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King Charles And Siblings Hold Vigil At Queen's Coffin In Scotland; Ukraine Makes Stunning Gains, Sends Russian Forces Into Retreat; DOJ Subpoenas 30+ People In Trump's Orbit In January 6 Probe. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 12, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, another step in Queen Elizabeth's final journey, her coffin now resting at a cathedral in Scotland after a solemn, silent vigil held by her children, led by King Charles. CNN is live in the U.K. covering this very emotional week of mourning and transition.
Also tonight, Ukraine raises its flag over territory it has reclaimed. Kyiv's forces making stunning new gains in the northeast as Russia's defenses crumble, and its troops flee in retreat. I'll ask key White House Official John Kirby if this is a major turning point in the war.
And gas prices are down 25 percent from their all-time high, raising Americans' hopes that inflation is easing. But will progress be derailed by a possible railroad strike here in the United States this week?
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin this hour with the U.K. and the world saying farewell to Queen Elizabeth II. The royal rituals we saw today certainly put the spotlight on Scotland and on the queen's children, including her heir, the new king, Charles III.
Here is CNN Royal Correspondent Max Foster.
MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The new king processing behind his mother's coffin, in lockstep with his siblings along Edinburgh's cobbled royal mile, the silence only broken by royal salutes and gunfire, one a minute from the city's iconic castle.
Inside St. Giles', members of the royal family and household, as well as Scottish politicians and representatives of the military and Scottish civil society paid tribute and remembered the queen's love of Scotland.
REV. CALUM I. MACLEOD, ST. GILES' CATHEDRAL: And so we gather to bid Scotland's farewell to our late monarch whose life of service to the nation and the world we celebrate and whose love for Scotland was legendary.
FOSTER: The late monarch's casket draped with the royal standard of Scotland and the nation's crown that she received here in 1953, a sendoff full of Scottish symbolism and her son taking his first steps as Scotland's king.
Just shortly after, Charles III meeting Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of arguably the most rebellious of his nations. Sturgeon wants to eventually secure another referendum on Scottish independence, challenging the unity of the kingdom. But in her address to the king at the Scottish parliament, she pledged her loyalty.
NICOLA STURGEON, FIRST MINISTER OF SCOTLAND: Your majesty, we stand ready to support you as you continue your own life of service and as you build on the extraordinary legacy of your beloved mother, our queen, Queen Elizabeth, queen of Scots.
FOSTER: The encounter with the Scottish leader came after an event at Westminster where the king and queen consort received letters of condolence from both houses of parliament. There, Charles III reiterated his loyalty to Britain's democratic values.
KING CHARLES III: Her late majesty pledged herself to serve her country and her people, and to maintain the precious principles of constitutional government which lie at the heart of our nation. This vow she kept with unsurpassed devotion. She set an example of selfless duty which with God's help and your council's, I am resolved faithfully to follow.
FOSTER: Monday was Scotland's day to express their condolences. On Tuesday, the king heads to Northern Ireland, and he visits Wales on Friday, a unifying bid before a final farewell to the late queen at the state funeral on Monday.
FOSTER (on camera): The casket will be flown here to London tomorrow night, Wolf.
It will rest in Buckingham Palace overnight so the staff there can pay their respects. Then there will be a full ceremonial procession on Wednesday to Westminster Hall where the queen will lie in state for several days. There are currently one-mile-long queues in Edinburgh to see the casket. I can only imagine how long the queue is going to be here in London. The government is already warning people to be very well prepared, waits of up to 24 hours overnight. There is a huge amount of anticipation, really, not just for the procession, but also the lying in state. I think one of the defining moments of this period of mourn will be the very long queues we see in London.
BLITZER: Max Foster outside Buckingham Palace in London for us, Max, thank you very much.
Joining us now, the queen's former communications secretary, Simon Lewis, along with CNN Anchor Richard Quest and CNN Correspondent Zain Asher.
Richard, I want to begin with this really striking moment from today, King Charles and his siblings standing vigil at their mother's coffin. How significant was it to see the four of them sharing their private grief so publicly?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR: It was enormously significant, Wolf, because in one moment, you saw the juxtaposition that the king is in, his beloved mother, they were all close to their mother in their own individual different ways. But Charles, of course, also bore the heavy burden of being heir to the throne. And so he had a special relationship. And you could see it in the sadness in his face.
But Charles has also had a day of pendulum swings between greeting crowds who were to some extent celebrating his ascension to the throne whilst mourning at the same time the loss of the queen. And that is the contradiction of emotions that has been seen here in Edinburgh that will continue throughout the United Kingdom, all the way down to the funeral on next Wednesday. It is a process, Wolf, but as of today, it has begun.
BLITZER: Yes, it is. Simon Lewis, as someone who worked for the queen, I wonder what went through your mind as you watched her four children surround her coffin today.
SIMON LEWIS, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS SECRETARY TO THE QUEEN: Wolf, I think it's been another extraordinary day. I mean, it would have been difficult, I think, to predict the turnout in Edinburgh, the huge crowds, the feeling of loss in Scotland. I mean, some people probably might think this is a great gift to the union, the fact that the queen's death has created this sense in Scotland of affection towards the queen.
I thought the way that the king conducted himself and that long, tough, tough walk up the royal mile -- anyone who has done the royal mile, that's a tough walk, and particularly in uniform. And then, yes, there was something enormously poignant about the four of them standing there, and extraordinarily people filing past within a few meters.
So, I have to say, I mean, another extraordinary day, and another day where I think we saw yet again what our new king is made of. BLITZER: Very emotional day indeed.
Zain, as the queen lies at rest in Scotland tonight, what can you tell us about her special relationship with that country?
ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think the fact that the queen chose to spend her final days in Scotland at Balmoral says it all. I mean, that tells you everything you need to know about that special relationship. Balmoral wasn't just a sort of summer retreat, it was her spiritual home. It was the one place where she felt she could truly be herself, truly be off-duty.
I love some of the funny anecdotes that I've heard from former prime ministers talking about visiting the queen at Balmoral, and watching her, just like everybody else, roll up her sleeves, do the dish, clear the table, set the table, that sort of thing. It's the one place where she truly felt that she could be herself.
Max Foster touched an important point in that piece there. He talked about this idea that, yes, of course, today is not about politics, but we cannot ignore the political backdrop against which all of this is happening. You've got Nicola Sturgeon not just calling for independence, not just calling for another referendum, but calling for one quite quickly, as early as next year. She wants to it happen in October 2023. So, I think that the king does have his work cut out for him in keeping this United Kingdom as united as possible.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Richard. We saw hundreds and hundreds of mourners line the streets in Scotland today. Is this just a small preview of what we should be expecting leading up to the queen's state funeral in London one week from today?
QUEST: Simple answer, yes. The numbers are going to be that much greater. The funeral is next Monday, not Wednesday. I misspoke. So, it's a week from today. The laying in state starts on Wednesday. And I think what you're going to see from Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday onwards, after the procession, you're going see vast numbers.
The fear of the metropolitan police is that London will literally fill up and so public transport will be difficult. You remember, Wolf, we covered the funeral of the queen mother when there were 200,000 people who came to pay their respects. In 24 hours, they believe about 60,000 to 80,000 here in Scotland. I think we are talking of a magnitude the like of which we've not seen before.
BLITZER: I suspect you are right, Richard Quest. Thank you very much. Simon Lewis, Zain Asher, guys, thank you.
Still ahead, we'll have much more on the lead-up to Queen Elizabeth's funeral one week from today, next Monday, as the Bidens finalize their plans to attend the service. The British ambassador to the United States is standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President Biden has formally accepted an invitation to attend Queen Elizabeth's funeral along with the first lady, Jill Biden.
Let's discuss funeral plans and what's ahead for the United Kingdom. We're joined now by the British ambassador the United States named Karen Pierce. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
KAREN PIERCE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Tell us what it's been like as you reflect on this enormous outpouring of respect, the condolences for the queen?
PIERCE: I think at one level, it's very humbling. It's very inspiring to see the warmth that so many people had for her around the world, especially here in America. We've had ordinary Americans coming to the embassy, leaving flowers, writing in the condolence book. The president came. The vice president came. Secretary Blinken came. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs came and more of the cabinet are very kindly coming in the coming days. It's fantastic testimony, I think, to the depth of this special relationship.
But there is one thing I would like to mention, if I may. The flags on Pennsylvania are flying after half-mast.
BLITZER: Pennsylvania Avenue.
PIERCE: Pennsylvania Avenue here in D.C., flying half-mast, and they're the British flags. And I recall that the queen, for the 20th anniversary of 9/11, so last year, and for the 10th, flew the American flag at half-mast. And I think that's a very nice symbolic gesture about the relationship.
BLITZER: So, how meaningful will it be to have the president of the United States, the first lady of the United States, and other leaders from around the world come to London for the funeral?
PIERCE: I think it's an extraordinary moment. It's history in real- time, and people who see it I think will not easily forget. I think I'm right in saying it's the first monarch's funeral that is setting precedent has been to. So, we're very well aware that that's an enormous honor. There will be other world leaders there alongside the president. It will just be a momentous occasion in so many ways.
BLITZER: You have actually spoken with the queen over the years several times. And you say she was very knowledgeable about all things America, in the United States right now. So, what was it like to hear her reflections on the United States?
PIERCE: One is always conscious when you talk to the queen that she goes back a long way, and she can talk about President Eisenhower right up to President Biden. So, you get that sense of history coming out of her.
She also had the most amazing memory, and could remember the smallest details, and she would talk about having met the presidents, talk, say about going riding with President Reagan. Her recall is fantastic. But it's not just the people she's met.
She has a real interest in American history and politics, asks really good questions. She read the embassy's cables. I believe she studied American history as a child. The master who taught her English constitutional history so she could so she could prepare to be queen was actually a specialist in American history and he passed that on to her.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little about King Charles now. This is a moment where -- and I know you have spoken with him as well over the years. You've said that there are aspects of the monarchy he would like to modernize. What exactly do you mean by that?
PIERCE: Well, I think that's the thing he will be setting out as he goes around the United Kingdom now to the full constituent nations and in the speeches he gives after the state funeral, after royal mourning is finished. So, I obviously don't want to put words in his mouth but he has talked about the amount of money that the monarchy costs. He's talked about how he wants to get out and about even more. He's talked about bringing everybody in the United Kingdom together, and, of course, he remains head of the commonwealth. So, I think all those themes we'll see coming out over the next 12 months.
BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks so much for coming in. And, once again, our deepest, deepest condolences to all the people in the U.K.
PIERCE: That's very kind. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
Coming up, we'll have more from Scotland, where Queen Elizabeth's coffin is lying in rest.
Plus, Ukraine takes back territory under Russian control in a truly stunning new offensive. What their major gains means for the war, that's next.
BLITZER: We'll have much more ahead on the royal tributes of Queen Elizabeth in Scotland and beyond.
But, first, another major story we're following right now, Ukrainian forces making stunning new gains in the northeast, sending Russians into retreat. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy now says his troops have liberated more than 2,300 square miles of territory in less than two weeks.
CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is joining us live from Kharkiv right now. Sam, I know you had a chance to visit one of those liberated areas. How significant are these Ukrainian gains? And what are the people there telling you?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're massive gains. They're quite extraordinary level of land has been recaptured. You said in the intro there in a couple weeks, it's actually been most of this in a space of less than a week. It's been absolutely stunning advance, capturing, as you say, more than 2,300 square miles of territory.
On the ground, we spoke to military sources who told us that the whole of Kharkiv Oblast, I'm currently speaking to you from Kharkiv itself, the whole province has now been liberated from the Russians, and that includes the city of Izium, they say, all except for one small village. But, importantly, they've also crossed into and are pressing down on the Russian forces further the east.
But this is the reaction of people when they were liberated in the town of Balakliya, which we visited earlier on today. The Russians locked people in basements, held them there against their will and beat them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Russians locked people in basements, held them there against their will and beat them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no light, no water, no gas, and the windows are broken.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have no windows. We have no roofs. We surviving how we can, because it was two weeks without electricity and water, and we got gas only last night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KILEY: Now, Wolf, we passed dozens of destroyed Russian equipment, but more importantly, huge amounts of ammunition, of other armor that have been captured, and, of course, the older people there trapped in the town were very grateful for some humanitarian support that they were getting immediately from their government, handing out food and other basic essentials for people who lived under Russian occupation for six months.
But this has been a very dramatic move coming on top of the offensive in the south, in Kherson, which is going not as rapidly, but still with the Ukrainians on the front foot. And it's going to be very interesting over the next few days and weeks as to whether or not the Russians actually suffer a complete collapse of command and control and can be rolled right back. I suspect they will use the Donetsk River as a defensive line, try and regroup, which is why they have been shelling cities like Kharkiv already.
BLITZER: Very dramatic developments indeed, very significant. Sam Kiley, be careful over there. Thank you very, very much.
Joining us now from the White House, John Kirby, National Security Council's Coordinator for Strategic Communications. John, thank you very much for joining us.
Does this advance by the Ukrainians represent a major turning point in the war?
JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I don't know that we can say that definitively today, Wolf. I mean, clearly, these reports coming out of Kharkiv Oblast are impressive at the speed and the scale with which the Ukrainian Armed Forces seem to be pushing back the Russians. I'll let them characterize what this means for them and for their war effort. But, obviously, these are impressive military reports, to be sure. And what we're going do is continue to make sure we're providing them the tools and capabilities they need to continue to succeed.
BLITZER: That would be more military equipment.
President Zelenskyy, as you know, says Ukraine has now retaken more than 2,300 square miles from the Russians in less than two weeks. Does that line up with the U.S. assessment of these impressive gains?
KIRBY: Well, we're not going to specific tactical operations by the Ukrainians. I mean, clearly, we have seen them go on the offensive in the last couple of weeks and actually regain quite a bit of territory. Again, I think I'll stay out of quantifying it to too much detail but they are actually taking territory back, certainly, over the last two weeks during these counteroffensive operations both in the north and in the south.
But Wolf, I think it's also important to remember that almost from the very beginning of this war, six months ago, the Ukrainians were constantly also not just going on the defense but going on the offense and reclaiming towns and villages and territories that the Russians had taken in the early weeks of the war. They have not been afraid to take the fight directly to the Russians. And they're able to do that more and more from all the support they're getting from the west to include these advanced rocket systems that are having a very, very good effect on hitting behind Russian lines.
BLITZER: Which are so, so important.
One Ukrainian told CNN, John, he said that he saw Russian troops, quote, running away. Just how dire is the state of the Russian troops right now, particularly based on everything you know, their morale?
KIRBY: We're still sort of analyzing the reports coming off the battlefield right now. So, we want to be careful that we don't overcharacterize it. Clearly, these offensive operations by the Ukrainians have had an effect on the Russians, have forced them to pushback, certainly have forced them to give up territory and move away and retreat from where the Ukrainians had been advancing.
But, again, Wolf, I'd go back to conversations you and I were having months ago, even in the early days and weeks of this war, Russian soldiers did not have the unit cohesion, they didn't have the good leadership, they didn't have the morale, they were running away from the fight even in the first couple of weeks in and around Kyiv, simply giving up positions, throwing their arms up and surrendering, running into the woods and being captured by Ukrainian farmers. This is not an army that is behaving in the way that so many people thought it would because of poor logistics and sustainment, poor leadership, poor command and control.
BLITZER: Some criticism over these Russian losses is already seeping on to Russian T.V. The Chechen leader has admitted mistakes were made, and officials from 18 Russian districts are now calling for Putin's resignation. How significant, John, is that?
KIRBY: It could be potentially very significant, Wolf. Again, we've got to watch and see how this goes. War is unpredictable and the momentum has, in the last six months, shifted back and forth in various areas over time. So, I think we all need to be measured and careful, but, certainly, these offensive operations are not insignificant.
They are having a dramatic effect on Russian command and control, particularly in the east. And there could be blowback for Mr. Putin. I mean, he can only -- he has been trying to hide the reality of this war from the Russian people now since the very beginning. And, clearly, what you're seeing in the reports you're citing, clearly, he is having more and more difficulty hiding the size and scale and scope of his failures inside Ukraine from the Russian people.
BLITZER: These are really powerful, dramatic developments indeed.
More than 200 days into this war, John, what is the U.S. assessment of whether Ukraine will ultimately be able to force Russian troops back to the borders as they existed before Russia's February invasion?
KIRBY: What we can tell you, Wolf, is that they're fighting bravely and skillfully and certainly with effect, particularly over just the last few days. And what we're going to do is make sure that they continue to succeed on the battlefield, that they have the tools and capabilities to do that.
War, as I said, is unpredictable, and I think we need to be careful being too predictive now. But what we're going to do, as the president made clear, we're going to support them for as long as it takes to make sure they can succeed on the battlefield, as they have been succeeding in recent days.
BLITZER: John Kirby, thank you very, very much.
KIRBY: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Just ahead, as the queen's children come together in mourning, we'll pull back the curtain on their very different relationships with their mother. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: As the royal family mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth, we're getting rare new glimpses of her four adult children together, including Britain's new king, Charles III.
CNN's Isa Soares is taking a closer look at the queen's relationship with Charles and his siblings.
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Queen Elizabeth was already mother to a young Prince Charles and Princess Anne when she unexpectedly ascended to the throne at just 25 years old. That call of extraordinary duty and the need to prove she could handle the job under the watchful eyes of the world forced her to suddenly be far less hands-on as a parent.
KATE WILLIAMS, CNN ROYAL HISTORIAN: So, it was difficult for her to balance both of those parts of her life.
SOARES: For Charles then, heir to the throne, it was a childhood remembered as difficult.
WILLIAMS: Certainly, Charles suggested in authorized biographies that he felt excluded, ignored, that he wasn't very sympathized with, that the queen mother was a particular friend to him, but his parents were not particularly sympathetic to him.
SOARES: Charles' relationship with his mother particularly strained after his tumultuous marriage to Princess Diana exploded in public view. In later years, Charles and his parents seemed to repair that rift and grew closer. Charles giving an emotional tribute to his mother shortly after her death.
KING CHARLES III: My beloved mother was an inspiration and example to me and to all my family.
SOARES: Over the years, there was also much public speculation that Andrew was the queen's favorite child, something the queen never dignified with a response.
WILLIAMS: And I think it's something that just said to make an excuse for why he is such a self-indulgent and selfish person.
SOARES: Andrew did, however, a cause great consternation during his mother's reign, with his turbulent relationship with his now ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson. But the most scandalous, his association with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and allegations that relationship led Andrew to engage in sex acts with an underaged girl, allegations Andrew has repeatedly denied, but forced the queen to have to strip him of his military title and remove him from royal duties.
In her later years, one of her closest relationships appeared to be with her youngest son, Edward and his wife.
WILLIAMS: She became particularly fond of Edward and Sophie. And when she was in her bubble, her COVID bubble around the death of Prince Philip, she was with Edward and Sophie.
SOARES: And being the queen's only daughter also enjoyed a particularly close relationship with her mother, both lovers of the outdoors, dogs, horses, and royal engagements. Princess Anne even making a rare point during jubilee's celebrations to defend her mother against allegations that she was cold and unfeeling, saying, I simply don't believe there was any evidence whatsoever to suggest she was uncaring. It just beggars belief, noting that close bond, Princess Anne, the one to escort her mother's coffin from Balmoral to Edinburgh, and paying her respects with a solitary courtesy.
Over her 70-year reign, the queen took great pains to juggle the duties of country and family, never swaying from the commitment to her children. Oscar-winning actor Kate Winslet perhaps summing it best with this anecdote from when she accepted the CBE from the queen herself.
KATE WINSLET, ACTOR: She said you're a mother, aren't you? And I said, yes. And she said, well, that is the only job.
Isa Soares, CNN, Edinburgh, Scotland.
BLITZER: Let's get some analysis. Joining us now, Royal Commentator Hilary Fordwich. Hilary, thank you so much for joining us.
Historically, and you know a lot about this, what has the relationship between the queen and her four children been like?
HILARY FORDWICH, ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I love to go into that, if I might add one thing, Wolf. You're covering everything in the Ukraine, and President Putin has been the first leader to congratulate prince -- King Charles. So, let's hope that that means something for the future there, very first.
Now in terms of the children. Those children have had rather a large feud over many, many years, and as Tolstoy said, he said all happy families are like unhappy families, unhappy in their completely different ways.
So, we were just covering about Princess Anne. With Princess Anne, don't forget, she was dating Andrew Parker Bowles, and that was when obviously then Charles started having a relationship with her. And so that broke up the relationship that Anne had. Princess Anne was dating him. So, there was a sibling rivalry for the affections of then Andrew. That went on for many, many years.
And then after that, don't forget, they're completely different in terms of character, because Princess Anne, while she is sort of a free spirit and whereas Prince Charles knowing that he would be king, he has always adhered more to the rules. He lives on healthy food, whereas Princess Anne is renowned for having fish and chips and doing sort of whatever she would want. So, they're very different in character.
However, they are the closest in age. Interestingly, they're only about 21 month ace part. Whereas, don't forget, Prince Charles is at least I think 15 years older than Prince Andrew, and 11 years older than Prince Andrew and 15 years older than Prince Edward. So, there is a massive age gap. They're almost like two completely families and he never really saw much of them growing up because he was at school in Scotland. He only ever saw them at summers at Balmoral. And there is a lot more, but I don't know what you would like know.
BLITZER: Did you ever see a public rift between any of these four siblings?
FORDWICH: Oh, absolutely. Yes, there has been. And we heard one from Princess Anne right now. There was a very public rift, actually, obviously to do with Prince Andrew and, of course, his big scandal there with Epstein. And one of the things there was it was Prince Charles who actually really had put his foot down and said that he did not want him to be in right now. He only wants him to be in a mourning suit, not wearing his royal uniform. And if you remember, Prince Philip's funeral back in '21, just over a year ago in April of '21, they were all wearing mourning suits. Why? Because the queen gave in to the fact that because he wasn't able to wear a uniform, everybody had to be in mourning suits. That isn't going on anymore. It's far more public now, Wolf, that Prince Charles is going to put his foot down with Andrew.
BLITZER: So, you think that the relationship, the dynamic among these four siblings will change now that Charles is king?
FORDWICH: Yes, it's evolving, absolutely. One of the feuds he once had with Prince Edward was that Prince Edward, they were up at Balmoral, this was in one of the summer holidays, and Prince Edward saw the kilts in the closet that had been from the duke of Windsor. That was the great uncle who had abdicated. But his kilts were from that of (INAUDIBLE), which is a duke that is very superior actually even to the duke of Edinburgh. Are you ready? He came down to dinner with that kilt on, and it was only supposed to be worn by the prince of Wales, who was then Charles at the time. Charles was livid and he made him take it off.
BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Hilary Fordwich, thank you very much for helping us appreciate what is going on. We'll definitely want you back. Thank you very much.
FORDWICH: A pleasure.
BLITZER: Hilary Fordwich joining us.
Coming up, there is breaking news in the U.S. Justice Department's criminal investigation of January 6th. We'll get you the news right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We have breaking news on the Justice Department's investigation of January 6th.
Let's go to our political correspondent Sara Murray.
Sara, tell our viewers what you're learning.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, me and a large team of my colleagues have been working on this, and we are learning that the Justice Department has subpoenaed more than 30 people in former President Donald Trump's orbit. This is related to their investigation leading up to January 6th, you know their effort to uncover efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
And there are a lot of big names on the list of folks who are receiving subpoenas. They include people like Bill Stepien, Trump's former campaign manager, Sean Dolman, who is the former CFO of the Trump campaign, Dan Scavino, who is Trump's former deputy chief of staff, and Brian Jack who also worked as the White House political director.
Now, all these folks either declined to comment to CNN or could not be reached for comment. But this is an indication of just how wide this is growing, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what does this tell you about the state of the Justice Department's investigation right now?
MURRAY: Well, Wolf, clearly, this is an investigation that is intensifying. You know, we know the Justice Department right now is on the cusp of this quiet period, this period where they don't want the take any overt actions in politically sensitive investigations that can be seen as influencing the outcome of the election.
But it's also clear that they wanted to scoop up a lot of information from a lot of folks. You know, we're hearing people describe these kinds of subpoenas, they are talking about subpoenas that encompass a wide range of issue, everything from Trump's political fund-raising vehicle, Save America PAC, to the fake elector scheme to the efforts to set up the January 6th rally where Trump spoke.
So it's clear that the Justice Department is looking for a wide array of information right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sara, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in the state attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, Dave Aronberg.
Dave, as you heard, more than 30 people in Trump's orbit have been subpoenaed by the Justice Department in recent days.
Just how much of an escalation does this represent in this overall investigation?
DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: A big one, wolf. Now we know what Steve Bannon was referring to when he said publicly that there were 35 MAGA leaders who had their home raided. We couldn't figure out what he meant because that would have been out in the public and we didn't see that. Well, what he did was confuse search warrants with subpoenas. But, still, subpoenas are a big deal.
And the timing is not a coincidence, as Sara said. This comes right before the 60-day quiet period before the midterm elections when DOJ tries not to influence an election. That's why this all came all at once.
But the fact that Bannon and other MAGA leaders seem shocked that this happened shows to me that Merrick Garland has lulled many in Trump world into a false sense of security. This is the kind of slow build that Attorney General Garland has been known for in his prosecutorial career. It's like that boiling frog that doesn't realize the temperature has been turned up until it's too late.
BLITZER: So, what do you think, Dave, specifically, what do you think these investigators from the Justice Department are interested in from these key Trump allies like his former campaign manager and former deputy chief of staff?
ARONBERG: I think the key focus on is the fake elector scheme, Wolf, because I think that could be the easiest in which to charge MAGA leaders because those individuals including Trump, who knew that the lists of alternate electors were not legitimate and knew that they were being submitted to government bodies, could be charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, also obstruction of an official proceeding.
Remember there was a federal judge, a well-respected federal judge who said it was more likely than not the former president committed both those crimes.
Plus, I think they're going to look at the financial crimes of the Save America PAC. This is similar to the investigation and prosecution of Steve Bannon for the We Build the Wall charity scam. Because, Wolf, financial schemes are easier to prove than others because they're focused on paper trails. People lie, but documents do not.
BLITZER: You know, Sara, it's interesting this is quite an escalation by the U.S. Department of Justice after it received a lot of criticism, isn't it?
MURRAY: Yeah, that's right. I mean, I think Democrats in particular have been critical. We heard some members of the January 6th Select Committee and other Democrats were critical of the tack Merrick Garland was taking. They believe he was too slow to look into former President Trump and his allies. It's pretty clear from the latest subpoena action that they are looking at a wide range of people who were in the former president's orbit.
And, to your point, that people may lie but documents don't, they're seeking a wide range of documents from these folks that they are subpoenaing, and in some cases they are also seeking testimony.
BLITZER: You know, Dave, at least some of these subpoenas also requested records these recipients handed over to the House January 6th Select Committee. So what are they trying to get to the bottom of with that specific request?
ARONBERG: Well, it depends. The House committee for January 6th was looking at the attempted insurrection. And they're going to look at anything and everything. And they're going to also draft behind the January 6th Committee. But just because the January 6th committee has it doesn't mean that prosecutors are going to get it.
And, so, they were paying attention to those hearings, and that's, I think, led to this day. A lot of us were critical of Merrick Garland for his timidity. But it looks like he was just doing a slow build waiting for this moment right before the 60-day quiet period occurred. And it looks like it really is a shock to the MAGA world.
BLITZER: Certainly is.
Dave Aronberg, thank you very much.
Sara Murray, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, how falling gas prices here in the United States are impacting the economy on this the eve of the new inflation report, and as a potentially crippling rail strike in the United States looms this week.
BLITZER: Gas prices here in the United States are continuing their downward slide right now on this, the eve of a new inflation report.
CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is joining us from a gas station in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Vanessa, give us the latest on where gas prices stand and how much that's helping the economy.
VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have seen 90 straight days of falling gas prices. That is good news for U.S. consumers. Today, we stand at $3.72 a gallon. That is a substantial drop from where we were in June of just this year when we set an all-time record of $5.02 a gallon.
But it's not quite where we were a year ago when gas prices were at $3.18 a gallon. And this is all happening because we are seeing lower prices of oil, and that's on fears of a recession, but also because over the summer when gas prices were so high, Wolf, people weren't driving as much. So that demand for gas shifted downwards.
And this is coming, as you mentioned, on the eve of this CPI report, that's that key inflation report that we've been tracking. Gas price coming down are going to be making an impact. Experts estimate that we're going to see a month-over-month drop in inflation. That's because gas and energy makes up so much of that report, Wolf.
And this is really a signal to the Federal Reserve, which is scheduled to meet next week. They are expecting to make an aggressive interest rate hike, but if we keep seeing these falling gas prices and these cooling CPI reports, we could see the Federal Reserve, Wolf, start to pull back on these aggressive interest rate hikes -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Vanessa, one dark cloud over the economy right now is this risk, serious risk of a major railroad workers strike here in the U.S., could happen this week.
What impact could that have?
YURKEVICH: If the unions and the rail lines do not make a deal by this Friday, it could send 60,000 workers on strike. Ethanol and chemicals used to mix with oil to make gasoline come by rail lines. If there's no conductors, no engineers, it's not getting to make the gas, that is going to send prices higher because of the supply and demand imbalance that's going to happen if these rail workers go on strike -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they don't.
All right, Vanessa Yurkevich, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.