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Jury Orders Alex Jones To Pay Over $4 Million To Sandy Hook Parents; Trump Lawyers In Direct Talks With DOJ About January 6 Criminal Probe; Russian Court Sentences Brittney Griner To Nine Years In Prison; Biden Admin Declares Monkeypox A Public Health Emergency; 80 Million Under Heat Alerts As High Temps Bake East Coast. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 04, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. A Texas jury has ordered conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pay over $4 million to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook massacre as compensation for his lie that the shooting was a hoax. We'll break down the verdict and what happens next.
Also tonight, CNN has learned that former President Trump's lawyers are now in direct talks with the U.S. Justice Department about the January 6th criminal investigation. Stand by for our exclusive new reporting as sources now reveal that Trump's attorneys have warned him that indictments, criminal indictments are possible.
And WNBA star Brittney Griner is sentenced to nine years in prison after being convicted by a Russian court on drug charges. The U.S. is now reviewing its call for Moscow to accept a proposed prisoner swap aimed at bringing Griner home.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All right, Let's get straight to the breaking news right now, a Texas jury awarding more than $4 million to the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting victim suing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for defamation and emotional distress over his repeated lies about the tragedy.
CNN Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is working the story for us. Drew, update our viewers on the latest.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a mixed bag. Alex Jones will have to pay damages to these two parents of a murdered six-year-old, but it's only a fraction of what Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis were asking. They wanted $150 million in this damage phase of this trial, and as you said, Wolf, they have been just awarded a little more than, $4 million, $4.1 million.
This is the moment Alex Jones chose not to be in court when the jury returned. This is the moment what the judge read off the questions on the monetary damages that this jury awarded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE MAYA GUERRA GAMBLE, TEXAS DISTRICT COURT: Question 1a, $50,000. Question, 1b, $10,000. Question 1c, $50,000. Question 1d, no dollars. Question 2a, $1.5 million. Question 2b, $500,000. Question 3a, $1.5 million, and question 3b, half a million dollars. Is this your verdict, the ten of you who signed it, so say each and all of you, all ten of you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GAMBLE: All right. Would the attorneys care to inspect the verdict?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your honor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your honor.
GAMBLE: All right. Then I will accept this as a verdict of the jury and order that the clerk enter it upon the minutes of the court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: This case is not over yet. There is a punitive phase which begins tomorrow, which would actually punish Alex Jones for the cause of mental anguish and trouble that he caused these parents. And remember, this is all wrapped around the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, back in 2012. For years, Alex Jones and his show InfoWars said that was a hoax and some of that show was played in court for the jury so they could hear exactly what Alex Jones had been saying about these murdered children.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, HOST, INFORWARS: It took me about a year with Sandy Hook to come to grips with the fact that the whole thing was fake.
I did deep research and, my gosh, it just pretty much didn't happen.
The official story of Sandy Hook has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: And this isn't the only trial. He has got two more of these cases in which he's been found liable by default that are going to take place in Connecticut where parents are asking for damages as well, but, again, a mixed bag here. They were seeking $150 million in this trial against Alex Jones and this jury today awarding $4.1 million.
BLITZER: Drew, I want you to stand by. I also want to bring in CNN Senior Analyst Elie Honig and CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan.
Ellie, this is clearly nowhere near nor close to the $150 million in damages the parents had been seeking. What's your reaction to this verdict?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. Well, $4 million is certainly a lot less than $150 million that the parents had asked for, but it's still a heck of a lot of money, and as Drew said, that dollar amount could go up substantially.
But I also think it is so important to keep in mind from listening to the parents' testimony in court and from looking at their public statements, this case is about so much more to the dollars than the parents. They are not looking to get rich here. They are looking to protect the truth, to preserve the memory of their child. There was the powerful moment where Ms. Lewis, the mother, looked at Alex Jones and said, my son was real and I'm a real mom. And that was the result of that trial.
We know that Alex Jones lied. We've heard Alex Jones admit that what happened at Sandy Hook was, quote, 100 percent real and I suspect that's more valuable to the parents than any dollar amount.
BLITZER: Paul, these parents have said they went through, quote, nine and a half years of hell because of Alex Jones. How are jurors supposed to navigate putting a monetary value on that?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's extraordinarily difficult for jurors to come up with a number in the defamation case because, obviously, the parents were suffering grief from the loss of a child. What can be worse than that? And this was something that was piled on top of that grief, this attack by Jones against them claiming that they had made the whole thing up, but actually translating that into a dollar figure is very, very difficult.
So, they came up with 4 million, 4.1 million actually is the number, in this part of the trial. But you have to remember there is going to be a second part of the trial on something called punitive damages. Now, those are designed to punish. And they're not -- you don't have to come up with proof that you lost income or that you saw doctors and you had doctor bills. Punitive damages are much more abstract and a jury can just put a number on it and hope that an appellate court will uphold it.
So, I think they'll wind up with a much bigger verdict, ultimately.
BLITZER: I suspect you're right.
Drew, Alex Jones' company actually filed for bankruptcy while this trial was under way. So, what does that mean for these families?
GRIFFIN: It could mean a more difficult time trying to get just the $4.1 million that they got in damages, but just because he filed doesn't mean he is bankruptcy, and he is having in bankruptcy court, the judge questioning just how bankrupt, quote/unquote, free speech systems really is. There was some testimony that came up in a bankruptcy hearing about $9 million in cryptocurrency that went apparently into Alex Jones' pocket, that's according to an official from Alex Jones' own company and there's also a question about whether or not Alex Jones hasn't been moving money around his businesses in advance of a potential verdict here.
So, he could have trouble, just as much trouble in bankruptcy court trying to protect his money as he is in court losing his money.
BLITZER: It's interest, Elie. You heard Paul mention that the next phase of the trial will decide what are called punitive damages. What more can you tell us about what to expect in this upcoming phase?
HONIG: Wolf, punitive damages are really about sending a message, about deterring, about punishing somebody, as the name suggests. And I think here, the focus is going to turn on Alex Jones and the way that he has made a living, made a fortune, really, by lying, regardless of who it hurts or how badly it devastates innocent victims, like we're seeing here.
So, I think the punitive damage phase, which begins tomorrow, is going to be where the court and the plaintiffs really get to make a statement about Alex Jones that it is not okay to lie, it is unacceptable and you'll be punished accordingly.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Paul. After so many years of vicious lies and disinformation, how powerful is it to see Alex Jones actually now forced to tell the truth in court?
CALLAN: I think it's a powerful message hopefully that's sent to anybody who is out there creating these conspiracy theories that hurt so many people and that are so untrue. And you'll hear a lot probably of people saying this is a very low amount of money, this $4.1 million, but bear in mind, for a jury, yes, they are going to have the punitives tomorrow, but they're probably thinking, as well, there are lots of other victims here and he's only got so much money to divide up between all of the victims. They're not going to give all of the money just to this family because it's the first case.
So, I never underestimate the smarts of a jury, and I'll bet you that was one of the things that went into their consideration. We have got to distribute a limited amount of funds over a large number of people.
BLITZER: After so many years of vicious lies and disinformation, Paul, how powerful, as I say, is it to see what's going on rights now?
Let me let Drew weigh in on this because he's really covered this from the start.
GRIFFIN: Having interviewed Neil Heslin, the father of Jesse Lewis, I can tell you that I think, you know, you guys are spot on. He wants not money. He wants to shut Alex Jones up. He wants to make Alex Jones realize that his son was real, that his son was alive, that on one day in 2012 in December, his son was shot and killed by a mass murderer who took 20 kids that day and six adults. And he wants Alex Jones to tell his viewers that as well and to stop telling and creating these conspiracy theories and lies that actually hurt real human beings like himself. I think he would take it as a win if he could walk out of this courtroom knowing Alex Jones will never lie again about his son, six-year-old Jesse Lewis.
BLITZER: Yes, heartbreaking what happened. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
There's more breaking news we're following right now. Police in Bloomington, Minnesota, now say they're working on an active incident inside the Mall of America. Let's get some more information right now.
CNN's Amara Walker is joining us. What are you learning, Amara?
AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Wolf. We're just getting the information in right now. We don't know for sure what exactly this active incident is but the Mall of America tweeted about nine minutes ago saying that Mall of America is currently under lockdown. There is a confirmed isolated incident in a tenant space and it also says, please remain in the closest secure location until the lockdown has been lifted. Please stay tuned for additional updates.
So, again, we don't know what this incident is. We haven't heard anything about a shooting or any -- what may have transpired at this time. The police, as well, tweeting that they are working an active incident happening on the north side of the Mall of America. The Mall of America located in Bloomington, Minnesota, which is a suburb of the Twin Cities.
But we will stay on top of this. There is an incident going on. The mall is on lockdown currently and we don't know what exactly the incident is but we will stay on top of it. When we get information, Wolf, we will bring it to you.
BLITZER: Yes, these are pictures from the Mall of America. You can see the Nordstrom store right there. We're going to continue to follow what's being described as an active incident inside the Mall of America right now.
Just ahead, CNN's exclusive new reporting on direct talks between the Trump legal team and the U.S. Justice Department involving the January 6th criminal investigation, new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
BLITZER: Tonight, CNN has exclusive new reporting on the January 6th criminal investigation, the Trump legal team engaging right now in direct communication with the U.S. Justice Department.
CNN's Kara Scannell is working the story for us. Kara, tell us more about what we're learning. KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources tell our team, including Katelyn Polantz, Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes, that lawyers for former President Donald Trump are engaging directly with the Justice Department officials. This is the first indication that the Trump team is talking to officials investigating the interference in the 2020 election.
Now our sources tell us that these talks revolve around whether former President Trump can shield communications he had when he was president from federal prosecutors. I mean, this is coming as the DOJ investigation has accelerated and its focus has turned to the west wing. We know that they brought in former Vice President Mike Pence's two aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, and that this question of executive privilege came up in that grand jury testimony.
They've also subpoenaed for grand jury testimony, the former White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, and his deputy, Patrick Philbin. This comes, as we've already reported, that DOJ is preparing to possibly go to court to fight this battle over executive privilege, and now we are learning that the former president's legal team is engaged with prosecutors.
BLITZER: You are also learning, I understand, Kara about specific warnings that Trump is now receiving from his own legal team.
SCANNELL: Yes. So, other sources tell us that some Trump attorneys have had discussions with him about the possibility of there being indictments resulting from this DOJ investigation, and they've also had discussions with Trump about what some of his possible defenses could be.
Now, some of these attorneys have also been grilled by the former president about whether he could really face any criminal exposure and that we are told by sources Trump has expressed great skepticism that he would.
Now, other sources say that Trump has had more conversations with his inner circle and they think that he is more concerned about this investigation than maybe he has led on.
Now, other sources tell us that Trump's lawyers have advised him to cut off communications with some current and former aides, those particularly who have come under scrutiny from the House committee investigation. One of those aides is his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, his lawyers advising him to cut off communications because they think he might have criminal exposure here.
Now, sources tell us that Trump continues to speak to Meadows although their relationship is not what it once was. A lawyer for Meadows says that this idea that he could face any criminal investigation or any focus of the investigation, he calls idle and uninformed speculation, Wolf?
BLITZER: Kara Scannell, excellent reporting. Thank you, very, very much. Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, CNN Senior Legal Analyst, the former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, and our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.
Preet, these are, what, the first talks, the first sign of direct communications between the current Trump legal team and the U.S. Justice Department. How significant is this?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's very significant. We've been talking for the last number of months, maybe a year-and-a-half, about what actions the Justice Department has been taking as distinct from the January 6th committee. We now know that the Justice Department is heavily engaged, they're calling witnesses before the grand jury, as the reporting suggests.
And you might imagine that in other circumstances, Trump and his legal team would wait and see how much jeopardy the former president is in before actively engaging directly.
Actively engaging directly suggests to me that the lawyers think that there is some jeopardy and they should engage sooner rather than later. They also must have understood that if they engage that it might leak out, as has happened, which might show some vulnerability on the part of the president. So, the fact that they're choosing to engage this early, I think, the investigations is going to take many months and the decision about whether or not to charge Donald Trump is many, many months from now, they're choosing to fight and argue now, that shows a little bit of what they're thinking.
BLITZER: Potentially very significant development, indeed.
Dana, what does it tell you that based on our reporting, and you just heard it, Trump has pressed his own current attorneys on whether they actually believe he will face formal criminal charges?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the whole ball game for him. Of course, he wants to know. As you just heard from about our excellent reporting Kara just talked about, he's hearing apparently mixed things about whether or not there is -- excuse me, we're hearing mixed things about how worried he is legally.
I am told that it's not quite there yet when it comes to his deep, deep concern legally, but for Donald Trump, the law is one thing. His exposure legally is one thing, but, of course, his political viability and his legacy is a whole different thing, and perhaps top of mind for him right now. I mean, he keeps sort of teasing the idea that he is going to run, hasn't formally done that.
One of the reasons we are told is because he needs to stay where he is and not be a candidate in order to get help paying his legal bills. So, it's all intertwined for Donald Trump.
BLITZER: I certainly is. Preet, a source has told CNN that the former president personally has expressed a heavy dose of skepticism that he will be actually, when all is said and done, indicted. Is that skepticism warranted?
BHARARA: Are you asking that question? It's a little bit at odds with what we talked about a couple of minutes ago, which is that his attorneys see there's sufficient jeopardy to try to make a defense and to make arguments directly to the Justice Department as opposed to giving at the back of the hand. But from Donald Trump's perspective, and I think this is important, he survived the first Mueller investigation. He survived an impeachment attempt. He survived a second impeachment attempt in trial. He looks like he has survived in an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. We'll see what happens in Fulton County, Georgia.
So, you might understand that his given frame of mind and his track record that he might escape liability here too. I think there is a possibility that he gets indicted some time from now, but it's far from a foregone conclusion, a lot still has to be done and I bet the Justice Department itself does not yet know what course it will take.
BLITZER: We'll see what Merrick Garland, the attorney general of the United States, decides to do when all is said and done. Preet, thank you very, very much. Dana, thanks to you, as well.
Just ahead, the American basketball star, Brittney Griner, sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. We have details of her emotional statement and U.S. outrage. That's next.
BLITZER: Breaking news. We now have an update on what police are calling an active incident inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall now under lockdown, we are told, and urging visitors to stay in a secure location.
Let's bring back CNN's Amara Walker who is following developments for us. Give us the latest, Amara.
WALKER: Hey there, Wolf. So, we are still trying to figure out what this active incident, isolated incident, as authorities are calling it, exactly is, but you are right, there is a lockdown under way right now at the Mall of America.
The Mall of America just tweeting a few minutes ago that it remains under lockdown following a confirmed isolated incident, and for all guests, please stay in the closest secure area until the lockdown is lifted.
We understand, according to a tweet also from Bloomington Police that there are numerous officers on the scene. You can see these pictures from outside the mall there that people are gathered, trying to figure out what is going on, but, again, an active incident that has happened inside the Mall of America. This is in Bloomington, Minnesota, a suburb of the Twin Cities here.
Just for background information, this is the largest shopping and entertainment complex in North America. It spans over 5 million square feet and it is a tourist destination.
So, again, we're still trying to figure out what exactly happened inside this mall. We'll stay on top of it, Wolf. We are in touch with authorities. And once we get more details, we'll bring that to you.
BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Amara. Thank you very much, Amara Walker reporting for us.
Meanwhile, an emotional sentencing hearing today for WNBA Star and Olympic Gold Medalist Brittney Griner ordered by a Russian judge now to serve nine years in prison for illegally possessing cannabis oil.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen has the latest from Moscow.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Brittney Griner's legal team says she was extremely shaken after a Russian court sentenced her to nine years in jail on drug charges, saying only this to our camera as she was led out of the courtroom.
REPORTER: Brittney, how do you feel?
BRITTNEY GRINER, WNBA STAR IMPRISONED IN RUSSIA: I love my family.
PLEITGEN: This after Griner had made an emotional appeal to the court, holding up a photo of the team she plays for in Russia, at times breaking out in tears.
GRINER: I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, the fans and the city of Ekat.
It's my mistake that I made and an embarrassment that I brought into them.
PLEITGEN: The WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist had pleaded guilty to the charges, but said she did not intend to bring vaping cartridges containing cannabis oil to Russia where she was detained in a Moscow airport in February.
GRINER: I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn't end my life here.
PLEITGEN: But that did not move the judge who ruled that Griner acted with criminal intent, the nine-year sentence to be served in a penal colony, tough detention and labor facilities often far away from the Russian capital.
Brittney Griner's lawyer clearly angry and disappointed and vowing to fight on. MARIA BLAGOVOLINA, BRITTNEY GRINER'S RUSSIAN COUNSEL: We think the verdict was totally out of order. It does not correspond to what's happening and what happened and it is totally going against the actual part of the Russian penal code.
PLEITGEN: Both the White House and the State Department condemn the verdict and the long jail sentence. The U.S. lists Brittney Griner as being wrongfully detained and says it's put what it calls a substantial offer on the table to bring both Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who is currently serving a 16-year jail sentence in Russia home.
The charge d'affaires of the U.S. embassy was inside the courtroom in Moscow and said the United States will continue to fight for Brittney Griner.
ELIZABETH ROOD, U.S. EMBASSY CHARGE D'AFFAIRES: President Biden's national security team and the entire American government remain committed to bringing Ms. Griner home safely to her family, friends and loved ones.
PLEITGEN (on camera): And Wolf, I was able to speak to Brittney Griner's legal defense team after the trial ended and essentially they told me they obviously worked very hard during the trial, but they also said that, essentially, none of the things that they put forward, none of the witnesses, none of the mitigating circumstances, none of the arguments were actually taken into account by the judge. They now have ten days to file an appeal. They say it is exactly what they're going to do. But they've always said that there is a chance for a prisoner exchange, they certainly would endorse that. They simply want Brittney Griner to get home as fast as possible, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen, stand by, we're going to get back to you in a moment.
I also want to bring in CNN White House Correspondent M.J. Lee and CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan.
M.J., President Biden says Griner's sentence is unacceptable, his word, unacceptable. What is the state of play on a possible prisoner swap right now?
M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, nine years in a Russian penal colony is certainly not the outcome that the Biden administration wanted and the president saying in a statement today that this is unacceptable and that he calls on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, her loved ones, friends and teammates.
And what U.S. officials told me today essentially is that they believe the ball is in Russia's court. They are, of course, referring to this offer that they made to Russia back in June to trade Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan for the Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. And what we know is that the offer that they've got back in response, though importantly through backchannels, was to include a convicted murderer in that deal. And the U.S. has made clear that that is not an offer that they take seriously at all. In fact, they don't even consider that an official counteroffer.
And U.S. officials after today are basically saying, look, we're just going to keep working and pressing the Russians to accept that original offer, that we made them, but there is just recognition right now, Wolf, that it is going to take probably some time for all of this to get sorted out and at the end of the day, it is just very much up to the Russians to decide how quickly they are willing to end this ordeal for Brittney Griner.
BLITZER: Christine, I think it is important to remember that Brittney Griner would likely not have even been in Russia in the first place if WNBA players were better paid here in the United States, is that right?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf, yes. WNBA players, the highest salary is about $230,000, NBA players over $40 million, so millions to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's American sports. Obviously, women's sports is way behind men's sports, catching up Title 9, the magic of Title 9, 50-year anniversary just a month-and-a-half ago. But, yes, this is the issue with women sports.
And so the WNBA players go overseas to supplement their income, be it Spain, Italy, China, Turkey, Russia, in this case and that's what Brittney Griner was doing.
And as I saw her there on the footage at the trial where she's sitting in a cage, Wolf, you know basketball very well.
She is 6'9. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist on the greatest team in sports in the world, the U.S. Women's Basketball Team, the most dominant team in sports and they haven't lost in the Olympics since 1992. And to see her sitting there in that cage and knowing what's ahead now, it truly is heartbreaking.
BLITZER: Yes, supposedly nine years in a Russian prison.
Christine Brennan, thanks very much. M.J. Lee, Fred Pleitgen, guys, thanks to you, as well.
Just ahead, President Biden and Democrats may be on the brink of a big win in Congress right now. I'll get reaction from Republican Senator Rick Scott, a key figure in his party's fight to win control of the U.S. Senate.
BLITZER: Tonight, the first Senate vote on a key piece of the Biden agenda has not been set for Saturday. Democrats are pushing ahead with efforts to pass the climate, health care and economic package, even as they're still trying to lock up the crucial support of one of their own. Senator Kyrsten Sinema.
Republicans meantime say they are challenging every piece of the legislation they can.
And joining me us now, Senator Rick Scott of Florida. He is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
As you know, Democrats could soon be poised to pass their sweeping climate and economic bill. Did they beat Leader McConnell at his own game by announcing this deal only after he worked with Democrats to pass the computer chips bill?
REP. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Well, I think what happened, I think a lot of Republicans feel like they were duped by Joe Manchin. I think they felt that Joe Manchin made a commitment that he wouldn't support a bill that would raise taxes like this. And so I think a lot of people were surprised. I think this bill that they're talking about now ought to be called the war on seniors bill because cutting Medicare by their$280 billion, raising the tax burden on people and raising gas tax on people when gas prices are already up doesn't make any sense to me.
BLITZER: But how will it reflect on Mitch McConnell's leadership if the Democrats do get this big win, and it will be a big win on this bill right before the midterms in November?
SCOTT: Well, I think a lot of Republicans are frustrated that there are so many things that, you know, Democrats and the 50/50 Senate have gotten done. And I think in this case, I think a lot of us were duped by Joe Manchin. I think a lot of people felt like Joe Manchin made a commitment that we wouldn't be doing a reconciliation bill to raise taxes and did all these things, and they are shocked that Joe Manchin is okay with all the green new deal things and actually a gas price increase on oil and gas.
So, I think a lot of people were surprised and a lot of Republicans would have liked to somehow to be able stop this wasteful spending and this out of control federal government.
BLITZER: But let me just get to some of the points you're making. Republican Senator Ron Johnson on Tuesday, a colleague of yours, suggested that social security and Medicare be eliminated as mandatory programs. He wants them to be discretionary spending, as it's called, and you propose in your own Rescue America Plan, and I'm quoting you now that all federal legislation sunsets in five years. Are social security and Medicare on the Republican chopping block right now as Democrats are arguing?
SCOTT: Absolutely not. As you know, Joe Biden, when he was in the Senate, he supported cutting Medicare. I don't support cutting Medicare. I don't support cutting social security. But here's what we got to deal with. I mean, I think people around the country are surprised that everything in the budget we don't look at every year, because right now we know Medicare is going bankrupt in four years, and up here, there's no conversation about how do we make sure people get their Medicare. They know that social security goes bankrupt in 12 years, and up here, there's no conversation about how do we make sure people get their social security benefits.
So, from my standpoint, I think we ought to be talking about these issues and make sure that these are so important programs that we talk about ever year and we make sure people get their Medicare benefits and their social security benefits.
BLITZER: Well, let me read from what you and your own plan what you say about Medicare and social security sun setting in five years, meaning it has to be renewed every five years. I assume that includes when you say all federal legislation must sunset in five years, does that include social security and Medicare, two programs that are so critical to seniors and you have got a lot of seniors in your state of Florida?
SCOTT: Well, Medicare is clearly very important. We have got to make sure we get those benefits, social security. That's how we do our defense budget. We look at it every year. We don't say, oh, we're going to have the exact same program, the exact same way, but we know we would not have a lethal military to defend the freedom of this country.
I also put my plan, and you can go to rescueamerica.com and look at it. I also put in there. It said, I think the Congress ought to be honest with the American public. Medicare is going bankrupt. How are we going to preserve your benefits? Social security is going bankrupt. It is bankrupt.
I mean, you don't get to say, oh, I don't care what my bank account is. If your bank account is zero, you don't get to say, oh, I'm not going to look at it and it will all work out. No. I want to make these things work out. I want to make sure people get their benefits. And I think that's what Ron Johnson is saying. We want to make sure people get their benefits.
What the Democrats are doing up here, and some Republicans, is they are saying, we don't even have those conversations because they're tough conversations. They are but we can fix them.
BLITZER: But, Senator, if you're saying it has to be sunset, Medicare and social security, every five years.
That means it has to be renewed. You're raising the possibility it might not be renewed and a lot of seniors are going to go without Medicare and Social Security. You understand that, right?
SCOTT: Wolf, I've been very clear. I will not do anything to reduce Medicare, Social Security benefits. In contrast, Joe Biden when he was in the Senate proposed cutting Medicare and Social Security. I've never done that, and I never will. I want to preserve these programs.
BLITZER: But you're opening the door -- but you are opening the door to eliminating those programs if you're saying they have to be renewed every five years.
SCOTT: Wolf, they're going bankrupt. Shouldn't we have a conversation? I mean, Wolf, if you don't have money in your bank account, shouldn't you figure out how you solve the problem?
I care about Medicare benefits. I care about Social Security benefits. Not having those conversations is not going to make those programs not go bankrupt. Fixing those programs now so individuals get the benefits they deserve is a way to preserve them.
BLITZER: It's a controversial proposal you're putting forward as we know.
Senator Rick Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
SCOTT: Thanks, Wolf. Have a great day.
BLITZER: You too.
Coming up, federal charges filed against four Louisville police officers in the death of Breonna Taylor.
BLITZER: Tonight, four current and former Louisville police officers are facing federal charges in the death of Breonna Taylor. She was shot multiple times and killed in a botched raid back in 2020. Three of the officers appeared virtually in court today and they pleaded not guilty to charges, including civil rights offenses and obstruction for their rules in preparing and approving a false search warrant affidavit that resulted in Taylor's death. It's not clear when the fourth officer charged will have her initial appearance.
Also tonight, the Biden administration is now escalating its response of the monkeypox outbreak here in the United States by declaring it a national public health emergency.
CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us right now.
So, Elizabeth, what does this declaration mean?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this declaration isn't just words, it actually triggers certain actions. So, let's take a look at some of the things that will happen because of this public health emergency. It will increase funding to be spent on combating monkeypox. It will also increase data to the CDC, which they will essentially have to send more data to the CDC, which will help. It also increases personnel, more people to help combat this virus. If we take a look at the map, a map of the United States, the states
in red, that's where monkeypox cases at their highest. They have gone up 42 percent in one week, now about 6,600 cases -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the short supply of vaccines for monkeypox?
COHEN: That's right. Vaccines are really what we need in order to get this under control. So, let's take a look. The CDC says that we need about 3 million doses for eligible -- for the eligible population. And that population, that eligibility may go up over time, 602,000 have been delivered, 150,000 more are expected next month.
So it's getting there but it's still not anywhere near the 3 million doses that are needed just for the population deemed eligible now. That population, that eligible population might be growing.
BLITZER: So bottom line right now, Elizabeth, what should people know about this?
COHEN: What people need to know that this is mainly an outbreak among men who have sex with men. Someone today said -- asked me, are we going to go into lockdown because of monkeypox? And I said, absolutely not. Monkeypox does not spread like COVID spreads. It doesn't not spread through the air. It is through very close contact. Right now, it is mainly through men who have sex with men.
BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much for that update.
Just ahead, millions of Americans are under heat alert right now. We'll take a closer look at where the temperatures are the highest and the danger is the greatest.
BLITZER: Turning now to an update from Bloomington, Minnesota, where the Mall of America was placed into lockdown this evening while police investigated what they called an active incident. Authorities now confirm that shots were fired and that the suspect fled the scene. Police also say no victims have been located at this time. The lockdown is in the process, they say, of being lifted. The mall will remain closed for the evening.
We're also following extreme heat in large parts of the United States tonight.
CNN's Tom Foreman is working the story for us.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The heat wave that left fatalities and wildfires out West has now crossed the whole country to scorch the East, making millions of Americans swelter along the way and causing dangerously hot conditions in some places.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's shot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, I'm dying. It's not -- I am not used to it at all. It's terrible.
FOREMAN: In New York City, a heat index pushing 100 is threatening weather records going back to World War II. In Philadelphia, 104 was the anticipated heat index. In Washington, D.C., an index of 105 appeared within reach.
And in Kentucky where folks are trying to recover from flooding that left dozens dead --
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR, KENTUCKY: Biggest concern for today and tomorrow is the weather. It is very, very hot.
FOREMAN: The temperature has been so brutal, the Teamster Union cited a delivery man collapsing if Arizona last month to say UPS must provide cooling measures or they are sending drivers out to die in the heat.
The UPS says: The health and safety of our employees is our highest employee. UPS drivers are trained to work outdoors and to manage the effects of hot weather.
But on the back side of the current heat wave, another problem -- more massive storms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My home had about two to three foot of water in it.
FOREMAN: St. Louis was hammered by 60-mile-an-hour wind gusts and up to 3 inches of rain an hour, closing roads, flooding homes.
MYA GRAY, FLOOD VICTIM: I woke up, the water was this high. I almost drowned. We had to get out in boats and everything.
FOREMAN: In Michigan, tens of thousands lost power as trees were blown down.
And those blazes out West --
LEWIS DOUNDA, WASCO COUNTY, OREGON: It's crazy, frickin fire going everywhere, smoke, roads blocked off.
FOREMAN: They are still burning. But now some firefighters fear mudslides triggered by the summer's ever wilder weather.
FOREMAN (on camera): Some places may get some relief in the coming days but don't count on it lasting. In truth, more than two-thirds of the country are expected to hit 90 degrees or above in the coming week -- Wolf.
CNN's Tom Foreman, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.