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Biden on Way Home, Says Putin Has Already Lost War; Defense Secretary Austin Says, No Doubt Ukraine Will Join NATO; Kushner Testifies To Grand Jury In 2020 Election Probe; Secret Service Concludes White House Cocaine Investigation, Unable To Identify A Suspect; One-On-One With Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 13, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Biden is on his way back to the United States after a final round of talks with allies here in Europe. He's touting the NATO summit as a success and declaring that Vladimir Putin, and I'm quoting him now, already has lost the war in Ukraine.

Also tonight, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tells me he has no doubt Ukraine will join NATO after the war ends. Stand by for all of my exclusive one-on-one interview with Secretary Austin here in Lithuania. The Pentagon chief also telling me that GOP Senator Tommy Tuberville's hold on U.S. military promotions is a national security issue.

And breaking news we're following right now, Donald Trump's son-in-law and former adviser, Jared Kushner, has testified before the federal grand jury investigating 2020 election interference. Our correspondents are working the story. They're getting new information this hour.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Vilnius, Lithuania, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're live in Vilnius, Lithuania, as President Biden is flying back to Washington from Europe right now. We're watching all of these developments, the president wrapping his urgent talks with NATO and Nordic allies and sending a very stark message to Vladimir Putin.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is joining us right now from Helsinki, Finland. That was the final stop on the president's very high-stakes trip here in Europe. Arlette, does the president feel he accomplished his goals?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden told reporters he did feel he accomplished the goals he set out to meet as he traveled here to the NATO summit over the course of the past week, and he argued that he comes out of this summit with a strengthened NATO alliance and also an alliance that has boosted their support around Ukraine.

President Biden made his final stop here in Helsinki, Finland, which is really a show of symbolism and force against Russia's war against Ukraine, especially when you consider that Finland is the newest ally of the NATO alliance.

The president here also met with Sweden, which is soon expected to join the alliance now that Turkey dropped its objections to its entrance.

But President Biden, in a very wide-ranging press conference today, once again stressed that while there had been tension at the summit about a pathway for membership to Ukraine into NATO, that he does believe Ukraine's future is in the NATO alliance. The president said that he does not think that this war that Russia is waging against Ukraine will last for years. He said he doesn't believe Putin has the resources to wage such a long campaign, and he also gave this assessment as to how Russia is doing in this moment.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Putin has already lost the war. Putin has a real problem. How does he move from here? What does he do? There is no possibility of him winning the war Ukraine. He's already lost that war.


SAENZ: And the fact that President Biden made his final stop here in Finland was also significant based on the historical significance of Helsinki. You'll remember five years ago this week, former President Donald Trump was here with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And it is then that he had sided with Putin over the U.S. intelligence community on their assessments of election interference. President Biden trying to send a much different message to Putin with his trip here this week, and showing that the NATO alliance is not just strengthened as an alliance but also in their resolve against Russia. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arlette Saenz in Helsinki, Finland, thank you very much.

And now let's go to my exclusive one-on-one interview with the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, here in Vilnius. We spoke at length about a variety of topics, beginning with the NATO summit and Ukraine's push to join the alliance.


BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on, on this critically important day. I appreciate it very much.

I want to start off with the key issue here at this NATO summit with Ukraine right now, and specifically about what President Biden said that the U.S. will make what he called long-term security commitments to Ukraine, that what's happening now is just the start of the negotiations. [18:05:02]

What specifically can you tell us as the defense secretary about these commitments, these security commitments to Ukraine?

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, first of all, just a word on the summit, Wolf, this was a historic summit, as you know. We expanded NATO. At the beginning, Putin thought that he could fracture NATO and divide us. NATO has actually gotten bigger. It was a real pleasure to welcome Finland to the table, and, as you know, we announced Sweden coming on board as well.

We got support for our regional plans, and these are the most -- you know, the biggest change in terms of our plans since the cold war. And the most important thing is that countries have committed to providing the resources to support those plans, which requires that they invest more in their defense, and so we saw broad support for countries investing 2 percent of their GDP in defense spending, and that's really, really important. So, this was historic. And a lot of great things accomplished.

In terms of what we're -- what the president is committed to helping Ukraine with, as you know, we work very, very hard to make sure Ukraine has what it needs to be successful. You know that I, every month, we pull together what we call Ukraine defense contact group, 50 countries from around the world that get together every month to focus on Ukraine's needs.

But what we have to do going forward is to make sure that they have a capability to defend themselves for the long-term and also to deter aggression. So, that means investing in the force to be able to do that, land forces, air forces, and naval forces. And so that work is ongoing.

BLITZER: As you know, President Zelenskyy, he softened his tone a bit, but he says it's unprecedented and absurd, those are his words, unprecedented and absurd that NATO isn't providing a specific time frame for Ukraine to join the NATO alliance after the war. What message does that send to Vladimir Putin?

AUSTIN: Wolf, I think we have to remember that President Zelenskyy is in a fight. He has been in a fight for well over a year. And as he entered the picture here at the summit, it was fascinating to sit in the room and watch as 31 countries assured him, one after another, that he was going to be a member of NATO, and that we're going to -- they're going to support him for as long as it takes.

And sitting in the room and observing that was really special, and I have to believe that that has an effect on President Zelenskyy. Plus, at the end of this, we saw the commitment by the G7, which I think sends a powerful signal to President Putin that countries are going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. And this is not -- we won't be finished next week or next month. They will be there for as long as it takes.

BLITZER: From a military standpoint, Mr. Secretary, how close is Ukraine to meeting NATO's standards?

AUSTIN: Well, there are a number of things that will have to be done, as you know. A big part of their inventory is legacy equipment. And so in terms of training and equipping, there's work to be done, but we're doing that work as we're helping them as they fight this war. And so things have been done up to this point. There's more that will need to be done to ensure that they have a full complement of capability.

BLITZER: So, you have no doubt that after the war, Ukraine will become a member of NATO?

AUSTIN: I have no doubt that that will happen. And we heard just about every -- we heard all of the countries in the room say as much, and I think that was reassuring to President Zelenskyy. But there are other things that have to happen as well, you know, judicial reform, you know, things that make sure that the democracy is in good shape. And so those things will take place over time.

BLITZER: How much time do you think it will take after the war -- let's assume the war ends, God willing, it will end someday -- how much time will it take for NATO to welcome Ukraine as a full member.

AUSTIN: I won't speculate on that, Wolf. I'll just say that all of the countries that I have witnessed are interested in moving as quickly as possible.


BLITZER: So, you think all 31 members of NATO right now want Ukraine in?

AUSTIN: I think it will be 32 by that time.

BLITZER: With Sweden.

AUSTIN: Right. But I do believe everyone wants Ukraine to be on board.

BLITZER: As I said, Sweden is now set to join NATO. How is it, from your analysis, and you got good analysts, how is Putin react to go this expansion of NATO?

AUSTIN: Well, I'm sure Putin is very concerned. This is probably something that he didn't expect to happen, although President Biden warned him of this at the very beginning. But, you know, he's brought NATO closer to his doorstep. And so, you know, if you were him, you'd certainly be concerned about what you're seeing.

But countries like Sweden and Finland bring a lot to the alliance, and we're happy to have them on board. And I was just in Sweden a couple of weeks ago. I got a chance to speak with the Minister of Defense and visit some of their troops, look at their capabilities. They will bring value to the alliance right away. And it's a strong democracy, Wolf, and that's really the most important point.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: There's much more of my exclusive interview with secretary Austin. That's coming up just ahead.

Also coming up, there's breaking news in the multiple criminal investigations of Donald Trump, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner now testifying before a federal grand jury.

We're live here in Vilnius, Lithuania, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Much more of my exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Austin coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, but we're also following breaking news in the United States on the federal grand jury investigation of 2020 election interference until the U.S., a source telling CNN that former President Trump's son-in-law and former senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has testified.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, the anchor of The Source, along with Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid.

Kaitlan, what are you hearing, first of all, from your sources about Kushner's testimony, and just how significant, potentially, it could be?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. We have now confirmed that not only Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in- law, but also Hope Hicks have both testified before the grand jury that is investigating the efforts to overturn the 2020 election results by former President Donald Trump and his allies. Of course, they are two of many witnesses who have gone before the grand jury that is investigating January 6th and what happened here. All of this, of course, is being done by the special counsel, Jack Smith's team.

This is something that was first reported by The New York Times, Jared Kushner's interview, but we have now confirmed that, yes, it was Jared Kushner, also Hope Hicks who went before him.

This is significant because a lot of people have testified in this January 6th investigation, Wolf, but these are obviously two people who were incredibly close to Donald Trump. Jared Kushner is obviously not only his son-in-law but was his senior adviser at the White House in those weeks after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Hope Hicks is also someone who is one of Trump's closest confidants at the time. And so this is why it matters.

I should note for Jared Kushner himself, he wasn't actually in Washington until he returned home. He had been in the Middle East on a trip, and then returned home around January 6th. He gave testimony to the Jan. 6th committee, the congressional committee, where he talked about how he had just gotten back from that trip. He got a call from Kevin McCarthy that day saying that things were getting ugly at the Capitol, that anything he could do to help, they were seeking that. And so those are obviously likely questions that the grand jury had for Jared Kushner. But, yes, a notable development to hear that Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks have gone before the January 6th grand jury.

BLITZER: Potentially very, very significant. Paula, in the classified documents case that's under investigation, the special counsel's team just weighed in on Trump's request to indefinitely postpone his trial. And it's quite fiery, I must say, if you read it. Break it down for us.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fiery indeed, Wolf. The central dispute here is when this case should go to trial. Jack smith, the special counsel, has said he would like to take this case before a jury in December. But the Trump team has said it's premature to even put a date on the calendar.

So, in this new filing, the special counsel takes aim at pretty all of the arguments that the Trump team has made about why this should be delayed. They go on to emphasize that, quote, a speedy trial is a foundational requirement of the Constitution and not a government preference that must be justified.

Now, the government also accuses the Trump Team of giving a misleading picture of just how much evidence they have to go through, because that's one of their arguments. They're like, look, we have gotten a lot of discovery, we need time to go through that.

For example, prosecutors say that the Trump team said they had 800,000 documents to go through. But in this filing, prosecutors note that only about 4,500 of them are key documents. They also attack the Trump Team's claim that they have, quote, nine months of surveillance footage to go through, noting that they only have footage from a few selected dates during that period.

Now all of this, this war of words comes ahead of a highly anticipated hearing Tuesday, that's the first time the two sides are going to go before Judge Aileen Cannon. She is a Trump-appointed federal judge who will oversee the rest of this trial.

Now, former President Trump is not expected to be there. He's not required to be there. But even without him present, could be a lot of fireworks on Tuesday.

BLITZER: Paula and Kaitlan, both of you please stand by. I want bring in CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers. Jennifer, how much of a window can prosecutors get into Trump's intent, keyword intent, from insider like Jared Kushner, his son-in-law?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they can get a lot, Wolf, and also from Hope Hicks, because these are two of the people who were around him most in those days following the election and leading up to January 6th.


I mean, there were others as well, Mark Meadows and others, but these are two of the people who were often in the room.

And so as Trump and his allies are discussing what to do now about the election, the fact that he lost, how they're going to move forward with all of these court cases and all of the other steps we know that they ended up taking, they would be two of the people who were there listening to this back and forth. So, I think that it will be really critical evidence in terms of what the former president knew during those when they were making all of these plans.

BLITZER: Yes, key questions, indeed. Jennifer Rodgers, Paula Reid, Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much.

This note, Kaitlan will be back with more on all of this on her show, The Source, later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN.

Also coming up, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shares his concerns about Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville's one-man hold on U.S. military promotions. More of my exclusive interview with the Pentagon chief as our live coverage from Lithuania continues.



BLITZER: We're back with more of my exclusive interview with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The Pentagon chief is making major news tonight by having a phone conversation with Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, who is singlehandedly blocking hundreds of major military promotions. I asked Secretary Austin about Tuberville's actions and pressed him on when and if he would actually reach out to the senator.


BLITZER: Another sensitive issue that's come up and I want to get your thoughts, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville is blocking military promotions right now, confirmations in the Senate, because he wants to protest the Pentagon's policy of ensuring abortion access for women who serve in the U.S. military. Is Senator Tuberville now actively undermining U.S. national security?

AUSTIN: Well, thanks, Wolf. This is a national security issue. We just talked about when we sat down a couple of minutes ago, what a complex environment this is, you know, around the world quite frankly. We see the tough things that we're dealing with here in Europe as we continue to provide support to Ukraine and its efforts defend its sovereign territory. We're working hard to make sure we keep the right balance in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen our alliances. And we need leaders to be able to do that.

This is a national security issue. It's a readiness issue. And we shouldn't kid ourselves. I think any member of the Senate Armed Services Committee knows that.

BLITZER: Senator Tuberville says he's only spoken to you about this once. That was back in February. Why not have a conversation with him and get this resolved?

AUSTIN: I will, Wolf. I certainly will continue to engage.

BLITZER: But you're not doing it right now. I mean, the last conversation was in February.

AUSTIN: It was in March, end of March, but, yes, I'll engage.

BLITZER: You'll talk to him. And your message to him will be?

AUSTIN: He needs to lift the holds, Wolf. This is a national security issue, it's a readiness issue.

BLITZER: Other conservatives are using the annual Pentagon's defense bill to repeal women the Pentagon policy of helping women who serve in the military or serve in the Defense Department get abortions. Is that something you're willing to deal with, to negotiate with him?

AUSTIN: Wolf, we have a policy that enables our troops to get access to non-covered reproductive health care. And I think that's an important policy. I think our troops don't get to choose where they're assigned, and, certainly, we want to make sure that our troops are not disadvantaged because they serve in the military. They have the ability to have access to non-covered reproductive health care.

One in five of my troops, Wolf, is a woman. And our women are -- I mean, they provide tremendous value to this force. I'm proud of them, and I think we need to do everything we can to take care of them.

BLITZER: So, the bottom line is the Pentagon will continue to pay for travel, for example, for women to go to other states if necessary to get an abortion?

AUSTIN: That's our policy, Wolf.

BLITZER: And that will continue?

AUSTIN: To get non-covered reproductive health care. I don't have an abortion policy. I have an access to non-government reproductive health care policy.


BLITZER: There have been several major new developments since I sat down earlier today with Secretary Austin, including his phone call with Senator Tuberville.

CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Melanie Zanona is bringing us to speed right now. Melanie, take us through what has happened today, and it's pretty dramatic.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. The senator and the secretary have finally connected after Tuberville's office initially said he was too busy for a phone call today or even this weekend. Tuberville's office described the call as cordial and productive, and said he looks forward to continuing conversation. And a defense official said the call was brief and that Secretary Austin continues to reiterate the fact that this blockade is harming military readiness.

But Tuberville himself remains unbowed by that argument. Just take a listen.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): Well, I've told him. I said, you know what I'm doing, is it going to affect your job? No, it is not. Okay. We will get the job done. They obviously want me to get this done.


They want people to get their promotions. So, if I thought it was affecting our readiness and the willing to keep people safe, you know, it would be a different story.


ZANONA: And President Biden has also weighed in calling this blockade irresponsible, and he also said he would sit down request Senator Tuberville if it would make a difference.

But, Wolf, it is not clear that it would. Some of his GOP colleagues have been trying to work behind the scenes to find alternatives, but Tuberville says he either wants the Pentagon to roll back its abortion policy or for the Senate have a vote on the issue, which is exactly what the Republican-led House did today. In fact, moments ago, the House, with mostly Republicans voting for this, adopted an amendment to its annual defense bill that would prevent the Pentagon from covering travel costs for out of state abortions. That, of course, though, dead on arrival in the Senate, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it is. All right, Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

And just ahead, Defense Secretary Austin strongly defends the controversial decision by the United States to send cluster bombs to Ukraine.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live here from Vilnius in Lithuania.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Pentagon confirms that U.S. cluster bombs have now arrived in Ukraine, this as a Ukrainian general tells CNN the bombs could, quote, radically change the battlefield.

I asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the decision to send these controversial weapons to Kyiv. Here's more of that exclusive interview.


BLITZER: Let's talk about cluster bombs right now, while I have you, Mr. Secretary. The president, President Biden, made the very controversial decision to provide these cluster munitions, these cluster bombs to Ukraine. Will Ukraine be able to achieve -- what will they be able to achieve on the battlefield with these cluster munitions, these cluster bombs, that could potentially justify the risk that is out there -- you're familiar with cluster bombs -- the risk to civilians down the road?

AUSTIN: This is an artillery-intensive fight, Wolf. We've seen large amounts of artillery being deployed on both sides of the fence. And so that puts a strain on the international supply of munitions, artillery munitions. And so in order to -- and what we did early on was we engaged our industrial base and asked them to expand their capacity, and also the international industrial base we've worked with other countries to do the same.

We have what we need and we'll continue to have what we need to support our plans in the United States of America. But we want it make sure Ukraine has what it needs to be able to continue the fight. While that expansion is taking place, these cluster munitions act as kind of a bridging capability. And so we want them to be able to continue to keep pressure on the enemy throughout and support their maneuver plans. And so that's why the president made this deliberate decision to provide this.

BLITZER: But you realize the potential dangers that these cluster bombs have out there if they don't go off down the road, they potentially could go off if they're just left in areas, and there could be kids and civilians, men and women and children who could get killed or wounded as a result of these munitions.


BLITZER: And that's why more than 100 countries, including several NATO allies, have banned the use of these cluster bombs.

AUSTIN: I do, Wolf. I know how these munitions work. I've actually used them in combat.

The Ukrainians have committed -- first of all, I think we should remember that they are fighting hard to defend their sovereign territory. You know, they're not asking for the munitions to go invade another country, as the Russians did. They have been using cluster munitions from the very beginning, Wolf, as you know. And their munitions have a dud rate of 40 to 50 percent, which is quite remarkable.

But Ukrainians have committed to in writing to make sure these munitions are only in the appropriate places, not used against population centers. They will record the places that they use them, and they will prioritize de-mining efforts, and we'll help them do that in those places where they have used these munitions.

BLITZER: How long do you think the U.S. will need to provide cluster bombs to Ukraine?

AUSTIN: We want to make sure that Ukraine can remain successful in their fight, Wolf. And so, you know, I won't speculate as to how long that's going to take. We're going to stay focused on making sure that they have what they need to continue to provide the support for their maneuver. And so that's where we have been from the very beginning, and we'll stay focused on.

BLITZER: What are the biggest challenges, Mr. Secretary, that the Ukrainian military is facing right now as they begin and they continue their counteroffensive against the Russians?

AUSTIN: Clearing the mine fields, Wolf, has been their biggest challenge to-date. And they're doing -- they've undertaken a very deliberate process in doing that, so that they can conserve manpower. They still have a lot of capability left in terms of forces available, but clearing the mine fields is what presented them the greatest challenge thus far.

BLITZER: How is the Ukrainian counteroffensive going thus far?

AUSTIN: I'll let the Ukrainians speak to provide their own assessment of how things are going. But, again, they continue to press.


We knew, by the way, from the very beginning that this would be a very tough fight. You've heard me say that, Wolf. You've heard General Milley say that, and it will continue to be a tough fight. And they will -- as they clear these mine fields, they'll take a very deliberate approach to this, and once they have that done, and they have a lot of forces available that they can maneuver.

BLITZER: Where does the delivery of f-16 fighter jets to Ukraine stand right now? I know the NATO allies are training Ukrainian pilots to fly these F-16s, but the actual delivery, where does that stand?

AUSTIN: Well, we've got to get to -- as you know, this involves a number of steps. First of all, you have to get the pilots trained, and The Netherlands and Denmark are leading that effort. A number of other countries have joined in on that consortium. But they're also looking at, as they do that, we know that we have to have a maintenance capability, so they're also training maintainers as well. And there's sustainment that goes along with it. And then there's improvements to it, to airfields.

And so there are a number of things that have to take place. And this doesn't happen in days. It takes months to bring about that capability.

But, again, Netherlands and Denmark are doing a incredible job, a remarkable job in moving out. They're enlisting the aid of other countries. And they'll provide that capability as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: No sense of give me a timeline when those first F-16s will arrive? AUSTIN: I'll let them speak for, you know, the pace of the efforts there.

BLITZER: But that's moving forward?

AUSTIN: But we've got to get the pilots trained first and do some other things as well.

BLITZER: As you know, some far right Republicans in the House, they're trying to use the annual defense bill to cut funding to Ukraine. For example, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene called it a red line. How much does that undercut President Biden's push for unity in Washington, as far as support for Ukraine is concerned?

AUSTIN: Well, we're hopeful, certainly hopeful. We have enjoyed bipartisan support for Ukraine throughout, Wolf, and we're hopeful that we'll maintain that support. Ukraine matters. Ukraine matters not just to Ukraine. It matters to the whole world. This is about the rules-based international order. And countries around the world realize that.

And that's why as, you know, we pull together, allies and partners, in a combined effort to work to provide security assistance to Ukraine, that's why we've got so many people that participated from the very beginning, and still participate. This is important to the whole world.

BLITZER: It's critically important, indeed. Let's turn to Russia, Mr. Secretary, while I have you. After that failed rebellion that we all saw unfold in Russia, do you believe Putin has full command of the Russian military and those mercenary fighters at the same time?

AUSTIN: Well, I think, I don't want to speculate on what he has or doesn't have. I would just say that I think we all believe that he has challenges. He certainly probably didn't expect those kind of challenges. It will be interesting to see how he recovers from this or whether or not he can recover from it in the long-term.

BLITZER: Do you think he can?

AUSTIN: He's a very resilient person, and I wouldn't put anything past him. But having said that, we're going to stay focused on making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to continue to focus on this fight and be successful.

BLITZER: Do you know where Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary leader of the Wagner Group, is right now?

AUSTIN: I don't. I've been very surprised that he's been able to move in and out of Russia at will. And so we'll see what happens going forward. But I don't know where he is right now.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit with a sensitive issue, a very sensitive issue. The Pentagon has faced some sharp criticism, as you know, because it's blocking the International Criminal Court from getting U.S. evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Why is that? AUSTIN: Well, Wolf, let me just say up front that I will support any effort to make sure that we're doing the right things to bring war criminals to justice. And so there are a number of ways to do that but that's -- we're going to continue to work with the intel community and others to provide that information.

BLITZER: But why not provide that information to the International Criminal Court?

AUSTIN: Whether or not the United States does that, that's a policy decision that's made by the president.

BLITZER: And where does the Defense Department stand on that?

AUSTIN: Well, whatever the decision the president makes, of course, we'll support that, Wolf.



BLITZER: And just ahead, the U.S. Secret Service finishes its investigation into that bag of cocaine that was discovered over at the White House. We'll discuss the findings. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: And this just in, we're now learning about two incidents involving drugs found at the White House last year. As the U.S. Secret Service wraps up its investigation into who left a bag of cocaine in the West Wing.

For more on this, I'm joined by CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond.

What are you learning, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Secret Service is now confirming what we broke earlier today which is that the Secret Service has closed this investigation into this baggie of cocaine that was found inside the west wing nearly two weeks ago. The Secret Service says that this is due to a quote, lack of physical evidence.


And it comes despite an investigation that included going through visitor logs, surveillance footage, even trying to pull DNA and fingerprints from this baggie of cocaine.

The Secret Service says there was insufficient DNA evidence to pull from that baggie, and they were not able to pull fingerprints from that small bag of cocaine, which we're told was under one gram. And so, ultimately they weren't able to identify who among the hundreds of people who went through that West Wing entrance over the last few days before that baggy was found, who might have been responsible for bringing it. We're told that's also in part because there was a surveillance footage blind spot over these cubbies where this baggy of cocaine was found.

Now, the White House says that they are reviewing the findings of this investigation and that they have been briefed by the Secret Service on this. But we're now also learning, Wolf, that twice last year, small amounts of marijuana were found at the White House at Secret Service check point, I'm told. No one in those cases was arrested, though, because the weight was under the legal threshold for federal charges, and D.C., the District of Columbia, has decriminalized marijuana possession -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you very much.

Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," right at the top of the hour, more on that recent turbulent Allegiant air flight. A passenger who described it like being in the matrix, joins Erin later tonight 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin talks about a military confrontation with China as well as a milestone for African Americans over at the Pentagon. Our coverage from here in Lithuania continues with more of that exclusive interview.



BLITZER: While the NATO summit here in Lithuania focused a great deal on Ukraine and Russia, the threat from China remains front and center for the U.S. and its allies.

I spoke with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about that in our exclusive interview as well as a landmark moment for him personally over at the Pentagon.


BLITZER: I want to turn to China while I have you. I know we have a limited amount of time. You've warned the Chinese military interceptions that are going on right now involving Taiwan could spiral out of control. Those are your words, spiral out of control.

Has there been any movement in trying to reestablish military-to- military communication between the U.S. and China either with you and your counter part or at the staff level?

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, we have reached out at multiple levels, Wolf. I think it's -- you've heard me say a number of times, it's really important for countries with our kinds of capability to be able to talk to each other so that we can manage these relationships.

We don't seek a contentious relationship with China. Our relationship is one of competition. And so I think, you know, as -- as we continue to sail the international seas and fly the international skies, we want to make sure that, you know, that we -- that everyone is doing things in a safe manner, and we certainly are doing things in a safe and unauthorized -- safe and authorized manner.

BLITZER: How worried are you about a potential, God forbid, confrontation between the U.S. and China involving Taiwan?

AUSTIN: Again, you've -- this is something that -- that we always have to be prepared for, Wolf. I've said before that I don't see a confrontation as either imminent or unavoidable. So -- but having said that, it's my job to make sure that we have -- that we continue to maintain a credible deterrent in the Indo-Pacific so we can help to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And, you know, the most credible deterrent is a combat capable force, and that's what we have today and that's what we'll continue to have in the Indo-Pacific.

BLITZER: And, finally, one final question before I let you go, Mr. Secretary. If General Charles Q. Brown is confirmed as the next Joint Chiefs chairman, it will mark the first time in U.S. history that the Pentagon's two top leaders are both African-American.

What would that mean to you?

AUSTIN: Well, it means a lot, Wolf, that we have the ability to have that. And I -- C.Q. Brown is -- was selected by the president, not because -- solely because he's African-American. He's a really, really good officer, and a great fighter pilot, a distinguished pilot.

So I think he's the right guy at the right time for this job. And I think you'll see that he'll add value to everything that we do. So --

BLITZER: When you joined the military many years ago, and I'm not talking about your age.

AUSTIN: Don't ask me how many years ago, Wolf. Yeah.

BLITZER: Many years ago.

Did you ever think there would be a time that the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would both be African Americans?

AUSTIN: I did, Wolf. I -- that's -- that is really extraordinary. But, again, you know, we both have a lot of experience in this business. And I look forward to working with C.Q., and I applaud President Biden for, you know, his choice of C.Q. Brown.

BLITZER: I was a Pentagon correspondent for CNN when --

AUSTIN: You can always come back, Wolf.

BLITZER: When Colin Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs, a historic time as you well remember, of course, at that time.

AUSTIN: He was one of my mentors, Wolf, and a good friend, and we miss him. But, you know, it was a historic time.

BLITZER: He certainly was a great American. And you're right, we totally miss him.

Mr. Secretary, I know you're very busy. We're grateful to you for the time you spent with us. Thank you very much, and good luck.

AUSTIN: Well, thanks. Thanks, Wolf.



"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.