Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Russia Confirms Failed Mutiny Leader In Deadly Plane Crash; Rudy Giuliani Out On Bond, Georgia Mug Shot Released; GOP Hopefuls Seeks Breakout Moment At Debate Tonight; Russia Confirms Failed Mutiny Leader Prigozhin Was On Plane That Crashed, Wagner-Linked Social Media Says He's Dead; Sources: Trump Expected To Watch Some Of GOP Debate He's Skipping. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 23, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, more breaking news on two huge stories in Russia, confirmation that the leader of the failed Wagner mutiny was in a fiery plane crash that killed everyone on board. President Biden suggesting that the crash may have been ordered by Vladimir Putin.

Also breaking, new arrests in the Georgia election subversion case, including former Trump Lawyer Rudy Giuliani, this as a judge is now rejecting efforts by two other Trump co-defendants to avoid arrest.

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

We begin this hour with new indications from multiple sources that the man who tried and failed to rebel against Vladimir Putin's military is now dead, apparently killed in a fiery plane crash two months after the failed mutiny.

Two of our top international correspondents, Clarissa Ward and Matthew Chance, are following this breaking story for us. Matthew, first of all, what can you tell us about the crash that has killed the infamous Wagner chief?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely shocking developments taking place in Russia, but not all together surprising given that it's been two months to the day since Yevgeny Prigozhin led that attempted coup in Russia and threatened the Russian capital itself.

You can see that fireball, that fiery devastation on the ground just 60 miles north of Moscow, near a small village there, where Yevgeny Prigozhin's private jet, an Embraer 600, can be seen in other video, spiraling out of the sky with one of its wings very badly damaged, if not missing, before plunging into the ground in those scenes you can see there that are coming to us from television. There's the video of the plane hurtling downwards. It was filmed by an eyewitness on the ground. It was on a flight between Moscow and the Russian city of St. Petersburg and crashed shortly after takeoff at about 6:00 local time. That's about 11:00 in the morning Eastern Time, just after about 11 minutes past that hour.

At the same time, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was elsewhere in the country giving a speech marking the 80th anniversary of a famous tank battle, an infamous tank battle during the Second World War, in which he talked about loyalty to the motherland and how the oath of office to the military service was important then as it is now in the war in Ukraine. He also held a minute's silence for warriors who had fallen, Russian fighters who had fallen in battle in both the Second World War and in the war in Ukraine. That taking place as the person who has done more than anyone else to challenge his grip on power in the course of the past 20 years, Yevgeny Prigozhin, as the head of that uprising plunged to Earth in that fireball, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. Clarissa, tell us about Prigozhin's movements in the two months since his failed rebellion.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think everybody was sort of watching in disbelief because there was no sense that he was keeping a low profile. We saw him meeting with Wagner forces in Belarus. We saw him greeting African leaders in St. Petersburg. We saw him as recently as last week traveling, reportedly, to Africa.

And while he was certainly a bit more muted and subdued in his tone, we didn't see the kind of bluster and criticism, of course, that we had seen before, I think it was still shocking to people that he was seemingly moving about very freely with no sense of being fearful for his life, and everyone was wondering how it was possible that he was still alive and how much longer he would stay alive for.

The theory that some have is that, essentially, this time period would have been necessarily for the Kremlin to effectively go about dismantling Wagner and coming up with some kind of a succession plan for when, ultimately, Prigozhin would be killed.

BLITZER: Matthew, how likely is it that Putin was behind this crash?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, look, if he was behind it, then I expect the official investigation that's already been launched into the reasons behind this crash won't point the finger of blame at him. I mean, already, there have been some unofficial sort of channels in Russia talking about how this is possibly the work of the Ukrainians, unofficial pro-Wagner channels in the country have talked about how there are traitors in Russia that have been responsible for this.


And so, look, I mean, we're probably not going to get to the bottom if we leave it up to the Russian investigators as to what was the real cause of this. But we do know that Vladimir Putin has a track record of silencing, well, of killing the people he regards as traitors. He's done on it numerous occasions in the past. Certainly, people who he regards as traitors have met sticky ends.

And Vladimir Putin two months ago, if you remember, basically called the uprising treachery. He said it was a stab in the back by Wagner and by Yevgeny Prigozhin. And he looked absolutely furious when he was forced to negotiate a settlement to that uprising.

And so it wouldn't be any surprise if, indeed, this is Vladimir Putin sort of taking his revenge two months on, on the people that led this uprising. Remember, it's not just Yevgeny Prigozhin on that plane. It was essentially the entire leadership of the Wagner Organization. Dmitry Utkin, the sort of former military man who essentially founded Wagner, the head of Wagner security was on the plane as well, and a couple of other top figures as well.

And so this has been the Wagner leadership board, if you like, that's been totally wiped out in this plane crash.

BLITZER: Yes, there were ten people on that plane, three crew members and seven passengers, including the Wagner leader and the leadership, indeed.

Clarissa, what does this mean for Putin's efforts to regain control after that failed Wagner rebellion?

WARD: Well, I think if indeed the state was responsible for this, it's clear that the Kremlin is trying to draw a line under the sort of cacophony of criticism that Prigozhin presided over, that became more and more ubiquitous, that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago but which culminated in this mutiny.

And as Matthew says, it was not just Dmitry Prigozhin on that plane, there were other senior Wagner leaders. And even on the ground, we know now General Sergey Surovokin, who was the sort of the general in charge of Russia's war efforts in Ukraine, he had disappeared for weeks. Now, he has been officially fired. Another senior general, Ivan Popov, similarly disappeared and then dismissed from his duties.

So, it is clear that there is some kind of a purge going on. The ultimate goal of which is to totally stop any of this sort of mutiny or any further mutiny in its tracks. The question is, does it have the reverse effect? Does it ignite outrage? Does it ignite further protests?

I think given the sort of conditions on the ground right now, this is a very clear and direct threat to anyone who might be having any ideas about following in Prigozhin's footsteps. And you know, this is speculation, but I would say it's probably unlikely that you're going to see protests or anything like that breaking out as a result of this.

BLITZER: Yes, important points. Clarissa Ward and Matthew Chance, to both of you, thank you very much.

I want to bring in CNN Contributor on Russian affairs Jill Dougherty along with CNN Military Analyst, retired Major General Spider Marks.

Jill, do you think Putin was behind this plane crash? And why would he have waited until now?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Well, if you look at how it happened, when it happened, I think it's entirely possible that President Putin gave the order for this. Of course, you know, that would be almost impossible to prove unless maybe there's some an investigation by somebody who can do -- get into the Kremlin's mind. But I think it is his modus operandi. And you had, as everyone has been saying, the fury that Putin has when somebody crosses him and is a traitor.

And then what could be the result? I think that this is really destabilizing, as if things are not destabilized enough. Because another question is, what about Wagner people themselves, the fighters who actually were supporters of Prigozhin? They thought of him as their hero. Will they rise up again? Could something like that happen? Regular people, of course, won't go into the streets. But I'm wondering about those fighters who are now in Belarus and some other places.

BLITZER: What do you think about that, Spider? What do you think this means for the future of the Wagner group and for that matter the war in Ukraine?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, a couple of things. You know, Wolf, the Wagner group achieved some great tactical successes where they've been deployed, both in Ukraine and elsewhere, overseas, especially in Africa. So, they are battle-harden, they know how to fight.


And I would think that the Russian Federation forces are going to look to try to integrate those forces as best they can.

As indicated, a large number of the Wagner leadership is probably gone. Those that remain will be handpicked, will be dipped in a loyalty kind of a filter to see that they are the type folks that they need, of the Russian Federation forces need to try to really work the integration of that.

But, again, I'll tell you, you go back two months, what did you have? You had a kind of a stalled Russian campaign, the world was waiting for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, and Putin seemed very, very weakened as a result of the coup. Fast forward two months, what do we see? The counteroffensive seems to be stuck, Russian forces aren't going anywhere, and Putin seems to have emerged, again, very much in control.

BLITZER: General Spider Marks, thank you. Jill Dougherty, thanks to you as well. And we'll have, of course, much more ahead on the breaking story out of Russia.

But up next, we'll go live to Georgia for all the rapid-fire developments in the Georgia election subversion case today, including new rulings rejecting efforts by two Trump co-defendants to avoid arrest. Stay with us, you're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: There's a lot of breaking news we're following out of Georgia right now, including the release of Rudy Giuliani on $150,000 bond after his arrest on election subversion charges. The sheriff says the former Trump lawyer and former prosecutor was treated like anyone else, including posing for a mug shot.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is joining us right now live. She's outside the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta. Paula, tell us more about how Giuliani's arrest unfolded.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, Wolf, that mug shot speaks for itself. Rudy Giuliani was, at one time, one of the top prosecutors in the United States, prosecuting lots of RICO cases himself. He's now a criminal defendant in a RICO prosecution here in Fulton County, complete with a mug shot.

Now, he surrendered to the Fulton County Sheriff's Office and he was processed in under an hour. That's pretty quick compared to the other defendants. But the sheriff's office tells CNN that he was treated just like anyone else.

Now, before he went to surrender, his legal team came here to the Fulton County courthouse to negotiate the terms of his release. There's a $150,000 bond. He'll have to post a portion of that in cash. And he's also subject to certain restrictions, including limits on how much he can discuss with his co-defendants, including former President Trump. He cannot discuss this case with any of his co-defendants, and, Wolf, in a couple of weeks the former president will be hosting a fundraiser for Giuliani to help him come up with money to pay his legal bills and possibly get a lawyer in this case. So, hard to see how that's going to work out.

But earlier today, Giuliani offered his thoughts on this case. Let's take a listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: 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.


REID: Now, we're just miles from the biggest airport in the world, but Giuliani traveled here to Georgia today on a private jet, which is notable considering just last week, his lawyers were in court telling a judge that he does not have enough money to pay his legal bills. We know he owes seven-figure bills to some of his previous attorneys. So, it's unclear how he was able to afford that. And he declined to answer CNN's question about that private jet earlier today.

BLITZER: And, Paula, I know you're getting news on both Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark's efforts to try to avoid arrest. What can you tell us about that?

REID: Well, both of these men, the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and former Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, they are both trying to get their case here in Fulton County moved to federal court where they believe they'll have a better chance at getting it dismissed.

Now, both men also asked the court to delay their need to surrender. There's currently a deadline set of Friday at noon to surrender. And they asked that to be pushed back while the federal court decides whether this case can be moved.

The judge, though, disagreed. This has been denied for both men. So, even though the question of whether this could be removed to federal court is still open, Mark Meadows actually has a hearing in his case on Monday. Both men need so surrender by noon on Friday.

BLITZER: Yes, they do. All right, Paula, stay with us. I want to bring in more of our legal and political team as well. And, Carrie, let me start with you. Are you surprised that both Mark Meadows and Jeffrey Clark's attempts to avoid arrest failed?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I'm not surprised that they failed. The D.A. indicted everybody that she thought she should bring charges against that she thinks she can prove, she can make her case against. And so there's no real reason, there's no substantive reason that makes them different than any of the other defendants in this particular case or any other defendants in the other cases that she brings.

So, I'm not surprised, but it does demonstrate that all of the individuals, particularly the so many lawyers who were indicted in this case are going to explore every potential avenue they have to try to slow down or, in one case, speed up -- one of the defendants has requested a speed-up -- but work in their interests and defend themselves as best they can.

BLITZER: It's interesting, though, that both of these defendants now have just a short little bit of time to negotiate a bond and to avoid jail and to show up at that jail and surrender.

CORDERO: Yes. Tomorrow is her deadline, and they're going to have to meet it or they will have agents and investigators and law enforcement seeking them out, which I would imagine is a situation that they don't want to face.

BLITZER: The deadline is Friday at noon. So, they don't have a lot of time at all.

Shan, what about this Trump -- he has yet to attempt to move his case from state to federal, to a federal court.


What do you make of that?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He may have been letting Meadows and Clark test the waters a little bit on that. And to Carrie's point, I think this illustrates we're going to see every possible legal maneuver that they can come up with. Both of those motions were very baseless.

The question eventually of can they get a removal to federal court, the judge is still considering that. But this idea that they can somehow enjoin the arrest, meaning stop the arrest right now, was completely without merit. And the judge appropriately just slapped it down.

BLITZER: Yes. And we'll see what happens if Trump tries that as well.

Jamie, it was quite a spectacle today, as far as Rudy Giuliani is concerned, a man you and I have covered for a long time. A remarkable fall for someone who was once branded America's mayor after 9/11. What's your reaction to what we actually saw unfold today?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It was surreal. It really was. Look, he's former U.S. attorney, former mayor, but this is what happens when you try to overthrow an election. And this is a case where we saw what happened in real-time. We know that they lost all of those cases in court. We know that former Attorney General Bill Barr said there was no widespread election fraud.

I think it's important, despite Giuliani's defiance today, to keep the following thing in mind. He is facing felony charges. Going to the Fulton County Jail today, which is quite notorious, as the kids say, it got real today for Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: And if you read this consent bond order for defendant Rudolph William Louis Giuliani, 13 criminal charges outlined, $150,000 bond to stay out of jail.

Paula, let me get your thoughts right now. Donald Trump is expected to surrender tomorrow at that jail outside of Atlanta as well. Tell us how that is expected to unfold.

REID: Well, Wolf, the district attorney is adamant that everyone will be treated the same here in Fulton County, but former President Trump is just inherently different. He has a Secret Service detail. And tomorrow, our colleague, Ryan Young, has learned that he will have a full security escort when he's in town.

So, he is going to surrender tomorrow evening after the rush hour. Anyone who's ever tried to drive in Atlanta rush hour traffic knows what having a motorcade with a security escort would be a disaster. So, this is going to be pushed toward the later part of the day tomorrow and then he will surrender at the Fulton County Jail. His lawyers have already taken care of his bond earlier this week. And he is expected at this point to be processed like anyone else, which includes fingerprints and a mug shot.

Now, they did not do a mug shot of the former president for either one of his federal cases or the Manhattan case. But here, at this point, we do expect that. I mean, we've seen mug shots of Sidney Powell, of Jeffrey Clark, of John Eastman and Jenna Ellis. She even smiled in hers. The idea of seeing a mug shot of the former president of the United States is truly extraordinary.

So, we expect this will be a quick trip here to Atlanta tomorrow. He's expected to come, do his surrender, and then turn around very quickly.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll watch it all unfold.

Carrie, Giuliani claimed that Georgia prosecutors are criminalizing what he called the practice of law. What do you make of that argument?

CORDERO: I think that is the beginning of an argument we are going to hear a lot. And we're going to hear from it Giuliani, we're going to hear it from Chesebro, we're going to hear it from all of the other lawyers. Jeffrey Clark, who was a really senior-ranking official within the Justice Department, I mean, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division is a really important and high-ranking position in the department.

So, we are going to hear that argument that what this case does is it criminalizes the practice of law, that these individuals have all been charged because in the context of them providing legal advice, lawyers provide legal advice to clients. That legal advice we want as lawyers to be accurate. But if that legal advice is wrong, that is generally not criminalized.

Misbehavior, negligence, malpractice, those are the types of things that are usually handled through disbarment, which some of these lawyers are also facing. But I think he and all the other lawyers are really going to lay strongly on that argument.

BLITZER: What do you make, Jamie, of Giuliani outside the jail today being very, very supportive of Trump?

GANGEL: Rudy Giuliani needs money. And last night, Donald Trump said he was going to have a fundraiser for him. But why did Donald Trump do that? Keep your friends close, keep your co-defendants even closer. Donald Trump has to be concerned that someone is going to flip, and Rudy was right at the center of this.

BLITZER: Yes. So far, he hasn't flipped by a long shot.

GANGEL: Right, right.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're going to continue to follow all the breaking news.


The Wagner founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is apparently dead after a plane crash outside of Moscow earlier today. We'll hear from a former U.S. national security official.

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


BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden is pointing a finger at Vladimir Putin, suggesting that the Russian leader may be behind the fiery plane crash that apparently has killed the leader of the failed Wagner rebellion, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Listen.


GIULIANI: -- indictment is a travesty. It's an attack on --



BLITZER: We're going to get that clip and play it for you, stand by.

In the meantime, I want to discuss what's going on with the U.S. response specifically with the former director of European affairs for the National Security Council, retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. Colonel, thanks very much for joining us.

President Biden implied, implied pretty seriously, though, that Putin may be behind this deadly crash. First of all, do you agree?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Wolf, thanks for having me on. I'd be willing to bet that Putin is behind this. There are credible (INAUDIBLE) that he was shot out at the sky by air defense capabilities, Russian air defense capabilities (INAUDIBLE) from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

There's also some clarity around who was on that plane. Prigozhin was the owner of this Wagner private military corporation, the military commander, Dmitry Utkin, was on there (INAUDIBLE) leaders inside the organization. But, fundamentally (INAUDIBLE) frankly decapitated Wagner. I mean, it is the two-month anniversary of Prigozhin's march on Rostov and Moscow. He's had two months to really kind of figure out (INAUDIBLE) Wagner. And I think largely he's bottled up this particular insurrection.

We're not done with the fact that this is likely to unfold over the cost of additional months with other insurrections, other disenchanted coming to challenge Putin. But this punctuates the Prigozhin/Wagner uprising.

BLITZER: We have the clip of what the president, President Biden, said about all of this earlier today. Let me play it for you.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised.


BIDEN: There's not much that happens in Russia if Putin is not behind. But I don't know enough to know the answers.


BLITZER: What does this mean for Putin's hold on power, Alexander?

VINDMAN: So, the first thing is, there's a great deal of continuity in the way Putin disposes of opposition and challengers, besides thinking this is one of the least surprising things to happen that Prigozhin was murdered.

It was thinking back to the beginning of Putin's reign and disposing of other challengers, whether it was FSB counterparts that he works with, like Litvinenko, with poisoning with nuclear agents, or Lebed, A general that was a hero Chechnya, who died in the mysterious helicopter crash. This is a well-established pattern to dispose of opponents, but also send messages to other challengers that they would be dealt with summarily.

So, I don't know if this really means that much. People understand who he is, especially the elites. They're not surprised that he would deal with an opponent in this manner. But I don't think this is anywhere near the end of these types of events unfolding. I think there will be other challengers based on this disastrous war that Putin launched, largely responsible for orchestrating, giving the orders for, the conduct of the war, that he's going to be challenged on this in the coming months and years.

BLITZER: Do you think it was a miscalculation by Putin, Alexander, to let Prigozhin live for the past two months, even publicly attending a summit in St. Petersburg just a few weeks ago with him?

VINDMAN: I think Putin really doesn't think about the kind of the visuals the way we do. He thought about the security situation, the fact that he had to deal with thousands of Wagner fighters, well- armed, not just in Ukraine, in Russia, in Africa. And he had to figure out how to neutralize them. And he was just picking his timing.

So, the rest of it, he still has a powerful grip. So, he's not really challenged in the immediate term. But I think in the long-term, we're going to see these kind of issues play out.

The other thing that is absolutely amazing and stark is the contrast to our orderly process and the way we deal with an insurrection. Just today, there were a number of folks that were indicted and appeared before jail to be booked and processed and so forth for an insurrection in our own country. That's an orderly process.

In Russia, these things don't play out in the same way. It is more of a gangland-type scenario where, again, people are poisoned with chemical or nuclear agents, murdered in explosions, planes brought down. I mean, a lot of these guys were Wagner fighters, but the pilots themselves were probably somewhat more innocent. And it's pretty amazing that that contrast to the way we conduct business. BLITZER: Yes. Ten people were on board that plane that went down. Alexander Vindman, thank you very much for your analysis.

Just ahead, we're going to have more on former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani's surrender today at the Fulton County Jail.


Plus, it's a very big night for the GOP. The first Republican presidential debate is just a few hours away. We'll speak to one of the candidates who didn't qualify for that debate. Stay with us. Will Hurd is standing by live.


BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following, Rudy Giuliani surrendering at the Fulton County Jail just a little while ago. The former Trump lawyer posted a $150,000 bond after being booked for 13 criminal charges related to efforts to try to overturn Georgia's 2020 presidential election results.

And it comes as the first Republican presidential debate is set to kick off in Milwaukee in just over two hours. Eight candidates are expected to be on the stage for this big event.

CNN Political Director David Chalian is joining us, he's on the scene.


David, what are the expectations from the candidates who will be on that debate stage tonight?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Different things from different campaigns, Wolf. One candidate, Ron DeSantis' campaign, expects that he's going to be taking a lot of incoming, that a lot of the attacks will be coming his way.

As you know, the candidates are aligned on the stage according to where they are on the polls. And without frontrunner Donald Trump here participating in the debate, that puts Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy in the center. So, I do think that is something to watch, is how he handles those attacks.

Other expectations that have been set, Chris Christie says that anybody on this stage who defends Donald Trump, he's going to try and turn into Donald Trump, make them so much an ally that they are identified with the former president. Of course, given the former president's standing in the polls, that may not necessarily be a bad thing in the context of a Republican primary.

One other thing to note, Wolf. Usually, these candidates take this moment to really introduce themselves. The Republican primary voters are going to tune in for the first time here in a big way. And so it's an opportunity for them to introduce themselves, get their vision out but also to create a moment. And then, usually, they take that moment the next day and launch it into some gang buster fundraising if it's a successful moment.

That may not happen tomorrow because of what you're talking about down in Georgia. Donald Trump expected to surrender tomorrow will dominate all the attention. So, all the free earned media and fundraising blitz that a candidate usually would hope the day after a debate, that may be diminished opportunity he because of the shadow of the former president's dealings in Georgia will cast.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed. David Chalian on the scene for us, thank you very much.

One candidate who will not be on the debate stage tonight is Republican Candidate Will Hurd, after failing to qualify. He's joining us right now. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

Let me ask you about the debate, and we're going to get to that in a moment. But I want to get your thoughts, first of all, on the other breaking news we're following. And I ask you as a former member of Congress as well as a former CIA officer. The Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who staged a short-lived mutiny in June, has apparently died in a plane crash outside Moscow. Congressman, what's your reaction to that?

WILL HURD, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Wolf, you have a one -- a person has a 1 in a 11 million chance of dying in a plane crash. Now, I don't have any unique intelligence or insights into what happened, but considering that Prigozhin tried to create a mutiny two months ago, I don't think this was luck. I think this was something that Vladimir Putin did on purpose and was trying to not only target him but let everybody else know he doesn't -- he's not going to play.

And, unfortunately, though, this is one of the issues that I hope the candidates on the debate stage get asked about, because, unfortunately, there's too many of those candidates that are willing to engage and, to be frank, want to kiss the butt of Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. And his actions and likely actions today is just a further indication of that.

BLITZER: And with regard to Ukraine's fight against Russia's invasion right now, I want to press you on this, Congressman, Trump says the conflict is not a vital U.S. interest. Vivek Ramaswamy has even suggested Ukraine cede territory to Russia. Do you think this renews the urgency of supporting Ukraine's efforts to combat Russia's invasion?

HURD: Absolutely. Donald Trump is wrong. Vivek is wrong. Look, Vivek himself has said he's only been paying attention to foreign policy starting six months ago.

Here's the reality. The United States of America built an international order that has benefited us. When we don't defend that international order, it hurts us. And for 5 percent of the entire DOD budget, we've been able to dismantle the Russian military without having to send our sons or daughters or our spouses over to the conflict. I think that's a pretty good deal. The problem is not with the amount of money but the speed in which we've been giving the equipment that the Ukrainians need. If we want to prevent Ukraine from becoming a forever war, we should increase the speed in which delivering the equipment and the materiel that they need. We need to be supporting them, especially the attacks in Crimea.

I've been frustrated with the Biden administration that has been criticizing the Ukrainians' attack into Crimea. Guess what, Crimea is an important place that retools and supplies the Russian military. Of course, it's a valid attack. And, unfortunately, I think this is a sign that the Biden administration in a potential negotiation would be willing to allow the Russians to have Crimea.

Again, if we do not -- if the Ukrainians do not win this war, and by win, I mean push the entire -- all the Russians out of Ukraine, to include Crimea and the Donbas, if they don't win, Eastern Europe is going to stop paying attention to us, work with the Russians.


Western Europe is going to realize you can't trust America and start dealing even more so with the Chinese government.

And, again, I hope these are some of the things that come and the topics I would be talking about if I was on the debate stage and if the RNC had not cherry-picked a few of the polls.

BLITZER: Yeah, these are important issues you are raising, indeed.

The other breaking story that we are following evolves Rudy Giuliani who surrendered at the Fulton County jail today in Georgia after negotiating $150,000 bond. What do you make of this spectacle today?

HURD: We wouldn't be in this position if everybody recognized Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, all of these characters that he lost. Donald Trump, the election in 2020 was not stolen, it was lost because he failed to grow the Republican brand amongst the largest growing groups of voters.

And if the GOP wants to make sure that we stop this 20-year trend of losing the popular vote, then we need to nominate someone who doesn't have this legal baggage, someone who is not trying to stay in power for any reason. This is completely unacceptable and the American public deserves the same conservative party and they want someone who is not afraid of Donald Trump and will articulate a vision of the future on how we achieve unprecedented peace and these complicated times.

How do we have a thriving economy at a time that new technologies like A.I. is going to upend everything? And instead, we are having to talk about these crazy court cases that Georgia, the issue with the classified documents and Mar-a-Lago. And to me, it's just -- you know, we have a lot more important issues to be dealing with. It is unfortunate and that is one of the reasons why I'm running for president, someone wants to continue seeing me going, go to BLITZER: Will Hurd, thank you very much for joining us.

And we take a quick break and we'll be right back.



BLITZER: The breaking news, Russia confirming that the Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was one of the passengers in a deadly plane crash outside of Moscow earlier today.

Our Brian Todd has a closer look at his relationship with Vladimir Putin.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Prigozhin was known for in recent months, yelling into the camera at his rivals on the Russian military for what he claimed was there inadequate support of his Wagner mercenaries in Ukraine.

For months, Prigozhin have played a crucial role in the Ukraine war. His fighters often leading the charge in Vladimir Putin's invasion.

In Ukraine, analysts say, Prigozhin's fighters prove especially valuable to Putin.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Not because of the fabulous military skills or equipment at the Wagner group had, but because the Wagner was even more willing than the Russian army which is saying something to just sacrifice their young soldiers. They just don't care. That was very useful for Putin.

TODD: But one analyst says his short lived a rebellion against Putin in June made Prigozhin the worst kind of enemy for the former KGB colonel in the Kremlin.

JULIA IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK: We know and we have known for a while exactly how Vladimir Putin thinks about specifically traders because this Prigozhin was not an opponent and he was not a dissident, but he was a traitor.

TODD: A turnaround, dramatic even by Russian standards. Yevgeny Prigozhin's rise is a classic Russian tale of brute force ambition. He served time in prison in the final stages of the Soviet Union for petty crimes. When he got out, he started a hotdog stand, parlayed that into a series of successful restaurants that Putin sometimes brought other world leaders to.

Prigozhin scored lucrative government catering contracts, earning him the nickname Putin's chef.

HALL: Being the guy who runs the Kremlin food service might to you and me sound like not a particularly important thing, but the people who are afraid of you know being poisoned, that is a position of trust for Prigozhin.

TODD: Prigozhin used Putin's trust and resources to make another bold and extraordinary move around 2014, founding Wagner as a paramilitary group than operating mostly in the shadows. He and his fighters not only battled hardened but brutal.

Human rights groups say Wagner which has recruited murderers and drug dealers from Russian prisons to fight. Has committed a series of human rights abuses, including allegedly torturing and murdering a Syrian prisoner with a sledgehammer, and executing a Wagner fighter who had defected the same way.

HALL: The videos of Prigozhin, people using sledgehammers to maim and kill people, he understands the value of the propaganda value of coming across as a brutal, almost uncivilized kind of person.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say Yevgeny Prigozhin's death will not only have an effect on the war in Ukraine but also on Russia's campaign in Africa and elsewhere. They say it would pave the way for Vladimir Putin and his allies and the Kremlin to possibly take total control of the Wagner group or to dismantle it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

Up next, new information about Donald Trump's plans tonight while his GOP rivals are debating.



BLITZER: All right. Just into CNN, new details about Donald Trump's plans tonight while his Republican presidential rivals are debating without him.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is in New Jersey for us right near Trump's Bedminster resort.

What are you learning, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, we are told that Trump is at his Bedminster resort. He's surrounded by a small group of aides and advisers, remember most of Trump's team is actually in Milwaukee doing spin and media around this debate that Trump is skipping and we are told by these advisers that it is likely Trump is going to watch at least part of the debate and the coverage.

Now, we are also told that he's been floating the idea of calling to various news networks and shows after his interview with Tucker Carlson airs. As we previously reported, it is a pre-recorded interview with the former Fox News host, part of this counter programming measure. It is likely to be at about an hour and released on Twitter just about the time of the debate. Again, it is prerecorded so don't expect a lot of breaking news in it

but we are told that there is some interesting and new conversations between the former Fox host and Donald Trump.

Now, I am told by people of spoken to the former president in recent days to have talked extensively about his decision to skip the debate, saying he believes he made the right decision. He believes nobody is going to really step into the spotlight.

However, I will tell you, Wolf, I've spoken to a number of Republican operatives who say they are just not so sure. They are waiting to see if this is an opportunity for some of these candidates to actually seize the spotlight, particularly watching Ron DeSantis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.