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Sources Say, Biden Weighing Asylum Crackdown At Southern Border; Haley Sides With Alabama Supreme Court, Embryos To Me Are Babies; GOP Defiant Despite Indictment Damning To Their Impeachment Probe; Trump Asks New York Judge To Delay Enforcing $355 Million Civil Fraud Decision For One Month; Boeing Shakeup After Door Plug Blowout. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It was sent up by a Houston-based company called Intuitive Machines, which posted this picture of Odie in orbit a short time ago. Tomorrow afternoon, we're going to bring you live coverage as Odie will attempt the first soft landing on the moon by a U.S. spacecraft since the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 70s. Happy landings to Odie and good luck.

You can follow the show on X @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a potential crackdown at the U.S.-Mexican border. CNN has learned President Biden is now considering a new response to the immigration crisis, similar to a very controversial action attempted by then President Trump.

Also breaking, Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley declares that she believes embryos are babies, siding with a stunning decision by the Alabama Supreme Court. We're tracking all the fallout from the ruling as a major provider is now pausing in vitro fertilization treatments in Alabama, fearing prosecution.

And defiant House Republicans are trying to push the Biden impeachment inquiry forward, grilling the president's brother behind closed doors despite the very damning indictment of a former FBI informant accused of getting bogus dirt on the Bidens from the Russians.

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, President Biden now weighing new executive action to address the immigration crisis. That's a huge concern for many Americans at the southern border and beyond. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is over at the White House. She's got details. Priscilla, what are you learning?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Wolf, sources are telling me that the White House is now considering this executive action that would essentially limit asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. And the way that they're considering doing this is invoking an authority in immigration law between the ports of entry. Therefore, this would apply to migrants who are crossing the border unlawfully.

Now, an administration official telling me that many options are being evaluated at the White House and no final decision has been made. In a statement, a White House spokesperson saying the following, quote, no executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected. We continue to call on Speaker Johnson and House Republicans to pass the bipartisan deal to secure the border.

What the White House is referring to there, of course, is that Senate border compromise that was tanked by Republicans. And in that compromise that included extraordinary powers for the homeland security secretary to shut down the border. This appears to be an extension of that. While it's unclear what the details are, the White House clearly taking a tougher position on the border and one that President Biden welcomed over the course of these negotiations.

Though, of course, Wolf, we should also note here that former President Donald Trump also tried to invoke a very similar authority during his time in office, trying to shut down the border entirely to asylum seekers. He was ultimately challenged in court and that effort was blocked.

BLITZER: Priscilla, what more can you tell us about why the Biden administration is now considering this move?

ALVAREZ: Well, this is an opportunity for the White House to flip the script on Republicans. This is something that they have been doing since, again, Republicans decided not to move forward with what would be one of the toughest border security bills. Now, here, the White House is trying to take matters into their own hands.

Now, the Republican pushback here might be, look, you've had this authority all along. But what the White House is trying to make clear is that nothing quite equates to what would be in legislation because this action, if the White House moves forward with it, will likely also be challenged in court, and the president making clear that he is open to shutting down the border. Take a listen to what he said last month.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: It would also give me as president, the emergency authorities shut down the border until it could get back under control. If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.


ALVAREZ: All of this, of course, as President Biden faces a tough re- election campaign and as former President Donald Trump makes immigration a key part of his campaign going into November. BLITZER: All right. Priscilla, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in our political and legal experts to assess what's going on. Kate Bedingfield, I'll start with you. This move would likely provoke fierce backlash from progressives out there. So, could this actually wind up, from a political perspective, backfiring on President Biden?


KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think so. And I can tell you, as somebody who participated in a lot of these conversations about immigration in the Biden White House in the first two years, you know, the president has been incredibly focused on ensuring that we are protecting the asylum process and that we are ensuring that people who arrive to the country legally can get into the country.

And he wanted to bring additional funding to ensure that we had more judges to work through cases. So, you know, as he was weighing decisions, at least during my time there, he was really serious about ensuring that we were protecting the right for people to come illegally, I should say.

Now, in terms of what to do with people who arrive illegally, you know, he was always looking for the best way to stem some of the flow to the border. And I think what they're trying, I would imagine, assuming that this, if they decide to move forward with this reporting that Priscilla was talking about, you know, what they're really trying to do here is drive the contrast between Republican inaction and Democratic action.

And we saw this work successfully in the special election in New York this past week, or last week, rather. We saw a Democrat really take on this message aggressively. And I would imagine that that's what the White House is trying to do here from a political perspective is really draw that contrast in who's willing to take action and who's not.

BLITZER: Important point. Scott Jennings, as President Biden considers this new executive order, why do you think President Biden is effectively considering taking a page out of Donald Trump's playbook?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, because he is massively politically failing on this issue. I mean, the polling on it is very clear. For the last three years, the administration has made the problem worse. That's what most people think in America. So, now he's in an election, it's hurting him and he's trying to revert back.

I think the problem with this whole executive order strategy is twofold. Number one, they just finished arguing that they needed legislation to do anything. Well, that's obviously not true. And, number two, if you could take executive action today, why didn't you do it for the last three years?

And so I really do think they're sort of scrambling and responding to a massive political problem but I think they may be creating more by essentially admitting that their argument on the legislation was false and that they've been sitting on their hands or making it worse for the last three years.

BLITZER: Carrie Cordero, I want to remind our viewers that Trump was actually blocked by the courts when he tried to close the border to asylum seekers. That was back in 2018. So, would President Biden's potential plan now hold up, legally speaking, and what concerns does all this raise?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so we'd have to see what legal authorities President Biden actually tries to use to use his executive authority to limit the entry of individuals at the border.

There's a couple of different theories that I can come up with. One, he potentially could look at using his emergency -- National Emergencies Act, emergency power authorities. Another possibility is there's a provision in immigration law, it's called Section 212F, that would limit the entry of individuals deemed to be detrimental to the interest of the United States.

So, we'd have to see exactly what he hangs his hat on in an executive action. But, Wolf, I can guarantee you that if he relies on executive authority, it's going to be challenged in the courts. And so the justification that is used in the executive order, whether they try to tie it to fentanyl trafficking, for example, or they try to track it to the limited ability to detain individuals and a lack of resources and places to put people when they come over the border, they'd have to find something that would be able to stand up in court because it absolutely will be challenged.

BLITZER: Kate, I know you want to weigh in, go ahead.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think that's a really important point. I mean, you know, Scott was suggesting, well, if the administration could have just moved by executive order, why didn't they? Well, they know it's going to be challenged in court, and we know that legislation passed by Congress would withstand those challenges in a way that an executive order probably won't.

And so for the administration, this is not a question of, oh, well, we didn't need legislation, we could have done this from the outset, this is, you wouldn't move on legislation, so we're going to do everything that we possibly can because Congress has tied our hands.

BLITZER: Priscilla, you've been covering this story for a long time. You know a lot about it. Tell us more about the very real impact this policy could have for asylum seekers at the border.

ALVAREZ: Well, what the administration is facing here is increasing numbers of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. This has been their challenge since day one after the coronavirus pandemic really deteriorated conditions in the western hemisphere. So, many of those who are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border are seeking asylum.

Now, when you talk to Homeland Security officials, some will tell you that all of those claims are not credible, but all the same, the way the system is built today, they are absorbed into the country. And so this could have the impact of many people from seeking asylum between the ports of entry could look different if they turned themselves legally at ports of entry.


But all of this goes to the main issue that the White House is facing, which is, again, record levels of migration at the western hemisphere. There has been a drop in crossings in January, and Homeland Security officials and White House officials have credited their talks with Mexico as helping with that. But in the spring, those numbers go up again.

So, this is also, or at least it appears to be an effort to get ahead of that knowing that there could be another surge in the months to come. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, a significant development, indeed. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Just ahead, new fallout from an Alabama Supreme Court decision over IVF treatments, why the controversial ruling is already having an impact on fertility clinics in that state.

Plus, Boeing has just announced major changes to its troubled 737 MAX unit after last month's terrifying midair blowout.

Stay with us, lots of news. You're in The Situation Room.


BLITZER: More breaking news this hour, major ramifications from the Alabama Supreme Court decision that frozen embryos are children.


Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley essentially endorsing the ruling just a little while ago. This, as a major healthcare provider in Alabama, major hospital, is now pausing IVF treatments out of fear of lawsuits or even prosecution.

Our correspondents are covering the political and the health implications of this running ruling. First, let's go to CNN's Kylie Atwood. She's joining us from South Carolina covering Nikki Haley's campaign. Kylie, what exactly is Nikki Haley now saying?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Nikki Haley very clearly today voiced her opinion in favor of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling here in a conversation with NBC earlier today. Listen to what she said.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think -- I mean, embryos to me are babies. So, I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even those created through IVF?

HALEY: I mean, I had artificial insemination. That's how I had my son. So, when you look at one thing is to have to save sperm or to save eggs. But when you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. And so I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that.


ATWOOD: Now, Nikki Haley, throughout the entire course of her campaign, has used very careful language when talking about these delicate issues surrounding childbearing and pregnancy. On abortion, she has called for a national consensus. She has not backed any national ban that would be hinged on a specific number of weeks.

But when she was asked by NBC earlier today about the potential chilling effect that this ruling could have on families who are seeking to use IVF, Nikki Haley wouldn't get into the possible fallout here. She just said that there is a need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about this. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kylie Atwood reporting for us, thank you, Kylie.

For more on this breaking news story, I want to bring in CNN's Isabel Rosales. Isabel, what is the latest impact of the Alabama Supreme Court ruling? What is that having?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening to you. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System is now the first organization in the state to state that it is pausing IVF treatment in light of this ruling, telling CNN, in part, we are saddened that this will impact our patients' attempts, to have a baby through IVF, but we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments.

Wolf, the Alabama Medical Association also warning that this has essentially opened up the floodgates, that other health systems will follow track here. And reproductive rights advocates are warning that this will have huge implications on IVF going forward, making it less accessible, making it more costly, that it could skyrocket liability costs, that if an embryo, as we're seeing here from the Alabama Supreme Court, equals a child and destroying one could open them up to a lawsuit, well, that could force would-be parents to pay fees to store embryos, even embryos that they don't want for the remainder of their life or beyond.

Critics also warning that this will have implications beyond Alabama as other states also attempt to define embryos as people. And already, Wolf, we are seeing one religious group using this Alabama ruling as precedent in a Florida abortion rights case.

BLITZER: Interesting. Isabel Rosales, thank you very much.

I want to bring in CNN Political Commentators Kate Bedingfield and S.E. Cupp. S.E., why do you think Nikki Haley is taking this stance that embryos are babies?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think she feels personally about that, and she alluded to her personal experience with artificial insemination. But this is going to be a very tricky issue for her to navigate, and that's because it's complicated.

But putting the merits of the case aside, the politics of it is unclear. I can understand why this is being sort of lumped in with the abortion debate because it's certainly under the umbrella of reproductive rights. But, again, politically, the people, the families who are seeking IVF are not broken down into political boxes the way abortion can usually be broken down. People seeking IVF are Democrats, they're Republicans. Many are pro-life, many are pro-choice. There are Trump voters, there are Biden voters. So, it's politically unclear where voters are going to come down on this issue.

So, for now, she's speaking personally, but I imagine she'll have to get a lot more specific as she's asked this question, I'm sure, over and over and over again about those very real implications and where she comes down on the law itself.

BLITZER: Yes, she keeps saying during the campaign she's unapologetically pro-life.


She keeps saying that all the time.

Kate, to build on what we just heard the Supreme Court's decision here in Washington to roll back abortion rights for women galvanized Democratic voters in the 2022 midterm elections. Could IVF access have a similar impact on the 2024 election?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think it will build on what we've seen motivate Democrats and independents and some Republicans, particularly suburban women, around this issue of reproductive choice. And the reason I say that is because, I mean, S.E.'s absolutely right, I think Nikki Haley said this because she personally believes it.

But where the challenge comes and where the political backlash comes and where people don't like to hear their elected officials going on these issues is toward government making decisions about a family's reproductive health.

And so for Nikki Haley, as she has to clarify this comment or expound on what her own personal belief would mean for her policy if she were president, she is going to have to explain whether that means under a Haley presidency, IVF, you know, whether there would be protections for IVF if she considers them babies.

This gets into really a space that we've seen over the last couple of years, since the fall of Roe, has been really, really motivating for, again, Democrats, independents and some Republican voters, particularly women and particularly suburban women who don't want to see the government tell them what they can and can't do with their bodies. And I think ultimately this is going to fall into that category.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. S.E., Trump has been notoriously non- committal about his own policies on reproductive rights, especially on whether he'd support a 16-week nationwide abortion ban. How much do Republicans struggle right now on this issue?

CUPP: It's tough. Democrats are certainly winning. They're winning on policy. They're winning on messaging. And Trump has been non- committal. He's also been all over the map. He's taken credit for the overturning of Roe. He's saying to other Republican governors that certain bans would go too far, that this is not a winning issue in a lot of parts of the country. So, he's both practical on the issue and political on the issue, but also certainly leaning into what Republicans would consider a victory of that overturning of Roe.

So, he's owning it and also sort of passing the buck and saying, we can't go that far. So, he's very unclear in his messaging. And you hear from pro-life Republicans that they are a little disappointed in his messaging and not really committing to what they believe they elected him to do and getting those three judges on the court to do, which they successfully did.

So, I think the clock is ticking when it comes to Trump having to really commit one way or the other to some of these legislative policies.

BLITZER: Kate, do you see this issue becoming another political controversy potentially for Nikki Haley after she previously stumbled over naming slavery as the cause of the Civil War, suggested that Texas could secede from the United States?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I mean, look, the biggest problem Nikki Haley has is she can't get a majority of Republican voters to vote for her in a Republican primary. So, I think this will only further underscore how far outside the mainstream the Republican Party has moved on these issues, and I think this will -- as I say, I think it will continue to be a problem for not just Nikki Haley, but for Republicans writ large.

I mean, again, Donald Trump put the three Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe on the Supreme Court, and he's going to have to explain that, assuming he is the nominee, which at this moment it looks like he's the presumptive nominee, we'll see. He's going to have to explain that to voters.

So, I think this only further underscores how out of touch the Republican position on this is with voters all across the country. And as you said, Wolf, this is motivated. We saw this motivate voters to come out to the polls in 2022 and 2023, and there's no reason to believe that that won't also be the case in 2024.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect that's going to happen. Kate Bedingfield, S.E. Cupp, to both of you, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, how House Republicans are now seeking a lifeline for their Biden impeachment probe as the indictment of an FBI informant undermines their inquiry. Much more coming up.


[18:28:50] BLITZER: On Capitol Hill tonight, House Republicans are scrambling to shore up their Biden impeachment inquiry after the indictment of a former FBI informant who allegedly got false information from the Russians. CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju has the latest.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Republicans defiant in the face of a damning indictment, charging an FBI informant of making up a bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son, Hunter, allegations central to their impeachment probe into Biden and his family's business dealings.

But your promotion of a bribery scheme was false?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Not at all. We're looking at the four facts I just gave you. Those facts are true.

RAJU: Was it right to promote a bribery scheme from the president based on that?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Today, we're asking questions to James Biden, so we're going to ask him about some of his business relationships with China.

RAJU: Was your brother involved in any of your business dealings?

Behind closed doors today, the president's brother, James Biden, told House investigators that the president never had any involvement in his business activities, all as the GOP is at risk of seeing support for the impeachment effort collapse in the House, since they have yet to prove that Biden acted corruptly to assist his family.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I think it's time for Chairman Comer and the Republicans to fold up the circus tent.

RAJU: After 43-year-old Alexander Smirnov was arrested on charges of lying to the FBI and creating false records, he told the FBI that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in the false Biden bribery allegations. And today, Special Counsel David Weiss asked a judge to keep Smirnov in jail as he awaits trial.

Yet it was Smirnov's allegations that Republicans ran with, citing an FBI form known as a 1023 that contained the unverified accusations.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.

RAJU: A key GOP chairman helping lead the probe even calling it a smoking gun.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know the president took bribes from Burisma. REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Those allegations are consistent with a pattern that we've seen in Romania and maybe some other countries.

RAJU: And Chairman Jim Jordan indicating the informant's allegations were essential.

JORDAN: The most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.

RAJU: Today, Jordan downplayed that recent remark.

You said the 1023 is the most corroborating piece of information you have?

JORDAN: It corroborates but it doesn't change those fundamental facts. So, now --

RAJU: It's not true.

Republicans today criticizing the FBI and DOJ for previously calling Smirnov credible and paying him for information as they circulated talking points saying the Biden probe has secured more evidence and was not reliant on Smirnov's testimony, even as they removed a reference to the informant in a letter sent to a witness.

But what evidence do you have of a bribery scheme now?

REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AZ): We've got lots of evidence.


RAJU (on camera): And James Biden's closed door interview is still going on, nearly eight hours and counting. And Republicans who have come out of that closed door interview have questioned James Biden's credibility, even as Democrats say there has been absolutely no proof to connect Joe Biden to James Biden's business dealings.

And, Wolf, a big moment will come next week when Hunter Biden, the president's son, comes behind closed doors and tries to corroborate the evidence that Republicans have had a difficult time corroborating at this point as they've struggled to sell this to some of their members who are still skeptical about moving forward with any articles of impeachment against the president. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Manu Raju reporting from Capitol Hill, Manu, thank you.

Joining us now, a Democrat who serves on the House committee that interviewed the president's brother today, Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

You just heard Chairman Jim Jordan say this revelation doesn't change the accusations in their impeachment probe of President Biden. How do you respond to that?

REP. JARED MOSKOWITZ (D-FL): Well, thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me. Well, first of all, the magical 1023 form, right, 1023, which apparently also happens to be the same combination that James Comer has on his luggage, right, the information in that form, it's all made up. It was all a lie, right? And, in fact, it was information that was passed to the informant from Russian intelligence.

Now, by the way, this is the second informant that James Comer and company has relied on that has also been indicted. This is the second informant that they've used that has been indicted. The first one, let's not forget, right, was a Chinese foreign agent that was doing business with the Iranians and the Libyans.

And so, look, the fact that they're being honest, I appreciate. They're coming and saying, Wolf, that this doesn't change anything. You know why it doesn't change anything? Because it never had to be true. They don't care that it's true. They wanted it to be true so bad that they birthed it, okay? They wanted to make this the Garden of Eden of the impeachment process into Joe Biden, this $5 million that there really was never any corroborating evidence.

But the Russian intelligence wanted to find useful idiots in Congress. And you know what? The American people already know this. They found them. They found them. They put it out there. Hundreds of interviews they did on television and in newspapers and on podcasts for six or seven months talking about this, and it was all fake, it was all false. The impeachment inquiry should end, period.

BLITZER: Your Democratic colleague, Congressman Dan Goldman, says, if the House GOP continues their impeachment inquiry in light of this latest revelation, then they are doing the work of Putin. Do you agree?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, first of all, let's tell the American people the truth. They don't have the votes. They don't have the votes. First of all, they don't have the votes because there's no evidence. Second of all, they don't have the votes because their own members don't want to vote for this. So, they're never going to have a vote. James Comer almost admitted that a couple of days ago.

So, this is all a P.R. stunt in order to try to spread disinformation, some of it from the Russians, some of it from former Chinese foreign agents to the American people, yes, to do the bidding of other countries, okay, in order to try to bring the president's poll numbers down based on false information.


And so look, I agree with my colleague, Dan Goldman, right, if they continue to move this forward, then it's clearly they're doing the business of foreign countries.

But you know what, Wolf, they don't care. And they don't care that it's true, so long as it's information, again, could be disinformation, so long as it's information that they can peddle, that they think would hurt the president, true or not true, they want to peddle it, because that's what this whole game is about. It's not about giving the American people the truth, and it's no longer about Americans sticking together against foreign adversaries. No, no, if there's information that can hurt the other side, because this is a team sport, we'll peddle it, even if we're doing the business of Vladimir Putin.

BLITZER: This is yet another allegation, as you well know, Congressman, of Russian interference in U.S. elections. How concerned are you about further meddling, and is the U.S. prepared?

MOSKOWITZ: Well, look, I think the question now we have to ask ourselves is, what other information that James Comer and company are feeding to the American people are coming either from the Russians or from the Chinese?

Other stuff, right, that you just saw Jim Jordan in that previous package talk about, and other information, has any of that come from an informant who knowingly or unknowingly got that from a Chinese foreign agent or from Russian intelligence? We don't know.

So, now you have to take everything they're saying as if that information has come from a foreign adversary.

BLITZER: Congressman Jared Moskowitz of Florida, thank you so much for joining us.

MOSKOWITZ: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, new warnings from American officials after a dual U.S.-Russian citizen is arrested in Russia. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, American officials are reiterating their very strong warnings to all Americans not to travel to Russia after a dual U.S. citizen was arrested there this month.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on the story for us. Brian, what more can you tell us about the detention of this woman and the charges she is now facing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she's been in detention for some weeks now in Russia, and the charges seem dubious at best. Her name is Ksenia Karelina, a ballerina from Los Angeles, and she joins an unsettling list of Americans being held by Vladimir Putin.


TODD (voice over): Placed in handcuffs with a ski cap pulled over her eyes, led into detention. This is Vladimir Putin's latest high-profile prisoner. A U.S. official tells CNN this is Ksenia Karelina, a 33- year-old ballerina from L.A., a U.S.-Russian dual citizen, arrested in Russia on charges of treason. Her employer says all she did was allegedly donate $51.80 to a Ukrainian charity in the U.S.

DANIEL O'SHEA, FORMER U.S. HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: Welcome to the world of hostage terrorism in Vladimir Putin-style.

TODD: Russia's Federal Security Service says that while in the U.S., Karelina took part in quote, public actions to support the Kyiv regime. How would Russian intelligence know if she donated less than $52 to a charity?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA HEAD OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: This person was not only Russian citizenship, but also has friends and family back in Russia. They are able to monitor email activity, telephone activity, all the different powers that any state has to basically conduct espionage on their own citizens or whoever they like.

TODD: Karelina's employer, a spa in Beverly Hills, says Karelina has been quote wrongly accused and that she was in Russia to visit her 90- year-old grandmother, her parents and younger sister.

Karelina became a U.S. citizen in 2021. A U.S. official says she entered Russia on January 2nd and the U.S. learned of her arrest on February 8th. Analysts say Karelina's status as a dual citizen may work against her because the Russians won't recognize the U.S. portion of her citizenship.

HALL: The Russians simply consider this person a Russian citizen and don't feel that they need to do anything further in terms of granting access to guarantee that person's well-being.

TODD: News of Karelina's arrest comes just after a Russian court upheld the extended detention of American Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, held on charges of espionage, which he and his employer deny.

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is also imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges, which he vehemently denies. It's gotten to the point where the White House is telling Americans in Russia to leave now, and the State Department warns --

MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: If you were considering travel to Russia for any reason, do not do it. I don't think we can say that anymore clearly.

TODD: Just how dangerous is it for an American in Russia right now?

O'SHEA: You have a target on your back. Now, Americans are being viewed as bargaining chips by terrorist organizations and terrorist regimes like Putin.


TODD: But the problem with the U.S. trying to bargain with Putin is that the U.S. really doesn't have any high-level Russian spies in its custody. One Russian who Putin really wants back, Vadim Krasikov, a former colonel in Russia's intelligence services. He's serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering a Chechen fighter there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting all right Brian Todd reporting for us, Brian, thank you very much. Also tonight Ukraine is disputing Russia's claim it captured a key southern village amid heavy fighting.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Kherson, Ukraine, for us. He's got details. Nick, you're right there near the front line in the south. How do you assess these Russian claims?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, true or not, it's marked another moment in which Russia has been able to claim some kind of advance.

Let me tell you why Krynky, which is a tiny village on the other side of the river near where I'm standing in Kherson region, why Krynky is so important. It's a place where months ago Ukraine forced its troops across the river, hoping to probe towards Crimea and start a whole new frontline against Russia.


They got across the river to enormous costs and have been holding that line as best as they could over the past months or so as I say, to significant cost and controversy too, frankly, many critics wondering what the point of entire operation was. Well, but a very high level, the defense minister speaking to Vladimir Putin himself, suggested that Russia had taken back control of that entire village, Krynky, that immediately dismissed as nonsense by Ukrainian in commanders and they put out a video suggesting that in fact Russian troops who put up a flag there scene on a drone had in fact immediately run away, but the fate of Krynky becomes something we've heard people talking about.

Food distribution points here, it would seem odd that Russian officials, that high level, we'll talk about this if indeed nothing necessarily changed of import across the river here. So it may be that Ukraine is still there, but perhaps not with the same ferocity they were a matter of days ago.

Remember, Wolf, across the front line here, we are seeing Russia moving forward because they simply have more resources right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Nick, how is Russia spinning this moment?

WALSH: Yeah, I mean, look, this is for the first time in nearly a year, and qualified series of successes for Russia being no doubt that the fall of Avdiivka was something that Ukraine permitted to happen through its withdrawal, but it came after weeks and months of sustained pressure are now in his daily address, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talks about seven Russian fighter jets taken out of this guy in the last week, but admitted for places of intense pressure near Robotyne in the south, in Zaporizhzhia, Kupiansk in the north, continued pressure in Avdiivka as well.

And so, the Kremlin awarding its troops on the battlefield medals, and very clear for themselves that this is a moment where their resources, their persistence appears to be gaining the higher ground across the front line, Wolf. BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the frontlines for us in Ukraine. Thank

you very much. Stay safe as I always say.

Coming up, how Donald Trump plans to gum up the classified documents case against them. We have new details on the flurry of legal challenges his team is now preparing.

Plus, records reveal more biting incidents involving the president's dog commander, including some that required medical treatment.



BLITZER: As we await word from the U.S. Supreme Court on Donald Trump's immunity claims, the former president's legal team is trying to slow down proceedings in some of his other cases.

CNN's Paula Reid is tracking the story for us.

Paula, tell us about these latest Trump legal moves.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we know, the Trump legal team is trying to delay his criminal cases and even some of a civil liability by any means necessary and a short time ago, his legal team asked a New York judge to delay enforcement of that $355 million civil fraud verdict for at least 30 days.

Wolf, there are some open questions about whether he actually has the cash to cover that verdict. Now, the attorney general who brought this case, Letitia James, she weighed in on this case. Let's take a listen to what she said.


LETITIA JAMES (D), NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, and then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court. And we will ask the judge to seize his assets.


REID: Now, Trump is expected to appeal, but this is a state level case, even if he's reelected, he can't make it go away. Of course, he is expected to face his first criminal case in Manhattan in just a few weeks at the end of March -- again, a case that if he's convicted, he cannot make that go away.

But when it comes to his federal cases, we know he and his lawyers have been trying and to push those trials back until after the November election. Because if Trump is re-elected, he would be expected to have his attorney general dismissed. Jack Smith and both of those cases go away. As you mentioned, the January 6 case, currently on hold while we wait and Supreme Court to weigh in on this question of presidential immunity. But yesterday, Trump's lawyers revealed in the other Mar-a-Lago

document case, they also intend to file a slew of motions. Of course, they have a right to do this, but will also have the effect of possibly delaying this.

I want to read some of the things they want to challenge. The appointment of Jack Smith, presidential immunity, Presidential Records Act, what they say a selective and vindictive prosecution, as well as some other things including what they say are violations of Trump's attorney-client privilege. So they clearly throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.

And, Wolf, we may have some indication if this is working next week because the Mar-a-Lago trial, that is currently penciled in for May 20th, but next week, there's a hearing before the judge is overseeing that case, and she might give us an indication if that's going to get pushed back.

BLITZER: We shall see. Paula Reid reporting for us -- thank you, Paula, very much.

Coming up, a key executive over at Boeing is now out in the aftermath of that midflight door plug blow out on one of its planes. We're going to explain what this means for the embattled aviation giant.



BLITZER: Boeing is removing the executive responsible for its 737 MAX passenger jet program as the company remains under intense scrutiny right now.

CNN's Pete Muntean has details.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Boeing is ejecting a key executive following last month's dramatic in-flight blow out on a nearly new plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Change had to happen.

MUNTEAN: Ed Clark led the Boeing 737 MAX program following the two fatal MAX crashes that grounded the plane for months. Now, Clark is the first Boeing leader to be shown the door after investigators found critical door plug bolts were not installed when a MAX 9 bound for Alaska Airlines left Boeing's factory last October.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIRWOMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: There is no way that this plane should have been delivered with for safety critical bolts missing.

MUNTEAN: In a company-wide memo, Boeing commercial airplanes head Stan Deal says the change is effective immediately. The job of Boeing CEO, Dave Calhoun, is apparently safe after he insisted to lawmakers that his planes are, too.

DAVID CALHOUN, CEO, BOEING: We fly safe place. We don't put airplanes in the air where we don't have 100 percent confidence in.

MUNTEAN: Boeing's latest move comes as scrutiny is only just beginning. Inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration are on- site at the 737 factory auditing quality control. On Capitol Hill, the top senators overseeing aviation say Boeing executives must face public hearings.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): We have a lot of questions about manufacturing process.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Who screwed up, we don't know. But it's obvious somebody screwed up.


MUNTEAN: In axing one executive, Boeing promoted another to a new position overseeing quality control. The results of the FAA's audit of Boeing quality are due any day now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pete Muntean reporting, Pete, thank you.

Finally, tonight, Commander, President Biden's German shepherd, bit U.S. Secret Service personnel in at least 24 incidents over the White House and other locations. That according to internal documents obtained by CNN. More than ten of those incidents required medical treatment. A source close to the Bidens tells CNN the Biden family feels awful over these incidents.

Thanks very much for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.