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The Situation Room

Trump Now Facing Fewer Charges In Georgia After Judge Dismisses Counts; Now, Biden In Key Battleground Against Trump With Rematch Set; House Passes Bill That Could Ban Popular TikTok App In U.S.; NTSB: Boeing Unable To Provide Key Info In Door Plug Blowout Probe; Jury Wraps Up First Day Of Deliberations In Trial Of Father Of Michigan School Shooter Ethan Crumbley. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 13, 2024 - 18:00   ET



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The news continues next on CNN.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Donald Trump now faces fewer charges in the Georgia election subversion case after the judge dismissed some of the counts against him. So, what does it mean for the prosecution as District Attorney Fani Willis waits to learn if she's thrown off the case?

Also this hour, President Biden takes his battleground state tour to crucial Wisconsin just hours after he and Donald Trump both clinched their party's nominations. I'll discuss the state of the race with an influential and independent-minded Democrat, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

And a bill that could ban the very popular social media app, TikTok, in the United States is heading to the U.S. Senate after overwhelmingly passing in the House. We're tracking the legislation and the impact on 170 million TikTok users in this country.

Welcome to our viewers here in United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

First tonight, new questions surrounding the Trump election subversion case in Georgia after the presiding judge threw out a total of six counts, including three that cited the former president specifically.

Let's go right to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's outside the courthouse in Atlanta for us. Nick, what does this move by the judge mean?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, make no mistake about it. This is a critique of the Fulton County D.A.'s office and their inability to include the necessary detail to get these charges to stick. The judge is saying that they failed to include the underlying detail as to what crimes these defendants were allegedly soliciting. The charges have to do with the fake electors scheme, that's Trump and his allies' scheme to try to subvert the Electoral College and unlawfully appoint a slate of presidential electors. It also has to do with that infamous phone call, January 2nd, 2021, when the former president and his former chief of staff called the secretary of state here in Georgia and asked him to find more votes.

But Judge Scott McAfee is saying in this decision that the Fulton County D.A.'s office didn't include the details for these charges to stand. And this is what he's saying and part of his decision. Quote, these six counts contain all the essential elements of the crimes that failed to allege sufficient detail regarding the underlying felony solicited. They do not give the defendants enough information to prepare the defenses intelligently. It goes on to say, this does not mean the entire indictment is dismissed.

Let's pick it up there. This does not mean the entire indictment is dismissed. In fact, the door and the window is open for the D.A.'s office to appeal these charges They can fill in these details and try to get another indictment against Trump and his remaining allies. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick, we're obviously also waiting to hear if this judge will disqualify D.A. Fani Willis.

VALENCIA: Yes, will he or won't he, a monumental decision that we're waiting for. Scott McAfee has to make that decision and his self- imposed deadline by the end of this week. He recently gave an interview to WSB Radio here in Atlanta, a conservative talk radio show, about his challenger that he faces in his re-election bid, and it was during that eight-minute interview, he talked about him being on track to make that decision by end the week.

Really, Wolf, there's a lot of anticipation. That would be a huge understatement. In fact, this decision could come at any moment. Wolf?

BLITZER: That would have huge ramifications if he were to disqualify her. Thanks very much, Nick Valencia reporting.

Joining us now, Georgia legal experts, former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore and Criminal Defense Attorney Amy Lee Copeland. Also with us, CNN's Alayna Treene, who covers the presidential race for us.

Michael, let me start with you. One of the dismissed counts centered on Trump's call to the Georgia secretary of state at the time that started this entire investigation. Let's listen to some of that. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, look, all I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


BLITZER: So, Michael, what do you make of the judge dismissing that specific count and the five other counts?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm glad to be with all of you. This is really a standard defense motion.


This is called a demure. And what it means is that the defense just attacked the legal sufficiency of the indictment. The case is not over. The indictment is not fully dismissed. But it does point out some errors in the indictment. Specifically, what the judge said is, look, you didn't explain how the solicitation, what exactly you were soliciting them to do and why that would be illegal as it applied to their oath.

As to Raffensperger's call or the call to Raffensperger, it was the same legal theory, and that they just want enough information to talk about the underlying solicitation and what exactly they were trying to do and why that would be illegal. It does not mean that the other counts related to that and the RICO overt acts and such are dismissed. But I do think that the judges sort of said, look, you need to either clean this up. You can let it stand if you want to and just go to trial without these counts, or you could clean it up and seek a new indictment and come back and add the language that's allowed, or you can appeal it.

And that footnote about the appeal sort of speaks to me and indicates that I think the judge knows this is not a case. It's likely to see a courtroom this year. And he's basically saying, I probably wouldn't object if you all want to go ahead and appeal it. And that certainly would be a delay. And he's indicated a willingness to at least allow that delay to move forward if that's the way the state wants to.

BLITZER: Yes, an important point. Amy Lee, what do you think? What does this mean for the prosecuting team, this Georgia election subversion case, what does it mean for the case going forward, from your perspective?

AMY LEE COPELAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure, Wolf. Good evening. Listen, the indictment contained 41 counts. The judge has now dismissed six of them. The RICO count stands. The order is very clear about that. And just to elaborate a little bit on what's been said, all six counts concern the violation of oath of office, the criminal defendant's solicitation of that violation.

The problem the judge found was that the oath of office really requires Georgia senators, Georgia representatives, and the secretary of state to promise to defend the United States and Georgia Constitutions. He said that given the language of how it's been indicted, the defendants can't pick out which of the hundreds of clauses in these two Constitutions that have been violated.

So, really, the case will move forward. There is an out for the D.A. if they want to appeal. There is an ability to re-indict. It may slow it down a little bit, but it does not dismiss the case. And the D.A., of course, could elect to proceed without these six counts. BLITZER: And the very serious racketeering charge remains in place. Alayna, most of Trump's charges are still intact, so does the Trump team see this as a qualified victory?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, if I'd argue, they view it more as a small victory. And I talked to one Trump adviser about this earlier today. And they said, look, we see this as a step in the right direction. But they also acknowledged that this doesn't really go far in their ultimate goal, which is to have this case dismissed outright.

And I do just want to read for you what Steve Sadow, one of Donald Trump's lead defense attorneys in this case, said about this decision. He said, quote, the ruling is a correct application of the law. As the prosecution failed to make specific allegations of any alleged wrongdoing on those counts, the entire prosecution of President Trump is political, constitutes election interference, and should be dismissed.

Now, Wolf, this is the type of rhetoric we have heard repeatedly from Donald Trump's team, both his political campaign and his legal team, that these charges are political, it's interfering in the election. And they also -- to Michael's point, they really want to see this trial either dismissed or delayed beyond the election. That's really what they're hoping for. So, this didn't really go far in the way of those goals.

BLITZER: Michael, does this dramatic development today tell you anything about how the judge will decide on Fani Willis' potential disqualification?

MOORE: It really doesn't. I mean, other than the fact that there's some indication there could be a delay, it just doesn't give much in the way of tea leaves for us to read to see what he's going to do. I'm interested to hear that he's on schedule, that he's trying to make sure that his order comes out by the end of this week. And I think that's good both for the defense to know and for the state to know what we'll have moving forward. But it doesn't tell us much.

One thing it tells us, though, is the judge is careful. It's a well- reasoned order that he wrote here and he's looking at the specific counts, he's looking at the constitutional requirements of notice to defendants, and he's balancing those interests. So, I expect we'll see a pretty detailed order that come out comes out about the district attorney's disqualifications.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Amy, let me get your thoughts. Do you expect Judge McAfee to keep Fani Willis on this case? How do you see this part of the story playing out?

COPELAND: Yes, Wolf, that's an interesting question. So, there are two different standards that Judge McAfee is considering in that. Does she have an actual conflict or is there an appearance of impropriety.


From looking at the law, actual conflict is really the standard to use, and that's good for the D.A. because it's a harder and higher standard to meet. Was she acting solely for her interest instead of her duty as a prosecutor?

My thought is that Judge McAfee will discuss very carefully, as Michael noted, the two different competing lines of case law about appearance of impropriety and actual conflict and we'll find there is no actual conflict.

BLITZER: We will find out presumably in the coming days. To all of you, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, President Biden works to build momentum in a key battleground state. Is he doing enough to win over skeptical members of his own party? I'll ask Democratic Senator Joe Manchin.

And we'll go live to Moscow where Russia's Vladimir Putin is making new and very ominous nuclear threats.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: This hour, President Biden is campaigning in Wisconsin, one of the battleground states that could make or break his reelection bid. The president's rematch with Donald Trump now formally set just hours after they both clinched their respective presidential nominations.

CNN's Chief National Affairs Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is joining us from Milwaukee right now. Jeff, how is the president using this Midwest trip right now to try to rally voters?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, quite simply, he's touting his accomplishments and selling his agenda going forward. Of course, Wisconsin is a critical state in that blue wall that you mentioned, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. By the end of this week, the president will have visited all three.

It's part of his post-State of the Union message, really getting out into battleground states, talking about his accomplishments, but specifically that bipartisan infrastructure law that we've heard so much about.

Today, the president went to the heart of a neighborhood, a street that will be revitalized and reconnecting communities that were segregated and split apart decades ago during segregation. Those streets will be rebuilt.

So, we talked about that using it as one example of how his infrastructure law is changing communities, just one slice of something that's happening across the country.

But, Wolf, the president also made clear that Wisconsin is so key in terms of an electoral matter. He visited one of his campaign offices and told volunteers and supporters just how close Wisconsin could be.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The thing about this campaign, and particularly here in Milwaukee specifically, but Wisconsin generally, and several other states, it's going to get down to knocking on doors, the old-fashioned way. No, it really is. And it gets down to just making contact with people.


ZELENY: Knocking on doors the old-fashioned way, of course, that is something that really did not happen during the general election campaign in 2020. Of course, that was conducted during a pandemic.

So, it's a reminder, Wolf, that this campaign may be a sequel, but it has many different storylines, and it's about many different things. The campaigns will be conducted differently, but also issues are different as well. Abortion rights hangs over this campaign, as does the Israel-Hamas War. And we could hear protesters here in downtown Milwaukee earlier this evening, where the president is going to be having a fundraiser this evening, Wolf. That is another dynamic that is different in this race.

So, even though the rematch now is joined between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and the states are the same, the issue is certainly much different here for the next eight months of this general election campaign.

BLITZER: Yes, we're all going to be very busy covering all of this. Jeff Zeleny in Milwaukee, thank you very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about 2024 politics with U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. He's a Democrat of West Virginia. He's joining us here in The Situation Room. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What you're hearing from President Biden in the State of the Union Address, as well as when he's out there on the campaign trail now, does that make you more or less likely to support him?

MANCHIN: Well, you know, he tells the story of what we've been able to accomplish. The 117th Congress will go down as one of the most productive Congresses in any recent times in history of our Congress, and the 118th will go down as the worst. Right now, we're on track to be the least performing Congress in the history of our country.

BLITZER: Who do you blame for that?

MANCHIN: Well, I mean, right now, it's in the Republicans from the House, they just can't get their act together to get anything moving, okay? No matter what's done in the Senate, nothing is going to come back.

BLITZER: So, how do you feel about President Biden and his chances for re-election? Because you're an independent Democrat, and you haven't endorsed anyone yet, right?

MANCHIN: No, I haven't.

BLITZER: So, are you ready to endorse the president of the United States?

MANCHIN: Not yet. No, not at all.

BLITZER: Why not?

MANCHIN: I've said this, the president is the president I knew that got elected because he was the person who can bring people together and I still believe that. He has to come back to that middle. He's been pushed too far to the left.

And I've said this, the liberal wing or the extreme conservative wing of both parties are extreme. That's not where mainstream America. America is, 55 percent of us live in the middle, center left, center right. And that's where the president has always operated his whole political career. That's really what I wanted to say.

BLITZER: You've worked with him and you know him well going back to his days as a senator. I asked the question because you said Trump -- if Trump were re-elected, that would create, and I'm quoting you now, a horrible situation challenging our democracy. Those are very strong words and you would think that if you really believed that you would endorse the president.

MANCHIN: Well I have said this, I love my country too much to either support or vote for Donald Trump, but I also love my country too much to be to the extremes. So, if we can move them back, it would be very, very helpful for our country, be very good for the president too. That's not his DNA, it's not where he came from. He's always been that deal maker.

BLITZER: So, what does President Biden need to do to publicly and formally win your endorsement?

MANCHIN: Well, we have an energy security, okay? We have to get the border secured. The greatest threat we face right now, I've encouraged the president to do basically a national emergency, declare a national emergency.

The business -- what's going on, the business model at the border and the cartels are taking advantage of that.


Everything that's going on there is wrong. You can't have millions of people coming. They've not been adjudicated. We don't know who they are, why they come, and what they came for. That has to stop immediately, and we have to clean up the border.

But we might never throw the baby out of the bathwater. You have to have legal immigration. But you cannot allow illegal immigration taking over your border. He has step forward on that, and strongly. Because if you wait for the politics in Washington to take care of the problems that we know we have and every American would vote to take care of, it's not going to happen with the dysfunction that's going on.

BLITZER: All right. So, we'll wait and see who you in the end you endorse. It's not going to be Trump, but let's see if you'll publicly endorsed Biden.

The news of today, the TikTok getting passed, this ban on TikTok in the House of Representatives, is coming to the Senate right now. I know you co-sponsored a different anti-TikTok bill in the Senate, But would you vote for this House bill if there's a vote in the Senate?

MANCHIN: Absolutely. I will vote to support taking China out of a mass media market in the United States and having control over it. We can't do -- none of our companies could do the same in China and you have countries of concern.

Wolf, we have Russia, you have China, you have North Korea and you have Iran, those are countries of grave concern to us. They're not going to allow our media to have control of a media outlet in their countries, neither should they have the same opportunities in our country, it's as simple as that, and that TikTok can operate as long as it's under United States control.

BLITZER: What do you say to younger Americans, including, as you've said, your own grandchildren who love TikTok, who use TikTok all the time?

MANCHIN: And they would still, is American, they just don't know that all their information is being gathered that could be used against them at any time. They don't ever realize that, they look at the platform itself, enjoy the platforms, are able to connect and communicate and learn a lot but there's an awful lot of things on that that shouldn't be on there. And to have China controlling that and gathering that information, it's wrong for America to let that to that happen.

BLITZER: And you've said that you're ashamed of this current Congress right now, you worry about the future of the institution as well. You aren't running for re-election right now. You've announced that.

I want to get your reaction to something that Republican Congressman Ken Buck said while announcing he will resign next week --

MANCHIN: He's a good man.

BLITZER: -- from Congress. Listen to what he said.


REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I've been in Congress. And having talked to former members, it's the worse year in 40, 50 years to be in Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Why are things this bad right now and what could be done to try to fix it?

MANCHIN: I mean, the duopoly that we have in Washington is that the business model of the Democrat Party and the Republican Party, their business models is basically to divide. And if they can divide and weaponize politics and make you understand, pick a side, Wolf, what side are you on? The other side is our enemy. We have to do everything we can to defeat him. That's not democracy. It's not how we became the country, and it's now how will remain the superpower of the world.

Ken Buck is a good man. I like Ken. I know Ken. And he's fed up. I'm fed-up, okay? I've been at it a lot longer than he has. I have been involved in state and federal politics for about 40 years. But with that, I'm not giving up.

Remember, my daughter and I, we've been working on Americans together. How do we allow people to understand that 55 percent of us that live in the middle have the power to change? Not one of these people running today, President Biden or former President Trump, come in without the center part of this country.

BLITZER: So, you're not seeking re-election, you are dropping out. You're going to seek re-election. Will you ever run for public office again?

MANCHIN: I don't know. I never want to say never on anything. I don't intend to. That's not my intentions. I truly believe that the people need to know the power they have, use it. Make sure the character of the of people you're sending here are coming here for the country's sake and not for their own party or their own sake.

Make that we start having and letting them know that -- term limits. I believe that the Supreme Court should be one 18-year term. I'd believe President should one six-year term. House should six two-year terms and the Senate two six-year terms, any of those variations.

But enough is enough. We need to have turnover and have people here for the right reasons, and that's going to be a lot of the things how we elect people. My dear friend, Lisa Murkowski, without ranked choice voting in a primary, she'd never gotten elected. And I see things that can change. People just have to know the power they have, because that is where it's at, right in the middle.

BLITZER: I've been doing these interviews with you for many years. Thanks very much for coming in. And whatever you wind up doing, good luck.

MANCHIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank very much, Senator Joe Manchin.

Coming up, just how likely is a ban on the popular app, TikTok, here in the United States? The Senate now taking up a bill after an overwhelmingly positive vote in the House against TikTok.



BLITZER: One of the world's most popular social media apps, TikTok, could soon be banned here in the United States after a vote today in the House of Representatives.

CNN's Lauren Fox looks at what's next.


LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A bill that could potentially ban TikTok in the U.S. now heads to the Senate after the House overwhelmingly passed their plan that would require TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the popular social media platform or face a ban.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): At the end of the day for me, it really came down to whether or not we can take some action to try to deter this malign influence of the PRC.

FOX: But the bill wasn't without its detractors. 65 members voted against it, including 50 Democrats.


REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): The answer is not to go selectively banning the flow of information from a particular nation. The way we defeat China is being more American, not less.

FOX: Those backing the bill argue they did so for national security.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): I know we're getting plenty of phone calls that young people really love TikTok and I lift that up, I think that's terrific, but I want to protect them from foreign adversary collecting their data and manipulating it.

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): TikTok is owned ByteDance. ByteDance is in China. In China, any company has to subscribe to the National Intelligence Law of 2017, which says you have to be our spy if we tell you to.

FOX: Already, President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if it passes even though Biden's campaign is on TikTok. Opponents argue that could be a political mistake.

Do you worry at all about the political implications for Biden for Democrats in the election over supporting this legislation?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I don't know why you want to upset young people and 170 million people on a platform when there's least restrictive ways, less restrictive ways of achieving the goal.

FOX: Donald Trump once called for an outright ban on TikTok.

TRUMP: We'll either close up TikTok in this country for security reasons or it will be sold.

FOX: But now he's against the House bill.

TRUMP: Frankly, there are a lot of people in TikTok that love it. There are lot young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.

FOX: The bill's future in the Senate now less certain.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I haven't come to a final decision as to whether or not it should be banned.

FOX: Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Warner taught members of the Senate Intelligence Committee committed Wednesday to, quote, working together to get this bill passed through the Senate and signed into law. But Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not committed to putting the bill on the floor.


FOX (on camera): And TikTok released a statement after that bill out of house encouraging senators to consider the facts, listen to their constituents and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses and the 170 million Americans who use our service.

China also serving this warning to senators and lawmakers saying that this is an act of bullying if they try and ban TikTok, also warning there could be repercussions for the United States.

Now, it's still not certain if this bill is going to come to the floor of the Senate, Wolf. That is because you have yet to see Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promise to bring this bill to the floor. You also have Maria Cantwell, the chairwoman of the Commerce Committee in the Senate, saying she has her own approach she would like to look at. Wolf?

BLITZER: Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill for us, thank you very much for that report.

For a closer look, at the major impact a TikTok ban would have here in United States, let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, this could potentially affect 170 million American users.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 170 million, Wolf, and that's more than half the U.S. population. That's how wildly popular TikTok has become in the United States. We spoke to experts and business owners about the platform's economic and cultural impacts on America and what a band would do to all of that.


TODD (voice over): A horse bopping its head to heavy metal, teenage stunts and skits, the popular perceptions of TikTok. But a ban of the app in the U.S. wouldn't just curtail digital adolescent expression. Think of businesses like Summer Lucille's.

SUMMER LUCILLE, FOUNDER AND OWNER, JUICY BODY GODDESS BOUTIQUE: Look at all this clearance we have. Look all of this clearance as we had. And this stuff is good stuff, you all.

TODD: Lucile runs the Juicy Body Goddess Boutique in Charlotte, North Carolina. She says when she started promoting her business on TikTok in 2022, it changed her life, allowing her to expand her floor space to a 15,000-square-foot warehouse and get her into a mall location.

She says this to the lawmakers voting to ban TikTok in the U.S.

LUCILLE: You are voting against my small business. You're voting against me getting a slice of my American pie.

TODD: TikTok last year said nearly 5 million businesses had accounts on the platform.

CHRIS STOKEL-WALKER, AUTHOR, TIKTOK BOOM: You see everybody from mom and pop bake shops who choose to share how they make cakes and cookies on TikTok, getting people through the door because of the videos that they post there to independent businesses who tout their wares using the app. And all of them rely on that personal connection that TikTok provides.

TODD: A ban on TikTok would touch more than half the American population. TikTok says it's got more than 170 million users in the U.S.

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: It's replaced television for a lot of young people. This is where most people are getting, young people especially are getting their video, it is where they're socializing with friends, it's where their getting inspiration for new ideas, it's where they're putting themselves out there as creators.

TODD: As for the demographics of TikTok, it is predominantly used by people between the ages of 18 and 34.

Experts say a ban inside the U.S. could definitely affect how millions of Americans spend their leisure time.

STOKEL-WALKER: The average American spends something like feature film length on TikTok every single day.


TODD: Its influence on American culture, observers say, has been enormous.

MAX KLYMENKO, ENTREPRENEUR AND CONTENT CREATOR ON TIKTOK: This is where entertainment happens, this is the commentary and analysis of entertainment world happens. This where education happens.

STOKEL-WALKER: You can get educational videos, you can news reports, many major organizations, as well as politicians, including President Biden, have taken to the app.

TODD: But a ban could also conceivably prevent the Chinese Communist Party from using TikTok to spy on Americans or influence the upcoming election, something the director of National Intelligence warned about when testifying on Capitol Hill this week.

AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We cannot rule out that the CCP could use it, correct.


TODD: Now, TikTok has argued that a ban in the U.S. would have a huge impact on small and medium-sized businesses, creators, influencers and advertisers. But Analyst Sara Fischer says maybe not. She points out there are plenty of TikTok's competitors where people and businesses can go to place content and ads. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very interesting, lots at stake right now. Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, the NTSB raises yet another red flag about Boeing after a series of safety issues concern flyers here in the United States and indeed around the world.



BLITZER: Vladimir Putin now says he's prepared to respond with nuclear weapons if the Russian state is ever threatened. Those remarks coming just before presidential elections in Russia this coming Friday.

Our Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us. He's joining us live. Matthew, so, tell us what Putin is saying.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's the sort of rhetoric, Wolf, that we've heard from the Russian leader in the past. He's basically saying that Russia wouldn't hesitate to use nuclear weapons if the existence of the Russian state were threatened, but he also said that, you know, there's been no such need so far.

So, on the one hand, playing down the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with heavily armed Russia, heavily armed with nuclear weapons, that is, but also ratcheting up the tensions and issuing a warning to his rivals, principally, of course, the United States, that Russia is still a military power, a nuclear power to be reckoned with and shouldn't be pushed too far. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Our triad, the nuclear triad, is more modern than any other triad, and it's only us and the Americans who have such triads.

In general, if we talk about the carriers and the number of warheads, we are more or less equal, but ours are more modern.


CHANCE: They have it talking in comparisons there between the Russian and the American nuclear triads. But, remember, we're just a few days away now from a presidential election in this country. Vladimir Putin isn't just talking to the world and talking to America, he's also talking to his own people. And the message he's trying to communicate to them is, look, I am the leader who is able to protect you against external threats, particularly the NATO threat that many Russians perceive from outside the borders of the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant indeed. Matthew Chance in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

Joining us now, our Chief National Security Analyst Jim Sciutto, he's the author of a very important brand new book entitled The Return of Great Powers, Russia, China, and the Next World War. It really is an excellent book.


BLITZER: And I want to get your thoughts on these latest threats about nuclear war that Putin is delivering right now because you have extensive reporting in your new book about these threats.

SCIUTTO: We know it's not entirely empty rhetoric because there was a moment in late 2022 when the U.S. was deeply concerned that Russia was about to use a nuclear weapon in Ukraine to the point where I'm told by U.S. officials that they were preparing rigorously, direct quote, for that very possibility and marshaled the world to get Russia to move back from the nuclear brink, including enlisting the help of Indian leaders and Chinese leaders in Xi Jinping.

I asked U.S. officials in reporting this book whether that fear has entirely dissipated. And here's what a senior U.S. official told me in the book. He said, it's not something that is ever far from our minds. We continue to refine plans. And it's not beyond the realm of possibility that we could be confronting at least the rising risk of this again in the months ahead. So, they are watching closely and they listen closely when Putin speaks because oftentimes he means what he says.

BLITZER: Yes, he certainly does. How worried are Eastern European leaders right now, including some NATO allies, about Putin's the next target if, and it's a huge if, if Russia were to win this war on Ukraine?

SCIUTTO: They will say very openly that we are next, in effect. I spoke to the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, extremely close to the Russian threat, right on the Russian border, and it's only 30 years ago that they won their independence of Russia.

So, they speak with personal experience of what it's like to live under Russian, or, of course, at that time Soviet power. And she says -- she said to me many times that, in the east, they understand Russia better, and that some of the western NATO allies just don't see the threat to the degree that they do. She said to me the following for the book, they have much better neighbors, speaking of Western European NATO allies. They don't deal with this. For them, the security issue is a nice intellectual conversation to be having. It's not an existential threat like it is for us.

So, she's calling the threat of Russia existential because they believe that Russia might very well make the decision to invade even a NATO ally, particularly if they get what they want in Ukraine.

BLITZER: And it's not just in Europe that folks are worried right now about Putin. You also report in the book that Putin's campaign in Ukraine could embolden, let's say, the Chinese leadership, President Xi, for example, to go ahead and invade Taiwan.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Wherever I went for this book, and it includes Eastern Europe, Western Europe, U.S. officials I spoke to here at the highest level, but also to Asia, I spent time in Taiwan for this book speaking to political leaders and commanders, all of them say that Xi Jinping and China are watching Russia's experience in Ukraine, so they could learn lessons.


One, about how they might be able to win a similar war against Taiwan, but also how the west reacts. And this is a quote from the CIA director Bill Burns, saying that as Russia has stumbled in Ukraine, it's been more difficult than even he imagined, that China might use that as a trigger to act more quickly against Taiwan.

This is what Bill Burns told me. He said: Xi, Xi Jinping, sort of like Putin with Ukraine, starts to worry that his window is closing to achieve what he believes is his destiny, which is to control Taiwan, that can lead to autocrats, especially in the absence of a lot of contrary views and their inner circle and anything else to make the kind of stupid decision that Putin made in Ukraine.

It's quite direct words from the CIA director about just how serious that threat is, not just Putin to Ukraine, but China and Xi to Taiwan.

BLITZER: You've done a lot of new reporting in this book. Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, our colleague here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And to our viewers, be sure to check out Jim's new book, "The Return of Great Powers: Russia, China, and the Next World War". It's available right now.

Also tonight, a very disturbing new snapshot of the deadly toll from the Israel-Hamas war. The United Nations now says more children were killed in four months of war in Gaza than were killed during four years of war worldwide. The U.N. says a total of 12,193 children were killed all wars between 2019 and 2022 compared to at least 12,300 children reportedly killed in Gaza since the October 7th attack on Israel through last month.

Very disturbing indeed.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following new developments in two of the very alarming midair safety mishaps involving Boeing jets.

Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean.

Pete, what are we hearing from the NTSB right now about its investigation of that door plug blowout on an Alaska Airlines plane?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the woman leading this investigation is now putting Boeing on blast again. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy says that Boeing's lack of a paper trail is hampering this investigation.

Remember, the NTSB's preliminary report on the January 5 incident said this Boeing did not re-install for critical door plug bolts before this 737 MAX 9 was delivered to Alaska Airlines, the bolts were removed at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, for corrective work on another part of the plane. The NTSB says Boeing has not been able to produce the paperwork that details that work.

Here is what Homendy says in her new update of the senators on the committee overseeing aviation. The absence of those records will complicate the NTSB's destination moving forward. She also underscored that Boeing has been unable to locate the security footage of that work. Boeing has responded here, Wolf, and says that it has supported the investigation from the start and continues to do so.

BLITZER: I understand that a key piece of evidence on another Boeing plane that experience what they call technical, technical error in New Zealand has now been discovered. Tell us about this.

MUNTEAN: This investigation is really hitting its stride. It dovetails off of the door plug investigation, but it involves a different airplane. It is not a 737 MAX 9. This was a Boeing 787, a Latam airlines plane that was flying from Sydney need to Auckland, New Zealand on Monday.

The crew told other passengers on board the plane that they experienced some sort of technical event. And the latest development here is that authorities in New Zealand have been able to recover the black boxes onboard. That will be so key because the pilot said there displays went completely dark, causing them to briefly lose control of this plane.

The flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder will give investigators a lot of clues, especially the data recorder, which will show the airspeed, the altitude of the plane, the position of the controls, even the position of some of the switches on board, the plane.

And so investigators can now really dig in those recorders have now been moved to cure area. It's really Chile or Latam Airlines is base that's leading this investigation.

BLITZER: Pete Muntean, we are grateful to you. You really know your staff.

MUNTEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: He knows aviation really well.

Coming up, the fate of James Crumbley, the father of the Michigan school shooter, Ethan Crumbley, now in the hands of a jury, we have details from today's dramatic closing arguments. That's coming up right after a quick break.



BLITZER: In Michigan tonight, a jury has just wrapped up its first day of deliberations in the trial of James Crumbley, the father of 17 shooter, Ethan Crumbley, who murdered four of his classmates back in 2021.

CNN's Jean Casarez is outside the courthouse for us.

Jean, give us the latest.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is they deliberated about an hour-and-a-half before going home today. And the final jury is six men and six women. The prosecution really hammered home that James Crumbley was aware that his son had mental health issues, but nonetheless, bottom of gun. And the very last moments, the morning of the mass shooting when he was presented at the school with a math worksheet that had bullets, blood everywhere. The world is dead. A stick figure, a gun that he should have taken him out of school.

Even if he had to do DoorDash, he could put him in the front seat as he was making the deliveries and he should have gone home at that point to see if that gun was still there before the mass shooting. And that in and of itself is gross negligence causing the death of those four students.

Take a listen.


KAREN MCDONALD, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: James Crumbley was presented with the easiest, most glaring opportunities to prevent the deaths of the four students and he did nothing.

MARIELL LEHMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR JAMES CRUMBLEY: James Crumbley had no idea what his son was capable of. He had no idea what his son was planning, and he had absolutely no idea that his son had access to those firearms.


CASAREZ: So the strength of the defense is that witness after witness took the stand from the dean to the counselor, to the vice principal, who had known Ethan for a long time and they said, we never dreamed he would do this. The vice principal said, I've known him since elementary school, he's a sweet kid. In other words, the defense is trying to show that Ethan Crumbley fooled everybody, including his father.

Wolf, they'll be back deliberating tomorrow morning, 8:30 a.m., sharp.

BLITZER: We'll be watching together with you. Jean Casarez. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.