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Key Hearing Set In Georgia As Last Trump Co-Defendants Enter Pleas; U.S. Warns North Korea Will Pay A Price If It Arms Russia; New Video Of Fugitive As Manhunt Expand; First Lady Tests Positive For COVID, President Tests Negative; Remembering Politician & Diplomat Bill Richardson. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a key hearing was just set in the Georgia election subversion case as the last of Trump's 18 co- defendants have now pleaded not guilty, including the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. This, as CNN has exclusive new reporting on the special counsel's 2020 election probe.

Also tonight, the U.S. warrants North Korea it will pay a price if Kim Jong-un arms, helps arm Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. I'll ask key White House Official John Kirby about that and the prospect of a Kim- Putin meeting in Russia.

And the manhunt for a fugitive killer is expanding right now after a security camera catches a glimpse of the escaped convict in Pennsylvania, outside the original search area.

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

But we begin with breaking news right now. The former chairman of the Proud Boys was just sentenced moments ago in connection with the January 6th attack.

CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is outside the federal courthouse here in Washington. Evan, Enrique Tarrio got 22 years, 22 years in prison. Tell us more about this very significant sentence.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is a very harsh sentence. This is much longer sentence than any of the other co-defendants, members of the Proud Boys received. There have been four others that were sentenced just in the last few days.

And the judge made reference to the fact that he said this is a case that is an outlier. This is a historic case. He said that what happened that day on January 6th did not honor the founders. It was the kind of thing they wrote the Constitution to prevent.

He spoke of Tarrio, who was the leader of this conspiracy, the seditious conspiracy, which four members of the Proud Boys were convicted of. And he said that what Tarrio did slanders the father of our country, referring to George Washington.

22 years is longer than some of his other co-defendants. One of them, Ethan Nordean, got 18 years. Another one, Joseph Biggs, got 17 years. Zachary Rehl got 15 years. Dominic Pezzola, a lower-level member of the Proud Boys, received 10 years.

One of the things that we heard in court today was Enrique Tarrio addressing the judge and the courtroom for the first time. He spoke about how he was sorry. He spoke after his mother and his sister apologized and begged for the judge to show some mercy.

What Tarrio did was he apologized to the police officers who were attacked at the Capitol that day. He also called on January 6th a national embarrassment and begged the judge to show some mercy on him.

In the end, the judge said that he didn't really believe that Enrique Tarrio had shown any remorse. He referenced some of the recent interviews that you've seen from Tarrio, including one just a few weeks ago, in which he said that the Proud Boys did nothing wrong.

So, in the end, he sentenced Tarrio to 22 years, which is longer, Wolf, than the statutory maximum for the major crime that he was convicted of, which was seditious conspiracy. Obviously, he was facing additional charges beyond those. Wolf?

BLITZER: Evan, I want you to take us a little bit more inside the courtroom just now. What was the mood from the judge? Give us a little bit more on that and from Tarrio himself.

PEREZ: Well, the judge spoke for about 30 minutes, which is the longest that he has done for any of these cases. Again, really underscoring what he said was that this was an outlier. Remember, Enrique Tarrio wasn't even here that day. He had been arrested a couple of days before because of some previous interactions here with the police here in Washington. And so he was banned from being here in Washington that day, Wolf.

But prosecutors proved in court that he was essentially leading some of this, some of the violence from afar. And so in today's proceeding, you heard, you saw Tarrio really kind of keep his composure except for when his mother addressed the court.

She was crying and he sobbed alongside that, really emphasizing what she was trying to get the judge to understand that she said that Tarrio was not really the person that's been portrayed in court, that he is a smart guy, that he has family members who are police officers.


And she said, I beg you, I beg you to not give him 33 years.

In the end, the judge accepted that the prosecutor's reference that this was an act of terrorism, but he did not endorse the additional time that that would have brought to the sentence. That's the reason why, Wolf, we see him getting 22 years instead of 33 that prosecutors had asked for. BLITZER: And he's, what, 39 years old, is that right?

PEREZ: He's 39 years old, that's right, Wolf. And, again, he begged the judge to give him a chance to get married, to start a family. And, again, he talked a lot about how, after all of these events, that he's a changed man, that he wants to leave behind politics.

Wolf, one of the interesting things about these sentencing is that almost every one of these men has cried as the judge was considering their sentence. In one case, Dominic Pezzola, he was one of the lower- level members of the Proud Boys, but he played a key role. He broke those windows that allowed the mob to get into the building.

And after he was sentenced, the judge left the room and Pezzola stood up with his fist raised and said, Trump won.

BLITZER: All right, Evan, stay with us. I want to bring in Andrew McCabe as well, the former deputy director of the FBI. I want to bring him in to discuss this significant, significant sentencing for Enrique Tarrio's 22 years in prison, he's 39 years old, the highest of any of these defendants yet. What do you think, Andy?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, it's a significant sentence. 22 years is a lot of time in federal prison. And it's entirely justified. He had an enormously significant role, what we refer to in sentencing jargon is a leadership role over the group that probably had the most deleterious effect on the riot that day.

But I have to say, even though they've applied the terrorism enhancement to his underlying sentence in this case, I don't think it goes quite far enough. The fact is, we have all -- we have defendants at many, many levels in different organizations who are convicted of offenses related to international terrorism.

They are recipients of the terrorism enhancement at its full level. And I just don't see the same sort of seriousness being given to domestic terrorism convictions and be there no mistake, this was an act of domestic terrorism. It absolutely fits under the statute. Applying the terrorism enhancement was appropriate here. I just think it should have been done on an equivalent level for someone who was clearly a leader in that group.

BLITZER: Yes, still a 22-year prison sentence sends a very powerful message out there to others who may be thinking about insurrections or whatever.

Andrew McCabe, stand by. We're going to get back to you. Evan Perez, good reporting. Thanks to you as well.

Now, I want to get to the election subversion case in Georgia that's unfolding right now. The judge is now scheduled to hold his first hearing less than 24 hours from now, and we expect it to be televised.

CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is following all the new moves in the case. Paula, I understand you have exclusive new reporting, but, first, tell us more about this hearing tomorrow.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it will be interesting because anyone can tune in to see how this judge handles critical questions, including scheduling and possibly breaking up this case.

The district attorney has been asked to come with a good faith estimate for just how long it's going to take to hold a joint trial for 19 defendants.

Now, several of those individuals have already asked to separate or sever their cases to get to trial faster. And the district attorney will also be asked to address what would happen if this massive case is broken up into smaller groups.


REID (voice over): Tonight, all 19 defendants in the Fulton County Election Interference case have now entered pleas of not guilty.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.

REID: Tuesday, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, along with six other defendants, all pleaded not guilty and waived their right to an arraignment in Fulton County, Georgia, this as CNN has learned that Special Counsel Jack Smith is widening his federal investigation.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: And our investigation of other individuals continues.

REID: Focusing on fundraising and efforts to breach voting equipment, raising the possibility of additional charges after the special counsel indicted Trump last month.

SMITH: Since the attack on our capital, the Department of Justice has remained committed to ensuring accountability for those criminally responsible for what happened that day.


This case is brought consistent with that commitment.

REID: In recent weeks, investigators have asked multiple witnesses about former Trump 2020 election lawyer Sidney Powell.

SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: We have evidence of different numbers of votes being injected into the system.

REID: She was identified as a co-conspirator in the federal indictment and faces criminal charges in Georgia for allegedly helping coordinate and fund a multi-state plot to illegally access voting systems after the election.

POWELL: There should never be another election conducted in this country, I don't care if it's for local dog catcher, using a Dominion machine.

REID: Witnesses have been asked about whether Powell was able to provide any evidence of her conspiracy theories and about Powell's non-profit, Defending the Republic, which raised money off election lies.

According to invoices obtained by CNN, Defending the Republic hired forensic firms that ultimately accessed voting equipment in four swing states won by Biden, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona.


REID (on camera): At this point, it's unclear if Powell or anyone else will be charged by the special counsel.

Wolf, we know the grand jury that Smith has been using expires on September 15th, but it can be extended.

BLITZER: Excellent reporting. Thank you, Paula. Stay with us. We're going to get back to you shortly.

I also want to bring our team into this conversation. And, Elliot, let me start with you. In Georgia, the judge has to make a decision whether to consider all of these defendants in one big trial or break it up into smaller trials. What do you think is going to happen?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a complicated decision for the judge. Well, when you have a case with 19 defendants in it, that's an incredibly complex case. And many of those defendants are going to have different interests than some of the other ones. Some of them are elected officials. Some of them are private citizens. Some of them engaged in different conduct.

Now, splitting a case up is oddly enough both simpler and harder on the court. It's simpler in that you might have a series of easier trials but the problem is that you've got more trials. And now the court is going to have to schedule perhaps five or six different trials rather than one massive one. So, I don't envy that judge but it's certainly a challenging calculus that they're going to have to go through.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe is still with us. How strong is the argument that Trump and some of the other defendants are arguing right now that an October 23rd trial is simply too soon?

MCCABE: I think it's not insubstantial, right? I think you're looking at a massive indictment of 161 counts on the RICO charge alone. Everyone else is facing a variety of different accounts there. This is going to be an enormous amount of discovery that the prosecutor is going to have to turn over. You've got multiple defendants to coordinate with. I think it's a tall order for the defense teams of any of those defendants to actually be ready by October, any of the October dates that they've discussed so far.

BLITZER: October 23rd is what they're talking about right now. Sidney Powell, Paula, as you know, is at the center now of both of these cases in Georgia as well as the federal investigation, thanks to your excellent exclusive reporting about Jack Smith, the special counsel's new thoughts on where this thing should be heading. What could lie ahead for her?

REID: Well, she's probably not sleeping very well at night, knowing that in the past few weeks, witnesses have been asked about three very specific things related to her. First, did she ever provide any proof of her conspiracy theories, of her false claims of election fraud?

She's also been the subject of questions about her own non-profit, Defending the Republic. And then, specifically, they've also asked witnesses about Defending the Republic and its use of some of the funds that it raised off these lies to access voting machines.

Now, she's always been someone that we thought could be charged based on our reporting, the kind of evidence we knew they gathered. But the fact that she's been a focus for the past six weeks after this indictment, that's significant.

Again, she's probably uneasy, rightfully so, but it's unclear if anyone else is going to be charged.

BLITZER: It's interesting. You know, Jamie, you're doing a lot of reporting on this as well. What more do you think could come from Jack Smith, the special counsel's investigation?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to Paula's point, we don't know yet about other indictments, but I think this is a reality check. The reality is, if you thought you were clear, not so fast.

And we learned this when the indictment against Trump came down. It was a narrow indictment. Jack Smith did that. We learned because he wanted to try to get to trial before the election. But the reality is that our sources at that time told us this is just the beginning, not the end. And so there are these unindicted co-conspirators there. They have to wait and see what's next.

BLITZER: Do you think, Elliot, that Trump's many co-defendants could eventually turn against him?

WILLIAMS: There's two questions here, Wolf.


One, people's loyalty to the former president. It's been well- documented that the former president seems to inspire loyalty in those around him. But in criminal cases, it is very much in the interest of co-defendants to turn on each other. They get a benefit at sentencing and may not go to jail for as long as they might.

And it's also quite common. Like I said a little bit earlier, they have different interests. They're looking out for themselves. And you don't want to be at trial pointing at the other guy. So, it may be in their interest to do so. Again, it all comes down to Donald Trump, the man, not Donald Trump, the defendant.

BLITZER: Because if you plead guilty and cooperate with the prosecution, potentially, you get a much lighter sentence.

WILLIAMS: It's a double benefit. Pleading guilty gets a benefit, where, typically, people who plead guilty get lower sentences, and then cooperating with law enforcement and turning evidence on somebody else might lower someone's sentence even further than that. So, they have all kinds of incentives to do so.

BLITZER: Yes, interesting point. Jamie, in our brand new CNN poll, it's very interesting. Trump's support is as strong as ever among Republicans despite his legal turmoil, and we know about that legal turmoil. Look at this, 56 percent of Republican-leaning voters now say Trump's charges won't impact his election odds next year. What do you make of that?

GANGEL: These polls are a snapshot in time, but the reality is his support is going up. More people, slightly more Republicans are saying that they will support them.

Bottom line, when I've talked to political sources, both Democrats and Republicans, they think that Donald Trump will be the nominee despite these four cases. And they think that he will be a difficult opponent for Joe Biden, because we're talking about, remember, a handful of battleground states with small margins.

BLITZER: Yes, despite the, what, 91 felony charges awaiting him right now. We'll see what happens on that front. Guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, the US is calling on North Korea to drop its arms negotiations with Russia. I'll discuss that and more with a key White House official.

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



BLITZER: Tonight the U.S. is urging North Korea to cease arms negotiations with Russia.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has the story.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The first and last meeting between the current leaders of Russia and North Korea was more than four years ago. Since then, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and his military efforts are faltering. So, for Kim Jong-un, the power dynamics have changed.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: A large power is now dependent on him. That hasn't happened in a while. The second thing he gains is the possibility of access to more oil. At the moment that Kim Jong-un is testing his ballistic missiles, particularly the long-range ones, many of which have designed commonalities with Russian missiles, he can get a lot of help there.

HANCOCKS: U.S. officials believe Moscow could receive multiple types of munitions from Pyongyang in any arms deal, which could be used on the front lines in Ukraine.

The Biden administration believes North Korea already delivered infantry rockets and missiles for use by Russian mercenary force Wagner late last year.

DOO JIN-HO, RESEARCH FELLOW, KOREA INSTITUTE FOR DEFENSE ANALYSES: Russia and North Korea have something in common, interoperability of conventional weapons. For example, North Korea's 152-millimeter artillery ammunition and 122-millimeter multiple-rocket launcher ammunition can be used on Russian weapons immediately.

HANCOCKS: U.S. officials assess Kim Jong-un may travel to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin this month. There is an Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok next week. Letters of support have been exchanged between the two leaders.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was given the red carpet treatment by Kim in Pyongyang in July. The North's military capabilities were on full display. And South Korea's intelligence agency says a second Russian delegation visited. At the start of August, by August 8th, the Russian plane is believed to have transferred unknown military supplies from Pyongyang, no evidence or destination given. Pyongyang and Moscow deny any potential arms deal.

CARL SCHUSTER, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. PACIFIC COMMAND'S JOINT INTELLIGENCE CENTER: Kim is becoming more paranoid than normal over the last four or five years. And so for him, this alliance achieves, makes him look less isolated, provides a psychological boost for him and his inner circle.


HANCOCKS (on camera): Now both countries do stand to gain a lot from this closer alliance. And it's not just military, it's also politically they can gain a lot. Russia and North Korea are united at the moment by a common enemy, the United States. Both countries would like to see an alternative world order, a world where the U.S. is less powerful and, of course, a world where U.N. sanctions are less able to be imposed. Wolf?

BLITZER: Paul Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea, for us. Thank you very much, Paula.

For more on this and other developments, I'm joined now by John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications over at the National Security Council. John, thanks very much for coming in.

What is the administration's best assessment right now about when and where Kim Jong-un and Putin might meet? JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, we don't have exact details on this potential meeting or even that it's going to happen. We do have information that says that there could be a potential meeting at a leader level, but we don't know exactly what the details of that would look like. We're going to watch this as closely as we can, of course.

BLITZER: I've been listening to what you've been saying and it's very interesting because you say that this kind of meeting with Putin now meeting potentially with Kim Jong-un shows desperation and weakness on the part of Russia right now.

How much would North Korean weapons though, if provided, actually help Russia in its war against Ukraine?

KIRBY: Well, look, anything that Russia gets that helps it kill more Ukrainian people, that's worrisome. That's a problem. But it really remains to be seen what the outlines of this arms deal could look like.

We know, for instance, Wolf, that one of the things Mr. Putin is really looking for is artillery ammunition. And you just had an analyst on there saying that the 122 millimeter would work well in Russian systems, true enough. And this is a gunfight. This counteroffensive that the Ukrainians are in, in the east and the south, it's about artillery.

So, artillery added to the Russian inventory certainly could help them on the battlefield.


But, again, we just need to know more about whatever the arms deal is in terms of what are the capabilities he's looking for and in what quantity to be able to know how much of a game changer it's going to be.

BLITZER: President Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, a man you know well, has warned that North Korea, in his words, would pay a price if it provides more weapons ammunition to Russia right now. What is that price?

KIRBY: Mr. Sullivan is largely talking about additional sanctions and economic pressure that will be applied to the North if, in fact, they tend to move forward on this.

Now, look, just a couple of weeks ago, Wolf, the Department of Treasury sanctioned some entities that we know were involved in trying to broker this deal, three entities as a matter of fact, directly involved in trying to broker this deal. So, we're going to watch this closely and we are certainly not going to take additional sanctions off the table.

And the other thing that Jake talked about was it wouldn't just be us. We could fully expect that some of our allies and partners in the international community would also react swiftly. BLITZER: You know, it's interesting because I want to get your thoughts on another very, very important yet very sensitive issue right now, your thoughts on Senator Tuberville's efforts right now to hold military nominations and prevent senior military officers, generals and admirals from being confirmed to go ahead and take additional positions.

The Navy secretary just told our Jake Tapper that the hold aides and abets U.S. adversaries, namely China. Tuberville just responded. Listen to this.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): I'm disappointed that a secretary would say that about a senator. And he's sitting this very office when he was going up for confirmation himself. And, you know, it just makes you feel bad that we got leaders in the country like that. Because as I just told you, if I thought it was hurting readiness, I wouldn't be doing this. But it's not.

It's concerning that you got people that are in secretary positions like that that would say something like that in our country instead of getting on the phone and calling me.


BLITZER: What's your reaction to what the senator is saying?

KIRBY: My best advice to the senator is if you don't like being criticized for this outrageous effort to hold up these promotions and advancements, then lift your hold. If it bothers you that we're publicly talking about the impacts it's having, and it is having an impact, then just lift the hold.

It's never been done before, unprecedented. We're talking about several hundred flag officers, generals and admirals who can't move on. And it's not just them that are affected by this. Wolf, it's their families. And it's many of their staffs that also can't make changes in life plans and organizational changes. And they can't even make changes of station. They can't even prepare their family or their kids to go into schools. So, it's absolutely having any readiness effect.

And it's not just the impact on people, Wolf. It is the impact of organizations. And now you've got some officers, like the acting commandant of the Marine Corps and the acting chief of naval operations who are basically filling two jobs, one person filling two jobs without all the concomitant authorities that they would need to do that job.

So, there's no question that it's having a readiness impact and it's having a terrible effect on morale throughout the process.

BLITZER: And on national security.

KIRBY: Yes, absolutely. And look, I mean, he talks about, well, the military is too political and he's trying to take the military out of politics. It's quite the opposite. He's actually doing exactly what he says he wants to avoid. He's politicizing the military over a policy that is in place to help female service members, 20 percent of the force, get necessary covered reproductive care if they need it, if they're stationed in a place where they can't get it there, in Alabama or some other state where they can't get it. That's what this is about.

And that is also already in this issue. The health and fitness of our people, particularly 20 percent of the force, women's service members and their families, that matters to the health of the force, that matters to readiness, that matters to us being able to do the job we're required to do.

BLITZER: Retired Admiral John Kirby, thanks, as usual, for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

Coming up, some of Senator Mitch McConnell's colleagues are raising questions and concerns about his health as he returned to the Senate floor today.



BLITZER: All right, this just into CNN, at least two Republican senators are expressing new concerns tonight about Mitch McConnell's health and his explanation for his latest on-camera freezing incident.

CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju has more from Capitol Hill. Manu, McConnell returned to the Senate floor today for the first time since his last episode. So, give us the latest.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this topic has been dominating conversation in the Capitol hallways all afternoon and also back home for senators. One senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, just told me moments ago that everywhere he went in Missouri over the congressional recess, he was asked about Senator Mitch McConnell's health.

And there now is an expectation that tomorrow behind closed doors, he will address his full conference for the first time about everything that happened here and indicate to them that he can do the job. That is a message they tried to send today when releasing a letter from the Capitol physician saying that Mitch McConnell's episodes were not related to a stroke, a seizure or Parkinson's disease and also indicating that he can continue on with his business as usual.

And that is also the message that McConnell tried to convey when he went to the Senate floor and told his colleagues that he was busy this August recess and there's a significant work ahead.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Now, one particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention and the press over the past week. [18:35:00]

But I assure you, August was a busy and productive month for me and my staff back in the commonwealth.


RAJU: But there are still questions, Wolf, about exactly what happened and why McConnell froze up. His office initially said that he was experiencing lightheadedness, and there's some skepticism among even some of his colleagues about that reason for why he froze up.

Of course, the Capitol physician also said that lightheadedness is tied to people who have had concussions. McConnell suffered a concussion when he hit his head and fell in a Washington hotel earlier this year. But when talking about that is the reason for the freeze- up, at least one Republican senator -- Kentucky Senator Ram Paula, fellow Republican from his home state, was skeptical of that reason.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): I think it's an inadequate explanation to say this is dehydration.

TUBERVILLE: I'm concerned on the first one and the last freeze-up. But since he fell now, he's struggled. And I hope he can continue. I'm sure it's still going to be up to him most of the way.


BLITZER: So, Tommy Tuberville went on to say that he wants to hear Senator McConnell detail exactly what's going on behind closed doors, but in a positive sign from McConnell, Wolf, his three potential successors, Senators John Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso, all told me tonight they still support McConnell staying on as Republican leader.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thanks for that update.

I want to get some more on all of this with members of our political team. And, Scott Jennings, let me start with you. What's your reaction to what we heard from Senators Paul and Tuberville today?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they're going to get the chance to talk to Mitch McConnell at the Senate Republican lunch. They have it every week. And I'm sure, as you heard, McConnell is going to talk to the conference and answer questions.

I know he's talked to a number of the conference on the telephone over the last few days. And the vast majority of people who've made comments about it publicly have said he sounds great, looks forward to get back to work, and that they support him here.

So, actually, I think the letter that came out from the Senate physician today talking about the tests that McConnell had undergone, the neurologist that had seen McConnell really kind of tells the whole story. I texted with him a little bit today. He was feeling good and glad to be back in Washington. So, I suspect when he speaks to his conference tomorrow, you're going to see a big vote of confidence out of most people coming out of that room.

BLITZER: Let me get Bakari Sellers to weigh in. What's your reaction, Bakari?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think that he has to do a bit more than just talking to his friends and colleagues who probably will coddle him coming out of that meeting tomorrow. I think he owes the United States and members of his great state of -- constituents of his great state of the Commonwealth, excuse me, of Kentucky, an explanation of truly what happened.

You know, Wolf, I want to level set just a moment here. When Hillary Clinton got hot on the campaign trail in 2016, it was breaking news. It was every news cycle over and over and over again. And Republicans were just, you know, beneath the dignity of their office as they were guessing about her condition and what may have been. And I think that if Joe Biden actually went through a similar episode where we've seen not once but twice Mitch McConnell go through, then what he's doing would not be enough.

And so, like I told Scott many times over, my prayers are with Mitch McConnell, the only person who can help or decide whether or not he resigns, as he is in his family. I'm not calling on that. I'm not asking for that. But what I am asking for is more transparency about the leader of the Senate and more transparency -- or, excuse me, the minority leader of the Senate and more transparency about what he's going through at this time. I believe the American public and his citizens are owed that much, at least.

BLITZER: Nia-Malika Henderson is with us as well. Nia, does it suggest to you that Senator McConnell could be in trouble in his own conference, his Republican conference, if some of his GOP colleagues are now willing to publicly question his health?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. Actually, it doesn't, because there are so few of them who are willing to come out there and question him and sort of question him even sort of mildly.

I think he has a rock solid hold on his conference there. He's been in that position for many, many years. And, of course, he will meet with his fellow senators tomorrow, and has already been doing some of that calling. There's some transparency with this letter. I'm sure he's going to get many more questions.

I think one of the questions for Mitch McConnell is, what if this happens again, right? It happens sort of back to back in a similar way. He, of course, had that concussion, and there could be some lingering effects of that. That's what the doctor's note suggests. So, I think that is a kind of lingering question. It's going to be an ongoing issue for him.

He might quiet it for now when he meets with his fellow senators, but I think what happens if this happens again?

BLITZER: We shall see. All right guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we'll go to Pennsylvania for an update on the expanding manhunt for a very dangerous killer still on the run after escaping from a local prison.



BLITZER: Pennsylvania authorities now say the manhunt for an escaped killer has expanded while communities in the search area are being asked to remain very, very vigilant.

Brian Todd is on the ground for us in Pennsylvania covering this story. What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're at the very edge of the new police perimeter, not far from where the killer was spotted on surveillance video. We've spoken to several residents here who are fearful that he could still be close by.


TODD (voice over): Tonight, new surveillance video capturing an escaped inmate on the run in Pennsylvania, convicted killer Danelo Cavalcante seen last night on a park's trail camera outside the perimeter police were searching, forcing police to expand their manhunt.

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: Obviously wish we would have been able to capture him without him getting through that perimeter but we'll now expand that perimeter and move it so that we can try and encapsulate him again.

TODD (voice-over): Police say they were only a few hours behind him, and the perimeter is still small.


BIVENS: We squeezed him hard enough over a period of a few days. He'll slip up. We're making him move. And that's a good thing.

TODD: Authorities warning residents the situation is evolving. Two school districts canceling classes today as the search zone expands. One homeowner believes the convicted killer entered his home late Friday night. He says he heard something downstairs and rushed to his upstairs landing.

RYAN DRUMMOND, RESIDENT, POCOPSON TOWNSHIP: What I decided to do was flip the light switch on and off, you know, three, four, five times, pause, and then he flipped the light switch from downstairs three or four times -- which was the moment of like, oh my God. This guy's down there. TODD: He says Cavalcante walked out after taking some food. Cavalcante

escaped prison last Thursday, just weeks after he was sentenced to life without parole for the 2021 murder of his former girlfriend. Prosecutors say he stabbed her 38 times in front of her two young children. Police believe the convict has now been spotted six times.

ZEKE UNGER, BOUNTY HUNTER: He's making bad decisions. He's still on foot. They're going to bring out the K-9s and they're going to start focusing in. Those K-9s are very effective. They've got helicopters.

TODD: Nearby residents being asked to lock their homes, cars, garages, and sheds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like I'm a prisoner. Scared to go out. Just scared in general. You don't know where he is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My level of fear and concern is pretty high.

TODD: The latest images show Cavalcante has obtained a hooded sweatshirt, a duffel bag, and a backpack.

CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: Clearly, he is now, you know, burglarizing places, getting access to a backpack, probably some food, maybe a knife or two. Lord knows, maybe even a firearm. We don't know.


TODD (on camera): The search force on the ground now numbers more than 200 officers, but today, the FBI and the Border Patrol have sent in new teams and equipment. Police say they are also interviewing Danelo Cavalcante's contacts, his family, and other inmates for potential clues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd on the ground for us in Pennsylvania, thank you.

Coming up, the first lady is isolating at home in Delaware after testing positive for COVID. I'll discuss this and more with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's standing by live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, is experiencing what are described as mild symptoms tonight after testing positive for COVID. The White House says President Biden has tested negative and will be tested on a regular basis in the coming days.

Joining us now to discuss this and more is Dr. Anthony Fauci who was President Biden's chief medical adviser.

Dr. Fauci, as always, thank you so much for joining us. How concerned should we be about this COVID exposure for both the

president potentially and for the first lady?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, as we know, the first lady is infected. That's unfortunate that she got infected, but I think she should be doing really quite well for a number of reasons.

One, she's fundamentally a healthy one. She has been vaccinated. She's been boosted and she has had a prior infection, as you can recall, Wolf, last summer, which means she has a hybrid immunity or good amount immunity which didn't prevent her from getting infected, but certainly would go a long way to prevent her from getting severe disease.

So although you never can predict, I would imagine she strongly that she should do really quite well. The president has tested negative and he will continue to test regularly as the days go on and it is very conceivable, if not likely, that he'll be fine and will not get infected.

BLITZER: Let's hope he doesn't. As you know, President Biden awarded the Medal of Honor today to an 81- year-old Vietnam War army pilot without wearing a mask even though the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said earlier today he would be wearing a mask.

Should he have been masked for this moment?

FAUCI: He was negative on his test, Wolf, and we know from experience that if you have a negative test, the chances of your transmitting the virus even if you have an early infection are extraordinarily low because what the antigen test tells you is the amount of virus that's in your nasal pharynx. It's a sense of test, if it's negative, then the chances are extremely low even if you are infected, you'll transmit it to someone.

BLITZER: As you know, right now, we're in the midst of a summer COVID surge as a new variant is spreading around the country, the new school year has also begun for so many students. COVID hasn't necessarily been top of mind for a lot of us out there, at least lately.

So, what advice do you have, Dr. Fauci?

FAUCI: I think we need to follow how things evolve over the coming weeks to months, Wolf. We are seeing a late summer spurt. I don't know if you want to call it a real surge yet because, you know, we have a very low level of infection. We have a 19 percent increase over the last couple weeks in hospitalization, but that's a 19 percent increase over a very low number.

We want to watch it very carefully. I would imagine we're going to see an increase as we get into the fall and what we should do is follow the CDC recommendations. In fact, particularly among individuals at risk, the elderly and those with underlying conditions may want to as the cases increase to wear a mask when they're in indoor settings, particularly when there are crowds. [18:55:14]

And I'm not talking about mandating anything. I'm talking about good common sense and following the recommendations that we likely will get from the CDC as we proceed into the fall and if the cases increase in their number. Also importantly, Wolf, in a couple weeks by the end of September, we should have available a booster shot that appears to be very well matched in the sense of being able to protect against the circulating variants. We have EG.5 and FL.1.5 and a lot of XBB variants now circulating.

And the vaccine available towards the end of September is an XBB1 vaccine which could be very well matched to what we're seeing, which is all the more reason, particularly for people at risk, to seriously consider taking that vaccine when it becomes available.

BLITZER: Excellent advice indeed. Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much for joining us.

And we'll take a quick break, more news right after this.


BLITZER: Finally tonight, we remember a dedicated public servant and an all around very good guy. The former New Mexico governor and former U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson, died suddenly last week at the age of 75. He was truly an extraordinary politician and diplomat who also served in Congress as the U.S. energy secretary. I covered him for many years going back to the Clinton administration.

Back in 2010, I was honored to accompany Bill Richardson to North Korea and report on the communist regime during our six days in Pyongyang. I interviewed Richardson about North Korea numerous times after that, including just two weeks ago when he was here in Washington working on his latest efforts to free Americans held around the world. This time, it was the U.S. soldier Travis King currently held by Kim Jong Un's regime after he crossed the heavily armed DMZ.


BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.N. AMBASSADOR: We're going to try and bring him back. He's been gone five weeks. He's a troubled young man. He made a mistake going across, but that doesn't mean that we don't try to bring him back.

He's an American soldier, an American military man. He's got a family, a wonderful family, and it's our obligation to bring him back.


BLITZER: Bill Richardson helped bring many detained Americans home, including the WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was freed by Russia late last year.

His work on behalf of U.S. prisoners and hostages overseas is a huge part of Bill Richardson's remarkable life and legacy. My deepest, deepest condolences to his wife Barbara. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.