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The Situation Room
Sources Say, Russians Arrive At Site Of U.S. Drone Crash In Black Sea; Stocks Slide Amid Growing Fears About The Banking Industry; Michael Cohen Wraps Round Two Of Testimony In Trump Hush Money Probe; Report: Fulton County Investigators Have Another Recording Of A Trump Phone Call Pressuring A Georgia Official; 7 Virginia Sheriff's Deputies Charged After Man Dies In Custody. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 15, 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: Happening now, breaking news. U.S. officials say a Russian crew has reached the site where a U.S. drone crashed in the Black Sea after being hit by a Russian jet. I'll ask key White House Official John Kirby what, if anything, the Kremlin might learn from the wreckage.
Also tonight stock prices slide amid fresh chaos in the banking industry. New troubles at two banks adding to fears that more failures are on the horizon as many Americans are wondering if their money is safe.
And former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen just wrapped up his second round of testimony in the investigation of hush money he says he paid to Stormy Daniels. The adult film star meeting with prosecutors today as a grand jury considers criminal charges against the former president.
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 get straight to the breaking news, sources now telling CNN that Russian naval craft have arrived at the site of the U.S. drone downing in the Black Sea.
CNN's Oren Liebermann is working his sources for us over at the Pentagon. Oren, U.S. officials believe the wreckage would be extremely difficult to retrieve, but the Russians appear to be trying. What are you hearing from your sources?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Two U.S. officials tell us that the Russian navy, essentially Russian assets in the Black Sea were able to reach the crash site of the MQ-9 drone. That crash site about 70 miles or so, approximately 70 miles southwest of the Crimea Peninsula. The Russian navy has ships based in Crimea so it wouldn't have been that difficult for them to get their ships to crash site.
Of course, the crucial question and this is what's unclear is how much, if anything, would the Russians able to uncover from the MQ-9 drone. Earlier today at a Press Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chief General Mark Milley, it was Milley who said there probably isn't all that much wreckage there to recover. It was about 4,000 to 5,000 feet deep of water there. But the Russians, according to the U.S. officials, were able to get to that site.
Earlier today, a senior Russian official promised that the Russians would try to recover what they could from that drone and learn what's possible. Milley had said the U.S. had taken steps to mitigate the collection of any sensitive data. We reported earlier today that before that drone, the U.S. drone that has crashed into the Black Sea, its operators were able to wipe the sensitive data, the sensitive software information used in intelligence collection from the drone, meaning that though there may be some wreckage there, the U.S. believes there isn't sensitive top secret data that just sitting there on top of the Black Sea.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon promising it will keep operating over international waters and giving a sense of what the Russians and how they view the Russian actions here.
LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'll just reiterate that the United States will fly and operate wherever international law allows. Now, we take any potential for escalation very seriously, and that's why I believe it's important to keep the lines of communication open.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEF'S CHAIRMAN: So, was it intentional or not? Don't know yet. We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it was very unprofessional and very unsafe.
The actual contact of the fixed wing Russian fighter with our UAV, the physical contact of those two, not sure yet, that remain to be seen. But I can't -- I can tell you with certainty, though, that we have absolute evidence of the contact and the intercepts, et cetera. And it's very aggressive. You've heard about the dumping of the fuel and everything else. We have video evidence of all that.
We know where it landed in the Black Sea, it's probably about 4,000, 5,000 feet of water at that depth. So any recovery efforts are very difficult at that depth by anyone.
It probably broke up, there probably not a lot to recover, frankly. As far as the loss of anything sensitive intelligence, et cetera, as normal, we would take, and we did take mitigating measures. So, we are quite confident that whatever was of value is no longer of value.
LIEBERMANN: In the day-and-a-half or so since this happened, there have been a number of communications both in the diplomatic channel and now in the military channel here.
[18:05:00] And what it seems there's agreement upon there's no desire from the U.S. or from Russia for escalation around this specific incident. However, the cause of the incident, that's where we have entire disagreements, the U.S. making their case clear there from both Milley and Austin that it was the Russian fighter jets who were acting in a reckless fashion there.
Meanwhile, in a call between Austin and his counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defense Minister, it was Shoigu who essentially tried to lecture Austin about the U.S. actions here, saying the U.S. flew the drone in a provocative fashion, the flying around Crimea is itself provocative and that Russia had essentially declared that there was some sort of airspace around its, quote, special military operation that the U.S. should have avoided.
So, Wolf, there's still certainly disagreement on the cause of this, but at least it seems there's no desire here to escalate from this point.
BLITZER: We shall see. All right, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
Joining us now, a top White House national security official, John Kirby. John, thanks for joining us. I want to begin with our new reporting, you just heard it, that the Russians have now reached the site of the drone crash. Is there any cause for concern if Russia eventually recovers this debris from the drone?
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I certainly can't confirm the reports that they're on the site. I mean, I'm aware of their comments about trying to get there and trying to recover. But the short answer to your question is no. As General Milley made clear, we made it impossible for them to be able to glean anything of intelligence value off the remnants of that drone, whatever remnants there might be on the surface of the water.
BLITZER: Because as you just point out other U.S. officials have said they've managed to actually erase sensitive software on the drone remotely before it actually crashed into the Black Sea. Does this debris have any value for Russia, though, even if just for propaganda?
KIRBY: It's really going to be difficult to say, Wolf. I would tend towards no. I mean, whatever is left of that that's floating will probably be flight control surfaces, that kind of thing, probably nothing of real intrinsic value to them in terms of re-engineering or anything like that. We're not overly concerned about whatever they might get their hands on.
That said, and Secretary Austin said this today, it's our property, and they have no business recovering anything.
BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. does not currently have any ships in the Black Sea. Is the Biden administration considering taking any steps to keep this downed drone out of Russia's hands? KIRBY: I think the Pentagon is still taking a look at whatever recovery options might be available to them. I think you can imagine that they're fairly limited given we don't have a naval presence in the Black Sea. And we can't certainly fly aircraft over the site which you can't recover from aircraft. So I think the options are fairly limited but I don't want to get ahead of the Defense Department and what they might be thinking.
BLITZER: Because other officials have suggested that maybe other countries who work with the U.S. might have some ships around that area, is that right?
KIRBY: There are other navies that we partner with and have terrific relationships with in the Black Sea, but, again, I would refer to the Defense Department. I don't know plans to use any ally naval assets to attempt recovery.
Again, I want to stress here, Wolf, that whatever is left of the MQ-9 on the surface is not going to be much, it's not going to be all that valuable and, again, it's our property and we certainly don't want the Russians getting it, but we're not overly concerned about anything they might glean off of it.
BLITZER: Russia is publicly accusing the United States of what it calls provocative violations of its declared flight restriction zone in that Black Sea area. Should we expect to see Russia continue to escalate as it tries to establish new rules in the skies?
KIRBY: We don't want to see any escalation here, Wolf, and there's no need for that. This MQ-9 was flying in international airspace, and as you heard Secretary Austin say today, we're going to continue to do that, we're going to continue to fly and operate where international law permits us to. That's what we did in this case. That's what we'll continue to do. We have real national security interests in and around the Black Sea, not to mention the support that we're providing to Ukraine. All of that effort is going to continue.
BLITZER: Secretary Austin and General Milley both spoke with their Russian counterparts today. That was significant. Has the Biden administration received any assurances at all from Russia that it will stop engaging in these kinds of aggressive acts against the United States, like the downing of this drone, for example?
KIRBY: We made it very clear. I know the Defense Department did in their calls, State Department did when they called in the ambassador to Russia here to the State Department just down the road, we made it clear that this is unacceptable and that we don't want to see any repeat occurrences of this.
We also made it clear, Wolf, as Secretary Austin say, we're going to continue to fly and operate where international law permits us to do. So, I mean, we have laid out bear our concerns and certainly have laid out bear our intentions to continue to do whatever we need for national security interests in the Black Sea.
[18:10:02] BLITZER: John Kirby at the White House, for joining us, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead what's driving a new surge of anxiety in financial markets about the state of U.S. and European banks? Could it escalate into a full-blown crisis?
And what did Stormy Daniels say to prosecutors as former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen was testifying about the hush money he says he paid her on Donald Trump's behalf?
BLITZER: Tonight, anxiety about the stability of the banking system is weighing on financial markets here in the United States and in Europe. The Dow Jones Industrial is closing down nearly 300 points today as two more banks are now in turmoil.
Our correspondents are covering all the implications for the economy, the Biden administration and for your money. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly first. Tell us more about what's causing the growing uncertainty about banking here in the United States. What are you learning?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it is interesting to notice and it has obviously been very clear for a long time but no more acutely than today just how interconnected the global financial system is.
This is not related to Silicon Valley Bank, what happened over the course of several days in the United States. However, the anxiety driven by those moments, the general concern around financial markets just writ large over the course of the last several days ran head on into very significant issues raised for credit suites, a bank, a European lender, it's a lender that has had a number of major issues over the course of the last several years. Some people refer it to it as the problem child of European banking.
However, when it made very clear that it had some issues, material issues that it was dealing with, and then on top of that, one of its largest investors, a Saudi Arabian fund made clear they weren't going to increase their investments at all if there were problems. The shares of Credit Suisse plunged dramatically, more than 24 percent at one point throughout the day.
Now, as the day closed, the Suisse National Bank did put out a statement saying they would be there to help were that necessary, somewhat in the hope of perhaps stemming what had been a very clear crisis moment for that institution in particular over the course of the day. But it's bigger than just Credit Suisse. What we've seen over the course of this day is just how much the anxiety is starting to take hold.
Again, this is separate. This is not driven by what happened in the United States. However, the banking industry if you look across both regional banks, you look at it there, First Republic Bank, Fifth Third Bancorp, PacWest Bancorp, those banks were hammered on Monday because of what happened to Silicon Valley Bank. On Tuesday, due to what the U.S. government did in emergency response, started to bounce back in a major way.
When Credit Suisse started to drag down the industry, they took hits once again, and it wasn't just regional banks, major banks, Bank of America, JPMorgan, banks that nobody when I talked to regulators has major concerns about at this moment, their stocks took hits as well. It just underscores that at this moment people are concerned and to some degree there's some sense that perhaps panic could creep in. That's why you saw the Suisse National Bank put out that statement, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Phil, stay with us. I also want to bring in Rahel Solomon, our business correspondent. You've been doing a lot of reporting on this. What else are you hearing about what lies ahead?
RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, essentially, we're still just waiting for the other shoe to drop, at least investors are, and some in the investment community waiting for the next weakest link in the banking sector.
And so part of that you saw reflected in the broader markets today, right? You see the Dow Jones close off about 280 points, which obviously isn't great but that certainly off its lows of the day. The S&P closed off less than 1 percent and the Nasdaq actually eke out a small gain there toward the end of the day.
Part of the reason why, just to put a fine point on what Phil already said, is just these regional banks, still concern growing about these regional banks and their fate, even despite the U.S. government intervention that we saw over the weekend. So, First Republic, up 21 percent. To put some context to this, these shares are off almost 70 percent over the last week. Two credit reporting agencies downgrading, two credit rating agencies downgrading this company on fears that depositors may flee, similar to what we saw with SVB.
So, a concern growing here. PacWest also saw -- it was put on a potential watch list for a potential downgrade. And essentially what that means, Wolf, is that it's more expensive to borrow. It would be as if your credit score went down, most certainly, those interest rates go up it becomes more expensive, you become a bit more riskier.
And so some concern growing here, and that's what you saw reflected in the stock market as well. So, just still waiting for a plea perhaps to the stronger names, but waiting for any other shoes to drop, if at all.
BLITZER: Rahel, stay with us. I also want to bring in some economic experts, Mark Zandi joining us right now. As you know, Mark, Credit Suisse had it share of problems before the collapse of SVB. But this is a much bigger global institution as you know. Why do you still feel confident, if you do saying the banking system is still on solid ground? MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Well, Wolf, you know, I think the key reason is the U.S. government is firmly behind the banking system. That was a message that they gave us earlier this week when they stepped in and said, look, we're going to ensure all of the depositors in the failed institutions. And moreover, the Federal Reserve setup a so-called credit facility that will allow banks, small, big, mid-sized, to tap their securities and get more funding to meet the deposit demands that they face. So, with the government saying, hey, look, I've got your back, you know, I feel very confident that the banking system is in a very good place.
Here's the other thing, Wolf. Even without that back stop, I think it's fair to say that the U.S. banking system coming into this period is about as strong as it's ever been largely because of all of the reforms that were put into place after the financial crisis. I'll just give you one statistic. Take the largest banks, you know, systemically important banks in the United States. They have capital. That's the cash cushion to protect them against any losses on their loans and securities. That's over 20 percent of their asset base. That's double -- more than double what it was prior to the financial crisis, and greater liquidity.
So, with the government backstop, with all the things that we've been putting into place since the financial crisis, I feel confident, that this -- our system, the U.S. banking system, the U.S. financial system is going to weather this storm reasonably gracefully.
BLITZER: Catherine Rampell is with us as well. Catherine, as you know, the CEO of Black Rock, Larry Fink, warned today this could be the start of a slow rolling crisis. What do Americans need to keep in mind amid all this uncertainty out there?
CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If you have money in the banking system, it is safe, right? If you have money under the $250,000 FDIC insured cap, it is fully insured. Even if you have a deposit that is larger than that, right now, it sure looks like the federal government is implicitly saying you will be made whole if there is a crisis, if the bank that you deposit at happens to run into trouble.
So, there are a lot of very scary headlines out there, no doubt. If you are one of the shareholders in one of these institutions you might be, you know, shaking in your boots a little bit. But if you have your money in any of these banks, particularly the large systemically important banks that Mark was just talking about, but even the mid- sized ones, you should be okay.
So, I just want to make sure that that message is heard loud and clear. There's trouble in the financial markets but that doesn't mean that your money is going to disappear.
BLITZER: You know, Mark, it's interesting, you suggest that the Federal Reserve will decide not to raise interest rates at its meeting next week. How important is caution at this point? ZANDI: Important. You know, look, the Fed stepped up and provided all the support a few days ago to insure that the system remains stable. I can't imagine they're going to turn around next week when they need to raise interest rates.
Their number one priority at this point in time has to be the stability of the financial system, and to that end, keeping interest rates where they are is critical to that. Now, you know, I think the system is going to stabilize and, you know, a few weeks down the road they can take a look around, and if it looks like the economy is still really strong and inflation isn't coming in descript, you know, right now inflation is coming in but maybe is not going to come in as fast, they can start raising rates again when the next time they meet, which is only six weeks away in May.
But at this point in time, it's hard to imagine that you would take the step of raising interest rates in the context of the uncertainty and angst that people have right now about the system.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much. Thanks to all of you. And this important note to our viewers, CNN Primetime tonight is going in-depth on this very important story with the special report tonight, Bank Bust, What's Next for America's Money. It all begins at 9:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.
And coming up Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels both speaking today with investigators probing the hush money scheme allegedly involving Donald Trump. The latest on the former president's legal jeopardy right after the break.
BLITZER: We're following new developments in the Stormy Daniels hush money case. The adult film star meeting today with Manhattan prosecutors investigating Donald Trump's alleged role in the scheme.
CNN's Kara Scannell is on the story for us. Kara, so what can you tell us about this meeting and doesn't mean a decision on an indictment against Trump could be coming soon?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we learn from Stormy Daniels' attorney that she did meet with prosecutors at the Manhattan district attorney's office today investigating the hush money payments that she'd received. This meeting took place over Zoom, I'm told. And as the number of witnesses that have potential pieces to this story, Daniels is certainly a key figure here. A number of these other witnesses, like Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway who are on Trump's campaign at the time, have already gone in testified.
So, we're seeing -- this is a finite group of people and a number of them are now going in either meeting with prosecutors, like Daniels today, or before the grand jury. Michael Cohen was back before the grand jury for the second time this week. He told reporters after it that he had completed his testimony. He said the grand jury was active, that nearly every juror had asked him a question.
He also said he felt relieved that, as he put it, his role for the time being is over. Now, reporters asked him if he's feeling vindicated. Take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FFORMER TRUMP LAWYER: My position is that at the end of the day, Donald Trump needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds if in fact that's the way that the facts play out. Plain and simple, this is not about him, this is about holding accountability, truth to power, and everything else in between.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCANNELL: Now, Cohen said that if asked, he would testify at the trial. Of course, we're still waiting for a decision, a historic decision by the Manhattan district attorney's office of whether they think they have enough evidence to bring a case against the former president. Wolf?
BLITZER: Kara Scannell, thank you very much.
Let's get some analysis right now from our legal and political experts. Norm Eisen, I'll start with you. What is the fact that Stormy Daniels talked with prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office today indicate to you about the status of this criminal investigation?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's still more evidence that the acceleration of the investigation is happening and that Donald Trump is at substantial risk. This may be the most immediate risk that he has ever faced of criminal charges.
She's a critically important witness. Obviously, Michael Cohen is another. It seems to be moving at a brisk pace, and more likely than not charges appear to be on the horizon.
BLITZER: Alyssa Farah Griffin is also with us. How is news of Stormy Daniels' involvement likely being received by the former president and his legal team?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is basically the worst news that Trump world could be getting right now. Not to get into the crass politic of it, but I will, you know, Ron DeSantis is gaining on Trump right now. The latest CNN polling has him within the margin of error of Donald Trump.
And the sense in Trump world for some time, if you'd said a couple months ago if this case was one he was even focused on, they would say no. How rapidly the D.A. decided to move forward and pick back up a case many in Trump world thought was sort of settled and was not going to be pursued has come to the forefront as something creating a lot of unease. I think there's a lot of exposure here. The paper trail has always been there and Trump world is worried about it.
BLITZER: Elliot Williams, what does it tell you that Michael Cohen testified before the grand jury in Manhattan once again today?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly, Michael Cohen is an important witness, Wolf, because going back to a prior prosecution involving Michael Cohen he pled guilty to facts that will be relevant in any potential prosecution of Donald Trump. He pled guilty to what's called the sort of campaign finance scheme involving the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.
So, it's on the record before. They're probably getting it for the grand jury to lock that testimony in if they are moving towards an indictment.
Now, the challenge with Michael Cohen is that he has these guilty pleas, you know, these guilty convictions on his record. Now, look, a defendant can be convicted on the strength of testimony of witnesses who have bad or sort of ugly or complicated backgrounds. It happens all the time, certainly in narcotics cases and other ones, in cases I've tried as well.
So, that's something prosecutors are going to have to deal with, insulating themselves around the complications of Michael Cohen's testimony. You're going to have to bolster his credibility so that jurors will believe him. But, certainly, it does appear that they're moving toward charging the former president with a crime.
BLITZER: Well, let me follow up with Norm Eisen. When do you expect, Norm, the prosecutors will decide whether or not to move forward with an indictment of the former president of the United States?
EISEN: Wolf, the way these cases are built before a grand jury is you escalate. Typically, you put your most important witnesses in at the end. Michael Cohen is probably the most important witness here. As Elliot notes, his testimony is corroborated by documents. I'm sure the grand jury has seen those. Clearly, the prosecution wants to know what Stormy Daniels would say if she were called. So, I think we're looking at really the very immediate period, weeks if not days.
BLITZER: Interesting. Elliot, what do you think?
WILLIAMS: Certainly soon. You know, I wouldn't say days, but certainly within a short amount of time. Now, the question here is what is the value of Stormy Daniels' testimony? She can certainly testify, number one, perhaps that she had an affair with the former president, number two, that she received this $130,000 payment. So, that's useful testimony possibly to establishing this record of money being transferred possibly for that campaign finance violation.
Now, the question is all going to come down to what they can prove about the former president's intent and whether Cohen is the witness who can provide that or someone or something, some other documents will remain to be seen.
BLITZER: Alyssa, what potentially could all this mean for Trump's effort to get himself elected for the 2024 presidential campaign?
GRIFFIN: It certainly poses a challenge. Look, at the end of the day, if you're a Republican voter, this is yet another reminder of the chaos and allegations of wrongdoing that constantly surround the former president. And this is the first time truly since 2016 that there's been legitimate alternatives and other folks who could emerge as viable candidates.
I think that the timing is very challenging for him. You're going to see a Donald Trump that is on his heels fighting back. He tends to when he feels he's backed into a corner actually hits harder. He tries to strengthen his alliances that he has in his relationships. And I think he's going fight back hard. He is going to paint it as a witch hunt, is trying to delegitimize his former presidency. But it's a moment of opportunity for other Republicans to emerge and say, put this behind us.
BLITZER: And historically speaking if in fact Trump is indicted, it would be the first time in American history that a former president has been criminally charged.
Alyssa Farah Griffin, Norm Eisen, Elliot Williams, guys, thank you very much. We're going to stay on top of this story obviously.
Just ahead, access to a widely used abortion pill is now in the hands of a Trump-appointed judge in Texas.
Standby for details on the biggest legal fight over abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade.
BLITZER: In Texas tonight a conservative federal judge is promising a speedy ruling on whether to end access to a widely used abortion pill.
CNN's Rosa Flores has more on this very high stakes case and the impact it could have nationwide.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The national abortion debate heating up at a federal courthouse in Amarillo, Texas. Inside, the biggest legal battle over abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. A federal judge is seriously considering undoing FDA approval of Mifepristone, an abortion medication that is been available for more than two decades in a lawsuit brought by an anti-abortion coalition.
DR. KATHERINE MCHUGH, FELLOW, AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNECOLOGISTS: The impact of overruling the FDA's approval of Mifepristone is far reaching. Doctors and patients will not know if we can trust the national guidelines which tell us to follow the standard of care.
FLORES: During the four-hour preliminary injunction hearing the judge raised one possible scenario where he could keep the drug's approval intact and instead block the FDA's most recent moves to make the abortion pills easier to obtain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a 20-year-old drug that's actually used to save women's lives.
FLORES: Legal concerns, already restricting access. Walgreens announcing it plans to stop the sale of abortion pills in states where abortion remains legal after Republican-led states threatened to sue. In this case, the plaintiffs are arguing the drug is unsafe and the FDA's approval process was flawed.
The women's march and other abortion advocacy groups say the plaintiffs went, quote, judge shopping to find someone they believe will rule in their favor. By filing the case in Amarillo, where there is one federal judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a President Trump appointee who went from working at a religious liberty law firm on anti-abortion advocacy to the federal bench.
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It would be unprecedented for a judge, a single judge to say the FDA got it wrong 23 years ago. There's never been an instance where anyone has overturned the ruling of the FDA against the FDA's wishes.
FLORES: Judge Kacsmaryk's handling of today's hearing had been shrouded in secrecy. The judge saying he didn't want to publicize the proceeding out of security concerns, pointing to unnecessary death threats and voice mails and harassment, sparking outrage over the lack of transparency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm dressed like a clown to show what a circus he's created. It's a joke. He's making the American court system into a circus.
FLORES: More than half of abortions in the U.S. in recent years were medication abortions, most using Mifepristone, and a ruling against this drug would have wide implications.
MCHUGH: And Mifepristone is not just used in abortion care, it is also used for miscarriage management.
FLORES: The judge didn't rule from the bench today and said he'd issue an opinion as soon as possible.
FLORES (on camera): Now, about that order, the judge, no question, is sympathetic to the plaintiffs here. There's no question about that. But the nuance is very important because, in essence, the plaintiffs are asking the judge to yank this medication off the shelf. And if you listen carefully to the questions that the judge asked the plaintiffs, your takeaway is that he is skeptical of being that aggressive in one clear swoop. Wolf? BLITZER: Rosa Flores in Texas for us outside the courthouse, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now is CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic.
Elizabeth, what are the implications for women nationwide if this judge blocks medication abortion?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the implications are huge. If he -- if this happens, that means that 40 million more women of reproductive age will lose access to medication abortion.
Let's talk about what medication abortion is. So, this typically happens in the first ten weeks of pregnancy, one pill Mifepristone is taken and then a day or two later, four pills of Misoprostol is taken. So this combination it came on the market in 2020. You can see that it's become a more and more common way to have an abortion.
So now, about 53 percent of abortions in the U.S. are medications, so not the surgical procedure but this medication amounting to more than 490,000 women a year and it is very safe. Data shows -- let's compare it to two very common drugs that people take.
So for Mifepristone, you have about five deaths per million users. For Penicillin, a very common anti-biotic, 20 million per user, and for Viagra, 49. So, this is considerably safer than drugs like Penicillin and Viagra. Wolf?
BLITZER: And a very important information. Joan, how did you read the judge's line of questioning in this hearing? If he moves to ban this medication, do you believe it could go all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Definitely, Wolf. It was just nine months ago that the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and abortion rights nationwide, but the court in that ruling said that state officials, elected state officials could still make abortion legal in America. Where this judge rules against rules for the challengers and removes this form of abortion, it could have consequences across the country and it would necessarily go then to an appeals court, a regional appeals court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The question before the justice wouldn't be as weighty as the constitutional question of Roe v. Wade, but it certainly would affect access nationwide and the power of agencies to have their own kind of expertise over scientific and medical medications.
BLITZER: Joan Biskupic, Elizabeth Cohen, guys, thank you very, very much. Coming up, another recording of a phone call where Donald Trump tried
to pressure Georgia election officials. We have details on the new report from "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution". We'll share them with you right after a quick break.
BLITZER: All right. This just in to CNN: Fulton County investigators in Georgia probing Donald Trump have a recording of another phone conversation in which the former president pressured a Georgia official.
That according to a new report just released in "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution".
Let's get some more on what's going on. Our senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz is getting new information.
What can you tell us about this phone call, Katelyn?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this is the third recorded phone call that became part of the evidence that we know of in this Fulton County probe, looking into the possible criminality in Georgia, potentially, by the president. We are waiting to see if prosecutors are going to charge him and others regarding what happened there.
But this third phone call -- we knew about to Trump made to the secretary of state office, so election officials in that state. But this third phone call was to the speaker of the House of the Georgia state house, a man named David Ralston.
After this phone call happened in December 2020, Ralston gave an interview and said Trump would like a special session of the Georgia general assembly. He's been clear on that before and he was clear on that in the phone conversation yesterday. You know, I shared with him that my belief that based on the understanding I have of Georgia law that it was going to be very much an uphill battle.
So, here was the House speaker saying Trump wanted to gum up the process of the election results or the election.
Now, David Ralston passed away last November, so he would not have been able to be a witness going forward in this. But there is this recording now, Wolf, and five different jurors on that grandeur he did speak anonymously to "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution".
CNN was also able to confirm the existence of this phone call. And so this piece, it is part of the evidence they -- are we are going to have to wait and see what the prosecutors do. We have not heard this phone call. But it was something that was memorable enough for these jurors to speak to --
BLITZER: Katelyn, I want you -- I want you to stand by. I also want to bring in our legal analyst Elliott Williams right now. How useful, Elliott, is yet another recorded phone conversation from the former president pressuring a top Georgia official?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, everything in criminal investigations or much of everything in criminal investigations comes down to intent. Can you prove that the person you are investigating intended to commit to the criminal act that he or she is charged with? And multiple pieces of evidence help support that.
Short of a confession from a defendant that says, I intend to break the law, or I intend to violate Georgia campaign finance law, because of the fact that it appears -- and again, we have not heard this recording -- but it appears that it is, the former president attempting to influence others in the Georgia sort of in the political hierarchy of Georgia -- that could speak to his at intent. But again, it's all going to come down to what the words are said, what words were said on this recording.
BLITZER: Does it give you any insight, Elliot, into Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis's potential charging decision?
WILLIAMS: Certainly, Wolf. Again, it appears that what the D.A. is looking into our campaign related violations, conspiracy to violate campaign law, or election law in the state of Georgia, and any other number of statements involving -- pardon me, number of crimes involving false statements and so. And so, we will see.
Now, look, to be clear, Wolf, we know this because of special grand jurors are speaking publicly to the media now, which is unquestionably a bad idea. Prosecutors heads are probably imploding over the fact that the special grand jurors have now started to speak out publicly. It can only mess things up for prosecutors.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. Elliot Williams and Katelyn Polantz, guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead -- we are going to bring you the latest investigative threads from Virginia, where seven sheriff deputies have been charged with murder in the death of a man in their custody at a mental hospital.
BLITZER: Tonight, in Virginia, seven sheriff's deputies are facing murder charges after a man died in their custody at a mental health facility.
CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In court today, prosecutors allege that seven sheriff's deputies in Henrico County, Virginia, smothered a man in custody. They're charged with second degree murder in the death of Irvo Otieno.
He died March 6th after he allegedly became combative in a mental facility and was physically restrained. Police say officers took Otieno to a hospital under emergency custody on March 3rd, after responding to a possible burglary. But he became physically assaulted at the hospital, and they arrested him and jailed him that weekend.
MARK KRUCYS, ATTORNEY FOR OTIENO: He was on medication for mental illness. His mother is very concerned about his ability to receive his medications. So, she brings medications to the jail. They declined to accept those medications.
TODD: Prosecutor said in court today, videos shows pepper spray and blows delivered in jail. On March 6th, he was brought to a mental hospital. Investigators were told he became combative during admission. Video shows he was pulled to the ground, held down for 12 minutes, shackled and prone.
The video was not shown to in quarter to the family's attorney, who says Otieno was unarmed.
KRUCYS: He's handcuffed and in leg irons. Even if you were to describe his conduct as agitated or combative, he posed no danger to those officers. You cannot use -- you could only use reasonable force if you are piling on to an individual that is handcuffed that is in a mental health crisis. That is the definition of excessive force.
TODD: It is not clear what other actions were not caught on camera.
AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: If this person poses an imminent threat or danger, police are allowed, under the Constitution, under case law, to use a level of force. But it's always a question of a continuum, of course. Someone should not die in police custody.
TODD: The family attorney says Otieno came to the U.S. from Kenya when he was four, was interested in hip-hop and was part of the Kenyan American community.
TODD (on camera): CNN has reached out to attorneys identified so far for the accused deputies. We have not heard back. Their boss, Henrico County Sheriff Alisa Gregory declined to talk to us on camera but said her office is cooperating with the state police investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.