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The Situation Room

China Missile Fire Near Taiwan Raises Tensions Over Pelosi Trip; Russia: "Ready To Discuss" Prisoner Swap After Griner Sentencing; Ukraine Warns Russia Ramping Up Fight In The South: Urging Ukrainians To Evacuate The East; Sen. Sinema Agrees To Support Dem's Sweeping Economic Bill; Trump-Backed Arizona Gov. Candidate Kari Lake Among Election Deniers Being Featured At CPAC Convention; Three Dead, One Injured In Lightning Strike Across From White House; Jury Awards $45.2 Million In Punitive Damages In Alex Jones Case. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 05, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Also make sure to join me this Saturday 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and Sunday 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on "CNN NEWSROOM".

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a great weekend.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a stunning new jobs report shows hiring here in the United States was hot in July throwing cold water on recession fears but adding to concerns about inflation.

Also tonight, U.S.-China tensions rise even higher after Beijing's missile fire near Taiwan and its new sanctions against the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We're tracking all the fallout from Pelosi's Taiwan trip.

And now that Brittney Griner has been sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison, Moscow says it's ready to discuss a proposed prisoner swap that could lead to the WNBA star's release. I'll discuss that and more with White House official John Kirby. He's standing by Live.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Surprisingly strong new jobs numbers are capping off what has been a big week for the Biden administration. Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, amid fears of a recession, the President tonight has some momentum when it comes to the U.S. economy, at least in the short term. Give us the latest.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about it, Wolf. This latest jobs report, which the President today called outstanding is more evidence for the White House that the U.S. is not in a recession, we saw the unemployment rate ticked down to three and a half percent, more than half a million jobs created last month. All of that painting a picture of a very strong and resilient jobs market that is really defying those predictions of an impending recession.

Now, of course, this strong jobs market doesn't do anything to address Americans chief concern, and that of course, is inflation. And the President and the White House very much aware of that. And we also heard the President talking about Americans who may still feel like they are struggling despite this strong jobs market.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know people will hear today's extraordinary jobs report and say they don't see it, they don't feel it their own lives. I know how hard it is. I know it's hard to feel good about job creation when you already have a job and you're dealing with rising prices, food and gas and so much more.

That's why I'm doing everything in my power to lower the cost for families.


DIAMOND: And, Wolf, the President talking about some of the progress that has already been made on that front pointing, for example, to gas prices, which have been dropping for 52 days straight now by more than 90 cents per gallon.

And the President also, of course, now talking about this new deal that appears to be in the works between Senator Kyrsten Sinema and the Senate Democratic leader. All 50 Senate Democrats now appear to be on board with this proposal, which will invest a lot of money into climate change programs and, which the White House also says will help combat inflation in the long term.

BLITZER: And as a result of all of that, Jeremy, this is clearly shaping up to be potentially one of the most significant weeks of the Biden presidency.

DIAMOND: No doubt about it, Wolf. This White House, you can sense it inside the building, they are feeling like they are on the front foot here. And in big part, that's because of what we've seen over the last week.

It began of course on Monday night when President Biden announced that the United States had killed the leader of Al Qaeda. And it continued throughout the week, on Tuesday you saw this burn pits legislation that will allow veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits to get care, that passed on Tuesday. You also saw in Kansas voters defeating a referendum that would have changed the state's abortion laws. And of course that continued on Wednesday with this breakthrough agreement, it seems, between Senator Sinema, Senator Manchin and the Senate Democratic Caucus. And of course, today we have that very strong jobs report.

And so, certainly this president who has seen his approval rating dip below 40 percent over the last couple of months, certainly hoping that this will put him on the upswing, particularly as we head closer and closer to the midterms in this period when voters are really going to be paying close, close attention to the Democrats and what they're able to get done before those November elections. Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you very much.

We're also following fresh fallout right now from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's controversial trip to Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by China. CNN's Selina Wang reports Beijing is retaliating tonight.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rockets from China launched towards the Taiwan Strait, Chinese fighter jets approach the island. Beijing ramps up its intimidation of Taiwan over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit. China is staging a blockade around the island.

On Thursday, Chinese state media reported missiles flew over Taiwan for the first time before falling into nearby waters. Beijing then announced its suspending cooperation with the U.S. on key issues, including talks between defense leaders and coordination over immigration, international crime, illegal drugs and climate talks.


JUDE BLANCHETTE, FREEMAN CHAIR IN CHINA STUDIES AT CSIS: For as China is lobbing missiles all around Taiwan, they've decided that they're going to cut off communications with the U.S., which just adds to the possibility of a miscommunication by either side.

WANG (voice-over): The U.S. and China are blaming each other.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: China has chosen to overreact and use Speaker Pelosi's visited as a pretext to increase provocative military activity. There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.

HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): U.S. in some of its lackeys jumped out to accuse China of overreacting. If they really worry about regional peace and stability, why didn't they send out earlier to prevent Pelosi from paying the provocative visit to Taiwan?

WANG (voice-over): China flew an unprecedented number of fighter jets across the median line of the Taiwan Strait. PLA pilots said they were excited to get so close to the island.

HOU HONG, PEOPLE'S LIBERATION ARMY AIR FORCE PILOT (through translator): When I overlooked the coastline of the Taiwan Island, my determination to safeguard the territorial integrity of the mother land became more firm.

WANG (voice-over): All of this rage just over a two-day visit. Pelosi's presence in Taiwan, a slap in the face to Beijing, which insists the self-governed island is a rebel Chinese province. Pelosi is out of Taiwan but left a crisis behind her. Many in the region fear that Beijing's retaliation is just getting started. (END VIDEO TAPE)

WANG: And Wolf, China is also sanctioning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her immediate family. They have not provided any details on what that will entail. But this is a highly symbolic move.

And the cutting of dialogue around climate change is a big deal because this was one of the only areas where the U.S. and China were continuing to talk despite the recent tensions. But now, Wolf, even that last bit of hope in communication has been cut.

BLITZER: CNN's Selina Wang in Beijing for us. Selina, thank you very much.

Also new tonight, Russia now indicating it's ready to hold talks over a prisoner swap just a day after American Gold medalist Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years for drug smuggling. President Biden briefly addressed the situation expressing optimism earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us a comment on Brittney Griner, sir?

BIDEN: I'm hopeful. We're working hard.


BLITZER: Our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood is joining us now with the latest.

Kylie, so where does all this go from here? Everyone is watching.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, what we're waiting for is an indication that these talks have actually begun within this framework that President Biden and President Putin agreed to last summer because that is the framework that the Russians have said that they are ready to discuss these matters within. And what's different now than it was back in June when the Biden administration put their initial proposal for a prisoner swap on the table is that one you have the Russian saying they're ready to have these discussions. And two, Brittney Griner's nine year prison sentence has actually come in.

And while the Biden administration has called that prison sentence unacceptable, officials were privately saying that they expected that sentence was needed in order to propel forward these prisoner swap talks. And so that could potentially be a good thing.

BLITZER: The Kremlin, Kylie, is insisting these negotiations remain secret or they'll fail. That's what they say. But they seem to be countering the U.S. strategy of publicly announcing an offer. What are you hearing over there?

ATWOOD: Well, listen, the Biden administration has been very clear in saying that they want Brittney Griner home and talking about the high level situation here that they are working to make sure that that happens. But whether or not they detail, if they put another offer on the table with the Russians is likely to be driven by how well that offer is received. Because you'll recall that Secretary Blinken didn't come out and say that the United States had put a substantial offer on the table until more than a month after that offer had been put on the table because there was some frustration within Biden administration officials that the Russians weren't actively engaging, productively engaging.

So, it is likely that no news here could be good news. But of course, having the Russians on the other side of the table is always unpredictable. Wolf.

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now John Kirby, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications.

John, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to talk about the potential prisoner swap in a moment. So let me start with Taiwan right now. You've been closely monitoring what's going on China's increasingly aggressive military response to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. Just how dangerous is the situation right now?


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The real risk here is miscalculation, miscommunication. You have that much military hardware acting in these aggressive ways close to other military hardware. And you can see a possibility here for somebody to make a mistake and then that could spiral out of control. And then nobody wants to see that.

Right now, looks like they're just doing exercises. They done some missile launchers, but it can be perceived in a provocative way. And it's more aggressive than it needs to be.

BLITZER: So what would a miscalculation look like?

KIRBY: Well, it could be -- I mean, I don't want to speculate, but it could be one pilot misunderstanding the actions of another and then having it, you know, become to blows. It could be on -- in the maritime domain with ships operating in close proximity.

The point is, Wolf, there's no need for this. There's no need even for these exercises. They, as Secretary Blinken said, they're overreacting to Speaker Pelosi's trip, which is not inconsistent with American policy, and it's certainly not inconsistent with congressional travel to Taiwan in the past.

BLITZER: China is apparently now cutting off cooperation with U.S. in a whole range of issues as you know. And then they say that their ambassador totally rejected the U.S. expressions of concern when he was called over to the White House earlier in the day.

Do you think that Pelosi's visit to Taiwan will permanently change the nature of this U.S.-China relationship?

KIRBY: What is potentially going to change changed the nature of the relationship is China and the actions out of Beijing. And as I said earlier this week, it does appear that one outcome they could be trying to achieve here is a new normal, a new status quo than what it was before. And again, as Secretary Blinken said they're using her trip as a pretext to do this.

So I mean, let's be honest about who the provateur (ph) here -- provocateur is here, it's China. It's not the United States.

BLITZER: All right, standby, we have a lot more to discuss. I don't want you to go too far away. We're going to also talk about the U.S. getting tougher and tougher against terrorism now that American troops have left Afghanistan. Standby for that.

Plus, large portions of President Biden's agenda now on the brink of passage as a key Democratic senators signal support. We're tracking the major bill covering taxes, climate, health care and more. Standby.



BLITZER: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both attending a Southeast Asian Summit and speaking out separately about a possible prisoner swap to gain the release of Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. The Russian foreign minister saying the Kremlin is ready to discuss a possible trade.

We're back now with John Kirby, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications.

John, thanks for sticking around.

KIRBY: You bet.

BLITZER: Now that Brittney Griner's trial is over, she sentenced to all these years in a Russian prison, are the chances higher, though, that the Russians may be open to some sort of prisoner swap?

KIRBY: Difficult to know exactly what the Russians are thinking here and how sincere their intentions are as Minister Lavrov said today to actually sit down in good faith and negotiate something. But we're hopeful. We're hopeful that they can now begin to negotiate on the offer that we made and to see if we can't get Brittney and Paul back home.

BLITZER: Because you say you don't want to negotiate in public, but isn't that exactly what's happening right now? The offers are in public.

KIRBY: No. No, they're not at all. None of the details --

BLITZER: Are there details, secret details, we don't know about? KIRBY: We have not put out any of the details in the offer. There's been a lot of press reporting on what people think are in the proposal, but we have not confirmed any of the details of the proposal. All we did, Wolf, was make public the fact that there was a serious offer, that it had been on the table for several weeks. And we did that because of what was happening, you know, certainly in Mrs. Griner's case, but also what wasn't happening at the table. And we felt it was the right thing to do.

Now, look, we get -- Minister Lavrov says he's willing now to move forward. We hope they're sincere about that, because again, it's a good proposal and now to accept it.

BLITZER: Can you assure the family of Paul Whelan, this other American who's held by the Russians right now, that there's no scenario at all in which there would be a trade for Brittney Griner that doesn't include him as well?

KIRBY: We want Paul Whelan and we want Brittney Griner both back, back to their families.

BLITZER: So, every deal, every trade would have to include both of them?

KIRBY: We are working to get them both back together.

BLITZER: But what if the Russians come back and say you can have Brittney Griner but we're keeping Paul Whelan.

KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to negotiate in public. Are going in position has been and will remain both Paul and Brittney.

BLITZER: That's good because we want them both home as quickly as possible.

Trevor Reed, who was freed in a prisoner swap not that long ago, he says that knowing what's what goes on in Russian prisons. He says Russia -- he says Griner may face conditions, in his words, right out of the middle ages, a concrete prison, barely any food, horrible situation. What, if anything, can the U.S. do to at least in the short term, improve her prison conditions?

KIRBY: Well, we've had access to her, embassy staff have had access to her all the way through, in fact, they attended every single day of her trial. And we're going to continue to insist on that kind of access going forward so that we can monitor her conditions.

Look, I mean, I get the argument about the conditions and that's fair, but she shouldn't have gone through this trial. She shouldn't have been arrested. She certainly shouldn't have been convicted and sentenced to this -- to nine years. It's reprehensible. She needs to be home with her family. And President Biden and the whole national security team is focused on making that.

BLITZER: This is a top priority for the Biden administration.

KIRBY: It absolutely is. And for Mr. Whelan as well.

BLITZER: And do the Russians fully understand how important this is?

KIRBY: We have been very, very clear with the Russians about how important this is to our side. And again, all the way up to the President.

BLITZER: Let me get to another issue while I have you, John. As you know, the U.S. successfully eliminated the leader of Al Qaeda, and the U.S., after the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But a Pentagon Task Force, and you used to be at the Pentagon, Pentagon Task Force hasn't been able to identify supposedly a single target due to a lack of intelligence. Is the U.S. up against a much tougher counter terror fight that's going on right now because of the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and no more of U.S. boots on the ground?


KIRBY: We always said, even as we pulled out of Afghanistan, that over the horizon, counterterrorism was possible, but it was going to be a difficult mission. And it certainly made more difficult by not having, quote unquote, "boots on the ground" to act as sources for you. But it's not impossible. And we prove that just this week, just last weekend that you can do effective over the rising counterterrorism capability without boots on the ground.

And by the way, Wolf, I mean, that strike was the outcome of literally months of painstaking meticulous, really, really superlative intelligence work. So it is possible. And we're going to continue to improve it going forward. And we have over the last year. We haven't been sitting idly by, we've been working on making that capability more robust.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, quickly on Ukraine right now. Ukraine is warning that Russia is stepping up its assault in the southern part of Ukraine right now. It's urging Ukrainians -- the Ukrainian government urging Ukrainians to evacuate from the east right now. Does Russia seem to have the upper hand in this war?

KIRBY: I don't think I'd go that far. The fighting in the east and the south is very active, there's no doubt about that. But on both sides, and particularly on the Russian side, you're seeing smaller units achieving smaller games here and there, and the Ukrainians are pushing right back. It's a very active Battlefront. But I don't think anybody's willing to go so far as to say that the Russians have the upper hand.

Now look, they've got more numbers. Clearly, they have shorter supply lines now because they're closer to the border there with Russia. And they are trying to use more missile launchers to gain leverage. But the Ukrainians are getting arms and ammunition from the west, from the United States every single day. Those systems like the HMARS are having a really good capability on the battlefield, they're making -- helping make -- helping the Ukrainians make games. And so we're going to continue that focus. BLITZER: John Kirby, thanks for coming over to our Situation Room. You can head over to the White House Situation Room when you leave here. Thanks very much for joining us.

KIRBY: You bet, Wolf. Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, will the Democrats finally past President Biden's economic and climate bill? I'll ask the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Senator Dick Durbin. He's standing by live. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Major parts of President Biden's agenda are on the verge right now with advancing with Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema indicating her support providing the critical 50th Vote for passage in the evenly divided U.S, Senate.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is working on all of this for us right now amount.

Manu, the first Senate vote on this major bill covering taxes, climate, health care and more is expected tomorrow. Give us an update.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, after more than a year of wrangling within the Democratic Party, Democratic leaders now have all 50 members of their Senate Democratic Caucus in line and they expect that they can get this bill through if they maintain that unity. This coming after intensive negotiations over the last several days with the last remaining holdout Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona who had raised concerns about some of the key tax provisions in this bill, including a 15 percent corporate minimum tax that was part of this proposal as well as a proposal to tax hedge fund managers as well as private equity known as the so called carried interest loophole.

Sinema succeeded in nixing the carried interest loophole. She also changed language dealing with how companies can deduct depreciated assets, as part of their annual deductions. That was something that was part of the 2017 GOP tax law. After hearing concerns from manufacturers and business groups, she succeeded in narrowing that provisions.

Democrats instead added a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks help pay for this proposal, which deals with extending the Affordable Care Act subsidies for three years, giving Medicare the power to negotiate, drug prices for the first time, as well as investing hundreds of billions of dollars and climate change and energy provisions and to try to maintain to achieve a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent within the next decade.

But Wolf, there is still a hurdle remaining. It's a Senate parliamentarian who has to decide whether or not these provisions meet the strict standards within the Senate to ensure that it can pass along straight party lines through the budget process and avoid a Republican filibuster. That part critical because if they does pass muster with the parliamentarian, they can -- they maintain their unity, they can have enough support within their caucus to push this bill through.

BLITZER: So based, Manu, on everything you're seeing and hearing up there on Capitol Hill, will this bill make it over the finish line this weekend?

RAJU: That is the goal with Senate Democratic leaders. And at the moment, they appear on track for that. But the bill first has to move through a gauntlet.

Republicans are planning a marathon series of amendments through what's known as the vote-a-rama in the Senate, meaning any senator can offer any amendment he or she wants for as long as they want. And when the vote-a-rama begins, which could happen start tomorrow afternoon or it could go start potentially Sunday, the exact timing of that is unclear. But once they get through that process, then Democrats succeed in fending off those amendments that they view as poison pills. If they maintain unity within the caucus, they can get the bill through by the end of the weekend. And if they do just that, Wolf, the goal of the house is for to come back by the -- by next Friday and give it final approval on Senator Joe Biden's desk at that time.


BLITZER: And he will be thrilled to sign it into law. All right, Manu, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, the Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Senator, thank you so much for joining us. At this point, can you say with certainty that by the time we all wake up Monday morning, this sweeping economic package will have passed the Senate?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Wolf, I'm a member of the United States Senate, I would never make that kind of prediction. You never know what's next. But I'll tell you, a lot of hard work has gone into this. I want to congratulate Senator Schumer and all the members of the caucus who have really rolled up their sleeves and made this a possibility, a very real possibility.

We're waiting for the last final word from the parliamentarian to make sure the reconciliation package meets the requirements of the rules. But let me tell you, the package itself is something that Republicans have campaigned on themselves in the past. This idea of reducing the cost of prescription drugs, I'll bet you there isn't a Republican senator. And I would add in that group, former President Trump who hasn't promised to do this.

We're going to do it, we're going to finally do it, helping seniors and others finally wrestle with the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs and health care premiums under the Affordable Care Act. That's a big help for families that are struggling to make ends meet.

BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders when pressed on how he was going to vote on this legislation would only tell the Washington Post, and I'm quoting him now, he said, we're going to have to see. You're the Majority Whip, has Bernie Sanders confirmed his yes vote to you?

DURBIN: Not to me, personally. I haven't asked him. And I will tell you, I'm virtually certain that Bernie would say, some things in this bill are good. I wish we had done more. That's been his physician from the beginning. I respect him very much. But I hope he'll join us. And I think he will, ultimately, in making sure that every Democrat supports this amazing package.

And just remember, there's $300 billion in deficit reduction in this package on top of everything else. We're going after the root causes of inflation. And I think that's going to help the overall economy.

BLITZER: One of the concessions to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, as you well know, was the inclusion of what's called the carried interest tax loophole, which benefits certain wealthy Americans. You've called that loophole. And I'm quoting you now, a travesty. Are you comfortable, Senator, of passing a bill that has a provision in it that you've called a travesty?

DURBIN: I think I would amend that. And that's a travesty, but certainly a scam. This notion that people are getting a tax break, the treatment of income as capital gains, simply because they're watching other people invest their money is just upside down and makes no sense. But let me tell you, we put a provision in there to replace it, which goes after another egregious outrage in the tax code. And that's this notion of stock buybacks.

A lot of the wealthiest people in the world make themselves wealthier with the stock buybacks. We've attached an excise tax to that which will raise even more money for deficit reduction than the original carried interest.

BLITZER: Let me turn while I have you, Senator, to the January 6 investigation. You're calling for the U.S. Defense Department's Inspector General to investigate missing text messages around January 6. How concerned are you that these missing records will prevent investigators from piecing together exactly what happened on or before that day?

DURBIN: Well, you're a student of history so you'll know what I say, what I refer to this as shades of rosemary woods, vanishing information in the midst of a critical historic investigation by the January 6 committee. First, the Republicans didn't want a bipartisan commission to look at it. Secondly, the President's done everything he can to resist any cooperation or any disclosures. He's even called some of the witnesses before the January 6 committee personally.

We know that many of them have taken the Fifth Amendment. And naturally, I'm concerned that America should be concerned when critical evidence just disappeared from the Secret Service, from the Department of Homeland Security, and from the Department of Defense. The man who was in charge of keeping an eye on, that the inspector general, I think should be replaced. We need to have someone in there who's credible and can answer the bottom-line question with a key evidence was willfully destroyed in this process.

BLITZER: And on that issue, I know you've asked the U.S. Attorney General to take over the investigation into these missing texts from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service. Have you received a response yet from the Justice Department?

DURBIN: No, I have not. And we're also exploring the Department of Defense side of it, which is a similar situation. But the statute is clear, if the inspector general in this case, Mr. Cuffari (ph) has not really done his job as he's supposed to, to protect evidence, I think it's important that somebody stepped in that we can trust.

BLITZER: Senator Dick Durbin, thanks so much for joining us.

DURBIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, when he breathes, he lies. That's what a lawyer for two Sandy Hook parents said about Alex Jones today. We're tracking the latest developments from the court where jurors could announce a second verdict at any moment.



BLITZER: In Dallas, today was the second day of the annual conservative political conference known as CPAC. Several election deniers who won their primary races taking a victory lap over at the convention, including Kari Lake. The CNN projected last night will win the Arizona Republican primary for governor.

CNN National Correspondent Kyung Lah is on the scene for us. She's joining us from Dallas right now. Kyung, you're there, tell our viewers what you're seeing and hearing.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in addition to Kari Lake, Wolf, we just heard from JD Vance, he is a Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Ohio.


Tomorrow, we are anticipating that we'll hear from Tudor Dixon. She is the Republican nominee for governor in the state of Michigan who won that position this week and Tuesday's primary. And the projected winner, of course, the Arizona Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Kari Lake. She has been the big star of the day, getting a standing ovation chance of Kari, Kari from this crowd. She is the firebrand who has been endorsed by Donald Trump.

And in the state of Arizona and her campaign for governor really, truly made the centerpiece of her campaign election lies, really buying in to the lie that Donald Trump won in 2020. Factcheck, he did not. But the fact that she is the projected winner in Arizona, here she is the hero because of how she won, because it was based on those election lies. As we walked the crowd, they say that she is the future, how she ran for this Republican Party. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: Do you think talking about 2020 and following Donald Trump's lead is the way for Republicans to win this year in November?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I still think it's the same. We just got to shut down the illegal voting. I think that was the big part that shut it down. Donald Trump had the following.


LAH: And you hear the hearsay, Donald Trump had the following. He is the big star, the big final speaker for CPAC tomorrow evening. And the person who is going to introduce him according to what she has tweeted, Wolf, is Kari Lake herself. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Kyung Lah in the scene for us, thank you very much.

And this just into CNN, a third person has now died following a deadly lightning strike right here in the nation's capital, part of extreme weather across the United States. CNN's Tom Foreman has the latest on the fires, the flooding and the dangerous heat threatening millions and millions of Americans.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a flash, the summers wild weather struck again, lightning hitting just across from the White House critically injuring four people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like a huge bump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm not exaggerating, it came this close to us. And we were going, whoa.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Three of those who fell have now died, including Donna and James Mueller, grandparents from Wisconsin, celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary. The White House mourn their loss and noted, "We are praying for those still fighting for their lives."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa. Look at that?



FOREMAN (voice-over): Coast to coast and many places in between, the weather keeps raging, causing floods in some places, wildfires and others and soaring temperatures for tens of millions.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Look at the central portions of the country, triple digit heat for Oklahoma City, San Angelo as well as the Greater Dallas Fort Worth region. Temperatures table top 104 degrees there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a pretty intense lightning storm. I just happen to take a peek outside after the rain stopped. Notice the water had gotten up to the bottom of the step.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The heat has not spared even some places where floods have roared and threats and more rain hanging over much of the Midwest, including Kentucky, where thousands lost their homes to high water and dozens have perished.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: So everybody be weather aware, the ground is already really saturated.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Amid all that, an updated prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University. Despite a slow start, this Atlantic hurricane season will likely produce an above average number of storms.


FOREMAN: Authorities over at FEMA say so far, they are pleased with how they've been able to respond to all these disasters. But they say, if this pace keeps up, it could become a bit of a challenge. And with climate change, they fear more and more could be coming. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Tom Foreman reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll have an update on deliberations in the Alex Jones trial, as jurors are now deciding if the conspiracy theorists should pay additional damages to Sandy Hook parents for his lies about the school shooting.



BLITZER: Another verdict has just, just been reached over the Texas trial of Alex Jones jurors, tasked with deciding how much Jones should pay in what are called punitive damages to the parents of a six-year- old who was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. Yesterday, a jury awarded the parents, other parents more than $4 million in what are called compensatory damages.

Our National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is joining us right now. So Miguel, just moments ago, the judge announced the verdict, give us the latest.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: $45.2 million on three different questions that jurors were asked to consider was $4.2 million for one and then $20.5 million for the other two questions. Lawyers on both sides arguing today that, you know, they brought in a forensic economist, lawyers for the plaintiffs. That's the parents of Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who was killed almost 10 years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary.

He was one of 26 people killed there. 20 of them children, all of them under seven. The main thrust of this case is that Mr. Jones through his InfoWars and various companies lied about Sandy Hook, lied, saying that it never happened, saying that the Parents were crisis actors and that kids like Jesse Lewis didn't even exist.


Yesterday, the jury awarded $4.1 million in compensation. Today, this is punitive. So this is the punishment is what the jury is saying of $45.2 million for Mr. Jones. Now, there's a lot of questions, though, because they have that forensic economist up, they went up through all of his various companies trying to understand how much money he actually had.

That economist thought his companies were worth anywhere between $135,000 and $270 million. But it is not clear that all of that money is there. He has nine different companies that he runs money through. And in 2021, he started moving money out of those companies, as there were similar liability lawsuits that he lost regarding Sandy Hook in Connecticut, also in Texas.

So it's -- the other thing that's complicating all of this is that the state of Texas has a cap of state law, that caps some of these punitive damages. So it is not clear, it's going to be a wall, I think, before the courts, and all sides sort this out how much actually will go to the parents of Jesse Lewis. But right now, a very big number of 45.2 million in punitive damages today, followed with 4.1 million in compensation from yesterday. So about $50 million altogether. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. Let me get some legal reaction right now. Miguel, stand by. Dave Aronberg is joining us. He's the attorney for Palm Beach County, the state attorney there. What's your reaction, 45.2 million in so-called punitive damages awarded today for a little bit more than 4 million awarded yesterday. What's your reaction?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Wolf, I think this is a victory for the plaintiffs, because after yesterday's verdict, just 4.1 million, a lot of us were hoping that the real hammer would come down today, and it did. And so, this hammer will have to be reduced, perhaps by the statutory cap, but it does get the plaintiffs closer to the $150 million that they sought.

And keep in mind, this is so much bigger than the amount that was offered by Jones's lawyers, he offered $8. And so, this is a victory no matter how you look at it. And keep in mind also, this is just the first of three trials where juries will get to decide how much Jones owes for his actions.

And lastly, I know Jones is going to spin this as a victory and his audience at InfoWars, they don't care about the truth, but we know better.

BLITZER: But Dave, how could Jones possibly spin this as a victory? $45.2 million is going to have to pay out in the punitive damages just announced only a few moments ago, 4.1 million yesterday, how can we possibly spin this as a victory? ARONBERG: All he does is lie. And liars are going to lie. So he's going to spin and spin. And in the end, he will probably say that, look, the statutory cap will reduce it. And it's -- maybe it's just a small part of what he has. And if he doesn't have it, he won't have to pay it because he's declared bankruptcy all over the place. So he's got a lot of different avenues to spin this.

But in the end, it's going to hurt and it's only the first of three. There's more to come like this. But you can always count on a guy like Alex Jones to try to spin his way out of a problem. But in reality, he's going to be in a lot of red tape from now on.

BLITZER: Let me get some more reaction, legal reaction. Areva Martin is joining us right now as well. What's your reaction, Areva, when you heard about these -- the damages, the punitive damages just awarded a few moments ago ,$45.2 million in addition to the $4.1 million yesterday?

AREVA MARTIN, ATTORNEY & LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: I mean, they, Wolf, these families, these parents deserve this and more. The kind of conduct that Alex Jones engaged in is reprehensible. Punitive damages are designed to punish and to deter that kind of conduct. We know that this is just the beginning. This is approximately $50 million for this set of parents. But we know there multiple other lawsuits where default judgments have already been determined, and that they will move into the damages stages.

So this is just the beginning. There could be tens of millions of dollars in judgments against Alex Jones for his conduct related to the lies that he spread about the Sandy Hook shooting. So this is a tremendous victory for plaintiffs, for these plaintiffs, and for all the plaintiffs that have filed lawsuits based on his lies.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, good point, indeed. All right, we're going to get more reaction. Everyone stand by. Miguel Marquez, yes, give us a sense of what's happening in the courtroom right now?

MARQUEZ: The jury has been released and thanks for their work. The lawyers are now going back and forth. Lawyers for Mr. Jones have already raised that the $45.2 million is outside the scope of the cap in Texas. So there's likely to be some discussion there or a fight there.


The judge, at this point, isn't able to rule on that particular issue. And it sounds like the plaintiffs' lawyers, the parents of Jesse Lewis, the six-year-old, who was murdered there, that they are also filing something right now as well. I think a lot of the concern is not only this cap in Texas, but also what Mr. Jones will do with his money now.

In 2021, when this forensic economist said that Mr. Jones made about $62 million, he also took out of his companies about $62 million wrote debt to himself that he's now paying himself off. So it's very, very complicated. It's not very clear when these parents would see any money. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, hope they see a lot of money. Thanks very much for that. Miguel Marquez reporting for us.

Coming up, the White House now touting a surprising new jobs report here in the United States coming at the end of a very big week for the Biden administration. We'll take a closer look at what the weekend may hold for the President's major economic bill.