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Massive Explosion In Eastern Ukrainian City Where Russians Claim Control; Special Counsel, Classified Documents Drama Create Growing Crisis For Biden; Devastation, Rising Death Toll After Tornadoes Rip Through Southeast; Lisa Marie Presley Dies At 54 After Suffering Apparent Cardiac Arrest. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a huge explosion in the disputed Ukrainian City of Soledar as Russia is claiming it has captured the city and officials in Kyiv insist the battle is not over yet. We have a live report from Ukraine and I'll talk to the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States about the state of the war.

Also tonight, President Biden faces a growing crisis right now with a special counsel now in place to investigate his handling of classified records. We're learning more about documents that were found as the White House fails to explain its delay in revealing key details.

And new scenes of devastation in the southeast, the death toll rising after dozens of tornadoes including a powerful twister that pounded Selma, Alabama. We're getting official updates on this disaster and the rescue and recovery operations that are now underway.

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

And we begin this hour in Ukraine and the stunning video just into CNN, a huge explosion in the eastern town of Soledar at a building apparently occupied by Russian troops. Russia and Ukraine at odds over whether the town is under Russian control.

CNN's Scott McLean is following all of these developments from Kyiv for us. Scott, what more can you tell us about this explosion?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this explosion and this really remarkable video that we're just getting in shows that the fighting is still very much ongoing there. In the video, you can see troops walking under a bridge along a roadway and then they turn toward a house with a very distinctive green roof that appears to be a temporary barracks for Russian troops. And at that point you can see this massive explosion.

CNN has geolocated that video to Soledar. Ukrainian troops say they have been monitoring that spot since the morning and they say that the fight for Soledar continues. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN (voice over): Major developments as Russia attempts to notch its first significant battlefield win in months. Ukrainian forces vowing the fight is not over in the small eastern town of Soledar, which is emerged as a flashpoint in the war now approaching the one- year mark.

Fighting has raged for weeks in this desolate landscape where 10,000 people used to live. Russia's defense ministry on Friday claimed the victory, saying the town had been liberated, claim the Ukrainian were quick to deny. Captain Taras Berezovets, a Ukrainian Special Forces soldier, who says he was around Soledar on Thursday, told CNN that the town had little strategic value.

So it is safe to say that the Ukrainians have a toe hold in the town but just barely?

CAPTAIN TARAS BEREZOVETS, FIRST SPECIAL FORCES BRIGADE, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES: It would be fair to say that Ukrainian are still holding some part of Soledar, but I would say some minor parts of the town.

MCLEAN: Do you think that this will be a blow to morale?

BEREZOVETS: The plan was to kill as many Russian paratroopers and the Wagner mercenaries from the very beginning. Their task was not to hold the city until the very end, but to hold it as long as possible and it was completely fulfilled, so it won't be any sort of blow to the Ukrainian morale.

MCLEAN: The notorious Russian private military contractor Wagner has taken a leading role in the Soledar offensive. Berezovets claimed the captured Wagner fighter had told the interrogators that only three of his 35-man platoon had survived. He also described the Wagner troops on what he says was a kind of suicide mission.

BEREZOVETS: They didn't have even light weapons. Their task was to get as close to the Ukrainian positions to throw as many grenades before they've been killed.

MCLEAN: CNN is unable to independently verify the soldier's assessment of Wagner troops.

In Soledar with no buildings intact, only a scorched an barren hell escape, there is little left to contest for either side. But inside of Russia, there is a tussle over who can claim credit for progress in Soledar. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin saying Friday that officials who want to keep their jobs, quote, constantly try to steal victory from Wagner.


After not mentioning Wagner, when it claimed Soledar had been taken, the Russian defense ministry later said the mission was successfully solved by the courageous and selfless actions of the volunteers of the Wagner assault squads.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: 324 days of full scale war and how everything has changed for Russia, they are already at each other's throats over who to attribute some tactical advancement to. This is a clear signal of failure for the enemy.


MCLEAN (on camera): And one of the brigades in Soledar doing much of the fighting says that they are hanging on but that there is heavy fighting in the town and that they're being surrounded. A soldier on the ground told CNN yesterday that his window to get out was closing fast and now it appears that window has firmly shut. He believes that his unit has been left to surrender and he says that they won't be able to hide for very long. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Scott, thank you very much. Scott McLean, in Kyiv for us. Stay safe over there, I appreciate it very much.

Joining us now, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, we've just gotten this new video you just saw from Soledar appearing to show a huge blast at a building holding at least 25 Russian fighters. That's according to Ukraine. What does this say about Ukrainian capabilities in this current very, very intense battle?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, Wolf, for having me. And thank you for your brave team on the ground. The fight continues. It continues in Soledar, it continues in Bakhmut, it continues everywhere in Ukraine and it will continue until we completely liberate Ukraine from Russians.

So, essentially, let's call them who they are. They're war criminals. There are no volunteers, no Wagners, no regular troops. All of them are war criminals that attacked Ukraine after eight years of war against 324 days ago. And what we see now in their public note, speaking about some kind of victories in either Soledar or elsewhere, we just have to remind these are the people who are going to take over all of Ukraine in three days.

So, it is very difficult, the frontline is very long but we will continue. And with the additional capabilities that are coming from the United States and from all of our friends and allies, we will be able to liberate all of Ukraine and restore our territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders.

BLITZER: But, Ambassador, if Russia does indeed capture this town of Soledar, as they've claimed, do you fear it will open the path to Bakhmut and further into the east?

MARKAROVA: We have very high trust in our capable armed forces and our defenders already have shown that they are making the right decisions and they are doing pretty much everything at the right time. And as our Chief Commander, President Zelenskyy, just said that we see more signs of incompetence and lack of motivation on the Russian side.

So, yes, it is very difficult for us. Yes, we are valuing every life of every defender, but there is no doubt in our mind that in just a matter of time when we will win and regardless of how it might look from one day to another. And our prayers are with everyone in Soledar, in Bakhmut, but everywhere. I mean, they terrorized population everywhere in Ukraine again today. And they are shooting at schools and shooting at residential areas because they cannot win on the battlefield.

BLITZER: As you know, Ukraine could soon be getting battle tanks from some key allies. The U.S., by the way, is training Ukrainians right now on the Patriot air defense missile system and today the U.S. and Ukraine had a phone conversation on more U.S. military support. Ambassador, is this potentially a turning point right now? MARKAROVA: You know, every day is an opportunity to be a turning

point. And these capabilities that we really need now, from the battle tanks to armored vehicles, to more air defense, to more firepower, to long range missiles, all of that puts -- make the turning point closer. As we saw even with more limited resources, our brave defenders are capable of liberating the territories.

And now when we have this large -- the largest package from the United States, given by the Biden administration, when we have the additional resources that Congress generously provided to us and we have more allies supplying us with all of this, I'm positive that the advancement of our troops and liberating of our -- I wouldn't even say territories, people, because we all know the horrors that happened under occupation, how many people are tortured, how many people are killed and raped by Russians in the areas which temporarily we do not control.


So we would like to liberate them as soon as possible and each capabilities helping us to save lives.

BLITZER: Ambassador Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to the Ukrainian people right now. Potentially this could be a turning point. We appreciate it very much into.

Let's get some more analysis on all these major developments right now. Joining us, the retired U.S. Army general, Wesley Clark. He's a CNN Military Analyst. He's also the former NATO supreme allied commander. Also with us, Evelyn Farkas, the former U.S. deputy secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. She's now executive director of the McCain Institute.

Let me start with you, General Clark. Russia may claim to control this tiny town of Soledar right now, but when you look at this new video of Ukraine potentially taking out more than two dozen Russian fighters, what does that say to you about the overall fight that's going on right now?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The fight is very intense and it seems that Russia doesn't fully control Soledar or the rest of its efforts there on the eastern front, Wolf. This is a very active battlefield and it's face-to-face in some of the locations like Soledar. It is a very tough fight. Russia is not winning yet.

BLITZER: Evelyn, the Russian President Putin has changed up the war leadership yet again, as you know, and today he berated a top minister for not delivering new military jets fast enough. What does that say to you about Putin's mindset right now nearly a year into this fight?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIAN/UKRAINE/EURASIA: Yes, Wolf. I mean, he's grasping for new solutions but the reality is that at the strategic level, he's lost. I mean, politically, economically, militarily, the cards are oddly enough, we wouldn't have said this a while ago, but stacked against the Russians. So long as we in the west maintain our will and support for Ukraine, Russia will lose. So, he can change his generals all he wants but I don't think it is going to help.

BLITZER: Do you agree General Clark?

CLARK: I think putting Gerasimov in there is a sign of Putin's determination but also desperation. It is also what you would do if you were going to use a nuclear option. This is the sort of last gasp of Putin here. He's preparing for this offensive. Is it going to come off, is he going to use a nuclear weapon to try to -- or more than one to try to do it? What has he got left in his bag?

We know he's mobilizing. We know there's discussion of trying to come through Belarus. We know that he likes the 24th of February. He would like to renew the offensive and finish the job on the 24th. It is going to be really up to the west to put their strength into Ukraine reinforcements, the ammunition it needs, the tanks, the Bradley fighting vehicles and so forth to be able to block anything that Putin can throw at them.

BLITZER: And if he were to use tactical nuclear weapons, General, that would change the environment dramatically.

CLARKK: Absolutely. And we still don't really know his thinking on this. But we do know that some of the artillery systems that could fire a tactical nuclear weapon are inside Ukraine in the Russian occupied areas. We know that they've been there for a while. And I'm assuming that on the classified level, we're watching this very closely. Yes, it is still a possibility he could use nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Yes. That is very, very disturbing. General Wesley Clark, thank you for joining us. Evelyn Farkas, thanks to you to you as well.

Just ahead, there are new developments right now in the Biden classified documents drama that has been unfolding these past few days. CNN is learning new details about some of the records uncovered by his attorneys. Stay with us.


[18:15:00] BLITZER: President Biden is on the defensive again tonight amid mounting questions over his handling of classified documents. This as a powerful House Republican begins probing the U.S. Justice Department's response to the matter.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has the latest.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On the first full day of a president under investigation, an attempt to focus on business as usual.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: You know, we need a remarkable moment in our lives.

MATTINGLY: President Biden welcoming Japanese Prime Minister Kishida to the White House to highlight a transformational shift in the Pacific nation security posture as he ignored questions about the special counsel now investigating his handling of classified documents after his time as vice president, and his press secretary continue to deflect or decline to answer critical outstanding questions.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to go into any specifics from here. If you have any questions, anything further related to the review or -- I refer you to the Department of Justice or my colleagues over at the White House Counsel's Office.

MATTINGLY: For Biden, who has maintained this --

BIDEN: People know I take classified documents and classified material seriously.

MATTINGLY: Even as the scale of the problem has mushroomed into a crisis over just five days.

BIDEN: We're cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department's review.

MATTINGLY: The outward appearance of normalcy serving to cover what has been described by officials behind the scenes as a scramble to adjust to a new normal. All as new details emerge from the initial batch of ten classified documents discovered at a Biden-affiliated think tank stored in Biden's office there. Floor plans show a small closet to the left of Biden's desk and storage spaces in the adjoining conference room. The documents include a memo from Biden to then- President Obama, as well as two briefing memos prepared for Biden phone calls with the British prime minister and the president of the European Council.

JEAN-PIERRE: We have been transparent in the last couple of days. And remember, there is an ongoing process and we have spoken when it is appropriate.

MATTINGLY: Even as details of another set of classified documents found at Biden's Wilmington home in his garage and in an adjacent room remain under wraps after their existence was publicly revealed nearly a month after their discovery.


BIDEN: My corvette is in a locked garage, okay? So, it is not like they're sitting out on the street.

MATTINGLY: Just one of the many questions that remain unanswered for a White House facing a most perilous moment.

JEAN-PIERRE: And we have said that we are going to continue to fully cooperate. We have been. The president's lawyers and team has been fully cooperating with the Department of Justice and we're certainly -- they're certainly going to do that with the special counsel.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, one of the biggest outstanding questions is the origin of those documents. How they got to the two locations where they were found.

And in reporting on those final weeks for Joe Biden as vice president, what was made clear by officials that were familiar with that moment in time was just how disjointed that process was. Biden was on the road visiting Ukraine, visiting Davos, meeting with foreign leaders. It was very much almost an acceleration of his work, something that made it extremely difficult for staff trying to pack up and close out that office.

However the documents ended up in the two locations, now currently under investigation, you can add the House Judiciary Committee to those looking into this process. The new chairman of that committee, Jim Jordan, sending a letter to the Justice Department making clear his committee had opened an investigation and asking for a wide range of documents and what is expected to be one of several probes from Capitol Hill, the administration is facing as they deal with this new special counsel. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with our senior legal analyst Elie Honig, CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod and CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. She's a Senior Political Correspondent at The New York Times.

So, David, let me start with you. The Biden White House has so far had been unable to fully explain its delay in disclosing the discovery of these additional classified documents. If you wae advising President Biden right now, and we know you used to advise President Obama, what would you tell him to do right now?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, from a political and communications standpoint, the essence of crisis communications is to get everything out as quickly as possible and go from there, and that hasn't happened here, for whatever reason.

You know, the original discovery was made, it took several months to learn about that. A second discovery was made on December 20th. And so -- and I think this has created problems, perhaps more problems than they would have had if they would have been more forthcoming from the beginning.

But I don't know what advice they're getting, Wolf, from their lawyers. I don't know what requests they've gotten from the Justice Department.

I just would caution this. We, of all, everyone on this panel, has lived through these kinds of stories over a long period of time. And we -- they always start as five-alarm fires. It takes a while to really determine whether they are, in fact, five-alarm fires or just bonfires that ultimately get extinguished. This one feels to me like it is going to be that but it also depends on whether there are more revelations to come.

BLITZER: Good point. Maggie, there are now special counsels, as you know, looking into both the current and former president's handling of highly classified materials. Does this lower the temperature for Trump right now?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think politically is different than legally, Wolf. I think David is exactly right in terms of the politics of this and the crisis calms aspect of it in terms of being a problem for the current White House. And I think that at least from the position, short-term position of Republicans and Trump supporters, more advantageous for Trump just in terms of muddying the water, but these are two separate investigations.

And while, yes, there are aspects of these two instances and cases and problems that look similar, from what we know, and, again, to David's point, there is still a lot to learn, but from what we know, these are not identical situations. The main difference is just the alleged obstruction by Donald Trump over and over and over for a very long period of time when the Archives were trying to get those records back and then when the Justice Department got involved.

But I do think that the Trump people feel like this makes it easier for them. Again, that is purely from the standpoint of, you know, the public is probably not paying attention to the fine points of this. That is part of, I think, why some Democrats are frustrated that there hasn't been more coming from the current White House.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Elie, how much pressure is the U.S. Department of Justice under right now as it tries to navigate these dual probes into both Biden and Trump?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think it is an unprecedented situation for the Justice Department. Never before have we had a special counsel investigating a sitting president at the same time a separate special counsel is investigating not just the prior president but these two people are likely to be running against each other in the next election.

Now, by the book here, just legally speaking, these are, as Maggie said, separate investigations, separate special prosecutors, separate facts, and Merrick Garland, what he ought to do is let both of those investigations play out and when the special counsels come back to him, then he will make his decision.


But I think Garland also has to be aware of the political reality here, that if he is to decide one way on one, that will change the temperature and the pressure on the other. So, Merrick Garland got to do a balancing act. He's a by the book attorney general but he also is aware, I believe, of the real world and the political reality.

BLITZER: We're learning then-Vice President Biden's aides scrambled, David, to close his office during what is being described as an unusual busy final few days. Can you give us a sense of what goes into wrapping up and packing up a presidential administration's work at the end of a term?

AXELROD: Well, at the end of two terms, Wolf, is what we're talking about here, eight years of history. And, you know, the vice president probably saw thousands of documents and briefing materials over the course of those years. So, it is not at all surprising to me that there could be mistakes like this made.

One of the things that really does differ between these two cases beyond what was already mentioned is that Donald Trump doesn't even dispute that he took the documents. He acknowledges that he took these documents. He maintains that through some mystical incantation. He made them -- he took top secret documents and declassified them. But he acknowledges he took the documents.

What the Biden folks are saying is that this was an inadvertent mistake. And that as soon as they found out about it, they returned the documents. And, of course, that is what the special counsels will be exploring.

BLITZER: And this exploration is only just beginning, right now. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, destruction and devastation after tornadoes ripped through Alabama. The death toll is climbing as the search for victims presses on. We'll go there live. That is next.



BLITZER: We're following severe weather in the Southeastern United States right now where dozens of tornadoes killed at least nine people and the search continues tonight for more possible victims.

CNN National Correspondent Ryan Young is in Selma, Alabama, for us tonight.


GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): The roofs are just gone. And trees were like toothpicks. And there is a lot of work to be done here.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Alabama Governor Kay Ivey visiting Selma today, witnessing the catastrophic damage left behind by violent tornadoes that ripped through the state Thursday afternoon. Residents left without homes and businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a lot to take. I've been trying to salvage what I can all day and it is just hard. It is hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, you all look. Oh, my God, this is the building beside us.

YOUNG: At least nine deaths have been reported following the severe storms that spawned more than 45 reported tornadoes across the southeast. Seven of the deaths in Autauga County, Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a very intense storm and may have even been on the ground more than 50 miles.

YOUNG: Alabama residents describing the sound of the storm as something like no other.

ALDRICK LANG, MOUNT VERNON, ALABAMA RESIDENT: Just out of nowhere, I heard a sound I've never heard before, it sounded like a freight train come through here and the wind picked up so strong, I had to jump out and I ran because everything was shaking like never before.

TREY TYALOR, ALABAMA RESIDENT: It is a sad day for Selma. We've got a lot of healing to do here.

YOUNG: Many roads are blocked with fallen trees and debris making it unsafe and difficult for some residents to get back to assess damage at their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have not been able to get back there so see what it looks like. The road that leads to my house is blocked and I couldn't even go around other way.

YOUNG: In Georgia, a five-year-old boy was killed when a tree fell on a vehicle he was traveling in.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Unfortunately, it has been a tragic night and morning in our state.

YOUNG: Tens of thousands of customers in Alabama and Georgia are still without power and officials are warning residents that just because the storm is passed, the threat of the damage from the storm has not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is still some wind and at front moving through. So, anything that is loose will still fall.


YOUNG (on camera): Wolf, you can see from above here, these crews are working to put together the train tracks that have been damaged here. Also across the way there, you can see just how much power the storm had, blew apart that building. That is Broad Street over there that leads to Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Back here now, if you look at the front of the store front, that window right there, a man told us he was inside when the winds started blowing, the windows went first and then the roof started moving like a wave before it was taken off and dropped right here on top of some of the cars in this parking lot.

It is complete darkness right now through this part of Selma. On top of all of that, the temperatures have dropped more than 15 degrees at this point. A lot of people sitting in the dark, cold, especially with their roofs damaged wondering when this all will be fixed. It has been a long 24 hours. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very long indeed. Ryan Young on the scene for us, thank you very much.

We're also following the situation right now in California where the already drenched state is bracing for more storms.

Let's bring in CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's tracking all of the severe weather for us.


So what is the latest, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we are still going to see series of rain events. These are atmospheric rivers pushed on the coast of California throughout the weekend and the beginning part of next week.

This has been relentless since Christmas weekend and it continues, lots of moisture being pumped in across the entire West Coast. This is a live radar and you can see just torrential downpours especially across Central and Northern California, portions of Oregon very heavy snow falling across the Sierra. There is a closer look.

We are going to see rainfall rates at half an inch to possibly an inch per hour in some of the heaviest downpours. So, this already saturated ground as just going to continue to flood as we go into next week. You can see just surges of moisture pushing in all of the rain, the snow coming down.

Some areas across California, Wolf, have received more than half a year's worth of rain just since Christmas. So, it has been remarkable to see. We could pick up an additional two to four inches and measuring the snow in the Sierra for next few days, Wolf, in feet.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer, thank you very, very much, very disturbing stuff.

Just ahead, George Santos embroiled in yet another controversy, this time involving an alleged Ponzi scheme.



BLITZER: New information tonight about controversial Republican Congressman George Santos of New York. A CNN KFile review finds he said a company he worked for accused of running a Ponzi scheme was, in his words, and I'm quoting him now, 100 percent legitimate.

Let's dig deeper right now with CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Melanie Zanona and CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend.

Melanie, what additional questions does this claim by him now raise about Santos' credibility?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, first of all, Wolf, I don't think he has much credibility left but this does add to the growing mountain of lies that have been uncovered when it comes to George Santos and once again there are receipts.

So, let me walk the viewers through this one. In 2021, a firm that Santos worked for was accused by the SEC of being a Ponzi scheme and Santos, in an attempt to defend himself, said he was not aware of any allegations of fraud or wrongdoing about this firm that he worked for.

But in 2020, our KFile team discovered a now deleted tweet where Santos was responding to a customer who was making a fraud allegation. He responded directly to that person. So, it seems to contradict his claims that he was unaware of any allegations of fraud or wrongdoing about this firm.

So, this really just speaks to the fact that every day there seems to be a new damaging revelation about Santos. And speaking of fraud, we should point out that there is a fraud case in Brazil against Santos. So, this is not just about his embarrassing lies about his resume. This is about legal issues that Santos is facing and it is becoming a huge distraction for House Republicans, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And the speaker, the new speaker, McCarthy, Eva, is standing by Santos, at least for now, saying the voters sent him to Congress. But what are his constituents out in Long Island and Queens saying as this scandal around him intensifies?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, a really good way to glean the sentiment of constituents in the district is to check out the town board meetings, typically not really exciting affairs.

But last night, for instance, in a town of North Hempstead, what we saw resident after resident take to the podium and basically lean on their local officials to do more to get rid of Santos, really embarrassed by all of this and then also worried about the implications.

So, for instance, there is a program in North Hempstead called Project Independence and it is tied to the Office of the Aging. Well, what residents there said at that meeting last night was that their last representative, he was a really strong advocate for making sure that that program had federal funding. But they say that they can't rely on Santos, they don't know him. He's a serial liar. And how can they depend on someone in Washington to really be a champion for all of these really necessary things that they need back at home if Santos continues to represent them in Washington?

BLITZER: Yes. Good point, Eva.

Melanie, Santos remains defiant even as so many member of his own party are calling for him to resign. Do you see a potential tipping point when Republican leaders will no longer be able to protect him?

ZANONA: Well, Wolf, I do think that if Santos is indicted that leadership is going be forced to reassess their position with Santos. There is a rule in the House Republican conference that if any member is indicted on federal charges that they have to give up their committee assignments. We saw that with former Congressman Duncan Hunter when he was charged with misusing campaign funds. He was forced to relinquish all of his committee assignments.

But as of right now, Kevin McCarthy can really hide behind the idea that Santos is innocent until proven guilty. And there is a political calculation here at play for Kevin McCarthy as well. Because if Santos were to step down, that would tee off a special election in a Biden- won blue district, Democrats would likely have a real shot at flipping the seat and that would make the House GOP's razor thin majority even slimmer. So, for Kevin McCarthy, at least right now, it is a numbers game, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting indeed. All right, CNN's Melanie Zanona and Eva McKend, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, the warning that came in before a first grader allegedly shot his teacher in Virginia now raising questions about whether school officials could have prevented the horrible incident.



BLITZER: Troubling new developments tonight in the case of a Virginia teacher shot in her own classroom, allegedly by a 6-year-old student. The school district acknowledging at least one official was warned that the child might have a gun.

CNN's Brian Todd has been all over this story for us.

Brian, what else are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told that the warning came the same day of the shooting, just hours before the shooting occurred.

We have new information tonight on what happened after the warning.


TODD (voice-over): Disturbing new information tonight indicating there may have been a window of time to prevent first grade teacher Abby Zwerner from being shot by her 6-year-old student. A spokesperson for the Newport News, Virginia, school district tells CNN that the superintendent George Parker said in a virtual town hall meeting that officials at Richneck Elementary School received a tip in the hours just before the shooting occurred that the 6-year-old may have had a weapon. Parker didn't indicate who gave the tip, but according to CNN affiliate WTKR, Parker said after receiving the tip school officials searched the boy's backpack and found nothing.

In recent days, Newport News police chief Steve Drew told CNN the gun had been concealed by the child at some point.

CHIEF STEVE DREW, NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA POLICE: Put it in his backpack and was driven to school by his mother later that morning, and then at some point, it came out of his backpack and was concealed on him.


TODD: The Newport News police tells CNN they were not notified of the tip that the boy may have had a weapon in those hours before the shooting. We reached out to the school district to ask why the police weren't contacted. The district had no comment.

CNN analyst John Miller says in addition to contacting the police, there are other steps school officials could've taken after getting that initial warning.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: After they searched his backpack with negative results, did they then conduct a patdown of the child to determine if the gun was on his person. Let's contact the parent, let's ask some basic questions. Is there a gun in the house? If there is a gun in the house, is it something that he could have had access to?

TODD: We've reached out to the Newport News school district with all those questions. They declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. School officials now say they'll institute a safety measure that the superintendent had earlier said he hated to even think about.

LISA SURLES-LAW, CHAIR, NEWPORT NEWS PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARD: Metal detectors will be in place and used for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors to Richneck upon school re-opening.

TODD: The teacher, Abby Zwerner, was struck in the hand by a single bullet, police say. A bullet which went through her hand and struck her in the chest. One school official says her condition is improving every day.

Lowanda Sample-Rusk who was at school picking up her grandsons when the shooting occurred and administered first aid to Zwerner, remains traumatized.

LOWANDA SAMPLE-RUSK, GRANDPARENT OF TWO STUDENTS: When I go back and I think about it, it brings me to tears because it could've been so much worse.


TODD (on camera): We've just been told that the teacher, Abby Zwerner, remains in stable condition tonight. Regarding those metal detectors, the school board chairwoman says the 90 metal detectors will be placed in places across the entire Newport News school district and some schools will have more than one detector. Wolf, a week after the shooting, this is what it's come to, metal detectors in elementary schools.

BLITZER: Elementary schools, amazing.

All right. Thanks very much, Brian, for that report.

Just ahead, we're following the latest details about the unexpected death of Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' only child. We'll have a report. That's next.

But first, the assassination attempt against the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is told with the drama of a spy thriller in the CNN film "Navalny." Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you come to room of a comatose patient, you just tell his story, Alexey, don't worry, you were poisoned, there was a murder attempt, Putin tried to kill you with Novichok. And he opened his, like, blue eyes wide and looked at me and said very clear, what the f**k? That is so stupid!

ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Come on, poisoned? I don't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is back. This is Alexey.

NAVALNY: Putin is supposed to be not so stupid to use this Novichok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His wording, his expletive, his intonation.

NAVALNY: If you want to kill someone, just shoot him. Jesus Christ!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like real Alexey.

NAVALNY: It's impossible to believe it. It's kind of stupid, the whole idea of poisoning with a chemical weapon. This is why -- this is not smart because even reasonable people they refuse to believe, what, come on, poisoned? Seriously.


BLTIZER: Not surprisingly, the Kremlin and Russia's security services deny that they played any role in Navalny's poisoning.

Don't miss the CNN film "Navalny", this Saturday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Tonight, fans around the world are mourning the death of singer/songwriter Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis and his wife Priscilla.

CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas is following this story for us.

Chloe, so, first of all, what are you learning about this sudden loss and Lisa Marie's legacy?


So here is what we know. And there are still so many questions left unanswered. We know that early Thursday morning, that the ambulances and EMTs were called to Lisa Marie Presley's home in Calabasas, California, where she was unresponsive and she was rushed to a nearby hospital where her daughter who is one of her three surviving children and her mother Priscilla raced to her bedside. Her mother asking for support and prayers and just hours later releasing a statement, announcing the sudden tragic death of her daughter.

No details or autopsy reports as of just yet. But what is so troubling is I just saw her two days ago at the Golden Globes in L.A. at the Beverly Hilton, the night that was honoring her father, the night of Baz Luhrmann's biopic, a movie about her dad, in which Austin Butler won the Golden Globe. It was a huge night. And he actually did an interview on the carpet and we have a clip of one of her final interviews with "Extra." Take a look.


LISA MARIE PRESLEY, CELEBRITY SINGER: I was mind blown, too. I actually had to take, like, five days to process it because it was so spot on and authentic. Characteristics, mannerisms, the singing, the talking without doing it in like a caricature way like it's been done in the past.


MELAS: So, this video right there, wolf, has racked up a ton of views, and so have some of her other interviews from that night. I thought she didn't look like her normal self. And a lot of people are commenting that something seemed to be off. Now, we can't necessarily make a correlation between how she was acting or feeling two days before, but the tributes are pouring in from all over the world, from her ex-husband Nicholas Cage, writing that she had the greatest laugh in the room, that she lit up everyone who she walked around with her smile. Tom Hanks who starred in the movie alongside Austin Butler, saying that they are devastated, so many celebrities taking to social media, and we know that she is going to be buried at Graceland next to her son Benjamin who died by suicide in 2020.

BLITZER: Yeah, very sad, indeed. Chloe Melas, excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.