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The Situation Room
Biden Says, I Raised Khashoggi Murder At Top Of The Meeting; 1/6 Committee Meets With Watchdog On Erased Secret Service Texts; Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) Crushes Democrats' Hopes For Passing Agenda, Again; U.S. Retail Sales Rise In June Despite High Inflation; Lawyer Tells Russian Court Brittney Griner Was Prescribed Medical Cannabis For "Severe Chronic Pain". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 15, 2022 - 18:00 ET
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is at THE SITUATION ROOM Saudi Arabia.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. President Biden speaks out about his critical talks here in Saudi Arabia. He says he brought up the murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, at the top of his meeting with the crown prince who the CIA blames for ordering the killing. I'll talk to a top Saudi diplomat who was inside the room with the prince and the president.
Also tonight, the January 6 select committee seeks answers about why the U.S. Secret Service erased texts from the day of the riot and the day before. We're going to tell you what they learned from the Homeland Security Department's top watchdog.
We want to welcome the viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're live here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia today, overlooking the Red Sea, covering a pivotal day talks between President Biden and Saudi leaders. President Biden revealing just a short time ago that he did, in fact, confront the Saudi crown prince about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is here with us in Jeddah. Phil, there has been a huge interest in how the president would greet the crown prince and what he would say to him.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. Look, President Biden landed here in Jeddah with a series of very clear and concrete objectives, but White House officials were keenly aware, all eyes across the globe would be on that first meeting between the president and the crown prince and didn't have to wait to find out what it would look like.
MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, with one fist bump, a pariah no more. With one photo, a foreign policy recalibration defined. President Biden's highly anticipated and sharply criticized first interaction with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I made my view crystal clear. I said very straightforwardly, for an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights is as inconsistent with who we are and who I am.
MATTINGLY: Followed behind closed doors by a direct statement from Biden to MBS on the brutal murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
BIDEN: With respect to the murder of Khashoggi, I raised it at the top of the meeting, making it clear what I thought of it at the time and what I think of it now. And there exactly -- I was straightforward and direct in discussing it.
MATTINGLY: Eliciting a familiar denial from the crown prince and more pushback from Biden.
BIDEN: He basically said that he -- he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated that I thought he was.
MATTINGLY: But each public moment, from the fist-bump to the side-by- side walk between the leaders to meet King Salman to a nearly two-hour bilateral meeting, pictures striking and their divergence from this 2019 Biden statement.
BIDEN: We are going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There's very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.
MATTINGLY: And with this tweet from Khashoggi's fiance punctuating the criticism of the greeting, Biden moving to highlight his rationale for the trip.
BIDEN: I'm sorry she feels that way. I was straightforward back then. I'm straightforward today. This is a meeting not -- I didn't come here to meet with the crown prince. I came to meet with the GCC and nine nations to deal with the security and the needs of the free world, in particular, the United States, and not leave a vacuum here, which was happening, as it has in other parts of the world.
MATTINGLY: A clear reversal driven by the view inside the White House of the necessity of resurrecting a fractured relationship with a longtime ally.
BIDEN: We had a good discussion on global energy security and adequate oil supplies to support global economic growth, and that will begin shortly.
MATTINGLY: An ally that is the most powerful player in the global oil market with Biden alluding to likely production increases in the weeks ahead along with Saudi commitments on regional security, climate, infrastructure and technology.
BIDEN: We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill, and we're getting results.
MATTINGLY: But for an administration that found MBS ordered the Khashoggi's murder, the reality an underpinning a moment of true, real politic, one in which Biden and his advisers have for days danced around whether he'd bring up the issue directly.
BIDEN: My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.
MATTINGLY: Drawing criticism from Democratic allies.
Still, on the heels of a successful stop in Israel, Biden's first visit to the Middle East as president underscoring a region in dramatic transition despite a visceral reminder of the horrors of the past staring the president in the face. REPORTER: Do you regret calling the Saudis a pariah?
BIDEN: I don't regret anything I said.
REPORTER: Do you feel that --
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, the real question now is where does this go from here. Obviously the president is in Jeddah tomorrow for a series of meetings with other gulf country leaders, the clear effort by the White House to shift how they are viewed by many in the region. But one thing we know for sure for the Saudis, this was exactly what they wanted. Their government agencies were very quickly posting pictures, sending out video, making clear that everyone saw the U.S. leader meeting with the crown prince that, for the better part of 18 months, he gave a cold shoulder to, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, and important indeed for the Saudis, very important indeed. Thanks very much, Phil Mattingly, reporting.
Earlier today, I sat down with a key Saudi diplomat here in Saudi Arabia who was inside President Biden's meeting with the Saudi crown prince.
BLITZER: And joining us now, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir. Minister, thank you so much for joining us on this historic and very, very busy day.
This, as you know, and you were in the meeting with the president of the United States, is the first meeting between the president and the crown prince since the president's condemnation of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, out on the campaign trail when he was as a candidate of president of the United States. You were in the room. Did President Biden raise Jamal Khashoggi by name?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: At the beginning, during the reception, the president mentioned that this was an issue. He mentioned that he took Saudi Arabia's assurances at face value. His royal highness, the crown prince, explained to him that this was a tragedy for Saudi Arabia and that those who were responsible for it have been investigated and faced the law and are now paying the price for the crime that was committed.
And we -- the conversation then moved on in terms of official discussion. They discussed important issues in terms of revitalizing the relationship, in terms of energy security, in terms of renewable energy and the climate change and moving forward in the future, the threat from Iran in terms of counterterrorism, terror-financing, in terms of the trade and investment relationship between the two countries, Yemen, the importance of stability and peace in the Middle East, technology, G5, G6, how the two countries can work in terms of exploration of outer space, and many, many other issues --
BLITZER: So, was it your impression, Minister, that President Biden accepted your explanation for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?
AL-JUBEIR: I believe so. Yes, I believe so.
BLITZER: And he didn't raise it anymore throughout the course of --
AL-JUBEIR: What is there to raise, Wolf? A crime committed --
BLITZER: U.S. intelligence community, as you know, concluded that the crown prince ordered -- effectively ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.
AL-JUBEIR: I don't believe that that was specified in those terms, one. Number two, it was an assessment. Number three, we know what the intelligence community's assessment was with regards to Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. The Kingdom of Saudi have investigated this crime. The Kingdom of Saudi have held those responsible for accountable and they are paying the price of the crime committed as we speak. We investigated, we punished and we put in place procedures to ensure that this doesn't happen again.
This is what countries do in situations like this. This is what the U.S. did when the mistake of Abu Ghraib was committed. This is what the U.S. as in other situations that involve combat operations or that involve any situation where somebody transgresses or makes a mistake.
BLITZER: Because you know, President Biden, as a candidate, certainly believed the U.S. intelligence assessment.
AL-JUBEIR: Wolf, you and I had a similar conversation with regards to what President Trump said when he was on the campaign trail. What people say on the campaign trail sometimes doesn't get reflected in terms of being in office because they have access with intelligence, they have access to a fuller and broader picture when they do these things. And I think the relationship between our two countries is a very strong, strategic, important relationship for both countries and we want to make sure that we take it forward to a higher and broader and deeper level.
BLITZER: You may have heard that in an interview, Khashoggi's former fiance said she wants President Biden to ask the crown prince where Khashoggi's body is. Can the crown prince answer that question?
AL-JUBEIR: I haven't seen the question and I don't know that we know where the body is and we have had an investigation and published the results of this investigation when the public prosecutor issues the charges against the defendants.
BLITZER: As you know, human rights groups extensively have documented what they claim to be Saudi Arabia's ongoing jailing of dissidents, repression of basic women's rights, mass executions and more.
Will the crown prince make specific commitments to President Biden and to the U.S., indeed to the world on addressing these basic human rights issues?
AL-JUBEIR: We take issue with the charges that are leveled against Saudi Arabia. Anybody who is punished is subject to the court review and the charges are brought by the prosecution. The courts look into it. The defendants have the right to appeal before the decision becomes final, just like in the United States. Unfortunately, many of the charges for which people are being punished are not reflected by those who cast aspersions on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its legal system.
BLITZER: Let's talk about another key issue that I assume came up, oil supplies. Did President Biden ask you, Saudi Arabia, to increase oil production with the hope that it would reduce the price of gasoline in the United States?
AL-JUBEIR: Not in -- with the specificity because the president knows that energy issue is an issue of supply and demand. It is an issue of balancing markets. Saudi Arabia is committed to ensuring stability in the oil markets. The U.S. government is aware of this. The issue of increases in prices of gasoline that we have seen recently are really a function of geopolitics and psychology, more than they are about fundamental supply/demand. The problem of gasoline in the United States is more a function of the lack of refining capacity in the United States than a shortage of --
BLITZER: Is Saudi Arabia ready to increase oil production?
AL-JUBEIR: Saudi Arabia has made it clear that it very clear over the past decades that it seeks to assure market stability, that it looks at the fundamentals of supply and demand and that it works within OPEC and now within OPEC-Plus to ensure that the markets are adequately supplied with crude oil.
Saudi Arabia has increased its oil production over the past year substantially, in accordance with the demands of the market and this is a situation that is continuously being assessed by our energy ministry and by experts in this area to determine whether or not more oil or less oil is required --
BLITZER: But I assume President Biden pressed you on this issue today?
AL-JUBEIR: No, the president doesn't press us on this issue. The president is aware that Saudi Arabia is keen on maintaining stability in the markets. Wolf, the president didn't come here to press Saudi Arabia. The president came here to have a meeting with one of America's most important allies in the world and in the region. We will face common challenges that we need to work together in order to overcome. There are many opportunities for us that we want to avail ourselves of. He came here to consult on the various issues and how we can move forward in order to ensure that the next 80 years are as positive as the previous 80 years in our relationship.
BLITZER: President Biden has made it abundantly clear he wants Saudi Arabia to do what the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and some of the other Arab countries have done, normalize relations with Israel. Is Saudi Arabia ready to normalize relations with Israel? And if you are, when?
AL-JUBEIR: We have said that Saudi would support the peace initiative. In fact, we authored and we have made it clear that peace comes at the end of this process, not at the beginning of it. We have also said that the countries that signed the Abraham Accords with Israel, those are sovereign decisions made by those countries. We hope that those decisions will have a positive impact on Israeli domestic --
BLITZER: Is Saudi Arabia ready to join the Abraham Accords?
AL-JUBEIR: We have made it clear that we need a process and this process needs to include the implementation of the Arab peace initiative. And once we have committed to a two-state settlement with the Palestinian state and the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its, capital that's our requirement for peace.
BLITZER: So, that hasn't not changed?
AL-JUBEIR: No, that hasn't changed. And we have taken positions and made it clear that peace is possible. Peace is a --
BLITZER: Peace with Israel?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes. It is a strategic option. But there are certain requirements that have to happen before this takes place.
BLITZER: So, what you're saying is it won't happen until there's what they call a two-state solution, Israel and a new state of Palestine?
AL-JUBEIR: Yes, that is our position.
BLITZER: Minister, thank you so much for joining us.
AL-JUBEIR: Any time.
BLITZER: Just ahead, the U.S. Homeland Security Department's top watchdog briefs the House January 6th select committee about erased U.S. Secret Service text messages. Was it part of a routine phone replacement as the Secret Service claims?
THE SITUATION ROOM live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia continues right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're following a new twist in the House investigation into the U.S. Capitol insurrection. CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has the latest on questions swirling around erased U.S. Secret Service text messages.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari on Capitol Hill. He briefed all nine January 6 committee members on his claim that the Secret Service erased text messages from January 5th and 6th, 2021. Now that the committee heard his take they want to talk to the Secret Service.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): One of the things we have to make sure is that what Secret Service is saying and what the I.G. is saying that those two issues are in fact one and the same.
SCHNEIDER: The inspector general says he raised the issue of erased text messages with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas more than once, but ultimately turned to Congress for help telling congressional committees this week that many U.S. Secret Service text messages from January 5th and 6th, 2021, erased as part of a device replacement program. The U.S. Secret Service erased those text messages after OIG requested records of electronic communications.
But the Secret Service quickly shot back, saying the loss of text data was part of routine phone replacement. The insinuation that the Secret Service maliciously deleted text messages following a request is false, adding that the inspector general requested electronic communications for the first time on February 26, 2021 after the migration was well underway. The Secret Service notified DHS OIG of the loss of certain phone's data but confirmed to OIG that none of the text it was seeking had been lost in the migration.
The Secret Service says they have been cooperating with the I.G., handing over almost 800,000 redacted emails and nearly 8,000 Microsoft team's chat messages.
The agency has been at the center of intensifying questions after Cassidy Hutchinson testified last month. She was a top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and she recounted how she was told by Deputy Chief of Staff Tony Ornato that President Trump lunged at Secret Service Agent Robert Engel in the presidential SUV and tried to force his detail to take him to the Capitol on January 6th.
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF MARK MEADOWS: The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel.
SCHNEIDER: Trump has dismissed Hutchinson's testimony but a Washington D.C. police officer who was in that motorcade corroborated details of the heated exchange to the committee. That's according to a source familiar.
HUTCHINSON: Mr. Trump then used the free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And when Mr. Ornato had recounted the story to me, he motioned towards his clavicles.
SCHNEIDER: The Secret Service has not given a public account of what happened. One official telling CNN that the agents dispute Hutchinson's account, but Hutchinson's lawyers say she stands by her testimony.
REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): If people want to come forward and have a different recollection, we would encourage them to come forward give testimony under oath. That is different than putting out anonymous statements.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): And the committee has just announced plans for an eighth and possibly final hearing. That will happen Thursday in prime time, 8:00 P.M. And it will focus on what was happening in those 187 minutes when Trump was out of public view on January 6th and not stepping in as rioters attacked the Capitol. Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll be watching, for sure. Jessica Schneider, thank you very, very much.
Let's get some more on all of this right now. Joining us, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former Secret Service Agent Jonathan Wackrow and CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jonathan, as a former Secret Service agent, is there any excuse for erasing such important information?
JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, there is no excuse, whatsoever. Every federal employee, every federal agency is beholden to Federal Records Act, so any type of lost data is inexcusable and the Secret Service has to account for that.
Now, I just want to take -- be clear on this. The fact that these messages and these text messages are being disclosed as being lost wasn't through the investigation of the inspector general. It was a self-disclosure by the Secret Service to the inspector general. So, they highlighted that there was a loss of data once the I.G.'s office had requested it to be sent over. So, I think that there is some context in this back and forth that's being played out publicly that needs to be highlighted as well.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, what questions should investigators be asking right now in order to get to the bottom of why and how these messages were erased?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there are two issues. The first is someone has got to find those messages. And it is possible to recapture data that's been deleted. Nothing is ever really gone the internet era. So, just as a purely factual matter, these are enormously important records to this investigation and some independent investigation, not the Secret Service, has to find them and turn them over to Congress.
The second issue is how did this happen? How can you delete records that are obviously relevant to a very important investigation? Who decided to delete them? Under what circumstances and why was it done? That's an investigation that needs to take place. But the most important thing is for the Congress to get their hands on this data and have Congress itself or the Justice Department working with Congress doing the investigation, not the Secret Service.
BLITZER: Good point. Meanwhile, Jonathan, a D.C. police officer has corroborated portions of Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, the very dramatic testimony, about Trump confronting his Secret Security detail inside the presidential SUV back on January 6th. How significant is that development?
WACKROW: Well, listen. It is significant in one part, right? I think that prior testimony by the special agent in charge, Robert Engel, to the committee, under oath indicated that there was conflict, there was a disagreement between former President Trump and the Secret Service pursuant to the fact that they were not going to take him up to the Capitol.
So, this is just another data point that confirms that it was this conflict, this disagreement.
What it does not do, Wolf, though, is really key in on what everybody has focused their attention on, which is that the testimony that former President Trump lunged towards the wheel and then also tried to grab at the Secret Service. There're only three people that know exactly what happened in that car. That's the former president, the driver and the special agent in charge.
So, we're getting closer to more confirmation of this argument but we're not seeing anything yet that reveals what happened inside the car.
BLITZER: And, Jeffrey, that underscores how crucial it is right now for others in that motorcade to come forward and testify under oath about the incident, right?
TOOBIN: Exactly. And Cassidy Hutchinson has been attacked by people who are making anonymous quotes to the news media. That's not evidence. That is nothing something that we should to take on faith. She testified under oath and other people who have relevant facts should testify under oath. And that's the only thing we should believe.
And, again, it underscores the need for getting the text messages and the emails, which are almost certain to corroborate or not corroborate the oral testimony that's given. That's why it's so important to get these actual messages as soon as possible.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Jeffrey Toobin, Jonathan Wackrow, thank you guys very, very much.
Coming up, more on President Biden's talks here in the Middle East and whether he made any real headway toward easing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A key Palestinian official is standing by live to join us. That's next.
Our live coverage from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will continue in just a moment.
BLITZER: We're back with our live coverage from here in Saudi Arabia, President Biden's high-stakes Middle East trip at his controversial talks today with the Saudi crown prince.
CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is joining us here right now in Jeddah. Nic, you have been reporting from Saudi Arabia for decades, really. You know this area well. What did you make of what we all saw today?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Oftentimes, these meetings in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi leadership can be somewhat chaotic but that was so carefully staged and it was exact -- conveyed exactly the image to the region, to the world that the Saudis wanted to convey, that MBS has sort of redeemed himself with President Biden, that the relationship is back on, that the vacuum that President Biden has been speaking about from a Saudi perspective, they can begin to have a conversation, a more open, direct conversation with the United States about where they stand and where the country stand together going forward. BLITZER: Well, step back for a minute and look at this whole trip to
the Middle East by President Biden, big picture right now. What do you think are the key takeaways so far?
ROBERTSON: I think you have seen today two key things, and President Biden put them at the top of the list of things that he read out today in terms of Israel's relationship with Saudi Arabia, the flights, overflights, Israeli flights allowed to fly over Saudi Arabia and other commercial airlines, that's a plus for Israel, something in the positive step in the relationship, bringing the countries together, then those disputed islands that are now sort of going to more full Saudi control that Israel has a keen interest in and has a historic voice over what happens there. That's a benefit for Saudi Arabia. So, you see the two sides coming closer together. So, I think that's a step there.
But I think in terms of oil, this oil for security narrative that Saudi so much doesn't like historically, it is in play, and President Biden kept the optics of it low by not saying Saudi is committed to giving more oil but saying, let's look at what happens in a couple of weeks. I know from sources behind the scenes that Saudi signature foreign policy achievement was the OPEC-Plus. OPEC-Plus will be delivering more oil in the next few months.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you are absolutely right. Nic Robertson, thank you very, very much.
Before President Biden arrived here in Saudi Arabia, he visited today the West Bank and Bethlehem and met with the president of the Palestinian authority.
Joining us now, Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, he's a key adviser to the Palestinian authority president and the former head of the PLO General Delegation to the United States. Husam, thank you so much for joining us.
President Biden says he supports what's called a two-state solution, Israel and a new state of Palestine. But in this trip, did you hear any specific action on President Biden's part to make that two-state solution a reality?
HUSAM ZOMLOT, HEAD, PALESTINIAN MISSION TO THE U.K.: Well, that was an important visit, meeting President Abbas, having that very frank conversation, also visiting occupied East Jerusalem, making sure that he would be unaccompanied by any Israeli official or otherwise removing the Israeli flag, visiting a hospital, striking a chord with the people they received and the Palestinian people, talking about the Palestinian plight, the injustice that has endured for a long time for the Palestinians and then going also to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem meeting church leaders, hearing their situation.
The suffering they face especially in terms of their properties taken by Israel in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. So, overall, that was an important visit.
However, if you are asking me about reality, I'm sure President Biden has also seen that the only reality there is the one-state reality, which the human rights world now are talking about in terms of apartheid, from the Human Rights Watch in the U.S. to the U.K.-based Amnesty International, to Israel's Bensalem and the numerous Palestinian human rights organizations. This is the reality.
And to break away from that reality, to end that reality, your question is absolute right question. We need action rather than just statements. What President Biden said in the press conference was absolutely clear, the support of two-state solution on the '67 borders, that Jerusalem is a final status issue, that unilateral action must cease, that Palestinians must get equal measures of freedom and dignity, all this we agreed with, but that needs action. And action would mean reversing all the destructive, vindictive policies of the Trump administration. He should have visited the newly reopened consulate general in East Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that did not happen. He should have --
BLITZER: Well, hold on a minute, because I want to ask you about that. Do you think President Biden is any closer today to reopening the U.S. diplomatic consulate in East Jerusalem or, for that matter, reopening the PLO office in Washington D.C., where you served and I got to know you? Both were shut down during the Trump administration.
ZOMLOT: Regrettably, Wolf, you and I have met several times and we are very frank and straight shooters. The Biden administration has simply given Israel a complete veto power over these very U.S. sovereign matters. The U.S. consulate general has been there since 1844. It reflects the bilateral relations of the Palestinians and the Americans, the Palestine and the U.S. And, unfortunately, so far, Israel has not removed its veto, so that question needs to be directed to the U.S. administration.
And, in fact, the lack of opening of such a very important diplomatic mission is also indicative of how serious the administration is of the two-state solution and how much they are willing to spend political capital as opposed to rhetoric and statements. The consulate general is the key matter, because if you believe in the two states, you need two embassies. If you really believe in the 1967 borders, then there is one missing representation.
As for the PLO office, Wolf, the administration needs to work with the Congress to de-designate the PLO from the so-called terrorist list. This is really ridiculous. I mean, the president of the U.S. had just met the president of the PLO, the president of the state of Palestine. Since 1987, the PLO has been designated by the Congress as a terrorist organization. Oslo has happened. Numerous bilateral agreements, hundreds of millions of U.S. aid to Palestine, yet the designation remains there.
So, absolutely there are so many things to be done, including stopping the bleeding. I mean, talking about the two-state solution, when actually the two-state solution is on the death bed, if not, dead already, without stopping the bleeding, which is the illegal settlements. Now, we're having almost three quarters of a million Israeli illegal settlers. Without tackling the issue of ethnic cleansing, like happening in (INAUDIBLE) Masafer Yatta, in Hebrew, without the tackling the real issues, then we are simply giving a license for the very alarming and urgent situation to simply continue spiraling out of control, as happened in May and as happened last year in May during (INAUDIBLE) followed by the war in Gaza.
BLITZER: Husam Zomlot, thanks so much for joining us. Good to get your perspective.
Just ahead, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin crushes his own party's hopes for passing its agenda again.
We are live from here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with much more news. That's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Fresh frustration for congressional Democrats and for President Biden tonight as one of their own, Senator Joe Machin of West Virginia, has again crushed hopes of passing their agenda, saying he will not vote for climate or tax measures in the current economic bill.
CNN Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean is working the story for us. Jessica, so what explains this major development?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on who you talk to, Wolf. Senator Joe Manchin is saying that he is very concerned about inflation. That's what he's told us in the hallways for months now when it's come to this Build Back Better plan. Of course, it started very large and has been whittled down. They were talking about the slimmed down version of the bill when our sources tell us that he told Schumer's office unequivocally he would not supporting those climate and tax provisions and that effectively put an end to those discussions.
Manchin was on local radio earlier today. This is how he explained it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): So, I said, Chuck, until we see the July inflation figures, until we see the July basically Federal Reserve rate, interest rates, then let's wait until that comes out so we know that we are going down the path that won't be inflammatory, to add more to inflation.
He says, are you telling me you won't do the other right now? I said, Chuck, it's wrong. It's not prudent to do the other right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
DEAN: So, the indications we get is that Manchin is open to allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs and extending Affordable Care Act subsidies for two additional years but, Wolf, this originated last year as a $3.5 trillion plan. It got slimmed down, thanks to Manchin, to about $1.75 trillion and those talks came to an end.
And now, we've arrived at this. Schumer had hope to have passed this before the August recess to allow members running for re-election to go home and have something to talk about, have something to sell.
The question now is, can they get these two smaller things done in that same amount of time? Wolf?
BLITZER: Jessica Dean reporting for us, thank you very much, Jessica. There's much more to all of this than the politics alone.
Let's dig deeper right now with CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon.
Rahel, with inflation right now in the United States at 40-year highs, we saw retail sales were higher than expected last month, put this in perspective for us. What does this say about the overall health of the U.S. economy?
RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think it jug jests that the health of the U.S. consumer is proving resilient despite the high inflation. Retail sales for the month of June rising 1 percent, that was higher than expected. And so, this was certainly seen as good news.
We should say however that these figures do not account for inflation. They don't adjust for inflation. So, part of this likely higher price that is we are all paying. One thing that people are watching closely is where consumer spending is shifting. If you look at yearly categories it is gasoline and groceries, also online shopping, where we're seeing some declines in consumer spend is a discretionary categories like electronics and appliances, department stores.
And so, this really has some starting to wonder and question even though the consumer is proven to be quite resilient and remarkably strong in spite of inflation for how much longer when they are spending more on essentials and really having to pull back on discretionary? And so, we certainly like to see a strong U.S. consumer. The consumer is the backbone of the U.S. economy. But the question is, for how much longer can they withstand high inflation as it is and, of course, increase in borrowing rates?
BLITZER: Yeah. Good question indeed.
All right. Rahel Solomon, thank you very, very much
Coming up, we are following the developments. A new delay in the case of the WNBA star Brittney Griner as her lawyers now unveil a new dramatic claim in a Moscow courtroom today.
THE SITUATION ROOM, we're live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and our coverage continues next.
BLITZER: A new twist tonight in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner.
Her lawyers telling a panel of Russian judges that the cannabis oil to which she has pleaded guilty to possessing was prescribed to her by a U.S. medical center for severe chronic pain.
CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brittney Griner has to duck to get in her cell in a Russian courtroom. Once un-cuffed, she flashes a smile not seen since her incarceration. She then holds up a photograph of the WNBA players who recently wore her number at the all-star game.
Her lawyers presented the court today with a key piece of evidence, a letter from a U.S. medical center prescribing Griner medical cannabis for, quote, severe chronic pain.
JAMISON FIRESTONE, ATTORNEY WHO PRACTICED IN RUSSIA: It's not really hurt her. We're trying to make the judge sympathetic. So when she shows evidence like that, the judge can go, well, okay, the United States prescribed this and she's in pain. She's not a recreational drug user.
TODD: The American basketball star allegedly had less than one gram of cannabis oil in her luggage when she was apprehended at a Moscow airport in February, but it could still land her 10 years in a Russian prison.
JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: I worry she is going to serve a year or two or three of her sentence before something gets hammered out.
TODD: Griner has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges but said she accidentally packed the cannabis oil and is trying for a more lenient sentence.
This week her lawyers presented character witnesses. The general manager of Griner's Russian team and a teammate who spoke on her behalf.
EVGENIYA BELYAKOVA, TEAMMATE OF GRINER'S ON RUSSIAN TEAM (through translator): Brittney was always a great teammate. And that is why I am here, to support her and be there for her at this difficult time. We miss her so much. Miss her energy.
FIRESTONE: It's really hard to say whether any of it helps because this trial is so big that the Russian government is obviously watching it. And I don't think they're leaving (ph) the judge alone at this point.
TODD: One analyst says this case has become so high profile, even an offer to trade Griner for convicted Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is in a U.S. prison, might not win her release.
IOFFE: I also worry that Vladimir Putin won't be satisfied with a simple prisoner exchange. He doesn't want to exchange prisons at this point. He wants sanctions relief.
TODD (on camera): The analysts we spoke to say if Brittney Griner serves any portion of her sentence, it will be in a Russian penal colony.
They say these are notoriously violent places, particularly the women's colonies and they say the longer Griner might languish in a place like that, the greater the chance of Vladimir Putin might believe the Biden administration would have to cave in to his demands -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much, Brian Todd, reporting.
And we'll have more news just ahead.
TAPPER: Finally tonight, a show of resilience after a horrific mass shooting. The Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, reopened today. It's been two months since 10 people were shot and killed after a racist targeted a mostly Black neighborhood. There were mixed emotions as customers returned to Tops, a long time fixture in the community.
Across from the store there is now a flower-strewn memorial to the victims of the massacre where members of the community can pay their respects and try to deal with the trauma they've endured.
I'm proud to say Buffalo is where I grew up. It's my hometown. I join with everyone there and across the country in thinking of those innocent wonderful people gunned down while simply going shopping.
May they rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.