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Trump Arrest Warrant Issued After Historic Fourth Indictment; Trump's Georgia Co-Defendants Include Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows; Most GOP Rivals Defending Trump After Georgia Indictment; Hunter Biden Lawyers Agree Tax Charges Must Be Dismissed; Maui Death Toll Nears 100, Only 32 Percent Of Burn Area Searched. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 15, 2023 - 18:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an arrest warrant for Donald Trump has been issued in Georgia after the historic fourth criminal indictment of the former president. We're breaking down the sweeping new charges in the state's election interference case and the D.A.'s strategy for putting Trump on trial.
Also indicted in Georgia, 18 co-defendants, including former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows filing notice just a short while ago that he wants to move the case to the federal court.
All of this is hanging over the 2024 presidential race. Most of Trump's Republican rivals are defending him tonight, even as he faces more charges and the first debate nears.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
Tonight, Americans who never dreamed they'd see a former U.S. president arrested and arraigned are now bracing for it to happen a fourth time.
CNN's Sara Murray is outside the Atlanta courthouse for us. That's where Trump and 18 co-defendants were indicted. Sarah, the highly anticipated prosecution of Trump in Georgia is clearly now moving forward.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, this was a historic indictment, the fourth time the former president has been indicted. He faces 13 charges here in Georgia and he faces another demand on his schedule as he needs to find a day to surrender himself to authorities here.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY (voice over): A ten-day clock for Donald Trump and his allies to turn themselves in here in Georgia.
FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I am giving the defendants the opportunity to voluntarily surrender no later than noon on Friday, the 25th day of August, 2023.
MURRAY: After Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis unveiled the fourth indictment against the former president at a near midnight press conference.
WILLIS: The defendants engaged in a criminal racketeering enterprise to overturn Georgia's presidential election result.
MURRAY: It's the most sweeping indictment yet, charging Trump alongside 18 other defendants, including prominent alleged co- conspirators, like his former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and his former attorney Rudy Giuliani.
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I'm anxious to fight this case.
MURRAY: According to the indictment, Trump and the other defendants charged in this indictment refused to accept that Trump lost and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. If convicted of racketeering, the defendants could face a 5 to 20-year sentence.
WILLIS: The RICO charges has time that you have to serve.
MURRAY: The wide-ranging indictment covers Trump's infamous January 2021 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I just want to find 11,780 votes.
MURRAY: The harassment campaign by Trump supporters against election worker Ruby Freeman.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cannot say what specifically will take place. I just know that it will disrupt your freedom.
MURRAY: As well as the Trump campaign's fake electors plot and the breach of a voting system in rural Coffee County.
Trump posting that all charges should be dropped against me and others. There will be a complete exoneration, as he clings to baseless claims of voter fraud and vows to hold a press conference about it Monday.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp, once a Trump ally, fired back on Twitter. The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen. And the former lieutenant governor and CNN contributor who testified against Trump Monday says it's time to let the judicial process play out.
GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If Donald Trump did nothing wrong, if these co-conspirators did nothing wrong, then great. They're going to have their opportunity to share their story. MURRAY: Raffensperger also weighing in, saying the most basic principles of a strong democracy are accountability and respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. You either have it or you don't.
The Fulton County Sheriff says he hopes to keep the surrender process consistent with what local defendants usually face.
SHERIFF PATRICK LABAT, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: Unless someone tells me differently, we are following our normal practices. And so it doesn't matter your status. We have mug shots ready for you.
MURRAY: The district attorney indicating a trial could be massive.
Do you intend to try all of these defendants together?
WILLIS: Do I intend to try the 19 defendants in this indictment together? Yes.
MURRAY: And she hopes to get to it in speedy fashion.
WILLIS: We do want to move this case along. And so we will be asking for a proposed order that occurs a trial date within the next six months.
MURRAY: But that might be difficult with Trump's other criminal and civil trials next year.
MURRAY (on camera): Now, we know Donald Trump and his allies plan to fight these charges, and we're already starting to see that Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, filing, asking to move his case to federal court and asking the federal court to dismiss the charges against him.
Meadows' attorneys also saying, if the court is not prepared to dismiss the charges at this case, at this point in the case, he should still be allowed to move this to federal court and halt the state proceedings against him.
We also expect Donald Trump's legal team to make a similar move, to move the case to federal court, as well as potentially others who were named in that indictment, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara Murray reporting for us, thank you very much.
There's certainly a lot to discuss with our legal and political experts. They are here with me in The Situation Room. And, Elliot, let me start with you. As we just heard, the former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, he has now formally filed to move this case from the state to a federal court. What do you make of that?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it was expected and I think we can expect that the former president would do the same. It is a fair legal question to ask whether the kinds of claims that have been brought ought to be litigated in a federal court. It's not clear that he'll actually win, but I think it's not surprising.
Look, defendants in criminal cases often have legal challenges at the start of a proceeding, and they have to be worked out in a court of law. But then, eventually, you make it to trial, so, unsurprising.
BLITZER: In Meadows filing, Norm, his legal team, writes this and let me read from it. Nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se, arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the president's behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the president. What's your reaction?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf being part of a call to Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after the votes had been counted, recounted, and certified, where the call calls for 11,780 votes that don't exist, that is per se criminal. Being a part of an elaborate scheme, as alleged by Fani Willis, to produce counterfeit electoral certificates, those are phony as three dollar bills, that is per se criminal.
So, the kinds of things that are alleged as to the former White House chief of staff, the former president, amount to allegations of an attempted coup. It cannot be the case legally. It's fair to ask, it's fair to try. Elliot and I have been talking about this for more than two years now that this day would come. But it's extremely unlikely to succeed because the question is, is engineering an attempted coup part of official White House chief of staff duties. That can't be right.
BLITZER: Well, it will be. Carrie, beyond Meadows and Trump, could any of these other co-defendants seek to move this whole trial from the state to the federal?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it would depend on the particular defendant that is involved. So, in Meadows case, it's because he was the chief of staff of the White House, he was a federal employee. So, there's a provision that enables a federal official, if they were performing their official duties or acting at the direction of a federal official to be able to move. So, it would depend on each individual's whether or not they were a federal employee. And so they have a legitimate claim.
And I think in this case, I agree that Meadows has a credible claim. Whether it'll be successful or not, we don't know. But at least it's a not frivolous claim.
BLITZER: We shall see what happens on that front. Audie, as you know, as everybody knows, Trump, he still has a pretty massive lead in all these Republican contests going forward. Do you think this fourth indictment will affect that?
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's different about this one is it's the direct action, meddling in a state right, right, calling up those officials, the fake electorate stuff. None of it is theoretical when it comes to the Georgia case. But, more importantly, all of these things happen kind of in the open. And what we're asking the public is not whether or not you believe Trump is being persecuted but what do you think is acceptable behavior when you challenge an election. What crosses over into the territory of coup, and what should the criminality be considered in that?
I don't think, culturally, we really have an answer for that because we haven't encountered this before. So, this is the opportunity for the candidate, of course, to say, it's about me, you're being persecuted. But this is also a chance for the justice system to say, look, there were election workers that suffered real harm because of the attention you brought with your claims. There are people who have been damaged in this process to say nothing of democracy itself. This is the opportunity where we the people get to have a real conversation about whether or not any of these actions were actually criminal and what that means for us going forward.
BLITZER: Yes. Some of those election workers in Georgia were getting threats, as we all know --
CORNISH: Rudy is still facing a defamation suit, Rudy Giuliani, about that case, just like I think, down the street from there.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. It's interesting, Elliot. The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, is charging, and let me read this, charging Trump and his 18 co-defendants with racketeering, also known as RICO, which ties all of their alleged misconduct together. Walk us through how this works.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Someone described this today as conspiracy on steroids, which is an excellent to think about what racketeering is. You have an enterprise or a criminal organization with the goal of carrying out any number of enumerated acts that are linked together, right?
Now, each person is responsible for some part of the criminal enterprise, and it can carry with it quite significant penalties. And so that is quite aggressive. It's an aggressive way to charge. But Fani Willis and this office has a tremendous amount of experience in bringing racketeering cases.
CORNISH: In unusual places, right. Like the education case against teachers, that felt very unexpected. Hip hop artists are still talking about what happened in Georgia in terms of RICO charges being brought against various artists. So, she has familiarity using it in unorthodox ways.
BLITZER: Why do you think she decided to move in such a broad way with all these defendants in the same case as opposed to focusing simply as the special counsel did on Trump?
CORDERO: Yes, there really are some significant differences between the federal case and this Georgia case. And that's one of them, the fact that she chose to name so many of the co-defendants, the co- conspirators. I think it strengthens her case from the perspective of she's really able to tell the story of the conspiracy of the criminal enterprise that she's alleging took place.
What's different in the federal context is the special counsel. One could argue that he made a strategic decision because maybe it will make the case go faster. But I think what gets lost in the federal indictment because he only named the former president, is the ability to really tell that story and show this wasn't just one person. And it's not just about, quote/unquote, persecuting someone. It is numerous people who were involved in the alleged conspiracy.
BLITZER: Yes, important point, indeed, All right, everybody stand by, a lot more to discuss.
Just ahead, new reaction to the Georgia indictment from some of Trump's Republican primary opponents. The stakes higher as the first GOP presidential debate is just a few days away.
BLITZER: Right now, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination is facing a total of, get this, 91 criminal charges in four different criminal cases.
Let's take a closer look at the political ramifications of Trump's latest indictment, this one in Georgia. Our Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is here with me in The Situation Room.
How are these new charges playing at least so far in the 2024 contest?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's dominating basically everything, not just for the frontrunner, Donald Trump, but for all of his rivals as well, because they are constantly asked about it. They're constantly trying to thread the needle here, how to talk about it.
As we know, most of them have been supportive of him. Most of them have been really echoing his words because they are afraid to talk about the actual charges here, with the exception of a few of them, Chris Christie, of course, leading the way. He, in fact, was on The Lead with Jake Tapper earlier today and had a nuanced discussion about that. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I didn't think it was a necessary thing to do once you saw that Jack Smith was charging him federally for the very same conduct. There's a lot of disturbing conduct here, not just by Donald Trump, but by a number of others named in the indictment.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They're now doing an inordinate amount of resources to try to shoehorn this contest over the 2020 election into a RICO statute, which was really designed to be able to go after organized crime, not necessarily to go after political activity.
And so I think it's an example of this criminalization of politics. I don't think that this is something that's good for the country.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): We see the legal system being weaponized against political opponents. That is un-American and unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, basically, all the Republican rivals there are, if not supporting him, they're certainly giving him cover.
And, Wolf, if I talked to an Iowa Republican voter over the weekend who said something that really sticks with me. He said, Look, I heard Governor DeSantis say that this isn't Trump's fault. So, he's basically believing that. So, it's giving voters the permission structure, if you will, to not blame him for this.
Still, I think it's important to point out at least half the party does want to turn the page here. So, we were just at the very beginning of this. We don't know if this will change once a trial will begin.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens at that Republican debate, which is only about a week away.
ZELENY: And, of course, this will be the center of conversation regardless of if Trump is there, that he likely will not be.
BLITZER: Yes, well, we shall see. All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Our Political Commentators David Axelrod and Alice Stewart are joining us.
Alice, how do we wrap our heads around this new, rather surreal, new normal of the former president and clear Republican frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination now facing, get this, 91 criminal counts in four different cases?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, it certainly depends on who you ask. Because what we're seeing and hearing from a lot of voters across the country is this is a clear case of confirmation bias with each and every additional indictment. This really confirms the previously held notions in many people's minds that Donald Trump is a victim of the Justice Department. And on the other side, he is well-deserving of these indictments that he is facing.
What I'm hearing and seeing from Republicans across the country, and especially in these key states, a lot of these indictments, they're not paying attention to the details and the substance of these indictments, but rather, they're looking at this from a broad brush and looking at this as a lot of white and noise and saying that Donald Trump is unduly being targeted and echoing what we heard from those Republican candidates that this is the criminalization of politics and this was the overreach of the DOJ and there's a two-tier justice system, and many Republican voters truly think that.
And that's exactly why we're hearing many of Trump's challengers trying to thread the needle with keeping Trump's supporters on board but also recognizing the fact there are a lot of Republican voters who are ready to turn the page and say it is time to stop talking about Donald Trump's legal issues from the past and look at who can take on Joe Biden and his problems with leading this country into the future.
BLITZER: And on that point, David, to take a look at the calendar for next week alone, Trump's indictment, the latest indictment, is certainly going to cast an enormous shadow over this first Republican debate, whether he eventually participates or not. If many of his 2024 rivals are defending him, how will the party ever move on from him?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. No, look, you know, whatever you think about Donald Trump, his ability to hijack the narrative and kind of brand the narrative is really something to behold. And we've seen it for eight years, but it's gone beyond anything we ever imagined at this point.
Listen, 70 percent of Republicans still believe because Donald Trump told them and because he had an amen corner among Republican politicians that the last election was fraudulent, more than that, believe that he shouldn't be prosecuted. That's how successful he's been in selling this story.
And what you see among the Republican candidates, even if they know better, and I think they all do, I think that they are very mindful, as Alice said, of the voters they're trying to win over. And their hope is that Trump will fade away and that they will be able to inherit some of that base so they don't want to take them on. I think it's getting to the point where it's hard not to do.
The obvious point is, what is it going to be like if they get to the Republican convention next summer and their candidate, their nominee, has been convicted of federal crimes or of crimes even on the state level? How is that going to work?
And, you know, the number, Wolf, I think that we need to watch closely is how many Republicans say that Trump would be the strongest candidate against President Biden. Right now that number is over 50 percent. We've got to watch closely as these proceedings go on and see if that number diminishes. Because if it doesn't, I think he will be the nominee.
BLITZER: Very interesting. All right, David Axelrod and Alice Stewart, thank you so much.
Coming up, we'll have more on the 18 co-defendants charged in Georgia along with Donald Trump. And the former Republican attorney general for the state of Georgia joins us with his take on the Trump indictment and whether the charges will stick.
[18:27:17] BLITZER: Tonight, the man who once led the United States of America stands accused of playing a leading role in a criminal organization. We're taking a closer look at the racketeering charges against Donald Trump and his co-defendants in Georgia.
Brian Todd is working this story for us. Brian, the district attorney in Georgia lived up to expectations, moving very rapidly and relying on a statute historically used against organized crime.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. As you know, it's called the RICO statute. It's a tactic that Fani Willis will use to try to connect the dots between Donald Trump and the other defendants. And it does indeed have a storied track record in mafia cases.
TODD (voice over): In the words she spoke --
WILLIS: Participation in a criminal enterprise.
TODD: -- and the words she wrote in her indictment of Donald Trump, like calling him and his associates a criminal organization, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis made this Georgia indictment seemed like other famous prosecutions.
SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The D.A. made very clear in her remarks that this was no different than a mafia RICO conspiracy.
TODD: The Georgia RICO law is what Trump and his 18 co-defendants in Georgia are charged with violating as part of their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in that state. RICO, standing for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, experts say the advantage of RICO is that it allows several individuals to be tried together.
FREDERICKSEN: as a loose group of correlated individuals and schemes in which not every individual has to know what the other individual was doing.
TODD: But using the statute has disadvantages too.
SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The danger of using RICO is it's more complicated. You've got multiple defendants now and that makes them harder case to prove and for the jury becomes much harder to follow.
TODD: Analysts say Georgia's version of RICO is not very different from the federal RICO Act signed into law in 1970.
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, HANDLED RICO CASES: It has been extremely successful. It has been a real hammer on a lot of different defendants.
TODD: And one of the pioneers of using that RICO statute in prosecutions now finds himself targeted by it. GIULIANI: This election was a sham.
TODD: Former Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani facing several RICO related charges in the Georgia case. In the 1980s, serving as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, Giuliani was aggressive in using RICO to take down the city's most powerful dons.
AKERMAN: He used it against the mafia commission, basically breaking up the five families, going after the bosses themselves.
TODD: Notorious violent bosses like Fat Tony Salerno of the Genovese crime family, and Carmine Jr. Persico of the Colombo family, among several organized crime figures indicted by Giuliani under RICO.
WU: It was actually a very sad day to see somebody who was such a pioneer using this very statute to show how it can be used, being on the receiving end of it right now.
TODD (on camera): Throughout this investigation, Donald Trump and his allies have vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Rudy Giuliani is calling the indictment in Georgia, quote, an affront to American democracy, and he says the real criminals are the people who have brought this case forward. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thanks for that report.
Let's get some more right now on Trump's alleged co-conspirators, including Rudy Giuliani. Tom Foreman is over at the magic wall for us.
Tom Giuliani clearly played a very public role in Trump's fight to stay in the White House.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Brian just laid it out very well there, pointing out how the prosecutor is saying these people all worked implicitly and explicitly toward an improper goal, Giuliani being one of them. He was seen as sort of a ringmaster in all of this among the claims against him that he made false claims of election fraud. We saw that on T.V. over and over and over again.
But he went beyond that. He testified before Georgia legislators, lawmakers, saying to them, this was a fraud. You have to overturn it. You can't accept it. And he backed the idea of fake electors, people who would come to Washington and say, we're the real electors. Give the electoral votes to Donald Trump, even though he lost the state.
Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff, among things cited in this, and one of the things we've been aware for a long time, he was on that phone call that Trump made to the Georgia secretary of state, saying we need to find more votes. He was at a White House meeting about seizing voting machines.
He tried to observe a post-election audit in Cobb County. He didn't succeed in doing that. But, nonetheless, again, this paints him as an active player in bringing this whole effort together to flip the vote.
And, of course, Sidney Powell, who we saw on T.V. an awful lot forwarding these falsehoods about the election. In this case, one of the focuses is on a breach of election computers that happened in Coffee County.
It was presented at one time as if it were a bunch of loyal Trump local people who simply tried to get this information. Well, now there are emails suggesting that in addition to the local being charged, that there is an email chain that would go right up to the president's team in the White House, again, Wolf, painting this picture of a conspiracy, everyone working together.
Brian noted, they're all denying it, but that's what the basic form of this is taking.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Tom, because there are several others who may not necessarily be household names who have been indicted as well.
FOREMAN: Yes, that's what's really interesting about this, because you can have, just as you would have in a mob organization, like Wolf mentioned, people who don't even know the boss, have never met the boss, and yet they could all be indicted together. That's what this looks like.
Case in point, Stephen Lee, this is a minister from up around Chicago. The indictment says he came down to Atlanta to try to pressure election workers to admit to frauds that they had not committed. Trevian Kutti, this was a former publicist for R. Kelly and for Ye, for Kanye West, same accusation there. She says it's baloney, like many of them say it's baloney. But when you look at that big picture, you can see how the prosecutors trying to say all these people had one goal and they were all working toward it and it was improper. Wolf?
BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thank you very much.
Joining us now for more perspective, the former Republican attorney general for the state of Georgia, Sam Olens. Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us.
The former president, Donald Trump, he's charged with leading a criminal conspiracy under Georgia racketeering laws, known as RICO, to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Laws were originally meant to combat the mob, as you know. Are they appropriate, do you believe, in this case?
SAM OLENS, FORMER REPUBLICAN GEORGIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, absolutely. Now, Georgia's RICO statute has about 30 more statutes that pertain to it than the federal statute to expressly include false statements. So, by definition, it is prime for a prosecutor in bringing a pattern of racketeering, a criminal enterprise. And when you read her indictment, she is exhaustively listing what she contends for violations of the law.
BLITZER: Are you concerned, Attorney General, about the overlap between this case and the election interference case brought by the federal special counsel, Jack Smith? Is that a reason for Trump to not be included in these charges?
OLENS: Now, absolutely not. He is the alleged head of the criminal enterprise. I would think that the case in D.C. is apt to come up first and I would think this case in Atlanta is apt to come up second.
BLITZER: The former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, we've now learned, he's attempting to move his case to federal court out of Georgia. Trump is expected, by the way, to make a similar request.
Do you think it's likely these requests will succeed?
OLENS: No. They didn't succeed in the Alvin Bragg case. I doubt they will succeed here. The Federal Officer Removal Statute is intended to protect federal officials when actions are brought against them in state court.
This is a situation where it is alleged that federal officials violated state law, very, very different. And I would be very surprised if a federal judge ruled that removal was proper.
BLITZER: Interesting. The Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, says she will be asking for a trial date within the next six months and is intending to try all 19 defendants together. Do you think either one of these things is really achievable?
OLENS: I think it will be very difficult for six months. As you've already seen, they're going to promptly file motions and with every motion is going to come appeals. So, the only way that literally could happen is if the judge from day one has a very tight rein on when motions are filed, when they will be heard and if the appellate court similarly put a tight rein on these actions.
BLITZER: The Office of the Fulton County Clerk is now acknowledging they erroneously posted an unsigned sample version of the indictment just a few hours before the grand jury actually delivered the real indictment. Trump defenders have seized on this as proof the outcome was predetermined. What do you make of this, Attorney General?
OLENS: That's not an argument that in all likelihood will fare well with a judge. When you looked at that two-page document, it had a judge's name on it. It had, for instance, counts one, five and nine, but not two, three, four.
There were a lot of things on those two pages that didn't smell right. For instance, it also didn't have any count for criminal solicitation to commit fraud with an election, which is a big part of this indictment. So, while it included potential statutes that we all knew would probably come forward, I think this is another case of an argument being made that won't be successful.
BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. The former Georgia attorney general, Sam Olens, Attorney General, thanks so much for joining us.
OLENS: Thank you and have a great night.
BLITZER: You too. Up next, there's breaking news coming in to The Situation Room right now, breaking news on the U.S. Army private, Travis King, who crossed into North Korea last month. What the Kim Jong-un regime is now saying about this American. That's next, right here in The Situation Room.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. North Korea is now publicly confirming for the first time that missing U. S. Army Private Travis King crossed into its territory.
For more on this breaking story, I'm joined by our Senior International Correspondent Will Ripley and our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann.
Let's begin with Will, who has been closely following this story from the very beginning. What is North Korea saying tonight, Will?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is significant, Wolf, because it's the first time that North Korea is actually officially acknowledging that King actually crossed into their country.
And what they're saying is he expressed his willingness to seek refuge inside that totalitarian state. State media reporting that King confessed he ran into North Korea because North Korean state media is saying, I quote, Wolf, he harbored ill feeling against inhuman, maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.
Now, North Korea reporting that via KCNA, which also said that King crossed that military demarcation line back in early July when he was on a tour of that joint security area, the line -- dividing line between North and South Korea, and North Korea saying that they're going to continue investigating this, which means they could be releasing more information on state media even as they continue to have very little communication with the United States, Wolf.
BLITZER: Oren, what is the Pentagon saying about this latest development, and has there been any progress at all on U.S. efforts to try to secure King's release.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: After these claims by North Korea and through North Korean state media, a U.S. defense official has told CNN that they can't verify these alleged comments coming from Private King as they were reported in North Korean state media.
Meanwhile, the focus for the U.S. remains on trying to find some way to bring King home, to bring him out of North Korean custody, back into South Korea and back to the United States. But at least as of right now, that remains an incredibly difficult prospect. United Nations command in South Korea has had some communication with North Korea about this, but at least from what we understand, that's been little more than an acknowledgement from the North Koreans that the U.S. and U.N. command have reached out on this issue.
But in terms of substantive dialogue, the U.S. State Department has said, that really hasn't started. So, it's difficult to see anyway, where there has been real progress on this. Meanwhile, as we reported just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. is still debating.
And the Biden administration is discussing or considering whether to label Private King as a POW. That would, at least in theory, grant him additional protections under the Geneva Conventions. But that's not a decision the U.S. has made at this point. Wolf?
BLITZER: Interesting. Will, based on what you know about how North Korea operates, and we all remember your excellent reporting on several occasions from inside North Korea, what do you think they are likely to do with Travis King now?
RIPLEY: Well, he hasn't gone on trial yet, Wolf, so he's probably not in a prison cell. He's probably being held in some sort of a hotel room in Pyongyang, obviously kept isolated, no communication by phone or any other communication with the outside world, probably not even a television or radio. Maybe some books if they have them in English.
But what North Korea might do now that they're talking about this message that he has an anti-U.S. military message which plays right into their state media narrative, they might use this soldier, as they have other American soldiers who have defected into North Korea, which is putting them on television, sometimes putting them in movies.
And some of those who stayed in North Korea, had children, Wolf, were even used in propaganda as recently as five or six years ago where the children of these Americans were speaking Korean, talking about the problems with the American system.
And so, if Travis King is to stay inside North Korea, this could be a purpose that he would serve for them. But these days, the value of having an American soldier in custody, in propaganda is probably less than it would have been in the years following the Korean War, the decades after that.
But we just have to wait and see what else North Korea puts out, because as Oren mentioned, there's such limited communication. What we might learn about his status and his situation, even his own words eventually, might come through North Korean state media.
BLITZER: Clearly, a very, very sensitive moment right now.
Will Ripley and Oren Liebermann, guys, thank you very much.
Just ahead, Hunter Biden's defense lawyers are agreeing with the special counsel's request to have their client's tax charges dismissed. We'll explain why when we come back.
BLITZER: Hunter Biden's lawyers are agreeing the special counsel's request that the tax charges against their client must be dismissed.
CNN's Kara Scannell is covering the story for us.
Kara, why are defense attorneys now on the same page as the federal prosecutors?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that is the one thing they agree on at this point. And Biden's team saying that they do agree with prosecutors that they should dismiss these tax charges in the dental records because they don't have a plea agreement on the tax deal, and as they say, there is no venue there. None of the alleged tax crimes took place in Delaware.
That's the reason that prosecutors have asked the judge to dismiss it, too, because they said, they want the opportunity to present potentially other tech charges, or perhaps the same ones, perhaps different ones in the place for these alleged crimes took place. It's either Washington, D.C., or California. And it's also coming as hundreds pardons late to hammer out, you know, some of these outstanding attorney has withdrawn from the case because he could be a potential witness, as they try to hammer out some of this outstanding issue around this now collapsed plea deal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kara, what is the spectacle now saying, saying today, and what happens next?
SCANNELL: Yeah. So, the special counsel's team is saying that they believe, you know, there was the textile we talked about that fell apart. There's also this deal to try to resolve a felony gun possession charge. And what prosecutors inside today is that there is no deal because Hunter Biden's lawyers were telling the judge they believe they had a valid binding deal that was signed between prosecutors and Hunter Biden, and what prosecutors said, they did not get a signature from the head of probation and Delaware for the district court because that officer did not sign off on this, they said the agreement was never went into effect. It is not binding on anyone.
So they are urging the judge to assert recognize that there is no gun deal. But Hunter Biden's team is not relenting on. That they said, what I do agree with prosecutors on the text piece, they don't agree with him on the gun deal. All these arguments before the judge will have to wait and see what her next move is in this case. She was not a fan of how the gun deal was structured when I came up in the hearing last month. But the ball is in her court, so to speak, to decide what the next move is, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll wait and see what happens. Kara Scannell, thank you. This note to our viewers: coming up on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", former
Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb reacts to the former president's fourth criminal indictment. That's coming up right at the top of the hour.
And we'll have more news just ahead, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including an update on recovery efforts on Maui in the aftermath of last week's devastating wildfires. We'll have a live report from Hawaii when we come back.
BLITZER: As President Biden visited Wisconsin today, he spoke out about the ongoing wildfire recovery efforts on Maui and the possibility of actually paying a presidential visit to the disaster zone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll make sure we get everything that need. I want to be sure we don't disrupt the ongoing recovery. Every asset that need will be there for them. And we be -- we'll be there in Maui, as long as it takes, as long as it takes, and I mean that sincerely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir is on the ground for us on Maui. He's covering the story for us.
Give us the latest, Bill.
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are in the up country Kula area. The fire is still going. It is about 60 percent contained, a lot of hotspots, and sort of gulches, and galleys, hard- to-reach places. We saw a helicopter making some water drops here as well, so the devastation here not as total as it is down in Lahaina. The latest we've got from the search and rescue cadaver dog teams as they have covered about a third of the area down there, as well for folks have been identified so far. Their families will begin the notification.
It is such a grim, wrong time for the people here. So much uncertainty about where people are going to live. FEMA also made some announcements today, that there is a program to get people into whichever homes and definitely based on need. A $750 payment for those affected. Over 3,000 people have already filed with them right now and they are encouraging more to do so. You won't give up any right down the line for people looking to get help -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I understand, Bill, that the authorities are now encouraging residents with missing family members to actually provide some DNA samples. Is that right? WEIR: That is right. We actually met with a family recently. The
husband had given his DNA, because his mother has been missing. She is an elderly woman. They are pretty convinced there is no way she made it out.
Thirteen DNA profiles have been taken from facilities, and 41 samples taken from families with the missing. There are teams of identification experts, friends experts, coming in. It's painstaking. It's painful, and there are a couple of storms in the Pacific right now, Tropical Storm Greg, Hurricane Fernanda. They are far enough away we'd won't get those winds we saw last week that whipped out this firestorm, but any kind of wind and rain might hamper these efforts.
Some people need the rain, actually, to put out the hotspots. But for the essentially huge crime scene down in Lahaina, that would make things more complicated.
BLITZER: I know you've been speaking to people all today, Bill. What's their main concern right now?
WEIR: You know, there has been so much sort of trust lost in this first week, because there was no visible response from either state or federal officials. You are starting to see that now. A lot of communities head basically do-it-yourself first responders, sort of cul-de-sac commandoes in these neighborhoods. With this outpouring of aid that's been donated, it got so much the request shifted from ice and fuel and diapers to containers, to hold the stuff, for coming weather and for the long term.
There's a lot of raw motions. People are still trying to figure out what happened and what happens next.
BLITZER: If you want to help our -- all our friends in Hawaii, go to CNN.com/impact and you can impact your world.
Bill Weir, thanks very, very much for that report.
And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.