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Supreme Court To Fast-Track Review Of Trump Special Council Request; CNN Polls Show Trump Leads Biden In Key Swing States Michigan And Georgia; Zelenskyy In U.S., Says Ukraine Aid Delay Making Putin's Dreams Come True; Court Docs: Expelled Rep. George Santos In Talks With Federal Prosecutors About Possible Plea Deal; Allies Declare Support For Harvard President After Calls For Her Resignation Over Antisemitism Testimony; Attorneys: Woman Leaves Texas For Emergency Abortion After State Supreme Court Halted It. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 11, 2023 - 18:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A Minnesota man is free tonight after spending 19 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Marvin Haynes was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 for killing a flower shop clerk today. A judge overturned his wrongful conviction after prosecutors concluded he did not get a fair trial after all.

The Great North Innocence Project representing Haynes argued detectives used, quote, problematic police lineup procedures and, quote, faulty eyewitness accounts.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer next door in The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The United States Supreme Court just agreed to weigh in for the first time on Donald Trump's historic criminal prosecution. The justices now set to quickly decide whether to accept the special council's request to rule on Trump's claims of immunity.

Also tonight, CNN's exclusive new polling in both Michigan and Georgia finds Trump is leading President Biden in those pivotal swing states. We're going to break down the warning signs for the Biden campaign and the Democrats as Trump also appears to be gaining support over his Republican rivals in Iowa.

And the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is here right now in Washington for talks with the president and key lawmakers about stalled U.S. aid to his country. Zelenskyy arguing the lack of new war funding is making Vladimir Putin's, quote, dreams come true.

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

Let's get right to the breaking news, the United States Supreme Court responding just a short while ago to an extraordinary request by the special council, Jack Smith, in the criminal prosecution of Donald Trump.

CNN's Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is here with us in The Situation Room. Paula, tell us more about what the Supreme Court has agreed to do and why Smith's request is a very big deal.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this today was an aggressive move by the special council to try to get the election subversion case to trial before the November 2024 election.

The special council is asking the Supreme Court to decide two questions. One, is Trump immune from prosecution or is he protected from prosecution because of potential double jeopardy, because he was impeached but not convicted on similar charges?

Now, the special council doesn't think either one applies, but they want the Supreme Court to decide this issue so that that trial that's expected to go in March of next year does not get delayed. Because Trump is litigating these very legitimate questions, but that litigation takes time. It could take months, maybe even over a year, for questions like this to move through the appellate process and potentially get to the Supreme Court.

So, the special council is saying it is in the public interest for the Supreme Court to just take up these questions and give them an answer now. They're relying on precedent from the Nixon Watergate investigations where the court was able to decide some discrete issues very quickly.

And now we know we'll get an answer as to whether they are going to take up this case hopefully pretty quickly here. Again, they're not saying they will take it up, but they're saying they will give us an answer on whether they will answer these questions pretty quickly.

BLITZER: Have we heard, Paula, anything yet from Trump's lawyers about this case?

REID: We have. We got a lengthy statement that repeats a lot of their talking points, arguing that this prosecution is election interference, directly attacking the special council. Look, all of that is allowed even though he is subject to a gag order, he is entitled to attack President Biden, Special Council Jack Smith. So, what we're hearing, you know, more of the same.

But while they're arguing that this is an attempt to interfere in the election and attack his supporters, the special council argues that it is imperative that voters see the resolution of this trial before they cast their votes next year.

BLITZER: This is a big deal indeed. All right, Paula, stay with us, I don't want you to go too far away. I also want to bring in our legal and Supreme Court analysts to discuss what's going on, and, Laura, let me start with you. What do you make of today's filing from the Justice Department special council, Jack Smith?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's a very smart move by Jack Smith to preempt the inevitable, which is the delay tactic that will be used here. Remember, as Paula identified, this could take a very long time to get to the appellate court and the Supreme Court to review it. It could go into the following Supreme Court term, and we are less than 300 days away from a presidential election, 332 maybe, if I'm counting the numbers right.

It's important to get this answered because it takes away the defense of Donald Trump at a trial. If he were to be able to get to the trial, go through the entire voir dire process, all the additional motions, and then say, actually, I'm immune from any of this sort of prosecution, it would delay to the point of absurdity, any sort of pursuit of justice.


And that's, of course, with his due process rights intact, the presumption of innocence obviously he's afforded. But to get this taken care of now, is he essentially able to be prosecuted into something like this, and it goes back to that Nixon question, if the president does it, it's not illegal. Are we back here again? They want to resolve it once and for all.

BLITZER: Well, Joan Biskupic, you're our senior Supreme Court analyst. So, what do you read between the lines as far as the Supreme Court decision?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, they're taking it very seriously. The request just came in this morning, just about three minutes ago. The justices had said, yes, they will at least put it on an expedited schedule. They've given the Trump lawyers until December 20th to respond. That's only two days different than what Jack Smith had asked for. He had asked for December 18th. So, they're actually following the game plan so far that Jack Smith has put forward.

Now, just think of this Supreme Court. This is a Supreme Court that managed to avoid a lot of the controversy during 2020. It rejected baseless claims from Donald Trump's allies about the election results, stayed out of it, every case it's ever handled with Donald Trump, whether on his policy or on his personal tax dealings, has always been fraught. So, they're probably not looking at this with eagerness. But they know that this is a case that this question has never been decided.

And that was the point of Jack Smith's petition that, eventually, the Supreme Court's going to have to decide if a former president or president can be immune from criminal prosecution for actions taken while in office, which is exactly what Donald Trump is asserting.

So, I frankly think this is a really strong case that Jack Smith has put forward. And I think that it will get -- it's already getting close Supreme Court attention, and we will probably know when it's just a matter of weeks whether they grant this petition.

BLITZER: It will be a huge decision, indeed.

Should the former president, do you think, at all be worried about this?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so for the number of reasons that we've sort of talked about here.

Now, again, a word on timing and that's sort of the key point here. Were this process to go through the normal process, were the cases to go through the normal process, it would be, number one, would first be appealed to a court of appeals, then the losing party would have the ability to appeal that to the full court of appeals, and then they'd have the ability to appeal that to the Supreme Court. That could have been months, if not, frankly, years of appeals. And so it was a very savvy move by Jackson to try to get this.

Now, I think it's safe to say that a litigant would not attempt to go to the Supreme Court unless they felt quite confident in the strength of the arguments and the strength of the case they were bringing.

And let's look very quickly at the two things that they're saying. Number one, this question of whether the actions at issue were in the scope of the President's official duties, there's an argument that he's a candidate for office, not a president of the United States. Yes, he held the title of President, but this was in furtherance of his candidacy. So, you could probably resolve that pretty quickly.

Then on this double jeopardy question, it's also not a stellar argument in that the point of impeachment is to protect the integrity of the presidency. The point of prosecuting someone is to send them to jail. They're two very different things. And, look, the president -- the former president, is entitled to make the arguments that he wishes, but these just aren't great arguments. And I think it all speaks to the strength of Jack Smith's and the special prosecutor's hands here.

COATES: And, by the way, the legislative branch is the one that does the impeachment, right? We're talking about the executive branch, is who handles criminal prosecution. So, to invoke double jeopardy because you've had a political reaction to what you've done.

And remember Senator Mitch McConnell at the time making the comments of, you know, he wasn't going to support the conviction because we want that to go over with the courts and said they knew then that was a totally different issue.

WILLIAMS: And there's so many lawyers on this panel here. We're lawyering you to death, Wolf. But just to be clear, when we speak about double jeopardy, you're speaking about this idea in the Constitution that you can't be tried twice for the same offense. If Jack Smith or the special council were to prosecute someone for something, they couldn't then prosecute them again for the same crime a week later. The president is making the argument that, well, because I was impeached, you can't then prosecute me for the same conduct. That's just not, I think -- I'm not judge, but that's just not what the Constitution says.

BLITZER: Laura, you're here. I want to get your thoughts, Rudy Giuliani's trial right now that's beginning, a jury selection going on, to determine damages for defaming two of Georgia's 2020 election workers. And we all remember Ruby Freeman and Shea Moss. I want our viewers to listen to this. Listen to this.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: tape earlier in the day of Ruby Freeman and Shay Freeman Mars and one other gentleman, quite obviously, surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they're vials of heroin or cocaine. I mean, it's out, it's obvious to anyone who's a criminal investigator or prosecutor, they're engaged in surreptitious, illegal activity again that day.



BLITZER: What can you tell us about the legal peril that Giuliani is facing right now?

COATES: Well, first, what was obvious is they were handing over ginger mints to one another, not heroin, not crack, not USB drives, ginger mints. But the entire tactic there was to try to undermine their credibility and use them as political pawns, which is what he's paying dearly for now.

The fact that he's already got the defamation part already decided means that you're now onto how expensive will it be for the mistake that you have made or the action that you have taken place here. They are not public figures. There's not going to be this elevated decision about whether they could be defamed and what their criteria was. So now it's about how their lives have been altered drastically.

You have one already saying that she's uncomfortable having her name be said in public for fear of being harmed in some way. And this is about the knowing information.

Of course, he has been very consistent and said, I was basing this on what I thought to be the truth, whether it was not true or not, not my issue here. This is a very extraordinary case for every election worker going forward.

BLITZER: It certainly is, and we will watch it very closely. To everybody, thank you very much.

Laura will, of course, be back 11:00 P.M. Eastern later tonight for her show, Laura Coates Live. That's the name of the show.

Just ahead, we're going to dig into the alarming numbers for President Biden in CNN's exclusive new polling on his potential rematch with Donald Trump in two pivotal swing states. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, a new source of alarm for the Biden re-election campaign. CNN's exclusive new polling showing Donald Trump leading the president in two states that could decide their potential rematch, Michigan and Georgia. This as we're also getting a new snapshot right now of Trump's strength in the leadoff Republican contest in Iowa.

Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, Donald Trump holding a commanding and widening lead in Iowa just five weeks before the state opens the 2024 Republican presidential contest.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody.

ZELENY: The former president crossing a new threshold with 51 percent of Republicans now backing him, according to a new Des Moines Register poll. That's up from 43 percent in October.

The shrinking GOP field has boosted Trump, who now holds a 32 point lead. The race for second place is a showdown with Ron DeSantis at 19 percent, followed by Nikki Haley at 16 percent.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's his own worst enemy by not being able to control his mouth, and that has consequences for governance and us being able to get things done.

ZELENY: On a weekend Iowa campaign swing, DeSantis and Haley sharpening their attacks on Trump's record.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know that the economy was good under Donald Trump, right? But what we need to also remember was we went $9 trillion in debt during that same time and we are paying the price for that.

ZELENY: Nearly half of likely Iowa caucus-goers say their minds are made up. But among Trump supporters, 70 percent say they are firmly committed in their decision.

TRUMP: The first guy that ever got indicted whose poll numbers went up.

ZELENY: The former president is increasingly turning his focus to President Joe Biden, as new CNN polls show fresh signs of warning for the White House. In Michigan and Georgia, two of the five states Biden turned from red to blue, the president is facing alarmingly low approval ratings. Our poll showing fewer than four in ten approve of his performance in office.

TRUMP: I will save democracy. The threat is crooked Joe Biden, that's the threat.

ZELENY: In Michigan, Trump leads Biden 50 percent to 40 percent in a hypothetical head to head matchup, with 10 percent saying they wouldn't support either candidate. That raises the question of a threat from a third party contender. Asked specifically about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornell West in Michigan, Trump falls to 39 percent and Biden to 31 percent. And in Georgia, Trump has a 49 to 44 percent edge over Biden, the poll found, with 7 percent saying they would not back either.

The challenges for Biden are coming into sharper view.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Trump just talks the talk, we walk the walk. Frankly, he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

ZELENY: Among the many factors that could drive the race are Trump's numerous legal challenges, particularly the criminal charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. In Georgia and Michigan, nearly half of voters say that, if true, they should disqualify him from the presidency.


ZELENY (on camera): So, the president was campaigning in Philadelphia tonight at a fundraiser. And just a short time ago he said that the fundamentals of democracy are at stake in the election, really trying to change the subject from the economy. And that is one of the central issues why he is struggling so much at this point in Georgia and Michigan.

But, Wolf, long before we ever know if there will be a rematch between Trump and Biden, the Iowa caucus is four weeks from tonight. As of now, Donald Trump does have a commanding lead in the race. There's no doubt about it. All eyes are on the race for second place, which is still between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jeff Zeleny reporting for us, thank you very much.

Let's break down these numbers with our political team, and, David Chalian, let's start with these brutal numbers for President Biden showing him losing in these two key battleground states. The economy is certainly a top issue in this election. And in both Georgia and Michigan, the battleground states, a majority of voters, 54 and 56 percent respectively, say economic conditions have worsened, with only a quarter of voters saying they've improved. Is it as simple, David, as the old James Carville line, it's the economy, stupid?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think last year's midterm elections proved it's not quite that simple because there are other issues that turn out Democratic voters, specifically abortion rights, this issue of democracy we saw at play where Democrats bested expectations. But let that not be any kind of comfort to the Biden team about how rough those numbers are on the economy that you point out there.


I mean, it is issue number one.

And after nearly a year of selling or attempting to sell the raw data that show improvements in the economy, clearly, Americans are not yet feeling it. And majorities in these two battleground states actually say his policies have worsened economic conditions. So, there's a lot more work for the Biden team to do over these next 11 months.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot more work, indeed.

Kate Bedingfield, today, Biden said the future of democracy, in his words, is literally at stake in 2024. Given that and his dismal poll numbers against Trump that we're seeing right now, is Biden potentially, as some of his critics are suggesting, endangering democracy by running for re-election?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, wait a minute. I think, let's take a step back and look at these numbers. Are there elements of them that are troubling for the White House and the Biden campaign? Absolutely. But they are also very close, and the head-to- head is very close. And I don't think that there's anybody within the Biden operation who believes that this isn't going to be an incredibly close race. We saw that in 2020.

So, I think that what this poll shows is that the country is very divided. There is intense partisanship. We know that. And the Biden campaign has work to do on driving the contrast with Trump, on doing what you heard President Biden do, raising the stakes of the race, and also reminding people what a Trump presidency was like, about the chaos, the uncertainty, and really making this a concrete choice.

So, there's no question they have work to do. The election is 11 months away. And I think that the other piece of what they've got to do, which David was kind of referencing there, there are other issues that we have seen in the last two elections have driven voters out to the polls. Abortion is one of them. The Biden campaign has to put that choice front and center and make this part of the choice. And we've seen that that will turn voters out.

So, no question they have work to do, But 11 months to go and a lot of time to do it.

BLITZER: Scott, let me get your thoughts. How surprised are you by how resilient Trump appears to be right now, defying predictions from so many that he couldn't win in 2024?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not very surprised, actually, because pursuant to what Kate just said, needing to make it a choice between people, remembering what the Trump presidency was like and now what the Biden presidency is like, the National Wall Street Journal survey that came out this weekend, asked almost that very question. And they asked, which president's policies helped you and hurt you? Donald Trump, by a margin of 49 to 37, more people said his policies helped, Joe Biden, a margin of 23 to 53, more people said his policies have hurt.

That's the problem for Biden here. He's not running against something abstract on the economy. He's running against a recent memory. And the recent memory of Trump is the economy was pretty good. And the current conditions of Biden are people don't believe the economy is good and they don't think he's done anything to stop inflation. In fact, they think he is the one that caused it. So, am I surprised to see somebody like Donald Trump winning right now? No. I do think other issues will come into play. I'm not terribly interested in head-to-heads at this moment. But the underlying fundamentals here, I think the American people believe Biden's presidency has failed on economic policy and Trump's was a success.

BLITZER: Yes. But as Kate points out, still a year to go, that's a long time in politics.

David, let me turn to the GOP primary race that's ongoing. For the first time, a majority of Republicans in Iowa are now backing him ahead of the January caucuses, up from 43 percent in October. How significant of a threshold is that for Trump? And does it mean, for all practical purposes, it's already over?

CHALIAN: Well, it's not already over because nobody's actually voted yet. So, I don't believe we should have that posture. But I think that it is quite clear what a commanding and dominating position Donald Trump is in, in Iowa. And, quite frankly, broadly, in this Republican primary process, 51 percent is crucial because, as you know, Wolf, that's a clear majority of support right now. It's a poll. It's not votes, it's a poll. But you could add up everybody else's support together and they don't catch him. So, it is significant.

And I think something else in that poll is really significant, he shows Trump does the ability to continue to bring new people into the process. That's been one of his strengths ever going back to 2016, and that still seems in play for him this cycle.

BLITZER: Important points indeed. Guys, thank you very much.

And be sure to watch CNN's presidential town halls this week live from Iowa with Ron DeSantis tomorrow and Vivek Ramaswamy on Wednesday. Both events begin 09:00 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he's here in Washington for a high-stakes meeting with President Biden as new US aid to Ukraine is stuck in limbo.



BLITZER: The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is here in Washington tonight. He's on an urgent mission to try to break the stalemate in Congress over sending more wartime aid to his country.

CNN's M.J. Lee is over at the White House for us. That's where President Biden will be hosting President Zelenskyy tomorrow.

M.J., what message is the president sending with this invitation to President Zelenskyy?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Zelenskyy is visiting Washington, D.C., again to try to make a personal and desperate plea at such a critical juncture for his country. What we will see him do over to Capitol Hill where he will meet with senators from both parties, and then he will have a one-on- one meeting with the new House speaker, Mike Johnson, before he comes here to the White House to once again meet with President Biden and then the two leaders will proceed to have a joint press conference.


President Zelenskyy is, of course, hoping that his visit here is going to help break the impasse that we have seen on Capitol Hill over the issue of the billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine that is a high priority for this administration that has gotten completely tied up over the very fraught and complicated politics of immigration and border policy.

What U.S. officials have been trying to stress for weeks is that time is up and that there isn't another pool of money that the government can tap into and that it is critical that Congress act to approve more funding.

What U.S. officials have been saying to me is that the world is really watching and that includes Russian President Vladimir Putin. What one U.S. official said is that they definitely noted that last week when this package failed to advance in the Senate, they saw Russian state media celebrating this news.

They are also saying that all of this is sending a message to the would-be aggressors, the bad actors across the world that are watching this as well.

But, Wolf, as for this funding package that is such a priority for this White House and plenty of Democrats, the prospects are not looking good right now. A number of key Republican senators telling CNN earlier today that the prospects of this getting done before the calendar year is up looks not good right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us, thank you very much.

Turning to the war in the Middle East right now, Israel says its forces are now surrounding the last two Hamas strongholds in Northern Gaza.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has more from Tel Aviv.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Israel says after two months of fighting, it is still battling Hamas in two different strongholds in Northern Gaza, where militants have held out. But Israel claims they are now on the verge of being dismantled. One area is the Jabalya refugee camp, where residents said dozens of civilians were killed over the weekend.

Since the fragile week-long pause in the fighting ended, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip and focused on the south in Khan Younis, the second largest city there, where Israel believes senior Hamas leaders may be hiding.

As Israel expands its operations, the number of civilians killed and wounded grows. The entire House fell on my head and I was pulled from underneath the rubble, this woman said. We would have been better off dead with my children rather than living in this grim reality.

An urgent appeal was issued by the IDF this weekend for even more civilians to evacuate parts of Khan Younis, but it's unclear how many would have heard the orders. And it isn't a guarantee of safety. Or shelter, medicine, food and water, which are all in short supply.

We were displaced from the north to the south for safety, but there is no safety in the south, this woman said. It has led to deteriorating chaotic scenes. The United Nations secretary general warned that public order will completely break down soon.

COL. MOSHE TETRO, HEAD OF COORDINATION OF GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES IN THE TERRITORIES: The situation is very challenging, but I think that the state of Israel does much beyond our obligations by the international humanitarian law.

MARQUARDT: You call the situation in Southern Gaza challenging. Last month, you denied that there was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Do you acknowledge now that there really is a dire humanitarian crisis?

TETRO: What I'm saying is, like I've said, the situation is very, very challenging.

MARQUARDT: But it's not a crisis, in your opinion?

TETRO: As I see it, it's a challenge, it's a huge challenge.

MARQUARDT: When the United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Friday to vote on a ceasefire resolution, the United States was the only country to vote against it, vetoing the resolution.

The U.N. vote coming the same day that the Biden administration used an emergency maneuver to bypass Congress and approve the sale of 14,000 more tank rounds for Israel.

Today in Jerusalem, Palestinian areas protested the war with a general strike, also seen in the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan.

On a normal afternoon, these small streets in East Jerusalem would be teeming with people who live here, tourists, shopkeepers selling all kinds of things. But today, there are very few people out. Shops are all closed and it's eerily quiet, business and life really coming to a standstill in solidarity with Gaza.

AYMAN AL SAFADI, JORDAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Israel has created an amount of hatred that will haunt this region, that will define generations to come, and therefore it's hurting its own people as much as it is hurting everybody else in the region.

This is a war that cannot be won.


MARQUARDT (on camera): And, Wolf, tonight the Biden demonstration is asking Israel for an explanation of those photos that we saw last week of the dozens of Palestinian men who had been detained, who were stripped, who were sitting on the ground, blindfolded.


The State Department today called those photos deeply disturbing. They say that they're asking for an update on the status of those men, the circumstances around which those photos were taken. We were told that quite a number of those men in those photos had nothing to do with militant groups.

Israel said that it did round up men and detain them to determine whether or not they were Hamas and released those who weren't. Tonight, Israel released new images, you can see there, the men are clothed this time. They say that these are alleged militants from both Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as Hamas. And Israel is now saying that 500 alleged militants have been arrested in the last month and transferred for more questioning. Wolf?

BLITZER: Alex Marquardt reporting from Tel Aviv, thank you, Alex, very much.

Just ahead, one of Vladimir Putin's biggest critics goes missing from a Russian penal colony. Now, Alexey Navalny's team is sounding the alarm after losing contact with him. We have details.



BLITZER: A spokesperson for Putin critic and Russian political dissident Alexey Navalny says he is missing from a Russian penal colony, his whereabouts unknown. And his lawyers say they've lost contact with their client.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into this important story for us. What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Navalny's legal team says he's been missing now for about a week. The White House and the State Department say they're concerned, and they hold the Kremlin responsible for his well-being.


TODD (voice over): One of Vladimir Putin's worst enemies, a thorn in the side of the Russian strongman for more than a decade, now missing from Russian penal colonies.

A spokesperson for Alexey Navalny posting on X, quote, we still don't know where Alexey is.

KIRA YARMYSH, ALEXEY NAVALNY SPOKESPERSON: He is completely alone and he is literally in the hands of people who once tried to kill him. So, we don't know what they will do again.

TODD: He had been scheduled for transfer from one penal colony to an even harsher one.

SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL AT U.N.: If he's been transferred, that period of transferring is extremely dangerous because he doesn't have access to lawyers, people don't know where he is. Those people transferring essentially can do what they want with him.

TODD: Just days ago, Putin announced he would run for president in March amid a crackdown on dissent. Navalny's organization has vowed to campaign against Putin, even putting up a few short-lived billboards.

Could there be a link to his disappearance?

MENDELSON: This is a period when he wants to make sure there's absolutely no possibility of any kind of interference internally.

TODD: The most prominent and visible challenger to Putin's rule in Russia, Navalny has tried before to run against Putin for the presidency.

In 2017, he was attacked with an antiseptic green dye that he said damaged his vision in one eye. He was poisoned in 2020 with a Soviet- era nerve agent that almost killed him. After doctors in Europe saved his life, he prank-called the Russian agents who he believed tried to kill him by putting poison on his clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, imagine underpants and in what place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The insides, the groin.

TODD: Putin has denied his security services were involved.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: If they had wanted to, they probably would have finished the job.

TODD: Navalny returned to Russia despite the risks.

ALEXEY NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: I have to go back because I don't want these, you know, groups of killer exist in Russia. I don't want Putin to be ruling over Russia.

TODD: He's promptly arrested, convicted and sentenced to 11.5 years, but he continues to criticize Putin from jail.

NAVALNY: In order to extend his own personal power, Putin is tormenting a neighboring country, killing people there.

TODD: Navalny's legal team has raised concerns about his health, saying that last week, he was dizzy in his cell and had to be given an I.V. And his daughter last summer told CNN he's had health problems in jail and lost weight.

DARIA NAVALNAYA, DAUGHTER OF NAVALNY: I'm, of course, incredibly worried. They are not providing any support, any medical help for him in prison.


TODD (on camera): In August, Alexey Navalny was sentenced to another 19 years for allegedly supporting extremism. And his legal team says he faces another 14 accusations that could result in up to 35 more years in jail. Wolf, we're watching closely to see where he is.

BLITZER: We certainly should. I hope he's okay. All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, expelled former U.S. Congressman George Santos is discussing a possible plea deal with federal prosecutors as he works to avoid potential jail time.



BLITZER: And this just in, court documents show expelled former Congressman George Santos is discussing a possible plea deal with federal prosecutors. He's expected to appear in a Long Island federal court tomorrow.

CNN national correspondent, Brynn Gingras, is following the story for us.

Brynn, first of all, what do we know about these talks.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, we know that negotiating table is open, that both sides are coming to it. Keep in mind to it. But keep in mind, we're talking about 23 federal charges that the former congressman is facing. Some of the allegations against him are just stealing from his own campaign donors and using that money to enrich himself and his own personal lifestyle.

What you just said is what we are learning this through court documents that they asked for -- prosecutors asked for 30 more days from now, another status conference here, in addition to the one that is happening tomorrow. And they said essentially that they hope that they can resolve this matter and have no trial at all.

Now, Santos actually hinted at the possibility of a plea deal when he spoke to our CBS affiliate here in New York. I want you to take a listen to that.


INTERVIEWER: Are you going to try to work a plea deal or will you go to trial?

GEORGE SANTOS, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Look, in the essence of everything going on, a plea is not off the table, obviously, at this point. But we just don't know that yet. There's obviously conversations taking place, especially after what happened in Congress, and we'll see.

INTERVIEWER: Are you afraid of going to jail?

SANTOS: I think everybody should be afraid of going to jail. It's not a pretty place and I definitely want to work very hard to avoid that.


GINGRAS: Now, keep in mind, Wolf, the walls has sort of been crumbling in on him as his former campaign treasurer, his former campaign fund- raiser, they've pled guilty to charges that they have been facing on a federal level. And so, also expected to hear, we are hearing tomorrow that this court date or trial, rather, could be pushed back or sorry, brought up if they don't come to some sort of agreement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Brynn Gingras reporting for us, thank you.

Other news we're following tonight, allies are publicly supporting Harvard's president after her controversial testimony about antisemitism on college campuses. The uproar has already led to the resignations of the president and board chair over at the University of Pennsylvania.


CNN's Jason Carroll has this story.



JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, more signs of support for Harvard University's president, Claudine Gay, amid calls for Gay's removal after a Harvard's board of directors meeting.

As of Monday, roughly 700 members of the school's faculty have signed a petition, which calls on university leaders to resist political pressures and outside forces trying to remove Gay.

Harvard legal scholar, Laurence Tribe, who previously slammed gay for her testimony before Congress, signed the petition supporting her. In an email to CNN on Monday, he wrote: Once external pressures, whether from ultra wealthy donors or from politicians pursuing their ideological agendas override the internal decision-making processes of universities, we are on the road to tyranny.

The Harvard Alumni Association said it unanimously and unequivocally supports president Claudine Gay.

Students such as Tristan Dalvey says, Gay that's testimony before Congress fell short, but he would like her to say.

TRISTAN DALVEY, HARVARD STUDENT: I feel like she does support the Jewish community here. CARROLL: Polina Kempinsky is Israeli and says she has not felt safe

being Jewish on campus and the testimony last week from university leaders about antisemitism on campuses made things worse.

POLINA KEMPINSKY, HARVARD STUDENT: I was really expecting a clear statement of, we're against antisemitism.

CARROLL: The presidents from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania, all came under intense scrutiny, after their congressional testimony, where they failed to condemn calls for the genocide of, as it related to university policies against bullying and harassment.

REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): So, the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?

GAY: Again, it depends on the context.

CARROLL: Gay later apologized for her responses, telling "The Harvard Crimson", words matter.

University of Pennsylvania's president was forced to voluntarily resign Saturday.

The next day, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, the House Republican who conducted a lot of the questioning at the hearing, and is a Harvard alum, tweeted, one down, two to go.

The congresswoman has come under scrutiny in the past four campaign ads that someone her parties say echo the great replacement theory, who believe that Black Americans and Jews want to replace white Americans.

Until recently, Rabbi David Wolpe was part of Harvard's antisemitism advisory group, created in the wake of October 7th. He was chosen by Gay. He says, Gay's testimony was the final straw. He resigned last week.

RABBI DAVID WOLPE, VISITING SCHOLAR, HARVARD DIVINITY: I had wanted, from any of the presidents, a certain urgency and anger, and indignation.

CARROLL: But instead, you've got what?

WOLPE: Instead, we got legal-isms and equivocations.

CARROLL: Should Gay resign?

WOLPE: Not for me to say. You know, I don't take a position --

CARROLL: Why not?

WOLPE: Because I'm a rabbi who's been at Harvard for two months.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL (on camera): And, Wolf, this late development, a source familiar telling CNN that Harvard's governing board is expected to make some sort of an announcement about Gay's fate. That announcement is expected to come sometime this evening. The governing board met over the weekend on Sunday, regularly scheduled meeting, had another regularly scheduled meeting today.

It should be noted that MIT's governing board came out with a statement in support of its president, now waiting to see what Harvard will say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will find out soon, I'm sure.

Jason Carroll, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, a woman at the center of a legal fight over reproductive rights leaves Texas to get an abortion after the state Supreme Court blocked her emergency procedure.



BLITZER: Attorneys for the woman that the center of a legal matter in Texas say she has left the state to get an emergency abortion. The Texas Supreme Court had blocked a judge's ruling that she could legally terminate her pregnancy.

CNN senior national correspondent Ed Lavandera is joining us live from Dallas right now.

Ed, this is clearly a major development, what can you tell us?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it comes just a day short of a week ago when 31 year old Kate Cox issued this lawsuit, trying to get legal permission to get an abortion here in Texas. But according to her lawyers, she could wait no longer. She's almost 21 weeks pregnant now, and her baby was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder.

And because of that, Kate Cox feared for her future fertility, and for her own physical condition as the pregnancy were to progress. As you mentioned, she got permission from a judge on Thursday to get that abortion legally. But the attorney general took it up to the Supreme Court, and it has been stuck there throughout the weekend.

And in a statement from Kate Cox's lawyer, she said this past week of limbo has been hellish for Kate. Her health is on the line. She's been in and out of the emergency room and she could not wait any longer. That is why she left the state.

And just moments ago, wolf, the Texas Supreme Court issued a ruling that was put in by Ken Paxton, requested by Ken Paxton last Friday. And essentially what this boils down to is that if Cox had state here in Texas, the Supreme Court was going to rule that they're going to overturn that legal permission she got from a state judge on Thursday. So the bottom line is, if Kate Cox wanted this abortion, she had no

choice but to leave the state of Texas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera with the latest, thank you very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.