. Join me and Anderson Cooper, starting at 11 A.M. Eastern.

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, January 6th investigators are promising tomorrow's hearing will expose ties between extremist groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol and key Trump allies, including Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. This hour, I will ask select Committee Member Adam Kinzinger if the panel will connect the dots directly to Trump.

Also tonight, Present Biden is on the defensive as he prepares to leave on a major Middle East trip, including a controversial visit to Saudi Arabia. Can he reset relations with the country he had vowed to make a pariah?

And new efforts are now underway to free Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from captivity in Russia. The veteran hostage negotiator, former Governor Bill Richardson, is now expected to travel to Moscow in hopes of winning their release.

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. On this the eve of the next January 6th hearing, select committee aides are sharing new details on what to expect as the panel zeros in on the far-right extremists at the forefront of the insurrection.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles has our report from Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Justice Department says they were among the rioters causing the most trouble on January 6th. Right-wing extremist groups, many of whom allegedly came to Washington intent on disrupting Congress's certification of the 2020 election will now be the focus of tomorrow's House select committee hearing.

JASON VAN TATENHOVE, EX-OATH KEEPER SPOKEPERSON: Just to give a historical precedence to this group --

NOBLES: The committee is prepared to outline the role groups, like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the Three Percenters played on January 6h. They will grill a former Oath Keepers Spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove.

VAN TATENHOVE: All I'm doing is giving a historical precedence. That's all I'm able to talk on because that's the extent to my knowledge base.

NOBLES: This after prosecutors reveled new details of how the Oath Keepers allegedly prepared for violence, at least one member bringing explosives including military ordnance grenades to the D.C. area.

But the committee believes these groups weren't operating in a vacuum and has been looking into whether their connections go all the way to the Trump White House.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We obviously want to probe any connections between these dangerous groups and the White House. I think we've gotten some answer but there's still a great deal we don't know that we're endeavoring to find out.

NOBLES: Tuesday's hearing comes as Steve Bannon has a change of heart about cooperating with the committee.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this, all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.

NOBLES: Bannon staring down a criminal contempt trial now tells the committee he's willing to talk, but only he can do it in public on his own terms. Prosecutors have called this move a stunt to try and wiggle out of his criminal contempt charges.

A federal judge on Monday declined Bannon's request to postpone his trial for next week, meaning it will start on Monday. The Department of Justice also revealing that they've interviewed former Trump lawyer Justin Clark. Clark told DOJ, Trump never told Bannon he would not waive executive privilege in order for him to speak to the committee. This despite a letter from Trump to Bannon this weekend saying he now waives privilege claims. The committee is willing to hear from Bannon but on their ground rules.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): We do depositions. This goes on for our hour after hour after hour. We want to get all of our questions answered and you can't do that in a live format.


NOBLES (on camera): And, of course, Tuesday's hearing comes just a couple of days after that lengthy deposition with one of the committee's most important witnesses, Pat Cipollone, the former White House counsel. Members of the committee say that we could see clips of that deposition as soon as tomorrow's hearing.

Of course, the committee does have another hearing plan that would probably take place next week that discusses the dereliction of duty on January 6th. It is in that hearing where we expect to see a lot of Pat Cipollone. Wolf?

BLITZER: You are absolutely right. Ryan Nobles on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all this. Joining us now, CNN's Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, and CNN's Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.


Andrew, how critical will it be to hear some excerpts from Pat Cipollone's nearly, what, eight hours of testimony?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely critical. Cipollone is universally seen as maybe the most important witness the committee has spoken to so far. He has the ability to shed light on numerous issues around the lead up to January 6th and then of, course, what was happening in the White House with the president on that critical day.

So, obviously seven hours of testimony last week, they must've been satisfied with what they were hearing and I would expect to see some excerpts of that this week.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. He, what, spent -- he was the White House counsel.

MCCABE: That's right.

BLITZER: He was involved in all those developments.

Jeffrey, Cipollone is someone who was actually by Trump side through key moments up through the January 6th attack. So, how big a win is this for the committee's investigation?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly is a win to get him under oath and on video. Obviously, we need to see which questions he answers.

Frankly, the most interesting thing he could tell us is what he told Donald Trump about the legalities of January 6th, of what went on. Remember, Cassidy Hutchinson said repeatedly he was warning that crimes were going to be committed. Did he warn the president that he was at risk of committing crimes?

Now, it may be that Cipollone doesn't talk about his direct advice to the president. That might be close to executive privilege or attorney/client privilege, but certainly some comments from Cipollone are better than nothing and there were seven hours worth. So, presumably, there is interesting, important material there.

BLITZER: I assume you are right. You know, Dana, tomorrow's hearing will also focus on the role of extremist groups. We know Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn were close with these far-right groups. What questions does that raise?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, The big question is what did -- forgive me, but what did the president know, and when did he know it? And to add to that, how involved was he, if at all, with the planning, the coordination of the attack that you are showing on the screen right now that we all saw and felt in real time. And so far the focus has been more broadly on the former president's efforts to pressure federal officials, to pressure state officials, to upend the results of the 2020 election.

The committee has not yet drawn a line though, between the then- president and the people who attacked the Capitol. And the question is whether or not they have any evidence that there is a line specifically to draw.

Jamie Raskin, who is going to be doing much of the questioning in the hearing tomorrow, said that there is no smoking gun, but the question is whether there is anything maybe one or two layers under a smoking gun. We don't know the answer to that yet.

BLITZER: That's a good point. You know, Andrew, even if the committee can't necessarily confirm a direct link between these extremist groups and the White House, they can show that there was some connection there.

MCCABE: Sure. Sure they can, Wolf. And, you know, the odds of finding a direct link, a direction from the president to a member of the Oath Keepers that likely does not exist. But you don't have to have that absolute direct link typically in a criminal trial, which we know this is not, but you allow people to draw the conclusions based on the circumstantial evidence that you have.

Right now you have -- you know, look at the testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, which she makes it clear that Trump new the crowd was armed, the crowd that he then sent up to the Capitol. So, a revelation like that, like knowledge of what the Oath Keepers were planning or the fact that the role that they intended to play, that alone would be highly damaging.

BLITZER: It would be interesting to see if we get an excerpt from Pat Cipollone, the former White House counsel, if he spoke about it as well during his sworn testimony.

You know, Jeffrey, is Steve Bannon's offer to testify, a desperate Hail Mary right before his criminal contempt trial?

TOOBIN: Yes, and a Hail Mary that failed. Because we know that there was a big hearing before the judge in the case. Bannon asked for a delay of his trial, which is supposed to start next week. The judge denied that. The judge denied most of his requests for witnesses, for sideshows, for chaos, and which is clearly the strategy that Bannon has been following.

But he's got to face the music. And it looks like it's going to happen next week, and it's actually a very simple case which is, did he get a subpoena, did he respond, did he produce the document that he was supposed to.


The answer appears to be no. That trial should take about two days, as far as I could tell, and Bannon has failed so far to make it more complicated than the prosecutors wanted to be.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Dana Bash, Andrew McCabe, guys thank you very, very much.

And an important note to our viewers, stay with CNN for investigation of Steve Bannon and his master plan to try to reshape the U.S. government and the Republican Party. The CNN special report, Divided We Fall, begins this coming Sunday night 8 P.M. Eastern.

Just ahead, we'll have more on the January 6th investigation from a key member of the select committee, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He is standing by live to join me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, President Biden is on the defensive right now as he prepares for a crucial visit to Saudi Arabia, a country he once promised not that long ago to make a pariah.


BLITZER: President Biden leaves tomorrow on what will be closely scrutinized trip to the Middle East, including stops in Israel, the west bank, and most controversially, Saudi Arabia.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now.


Phil, tonight the White House is strongly defending the president's trip, which includes a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. What are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House officials, Wolf, are framing this as a critical moment, the president's first trip to the Middle East, to underscore the U.S. role in an extraordinarily consequential strategic region, a region that has becoming more acutely critical over the course of the last several months in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As you mentioned, the president will be making three stops, Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. And in all three, they will be focused on regional stability, economic and national security in the region as well with multiple proposals and a myriad of meetings between President Biden and world leaders.

But as you noted, the trip that everyone has their eyes on right now is when the president arrives in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, where he will have a bilateral meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, a group of people or a country that the president said he wanted to make a pariah state during the 2020 campaign.

Now, Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser to the president, doesn't regret those remarks, won't walk them back, but does understand the strategic realities of the moment. Asked if that meant that human rights were taking a backseat, this is what he said.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: America's values, human rights are a strategic interest in the United States, so is energy security and stopping terrorism, so is seeking peace in a place like Yemen. So, we are trying to do multiple things all at once, advance along a number of different tracks.

And as I said before, the basic thrust and purpose of our policy with respect to Saudi Arabia has been to recalibrate the relationship but not rupture it. We have stayed true to that from the beginning of this administration.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, the urgency of that recalibration has certainly been more noticeable in the last several months as gas prices have soared and the administration officials have tried behind the scenes to urge Saudi Arabia and other member of countries of OPEC Plus to increase production. That will be a focus of the visit to Saudi Arabia, but as Sullivan said, not the sole focus.

As to whether or not the president will have a photo taken with the crown prince, even shaking hands with them, Sullivan said he wasn't going to get into the details of the aspect of the trip. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll find out later in the week when he's there in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Thank you very much, Phil Mattingly, reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Fareed Zakaria, he's the Host of the CNN Fareed Zakaria GPS. So, Fareed, the President defended this trip in a Washington Post op- ed, which all of us read. It was publish over the weekend, and among other things he wrote this, let me read it a line or two. I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. My views on human rights are clear and longstanding and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad.

That's what he wrote in the Washington Post. That certainly sounds like a president who knows he's being accused of hypocrisy.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Exactly, Wolf. And this is a problem of President Biden's making. He said things on the campaign trail to -- either to, you know, appease a certain constituency within the party or to sound tougher than Trump and a greater upholder of human rights, I understand all that, but it was foolish rhetoric. The truth of the matter is the United States should be talking to everyone.

I mean if you remember during the Obama primary campaign, Obama was asked, would you meet with Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran? And he said, look, the whole point of diplomacy is you want to meet with everyone. You want to talk to everyone. That was the administration that Joe Biden was vice president then.

So, it feels to me like the idea of meeting with them, talking to the man who was running, arguably, your single biggest strategic ally in the Middle East outside of Israel should not be a controversial thing. But it became controversial really only because Biden said those things that he did in the campaign trail. He is now having to unwind a mistake he did and that always is awkward.

BLITZER: As a candidate, he accused the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman of actually ordering the murder, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. What message will it send if we wind up seeing a handshake, a one-on-one conversation between these two leaders?

ZAKARIA: I think it sends the message that the United States has a complicated set of interests in the world and that you sometimes have to deal with people who are on certain dimensions very morally problematic.

Look, there is a scenario in which President Biden is going to have to meet with Vladimir Putin again. Putin has the death of many, many, many more people than one journalist. And yet, if we could achieve a durable, stable peace with Ukraine's sovereignty recognized and restored, would I argue in favor of that meeting?


Of course. And, again, American presidents have done this kind of thing many, many times in the past.

BLITZER: Saudi Arabia looks like it's about to get a win here by the visit from the president of the United States, but is the president going to get any real concrete results, Fareed, do you think, from this trip? ZAKARIA: I think that is the really important issue, which is what is the -- you know, we haven't talked through it as far as I can tell one of the largest strategic issues we're trying to get this sorted out. It's all been about this will he shake hands, will he not.

What we have to try to get from Saudi Arabia is an end to the war in Yemen, which is a pointless war, which has now -- which is -- before Ukraine, certainly, it was the greatest humanitarian tragedy in the world. You know, 10 percent of the country was on the verge of starvation.

If you were to try and tamp down the sectarian divide that Yemen is just part of throughout the Middle East, this Sunnis versus Shiites, the Iranian-backed militias versus Saudi-supported regimes, all of that is tearing the Middle East apart, from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and then some progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, where the Saudi's playing a particularly important role because they now are talking to both sides in a way and have influence with both sides in a way that they have them.

Those are sort of the largest strategic issues and then, of course, there is the issue of oil. Saudi Arabia has traditionally been very supportive of American demands and wishes or requests on oil. I don't think they have as much spare capacity as people think, but it is certainly true that if there is one country in the world that could change the dynamic on the supply of oil, it is Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: We will see if that does indeed changes. Fareed, thank you very, very much, Fareed Zakaria, helping us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, my interview with a key member of the January 6th select committee, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, he's standing by live. There are new developments in the investigation. We will discuss that and more after right after the break.



BLITZER: Americans are about to get another window into the events leading up to January 6th and the events of January 6th as the House select committee holds its seventh hearing tomorrow.

Joining us now, one of two Republicans on the panel, Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Your colleague, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, also a committee member, says the committee tomorrow will be, quote, connecting the dots between extremist groups and people in government. Do those dots connect right up to the former President Trump?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, hey, Wolf. Good to be with you. And I'll have to save all of that thunder for tomorrow, of course, and as we lay out the case in front of people to show them just how close, how bad January 6th was, I think even more importantly than that day as what led to it and, you know, what has been done since to change it, the answer is really not much.

And so I think it will be an impactful hearing tomorrow and we'll just lead the facts speak for themselves, as we've been doing all along. And, quite honestly, if you look at all the hearings up to this point, it has been Republicans, mostly Republicans appointed by President Trump making that case on our behalf.

BLITZER: Now, speaking of that, we expect to hear excerpts tomorrow from former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone's taped, what, more than seven-hour interview that you guys did with him the other day. Will he shed light specifically on Trumps action or inaction during the January 6th attack?

KINZINGER: Well, again, on tomorrow, I will have to leave those details during the actual hearing tomorrow. But as it has been reported, we've had quite a bit of time with Pat Cipollone. He was cooperative. He did nothing to contradict any of our prior witnesses and, in fact, he has helped to embolden some of the facts we've already gotten to be a second and third source to those. So, we continue to get it, Wolf.

This is the thing, it's, yes, big names like Pat Cipollone and things, but we continue get more information every day. It's just more and more people come forward, either they've been kind of guilted into or they have had a trip of conscience where they have said, maybe I need to tell the truth here, or maybe they realized there was a part of what something to happened that they think is important that maybe they didn't prior. So, this is an investigation that continues on.

BLITZER: CNN has learned that the select committee, your committee, won't be holding another hearing on Thursday. There have been reports that you are planning on doing that as well, that it supposedly had been under consideration. Why the delay?

KINZINGER: Yes. So, it is going to be next week now and because we just keep getting more and more information with obviously the meeting with Pat Cipollone, the discussion and the stuff that comes in every day. We just figured that it's probably better to do this next week with more of that information presented before the American people. And we're going to specifically be talking about on top of other things what was the president doing during the 187 minutes the Capitol was under attack. And I'll tell you quick, spoiler alert, not much.

And so the American people need to see exactly what a man who swore to protect and defend the Constitution, all branches of the government was doing during that time. And so, yes, it would be nice to do it Thursday but we figured it's probably better to do it next week so we can incorporate more information from people.

BLITZER: So, you just need a little bit more time to prepare.

What will be the thrust, the major theme of the hearing next Thursday, or next week, I should say.

[18:30:04] KINZINGER: Yes. So, again, it is going to be -- and some of it will be wrapping up what we've learned so far. But it will be looking at the actual attack, where was the president during that time. We've had little bits of previews on that, people saying that he was in the Oval Office and television was on, et cetera, we are going to have more details of that backed up by more facts, as always.

And a lot of these facts, in fact, most of them, we put forward by, again, Republican appointees, Trump appointees, and then I think specifically looking at what was the president's actions during that time or lack of action, how did that contribute to accelerating violence. So, this is important to put out in front of people.

And look, I mean, all we want -- this isn't about politics to me. This is about how do we have accountability for an attempted coup on the U.S. government, because we can never have that again. That just -- we can never have that again. You know, whoever takes power one day or the next, that is all fleeting, it's temporary.

I've been in Congress for 12 years. We've been under different presidents, different leadership in Congress all the time. That changes. What doesn't change is when the fabric of the Constitution is violated unless we have accountability and that's what we need.

BLITZER: Can you tell us what day next week this hearing will take place and if you're already decided who the witnesses would be?

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, all that's been decided. I don't want to get in front of the committee if they haven't announce today, yes, but it will be -- like I said, it will be next week, and the witnesses will be announce with that. But I'm looking forward to it. I have a role in it. And it will be interesting to put that in front of the American people.

Again, they can look at that an open mind and make their own decision. I don't see how you can take these facts though and come to any other conclusion but Donald Trump created a chance to overthrow an election and that violated everything that we hold dear in this Constitution.

BLITZER: We will look forward to the hearing tomorrow and then the hearing next week as well. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciated it.

KINZINGER: You bet, Wolf. See you.

BLITZER: As the select committee prepares to hold it seventh hearing tomorrow, CNN's Miguel Marquez traveled to Wisconsin to see how the overall investigation is playing in the heartland (ph).



REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): The committee will be in order.

MARQUEZ: Washington D.C. and the congressional hearings investigating the January 6th insurrection feel a million miles away.

JONATHAN FERNANDEZ, GREEN BAY VOTER: They stormed the Capital. That's what happened. They went in, they climb in through windows, and they rummage through offices and they did what they did. I mean, what more do I need to know about the fact that what occurred, occurred?

MARQUEZ: Some Democrats watching closely.

JOE REFSGUARD, GREEN BAY VOTER: Some of the testimony that's come out has been a little bit more in depth then I had been aware of.

MARQUEZ: But with so many hot button issues, gun violence, inflation, abortion rights and others, the January 6th hearings, even for those concerned.

Where does January 6th and those hearings fit on the priority list for you?

FERNANDEZ: On the bottom rung to me.

REFSGUARD: Just getting a little bit lost in the shuffle.

Dawn Koors is a Republican who voted for Donald Trump twice and would vote for him again.

DAWN KOORS, GREEN BAY VOTER: I think it is more of a distraction. What the real reason is is why this January 6th hearings are going on I think is beyond what we are seeing superficially.

MARQUEZ: Mark Becker was chair of Green Bay's Brown County Republicans. He left the party in 2015 as Trump rose to power.

How important are the January 6th hearings and the investigations that's happening?

MARK BECKER, FORMER BROWN COUNTY REPUBLICAN OFFICIAL: I think right now in the way the world is right now, it is not as important as it should be. I think in ten years, we will look back at this and say, yes, it was a big deal. That was a really big deal.

MARQUEZ: Why? What do you mean?

BECKER: It was a coup attempt.

MARQUEZ: And even some progressive Democrats, Adrianna Pokela says she can do something here and now about abortion rights. But January 6th?

ADRIANNA POKELA, ABORTION RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We can't do anything about that. But what we can do is something in our community immediately to save lives.

MARQUEZ: Rick Beverstein seems a rarity here, a conservative and paying a close attention to the January 6th hearing.


MARQUEZ: His take, all our current problems won't be solved if trust and democracy isn't restored.

BEVERSTEIN: We have huge issues in our country. But we don't have a country if we can't come together.

We don't have a country to solve these issues if we can't reconcile who is in charge and how they got there.

MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Green Bay, Wisconsin.



BLITZER: Just ahead, we are learning new details about a new push to bring Brittney Griner home. Will another American in prison in Russia, Paul Whelan, finally see freedom as well?


BLITZER: We are learning details of new efforts tonight to try to secure the release of two Americans being held by Russia, WNBA Star Brittney Griner and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, one of the most experienced U.S. diplomats in these kinds of situations is now expected to take action.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Bill Richardson, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., is expected to travel to Russia in the coming weeks to try to work a deal.


Richardson has a track record of being able to get Americans freed from the detention inside rogue countries. But this situation will test every bit of his skill.


TODD (voice over): Detained American Basketball Star Brittney Griner may soon have another champion negotiating for her freedom. Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico and former ambassador to the U.N., who help negotiate the release of many declined Americans, is expected to travel to Russia in the coming weeks, hoping to make a deal for Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan, according to a source familiar with the matter. Could his trip give new momentum to a deal?

WILLIAM POMERANZ, DIRECTOR, KENNAN INSTITUTE, WILSON CENTER: I think it would be a good sign, but, again, Vladimir Putin holds the cards as to how the negotiations will go, the speed, the terms, et cetera.

TODD: Richardson helped win the release from Russia of Trevor Reed, the former U.S. Marine convicted of assaulting Russian police. In April, he was traded for a Russian convicted in the U.S. of drug smuggling. Richardson's office declined to comment but he has previously told CNN Russia's exchange for Reed was a good omen.

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: They were ready to deal. So, this is good news for Brittney Griner.

TODD: Today, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the White House has been in touch with Richardson but is also working on its own track.

SULLIVAN: President Biden is laser-focused on a government to government solution.

TODD: Griner last week pleaded guilty to possessing trace amount of cannabis oil on a vape cartridge when she arrived in Russia in February.

One Russian jailed in the U.S. for whom the Kremlin might want to trade, Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer nicknamed the merchant of death.

POMERANZ: Whether that is conceived as a fair exchange, a convicted arms dealer, for a basketball player with a minor drug charge, is up to the Biden administration, but I'm pretty sure that that is what the Russians will ask for.

TODD: Paul Whelan's sister told CNN about a phone call she received recently from President Biden.

ELIZABETH WHELAN, SISTER OF PAUL WHELAN: The president was really reassuring that so much effort was being made on Paul's behalf, and it really meant the world to my family.

TODD: An intense public pressure campaign for Griner continued at Sunday's WNBA all-star game on ABC. The players all wore her jersey name and number and Griner was featured as an honorary all- star.

Her wife, Cherelle Griner, had expressed frustration with the Biden administration for Griner's continued detention, but on Friday, she voiced support after Biden replied to Brittney Griner's letter to him.

CHERELLE GRINER, BRITTNEY GRINER'S WIFE: I believe every word that she said to him. He understood and he sees her as a person and he has not forgotten her, which was her biggest cry in her letter.


TODD (on camera): If a deal for Brittney Griner and/or Paul Whelan is made, security experts tell us they do have a broader concern that a deal like that could embolden other rogue regimes to nab an American on dubious charges and imprison them. That's something that could put many other Americans abroad in danger, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope these two are released really soon. Brian, thank you very, very much. Meanwhile, new details tonight about a 77-minute surveillance video of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz has the latest. He's joining us from San Antonio right now.

Shimon, there's growing pressure for officials to make this video public. One journalist who actually did view it describes the images as wrenching.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And he also talks about how -- all you see are officers arming themselves, preparing themselves, but yet they are all just standing around, as we now know the gunmen is inside those classrooms shooting, you know, killing those students. Some of them lay their injured. And the big questions obviously are whether or not any of those lives could have been saved had police gone in sooner.

There's growing, growing pressure now on the state officials and local officials to release this video for the families, for the community, all putting pressure on local elected officials, as well as the governor, as well as state investigators, and they could potentially see this video. They are trying to work something out where this video could be made public perhaps in the next ten days or so Wolf.

The other thing is, you know, of course, the investigators want the families to see this video first before it is made public. So, that is something that perhaps will be arranged. But this is all happening as the community in Uvalde and family numbers are all putting pressure there on local leaders, calling on people to vote, to change the elected leaders, they want the police department leadership change, they want the school leadership change.

And we are starting to really see the community in Uvalde unite, get together, to try to force some kind of action because, Wolf, school is starting soon.


We are just weeks away from school starting and many of them are really afraid to send their kids back to school.

BLITZER: For good reason.

All right. Thanks very much, Shimon Prokupecz. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, new details on the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, including how the suspected gunmen allegedly learned to build his own homemade gun, and where he may have tested the creation before the shooting.


BLITZER: As Japan continues to reopen the shock of the killing of the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, we're learning new information right now about the alleged planning that went into the assassination which has stunned a nation where gun violence of any kind is extremely rare.


CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is in Tokyo for us.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a Buddhist temple in the heart of Tokyo, the body of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived for a two-day funeral ceremony. A line of mourners with flowers pause and pray.

A Japanese public to whom gun violence is almost unheard of struggles to comprehend.

I'm still so shocked, says Hideki Kakinuma, why did this happen to Japan?

Answering the why begins with alleged assassin Tetsuya Yamagami. Police say the 41 year old Yamagami planned for weeks ahead of the shooting. Police recovered multiple handmade pistols from Yamagami's home, crude weapons made from iron pipe and adhesive tape. NHK reports Yamagami told police he built them by watching YouTube videos.

Days ahead of the murder, NHK citing police sources say Yamagami practiced shooting in the mountains. Officers also recovered wooden boards with bullet holes in the suspect's car. The day before, police say he practiced shooting against a building in Nara.

As Abe began his speech on the street, a news camera caught Yamagami standing with the crowd listening. The next time we see Yamagami, two shots were fired. Officers tackled Yamagami to the ground, armed with his homemade gun. Police say Yamagami held a grudge against a group he believed the former prime minister had ties to.

The group has not been named to police by CNN. But Japanese local media report the suspect told police his mother was involved with the group.

But the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification widely known as the Unification Church held a news conference telling reporters that the church did have a tie to the suspect's mother. She was a member of their church.

We struggle to understand why the suspect killed former Prime Minister Abe due to any resentment towards our organization, says the church president.

He acknowledged that he was aware that the suspect's mother had financial difficulties around 2002. But he didn't know why or the impact on the family. The church pledged to cooperate with police.

Among the mourners gathering in Japan's capital, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We saw in him something rare, a

man of vision who had the ability to realize that vision.

LAH: A towering political figure globally and at home, a country begins to bid farewell.


LAH (on camera): It is Tuesday morning here in Tokyo. And the funeral for the former prime minister scheduled to take place in just about four hours. That ceremony will be private for the family and close dignitaries. There will be an area, though, for the public to continue to gather until they can lay flowers and pray. We have seen flowers being left and including notes. One that I saw that read, thank you, prime minister. I will never forget you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah in Tokyo for us -- Kyung, thank you very much.

Just ahead, fire crews in California's Yosemite National Park are scrambling right now to save a grove of iconic giant sequoia trees from a devastating blaze.

Plus, we are getting video of a massive Ukrainian attack against a suspected Russian ammunition stockpile. Stay with us. New information coming in/




BLITZER: Right now, fire crews are taking extraordinary measures to protect icons of Yosemite National Park. The more than 2,300-acre Washington fire is now about one quarter contained, but it's threatening a growth of about 500 giant sequoias, some thought to be more than 2,000 years old.

Crews have installed a sprinkler system to dampen the ground to run one of the most famous trees.

The war in Ukraine is intensifying tonight with new explosions in the southern part of the country.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is in Odesa for us tonight.

Ivan, what are you learning about these major blasts in southern Ukraine?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are getting multiple reports of huge explosions in this Russian occupied town in the south of the country. Pretty far behind the front lines and the Ukrainian official is claiming that the Russians have a ammunition depot in this town and it has now been destroyed and he is urging residents to stay indoors and stay away from the impact site. Meanwhile an official in the Russian occupation administration of this

town, Nova Kakhovka, she is claiming that this was actually an attack by the Ukrainians using an American weapons system, this high mobility rocket systems, HIMARS. That's what she claims is being done in this attack. Now, w can't independently confirmed any of this except it does appear that the second time in four days that this Russian occupied town has been hit.

The conflict in the east of the country has been this war of attrition where the Russians have relied on their overwhelming artillery to make advances to capture most of Ukraine's eastern Luhansk region.

Here in the south, the conflict is not nearly as intense but the Ukrainians have been saying they are going to try to capture back Russian -controlled territory. They made some small advances in the course of the last month towards the city of Kherson, and in the meantime, it does seem that both sides are using this longer-range weaponry to the effect that here in Odesa today. We heard the blast while watching kids skateboarding in a skate park. They didn't even stop for a second and kept on skating -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson in Odesa for us, Ivan, thank you very much.

Thanks very to our viewers for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.