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The Situation Room
Mar-A-Lago Pool Flood Raises Suspicions At DOJ; Mike Pence Files To Run For President; Top U.S. General Says, Ukraine Well- Prepared for Counteroffensive Against Russians; Federal Investigators Probing Plane Crash That Prompted Fighter Jet Scramble Over D.C.; McCarthy Vows Full House Vote On Holding FBI Director In Contempt. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired June 05, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now CNN's exclusive new reporting on a pool flood at Mar-a-Lago that's raising serious suspicions of prosecutors in the Trump classified documents investigation. Did a Trump employee accidentally or intentionally cause the flood in a room where surveillance video logs were kept?
Also tonight, former Vice President Mike Pence files his 2024 campaign paperwork as the Republican presidential field is clearly widening dramatically. This week, there's new reaction from Donald Trump to Pence's candidacy as the stage is now set for a GOP primary showdown.
And the top U.S. general shares his assessment of Ukraine's preparations for its long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia. That and much more in CNN's exclusive interview with the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We begin with the Trump classified documents investigation, CNN getting exclusive new information about an incident at Mar-a-Lago that raised eyebrows in the special counsel's office. This comes on the same day that Donald Trump's lawyers met with U.S. Justice Department officials in the documents probe.
CNN Anchor and Chief Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is part of the team working this story for us. Kaitlan, tell our viewers what you're learning.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. What we've learned is that an employee at former President Trump's Mar-a- Lago resort drained the pool at Mar-a-Lago last October. It resulted in a flood, and it flooded the room, I should note, where computer servers that store surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago are kept.
Now, we are told that this incident, it's not clear whether or not this was intentional or whether or not this was just simply a mistake. But it has caught the eye of Jack Smith, the special counsel who is investigating the former president's mishandling of classified documents. And we're told that the maintenance worker there has spoken with investigators. The maintenance worker, I should note, who was the one that drained that pool that led to this flood that went into that room.
They have heard some testimony that they do not believe any of their surveillance footage or the computer servers were damaged as a result of this flood but they are still asking witnesses about it, Wolf. We know that at least one witness has been asked about it.
And the timeline here is critical because we are told that this pool was drained and that flood happened back in October. That was just a few months after, of course, that search happened in August, when you saw agents showed up at the former president's resort to go through and get the classified documents as they executed that search warrant, those classified documents that had not been handed over.
And the reason the surveillance footage matters here is, clearly, prosecutors are very interested in it. They subpoenaed the Trump Organization, which we are told is in control of the surveillance footage back over the summer, in about June. That was, of course, before that search warrant had been executed in August. We are told they again subpoenaed that footage in August after that search happened.
But I am now told that in late October, the Justice Department sent another request to the Trump Organization asking them to preserve surveillance footage. That is that same month that we are told that this pool at Mar-a-Lago was drained.
So, there are a lot of questions, of course, about how this is factoring into Jack Smith's investigation. Whether or not they believe this was intentional or if it was simply a mistake. But another notable detail that our team has uncovered here, Wolf, that maintenance worker in this case has had his phone seized. He has also spoken to investigators. So, clearly, this is something that they are certainly pursuing and certainly asking witnesses about.
BLITZER: And Kaitlan, I understand Trump's lawyers actually met today with officials, top officials at the U.S. Justice Department. So, who was in the room?
COLLINS: Yes, they are top officials from the Justice Department that they met with. We saw the Trump attorneys going in earlier today. One of those officials, we are told, was the special counsel, Jack Smith, here. And the reason this is important is because we saw the letter that Trump's attorneys sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland just a few weeks ago asking to meet with him. That meeting, of course, has not happened. We are told they were alleging prosecutorial misconduct and that obviously that would be pointed toward the special counsel's office.
It doesn't seem clear that that meeting with Garland is going to happen. But we are told they met with for about 90 minutes. They were inside the building. Today, we are told Jack Smith was in the room.
And afterward, we saw a pretty angry reaction from the former President on social media, on his website, talking about potentially being charged by the Justice Department. Obviously, we don't know if that is going to happen here, but it's clearly something that is top of mind for the former President. And quite notable that you saw his top attorneys there meeting with Justice Department officials today.
BLITZER: Very dramatic developments indeed. Kaitlan, I want you to stay with us as we also bring in our legal experts, and, Laura Coates, let me start with you. How significant is it that the special counsel actually joined this meeting with Trump's lawyers, as we're learning, this flood actually appeared to raise prosecutors' suspicions?
LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It's extremely significant. I mean, think about all that he is trying to orchestrate to cover in order to understand how this investigation has been run. He has really intentionally been out of the limelight for him to join in this occasion after his lawyers, Trump's lawyers, made a very public statement trying to obviously persuade the court of public opinion, in part. They deserve to have a meeting for him to join, tells you that he is very invested, that he is leaning into this investigation, and that he has every intention of being quite clear and direct.
Now, we don't know whether Trump's statement coming out of it was in response to what his lawyers told him because Trump was not there. But in any event, all of the information we're seeing cumulatively is pointing to the issue of intent no longer really being one. They're trying to find out, they're very clear on what it might mean. And I'm almost to the point now, Wolf, where I say I've almost seen it all. The idea of a flooded room where computer servers were, the idea of phones being seized, it's very clear that they are trusting and verifying every single facet of the investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, very clear indeed. Elie Honig, what do you think this reporting on Mar-a-Lago, the surveillance footage and the meeting today, what do you think it all means for this possible case for obstruction?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this tells me that they have to be in endgame right now. First of all, starting with the meeting with Trump's attorneys, defense lawyers commonly ask for and are given this type of meeting with prosecutors towards the very end of a case to try to convince them not to bring charges. And, usually, the way it works is you may have to take a meeting with a lower ranking person and then you work your way up before you're given a meeting with the principal. And in this case, that is Jack Smith. It also tells me that the attorney general is respecting Jack Smith's independence by letting Jack Smith be at that meeting and not interfering and not being in that meeting himself.
I think it's very unlikely, knowing the way DOJ works, that Merrick Garland will give them a subsequent meeting. I think this is probably it. I think this is probably the Trump team's last chance effort to try to dissuade prosecutors. And it tells me that we're really in the final moments of this investigation.
BLITZER: Yes. Shan Wu, you're a former federal prosecutor. I know you participated in meetings like this one today with the Justice Department. What was Trump's legal team actually trying to achieve?
SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, what they should have been trying to achieve that's most effective is really talking about how the law applies to these facts. In these kinds of meetings, Wolf, it's not particularly effective to be running a complaint list that the prosecutors or investigators misbehaved. Somehow it's more helpful.
And sometimes defense counsel will actually use like a white paper to say, this is not the right facts in terms of these potential charges, because in white collar cases, it's not a question of who done it, it's a question of whether something was done. So, that's what they should have been trying to do. But if they're just adopting sort of this blustery posture that Trump does, I really doubt that that would have been very effective.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Kaitlan, Trump is taking to his Truth Social site over there to vent his anger, asking how the Department of Justice could possibly charge him. Does that indicate to you that Trump and his team think an indictment is actually coming?
COLLINS: I think Trump seems to be coming around to that idea potentially. We don't have any sense that they've been told that or given a heads-up on that from the Justice Department. But he seems to be clearly stating publicly that he believes there's a chance that could happen.
I know when I talk to people in Trump's orbit, they believe that there could be action taken on this, maybe not for Trump, but for someone potentially in the month of June. That is something they have been watching closely. They've thought that for several weeks now.
But I will say one other thing we learned today and that our justice team is reporting is that another grand jury witness is going before a grand jury. We are told this week, and that's in Southern Florida. That, of course, is important. That's where Mar-a-Lago is. That is where the search that happened last August occurred. The other grand jury that's been happening in this documents investigation, of course, is in Washington.
And so that is something that we are watching very closely to see what that looks like and how that develops. Because even Trump's own legal teams has this indication that they do believe if something is going to happen here, they believe it's going to potentially happen as soon as this month.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Laura, knowing that the grand jury is actually reconvening this week, how close do you think the special counsel could be to wrapping up this probe?
COATES: Well, that they're reconvening is very interesting to me. That means they have witnesses who are still ready to testify. Maybe there's new documents that have come into the fold. Maybe they're trying to corroborate and buttress someone's earlier testimony that they're trying to have one come in after some time. It may also indicate, though, that the grand jurors themselves have some questions and they're asking for greater clarification. All of this is possible, and all of it is shrouded in secrecy. And so we'll wait to see.
BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very, very much. Important note to our viewers, Kaitlan will be back later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern for CNN Primetime. We'll be watching, of course.
Just ahead, former Vice President Mike Pence files to run for president and go up against his former boss. It's a busy week as the list of Trump's Republican challengers is growing by the day. One of the GOP candidates standing by to join us live this hour, the former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The former vice president, Mike Pence, is officially running for president. He filed his campaign paperwork today ahead of his expected public announcement on Wednesday. Pence setting the stage for an epic clash with Donald Trump as the Republican field is widening.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny is following all the new developments in the race for the White House tonight.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the Republican presidential contest is expanding and intensifying --
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've let guys do it for a while. It might be time for a woman to get it done.
ZELENY: -- as the anyone but Trump Lane grows even more crowded, with former Vice President Mike Pence filing his paperwork today and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum set to join the race this week. As these rivals open their campaigns, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is sharpening her differences, telling Iowa voters at a CNN town hall Sunday night that former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have not been straight with voters about the viability of Social Security.
HALEY: I know that Trump and DeSantis have both said we're not going to deal with entitlement reform. Well, all you're doing is leaving it for the next president, and that's leaving a lot of Americans in trouble.
ZELENY: Haley took particular aim at DeSantis in hopes of slowing his rise by blasting Florida's legal battle with Disney as hypocritical.
HALEY: He went and basically gave the highest corporate subsidies in Florida history to Disney. But because they went and criticized him, now he's going to spend taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit.
ZELENY: Haley's competition is multiplying. While Pence and Christie are familiar faces to Republicans, Burgum, a businessman turned governor, released a video today introducing himself ahead of a Wednesday announcement in North Dakota.
GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R-ND): Anger yelling infighting, that's not going to cut it anymore. Let's get things done.
ZELENY: Today, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu making a different decision, telling CNN's Dana Bash he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination.
GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): I don't mind who gets into the field, but given where the polls are right now, every candidate needs to understand the responsibility of getting out and getting out quickly if it's not working.
The former president looms large over the race, the biggest clear beneficiary of a bigger field, as the contenders worked to distinguish themselves in hopes of a one on one contest with him.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott stopped by The View today on ABC for a face-to-face conversation about race and opportunity in America.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): One of the reasons why I'm on the show is because of the comments that were made, frankly, on this show, that the only way for a young African-American kid to be successful in this country is to be the exception and not the rule. That is a dangerous, offensive, disgusting message to send to our young people today.
ZELENY (on camera): And it is the introduction of former Vice President Mike Pence into this race that really is so extraordinary. And he was welcomed into the race by former President Donald Trump, who called into a radio show to say some pretty flattering words, sort of. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I wish him a lot of luck. He's a nice person. We had a very good relationship until the very end. We had a very strong, nice relationship until the very end. I wish he would have put the votes back to the legislatures and legislators also.
We disagreed on that last moment in time on that very issue and I wish he did that. And I think he'd be way up. I think he'd be doing much better in the polls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So we see that nothing has changed in the relationship between the former president and the former vice president. But, of course, with all of these candidates entering the race by the middle of the week, we'll have 12 candidates, Wolf, that of course benefits Donald Trump more than anyone else because so many of those other candidates in the never Trump lane, if you will, are dividing up the electorate.
BLITZER: It splits up the vote dramatically. Let's get some reaction from our political team. Nia, what do you think? What did you think of Trump's reaction?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, Trump is at about 50 percent in the poll. So, he is feeling fairly comfortable. I think in the poll I saw, Pence is at like 4 percent. So, he's highlighting in that statement, I think, that he's feeling pretty good about where he is. And the reason I think that Pence isn't doing so well because what Trump said, which is that Trump feels like Pence double-crossed him. Trump feels good.
I mean, we could see a replay of 2016, where there is Donald Trump, who, in some ways, seems to be doing better than he did in 2016. He was about 30 percent. Now, in some of these polls, he's at 50 percent. So, he's feeling relaxed. He might not even be in the debates, which are in late August. He didn't even really go to Iowa and participate where you were this past weekend because he's feeling good.
That could change. Obviously, there's some legal issues that he's confronted now. But for now, come on in. The water is fine, is what Donald Trump is saying to these competitors.
BLITZER: And, Gloria, how do you think Pence is going to grapple with this extraordinary, truly extraordinary situation of competing against this former boss?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, let's just say this is kind of a moment in history here where a vice president, a former vice president, is running against his former boss. I mean, we've never seen that. And how is he going to handle it? He's going to have to have a lot of finesse to handle it.
Remember, he was the vice president who said, we all stand on Donald Trump's broad shoulders, remember that, over and over and over again.
And now, he's going to be criticizing him. And I was speaking with one of his senior advisers today, and I said, well, where does he fit in? As we say, what's his lane? And he said, no one else in the field is a traditional conservative, and he said, and no one else has the same combination of experience and character. And they think, of course, that Iowa is the place for him to make his mark because of the large evangelical population and they feel that he can really make some inroads there in the caucus.
ZELENY: It's interesting. I was at an event where he was on Saturday, it was a Senator Joni Ernst's annual roast and ride, it's called, some motorcycles, some politics and barbecue. But the former vice president got a very warm reception from a room of about 1,000 Republican activists. That doesn't always happen. He's been booed at the NRA. He's been sort of jeered at some other things.
So, I do think many Iowa Republicans have an open mind for his candidacy. Certainly, he talks pretty straight about the need to have some entitlement reform over Social Security. I'm not sure that's the path to the nomination but he is going to camp out there, basically.
The question is when you talk to voters who are open to turning the page, they do, in fact, want to turn the page, and it's hard for Pence not to get caught up in that. So, he's casting himself as sort of pre- vice president, as the governor, as a member of Congress from Indiana. So, we will see what his reception is. He knows it's an uphill climb here but he also wants to have some of these issues in the race.
We'll also see if he gets on the debate stage. He has to have 40,000 donors from 20 states and be at 1 percent in the poll.
BORGER: And that would be embarrassing.
ZELENY: But it could be a challenge, yes.
BORGER: Yes, it would be very embarrassing for a former vice president.
BLITZER: It would be very embarrassing.
Senator Tim Scott, he was on the T.V. show, the View, today, and he's suggesting that he's differentiating himself from the rest of the field.
HENDERSON: That's right. I mean, he is running as a man of faith and as a black man. And he talks about his history, the fact that his forebears were picking cotton and now he's in Congress. This was a good moment for him. He likes to say he can stick it to the folks who are woke and the liberals who talk about America as if it were a racist country where black people can't succeed.
So, he went in. It was a good moment for him. Does it translate really into getting any attraction in a place like Iowa or New Hampshire? Of course, maybe he doesn't belong to South Carolina. Polls, so far, don't show him being that competitive. It's early still. You talked about voters wanting to turn the page. Maybe they'd want to turn it to somebody like Tim Scott, who is running on a much more optimistic message than the other candidates.
BLITZER: Another candidate, Gloria, the former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, we all saw her in the CNN town hall last night. She's really going after -- at least to a certain degree, she's going after Trump and DeSantis for that matter (ph).
BORGER: Well, she's got to go after DeSantis if she's going to get to Donald Trump. And so that's her immediate target. And I think she really is differentiating herself, talking about Disney, as Jeff showed in his piece, also talking about the differences on Ukraine and feeling that it's important for us to be supporting Zelenskyy, to be supporting Ukraine. And that is different from DeSantis, who once called it a territorial dispute, although he tried to back down from that. So, again, her lane, as we talk about, she's got to knock off DeSantis in order to get to the big guy.
BLITZER: We'll see how that unfolds. All right, guys, thank you very much.
Important note to our viewer stay with CNN for a presidential town hall with Mike Pence just hours after he publicly announces his run for the White House. Dana Bash hosts the forum in Iowa on Wednesday beginning 09:00 P.M. Eastern.
Coming up here in The Situation Room, CNN's exclusive brand new interview with the top U.S. general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, his thoughts on the war in Ukraine and much more.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Tonight, the top U.S. general is speaking exclusively with CNN. The joint chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, weighing in on the state of the war in Ukraine, growing tensions between the U.S. and China and much more.
CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann has our report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): General Mark Milley in Normandy, marking the beginning of the largest counteroffensive in modern European history, as the world waits for another counteroffensive in Ukraine.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think the Ukrainians are very well prepared. As you know very well, the United States and other allied countries in Europe and, you know, really around the world have provided training and ammunition and advice, intelligence, et cetera, to the Ukrainians. We're supporting them. They're in a war that's an existential threat for the very survival of Ukraine, and it has greater meaning to the rest of the world.
LIEBERMANN: Ukraine and its agents have carried out a number of attacks inside Russia, including a drone attack in Moscow. U.S. officials have exclusively told CNN it was part of a complex network of saboteurs inside Russia.
MILLEY: In any war, there's risk. There's always risk. There's risk of escalation, clearly, in this particular case. So, we'll have to watch that very, very carefully.
If Russia escalates against Ukraine, then that's part of the give and take of war.
LIEBERMANN: Milley also spoke about the tension with China just days after a Chinese warship cut off a U.S. Navy vessel in the Taiwan Strait at a distance of 150 yards, dangerously close.
MILLEY: Both countries are significant powers, great powers, if you want to call it that, in the world today. Both countries have significant amounts of nuclear weapons. They've got large and capable militaries. So, a conflict between great powers, arguably, we're in -- for sure, we're in competition, and, arguably, we're in confrontation, but we're not yet in conflict.
LIEBERMANN: Milley says communication with Beijing is key to avoid conflict.
MILLEY: And I personally don't think that war between China and the United States is inevitable. I don't think it's imminent but it needs to stay in a status of competition. In order to do that countries have to talk to each other. And in times of crisis, it's necessary to de escalate.
LIEBERMANN: But at a defense conference in Singapore last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin only shook hands with his Chinese counterpart, who refused a formal meeting. Milley hasn't spoken to his counterpart in nearly eight months.
MILLEY: I have not had an opportunity to talk to my counterpart. I talked to my previous counterpart. We've sent out messages and they've sent messages back and forth. So, there are some communications going back and forth but we would like to have an opportunity to talk and I think they would like to have an opportunity to talk.
LIEBERMANN: Back in Washington, Milley says he spoke with Senator Tommy Tuberville over a one-man blockade on the nomination of more than 200 general officers, a number that could triple by the end of summer and affect military readiness.
MILLEY: It's a large number and then you figure that each one is to replace somebody else and somebody is going to replace them. So, you multiply it by three. So, you're really looking at potentially somewhere between 1,000, 2,000 thousand officers are impacted, then most of them are married. So, now, you're looking at about another 4,000 family members.
LIEBERMANN: This could be a backup of the whole system, it sounds like.
MILLEY: It will be a backup of the whole system. It is becoming a backup of the whole system.
LIEBERMANN: In congressional hearings, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has repeatedly defended the department against accusations of being too woke, an issue he says is exaggerated.
MILLEY: We're about fighting and winning on battlefields and we're all about readiness. We're all about readiness now and readiness in the future and modernization. I think the accusations of woke are grossly overexaggerated.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): General Milley this month will mark 44 years in the service. Of course, it will be the last four of those that come under the most scrutiny, a position and that has given him the ear of the president at a critical time in Afghanistan and Ukraine, for example, but also that has put him in the crosshairs of some of the attacks on the Defense Department.
Back to China for a moment, the White House doubling down on its criticism of Chinese actions here, saying China was acting in an unsafe and unprofessional manner in the Taiwan Strait by cutting in front of that U.S. warship. The White House also saying that China should evaluate its behavior in international waterways and international airspace. Still, Wolf, the White House confident they are making some progress on opening up those lines of critical communication with Beijing.
BLITZER: Oren Lieberman, reporting for us, excellent work. Thank you very much.
Let's go to Ukraine right now, where CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is standing by in Kharkiv, not far from the Russian border.
Sam, CNN, as you know, has exclusive new reporting on recent sabotage attacks inside Russia. I know you're working your sources. What else could you tell us?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a confirmation of what many people would have naturally suspected since the very first drone attack on the Kremlin, you'll recall, a few weeks ago. Excuse me, there's the air raid sirens going off here in Kharkiv again, Wolf.
But on top of that, CNN's exclusive reporting is suggesting that the U.S. believes that the Ukrainians have a network of either Ukrainian or people sympathetic to Ukrainians throughout Russia who have been behind a number of other drone attacks. It's unclear, they say, whether or not those drones are actually directly supplied by Ukraine or simply encouraged and facilitated by Ukraine, but also that the equipment that they used to manufacture these drones and conduct other acts of sabotage against the Russians, the Russian state, the military infrastructure, in particular, smuggled along the very, very long border between Ukraine and Russia.
Now, this is very significant intelligence because it will also fire up anger and concern and consternation in the Kremlin, no less, because, of course, this is an organized, multinational effort. Wolf?
BLITZER: And I understand Russia is attempting to control the narrative out there on the frontlines where you are, and we hear those air raid sirens going off, if it's dangerous, you'll go to a shelter, is Russian infighting spilling over?
KILEY: Yes. There's been a remarkable development in the last 24 hours, Wolf, in which Roman Venevitin, who is the lieutenant colonel in charge of the 72nd mechanized brigade of the Russian forces in Bakhmut, was actually effectively abducted, beaten up, and then a video posted of the consequences of this by the Wagner Mercenary Group on their official Telegram channel.
And we've got images of this and some of the sound. We're not playing any of that because this is a man who was subjected to duress and, clearly, he's got facial injuries, he was beaten up.
And it would appear he was forced to confess, I say in inverted commas, that he was drunk and had ordered his troops to open fire on Wagner and mercenaries.
Now, these are all groups of Russians on the same side, Wolf. This will be very encouraging to the Ukrainians as a side that the command and control structures are beginning to fall apart, at least around Bakhmut among the Russians, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sam Kiley, stay safe over there. We'll stay in touch with you. Thank you.
Just ahead, with the Republican presidential race getting crowded, will Asa Hutchinson secure a place out there on the debate stage? The former Arkansas governor will join us live. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Tonight, former Vice President Mike Pence has taken a critical new step in launching his 2024 presidential bid. And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn't far behind as the GOP field takes shape right now.
We're joined by a Republican who has already kicked off his campaign, the former governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
Clearly, the field is getting crowded right now, but the New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu, says he won't run, and he says every candidate has a responsibility, in his words, to get out quickly if it's not working. How will you know if your candidacy isn't working?
FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, first of all, Chris Sununu's message needs to be read by everybody. He made it clear that he believes there should be an alternative to Donald Trump, and he would like to see the field narrow down the road. But he also said by winter, if you're not polling at the right level.
And so we've got to remember, this is very early. It's June. The Iowa caucuses are next year. And so there's time. But the field will narrow as you get closer because there's going to be probably limited opportunities to expose yourself to the nation.
The debate is very important coming up, and that's where we're all focusing right now, that first debate in August.
BLITZER: And speaking of that debate, you say the Republican National Committee's requirements to qualify for that first Republican primary debate in August will keep some candidates off the stage. Are you worried you won't qualify?
HUTCHINSON: No, I'm going to qualify because we're going to have the focused effort to make sure that we have the 40,000 donors that are required, and that's just a matter of intensity of effort and broadening the support. Everybody can help going by asa2024.com, because any contribution helps get us on the debate stage. There's also a polling criteria, which we've met in a couple of different states.
So, I don't like the criteria because the first debate should be an open debate for all the American voters and Republicans in Iowa to see the ideas that are presented. Who's going to solve the problem of the economy and address it in controlling inflation and interest rates, have a pro-growth energy policy, be able to address the challenges along the border? I want to be able to showcase my experience in Congress, as governor, balancing a budget, leave any surplus. These are the things that we want to be able to convey on the debate stage.
BLITZER: Will you sign that required pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee, even if that nominee ends up being Donald Trump?
HUTCHINSON: Well, I don't believe the nominee will be Donald Trump. I expect to support the nominee of the party. I'll wait and see exactly the pledge and see how everybody addresses that. I expect to be on the debate stage, but I'm not a real fan of party loyalty oaths. I believe that we ought to run as Republicans and support the nominee, but we also want to make sure we have the right nominee, and that's what this contest is about.
BLITZER: I want you to watch what former Governor Nikki Haley, a fellow contender for the Republican nomination, said about a possible federal abortion ban during CNN's town hall last night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you have an opinion, though? I mean, if a six week ban theoretically came to your desk, would you sign it?
HALEY: But why -- I will answer that when you ask Kamala and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks.
I'm not going to throw out a number, because if you don't talk with those senators and know where their heads at and know what they're really willing to do, then we're having a false conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, are you clear on where Governor Haley stands?
HUTCHINSON: Well, no, I'm not. I think it's important to state your position very clearly. Right now, it's up to the states. But I'm pro- life. I said that if there is a national consensus on the issue with reasonable exceptions and reasonable restrictions, then I would sign that.
But I think this will be left to the states because you won't see the supermajorities necessary for the Democrats to pass a wide open abortion policy, nor for us to be able on our side to pass more reasonable restrictions. But let's see how the debate goes.
Right now, it is in the states, and let's focus on making sure that we provide the maternity care that's needed, make sure that we have the right debate in the states for the right exceptions to the abortion restrictions.
BLITZER: Governor Hutchinson, thanks so much for joining us. Let's continue this conversation down the road. I appreciate it.
And this note to our viewers, coming up on Erin Burnett Outfront, a former attorney for Donald Trump, Tim Parlatore, talks about all the day's headlines from the special counsel's investigation. That's coming up right after The Situation Room, 07:00 P.M. Eastern.
And coming up here in The Situation Room, CNN is on the scene of a mysterious plane crash that caused panic right here in the nation's capital.
We're going to have the latest on the investigation right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Federal investigators are combing through the remains of a private plane that briefly caused panic right here in Washington, D.C., before crashing in Virginia.
Brian Todd is joining us live near the scene of the wreckage.
Brian, this plane was actually intercepted by U.S. Air National Guard jets as it approached Washington, D.C. What's the latest on the investigation?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have new information on what investigators are finding at the crash site. In what observers saw in the cockpit of that plane as it headed towards this mountain range.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, new details on the crash from that private jet in Virginia that prompted an emergency fighter fire response. A source telling CNN that the pilot of the Cessna Citation was observed, unresponsive and slumped over in his seat. The NTSB is now on site in central Virginia going through what's left of the wreckage, with another source saying investigators are now most interested in hypoxia, lack of oxygen, as a possible cause of the crash.
The twin engine jet went hundreds of miles off course, including passing over the D.C. area into restricted airspace. Investigators describe highly fragmented wreckage in very mountainous terrains.
ADAM GERHARDT, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: The engines, the weather conditions, pilot qualifications, the maintenance records, all aspects will be of course items that we routinely look at.
TODD: The flight path shows a take off from Tennessee, at its destination on New York's Long Island, the plane turns but does not land. Instead, it keeps flying at 45,000 feet right into restricted air flay space near Washington, D.C.
The capital briefly placed on an elevated alert and Air National Guard pilots scrambled to intercept, causing a sonic boom heard around the belt ring. But NORAD says the pilots got no response to flybys, flairs, or radio calls.
AIR NATIONAL GUARD PILOT: Air National Guard fighter on guard. If you hear this transmission, contact us.
TODD: Authorities say the plane was not shop down. But if it appear to be a threat --
MAJOR GENERAL SCOTT CLANCY (RET), FORMER NORAD DEPUTY COMMANDER: They do have the ability to shoot down a civilian aircraft, if that is required.
TODD: The plane was tracked until it crashed into the mountains of central Virginia. There were four people on board.
How might a lack of oxygen cause a crash?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Some sort of depressurization event, likely, rapid or maybe slow, which caused a pilot to be incapacitated and also render to the passengers unconscious.
TODD: First responders telling CNN there were no survivors, just a crater and small debris fragments and signs of human remains.
CHIEF GREG SCHACHT, AUGUSTA COUNTY FIRE AND RESCUE: Very hard to get to. A lot of overgrowth. They had areas where they actually had to get on their hands and knees to crawl to get under the brush to get into it.
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: It's going to be very difficult to recover, certainly any avionics or any important wreckage information for the victims on the plane. We won't be able to tell whether they had any signs of oxygen deprivation.
TODD (on camera): An NTSB official said they will have to lift the wreckage out starting tomorrow by helicopter and take it to a secure facility in Delaware. He says they're looking to see if a black box is on site with the cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder. This, plane they say, is not required to have one of those, but some of those plans are outfitted with them anyway, Wolf, and if they can find one, that would be invaluable to this investigation.
BLITZER: Yeah, let's hope they find that.
Brian Todd, thank you very much.
Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, why FBI Director Chris Wray could soon face a contempt of Congress vote. We'll have more news when we come back.
BLITZER: A Republican-led investigation into the Biden vice presidency could lead to a contempt of Congress vote for the FBI Director Christopher Wray.
CNN's Sara Murray is joining us right now. She's working the story. She has details.
What are the next steps here for the House GOP's probe, and a possible contempt charge going against the FBI director?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll look, Wolf, today senior FBI director's came, they went behind closed doors with House Oversight Chairman James Comer, as well as the top Democrat in that committee, Jamie Raskin, to show them this internal law enforcement document Comer has subpoenaed.
It allegedly includes unverified allegations that Biden, while he was vice president, was involved in a bribery scheme. So, as they came out of this briefing, Comer made it very clear he was not satisfied. He thinks that they should have access, the entire House Oversight Committee, and frankly anybody wants to share with in Congress, to this actual, physical document. And he said he is going to move ahead later this week with these
contempt proceedings against FBI Director Christopher Wray. We also heard from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy today who was pledged there's going to be a full house vote on this contempt issue.
Now, the FBI says this isn't warranted. They said, you know, we've been very accommodating. We brought you this document that includes raw intelligence, it basically includes what they would get from a confidential source written down in this FBI document. And again, uncorroborated, but the FBI certainly not keen to have that out there.
There was a disagreement coming out of this breeding between Comer and Raskin about whether this document and the allegations in it are still the subject of an ongoing investigation.
Listen what the Democrat and the Republican had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): All I know was there's an ongoing investigation. They confirmed there's an ongoing investigation using this information. I assume, the ongoing investigation is in Delaware. I don't know that, but I assume that.
REP. JAMES RASKIN (D-MD): What I know is that the FBI Department of Justice team under William Barr and Scott Brady in the western district of Pennsylvania terminated the investigation. They said there were no grounds for further investigative steps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now look, Wolf, the truth is there seems to be somewhere in the middle. These are allegations that came to the FBI while Bill Barr was attorney general. He tasks some prosecutors and some investigators from looking at it, they did not find whether to corroborate the allegations. This was coming when Rudy Giuliani was bring stuff at the time, and they sort of didn't move on with it.
But there is still this ongoing Hunter Biden criminal probe, and there could the slices of this that are still part of that investigation where we don't know if anyone will be charged.
BLITZER: Yeah, lots going on.
Sara Murray, excellent reporting, thank you very, very much.
Finally tonight, Robert Hanssen, one of the most notorious spies in U.S. history, has died in federal prison at the age of 79. Hanssen received $1.4 million in cash indictments for turning over highly classified information to the then Soviet Union, and to Russia, using his position as an FBI agent to compromise the identities of dozens of U.S. human sources in Moscow, some of whom were executed. He was caught in 2001 and sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to avoid the death sentence.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.