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The Situation Room
Biden Says, Not Sure I'd Be Running In 2024 If Trump Wasn't In Race; Slew Of Promotions Confirmed After Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) Blanket Hold Ends; IDF Claims New Advances As U.N. Warns Gaza Apocalyptic; Home In Washington, DC Suburbs Explodes As Police Try To Executive Search Warrant. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 05, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: One more programming note, knockout rounds of the NBA in-season tournament begin tonight. Eight teams remain. See who will survive.
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Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call the situation room. See you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, President Biden says he's not sure he'd be seeking re-election if Donald Trump wasn't running for the White House. We're breaking down the stark revelation about Biden's decision-making and what it says about the state of the 2024 presidential race.
Also breaking, after Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville finally backs down on his nearly year-long blockade of U.S. military promotions, hundreds of nominees have been confirmed tonight.
And the Israeli military is claiming new advances across Gaza. New video showing the frantic search for survivors in the rubble over the Israeli strike as the U.N. chief warns conditions in Gaza are apocalyptic.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
And we begin with the breaking news on the 2024 race for the White House, President Biden offering a very candid assessment of how Donald Trump influenced his decision to seek a second term.
CNN's Senior White House Reporter Kevin Liptak is in Boston for us. That's where the president spoke to campaign donors just a little while ago.
Kevin, what did the president say and how revealing is this? KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. These are some of the starkest comments we've heard from the president when he's talking about his rationale for re-election, telling Democratic donors here in Boston tonight if Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running.
And, certainly, we knew that Trump was a motivating factor in President Biden's decision to seek re-election but this is offering perhaps the clearest window into his thinking as he gears up for next year's campaign despite Democratic worries about his age, about his standing in the polls.
And I think it reveals a couple of important things. One, President Biden, and he has expressed this privately, but he's now essentially saying it publicly, he believes he's the best and only Democrat to take on President Trump next year. You saw that in part of his remarks tonight saying we cannot let him win.
And the second thing that I think is important is that for all of the talk we're going to hear from President Biden and that we have heard from President Biden about needing to finish the job on policy, that, for him, the heart of this campaign is preventing a second Trump presidency and that as he tries to reconstitute the coalition that propelled him to the White House in 2020, it will be reminding those voters of the importance of that, that will be the central component of his campaign argument.
Of course, making that argument will require money. That is why he is here in Boston tonight. He has three fundraisers between now and Monday. The president will host seven fundraisers as he looks to bolster his campaign war chest before the end of the month fund raising deadline, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Kevin Liptak in Boston for us, Kevin, thanks for the report.
I want to get more on this breaking story. Our political experts are here with me. And, David Chalian, you're our political director. These are pretty remarkable comments from the president of the United States. What's your major takeaway?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, he has been revealing some of his innermost thoughts when behind closed doors at these fundraisers, even though the print press corps is there to record the comments.
I think it's little surprise that this is his rationale. His sharing it this way is a little more surprising. It's sort of the classic definition of a gaffe, right, to speak the truth when you don't necessarily intend to. And I say that because it seems like this will be easy pickings for Donald Trump and his allies to sort of say, is this why you should be running for the highest office in the land, just because you want to get me? See, I told you this is all about getting me.
Now, I think, clearly, what Joe Biden has made crystal clear to all of us is he intends to make a contrast with Donald Trump the center piece of his campaign and I think that is what he means by these remarks, that, absent Donald Trump, he would not have a stronger rationale to seek a second term. And he sees this a battle for, as he called it, the soul of the nation back in 2019, Wolf.
Similarly, as he saw it four years ago, it was Donald Trump in Charlottesville that called him to the campaign then, and what he's telling us now is this is still about Donald Trump above all else in his mind and that's, you know, why he's running.
I just think we'll probably hear a more nuanced version of this in the future and not this exact phrasing.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very precise, remarkable comments, I said, and I think they were pretty remarkable.
Jamie Gangel, do you see this as Biden essentially saying he thinks he's the only Democrat that can really beat Trump?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's what exactly what he was saying, but I think it also -- look, when we look at the close battleground states, is he really the only Democrat at this point? He is, you know, the presumptive nominee.
I also think, to David's point, Donald Trump is going to take advantage of this. It does give Trump ammunition. And I also wonder for voters. We always talk about voters want someone who really wants the job, fire in the belly. I'm not sure saying this is really the only reason I'm running sends that message.
BLITZER: He didn't say it was the only reason, but he said it was clearly the main --
GANGEL: But it does raise the question, the doubt that if it wasn't for Trump, maybe he wouldn't be running.
BLITZER: Let me get Maria Cardona into this conversation. Maria, President Biden is talking like he wants to save the country from Trump. But in the most recent polls, he's actually losing to Trump in several key battleground states. What's your reaction to all of this?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's a good thing polls aren't actual votes, Wolf, and that the actual election is a year away. Look, I don't think this was a gaffe and I'm actually not at all surprised that he said this.
It is no secret that he believes that he is the only one that can beat Trump because, in fact, he has been the only one that has beat Trump. And, look, he focuses on this is the reason why he is asking for re- election, to finish the job. It was clear literally the day after Donald Trump left the White House that he was going to run again. And look what he did when he didn't win re-election. He almost destroyed our democracy. Our democracy was hanging by a thread. He is running again and the one person that was able to beat him last time, I think, is the one that is best position moving forward to beat him again.
And when you have somebody like Donald Trump, who is focused on going after his opponents who he described as vermin, who talks about immigrants as poisoning the blood of our country, who said on Truth Social that he would get rid of the Constitution of the United States, I think that is one of the most important reasons why someone who beat him already is running again to protect us from someone who has told us he wants to be a dictator and walk into the Oval Office and make it his own.
So, I think, moving forward, he is the one that's best positioned and will continue to make this argument that Donald Trump is an existential threat to our democracy and he is the one best positioned and best equipped to beat him.
BLITZER: Let me get Scott Jennings into this conversation. Scott, we're going to be hearing from Trump later tonight. Do you think he's going to seize on these comments from the president?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if he doesn't tonight, he will soon. And he's going to say, look, I'm it, I'm the only motivation for them. And it's why you see them using the government and all the power of the government to try to keep me from being a viable presidential candidate.
So, for Trump and his supporters, it will be further evidence that everything that's happening to him, despite all evidence to the contrary, is nothing more than a political ploy by Joe Biden.
Now, I will say I do find this to be a little arrogant, and I agree with David. What called Biden to the campaign in his own words before was Charlottesville and Trump. And right now, anti-Semitism is running amuck in the United States and Donald Trump is on the rise and is beating Joe Biden.
So, you could look at the reasons he was in this race before and the reason he said he was going to be is not working out right now. Things that he said he was going to cure are worse. And so if I were a Democrat, I'd be thinking is he the best one or has he failed at the mission he laid out in 2020?
BLITZER: Let's get David to respond.
CHALIAN: Well, I think part of what he was getting at tonight is his immediate -- a bunch of political problems the president does, but his immediate political problem is this diminishment of support among some key pieces of his own coalition.
And if indeed the strategy is in the White House, which it is, that they believe focusing on Donald Trump and making that contrast is going to be the key to rally his own troops, putting Donald Trump at the center of your rationale for running is an opportunity to try and rally Democrats back into Joe Biden's cause. And I think that's what you saw him doing with this. I think they see it as the central element to bringing Democrats into an energized mode around Biden.
GANGEL: Can I just say quickly though? There is a subtext here and that is, well, why wouldn't he be running for a second term as president? And we all know the answer.
It's because of his age.
And I just think it raises it again and those battleground polls raised again the question of, you know, if the field was clear, if Democrats had had a chance to come in and create a wider field, is he actually the best person?
CHALIAN: And I will just note one other question that I think these comments raise. I know he's the formidable frontrunner for the nomination. What if Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee? I think the next question of President Biden is, are you going to reconsider your re-election campaign?
BLITZER: That's a good question. I want to get your quick reaction to the latest comments from Liz Cheney. She's potentially thinking about running for president herself.
GANGEL: She's left the door open.
BLITZER: She said this to The Washington Post. Let me read it to you. We face threats that could be existential to the United States and we need a candidate who's going to be able to deal with and address and confront all of those challenges. That will all be part of my calculation as we go into the early months of 2024.
GANGEL: So, she made it clear, she spoke to our Jake Tapper a couple of weeks ago and told him she was leaving the door open. She has also said publicly if Trump is the nominee, she would no longer be a Republican. That would mean that if she did this, and I think that that is a big if and lightning actually would strike before that would happen, that she would be running as an independent.
I think the most important thing to remember that Liz Cheney says is she will not do anything that would help Trump win. So, if she thinks he's taking votes from Biden, this is not going to be happening.
JENNINGS: Who else would she be taking votes from? I mean, She's not going to be taking any from Donald Trump, I suspect. So, I think a candidacy by her or someone in a similar vein would hurt Biden.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks to all of you.
This important note to our viewers, Liz Cheney will be a guest on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight 8:00 P.M. Eastern.
And just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following. The U.S. Senate confirms hundreds of military nominations after Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville ends his nearly year-long hold.
And U.S. aid for Ukraine and Israel faces an uncertain future as a classified Senate briefing breaks down into a shouting match over border security.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The United States Senate confirms hundreds of military nominations, which were being held up by Senator Tommy Tuberville. The Alabama Republican just lifted his nearly year-long blockade as he tried to force the Pentagon to change its reproductive rights policy.
CNN's Brian Todd is monitoring these important developments for us. Brian, what's the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, the Pentagon is relieved hundreds of military families are celebrating promotions but there are a lot of questions being asked about whether Senator Tuberville's actions hurt America's military readiness.
SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): It was pretty much a draw.
TODD (voice over): After almost a year of intransigence, the conservative senator from Alabama finally gave in, for the most part. Republican Tommy Tuberville today released the bulk of his holds for Senate votes to confirm military promotions.
TUBERVILLE: I'm releasing everybody. I still got a hold on, I think, 11 four-star generals. Everybody else is completely released from me.
TODD: There were more than 450 nominations for military promotions that Tuberville had held up. Most of them were approved this afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.
TODD: But the Pentagon says it remains concerned about the four-star generals and admirals who still can't get their promotions.
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, SPOKESMAN, PENTAGON: All of those positions obviously are key senior leadership positions to include the vice chiefs of the various services, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, commander of Air Combat Command.
TODD: Some of the promotions that Tuberville had blocked included officers who would be important U.S. commanders in the Middle East. Critical, especially now, that the U.S. has ramped up its military presence in the region during the Israel-Hamas War.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This was almost a year's worth of performative politics on the part of this senator that restricted the capability of the United States military to do its job, that harmed national security, that was cruel to the families of these officers.
TODD: The former Auburn University football coach denied his stance harmed America's military readiness, saying he had asked generals about it.
TUBERVILLE: I told him, I said you know what I'm doing. Is it going affect your job? No, it is not. Okay. We will get the job done.
TODD: Tuberville was objecting to a Pentagon policy put in place after Roe versus Wade was overturned that offers time off and travel reimbursement for service members seeking abortions, now that they might require travel to another state.
Even senators from his own party had hammered Tuberville over his holds.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): No matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is doing great damage to our military.
SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Stunned, what a national security suicide mission this became.
TODD: Just how much friction did Tuberville's stand cause in the Republican Party?
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: As this started months ago, he had a lot of people in his corner. But once time went on and we saw the impact this was having, not just on military readiness but military morale, many Republicans realized that it's time to pull back on this. And he lost support.
TODD (on camera): Senator Tuberville told reporters he has no regrets about holding up the promotions. Asked what his message is to the military families who have been affected by his holds, Tuberville said, quote, thank you for your service. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, Brian, thank you very much.
There's more breaking news from Congress that we're following right now. A classified briefing on Ukraine turned into a shouting match between senators over the issue of border security, aid for Ukraine and Israel, for that matter, is hanging in the balance as Republicans say they block the bill if border policy changes aren't included.
[18:20:05] CNN Capitol Hill Report Melanie Zanona is following the story for us. Melanie, so tell our viewers what happened.
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. Well, I would say, first of all, that the prospects for Ukraine aid right now are looking more grim than ever. The White House is really hoping to inject a new sense of urgency in the need for additional funding for Ukraine. So, today was seen as a really big, consequential day on Capitol Hill for the fate of Ukraine.
And the White House has scheduled two different briefings with both the House and Senate. But instead of what they had hoped would occur, it turned into a shouting match and things turned really heated in the Senate briefing after Republicans tried to bring up their demands that stricter immigration and border security provisions be attached to any additional Ukraine funding. At one point, sources tell us that Republican Senator Tom Cotton was even shouting in just a sign of how tense things really got.
Let's listen to what lawmakers had to say about that briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It was immediately hijacked by Leader McConnell.
Then when I brought up the idea that they could do an amendment and have the ability to get something done on border, you know, they get stuck. They got stuck. They didn't like it. And even one of them started was disrespectful and started screaming at one of the generals and challenging him to why he didn't go to the border.
SEN. KEVIN CRAMER (R-ND): People got up and walked out because it's a waste of time. They said, this isn't worth it. This is a joke. You're not serious about this. I'm going. And I don't blame them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZANONA: So, the two sides appear to be moving farther apart, not closer. And in the meantime, Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, is going to put a package on the tomorrow for aid for Israel and Ukraine without those border security provisions, essentially daring Republicans to vote against it.
But all indications at this point, they will vote against that package. So, that could either solidify the stalemate or reinvigorate these bipartisan talks over the border. But at this point, really uncertain how it all plays out, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see how it plays out tomorrow.
Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thank you. Coming up, Israeli forces pushing into a key city in Southern Gaza as we're getting new information right now on how long this intense phase of the ground operation may last.
BLITZER: Tonight, the Israeli military is claiming significant, new advances in Gaza, setting the stage for a potentially pivotal battle.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is just over the border from Gaza in Israel. He's joining us now live.
Jeremy, what are you seeing and what are you hearing?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're still hearing intensive military activity in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. We've heard artillery. We've been hearing the sound of heavy machine guns as well. But the focus increasingly for the Israeli military is going to be in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, as Israeli military officials say they are encircling the second largest city in Gaza ahead of a key battle.
DIAMOND (voice over): Tonight, the Israeli military pushing deeper into Southern Gaza, now on the brink of what could be a decisive battle in Gaza's second largest city.
HERZI HALEVI, CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Our forces are now encircling the Khan Younis area on the Southern Gaza Strip.
We have secured many Hamas strongholds in the Northern Gaza Strip and now we are operating against its strongholds in the south.
DIAMOND: Israeli military officials and local accounts describing intensive Israeli airstrikes in Southern Gaza, as satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows dozens of Israeli armored vehicles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, with tracks on the ground indicating an Israeli push from the east.
The new offensive worsening an already desperate humanitarian situation. New Israeli evacuation orders in Southern Gaza are pushing hundreds of thousands of civilians to move even further south to the city of Rafah, where a U.N. official says the U.N. is not able to provide for hundreds of thousands of new internally displaced people.
In the city of Deir al Balah, nearby artillery fire forcing an ambulance to flee the scene and new images of destruction from multiple strikes in the same city, killing scores of people, according to a spokesperson for a nearby hospital. These were the latest strikes resulting in apparent civilian casualties as a report said the Israeli military assesses about two civilians have been killed for every dead Hamas fighter, prompting this response from an Israeli military spokesman.
LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKERSPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: If you compare that ratio to any other conflict in urban terrain between a military and a terrorist organization using civilians as their human shields and embedded in the civilian population, you will find that that ratio is tremendous, tremendously positive and perhaps unique in the world.
DIAMOND: As it pushes south, the Israeli military says it is going after top Hamas commanders, including the group's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar.
HALEVI: Many ask about the destruction in Gaza. Hamas is the address. Sinwar is the address.
DIAMOND: But amid the offensive, the Israeli military reporting intense battles with Hamas militants in the north, where the fight for control is far from over. Israel's prime minister already thinking ahead to when it is.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: On the day after, Gaza must be disarmed. And in order for Gaza to be disarmed, there's only one force that can ensure that, and this force is the IDF.
DIAMOND: Raising the specter of Israeli forces remaining in Gaza after the war.
DIAMOND (on camera): And, Wolf, today, the Israeli Prime Minister's Office now says there are 138 hostages held in Gaza tonight, many of those former hostages advocating for the Israeli government to work to free all of those who still remain behind. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. Let's hope they come home soon. Jeremy Diamond reporting for us, thank you very much.
Here in Washington meanwhile, U.S. officials are offering a timetable for when this intense phase of Israel's Gaza ground war may actually end.
CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us from the White House right now. M.J., how does the U.S. see this war advancing now?
M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while there is certainly no predicting the exact trajectory of the war, multiple senior administration officials tell CNN that the U.S. currently believes and expects that Israel's current operation into Southern Gaza will last some several weeks and that, possibly, by January, the war will transition to a new phase, a lower intensity and hyper-localized military operation that is intended to take out specific Hamas operatives and leaders.
Now, of course, as we have been reporting on for days, the U.S. has been, in private and in public, urging Israel to take caution, to be more deliberate, more surgical, and careful to try to avoid in the south what we saw in the north, the massive casualties and widespread destruction.
We are also told that they have also been warning Israel that the clock is basically ticking on Israel to be able to continue its current operations before international support for the war continues to wane. We have also heard some White House officials saying in recent weeks that they believe that Israel has been more receptive to these kinds of warnings from U.S. officials.
But I'm also learning that that is not a view that, in private, is shared as a consensus view inside the White House. One senior administration official, for example, telling me that they personally would not be comfortable using the word, receptive, to describe how Israel has been hearing some of these warnings and heeding some of this advise coming from U.S. officials. Of course, the reality right now, Wolf, is that the White House is deeply concerned about how exactly Israel will continue with its southern operations in Gaza. Wolf?
BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much.
As Israel presses on with the war against Hamas, the United Nations chief is now warning that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is becoming, in his word, apocalyptic and arguing there's in where for civilians to actually go.
CNN's Ben Wedeman has the latest on the daily struggle in Gaza simply to stay alive.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They came here hoping to escape the war and this is what happened. Tuesday afternoon, an apparent Israeli airstrike demolished this building in Deir al Balah, in Central Gaza. Civilians more than 50 are now martyrs, says Abu Bassem. The building's owner had given them shelter. They all came from the north.
Under the sand and rubble is a lifeless body. There is his head, someone says, while others peering into the ruins search for survivors. Is anyone alive, he calls out.
Without heavy equipment, bare hands will suffice. Deir al Balah's only functioning hospital, the injured are rushed inside. The hospital's spokesman says they received more than 130 injured and more than 90 bodies. CNN cannot confirm the death toll.
Once again, so many of the victims are children. Stunned, confused, terrified, she grasps her mother's hand. The injured treated on the floor.
The luckier among those who fled and then fled again further south end up in places like this, makeshift camps devoid of running water, electricity or sanitation. A plastic sheet is all that protects Enas Musleh and her family from the elements.
We spend all night hearing rockets and bombs, she says. We're living between life and death. We may die at any moment.
Indeed, in Gaza now, the line between life and death is perilously thin.
WEDEMAN (on camera): And the threat doesn't just come from war. U.N. officials worry that all those made homeless and now living in unsanitary conditions with dwindling supplies of food and medicine could soon fall victim to disease. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.
Just ahead, prosecutors reveal a key piece of their strategy in Donald Trump's federal election subversion trial. We have details. That's next.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting a preview of the special counsel's playbook as he prepares to go to trial against Donald Trump in attempt to convict him of subverting the 2020 presidential election.
Let's get more from CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz and CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.
And, Katelyn, what did the prosecutors lay out in this new court filing?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, in this filing, the prosecutors are now explaining how they want to show the jury who Trump is, not just what he did but his character traits, his history and all of the things that should matter to the jury as they're looking at this case where he's charged with obstruction and asked to weigh in on it.
They're going to do things, they're saying in the filing, like showing the jury how Trump was encouraging a violence on January 6th, that riot at the Capitol, how he realized that violence on that day could help him, and how even earlier before the 2020 election, as far as back at 2016, that he regularly was talking about disliking election results if they weren't in his favor or what he wanted, and in those instances, saying oh, there was fraud or maybe I won't commit to a peaceful transfer of power in 2016.
So, all of those things prosecutors want to present to the jury. They also want to talk about how he was quite sympathetic to rioters, the Proud Boys, telling them to stand back and stand by, also telling people publicly that he would be potentially willing to pardon convicted Capitol rioters if he's elected again to the presidency.
BLITZER: So, Elliot, from a legal perspective, why are Trump's actions after January 6th relevant to his motivations in the lead-up to that?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, whenever prosecutors bring a case, one of the core things they have to establish is motive -- not motive, intent, and what was the defendant's state of mind. And prosecutors have to be very careful when introducing past statements and past conduct.
Now, what they're doing here is trying to say that because of both his conduct after and his conduct before, that information helps establish what his intent was to obstruct Congress and obstruct an official proceeding and commit a conspiracy against the United States.
And to Katelyn's point, one of the things they know is that the stand back and stand by comment to the Proud Boys ends up on Proud Boys merchandise on their website thereafter. It is an establishment of a link between a statement that the former president said and the Proud Boys sort of believed it and heard it. Not necessarily saying that they're acting in concert but certainly saying that the president intended to carry out the acts he's charged with.
BLITZER: So, Katelyn, what does this tell you about what the prosecutor's strategy is for the trial?
POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, this is a glimpse into the storytelling that the prosecutors will do to the jury. Every trial is telling the story not just of what the case is, the law, the facts, but the bigger picture.
We had seen this indictment lay out all of the things Donald Trump is accused of doing after the election, interfering with the Justice Department and having a plan with Mike Pence and fake electors. One of the pieces of that was about the violence itself on January 6th. We didn't know how much of that would be part of the trial, what prosecutors would want to show. And they clearly, through this filing, are saying, we want to talk about the violence quite a lot. We have a lot to say about that.
BLITZER: How do you think Trump's defense team will try to combat this?
WILLIAMS: Okay. There's a couple of ways. Number one, they can say that any statements made outside of court are actually hearsay even if Trump made them. There could be a reason to exclude the statements because you're trying to admit the statements of somebody into court to prove they're true. So, that's one.
Number two, the rules of evidence bar using evidence of somebody's character to try to prove that they're a bad person. So, the prosecutors have to say that we're just bringing in this character established only to establish his intent, maybe even motive, not to say he's a bad guy and should have missed (ph), so I convicted them. So, they have a needle to thread. It could get into court but it's going to be a fight over the coming weeks.
BLITZER: It certainly will be. All right, Elliot Williams, Katelyn Polantz, guys, thank you very much.
Coming up, President Biden makes a stark admission about why he's running for a second term. I'll discuss this and more with one of his key allies in the United States Senate.
BLITZER: I want to get back to our top story right now, President Biden telling Democratic donors he isn't sure he would be running for a second term if Donald Trump wasn't in the race.
For more on this and other important news, I'm joined now by Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He's a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
Specifically, Biden said this, and I'm quoting him now: If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running.
Is President Biden undermining his own case for the presidency by simply saying that, Senator?
SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Wolf, I wasn't there, but I imagine what he was saying was a version of what he said the last time when he ran against Donald Trump, which is that he considered Donald Trump a threat to our democracy and he thought that everybody in America should do whatever they could do to beat Donald Trump.
I actually ran for president, not a well noticed campaign for presidency for exactly the same reason. Joe Biden did a lot better than I did and beat Donald Trump, and I expect that if that's the match-up this time, he'll do it again.
BLITZER: Let me also discuss with you, Senator, the Senate chaos today over passing new aid to both Ukraine and Israel. You were in today's classified briefings that devolved into what we're told a shouting match.
Can you share with us what happened?
BENNET: I would say there was a little bit of a shouting match. I think it's been a little bit overdescribed. But you're right to describe, you know, what happens here as chaos. And sometimes, it's okay to have chaos. And we go home and we just blame each other then we come back and I suppose move on to the next thing.
This is an instance where that chaos cannot stop us from funding Ukraine. And we cannot allow the dysfunction of this place to prevent the United States from fulfilling our moral obligation to fund Ukraine. Because their fight is not just a fight for Ukraine. It's a fight for democracy and if this democracy can't get its act together, that's going to send a horrible message to Putin.
I think Putin thinks he's losing on the battlefield of Ukraine, the Ukrainian battlefield. And he's counting on winning on the Capitol Hill battlefield and we just can't let this happen and I don't think we will.
BLITZER: As you know, Senator, Republican senators are making it quite clear they won't vote for this aid bill without border funding.
What are Democrats willing to negotiate on when it comes to the border?
BENNET: Yeah, I'd say a couple of things about that. Well, first of all, I don't think there's a reason to make the border a contingency for supporting Ukraine. Ukraine has the receipts, they have taken back half of the territory that Putin took away. They opened up the Black Sea for grain shipments for the rest of the world without even having a navy. They have done things nobody could have imagined they would do, and they have earned our support.
It's true at the same time that there's some Republicans in the Senate who have said they're going to use this as an opportunity to lever the border conversation. You know, that's aggravating, but it's not the end of the world. And I'll say this, as somebody who helped write part of the Gang of 8 who wrote the last comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, our immigration system needs a lot of work. It has a lot of problems.
And are we going to be able to deal with that in the next seven days? We'll see whether people of goodwill can come together and deal with something that helps address the border in a way that can bring the Republicans to do what they should do anyway, which is support democracy and support Ukraine. I can assure you of this, Wolf, whether we're able to get to that deal or not in the next five or seven days, we are going to have to address the broken immigration system in this country. That's something Democrats and Republicans are going to have to take on together.
BLITZER: It's so important. Senator, while I have you, I want to get to another important topic.
The FBI director, Christopher Wray, testified today on the elevated threats to the United States in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas war. I want you to listen to what the FBI director said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're working around the clock to identify and disrupt potential attacks by those inspired by Hamas's horrific terrorist attacks in Israel. I've never seen a time where all the threats or so many of the threats are all elevated all at exactly the same time.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Would you say that there's multiple blinking red lights out there?
WRAY: I see blinking light everywhere I turn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator, how concerned are you by the director's very, very stark warning?
BENNET: I'm worried about it. Chris Wray is a serious person. He's not going to say things that are exaggerated. I actually recently met with the FBI -- the guys in charge of the FBI in Colorado and had a very similar story told to me.
We're seeing this every day on the intelligence committee, and we live in a dangerous world, which, by the way, is another reason that we ought to find ways of settling our differences here. This is a moment in human history where democracy is under huge pressure all over the world, and there's only one country in the world that can lead the free world and the democracies around the world in the face of the tyranny we've seen from Russia and in the face of the kind of terrorist threats that we're seeing around the country, and that's the United States of America, and that should be reason enough for us to get our act together here.
BLITZER: Senator Michael Bennet, thanks as usual for joining us.
BENNET: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, take a look at this, you're looking at dramatic video of a house just outside of Washington, D.C. which exploded as police were trying to execute a search warrant.
BLITZER: Officials are investigating explosion at a house just outside of Washington, D.C., as police were trying to execute a search warrant.
CNN's Gabe Cohen is joining us now. He's live outside that home in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of Washington.
What can you tell us, Gabe?
GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, police tell us they are still trying to figure out what caused this explosion, and whether or not it may have been intentional, as both local and federal investigators from the FBI and ATF continue to sift through the rubble here in Arlington.
And now, we are learning much more about the man believed to have died in the blast inside that home. Police identified 56-year-old James Yoo, who they say caused that standoff for more than three hours with police, firing dozens of flares into the neighborhood, and eventually opening fire at officers as they tried to breach the front door just before the explosion.
Now, local law enforcement, Wolf, tells us, that over the years they have had very little contact with James Yoo. But the FBI says that Yoo has reached out to them several times with claims that he had been defrauded, although it never led to any FBI investigations.
Wolf, our CNN team has found a LinkedIn page tied to James Yoo with several posts, incoherent ramblings and conspiracy theories -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Gabe Cohen reporting for us, thank you very much.
Finally, tonight, the U.S. made a, quote, new and significant proposal to Russia in the past few weeks to try and free wrongfully detained Americans, Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, but the State Department says Russia rejected the offer.
Gershkovich is a "Wall Street Journal" reporter arrested on espionage charges which he vehemently denies. He has been held in a Russian prison now for more than 250 days awaiting trial. Paul Whelan was arrested in December of 2018, also on espionage charges that he denies.
CNN's Jennifer Hansler spoke exclusively with Paul Whelan on the phone from a Russian prison where he's currently serving a 16-year sentence. Listen to this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PAUL WHELAN, WRONGFULLY DETAINED AMERICAN: I never thought it would come to this. I really thought that the U.S. government would have this worked out years ago. I don't know if the policy has failed in this case, but I can tell you that it's going awfully slow, and it's disappointing that there have been two trades that went ahead without me.
I think the U.S. government should have said, no, we're not going to do trades unless Paul is included and made sure that, you know, all of us got home, not just two.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's hope they're both home soon. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.