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CNN Exclusive, Key Witness Known As Trump Employee 5 Speaks Out; FBI Chief Says, Terror Threat Against U.S. At New Level Since Oct. 7; Princess Kate Says She Edited Photo, Apologizes For Confusion; Trump Admonished By Judge In New York Criminal Hush Money Case For Last-Minute Motion To Delay March 25 Trial; "Blood On The Ceiling" After Dozens Injured In Mid-Air Chaos. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 11, 2024 - 18:00   ET


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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, CNN's exclusive interview with Trump employee 5, a central witness in the classified documents case now speaking publicly for the first time. Stand by for details on what he knows as he urges voters out there to learn the truth about his former boss.

Also tonight, a dire warning from the FBI director that the terrorism threat against the United States is at a whole new level after the October 7th attack on Israel and the war in Gaza. Stand by for more on alarming new testimony by the nation's top intelligence officials.

And the Princess of Wales now says she's responsible for editing a family photo that was supposed to ease speculation about her health after abdominal surgery. Instead, the image and the controversy are now raising even more questions about what's going on with the British royals.

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, CNN's exclusive new interview with a key witness in the Trump classified documents case known only as Trump employee 5, at least until now.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz says in West Palm Beach, Florida, near Mar-a- Lago. Katelyn, who is this witness and why is he speaking out now?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Wolf, this is Brian Butler. Brian Butler worked for Donald Trump for 20 years at the Mar-a-Lago club, at one point, running the car service for all of the guests coming in and out of the club. He eventually left that job in fall of 2022, but that was not before he had been privy to some major conversations and moments in this classified documents investigation.

And now he is someone who has spoken to prosecutors multiple times and clearly is a key witness for the indictment. One of those moments he recalls, Wolf, is June 3rd of 2022, when he was working at the club and the body man of Donald Trump, Walt Nauta, asked him oddly in his estimation to borrow an Escalade, a Cadillac Escalade, so that it could be used on the very same day that the Justice Department, FBI agents, were coming to Mar-a-Lago to collect documents, classified records that might be there.

That day, they did not get all of them. And Brian Butler and Walt Nauta then helped get all of the Trump family's luggage over to the airport to go out of town for the summer.

That's not all he said. Here's more of what Brian Butler told Kaitlan Collins here at CNN earlier today.


BRIAN BUTLER, TRUMP EMPLOYEE 5: And then what happened is Walt left before me, and he never goes directly to the plane. He's either in the motorcade when he goes there with the boss, which the former president. And I remember telling him he left the club with -- I didn't know what he had in his vehicle, but he waited for me at a nearby business, and I told him I would tell him when I was leaving Mar-a-Lago.

So, I left Mar-a-Lago, I texted him, hey, I'm on my way. He followed me. He pulled out and got behind me. We got to the airport. I ended up loading all the luggage I had, and he had a bunch of boxes.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You noticed that he had boxes.

BUTLER: Well, they were the boxes that were in the indictment, the white banker's boxes, that's what I remember loading.

COLLINS: And did you have any time, any idea at the time that there was potentially U.S. national security secrets in those boxes?

BUTLER: No clue. No, I had no clue. I mean we were just taking them out of the Escalade, piling them up. I remember they were all stacked on top of each other and then we're lifting them up to the pilot.

COLLINS: How many boxes was it?

BUTLER: They asked me in the interview and I believe it was 10 to 15 is what I remember.

COLLINS: They, meaning the investigators?

BUTLER: Correct.

COLLINS: And when you look back on that now, what do you --

BUTLER: Well, I had no clue until probably the end of June, there was a few different things that happened that kind of opened my eyes to you know something is going on here.


COLLINS: So, you get that unusual request. Did you ever think to yourself why were there so many boxes at Mar-a-Lago?

BUTLER: You know, for me, I'm just thinking of the former president he has a lot of stuff he likes to lug around with him. I never would have thought it was anything like what we see now.

COLLINS: Classified documents?


POLANTZ: Wolf, Donald Trump's attorneys are not commenting nor are Walt Nauta's. But one thing that is uncontested here is that Brian Butler is Trump employee 5 in that indictment against the former president and very likely would be called at a criminal trial here in South Florida.

BLITZER: So, Katelyn, how does this fit into the special counsel's case against Trump?

POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, Brian Butler represents not just somebody who had this window into Mar-a-Lago, he's also the best friend, the longtime best-friend of one of Trump's co-defendants, Carlos de Oliveira.

So, in addition to that June 3rd moment that he was speaking about with Kaitlan Collins there, Brian Butler also was privy to a number of conversations where Carlos de Oliveiera, this co-defendant, appeared to be talking about the alleged cover-up, the interest in surveillance tapes, and the interests in having an attorney represent him through the Trump world.

Now, Butler did not have an attorney representing through Trump world, and is different from many in that sphere. Wolf?

BLITZER: Katelyn Polantz, excellent reporting, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on this. Joining us now is CNN Anchor and Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates and CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe.

So, Laura, how significant is this, what we just heard?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: It's very significant. It tells you a lot about what the investigators were most interested in, in terms of who were the players involved, the fact that he was really oblivious, it seemed, according to him, about what he was doing and the why, but notice some oddities, not just in the rearview mirror, Wolf, but actually at the time wondering what was going on, piecing it together.

It paints a very colorful picture of the intent to take boxes away from the area where they knew that the investigators were going to be looking, it demonstrates a level of intent that investigators want to actually convey to a jury, and it also shows you about the distinction of when your attorney is the same as Donald Trump's versus your own, where your interests divide and where your loyalties may ultimately end up. It's very powerful if it can be proven that there is more corroboration as well.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Andrew McCabe, Butler, Brian Butler, employee number five, as they called him officially, he worked with Trump, Donald Trump, for 20 years. So, potentially, he's got a lot of information.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT: He could be the ultimate insider in this story, right? They're at Mar-a-Lago for 20 years close not only to Trump but to his two co-defendants. And that's an important point because one of the potential weaknesses in the special counsel's case right now is that specifically Carlos de Oliveira, there's not much solid evidence that indicates that de Oliveira knew that the things he was doing were intentionally obstructing the subpoena that had been served for those records.

Well, Butler is very close to de Oliveira. They've been friends for decades. They take long walks together at night. So, in addition to the things that we know he knows from this interview, there may be much more that he has to say about de Oliveira.

BLITZER: Yes and I suspect Trump (INAUDIBLE) that as well Laura because we that Trump tried very hard to keep Butler in his orbit, if you will. He paid -- he wanted to pay for his lawyers. He offered of golf tickets, even did all sorts of stuff to try to keep him within his orbit.

COATES: I mean, if you're facing jail time, not sure how enticing jail -- I mean, golf tickets might be, forgive the slip there. But the idea of that being the incentive is very clear on the strategy behind why you want to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Well, somebody who could personally flip on you and become a witness becomes a legal enemy very, very quickly.

It's also important to note the length of time that Butler was serving as an employee of Mar-a-Lago. We don't know of any axe to grind, that may be the case here, when you're talking about a witness as a jury, you want to know if there's any, that's a credibility issue for you. Do you have an axe to grind? Were you fired? Is there some reason for me to not believe your testimony because you are biased or tainted in some way?

His tenure as an employee ultimately might buttress his actual credibility and make the jurors believe, if this goes to trial eventually, that, oh, this person is somebody I can believe. I can have a fly on the wall, which prosecutors want all the time.

BLITZER: And Brian Butler, Andrew, says he's speaking out now because he wants voters out there to know the truth about Trump.

Now, given the timing right now, the election is still several months down the road, what do you make of that?

MCCABE: Well, if that's, in fact, why he's speaking out, and if he, in, fact left Mar-a-Lago entirely of his own choice, then that is a very powerful statement, it could make him a witness.


But there's a lot we don't know about Mr. Butler yet. And, no doubt, Donald Trump's lawyers are focusing on his record at Mar-a-Lago and his background, his personal history under -- putting all that under a microscope. If we find out later that he was terminated for some reason that there's a some sort of grievance between he and the former president, then that could undermine his testimony.

COATES: Yes. And, by the way, that's so important as well because when you think about it, the amount of time he has left until a trial is the amount of time they have left to discredit him.

BLITZER: Which I'm sure they're going to try to do. I'll see what happens. We'll watch it all very closely, guys. Thank you very, very much.

And you can see more of Kaitlan Collins exclusive interview on The Source later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern. And Laura, of course, will be back at 11:00 P.M. Eastern later tonight to anchor her show, Laura Coates Live.

Just ahead, the nation's leading spies are out of the open today with U.S. intelligence now saying the country is facing, and I'm quoting now, an increasingly fragile world order.

Plus, new CNN reporting at what Donald Trump says privately about some of the world's most ruthless leaders just after meeting with one of Europe's most far right authoritarians.

Much more coming up right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, the FBI director is warning that the terrorism threat against the United States is at a whole new level after the October 7th attack on Israel and the war in Gaza. It was part of Senate testimony today on the urgent global threats facing America's security right now.

Top U.S. intelligence officials also sounded the alarm about growing cooperation among the most dangerous adversaries of the U.S. and the west. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Another critical intersection we are monitoring is the relationship, as the vice chairman noted, between government of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, which is evolving as these four countries expand collaboration through a web of bilateral and in some cases trilateral arrangements.

This growing cooperation and willingness to exchange aid in military, economic, political and intelligence matters enhances their individual capabilities.


BLITZER: Another key focus of the hearing, Russia's war against Ukraine. The CIA chief telling senators it would be, quote, a massive and historic mistake if Congress fails to approve more military aid for Ukraine.

Despite very deadly global threats by strongmen like Russia's Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump is now doubling down on his embrace of dictators. Trump's views on display as the former president and 2024 White House contender hosted Hungary's far-right leader.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at all of this. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that far right leader you mentioned, Viktor Orban, is crowing about his meeting with Donald Trump proclaiming that Trump will, quote, end the war in Ukraine by not giving a penny to the Ukrainians, fueling more concern tonight about Trump's rejection of NATO and his coddling of dictators.


TODD (voice over): It was a classic Trumpian embrace of a strong man. At Mar-a-Lago, the former president hosted Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and he heaped praise on Orban's style of leadership in videos posted on Orban's Instagram account.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: He said this is the way it's going to be and that's the end of it, right? He's the boss. I think now he's a great leader, a fantastic leader in Europe and all over the world. I respect him.

TODD: Do people respect Viktor Orban?

JACOB HEILBRUNN, AUTHOR: They do not. In fact, Viktor Orban is one of the most vilified leaders inside the European Union. He's the complete outlier.

TODD: The far-right Orban's stifling of opposition and the press and eroding of democracy has led many observers to label him an autocrat, which some analysts say makes him a kindred spirit with the former president. MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Trump has seemingly never met a dictator he doesn't like and not just like but he seeks to emulate, which is the scariest thing of all.

TODD: Trump openly praised Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, last year calling Xi brilliant in an interview and saying this about him while he was in office.

TRUMP: President Xi is a friend of mine.

TODD: There was Trump's almost comical courtship of the brutal North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, during the period when Trump was trying to strike a nuclear deal with Kim. Trump was displaying a Kim letter in an oversized envelope and often bragging about their correspondence.

TRUMP: And then we fell in love, okay? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters and they're great letters. We fell in love.

TODD: In his new book, The Return of Great Powers, CNN's Jim Sciutto quotes top former Trump White House aides describing Trump's admiration for dictators. Retired General John Kelly, who served as Trump's White House chief of staff, told Sciutto that Trump praised Adolf Hitler. Kelly saying, quote, he said, well, but Hitler did some good things. I said, well, what? And he said, well, Hitler rebuilt the economy. I said, sir, you can never say anything good about the guy, nothing.

In 2021, a spokeswoman for Trump denied that he had praised Hitler, but another former Trump cabinet member said this to CNN.

MASK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Clearly, he has a pre-election for leaders whom he proceeds to be strong.

And that's just how he breaks the world down and breaks things down between strong and weak.

TODD: One analyst worries about how Trump, with the endorsement of hard line Republican conservatives, is now campaigning on ideas of establishing almost dictatorial powers in the White House.

HEILBRUNN: He fetishizes the strong man, and that is the blueprint, crush the media and establish his own rule over the country.


TODD (on camera): Analyst Jacob Heilbrunn points out there's another major concern regarding Trump's affinity for dictators if he gets elected to a second term, the very real possibility that he'll purge agencies like the Justice Department, the FBI and the CIA, of competent people who he perceives to be his enemies. That's a classic dictator move, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, he is. Brian Todd, excellent report. Thank you very, very much.


And joining us now, Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

We have a lot to discuss, but first, the U.S. director of National Intelligence is now warning that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are cooperating more closely together. How concerned are you by that, and what should the U.S. be doing to try to prevent some sort of full- scale alliance between these countries?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): Well, listen, I mean, this is no secret. These have long been U.S. adversaries. They are often in ad hoc cooperation with each other. But part of that cooperation is derived from desperation. Russia has very few friends left that can supply it with the technology necessary to carry out this war in Ukraine.

And it's not good news for Russia that they are reliant on the North Koreans and their stone age technology in order to perpetuate this war inside Ukraine. So, yes, we have to take continued steps in large part through sanctions policy, often through secondary sanctions, to try to cut down on the transfer of goods between these nations.

But it's not necessarily a sign of strength that Russia, who is hoping to be reliant on big, more modern industrial countries like China to supply its war efforts, are now having to go to Iran and North Korea.

BLITZER: We just heard Donald Trump's lavish praise for various dictators out there. It is claimed that Adolf Hitler, quote, did some good things, close quote. When America's enemies hear that, how are they trying to capitalize on that if he does win a second term?

MURPHY: I just don't think that we can really underestimate the danger here. Trump is not hiding the fact that he is going to try to shift this country from a democracy to some quasi-democracy, or maybe even worse, something very authoritarian.

And there is real planning happening amidst Trump loyalists to institute this plan that would involve putting Trump hacks throughout the bureaucracy that would turn the Department of Justice into a mechanism to target Trump opponents.

And so I just think we need to be very clear that the question of whether democracy perseveres is on the ballot this fall. There is no doubt that many of our adversaries would cheer the erosion of American democracy because that would ultimately lead to the erosion of other democracies in Europe.

But I think right now we have to be crystal clear about the stakes and make it clear to the voters that they are going to be deciding whether democracy hangs around for another four years this fall.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, as you know, President Biden is now publicly blasting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But beyond this shift in rhetoric, does President Biden need to back this up with specific action, for example, like putting conditions on aid to Israel?

MURPHY: So, the United States should not participate in a military invasion of Rafah. That would be an absolute humanitarian nightmare. There are 1.3 million Palestinians there. They have absolutely nowhere to go.

And so you saw some reporting today suggesting that the Biden administration is considering withholding military aid to Israel should they move forward with this assault on Rafah. And I frankly believe that the president, through the national security memorandum that he issued several weeks ago, now has an obligation to uphold humanitarian law. And humanitarian law likely would not cover in countenance the kind of devastating military operation that Israel is undertaking.

Now, there's no doubt that there are very bad people in Rafah right now, that there are significant Hamas assets, but there is a much more surgical means by which to try to take out the high level Hamas leadership that may be inside those camps or in and around those camps. You don't need a full-scale invasion where you would have tens of thousands of civilians dying. And I think it's very appropriate for the administration to draw a hard line on this specific operation.

BLITZER: So my hearing, very quickly, Senator, my hearing, you say that the U.S. should impose specific restrictions on military aid to Israel, what they can do and what they can't do with that military aid?

MURPHY: Listen, I think we should make it very clear that we will not allow for U.S. aid to be used in a military operation that we believe will not comply with international and U.S humanitarian and human rights law. I just think that has to be a clear line for us moving forward. And, listen, I think right now the Biden administration is seeing that Netanyahu is potentially using the extension of this war as a mechanism to stay in power.


And there is, I think, a growing separation when you look at the efficacy of these military operations between the actual military benefit versus the political benefit to Netanyahu. That's just a conversation that we have to have in the open right now.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks so much for joining us.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, new developments in the saga of the princess and the picture, like Kate Middleton's explanation of an edited family photo is creating more questions over her recent seclusion.



BLITZER: In Britain tonight, the Princess of Wales is taking responsibility for a new bit of royal controversy involving an apparently photoshopped picture of her with her children.

CNN's Max Foster has more.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was meant to quell the rumors, a smiling Princess of Wales with her three children looking the picture of health, but instead it fuelled them. The photo, released on Sunday by the royal family, dramatically pulled from circulation by several major news agencies later that day, citing concerns that it had been manipulated.

The Princess of Wales apologized on Monday, taking personal responsibility for editing the image. Like many amateur photographers, she said, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused.

Kate was seen on Monday in a car with her husband leaving Windsor. Out of the public eye since her abdominal surgery in January, Sunday's family photo, released for Mother's Day in the U.K., was supposed to offer the public some reassurance of her health, but instead it's raised more questions than answers.

A CNN analysis of the photo found at least two areas which appear to show evidence the photo has been potentially altered, including Princess Charlotte's sleeve which seems to melt into nothing and then Kate's zipper which appears to be cut short.

CNN is continuing to use the original photo in the context of the debate around its alleged manipulation. A Royal source told CNN on Monday the Princess made minor adjustments to the image as she shared in her statement on social media but didn't explain why they weren't transparent about the edits when they shared the image with news media and picture agencies.

AFP, one of the international agencies to pull the photo, stood by its decision on Monday.

ERIC BARADAT, DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY, AFP: We have a duty of trust towards our subscribers, towards their viewers, and we have to kill the picture. It's absolutely a red line that was crossed there in terms of journalism.

FOSTER: In the vacuum of information and without the regular on-camera appearances, conspiracy theories have been swirling about the status of Catherine's health. First editions of British newspapers published before the image was pulled by agencies present the picture as happy proof of her recovery, but the subsequent unprecedented withdrawal by some agencies has sent speculation about her well-being into overdrive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are worried and they're concerned and the speculation just grows greater and greater. And it's really -- it must be so hard for Kate. She's had this severe surgery. She just needs privacy and the internet is panicking. People are saying we can't trust them anymore. We can't trust their photos.

FOSTER: With the trust between the royal family and the public being called into question. What was meant to be a reassuring family snap backfired spectacularly.


FOSTER (voice over): Well, we always check the photos we see from the palace here at CNN, but we're now going back over all of the ones that we've been receiving before. That's really what we're left with, Wolf. There's a question of trust. I mean, how much can we trust what we're receiving from the palace?

BLITZER: Yes, a good question. Max Foster, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Royal Watcher and British T.V. presenter Trisha Goddard. Trisha, thanks very much for joining us.

Princess Kate's photo was supposed to ease, as you just heard, public concern about her health and her whereabouts. Just how much has all that now backfired?

TRISHA GODDARD, BRITISH T.V. PRESENTER: Well, I think the biggest breach of trust is between the royal family and the press. And you might remember in his book, Prince Harry talked about a deal being done between the royals and the press. It now seems, I think, that all bets are off.

That photograph of her supposedly being driven by Carol Middleton wasn't published in the British press, and they explained why. And they seem to be standing by the privacy rule. I don't think they will so much.

And, remember, Catherine is also patron of the Royal Photographic Society. So, it's so embarrassing.

BLITZER: This controversy has only fueled rumors and conspiracies around Princess Kate, as you know. How does the royal family quash these concerns about a possible cover-up?

GODDARD: I don't think they can. I think it's very difficult. This has been a P.R. nightmare. If she's wheeled out, if you like, before she's ready, then people are going to be scrutinizing her anyway.

Remember, next Sunday is St. Patrick's Day. Last year, she and William, remember, Catherine is a colonel-in-chief of the Irish Guards, they went and met with the Irish Guards. So, next Sunday, what happens? She's between a rock and a hard place.

BLITZER: We will see.


Trisha, thank you so much for joining us, Trisha Goddard. Coming up, growing tension between President Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the prime minister vows to push ahead with an invasion of Rafah.


BLITZER: Just into CNN, President Biden now says he has no plans for a so-called come to Jesus meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite his being caught on a live microphone right after his State of the Union Address suggesting he was seeking such a meeting. Tensions between the two leaders over the war in Gaza have been rising dramatically in a very public way.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond has more from Jerusalem.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as the consequence of the actions taken.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): President Biden's mounting frustrations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now bursting into full view.

BIDEN: He's hurting -- in my view, he's hurting Israel more than helping Israel.

DIAMOND: And the Israeli prime minister firing back.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't know exactly what the president meant. But if he meant by that, then I'm pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he's wrong on both counts.

DIAMOND: Vowing a Rafah offensive, which Biden has cautioned against, will come.

NETANYAHU: I would go there. We're not going to leave them. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7th doesn't happen again.

DIAMOND: Israeli officials tell CNN that offensive is not imminent. More forces must still pour into Gaza, and a plan to evacuate civilians has yet to be finalized. And the holy month of Ramadan is now a key part of that backdrop.

In Gaza, 67 people were killed overnight, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, including, as some gathered, for suhur, the pre- dawn Ramadan meal.

And in Jerusalem's old city, tensions already flaring, wielding batons, Israeli police forcefully pushing back Palestinians at a gate to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

It's not clear how this scene began, but on the first night of Ramadan, CNN witnessed Israeli police refusing to allow at least two dozen mostly young Palestinian men to enter the mosque, sometimes before even checking their I.D.s.

Disturbing public security is the official reason given over and over again, without explanation. How am I disturbing public security? What did I do wrong? This man asked the officer. I'm not going back. I want to pray. But the answer is the same.

AHMAD, DENIED ENTRY TO AL-AQSA: This is the fifth or sixth gate I try to enter from, and they didn't say anything but disturbance of public security, and they simply sent us back. My soul is connected to Al- Aqsa, depriving me from Al-Aqsa as if they deprive me of water. It's very difficult for me to a level I can't even describe. I will go home. May God give you health.

DIAMOND: Israeli police said in a statement increased inspections were carried out and that they are acting to allow freedom of worship while balancing security and safety needs. Israeli government said last week it wouldn't impose new restrictions on entry to the mosque during at least the first week of Ramadan, allowing access to a similar number of worshippers as last year.

But these first denials raise questions about how Israeli officials will handle the tens of thousands of worshippers expected for Friday prayers, especially amid tensions over the war in Gaza.


DIAMOND (on camera): And, Wolf, tonight, Jerusalem remained quiet as Israeli police allowed worshippers to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound without incident. But on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side, there are concerns about what this Friday, the first Friday, prayers of Ramadan could bring.

At least tonight, though, the Israeli government signaling that it will allow some Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, men over the age of 55 and women over the age of 50. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond in Jerusalem for us, Jeremy, thank you very much.

We're joined now by an advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel's coordinator for the captives and the missing, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. General, thank you so much for joining us.

Negotiators, as you well know better than I do, were pushing for some sort of temporary ceasefire and hostage deal by Ramadan. Why didn't that happen? And where did the talk stand now?

BRIG. GEN. GAL HIRSCH, ISRAEL'S COORDINATOR FOR THE CAPTIVES AND THE MISSING: Shalom and good evening, Wolf. First, you know, negotiators, our team, and the mediators, and, of course, United States of America, worked a lot on creating all the settings for successful negotiations, and in order to bring a deal as soon as possible, quickly as possible. But, unfortunately, Hamas is not a part of it until now. Hamas do not respond.

So, they use Ramadan with dual purpose. First is to ignite the Middle East, and to try actually to accelerate, and to bring again another phase of war, and parallel to try to keep the hope, we hope as well, that an agreement will come, and the situation will calm down.

We want a deal very much, and make no mistake, the government of Israel, the war cabinet, is fully committed for the release of all our hostages, safe and sound, back to Israel. But for that, Hamas needs to be connected to reality to come to negotiations and to respond to the Qataris, to the Egyptians and to the United States of America, that we appreciate so much.


BLITZER: General, you accompanied hostage family members at the United Nations today. Have you been able to give these families any updates about their loved ones?

HIRSCH: Well, I've just -- I just came from U.N. Security Council. There was a very important meeting today, actually headed by a special envoy for sexual abuse in conflict areas, Ms. Pramila Patten. And she made very brave report and for the first time, the silence of U.N. organizations and women organization worldwide actually, this action, the silence was broke. Actually, for the first time, we could hear the atrocities, the terrible sexuality abuse, what the rapists of Hamas did to our women and men in October 7 and keep doing that to our hostages right now in the dungeons of Gaza.

Now, this meeting was very important and I was there with dozens of family members with older grief and agony and sorrow. They were brave enough to be with me there with Minister Katz, our minister of foreign affairs, and to hear her report. I was very sorry (ph) --

BLITZER: At the said the same time --

HIRSCH: -- to hear that members --

BLITZER: General, sorry for interrupting.

HIRSCH: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: But at the same time, you did hear President Biden's increasingly searing criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu, saying the prime minister is hurting Israel. And the U.S. intelligence community now publicly is saying -- they said today in a formal report that Netanyahu's leadership is in jeopardy in Israel.

Is the U.S. losing confidence in Netanyahu from your perspective?

HIRSCH: Well, from my perspective, I first -- I must tell you that I'm sure that all Americans and all our allies worldwide understand that October 7 for us is something like ten times and more September 11. And I believe that the people of America, the Americans understand us exactly what are we fighting for, just to make sure that there won't be again, a monster next to our border.

And first of all, to bring back our hostages. And I must tell you that we admire and appreciate President Biden's leadership when he supported Israel so much during the beginning of the war. And we see his support and his administration suppose on daily basis. And we appreciate our best friends, our best ally, United States of America.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope those hostages come home soon.

Gal Hirsch, thank you very much for joining us.


BLITZER: And we'll take a quick break. Much more news after this.

HIRSCH: Thank you very much.



BLITZER: The judge in the Stormy Daniels hush money case against Donald Trump just responded to Trump's last minute motion to delay his criminal trial in New York set to begin two weeks from now.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us.

Jessica, what's the judge saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the New York judge is really questioning why Trump's team waited so long to file this motion to delay his trial when jury selection, like you said, is slated to start in just two weeks and the deadline for motions was actually February 22nd.

Nonetheless, though, this judge, Judge Merchan, he's asking for the D.A.'s office to respond by this Wednesday to Trump's lawyers contention that the Supreme Court should decide first, if Trump is immune from criminal prosecution before this hush money trial moves forward, the delay though really would be great if the judge granted this motion because the Supreme Court isn't slated to even hear arguments on that issue until late April, April 25th, meaning they likely won't have a decision for late June.

The judge, though, in this case, is issuing a somewhat stern warning moving forward. He said that Trump's team and the D.A.'s prosecutors, they must now seek permission if they're going to file any new motions ahead of the jury selection March 25th. And this really does seem to indicate that this New York judge wants to keep this hush money trial moving and might not actually grant Trump's efforts to delay, but we will see because the trial slated to start in just two weeks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, watch with you, Jessica Schneider. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, a horrific moments as a commercial airliner suddenly dips from this guy midflight. What we know about what happened to that Boeing 787, including the dozens of people who were hurt.



BLITZER: An investigation is underway after a commercial plane suddenly dropped hurling people toward the ceiling and leaving bloodstains there, according to some passengers.

Let's get more on what we know from CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, passengers are describing a violent drop, but there is a mystery here as to the cause. This was initially described as strong turbulence, the kind of incident that keeps making headlines. But I want to read you the statement from airline Latam. It was operating this flight between Sydney and Auckland. It says there was a technical event during the flight which caused a strong movement.

Technical event leaves a lot of room for interpretation and investigators will want to know if something happened in the cockpit. Was this an issue with the flight controls? Was this an issue with the autopilot?

This was on a Boeing 787, not a 737 MAX, like during the Alaska Airlines door plug blowout two months ago. But even still, Boeing says it's working to gather more information about this incident and his standing by to support an investigation. This plane was to go on to Santiago, Chile, the latest data from FlightAware shows the plane remains on the ground in Auckland. That's where first responders and there's treated a total of 50 people who are on board this flight, 12 were taken to the hospital. One patient in serious condition.

Technical event or not, passengers are describing this like a severe turbulence incident. One telling Radio New Zealand blood was on the ceiling, people flew and broke the ceiling of the plane. Turbulence can be caused by weather such as the up and down drafts of thunderstorms. Sometimes wind shear, where there are two rows or columns of air moving at different speeds.

But turbulence can also be triggered by no weather phenomena at all called clear air turbulence, meaning it can be invisible to pilots. Airlines have gotten better at forecasting turbulence, but the National Transportation Safety Board says turbulence is the number one cause of injuries on commercial flights -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Pete Muntean reporting for us, Pete, thanks very much. And our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We send our best wishes to those celebrating Ramadan. I'll see you Tuesday morning, 9:45 a.m. Eastern for special coverage of the Biden special counsel hearing.

The news continues next on CNN.