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Trump Prosecution In Georgia Moves Into Next Phase After Arrest; Defiant Trump Fundraising Off History-Making Mug Shot; CNN Live In Russia In The Aftermath Of Prigozhin Plane Crash; Two Constitutional Scholars Say Trump Is Ineligible To Be President Again Under The 14th Amendment; Remembering The March On Washington & Dr. King's Dream. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 25, 2023 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Georgia is moving into the next very critical phase hours after he was arrested, processed and given an inmate number at the county jail.


We're learning more about the district attorney's schedule in the weeks ahead.

A defiant Trump is now fundraising, fundraising off of his history- making mug shot. This hour new insight into his campaign strategy and mindset as his presidential bid and legal troubles collide.

And CNN is live in Russia as the Kremlin is denying any role in the plane crash believed to have killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin. We'll see how Russians are reacting to the fate of the man who led the failed mutiny against Vladimir Putin's military.

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 late-breaking developments in the Georgia criminal case against Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants.

Let's go right to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's just outside the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta. Katelyn, what are we learning, first of all, tonight about the next steps in this election interference case?

KATELYN POLANTZ, SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in this case, like the other cases against Donald Trump, it is all about timing. He's running for president, there are four criminal cases that he is dead set on going to trial in, including this one in Georgia, and he's taking the same approach here as he has in the other cases, essentially spelling out that he doesn't want anything to happen quickly.

Now, we're going to have to see how the judge is going to handle it for Trump himself, but as of right now, the district attorney has been quite clear she wants to start turning over evidence to all of these defendants in about three weeks starting September 15th. And she wants the trial to start here in Georgia for 19 defendants or however many the judge is willing to put on the calendar at that time, October 23rd.

Right now, there are two defendants that seem to be in that ballpark, Ken Chesebro and Sidney Powell, both lawyers that were working around Donald Trump after the election, at a very high level with the campaign. And so, that piece of the puzzle could be moving a little bit separately from what Donald Trump wants.

There could be defendants that want different things. There're also splits that occur with defendants in a lot of other ways. There are several defendants right now who want to try to move part of this case or at least their charges into federal court because of their role as federal officials.

And then there is one defendant who is still in jail, a defendant named Harrison Floyd. And he is in jail because he turned himself in before the deadline here in Georgia this week without having a preset bond agreement. A judge took a look at his situation today and did think that because of some past charges he's still facing in another jurisdiction, there is the possibility that he could be a risk if he was released. And so it appears that Mr. Floyd is going to be spending the next few days, the weekend in jail.

BLITZER: Katelyn, I want you to stay with us, as more experts on the Georgia case join our conversation. And, Shan Wu, former Trump Election Lawyer Sidney Powell has joined Kenneth Chesebro in asking for a speedy trial. Why do you think this is and do you expect other co-defendants will make similar requests?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think some may. Usually from a defense standpoint, you want to ask for a speedy trial if you think that that will kind of knock the government back on its heels because they aren't quite ready to go yet. And for the defendant to prevail on a speedy trial is pretty easy because you have right to have the speedy trial.

So, I think their gamble is to call the government's bluff, to say, okay, you say you're ready to go, let's go really fast and, hopefully, that will cause some disorganization.

But, ironically, the speedy trial motion may cause more delay in the case, because, as Katelyn was talking about, it splits the interest of the defendants and you may start seeing more movement to severe it and all of that starts to eat up time.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Andrew McCabe, you're the former deputy director of the FBI. Do you think it was truly necessary for Georgia authorities to take a mug shot of the former president, Trump?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that the Georgia authorities were trying to make a point that they are handling this case in the normal way they do with every criminal defendant in Fulton County in as much as that is possible.

Now, we know that because he is a former president of the United States and the fact that he has a Secret Service protective detail around him 24 hours a day, there is really no way to handle him exactly the way that everyone else does.

We know he got to fill out the paperwork in advance. We know he was only inside the jail for a very short period of time. But, nevertheless, they went through the steps that are typically seen as a part of the process, the mug shot is one them. Every other -- one of the 18 defendants got their mug shot taken. So, I think it would have been improper for them not to do it to him.


BLITZER: And Tia Mitchell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is also with us. Tia, Trump posted on Twitter, now known as X, last night for the first time since he was kicked off the platform after January 6th. What is your takeaway from that?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I think it is really interesting because he had been avoiding X, formerly known as Twitter, as you mentioned, because he has his own social media platform, Truth Social. But I think he really realizes is that X is the bigger platform with much greater reach and he's using it for a purpose. He's raising money. We know that the money he's raising is not really going towards his campaign funds. Strictly, it is a legal defense fund.

And so, to me, this just indicates that Donald Trump realizes that he needs support in order to pay for these lawyers, Steve Sadow and others, and he feels like X is the platform to reach as many people as possible.

BLITZER: Yes, that is an important point. Katelyn Polantz, I want to go back to you. In Special Counsel Jack Smith's federal election subversion case, a key hearing is now set for Monday. What are we expecting?

POLANTZ: Well, that also is going to be about a trial date. Which of these cases is going to go to trial first? Right now, it looks like there is the possibility that it is a race between the federal case around January 6th, 2020 election and the state case. On Monday there is going to be, that judge, Tanya Chutkan, talking to both of the parties, talking about a trial date, a schedule.

But, Wolf, also, nothing happens in a vacuum. And that federal case, we can't lose sight of it because as that hearing in Washington, D.C. is before Judge Chutkan, there will also be a hearing here in Georgia, in a federal court, where witnesses that are very likely to be part of the federal case, too, will be testifying about Mark Meadows, about that crucial call that Donald Trump made after the election to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia.

And that testimony, like I said, nothing happens in a vacuum. The federal prosecutors will be watching and listening to exactly what is said under oath in that proceeding, how it plays out with Mark Meadows. And all of these things are going to be up in the air, juggling for Donald Trump for the foreseeable future, very much so. Wolf? BLITZER: And, Shan, Jack Smith also wants this to go to trial early next year. Trump wants it down the road in 2026. Where do you expect the judge will eventually land?

WU: Certainly not in the middle. I think Judge Chutkan is going to push for the fastest trial possible. That is reasonable. And just to be cautious, she has to make sure that she lets the defense actually do its preparations. But I don't think she's going to take seriously the idea that the trial gets delayed for years at this point. She's made it plain that it is Trump's choice to run for president. That doesn't mean you automatically get to delay everything until that outcome is resolved.

BLITZER: Andrew, Kenneth Cheseboro's trial in the Georgia case will start October 23rd. How could a verdict in his case impact the other defendants?

MCCABE: Well, it is going to be very interesting, Wolf. If that trial actually goes in October, and I don't think that is a guarantee yet, things could still change, but if he holds on to his speedy trial request, the defendants and the government all kind of get a dry run at the much bigger trial.

So, the evidence that the prosecutors have will have to all be brought out for the Chesebro case. That gives -- puts the defendants in a remarkably better position to have seen how that defense, evidence works in court, what defenses may be more or less effective. So, it is really a bit of a dry run for everyone. Not so great for the prosecution but can be very helpful to the defense.

BLITZER: Tia, as you know and as everyone knows by now, Trump is attempting to capitalize on the mug shot taken of him at the Fulton County jail yesterday, selling merchandise of the photograph and everything from coffee mugs to bumper stickers and T-shirts. What do you make of that?

MITCHELL: Well, I think it is interesting not just that Donald Trump again is using it to raise money. Also, it is a way for him to rally support. Again, one of the big things we're hearing from Donald Trump is this is a persecution, but he's really good at telling his supporters they're not just attacking me, they're attacking you.

And so, to me, this merch is a way for him to get his support -- have his supporters feel like they're in this with him. They can show support. We're seeing people like Marjorie Taylor Greene kind of meme his mug shot now, which is an interesting way for his supporters to kind of say we're going to mug shot ourselves as a show of solidarity.


So, again, it is just -- to me, it all falls in line with how Trump is able to really galvanize his support and in a way these indictments, he uses them to his advantage.

BLITZER: And, Katelyn, you were, of course, there last night as all of this history was unfolding. What was it like? POLANTZ: Well, I was not over at jail. I was over here at the

courthouse, Wolf. But it was quite a scene here in Atlanta. The traffic was clearly backed up all over. And because so many roads were shut down, there were many people that were clearly watching what was going on, very aware that the former president was coming to town to go into the jail.

But when you look at the timing and the amount of security effort around Donald Trump, even though he gets a mug shot just like everyone else, he gets fingerprinted, he gets to go inside of the jail over here in Fulton County, it didn't take him long at all. He was only in there for much less than an hour.

And that is very, very fast from what we've been learning here in Fulton County compared to any other criminal defendants, quite likely because he puts some information in beforehand as well as has that huge security protection around him, that apparatus. Wolf?

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

Just ahead, Russian investigators are recovering key evidence from the deadly Prigozhin plane crash. We'll go live to St. Petersburg, Russia, where people are paying their respects to the Wagner leader.

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



BLITZER: Russian investigators have recovered the flight recorders from the plane crash, which apparently killed the Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and nine others. The Kremlin announced it would do DNA testing to confirm Prigozhin's death. Meanwhile, mourners are paying their respects to Prigozhin outside of Wagner headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia.

For more on this, I want to go to CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance, who is live in St. Petersburg, joining us right now. Matthew, what is the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thanks very much. There has been a steady stream of mourners paying their respects here at this makeshift memorial in St. Petersburg, but also others across the country as well. It is a very public show of support for an outspoken figure in Yevgeny Prigozhin, who, remember, staged an important (ph) uprising against the Kremlin and who has now been dramatically silenced.


CHANCE (voice over): Shocked, if not surprised, supporters of Russia's Wagner mercenary leader have been paying their respects, laying flowers and lighting candles at makeshift memorials across the country. For all his violent and foul-mouthed outbursts, often critical of Russia's military leadership, Yevgeny Prigozhin struck a chord, especially with people like Daria (ph) here in St. Petersburg, who told me how strong and interesting she found his personality.

He always stood up for his fighters, she said, in the special military operation, what Russia calls the conflict in Ukraine.

Are you sad that he is gone?

I'm sad they were so vile to him, she answers. It was a bitterness many Russians now share.

This photograph here, I think, probably one of the last ones of Prigozhin. And it says in Russian, in this hell, he was the best, speaking about him in the past tense.

Some people have laid patches, Wagner mercenary group patches from the side of their uniforms, because a lot of the people that are paying their respects here today are either members of Wagner, or their families of members of Wagner.

The organization is known for its cruelty, and this hammer here, it is very heavy, I'll pick it up, it has Wagner written on it, look, it is become a potent symbol of the just how ruthless Wagner was because it was with a tool like this that they executed someone they regarded as a traitor and they filmed it happen, absolutely gruesome.

But that video consolidated Wagner's image as a ruthless, hyper violent organization that would do anything to protect the motherland.

Even staged that dramatic uprising in June, marching troops towards Moscow in the biggest challenge to Kremlin authority for decades, many Russians suspect Prigozhin's presumed death in this plane crash was cold hearted revenge. But the Kremlin denies involvement. And few Russians there dare say otherwise, at least publicly.

Some of my closest friend are Wagner, said this man, who asked us to hide his identity at the memorial. They're just Russian people, he tells me, who thought they were doing the right thing. But they can't talk for Prigozhin, he adds.

Who do you think is responsible for his death? Who killed him?

No comment.

These are dangerous times in Russia to throw allegations around.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Wolf, tonight, there have been more denials of Kremlin involvement, this time from neighboring Belarus, a close Russian ally. Of course, the leader there saying that I can't imagine that Putin is to blame for the deadly plane crash that killed ten people. It was too rough and unprofessional for Putin, he said.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in St. Petersburg, Russia, for us. Thank you.

[18:20:00] For more on this developing story, I'm now joined by the former CIA director, the former defense secretary as well, Leon Panetta. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.

You just saw that outpouring of grief for Prigozhin in St. Petersburg. Do you believe Putin was directly behind all of this?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You know, we don't have obviously direct information and we probably never will. But there is no question that Putin ordered the killing of Prigozhin. And what he has done is made a -- what could be a dangerous mistake for a dictator, which is that in killing somebody like Prigozhin, you create a martyr in which opposition suddenly develops. So, I think Putin has got to be very careful about just exactly what the ramifications are going to be from what he's done.

BLITZER: Yes. It wasn't just Prigozhin. It was nine other people who were aboard that plane, three crew members and six other passengers.

How much do you think, Mr. Secretary, this actually helps Putin cement his power in Russia?

PANETTA: Well, look, there is no question that he's trying to assert control. As a result of the coup, as a result of being weakened by that coup, probably the biggest threat to Putin in his 23 years, there is no question that people were viewing him has weakened in his response and wondered whether or not he could assert that control.

He's now taken the step, something he's done with literally dozens of others in ordering their death. But the problem here is that, in doing so, he was going after somebody who frankly enjoyed a lot of support from Putin supporters, right wingers, military types, people who criticized the war in Ukraine. And so the very base that Putin needs in order to survive in office was also very close to Prigozhin. And as a result, I think Putin has been weakened, not strengthened, by what has happened.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Mr. Secretary, I want to get your quick reaction to Donald Trump's historic arrest in Georgia. What goes through your mind, Mr. Secretary, seeing the mug shot of the former president of the United States?

PANETTA: Well, that mug shot says everything, I think. You know, he was obviously basically trying to enjoy the moment and trying to send a signal to his supporters. But I think most Americans understand that this is a moment in American history that will go down forever because a president of the United States is facing over 90 charges, criminal charges.

The president needs to be held accountable for the crimes that he has committed. And I think the question mark for all of us is whether or not that accountability will take place soon.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

PANETTA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, Donald Trump's next moves as his fourth criminal arrest casts a long shadow over the 2024 presidential race.

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



BLITZER: Tonight Donald Trump's intentionally defiant pose in his unprecedented mug shot speaks volumes about his legal and political strategy going forward.

Let's bring in CNN's Kristen Holmes who is watching all of this unfold. Kristen, how does the Trump team plan to move forward after this fourth arrest and his first mug shot?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you mentioned this legal and political strategy and, really, they're one and the same. Former President Trump is going to run in 2024 on these legal issues and essentially saying that this is election interference, and that is what we've continued to see.

Now, we also know that he's going to fundraise off of this. And, again, this is all part of the political strategy that is also the legal strategy. We've seen that he's already put out fundraisers with this mug shot. He's selling merchandise, trying to get people to buy it. And let me tell you that I heard from campaign officials who said that people are buying this merchandise, that people are rallying behind the former president.

His team wants to use his legal problems, use these ails, use these arrests as a way to propel him in the race. And we know that right now he is still the GOP frontrunner and they believe that that is going to stay, particularly given the amount of media coverage that he is getting even if it is negative media coverage.

And that is what they are talking about. Trying to, again, use these legal struggles, use these arrest, arraignments, indictments as a way to get money, as a way to get followers and a way to convince Republicans to rally around him.

Now, of course, it is not clear that that is going to work but they do believe a strategy that that will work.

BLITZER: All right. Kristen, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers and Scott Jennings.

Bakari, earlier this afternoon, President Biden commented on Trump's latest arrest. Let's listen to what he said.


Listen to t his. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Have you seen Donald Trump's mug shot yet?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I did see it on television.

REPORTER: What did you think?

BIDEN: Handsome guy and (INAUDIBLE).


BLITZER: So, Bakari, what do you think of how President Biden has handled Trump's legal troubles so far? Does this create an opening for the Biden campaign?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think so. I think that they're going to allow the Trump legal troubles to consume the Trump campaign. They're going to run their own campaign. And not only that, but you have to remember that Save for Georgia and New York is the Trump -- or, excuse me, the Biden Justice Department, which is prosecuting the former president of the United States.

So, I anticipate they'll take a hands-off approach and they'll run on things, like the economy, they'll run Bidenomics, they will run on what most people usually run for president of the United States on which is a vision for the future. Whether or not you agree with that or not, it's up to you, your choice.

Donald Trump is doing something totally different. He's running a campaign of grievance and saying that he has been persecuted and prosecuted unfairly. And so you'll have these two different campaigns, but Biden is not going to weigh in to Trump's legal problems.

BLITZER: Scott, Trump's mug shot may help him raise some money for his campaign but will it help him politically?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, he's used these different legal entanglements over time, four now, to boost himself in the Republican primary. They're going to do that again.

But what has become increasingly clear, Wolf, is the gulf between what is helping him maintain his base of primary support and what would hurt him in a general election. There is just a mountain of polling out there now that indicates that these legal entanglements that are hurting him if he were convicted of a felony, that it would make it very difficult ,if not impossible for him to be elected president. It is already going to be difficult for him to be elected. So, it is a crazy disconnect.

What helps you today could be killing you tomorrow if he were to be the Republican nominee. And it is quite a conundrum for the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Kristen, Republicans are starting to report how much money they raised in the 24 hours after the first presidential debate. DeSantis says he raised $1 million dollars. Ramaswamy said he raised, what, $900,000. How closely do you think the Trump campaign is watching this to see if there is a new second place rival to attack?

HOLMES: Well, Wolf, they watch everything very closely. But I do want to note, when you talk about a second place rival, you talk Vivek Ramaswamy. He has done nothing but praise former President Donald Trump, and that is something that Trump has noticed. He, of course, values loyalty.

And so when it comes to Ramaswamy, you've almost heard nothing from Trump in terms of negativity. But when it comes to that fundraising numbers, they are watching everything closely, particularly, as we know, that Donald Trump has lost several of his big donors. They are still looking to fundraise repeatedly. We know that actually this next week, he's holding a series of fundraisers at his resort in Bedminster. So, always watching and always trying to see who is jockeying for a second place.

But, again, when it comes to Ramaswamy, he's a lot less animosity than when it comes to DeSantis even if Ramaswamy's poll numbers went up.

BLITZER: Yes. There's one correction. Ramaswamy raised $600,000 in the first few hours after that campaign.

Bakari, the Biden campaign is out with a new ad today targeting Trump, DeSantis and Tim Scott over their stances on abortion rights for women. Are those the three candidates that Democrats are most concerned about after this first debate?

SELLERS: I think so. I'm not sure DeSantis is somebody that Democrats are worried about. But we'll just throw him in there with the rest of the lot. Tim Scott, yes, I think Democrats are afraid of what his vision may be in the Republican Party, disagree with him politically. But it is 180-degree difference from the politics of grievance of, say, Donald Trump, and he actually has experience, contrast that to Ramaswamy. So, I think Tim Scott belongs in that category.

But, look, I have said it and I will say it again, this is race is likely over on King Day in Iowa when Donald Trump wins that primary. Donald Trump is Biden's number one target and Democrats have to understand that it is true that Donald Trump can be president of the United States again and Democrats must run scared.

BLITZER: Scott, senior officials say a pro-DeSantis super PAC plans to purchase at least $25 million in new ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. Do you think DeSantis is bouncing back from his earlier struggles?

JENNINGS: Well, if you look at the Des Moines Register poll that came out a few days ago, Wolf, he had the highest net faves in the Republican field and he had the most people that were considering voting for him. So, despite the national gloom and doom narrative, he actually has some underlying fundamentals that are still going well for him.


I think he had a perfectly fine debate and maybe helped himself just a little bit there with a couple of his answers on key issues.

So, you know, we'll see if T.V. ads still make a difference. For him, it is not really as much about Trump yet because he's not cleared up the clutter on the non-Trump side of this primary. And so what he has to do is show some movement back up the scale, just holding it at 13, 14, 15 percent for weeks and weeks is not good enough.

At some point, you have to start saying to yourself you have to tick up. That is a serious amount of money to spend on T.V. ads and we'll see what they come up with. He'll have more to spend on that, I think, than the other campaigns, although, but Tim Scott, as Bakari mentioned, is not without serious firepower as well.

BLITZER: Kristen, you do a lot of reporting on this. Does the Trump campaign have the cash it needs to buy millions of dollars in ads given how much it is spending on Trump's legal bills?

HOLMES: Well, Wolf, I just talked to a Trump adviser about this actually right before this hit, and they said, no, they are not concerned about the fundraising, but here is here why. It's because of the disconnect here between Trump's legal fees that are paid for the Save America PAC and the campaign. They have kept this very separate. The campaign funds, they still say that they have more than $20 million cash on hand.

When it comes to legal fees, though, they are very concerned about that. When Save America PAC, as we know, and we reported several weeks ago, made a $60 million donation to another MAGA -- the MAGA Inc super PAC and then asked for it back. And that is because of those extraordinary legal bills. So, that is where the real concern is.

And, of course, as we also know, they've opened up a legal defense fund for several of these lower-tier lower aides who needed legal help that Trump was paying for. So, that's where the real concern is, are they going to run out of money for these legal funds.

BLITZER: Yes, that is important. Bakari, I want you to listen to something that Vivek Ramaswamy said on the campaign trail earlier this afternoon about Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Listen to this.


VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ayanna Pressley, she's in the Congress today. She's a member of the squad, her words not mine. We don't want any more black faces that don't want to be a black voice. We don't want any more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice. These are the words of the modern grand wizards of the modern KKK.


BLITZER: What is your reaction to that, Bakari?

SELLERS: Ramaswamy is kind of idiotic when he says that. This is why his campaign has caught fire amongst some fringes on the right because he uses these kind of slogans, he uses these tag words. But, again, he has no depth.

I mean, Ayanna Pressley doesn't need me to explain what she was saying, but if you want to represent minorities in this country, if you're going to be a voice and represent them on the largest platform in the world, then you must actually speak truth to power about those issues that directly affect them. That is what Representative Pressley is saying, that you have to be true to yourself, that you have to be uplifting of your community and you cannot act like the ills that affect black and brown people don't affect you.

And for him to call her all types of names is just beneath the dignity of this type of civil discourse. Race is a very, very difficult issue for this country to grapple with. Ramaswamy in that comment showed that he's unable or unwilling or simply doesn't have the intellect necessary to tackle that issue of race by those comments that he made.

BLITZER: And, quickly, Scott, what are your thoughts?

JENNINGS: Well, look, we saw Joe Biden in the last presidential campaign make a comment akin to this, that you can't be an actual black person if you're not supporting me for president. Republicans believe that there is a view point on the American left that somehow you can't be a full member of your party -- of your race if you don't fall in with the Democratic Party. That is what Ramaswamy was talking about, this idea that being black or being Hispanic mandates that you be a liberal or a progressive.

Remember the Democratic Party, you hear Republicans all over country and races all over the country talking about this. And, by the way, there's some polling and evidence to indicate out there that is a little bit movement in Hispanic communities and African-American communities towards the Republican Party right now.

So, I'm not surprised to hear Ramaswamy talking about it because it is something that Republicans are talking about everywhere.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation down the road. Guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, Wagner's failed mutiny may have been the final straw in Vladimir Putin's relationship with Yevgeny Prigozhin, who may be the latest person to pay the ultimate price for having threatened the Russian's president hold on power.



BLITZER: With his presumed death, Yevgeny Prigozhin may be the latest in a long line of rivals and critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin who wind dead or in prison.

Brian Todd is covering this story for us. Brian, how did this come about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a list of rivals who have now become famous for their courage in opposing Vladimir Putin, people who the former KGB colonel has used some very creative methods to attack.


TODD (voice over): In the words of Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin was a, quote, talented business man.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: He was a man of difficult fate and he made serious mistakes in life. And he achieved the results needed.

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: The last time we heard him talk about Prigozhin publicly, he was using words like traitor, stab in the back was a phrase he used, he was really angry. This time, I think he's quite satisfied with himself.

TODD: Analysts say the former KGB colonel and the Kremlin simply couldn't tolerate the level of disrespect Prigozhin showed him with his failed rebellion in June.

BILL BROWDER, PUTIN CRITIC ON RUSSIA'S WANTED LIST: In order for Putin to have been the leader for 23 years, he's had to be the -- seemed to be the meanest guy in the prison yard, the one who would cause damage to anybody who even looked at him the wrong way.


And Yevgeny Prigozhin didn't just look at him the wrong way, he disrespected him in the most massive, humiliating way.

TODD (voice-over): Prigozhin now joining a haunting list of those who have challenged Vladimir Putin and paid the price. Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, has allegedly been poisoned several times and is now serving a long prison sentence. Imprisoned Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza says he's been poisoned and sent into a coma at least twice. Boris Nemtsov, once one of Russia's most outspoken opposition leaders, was gunned down on a bridge at the foot of the Kremlin in 2015.

Then, there were the former Russian pies who Putin saw as threats.

ANDREW WEISS, AUTHOR, "ACCIDENTAL CZAR: THE LIFE AND LIES OF VLADIMIR PUTIN": Vladimir Putin has a particular beef with people he called traitors and he has gone after them in various parts of the world, including in London, in the case of a former FSB agent, Alexander Litvinenko, as well as the attack on a former Soviet double agent Sergei Skripal in the southern English city of Salisbury in 2018.

TODD: Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned and nearly killed in Britain with the powerful nerve agent Novichok, an attack which British investigators tied to Putin's government.

In 2006, former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko, who've been digging up information potentially Putin to organized crime, was killed in London when someone slipped the radioactive substance polonium into his tea. ALEX GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, "DEATH OF A DISSIDENT": The British

investigators found reasonable doubt on evidence that two agents of the Russian security services poisoned Mr. Litvinenko.

TODD: Putin's regime has denied involvement in the poisoning.

One analyst said the apparent killing of Prigozhin could put a target on Putin's back.

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Unlike other people that he's killed, this man is tied to other people on the elites, people who might be nervous. And I think generally there is a sense that Putin is not in as purchase control as he used to be of events.


TODD (on camera): Despite potential new vulnerability in the wake of Prigozhin's presumed death, analyst Evelyn Farkas says there are ways that Vladimir Putin could manage to survive, doing things that he's traditionally very good at. He could spread money around to buy off his potential enemies where he could divide his enemies so they could not come together on a common strategy to take him out. Wolf, he's been very good at that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yeah, Brian Todd reporting, excellent piece. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, do any of the charges that Donald Trump is facing make him ineligible to be president of the United States again? My next guest is a constitutional expert and he says the answer is yes. His argument, that's coming up.



BLITZER: Donald Trump is now the only president in American history to have a mug shot and the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia wants to start his trial in less than two months.

Joining us now to discuss what's going on is Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at the Harvard law school.

Professor, thanks so much for joining us.

You and former Federal Judge J. Michael Luttig, a permanent figure in conservative legal circles, have written an article in "The Atlantic," entitled "The Constitution prohibits Trump from ever being president again."

And you write in part this, and I'm quoting you now, all officials who have ever swore to -- who ever swore to support the Constitution, and who thereafter, either engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the constitution or gave aid and comfort to the enemies of that Constitution, are automatically disqualified from holding future office and must, therefore, be barred from election to any office.

Professor, walk us through your argument.

LAURENCE TRIBE, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Well, the argument is really that the constitution couldn't be clearer. It talks about insurrection or rebellion. But it also says that if you have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, and thereafter, give aid or comfort to the enemies of that Constitution, then you are disqualified, period. So, all of the charges against the president which, at the moment, don't happen to include insurrection, are really beside the point.

This is not a punishment. It's a disqualification, just like the disqualification of someone who has run for president in the past twice and become president twice, or someone who doesn't meet the age limit, or someone who is not a natural born citizen. It's not a punishment, it's a disqualification. It operates automatically.

Secretaries of state may have to set up their own way of determining whether this president gave aid or comfort to the enemies of the constitution, but when he said, he was going to pardon the ones who breached the Capitol and who had confederate flags in there, and caused mayhem, and even death, it sure sounds like giving aid or comfort to the enemies of the Constitution, and when he said that he would terminate the Constitution, it's hard to do that and say that you are an ally of the Constitution.

So, this is going to have to be determined by the secretaries of state. In the first instance, they may file declaratory judgment suits. They may set up their own fact-finding procedures. But whatever they do and whichever way they go, they're going to be challenged, either by Trump, if they conclude he's disqualified, or by Trump's competitors or, possibly voters, if they conclude he's qualified. In either way, it's likely to get to the Supreme Court

BLITZER: That's very interesting, but isn't this, Professor, an inherently subjective call? And are you concerned this could potentially be abused down the road?


TRIBE: It certainly is problematic, but that's why the framers of the 14th Amendment put in a safeguard. They said, if it's abused, all you need is 2/3 of each House in order to remove a disability, a disqualification.

It's true that it's not automatic, as obviously as, let's say, age 35 is automatic, but the issue of natural born citizenship can be slightly complicated. Just ask the late John McCain, or Ted Cruz. They got involved in what is a natural-born citizen, and the fact that something, you know, may raise close questions is not a reason to ignore it.

BLITZER: Professor Laurence Tribe, thank you so much for joining us.

And to our viewers, we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Finally tonight, we remember a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. Monday marks 60 years since the march on Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. An estimated quarter of a million people came here to the nation's capital to hear Dr. King imagine a day of greater freedom and equality for African Americans. Events are planned on the National Mall this weekend to celebrate that milestone.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.