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Michigan Attorney General Says, I Was A Target In Plot To Kill Jewish Officials; Jury Deliberations Under Way In Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial; Blinken Meets Russian Counterpart For First Ukraine War; Jury Reaches Verdict In Murdaugh Murder Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 02, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a plot to kill Jewish officials in Michigan revealed as the state attorney general says she was among the targets. We'll discuss the growing danger from anti- semitic attacks and threats with the head of the anti-defamation league.

Also this hour we're on verdict watch now that the fate of Alex Murdaugh is in the hands of a jury, closing arguments wrapping up a little while ago as Murdaugh stands trial on charges of murdering his wife and son.

And the first since Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. secretary of state eye-to-eye with the Russian foreign minister. We'll get an update on their talks and the state of the war from key White House Official John Kirby.

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

Tonight, the alleged anti-Semitic plot uncovered in Michigan is adding to fears for the safety of Jewish-Americans and elected officials. CNN's Polo Sandoval has all the new details on the suspect and the deadly threats he's accused of making.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the FBI foiling an alleged plot to kill Jewish government officials in Michigan. A federal complaint filed in Eastern Michigan naming Jack Eugene Carpenter III as a defendant. Sources telling CNN he was arrested just a day after allegedly posting disturbing anti-Semitic threats online using the handle, temperedreason.

A law enforcement source telling CNN among those specifically targeted by Carpenter, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. I was a target of the heavily armed defendant in this matter, she wrote on Twitter, court documents laying out the details on February 18th.

The FBI in Detroit was alerted by the bureau's national threat operation of the post, tweeting, I'm heading back to Michigan now threatening to carry out the punishment of death to anyone that is Jewish in the Michigan government.

Carpenter's account also showing a bizarre declaration of sovereignty to a new country named new Israel at Carpenter's property in rural Michigan, according to the criminal complaint. That address revealing Carpenter had three nine millimeter handguns registered in Michigan, one of which had been stolen from his girlfriend, according to that complaint.

That criminal complaint also shading light on Carpenter's background, who had an unserved personal protection order against him from early February and had been arrested in December of last year for assault. That unhinged plot just the latest since several threats and attacks on lawmakers and officials in the United States as well as increasing anti-Semitic attacks.

OREN SEGAL, VICE PRESIDENT, ADL CENTER ON EXTREMISM: Whether it's in Michigan or other parts of the country, we're seeing the confluence of anti-government, COVID, and other conspiracy theories combined with anti-Semitism. And we see how this is animating people to action. It's not only operating in spaces online but in the fantasies and imaginations of people who are willing to then take action.

SANDOVAL: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the target of a kidnapping plot in 2020, the Anti-Definition League reporting anti-Semitic attacks reached a record high in the U.S. in 2021, up 34 percent from a year before.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: This is right in the wheelhouse of what the FBI and Director Wray have told us they think is the most dangerous, the most concerning threat that they face on the counterterrorist side. He's heavily armed. He might be mentally unstable but nevertheless has decided to act out his animus, his grievance for the Jewish leaders of Michigan.


SANDOVAL (on camera): And we learned that Carpenter is a former employee at the University of Michigan, according to a spokesperson for that institution, who said that between 2011 and 2021, he worked there as a system administrator intermediate.

They would not speak to the circumstances about his departure. However, Wolf, when you read some of those unhinged ramblings that according to federal prosecutors were actually written by Carpenter, he writes that he was fired for refusing to take what he described as an experimental medication. So, that certainly speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, Carpenter does remain behind bars ahead of a future court hearing. CNN has reached out to his defense, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Polo, thank you very much. Polo Sandoval reporting for us.

And joining us now, the CEO and national director of the Anti- Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt. Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy today.

How disturbing are these details that emerged today, this heavily armed suspect arrested after threatening to kill Jewish people in the Michigan government, including, we now know, the attorney general of the state of Michigan?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Yes, I mean, Wolf, this is another reminder of the level of anxiety that the Jewish community has is very, very real, because the threats are very real. This individual, Jack Eugene Carpenter, who seemed to be a former employee of the University of Michigan, he was on our radar at ADL weeks ago after posting craziness online, claims about conspiracies, rampant anti-Semitism.


And we are grateful to law enforcement, grateful to the FBI for apprehending him before he could perpetrate his evil plot.

BLITZER: Do you consider this potentially domestic terrorism, Jonathan?

GREENBLATT: This is a domestic terrorism. When a man, a heavily armed individual threatens to kill, quote, Jewish-elected officials in Michigan, including the state attorney general, as you mentioned, that's domestic terror.

Domestic terror isn't new in Michigan. Remember the militia members who wanted to kidnap, try, and execute Governor Whitmer a few years ago. Remember the representation of our armed militia members from Michigan who penetrated and attacked the U.S. Capitol building. Remember just a few weeks ago a man in Los Angeles tried to kill two different Jewish men as they walked out of synagogue in two different days, shooting both of them, although not lethally. The Jewish community and elected officials are indeed facing domestic terror.

BLITZER: I know the ADL says law enforcement had reached out to you, to the ADL about all of this, but what more can you tell us, Jonathan, about that and the scope, the overall scope of this threat?

GREENBLATT: The scope of the threat was real. ADL has been tracking him for several weeks. He first came on our radar screen after making anti-Semitic threats online. He claimed to want -- he stated online that he wanted to, quote, shoot any Jewish person holding public office on my land and accused them of participating in an unlawful war of aggression.

But, Wolf, he mentioned a wild group of people, from Chris Cuomo to Anthony Fauci, to Governor Whitmer. It was really quite strange, but make no mistake, he was heavily armed and appeared to have the intent to go out and try and kill people.

BLITZER: I know your organization also recently put out a report which found that all of the extremist related murders in 2022 were committed by right-wing extremists of various kinds. So, what's behind this trend as far as you can tell? GREENBLATT: Anti-Semitic incidents reached an all-time high in 2021 were finalized at 2022, it will be worst and we're seeing extremism, indeed violent extremism, on the far-right, a different kind of radical ideology on the far-left. I believe that anti-Semitism is the canary in the coal mine of democracy.

So, in a world in which people are running disinformation campaigns, complaining about wild conspiracy theories, Jews loom large in their minds. So, I'm afraid our Jewish community needs to be more vigilant than ever to the very real threat of anti-Semitism.

BLITZER: And you just said that you believe that the 2022 data will show that anti-Semitic attacks were even higher than in 2021, is that right?

GREENBLATT: Yes, the data isn't finalized yet, but based on everything that I've seen, again, while we need to be grateful about the good work of state and local law enforcement and our friends at the FBI who avoided a catastrophe in Michigan, time and time again, in the last 12-plus months, we've seen Jewish people targeted for harassment, vandalism and violence. And I believe the '22 data will be as bad if not worse than anything we've ever seen.

Now, again, it's not finalized yet, but, unfortunately, conspiracy theories about the Jewish people, hateful claims against the Jewish state, they've reached an all-time high, Wolf, and we've got to be vigilant.

BLITZER: So, what will it take to combat this trend which is so, so disturbing?

GREENBLATT: We need a whole of society strategy to combat the threat of anti-Jewish hate once and for all. That means we need people in public life, people in elected office to stand up and speak out when they see hate happen. That means we need people on university campuses, faith leaders, business executives, people again from all spheres of society to step forward and reject hate.

We need education maybe more than anything, that means anti-Semitism awareness and DEI programs, Wolf, whether it's in corporate environment or in an educational setting. We need to teach people from the get-go that hate is never okay and anti-Semitism is unacceptable in any form.


BLITZER: It is so, so disturbing to see in our country this dramatic increase in anti-Semitic acts and an increase, by the way, also in Holocaust denial as well. It's so, so disturbing, hard to believe it's going on.

Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, thanks so much for joining us and thanks for all you're doing. GREENBLATT: Thanks for covering the story, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: And just ahead, a rare face-to-face meeting between the top Russian and U.S. diplomats. Key White House National Security Official John Kirby joins me to discuss the message delivered today to Russia.

Plus Alex Murdaugh's fate now in the hands of a South Carolina jury. The dramatic closing messages from both sides, that's also coming up.


BLITZER: New details tonight about a surprise meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in India, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, coming face-to-face with the Russian foreign minister for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine.

CNN National Security Correspondent, Kylie Atwood is joining us right now. Kylie, what can you tell us about this rare meeting?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, it was rare and it was quite unexpected, because just yesterday, Secretary Blinken said that he had no plans to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov.


And then, of course, there is this brief meeting about ten minutes, according to a senior State Department official, on the sidelines of this foreign ministers meeting in India today.

And one of the things that the secretary was very clear about was the U.S. messaging on Ukraine, saying, of course, that the United States continues to support the Ukrainians, and listen to how he described his message to the Russian foreign minister to reporters after their encounter.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I told the foreign minister what I and so many others said last week at the United Nations and what so many G20 foreign ministers said today, end this war of aggression, engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace.


ATWOOD: Now, the secretary also encouraged the Russian foreign minister to reverse Russia's decision to effectively pull out of the New START treaty. They announced that just earlier this month with the secretary of state reminding the foreign minister of Russia that the U.S. and Russia have engaged in arms control talks for many years dating back to the cold war, even when there have been turbulent times between the two countries.

And then when it comes to Paul Whelan, an American who is still wrongfully detained in Russia, has been there for more than four years now, the secretary of state was very clear in saying that he wants him to come home.

BLITZER: Kylie, as you know, Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov, they've been in similar conferences over the past year. So, why did Secretary Blinken approach Lavrov this time?

ATWOOD: That's such a great question, Wolf, and I think it's one that we're all wondering. They've had this opportunity before and it was the secretary of state who approached the Russian foreign minister. When the State Department spokesperson was asked about this today, what Ned Price said was that this was just an opportunity for him to deliver some face-to-face messages.

But when we reflect back on the last time that Secretary Blinken called Foreign Minister Lavrov, it was a call, not a meeting, it was over the summer, it was when there were some stalled negotiations on a prisoner swap exchange that the U.S. had put an offer on the table with the Russians and the Russians just weren't biting.

So, it does seem like there's a similar situation going on here because Secretary of State Tony Blinken said that the U.S. has put a very serious offer on the table for Paul Whelan and the Russians obviously haven't responded positively to that, he encouraged them to take that deal.

BLITZER: Okay. Let's hope he comes home soon. Kylie Atwood, thank you very much. Kylie is at the State Department.

Turning now to Ukraine where CNN's Melissa Bell is standing by in the capital of Kyiv. Melissa, the battle in Bakhmut is reaching a critical stage right now. What's the latest in this really brutal fight?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been very brutal, continues to get more brutal as the Russians continue to advance towards the center of the town. That's been confirmed by the Institute of the Study for War that they are making progress.

But we spoke tonight to one soldier who says Ukrainian forces have not only -- not been told to move out but continue to hold that town's center. In a candid moment, though, the soldier did say, look, they will take it. It could take two days, it could take 20 days. We don't know, but for now, here we are.

And you're quite right, it is with that dreadful, relentless pounding of heavy artillery that the town continues to get hit with all those civilians inside.

There's one video that's come into us from Wagner Mercenary Group that shows the group known as musicians. You can see them playing their instruments claiming to be in the center of town. But we've geolocated that and it does shows them just outside the center, pretty well, where we'd seen them before.

Beyond that, what we've been seeing is more artillery fire towards the town that is just to west of Bakhmut and that, of course, say the in Ukrainians, again, the dreadful inevitably what comes next once they've encircled Bakhmut it's westward, that they will move in efforts to take the whole of Donetsk, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I take it, Melissa, other parts of Ukraine are also being pummeled by the Russians right now as well. Is that right? BELL: This is something we see most nights, which is artillery fire strikes on Kherson or Zaporizhzhia or to the north of Luhansk. And so it was overnight in Zaporizhzhia, one multi-storey residential building that was hit with three civilians killed, many others evacuated. And President Zelenskyy speaking to that tonight that it is again the tactic of Russia to target that civilian infrastructure with those dreadful casualties on the civilian side, something that he said that it would not go without punishment. You'll also hearing from the Ukrainian command is that they see a pattern here and they believe that it's preparation for an offensive around the areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Melissa Bell, stay safe over there. Thank you very, very much.

Let's get more insight right now from a key White House national security official, John Kirby. John, thanks very for joining us.

First, as you know, it was Secretary Blinken who actually approached the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, today. Do you expect any of his message to actually, though, break through?


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECUIRTY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION: Yes, very difficult to know, Wolf. I mean, certainly, the Russians have shown no desire to stop fighting in Ukraine, so that doesn't appear like that's going to have much of an impact on them. But we do hope that they understand from talking to Secretary Blinken how dedicated we are to continuing to support Ukraine going forward.

We also hope they took to heart Secretary Blinken's call for releasing Paul Whelan and noting that there is a proposal, we want them to take it, we want to get Paul home where he belongs with his family.

And then on New START, look, I mean, with that New START treaty in place, both of our countries are safer. And even for all the differences we have with Russia over Ukraine, you would think that we could agree that arms control of the New START variety is a good thing for both of our countries, indeed for the world, and so we certainly hope that they take that onboard as well.

BLITZER: I know you've already made it clear the United States will announce another major military aid package to Ukraine tomorrow. How is that tailored to this moment of the war as it appears Russia is making advances, as we just saw in that eastern city of Bakhmut, for example?

KIRBY: I think what you're going to see tomorrow's announcement, Wolf, is a focus on munitions, on ammunition, the kinds of things that they need for these long-range artillery, the HIMARS and for additional systems that they're using.

Right now, they are in a vicious fight in Bakhmut. Standoff range is important for them, being able for long-range fires is important. But it's also part and parcel of our effort this packaging coming tomorrow of making sure that they're ready when the fighting gets even more intense in the weeks and months ahead, particularly in the spring when the weather will improve. And we think the Russians are going to want to go on the offense potentially in multiple places at once.

BLITZER: On F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut told me yesterday that the U.S. needs to be, quote, stingy and make sure that we have the resources to protect ourselves and our treaty allies. Is that how the White House also views this?

KIRBY: We have with every single package that the president has approved made sure that we consult with the Pentagon and the Pentagon can reassure the entire interagency that our national security interests are not going to be compromised by the material we're giving to Ukraine.

Now, it is true, we've been drawing down on stocks quite a bit. Those inventories have got to be continually replaced. The Pentagon is prioritizing that, as you might think, but we are comfortable and confident that with each package, we're taking a pretty deep look to make sure that we can still defend our national security issues around the world.

BLITZER: President Biden will meet tomorrow with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, when he comes to Washington. What's on the agenda for Ukraine on the issue of Ukraine and for getting allies on the same page when it comes to possible Chinese lethal weapons support for Putin's war?

KIRBY: I think Ukraine is definitely going to dominate the discussion tomorrow with Chancellor Scholz. The president is very much looking forward to having him back here in the White House. It's been about a year, almost exactly a year since he was last here, and, of course, they talked just last week, certainly going forward, making sure that we are united as an alliance, as allies in supporting Ukraine will certainly be what they talk about and I think dominate the discussion.

I won't get ahead of specifics particularly regarding China, but we've been very clear about our concerns about the potential for China to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. We don't believe it's in their interest, and it shouldn't be in their interest.

And, again, we haven't seen them make any kind of move in that direction. We know they haven't taken it off the table, but they haven't made -- given any indication that they're actually going to go through with it.

BLITZER: And as you know, the U.S. just approved a potential arms sale to Taiwan, including missiles for F-16 fighter jets. What's the timeline for delivery with a massive backlog and weapons deliveries and worries over China's ambitions for the island?

KIRBY: Well, remember, this is arms sales, Wolf. It's not drawing down from our stocks, the way we provide Ukraine. So, it's a whole separate, different process here. It could take some time for all those munitions to get to Taiwan. We have to work through this sales process as appropriate. But we are committed to making sure that Taiwan has sufficient self-defense capabilities.

Now, look, while we have to do that and we want to do that, that's part of our support under the Taiwan Relations Act. There's no reason for tensions over the strait there to devolve into conflict. Nothing has changed about our One China policy. We don't actively support -- we don't support Taiwan independence. We don't want to see this come to blows and there's no reason for that. But we do and we will stay committed to making sure that Taiwan has the sufficient self-defense capabilities that they need, self-defense capabilities.

BLITZER: All right, John Kirby, thanks very much for joining us.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up, a jury in Walterboro, South Carolina, is deliberating murder charges against Alex Murdaugh. Standby for a live report from the courthouse.



BLITZER: Right now, the jury in the Alex Murdaugh trial is behind closed doors deciding his fate.

CNN's Randi Kaye has been tracking the case from the very, very beginning. Randi, both sides built their closing arguments around Murdaugh's lies with the defense aiming to cast reasonable doubt. Tell us what happened inside the courtroom today.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Attorney Jim Griffin, he delivered the closing arguments and he had a few key moments. Certainly he raised some doubt with the jury about time of death. We know the prosecutor said that Maggie and Paul's phone stopped working around 8:49. So, that's when they believe that they were both deceased. There was no phone activity beyond that time. And so the defense attorney today said, you know what, that doesn't mean that they were dead.


Maybe they put their phones down. Just because your phone is showing no activity, it doesn't mean you're dead. That's what he told the jury.

He also told the jury, he tried to at least explain away Alex Murdaugh's lies about not being at the kennel that night, earlier in the night, around the time of the murders. The defense attorney said that it was because of his drug addiction and his addiction to opioids, that's why he lied.

And then, finally, he also, once again, breathed new life into this theory for the jury, a theory the defense has put out, that this was the work of two shooters. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM GRIFFIN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He puts the shotgun down and he has a .300 Blackout right here because he is so smart and so diabolical that he's going to stage it so it looked like two shooters.

So, Alex has to put the .300 Blackout back down, pick up the shotgun and shoot Paul. Where in the world does that scenario reside other than in Mr. Waters' mind? It doesn't. It doesn't.

You know, the most common sense thing here is there were two shooters because there were two guns.


KAYE: And, Wolf, I've also just learned from a source familiar with the deliberations that the judge has informed the jury that they are welcome to deliberate until 10:00 P.M. tonight. As of now, Wolf, no plans to bring in any dinner or provide any dinner for the jury, and also, Wolf, I'm told that they've asked for monitors, which could mean that they are looking to watch once again those interviews that Alex Murdaugh did and also some of those key videos, the videos from the kennels perhaps, the snap chat video, both of those pulled from Paul Murdaugh's phone. Perhaps they want to re-watch some of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Randi Kaye, reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson. We'll get some analysis right now. Joey, the defense made their closing argument today, you're a criminal defense attorney. How do you think they did?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think they did very well as it relates to raising reasonable doubt. The case has always been about three things, motive, number one, number two, the timeline, and, number three, alternative explanations, and so what did they seek to do?

On the issue of motive, they sought to say that the prosecution's theory does not make sense. Will you kill your wife and your son because you feel the world is closing in on you as it relates to your financial crimes, right? You would not. And especially in this instance, the defense argued when you had everyone who would say that he was a loving father and husband, pivoting to the issue of the timeline, defense spending a lot of time on the issue of the timeline and how it was not the short timeframe in which the prosecution would suggest, right?

Randi Kaye spoke about the issue of just because your phone, you're not using it, it doesn't mean you're dead, right? So, it could have been longer. Also regarding putting your finger right, an expert witness testified, they measured cause of death or at least time of death, by putting your finger under an armpit. That's not the way you do it. It's longer than that.

And then pivoting to the last issue, of course, which is other reasonable alternative. They spoke to the issue of these two shooters, and so could it have been someone else? Why and how? Because, of course, if you have a pill addiction, you may be around unsavory characters, and if your son killed a young woman in a boating accident, there were people who hated him.

So, as it relates to poking reasonable doubt, they did that, but bigger question, Wolf, is whether what they said resonated with that jury and was enough to overcome the compelling evidence that the prosecution has put forward.

BLITZER: In his closing rebuttal, the prosecutor said this is what he called a common sense case. Do you think that's a winning argument, Joey?

JACKSON: You know, a lot of us attorneys say that because at the end of the day, no matter what you argue, it comes down to the basic notions of human life and human experience. And what the prosecution is arguing is who could have done this?

They're arguing as it relates to two shooters nonsense. It was one shooter and it was you. There were no other reasonable alternatives. They're arguing as to the timeline that initially you said you weren't even there. Who would say that in the event that they didn't have something to hide? A normal person would suggest they were. You lie, you lie, you lie, you had no credibility. Why should the jury believe you now?

With regard to when it happened, you were there right around the time that we believe the prosecution says that it occurred. Who else possibly could have been the one who did this? And so I think the prosecution is saying it's not as complex as it could seem. It's just a notion of using your common sense, good judgment, and every day experience. And the prosecution argues, Wolf, if you do that, then you have to convict.

BLITZER: After a six-week trial, Joey, jury deliberations have now begun, as we all know. How long do you expect it will take them to actually reach a verdict?

JACKSON: Yes. So, you know, Wolf, there's no scientist to that. There are many jurors that take a long time and they convict. There are jurors that take a short time and convict. There are jurors that take a long time and acquit or hung, and so there's really nothing scientific and it is really tantamount to just making an educated guess.


The fact is that it's the six-week trial, as you noted, a lot of evidence to get through. Randi Kaye spoke to the issue of them wanting monitors and everything else, they'll evaluate all the evidence, do their civic duty and hopefully render a verdict that's fair, just, appropriate and that they get it right.

BLITZER: Let's hope. All right, Joey Jackson, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, new pushback by the U.S. Justice Department against Donald Trump's sweeping claims of presidential immunity in lawsuits stemming from the January 6th insurrection.

And new questions about who will take the fall after Rupert Murdoch admitted under oath that Fox News aired lies about the 2020 presidential election.


BLITZER: Tonight, the U.S. Justice Department is weighing in on former President Trump's claims of immunity in lawsuits surrounding the January 6th riot.


CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us. So, Jessica, what is the Justice Department arguing?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPODENT: Well, Wolf, this is significant because this is first time the DOJ is really weighing in on this issue and they're agreeing that a president in general has widespread immunity against lawsuits for things he says in his official capacity, but the DOJ is contending that any speech that incites violence is not protected.

So, specifically, DOJ officials are writing this in their brief to the appeals court saying, no part of the president's official responsibilities includes the incitement of imminent private violence. And because that incitement, DOJ says, is outside the scope of official duties a president can't by immune for this speech.

So, these were all lawsuits that were filed more than two years ago right after the January 6th Capitol attack, and they look to hold former President Trump responsible for the injuries that various members of Congress and Capitol police officers sustained during the attack.

So, the federal district court judge previously ruled that these lawsuits can move forward. But now the federal appeals court here in D.C., it needs to decide whether to side with Trump and declare that he's immune in this lawsuit for everything he did or said on or leading up to January 6th or on the other hand whether this lawsuit can proceed.

And the appeals court here specifically asked DOJ to weigh in. So, that's what they're doing now. And this brief from DOJ is notable, since they usually take a fairly expansive view of executive power. But right here, they're actually saying that immunity in this case should be limited when a president's speech is used to incite violence.

Wolf, I will note, though, DOJ really in this brief is stopping short of specifically endorsing the idea that former President Trump incited any violence leading up to the Capitol attack, just broadly saying if violent speech is used, a president should not by immune. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much for that report. Also tonight, we have new reporting on the turmoil within Fox News after Chairman Rupert Murdoch's admission under oath that election lies were told on his network.

CNN's Brian Todd is following all of this for us. Brian, I take it there's a lot of uncertainty and corporate intrigue at Fox right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's uncertainty, anxiousness and new reporting tonight who at Fox might be the sacrificial lamb for all this.


TODD: As Fox News deals with agonizing fallout from the Dominion lawsuit and the bombshell revelation that the network driven by the lure of profits and ratings was willing to lie to its viewers about who won the 2020 election, new questions are being raised tonight about who will take the fall.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: If you're looking for someone to be forced to walk the plank as a measure of public accountability for this, it's sure not going to be Rupert Murdoch himself, and it's very unlikely to be his son, Lachlan Murdoch.

TODD: So who? New reporting from CNN's Oliver Darcy says questions are being raised about the future of a Fox Executive named Suzanne Scott.

JEFFREY SONNENFELD, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR LEADERSHIP STUDIES, YALE SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: Suzanne Scott, their CEO, who is a very troubled successor to Roger Ailes, that she was the executioner to all this stuff.

TODD: Scott was named by Forbes Magazine in 2021 as one of the 100 most powerful women in media and entertainment. But as Fox News takes more heat over the discovery that some of the network's top anchors knew the election wasn't stolen from Donald Trump and still proclaimed it was --

FOLKENFLIK: Suzanne Scott is the one at whose desk the buck stops, if you read Murdoch's testimony closely.

TODD: During his deposition in the Dominion lawsuit, Murdoch seemed to distance himself from the decision-making at Fox in the wake of the 2020 election, quote, I appointed Ms. Scott to the job and I delegate everything to her. But analysts say in reality --

FOLKENFLIK: The stakes were just far too important in the hours, and days and weeks after the November 2020 elections for Murdaugh to completely sit back and just watch it unfold. And, in fact, the evidence that's been brought to light so far shows that he didn't.

TODD: Murdoch admitted in his deposition that while election lies were being propagated on Fox's air after the 2020 vote that he, quote, would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight. But he also admitted that partially at Scott's urging, he didn't push back for fear of losing viewers.

Another person at Fox who could take the fall, former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who's a Fox board member. Ryan has admitted that while he advised Murdoch, after the 2020 election, that Fox shouldn't spread conspiracy theories.

PAUL RYAN, FOX BOARD MEMBER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I do. I have a responsibility of my opinion and perspective and I do that but I don't go out on T.V. and do it.

SONNENFELD: He said, well, I quietly voice my opinion. That's not what a director is supposed to do. That's a failure of management oversight. He's complicit through his complacency.



TODD: Fox declined to comment when CNN reached out to ask about Suzanne Scott's future at the network. For now, Fox is not offering any public statement in support of Scott.

CNN has also reached out multiple times to Paul Ryan and his spokespeople to respond to the criticism of him. We haven't heard back -- Wolf.

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

Coming up a man accused of trying to bring explosives onto a plane appears in court. We're going to tell you what the judge ruled. That's next.


BLITZER: A new tornado watch has been issued for parts of Louisiana and Arkansas, as severe weather batters the southern United States.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is over the CNN weather center for us.

What's the latest, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we have several tornado warnings going on across portions of Oklahoma and East Texas.

But, first, I want to mention the line of storms approaching the Dallas-Fort worth area, that airport underground stop and most likely will be for the next hour or so.

These are severe thunderstorm warnings heading into the area. At any moment any of the storms could become tornado warnings so you should treat them as the same. But these storms are very powerful and gusty winds up to 80 miles per hour and very large hail.

Once again, here are the tornado warnings, the areas in hot pink, and this is a broader view of what's going on this evening. The storms are only going to intensify as we go through the next couple of hours. The threat will remain throughout the overnight hours and especially through tomorrow as well as the storms march to the east.

So, here are tornado watches through Texas, Louisiana, the Ark-La-Tex region. We have thunderstorm watch as well. These storms are very powerful. Severe weather risk, this is the area we are watching. Tornadoes, some of those could be strong, Wolf, widespread damaging winds and very large hail.

This is the largest -- this is the area where we could see the biggest tornado threat. The area shaded in orange.

I want to mention the hail threat we could see hail greater than 2 inches in diameter. That is baseball size hail that could fall in this area. That is one to watch especially throughout the overnight and into tomorrow morning.

Once these storms go to the east, we have a widespread flash flooding risk across the Mississippi River Valley and Ohio Valley, so we could see up to 6 inches of rain in a short amount of time. So, something to watch over the next 24, 36 hours.

BLITZER: Jennifer Gray, thank you very, very much.

So, there's breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The jury has reached a verdict in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is right outside of the courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina.

This was incredibly fast decision, Dianne, what's the latest?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. What we know at this time according to the poll, that the jurors told the clerk of court that they had a verdict at 6:41 p.m. That means that they deliberated for less than three hours on this double murder case against Alex Murdaugh, they went back and the judge charged the jury and sent back to deliberate at 3:50 p.m. this afternoon.

We do know there was a flurry of activity. Randi Kaye went straight into the courtroom so she can observe what happens there. We just watch the defense attorneys, Dick Harpootlian, Jim Griffin, Maggie Fox, all of them walked behind me moments ago. They were summoned into the courthouse by the judge.

This is what we knew would happen in the protocol that could have happened if the jury had a question about this. We are told at this point that the jury has signaled to the clerk of court again at 6:41 p.m. that they have reached a verdict in the Alex Murdaugh double murder case. Wolf, he is charged with shooting and killing his 22- year-old son Paul and his wife Maggie.

Nearly six weeks of the court proceeding with evidence and testimony, from 70-plus witnesses, the defense and the state presenting a case. We are hoping to hear from the jury and the judge very soon.

BLITZER: All right. Dianne Gallagher, we'll stay very close touch with you and all over this story. We appreciate it very, very much. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.



BLITZER: Following the breaking news, the jury has reached a verdict in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial.

CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is joining us on the phone right now.

So, what you make of how quickly the jury made this decision. We don't know what the verdict is yet, but they know they have been deliberating for more than three hours.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. So, Wolf, technically they have been deliberating a little over three hours so you have to believe during the course of the trial jurors have formed opinions one way or another, right? I mean, the fact is they certainly heard the evidence. They were sitting there all day and I think based upon that, they went back into the jury room and took a poll as to how the views and beliefs were an apparently the jury reach consensus fairly quickly on what they felt happy with the version of events.

Trials are about a narrative. Both sides put together the prosecution and the competing narratives that signals to me that certainly the jury adopted one of the other with relative ease.

BLITZER: Yeah. If we take a look at the charges, Murdaugh was charged with two counts of murder, two counts of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime and the deaths of his wife Maggie and son Paul.

Were you surprised personally, Joey, your committal defense attorney how quickly this jury has been reached. We don't know the decision yet but we will find out fairly soon.

JACKSON: I really am. I mean, you never know and as we discussed this evening. You never know it's reading and speculating in terms of when they will come back and will they be delayed in early. You don't know that.

And so, with not knowing that, that is fine but the extent that they came back quickly, I am surprised. It was a rather long trial. Remember a lot to consider, over 50 witnesses by the prosecution, right? You had the defense having roughly a dozen witnesses. You then had a rebuttal case by the prosecutor, we heard are closing arguments by the prosecution if they had a defense or rebuttal why am I saying all that there is a lot to sift through.

And when you're sifting through all that you think, it would take some time. Apparently you did a little over three hours but again I think they viewed the jury be and they unanimously that there was a narrative that was overwhelming and as a result they rendered the conclusion that we are about to hear.

BLITZER: So, what's your instinct tell you, good news for the prosecution or the defense?

JACKSON: My instinct tells me that justice will be served and we support and respect the jury system and no matter what we do people looking at evaluating, they are in the room, and they'll make the best decision that they can.

BLITZER: We will have continuing coverage of the breaking news on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" which starts right now.