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Biden, NATO Allies Hold Summit Amid Rift Over Ukraine; Georgia Grand Jury That Could Indict Trump Is Selected; Catastrophic Flooding Swamps Vermont's Capital. Manhunt Intensifies For Escaped Prisoner; Israeli Protesters Stage "Day of Disruption" Against Controversial Judicial Overhaul. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 11, 2023 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I have a brand new thriller out today. It's called All the Demons Are Here. It is a novel and a wild ride through a bizarre era for our nation, the 1970s. It features Evel Knievel and Elvis, post-Watergate and mistrust of government, cults, disco, the Summer of Sam, UFOs, the rise of tabloid journalism and more.


I'd be honored if you check it out. It's in bookstores real and virtual right now.

Until then, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, Twitter, BlueSky, if you have an invite, the Tiktok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. John King, he's in for Wolf Blitzer, in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Biden and NATO allies hold their high-stakes summit as tensions flare over Ukraine's bid to join the alliance. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy taking his fight for membership directly to the summit and calling the uncertain timeline for Ukraine's entry, quote, absurd.

Also, a grand jury just selected in Georgia to consider potential indictments against Donald Trump and others. The investigation of 2020 election interference heating up as the Donald Trump legal team seeks to delay the former president's trial in the federal classified documents case.

And CNN on the scene of catastrophic flooding in the capital of Vermont. The governor there warning the crisis is far from over amid fears a dam could bust after record rainfall.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is on assignment. I'm John King and you're in The Situation Room.

We begin with the NATO summit and the growing pressure being placed on the alliance by the president of Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy sounding increasingly frustrated by the lack of a clear path for NATO membership and arguing his war-torn nation deserves, quote, respect.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is covering the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Arlette, the friction is evident, tensions heading into a critical face-to-face meeting between the two presidents, Biden and Zelenskyy.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. And Zelenskyy made his frustrations clear hours before he even set foot here in Vilnius, Lithuania. But tomorrow, all eyes will be on that sit-down between President Biden and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.

Officials say, going into that meeting, that the president plans to discuss the U.S. long-term commitments that they can make towards Ukraine as they're looking to help boost Ukraine in its war against Russia and also deter further aggression by Russia at a time when Ukraine remains out of the NATO alliance.


SAENZ (voice over): President Biden arrived at the NATO summit hoping to project strength through unity, but now facing a major rift. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to a crowd of thousands in Vilnius --


SAENZ: -- seeking a clear roadmap for his country to join NATO.

ZELENSKYY: I would like this summit to become a total assurance of the decisions that we deserve. NATO will give Ukraine security. Ukraine will make NATO stronger.

SAENZ: NATO secretary-general proposing a simplified entry process for Ukraine, but a communique from NATO allies tonight falls short of offering Zelenskyy any timeline to enter the alliance.

JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY-GENERAL, NATO: We will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree and conditions are met.

SAENZ: Zelenskyy put NATO allies on blast in a tweet, stating, it's unprecedented and absurd when timeframe is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine's membership. Uncertainty is weakness.

President Biden came into the summit saying Ukraine was not ready to join NATO, as Russia's war rages on, and said the country still needs to meet democratic reforms.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can't put a timetable on it. This is about the substance of democratic and security sector reforms and getting those right. And, of course, that, in many ways, turns on the particular steps that are taken.

SAENZ: The president walking a diplomatic tightrope on Ukraine, while at the same time celebrating Sweden's expected acceptance into NATO, a move Turkey was blocking.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- defense for its allies in NATO and I hope we can make it even stronger.

SAENZ: A victory for Biden and his allies, resulting from months-long behind-the-scenes work.

BIDEN: We made it all the more historic by the agreement we reached yesterday in the business with Sweden.

SAENZ: Only achieved, CNN has learned, after a critical diplomatic effort centered around a pair of old Senate colleagues brokering a tenuous deal on selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. In turn, Turkey stood aside and Sweden expected to ascend to the alliance. The White House hoping the NATO expansion will send a message to Russia.

SULLIVAN: Rumors of the death of NATO's unity were greatly exaggerated. Vladimir Putin has been counting on the west to crack, NATO to crack, the transatlantic alliance to crack. He has been disappointing at every turn.


SAENZ (on camera): President Biden skipped a leaders' dinner at the presidential palace here this evening, sending Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his place instead.


This is the third time at one of these large summits where the president has either left a dinner early or skipped it entirely. The White House explains that the president was taking time to prepare for a major speech here in Vilnius tomorrow, as well as that final day of the summit. He will then head on to Helsinki for his final leg of the trip. John?

KING: Arlette Saenz live for us in Vilnius, Arlette, thank you so much.

Now, let's move on to Ukraine for some reaction to what's happening at that NATO summit and how it may impact the carrying out of the war.

Our CNN Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt joins us live from Kyiv. Alex, President Zelenskyy will return home from this summit with less than he wanted, no timetable, no clear path to membership, but he's not returning empty-handed. Walk us through sort of half empty and half full.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He's not. He will return home a disappointed man, John. He spoke to CNN just a few days before this Vilnius summit. He said that he wanted an invitation to join NATO now. He wanted a concrete plan for how and when he would join NATO, that Ukraine would join NATO, and he's not getting that.

So, what is he getting? Well, he's getting firmer language that Ukraine will one day join NATO. They were promised that, essentially, back in 2008 under what's called the Bucharest Agreement. Now, in this latest communique, which is an agreement among the 31 NATO allies, there is strong language that, quote, Ukraine's future is in NATO. But it is still rather vague, John.

NATO has also streamlined the process. They made it easier for Ukraine to join. They've reduced the steps from two to one. They've removed what's called the membership action plan to make it easier for Ukraine to eventually join.

And then we also heard from Ukraine's defense minister saying that -- sorry, I'm getting some feedback -- that there will be what he called an F-16 coalition, an agreement of 11 countries to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s.

But, John, this disappointment comes at a very critical time when Ukraine is trying to make advances, making slow progress in this counteroffensive. But there is evidence that there was a real punch at Russia today. There were missile strikes on the southern occupied city of period Berdyansk and there are reports from both Ukrainian and Russian sides that a top Russian general named Lieutenant General Oleg Tsokov, that he was killed at a military headquarters by a Ukrainian strike. He would be the most senior general to-date killed in the Ukrainian campaign, removing one of the most senior generals from the battlefield, one of the most experienced generals from the battlefield, and he would be the latest in a long list of Russian generals who have been killed in this campaign. John?

KING: Critical reporting live from Kyiv, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's get more on this now. We're joined by the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Gregory Meeks from New York. Congressman, grateful for your time tonight.

NATO says Ukraine can come in, quote, when allies agree and the conditions are met, but what's awfully vague. As you know, President Zelenskyy wants a commitment now. He wanted it yesterday, in fact, that NATO allies say, you can't bring them in now, because then NATO is at war with Russia. President Zelenskyy says the delay helps Russia. Who's right? What should happen here?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D-NY): Well, I think you're going to hear President Zelenskyy thanking the United States and thanking the NATO allies for supporting him. What's most important right now is winning the war and utilizing and making sure that the weapons that we're giving to them for the counteroffensive are there when needed.

And I think that that's what the United States and President Biden have done. And each time and each phase in the war, when there is something that is needed, we have been able to provide it. And we know that to win the counteroffensive and thereby get the land back, Ukrainian sovereignty back, protect the Ukrainian people who are now devastated by Putin's criminal and illegal war, the best thing to do is to make sure they have the munitions that are needed so that they can have their counteroffensive and moving forward.

And notice counteroffensive now, they need more ammunition. We're going to make sure that happens. The F-16s and training of the pilots, which will come thereafter, we're going to make sure that happens.

So, I think you'll hear president Zelenskyy -- yes, does he want to be in NATO? Absolutely. And, yes, are we setting a path for him to do that? Absolutely, just that there's got to be some reforms that are made and at the appropriate time. But there's no -- I don't think that you will see any separation, any disunity. I think that the NATO alliance is stronger than ever before because of President Biden and how he has conducted this multilateral effort to make sure that Putin's invasion of the sovereignty of Ukraine is stopped.

KING: But, in fact, sir, there is some disunity. President Zelenskyy publicly saying it's absurd that he can't get a firm timeline for NATO membership.


So, you have the president's team, the president of the United States' team saying NATO is unified, Putin should take a message from that, and you have Zelenskyy saying, this is absurd and this helps Russia, undermines Ukraine. Who's right?

MEEKS: Well, clearly, I think that you will see that President Zelenskyy, again, tomorrow and after the NATO meeting, will be thanking the members of NATO and the United States because there is a security agreement for Ukraine now and in the future as they continue to work toward being into NATO at the appropriate time.

Clearly, as you've just indicated, this is not the appropriate time. Because if NATO -- if Ukraine was into NATO today or tomorrow, then Article 5 would be involved and we would all be at war with Russia. That's not how we started. We've always talked about what we'd do once this war is won, once Ukraine has gotten all of its sovereign territory back. Then the appropriate time is to work, finish up.

As indicated in your previous interview, steps have been taken already to reduce those numbers from two to one and there're other things that are being done that's basically really unprecedented, John, as far as folks' entry into NATO. And so we've got to make sure that those reforms are done and then there would not be a problem, and hopefully when the 75th anniversary of the unity, the summit is going to take place in the United States in 2024 occurs, that might be the way and the time because we will push back Vladimir Putin out of Ukrainian territory and celebrating Ukraine's winning its freedom back and thereby taking and making sure the reforms necessary were taken so they can become members, strong members of NATO, strengthening the NATO unity.

KING: Congressman, have you been briefed, are you clear on the specific concessions the United States and other NATO allies perhaps made to Turkey to win its support, to essentially drop its opposition, to allow Sweden to join NATO? Including, are you prepared to support and will the Congress now give them green light to selling F-16s to Turkey?

MEEKS: Well, I have been -- I've talked to a number of members of the administration. I think we take a giant step forward with reference to Turkey agreeing to allow Sweden into NATO. You know, as it pertains to the jets, the F-16s to Turkey, et cetera, that's -- as far as I'm concerned, in my hold, we've taken a step in the right direction.

There're other things that I'm looking forward to seeing that Turkey has done thus far, particularly making sure that there are not any flyovers or incursion over the sovereign properties of some of its neighbors. That is very and significantly important to me. And so -- but so far, so good. I'm seeing signs over the last few months that Turkey has kept its word as far as intrusions and flyovers of its neighbors. So, I need to have further dialogue and conversation, but I think that things are moving along quite quickly and quite well.

KING: Congressman Gregory Meeks, sir, I appreciate your time tonight very much. Thank you.

MEEKS: Thank you.

KING: And this programming note, Wolf will be back tomorrow reporting live from Lithuania on day two of that NATO summit and the important, critical Biden/Zelenskyy meeting. And Wolf will also have an exclusive interview on Thursday with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, in Vilnius to break down just what happened at the summit and what it means for what comes next. You'll see all of that right here in The Situation Room.

And just ahead for us, we're waiting on a judge's decision on a trial date for Donald Trump in the classified documents case. That after the former president's legal team asked for a long delay.



KING: Tonight, the judge in the Trump classified documents case weighing potential trial dates. The former president's team filing a request late last night seeking to delay the trial until after the 2024 presidential election.

Our CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is here. Evan, this is now up to Judge Cannon. What are the prospects and when will we know?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to get a little bit of an indication what she's thinking next Tuesday when she's holding a hearing, really the first hearing between the Trump team and Walt Nauta's new legal team and the special counsel. This is the first hearing before her really discussing some of the classified documents issues that obviously are part of this case, John. And maybe we'll get a little bit of a hint as to where her mind is at as to how quickly we can get it to a trial.

We know that the special counsel is asking for a December trial date. Of course, the Trump team has now said, don't set a trial date at all, Judge, because there's so many things to litigate, including, of course, are these documents even classified, whether the special counsel is actually legal, and whether he is capable of bringing these charges. A lot of things are going to be litigated over the next period of months, which may necessitate a long, long delay of this trial.

But one of the things that really comes across from this is they're playing both a legal game and a political game. I'll read you just a part of the filing from the Trump team. It says, this extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the fact and perception of our American democracy. The court now presides over prosecution in advance by the administration of a sitting president against his chief political rival, himself a leading candidate for presidency of the United States.

They also write essentially that they don't know whether the former president can get a fair trial, John, because the outcome of this trial could have an impact on the election. So, for all of those reasons, they say, Judge, don't set a trial date, let us litigate some of these things that we have to go on.

And, look, to be fair to the Trump Team, they are right, that there's a lot of complicated things that are likely going to have to go perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court before we can even get to a trial date. So, even if Judge Cannon decides to pick a date out of thin air, she may have to push that date forward, past that --

KING: But the question is do you pick one hoping to stay in a faster timetable or do you just let it float and delay and then we'll see as we go?


PEREZ: Right.

KING: Evan Perez, thanks for coming in. Keep following that as we go.

Let's also move on. We're also following another major new development in the investigation of 2020 election interference in the state of Georgia. A grand jury that could potentially indict Donald Trump has now been selected.

CNN's Nick Valencia live for us outside the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta. Nick, the grand jury is now sworn in. So, walk us through what happens now.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, earlier today, John, two grand juries were selected here in Fulton County. Today is the start of a new term for grand juries, which is why we're having this process get underway. And one of those that was selected today will have the historic task of deciding whether or not to bring state charges against the former president, as well as some of the biggest names in his orbit.

The grand jury that does eventually hear the Trump investigation will hear evidence gathered in the many months by the special purpose grand jury, which had subpoena power in gathering evidence for District Attorney Fani Willis. They subpoenaed about 75 witnesses, including some White House aides, some former advisers of the president, as well as Georgia officials. And after they were done hearing from those witnesses, they handed over charging recommendations to the district attorney here. Willis will now take those charging recommendations to one of the grand juries to try to pursue criminal charges.

Now, earlier during that jury selection, Judge Robert McBurney addressed these jurors, talking about the importance of the job ahead.


JUDGE ROBERT MCBURNEY, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: It's important that you base your decision on the facts as you find them. And that's that you don't do it based on malice or hatred or envy or whatnot. You decide, true bill, not true bill, because of the evidence or lack of evidence that you heard.


VALENCIA: So, two grand juries selected today, I mentioned that. What's really interesting is that over the course of the next two months, they'll meet twice a week and they will hear ordinary criminal cases here in Fulton County. But, eventually, one of those grand juries will be brought, that special purpose grand jury evidence, and they will be given the task of whether or not to pursue criminal charges.

As far as a timeline, we're told to anticipate whether or not charges or potential indictment, I should say, could happen as early as August. John?

KING: As early as August, just a couple of weeks ago. Nick Valencia outside the courthouse, Nick, I appreciate that very much.

Let's bring in our legal experts now to weigh in. And, Elie Honig, let me start with you in the classified documents case. Trump's team asking for delay is not a surprise, but we now have a window into some of the legal arguments they want to make there. They say they need a mountain of time, very complicated, classified evidence, they also say they doubt there can be a fair jury in this case.

You've read the arguments. How do they hold up?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, I think there is some merit to the arguments. First of all, they make a practical argument. They say, look, we've gotten this enormous mass of discovery, over half a million documents and all with more coming. And we, as the defendants here, have a right to prepare our case, to prepare for trial, to bring the motions that Evan just discussed, and there's no practical way, they argue, we can do that within five months.

There's a separate argument that it's unnecessarily politically fraught to try the president -- the former president right in the middle of an election against the current president. And, yes, it would still be politically fraught even if it was charged after the election. And, yes, there's ways you can make sure that you vet your jury. But I don't think there's any question that the most politically sensitive time to have this trial is right before the 2024 election. This will rest with the judge, it will be her decision and there's very little anyone can do about whatever she decides.

KING: And so, Shan Wu, already, Judge Cannon, Aileen Cannon, under enormous scrutiny. Elie just lays out just picking a trial -- just deciding a date, picking the process going forward. She's under more scrutiny perhaps because she has recall ruled in Trump's favor before in the special master case and had it overturned by a higher court that said she simply didn't follow the law. Do you see her agreeing to delay this past December? Does she set a date, as Evan said, then just see how the pretrial proceedings go and perhaps move it? Where do we go?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The smarter course for her is just to set the date and then probably, as Elie was pointing out, there're lots of legitimate, practical reasons why this will get pushed way past any date that the special counsel wants. The real person to blame for that, honestly, is not Cannon or Trump's lawyers, it's the DOJ got such a late start to this. This is a complicated trial, classified information. It's going to take awhile. You've got to get an earlier start than this if you're going to try and wrap it up before the election.

Unlike the special master case, whatever decision she makes here about scheduling, very difficult to really attack that because it's not going to be based on some legal area. It's really a question of scheduling for her. And there are legitimate points to make for the defense and you don't want, as a trial judge, to be rushing or pressuring the defense to go to trial because, then if you get a conviction, they may argue that that's an appellate issue.

KING: Elie, let's move on to the Georgia case, a state case now. And today, we saw essentially grand jury 101. The grand jurors are picked, the judge talks about how the process works. But we know Fani Willis had the special grand jury. Now, she can present her evidence. You see her there. She can present her evidence. Who, in your view, based on what we've seen, is most vulnerable and at the top of that list? Is it Donald J. Trump?

HONIG: Yes, absolutely, John. I mean, Fani Willis and the special grand juror who sort of went rogue and did a publicity tour have both made all but 100 percent, clear, 99.5 percent clear that the intention is to indict Donald Trump.


It's quite clear the special grand jury has recommended that. The special grand jury didn't quite say it, but she said everything but that. And Fani Willis, frankly, has made no mystery about her intention from day one to indict Donald Trump.

Now, it's taking her nearly three years. She's been in office since the beginning of January 2021. And I think Shan makes a great point about the reason we're in this calendar crunch here is because of prosecutors have taken so long. And so they may want to blame others or blame the court calendar, but prosecutors need to look in the mirror here too.

KING: And, Shan, on the process here, she had the special grand jury to gather evidence, listen to the witnesses, go through all the testimony. This grand jury, does she only present that evidence and ask for charges or does she have the option to bring in a new witness if she wanted to?

WU: I think she has that option. Unlikely she will. It's hard to imagine this grand jury disagreeing with those recommendations because they're not the ones that heard all that evidence and then came up with the recommendation. So, they say grand juries are kind of like a rubber stamp for a prosecutor. I think this is going to be a rubber stamp for the special grand jury.

KING: Very interesting to watch, to go ahead. Elie Honig, Shan Wu, thanks for coming in tonight on a big day. We will circle back.

Coming up for us, though, Senator Tommy Tuberville just did an about- face on what should be a simple question, are white nationalists racists? The Republican at the center of more than one controversy tonight.



KING: Tonight, the Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville, backing down after repeatedly refusing to say white nationalists are racist. Listen to what he said last night to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: But just to be clear, you agree that white nationalists should not be serving in the U.S. military? Is that what you're saying?

SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): If people think that a white nationalist is a racist, I agree with that. I agree they shouldn't --

COLLINS: A white nationalist is someone who believes that the white race is superior to other races.

TUBERVILLE: Well, that's some people's opinion. And I don't think -- I mean --

COLLINS: What's your opinion?


COLLINS: What's your opinion?

TUBERVILLE: My opinion of a white nationalist -- if somebody wants to call them white nationalist, to me, is an American. It's an American. Now, if that white nationalist is a racist, I'm totally against anything that they want to do.


KING: CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju with more on the senator's remarks and his sudden, at least apparent about-face today. Manu, Senator Tuberville continued to double down this morning and then shifted midday. What's the fallout on the Hill and where are we right now?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There was a lot of criticism from both sides of the aisle about those comments. Republicans distancing themselves from those comments, saying that white nationalism has no place in their party, denouncing white nationalism, and then, ultimately, Tommy Tuberville himself saying that this afternoon, that white nationalists are racists.

And I asked whether Republican leadership had urged him to clean up those remarks. He said he that didn't happen. But he did say that he do so because he was concerned that Republicans and conservatives were being painted with a broad brush as being racist. And, ultimately, he said all white nationalists are racist.

Now, when I asked the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, about Tommy Tuberville dancing around this issue earlier today, he made clear that he disagreed.


RAJU: Senator Tuberville seems to have a hard time denouncing white nationalism, especially white nationalism in the military.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): You know, white supremacy is simply unacceptable in the military and in our whole country.


RAJU: Now, this all comes as Tuberville has faced enormous pressure and criticism, particularly from Democrats in Congress, over his decision to launch a one-man blockade of more than 250 nominees to the Pentagon, military promotions, people who would normally get confirmed rather quickly. But the United States Senate gives any individual senator the power to hold up nominations, slow down the process, forcing the leadership, the Senate majority leader, to try to take time-consuming steps to overcome those holes.

Now, this comes as the Pentagon itself is trying to ratchet up pressure on Tuberville, trying to use backchannel communications with senators, trying to lean on Tuberville himself and raise concerns about the impact this hold could have on military families.

But, John, in talking to a number of Republican senators, they agree, a lot of them do, with Tuberville's approach. He is demanding the Pentagon change its policy to provide reimbursements for any individuals getting abortion services, military personnel getting abortion services. They say that the Pentagon should drop that policy.

So, he does have a fair amount of support among Senate Republicans. But one person who does not support this, though, John, is Mitch McConnell, who has publicly said he opposes Tuberville's hold on all these military nominees. But Tuberville told me, John, that Mitch McConnell has not pressured him internally, not leaned on him, urged him to drop the whole. So, while he's raised the concerns publicly, not so much privately. John?

KING: That last part is quite critical as this moves forward. Manu Raju on the Hill, thanks so much.

Let's break this all down now with three journalists with deep experience covering politics. Nia-Malika Henderson, let me start with you. This should not be hard. Mitch McConnell, what was that, two or three seconds?


KING: White supremacy has no place in society, in the military, period, two or three seconds. Why Congressman Tuberville today seems to get to the right place, but if you look at what he says, if you read what he says over the last couple of days, Kaitlan Collins last night?

HENDERSON: Yes. And, listen, he was doubling down on something he said before, which was that white nationalists are Americans. Listen, I mean, in looking at what he said last night, I had memories of Donald Trump, right, when he pretended not to know who David Duke was, when he seemed to suggest people who were white supremacists and people who were protesting white supremacists were equal and they were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville protest.

So, it reminded me that there seems to be a sort of underlying effort to mainstream white nationalist ideology, mainstream the sort of terminology of white nationalism. And that's what seems to be at play here with Senator Tuberville. He, I think, seems to have walked back -- I don't think he said it on camera yet -- that all white nationalists are racists. Last night, he seemed to suggest that white nationalists are people who get a bad rap from Democrats as sort of misunderstood white people.

And, listen, I think it is part of a broader effort to sort of downplay racism more generally, downplay the acts of racists presently and in American history more broadly. So, I think if you see it as a part of that strategy, it makes much more sense.

KING: And there may be debate about the degree, but there has been no question, we have seen concerns from a number credible sources about the rise of white nationalism in the military. And he doesn't seem to be explicitly saying he sees that as a problem. So, maybe cleaned up his language today, but there's more to come here?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA-JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Right. And I think that's what the bigger concern is, is not only is he refusing to condemn white nationalism, which is itself kind of a new way of describing the effects of white supremacy on politics, but he's not even choosing to confront these realities.

So, by avoiding even accepting the definition of white nationalism -- and we've seen that particularly from Republicans. They've refused to confront the true definition of Christian nationalism and its impact on American politics. We seen that with white supremacy. We see that with white nationalism.

So, if you won't even accept the definition, then you definitely can't take the next step as to really being honest about its impact in society, its impact in politics, and the fact that people like Donald Trump have curried favor with white nationalists. And that's part of the coalition he built that helped him become president. If you don't want to confront those realities, then perhaps you refuse to even accept the definition.

KING: And, Jeff Zeleny, to people watching around the United States or around the world, Senate protocols, several Senate privileges, the right of one senator to hold up everything might seem absurd. But you heard Manu put it that Senator McConnell thinks this is a bad idea. Leader McConnell, Senator Tuberville says, has not leaned on him, A, to clean up his language, B, to lift a hold on the military. Why? Why won't the Republican relationship say, Senator, we're done, you're embarrassing us, A, clean up your language, B, lift the hold?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Because Leader McConnell makes decisions on things that he can control the outcome of, and he cannot control what this one freshman senator from Alabama does. So, that's why I suspect he does not do it. But the fact that we know what leader McConnell is thinking, the fact that we know that he is opposed to this, and answer that question very carefully, he's from Kentucky. He knows exactly the alliance here. His feelings are known.

So, my guess is, in the coming days, enough Republicans will make it known that the senator, after he backtracked today, he may have a change of heart on some of this. The underlying issue of all this is that military families and others are being impacted by one senator and what he is doing. So, not exactly a shining moment for that freshman senator from Alabama.

KING: We did seem to see the beginning today of an effort, the president's choice to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs is up on Capitol Hill. There seems to be an effort to work behind the scenes to get the senator to lift the hold, 200-plus, nearly 300 military positions. Any evidence or what do we look forward to see if there's progress on that front?

MITCHELL: Well, I mean, I think Chuck Schumer is going to have to decide which of these nominations are going to take up valuable floor time with all the other things he's laid out that they want to accomplish before the August recess or before the end of the fiscal year, at the end of September. So, he won't be able to get to all of them but perhaps he'll prioritize a few.

KING: So, the politics eventually get to the point where Republicans think it looks bad. I think that's sort of where we're going to end up here. Thank you all for coming in.

Just ahead for us, Vermont now being devastated by flooding. Thousands of homes and businesses, look at those pictures, already lost. We'll take you there for a live report here in The Situation Room.


KING: Vermont is facing catastrophic, historic flooding. Dozens of rescues and evacuations now from affected areas.

Our CNN Senior National Correspondent Miguel Marquez has the story.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Record rainfall, massive amounts of water inundating nearly the entire state of Vermont.

GOV. PHIL SCOTT (D-VT): We are not out of the woods. This is nowhere near over.

MARQUEZ: Reservoirs meant to control flooding overflowing north of the state's capital, the Wrightsville Dam inches from overflow. It could dump even more water into the already swollen Winooski River, receding slowly in some places, but other parts of the state still on alert.

Downtown Montpelier State Street, a fast-moving river, completely impassable with the water lapping at the statehouse lawn. Water rescues continuing, over 100 so far. Jesus Garcia and his family were staying in an Airbnb. His family, their hosts and the family dog, Harley, evacuated.

You wanted to get out of there because you just weren't sure what was going to happen?

JESUS GARCIA, VISITING VERMONT FROM TEXAS: Man, we just saw how strong the current was. I mean, look at it. It's pretty strong. So, I mean, if it can knock a few branches off, imagine what it can do to a house. So, we're just playing it safe.

MARQUEZ: Right. You weren't sure if it was going to keep rising?

GARCIA: Yes, we didn't know. Yes, we didn't know. Like I said, we're not from here, so we don't know what the weather is like. And, yes, It's been -- I've never seen nothing like this. It's been pretty crazy.

BETSY HART, VERMONT RESIDENT: Well, the water was rising quickly, after being pretty tame most of the morning. And, all of the sudden, it was in the house.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Rainfall for weeks on end, saturating the state. As a result, the water only had one place to go, over land, washing away roads, causing massive property damage, and putting people like Don Hancock out of their homes.

And so, you are wet from head to toe without any shoes on. I mean --

DON HANCOCK, RESIDENT: It went down when I come across.

MARQUEZ: So, you lost your shoes getting across here?

HANCOCK: Yeah, I couldn't find the rope, so I took two heavy duty extension cords, tied them to their, and tied into the back of the truck.

MARQUEZ: Extreme weather, the new American and global normal. Oklahoma City drenched with life-threatening rainfall.

And flooding only the start, extreme heat baking other parts of the country. Yesterday, temperature alerts affecting more than 40 million people, from California to Florida.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, so much of Vermont still dealing with flooding and the aftereffects of flooding. This is Bailey Avenue in the capital.

I want to show you sort of what they're going to deal with here. It is mud, massive amounts of very thick, very silty mud that's very heavy and hard to get around. Beyond that, lots of debris. It's going to take (AUDIO GAP) for Vermont, not only here in the capitol, but across the entire state is back together again -- John.

KING: I've walked that street. Just wow, looking at that.

Miguel Marquez, fascinating reporting -- Miguel, thank you.

Coming up for us, authorities in Pennsylvania trying now to find an escaped fugitive considered armed and dangerous. A live report from the scene, that's next.



KING: More than 100 law enforcement officers are chasing a dangerous fugitive in rural Pennsylvania. That fugitive on the run for days since escaping from prison.

CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, authorities releasing some new leads in the intensifying manhunt for the inmate who escaped from prison via the roof in Warren, northern Pennsylvania.

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: We are still finding some items that we do believe are connected to him. Those lead me to believe that there is still a likelihood that he is here.

TODD: He allegedly climbed onto exercise equipment on the jail's rooftop gym last Thursday, then used these bed sheets tied together to rappel down from the roof to this portico. He then allegedly jumped down and fled on foot.

The sheriff tonight disputing suggestions that he got a big head start.

SHERIFF BRIAN ZEYBEL, WARREN COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: Literally, I would say that Burham saw red and blue lights within two minutes of leaving that jail. It's -- they were that close.

TODD: Michael Burham, age 34, is considered armed and dangerous, and wanted in cases involving murder, kidnapping, carjacking and arson. Authorities describe him as a self-taught survivalist with military experience.

BIVENS: We have had a number of sightings reported. None of those has panned out.

TODD: He was last seen wearing an orange and white striped jumpsuit, denim jacket and Crocs. More than 200 law enforcement officers are now involved in the manhunt.

BIVENS: I have a strong belief that he is receiving help.

TODD: Authorities found small stockpiles or campsites they believe are associated with him in surrounding wooded areas.

JOHN MILLER, FORMER NYPD DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF INTELLIGENCE & COUNTERTERRORISM: That suggests that he escapes the prison that he goes on the run and that he knows where he's going to these designated locations in the woods where food and supplies and rations are waiting for him.

TODD: How might he be caught?

MILLER: They're going to try to close off that circle if there is help. And then make him do something like I've got to steal a car, I've got to break into a house and get some food or a weapon or keys to a car. They've got to force him -- they've got to force him out of the woods.

TODD: Authorities telling residents to avoid engaging if they see him and lock up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every night, you got to make sure the windows are locked, make sure both doors, front and back doors are locked.


TODD (on camera): State officials have increased the reward for information leading to the capture of Michael Burham to $19,500. But, at the same time, Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens of the Pennsylvania State Police is warning anyone who is currently helping Burham or who might be contemplating it saying, quote, we will prosecute you for that -- John.

KING: Brian Todd on the ground for us -- Brian, thanks so much.

And coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," live interview with former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb, that's coming up, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," 7:00 Eastern.

And we'll have much more news ahead, just right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including gridlock across Israel as the Netanyahu government tries to restart its controversial judicial overhaul. We'll have a report from Tel Aviv.



KING: Tens of thousands of protesters taking to the streets across Israel today. It is the latest round of protests against the government's proposed overhaul of the country's judicial system. According to Israeli police, at least 71 people have been arrested.

CNN's Hadas Gold has more.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here at Ben-Gurion airport, this is Israel's main airport just outside of Tel Aviv, thousands of protesters have essentially taken over. We're here at the arrivals level. As you can see, no cars are passing through to be able to pick up passengers. And this is part of the protesters national day of disruption.

Protests have been going on all day from the morning through the evening all across the country.

Now, protests have been going on here for months against the government's plan to completely overhaul the judiciary. But the reason that they've been particularly amped up now is because of legislation that was passed Monday night. It's the first of three readings on just one aspect of this massive judicial overhaul, this particular legislation has to do with stripping the Supreme Court's ability of declaring government actions unreasonable.

But it almost doesn't matter what the legislative steps were. It's just the fact that the legislation is back on the table because they had actually been frozen for several months after those massive general strikes and protests, and the defense minister coming out against the overhaul back in March. There were some attempts at compromised negotiations with the opposition. But those have clearly gone nowhere.

The coalition government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are now pushing forward once again with this legislation. It'd going to be done in a slower, more piecemeal fashion. But for these protesters, they essentially don't believe anything that comes out of Benjamin Netanyahu or the coalition government's mouth when they say that even partial legislation has been softened, watered down.

These protesters and the opposition want the judicial overhaul essentially completely off the table. They say they will continue coming out to the streets and continue protesting.

Now, the government and Benjamin Netanyahu say the judiciary desperately needs some sort of reform. They say they've won the election. They have the votes in parliament to make this happen.

But the protesters here, the opposition, and even some of Israel's biggest allies like the United States have expressed grave concern about what exactly this reform will do. And these protesters, they say they will continue coming out. Some even said they plan to pitch tents in downtown Tel Aviv to make their protests even more permanent.

Hadas Gold, CNN, Ben-Gurion Airport.


KING: Hadas Gold, thank you very much.

I'm John King in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

And all of a sudden, it was in the house.

MARQUEZ: Rainfall for weeks on end saturating the state.