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The Situation Room
Trump Team on Indictment Watch After Target Letter; New Reports on Statutes Cited in Trump Target Letter; First Apparent Public Sighting of Failed Mutiny Leader; Christie Slams DeSantis' Plan to Strip "Woke" from Military; U.S. Soldier is Latest American to be Detained in North Korea. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 19, 2023 - 18:00 ET
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Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the Trump team is on indictment watch right now after the former president's new target letter from the special counsel, as we get new hints about the potential charges. I'll talk with Trump's 2024 Republican rival, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Also tonight, the leader of the failed mutiny against Russia is apparently seen in public for the first time since the rebellion. We'll have a live report on Yevgeny Prigozhin's fate and the deal we are told he cut with Vladimir Putin. Britain's top spy describing what Putin did to save his own skin. We have details on that.
And new details on how a U.S. soldier dashed through the highly guarded DMZ into North Korea, where he's now in custody, a witness describing the chaos that she initially thought was some kind of stunt.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We begin with Donald Trump bracing right now for a potential third criminal indictment in the days or perhaps even hours ahead. The former president, by his own admission, is expecting new charges after learning he's a target of the special counsel's criminal investigation of January 6th and 2020 election interference.
CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the legal angles of this story for us. CNN's Kristen Holmes is covering Trump, who is holed up in his New Jersey golf club right now.
First to Evan. We are getting new insight, Evan, I understand, into the potential charges against Trump. Give us the latest. EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this could happen as soon as tomorrow or Friday. What we know, according to The Wall Street Journal and other outlets who have gotten some insight from the target letter that the special counsel sent to the former president, we know of at least three statutes that the special counsel has informed the former president he could be indicted on, and you can see them right there on your screen.
One of them, conspiracy to defraud the United States is one that we've seen a lot especially in the last few years. It is something that has been charged regularly by the Justice Department in the last few years. Deprivation of rights is another one. And another one, tampering with a witness, that one is a statute that is broad and could be something related to the obstruction of the congressional proceeding, again, something that we have seen charged in many, many of the cases related to January 6th.
We know, Wolf, that the former president was told that he has until tomorrow. He could come to the grand jury where we expect the grand jury to sit tomorrow. He could come in and provide testimony if he wants. We do not expect that he's going to do so. He may not even respond to the special counsel.
We do know, Wolf, that the grand jury is scheduled to meet and hear from at least two witnesses tomorrow. Both of those witnesses, we expect to be very brief. So, once again, at the end of that, we could see that the special counsel decides that they could ask the grand jury to vote on an indictment tomorrow.
BLITZER: On top of all of that, there is another new development unfolding right now, the special counsel, Jack Smith, is expanding his investigation into Georgia. Tell our viewers what they are learning.
PEREZ: That's right. In recent weeks, we now know, Wolf, that the special counsel subpoenaed surveillance video from the State Farm Arena. This is the stadium where vote counting happened and it was the scene, really, of a lot of focus from the former president after the 2020 election. He accused voting workers there of committing fraud. He had conservative media focusing on video that they said falsely showed examples of that fraud.
Of course, a couple of those workers, Shaye Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, testified before the grand jury about just the damage that this did to their lives. They were obviously not committing fraud, but that's something that was tarred (ph) on them about what the former president was saying. And we now know the special counsel is looking into that aspect as well.
BLITZER: Yes, lots going on. Kristen, I know you're outside Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump is huddling with his advisers at his country club over there. What are you hearing from your sources?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, actually he's with a big group of people, including some of his biggest allies, like Steve Bannon. They are having a campaign event and the screening of a movie over at Bedminster, and that's what I am told by sources that they are continuing right now business as usual.
But I talked to a number of Trump lawyers and Trump advisers who said that they were trying to figure out if Jack Smith, the special counsel, had some sort of other evidence or witnesses that they did not know about because of the potential charges listed out in that letter. They said that it seemed as though he had a more robust case that he was trying to prosecute against the former president than his team was aware of.
You have to keep in mind that many of these witnesses who appeared before January 6th grand jury were represented by lawyers who were paid for by Trump world giving them a unique amount of insight into this investigations, and, again, something that they were watching very closely.
But right now, they are still continuing with this third presidential bid, full speed ahead. As we know, he's been fundraising off of the target letter. We assume that if he is to be indicted, there will be more fundraising emails after that. But those advisers and allies say that even though this is a short-term boost for him, we obviously are in unprecedented territory and there is no idea of what this looks like long-term.
BLITZER: Kristen Holmes, Evan Perez, guys, thank you very much.
Let's talk more about all these developments, Trump's potential third indictment. Joining us now, one of his prominent Republican presidential rivals, the former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, is here with me in The Situation Room. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're a former federal prosecutor and former U.S. attorney. Give us your thoughts on the likelihood the special counsel could actually secure a conviction of Trump.
CHRISTIE: Well, it's hard to say, Wolf. We haven't seen the indictment yet. And I have tried to be very careful about this both on the classified documents case and also now this one. I want to see the indictment first. The key to what evidence he really has and what the basis of all of this will be contained in that indictment. My sense is that it will be a speaking indictment, as we call it in the business, which provides a lot of detail so you can really give folks a sense of what the evidence is that backs up the charges. So, I think it's all speculation until we actually see what the grand jury returns, if they return something.
BLITZER: You assume they will?
CHRISTIE: I do. I don't think you send a target letter, at least in my experience, I would never send a target letter if I was not completely sure that I had put enough in front of the grand jury for them to return an indictment. BLITZER: Yes. We anticipate it could within the next few hours or at least the next few days. That's what's going on.
I want you to listen and watch to what Governor Ron DeSantis told CNN about Trump receiving this target letter. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences, and I think that's wrong.
I do not want to see him. I hope he doesn't get charged. I don't think it would be good for the country. But at the same time, I've got to focus on looking forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Would you trust a President DeSantis to go ahead and enforce the rule law?
CHRISTIE: Look, based on what he just said there, it gives you concerns, doesn't it? I mean, look, no one is above the law. And the fact is that what's damaging to the country, I think this is where Ron is getting it wrong, is Donald Trump's conduct.
And everybody was complaining about the last indictment, a number of people in my party, but you can't complain about the indictment and not acknowledge that the conduct where you lie to your lawyers, where you show around classified documents regarding our intelligence activities, our military activities. Wolf, what that does is potentially put our troops at risk, potentially put our intelligence officers at risk who are out there doing dangerous things around the world. It's hurting them when he does that.
And what I -- look, I absolutely believe, and I've said this before, I think the Hillary Clinton case should have been charged. If I were the U.S. attorney investigating that case, I would have charged it. And I think what Jim Comey and Loretta Lynch did was wrong. But you don't fix a broken justice system by continuing to give people passes based upon whatever their political party is. You do it by enforcing the law without fear, favor or partisanship. That's what we should be doing.
And what we should be focused on here is Donald Trump's conduct and whether or not, Wolf, that conduct is appropriate for somebody to be sitting behind the resolute desk in the Oval Office. I say it's not.
BLITZER: Should he drop out?
CHRISTIE: I don't think he should have run in the first place. But guess what? I don't care. I'm going to beat him.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what DeSantis said today. He said it's suggested it's possible the FBI or DOJ, Department of Justice, could interfere with his campaign. That was the gist -- I was paraphrasing -- the gist of what he said. What do you make of that? CHRISTIE: Well, I don't know what basis he has to draw that conclusion. Look, we don't make our country better by continuing to rumor monger things. If Ron DeSantis is concerned that there's something in his background that would lead to DOJ or the FBI to be looking at him, that's probably something he should talk to us all about as he's seeking the presidency.
If there's some investigative steps that he thinks were inappropriate that have been taken that we don't know about right now by the FBI or DOJ against him or members of his inner circle, then he should reveal that. Otherwise, stop speculating about this stuff.
BLITZER: A CNN analysis, this is interesting, shows that Trump's campaign actually spiked around his indictments, actually spiked around his indictments. How much do you think these legal troubles he's facing actually boost his campaign?
CHRISTIE: Short-term gain, long-term pain. In the short-term, what it does is people rally around their team, Wolf, and we've seen this happen many times before. When there's a crisis, you rally around your team, and that's what a lot of folks who have been supportive of Donald Trump are doing. But long-term, I think, if there are additional indictments to come, this is a lot of weight for anybody to be carrying around their neck as a general election candidate for president of the United States or as a primary candidate. And I think long-term, these charges are a real problem for Donald Trump because -- not the charges, Wolf, because of the conduct. The conduct is the problem.
And so I think in the short-term, people rallying around the flag, in the long-term, I think it's going to be a problem.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Donald Trump said yesterday in a radio interview, said how his supporters would react if he winds up going to jail. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it something that concerns you of people, making sure that they don't go out of their right mind if something like that happens, if that, for example, they do -- say, Jack Smith says okay, I am going to put Donald Trump in jail?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I think it's a very dangerous thing to even talk about because we have a tremendously passionate group of voters, much more passionate than they had in 2020, and much more passion than they had in 2016. I think it would be very dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How worried should law enforcement be about the possibility of Trump inciting more violence? CHRISTIE: Well, look, I think any time you have the history of what we saw on January 6th, law enforcement needs to learn from that and make sure they're prepared at any of these proceedings regarding Donald Trump or any of the people who might be charged along with him that you might have some people who might want to act out violently because of it.
I don't think we should be here worried about it, Wolf. I've spent years in law enforcement. You don't prevent crime by worrying about it. You can prevent crime by acting. And what they need to do is be prepared. And if they are, then everyone will be safe and secure and the justice system will continue the way it should.
BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. Governor, stand by, we have more to discuss. I'm going to ask the governor about the state of his presidential campaign right now and a lot more, much more questions coming up for the governor right after a quick break.
Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: We are back with Republican Presidential Candidate Chris Christie. We are talking one-on-one right here in The Situation Room.
Let's talk a little bit about what happened today up on Capitol Hill, two IRS whistle blowers testified alleging that there was improper interference in their investigations of Hunter Biden. Do you have any concerns about how the Hunter Biden probe has been conducted?
CHRISTIE: Real concerns, I do, Wolf, for a few reasons. Let's look at the objective indicators first. It should not take five year investigate two misdemeanor tax counts and a dismissed gun charge. This shouldn't take that long. And so I have real questions about how U.S. Attorney Weiss was conducting that probe. It obviously was much broader where the rest of the charges, what did he conclude, did he really have the autonomy to make those decisions.
Secondly, the dismissal of the gun charge bothers me, Wolf, because here we are in this country where a lot of people advocate for more gun laws, yet we're not enforcing the ones we have. He lied on an application to get a gun permit, then mishandled that gun while he had it because of his own drug addiction.
The fact is that that carries it a maximum ten-year sentence under the law. So, we passed these tough laws and we don't want to enforce them?
So, look, I have a lot of concerns about it. I think the reason this thing was put off, the plea, was because the judge probably has concerns about it, too, and wants some answers before the judge approves any plea agreement.
So, there's a lot of questions to be answered and I have some real concerns about it. And I hope that we don't see that anybody put their thumb on the scale because that would really, really hurt our justice system even more.
BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens on that front.
Let me get to some other news. Governor DeSantis on CNN defended his plan for the U.S. military, which would include -- and let me get your thoughts on this -- he would include eliminating diversity programs, banning transgender from serving in the U.S. military and stop funding for programs to fight climate change. What impact do you think that would have on the U.S. military?
CHRISTIE: Let me go in reverse. I don't think climate change has anything to do with military readiness. So, I would not favor something like that in trying to what sounds to me like bootstrapping climate policy. You want to argue about climate policy, let's argue with that in Congress, separate from the military.
BLITZER: A lot of military officers say it does have potentially a big impact on U.S. military readiness, climate change.
CHRISTIE: Well, Wolf, then let's have that debate in Congress and let's talk about it and make it present to the American people. I don't think we've done that.
I would not ban transgender folks from the military. I don't think that's a necessary element of our military readiness.
And, look, on all of these diversity programs, my focus as president would be to make sure first and foremost that our military was as ready and as capable as it could be to defend the United States interests all around the world. And I'm not quite sure how that does it.
I believe, as I just said, that we shouldn't ban transgender folks. That's certainly a move that supports diversity. I don't know and I don't believe that we need all of these diversity programs spoon fed to our members of the military. I think we need to ask people to be respectful of each other, to be respectful of the service they're providing and to focus on the mission.
BLITZER: Speaking of the military, I want to get your thoughts on Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama. He's continuing to block military promotions and he says he's doing that because he doesn't like the fact that the Pentagon is now paying for women in the U.S. military who want to get an abortion to travel out of state, to pay for their travel, not for the abortion, to pay for their travel. What do you think of that?
CHRISTIE: I don't favor it. I don't favor the paying for travel to go get an abortion someplace. I'm pro-life, Wolf, and I believe in things like exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother, but I don't believe that that's good a policy for us to be pursuing. But I also think that Senator Tuberville should find a different way to be able to advocate against that kind of policy rather than blocking all of the military promotions. Again, the focus of the commander in chief, Wolf, should be on making sure that our military is absolutely prepared to defend and advocate for U.S. interests around the world. I think blocking those promotions is definitely not one of the ways you make us most ready.
BLITZER: I want to get your reaction to this New Hampshire primary poll, very important. Take a look at these numbers. You can see them on the screen. You have a 10 percent favorable rating in this New Hampshire, Granite State poll, 21 percent neutral, 64 percent say it's unfavorable towards you. That's not very encouraging, is it?
CHRISTIE: Well, I haven't seen the poll. This is the first I've seen of it and haven't heard about it. But, look, when you're out there telling the truth, Wolf, and you are pushing hard against the former incumbent president, in the beginning, that's going to be a hard road, that's going to be uphill to do, but it needs to be done because our primary voters deserve two things. They deserve the truth. They haven't got it from Joe Biden, they haven't gotten it from Donald Trump. They will get it from me.
Secondly, they deserve actions on the issues that they care about, and neither Joe Biden or Donald Trump have given them that either. And so this polling stuff in July is fine. You go with what you go with, you see what you see, but in the end, remember this, in July of 2015, Jeb Bush was the frontrunner and Donald Trump was more than 20 points behind him. Polling in January doesn't really, really lead to much. And, by the way, I saw a poll in New Hampshire two days ago that showed me half a point behind Ron DeSantis in third place.
So, I don't know what those numbers are all about, but I'll pick the poll I like and I like that one that shows me only half a point behind DeSantis and the only candidate in double digits in any state or national poll other than Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens at that first presidential debate that's coming up.
CHRISTIE: I'll be there.
BLITZER: You are already qualified for that.
CHRISTIE: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: All right. Governor, please come back. We'll continue this conversation. Thanks very much.
CHRISTIE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Right now, we're digging deeper into the potential charges Donald Trump might face if he's hit with a third criminal indictment. Stand by. Our legal experts will join us. That's next.
[18:25:00] BLITZER: We're getting new clues tonight about the new criminal charges Donald Trump potentially could be facing, the former president anticipating a potential indictment at any time in the special counsel's criminal investigation of January 6th and the 2020 election interference. Our legal experts are breaking down all of the new information for us.
Laura Coates, let me we start with you. The criminal charges potentially reportedly include possibility, conspiracy to commit an offense or defraud the U.S., deprivation of rights, tampering with a witness.
LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: The second one, I think, people are often looking at to figure out what could that possibly be under the color of law, as they say. It's normally about trying to use your office to take away someone's privilege or right to do something. In this case, it would be the voting aspects of things, we suspect.
On the other aspect of it, the tampering part of it, that falls under a statute that has a bigger and wider umbrella. It could mean an additional witness or it could mean obstruction overall for an actual proceeding. So, we're waiting to see what that actually means but, really, with all of these kind of Jack Smith's legal oyster in this category according to what he may have come in, in grand jury testimony.
BLITZER: Let me get Elie Honig's thoughts on this. Elie, as you know, conspiracy charges tend to go beyond just one person. We haven't heard of other target letters, at least not yet. But could we see more people charged and who, potentially, do you think that could be?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's absolutely in play, Wolf, because, by definition, a conspiracy must involve more than one person. A conspiracy is a meeting of the minds between two or more people to commit a crime.
Going off what we know from the public record from the January 6th hearings, I think the people who worked closest with Donald Trump were his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and we know he has spoken to Jack Smith's team. And then I'm looking at the lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, who we know has spoken to Smith's team, and then Sidney Powell, who, as far as we know, has not spoken with the team, and John Eastman, who, again, as far as we know, has not spoken with the team.
But important to note, Wolf, it's possible that co-conspirators will be charged in the same indictment as Donald Trump. It's possible they will be charged in a separate indictment that comes later, and it's also possible that they are not charged at all, that, in exchange for their testimony, they are simply listed as what we call unindicted co- conspirators. So, any of those are in play here.
BLITZER: Carrie, let's talk more about this. The witness tampering charge, as you know, has been used previously against several of the January 6th actual rioters who were out there. But, potentially, what could his mean in this case? CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it goes with what might be the bigger charge in this, which would be the conspiracy piece of it.
I mean, I think that's the big question that's at issue is, was there an overall conspiracy that the Justice Department can prove in a case that demonstrates that there was obstruction of Congress in terms of certifying the election, not able to take that step, and that's where the witness tampering piece comes in, and was this a part of an overall conspiracy to undermine the outcome of the election.
And to Elie's point, one of the big questions I have is, if there was a conspiracy, that requires many more people than just Donald Trump. And so I do think it's curious that the reporting so far just pertains -- and the information that he's released just pertains to him receiving the target level, because if they're going to charge conspiracy, there are going to be more people. And as we know just from what transpired in public at the time, there were other people who were involved in trying to pressure election officials, undermine the integrity of the election outcome at the time.
BLITZER: These aren't misdemeanors, potentially. These are major felonies, yes.
CORDERO: No, these are major federal crimes. Yes. These are major federal crimes.
BLITZER: With potentially a lot of time in jail, potentially.
Elie, Chris Christie just told me -- I don't know if you were listening to the interview, but he told me he does think an indictment is coming down. I want you to listen to this. Listen to the sound bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I would never send a target letter if I wasn't completely sure that I had put enough in front of the grand jury for them to return an indictment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey. What do you think? What can we expect in terms of timeline?
HONIG: Well, I completely agree with Chris Christie there. When you send a target letter, it doesn't mean for sure an indictment is coming, but if you're going to send a target letter to a high-profile person, especially someone like Donald Trump, you better be ready to indict.
In terms of a timeline, it really could happen at any time. We know that from Donald Trump that DOJ has given him until tomorrow, four days from Sunday, to go into the grand jury. And I think from that moment on, at any point, prosecutors can go into that grand jury and ask him to indict.
That is a very quick process. Once you're at the point of presenting a draft indictment to a grand jury, you can walk out of that room with an indictment signed within an hour or so.
BLITZER: What do you think, Laura?
COATES: The billboard that is previewed by having a target letter is very significant. This is probably the culmination of a very long investigation based on other evidence that's been corroborated. If he is a target, all of the people have come before this have led up to this moment. This would be a very quick indictment if it's coming, because all of the ducks would be in the row before they invited Trump to even testify.
BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
An important programming note, Laura will be back anchoring later tonight CNN Primetime 10:00 P.M. Eastern, and you'll want to watch.
And just ahead, new video appears to confirm the whereabouts of the leader of that failed mutiny against Putin in Russia, this as the head Britain's MI6 spy agency says Vladimir Putin cut a humiliating deal to end the rebellion.
BLITZER: There's new evidence tonight that the leader of the failed Wagner mutiny against Russia is alive and in Belarus, video emerging today that appears to show Yevgeny Prigozhin in public for the first time since the rebellion.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more on that along with new information from Britain's top spy about Prigozhin and a deal he cut with Putin.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is grainy, dark and doesn't show as much of use, but it does claim to be Wagner rebellion leader Yevgeny Prigozhin finally in public and alive with his fighters in Belarus after 25 days of him vanishing from view.
It emerged perhaps by coincidence a few hours after this man, the secretive head of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency, told CNN in a rare, public appearance that he thought Prigozhin was, quote, floating about, providing the first confirmation from the west that he's alive.
Britain's top spy seemed shock at how weak Putin was forced into accepting the Belarusian president's humiliating deal that weekend.
RICHARD MOORE, HEAD OF BRITAIN'S FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE UNIT MI6: He really didn't fight back against Prigozhin. He cut a deal to save his skin using the good officers of the leader of Belarus. So, even I can't see inside Putin's head.
WALSH: It was a week of Putin's disappearance then displays of grandeur after wildly flip-flopping over Prigozhin, all of which the MI6 chief admitted left him struggling to read.
MOORE: If you look at Putin's behaviors on that day, Prigozhin started off, I think, was a traitor at breakfast, he had been pardoned by supper, and then a few days later, he was invited for tea. So, there are some things then that even the chief of MI6 finds a little bit difficult to try and interpret in terms of who's in and who's out.
WALSH: But the head of mi6 used here Prague, the last European capital before the invasion of Ukraine, to see Russian tanks roll through it to launch a wider appeal. That's really a reflection of how weak they think Putin is right now. He appealed to disaffected members of the Russian elite angry at the invasion of Ukraine to bring their secrets to MI6, effectively, a rare public appeal for them to spy for the west.
MOORE: I invite them to do what others have already done this past 18 months and join hands with us. Our door is always open. We will handle their office of help with the discretion and professionalism for which my service is famed. Their secrets will always be safe with us. And together, we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end.
WALSH: Chaos so startling, its full impact is yet unknown.
WALSH (on camera): Now, that video that you saw in the beginning of the report, well, CNN has managed to geolocate it to a place where we've seen on the ground suggestions that camp is being readied for Wagner. Adding to that, too, now these new satellite images from Planet Labs that show roughly taken at about 6:30 local time this morning a growing number of vehicles inside that same facility building over the last 72 hours or so.
So, increased evidence that, yes, we may be seeing the first public signs of Yevgeny Prigozhin being alive and in Belarus in keeping with that particular deal. But this 25-day window of total uncertainty, is he alive, is he dead, is he going along with the deal, again, a sign of total disarray inside the Kremlin's walls. Wolf?
BLITZER: Excellent reporting. And, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very, very much.
Coming up next, my colleague, Jake Tapper, he is coming into The Situation Room. We'll get his reaction to my interview with Chris Christie. We'll also discuss his brand new book, lots going on right after this.
BLITZER: Tonight, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is taking direct aim at his rival Ron DeSantis and slamming the Florida governor's new plan to strip the U.S. military of what DeSantis calls woke policies.
Listen to what Christie told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I would not ban transgender folks from the military. I don't think that's a necessary element of our military readiness, and look, out of all of these diversity programs my focus as president would be to make sure first and foremost that our military was as ready and as capable as it could be to defend the United States' interests all around the world and I'm not sure quite how that does it. I believe, as I just said, that we should not ban transgender folks and that's certainly a move that supports diversity. I don't know, and I don't think we need all these diversity programs, you know, spoon fed to our members of the military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I want to bring in my friend and colleague Jake Tapper who interviewed both of these candidates including DeSantis yesterday, a very important interview, Jake, is also out with a new book and we'll discuss that shortly, as well.
Give me your reaction to what we heard from Chris Christie.
TAPPER: Well, it's interesting because he distanced himself from Governor DeSantis the issue of not allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military in the identity -- in the gender they identify as, but what's interesting what Chris Christie said about all these diversity programs, you know, a lot of them are mandated by Congress. The Pentagon notes this, when you ask him about the diversity, equity and inclusion programs, those are in the National Defense Authorization Act and if Chris Christie or President Christie or President DeSantis doesn't wants those, it's actually not the Pentagon he should talk to. They should talk to Congress because that's -- that's where rules come from.
BLITZER: That's a good point. let's talk a little bit about "All the Demons Are Here", this is --
TAPPER: Brand new novel that takes place in 1977.
BLITZER: And you see some parallels between what was going on in the '70s and what's going on now.
TAPPER: Yeah. Some of it I have some fun with, but in 1977, that's a year that so many bizarre things happened. One of them was it was really the rise of tabloid journalism in the United States prompted by the Son of Sam serial killings in New York. So a lot of rise in tabloid journalism took place in 1977 and obviously, we see the results of that today. The tabloidization of the media in general, obviously, Rupert Murdoch's TV channel and more. Plus, in 1977, after Vietnam, after Watergate, it was really a time of
a lot of disillusionment in government by the American people, and I sense a lot of that today, as well.
BLITZER: This is a real thriller. And you've got a family, a powerful family that you create in the '70s similar to the Murdochs, right?
TAPPER: Yes. In this book, they're the Lyon family and one of the main characters, Lucy is 22, and she wants to be the next Woodward or Bernstein, but she ends up joining this tabloid called "The Washington sentinel" and she takes up with this family that is based on the Murdochs in some ways and learns about why they think tabloid journalism is the way to go, and I try to get into the mind of a Rupert Murdoch as to why he believes what he believes and leading us to where we are today when it comes to journalism.
BLITZER: A lot of -- a lot of great stuff. It's a real thriller, I must say. Congratulations on your book.
TAPPER: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: All right. Jake, thanks very much. And be sure to check out Jake's new book. It's entitled "All of the Demons are here". There you see the cover.
Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, actors are out on strike. They're pointing to the dangers of artificial intelligence and CNN's Donie O'Sullivan has a report on just how far that can go. It's coming up 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, right now, we are learning more details about private Travis King, the U.S. army soldier who crossed into North Korea and the diplomatic efforts to try to get him back. We'll have a live report from the Korean DMZ. That's coming up.
BLITZER: One day after he crossed the border into North Korea, we're getting new details right now about U.S. Army Private Travis King, including an eyewitness account of his run into North Korea where he remains right now in custody.
We're joined now by CNN senior international correspondent Will Ripley.
Will, what's the situation there? And you're on the scene for us. What's the situation there tonight?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Well, what you're seeing here, wolf, is that they've actually opened up the Unification Bridge for over an hour and they're letting in the morning traffic. And they also let in, if there were tours happening right now, the tour buses would go in this way as well. But, of course, tours are suspended because that Army Private Travis King, 23 years old, went to the joint security area which is about less than five miles that way.
And he decided to run past the guards right into North Korea. One of his fellow tour companions, there were about 40 people there, describes exactly what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH LESLIE, WITNESSED U.S. SOLDIER CROSS DMZ: I thought this was a guy doing it for a TikTok stunt or something really, really stupid like that. But he didn't stop. I heard one of the American soldiers said, get him. Some of the American soldiers said, get inside, you know, run, get inside, to all of us. So we all ran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RIPLEY: He actually had a hard time getting into North Korea, Wolf. He thought he could go through one of those buildings that straddles the joint security area, the dividing line of the DMZ there.
But the building was locked. There aren't that many North Korean guards that are on duty right now because of COVID-19 concerns.
But eventually, he jumped into a van and was whisked away and he hasn't been heard from since, at least publicly. We don't know where he's being detained, likely COVID quarantine because the North Koreans are not vaccinated. They're worried about the virus.
And then they're going to ask him about his military record. But, of course, Wolf, he wasn't in the military very long, and for almost 50 days in South Korea, he was serving time for an alleged assault. It was actually headed back to Texas to be separated from the military.
Now he's in North Korea. His whereabouts are unknown, and no official communication happening between the United States and North Korea, which means only backchannels will solve this. It could be quite a long time or could be quick. We just have no way to know, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Will Ripley on the scene for us, thank you very much.
Private King, by the way, isn't the first American citizen to be detained by the North Korean regime. And if previous experiences are a hint of what he might be going through right now, he could be in for a rather long and harsh stay.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He's got the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the accounts of Americans being detained in North Korea go back more than half a century. They are filled with tales of intrigue, harsh treatment, and dramatic attempts to extract them.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Tonight, Army Private Travis King joins a growing list of Americans who've been held by the oppressive Kim regime in North Korea. One of the best known among them, college student Otto Warmbier, arrested in 2016 while on a tour of North Korea for trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang.
GREG SCARLATOIU, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: He was arrested and imprisoned for something that, if true, would barely amount to a college frat prank anywhere in the half-decent world.
TODD: Warmbier was sentenced to hard labor. Shortly after his sentencing, he went into a coma. He was hurriedly released by the North Koreans after 17 months in captivity and died at age 22, just a few days after being returned home to Ohio.
One of the Americans held the longest inside the hermit kingdom, missionary Kenneth Bae, detained for just over two years. He told CNN after he was released about his years of hard labor in a camp.
KENNETH BAE, FORMER DETAINEE IN NORTH KOREA: Working in the field, doing farming, labor, working-- carrying rocks and shoveling coal.
TODD: American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested in North Korea in 2009. It took a high-profile mission by former President Bill Clinton to North Korea to get them out.
LAURA LING, FORMER DETAINEE IN NORTH KOREA: We fear that at any moment, we could be sent to a hard labor camp.
TODD: Analysts say if these cases are any guide, Travis King could be interrogated, possibly tortured, placed in hard labor, or --
AMB. JOSEPH DETRANI, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR NORTH KOREA: I think they're going to look at the credibility of the individual. Can they use him as a propaganda tool?
TODD: It's happened before. American soldier James Dresnok defected to North Korea in 1962. Dresnok and his sons, now adults who still have never left North Korea, acted in North Korean propaganda movies, playing the evil American.
SCARLATOIU: Do I see Travis King as a new James Dresnok? Not really.
SCARLATOIU: These are different times. This is a young man who's used to being on his phone, being on his Internet, probably playing video games.
TODD (on camera): Human rights monitor Greg Scarlatoiu advises Travis King's family to use the same tactics that the families of Otto Warmbier, Kenneth Bae and other Americans who were detained in North Korea have used, to keep their story in the media, do not let the public forget about them. Scarlatoiu says it's possible that another high-level American could be sent to North Korea to get Travis King out, but he says that's going to all depend on whether King actually wants to leave North Korea, Wolf, and we don't know that.
BLITZER: Good point. Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.
Other news we're following right now here in Washington today, the Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the United States, and I'm quoting him now, our greatest partner and friend, while addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. He also acknowledged the disagreements in Israel and the United States over the Netanyahu government's proposed judicial overhaul. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: I'm well aware of the imperfections of Israeli democracy and I'm conscious of the questions posed by our greatest of friends. The momentous debate in Israel is painful and deeply unnerving because it highlights the cracks in the whole, within the entire whole, and as president of Israel, I'm here to tell the American people and each of you, that I have great confidence in Israel democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Meanwhile, President Joe Biden warned the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop trying to rush through his controversial plan. He urged him and I'm quoting him now, he urged him to build the broadest possible consensus. He spoke during an interview with a "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.