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The Situation Room

Disturbing New Details About Texas Outlet Mall Gunman; Border Cities Brace For Migrant Surge As Title 42 Nears Expiration; Sources Say, Attorneys For IRS Whistleblower Meet With Lawmakers Leading Hunter Biden Probes; Trump's Accuser's Attorney: "He Didn't Even Bother To Show Up"; Biden Pushes Rule To Compensate Flyers For Delays & Cancellations. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 08, 2023 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD wherever you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting there like a steak sizzling on the grill.

Your podcasts. Two hours just sitting there like a steak sizzling on the grill. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, disturbing new details on the gunman who slaughtered eight people in an outlet mall in Texas. We have new information on his military background, his firearms training and signs he might have been motivated by right-wing extremism.

We're also tracking the situation on both sides of the southern border right now as officials brace for the expiration of Title 42. What the end of the Trump-era policy means for the expected surge of migration.

Also tonight, E. Jean Carroll's civil rape trial against former President Donald Trump is nearing an end. The jury expected to begin deliberations tomorrow after attorneys from both sides just wrapped up their closing arguments.

Welcome to our viewers here in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.

We begin our coverage tonight in Allen, Texas, where we're learning now some new information about the gunman who shot and killed eight people at an outlet mall. Heartbreaking details about the victims are also coming in tonight.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us from the scene of the massacre. Ed, give us the latest.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN has been able to review posts made by the gunman on a Russian social media website that shows some rather disturbing information, which includes the gunman sharing and writing approvingly of Nazi ideology, showing off pictures of his cache of firearms. He even wrote approvingly of the gunman that shot and killed several children, six people in all in that Nashville shooting several weeks ago. And there's also a screen shot from Google Maps that shows the gunman was in this parking lot of the outlet mall several weeks ago, showing and trying to figure out which day of the week this mall would be the busiest.


LAVANDERA (voice over): Minutes after gunfire erupted at the outlet mall in Allen, Texas --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you getting more ambulances on this event?

LAVANDERA: -- it was clear to first responders the scene was a mass casualty event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have multiple upon multiple patients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To units down at the burger joint, does that suspect have an AR rifle?


LAVANDERA: After killing eight people and wounding at least seven others, Mauricio Garcia was killed by a police officer at the scene. A law enforcement source tells CNN the 33-year-old gunman served three months in the U.S. Army and did not complete basic training and was removed because of mental health concerns.

Despite this, Texas state records show Garcia was approved to work as a commissioned security guard and even received firearms training. Witnesses say Garcia acted calmly as he carried out the attack.

BILL MCLEAN, SHOOTING WITNESS: He's kind of in a deliberate assault- type mood.

LAVANDERA: A senior law enforcement official tells CNN Garcia left an extensive trail of pro-Nazi and white supremacist related social media postings online. In 2019, Texas Governor Greg Abbott created a state domestic terrorism task force after the El Paso Walmart massacre, which would, quote, increase the detection and monitoring of domestic terrorism and other mass casualty threats, including neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.

STATE SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ (D-TX): I want to know what DPS has been doing, what threads they've been following on Twitter or Facebook or any kind of social media from people like this man in Allen.

LAVANDERA: Texas DPS and Governor Abbott have not answered questions about the shooting investigation.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): The people in Allen, but especially the families, they want to know right now why this happened, how it happened.

LAVANDERA: We're also learning the heartbreaking details of what happened to the Cho family. The family of four was at the mall together but only six-year-old William survived the shooting. His parents, Kyu Song and Shin Young, along with his three-year-old brother, James, were all killed. William remains in the hospital and was just removed from the ICU.

Two young sisters were also killed in the shooting, fourth grader Daniela Mendoza and second grader Sophia Mendoza. Their mother remains hospitalized in critical condition. Other victims include Aishwarya Thatikonda, an engineer who lived in McKinney, Texas, and Christian LaCour, a 20-year-old mall security guard.

MAX WEISS, MALL STORE EMPLOYEE: I mean, he was the kindest and sweetest, most caring man you would ever interact with.

LAVANDERA: Public officials struggle to cure an epidemic of mass shootings.

ABBOTT: The first step to leading to some type of resolution here is to know exactly why and how this happened.

GUTIERREZ: We've heard from this government about mental illness and evil and everything else.


That's all bull. Every time something happens, it's something else. And he's got a solution for this that's not related to the common denominator, which is guns.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Wolf, CNN has also confirmed today that the gunman was able to obtain his firearms legally. As for the victims and survivors, there are still several in the hospital, six in all. Three of those patients are still in critical condition, Wolf. And here tonight, outside the outlet mall parking lot, you can see how the grieving continues. This makeshift memorial continues to grow. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, it does. Ed, stay with us. I also want to bring in our Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates and our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller. And, John, what sort of profile is emerging when you look at this gunman's removal from the U.S. military after only about three months in service and his extremist social media posts?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, he is classic active shooter. And I say that because, you know, as you go through hundreds of pages, thousands of pages of his journals, and we've had a team here at CNN led by Paul Murphy doing that, his writings, what you get is he blames everyone else for his problems, he blames the world for his failings and the anger, the gravitation towards Nazi ideology, if you dig into that, you know, it's an ideology that comes with a built in err of superiority, master race and so on, the swastika tattoo on his chest, the S.S. tattoo on his arm, the admiration for Hitler, all of this kind of coalesces into a profile we've seen before.

BLITZER: Yes, sadly, it does. And, Laura, Texas has been struck by some of the country's deadliest mass shootings in recent years. How much is that linked to the state's very permissive gun laws?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Including actually in recent weeks, they have been the targets of mass shootings as well. We can't forget the gun violence of a family who simply wanted their neighbor to stop firing so that their baby could sleep, and a little more than a year ago in Uvalde, an elementary school.

So, you have this connection. On the one hand, you have those who are opponents of gun control measures who talk about this in the language of mental health is the only viable way to actually stop this problem, akin to that notion that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun every day. There's not a lot of evidence to support either one of these theories and instead on the other side, you have people saying, look, we can have reasonable gun control that includes background checks, maybe a graduated level for the type of weapon, raising the age of who has access to the weapons and, of course, the red flag laws to flag issues of people who can actually identify who might be likely to be the classic person that John was alluding to.

The problem is the kind of whack-a-mole with the number of different mass shootings that we have where policymakers simply try to suggest that, look, one narrow measure is not going to solve everything. There is no panacea. And there begins to be a paralysis of all these things. Having said that, I think we can compare ourselves to other nations, to your larger point, mental health, the U.S. does not have a monopoly on mental health issues in this country. And comparatively speaking, we are exponentially higher in gun violence than all of our peers.

BLITZER: Yes, an important point, indeed. Ed, you're there on the scene for us. What can you tell us about the community around this Allen, Texas shopping mall?

LAVANDERA: Well, Wolf, I think one of the things that has struck me over the last couple of days is just the vast number of witnesses who were so close to this tragedy unfolding. And you can see so many people processing all of this literally in real-time. I remember when we arrived here Saturday afternoon, the first person I met was the woman who snapped the picture of the gunman on the ground in front of the hamburger shop where she worked, shaking and just absolutely beside herself, kind of trying to process what she had just experienced.

And what is really stunning here as well, it's now been more than 48 hours since the shooting took place. And the people you see behind me coming here for answers and for reflection, they still have not heard from this Texas Department of Public Safety, which is the lead investigative agency sharing any kind of answers or answering any kind of questions about how all this unfolded.

BLITZER: And that's an important point, John Miller. Police are not necessarily being very forthcoming with their investigation, where their investigation stands. There were major issues getting information from Texas authorities after the Uvalde shooting as well.

MILLER: Well, I think what they're doing is they're trying to figure out what the story is. You've got the Texas Department of Public Safety who has the lead here with the Texas Rangers and DPS, but one of the places where they're looking for information is social media that requires subpoenas and search warrants.


The other is the phone, which they handed to the FBI for the technical ability of their computer analysis response team to crack into the phone because it's password-protected. So, before they issue preliminary findings, they want to figure out, A, exactly what they're dealing with in terms of motive, and, B, is there anyone else involved or anyone else who knew ahead of time or anyone else that needs to be investigated. And I believe we will hear from them likely by tomorrow afternoon with an update. But they've been peeling back layers.

BLITZER: Yes, they have. All right, John Miller, Ed Lavandera, Laura Coates, guys, thank you very much.

Now to another story we're following out of Texas right now. Authorities in the border town of Brownsville are revealing new details about a car crash that killed eight people outside a migrant shelter.

CNN's Nick Valencia is joining us from Brownsville right now. Nick, where does this investigation stand right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, eight people are dead, another ten are injured and the suspected driver has now been identified by police as George Alvarez, a man that Brownsville police were familiar with having charged him more than 20 times in the past before, including for things like driving while impaired.

Now, at a press conference earlier, the police chief saying that they cannot rule out that this was intentional. Listen to them describe what happened here on Sunday.


CHIEF FELIX SAUCEDA, BROWNSVILLE POLICE: The SUV ran a red light, lost control, flipped on its side and struck a total of 18 individuals.

George Alvarez is a Brownsville local with an extensive rap sheet. He has been formally charged and arraigned with eight counts of manslaughter, ten counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.


VALENCIA: We spoke to an eyewitness named Cesar Romero. He's a Venezuelan national. And he describes the scene of the car that Alvarez was driving just barreling through this intersection and traveling this way before jumping a curb, eventually landing where that memorial is where dozens of men were really sitting and waiting for the bus to come. He describes the driver, he was trying to get away after he got out of that vehicle and was yelling obscenities in Spanish at the migrants. Romero telling me there's no doubt in his mind that this was intentional, although police cannot say that with 100 percent certainty. Romero, he was saying this through tears, Wolf, lamenting that some of those killed were his friends. They had just gotten here the day before. Of course, all this unfolding just days before Title 42, that Trump-era policy that effectively shut down the border, is expected to expire, really making a lot of people here anxious about what that could bring with the incoming migration. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Nick, thank you, Nick Valencia on the scene for us.

Just ahead, CNN is live on the U.S./Mexican border, where this week's expiration of Title 42 is expected to lead to a massive surge in migration.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Authorities on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border are now bracing for the end of Title 42 this week. The Trump-era policy makes it easier for officials to expel migrants from the United States.

CNN's David Culver is just over the border in Ciudad Juarez for us in Mexico. David, how much of a buildup are you seeing there?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're seeing a pretty significant surge here in Ciudad Juarez, and I'm actually looking towards the U.S. side. So, while I'm in Mexico, let me just show you in these live images here what's across the river. And that, you see this barbed wire fencing, and then on the other side, that's the U.S., though camped out between the barbed wire and border fencing, you see hundreds of migrants. And, Wolf, this is only a very small portion of the tens of thousands that have come here into Ciudad Juarez waiting to try to figure out how exactly they can get over.

And we should point out Title 42, while it's still in effect, essentially, what that means for these migrants here is that in the next hours, potentially days, and we're talking in pretty scorching heat, 90 degrees, without much access to food, little access to water, they will hope to be processed up there at that entry point. And little by little, they're being allowed in to start their processing for claiming asylum.

Currently under Title 42, they can be deported right away to places like Ciudad Juarez, right across the river. They can then, hours later, try again. What's going to change when Title 42 expires, assuming it does on Thursday, is Title 8 will take effect, and that means the migrants that try to go in, Wolf, they have to be processed so the U.S. will have to have a preliminary interview with them. Officials will have to hear their claims for asylum. But if they do not qualify for asylum, Wolf, they will be again immediately deported, the difference being they'll be barred from trying again within for five years. So, it's a pretty significant change in what they could they facing once Title 42 lifts. Though a lot of these folks, I've got to be honest, you talk to them, are not timing their efforts around Title 42 anymore. They saw this in November, where it was nearing the deadline and then extend. They saw it in December. We were here as well to cover that. Again, nearing the deadline, but then continued on here into May. And so they've said the back and forth over U.S. policy, they can't follow. They're just focused on how they can try to get over. And if they can't get in this way, Wolf, they are determined to figure out ways in, including ways that mean going undetected.

BLITZER: And, David, what about cities on the U.S. side of the border? Could this soon impact them?

CULVER: For sure. And what you're looking at that side is El Paso. And so what we've seen in the streets of El Paso is the encampments of migrants. There are folks who are in this group, and we've talked to a lot of them who say, yes, they have destinations within the U.S. they'd like to get to that are well beyond Texas. They're not quite sure how they're going to get there. Some don't have really close relatives to go stay with. So, where do they end up? Well, for many of them, it means crossing over, and the process of trying to get their asylum claims reviewed, camping out.


And in this case, what we're seeing is it's happening right on the street of El Paso and many other border towns along this very, very long stretch between the U.S. and Mexico, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. David Culver reporting for us, thank you very much, David.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales of Texas. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

Let me get to the border issue in a moment, but let's get to the deadly shooting in Allen, Texas, first. The gunman was removed from the U.S. military for mental health concerns and had a history of extremism. We all know that now. Does it concern you, Congressman, that he was able in Texas to buy weapons legally through private sellers without a background check and all?

REP. TONY GONZALES (R-TX): Thank you for having me, Wolf. And it is a heartbreaking situation what's happening all throughout Texas and throughout the country. We have a problem in this country with violence. We have a problem with shootings. We have to address that. We have to realize that this is a real problem and it is one we have to protect the Constitution and make sure those can legally purchase weapons, but it's much deeper than that.

And there needs to be less finger-pointing and more solutions. We need to look into this individual in Dallas' specific situation. Why didn't we catch this ahead of time? You had an earlier guest on that said, it's a classic case of a shooter. I agree with him. I mean, we need to be able to identify these earlier and get ahead of the issue, not responding to it. In some cases, these shooters are purchasing weapons legally. In some cases, they're purchasing them illegally. Either way, we've got to get ahead of the problem.

BLITZER: So, you support background checks before someone can go out and buy a gun?

GONZALES: Absolutely. I 100 percent support background checks. It's a big reason why I supported the Safer Community Act after the Uvalde shooting. And that bill since then has prevented at least a dozen cases similar to Uvalde.

I was in Uvalde earlier today. I met with Mr. Reyes, who was the teacher that survived the classroom. Unfortunately, all of his children, all of his kids perished that day but he survived. I will tell you, Wolf, we are still healing. It's going to be a while before we come back.

But, once again, less of the finger pointing. More of the solutions, you know, Congress has a role to play in this. I certainly agree to that. The White House has a role to play with that. We need to sit down and we need to come up with real, tangible solutions and things that can protect the Second Amendment, protect the Constitution, but also protect our kids. They deserve that as well.

BLITZER: Yes, something has got to be done to stop all these mass killings here in the United States with these guns.

I want to turn back to the issue of Title 42 along the border with Mexico. What are you seeing, Congressman, and hearing across your district, which includes some 800 miles of the U.S./Mexico border?

GONZALES: Wolf, I'm not exaggerating here. I represent 42 percent of the southern border. This is the worst I've seen it. It is a dire situation along the border. I was just in El Paso, excuse me, a couple of days ago. And what I saw was I saw makeshift camps of hundreds of people that did not have water, that were in really warm conditions. There were small children playing in the dirt. I mean, it's heartbreaking all the way around.

The difference between what we saw previously, a lot of the folks that are coming over do not have money to go elsewhere. So, what does that mean? They're essentially homeless trying to scrap together money to go to other parts of the country. They don't want to stay in El Paso. What we need to do is we're going to pass this border security package in the House, but we need immigration reform.

Nine out of ten folks that are coming over right now do not qualify for asylum. Let's stop sending them down that route. Let's create a way where they can come over legally through work visas. I'm committed to doing that. You'll see me roll out some legislation here in the coming weeks.

BLITZER: As you know, the House is planning to pass some new legislation on Thursday, some compromised proposal to deal with this Title 42. What are you seeing and hearing, first of all, across your district right now?

GONZALES: For all intents and purposes, Title 42 has already been lifted and our communities are dealing with that. From the small cities -- the small towns and cities that are declaring state of emergency to larger cities, like San Antonio. Everyone is hunkering down, doing the best they can to try to stay above water.

People are nervous. People are anxious. You're seeing the numbers increase. Law enforcement is completely overwhelmed. Their morale is high but their energy is low. There's just too much happening at one time. Usually, it was one part of the border. Now, it's all parts of the border. And not just in Texas. You have Arizona as well and other parts as well. So, it's as this is the third year of this hurricane. We're batting down the hatches and hoping for the best but expecting the worst.


BLITZER: Congressman Tony Gonzalez of Texas, thank you very much for joining us.

GONZALES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, new CNN reporting on the investigation into Hunter Biden. What we're learning about a secret meeting on Capitol Hill and why it might not be the last one.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: The lawyers for an IRS whistleblower who alleges political interference in the Hunter Biden criminal probe met with Congress to lay the groundwork for possible testimony on Capitol Hill. It's the latest move in the years'-long investigations into the president's son.


CNN's Evan Perez has more details for us. Evan, how soon could this whistleblower actually wind up speaking to investigators?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's what the lawyers are trying to do. They're trying to make it happen within the next week or two. One of the issues here is that both congressional committees, both in the House and the Senate, want to hear from this whistleblower.

This is an investigation, Wolf, that has gone on over three attorneys general. It began under Jeff Sessions and it is now obviously under the guidance of Merrick Garland, the attorney general, who has promised that David Weiss, who was a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, who's running this investigation, that he has full control of this investigation, something that Republicans really want to get at.

Listen to the attorney general answering questions from Senator Chuck Grassley just last month.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I promise to ensure that he's able to carry out his investigation and that he'd be able to run it. And if he needs to bring in another jurisdiction, he will have full authority to do that.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Well, let me give you my view. If Weiss, the U.S. attorney there in Delaware, must seek permission from Biden- appointed U.S. attorney to bring charges, then Hunter Biden criminal investigation isn't insulated from political interference as you publicly proclaim.


PEREZ: And, Wolf, that exchange between the senator Grassley and the attorney general back in March is going to be at the center of what the whistleblower wants to talk about.

One of the things that the whistleblower is telling -- has told his lawyers, is that he believes Weiss is not in full control of this investigation, that there are political appointees who are interfering. And that's the reason why this investigation has gone on for this long, Wolf. We'll see when he finally gets his day to sit down with these committees for transcribed interviews, what else he has to tell them. Wolf?

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thank you very much. I want to bring in our political experts right now to discuss this and more. And, David Chalian, beyond the investigations around his son, these new poll numbers that are just coming out for the president of the United States, they're very, very poor.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, he's got two consequential issues just this week, right, immigration, the debt ceiling, never mind the Hunter Biden investigation, and he's going to have to approach them from a position of weakness.

Take a look at this ABC News/Washington Post poll, his approval rating. You see Joe Biden's approval rating down at 36 percent, the lowest recorded for Joe Biden in the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 56 percent disapprove. Our poll of polls, when you include these in the average of the most recent polls has his approval rating at about 40 percent.

And, of course, that is certainly not good, but take a look here about his mental acuity and that people think he has the sharpness to become president and do the job. Only 32 percent of adults in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say, yes, Joe Biden has the mental sharpness to serve effectively as president. Wolf, that number, when asked about Trump, is 22 points higher. 54 percent of adults believe he has the mental sharpness to do the job.

BLITZER: Yes, those are not good numbers for the president of the United States.

Ron Brownstein, looking at the debt crisis, the border crisis, the political challenges that are all out there, what stands out to you as potentially the biggest possible threat to President Biden?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the biggest threat is actually a recession in the fall and early part of 2024. Political scientists will tell you that is when voters tend to lock in their impressions of how the economy is doing. It tends to be between quarter three of the third year of presidency and the first quarter of the fourth year. So, that's a real threat that's out there.

Wolf, all of these numbers that we are looking at are flashing red lights on the dashboard for an incoming president. They are all signs of weakness for an incumbent, approval rating down around 40 percent. This was unusually low but none of them are great. A significant majority saying they're unhappy with the economy, questioning about his capacity.

The only reason Democrats are not freaking out more about these numbers is because all of them were largely present in 2022 as well. And Democrats did unexpectedly well in that election, especially in the five states that are likely to decide the presidency again in 2024, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, because an unusually large number of voters who said they were said dissatisfied with Biden or disenchanted about the economy voted for Democrats anyway because they view the Republican alternative as unacceptable.

And that ultimately is kind of the whole card, the idea of the negative partisanship, that in the end, when faced with a choice between Joe Biden and either Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis in all likelihood, that many of the Democratic-leaning voters now expressing uneasiness about him or uncertainty about whether he can do the job, ultimately will not fall in line behind a Republican whose vision of the country is so different than their own.


And, Jamie Gangel, what are you hearing specifically right now from your sources on how the Biden team is actually trying to navigate these headwinds on so many multiple fronts?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: They know they have challenges ahead of them and Ron just talked about the long-term one, recession. Where is that going to be? David pointed out obviously these poll numbers are terrible for Joe Biden.

On the age question, Joe Biden is taking the tact of I'm going to own it. I'm going the make jokes about it. So, that's how he's dealing with it, that he's wise, not old. But let's face it. Just this week alone, he faces a trifecta of issues, those poll numbers, the debt crisis and the border, which is all going to come to a head very shortly. Joe Biden likes to say, watch me. This is going to be a week to watch him.

BLITZER: Yes, everybody is going to be watching to see what happens.

Ron, how striking is it that in this new poll, this ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority of Americans support charges for Trump in the ongoing criminal investigations, but 26 percent of independents still say they would vote for him?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I mean, look, we are in a period of negative partisanship, where your dislike of the other party in many ways is a more powerful motivator than support for your own. I mean, this poll showed you what Trump's base is. I mean, if you look at this poll, again, it's -- as David will agree, it's a more severe version but they're actually similar to what we are seeing, you know, elsewhere.

It shows you that there is an audience for Trump. I mean, the question really to me was this was a poll where Biden's disapproval was at 56 or 57 and Trump was still at 44 percent of the vote, can he really go beyond that when you have a majority of Americans saying that these charges are justified and he faces multiple further possible indictments, not to mention the hangover of January 6th?

I think the view among Democrats and I think even among many Republicans is that until you get to the actual choice, when voters are faced with the question of whether they will willing to entrust Donald Trump, if he's the nominee, with the powers of the presidency again, it's really hard to get too fine a gauge on where they are going from these early polls.

I think that will be the pivot of the election. In a strange way, if Trump is on the ballot, he more than the incumbent, I think, will be the pivot. And the core question for voters will be, do they trust him with the powers of the presidency.

BLITZER: Yes, good question. Ron Brownstein, David Chalian, Jamie Gangel, guys, thank you very much. Just ahead, we'll go live to Ukraine as Kremlin-backed officials scramble to evacuate occupied territory just ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.



BLITZER: In occupied Ukraine right now, Kremlin-backed authorities are ordering widespread evacuations just ahead of a highly anticipated Ukrainian military counteroffensive. This as Russia launches a barrage of drone attacks on Kyiv and other major cities in Ukraine, trying to wear down Ukraine's air defenses.

Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley has our report.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Bakhmut, the center of war in Ukraine after months of fighting Russian invaders. Now in territory under the Kremlin's control, roads are jammed with evacuation convoys heading towards Crimea. Some residents in Russian-held towns have been ordered from their homes.

Ukraine is expected a launch a widespread offensive any day. More violence is coming on a vast scale.

Russia lost ground in the last Ukrainian counterattacks and here, Russia's defense minister inspects tanks. They're being sent into the coming storm. Zaporizhzhia's Russian-backed governor used social media to publicize evacuations from frontline towns. 1,600 people have left from 18 settlements, the evacuation roads following a Ukrainian military thrust from Zaporizhzhia to Berdiansk and ultimately Crimea.

And still, Russian missiles and drones continue to pound Ukrainian civilians. This was a warehouse for the local Red Cross in Odessa. Five civilians were injured here in Kyiv by a Russian drone. Buses have been turned into ambulances scaling up ahead of more widespread fighting with more of this.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Wolf, the U.S. is soon to announce an extra $1.2 billion in military aid. That would be for drones, air defenses, ammunition, on top of the $36 billion already pledged. Much needed drones and ammunition and air defenses in particular as they continue to prosecute the battles. Let's not forget that there's an offensive coming perhaps but there is an ongoing and vicious battle in Bakhmut where Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, has now backtracked on his threat to pull his troops out of that cauldron, Wolf, because now he says he is getting the ammunition he was complaining he wasn't getting.


That is on the Russian side, of course, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, important point. Sam Kiley, thank you very much.

Coming up, closing arguments in E. Jean Carroll's civil rape trial against Donald Trump just wrapped up. We have details from the courthouse and what comes next in the case. That's right after the quick break.


BLITZER: Tonight, the civil rape trial against former President Donald Trump is coming to an end. Authorities -- attorneys, I should say, for both sides, making their closing arguments today as the jury prepares to take up deliberations tomorrow.

CNN's Kara Scannell is tracking all of it for us. She's just outside the courthouse in New York.

Kara, walk us through the closing arguments as this case gets ready to head to the jury.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it began, the day began with E. Jean Carroll's attorneys doing their closing arguments first.


And what Carroll's lawyer told the jury was that Donald Trump was a no-show. They focused on the fact that he did not show up to face these allegations, that he did not testify in this case. And they said that, you know, the only way that the jury heard from

Trump was in the video deposition they said Trump was actually a witness against himself. They pointed to the snippets of the deposition and replayed them for the jury where Trump is looking at a black and white photo of him and Carroll several years before the alleged assault. And in that photo during the deposition, Trump mistakes Carroll for his second wife Marla Maples. And that's what Carroll's attorney says. That means that Trump did think that E. Jean Carroll was his type.

They also point to the "Access Hollywood" tape which was played again and again for the jury, saying that that is what Trump really thinks about women. You'll remember on that tape he says, I just start kissing them, I don't wait. And they said that video, they called it a confession.

They also said that they should rely on the other two friends of E. Jean Carroll who testified who could corroborate her story from back in the mid-'90s. They say that in order to find in favor of Trump, the jury would have to think that everyone else who testified was lying.

Now, Trump's attorney, they said that Carroll didn't provide a specific date, that they couldn't provide an alibi for this because they didn't know when this alleged rape happened. And they told the jury they should believe Trump, saying that Carroll's lawyers want you to hate him enough to ignore the facts.

BLITZER: Carroll, separately, I understand there are new developments tonight in the Manhattan D.A. criminal case against Trump.

SCANNELL: That's right, Wolf. So the judge overseeing that criminal case signed off on a protective order, which would block the former president from posting any evidence that he obtains from the D.A.'s office as part of the discovery process of this case on any social media sites.

Now, Trump's lawyers didn't want that. They say that Trump needs to defend himself because he's running for re-election.

Now, Trump's team had also moved to have this case sent to the federal court and the D.A.'s office was asking the judge overseeing that piece of it for a hearing so they can figure out how that would move forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you very much. Kara is in New York.

And this note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," the mayor of El Paso, Texas, talks about the border and migrant situation in his city. It's coming up right at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, will airlines soon be required to put money back in your pocket if they cancel or delay your flight?



BLITZER: With the summer travel season about to heat up, President Biden is pitching new rules that could put money back in your pocket if, if an airline delays or cancels your flight.

CNN's Brian Todd is over at Reagan National Airport for us. He's digging into the proposal for us.

Brian, what sort of compensation would airlines be required to pay?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they'd have to pay for your hotel, your food, possibly other things. But that only comes into play if the delay or cancelation is the airline's fault. And that's where it could get tricky for passengers.


TODD (voice-over): It was only a few months ago that the Southwest Airlines cancelation meltdown over the holidays left millions of travelers stranded and miserable.

PAM SHELBY, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: I wanted to visit my family, but there's nothing I can do about it.

TODD: Tonight, we're on the brink of a busy summer travel season, which analysts and officials acknowledge could be messy for the airlines, like last summer's was.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Summer travel is going to put enormous pressure on the system. And we need to continue our work.

TODD: The Biden administration tonight proposing a new rule to compensate passengers who experienced delays and cancelations that are the fault of the airlines themselves. Right now, ten U.S.-based air carriers cover the costs of meals for passengers when a delay or cancelation is the airline's fault. Nine of them cover the cost of hotel accommodations. But the airlines are doing that voluntarily and could roll back those policies any time. The president and his team want to change that with a new rule.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will make it mandatory, not voluntary, but mandatory for all U.S. airlines to compensate you with meals, hotels, taxis, rideshares, and rebooking fees and cash miles and/or travel vouchers.

TODD: But the president's proposal for this won't come until later this year, and there are no specifics yet on exactly how much the airlines would have to pay in each circumstance. Why is the Biden team announcing this now?

DAVID SLOTNICK, SENIOR AVIATION BUSINESS REPORTER, "THE POINTS GUY": He's doing this now partly as a perception thing. They want to be seen as taking action on the airlines. There have been multiple travel seasons in a row now of really prolific delays and cancelations, issues like that. So they want to be seen as having some kind of effect on it.

TODD: The trade group representing the airlines is responding to the Biden proposal with a statement saying U.S. airlines have no incentive to delay or cancel a flight, and do everything in their control to ensure flights depart and arrive on time. But safety is always the top priority.

The airlines also say, quote, carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control. Analysts point out that delays caused by weather and air traffic control or shortages, which the FAA has already warned could cause problems, wouldn't be seen as being the airline's fault, so passengers wouldn't be eligible for compensation in those situations.

Still, some passengers say they'll take relief anywhere they can get it.

BA PHO, DELAYED PASSENGER AT REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT: I do think they should pay for it only because when it's a delay like this, it makes the travelers' schedule all messed up.

ANN MARIE COLLIER, PASSENGER AT REAGAN NATIONAL AIRPORT: I think it will make a difference. I think it motivates the airlines to do better by the consumer. So I'm in favor of it.


TODD: What can airlines do this summer, what can passengers do this summer, rather, to prepare for delays and cancelations? Well, analyst David Slotnick says you should build in a buffer of time at your destination. If you've got a time-sensitive meeting, fly early to that city, do not book the very last flight out.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much.

One personal note before we go, it was 33 years ago today that I started my career here at CNN. It was May 8, 1990, when I began as the Pentagon correspondent for CNN. Seems like just yesterday.

Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.