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Sources Say, DOJ To Recommend Probation For Hunter Biden; Chris Christie Says, Trump Admits To Obstruction In Interview; Urgent Search For Missing Sub Before Oxygen Runs Out; Inside The Lure Of The Titanic Shipwreck; Ukraine: Russia Launches Massive New Strikes On Kyiv.Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 20, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt who is in for Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. See you tomorrow.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new reaction to Hunter Biden's plea agreement in a long-running federal criminal probe. Sources say that the Justice Department is expected to recommend probation for the president's son, as Republicans are blasting the deal made by a Trump-appointed prosecutor.

Also tonight, one of Donald Trump's GOP rivals says the former president just admitted to obstruction of justice on national television. We're following the fallout from Trump's first T.V. interview since his indictment in the classified documents investigation. And the search for the missing Titanic tour submersible is growing

more urgent. The Coast Guard warning the five people on board have less than 40 hours of oxygen left.

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

We do begin with the legal ramifications for Hunter Biden after his newly announced plea agreement with the Justice Department and the political implications for his father, the president. Our correspondents are all standing by at the White House and on Capitol Hill.

First, let's go to CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Paula, what more are we learning about this deal on the tax and run gun-related charges?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, we've learned this deal came together in recent weeks and Hunter has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of failing to pay taxes on time. Now, he did eventually pay those taxes and we've learned Justice Department is expected to recommend that he be sentenced to probation. And if Hunter can comply with certain requirements set forth by the court, he will also avoid being charged for failing to disclose his addiction when purchasing a gun.


REID (voice over): President Biden's son, Hunter, reaches an agreement with the Justice Department to resolve a long-running criminal investigation. According to a letter filed Tuesday by federal prosecutors, Hunter will plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and struck a deal to resolve a separate felony gun charge if he complies with his end of the plea agreement.

According to court documents, Biden owed at least $100,000 in federal taxes for 2017 and at least $100,000 for 2018 but did not pay the IRS by the deadline. His lawyers say he eventually paid the tax bill, along with fees and penalties.

As part of this deal, the Justice Department has agreed to recommend a sentence of probation for the tax charges, according to sources, but the final punishment will be up to the judge. On the gun charge, prosecutors allege he possessed a gun despite his addiction, in violation of federal law.

Biden's lawyers met with the Justice Department in April and sources tell CNN that negotiations to resolve the case have ramped up in recent weeks. The deal comes after a broad years-long investigation that also looked at Hunter Biden's foreign deals and possible money laundering.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans have been focused on the president's son and his foreign business dealings. But prosecutors haven't charged him on those claims. On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy criticized Hunter's deal.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It continues to show the two-tiered system in America. If you are the president's leading political opponent, DOJ tries to literally put you in jail, give you prison time. If you are the president's son, you get a sweetheart deal.

REID: The Hunter Biden investigation has been overseen by Trump- appointed U.S. Attorney David Weiss. In an interview Tuesday, Biden's lawyer, Chris Clark, called the investigating dogged but fair.

CHRIS CLARK, ATTORNEY FOR HUNTER BIDEN: This was a five-year, very diligent investigation pursued by incredibly professional prosecutors, some of whom have been career prosecutors, one of whom at least was appointed by President Trump. And no one has ever said they're not competent, good or diligent.


REID (on camera): we're waiting for a date to be set for hunt tore head to court for his arraignment and plead guilty. I want to emphasize this deal, including that recommendation for probation is still subject to approval by a judge. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Paula Reid, thanks very much.

Now to the White House, CNN's Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, we did hear from President Joe Biden just a little while ago. What did we have to say?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Alex. President Biden is making no effort to distance himself from his son. Just as the White House earlier today in a statement said that the president and the first lady love their son and support him, the president, under dogged questioning by our colleague, Jasmine Wright, saying this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm very proud of my son.



DIAMOND: And that is indeed in keeping with the strategy and frankly just the relationship, period, between the president and his son, Hunter, a very close relationship, one during which we've heard President Biden throughout this investigation say that he is proud of his son in particular for overcoming his drug addiction.

And, look, this is a White House that has kept close tabs on this situation involving Hunter Biden. I'm told by multiple people familiar with the matter that the president's personal attorney, Bob Bauer, top White House officials maintained close contact with Hunter Biden's legal team.

Now, they did not direct or advise their legal strategy, but, certainly, unlike other investigations, other prosecutorial decisions by the Justice Department, this is a White House that was not caught off guard by this, that was in close touch with Hunter's legal team.

At the same time, this is also a White House that has maintained the Justice Department is independent, did not interfere in this investigation that was carried out by a Trump-appointed attorney. And so, ultimately, President Biden knowing that this, even as it impacts his son, it will impact him on the campaign trail going forward. We have seen Republicans already seizing on these allegations, and they can expect that that will continue even as this legal matter concludes for Hunter Biden. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much for that report.

Now, over on Capitol Hill, Republicans are now vowing to continue their investigations of Hunter Biden as they blast his plea deal.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju has been getting Republican reaction. So, Manu, how are Republicans seizing on this?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are planning to press ahead with their own investigation into the Bidens. In the words of Speaker McCarthy, it, quote, enhances the investigation that the House Oversight Committee has already launched into the Bidens. The question will be exactly what information they can get. One of the questions that has been raised by the House Oversight Committee chairman is the fact that the Justice Department indicated this investigation is still ongoing. What does that mean, and will that prevent them from getting future records?

But Republicans have downplayed the fact that this is a Trump- appointed U.S. attorney that launched this investigation, and the speaker of the House himself has tried to equate what happened here with the fact that the Justice Department pursued prosecution against former President Donald Trump, even though the two situations are different and the facts are much different.

I tried to press the speaker about this issue, but he contended the Justice Department is biased.


MCCARTHY: It just seems to me that if you are the leading opponent of the president, you're going to get jail time. But if you're the son of the president, you don't get any jail time.

RAJU: Those are two separate cases. Why conflate them?

MCCARTHY: I'm not conflating them.

RAJU: They're alleging he lied to investigators. That's the issue here.

MCCARTHY: Well, did Hunter Biden lie about his taxes? Did Hunter Biden lie about the gun?

RAJU: Well, I don't know. He pleaded guilty to the situation, that situation.

MCCARTHY: Well, there's no time for him to serve. Remember, they said there would be no prison time but they're trying to put President Trump in prison?


RAJU: Now, tonight, two key House committee chairmen plan to meet and discuss their strategy to investigate the investigators, whether or not to call David Weiss, who is the U.S. attorney in this case, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney held over into the Biden administration. They do plan to call him to testify. The question will be whether or not that comes before the House Judiciary Committee or the House Oversight Committee.

That is what chairman, James Comer, told me earlier today about the plans to pursue the testimony of the U.S. attorney and also to try to get records. He says there are a number of questions he has about what the investigation into Hunter Biden pursued and what it did not pursue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): I wonder if people that have been investigating the Bidens knew about the Shell companies, if they knew about the money laundering and if they knew about the money wires.

I think the U.S. attorney will be invited to testify to some committee.

I'm investigating the Biden family. So, this has absolutely nothing to do with our investigation of Joe Biden and we're going to continue to move forward with that.


RAJU: Now, the U.S. attorney, David Weiss, did indicate to the house Republicans earlier this month that he was given, quote, ultimate authority to investigate whatever he wanted in this case, that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, did not interfere. But that's one of the questions that they plan to pursue in the weeks ahead. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.

Let's break all this down with more of our legal and political experts. Thank you all for joining me this evening, lots to get to. Elliot, I want to start with you. Give us some context here about these charges, this believe deal. You have two tax misdemeanors. They're going to resolve this felony gun charge. How does this strike you?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It does not strike me as alarming at all, Alex. And think of it this way. In our federal system, about 97 or 98 percent of cases that actually are brought end up resulting in a plea deal. It is incredibly common for someone who is charged with a federal crime to plead guilty.

With that in mind, this kind of arrangement for these types of crimes would not be that alarming.


Set aside the politics, set aside the fact that it's Hunter Biden, this is a very straightforward plea deal from a prosecutorial perspective.

MARQUARDT: But when it comes to politics, when it comes to the Republicans' reaction, we're hearing them call it a sweetheart deal, a mere traffic ticket, in the words of former President Donald Trump. How accurate is that?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's a traffic ticket that can get you put in jail. Given that something like two-thirds or about 60 percent of cases that end up in supervision or probation end up having some violation in some way. He could actually end up behind bars for this.

Look, someone who has -- in the case of Hunter Biden, someone who has a history of substance abuse and firearm possession who's on probation, it doesn't look good for him down the road. And so the idea of throwing around these terms about slap on the wrist and probation, a traffic ticket, it's just not accurate.

MARQUARDT: But we did, of course, just hear the current president saying, Abby, that he is proud of his son. This is something that we've heard him say time and time again when it comes to Hunter. But going into this election cycle, how much of a liability is Hunter going to be, politically?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, I think we should not be surprised that the president is standing by his son. This is his only surviving son. He's a human being. I think most would find it strange if he threw his son under the bus for any political purpose. I think that's a given. He's going to defend Hunter. He's going to keep his only surviving son close.

On the other hand, I mean, I think that there are two main questions. One, whatever happens on Capitol Hill, are they going to be able to establish some kind of connection between any unethical that might have happened with Hunter and President Biden? I think we don't know that yet. However, there's really no evidence to suggest that they have that proof.

And then the second thing is, do voters care whether Hunter Biden is a drug addict, or was a drug addict? Do they care whether all of these salacious pictures are floating around the internet? That part, I think there's some evidence to suggest that voters are not attaching that to President Biden. Back in 2020, those things were out there. They didn't necessarily affect him. I think right now, Biden has other problems, much bigger problems, frankly, than Hunter Biden, inflation, the economy, his favorability at its lowest point based on our CNN poll.

MARQUARDT: And, Maggie, Trump seizing on this amid his own gargantuan legal problems. How convenient is this timing for him?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know that I would use the word convenient, and then I do think that for Trump, given the fact that this is coming right after, number one, he gave this pretty astonishing Fox News interview in which he appeared to acknowledge he was holding on to documents despite efforts by the federal government, despite a grand jury subpoena to get him to turn it over, I don't think that hurts him to have that wiped out, but it doesn't help his larger legal case.

I mean, I think it gives him something to seize on and Trump is fighting as much in the court of public opinion as he is fighting the legal case. I think he will see more of that. But to Elliot's point, these are very different cases. And Trump is also facing charges in Manhattan, he is facing potential indictment in Georgia, a potential second indictment from Jack Smith's office and then two civil cases. So, it's just not the same thing.

MARQUARDT: We're certainly going to be discussing that train wreck of an interview that the former president gave with Fox News in just a few moments.

Elliot, we heard different stories from the two different sides of this legal coin, the Hunter Biden lawyers saying that this is basically wrapped up, but David Weiss saying that this investigation is still ongoing. To what extent is it still ongoing?

WILLIAMS: Look, the use of that word, ongoing, is a little perplexing. Now, perhaps they might have been using boilerplate language to the extent that until he pleads guilty in court, it is an open matter, or they might still be investigating other matters. It's just hard to say. He's going to go into a court, he's going to plead guilty, and as of that moment, he's going to have a misdemeanor conviction, a couple of them.

MARQUARDT: And most likely will stay out of jail.


MARQUARDT: All right. Everyone, stay with me, lots more to discuss.

New twists in the Trump classified documents case as the judge sets a trial date. Did the former president undermine his own defense in a new T.V. interview? That's coming up next.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, Donald Trump's new attempt to explain why he held on to classified documents is raising questions, some opponents (ph) likening Trump's T.V. interview to a confession. This as the former in -- the indicted former president has a new tentative trial date.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is covering all of the new developments.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In his first T.V. interview since being indicted on federal charges, former President Trump said he retained classified documents even after being subpoenaed by the Justice Department, offering a new explanation why.

BRETT BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Why not just hand them over then?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Because I had boxes, I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don't want to hand that over to NARA yet, and I was very busy, as you've sort of seen. I have every right to have those boxes. This is purely a Presidential Records Act. This is not a criminal thing.

SCHNEIDER: His claims are untrue, and Trump is being charged criminally. He's facing 37 counts, including conspiracy and retaining national defense information. Trump also continuing to insist he declassified everything in his possession while president.

TRUMP: As far as the levels, everything was declassified because I had the right to declassify.

SCHNEIDER: His criminal trial is moving forward. Florida Federal Judge Aileen Cannon setting a tentative but swift schedule, asking for pretrial motions to be submitted by the end of next month with a trial date in Fort Pierce, Florida, set for August 14th. That date, though, will likely change with Judge Cannon noting the parties could push back the trial start date because of the complexity of the case and issues related to classified information.

BAIER: The Iran attack plan, you remember that?

TRUMP: Ready?

BAIER: You were recorded.

TRUMP: It wasn't a document.

SCHNEIDER: Trump denying he flaunted documents he knew were classified related to Iran in the summer of 2021 at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, even though, according to the indictment, he was captured in an audio recording admitting that the material was, quote, highly confidential, and it was still classified.


Now, he's insisting all he ever had were newspaper clippings.

TRUMP: These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things, golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things. I would say much, much more -- not that I know of.

There was no document. That was a massive amount of papers and everything else, talking about Iran and other things. And it may have been held up or may not, but that was not a document. I didn't have a document per se. There was nothing to declassify. These were newspaper stories, magazine stories and articles.

SCHNEIDER: All these statements from Trump post-indictment could be admissible during his trial, but Trump continues to brush off the broad implications of his criminal charges.

BAIER: So, you're not worried about this case?

TRUMP: Based on the law, zero, zero.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And Trump is taking fire from many of his former allies, including former Attorney General Bill Barr, who just wrote in an op-ed that if the facts laid out in the indictment are true, he says that Trump's actions amount to, quote, brazen criminal conduct that cannot be justified in any way.

Now, Bill Barr, of course, Alex, has denounced Trump's actions before, and Barr did end up resigning as attorney general in late 2020. That was just weeks before January 6th. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much for that report We're back now with our panel. Elliot, to you, how much damage do you think that Trump has done to his defense with this latest interview?

WILLIAMS: This is why defense attorneys tell their clients, do not talk. Do not give interviews. Do not speak publicly. He did not confess to the crimes that he's accused of but he did provide evidence that, number one, he knew he possessed them, and, number two, he knew there was an ongoing investigation. Both those pieces of information are relevant to obstruction of justice and this question of possession of defense-related information. So, he didn't do himself any favors at all, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And, Maggie, we heard Chris Christie earlier saying that his legal team must be looking for the first window to jump out of. This must illustrate perfectly why he is such a difficult client. He's going against the advice of his legal counsel.

HABERMAN: That's one of many reasons. I don't know actually, to be clear, that his legal counsel told him not to go on T.V. We know that Trump also likes lawyers who let him do what he wants and this is clearly something that he wanted to do.

But to Elliot's point, it isn't just that he acknowledged having them. I mean, I was thinking about a key part of the obstruction was the obstruction of the grand jury subpoena. This indictment focuses squarely on that. And part of that was that a lawyer for Trump wrote an attestation saying that there had been a diligent search of the property and that they didn't turn anything else up.

So, Trump is basically saying, yes, I still wanted more time to go through stuff. If that's true, then why did you let your lawyers who are representing him at the time go into this? So, to your point, this is often why he has trouble attracting people. There's two reasons, lawyers, one is because he is unmanageable as a client, the other is people don't get paid sometimes. And so neither one of these seems like it's helping.

MARQUARDT: And in terms of the timeline, Judge Aileen Cannon has now said that the trial date is set for just under two months from now, on August 14th. Elliot, how realistic is that?

WILLIAMS: It is not. This case is not going to trial in August. The judge sort of had to do that to respect the defendant's speedy trial rules or speedy trial rights. But it's not uncommon for judges to set that date and then push it forward once the motions and complicated things come in.

This is going to be a very complicated case in terms of dealing how you get classified information in front of a jury. That's going to take months to resolve. The parties know that, the judge knew that. And they could have worked out some arrangements to set a trial date further ahead in the future. I'm not quite sure why they didn't, but it's not going to trial in August.

HABERMAN: I think the judge is very keen on not being seen as the person who is holding this up. I think that's the big issue. MARQUARDT: And one of the biggest questions is, is to what extent Republican voters will respond to this indictment. Abby, we have a new CNN poll showing that support for Trump has dipped since this indictment. Of course, he is still the frontrunner by quite a large margin, by double digits. So, what does that say about the president's -- the former president's staying power?

PHILLIP: I mean, I do think that he has quite a lot of staying power. Republican voters have really taken a lot from Trump. This is clearly -- I mean, he's been impeached twice. That's already part of the portfolio here. I think voters know that this is one of many criminal cases that he could face. He was already facing one in New York. That's somewhat baked into the cake.

But what you're seeing in those numbers is probably not just, in fact, of the indictment, it's also the entrance of other candidates into the race as well, some tugging at his numbers in some ways. The one person that I think so many Republicans are hanging their hat on, Ron DeSantis, did not move really at all in the numbers, which suggests to me that there's not a huge exodus from Trump.

It's still going to be a game of getting a plurality of voters in the Republican primary, and that is still much easier for Trump to do where he is sitting right now than any other person in the field.


MARQUARDT: Maggie, we just have a few moments left. Your impressions?

HABERMAN: There's no question about it. Look, I mean, this definitely shows this is one poll and this is a reliable poll but it's one poll. It shows a bit of a dip. Everything that we have seen so far over time is that these indictments actually generally help Trump. He may face another indictment, at least one, over the coming weeks. This race seems frozen, as best as I can tell, even with these variations.

MARQUARDT: Yes, there's lots more that still could come. We have to leave it there. Thank you all, I really appreciate your time and your perspectives.

Coming up, the race against the clock to find the missing tourist submersible journeying to the Titanic's wreckage 13,000 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. We'll have the latest on this urgent search right after this.



MARQUARDT: There is new urgency tonight in the search for the submersible that went missing carrying five people to the wreckage of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean. Coast Guard warning that oxygen could run out on board in less than 40 hours.

CNN's Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez is at the port where the troubled journey began, now a key launching point for the search efforts. Miguel, what are you learning?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's just a massive amount of resources headed to where I am standing, St. John's in Newfoundland in Canada. It is all hands on deck as resources from both the U.S. and Canada move in. This is the sister ship to the Polar Prince. We suspect that it may be loading up with gear to take out there. It is an absolute race against time.


CAPT. JAMIE FREDERICK, U.S. COAST GUARD: This is a complex search.

MARQUEZ (voice over): A complex search now more complicated by time, which they're running out of.

FREDERICK: We know there's about 40 hours of breathable air left.

MARQUEZ: Deep water submersibles and gear converging on St. John's Newfoundland from the U.S. and Canada. It's the closest land to the search zone. If the titan can be found, they'll need to bring all resources to bear as quickly as possible.

FREDERICK: You're dealing with a surface search and a subsurface search. And, frankly, that makes it an incredibly complex operation.

MARQUEZ: The five-person submersible started it's dive around 9:00 A.M. Newfoundland time on Sunday. Its last contact with its mothership, the Polar Prince, was an hour and 45 minutes into a dive expected to last just over nine hours.

At 6:45 P.M. Newfoundland time Sunday, the sub was reported missing when it failed to surface at the scheduled time of 6:10 P.M. The vessel has oxygen for five people for about four days, but oxygen is only one critical element.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they are alive and they're in there, they're going to be at almost freezing temperatures. Assuming they lost all their power, that's why they can't communicate, it's going to be dark, cold. And oxygen is their most precious resource. So, consuming, but staying calm, sleeping.

MARQUEZ: The vessel and search area extremely isolated and deep, roughly 460 miles south of St. John's Newfoundland and 900 miles east of Boston and possibly more than two miles below the surface where pressure is nearly 6,000 pounds per square inch.

Those on board, adventuring British billionaire Hamish Harding, Pakistani businessmen, father and son, Shahzada and Suleman Dawood, French explorer Paul-Henri Nargeolet, and CEO Founder Stockton Rush, who owns OceanGate expeditions and the missing sub.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, when Stockton Rush, the individual who is on that Titan capsule, this submersible, was developing it back in 2018, look, this is a very small and serious bunch of people who do this sort of underwater exploration. And the marine technology services sent a letter to Rush when he was developing this Titan capsule they're searching for now, in part, it says that, your representation at a minimum is misleading to the public and breaches an industry-wide professional code of conduct for all endeavor -- we all endeavor to uphold.

There was great concern what he was developing with this sub didn't make the standard that the rest of the industry set for themselves and they asked him if they could watch and see what sort of testing he was doing on that sub. It is not clear how that all resolved itself. This is something, a letter that The New York Times found some time ago, but there were concerns raised early on about this Titan capsule, and now there's a massive search under way. There's a Coast Guard ship -- another Coast Guard ship already on the way, the Canadian Coast Guard. This ship may be heading out. And there are three C-17 cargo planes have landed at the airport in St. John's, bringing gear so that they can hopefully, hopefully have a happy ending to this one. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Miguel Marquez up in Newfoundland, we know you will stay on this story as the hours tick down. Thank you very much.

Right now, I want to bring in CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann and retired Navy Captain Bobbie Scholley. Thank you both for being with me.

Captain, I want to start with you and pick up where Miguel left off there, this letter to the CEO, Stockton Rush, which said in part that the current experimental approach adopted by OceanGate could result in negative outcomes from minor to catastrophic. So, what do you make of this experimental approach, these letter writers said, of this expedition?


CAPT. BOBBIE SCHOLLEY (RET.), FORMER U.S. NAVY DIVER: Well, it's very concerning, especially coming, you know -- for somebody like myself, who is used to the very rigid standards that we set in military equipment. We have such rigid requirements that we use for quality assurance in all of our systems, but especially in our diving system when we're dealing with breathing air systems and anything that goes under pressure, whether it's submarines or diving systems or deep ocean systems, we have just redundancy, we have strict requirements that meet or exceed industry standards.

I don't know what the requirements would be in this case. The folks at the Marine Technology Society, which I'm a little bit familiar with, not completely, but I know people that are in that society that are very smart about these things, would have a better knowledge of that than I do. But it would cause me some concern if they're questioning that because I know we have very exacting requirements for quality assurance.

MARQUARDT: Right, certainly a lot of concern expressed in that letter. Oren, this is all hands on deck, international assets flooding the zone. U.S. Navy announcing that it is sending a new asset to that search zone. What more can you tell us about it? OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And that asset is called a Flyaway Deep Ocean Salvage System, a FADOSS. And, basically, what this is, it's a mobile portable crane and rope system that can be mounted on a ship, connected to a ship in some way, and then it can lift things off the bottom of the floor, much heavier things than the submersible we're talking about, such as aircraft that have sunk to the bottom or other vessels that have sunk to the bottom. So, this has the capability once it's on site to bring this submerse submersible back to the surface even if it's 2.5 miles deep where the Titanic wreckage is.

The challenge, of course, here, Alex, is that, first, you need to know where the submersible is, and that's when this asset becomes relevant. Until then, all the effort or much of the effort, I should say, is on the search itself, both above water and below the surface of the water. And that, at least as of right now, remains the challenge, finding where to use this new system that the Navy is moving in. Also worth noting, the Navy is contributing subject matter experts to help in this search.

MARQUARDT: Captain, we only have a couple of moments left, but those capabilities that Oren was just describing, how do they fit into this very challenging search happening both below and above the surface of the water?

SCHOLLEY: I am so encouraged to hear that they've got the supervisor of salvage personnel and assets going out to the scene. Those are the absolute correct resources, both the experts and the equipment. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some other resources besides the FADOSS going out there.

I'm also encouraged to see that the Deep Energy -- the motor vessel Deep Energy is out on scene with its ROV, which has deep ocean capability, which I think might be helping with that deep ocean search, because we need to get that search phase completed before we can recover. But the resources are piling up to just add to getting closer to what we need to do within the 40 hours we have left.

MARQUARDT: Yes, it's around 35 hours, given that the press conference was a couple of hours ago. Retired Captain Bobbie Scholley and Oren Lieberman, thank you both very much, I appreciate it.

And just ahead, a former prosecutor turned Democratic congressman weighs in on the Hunter Biden plea deal and the criticism of that agreement by Republicans.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, some key Democrats are pushing back on Republican claims that Hunter Biden got a sweetheart plea deal from the Justice Department.

We're joined by Democratic Congressman Dan Goldman of New York, who is, of course, a former federal prosecutor and a current member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

The president's son, he is pleading guilty. He failed to pay at least $100,000 in taxes in both 2017 and 2018. And then on top of that, he has reached a deal to resolve a felony gun charge. So, he broke the law. He's going to plead guilty. How serious is this?

REP. DAN GOLDMAN (D-NY): Look, it's serious conduct. And I think that he should be commended for taking accountability and accepting responsibility for what he did. He has paid off the taxes that he was delinquent in paying long ago and he's now accepting responsibility.

And let's remember, this was a five-year investigation that was conducted by a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who was operating completely independently from the Biden Department of Justice, as he wrote in a letter to Chairman Jim Jordan a couple of weeks ago. So, there is no question that given the length of this investigation, the attention that it received, and the exhaustive nature that Mr. Weiss, the U.S. attorney, no doubt, put into it, that this is what they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. And notwithstanding what everyone else wants to say, nobody else has seen the evidence as part of this investigation.

And so it is a little bewildering to me that you hear so many of my Republican colleagues talking about how this was a sweetheart deal and he should have been charged with more, when they, of course, have not seen the evidence that Mr. Weiss had.


MARQUARDT: One of your most vocal Republican colleagues, James Comer, Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, he says that, quote, growing evidence uncovered by the House Oversight Committee, he says that, quote, growing evidence uncovered by the House Oversight Committee reveals the Bidens engaged in a pattern of corruption, influence peddling, and possibly bribery.

Congressman, have you seen that evidence? Do you think that investigation will uncover wrongdoing?

REP. DAN GOLDMAN (D-NY): No, there is no evidence to support those very, very aggressive allegations. And in fact, even in the Republicans' own reports and public documents to this point, they have not connected any of the bank records that they have to President Biden. Nor did the U.S. attorney, Mr. Weiss, connect any of the financial investigation that he conducted of Hunter Biden to President Biden.

There's been no implication that President Biden was involved at all in any of the financial dealings they looked at. And, of course, we know that if there were a criminal investigation warranted into the president, that there would have to be a special counsel. And the allegations that Chairman Comer is referencing were considered by the Trump DOJ, and they declined to pursue an investigation into President Biden, determining, as we did in the first impeachment investigation, and as everyone who has looked into them has concluded, that these allegations are bogus and that President Biden has never engaged in any misconduct and has simply executed U.S. foreign policy to the highest standards and integrity.

MARQUARDT: Well, it doesn't seem to be going away on Capitol Hill.

Congressman Dan Goldman, thank you very much for joining us this evening.

GOLDMAN: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And coming up, as the frantic search for the missing tourist submersible presses on, we will be peeling back the curtain on the fascination behind the Titanic shipwreck which draws explorers to the very depths of the Atlantic Ocean.



MARQUARDT: As an urgent search pushes on for the missing submersible, CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the allure behind the Titanic shipwreck.

Brian, the cultural and historical fascination with this ship has endured for decades.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really has, Alex. You know, this is a memorial in southwest D.C. to the people who died during the sinking of the Titanic, who the encryption says, get, gave their lives that women and children might be saved. Tonight, it's that story and lure of the Titanic that so many people still find fascinating.


TODD (voice-over): It lies more than two miles below the cold North Atlantic surface, in waters so dark and forbidding that it took 73 years just to find the wreckage, just part of what makes the Titanic so captivating to so many people.

CRAIG SOPIN, TITANIC HISTORIAN AND COLLECTOR: Titanic certainly wasn't the only disaster we've had in this world, but there's something special about the ship. There's an enduring lure about it.

TODD: A lure so intense that the cost of venturing down to see the Titanic doesn't stop those with means. Ocean Gate Expeditions, the company that operates that missing Titan submersible, once posted on its website that costs start at $250,000 per person for one trip to the sunken ocean liner.

DAVID GALLO, SENIOR ADVISER, RMS TITANIC INC.: Yeah, that's steep, but guess what? Sold out. It shows how tied to that ship and the story of Titanic is for some people.

TODD: Part of the Titanic mystique, according to historians, the fact that it was considered unsinkable when it set sail from Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912, with more than 2,200 people on board, including some of the world's richest and most glamorous. SOPIN: John Jacob Astor was certainly the richest person in the United States at the time, possibly the richest on board, and yet his riches didn't do much for him. He went down with the ship.

TODD: More than 1,500 people perished after the ship struck an iceberg and sank on April 15th, still the deadliest peacetime sinking of an ocean liner or cruise ship.

Several books and movies depicted the disaster --

KATE WINSLET, ACTRESS: I'm flying, Jack.

TODD: But hardly anything fired our enchantment like the Oscar-winning 1997 epic "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: We have to stay on the ship as long as possible. Come on.

SOPIN: It was earth shattering. I mean, people wanted to get more and more information about the Titanic and with that, people wanted to get closer to the Titanic and just had to be there, just had to see it.

TODD: Director James Cameron in an interview with CNN's Larry King at the time of the movie's release said the utter shock of the sinking was a big part of its historical significance.

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR, TITANIC: The passengers were in denial, the crew were in denial. They just couldn't believe that this great edifice, this thing that was city blocks in length could possibly sink. This is -- this called into question the entire ego of civilization.


TODD (on camera): Oceanographic David Gallo who works to preserve the Titanic says that task is getting more challenging now. He says between the tourist expeditions and the expanding commercial ship traffic sailing right above the Titanic, there's a growing amount of trash at the site right now and he says several countries are now involved in trying to protect it -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

And coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, a titanic expert who's taken the long plunge down to the ship's wreckage site. That's at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

And next, Ukrainian officials reporting massive strikes on Kyiv. We'll have an update from the war zone, next.



MARQUARDT: In Ukraine, the deputy defense minister says the main strike of the counteroffensive against Russia is still ahead. Now this comes as both sides say they are inflicting heavy losses on one another.

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alex, Monday night, Kyiv came under another massive air attack, according to the Ukrainian government. Russian forces fired 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones from different directions. Air defenses were able to intercept all but three.

Here in Zaporizhzhia, we heard several large explosions after midnight. A local official said several buildings were damaged, no word on injuries. But Tuesday morning, the western city of Lviv also came under attack. The head of the local military administration conceding that critical infrastructure was struck, but he declined to go into any further detail beyond saying, no one was injured.

Now, the Ukrainians continue to press their counter offensive. A statement from the official center for strategic communications, claiming that Russian forces were suffering heavy losses in troops, and equipment. Russian officials deny those claims, insisting that Ukrainian attacks have been repelled. And one war correspondent working for Russian state TV said that the Ukrainians are being forced to throw ever greater reserves into what he called, the meat grinder, on the southern front. Alex.


MARQUARDT: Our thanks to Ben Wedeman.

I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.