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The Situation Room
Trump Appeals Colorado Ballot Ban To U.S. Supreme Court; Iran Warns Of Harsh Response To Deadly Blasts Near General's Tomb; House Speaker Visits Border, Pressures Democrats On Immigration; Justice Department Sues Texas Over Controversial New Immigration Law; Forty Unsealed Documents From Lawsuit Connected To Convicted Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Released. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired January 03, 2024 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Donald Trump appeals Colorado's decision to remove him from the state's Republican primary ballot. He's asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide disputes about his eligibility for office under the U.S. Constitution's insurrectionist ban.
Also tonight, Iran is warning of a harsh response to deadly explosions near the tomb of a top Iranian general exactly four years after he was killed in a U.S. airstrike. CNN is in the region with an update on the blast and the rising Middle East tensions.
And House Speaker Mike Johnson and dozens of GOP lawmakers visit the southern border, turning up the pressure on President Biden to cut a deal on immigration. This hour, I'll discuss the migrant crisis with New York's Democratic Mayor Eric Adams.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Will Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
Let's get right to the breaking news, Donald Trump now formally asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado ruling, removing him from the ballot. The high court under mounting pressure to intervene as Trump faces ballot disputes in multiple states. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working this important story for us. Evan, what is Trump arguing in this appeal?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the former president is arguing that this extraordinary decision from the Colorado Supreme Court cannot be allowed to stand simply for a number of reasons, including the fact that the 14th Amendment should not apply to the office of president. It's not mentioned in the 14th Amendment, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
The former president also points out that under his belief, he did not actually engage in an insurrection. So, the Colorado decision was incorrect, according to their filing.
I'll read you just some more of this, 43 pages here that they filed with the Supreme Court. They say this court should grant certiorari to consider this question of paramount importance, summarily reverse the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling and return the right to vote for their candidate of choice to the voters. They go on to say, Wolf, this is a ruling, again, the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, this is a ruling that, if allowed to stand, will mark the first time in the history of the United States that the judiciary has prevented voters from casting ballots for the leading major party presidential candidate.
Now, Wolf, one of the things that really stands out in this filing, I would say perhaps the cheekiest argument that the former president is making, is that the Section 3 of the 14th amendment, they say, doesn't prohibit someone from running for office. It only prohibits someone from holding office. And so they're saying that the Supreme Court should -- just based on that, should reverse what the Supreme Court of Colorado has done.
What they say could happen is if Trump wins election, obviously, that the Congress, by a two-thirds vote could essentially cure the problem and allow him to take office if this ruling is overturned.
BLITZER: It's a very lengthy document that the Trump team has submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, 34 pages. I've gone through it myself.
Evan, stay with us. We're also joined by CNN's Kaitlan Collins and legal analysts Norm Eisen and Jennifer Rodgers.
And, Kaitlan, you helped break this story for us here at CNN. Walk us through what the Trump team's thinking is all about right now.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Well, we knew they were going to appeal this decision. I mean, it was an explosive ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court saying that Trump was ineligible to be on the ballot. They've been working on this appeal for quite some time. They're coming right up until when they believed the deadline was, which is tomorrow, to actually file this.
But the other part of this is that in the middle of writing this appeal, they were hit with the main ruling from the secretary of state there, which was not from the Supreme Court there like it was in Colorado, but instead from the secretary of state. But they've been basically working on both of those issues. And they know that this is popping up everywhere.
And to Evan's point, they are basically attacking every single front of this ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court, saying that January 6th was not an insurrection, that Trump didn't engage in it, if it was, that Section 3 doesn't apply to him because the presidency is technically not an office of the United States. So, they're making some arguments here.
The question, of course, is, does the Supreme Court get involved. Because what this does is only put more pressure on them to do so. So, there could be a blanket decision here. So, there doesn't end up to where some states decide he can't be on the ballot and some states decide that he can, which I think everyone can agree would be chaos.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Norm, given the gravity of this case right now, how likely is it that the Supreme Court will take this on?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's likely that one way or another, the Supreme Court will move to resolve this. They may do it quickly. They may not do it quickly. Because by filing this petition in the Supreme Court under the terms of the Colorado order, Wolf, Trump has stayed the Colorado proceedings. So, at the moment, he remains on the ballot.
The Supreme Court does have to speak to it. And this is one of those historic moments, really, in the history of our country, where you have a very commonsensical reading that the Colorado Supreme Court has adopted of the 14th Amendment, that Donald Trump, through his 187 minutes of inaction, the January 6 report, his tweet targeting Mike Pence in the midst of the violence, that he did participate in an insurrection. But then it meets the reality of how the Supreme Court reads that Constitution.
This is going to be a tough fight for the petitioners to win, but nobody knows what the Supreme Court will do.
BLITZER: We will find out at some point.
Jennifer Rodgers is with us. The Supreme Court, as all of us know, is designed to settle these constitutional questions that do come up. How do you think they would weigh this issue if they do take up this case?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a great question, Wolf. I mean, this is the U.S. Constitution we're talking about. It is the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the final word on what it means, and they've never spoken on this. So, you know, it's anybody's guess what they do, except I think it's fair to say, or at least I think that despite what looks like a very persuasive opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court and a lot of strong arguments saying that he should be disqualified from the ballot under the plain wording of the provision, I feel that the Supreme Court is going to find a way to say he stays on the ballot. It could be any of the reasons that Kaitlan mentioned, the arguments that he makes, the legal ones, the factual ones, but I think that they are going to try to find a way to say that it doesn't apply to him. And I think that they'll try to do that with as close to a unanimous court as they can because the court is always, especially these days, concerned with its own reputation and legitimacy.
BLITZER: And just to be precise, Jennifer, if the Supreme Court decides one way or another, as far as the Colorado case is concerned, it will have an impact across the country, right, if other states are considering this.
RODGERS: Right. I mean, I think that's what Kaitlan was just talking about, the notion that different of these cases coming up to the court will find on different grounds that he needs to be disqualified or not disqualified. I think the court is going to try to speak on as many of these possibilities as they can so as to avoid this kind of patchwork approach.
BLITZER: Evan, in this filing, Trump's lawyers said this, and let me read to you what the argument is. The Colorado Supreme Court decision would unconstitutionally disenfranchise millions of voters in Colorado and likely be used as a template to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters nationwide. So, how does this play into the whole battle that's going on right now over whether or not Trump should be allowed to be on these ballots in various states?
PEREZ: Well, look, Wolf, a lot of us at the outset of this didn't really give much chance for these things to go forward. I mean, look, there's been more than 60 lawsuits the Trump team points out of this nature around the country, and most of these have like fallen away and have not gone as far as this. So, the fact that we're even here is kind of extraordinary.
But what I find interesting in the argument that you just read and the part of the argument that you just read is one of the things that the former president is accused of doing back on January 6 and in the events around January 6 was to disenfranchise, disenfranchise all of these voters, millions of voters in various states because he didn't like the results in those states. And so now he's turning that very same argument around and saying that what you're trying to do is to disenfranchise all of these voters around the country.
And it's a compelling argument because under our system, voters are the ones that are supposed to decide. And so the idea that you have a lot of these folks who were on the other side of the argument have now decided to try to bring these lawsuits to try to prevent him from being on the ballot is kind of a remarkable thing.
BLITZER: Lots at stake right now. And, Kaitlan, I understand you're getting some new information.
COLLINS: Our colleague, Kristen Holmes, has confirmed that Trump is expected to attend the federal appeals court hearings next week. And that centers around his claim that he has presidential immunity when it comes to the federal election case here in Washington that Jack Smith is prosecuting.
Basically, Trump has been arguing that he can't be prosecuted for something that happened while he was president. That is something that is being tested. He's personally going to be attending those hearings according to what we're hearing next week in person. It's not the first time he's been in court. Obviously, he was in court in the civil case in New York a lot.
I think it speaks to the fact that we are approaching the Iowa caucuses. And while we're going to be, Wolf, in the middle of these highly consequential dates of Iowa, New Hampshire, all of this, he is still going to court. He's got all of these court dates coming up. He is going to be in person at those hearings next week.
It also speaks to what the Supreme Court could be dealing with, because they may not just be dealing with this Colorado issue should they choose to take it up. They also could be hearing on his claims of presidential immunity. They've got a lot that they could be deciding that could, in turn, really affect and shape the 2024 election.
PEREZ: But it also goes to his strategy, right? He tries to use these court appearances to try to talk to the cameras and in that way essentially turn him into campaign appearances.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. That's a very important point. We'll see how that unfolds. Guys, thank you very much.
An important note, Kaitlan, of course, will be back later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern to anchor her show, The Source, 9:00 P.M. Eastern.
Just ahead, we'll go live to the Middle East after deadly explosions in Iran near the tomb of a general killed in a U.S. airstrike. What we know and don't know about who was responsible.
BLITZER: Tonight, Iran is threatening retaliation for what it's calling a terror attack. Two deadly explosions happening as Iranians were honoring a top general killed in a U.S. airstrike exactly four years ago.
CNN's Nada Bashir has the latest scenes.
NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Scenes of chaos in the Iranian city of Kerman, an explosion sending crowds into disarray when a second blast rings out.
Thousands had gathered to mark the anniversary of the death of Military Commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad four years ago. The twin blasts less than a mile from Soleimani's grave, killing more than a hundred and injuring many more.
Iranian officials say this was a terror attack, state media reporting that one of the explosions was caused by a bomb inside a suitcase in a car.
Soleimani was Iran's revered top military general, this attack on his supporters seen as a strike against the Iranian regime, which has many enemies both inside and outside the country.
In Lebanon, the leader of Iran-backed Hezbollah commemorated Soleimani's death, but also used his speech on Wednesday to condemn Tuesday's killing of a top Hamas official on his own soil.
HASSAN NASRALLAH, SECRETARY-GENERAL, HEZBOLLAH: Yesterday's crime was large and dangerous. This crime will not be left without a response and punishment. Between us and our enemies, there is time and the battlefield.
BASHIR: The strike in southern Beirut targeted Saleh Al-Arouri and several others in what Hamas has described as a cowardly assassination. And while a U.S. official tells CNN that Israel was behind the strike, Israeli officials have so far been careful not to publicly take responsibility.
MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel has not taken responsibility for this attack, but whoever did it, it must be clear that this was not an attack on the Lebanese state. It was not an attack even on Hezbollah.
BASHIR: Hezbollah perhaps not the target in Israel's eyes but the Iran-backed group has long warned that any attack on Lebanese soil would trigger a response of equal severity on Israeli territory.
From the outset of the war between Israel and Hamas, fighting between Israel and Hezbollah has been largely contained to Lebanon's southern border region. But the brazen strike in Beirut in the heart of Hezbollah territory has raised fears among the United States and its allies that a full scale war could break out between Israel and the Middle East's most powerful paramilitary force, or even more broadly across the region.
BASHIR (on camera): And, Wolf, while we are hearing those warnings from Hezbollah about the potential for this conflict to escalate more broadly, we have heard from the Lebanese foreign minister saying that the Lebanese government does not want to see a war break out, that it is working to convince Hezbollah not to wage a war against Israel, and that it wants to see peace on its southern border.
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, saying that it has no reason to be more concerned following Tuesday's strike of a broader escalation than it has been from the outset of the war, saying that, in the U.S. perspective, it is not in the interest of Hezbollah nor in the interest of Israel to see a broader escalation in this conflict. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Nada Bashir in Beirut for us, Nada, thank you very much.
Joining us now, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence Committee, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
First, I want to discuss the explosions in Iran near Soleimani's grave. The U.S. does not believe Israel was involved based on what we know so far. And you're the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, who do you believe could have been behind this?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, thanks for having me, Wolf. And it's too early, I think, to speculate about who could have been behind it and, in fact, who knows what we will ultimately learn. What I can tell you with some confidence is that this attack does not have the hallmarks of a traditional Israel, American, NATO operation.
What was really a terrorist attack, that is to say, something that was designed to cause a lot of fear and kill a lot of civilians without any obvious military benefit feels to me, and I do emphasize feels to me, but feels to me like more the acts of one of the dozens of groups of people who have a beef with the Iranian regime. When you're a brutal regime, as the Iranians are, you make a lot of enemies along the way. And this feels like one of these groups as opposed to Israel or the U.S. or NATO taking in action, it feels to me like it's more something along those lines.
BLITZER: Yes, it feels like that to me, too.
A U.S. official tells CNN Israel was behind the attack in Beirut, targeting a top Hamas commander. You heard Hezbollah's leader promise revenge. So, what could that look like, Congressman? And is Israel risking a wider war right now by attacking and going after this Hamas leader in Lebanon's capital?
HIMES: Well, let's unpack that a little bit because I think a couple of things are true. Number one, any senior member of Hamas who was involved in the planning of October 7th and the brutal murder of 1,200 Israelis has a relatively short lifespan. We saw this, of course, with the way the Israelis dealt with the people who were involved with the terrorist attack on the Munich Olympic team back in the early 70s. The Israelis will not rest until the leaders of that brutal terrorist attack are gone. And so I don't know whether this was an Israeli strike, but we do know what the future of an awful lot of these Hamas leaders are.
Number two, it is true that Hezbollah has stayed out of this fight. Hezbollah is sophisticated enough to understand that attack on a Hamas leader is not the same as an attack on a Hezbollah leader. And while I don't think it's in anybody's interest, including Hezbollah's interest, to get involved in hostilities, more hotter, if you will, than what is already happening on the northern border of Israel, there is one player, of course, who would like to see additional chaos, and that is the sponsor of Hezbollah, the sponsor of Hamas, and that's, of course, Iran.
BLITZER: The U.S. is also, as you know, protecting ships in the Red Sea from Iran-backed Houthi attacks. What does the Biden administration need to do, Congressman, to prevent all these various flashpoints across the region right now from escalating into a much wider war?
HIMES: Well, I understand that the Biden administration has been very careful on this front and so far successful at not letting what is a tragedy, but a tragedy that has been largely limited to Gaza and Israel and the northern border with Israel to become a regional conflagration with lots of nation states involved.
What I would suggest, and the Biden administration isn't necessarily asking my opinion, but what I would suggest that the guiding principle here be, which is that nobody gets to escalate. And as a consequence, were I sitting in that oval office, I probably would have taken more aggressive action against the Houthis.
Now, the United States Navy, of course, sank three of their boats attacking shipping. But I think we need to make it very clear that attacking freedom of navigation in the Red Sea is an escalation. And it will not be tolerated. And if the Houthis want to find their ways to -- we would obviously discourage this, but if they want to jump into direct conflict with Israel, that will be their decision, but they do not get to implicate U.S. critical and global critical strategic interests.
So, again, my hope is that the Biden administration, perhaps by taking out launching sites, sends a very clear message that the world will not tolerate an expansion of this war, especially one that compromises freedom of navigation.
BLITZER: And what is so worrisome is Iran has now deployed a destroyer to the Red Sea as well.
Congressman Jim Himes, thanks as usual for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up, as Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis battle to be the primary challenger to Donald Trump, they're amping up their attacks on the frontrunner right now with the first votes only 12 days away.
BLITZER: Tonight, Donald Trump's leading Republican rivals are actually stepping up their attacks on the frontrunner with the first in the nation Iowa caucuses now just 12 days away. Ron DeSantis is campaigning in Iowa while Nikki Haley is looking ahead to the primary a few days later in New Hampshire. CNN's Eva McKend is covering Haley in the Granite State for us. Eva, what are Haley and the other candidates focusing on today?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here in New Hampshire, Nikki Haley on stage as we speak. She's telling voters here that she can win. Actually, so many people showed up to this event tonight. We heard some folks being turned away, being told that they are at capacity.
But she is telling folks disregard the polls that have Trump way out ahead, that she is still very much competitive in this contest.
Governor DeSantis giving a similar message to voters in Iowa, telling them that he doesn't think that Trump can win in a general election. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know I'm right. Chaos follows him. And we can't have a country in disarray and a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won't survive it. You don't defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think Donald Trump ultimately can win an election. The whole election will end up being a referendum on his behavior, all the law fare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCKEND: And a strong day for the Haley campaign, they announced that they raised $24 million this quarter. That is up from $11 million last quarter, a real indication, Wolf, that some of the departures that we have seen from this contest, Senator Tim Scott, for instance, that some of his donors have moved over to Nikki Haley.
BLITZER: Important point, indeed. Money talks, as they say. Eva McKend, thanks very, very much.
Let's bring in our Political Commentators Van Jones and Alice Stewart. Alice, we're seeing DeSantis and Haley being a bit more critical of Trump out there on the campaign trail right now. The Iowa caucuses, as we noted, begin in some 12 days. Is this, though, too little, too late?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not necessarily, Wolf, because, look, the reality is this is a Republican primary. Donald Trump has a chokehold on the party. He is by far leading the polls and has the support of many Republican voters. So, it's a smart play for all of these candidates to keep their powder dry until we get closer to the caucus and the primaries. Because we all know what has happened in the past, what has happened to other candidates, if you get out there ahead of yourself and attack Donald Trump, it takes no time for him to knock you off of the track.
So, what they have done is leveled their attacks in a more measured response in order to prevent alienating his base. But now is the time, 12 days, put that powder back in the cylinder and full speed ahead, attacking Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Van, what do you think?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that if a pathway for progress in the Republican Party was attacking Donald Trump, Chris Christie would be the number one person or number two. So, I think that at the end of the day, it's going to wind up being a battle for second place.
Nikki Haley, unfortunately, really stepped on her momentum. I was hearing a lot of even Democrats impressed with her, excited about her. I was getting text messages from people who I would never thought would support any Republican, say, hey, if Nikki Haley gets it, I'm going with her over Biden. And then she kind of blew herself up on the slavery gaffe at the worst possible time. If she's able to figure out some way to put that behind her and get the momentum going, all the polls show she's got the best shot against Biden, she's got a better shot than DeSantis or Trump. But the Republicans are going to have to get behind her and give her that opportunity. Otherwise, it's going to be Trump versus Biden again.
BLITZER: Alice, Chris Christie is facing calls from some Republicans to actually get out of the race to solidify the non-Trump vote. A new ad from Christie, the super PAC, a Christie super PAC seems to take that head on. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got into this race for president because everybody in my party, who was offering themselves to be president of the United States were acting like it was going to fix itself. Don't mention his name. Don't criticize him. Don't do anything. I can't stand by and silently acquiesce to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, is he acting as a spoiler by staying in the race, Alice?
STEWART: Look, I think it's hard to tell anyone to get out of the race because they put their life and livelihood on the line. But Chris Christie has done a tremendous job in really taking it to Donald Trump. But right now, Wolf, it's a numbers game. And until and unless the GOP winnows the field and coalesces behind one person and makes this a head-to-head matchup against Donald Trump, then Donald Trump is just going to run the clock and win the nomination.
So, look, I think it's important to -- let's get through Iowa and then throw your support behind the person that is the most electable candidate against Donald Trump. And I think a lot of these candidates are going to have to make those decisions pretty soon. BLITZER: Van, let's talk about President Biden for a moment. As you probably know, he will travel to South Carolina next week just ahead of the February 3rd primary there, which will serve potentially as a key test for the president with African-American voters. Support for Biden among black voters has softened from 2020, at least according to a lot of polls. Has he taken them for granted?
JONES: Well, I think a lot of people feel that the African-American community hasn't gotten as much from the Biden administration as we had hoped for. We didn't get the voting rights we wanted. We didn't get the police reform that we wanted. We didn't get further on criminal justice. And so there is that sense of a letdown.
At the same time, Biden is not wrong when he says it's not about the almighty, it's about the alternative. We do have a lot, I think, to be proud of as Democrats being able to pull out from the COVID catastrophe, being able to move forward. You've got an economy that really -- it doesn't feel like the people, but by the numbers is on fire with the stock market up and unemployment down.
So, I think he's got a case to make. He's got to make it. But I think he's going to a place that has a lot of warmth and love for him. South Carolina, I think when you put him in front of a black church and remind people of the kind of heartbreak and pain that happens when white nationalism runs rampant in the country, I think people remember that Biden has been an ally for us on those fights.
BLITZER: Van Jones and Alice Stewart, thanks to both of you.
Coming up, we're getting new details about that fiery and deadly airport collision in Japan. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're learning new information tonight about the critical moments leading up to yesterday's fiery Tokyo Airport collision.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. Brian, update our viewers.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some critical pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are just now falling into place tonight. What we're learning tonight seems to point to a combination of factors, possible human error and possible equipment failure on the tarmac.
TODD (voice over): As investigators sift through the charred wreckage, new information tonight on what may have caused this horrific deadly accident when a Japan Airlines passenger plane collided on the runway at Haneda Airport with a Japanese Coast Guard plane.
Publicly available records show that red warning lights embedded in the tarmac, lights designed to stop pilots from mistakenly taxiing onto active runways, were broken at Haneda Airport for seven days leading up to the accident and on the day of the accident. Five crew members aboard the Coast Guard plane were killed, one injured.
Also tonight, another possible clue to the tragedy, Japanese officials have just released a transcript covering over four minutes of communications between air traffic control and the two planes involved.
Just moments before the collision, the control tower says to the Coast Guard plane, referring to its tail number, quote, JA722A, Tokyo Tower, good evening. Number 1 taxi to holding point C5. CNN's analysis indicates that's likely a command to taxi to a point short of the runway, but not on the runway. But CNN analysts say the command is usually more specific, telling a taxiing plane to, quote, hold short of crossing another runway.
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: If they were holding short of the runway, they should not have been on the runway or they should have not been landing there.
TODD: According to the transcript, the Coast Guard plane seems to acknowledge the control tower's command. The Coast Guard crew responding, quote, taxi to holding point C5, JA 722A number one, thank you.
We've also learned from Japan Airlines that the in-flight announcement system on the passenger plane malfunctioned during the evacuation. So, the cabin crew used a megaphone and their own voices to direct people off the burning aircraft. Everyone on board, nearly 400 people survived.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: A lot of us were skeptical on these big wide-bodied aircraft, whether it really was practical to get a group that large out of an aircraft in that much time. And here, we have a real-life demonstration that it can be done.
TODD: Japan Airline's passengers giving new accounts of their ordeal.
TSUBASA SAWADA, PASSENGER ON JAPAN AIRLINES PLANE: I heard an explosion about ten minutes after we all got off the plane. We would have been in trouble if we had left even a little late.
TODD: Passengers themselves receiving praise from safety experts.
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Had the passengers, for instance, not followed instructions and tried to take overhead luggage with them or tried to, you know, pick up this stuff that they had left under their seats, people would have died.
TODD (on camera): Now, so far, Japanese officials have said they have recovered the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from the Coast Guard plane, but they have not yet recovered those devices from the Japan Airlines passenger plane. And, Wolf, those devices are going to be very critical in this investigation. BLITZER: And we're going to be learning a lot more in the days to come, I'm sure. Brian Todd, thank you very much.
There's breaking news coming in right now. The U.S. Justice Department, listen to this, has just filed suit against the state of Texas over the state's controversial new immigration enforcement law, this as the House speaker, Mike Johnson, visits the southern border.
CNN's Ed Lavandera has more.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Migrants crossed the Rio Grande into the United States as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson looks on during the Republicans' tour of the southern border. To highlight a crisis, he says the Biden administration is doing nothing to fix.
Migrants have crossed into the United States by the thousands, more than 225,000 alone in December, the highest monthly surge recorded since the year 2000.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): America is at a breaking point with record levels of illegal immigration. And today, we got a firsthand look at the damage and the chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities.
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have a broken immigration system that is the one single fact about which everyone agrees.
LAVANDERA: Droves of migrants have come through this crossing in Eagle past Texas, despite the miles of razor wire, shipping containers and other barriers built up along the border. A former Democratic state lawmaker in Eagle past Texas says Republicans efforts to deter migration aren't working either.
FMR. STATE REP. PONCHO NEVAREZ (D-TX): Anybody that's walked or ridden a train car 3,000 miles and been robbed beaten and raped to make it to that side right there, do you think this is going to stop them? And the answer that as we already know is a big no.
LAVANDERA: The White House is increasingly facing pressure from both Republicans and Democratic mayors and governors on the need for real solutions to the immigration crisis. And the Republican governor of Texas keeps ramping up the pressure as well, transporting tens of thousands of migrants unannounced to urban cities in blue states, straining their resources.
Most migrants say they're just trying to escape the hardships they left behind, like Kenny Contredas (ph) from Ecuador, who says his country is plagued by violence and extortion. And this migrant from Liberia, who says he spent $15,000 to reach the U.S. border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. has been my dream country since I was a young kid, you know? JOHNSON: It's estimated that nearly 170 countries have people coming in and flowing across this border.
LAVANDERA: Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Senate leaders are working toward a possible deal to change current immigration law, including the possibility of expedited removals of migrants who cross illegally and tightening rules on granting asylum.
The House speaker tells CNN's Jake Tapper the problem cannot be solved by allocating more money to the border.
JOHHNSON: These are policy choices that got us in this situation. And what we're demanding is that the policies change.
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, what many of these Republican lawmakers were also not open and willing to get into is the idea of immigration reform.
And also, we asked several of them about the Senate negotiations and the border security bill there, and many of them said they're really not interested in kind of citing on to that bill at this point, because they haven't seen it. And many of them are also saying they're willing to shut down the government to get what they want here as far as border security is concerned.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thank you very much for that report.
Just ahead, we'll have more on the border crisis. I'll get reaction from the New York City Mayor Eric Adams who just imposed new restrictions on migrant buses coming to the city.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. The U.S. Justice Department is suing Texas over its strict new immigration law.
Joining us now to discuss this and more, the New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
I want to get your reaction to this new suit against Texas over its very controversial new immigration law. What's your reaction?
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: Extremely pleased that the Washington -- that D.C. is taking this action. The White House is taking this action. It's so important to send a very clear message to the governor of Texas, who is just really aggressively attempting to destabilize cities. And I think this action is extremely appropriate.
[18:50:13] But it's also crucial, and I need to say this, but this is a national problem, and all of these cities need help from the national government, a decompression strategy, funding, making sure we allow people to work and pursue the American dream. And so, kudos to this important lawsuit that they put in place, but we still need the national government to solve this national problem.
BLITZER: As you may know, Mayor, Texas is now changing its strategy, dropping migrants off in New Jersey, not far from New York City, in order to evade new restrictions you imposed on busing coming into New York. Have you've been outsmarted by the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott?
ADAMS: No. Anyone who has a diabolical mind would do diabolical things to just treat people in an inhumane way. We handled over 164,000 migrants and asylum seekers, and we're doing it in a humane way. We are very clear that we're going to continue to adjust as the governor of Texas carries out these actions to make sure that we send a very clear, loud message, no bus company should be participating in this action. We've got to communicate with our partners in this region and make sure that we tell them they should file the same level of executive order to stop this from taking place.
BLITZER: I know you've called the Texas Governor Greg Abbott a bully for his handling of these migrants who across the border from Mexico into Texas. A spokesperson for him, for the governor, accuses you of hypocrisy, saying you to have bused migrants north, away from New York City.
How do you respond?
ADAMS: Well, that's totally inaccurate. We have -- we're fixing the problem that he created. There are many people who came to New York City who wanted to go to other municipalities, and didn't have any other choice.
Governor Abbott made it clear, he was going to target cities like Chicago, Denver, New York, and just on the inauguration day of the Philadelphia mayor, he sent a planeload there.
So he's targeting cities. That's a big difference from asking people, what are their destinations? And then taking them where they can go where they have families, friends, or other systems to support them. That's what we're doing, and we will continue to do so.
BLITZER: What more do you need from the White House, Mayor? How critical is it, for example, that the stalled bill in Congress right now that includes $14 billion for border security gets funded? Because this is not cheap for New York City.
ADAMS: No, it's not. And it's not chief for all the cities. And I want to be clear. As the mayor of one of the largest -- the largest city in America, I'm not speaking only on behalf of my citizens here. I'm speaking on behalf of those cities such as Brownsville, El Paso, Chicago, Boston. No mayor should have to deal with the crisis of this magnitude. Last week, we had 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers who arrived here.
There's some weeks we got anywhere from 3,900 to 4000. Just do the math, handling those level of migrants and asylum seekers is just not sustainable.
And we know we need those dollars to come in. $5 billion deficit this fiscal year, $12 billion over three years. It's going to hurt low income New Yorkers.
And this is wrong for those New Yorkers as well as migrants and asylum seekers should not be placed in these conditions.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Mayor, a very quick question on a very different subject. I want to ask you about this federal investigation, as you know, into your political campaign. The FBI seized yourself phones and iPad in November as part of a probe looking into illegal contributions to your campaign.
Have you received a target letter from federal investigators?
ADAMS: We made that clear before. No, we have not.
Listen, our federal agencies, our state agencies, our city agencies -- I'm a former -- I'm a former law enforcement officer. If inquiries are made, we must cooperate with those inquiries, and that's what I've done, and stated I would do over and over again.
I did not break laws. I did not spend 24 years and forcing the law to break a law. And whatever information in cooperation they need for me, I'm going to do that, and I'm fully transparent and making sure that we can get to the bottom of any accusation that is made.
BLITZER: New York City Mayor Eric Adams, thank you so much for joining us.
ADAMS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, there's breaking news. Dozens of documents from a lawsuit related to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have just been released.
BLITZER: Breaking news. The highly anticipated release of documents from a lawsuit connected to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is now underway.
CNN's Kara Scannell is covering this for us.
Kara, why are these names coming up now? And what are the implications?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is part of a long running lawsuit brought by an Epstein accuser named Virginia Roberts Giuffre, and it was -- this lawsuit has been saddled by numerous news organizations have asked for these documents to be unsealed. The judge has ordered the unsealing, and we're starting to see them hit the docket.
Right now, there's about 40 documents that are on the docket, totaling more than 900 pages. So, our team is culling through them now.
But this is all, you know, part of this lawsuit, and part of the reason why the judge said that she would unsealed the names in these documents, it's because a lot of these names have already become public, either through the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's former or long time girlfriend, who is convicted of helping him in sex-traffic minors, as well as through interviews with a number of accusers have given to news organizations, and just other information that has come out over the 20 years that Epstein has been alleged to have been involved in this sex trafficking operation.
So, we're starting to see some of these names come out, and Virginia Giuffre has been very public about her allegations, accusing prominent politicians of being -- having been forced to have sex with them as well her allegations against Prince Andrew. She had reached a settlement with the prince where he's agreed to make a sizeable donation. So we're going to go through these documents and see if we're learning any new names or new allegations. But, you know, a lot of this information has already been public, and that is why the judge has agreed to unseal it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Kara Scannell, 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.