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The Situation Room
Awaiting Vigil For Nashville Shooting Victims, First Lady To Attend; Police Say, School Shooter Believed To Have Had Weapons Training; Trump Appeals Ruling Forcing Former Aides To Testify; Dominion Filing: Fox Exec Warned Fact-Checking Trump's Election Lies Was "Bad For Business"; Pope Francis Hospitalized With Respiratory Infection. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 29, 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, we're standing by for the start of a vigil for the six victims of the Nashville school shooting, including three young children. First Lady Jill Biden will be there. I'll ask White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the message the Bidens are sending as another community reels from gun violence.
We're also learning more about the Nashville shooting investigation as the search for a motive continues police trying to track down when and where the shooter may have had weapons training.
And just in, Donald Trump is appealing. A court ruling that would force his former chief of staff and other ex aides to testify in the January 6th investigation. This as a New York grand jury is set to take an extended break from its investigation of 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.
This hour, the people of Nashville are coming together to grieve for the victims of the Covenant Elementary School shooting with First Lady Jill Biden there to offer her support. She has just arrived. This comes as new information about the investigation is now emerging.
Carlos Suarez and Dianne Gallagher on the ground for us in Nashville, I should say. First, to you, Carlos, what more are police revealing as they search for a motive?
CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a few minutes ago, the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, she showed up here to take a look at the memorial outside of the entrance of the school. The first lady walked around. She took a look at some flowers and some photos that have been left behind to remember the six victims of this school shooting.
The visit to the school, at least the entrance of the school, is taking place as police, the chief of police here provided CNN with an update on where that investigation stands, and we also heard from a former art teacher who described an encounter she had with the shooter at an art school.
SUAREZ (voice over): The motive for why 28-year-old Audrey Hale shot and killed six people at the Covenant School is still unclear. Nashville Police Chief John Drake spoke to CNN today about the investigation.
CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE: What we know is the suspect actually went to that school, and as I said once before that there may be some resentment, but we haven't been able to confirm that.
SUAREZ: The chief said detectives are still going over a notebook that Hale left behind with writings inside. Authorities believe Hale had weapons training and may have stopped somewhere between leaving home and arriving at the school. According to the chief, Hale did not have problems at the school while a student.
DRAKE: The suspect was under a doctor's care for an emotional disorder of some type. As of right now, we don't have any indication there was any problems at the school or at home.
SUAREZ: The chief said detectives believe the parents did not know about the seven weapons Hale legally owned.
DRAKE: The parents felt like she should not own any weapons. She did have one weapon that they encouraged her to sell, which she did, so they thought she didn't have any more.
SUAREZ: New tonight, an art instructor who taught Hale for two semesters in 2017 at Nossi College of Art, told CNN, Hale had an emotional outburst on the first day of class.
MARIA COLOMY, TAUGHT HALE IN 2017: During the creation of the past where we're asked you for a non-alpha numeric character, meaning a special character, she didn't know what it was asking for, and she got really flustered. And she just like turned red, started crying.
SUAREZ: Maria Colomy said that was the only outburst Hale ever exhibited in class.
COLOMY: I just think that Audrey had easier access to guns and rage than she did to compassion or proper mental health care.
SUAREZ: We're also learning more details about the six victims. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a video statement saying his wife, Maria, had a close relationship with one of the victims, Cynthia Peak.
GOV. BILL LEE (R-TN): Maria woke up this morning without one of her best friends, Cindy Peak. Cindy and Maria and Katherine Koonce were all teachers at the same school and have been family friends for decades. SUAREZ: However, Governor Lee said right now is not the time to discuss and debate policy.
LEE: There will be a time to talk about the legislation and the budget proposals that we brought forth even this year, and clearly there's more work to do.
SUAREZ (on camera): And there is a word tonight, Wolf, that the head of the school, 60-year-old Katherine Koonce may have died protecting the children. A city council member here told CNN that a witness said that Koonce was on a Zoom call when the shooting began, and according to police, based on where her body was found, they believe that Koonce had some type of encounter with the shooter somewhere in one of the hallways. Wolf?
BLITZER: So heartbreaking indeed. Carlos Suarez, thank you very much.
Let's go to Dianne Gallagher right now. She's covering the vigil for the victims. Dianne, set the scene for us as this service is close to getting underway.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In about half an hour, we expect this vigil here to begin. It is a citywide vigil. The mayor essentially putting this on so all of Nashville can come together and mourn this tragedy, that tragic loss of those six victims.
Of course, First Lady Jill Biden at what is the original memorial that has been put up right now outside of the school, the church where people have been laying those stuffed animals, putting those crosses and flowers, balloons that simply say, I'm sorry.
The first lady will then make her way over here to the center of the city in Nashville, this public park, where we will see a whole host of state, federal and local leaders who are going to speak here. The mayor, John Cooper, we're also going to hear from.
Look, this is the music city. They're going to mourn through music. There were several artists who are on the billing for today. We're going to hear from Sheryl Crow as well and, again, from religious leaders because at the end of the day, this was a school shooting also at school that is inside of a church. And so we anticipate hearing quite a bit from religious leaders here in the city of Nashville, Wolf.
They're starting to pass out candles for people who are arriving early to this event. I have seen a lot of parents with their children showing up, which is similar to what we saw out there on the scene, many of those children, of course, trying to come to grips with the reality in this country and what they themselves too, many have said, are afraid that they could face one day. We don't know if any of the family members are going to attend this vigil here in Nashville tonight of the victims, but we do anticipate seeing friends and, of course, the members of the community to come out and grieve together.
BLITZER: And Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy will be represented as well. Diane Gallagher, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our experts on law enforcement, politics and gun violence. Andrew McCabe, first to you. Nashville police now believe the shooter had weapons training. So, what does that tell you?
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it goes to this idea, Wolf, that this attack was very carefully planned out. The fact that she was proficient with this -- with the weapons that she used is evident from the video as well.
You know, in AR-15 is not -- it's not a revolver. You know, just pick it up and pull the trigger. You've got to be able to load the magazines put the magazine in the well, charge the weapon. So, that all takes at least some rudimentary training and some practice and it's clear she had done that. It also seems to me from the way she moved with the weapon, the way she brought it to her shoulder, she had some sort of familiarity with military tactics or law enforcement tactics.
So, the picture of the shooter is becoming more into focus as police continue the investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Abby Phillip, we just saw First Lady Jill Biden at that memorial in Nashville. She's expected to attend tonight's vigil as well. But President Biden says he's exhausted his own executive options. Is the president trying to lower expectations about getting new gun reforms passed?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I do think, Wolf, that that's probably an accurate description of where things stand in terms of what would need to be done. And what could be done without Congress.
You know, President Biden has actually not really relented in his belief in an assault weapons ban, but he also has been clear that that's not going to happen. And I think that when you look at what's happening on Capitol Hill and you hear what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are saying, there's really not a lot of momentum there. That doesn't mean that that won't change.
You know when the Uvalde shooting happened as well, there was similarly quite a lot of pessimism. And at the same time, it took a handful of lawmakers to come together and put together a package that probably didn't go as far as a lot of gun control advocates wanted but it was something. So, we'll see if they're able to do that again around issues like red flag laws or anything that could have addressed the access to weapons for people who are disturbed as this shooter appears to have been. BLITZER: Yes. Jennifer Mascia, you reported a staggering 465 million guns have been in circulation in this country since 1899. Does that speak to how colossal the task is right now of combating gun violence in the United States?
JENNIFER MASCIA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's very hard to start restricting gun access when there's already so many millions of guns out there.
It's a reason that other countries have this problem pretty much licked (ph) because they didn't wait for hundreds of millions of guns to be in everyone's hands. That is what makes an underground market possible. You have legal gun owners and, you know, sometimes bad apple gun dealers making off book sales, and that just puts more guns into the unregulated market. It's like putting toothpaste in a tube. It's extremely hard.
And production has ramped up of the last 15 years. About 20 million guns were produced for the domestic market in 2021 and it's only going up.
BLITZER: Andrew, there's no evidence the shooter had, quote, problems at the school or at home, according to the police chief. How does that complicate invoking red flag laws where they are in place? They weren't in place in Tennessee, as you know?
MCCABE: Yes. So, obviously, the red flag law, not an option in Tennessee, and it doesn't appear that this person exhibited any sort of behavior that would have triggered that sort of attention. But that really exposes the weakness in relying on red flag laws exclusively. It puts the entire onus on family members, the associates, maybe work colleagues of an individual to be proactive and, to go to law enforcement and bring someone to law enforcement's attention. That's not an easy thing to do. Many people are not comfortable doing that.
So, while it's a good thing to have, I don't think we can see it as our primary defense against people who are really in trouble and suffering from emotional and mental issues, keeping weapons out of their hands.
BLITZER: Jennifer, you say gun owner demographics here in the United States are changing and more people from all different backgrounds are buying them. Tell us why.
MASCIA: Well, you know, it used to be the -- you know, it was the province of white rural Americans. You know, there was a gun culture. But America is diversifying and gun buyers are diversifying along with that. You know, there's this stereotype out there that mass shooters are disaffected, young and middle aged white men. But, as America has diversified that statistic, you know, mass shooters, they have also diversified.
And the heartbreaking thing is that it's kind of proving that this is truly an American scourge, that this is something that's happening among all groups and all backgrounds, and the problem affects us all. BLITZER: Abby, this school, as you know, is located in a church. Children ran for their lives through the woods across a highway. Everything about this is so gut-wrenching, so awful. Do you think gun violence will now become a more prominent issue in this current election cycle?
PHILLIP: You know, I think that for left-leaning voters, it certainly has been for quite a while, especially in also younger voters. I mean, Wolf, it's been -- we're seeing generations of Americans who are growing up in a culture in which school shootings are the norm, mass school shootings are the norm. And those younger voters are voting age and they are making their voices heard, people like Congressman Maxwell Frost, the youngest congressman in the Congress, who was a gun violence advocate before he got to Congress.
And so, I think that for certain Americans -- I think the right is moving away from the consensus in the middle on, you know, gun safety and gun restrictions, but there are a lot of people, a lot of parents, a lot of young people who do not want this to be their norm.
And what's really sad is that when Newtown happened, I think a lot of people thought that would be the last straw, when, you know, 20 kids were killed in a school. And now I think it -- on Capitol Hill, it's been amazing to see so many lawmakers simply just saying there's nothing we can do, but, really, what they're saying is that they don't want to talk about guns at all. They don't mind talking about other things, but not the gun part of it, which is, I think just the reality that we are in right now.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, I'll ask the White House press secretary, Karine Jean- Pierre, about efforts to curb gun violence here in the United States.
Also ahead, a Manhattan grand jury probing former President Trump is now set to take a break for most of next month.
BLITZER: Just in to CNN, former President Donald Trump is appealing a court ruling, forcing his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and other ex-aides to testify.
CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is on the story for us. Sara, tell us more what's going on.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a judge had previously said that Mark Meadows, who is the former White House chief of staff, and a handful of other Trump administration officials and advisers, had to go to the grand jury and testify and had to answer certain questions that the Trump team said should have been covered by executive privilege.
So, now what we're seeing, according to sources telling me and my colleagues, Zach Cohen, is that the Trump team is trying to appeal that ruling. So, this certainly doesn't mean it's going to be a victory in blocking their testimony by any means but it means the Trump team still wants to fight on this executive privilege argument and try to block these folks from at least answering some questions before a grand jury.
Again, this is an argument the Trump team has tried with a number of witnesses, and so far, you know, it's failed. They tried to argue that with Mike Pence. It failed in court. They tried to argue that with Evan Corcoran, who was one of Trump's attorneys. That also failed. We will see how they fair on this appeal, Wolf.
BLITZER: As you know, the former vice president, Mike Pence, today responded to a judge's ruling that he, too, must testify in this probe. So, do we know what Pence will do?
MURRAY: Well, he wasn't exactly straightforward when reporters tried repeatedly to get him to answer the question in Iowa of whether he is going to appeal this decision from a judge, saying he has to answer questions about his conversations with Trump in the run-up to January 6th, but saying, look, there are some questions that you do not have to answer when you were serving as president of the Senate on January 6th.
So, here is what Pence told reporters when they asked him what his path forward is going to be today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I will be speaking with our attorneys in Washington before the end of the week and sorting out what our next steps are.
I obviously have nothing to hide. I've been speaking about those days, writing about them extensively over the last two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now it is worth noting that Pence also said today he was pleased with the ruling. He complimented the judge, so maybe we're doing a little bit of tea leaves reading here, but he didn't explicitly say whether he was going to just go ahead and testify or whether he may still try to appeal this, Wolf.
BLITZER: We will find out soon enough.
Sara, stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN's Senior Political Commentator Adam Kinzinger, and CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero. Carrie, Sara just explained that a judge has already rejected Trump's privilege claims. So, does the former president have legal standing right now for this appeal?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he can make the appeal and the judge will decide whether or not it goes forward. But, look, this has been a losing argument for him again and again, and each time he does it, he's really weakening what executive privilege is all about, because it can't stand to be for the proposition, that justice doesn't allow the investigation of activities that might potentially be violations of criminal law.
So, each time he has made this claim to try to keep his former aides from testifying in a valid federal investigation, he keeps failing in that argument, and I don't see any reason at this point why that would change.
BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger is with us as well. Adam, you're familiar with these Trump aides from your time serving on the January 6th select committee. So, why do you think the former president is so invested in actually preventing them from testifying?
ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's a couple of things, Wolf. So, number one, they probably have information that, you know, on the committee we weren't able to get. There's a lot of kind of loose ends we weren't able to tie up because we ran out of time, because we had people that simply refused to come in, and even if DOJ moved on, holding them in contempt, that didn't change anything. So, I think that's part of it.
I also think it's just a gambit to buy time. I mean, look January 6th was a little over two years ago now. Donald Trump is running for president. He knows the longer this goes on, maybe the less interested people are. So, it's all a matter of stall and delay and hoping that process that he gets, you know, a favorable judge, that's maybe going to take his side.
BLITZER: Sara, let's turn to New York where the grand jury investigating Donald Trump will take a break for most of April. What impact might this have on the investigation?
MURRAY: Well, you know, it certainly is interesting because we knew we had all this anticipation, right? You know, the former president said incorrectly that he was going to be arrested. That didn't happen. And my colleagues are reporting out of New York, you know, that they don't expect that this grand jury will hear tomorrow or early next week the Trump case before they take this prolonged break.
So, the question is, you know where they're going to come back later on in April, and are they going to you know here this, are they going to try to bring forward a potential indictment? Where do you take it from here?
It certainly will have an interesting sort of impact on the momentum in the case. And, again, our reporting is that this has been planned for a while. This is a break that's planned around a number of religious holidays. It's planned around spring break for New York public schools. So, you know, certainly not a surprise to the D.A.'s office that it's coming. But, publicly, and, you know, as far as the media perception, it is pretty interesting, Wolf.
BLITZER: Adam, does this pause give Trump an opportunity to declare victory, at least for the next month or so? How impactful might this be?
KINZINGER: Well, I'm sure he'll declare victory. I think he already started to. But I actually think that's not a bad thing, because it sends a couple of messages. Number one, I do think we were all kind of rope-a-doped by Trump saying I'm going to be arrested on Tuesday, and I'm not sure that was ever the plan in the first place.
But I think what this shows is the D.A. is not in a hurry. He doesn't feel that there is necessarily a timeline. He's going to bring all the evidence forward. If, in fact, he has a weak case, which I'm not suggesting he does, but if he does, he's not going to rush to do it. And I think the other thing is this gives a chance for -- again, probably not why it's delayed, of course, but it gives a chance for Georgia or some of the DOJ investigations to catch up and maybe go first.
I think a lot of people had some concerns that, you know, this first time of former president will have been arrested in theory would be on this case, which is probably the weakest case of both Georgia and some of the DOJ investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. All right, Carrie, let's turn to the former Vice President Mike Pence, who is now being ordered to testify about his conversations with Trump leading up to January 6th. Pence wrote extensively about January 6th in his book. Legally speaking, how does that factor into any argument he might make about testifying?
CORDERO: Well, so, I think this opinion, as it's being reported out by the judge, which orders him to testify, but according to reports does acknowledge some credibility to the arguments that he was making on the speech and debate clause, really puts him in a pretty good position, especially if he decides not to appeal it or go forward at this point and just go ahead and testify.
Because what it enables him to do is say that, A, he made a constitutional argument and the court considered it and found some credibility to it, but then also that he is under court order to testify and be truthful and give his perspective and his information that he has that's valuable to the investigation, which covers a whole range of facts starting from right after the election leading all the way up to January 6th and the pressure that he was under and the people who were involved in trying to overturn the results of that election.
So, if he decides to just go forward at this point based on this opinion, I think it places him in a position where he can say that he is following the rule of law.
BLITZER: Carrie Cordero, Adam Kinzinger, Sara Murray, guys, thank you very, very much.
This note to our viewers, I'll be interviewing former Vice President Mike Pence one-on-one tomorrow night. We'll cover a wide range of topics, including 2024 and the Trump investigations. You can see it tomorrow right here on CNN Primetime 9:00 P.M. Eastern.
Coming up, the vigil for school shooting victims in Nashville begins very soon. The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, will join us. She's here live to explain why the first lady of the United States wanted to attend.
BLITZER: These are live pictures coming in from Nashville right now, where a vigil is about to begin in honor of the three children and three adults gunned down at a private elementary school, the victims of America's latest mass shooting. First Lady Jill Biden is attending as her husband and his administration are pushing for new gun legislation right now.
Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre. Karine, thank you very much.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much for joining us. So, what message is the president and the first lady, for that matter, sending right now by having the first lady of the United States attend this vigil?
JEAN-PIERRE: So as you just showed and mentioned, the first lady is in Nashville, Tennessee, to mourn with the family, to mourn with the community, to offer her condolences and the condolences of the president. Our message to the people of Nashville is pretty clear. We will be with you today, tomorrow, in the upcoming weeks. And we understand tragically that when a community is impacted by a gun violence like this community was, you never fully heal. So, we will be there for them.
And our early message, and you've heard this from the president, as you were opening up this segment, is that we are going to do everything that we can, leave no stone unturned to fight, to make sure that we do everything that we can again to reduce gun violence because we have to. We have to. We cannot continue to see the violence, this gun violence affect communities. It's an epidemic Wolf. It is an epidemic.
It is not okay to have weapons of war. These are weapons of war that are in our schools, that are in our communities, that are in our churches, in our places of worship. That is not what is supposed to be. That's not what we're supposed to live.
BLITZER: You want major gun reform legislation, but the president has acknowledged that he doesn't have the authority anymore, the executive authority to do much. It's up to Congress to take action. Do you see Congress taking any action?
JEAN-PIERRE: So, here's the thing, Wolf. You've covered Washington for a very long time. You understand how the government works. The president could only do but so much. He has taken historic action, executive action, the first two years, more than any other president because he understands how serious this is and how important this is. But at some point, he is limited in what he can do.
Congress needs to take action. Congressional Republicans in Congress need to get out of the way or come to the table and really have some courage, have some courage. Because if they had courage, Wolf, we would see legislation today, assault weapons ban today. And we know if you take -- if you have an assault weapons ban, we know that violence, gun violence will go down. We have the data that shows that.
BLITZER: Yesterday, I spoke with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who wants a vote at least in the Senate on this issue of guns. But Schumer, the Democratic leader, apparently doesn't think it'll pass, so he doesn't necessarily want it to come up for a vote. Where does the president stand? Should there at least be a vote putting on the record all these senators where they stand?
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, the president wants to see an assault weapons ban, a piece of legislation on the on his desk, and he will sign it. Here's the thing, and it's not just the president. Majority of Americans want to see this. Even gun owners want to see some sort of common sense gun safety legislation. They want to see it themselves.
So we have to do what the will of the people wants, right? We have to make sure that we deliver to many communities. I mean, let's think about it, Uvalde, 21, 19 kids, you think about Buffalo, a grocery store. Think something that people do every Saturday ten people died. We have seen that the photos that you showed just moments ago. We have seen that type of vigil over and over and over and over again. We need that to stop.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Karine, President Biden, he's kicking off a major tour right now, as you know, a lot better than I do, to highlight his legislative program, his legislative achievements so far. Is this a prelude to a formal announcement about 2024 presidential run?
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I appreciate you asking, I -- all I will say is the president has answered this question many times. He says he intends to run. I have to be very careful. We do listen to the rule of law and the Hatch Act, so I have to be mindful of what I say.
But to speak -- to just speak really briefly about the tour, there's going to be 20 states and over three weeks and the president is going to talk about his agenda for the American people. He ran on this investing in America, investing in good paying jobs, investing in making sure that we're bringing back manufacturing jobs. 12 million jobs have been created. 800,000 of those jobs have been manufacturing jobs, and that's what he's going to do. It's going to be himself, the first lady, the vice president, his secretaries, you have Secretary Buttigieg, Granholm, Raimondo out this week. And we are just going to talk directly -- speak to directly to the American people and show what we are doing to invest in them. BLITZER: As you say, I covered Washington for a long time, so, to me, that sounds like a prelude to a run. But we shall see he intends to run.
JEAN-PIERRE: It's up to the president.
BLITZER: We shall see. Alright, Karine Jean-Pierre, thanks very much for coming in.
JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Wolf. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. Just ahead, of the public feud between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing inside Israel. Can their relationship survive their growing split?
BLITZER: The U.S./Israeli relationship is being put to the test tonight, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to smooth over a very public split with President Biden.
CNN's Nic Robertson has our report from Jerusalem, where growing political crisis is causing serious trouble for the Israeli leader.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): Reaction has been swift, Israeli T.V. leading with and debating President Joe Biden's rejection of any near term visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Consensus is unprecedented, a clear put down by Israel's most important ally.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Hopefully, the prime minister will act in way that he had been trying to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen.
REPORTER: Are you inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House, sir?
REPORTER: Do you think he will be coming to Washington?
BIDEN: Not in the in the near term.
ROBERTSON: Biden's message back off on contentious judicial reforms has touched a raw nerve in the Israeli government. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Netanyahu's hard right cabinet member firing back on Israeli radio, saying we are an independent country, not another star on the U.S. flag. And Netanyahu, during a U.S. hosted virtual summit for democracy, also shrugging off Biden's cold shoulder.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel and the United States have had their occasional differences. But I want to assure you that the alliance between the world's greatest democracy and a strong, proud and independent democracy, Israel, in the heart of the Middle East, is unshakable.
ROBERTSON: But on the streets at the many anti-government protests, Biden's snub of Netanyahu is exactly what protesters have been calling for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need the world to help us not letting him in. Just punish this guy. This guy is a dictator, is very, very bad for democracy.
ROBERTSON: But among opposition leaders here, concern the U.S. president isn't tough enough.
AHMAD TIBI, MEMBER OF KNESSET: It's a new and interesting statement by President Biden, unprecedented, good one. I am not sure that this is enough for Netanyahu to stop.
ROBERTSON: Why not?
TIBI: Because he loves Washington more than Tel Aviv, Netanyahu, but he can live without visiting the White House for the next year.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Well, a senior Israeli government official has been playing down the tensions with the White House, describing the situation as a tempest in a teapot. But it was only a couple of months ago that Secretary of State Antony Blinken was here where there was a spike in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, and back then, Prime Minister Netanyahu, again, found himself defending his position to the White House. These growing tensions, they don't seem to be passing off very quickly. Wolf?
BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Jerusalem for us, thank you very, very much.
Joining us now, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk. Martin, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, President Biden is now publicly calling on Prime Minister Netanyahu to walk away from this judicial overhaul. How significant is that, Martin, and will it have any impact on Netanyahu's next move?
MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Thanks, Wolf. I think it's highly significant. He sent this message to the prime minister privately on Sunday night before Netanyahu decided to call a pause in the legislation to try to form a consensus.
The fact that the president has now put it out in public means that he wants to send a very clear signal to Netanyahu, and he's added that he won't be welcome in Washington until he sorts this issue out.
So, I think the president is really laid down the gauntlet here, expecting Netanyahu to solve this problem by achieving a consensus, and he's not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. He's making it clear he wants to see him do this.
BLITZER: And we shall see if he does. As, you know, Netanyahu argues this proposed reform in the Israeli Knesset, the parliament, is necessary, but you hear some protesters out on the streets of Israel expressed fear of Netanyahu's becoming a, quote, dictator. Are concerns of an authoritarian slide in Israel justified?
INDYK: I think that they are. It's a move towards the autocracy that President Biden has expressed so much concern about -- illiberal democracy like Hungary, in which the role of the judiciary in terms of checks and balances on the executive branch is severely circumscribed.
And that's what the legislation that Netanyahu is proposing would do, and that's what caused such an eruption in civil society in Israel. With so many hundreds of thousands of people coming out in the street, saying that they're not prepared to have a situation in which the executive branch of government under Netanyahu dominate the judiciary, and it no longer serves as a check.
So I think that essentially, there's a danger that the Jewish and Democratic state and shifting the balance towards its Jewishness will essentially undermining fundamental ways. It's democracy, and that's just not acceptable to secular Israel. Are you also concerned of a possible civil war in Israel? I asked that question because the president of Israel Isaac Herzog, himself raised that fear.
I think there is -- there is a danger in that. I would have to say that the demonstrations have been almost entirely peaceful. And that holds out some hope it can be avoided. But when now in a situation where for the next month under President Herzog, so there will be an attempt to achieve consensus about the way forward with some changes to the judiciary, but hopefully accepted by both sides.
I think that's going to be difficult to achieve and if it isn't achieved because of the demands of the far right and religious parties in Netanyahu's government on the one side and the demands of the opposition on the other, then I think that we're going to go into a confrontation that could be very serious and potentially violent.
BLITZER: Martin Indyk, thanks so much for joining us.
INDYK: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, new filings from Dominions lawsuit against Fox News reveals shocking words from a top fox executive who lashed out against fact-checking election lies.
BLITZER: New filings from Dominion's $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox News reveal a top executive at the network lashing out after a correspondent fact-checked Donald Trump's election lies. Let's get details from CNN's senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy.
Oliver, was this Fox executive worried that telling the truth which journalists are supposed to do what actually hurt their bottom line?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Yeah, Wolf, more stunning details coming out of these Dominion filings, this time from CEO Suzanne Scott, the head of Fox News in it. She emails another Fox executive and really lashes out after a correspondent fact checked some of Trump's election lies on television.
I'll read to you part of that what she wrote, this Fox executive. She said: This has to stop now. I'm going to address this with you and Jay and Lowell tomorrow. This is bad business, and there clearly is a lack of understanding what is happening in these shows. The audience is a furious and we are just feeding them material. Bad for business.
And in another email that recently disclosed today, she also talks about the repercussions that Fox was facing because of these kinds of fact checks after the election. In one email, she says that Fox News's streaming service Fox Nation had lost 25,000 subscribers seemingly as a result of the audience rebelling because they accurately did call the election in Joe Biden's favor.
Now, Fox News is saying that Dominion is cherry-picking these emails to make it look bad in recent filings, and they're also noting that Eric Shawn's fact check, the correspondent, the fact check of the election lies came after a segment of Maria Bartiromo's show, suggesting that it was really that this her lashing out, because -- because Eric Shawn had effectively fact checked another fox host, and they're saying that the other emails were about the tone of the fact checks.
But, Wolf, these are really documents that continue to come out of Fox News. And this case is heading to a trial in just a few weeks, it seems, unless both sides can somehow reach a settlement.
BLITZER: We shall see.
Oliver Darcy, thank you very much for that report. And this note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, one Republican senator singlehandedly holding up nearly 160 U. S military promotions. Even his fellow Republicans are questioning this. You're going to find out why. That's tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, coming up in a few minutes.
We'll have more news just ahead, including growing concern right now for the health of Pope Francis, who's in the hospital tonight. What we know about the 86-year-old's condition.
BLITZER: Tonight, concerns for the health of Pope Francis, as the 86- year-old is hospitalized battling a respiratory infection. Delia Gallagher is joining us from Rome right now.
Delia, what do we know about his condition?
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we know is that the Vatican told us today that the pope had been complaining in the last few days about some respiratory difficulties. And so this afternoon, he went to Rome's Gemelli Hospital for what the Vatican says were previously scheduled tests. Those tests showed that he does indeed have a respiratory infection. It is not COVID, the Vatican says, but it does require him to stay in hospital for the next few days, to receive a medically appropriate therapy, they say.
Now, we saw him this morning, Wolf. Wednesday morning, he does a weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. He was speaking and breathing just fine. It seemed. However, of course, he's 86 years old, and when he was a young man, he had part of his right lung removed for a respiratory illness. So we will be monitoring closely his progress in the hospital in the next few days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we have any idea how long is expected to stay in the hospital?
GALLAGHER: Vatican says, a few days. That is what we know for the moment.
This is a big week coming up, starting Palm Sunday. It's Easter Week. The pope has a lot of events scheduled, so we will have to see how he goes in the hospital, whether he'll be able to get out and make those events or not, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, I think I speak for all of our viewers when I say we wish him only the best and a speedy, speedy recovery.
Delia Gallagher in Rome for us, thanks very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.