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Trump Leads Not Guilty Twice In 24 Hours With Plea To New Charges In Classified Documents Case; Sources: Ex-President Irked That Judge Called Him "Mr. Trump"; DeSantis: Trump's Election Fraud Theories Were Not True; U.S. And European Officials Concerned Putin's War Planning Depends On 2024 U.S. Presidential Election; Trump Back On Trail After Historic Third Arraignment; DeSantis: New Trump Charges "Politically Motivated"; Defense Secretary Warns Tuberville's Blockade Having "Cascading Effect" On Military Operations; Ukrainian Sea Drone Hits Russian Navy Ship In Black Sea; NYPD Responds To Huge, Chaotic Crowd In Union Square. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 04, 2023 - 17:00   ET


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: And all about 30,000 objects are expected to go for upwards of $14 million. What a cool story.

And be sure to tune in to State of the Union on Sunday morning. CNN's Dana Bash will be talking to 2024 Republican presidential candidates Mike Pence and Chris Christie, plus Donald Trump's lawyer, John Lauro. It is 09:00 a.m. on Sunday at noon and at 09:00 a.m. And our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the "Situation Room."


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Donald Trump quietly pleads not guilty to additional charges in the classified documents case in Florida, a day after his very dramatic arrest and arraignment in the January 6 investigation.

Also tonight, dramatic video captures a brazen Ukrainian drone attack on a major Russian naval base, leaving a Kremlin warship badly damaged as it was towed from the Black Sea.

And Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles returns to the spotlight. The gymnastics star attempting to make a comeback this weekend, two years after taking a mental health break.

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 entering two not guilty pleas within 24 hours. The former president of the United States just filed his response to additional charges in the classified documents case a day after the historic spectacle of his January 6 arraignment here in Washington. CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is following all of this for us.

Katelyn, remind us what these additional Mar-a-Lago charges are all about. KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, these are charges we do know about because Donald Trump was hit with them about a week ago. They build on the case that was originally charged against him in Florida, in the Southern District of Florida, about the retention of classified records, national defense secrets after his presidency, as well as obstruction. So the additional charges that he's pleading not guilty to in this signed document, so he's not going to have to formally go in front of the judge personally in Florida, he's signing the paper pleading not guilty. It's one additional count of willful retention of documents. And that document, that is the plan to bomb Iran or to have an attack in Iran that was -- he says was provided to him by Mark Milley. And there's audio tape of him waving that record around from the Pentagon after his presidency to people who don't have security clearances.

There's also two additional obstruction counts he's pleading not guilty to. Those are about obstructing the ability of the Justice Department to get access to surveillance video or trying to get it, because that surveillance video showed others in his operation moving boxes that would have documents.

BLITZER: And I thought it was interesting that Trump today also called on the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved in all of this.

POLANTZ: He did. He actually posted on social media his latest statement after we saw him in court yesterday, saying, "My political opponent has hit me with a barrage of weak lawsuits, including D.A., A.G. and others," those would be the entities bringing those cases, "which require massive amounts of my time and money to adjudicate. It is election interference, and the Supreme Court must intercede."

Wolf, he's not wrong, then it does take massive amounts of time and money to adjudicate cases, criminal and civil, but Donald Trump is a private citizen. At this time his lawyers are going to make arguments about him being a political candidate, whether that will actually have meaning to judges, so much so that it would take him out of the game in court, we will have to wait and see if judges actually buy that argument. They may not. And then two, he's saying he wants to have the Supreme Court step in, it's not that easy. You can't just snap your fingers and have the Supreme Court step in, especially in criminal cases. Really hard to appeal before things go to trial.

BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty amazing. All right, thanks very much, Katelyn. Don't go too far away. We got some more questions for you. Stay with us.

We're also joined by CNN Political Director David Chalian and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.

And Shan, how will Trump's defense now shape up, given all these legal cases that are about to unfold?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, for the documents case, I think primarily it's going to be what we call in criminal justice a nullification defense, which is he will have a hard time making a specific legal defense. He talks about wanting to say that the Presidential Records Act protects him, but that's wrong. Legally, he might still try to raise it with the jury, trying to get them to say that, oh, maybe he was confused about that, he got bad advice, and of course, he was a very busy man at the time so he overlooked this. So that's primarily what I would do if I was his defense counsel there is try to get clouded up a little bit with his understanding and try to get the jury to be somewhat sympathetic to him.


BLITZER: I know, David, you're getting a little hint on how the American public is responding to these legal issues right now, some new polls.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, there was an ABC News Ipsos poll out today, Wolf, that was sort of a snap poll of a two day period in the immediate aftermath of this indictment being revealed. And take a look whether or not Americans believe the charges here are serious, 65 percent in this poll say the charges in this case are serious, efforts to overturn the 2020 elections, more so than say that about the classified documents case at 61 percent or the hush money payment case, 52 percent. Also, whether or not the efforts to overturn the 2020 election are serious.

I want you to look at this by party, and you will see some differences here. You note that 65 percent is what everyone says is serious, right? Ninety-one percent of Democrats say that, 38 percent of Republicans, Wolf, say that, and 67 percent of Independents. That is the political story of our times, that 65 percent of the overall public could believe that these are serious, but that just roughly just a little more than a third of Republicans say so.

And then, whether or not Trump should have been charged for efforts to overturn the election, a majority of Americans say yes, 52 percent. Again, 89 percent of Democrats say that only 14 percent of Republicans believe he should be charged. This is why Donald Trump remains so dominant in the race for the Republican nomination, but why many Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are concerned that he's not the best foot forward as a general election nominee next fall.

BLITZER: It underscores how divided the country is right now.

CHALIAN: Without a doubt.

BLITZER: Certainly does. Katelyn, I know you were inside the courtroom yesterday, it was pretty dramatic inside. We're about to see some of the most important cases ever in U.S. history go before a trial and a jury. What are the chances of those trials being televised?

POLANTZ: None. I wish I were wrong. It is none.

There are no cameras in federal court. There are no photos in federal court. It would take a lot of judges who are sitting currently and who have positions of power to make a change, and they just have never had appetite in that position to allow cameras in court, even for something like this. Seeing a former president tried, seeing the proceedings, explaining to the American public what is happening there. But I will say we do a lot to make sure that our viewership and that readers across America can actually understand what's happening moment by moment in court.

In the Southern District of Florida, in federal court, it was difficult. We used high schoolers and payphones to run information out to our producers and anchors and correspondents. But then in D.C. yesterday, we actually have had a wonderful response from that court to support the media, to support transparency. And we have been able to take computers in to watch through closed circuit television, to use phones, being able to type and share the news as it's coming in, as it's happening in a real time feed, which is what we're going to have to do going forward in these federal cases, because all you get for images are the court sketch artists who are drawing them in real time when they're sitting there.

BLITZER: That's petty, cameras in their courtroom for the American public and the world to see what's going on would be so significant indeed.

David, it's going to be a packed political and legal calendar that's coming up. Talk a little bit about that.

CHALIAN: To say the least, I mean, just think, yesterday the former president was in federal court pleading not guilty to these charges. Today he's on the campaign trail in Alabama tonight accepting the endorsements of the Alabama congressional delegation. This is going to be the zigzag he has to perform throughout.

And in fact, in his truth social posting today, I thought we got some insight into his thinking, which is that he acknowledged that this is draining resources and time, these court cases away from his campaign. And it was the first time the former president really gave insight to that notion that he is aware that it is not just going to be all systems go on this campaign because this also demands his attention and his money.

BLITZER: Yes, money is very important because it's draining millions of dollars going to legal fees as opposed to going to advertising.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: Or whatever. Talk a little bit about, Shan, if you think Trump can actually avoid all of this and evade all of these trials if he's reelected president.

WU: Well, if he's reelected president, he can avoid this. If he was already convicted, maybe he'd pardon himself, but he can really delay it to the point where the prosecutions would not happen. He can handpick an attorney general who would simply dismiss the cases. Or at plan B, prevail upon DOJ to say, oh, now that you're elected, we just have to put a pause on this until after your term is up. So that's why for him, just as the money is intertwined, the legal defense strategy is one and the same with his campaign strategy right now.

BLITZER: But can a sitting president pardon himself? WU: Well, we've never tested that before, but I don't see any reason why he can't. I mean, I'm not sure how you would challenge his ability to do that.


CHALIAN: On federal charges.

WU: Federal, yes, absolutely.

CHALIAN: Right, yes.


WU: Absolutely correct.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very, very much. Katelyn, thank you to you as well.

Coming up, a prominent Trump critic on the back to back not guilty pleas by the former and potentially, potentially future president, Ambassador John Bolton joins us next. Plus, we'll assess the damage to Russia after Ukraine unleashed an unmanned attack drone on a Kremlin warship.


BLITZER: The unprecedented array of criminal charges against Donald Trump underscored tonight by the fact that the former President of the United States just pleaded not guilty twice in 24 hours. Joining us now, the former Trump national security advisor, former US. Ambassador to the United Nations, former Trump supporter turned critic of the former president right now, John Bolton. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Trump has now pleaded, as I just said, not guilty twice in 24 hours in the classified documents case down in Florida, the January 6 case here in Washington. How will history remember this moment?


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think it will remember through the reverse prism of what the outcome of this case and the documents case turn out to be. If he's convicted, this will be another significant point in history. But if he's acquitted, the only thing that anybody's going to remember is that he's acquitted. And that's why as correct as this course of action is, nobody should think that the indictment alone achieves anything. It doesn't achieve anything more than simply being a prerequisite to go to trial.

BLITZER: Well, the fact is that no president, sitting or former, has ever been criminally charged along these lines. This is a historic first. BOLTON: Yes. No president's ever been convicted either. That's the headline that's going to matter. It's like Nancy Pelosi famously saying, he will always be impeached. Well, that's just wonderful, because he was always acquitted, too.

And the acquittal, especially in the first impeachment trial made him even more convinced than he was before that he was bulletproof and that he could pretty much do what he wanted. So, you know, as Machiavelli said, more or less, you must either caress people or crush them. And the way Trump has been treated so far by beating these earlier charges is he's been caressed and he's been made more powerful, certainly in his own mind. So, while I certainly agree with both of the federal indictments, I just say again, they better get a conviction.

BLITZER: We shall see what happens during the trial. One aspect of yesterday's hearing, as you know, Ambassador, that clearly frustrated Trump was the judge who was presiding referring to him simply as Mr. Trump, not Mr. President, as he's called, of course, at the Gulf Resorts and elsewhere. What's your reaction to that?

BOLTON: Well, I think that is perfectly consistent with my take on Trump's personality. But you know, what he translates that into immediately is, how am I going to get even? How am I going to turn this to my advantage? And I'm sure while he was steaming at the moment, it was transmuted on the flight on Trump one back to New Jersey about how he was going to make the most of it.

BLITZER: Many of Trump's 2024 Republican rivals clearly have struggled to counter his election lies. I want you to listen to Governor Ron DeSantis today. He was asked if the 2020 election was stolen. Listen to this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Was not an election that was conducted the way I think we want to, but that's different than saying, like, Maduro stole votes or something like that. And I think those theories, you know, prove to be unsubstantiated.


BLITZER: Does that go far enough? Why does it seem so difficult for so many Republicans to fully rebuke Trump on this issue?

BOLTON: Well, they can speak for themselves, I think, as just a matter of pure politics forget , you know, morality and legality and all that stuff, just a matter of pure politics. The person who's going to take the nomination of the Republican Party away from Trump is the person who takes Trump head on and rolls over him. And if you're not prepared to say that Trump's conduct was unacceptable, that he may well have violated the law, and in any event, he's not fit to be president, as his first term record shows, you're not going to beat Trump for the nomination. So, a number of these Republican candidates, I think, could win a general election against Joe Biden or any other Democratic nominee, but to get there, they can't go around Trump. They can't ignore him.

They've got to go over him. And until they get that mindset, I think they're doomed to lose.

BLITZER: Yes, only a few of them have done that. CNN has learned, Ambassador, that top U.S. officials fear Vladimir Putin is waiting out the 2024 election, hoping that if President Biden loses, the U.S. will scale back its support for Ukraine. As Trump's former national Security advisor, does that disturb you?

BOLTON: Well, it worries me because of what Trump has said about Ukraine and, frankly, what he said about NATO. But I think Putin's strategy is a little bit different. I think he wants to see if the Ukrainian spring offensive now underway really changes the map of the battlefield in Ukraine to any great extent. And if by sometime late September, sometime in October, when it's neither spring nor summer anymore and things are still looking pretty much like they're in gridlock, I think Putin will then turn, as he should have done, frankly, last September, and say, you know, this war has gone on long enough, let's have a ceasefire and negotiate a resolution, and then hope to turn the ceasefire line into a de facto new border. And I worry that in Europe, and frankly, I worry in the White House, that the temptation to agree to negotiation will take control and we will end up with the ceasefire, and Russia will have a new border with Ukraine.


BLITZER: We will see. Ambassador John Bolton, thank you so much for joining us.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, Donald Trump hits the campaign trail just one day after his third arrest and arraignment in just four months. How are voters reacting to the former president's latest legal peril? Plus, more on Ukraine, Ukraine strikes a major Russian naval base with sea drones, leaving one Russian warship heavily damaged. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: Just one day, after being arrested and arraigned for a third time, Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail today as he tries to win back the White House. CNN's Kristen Holmes is following the former president. She's joining us now from Montgomery, Alabama.

Kristen, how is Trump juggling his campaigning and his court cases?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really is a balancing act. And as we get closer and closer into campaign season, as it ramps up, it's only going to get harder to manage. Remember, we are just weeks away from that first Republican primary debate at the end of August, and Trump and his team are expecting another indictment to be handed down in Fulton County, Georgia. That is something that they are waiting, bracing for, and that, of course, will mean another arraignment date, another trial date. All of this leading to Trump's team believing that it actually might be able to help them, at least in selling the idea that this is election interference.

It's going back and forth between trial dates and campaign events. And whether or not they can sell this in a court of law, that, of course, is a huge question. But the other question is whether or not they can sell this with voters, and that is what they believe that they can do.

And I want to show you two recent ABC polls about Trump's charges in January 6, one showing that should Trump be charged over the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, 52 percent of Americans saying yes to 32 percent saying no. Obviously, big margin there. Are these new charges politically motivated? Forty-six percent said yes, Wolf, 40 percent said no. That's still a big number to have 46 percent of people say yes.

But that, of course, is the campaign's narrative. They want to sell the idea that this is all political, that this is not legal at all and this is just Joe Biden out to get the former president. And tonight, what we're looking for is any of Trump's actual reactions to what happened in court yesterday. Of course, we saw his very brief statement. He ignored questions that I shattered at him at the tarmac, but we haven't actually heard from him on the events yesterday, other than, of course, some ranting on Truth Social as well.

So that's what we'll be listening to. Remember, this is going to be a very friendly crowd. It's likely that Trump will be in his full element, being supported by people who are likely to vote for him or at least support him in some way. Wolf.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes in Montgomery, Alabama for us. Kristen, thank you.

I want to get some analysis right now. Joining us are political commentators, Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart.

Alice, how revealing is it that Trump is back on the campaign trail enjoying the limelight right now out there in Alabama, just a day after he was arraigned on charges of trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election?

ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Wolf, it's critical that he get out there and meet with voters face to face and engage in retail politics, because, as we all know, his courtroom calendar is getting ready to get more filled up, and he won't have as much time for his campaign calendar. And look, Alabama is a perfect place for him in terms of connecting with his hardcore supporters. But what I'm hearing and seeing, there's polls out there, the recent poll that we've had out today shows that 47 percent of people in Iowa are still supporting Donald Trump and 20 percent supporting Ron DeSantis.

But when I'm talking with key GOP officials in the state of Iowa, they say that does not match up with what they're seeing, feeling, and hearing on the ground. They say that the numbers with Trump ahead right now is for three reasons, it's very early, he has tremendous name ID, and he has great sympathy with people in the state of Iowa, specifically his hardcore base. And as candidates get out there and engage in retail politics, they expect to see a shift in those numbers.

BLITZER: Bakari, listen to what Governor Ron DeSantis said out there on the campaign trail today in Iowa about Trump's indictment. Listen to this.


DESANTIS: I think it's politically motivated, absolutely. I think you have people in D.C. and the Justice Department that are responding to a lot of left wing pressure. I mean, they've been trying to get him since he became president.


BLITZER: You heard our Kristen Holmes report that many voters out there agree with that thought. How do Democrats beat back that perception?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think you have to beat back the perception, Wolf. I think one of the things you do is allow the process to play out and see that this was a special prosecutor, this was not necessarily an arm of the Department of Justice. But even more importantly, Ron DeSantis, that statement was, I think the kids called it, weak sauce, and it's an epitome of his campaign. He does not take a strong position on much of anything outside of bastardizing Walt Disney. He's afraid of Donald Trump.

And by waffling and just giving a mediocre statement as he did, where there's smoke, there's fire. I don't know too many people, I'm a criminal defense lawyer, I don't know too many people with three indictments who, you know, in different jurisdictions, multiple felonies who we can just say is completely clean of anything. But the fact that they're running to the -- be Donald Trump's cape and savior says a great deal about their candidacy and their campaign. At least Mike Pence, for example, is standing his ground, Chris Christie standing their ground, Asa Hutchinson. But for the rest, it's a lot. You can't be Donald Trump light, which is what Ron DeSantis is trying to do. I hear my good friend Alice's recon from Iowa. But I'm hard pressed to believe that anybody will get close to Donald Trump simply because they don't have the fortitude to do so.

BLITZER: Alice, I want you to take a look at that poll. You mentioned that poll out of Iowa taken before this latest indictment. Trump is leading the pack with 44 percent, followed by DeSantis with 20 percent. What lessons can DeSantis and other Republican candidates draw from this?

ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You can clearly look at these numbers. Donald Trump's numbers are not moving. His base is with him regardless of an indictment every day from now until a caucus. What I am encouraged to see another cross tab out of that poll are the favorabilities of the different candidates. Right now, according to this poll, Ron DeSantis is at 47 percent, Donald Trump with 44, and then Tim Scott shortly after that.

Having a high favorability is tremendously important as you're going out to try and win over likely Iowa caucus goers and that he has in his favor right now. But also, again, people on the ground are looking for someone different than Donald Trump. And they're willing to listen to these other candidates. And as they're out there making their case on the ground, they have the opportunity to turn the page away from Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Bakari, how much could Trump's ability to campaign actually take a hit if he becomes bogged down by his legal trial schedule that's coming up in the coming months?

SELLERS: So my good friends on the left are not going to like this, but I don't see a judge or jurist take, I know the dates are set, and this is probably a question for our colleague, Elie Honig, but I don't see a judge actually setting a trial date during the height of the campaign season. I know we want to rush to get to a trial. I think his most jeopardy is actually in Fulton County.

I think you're going to see a litany of individuals indicted who are going to have to be paraded with mugshots and fingerprints, et cetera. Fani Willis is an amazing prosecutor, amazing jurist in Fulton County, and I think that's going to be his most jeopardy. But I think that for the purposes of the campaign trail, he'll be able to use this with fodder, he'll be able to use this for fundraising.

But it's a great possibility that you'll have a trial. And if Donald Trump wins the election, which I hope he doesn't, you have a great possibility of a sitting president in trial for multiple felonies.

BLITZER: Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart, thanks to both of you for joining us. Also tonight, the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is outlining a new plan to deal with Senator Tommy Tuberville's unrelenting blockade against military confirmations. Our national security reporter Natasha Bertrand is here with me in the Situation Room. How is the Pentagon addressing this truly unprecedented moment?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, well, they're essentially reshuffling positions all across the military. This is a really unprecedented situation that they've never had to address before. But for the first time, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, he did issue a memo to the entire workforce outlining how positions are going to be reshuffled in order to address this situation.

Now, there are a series of steps that he recommended that they take in order to mitigate the damage that this hold is having on the military, including having lower level officers actually lead organizations in an acting capacity as well as requiring that three and four star officers, very senior officers, not be allowed to leave their current positions, but allowing them to essentially be able to perform the duties of that which they're nominated for but are not yet confirmed for.

And that is actually the spot that the acting commandant of the Marine Corps and the acting army chief of staff are in right now. They are essentially performing two jobs. And that has really big consequences because the acting commandant of the Marine Corps, he was actually supposed to issue official guidance to the Marine Corps once he was confirmed. But all he was able to do today was issue a very informal letter to the Marine Corps.

And we should also note that this is having an impact on the national security community writ large. The missile defense agency, which is responsible for the layered defense of the United States from ballistic missiles, they have a one-star acting in the capacity of the director of that agency, where a three-star general has been nominated for that position.

So clearly, people with less experience, people who might not be necessarily as qualified to lead these very important agencies are now sitting atop of them. And here's what Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said just today about how this is impacting national security and military readiness.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The failure to confirm our superbly qualified senior uniform leaders undermines our military readiness. It undermines our attention of some of our very best officers, and it is upending the lives of far too many of their spouses, children, and loved ones.



BERTRAND: So Wolf, just to put this in perspective, Tuberville's hold, which he is doing because he opposes the Pentagon's reproductive health policies, it is affecting over 300 senior officers across the Pentagon at this point, and there is no end in sight.

BLITZER: Yes, it's never happened before indeed. All right, Natasha, thank you very much. Natasha Bertrand reporting.

Just ahead, a Ukrainian sea drone attacks a Russian Navy ship in the Black Sea, far beyond the front lines in Ukraine.


BLITZER: A Ukrainian source tells CNN that a sea drone hit a Russian navy ship in the Black Sea, causing what's described as serious damage. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is covering the story for us in Ukraine.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The footage is grainy and dark. Then the target comes into view, Russia's Olenegorsky Gornyak amphibious assault ship. An unmanned attack drone approaches its target 450 kilograms of TNT detonates and the feed cuts out. Russia claimed to have repelled this attack, but the video tells a different story.

Ukraine's counter offensive has in recent weeks reached further and further behind the front lines, forcing the Russian military to spread its sea and air defenses. Hundreds of miles from Ukrainian controlled territory. This was meant to be a safe anchorage, no longer. It used to be safe here, says one prominent military blogger. But Kyiv's arm has grown longer. The rear no longer exists, he says.

ANDRIY YUSOV, UKRAINIAN DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE: The fact that such unfortunate incidents occur one after another will certainly be something for them to talk about today. For the political leadership of the Russia fascist regime, this is of course a serious slap in the face.

WALSH (voice-over): All the same, Russia maintains the image of being in control. It says Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited troops in occupied Ukraine. The map they both point to so much worse for Moscow than ever imagined when they invaded nearly 18 months ago.


WALSH: Now we're looking at possibly 1,000 pounds worth of explosive according to Ukrainian officials delivered here. A Russian blogger saying that one compartment of that ship entirely flooded and this so far from the front lines, hundreds of miles will have to have been crossed to hit this Novorossiysk port on the Black Sea. A place that Russia simply could not have imagined just weeks ago, could be a Ukrainian target. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this with CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and McCain Institute Executive Director Evelyn Farkas, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. Evelyn, just how big of a blow is this to Russia?

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Well, I think, Wolf, it's a blow obviously of prestige because this ship clearly is done it's pretty badly hurt. It'll take a lot to repair it, if that's even possible. It's also a blow in terms of, you know, you already heard in the package that Nick put together. It's a blow to the Russian military and the Russian civilians, Russian society nowhere is safe.

And that's exactly what the Ukrainian government intended. They -- of course they want to cripple as much of the Russian military infrastructure, the logistics, the actual platforms like this ship, but they also really want to damage as much as possible Russian morale. And that's not just military morale, but the morale of the civilians.

BLITZER: General Hertling, what does this strike reveal to you about Ukraine's capabilities right now and its counteroffensive strategy? LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf, that mill blogger that you posted just now in the opening of the report said, nowhere it's safe. I got to tell you if the Russians and the Ukrainians have not realized yet that there is no such thing as a rear area in modern combat operations, both of those sides are missing the point. But what it tells you about is no rear areas are safe.

This is a ship that was on the southeastern side of the Black Sea, several hundred miles away from the Ukrainian landmass. It's a football -- the ship itself is a football field long. It's called a row, row ship, roll on, roll off. It carries all sorts of equipment. There are six of them in Black Sea. They're critical for amphibious operations. And it just takes away another operational capability of the Russian Navy. Russia never thought that this kind of thing would happen. This is now the second large ship of the Russian Navy that's been sunk by a country that doesn't have a navy of their own. So it is very significant.

BLITZER: Yes. It's very significant indeed. Evelyn, I also want your thoughts on the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny being sentenced to 19 additional years in prison. What's behind this Russian crackdown on Navalny antecedes for that matter?

FARKAS: Well, again, it's Vladimir Putin, you know, demonstrating that he's in charge, trying to also destroy their morale. You will never see the light of day. You have no hope, you know, against me. Of course, the irony is that the greater danger to Vladimir Putin and his regime, as we know, is from the nationalists, from the right. You know, that's where we saw Prigozhin challenging him, using military force.

But he wants to make sure that the opposition and the elite sees him as the strong guy, putting Navalny down, trying to break Navalny's will. Of course, he would actually probably like to slowly kill Alexei Navalny because he doesn't like the challenge that he poses and the example that he sets.


BLITZER: Evelyn, let me follow up on a related issue. U.S. officials are telling CNN they're concerned that Putin is planning his war right now around the 2024 U.S. election, hoping a Republican administration would deprioritize Ukraine. Just how much is Putin counting on the U.S. to falter in its support for Ukraine?

FARKAS: Oh, I mean, Wolf, we cannot underestimate Vladimir Putin's willingness and interest interfering in our politics. It shocked me the first time he did it in 2016 during that presidential election. It no longer shocks me. We should be on the lookout. But it points to the fact, you know, the linkage between your question here and the story we started with is U.S. assistance to Ukraine.

We need to provide Ukraine with the assistance they need to get at these targets in Russia, these military targets. And we need to also remove the restrictions that we place when we give the Ukrainians Western equipment, because my understanding is that we restrict them from using our weaponry against Russian, you know, valid military targets in Russia.

So if we can bring this war to an end faster by removing those restrictions, by giving better, longer range artillery, then we reduce the likelihood, or at least the likelihood, that Putin can succeed interfering in our elections.

BLITZER: Evelyn Farkas and retired General Hertling, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history, is making a comeback. Where is she competing?

And police respond to a huge crowd gathered in New York City, creating a major security concern. We'll tell you what's going on, that's next.



BLITZER: A chaotic scene in New York City as police responded to a massive crowd gathered in Manhattan. Our senior national correspondent, Miguel Marquez is on the scene for us. Miguel, why did such a large crowd show up in Union Square in New York? And what are you seeing now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a sign of our times. Bad information, false information going out, getting kids riled up, and expecting to have PS5s and none of that happening. And then an absolute mob occurred. I want to show you sort of this is Union Square, downtown New York. This should be a thriving, busy area right now.

You can see the line of police. They've pushed most of the kids out of here. But throughout the city, there are enormous numbers of young people going through the streets. And police are now taking up positions in other parts of the city. I want to show you Union Square itself, if we could. I'm going to sort of rush over here. This is an area. This is the subway stop. This was all under construction and completely closed off. And you can see sort of the damage here in this area right here.

They're going to start here in a second. They're going to start a press conference here in a second. But you can see the amount of damage that was done in Union Square itself. And then if you look up this way, that's sort of north of the city, you can see the number of police there keeping the crowd back.

There were thousands and thousands of people, a YouTuber and online presence, Kai Cenat, claimed that he was going to give out PS5s to kids. They all sort of rushed down here. When they didn't -- it didn't happen, it just became a mob. And they started going after police. Police called in reinforcements and have just blanketed this part of the city with police officers. And now they're trying to shut down anything else happening in any other part of the city. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Miguel Marquez in New York for us, thank you for that report.

In about 24 hours, one of the best gymnasts in the world will compete for the first time in some two years. Simone Biles stepped away from the sport to focus on her mental health. Now the seven-time Olympic gold medalist is back. CNN sports correspondent Carolyn Manno has more on Biles' widely anticipated return.


SIMONE BILES, 7-TIME OLYMPIC MEDALIST: I guess I would describe myself as confident.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flying high after five Olympic medals in Rio and an unprecedented ascension to the top of the sport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm always in awe when I watch her. Sometimes I just think she's unhuman just because she's just so amazing.

MANNO (voice-over): No one could have predicted just how human Simone Biles would be five years later. The superstar gymnast, withdrawing from five events at the Tokyo games prioritizing her mental health over her medal count.

BILES: To bring the topic of mental health, I think it should be talked about a lot more, especially with athletes, because I know some of us are going through the same things, and we're always told to push through it.

JORDAN CHILES, BILES' TEAMMATE AT TOKYO OLYMPICS: We don't know what's going on in her head, so, you know, it was probably the most devastating thing that happened to her.

MANNO (voice-over): Biles says she's been in therapy weekly since stepping away. Now she's ready for a comeback. This weekend marks her first elite competition since 2021. She's aware of how influential she continues to be.

BILES: At the end of the day, we're not just entertainment, we're humans. And there are things going on behind the scenes that we're also trying to juggle with as well on top of sports.

MANNO (voice-over): Biles is recently married and has kept a lower profile leading into this weekend, but she has acknowledged the overwhelming support from fans.

BILES: The gymnastics has helped shape me and the people around, but I'm really excited about life and what's to come and how I've changed and evolved as person.


MANNO: Biles return to elite gymnastics this weekend is widely viewed, Wolf, as her first step towards the Paris Olympic Games next summer. And this event on Saturday, this core hydration classic in which she's preparing to compete in four events in, has been sold out for weeks, ever since this news broke of her return. Wolf?


BLITZER: And we wish her only, only the best. Carolyn Manno, thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll have more on our top story, a new not guilty plea from Donald Trump in the classified documents case just one day after his third arrest. And arraignment, I'll get reaction to the former president's deepening legal peril from one of his rivals for the Republican nomination, Asa Hutchinson.


BLITZER: Happening now, the enormity of Donald Trump's legal troubles on display as the former president pleads not guilty to criminal charges twice in 24 hours. Stand by for details on his new plea, a day after historic arraignment right here in Washington. Trump is back on the campaign trail tonight as a new poll shows a little over a third of Republicans believe the election interference charges against him are serious. I'll get reaction from GOP presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson. He'll join us live.