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Sources: Attorneys Unable To Locate Classified Document Trump Referred To In 2021 Audiotape; DOJ: No Charges In Pence Documents Probe; Mexican Police Find 45 Bags Containing Body Parts; Kim Jong- un's Sister And Young Daughter Take Growing Public Roles In North Korean Regime. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 02, 2023 - 17:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Also tonight, President Joe Biden is speaking directly to the nation from the Oval Office on the bipartisan limit debt deal, which he could sign as soon as tomorrow. It is his first Oval Office speech of his presidency.

And Ukraine says the gates of war have opened inside Russia as attacks rattled the border regions and beyond. We'll get a live report from the warzone this hour.

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 first up tonight our exclusive report on a federal criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump. Attorneys for the former president unable now to locate a classified document that he referenced on an audio tape now in possession of prosecutors. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is on the team that broke this story. She's joining us now with the latest.

Kaitlan, take us through what we know.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, what happened here is Margo Martin, this press aide to former President Trump who was in the White House and now has followed him to Mar-a- Lago went and testified as many people who are in that orbit these days have gone before Jack Smith's investigators and she was in there in mid-March. And we're told it was very shortly after she left that grand jury testimony the prosecutors sent a subpoena to the former president saying that they wanted any and all documents related to Iran and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Trump is referencing on that audio recording that we reported on Wednesday.

And basically, what I was told that they were specifically seeking was the document that Trump is referencing on that tape. Prosecutors made clear to Trump's legal team that they wanted that document. Trump's team, though, was unable to find it. They did produce some materials, we were told, in response to this subpoena that they got. They could not find that document, though, that is at the heart of what Trump was referencing. So, it's raised a lot of questions of where that document is.

I asked Trump's attorney the other day, if it had been sent back to the National Archives, what happened to it? He declined to answer. He also didn't say whether or not Trump had declassified it as an argument they've been making. So this is just raised questions about this episode, which we know Jack Smith, the Special Counsel, is very focused on. I mean, they've been brought General Mark Milley in to talk to him about this episode because Trump was referencing him when he was on an audio recording discussing classified information.

MARQUARDT: All right, Kaitlan, stay with us. I want to bring in more of our legal experts.

Elliot Williams, to you, it is possible that the Justice Department recovered this document some other way? How much does this document actually matter when, according to Kaitlan's reporting, the prosecutors do have this audio tape of President Trump himself talking about it?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it doesn't, it doesn't, right? The crime is retention of material that is related to the National Defense. Now, the crime doesn't say that you need to have the document there in order to prosecute the person for it, you just have to establish the document went missing and someone had it improperly or retained it improperly.

Now, look, this would be novel to charge someone with a crime for a document that they're not in possession of. But a few things, number one, the Defense Department likely has a copy of it. Number two, you could get people who made the document or aware of it to testify about where it was and where it went until the point at which it went missing. So you can get around it a little bit and they can find a way to charge someone with a crime but, you know, it might just be require a little bit of creativity from prosecutors.

MARQUARDT: So the former president has been asked about this missing document. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't know anything about it. All I know is everything I did was right. We have the Presidential Records Act which I abided by 100 percent.

I have the right to declassify as president because I have secret service all over the place. Mar-a-Lago is a fort.


MARQUARDT: Shan Wu, Mar-a-Lago is a fort. He's got secret service all over the place. Does that stand up in any way?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, that's kind of irrelevant as to whether he properly secured the document he allegedly should not have retained, but he claims if I did have it, it was declassified. That's kind of the problem for him. He's all over the place trying to cover all his bases.

The audio tape as well as the subpoena puts him and his legal team in a difficult spot. He's going to have to make the Hobson's choice of saying either I had this and was fine for you to have it or, what are you talking about, I was just blabbing on that tape. But to do that, he probably would have to testify. And that's problematic for him because you don't want him to testify.

His lawyers could make that argument if they got the court. There's no proof he really had that document. Maybe he was just boiling hot air as he likes to do.


WU: But to make it really convincing, jury would probably want to hear from him. So that's a problem.

MARQUARDT: And in terms of the timing of Jack Smith --


MARQUARDT: -- the special counsel's investigation, Elliot, where do you think we are in terms of potential indictments? There was one former prosecutor predicting that indictment could come within days.

WILLIAMS: Well, look, you know, it's hard to predict when things will happen. What I will say is that we don't know what the Justice Department has that's not public. What is public is a growing body of statements from the former press president, leaks and other information that had been reported that seemed to suggest that at least someone ought to be charged with a crime in some way, whether it's obstruction of justice, retention, or removal of sensitive information, they could be charged, and that's just based on what's publicly available.



WILLIAMS: It's hard to even know what else the Justice Department is sitting on. So, it could be imminent, but we just don't know.

MARQUARDT: Is the Trump team saying anything about what they think the timeframe might be?

COLLINS: The -- they have maintained that they don't believe is a threat to him, that they don't think he'll be indicted in this case. His former attorney, who's no longer on the legal team left about two weeks ago, downplayed the idea that he would be indicted the other day. But behind the scenes based on our reporting, what we've heard from people is the tone has shifted since this -- since we reported this on Wednesday. I think they think the legal significance of this, they realize how great it is, and that it could potentially be game changing when it comes to this investigation. They had been pretty confident, they were almost joyous when the documents were found at Pence's home and the Biden document situation happened, very different situations, of course, but they were almost joyful that because they thought it was essentially a guarantee that nothing would happen to their client. I think the people around the former president are very worried now that they know Jack Smith has this audio. They've known about this since March, by the way, they've been looking for this document, that was when they got the subpoena. They realized the legal peril that he's facing right now.

MARQUARDT: Yes, you mentioned how joyous they were when more classified documents were found at President Biden's residences and offices. The former President Mike Pence's home as well. But Evan, you got new reporting Mike Pence has been cleared.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He has been cleared. He got a letter -- his team got a letter yesterday that says that the Justice Department, the National Security Division have been investigating this dozen or so documents that were found, and they've decided that there are no charges to be brought. This obviously takes us back to January when they added an abundance of caution went looking for documents partly because of what had happened with the former president, Donald Trump, who had a special counsel appointed as a result of having declared that he was running for president. Merrick Garland also appointed a special counsel to look at the documents related to President Biden.

And so, the question has been hanging over this review that has been ongoing, this investigation whether Mike Pence would also end up having a special counsel, because as we know, we're days away from a likely announcement from the vice president, the former vice president, saying that he is running for president. So, this clears the decks for him.

And look, again, as Kaitlan pointed out, the circumstances are so different, right? Mike Pence finds these documents, turns them over to the National Archives and the FBI cooperates fully, allows for searches to come in, does not publicly claim that these documents are his, completely different way of handling this. And you can see how quickly, you know, the Justice Department can work through a situation like this when you have this level of cooperation.

WILLIAMS: And to add one point to that, Pence affirmatively went looking for documents.

PEREZ: Right.

WILLIAMS: He brought in his lawyers to conduct a search of his property. It's not that it was just inadvertent and they found these things. It's just a different class of conduct. And you can't -- it's not even apples and oranges. It's just it's so vastly different --


WILLIAMS: -- that I don't think there was ever a likelihood that Pence would have been charged. COLLINS: Also worth noting, Trump doesn't see it that way. I don't think that's --

WILLIAMS: Right, of course.

COLLINS: -- surprising to anyone but he was posting about this today, noting how Pence has been effectively cleared by the DOJ and he's asking when that's going to happen to him. It comes out as he does recognize that there is real legal exposure that is facing him with these recordings that were done by people who were writing an autobiography for his chief of staff at the time, Mark Meadows, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, and now have put him in real hot water.

MARQUARDT: And certainly, something that is going to come up on the campaign trail, a real contrast there. We got to leave there. Evan, Kaitlan, Elliot, Shan, thank you all very much.

And coming up, we will go live to the White House just ahead of President Joe Biden's Oval Office address to the country on the debt limit deal that was just passed by Congress. Plus, Russian President Vladimir Putin trying to reassure the Russian people after a series of attacks near the Ukrainian border. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, President Joe Biden will be addressing the country from the Oval Office for the first time as president. This comes after Congress passed legislation to raise the debt ceiling to avert a catastrophic default with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us live from the White House.

Phil, what can we expect tonight?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Alex, when he talked to White House officials they made clear while the President may have been rather quiet throughout the course of the negotiation process, in part, to the frustration of Democrats on Capitol Hill, this will be a very clear moment to kind of get the last word and to make very clear what he views as a very high stakes moment that came to a resolution, the gravity of what failure in that moment would have actually meant, but also to look forward. I think when you think about, Alex, over the course of the last six months, the type of cloud this has had not just over the presidency, obviously the U.S. economy, really the entire country, you have this and an opportunity not just because it was bipartisan, not just because of the development of a relationship between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but also because there are not major legislative wars that are expected in the months ahead.

And that's important, not just from a legislative perspective or from a White House perspective, but also from a candidate perspective. Obviously, the President is already in announced reelection candidate in 2024. And keep in mind this these remarks tonight, this ability to get the debt ceiling behind them comes on the same day that the President got a another very strong jobs report, beating expectations once again, 339,000 jobs in May and upward revision of a pretty significant degree in April. So you put those things together and I think there's a sense from a White House officials that this will be a very clear opportunity to talk about a very critical moment not just for the presidency, not just for the White House, but really for the country given the kind of free run in the months ahead.

MARQUARDT: And for the economy. All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House please stay with us, we're going to get right back to you.


I want to bring in Democratic Strategist Karen Finney along with Republican Pollster and Strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson. They're both CNN political commentators. Thank you both for being with us this evening.

Karen, I want to start with you. Tonight is going to be the first time that President Joe Biden speaks to the country from the Oval Office, what do you make in terms of the optics in what he's trying to deliver? And do you think that this will be something of a victory lap after striking this deal? That's something he's really avoiding until now.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I actually don't think it's going to be have any kind of tone of a victory lap. When you talk to the White House, what they want is -- the President wants to reassure the American people, as Phil was saying. This has been a cloud that has been hanging over the country for some time. And people are so anxious, despite all the good economic news.

The other thing that I think you're going to hear the President stress, which is so important to him, this is another bipartisan accomplishment. And the fact that he was able to get this deal done, bring us back from the brink and work in a bipartisan manner, that's critically important, particularly for those voters in the middle who have been so tired of the partisan rancor who want to see a president who's able to bring people together to get some things done. So I think that's the other key theme you're going to hear today.

MARQUARDT: And that warrants an Oval Office address?

FINNEY: Why not? The economy is critically important. It's the start of the summer, people want to go and enjoy themselves, but there's still a little bit of anxiety. So why not hear from the President to say we are moving in the right direction.

MARQUARDT: The economy is critically important.

Kristen, you recently did a focus group with 11 skeptical Biden voters for the New York Times, very interesting findings. When you ask them whether they approved the way that Biden is handling the economy, none of the 11 raise their hands. So, how much do you think -- how much work does he have cut out for him on the economic front? KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER & STRATEGIST: Well, this has been an enormous frustration of the White House for months now that they have claimed the data say the economy is great, why don't voters feel it. But you can't force a voter through sheer force of messaging to believe something that they are not feeling in their pocketbooks, in their paychecks when they go to the store. Things like inflation are still a big deal. Even though we may have a labor market that feels really hot, if people don't feel a sense of stability, that's a big problem.

And so while this is certainly a victory for stability, and for not careening into the summer and into this weekend, with a massive economic, global economic crisis on our hands as a result of a potential default, that does not in and of itself mean that everyone will suddenly go, yes, Joe Biden has been great on the economy, he still has a lot of work left to do.

MARQUARDT: So much of this is about perception.

Phil Mattingly, back to you, President Biden facing criticism from the left flank of his party, from the progressives over this deal, notably for new work requirements that were added to this bill. What plans does the White House have to try to placate some of those angry lawmakers?

MATTINGLY: You know, I think, Alex, when you talk to White House officials, they point out that that space that you're describing, not necessarily policy describing, the space that you're describing is a space that the President is pretty comfortable in. Conservatives, right wing, not happy with him, progressives, left wing, not necessarily happy or thrilled with him. That's kind of the space where he won election in 2020. It's kind of the space where he's governed up to this point, particularly now in divided government has had some big wins for progressives, no question about that. But kind of from a policy perspective, from an ideology perspective, that's to some degree where he is.

Look, I don't think White House officials are ignoring the fact that there's work to do with progressives who are upset on Capitol Hill. And I think you've seen over the course of the last several days, there's been dozens of briefings and phone calls trying to connect with them trying to explain. I think it is important on the work requirements, especially when people actually get a look at the legislative text and realize the exemptions that were put in place along with the broadening of those work requirements, perhaps the effect wasn't as dramatic as they thought it would be, you started to see people start to ease their concern a little bit or at least ease their criticism, not entirely, there's still work to do. But I think what officials right now, one, feel good about the deal, and two, feel good about the combination of bipartisanship and kind of what they didn't allow in this deal from a policy perspective, but also from a default perspective, is something that they will absolutely take despite the criticism.

MARQUARDT: Karen, from a political perspective, so many people are not going to be reading this. To what extent do you think some of these concessions to Republicans are going to hurt Democrats in 2024?

FINNEY: I don't think it's going to hurt Democrats as much as I think it's going to be an opportunity to talk about the contrast, here's what the Republicans were trying to do, here's what we were fighting for. We were fighting for you, for working families, they were fighting too, you'll hear it, whether you believe it or not, you'll hear cut Social Security and Medicare, right? We'll hear those kinds of arguments.

I also think Democrats are going to make this fight over the debt ceiling. Again, another point of contrast in 2024. And particularly given that some of the more right-wing elements had some pretty, I'll call them, wacky ideas about what they wanted to do with the budget.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, thank you all. Really appreciate your perspective this evening, and your time.

All right. Up next, we will be getting a live update from Ukraine where a senior official says the gates of war have now been opened inside Russia. Also ahead, the Republican National Committee just releasing the qualifying criteria for the first primary debate this summer. We're sharing the new rules and what it means for the Republican candidates.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, Russia is being rattled by attacks on its own territory as well as a key port city in occupied Ukraine. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is joining us live now from eastern Ukraine.

Sam, Russian officials trying to reassure residents living under Kremlin control, but these attacks are really intensifying.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are intensifying, Alex. In addition to the one you refer to there, in Berdyans'k, there was a drone attack, in Smolensk, on an oil refinery or some similar type building. And of course, there have been ongoing incursions and attacks much closer to here just north on the border between Ukraine and Russia. And it's those, I think, that have really shaken the Russians up.



KILEY (voice-over): A Ukrainian strike in Russian occupied Berdyans'k.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Cool. How cool is that?

KILEY (voice-over): It's heating up across several fronts in Russia. The governor of Belgorod province struggles to reassure a rattled population. VYACHESLAV GLADKOV, BELGOROD GOVERNOR (through translator): I heard that the armed forces of Ukraine continue to shell our territory. More than 2,500 people are staying in temporary accommodation facilities in Belgorod. There are many questions that residents of Shebekino and border villages are asking, starting with, who will pay my utilities, what about our property, who was watching over it?

KILEY (voice-over): Ukrainian backed Russian dissident soldiers claimed to have raided Russia a second time. In a stunt that could have been filmed anywhere, one fighter displayed a fridge magnet from Belgorod on social media. Soon, you too will be able to walk in free Belgorod and then across all Russia, he said.

Vladimir Putin has stepped in to study the national nerves.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Today, we will also address these issues in relation to ensuring Russia's security. In this case, domestic political security. Considering the efforts our foes are still taking and stepping up in order to destabilize the situation inside Russia, we must do everything we can to prevent this from happening at any cost.

KILEY (voice-over): The U.S. setting out some grim truths for Moscow.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: When you look at President Putin's long term strategic aims and objectives, there is no question. Russia is significantly worse off today than it was before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, militarily, economically, geopolitically.

KILEY (voice-over): That's certainly the message that Ukraine is trying to deliver to Russia, and now by force.


KILEY: And Alex, that message has been forcefully delivered once again with a partisan attack claimed by Ukrainian supporters inside the occupied town of Melitopol with the bombing of a car killing one so called collaborator and injuring at least three others. And we are seeing a lot more of these sorts of events particularly close to that southern front where both sides, both the Russians and Ukrainians, have been pounding each other ever more frequently with artillery, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, really a remarkable escalation. Sam Kiley in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. Thank you very much for that report.

Let's discuss all this with CNN Contributor of Russian Affairs, Jill Dougherty, and Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, a CNN Military Analyst. Thank you both for joining me this evening.

Jill, I'm really struck by that soundbite that Sam just played from Vladimir Putin. They're assuring his population that we will do everything we can to prevent this from happening at any cost. He's really having to tell the Russian population this will be OK. What do you think he's going to do? How can you follow through on that promise? JILL DOUGHERT, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: I don't think that he can. I mean, these attacks are coming, they seem incapable of stopping them. I mean, if they could, they would, but they continue. And then you have the drone attacks just a few days ago in Moscow. So I think he's got a real problem.

In a lot of the way he approaches his don't talk about it, you know. But the fact that they have that quote today, he is trying to tell people, it's OK, as he always says, it's under control, but it's not under control.

MARQUARDT: And those residents certainly feeling that it's not under control.

And Cedric, some dramatic language. Ukrainian saying that the gates of war have now been opened. Clearly these attacks inside Russia are putting the Kremlin off balance. They seem to be rattled as well. But do you see any downside, any risks to this?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: Well, there certainly are, Alex. I think one of the key things that the Ukrainians have to watch out for is attacking too many civilian targets in Russia. You know, right now, they're on the moral high ground, right? They own all of that, because the people that are actually attacking civilian targets are the Russians for the most part, and that has given Ukraine a lot of support in a material sense, in a diplomatic sense, and certainly in a military sense.

And you -- it risks -- you know, Ukraine risks, something very big here if it does is something that does not impact the military objective directly. In other words, if they go into the civilian side of things. So they have to be very careful to concentrate more on the military side, and yes, even on the political side, but the one thing that they have done very well is sow distrust terror in the minds of the Russian population.


MARQUARDT: The White House has said very clearly, they would rather they not see Ukraine striking inside of Russia. Jill, it is now very apparent to the Russian citizens themselves that these strikes are taking place. You have these attacks against smaller border towns in the western part of Russia. But you also have these recent drone attacks near Moscow, including in and around a neighborhood that is where some of the elite live. So to what extent do you think the Russian sentiment about the war is changing and changing more against it?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: You know, I think an interesting part of this is that when it it's been happening in that town that we just saw the video from Shebekino, you know, I mean, that's been hit for months. And nobody really talked about it. The people out there feel, hey, you know, you don't talk about it until it happens in Moscow. So I think what you're seeing is the class differences, the elite versus the average people, it being affected by the war. And, yes, a certain amount of kind of pushback, even the mayor looks in not very comfortable that what's going on. Significantly, Putin actually got on the phone and called him yesterday and said, what do you need?

MARQUARDT: Again, you know, trying to reassure people. Colonel, we only have a few moments left. But we are all waiting for this counter offensive, of course, to start in earnest. Once it starts with all of the new training they've gotten, all of the new weapons that they have gotten, what are the challenges that they are going to face in terms of breaking through that Russian line and taking back Russian occupied territory?

LEIGHTON: So during this period that we've been waiting for, you have all of these tank traps that have been built, you have all of the different emplacements, all the trenches, every type of thing that the Russians could throw at this, they have thrown at this. So they have a very strong defensive line. Now, that line is only as strong as long as the people within the Russian army, man that line. If they are not there, if they defect, if they you know retreat, if they do anything like that order, or dessert, then it's going to be a major mess, and the Ukrainians can very much exploit that.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, we're still waiting for this to start. Col. Cedric Leighton, Jill Dougherty, thank you very much. Always appreciate your thoughts.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

MARQUARDT: Just ahead, the Republican National Committee has just released the criteria that candidates will have to meet to make the first debate stage. That's in August. Those details and what it could mean for Donald Trump's participation. That's next. Plus a gruesome discovery in Mexico, dozens of bags tossed into a ravine full of human body parts. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: Republican presidential hopefuls are crisscrossing Iowa, sight of the first in the nation caucuses next year as the race for the nomination heats up with leading contenders Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, both making appearances this week. CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny is live in Des Moines, Iowa for us. Jeff, both Trump and DeSantis making strong plays for the Hawkeye State. What are you hearing from voters there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, voters are beginning to really focus on the message here. And this week, it was a pretty extraordinary back and forth between former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. They've been sort of sparring with each other more on the Trump side for several weeks. But this was at close range.

Of course, the Florida Governor has been talking about his conservative ideas and taking some shots at the unfinished business of the Trump years. Trump for his part has been simply casting DeSantis is unready for the job, you know, going after his claim that it would take eight years to finish the job.

Of course, Ron DeSantis is making the argument that if you elect him, he can serve two terms instead of one for Trump. But all this back and forth going on here really has voters scratching their heads. We met Bob Nikkel earlier this week. He said he's still considering Trump but looking hard at DeSantis.


BOB NIKKEL, IOWA VOTER: Right now I'm on the fence, I guess. I wouldn't say I wouldn't really matter completely. And I've been a supporter of his since day one. I think he did what he said he was going to do when he went into office, and that is huge. And so, I stood by him. But right now, if we get someone with a smoother personality that will do the same work. I might be there.


ZELENY: And that was the reflective of so many conversations we had with Republican voters who liked the policies from the Trump administration, but not the personality. So they are indeed open to supporting other candidates. Of course, now the burden is on these candidates to show their strength and make the case to these voters.

DeSantis certainly has big name recognition for a Florida Governor. But there are many, many other candidates in this race so far, far too early as we begin the month of June here to decide this and cast this as a two-person race, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And Jeff, a number of these Republican hopefuls are going to be attending an event there tomorrow with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, tell us about that.

ZELENY: Most of the candidates in fact will be here in Des Moines tomorrow with the exception of former President Donald Trump. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, coming back to Iowa after spending a couple days here earlier this week, making clear that he is trying to sort of move to the head of the Never Trump lane, if you will. So all these candidates will be participating in Senator Joni Ernst telling (ph) roast and ride she calls it, She's a motorcycle rider. She'll be inviting some of the candidates who ride to go on a brief ride with her and then all of them will be giving speeches at the Iowa State Fair.

So it's one of the first big cattle call was if you will were, all of the candidates or most of them deliver speeches and voters and activists have a sense to take their measure so the beginning of this process here as we begin the summer in Des Moines.


MARQUARDT: Well, that's going to be a lot of fun seeing some of those candidates on those motorcycles. Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines, stay with us. I want to bring in CNN political director, David Chalian. David, thanks so much for being with us. The Republican National Committee now has released the criteria that candidates will need to meet in order to qualify for the first debate, that's an August, so a candidate must reach a 1 percent in three national polls, or early state polls, a minimum of 40,000 unique donors to their campaign, and they have to sign a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. So David, what do you make of those terms?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it seems to me, this is a pretty high bar, not so high that it can't be reached by a lot of people. But it starts this process out from the RNC saying, hey, we only want really serious competitors, who are building an operation and building a campaign and having some recognition already with voters on the debate stage. We're not looking for, you know, 20 candidates to emerge onto the debate stage.

So by doing this, unlike the Democrats last cycle, Alex, where it was like you could meet the polling threshold, or the donor threshold, the RNC say, no, you need both, you need to have at least 1 percent support across these national polls are a mix of national and state polls, and you need these 40,000 donors, by the way from 20 states, so showing some breadth to your support as well. This is not going to be a slam dunk for every one of the 10 or 11 major contenders that are that are in this race, you see the field there. Some of these folks are not yet there. And they're going to have to take between now and August 23rd where the debate is going to take place to meet those requirements.

MARQUARDT: And Jeff, the former president, who of course, is the Republican front runner for now, he suggested he may not even show up for this debate. So how much do you think these criteria impact that, especially that last point, the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee?

ZELENY: Well, look, that is something he has not agreed to pledge and to support the ultimate nominee. There are several ways around this. He of course, thinks he will be the nominee. So he could say I'm going to sign it because I think I will be. We will see if the former president decides to engage on the debate stage or not. He's done both things in the past. In fact, here in Iowa, I'm always reminded he actually skipped a presidential primary debate back in the 2015, 2016 cycle, because he did not like the rules and but the reality of that that likely hurt him.

Ted Cruz actually won the Iowa caucuses at that point. So we will see if he goes through and actually skips the debate. Call me a bit skeptical about that, because the former president likes the limelight likes the spotlight and the oxygen from this television coverage, particularly on "Fox News." So I would be not surprised at the end of the day if he participates, but boy, it will be a different event if he does not. But he has a few months to make that decision.

MARQUARDT: Yes. And he likes to debate. David Chalian this field ever growing. We've got Mike Pence, Chris Christie, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. They're all scheduled to enter the race next week. Does their entrance into this field, does that change the dynamics in any real way of this primary contest?

CHALIAN: Well, it changed the dynamics, it will because of just simply the numbers here, as more and more candidates not named Trump, Alex, get into the race. There is, you know, a slicing that happens with the electorate, who is not the portion of the electorate not inclined to support Donald Trump that gets sliced a little thinner, perhaps with each one of these candidates getting in. And that could perhaps benefit Trump.

The real thing to keep your eye on here is not only how many people are getting in here, but at some point, is there pressure inside the Republican orbit from donors from high profile people urging some folks who aren't gaining traction to get out rather quickly.

MARQUARDT: All right, Jeff Zeleny, David Chalian, thank you very much.

And this Sunday, Jake Tapper will be moderating the CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former ambassador to the United Nations as well as the former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Then on Wednesday, it is the CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former Vice President Mike Pence, Dana Bash will be moderating about one 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.


And coming up, a grisly discovery in Mexico, police finding 45 bags containing body parts matching the characteristics of several missing people. Plus, the public spotlight is growing for female members of North Korea's ruling Kim family. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MARQUARDT: Tonight, a gruesome and disturbing discovery out of Jalisco, Mexico where police say 45 bags containing human body parts have been found. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has more on the investigation.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bodies were found in bags discarded in a ravine. Grisly murders that have shocked even Mexicans weary of years of rampant violence, often connected to drug cartels. Investigators say at least 45 bags were found containing human remains outside Guadalajara, Mexico. Some of the bags have broken open.

LUIS JOAQUIN MENDEZ RUIZ, JALISCO ATTORNEY GENERAL (through translator): borders this can contract most all the bags that we found are closed and obviously taped, packed. We found some segments on the precipice ravine that we believe that when they were placed or thrown there, some bags must have torn and that's how we found some segments. In a preliminary manner, we can say that there are female and male bodies, but we need to wait for the institute to confirm.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Officials say the bodies appear to match the physical characteristics of some of the seven missing employees of a call center in Guadalajara. But it's unclear how many victims there are. Missing since late May, their family members have demanded police investigate their disappearances.


We want them alive and well see family members as they marched in the streets before the discovery of the bodies calling on Mexican officials to do more. The families say the relatives went to work like any normal day, but then their phones went dark.

GABRIELA HERNANDEZ, GIRLFRIEND OF MISSING MAN (through translator): At 2:50 p.m., my messages and calls didn't go through. It was only voicemail, and the phone was off. After that there was no more communication with him.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Mexican officials say the investigation has uncovered alleged criminal activity at the call center, but they have not said if there are any suspects behind the killings.

ROSA ICELA RODRIGUEZ, SECRETARY OF SECURITY AND CITIZEN PROTECTION (through translator): The first indicators are it involves people carrying out some kind of real estate fraud and some kind of telephone extortions.

OPPMANN (voice-over): The sad reality is disappearances and brutal mass killings happen all too often in Mexico, where tens of thousands of people according to human rights groups are believed have been murdered and buried in unmarked graves. Just in Jalisco state where this latest massacre took place, 1,500 bodies have been found since 2019, according to prosecutors there.

And throughout Mexico, more than 110,000 people are missing. And while this latest grizzly massacre has generated more headlines and outrage than is usually the case, there are no guarantees family members will receive justice.


OPPMANN: And Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has rejected calls to go directly after the cartels saying that years of fighting drug war has ripped his country apart. But his critics point out that grisly incidents like this, just prove the security situation just continues to get worse. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes. Just a horrific story. Patrick Oppmann, thank you very much for that report. Now to another story that we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, female members of the Kim family increasingly in the North Korean spotlight. Brian Todd has been working this story for us. So Brian, why are Kim Jong-un's sister and his young daughter now taking such a public role?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, analysts say they're unsure about the timing of all this and why it's all happening right now. But what is clear is that this kind of publicly displayed influence by prominent female figures in North Korea is unprecedented.


TODD (voice-over): From the powerful younger sister of the North Korean dictator, another belligerent rhetorical attack on the U.S., quote, the U.S. is a group of gangsters. The U.S. is openly revealing its inveterate hostility toward the DPRK. Those words from Kim Yo Jong responding to the open concern from the White House over a failed North Korean satellite launched this week, the supreme leader sister reprising her role as the bad cop of the regime.

MICHAEL MADDEN, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP EXPERT, STIMSON CENTER: Kim Yo Jong is to a certain degree that dragon lady for the North Korean regime. And there's a certain point where we have to think of her, I think slightly more hawkish than her brother.

TODD (voice-over): Kim Yo Jong believe to be in her mid-30s has seen her power and influence rise exponentially over the past few years. Analysts say she's a gatekeeper for her brother to North Korean elites, a key adviser on policy, someone he trusts more than just about anyone else.

MADDEN: Realistically, she is the second most powerful person in the country.

TODD (voice-over): But recently another prominent female figure has publicly emerged. A young daughter believed to be named Kim Ju-ae thought to be around nine or 10 years old. We first heard of her existence when former American basketball star Dennis Rodman said he'd helped her in his arms as a baby during one of his trips to North Korea about a decade ago.

Since November, Kim Ju-ae has appeared at military parades with her father at missile launches and was with him in recent days when he inspected the satellite that the regime just tried to launch. Why has she been rolled out so often recently?

CHUN SU-JIN, AUTHOR, "NORTH KOREAN WOMEN IN POWER: DAUGHTERS OF THE SUN": Kim Ju-ae happens to be the best secret weapon that Pyongyang has right now because Chairman Kim Jong-un has been afraid of losing the world's attention.

TODD (voice-over): But beyond the propaganda, analysts say it's possible that Kim could be grooming his young daughter as his heir apparent.

KEN GAUSE, NORTH KOREA LEADERSHIP EXPERT, CNA: It's hard to imagine why he would be doing this unless there was a reason behind it. Now, part of it is he could be trying to show a softer face to the leadership and to the people. But it seems to be more than that.

TODD (voice-over): Some analysts say in the future given the notorious history of palace intrigue in Pyongyang. It's possible that Kim Ju-ae and Kim Yo Jong could develop a serious rivalry for influence over the supreme leader.

GAUSE: I think it's very real possibility there have been rivalries throughout the history of the Kim family and North Korea itself.

TODD (voice-over): One caveat, South Korean intelligence recently said Kim Jong-un has a son older than Kim Ju-ae not yet seen in public and there's speculation he could be the successor. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: If there is an older son, why hasn't he been unveiled yet as an heir apparent? Well, analysts say there could be different reasons for that it could be that Kim Jong-un is waiting till the sun goes through more education and training or it could be that the son is getting passed over for leadership as Kim Jong-un's two older brothers were when he was named heir apparent. Alex?


MARQUARDT: Fascinating report. Brian Todd reading the tea leaves for us, thanks very much.

Coming up, more on our top story exclusive new reporting on former President Donald Trump caught on tape discussing classified information.



MARQUARDT: Happening now exclusive CNN reporting on the federal criminal investigation of Donald Trump despite a subpoena from the special counsel's prosecutors. Sources tell CNN, attorneys for the former president still can't locate the classified document that he referenced on an audio tape.