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Key Figures Testify In DOJ's 2020 Election Probe; Putin Puts on Show Of Public Support After Mutiny; Presumed Human Remains Found At Titan Wreckage; Biden Now Using CPAP Machine For Sleep Apnea; Madonna Recovering From "Serious Bacterial Infection". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 28, 2023 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, interviewed today by the special counsel's team, this after former President Trump's Lawyer Rudy Giuliani also was questioned.

CNN's Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is here with me in The Situation Room following all of these. Paula, the news of these interviews, the special counsel's investigation of election interference all seems to be picking up a lot of steam right now.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. From our reporting, we've learned that there's been a real uptick in activity in the January 6th investigation in recent weeks. You see, as you just mentioned, the interview of Rudy Giuliani finally, right? He's a key figure in former President Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election, and then today, the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. I want to remind people why he is so key here. Let's take a listen to a brief clip from the January 2021 call between Trump and the secretary of state.


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


REID: So, Raffensperger is not only a witness in the special counsel probe, he is also a key witness in the state level investigation.

Now, we expect the D.A., Fani Willis, down there to make some sort of announcement about any potential charges she'll bring in August and it appears that Special Counsel Jack Smith could be on a similar timeline to announce any charging decisions this summer.

BLITZER: We are also hearing, once again, from former President Trump responding to our exclusive CNN reporting on that audio recording of him, talking about the classified documents. What's he saying? REID: So, I think by now, most people have had the opportunity to listen to that recording. Trump knew he was being recorded and he still revealed to a room full of people who did not have clearances that he had retained government secrets after he left the White House and did not have power to declassify them. Let's take a listen to the most recent defense of this.

So I'll read the statement here. I would say bravado. If you want to know the truth, it was bravado. I was talking and just holding up papers and talking about them, but I had no documents. I didn't have any documents.

Well, prosecutors, of course, allege otherwise with a 37-count indictment. And if you listen to that recording, he specifically says, these are the papers. So, all of these statements that he has made of various contradicting explanations for why he either didn't have classified documents, he had declassified them, he didn't know he had them here, even though he's in a recording saying he did have them but now he says he doesn't, this is all admissible in a criminal trial.

And what he's effectively asking jurors to believe at this point is that he was lying on that recording. But you know what that makes you? Potentially I liar.

BLITZER: Yes, potentially, indeed. All right, Paula, stay with us. Don't go too far away. We'll get back to you in just a moment.

I want to bring in our legal and our national security analysts right now. Let me start Beth Sanner, CNN National Security Analyst, former Deputy Director of National Intelligence. Beth, thanks for coming in. What's your reaction to Trump saying these classified documents were actually documents involving golf courses, newspapers, among other things?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: As a former intelligence professional, I can't tell you how much it pains me to listen to this. The idea that you have documents that really involve life and death issues mixed up in boxes with golf shoes and pants sitting in a ballroom and then --

BLITZER: Or a bathroom.

SANNER: Or a bathroom and then being shared with people because it was bravado. National security isn't about bravado. It's about life and death.

BLITZER: So, how do you think, Norm, Trump's shifting explanations here will play out against him in this eventual case?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we know the government is going to allege that he did have these classified documents. Yes, that's clear from the charges against him, Wolf. And each of his many explanations, because he's constantly shifted both on what happened at Bedminster and on his powers. For example, the automatic declassification defense that he said. Well, I can declassify just by thinking about it. Beth and I know it doesn't work that way. He concedes that that's not true, Wolf. Whether or not he had that document in front of him, he concedes, oh, I could have classified -- declassified this when I was president, suggesting he can't do it now. So, he acknowledges the legal regime as well irrespective of now his bravado defense.


BLITZER: He acknowledges these are still classified documents that were lying around over there at the golf club.

You know, Paula, on the January 6th probe, there are serious developments unfolding right now. We know there's been a flurry of activity going on. What's the latest? What are you hearing?

REID: Well, it's interesting, because let's take Rudy Giuliani, for example. We know that Rudy Giuliani was subpoenaed late last year in November by the Justice Department before a special counsel was appointed. And then once Jack Smith took over the investigation, Giuliani heard nothing for over six months. And that suggested if he'd not heard anything this late in the investigation that he could potentially be a target and not just a witness.

So, we've been really watching to see when they eventually reach out again now that he is had what they describe as a voluntary interview with the Justice Department, that is notable. But base on all our reporting, it really does suggest that they are tying up loose ends and getting to the end of the investigation and possibly getting closer to a charging decision.

BLITZER: Yes, very significant developments, indeed.

Meanwhile, there's another legal confrontation unfolding right now for Donald Trump. He's now countersuing the writer, E. Jean Carroll. You'll remember, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll not that long ago, just a few weeks ago.

CNN's Kara Scannell has details on Trump's lawsuit. Kara, what is the former president alleging and how is Carroll responding?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So, Trump has filed a counterclaim against E. Jean Carroll saying that she defamed him when she appeared on CNN the day after the jury awarded her $5 million and found that Trump had sexually abused her and defamed her when he denied her claim of rape.

When she was on CNN This Morning, she was asked about the jury's verdict and how they found for sexual abuse and not rape. Here is what she said.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: This jury found that Trump did not rape you. What about that moment?


REPORTER: Sure, and I want you, too. But I just wonder, E. Jean, what went through your head when you heard that.

CARROLL: Well, I just immediately and say on my head, oh, yes, he did. Yes, he did. See, that's my response.


SCANNELL: And so, Wolf, it's that statement, oh, yes, he did, that Trump's lawyer are now saying was defamatory. And in the lawsuit, they write, Carroll made this with actual malice and ill will with an intent to significantly harm and attack Trump's reputation as these false statements were clearly, contrary to the jury's verdict.

Now, Carroll's Attorney Roberta Kaplan, who was pictured there sitting beside her on CNN This Morning, she issued a statement in response to this counterclaim, and in part she write, Donald Trump again argues contrary to both logic and fact that he was exonerated by a jury that found he sexually abused E. Jean Carroll.

And as you'll remember, a judge has allowed E. Jean Carroll to amend her defamation lawsuit to include comments that Trump made at a CNN town hall just days after this verdict. And at the town hall, Trump again repeated the lines that the jury found to be defamatory, saying he didn't rape E. Jean Carroll, that he didn't know who she was. And now that Carroll is now suing Trump for $10 million in damages and that is set to go to trial in January. Wolf?

BLITZER: We shall see how all of this unfolds. Kara Scannell, thank you for that report.

Just ahead, we'll go live overseas with new reporting just coming in on what intelligence officials are now saying about the recent rebellion in Russia. And we'll talk to the former member of the National Security Council, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He is standing by live to join us right here on The Situation Room. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: In Russia tonight, Vladimir Putin is surrounding himself with adoring crowds claiming he has public support after the mutiny by Wagner mercenary forces.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Ukraine for us tonight. He's covering all the new developments. Nick, first of all, what message is Putin sending with this latest appearance?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a pretty cheap bit to replicate the scenes. Frankly, we saw in Rostov on Saturday, where Yevgeny Prigozhin, the insurrection leader, had people not moping but coming up close and embracing his hand through the window of an SUV. Here is Putin in Derbent, in Dagestan, an area where we saw a protest against some of the mobilization that we saw last year with a crowd that looks frankly pretty staged, very adoring, very close to him, not the Putin who kept everyone at a distance during the pandemic and for quite a while after it. But it comes after a day in which more reporting is emerging suggesting the split and dangers from his own military top brass.

I spoke to a European intelligence official who said it was possible that there had been prior knowledge amongst the Russian military and security establishment of this insurrection. He said they heard of hints to that effect and that possibly some of those people had, in fact, wanted to see how it played out, or even see it succeed and that Putin's prestige had been damaged and that may well have been what these differing factions in the Moscow elite had indeed sought.

So, a lot suggesting here that Putin is being deeply shaken in terms of his authority despite the images that projecting from Dagestan of him with adoring crowd, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Nick, it's interesting that this failed mutiny is almost certain, certainly going to increase Putin's paranoia. So, what does that mean for his inner circle?

WALSH: A pretty paranoid man going to go yet further still, absolutely. And we heard some reporting from The New York Times today suggesting that Sergei Surovikin, who was, until recently, the commander of the Ukraine invasion, that he had, according to U.S. intelligence assessments, potentially had prior knowledge of the Prigozhin insurrection.

Now, there's no evidence publicly available to back that up, and, indeed, some that we know publicly contradicted. He did appear on television on Friday telling people to stand down, to not go along with the Prigozhin rebellion and, indeed, the Air Force, which he now commands, were involved in trying to slow Wagner's movements towards Moscow.

But still, as far as we're aware, he hasn't been seen in public since the deal was struck between Prigozhin, the president of Belarus and Putin, and that's led many to think there may be a lot of scrutiny within the Moscow elite, the top brass and possibly Putin trying to re-establish authority or in this very divided, very fraught, at times kleptocratic and, frankly, lethal in the circle that he's created up to 23 years in power, bBits of people trying outwit each other, outdo each other, profit from the situation, indeed.


And so that is going to make people in Kyiv here, frankly, fighting Russia in the war deeply happy at the possibility of yet more division within the Russian top brass, and I think we may begin to see more details in the days and weeks ahead is exactly how this likely bitter power struggle of anxiety as they try and assess how this extraordinary threat to Putin occurred play out in some quite bitter divisions and maybe even repercussions, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure we will be learning a lot more. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for that report.

Let's discuss what's going on right now with a veteran of the U.S. National Security Council with a lot of expertise on both Russia and Ukraine. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is joining us. He's in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, right now. Alex, thanks so much for joining us.

What does it say that the Kremlin put out this video, Putin surrounded by admirers, just a few days after we saw Russians cheering the Wagner chief after his failed mutiny?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL ADVISER: Thanks, Wolf, for having me on. It's pretty surreal. You don't see Putin out in public. We haven't seen him in quite some time. Certainly, with regards to COVID he was very, very insular, he kept folks, even his inner circle at arm's length. Everybody remembers those tables he sat, kind of like a pitch -- a football field away from his closest advisers. So, he doesn't go out, publicly.

This has to be a certainly response to what seemed like popular support for Prigozhin in Rostov. And Putin is, in a way, trying to fake it until he makes it, fake it until he really kind of feels more comfortable in his own position, demonstrate to his own inner circle that he actually is in charge and convince them that he's still in charge. So, I think this is a completely kind of a show and Putin trying to kind of re-create a narrative that he's in charge.

BLITZER: How do you expect to Putin may try to consolidate control right now in the aftermath of this truly unprecedented threat that he dealt with?

VINDMAN: I think there are ghosts in the shadows for him and he's keenly aware that. What he thought was a tight inner circle, folks that he didn't really need to worry about, folks that he basically developed and kept in place mainly for loyalty, even if their competence is questionable, may not be as loyal as he thinks.

And in this case, he, frankly, is totally responsible for his insurrection, near coup attempt, because he was aware of the infighting between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense for months. He could have put a stop to it. He let it kind of boil over because he thought that he could useful initially as a foil to put pressure the Ministry of Defense to do more, to be more effective in his work.

He doesn't have firm control over his own elites that he's nurtured and developed for a long time and he's -- in a lot of ways, he needs to demonstrate that to himself, to the elites and, frankly, around the world as some strength.

So, we could see him lashing out in different kinds of ways to demonstrate that he's still the strong man that he pretended to be before this war.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. The Ukrainian president, Zelenskyy, today, acknowledged that the Wagner forces, at least some of them, Wagner forces, are still in Ukraine. Watch and listen to this.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: The Wagnerites are present on the temporary occupied territory of Ukraine. They are and they were present in the Luhansk region. This is true. A lot of them were eliminated by our defense forces. Over 20,000 of them were eliminated.


BLITZER: So, Alex, to what extent will those Wagner mercenaries actually factor into the ongoing fight?

VINDMAN: I think they're a huge headache for the Russian Armed Forces. They're not trusted, so they can't be put back into the fight. They're still heavily arm and they're still in a vulnerable position. Nobody on the Russian side and the leadership want those folks back on the road to Rostov or heading towards Moscow.

So, a portion of the force that should be fighting for Kyiv, seize Ukraine for Putin's objectives, is now policing Wagner. That is a reserve element that was intended likely to be a plug holes when the Ukrainians break through.

There are still a lot of unknowns. I think from my perspective, the biggest lesson learned is that Putin's regime is brittle and Ukraine is likely to win this war. The question is what does the U.S. do to aid this fight? And in just about ten days there will be a NATO summit.


My hope is my national security analysis suggests that the U.S. should seize this moment to make a strong overture for Ukraine to join NATO.

That could be an affirmative. That could be lasting and bring security to the region certainly after this war is done. But even as this war kind of starts to wind down toward the end of the year after the successful Ukraine offensive, this would be a huge step forward that the U.S. should be pushing for.

BLITZER: Well, let's see if that business, certainly, President Zelenskyy, would welcome that decision. Alexander Vindman, thanks so much for joining us.

VINDMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, the United States Coast Guard has new information about the Titan submersible that suffered a catastrophic implosion. We'll have a live report.

Plus, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is backtracking after questioning former President Trump's electability. Stay with us, lots of news coming up right here in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: Now, just in to CNN, the U.S. Coast Guard now says, presumed human remains have been recovered from the wreckage of the Titan submersible.

Let's go straight to CNN's Paula Newton. She's got more information for us. What are you learning, Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Surprise release just in the last few minutes, as you said, Wolf, they have found what they say are presumed human remains. And the important point though here, Wolf, is they say that United States medical professionals will conduct a formal analysis of those presumed human remains and that they have been carefully recovered.

Wolf, as you can imagine, this will bring a measure of comfort to the family and the friends of those five who lost their lives, but also, once again, profound grief, trying to think what it was like for them in the last few minutes and if they knew what was happening and crucially why this happen.

To that point, earlier in the day, Wolf, we had very large pieces of that Titan submersible actually brought back to St. John's Harbor. This was from an ROV, a remote operated vehicle, that had been down there for days.

What is significant here is the size of the debris. You can actually make out the dome and the viewport, the tail and large pieces of the actual place where those five passengers were in the actual cabin. Again, to remind you, Wolf, the controversy was about this material that was used, the carbon fiber and also how this vehicle about as big as a mini-van was put together.

There are several investigations. The U.S. Coast Guard is leading one, the Transportation Safety Board in Canada on another. They refused comment today on that. And I will also remind everyone that the RCMP, Canada's National Police Force, is examining all of this now and determining whether or not they also need to open a criminal investigation.

One thing we know for sure, Wolf, this could take at least months if not years to complete.

BLITZER: Yes, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Paula Newton in Ottawa for us, thank very much for that update.

Meanwhile, other news we're following, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is now scrambling to try to contain the fallout after he suggested in an interview that Donald Trump might not necessarily be the strongest Republican candidate to take on President Biden in 2024.

CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes is following all of this for us. She's here in The Situation Room. Kristen, you have information about just how far McCarthy is going to try to appease Trump. KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. So, we now know that Speaker McCarthy called Trump on Tuesday morning after that interview essentially apologizing to him, saying that misspoke and also saying that reporters took his words out of context, which, of course, as you all remember, this was a video, a live video that he made these remarks on.

We also know that he heaped effusive praise on the former president in terms of an exclusive interview with a conservative outlet. And he also did this, he put out a fundraising text messaging e-mail. We actually have it for you here, we'll show you from a source, where he says, Trump is the strongest opponent to Biden, so clearly here trying to counter that narrative.

Now, some of Trump's advisers, they are very happy with this public praise of the former president, but others are wary. You have to remember this is not the first time that McCarthy has said something that has really sparked ire in Trump world. We actually have a photo, and you'll remember this kind of an infamous photo, of Trump and McCarthy at Mar-a-Lago. Well, that was after Trump had left office, after the New York Times obtained those tapes of McCarthy saying after January 6th that he was going to try to push Trump to resign after that.

So, again, there are two sections here of Trump world, some who think that McCarthy shouldn't get so many chances.

BLITZER: And, Kristen, as you know McCarthy is facing increasing pressure to go out there and to endorse at least one Republican in this presidential primary, right?

HOLMES: Well, yes. And Trump advisers expected to be him. Remember, they think that Trump got him the speakership, that because of Trump's support, that was why McCarthy was able to win the speakership back in January.

McCarthy himself has thanked the former. Whether or not that's going to happened, aides have kind of brushed off the idea that McCarthy hasn't done it yet, some of them saying that he's going to eventually do it. They believe that, other saying, that he can't, yet, he has to remain neutral. But, again, there is this increase pressure. They want to see him as being loyal to the former president and they believe to some extent that McCarthy owes him.

BLITZER: We shall see how he responds to all of this. Thanks very much, Kristen Holmes reporting.

Let's discuss what's going on, joining us now Republican Strategist Alice Stewart, along with former Obama Senior Adviser David Axelrod.

Alice, Speaker McCarthy is attempting to get back apparently into Trump's good graces, offering effusive praise of the former president. Who needs the other more in this relationship? Would it be Trump or McCarthy?

[18:30:00] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's kind of mutually beneficial relationship, Wolf. And, look, every now and then in politics, people say what they think, and then when they think what they said, they have to do a cleanup on Aisle 4.

But I really heard what McCarthy said more of someone as the speaker of the House that wasn't a bash on Trump, but it was more he's not going to take sides in a primary, but anything short of a full- throated endorsement for Donald Trump is critical.

And in terms of the backlash of this, speaking with many people in the House, it's more in the media and the talking class, because, look, the House caucus is similar to Republicans across the country. There are those that support Trump, and in the House caucus, there are members of the House, there's the Freedom Caucus, those people tend to be more supportive of Ron DeSantis. And then there are many in the House who say, as a moderate, it's in McCarthy's best interest to put distance between he and Trump. So, he's not getting as much backlash from his colleagues in the House as what might be talked about in the media.

BLITZER: Interesting. David Axelrod, today, President Biden said his policies are moving the U.S. economy in the right direction. So far, though, voters aren't buying this. Look at this. 66 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy. So, what does the Biden campaign need to do right now to sell his new vision to skeptical voters?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I have great sympathy for the position that they're in because I worked for a president who -- sorry, I have a cold here. I worked for a president who had similar challenges back in 2011 when he was gearing up to win -- to run for re-election. We were just coming out of the great recession and people were still reeling from it, even though, objectively, lots of progress had been made and we were moving in the right direction.

What we learned was you can't jawbone people into feeling better, but what you can do is report with some humility the progress that you've made. And in this case, look, Biden's cut unemployment in half. He's passed some landmark bills that will help the economy in the long-term and will help working people in the long-term with the infrastructure bill, manufacturing bills and so on. So, I understand their frustration because they want some credit for that, but you can't get out in front of people.

So, I think what they've decided is if they don't go out and claim some credit, no one else is going to give it to them, and we'll see that works out.

One other thing, Wolf, just on the point about McCarthy, I think more than anything else, what this reflects is the fact that Donald Trump is still the dominant figure in the Republican Party. What McCarthy said is absolutely true. Trump would not be the strongest candidate for the Republican Party in 2024 given -- we don't know how many indictments he'll be under by the time the primaries roll around. But, you know, McCarthy needs Trump and needs his base of support that Freedom Caucus is deeply committed to Trump and McCarthy got out over his skis and had to pull them back, and he's done that several times now. So, he's very practiced at that maneuver.

BLITZER: I'm anxious, Alice, to get your thoughts on Biden right now. The White House is embracing the term Bidenomics, but that potentially carries some real risk that voters will directly associate their poor economic circumstances with him, right?

STEWART: Well, sure. Biden acknowledged that he got this term Bidenomics from the media and it came from The Wall Street Journal. They came up with that term not as a complimentary term. This is a negative term talking about big government spending, bloated spending, talking about picking winners and losers over free market principles in the economy.

And to David's point, your interview last hour with James Carville of the Clinton era, many Democrats like them are feeling sympathy for this administration who are trying to make the case that the economy is good. Our own CNN poll shows that 76 percent of Americans feel that the economic conditions are poor in this country. And just because President Biden says things are good doesn't make it so. And so he can tout these numbers and polling statistics, but if people's perception of the economy is that it's not good, then that is not good.

BLITZER: Alice Stewart and David Axelrod, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we'll dig deeper into the potential fate of the chief of the Wagner mercenary group after his brazen mutiny on Russian soil. Could he join the list of Putin dissenters who have faced the Kremlin's wrath?



BLITZER: As questions continue to swirl around the fate of the Wagner mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at the gruesome punishment other dissenters in Russia have actually faced. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is unclear right now exactly where Yevgeny Prigozhin is or what condition he is in, but some analysts say he could well be in danger. If so, he would join a growing and unsettling list of those who have paid a price for crossing Vladimir Putin.


TODD (voice over): Despite guarantees of his security from the dictator of Belarus, Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, observers say, could well have a target on his back, from the former KGB colonel in the Kremlin who can't tolerate the level of disrespect Prigozhin just showed him. BILL BROWDER, PUTIN CRITIC ON RUSSIA'S WANTED LIST: In order for Putin to have been the leader for 23 years, he's had to be the -- seen to be the meanest guy in the prison guard, the one who had caused damage to anybody who even looked at him the wrong way. And Yevgeny Prigozhin didn't just look at him the wrong way. He disrespected him in the most massive, humiliating way.

TODD: Prigozhin now at risk of joining a haunting list of those who have challenged Vladimir Putin and paid the price.


Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, has allegedly been poisoned several times and is now serving a long sentence at a maximum security prison.

A similar fate for Putin critic and Journalist Vladimir Kara-murza.

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN POLITICAL ACTIVIST, PUTIN CRITIC: It's a dangerous location to be in a position to Vladimir Putin's regime in Russia.

TODD: Kara-Murza says he's been poisoned and sent into a coma at least twice. He was recently sentenced to 25 years in a Russian penal colony.

Kara-Murza is a protege of Boris Nemtsov, once one of Russia's most outspoken opposition leaders, who was gunned down on a bridge at the foot of the Kremlin in 2015. Then there were the former Russian spies who Putin saw as threats.

ANDREW WEISS, AUTHOR, ACCIDENTAL CZAR, THE LIFE AND LIES OF VLADIMIR PUTIN: Vladimir Putin has a particular beef with people he calls traitors. And he has gone after them in various parts of the world, including in London, in the case former FSB Agent Alexander Litvinenko, as well as the attack on a former Soviet double agent, Sergei Skripal in the southern English city of Salisbury in 2018.

TODD: Former Spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned and nearly killed in Britain with the powerful nerve agent, Novichok, an attack which British investigators tied to Putin's government. In 2016, former Russian Intelligence Agent Alexander Litvinenko, who had been digging up information potentially tying Putin to organized crime, was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea.

ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: The British investigators found beyond a reasonable doubt on evidence that two agents of the Russian Security Services poisoned Mr. Litvinenko. They found that Putin very likely was the person who gave orders.

TODD: Putin's regime has denied involvement in those poisonings. Analysts say, with Putin, these cases are all about message sending.

WEISS: When you see incidents of members of the Russian business circles or others who have met unfortunate, early demise, it's more about the sensational ripple effects that that creates.


TODD (on camera): Some analysts expect Vladimir Putin to engage in a sweeping crackdown possibly of Russia's elites in the wake of the Prigozhin insurrection. But one critic financier, Bill Browder, says Putin himself is vulnerable right now. But if he's perceived as being weakened enough by the Prigozhin episode, someone will have a go at him. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very interesting and important. Brian Todd reporting, thank you very, very much.

For more on all of this, I want to bring in Jill Daugherty. She's a Russian expert, a former CNN Moscow bureau chief. Jill, thanks for joining us. Does it make sense that Putin would crack down on so many dissidents but let the Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, off the hook for his attempted mutiny?

JILL DAUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Yes. I think that's a really interesting point because he has gone after, let's call them the liberal opposition. But when it comes to these hard liners, and Prigozhin is the uber hardliner, he's been very soft. And now who tries to attack the government? It's the hardliner. So, it's really pretty ironic.

BLITZER: Russia, even recently, as you well know, Jill, cracked down on a man whose young daughter drew an anti-war picture at school. Is that right?

DAUGHERTY: Yes, that is. And he had to flee. It was really terrible. She went into a children's home, kind of like an orphan. It was a terrible situation, and there are things like that happening all over Russia among, let's call it, again, the opposition to the war.

But I think the danger that Putin has for years kind of played with fire with these groups that are really extremists, and now everybody has to watch their back. I mean, remember Winston Churchill said Russian and Soviet intrigues are kind of like bulldogs fighting under a carpet, under a rug, and that's exactly what's going on. We may not know what's going on until we see the bones coming out from under the rug. It's pretty brutal.

BLITZER: It certainly is. How likely is it, Jill, that Prigozhin could face more punishment down the line perhaps for so-called financial crimes?

DAUGHERTY: Oh, definitely. In fact, Putin raised that yesterday when he said, hey, you know, the government -- the Russian government gave him a billion dollars and also another almost billion dollars to his concord company. So, you're talking about $2 billion and then Putin said, almost as an aside, I hope they didn't steal too much. But we will take care of that. That was, I think, the quote.

So, what I think that means is they could kill him, but that might backfire because he does have some support. He was a personality, still is, in Russia, but I think they could go after him and really neuter him by going after him for financial crimes, stick him in prison, like they've stuck a lot of people in prison.


BLITZER: The Kremlin released video tonight, as you know, Jill, of Vladimir Putin surrounded by cheering supporters, up close, shaking hands.

How do you read that in the aftermath of this mutiny?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I mean, he's obviously, if that is Putin, he's obviously out there trying to say that the people will support him. He's a man of the people, but I will tell you, I was really shocked when I saw that video because, Wolf, we know, I mean, the video for months has been Putin at the end of the very long table, afraid of getting germs from other people. And all of a sudden, he's, you know, hugging and kissing and shaking hands with people in a crowd?

It's -- it's really kind of crazy, and it was in Dagestan down by Chechnya talking about tourism. So it has a certain bizarre quality, but he has to show he's a man of the people at this point.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, always good to get your expertise. Thank you very, very much.

This important note to our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", Erin is live in Dnipro in Ukraine after spending the day with Ukrainian soldiers training out there on the front lines. That's coming right after THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, President Biden is dealing with a medical condition affecting his sleep.

And why music legend Madonna was hospitalized in intensive care. We'll have the latest on her condition and her recovery.



BLITZER: President Biden is getting help for a condition many Americans have faced that affects the quality of sleep. The White House says he recently began using a CPAP machine to treat sleep apnea, something the administration acknowledged after the president appeared this morning with indentations from straps on his cheeks.

Let's bring in CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Dr. Reiner, thanks for joining us.

Biden first disclosed his sleep apnea diagnosis back in 2008. What exactly is this condition?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, first of all, sleep apnea is super common. It's estimated that at least 30 million adults, mostly between the ages of 30 and 70, have it. And it's basically a condition where during sleep the muscles that support the structures in the airway relax, which allows the airway to collapse during sleep. When that happens, the person will stop breathing, sometimes for ten seconds or more. And the effect of that is that when the person stops breathing and their oxygen drops and their carbon dioxide rises, they will be awakened with basically a startle response.

This can happen over and over and over again dozens of times an hour. The person with sleep apnea may not even know they have it. But the net effect is they don't get truly restful sleep. And people with sleep apnea often wake up with a headache, have what's called hyper somulance, increased somulance during the day where by midday they feel like they need to get a nap. Maybe they fall asleep driving home.

It's super common. And we see particularly in men, it increases with increasing age, more common with increasing age, and also with increasing weight. And I'm glad that the president is going to be treated. He'll likely feel a lot better after more effective and restful sleep.

BLITZER: Should Americans, Dr. Reiner, be concerned for President Biden's health now that he's actually using this CPAP device?

REINER: No, quite to the contrary. I think if we're looking to optimize -- if we want the president of the United States to have a sort of optimum health and he's been diagnosed with CPAP, you would want him to use this. Look, if I were in the president's physician and the president was going into what is likely to be a very, very busy campaign, I would look to optimize his health condition.

And to do that, I'd make sure that he's eating right. And the president certainly looks fairly thin. I'd make sure that he's exercising. We've seen the president riding a bike, and he certainly appears to be fit.

And the final aspect of optimizing his health would be maximizing his sleep. Remember, the first campaign was during the pretty hot days of the pandemic, and there wasn't a lot of travel. But during the upcoming campaign with -- we're obviously in a different condition relative to the virus, the president is likely to be traveling a lot. And I'd be looking for ways, you know, around the margin to improve his health. I think this is a smart thing to do.

BLITZER: Good advice from Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Up next, serious concerns about Madonna's health after the iconic entertainer was hospitalized in intensive care.



BLITZER: Fans around the world are very concerned tonight about the pop music legend Madonna. The 64-year-old icon was hospitalized for what's being described as a serious bacterial infection. CNN's Erica Hill is joining us now. She's got an update.

Erica, tell us more about this infection and how Madonna is doing now.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So we don't have clarification on what that exact infection was, but we do know that it was serious enough, Wolf, that it landed her in the ICU over the weekend. According to a post on Instagram from her longtime manager, Guy Oseary, she actually spent several days in the ICU. In that post, he said she developed this infection, which, of course, led to that stay in the ICU.

He noted her health was improving. But the singer does remain under medical care. A full recovery is expected.

A source close to the singer tells CNN she's out of the ICU, she is recovering. We do know this, though, Wolf, she had a tour, her 12th tour, the celebration tour. It was set to kick off July 15th in Vancouver. We now know, again, from that statement from her manager that she's going to need to pause not only on that tour but on all commitments understandably.

This was a pretty ambitious tour, too, Wolf. So, they said it was set to kick off July 15th in Vancouver, 84 shows scheduled across North America and Europe through January of 2024 as everyone, of course, is expressing their well wishes, plenty of that being seen on social media in reaction, hoping that she recovers quickly. And, of course, we'll be watching for not only more information on her condition but also whether there will be more information on plans when she may be able to resume that tour.

BLITZER: Like all of us, we wish her a very, very speedy recovery, only the best for Madonna.

Erica Hill, thank you very much for that update.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.