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Hearing On Fani Willis' Fate In Georgia Trump Case Ends Without A Ruling; Classified Documents Hearing Ends With No Decision On Trump's Trial Date; Biden Announces Airdrops Of U.S. Humanitarian Aid For Gaza; CDC Drops Five-Day COVID Isolation Guidance. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 01, 2024 - 18:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all I could say to that was, physician, heal thyself.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Maybe he should have taken his own advice there. You can see an all new episode of United States of Scandal with Jake Tapper. That's this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern, only here on CNN.

But before we get to Sunday, tonight on The Source, 9:00 P.M. Eastern tonight, we'll be talking about these efforts to get eight into Gaza. That's tonight.

And if you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show wherever you get your podcast, of course. Listen to this many times. The news continues right here on CNN.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, it's now up to the judge in the Georgia election interference case to decide whether to disqualify the D.A., Fani Willis. A final high-stakes hearing ending just a short while ago with Willis in the courtroom and the fate of the criminal case against Donald Trump on the line.

Also tonight, Trump's trial date in the classified documents case is still up in the air after a crucial hearing in Florida attended by the former president. Trump's lawyers arguing against the special counsel's proposed July start date while warning about conflicts with Trump's White House campaign.

And there's more breaking news we're following, President Biden announces U.S. airdrops of humanitarian aid for Gaza, urging an immediate temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as the president faces dissent among fellow Democrats over the war.

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 on the Fani Willis disqualification hearing. The judge says he'll decide within two weeks whether to remove the Fulton County district attorney from the Trump election subversion case in Georgia. His eventual ruling could keep Trump's prosecution on track or leave it in peril.

Here's CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' fate still up in the air as the judge weighs whether to disqualify her and her entire team of prosecutors from the case against Donald Trump and other defendants for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

CRAIG GILLEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: These people, Your Honor, is a systematic misconduct and they need to go.

SCHNEIDER: Lawyers for Trump and others charged in the case are arguing that Willis hired Nathan Wade as special prosecutor when they were romantically involved and then she benefited financially from the trips they took and dinners they shared.

JOHN MERCHANT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She put her boyfriend in the spot, paid him, and then reaped the benefits from it. That she created the system and then didn't tell anybody about it.

SCHNEIDER: Willis testified last month, insisting the relationship began after Wade was appointed to lead the Trump case and arguing she paid him back in cash.



WILLIS: '22, yes, it was around there.

I don't know, growing up, my daddy had three safes in the house. So, my father has bought me a lock box, and I always keep cash in the house.

When you go on a date, you should have cash in your pocket.

SCHNEIDER: Judge Scott McAfee did have some tough questions for the attorneys pushing to remove Willis and her team.

JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: If someone buys their boss a stick of gum, is that per se disqualifying?

MERCHANT: It may not meet a materiality requirement, but it's a personal benefit.

SCHNEIDER: The judge also asked if disqualification would really be the right remedy, or if any wrongdoing would just require reprimand from the legal bar. MCAFEE: The proposition you're putting forward now is that if a representative of the state, a lead prosecutor, the district attorney themselves says something that's untruthful on the record, that is something that immediately has to be proactively policed by the trial court?

Basically, what I'm getting at is where in the law do we find the remedy to an untruthful statement? Generally, we send you down the street to the bar.

SCHNEIDER: Lawyers for the district attorney's office insist there is absolutely no conflict of interest.

ADAM ABBATE, FULTON COUNTY DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's absurd. We have absolutely no evidence that Ms. Willis received any financial gain or benefit. The testimony was that Ms. Willis paid all of the money back in cash.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Now, this has been a very lengthy hearing that has lasted several days over the past few weeks. But despite that, the judge said that he still does have factual and legal issues that he has to evaluate, but he does estimate, Wolf, that he will have a decision as to whether D.A. Willis and her team should be disqualified in likely the next two weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what he decides. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's break down all of this with our legal and political experts. And, Laura Coates, this was really a remarkable day in Georgia. What's your big takeaway from what we saw and heard?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, these people who are trying to disqualify Fani Willis want you to know that they think that ethical conduct rises the level of disqualification.


But they have to actually prove it in the actual cases in chief. They have to show that there was a conflict of interest, in this case, a financial benefit that undermined the ability to get a fair trial for these defendants.

The judge was concerned more about whether they had met that burden, as he should be, and that questions up in the air. They tried to talk about playing the race card, the religion card by her now famous church speech where she talked about why they were targeting and singling out Nathan Wade, the black prosecutor on the case.

There's also a moment in terms of the judge trying to figure out what the parameters ought to be. It is an extreme, extreme motion to try to disqualify an elected official. Remember she's elected from a case and her entire office goes longer than this. This judge is trying to be very cautious, but I was concerned at one moment in terms of him showing his hand. He's concerned about the appearance of impropriety as well. The optics here are not good.

BLITZER: Yes, and the stakes, as we say, are very significant, indeed.

Elie Honig, do you think the defense attorneys met the burden needed for Fani Willis to be disqualified?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is going to be a really close call, and you used a really important word right there, burden. It is the defendants, Donald Trump and the other people who are challenging Fani Willis, who have to prove their allegations. So, if this is a tie, if this is a stalemate, Fani Willis is going to win.

Now, I think there have been serious questions raised about the nature of the relationship, the timing of the relationship, whether Fani Willis and Nathan Wade testified truthfully, and whether there was a financial benefit to Fani Willis.

But the evidence came in, in my view, in a very muddled, sort of confused fashion. And it's going to come down to the judge's decision, the judge's discretion. Which evidence does he believe? Does he believe Fani Willis and Nathan Wade? Does he believe the other witnesses? Does he -- how much credit does he give the cell records? That's a really exceedingly difficult call. You could see the judge today starting to wrestle with some of those issues.

So, he's going to go back into his chambers. He's going to spend two weeks trying to work it out. And then he'll give us that decision and neither way would surprise me.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Gloria, Gloria Borger is with us as well, even if Willis isn't disqualified in this case, the district attorney's office certainly seems to have suffered a bit right now, at least with the jury pool.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Don't forget, as Laura was saying, she's an elected official. And they've spent weeks going down a rabbit hole about whether she behaved improperly and hired her boyfriend. And that's never good for a public official.

The question is, if she's not disqualified, by the time you get around to selecting a jury, will that become part of the case? Well, it depends what questions they ask the jurors. Do they know about this? Have they been following this trial? Have they not been following the trial?

So, at this point, it's kind of hard to say. But overall, I don't think she's done herself any favors here.

BLITZER: So, big picture, Laura, if Fani Willis eventually is disqualified by the judge in this specific case, what would that mean for other cases that are ongoing right now? COATES: Well, two points, if she's disqualified, it wouldn't just be her, it would be her entire office. And you have a prosecuting council in Georgia that would then select an additional or a new prosecution team.

Now, trying to do that pretty difficult, you got safety concerns that they've articulated. You've got the scrutiny. It's not an attractive case someone would want to jump on board and you're not getting paid oodles of money for it either. And so you're talking about a lot of lawyers not wanting to get involved.

That new team, if that team is disqualified, doesn't have to follow what she has done, doesn't have to continue with the case, doesn't have to abide by the grand jury indictment, could add or subtract defendants or give them totally different.

Also, what impact would it have on other cases? The judge went to some lengths to talk about, well, hold on, if you want me to discredit Fani Willis, discredit her alone off of what she has said as a truthful or non-truthful statement, the D.A. signs the document on every indictment in a courtroom. Every time a lower level D.A. wants to indict, her signature goes on it as well.

It's really by form of a substance aspect of it, but that means that every case she's ever a part of is now going to go down the drain. That's the judge's concern about the limitations of this and you have to be cognizant of it.

BLITZER: And you certainly do. And, Elie, why is Fani Willis' being in a relationship with Nathan Wade, the special prosecutor, a potential conflict of interest in this case?

HONIG: So, Wolf, it's important to understand two things about conflict of interest. One, it doesn't necessarily mean anyone has done anything wrong. Sometimes conflicts of interest just happen. And, two, it does not have to relate to the actual charges in the case. Prosecutors get recused because of conflicts all the time.

I'll give you an example. Let's say I was prosecuting a case against a CEO of a large corporation for insider trading and it turned out my dad worked there or my brother worked there.


Nobody did anything wrong, not related to the insider trading charges, but absolutely a conflict of interest.

And the argument that the defendants have made here is not so much that the relationship itself was the conflict, but that the relationship led to that financial conflict that Laura just mentioned. And so that's how we got to this point. And it was further complicated by this dispute over when the relationship started.

So, that's how it all ties back to really the legal issue here, which is a conflict of interest. BLITZER: Interesting. All right, everyone stand by. When we return, we'll discuss the other critical hearing for Donald Trump today on the timing of his trial in the classified documents case down at Mar-a- Lago. Is the judge buying the Trump team's efforts to delay?

And later, a new U.S. response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, President Biden announcing he's ordering the U.S. military to airdrop desperately needed aid for civilians in the war zone.



BLITZER: Tonight, the timing of Donald Trump's trial in the classified documents case remains a question mark after a critical hearing ended in Florida just a little while ago with no ruling by the judge.

CNN's Paula Reid has more on the hearing and the Trump team's efforts to push back the July start date proposed by the special counsel.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Former President Donald Trump at federal court in Florida today, as his lawyers argue the classified documents case should not go to trial before the November election.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: An indictment was moves unsealed, charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws, as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

REID: Trump faces 40 felony criminal charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified information, some seen here improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They raided my house. They did it for publicity reasons. They did it for election interference reasons. They want to interfere with the election.

REID: The case is currently scheduled for May 20th, but Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who is overseeing the case, has signaled she may push the trial back.

In court today, Cannon pressed prosecutors and defense attorneys about their suggested schedules. Special Counsel Jack Smith proposed a July 8th start date, but during the proceedings, Cannon suggested that aspects of Smith's proposal were unrealistic.

Trump's lawyers insist the trial should be pushed back. A trial that takes place before the election is a mistake and should not happen. Trump attorney Todd Blanche stated, saying it would be unfair to the former president and the American people for Trump to be in the courtroom and not on the campaign trail, that's something the former president has claimed as well.

TRUMP: All of this persecution is only happening because I am running for president and leading very substantially in the polls.

REID: Trump's attorneys did concede if the trial has to go forward before the election, they would be okay with starting August 12th.

Cannon noted that Trump's upcoming criminal case in New York must be considered as she schedules this one. On March 25th, Trump's hush money trial begins in New York and is expected to last four to six weeks, an already busy court schedule for the former President Trump.


REID (on camera): Today, prosecutors answered a question that's been hanging over these federal cases, and that was just how close to the election is the Justice Department willing to try Trump.

The Justice Department has a policy of not taking any steps and investigations that could impact an election within 60 days of voting. It just wasn't clear, though, if that policy applied to the Trump cases.

But today, the special counsel made it clear that policy does not apply to criminal cases where charges have already been filed. That means they would be willing to try Trump in September, even October.

But, Wolf, that is their stance. What really matters is what the judge thinks and we'll be waiting for Judge Cannon's order over the next few weeks.

BLITZER: We shall see what that order is. Paula Reed in Fort Pierce, Florida, for us, Paula, thank you very much.

Let's turn back to our legal and political experts right now. Laura Coates, some legal analysis, Judge Cannon called some aspects of the special counsel's, Jack Smith's proposed schedule unrealistic. How do you read that?

COATES: Well, perhaps because this is a defendant in multiple jurisdictions, multiple in terms of federal and also state, and we also have some pending cases in the Supreme Court, including one about immunity.

Now, the immunity discussion has to be a little bit more nuanced, but you could see a world where they would try to delay this with the expectation of having the Supreme Court weigh in on other matters.

This is a very complex notion here. We haven't seen anything like this before, the judge is in tune to that, but this is also playing to the advantage of Donald Trump's legal counsel and team. They know full well you've got competing interests, competing jurisdictions, and if one is able to give them a trial date, then it saves off everybody else. If one is able to block from a ruling or a Supreme Court looming decision, that helps them in other areas. So, this is a game of strategy. Who will win? BLITZER: We will find out soon, I suspect, at some point. Elie, the judge also said Trump's New York criminal trial, which begins this month, has come into the equation in terms of when this federal trial begins. So, what could that mean for the timeline?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, I think this judge, as with the other judges on all four of these cases, has to understand that there's only a certain number of available slots on the trial calendar. And one thing that you cannot do is make someone go to trial back to back to back. There has to be at least some cushion built in where any defendant, Donald Trump or anyone else, has a right to prepare for trial.

So, the New York Hush Money trial that the judge referenced today, that one is scheduled to start jury selection later this month, on March 25th.


That trial, as scheduled, is going to take us through April and into May.

And I think what Judge Cannon was saying today is we have to build in some time starting from when that trial is going to end in May to give him enough time to prepare for this trial. And that's why I think you see both sides recognizing that, why even Jack Smith is saying, well, the trial should be as late as July.

So, I think the judge is correct, there does have to be some cushion built in between any two or more of these trials.

BLITZER: We will see what happens. Gloria, the Trump attorneys, they are repeatedly denying that they're trying to use these various trials or whatever to simply cause delay. Trump attorneys have always said that the Trump people have said delay, delay, delay, that's in Trump's interest. Do you buy that.

BORGER: No. I actually -- I think they're trying to delay it, and I don't buy what they did today by saying, okay, we don't want it before the election, but how about August 12th? I think the real reason here is that if they had to go to trial, they'd rather go and get a jury pool in Florida than one in the District of Columbia on the elections case.

And I think it's sort of how many trials can you balance on the head of a pen? This is what they're trying to figure out, and they're playing a strategic game here, trying to sort of put their client in the best possible position.

So, if they're going to go to trial on anything, let it be on the Stormy Daniels case, but they're just choosing, and they'd rather be in Florida if they have to go to another trial than here, because it's a more progressive jury pool.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens down there. You know, Laura, the special prosecutors are arguing that the Department of Justice policy discouraging these kinds of illegal actions 60 days before an election doesn't apply to setting a trial date right now in their cases. How do you read that?

COATES: I think that's prudent here because we're talking about putting your thumb on the scale, which is the essence of why you've got this policy, not to have everyone have a within that 60-day window, although it's an abstract principle of that, because this is a case where people already know that Trump is in legal jeopardy.

He has fundraised off it. In some respects, it might even catapult him to a closer victory in getting the Republican nomination because he has the wind in his sails because of the idea of the talking point, this is a political witch hunt. People know he is in legal jeopardy, so it's not going to have the same impact here.

The reason you have the other rule is because you do not want people to be blindsided by a kind of October surprise of sorts. This is not an October surprise. This is many, many months in the making and some would argue years.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. You know, Elie, the judge, Judge Aileen Cannon, she picked apart both the prosecutions and the defense's proposed schedules. How do you expect she will ultimately rule?

HONIG: Well, whatever she does here, I think, is going to be good news really for Donald Trump. So, option A is Judge Chutkan may say, okay, we're postponing this trial until after the election. Obviously, that would be the best case scenario for Donald Trump. But given where we are now, the only other option is she says, I'm moving it to mid- summer. The parties have requested July or August.

And even that is a win of sorts for Donald Trump for two reasons. Number one, as Gloria just said, much better jury pool for Donald Trump in Florida than in D.C. And number two, if this Florida trial gets moved to July or August, it will essentially blockade that part of the calendar and make it impossible for Jack Smith to try his other case, the D.C. case, the January 6 case. And if I'm Donald Trump's team, that is a win for me.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. You know, Gloria, this has already been a very, very unique election, as we all know. What would a leading presidential candidate, and this particular is Trump, potentially being criminally charged and tried during this election period, what would that look like?

BORGER: You know, Wolf, it's hard to kind of game that out. I think it would look a lot like it looks now, which is Donald Trump, at every opportunity, talking about how this is election interference, it's a witch hunt, he's not guilty of any wrongdoing, and trying to use it to rally the base.

I think the question here is, how would Joe Biden play it? And what would he say about these pending felony charges, and what would the Democrats do, and what would independent voters do?

You know, our polls show that voters want some resolution to one of these trials before the election. They want to know guilty, not guilty. And if that doesn't happen, and he is on trial, it's really hard to predict how that would affect the electorate, it really is.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. We've never seen anything like this before.

All right, thanks to all of our analysts. Important note, Laura will be back later tonight, 11:00 P.M. Eastern to anchor Laura Coates Live.


And as I always say, we'll be watching.

Coming up, President Biden says the U.S. will begin airdrops of aid to Gaza as other relief efforts falter.

Plus, we'll share an exclusive CNN investigation into the Israeli restrictions, putting a chokehold on the ground operations, trying to help Palestinian civilians in Gaza.


BLITZER: The breaking news, we're following. President Biden says the United States is set to begin air drops of aid to Gaza as the humanitarian crisis in the territory grows more desperate by the day.

CNN's M.J. Lee is joining us from the White House right now. She's got details.


So what are we learning, M.J., about these air drops?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we heard President Biden offering an incredibly blunt assessment of the situation in Gaza, saying that the amount of aid that is going in is simply not enough and that it is just a fraction of what the people there need.

The president said that it is imperative that the Israeli government take much more action and do so much more to provide help, but that in the meantime that the U.S. is going to begin airdrops of food and other aid into Gaza. He said that this is the U.S. trying to pull out every stop. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We're going to insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need, no excuses. Because the truth is, aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now. It's nowhere nearly enough.


LEE: President Biden also, of course, continued to call for that temporary ceasefire and hostages deal, which he said would dramatically increase the amount of aid going into Gaza. In fact, when he was just leaving the White House, I asked him whether he thinks that deal will get done before Ramadan, that important deadline. He said that he is still hopeful that that could happen.

Our understanding right now, Wolf, is that the U.S. air drops of that aid could begin in the coming days, but the White House making very clear that the logistics surrounding that is very complicated and executing it in a safe way, of course, is going to be incredibly difficult. Wolf?

BLITZER: Incredibly difficult, indeed. I'm Jay Lee at the White House. Thank you.

Meanwhile CNN is digging into Israel's chokehold on aid to Gaza as Restrictions stifle the relief effort.

Our Chief International Investigative Correspondent Nima Elbagir has our exclusive report.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Palates of food aid with messages of love airdropped into Gaza for a desperate population. This is a Jordanian flight with more countries looking to join the aid effort, among them the U.S. But this isn't a good news story.

On the ground, a glimpse of how much more is needed to keep starving Gazans from falling into famine. Airdrops are inefficient and expensive. You just can't drop enough food for a starving population. To stave off famine, you need thousands of trucks filled with food flooding into Gaza, but that's not happening.

We were granted rare access to this warehouse in Jordan, one of the key waypoints for aid now a choke point.

All of the aid that you see here is sorely needed in Gaza, but it's still waiting for clearance. Why? Well, CNN spoke to dozens of humanitarian workers and donor government officials who detailed arbitrary Israeli restrictions on aid, often with little to no explanation, impeding a multi-billion dollar humanitarian effort, even as Gazans are desperate to receive it.

About a thousand trucks worth of essential medical aid and food supplies meant for Gaza, collecting dust, waiting to be cleared by Israeli officials.

I mean, these are baby wipes.


ELBAGIR: Why are you still waiting for permission on baby wipes?

AL-HENNAWY: I don't know.

ELBAGIR: You have bandages, we're coming up over here, you've got wheelchairs, crutches. In that kind of war situation, these are really, really important things for people, medicines, vitamin C over here. AL-HENNAWY: Yes. And this is what we think, what we believe, it is a crucial need that needs to be sent immediately to Gaza. There's no excuse why it's still in our warehouse.

ELBAGIR: It's not just here that they're confused. Previously, Israel has said it's restricting military use items and provided a list. Now, humanitarians tell CNN they have not received an update, so they're relying on guesswork.

CNN has obtained documents from three major participants in the humanitarian operation, a ghost list, compiled by organizations piecing together the most frequently rejected items. Among them, anesthesia, crutches, generators, water purification tablets and filtration systems, solar panels, ventilators, tent poles, X-ray machines and oxygen cylinders.

Publicly, the Israeli government agency, COGAT, claims that it has abided by a 2008 banned items list. In private, COGAT has said that that document is now obsolete, according to a humanitarian official in direct contact with the Israeli unit.

The human cost of miscalculating is immeasurable. For months now, even one rejected item means trucks like these, filled with aid, can be turned back even after waiting for days to get into Gaza.


And on the ground, the reality is that without these critical supplies, people like Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a renowned war surgeon, are working in conditions even he has never seen.

DR. GHASSAN ABU-SITTAH, BRITISH-PALESTINIAN SURGEON: Because we didn't have any antiseptic, I had made a solution of washing up liquid and vinegar and some saline. And so I would have to pour that over the wound and then scrub the wound down. It's probably the most -- the darkest moment of my life because you're doing it, the patient is screaming, the child is screaming knowing that if you hadn't, that child would be dead by the end of the day.

ELBAGIR: Dr. Abu-Sittah's experience in Gaza is not unique. What you are about to see here is very disturbing.

With very little basic medicine, doctors are making decisions they never thought they would have to make.

Dr. Hani Bisesu (ph) turned his kitchen into an operating theatre to save his niece's life after she says she was hit by an Israeli tank in her home. He amputated her leg with a kitchen knife without anesthetic.

(INAUDIBLE) miraculously survived. At just 18, she has already experienced enough pain for a lifetime.

When aid does come into Gaza, thousands gather, clambering onto the trucks, even as Israeli gunfire rings out. Torn between fear and hunger, over a hundred killed and hundreds more injured, yet you can see here people still clinging to what little they managed to get.

The Israeli army says it's not responsible for what happened here. But as our investigation shows, at the very least, Israel created the conditions for this tragedy.


BLITZER: First of all, thank you very much for that report. Will the U.S. airdrops of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza make a difference?

ELBAGIR (on camera): The unfortunate answer, Wolf, is no. Airdrops are inefficient. They are expensive. In this situation, for the U.S., they're an admission of desperation because the U.S. continues to be unable to force Israel to release its chokehold and allow more trucks into Gaza. The airdrops will do very, very little.

And you saw the extent of the needs there, Wolf. It is almost unfathomable that Gaza has been allowed to get to this point. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very sad, indeed. Nima Elbagir reporting for us, thank you, Nima.

Just ahead, Russians risk arrest as they line the streets to say goodbye to the late Alexei Navalny. We have details from the opposition leader's funeral. That's coming up next.



BLITZER: Mourners lined the streets of Moscow today to pay their respects to the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a display of grief and solidarity that's become increasingly risky in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

CNN's Melissa Bell has the story.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The name the Kremlin never speaks, chanted as Alexei Navalny's body was finally laid to rest. Thousands of people in Moscow braving the prospect of arrest to say goodbye to Vladimir Putin's greatest foe, mourners of a political martyr, vowing that Russia will be free. Ambassadors from the United States, France and Germany also joining the crowds with flowers in hand.

Video of Navalny's open casket, the final glimpse of a corpse finally handed back to his family and allowed to rest two weeks to the day since he took his last breaths after years spent fighting, even from his prison cells, Vladimir Putin's iron grip on Russia, a legacy that his widow, unable to attend the funeral for safety reasons, echoed in a message on social media, sharing a montage of her life with Navalny, she wrote, I don't know how to live without you, I don't know if I can handle this or not, but I will try.

His funeral reflecting his life, becoming a moment of resistance. As chance of no to war rang through the Russian capital, with people finding strength in numbers as the crowds grew.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To tell you the truth, it's very pleasant for me to be here in the company of like-minded people. Well, maybe I feel pressure, but when there are so many people, then maybe no. It's not scary when we're together.

BELL: Navalny's impact extending far beyond Russia with memorials held around the world, in memory of a man who'd come to represent fearlessness itself.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


BLITZER: And thanks to Melissa Bell for that report, very significant.

In Moscow earlier today, CNN's Matthew Chance was on the scene near Navalny's funeral and spoke with the Russians who showed up despite the serious risks and the intense security.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Why have you come here today with so many other Russians to pay their respects?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it's symbolic value for people who don't agree with everything that's happening in Russia.


I can't be specific because we can say the bad words, you know?

CHANCE: It's risky for you to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. It's certainly risky.

CHANCE: Why take the risk?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see -- because that's my stance on this. And I believe that's to show solidarity, that you are not the one who has the deal with this.


BLITZER: Still ahead, we'll have more on the breaking news and a closer look at the Fulton County district attorney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of Georgia. The final hearing on efforts to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the Trump election subversion case.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, District Attorney Fani Willis has enormous pressure facing her at this stage of the Georgia case, pressure that are critics say is self-inflicted.


Still, some believe this case against Donald Trump will not be derailed in Georgia, regardless of what happens to Willis. And she's clearly determined to fight this out.


TODD (voice-over): Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis defiant in the face of the allegations against her.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020, I'm not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.

TODD: Willis, a Democrat and Fulton County's first female district attorney, had been in office for only one day when then President Trump called Georgia's secretary of state in January 2021, and urged him to find votes to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Since launching the criminal case against Trump, Willis says she's received death threats. Many of them of a racist nature, and has had to increase her personal security.

WILLIS: I probably been called the N-word more times in the last two- and-a-half years, then most 100 people combined.

TODD: Willis also said she'd been the victim of a swatting incident around last Christmas, when a caller claimed a female at her Atlanta area residents had been shot. Willis said she hadn't been living there at the time because of threats and a friend says, even though the call was a hoax.

CHARLIE BAILEY, FRIEND AND FORMER COLLEAGUE FANI WILLIS: One of her daughters was there. They're supposed to be there. And so for about 20 minutes, she thought one of her daughters was dead.

TODD: The single mother of two in her early 50 says she was raised by a single father. Her father himself was a lawyer and a member of the Black Panther movement. Her name Fani is Swahili, and means prosperous.

Originally from California, Willis attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., then got her law degree from the Emory School of Law. She forged her professional reputation with successful prosecutions in a massive cheating scandal in Atlanta's public schools, and by bringing anti-corruption charges against a rapper Young Thug.

BAILEY: A workaholic that is very driven, very smart and very like, if you're on a case, its step one, step two, step three, get to it.

TODD: But this isn't the first time Willis has been in hot water over personal conduct. She held a fundraiser for someone running against a potential target of her investigation.

JUDGE ROBERT MCBURNEY, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: So what are you thinking moment? The optics horrific.

TODD: One former prosecutor says, in this current case, Willis should have known better than to get so deeply involved with special prosecutor, Nathan Wade, even if the relationship didn't start until after she hired him, as they both claim./

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: These are things that I think are missteps and unforced errors. Surely, you have to know that the microscope is going to be on your every move.


TODD (on camera): Former President Trump has leveled his own personal attacks against Fani Willis, calling her racist, a quote, lunatic Marxist, and making a baseless claim that she has ties to gang members -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, why the CDC is now dropping its five-day COVID isolation guidance.



BLITZER: The CDC has just unveiled new isolation guidance for people who come down with COVID-19.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us right now. He's got the details.

Sanjay, what can you tell us about these changes and why are they happening now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean, these are some of the biggest changes we've seen in a couple of years now, with regard to COVID-19. Let me just put it up on the screen. We can show you what the guidance has been and what the guidance is going to be now. Sleeve this up here for a second.

The biggest thing is way that top line in the past, they said five days, you should be in isolation if you have COVID. Why? Because you could be contagious, even if you don't necessarily feel sick. Now, they're saying stay home and away from others only if you have symptoms basically.

So that's probably the biggest change, day six and going forward, they say you can now resume activities as long as you're fever-free without medications for 24 hours, if you are going to be around people, especially people who are vulnerable, older people, or people who have some sort of illness, you should be extra careful. Wear a mask, think about ventilation, things like that. Why are they doing this now?

What the CDC is saying is that basically if you look around the country with regard to existing infections and vaccinations, about 97 percent of the country has some degree of immunity. That's what they're objecting, although keep in mind, Wolf, people do get COVID over and over again.

Another important thing is look at hospitalizations and deaths now, compared to the last couple of years. And what you see is that COVID hospitalizations down about 60 percent deaths, down at 3 percent. So these are some of the reasons.

One other thing I'll tell you, Wolf, this guidance that is now being recommended nationally. It has been done at a more local scale in California, for example, in Oregon. So let's take a look at Oregon really quickly and see they implemented this in May of last year and what you'll see that's the arrow looking down. That's when they implemented it.

You still saw those surges of cases with this new guidance in place, but what they found was it sort of approximated what was happening in the country. So they don't anticipate by loosening the guidance that it should make a difference in what the national trends are.

But we'll see, Wolf. I'll tell you, there's some people who think these changing guidance is a long time coming. Other people who think this is dangerous because there's a lot of vulnerable people out there still, Wolf.

It's sort of makes us think about COVID-19 like other flu or respiratory viruses, but others still differences we should remember, Sanjay?

GUPTA: We should not fluify (ph) this. We've been saying this since the beginning. This is not flu.

Let me show you this, this graph really quickly here. Just compare flu to COVID and RSV. On the left is the beginning 2019, 2020 timeframe. Orange is COVID. Even now, you can see how much more significant in terms of hospitalizations COVID is versus flu versus RSV.

And that's not dimension. You can still spread this even if you don't have symptoms. People can develop long COVID. So we have to -- we have to have to be thinking about that. Its not flu.

BLITZER: Important advice there from Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thank you.

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

The news continues next on CNN.