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Desperate Search for Survivors After New Russian Missile Strikes; Alito Says, I have Pretty Good Idea Who Leaked Draft Abortion Opinion; First Republic Stock Plunges as Bank Failure Fears Mount; More Than 50 Million in U.S. Under Storm Alerts. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 28, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States will share her reaction. She's standing by. We'll discuss live. And she'll give us an update on Ukraine's highly anticipated military counteroffensive.

Also tonight, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito says he has a pretty good idea who leaked a draft version of the ruling that overturned Roe versus Wade. What does Alito know that a Supreme Court investigation did not reveal?

And never before seen White House photos were just made public showing then-President Obama and top officials as the historic mission to kill Osama Bin Laden was playing. Out the man behind the camera, former White House photographer, Pete Souza, he will join us this hour.

Welcome to our viewers here in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, nearly two dozen Ukrainians, men women and children, are dead. At least four children among the dead after a Russian strike on a residential building. Residents fearing that more bodies may be found as crews continue to search the rubble from multiple missile attacks.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us in Ukraine. Nick, Russia unleashing this new barrage just ahead an expected Ukrainian military counteroffensive, give us the latest.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, as was often the case, we simply don't know what Russia thinks it was aiming at, if indeed it was too concerned about where its missiles landed. But in two specific incidents, there were losses of life, a total of 23 missiles launched, Ukraine says, 21 of which were intercepted. But the two that got through caused horrifying loss of life. Like you, said 23 dead in the instant in Uman. You can see live pictures there were rescuers are combing through the rubble still trying to get to the lower floors where I believe potentially a boy and girl maybe still trapped. Their parents have survived but they can't reach their children through their cell phones, just one of a number of horrifying stories from yet again brutality by Russian missiles. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH (voice over): As usual, the terror comes at night as Ukraine tries to sleep. A mother described hearing the missile roar in and throwing her children into the bathtub under pillows, another filmed the seconds afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God, I never thought this would happen, a rocket hit our building. I am covered in blood. I don't know. My windows were blown out. This is the kids room, but we're all alive. We're just all covered in blood. God, we don't have windows, anything. I am so afraid.

WALSH: As usual, as dawn clarifies the victims in this apartment block in Uman, it was only those hoping to escape the war.

SERHII LUBIVSKY, UMAN RESIDENT: Without the impact, heard the explosion. We were on a balcony until 7:00 A.M. All the rooms were full of smoke.

WALSH: The rubble hiding some of the agony but also surrendering some throughout the day, this body removed hours later. Outside, the rows of ordinary lives overturned in an instant. That morning, as tension around a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive grows, Russia fired 23 missiles. Only two got past Ukraine's NATO-improved air defenses, but lest you think the horror of Uman an error, similar strikes hit buildings in Dnipro and also killed a 31-year-old woman and her two- year-old. They had fled the war to this, her parent's suburban home. But its savagery found them.

Kyiv is hoping to overturn the tables, slowly taking out valuable Russian targets in the south, like this radar system. With social media videos fueling fears like this one apparently showing a Russian ammo depot hit in occupied areas that Ukraine will soon assault, Kyiv very silent about when and where they will attack, which made this day's comment by the defense minister about their high readiness particularly intriguing.

OLEKSII REZNIKOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: In a global sense, we are ready and high percentage mode. The next question is up to the general staff. As soon as it is God's will, the weather and the commanders' decision, we will do it.

WALSH: Ukraine's need to move mountain as Russia lashes out.


WALSH (on camera): Now, I hate to say it, Wolf, but as we have seen a pause from Russia comparatively over the past weeks, we may see an uptick in savage missile attacks like that, potentially as it's Moscow's not favorable but often used way of retaliating against Ukraine if it sees losses on the battlefield.


And we may see some of that in the days or weeks ahead. You heard the defense minister there suggesting that they are at a pretty high stage of readiness for a counteroffensive, odd comment to hear because Ukraine has been so utterly keen to leave no indication as to when this long-awaited offensive may indeed start. So, the fact that we're hearing that sort of detailed comments may tally with what we've been seeing along the frontlines here, that certainly tension, if not movement, if not actual activity related to this counteroffensive is already underway, such a vital moment for Ukraine, but one too where Russia is still indiscriminately taking the lives of children. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Ukraine for us, in the warzone, stay safe there, Nick, thank you very much.

Joining us, now the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

I want to tell you, we're looking at these live pictures right now of rescuers, they're trying to still find missing children among the rubble after this Russian brutal assault on the civilian apartment complex. What goes through your mind, Ambassador, seeing yet another deadly Russian strike on civilians?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, Wolf, yes, thank you for having me. And it's 429th day and yet another day of horrible war crimes that we have seen throughout this very long, very difficult full-fledged phase of the war. And it's, again, just another war crime. It breaks my heart to see it every time. I mean, it's not the first time and, unfortunately, it's not the last time. I mean, we have to stop Russia and win this war for them to stop doing this.

But we -- it is heartbreaking to see the whole section of the residential building, 27 apartments, 109 people who are registered there, just their life collapsed and because somebody decided to hit a missile into a residential block.

So, again, horrific war crime, yet another sign why we have to liberate all Ukraine, why we need more weapons, why we need more support in order to stop this. Because this is something that should not be happening in the middle of Europe in the 21st century, it should not be happening anywhere.

And, unfortunately, we see the pattern that Russia has been using in all the previous aggression wars, not only in Ukraine now and in Ukraine in 2014, but in Chechnya, in Syria, and in so many places. And it is time for all of us together to stop them.

BLITZER: This comes, Ambassador, as Ukraine's Defense Minister Reznikov says preparations are nearly complete, he was pretty blunt, nearly complete to launch the highly anticipated military counteroffensive against the Russians. What can Ukraine achieve on the battlefield, Ambassador, in the coming assault?

MARKAROVA: Well, during this time, we already liberated 50 percent or more than 50 percent of what Russia occupied since February 24th. Some counteroffensives we had before, like in Kharkiv, have been very quick, in Kharkiv over six days. Some like in Kherson or in Kyiv Oblast took longer. We don't know but we trust our armed forces that they will do it in the most effective and efficient way. Was it going to be one counteroffensive or several operations? Really, what is important is the goal is to liberate all of Ukraine and to return peace and safe --

BLITZER: Ambassador, excuse me for interrupting. Will you also try to liberate Crimea?

MARKAROVA: Well, the end goal is to liberate all Ukraine within our recognized borders. So, yes, Crimea is Ukraine. But with regard to this counteroffensive, we are not commenting it until we see it and it's up to our military commanders how they will do it.

BLITZER: On a different issue, Ambassador, President Zelenskyy says he urged the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to help get back thousands of Ukrainian children forcibly deported, taken away from their parents, forcibly deported by the Russians and sent off to Russia. What specifically do you think President Xi can do to help bring those children home?

MARKAROVA: Well, first of all, President Zelenskyy on that call, which is the first call since this phase of the war started, has been very clear about the fact that it's Russia which is an aggressor, it's only Russia which is responsible for this, that Ukraine wants peace but there will not be any concessions on the part of Ukraine. And we all have to adhere to U.N. Charter. And this crime of forceful transfer for Ukrainian children, for which Putin and Lvova-Belova are already under arrest warrants, is, again, yet another horrific crime.


So, it was a very clear message from President Zelenskyy to the head of the state of China that, A, we really hope that they will not help in any way Russia and they would respect their territorial integrity in the U.N. Charter, which is very important for them, according to their position, and they should do everything that they can, given their relations with Russia, in order to convey a strong message to Russia to stop this aggressive war and also to return our children. Whether the president of China will do something or not, we will see, but I think it was important that president-elect Zelenskyy was able to say it directly to him.

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

MARKAROVA: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito now suggests he has the answer to the mystery about who leaked the Supreme Court's draft opinion on abortion. What does he really know? Stand by.


[18:15:00] BLITZER: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is now speaking about the leak of the Supreme Court's draft opinion on abortion just weeks before the court's ruling to overturn Roe versus Wade.

Let's bring in our CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica, Justice Alito says he thinks he knows who actually leaked the draft opinion. He also suspects he knows the motive.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is saying that he has his suspicions about exactly who did it, but, notably, Wolf, he is saying that he doesn't have any specific proof here.

So, this is what Justice Alito's telling The Wall Street Journal, saying, I personally have a pretty good idea who's responsible, but that's different from the level of proof that is needed to name somebody. It was part of an effort to prevent the Dobbs draft from becoming the decision of the courts. So, really, Justice Alito saying here that he believes it was maybe liberal justice, somebody on the liberal side who put this out here to stop the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which we know eventually happened at the end of last June.

Interestingly, he is also pouring water, coldwater, on this idea that it was a conservative who leaked this draft. Because some of the theories go that conservatives leaked it to try to lock in that 5-4 vote. Justice Alito is responding to that theory saying that's infuriating to me. Look, this made us targets of assassination. Would I do that myself? Would the five of us have done that to ourselves? It's quite implausible.

This is quite an extensive interview by Justice Alito to The Wall Street Journal. He talks about the concerns over safety for the justices, how they've been threatened in the past year, and then he also talked about lamenting the recent attacks on the legitimacy of the courts, saying this. This type of concerted attack on the court and on individual justices is new during my lifetime. We are being hammered daily, and I think quite unfairly in a lot of instances, and nobody, practically, nobody is defending us.

And this is really the first time that he has spoken so extensively about security at the courts, security for the justices and, of course, the leak, notably saying that he believes he knows who it is although he doesn't have sufficient proof.

Interestingly that he is speaking out now. There's just a few weeks left in what is another consequential term. We're expecting rulings in the coming weeks on affirmative action and gay rights. So, a lot swirling at the exact same time that Justice Alito is also speaking out.

BLITZER: Interesting. Jessica Schneider, thank you for that report.

Many Republican opponents of abortion rights have felt emboldened since Roe versus Wade was overturned but there are new signs tonight of some GOP unease with the issue. Strict abortion bans just fail in two deep red states.

Dianne Gallagher is following the story for us. Dianne, tell us more about what happened in South Carolina and Nebraska.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, conservatives once championed banning abortion as sort of a cornerstone of campaigns, but shifting public opinion along with that Supreme Court ruling that allows for outright bans has made things a little more complicated. And some Republicans are finding out that even when they have the majority, well, there's a lot of differing opinions.


STATE SEN. PENRY GUSTAFSON (R-SC): There are millions of women who feel like they have not been heard, and that's what I'm staying up here this long, and I have ever done this before.

GALLAGHER (on camera): Lawmakers in two conservative state, South Carolina and Nebraska, rejecting extreme abortion restrictions Thursday by the slimmest of margins, just one vote.

STATE SEN. KATRINA FRYE SHEALY (R-SC): Doctors and women know better about their bodies than 170 legislators in this state of South Carolina.

GALLAGHER: For the third time since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade last summer, the South Carolina State Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two to one, blocked a ban on abortion in the state with-limited exceptions for rape and incest. The five women senators, three of whom are Republicans, led a filibuster, where they spoke for days about biology, backlash and the concept of control.

SHEALY: Once a woman became pregnant for any reason, she would now become property of the state of South Carolina.

STATE SEN. SANDY SENN (R-SC): Abortion laws have always been, each and every one of them, about control.

GALLAGHER: In Nebraska Thursday, tears and cheers after lawmakers killed a bill that would ban abortion around the sixth week of pregnancy, often before someone knows they are pregnant, a vote to break a filibuster failed by just one vote when two senators abstained. One of them, the bill's co-sponsor, 80-year-old Merv Riepe, who said he had done more research and offered an amendment moving the deadline to 12 weeks. That never got evoked.

STATE SEN. MERV RIEPE (R-NE): The six-week ban appears to be a winner take all position, and the pushback will be strong. It will be immediate, and it will be funded heavily, as now as seen in other states.

GALLAGHER: His warning on the pushback felt nationally. In the first real test after the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling gave states the final decision on abortion, Kansas voters shocked Republicans with a resounding rejection of restrictions at the polls.

[18:20:00] But since then, several states have enacted new laws severely limiting abortion access, especially in the south, though some states remain tied up in the courts. South Carolina did pass a six-week abortion ban, but the state Supreme Court struck it down. So, as neighboring states shutdown access, South Carolina has seen a sharp increase in out of state patients seeking abortion care.

SENN: We will stand up, again and again, and our language will get tougher, and we will get madder. They don't have the votes to pass this and they won't until they try to get us kicked off out of the Senate.


GALLAGHER (on camera): And, look, because this is now up to the states, a lot of these different senators and representatives have to rely on their own relationship. As of right now, abortion is still legal in both Nebraska and South Carolina until about 20 weeks, but that may change. There is still time in South Carolina. The State Senate did pass a bill that would outlaw abortion at six weeks, with some exceptions, saying that it addressed the concerns that the State Supreme Court had, but, Wolf, they say they can't get their colleagues in the House to agree on anything, saying that the House just wants a total ban from conception, and those senators, those three Republican women, tell me that's not something they're willing to entertain. And so they believe at this point they are at an impasse.

BLITZER: Diane Gallagher reporting for us, thank you.

Coming, up growing fears of another banking collapse here in the United States. We have details on how the Biden administration is now responding.

Plus, a behind the scenes look at the White House situation room during a raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. I'll talk with the man who took the never before seen photos, the former White House photographer, Pete Souza.



BLITZER: There are new fears tonight that yet another American regional bank could collapse. Shares of First Republic plunging today as investors grew restless.

CNN Business Correspondent Rahel Solomon is on the story for us. Rahel, could this bank fail as well?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's certainly not looking good for First Republic. And to be clear, it has been a rough ride for the regional banks since about March when, of course, Silicon Valley Bank, when SVB collapsed. So, the shares have been on a freefall since then, stabilized a bit until this week when the company reported earnings and we saw a really stunning fall in deposits. And so that sort of accelerated losses and it's been in a freefall ever since then.

So, the concern now is that, initially, it was about to pass, how many uninsured deposits First Republic had on its books. So, that actually changed. At one point, it was a significant amount of its deposits, but then this week, Wolf, the company reported, the bank reported that actually that only represented about 27 percent of its total deposits.

But the concern than became for investors, profitability, can this bank still make money. And that's what you're seeing really reflected in shares. As we just saw there, the shares closing today at about $3. To be clear, Wolf, just a few months ago in March, shares were trading closer to $125 a share.

So, that just gives you a sense of really the precipitous fall share prices experience for First Republic. Part of the reason why is that it did share a similar profile in some ways with Silicon Valley Bank. And so that really impacted its share price really hard. But the concern went from its deposit base and its depositors to profitability and, clearly, still a concern for investors tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting, Rahel. At the same time, the fed is now out with a new review of what went wrong with Silicon Valley Bank, which failed, as we all know, last month. What are they reporting?

SOLOMON: Wolf, this was a scathing report. It was very thorough report, more than 100 pages. It was a self-assessment and highly anticipated. And what the Fed essentially reported was that this was a failure at every level, and bank leadership level, at the board, and also among the Fed. Fed supervision was a failure.

And one question, Wolf, that had really sort of plagued the investment community is we knew that the Fed and Fed supervisors knew about some of these problems at SVB for more than a year. They had acknowledged in testimony on the Hill. And so the question was why were they so slow.

And what we learned today in these comments from Michael Barr was that, in the case of SVB, supervisors delayed action to gather more evidence, even as weaknesses were clear and growing. This meant that supervisors did not force SVB to fix its problems, even as those problems worsened.

So, this report really opening the doors to change both culturally for Fed supervision but perhaps also in terms of regulation, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very blunt and very important report. Rahel Solomon, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this and more with a key has Democrat, Congressman Ro Khanna. Congressman, thanks for joining us. It's a pretty brutal report on the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. It's in your district. How much can Congress do to address some of these major failures?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Well, we should never have repealed the 2018 Dodd-Frank restriction from applying to smaller banks, like Silicon Valley Bank. That sent a signal to the Fed that the supervision didn't have to be as tight. What we first need to do in Congress is say, there needs to be strict oversight over banks, like Silicon Valley Bank. There needs to be expanded risk and liquidity tests to prevent this kind of situation.

BLITZER: Is there the appetite, Congressman, among lawmakers in this very divided Congress to act potentially to strengthen regulations on these mid-sized banks?

KHANNA: I hope there will be, but there is something, Wolf, that is even more immediate, and that is guaranteeing the deposits, the uninsured deposits.


There are about 8 trillion uninsured deposits in their system, 10 trillion are insured, and these are in regional banks around the country. And I have been working with Senator Rubio. There is some bipartisan appetite to do something. If we don't guarantee those in some way, I fear that there are going to be other regional banks that could face this issue in a high interest rate environment where people are taking their deposits out and putting them in money market mutual funds.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Congressman, that the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, needs to be held accountable for the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank?

KHANNA: I think he needs to come to Congress and explain what he's going to do better, how we're going to have reform in the Fed. For example, should we be having the executives in Silicon Valley Bank sitting on the board of the Fed that is overseeing the bank? What can we do to improve the oversight, to have less conflicts and to have better enforcement? He owes an explanation in a plan for how to prevent this in the future.

BLITZER: We'll see if that happens. Congressman, I want to quickly turn to the nation's debt ceiling, which is critical, as all of us know. Do you want to see President Biden at least start negotiations with House Speaker kevin McCarthy now that McCarthy managed to get the debt limit bill in the House passed?

KHANNA: Well, he should meet with him, and here's what he should say. It's patriotic to pay our bills, that when we incur expenses as Americans, we pay our bills. Then we can have a conversation about how do you reduce the debt and we can negotiate about reduction of debt. But we first need to pay our bills.

BLITZER: Bottom line, Congressman, will President Biden ultimately have to agree to spending cuts to avert default?

KHANNA: No, because I believe that he has a constitutional authority to pay our bills. Congress has authorized the spending. We have already spent it under the Constitution. He can spend it. I think the courts would uphold it. I hope though it doesn't come to that we have enough reasonable Republicans who do what I did during the Trump administration and that is vote to increase the debt ceiling. BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California, thank you for joining us.

KHANNA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, what Mike Pence's testimony could mean for the criminal investigation of Donald Trump and January 6th after the former vice president spent more than five hours before a grand jury?



BLITZER: There's a lot of speculation tonight about the next shoe to drop in the criminal investigation of Donald Trump and January 6th, the probe taking an unprecedented twist with the former Vice President Mike Pence's grand jury testimony.

We're joined now by CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig. Elie, thanks for coming in. Pence, yesterday, what, he spent more than five hours under oath testifying before the federal grand jury. Do you think his testimony could move the needle as far as the special counsel is concerned?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Without a question, Wolf. Because as much as his testimony was unprecedented, historic, even surreal, in a way, to have a former vice president testifying in a criminal grand jury probe about the former president, he's just a witness. And I think it's important that DOJ realize that. He has vital information that only Mike Pence was privy to, only Mike Pence can testify.

Ultimately, those one-on-one conversations that Mike Pence had with Donald Trump are crucial for prosecutors to determine Trump's intent and his state of mind. And I think DOJ deserves credit here because they sought his testimony, they pursued it, they fought for it in court and they won. And now, I think it's going to be a vital part of their case.

BLITZER: It's only one of several criminal investigations cases involving Trump, a decision on criminal charges into the probe, into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia could come as soon as July 11th, according to the district attorney there. How likely is Trump to be indicted there and what potentially could be the charges?

HONIG: I've got to date circled, I'm not going make vacation plans. I think every indication that Fani Willis has given us publicly is that she has every intention to indict this week. She sent a letter to local law enforcement saying be ready, because we may need you for security starting on July 11th.

If she does indict, all the indications are that this will be a much broader, I think, more serious case than what we saw out of the Manhattan D.A. I think the charges look like they'll include state level charges in Georgia of election interference and we have had reporting here on CNN that Fani Willis is looking at conspiracy and racketeering charges, meaning this will cast Donald Trump as the head of an ongoing criminal operation. So, if she brings that case, it's going to be a sprawling case and I think different in kind from what we've seen out in New York.

BLITZER: This investigation has been going on, as we know, for a long time. What's taking so long?

HONIG: Yes. Fani Willis told the judge that she would be deciding on indictments imminently 94 days ago. I went back and counted. And now she is saying it's going to take another three months. So, we're talking about six months here. I guess, imminence is in the eye of the beholder.

This does happen sometimes though in prosecutions. You will get towards what you think is the end and you'll find a new witness. You'll flip somebody. You'll find some new evidence. So, we do have to allow for that possibility. But I also think it's worth questioning Fani Willis, she opened this investigation in February of 2021. It took her two-and-a-half years to even get to this end game.

BLITZER: As I mentioned, he's facing multiple investigations, criminal investigations right now. If he find himself indicted again, walk us through the timeline, how could that play out?

HONIG: I think a safe rule of thumb is that it usually takes about a year, give or take, from indictment to trial. And in this case it could take more because you have to go through discovery. Prosecutors have to turn over all their evidence, motions. Donald Trump is going to bring all sorts of motions, including motions that we've never seen before, who may argue he's immune because some of the charges may touch on his time as president. If he loses those, they may have to go up on appeal. So, it's going to take a long time. And, Wolf, if we do that calendar math, that could last land us at trials certainly in 2024.


There's no way we're going to have a trial in 2023 on any of these cases, and maybe right in the heart of the election season.

BLITZER: So how does Trump being a presidential candidate, let's say he's a Republican presidential nominee once again, how does that complicate the procedure for the prosecutors?

HONIG: I think it's a real problem for prosecutors in two respects. First of all, it will enable Trump's supporters to say, look at what happened here, these prosecutors sad on these charges for two-plus years. They only announce these indictments once I was a declared candidate, and they timed it so the trial would land right before the election. That may or not be true, but they'll certainly have that talking point and it could undermine legitimacy.

The other thing is I think it complicates prosecutors' tasks because it's already going to be difficult enough to get 12 jurors unanimously to vote to convict a former president beyond a reasonable doubt. Add to that now, he could be the nominee by this point. And I think prosecutors, by waiting this long, Merrick Garland, Fani Willis, and Alvin Bragg, have all made their owns jobs more difficult.

BLITZER: As you know, E. Jean Carroll, the writer who accuses Trump of raping her in the mid-1990s, she faced two days of testimony, very aggressive questioning by Trump's lawyers during the course of that. Potentially, could that very aggressive questioning of her that we all know about right now actually backfire on Trump?

HONIG: It could. It's a very delicate situation anytime you have to cross-examine someone who alleges they were a victim of sexual assault. I know the lawyer, Joe Tacopina. I used to have cases with him in New York courts. He is an effective, smart, seasoned attorney but he's bombastic. He's loud. He's aggressive. So, if I was advising him, I would say look, you have a right to cross-examine, you have a right to poke holes, you have a right to try to undermine the credibility, but you cannot come across as domineering or a bully.

BLITZER: Elie Honig, thanks as usual for joining us.

Coming up, the just-released photos of the White House situation room on the day of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, we'll get unique insight into the images from the man behind the camera, the former chief White House photographer, Pete Souza. He'll join us next.



BLITZER: It's been nearly 12 years since a critical moment in the Obama administration, when U.S. Special Forces raided and killed America's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

Now, we are getting a truly extraordinary look behind the scenes over the White House Situation Room, at that daring mission was actually underway.

Brian Todd has been going over all the photographs that were just released.

Brian, these candid photos are so revealing and so compelling.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was really nothing about that day at the White House was not dramatic. In these newly-released photographs, the faces really tell the story.


TODD (voice-over): A never-before-seen image depicting the intensity and drama during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Then, President Obama and Vice President Biden in the White House Situation Room, tension visible on their faces, pressing Defense Secretary Bob Gates. One of several newly published pictures from inside the White House on that momentous day, May 1st, 2011.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: If this thing goes wrong, al Qaeda fights back, special operations people are captured or killed, bin Laden isn't there, the Pakistani military gets involved. There are a lot of things that go wrong.

TODD: These pictures, just obtained by "The Washington Post" from the Obama presidential library from a Freedom of Information Act request. Previously, this was the image the public knew best from that day. Obama, along with Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top aides, watching the bin Laden raid in real-time. Clintons hand over her mouth.

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen believes this was around the time the Navy SEALs helicopter clipped a wall and was damaged in hard landing.

Bergen interviewed President Obama in all the key players in the room for the CNN documentary, "We Got Him".

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: It was here where we observe, for example, that one of the helicopters got damaged in the landing.

BERGEN: And what were you thinking?

OBAMA: I was thinking that this is not an ideal start.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: And your heart was in your throughout the whole time we're in there. I've never spent a more stressful 30-plus minutes in my life.

TODD: The newly-released pictures show Obama watching intently, asking questions. When word came that the raid was successful, Obama is photographed shaking hands with Gates. Other photos depict the president making calls to give the news to former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and calls to other world leaders. Other calls show the president and the team working on a speech they would give to the nation late last night as they could hear a crowd gathered outside the White House.

In one of the newly released photos, Biden and then Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen showed White House photographer Pete Souza the rosary beads they had had wrapped around their fingers during the bin Laden raid. What sense do they give you of just the relief afterward?

BERGEN: I'll tell you what a lot of people said. They said they only really realized what a big deal this was when they left the White House. Suddenly, they hear these cheers. That's when people said some people said I started crying.



TODD: Now, on those phone calls to President Obama made to tell otherworldly doors about the bin Laden raid, according to Obama's memoir, when he told and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari about it, Zardari's reply was, quote, whatever the fallout, it's very good news, end quote.

That despite the public backlash from the Pakistani government at the time expressing serious displeasure with the raid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Joining us now, former chief White House photographer who took so many of those truly extraordinary pictures, Pete Souza.

Pete, thanks so much for joining us.

What was it like capturing attention leading up to this very high stakes operation and the moment leaders in that room actually learned that the mission was a success?


PETE SOUZA, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, Wolf, you know, every day for eight years I documented everything the president did. And this was -- I went about my business the same way that day. But, obviously, I knew that this would be a historic day. And, as was pointed out in that report, a lot of things could've gone wrong. And fortunately, they didn't.

But I think, because of that, there was a lot of tension in that room, especially during those 40 minutes they were in the room adjacent to the big Situation Room actually watching the raid as it took place. And when they -- the reaction was so subtle when -- I think it was Admiral Bill McRaven who, over the audio, said that Geronimo KIA, meaning Geronimo was bin Laden, and killed in action for KIA. The reaction was very muted in so many ways that I wasn't even fully aware of what had just been said.

BLITZER: Interesting. What can you tell us, Pete, about these photos that we can't see?

SOUZA: I mean, I think the -- I appreciated the way -- I didn't see the photos before they were published in "The Washington Post." I knew they were going to be published. "The post" had given me an alert. But I didn't know which photographs they would choose to publish.

The one thing that I thought they did a good job at was putting them in the proper chronological order. Because the raid itself only lasted for ten minutes, but there were meetings both before the raid and after the raid, you know, spanning 10, 11 hours throughout that day.

And I thought the way they presented the photographs in the chronological order, you know, gave the proper insight to what that day was like for the leaders at the White House.

BLITZER: More than a decade later, how important is it, Pete, for Americans to see these photos clearly an inside look at a truly historic moment?

SOUZA: I don't know. I think that's for other people to judge. Obviously, every photograph that I ever took during the Obama administration is now at the national archives. And in due time they will all be made public. So I knew they would come, and I thought it would just give people more information really about what it was like that day, at least the way I saw it through my eyes.

BLITZER: As someone who has admired your photography all these years, thank you so much, Pete, for all you're doing. We really appreciate it.

SOUZA: Thank you, Wolf, for having me on your SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And this note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right after our SITUATION ROOM, the controversial RFK Jr., whose own family isn't supporting him, polling at nearly 20 percent in a new poll. So what's behind it? That's coming up right at the top of the hour.

And just ahead, the severe weather threat in the South. Texas now bracing for damaging hail and hurricane-force wind gusts.



BLITZER: Millions of Americans are under alert for severe storms tonight as another round of very dangerous weather barrels across the South.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking the threat for us. He's over at the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, what are you seeing right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A line of weather that's broken up around Dallas to Waco, but then a strong line all the way back towards San Antonio. And as these storms line up, they're going to act like a snowplow to the air and start to make a wind event.

Yes, we still have hail. San Antonio, you're about to get a hail event, and I'll talk about that in a second.

But here is the weather we're talking about now. Dallas, you had some thunder and lightning earlier. Coolidge, you need to be ready for some probably 2-inch size hail over the next 20 minutes. It's going to be coming down.

Pets, property, and people, the pets and livestock have to come in, things have to be covered up, even your cars and people as well. There's a weather has already moved through Austin. Pflugerville all the way to Rockdale. It has now moved east of I-35.

Not yet east of I-35 for this storm out here, that's San Antonio right there, and storm does have hail in it. Likely golf ball sized hail falling out of that cell right now. So get things inside in San Antonio as well. It could fall apart, but it likely won't. No tornado so far.

Now there was one report of a tornado at least spinning possibly near Fort Hood. But it was raining so hard, no one could see it. It's called wrapped in rain. So that zero may change to a one if they get out there and actually find something.

Here is the weather for this evening. It will be with us for most of the night, and then rolling into Houston. So, when you talked about the millions of people left, Houston, you are in those millions now of people that could see a wind event blowing things down.

I mean, 50, 60, 70-mile-per-hour winds. We already have 20,000 people without power across Texas. You blow that into a big city like that, and you could obviously put down many more power lines and a lot more people without power. Tomorrow this all gets into Florida with some heavy rainfall possible. We'll watch that as tomorrow comes, but tonight, one thing at a time, we're still watching Texas.

BLITZER: Certainly are. Chad, thank you very much.

An important note to our viewers. It's one of the biggest nights here in the nation's capital. President Biden and host Roy Wood Jr. headline the White House correspondence association dinner. Join CNN's John Berman and Jessica Dean live from the red carpet tomorrow night beginning 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.