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Trump Expect To Be Indicted After Criminal Target Letter; Judge In Trump Documents Case Suggests December Trial Date Too Soon; 16 Fake Electors For Trump Charged With Crimes In Michigan; U.S. Soldier In North Korean Custody After Crossing Border; Closer Look At Judge Overseeing Trump Classified Docs Case. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 18, 2023 - 18:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for The Lead in Columbia, South Carolina. Our coverage continues now with my friend, Wolf Blitzer, in The Situation Room. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Donald Trump says he expects to be indicted and arrested again after being informed he's a target of the special counsel's January 6th criminal investigation. We're breaking down the gravity and the timing of the potential criminal charges. And I'll talk to a key grand jury witness, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, Marc Short.

This hour, there's also breaking news in the Trump classified documents case. The judge signaling the trial is likely to be pushed back from the December date proposed by the prosecution.

Also breaking, new criminal charges in Michigan against 16 participants in an alleged fake electoral scheme who signed certificates falsely claiming Trump won the state in the 2020 presidential election.

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

Right now, we're following some major fast-moving developments in the criminal investigation of Donald Trump and January 6th and the criminal prosecution of the former president in the classified documents case.

CNN's Paula Reid is standing outside the courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, for us. That's where a critical hearing just wrapped up a short while ago.

But, first, let's go to CNN Anchor and Chief Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, I know you have been talking to your sources, and you have excellent sources. What more are you learning tonight about this target letter and is the former president concerned?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CORRESPONDENT: I think there is definitely a level of concern here, Wolf. This is a letter that we should note Trump's attorneys, including Todd Blanche, one of his top attorneys on many of these cases, got on Sunday night. So, they have known about this for several days. We only found out about today, of course, when Donald Trump posted, letting the world know that he had gotten a target letter, which, of course, as you were noting, does signal the charges could potentially be imminent here.

And what this letter does is essentially offers Trump a chance to come and testify before the grand jury. He has four days to do, so that would mean until Thursday he can go before the grand jury. It is widely expected that he is not going to do so, Wolf. They haven't formally communicated that to Jack Smith. They may never communicate that to Jack Smith's team, but it is widely expected he is not going to go. So, that means we could potentially see charges later this week or early next.

What those charges are, we don't know. But we do know there is a charge, at least one, listed in this target letter that they got, warning that that is something that their client could be potentially be charged with. We'll see ultimately what Jack Smith does.

But now, Trump's team is working behind the scenes here, Wolf, because they have been expecting charges obviously to come from the January 6th investigation. Truly, many of them thought it was going to focus on those attorneys that you saw around the former president in that period of time before the 2020 election, right after the Sidney Powells, the Rudy Giulianis, the John Eastmans, people who were telling him that there was fraud in the election, that they had proof of it, which they never produced, or essentially that he could do things and that the former vice president could do things that he ultimately couldn't do.

But what is clear from this letter, obviously, is that Jack Smith is also focusing on the former president himself. And we had an indication that that is where Jack Smith was going, and so did Trump's attorneys, when we found out that they had spoken to people like Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks, obviously, people who can offer insight into Trump's mindset more than they can, the fake elector scheme or something of that nature, so, certainly a level of concern, Wolf.

And I should note, Trump is on the campaign trail today. He's going to Iowa. So, we will likely hear from him in his response to this target letter, beyond putting up a defense like he has already on Truth Social.

BLITZER: I'm sure we will. All right, stand by. Paula, take us inside today's hearing in the Trump classified documents case. You were in the courthouse. What was discussed about a possible trial date?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's pretty clear from what I saw inside court today that this case is unlikely to go to trial this year. Special counsel prosecutors had told the court that they'd be ready to take this to trial in December. But today, Judge Aileen Cannon made it clear she thinks that's likely premature. She called that timeline, quote, compressed and said, look, cases like this that involved classified materials take more time. Now, defense attorneys insist that their client is, quote, unusual and that it would only be fair to delay this case until after the 2024 election.


Prosecutors punched back at that saying, look, he's not president and it doesn't matter if he's running to be president again. They insist that he should be treated like any other important, busy American and shouldn't get special consideration.

But, Wolf, it was interesting. The judge didn't seem interested in litigating these larger constitutional questions about a presidential candidate possibly be put on trial. Instead, she really wanted to focus just on the lawyers and how much time it would take for defense lawyers to get to a place where they would potentially be willing to put a date on the calendar. That's about as far as we got today.

But a little bit of good news for former President Trump, that this judge, who he appointed, does appear open to delaying this trial likely until next year, maybe longer.

BLITZER: All right. Paula, stay with us. Kaitlan, stay with us as well. We're also joined by more of our legal and political experts as well.

And, Elliot Williams, Trump says the target letter, and I'm quoting him, almost always means an arrest and indictment. Is he right?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, when we get a target letter, what that is is a statement from prosecutors that an individual is a target of a criminal investigation, means they have substantial evidence linking him or her to the commission of a crime. Prosecutors don't have to send one. And if they send one, they don't necessarily have to charge somebody with a crime.

Now, most of the time, if you get a target letter in the mail, you are likely going to get charged with a crime pretty soon thereafter. So, the president is probably right but we will see within a matter of days, I think, whether charges --

BLITZER: I'm sure we will. How soon, do you think, Shan Wu, we could potentially see another indictment?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, last time, I was totally wrong on this timetable, Wolf. So, I think it could be longer than a week or so. For one thing, Trump's lawyers are going to try to at least meet with A.G. Garland. Last time, Garland delegated down to Jack Smith to meet with them. So, it doesn't, to me, mean that the mere receipt of the target letter means that indict is going to be the next day or something like that. So, I would be looking for at least a couple weeks but Jack Smith could surprise us.

BLITZER: Yes, let's see what happens. Some people are suggesting by the end of this week, we will find out.

Jamie Gangel, this would be Trump's third indictment and second federal indictment. Just how remarkable is this moment?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable. It is a sober moment in our history. And let's also point this out, Wolf, it is unprecedented because it's unprecedented that any American -- former American president tried to overturn an election.

I think we also have to look at what this means big picture. The fact that Special Counsel Jack Smith made Trump a target, and I think it's fair to say likely an indictment is going to come, means that he thinks he has a very strong case. It also means that the attorney general, Merrick Garland, who has been briefed all along the way, also thinks that they have a very strong case.

It's said that prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich is the expression, but a conviction is much harder. They would not be moving toward indictment if they didn't think they could get a conviction.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really important. Elliot, prosecutors have heard from several key Trump allies and state officials targeted by Trump. What could they charge Trump with right now?

WILLIAMS: Now, all of this flows around the January 6th efforts to upend the 2020 election, leading and ending at January 6th. The number of crimes that could flow from that could be, number one, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to obstruct acts of Congress, right. Because of the actions that happened on January 6th, it got in the way of Congress.

Conspiracy to defraud the United States is another one because of the fact that the former president, or at least as evidence seems to be indicating, might have been aware that he lost the election and yet still proceeded with acts and formal statements and documents being filed and so on, that could be evidence for conspiracy to defraud the United States. These are all serious conspiracy crimes that involve actions of acting in concert with multiple defendants, so, frankly, other people could be charged as well.

BLITZER: These are all felonies too.

WILLIAMS: They are all felonies in a federal prosecution. It could be false statements and other things too that --

BLITZER: That's really important. Paula, did the January 6th target letter actually come up during today's hearing on the classified documents case? You were there at the courthouse.

REID: Yes. It was interesting, Wolf. It was brought up by Trump's own attorneys. Todd Blanche referenced the target letter, which was helpful (ph) on the record confirmation that they had received it and he brought it up in the context of needing to really delay this case. He listed all the different legal cases that his client is currently facing, a criminal case in New York, a civil case in New York, this criminal prosecution and potentially another one from the special counsel as they expect charges after receiving this target letter.

[18:10:06] And he implored the judge, he said, look, this takes a long time to prepare not only our team but also our client, which is why they're asking for more time. And we can expect that there are charges in the January 6th investigation. They would also likely seek to delay that case until after the election as well.

BLITZER: Interesting. Kaitlan, how does Trump's team actually navigate these multiple cases?

COLLINS: I don't know, Wolf. That's a really good question, because this is obviously a lot that is happening. We are waiting to see if charges happen. I don't think they're expecting charges to happen this soon, which we believe now is a potential. Obviously, they have not happened yet.

But if they do, I mean, look at the legal team essentially right now. Todd Blanche, who is in court today, is one of the top attorneys on Trump's team. He joined in early April, I believe it was. And then Chris Kise, who is the former solicitor general in Florida, is also someone who has been on the legal team and has been appearing in court for Trump's appearances.

But as we noted, last month, when Trump got indicted in the documents case, the next day, you saw John Reilly and Jim Trusty depart the team. Those are two people, one who is working closely on the January 6th investigation, and the other was working closely on the documents investigation. So, two people who kind of had this wealth of knowledge, I guess you would say, going back to as this investigation has been going on and now these new attorneys are going to be balancing this.

It's been six weeks since Trump was indicted in Florida and he has yet to formally announce who his new attorney in the documents investigation is going to be. Now, he is staring down potentially more charges here, Wolf, so certainly a lot for the legal team to be busy with.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Shan, based on what we know so far, all of these developments, the judge, Aileen Cannon, what do you think? Will she try to hold this trial before the 2024 presidential election?

WU: I think the operative word is try, Wolf. She can try. I think it's very unlikely to happen, especially if there turns out to be a second very serious, complex case as well. I don't think she'll simply say, forget it, it's off the books, but even with her trying to set a date, very unlikely it is going to get done in that timetable.

BLITZER: We'll see how it unfolds, lots of drama right now. Guys, thank you very much.

Kaitlan, by the way, will have much more on all of this later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern on her program, The Source.

And we'll have much more just ahead on the Trump target letter. I'll get reaction from the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence who testified before the January 6th federal grand jury. Plus, the breaking news right now out of Michigan, the state attorney general filing criminal charges against participants in the alleged pro-Trump fake elector plot. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, we have new reaction from Florida Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis to Donald Trump's newest legal peril, that so-called target letter from the special counsel, Jack Smith. DeSantis sat down with my colleague and friend, Jake Tapper, for an exclusive interview.


TAPPER: So, I do have to ask about the breaking news today, your chief competitor, the frontrunner right now, Donald Trump, says he was informed that he is the target of Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And Mr. Trump has until Thursday to report to the grand jury. If Jack Smith has evidence of criminality, should Donald Trump be held accountable?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): So, here's the problem. This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences. And I think that's wrong. Alvin Bragg stretched the statute in Manhattan to be able to try to target Donald Trump. Most people, even people on the left acknowledge that if that wasn't Trump, that case would not have likely been brought against a normal civilian.

And so you have a situation where the Department of Justice and FBI have been weaponized against people they don't like and the number one example of that happened to be against Donald Trump with the Russia collusion. That was not a legitimate investigation. That was being done to try to drive Trump out of office.

And so what I've said, as president, my job is to restore a single standard of justice to end weaponization of these agencies. We're going to have a new FBI on director on day one. We're going to have big changes at the Department of Justice. Americans across the political spectrum need to have confidence that what is going on is based on the rule of law, not based on what political tribe you're in.

And then the second thing I would say it this country needs to have a debate about the country's future. If I'm the nominee, we'll be able to focus on President Biden's failures and I'll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future. I don't think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago in January.

And so I want to focus on looking forward. I don't want to look back. I do not want to see him. I hope he doesn't get charged. I don't think it will be good for the country. But at the same time, I've got to focus on looking forward and that's what we're going to do.


BLITZER: Governor Ron DeSantis speaking exclusively with CNN.

Let's get some more reaction right now, Republican reaction. Joining us here in The Situation Room, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, Marc Short, who testified before the federal grand jury investigating 2020 election interference. Marc, thanks very much for joining us.

Your former boss, then-Vice President Pence, has said, and I'm quoting now, history will hold Donald Trump accountable for January 6th. Would an indictment be a step toward holding Trump legally accountable?

MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Well, Wolf, I think there's a lot in that question, whether or not there was actual criminal activity. I do think that there's, in my view, a sense of gross negligence and reckless behavior. To what extent it crosses the threshold of criminality. I think I'm not qualified to answer that question. You have to ask lawyers that. But I think the vice president's point is a broader one, that the American people should hold Donald Trump accountable for those actions.

And while I agree with much of what Governor DeSantis just said, I think for a lot of conservatives, there is a real concerned about a two-tiered system of justice. There has been a sense that whether or not it was the Russia hoax investigation or the Manhattan situation, that there is a different standard for Republicans and Democrats.


But having said that, I do think it's also fair also to ask an American people whether or not you want to elect a president who is willing to violate his oath to the Constitution and basically ask his vice president to violate his oath to the Constitution. That is a perfectly legitimate political question to put in front of the American people.

BLITZER: You heard Governor DeSantis suggests this is criminalizing, his words, political differences. Was the push the overturn the election simply a political difference?

SHORT: Well, I think it's a lot more than that, Wolf. But, again, I don't know whether or not encouraging Americans to go march on the Capitol is a criminal activity. I do think that Donald Trump was informed by his campaign on many occasions that they had not found evidence of significant fraud that would change any of the results in any of the states. He was aware of 59 of the 60 lawsuits he brought that they had failed, including in front of Trump judges.

I think he'd been advised by his own White House lawyers that the vice president did not have any such authority to overturn the election. And I have yet to hear any Republicans suggest that Kamala Harris should have that authority in 2024.

So, I think it's more than that. But whether or not it crosses a threshold and to -- I think there has to be some sort of discretion by the Department of Justice, the threshold of prosecuting a former president of the United States is a very serious thing. And so I do think that that is a significant threshold.

BLITZER: But shouldn't he be held to the same standards as any other U.S. citizen?

SHORT: Well, absolutely, Wolf. I think nobody is above the law, and I think that he should be. But I think as well the Department of Justice has discretion about when they bring cases and when they don't. And I don't know what other testimony they've had, what else they've learned. I testified under subpoena a long time ago and I think the investigation surely has advanced since then.

BLITZER: And your former boss, though, Mike Pence, he testified as well. Have you or anyone else you know actually also received what's called this target letter?

SHORT: I certainly have not and no one that I know. And I think it's important to remember that even though we had significant differences with the president about the vice president's role on January 6th, the vice president was busy leading the coronavirus task force and traveling the country to advocate for reopening our country. He was busy as well helping to try and work in the Georgia special election.

And so much of this activity was happening inside the White House. I think there are people that have probably testified, like Mark Meadows and others recently, that probably have a lot more significant testimony to give to that grand jury.

BLITZER: Marc Short, thanks very much for coming in.

SHORT: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll stay in touch.

Coming up, the breaking news continues with the report on the criminal charges just filed in Michigan against 16 people accused of being fake electors for Trump in the 2020 election.

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



BLITZER: There's more breaking news this hour, new criminal charges in Michigan right now in the alleged fake election scheme to overturn the state's 2020 presidential election results.

CNN's Kara Scannell is working the story for us. Kara, first of all, walk us through the charges announced by the state attorney general just a little while ago.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. So, the Michigan state attorney general announced the criminal charges. These are state charges against 16 individuals in Michigan. And among those are charged is the former co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, as well as an active member of the RNC in Michigan.

Now, they are facing multiple felony counts each, including counts of forgery as well as conspiracy counts. And some of these counts carry prison sentences for as much as 14 years in prison.

Now, the attorney general, Dana Nessel, announced the charges and here is how she described the alleged plot.


DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: As part of the orchestrated plan, we allege that 16 Michigan residents met covertly in the basement of Michigan GOP headquarters and knowingly and of their volition signed their names to multiple certificates stating that they were the duly elected and qualified electors for president and vice president of the United States of America for the state of Michigan. That was a lie. They weren't the duly elected and qualified electors and each of the defendants knew it.


SCANNELL: Now, Wolf, Nessel also said that these fake electors attempted to enter the state capitol on December 14th to submit their falsified certifications. That was the same day that the real electors were meeting and they were certifying their votes for Joe Biden who carried the state by 154,000 votes.

Now, these fake electors did submit their certificates to the U.S. Senate and the National Archives, and Nessel said that was an effort to undermine democracy and the will of the Michigan voters.

Now, she said that their investigation is ongoing and they have not ruled out bringing charges against others. Also remember that the special counsel, Jack Smith, part of his investigation is also looking at the fake elector scheme and sources have told our colleagues and our team that one thing that they have contacted people in all of the seven battleground states. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. If convicted, these 16 could wind up in jail for years. Kara Scannell, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this breaking story. Our legal and political experts are here. And, Laura, let me start with you. How significant are these charges?

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Very. Remember, in states, they are the ones whose electors ultimately, based from the popular state votes, will then elect a president of the United States. It relies on faith. It relies on credibility that what a voter believes will happen once their vote is cast and they are compiled, it will actually happen.


These are very serious charges, forgery, the utter and publishing, a fancy way of saying, you've endeavored to pass it off as a real thing. This goes to the core of our democracy. What's really interesting here is that it's a state level prosecution and happening there as opposed to waiting for what's happening for, say, a Jack Smith or special counsel or DOJ, this is going in that capacity.

So, it tells you how wide ranging it is, how specific it is and how, for many, people the idea of what happened three years ago is not in the rear view mirror. It's very much ahead of the attorney general's focus.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a big deal indeed.

Shan, these so-called fake electors, most of them were sort of high- ranking Republican officials, RNC members, Trump supporters. So, how much does this implicate potentially the former president, Trump, himself?

WU: Well, it potentially implicates him a lot. But I think it's really important to note how carefully crafted this charge of document was. By specifically leaving out Trump or his inner circle, she was really sending a message that I'm staying in my lane, I'm taking care of Michigan, vindicating Michigan's rights, and, of course, she might have gotten tired to DOJ waiting for DOJ because she originally referred it to the DOJ, nothing happened. She reopened her own case. But she is doing a Michigan State charge. That's very clear.

WILLIAMS: Also note that what she did was charge conspiracy for each of the counts for forgery, for the uttering and publishing and tampering or violating election law. What she would have had -- what the state would have to establish there is some agreement between multiple parties to carry out that unlawful scheme.

If she were -- I keep saying, she. It's not just the attorney general, it's the state of Michigan. But were the state to actually have been charging Donald Trump, they probably could have done so already because they could just pull them into the conspiracy. I think they found the parties that they were going to charge and proceed that way. And I think to your point, Wolf and Shan, I think they're probably just going to keep it confined to Michigan folks.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And I think one thing to point out, Michigan, of course, is the center of all battlegrounds. Yes, others are important but this is the center of the blue wall, if you will. I know Trump won it in 2016. Joe Biden won it in 2020 by 154,188 votes, 3 percentage points. This was not nearly as close as Arizona or Georgia. That's the context of this overall.

And what these Republican officials were doing really were demolishing the state Republican Party. It is in shambles now to this day, so disorganized. So, Republicans, when you talk to them, they are still worried about Michigan because of the fallout from states like this. But I do believe that it could have much more of a spillover effect in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin because those states are so still important. And Democrats do control those states. So, that's why these charges have political aspects to them as well.

COATES: They also have teeth because we are more than 400-plus days away from another presidential election, where there could be this prospect happening yet again. Remember, from January 6th and their investigation on Capitol Hill was about a real and clear and ongoing threat.

One of the goals of prosecution is not only to punish behavior but also deter potential future conduct that also could be criminal as well. The allegations are quite clear here that should anyone have the notion that even three years after the fact you can simply try to undermine the way in which we have our elections, it gives fair notice to people about this very notion.

Again, this has been three years in the making, to your point, Shan, of when it was referred and beyond. But other states look at a blueprint and say, wait, were there other jurisdictions that had a similar code of conduct and what can be done about that?

BLITZER: But let me ask you, do you think other states are going to follow Michigan's example now and actually criminally charge these so- called fake electors?

WU: It's hard to say. I mean, they're looking at it. And this does, to your point, Laura, lay out a template for them on how to go about it. And it's so important to do this because these folks are going to be using the same defenses that anybody else would in different states, which is I didn't know what I was signing, I was kind of following the Trump campaign's instructions. And it didn't fly in Michigan, it won't fly anywhere else.

WILLIAMS: It's important for anybody who's watching this and is confused by where this is all going on, it's important to remember there are 50 different state sovereigns in the United States. Every state can bring its own criminal charges under its own state law and the federal government, that's Jack Smith, can separately bring crimes.

So, you might see some things charged for the same conduct, whether it's in Georgia, or Nevada or Michigan, where the state attorney general can bring charges but also there might be federal charges related to them.

It's very confusing. It confuses lawyers. It confuses politicians. There's a lot of potential criminal charges coming and they can have it in any of these --

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect it's only just beginning. Guys, thank you very, very much.

An important note, Laura, of course, will be back later tonight at 10:00 P.M. Eastern for CNN Primetime. Watch it. I will, of course, as so many of us.

Still ahead, a former member of the January 6th House committee weights in on the special counsel's investigation of the 2020 presidential election interference and the new target letter for Donald Trump. [18:35:03]

Congressman Pete Aguilar, he is standing by live. We'll discuss.


BLITZER: The federal criminal investigation of January 6th taking a very dramatic new turn tonight as Donald Trump reveals he's a target of the probe.

Joining us now, a former member of the January 6th House select committee, Congressman Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Based on your own previous investigation, what charges could the special counsel, Jack Smith, actually bring against Donald Trump?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Well, I'm going to leave that for the investigators to spell out exactly what charges, but I think it's very, very clear and what our 800-page report laid out was that the president, after he knew he lost, he did everything he could to whip up support among his supporters across the country, he told them to come to the Capitol, that it was going to be wild.


He also exhibited the fake elector strategy that you were just talking about. And then on January 6th, he told everybody to take back their country, and he encouraged the march to the Capitol.

Those are the facts that we laid out in the report, but I think one of the commonalities among the charges levied against the January 6th individuals has been obstructing an official event. Many of the individuals have been charged with that, and I think, at a very minimum, that is something that is on the table and should be.

BLITZER: Trump spoke today with top Republicans on the Hill to strategize on how to respond. What are you expecting from your GOP colleagues?

AGUILAR: I'm expecting my Republican colleagues to do anything that the former president says, because that's exactly what they've shown. This is a group, and mind you, this is a speaker, Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who, on January 6th, when we came that night, said that President Trump bears responsibility for what happened.

Well, then he knew that he couldn't have the votes to lead his conference unless he walked that back. And so then he went down to Mar-a-Lago, he bent a knee, he talked to the former president. That's just exactly who they are.

So, it doesn't surprise me that they're going to strategize with the former president. It doesn't surprise me that they're going to carry his water and because they don't believe that these facts matter.

BLITZER: The former D.C. police officer, Michael Fanone, who was attacked on January 6th, told me earlier today that Trump's rhetoric, in his words, is designed to elicit a violent response. Do you fear, Congressman, that Trump would use another indictment to try to spark a repeat of January 6th?

AGUILAR: Well, he's already twice indicted, to join his status, has been twice impeached. But it would not surprise me if he continued to use Jack Smith's work and the Department of Justice seeking to hold him accountable if he used that for his political benefit, to whip up and rally supporters, to solicit campaign contributions. That's exactly what he's going to do.

But we are all very mindful of what he and his core supporters are capable of. And we need to be vigilant about that and I think Officer Fanone makes some good points.

BLITZER: As Trump now faces a possible third indictment, does that actually make it easier for Trump to lump these different cases together and tell his supporters this is all a witch hunt?

AGUILAR: Well, that's what he was going to do anyway, Wolf. I think whether he was once indicted or five times indicted, part of his strategy for running for president is to call any of these charges or anyone who disagrees with them an enemy of the state, to say words like witch hunt, all of the buzzwords that send a rallying signal to his base and these extreme MAGA Republicans who he relies on for support. And it's unfortunate that many here in these chambers still want to listen to that.

But we have faith in the American public. We have faith and a positive grounded in accountability that everyone who is responsible for January 6th should be brought to justice no matter their position or their former position.

BLITZER: And they say no one is above the law. Congressman Pete Aguilar, thanks so much for joining us.

AGUILAR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And a note to our viewers, coming up on Erin Burnett Outfront, right at the top of the hour, the former Trump White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, and New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu react today's news on Donald Trump. It's coming up 7:00 Eastern.

Just ahead here in The Situation Room, an American soldier is now in North Korean custody and the U.S. military wants to get him back. I'll discuss that with the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, who has negotiated with the North Korean regime many times.



BLITZER: We're following the story of a U.S. Army soldier believed to be in North Korean custody right now, identified as Private Travis King. According to two U.S. officials, Private King spent 50 days at a detention facility in South Korea after facing disciplinary action for assault and was set to be administratively separated from the U.S. Army.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commented on the situation earlier today.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: One of our service members who was on a tour willfully and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line. We believe that he is DPRK custody. And so, we're closely monitoring and investigating the situation.


BLITZER: Joining us now, the former Governor Bill Richardson, an experienced negotiator and has engaged with the North Korean regime on several occasions.

Governor, Mr. Ambassador, you're also the U.N. ambassador, how would you advise U.S. officials to behave right now in dealing with this issue?

BILL RICHARDSON, VETERAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think the secretary's playing it correctly, quietly, no provocations. We have to remember that this young man, probably a troubled young man, went into North Korea unauthorized.

The North Koreans did not snatch him or apprehend him. He went into North Korea. We have a travel ban of Americans and NGOs going into North Korea.

I think the advice I would give is as follows: try to find a way to communicate with the North Koreans either through a third country or groups like ours that have experience dealing with North Korea, but to see if we can get this young man released.


In other words, he probably is being interrogated right now. And stay quiet, stay cool. The North Koreans, in the last six years, the good news is they have not apprehended any Americans. We were involved in the Otto Warmbier case years ago, the American who went to North Korea, was apprehended.

But since then, they have not apprehended anyone. So, I would play it cool, quietly. Let the North Koreans go through their process of interrogation, and hopefully, they'll deport him.

BLITZER: Have you been asked, Governor, to go to North Korea to try to secure the release of this soldier? And would you go?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would go. But I haven't been asked. I think the first step should be government to government. We have contacted my organization, the North Koreans at the United Nations. That is the normal contact that exists.

And I'm sure the Department of State, the Department of Defense has done that. That's our liaison counterparts in the United States. That's the only place. Ambassador Pak, who's -- we've dealt with before, and he's a very serious person.

So, hopefully that will lead that contact to quiet negotiations, quiet discussions that would allow this young man to come home. He's an American. Yes, he's troubled, maybe he faces disciplinary action. But he's an American, a servicemember. And we need to get him home.

But let's do it quietly. Let's do it -- play it smart. And I think the administration is doing that.

I would also, wolf, get rid of the travel ban that President Trump put in. And, by the way, I think President Trump meeting with a North Korean, that was the right thing to do. It didn't lead to much, but that was the right thing to do. But we put a travel ban that prevents NGOs, groups like mine and others from going into North Korea and helping with humanitarian issues.

We were trying to get the remains of our American soldiers from the Korean War. We were able to get seven several years ago. And you were there with me, and you know that dealing with the North Koreans, they're very unpredictable. They're very sensitive. Everything comes from Kim Jong Un, every direction.

So, you've got to play it very carefully, especially since they have so many missiles and they're in a very aggressive posture with our allies.

BLITZER: Yeah, this is such a sensitive moment right now.

RICHARDSON: The South Koreans, the Japanese.

BLITZER: Yeah. Ambassador Richardson, thank you so much for joining us, and good luck if you go back over there, be careful. Thanks so much for joining us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll take a closer look at Aileen Cannon, the Florida judge overseeing the criminal classified documents case against former President Donald Trump.



BLITZER: All eyes were on a Florida courtroom today as lawyers for former President Donald Trump and Department of Justice prosecutors met for a key hearing in the classified documents case. But the federal judge overseeing the upcoming trial is under a lot of political and legal scrutiny right now.

Brian Todd is taking a deeper look into Judge Aileen Cannon. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight there is a huge spotlight and enormous pressure on Judge Cannon, mostly because of her connections to Donald Trump, a past ruling in favor of him, and serious questions about her experience.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, this 42-year-old judge from South Florida faces enormous scrutiny because of her history with former President Donald Trump. Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon has been assigned, at least initially, to oversee the criminal trial against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think everybody has fundamental concern of whether she's going to call the balls and strike right down the middle of the plate for both parties or whether she's going to issue decisions that favor the former president.

TODD: The concern stemming not only from the fact that Donald Trump appointed cannon to the bench when he was president but also from her involvement in the earlier documents probe. Last year, she approved Trump's request to block Justice Department access to the recovered documents, until a special master could review them for potential privilege issues.

The 11th circuit court of appeals overturned her ruling. One concern now that Cannon will go along with Trump's request to delay the trial.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: She only has to take really small steps in order to throw this thing off track for the Justice Department by delaying it until we're past the election and Trump, of course, hopes that if he manages to get himself elected again, this case goes away, as he would direct his Justice Department to drop it.

TODD: But attorney Michael Sherwin, a friend of Cannon, disputes the notion that she favors Trump.

MICHAEL SHERWIN, FRIEND OF JUDGE CANNON: I still truly believe that she is going to ensure that there is a fair trial, and she is not going to inject politics into this equation, to any degree.

TODD: During her confirmation hearing, Cannon thanked members of her family including her maternal grandparents who she said had to flee Cuba in 1960, and her mother.

AILEEN MERCEDES CANNON, FEDERAL DISTRICT JUDGE: To my loving mother who at the age of 7 had to flee the repressive Castro regime in search of freedom and security. Thank you for teaching me about the blessing of this country.

TODD: There is also concern tonight over Judge Cannon's lack of experience. A "Bloomberg" database analyzed by "The New York Times" last month showed she had only taken four criminal cases to trial. FREDERICKSEN: She's never tried a white-collar criminal case with all

the complications that go with intent and with evidentiary rulings, let alone classified documents.


TODD (on camera): We reached out to Judge Cannon's chambers and asked for response to the criticism that she's been biased toward former President Trump. We didn't hear back. During her confirmation hearings, she was asked if she'd had any discussions about loyalty to Trump. She decisively responded, no -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, Brian, thank you very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.