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Durham Says, Full Trump-Russia Probe Should Never Have Been Launched; Police Identify Suspect in Attack on Democratic Congressman's Office; At Least Three Dead, Two Officers Wounded in New Mexico Shooting. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 15, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're breaking down his conclusion that the FBI probe never should have been launched.

Also tonight, a Democratic Congressman staff attacked by a man wielding a metal baseball bat. Police have now identified the suspect in the violence at Representative Gerry Connolly's office.

And a shooting in New Mexico leaves at least three people dead and two officers wounded, police confronting and killing the suspect. Stand by for new details.

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

Let's get right to the just released report by the Special Counsel John Durham and its conclusions about the Trump-Russia investigation. CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez has been going over the roughly 300-page report. Evan, give us the top lines.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this report contains a lot of harsh criticism for the FBI, especially former FBI leadership that oversaw the Trump-Russia investigation. In the end, John Durham spent four years in this investigation.

This is a 300-page report. And he concludes that while the FBI had reason to launch perhaps an assessment or a preliminary investigation, much lower-level investigations, he believes that there was a lot of exculpatory evidence that the FBI was ignoring and that they should not have launched, essentially, a full-blown investigation.

I'll read you just a part of what he concludes as part of this report. He says that the FBI discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia.

He also says that an objective honest assessment should have caused the FBI to question that not only that a predication for this investigation called for Crossfire Hurricane but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political purposes.

The, of course, reference there is the fact that, according to Durham, there was this information that indicated, at least from Russian sources, that perhaps the Clinton campaign was trying to politically tie Trump to Russia, something that he says the FBI didn't really take a hard look at, Wolf.

BLITZER: Does the Special Counsel John Durham, Evan, recommend new charges be filed against anyone or changes be made as a result of this investigation?

PEREZ: Yes, that's one of the surprising things. You remember the former president said that he expected people to go to prison at the end of this Durham report. That is not the case, Wolf. He did prosecute three people, two of them were acquitted. One of them pleaded. So, that happened sometime ago. As a result of this investigation, though, Durham does not conclude, he says he didn't find anything that amounted to a provable criminal offense.

Of course, we know that the former president, Wolf, is still going to be claiming victory here. I'll read you just a part of what he has now posted on his social media platform. He says, wow, after extensive research, Special Counsel John Durham concludes that the FBI never should have launched a Trump-Russia probe. In other words, the American public was scammed. Of course, we're going to hear a lot more of that from the former president.

The bottom line, though, Wolf, is that there were a lot of problems here in this investigation. One of the things that John Durham finds, however, is that he doesn't think that the FBI needs to make any new changes. A lot of these changes, he believes, were made already, and he says that it's simply a case of the FBI following the rules that are already in place. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Let's get reaction from Capitol Hill right now. CNN's Melanie Zanona is up on Capitol Hill. Melanie, I understand House Republicans are now looking to have Durham come and testify before Congress. What's the latest on that front?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Jim Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has asked Durham to come testify next Thursday. My colleague, Annie Grayer, obtained a letter that he sent to Durham which says this hearing will examine the report and also ask Durham to summarize his findings in an opening statement and also be prepared to answer questions from members.

Now, no word yet on whether Durham will appear but I did catch up with Jordan moments ago to ask him for his reaction to this report and for his plans for this hearing. Take a listen.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I think it almost more than confirms based upon what I read this (INAUDIBLE). But it more than confirms all the things that we've been saying now.

ZANONA: And what kind of questions do you want to ask him if he comes to this --

JORDAN: I think it's important to come and say it. So, the country not only gets a chance to read it but, they can hear from the guy who obviously did a thorough job for a long time.


ZANONA: Now, Jordan has been leading a Republican investigation of the alleged weaponization of the DOJ and FBI.


So, Republicans have been really eagerly anticipating this report. They are hoping that it will help build their case against those two agencies. And, in fact, we have seen Republicans renewing their calls to defund the FBI and DOJ in the wake of this report.

Republican Ralph Norman, he's a conservative from South Carolina, said it is, quote, time for consequences. And this is coming, of course, as we should note, as Republicans at this very moment, Wolf, are holding a press conference to express support for funding law enforcement.

BLITZER: All right. Melanie, thank you, Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts right now. Laura Coates, Durham says the FBI used uncorroborated intelligence to launch this investigation. Put these findings in context for us.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is, remember, at odds with what the 2019 inspector general report found about there being a predicate. This is a fancy way of saying, listen, there was sufficient reason to actually do an investigation and it was not biased in its inception.

Now, this new report is saying hold on a second, there were plenty of cues, red flags out there to say you do not have things corroborated, and perhaps you're engaged in a kind of confirmation bias. You're essentially saying, listen, I want this to be true, therefore, I will pursue with that particular vigor, and I will not treat others in the same way.

That's what he's saying in terms of a lapse of judgment, not following the protocol, not following the objective analytics you're supposed to do so. But, again, the idea that they don't actually have any rules to change is perhaps the most intriguing about this.

No charges. There were three cases brought, really two ended in acquittal, one a guilty plea. So, the idea of the search for the deep state and the confirmation about that did not pan out.

But it does show you that the actual rules that are supposed to be in place ought to be followed. You cannot have people leading an investigation who are simply trying to confirm what they want to be true. The facts have to lead and the evidence must follow. Politics has to be set aside. BLITZER: Elliot Williams is with us as well. What do you make, Elliot, of Durham's conclusion that there was, in his words, a noticeable departure from how the FBI handled other similar cases?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think that's picking up on the last point Laura made there. It's quite significant any time law enforcement is alleged to have sort of -- sort of taken different standards in how they approached one investigation versus another or pursue their investigations just to confirm biases that individuals might have had and so on.

But to pick up the broader point, which underlies all of this, there was not -- Durham did not find sort of the kinds of systemic abuses that many people came into this investigation hoping to find.

The former president came out of the gate making an argument that this was going to be the investigation of the century and so on. Just based on, number one, the record of prosecutions they had, and, number two, the findings that there simply are not major changes being made at the FBI seems to sort of undermine the seriousness of some of the takeaway conclusions here.

Now, I want to be clear that law enforcement has a very important obligation to ensure that all investigations are treated fairly, treated the same way, that there is not bias, and political bias is not allowed to affect the way investigators pursue their jobs. But the idea that this uncovered a vast deep state conspiracy simply was not the case.

BLITZER: Shan Wu is also a former federal prosecutor. Shan, there is obviously very strong criticism from Durham in this 300-page report. But why isn't he bringing new charges against anyone or recommending specific changes to existing FBI protocols?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Great question. I think the answer is because there're no charges to bring, and, really, as a former supervisor on an independent counsel investigation, this just reads like a huge waste of taxpayer money. I'm sorry.

He basically, to me, copied and pasted or plagiarized from the OIG report, which also looked very critically at what the FBI did, made suggestions for things that could be improved. And Durham has absolutely done nothing.

I mean, I think, in particular, he lacks any kind of legal or moral authority to talk about any kind of confirmation bias or political motivation when his own top aide resigned given just how politically influenced he was by Attorney General Barr, flying around the world dining together. This was a really very poor investigation and has produced next to nothing.

BLITZER: Interesting. Nia-Malika Henderson is with us as well. How much does this, though, feed into Trump's claims that the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI have been, in his words, weaponized?

[18:10:02] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYOST: Well, listen, I think, as you saw from Donald Trump's tweet, he's going to say this proves his point, that there is a deep state, that it has been out to get him for years, and he's going to pivot from this investigation or the findings from this investigation and say, the investigations that are going into him right now around the documents, around what's going on with January 6th, that those two are somehow tainted and those two are the result of this weaponization and politicization of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Granted, as the panelists have said, this doesn't prove that there was a deep state, this doesn't prove that there was a sort of conspiracy theory against Donald Trump, but Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. He's been able to, obviously, convince many of his followers that there is a deep state and that people are out to get him, that there was a kind of witch hunt. And so now with this Durham probe, I think he'll see this as evidence that there is a deep state and people out to get him.

BLITZER: Interesting. And, Laura, what can we expect if Durham eventually winds up testifying up on Capitol Hill?

COATES: Theatrics, antics, and the idea of people who are supposed to ask questions actually testifying themselves to try to move a particular needle. It's what we have come to expect, sadly. What I hope we actually get, though, is further illumination about the process of why it took four years to come to this very conclusion that essentially was wrapped up in 2019. I'd like to know all parties involved, what evidence made him believe that this was a confirmation bias as opposed to not charging, what errors he saw or what were the actual motivations for the different prosecutions he did seek.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much. We're obviously going to stay on top of this story.

But just ahead, CNN is now on the scene of the violent attack on the Virginia office of Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly that left members of his staff injured.


BLITZER: Tonight, a violent attack on a Democratic Congressman's office. Representative Gerry Connolly says a man wielding a metal baseball bat injured two staffers at his Virginia office just outside of Washington D.C.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is on the scene for us right now. So, what are authorities saying, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Wolf, they're not saying yet what exactly the motivation here was but sources are telling our John Miller that this suspect was in fact known to Congressman Connolly's offices.

So, all of this unfolded just before 11:00 this morning at the district office here in Fairfax, Virginia, we're about 20 miles outside Washington. Police have identified the suspect as 49-year-old Xuan Kha Tran Pham. They say that he entered this office here with a metal bat and then attacked two staffers. One was a senior staffer who was struck in the head. The other was actually an intern. It was her first day on the job.

Now, our Capitol Hill team actually talked to Congressman Connolly on the phone earlier today. He described it as really out of control attack. He said that this attacker went inside, smashed some of the glass in a conference room, also broke several computers. And here's the Fairfax City police sergeant. Here's what she had to say.


SGT. LISA GARDNER, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, FAIRFAX CITY POLICE: You could absolutely tell that the people inside were scared. They were hiding. I mean, someone swinging a bat around, I would be scared as well.


SCHNEIDER: -- Capitol Police. And tonight, we're actually learning our team on the ground has talked with the father of this suspect. He says that he suffers from schizophrenia, has not taken his medication in three months, and court records reveal that this same suspect actually was charged with assaulting a police officer several years ago. The charges, though, were ultimately dropped.

Now, Congressman Connolly, he was actually not at this district office. He was nearby at a food pantry ribbon-cutting. But he did release a statement about this. He said this. He said the thought that someone would take advantage of my staff's accessibility to commit an act of violence is unconscionable and devastating.

Now, the two people who were attacked, they were taken to the hospital, nonlife-threatening injuries. But, Wolf, this is really coming on the heels of many threats to members of Congress, as well as their staff. In fact, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger testified in a hearing just last month, saying that threats have gone up 400 percent in the past six years. Wolf?

BLITZER: It's so, so disturbing. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much. She's on the scene for us.

Let's discuss what's going on with Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat of Texas, a member of Congress. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. What's your reaction to this attack on staffers and Gerry Connolly's office? It comes amid, as you heard, a wave of truly unprecedented violent threats and attacks against U.S. lawmakers.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Well, Wolf, my heart goes out to the staff members. These are public servants who go to work every day, and they are there to help serve constituents. And I can't help but think of my own staff and everything that they've had to go through, whether it is horrible harassing calls or awful, hateful email to the threat of attack. And we know, those of us in Congress, especially those of us who

survived January 6th, and we were here, just how terrifying all of those attacks are. We have to be very vigilant. And, apparently, our staff also has to be very vigilant. It should not be this way.

BLITZER: Have you increased security for your staff in your offices?

ESCOBAR: Yes. Over the years, I have increased security for my staff in the district office, also around my home, frankly. But it is still terrifying. We have to be accessible to our constituents.


We have to interact with them. And every time that we do, it comes with some risk.

BLITZER: I want to get your thoughts, Congresswoman, on the Special Counsel John Durham's report that was released earlier today. Do you support the Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan's call to have Durham testify before Congress? I know you're a member of the Judiciary Committee. What do you think?

ESCOBAR: I am a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Chairman Jordan, unfortunately, instead of using the committee as a vehicle for getting real work done for the American people, solving the many challenges that we face in our country, he has used it as an opportunity for performance.

And I have not yet read the Durham report. But I have definitely had an opportunity to look through some of it. I've heard reports about it. We've spent an awful lot of money as an American government on a report that essentially proves no wrongdoing. But the fact that Chairman Jordan wants to just continue this shows their disinterest in really the work of governing.

BLITZER: I want to quickly turn to the issue of the southern border. You represent El Paso in Texas. After Title 42, how concerned are you, Congresswoman, that the situation there will devolve as processing times take longer and longer and facilities fill up?

ESCOBAR: Wolf, I can share with you that from the inception of Title 42, I and other Democrats, essentially, called out the fact that Title 42 was only making things worse. It created a revolving door. It made it so that migrants were attempting entry multiple times. It placed a tremendous amount of stress on communities like my own. My community of El Paso, Texas, has been the site of the highest numbers of encounters, both in 2022 and I believe the same will hold true for 2023.

So, Title 42 should have gone way a long time ago. The administration tried but was sued by red states like my own in Texas. And, so, finally, it's gone. We can now create, I think, some sort of semblance of normalcy, but we can never predict the future.

We don't know what's around the next corner in terms of the challenges that we face, in terms of what will be driving vulnerable populations from their homeland. That's why it is so important. In fact, more important than ever for Congress to take this moment and finally, in a bipartisan way, act on reforming outdated processes and outdated immigration laws.

BLITZER: We shall see if that happens. Representative Veronica Escobar, thanks so much for joining us.

ESCOBAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, Republican Presidential Candidate Asa Hutchinson joins us with his take on the 2024 race right now amid new sparring between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.



BLITZER: Tonight, multiple people have been shot and at least three are dead after a shooting in Farmington, New Mexico. Police say officers engaged the suspect who was killed on the scene. Police officers are being treated for their injuries right now. The suspect's identity is unknown but police are assuring the community that there are no other known threats, at least at this time. We'll continue to monitor the situation in New Mexico.

Now to the 2024 presidential race, a new escalation in the war of words between Republicans Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, the former president and the Florida governor going at it after Trump canceled a rally some advisers had hoped would distract from a DeSantis swing through the state. We're talking about Iowa.

Let's get some more on all of this. CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us. Kristen, are Trump and DeSantis still, as of right now, still trading barbs?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the barbs are unending. We believe this will continue to go out through this nomination process. The Florida governor really seizing on this moment from this weekend, and it was him catching a break after a rough couple of weeks.

We had seen those negative reports, particularly coming from donors saying they no longer knew if they were actually going to support DeSantis. We also saw Trump's team outflanking DeSantis at a number of turns. But Trump canceling that rally really gave an opportunity to DeSantis to have that entire spotlight on him. And it's something that he took advantage of. And, today, he continued with those less than subtle jabs at the former president. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I think the party has developed a culture of losing. I think that there is not accountability. And I think in Florida we really showed what it takes to not just win, win big, and then deliver big. What results are you producing for people? That's really what matters. You can sit there and talk about cable news, social media, all these other things that people are fixated on. How are you going to be able to actually bring about big change to make people's lives better?


HOLMES: Now, unsurprisingly, Trump has responded in an interview in The Messenger. He said this about the Florida governor. He said, Ron's not a winner, because Ron, without me, wouldn't have won. He's got no personality, and I don't think he's got a lot of political skill.

Now, some of these things are things he's been saying behind the scenes, but now he's putting them on the record. And, Wolf, just, again, to note, it is still very early. DeSantis hasn't even entered that presidential race, although we do anticipate that to happen in the next couple of weeks.


And we also anticipate, as he inches closer to that run, for these attacks to escalate.

And I will note, again, as he gets closer and closer to a presidential run, we are seeing him really lean into those culture clashes. Today, he signed a bill that would essentially end defunding diversity, equity and inclusion in public Florida universities.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Kristen Holmes, thanks very much.

And joining me now, Republican Presidential Candidate and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. Governor, thanks so much for joining us. We have a lot to discuss today.

But, first, you say the Durham report, which was just released, highlights your call to, quote, reform the FBI. What changes would you want to see, and why do you think Durham himself didn't make specific new recommendations for reform?

FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, the Durham report is very important because it laid the foundation and need for reform. I don't think they specified it because that wasn't his mandate. He was reviewing the conduct for criminal purposes. And so, the recommendations, though, even though they're not there, it's clear that the FBI is in need of oversight, is in need of more accountability and more focus.

It's a great institution. I've worked with him as United States attorney, as head of the DEA, always in federal law enforcement. But they have such a broad jurisdiction that it needs to be more narrow. And that's what has to be looked at. And I hope to lay out more specific plans.

But three weeks ago, I announced -- when I announced for president, I said we've got to reform the FBI, bring it more accountable, not defund them, but to support them and to make them more responsive to their primary mission, which is counterterrorism.

And, so, let's have that kind of reform, but it can be broader to the federal agencies that right now we have so many, and they overlap in jurisdiction, they get in conflict with each other and not as effective. This is a reform that I want to bring.

BLITZER: I don't know if you know this, but former President Trump just reacted to the Durham report saying, and I'm quoting him now, the American public was scammed, his words. Are you concerned this will fuel Republicans, like Trump and his allies, who continue to attack the FBI big time?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it will. And what's important is that we do not diminish our institution of justice. We do not diminish the rule of law in our country. And those that work in law enforcement, we want to support, we recognize the important role that they have, and that's what separates our country as a democracy is that we're founded on that rule of law.

And, so, Donald Trump, regretfully, mixes his personal concerns with the denigrating of the rule of law, which hurts our institution. And so, that's where we can talk about reform and responsible policy for our law enforcement without trying to get personal about it or undermine what is so critical to our country.

BLITZER: I want to turn, Governor, while I have you, to the 2024 presidential contest. Governor DeSantis, as you know, says the GOP has developed a culture of losing, his words. Does DeSantis need to state unequivocally that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I'll let him decide about that. Obviously, I've said that the 2022 -- 2020 election, we lost the race for the presidency then. Donald Trump lost. We lost again in 2022. And so, sure, we need to get winning. That's not a unique statement that Ron DeSantis is making.

What, though, is important that states like Arkansas, we did gain seats, we've had a good red year, Iowa did, as the governor pointed out, but let's talk about the future and whether you're on Joe Biden's side or whether you're on Donald Trump's side, let's stop talking about the past, let's focus on the future and important policies to get our economy back on track, to get our rule of law strengthened, to stop crime in the cities and to strengthen our border security. These are things that are important, and I'm looking forward to being back to Iowa and talking about all of those issues that impact our future.

BLITZER: Yes, that's so important, the future, these issues are really important.

One specific issue, Trump just weighed in on Governor DeSantis' abortion ban in a new interview saying, and I'm quoting him now, many people felt it was too harsh, but dodging on whether Trump himself would sign a six-week ban.


How do you interpret that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think every candidate needs to be clear on their position on this issue. It matters to people, it matters to our unborn children and to women and to everybody in this country. And, so, whenever you look at the issue, I think it will ultimately be resolved by the states, state by state will develop their policy. Some of them will be more strict. Others will not be. There will be a debate about the national policy, but I'm doubtful that we'll get there because it would take a supermajority.

I have said if you brought a law to me that had the right exceptions in place and reasonable limitations, then I would sign that. I think people just have to be clear as to what their view is on this and let the public decide. It will be an issue but there will be many issues beyond abortion that will determine the 2024 election.

BLITZER: Governor Asa Hutchinson, thanks so much for joining us. Let's certainly continue this conversation down the road.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, Ukraine picking up significant momentum right now on the battlefield as it locks down more weapons support from European allies.



BLITZER: We're following some significant setbacks for Russia on the battlefield right now. New video showing intense fighting in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut as Russia's air force may have suffered one of its worst days since the start of this war.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in the war zone for us. Nic, what's the situation where you are in Eastern Ukraine?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Well, Ukrainian officials are saying that the Russians are going all-in again in the fight for the center of Bakhmut. What the Ukrainians are doing, and where they've had success over the past week or so, was to try to push not inside the city, around the city.

Now, they have momentum there. They seem to have sort of lost that momentum at the moment, perhaps waiting to push forward again, perhaps waiting for further supplies and reinforcements before they do that. But it's in the center of Bakhmut where the Russians are really pushing down hard, and some of the gains that the Ukrainians have had in and around the center. They don't seem to be able to hold onto those at the moment, Wolf. So, it's a tough picture in Bakhmut.

And when you look further along the eastern front here, it's been active. If you go north of here, the Russians also have a big push on north of here. Ukrainians telling us, they're saying the Russians bring in new fighting vehicles, new supplies so that they see the Russians are putting more into the fight, that they've dug in their defensive. So, when the order comes for this counteroffensive, the Ukrainians know they're in for a very, very tough fight.

But they had success just a few days ago, as you said, a Russian SU- 35, a Russian SU-34, both aircraft, fighter aircraft, high-speed aircraft, and two MI-8 helicopters, Russian helicopters, were shot down, Ukrainians say, by their surface-to-air missile system just inside Russia, so outside of Ukraine.

And this they're saying it is a big plus for the Ukrainian air defenses. But the reality is everything is all about the counteroffensive. And Ukraine needs all of that equipment and more that it's waiting still on some accounts to get from NATO allies.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Nic Robertson in the warzone for us, stay safe, thank you very, very much.

I want to bring in retired Lieutenant General and CNN Military Analyst Mark Hertling right now. General, thanks so much for joining us. Are the chips falling into place right now for this expected Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russians?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They are, Wolf, most assuredly. What you're talking about, though, when a force goes on the offensive, they have to consolidate their forces that are coming from all different directions throughout Europe from various training centers. It's a requirement to get a set.

The Ukrainians are doing that right now. But here's the thing. A Ukrainian commander, General Zaluzhny, has the ability to do two things right now, pick the time and the place of the attack. And once he picks that, he's going to go full force.

So, some of these things that we're seeing right now as distractions in and around Bakhmut and north of Bakhmut, some of the other cities, those will all pail in significance once this offensive takes place.

BLITZER: The Washington Post, as you, I'm sure, know, is reporting that leaked documents show the head of the Wagner Group offered to give the location of Russian troops to Ukraine if Ukraine pulled its own forces back from Bakhmut. How do you interpret that?

HERTLING: Well, Mr. Prigozhin is part of a very toxic stew of personalities. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group versus the GRU, which is the military intelligence unit, Prigozhin against the military itself, Prigozhin against the FSB, which is the political body of intelligence, and Prigozhin as a partner or a former partner of Putin.

All of those dynamics inside of the Russian hierarchy and in the Kremlin, we're seeing the full force of that right now, Wolf. It's just a dynamic stew of bad tension, bad personalities, and it's causing more and more problems within the capability of Russia to attack.

BLITZER: Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thanks so much for joining us.

HERTLING: A pleasure, Wolf. Thank you. BLITZER: Coming up, after days of intense rocket fire and airstrikes, a ceasefire seems to be holding, at least for now, between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic jihad group.


We'll have details when we come back.


BLITZER: Tonight, a ceasefire appears to be holding between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group after days of very intense violence gripped the region, killing 35 people.

I want to bring in journalist Barak Ravid right now. He's the author of the new book "Trump's Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East."

There you see the cover.

Barak, I want to discuss your book in just a moment. But first, do you believe the ceasefire will hold?

BARAK RAVID, DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, WALLA NEWS: Hi, Wolf. I think that what we've seen in the last few days in this new round of violence in Gaza is that it's really Groundhog Day when you look at how this round of violence started, what happened during this round of violence, and how it ended.


It's really like many, many previous rounds of violence, and it's ended with both sides going back to square one.

And, you know, the root causes of the problems in Gaza were not solved in this round of violence. And I think that a lot of people, especially in the Israeli government, hoped that, you know, they managed to restore deterrence and that they bought themselves some quiet time in Gaza. But the same amount of people here in Israel think that it is really not going to be a long time before you'll see another escalation.

BLITZER: Your new book, Barak, looks at President Biden's efforts right now to try to build on Trump's deals between Israel and various Arab countries, specifically with Saudi Arabia right now. What are the chances that Israel and Saudi Arabia will normalize relations any time soon?

RAVID: Well, I think that the administration, the White House right now sees this window of opportunity until the end of the year before the presidential election campaign consumes everything. And they want to try and get a breakthrough during this period of time, during those six months. And I think that the last visit by national security adviser Jake Sullivan to Saudi Arabia was key to this effort, and President Biden's advisers came to Jerusalem right after to brief Netanyahu about it. And I think we will see in the next six months a real push by the U.S.

to try and get a deal. And, Wolf, we have to remember, any Israeli/Saudi normalization will have to be part of a bigger deal of a U.S./Saudi normalization. And I think that this would mean a really serious decision by Biden, a decision that will also have domestic political consequences in the U.S.

BLITZER: Barak Ravid as usual, thanks very much for joining us. Let me put your book cover up on the screen once again. The book is titled "Trump's Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East."

Barak, thanks so much for joining us.

RAVID: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right after THE SITUATION ROOM, Chasten Buttigieg reacts to a story out of Florida where a teacher is being investigated for showing a Disney movie that features a gay character. It's coming right at the top of the hour.

And just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one year after the shooting massacre at a supermarket in buffalo, New York, families and the victims are suing social media giants. We're going to tell you why. That's coming up, next.



BLITZER: Tonight, families who lost loved ones in the Buffalo shooting massacre at the Tops Supermarket one year ago have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit. They are targeting social media firms, claiming they played a role in radicalizing the killer and his racist views.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look for us.

Brian, tell us more about this lawsuit first of all.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the lawsuit alleges that the social media companies were motivated by financial gain, and that they were the ones who pushed the shooter to look at more extreme content.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, following the first anniversary of the Buffalo supermarkets shooting that killed ten people, all of them black, several social media companies are facing a wrongful death lawsuit by the families of three of the victims, Heyward Patterson, Katherine Massey and Andre Mackneil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Money, money, money. They're all about the dollar, nothing's important.

TODD: Latisha Rogers, who survived the shooting, also joined the suit. The filing alleges that the shooter, quote, was not raised by a racist family and had no personal history of negative interaction with Black people, but was motivated to carry out the attack by racist, antisemitic, and white supremacist propaganda recommended and fed to him by the social media companies.

MATTHEW BERGMAN, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILIES TO VICTIMS KILLED IN BUFFALO SHOOTING: It was designed to enhance his engagement by showing him material that was more and more disturbing, more and more racist and more and more violent.

TODD: Among the defendants named in the lawsuit, Meta, parent company of Facebook, Snap, which owns the messaging app Snapchat, Discord, Reddit, Google, which owns YouTube, and Amazon which owns Twitch, the site the shooter used to live-stream the Buffalo attack.

The website 4chan is also named as a defendant, along with the shooter's parents, the gun store where he purchased the firearm, a weapons manufacturer, and a body armor supplier. Experts say winning the lawsuit against the social media companies will be tough.

PROF. ERIC GOLDMAN, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: There have been dozens of lawsuits against social media alleging that they're responsible for radicalizing terrorists or contributing to terrorist attacks. Almost universally, those lawsuits have failed.

TODD: Analysts say the First Amendment protection of free speech often derails lawsuits against social media companies, as well as a federal statute called Section 230, which classifies Internet platforms as intermediaries.

GOLDMAN: A principal that says the people who initiated the publication of content they are responsible for it, but not the intermediaries in the middle that make it available to the consumer.

TODD: CNN has reached out to all the defendants of the suit. Of those who responded, Snapchat issued a statement saying: We have a zero- tolerance policy for hate speech and discrimination of any kind.

Google, the owner of YouTube, told CNN in a statement: Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams and policies to identify and remove extremist content.

Right after the shooting, Discord and Twitch issued statements denouncing white supremacy and violence. At the time, Meta designated the shooting as a terrorist attack, and began removing content and links pertaining to it.


TODD (on camera): CNN has also reached out to the shooter's parents for comments on the lawsuit, as well as to the gun store, the weapons manufacturer, and the body armor supplier. We have not heard back from any of them. The shooter's parents have not been criminally charged in relation to the shooting, and they have condemned their son's actions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll, of course, stay on top of this story for our viewers. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.