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Trump Ally Wraps Grand Jury Testimony In Hush Money Probe; Trump's GOP Allies Rush To Defend Him And Discredit Prosecutor; China's Xi Praises Dear Friend Putin During Talks In Moscow; Kim Jong Un Oversees Mock Nuclear Counterattack On South & U.S. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 20, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a Trump ally just wrapped up testimony before a grand jury in New York investigating the former president's alleged role in a hush money scheme, this as New York police are now increasing courthouse security just ahead of a potential Trump indictment.

Also tonight, Trump's top GOP allies are rushing to his defense and trying to discredit the New York D.A. who's investigating him. Trump's legal peril and the political fallout looming over a major gathering of House Republicans.

And a high-stakes handshake, China's President Xi Jinping strengthens his alliance with Vladimir Putin, praising him as a dear friend even as the Russian leader stands charged with war crimes in Ukraine. We'll have the latest on their talks in Moscow just hours after Putin's defiant visit to the war zone.

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 latest testimony in the New York grand jury investigation of Donald Trump amid questions about whether the former president is on the brink of being indicted.

Let's go right to our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid, she's just outside the courthouse in Manhattan. Paula, a former legal adviser to Trump's ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, wrapped up his appearance just a little while ago. Give us the latest.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, that adviser, Rob Costello, and Michael Cohen left the courthouse a short time ago. Though, Cohen was available to testify today, he was not called before the grand jury. He's already testified before them twice and he was only going to testify today to rebut this adviser who was called by Trump's team to attack Cohen's credibility.


REID (voice over): The Manhattan D.A.'s investigation into Trump's alleged role in hush money payments made to an adult film star ahead of the 2016 election is moving ahead full steam.

ROBERT COSTELLO, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: I went in there today to tell these people the truth about who the real Michael Cohen is and what he was actually saying at that moment in time.

REID: Today, attorney Robert Costello appeared before the New York grand jury after Trump's legal team requested he be called to testify about the credibility of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen. Costello spoke to reporters today.

COSTELLO: He said maybe every three or four minutes he'd be talking to us while pacing like a wild tiger in a cage, back and forth, back and forth. He was really frazzled. He looked like he hadn't slept in three, four, five days, and he just suddenly stopped in the middle of talking about something, pointed at us and he'd say, I want you guys to know I will do whatever the F it takes. I will never spend one day in jail. He must have said that close to 20 times. This was his mantra all day long.

REID: Costello previously represented Cohen who, according to a letter the Trump team sent to the D.A., waived attorney/client privilege. Cohen, who has met with the D.A.'s office 20 times and appeared before the same grand jury twice, is a key witness in this case, which centers around a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to silence her about an alleged affair with Trump. She was paid by Cohen in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

Now, almost seven years later, the grand jury is looking at crimes that include whether Trump falsified business records when reimbursing Cohen for that payment. Cohen was sentenced to jail time after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges stemming from his involvement in the payments.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: This case is not going to be predicated on any one individual but rather it's going to be predicated on the documents, the evidence, the text messages, the emails.

REID: On Truth Social over the weekend, Trump predicted he would be arrested Tuesday, and in an echo of January 6th, called for his supporters to protest. But his spokesperson said they have received no indication from the D.A. that he will be arrested Tuesday.

Is your client speculating about an arrest to incite political violence?

ALINA HABBA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I don't think he's speculating at all.

REID: Trump denies the affair and any wrongdoing. One of his Attorneys, Alina Habba, warning that Trump supporters will lash out if he is charged.


HABBA: If they choose to do so for a misdemeanor, which, frankly, he didn't even do, it is going to cause mayhem.


REID (on camera): Well, at this point, we don't know if today is the final day the grand jury will be hearing from witnesses or when they might vote on a possible indictment. But despite the former president's calls for protests, down here, we do see a few dozen people in MAGA hats with Trump flags, all completely peaceful. We'll see if it stays that way. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Paula, I want you to stand by. We'll get back to you in just a moment.

I want to deal right now with the security concerns that are clearly out there as officials prepare for potential charges against Trump. The former president fueling fears, as we just heard, by calling for protests if he's indicted.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz. Shimon, how is law enforcement preparing for all of this?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, Wolf, one of the thing that's going on is there's a lot of meetings between different agencies, the Secret Service, the FBI, the NYPD, other federal law enforcement officials here in New York City, and really all across the country as well as court security. The court officers assigned to the court and all of them working together to try and ultimately, like we are, figure out, okay, when is this grand jury going to wrap up. Is there going to be an indictment, and when will we know from the district attorney, and once that process gets underway, then we could see some even more stepped-up security in New York City.

Today we saw the NYPD placing more cameras in the downtown court area there. We also saw barricades being placed there on the side, should they need them. They can put them to use.

So there's a lot of information and a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. The big question right now for law enforcement is timing, if the former president was to be indicted, how that will be told to the former president, how that will come out, and then of course his appearance. That is what everyone is mostly focused on. Should he be indicted, bringing him to court, what that is going to be like, and that is certainly something, Wolf, the secret service is very concerned about because they need to protect his safety and so they are very much involved in this. I'm told the date, that is the big question, you know, there's a lot of anticipation on when potentially there could be some kind of activity, some kind of notice from the grand jury, but we just don't know.

But also, Wolf, it's all across the country. We're seeing indications in Washington, D.C. that there are meetings between law enforcement officials as they prepare for any potential protests. But I should also note, Wolf, right now, law enforcement is not seeing any kind of threat. There's nothing that is ultimately concerning to them. They're monitoring social media, but they're just not seeing what they saw, even in the days leading up to January 6th. But they continue to monitor everything. And like us, they're just waiting to see if and when we learn anything.

BLITZER: Yes, as they should. All right, thanks very much Shimon, Shimon Prokupecz, reporting.

Let's fete get more on all of this. Joining us are correspondents, analysts and commentators, Shan Wu, I'll start with you. You just heard -- we all just heard Robert Costello walk through what he told the grand jury about Michael Cohen, and how much of an impact do you believe a witness like this can wind up having?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Judging from what we're seeing, I don't think he would have much impact at all and there's nothing he's saying that would undercut Cohen's credibility. And I have to say, Wolf, I'm very confused why he is in there testifying about someone that at the very least he gave legal advice to. I mean, there are at least two ethical rules that really would prohibit that, and as far as the D.A.'s office getting a letter that says Cohen waived, I mean, why wouldn't they be asking Cohen, why would they take it on his representation? That's a very serious matter, waiving attorney/client privilege. It usually needs to be highly documented and specific.

BLITZER: Yes. He was making the point when he came out from his testimony that Cohen was a liar, you can't believe a word he's saying basically, and he was telling the truth. That was his argument.

WU: Right. And that's, you know, extremely contrary to his former client's interests, which in and of itself tends to violate some ethics rules, like 1.9 in New York. You can't use information you gain in confidence against your former client. So, it's just very troubling that that's all going on. But, again, based on what he is saying, it really doesn't say anything about Cohen's credibility. It just sounds like he was very upset at the time.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, Costello, the attorney told reporters after his testimony that he brought lots of documents including memos and e-mails that the grand jury had not yet seen. How effective might that prove to be?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We don't know. We know that they didn't call Michael Cohen today as a rebuttal witness. So, I'm not an attorney here. We have attorneys on the panel. They can tell you what that means, if they felt -- to me, if they felt they needed a rebuttal, they might have had one.

I think one of the issues here that Costello is going to talk about or talked about is that Michael Cohen is doing this out of pure revenge, that his goal in life is to get Donald Trump.


Don't forget Michael Cohen went to jail, and he says as a result of his relationship and direction from Donald Trump, and, you know, Costello's point is that he blamed Trump for all of this and wants to get back at him. So, I don't know what's in those documents and what's in those emails. We'll have to see. And we'll have to see if it materially affects this in any way, shape or form. BLITZER: Yes. Let me get Adam Kinzinger into this assessment as well. Adam, Donald Trump's legal team is clearly hoping Costello will undercut Cohen's testimony. Cohen, as we've mentioned, does have some credibility issues. Could this work in Trump's favor?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it's possible. I do think one of the most powerful pieces of evidence though that this may not have the impact they were hoping is simply the fact that Cohen was not called back in. He was on standby. I think if there were some things that were cutting, he probably would have had Cohen come in and at least try to refute that.

Keep in mind too, when it comes to a grand jury, it's not very common, as far as I understand, for a grand jury that's been presented a lot of evidence to not come forward and not indict. So, I think an indictment seems fairly likely at this point and we'll just have to see what's in that.

There's a lot of Republicans jumping the gun right now, and I think read the indictment, read what's in it, and it appears that may be coming soon.

BLITZER: So, where is this is heading, Paula.

REID: If only I knew, Wolf. What we don't know right now is whether this is the last time the grand jury will heard any witnesses. But, look, we're looking to see if there anyone else that they're going to hear from and when will they vote on a possible indictment if the former president is indicted, then his legal team would need to negotiate a surrender and an initial appearance.

And, obviously, this is not like every other case. There is some really extraordinary factors here. He's a former leader of the free world, U.S. Secret Service protection, the security and logistical concerns are truly unprecedented. But that would take place only after an indictment. It would be something that they would negotiate, but his attorneys have all told me he absolutely plans to cooperate and surrender if he is indicted.

BLITZER: You know, Adam, all of this comes as Trump is publicly urging his supporters to protest if he's arrested this week. And he is using language that clearly echoes what we heard leading up to the January 6th insurrection. How worried are you about potential violence?

KINZINGER: Well, I am worried. I don't know if it's going to be as wide scale as for instance on January 6th. Because you're seeing a lot of these, I hate this term, but a lot of influencers out there on the far-right that are saying -- and they know better, by the way, but they're saying this is a fed trap, don't go protest because the feds are going to get you in.

And the truth is they just know. They know what January 6th was, they know how it was, and they know what a similar thing right now would do to Donald Trump's credibility. But keep in mind, if only 2 percent of the MAGA base says, we're going to protest, we're going to do something, that's millions of people.

So, law enforcement has a right to be concerned. Let's hope and pray that, you know, justice is done, and we don't see violence in that process.

BLITZER: Let's hope. All right, everybody stand by. Up next, the Republican reaction to Trump's prediction he'll be arrested and has called for protests if that happens.



BLITZER: We're following all the reaction with the New York grand jury investigation of Donald Trump nearing an end.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is covering a key gathering of House Republicans down in Orlando, Florida. Manu, this was supposed to be a policy-focused event that you're covering, but how much is Trump's legal situation overshadowing it right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's almost completely overshadowing this, Wolf. Republicans, instead, are falling in line behind Donald Trump, defending him and actually calling for an investigation into the prosecutor himself, Alvin Bragg, who could bring charges based on his federal grand jury, local grand jury investigation against Donald Trump.

They actually want an investigation into everything that Bragg is doing. Today, three key committee chairmen announced that they wanted Bragg to come to Capitol Hill, answer questions in a transcribed interview and also provide internal documents, detailing communications that Bragg's office might have had with the Justice Department, even though Bragg's investigation is ongoing, and even though the members themselves plainly can see that they don't know the scope of the investigation, they don't know the charges that will be brought against them and say that they're waiting to learn more details. Nevertheless, they are pressing ahead and defending their probe.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): It's a misdemeanor, so it's not, you know, really a crime of the century either. But, yes, this thing is going to be -- it's going to have a political taint to it, you know, any way you spin it.

REP. MIKE WALTZ (R-FL): Look, I think it's completely appropriate. I think a lot of people would expect us from an oversight standpoint, from a judiciary committee standpoint, to look into a politicized process.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-FL)): We don't think President Trump broke the law at all.

REP. BEN CLINE (R-VA): But I think the questions about this prosecutor have existed for some time.


RAJU: Now, Democrats are sharply criticizing this move, saying this is a clear and blatant effort to interfere with an ongoing investigation, even before the full scope of the charges are even known. And I asked the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, about this just moments ago, asked him if it was appropriate to intervene in this way. And he defended the move by the Republican chairman saying what committees do is ask questions, and he argued let them ask questions, give them more information, arguing there's nothing wrong about asking these investigations.

Of course, this investigation into the former Republican president here, it could have significant implications, both for the presidency, for the future White House bid and potentially for the members themselves as they move to fall in line behind the former president.

BLITZER: All right. Manu, I want you to stay with us as we bring back Gloria Borger and Adam Kinzinger.

Adam, you're seeing the way the former president is taking up a lot of oxygen right now as your former colleagues, these House Republicans, are gathering in Florida.


Is this precisely the type of Trump-inspired distraction you have been warning about?

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, look, this is a time where the Republicans should be talking about what's your agenda for the economy, what's your agenda for the banking system, what's your agenda for poverty going forward, Ukraine, right, those kinds of discussions, this is overshadowing it, and, frankly, whether it's this one or the potential charges from Georgia or potential federal charges, this is going to overshadow the Republican agenda.

I mean, you see people like Marjorie Taylor Greene out there. This is basically all she's tweeting about. She's the de facto leader of the GOP right now. So, it's a massive distraction. And I think a lot of these Republicans are getting way out in front of their skis. Read the charges. Let's see what the charges are if they come. If they are nothing burger, they probably do have a right then to ask some questions, but they very well may not be. And I worry about the precedent of the chill that this sends to any state prosecutor that wants to pursue charges against any American.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, Gloria, the former president is clearly seizing on the fact that he may be indicted to help fuel his 2024 presidential campaign. Will he be able to spin all of this into some sort of political advantage?

BORGER: Well, he's going to do it. He's going to try to do it. And certainly we've seen that already on his Truth Social posts, calling for protests to save the nation. He did it after the classified documents were found at Mar-a-Lago, and he raised a lot of money, Wolf, on that, remember? So, I think there's no doubt the president will do it on this.

So, I think the real question is if the Georgia grand jury decides to indict him and if Jackson Smith finds criminal culpability in the insurrection, for example, what is Donald Trump going to say then? Is he going to go back to the well and are these Republicans going to go back to the well and say, every single charge against the president is politically-motivated? What can they say next.

And if they do that, maybe the American public will say, wait a minute, can everything be politically motivated and would that cause a problem for Donald Trump? Not with his base, but the question is, I think, how independent voters will view this should he be nominated in a general election.

BLITZER: Manu, you're there, you're covering these House Republicans down in Florida. Trump's Republican allies, as you know, including the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, have been quick to defend him against this Manhattan district attorney. But McCarthy also says he does not want people to protest if Trump is indicted. How delicate is McCarthy's balancing act right now?

RAJU: Well, McCarthy has been performing this balancing act against Trump really for the past several years here. I mean, remember after January 6th, McCarthy went to the House floor, attacked President Trump, criticized him, blamed him for the violence on that day. Later, he went down to Mar-a-Lago and aligned himself with Donald Trump in the aftermath, as there was a push to try to establish an outside commission to investigate January 6th, align themselves with Donald Trump, scuttled that effort as well.

And when after he was elected speaker of the House, the first person he thanked was Donald Trump for helping him get the votes after 15 ballots on the House floor. That, of course, happened just moments after January 6th, 2023, two years to the date of the deadly insurrection that happened on the Capitol at the hands of Donald Trump's supporters.

This has been Kevin McCarthy's move all along, to align himself with Trump, but also perhaps not to get too far, not to say to be aligned with any sort of violence that could occur if that were to happen, if any protests were to happen in the aftermath of any indictment here. So, Kevin McCarthy has made a decision here, align himself with Trump, but perhaps not embrace that kind of rhetoric that the former president has unleashed so far on social media.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. Adam, let me get your thoughts on house Republicans right now, they're calling on the Manhattan district attorney to testify before Congress. Do you think this is a sincere quest for the truth or are you concerned about the motivation of some of your former Republican colleagues?

KINZINGER: Yes, of course, it's not a sincere request. I mean, if it was, they would wait to see what this indictment reads. And if the indictment really is a nothing burger, then they could have sincere questions about how this came about. They've jumped the gun on this.

I mean, I think were becoming -- we run the risk certainly of becoming numb to what's really going on here. You have an entire party that's basically jumping the gun and trying to interfere before laws and before law enforcement really has had its chance and justice has had its chance to be done.

You have the president that's done one of the darkest videos I have ever seen, the former president, where he called Russia not our enemy but fellow Americans our enemy, and then has tweeted or put on Truth Social over and over that his supporters need to come out and basically prevent justice from occurring.


Now, you go to Earth 2.0 five years ago, and people would be shocked by this. We'd become numb. And I don't think we can afford and risk to become as numb as we have become.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger, thank you very much. Gloria Borger, Manu Raju, guys, I appreciate it.

Up next, the Chinese President Xi Jinping touts his ties with his, quote, dear friend Vladimir Putin, on his first visit to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In Moscow tonight, Vladimir Putin is hosting a leader who could potentially change the course of his war against Ukraine, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.


This comes at a critical time for Russia's invasion as western officials warn China against supplying Putin with weapons.

CNN's Selina Wang has our report.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight a high stakes show of force in Moscow, China's President Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin shaking hands and stressing close ties, while showing off their vision of a post-American world order.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT: It is true that both of our countries share the same or similar goals.

WANG: The pomp and circumstance a credibility boost for Russian Leader Vladimir Putin, displaying that he's got a powerful friend in Chinese Leader Xi Jinping even as the International Criminal Court has a warrant for Putin's arrest for committing war crimes and allegedly shipping Ukrainian children to Russia.

XI: Russia's development has significantly improved under your leadership.

WANG: China has been positioning itself as a peace broker, putting forth a vaguely worded set of proposals for a resolution of conflict in Ukraine which Putin says he has studied closely.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: We know that you are based on the principles of justice and commitment to the fundamental points of international law.

WANG: The White House, which is monitoring the visit, quote, very closely, warning against any China peace plan that does not involve the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia supported by China or any other country to freeze the war on its own terms.

WANG: The U.S. believes Xi's proposal would merely provide a way for Russia to regroup.

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR: A ceasefire called right now would basically just ratify Russia's conquest and give Mr. Putin more time to reequip and retrain and restart operations at a time and a place of his choosing.

WANG: Xi Jinping is trying to walk a delicate line, so far stopping short of providing lethal aid to Russia, though the U.S. says he may be considering it while also refusing to condemn the invasion. Trade between the two nations jumped to $190 billion last year, an increase of 30 percent from 2021, undercutting the impact of U.S.-led sanctions, as Chinese companies snap up cheap energy from Russia, giving the Kremlin key funds to finance the invasion.

But, Beijing wants the world to focus less on their friendship and more on Xi's role as a global statesman, who can broker peace deals, like the historic deal he helped forge to restore relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

I have been talking to people to people in this old town, this old Beijing residential alley, to get a sense of what Chinese people, think about Xi Jinping's visit.

This man tells me, Xi's visit is good because it can further improve China/Russia relations. He says he likes Putin a lot because he's a cool, tough guy.

This woman tells me she hopes Russia wins the war but peace is best.

The three-day state visit marks the 40th meeting between Putin and Xi since the Chinese leader came to power in 2012.

XI: I believe that the Russian people will continue to strongly support you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WANG (on camera): And, Wolf, Russian state media said, Xi Jinping and Putin's talks lasted for four and a half hours, and a Ukrainian intelligence official said that currently there's no evidence that China is supplying weapons to Ukraine. The White House has said the same but said that Xi Jinping has not taken the option off the table. The propaganda message here in China to the audience at home is that this is a visit of peace to rekindle and continue to kindle that friendship and to improve and continue further Russia/China relations. Wolf?

BLITZER: Selina Wang reporting from Beijing, thank you very much.

Let's get some analysis right now from CNN Contributor on Russian Affairs Jill Dougherty and CNN Military Analyst, Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Jill, what message does it send for Putin to host the Chinese president and to make a brazen visit to the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol so soon after his International Criminal Court arrest warrant was released?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR ON RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Oh, I think he's essentially saying to the International Criminal Court, I don't care, I don't recognize you anyway, we're not members of the ICC, therefore, it makes no difference, and I will go where I want. Of course, he cannot go everywhere he wants because there are 123 countries around the world that are members of the ICC and potentially could arrest him.

But I think also with Xi, you know, he is showing or trying to prove that he has a friend, and he has a major friend in Xi. They have been together, as you heard, 40 times they have met. And the message that he's trying to portray is the United States no longer runs the world. The west no longer runs the world. The uni-polar (ph) world is over, and we, China and Russia, have a different way of approaching things, and I think that's the message.


The Chinese message, I believe, is much more subtle and essentially it's peace but it also is a big element here of the economy, and the trade that both of these countries need for different reasons.

BLITZER: Good point. You know, Colonel Leighton, can President Xi portray himself really as a peacemaker when China is still at least considering sending lethal weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, that's going to be difficult, Wolf, and I think the reason that it's going to be difficult is that the Ukrainians aren't going to see him as an honest broker.

The other thing that the Ukrainians have repeatedly said is that they do not want a peace situation, any ceasefire or anything like that if Russian troops remain on their territory. So, there appear to be a few nonnegotiable conditions that the Ukrainians are setting that the Chinese would find very difficult to meet under their 12-point program.

BLITZER: Jill, would Putin use at least ceasefire to regroup for yet another major military offensive as the U.S. is clearly now warning?

DOUGHERTY: I think there's no question. I mean, that has really been the case since the beginning almost, but especially as the war has gotten much more difficult for Russia, that they could freeze it, they could use that time to rebuild, and that's what the United States is talking about.

But, you know, from the Chinese perspective, this is complicated because if they decided to help to provide so-called lethal weapons, then they're tempting fate with the United States, with western allies, who would probably institute sanctions against China for helping Russia. And, certainly, China after two years of COVID, the shutdown, does not want to jeopardize those economic relationships with the west.

BLITZER: Colonel Leighton, what are your thoughts about Putin's decision to go ahead and visit Mariupol earlier today right in the war zone, a city that Russian troops basically destroyed huge chunks of?

LEIGHTON: Yes. Wolf, I think, in some ways, he's copying -- the European leaders that (INAUDIBLE) but those people did it for the most part during daylight hours. Putin came in, in the dead of night, via a helicopter and had a very staged visit with some people in apartment complexes that seemed to be very pro-Russia.

So, that was very much a propaganda tour but he's trying to show that he is the tough guy, but the tough guy who is ready to help reconstruct Mariupol and that reconstruction effort is something, of course, that I think the people there would be waiting a long time to reach fruition.

BLITZER: Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much for joining us. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we'll have the latest on the banking crisis roiling roiling markets across the world right now. I'll ask the former chair of the FDIC what else needs to be done to boost confidence in the financial system.



BLITZER: Tonight, there's new fallout from the banking crisis rattling financial markets around the world. Here in the United States, shares of First Republic plummeted today despite the bank receiving a massive loan and reports that major financial institutions are working on a new rescue plan. And in Switzerland, the nation's largest bank, UBS, is stepping in to buy its ailing rival, Credit Suisse.

Let's discuss what's going on with the former Chairwoman of the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which protects depositors out there, Sheila Bair, is joining us. Sheila, thank you so much for joining us.

What does it say to you about the underlying fears that are clearly out there that First Republic shares tumbled today despite all this massive rescue efforts that are underway?

SHEILA BAIR, FORMER FDIC CHAIR: Right. Well, it's important to remember there are well over 4,000 banks in the United States and, you know, $23 trillion of assets, so this is First Republic is having some significant challenges. But this is not indicative of broader problems in the banking system. So, I think that's important to remember, number one.

But, you know, deposit insurance has caps. And if you're worried about your bank, I always recommend for households to stay below the deposit insurance caps at $250,000. If you do, your money is rock solid safe. The FDIC, my former agency has a perfect record of protecting insured deposits, and there a lot of way you can get significantly more through account restructurings then $250,000, there're lots of information on the FDIC's website.

So I do think, you know, people need to be mindful about where they're putting money. But, overall, the banking system, the vast majority of banks are quite safe. Regional banks in particular have been a strong backbone of our economy. They fared very well during the great financial crisis. They kept lending when some of the larger banks were pulling back.

So, we must not lose faith in our regional banks. They're very strong and they're very important part of the economy. And, again, I think this is really segmented to a small group of banks that have not managed themselves as well as they should. But people should not be worried about the broader safety of the system.

BLITZER: That's good to hear. Bloomberg is reporting, as you probably have heard, Sheila, that President Biden's team has had multiple conversations with billionaire Warren Buffett about possibly investing in the U.S. regional banking sector. Do you see a role for him here?

BAIR: Well, yes. I mean, he certainly did that during the great financial crisis. He took -- you know, he's Warren Buffett. He's still Warren Buffett. So, if he says a place is worth investing in and taking some risks on, that means a lot to the markets. So, you know, I hope that works.


It's kind of unfortunate, though, they're leaking it, he decides not to, people might get more upset. You know, I think this underscores a broader problem that the importance of communications, government communications, to people during situations like this, people are very unsettled. They're very, you know, unsure about what's insured, what's not insured, what's protected, what's not protected.

I have suggested, I wrote an op-ed, and suggested to people I know in the administration, that they should ask Congress to give the FDIC temporary authority to guarantee uninsured deposits at least in transaction accounts that are used by businesses for payroll and operational expenses. These are very important to the functioning of the economy, and typically must be significantly higher than the uninsured, excuse me, the insured deposit limits because there's a lot of money going in and out of these payroll accounts.

So that is actually authority the FDIC had during the great financial crisis, when I was chair. We used it successfully to settle uninsured deposit runs from banks that are otherwise quite healthy, and I do think, unfortunately, Congress decided that they didn't want us to have that authority. It requires congressional approval to do. But there's a fast track process to give the FDIC the authority, if the president requests it.

And I think maybe it's time he'd do that because people are worried, they need clarity about what's insured, what isn't, and how safe their money is that are in the banks.

BLITZER: Yeah, a lot of people are worried, indeed.

Sheila Bair, thank you very much. We definitely will continue this conversation. Appreciate it.

BAIR: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Coming up, North Korea simulates nuclear attacks on its southern neighbor with Kim Jong Un and his daughter looking on.

We're breaking down what the dictator's provocations signal about his regime. That's next.



BLITZER: We're following grave new escalations from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us.

So, Brian, Kim seems to be emboldened to act because of other drills in the region.


Tensions are very high on the Korean peninsula tonight where Kim Jong Un is doing all that in response to joint military drills by the U.S. and South Korea which he perceives as a serious threat.


TODD (voice-over): From North Korea's ruthless dictator, an imposing show of force. According to state media, Kim Jong Un today told his country it has to be ready to launch nuclear counterstrikes against its enemies. This comes just after Kim, according to his media arm, guided a set of tactical drills over the weekend that simulated a nuclear counterattack, including the launch of a ballistic missile with a mock nuclear warhead on it, which exploded in the air.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, FORMER STATE DEPARTMETN ADVISER ON NATIONAL SECURITY: Kim Jong-un is operationalizing the capability to do a salvo attack on South Korea or Japan with multiple missiles, multiple nuclear warheads.

TODD: North Korea revealed its nuclear counterattack drills after the United States and South Korea took part in joint air drills on Sunday, drills featuring strategic bombers, stealth plants, and fighter jets.

CIRINCIONE: We see those drills as a deterrent, as a way of deterring Kim Jong-un from attacking South Korea. He sees them as a provocation. He thinks this is a pretext for invasion techniques.

TODD: Kim is continuing what's become an aggressive street. Last Thursday, North Korea test launched what it said was a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile, a weapon capable of hitting the continental U.S., its fourth ICBM launch in less than a year. Analysts say Kim is trying to perfect and expand his arsenal of those missiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We can expect that this year North Korea will not stop the provocative missile tests for their development of a solid fuel ICBM.

TODD: A solid fuel ICBM, analysts say, would give North Korea more flexibility because those missiles can be launched more quickly than others. Also, just last week, Kim's forces test-fired cruise missiles from a submarine. The supreme leader has appeared at many of these events, including the latest in nuclear counterattack drills alongside his young daughter. She is believed to be about nine years old and named Kim Ju-ae.

PATRICK CRONIN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: This is the coming out party for his daughter. This is the future of North Korean leadership. She's going to be around for decades.

TODD: There is no sign that Kim Jong-un is seriously ill or he would leave power anytime soon. It's not clear if he's actually preparing his daughter to take power if and when he does. But analysts are certainly paying attention to the two young women by side. His daughter and his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong who's had a meteoric rise in power.

BRUCE KLINGNER, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: There is no indication that either the sister or the daughter would pursue any different or softer policies towards North Korea's neighbors than the three generations already have.


TODD (on camera): But analysts point out that South Korean intelligence recently said Kim Jong-un also has an older son, older than Kim Ju-ae, a son who has not been seen in public. One analyst said it could be the older son who is being groomed for leadership but he may not be unveiled until he is more of age -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Now we turn to a conflict that led to war 20 years ago. President George W. Bush launched the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on March 20th, 2003, beginning a war that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. I was reporting from neighboring Kuwait then as the first massive wave of coalition attacks, dubbed shock and awe, was unleashed.

Operation Iraqi Freedom as it was known, evolved into an eight-year occupation that took a huge toll, including the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. service members and tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and civilians.

We'll have more news just ahead.



BLITZER: Finally, actor and comedian Adam Sandler is being honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

I had a chance to join the celebration airing only on CNN.


CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: I'll grant you, a lot of amazing, amazing people have flown to D.C. to say nice things about Adam Sandler. But if you ask yourself why so many of Adam's friends were available to speak tonight -- I will tell you why. Because when Adam isn't working, they aren't working.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tremendous heart, you know? No lifelong friendships with basically every person he's ever worked with. Adam, when you when I first met at that diner with my wild punk here, I mean, we just laughed and we connected. I knew we were cinematic soulmates, like Hepburn and Tracy.

ADAM SANDLER, COMEDIAN: My first thought, of course, when they told me I was getting this -- receive this Mark Twain honor was, of course, wow, is Twain going to be there? No, said that Kennedy Center people, to which I replied, makes sense.