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The Situation Room

Hurricane-Fueled Wildfires Kill At Least Six In Hawaii; Man Accused Of Threatening Biden Shot Dead By FBI Agents; Sources Say, Georgia D.A. To Seek More Than A Dozen Indictments; Will GOP Hopefuls Stick To Loyalty Pledge?; At Least 2 Killed, 7 Injured In Russian Attack On Zaporizhzhia. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 09, 2023 - 18:00   ET




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Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, we are tracking devastating and deadly wildfires tearing across Hawaii, drought and hurricane-force winds fueling multiple blazes which have killed at least six people. Hawaii's lieutenant governor joins me live this hour.

We are also following breaking news out of Utah where a man accused of threatening to kill President Biden has just been shot dead by FBI agents trying to arrest him.

And tonight, sources tell CNN the Fulton County district attorney is expected to seek indictments against more than a dozen people as she nears charging decisions in her probe of the election interference by Donald Trump and his allies. Stand by for details.

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

Let's get straight to the breaking news, the horrendous wildfires scorching the island of Maui and Hawaii. We are getting very grim reports of a rising death toll as authorities urge residents and tourists to flee the fast-moving blazes.

CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has all of the latest developments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like an area that had been bombed in the war.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Tonight, at least six people confirmed dead and a massive search and rescue operation under way in Maui County as wildfires engulf two Hawaiian islands. New helicopter video showing homes and businesses burned to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my 52 years of flying on Maui, I've never seen anything like that.

VAN DAM: The state now activating military Blackhawk helicopters to fight the fires that are burning across Maui and some brushfires on the big island.

Maui's mayor saying more than 2,000 people are in shelters, all of this as winds associated with Hurricane Dora continue to push across the island and fuel the flames.

LT. GOV. SYLVIA LUKE (D-HI): We never anticipated in this state that a hurricane, which did not make impact on our islands, will cause this type of wildfires, wildfires that wiped out communities, wildfires that wiped out businesses, wildfires that destroyed homes.

VAN DAM: Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke, who is acting as the governor as Governor Josh Green travels back to Hawaii, said he's expected to return tonight and he's preparing to request emergency federal assistance from the White House.

LUKE: Governor Green and I have been talking very closely. We just feel so sad and just great sympathy and prayers out to the people of Maui.

VAN DAM: State officials also enacting an emergency proclamation discouraging tourists from traveling to the popular destination, with late word tonight that American and United Airlines are canceling all flights to Maui's airport.

LUKE: This is not a safe place to be.

VAN DAM: Tonight, hospitals on the island are overwhelmed with burn patients and people suffering from smoke inhalation.

Complicating evacuations, 911, cell and phone services are down.


Right now emergency response teams are working together to gain control of the flames, the disaster wiping out power to thousands of homes and businesses. And according to Maui County officials, the U.S. Coast Guard has rescued at least 12 people from the waters off Lahaina, saying they jumped into the ocean to escape the smoke and fire conditions. Some Lahaina residents comparing the scene to an apocalypse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People basically running for their lives.

VAN DAM: Many now saying they're homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our house is gone. Everything that we've ever known was gone. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have been burned down.


VAN DAM (on camera): And, Wolf, the mayor of Maui warns that the fires on the island are not yet contained with flare-ups continuing to occur and an analysis by our team of meteorologists here at CNN expects the winds to start to relax later tonight local time, perhaps a sliver of hope in a dire situation.



BLITZER: Perhaps. All right, Derek Van Dam, thank you very much for that report.

For more on the fires, I want to bring in our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's joining us from the CNN Weather Center. Chad, how are the winds contributing to this ongoing danger?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Two things combined, Wolf, a high pressure to the north, up here, there's Hawaii, right through there, and Hurricane Dora, a category 4 hurricane that passed south. You would think hundreds and hundreds of miles would be far enough away. But with that high there and that low there and the funneling effect, it wasn't. 82 miles per hour was the highest gust.

But there finally goes Dora, 130-mile-per-hour storm. It's going to get into some cooler water and die off. But the farther it goes away, the more the winds will die off. We are going to really lose some of that difference between the high and the low pressure, all of the smoke coming off of Maui in the overnight satellite picture.

I looked at this this morning, and I saw all of these orange spot, Wolf, and I thought, oh, we must be looking at a forest. This must be some burning trees. Now, in the dead of the day, we are looking at those spots being homes that are no longer there. It really does look like something out of a wildfire in Southern California, not something you would certainly expect in Hawaii.

New report from the Hawaii Wildlife Fire Management says that about 25 percent of all the grasses there now in Hawaii are not native. That could have contributed something as well, because those non-native grasses are pretty flammable.

BLITZER: Chad Myers, thank you very much for that report, awful situation, indeed.

I want to get reaction right now to all of the breaking news from Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Let me, first of all, express my deepest condolences for the six people reported dead at least so far in this horrific wildfire. Do you fear, Senator, that more lives could be lost? SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): The county is still engaged in the rescue part of what is a devastating fire situation. The disaster is very deep and broad. Thank you for your condolences. And so the county is still fighting the blaze and the search and rescue part continues. But we know that the harm that has been caused by this devastation is going to be deep and long.

And so I'm really grateful for all of the support that we're getting from the federal government, as well, as you know, from the press conference that was done by the state that it's all hands on deck. I have been in touch with the Homeland Security secretary, Mayorkas, who stands by to provide FEMA assistance, which is already being provided to an extent and our delegations' request to the president for a declaration of an emergency so that more resources can be brought to bear in this devastation.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance yet, Senator, to speak directly with President Biden?

HIRONO: No, but we know that he is well aware. And that is why the secretary of Homeland Security contacted me. And I have also been in touch with the Small Business Administration, Administrator Guzman, because there are many businesses of Lahaina, a very historic town, at one time the capital of Hawaii. And so SBA support is going to be very important and so my reaching out and talking with the administrator, Guzman, is a very critical part of enabling all of us to recover from this devastation and it is going to take time and commitment.

BLITZER: Senator, just how unprecedented of a challenge is this for Maui and Hawaii County, for that matter? What is your message to your fellow Hawaiians right now?

HIRONO: That we are coming together to make sure that the people of Maui get the resources and the support that they need. I know that there are people calling our emergency services to find out how they can be of help. The federal government stands ready. We are strong and resilient.

And so we are doing everything we can to restore the power. There are some 3,000 homes without power so far, and the communications lines are down. And we are doing everything we can to restore those facilities. But working together, that is what's going to be necessary.

And I want to say that for the visitors who are on Maui that our airlines are working to enable them to get off Maui, also residents who have lost their homes, to come to Oahu and go to our convention center where they will receive additional support and help that they need.


So, we are all coming together to provide the kind support that is necessary at this time of crisis.

BLITZER: Because the video we are showing our viewers, the pictures are really horrendous. What else can you tell us, Senator, about where evacuation efforts stand right now?

HIRONO: We are really grateful that the airlines have stepped up to basically lower their prices so that some 4,000 or more people can leave Maui, come to Oahu or to receive the kind of assistance they need to return to their homes on the mainland, and also to shelter at the convention center on Oahu, if necessary, in order to provide assistance for whatever else that they need.

And so, truly, Wolf, it is all hands on deck in terms of the federal support, state, county and volunteer support.

BLITZER: I just want to say good luck to all the people in Hawaii right now. Thank you, Senator Mazie Hirono, for joining us.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha to everyone for your expression of concern and support.

BLITZER: And later this hour, I will speak live with Hawaii's lieutenant governor, who is now the acting governor, with the governor out of the state right now.

Just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following here in The Situation Room. FBI agents fatally shot a man while attempting to arrest him for allegedly threatening President Biden. We are learning new information right now. We're going to bring that to you right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Breaking news, officials say FBI agents in Utah shot and killed a man today while trying to arrest him for allegedly making death threats against President Biden.

Our Senior Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is gathering more information for us right now. What can you tell us, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This really was a very serious situation for the FBI. The last threat coming just days ago in preparation for the president's trip to Utah.

Now, this is an individual by the name of Craig Robertson. He'd been under FBI surveillance for quite some time. But, finally, after this last thread where he talked about Biden coming to Utah, that he was going to be digging out his ghillie suit and dusting off his M-24 sniper, that they finally decided that they needed to move in to arrest him.

They went to his home this morning at 6:00 A.M. when they encountered him, and that is when they shot ask killed him. I am told he was armed with a handgun at the time, but this threat was so serious, certainly for the FBI this morning, as the president was getting ready to go to UTAH, FBI SWAT members and agents were suiting up to go and take him off the street.

Now, this man has made other threats, according to the FBI. He made threats against FBI agents who visited him back in March after they learned of online postings that he had previously made. They went to his home to talk to him. And just days after this in March, he's posting threats against the FBI. He also posted other threats saying that the was getting ready for the elections in 2024, that he had guns and that he was getting ready. That is a photo from his Facebook page that the FBI released of the guns that he had in the house.

And then, finally, what really started all of this, Wolf, was that there was a threat made against the Manhattan district attorney who has been investigating former President Donald Trump. That's what set all this off. This man claimed that he was going to come to New York, kill Alvin Bragg, shoot him. That is the post that has ultimately led to the FBI opening an investigation against this man. They had him under surveillance. And then, finally, after this last threat just days ago, saying that he was getting ready for the president's visit and that he was going to have his gun, that they decided to move in and tried to arrest him and then this happened this morning.

BLITZER: Yes, very disturbing, indeed. Shimon, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI.

Andrew, President Biden is set to land in Utah any minute now. Just how imminent and serious was this death threat to him?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT: Well, Wolf, it was extremely serious coming from an individual who was already under investigation for lodging really kind of disgusting and serious threats against other politicians, other political figures. You've mentioned the threat he made in March against Prosecutor Alvin Bragg in New York. That is what initiated the FBI's investigative interest when they received a tip from a social media company that brought that threat to their attention.

So, this wasn't the normal chatter that you hear in the run-up to an event that might include a politician or the president. This was someone they were already concerned about. And then he started talking about acting out against the president on this trip. I'm sure that raised everyone's concern to the absolute highest levels.

BLITZER: As it should. And what goes through your mind, Andrew, seeing these very, very disturbing posts, and they're all included in this 49-page complaint that was just issued by the United States attorney against this defendant, Craig Robertson? What goes through your mind seeing these disturbing threats, including one directly threatening the FBI with a loaded gun?

MCCABE: Wolf, it's a remarkable document. And as you said, it's a replete with facts, multiple threats, multiple engagements with law enforcement, including FBI agents.

think what really strike me is how serious it is for law enforcement for particularly the FBI right now to be in this realm, in the social media space, trying to understand who actually presents a threat to our political figures and who are folks that are just kind of talking or posturing or boasting online.

This is a very, very hard thing to do.


In this case you have someone who made not just one threat in the fit of pique but multiple threats over a period of time, yet aggressive interactions with law enforcement when they went to his house to interview him some months ago. He then threatened to kill them if they return.

So, this is a guy who, from that entire milieu, he really rises to the top of your threat matrix as someone who you have to be most concerned about, and certainly that's how this lethal interaction played out today.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Shimon, let me get back to you with a quick question. How heightened is the threat level right now for this political extremism?

PROKUPECZ: It's very high, Wolf. And that's why you have the FBI, you have social media companies monitoring this and sort of letting them know that this is out there. That's how they learned of this, through the social media company, we believe Facebook, that said, we came across this threat. We were so concerned about it. We're letting you know about it.

The other thing really what's going in this is his talk about former President Donald Trump. There are very clear indications that he was a supporter of the former president. In fact, when the FBI went to visit him to say, hey, we're on to you, we know what you're doing, he was wearing, they say, a hat with Trump's name on it. He was talking about other people who either investigated or prosecuted the former president. So, there's clearly that going on as well here, and that is something that is extremely concerning for law enforcement.

BLITZER: Yes. If you read this complaint, it is very, very disturbing to see what's going on.

Shimon Prokupecz, Andrew McCabe, guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, evacuations are under way and the National Guard has been deployed as wildfires ravage the Hawaiian Islands right now. I'll speak with Hawaii's lieutenant governor.

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



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following, wildfires are forcing evacuations on Hawaii's big island and Maui as thousands of people are taking refuge in shelters and many homes and businesses are in flames. CNN's Brian Todd is covering all of this for us. What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials on Maui say now that there are more than 2,000 people in shelters at the moment, and from those who survived and other witnesses, we are getting fresh and horrifying accounts tonight of narrow escapes and lives devastated in an instant.


TODD (voice over): Bands of flames and smoke that spread horrifically fast arriving without warning, giving people little or no time to evacuate. Those are the consistent, terrifying accounts of victims and witnesses on Maui.

DUSTIN KALEIOPU, HOUSE BURNED IN LAHAINA, MAUI: We saw the smoke start about a block away from our house and this is maybe 3:30 or 4:00. By 5:30, our house was gone. Everything that we've ever known was gone.

TODD: Claire Kent says she also got out of her house just in time.

CLAIRE KENT, HOUSE BURNED IN LAHAINA, MAUI: It's like as soon as we're out of the door, it was like, holy cow. Within an hour, the flames had moved all the way down to the end of the neighborhood.

TODD: Kent and other residents of the town of Lahaina and the area surrounding it giving harrowing accounts of what they saw and providing images to match them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my gosh, look at the harbor.

TODD: This video of a building violently burning was taken by Alan Dickar, who says at least one of his houses caught on fire. He says this is a historic area of Front Street where he has a gallery.

ALAN DICKAR, HOUSE BURNED IN LAHAINA, MAUI: I started taking a video of it because I was amazed that there were no fire trucks there. And then as I turned and looked out Front Street, Front Street exploded in flame.

TODD: Motorist Marjorie St. Clair narrated as she drove through the flames in Lahaina.

MARJORIE ST. CLAIR, MOTORIST IN LAHAINA, MAUI: It's like Lahaina is on fire. Oh, my God.

TODD: Jeff Melichar (ph) said he was told his house was gone after he evacuated. He took this video of what he said was a Salvation Army facility in flames.

Claire Kent, who works on a boat, sent us these pictures of fire in the distance and what appeared to be smoke and flames on the water. She said the Coast Guard and private boaters had to scramble and rescue people from the ocean. KENT: They were sending boats from (INAUDIBLE) to help get people out of the water because they had just down and started swimming to get away from the fire.

TODD: Kent said it's not just the victims who are in shock. Rescuers also traumatized.

KENT: My friend got out of his car and he was covered head to toe in ash. His eyes were black, his mouth was black. And he had gone back and was helping getting people out. He had a car full of old people and he was just like -- the look on his face, I mean, it was terror.


TODD (on camera): Claire Kent and other survivors say those apocalyptic scenes were made even worse by lack of communication. They said, because was knocked out and cell service was terrible, they couldn't see news reports or get any communication ahead of time that the fires were spreading. She says at one point, quote, there were guys on bicycles just screaming at people to leave. Wolf, imagine that in yours or any other neighborhood.

BLITZER: Terrible, terrible indeed. Brian Todd, thanks for that report.

For more on the breaking news I am joined by Hawaii's lieutenant governor, Sylvia Luke. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us. First of all, my deepest, deepest condolences for the six lives lost so far. Are you bracing, Lieutenant Governor, for more potential deaths?

LUKE: Wolf, thank you for your concern. This has been a devastating moment. It's been so shocking and devastating not just for Maui but the entire Hawaii community.


Six -- we were just -- we just learned recently that six lives were lost. This is just the beginning, initial assessment. We are still making assessment on damage to properties, damage to people's homes and additional potential losses. We are just so heartbroken and devastated by this entire county.

BLITZER: What can you tell us, Lieutenant Governor, about the search and rescue efforts that are under way right now? How much are they complicated by the power outages and the disruptions, for example, in cell service?

LUKE: Yes. No, absolutely. You got that absolutely right. What made it even more complicated was the fact that usually in -- we have hurricane season around this time every year. And with hurricane season, the anticipated impacts are flooding and heavy rains.

We, you know -- rarely we see situations where due to a hurricane, we would see this kind of severe fires, wildfires. The wildfires were exacerbated by the gust of wind that reached anywhere between 70 to 80 miles per hour. So, quickly, these flames reached other neighborhoods. They jumped highways and freeways and destroyed people's homes.

As you recognize, the cell service, even 911 calls were damaged and people couldn't call 911. The only people who could make calls were individuals with satellite service. And so people were trying to connect, for instance, hotel with satellite service. So, we were trying to connect with those individuals.

Today, a substantial number of personnel and air support have been deployed to the island and evacuation and rescue efforts are continuing as we speak.

BLITZER: How challenging is it for your state's emergency workers, Lieutenant Governor, to suppress these fires and to anticipate where they could head next when facing such harsh winds?

LUKE: You know, because we're an island state, it's difficult only because we can't just drive to the next island, next town and assist because of the high winds. Air supply or air support and even people support, we couldn't fly them from one island to the next. And that impeded and that led to even more slower response.

I think this is something that we will definitely take a closer look at. And the fact that people's lives were lost, properties were lost, I mean, people's homes were damaged, this is just a terrible day.

BLITZER: Terrible, terrible, indeed. I know you've been serving, Lieutenant Governor, as the acting governor of Hawaii. We know the governor will be returning to Hawaii very soon. What is the update on when he will arrive back?

LUKE: Yes. The governor was out of state. He actually cut his trip short. He wasn't supposed to return until next week. But I've been in communication with him throughout this whole time and he decided to cut his trip short. That tells you how devastating this incident is. He will be arriving midnight Hawaii Time tonight, and we will be talking as soon as he touches down.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke of Hawaii, thank you very much so much for joining us. Good luck to all of the people in Hawaii right now. We'll continue to stay, of course, on top of this story. Thanks so much for joining us.

LUKE: Thank you. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Just ahead, sources tell CNN to expect more than a dozen people to face indictment from the Georgia district attorney investigating 2020 election subversion in her state. I'll get reaction from a key lawmaker who served on the January 6th select committee.



BLITZER: There's growing anticipation in Georgia tonight that prosecutors there could seek indictments against more than a dozen people in the alleged scheme by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. What can you tell us, Paula?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for months, the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, has been investigating efforts to overturn the election results in the state of Georgia. She has been conducted dozens of witness interviews using a special grand jury and we expect this is all going to come to a head next week.

She's going to use a regular grand jury to present her case, including questioning at least three witnesses before this grand jury, then they are expected to hand out indictments.

Now, it's unclear if the former president will be charged, but his own team has said that they expect he'll be charged in Georgia. And we have learned that she is considering charges ranging from racketeering to conspiracy, to RICO.

BLITZER: More than a dozen people potentially as well.

Take us behind the scenes, Paula, a bit on the special counsel's fight for Trump's Twitter data.

REID: This is an interesting dispute. Because here, the special counsel wanted a search warrant to gather certain information in, within Trump's Twitter account. Now, of course, most of that is public, right? Now, the opinion is written very carefully, so as not to disclose exactly what they wanted. It is not clear if they wanted drafts of tweets or D.M.s that might have been in there.


BLITZER: Direct messages.

REID: Exactly, you know the lingo. But the Twitter folks, they were like, hey, wait a second, you're not even letting us tell Trump that you're seeking this information. They believe that was a violation not only of the First Amendment but also the current laws that govern electronic communications and social media.

So, there was a lot of litigation back and forth about his. They provided the government with most of the information that they requested. But then, eventually, prosecutors said, look, you can tell Trump about this warrant because there's enough information in the public sphere about the fact that this investigation exists, but they still try to protect the identity of investigators because there is this concern, Wolf, about the former president attacking the investigators themselves.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a legitimate concern, indeed. Paula Reid, thank you very much.

Let's discuss more of this. Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California is joining us. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

The Fulton County district attorney is expected to indict, as we reported, more than a dozen people in contract to the narrowly focused charges from the special counsel, the federal special counsel, Jack Smith. Do you think this is the right move?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, you know, it's not something the January 6th committee looked at. We were focused at the federal issues. I'm sure that the prosecutor in Georgia is proceeding under Georgia law. Now, there's some overlap because we do know that there was an effort to have fake electors submit bogus certificates. That probably violates some state laws, but like everyone else, I'm waiting to see what the prosecutor thinks that she is required to do.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. We've also learned, Congresswoman, that the special counsel secured a search warrant for Trump's Twitter account. Trump slammed that move saying, and I'm quoting him now, just found out that crooked Joe Biden's Department of Justice secretly attacked my Twitter account, making it a point not to let me know about this major, quote, hit on my civil rights. What do you think the special counsel wanted from this information?

LOFGREN: I don't know. But as often is the case, Trump is a bit unhinged. They got a warrant. The statute provides for a warrant. The statute, by the way, also provides for non-disclosure, and I just read the appellate decision. Twitter really engaged in misconduct in this matter and was fined for it.

You know, I don't understand what they got. I presume it was information they thought was important to the case. That part of the matter is sealed from public view even today.

BLITZER: Yes. I assume we'll find out at some point.

The New York Times has obtained an internal Trump campaign memo from December 2020 that lays out the strategy for Trump to try to overturn Biden's election win. Was the January 6th committee, and you remember the select committee aware of this memo, and how significant do you think this is?

LOFGREN: Well, we were aware of several other memos by Chesebro, one from November 18th, one from December 9th, one from December 13th, all on the same subject, but, no, we did not have this December 6th memo. And I think it makes the plot, the illegal plot even more apparent than what we knew.

I think it's significant in proving the illegal conduct, although we had one judge already, Judge Carter, find on an evidentiary case that it was more likely than not that Mr. Eastman and Mr. Trump engaged in a crime relative to these fake electors.

BLITZER: While I have you, Congresswoman, on another subject, I want to get your reaction to these incredibly disturbing social media posts from this Utah man who repeatedly threatened to kill President Biden and other senior Democratic officials. LOFGREN: Well, you know, unfortunately, we have people that have been caught up in this kind of crazy escalation of competition and disagreement at a time when Americans could disagree with each other and still get along seems to be fading in some circles. Obviously, this individual was a threat. You never want anyone to be killed, but I understand that during the arrest, he did lose his life.

He's not the only person threatening violence. It's mainly on the right. But, of course, we had someone in the other political camp open fire on Republicans a number of years ago playing basketball. Violence and politics is wrong and all of us in public life should speak out against it.


BLITZER: Yes, you're right. Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thank you so much for joining us.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, a second Republican presidential hopeful has formally pledged to support the party's eventual nominee, but are the GOP candidates actually prepared to stick to the promise as Donald Trump's legal problems continue to mount?


BLITZER: New developments tonight in the 2024 presidential campaign. The Republican National Committee announcing a time, place, and network for its second primary debate. This as Governor Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy become the first two GOP candidates to sign the party's loyalty pledge.

I want to bring in our political commentators Kate Bedingfield and Alice Stewart for some analysis right now.

Alice, a lot of indications this loyalty pledge may not necessarily mean much.


What are you hearing?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, identify defer to my colleague Alice who knows a lot about what's going on with the Republicans.

BLITZER: Alice, what do you think?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is the GOP debate. The RNC is running this so they certainly should ask for this. And it's certainly aspirational to want to unify the party behind the eventual nominee. And it's certainly not out of the question to ask all of the questions to sign this.

But that doesn't mean they're going to actually follow through on this. Donald Trump didn't do this in 2016.

Look, if this is what is required to get on the debate stage, and this is an important part of the campaign, they should all certainly sign this. But it doesn't mean they certainly have to follow through.

But, ideally, for the sake of the Republican Party, whoever the eventual nominee is, I would like to think that everyone on that stage will rally behind them.

BLITZER: Well, listen to what Chris Christie said earlier this year. Let me play the clip.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There were ten of us on the stage. Nine of us raised our hands. The one who didn't was Donald Trump. And so, I'll take the pledge in 2024 just as seriously as Donald Trump took the pledge in 2016.


BLITZER: So what's the point of this pledge?

STEWART: Well, obviously, the party is really trying to make sure that we can unify behind who the nominee is, because the ultimate goal is to win the general election.

And, look, it might be a pie in the sky hope, but that is certainly what the party should do. And, look, there's going to be a lot of them just like Governor Christie who feel like if Donald Trump didn't do it, why should we? But they should all go on there to the debate stage with the opportunity.

This is not only a chance for us to go after Donald Trump. But they need to make the case why they are the best candidate to take it to a Joe Biden and to reverse the economic decline that we're on and provide an optimistic vision for the future and make their case as to why they are the person to do that.

BLITZER: Kate, let's talk a little bit about what happened in Ohio yesterday. The referendum in effect on abortion rights for women. Those who support abortion rights for women effectively won with a 14- point margin. It was a big deal.

BEDINGFIELD: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we've seen there have been seven states where this issue has been on the ballot since the Supreme Court struck down Roe. And pro-choice -- the pro-choice outcome has won every single time. We saw it was a big motivator for people in the midterm elections. We saw it was something that brought out not only traditional Democratic voters but independent voters, women, suburban women who really turned out in droves because Republicans were advancing this -- the fact that they were going to take away the healthcare rights, they were going to say that the government was not going to allow these women to be able to make their own healthcare decision. So, we have this is a huge motivator. I think what we saw in Ohio was

that even as some of the Republican presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Vivek Ramaswamy who we just saw released videos. I think the pro-yes organization, organizational effort spent about $11 million trying to get this passed and couldn't, and we still saw enormous turnout.

So I think this is a two-pronged messaging problem for the Republicans. One is the issue of choice and the fact that they're telling women that they can't make decisions for themselves about their bodies. But it's also this issue of governance, of the will of the people, of people being able to go out to the ballot box and trust that their vote is going to count.

And so what they're hearing consistently from Republicans and what they heard in Ohio through this measure was we're going to reduce your voice, we're going to make it so that your voice doesn't count as much. And that's a huge problem for Republicans.

BLITZER: It's happening in these Republican-led states.

STEWART: Right. Often times when abortion is the key issue on the ballot, we are seeing where the pro-abortion advocates are winning out.

And here's the challenge for Republicans. Look, the pro-life issue and movement overturning Roe v. Wade has really been important for the Republican nominees. And the sanctity of life has been the heart and soul of Republicans. We run the risk of it becoming the Achilles heel if we continue to push measures that are so extreme as opposed to nuanced addresses to this such as certain restrictions on abortion.

BLITZER: Ladies, thank you very, very much.

Coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" right after THE SITUATION ROOM, a closer look at attacks on military recruitment centers in Russia and who the Kremlin is blaming. That's coming up right at the top of the hour.

And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: In Ukraine, a church and retail outlets are among the buildings destroyed after another deadly Russian attack on the city of Zaporizhzhia.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there for us.

Nick, what's the situation there like tonight?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, we heard the blast round about dusk. A church hit. Initially, three reported dead. One of those in fact resuscitated, the death toll adjusted down to two with about seven injured now.

Part of the nightly toll we report for you here of civilians being hit by Russian barrages. Again, a Iskander missiles hitting here, regular, frankly, response from Moscow because it seems the pressure they're feeling on the southern front line here, and one that led Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to say that they needed more air defenses and pledged to Ukrainians that they would see F-16 U.S. supplied jets in the skies here soon.

That's a number of months off, but it really speaks to a key issue Ukraine is currently having in their southern counteroffensive. We saw parts of that firsthand, some of the first journalists trying to get to the front line, and the real key focus of Ukraine's push south.

The troops there really struggling to make the progress they want to, Western analysts being critical of the slow pace that they're seeing on the front lines there. But the real issue they're facing is Russian air superiority.

Russia is able to drop half-ton bombs on their positions on the town that they're trying to coral troops in. And that is setting up the pace of that counteroffensive. They're also seeing mine fields, deep Russian trenches, and at times the troops said to us seeing a Russian force that's actually better equipped, better trained and more able to hold those positions than they had in fact expected.

So a tough fight author them certainly. But they were very dismissive of the criticism of the pace that they'd currently managed to gain so far in the counteroffensive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, stay safe.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.