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Sources Say, Trump Captured On Tape Talking About Classified Document He Kept After Presidency; Tonight, House Debates And Votes On Debt Limit Deal; Russia Reeling From Escalating Attacks On Its Territory; DeSantis Kicks Off Campaign With Multi-Day Iowa Tour; Court Rules Purdue Pharma's Billionaire Owners Can Be Shielded From Civil Lawsuits Over Role In Their Company's Opioids Business; "Slow Burn" Podcast Uncovers How Justice Clarence Thomas Became A Conservative Icon. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead whence you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting there like delicious lemon meringue pie.

Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt in for Wolf Blitzer right next door in The Situation Room.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, significant new evidence in a criminal investigation of Donald Trump. Sources tell CNN that federal prosecutors are now in possession of an audiotape undercutting the former president's claim that he declassified documents before leaving the White House. Stand by for our exclusive report.

Plus, we are awaiting a final vote in the House of Representatives on the debt limit deal. This hour, I'll be getting reaction from a key progressive Democrat who says she is voting no.

Also tonight, attacks on Russian territory appear to be escalating. Kremlin officials calling the situation near the Ukrainian border alarming, one day after drone strikes shook the Russian capital city of Moscow.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm Alex Marquardt, and you're in The Situation Room.

And let's get straight to CNN's new exclusive reporting on the special counsel's criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump. Our Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz and our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid have been working their sources. They are joining us now with the latest.

Katelyn, I want to go to you first. What are you learning about this critical key new piece of evidence?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Alex, this is an audiotape, an audiotape that the Justice Department now has and is part of their special counsel investigation into whether Donald Trump mishandled national security secrets and possibly obstructed justice.

So, the Justice Department has this audiotape. They've heard it. They have asked people about it in a grand jury. They have asked other people about it, including the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley. And the reason that they are asking about it is because it appears to be quite significant.

So, this audiotape we have not heard, but it's been described to us by multiple sources. And on it Donald Trump is at a meeting at Bedminster where he has his golf resort in New Jersey. And in this meeting, it's Trump, some of his aides, some people working on a book for his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

During this meeting Donald Trump is talking about apparently a plan that existed from the Pentagon where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley was presenting to Trump the possible option of bombing Iran.

Now, all reporting that we understand is that Trump wanted to bomb Iran or have some sort of military attack there, and Milley did not want to do that. And at this point in time, in July of 2021, there were some stories coming out about how Milley and others had stopped Trump from taking this really aggressive military action at the very end of his presidency.

So, Donald Trump was quite angry, and in this meeting he's talking about this plan. He's talking about a document that Milley has. And he's also rustling a paper, and that can be heard on the tape. Now, we don't know exactly what document he's having there, but he's apparently referring to a document that he wants to share more widely, and also acknowledging that he can't share it more widely because it's classified, and that's a really key piece of this, too.

Now, Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff, he writes about this in his book, this particular episode at Bedminster. And he writes that in this meeting, Donald Trump recalled a four-page report typed up by Mark Milley himself. It contained the general's own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops.

And so the Justice Department, they have locked down this audiotape, they've also gotten testimony about people who were in the meeting, we know at least one person, Margo Martin, an aide to him, who was in the meeting, she has testified to a grand jury and he's doing all of this evidence that they're gathering. This is the sort of thing where Donald Trump does not have -- he's talking about classified information to people who do not have clearances. Alex?

MARQUARDT: And, Paula, how significant is this going to be to Jack Smith, the special counsel's investigation?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, our sources have told us this is incredibly significant to the special counsel. They described this recording as, quote, important to this overall investigation because this is Trump in his own words, saying that he retained at least one classified document. And while he suggested that he would like to share it, he acknowledges the limits of his ability to declassify materials after he has left the White House.

And that is significant because it undercuts all the public explanations he has given for those powers, for that authority, and for the status of these materials that were in his possession. I mean, let's listen to a few of the ways he has tried to explain this. First, what he said to our colleague and coauthor here, Kaitlan Collins, at our town hall.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Why did you take those documents with you when you left the White House?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I had every right to under the Presidential Records Act. You have the Presidential Records Act. I was there, and I took what I took, and it gets declassified.

I have no classified documents. And, by the way, they become automatically declassified when I took them.


REID: Now, several months earlier, he gave a different explanation to Fox News. Let's take a listen.


TRUMP: If you're the president of the in any case, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it, because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you're sending it.

When you send it, it's declassified. I declassified everything.


REID: Now, his lawyers also sent a letter to Congress insisting that he was only in possession of these classified materials because things were very chaotic at the end of his administration and were inadvertently packed up. But this recording undercuts all of those defenses.

Now, in a statement, a representative for former President Trump says, in part, that this is, quote, media harassment, and it's just more proof that when it comes to President Trump, there are absolutely no depths to which they will not seek as they pursue their, quote, witch hunts.

Now, I'll also note that most of the focus so far in this investigation and in the reporting, Alex, has been on Mar-a-Lago. But the fact that this meeting happened at Bedminster and that he appears to have had this document up there at his New Jersey golf club really brings the investigation into a different theater.

We know that they did search Bedminster late last year. But it is significant, because based on this recording, it appears that classified materials may have, for a time, been in New Jersey as well.

MARQUARDT: Yes, a new angle on all this. Paula Reid and Katelyn Polantz, terrific reporting, along with our colleague, Kaitlan Collins. I want you to stand by as we bring into this discussion more of our political and national security experts. Thank you all for joining me.

Shan Wu, to you first, this recording just described by Paula and Katelyn capturing Trump acknowledging the limitations on the ability to declassify documents, so how damning do you think this is going to be?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it's very damning, particularly for the prosecutors' decision whether to charge or not. I can easily imagine Trump defending himself or his lawyers defending him in trial saying he didn't understand at the time just what he could declassify, et cetera.

But for the prosecutors who need to be certain that they have evidence of his state of mind, something like this would be very significant to them and could get them over the hump of being worried about proving his intent or state of mind.

MARQUARDT: And, Beth Sanner, you used to brief the former president. When you heard that he was allegedly waving around classified plans to hit Iran in front of these people who had no security clearance at his New Jersey golf club, what's your reaction?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, incredible disappointment. If I was doing that, I would be in jail. And this can't be okay for someone at a certain level to do something whereas the average person who works in the government wouldn't.

MARQUARDT: Right. This is something that no one else could do or they would certainly get in trouble for doing.

Let's listen to a little bit more of what the former president told our Kaitlan Collins at the recent CNN town hall. Take a listen.


COLLINS: When it comes to your documents, did you ever show those classified documents to anyone?

TRUMP: Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified --

COLLINS: What do you mean not really?

TRUMP: Not that I can think of.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUARDT: So, Maggie Haberman, does this new reporting, in your opinion, speak to Trump's motivation in keeping classified documents and then showing them to other people?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know if it speaks to his motivation. I think this is an incredible story. And my hat is off to CNN for getting it. What it speaks to his mindset about whether he knew that documents in his possession were classified and that what he and his aides have been claiming for is that he automatically declassified everything, that there was a standing order in the White House, therefore, none of this was improperly in his possession.

It depends on the words on the tape. We don't know exactly what his language is. I haven't heard it. There's a small group of people, as I understand it, who have. If he says, you know, something that indicates that he is aware that this material is either classified or sensitive in nature or something, and that possibly he shouldn't have it in his possession, that would undercut what their public defenses have been, and, frankly, private defenses have been for some time.

So, I think this gets to mindset as much as anything. The fact that it's on tape is very striking. And, again, this is not a secret recording. His own aides routinely taped everything for these book interviews. They knew they were taping.

MARQUARDT: And we do know that the Justice Department recovered hundreds of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. But as Paula just pointed out, Maggie, this meeting took place at Bedminster, at this other golf club of Trump.


So, do you believe that there's a pattern of behavior here?

HABERMAN: Well, I think this is something prosecutors have been investigating. We know that there was a huge back and forth between the Trump team and prosecutors through much of 2021, the second half -- excuse me, 2022, the second half of it, about whether there would be additional searches of Trump's properties.

And as we know, once there were these additional searches that were done basically under threat of some kind of action by DOJ, they turned up additional -- the Trump team turned up additional classified material at a storage unit and in Trump's own bedroom. So, I think that's something you're going to see prosecutors point to.

MARQUARDT: And this document that Trump was allegedly waving around, Beth, claims -- is allegedly about plans to strike Iran. What do you make of those claims by Trump and about the position of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley?

SANNER: Well, it was Mark Milley's job, and it still is, to provide options of any kind of order that the president would give about a military operation. And so it doesn't seem to me far-fetched that you'd get an options paper, and, of course, if the president wanted to attack Iran, a military officer would have a pretty robust attack plan.

But that doesn't mean that Mark Milley, General Milley is a warmonger, quite the opposite. I spoke to him many times during my role as an intelligence official. And he absolutely did not want to go to war with Iran.

MARQUARDT: Yes, the military does prepare really for many, many different options.

Paula Reid, back to you. How do we think that this recording is going to be informing this special counsel's thinking about possible charges against the former president?

REID: Well, as one of our sources told me, this is a problem for the former president, for his attorneys. What's interesting is so much of the reporting recently was focused on questions about obstruction, because that's where a lot of the new developments, a lot of the new reporting has focused. But what's interesting about this recording is it provides possible evidence of other crimes that are under investigation, the whole issue of mishandling classified information, retaining government secrets.

As I've said in other hits that this Justice Department has been reluctant to bring cases that are solely obstruction without an underlying crime, which is why it was unclear if charges would be pursued in this case at all against the former president or against anyone else.

But knowing they have this kind of evidence that they're asking witnesses, including Mark Milley, about this, this is significant. It really gives us some insight into the breadth and depth of this investigation, and the legal peril facing former President Trump.

MARQUARDT: Yes, it is certainly a deepening potential peril that he is in. I want to thank you all for weighing in on this very important breaking story.

Just ahead, we will have much more on the political fallout from this exclusive new CNN reporting on the criminal investigation of Donald Trump.

Plus, we're keeping an eye on Congress, where the House is preparing to vote. I'll be getting reaction from the chair --



MARQUARDT: In Washington tonight, all eyes are on the House floor as the bipartisan debt limit deal comes up for a final vote.

Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is standing by for us on Capitol Hill, and our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly has more on the president's push to get Democrats on board with this agreement. Let's begin with you, Manu Raju. What are you hearing from sources about how all this is going to go down, and whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy should be worried about how his caucus is going to vote?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is high confidence on both sides of the aisle that this bill will pass, that would suspend the national debt limit until January 2025, it would include a number of spending cuts that were negotiated between the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, as well as the White House, even though there has been some concerns on both sides of the aisle, a number of members concerned that their respective leaders did not cut a deal that was good enough to them.

And that was borne out on the House floor just moments. The House approved a rule that essentially was the first step in the legislative process to consider the larger bill. 29 Republicans voted against moving forward. That is unusual.

Typically, those procedural votes happen along party lines. But it speaks among the right flank of the Republican conference that Kevin McCarthy, in their view, did not push hard enough for spending cuts. And on the left, a number of members are concerned that the White House gave in too much to Speaker McCarthy and are planning to oppose the bill.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): Using this process to negotiate legislation and spending, which never has happened before, is unprecedented and unacceptable, and we cannot support that precedent.

RAJU: But the White House says this is the only option and this is what they had to do. You don't buy that?

BOWMAN: I disagree with that. This is not the only option.

REP. JARED HUFFMAN (D-CA): Instead of saying, patting us on the head and saying it could have been worse. They could have said this is the end of the fossil fuel giveaways. I'm pretty discouraged and frustrated that it has come to this.

RAJU: The speaker says this is the largest spending cut in history. Do you buy that?

REP. MORGAN GRIFFITH (R-VA): I do. I do think it's a large spending cut. That said, I think that when you're going to give a basically unending check to the administrative branch of government, there probably should be a few more checks.


RAJU: Now, the big number to vote watch tonight when the House does vote to take up this bill is or not Kevin McCarthy can get more than half of his 223-member House Republican conference. There is a belief among Kevin McCarthy himself who told me earlier today that he does believe a majority of Republicans will vote for this and that Democrats will also vote as well to push this forward.

But that question will be key, because if it's under a majority, as some conservatives suggest, it could take a move against him, try to challenge him for the speakership if that were to happen. But we expect it to pass tonight, then it's over to the Senate when the Republican and Democratic leaders want this to pass as soon as tomorrow if there's an agreement to get this to the president's desk.



MARQUARDT: Fundamental divisions on both sides. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Now to CNN's Phil Mattingly at the White House. Phil, Speaker McCarthy, he's been questioned about whether he can keep his caucus together, keep Republicans together. But there are also quite a few progressive Democrats also upset at this plan, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who said he's also going to be voting no. So, what's going on behind the scenes at the White House to make sure there isn't any long-term irreparable damage among Democrats?

MATTINGLY: Alex, when you talk to White House officials, they made clear, one, that they were keenly aware that there were going to be progressives that were frustrated with this deal, felt like there should've been some other alternative and then what ended upcoming out of those negotiations between the top White House negotiators and their Republican counterparts.

Their view, when you talk to White House officials, their view is the alternative here was default, the alternative here was not reaching an agreement at all. And when you take the agreement on that, not only does it push a debt ceiling deadline off for another two years, but it also limits largely what Republicans had tried to get into place in the legislation that they had passed before the negotiations actually started.

That said, White House officials are cognizant that there is work to do. They've been trying to engage in that over the course of the last several days since that agreement was reached. There's been dozens of phone calls from top administration officials, a series of briefings on specific elements of the bill, as well as the bill in its entirety this morning to the House Democratic caucus. All members were invited to a meeting on the Capitol to be briefed on this legislation.

White House officials don't view this as something that will cause long-term damage with progressives. However, they do know that there is work to do, and at some point, the president will likely have to be involved in that work. Their primary goal at this point, though, get it through the House, get it through the Senate, get it signed and then they'll work through their own caucus. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes, get it to the president's desk. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thanks very much for that report. Now, let's get reaction from the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Democratic Congresswoman of Washington Pramila Jayapal. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us.

You have said that you are voting no on this bill tonight. So, does that mean you are essentially signaling that you would rather that the U.S. default than agree to this compromise?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Absolutely not, Alex. I think that this is very important that the American people understand that it was Republicans who drove us to the brink of default, we're willing to sacrifice people's pensions, working people's benefits in order to get some ideological priorities through of theirs, and it was Democrats led by President Biden that actually said, no, we're going to responsible.

That said, this bill will pass tonight, they don't need progressive votes. I know they don't need progressive votes. And I think it's really important that Kevin McCarthy show that he is the speaker of the House that can deliver at least two-thirds of his caucus' votes. It is ridiculous, we already saw in the rule vote that Republicans had to be bailed out by Democrats. And now, I think it's important that he can show he can bring forward at least two-thirds of his caucus for these votes.

Democrats will supply the rest of the votes but I think it's equally important for those of us who understand that both of in conscience -- of principle and in conscience of policy that there are bad things in this bill, not because Joe Biden or Democrats wanted it but because Republicans took us hostage.

And it is important that we put up a very strong no-vote on the board. I intend to do that. I know several of my progressive colleagues intend to do that as well. And to say to the American people, at the end of the day, Republicans did what we knew they were going to do. They're asking working people to sacrifice so that they can continue tax cuts for the wealthiest. That's all this is.

MARQUARDT: Now, one of the things that you've really zeroed in on, that you've harshly criticized, really, in this bill are the work requirements. But the CBO is projecting that nearly 80,000 people are actually going to be gaining benefits. So, do you still see this, as you told CNN on Sunday, as a terrible policy?

JAYAPAL: I really do, and I'll tell you why. The people that we are kicking off are essentially black and brown women. That is the majority of people that will get kicked off from 49 to 54 who have been getting assistance. And, in many cases, caretakers cannot go back to work for 20 hours a week, which is what Republicans want them to do. And instead what we're saying is we're going to cover and make eligible some other people, a very important population of homeless folks, veterans, et cetera.

But how are we going to reach those people who do not have an address, who are on the streets and tell them that they are suddenly eligible, and that in order to be eligible, they're now going to have to provide a whole bunch of paperwork?

So, don't be fooled into thinking that just because the same number of people are eligible that that means the same number of people will get the benefit. And let's be clear that we are sacrificing black and brown, older women between 49 and 54, who are going to get kicked off of these food stamps.


MARQUARDT: Congresswoman, we only have a few moments left, but you did mention how Kevin McCarthy is going to be relying on Democrats to get this across the finish line. How many members of your Progressive Caucus do you expect will vote for this deal?

JAYAPAL: I really don't know. I think it will all depend on how many members Kevin McCarthy produces. But I know that we have several dozen and probably about half of progressive caucus members who are clear that when our votes are not needed, we're not going to give them. And also I think we also might see more.

Because at the end of the day, look, we've got to be able to -- this is good for the White House to have a strong no-vote on the board as well because we need to be able to go back to our base of working people across this country and tell them that we stood up and we fought for them.

We don't have to win every battle but we do have to stand up and say we hear you, we know things are tough out there, this is going to make it tougher, people are going to get kicked back into paying student loan payments. People are going to get kicked off of food assistance. People are going to have to suffer terrible environmental justice consequences of this bill. We need to say that we are here standing up for you.

Because, listen, our base is really important over the next year-and- a-half, and after this is done, I'll be asking for a meeting with the president and members of our executive team to say, how do we speak to our base that is really distraught by what has happened.

MARQUARDT: And we'll be watching closely for that meeting. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, we know it's a busy evening, thank you very much for your time.

JAYAPAL: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And coming up, what we're learning about former Vice President Mike Pence's plans to launch his bid for the White House next week.



MARQUARDT: And we are following a series of new moves in the 2024 Republican primary. Sources now saying that former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to launch his bid for the White House next week in Iowa, the latest in a growing field of Republican presidential hopefuls.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is breaking this down for us. David, what more can you tell us?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Alex, as you noted, this field is getting larger by the moment. We're going to have three candidates get into this race next week. You mentioned former Vice President Mike Pence, Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor.

We have learned he is going to be announcing his presidential campaign, his second try for the White House next week in a town hall in New Hampshire. And the North Dakota governor, Doug Burgum, unknown to many Americans, is poised to get into this race next week as well. So, it is getting crowded. What does that tell us? That tells us that Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis haven't scared off everyone else.

Those two frontrunners, though, are in Iowa today. We saw DeSantis do his first official event last night in Iowa, Donald Trump coming on the heels of that. And take a look at this campaign schedule. If you look at the map, you're going to see a whole slew of candidates back in Iowa over the weekend on Saturday because Joni Ernst, Republican senator, is hosting her Roast and Ride event. I think every major contender is going to be there other than Donald Trump, at least that's what's been announced so far.

So, this is a field that is getting bigger and a campaign that is intensifying.

MARQUARDT: And it is not even June. David Chalian, stay with us. I want to bring in Abby Phillip and Gloria Borger our top story breaking this hour. CNN learning exclusively that sources say that federal prosecutors are in possession of an audiotape of former President Trump acknowledging that he held onto a classified document about a potential attack to Iran.

This now undercuts Trump's argument that he declassified all materials, which means this is a significant development in Jack Smith, the special counsel's criminal probe into Trump's handling of classified documents. Thank you for joining us.

Abby, Trump's team is calling this meritless. We are going to see the former president heading back out on the campaign trail tomorrow. Do you think that Republican voters care about these recordings? Does this land with Republican voters that Trump is trying not just to maintain but bring over to his side?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, I think that voters in general do care about these legal cases involving Trump. And a lot of the polling has suggested that, you know, majorities of Americans, which would necessarily include Republicans, care. A Quinnipiac poll showed almost half of Republicans thought that the former president may have done something illegal as it pertained to his documents.

So, the idea that Trump can just do anything I don't think is there in the data. That being said, even while some voters might think that he did something wrong, it may not necessarily mean that they don't want to vote for him.

And I think that's always been his strength in this field is that they take in the negative information, maybe they think he did something wrong, and then they say, well, we'll put it aside because we care about these other things more. And that's why it's not that he's Teflon, but it's that Republican voters have a priority list that may be different from the rest of the electorate.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is where Chris Christie might come in because I was talking to an adviser to Chris Christie today, and he said, look, Chris' lane is going right through Donald Trump. And so he is going to be the one raising all of these issues, raising the legal issues, for example, and there are more to come, right?

And so we have the Atlanta grand jury, and we have the special counsel, as we were just talking about. So, it is going to become a topic on the campaign trail if Chris Christie has anything to say about it. And then we'll have to see how voters react because some of that exhaustion was we hear about with Donald Trump may increase as a result of this.


I'm not saying it's going to alienate his base but it could increase.

MARQUARDT: This is a question of Trump in his own words. We don't have a recording of this new tape. We have seen the transcripts of the conversation between President Trump and President Zelenskyy. We heard the Access Hollywood tape. And then we have this, this recording from the Georgia 2020 election. Take a listen.


TRUMP: So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


MARQUARDT: David, to what Gloria was just saying about this question of whether Trump is Teflon. To what extent are these recordings are his own words, whether we hear them or see them or hear reports about them, are they a political liability for him?

CHALIAN: Well, we've heard that recording from the Georgia case for the last two years, and Donald Trump is still the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Not to say, as Abby was saying, that this isn't baggage that piles up.

I mean, Donald Trump's legal problems are totally intertwined with this third bid for the White House here, I mean, literally, including the schedule, right? We know that in New York case, in the Stormy Daniels case, it's scheduled for trial just a few weeks after Super Tuesday. So, this is going to be totally part and parcel of his campaign. We'll see how voters respond to it. Yes, some candidates like Chris Christie may try to make this an issue. Ron DeSantis, I think we're getting an early glimpse, isn't all that eager to delve into all the legal challenges, wants to make a broader ideological argument against Donald Trump in this Republican primary.

PHILLIP: And this is what is going to make this really challenging for Republicans running against Trump. I think, by and large, the response from a lot of the other candidates has been, well, the FBI has been politicized, they're just going after him.

They know that that argument works with Republican voters to basically say that Trump is being prosecuted unfairly. But it really is almost like unilateral disarmament on their part. They are taking, in other words, that argument almost off the table and making it much more difficult when these cases do come to bear to actually use them against Trump in the campaign.

So we'll see how this turns out. But there are some very serious legal challenges that have already ended in an indictment in one case and could end in an indictment in several others. And many of the Republican candidates are already saying that those cases are basically invalid.

BORGER: Right. Well, DeSantis isn't doing that, and this is why he's so smart, to take him on idealogically, taking on Donald Trump by saying, you know, I'm the real conservative in this race. There are going to be other candidates who are going to call themselves a conservative, like Mike Pence, for example but I think it's smart of DeSantis to say I'm not going to pay attention to every one of these cases because he knows the base makes excuses.

So, this is just weaponized Justice Department or the FBI, but he's taking him on idealogically because, in fact, Ron DeSantis is more conservative than Donald Trump. Just ask evangelical voters about the question of abortion.

CHALIAN: Yes. And he showed last night in his campaign trail debut, he's willing to take it to Trump directly. Not necessarily in his speech. But when he met with reporters afterwards and took questions, there was no shying away from punching up to the guy that sits above him in the polls right now. So, I think it may be more than Chris Christie who are willing to take Donald Trump on directly in this race.

BORGER: In different ways.

CHALIAN: In different ways, yes.

MARQUARDT: All right, folks, we got to leave it there. David, Abby, Gloria, thank you all very much.

And we do have a programming note. Abby will be back tonight at 9:00 P.M. Eastern time for CNN Primetime. And among her guests will be the Trump attorney, Jim Trusty, looking forward to that. Just ahead, we will be going live to Ukraine where officials are denying responsibility for another round of attacks on Russian territory.

Stay with us here in The Situation Room.



MARQUARDT: Russia is reeling once again from attacks on its territory just one day after several drone strikes on Moscow. The Kremlin calling the shelling on areas near the Ukrainian border with Russia alarming, as Vladimir Putin threatens revenge.

Our Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen joining us now from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv with more. Fred, how much are these attacks on Russian territory escalating?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're escalating to a great degree. And if you look at Ukrainian officials, we heard today from an adviser to the presidency, and he said, quite frankly, while the Ukrainians are not admitting that they are behind all of these attacks, they are certainly saying that there are going to be more of these attacks and they are going to grow in intensity as well.

And the message is very clear there, the war is coming to the Russians, Alex. And if we look at a map of what's been going on and where it's been going on, it's a huge area where the Russians are now under pressure, some of it centering around the town of Belgorod, which is extremely important, once again today, an incident with very heavy shelling. The local governor there said several people there were injured.

And that area is extremely important to the Russians, a place that was shelled as a little village by the border. But Belgorod itself, of course, is one of the main logistics hubs for Russia's war in Ukraine. And they don't only have troops there itself but in the surrounding areas around the border as well.

And then if you look further south, in the Krasnodar region, there were two oil refineries that were hit. Obviously, that very important to Russia's logistics for its invasion of Ukraine, but then all the way to the north in the Bryansk Oblast, a big drone attack, the Russians there said, by Ukrainian drones. They claim, the Russians said, they fended that off.

But you can feel that the Russians certainly are under pressure in a large part of their border region with Ukraine, which, of course, is something that could be extremely important as that big counteroffensive by the Ukrainians loom, which they say could happen at any time is imminent at this point, Alex.


MARQUARDT: And the White House saying clearly they don't want Ukraine to strike inside Russian territory.

Fred Pleitgen in the Ukrainian capital, thank you very much for all that reporting.

Coming up, officials say at least five people are still unaccounted for after an apartment building collapse in Iowa and warned that it could topple at any moment. We'll go live to Iowa for an update, right after this.


MARQUARDT: In Iowa tonight, a partially collapsed apartment building could topple at any moment as rescuers are assessing whether they can continue their search for five people who are still unaccounted for.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is on the scene for us.

Adrienne, what are you learning about where those search efforts stand right now?


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this hour, no one is inside searching the building. The latest information is earlier today we learned from city officials that the owner of the building has been cited for failure to maintain building safety.

So what does this mean? It comes with a potentially $300 fine, as well as court costs. Some who have gathered out here demanding answers, say that is a small price to pay for all that has happened here. We do know five people are still missing, two whom authorities say could be trapped under the rubble just behind us.

A search crew went in yesterday. They didn't search this exterior area. But they explored a portion of the building that was safe to search. They didn't find any signs of human life. However, they rescued some pets. And this has been difficult on both sides of this story. Listen to the assistant fire chief.


JIM MORRIS, DAVENPORT, IOWA ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF: As much as we want to, we want to get everybody out, and we want to do it right now. I apologize that I get upset, but -- there's a lot of things that we have to factor. So understand it's not that we don't want to do this, it's the fact that we have to do it in a safe manner.


BROADDUS: One person who is missing, I'm told by friends and family here on the scene, is a father. They also tell me his son is expected to graduate this week. So you can imagine all of the emotions that are not just from members of -- not from people who have loved ones here, but you also see and hear the pain in that official's voice that. Music you hear behind me, that's gospel music. There is a lot of people here praying and holding onto hope -- Alex. MARQUARDT: Such a worrying and emotional situation. Adrienne Broaddus in Iowa for us tonight, thank you very much.

And this note to our viewers. Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb will be speaking with Erin about CNN's new exclusive recording on that audio recording of Donald Trump, now a part of the special counsel's investigation. That is at 7:00 Eastern Time.

And just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, North Korea vows to try another launch of its first-ever spy satellite after the first crashed into the sea. Can Kim Jong Un recover from that embarrassing setback?



MARQUARDT: We are tracking the fallout from what is really a major embarrassment for Kim Jong Un. The North Korean dictator's spy satellite plunging into the ocean shortly after launch.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story.

What more can you tell us, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alex, we're told that Kim Jong Un is eager to have another go at this. And just moments ago, his powerful sister Kim Yo-jong said another attempt will happen soon, but there are lingering questions over North Korea's real capability to do that.


TODD (voice-over): North Korea's ambitious supreme leader suffers a demoralizing setback in his quest to keep up with South Korea in space.

Kim Jong Un's attempt to launch a military satellite into orbit failed when the rocket it was placed on crashed in the sea.

What specifically went wrong here?

DAVID SCHMERLER, SATELLITE INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE: The first stage breaks up, the second stage was start and carry the satellite on the rest of its journey, looks like they had an issue with the second stage.

TODD: One possible reason for the failure, South Korean intelligence believes the North Koreans rushed preparations for it and changed the flight path, according to a South Korean lawmaker. South Korea's military says it recovered fragments of the rocket about 125 miles off its west coast.

SCHMERLER: Recovering the debris will allow us to understand if the entirety of their manufacturing capability, and if we find western or non-North Korean created components, we can try to focus in on preventing getting those parts to North Korea in the future. TODD: And the almost unheard of, North Korea admitted its launch

failed. Its news agency saying it would conduct the second launch as soon as possible.

Why is Kim in such a hurry for this?

SCHMERLER: South Korea just last week put a satellite into orbit. They successfully launched. Kim Jong Un may even have accelerated this satellite test basically to try to keep up with what the Joneses are doing.

TODD: Analysts say Kim Jong Un wants a military satellite deployed so he can track American and South Korean military movements and spy on bases in South Korea, Japan, and the Pacific. How will the mercurial young leader take this setback?

FRANK JANNUZI, THE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: It's a blow to his international prestige and it's also a blow to his prestige at home. I wouldn't want to a North Korean satellite launch engineer today. On the other hand, he will continue to rely upon them. He will probably regroup and try again in the coming weeks.

TODD: This comes as a South Korean lawmaker has given an extraordinary public assessment of Kim Jong Un's health after he got a briefing with South Korean intelligence.

YOO SANG-BUM, SOUTH KOREAN LAWMAKER (through translator): It is believed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is suffering from a considerable sleep disorder.

TODD: The lawmaker says Kim's weight is evaluated to be over 300 pounds, and that he may have dermatitis caused by allergies and stress. CNN cannot independently verify these claims, and one analyst says this about the speculation.

JANNUZI: Whatever these challenges may be, he's still a relatively young man at age 39. He's likely to be the leader of North Korea for another two or three decades, with all of these health challenges.


TODD (on camera): Analyst Frank Jannuzi also says sometimes South Korean intelligence is influenced by the country's political leaders when they publicize assessments over the North Korean leader's health, that it's sometimes in their interest to put out information on any potential physical weakness of the dictator even if there are questions over its accuracy -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Brian Todd, thank you for that fascinating report.

And, finally tonight, if you're a fan of the "New York Times" crossword puzzle, the clue for 17 across might've caught your eye in today's puzzle. The longtime host of CNN's situation room is, of course, our very own Wolf Blitzer. Hope you got that right.

Thank you so much for watching. I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.