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Second Biggest Bank Failure In U.S. History Rattles Financial Markets; Economy Adds 311,000 Jobs In February, Crushing Expectations; Iowans Getting A Taste Of Potential DeSantis Vs Trump Showdown; Source: Trump Meeting With Team, Weighing Options After Grand Jury Invitation In Hush Money Probe; Russia Escalates Aerial Assault On Ukraine With 95 Missiles In A Day; Rep. Gregory Meeks, (D-NY), Is Interviewed About Russia Assault On Ukraine. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the second biggest bank failure in U.S. history. Regulators close and seize Silicon Valley Bank, rattling financial markets and raising fears that other banks might collapse.

Also tonight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is making his debut in the key 2024 battleground state of Iowa. He has an event soon putting his presidential ambitions very much in the spotlight just days before Donald Trump campaigns in the state. This, as Trump has been invited to appear before a grand jury investigating his alleged role in covering up hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The move signaling a decision on whether to charge Trump may happen soon.

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

We begin with the historic collapse of a California bank. U.S. stock prices sliding amid questions about whether this is an isolated case or a sign of things to come.

CNN's Chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is following the story for us, along with economist Mark Zandi and our own Matt Egan.

Matt, first to you. How serious is this bank collapse?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: A stunning collapse. Silicon Valley Bank may not be a household name, but it has more than $200 billion in assets. That makes this the biggest collapse of a bank in the United States since Washington Mutual back in 2008. Now, the FDIC has seized control of the bank. They say that depositors will get their money by Monday morning, up to the $250,000 insurance limit. But we know that some individuals and startups, they have more than that in the bank, and it's not clear what's going to happen to them.

So, how did this happen and how did it happen so quickly? Look at this dramatic decline in the share price of the parent company. It dropped 60 percent yesterday alone after the bank warned that they need to rapidly raise cash. Now, that appeared to spark a panic in a run on the bank. This is also a symptom of the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes, designed to tame inflation, because we know that these rate hike spikes, they tend to break things in financial markets. They've also hurt the value of tech startups like the ones that this bank caters to.

Now, all of this is rattling investors. We see the market. The Dow closed down almost 350 points, 1.1 percent. That's after a sell off yesterday. Investors are wondering, is this a canary in the coal mine or is this a one off?

U.S. financial regulators, they held an unscheduled meeting. And I just talked to the Deputy Treasury Secretary, Wally Adeyemo, and he told me that he's very confident, Wolf, in the resilience of the system and that regulators have the tools they need to deal with this situation.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Phil, you're over at the White House and the Treasury Secretary Yellen says the system is resilient and the government has the right tools in place. But how concerned are they over at the White House about this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden's economic team is definitely closely watching what's happening, although they make very clear that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is running point on this. And that meeting earlier today between Secretary Yellen and the top regulatory officials at the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve was a critical component of the response up to this point.

But one point White House officials make, as has been repeated by regulators as well, is that the U.S. financial system, the banking system writ large, is in a very different place than it was in 2008. And that is because of significant changes in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis related to capital controls, capital levels, how banks are essentially kind of have buffers to moments like this to try and address when certain risks or certain crises start to come to pass.

Now, it's interesting to note, Wolf, it has been several years since the FDIC has had to take a bank into a receivership. Even that is kind of strange when you think back to the 2008 financial crisis, when hundreds of banks were going down on a regular basis. It goes to the reality of this moment.

This is a different type of scenario than this White House has had to face at any point during President Biden's time in office. However, they make very clear that the industry, they believe, is in a fundamentally different place. The regulators have the tools they need to address this specific issue and any issues that come from it. And they believe, at least at this point in time, they're well positioned going forward.

BLITZER: Mark, I'm anxious to get your thoughts. Could this bank failure be a sign of something larger? What about the risk of what they call contagion?


MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTIC: No, Wolf, I don't think so. I think this is very idiosyncratic to the Silicon Valley Bank. You know, it goes back to the problems in the tech sector that have been developing over the past little over a year. They're the bank that caters to the tech industry. And as we know from the layoffs and everything else, that's the part of the economy that's been struggling the most.

And the banking system broadly is, this is an hyperbole, Wolf, it's as good shape as I've ever seen it in terms of the capital the banking system holds, that's the cash cushion the banks hold to digest any losses on the loans that they're making is large as it's ever been, they're as liquid as they've ever been. Since the financial crisis, they've been engaged in so called stress tests to see what would happen to their business, their balance sheet and income statement under different scenarios like this one, with rising interest rates. So, no, I'm not at all concerned about the greater banking system. I think this is very, very idiosyncratic.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging to hear that.

Phil, let's get back to you. All this comes on a day that started with the White House touting very, very strong new jobs numbers for last month. More than 300,000 new jobs.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Wolf, 311,000 jobs beating most analyst expectations and underscoring what White House officials have been saying for several months that the labor market in particular, but writ large on the economy, is certainly in a much stronger place. And I think even economists inside the White House thought they would be in at this moment in time, given how rapidly the Federal Reserve has acted to raise interest rates.

What they say underscores the fact that there is real strength in the U.S. economy going forward. The only concern to some degree, although officials won't talk about it publicly for fear of getting involved with the Federal Reserve in any way, shape or form, is that this will only cause the Fed to continue to raise rates at a faster pace, therefore threatening the economic recovery that has been so rapid. That said, very happy with the number they saw today, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much. Phil Mattingly, Mark Zandi. Matt Egan. Appreciate it.

We'll have much more on the jobs report and the Silicon Valley Bank collapse in our next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM when I interview the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Let's get to the 2024 presidential race here in the United States. Clearly already underway tonight, Republicans are converging on the key battleground state of Iowa. The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is getting ready to hold an event there as he weighs a primary season showdown with Donald Trump. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us live from Des Moines right now.

Jeff, DeSantis isn't officially a candidate yet, but this trip clearly leaves little doubt about his intentions.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no question. And private meetings with Republicans and in conversations he is having here, the Florida governor is making clear that he is planning to announce a presidential candidacy in a couple of months. But he's arriving here to Iowa with high anticipation among many Republicans who are eager for an alternative to Donald Trump.


ZELENY (voice-over): Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on his maiden voyage to Iowa.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I bring greetings from the Free State of Florida.

ZELENY (voice-over): Writing a wave of lofty expectations to the state that opens the Republican presidential contest in less than a year. People lined up to catch a glimpse of the governor, who technically is promoting his book.

DESANTIS: This is the number one best-selling nonfiction book in the country.

ZELENY (voice-over): But actually is testing a White House bid that he intends to make official by summer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This guy is a man on a mission.

ZELENY (voice-over): DeSantis has told advisers he will wait until the Florida legislative session ends so he can campaign on an even bolder agenda, one that is delighting supporters and alarming critics.

DESANTIS: I always tell my legislators, you watch Iowa, watch these. Do not let them get ahead of us on any of this stuff. So we've got our legislature in session now, so buckle up. The next 60 days should be fun in Florida.

ZELENY (voice-over): He's stoking the culture wars in schools.

DESANTIS: We're also leading on ensuring that our school system is focusing on educating our kids, not indoctrinating our kids.

ZELENY (voice-over): And beyond.

DESANTIS: We've got to fight if we see it in medicine or the universities or the corporations. You can't just say, let it go, because then we're going to be living under an oppressive wokocracy (ph).

ZELENY (voice-over): Holding up his Florida record as a blueprint for a national platform and presenting himself as a doer, not a talker. DESANTIS: There's no drama in our administration. There's no palace intrigue. They basically just sit back and say, OK, what's the governor going to do next?

ZELENY (voice-over): That was a subtle yet unmistakable distinction with Donald Trump, who visits Iowa on Monday. The 2024 Republican campaign is intensifying, with former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley urging Iowa voters to keep an open mind.

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whatever the polls tell you today, that is not where the polls are going to be a year from now.

ZELENY (voice-over): But for many Republicans, the Florida governor stands as a beacon of hope for those who admire Trump but are eager to move on.

BECKY GRIESBACH, IOWA VOTER: I would love to have in with him as our next president.


ZELENY (voice-over): Becky Griesbach was among those eager to see DeSantis close up.

GRIESBACH: President Trump has been an amazing president, but he alienates too many people with what he says. And I think Governor DeSantis is doing a good job at appealing to Americans.

ZELENY (voice-over): Expectations among many Republicans are sky high. Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Iowa conservative leader who privately met with DeSantis last month in Florida, said the governor is aware of the pitfalls of being an early star.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, CEO, THE FAMILY LEADER: He's riding high for a lot of good reasons. He's done a great job leading the state of Florida. But you and I remember in 2008, Giuliani was the nominee. In 2012, Rick Perry was the nominee. In 2016, Scott Walker was the nominee.

ZELENY (voice-over): But DeSantis makes clear that he stands apart with Florida as his unique calling card.

DESANTIS: Our state is where woke goes to die.


ZELENY: And the Florida governor will be taking the stage here on the Iowa State Fairgrounds, of course, where many presidential candidates have come in years gone by. But the former President Donald Trump coming to the state on Monday, Wolf. Many Republicans here describe it as what they see as a collision course coming their way. They certainly hope that both candidates keep it positive.

But there are distinct policy differences. Policy was not one thing that was necessarily front and center for the Florida governor today. He's certainly talking about his Florida agenda, but national issues like the Ukraine war, Social Security, and other matters were not front and center. But Trump advisers tell me they do plan to draw a sharp distinction with the Florida governor once this campaign finally becomes fully joined. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, I want you to stay with us.

I also want to bring in our Senior Political Analysts, Gloria Borger and David Axelrod.

Gloria, as the Florida governor Ron DeSantis, he avoided today, talking about his political future during his Iowa debut. But it's hard to imagine why he'd be in Iowa right now if he's not necessarily eyeing a presidential run, right?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me go out on a limb, Wolf, and say that he's running for president. OK? And what he did was threw some shade at Donald Trump today who is his chief opponent at this point talking about his record on COVID, talking about how his administration is a no drama administration as opposed to Donald Trump's. You know, he also engaged, of course, as Jeff was pointing out, in the culture wars, you know, this is where woke goes to die. But it was effectively an introduction to the people of Iowa saying, look at me, even though Donald Trump is, of course, appearing on Monday and he got there first.

BLITZER: Yes, good point.

You know, David, DeSantis' venture into Iowa is clearly intended to attract the attention of GOP donors, activists, and potential campaign staff. So how important is that for a potential presidential candidate?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's really important. That's where the Republican process begins. He needs to introduce himself, and he needs to get attention there. He also needs to develop relationships with voters there.

One of the big questions about DeSantis has been, how will he do in that kind of retail campaigning that people are accustomed to in a state like Iowa in one of these early states? That has not been his strong suit in Florida politics.

I did a podcast some months back with Kellyanne Conway and she's obviously partial to Trump, but she said it will be interesting to see if Governor DeSantis loves people as much as he loves his press conferences. And I think it's a big question, and we'll wait to see. But you know, clearly he is on his way.

And I think he's smart to delay a formal announcement for months, because once you're in, you get scrutinized in a way that you're not getting scrutinized right now. And so, that's another thing that he's going to be -- have to get accustomed to. He's not one who's particularly good at responding to attacks.

He doesn't like it. He gets uncomfortable. We'll see how he does when he gets in the race.

BLITZER: During those presidential debates.

And, Jeff, you're there on the ground for us in Iowa right now, the former President Donald Trump is set to be there, as you reported, on Monday. Are voters there more eager to hear DeSantis's pitch or Trump's pitch?

ZELENY: Well, of course, it depends which voters I mean, the Trump loyalists and admirers absolutely want to hear from the former president. But the Iowa Republicans we have has been speaking with, several dozen of them over the last several days, they are very eager to hear from the Florida governor because he is new, he is fresh. He is in the moment. He is governing in Florida.

They see him on television. They see what he is doing. They're reading his book, and they want to see him up close and personal.

You can see behind me here, the room does not look like it's that full, but I can tell you there is a very long line as far as the eye can see of people waiting to come in here. So there is a high anticipation for his arrival. This is his second stop of the day.


But for his candidacy and to see what he can bring to the race, you really have to divide the Republican voters in a couple of camps. The Trump loyalists will always be there with him, but we found so many people who voted for Trump both times in 2016 and 2020 who admire and respect his policies, but they believe it's time to move on. So those are the voters that Governor DeSantis, of course, is trying to appeal to. Wolf.

BLITZER: And Gloria. It's not just Trump and DeSantis, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley is also making an early pitch to Iowa voters. Has she found her lane?

BORGER: She's trying to find her lane, and she's trying to appeal to the same voters that Ron DeSantis is talking about, which is younger voters. You know, we need a generational change, et cetera.

She's done something quite interesting, I think, on the campaign trail, which is to talk about Social Security and to talk about entitlement reform in a way that goes beyond, we're not going touch Social Security. She's talked about raising the retirement age way in the future. I've covered entitlement reform for a long time, and if that were to get done and it might not be a bad idea, it's not going to happen in an election year, that's for sure. And I think it could be problematic for her in the campaign.

Another thing she's done is, say, reduce benefits for wealthier recipients. That might have a lot of public appeal. But as Pat Moynihan once pointed out, Social Security is not a welfare program. People pay into Social Security so they can get it at the other end.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll obviously stay on top of the story. Also coming up, we may be on the verge right now of learning Donald Trump's fate in the Stormy Daniels hush money case. Manhattan prosecutors appear to be closing in on the end of their investigation and potentially a charging decision.



BLITZER: All right, this just in. As prosecutors appear to near the end of their investigation into Donald Trump's role in the Stormy Daniels hush money case, we're now learning new information about the former president's legal options. CNN's Kara Scannell is working her sources for us.

So, Kara, is the former president considering testifying in this probe?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the source tells us that the former president is meeting with his legal team this weekend at Mar-a-Lago where they will consider what his options are. And this comes after that invitation by the Manhattan District Attorney's office for the former president to appear before the grand jury investigating him and his role in an alleged hush money payment scheme.

Now, one of the issues on the table here is, what possible charge could they bring? And prosecutors are looking at not just the payment, but how it was reimbursed. You remember the former president had signed those checks to Michael Cohen, reimbursing him for advancing the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. Now, possible charge on the table here could be a misdemeanor for falsifying business records that would relate to how the Trump Organization recorded these reimbursement checks in their own books and records.

And if they were to try to prove a felony, they would move to look for falsifying business records to commit or conceal another crime. And in this case, it would be possible campaign finance charges, since those payments to Daniels were made just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Now, the former president has denied any knowledge of the payments. And last night on his platform, Truth Social, he expanded on his denial, saying, "I did absolutely nothing wrong. I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels. This is a political witch hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party. " Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Kara, do we expect Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to actually testify now?

SCANNELL: Well, a source telling Don Lemon that Michael Cohen is expected to appear Monday again in another meeting with prosecutors and potentially appear before the grand jury. Cohen met again with prosecutors today. He arrived just a little around 9:30 this morning and left just before 40:30 this afternoon, a full seven hours being inside. Our cameras caught up with him and his attorney, Lanny Davis, and here's what they had to say. Take a listen.


LANNY DAVIS, LAWYER FOR MICHAEL COHEN: Mr. Cohen has Truth on his side, and we were very impressed with the professionalism of this group of prosecutors and thank Mr. Bragg (ph) and the entire team.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMO LAWYER: I'm going to be taking a little time now to stay silent and allow the D.A. to build their case and to do the things that they need to do.


SCANNELL: Now, Michael Cohn was one of the central actors in this hush money payment scheme. And that, plus the combination of the invitation to Donald Trump certainly indicates that the prosecutors are nearing a decision. Wolf.

BLITZER: Kara Scannell, reporting for us. I want you to stay with us.

I also want to get reaction from our legal and political experts who are also with us. Elie Honig, I'll start with you. What does the former president need to consider as he prepares to huddle with his legal team on this very, very sensitive issue over the course of the next couple of days?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, the easy part of the advice is you are not going into that grand jury. You are not testifying. That can only harm Donald Trump.

I think if I'm advising Donald Trump, I tell him, look, here's the reality. We are on the precipice of a monumental moment. You could well, I think it's likely, given the signals, be indicted for the first time in American history.

On the other hand, I think the advice to Donald Trump is this case has severe infirmities. There is a legal challenge that can be made along the lines that Kara was just laying out. There are going to be factual challenges. We are going to get ready to attack Michael Cohen's credibility, for example. So I think Trump and his team are buckling in right now for what's going to be a very difficult legal battle.

BLITZER: Let me bring Adam Kinzinger into this. Adam, what do you expect Trump to do to approach all of this? Because you, of course, investigated his role in the January 6 attack and saw his strategy unfold firsthand.

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think that issue and then what DOJ does and maybe the jury or the prosecutor in Georgia is, from a political perspective, the thing that can make an impact. I think, you know, the president -- the former president is going to do what he continues to do all the time. Right now, it's just on Truth Social or whatever blog he can get on, but he's going to say he's a victim, it's a witch hunt. And you know, that works in the base because people just want to believe that everybody's out to get Donald Trump. [17:25:13]

So, from a legal perspective, I don't know how big or small this is. From a political perspective, I'm not sure this is going to really damage Donald Trump too much in the primary. I think the real issue will be what happens with, again, DOJ in Georgia.

BLITZER: Kara, I know you're working your sources, what more are you learning about how all of this could potentially unfold and when?

SCANNELL: Well, Wolf, I mean, as we said, that Trump's meeting with his legal team this weekend, we have Michael Cohen going in. We've already seen a number of the witnesses that had any role or connection to the hush money payments, Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, and others go in and meet with prosecutors. So, they're really wrapping this up. And so, it seems like prosecutors could be making a decision within weeks, not months.

BLITZER: Elie, you note that your old office, the Southern District of New York, previously decided against charging Trump in this case. What are the biggest challenges for prosecutors right now if they decide to indict the former president of the United States?

HONIG: You know, Wolf, there are really valuable lessons to be learned from the Southern District of New York's. Deliberations here. About two years ago, two plus years ago, as Donald Trump was getting ready to leave office, they had a series of internal meetings where they considered, do we charge this case federally? We know the outcome was no.

The reasons there were they felt that the proof well enough to indict was not overwhelming, was not a slam dunk. And the Southern District believed that the crimes here, the potential crimes, the campaign finance charges were not at the highest level of seriousness. And they understood that it would be extraordinarily difficult to prosecute a former president who is politically both very popular and very unpopular. Now, that decision is not binding, it does not restrict what the Manhattan DA can do, but it's worth taking into account they ought to pay attention.

BLITZER: They certainly should.

Adam, politically speaking, even if the base, the Republican base, sticks with Trump, would an indictment actually provide an opening to his potential 2024 opponents?

KINZINGER: Yes, certainly. I mean, I think -- you know, this isn't nothing, right? This isn't not a big deal. This is serious. And I think we -- at least in many of our minds, we kind of get trapped in this idea that, well, you know, January 6 was big, therefore this isn't as big. I think it's important to stress this is a big deal and the president is not above the law.

So I think this gives certainly in a general election, probably a lot of ammunition to whoever, you know, Donald Trump would run against, presumably Joe Biden to say, look, he's a criminal, and he's proven to be a criminal. I just think within a primary, it may actually give him a boost.

Now, I don't think the same thing would happen whether it's Georgia or January 6, but I hope I'm wrong. I think in this case, it may give him a boost in a primary.

BLITZER: We shall see.

All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, CNN is on the ground right now in Kharkiv, Ukraine, where a barrage of Russian missiles over the past day left nearly half a million people without power. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Russia's large scale and brutal aerial assault on Ukraine has been escalating in recent hours. The Ukrainian military now says Moscow fired 95 missiles in a day. CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us now live from Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

Melissa, what are you seeing on the ground following this wave of Russian missile strikes?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Kharkiv region, Wolf, we've been entirely without electricity, without water, without heating ever since those waves or that wave of strikes that we saw from the night of Wednesday to Thursday. So by tomorrow morning, that's three days that ordinary people have been unable to wash, unable to heat themselves, essentially living in their homes as they would do in caves. And it's pretty cold out here.

What we're seeing though, in terms of military activity, along that front line is an uptick. We spent the day in Kopychyntsi (ph), which is here in Kharkiv region. We saw an awful lot of incoming and outgoing artillery, Wolf, but we also heard that it was mainly around Bakhmut. That is what the Ukrainian forces are saying. Once again, that is the hottest point along that long front line against which the Russians have been pushing, trying to get it to go westwards these last few days.

An awful lot of activity that's once again seen Wagner mercenaries claiming taking one of the villages to the north of Bakhmut. We have no way of independently confirming that. But one video released by Yevgeny Prigozhin showing his men, the musicians, as they're known, with their instruments, eerily playing their music in that village, he says.

BLITZER: All right, Melissa Bell, stay safe over there. Appreciate it very, very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks. He's the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, Russia has unleashed this barrage of cruise missiles, of drones and the Kinzhal ballistic missiles. What does that say to you about Putin's strategy right now?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, first, it says that he does not care about the war crimes that he continues to commit. He doesn't care about because these are targets or civilian targets of infrastructure that will make it almost impossible for folks to live. And so, it's reprehensible, and he is continuing this assault.

But you know, I also understand that President Zelenskyy and some of the Ukrainian officials have decided to stay because this particular piece of territory is really -- is not that significant should they take it. But they've not been able to even circle the Ukrainian, and the Ukrainians are still fighting there.


And I think that this is going to hurt what Putin is doing in the long run, because we know that they were going to try another massive assault in some other areas come spring. But they're losing a lot of men right now. They're losing a lot of ammunition right now. So we'll see. But it just shows to me that clearly it's criminal and war crimes that Putin continues to utilize in Ukraine with.

BLITZER: With the Patriot, the U.S. Patriot Air Defense missile system, Congressman, make a major difference against this type of Russian attack, this wave of missiles being launched against civilian targets, whether residential, apartment buildings or hospitals or schools. What can the U.S. do to boost Ukraine's air defense right now?

MEEKS: Well, I know this conversation taking place because these hypersonic missiles that they're utilizing, the systems that we were talking about and looking at and having is not -- they don't work to be hypersonic. But I know our military and our intelligence agencies are working with Ukrainians now to make sure they have something that will help deter and knock down these hypersonic missiles. So it's being worked on as we speak. I've been informed that those conversations are taking place. I know that we're also going to have further dialogue and conversation with our European allies so that we can make sure that we continually work together to give the Ukrainians what they need so that they can knock the missiles down as they have the ammunition that they need so that they can either, you know, fight back and destroy more of the equipment and tanks of the Russians.

BLITZER: Yes, they clearly need a lot more U.S. and allied military support.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, thank you so much for joining us.

Just ahead, we'll get an update on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's still in the hospital after falling and suffering a concussion. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: An adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell now tells CNN the Republican leader is eager to leave the hospital here in Washington after suffering a fall and concussion earlier in the week. Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Mana Raju has an update for us right now from Capitol Hill.

Manu, McConnell is apparently acting like his usual self, we're told, and he's lobbying his doctors to let him go. Give us the latest. What are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. That is according to Josh Holmes, who's a senior advisor to Mitch McConnell, spent much of the past couple of days with him. And Holmes told me that McConnell is lobbying hospital staff to essentially get out. He's being -- he's impatient, wants to come back to work, wants to get back out, get out of the hospital, go back home. The question is exactly when that will happen.

He is being treated for a concussion after the 81-year-old fell, after speaking at an event for his super PAC at the Waldorf Historian Hotel here in Washington. After he fell, he was rushed to the hospital and has been there since Thursday night.

He's -- it's unclear exactly when he will be discharged. But I am told that he is back. He's taking meetings. He's acting like his normal self.

He took political meetings to talk about the Senate 2024 map. He got a readout of their closed door meeting of the Republican conference members yesterday, lamented the fact that they were served halibut behind closed doors and he did not have any. He said he wished he was there for the halibut.

But more importantly, the questions about his own fitness to serve. I'm told that there is no question that he'll be back and that he will serve as Republican leader. And that was -- there's no question about it whatsoever according to Holmes, his senior -- Josh Holmes, his senior advisor.

So, Mitch McConnell expected to be back. When that will happen is uncertain, Wolf, but likely next week. Of course, Wolf, this is not his first time he has fallen. Also falling in 2019, fractured his shoulder at the time.

Someone who grew up having polio as a child has walked with a slight limp, so, sometimes has issues walking. But we're told from his close adviser that he is on the mend and expected out of the hospital soon and he wants out soon. Wolf.

BLITZER: And we, of course, wish him a speedy and complete recovery. Manu Raju with the latest, thank you very much. Other political news we're following right now, the Republican strategist accusing conservative leader Matt Schlapp of sexual assaults is himself being accused of sexual assault by two women in an unrelated case, according to court documents filed in North Carolina. CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us right now with the latest.

What can you tell us, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Wolf, so originally this Republican operative had filed this anonymously accusing Matt Schlapp of sexual assault. Now, earlier this week, he came forward, he came public. His name is Carlton Huffman and he is 39 years old.

Now we are learning that Huffman himself is being accused by two women of sexual assault, in particular performing unwanted sexual acts on them in his North Carolina home. The two women are 19 and 22 years old. One of them was his roommate. They had just moved in the day before.

Now, while no criminal charges have been brought, the 19-year-old was able to issue a restraining order against Huffman, the 22-year-old had a ten day restraining order and then those complaints were subsequently dropped.

Now I want to read to you what we have learned from this court filing. This is in the words of one of the women who is alleging the sexual assault. She says, "Carlton Huffman sexually assaulted me. He performed sexual acts on me digitally and orally without my consent."

Now, what they allege is that after a night of drinking, all of them went out drinking, that they came home and Huffman followed them up to a bedroom. They also allege that there was a gun and that made them feel uncomfortable. I want to read one other part of this to you from the court documents, it says, "Carlton had a gun in the house, as we saw it when he placed it on the table earlier in the night. This in combination with being intoxicated, uncomfortable, and the fact that he was also 20 years my senior, made me hesitant to speak out during the act."


Now, Huffman himself has denied any wrongdoing. He does admit to drinking what he says was copious amounts of tequila. But he says that he did nothing wrong, that at no point did either of these women tell him no.

And as for the gun, he said that he pulled it out because he had heard a loud noise in his house earlier in the night, in another part of the house, and that it was there, but it wasn't a danger. We are still waiting, of course, to hear from his lawyer. We have not heard back from him in this case either.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes, thank you very much for that update.

Coming up, another Norfolk Southern train veers off the tracks as more than 30 cars pile up in Alabama. CNN is live on the scene of the derailment. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Right now we're following yet another Norfolk Southern train derailment, this time in Calhoun County, Alabama. CNN's Ryan Young is on the scene for us. He's over at the crash site.

Ryan, what are officials there saying about this latest incident?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they're looking into this as we speak. We've seen investigators on the ground. But the heavy equipment and work has really gotten underway in the last 30 minutes or so. If you look from above, you can see all the workers who started to line up here, who started using the heavy equipment to start moving some of these rail cars back toward the track. This has been going on since 6:45 a.m. yesterday morning.

We're about 70 miles away from Birmingham. And from what we're told, this train derailed here. Now this is near a home and I actually talked to the homeowner he said this is only the second time he knows of a train derailment in this area. Investigators, of course, are trying to figure out what exactly happened here.

But as you can see from above from this drone, look at the destruction that was caused here by this derailment. You can see that they're trying to move the heavy equipment in to write some of these rail cars up. The good news here is there's no hazardous chemicals on board and we don't believe they're going to have to do any environmental cleanup in this area.

But if you think about it, railway is a way that all the goods in this country get moved across this country. So people are focused on this. What exactly is going on?

In this community alone, they are asking why -- what happened and should they be worried about these derailments that are happening throughout the country. So we wanted to show you this to you, Wolf, because obviously, in just the last half hour or so this heavy piece of the equipment have been brought in to sort of -- put these rail tracks back together because this has been blocked for several hours. And of course, they got to get it back open to get the railway moving back toward Birmingham. But as we speak, they're still trying to figure out exactly what happened. Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we have any sense, Ryan, how long it will take to actually clear this area?

YOUNG: Yes, that's a great question. That's what residents have been asking as well. It could take 24 to 48 hours to move all that stuff off the track itself so they can give us back open, but it could take several days to get some of those larger rail cars out of this area and pulled out of here.

And of course, if you look at this road, the access to this area is very hard to get to as well. So, it's not an easy operation but the guys say they're up to it.

BLITZER: Ryan Young on the scene for us. Thank you very, very much.

Also right now, we're following a major diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia resuming full diplomatic relations after years of hostility. The deal mediated by China could be a significant step towards stability in the region. CNN's Nada Bashir has more.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're talking about two of the most geopolitically significant players in the region now reinstating diplomatic relations after a seven year rift. This is a significant step, and we'll not only see the two nations reopening their respective embassies, but we're also set to see both parties activating a Security Cooperation Agreement signed back in 2001, as well as the revival of a trade and technology deal brokered in 1998.

Now, the reconciliation comes after five days of intense talks by high level delegations from both Iran and Saudi Arabia, mediated by China in Beijing. Saudi severed (ph) with Iran back in 2016, and the ramifications of that decision have been huge, to say the least, fueling tensions in the Gulf and deepening conflicts in both Syria and Yemen.

Now Iran's foreign minister says the regime is actively seeking to take further diplomatic steps with its regional neighbors. Of course, internationally, this deal also marks a diplomatic victory for China in the region that has long been considered part of the U.S. government's sphere of influence, a signal of President Xi's intention to expand China's diplomatic and economic reach in the region. But, of course, it's important to remember the context in which this deal has been signed.

Tehran now finds itself increasingly isolated on the international stage, both in response to the regime's brutal human rights abuses against anti-regime protesters in recent months, and crucially, Iran's failure to adhere to international commitments when it comes to its nuclear activity with efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal now frozen.

This isn't the first time we've seen attempts to broker dialogue between the two arch rivals. Between 2021 and 2022, efforts were led by both Iraq and Oman to coordinate dialogue between both Iran and Saudi Arabia. But seven years on, this is the first time we've seen any success in efforts to improve relations between the two parties, and the regional implications could well be significant. Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, CNN's Nada Bashir with that important report. Thank you.

Coming up, former President Trump weighing his legal options tonight after a grand jury invitation signals Manhattan prosecutors could be nearing a charging decision against him.


BLITZER: Happening now, President Trump is set to meet with his legal team to weigh his options after a New York grand jury invited him to testify about his alleged role in a hush money scheme. We'll have the latest on the investigation as a decision on charging the former president could be made soon.

Also tonight, significant new developments impacting the U.S. economy, the second biggest bank failure in U.S. history. And a new jobs report that crushed expectations. I'll get reaction from the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre.