Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Russia Confirms Fails Mutiny Leader Prigozhin Was On Plane That Crashed; Wagner-Linked Social Media Says He's Dead; Rudy Giuliani's Mug Shot Released After G.A. Surrender; Mark Meadows Bid To Avoid Arrest Rejected By Federal Judge; Ex-Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani Arrested, Released On $150,000 Bond In Georgia Election Subversion Case. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 23, 2023 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, two major breaking story worries, Russia confirms the leader of the failed Wagner mutiny was on a plane that crashed in flames with no survivors. We'll have the latest on the crash and the possible cause as President Biden is suggesting Vladimir Putin may be to blame.

And Rudy Giuliani's mug shot was just made public after the former lawyer -- the former Trump lawyer, I should say, turned co-defendant surrenders in Georgia. The man once known as America's mayor booked on election subversion charges on this, the eve of the former president's arrest.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We begin this very busy hour with breaking news. The deadly plane crash in Russia and the fate of Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Russia now confirming the failed mutiny leader was on board the plane. And the Wagner-link social media channel issued a statement just a little while ago that Prigozhin is dead.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is covering the Kremlin response for us. But first, let's go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Ukraine.

Nick, Ukrainian and U.S. officials are monitoring the crash and drawing connections to Putin and his war.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, certainly in Ukraine, I think, a rise sense of recognition that this is what Putin was expected to do to men he considers to be traitors. Remember, Prigozhin and his Wagner group behind some of the more brutal war crimes, frankly, atrocities we've seen here inside of Ukraine. And U.S. officials, including Blinken Biden, pointing out how this was something that may well have been expected to have happened to a man who led an armed rebellion against Vladimir Putin.

I should point out at this stage, we are still reliant upon Russian officials, the Russian Federal Aviation Transport Agency, to say that Prigozhin and a number of top Wagner henchmen, pretty much most of their top guys were on board this plane. We don't have independent evidence that indeed Prigozhin is dead. Some Wagner sympathetic telegram channels are suggesting that. But this is not an absolute declaration from Prigozhin's people himself. But still, this man who led a failed armed rebellion, the most significant challenge to Putin in his entire rule was an outsized figure in the Russian military, and indeed, in the Ukrainian war.

Here's what we know about him.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): He had always lived in the shadows until the war in Ukraine made him perhaps the most public Russian critic of how the Kremlin's war was fought. The possibility Yevgeny Prigozhin is dead is a shockwave to an already shaken system. Putin's critics rarely survive as long as he did. And the talk tonight in Russia and Ukraine that Putin might still have wanted to kill him, a sign the chaos in Moscow he caused was not over.

He led the most brazen affront to Putin's rule in his 23 years at the helm, taking an armed rebellion into the southern stronghold of Rostov-on-Don, marching on Moscow and then abruptly turning around. The apparent reason, a deal brokered by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Putin saved here by a neighboring ruler he usually treated with contempt. The deal was opaque, perhaps involving the fighters of the group Prigozhin led, Wagner, moving to Belarus. It's unclear how much that happened. And then Prigozhin appeared, already surviving a long time for a Putin challenger popping up in Africa this week, saying he would expand Russia's influence there. It would have been another turn in his remarkable and sordid career.

Initially Putin's chef, he became a military contractor supplying food, then expanded into influence operations in the United States, trying to meddle in key elections, all deniable, all damaging to Putin's enemies. His Wagner group expanded, too from 2014, CNN has tracked their mercenaries operating in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, Mali and Syria, as well as Ukraine, with an army of tens of thousands battle hardened and in Ukraine, always savage, fighting hardest around Bakhmut and always expanding. Recruiting convicts from Russian prisons to be used as apparent cannon fodder on the front lines, executing alleged traitors, apparently with a sledgehammer.


It may never be definitively known who died in this wreckage, even transparent investigators would struggle to find the right DNA. Instead, we will have Russian state investigators and media's word the very people whose boss, Prigozhin enraged.

(END VIDEO TAPE) PATON WALSH: It's important to remind viewers, Wolf, that Prigozhin is somebody who, after that armed rebellion, well, his whereabouts weren't really known for weeks. So he has in the past been a master of obfuscating where he is. Pictures of him getting on and off a helicopter in St. Petersburg after that armed rebellion, too, to kind of confuse the trail of where he was. But the balance of information we're hearing tonight does seem to suggest that according to certainly Russian state officials, he was on board that aircraft.

And this is a significant moment, frankly, in Putin's grip on power. He clearly felt Prigozhin was so much of a threat that he, if indeed, it turned out the Kremlin was behind this, perhaps wanted to see him dead. And at the same time, too, you've got to remember, this is Yevgeny Prigozhin, it seems, on a plane with his key top lieutenants. They clearly all felt safe enough to travel together on a private jet like this, putting themselves so deeply vulnerable. They must have thought the threat was passed, but something certainly was totally against that perception, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Nick Payton Walsh reporting for us. Nick, thank you very much.

Now to the latest on what Russia is saying about this plane crash. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is following all of that. He's joining us from Berlin right now.

How is this playing out in Moscow, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, the state media certainly is reporting about this in a very matter of fact way, but what I've done so far is actually texted the spokespeople both of the Kremlin and of Russia's Foreign Ministry as well and have not gotten a response yet. And I think it's also quite telling to see what Vladimir Putin has been doing on this evening. In fact, he would have said a ceremony in the city of Kursk, which of course is in southern Russia tonight, where held a moment of silence. But that had absolutely nothing to do with Yevgeny Prigozhin. That was a moment of silence for fallen Soviet soldiers of World War II.

Putin not saying anything yet about the crash, not saying anything about the investigation. We've also been in touch with some pro- Kremlin figures, including a former advisor of Vladimir Putin who was also quite close to the Wagner private military company, anti (ph) Yevgeny Prigozhin. He's sort of pushing that narrative, saying that they believe that Ukraine might have actually been behind all this, saying, look, it is Ukrainian independence, and they point to some other assassinations that the Russians have pointed towards the Ukrainians, even though the Ukrainians have not acknowledged. Again, none of this is confirmed or is in any way possible to confirm at this point in time. But if we're looking at the coverage of Russian state media and of course, also by Russian authorities as well, they are saying that the investigation is ongoing.

They've, of course, come out and said that Yevgeny Prigozhin was definitely on that plane, as were large parts of Wagner's leadership. And of course, one of the things, Wolf, that we also have to point out is that this is de facto, a total decapitation of Wagner's leadership, as it had been before that mutiny took place. We looked especially at Dmitry Utkin who was on there -- Prigozhin's military commander, and also the man who gave Wagner his name, who came up with that name in the first place. So, it looks as though a whole new Wagner might be emerging. Certainly people that I'm speaking to in Russia are telling me, Wolf, that Wagner will continue under new leadership, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Fred Pleitgen reporting for us, thank you very much.

We're going to have much more on the story coming up. But there's more breaking news tonight as well. Rudy Giuliani now is out of jail on $150,000 bond after his formal arrest in the Georgia election subversion case. That included posing for a mug shot. The former Trump lawyer turning himself in a day before his ex-boss will do so. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is just outside the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta.

Katelyn, what can you tell us about Giuliani's surrender?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Giuliani surrendered today just after his bond was negotiated, putting this proceeding as him being a criminal defendant in this case against Donald Trump and 18 others on essentially hyper speed in one day, doing both of these things in a way that other defendants had not. He also spoke outside of the courthouse or I'm sorry, outside of the jail as he was leaving, saying that if they can do this to me, they can do this to you about the criminal justice system. And that is, of course, true. The criminal justice system does arrest people when they are accused of crimes.

So now, because Rudy Giuliani, the former prosecutor, is accused of a racketeering charge as well as several other crimes, trying to coax public officials of lying, violating their oath office, helping Donald Trump in ways that the state of Georgia believes is criminal, he is now in the system. There is a mugshot. We've seen so many pictures of him over the years, but none like this before.


He was in that jail at the same time as Sidney Powell, another quite infamous lawyer working around Donald Trump after the election at times right next to Giuliani in trying to bring court cases that would undermine the election. And so now we do have both of them side by side as mugshots as criminal defendants.

The other thing that has happened here today, Wolf, and there are so many developments by hour by hour and throughout this week is that a federal court is essentially now piping up on what to do about another quite known lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, who was a top administration official in the Justice Department at the end of the Trump presidency. That federal judge is saying that Jeffrey Clark is not going to be able to put the state proceedings on hold. And that federal judge, that ruling that just came in just a few moments ago, is essentially making sure that Clark knows he must do what the state is saying, he must respond to that arrest warrant and turn himself in as well. We have at this point in time, of the 19 defendants, only four have not gone through these bond negotiations, even after former President Trump also had gone through the bond negotiations. One of them had been Jeffrey Clark, he had been trying to move his case.

The other was Mark Meadows. He, too, has not gone through a bond negotiation or been arrested. And there is tension rising between both Clark and Mark Meadows with the district attorney's office on what happens next for these two top tier defendants in this case over the coming days at the same time as we await others to turn themselves into the jail and be arrested. And, of course, that anticipated arrival of Donald Trump here in Fulton County, Georgia, tomorrow.

BLITZER: We will be watching all of this. Katelyn, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story, of course, as well.

But I want to go back to the Russia plane crash right now. We have experts on Russia and international affairs joining us. And I want to start with Jim Sciutto, who's here with me in the Situation Room. He's our CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent. So what will it actually take to determine the cause of this plane crash in Russia because it's so significant?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Well, first of all, eliminate any Russian government explanation because they lie. They will create sometimes competing explanations for what happened here. They did after a Russian missile shot down MH- 17, you'll remember, over Ukraine in 2014, that standard Russian misinformation disinformation strategy.

In terms of what actually happened here, the U.S. military has enormous resources to determine this from its surveillance satellites and other capabilities to look for and they're almost certain to be doing this right now. The flash of a missile, the flash of an explosion in the air that would determine whether this was an explosion that originated from inside the plane or that there was a missile that launched prior to this plane coming down and where a missile launched from, whether from the air or somewhere else. I was at DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, in the same room where they did exactly the same thing following the Russian shoot down of MH-17, they looked at that data and were able to determine it was a Russian missile fired from Russian controlled territory. They are almost certain to be in a similar room right now looking at similar data, which would give them an indication, was this an explosion from inside the plane? Was there an explosion? Was there an explosion or a flash from a missile launch prior either from the air or the ground elsewhere that would then help determine what kind of weapon took this down, if it was a weapon, and where it was fired from.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect U.S. authorities will get all that information probably relatively quickly. Jim, stay with us. Don't go too far away.

I also want to bring in Dmitri Alperovitch. He's a Russia expert.

Dmitri, Prigozhin's mutiny -- his failed mutiny, I should point out, was the biggest threat Putin ever faced to his power. Considering Putin's long history of payback, as we call it, can we connect the dots here?

DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, RUSSIA AND GEOPOLITICS EXPERT: Well, it's certainly interesting. I can tell you that it's most likely that this plane did not crash because Prigozhin forgot to change the oil. There's certainly a number of possibilities here, Putin could have been responsible, although just as likely, it could have been Defense Minister Shoigu, who, by the way, was the real target of the mutiny of Prigozhin had no love loss, there was no love loss between those two men, he could have orchestrated this. But I also would not rule out, as incredulous as this sounds, an accident, even if it's a missile that was shot at this plane. We know that Russian air defense right now is very jumpy, could have been that if Prigozhin was indeed flying to see Putin, as some reports have suggested, maybe the air defenses around Putin's residents were not aware of that flight path and were shooting it down.

BLITZER: Important point.

Bianna Golodryga is with us as well.


Bianna, Prigozhin had been moving, as you know, between Belarus, Russia, and Africa. He was seen on video just a couple days ago. Why did this happen now, you think, two months to the day of that failed mutiny attempt?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think, as Dmitri noted, we may never get a specific answer as to why this happened now and who called for it and who was behind it. Russia has a history of being the birthplace of conspiracy theories, and I think they've all started circulating as well. But there is no denying the fact that many were puzzled in the sense that this man who had conducted a failed mutiny, the biggest threat to Vladimir Putin's reign in two decades, was wandering freely between countries and popping up online on social media and flying on his private jets around the world. And so, there was confusion in terms of why Putin didn't react sooner. Intelligence suggests that he was really paralyzed the first 24 hours as this mutiny was happening. Perhaps there had been indication that it was coming, and yet there was no preparation. And now here we are, two months later.

It was surprising to see this news, but also, at the same time, not that surprising, because I think, given that the two months had gone by, Putin, if this was in fact led and directed by the Kremlin, I would imagine didn't want to look like they panicked and didn't want to make a murder out of somebody whose popularity only increased after the failed mutiny. It seems that things have quieted down on that front. A new poll out of Russia, one of the only independent polls, though they're still very difficult to trust, shows that only 20 percent of Russians are following this war on a daily basis. That's the lowest level since the war began. And perhaps this was a good time to finally come to some sort of conclusion with Prigozhin.

And given that he can't be controlled, necessarily, you do have a, quote unquote, "election," presidential election coming up in Russia in March of next year. So, this could have been timely as well.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed, you know. And let me get back to Jim. You know, a top Russian general accused of actually being sympathetic to the failed mutiny. He's just been relieved of his duty as well. So what does that say to you?

SCIUTTO: I've spoken to U.S. and western officials who, in the wake of Prigozhin's failed crew again -- coup against Putin, that this was potentially an opportunity for Putin to strengthen himself. But as much of a challenge, and a real challenge that attempted coup was by rooting out those who were against him, who either took part in the coup or who Putin perceived to be potential threats to his power. And this may very well be what we're seeing take place right now if it is established that Russia took down Prigozhin's jet, but also this gentleman who's been removed from his post and others whose stars have fallen in the wake of that coup. Putin, he's done this before, he does not tolerate dissent, and he particularly does not tolerate people he sees as traitors. Folks who were on his team, who are his guys and who he believes then changed sides and went against him.

BLITZER: Yes, he considers a treason.


BLITZER: He made that point repeatedly.

Bianna, in a notable split screen moment, Putin was handing out medals to war veterans today. Will Putin be able to rehabilitate his image after all of this?

GOLODRYGA: I mean, he's still the leader of the country. No doubt he was weakened, and you saw that in poll numbers in the days following that failed mutiny, but he remained in power. And I would imagine that the sort of crusade and publicity tour that he went on in the days and weeks after was no coincidence. We saw him who -- a man who, after COVID especially, went on lockdown and was not ever seen in public. Compare that with Zelensky, who you see frequently in the streets of Ukraine. All of a sudden, we saw Vladimir Putin doing the same.

And so the timing here is notable that the same day that we have news of Prigozhin's apparent death, you see Vladimir Putin awarding servicemen in the country.

BLITZER: Important point as well. Guys, thank you very, very much. We're going to have much more on all of this coming up later this hour.

And there's more breaking news we're following next on Rudy Giuliani's formal, formal arrest on election subversion charges and his booking photo, you see it there, that has just been released. Also, much more on the breaking news that former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark's bid to avoid arrest has now been rejected by a federal judge.


[17:23:26] BLITZER: All right, we're back with the breaking news on the release of Rudy Giuliani's mugshot. You see it there his mug shot after his surrender in Georgia. We're joined now by our legal and political experts.

And, Katelyn, let me get back to you. You're on the scene for us in Atlanta. You're there at the courthouse. This was a very, very busy day there for Giuliani and other key Trump allies. Update our viewers.

POLANTZ: It has been, Wolf, and that's because the key people around Donald Trump after the election are now being arrested. They have gone to the jail. They have had their bonds negotiated. They have been had -- in the jail, have been fingerprinted, had their mug shots taken, had their information processed, spent some time inside that detention center and then been released to await trial. And as we see these mugshots and look at these numbers for bond agreements, it becomes quite clear how significant this is because Rudy Giuliani has never had a picture of himself taken like this before.

We also had Sidney Powell, another top lawyer from the Trump campaign in the jail today being arrested, having her mug shot taken as well, Jenna Ellis, another as well. And when you look at these bond agreements, you see the significance of these people. Rudy Giuliani's bond being set at $150,000. Sidney Powell's being set as $100,000. Jenna Ellis at 100,000. Donald Trump, of course, at 200,000.

That is a much steeper bond than others, more lower level people around Trump or were helping him after the election were facing. And so that is quite a significant, stunning moment to have now that these 19 people have been charged, and many of them, most of them have been arrested, gone into the jail, and now will proceed to trial. The two who have not that we truly are waiting to see what happens, and we don't know exactly what will play out for are Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark, two former administration officials.


A judge has just said that Jeffrey Clark is not going to be able to avoid being arrested. He is going to have to either report self- surrender by Friday or will face arrest from -- then arrest warrant from the district attorney here in Georgia. And so Clark, Meadows, both trying to hold off their arrest this week, and it is not a good sign for them if they were thinking they were not going to be making it to Georgia so far.

BLITZER: Yes, lots going on, indeed. Stand by, Katelyn. I want to bring in Caroline as well.

Caroline, does all this indicate to you that prosecutors' see Giuliani as a central player in this alleged conspiracy?

CAROLINE POLISI, LECTURER IN LAW, CALUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, if you just read the indictment, I mean, he clearly comes up a lot. You know, it's the great irony, really, that we're seeing Giuliani's mugshot here being -- you know, he's being now prosecuted under a statute, a RICO statute, very similar to the one he really pioneered in New York to, you know, prosecute mob bosses and the Gambino crime family, Bonanno crime family, things like that. You know, Wright Street is a far cry from his Manhattan, you know, Madison Avenue apartment.

I think what he's really going to run into trouble here is this is where the rubber meets the road. He can say all he wants, that he had a genuine belief that the election was stolen, just like, you know, John Eastman advanced that sort of theory yesterday. It's not a legal defense that will hold up in court, and I think he's going to be hard pressed to find any, you know, more realistic legal defenses in this case.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, let me get your thoughts, because it really is striking to see this mug shot of Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District -- chief U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. What impact will that have this visual, especially for Trump's supporters?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Trump's supporters are going to rally around Rudy Giuliani. This whole thing, when if you take a step back and think of it and think of the last years, this is Shakespearean. This is something where you have, you know, the king, who is Donald Trump and his chief sort of court jester lawyer, both being indicted on very, very serious charges and both deciding that the way to play this case is out in the public because it is the public adoration that they think will help get them through this. But as you were just saying, you know, their case was denied in more than 60 courts. And today, Giuliani himself made the case again about the weaponization of the Justice Department and this whole notion that he and Donald Trump and others are trying to play out, which is we are the only things standing between you and an authoritarian state that is going to come and get you.

And instead of trying to be people who were saying look, you know, this was an invalid election and Joe Biden's not president, shouldn't be president, what they're saying is, you know, we were trying to save you from an illegal election, and they're trying to try this case in public. And the question is, will it work?

BLITZER: Good question. Tia, I want to play for our viewers some of what Giuliani actually said today. Listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: This indictment is a travesty. It's an attack on not just me, not just President Trump, not just the people in this indictment, some of whom I don't even know. This is an attack on the American people.

This ridiculous case in which I'm being prosecuted for defending an American citizen who I do as a lawyer.


BLITZER: We also heard from Eastman yesterday. Is it beneficial, Tia, for any of these defendants to be speaking publicly like this? TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: I'm pretty sure that their attorneys would rather they stay quiet. Like you said, we heard from Eastman yesterday still saying that he believed the election was stolen in 2020, which is, of course, at the core of this case, Giuliani and Eastman both are making kind of their defense public that they felt that they were just doing their jobs as attorneys for former President Trump. But again, it's going to get to what the jury will ultimately have to decide is, did they ever cross a line between, you know, being responsible officers of the court, so to speak, and becoming part of a criminal enterprise based on some assertions that they knew that weren't true?


BLITZER: Yes, we're going to obviously stay on top of all of this. Thanks to all of you for excellent analysis.

Up next, we're going to clearly have more on Donald Trump's co- defendants in the Fulton County election case who are now turning themselves in at an Atlanta jail.

But first, there's breaking news on the Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who Russian authorities confirmed was a passenger in a deadly plane crash today. What President Biden is now saying about it, that's coming up next. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: We're getting more reaction right now to the breaking news out of Russia. New confirmation from Moscow that failed mutiny leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was on a plane that crashed, killing everyone on board. CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is joining us from the State Department right now. Kylie, working your sources, I know U.S. officials seemed to know something like this was likely to happen to Prigozhin. What are you hearing tonight over at the State Department?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Wolf, U.S. officials, top U.S. officials, including the president himself, have been saying for months now that after that failed coup attempt, Prigozhin had a target on his back, that it was possible that the Kremlin could indeed try and kill him. Now, we don't have independent confirmation, as it stands right now, that President Putin is tied to the downing of this plane that Russian state media is saying Prigozhin was a passenger on.

But we are hearing from President Biden himself, saying that he believes that there's likely a linkage between Putin and the downing of this plane. Listen to what he told reporters earlier today.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think --


BIDEN: I mean it's not much that happens between Prigozhin and Putin at the time, but I don't know enough to know the answer.


ATWOOD: Now, Biden also previously said that he believed Prigozhin should be careful of what he was eating. We also heard CIA Director Bill Burns saying that Prigozhin shouldn't get rid of his food tasters, saying that Putin is really someone who looks to pay back. And he would be surprised if there wasn't further retaliation for that effort that Prigozhin undertook back in June to try and march on Moscow.

The Secretary of State also warning, of course, of Russia's open window policy, as he put it, of course, therefore referencing the other opponents of Putin who have fallen out of windows mysteriously at times, leading to their death. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yep. All right, Kylie, thank you. Kylie Atwood over at the State Department.

Joining me now, the historian, a staff writer for The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum. Anne, thank you so much for joining us. Do you think Putin was behind this plane crash?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, HISTORIAN: I think, given the context, given the number of people who have died mysteriously in Russia beginning in the late 1990s, Putin's enemies of various kinds. The journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the politician Boris Nemtsov, given the poisonings of Alexei Navalny and others. Given the several dozen people who had mysterious accidents in the last year and a half since the war began, falling out of windows, down staircases in Moscow, in India, in the south of France, in Washington, D.C. It is very, very, very unlikely that this was an accident. And nobody in Russia will think it was an accident.

BLITZER: Yes. Good point.

APPLEBAUM: On the contrary, they will think it was a spectacular act of violence. It happened in the middle of the day. People filmed it. They filmed a plane suddenly falling out of the sky, which planes don't do by accident. And I think it will be widely assumed that this was revenge.

BLITZER: After Prigozhin's failed mutiny attempt, Anne, many experts labeled him a dead man walking. And we're surprised he has actually survived as long as he has, what do you -- or as long as he did, I should say. What do you make of the timing of this crash? Why now?

APPLEBAUM: Well, first of all, it is very interesting that it's exactly 60 days. Putin likes anniversaries and he likes round numbers. So it may be that that was why this day was chosen. I think it's also true that Prigozhin was a very powerful figure, you know, in that sense. He's not like the other people who've died mysteriously. He's somebody who's very close to Putin. He's one of the people responsible for Putin's rise to power.

He was essentially running Russian foreign policy in Africa, supporting dictators, you know, stealing money, you know, getting access to diamond mines and gold mines for members of the Russian elite. So he was a very important inner circle figure. And he may not have been someone who Putin, you know, could just get rid of by poisoning him or pushing him out of a window.

So it may be that it took time to plan this. It may be that he wanted to make sure others died because some of Prigozhin's colleagues were on the plane. Apparently, the leadership of Wagner was on that plane. And this is a kind of clean sweep that gets rid of them all at once.

BLITZER: What message does it send, Anne, to anyone thinking of moving against Putin in Russia?

APPLEBAUM: It sends a message to say that we will now -- we're now in the phase of spectacular violence, even at people very close to the leader. Although I should say there have already tonight been some responses from members of the Wagner group. There's a telegram channel, a social media channel associated with Wagner that has now explicitly threatened revenge.


So, you know, yes, of course people are going to be frightened, but other people may now be thinking about different kinds of violence. How can they strike out first? People aren't going to want to wait at home in their apartments to be murdered. So you may see some other kinds of conflicts in the next few days or weeks or months.

BLITZER: Yes, we shall see. Anne Applebaum, thanks very, very much for joining us, excellent analysis.

Just ahead, we're following the breaking news in Fulton County, Georgia, as Donald Trump's co-defendants continue to turn themselves in just ahead of the former president's arrest tomorrow.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news right now out of Georgia on former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows attempts to avoid arrest. Let's bring in CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's on the story for us. What are you learning, Katelyn?

POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, a judge has just decided that Mark Meadows is going to have to surrender this week by Friday at noon or be arrested forcibly by the District Attorney here and the system here in Georgia in response to this criminal indictment against him. He had tried to go to court because of his role as a federal official in the Trump administration, the Chief of Staff in the White House under Trump. And the judge said there just isn't law here to avoid the arrest, to put on hold the state proceedings of this criminal case for Mark Meadows or for another top Trump administration official, Jeffrey Clark, in the Justice Department who had tried to do the same thing. So this judge is making quite a signal here that they need to get on the plane, both of them, if they have not, if they want to avoid being arrested, they are going to have to get to Georgia and go through the same process as the rest of the defendants in this case, as Donald Trump plans to do as well.

Trump, notably, hadn't asked for the protections that these guys in his administration had by trying to move the case to the federal judge so that the judge would have it fully very immediately. Trump hasn't done any of those legal procedural maneuvers yet, but we are thinking that he may at some point. It is something that he could try, but this is something that really gears us up for a lot of drama over the coming days not just with Donald Trump coming town in Atlanta, but also with Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark, two very well-known figures in Washington needing to arrive here.

And at the same time, gearing up for a hearing on what happens to their cases, as well as they've been making these legal arguments of having protections from the constitution because they were administration officials. That hearing now is set for Monday. And we know just from what's been in the court system that the District Attorney's office is gearing up for it too. They want to bring in witnesses who had heard that call to the Secretary of State in Georgia that Donald Trump made after the election asking to find votes.

And so they're going to be going town telling the story of this case in court on Monday, very likely. And before that, we do expect to somehow see some sort of arrest of Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark as well.

BLITZER: Katelyn Polantz reporting for us. Katelyn, thank you very much.

And we'll be right back with more on the breaking news.



BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories. Russia claiming the Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash today, as well as the surrender of former Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia. Both of which could come up during tonight's highly anticipated first debate among the Republican presidential candidates.

I want to discuss this and more with the former Republican Maryland governor, Larry Hogan. Governor, thanks for joining us. As you well know, there's a growing divide among Republicans about supporting Ukraine's efforts to combat Russia's invasion. How do you think the death of Prigozhin should impact the candidate's views toward Russia? LARRY HOGAN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: Well, that's a great question, Wolf. I mean, I happen to be someone who thinks that we ought to be supporting Ukraine and standing up to Putin. There are a number of people on that stage that don't agree with that position. But I'm sure this question is going to come up tonight, and hopefully we'll get a chance to hear the positions of these various candidates. It'll give them an opportunity to explain themselves.

BLITZER: I suspect it will come up indeed. This debate is also happening as Donald Trump is set to turn himself into the Fulton County Jail tomorrow, and as his former personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, did the same thing earlier today. What's your reaction, Governor, to that? And what does it say about the Republican Party that Trump is still the very dominant frontrunner right now?

HOGAN: Well, that's the real dilemma that we're faced with. I believe that Trump, you know, he's far and away, the leader of the Republican primary electorate. And yet he's the weakest possible candidate that we could put up for the general election. And, you know, there's no getting around that. But tonight is actually the real start of this election campaign.

And I believe, I'm hopeful that some of these candidates will have a chance to get America to know them, to hear about what they're all about, instead of it being completely focused on Trump. But it's -- he's the 800 pound gorilla. He sucks all the oxygen out of the room. And as you and I are doing right now, we have this big debate. It's very important. I hope people will tune in, and all we're talking about is Donald Trump and his problems, and that's what these candidates are going to have to overcome.

BLITZER: You released an op-ed in "Newsweek" about what's going on, and in part, you write this, let me quote from your op-ed. In a party of principle, if you are unwilling to challenge the frontrunner, then you have no business being in the race. Trump won't be there tonight, but do you expect the candidates to challenge him during the debate tonight?

HOGAN: I think there are going to be a couple at least who are going to challenge him. I know that Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, two of my former colleagues I think they're both former U.S. attorneys, prosecutors who have already been willing to stand up and criticize Trump. We're still going to have to see who else is going to have the courage to stand up. Some of them have not been willing to do that so far.

And look, I really don't believe you should be challenging Trump if you're not willing to challenge Trump. And I think if they're not going to, you know, if they're going to be leaders and they're going to be cheerleaders, they really have no business being in the race, and they shouldn't be running.


BLITZER: Do you think the candidates who didn't qualify for the debate tonight should drop out? HOGAN: Well, look, I don't want to make that decision for anyone else, but I think it's pretty clear if you have not been able to get any kind of support or attention or raise reach the minimum requirements, I think having challengers in the race is only benefiting Donald Trump. And so if I were some of those candidates, I would think twice about it's going to be even tougher to get on the next debate stage.

The requirements are going to be even higher. And I think they ought to get behind somebody. Well, let's see tonight who has a chance to rise up and who looks like they may be willing to challenge Trump and maybe some of those other folks who get out of the race and get behind them.

BLITZER: Yes. Former Maryland governor, Larry Hogan, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up, we'll continue to follow the breaking news as we get more on the apparent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin and the arrest of Rudy Giuliani and other Trump co-defendants in Georgia.