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The Situation Room
Disaster Declared In Hawaii As Wildfire Death Toll Rises; Special Counsel Seeks January 2 Start For Trump Election Trial; Five Americans Detained In Iran Now Under House Arrest; FBI Shoots, Kills Man Accused Of Threatening Biden; New Details On Gifts, Hospitality For Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 10, 2023 - 18:00 ET
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Our coverage now with Wolf Blitzer who is in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, spreading flames and devastation in Hawaii now officially a federal disaster area as the death toll rises from an unprecedented wildfire emergency. The Hawaii governor, Josh Green, joins us this hour with an update on the crisis and urgent evacuations.
Also tonight, a proposed January 2nd trial date for Donald Trump and the 2020 election interference case, the special counsel's team hoping to start the trial just ahead of the January 6th anniversary and the first Republican presidential contest.
And Americans released from a notorious prison in Iran. Five wrongfully held U.S. citizens now under house arrest in a potential step toward freedom. We're learning more about why they were moved and how it could wind up helping Iran.
Welcome to our viewer here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get right to the wildfire disaster in Hawaii right now. It's now killed at least 36 people. The death toll expected to keep climbing as prime tourist havens become charred ruins.
CNN's Veronica Miracle is on the ground for us in Maui, but, first, let's go to CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He just filed this report.
DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Tonight, fires on the island of Maui continuing to burn out of control, as new federal help is now being dispatched amid unprecedented widespread destruction. Scenes like this becoming more common, businesses melted, historical sites gone, homes reduced to ash and smoke. At least three dozen people have died. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Officials say hundreds of families are displaced.
MARK STEFL, LAHAINA RESIDENT, LOST HOME: Everybody in our neighborhood lost everybody.
VAN DAM: Mark Stefl's home in Lahaina is gone as is much of the tourist destination and economic hub. Stefl making a harrowing, heartbreaking escape.
STEFL: We ran downstairs, grabbed our dogs and cats, and we lost a cat and a dog because of just confusion. And the fire just engulfed our house.
VAN DAM: Officials say winds associated with Hurricane Dora helped fuel the fires that have now impacted more than 250 structures in Lahaina, plus Hawaii's big island. These before-and-after images near Lahaina Shores beach resort are staggering, same with this stretch of beach, where a number of buildings are simply gone.
Today, President Joe Biden approving a disaster declaration for Hawaii, providing federal financial assistance, and the pentagon now activating more than 100 National Guardsmen to help in the response.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Anyone who lost a loved whose homes have been damaged or destroyed is going to get help immediately.
VAN DAM: Assistance meant to help Maui County residents, like La Phena Davis.
LA PHENA DAVIS, MAUI RESIDENT, LOST HOME: Everything that we own in all my 50 years of life is completely burned to the ground.
VAN DAM: Today, residents and tourists alike finding refuge in a Honolulu convention center.
CHRISTINA JOHNSON, EVACUATED HOME: The gas station blew up at like 3:00. And since then, we've just been trying to outrun a fire.
VAN DAM: As firefighters work to contain the deadly blaze, residents look at the monumental task ahead.
DAVIS: It's not just a loss of our home. It's a loss of our entire community, our town that we've known it to be for generations. And it's completely devastating. We are shook to our core.
VAN DAM (on camera): As severe drought conditions to continue to intensify in Maui County, there is science-backed research that attributes our wildfires to a changing climate. 90 percent of Hawaii is actually seeing less rainfall than it did a century ago. The fingerprints of climate change written all over this story. Wolf?
BLITZER: Indeed. Derek Van Dam, thank you very much. Now, let's go to Maui. CNN's Veronica Miracle is on the scene for us. Veronica, first of all, what are you seeing and what are you hearing?
VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, absolute devastation on the ground. And this group of volunteers, they have come together just in the last hours. They put out a call asking people to bring donations and people have been coming in droves bringing supplies.
They've packed a boat and a trailer to the brim and it's already on its way to those stuck in Lahaina. Another trailer still being packed up and they're going to be sending -- on its way soon.
Some of these people heard firsthand accounts. They've lost loved ones. They've lost community members and friends, others actually experienced the devastation themselves. One man I just spoke with escaped the flames. He lost his house. He lost his car. He barely got out with his life. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLORIAN BAYOL, LAHAINA RESIDENT, LOST HOUSE AND CAR: There's a lot of people, more than 36 people that didn't make it. I tried to warn as many people as I could. We tried. There was a lot of people, like -- I think it was just like so chaotic that nobody knew. There were no phone connections. And as much as I was trying to save and let people k now, there were no options. We just had to go. I went in and got my kids and we were stuck. And now, I got the news that there's like so many friends that I don't know if they made it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MIRACLE: Flo's story is just one story. There are many, and they are all absolutely heartbreaking and devastating, Wolf. the numbers are staggering. Right now, 36 people reported dead. As we know, there are more that are feared to be dead.
The Coast Guard saying they had to rescue 50 people from the ocean, those who jumped in the water to try and escape the flames. Right now, nearly 11,000 people remain without power in the Lahaina and they're in need of supplies. That's why these boat shipments and these trailers heading to them, they are so critical right now, as people are just trying to survive. Wolf?
BLITZER: Our hearts go out to all those families. Veronica Miracle in Maui for us, thank you very much.
Let's get an update right now from Hawaii's governor, Josh Green. He's joining on the phone from Maui. Governor, thank you so much for taking a few moment to update our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.
I know you toured one of the most devastated parts of Maui earlier today. What are you seeing on the ground there? GOV. JOSH GREEN (D-HI) (voice over): Aloha, Wolf. In fact, I'm walking right now on Front Street in Lahaina and talking on a satellite phone with you.
There's no doubt everyone would describe this as if a bomb hit Lahaina. It looks like total devastation, buildings that we have all enjoyed and celebrated together for decades, for generations, are completely destroyed, and I mean smoldering still. Churches, only a few stone buildings are partially up. It looks to me like about 80 percent of Lahaina is gone.
It will be an incredible recovery and we're grateful to the president. He was very generous already with us, providing support through FEMA. It is destroyed. And we will have hundreds of families displaced so we'll begin to recover soon. First, we're going to find out the extent of loss of lives.
BLITZER: Yes. And we'll get to that in a moment. I know you had a conversation with President Biden earlier today. How soon until his federal disaster aid actually starts making a real difference in Hawaii? And where is it needed most right now, Governor?
GREEN (voice over): Well, it's made a difference in our spirit already this morning knowing that we're going to have these resources for displaced families. That's a big deal. It can be just days before we can see some resource come to the many hundreds of families that will need help. It takes more time for insurance to ever kick in, which we'll also be advocating for.
But we are standing here also with the leadership of FEMA. They're already on the ground. We're grateful for them. They've been by our side the whole way and we have our leadership teams of about 80 people today preparing all of the strategies that we have to put in place to get our people well again.
But it only took six hours for President Biden to approve our emergency request, just six hours. I signed the order as governor at about ten minutes after midnight. And by 6:20 in the morning, he was already calling and saying yes. So, we're grateful for that kind of just really thoughtful response for our state.
BLITZER: Earlier today, Governor, the authorities reported 36 people in Hawaii have been killed in this disaster. Is that the most recent number you have as well?
GREEN (voice over): The number is higher, Wolf. I have to share and, tragically, we'll be releasing new number about 3:30 Hawaii Standard Time today. We do know that more people will have perished. We also are only now getting some of our search and rescue personnel into other houses. There are helicopters floating around the community right now.
That number is going to go up very significantly. And so our hearts are out to all the families. We haven't had a loss of life incident like this for many years in Hawaii statehood, which began in 1959. We've only had now two events that had more fatalities than just a handful. In 1960, we had 61 fatalities when a large wave came through big islands. This time, it's very likely that our death totals will significantly exceed that, I'm afraid. Officially, it's 36 fatalities now.
BLITZER: I just want to follow up on that point, Governor. I know you're going to announce formally at your news conference that's coming up, but what's the latest number that you have now that you can share with us?
GREEN (voice over): Well, out of respect to the mayor, it's about 20 percent higher already. I'm cautious because they are right now making sure that we don't duplicate any casualties. I'm an emergency room physician otherwise and one of the things we always learn is we don't want to say anything that makes people more panicked.
But as we get into the many hundreds of houses that were overwhelmed by fire, of course we have great concern. We will find the remains of people that were not able to escape. You'll see the numbers go into the 40s today, at the least, and our teams are working diligently.
It is a challenging place because we don't have a lot of resources in some cases, whether they're healthcare or mortuary resources. So, we're careful about that. But I'll tell you, by the time this disaster is all described, you can be sure there will be dozens of people that lost their lives and billions of dollars of property that was destroyed.
So, we just thank everyone on the mainland for support (INAUDIBLE) especially on Maui.
BLITZER: We're with you, Governor, every step of the way. How many people are in shelters in Hawaii right now and how many are unaccounted for? Do you have those numbers?
GREEN (voice over): I do. It was over 2,000 people -- points that were in shelters or just airport. What we're doing right now is telling people that if they don't need to be in Maui that we ask them to be in other parts of Hawaii.
But we had over 2,000 people at one point, I believe, sheltered. We have, as you reported earlier, over 11,000 people without power right now on West Maui. And, gradually, we will find permanent housing for individuals, but that's going to be one of our largest lists.
Interestingly, we're already under an emergency order because my team is trying to build housing due to the severe shortage in our state. But now, of course, things are made worse. I would say, and I think viewers would be interested in this, it looks to be maybe upwards of 1,700 buildings that were destroyed. Our initial counts were the 300 range. We're now getting the idea it may be as high as 1,700.
And having just walked the full length of Front Street, our eyes are watering from the smoke still, you can imagine how many other people are still displaced and we haven't been able to account for.
BLITZER: Yes, because we know that the fire in Lahaina, where you were, is now, we're told, about 80 percent contained. Governor, how long will it be until all fires are under control?
GREEN (voice over): Well, the fire looks very well-controlled now in Lahaina. I see smoke and smoldering. We just walked the full extent of it. It was described (INAUDIBLE) like the fire and today into these regions. (INAUDIBLE) we want to give really heroic effort of the hundred firefighters on Maui that fought this for the last (INAUDIBLE). We added 12 firefighters from Oahu, I believe 21. They're working (INAUDIBLE) resources.
But, look, (INAUDIBLE) although --
BLITZER: Yes, we're losing that connection, Governor, which is understandable given what's going on in Hawaii right now. But we want to just thank you so much for spending a few moments with us, updating our viewers. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Hawaii. We're with you every step of the way. Thank you so much for joining us.
GREEN (voice over): Can I say one last thing? And that's that if people across the want to support Hawaii, if you go to the Hawaii Community Foundation. The Hawaii Community Foundation is raising money for the recovery. It is the most reputable (INAUDIBLE) in Hawaii and a lot of people will be helped if they decide to invest in a place they love from afar.
BLITZER: And people will want to do that. And I just want to also share with our viewers some information we have here at CNN on how you, our viewers, can help Hawaii wildfire victims. Go to cnn.com/impact or you can text Hawaii to 707070 to donate.
Really important, and if you can do that, everybody would be grateful.
Governor Josh Green, thank you so much for joining us. We'll continue to check in with you down the road. Sadly, the story is not going away.
Just ahead, other news we're following, the special counsel reveals its preferred start date for Donald Trump's election subversion trial. Will the judge agree to try the former president's case just before the first Republican primary contest?
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The special counsel, Jack Smith, is looking to move very, very quickly in his 2020 election subversion case against Donald Trump, asking a federal judge to start the trial on January 2nd of next year. Our Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now. Paula, we not only know when Jack Smith wants this trial to begin but we also, I understand, know how long he expects the government to start presenting its case.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. They want this case to start first thing at the beginning of next year, and they say it will take about four to six weeks.
And the special counsel argues that this would, quote, vindicate the public interest in a speedy trial.
But this would also come during the first two months of an election year, during a critical time for any candidate when primary voting for Republicans will begin. And if he was to be on trial, that would mean that Trump, the candidate, would be spending most of his weekdays likely in a courtroom.
Now, there's also one other wrinkle we're learning about, and that is the special counsel has revealed there is at least some classified evidence in this case, and that's significant, that could potentially delay this just a little bit. But the Special Counsel insists that even with that classified evidence, they're still going to be on track to begin this case first thing January of next year.
But defense attorneys, they're also going to get to weigh in with when they think this should go to trial. And if the Florida case is any indication, we expect they will likely ask to delay this until after the 2024 election.
Now, all of this will be sorted out at a hearing at the end of the month. That was supposed to be the first hearing before Judge Chutkan, who will handle this trial. But, in fact, we will all be in court tomorrow for the first hearing before Judge Chutkan as she hears arguments on how sensitive evidence in this case will be handled.
BLITZER: Yes, it will be very important. We'll cover that, obviously.
In the other case brought by the Special Counsel over classified documents down at Mar-a-Lago, we saw both of Trump's co-defendants in court today tell our viewers what happened.
REID: That's right. They were both in court, but only one was arraigned. Walt Nauta was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to new charges that were filed against him, but the former president's other co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, he was not arraigned because he had not fully secured a Florida-based attorney.
As we've seen, this has been an ongoing issue for Trump and his co- defendants trying to secure lawyers in Florida. We're told by some Florida defense attorneys there are concerns about getting paid. It's also politically-fraught case, and there are concerns about alienating current clients or future clients. But it does appear that he has now secured a lawyer. And, of course, all of these problems of retaining counsel also have the added impact, and for them, benefit of delaying this case, just a little here, just a little there, and that all adds up.
BLITZER: Yes, the Trump Team wants to delay as much as they possibly can. Paula, stay with us. We have more to discuss.
I also want to bring in our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig and CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams. Elie, the special counsel wants to start this trial coming up very soon on January 2nd. Is that enough time? What kind of complications would there be starting then?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, that's an extraordinarily aggressive ask by Jack Smith's team at DOJ, and I see complications on both sides. First of all, what DOJ has asked for is a trial date starting in early January with jury selection to start in mid-December. That would mean that Donald Trump's team would have about four months from indictment to get ready for trial.
It is virtually unheard of to have a federal conspiracy fraud case of any breadth, of any complexity go to trial anywhere near that quickly. At a minimum, a case like that in the federal system typically would take a year to a year and a half to get to trial.
And on the back end, as Paula noted, even if this case takes, let's say, two to three months to try starting in January, they're going to run right into and perhaps over the current March start date for the hush money trial that's scheduled here in New York. So, something has got to give one way or another on these trials.
BLITZER: Yes, something has got to give, clearly. Elliot, it's interesting, the Iowa caucuses, as you know, they're scheduled for January 15th, just after this proposed trial start date of January 2nd. Is that something the judge will factor in?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The judge can factor it in, but it's sort of irrelevant to the ultimate outcome of the trial. Look, there's a lot of points along the way. This is to back up the things that Elie was saying a moment ago that could potentially slow this down.
Let's talk about jury selection for a moment back in December. That only leaves ten days, ten working days from the time the trial starts until the holidays begin. That's just not a lot of time to pick a jury in a matter this sensitive.
So, the judge can factor in things like the Iowa caucuses. But, look, this is going to be a long process that is going to stretch if it starts in January, probably into the spring. And so the Iowa caucuses aren't the only matter that's probably going to be preempted by this trial.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Paula, as we learned today, nine more of the Michigan so-called fake Trump electorates were actually arraigned on felony charges today. How difficult could this case end up being for the prosecutors to prove? REID: It's a fascinating case. It's a first of its kind prosecution. Here, you have 16 Michigan Republicans who have been charged with felonies for their role in this fake elector scheme to help overturn the election in favor of former President Trump. And defense attorneys have said that they are going to challenge this as a novel issue because it is such an unprecedented case. So, it's definitely one to watch.
BLITZER: We will watch it, of course, guys, thank you very much. Paula Reid. Elie Honig, Elliot Williams, thank you.
Coming up, at least four Republican presidential candidates have now signed the party's so-called loyalty pledge, despite Donald Trump's refusal to say he'll support the eventual nominee.
But, first, we'll go back live to Hawaii to hear the very harrowing firsthand accounts of the wildfire survivors who shot this terrifying video that you're watching right now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're getting new firsthand accounts right now from the wildfire disaster in Hawaii, the governor telling me just a few moments ago that the death toll will climb higher than 36 at least into the 40s.
Joining us now, resident of the heart -hit community of Lahaina, Bosco Bae, he is joining us right now. He says it looked like it was raining fire on his town. Bosco, thank you so much for joining us. Our hearts go out to you and everyone else there.
We're showing our viewers the video you shot of your escape. What was it like to fight through these fires?
BOSCO BAE, VICTIM OF HAWAII FIRES: Honestly, it was something out of a movie. I've seen a lot of things in my day. I'm a ten-and-a-half year Air Force veteran. I've done some deployments, but I'd never quite experienced anything quite like it. It was dark as night could be, even though it was still the daytime.
At some points, gusts of winds would clear the smoke away, and I could see the sun shine down through the smoke, and it was very surreal.
The wind was so strong that it seemed like it was raining fire, everything -- there were ambers just flying through the streets, setting anything it could ablaze. It was really surreal, something out of a movie that's kind of an end of day scenario, if you could call it something like that.
BLITZER: As you noted, Bosco, you served in the Air Force. You're an Air Force veteran. Did that experience help you navigate this horrible situation?
BAE: That experience 100 percent helped me navigate the situation. My instinctive training kicked in. For me, I felt calm. That's kind of the training that you get in situations that are life threatening. You've got to be able to keep your cool. You've got to be able to do critical thinking. You've got to be able to make smart decisions.
Some would say that I was, you know, maybe not the smartest guy, because I was one of the last people to leave Front Street. Me and a co-worker, John Monet (ph), also who works with me at the Heart Gallery, we tried to save as much as we could. We felt it was within our power to do what we could. We had garden hoses out. We had a fire hose out. We were trying to wet the ground, put out the small fires.
Honestly, I felt like I was in control until I didn't and then, instinctively, I knew it was time to go and evacuate.
BLITZER: How are you doing now, Bosco? Are you getting the help you need?
BAE: Currently, luckily, I have a great circle here. The community alone, we're all reaching out. We're keeping in contact. We're making sure everybody is safe. We're making sure nobody is lost. We're making sure everybody made it out. So, at this point we, within our circle, haven't had any losses yet, but I am hearing of some tragic, unable to communicate, unable to find people.
The thing was, when the power went out, it took the whole grid out. So, there's no communication, Wi-Fi, cell phone access in any way for people to be able to reach out and ask for help or to communicate with their loved ones. So, it's a really unfortunate situation.
BLITZER: Bosco, I know you said you want to eventually go back and see what's left of your home and the art gallery where you work. Are you hopeful that they're still standing or that they will be rebuilt?
BAE: You know what, I'm going to put it in God's hands. We did what we could to try to save what we could. I'm hearing rumors that possibly the apartment building that was right behind the gallery that we were also trying to save is still standing. But until I go and see it, it's one of those things that I'm not going to count the chickens before they hatch. But I am hopeful.
Either way, we will rebuild. We'll make do with whatever. Front Street has been you staple of Lahaina or even Maui for a long period of time, and it's not going anywhere. One way or another, we will rebuild and rise from these ashes.
BLITZER: Your governor, Josh Green, just told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM a few minutes ago that 80 percent of Lahaina is destroyed. What goes through your mind, Bosco, when you're trying to process that?
BAE: Well, the thing about Lahaina is everything is close to each other. Houses are close to each other, businesses are close to each other. So, it's one of those things that's unfortunate but was going to be inevitable. If one building burns, the building next to it is going to burn with higher winds, no way to stop the fire from spreading.
We live on an island. We know hurricane season. We know things to be wary of. But we just never thought it would get to this degree. The winds usually stop at some point, but it seemed like they just were continuous, were only getting stronger and it was just one of those situations that no one expected to happen.
And everything happened so quickly that a lot of people had to evacuate and took nothing with them. I didn't even have a chance to go into my apartment to grab a bag of personal belongings or anything else. I was really more focused on trying to prevent the fire from spreading.
So, you know, that was a choice of mine and I stick with it and I don't regret it. But I hope know I have some stuff left, some reminders of my life left. But if not, then we have to pick up and move on.
BLITZER: Have you been able, Bosco, to talk to any family or friends? Is there anything you would like to say to them now?
BAE: I've been able to get in touch with most of my family and friends, but anybody who is watching this or listening, I'm safe. We're safe and everybody in my circle, you know that I can take care of and I'm going to make sure it's safe also.
BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, Bosco. Good luck to all your family and friends. Good luck to everyone out there in Hawaii. We'll stay in close touch with you as well down the road. Thank you so much for joining us.
BAE: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate your time and I thank you for the coverage.
BLITZER: Of course, thank you.
Turning out of politics, the Republican presidential hopefuls are descending on the Iowa State Fair as time runs out to qualify for the first GOP primary debate. At least four candidates have now signed what's called the loyalty pledge required to participate, even as the frontrunner, Donald Trump, says he won't take the oath. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: And I wouldn't sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge if people on there that I wouldn't have? I wouldn't have certain people, as you know, somebody that I had endorsed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is joining us live from the Iowa State Fair. He's got an update for us. So, Jeff, which candidates have signed the pledge so far?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if we do know that, as you said, four candidates have signed the pledge. One of them was campaigning, uh, at the Iowa State Fair here, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. Vivek Ramaswamy has also signed the pledge. Nikki Haley has signed the pledge and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has also signed the pledge as of now. We do expect others to sign to get on the debate stage.
Of course, the big question hanging over all of this is Donald Trump going to debate or not. We will see what he decides.
But, Wolf, an interesting exchange here, just a few moments ago at the fair when former Vice President Mike Pence was delivering a speech on the Soap Box, it's called, sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper, they invite all the candidates to deliver stump speeches and then take questions from people in the audience.
One man asked why Pence committed treason on January 6th. This is what the former vice president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: There's almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could pick the American president. I mean, the American presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.
People deserve to know that on that day, the former president asked me to choose him over my oath to the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: And, Wolf, at least in that crowd of people who turned out to see the former vice president, there was applause when he explained his actions on January 6th, which, of course, were not treasonous at all.
So, the former vice president is one of many candidates campaigning here. The former president, Donald Trump, comes here on Saturday, Wolf. So, a lot of activity among all the Republican candidates over the next few days here.
There's 158 days until the Iowa caucuses open the Republican presidential contest on January 15th. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Des Moines for us, Jeff, thank you very much.
Just ahead, a potential first step towards bringing five wrongfully detained Americans home from Iran. We'll have details when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight, a significant new development and efforts to win the release of U. S. citizens held in Iran.
CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood has more from the State Department.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the White House confirming five Americans held by Iran are a step closer to freedom --
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, good afternoon, everyone.
ATWOOD: -- freedom that for the United States will come at a price.
BLINKEN: My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare and the nightmare that their families have experienced.
ATWOOD: Four Americans today being moved out of Iran's notorious Evin Prison and joining a fifth under house arrest. Three of them, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi have been held by Iran for years. And tonight, sources telling CNN their full freedom is part of an elaborate, multinational effort involving billions of dollars and a potential prisoner swap.
Among those potential plans, giving Tehran easier access to $6 billion in Iranian funds currently held in South Korea. A source familiar with the negotiations saying there would still be strict limitations on how that money could be used. For their part, Iran also said that five Iranian prisoners in the U.S. would be released as part of the deal.
But the Biden administration still needs to finalize some details in the coming weeks, leaving plenty of room for something to go wrong.
JARED GENSER, LAWYER FOR SIAMAK NAMAZI: All we know now today with any assurances are that they are out under house arrest. And what happens next is anyone's guess.
ATWOOD: National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson called their move to house arrest, quote, an encouraging step, but said that the Biden administration will not rest until they are back in the U.S., calling ongoing negotiations delicate.
Siamak Namazi is the longest-held American prisoner, arrested in 2015 and left behind in multiple deals between the U.S. and Iran that freed other Americans. His brother telling CNN this in 2021.
BABAK NAMAZI, BROTHER OF SIAMAK NAMAZI: Each time I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, it turned out to be a fast moving train, unfortunately.
ATWOOD: And Siamak was so desperate to get out that he courageously called CNN's Christiane Amanpour from behind bars earlier this year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Desperate times call for desperate measures.
ATWOOD (on camera): Now, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said just this afternoon that today, State Department officials have been in contact with these five Americans who are now under house arrest in Iran. He said they are very happy, of course, to be out of prison.
But he wants to make sure that the United States completes this process to actually bring them home to their families in the United States. Wolf?
BLITZER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you very much.
Coming up, we are learning more information about the Utah man who was fatally shot by law enforcement after making death threats to President Biden and other U.S. officials.
BLITZER: President Biden visiting Utah today one day after the FBI fatally shot a man while attempting to arrest him for allegedly making death threats against the president and other U.S. officials.
Brian Todd is covering this story for us.
Brian, what are you learning about him?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have disturbing new information from prosecutors about this man, not only regarding the threats he had made against the president but also similar threats against law enforcement.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, law enforcement fish officials are conducting a post-incident review of a deadly confrontation in Utah, an FBI shooting response team launched from the agency's headquarters in Washington to the scene.
Just hours before President Biden's visit to Utah, FBI agents approached a man named Craig Robertson at his home in the state. Robertson, court documents say, had made violent threats against the president and other Democratic politicians. A law enforcement source tells CNN when FBI SWAT agents gave commands to Robertson, he point added a gun at them and was then shot and killed.
In court documents, prosecutors say, in one social media post, Robertson said, quote, I hear Biden is coming to Utah. Digging out my old ghillie suit, which is a camouflage suit for snipers and, quote, cleaning the dust off the M24 sniper rifle.
But if Robertson was just spouting off and he hadn't acted on any threats, why go in with force?
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: His comments about the president arriving in his area, preparing to take out his sniper rifle and engage in some sort of violence directed at the president of the United States. That is clearly beyond the pale. Those are actionable threats and that's what brought the FBI to his door.
TODD: Documents say Robertson had also made threats towards prosecutors who have brought cases against former President Donald Trump, like Attorney General Merrick Garland, New York state attorney general, Letitia James, and Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg. In one post, prosecutors say Robertson wrote that he wanted to, quote, stand over Bragg and put a nice hole in his forehead with my 9 millimeters.
How much is the political climate in the United States these days fueling all of this?
MATT DOHERTY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SIKICH LLC: No question, and it gets difficult for law enforcement threat investigators to determine what's a real serious posing of a threat, and what's a direct threat.
TODD: Investigators say in March FBI agents approached Robertson at his house about a social media post. He refused to speak to them, documents saying. Then afterward posted a message to the FBI saying, quote, you have no idea how close your agents came to bang.
MCCABE: Then he begins taunting the agents with multiple postings on social media telling them that he almost shot them that day.
TODD: Part of a threat environment that's getting more alarming. Recently, the U.S. Capitol police chief said threats against lawmakers had gone up more than 400 percent over the past six years.
DOHERTY: The rhetoric is rising. The direct threats are rising, and for them to screen and figure out which resources go to which cases is just going to be critically important for that information sharing.
TODD (on camera): Now, what concerns former Secret Service special agent Matt Doherty about what lies ahead is the possibility that those who mean harm to top officials might switch targets, realizing that someone like President Biden has several layers of protection. They might then refocus their plots on those who have less protection like some judges or members of Congress, and, of course, they, Wolf, have already been targeted.
BLITZER: So disturbing, indeed.
All right. Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a new report shedding additional light on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's luxury lifestyle and the billionaire Republican donors who have financed it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: A new report from "ProPublica" is revealing more details about the luxurious lifestyle of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
CNN's Tom Foreman has more.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The most complete accounting yet of the high life of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shows much, much more than previously known. More private jets, more fancy vacations, more sporting events, all gifts from mega rich businessmen and documented through public and private records, plus interviews by "ProPublica".
BRETT MURPHY, PROPUBLICA REPORTER: Justice Thomas has been living a life of extreme luxury for 30 years underwritten by at least four different ultra-wealthy benefactors.
FOREMAN: Earlier reports have revealed lavish gifts to Thomas, including a house for his mother, and his nine-day vacation in Indonesia from conservative billionaire Harlan Crow.
CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I come from regular stock.
FOREMAN: Who also underwrote a film about Thomas's humble taste.
THOMAS: I prefer the RV parks.
FOREMAN: Now, the list of benefactors includes three more names according to "ProPublica", David Sokol, Wayne Huizenga and Tony Novelly.
The report says the four moguls collectively treated Thomas to 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around Bahamas, 26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter, a dozen VIP passage to professional and college sporting events, two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica, and one standing invitation to an uber exclusive golf club.
The dollar value, likely in the millions, little of which appeared in required financial disclosures according to "ProPublica". Thomas has previously said he didn't feel the need to disclose some gifts.
And that worries Jeremy Fogel, an expert on judicial ethics and a former judge.
JEREMY FOGEL, BERKELEY JUDICIAL INSTITUTE: I simply couldn't have done this, and even if the people involved didn't have interest before the court, it's -- it is just the idea that you are receiving gifts of this magnitude.
FOREMAN: Associate justices make about $285,000 a year. In 2001, when they made about $100,000 less, Thomas spoke up.
THOMAS: The job is not worth doing for what they pay. It's not worth doing for the grief, but it is worth doing for the principle.
FOREMAN: Now, he bristles at questions about his principles. He calls Crow merely a friend. Crow says they never talk about Thomas's work and the new report found none of these wealthy pals seemed to have had cases before the court. Still --
MURPHY: It's one of which one of these new benefactors, just like Harlan Crow, came into his life after he was appointed to the Supreme Court. That's why it's so problematic from an ethics standpoint.
FOREMAN (on camera): There's no indication that these wealthy friends broke any rules or laws with these extravagant gifts, or necessarily even that the justice did in accepting them, but at a time when faith and confidence in the court has been cratering, Wolf, it's not a good look.
BLITZER: Yeah, Tom Foreman, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.