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Kentucky Flood Death Toll Now At 35; President Biden To Speak On Success Of A Counter-Terrorism Operation; China Warning On Pelosi's Taiwan Visit; Reconciliation Bill To Be Voted This Week; Critical Week For Biden Agenda As Dems Push Climate & Health Bill; Manchin Repeatedly Declines To Say He Will Support Biden In 2024; U.S. Kills Al-Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri In Drone Strike In Afghanistan. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: The Browns' owners released a statement saying in part, quote, "We respect Judge Robinson's decision, and at the same, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process." The NFL says it is reviewing the suspension. I'm Pamela Brown in for Jake Tapper. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the death toll in flood ravaged eastern Kentucky rises to 35 as hundreds remain missing and more heavy rain is in the forecast. I'll speak with Governor Andy Beshear about the disaster and his fear that the search, the search teams will be finding bodies he says, for weeks.

Also tonight, the U.S. is warning China not to create a, quote, "crisis." As the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is now expected to visit Taiwan. The White House arguing Pelosi has a right to travel there despite China's threats.

And a pivotal week for President Biden's agenda right now as Democrats aim for Senate passage of climate and health care legislation, mindful that the midterms are now just 99 days away. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get straight to the flood disaster zone in eastern Kentucky right now. The death toll as of now, 35, with hundreds, hundreds of people still missing. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is on the scene for us. Evan. Governor Andy Beshear who will join us live in just a few moments, says this is the deadliest and most devastating flood disaster he's seen in his life.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Wolf, we took a tour of some of these damaged areas with the governor over the weekend and the emotion was so obvious on his face. It's clear when anyone sees what this devastation is like, it just -- it overcomes you. People in this area of Kentucky, you know, this is a mountainous

region. There is a lot of valleys here. People are used to flooding here, but they've never seen anything like this. Where I'm standing right now in Perry County, one of the hardest hit counties, I'm standing along Route 28, which is a major thoroughfare here.

And behind me you're seeing what happened when a woman's house and her outbuilding that she kept things in, lifted up and just drifted away down this creek that's next to me. She told the story of being in her house, hearing that water and having maybe five or 10 minutes to get out and then just watching everything she owns pick up and float away.

And then even worse than that, where it landed blocked in other people who live in some of the areas that are -- that are, you know, accessible only by one bridge. That bridge was blocked by the house. The house is clear, the woman is fine. But now it begins rebuilding process for them.

And you mentioned this idea of the bodies and the search and rescue that's going on. We have today this just utterly harrowing story of these four siblings that were trapped in these floodwaters, their parents trying to say adults trying to keep -- they're trying to save them from the rising waters and they current -- I mean, and they couldn't and all four of them died together.

It's a picture that I just can't get out of my mind. I think it's the picture that everyone will remember from this flood, just something so deadly that no one expected, that just came through and has taken with it so much of the life of this area. Wolf?

BLITZER: So, heartbreaking to see those four kids, those four siblings who died in this horrible, horrible disaster. So, Evan, what are people in this area planning to do now at least in the short-term if there is more rain on the way?

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: I'll tell you, there is so much whiplash here with the idea that more rain could be coming. I spoke to someone about this and I asked her, you know, what are you going to do if this rain comes? And she said, put stuff on higher ground and I guess hope for the best. But the last time I tried that, I got flooded.

So, it's a horrible thing to think about. The idea of more rain coming here. And then of course as you talk to the governor about, he'll mention to you that also there is a fear there is going to be heat coming here, too. There is a lot of things people here are still dealing with and it's really a short-term active situation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Horrible situation indeed. Evan, be careful over there. Thank you very much. I want to bring in our meteorologist Tom Sater right now. Tom, will we see some relief any time soon for Kentucky and indeed for elsewhere around the country?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, we're getting a little bit of a break now. But just moments ago severe thunderstorm watches are now been issued just in parts of northern Kentucky across several states and that line of rain is heading south ward. But, you know, we've been talking about climate change. Strong

evidence when it comes to our drought, mega drought. It's expanding in the west, but it's the Southern Plains, it's the Midwest. We're seeing flash droughts now in the northeast. A warmer atmosphere holds more water.


Last week two, one in 1,000 flood events. But the strongest evidence, the heat waves. Let's break it down. We've got this widespread event here where flash flood watches across much of eastern Kentucky into West Virginia including the mountains of North Carolina.

This is not good. This is the bull's eye for the strongest storms that may -- we may see. And it's not just heavy rainfall. These storms this time around will produce strong damaging winds. And with all the debris and the vulnerable homes that have been damaged, this could cause a problem.

To the fires. Just this year, year-to-date, 5.7 million acres have been scorched. The 10-year average is almost 3.6 million. Well above average. Numerous fires now California's largest, zero percent containment and areas to the north may have some relief in the form of rain.

But the problem is we're seeing so many thunderstorms develop in the forecast, it's lightning that the firefighters are concerned about sparking other blazes. Even getting a little bit will help these firefighters, but they do not need to expand their resources and to fight so many more.

Then the heat. Thousands of records we've broken this summer alone and from the beginning of the year, but not just in the U.S., across the entire northern hemisphere. Triple-digits in Oregon and Washington. But here is one for you. Records in Seattle go back to 1894. And for the first time ever, six consecutive days at 90 degrees or higher. Yesterday the warmest day they've had in some time.

They get a little bit of a break on the coast. But now the advisories are interior sections, but it's not just there where the triple-digits continue for another week. It now builds again in the southern plains across much of the heartland of the U.S. And the news is not good. Again, not just throughout this week, Wolf, but look at the outlook for next week.

It broadens in its scope with almost everywhere in the U.S. looking at above average temperatures with the exception of the monsoon rains are moving into the desert southwest. The heat, the fires, the drought, and the severe weather all playing a major role. And just to end with this, here are the severe thunderstorm watches.

As the storms move into this area this evening, they will continue to move down to bring more rain overnight tonight into southeastern Kentucky and this large area and this mountainous region and another round in store for tomorrow. This time around, not just the heavy rains, but it comes with damaging winds. Wish the news was better, Wolf.

BLITZER: Me, too. CNN meteorologist Tom Sater, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Kentucky Governor Andy Bashear. Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you say you fear that first responders will be, in your words, finding bodies for weeks. What's the latest, governor, that could you tell us on this situation in Kentucky and the death toll tonight?

ANDY BESHEAR, GOVERNOR OF KENTUCKY: Well, it is a continuing natural disaster. We are still searching for people. Our death toll went up to 35 today and we know of more bodies that have already been discovered so it's going to continue to grow. The rain today has hampered some of our efforts. We are still looking for people and sadly we are still finding those bodies.

Rain tonight is really concerning. One of the reasons this flood was so deadly is it came late at night, which doesn't give people time to prepare, and by the time they wake up, the water may already be high and with a current.

We're sending out the message today to everybody in eastern Kentucky, find a safe place to be tonight. If the area that you're in flooded before, please go somewhere that you know is not only higher ground but did not. We've already lost too many people. We don't want to lose anybody else tonight.

BLITZER: Good advice. Important advices. Among the victims as you well know, governor, four young kids, siblings from one family. There is the picture. Swept away. Our hearts of course go out to their family. How devastating are these losses for the people of Kentucky?

BESHEAR: It's pretty hard to describe. I went to the location of what used to be their home yesterday and I stood there in front of what would have been their front door. And I saw one of the kids swings in the back. I think the oldest one would have been in second grade. They didn't even get the same time on this earth that my kids have already enjoyed.

I thankfully believe that while the body is mortal, the soul is eternal, and they will be reunited with their parents, but this is hard. Everybody in these areas know each other. A lot of people live close to each other that are related. So, a large amount of grief throughout Kentucky.

You know, one of the things we're doing with our team eastern Kentucky flooding relief fund is we're going to pay for every single funeral. Nobody is going to have to apply and nobody is going to have to go through, you know, any type of process. We're going to start at least with grieving together.


BLITZER: How are you holding up, governor? This must be so painful, especially for you. BESHEAR: Well, we've been through a lot. We've been through a

pandemic where we've lost over 17,000 of our brothers and sisters in Kentucky. We've been through the worst tornado event in our history. We lost 81. I knew some people that we lost in that one. And now we're going through this.

And listen, while it might be hard as a governor, it's a lot harder to the people living through it. It's a lot harder to the people on the ground. I can't imagine that set of parents losing all four kids or people who have -- weren't able to grab on to their grandmother or their grandfather.

It's a level of trauma we're going to have to process for years to come. But you know what, we love each other and, in this state, and we're going to be there for each other. And if we could just carry a little bit of the grief of our neighbor for a little while, we're going to do it for them.

BLITZER: Yes. Deepest, deepest condolences to that family. What an awful situation indeed. And those kids, may they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing. The Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear. Thanks for all you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us.

BESHEAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: And an important note for our viewers. For more information about how you can help the victims of the Kentucky flooding, go to and impact your world.

Coming up, the beden administration's message to China right now. Don't create a crisis over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's expected visit to Taiwan. We'll take a closer look at the potential fallout. That's next.



BLITZER: Breaking news. We're following -- we're expecting to hear directly from President Biden very soon about what the White House now says is a successful counter-terrorism operation in Afghanistan. We have our White House correspondent MJ Lee standing by as well as our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. So, MJ, what are you learning first of all right now?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, there has been a sudden and significant addition to the White House schedule. We have just found out that the president will be speaking to the nation at 7:30 p.m. tonight. And according to a senior administration official, what we are told is that over the weekend the United States conducted a counter-terrorism operation against a significant Al Qaeda target in Afghanistan.

This official said that the operation was successful and that there were no civilian casualties. So again, we expect to hear directly from the president about this operation at 7:30 this evening. Of course, the context that we have to keep in mind is that it was

just about a year ago in August of 2021 that the last U.S. military planes flew out of Afghanistan officially marking an end to this long U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Of course, that withdrawal process ultimately ended up being incredibly chaotic and it ended up being bloody.

So again, this is just something to keep in mind as well as we wait to learn more details about this operation. We do expect that officials will brief reporters as well before the president speaks later tonight. So, hopefully, in the next hour or so we will know a little bit more about what exactly this operation was.

The other thing I will quickly note, too, Wolf, of course, is that the president is currently isolating from a rebound case of covid. He had gone back into isolation Saturday after having emerged from isolation earlier in the week last week. So, this is why I think a part of the reason according to the White House's guidance, he's going to be speaking from the blue room balcony.

So, an effort clearly being made here for him to speak in an outdoor setting as opposed to indoors, Wolf. But again, presidential remarks expected at 7:30 tonight.

BLITZER: This is significant. Barbara, you're at the Pentagon for us. So, what are the military and national security implications here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, in the last year since the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over, there has not been a lot of public attention to the security picture inside that country. But make no mistake, the U.S. Intelligence community, the U.S. military, has been watching inside of Afghanistan intently to the best that they can with no troops and no aircraft on the ground.

What they have said for the last several months is they see evidence, intelligence indicators that both Al Qaeda and ISIS are regrouping inside of Afghanistan and are on the rise again. So, this is something that the intelligence community, especially when it comes to Al Qaeda, of course, has been watching very closely.

How could this strike, if you will, this mission against a significant Al Qaeda target have taken place? Well, almost certainly, Wolf, it was done by an air strike, not by the U.S. military. The other government agency that carries out air strikes is public knowledge, we're revealing nothing here, is the Central Intelligence Agency.

And why do we say drone strikes. Well, first of all, the U.S. will not put a manned aircraft, will not put a pilot over Afghanistan because they have no way to rescue a pilot if a pilot were to go down. So, they don't conduct recognizance, those surveillance missions of targets and any strikes by manned aircraft.

Drone strikes had been an extraordinarily difficult thing to even think about. We believe this may well be the first one. The U.S. has drone stationed at very far distances in nearby countries. It's a long distance for those drones, unmanned vehicle -- air vehicles to fly, drop their weapons and go back.

So, this is something that it would have been a target. They might have been watching very carefully from other drones and then picked their time to move in on it. Wolf?

BLITZER: Of course, we're standing by right now for the president's address to the nation on this. We'll have a live coverage here on CNN. Of course, Barbara Starr, MJ Lee, guys, thank you very, very much.


Also tonight, sources are telling CNN that the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to visit Taiwan on her current trip to Asia. That despite strong objections from China, which claims the island and at a time of increasing tension right now, between Beijing and Washington. Let's get some more from our national security correspondent Kylie Atwood.

Kylie, China is now warning there will be grave consequences if Speaker Pelosi make these high stakes visit to Taiwan. How is the State Department handling this very, very delicate issue?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENTL: Yes. Well, they're saying there would be grave consequences. They are also showing off their military assets in a propaganda video that they put out today really increasing the rhetoric from China in recent hours.

And what the Biden administration is trying to do here is reduce the temperature with the Secretary of State pointing out that this is not unprecedented for the House Speaker to visit Taiwan saying that other members of Congress have visited saying that there was a previous House Speaker who visited Taiwan.

Of course, we should note, Wolf, that was 25 years ago. So, it is significant that Speaker Pelosi is making this visit. But what the Secretary of State said is that if there were to be a crisis created or tensions escalated here, that would be in his words, entirely on Beijing.

And what he called for China to do here was to reduce the tensions and to act appropriately and to act with restraints here because there are fears within the U.S. government about a situation where China responds too robustly and that is when there could be miscalculation.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. We'll standby to see the latest developments on that front as well. Up next, the latest up on capitol hill as the U.S. Senate could vote on a new deal on climate and health care as soon as this week. But a key democratic senator has yet to announce her support. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Senate Democrats are hoping to pass a sweeping energy and health care bill by the end of this week. Senator Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, they announced the breakthrough deal after more than a year of negotiations. Now, the focus turns to moderate Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema.

Our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju is joining us live from Capitol Hill right now. Manu, so what are the chances Democrats can actually pass this bill before their August break?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's still uncertain, Wolf. Even though the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated today that he still plans to bring this bill to the floor this week, but there are two big reasons why it is uncertain. One, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona who has not said yet if she will support this bill and as well as Senate procedures.

Now, Sinema is waiting for the senate procedure to play out. That is a review that is taking place by the Senate parliamentarian to ensure that this bill can pass by the budget process. And why that is significant because if the parliamentarian agrees that the provisions in this bill dealing with health care, dealing with climate change, dealing with taxes, can be approved to the budget process.

That means that they can approve it by -- along straight party lines. Meaning, no, they don't need any Republicans to support this. It cannot be filibustered, but that does mean they need all 50 Democrats on board including Sinema.

Sinema denied and still declining to comment as she is facing pressure on both sides, Democrats on the left urging her to get behind it including potential primary challengers against her in 2024. And on the right, pressure as well. I just talked to Senate Republican Whip John Thune who told me that he spoke to her about his concerns about the impact the tax increases on corporations, the 15 percent minimum tax on corporations could have on businesses as well as the increased IRS enforcement in that the bill to hire more IRS agents, how that could play out as well.

They are trying to impress upon her to vote against this plan. But nevertheless, Democrats are still confident that she will get there by the end of the day. The Senate parliamentarian will approve this and they can get it out of the Senate as soon as this week. And if they do that, Wolf, it will still require approval by the House which is still uncertain at this point even as Democrats are optimistic, they will get there.

BLITZER: Well, we shall see soon enough. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Pramila Jayapal of Washington State. She is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. This Inflation Reduction Act as its officially being called, would be a big accomplishment.

But do you understand the skepticism some of your fellow Democrats are feeling right now given the fact that this effort appeared all but dead until a week or so ago? REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, Wolf, if anybody understands that,

it's probably me. I have been through many steps forward only to see many more steps backward. But look, what I've realized on Capitol Hill is you can never tell when there is that moment, that tipping point. And at the end of the day, our eyes have to be on the prize about delivering for the American people.

And this Inflation Reduction Act as it is designed right now doesn't have everything, we had in the original reconciliation bill, but it has a lot, Wolf. It will bring down energy costs. It will invest in taking on climate change. It will address the fact that the subsidies for health care were going to go away in just a couple of weeks and it will make sure that those costs of both health care, but also pharmaceutical drugs are going to go down.


And of course, it does have finally the forcing of big corporations to pay a minimum of 15 percent tax. So, I think it is a great start and it's really important in this moment where American consumers across the country are struggling with inflation and rising costs, and we need to respond to that.

BLITZER: But is it dishonest to a certain degree, Congresswoman, for Democrats to be selling this bill and calling it the Inflation Reduction Act, when according to Moody's just today, they said it will only reduce inflation minimally, and not until 2031?

JAYAPAL: Well, I think you have to look at exactly how we're addressing inflation. If we reduce health care costs for American consumers, that is addressing inflation, it's addressing the effects of inflation on the consumer. Because, you know, and I know -- well, I'll tell you, I've been on a fixed income budget, Wolf, and when one cost goes up, I need to bring down other costs in my budget. This is going to do that.

But I also want to take on this idea of the investments in climate and how they are going to dramatically accelerate our ability to invest in new and existing renewable energy technologies. The faster we do that, the more quickly it will drive those costs down. And so, I think if you apply, there's just been some research out from researchers in the U.K., Eric Beinhocker (ph) and others, that when you apply that acceleration effect to renewable energy technologies, the value of what we are going to do to bring down energy costs is much greater than just the tax credits that are in the bill.

So really, on every level, this is fighting inflation for American consumers, and it's investing in our long-term future.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Manchin was repeatedly asked yesterday, whether he will support President Biden in 2024. Listen to what he told CNN. Listen to this.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Jake, I'm not getting involved in any election right now. 2022, 2024, I'm not speculating on it. President Biden is my President right now. I'm going to work with him and his administration, to the best of my ability to help the people in my state of West Virginia, and this country.


BLITZER: So what do you make of that answer?

JAYAPAL: Well, look, I think Joe Manchin doesn't want to be pinned down. But the most important thing that Joe Manchin is doing right now is helping us to get to a deal on the Inflation Reduction Act. That is the single most important thing we can do for the American consumer. And frankly, also for Democrats in the midterm.

2024 is still two years away. We should focus on the midterms, we should focus on what we need to do to relieve people's insecurity right now around how they're going to wake up and take care of their families. And that's what the Inflation Reduction Act does. So, from that standpoint, Joe Manchin is being an enormous help right now to what we need to get done.

BLITZER: Are you ready to commit to supporting President Biden's reelection?

JAYAPAL: Well, I don't see why I wouldn't. I have been, I think, one of the President's biggest champions in terms of the agenda he's pushing. And but my main focus right now is really, let's get this done for the American people. And that will give the President an enormous leg up when he decides to run in 2024.

But more importantly, or most importantly, perhaps, it's going to deliver what we need to the American people. And they'll see that when they give us the House, the Senate and the White House, we get a lot of things done for them.

BLITZER: So is that a yes, you will support his reelection?

JAYAPAL: Absolutely, I will support his reelection. But let's focus, Wolf, right now on 2022 and right now on passing this bill and getting relief for the American people.

BLITZER: Always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much for joining us.

JAYAPAL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This important programming note, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin will join me live here in THE SITUATION ROOM during our next hour. Standby for that.

Just ahead, exactly 99 days before the midterm elections here in the United States. So where do congressional Democrats and Republicans stand? We'll have a closer look at what each party has working for it and against it when we come back.


BLITZER: With November's midterm elections now just 99 days away, Republicans are certainly hoping to make some big gains as Democrats face strong political headwinds driven by soaring inflation and President Biden's low job approval ratings.

Let's break this down with CNN Political Director, David Chalian. who's here with me in the Situation Room. So, who has the upper hand right now going into these midterms, the Democrats or the Republicans?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well as you noted, we're 99 days away from the votes being counted. And, obviously, things can change. But at today's snapshot from August the 1st, Wolf, you'd have to say in the battle for control of House of Representatives, Republicans have a clear advantage right now. And that is because if history has to be any guide, as you suggested, the President's party tends to suffer losses, significant losses in the House in the first midterm election.

Even more significant if that President is polling below 50 percent approval rating, this President is down at like 38 percent approval rating. So, and the House is very closely divided. Republicans only need four seats to take over the House, maybe a little more given redistricting. So they're well within striking distance.

On the Senate side, Wolf, it's a bit more of a toss-up, and here's why. The five or so true toss-up battleground races for control of the United States Senate which is split 50-50 right now is taking place on democratic turf on states -- in states that Joe Biden won in 2020, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada.


So you take a look at those states and Republican recruits are not sort of performing at the highest possible level, like Herschel Walker in Georgia or Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, these first timers to politics still are working out the kinks.

BLITZER: How problematic is it for Democrats right now, when you look at the polls, the economy and inflation are the top, top of the -- top issues right now for voters?

CHALIAN: This is problem number one for the Democrats, because they are the party in power of the White House, the House, the Senate. In our most recent poll, Wolf, 67 percent of registered voters said they are extremely interested in inflation. That is the motivating issue for them.

Of those voters, in terms of their generic congressional choice voting for the Republican or the Democrat, advantage Republicans by 17 percentage points. So it's, right now, inflation is definitely something that is hurting the Democrats in these midterms.

BLITZER: The Democrats do need a big legislative win between now and November. And this new legislation, climate and health care bill, that Manchin and Schumer worked out, they desperately need that, don't they?

CHALIAN: There's no doubt that getting some of your big goals accomplished is something you can take to the campaign trail to your voters and get them enthused. You know, I would add in a couple of other things, though, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which is not a goal accomplished, but actually a new fight after 50 years of Democrats trying to protect the right to have an abortion and in this country. The fact that that's been overturned, that may be a huge motivating factor for Democrats to get in the vote -- get out and vote.

And also, all the stuff being put forward by the January 6 committee, the need to protect our very small democratic institutions in this country, that too, can be a rallying cry for Democrats. And potentially, tell independent voters that some Republicans who refuse to accept the reality of the 2020 election that Joe Biden won are going to try and take the country, their state would have you in too far in extreme direction. That can help rally Democrats too. There are those kinds of mitigating factors, but this overall political environment is very tough for the income party.

BLITZER: Very tough, indeed. All right, David Chalian, thank you very, very much.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us, CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. She's the Senior Political Reporter for the New York Times. Maggie, how closely is Donald Trump right now watching the upcoming midterm elections?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's watching very closely, Wolf. But he's watching, you know, not just in terms of his own win- loss record on who he's back, which is the prism through which he views this always. But he's watching in terms of whether, you know, he should announce a candidacy of his own before the midterms or after and that's what he's been saying to a lot of people.

Now, you know, there's a bunch of primaries tomorrow night that he is also paying close attention to. He has a bunch of candidates whom he has backed. He has others where he might weigh in, Missouri Senate race is the big one. That's a question mark, but he is paying very close attention, because he sees this as a bellwether for himself.

BLITZER: He's the former president, you do a lot of reporting on this, Maggie. Excellent reporting, I should say, invested in helping the Republican Party, take control of both Houses of Congress.

HABERMAN: He is invested, Wolf, to the extent that he wants to try to continue talking about his baseless claims of widespread election fraud, the cost in the election in 2020. And so that he -- to the extent he thinks that he can help elect people who will do that for him, and that having, you know, Republican control of the House and the Senate would be a help to him in that effort, as some form of payback or some form of validation that he is very invested in.

He is very invested again, all roads with Donald Trump lead back to Donald Trump -- BLITZER: All right.

HABERMAN: -- and so to that extent, he has invested.

BLITZER: All right, Maggie, hold on for a moment, we got some breaking news coming out of Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. She's learning important new information. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several of my colleagues here at CNN are now able to confirm to everyone that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's longtime number two is the al-Qaeda operative that was killed in a strike in Afghanistan that was conducted by all accounts by the Central Intelligence Agency using a drone. This is the man who was at bin Laden's side, this is the man who has largely remained -- has almost entirely remained out of sight since the 9/11 attacks.

There have been videos that he's made. He has made statements he had attempted to remain relevant. If he was actually killed in Afghanistan, that will prove to be quite interesting, because the U.S. had long assumed for many years. He, too, like bin Laden, was hiding out in the rural areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border.

Ayman al-Zawahiri was long wanted by the United States. There was a $25 million reward on his head. He had been seen as, after bin Laden's death especially, if you will -- if not the spiritual head of al- Qaeda, at least the best known name of the al-Qaeda organization, even as al-Qaeda regrouped around the world, as it began to regroup in Africa, in the Middle East, as it became the post-911 al-Qaeda.


Zawahiri was the name and the face that was so recognized in extremist circles around the world. So if he was, in fact, as we can now say, killed by the CIA drone, that will prove to be very interesting. It would mean that the U.S. had some very specific intelligence inside Afghanistan, where there are no U.S. military or intelligence personnel, there are no aircraft, there are no troops. But the U.S. must have had the intelligence to understand where he was hiding, where he would be.

And to be able, to think about this, Wolf, to be able to send that drone at some lengthy distance over Afghanistan, know where to send the drone, and know where he would be at a point in time, when that drone arrived. And if you'll indulge me, let me make one more point. As someone who was inside the Pentagon on the morning of September 11th, I think for so many Americans, September 11th still really strikes to the very heart of American democracy and who Americans are at their core.

There are people who out there who, of course, will say all kinds of things about 9/11. And that, you know, nobody ever got to the bottom of it. But for those who were at any of the sites or had relatives, friends, colleagues, this really strikes home, another name and face of the al-Qaeda organization brought to justice. Wolf? BLITZER: Yes, this is a huge, huge moment for the U.S., as someone who's reported on this for many, many years, going back to 9/11. He was always seen as bin Laden's number two. Ayman al-Zawahiri killed in this U.S. strike in Afghanistan. We're learning new information right now.

I want to go to MJ Lee, our White House Correspondent. MJ, the President of the United States, I understand, fairly soon is going to address the nation on this, right?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you get a sense of, obviously, what a significant mission this was, given the fact that we've just learned that the President is going to be delivering remarks to the nation in just about two and a half hours, sorry, an hour and a half, actually, around 7:30 in the evening. This had not been on the White House schedule. We only just learned about this.

And we should be getting some more details, as officials prepared to talk to reporters and briefed them on some of the details behind this operation that we really didn't know about until just moments ago. There are, of course questions that will be raised to senior U.S. officials about how this operation was conducted, how they were able to secure the location of the target.

And when the senior administration official said in a statement earlier, that the operation was successful, and that there were no civilian casualties, there are sure to be questions about how the administration was certain that there were no civilian casualties. So again, we should be hearing directly from the President in just about an hour and a half. We should note, of course, again, that this is happening in the context of the President still isolating from a rebound case of COVID.

This is why we are going to be hearing his remarks given from the Blue Room balcony. This is, of course, unusual. Obviously, some precautions being taken so that he can deliver these remarks outdoors instead of indoors, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt, and I know this from my reporting over the years, for years, the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military, the national security apparatus, has been searching for Ayman al-Zawahiri. They've desperately sought to either arrest him, charge him or kill him. And now it looks like they have actually succeeded in killing bin Laden's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. This is a huge, huge deal, MJ, and the President will be explaining what happened, that's coming up fairly soon.

LEE: Yes, this is a huge deal. And again, it is why we are going to be hearing directly from the President, when you have an operation like this that again, as far as we know, obviously, officials are telling us now that this was a successful operation. This is a moment that the President is, obviously, going to seize and to put context around this for the American people, for him to speak directly to the American people about the significance of this. And we'll see what exactly the tone is that comes from the President. [17:50:07]

As we were talking about before, one important context here, of course, is just the timeline, in terms of the U.S.'s exit from Afghanistan. This was just about a year ago that the last planes flew out of Afghanistan in August of 2021. So it hasn't been very long. I think that context is going to be something that we want to hear more about, just in terms of operationally how the U.S. was able to conduct this kind of strike in Afghanistan, when obviously, there's been no U.S. military presence there for a number of months.

BLITZER: MJ, stand by. Barbara Starr, you're over at the Pentagon to underscore how important this is. Let's remember, the State Department had offered what, $25 million reward money for anyone coming up with information leading to the capture or the killing of Ayman al- Zawahiri.

STARR: Well, that's right, Wolf. And that raises the question that MJ is talking about, how would they know, how would they know where he was? Did they have a snitch on the ground? And could they trust that snitch, if you will? Did they have satellites overhead watching where that snitch may have told them Zawahiri he was? Or did they have communications intercepts?

Were they able to intercept cell phone calls, electronic transmissions, computer exchanges, of any sort -- any kind of electronic communications between al-Qaeda operatives might have talked. Even months ago, about where Ayman al-Zawahiri where he was. One of the reasons we're talking about this in terms of being a drone strike, even before we hear from the administration is, in fact, it would be almost impossible, frankly, for the U.S. to put any kind of special operations team on the ground, because the U.S. will not fly manned aircraft, we are told, into Afghanistan, because it has no ability to rescue any down crew down, pilots down to personnel.

So this is why it has been our understanding for many months that any missions in Afghanistan would have to rely on unmanned drones. Why the Pentagon as CIA has been talking to neighboring countries for months about trying to based droned out of those countries. This is their only way that we know of at least reasonably to get in and out of Afghanistan.

So this would have been unmanned, we believe at this point. And it would have been very complex because either they got a last-minute tip that was solid and they went for it. Or they had been watching for some time, where they thought Ayman al-Zawahiri might be. It's going to be fascinating, what they tell us, what they don't tell us and what we might be able to discern from all of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Barbara, you and I covered all of this over these many, many years, watching ever since the U.S. killed bin Laden. Ayman al- Zawahiri was also seen as the successor to bin Laden. He was the number two. They've been trying to find this guy capture or kill him for so many years. This is a huge, huge moment for the U.S.

STARR: It really is. He is the face and figure of al-Qaeda around the world, even as al-Qaeda over the years since 9/11, has morphed into a very different organization. Number one, there has been very recent concern about al-Qaeda operatives regrouping in Afghanistan. There has been concern about al-Qaeda affiliates and offshoot organizations operating across Africa, really causing mayhem for some of the most vulnerable populations in that part of the world.

Concern about al-Qaeda remains very strong around the world. But without bin Laden over the last many years, it had not been quite the same organization, if you will, with that singular pledge of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Zawahiri, at various points, had sort of been seen as the elderly caretaker over the years. We saw videos of him emerge. And U.S. officials who would tell us, don't worry about it too much. He's just trying to remain relevant.

At various points, they did not believe that he was the strongest leader of al-Qaeda, but he never went away. And with al-Qaeda back on the rise in Afghanistan, with concern about al-Qaeda possibly operating on the border with Pakistan, there is significant concern that al-Qaeda is regrouping. And that might have opened the door to some of the intelligence that they were able to develop to conduct this strike. That's what we want to learn.

What is it that led the United States to know where Ayman al-Zawahiri was and how certain they were he was there enough to be able to go after him, Wolf?


BLITZER: And I assume that the President of the United States, President Biden, have to personally approve the killing of Ayman al- Zawahiri. This is a huge, huge moment for the U.S. right now.

We're standing by to hear directly from the President of the United States. He's going to be addressing the nation on this much more of our special coverage coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting more information right now. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. CNN has learned the United States has successfully targeted and killed the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.