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The Situation Room
Georgia D.A. Plans Summer Announcement In Trump Probe; U.S. Says, Ceasefire Set To Begin In Sudan As Americans Flee; Dramatic Shakeup At Fox, Tucker Carlson Out; Biden Finalizing 2024 Plans On Eve Of Expected Announcement. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 24, 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 HOST: I'll ask key White House official John Kirby debate about the fate of thousands of American citizens still in the country after deadly violence prompted an evacuation of the U.S. embassy.
And the fallout at Fox News, as the network severs ties with right- wing host Tucker Carlson. We're getting new reaction to this dramatic shake-up.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.
Let's get straight to the breaking news right now, the Fulton County District attorney in Georgia, Fani Willis, who is investigating Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, is planning to announce her decision on whether to bring criminal charges against the former president this summer.
CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is following this for us. Tell us more, Evan, what are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for months, we've heard Fani Willis, the district attorney there in Fulton County, say that her decision on whether to bring charges in this important case was imminent. Now, we know what she means. In this letter that she wrote to the Fulton County sheriff and to local law enforcement there in Atlanta, she's warning essentially that her timeline is looking somewhere between July 11th and September 1st. That is when this grand jury will be seated and will be hearing perhaps evidence to, again, with a decision on whether to bring charges against the former president and his allies for their role in trying to overturn the Georgia election in the 2020 presidential election.
I'll read you just a part of the letter that she sent to the Fulton County sheriff. She says, in the near future, I will announce charging decisions resulting from the investigations my office has been conducted into possible criminal interference in the administration of Georgia's 2020 general election. I am providing this letter to bring your attention the need for heightened security and preparedness in the coming months due to this pending announcement. Wolf, again, a clear indication that a decision is imminent, possibly against a former -- charges possibly against a former president as well as some of his allies who were involved.
Of course, to remind people of what this is all about, we'll take you back to the days after the 2020 election and the former president's effort to try to pressure people in Georgia to produce votes that he did not get. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And, Wolf, that phone call, of course, is one of the big pieces of evidence that we know the grand jury has already heard as part of their -- before they produced their recommendations to the district attorney. The question is, is Donald Trump and his allies, are they going to be facing these charges in the coming months? That is the question that everybody is asking now.
BLITZER: Yes, certainly indeed. Evan, stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN's Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash along with CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig.
Elie, so what does this tell you about how the district attorney there in Georgia is leaning on potential charges, criminal charges against the former president, Donald Trump?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, to me, this is another not so subtle indicator that the D.A., Fani Willis, has every intention of seeking an indictment of Donald Trump. What she has done in the letter is put local law enforcement, sheriffs and others on high alert. She tells them, I'm going to need you to be ready to respond to potential demonstrations and maybe worse starting on July 11th. And just looking at this through a common sense lens, that makes no sense whatsoever if she's not intending to indict Donald Trump but it makes complete sense if she is intending to seek an indictment.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. Dana, how revealing is it to you that Fani Willis, the district attorney, seems to be concerned about potential violence after her announcement?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, you could make an argument, because we're just hypothesizing now, that she would -- if she's not going to indict, then she would be worried about people who are anti-Trump protesting in the streets and getting upset. That is a possibility.
I think what Elie just described is a probability that that is more of her calculation. But I think just from where I sit on the politics of it, this is what we have been looking at. It is one thing for the Republicans to defend Donald Trump in what we saw in New York, having to do with his business affairs, having to do with an alleged affair and trying to give hush money to an ex-porn star. It is a whole different thing in this case. [18:05:00]
Because this is the fundamental question, the first time we are going to see the fundamental question go through the courts of his actions with regard to trying to overturn the 2020 election. And that is way more difficult for Republicans to defend.
BLITZER: It certainly is. Evan, how does all this fit into the many other legal challenges Trump is now facing?
HONIG: Well, Wolf, this is certainly one of the cases that people close to the former president were most worried about, at least until the coming -- I'm sorry, the last few weeks when suddenly we started hearing a lot more concern about another investigation, which was the special counsel, the federal investigation into the mishandling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. That investigation seems to have certainly taken on a new timeline, a much faster timeline as far as the federal -- the Justice Department investigations are concerned.
Of course, there is a second one also into Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. That one appears to be a little bit more in the offing.
But, certainly, the idea that now we have, from this letter that Fani Willis has sent to local law enforcement, at least a timeline, it really does tell you that the former president's legal troubles are front and center as he launches his campaign.
Wolf, this is an unusual letter simply because, obviously, the district attorney would normally have a meeting with local law enforcement and perhaps try to get them prepared for something like this. For them to publish a letter -- I'm sorry, send a letter to the sheriff with the seeming expectation that it is going to become public, it really -- you could see what you see here is the district attorney is trying to prepare the public, perhaps, for her coming decision.
BLITZER: Elie, what do you make of District Attorney Fani Willis' timing here, in other words, how all this lines up potentially with the political timing of 2024?
HONIG: Well, Wolf, I think there is a very fair criticism of Fani Willis for taking this long. Let's remember, Fani Willis became the D.A. down in Fulton County on January 1st, 2021. The tape that we just heard of Donald Trump calling Brad Raffensperger, that call actually happened the very next day and then became public within hours of that. And yet here we are, now we're now looking at an indictment, if this timeline holds, at the earliest two-and-a-half-plus years after the effect. I know investigations take time. This should not have taken two-and-a-half-plus years.
And now as a result of that, Wolf, Donald Trump supporters are going to say, first of all, we didn't see an indictment for two and a half years until after Donald Trump, A, announced candidacy and, B, is emerging as a frontrunner. And second of all, if you look at this realistically, they're not going to get to a trial until the middle of 2024 at the earliest if we see a charge this summer. There is going to be discovery, appeals, motions and is a state judge really going to hold a trial of a potential Republican frontrunner or nominee that close to an election? I'm not so sure and I think Fani Willis bears responsibility for taking this long to do this.
BLITZER: Yes, Dana, go ahead.
BASH: And let me just add one other thing, one other data point to your question, to Elie about the timing. What happens between July and September, the very first Republican primary debate? The RNC has announced that it will be in August. So, what does that mean? That means that this is going to be not just percolating but it is going to be exploding sometime around that. Perhaps she would wait until that debate.
But it almost doesn't matter. Because once they start the debates, it is going to have -- they are going to happen frequently, we understand. And so it is going to be right in the middle of the process that Republican voters are going to go through to decide who their nominee is going to be.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Dana, Elie and Evan, guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, the urgent crisis right now in Sudan, where thousands of U.S. citizens remain on the ground. I'll ask a top Biden administration official what is being done to help these Americans escape.
Plus, we're digging into the shocking decision from Fox to let go of right-wing host Tucker Carlson. Stay with us.
BLITZER: New developments this hour in the crisis in Sudan, a ceasefire that is supposed to be underway right now at a moment of grave concern for the fate of thousands of U.S. citizens still in the country.
CNN's National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood is joining us right now. Kylie, give us the latest as this ceasefire is scheduled to be taking effect?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is right, scheduled to be taking effect in a number of hours here, Wolf. The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said that the plan was for it to last for 72 hours. And he called on all sides to actually implement this ceasefire because we have seen ceasefire attempts over the course of the last week that simply have not held. And this could be great, great respite for those Americans who are trying to get out of the country and, of course, those Sudanese who had faced this violence.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ATWOOD (voice over): With the violence consuming Sudan only getting worse, the U.S. government is looking for ways to support American citizens who remain in the country, including positioning naval assets off the coast of Sudan.
JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We are actively facilitating the departure of American citizens who want to leave Sudan as the State Department has been urging them to do for years.
ATWOOD: U.S. officials are providing details of the overland convoys headed out of the country by U.S. allies to those American citizens, with dozens expressing interest in leaving the country. But if they join those caravans, they're doing so at their own risk, according to emails to U.S. citizens reviewed by CNN, a chilling decision because of the bleak realities on the ground.
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Some of the convoys have encountered problems, including robbery, looting, that kind of thing.
ATWOOD: Later in the day, Blinken announced that the warring parties had agreed to a ceasefire. It will go into effect tonight for 72 hours, providing brief relief if it holds.
On Saturday night, more than 100 U.S. Special Forces flew into Khartoum to evacuate all of the U.S. diplomats and their family members, a brisk operation under the cloak of darkness, leaving embassy operations temporarily suspended.
BLINKEN: My first priority is the safety of our people and I determine that the deteriorating security conditions in Khartoum posed an unacceptable risk to keeping our team there at this time.
ATWOOD: There is no U.S. airlift for American citizens planned. The State Department has been telling Americans not to travel to Sudan since August of 2021 but the family members of Americans who are still in the country are frustrated by references to those comments.
FATIMA ELSHEIKH, SISTER OF TWO AMERICANS TRAPPED IN SUDAN: It makes me upset because there was no warning. I don't -- I think it's being painted as a country of -- that has been war-torn for a while, which isn't true. This is unprecedented what is happening.
ATWOOD: And while the Americans in the country determine their safest next move, some of them, including an American teacher and her young daughter, are losing touch with their family members monitoring the situation from the U.S.
REBECCA WINTER, SISTER-IN-LAW OF AMERICAN TRAPPED WITH YOUNG DAUGHTER IN SUDAN: We were able to communicate over FaceTime earlier on but internet has been out in Sudan for a while now. Unfortunately, in the last 18 hours or so, we've completely lost contact with Trilyan (ph).
(END VIDEOTAPE) ATWOOD (on camera): And, Wolf, CNN spoke with a doctor in Khartoum today who said that most of the victims who are coming into the hospital have multiple gunshots that they are dealing with and providing assistance for those folks. She also said that they are running precariously low on medical supplies and food. So, the hospital itself is in a situation right now where it is scared about its capability to help those who are getting caught up in this violence. Wolf?
BLITZER: Kylie Atwood over at the State Department, thank you very much for that update.
Let's discuss what is going on with the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, retired U.S. Navy Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, Secretary Blinken says this ceasefire is the result of what he calls intense negotiation. How did this come about and how is the U.S. tracking whether this ceasefire is going to hold?
JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, it just came into effect here just a few moments ago, at least according to the arrangements that were made between both military factions. You're right, we have been in constant touch with both these military leaders since the violence began a week ago Saturday to try to get them to put down arms, abide by the ceasefires that they both say they want and work towards a transition to a civilian authority.
So, it is good sign that they both agreed to this. Now, we're going to watch it as closely as we can, monitor it as best as we can and we're going to continue to urge both sides to abide by this ceasefire. It also obviously will help us with the facilitation and support and guidance and information to American citizens who may want to leave. But more critically, it's the right thing for the Sudanese people who obviously want to see this fighting stop and want to move on.
BLITZER: What is so worrisome to me and to so many others, as you well know, John, is that multiple previous ceasefires have all broken down. So, what incentives is the U.S. now offering to the Sudanese military leaders to maintain this ceasefire?
KIRBY: We've made it clear that we're going to continue to monitor this closely. We're going to stay in touch with both of them throughout that. That has not changed. And we've been doing that at various levels here across the interagency, across the U.S. government and that will continue. We have made it very clear that they are responsible for the lives and livelihoods not only of the Sudanese people but for all the foreign nationals that are in Khartoum and in Sudan today, that they will bear that responsibility.
BLITZER: The U.S. says it's facilitating efforts by Americans to leave Sudan but there are no U.S. military boots on the ground, as you well know. How much can the U.S. military protect Americans evacuating by land convoy?
KIRBY: I want to stress right up front, Wolf, that because of this violence in Khartoum -- now, again, we just entered a period of a ceasefire, we hope it holds, but because of the violence we've seen in the last few days, our best advice to most Americans who are still in Sudan, despite the warnings to leave, is to shelter in place, stay somewhere safe and secure before moving about.
That said, we are providing information to all of those Americans we can reach and who want to stay in touch with us about these convoys that might be leaving towards Port Sudan over ground. And what the United States military is doing is providing overwatch, unmanned aerial assets of these convoys so that we can stay -- have some level of situational awareness and stay informed about their progress as they make this very, very long journey from Khartoum to Port Sudan.
We're also putting naval assets in the Red Sea. There's a Navy ship that's off the coast of Port Sudan right now, as you and I speak, available to provide support if needed. And, of course, U.S.-Africa command in Germany has set up a de-confliction cell that will allow us to communicate with allies and partners as well in terms of helping their foreign nationals make the most informed decisions to get out.
BLITZER: Biden administration officials have repeatedly said they told Americans to evacuate Sudan. But that was a do not travel warning in place since 2021. Should the U.S. have spotted the warning signs and issued an explicit warning for Americans to evacuate?
KIRBY: We have been nothing but clear and concise, Wolf, about the dangers of living and working in Sudan now going back several years. And as recently as October of '22, we reinvigorated that travel advisory -- I'm sorry, restated it to make it very clear that this was not the time to be living and working in Sudan.
Now, this violence took effect very, very quickly, a week ago, Saturday. Nobody could have predicted that it would have exploded at the speed that it did. But, certainly, we have been very clear with Americans this is not the time to be in Sudan.
BLITZER: Sudanese civilians who bear the brunt of this violence, as you know, they say they fear the fighting will actually intensify after the evacuation of foreign nationals. Is that the U.S. expectation as well?
KIRBY: Our expectation is that this violence will stop. And a ceasefire that just got announced is a good sign. Now, we'll see where it goes. That is our expectation. And that is the expectation not only as you said of the Sudanese people but all the foreign countries that are based or have people in Khartoum.
Look, Secretary Blinken said it very well. We're only temporarily suspending our operations at the embassy. We're not walking away from Sudan. Would we would love to get those diplomats back in, we'd love to get that embassy back up and running to provide services to our citizens there and to others, but we've got to do it when it is safe to do it, and it is not safe right now. So, we're not walking away from Sudan. We're going to have that embassy back up and running just as soon as possible, just as soon as it is safe to do.
BLITZER: John Kirby, thanks so much for joining us.
KIRBY: You bet.
BLITZER: Just ahead, just one week after Fox's massive settlement with Dominion Voting Systems, the company is now severing ties with popular right-wing host Tucker Carlson. Up next, we'll take a closer look at what the future holds for the conservative network.
BLITZER: Tonight, one of the most popular figures in conservative media is out. Fox is cutting ties with Tucker Carlson, the right-wing of host of the network's highly rated 8:00 P.M. hour.
CNN's Brian Todd is digging into all of this for us. This is a monumental move, Brian, from Fox.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Monumental, rather sudden and surprising, Wolf. Tucker Carlson was among the highest rated hosts in all of cable T.V. But tonight, it appears some accumulating pieces of litigation may have finally forced him out.
TODD (voice over): A stunning and sudden break between Tucker Carlson and the network that had embraced him at his most outrageous moments, Carlson abruptly pushed out at Fox News.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: This was an action taken from the top levels of the network with the consent (ph) of its corporate parent at minimum.
TODD: So ends one of the most controversial runs in cable television history. Carlson's show one of the highest rated ever on cable, but often full of xenophobic, anti-immigrant and conspiracy theory rhetoric, much of it propelled by the host himself.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The outcome of our presidential election was seized from the hands of voters, where, of course, it rightly belongs.
FOLKENFLIK: He will be part of a chapter of Fox News where the hosts in the Trump era were unbridled and at times uncontrolled, defining their own direction.
TODD: During the COVID pandemic, Carlson often railed on the idea of encouraging people to get vaccinated.
CARLSON: The idea that you would force people to take medicine they don't want or need, is there a precedent for that in our lifetime? I honestly think it is the greatest scandal of my lifetime by far. TODD: Some of his more disquieting moments came in the immediate aftermath of the January 6th attack on the Capitol when Carlson defended insurrectionists then laid out a baseless theory that it was an all FBI false flag operation.
CARLSON: FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol.
FOLKENFLIK: That was something that really shocked many of his colleagues at Fox News. It led to objections from Chris Wallace and Brett Baier, both of whom were perhaps the top figures on the news side.
TODD: In the end, some pieces of litigation could have been instrumental in pushing Carlson out. The Dominion lawsuit settled for more than three quarters of a billion dollars where text from Carlson were relieved showing he believed differently from what he said on air, saying about Donald Trump, I hate him passionately. There isn't really an upside to Trump. And lawsuits filed by former Fox News Producer Abby Grossberg against the network claiming Carlson's show team engaged in rampant sexism, including texts she said were from Carlson using the C-word to refer to former Trump Lawyer Sidney Powell. Fox has said Grossberg's lawsuits were, quote, riddled with false allegations.
ERIK WEMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST MEDIA CRITIZ: This has been a tremendously, I think, painful, even traumatic experience for Fox News to see all of their intercommunications get displayed out in public. They're one of the most opaque institutions in American society for a very good reason and that is they don't want people seeing in.
TODD: Tucker Carlson did not respond to CNN's repeated requests for comment on his ouster. A source familiar with the matter tells CNN he was informed of it today. He will not have a final farewell show, Wolf, and it appears on Friday when he signed off, he was not aware that he was at the door.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Joining us now, CNN Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy along with former Trump White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin, she's also now a CNN political commentator.
Oliver, I'll start with you. What are you learning about why is Fox making this move, a very dramatic move, right now?
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, it is hard to ignore that big settlement that Fox News just had to pay out to Dominion Voting Systems just last week and it is hard to disconnect these two seismic events. And so I would imagine that part of it is because of that.
But, look, Fox News is not saying. What I do know that Lachlan Murdoch, the CEO of Fox Corporation, Fox News' parent company, and Suzanne Scott, the head of Fox News, they arrived at this decision to part ways with Tucker Carlson on Friday evening, and as Brian just said, they informed Tucker Carlson of this decision on Monday morning. He did not expect this. You could see in his final episode, he said that he looked forward to coming back to viewers on Monday.
And so this is way an unexpected turn of events for him and really cable news where no one expected Tucker Carlson, the king over at Fox, to be dethroned in such a manner, Wolf.
BLITZER: Their highest rated show, indeed. Alyssa, Tucker Carlson was one of the leading promoters of Trump's lies about the 2020 presidential election and the conspiracy theories about the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Do you think this move signals that Fox wants now to move away from that?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, honestly it is hard to say. I mean, listen, the sum of the Dominion lawsuit, nearly a billion dollars in fines, even the most watched man on Fox News can't make up for that lost revenue. But, I mean, for quite some time he was given such a long leash from Fox News executives, whether it was spreading pro-Putin propaganda or spreading lies about the January 6th events. So, I'm not sure yet what to make of it.
There are some reporting out there that suggests that this may be that there is further, you know, information that's come out in these series of lawsuits that paints him in a damaging light. I'm not sure that I expect to see Fox to go editorially and majorly different way but what I will say is this is sending shockwaves through the Republican Party.
I cannot think of a more prominent media figure in the conservative movement in my lifetime than Tucker Carlson. This is someone who every presidential candidate on the GOP side was trying to cozy up to. They were giving answers on policy decisions to. He speaks to members on Capitol Hill. He was really seen as untouchable. So, to see him go is truly stunning.
BLITZER: You're right. Oliver, we learned from the Dominion lawsuit that Tucker Carlson actually disparaged Fox leadership in private text messages with his own producers. What do we know about how that revelation played into the decision to sever ties with him?
DARCY: I would imagine, Wolf, that played into some of this decision. I mean, he made some very disparaging remarks about his bosses. They are so disparaging, they're profanity-laced. I can't repeat them on air. But he was candid behind the scenes about how little he thought of some of the executives over at Fox in his private messages.
And there is also other litigation. His former booker, she's been now let go by Fox News, but she has a lawsuit and pending against the network where she accuses Tucker Carlson of running a show basically behind the scenes that is full of sexism and anti-Semitism, a number of things that are potentially troublesome for Fox News legally.
And so there is a lot potential reasons why the network could have decided to let him go. It is possible, too, that a lot of this is just a number of things that just played into this decision, like he was just causing too much trouble on a number of different fronts and they just thought he had too much baggage. But it is stunning, as Alyssa said, given his prominence in the Republican Party, this is someone that lawmakers, Republican lawmakers, senators, they grovel to his feet. They were afraid of him lashing out on his prime time perch over at Fox News. So, to see him go is just really stunning.
BLITZER: Alyssa, Donald Trump who Tucker actually interviewed on Fox earlier this month, right after Trump's indictment, has been silent about this firing, at least so far on his Truth Social site. What do you make of that?
GRIFFIN: I'm surprised. I expected him to put out something full- throated in defense of Tucker Carlson. Just anecdotally, when I was working for the former president, he, on occasion, would have me call Tucker to complain if his coverage was unfavorable or if he was hitting him too hard. The former president was very a captive audience to what Tucker Carlson would say. And I would argue, frankly, at time took his cues from the direction that Tucker was pushing.
This is an incredibly -- you can't overstate how powerful of a figure in American media Tucker Carlson has been. I expect to see that he's going to go to some other platform outside of Fox News, do something of his own. But I'd be surprised if Trump doesn't weigh in at some point in his defense.
BLITZER: Yes, me too. Alyssa and Oliver, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll stay on top of this story, for sure.
Just ahead, after their visit with President Biden over at the White House, I'll speak with the Tennessee state lawmakers who risked expulsion for protesting in favor of gun reform. There they are. They're standing by live. We'll join them right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is praising the three Tennessee lawmakers who risked expulsion from the state legislature in order to lead a demonstration in favor of common sense gun reform.
The president met with the so-called Tennessee Three just a little while ago over at the White House and called their treatment by Republicans statehouse leaders shocking. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: What the Republican legislature did was shocking, it was undemocratic and it was without any precedent, which it turned around quickly. Nothing is guaranteed about democracy. Every generation has to fight for it, and you are doing just that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And joining us now from the White House, two of the Tennessee Three, State Representatives Justin J. Pearson and Gloria Johnson. Representatives, thank you so much for joining us.
And, Representative Pearson, I'll start with you. What was President Biden's message to you during the course of that meeting?
STATE REP. JUSTIN PEARSON (D-TN): President Biden's message was very clear, that we have to remain consistent and persistent in our effort to end gun violence and to fight for gun reform legislation into our state and other states and across our country through Congress and the federal legislature.
The other thing that was really true and apparent in his statements and also Vice President Harris' was that we have to continue to fight to preserve our democracy. And in a place like Tennessee, where the leadership too often is going for a mobocracy rather than a democracy, where the people's voice is being heard, that is a really important message for the young people and people who are consistently organizing for change.
BLITZER: Representative Johnson, among the gun control policies you discussed today with the president, where do you think you can get something actually done?
STATE REP. GLORIA JOHNSON (D-TN): Well, I really think a couple of times already I have brought red flag laws. But we're actually hearing from the governor that he would like to see a red flag law passed. And I am in deep red Knox County into East Tennessee and I polled this in my district a year ago when I was running, and, overwhelmingly, a majority of Republicans, a majority of independents and Democrats favor common sense gun legislation, like red flag laws, safe storage laws, those kind of things.
And I think we have the ability to get that done with the energy that we see in all of the folks that are coming forward and organizing and showing up by the thousands, the parents and the students and all of the young people just doing an amazing job organizing, keeping the discussion going and really lifting up the importance of getting something done.
BLITZER: That potentially could save a lot of lives in our country. Representative Pearson, you have planned to ask President Biden to declare a public health emergency on gun violence here in the United States. Did he make any firm commitments to you today?
PEARSON: The president has assured us that he's doing everything that he can with his executive authority to help prevent gun violence. He also has remained committed to helping support legislation into state legislatures across the country that are doing things that our country has done before, like banning assault weapons, like having red flag laws and risk protection orders.
And so we're very confident that this White House is supportive of our efforts and the reality is we are also realizing this is a moral issue. It is not really about being a Republican or a Democrat. It is about whether or not we're going to protect kids over guns. And that issue stretches across our country but also across party lines and that is what is so important in this moment, in this movement for justice for us to realize that we have to and we can act now to do something different than the status quo.
And in Tennessee we're starting to see those ripples of change happen and we're seeing that momentum build across this country and we have to continue to build it.
BLITZER: I know, Representative Johnson, let me ask you this question, the three of you had talked about how you feel race was at least a part of the reason why at least two of you were expelled, and, Representative Johnson, you were not expelled. Did President Biden address that issue of race today?
JOHNSON: We did talk a little bit about that. I think that is important. That is part of what we see when we're talking about the undemocratic policies in our statehouse. That is one of the issues. The way that members, our black members are spoken to, the way that they are telling them how to behave and that sort of thing, they say that my language was better. Well, I'm a 60-year-old woman who is a teacher. And so I speak a little bit differently.
But, we all speak truth to power. And it is important. And it might look different how the younger generation does it. But the reality is we felt we were morally right in standing up for our constituents and that sometimes you've got to get in good trouble to make sure that people are listening. And it has energized and just boosted this movement to a place I do believe we can get something done.
BLITZER: Representative Pearson, I'm anxious to get your thoughts on this issue as well. Go ahead.
PEARSON: You have to realize that within the Tennessee statehouse, there is a system of white supremacy that patriarchy that permeates throughout the building. Myself and Representative Jones were oftentimes objected to, a vote gets taken in order to prevent us from speaking.
There is a culture within this institution that is quite toxic and the truth remains that we have to remain steadfast and in immovable on our effort to get common sense gun laws passed in our state, even with all those challenges and oppression, we have to advocate for what we believe in, which is in democracy.
Despite the fact that Cameron Sexton and William Lambert, leaders of the Republican Party, are trying to turn it into a mobocracy, we are going to hold fast to what we believe and what our constituents in the district 86 and across the state of Tennessee want to see happen, which is that kid goes to school and they are safe. You could go to a bank and not be worried about suffering violence.
Folks like Larry Thorn, my own classmate, would be alive today had we done more as it related to the issue of gun violence prevention. And so, we're going to continue to advocate and push for that justice that we know we deserve and justice that we know is possible.
BLITZER: Tennessee State Representatives Justin J. Pearson and Gloria Johnson, thanks to both for joining us.
GLORIA JOHNSON (D), TENNESSEE STATE HOUSE: Thank you.
PEARSON: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up, is there much of an appetite for a Biden/Trump rematch. We'll have more on what Biden's expected announcement means for 2024.
Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
BLITZER: President Biden is ramping up preparations I should say for his expected launch of his 2024 re-election campaign tomorrow amid concerns about his age and new questions about how Americans feel about a possible rematch with former President Trump.
Our chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now.
Phil, what do we know about this campaign launch?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, the launch has long been a very closely held secret by the president's closest advisers. But with that has come an era of inevitability that it is eventually coming, and now it appears to likely come tomorrow. Clear efforts underway over the course of the last days by the president's close advisers and outside allies to lay the groundwork for a video announcement tomorrow morning on the four-year anniversary of the moment he announced his 2020 campaign.
Now, during that campaign, he defeated incumbent President Donald Trump, now currently the frontrunner for the Republican side as well. And that underscores some of the realities you laid out of the challenges the current president will have to face in a reelection campaign. If you look at recent polling, it makes very clear Americans aren't exactly enthused about a rematch. Americans aren't exactly enthused about an 80-year-old president running for re-election again.
In fact, the NBC news poll that came out this weekend, only 26 percent of Americans say they want to see president Biden run for re-election. For president Trump, it's 35 percent.
However, in those numbers, there is a clear opportunity Biden advisers see to gain ground very quickly, in part, because of the legislative agenda that the president has been able to pass and their ability to sell that in the months and -- 19 months or so ahead before election day. Most importantly though, the contrast between President Biden and
whoever his Republican challenger is, especially, when you talk to advisers, if it's the former President Donald Trump, will be very clear-cut and something the president will focus on intensively over the course of the coming months.
Now, while it has been a closely held secret, the fact that some of the personnel decisions appear to be coming out of this moment underscores just how rapidly things are starting to move.
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, who's a senior adviser to the president likely to be the campaign manager. Other senior aides with close connections, the Senate Democrats who won tough re-election battles in 2022, they are likely to be slotted in as senior staffers as well.
As you know quite well though, Wolf, his core group of close advisers from the White House will continue to drive things. What we don't know is if it's a certainty. What we do know is that an announcement will be made, when he was asked about this, it will be coming, quote, really soon.
BLITZER: Very soon indeed. Phil Mattingly over at the White House, thank you very much.
This note to our viewers right now. Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right after THE SITUATION ROOM, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on all of the latest developments out of Ukraine and Sudan.
Plus, the governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, is coming up 7:00 p.m. Eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we'll have more news just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jury selection begins in the trial of the accused gunman in the deadly 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
BURNETT: Jury selection has begun in the trial of the accused gunman in that horrific attack on Jewish Americans, the deadly 2018 shooting over at the tree of life synagogue.
CNN's Danny Freeman reports from Pittsburgh.
DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than four years after the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, the trial is underway for the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. In a crowded federal courtroom in downtown Pittsburgh Monday, defendant Robert Bowers sat a attentively listening on handcuff and passing notes to his lawyers as jury selection began. Throughout the day, federal prosecutors on Bowers' defense team took turns questioning potential jurors about their knowledge of the case and their beliefs on the death penalty.
Bowers is accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers and injuring others on October 27th in 2018.
MICHAEL EISENBERG, IMMEDIATE PAST PRESIDENT, TREE OF LIFE CONGREGATION SYNAGOGUE: I just saw what was going on, and I just could not believe it. To see this penetrate that community is jarring. I'm just shaken by it.
FREEMAN: Prosecutors allege bowers brought multiple guns to the synagogue that Saturday morning, while three congregations were worshipping. The criminal complaint says Bowers started shooting outside and then inside, targeting people praying and expressing his desire to kill Jews.
Bowers faces 63 felony counts, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in this case. His defense team offered a guilty plea with life in prison in exchange for taking capital punishment off the table.
One of his defense attorneys is Judy Clark. She has represented other federal death penalty defendants like the Unabomber, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, from the Boston marathon bombing. But federal prosecutors have not budged and the judge prepared potential jurors if they make it to the sentencing phase, they should expect to weigh the death penalty in this case.
Ahead of the trial, congregants from the Tree of Life synagogue gathered Sunday to pray as their fellow worshipper's day in court has finally arrived.
RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE CONGREGATION SYNAGOGUE: We cannot, we must not permit one day out of 25,993 days to define us, nor outweigh all the good. This is not a final moment.
FREEMAN (on camera): Now, jury selection is expected to last at least a couple more weeks. And this trial could go well into July, Wolf. You can expect it's going to be an emotional and challenging few months to come here in Pittsburgh -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Danny Freeman on the scene for us in Pittsburgh, thank you very, 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.