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U.S. Sanctions 500+ Russian Targets As Ukraine War Hits Twp- Year Mark; Sen. Chuck Schumer Speaks To CNN About Visit To Ukraine; Trump Now Has 30 Days To Pay After $454 Million Judgment Finalized; Suspect In Custody In Death On University of Georgia Campus; Moon Lander Is Transmitting Signal Despite Sitting Sideways. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: John Miller, final thoughts?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, the question is, what happens to the NRA? They will be getting $4 million back, but what will their future be? And that is probably going to be a very different NRA, both in their politics and their message.

TAPPER: John Miller and Mike Spies, thanks to both of you.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow night for special coverage of the South Carolina primary. That starts at 6:00 P.M. Eastern.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, as Russia's war against Ukraine hits the two-year mark, President Biden unveils new sanctions vowing to punish Vladimir Putin for his aggression abroad and for the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

This hour, I'll speak with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fresh from his talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine.

Also tonight, Donald Trump now has 30 days to pay up after a $454 million judgment against him in the New York civil fraud case, that case has just been finalized. Will he meet the deadline?

Plus, Trump and Nikki Haley are making their final pitches in South Carolina just hours before the primary. Trump declaring he supports IVF as Republicans race to distance themselves from the Alabama embryo ruling. I'll get reaction from a top Haley supporter, the New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our top story tonight, the United States bombards Russia with new sanctions, time to send a message directly to Vladimir Putin one week after the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a full two years since Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine.

We begin with CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. She's over at the White House for us. Priscilla, how aggressive are these new U.S. sanctions?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Wolf, this is the largest single-day sanctions package since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And we knew going into the two-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine that U.S. officials were preparing a sanctions package, but they supplemented it following the death of Alexei Navalny. And that has culminated in this sweeping package on over 500 targets.

Now, to break it down for you, this includes hundreds of military industrial-based entities, 26 third-country entities helping Russia evade sanctions, and, separately, the State Department imposing sanctions on three prison officials who are connected to Navalny's death.

The idea here, according to U.S. officials, is to choke off Russia, to essentially slow down their ability to access goods and their ability to build weapons. But, of course, Wolf, we have seen multiple sanctions already on Russia from the United States and western governments. Russia has adapted to them, but all the same, U.S. officials saying today that they are that this is hampering Russia's economy and will be detrimental to them in the long-term.

The president also expected to talk to G7 leaders tomorrow in a call to reaffirm support for Ukraine as it marks that two-year anniversary.

BLITZER: Yes, two years it's been going on. How is the president, Priscilla, ramping up pressure on House Republicans right now to pass military aid for Ukraine? They desperately need it.

ALVAREZ: White House officials and the president himself are keeping the steady drumbeat of the on House Republicans to pass this funding, that's $60 billion in additional funding to Ukraine.

Now, today, in a gathering with governors, the president took a moment to keep that focus on House Republicans when talking about these sanctions. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Russia is taking Ukraine territory for the first time in many months. But here in America, the speaker gave the House a two-week vacation. They have to come back. They have to come back and get this done. Failure to support Ukraine in this critical moment will never be forgotten in history.


ALVAREZ: Now, the White House has been linking the lack of funding to the battlefield impact, including last weekend when Ukraine had to withdraw from a town because they were low on ammunition. So, expect that to continue as House Republicans come back. The White House making clear this is necessary.

BLITZER: Totally, very sensitive moment right now.

Priscilla Alvarez at the White House, thank you. I want to go live to Ukraine right now, as Russia's war is about to enter a third brutal year. CNN Chief International Security Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is in Zaporizhzhia in Southeastern Ukraine for us.

Nick, what does the fight look like right now as this war reaches yet another very disturbing milestone?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I don't want to be too alarmist, but it looks fairly desperate at this particular stage of the interims (ph) of the third year.


Those 500 targets with the Biden administration sanctions, well, they're likely to economically inconvenience Russia or perhaps force it to use yet more proxies to get important elements it needs for drones or rockets.

But it really isn't an enormous inconvenience. We haven't heard much of reaction, frankly, to it from Ukrainian officials. They need that $60 billion from the United States right now. They needed it back in December.

And its absence is being felt in loss of territory. Avdiivka, four, five, are the key fronts along an enormous front line now where Russia appears to be resurgent, frankly.

It's clear the Kremlin's budget is significant. Its patience, its tolerance for pain is huge. And that is translating, as they say, in multiple fronts into them edging forward or applying intense pressure.

Now, Ukraine today said it downs a Russian spy plane, potentially tens of millions of dollars of hardware falling out of the sky there. But at the same time, too, we had last night significant drone attacks by Russia against population centers, about three or four losing their lives, dozens potentially injured as well.

That's likely to get worse as the money dries up. It is drying up and it's leaving Ukraine in a stage, frankly, it's fair to say, of desperation, trying to project strength, but knowing things are getting worse and needing that money urgently and in the third year with no end in sight. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, and Nick Peyton Walsh in the frontlines for us in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, thanks very much.

And joining me now, the leader of the United States Senate, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you just had a chance to meet with President Zelenskyy in Ukraine. You're now back across the border in Poland. As Russia is making battlefield gains right now in this, the two-year anniversary of the war, what did President Zelenskyy tell you about Ukraine's urgent need for U.S. military aid? SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Well, Wolf, he told us he's a very strong man. He's dedicated to keeping Ukraine free. And he told us two things, very simple. He said, if we get the aid, if Ukraine gets the aid and we vote for the supplemental package, they will win the war. They have the troops. They still have a great plan. And they have much better fighting ability than the Russians.

But he said, if we don't get the supplemental and the ammo we need, which includes anti-aircraft defense, which includes long-range artillery, which includes dealing with the mining -- remote mining program to deal with the Russian mines, and dealing with more long- distance missiles, that they will lose.

It's very simple. If they get the package, they will win. If they don't get the package, they will lose. And if they lose, Wolf, the consequences to the west are enormous. Our allies will think we will not stick with them anymore. It will be of great hurt to NATO and Europe. And, worst of all, autocrats will feel they can push the U.S. around.

This aid is essential. We went because we felt an obligation to go. We felt this was not just a nice thing to do, but there was a moral obligation to go.

And one more thing, Wolf, we need Speaker Johnson to step up to the plate. We need Speaker Johnson to make sure that we get that aid. If he put the bill on the floor, it would pass. There are a good number of Republicans in the House who know how important it is.

And he has to see that history is on his back. He cannot have obeisance to Donald Trump. He has to do the right thing here. And we're going to make that point to him, because we got in great detail how Ukraine will win if they get the aid, but how they won't win if they lose.

One of the Americans said to us, of course, we saw our people there, that if we -- oops, sorry, that if we don't get the aid, the Ukrainians could -- the Russians could be at the Polish border within a year.

BLITZER: Do you know when you'll have a chance to relay all of these messages, really important messages to the speaker? I know you're going to try to persuade the speaker to bring this additional U.S. military aid bill to the House floor.

SCHUMER: Yes. The first thing we believe is that Johnson should do what we did. Speaker Johnson could come to Ukraine if he just spends a day with President Zelenskyy. We went with the new general in charge. This is the general who won in Kyiv and won in Kharkiv. And now he's in charge, and he's a really formidable man. We met with him.

If he meets with the leading generals, if he meets with Zelenskyy, if he meets with the Americans on our side, he will -- there will be no way he won't be convinced that we need this aid. And he shouldn't have some sort of blind obeisance to Donald Trump. He has to do the right thing. But we will communicate all of this to him. We're going to figure out the best way possible to do it.


The evidence is overwhelming, overwhelming.

And one other thing, some of the right-wing Republicans are saying, oh, even with the aid, the war will go on forever, that is just not true. The Ukrainians will really gain. They were gaining until they stopped getting.

The only reason they've lost these towns lately is because they don't have the ammunition. We were told that if they had the ammunition, they wouldn't have lost a couple of the towns that they've lost.

But the Russians can fire at 25 kilometers. Without the ammunition, the Ukrainians can only fire at 15 kilometers. So, the Russians can hit them, but they can't hit back. It's a very bad situation.

BLITZER: Very bad indeed.

Senator, today, as you probably know, President Biden here in Washington announced more than 500 new sanctions on Russia tied to this anniversary of the war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the death of Alexei Navalny. How exactly does the U.S. prevent Russia from evading these sanctions and further isolate Putin from leaders beyond just the west?

SCHUMER: Well, first, the sanctions are very important. This is a big step forward because we're learning how the Russians evade them and trying to plug those holes. This won't be the end of it. I am sure there's more that we can do. We must show Putin that he can pay a price, an economic price, as well as a political price and a military price.

The best way, by the way, to show him that what he did to get at -- to punish him for what he did for Navalny is to get the aid passed. And that aid will really put Putin behind the eight ball.

BLITZER: Yes, that's critically important right now.

I want to get to another important issue while I have you, Senator. As you know, three Alabama clinics have now paused in vitro fertilization services after the state Supreme Court in Alabama ruled that embryos are children. You've condemned this. So, will you pursue specific federal legislation to protect access to in vitro fertilization services?

SCHUMER: Well, first, this shows that there is a Republican war on women, that they won't stop even at a national abortion ban, which they are very much for, but they'll go against other rights of women. We are going to explore every way that we can undo what the Alabama court did and do everything we can to stop it.

But anyone, make no mistake about it, if Republicans get in charge, they will push for a national abortion ban and they will hurt many other rights for women.

BLITZER: Our thanks to the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, for that interview.

Just ahead, a jury has just handed down a decision in the civil trial of the National Rifle Association and its top officials. We're going to bring you the verdict. Stand by for that.

Plus, the team behind the historic unmanned moon landing now says the spacecraft is apparently on its side, but still transmitting data.



BLITZER: We have breaking news right now, a verdict in the civil corruption trial of the National Rifle Association and its top officials.

CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller has details for us. John, tell us what the jury decided.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: The jury decided that Wayne LaPierre, who, for more than 30 years, has been at the helm of the NRA, squandered millions of dollars, mismanaged funds and engaged in corruption, while his chief financial officer and chief legal adviser, according to the attorney general, did little to stop that.

Now this was a civil case, not a criminal case, but in the summation in the courtroom, the assistant attorney general said, this case is about corruption. Monica Connell said, misuse of funds spent on jets, on black cars, five-star hotels, hundreds of thousands of dollars in suits, million-dollar deals to insiders, payments to loyal board members, and pervasive violations of internal controls.

And so they have ordered the jury, or found, that Wayne LaPierre has to return $4.3 million on top of the $1 million he says he already paid back to the NRA for expenses that could be considered personal. They have also found that he should be barred from returning to the NRA, but that is something that the judge is going to decide in a separate bench trial, which is yet to occur.

So, this is a signal of a giant change for the NRA. LaPierre's defense through all of this was that he was Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, that his identity and the NRAs was fused together and his personal expenses on suits that he had to wear for important events and T.V. interviews were part of his business expenses and the expensive vacations on private yachts were part of the hobnobbing he had to do to rub elbows with fundraisers.

The jury wholeheartedly rejected those arguments and this verdict was just came down within the last hour at the courthouse in Manhattan.

BLITZER: Significant development, indeed. John Miller, thank you very much. Right now, I want to bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Elie Honig. What's your reaction, Elie, to this verdict? Is it in line with what you were expecting?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's really important to understand this case is about corruption within the NRA at the highest levels.

The allegations here by the New York State attorney general are not relating to any purported harm that the NRA was doing to the people of New York or the citizens of the United States. In fact, the allegation here is that the leaders of the NRA were ripping off the NRA itself and its members and its donors. And the reason the New York attorney general brought this lawsuit was because the NRA is technically incorporated as a charitable organization and a non-profit in New York City.


So, the goal here really is to sort of clean up the NRA and to root out the worst actors, and of course the lead player here, as John said, is the longtime president, Wayne LaPierre, who really used the organization as his own personal piggy bank.

BLITZER: What did you make of the allegations specifically to Wayne LaPierre here? He led this group, as so many of us remember, for decades.

HONIG: Yes. His conduct, as alleged and now found by the jury, is really over the top. When you look at the specifics of it, the allegations, and, again, now he's found liable to the NRA, are that he spent hundreds of thousands, totaling millions of dollars on private jet flights, in some instances over $100,000 for individual flights, that he took lavish vacations, that he stayed on a 100-foot-plus super yacht, that he spent six figures on clothing, that he retained, in one example, an individual travel consultant at a salary of $15,000 per month, I think expenses that, by any measure, are against the goals and the orientation of any non-profit charitable organization, and that are certainly contrary to what the NRA's members and donors would have reasonably expected their money would be used for.

BLITZER: So, what impact, Elie, could this have on the NRA, the National Rifle Association, going forward?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, it's important to note here, when the New York State attorney general first brought this lawsuit, she actually asked the court to dissolve the NRA, to end it, essentially. But as the case evolved, she changed her position. And now it really ends up that the goal here is not to get rid of the NRA in New York State, but to really clean it up, to rid it of its corrupt leadership, and that has now been achieved.

And under this verdict, Wayne LaPierre and other executives will have to repay the NRA for over $4 million in outstanding damages. And LaPierre stepped down a bit ago, but these executives will now be barred from leading the organization. So in a sense, this is an effort to rehabilitate and clean up the NRA within New York State.

BLITZER: We'll see how that works out. Elie Honig, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump responds to the controversy surrounding the Alabama embryo ruling as he and Nikki Haley face off in South Carolina with the primary just a few hours away.

We'll discuss the GOP race with the New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. He's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: This hour, Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are both in South Carolina, making their final pitches to voters there on the eve of the Republican presidential primary. The former governor, Nikki Haley, warning voters in her home state about what's at stake tomorrow and arguing Trump can't beat President Biden in November. Listen.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't complain about what happens in a general election if you don't vote in this primary. It matters.

And then I know you are all here because you want to see a change in America. But what I want to remind you is we can want all the things to get fixed that we want, but if we can't win a general election, we get nothing.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN Kristen Holmes. She's covering former President Trump's final South Carolina swing. Kristen, Trump is making his closing arguments to voters tonight and he weighed in on the Alabama IVF controversy for the first time. Tell our viewers about that.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is the first time we heard him talk about it, particularly after Democrats had started using this as an argument against Republicans and particularly an argument against former President Trump.

We saw President Joe Biden linking the IVF controversy to Donald Trump's role in overturning Roe v. Wade. Donald Trump, however, in this case saying he fully supports IVF. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We want to make it easier for mothers and fathers to have babies, not harder. You know that. That includes -- and you saw this, it was a big deal over the last few days -- that includes supporting the availability of fertility treatments like IVF in every state in America.

You've been seeing Alabama has been a big story. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, including the vast majority of Republican conservatives, Christians and pro-life Americans, I strongly support the availability of IVF for couples who are trying to have a precious little beautiful baby.


HOLMES: And a much clearer answer there, Wolf, on the on the question of IVF than we have heard from him on the question of abortion. He has both tried to take credit for the overturning of Roe v. Wade because he is the architect, having appointed three Supreme Court justices, but at the same time, try to avoid the topic altogether, which is likely to be a very relevant topic if he is in fact the GOP nominee running against President Biden.

And we'll say, though, he's got to get through this primary first and it does look like he is poised to win by a huge margin here in South Carolina. It was a pretty big rally here tonight, a lot of enthusiasm for the former president.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes, on the scene for us in South Carolina, thank you very much.

Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a top Nikki Haley supporter, the New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu. Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

He seems to be way, way ahead in South Carolina right now. Do you think she has a chance possibly to win in her home state?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): It will be tough. There's no question. I think she's going to close that gap.


I think the difference between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump right now is she has got a very strong ground game.

So, South Carolina typically has a very low voter turnout. So, she has Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups knocking on those doors and bringing those additional voters out and those are likely going to be Nikki Haley voters.

BLITZER: But do you see she can win in South Carolina?

SUNUNU: She can win. Oh, I mean, look, it's politics. Anything is possible. I mean, she's really played this for the 18 states of South Carolina, Michigan and the Super Tuesday states. And she's already done, I think, a $7 million ad buy in those Super Tuesday states. She's got resources.

She's simply making sure that the Republican Party has a choice. It's not done by party elites. It's done by the voters. And taking that to at least 20-plus states in these early ones, trying to win some of those, those Super Tuesday states is going to be important for her.

But by no means, I mean, regardless of whether it's a one point differential or 50 point differential in South Carolina, it's really about the next 18 states as a whole.

BLITZER: Yes. But if she loses in her home state where she was governor what, for six years, how could she possibly move on?

SUNUNU: Well, every state is different. I mean, every state is different. She got within -- I mean, she was 40 points down in New Hampshire and got within 10. She's fighting hard in her home state. Every demographic is different. Voter turnout can be different.

So, again, she's kind of going at each state. You have to take them all individually. Do your ad buys. Go to the ground. She'll be up in some of the New England states this week. She'll be all across the Super Tuesday states for the next couple of weeks. So, she's making a hard run of it. She's got the resources. She's got the energy. And she's simply making sure that folks have that choice.

BLITZER: So, let's look ahead. Assuming she loses tomorrow in South Carolina, then we'll look forward to March 5th, what's called Super Tuesday, a whole bunch of states will have their Republican primaries on that day, which state potentially, states, could she possibly win?

SUNUNU: I think there's three or four. I don't know.

BLITZER: Which ones?

SUNUNU: I think Vermont comes into play. I think Massachusetts comes into play. Yes, I think there's a variety of them. I can't tell you exactly where they're doing the heaviest ground game, but they're doing ad buys in all of them. She's hitting the ground in all of them.

So, I think that's -- what you don't want is nobody playing in Super Tuesday. What you don't want is party elites just saying, yes, we had a couple of states, I think we're good, because a few hundred thousand people voted for Trump, so we're good. No, no, no. That's not the way it is. That's not the democratic way.

So, again, making sure that folks have that say, and making the case of it's not just about winning in November, right, because Trump could skate by with a win, everyone acknowledges that, but Nikki wins by 10 or 12 points. For Republicans, they're not just want to win, but get stuff done. She brings those policies, the ability to get it done, winning House seats, winning Senate seats, winning governorships. Winning is what this thing is all about.

Trump has done a good job. You have to give him credit about showing up at court. That's really what he's doing. He shows up at court. He gets a lot of airtime on kind of national media. He plays the victim card very, very well. But that's really all he's doing to earn votes. He's not talking about real policy or where we want to go as Americans. And that's garnering a little lot for him.

She's earning it on the ground. And I think as those new voters come into play, a lot is up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: But if she can't get a sweeping win on Super Tuesday, March 5th, what happens then?

SUNUNU: Well, you know, that's -- I think you're absolutely right. I think you've got to win something on Super Tuesday. There's no question about that. I think they've played -- the Haley campaign is playing it, saying, look, we've got 18 states, we're going to attack them all. We'll let the dust settle after Super Tuesday and see what the next steps are.

BLITZER: What about the Alabama Supreme Court decision? You heard what Trump just said today on it, that he supports in vitro fertilization. He was very strong on that. And the Supreme Court in Alabama said that the in vitro fertilization, that the embryo is really a child already.

SUNUNU: Well, look, on the Supreme Court decision, I think it was a mistake. Nikki Haley thinks that decision was a mistake. We want to make sure that IVF is available. I think there's actually a lot of consensus on that.

I've already heard that Alabama is considering laws to pass to make sure that it is guaranteed. So, I can't speak for the Alabama Supreme Court other than it seems to me that they made a huge mistake. But that's kind of our new reality in that every state's going to be a little bit different as we come out of Roe v. Wade. Every state is going to have to -- over the next couple of years, whether it's on IVF, whether it's on other aspects of a woman's right to choose or female reproductive health, they're going to have to find their paths.

And California might be different than Massachusetts or New Hampshire and Mississippi and Alabama, but you're going to see a little bit of some bumps in the road here as it works itself out.

BLITZER: Speaking of California, I want to play a clip from an interview our Jake Tapper did with the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, earlier today. Listen to this.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): When you talk about freedom, spare me, the Republican Party and this freedom gospel. What about family freedom? What about the right of people that want to start a family?

And think about this, Jake, you know this, everybody knows this, you saw the stats, 65,000 births due to rapes since Dobbs in 14 states. Apparently, what the Republican Party has said is the rapists have more rights to bring those babies to birth than families that are trying desperately to have the privilege you and I have had as fathers and parents. It is a disgrace.


BLITZER: How do you respond to him? SUNUNU: Well, Gavin Newsom should be preaching to anybody about anything. I mean, look at the epic disaster that California has fallen itself into.


I'll say this, on these issues of Roe v. Wade was overturned, states, as we just talked about, states are going to have their play on it all. I understand that the left and the liberals want are going to kind of use extreme language and all that to spread a lot of fear but states are going to have to find their path, there's no question about that. And what we assume might be the situation today might not be the situation with a lot of these reproductive rights issues in various states as we go forward.

And the voters in those states will have those say. The voters of Alabama will be able to make --

BLITZER: You support abortion rights for women. Haley doesn't.

SUNUNU: No. Well, I don't think that's fair to say. Nikki Haley --

BLITZER: She says she's unapologetically pro-life.

SUNUNU: Well, she's pro-life, sure, but look, even pro-life -- a lot of folks on the pro-life side say, in New Hampshire, there's a lot of pro-life folks that wanted the 24 weeks, just like Massachusetts has or New York has, right? We have a 24-week rule in place. That's where pro-lifers see it. That's where, really, I think a lot of Americans see it. So, every state is going to be a little bit different, but just because you're pro-life doesn't mean that, you know, you're not for providing any choice whatsoever. There's going to be -- there's nuance here. And that's where the voters should have the say, not just Congress, not just the White House, but the voters in the states are going to have their say there.

But the thing I push back on is the extreme rhetoric, the extreme language. I mean, even in just the 24 hours, people saying, oh, this Alabama thing was going to define the Republican Party and where they are on this issue. You know, Donald Trump is pro-life, and, you know, as is Nikki Haley, and they both believe that IVF needs to be available, that the court decision was wrong, and that the voters in Alabama, hopefully, will do something to overturn it.

BLITZER: Governor Sununu, thanks very much for joining us. We'll see what happens in South Carolina tomorrow.

SUNUNU: It should be fun.

BLITZER: I appreciate it very, very much.

Just ahead, Donald Trump is officially on the clock right now after a judge gives him 30 days to pay $454 million. Will the former president be able to beat the deadline?


BLITZER: The judge overseeing Donald Trump's civil fraud case has just finalized the judgment against him kicking off a 30-day countdown for Trump to pay up. The total tab for the former president, $454 million, that includes interest.

Let's bring in our Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid. Paula, what more can you tell us?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, now Trump will be served with this judgment, and that starts the clock, these 30 days that he will have to appeal. And his team has made it clear, they absolutely intend to appeal. They have insisted that this is not fraud because they believe there was no victim. It's like the banks, insurance companies, they didn't lose any money, and they say that this was a politically-motivated prosecution.

Now, of course, the judge didn't see it that way, and the attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the case, also doesn't see it that way. Today, she tweeted, quote, Friday feelings; no one is above the law.

But while Trump appeals, he has to either put up the cash or post bond to cover a portion of this verdict. And there is an open question, Wolf, about whether he has enough cash to do that.

We're also seeing him try to put off his obligations in the other judgment, E. Jean Carroll case, where he's been ordered to pay her over $80 million.

Now, in this case, he asked the judge to hold off on this for at least 30 days, but the judge rejected that request.

BLITZER: Paula, I want you to stay with us. I want to bring in our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, I want to bring it back right now. Let me get your analysis, Elie. How does this actually wind up working when it comes to Trump actually starting to pay up?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, so, as Paula said, Donald Trump does have to post a bond before he can appeal. Now, in certain circumstances, a person can just post the entire amount in cash. In fact, Donald Trump did that in the first E. Jean Carroll verdict, which was only, by comparison, $5 million.

Now here, I doubt he's going to be able to pony up $450-plus million in cash. So, the way typically that you bridge that gap is either by getting someone else to post the money, a bank based on some surety, or by posting the rights, the deeds, the title to certain properties to certain buildings.

So, essentially, what he'll try to do here, I think, is cobble together enough cash plus the value of certain properties or buildings that he can at least give the court as an assurance that he's good for it if and when the bill comes due. BLITZER: Well, Elie, let me get you -- let me press you on this. What are the chances, Trump's chances, if he appeals this verdict? Do you see any way for him to get out of this?

HONIG: Well, he certainly will appeal, Wolf, no mystery there, as Paula said. I think he's got a long shot of a chance here. I don't think his chances are very good because it's really important to understand.

A party in a civil case is not going to win on appeal by simply saying, well, the judge got it wrong. The judge should have credited our witnesses. The judge should not have believed the other side's witnesses. That's up to the trial judge, and Judge Engoron here, makes pains in his verdict to say that's exactly what he did.

As far as allegations that this case was politically motivated or should not have been brought, there may be some credence to that. I mean, there's no mystery Letitia James was politically motivated. She ran for office on a basis of, I'll bring this lawsuit or a lawsuit if you elect me.

But I don't know that that's necessarily a basis for an appeals court to throw it out. That's more a question of ethics and discretion and jurisprudential judgment than something that an appeals court would likely throw out.

BLITZER: Paula, I want to turn to another major story we've been following about the ex-FBI informant charged with lying about President Biden and his family. You're getting some new information. What are you learning?

REID: Yes. This case is wild Wolf. Last week, Alexander Smirnov was arrested and accused of lying about Hunter Biden and Joe Biden receiving bribes.

Now, after he was arrested, he was detained. But earlier this week, he was released, even over objections from prosecutors who insisted he was a flight risk. They said, look, this guy's been dishonest about the fact that he has access to millions of dollars. He has this huge contact list of foreign officials who were worried he's a flight risk, but he was still released.


But then yesterday, he was rearrested. And what's interesting is a judge in California said this, Wolf. They said it has come to this court's attention that counsel for the defendant has sought an emergency hearing in the district of Nevada to arrange the release of defendant Smirnov, likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.

This judges its suggesting that this guy's lawyers were trying to help him flee the country, but does not elaborate beyond that. So we expect a detention hearing on Monday and, Wolf, that'll be one to watch, what is going on here.

BLITZER: Certainly will be one to watch.

Elie, have you ever heard of anything like this at all in your years as a lawyer? What do you make of what the judge is saying here?

HONIG: Yeah. Wolf, the whole situation is really quite astonishing. First of all, I've been in the situation that prosecutors and the FBI found themselves in here where you believe that a defendant is likely to flee or to commit new crimes, you ask the judge to lock that person up pending trial, and sometimes you lose.

But what the FBI and DOJ did here is they lost the original a magistrate judge released this person and then the FBI and DOJ went to the assign district judge and said, we need a new warrant. They rearrested him and now they have him locked up pending his bail hearing.

It's an extreme measure. It shows me the extent to which the FBI is concerned this person might flee.

As to the judge's comments, I'm surprised by them as it sounds like Paula is for the judge to say that he believes the defense lawyers intended to help this person flee, I don't know what that's based on. That's a pretty remarkable accusation by the judge. I would hope and assume that the judge has some specific basis on which to make that accusation.

But it's clear to me, Wolf, that this judge will keep Mr. Smirnov locked up pending trial, given that statement.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's clear to me as well.

All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, a suspect just now taken into custody in connection to the death of a 22-year-old nursing student whose body was found on the campus the University of Georgia.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of Georgia, where there's a major new development in the investigation of a death that one of the state's largest universities.

Brian Todd is monitoring the story for us.

What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, police may have the person they were looking for as the investigation moves at a very rapid pace.


TODD (voice-over): An important break in the investigation into the mysterious death of 22 year-old Laken Hope Riley, a nursing student on the University of Georgia campus. The university says a suspect has been taken into custody, but they haven't named the suspect.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: They want to operate in a hermetically sealed information environment as long as they can, while they focus on trying to interview that person. They also want to be backtracking to where that person lives, whereas that person been.

TODD: With a suspect in custody, a crucial piece of information now --

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: Was she targeted? Or is this a random crime? Was she a victim of opportunity?

TODD: Today, investigators converged on an apartment complex near where Riley's body was found, searched nearby dumpsters, and were seeing taking material away in bags. Riley was a student at the Augusta University College of Nursing in Athens, which is also home to the University of Georgia.

Yesterday, police received a call from a concerned friend who said Riley went jogging at the university's intramural fields and never returned. The call was made at 12:07 p.m. and it was only 31 minutes later at 12:38 p.m. when police discovered the body.

Police say they suspect foul play was involved, but have not revealed a cause of death.

CHIEF JEFF CLARK, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA POLICE: The individual was unconscious and not breathing, and had visible injuries.

TODD: Riley's body was discovered near a lake in an area where there are also trails.

ALENA WIGGINS, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA STUDENT: This is a pretty place where I'm like it has the lake, and is really beautiful and peaceful. And now I feel like it kind of has tainted. It's like scary a little bit.

TODD: Experts say cases like this involving joggers in wooded areas are uniquely challenging.

MILLER: You know, the go-to clues for police at the beginning of an investigation are usually, lets do the video canvas. Can we see our victim? Can we see somebody following behind our victim?

You know, on these jogging trails. You're often not going to find cameras and the further they are from the road, the closer you are to nature generally, the fewer witnesses you're going to encounter along the way.


TODD (on camera): John Miller says another challenge for investigators here is the outdoor crime scene. That means he says the evidence cannot be controlled as well. It's exposed to the elements, not sealed up and contain. Look, it would be in a house or an apartment.

Wolf, there's a news conference in just a few moments at the University of Georgia. We'll learn more.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. A very sad story indeed.

Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, we're getting new details right now about the Odysseus moon lander's nerve wracking arrival on the lunar surface, including a new image.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of Houston right now, where officials are revealing new details about the first U.S.-made spacecraft landing on the moon in more than five decades.

We're joined now by CNN space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher.

Kristin, we've learned in recent minutes basically that this lander is now not necessarily upright anymore. What happened?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Odysseus basically just didn't quite stick the landing. We now know that the little lunar lander, one of its legs got caught on something, maybe a rock, maybe a boulder, and then it tipped over on a rock. So the CEO says, you know, yesterday they said it was upright. He says that they use that information made that statement based on stale telemetry, old data in space terminology.

But there are some really good things that this lander was able to accomplish. It is communicating with the ground. It did land softly controlled. It landed within two to three kilometers of its target, which is really good, really difficult to do.

Solar cells are charging, a majority of the payloads are working. And this is all after that incredible last minute fix that we were talking about, that software patch.

The CEO during this press conference just said when he heard about that problem, he thought the mission was lost, but the CTO came up with this a quick fix and it worked. He described it as one of the finest pieces of engineering that he's ever been a part of.

BLITZER: It was really amazing. We were covering it for hours ago. It was pretty amazing watching.

But if they can't get any data coming in from this lunar landing right now, is it still considered a success, this mission? FISHER: It depends on and what your definition of a successful soft landing on the surface of the moon is. Historically speaking during the Apollo era, during the first cold space race with the Soviet Union, a successful soft landing meant any landing where the spacecraft was able to communicate and transmit signals to Earth. Odysseus meets that definition.

But if you're definition of a successful soft landing is landing perfectly upright? Clearly, it didn't do that, but I would say far more went right on this mission, than went wrong.

BLITZER: Kristin Fisher, you know, your stuff. Thank you very, very much.

FISHER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Kristin Fisher reporting for us.

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

I'll be back Saturday 04:00 p.m. Eastern for special coverage of the South Carolina Republican primary. Until then, thanks very much once again for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.