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Three Fire Personnel Fired Over Response To Tyre Nicols' Beating; Trump Returns To Campaign Trail, Takes Shots At Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL); Top U.S. Diplomat To Israelis And Palestinians, De- Escalate; Sweeping Manhunt For Suspect In Brutal Beating, Kidnapping. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 30, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, more fallout from the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols. The Memphis Fire Department just revealed that three employees who responded to the scene have been fired. I'll get reaction from an attorney for the Nichols family. Also tonight, President Biden warms up for a state of the union

address touting the benefits of his signature infrastructure law, this as former President Trump is trying to jumpstart his 2024 presidential campaign by hitting the trail and by taking shots at potential GOP rival Ron DeSantis.

And in Jerusalem, an urgent appeal for calm by America's top diplomat. Secretary of State Antony Blinken trying to turn down the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians amid a new outbreak of deadly violence.

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

And let's get right to the breaking news on the firing of three Memphis Fire Department personnel who responded to the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols. CNN's Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is following all these late-breaking developments for us. Shimon, tell our viewers what you are learning about these employees and why they were let go.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. So, this just happening in the last few moments, the Memphis Fire Department and city hall officials announcing that they have concluded their investigation of the response there by the EMTs and have terminated, fired three personnel, two EMTs and a lieutenant, they say, have been terminated from the Memphis Fire Department. They say that their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department and are not reflective of the outstanding service the men and women of the Memphis Fire Department provide daily in our community.

Now, of course, we have seen -- all have seen this video where the EMTs are on scene for quite some time. They appear to just be standing around, like many of the officers after the horrific beating, not providing Tyre any kind of medical care. And it is some 20 minutes, Wolf, 20 minutes before eventually a stretcher arrives and Tyre is taken to the hospital.

I just want to point out one other thing that the fire department, that I think is significant, Wolf, and that is in their initial response, they go to the first scene, the first confrontation. This on your video here obviously is the second confrontation. And you see some of the EMTs there as Tyre's body is slumped over. They seem to be close to his body, picking him up.

Now, what happens is they go to this first scene, this initial scene. They are then directed to this second scene, where the second confrontation occurs. And according to the fire department, they are responding to a call for a person who has been pepper sprayed. And that based on that and information they received on the scene, they took no action and took some action obviously later on when they took him to the hospital.

But that is significant because it tells us what the fire department, what the EMTs were told as they were responding to that scene. Of course, from the video that we have seen, it was much worse than that. And so now, as a result of this investigation, these three fire officials, EMTs, have been terminated, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're also learning, Shimon, as you know, about another police officer in Memphis relieved of duty after Tyre Nichols' death. We want to warn our viewers that some of the sound you're about to report on and we're all about to hear is very disturbing. But explain what's going on.

PROKUPECZ: Well, Wolf, this too just happening in the last few moments here. We have a new statement from the Memphis Police Department releasing a public statement about a seventh officer who was placed on leave in the immediate aftermath when the investigation took place.


This release from the Memphis Police Department says that on January 28th, seven officers, including another officer who we learned of earlier today were relieved of duty. And they say the actions of these officers are all under investigation. So, this now means that we have seven officers that were almost within less than 24 hours of this incident were placed on leave.

What we learned earlier today, also from the Memphis Police Department, that is when the sixth officer we learned who was placed on leave, his name is Preston Hemphill, what happened is he is the officer whose body camera footage we see, and he then deploys his taser. Take a listen to those events as they unfolded, Wolf.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found him. Martin and all them are over there chasing him. I hope to stomp his ass. I hope they stomp his ass. Smith is calling for other cars because him and Martin are chasing him.


PROKUPECZ: And, Wolf, obviously you hear those horrific words from that officer.

The other thing I want to reveal here from the Memphis Police Department, I think this is important as well, is that they have interviewed more than 30 internal and external parties simultaneously. They say that this investigation is being completed in record time. And they say there are numerous charges still developing that are impending. And as stated earlier in the earlier updates, they remain committed to transparency in this tragedy.

However, Wolf, the Memphis Police Department hasn't necessarily been as transparent as they claim here. Some of these officers were put on leave at the same time the other five officers who were eventually terminated and charged, a lot of this we're just learning today. Some of this was done weeks ago. Why we're just learning of this today is unclear. But, obviously, there is still a lot going on, and I think we're going to learn a lot, a lot more here in the coming days and weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with an Attorney for Tyre Nichols' family, Antonio Romanucci. Antonio, thank you so much for joining us. I want to talk to you about all these late-breaking development. But, first, how is Tyre's Nichols family doing tonight?

ANTONIO ROMANUCCI, TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY ATTORNEY: Well, they're really taking some time to absorb everything that is going on, because as you can see, Wolf, the story keeps developing not even day-by-day but almost hour-by-hour.

Certainly the breadth of this investigation is now it extends not only to Memphis Police Department, but the Shelby County Sheriff's Department, the Memphis Fire Department and its firefighters and EMTs. This is just such a gross collapse of the system that we're supposed to trust that it really is unspeakable. And they're trying to absorb all of this. Mind you, they're trying to absorb all of this why their son died, why a family member was taken away from them in this situation.

BLITZER: Yes. As you know, we learned just a little while ago that three Memphis Fire Department personnel, EMTs, as you correctly point out, have now been fired as well. You say that everybody on that scene, whether they were police, fire, EMT, everybody was complicit in the death of Tyre Nichols. Are you calling for others to be fired and potentially criminally charged?

ROMANUCCI: Absolutely. And let me tell you, when I saw the video one week ago today, clearly, just like everybody else, I was appalled at what I saw. But I saw really three events taking place, the first encounter with the police, the second encounter with the police, and then the third one with the people that were supposed to try and rescue him, the firefighters and the EMTs.

And I've said from the beginning, Wolf, everybody on that scene was complicit in this man's death. In one way, shape, form or another, somebody failed Tyre Nichols. They either failed him by using excessive force, they failed him by severely beating him, they failed him by not intervening, they failed by not rendering aid.

In what humanity, what world do you leave somebody who is in agony and pain and clear distress laying on the ground for 20 minutes knowing that he has sustained injuries that will likely cause death?

BLITZER: So, as you know, the sixth police officer in Memphis has been relieved of duty, but the district attorney won't say if this police officer will actually face criminal charges. Based on what you know, Antonio, about his involvement, do you think charges are in fact warranted?

ROMANUCCI: I think charges are warranted and here's why. We know what his words were. They wanted to stomp him. I won't say the whole phrase for the benefit of the viewers. But he said, I hope somebody stomps him.

Clearly, I look at that as an ignition source. He was somebody -- if he has any command position at all, which we don't know yet that if he does, but if he has any command position at all in that scene, that would be considered an order.


And if somebody is ordering a stomp, we really have a problem with the whole system. We really see what's called ratification here. This unit thought that it could work with impunity and that they would operate under a code of silence amongst all of them. So, there is no doubt that criminal charges would be warranted against this individual.

BLITZER: Antonio Romanucci, Antonio, thank you very much for joining us.

We have a very strong panel standing by as well. We'll get reaction to what we just heard. That's coming up on the other side of this quick break.


BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news right now in the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, and that includes the new revelation that a seventh police officer involved in Nichols' arrest has been relieved of duty.

Let's bring in CNN This Morning Anchor Don Lemon along with CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson and the former president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. Guys, thanks very much for joining us. Don, I know you have just returned from Memphis as we learned that more police and fire personnel, EMTs for that matter, have now been fired.


What's your sense from local officials, and you spent days there, will we continue to see those who were at the scene face consequences?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Shocking that this all happened, first of all. Not so surprising quite honestly that this is happening. They are doing exactly what they said that they were going to do. And I think every member of this panel will agree the police chief told me in that interview on Friday morning that there could be more charges and more people involved. The district attorney said the same thing on Thursday afternoon.

So, it's not surprising that this is happening but the speed with which this is happening, I think, is remarkable. It was five, the five initial officers, they prioritized. They realized they had to do something. And then as they go through the video, we saw the sheriff's deputy on Friday, his superior had just seen the video, and, therefore, he was under investigation, and then now you have the two officers. It was six earlier in the day. Now it is seven, the five initial officers and the two. The last two are relieved of duty pending an administrative hearing. They are not fired.

So, yes, will there be more? Probably, and I think, again, they're doing exactly what they said they're going to do and that more charges and more people will probably -- there will be a fallout for them.

BLITZER: Joey, let me get your thoughts. Go ahead.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, I certainly believe that. Listen, accountability comes in many forms and the reality is that each and every person who was there, who enabled, who assisted, who participated, who did nothing, everyone has a responsibility. The world is watching. Who are we? Who are they as a unit and as police officials? It's about courtesy, professionalism and respect. Was any of that shown to Mr. Nichols? Of course not.

And so, clearly, as the investigation continues, I think you'll see more fallout. And with that, Wolf, understand that there are many forms of legal accountability, one, of course, criminal. And I think they should be examined. Everyone should be examined for either acting or failing to act. That's number one.

Number two, administrative. Did you do your job? Did you do it properly? Did you do it in accordance with policies, rules, regulations, procedures? If no, you shouldn't be there. You should not be privileged or entitled to have that job.

And then, of course, as a civil component, and civil component design, monetarily to punish, the family wants their son, not money, their son. But the law recognizes that not only with respect to money but with regard to the reforms that come about as a result of a lawsuit. So, without question, this is accountability. That is very important to Memphis and throughout the country.

BLITZER: Yes. Cornell, give me your thoughts too.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Absolutely. Here we have a situation where you have a bystander effect in blue. In other words, you have people with the duty and responsibility to act were charged with the responsibility of acting, but they choose not to act.

So, there is a kind of collective paralysis that makes bad worse. In other words, someone who is tased and beaten and pepper sprayed who is essentially watched over by those with a duty of care. In other words, they're charged with responsibility of looking out for this young man and failed to do so.

BLITZER: You know, Don, you spent days and days there in Memphis. What is it going to take to stop this kind of deadly incident from happening in the first place? What did you learn there?

LEMON: Well, I think it's accountability. And not just accountability in the way that you think I'd be interested to know what these two gentlemen think, but I think people there want to know, okay, so they were fired, right, and they'll face whatever legal consequences they will face.

But I think many people believe that going into this, before these incidents happened, if police can be held personally responsible, meaning they can be sued, meaning there is a liability, meaning they will lose money, they could lose their homes, and that personal accountability doesn't often happen with police departments. You can sue the department. And then the taxpayer ends up. We end up paying for the lawsuits and the money.

Perhaps if that changed and police were personally responsible for paying victims, for paying back the taxpayer and so on and so forth, that they would think about their actions in advance knowing that their families also may face ramifications for this.

BLITZER: You know, Joey, as of right now, five police officers have been criminally charged. That is one hurdle, but the other piece of this are the actual convictions down the road. You're a criminal defense attorney. How difficult is that piece?

JACKSON: I think it's very, Wolf, for following reasons. When you would examine a case like this, you have to examine what brought about the police conduct, number one. Police do not and should not be engaging in any force unless there is an immediate threat. Was there an immediate threat that anyone could say reasonably they saw on that video that Mr. Nichols posed at the time? The answer, no.

The second question, Wolf, becomes the proportionality of their conduct.


Look at the blows that were thrown. Look at the kicks that they had. Look at the pepper spraying. Look at the ask (ph) that was used. Was that proportionality to anything that Mr. Nichols was doing at the time? Did he deserve any of that? Look at the reasonability of their conduct collectively. No. And that, of course, police very briefly, each individual defendant will say well, I only kicked him, I only punched him, I only did whatever I did.

It's not only that, Wolf, you have to examine in the context of what everyone else was doing. You didn't reasonably know that if you would engage in the conduct you engaged in, and keeping with what everyone else was doing that he could die, as a result of that, really? So, that puts a very high responsibility on the defense.

Last point, and that is the inactivity that we all talked about. You're there to protect. You're there to serve. You're there to preserve life, liberty, and you didn't do it, And so the failing to act also. So, it creates a very difficult environment for a defense in this particular case.

BLITZER: Cornell, I know you wanted to make a point just a few moments ago, but go ahead.

BROOKS: Sure. I think one of the things that really important for us to appreciate here is for ordinary people, that is to say people who are not lawyers, accountability means more than a conviction. Accountability means more than a monetary payment, meaning we're able to sue law enforcement officers in the absence of qualified immunity.

Accountability means that you can walk down the street and have your body and your being be intact. So, in other words, for Tyre Nichols's mother, accountability means that her son would be alive. So, we need to be clear about this. Conviction is not resurrection. Her boy is not coming back.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks. Don Lemon, Joey Jackson, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll stay on top of this story, to be sure.

LEMON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, as President Trump makes his first major 2024 campaign swings in the south, he is slamming his former ally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as, quote, very disloyal. Will it work with voters? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden tells CNN he has a message for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy just ahead of their critical talks on the debt limit standoff here in the United States. Biden urging the Republican leader to, quote, show me your budget, and I'll show you mine.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill right now. Manu, so what could we expect from this meeting between the president and the speaker, Kevin McCarthy, on Wednesday?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the two sides are kind of in complete different -- have a complete different understanding of what Wednesday's meeting is all about. Kevin McCarthy believes this is the beginning of horse trading, negotiations and will ultimately lead to raising the national debt limit, including some concessions on spending cuts that he and his conference are seeking.

The White House views it much differently. They say there are no negotiations, that the debt ceiling needs to be raised to avoid the first ever potential debt default here in the United States. There are real fears that that could happen by June if Congress does not act.

Now, behind the scenes, Republicans are trying to put together a plan in which they can agree on. They're talking about capping domestic programs, as well as capping defense programs, cuts to both issues, steering clear of those entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare, something that they know they would be hit hard with in the polls if they went too far.

The challenge for Kevin McCarthy is this. There are some members of his conference who will vote no, no matter what, including Congressman Greg Pence, who has told me that no matter how many priorities would ultimately get into a package to raise the debt ceiling, he is still a no.


RAJU: What about the debt ceiling? Any chance you'd vote for --


RAJU: Even if you --


RAJU: Even if you had all your priorities --

PENCE: No. Yes. That's what I hear back home.

RAJU: Okay.

PENCE: It's time to do something about that. So, we'll see what happens, right?


RAJU: So, that is the real challenge for Kevin McCarthy, because there are members in his conference, like Greg Pence, who will vote no, no matter what. There are others who want steep spending cuts, and that anybody is trying to get an agreement on.

And then on the other side, Democrats say no spending cuts whatsoever, concerned if they do go down that route, it will lead to what happened in 2011, leading to a potential debt default at that time and also a downgrading of the U.S. economy, concerns that it could happen once again here, Wolf.

So, we're heading into this critical moment, a key meeting. But what can actually be resolved Wednesday? It's very uncertain whether Wednesday's meeting will be anything more than just optics. The two sides staking out their positions ahead of what could be a very significant consequential and potentially risky, damaging to the U.S. economy if neither side can get a deal before June. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. The economic stakes are clearly enormous. Manu Raju, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more on the debt showdown as well as the new campaign moves by former President Trump. We're joined now by CNN Anchor and Chief Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, how likely is any progress on these debt limit negotiations if you can, in fact, call them negotiations?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is increasingly unlikely, not likely. There are not going to be any resolutions this week. And, of course, what Manu is saying there, I think is the key point. If Speaker Kevin McCarthy can keep his Republicans together and they can reach an agreement, that is the big if here. And that is what the White House is, in fact, relying on, hoping for that House Republicans simply will fracture and cannot stay united.

Wolf, that is one thing that really strikes me as very different place where this discussion is happening from a decade ago when the Obama administration was negotiating with Republicans.


Back then, during the tea party era, spending was really the core of the Republican Party's message that is not necessarily true this time.

So, this is just the opening gambit, if you will. That meeting on Wednesday is just the beginning of many, many conversations. But there is no sign yet that House Republicans are necessarily united on what spending agreements they're actually even talking about.

BLITZER: Interesting. And amidst all of this, Kaitlan, as you know, former President Trump hit his first stops out there on the campaign trail, he was in New Hampshire and South Carolina. What are you hearing about the direction of his 2024 presidential campaign? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Basically, there

are still big questions about what exactly it's going to look like, Wolf, and whether or not it's going to be significantly different than his last campaign.

These were his first formal stops that he's made really since announcing that he was going to be running for a third time, running for president, as he did last fall. He was in New Hampshire and South Carolina on Saturday. He promised this forward-looking campaign that is going to be focused on the future. That was a line he used while on stage in South Carolina. But this is a real concern that his advisers have privately behind the scenes is that it's not going to be this forward-focused campaign, and instead, it's going to be the president doing -- the former president doing what he has done time and time again for so long now, which is relying on these election grievances, these lies that he has pushed about the election. And he has had people go to him and say you have to develop a message if you're going to make yourself stand out in this field that we are expecting to be a very big field of Republican candidates.

The former president hasn't always taken that message and been particularly receptive to it. He has argued that the message he has now is strong as it is. He has argued that no Republicans should actually run against him for the nomination. Wolf, obviously, we know that's not likely.

And so, I think there are real concerns about just how forward looking this campaign is going to be. And it's not just from his advisers. They've reached out to some people who either worked on his last campaign, Wolf, or worked inside the Trump White House to offer them positions on this campaign, people who have denied those for now, saying maybe they'll join at a later date. But right now, they're not interested.

BLITZER: Interesting. Jeff, I want you to listen to former President Trump actually talk about two possible 2024 Republican rivals, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Ron would not have been governor if it wasn't for me, and that's okay. When I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal. But it's not about loyalty, but to me, it is, it's always about loyalty. But for a lot of people, it's not about loyalty.

Nikki Haley called me the other day to talk to me. I said look, go by your heart if you want to run. She has publicly stated that I would never run against my president. He was a great president.


BLITZER: So, Jeff, what does this say to you, that Trump already is targeting DeSantis in particular?

ZELENY: Wolf, it says one thing, first and foremost, that Governor Ron DeSantis gets under his skin unlike any other potential Republican presidential candidate, including his former vice president, many cabinet members who are also thinking of running. So, that is the reality here.

And we're just about a year out from the first votes of the 2024 primary campaign. It sounds like a long time away, and, in fact, it is in some respects. But reality is, behind the scenes here, the former president is trying to send a shot across the bow, a warning sign, everything else you may want to use to try and to frame this conversation.

But Governor DeSantis is still a sitting governor. So, that means that he can sort of propose policies. And he is more in the moment than the former president. So, that is the challenge for Donald Trump, to stay current in the moment with the base. But there is no doubt that Ron DeSantis annoys the former president, and that is what we're going to see for the next several months.

BLITZER: Yes, I assume you're right.

Kaitlan, the former president in his campaign also faced a number of major obstacles from various ongoing criminal investigations among other issues. You have some new reporting, I'm told, on the probe into his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. I know this is new reporting first here on CNN. Tell us what you're learning.

COLLINS: Yes, this is something we've learned about those two individuals who found the classified documents at that Florida storage facility, remember, that happened the last fall, they have actually been brought before the grand jury in Washington, D.C. that is investigating and looking into Trump's handling of these national security documents.

We are told that they went before the grand jury last week for about three hours each. They were in separate appearances. And these are the two people that Trump's orbit hired to go and search four of his properties long after -- about three months after the FBI had actually executed that search warrant on Mar-a-Lago. They went around to other properties to see if there was more classified information there. They found those two documents at the storage facility in Florida. And now my colleague, Katelyn Polantz, and I have this reporting that they have now gone before the grand jury.

We had heard the grand jury had wanted to talk to them. The investigators were hoping to speak to them. And now we are told that they have.


What exactly they told them is still unclear.

But this does come as we are learning more about how this investigation is developing now that a special counsel, of course, is handling this, is looking into this.

We are told that investigators are pushing to try to look at files on a laptop of a staffer at Mar-a-Lago, potentially looking to see if there is some kind of electronic paper trail when it came to conversations potentially about these classified documents.

It just shows you how this campaign is progressing. They are bringing new people in. This investigation is progressing as they are bringing new people in, in front of the grand jury to talk about this, as we're talking about what's going on with Biden's documents, with Pence's documents. We're seeing that these developments are still happening when it comes to Trump's documents. BLITZER: Excellent reporting. Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much. Jeff Zeleny, also thanks to you.

Important note to our viewers, Kaitlan, of course, will be back with both Don and Poppy tomorrow morning 6:00 A.M. Eastern for CNN This Morning. I watch it every morning.

Just ahead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Israel and some of the worst bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians in years. We'll go live the Jerusalem. That's next.



BLITZER: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel right now amid a deadly escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

CNN's Hadas Gold has the latest from Jerusalem.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the U.S. secretary of state's plane landed in Tel Aviv, so did hopes that Antony Blinken's visit will dial down the raging temperature on the ground here after days of some of the worst bloodshed for both Israelis and Palestinians in years from the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We're urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate.

GOLD: Blinken's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was already set to be prickly. The top U.S. diplomat's first visit to Israel since Netanyahu's new government came into power, largely considered the most right-wing, nationalist and religious government in Israeli history, now reaching an even greater urgency.

BLINKEN: We continue to believe the best way to achieve it is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states. As I said to the prime minister, anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel's long-term security and its long-term identity as a Jewish and Democratic state.

GOLD: Blinken seemingly alluding to Israeli moves in the weeks of attacks, including demolishing homes of attackers and even pushing draft legislation that would revoke the Israeli residency cards of the families of those deemed terrorists.

Netanyahu facing his own internal pressures from the more extremist members of his cabinet, to go even further in response to these latest attacks. The Israeli leader barely mentioning the recent wave of violence, arguing that it is through expanded normalization agreements with Arab countries that will ultimately help bring peace on the ground here. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I also believe that expanding the circle of peace, working to close finally the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict I think would also help us achieve a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbors.

GOLD: Blinken heads to Ramallah on Tuesday to meet with Palestinian leadership where he will likely be pushing for them to restore the security coordination with Israel to Palestine authority cut last week, seen as the one of the few tools available to help prevent an escalation of violence.


GOLD: Now, Blinken and Netanyahu both spoke about the need to rein in Iran, but neither directly addressed reports from The Wall Street Journal and New York Times that Israel was behind this weekend's drone attack on a military plant in Iran.

This of course will not be the first time that Israel had carried out a targeted strike in Iran. No Israeli officials are commenting. But it is interesting to note about the timing of the strike. It comes just days after Israel and the United States wrapped up their largest ever joint military exercise in which the IDF chief of staff actually told me directly that this exercise shows that if Iran makes mistakes, offensive capabilities are getting ready. Wolf?

BLITZER: Tensions escalating dramatically. Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

We're also following intense fighting right now around the eastern Ukrainian City of Bakhmut. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is in Kyiv for us tonight. Sam, what more are you learning about the fierce fighting across, in fact, the entire country right now?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been most intense around Bakhmut and (INAUDIBLE) just to the south of it, which is a town that the Russians have been focusing on with some violence. Both of those locations, of course, in Donetsk Province where the Russians have been in control of a large chunk of it since 2014 and captured more at the beginning of this war 11 months ago. But they have been focusing their attention on Bakhmut.

And for the first time today, Wolf, there were signals or suggestions coming from commanders on the ground that they may -- and this is Ukrainian force, may make a tactical withdrawal from Bakhmut, because -- and they have been talking about this. I was talking to commanders on the ground some weeks ago. And they don't understand really from a tactical or strategic perspective why the Russians are so focused on Bakhmut other than that they need to get some kind of a victory.

So, as far as the Ukrainians are concerned, they have been trying to soak up lot of the violence that the Russians are throwing at it, all this coming at a time when the president has now ruled out the donation of F-16s to the Ukrainian cause. Wolf?

BLITZER: Sam Kiley on the scene for us in Ukraine. Stay safe over there, Sam. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Oregon police say a, quote, extremely dangerous man is on the loose right now and evading law enforcement with the help of dating apps.



BLITZER: Oregon law enforcement officials say a man accused of torturing a woman is using dating apps to avoid police. A massive manhunt is now under way after police found a victim last week they believe he bound and beat unconscious.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has details, new details on this very disturbing story.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In southern Oregon, a manhunt is underway for 36-year-old Benjamin Obadiah Foster, on the run after allegedly kidnapping and trying to kill a woman, beating her into unconsciousness. Police describing him as an extremely dangerous suspect who may attempt to change his appearance by updating his beard and hair or by changing his hair color.

The public being asked to pay particular attention to foster's facial structure and eyes, sense those features are very difficult to change. Court documents allege Foster tried to kill the victim while in potentially torching her and severely confining her in a place where she was not likely to be found.


Police say the victim was discovered last Tuesday in Grants Pass, Oregon, bound and severely beaten now hospitalized in critical condition. The suspect fleeing the scenes.

CHIEF WARREN HENSMAN, GRANTS PASS POLICE: I think he's definitely a threat to others but I think he will be a threat to somebody who befriend him. I don't think he is a random attacker. But I can't, nothing's off the table with an individual like him -- an absolutely disgusting, horrific scene. I've seen a lot in my career, but some things do stick with you and this will -- this will stay stained in my memory for many years to come.

KAFANOV: On Thursday, local state and federal authorities raided a property about 20 miles north of Grants Pass, where they seized evidence, including Foster's 2008 Nissan Sentra. During that search, police arrested a 68 year old woman for hindering prosecution, and allegedly helping Foster evade law enforcement.

Police say Foster evaded capture and likely received assistance in fleeing the area and believe he is actively using online dating applications to contact unsuspecting individuals who may be lured into assisting with a suspect's escaped or potentially as additional victims.

This isn't Foster's first run in with the law. Court records show he was charged in two separate cases, accusing him of attacking women while living in Las Vegas years earlier. In the first case, Foster was charged with felony battery constituting domestic violence. His ex- girlfriend testified that he had attempted to strangle her in a rage in 2017 after another man texted her.

LT. JEFF HATTERSLEY, GRANTS PASS POLICE: He's a felon on the run. He doesn't want to go back to prison. He's probably willing to do anything to stay out of prison.

KAFANOV: While that case was still pending in court in 2019, Foster was charged with felony assault, battery and kidnapping for allegedly attacking another woman, his girlfriend at the time. The victim told police Foster strangled her to the point of unconsciousness several times, and kept her tied up for most of the next two weeks.

Court records show she said she escaped after convincing Foster to go shopping. Foster ultimately agreed to plead deals, sentenced to a maximum of 30 months in prison, but given credit for the 729 days served in the first case.

The police chief in Grants Pass, Oregon, expressing concern that he was set free.

HENSMAN: My response to that question is that, am I troubled by what I know already? The answer is yes. We're laser-focused on capturing this man and bringing him to justice.


KAFANOV (on camera): The Grants Pass police chief also told me the Oregon victim and suspect had a prior relationship. They knew one another. He said she was only found because friend was only worried about not having heard from her, went to the House and discovered her tied up and unconscious.

This friend contacted the police and was able to identify the suspect as Benjamin Foster. The chief also telling many he believes that Foster is a threat to others who might befriend him, that he is not a random attacker, but added quote, nothing's off the table with an individual like him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Horrible, indeed. Lucy Kafanov, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, classes resume at a Virginia elementary school nearly a month after a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher.



BLITZER: Today was the first day back in class for students at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, where a 6-year- old boy shot his first grade teacher three weeks ago. CNN's Brian Todd is in Newport News for us.

Brian, what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they prepared for this reopening by setting up the kind of security footprint that we really have never seen before at an elementary school. We also have new information tonight on the investigation and on the shooters background.


TODD (voice-over): Classes resume at Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Virginia, weeks after a first grader there shot and wounded his teacher in the classroom.

DEDE WILLIAMS, GRANDCHILD ATTENDS RICHNECK ELEMENTARY: It was overwhelming but I was glad to see the officers there.

TODD: Now, amid the fallout, CNN is starting to learn more about the six-year-old shooter.

JAMES GRAVES, PRESIDENT, NEWPORT NEWS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: Well, what has been reported to the union is that in his kindergarten days, he was seen choking a teacher.

TODD: James Graves, president of the teachers union here in Newport News, says the union is investigating if school leadership ignored warning signs.

GRAVES: From what the teacher was telling me, they were told that we don't have to worry about it. The assistant principal and principal dropped the ball. They really drop the ball.

TODD: The attorneys of the child's family didn't comment on his alleged past behavior. CNN has also reached out to the Newport News school district and to the principal who was in charge when the teacher was shot for her response to the allegations of the child's past behavior. They didn't respond. The principal has been reassigned to another school. The revelations leaving parents frustrated.

TERESA BERRY, RICHNECK ELEMENTARY PARENT: I was very angry about that one, because, they had all the warnings and they didn't do anything. The Newport News police chief was on hand for the students return. We asked him if it was possible that one or both parents could be charged.

CHIEF STEVE DREW, NEWPORT NEWS POLICE: I would be wrong to step outside of that boundary, I am not going to present the evidence, what we collected here from the school, from the record we reviewed, from the interviews we have. We're going to present that to the commonwealth attorney, they will make that determination.

TODD: He said the investigation is ongoing, but wouldn't answer if investigators question the six-year-old.

Now these elementary school students must pass through metal detectors at the school, they will have to carry see-through backpacks, and we'll be learning with police nearby to quote, assist with the transition.

BERRY: Very nervous and anxious about her coming back.

TODD: Richneck parent Theresa Berry says that despite the stepped up security, unanswered questions are stirring up parents fear.

BERRY: You don't know exactly what happened because you never know if this is going to happen again.

Hopefully going forward, it will be a lot better.

TODD: And grandmother DeDe Williams says there is still room for more accountability for school staff after some change in leadership.

WILLIAMS: I think more people should lose their jobs. This is a step forward. I hope it continues with what the city of Newport News is doing, the officers here, but it's a lot. It's a lot for these babies. These are babies. And they don't deserve this.


TODD (on camera): James Graves, the head of the teachers union, says he doesn't believe the six-year-old shooter should ever be allowed back here at Richneck Elementary School or at any other public school in the Newport News system. He's proposed an alternative K-12 school will only the most severe disciplinary cases are sent and the school district is seriously considering that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- Brian, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.