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The Situation Room

Biden Launches 2024 Campaign And Potential Rematch With Trump; Trial Begins In Rape Allegation Lawsuit Against Trump; Inside The War, One-On-One With The Mayor Of Kyiv; Justice Thomas Didn't Recuse Himself From Case Tied To GOP Megadonor; Race To Flee Sudan As Violence Mars U.S.-Brokered Ceasefire. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 25, 2023 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden officially jumps in to the 2024 race for the White House and tees up a potential rematch with Donald Trump.


We're breaking down the Biden team's launch strategy and the challenges the president is facing as the campaign moves forward.

And we're also following another high-profile legal challenge to Trump. Stand by for new details on the opening statements in the rape allegation lawsuit against the former president.

And a firsthand account of the war in Ukraine right now, after a year of Russian brutality and ahead of an expected counteroffensive. The mayor of Kyiv will join us live this hour.

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 President Biden making his 2024 plans official and making the case that he deserves a second term.

CNN's Phil Mattingly reports on the president's big announcement and how Trump figured into his message.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Biden is officially in.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is not a time to be complacent. That's why I'm running for re-election.

MATTINGLY: A short campaign-style video timed four years to the day after this 2020 campaign launch.

BIDEN: We have to remember who we are. This is America.

MATTINGLY: The launch heavily and intentionally featuring Vice President Kamala Harris and telegraphing a campaign strategy crafted to sharpen attacks on national Republicans. BIDEN: Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms.

MATTINGLY: The threat between Biden's 2020 and 2024 runs is the animating force in Biden's decision launch one final campaign, advisers say, punctuated Tuesday afternoon in his first public remarks as a 2024 candidate, to close union allies in Washington.

BIDEN: Our economic plan is working. We now have to finish the job and there's more to do.

MATTINGLY: Biden's speech and his campaign video laying out the stakes and the roadmap for a 19-month clash that based on current polling appears headed toward a rematch with former President Donald Trump.

BIDEN: When I ran for president four years ago, I said we're in a battle for the soul of America and we still are.

MATTINGLY: But Biden enters the race facing clear headwinds. Already the oldest president in U.S. history, the 80-year-old commander-in- chief facing widespread apathy about another run, even among Democrats. Trump and House Republicans have targeted Biden's family for investigations and have signaled a no-holds barred battle ahead with an incumbent GOP operative see as particularly vulnerable.

But with national Democrats publicly united behind his run, Biden is set to tout a sweeping two-year period of legislative success.

BIDEN: Under my predecessor, infrastructure week became a punch line. On my watch, infrastructure has become a decade headline, a decade.

MATTINGLY: And launch a barrage of attacks on Republicans focused on an unmistakable theory of the case.

BIDEN: Every generation of Americans have faced a moment when they have to defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedom. Stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights. And this is our moment.

MATTINGLY: All driving toward completing the task he launched four years ago.

BIDEN: Let's finish this job, I know we can.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, President Biden's advisers been clear, there's not going to be some dramatic shift to his approach. He does have a day job after all. In fact, in just a couple of hours, he'll be meeting with the South Korean president at the Korean War Memorial, the first event of a two-day state visit by that leader. There will be a press conference tomorrow, bilateral meetings as well, there will be foreign travel next month.

But behind the scenes, make no mistake about it, the president's top aides working very hard, briefing operatives, donors, bundlers who will be bringing donors and top bundlers to Washington for a briefing Friday and Saturday, making very clear as they build out the infrastructure of the campaign, raising money and having the means to battle for the next 19 months will be critical to a campaign they know will be very hard fought, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly reporting from the White House, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our team of political experts right now. Let me start with David Chalian. David, Biden's announcement video, and it was very dramatic, it starts with the January 6th insurrection and abortion rights for women at the same time. What did you make of this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, it picks up where Democrats left off in the 2022 midterm elections. So, these two issues were front and center, the battle for democracy and abortion rights in a post-roe world, where Democrats believe those two issues helped them mitigate losses and upend historic norms for a midterm, and that's going forward where they lead this argument.


Those two issues that they think will help them not only fortify their base but also maintain the middle that they have won over.

Now, in addition to that, you see the other arguments that he put out on the economy and what have you, but those two first images, it was striking to me, and then coming with the first word freedom is how Joe Biden wants to define what freedom means in politics now, an individual's freedom and the freedom all of us have with the underlying bedrock of our democracy.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. David Axelrod, President Biden repeated his theme that he's running to, quote, finish the job. What does finishing the job look like?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's going to have to define that. It was interesting to me that he had a kind of bifurcated announcement day and that the video was very much targeting those issues that David Chalian just spoke of. I think it was very much about rallying the base.

You've seen polls that said there were many Democrats who were unenthused with him running again. And I think this is part of why the video did what he did. But then he went to a union hall and made a speech about economics and middle class economics.

It will be interesting to see how he blends these two as time goes on. Because one of the challenges for him and for the Democratic Party is to make sure that those working class voters stick with the Democratic Party.

One other thing about that video that was interesting to me, Wolf, the issue of age, which Phil Mattingly mentioned, was very much on their minds when they put this video together, which was a very fast-paced video, lots of motion, lots of movement, and they know that they're going to have to demonstrate throughout this campaign that Joe Biden, who's going to be 82 by the time he takes office, a second time if he wins, is up to the job.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly, it's an issue that's out there.

Let me bring in Jamie Gangel to get her assessment as well. President Biden, as we heard and as we all know, faces these persistent questions about his age right now. He's already saying not to expect -- his aides are saying not to expect any rallies any time soon. How is this going to play out?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: As David just said, age is going to be an issue. We see it in the polls. We see it in his allies. Jim Clyburn, one of his biggest allies, came out today and said that Biden can't ignore this and he's going to have to show energy.

That said, if Donald Trump, who is right now the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, if he becomes the nominee and those two are standing side by side, they are both old, and Donald Trump also will give Biden the opportunity to talk about something other than age, which is Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes. Kristen Holmes is with us as well. Kristen, the Republican National Committee, they released this artificial intelligence video today in response to the president's video that was released early this morning. I want to show our viewers a little clip from that. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, an emboldened China invades Taiwan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Financial markets are in freefall as 500 regional banks have shuttered their doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Border agents were overrun by 80,000 illegals yesterday evening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officials closed the city of San Francisco this morning citing the escalating crime and fentanyl crisis.


BLITZER: So what's the thinking behind this rather bizarre artificial intelligence video that was released?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the idea here was to portray this dystopian future that they say would exist if Biden was to be elected again in 2024, and a lot of it is playing off of fear. I mean, you saw that there with those clips you just played, talking about how the border will be overrun, the financial institutions will completely crumble, talking about China invading Taiwan.

And while it is this, as you said, kind of bizarre A.I. idea out there, those are the issues we think that they are going to hit Biden with, and it's what we've seen in 2022 and they are pulling from that same playbook, talking about border policy, talking about bungled foreign policy. Those are the things that Republicans believe that they have strength on, particularly, again, crime and inflation. So, those are what we're going to actually see the GOP attacking Biden over, even in this case if they put it forward in this kind of A.I. dystopia version of it.

CHALIAN: And what we don't know, of course, is how they used A.I. in this. They're not being all that transparent with the process. To use A.I., there have to be inputs of what you're looking for. What were the inputs? Did they just -- it's not like they could just say, hey, show us what it looks like after Biden is re-elected, if he's re- elected, and it automatically is a dystopian vision. So, there obviously was some crafting here. It was not just left up to machines that this is what the picture looks like.

BLITZER: Well, let me get David Axelrod back into this. Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: All I want to say is this is going to be their argument, that things are out of control and Biden is not in command.


Their problem is, as Jamie mentioned, if the candidate on the other side is Donald Trump, he doesn't exactly connote calm. He doesn't necessarily connote lack of chaos. So, this is why both sides are trying to turn this into a choice.

BLITZER: You know, Jamie, in a statement, former President Trump called Biden the worst and most corrupt president in American history. I imagine the Biden team is actually looking forward to a rematch with Trump.

GANGEL: And I'm sure Donald Trump is going to say that over and over again. Look, Team Biden knows that if Trump becomes the Republican nominee, they're going to be reminding voters at every turn of the following, January 6th, twice impeached president, historic indictment, one already, and likely there are going to be some more. So, they certainly know who they're dealing with, Donald Trump, and as David mentioned, when you look at that announcement today, what was the first picture, the violence on January 6th.

BLITZER: Yes, that's important indeed. You know, it's interesting, Kristen, because if the age is an important issue going into this 2024 campaign, Trump is not much younger.

HOLMES: He's not much younger. However, he does like to portray himself as extremely energetic. As you mentioned yourself talked about how Biden's team said that they were not going to have any rallies any time soon. That's something that you're going to see Trump harping on and going after, saying that he has all this energy, that he can go back-to-back, rally-to-rally.

Now, that actually isn't the strategy that we've seen him deploy this time around in this campaign. It hasn't looked like those other campaigns. He's actually tried to do a more traditional approach with smaller events. But it will be interesting to see how they both broach that subject, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, everybody stand by.

Just ahead, a lawsuit stemming from E. Jean Carroll's rape allegation against Donald Trump gets under way in New York today. We have details from the first day of the civil trial. That's next.



BLITZER: In New York, former President Donald Trump is staring down another round of legal trouble as a civil trial stemming from a rape allegation gets under way.

CNN's Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is standing by just outside the courthouse in Manhattan. Paula, tell us how today's opening statements played inside the courtroom.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, Wolf. Just moments ago, E. Jean Carroll left the courthouse here in Manhattan. And as you noted, this trial, it is already well under way. They have empanelled a jury and that jury heard opening statements.

Now, Carroll's team told the jury that this alleged attack was part of a pattern of aggressive behavior towards women. But lawyers for Trump say that Carroll is, quote, scheming with others to hurt Trump politically and that, they said, is something that should only be done at a ballot box, not inside a courtroom.


REID (voice over): E. Jean Carroll walking into the Manhattan Federal Courthouse this morning to chants from supporters, for the first day of her battery and defamation case against former President Donald Trump. It took just a few hours to impanel a jury to hear the civil case and opening arguments began this afternoon. The trial comes after Carroll sued Trump, accusing him of raping her in a department store in the '90s.

E. JEAN CARROLL, SUING DONALD TRUMP: That was just a dumb thing to go into a dressing room with a man that I hardly know and have him shut the door and then be unable to stop him. Sexual violence is in every country, in every strata of society.

REID: Carroll first went public with her allegations against Trump in 2019. Then-President Trump fired back at Carroll denying the allegations and saying the two never even met.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I have no idea who this woman is. This is a woman who's also accused other men of things, as you know. It is a totally false accusation. REID: Despite this photo from the 1980s, showing Carroll and Trump chatting, which Trump acknowledges.

TRUMP: There's some picture where we're shaking hands it looks like at some kind of event.

REID: Carroll's lawyers say they plan to call witnesses to back up her story and the judge has ruled two other women who allege Trump forced himself on them can also take the stand. Carroll's team could also play a clip from the infamous Access Hollywood tape that surfaced during the 2016 presidential election.

TRUMP: I'm automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you've a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

REID: The Trump camp has dismissed his comments on that tape as nothing more than, quote, locker room talk. Trump is not expected to appear for this trial unless called to testify. But a spokesman released a statement Tuesday saying, this latest fake case has no merit or facts and is just another part of the witch hunt targeted to interfere and tamper with a presidential election.


REID (on camera): This is not a criminal trial. This is a civil case and Carroll is seeking unspecified monetary damages. She also wants a retraction of a social media post where Trump said she wasn't being truthful. The trial, Wolf, is expected to last about two weeks.

BLITZER: All right. Paula, I want you to stand by. I also want to bring in CNN Legal Analyst Norm Eisen and get his perspective. Norm, Trump's lawyer is trying to poke holes in Carroll's evidence of this alleged assault and he is saying the jurors can hate Donald Trump but they should take that to the ballot box rather than to this court of law. What do you make of this opening statement?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, Trump is going to attempt to, through his lawyers in this case and more generally, point to these accusations as being part of a political pattern.


For example, his attorneys have pointed to the timing, to the fact that E. Jean Carroll did not file a police report at the time, that she did not come forward publicly. But the problem is Ms. Carroll is a very credible witness and she did talk about this with others. Some of them may testify. And, of course, there's a larger pattern of conduct. I think the evidence is in Carroll's favor.

BLITZER: Paula, how did Carroll's lawyers try to bolster their case in their opening statements today, considering there were no direct eyewitnesses at the scene of this alleged assault?

REID: So, they're trying to establish this as part of a pattern of forcibly kissing, groping and grabbing women. And in order to do that, they're going to rely on several different types of evidence. First of all, witnesses, both women that she spoke to at the time, contemporaneous accounts that she gave after this alleged incident, as well as women who have experienced alleged other similar incidents with the former president.

They also, of course, have the infamous Access Hollywood tape where then-Candidate Trump or I guess he was citizen during that exchange, he describes behavior that's very similar to this pattern that they are trying to establish.

So, again, even though they don't have eyewitness accounts, they're trying to bolster this showing other similar incidents.

BLITZER: Norm, the judge right now is demanding an answer on whether Trump will testify in person by the end of this week. How important is it for his defense that the former president actually shows up?

EISEN: Well, Wolf, the jury is going to notice that E. Jean Carroll is there every day all day long and the jury was very attentive today, very engaged, and that there's an absence at the defense table. There's no avoiding that. That being said, having argued to juries, having served on juries, the defendant's absence here is not going to be dispositive but I do think it leaves a gap in the courtroom. And some of those jurors are going to say, well, if Mr. Trump feels so strongly, where is he?

BLITZER: Norm Eisen and Paula Reid, guys, thank you very, very much. We'll stay on top of this story, for sure.

Coming up, the White House issues a new veto threat as Republicans scramble to lock down votes for Speaker McCarthy's debt ceiling plan. The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, is standing by live. We will discuss right after the break.



BLITZER: Tonight, the White House is slamming Speaker McCarthy's debt limit plan, threatening to veto the proposal and calling it reckless.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean is standing by for us up on Capitol Hill. She's got details. Jessica, the White House is issuing this threat. But right now, does speaker McCarthy even have the votes to get it passed?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Wolf, just behind me in his office, they are whipping votes, as we speak. We know that Speaker McCarthy is currently meeting with the Iowa delegation and they're key because a number of them are holdouts over concerns of the repeal of ethanol tax breaks. So, they are talking through some of that, those members of the Iowa delegation, a number of the holdouts that remain. Some of these people range from people who are concerned about that, some are absolutely hard nos, others want there to be stricter or more work requirements around Medicaid. So, that's kind of what they're working with, as we speak. There's been a number of meetings all day. We've seen people in and out of the speaker's office as they really try to get to that magical number of 218. And leadership continues to maintain they do not want to make any changes to this legislation. They want to keep it as is and they want all the members to should just fall in line. And, remember, McCarthy is working with a very small majority here. He can only afford to lose four members. And right now, the number that we're hearing, as we talk to people in the hallways, is higher than that.

Now, the fact remains that leadership and his allies continue to say they have got the votes, this is going to be fine, Wolf, but it is a test for Speaker McCarthy's leadership. He really wants to get this through. The goal at the end of this is to pass it through the House and if that's going to prompt President Biden to come to the negotiating table. Wolf?

BLITZER: As you know, Jessica, Speaker McCarthy had been aiming for a vote tomorrow. Where does the timing stand now?

DEAN: Right. They had hoped for Wednesday. It depends on who you talk to as to where the timing is going to land. We are still hearing that Wednesday is a target day, but it could be that it slips. I've talked to other members who say, look, it's just up to McCarthy and leadership as to when they think they have the votes, they're going to move forward on this. We've heard other people coming out, allies of Kevin McCarthy coming out and saying, we think Wednesday is the day.

So, Wolf, again, we continue to keep our eye on this. It's all going to hinge on when they think they can get to 218. That's when they're going to move forward with it. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jessica Dean up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Joining us now, a key member of President Biden's cabinet, the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, President Biden is already threatening a veto. But if Speaker McCarthy's bill passes the House, what options do Democrats have other than to negotiate with the speaker?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, first of all, default needs to be off the table. There're really two issues here. First, the speaker and House Republicans being willing to hold the economy hostage unless they're going to get their way on the budget negotiations.


Then there's the actual substance of the budget proposals. And, of course, there is always a process, a push/pull tug of war.

But I've got to say with what they have put on the table right now, I'm looking at it from the transportation perspective. They would cut our ability to hire air traffic control personnel at a time when we need to do that. It would cut $55 million out of the safety and operations account of the Federal Rail Administration at just the moment when more and more Americans realize why we need to be doing more, not less on railroad safety. It would even cut hazardous material safety personnel, the kinds of people who are on the ground helping with the East Palestine incident.

So, whether we're talking about the transportation side, the effect on education, veterans, this proposal is something that I think is on the wrong side of the American people and we're very concerned about. It represents an extreme way that just is out of line with what we believe needs to be done.

BLITZER: Can President Biden, Mr. Secretary, afford to risk the issue of default, risk default and financial disaster in our country as he launches his 2024 re-election bid?

BUTTIGIEG: No one in this country can afford the risk of default, which is why Republicans should take it off the table and proceed with a normal budget negotiation that does not involve holding the American economy hostage. The idea that they would even begin to consider threatening the American economy at a time when, you know, we've done so much under the president's leadership, 12 million jobs created, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, some of the lowest unemployment rates ever recorded in the United States, why in the world would you threaten to tank all of that just in order to get your way on the budget?

BLITZER: On that note of 2024, this is an important day, the president is starting his campaign with approval numbers, though, in the low 40s right now. Why do you think, Mr. Secretary, the president has a lower approval rating right now than Donald Trump had at this point in his effort to try to get re-elected?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I'll stay out of the punditry and can't speak to campaigns and elections while I'm in this capacity. But what I will say is that this is an administration with an extraordinary record and it has built that record while facing some of the toughest challenges to hit any administration in decades.

I mean, think about the situation when this administration took office. And, again, I think about it largely from the perspective of transportation, right? Today, a big part of what we're working on is how to make sure that the airlines are able to meet all of that demand that they're seeing and not have cancelations and delays.

When this administration arrived, the big question around U.S. airlines was whether they were about to go out of business. And that was true for so many businesses, so many parts of the American economy. When you consider where we were two years ago versus where we are today, we have so much to show for the policies that this administration advanced.

And one other thing I would point to is the bipartisan nature of a lot of those accomplishments. That's what we're working to continue delivering. And the more we can deliver, the more positive difference we can make in the economy and across American society. BLITZER: The White House is now doing a bit of cleanup after the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said earlier this afternoon this. Watch this.


REPORTER: Does the president plan to serve all eight years?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not -- I'm just not going to get ahead of the president. That's something for him to decide.


BLITZER: The press secretary quickly clarified tweeting this. She tweeted, I can confirm that if re-elected, POTUS would serve all eight years. Mr. Secretary, is there anything Democrats can say to reassure voters who are worried about President Biden's hitting the age of 86 at the end of a possible second term?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I would say, again, look at the results. You don't get the kinds of results that we've seen, a historic infrastructure bill that, by the way, the last administration promised but failed to deliver, the kind of economic results that we've seen with the 12 million-plus jobs that have been created, things like the CHIPS Act and other major, major moves and positive moves in onshoring manufacturing in the country and so many other things that the pundits said was impossible in today's divided Washington.

You don't get that unless you have focused, disciplined, energetic leadership at the top, like we have, with President Biden and Vice President Harris. I'm proud to be part of the team. And I think at the end of the day, those results are the most important thing and we come to work focused on continuing to deliver those results because, of course, we are right in the middle of the action, right in the middle of this term and in the middle of delivering so many things that this president has made possible.

BLITZER: The transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, as Ukraine claims impressive new results out there on the battlefield, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, will join us here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.


He'll share his inside take on the war and a looming Ukrainian counteroffensive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All right. Now, we're following breaking news out of Afghanistan where Taliban forces have just killed the mastermind of the Kabul airport attack that left 13 American troops and 170 Afghan civilians dead back in 2021.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is joining us from the Pentagon right now. What are you learning, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're just learning this from the White House that the ISIS-K leader who planned or was the mastermind of the attack at Abbey Gate that killed 13 U.S. service members in the final days of the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been killed by the Taliban, that according to the White House.

Now, the White House didn't name the ISIS-K leader but John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications for the National Security Council, calls him the mastermind of the attack and says he is one of several ISIS-K leaders that have been killed since the beginning of the year.


Now, what's interesting here, in addition to not naming this ISIS-K leader, the White House also not saying when or how he was killed by the Taliban, whether it was a specific strike against this ISIS-K terrorist or just in general fighting, as ISIS-K fights the Taliban for control of some parts of Afghanistan. So, those at least as of right now remain an open question.

But now, nearly two years after that attack that killed 13 U.S. service members just days before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was concluded, the White House saying that the ISIS-K leader that planned that attack killed by the taliban.

In a statement, Representative Michael McCaul, the head of the House Foreign Relations Committee, says, any time a terrorist is taken off the board is a good day, but this doesn't diminish the Biden administration's culpability for the failures that led to the attack at Abbey Gate and will in no way deter the committee's investigation.

Worth noting that this news comes just as Republicans are excoriating the Biden administration hearings on Capitol Hill for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, blaming them for obviously the failures that led to the attack that killed 13 U.S. service members but also the images we saw of that evacuation as the U.S. raced to get as many people out of Afghanistan as possible.

Now, my colleague, Kylie Atwood, spoke with the father of one of those victims in that attack, Darren Hoover, the father of Marine Staff Sergeant Taylor Hoover, his sentiment very similar to Representative McCaul. He says it's great we have another terrorist off the face of this Earth, I'm good with that, but it doesn't absolve the administration or the state department or the Pentagon from taking responsibility or accountability for what happened. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Oren Liebermann over at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

Now to the war in Ukraine and a key official who's been on the frontline against Russia's invasion, the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mayor, welcome to Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

What are the biggest challenges facing Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine, right now?

MAYOR VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV, UKRAINE: Kyiv was a target and still target from Russians, the capital of Ukraine is heart of the country. And right now, the main question for every Ukrainians is safety. And I want to thank you very much, American people, for defensive weapons. Right now, we defend our citizens much better than months ago or six months ago, and we have more weapons. Not enough, but anyway, right now, the situation in our hometowns, much more safe than before.

By the way, right now, we prepare -- our forces prepare for an offensive and we keep fingers crossed and expect result, successful result for our soldiers.

BLITZER: This counteroffensive is about to begin. Is that what you're saying?


BLITZER: Because, right now, the Ukrainian military is saying it has already achieved results, that's the word, results, in the south, around Kherson. Is this the beginning, the actual beginning? Has it already started, this Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russians?

KLITSCHKO: I can't say that exactly, but slowly. First of all, our soldiers are very good, motivated, and we actually received modern weapons, and thank you to the American people for support of Ukraine. It is critically important for us, and let's see. We have huge expectation but I guess not so many people in the world know exactly which direction they go, the army. And about the next plans, I don't know, I'm not ready to talk about it because I don't have the exact information. We everybody have expectation and do everything to support our soldiers.

BLITZER: You have enough going on just trying to protect Kyiv, the capital city, and you're the mayor there. I don't know if you saw those leaked Pentagon intelligence documents that came out that suggested that the U.S. right now is skeptical, skeptical that Ukraine can actually win this war this year. Have you seen those documents?

KLITSCHKO: I want to remind -- actually in the beginning of the war, a lot of experts in the world give to us a couple of days or maybe a couple of weeks. And right now, more than one year, we successfully defend our homeland. And a simple explanation, we defend our houses, we defend our cities, we defend our families, children and our future. It's huge motivation for our soldier and Russian soldier fighting for the money.

And I am more than sure. I'm talking to our forces. We have a very close contact with many troops in the frontline. They're very good, motivated. And also if we have more weapons, I guess we have a good successful story.


And we keep our fingers crossed for everyone who defend our homeland.

BLITZER: Mayor, thank you so much for joining us and good luck to you and good luck to all the people of Ukraine.

KLITSCHKO: Thank you very much for the American people to support Ukraine. (INAUDIBLE).

BLTIZER: Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas claims GOP megadonor and friend, Harley Crow, who paid for lavish trips for Thomas and his wife never had business before the court. But newly discovered records now tell a different story.


BLITZER: All right. This just coming in, Chief Justice John Roberts has told the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he won't testify before an upcoming hearing on Supreme Court ethics, that invitation to testify coming amid growing scrutiny about the ethical conduct of the justices.

CNN's Brian Todd is digging into all of this.


Brian, tell us more.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. That information on Justice Roberts coming now that we have new information on a case that Harlan Crow, that megadonor, did have at least a company relating to Crow, did have before the Supreme Court, a case that Justice Clarence Thomas did not recuse himself from.


TODD (voice-over): Recently, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas declared in a statement that his dear friend, Republican megadonor Harlan Crow did not have business before the court. But tonight, CNN has learned that's not true. CNN's Ariane de Vogue reports a company related to Crow did have business before the court in the mid-2000s and Justice Thomas didn't recuse himself from the case.

NOAH BOOKBINDER, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: There really was a direct conflict of interest, and it just makes the whole thing a whole lot worse.

TODD: Records show that in January 2005, a dispute over a copyrighted architectural drawing appeared before the Supreme Court. One of the disputing parties, a company called Metric Holdings Limited Partnership.

While Harlan Crow's name does not appear on a caption of the case, a disclosure statement says the corporate parent of Metric Holdings is Trammell Crow Residential Company. A statement from Crow's office says the Crow family, at the time, had a non-controlling interest in the Trammell Crow Residential Company.

The statement says, at the time of the case, Trammell Crow Residential operated completely independently of Crow Holdings, and, quote, neither Harlan Crow nor Crow Holdings have knowledge of or involvement in this case. And Harlan Crow has never discussed this or any other case with a justice.

Also, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case at the time. Still, one watchdog group is concerned.

BOOKBINDER: When you have an entity that is connected to this person who's given all sorts of favors to Justice Thomas, by the time we're getting into wholly owned subsidiaries and exactly who has a controlling interest and who doesn't, we're way past the kinds of issues that create real appearances, real problems that the American people would be concerned about.

TODD: Recent reports by the investigative news outlet "ProPublica" revealed that Justice Thomas and his wife Ginni accepted luxury travel and gifts from Harlan Crow for decades, and that in 2014, Thomas sold three of his family's Georgia properties to Crow. Thomas didn't disclose the real estate deal and most of the travel in filings. Thomas responded that he was advised that he didn't have to report the travel. But a source believes he will amend his filings in the real estate deal.

Also tonight, word of another potential conflict of interest with this beleaguered court. "Politico" and CNN report that in 2017, a Colorado property, then co-owned by newly sworn in Justice Neil Gorsuch, was sold for nearly $2 million to the CEO of a prominent law firm GreenbergTraurig, a firm that's had numerous cases before the court, including at least one where Gorsuch sided with a ruling in favor of the firm's client. Records show Gorsuch disclosed the sale of that property in filings, but the section listing the buyer was left blank.


TODD (on camera): Neither the Supreme Court nor representatives for the firm at GreenbergTraurig have responded to CNN's request for comment on this reporting on Justice Gorsuch. The CEO of that firm who bought Gorsuch's property where he told "Politico" he's never argued any case before Gorsuch. Clarence Thomas, through a Supreme Court spokesperson, declined to comment on CNN's latest reporting on him. And as we've just reported, Chief Justice John Roberts signaling no interest, telling Senator Dick Durbin he will not testify before the Senate, and it doesn't look like he's going to investigate any of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very, very much. This note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right

after, THE SITUATION ROOM, Erin speaks with Donald Trump's former White House attorney Ty Cobb on the E. Jean Carroll case and Trump's other legal problems, and there are several. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll have more news just ahead right here THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll have an update on the evacuation of Americans from Sudan and new military moves by the U.S.



BLITZER: Tonight, there are still many Americans eager to get out of Sudan before a 72-hour ceasefire ends or collapses entirely.

CNN's senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is in nearby Djibouti for us covering evacuation efforts.

Sam, what more is the U.S. military doing as this crisis unfolds?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as this ceasefire is holding, but barely in that there is a good deal of fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country, the U.S. policy, of their citizens and it's estimated to be 16,000 of them is to shelter in place. That's in contrast, for example, to the British who've landed at least one aircraft that went in from Cyprus and returned to Cyprus. That landed in an air strip in the desert just to the west of Khartoum.

And, of course, the French have actually got a frigate at Port Sudan, collected 500 refugees who went out overland, in a long arduous journey from Khartoum. That was a 500-mile, 800-kilometer drive.

So, Wolf, there's a wide variety of responses. The Brits and the Americans are sending two warships to Port Sudan. There has been contingency planning for possible military intervention with the French success of their mission. That would seem unnecessary and unlikely, but it is a likely location for people to get to if they can travel over land.

The problem there, and we've been in touch with people in the city, is that moving around the city remains close to impossible because of the ongoing fighting. In other words, a ceasefire isn't particularly strong. And, on top of that, there are chronic shortages of food, fuel, and water. As a result of that, 20,000 refugees in the west of the country, mostly Sudanese, have fled to neighboring countries, to Chad. They've also been fleeing into south Sudan and Ethiopia, Wolf.

So, catastrophic situation, very different approaches to different national groups as to how to get their people out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of it. Sam Kiley in Djibouti, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.