Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
More Chilling 911 Calls During Bank Shooting Just Released; Second Expelled Tennessee Lawmaker Reappointed To Statehouse; Video Posted Online Purport To Show Beheaded Ukrainian Soldiers; GOP Sen. Tim Scott Launches Presidential Exploratory Committee; Evacuations Ordered As Industrial Fire Spews Black Smoke In Indiana. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 12, 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, more chilling 911 calls made during the Louisville bank shooting were just released, the recordings capturing the terror as gunshots rang out and a sobbing witness told the dispatcher, I see somebody on the floor.
Also tonight, supporters are celebrating the reappointment of a second Tennessee state lawmaker who was expelled. We'll get reaction from his colleagues to other Democrats who defied Republicans by leading a pro- gun reform protests on the statehouse floor.
And a gruesome new development in Russia's war against Ukraine, videos posted online purportedly show beheaded Ukrainian soldiers. I'll ask the Ukrainian prime minister about that and much more when he joins me for an exclusive interview.
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 this hour with the anguish calls to 911 that were made during the deadly shooting rampage in a Louisville bank. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has been going through the recordings that were released just a short while ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what to do. I need your help.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A mom calls 911 after she was told her son had a gun and was headed to the Louisville bank where he worked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son might be -- have a gun and he's heading toward the Old National.
PROKUPECZ: But she said she didn't believe her 25 year old son was a threat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please he's not violent. He's never done anything.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. And you don't believe he owns guns?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know he doesn't own any guns.
PROKUPECZ: But she would wind up being wrong and the call came too late.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God, there is an active shooter there.
PROKUPECZ: Her son was already inside the bank where he worked shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe he had a rifle, a gun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has anybody been shot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
PROKUPECZ: One 911 caller hiding from the gunman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm in a closet with one person. I hear gun shots.
PROKUPECZ: And bank employees watching the attack unfold on a video conference meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard multiple shots and everybody started saying, oh my God, and then he came into the board.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay.
PROKUPECZ: The gunman live streamed the attack on Instagram. It was just one minute before he sat down and waited for police to arrive.
DEPUTY CHIEF PAUL HUMPHREY, LOUISVILLE METRO POLICE: He went to the front lobby after assaulting the victims in the office area. And he could see out where no one could see in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get people there fast, please.
PROKUPECZ: The shooter used an AR-15-style rifle he'd legally bought six days before the attack, according to police.
Body camera video shows Louisville Metro Police officers responding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're making entry from the east side, pressing the main.
PROKUPECZ: And heading toward the gunfire.
26-year-old Officer Nicholas Wilt is shot in the head and critically injured.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have a gunshot wound of an officer.
PROKUPECZ: His training officer, Cory Galloway, takes cover, but is also shot before he returns fire and kills the gunman.
INTERIM CHIEF JACQUELYN GWINN-VILLAROEL, LOUISVILLE METRO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Timing is, as we all know, is everything but not having officers to hesitate but actually really go in and say, I need to stop this threat.
PROKUPECZ: No words can express our sorrow, anguish and horror at the unthinkable harm, a statement from the family's lawyers said. But they also said that he struggled with depression. While the shooter, like many of his contemporaries, had mental health challenges, which we, as a family, were actively addressing, there were never any warning signs or indications he was capable of this shocking act.
PROKUPECZ (on camera): And, Wolf, really, what this shows is that no matter where you are, right, you have a woman who is working remotely, watching a meeting, participating in a meeting with her coworkers when she sees such a horrific act, a person walks in with a rifle and starts shooting her colleagues, her coworkers. All of this is happening, Wolf, these new 911 calls being released, as people in the community, local officials are all gathering at this hour for a vigil, remembering those who were killed, thinking of all the survivors who will now have to deal with so much pain.
Really, the toll of this, witnessing such an act, and for those who were injured, and, obviously, those who died, just really all this just giving us a clear indication of how horrific this was, Wolf.
BLITZER: Totally horrific. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you for that report.
On CNN Tonight, an exclusive interview with the Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear about the Louisville shooting. Kaitlan Collins asked the governor about his role in informing the family of one of the victims, Old National Bank Executive Tommy Elliott.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: You were actually were the one who called his wife to let her know.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): She deserves to know. I came here immediately after originally getting a text and I noticed him office in Frankfurt that there was a mass shooting going on and then getting the address that it was my bag. I knew it would be ours before others could call her and I thought she deserved to know.
And we're real close I think right now to where I made that call the hardest -- I've been governor during this pandemic. I've been governor during tornadoes and floods and negative 45 degree wind chills and everything else. We've lost a lot of people during those. But calling your friend's wife who's also your friend to tell her that her husband is gone as amongst the hardest thing I have ever done, but at the same time she deserved to know.
BLITZER: You can hear all of Kaitlan exclusive interview with Governor Beshear on CNN Primetime. That's at 9:00 P.M. Eastern later tonight.
Now to Tennessee, where a second Democrat who was abruptly ousted from the statehouse is getting his job back. CNN's Ryan young is in Memphis for us, where officials voted to reinstate Justin J. Pearson just a short while ago. Ryan you were there to see it all play out. Tell us how it unfolded.
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf. You can feel the excitement from the people who were in the crowd. But there's real pain here as well. Because when you think about gun control, you hear the last story about Louisville, there are people here who want significant change. And especially after what happened here in Tennessee, you understand why people were willing to take to the streets. They're galvanized behind this.
And we'll show you this video as marchers went from here, the Lorraine Motel, all the way that it Shelby County commission meeting. They wanted to be there to support Justin J. Pearson to get him back in his seat. They believe that Republicans have sort of torn the band aid off this entire situation because the folks here told us they want to see real change when it comes to gun control.
There were so many victims here today who were walking along behind him, who are making their voices heard, people who have lost sons, brothers and fathers. They want to see significant change. And after all this happening, and it's something that we've been following for over a week, we talked to Justin J. Pearson on his way out to ask him how he felt about getting his sit back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOUNG: Justin, as you're walking out, how does this feel?
STATE REP. JUSTIN PEARSON (D-TN): It feels great. Democracy will win in the end and (INAUDIBLE) earth will rise again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YOUNG: And, Wolf, you're looking at that wreath up there, that's a historical place. That's where Dr. King was killed. That's where this march started. And if you think about this gun control, the idea that Dr. King, the greatest civil rights leader in the history of this country, was assassinated at that spot, that's where this march started.
And even when this ended, and Justin was talking to the crowd, they kept pressing for more and more when it came to gun control. When we were talking to commissioners today, said they've never received more emails about a singular subject, they want to see something happen at that statehouse and hoping for the governor talking and moving this for it, they'll see something happen soon. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Ryan, thank you very much, Ryan Young on the scene for us.
Joining us now, the two other Tennessee Democrats who led a pro-gun reform protest right on the floor of the statehouse, Justin Jones, who was expelled, then reinstated on Monday, and Gloria Johnson, who was not expelled.
Representative Jones, let me start with you. How powerful is it to see Representative Pearson heading back to the Tennessee House just after you yourself were reinstated?
REP. JUSTIN JONES (D-TN): Thank you so much, Wolf. I'm actually on the way back from Memphis and Nashville stops here. I'm at a gas station. But I think it's a powerful day of powerful testament to democracy here in Tennessee. We're in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated. And a movement is being resurrected there to fight for multiracial democracy, to fight for, you know, protecting the lives of our children from mass shootings.
And so today was a very powerful day and I'll be so excited to walk with my brother, Representative Pearson, back into the chamber tomorrow, where we were expelled just less than a week ago. I think it's a powerful testament to the world that we will fight for democracy and that autocracy will not rule the day, that Cameron Sexton must resign and that we will continue to be fighting for the people of Tennessee.
BLITZER: Representative Johnson, your colleague, Representative Pearson, he wrote in a CNN op-ed earlier today.
Let me read a line or two from it. Republicans who instigated my removal from the Tennessee House last week failed to anticipate the nationwide backlash that their actions would engender. Democracy prevailed and the rule of law has won. Do you agree? I have Tennessee Republicans miscalculated badly here?
STATE REP. GLORIA JOHNSON (D-TN): They have absolutely miscalculated badly. They do that quite often, but I don't think they've ever done it quite to this extreme. And I think they're quite sorry that they did it. It was -- the eyes of the nation were on them and sunlight fell on that House floor where we haven't seen it in a long time.
And we all know that democracy dies in the darkness, and we're shedding some sunlight. And I think the people understand now what is happening there. I think they intend to show up and show up regularly so that we are holding them accountable.
BLITZER: Representative Jones, The Washington Post is reporting that some Senate Democrats want the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether your expulsion and Pearson's expulsion violated the U.S. constitution or federal civil rights law. What do you say to that? JONES: I'd say that we welcome the Department of Justice here in Tennessee that we have a Republican supermajority that does not respect the rule of law or the Constitution or due process or the voices of the thousands of constituents that we represent. Each of our districts has over 70,000 people who are silenced when they expelled us. And so I hope the Department of Justice will look into Tennessee.
I know I have legal counsel. My attorney, Eric Holder, I sent a letter to the speaker saying that we do not want to see those anyone obstruct us trying to re-enter the Capitol as members and we will continue to look at our legal remedies as well.
But I think the Department of Justice must come look at Tennessee, and, once again, Wolf, I want to say that the speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, should resign because he is an enemy to democracy, and his extreme actions are what originated this issue.
BLITZER: Representative Johnson, Tennessee's governor now says he supports a more expansive red flag law in your state restricting gun access to people who may pose a threat to themselves or to others. Have you talked with your colleagues about acting on that?
JOHNSON: Well, I've talked with my colleagues in the Democratic caucus. Certainly, I've carried two red flag laws before that were killed on a party line vote. So, we are very open to working with absolutely anybody who wants to come to the table and enact something with some teeth in it that will actually prevent a lot of these deaths in our schools, in our banks and our grocery stores, all throughout our community. We have got to do something and we will work to do that.
I'm hearing from my colleagues in the legislature they're absolutely not going to consider it. So, hopefully, the young people and the parents and the children and the grandmothers who have been coming to the Capitol will continue to come and continue to stand up and speak out so that we can get some action on gun reform.
BLITZER: State Representatives Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones, to both of you, thank you so much for joining us.
And just ahead a judge sanctions Fox News over concerns it withheld key evidence just hours before the high-stakes defamation case against the network goes to trial.
BLITZER: Tonight, the $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox News is about to go to trial and the judge overseeing the case is now sanctioning the network over concerns that it withheld key evidence.
Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, new setbacks for Fox just ahead of jury selection that begins tomorrow.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jury selection tomorrow, Wolf, opening statements set for Monday and before we get going, Fox News has already gotten off on some very bad footing with this judge.
TODD (voice over): Stinging setbacks for fox news in the defamation case against the network by Dominion Voting Systems. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis says he plans to appoint an outside attorney, a so-called special master, to investigate whether Fox News lied to the court and withheld key evidence in the case.
Dressing down Fox's, attorneys from the bench, Judge Davis said, quote, I am very concerned that there have been misrepresentations to the court. This is very serious.
PROF. RONNELL ANDERSEN JONES, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH COLLEGE OF LAW: No one wants to head into a trial, particularly a trial where $1.6 billion is on the line with the judge upset with them. You especially don't want to head into a trial that is about knowing falsity with the judge thinking that you have engaged in misrepresentations.
TODD: Judge Davis also today imposed a sanction on Fox over that same matter. The judge has expressed frustration over Fox not being forthcoming over Chairman Rupert Murdoch's role at the company. Fox lawyers had long claimed Murdoch doesn't have an official role at Fox News, that he was only an officer at Fox Corporation. It was only clarified recently that Murdoch is also an officer at Fox News.
ANDERSEN JONES: Dominion is quite upset to be learning at the last minute that that role might be different than it was told. You can see that the judge here agrees.
TODD: Fox denies wrongdoing and says it properly disclosed Murdoch's roles.
Also this week, another reveal of the enormous scope of internal debates at Fox News that Dominion has been able to uncover in this case. Dominion played previously undisclosed audio, not on air, of Fox News Host Maria Bartiromo interacting with former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell in November 2020.
In one clip, Bartiromo asked Giuliani if then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was tied to Dominion. Giuliani replied, quote, I can't prove that yet. In another clip, Sidney Powell asked Bartiromo if Fox could steer viewers to Powell's legal defense fund. Bartiromo seemingly agreed to do it, but her producers rejected the idea.
Bartiromo was being deferential to Sidney Powell at around the same time that court papers say other Fox hosts were slamming Powell and Giuliani privately.
Laura Ingraham texting Tucker Carlson saying, quote, Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.
Fox News is being sued for $1.6 billion for allegedly promoting false claims about Dominion machines rigging the 2020 presidential election. PROF. JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: There is probably going to be a lot of fallout from this no matter what. They can't put this back in the bottle and say, we didn't tell you a lie. They did.
TODD (on camera): Overall, Fox says it didn't defame anyone and shouldn't be held liable for the assertions of guests on its air. Fox says the Dominion lawsuit is a violation of its First Amendment rights and an attempt to, quote, publicly smear Fox for covering Donald Trump's election claims. The trial is expected to last about five to six weeks. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you very much, Brian Todd reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now is CNN Media Analyst Sara Fischer and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.
Sara, how much of a watershed moment is this sanction right now coming right before the case goes to trial?
SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It's a pretty big deal, Wolf, because it sort of taints the tone of the trial right just days before it's expected to start. And what the sanctions mean, by the way, is that Dominion can get more key witnesses from Fox, the judge said Fox would have to make them available, would have to pay for them to be available and that could uncover much more information ahead of this trial, which is slated to begin on Monday.
BLITZER: Shan, what are the possible consequences of this sanction right now and this new special master investigation? Does this put the trial in jeopardy?
SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think it puts the trial in jeopardy. I mean, the point of the discovery is to tee up everything for the trial. And what the judge is upset about is that that hasn't gone quite as planned because he's saying that Fox may have withheld information.
Appointing the special master gets the judge a little bit out of the mix, gives him some insulation to have this third party lawyer assess this and make recommendations to the judge. It is possible it could solve things down for the trial if it turns out there's a lot more discovery that was withheld and then Dominion would need time to digest that discovery, and there could be some additional litigation.
But, overall, the whole point of it is to make the trial go smoothly and get both sides of information that they're entitled to.
BLITZER: Sara, what do we actually know about Rupert Murdoch's role over at Fox News specifically and is involved in its election lies.
FISCHER: Yes, Wolf. So, originally, it was thought that Rupert Murdoch was just, you know, an executive for Fox Corporation, which is the parent company to Fox News. And what Dominion is now saying is that Fox was not forthcoming about his additional role, which is that he was an executive involved with Fox News itself. That would, of course, bring him closer to the decision-making around what was being aired at the time when these election lies were being spurred.
Of course, we know a little bit about his role when he had a closed door deposition that was made public a few two weeks ago. Essentially, he conceded that his hosts had peddled certain election lies. He also conceded to an extent that he knew about certain areas of things being reported and when they weren't. But that's the type of information that we're going to get more of if he is called to the stand as a witness, which is something that Dominion got approval from, from that judge, Eric Davis, just a few days ago.
BLITZER: Shan, can Fox actually come back from this setback during the trial, which is about to begin, when the judges now warning he's concerned and uncomfortable?
WU: I think they can substantively. The judge's concerns about that shouldn't be an issue that gets to the jury itself. I think, legally, that, you know, they have an uphill battle here. I mean, it is a very unusual posture that they're in, and one of their big defenses has been pretty much taken away from them, which is that they wanted to argue that's newsworthy, and the judges says they can't argue that aspect of it.
And they've chosen quite strategically not to use the common defamation defense of, you know, it was true, because they don't want to be claiming that the election lies were true. So, they've given themselves a pretty narrow path to victory here.
BLITZER: Shan Wu and Sara Fischer, thanks to both of you very much for joining us.
Coming up, we'll have a live report from the war zone in Ukraine on videos that appear to show beheaded Ukrainian soldiers. And we'll get high level reaction when the Ukrainian prime minister joins us here in Washington for an exclusive interview.
BLITZER: Tonight, Ukraine has opened a new war crimes investigation after videos were posted online purporting to show the beheading of Ukrainian soldiers.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Ukraine for us. He's joining us now live. Nick, what can you tell us about these incredibly disturbing videos?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. These appear to refer to two separate instance. Let me talk you through this slowly. We're not showing you the entirety of the videos, obviously because they are extremely graphic, and to some degree, I think, Ukrainian officials say that's the point. These are aimed at some level of intimidation at trying to deter Ukrainian morale. Now, the first incident appears to show the aftermath of what people in that video referred to as a mine explosion. There seems to be a damaged armored personnel carrier vehicle there. It seems to have been filmed in winter, judging by the terrain, they're grainy to some degree.
Some observers have said that the bodies that you see in this video appears to have their head and possibly hands removed.
Now, that may be the result of the explosion. Other observers have said that, in fact, what you seem to see there are quite clean cuts around the areas in which those parts of those Ukrainian soldiers' bodies appear to have been damaged. So, that's the first video, which is deeply disturbing.
The second appears to come from a completely different season of the year. It looks like summer from what you can tell by the foliage around the incident. I should tell you the details I'm about describe are quite graphic. There is Ukrainian soldier on the ground, and, of course, he's clearly in an agony and horror as what another individual who, according to what you see within these videos, the armbands they're wearing, the Ukrainian soldier appears to be wearing a yellow armband, very common to delineate sides, in the conflict here, Ukrainians wear a yellow band. And then another man with white armband, commonly used by Russian soldiers, then very gruesomely decapitates him with a knife.
Now, obviously, a lot of this is exceptionally hard to specifically, independently verify, but we've had throughout the day a lot of very vocal reaction about it specifically that something the United Nations' statements have been quite clear about this. And we've also heard from the head of the Wagner Group whose soldiers are accused of being involved in this sort of activity before. Specifically, these two denying that his men are, in fact, involved, but exceptionally gruesome material here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Gruesome, indeed, horrible. Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us, thank you very much.
Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM for an exclusive interview, the Ukrainian prime minister who is visiting Washington, Denys Shmyhal. Prime minister, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've had a busy day meeting with the defense secretary, among other officials here in Washington.
Ukraine is now investigating these gruesome beheadings. Talk a little bit about how you're doing that.
DENYS SHMYHAL, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: So, unfortunately, this is not first atrocities which Russian Army made in Ukraine, unfortunately. We can see many atrocities at all. It's dozen thousands atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine. So, we ask for justice and we ask that no one leader don't stay in the back or in the in the other side of these atrocities and support and bring this war crimes to the responsibility.
BLITZER: Have you seen these kinds of beheadings of Ukrainian soldiers supposedly by Russian troops in the past?
SHMYHAL: We can see other atrocities and they cut other parts of the bodies. Our soldiers kill them after this and just killings of prisoners of war. In many ways, war crimes and this international court is now investigating all of these cases and security services of Ukraine also investigate all of these cases. And I'm sure that we will find and bring to the responsibility of all of these war crimes, and the main issue is to bring to the responsibility these politicians, including Putin, who made crime of aggression.
BLITZER: So, how much responsibility do you believe Putin himself has for these kinds of atrocities?
SHMYHAL: How much? What do you mean?
BLITZER: Do you believe that Putin himself is responsible?
SHMYHAL: Absolutely. He is responsible for crime of aggression. So, he made this order to go into a head on the Ukrainian territory and made all of these crimes war crimes, which Russian Army made in Ukraine and is making right now on Ukrainian territory.
BLITZER: So, you consider these war crimes?
SHMYHAL: Absolutely. It's crimes against humanity. And from my side, I estimate this like genocide of Ukrainian people because they kill, not just prisoners of war, not just Ukrainian military service but they kill civilians, many children, more than 1,000 children are killed by Russians in different ways, not just --
BLITZER: I know you you're here in Washington. You had a chance to earlier today to meet with the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. There's a dispute going on, I understand right now, between the U.S. and Ukraine over these leaked U.S. intelligence documents, which seemed to suggest that Ukraine was not moving ahead, did not have a good chance of winning this war that Russia launched against Ukraine. How did that conversation with the defense secretary go?
SHMYHAL: First of all, we discuss all our needs because we are preparing for our counteroffensive and we work very closely with our partners and with -- especially with the United States, with the secretary of defense.
I'm really grateful to the secretary of defense for strong and sustainable and unwavering support of Ukraine.
And it's very important that we are absolutely united and no special informational operations will never destroy our unity in our will to win this war and to liberate territories of Ukraine and the main goal to protect civilized and democratic values of the civilized world. BLITZER: Is the leak of this U.S. intelligence document going to change your plans for some sort of counteroffensive, given what the U.S. Intelligence Community apparently believes?
SHMYHAL: Absolutely. We are preparing and nothing will not stop us and will not change our plans to liberate our land.
BLITZER: I know you, at least for a long time for weeks and weeks, have appealed to the United States for fighter jets, F-16s among others. Anything changed on that front?
SHMYHAL: So very important. Right now, we have urgent needs for organization of next stage of counteroffensive. But, in general, we need -- I name it security guarantees. We should develop our army. We should develop and train our soldiers, so it will take time. We discussed this --
BLITZER: What did the defense secretary tell you about fighter jets from the U.S. going to Ukraine?
SHMYHAL: We discussed outlooks of our cooperation with state secretary and I think that last fourth (ph) is from side of United States of America.
BLITZER: The Ukrainian prime minister, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Ukraine. I appreciate it very, very much.
And just ahead, Donald Trump is now seeking payback after his criminal indictment by suing a key witness, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.
BLITZER: After Donald Trump was indicted, the former president is now taking legal action against the key witness in the case against him, his former lawyer and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen.
Our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is here. She's got details. So, Katelyn, what is the former president arguing this $500 million suit against Michael Cohen?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this is him hitting back at Michael Cohen after Michael Cohen has been out there doing book tours, podcasts, media tours, all kinds of things in advance of that indictment that Donald Trump faced in New York. Michael Cohen clearly is one of the key witness is there. A lot of it is about checks that Donald Trump wrote to Michael Cohen, things that prosecutors say our legal behavior. And what Trump is doing in this suit is he's trying to claim that that sort of behavior that prosecutors are trying to prosecute him about should be kept secret or should have been kept secret because there were contracts he had with Michael Cohen, essentially. Two things he's trying to say about Cohen's work for him that Cohen was his attorney, and so things should have been kept confidential, attorney/client privilege, that should have been observed by Michael Cohen, and also he's trying to enforce contracts they would have had, as Michael Cohen would have been an employee of the Trump Organization at that time.
Now, whether the suit goes anywhere in court is a really big question. We know that Michael Cohen has tried to recoup legal fees in the past from Donald Trump for his work during this time having to testify about it as a witness. Trump is filing it in federal court in Florida, one of his favorite venues right now, he's asking for a lot of money.
But we know that even on the attorney/client part of this, where he's saying Michael Cohen shouldn't have divulged this sort of behavior, we know that this has been through court before, and Michael Cohen actually wasn't behaving as an attorney on very many things. And we know that the federal courts have found that. So, it's a case we're going to have to watch to see if it goes anywhere at all.
BLITZER: I want to turn quickly, while I have you, Katelyn, to Trump's handling of classified documents at his home in Mar-a-Lago, down in Florida. The New York Times has some new reporting right now that the Justice Department's Special Counsel Jack Smith, is specifically looking at one new development in this potential case.
POLANTZ: That's right. The New York Times reporting out tonight is about a map that they believe prosecutors are asking quite a lot about, a map that may have been shown to different people, potentially by Donald Trump. They cite that people -- sources are telling The New York Times that Trump showed a map potentially aboard a plane, may have shown it to an adviser, may have shown it to someone writing a book.
It's not exactly clear what this map is, if that is the document that may be classified, but all of this speaks to what the investigators in the special counsel's office are doing right now trying to nail down facts to potentially bring a case against Donald Trump for the mishandling of national security information as well as possible obstruction of justice. It's just another set of questions that are happening here in a case that clearly may be nearing its end.
BLITZER: Yes. And the suspicion, as The New York Times reported, that this map contained classified information, and Trump allegedly was showing it to a whole bunch of people who did not have top secret security clearances. Katelyn Polantz, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, Republican Senator Tim Scott launching his presidential exploratory committee for 2024 while campaigning in Iowa. How does he stack up against the frontrunner right now, the former president, Donald Trump? That's next.
[18:48:50] BLITZER: Tonight, Republican Senator Tim Scott is emerging as the 2024 presidential hopeful. The senator campaigning in Iowa after launching his presidential exploratory committee.
Our political experts are here to break down what this means for the GOP race.
And, Eva McKend, let me start with you. What can you tell us? I know you can tell us a little bit more about the senator's 2024 moves.
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, Wolf, like any serious Republican presidential hopeful, he spent the day in Iowa talking to families, actually in a closed press events, an intimate event about home schooling. This has really been key to his policy vision. This argument about school choice and charter schools. But overall, his message is a really optimistic and hopeful one, that he has faith in America, that history couldn't have happened anywhere else besides this country.
He also has said that this is the land of opportunity, not oppression, and that actually mirrors something that we heard from Nikki Haley, this argument that America is not a racist country. I think that that is something that is going to deeply resonate with white conservatives who have anxieties about the Republican Party being characterized as racist.
BLITZER: David Chalian, you're a political director, where does Senator Scott actually fit into what's becoming an increasingly crowded Republican primary field?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, he fits in where every other candidate fits in not named Trump, which is to get yourself known to the Republican primary electorate, start building some support and offering competing vision from what Donald Trump who is the clear frontrunner in this race right now is offering.
And so, I don't I think, you know, we talk a lot about what lane are all these candidates in. I don't think there are too many lanes here right now. I think that we are seeing a race that is Donald Trump on one hand, and then the other Republicans trying to sort themselves out and figure out how to emerge as the singular Trump alternative.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and I think that in that respect it is going to be really challenging for Senator Scott to do that, because, he certainly has a different biography that a lot of the other candidates, but when you look at whether it's Nikki Haley, or even Ron DeSantis, when they're all asked the question, how would you differentiate yourself from Trump? They really can't say, and that's largely because they don't want to open themselves up as being criticized as being critical of Trump. And that's going to be -- make it very difficult for them to really establish themselves to voters in the minds of voters in this critical period.
One other thing that I think Senator Scott has to kind of cope with is that unlike some of the other people who have announced or are on the verge of announcing, he is not an executive of a state, not a former executive. He doesn't have foreign policy experience, so there's some resume issues here that I think he may have to grapple with later in this process.
BLITZER: Yeah. Van Jones, how much should Democrats be watching for Senator Scott's potential appeal to black voters who are such a critical part of their the Democrats voting coalition?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think Tim Scott should be taken very seriously. He is, I think one of the more respected senators. First of all, let's talk about the Republicans. You do -- you have had black handed to be taken seriously, if briefly from Ben Carson, Herman Cain in primaries past. There's these moments where they're sort of like a rush to the black candidate, and they sort of fade.
If that happens with Tim Scott, he might be able to hold on to more support. I think, you know, his record in terms of getting support for Black colleges, for getting support for opportunity zones, for getting support for criminal justice, I think makes him unusual in terms of his ability to appeal to Democrats, possibly.
But first, he's got to get through this primary. And I think -- you know, I remember when you had Nikki Haley on stage with Marco Rubio and Tim Scott. And you know, 5, 6 years ago and I was looking at that would be a very, very tough Republican Party for Democrats. If you had, you know, if that's the face of the Republican Party.
Right now, Trump is in the way. It's hard to imagine anybody getting him out of the way. But the Nikki Haleys and the Tim Scotts and even the Marco Rubios, they could -- if they ever broke through, post some challenge to Democrats.
BLITZER: All right. We will watch. Guys, thank you very, very much.
This note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jim Himes will discuss the growing concerns over those leaked classified intelligence documents. That's coming up right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: In Indiana tonight, officials are warning that a massive and very dangerous industrial fire could burn for days, spewing toxic smoke and debris.
CNN's Omar Jimenez is on the scene for us.
LAWRENCE MCCRACKEN, RICHMOND RESIDENT: Well, I've always said that place is going to go up in flames one day and it sure did. OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This massive fire at a large recycling plant, putting out toxic smoke could burn for days. Officials say 14 acres of plastics stored on the property, but with this site, especially, it wasn't a matter of if, but when, with city officials aware the operations were a fire hazard.
CHIEF TIM BROWN, RICHMOND FIRE DEPARTMENT: Issue was an unsafe building and unsafe grounds.
JIMENEZ: And putting the blame squarely on an owner of the recycling plan.
MAYOR DAVE SNOW, RICHMOND, INDIANA: That business owner is fully responsible for all of this. We have the unsafe building order and the recorded court documents. And everything that's ensued here -- the fire, the damages, the risk that our first responders have taken, and the risk these citizens are under are the responsibility of that negligent business owner.
JIMENEZ: And evacuation order is in place for a half mile radius. Around 2,000 residents ordered to evacuate, including one who lives at the heart of it.
BRENDA JERRELL, RICHMOND RESIDENT: I can see from the debris that some of it was on fire and it hit the trees, the tree line, and the trees immediately ignited.
JIMENEZ: When she got the evacuation order, she didn't hesitate to leave her home.
JERRELL: And when they said evacuate, I didn't have shoes on. I had socks on and I left my purse, my shoes. I left a lot of things, personal things, you know, at the house and just got in the car and drove away.
JIMENEZ: For health officials, their key concern now is hazards from the smoke.
CHRISTINE STINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WAYNE COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: These are very fine particles, and if they're breathed in can cause all kinds of respiratory problems -- burning of the eyes, tightening of the chest, it could aggravate asthma, cause bronchitis and all kinds of things.
JIMENEZ: The EPA monitoring particulate matter, looking for toxic chemicals. Residents are being told to stay indoors, but the uncertainty is causing concerns and frustrations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to say what's going into the city there right now.
WAZIR MOHAMED, RICHMOND RESIDENT: We would like to know that it is safe to be able to breathe the air and to drink the water. So, we want to hear from the officials.
(END VIDEOTAPE) JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, we reached out to the previously mentioned owners of the burning property behind us, but haven't heard back. But as you can see, Wolf, crews continuing to work on this.
BLITZER: All right. Omar, stay safe over there. Thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.