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The Situation Room

Zelenskyy Says, Wagner Revolt Shows Putin Is Weak; Largest Israeli Strike In West Bank In 20-Plus Years; Storm Threats, Heat Alerts And Travel Delays; Supreme Court Says Christian Business Owner Can Refuse To Create Same-Sex Marriage Websites; Search For Suspects In Deadly Block Party Shooting. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 03, 2023 - 18:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: I'll ask former Defense Secretary Mark Esper for his take on Putin's clout right now.

Also this hour, we're told that the largest Israeli military operation in the West Bank in two decades is still ongoing tonight. We'll have an update from Jerusalem and a former U.N. ambassador to Israel will share his insights.

And we're tracking severe weather, scorching heat and travel delays, all threatening to interfere with America's 4th of July holiday plans.

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

First this hour, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's new assessment of the damage to Vladimir Putin's power after the rebellion by Russian mercenary fighters. President Zelenskyy speaking exclusively to CNN's Erin Burnett in Ukraine. Take a listen.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. President, you recently said that you have dealt, and I'll quote you, the way it quoted, with different Putins, it's a completely different set of traits and different periods. Now, of course, he's faced a rebellion, an attempted coup from Yevgeny Prigozhin. Have you seen any changes in how you think he's acting, in his behavior since the attempted coup? VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: Yes, we see the reaction

after certain Wagner steps. We see Putin's reaction. It's weak. Firstly, we see he doesn't control everything. Wagner's moving deep into Russia and taking certain regions shows how easy it is to do. Putin doesn't control the situation in the regions. He doesn't control the security situation.

All of us understand that his whole army is in Ukraine. Almost entire army is there. That's why it's so easy for the Wagner troops to march through Russia. Who could have stopped them? We understand that Putin doesn't control the regional policy and he doesn't control all those people in the regions. So, all that vertical of power he used to have just got crumbling down.

BURNETT: Do you believe he's fully in charge of the military when it comes to your frontline and this counteroffensive? Do you believe Putin is fully in charge of the Russian military?

ZELENSKYY: I don't think he fully controls all the processes. He gives orders to the commanders. It's understood. They are scared to lose their jobs, but he doesn't understand and doesn't control the middle layer of the Russian military, nor the lower rank officers and soldiers.


MARQUARDT: And you can see the full interview with President Zelenskyy on Erin Burnett Outfront on Wednesday night at 7:00 Eastern.

Tonight, the Russian defense minister is speaking publicly for the first time since the Wagner mutiny. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann has details on that. So, Oren, how is Defense Minister Shoigu spinning this rebellion?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think if you look at the statement from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and some of the other top Russian officials over the course of the past several days, it looks like they're almost circling the wagons and trying to portray everything as business as usual now that this attempted coup or attempted insurrection is behind them. Shoigu thanked the armed forces, saying their commitment to duty helped make sure this didn't get worse, and helped put this insurrection or this attempted coup to an end. Here's what he said earlier today.


SERGEI SHOIGU, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We are talking about an attempt on June 23rd to 25th to destabilize the situation in Russia. These plans failed primarily because the personnel of the armed forces showed loyalty to their oath and military duty. The servicemen courageously and selflessly continued to solve the tasks assigned to them. I thank the military personnel for their dedicated service.


LIEBERMANN: We saw a very similar line from Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitri Peskov, who thanked the security services, including the FSB. And then Foreign Ministry spokesperson to Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia would emerge stronger and there was no need to worry.

This, of course, completely ignores the fact that in Russia, a state that monitors everything and is effectively a police state with -- that's supposed to have tremendous internal controls, not only did this happen but, Alex, it's worth nothing that Wagner forces pretty much marched uncontested all the way from Ukraine to within just a couple hundred miles or kilometers with Moscow with nothing to stop them except Yevgeny Prigozhihn's order at the end, or so it seems from the outside right now. MARQUARDT: According to Prigozhin. Oren, we also heard from the CIA director, Bill Burns. He talked about Prigozhin and the Wagner insurrection. What did he have to say?

LIEBERMANN: Well, he made some interesting comments over the weekend while he was speaking in England. And he said one of the things that was noteworthy about Prigozhin's attempted mutiny or attempted coup here was what he did and what he said right before that, when he basically attacked the entire purpose of the war, the entire rationale given to the Russian population by state media.


That in and of itself was noteworthy and that, CIA Director William Burns says, goes towards disaffecting and continued disaffection of the Russian population with this ongoing so-called special military operation. Here is Burns.


WILLIAM BURNS, DIRECTOR, CIA: It is striking that Prigozhin preceded his actions with a scathing indictment of the Kremlin's mendacious rationale for the invasion of Ukraine and that the Russian military leadership's conduct of the war. The impact of those words and those actions will play out for some time, a vivid reminder of the corrosive effect of Putin's war on his own society and his own regime.


LIBERMANN: Worth nothing that a U.S. official tells us Burns was in Ukraine several weeks ago meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian intel officials. The purpose of that visit, according to those officials, or that official was to reiterate the support, the ongoing support from the U.S. to Ukraine not on in terms of the equipment and the support in the international bodies but also the intel sharing that's made a lot of the Ukrainian military actions possible.

On the timing, that was before we saw this rebellion from Wagner, so that did not come up in the conversations, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, important timing from Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon. Thanks so much for that report.

And joining me now is the former defense secretary, Mark Esper. Secretary Esper, thank you so much for joining us.

You heard President Zelenskyy in that clip speaking with our colleague, Erin Burnett, that he doesn't think that Vladimir Putin is fully in control of the Russian military. Do you agree?

MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, he would probably have a better sense that me. But my read is that Putin is in control of the military. He's arguably weaker, of course, but he remains in control. We saw none of the major generals or leaders of the Russian military move against him on that Saturday when Prigozhin began his march. I thought the two important things about Prigozhin's march toward Moscow that Saturday were, one, that nobody joined Prigozhin, which I think he underestimated the support that he had, but the second thing is also no Russian generals, no units, came out to defend Putin in that march along the way. So, I think that was an important part of that data played out.

MARQUARDT: Yes. I want to ask you about that lack of resistance. We did see the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, talking about that failed rebellion for the first time. We've seen him a couple of times since last weekend. Do you think that other heads are going to roll, other top Russian military leaders could face repercussions from the Kremlin?

ESPER: Well, absolutely. I suspect so. I figure there were more than just one or two people from the Russian military involved or whispering to Prigozhin, telling him that he was saying and doing the right things. They, of course, in the end, failed to materialize. But I suspect there are more out there. The FSB is conducting its investigation, and at some point in time, there will be announcements about people being retired or reassigned or it may happen silently as well, but I think that's inevitable.

MARQUARDT: In terms of the progress that Ukraine is now making in this counteroffensive, we are still seeing deadly strikes from the Russians on Ukraine civilians but Ukraine is saying that it has liberated about 14 square miles and that's over the past week. So, how are you measuring the success of this counteroffensive so far?

ESPER: Yes. Look, we all want a quick win, right, if you will. The penetration of the lines and exploitation that pushes Russians back, but this takes time. The Russians had months and months to really for fortify that 600-plus mile line with rows upon rows of defenses and barbed wire and mines and everything else.

So, right now, Ukraine is conducting what we call reconnaissance and force. It could take days, weeks, maybe a couple of months until they find the line, they find the right point to penetrate and exploit, cause Russian forces reserves to shift around. It will take some time. We need to be patient.

But we need to keep in mind too that Zelenskyy has yet to commit most of those -- I think he has nine, ten brigades of western-trained, western-equipped units that yet have been committed to the fight.

MARQUARDT: In terms of more commitments from the west, we have this NATO summit coming up in just a few days. Do you think the U.S. and other NATO allies should be committing to providing more specific weapons and perhaps also a timeline for Ukraine to join NATO and would that be after the war?

ESPER: Well, first on the weapons, we should be providing them ATACMS, cluster munitions and F-16s. I mean, look, if they had had the F-16s when they first started asking about them, which was last year, it would be a different game right now on the battlefield, because what's hurting the Ukrainians most is the fact that they don't have any air cover. It's Russian helicopters and aircraft that are really knocking back any type of Ukrainian ground forces. That's number one.

Number two, I do think that they need a clear signal from NATO that they will have fast access to NATO as members.


It's not going to happen now, Zelenskyy knows that, but they need a clear, unambiguous signal that will reinforce the Ukrainians and send the right message to the Russians that western support will continue and that Kyiv's membership in NATO is inevitable.

MARQUARDT: Secretary, before I let you go, we only have a couple of moments left. I have to ask you about what's going on in the West Bank. We've seen this huge Israeli military operation. How fearful are you that we could be on the eve or nearing a third intifada?

ESPER: Yes. Look, these things go in cycles, right? It is. You see a lot of Israeli combat power deployed there. It's just begun in the last 24, 48 hours. So, we have got to see how this plays out and that will be telling. And I'm curious to see also the White House's involvement, what the messaging is being conveyed to Tel Aviv in terms of the U.S. position.

MARQUARDT: Yes. That is something to keep a close eye on. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, thank you very much for your time tonight.

ESPER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And just ahead, the nation's largest conservative LGBTQ group is slamming Republican Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis for a new ad that it calls homophobic. What this means for the DeSantis campaign, that's coming up.



MARQUARDT: Republican Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis is facing bipartisan backlash for a video slamming frontrunner Donald Trump for his pledge to protect LGBTQ rights during his 2016 campaign, in which touts the Florida governor's own record of opposition to those rights. Take a look.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Caitlin Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?

TRUMP: That is correct.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the future, can transgender women compete in Miss Universe?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make America great again.


MARQUARDT: The Log Cabin Republicans, which is the nation's largest conservative LGBTQ organization, they slammed the ad, saying it ventures into homophobic territory.

Let's discuss this latest with our political correspondents and contributors. Thank you all for joining me this evening.

Jeff, I want to ask you first, in terms of the moderate and suburban voters who are so critical in the general election, what risk is DeSantis running here in terms of turning them off?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think a fairly big risk, because polls consistently show that there is broad support for just the basic of gay rights. But there's a long distance between here and there before he will ever face a general election audience, if he does at all.

So, clearly, that is the mindset here in the DeSantis orbit. They are trying to reach out to those evangelical voters, those social conservative voters perhaps, or they're just trying to get attention or there are younger people on the campaign who are trying to boost their guy when he's had a very difficult summer. And we're not talking about the challenges he's having breaking through in Iowa and New Hampshire and otherwise. So, I think it's a combination, but a long time before any general election concern for Ron DeSantis.

MARQUARDT: An early tactic before that shift.

Scott Jennings, I want to go to you. Governor DeSantis' team has been open about their strategy of positioning the governor is a more conservative alternative to Trump. So, what do you of this strategy?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, not just a conservative alternative but a reliable conservative, somebody who will actually follow through on things. They are doing this on a number of issues. This is just the most recent. They want to show Trump as somebody who isn't reliable, also doesn't have the attention span to follow through on things.

I mean, this is part of the DeSantis brand. I mean, he has positioned himself as perhaps the foremost culture warrior in the LGBTQ space in the Republican Party with what he has done in Florida. There was a Monmouth survey that came out the other day. 63 percent of Americans said we're talking about transgender and sexual identity too much, it should be less. I think it was 85 percent of Republicans.

So, I agree with what Jeff said. He needs attention. This might be the best news cycle as it relates to Republican primary voters that he's had in a couple of weeks and he's simply responding to the polling and to the brand that he's already built.

MARQUARDT: We're certainly discussing it. And, Dana, you discussed this with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He is, of course, openly gay. You asked him what he thought of the ad. Let's take a listen to a bit of that.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I'm going to leave aside the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you and between oiled up shirtless body builders. I just don't understand the mentality of somebody who gets up in the morning, thinking that he's going to prove his worth by competing over who can make life hardest for a hard-hit community that is already so vulnerable in America.


MARQUARDT: So, Dana, of course, criticism coming from Democrats but why haven't we seen more of that from the Republicans presidential field?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We saw some of it. Chris Christie said that the spat between DeSantis and Trump or at least DeSantis going after Trump at the beginning of that video, which kind of got lost with all the -- I mean, Log Cabin Republicans called it homophobic. I saw a lot of people calling it homoerotic, which is basically what Pete Buttigieg DeSantis was referring to with the --

MARQUARDT: The oiled up --

BASH: -- the oiled up guys without shirts on.

But I think for the most part, probably because what you heard from Scott Jennings just now, that there is kind of a race to be the most aggressive on the culture war issue. And that is the sort of ecosystem that these Republican candidates for the most part are playing.

Again, Chris Christie condemned it, Will Hurd condemned it, others have condemned it. But those who are kind of at the top of the food chain when it comes to polling inside the Republican presidential field, this is what they think is working.


MARQUARDT: Karen, do you agree?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do, and I also agree with Jeff. I think it's going to be a huge liability in a general election context and also not just in the presidential, but also think about how this is playing out.

If you're a House Republican in one of those Biden districts and you've got now the Equality Act that has been reintroduced in Congress, Republicans are going to have to be more public about where they stand on these issues. And, again, all of this is happening in the context where we've seen over 400 very extreme measures being proposed and passed in states across the country.

So, there are very real fears about discrimination and the rise of hate crimes against the LGBTQ community. And so I do think the other side of the liability for Republicans is it's mean-spirited and they're feeding into that, and it's turning off moderate suburban women as well as moderate voters, and even some Republican voters say they think some of these measures, there's too many and it's going too far.

MARQUARDT: I do want to switch gears and get your thoughts on another issue. We now have reporting, sources telling CNN that after President Trump lost the 2020 election, he then called the former governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, to pressure him to overturn the results in that state.

Now, we understand that Ducey has not spoken with the special counsel, Jack Smith, but doesn't this add a lot more fuel to that January 6th investigation?

ZELENY: It certainly adds another state, but this comes as a surprise to no one, because Donald Trump at the time, as we all know and reported, was obsessed with Arizona and obsessed with the Fox News call that.

But, certainly, it's another example of -- there's not a tape recording in Arizona, which is one of the issues there is in Georgia, of course, we believe it's at the heart of that case where the president was trying to find some 11,000 odd votes. So, I'm not sure that this gives us any new information. It just gives us more information into his mindset and obsession with trying to effectively steal the election.

BASH: There's no tape recording of the then-president speaking, but remember when Doug Ducey was signing, was certifying the votes for Joe Biden in Arizona, his phone rang and it was Hail to the Chief on his ringtone, which was the president calling. We don't know what he was going to say, but they obviously were very, very focused, as you said, Jeff.

And then the other thing that I thought was noteworthy was the former governor's spokesperson put out a statement saying, we're moving on, not it didn't happen.

MARQUARDT: Right. I love that he took the time to change his ringtone.

Scoot, I want to get your thoughts on this as well, because we have, of course, just heard that other recording of the former president talking about allegedly those plans to attack Iran. So, how important do you think it is that there is no recording in this case when you compare Arizona with Georgia?

JENNINGS: Well, when you look at all the things he's got going on with the documents case, there's recordings, apparently in Georgia, there's recordings, it strikes me, just as a consumer of news, that things where you can hear someone's voice, actual evidence, things that are real tangible are better than just us discussing that a phone call occurred.

So, I agree with Jeff and Dana. I think that the issue here is what's real. What makes something real? A tape recording certainly makes it more real than us just discussing that something might have happened.

MARQUARDT: Karen, we just have a few moments left, but at what point does all this start to really pile up and catch up with the former president?

FINNEY: Honestly, it doesn't seem like it will. I mean, what we've been seeing, even in the face of new revelations, is deepening of his support. His lead in the polls continues to grow. So, honestly, it seems like his voters have already decided they are in all the way.

MARQUARDT: Well, thank you all for your thoughts and perspective. It really is a fascinating turn in the former president's attempts to overturn the election. Thank you all.

Coming up, the latest on Israel's intense new military operation in the West Bank this hour and how long it may last. You're in The Situation Room.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, Israel is warning that its new military operation in the occupied West Bank is not over yet after the most intense military raid in the territory in two decades.

CNN's Hadas Gold has more from Jerusalem.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Hundreds of Israeli soldiers descending on Jenin, a massive raid supported by airstrikes and bulldozers tanks on the outskirts of the city, the largest incursion into the West Bank in two decades since the days of the second intifada.

RICHARD HECHT, ISRAEL ARMY'S INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: We want to break of the camp being a safe haven for terrorists.

GOLD: Easier said than done, Israeli forces facing stiff resistance. The army bulldozing its way through airstrikes, hitting what the military said was terrorist infrastructure. Soldiers firing from nearby homes in their hunt for weapons, explosive tunnels at what they say are militants.

Palestinian authorities have condemned the raid, calling it a new war crime against our defenseless people.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT: We renew our demand to the international community of the need to provide urgent international protection for our people and to impose sanctions on the occupying entity.

GOLD: In Jenin, some residents say they were overwhelmed by the sheer force of the Israeli attack.

HUSSEIN ZEIDA, JENIN RESIDENT: We are unarmed people. We don't have anything in the camp to respond to this force. There is nothing safe in the camp. They dug all the streets with bulldozers.

GOLD: The Israeli government says it's not at war with Palestinians, like Zeida, but with these men who blames for violence against Israelis.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Our troops are battling the terrorists with unyielding resolve and fortitude while doing everything, everything to avoid civilian casualties.


GOLD: The latest raid on Jenin building on over a year-and-a-half of regular military operations following a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

But the cycle of violence only intensifying. Militant group Hamas calling on its members to strike Israel by all available means. But for those caught in the crossfire, Israel warning the operation will last as long as necessary, even if it says it doesn't want to hold ground.

HECHT: We are focused on the infrastructure inside the camp. It could be hours, it could be days.


GOLD (on camera): Alex, I was in Jenin just yesterday speaking to residents. And while these Israeli military raids targeting militants have become a somewhat of a sad regular occurrence over the past year or so, they say they have never seen anything like this current operation.

And as night fell, at least 500 families have now been leaving the refugee camp. That's according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, likely a fear of what the next few hours will bring, especially as the Israeli military saying that while civilians are not their targets, this operation will continue for perhaps a day or maybe even more. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Our Hadas Gold in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

Joining me now is the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and a middle east expert, Martin Indyk. Ambassador Indyk, thank you so much for joining us at this very important moment.

You say that this could precipitate a third intifada, which means uprising. How do you fear that the next few hours or days could unfold?

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Well, we've seen now hundreds of Israeli troops moving into the refugee camp, so the violence on both sides is going to escalate.

The problem the Israelis have is if they want to achieve a safe haven in this refugee camp, they're going to have to stay there. And they don't have any force that they can leave in favor of the Palestinian Security Forces. The Palestinian authority are crumbling. They're not prepared to do that job.

And so the Israelis have a real dilemma. They can mow the grass, as they call it, or in this case, uproot the grass, but it will grow back. And as they get more and more involved with these kinds of operations, it's more and more likely to create greater friction. And that's where the reoccupation of these cities in the north of the West Bank is likely to happen. And that will breed a third intifada, I fear.

MARQUARDT: How much do you think of what we're seeing now in Jenin? This huge military operation do you think is a result of the pressure that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been feeling from the far right members of his government?

INDYK: Yes, it's certainly an important factor, because up until now, the Israeli army has been conducting night raids, going in and picking up militants, terrorists who have been responsible for either planning or executing acts. But the army has resisted this kind of large scale operation.

On the other hand, the far right ministers, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, in particular, have been pushing for this for some time. And I think Netanyahu, under pressure from all corners, has decided to try it and see and order the army in. But I'm afraid it's bound to create greater escalation rather than calming things down.

MARQUARDT: If you were still at the embassy or at the State Department, what would you be telling the administration right now out to try to tamp down the tensions and put an end to the violence that we're seeing?

INDYK: Well, the administration's main focus for the time it's been in office has been to calm things down, whether it's between the Israelis and Palestinians or in the Gulf with Iran and Saudi Arabia. And so they've set up a kind of mechanism, consultative one, with Egypt and Jordan, which countries also have influence on the Palestinian authority.

But unless they all decide to come together and boost the Palestinian authority and boost the capabilities of the Palestinian security forces, then is no alternative to the Israelis going in and operating in this way and a downward slide, as I said, to a third intifada.

So, the administration has got to decide whether it really wants the Palestinian authority to stand up and be effective. And that requires some really heavy lifting by the United States, Egypt, Jordan and Israel as well.

MARQUARDT: And as is so often the case, civilians are caught in the middle. Jenin has been, to some extent, a hub for Palestinian militants. But what do you think is the impact on the civilians living there? Because we're seeing videos of families evacuating the refugee camp, an official in Jenin saying that water pipes and generators are being hit.


So, how are they dealing with things?

INDYK: Well, of course, this invokes memories of previous floods, of refugees leaving conflict zones in Israel proper during previous wars. But I don't think that's what's going on here. I think they're fleeing to avoid getting caught in the crossfire, and hopefully they'll be able to go back, but I don't know what's going to be left of their homes. There will have to be some reconstruction going on. But it is part of this tragedy.

You know, Alex, that something like 180,000 Palestinians go to work in Israel every day, and the Israelis have not stopped that. So, even as this fighting is going on and you see this outflow of people, there's an inflow of Palestinian workers going into Israel, keeping the economy going there. And that's one of the great ironies of this conflict.

MARQUARDT: Yes, there are not many places for them to go. Former Ambassador Martin Indyk, thank you so much for your perspective.

INDYK: Thanks for having me.

MARQUARDT: And just ahead, what you need to know heading into this 4th July weekend, week rather, about travel delays and the threat of severe weather.

And this might give you pause if you're heading to an amusement park this holiday. We'll tell you what happened when a giant crack was found in a roller coaster.



MARQUARDT: It is Independence Day Eve, and many Americans have faced obstacles getting to their holiday destinations, especially if they're flying.

Here's CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From severe weather to record-setting crowds July 4th air travel is being put to the test. Friday, the Transportation Security Administration screened the most people at airports ever, 2.88 million, followed by 2.5 million people Saturday and again on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There're always situations, but this one is like I would have to say it's one of the worst, which has been kind of a disaster.

MUNTEAN: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells CNN that delays are down after last week when United Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights and delayed another 8,000, more than any U.S. carrier.

BUTTIGIEG: We're watching more severe potential for severe weather. That's what touched off all of these problems about a week ago. Things look like they have quickly returned to normal for the system. And United also appears to have covered.

In a new memo, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says he's had constructive conversations with Buttigieg and is committed to a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, which he initially blamed for delays. Kirby says United will also reassess its schedule at its massive hub in Newark, which even he shunned last week, admitting to and apologizing for flying on a private jet from new nearby Teterboro.

SCOTT KEYES, FOUNDER, GOING.COM: This is not the week leading up to July 4th that the airlines were hoping for.

MUNTEAN: For now, the Federal Aviation Administration is tracking even more severe weather, warning of ground stops for flights bound to more than a dozen airports on the East Coast.

KEYES: But I think that your odds are a lot better of an on-time arrival this week than they were last week.


MUNTEAN (on camera): The next test when travelers begin making the return trip after the holiday. Right now, the TSA is on pace to meet its forecast of screening 17 million people at airports nationwide through July 5th. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right. Pete Muntean at Reagan National Airport, thanks very much.

Now to the holiday forecast, millions of Americans facing the threat of severe storms and intense heat.

CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking all in the CNN Weather Center. Chad, what are we seeing across the country right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Watches, warnings in effect right now up and down the East Coast, I-95 right now and big storms heading into Atlanta, Georgia, Birmingham and another batch out near Rapid City, all of these could and will produce an awful lot of lightning.

I'm not really that concerned about hail, wind and the like. I'm worried about people that are outside with lightning coming down. Significant lightning falling from the sky right now as we speak, the thunderstorms are popping up. You can see these little bright flashes, but we can count those flashes.

Inside this red box in the past one minute, Alex, 758 lightning strikes have hit the ground from clouds, the C.G., the cloud to ground lightning. That's the dangerous lightning, not the rolling thunder that you hear or see as the lightning goes across the sky. These are actual bolts making it to the ground.

The yellow areas here, still severe thunderstorm watches in effect, many of them until 8:00, one more still until about 10:00. They may get extended, too, because this weather is just now to the west of New York City, has moved through D.C., moving across to the eastern shore down here across parts of North Carolina, could even see some strong weather and then thunder and lightning with these storms here across parts of the Deep South.

Now, for tomorrow, if you're outside, this is the area that we'll see the most and the biggest threat of severe weather, even though there will be lightning and thunder all the way down across the Deep South.

So, here's how it shapes up. My first stop here on this forecast radar. This is what a computer model thinks is going to happen. Obviously, it's not going to be perfect because computers aren't perfect. There's just not enough processing power. But showers start to pop up 2:00 to 3:00 tomorrow afternoon, maybe when you're at a picnic.

As we push you ahead, though, until really fireworks time. Minneapolis, Omaha, Lincoln, you guys are really under the gun for that severe weather possibility. And then as we work our way into Thursday, things get a lot better. D.C., you look great. New York City looks great. All the weather will be gone by then, a really decent couple of days for you. Still some hot weather across, especially the southwest, but you can deal with the heat. It's a lot less dangerous than the lightning.


You just have to be careful out there.

MARQUARDT: Those are some crazy lightning statistics. Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center, thanks very much.

Tonight, officials in North Carolina are trying to get to the bottom of an incident that led to the closure of a popular ride at an amusement park. The visitor captured this chilling video of a rollercoaster with a giant crack on one of its support pillars. You can see the pillar moving as passengers fly by there.

The rollercoaster is one of the tallest and longest rides at Carowinds amusement park, it has a peak height of 325 feet, and reaches speeds of up to 95 miles an hour. The ride has been closed, since Friday.

As someone who is not a huge fan of rollercoasters, that certainly does not help.

We have this note for our viewers, coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, we have an interview, Erin has an interview with the man who shot that video of the rollercoaster crack. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, controversy picking up around the Supreme Court's ruling that a Christian web designer can refuse service to same sex couples after a man cited in the case said he was never asked, that he never asked for website and that he isn't gay. That stunning story is next.



MARQUARDT: We are following a surprising turn in the Supreme Court ruling that a Christian web designer can refuse service to same-sex couples. A man sided in the designers' case now saying that he never sought out a website, and that he's not gay.

Our senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic joins me now. She is the author of "Nine Black Robes".

So, Joan, how did this happen, and how does it not impact this historic ruling?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: First of all, the facts of this case will already elusive, if not kind of nonexistent. The woman who brought the case against Colorado was asking for a pre- enforcement really. She said that she did not want to create a message for same-sex couples, she said that she feared that she would be, this law would be enforced against her and that's all the Supreme Court needed.

The solicitor general of Colorado, and the U.S. solicitor general urge the court not to hear this case because there were no real facts. I have to, say this man who has come forward, he was not even part of the record at the Supreme Court. The state of Colorado, knew that she was citing him, and the state officials said in their brief to the Supreme Court, this is not a verifiable fact. We do not know that this person exists, but neither did the majority or the dissenting justices seized on that at all.

What the majority here said, in a fairly aggressive effort to actually hear this case was, only two things have to be shown. One is that this woman worried about having this law applied to her, and that she had a belief, a Christian belief that she could only -- she would only want to convey a message that marriage involves one woman and one man.


BISKUPIC: And the court said she had a credible concern about being prosecuted here. That was enough for this court.

MARQUARDT: Essentially, it was preemptive.

BISKUPIC: Yes, exactly right. MARQUARDT: There was, of course, another major ruling last week. The court overturning affirmative action in college admissions. Now, Harvard which is one of the two universities at the center of this case, they're facing a major complaint. What more can you tell us?

BISKUPIC: Today, a civil rights group filed a complaint with the Department of Education, saying that Harvard's legacy program, Harvard has a pretty high preference for legacies, that that is in effect discriminatory, because most legacy students are white. They say that's under civil rights law, that policy has a disparate impact against Black and Brown students.

Now, this claim was just made today. The Department of Education isn't saying anything about it. Neither is Harvard. Harvard has always said it does not practice right discrimination, at either end.

And this is going to be part of the Department of Education's overall look at how campuses can't remain diverse in a fair and equitable way, but the legacy, the legacy issues. Big these elite schools, they really do favor the alumni.

MARQUARDT: They certainly do.


MARQUARDT: Well, two major rulings, and you've been all over them with terrific reporting.

Joan Biskupic, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BISKUPIC: Thanks. Thank you.

MARQUARDT: And we will have more news, just ahead, including the latest on a deadly shooting at a block's party in Baltimore. People are now searching for multiple suspects. We'll go there live, next.



MARQUARDT: In Baltimore tonight, an urgent search is underway for multiple suspects in a deadly shooting at a block party. The city's mayor saying the seven people remain hospitalized, many in critical condition.

CNN's Danny Freeman has our report.


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A holiday weekend block party turned chaotic and deadly in an instant. Surveillance video taken early Sunday morning captured people running for their lives as gunfire broke out in Baltimore's Brooklyn neighborhood.

MAYOR BRANDON SCOTT (D), BALTIMORE, MD: We won't stop until we find those responsible and hold them accountable. We won't. FREEMAN: Twenty-eight people were injured, including 15 children under

the age of 18. Eighteen-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez and 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi were killed in the shooting.

SERITA ANDERSON, RESIDENT: It was frightening, and, just went straight into prayer, you know, protection for this community.

FREEMAN: Police say the crime scene stretches multiple blocks.

And at this point, they have not made an arrest but believe there were multiple shooters.

Officials now offering a 28,000 dollar reward for information that could lead to unrest.

ACTING COMMISSIONER RICH WORLEY, BALTIMORE POLICE: We are still looking at every casing. We have multiple casings from one caliber of weapon. But that doesn't mean every one came from that same weapon.

FREEMAN: Police also fear this shooting could lead to even more gun violence.

WORLEY: We are always concerned about retaliation at every single incident.

FREEMAN: And today, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called for stronger gun laws.

SCOTT: This is not just a Baltimore thing. We have to be honest. This is the United States of America. This is our longest standing public health challenge, and we need to focus on gun violence regardless of where it happens.


FREEMAN: So, Alex, this manhunt is currently underway, but remember the holiday weekend is not fully over yet. There are still some big events that are planned here in Baltimore over the next 24 hours.

And the mayor today said in his press conference, quote, we are gearing up for every resource at our disposal to ensure the Fourth of July is safe -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: A tragic story right before the Fourth of July.

Danny Freeman in Baltimore, thank you very much.

And I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM, thank you very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.