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Source Says, U.S. Believes Russia Recovered Some Debris From Drone; Dozens Of Mar-A-Lago Staff Subpoenaed In Trump Classified Documents Probe; Vulnerable U.S. Bank Gets $30 Billion Rescue From Big Banks; Ten People Now Charged In Death Of Black Man In Custody In Virginia; Israel's President Issues Stunning Warning Of Potential "Civil War". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 16, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the United States believes Russia has recovered some debris from a downed American drone as newly declassified video shows the dangerous mid-air encounter with Russian jets. I'll ask State Department Spokesperson Ned Price about this potential flashpoint in worsening relations with Moscow.

Also tonight, a CNN exclusive, dozens of Mar-a-Lago staffers have now been subpoenaed in the investigation of former President Trump's handling of classified documents. Stand by for details on why their testimony could be crucial.

A vulnerable U.S. bank just secured a $30 billion rescue from a group of 11 big banks here in the U.S. This comes after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tried to reassure Congress and the nation that America's banking system is sound.

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

This hour, pieces of a downed U.S. drone may now be in the hands of Russia. Two days after aggressive moves by Kremlin warplanes over the Black Sea, critical moments of that encounter captured on video newly released by the U.S. military.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann is following all of this for us. First of all, Oren, what are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Russia got to the scene of the crash site soon after or in the hours after the U.S. drone operators took that drone down some 70 or 80 miles southwest of Crimea. We've now learn from a U.S. official familiar with the matter that they believe Russia collected some of the debris, some of the wreckage from the drone as senior Russian officials had promise to do to try to learn what they could about it.

But senior U.S. officials downplayed the significance of what was left from the drone first because it's small pieces of wreckage, and second, because U.S. drone operators took steps to make sure the sensitive information was wiped from the drone before it crashed.


LIEBERMANN (voice over): Tonight, stunning new video, capturing what might be the first physical contact between U.S. and Russian militaries since the start of the war in Ukraine. High over the Black Sea, a U.S. spy drone points its camera backward towards its own tale, a Russian fighter jet closing fast on a much lower MQ-9 reaper.

The Russian jet then begins dumping fuel as it passes by the drone, the cloud of fuel vapor and crucially spinning propeller clearly visible in the video after the pass.

In this newly declassified video you see what the Russian Sukhoi SU-27 fighter flies by on another pass. Dumping fuel once again, the jet comes even closer and the video pixelates when the Russian fighter collides with the U.S. drone. When it comes back online, you can see the propeller with a bent blade, damaged in impact. In these side by side images, you can see the propeller before and after, operating and damaged.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We know that the intercept was intentional. We know that the aggressive behavior was intentional. We also know it is 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 remains to be scene.

LIEBERMANN: The video undercuts the Russian narrative of what happened during the encounter, which the Pentagon says lasted 30 to 40 minutes in total. Russia claimed there was no physical contact.

ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: There was no collision. The problem is that we didn't (INAUDIBLE) to this job. We didn't start firing. It's very important.

LIEBERMANN: The intercept, which the U.S. called unsafe and even reckless, was at the direction of some of the highest levels of the Russian Ministry of Defense, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. But the officials said there's no indication Russian President Vladimir Putin knew of the planned aggression in advance. The U.S. sees the intercept as dangerous, unprofessional, even incompetent, not a cause for conflict.

LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER U.S. ARMY COMMANDER, EUROPE: This was not the kind of thing where we're never going to go up and start kinetic engagements against Russian aircraft. Instead, what Secretary Austin said, we're going to put another drone back up there. This is international airspace.

LIEBERMANN: Russia has already reached the crash site some 80 miles southwest to Crimea, two U.S. officials tell CNN. They've been able to recover some debris from the wreckage but the U.S. downplayed the significance of the drone remnants saying there's probably nothing left of real value.

[18:05:04] (END VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN (on camera): We have also learned from three officials familiar with the matter that after this collision, the incident between the U.S. drone and the Russian fighters, the U.S. flew the same drone or the same type of drone, I should say, again, in the same area, perhaps to surveil and look at what was happening around the crash site and what the Russians were doing. At the same time the U.S. is now assessing drone operations over the black sea and reviewing the cost, the benefits and looking at this again as it looks at what other drone operations to conduct perhaps in the coming days, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Oren Liebermann, reporting for us from the Pentagon, thank you very much.

Now to the war in Ukraine. Poland announcing today it will send fighter jets to the Kyiv government, the first and only NATO ally to make that commitment.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us now live. He's in Kharkiv in Eastern Ukraine.

Ivan, this is a significant move by Poland to provide these fighter jets. Walk us through the potential impact and might other NATO nations follow Poland's lead?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, Poland out in front here with the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, saying four of these MiG-29s will be handed over in a matter of days and suggesting that there could be a dozen or more on the way after that.

There's been discussion about this, but now these seem to be the most concrete steps towards handing them over. The White House has said that handing over F-16s is not in the cards right now, not on the table right now.

The advantage here is that these are planes of kind of Soviet design, Russian design that Ukraine already has in its arsenals, that its pilots are already trained in. So it's much faster to get them up to speed on this.

I heard, I'm quite sure, Ukrainian warplanes roaring very high overhead the other night in eastern Ukraine. The Russians have not succeeded in establishing air superiority over Ukrainian skies. So, Ukraine still fields planes. So, every addition helps it in this contest, this test of wills and manpower and weaponry with Ukraine.

The issue about other weapons, the Ukrainian government is constantly asking for help. It's been pumped with billions of dollars in aid. The Latvian prime minister was in Kyiv today and it has pledged 1 percent of its entire GDP to defense assistance to Ukraine. In recent months, we've heard about tanks coming, Leopard 2 tanks coming from Germany, M1 Abrams tanks coming from the U.S. to Ukraine.

That said, Wolf, when you get close to the frontlines, you still see a lot of Ukrainian troops moving around in civilian cars painted green. They're going through equipment at a very rapid pace and they're constantly complaining about not having enough weapons, vehicles and ammunition.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson reporting from Eastern Ukraine, in the war zone over there. Stay safe over there, Ivan. Thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price. Ned, thank you so much for joining us.

We see in this new video just released by the U.S. military just how aggressively the Russians harassed this U.S. drone, on the orders apparently of the Russian Defense Ministry at a very, very high level. What was Russia's intention here?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Wolf, we can't speak to intentions but we can speak to what happened. And now the entire world can see precisely what happened.

And in some ways, Wolf, it matters much less to us what the ultimate intention was. Whether this pilot intended to bring this drone down, whether the collision was intentional. And you look at the video, you see something unsafe, that's unprofessional, to the naked eye, it also appears to be tinged with incompetence, which may suggest that this wasn't intentional but, really, that's immaterial. Because what happened is that they came into contact, we were forced to bring this drone down.

Ultimately, we do not want to see incidents like this because they're dangerous, they're reckless, they have the potential to be escalatory. The United States is not looking for conflict with Russia. That is why we have communicated clearly, consistently at multiple levels, including repeatedly over the last two days with our Russian counterparts that the fact this was unsafe, it was unprofessional, and for the sake of both of our countries, it can't be repeated.

BLITZER: But does this represent a new Russian willingness, Ned, to directly confront the United States militarily?

PRICE: So, Wolf, you're talking about one incident but I also think you have to zoom out and look at the pattern of what we've seen in recent months and something that frankly has intensified in recent weeks.

We have seen a pattern of Russian aircraft harass, pursue, take aggressive maneuvers against U.S. aircraft.


That isn't done on -- just what the volition of each and every individual pilot. That suggests to us that there is some level of direction.

Now, just how high up that goes, how high up the food chain these orders are coming from, I couldn't say at this point. But it's very clear that there is a pattern here and it's a dangerous pattern and one we want to see stop.

BLITZER: A source tells CNN that Russia has recovered at least some debris from this U.S. drone that was downed. How can the U.S. be sure Russia can't glean some serious intelligence, re-engineering knowledge or propaganda advantage from this recovery?

PRICE: Well, Wolf, we do see indications that Russia is making efforts to attempt to recover elements of this U.S. drone. But a few relevant points, first, the collision and ultimately the downing of the drone took place well into international waters, which is relevant. Because when the drone hit the water, the debris likely sank potentially several thousand feet. It is going to be exceedingly difficult, perhaps even impossible, to recover the totality of this system.

Second, when the system hit the water, and, of course, with the collision, it was likely not to have remained intact. And so we're not talking about a single piece of machinery that the Russians or any other country around the world is pursuing in attempt to recover. We're talking about a field of debris that could be spread out over the course of miles, and, again, on the bed of the sea, perhaps thousands of feet deep.

And, third, Wolf, and this is very relevant, as we always do, we took prudent steps at the first indications that this drone could be going down to mitigate the intelligence value that anyone, friend or foe, would be able to derive should this system arrive into the wrong hands. So, if the Russians are able to recover components of this, those components are likely to have very little intelligence value to them.

BLITZER: What would be the impact of Poland's decision to send fighter aircraft to Ukraine on a U.S. decision to send fighter aircraft to Ukraine?

PRICE: So, Wolf, first of all, we're deeply appreciative of everything that Poland has done over the course of Russia's brutal aggression to help our Ukrainian partners. The Polish know on an almost visceral level, by dent of history as well as recent events, that we have to stand up to this aggression and they recognize that our Ukrainian partners are in a sense fighting this war for all of us.

They are defending democracy. They're defending the rules-based order so that others, including countries, like Poland on the eastern flank, don't come under increased threat from Russia. So, we're deeply appreciative of that.

We make each of our own decisions based on what the Ukrainians need in the moment and as we see that battle evolving. That's what countries around the world are doing. What the polls announced today was a sovereign decision.

The $32 billion that we have announced in security assistance for Ukraine over the course of this aggression has been a sovereign decision on the part of the United States. We're providing our Ukrainian partners with what they need for the battle that they're facing right now, primarily in the east, and for the coming counteroffensive that will likely start in the coming weeks as the ground starts to thaw, including in Eastern Ukraine. That's artillery, its armored vehicles, its ammunition, its air defense systems.

Wolf, there are positions on the east where Russian soldiers and Ukrainian soldiers are basically at throwing distance. And so we're providing them with what they can use to continue to defend their territory and ultimately to rest back so much of that territory that's been taken from them.

BLITZER: The State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, thanks as usual for joining us.

PRICE: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're getting exclusive new reporting right now on the special counsel's investigation into the Mar-a-Lago classified documents. We'll share what we're learning right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Now to an exclusive CNN report on former President Trump's growing legal peril. Dozens of Mar-a-Lago staffers have been subpoenaed by the special counsel, Jack Smith.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is working her sources for us. So, Paula, why are federal investigators so interested in their testimony?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they really want to talk to the staffers to see what, if anything, they've heard or seen related to classified documents or boxes that were moved that could have potentially contained classified materials.

And our new reporting reveals what a wide net Special Counsel Jack Smith has cast in his investigation into these classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. As you noted, we're talking about dozens of staffers, everyone, from close aides to the groundskeeper.

Now, when it comes to close aides, just today we saw one of the president's long-time close advisers, Margot Martin. Now, she was originally at the White House. I remember dealing with her almost every day at the Trump White House in the final months. But she was one of a handful of White House staffers who actually went with the former president down to Florida to continue working with him.

Now, it's unclear exactly what prosecutors want to know from her. But she is certainly in a very small, rarified group of people who have been in close proximity to the former president since he left office. But Jack Smith has also subpoenaed housekeepers, servers at Mar-a-Lago in addition to the groundskeeper. I mean, they really casting a wide net here to talk to anyone about anything they may have seen connected to this investigation. Now, one question I had, Wolf, was how is someone, former, who is a server at Mar-a-Lago potentially afford legal counsel to be involved in an investigation like this. This has always been a question for young people or people who weren't like a Kellyanne Conway or a Steve Bannon who are in Trump's orbit who could get caught up in one of these investigations. And we've learned that for many of these Mar-a- Lago staffers, Trump entities are picking up the legal bills.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Paula Reid, thank you very much.


Let's get some more analysis right now from our legal and political experts. Carrie Cordero, what does it reveal to you about the status of Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation that dozens of these Mar-a-Lago staffers have now been subpoenaed?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is progressing in due course and it is leaving no stone unturned. So, one of the issues with this classified documents investigation at Mar-a-Lago was that so many people, unlike a normal residence where just a family was living there, so many people in this case potentially had access to national security protected information.

And so many people would have potentially possibly seen what happened with those documents, whether they moved locations, who had access to them and so forth. And so it really is the obligation of the Justice Department to conduct a robust investigation in this case to find out who knew what, whether these documents were seen by people that they should not have been seen and what the potential damage to national security is as well as who was responsible for the mishandling of the documents.

BLITZER: Maggie Haberman is with us as well. Maggie, we all know you covered the former president closely for many years. But based on what you know about his actions at Mar-a-Lago, how much information would resort staff members, like restaurant servers, housekeepers, others potentially have?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Carrie is right. It speaks to the nature of having -- as John Bolton put it to my colleague once upon a time, the first president living in a hotel. So, I mean, I think Trump does a lot of things sitting on the patio of Mar-a-Lago. He has things brought to him in his office, which is well far away from other parts of the club. We know that there was one close aide to him who was working with another aide to move boxes and that's what was caught on security cameras. So, I actually think it's not surprising that they have cast this wide a net.

As I understand it, the majority of folks have already testified. I'm not sure that there are many more folks to come in. But I think that they are looking at any possible scrap of information because it is so hard to build a 360-degree view of Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

BLITZER: And, Gloria Borger, do you think the special counsel, Jack Smith, is sending a message here about the lengths he's willing to go to investigate?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, he's doing his job. And as my colleagues have said, he's casting a wide net. But he's also, to use another cliche, tightening the screws here, and anybody who is in the Trump orbit knows that this is a man who also is saying to a Trump attorney you cannot claim attorney-client privilege, and that is something he is asking to ask a judge to say overrule this, we've got to talk to Evan Corcoran, this attorney. So, he is pursuing Donald Trump with a lot of vigor here and I think they're well aware of it in Trump world. BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right.

Maggie, let me turn to another development right now out of the Manhattan district attorney's office. Donald Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, spoke to Don Lemon on CNN This Morning, following his appearances before the grand jury in New York. Listen to this exchange.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe that an indictment is imminent?


LEMON: Okay. When do you think it could happen, sooner rather than later?

COHEN: Let's all hope it's sooner rather than later because everyone needs to be held accountable. Everyone needs to be held to the same standard of the law, and that includes former presidents.


BLITZER: So, based on your reporting, Maggie, how is the Trump team preparing for a potential indictment in Manhattan?

HABERMAN: So, it's interesting, Wolf. What Michael Cohen was saying actually speaks to the heart of what I think you're going to hear Trump and his allies -- not Trump specifically but his allies and some of his closest folks say, which is that this is -- they've been saying it's a, quote/unquote, weak case. They don't know what the evidence is. What it is, is a smaller ball case compared to the other investigations that Trump is facing. Michael Cohen's point is, equal justice under the law. And I think you're going to hear that as pushback.

What the Trump folks are preparing to do -- it's not really clear how prepared they are legally in the case. And we don't yet know what the charges will be if they come. But what they are preparing for politically is an all-out war against the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. They're going to try to make it as if he is part of a broader political conspiracy within the Democratic Party aligned with Joe Biden and this is all about the 2024 election.

Now, it's not clear what, if any, data points they will look to or point to, to try to prove this conspiracy but I think that saying this over and over again to his supporters may have an effect. And I think that they are planning on getting very aggressive, which, Wolf, as you know is the speed Donald Trump has in almost any situation.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Gloria, Trump's new attorney, the current attorney joined CNN last night. I want you and our viewers to listen to what he said about the impact of an indictment on the former president would actually have. Listen to this.


JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP LAWYER: I think it will ultimately embolden him, embolden his supporters and give him more strength because he'll be proven to be wrongly accused.



BLITZER: So what do you think? Is there some truth to that argument?

BORGER: I don't know that he's going to be wrongly accused but I do think he has point in saying it going to emboldens his supporters. I mean, look at what occurred after the classified documents were found at Mar-a-Lago. Trump raised an incredible amount of money right after that and claimed victimhood, as I'm assuming he's going to do because that's what he's always done in the past.

And as Maggie said, they're going to try and turn this and say that Alvin Bragg is a Democrat, he's a partisan Democratic, it's part of the Democratic witch hunt. And don't forget, he has already said that if he were indicted, he would continue to run for the presidency. So, we know he'll be out there and I think this is a refrain that is music to his supporters' ears and he will try to use it to his advantage.

This case is very different in kind and in severity from the documents case and from the Georgia grand jury case that they're looking at about election fraud and election fixing. So, I think this will be, at one level, when those other cases come down, if they do, I think it will be a different ball game.

BLITZER: Yes. All these cases seem to be heating up right now. Gloria Borger, Maggie Haberman, Carrie Cordero, guys thank you very, very much.

Coming up, big U.S. banks join together to save a regional bank in crisis. We'll have the latest on the turmoil within the U.S. banking industry.



BLITZER: Tonight, the $30 billion rescue of a vulnerable San Francisco-based bank is under way, 11 major banks joining together right now to inject First Republic Bank with cash. We have team coverage of urgent efforts to prevent a full-scale global banking crisis.

Let's start off with CNN Business Correspondent Rahel Solomon. Rahel, any sign this dramatic move to rescue First Republic is already having an impact?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, look, it is a major development for First Republic both in terms of shoring up liquidity or cash or funding but also shoring up confidence. So, essentially, what you have here is America's largest banks, 11 banks in total, collectively coming together to say that they are going to infuse $30 billion into First Republic.

Here is what this will look like, Wolf. So, $5 billion in uninsured deposits will come from banks like Bank of America, Citigroup, JPM and Wells Fargo, and that the remaining banks that you see here will all kick in between $1 billion and $2.5 billion each.

What's really important, Wolf, to consider is that this essentially protects First Republic in the event that depositors continue to flee, right? It sort of provides a financial cushion that SVB did not have. It is also a vote of confidence which the company pointed out in a statement today saying in part that this is a vote of confidence for First Republic and the entire U.S. banking system as it also think some of those banks were stepping up in this way.

Also boosting sentiment today, Wolf, Credit Suisse, which you and I have talk about a lot this week, the last few days, Credit Suisse announcing that it will be borrowing $50 billion Swiss francs, from the Swiss Central Bank, that's about $54 billion also shoring up liquidity, and the markets really like that. Take a look at how the markets closed, all the major averages, Wolf, closing up between 1 percent and 2.5 percent in the case of the Nasdaq.

BLITZER: Yes, dramatic development indeed. Rahel, I want you to stay with us as we bring in our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond and CNN Business Anchor Julia Chatterley.

Jeremy, we're learning more about the role that the Biden administration and the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, actually played in this rescue. What can you tell us?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. U.S. officials including the treasury secretary were very closely involved in this effort between these major U.S. banks to try and extend a lifeline to First Republic Bank.

In fact, one source familiar with the matter said that it was the treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, who initially conceived of this idea, of the biggest banks coming together to deposit major money into First Republic Bank.

And now, my colleague Phil Mattingly has told that Janet Yellen met this afternoon with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan. It was the culmination of days of conversations between U.S. officials including the treasury secretary and the leaders of these major banks, and it comes, of course, as the administration is trying to re-instill a sense of confidence in the U.S. banking system. That's also what we heard from Janet Yellen today as she was testifying on Capitol Hill.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Our banking system is sound and that Americans can feel confident that their deposits will be there when they need them. This week's actions demonstrate our resolute commitment to ensure that our financial system remains strong.


DIAMOND: And, Wolf, what you hear there from Secretary Yellen combined with this private sector rescue package effectively for this bank that the U.S. government helped to coordinate is what is driving this administration's response, which is trying to re-instill confidence in the U.S. financial system at a time of volatility and trying to make clear that the path forward is going to be a lot smoother because of some of the actions the U.S. and the private sector are taking.

BLITZER: Dramatic developments indeed. Julia, I'm anxious to get your thought. Do today's move reestablish some level of stability or is this going to be whack-a-mole with vulnerable banks?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: I hate hedges, Wolf, but I'm going to say perhaps and perhaps. Look, I think what the moves today on both sides of the Atlantic prove is that the authorities and the banks are willing to step up and be especially creative to try and find a solution here.


Remember, at least if we look in the United States, the proxy for the weakness that we've seen in the share prices of these regional banks has been the high level of these uninsured deposits and the fear that they would move them to bigger banks. What they've basically done today is say, look, okay you can do that, but we're going to give them back.

There're big questions about that, how long they'll do this for, what perhaps that means for the dividend of First Republic. If you look at after-hours trade, these bank shares have now come right back down again. So, there are concerns here. But to your point about whack-a- mole in this case, they can certainly whack more bank moles like this. And the point on Credit Suisse is an interesting one.

And I think this buys some time, but again, it shows they're going to be creative. JPMorgan came out today, and as far as Credit Suisse is concerned, and said, look, I think a bigger bank like UBS is going to have to step in. So, in this case I think if the mole is not back in the hole, it's certainly seeing stars at this moment. And that helped confidence everywhere. So, day-by-day, Wolf, and no promises on this, but creativity, I think, can be promised.

BLITZER: Yes, creativity is so important. Meanwhile, Rahel, new jobless numbers show the labor market is still very tight here in the U.S. How does the Federal Reserve walk this tightrope? SOLOMON: Well, Wolf, the Fed, you could argue, was on a tightrope even before this last week, right? But, essentially, what we're seeing now with the challenges in the banking industry is that this tightrope has now gotten more narrow and more narrow and more narrow.

And so first-time unemployment claims, just for some context, that shows a proxy of the labor market, right? It's a weekly look at how many Americans are filing for unemployment. And 192,000 is low. It is very low by historical standards.

So, what it suggests is that the U.S. labor market remains very strong. And in traditional times, that would really give the Federal Reserve cover to continue with these rate hikes, especially with inflation being what it is being so high and so problematic.

But now the Federal Reserve has to consider potentially creating more damage in the banking industry and the impact, the spill-over effects that that could have on the global economy and certainly the U.S. economy. And so now the Fed finds itself in an even more complicated picture.

And one thing I can tell you, Wolf, that a week can change a lot. A week ago, the expectation heading into the Federal Reserve meeting next week was 50 basis points, half a percentage, it's now looking like a quarter of a percent, maybe even a pause.

BLITZER: We shall see next week. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, I'll get reaction from a key Democratic lawmaker to that very dramatic video showing a Russian warplane harassing a U.S. drone moments before it crashed into the Black Sea.



BLITZER: More now on our top story, a new video showing a Russian jet repeatedly buzzing an American drone moments before it was forced down into the Black Sea.

Let's get reaction now from a key Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

Now that we have all seen this truly stunning video, what is your assessment of this encounter? What do you think Russia's goal was here?

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, it's really hard to say, Wolf, because it was such a colossally stupid thing to do. And, of course, once again, it exposes the Russians as liars because there's video demonstrating the very aggressive actions that their fighter jet took against our MQ-9.

Secondly, strategically speaking, we're having a debate in this country about whether we should be sending F-16s and other advanced weaponry to Ukraine. If that weaponry arrives, it will be a very, very bad day for the Russians. So, I just don't know why they believe it's in their interest to down one of our drones over international water, in international airspace. So it's just one of these things that adds to the last year in Ukraine where you just say to yourself, how is it possible that the Russians seem to do exactly what it is they need to do to assure they lose in this conflict.

BLITZER: The U.S. believes Russia has recovered at least some of the debris from the U.S. drone. Are you confident, Congressman, this debris doesn't have any significant value from an intelligence perspective?

HIMES: Well, we'll see. Again, once again, when the video came out, it showed -- it was clear that the Russians are economical with the truth, shall we say, or another way to put that is that they lie about everything. So, I'm going to withhold judgment right now on whether they've recovered bits of it.

But, yes, I would have been concern. It is possible that there is sensitive technology on an MQ-9, certainly one that was likely undertaking the mission that it was undertaking. But we need to remember here, it was in international airspace. And whether it's off the coast of Taiwan, or in the Black Sea or anywhere else, we have the right to fly our assets in international airspace, and the Russians have absolutely no right to do what they did, which was in addition to being dangerous, really foolish on their part.

BLITZER: I also want to turn while I have you, Congressman, to our exclusive CNN reporting that more than two dozen Mar-a-Lago staffers have now been subpoenaed as part of Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation of Donald Trump's handling of classified documents down in Mar-a-Lago. What do you make of this development?

HIMES: Well, this would be purely speculative on my part because, obviously, I don't have any insight into the special counsel's investigation. The special counsel is not talking. But what gets a lot of attention, of course, is the question of how dangerous it was for those documents to be at Mar-a-Lago.

What gets a lot less attention and what my Republican friends are trying to sweep under the carpet is the fact that the government knew for a very long time that there were secret documents there and any number of former President Trump's people stalled, didn't turn them over, ignored requests to turn them over.

And so my guess is the special counsel is trying to figure out whether somebody was very deliberately obstructing justice in the most sort of explicit and specific sensitive sense of the word.


That's my guess as to what is being done with those request for statements from those folks.

BLITZER: Yeah, that investigation clearly seems to be heating up.

Congressman Jim Himes, thank you so much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, more murder charges in the death of a Black man in custody at a mental hospital. We're going to bring you new details on the investigation. That's next.


BLITZER: In Virginia tonight, more charges in the death of a Black man in custody in a mental hospital. Three employees at the facility now accused of second degree murder as seven sheriffs deputies face the same charge.

CNN's Brian Todd is there working every angle of this important story for us.

What's latest, Brian?


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, the family of victim Irvo Otieno viewed the security footage of his death, video that has not yet been released to the public. The family and their lawyers gave excruciating details of what they saw.


TODD (voice-over): Today, three more people charged with second degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno, in custody, all three are employees of Central State Hospital mental health facility in Virginia, where Otieno was taken on March 6th. That's in addition to seven sheriff deputies already charged with second degree murder.

CAROLINE OUKU, MOTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: He was my blood. He was my blood, the breath out of my baby. That was my baby.

TODD: His family now seen video of the fatal incident.

LEON OCHIENG, BROTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: At what point do we start preserving life? At what point do we consider mental illness a crime

TODD: Prosecutors say Otieno died of asphyxiation after being held down for 11, or 12 minutes.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR OTIENO FAMILY: Restrained to brutally, were knee on his, in fact, the weight of seven individuals on his body while he's face down. Handcuffed. With leg irons

TODD: Otieno was arrested on March 3rd after police say they responded to a burglary call next door to his home and took him to the hospital for evaluation where he became physically assaultive.

His mother says she pleaded with the police.

OUKU: They've called him off treatment, took him to jail, didn't take him down there with any medicine.

TODD: After a weekend in jail, where prosecutors say video shows Otieno was pepper-sprayed, punched and mistreated, he was brought at the Central State Mental Facility on March 6, where authorities allege he became combative.

CRUMP: In the videos, are never confrontational with them. He's not posing a threat to them. He's not violent or aggressive with them.

TODD: In court this week, an early glimpse of deputy's potential defense, one lawyer citing this.

EDWARD NICKEL, ATTORNEY FOR DEPUTY BRADLEY DISSE: The ongoing issues that he had been, they had been having with this individual with regards to his disorderly conduct, with regards to his aggression, with regards to his resistance.

TODD: But his family says what he needed was help.

What do you want to see happen to these deputies, either of you?

OUKU: Justice, I would like them put away if you ask me for life. But they don't see the light of day again. What they did to my son was horrific. Horrific.


TODD (on camera): We reach out to the central state hospital mental health facility for their response to the charging of three employees with second degree murder, we have not yet heard back. We have also reached out at the attorney's identified so far for the seven deputies charged. The only one of those attorneys gotten back to his in detail was attorney for Deputy Bradley Disse who said his client looks forward to being vindicated in court -- Wolf.

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

Coming up, as protests intensified big time in Israel right now over the proposed overall to the judicial system, its president is warning crisis could spark civil war in Israel.



BLITZER: Israeli President Isaac Herzog is delivering a very stark new warning that his country could be on the verge of civil war as weeks of protests are reaching a boiling point over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's very controversial plan to try to overhaul Israel's judicial system.

CNN Hadas Gold is joining us from Jerusalem right now.

Hadas, what more is the president of Israel saying as this crisis there clearly deepens? HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Wolf, President Isaac Herzog

last night unveiling his own comprised plan on these judicial reforms, acknowledging that structural changes are needed to the Judiciary, but this plan does not go as far as Benjamin Netanyahu's government plan. But what is more notable with the impassion speech that Herzog gave while unveiling this plan, and the warnings he had about the divisiveness that these reforms are causing the country. Take a listen.


ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT (through translator): Whoever thinks that a real civil war of human lives is a limit that we will not reach, he has no idea. In my life, in the worse nightmares, I never thought I would hear such words, even if it is from a very small minority of people. I heard startling rhetoric, I heard real deep hatred. I heard people from all the parties that the idea of blood in the streets no longer shocks them.


GOLD: But soon after the speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu essentially said, thanks, but no thanks, saying that the compromise is one-sided, that doesn't go far enough. And then, today, we saw it once again across dozens of places across Israel, Israelis flooding the streets once again in protest against these -- this massive judicial overhaul.

Wolf, these protests have been going on nearly three months and they're probably the largest and longest demonstrations in Israeli history and you can just feel the emotion these people have on the streets. They truly believe that Israeli democracy is threatened by these reforms.

BLITZER: The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this is all about reining in what he calls an all powerful judiciary. So why is his plan sparking such bitter, bitter backlash?

GOLD: Well, Wolf, it's because of the power it gives the politicians. It gives the party in power. Not only according plan how the judges are selected but notably, it would give politicians in the parliament, the party in power, the ability to overturn court decisions with a simple majority. Another amendment would also make it more difficult for a sitting prime ministry to be declared unfit for office.

The opposition believes this is directly a way to try and help protect Benjamin Netanyahu as he faces an ongoing corruption trial. I should say, Wolf, he denies this -- Wolf.

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

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.