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Supreme Court Deciding Whether To Weigh In On Trump Immunity; Giuliani Files For Bankruptcy After Order To Pay $148 Million In Damages; At Least 14 Dead In Prague Mass Shooting, Gunman Eliminated; Harvard President Request Corrections Of Her Past Work; Whelan Claims He's Being Targeted By Official At Prison Camp. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 21, 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 ANCHOR: The video was posted just a few hours ago on the president's Twitter account with the caption, quote, it's time, a reference to her hit song all I want for Christmas is you, released in '94, which makes that song 29 years old. Oh, my God.
Mariah Carey was in the area last week for a concert in Baltimore that my daughter went to. She loved it. She stopped by the White House with her 12 year old twins, Moroccan and Moreau. What a lovely song and a lovely visit.
If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcast. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow. Merry Christmas.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to weigh in on Donald Trump's claim of immunity from federal election subversion charges. The special counsel urging the justices to put the case on a fast track after Trump asked them to stay out of the dispute for now.
Also tonight, Rudy Giuliani files for bankruptcy just days after being ordered to pay more than $148 million in damages to two election workers he defamed. We're getting a new window into the former Trump lawyer's troubled finances and his ongoing legal peril.
And residents flee in terror as a gunman kills at least 14 people right in the heart of a major European city. We're learning more about the shooter who opened fire at a university in Prague and how he was, quote, eliminated.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with the urgent question before the U.S. Supreme Court right now, should the justices agree to an expedited review of Donald Trump's claim of immunity from prosecution for crimes he allegedly committed while in office.
Let's go straight to CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, there's a new filing from the special counsel, Jack Smith, on this matter. How is he pushing back on the Trump team's arguments?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Jack Smith is saying that this is an urgent matter. This is something that the public has an interest in finding out what the resolution is. And obviously the election is ahead. He doesn't directly say that, but that is obvious. What is behind all of this?
I'll read you just a part of the filing where he says, quote, the public interest in a prompt resolution of this case favors an immediate, definitive decision by this court. The charges here are of the utmost gravity.
One of the things that the special counsel does is they cite the 1974 United States versus Nixon case. This is a case that had to do with the then-president's claim of executive privilege over the White House recordings, the Nixon tapes.
And that case was heard just like the way Jack Smith is trying to get this one done. They skipped over the appellate process and went straight to the Supreme Court. It was handled in about two months, Wolf, and about 16 days after oral arguments, the Supreme Court rendered a decision. That's exactly what Jack Smith wants to happen in this case, pointing out, of course, that this trial is supposed to start in March, and obviously the election is coming up later next year. Wolf?
BLITZER: So, Evan, how soon could the U.S. Supreme Court actually weigh in?
PEREZ: Well, it could happen at any moment. And one of the things, Wolf, that I think has been very fascinating to watch in the last few months is the way courts, especially some of these upper level courts, have moved very quickly to deal with some of these very urgent questions that Donald Trump and others have been presenting.
And a lot of the criticism has always been that the courts take too long to review things like this. And we could hear from the Supreme Court. Of course, Wolf, you know, that it's not just this case, but also the question of the Colorado State Supreme Court decision that struck the former president from the ballot there. That decision could also be one that they'll have to deal with. And all of this, of course, coming crashing down before the campaign gets going in January. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, huge case indeed. Even Perez, thank you very much.
Let's get reaction to all of this with our legal and political experts. Steve Vladeck, how do you read the special counsel's argument invoking the speed and urgency of the Nixon case? And how soon do you think the Supreme Court could weigh in on all of this?
STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, I think, you know, Jack Smith is really trying to convince the justices that this case is very similar to the Nixon case. Wolf, both cases are criminal prosecutions. Both cases are cases that could have been held up until the Supreme Court resolved the underlying question, their privilege, here, immunity.
Wolf, I suspect we're going to hear from the Supreme Court one way or the other probably by the end of the day tomorrow.
And I think the real question here is whether the justices want to move even faster than the D.C. Circuit, the federal appeals court. That court is already expediting President Trump's appeal. It's set to hear oral argument on January 9. And so I think from the Supreme Court's perspective, it's really just a question of whether that's fast enough, where the case might get to them by the end of January, early February, or whether they really want to settle this now, so that the case against President Trump can either go forward or be cut off in its tracks.
BLITZER: These coming days will be really, really critically important.
Alayna Treene, what is the Trump team's thinking around both the presidential immunity case as well as the Colorado Supreme Court decision to disqualify Trump from the state's ballot?
ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, first, to start off with the immunity dispute, Donald Trump's strategy and his team there, his team strategy is no secret. They're trying to delay this decision, as well as potentially the trial as long as possible in their hopes beyond the 2024 election. And their argument here is that, yes, speed is important, but getting this right is even more important.
And we actually did see the Trump campaign release a fundraising email this afternoon where Donald Trump recorded a video response to what the special counsel was saying about asking for this to be handled swiftly by the Supreme Court. And Donald Trump did what he always does, which is to label this as political, to call it election interference, and to argue that the special counsel himself is politically biased against him.
Now, for Colorado, a very similar strategy playing out there as well. We know that they're appealing or they're going to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court, we expect that appeal to come in around sometime next week. And, again, already, the team is putting out a lot of statements pushing back on the Colorado Supreme Court's decision as being political, arguing the judges on the bench are biased against him and similarly trying to fundraise off of his legal misfortune, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they're always trying to fundraise off of something.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is with us as well. Kristen, as Trump capitalizes on his avalanche of legal issues right now, how are you seeing that play out with the GOP base?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, for the most part, as long as Donald Trump is seen as being under siege, but not necessarily in immediate legal peril, that's the best place for him. Right now, as long as Republican voters think -- and again, they're not separating out what the Supreme Court may decide, what Colorado has done, what's happening in Georgia, what's happening with the documents down in Florida. All of these cases may be very different, but to most voters, they all seem kind of one and the same as a coordinated attempt to come after Donald Trump.
Where things could turn south for him with Republican voters is if it ever actually flips from him being, well, he's just under siege to an actual real sense that he could be incarcerated, not be able to serve as president.
Right now, a lot of Republican voters are showing him support. They hear about these stories and these legal challenges and they just sort of dismiss them as a conspiracy against Donald Trump. If anything, it rallies them to him. But that doesn't mean that they would necessarily stick with him if, say, something were to come down that really would jeopardize his ability to be president in 2024.
BLITZER: Interesting. Steve, you've said that the U.S. Supreme Court is now facing a legal and political minefield, your words, with these two cases. What are the implications of that?
VLADECK: Yes. I mean, Wolf, I think a lot of folks remember back in 2000 when the Supreme Court basically handed the election to President George Bush in a decision that was, I think, widely viewed, whether favorably or unfavorably on political terms.
I think that's the jeopardy for the Supreme Court right now. You have a Supreme Court that is perceived in sharply partisan terms, both by its supporters and by its critics. You have cases where it's going to be impossible, I think, for the reasons we've been discussing, to avoid some sense of a partisan valence.
And so I think the question for the Supreme Court is not just these pure, technical legal questions, but how the court navigates them in a way where at the far side, at the far end of these decisions, the court hasn't further eroded public trust, the court hasn't further inflamed these politics.
And, Wolf, I think that's where the justices are probably going to be searching for some kind of compromise verdict, maybe where they can hand Trump a small victory while also repudiating some of his conduct. That's what we need to look for in the coming days and weeks.
BLITZER: Interesting. Kristen, out there on the campaign trail today, a voter actually confronted Nikki Haley about Trump. I want you and our viewers to watch this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to support you. I also want to hear from you that you also think there's a danger here.
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wouldn't be running if I didn't think that he's not the right person at the right time. I have said multiple times I don't think it's good for the country for Donald Trump to become president again.
I've made that very clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, how telling is that, Kristen?
ANDERSON: I think she's got a very hard line to walk, especially in a state like New Hampshire, where so many of the voters that are currently on her team are those more independent minded voters, folks that are perhaps deciding between, say, her and a Chris Christie, someone who takes a much more hard edged approach in his criticism of Trump.
Right now, most Republican voters are not looking for someone whose primary message is Donald Trump is a bad guy, and so she's got to walk this very hard line between criticizing him, not ignoring him. She's got to make the case that, hey, you've got to vote for me and not Trump. But she can't go too far or else she might alienate the voters in, say, South Carolina that she would really need later on.
BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point as well. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.
Joining us now, a former member of the January 6th House select committee, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
I know you lived through January 6th and led the congressional effort to hold Trump accountable. Do you expect the US Supreme Court will now take on the question of Trump's immunity?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Whether they've got to take it on? It is a ridiculous claim that the president can commit any crime that he or she wants while in office and can't be prosecuted, whether it's murder or rape or conspiracy to overthrow the government. And, in fact, Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7 of the Constitution says that even if you've gone through an impeachment, that does not absolve you of criminal liability or protect you from criminal prosecution later.
You may remember at the end of the Senate impeachment trial, even those who voted to acquit Donald Trump, like Mitch McConnell, were saying he, of course, stands for criminal prosecution and is liable later for the things that he's done.
So, the Supreme Court must decide this question as quickly as possible if justice is to be served, and it's got to reject the extravagant and baseless claim of presidential immunity.
BLITZER: I know you're a constitutional scholar who used to teach law at the American University. If the U.S. Supreme Court, Congressman, does take the case, how would you expect them to actually rule?
RASKIN: Well, if we're talking about whether he's disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th amendment, that also strikes me as a very straightforward textualist application of the Constitution. The language is totally plain. The Colorado Supreme Court gave it a plain reading. If you sworn an oath to support the Constitution and you violate that oath by engaging in insurrection or rebellion, you can never hold office again unless the Congress votes by a two thirds margin to essentially reinstate your eligibility.
That's what the Constitution itself says. And we've got a Constitution that is made up overwhelmingly on all sides by people who say they're bound by the text and by the original purposes and meaning of the Constitution. And it's very clear what the Republicans who added this to the Constitution had in mind.
Originally, the text on the House side went even much further. It swept further to say, anybody who engaged in confederate secession and insurrection should never be allowed to vote again. And when it got over to the Senate, they said, that's too broad. Let's narrow it down to the hardcore bull's eye of the most egregious offenders, and those are people who'd actually held office, sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, and then violated it by engaging in insurrection. Those people should never be allowed to hold office again, although they can vote. And so Donald Trump can certainly vote. It's just that he can't hold office again under this measure.
And I should say that the case was brought by Republicans about the Republican primary in Colorado under a provision added to the Constitution by the radical Republicans of the 19th century.
BLITZER: So, if the Supreme Court -- and this is hypothetical, but if the Supreme Court, Congressman, ultimately decides that Trump is immune from prosecution and that he should be on the Colorado ballot, will you accept their rulings?
RASKIN: Well, I mean, I would accept it in the sense that I accepted the ruling in Bush versus Gore, which was another radically political and partisan intervention by right wing conservative justices blessed by the Federalist Society, where they intervene in Florida, in that case, under far more vague language of equal protection, to shut down the counting of ballots.
And so we know that one of the tricks in the bag of tricks that the Republican Party holds today is anti-democratic mechanisms like gerrymandering, like the filibuster, like manipulation of the Electoral College, but another is right wing judicial activism.
But this is a chance for these justices to show that they really mean it when they talk about textualism, when they talk about originalism, the plain text of the Constitution could not be any clearer. If Donald Trump is not disqualified from holding office again after what he did on January 6th and the weeks leading up to it, then who is disqualified? Why would they read an entire provision out of the Constitution? So, this is their opportunity to behave like real Supreme Court justices.
We'll see what they do. Congressman Jamie Raskin, thanks so much for joining us.
RASKIN: My pleasure.
BLITZER: And just ahead, Rudy Giuliani seeking bankruptcy protection as a multimillion dollar judgment against him puts him deeper and deeper in debt.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight, a spokesman says Rudy Giuliani's new bankruptcy filing should be a surprise to no one. The former Trump lawyer seeking financial relief after he was order to pay nearly $150 million to two election workers he defamed.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz is here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. So, Katelyn, this petition was filed under Chapter 11. Does this mean if he succeeds, he doesn't necessarily have to pay those two election workers?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, not immediately, Wolf, because he's going into bankruptcy, but at the end of the day he very likely is going to have to pay some, if not whatever he can, of these debts.
The debts that he is disclosing in this bankruptcy filing are more than $150 million. The vast majority of that is that massive jury verdict of last week of $148 million he's going to be paying, or owing at very least to Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. It's highly unlikely he'll be able to get rid of that debt off of his books because there was intentional malice around what he did to them, defaming those two Georgia election workers.
But on top of that, there's also debts he has to the IRS and to New York State for income taxes that he didn't pay, almost a million dollars in that, and then also he has almost $2 million in legal fees that we know of from this filing alone.
BLITZER: If you look at this, this voluntary petition for individuals filing for bankruptcy, it goes through all of his debts and they are pretty, pretty significant indeed.
Katelyn, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on this. Joining us now is CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig and Andrew Kirtzman, author of Giuliani, The Rise and Tragic Fall of America's Mayor.
Andrew, what's going through your mind right now, seeing Rudy Giuliani now filing officially for bankruptcy?
ANDREW KIRTZMAN, AUTHOR, GIULIANI, THE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF AMERICA'S MAYOR: Well, it's a catastrophe. And what I'm thinking about this is that the rise and fall of Giuliani is not just a political rise and fall. It's a financial rise and fall as well. After 9/11, he opened up a consulting company that made $100 million in five years. He personally was worth $50 million. His wife -- ex-wife, Judith Nathan, told me for my book that they were spending $250,000 a month on sheer fun. And his lifestyle was beyond lavish.
Fast forward now, most of the money he has lost has happened since he aligned himself with Donald Trump in 2016. It was because of his loyalty to Trump and the lengths that Giuliani went to to retain Donald Trump in office that he finds himself in this predicament. His catastrophic fall is in many ways due to his alignment with Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Elie, how do you think this process will actually wind up being played out for Giuliani, and those he owes, especially the two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, bankruptcy is not a magic wand. It doesn't automatically make a person's debts disappear. Really, to the contrary, the purpose of a bankruptcy proceeding is to identify all a person's assets, whatever is out there, when they owe a lot more than they have, and then make sure it gets divided up to the various creditors, the people who are owed money, fairly and proportionately.
The other thing to note here is that by declaring bankruptcy, Rudy Giuliani has now voluntarily put himself within the jurisdiction of a federal bankruptcy judge and a trustee. Their job is to identify his assets, to value them fairly, and then to dole them out proportionately.
So, Ruby Freeman and Ms. Moss will get some money. They're certainly not going to get anything near $148 million, but it's important to note, if Rudy Giuliani tries to play games now, if he commits fraud, if he tries to dump off his assets, he's subjecting himself to potential bankruptcy, fraud, crimes, Wolf.
So, it's not necessarily bad news for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss. I think they were under no illusions that they were ever going to get ten figures from him, but hopefully for their sake, they do get their fair portion.
BLITZER: Yes, let's hope.
Andrew, Giuliani is still facing some other major defamation lawsuits and a criminal case in Georgia as well. Could the man once called America's mayor still face -- could he still fall from grace even more?
KIRTZMAN: Yes, I mean the Giuliani story could end with him in a jail cell. I mean the tragedy here is just, you know, Shakespearean. I mean this is a person who was once more popular than the pope according to a poll.
I mean, he was a larger than life figure, not just once but several times in his life. He was an extraordinary public figure. He was a famous prosecutor, the most famous prosecutor in the 1980s, the most famous mayor in the 1990s, a global hero after 9/11. I mean, he has led a lot of lives.
And the fact that he has kind of thrown it all the way, all the way in service to Donald Trump, is one of the great tragedies of American politics in our lifetime.
BLITZER: Elie, give me your final thought on this.
HONIG: Well, Wolf, I worked at the Southern District of New York about 20 years after Rudy Giuliani was a prominent prosecutor there. When I started there, he was a person we respected, admired, looked up to. I never met him, but his portrait was on the wall. He was a former U.S. attorney.
And his fall has been astonishing. The man is now under criminal indictment in Georgia. He's an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal case. He's had his bar license removed. He's been sued for defamation. He's really made himself into a disgrace. And important to keep in mind, he's not a victim. He's done this to himself.
BLITZER: Elie Honig, thanks very much. Andrew Kirtzman, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, a diplomatic scramble over at the United Nations, the Biden administration trying to influence a resolution on Gaza as the U.N. Security Council works toward a vote that's been repeatedly delayed.
BLITZER: This hour, it's unclear when or if the United Nations Security Council will vote today on a resolution calling for a halt in hostilities in Gaza.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is following all these developments. He's joining us live from Tel Aviv right now. Jeremy, international pressure is clearly growing for Israel to stop the fighting. So, how is that playing out at the UN?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. And negotiations have been ongoing for several days now over this resolution that would call for some kind of a stop in the fighting and an increase in the flow of humanitarian aid, much needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Already this vote has been delayed three times amid wrangling over the language, including over whether this would call for a cessation or a suspension or perhaps even more watered down language with regards to the hostilities.
But the main sticking point, we're told, is over this monitoring mechanism that would oversee the flow of aid into Gaza, with the U.S. expressing concerns that that mechanism could actually potentially slow that aid getting into Gaza.
But there is a lot of pressure on the Security Council and on the United States in particular, which just a few weeks ago blocked a resolution that would have called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Jordanian foreign minister today saying that there is a double standard if the U.N. does not pass a resolution calling for some kind of a stop in the hostilities.
Meanwhile, Wolf, negotiations over the release of hostages and a pause in the fighting, there had been a lot of optimism in recent days that negotiations were perhaps on the path to resuming. Israel put a proposal forward that would have seen the release of some 40 hostages in exchange for a week-long pause in the fighting.
But all of that optimism has really gone down the drain, in particular after today when Hamas put out a statement effectively saying that they will not negotiate until Israel stops its military campaign in Gaza, saying that they would like to see a full cessation of aggression in order to even get to the negotiating table. And so, of course, that leaves Palestinian civilians who have been dying in increasing numbers over the last several weeks still caught in the middle of this war and, of course, those 100-plus hostages in Gaza left to languish in captivity. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Jeremy Diamond reporting from Tel Aviv, thank you.
More than two months after the Hamas terror attack on Israel, there's new U.S. intelligence right now on Hamas and its influence and credibility around the world.
CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is working the story for us. Katie Bo, what can you tell us?
KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, us intelligence agencies have been closely tracking how the October 7th attack has impacted Hamas's influence both inside the Palestinian territories and across the Arab and Muslim world, and especially amongst extremist groups that share a violent ideology with Hamas. And what they have seen is that Hamas got a major credibility bump after October 7th.
And there's a couple of reasons for this. One is that from a purely operational perspective, October 7th, this truly awful attack, was wildly successful. And since then, Hamas has been able to use the hostages that it took to successfully negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Hamas has essentially been able to cast itself as a defender of the Palestinian cause, this kind of lone armed force fighting back against Israel, seen by some communities as a brutal oppressor. And some of the indicators that intelligence officials are tracking, we can see publicly protesters in Jordan chanting support for Hamas, some polling data that shows Hamas's popularity in the occupied West bank rose after October 7th, and public warnings from both U.S. and European officials of a heightened risk of potential lone wolf attacks by extremists inspired by Hamas. One important thing to note here, Wolf, is that some officials that we spoke to are deeply concerned that Israel's relentless bombardment of Gaza, which has led to a stream of viral images of civilians suffering, is only going to exacerbate this dynamic and further legitimize Hamas and potentially radicalize others both inside and outside of Gaza, even though, of course, we know that Hamas is hiding itself amongst civilians and carried out unspeakable atrocities on October 7th. Wolf?
BLITZER: Totally unspeakable indeed. Katie Bo Lillis, thanks very much for that report.
Meanwhile, there's a dire new warning tonight about toxic conditions inside of Gaza right now as civilians face disease, hunger and a lack of hygiene.
CNN's Nima Elbagir has an update for us right now on the worsening humanitarian crisis.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Airstrike after airstrike after airstrike, in the daily bombardment, Gazans rarely find a reprieve.
When the smoke clears, it's back to the daily routine, searching the rubble, hoping for miracles, hoping to find survivors, a journey that leads many to the overflowing morgues.
At the European Hospital in southern Gaza, there is no relief in identifying the dead. Roughly 20,000 people killed in Gaza after 11 weeks of Israeli bombardment, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, a number CNN can't verify. But U.N. officials say they found the ministry's figures from past conflicts to be accurate, a grim landmark. With every lost life, the pain is inconsolable.
RIDAAN ABU MA'MAR, GAZA RESIDENT: There is nowhere safe in the whole of the Gaza Strip. My whole family is gone. We are only four people left out of family of eight.
ELBAGIR: In Southern Gaza, the bombs don't stop, nor does the flow of the injured to overwhelmed hospitals, disrupting the rare moments of respite where children can play.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was at my aunt's house and we were playing. We saw a big and fast airplane flying over and suddenly it bombed our place and stones fell on me and then people removed me from the rubble.
ELBAGIR: Israel's ground offensive continues across Gaza. Despite the U.S. raising concerns about civilian casualties, it continues to back Israel's war.
The U.N. warns of a toxic mix of disease, hunger and lack of hygiene and sanitation. Outbreaks of infectious disease add to the impossible task of survival. Most of the 2.2 million population is displaced and struggling to find food and clean water. The World Health Organization says there are no functioning hospitals left in Northern Gaza.
The once sprawling Al Ahli hospital complex is barely providing relief.
SEAN CASEY, WORLD HEALTH ORG EMERGENCY MEDICAL TEAM: What we found here is a hospital that's really almost completely stopped functioning. Two days ago, a number of staff were detained (ph).
ELBAGIR: Instead of preparing for Christmas, this church has become a hospital ward.
CASEY: But they're not able to perform surgery. They're able to only provide pain management, some wound care, some trauma stabilization. They're doing their best with a very small team of only about ten clinical staff left at this hospital.
ELBAGIR: Hours after posting this video of the first aid center at the battered Jabalya camp, the Palestinian Red Crescent said the center was raided and communication was cut off. And yet the dead and dying just keep coming.
Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.
BLITZER: And thanks to Nima Elbagir for that report.
Just ahead, truly horrific scenes out of Prague where at least 14 people are dead after a mass shooting at a university.
BLITZER: You're looking at a very dramatic image of students hiding out on a building ledge as a gunman went on a deadly shooting rampage at a university in Prague. At least 14 people were killed, 25 others were wounded during what the Czech Republic's president is calling the most tragic incident in the country's history.
CNN's Melissa Bell has the story.
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Terror on the streets of Prague, students risking their lives to escape a gunman's bullets that killed more than a dozen on Thursday afternoon. More than 20 were injured, 10 severely in the shooting at Prague's Charles University before the gunman, an enrolled philosophy student, was eliminated, police said. It's an attack that has rocked the Czech Republic.
PETR FIALA, CZECH PRIME MINISTER: There is absolutely no explanation, no justification for this. Like many of you, I am feeling a deep sorrow and disgust over this incomprehensible and brutal violence.
BELL: As night fell on Prague, details emerged about the 24-year-old suspect. Before the deadly shooting in the capital, police said the shooter left his home village where his father was found dead. Intent on further bloodshed, he made his way to the Czech capital.
Tipped off police forces rushed to evacuate the building where the shooter was due to attend a lecture but he struck elsewhere, forcing students to barricade themselves inside classrooms later evacuated en masse.
Their preparation for end of year exams brutally shattered by the country's deadliest shooting in decades. No indication of a link to international terrorism, the Czech interior minister confirmed, but tonight, a city in shock on a continent where mass shootings are few and far between.
BELL (on camera): We have, Wolf, over the course of the evening, been finding out more details about the shooter, this young philosophy student who went on the rampage this afternoon in Prague. He had no criminal record, had a permit for the firearms he was carrying. But we do understand from police that they now believe he may have been involved in a double homicide last week, a father and his young child who were killed in a forest near Prague.
We will wait until tomorrow morning to find out more about the police investigation into his background and what may have prompted him to go on this rampage.
And, again, this is a city and a country very much in shock. This is a continent where this kind of thing simply doesn't happen very often, Wolf, partly because of the lack of access to firearms. It is a very different situation to what we see in the United States.
And so a great deal of shock that this could have happened. No one was prepared for it. The country will hold a day of national mourning on Saturday, just shooting just a few days before Christmas.
Of course, that will have involved many students losing their lives, Wolf.
BLITZER: So heartbreaking indeed. Melissa Bell, thanks very much for that report.
Coming up --
Coming up, why the president of one of America's most prestigious universities is now back very much in the hot seat.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Tonight, Harvard's president is requesting additional corrections for her past academic work, as she comes under new scrutiny over allegations she committed plagiarism.
CNN's Danny Freeman has the story from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harvard University president Claudine Gay back in the hot seat --
CLAUDINE GAY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Congresswoman.
FREEMAN: -- after the elite school said it found two more incidents of an adequate citation in the embattled president's writings.
Now, a U.S. House committee already investigating antisemitism at Harvard, says it will also look at the plagiarism allegations.
In a new letter to Harvard's highest governing body, the committee's chair cites Harvard's honor code that states, members of college community must commit themselves to producing an academic work of integrity, and asks, does Harvard hold its faculty and academic leadership to the same standards?
Last week, Gay submitted corrections to a pair of papers she wrote as a professional academic in 2001 and 2017.
But, a CNN analysis of her writings documented other examples of plagiarism from the 90s, when Gay was studying for her PhD at Harvard. Gay's 1997 dissertation lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from another source without citation.
Jonathan Bailey is a plagiarism expert.
What troubled you about the specific dissertation allegations more than others?
JONATHAN BAILEY, PLAGIARISM EXPERT AND COPYRIGHT CONSULTANT: That paragraph showed a link to text that clearly could not have been produced any other way than copying, was not quoted and was not properly cited in the paper. And so, that's what made me worry about that one.
FREEMAN: A Harvard spokesperson told CNN in a statement Thursday that the university reviewed more of her writings and Gay plans to update her 1997 work to correct these additional instances. Harvard said, the inadequate citations were regrettable but were not research misconduct.
In a previous statement about the earlier allegations, Gay defended her works saying: I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards. The latest development coming a week after Harvard's top governing
board unanimously stood behind Gay, following intense calls for her to resign over her congressional testimony on antisemitism on college campuses.
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.
FREEMAN: The allegations against Gay, who is the first Black woman to serve as president of Harvard, have largely originated from conservative activists. But the question persists, is the school holding its president to the same standard as its students?
BAILEY: Plagiarism really exists on a spectrum between completely original writing and completely copied and pasted and trying to pass of somebody else's work. And right now, the best we have on Claudine Gay is sitting somewhere in the middle between the two.
FREEMAN (on camera): And, Wolf, despite the increase in scrutiny over these plagiarism accusation, Harvard right now is still very publicly standing by its president, but make no mistake, this House committee, they are is still moving along. They requested troves of documents from the school. So, while these new corrections may be coming, the story likely not over yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Danny Freeman reporting for us -- thank you, Danny.
And we'll be right back.
BLITZER: Wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan tells CNN he fears for his safety at the Russian prison camp where he's being held, and that he's being targeted by an official there.
Brian Todd is monitoring the situation for us.
Brian, you've learned some harrowing new details about what's going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have indeed, Wolf.
Paul Whelan spoke to CNN producer Jennifer Hansler, and what he told her indicates that he could be in more danger now than he's ever been in while in Russian custody.
TODD (voice-over): American Paul Whelan, wrongfully detained in Russia for five years, tonight faces new dangers in a Russian prison camp. Whelan tells CNN he's being targeted by an official at the remote camp in the Mordovia region where he's being held. Whelan says the official is retaliating because the official was admonished, falling an assault on Whelan by another inmate on November 28th.
We spoke to Whelan's sister about his latest account.
ELIZABETH WHELAN, PAUL WHELAN'S SISTER: I'm concerned and horrified, but not surprised to hear of these issues he's having. Mordovia is very isolated. I'm sure the prison guards are used to being able to get away with an awful lot of anybody paying attention to them whatsoever.
TODD: According to Whelan, the prison official who he did not named called on prisoners to instigate fights with Paul Whelan so that he would be disciplined. He says prisoners on the official's behalf asked him for $1,100 in protection money. The exact amount that's in Whelan's prison account. Quote, prisoners would not have known that unless they would have been told.
Then he said of the prison official, quote, having no luck with obtaining the money, he ordered me to move to a different barrack, which would've exposed me to criminal behavior as well as the potential of assault.
The White House calls Whelan's latest accounts troubling, and says it will address this with Russian officials.
JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We did in recent days put forward a serious proposal. The Russians rebuffed it regardless of what Mr. Putin says, and we're working hard to see what we can do to get another proposal that might be more successful, to get both him and Evan out.
TODD: John Kirby is referring to "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich who's also wrongfully detained in Russia.
Paul Whelan gave CNN even more chilling details of the dangers he now faces from other inmates. Quote: Most people carry knives here, and many used stimulants which can make them wild and violent.
SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER U.S. HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL AT U.N.: The conditions like all Russian prisons are very bad, right? So, the prison guards are controlling access to the bathroom, food, light, day, your mobility. And, you know, this fact of corruption is particularly intense.
TODD: I asked Whelan's sister if he carries any kind of weapon to protect himself.
WHELAN: Paul has gone out of his way to make sure that there's nothing that can be done or said about him that would cause him to incur additional charges, because that's what the Russians will do. They will add charges onto your sentence.
TODD: Whelan also told CNN he feels threatened because he's an American, and that the prisoners in his camp, quote, don't look too kindly upon the U.S. support of Israel in Gaza.
TODD (on camera): Paul Whelan told CNN when he spoke to prison officials about his concerns, they told him he could go to solitary confinement 24 hours a day. CNN has reached out to the prison for comment on all of this. We have not heard back.
Wolf, he is in serious danger.
BLITZER: I hope he comes home and comes home soon. Evan Gershkovich as well.
Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.