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Border Areas Declare Disasters In Anticipation Of A Migrant Crisis; New Details On New York City Subway Chokehold Death As Suspect Arraigned; Large Explosions Reported In Russian-Occupied Area Of Ukraine; Islamic Jihad Targets Jerusalem Fort First Time In Current Conflict. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 12, 2023 - 18:00   ET



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"THE SITUATION ROOM" continues now. I'll see you Monday.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we're tracking the influx of migrants along the southern border where new disaster declarations are in effect now that Title 42 immigration rules have expired. Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas will give us an update from his border district and share his concerns about the president's policies.

Also, a U.S. Marine veteran is arraigned on the charge of second- degree manslaughter in the chokehold death of a man on a New York City subway train. Prosecutors revealing new details about Daniel Penny's fatal encounter with a homeless street artist Jordan Neely.

And large explosions are reported in a Russian-held area of Ukraine, this as we're learning more about Russia's attempts on a crucial air defense system the United States sent to Ukraine.

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 with major efforts to prevent a major new immigration crisis along the southern border less than 24 hours after the end of pandemic era rules for expelling migrants.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us. He's in El Paso, Texas. Ed, what's the status of the anticipated migrant surge this hour?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that surge that so many people were predicting hasn't really materialized. This alleyway, Wolf, just days ago leading up to the end of Title 42, was packed with migrants overflowing from a shelter here. That hasn't happened. Everybody here has been moved out of El Paso. But the question now is what is going to happen in the coming days?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAYOR OSCAR LEESER (D-EL PASO, TX): Title 42 has come and gone.

LAVANDERA (voice over): And so far today, this moment has not triggered the historic wave of migrants rushing to cross the border that was predicted. Communities have been preparing for the lifting of the pandemic era restriction for months and so has the federal government.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We've been very, very clear that there are lawful, safe and orderly pathways to seek relief in the United States, and if one arrives at our southern border, when it's going to face tougher consequences.

LAVANDERA: In the days leading up to last night's deadline, border officials saw a surge of migrants. More than 23,000 are now in CBP custody, down slightly from earlier this week. In El Paso, thousands were waiting to be processed outside a border gate.

CHIEF RAUL ORTIZ, U.S. BORDER PATRO: We're prioritizing those most vulnerable populations. We're doing this as quickly and as efficiently and as safely and we possibly can.

LAVANDERA: That number now down to a couple hundred, says the city's mayor.

LEESER: After yesterday's spike at about 1,800 that came in yesterday, we have not seen any additional big numbers come in through the El Paso sector.

JOHN MARTIN, RUNS MIGRANT SHELTER IN EL PASO: We had lean-tos or tents, whatever term you want to use literally all along the wall.

LAVANDERA: John Martin runs a network of shelters in El Paso and said the crowds have dramatically dwindled in recent days.

MARTIN: We've had a handful that have come into this facility today, but when I left the welcome center, which is where our families are located at this point, as of about 11:00 this morning, we had no new arrivals.

LAVANDERA: While he was surprised at the lack influx the morning after Title 42 lifted, he doesn't expect it will stay this way.

MARTIN: I have to admit it's nice to be able to breathe one more time, but we can't let our guard down because we still know it's coming.

LAVANDERA: In January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection opened this massive tent processing facility in the El Paso area, about 20 miles from the U.S./Mexico border. It's designed to be able to hold about 1,000 migrants at a time. And as you can see, construction crews are working to expand. We're told by CBP officials, in June, they'll have room for another 1,000 migrants to hold at this facility.

In Brownsville, dozens of buses line up near an intake facility, but a major humanitarian group in the area tells CNN they only had one bus of migrants arrive today. About 155,000 were estimated to be in shelters and on streets in Mexico waiting to enter the U.S., a source familiar with federal estimates said. Migrants will still risk their lives to make it to the U.S. And from now on, people who cross the border illegally will face a tougher path to requesting asylum.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And Wolf, I spoke with a number of immigrant advocates today. They're trying to make sense of what this new reality is going to be.


They believe at this point early on is that perhaps migrants on the other side in Mexico are simply reassessing, trying to figure out what the opportunities will be in the days, if not, weeks ahead given just how dramatic the changes are because of the end of Title 42. That because that's why we're seeing a lull now and that they're trying to reassess to figure out what their next steps might be. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in El Paso, Texas, for us, thank you.

Now to the Biden administration's border policy after the end of Title 42. Arlette Saenz is over at the White House for us. Arlette, what challenge is the Biden administration facing tonight?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Biden administration has been preparing for quite some time for both the logistical and the humanitarian issues that would come with the lifting of Title 42. They were also prepared for legal challenges to come their way and there were two legal challenges over the past 24 hours that posed significant issues for them.

That first challenge comes down in the state of Florida, where a federal judge blocked the plan that would release migrants from CBP custody without having scheduled court dates. This is a tactic that has been used in the past in order to try to alleviate some of the crowding concerns in facilities. That plan is now on hold for 14 days. A top DHS official said that that could lead to overcrowding in the facilities and also lessen their ability to quickly process and remove these migrants. The White House also had a response. Take a listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's sabotage. It's pure and simple. That's how that reads to us.

It is a harmful ruling and the Department of Justice is going to fight it.

Republican-elected officials continue to play games here. They continue to have political stunts and they don't want to solve this problem.


SAENZ: Now, the Justice Department is expected to appeal that decision. There's also another legal challenge facing this administration and that comes through a lawsuit from the ACLU, which is challenging a rule, an asylum rule that would prevent migrants transiting through other countries from seeking asylum here in the United States. That is a case that will still need to make its way through the court but both of those issues highlight some of the challenges, legal challenge that the Biden administration is facing in this moment.

I also want to note that the White House and the Biden administration is also grappling with the death of an unaccompanied migrant child in HHS custody. There was a case from this week where a 17-year-old who was in HHS custody at a shelter in Florida passed away. There's a medical investigation underway. The White House has called that situation saddening and tragic.

We've also learned, CNN has learned, of a second case from mid-March where a four-year-old unaccompanied Honduran child also died in HHS custody. That is just highlighting some of the tragedy around this situation as these migrants have come to the U.S.

BLITZER: Yes, that is so, so sad. Arlette Saenz at the White House, thank you very much.

Joining us now from Laredo, Texas, a Democrat who is raising some concerns about President Biden's border policies. Henry Cuellar's district includes about 200 miles along the border with Mexico. The congressman is joining us right no. Thanks so much, Congressman, for joining us.

What is the situation on the border like today? Are you seeing any significant changes since Title 42 ended last night?

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): Well, you know, at least the good thing is that the Biden administration put a rule at 11:59 last night. Title 42 went away and a new rule came in. Unfortunately, there are some groups already filing lawsuits because they don't like what the Biden administration is trying to do.

Again, we've got to give the president the leeway so he can have some -- get control of the borders down here. Again, we can have law and order at the border and still be respectful of the immigrants that we have down here.

Border Patrol facilities, I think there are like a little bit over 24,000. Now, there are about 23,000. They're still high. Still most sectors are over 100 percent capacity, might be 124, some are 150 and some even higher than that. Encounters went down from 11,000 to maybe 10,000 a day. That's still high. I think we're going to end up this fiscal year way over 2 million individuals for one year.

BLITZER: What is the practical effect, Congressman, of this judge at least temporarily blocked the release of migrants without a court date? How much will that strain border facilities even more?

CUELLAR: Well, I can understand the administration's position, but I'm one of those that I think that order is good, and I'll tell you why. The problem is they're getting too many people at the same time and they were being put out on what I call an honor system.


That is a notice to report to ICE. Then later, when they report to ICE, then they're supposed to get a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

I've seen the top ten cities, and I'll take New York as the number one city. Their notice to report goes up to the year 2033. I emphasize 2033. So, if somebody went to 2033, then they'll get a notice to appear before an immigration judge, wait another two, four years. So, you're talking about maybe 20, 25, 36, before somebody can get a result on their case. I think there's something wrong with that.

BLITZER: You say President Biden is trying to move to the center on this issue of immigration but that it's, quote, a little too late. That's a quote from you. Do you fear this issue potentially could cost Democrats in 2024?

CUELLAR: You know, last night, when I was trying to get back home from D.C., I got a couple of texts from some of my people that I know. This morning, early in the morning, I got another text from people that are very concerned about what's happening down here.

And these are not far right wingers. These are people that I've known for so many years that I see at my church. I see them at different places. And they're showing a lot of concern. And that's what worries me is that this will affect the president and affect any Democrat that doesn't believe in two things. One, law and order at the border, but still respect the dignity of the migrants who want to have legitimate asylum cases.

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas, thanks so much for joining us.

CUELLAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a U.S. Marine veteran surrenders to police and is formally charged in the chokehold death of a man on the subway. What prosecutors revealed during the arraignment in New York.



BLITZER: Tonight, a U.S. Marine veteran is out on bail after facing a manslaughter charge in court today for the chokehold death of a man on a New York City subway. Our Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse for us in New York right now. Kara, so what did we learn today about this case?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the prosecutors locked the judge behind some of the investigative steps they've taken that led them to bring this second-degree manslaughter charges so that they talked to numerous eyewitness. They reviewed videos and photos. He said that they also reviewed 911 calls and spoke to the responding officers. And he also providing some timeline of what happened. They say that Jordan Neely entered the subway. He was on the subway and he was, as they put it, making threats and scaring passengers. He said that is when Penny came up from behind and put Neely in a chokehold and then brought him to the ground.

Now, the subway then went to the next station, and according to prosecutors, Penny continued to keep Neely in this chokehold and he said he held him for several minutes. He said that two other men then came in and helped restrained Neely's arms and then Neely, at some point, he stopped moving. They said that Penny continued to restrain Neely during this time, even after he had stopped moving. And then when -- they're in the subway station, the paramedics do arrive. Neely is brought to the hospital where he's pronounced dead.

Now, Penny did appear today. He was released on $100,000 bond. He did not enter a plea because he has not been charged by a grand jury but he did leave on his own. He had to surrender his passport. We have gotten some reaction from his Penny's lawyers and from the Neely family. Penny's lawyers really leaning into his military service and saying that he was acting in self-defense and the defense of the other passengers, well, the Neely family says that they're glad there are charges but they wish they were murder charges. Take a listen.


THOMAS KENNIFF, DANIEL PENNY'S ATTORNEY: He's dealing with a situation like I said with a sort of integrity and honor that is characteristic of who he is, a characteristic of his honorable service in the United States Marine Corps.

DONTE MILLS, NEELY FAMILY ATTORNEY: Penny came from behind him and choked him to death and held on for 15 minutes. We disagree with the manslaughter charges. We think it should murder, because he knew what would happen. He knew he would die.


SCANNELL: Now, Wolf, Penny was due back in court on July 17th.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Kara, I want you stay with us because we got more to discuss. I also want to bring in our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John miller.

John, the suspect is a Marine veteran with extensive military training but he kept Jordan Neely in a chokehold even when Neely stopped moving at all. And as far as we can tell, that's what happened, didn't try to revive him after he stopped moving. What does that reveal to you?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, the key in this charge is to prove two elements to a jury if it gets through the grand jury, into a petty jury, which is that he caused the death of another and that he did so recklessly. And to be convicted of manslaughter in the second degree, they have to prove both elements.

And the reckless part is going to be the real arbiter here because he can say, well, in defense of myself or other passengers, I took him to the ground and I held on to him while he struggled, but the real question is going to be how long can you hold on to someone by the neck and not have a good idea that you're actions could lead to their death and have a reckless disregard for that. So, that's what this charge is going to hinge on, the word reckless.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Kara, as you noted, Jordan Neely's family believes the suspect should actually be charged with murder. Help us understand why prosecutors are instead pursuing this manslaughter charge.

SCANNELL: Well, just building on what John said, I mean, the prosecutor would need to show that he was reckless in causing Neely's death. And in order to bring a murder charge and to have a grand jury indict on that, they would have to show he was premeditated in doing this or that he had some evil mindset.

So, the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, said that they brought this charge today based on the facts and the evidence they have right now.


So, it seems that their reasoning that they're doing that is because they think that they can prove this recklessness standard and obviously not something intentional.

BLITZER: And, John, the defense is clearly emphasizing the suspect's military service, his accolades, his ties to the community, how do you assess what you've heard on their case at least so far?

MILLER: Well, one element that is likely to come up here is he was trained as a Marine. He left as a decorated Marine sergeant. And part of that training was literally how to surprise an enemy from behind, choke them out to the point that they lose consciousness but not kill them. And I think they may end up -- it is possible, that they may end up relying on this the training the U.S. government got him on how to disable someone.

And, interestingly, Wolf, his lawyer is a former prosecutor but has also been in the Jag Corps, in the Army. He is an Army lawyer who has defended Army people accused. So, he's very familiar with the military code of justice but also the military training.

BLITZER: An important point as well. John Miller, Kara Scannell, we'll stay on top of this story, for sure.

Coming up, we'll go live to Ukraine where the war zone is heating up right now. A huge blast rocking a Russian-occupied area as we're getting new reports about Russia's attempts to destroy American supplied weapons.



BLITZER: In Ukraine tonight, large explosions have been reported in Russian-occupied territory. CNN's Sam Kiley is joining us live from the war zone right now. Tell us more, Sam, about these large blasts in Luhansk.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Luhansk is in the north of the occupied territory that was captured back in 2014, Wolf, as you'll recall, it's part of what they call the Luhansk People's Republic, and it's technically now been annexed to Russia. It's rarely hit.

But the local authorities there are saying that there were two very significant blasts in an industrial area of the city injuring a number of people, including two teenagers. This is the claim from the Russian-backed side in that occupied area. There is allegations from that side that they may indeed have involved cruise missiles.

Now, the cruise missiles available to Ukraine are their homegrown cruise missiles. And, recently, they've also taken delivery of the Storm Shadow missiles from the United Kingdom. I think it's unlikely they would have used Storm Shadow, which is much more high-valued missile, essentially, much more likely that they would go over higher value targets perhaps in Crimea for that.

But I think we should also see this is potentially of the softening up process ahead of what's anticipated, Wolf, to be a summer offensive. But at the same time, Ukrainians are also enjoying finally some success in the battle of Bakhmut, with some successful offensives on two flanks there driving out the Russian military, including the Wagner Mercenary Organization, and some significant drives there, which I think has been a major morale boost for the Ukrainians, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sam, we're also learning tonight that Russia has attempted to destroy one of the U.S. Patriot air defense missile systems being used by Ukraine. This is significant. What are you hearing?

KILEY: Well, the significance of it really, Wolf, is twofold. The first is that they were able to identify one of these Patriot missile systems that are supposed to be extremely carefully hidden. These are a very, very important weapon for the Ukrainians and they will be very, very concerned that the Russians were able to find it and then pinpoint it. And they pinpointed it, they say, with a hypersonic missile, the hypersonic missile that was actually then shot down by a Patriot missile, according to the Ukrainians.

And they have put parts of this missile, the remains of it, on display and have opened up the international community to inspect the missile remains. So, there doesn't seem to be any doubt from the Ukrainian perspective that they shot down this hypersonic missile.

With the new information now is that this was a missile targeting the Patriot battery itself, and that will be a deep concern for the Ukrainians. There's been an intelligence breach or the Russians have got some method by which they can identify these Patriot batteries. And that, I think, will be a deep concern for the Ukrainian side. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, important point. Sam Kiley in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on. Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the NATO deputy secretary general, Mircea Geoana. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General, for joining us, the former Romanian ambassador to the United States too.

What's your reaction to Russia trying to destroy this Patriot air defense missile battery that the Ukrainians have that they received from United States?

MIRCEA GEOANA, NATO DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL: It's always clear the support all allies and I like to thank United States for delivering massive military support and economic support to Ukraine.

The military buildup of Ukraine and the training that they do on very sophisticated NATO-type equipment is, of course, a concern to Russia. Because Russia has quantity and they should still be reckoned with because they are amassing, you know, quantity of troops and disregard for the losses they have and Ukraine has advanced sophisticated western weapons.


And, of course, for Russia, that's a matter of concern.

I have high confidence that the sophistication of patriot missile system, or HIMARS, and also the fantastic speed and agility, ingenuity of Ukrainians in learning how to use these things will avoid such situations.

BLITZER: It's been very impressive how the Ukrainians have learned how to use these --

GEOANA: I have to say that our guys training them in America, in Europe, everywhere, they're really impressed by the speed and the ingenuity of the (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: I've heard the same thing. How significant is it right now, Secretary General, that Russia is admitting losses in Bakhmut, for example, as Ukraine strikes deeper and deeper into these Russian- occupied areas?

GEOANA: The situation on the very long front in Ukraine is very fluid. We can really witness some significant advances in the Bakhmut area by the Ukrainians. They have the capability to launch such an offensive.

BLITZER: The Ukrainians?

GEOANA: The Ukrainians. They are really mobilizing troops, equipment, command and control. But they're also cautioned to the fact that Russia is there with hundreds of kilometers of three lines of defenses. They still have quantity. Ukraine has quality. Russia has quantity. So, we know that Ukraine has the capacity to launch an offensive but to also be careful and candid in saying that Russia also will pose very fierce resistance on the frontline. BLITZER: As you may have heard, the British foreign secretary says Ukraine may not necessarily achieve what the foreign secretary calls a quick, decisive breakthrough in this expected Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russians but do you agree that Ukraine will need to manage expectations here?

GEOANA: It's important. And I have to say that the one huge difference between Ukraine and Russia in terms of the troops is the level of morale. Ukrainians are fighting for their land. They're doing a superb job and heroic job. And you see that in the way in which they defend their freedom. Russia's morale is very, very low. So, that's why it's very important also for Ukraine to strategically communicate the expectations.

I would, of course, concur with the British foreign minister. I would also say that probably the next few months will be an indication -- not necessarily in a few days -- an indication of the tide. And we all hope and know that Ukraine has the capacity and the will to change the tide of the war.

BLITZER: You're the NATO Deputy Secretary General. Very quickly, before I let you go. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine today said he needs clear signals about Ukraine's future with NATO. What, if any, future does Ukraine have with NATO?

GEOANA: Ukraine deserves and belongs to civilized Europe. Ukraine has defended heroically its freedom. It's also defending our interest. I cannot say when and in which circumstances the institutional part of the integration into the west would happen but I know that the place of Ukraine is with us in civilized Europe, part of the family of democracies. They earned it, they deserve it, and I know that one day, they'll be part of our family.

BLITZER: Mircea Geoana, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

Just ahead, what's next for Twitter as Elon Musk names a new CEO and prepares to end his controversy-filled tenure as chief executive.



BLITZER: The bitter rivalry between Republicans Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is heating up in the key presidential battleground of Iowa. The former president and Florida governor are holding dueling events there tomorrow.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us live from Des Moines right now. Kristen, tell us about the showdown between Trump and DeSantis just ahead of the pivotal Iowa caucuses.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, I do want to tell you, just moments ago, Ron DeSantis' super PAC announced 37 new endorsements for the Florida governor, Iowa lawmakers. This is something that is clearly going to irk the former president, something that former President Trump's team has tried to do at every stop to unveil these endorsements.

And as you noted, even though DeSantis has not formally entered the race, this rivalry between the two of them is heating up has heated up. This is actually the closest in proximity they will both be since President Trump announced and since we started to see this unfold. And also we've seen them taking more swings at each other.

Just at our town hall, Trump went after DeSantis. He attacked him over and over again. And then following that, DeSantis' super Pac came out with the strongest attacks against the former president that we have seen to-date.

Now, the important thing to note here is while President Trump's poll numbers here in Iowa and across the country do have him leading the primary field, it is still very early. A lot is going to happen in the next couple of months, including Ron DeSantis formally entering that race. And I'm told by Trump advisers they are very aware of this. They know that this is not a lead that is going to last forever, or that it might not. They don't want to take this for granted. So, we'll have to see how they both handle attacking each other in the other's presence tomorrow.

BLITZER: Kristen Homes in Des Moines for us, thank you very much.

Turning now to the future of Twitter, the owner, Elon Musk, has revealed his choice to take over as CEO after his controversial tenure as the chief executive.

Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, Musk is handing the reins over to a longtime media executive and she may have her work cut out for her.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, her name is Linda Yaccarino. She comes from NBC Universal. And some media analysts say flat out that she's inheriting a chaotic mess at Twitter.


TODD (voice over): From the moment he took over with a stunt where he carried an actual sink into the building, Elon Musk's tenure of a little more than half a year as Twitter's leader could be fairly characterized as chaotic and gutting.


The flamboyant, eccentric billionaire now stepping aside as CEO of the platform and naming Linda Yaccarino to take his place.

Yaccarino comes from NBC Universal, where she was chief of global advertising.

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I think in hiring Linda, Elon Musk is, for the first time since he took over Twitter, conceding a major role and he's doing that because he knows that the future of Twitter depends on it. That, I think, will empower Linda to make a lot of strategic changes. TODD: One of the biggest crises at Twitter among many during Musk's stewardship has been the exodus of advertisers. According to the marketing analysis firm, Pathmatics by Senor Tower, 625 of the top 1,000 Twitter advertisers had pulled their ad dollars from Twitter as of late January, brands like Coca-Cola, Jeep, Wells Fargo and Merck. Revenue plummeted. Analysts say that's where Yaccarino can turn things around.

FISCHER: Linda Yaccarino is considered one of the foremost leaders in advertising in the entire industry, both media and technology. There's now going to be a person at Twitter who will actually can speak to these companies in a way that they like to be spoken to.

TODD: Advertisers had been concerned about the massive staff cuts at Twitter under Musk. They worried about his reinstatement of users who previously had been banned, and the rise of hate speech on Twitter, as reported in recent months by groups like the ADL and the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

IMRAN AHMED, CEO, CENTER FOR COUNTERING DIGITAL HATE: When Mr. Musk took over Twitter, he sent out the bat signal and allowed homophobes, racist transphobes, all sorts of bigots to flood back on to that platform. And the result has been an increase in the amount of hate speech on that platform.

TODD: Musk also eliminated the verification system at Twitter, which caused pandemonium. Someone was recently able to impersonate New York City's official Twitter account. He alienated mainstream media outlets.


TODD: And now, former Fox News Host and right-wing agitator Tucker Carlson claims he'll soon launch a new show on Twitter, although Musk hasn't confirmed that. How might Linda Yaccarino handle Carlson?

FISCHER: So, let's say Tucker Carlson does want to show on Twitter, it's people like Linda who are going to make sure that the Olympics is also streamed, that red carpet events, that sporting events are also streamed on the platform, which can hopefully balance it out.


TODD (on camera): So, Elon Musk steps aside but he's not gone-gone. He says he's taking on a new position at Twitter as executive chair and chief technology officer overseeing product, software and systems operations. Analysts say that he could be worrisome to advertisers who will be watching to see if he holds Linda Yaccarino back from making some critical changes. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, Palestinian militants target Jerusalem in the worsening conflict with Israel.


BLITZER: The deadly fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants is taking a new turn tonight with attacks aimed at Jerusalem.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is on the ground for us in Israel.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Revenge of the free. That's what the Palestinian militant group Islamic jihad is calling this. The barrage of rockets fired from Gaza and for the first time in this flare up, towards Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Yeah, shrapnel coming down.

WEDEMAN: Did you see the pieces falling right over here?

Our team in Sderot southern Israel witnessed Israel air defenses intercepting around 20 incoming rockets on Friday before taking shelter from the debris.

Israel strikes meanwhile hitting across Gaza. Cell phone footage obtained by CNN shows a house exploding in the city of Khan Yunis. Another video shows fire raging in Gaza City on day four of what is the worst escalation of violence between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants in months.

It also claimed militants had launched nearly 1,000 rockets since the latest violence began. An Israeli settlement in the occupied west bank on Friday, people ran for cover as sirens rang out.

A day after one person was killed in an Israeli city of Rehovot when a rocket fired from Gaza hit this building, forensic experts today examining the scene. Meanwhile, at least 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in less than a week. And there are more than 2 million civilians caught inside Gaza, whose lives are now on hold and in mortal danger, desperate for a cease fire.


WEDEMAN: But a diplomatic source tells CNN the ceasefire talks are now in his words, on ice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us from Israel, thank you, Ben.

And this note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," right at the top of the hour, an interview with a GOP donor who just met with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Is he going to back him over former President Trump? That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And we'll have more news just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll speak to Luke Russert, the son of the late legendary journalist, Tim Russert, good friend of mine, about his experience grieving his father and finding himself. All laid out in his new memoir. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Tonight, we're joined by author and former NBC News correspondent Luke Russert to discuss his new very, very powerful, important book, which, among other things, remembers his late father, the legendary journalist Tim Russert.

The book is entitled, here's the cover "Look For Me There: Grieving My Father, Finding Myself."

Luke, thanks so much for first of all writing this book. Thanks so much for joining us.

I want you to tell our viewers about the story behind your book, behind the name of your book, specifically "Look For Me There" and why you were moved to write this powerful, very, very personal book.

LUKE RUSSERT, AUTHOR, "LOOK FOR ME THERE": Well, thanks so much for having me, Wolf. I appreciate it. It's wonderful to be on with a fellow son of Buffalo.

The title "Look For Me There" comes from an experience I had with my father when I was about 9 years old. We were at Oriole Park in Camden Yards and we were on the concourse. It was a very hot, humid day, very crowded and he was holding my be hand. As we went through a group of people he became separated.

And I got caught back with the horde of people and he came running back to find me and he grabbed me and he held me close. He saw that I was a little shook up. He said, buddy, if we're ever separated, just look for me there. And he pointed at a hot dog stand with one of those old memorable Oriole birds.


And then he held me closer and he said, but we'll never be separated.

And when I was trying to come up for a title for a book, "Look for Me There" just resonated in my mind because there would be so many times where he would drop me off somewhere or picking me up from the airport and said, look for me there, look for me there and that end up really being what the book became about, was simultaneously looking for my father, and looking for the acceptance to be my own person and then also out running his shadow. But his shadow was really the grief of having lost my best friend and never ever having coming to grips with it. So, it definitely fit.

BLITZER: I'm fortunate enough, as you know, Luke, to have known your dad very well. We both, obviously, grew up in Buffalo. We had a lot in common. We loved reporting the news.

He and I actually at one point had the honor of meeting Pope Benedict XVI together. Here in Washington in April of 2008, at the Catholic University of America. Your father, of course, was a devout Catholic and I had never seen him so excited before as when he met with the pontiff, when he met with the pope. How did his connection to his faith impact you?

RUSSERT: It was something that was always very much around the house and in my life. And I first remembered it when I would be a little kid in the pews at Sunday mass, and I would be playing with my cars, not really understanding what was going on.

And I remember very early on, I asked my father, why do we go to church every week? Why do we have to give an hour to go here? What are we doing here? I was probably 4 or 5.

And he said, well, you've been given a lot, you've been blessed with a lot, you have to say thank you. You have to be mindful of everything you have and give praise.

And that always resonated with me for a very long time. And he always used to teach me, you're always loved, you're never entitled. There's people who have it way worse off than you do, and be mindful of that.

And I think what you captured in that moment with Pope Benedict back then was that was a kid who grew up as an altar boy and was very much a product of his parish, and to have the opportunity to meet the Holy Father, that's something beyond the wildest dreams.

And that goes back to what he always had to say you, Wolf, which is two guys of Buffalo doing what you all were able to accomplish. What a country, right?

BLITZER: Yep. What a country, indeed. Your dad went to Canisius High School. I got an honorary degree at one point in Canisius College in Buffalo.

So, I knew exactly where he was coming from. He grew up in the south side. I grew up in the north side. But we had a lot, a lot in common. And I remember when I started hosting a Sunday show here on CNN, "LATE EDITION", he called me and congratulated me. We were going to compete against his signature show "Meet the Press," of course.

He told me, and I asked him to give me some advice, and he said to me, remember, Wolf, ask the guests tough, serious questions, but always do it, he said, in a polite way. I still remember his words during my interviews to this very day.

And I'm curious to know, what's the best advice he ever gave you?

RUSSERT: Well, you're always loved, but you're never entitled. Laugh hard, keep around, study often.

But I think for me, more so than anything, is he would take me aside, and he would really instill in me this idea of it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice. He really believed that in every interaction, you're giving yourself -- you're giving of yourself, and it takes just as long to be nice as it does to be mean. So, he was a competitive guy. He wanted to do his best. He was

tenacious and he was tough, but he always tried to minimize ego and be as nice as possible.

And that's what I've tried to do in my life. I've not always been successful at it. I've certainly fallen short at times. But it's one of those things that's imprinted at the forefront of my mind is stay hungry and stay humble.

BLITZER: I was so moved reading every page of your new book, "Look for Me There", such a great book. I learned a lot. It was so personal and so powerful. But I remember the final words you wrote in a note to your dad. You write this at the end of the book. I miss you and I love you. And, dad, the Bills are going to win a super bowl, and I promise I'll be there. Love, Luke.

And, Luke, I totally agree, the Bills are going to win a Super Bowl, and I promise I'll be there as well.

RUSSERT: We'll be there together.

And, Wolf, you're putting me on the spot, but when I recorded the audio version of the book, that's the only time in the entire book that I actually teared up and had to do it again.


RUSSERT: So, it's a very meaningful passage. Thank you for sharing.

BLITZER: When I read that final note you wrote in this book, I began to tear up myself, throughout the whole book, because it brought so many memories back not only of your dad but of growing up in Buffalo and learning what we all learn. Congratulations, and I know your book is now already a "New York Times" best-seller. Keep up the great work. We're very proud of you.

RUSSERT: I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me. Go Bills.

BLITZER: Go Bills indeed, let's hope.

And, to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.