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Sirens Blare In Ukraine As Battered Odessa Braces For New Attacks; More Witness Expected As Potential Trump Indictment Looms; GOP Spotlights Controversial RFK Jr. In Heated Hearing; Biden Administration Officials Increasingly Concerned About Texas Governor's Measures At Border With Mexico; Israeli Protesters Flood Streets As Parliament Prepares To Vote On Controversial Judicial Plan. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 20, 2023 - 18:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, air raid sirens have been blaring across Ukraine right now, as the battered city of Odessa braces for a fourth night of Russian retaliatory strikes. CNN is in the war zone where forces from Moscow and Kyiv are trading new attacks and threats. And the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States will join us live this hour.

Also tonight, CNN is learning about the special counsel's plans to call more key witnesses. The January 6th grand jury wrapping up its secret work for the day as a potential indictment of Donald Trump looms.

And House Republicans put the spotlight on a controversial Democrat who's challenging President Biden, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testifying in a heated hearing and trying to rewrite the history of his remarks that have been condemned by his party and his own famous family.

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 our coverage the night in the key Ukrainian port city of Odessa, as residents there prepare for a fourth consecutive night of Russian attacks.

CNN Senior National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is on the ground for us there. Alex, you've witnessed these attacks up close since the first night. What's the latest? ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this city is anxiously awaiting to see whether Russia intends to target after these three nights of intense attacks. These were the worst strikes over the past three nights that this city has seen since the beginning of this war.

We just heard from President Zelenskyy in his nightly address saying that over the past four days, some 90 Shahed drones have been fired at Southern Ukraine and some 70 missiles. Just last night, we saw Russia use four different kinds of cruise missiles, long-range strategic bombers. They fired all of these drones. At least three people were killed last night in both the city of Mykolaiv and here in the city of Odessa.

Wolf, we went to one of those sites that was struck by a missile earlier today in downtown Odessa. It was right next to the port, but this was just a normal civilian administration building. This had nothing to do with the port or the grain infrastructure. This had nothing to do with the military. This was a multistory building that was taken down by a Russian missile.

At least one person killed inside. We saw fire still coming from the rubble, firefighters trying to put those fires out. There was all kinds of destruction for blocks around there, windows shattered, trees knocked down. There was dust all over the place. Both countries, Ukraine and Russia, going back and forth over what they say is the reason for these Russian strikes.

Russia says that it is retaliation for Ukraine's attack on that Kerch Bridge, the bridge that is connected to Crimea, earlier on Monday. They argue that the sea drones that were used to attack that bridge came from here in Odessa, while Ukraine, Wolf, says that it is the grain structure, the grain infrastructure that Russia is targeting since they have now pulled out of that grain deal. They're going after these different ports, going after the grain infrastructure because it is from these ports that Ukraine sends its grain all around the world and so much of that is bolstered the Ukrainian economy and keeping up the global food supplies. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex, I know you also have some new information involving those U.S.-provided cluster bombs to Ukraine. What are you hearing from your sources?

MARQUARDT: Well, we have multiple sources saying that Ukraine is now using those very controversial American cluster munitions. Sources telling my colleagues, Oren Liebermann, Natasha Bertrand and myself, that they have been used. We have reported, we broke the news last week, Wolf, that those cluster munitions are now in country. We now know that they are being used.

The question is how effective they will be, Wolf. There's a debate over that. I spoke to a Ukrainian general last week who said that they would radically impact the battlefield. Others say that they have to be used strategically, say, if groups of Russian soldiers are gathering, that's the kind of target you would use for cluster munitions. But, Wolf, everybody agrees that there's a shortage of artillery ammunition. And so no matter what kind of artillery ammunition is sent to Ukraine, whether it's the standard artillery or these cluster munitions, that is certainly help in this artillery fight during this counteroffensive, Wolf.


BLITZER: Alex Marquardt in Odessa for us, stay safe over there, Alex. Thank you very much.

I'm joined now by two guests to discuss all these late-breaking developments in Ukraine, CNN Military Analyst, retired General Wesley Clark, also joining us, William Taylor, to former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Ambassador Taylor, Odessa and Mykolaiv are brutally being destroyed right now. How much are Ukrainians bracing for -- I assume they anticipate this is about to get even worse.

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: This is about to get worse, Wolf, you're exactly right. And I'm sure there are efforts to bolster air defenses around Odessa and other ports. This is a cynical move by the Russians. They can't do anything very well on the ground. All they can do is fire missiles and these drones. They're failing in their military effort, but what they try to do is attack civilian targets, including these ports. They apparently destroyed some 60,000 tons of grain that was going to the world. So, this is a cynical move by the Russians.

BLITZER: It certainly is. General Clark, I know the U.S. has announced it's sending more sophisticated air defense systems to Ukraine, at least in the long-term. But what does Ukraine do now when it's only able to shoot down a small percentage of the missiles the Russians are launching against these civilian targets? Zelenskyy just said Russia has used almost 70 missiles in the south these past few days.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, the only thing they can do, as Ambassador Taylor said, they can redeploy some systems. And they're not going to redeploy the Patriot systems because Ukraine is Kyiv. And so if you don't defend Kyiv, you don't defend Ukraine.

The other cities, Dnipro and Odessa and other cities in the Ukrainian heartland, they may be getting some additional systems. The United States has kind of provided a couple of more NASAMS systems that are medium-range air defense systems, but they're not there yet. And so for now, Ukraine is going to suffer.

But, Wolf, you have to look at the bigger picture of this. There is a Russian force buildup in the northeast. The Russians have held in the south, in Zaporizhzhia, including stripping some of their own assets out. That's why the 58th Combined Arms (ph) Army commander was complaining and then fired because of it. Prigozhin is now in Belarus. We don't know what he's doing but he has got troops, he has got a big encampment we've seen pictures of. And so you have to believe there is a Russian strategy here.

And I think when we say that it's all over, it's lost and the administration seems to think it can coast into an easy end to this and then go to negotiations sometime in the autumn, not necessarily so. As we always said in the military, the enemy has a vote. And Putin -- there's no indication thus far that Putin believes he's out of options.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. General Clark, Ambassador Taylor, thanks to both of you.

Joining us now, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Odessa and Mykolaiv, they haven't seen a barrage like this in a long time. I know you heard that President Zelenskyy says almost 70 Russian missiles and 90 Iranian Shahed drones have hit Southern Ukraine over the past couple of days. Do you fear this is about to get even worse?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Wolf, for having me and thank you for drawing attention to this. It's very important, not only to Ukraine. I mean, yes, it's brutal war crimes, and let's be very open. The only reason for this is not retaliation for something. The only reason is a criminal intent and the criminal war that Russia started in 2014 and restarted in 2022. They have no business being on the territory in Ukraine, occupying Ukraine or shooting at Ukraine.

But with these horrific attacks on Odessa, Odessa region, on Mykolaiv, not only they are brutally destroying the civilian infrastructure, not only they are killing people, injuring, including five children injured and one child killed, but also they are attacking 200 million people globally who rely upon Ukrainian supply of food.

And this is a continuation of their war crimes in addition to them pulling out from the grain deal which, again, sent grain and other produce to 45 countries during even this wartime. So, this is attack against us, a continued war crime against Ukraine, but also attack on so many countries, including African countries, including Asian countries, where Russia would like to at least increase the prices but also create hunger.


And it's up to all of us, not only Ukraine, but we are calling on all of our partners and friends in the U.N. under the auspicious of U.N. and in bilateral formats to clearly say no to Russia, no to war crimes but also no to them attacking and destroying food, which is so much needed in so many places.

BLITZER: The U.S., as you know, Ambassador, is working to send more sophisticated air defense systems to Ukraine, including more of the top of the line NASAMS air defenses. In the long-term, that will be significant, I'm sure. But what about right now, what immediate support does Ukraine need? MARKAROVA: Yes, thank you, Wolf. As you know, we were discussing it on a bilateral format, literally, on a daily basis. There was Ramstein meeting recently, our ministers called, our (INAUDIBLE) discussed with each other. We need all the supplies that we can get, all the air defense that we can get, but we also need all the artillery in order to advance so that we can get Russians out from Ukraine as soon as possible, which will also have an attack on -- have an effect on their possibility to shoot.

Now, also today, and I want to praise the State Department and the Treasury for, again, announcing a very comprehensive package of additional sanctions, additional banks, additional companies that are involved in manufacturing these missile, drones and everything else. We need to do more of that. This is time when I understand that the production is not as quick, but we have to double down in providing all the support but also sanctioning Russia, sanctioning for each of the actions and denying them not only opportunity to make money to conduct this war but also buying all the spare parts and the equipment needed for the military production.

BLITZER: Ambassador Oksana Markova, good luck to you, good luck to all the people of Ukraine. Thanks very much for join us.

MARKAROVA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're getting new information right now on the special counsel's plans to call yet more key witnesses before the January 6th grand jury. What might that reveal about the timing of a potential Trump indictment? Stay with us.



BLITZER: The grand jury here in Washington investigating 2020 election interference just wrapped up its work for the day. We are learning the panel is expected to hear from more key witnesses, even as anticipation is clearly building about a potential indictment of Donald Trump.

CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us. Evan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tell us, first of all, about the key witnesses that were called once again and more witnesses presumably could be called again.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. There are more witnesses, Wolf. We know of at least a former attorney who is expected to come in. Witnesses are being called and ask for more evidence that the special counsel is still gathering as part of this investigation.

We know witnesses at least for another next few weeks ahead of -- beyond this week when, of course, the former president received his target letter. That tells us that the special counsel is continuing to do their investigation. It's quite possible they may bring an indictment against the former president and continue to do their investigation against other people who are accused of being part of the effort to overturn the election.

We know that the former president is preparing for that possibility. He's adding a new member to his legal team. Again, another indication that he knows this is coming.

And all of this, Wolf, as we were at the courthouse today, we saw Will Russell, one of his close aides, he was there in the administration, was with the former president on January 6th and he continues to work with the former president. He's been before the grand jury before. This is his third time. And we know at least from some of the goings on today that there was the issue of executive privilege that came up during the questioning by prosecutors before the grand jury.

Again, the grand jury wrapped up today. We know of no indictment that has been handed up yet. But, you know, that could come in the next few days.

BLITZER: We shall see, obviously, all bracing for that. Stay with us, Evan. I also want to bring in more of our legal and political experts.

George Conway, Trump got this target letter, as we all know, earlier in the week but investigators want to hear, we just heard, from more witnesses, including Bernie Kerik, who worked closely with Rudy Giuliani. What does that tell you?

GEORGE CONWAY, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I don't think it necessarily tells us that there won't be an indictment of Donald Trump soon. We just don't know. We don't know exactly what the special counsel is doing.

I think the fact that we have heard from Trump, and I assume that's accurate, that there -- it has been a target letter issued to him, tells us that we shouldn't have -- we won't be waiting that long for Trump to be indicted. That said, it doesn't mean that the special counsel has to stop investigating. In fact, it makes sense for the special counsel to keep looking for evidence, even if he thinks that he has got enough already.

BLITZER: You pointed out, George, that Mark Meadows has been quiet, despite his legal exposure in this case. Do you think he's actually cooperating with the special counsel?

CONWAY: Again, there's no way of knowing, but it is passing strange that I think two years ago he was leading the charge for Trump 2024. He showed up in Bedminster and he was playing king of the roost. And, obviously, he had his people doing his book then, as we've seen in the other investigation. But he's been very quiet ever since.

And you have to wonder why that is. He hasn't put in as many appearances as you might have expected him to at various Trumpy events. He's been very, very quiet, staying out of the media.


Now, it could be just lawyers giving him advice to say there's nothing good that can happen if you go on the air, but you have to think there's something. This is a man who likes the limelight, likes being the center, like being the chief of staff. He's been awfully quiet.

PEREZ: And that's the subject of a lot of speculation among people around the former president. They want to know exactly what he's saying. And the fact that they don't know leads a lot of speculation.

I will say, Meadows' own legal team says the only thing they'll say is he told the truth because he's had to testify. And, of course, he's played a big role in a lot of this, right? I mean, it's his book that was, of course, being researched and where this recording emerged from. So, he's a huge part of this case. And as George points out, we don't know much about what he said.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: He's also a firsthand witness. He is the man who is in the room making appointments, you know, bringing people --

PEREZ: Putting some of the pressure on those state officials.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes, he was the White House chief of staff during all of this --

GANGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: -- while that was going on. So, he potentially has a lot of information about the mindset.

But give us -- this is a sprawling investigation and it's continuing and continuing and continuing.

GANGEL: So, to the point that Evan was making about it continuing, several of very senior former Justice Department officials have told me that we should expect an indictment and then we should expect the investigation to go on after that. One said to me, they can walk and chew gum.

But when we look at this, just think about, we've seen dozens of witnesses. We've seen Meadows, Rudy, former Vice President Pence, family members, secret service officials, campaign officials, White House inner circle. So, it has been extensive.

But what's interesting is we have not heard about any other target letters. There may be some, but it could be, one source said to me, that the special counsel wants to move very quickly, and so he may be proceeding with a rather narrow first indictment against Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Jeff, on the political side, how are Trump's 2024 Republican rivals, presidential wannabes, if you will, how are they reacting to this sprawling investigation?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, things are essentially frozen in place here. I mean, he's a candidate for president. He's leading the way in every sense. And, you know, his rivals have been walking a very fine line. We have heard a little more nuanced, not criticism, you know, some raising questions about this. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said today, nobody is above the law, but then went on to say in the next breath, as they always do, this is not as black and white as a bank robbery would be, for example.

So, everyone now -- most of the Republican candidates, with the exception of Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, are saying the Justice Department has been weaponized. They're using this as a way to galvanize Republican support. But the bottom line is, this race is frozen in place and that helps Donald Trump for now, at least.

But I do think talking to a variety of Republicans that this indictment may be viewed in a different way because of the substance of it, January 6th. It's much more sort of in our public mind and consciousness than the classified documents and the Alvin Bragg case in Manhattan, which seems a long time ago. January 6th is seared in our minds.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is.

George, Republicans, many of them, including Trump's -- many of Trump's 2024 rivals, including Ron DeSantis, they argue that Trump couldn't get a fair trial here in Washington, D.C. What do you think?

CONWAY: I think he can get a perfectly fair trial anywhere. I think his problem is the evidence. He got a fair trial in New York in the Jean Carroll case, where there was a fellow who was on the jury who listened to a right wing podcast and he joined the rest of the jurors in returning a verdict of $5 million for Jean Carroll within two or three hours of the jury being sent into the deliberations room.

And I just don't think there's any -- there are going to be people there who are going to be -- you know, they'll have different political views. Obviously, the District of Columbia is a good venue for the prosecution, but these are going to be very smart, very intelligent and very fair-minded people if the judge does the voir dire correctly.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, thank you very much. The investigation, obviously, continues.

Coming up, Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the hot seat up on Capitol Hill today insisting he didn't make some of the very controversial claims he's been heard saying in public.



BLITZER: House Republicans handed a microphone today to a Democratic presidential candidate known for making often baseless and conspiratorial claims. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stirred up even more controversy when he tried to dispute things he said publicly.

Brian Todd has more on the fiery congressional hearing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. today issued several questionable defenses of his own conspiratorial claims, claiming the Biden administration has been trying to silence him, telling a House panel this about his campaign against vaccines.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR., DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've never been at any vaccine. Everybody in this room probably believes that I have been, because that's the prevailing narrative.

TODD: An assertion that is false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of America's most aggressive, vocal, prominent, anti-vaxxers, and has been for years. I'm sure people have been hearing him link child vaccinations and autism, even if there is no such link. And it doesn't even stop there. He has in recent public remarks claimed that the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was not a flu at all but was caused by vaccine research. That is completely bonkers. That's a debunked Facebook, Instagram meme.

TODD: Kennedy has baselessly called COVID vaccines unsafe. Today, he made this claim.

KENNEDY: I have never told the public avoid vaccination.

TODD: But CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale points out he did claim in a 2021 podcast to have told people just that.

KENNEDY: I seen somebody on a hiking trail carrying a little baby and I said, don't get them vaccinated.

TODD: Kennedy also said this today.

KENNEDY: In my entire life, and why I'm under oath, in my entire life, I have never uttered a phrase that was either racist or anti- Semitic.

TODD: But it was just last week that a New York Post video showed Kennedy making this baseless claim.

KENNEDY: COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Jews and Chinese.

TODD: He denied that his comments suggested that the virus was targeted to spare Jews.

Then there was this exchange with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Do you think it was just as hard to wear a mask during COVID as it was to hide under floor boards or false walls so you weren't murdered or dragged to a concentration camp?

KENNEDY: Of course not, that's ridiculous.

SCHULTZ: Okay. That's a comparison that you made --

KENNEDY: I did not make that comparison.

TODD: But he did seem to make that comparison last year.

KENNEDY: Even in Hitler Germany, you could cross the alps to Switzerland, you can hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did.

It's possible today the mechanisms are being put in place that will make us -- that none of us can run and none of us can hide.

TODD: Analysts say Republicans on the House panel who invited him to testify see Kennedy as someone who can validate their claims about Democrats.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: The idea that Democrats want to censure critics or that Democrats want to take away people's freedoms vis-a-vis COVID or masking or vaccinations.


TODD (on camera): Analysts point out this is a far cry from the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of several years ago, who was a credible and effective environmental lawyer, spending years spearheading a successful effort to clean up the Hudson River and founding an environmental group devoted to water protection plans that worked all around the world. Wolf, this seems like a very, very different person.

BLITZER: He certainly does. Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.

Let's discuss all of this with our political commentators, Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart.

Bakari, despite RFK Jr.'s record that you just heard, he's still polling, what, an average of about 15 percent to 20 percent with Democrats. That's clearly not negligible. What does that say to you? BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would actually say

it is negligible, Wolf. I think when you have someone who is president of the United States, like Joe Biden, who is polling 80 percent, 85 percent, and you have RFK Jr. just barely tipping the scale, you know, it's not much of a heavyweight battle, to say the least. But the fact is that RFK Jr. actually polls better with many Republicans than he does Democrats.

And what you saw today was the equivalent of someone's drunk uncle. I mean, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the fact that he seems disconnected from even who he was, all of these pose a problem.

And the only way that you have to fact-check RFK Jr. is with his own words. I said it once, I say again, you know, this apple not only fell far from the tree but it rolled onto another orchard. This is not the Robert Kennedy that we knew. He doesn't look to be the Kennedy family that many Democrats know. And he's more popular with Republicans than he actually is with Democrats.

BLITZER: Alice, should Republicans be giving him a platform?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think if the goal was to put a spotlight on federal government censorship by Democrats, RFK Jr. is not the poster child for that argument. And, look, he is clearly an equal opportunity offender. His conspiracy theories and his lies are broad, not just talking about vaccines. He's talked about gender dysphoria, he has talked about the CIA allegedly being involved in the assassination of his uncle, and even so far as to claim the Republicans stole the 2004 election with George w. Bush.

So, his conspiracy theories attack both sides and he is clearly not the person that needs to be making this case.


But the fact that Democrats today went to such great lengths and such vocal opposition to try to silence him and keep him out of a platform, that says more about President Biden than it does about RFK Jr., because, clearly, RFK Jr. is somehow rather making a connection with some Democratic voters.

And to your point, Wolf, if he's able to get 15 percent at this point with all of these conspiracy theories out there, any time he has a platform, the likelihood of him winning over more voters that are disenfranchised with President Biden is much greater.

BLITZER: Bakari, on a possible third-party bid from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, I want you to listen to what Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said today. Listen to this.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AL): If it's a matchup between Biden and Trump, I know exactly where I'd go. I would go with -- I would go with Joe Manchin. I am one who doesn't like to use my vote for the lesser of evils. I want to be proactive in who I think could do the job. I think Manchin can do the job. But will our system allow for that? That I don't know.


BLITZER: Should Democrats take that possibility of a Manchin run more seriously?

SELLERS: First of all, I don't know anybody who believes Senator Murkowski. I think that she is not being totally honest about that. We know that if the question for Senator Murkowski is between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, she will choose not Joe Manchin, but she will choose to support and prop up Donald Trump.

But Democrats, to answer your question directly, do need to be concerned about a third party. We've seen it before. We saw Jill Stein just recently in the election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. We've seen the role that third parties can play.

But my just warning lights to Democrats would not be to be concerned about Joe Manchin or RFK Jr. Joe Manchin is full of self. RFK Jr. Is full of things I don't want to say on your show, Wolf. My concern would be the couch. We have to energize voters so they get off the couch and come vote for Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Alice, what do you think?

STEWART: Look, we've seen a Quinnipiac poll that came out this week that shows that 50 percent of American voters do not want to see a rematch of Biden and Trump. They're disenchanted with a rematch idea. So, that does open the door and the possibility for a potentially third-party ticket.

The challenge is that the No Labels organization has a hefty mountain to climb in terms of getting on the ballot in each of these states. So, that will be very difficult. But, clearly, if it's Manchin, it should be a concern for Democrats.

BLITZER: Alice Stewart, Bakari Sellers, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, the former Trump national security adviser turned harsh critic of the former president, John Bolton, joins us to discuss the possibility of a third Trump indictment and what he calls the worst outcome of potential Trump acquittal.



BLITZER: There's new evidence tonight that the January 6th federal grand jury has more work ahead, even as Donald Trump is clearly bracing for the likelihood he'll be indicted again.

Joining us now, the former Trump national security adviser, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

I know you've said that the worst outcome for the country would be a Trump acquittal in any of these cases. Why do you believe that? And how likely is that, in your view?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, the mandate that the various prosecutors have is to bring cases where they feel they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. And I hope in all the cases that are either have been brought or being considered, they believe a lot more strongly than that, that there's no doubt at all.

It's beyond a reasonable doubt. Because if Trump is acquitted in any of the cases, he will argue this proves his point that this was all political persecution, that it was a witch hunt, and that will benefit him in his search for the Republican nomination for president. And I think it will benefit him in the general election. I think it's very important to get some of these cases anyway brought to trial before the election. But the stakes are high. If Trump is convicted, I think that will be an earthquake that could stop him from getting the presidency. If he's acquitted, as I say, he could go all the way.

BLITZER: I want you to watch and listen to what Republican Presidential Candidate Chris Christie told me yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM about the possibility of a third Trump indictment. Listen to this.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Short-term gain, long-term pain. In the short-term, what it does is people rally around their team, Wolf, and we see 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 were 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.


BLITZER: I know, Ambassador, you say these indictments have boosted Trump's support, at least right now, but do you see that changing as his legal troubles play out in 2024?

BOLTON: I do not. I once did. I once thought there are going to be so many rocks in the bottom of his boat, so many legal troubles that it will sink him. I don't think that's the case. I think the only thing that matters now is to get one or more of the real cases, not the New York case, but the two federal cases and possibly the Georgia case to trial before the election and get convictions.


Everything else that people are talking about, in my view on the legal side, is niff-naff. If you don't get these cases to trial before the election, the federal cases are going to disappear, and the state cases may proceed. That is true, but whether Trump pays any attention to them if the verdict is the wrong way is a different question. It's a constitutional crisis.

I think the stakes are that high that. That -- certainly on the federal investigation side, every effort has got to be made to get these cases to trial. And that's why I think on the so-called January 6th case, we'll see when the indictment comes out, I think the first indictment against Trump will be tailored narrowly with the objective of getting a trial before the election. And I think that's the right approach.

BLITZER: We shall see. While I have you, Ambassador, quick question, as the former national security adviser, that would be you, I also want your analysis of the American soldier who crossed into North Korea. What do you believe may have spurred him?

BOLTON: Well, you know, this is the worst mistake this young man ever made, whatever his motive was. Maybe he thought he could escape punishment or discharge dishonorably from the military by not coming back to the United States. He's now in the hands of the North Koreans. It's hard to imagine a worse place other than maybe Taliban or al Qaeda.

I don't know what condition he's ever going to come back in. The tragedy of Otto Warmbier tells us that there's a real aspect he may not come back at all, or the North Koreans will use him for a bargaining chip. It was an incredibly foolish thing to do.

Now, that said, we still got an obligation to get him back, unless he renounces his citizenship. The military wants him for disciplinary proceedings now, possibly including desertion.

So, I think we ought to go to the North Koreans and say, answer your phone, we want this fellow back. Civilized nations would exchange -- would bring this prisoner back. Whether the North Koreans will is an open question.

BLITZER: We shall see. John Bolton, thanks very much for joining us.

We'll have more news right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, we are learning more about the Biden administration's efforts to get to the bottom of new reports alleging migrants have been mistreated at the southern border by Texas state troopers.

CNN's White House reporter Priscilla Alvarez is digging in on this.

Priscilla, you've been doing some excellent reporting and that your latest reporting suggesting that the White House is growing increasingly concerned by these reports from the Texas-Mexico border. Tell our viewers what you're learning.


Texas Governor Greg Abbott had launched this operation in 2021 as an affront to President Biden and his immigration policies. It's an operation that

White House officials and administration officials were monitoring for some time, but they have grown increasingly concerned amid the troubling reports that have come about Texas trooper sending migrants back to Mexico and not giving them water in the blistering heat.

Now, this ultimately led this week to us learning that the Justice Department in its first public acknowledgement is going to assess the situation on the ground which could be the first step toward an investigation and that is a significant development and goes to show, Wolf, how concerning this has become within the White House and within the administration writ large.

Now, going back to those reports, what we have learned from a memo from a medic with the Texas Department of Public Safety is that there have been incidents of migrants who have been injured by the razor wiring put up by Texas Governor Greg Abbott as well as children fainting because of the heat and we learned of a 19-year-old who was trapped in the razor wire while having a miscarriage. You can see some of the images there and the injuries that have been sustained.

And, of course, Wolf, I have been to the border multiple times and migrants do die when they cross. And so, it's hard when I talk to agents to make the direct correlation, but they are noticing more injuries and there is concern now leading, Wolf, to this potential investigation by the Justice Department after their assessment.

BLITZER: All right. Good reporting, Priscilla. Thank you very much.

Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", right after THE SITUATION ROOM, Erin will speak with the sheriff in the Gilgo Beach serial killer case. That's coming 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right after THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we'll be back with more news right after this.



BLITZER: Finally tonight, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is defending his controversial judicial overhaul as protesters take to the streets and parliament. The Israeli Knesset prepares to cast the first vote on the plan.

CNN's Hadas Gold has more from Jerusalem.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just one day after President Isaac Herzog addressed the joint meeting of Congress and after just one day after another public warning from President Joe Biden to back off the judicial overhaul plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his own short speech to the people of Israel on Thursday evening indicating he's still pushing ahead anyway as part of this judicial overhaul legislation. It's expected to come up for its final votes in the next few days.

This legislation that's coming up for its final votes will strip the Supreme Court's ability of deeming government actions unreasonable. Now, keep in mind, the Supreme Court in Israel is the only check on government actions that Israel has.

Now, Netanyahu blamed the opposition parties for the break down of previous talks, those that were hosted by Israel President Isaac Herzog in recent month, but said he is still open to negotiations and talks on this upcoming legislation even though the votes are still scheduled to happen for next week no matter what. But Netanyahu saved his greatest criticism for the protesters who he said were blocking streets and train stations and causing chaos and what he said were pushing falsehoods about this overhaul and especially for the military reservists who have said that they will not served, well, some of them have said they will not serve because of this legislation, calling that a true threat to Israeli democracy. Take a listen.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): All of the remarks about the destruction of democracy is simply absurd. This is an attempt to mislead you over something with no basis in reality. What does affect democracy is refusal to serve. Refusal to serve endangers the security of every citizen of Israel.

GOLD: Netanyahu's words, if anything, only sparking even more protest, impromptu demonstrations taking place on Thursday evening as Netanyahu was speaking and as he wrapped up we saw videos of protesters facing water canons and police trying to block highways again across Israel, all they say in an angry response to what Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday evening -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Hadas Gold reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.

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.