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Sources Say, Biden To Meet With Zelenskyy At NATO Summit; Trump Facing Deadline On Classified Documents Trial Date; Northeast Swamped By Deadly Historic Flooding; Desantis Blames Campaign Woes On Media; Disgraced Former USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar Stabbed In Federal Prison. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 10, 2023 - 18:00   ET



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Our coverage continues now with the great Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Biden is now set to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the NATO summit as Ukraine is pushing to join the alliance. CNN is on the ground in Lithuania where the president and key U.S. allies are preparing for their high-stakes talks.

Also tonight, new developments in the Trump classified documents indictment, the Trump Team now facing a deadline to weigh in on the timing of the trial. This as the former president's co-defendant is accused of unnecessary delay by the special counsel.

And parts of the northeastern United States are swamped by historic flooding, a once in a thousand-year rainfall swallowing cars in West Point, New York. I'll speak with the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, this hour. We'll discuss the state's emergency response.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Tonight, on the eve of a pivotal NATO summit, we're learning that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy plans to make a personal appeal on Ukraine's bid to join the alliance. He'll attend the summit and hold face-to-face talks with President Biden.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is joining us live. She's in Vilnius, Lithuania, where the summit will take place. Arlette, what more are you hearing from your sources about the Biden/Zelenskyy meeting? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden will, in fact, sit down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy here at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. That's according to an official familiar with the meeting. He told me that a little bit earlier this evening.

Now, the meeting comes as Zelenskyy's attendance at the summit had been in question, but it will be one sign of unity as Russia's war in Ukraine is expected to dominate much of the conversation here at the NATO summit.

These allies are also expected to discuss a pathway for Ukraine to eventually join NATO. Zelenskyy has been seeking security guarantees and wants to have a more clear timeline, a more clear road map for how Ukraine could join the alliance.

But President Biden recently in an interview with our colleague, Fareed Zakaria, poured cold water on the idea of Ukraine joining the alliance at this moment, as the war in Ukraine is still ongoing and allowing Ukraine into NATO would further involve NATO countries and potentially put them in direct conflict with Russia.

Additionally, Biden has argued that there are diplomatic reforms that Ukraine would also need to make before joining the alliance. All of these issues are expected to come up as the two leaders will meet here in Lithuania on Wednesday.

And on the eve of the summit, there's another historic development that could significantly expand NATO's territory. NATO Secretary- General Stoltenberg announced this evening that turkey will now approve Sweden's ascension to the NATO alliance. Turkey had been blocking this bid for about a year now over some concerns Erdogan has argued that Sweden has harbored groups that Turkey considers to be terrorists. Stoltenberg today saying that Turkey has now agreed to allow Sweden into the alliance.

One question going forward is the time line for that is that this will still need be to voted on by the Turkish parliament.

Now, President Biden had been waging a full-court press behind the scenes in the lead-up to this summit. He had expressed optimism that this might actually happen while they were here in Lithuania. The president actually held a phone call with Erdogan as he flew from the U.S. to London on Air Force One, on Sunday evening, and he said in that phone call that he wanted to see Sweden's joining of NATO happen as soon as possible.

There has also been conversations between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and also National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and their counterparts in Turkey. Tomorrow, President Biden will be sitting down for a bilateral meeting with Erdogan, where they will talk further about this as this represents a historic development on this eve of the summit.

BLITZER: Very significant development, indeed. Arlette Saenz in Vilnius, Lithuania, for us, Arlette, thank you very much. Now to Ukraine and its stake in what happens at the NATO summit. CNN's Alex Marquardt is in the capital of Kyiv, he's joining us live right now. Alex, as you heard Arlette report, President Zelenskyy is planning to meet Wednesday with President Biden during the NATO summit.


What will he be looking to get from this meeting?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a bit, Wolf. We don't have confirmation of that yet from the Ukrainian side. It's not terribly surprising. There is a lot that Zelenskyy would like to accomplish at the NATO summit. Ukrainian officials have been quite coy about his independence.

But, Wolf, it is remarkable to recognize the fact that Finland and soon Sweden have joined or will be joining the NATO alliance very quickly while Ukraine has wanted to join NATO for a very long time. They were told as far back as 15 years ago in 2008 in the Bucharest agreement that they could join NATO, but at the time there was no concrete plan laid out.

And, Wolf, that is the main thing Zelenskyy wants right now. He wants what he is calling a technical invitation to NATO. He wants a plan of how and when Ukraine can be expected to join the alliance.

In the meantime, he also wants security guarantees. Now, of course, many of the NATO countries have been providing weaponry, military aid, security aid to Ukraine over the past 17 months. That has been done with some kind of collaboration between the countries, but not at an official NATO level. And so Ukraine and President Zelenskyy want security assurances from the NATO alliance in the long-term so that they can count on NATO for weaponry and other kinds of things in the long-term.

Zelenskyy is saying that there's a possibility that he could go, but he's not going to go to the summit for fun. There are concrete outcomes that he wants, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alex, what is Ukraine saying about President Biden's decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs?

MARQUARDT: Well, this is something that the Ukrainians are quite happy about. This is something they've been asking for for quite some time. And when the U.S. announced this, the reasons that they gave were similar to the reasons that we heard from Ukrainian officials, that Russians have been using these munitions for the past 17 months, that Ukraine would not use these in civilian areas, they would only be used against Russian troops and to take back territory. The U.S. says that assurances have been given by Ukraine in writing that Ukraine will keep track of where these munitions are fired for demining operations later in the future.

Ukraine is also highlighting how effective these weapons can be, because cluster munitions are much more lethal than your standard artillery munitions, several times more lethal. So, at this point, Wolf, when this counteroffensive is moving relatively slowly, the Ukrainians do believe they can have quite some effect. At the same time, the U.S. is saying that they are needed to be sent to Ukraine right now because of the low supplies of the more standard artillery munitions. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt reporting from Kyiv, thank you very much, Alex.

As Russia's war against Ukraine is a major focus, of course, of the upcoming NATO summit, we're learning right now more about Putin's response to the mutiny by the Wagner mercenary fighters, the Kremlin revealing that Putin recently actually met with the Wagner chief.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us. He's got details. Matthew, first of all, what do we know about this meeting and how does it fit into the timeline of the failed rebellion?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's another twist, isn't it, in what's been an extraordinary couple of weeks. Remember, that armed uprising in Russia by Wagner forces took place on the 23rd and the 24th of June, then, you know, Yevgeny Prigozhin, you can see there, the leader of Wagner, agreed to, I think, go into exile in Belarus and take some of his Wagner soldiers with him.

I was recently in Belarus and the leader of that country, Alexander Lukashenko, told me that, in fact, Prigozhin had never arrived and was in Russia. And now we learn that five days after the uprising, on June the 29th, Prigozhin had a face-to-face meeting with Putin along with 30 or so other commanders, many of them Wagner, if not all of them, it's not clear, to discuss their role on the battlefield and what their performance had been and how they might be deployed in future.

I mean, you couldn't make it up. It is absolutely incredible and leaves us even more confused about where is Wagner and where is Prigozhin. I think the fact that there was a meeting to discuss their future implies that Putin at this point or at that point thinks there is a future for Wagner, which is something we didn't know.

But, you know, it also gives this impression, and I think this is crucial, this idea that this man who essentially led an uprising in Russia, who Vladimir Putin basically said, you know, accused of stabbing him in the back, is still walking free, is still not taking up the deal of the terms of his surrender and gone to Belarus, it still having meetings in the Kremlin.


And, you know, it gives the impression that perhaps this individual is not being punished.

Now, whether that lasts or not is a different question, but at the moment, he seems to be a free man.

BLITZER: Important information. Matthew Chance reporting for us, thank you.

Let's get some more on this with our military and Russia experts, retired General Spider Marks is with us. Let's start, Spider, with the pivotal NATO summit upcoming this week. President Zelenskyy had said he wouldn't attend just, quote, for fun. So, does the fact that he'll meet Wednesday with President Biden in Lithuania signal there could be some progress on Ukraine's future in the NATO alliance after the war?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It is possible that it could happen. Right now, certainly, it's totally inappropriate. There is very little chance that Ukraine will be embraced by the other NATO members. It doesn't have an economy. Its infrastructure is completely collapsed. There's been migration of millions of very educated Ukrainians out of Ukraine. Will they ever return? Nobody really knows. So, there could be a pathway. There should be a pathway for Ukraine, but this is a distant kind of an invitation.

I also find it odd that Zelenskyy would, in some case, kind of lecture the other NATO members, the hand that feeds them, that he's not showing up for fun. I'm not saying that anybody going to the NATO conference thinks there's fun while there is a war going on in Europe.

BLITZER: Jill, NATO is set to expand yet again with Sweden getting the green light today from Turkey. How much does all of this, this expansion of NATO, actually rattle Putin?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Oh, I think a lot, Wolf. I mean, you know, this is exactly what Putin didn't want. You have unity, at least on this. You have a really quick movement by Erdogan, completely changing, sorry, what he said just a couple of days ago. And, remember, you have that relationship, actually pretty tight with some problems between Erdogan and Putin. So, I think it's a good day for NATO and a very bad day for Vladimir Putin.

BLITZER: Jill, let me follow up quickly on that meeting between Putin and the Wagner chief, does that suggest Prigozhin has a certain amount of leverage over the Russian president?

DOUGHERTY: You know, I think Prigozhin himself is still too important to Putin, and definitely the fighters of Wagner are very important to Putin, and that's why you have that kind of odd conversation that the Kremlin told CNN about, which is Putin, in essence, offering them jobs, more fighting opportunities. So, what he needs is those fighters loyal to him, and they pledge that, loyal to each to the commander in chief, and not to Prigozhin necessarily.

It's interesting, I think, Wolf, that there was no indication that Prigozhin himself swore allegiance to Putin in that meeting. So, we'll have to see. You know, this is perhaps deliberately now very confusing and it serves the Kremlin to have a lot of obfuscation just so people can't even follow what's going on. It's embarrassing to the Kremlin.

BLITZER: It certainly is. General Marks, how do you see it unfold?

MARKS: Well, as Jill described, what you have is the Wagner Group, frankly, has been doing a large percentage of the heavy lifting. The Russian conventional forces have not been able to do what they've been asked to do. We've seen that over the course of 18 months. The Wagner Group, on the other hand, have been doing that.

Now, let's be frank. They don't have any rules of engagement so they're very brutal at what they do. But that gets to the heart of Putin's, I think, loyalty to Prigozhin and why Putin has allowed him not to be held accountable. I find this incredibly unbelievable that loyalty is such a large factor to Putin but this act of extreme disloyalty, this potential coup, has been left unpunished in any particular way.

BLITZER: Yes. Putin accused him of treason and then they have this meeting. General Spider Marks, thank you. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you, as well.

This important programming note to our viewers, I'll be reporting live from Vilnius, Lithuania, on Wednesday, when Presidents Biden and Zelenskyy are set to meet. And on Thursday, I'll have an exclusive interview in Vilnius with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin. It's all coming up this week on CNN and right here in The Situation Room.

Just ahead, when will Donald Trump go on trial in the classified documents case? The former president and his legal team are facing a deadline on this question tonight.


Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: At any moment, we could learn the Trump Team's proposed timeline for the former president's federal criminal trial in the classified documents case. Trump's attorneys are up against a deadline tonight.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, the anchor of Inside Politics, and CNN's Chief Correspondent Kaitlan Collins, the anchor of The Source, which debuts tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern.

Kaitlan, what can you tell us about the deadline and how it fits into the disputes about the timeline for this case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you saw the special counsel jack smith recommended a trial date for the documents case of December. Initially, we had seen it in August or so, now it's a little pushed back from there. And so I think the question, of course, we know what the Trump team wants to do here, which is to delay. They're going to make an argument that essentially they believe the case can't happen because it does have a lot of complicating factors given that it is related to national security information that it can't happen that quickly.

I think the question remains what Judge Cannon is going to decide here, what this is going to look like, because an ideal world for the Trump Team is they're going to push it and then argue, of course, that next year, it is running up against the 2024 presidential election where Trump is obviously right now, based on the polls, the GOP frontrunner by far.


And so I think that is the big question here of what's that is going to look like, how we see their legal tactic come into play. We've already seen Jack Smith accusing Walt Nauta, Trump's co-defendant, of trying to delay things when it comes to his court appearances. So, we'll see what they decide. But we do know what they want, is for this to be delayed much longer than that December date that was proposed by Jack Smith's team.

BLITZER: Interesting. Dana, take a look at some of Trump's legal and political calendars so far in 2024. There are already two trial dates conflicting with the GOP primaries. Help us wrap our heads around the challenges of these overlapping timelines.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And those trial dates aren't even what Kaitlan was just talking about. Those are separate issues having to do with the defamation case, et cetera.

It's very clear that with those cases, there's a two-prong political strategy. The legal strategy is one thing, but just the political strategy because of where we see the political calendar there. And that is to delay, and if delay isn't possible, to use it as a way to play the victim card.

And we have seen, according to pretty much every single poll starting when the former president was indicted the first time and then the second time and where he is right now, he has been able to use these indictments as a plus, which, again, I think we're kind of taking it for granted because it's Trump but it bears repeating that that is not a normal political situation. It is a unique to Trump situation to be indicted not once, but twice, and then use it as a political plus, but he has been so far in the Republican electorate universe.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, on top of that, the Justice Department special counsel is clearly nearing the end of his January 6th probe, plus criminal indictments in Georgia election meddling in that probe could come between tomorrow and September, as far as we know. How is the Trump team planning for the potential legal avalanche that seems to be just ahead?

COLLINS: I think two different ways when it comes to bracing for what's to come. I mean, they are planning normal campaign events, stops for Trump, of course, he's been doing rallies in South Carolina, he's got trips to Alabama and other states coming up soon. They're planning those trips as if he's just running as the GOP frontrunner, of course, but they are also dealing with this and essentially bracing for the fact that this could happen while he's out in public or what it's going to look like.

With the January 6th case no one knows who is going to be indicted there, what the charges could be. It's not as narrow as the documents case where we had a pretty good idea that they were zeroing in on Trump and his role and potentially Walt Nauta and some other witnesses in that case. January 6th is much broader. It's much more complicated. There is clearly a focus on the attorneys who were around Trump at that time, the Sidney Powells, the John Eastmans, the Rudy Giulianis of the world.

So, I think they're kind of waiting to see who will be held responsible, who will be charged, will Trump be someone, will he be an unindicted co-conspirator, I think, Georgia as well. Governor kemp was just on in an interview the other day saying he's not sure why it's taking so long for indictments in that case to happen given they've been investigating it for so long but that is the timeframe where we're expecting and it could include Trump himself. I mean, it really remains to be seen.

BLITZER: And, Dana, as you noted, Trump says these indictments only help him politically. But that potentially could change as trials, criminal trials actually get under way and start for any number of these cases.

BASH: So much of this is unknown, because all of this is unprecedented. And so, yes, he does believe it's helping him politically in the short-term, as I mentioned, and there is only evidence to support that in the short term. The question is, the long- term and that is why you have Republican outside groups, like Club for Growth, who they've never been a fan of Donald Trump and, of course, his opponents trying to make the case in their own ways that Donald Trump is not the guy to beat Joe Biden for various reasons, especially his legal troubles, even as they defend him on the legal troubles.

BLITZER: Dana Bash and Kaitlan Collins, guys, thank you very, very much.

This important note to our viewers, be sure to tune in tonight for the debut of The Source with Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan's guests include Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. It all begins at 9:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.

And coming up, the northeast here in the United States is being hammered by severe rain and flooding in what's being described as a once in a thousand-year rainfall event over at West Point. That's where we're seeing pictures coming in. I'll speak live with the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, about the damages in her state.


Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: Millions of people in the northeast are under flood alerts right now after intense rains and flash flooding that left at least one person dead forcing residents to flee their homes and leading to road closures and water rescues.

CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Tonight, deadly flooding drenching the northeast. Historic rainfall killing at least one person, dozens of others rescued from life-threatening floodwaters.


Nearly 9 million people are under flood alerts right now with more than eight inches of rain falling in a 24-hour period in some parts of New York.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): This is the new normal. Be prepared for the worst because the worst continues to happen.

MYERS: Homes inundated with water in Rockland County.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at the people's door.

MYERS: Just north in West Point, more than 7.5 inches fell in just six hours on Sunday. That's a 1 in 1,000-year rainfall event for that area, according to CNN analysis of NOAA's data.

In Orange County, one woman was swept away by floodwaters.

STEVE NEUHAUS, ORANGE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: She was in the bottom of a ravine.

MYERS: Their county executive says emergency services conducted about 50 significant water rescues, and right now there are no reports of anyone missing.

NEUHAUS: I saw army -- active duty army soldiers up to their bellies, we were walking to cars to make sure that people got out.

MYERS: 80-year-old Richard Bayer (ph) says this is some of the worst flooding he's ever seen. He was rescued by boat from his home on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just didn't -- I just am depressed and sad that this is happening. I knew I was going to lose a lot of stuff.

MYERS: People being forced from their homes and cars all across the northeast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just watched my car just swim away.

MYERS: Redding, Pennsylvania, shattering its 70-year-old daily rainfall record by nearly two inches. Vermont also hit incredibly hard and it's still raining. The state's search and rescue coordinator declaring some towns are inaccessible Monday afternoon.

MIKE CANNON, VERMONT URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM: We have swift water teams in that area trying to gain access so we can continue doing welfare checks. MYERS: At least 50 people were rescued as roads are washed out and rivers continue to rise. Neighboring Massachusetts sending their emergency task force members to help out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going on for days. And that's my concern.


MYERS (on camera): Wolf, this is the kind of rain we get with a tropical storm that stalls over the northeast, like Agnes that just went through Corning, in New York, in the 1972 range, not something that we see on a daily basis for a summer-type storm. The rain continues tonight into tomorrow. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Chad Myers reporting for us, thank you.

For more on all of this I'm joined on the phone by the New York governor, Kathy Hochul. Governor, thanks for joining us. First of all, what can you tell us about the status on the ground right now in New York?

HOCHUL: Well, I've covered the entire state since early this morning, since dawn, and you can see highways, roads and bridges that are still impassable, homes that have been destroyed. We still have people without power, and as we talked about earlier, one woman actually lost her life. So, it is still treacherous in many of these regions, especially from the Hudson Valley up north toward Albany and heading into the North Country as well. So, it has not abated and we're hearing reports that it could come back again tomorrow. And, Wolf, the ground is so saturated, it will not take much to induce more flooding once again. So, those are the very cataclysmic dynamics we're having to deal with in real-time as we're speaking.

BLITZER: So awful. I know, Governor, you declared a state of emergency for six counties in New York State. What do residents need to know right now to stay safe?

HOCHUL: They need to not be on our roads, because most of the deaths that occurred during the flooding event don't happen in their homes. They happen when people try to venture out onto the roads. They see maybe some puddling, maybe a little bit of water and think they can get through it and we have had so many rescues of people that took that chance, put themselves in danger and putting our first responders in danger.

So, my message is, don't go on the roads and many are now impassable, and especially with nightfall, we want to make sure people stay home one more day if you're in this flashflood region of our state, which is Eastern New York, and just be safe.

BLITZER: Good advice. How close, Governor, is New York to receiving federal assistance?

HOCHUL: I have no doubt we'll qualify. We have to show damages of $37 million. I heard from the White House. I've heard from FEMA. I heard from Majority Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand and Secretary Buttigieg. They are all prepared and waiting for the paperwork to come in from us to file for FEMA assistance because we are going to need it.

There's no doubt in my mind but it's also not just rebuilding after this storm, we have to build infrastructure, our storm sewers, our roadways, our bridges, that are storm resistant and climate resistant going into the future because I am really sad to say that this will be the new normal. I have seen just since the short time I've been governor, I've seen record flooding events, record snow events, we have air quality that was the worst we've seen in generations because of fires north of us.


So, this is something that we now have to take seriously.

We have been, but every citizen has to look at their own impact on our environment and what we all can do individually because this is not the planet we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren.

BLITZER: Good point. Governor Kathy Hochul, good luck to you and good luck to everyone in New York State and in the northeast right now. This is an awful situation.

Just ahead, NATO is set for a major expansion after Turkey finally blesses Sweden's bid to join the alliance. I'll get reaction from a key Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Jason Crow is standing by live. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: More now on our top story, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend this week's NATO summit in Lithuania where he'll meet with President Biden on Wednesday.


It's a strong show of unity after some members of the NATO alliance, including the United States, questioned Kyiv's readiness to join.

Let's discuss with a key Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Ukraine clearly wants security guarantees and a timeline for joining NATO after the war. What could President Biden and NATO deliver realistically this week?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, Wolf, Ukraine wants it, and Ukraine should get it. If there's anybody who has proven their mettle and their ability to be a fully productive member of the NATO alliance, it's Ukraine. I mean, they are on the frontline of fighting for our freedom and for democracy and for stability in Europe. This is a fight that impacts all of Europe and all of the world and the United States. And they are at great personal cost holding the line, literally. So, I would like to see a pathway. Now, there is a portion of the NATO charter that says, you can't join NATO when you're at war because the NATO alliance has an article that says an attack on one is an attack on all, so you obviously can't have a country at war already come into the alliance. But what we should do is provide a very, very clear pathway to what that looks like, a guarantee of admission. This is my personal view. And I have to say the Biden administration has done a remarkable job of keeping the NATO coalition strong and bringing Turkey, one of the last big holdouts, along to a really good place right now.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is that NATO should allow Ukraine to come in, but only after the war, is that right?

CROW: That's right. That's my view. We're not going to allow -- an alliance based on mutual self-defense obligation, that is any attack on one has an obligation for others to come to aid. We are not going to go to war with Russia. We're not going to start a broad-based European war with Russia. We're just not going to do that. We have been clear all along. But we should provide a very clear commitment that Ukraine is eventually going to be a part of NATO.

That's a very strong sign to Vladimir Putin. Putin needs to know, the world needs to know, the Ukrainians need to know that they've proven themselves, but just as importantly, Vladimir Putin needs to know he's not going to win this. He's not going to wear us down. He's not going to wear Ukraine down. We are making a commitment, and he's ultimately going to lose this.

BLITZER: Do you think, Congressman, Ukraine should become a member of NATO immediately after the war or does it need to take additional steps as President Biden has suggested?

CROW: Well, there are a lot of steps that have to happen, some of which could happen as we go, right? It's not just a matter of, hey, I want to join your club, can you let me in? There's very firm criteria for who needs to join, who can join. They have to put anti-corruption elements into place, which they've actually done, the Ukrainians have done massive work of formalizing anti-corruption procedures, making sure that our aid is going to the right places, that there aren't problems with it, which they've done a great job of doing. They have to make sure they're making a commitment to their democratic institutions, that they're reforming their government.

So, there's a number of things that they can be doing right now. But what we have to do is make that commitment clear to Ukraine that, yes, if you do those things, you will be welcomed into NATO. And I think that's why this verbal commitment and the commitment this week is so important.

BLITZER: On the issue, a very sensitive issue of cluster munitions, Congressman, you say you don't want to see Ukrainian children with the type of wounds you saw Afghan children suffered when you served there in Afghanistan. Is it wishful thinking that Ukraine can responsibly use these weapons, these cluster bombs that pose such a potential risk to civilians? CROW: Well, Wolf, after three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I learned a couple of things, one of which, war is horrific. War is very, very hard, excruciatingly difficult, and war is very complicated. And this issue brings to light two very important competing interests. On one hand, the humanitarian concerns with these weapons. You know, I saw in Afghanistan kids walking around without legs because decades later, after the Russians used cluster munitions in the '80s in Afghanistan, those bomblets were still laying around the battlefield. But we also have the Ukrainians who are fighting and dying right now dealing with massive Russian war crimes, abductions, rapes, executions and literally fighting for their survival.

So, right now, we see both of those concerns butting up against each other and pitted against each other, so an excruciatingly difficult situation. But I want to see now that the administration has made this decision is some transparency around what is our number on the dud rates, what do we know about those munitions, what can you make public that gives us confidence that the dud rates are very low, and the dud rate is the rate that they don't explode and lay around on the battlefield.


I also want to know what firm commitments the Ukrainians have made that put a restriction on the use of these weapons, so that we minimize any collateral damage. I think that's information that should be made public.

BLITZER: Very important information indeed.

Congressman Jason Crow, thanks so much for joining us.

And we'll have more news right after this.


BLITZER: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is casting blame for his failure to catch fire in the Republican presidential race, at least so far. His message, it's the media's fault.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty clear that the media does not want me to be the candidate. I think that they've tried to create narratives that somehow the race is over. This is going to be a state-by-state contest. We've worked really hard to build the type of organization in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina that you need to actually be able to win these early contests.


And we're going to continue doing that.


BLITZER: All right. Let's break that down. Joining us now, CNN political commentators Karen Finney and Alice Stewart.

Alice, you heard DeSantis' defense. But isn't it true that the governor is slumping in the polls right now and he's really only secured one major big-name endorsement. That from the Oklahoma governor.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, as he said, he was asked the question, he replied. Look, it's hard to say that he hasn't caught fire or there's a failure to launch, when the contest really has just begun. And anyone who has stayed in the significant position of number two behind Donald Trump steady as he has and has $150 million in the bank to spend in Iowa, that will go a long way to him getting his message out there.

Look, I don't have a dog in this hunt, but I can say that there are many Republicans in there that are going to work Iowa, and with that kind of money that DeSantis has, he can put gas in the tank, boots on the ground, and ads on television to get his message out there.

BLITZER: Karen, other than attacking the media, how does DeSantis shift the narrative about the success of his campaign?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, the cha -- that's exactly, though, Wolf, part of the challenge. He has constantly, rather than shifting his narrative or trying to talk about issues that could potentially broaden his coalition, he's sort of doubled down and become more extreme.

And again, whatever he's selling, the Republican primary electorate does not seem to be interested in buying it. They trust former President Trump to be the MAGA person in the race. He should be trying to find a different lane to run in, not trying to out-Trump Trump.

BLITZER: Alice, I want to turn to the Iowa caucuses, which we're now learning will actually be held on January 15th. You work for Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz's campaigns, both of whom they actually won Iowa, but not the party's presidential nomination.

So just how important are the Iowa caucuses anymore?

STEWART: Very important. And I might throw Rick Santorum's name in that mix as well in terms of winning the Iowa caucus. They're very important.

I talked with the Iowa GOP chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, today. And he says, the fact they have announced the caucus state means it's up to the races and its off to the races, the it ups the intensity and ups the action in the state of Iowa. And keep in mind, there are plenty of candidates that will be out there working in the Hawkeye state.

And it's important to note, Iowa was never meant to be the state to pick the nominee. This was a state that winnows the field. It's a beautiful state in terms of low amount to put your ads on television and candidates like many that I've worked for that don't have a lot of money in the bank can get out there, get their message to the voters, and do some good solid retail politics. Iowa is a state where you can live off the land, you can work with

very tight budget and get the message out, and there's more than one ticket out of Iowa. Anyone that comes in the top three has tremendous name ID that really is a great springboard into New Hampshire and South Carolina.

BLITZER: What do you think, Karen?

FINNEY: I think given the amount of money and the position that he's in, in the polls, if Trump comes out of Iowa victorious, it's going to be very hard for others to hang on credibly.

BLITZER: Karen Finney, Alice Stewart, ladies, thank you very much.

Coming up, by the way, on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right, at the top of the hour, a one-on-one interview with North Dakota governor and Republican presidential candidate, Doug Burgum. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, convicted sex abuser Larry Nassar is stabbed in federal prison.



BLITZER: Larry Nassar, the disgraced former doctor convicted of sexually abusing young American Olympians, is in the hospital tonight after being attacked in federal prison.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us with more. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Larry Nassar's now in stable condition following the attack yesterday. Tonight, we have new details on the attack and on the targeting of Nassar, which has now occurred more than once in prison.


TODD (voice-over): One of the most notorious convicted abusers in American history viciously attacked in prison. Larry Nassar, former team doctor for USA Gymnastics, was stabbed ten times including multiple times in the neck and chest Sunday during an altercation with a fellow inmate at the Coleman Federal Penitentiary in Sumterville, Florida.

But that's according to sources familiar with the incident and the president of a local correction officers union who spoke to CNN.

JOSE "JOE" ROJAS, PRESIDENT, ORRECTION OFFICERS' UNION AT COLEMAN PRISON: They can make weapons out of anything, out of metal object they can find anywhere, and they made it into a homemade knife.

TODD: According to Jose "Joe" Rojas and the Bureau of Prisons, corrections officers on the scene were able to save Nassar's life. Rojas says Nassar is now in stable condition. KEITH TAYLOR, FORMER ASST. COMMISSIONER, NYC DEPARTMENT OF

CORRECTIONS: Inmates who have committed sex crimes, rapes, child molestation, they are usually targeted by other inmates.

TODD: Nassar is serving essentially life in prison on various assault and pornography charges. In 2018, he admitted to sexually assaulting athletes when he was with Michigan State University and the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team.

According to court records, he victimized more than 330 girls and women. Olympic gold medalist Simone Miles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney were among the athletes Nassar admitted to assaulting. Maroney once testifying that Nassar molested her for hours in a Tokyo motel when she was 15 years old.

MCKAYLA MARONEY, FORMER U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNAST, VICTIM OF LARRY NASSAR: I was naked, completely alone, with him on top of me, molesting me for hours.

TODD: At his sentencing hearing in 2018, more than 150 victims gave horrific accounts of their abuse at the hands of Nassar.

RACHAEL DEMOLLANDER, FORMER GYMNAST, VICTIM OF LARRY NASSAR: He engaged in degrading and humiliating sex acts without my consent or permission. And Larry enjoyed it.

MATTIE LARSON, FORMER GYMNAST, VICTIM OF LARRY NASSAR: Your kindness was simply a ploy to molest me every chance you got. I can't even put into words how much I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hate you.


TODD: CNN has reached out to the Coleman facility in Florida for more details on the Nassar attack. We have not heard back, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting -- Brian, thanks very much.

And to our views, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.