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Biden Wraps Summit With Asia Allies Amid China, North Korea Threats; Trump Expected To Surrender At Georgia Jail Next Thursday Or Friday; Ukrainian Ambassador Responds To U.S. Concerns About Crimea Attacks; Hawaii Gov: 111 Killed, 1,000+ Possibly Missing; Hilary Now A Major Category Four Hurricane. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 18, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting new reactions to the unprecedented U.S. summit with Japan and South Korea.
Also tonight, new details on the timing of Donald Trump's arrest in Georgia with the deadline for his surrender now just one week away. We'll have an update on Trump's legal and political moves, including a snub of the first Republican presidential debate.
And some U.S. officials are now raising concerns about Ukraine's ramped up attacks in Russian-occupied Crimea, fearing that Kyiv's forces are stretched too thin. I'll be getting reaction from the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. She joins us live this hour.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with a historic show of unity from the United States, Japan and South Korea, President Biden hosting his Asian allies at Camp David with an eye towards the military and economic threats that they're all facing in the Pacific region right now.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is standing by in Seoul. First, let's get straight to CNN's Arlette Saenz who is at Camp David. So, Arlette, what came out of this summit?
ARLETTE SAENZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, President Biden hosted his first leaders as president here at Camp David, and the president is hoping that the symbolism of this location of the president's retreat will really lend itself to this moment as two U.S. allies with decades of fraught history have come together with the U.S. to enter this new trilateral agreement in part as they are dealing with growing concern about a rising China in the region.
SAENZ (voice over): President Biden using the presidential retreat at Camp David as the backdrop for a new chapter with South Korea and Japan. JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I can think of no more fitting location to begin our next era of cooperation, a place that has long symbolized the power of new beginnings and new possibilities.
SAENZ: The president hosting the first ever summit between the three countries, a show of unity as they grapple with provocative moves by North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.
BIDEN: The summit was not about China. China obviously came up. Not to say we don't share concerns about the economic coercion or heightened tensions cause by China, but this summit was really about our relationship with each other.
SAENZ: The U.S., Japan and South Korea are increasing defense cooperation with annual military exercises and intelligence sharing. They're also setting up a three-way hot line to talk during times of crisis and will make their summit annual event.
The agreement falls short of offering NATO-style mutual defense assurances but ensures a commitment to consult if any one country faces a security threat.
BIDEN: This is not about a day, a week or a month. This is about decades and decades of relationships that we're building.
SAENZ: This trilateral summit once considered unimaginable due to decades of tension and the mistrust between Tokyo and Seoul, in part over a forced labor dispute during Japan's occupation of Korea. But President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida have gone to great lengths to mend faces in the face of shared security challenges as China's military and economic power grows in the region.
BIDEN: Your leadership with the full support of the United States has brought us here because each of you understands that our world stands at an inflection point.
SAENZ: Camp David has a long history with high-stakes diplomacy, the wooded retreat 60 miles from the White House teeing up groundbreaking negotiations, including the Camp David accords in 1978 when Jimmy Carter acted as a mediator for breakthrough between Israel and Egypt.
President Biden now with his own mark on history making this case that strengthened alliances are key to America's future while taking a swipe at his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
BIDEN: His America First policy walking away from the rest of the world has made us weaker, not stronger. America is strong with our allies and our alliances, and that's why we will endure, and it's a strength that quite frankly that increases all our three of our strengths.
SAENZ (on camera): Now, President Biden went to great lengths to say that this summit was not about China in part because they don't want to inflame tensions with China at this time. But so much of the president's efforts in drawing these allies close since the start of his administration has been with an eye on China's influence in the region. And at the end of the press conference, President Biden told me he does hope to have a conversation with President Xi Jinping this coming fall. Alex?
MARQUARDT: Arlette Saenz reporting from Camp David. Arlette, thanks very much.
Now, let's go to Seoul, South Korea, and CNN's Paula Hancocks. So, Paula, what's the view of this historic summit from where you are?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, President Biden did call it courageous.
And that was a recognition of the political capital that both leaders of Japan and South Korea have spent in getting to this point.
Public opinion certainly here in South Korea is not behind President Yoon when it comes to moving closer to Japan. That certainly they share common threats in North Korea and China, but they also share decades of mistrust from Japan's colonial past.
Now, here in South Korea the intelligence agency has warned that there could well be a launch of a missile, potentially an intercontinental ballistic missile, in response to this. They said they see increased activity of vehicles around missile production facilities. And we've also seen increase military activity in the region, Japan saying it had to scramble fighter jets as it saw Russian planes off its coast.
We've also seen that Russia and China carried out a joint patrol in the East China Sea. So, certainly, this is showing just how important this kind of trilateral agreement is.
And we had a response from Beijing as well, the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying, quote, attempts to cobble together various exclusionary regroupings and bring bloc confrontation and military blocs into the Asia Pacific are not going to get support and will only be met with vigilance and opposition from regional countries.
So, you can see already China responding to what we are seeing here. Potentially later this weekend, we could see a North Korea response to this. Experts also saying, an intelligence agency here, saying that if North Korea doesn't launch something this weekend in response to this, it could well do so next week as the U.S. and South Korea start another round of joint military drills. Alex?
MARQUARDT: And we know you're watching very closely for that potential response. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, thank you very much for that report.
Joining me now is the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass. Dr. Haass, thank you so much for joining us on this extremely significant day. I want to get your thought on how much today's summit is about countering China and why do you think President Biden is really trying to downplay that.
RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, in large part, of this is about countering China, also North Korea. It also reflects a new sobriety, if you will, in the region in the aftermath of the Ukrainian war, Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It shows that war is very much a possibility. So, I think that's the case, and more than anything else, they are concerned about Chinese reach.
On the other hand, when people say it's not about China, they don't want to rub it in China's face. South Korea and Japan are both heavily involved with China economically. They're not looking to provoke. The last thing anybody wants is a new Taiwan crisis. So, it is about China in large part, but people want to downplay it.
MARQUARDT: And one of the key points of this agreement today is this commitment to consult that these three countries, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. will consult each other if there's an emergency in the region, the Biden administration insisting that this is not a beginning of a Pacific version of NATO. How do you think that China is going to respond to that? Could it push them closer to Russia and to North Korea?
HAASS: I don't think so, and in the sense China won't be happy with any of this. They've already signed a no limits relationship with Russia. We'll see whether it continues, though, to maintain certain limits, for example, not arming them. China is not leaned on North Korea, as best anyone can tell. North Korea continues to produce missiles and nuclear material. China is not using the economic leverage it has.
Again, China is not happy about this, but this is, in some ways, the inevitable result of Chinese foreign policy, whether it's in the South China Sea, whether it's the pressure on Taiwan, whether it's military buildup. Of course, neighboring countries are going to respond.
What's interesting here is that Japan is taking a much more forward- leaning position when it comes to regional security, and it's a real act of diplomacy or statesmanship that Japan and South Korea have come this close together and the United States deserves credit for helping to orchestrate this.
But China, in some ways, has no one to blame but itself for creating a context in which something like this, these countries are beginning to come together more.
MARQUARDT: When you see the Biden administration strengthening these alliances, I'm thinking about the AUKUS agreement as well with the U.K. and Australia, also for Pacific regional security. We saw the emphasis on the alliance among NATO at the summit in Vilnius earlier this summer. Do you believe that these activities are all for naught if President Biden loses the 2024 election? And how much do you think that the foreign partners are hedging their bets? [18:10:00]
HAASS: These are awkward questions. We have moved from an America First to an Alliance First foreign policy in both Europe and Asia, what's now called the Indo-Pacific. But, look, everyone is got one eye cocked on American domestic politics. The election is 15 months away. And, yes, there is concern. President Trump when he was in the Oval Office, threatened to withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea. His, what you might call it, transactional approach to our allies did not go down well.
So, sure, there's hedging and that's also one of the reasons they don't want to necessarily alienate China anymore than they have to because, in 18 months, the willingness or ability of the United States to have their back may be much diminished if it's Donald Trump rather than Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office.
MARQUARDT: We did hear in Arlette's report that sensitive history between Japan and South Korea that injects another element into the historic nature of today's agreement. How does the U.S., do you think, ensure that this unity lasts due to that history?
HAASS: Well, I think we're in pretty good shape now given the leadership of both countries. They made the difficult decisions. It was very controversial in both countries. What the Japanese did was too much for some Japanese, not enough for many in South Korea. So, both leaders have paid something of a political price, but I think they've now done that.
I'd be surprised if their successors walk this back. There's nothing to be gained from it particularly in light of the threats they both face from North Korea and from China.
So, my guess is that this will endure and this will part of the legacy of both these leaders as well as President Biden. This is an important piece of creative diplomacy that was on the stage today at Camp David.
MARQUARDT: Well, Dr. Richard Haass, we certainly appreciate your time and your perspective on this important day. Thank you.
HAASS: Thank you.
MARQUARDT: And just ahead new details on when Donald Trump will surrender in Georgia and face his fourth criminal arrest. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MARQUARDT: We are following a flurry of activity in Georgia as the timing of Donald Trump's surrender on election interference charges is becoming clearer.
CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is on this story. So, Sara, you have new details tonight about when the former president will be is surrendering to face those charges in Georgia.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're learning former President Trump is likely to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail on either Thursday or Friday next week. The district attorney there, of course, gave them until noon on Friday to voluntarily surrender and this would set off the normal booking process and, really, they're off to the races as far as the charges in this widespread racketeering case.
Now, we know that the U.S. Secret Service has already been there a couple weeks. They've been scoping out the jail. This is what you expect. You don't want to show up with the former president at a jail where he needs to be processed totally blind, not understanding how that process is going to go, how you're going to move him through the building, make sure he gets in and out safely and, of course, doesn't interact with the general population of the jail.
And some of the other details, though, still need to be worked out. We're also learning Trump's attorneys are expected to continue their conversations with the district attorney's office early next week. You want to show up at that jail with a bond agreement already set. So, whatever the conditions might be for bond for Donald Trump, any conditions of release, you want that hashed out ahead of time, you want a judge to sign off ahead of time so you're not lingering around when you show up to get processed at the jail, Alex.
MARQUARDT: And, Sara, you do have some new details about that jail, the jail in Fulton County where Trump is expected to be processed, and it has something of a notorious reputation.
MURRAY: That's right. I mean, it's not really a place you want to have to visit the Fulton County Jail in Rice Street, where Trump and his other defendants are expected to turn themselves in. It's the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. There have been a number of inmate deaths there, including a death in which an inmate was covered in filth, covered in lice, and that's really what setoff this federal investigation.
And if you're a normal defendant and showing up there to be processed, it's possible you're sitting there lingering, waiting for hours and hours. Obviously, we don't expect that to happen to former President Donald Trump.
But this is a difficult place. I mean, even the sheriff who, of course, oversees this jail has said he needs more money, he needs more help. He welcomes this outside review in order to try to get this jail up to standards.
MARQUARDT: All right. Sara Murray, thank, as always, for your terrific reporting. It's going to be a busy week next week.
Now, let's get more on Trump's multiple indictments with Donell Harvin, the former D.C. chief of homeland security and intelligence, and a former U.S. attorney from Georgia, Michael Moore. Thank you both for joining us this evening. Michael, I want to start with you. We know that the former president's team is negotiating with Georgia officials about when and how he's going to surrender. We're expecting that next Thursday or Friday. So, what issues are they trying to hammer out right now?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. There will be general issues about whether or not he'll be fingerprinted, whether or not he's going to have a mug shot taken. They'll be talking about, as Sara mentioned, the terms of release so that he can have a relatively smooth move through the jail system, the Fulton County Jail. And I really think you have to just start with acknowledging this is different because you're talking about a former president.
So, there has to be security considerations there that you wouldn't have for other defendants, there has to be sort of timing that you wouldn't have when you talk about other defendants coming in, and so this is really just how the mechanism will work. This is different than a federal court case because you don't have a situation where they immediately go in front of a judge and there's a big discussion about the charges and arraignment and all that. That's scheduled for a later time. This is really just about being processed, having that initial information taken and having them released on some type of bond or --
MARQUARDT: It is such a historic, unique situation. Donell, we've seen the preparations getting into place for quite some time now. And now, we have a tentative date or at least a period of the end of next week when we're expecting to see the former president. So, what are the security conversations, the security preparations that are happening behind the scenes right now?
DONELL HARVIN, FORMER D.C. CHIEF OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE: Well, initially, when we saw these indictments coming down, we were worried about physical security for the courthouses. We've seen that's kind of petered out, New York, Miami, very small crowds and obviously Georgia small crowds.
Now, what we're seeing are individuals making threats online. So they're not coming out. They're not exposing themselves. They're making threats to the grand jury members. They're making threats to the judges. And so they still have to protect the physical space to show that deterrent. But now, they have to do a little bit more and get some analytical heft behind it, look on what we call open source intelligence, look who's making threats, but a lot of people making threats, so they have to triage those threats properly.
MARQUARDT: I want to talk about the timing of this trial in Georgia. We've seen President Trump's attorneys -- sorry, excuse me, not the one in Georgia, the special counsel's case in federal court for January 6th. The former president's team saying they don't want a trial until 2026 when the former -- when the special prosecutor's team they've requested for the beginning of January next year. So, there's a huge disparity there. We've heard from Chris Christie, who, of course, is running for president right now, talk about the timing. He also served as U.S. attorney. I want to listen to a little bit of what he had to say about the timing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHIRSTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm actually surprised that they didn't ask for a trial six months after his death certificate was signed. They don't need that much time at all. And the fact is that I think that this judge will probably settle in on some time the summer of 2024.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: Michael, what do you think of that, summer of 2024 that's later than the special counsel would like and a fair bit earlier than the Trump team?
MOORE: Yes. I think the special counsel's request for January of next year was just about as ridiculous as Trump's request of 2026. And I think the hope probably by the Trump team is that there will be some compromise made.
I'm sure there are folks who want to have the trial take place before the election, and then especially those people who may be running in the election. But the reality is that the lawyers have already started talking about can we be effective, and Trump still has a right under the Sixth Amendment to have effective reparation, not just lawyers but lawyers ahead of time to prepare when they've been given now 11 million pages of documents in an investigation that, by all accounts, has taken years to put together.
So, they've got witnesses to talk to, they've got documents to look at, they've got metadata to go back and scour as well. This is not a small effort. So, we may, as people have been sort of watched this and listened to it for a long time, think this is a fairly simple matter. It's not as you're preparing for case of this magnitude.
So, I think it's likely that we'll see probably after the election. I think that she's going to run up on the time clock and that's going to cause a problem, and that's the biggest issue right now.
MARQUARDT: And we saw a glimpse into that around the January 6th congressional hearing as well, how much work into that.
Donell, we just have a couple moments left. We did see a woman from Texas charged for threatening to kill the judge, Judge Chutkan, here in Washington. She's overseeing the election interference trial. Are you concerned about chilling effect when you see these threats against witnesses and juries?
HARVIN: Absolutely. And if you can't serve on a grand jury without fear for your family or public safety, you know, grand injuries and serving on those type of civil kind of bodies really undergird the legal system. And so I'm sure people looking during jury selection. The public officials have to make sure that people feel safe. But we're not seeing the end of this, clearly. I think it's going to be a dark day for many people who want to look at serving on grand injuries and juries alike and considering whether they want to raise their hand.
MARQUARDT: All right. Donell Harvin, Michael Moore, thank you both for coming in. I appreciate it.
And coming up, Republican presidential candidates are taking the stage in Georgia, and sources tell CNN that Donald Trump is expected to be a no-show at next week's Republican debate. We'll tell you what he's going to be doing instead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MARQUARDT: Tonight, word is spreading among Donald Trump's Republican rivals about his plans to skip the first primary debate, which is due to take place next week. Sources tell CNN that Trump is expected to instead do an interview with the former Fox News host, Tucker Carlson.
CNN's Eva McKend is in Atlanta, where some candidates have been attending a Republican event there. Eva, so, what are Trump's 2024 opponents saying about that decision to skip the debate next week?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATINAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Alex, for the most part, Trump was really not discussed at all or at much at this event, and that was really by design. Conservative Radio Host Erick Erikson didn't invite him.
The conversation here in Atlanta about 45 minutes each with Erikson really allowed them to focus on their visions for America. And without Trump here sucking up the oxygen, they had a unique opportunity to connect with conservative activists from across the region here in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
There was one moment when Governor Ron DeSantis did talk a little bit about the debate and how he believes Trump should show up. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Everyone should debate if you qualify. I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision, to talk about your record, answer questions about your record and decisions that you may have made or not made. And if you're not willing to do that, then I think that people are not going to look kindly on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCKEND: So, in addition to governor DeSantis, we also heard from Senator Tim Scott and Nikki Haley as well.
MARQUARDT: You also spoke with the former vice president, Mike Pence, today. What did he tell you?
MCKEND: Yes. The former vice president tried to get a sense of what he might say on the debate stage next week. He got a lot of questions about Trump, didn't really want to address them head on, but mostly talked about how he plans to bring up kitchen table issues on that debate stage and make his case as to why he is the best candidate to go up against President Biden in a general election. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: When I reach that debate stage next week, we're going to be talking about the issues the American people are focused on.
MCKEND: Is the former president's lead right now just insurmountable? What can do you to catch up at this point?
PENCE: Well, just watch and learn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCKEND: So, watch and learn, he tells me, Alex.
Another long day tomorrow here in Atlanta. We will hear from Governor Christie as well as Congressman Will Hurd and Vivek Ramaswamy, aas these candidates continue to make their case to voters.
MARQUARDT: Well, we will certainly be watching. Eva McKend in Atlanta, thank you very much.
For more on the story, we're joined now by CNN Political Commentators Alice Stewart and Maria Cardona. Thank you both for joining me this evening.
Alice, I want to ask you about this decision by the former president to counterprogram, to do this interview with the Fox News host, Tucker Carlson. How much do you think that his absence from that debate reduces the significance of it?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, he's going to have his audience with Tucker Carlson. But the good thing is that the RNC is hosting this debate for Republican primary voters, and those Republican primary voters will tune in. And if nothing else, this gives those candidates the opportunity as the former vice president said to talk about the issues that the American people concerned with.
And, look, I talked to Pence this morning on the radio. He wants to talk about inflation. He wants to talk about energy and federalism. These other candidates, many of them, want to sort of introduce themselves to the national stage. That gives them the opportunity.
So, from their standpoint it is a positive that Donald Trump is not on there, but from the Republican voters standpoint, it's unfortunate that he is giving them the middle finger, saying, I don't care enough about this party to show up at your debate, and I don't care enough to sign the loyalty pledge. But, look, he and Tucker Carlson, no one has an axe to grind with Fox more than the two of them.
And, clearly, Donald Trump looked at his dance card next week and thought I can play golf, I can join the RNC debate, I can join Tucker Carlson or I can surrender to Fulton County authorities, I guess Tucker won now.
MARQUARDT: And likely keep a significant lead. Now, the podiums are not yet set. There's still time and room on that stage for other candidates to join. One of the people who's desperately trying to get on the stage is former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. He has not yet qualified. This is what he had to say that about a little earlier today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASA HUTCHINSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're getting very close. We have until Monday evening in order to qualify for the 40,000 individual voters, and it's up to all the viewers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: So, Asa Hutchinson there, Maria, not yet at that 40,000 number. If he and other candidates don't hit that number, they don't qualify for the debate, do you think that they are still viable in this Republican race?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think they are, Alex. I mean, right now, I think it's even tough to say that many of those that are going to be on the stage are even viable.
Look, Donald Trump right now has a prohibitive lead. It doesn't mean that he's going to be the nominee, but it means he has the biggest chance out of all of them there that he will be the nominee regardless of what happens.
And what's interesting, as Alice says, that, you know, Donald Trump not going to this debate is giving the middle finger to Republican voters. The Republican voters, a vast majority of them, will take that middle finger and will take the nine other fingers that Donald Trump has as well. That's how much they love him and support him and will do everything they can so that he continues to be at the forefront.
And right now, it seems like every other candidate has their hands tied behind their backs because they don't know what to do. Mike Pence says, watch and learn. The only thing we've learned is that nothing that he does or nothing anyone else done has been effective.
MARQUARDT: We've also seen, Alice, this strategy memo from the pro- DeSantis super PAC that urged DeSantis essentially to defend Donald Trump. We heard Chris Christie then say that if what he's going to do is defend Donald Trump, then he should just drop out of the race and endorse him. Why would DeSantis even consider defending the frontrunner, the man who's just ahead of him in the polls?
[18:35:00] STEWART: Well, one answer is the base. He wants to -- as all of the candidates do, they want the base to look at them in a light that if Donald Trump falls off the radar, which is unlikely, but they want to ingratiate the base, and they also want to broaden the base.
Look, here's the thing. We know Chris Christie has every single quiver in his arrow pointed at Donald Trump. He is going to fire all cylinders on Donald Trump. And the key is, for all the candidates, they also must spread the wealth and attack Donald Trump. Because the only way you get to Joe Biden is through Donald Trump. But, clearly, the memo here was when you see Christie spend every ounce of his energy going after the president, it wouldn't hurt if you show the base that you have Donald Trump's back on occasion.
MARQUARDT: It is a very tricky line for these candidates to walk. Maria Cardona, we've got to leave there, Alice Stewart, thank you both for joining us this evening. I appreciate it.
Now, just ahead CNN has learned that there are U.S. concerns about Ukraine's recent strikes on Russian-occupied Crimea. I'll be discussing the latest developments in the war on Ukraine with the Russian ambassador to Washington, D.C. Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: CNN has learned that U.S. officials are expressing skepticism over Ukraine's attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea amid concerns that they're taking focus away from the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive.
CNN Chief International Security Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh has been covering the story for us in Ukraine. Nick?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Alex, I think it's important to point out many western officials you speak to consider Crimea to become of a red line, a hot button issue for Vladimir Putin. They are worried that if he felt like he might lose the peninsula, that they essentially annexed without really firing a shot in 2014, that that might lead the Kremlin to act extremely irrationally.
Now, there's no real evidence at that point to suggest but people need to be deeply concerned about that, but that may be behind some of the thinking that Ukraine, in western officials' perception, should concentrate less on Crimea and more on the southern counteroffensive.
But, frankly, watching how these two areas feed each other, it seems muddled thinking. It's clear Russia has a lot of assets in Crimea that are fed by that Kerch Bridge running through the Russian mainland, and that much of that is transferred up further to the northeast to assist Russian troops defending that long land corridor that runs to Crimea from the Russian mainland. That is the main target at this point of Ukraine's forces. And so when we see bridges, ammo, depots, roads, military infrastructure railways being taken out by targeted strikes by Ukrainians, it's likely that it's going to have a huge impact on what Russia can do to defend those positions around in the Zaporizhzhia front near where I'm standing.
So, I think we might be seeing more of a reflection of western officials being worried that Crimea will be a flashpoint down the line if Ukraine, in an ideal world, were able to push their forces down and threaten Russia's presence there, but right now, where Ukraine do appear to be hitting infrastructure there to assist their the counteroffensive in the south.
Some suggestions, too, by the way, today that the F-16 program utterly vital for Ukraine's moves in the south here, they need air superiority over the Russians to move faster. That might be getting traction after the public hullabaloo over the last 48 hours or so when you Ukraine said they wouldn't get the jets this year.
Well, Denmark saying, yes, we can start training in the next ten days maybe, or so, the Netherlands behind it as well, the Americans clear they will supply the jets, but this could take months still. They may not see them in Ukraine until next year, and that's a real sore problem for Ukrainian troops dying every day on that southern front facing Russian air superiority. Alex?
MARQUARDT: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in Ukraine, thank you very much.
For more now, I'm joined by Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us today.
We have seen, as Nick was just noting, a real significant increase on Ukrainian attacks on the Crimean Peninsula in the past few weeks. But a senior U.S. defense official tells my colleagues that, quote, it's not doing anything decisive and it would probably be better for them just to focus on the counteroffensive. How do you respond to that?
OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I have to tell you that no official ever said that to me, and we're very grateful. And everyone, from President Biden to Secretary Blinken, has been very clear, and Secretary Austin, that Crimea is Ukraine and Crimea is no different than any other part.
More importantly, I think, let's not follow that trap which Putin and his war criminals are trying to set there because they have drawn so many red lines for us before. And they have said a number of times that they have sham referendums and adding Zaporizhzhia and other oblasts to Russian Federation, which is as illegal as aid in Crimea there would be a red line.
And that did not stop us from liberating our land because we all know that it's all Ukraine. But also they did not lead to anything on Russia part in addition to the war crimes they already commit since 2014 and since February 24th. So, we just have to stay focused on what we need to do. We need to restore territorial integrity and we need to defend Ukraine and liberate all Ukrainians. Maybe because next week, we will have another meeting (ph) of Crimean platform, that is why they're trying to again talk about it. But, no, Crimea is no different from any other oblast.
MARQUARDT: And Ukrainian troops and I just saw this last month trying as hard as they can to liberate that territory, to punch through those Russian lines particularly in the south.
But there is a growing sense, ambassador, particularly here in Washington that it is perhaps likely that the counteroffensive will not achieve the goal of breaking through the Russian lines there in the south and try to get down to that Sea of Azov.
Do you think -- how do you think Ukrainian troops will be able to do that?
MARKAROVA: Well, I've seen those reports and naming some, again, sources. But I have to tell you with our partners, with Secretary Austin and his team, with General Milley and everyone who's working with us on a daily basis, the goals we all have and the ultimate goal to liberate all Ukraine, we are achieving those goals.
Yes, it's a difficult fight. Yes, it's 820 miles of a very difficult, long combat line, but we knew it, but we were preparing for it and we're doing it on a daily basis. So, I would actually disagree. I think we are achieving our goals.
And I have to remind also our viewers and Americans who support us -- and thank you for your support -- that we're also liberating our land. So our great defenders are doing it in a very careful way contrary to Russians who are simply erasing and destroying our citizen villages. You, Alex, saw it in the south and east of our country.
MARKAROVA: Our troops are liberating it so that we also liberating our people there.
MARQUARDT: Ambassador, so much of your job here is to make these requests for aid and for weaponry to the administration, to Congress. Are there additional weapons from the West in this moment that could help Ukraine achieve that goal of breaking through that Russian line?
MARKAROVA: Well, first of all, the quantity, of course, is always -- the quality itself as military people say, we still need more air defense. We still need more artillery. We still need more missiles, and everything we're receiving now including tanks, including armored vehicles because we still did not win and we have to liberate our territories.
Of course, we very much welcome today's official confirmation from the United States, from Jake Sullivan and everyone in the team and Secretary Blinken on the willingness and readiness of the United States to -- through the transfer of F-16 platforms. As you know, there was early approval on the training.
MARKAROVA: So we need all the capabilities not only to win today but also to build the future force of Ukraine.
MARQUARDT: And that training --
MARKAROVA: The force of Ukraine after we win.
MARQUARDT: Sorry, go ahead, Ambassador. Sorry to cut you off.
MARKAROVA: The force Ukraine will need as a new member of the European Union where we're moving towards and also as a future member of NATO.
MARQUARDT: All right. On that F-16 training, that is due to start taking place very soon in Denmark.
Ambassador Oksana Markarova, thank you so much for coming on this evening. We really appreciate it.
MARKAROVA: Thank you very much, Alex.
MARQUARDT: And coming up, federal investigators are now on the ground in Hawaii searching for the answers to what caused the horrific wildfires.
Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: Federal officials are now in Hawaii to help determine the cause of the horrific wildfires. At least 111 people are confirmed dead, and more than a thousand others are potentially missing.
CNN's Bill Weir is live on Maui.
Bill, what is the latest where you are?
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, we've got paradise on this side and utter hell right on this side of the highway here in Lahaina. We're on the north side.
You can see some of the area there. It's that thousand missing number that continues to haunt people here in such a profound way. Here we are ten days after the fire. Communication is largely back intact. And the fact that so many people have not reached out with proof of life is just devastating to community leaders here.
The five stages of grief are denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. And you can see people cycling through those almost in real time right now. The locals here in Lahaina held a press conference a short time ago
basically driven out of frustration for the state and federal response to this. Their three demands were stop talking about re-opening Lahaina because they have -- they need time and space and time to heal, include the residents in this community in any future plans.
They're already talking about rebuilding. They should be at the table since Native Hawaiians kind of own the table. And then there is a transparency law in Hawaii. And they're calling for that sunshine law to be in effect so there is transparency over what's happening when it comes to rebuilding plans, air and water, those sorts of things.
But just in the near term, you've got toxic materials blowing through the air there. They're starting to put a dust fence up to protect some of the surviving communities as well. But the cadaver dogs, we talked to a team, it's just meticulous painstaking work, Alex, and some families are coming to grips with the idea that they may never know -- may never have official confirmation that the people they love are gone.
MARQUARDT: Just such haunting, haunting images. Bill Weir, thank you so much for all of your extraordinary reporting. Of course, our thoughts remain with the people of Lahaina and all of Hawaii. Bill, thank you.
For more information about how you can help Hawaii wildfire victims, go to CNN.com/impact, or text "Hawaii" to 707070 to donate.
Up next, an update on a serious category 4 hurricane barreling towards California. Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: Concern is growing tonight that Hurricane Hilary will unleash a dangerous amount of rainfall in the southwestern United States.
Meteorologist Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center.
So, Chad, what can we expect from Hilary?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hilary went up 75 miles per hour, the core of the storm up in 24 hours. So, now it's kind of taken the foot off the gas, but it's still going to take some time to slow down, kind of like your car, it takes some time after you take your foot off the gas, 130-mile-per-hour storm right now getting into some much cooler water. That's the good news.
The reason why we had 145 a few hours ago, our hurricane hunter flew in and didn't find 145. So the hurricane center backed on of a little bit, and they also put up a tropical storm watch there for Los Angeles proper, hurricane warnings farther south obviously into Baja, California. This is the storm right now, only 1 mile per hour above category 3 at
129. We are 130. As we get farther north into the colder water, things begin to die off. But because it is so much, there is going to be so much rainfall. Even though it's getting into 65 degree water, we are still going to get a significant flood threat.
I mean, historic-like flood threat with this in places that don't get 5 inches of rain a year. They might get 10 in two days.
MARQUARDT: All right. Here's to hoping everyone heeds the warnings of officials in the coming hours and days.
CNN's Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center, thank you very much.
I'm Alex Marquardt here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thank you so much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.