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Death Toll From Catastrophic Earthquake Rises Above 21,000; Biden Takes Fight With GOP Over Social Security To Florida Seniors; Source Says, Former Vice President Mike Pence Subpoenaed In Trump January 6th Probes; Source: Pence Subpoenaed By Special Counsel Investigating Trump. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 09, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN is moving deeper into the disaster zone. Stand by for live reports on the catastrophic distraction in Turkey and in Syria and the increasingly desperate search for survivors.
Also tonight, President Biden takes his new fight with the Republicans over social security and Medicare to Florida. He's laying more groundwork for his expected re-election bid on the turf of Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
And Biden administration officials now reveal new evidence that a massive Chinese balloon was spying on the United States, saying it was capable of monitoring secret communications and gathering intelligence.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's go right to the scene of that massive earthquake where rescue and recovery teams are working into the night. They're finding far more bodies than survivors three days after the first powerful tremor hit.
CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Salma Abdelaziz are on the ground for us in Turkey, covering the destruction there and in Syria. First to you Jomana, tell us what's happening where you are in Southern Turkey.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, earlier today, we traveled down to the city of Iskenderun, that is in Hatay Province, that's one of the hardest-hit provinces here in Turkey. And on almost every street there, you find destroyed homes, destroyed buildings, and everyone there seems to be in this state of shock. People are walking the streets dazed, confused, just really struggling to process what's happened to them, to their city, and to this country.
KARADSHEH (voice over): Endless lines on the road to Iskenderun, a devastated city's crying for help answered by a nation in shock, united in pain. These men tell us they drove more than eight hours carrying diapers, water, and bread, whatever they can do to help strangers who need all they can get. Destruction in every corner of the city, no building spared Mother Nature's wrath.
So, even in this part of the city where buildings are still standing, you can see that there are cracks all over these buildings. They've sustained damage, so we are going to have to walk through here really fast. We don't know how stable these structures are right now.
In seconds, life shattered, livelihoods destroyed, a city and its people left broken.
SERVER ONEN, ISKENDERUN RESIDENT: I'm confused. I don't know how to feel, senseless.
KARADSHEH: Server has been out here searching for his friend, the only one left under the wreckage of this apartment building. No professional rescuers here, just volunteers drawing floor plans for their search in the dirt.
ONEN: Thursday, I was really hopeful, but this is the fourth day. I'm getting out of hope.
KARADSHEH: Even happy endings here are overshadowed by the collective grief. Burak, flew back from his home in London to find his sister and other relatives. It's a miracle they made it out. They were buried under the rubble for 15 hours, he tells us.
BURAK DIK, FAMILY RESCUED: I'm speechless to this. I mean, a dream, very bad dream. I'm hearing so many of our friends die in here. So many relatives are dying. My feelings are all collapsed. I'm only breathing at the moment.
KARADSHEH: Around the corner, we find Suheil (ph) overseeing the search mission here. For days, he's desperately been trying to get his parents out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our government helps but it's not enough, obviously. So, we are trying to get our people by our own, and we need you. We need everyone who can come and help us.
KARADSHEH: Suheil (ph) tell us he saw his mother's leg under the rubble.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not able to reach her. She is there. I see her, but I cannot touch her. I understand my mother is dead. I am trying to get my mother.
KARADSHEH: With every passing hour, for many here, the agonizing wait ends as the gut-wrenching reality sinks in.
KARADSHEH (on camera): And, Wolf, tonight, we're here in Adana. We're at the site of the search and rescue of this building. It was a 14- storey residential building. A hundred people are believed to be inside that building when the earthquake hit, and these search and rescue teams have been working around the clock, night and day, trying to locate any survivors. I mean, it has been a nerve-racking 72 hours for those who have been gathered around the site, family members, friends, waiting to hear the news of what happened to their loved ones, holding on to the hope that they are going to emerge alive.
But so far, they haven't been able to pull anyone out alive.
We met a woman here who was waiting to find out what happened to her friends, a young couple. She said on the ninth floor, they have a two- year-old daughter and a newborn, and so many stories like that. Hundreds of people have been gathering here, waiting for news, but right now, hope is fading, Wolf. They have just been pulling body after body. I mean, an hour ago, we just saw them pull another body. Wolf?
BLITZER: More than 21,000 men, women and children killed in this earthquake so far. That number is expected to go up big-time. Jomana Karadsheh, stay safe over there, thank you very, very much.
We're also learning more tonight about the very dire situation in earthquake-battered Syria. Salma Abdelaziz is covering that for us from her post in Istanbul, Turkey. Salma, we have new video that's giving us a window into the crisis in Syria. Tell us about that.
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, finally, finally, a tiny trickle of aid has entered rebel-held Syria, but it's just a drop when it comes to the ocean of need on the ground. Just six trucks with a little bit of equipment to help shelter people, but they need so much more help. Take a look at their plight.
ABDELAZIZ (voice over): A rescue worker sings to little Mina, talks and shares stories with her. He goes on and on, chatting about anything to distract her from the horrifying reality that she's being extracted from the ruins of her home.
Mina is eventually pulled out safely. Her family has also survived, rescued by members of the White Helmets, a group of first responders seen as heroes in this rebel-held enclave of Syria. Nearly 12 years of war has made the group experts on the grim task of retrieving people from collapsed buildings.
Syrians living in opposition-controlled areas battered by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and feeling neglected by the world have come to depend on only themselves, even in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
The result is catastrophic. Here, there's a shortage of everything, even body bags. This man has arrived with just one bag to hold all four of his dead relatives.
We hope that countries would come to our rescue, he says, but there was only our community that came to help us, nobody else. We have no one to help us.
And for the thousands of wounded pulled out of the rubble, they face a health care system on the brink. Another volunteer group here is the Syrian American Medical Society, doing its best to provide care on the ground. But equipment and supplies are scarce and countless deaths, they warn, could be prevented if they could just get the basics.
And for those survivors, unharmed but made homeless, vehicles are now shelter, sidewalks are beds, shivering in olive groves is all that's left, a crisis within a crisis that's left those with nothing somehow with even less.
ABDELAZIZ (on camera): Unimaginable suffering there in Syria, Wolf. Absolutely help can't come soon enough.
But I want to take you to where I am here in Istanbul. I know you hear people clapping. We're in a huge aid center, this hangar that's been turned into an aid center. They clap every time they're able to load a truck.
Let me just walk you through this. You have this chain of humans, their just carrying these boxes along. And if you just follow me through here, they're loading them up into those trucks over there. They're trying to work as quickly as they possibly can. They know that every single second counts, that people are depending on them to help.
And then take a look over here, just at the enormous amount of donations they had. Everything you are looking at here, Wolf, we've talked about international aid, but everything you are looking at here is for Turks from Turks, individuals, businesses, families, people simply wanting to help out. There's a true sense of community here, a true sense of solidarity, everyone wanting to feel like they can do something for those on the ground who are suffering.
If you speak to any of these volunteers, some of them have families, some of them have relatives, and they've told us, I couldn't just sit at home and do nothing. I had to come. I had to help out.
BLITZER: Salma Abdelaziz, please thank all those volunteers. We are so, so grateful to them. Thank you very much for that report.
Let's discuss what's going on with the top UNICEF official monitoring the situation in both Turkey and Syria, the emergency communications specialist, Joe English. Joe, thanks so much for joining us, thanks for all you're doing.
As we watch these truly remarkable videos, these pictures of these people being rescued from the rubble, the death toll is also clearly climbing, it's well beyond 20,000 people so far. That number is expected to go way up. What are UNICEF's teams on the ground in Turkey and Syria witnessing tonight? JOE ENGLISH, UNICEF EMERGENCY COMMUNICATION SPECIALIST: Yes, Wolf. Jomana's report, there was a man who mentioned a bad dream, and, honestly, for children, this is a nightmare. And it's one they're not waking up from. And for many, especially those in Syria, in Northwest Syria, this is a recurring nightmare. These children have lived through years of war, of conflict, of devastation, and now this.
And so, families are huddled out on the street. Children are scared to go into the buildings because of the continuing aftershocks. And so they need everything. We are there. We're working with our dedicated local partner organizations to reach people in need, but the needs, as Salma said, are huge, absolutely huge.
BLITZER: What are the most immediate needs, Joe, for those individuals who have survived this truly devastating earthquake but now find themselves without a home and it's bitter cold right now as well?
ENGLISH: Yes, Wolf. There are a few areas that we're prioritizing. One of those is warm winter clothes, blankets for children, also tarpaulins so that people can begin to fix their broken homes, the tents they may be living in, for many of the families who have been displaced multiple times, to provide little bit of shelter from the cold weather, the freezing rain, and also clean, safe drinking water. We know that an issue like cholera, a water-borne disease, can be a major catastrophe if it gets out of hand. And so these families could be facing a secondary humanitarian crisis on top of the -- you know, what they've already been through.
BLITZER: Joe English from UNICEF, thank you so much. Once again, thank all your teams out there for what they're doing.
And to our viewers, for information, how you can contribute to UNICEF and other organizations helping earthquake victims, go to cnn.com/impact and you can impact your world.
Just ahead, President Biden ramping up his battle with the Republicans over social security and Medicare in his trip to a key state. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President Biden traveled to Florida today to try to turn up the heat on Republicans in their escalating fight over the future of social security and Medicare.
CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz has more on the president's post-state of the union road show and why Florida was a strategic backdrop for his message.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Joe Biden on the road in Florida armed for battle with Republicans. JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Look, I know that a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut social security and Medicare. Well, let me say this. If that's your dream, I'm your nightmare.
SAENZ: The president's main target since his state of the union address, Florida's own Senator Rick Scott. Biden waved a pamphlet highlighting the Republican senator's plan to sunset all federal legislation every five years, including social security and Medicare.
BIDEN: The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put social security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years, I find it to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it.
SAENZ: The Florida Republican in an interview with CNN's Kaitlan Collins arguing that's not the case.
SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I wrote the plan and I've been clear about it. Anybody asked me what I meant, I've been very clear. Nobody believes that I have a goal of reducing. I don't know any Republicans that want to cut Medicare or social security benefits. He's been a complete failure, and now he lies about what I want to get done.
SAENZ: Still, it's a fight the White House is eager to wage, a clash on full display Tuesday night, as the president gears up for a face- off with the GOP over the debt ceiling.
BIDEN: And I said, that means you all are for keeping social security? They all stood up and said, yes. I said, well, we got a deal. It sounded like they agreed to take these cuts off the table. I sure hope so. I really mean it.
SAENZ: Biden also with a warning to Republicans, hoping to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes caps on insulin and Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices.
BIDEN: Make no mistake about it, if they try to raise the cost of prescription drugs or abolish the Affordable Care Act, I will veto it.
SAENZ: All arguments that could be central to a 2024 re-election bid. The president taking that pitch to a state that's rich with senior voters, a group he lost in Florida by ten points in 2020. And looming large over this trip are the two Florida men who could serve as the president's chief Republican rivals, Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. Biden, referencing both men briefly in his remarks, but still quiet about when a 2024 announcement will come.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like you're running.
BIDEN: I haven't made that decision. That's my intention, I think, but I haven't made that decision firmly.
SAENZ (on camera): Now, even as Florida has shown some signs of shifting away from Democrats in recent years, the president traveled there because it has a large population of retirees who benefit from these programs like social security and Medicare.
Biden advisers see the polling and believe this is something that will ultimately play in their favor, and it's a fight that he has shown no sign of wanting to back down from with one White House official saying, we want this fight, we relish this fight.
BLITZER: CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz. Arlette, thank you very much.
Let's bring in CNN Political Director David Chalian, CNN Senior Political Analyst Nia-Malika Henderson and CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt.
David, the president clearly sees going to Florida and going after Senator Rick Scott and what he said about social security and Medicare as giving him a political advantage, at least in that home state of Senator Scott.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: In that home state and nationally. Because when you defend and put yourself as the defender of extraordinarily popular public programs, that's a pretty good position to be in for politics.
It's not just haphazard that this has long been called the third rail of American politics, and Democrats and President Biden think Rick Scott went and grabbed that rail about a year ago. They're not the only one, by the way. Mitch McConnell clearly thinks Rick Scott did as well, and that he's getting singed by it now. So, they're pressing this advantage. It is a politically advantageous place for Biden to be because of how unbelievably popular these programs are.
BLITZER: Especially in Florida where there's a huge elderly population that relies on social security and Medicare.
Nia, is Senator Rick Scott essentially handing a gift to the president of the United States?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And, listen, you mentioned Mitch McConnell, this is what he was nervous about in 2022 when Rick Scott rolled out this plan. Even back in 2022, Biden was making an issue of it. He went to Florida. He passed out Rick Scott's 12-point plan to a crowd there and was highlighting this idea that Rick Scott had of essentially putting Medicare and social security up on the table, and up for grabs, every five years, and having it be reauthorize.
I think the problem that Republicans have on this is they have talked about changing social security, raising the retirement age, same with Medicare, privatizing social security. So, it's kind of an easy attack because we've been here over many years with Republicans and social security in these very popular entitlement programs.
So, I think it puts Biden in a good position not only going into 2024 but going into these debt ceiling negotiations as well because you have Republicans repeatedly saying this is not what we want to do, this is not what we want to do, but if you're explaining, you're sort of losing, I think.
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I mean, Mitch McConnell views this and this feud with him and Rick Scott has now been going on for quite some time, and it's very, very heated, by the way, behind the scenes. Aides to both camps are very agitated by all of it.
And McConnell views this as a massive unforced error. I mean, why do this? Why put his party in this position when clearly the mood of the country, especially in recent years, has been so incredibly populist? I mean, this is something that helps Donald Trump win the White House. This has been an area -- I mean, when Biden said at the State of the Union, let's stand up for seniors, it was one of the few times when everybody in the room stood up, right? And this is why.
BLITZER: And it also comes at a time when they're trying to raise the debt ceiling right now, and this could be a part of the negotiating tactics on the part of the president in dealing with the new House speaker.
CHALIAN: No doubt about it. I think Nia was spot on. There is a short-term political benefit here because of the coming weeks and months of this debt ceiling battle. And so this is an attempt to put Kevin McCarthy in a bit of a box and say, okay, you know, you say you want spending cuts. You won't specify what they are. I keep saying, show me your budget, and now I'm going to pressure you here and say, take these off the table, which Kevin McCarthy says, I'm not talking about cutting social security and Medicare. He tries to distance himself from this Rick Scott plan. But Biden and his team are going to use this to try and corner him as they go through these spending negotiations with the ultimate goal of trying to get the debt ceiling raised.
BLITZER: Yes. That's a huge issue.
CHALIAN: And then, of course, the long-term political gain on the re- elect. I mean, it serves both purposes here.
BLITZER: When do we expect that he will make the formal announcement that he is seeking a bid for re-election?
CHALIAN: All our reporting has been that in these weeks after the state of the union, that we're in right now, that we're in a window of the next weeks or month or couple months or so that he would do that. But, you know, again, until he does it, we are waiting for him to actually say it. Because every time he gives a sound bite like that, that says, it's my intention and my current thinking, it will just start the hand-wringing inside Democratic circles again if he is really all systems go on this.
HENDERSON: No, I think that's right. And the idea that that he hasn't made up his mind yet, I think that's what he said in that interview, it's a little strange. Really? You haven't made up your mind?
CHALIAN: I think that's FEC --
HENDERSON: Yes. And so at some point, he'll run. You saw some of the polls out that said, you know, Democrats would rather somebody else to run. The problem is who is that other person. The poll also shows that, listen, if he runs, it sounds like Democrats would line up behind him, but you could be looking at a rematch, right? Biden, Trump is obviously in this race. We'll see who else gets on the Republican side. But it seems like all systems are go very soon.
HUNT: Yes. I mean, I think, you know, there is some thinking, and I have talked to some Democrats on Capitol Hill who suggest that it might be worth waiting to see the Republican field grow a little bit before Biden were to make this announcement, just because that kind of gives Democrats in general an opportunity to come in from a unified position of strength while, you know, Republicans spend some time fighting it out. But there is a risk inherent in any strategy of waiting that something could happen.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on, guys. We're getting some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is joining us. Jessica, tell us what you're learning.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've actually just gotten confirmation actually from our Kaitlan Collins here that the former vice president, Mike Pence, has, in fact, been subpoenaed as part of the special counsel probe now being conducted by Jack Smith.
You'll remember that jack smith was put into place, named by the attorney general back in November. His investigation has been going full steam ahead since then, and now we've learned that he has, in fact, subpoenaed the former vice president.
And what our Kaitlan Collins is learning is that this subpoena is asking for documents and testimony related to January 6th, in particular, the special counsel's office wants to know about interactions with Trump leading up to the election and January 6th.
Of course, the vice president -- the former vice president, a key figure in resisting what were these attempts at election interference, and he was the one who presided over the certification of the election that was ultimately disrupted on January 6th, and ultimately went forward in the early morning hours of January 7th.
We've seen this special counsel behind closed doors, that is, really make big moves in this investigation. Of course, he's doing an investigation on parallel tracks here. He's investigating January 6th, the election interference, at the same time he's investing the classified documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago and possible obstruction by the former president and his team.
He -- the special counsel here has been really moving swiftly and with great speed here. We know that he subpoenaed -- our team actually had reported earlier today that he had subpoenaed the former national security adviser, Robert O'Brien.
But this subpoena to the former vice president, Mike Pence, it comes after months of negotiations that our team has previously reported on with the former vice president's team, and now, we understand that, in fact, the special counsel wants documents and testimony all related to January 6th.
Wolf, the question will be how exactly this plays out, because, presumably, the former vice president will be exerting executive privilege at least in some sense here. So, unclear exactly how much he'll be able to comply with this subpoena if he does assert executive privilege. Wolf?
BLITZER: There's no doubt he could be a very, very key witness in these ongoing proceedings.
All right, Jessica, stand by for a moment. I want to bring in our Legal Analyst Elliot Williams. Give us your reaction to this breaking news, Elliot.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, above all else, we should note that we need more information about this, the terms of this subpoena, because it's entirely possible here that the vice president and his team requested a subpoena before proceeding.
I know there have been negotiations over his appearance or handing over documents, and many people who are the subject of investigations often sort of ask for a subpoena, because then that gives them more of a basis for complying, so we'll see.
But, certainly, this is profound, Wolf, as many of the other occurrences related to this whole legal matter have played out. This is a profound moment for the American legal system.
BLITZER: But you agree, Elliot, the former vice president could be an absolutely key witness in these proceedings, possible proceedings, against the former president of the United States?
WILLIAMS: He absolutely can, and you know, to Jessica's point, he very well may have some claims with respect to privileges over the documents, depending on the nature of documents and the kinds of conversations he's asked to testify to, even -- it was a -- whether it was a senior White House staff, and necessarily, by holding that role, there will be protections that come along with it.
Now, not every conversation that one has with the president or with staff is going to be protected. That will play out in the courts. So, we'll just have to see what got requested.
BLITZER: Yes. This is a dramatic moment indeed. David Chalian, what's your reaction?
CHALIAN: Well, one thing that I think is really important to separate out just because I know people have seen Mike Pence in the headlines dealing with the documents case, that is not what we're talking about here. As Jessica was just reporting and what Kaitlan Collins has reported about the content or at least the area of content that the subpoena's interested in, it's related to January 6th. So, it's not about the most recent issues that you see, and even though there are special counsels looking into the documents there, and I think that's key.
I'll also remind you, you'll recall when the January 6th committee was looking to perhaps seek testimony from Mike Pence and in a dance with them to figure out -- you remember Mike Pence, when his book came out in the phone, he was giving a lot of interviews, he said the January 6th committee had no right to his testimony. He walled himself off from that. And so, dealing with the Department of Justice and a special counsel investigation is quite different than dealing with a committee in the House.
And so now, whatever the terms here, and as Elliot is saying, we have a lot to learn here, it will be crucial to understanding how walled off certain things are in actually to procure what they're looking for or if indeed there's going to be a blockade.
And I'll just say one other thing.
This couldn't come at a worse time for Mike Pence right now and where he is politically. He is very much doing everything somebody does who wants to launch a presidential campaign. And he is caught right now in a vise, because he leans into and stands by what he did to save democracy on January 6th, as he should. I'm not --
BLITZER: He did the right thing.
CHALIAN: He did absolutely the right thing. It's just that ever since he did that, Donald Trump has worked to make him anathema to the Republican base that he's going to seek right now in a potential Republican nomination contest, and his attachment to Trump is part of his credential. So, he is in this very tough situation, and now being asked to testify related to January 6th is only going to remind Republican base voters about this divide with the former president.
HENDERSON: Yes, And, listen, it reminds us about what happened that day and the situation that Mike Pence found himself in, with the president calling on him to do something he couldn't even constitutionally do, saying that he was a coward, that he didn't do it. There were chants of, hang Mike Pence. At some point, there was some sort of phone call and Donald Trump called Mike Pence a very vulgar name because he clearly knew that he couldn't go through with what Donald Trump wanted him to do.
Inconvenient time, I think you're right, for Mike Pence right, because there's also this separate story that has nothing to do with January 6th about the classified documents found in his home. And so he's always been in this very, very, I think, tenuous position, because he doesn't really quite have a base of support within the Republican Party without Donald Trump, who, really, beginning on January 6th, really started to hammer him and undermine him politically, and that will only keep going.
HUNT: So, I've spent a lot of time reporting on, you know, kind of what played out on January 6th, specifically with Pence and how they handled it. And I think it's important to underscore the fact that Mike Pence's team, those around him, and by every account, those around him, they have participated in the legal processes that have played out around it.
So, you look at the case down in Georgia. You saw his aides kind of going in there. You've seen them going in and out of courthouses here in Washington, D.C. From a political perspective, a subpoena was absolutely required to get him to turn over any of this information. There were no circumstances under which that was going to happen voluntarily, for all of the political reasons that David Chalian laid out. But that doesn't mean his team is not committed to making sure that justice is played out here.
And I just think it's important to think about that, because they obviously are making a very complicated set of political calculations right now, to David's set of excellent points. However, their lives were all put in danger on that day, and the memory of that has not gone away, and the memory of what Trump did or didn't do is also extraordinarily fresh.
And when you think about how the nominating contest is going to play out, the results of these probes matters quite a bit for Trump's bid to become president of the United States again. And I think we have many, many questions about whether a legal recourse is something that's going to keep him out of the Oval Office again. But if you're Mike Pence, if you're other Republicans, I mean, there have been, let me tell you, a lot of Republicans I've talked to in Washington who will say, it would be great if the courts would get rid of this guy for us. We want to get rid of him, but we can't from a political perspective.
HENDERSON: They're not really trying, that's an issue.
BLITZER: Remember, at issue right now is this criminal investigation of the former president of the United States by the special counsel, Jack Smith. It's nothing new. It's a very, very serious moment indeed in U.S. history.
Everybody stand by. We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news just coming in to CNN, the former vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, subpoenaed by Special Counsel Jack Smith as he probes former President Donald Trump.
Our Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has new information for us that's just coming in. Jessica, update our viewers. SCHNEIDER: Well, Wolf, this is a big move, in fact, by the special counsel, Jack Smith. He's been on the job just less than two months now or a little bit more than two months now, I should say. And he has, in fact, subpoenaed the former vice president, Mike Pence.
It's a big move, but it has been predated by weeks of negotiations and discussions with Mike Pence's legal team, as our team has previously reported. And, notably, there will be likely some assertions of executive privilege in this request to get documents and testimony from the former vice president.
So, our Kaitlan Collins is actually reporting the details of this subpoena. It does ask for documents and testimony related to January 6th, specifically it asks about the interactions between Mike Pence and Donald Trump in the lead-up to January 6th.
And our previous reporting that our team has done talked about the fact that in Mike Pence's memoir, which was released in November, he actually did detail some of his own interactions with the former president, Trump, and that may lead to an opening where the former vice president might be able to give the Department of Justice some details that they're asking for.
In particular, with this memoir, Mike Pence had said that Donald Trump had warned him that he would really draw the ire of hundreds of thousands of people if he didn't move to overturn the election, which obviously he did not ultimately do.
And then Mike Pence also talked in his memoir about his reaction to that tweet that Donald Trump said, saying that he didn't have the courage to overturn the election.
So, Mike Pence sort of gave his reaction, in a sense, saying that he had more to worry about on January 6th than what the former president was tweeting.
So, this is a big move from the special counsel. This is among many moves that we've seen from the special counsel in the past several weeks in particular. We know that two of Mike Pence's top aides, Greg Jacob and Marc Short, they did fight their subpoenas on executive privilege grounds, but we know they ultimately did give testimony to the grand jury back in October.
So, this is a big subpoena for the special counsel, but something that we should have expected because we knew these negotiations were definitely ongoing with Pence's legal team here, Wolf. So, unclear exactly what additional information beyond what was in his memoir that former vice president will be able to give, but still a big move from the special counsel.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, stand by. I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins, who actually broke this story for us, got the initial information. Give us a sense, Kaitlan, of what's going on right now and what you're learning from your various sources. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's not a total surprise. It's something we'd kind of seen potentially in the making, given what we had been hearing from sources at the Justice Department and in this orbit who are watching and seeing what this special counsel was doing, but it's a notable development. And I am told that Pence's team got word of this earlier this week, that this is going to happen, and now he has been subpoenaed by the special counsel.
And this is the special counsel, Jack Smith, who's investigating two things. To be clear, he's also investigating the classified documents that former President Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago, but he's also investigating Trump and his role in January 6th and what that looked like.
And so, that is why it makes sense kind of, that Pence is involved in this and that he would be subpoenaed in this, because obviously, he's closely involved.
And so, I'm told that Jack Smith's office is seeking documents and testimony related to January 6th, and they want to hear from Pence, personally. They want him to testify about the interactions he had with Trump, you know, leading up to the election, leading up to January 6th, potentially even after that.
And so, I just heard Jessica talking about Pence's book and how maybe that could have a factor in what DOJ is trying to learn from him, because obviously, conversations between a vice president and a president are typically closely guarded, potentially protected.
We'll see what argument Pence's attorney tries to make about how guarded those conversations are and whether or not he can be subpoenaed to testify about those conversations in particular. But certainly, it's notable that the vice president -- the former vice president has been subpoenaed by the special counsel.
BLITZER: And, Kaitlan, there's no doubt that since January 6th and what happened on January 6th right here in Washington, D.C., that has dramatically strained this relationship between the former president and the former vice president. Is that right?
COLLINS: Yes. Their relationship was very strained by January 6th. So, then they did speak again. You know, Pence, who is often someone who did not break with Trump ever when he was in office, has done so publicly in saying they do not see eye-to-eye on what happened on January 6th, saying that they'll never see eye-to-eye.
The other thing though that has caused a strain in that relationship is the idea that Pence is flirting with the idea of running for president in 2024, which is very clear to anyone who has been watching him and where he's been going, even he himself has said it's not a surprise.
So, that's been an added factor in the notion that he potentially may be running against Trump for the Republican nomination. But yes, they did -- they have spoken several times since they both left office, but nowhere near obviously as often as they used to. They used to have lunch once a week right at the Oval Office, where they would speak.
And so they obviously were very close together. Everyone knows about the infamous Oval Office meeting where Pence was brought in as they were trying to pressure him to do something that he illegally could not do on Capitol Hill on January 6th and that was really the breaking point in their relationship.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins doing excellent reporting for us, she's our Chief Correspondent, thank you very, very much.
Let's squeeze in another very quick break, much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news we're following. The Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith, issuing a subpoena for former Vice President Mike Pence.
Our legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, is still with us for more analysis right now.
Elliot, is there potentially legal jeopardy right now for Mike Pence?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't think so, Wolf, unless he doesn't comply with the subpoena or lies -- not even under oath, lies to a federal officer. He hasn't really faced legal jeopardy.
The one complicated legal question that's going to come out of this is, how do you cut up where the privilege is between Donald Trump the man, Donald Trump the candidate, and Donald Trump the president? Conversations between Mike Pence and Donald Trump the president will be protected. Conversations between Mike Pence and the other two Donald Trumps will not. And it's a hard legal question.
BLITZER: And let's not forget, Elliot, and I want you to give us some perspective right now, what Jack Smith, the special counsel is doing. He's involved in a criminal investigation, potentially trying to determine if the former president of the United States committed a crime, and remember, hundreds of people who participated, took part in the January 6th insurrection, they have been convicted of a crime. Some of them are serving time in jail right now.
That's what Jack Smith is looking into, hovering over this latest development of breaking news, to subpoena the former vice president.
WILLIAMS: Look, every time another witness is subpoenaed or brought in or provides documents, that's potentially more evidence against the defendant as, frankly, I've said on your program it could be challenging to tie Donald Trump to the violence in the manner that some of the people who have been convicted have already been convicted. That could just be challenging for any number of reasons.
So, we shall see. But it's more evidence and potentially problematic for the president.
BLITZER: Very problematic potentially indeed.
All right. Elliot, thank you very much.
Let's take another quick break. More on the breaking news. We'll get the political analysis, how this impacts the 2024 presidential campaign right after this.
BLITZER: Breaking news we're following. A bomb shell in the special counsel's Trump investigation. The former Vice President Mike Pence now facing a subpoena for his testimony and relevant documents.
Let's get some analysis, David Chalian, our political director.
How does this impact, it's clear that the former President Trump, he's running for reelection. He would like to be president again, but Pence seems to be -- wants to do the same thing.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There's no doubt about that. So, they are potential political rivals. They're now potentially on other side of this criminal investigation into Donald Trump's actions leading up to January 6th.
We should just step back for a moment. While this is not a surprising event because we knew about the negotiations that Pence's team was having with the Justice Department, in fact, the very first two people we saw publicly go into the Justice Department with this investigation into January 6th were Pence's team.
So we knew there would be an effort at this and that they've been negotiating. But we should not lose how astonishing this moment is. A former vice president has now been subpoenaed to provide testimony and documents in a criminal case that is targeting his former boss, Donald Trump, and the fact that they may be political rivals in just a couple months. So, that -- this is just unprecedented.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. And it begins with an unprecedented event which was January 6th, which is a sitting president trying to overthrow a free and fair election. All of this will hang over Donald Trump. All of this will hang over Mike Pence. And in some ways, this is the argument I think that other GOP- ers who might want to run for president will make. This is sort of the bad news bears in terms of Donald Trump and Mike Pence and everybody who was involved with that in and around the Donald Trump presidency. Maybe there's time for some new blood.
BLITZER: He's moving quickly, the special counsel, Jack Smith.
KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The special counsel is moving quickly and frankly he has to because we're heading into -- it's early in 2023, but we are heading into an election. And that's going to make -- making calculations for the special counsel much, much harder. I think the stakes as David points out have never been hire.
For history, this investigation into January 6th is absolutely paramount. I don't think we should lose sight of that as we coffer it in political terms.
BLITZER: All right. Much more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: Our breaking news coverage, the former Vice President Mike Pence subpoenaed by the special counsel, Jack Smith, continues with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right now.