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Judge Denies One of Trump's Motions To Dismiss Classified Documents Case; Manhattan D.A. Willing To Delay Trump Trial Until Late April; Biden And Harris Campaign In Key Midwest Battlegrounds; Jury Weighing Involuntary Manslaughter Charges Against Father Of School Shooter Ethan Crumbley; How Vladimir Putin Keeps "Winning" Russian Elections. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 14, 2024 - 18:00   ET



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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, two major breaking developments in Donald Trump's legal cases, the federal judge overseeing his classified documents trial denying one of his motions to throw out the indictment. We're standing by for a ruling on the former president's remaining effort to toss the charges.

Also breaking, Trump appears to be on track to score another delay in court, this time in New York. Manhattan prosecutors announcing they're not opposed to pushing back his Hush Money trial potentially until late April.

And there's news out there on the campaign trail tonight. President Biden making another stop on his tour of battleground states as Vice President Harris pays a historic visit to an abortion provider, becoming the highest ranking U.S. official to do so.

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

Let's get to the breaking news. A federal court slaps down one of Donald Trump's attempts to dismiss this classified documents case, Judge Aileen Cannon rejecting Trump's argument that the charges were unconstitutionally vague.

Let's get straight to our Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Paula, what is the judge saying about what she heard today?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, Trump's lawyers have made multiple different arguments to try to get the classified documents case dismissed. And Judge Aileen Cannon spent most of today hearing some of those arguments, but shortly after that hearing wrapped, she dismissed one of them outright, and that was this argument that the espionage charges, that the espionage act is so vague, that Trump wouldn't have known that he was doing anything wrong. In fact, during the hearing, she signaled that she wasn't buying that argument when she said it would be, quote, extraordinary to throw out this entire case based on that argument.

But, Wolf, we're still waiting for her to weigh in on some of these other challenges that they've posed. They've also argued that Trump had a right to keep these documents, that he believed that they were his personal records.

But the special counsel pointed out that Trump is on tape. There is a recording into this case where he acknowledges he knows these are secrets and that he couldn't declassify them once he left the White House. Let's take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like highly controversial secret. This is secret information.

See, as president, I could have declassified it. Now I can't, you know? But this is classified.


REID: Yes. Judge Cannon also seems skeptical of this argument saying, quote, it's difficult to see how this gets you to the dismissal of an indictment.

But the biggest decision we're waiting on her to make, Wolf, is when this case will go. It's currently penciled in for May. But two weeks ago, she held a hearing about pushing it back. It's unclear how far back and that, as you can see, increasingly complicated and convoluted calendar, she will push it back. Though I was down there in Florida two weeks ago, and it sounded like August would be the earliest. But right now, all eyes on Judge Cannon to see where she puts her case in a quite a bit critical prosecution on that calendar.

BLITZER: Good point. And, Paula, is it looking like Trump's hush money trial will be delayed?

REID: It seems likely because we have consensus between the prosecution and the defense that this can be delayed. The question is for how long, and that will be up to the judge. Wolf, this case was supposed to start in just two weeks, on March 25th. This was the only case that really has a date on the calendar and that most people were confident was going to go forward as the first criminal prosecution of the former president. But this delay is based on the fact that both sides now need to go through tens of thousands of pages of discovery. So, this is evidence. It was just turned over by federal prosecutors. So, the Trump team was asking for a 90-day delay. Prosecutors have said they won't object to a 30-day delay. But now, all eyes on the judge to see how far back he'll push this.

BLITZER: Paula Reid reporting for us, thank you very much, Paula.

Our political and legal experts are here with us in The Situation Room for analysis. And, Laura, let me start with you. Do you expect Judge Cannon will dismiss the second Trump motion to try to dismiss as well?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I don't think that there is the support to do so. I think she's cautious in that area about having the extraordinary measures to do so.


Imagine talking about the vagueness aspect of it, on the one hand. It would be extraordinary for a judge at this particular level to say a law is so vague as not to be able to apply to criminal allegations.

On the second part of it, in terms of whether President Trump is going to argue that these were his own personal documents, he had every right to take them and keep them and maintain them and double down 10,000 times about that, that would really undermine the Presidential Records Act in a very real way. I think she's uncomfortable with doing so, because at this point in time is a contentious issue. It's not well settled law for good reason. We don't have many presidents who have argued this very point for over periods of time.

So, I think she'd be prudent to be cautious about dismissing on these grounds and then instead turn to a jury instruction on some aspects.

BLITZER: Let me follow up with you, Elliot, because Trump's legal team, as you know, has argued that he had the right to declare these highly classified documents as personal documents and bring them along -- bring them home with them. What's the significance of that?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, that argument has been widely debunked by virtually every serious individual who's looked at this matter. The simple fact is, and this is picking up on Laura's point, there's a Presidential Records Act that governs how presidents can handle items that come out of the White House. It is a simple fact. It is not for Donald Trump to decide individually on his own what fits under that.

And so now, if there are individual documents with which he might take issue, with how they're characterized, there's a process for going through that. And he can raise that with the National Records Administration or even in court if he so wishes. But no president in American history has simply been able to wave a magic wand and say, all of these things are mine. These are exempt from the Presidential Records Act. This goes back to however many decades, as applied to Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and it's going to apply to Donald Trump and ought to in court.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're absolutely right.

Alyssa, what message is Trump trying to send by appearing in person today when he did necessarily have to?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, for one, it shows his priorities, listen, his legal woes when he should be on the campaign trail, but he's also doing it there. It's the silent bully pulpit of the former presidency. He's there so that the judge, who's one that appointed him, sees this as a man who's powerful, could be very powerful again. And I think it's hoping that it could prejudice the outcome.

Listen, we don't know much about -- this is not a highly experienced judge, especially in cases related to national security matters. But what I can tell you is, when this case was brought, it was the one Trump world was most afraid of.

Now, they've known it wasn't going to go before the election. But if he were to not win the presidency, this is something where there's actually quite a bit of case law of classified documents being mishandled. The facts of the case are incredibly damning. So, he does care a lot about it. It's just not front and center in the political way that January 6th he worries could impact the election if it were to happen beforehand, but he's very, very worried about the legal exposure were he did not win the presidency.

BLITZER: Let me get Alencia to weigh in as well on that political point. What kind of political impact, Alencia, do you think this is going to have, assuming this trial goes -- starts this year?

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN 2020 CAMPAIGN: Listen, I think Donald Trump won. He loves these delays, because in the short term, it riles up his base and lets them believe that there's an inside job against Donald Trump. But the closer that we get to Election Day and the closer that we have these trials to Election Day, whether or not there's a conviction, I think voters will go into the ballot box with that at top of mind.

We also have polling that shows in any of the cases, if he's convicted, that will shift some Republican voters from him.

So, Trump is trying to delay because he knows those things are not in his favor politically. However, in the short-term, I do think it helps him just a little bit. But, again, we're looking at closer to Election Day and seeing that contrast of your presidential candidate going on trial, that's actually not going to help him.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right on that as well.

Laura, let's turn to the New York hush money case right now. Why are these records only being produced now, potentially only a few weeks before the trial?

COATES: That's the million dollar question at this point in time. You know, discovery is so important. When you are the prosecuting body, you have an opportunity and an obligation to provide any information that would be helpful to the formation of defense, because documents could include exculpatory information, meaning it could clear the person and tend to show that they are innocent of a crime, give them valuable insight into witnesses, give them valuable insight into shortcomings in your own prosecution's evidence.

But if you fail to provide that information, then you've given the other side ammunition to suggest there's something to hide, and so you are really overinclusive and indulgent in trying to provide each and every thing.

That seems to be the core of this particular moment, discovering that there were documents needed to be turned over. They have done so. They have been proactive in saying, we are open to having an extension for you to review the material, even without recognizing and maybe there is exculpatory information there, and there could be inculpatory. That's problematic for Trump in counsel.

It is prudent to do this, but it is really concerning that at this maybe the 10th hour, I thought the 11th hour, it's the 10th-and-a-half hour this is happening.


And I think it gives fuel to the fire that this going to be a feather in the cap of the defense.

WILLIAMS: And moreover, this matter is going to delayed. Whenever the prosecution and defense are largely in agreement about the need to delay a proceeding, it's going to happen.

Now, I the think the defendant asked for 90 days and the prosecution is now asking for 30. But it would be remarkable for the judge to say, you know what folks, because I'm sorry I disagree, you have to go to trial right now, it's not happening.

So, it might gum up the calendar a little bit with respect to all of these various proceedings that are coming up, but this one matter that was going to be the one to try to trail first is not happening within the next month.

BLITZER: Let me get Alyssa to weigh in on the politics of this. Alyssa, is delaying this case and pushing it further into the campaign season actually beneficial to Trump?

GRIFFIN: Well, the reality is Republican voters simply don't care about this hush money case. They see it as opaque, as dating back to 2016, is something that just doesn't really have a major impact on the decision they're going to make in November, whereas January 6th does.

But this delay, and Elliott and Laura could speak to this better than me, it could run into contrast with the January 6th case. This calendar gets very complicated. And if for any reason this being delayed would mean that the January 6th trial would have to be delayed, that would be very helpful to Donald Trump, because the last thing he wants is verdict in the January 6th trial before Election Day.

BLITZER: Alencia, should Democrats be at all concerned if this is the only case against Trump that goes to trial this year before the election?

JOHNSON: Listen, I think I actually agree with Alyssa here on the fact that the January 6th case is one that most people are paying attention to. However, I do believe that regardless of which case it is that happens before Election Day, Democrats still have an ability to paint a picture and to show a contrast because these cases do rile up our base. They do continue to show the existential crisis that Donald Trump would be should he have a second term.

And so, ideally, we will love this January 6th case to get to trial before Election Day. But even if it's just this one, I do think Democrats will have way to spin it around and make sure that it works in our favor.

BLITZER: We're going to be covering a lot of legal issues and political issues going into this election season. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we'll go to Georgia where the judge is expected to rule soon on whether to disqualify the district attorney, Fani Willis, from the Trump election interference case.

Plus, we're standing by for a potential verdict through the trial of James Crumbley, whose son, Ethan, murdered four of his classmates back in 2021.

Stay with us, you're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: We are standing by for news in Donald Trump's election subversion case in Georgia. The judge expected to rule very soon on whether or not he'll disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from overseeing Trump's trial.

Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia. He's outside the courthouse for us. Nick, how high are the stakes for Trump right now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the last two months and the delays that it's led to in this case has unquestionably been a victory for the former president, and getting Fani Willis removed from this case would be yet another significant victory for Donald Trump, as it would all but guarantee that this trial would not go to trial before the election.

But it wouldn't mean that this case would go away all together. In fact, it would be in serious jeopardy, though. It would be handed over to the prosecuting attorney's council. It's a nine-member panel of district attorneys and solicitors general, and it would be their task to find a new prosecutor. If Fani Willis isn't disqualified, big questions, though, still remain, particularly on timing. Would the D.A.'s office be able to get this case back on track for a trial before the November election? For now, though, we wait. We wait. Will Fawny Willis stay or will she go?

Judge Scott McAfee is expecting to make this decision. One thing that we do know is that it won't come in the form of a hearing. He will issue this ruling in writing. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Valencia reporting for us, Nick, thank you very much.

Let's dig deeper right now. Laura Coates is still with us. And we're also joined by Amy Lee Copeland, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Laura, let me start with you. What are you expecting and what are the consequences of disqualification for her?

COATES: Well, this was a self-imposed deadline by this judge because he's aware of how much the nation is leaning in on whether she will remain the prosecutor. Remember, it wouldn't just be her. Her entire office would be disqualified, meaning a new body would have to step in.

And they're not beholden to decisions that she has made or even the grand jury indictment. It could go away, it could be reduced, defendants could be dismissed or otherwise. So, look forward to that and look ahead to that.

But also the main issue this judge is going to be grappling with is whether it is required to have an actual conflict of interest that rises to the level that it makes it impossible for the defendant to get a fair case in this action, or is it the appearance of a conflict.

You know, the judge is using the appearance of impropriety or the hint of impropriety, will that be enough here? The judge seemed to be entertaining at least some case law that suggested that he looked deeper into that issue. But if it's a matter of an appearance versus an actual conflict, it'd be some pretty uncharted territory.

BLITZER: Yes, good point, indeed. Amy Lee, depending on how the judge rules, what are the chances either side would have a successful appeal? Because you know there are going to be appeals from both sides, depending on what the decision is.

AMY LEE COPELAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So, Wolf, I'm not sure right now whether they have a successful appeal, it's whether they have an appeal at all. Georgia has an interlocutory or kind of an intermediate appeal provision that if the judge gives you permission and the court of appeals will take it, then they can hear the case.

With how the Georgia court of appeals would hear this, they would just have to issue a decision by the end of December of this year. If the judge grants an intermediate appeal in this case, that could effectively take the case past the presidential election, which would be in its own way a victory for the former president. [18:20:09]

BLITZER: Interesting. Laura, even if Fani Willis is kept on the case, how difficult would it be for her to prosecute this case after all these revelations that have emerged?

COATES: Well, the big question is whether she ever intended to be the person who is in front of the jury. Oftentimes, the person who is the head honcho, so to speak, is not the person actually arguing the case in front of a jury, and we don't know who is going to do that.

But this has been an issue in terms of having a bit of a dramatic, salacious hearing that people are well aware now of certain aspects of her personal life as alleged. But I think you'll find that juries can have a shorter attention span than people believe.

Remember, she's also an elected official. They have chosen to have her there, but the big thing is she will have an election at some point. There's a primary coming in May. She's already being challenged. So, if she were to stay on this case, the two big questions, who should stand in front of that jury? Will it be Nathan Wade, her, or somebody else who does not have this sort of stain, or will the jury pool look past that because that is the person they have likely elected to be in that position?

BLITZER: Amy Lee, as Laura mentioned, Fani Willis and Judge McAfee are both up for re-election this year. How could this potentially, potentially impact this decision?

COPELAND: You know, it was interesting with the judge's timing, Wolf, because he heard the last hearing in this case on March the 4th -- March the 1st, excuse me, the primary registration or the qualification deadline in Georgia was March the 8th.

So, I wondered if he was holding this decision past everybody's qualification week for a reason related to the qualification. But, of course, he has a great name recognition now. He has drawn a challenger. Ms. Willis has drawn two challengers, one of whom is not as serious as the other is saying that he's just going to wait and see what's going on with this disqualification motion.

BLITZER: Amy Lee Copeland, Laura Coates to both of you, thank you very much.

This note, Laura, will, of course, be back later tonight, 11:00 P.M Eastern for Laura Coates Live. We'll be watching.

Coming up, President Biden and Vice President Harris both out there on the campaign trail today. What a historic visit to an abortion clinic says about their strategy for taking on Trump.



BLITZER: Tonight, the Biden campaign is stepping up its focus on battleground states in the Midwest with the president stopping in Michigan and Vice President Harris paying a historic visit to an abortion clinic in Minnesota.

Our Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee has more.


M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden returning to the critical battleground seat of Michigan for the first time since clinching his party's nomination.

The Biden campaign choosing to visit Saginaw County, a bellwether area in presidential politics, voting for Trump in 2016, then Biden four years later. The president stopping by the home of one of his supporters as part of the campaign's efforts to highlight its on-the- ground organization and grassroots outreach.

Thursday's Michigan stop rounding out the President's recent visits to a trio of Midwestern states that includes Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, making up the so called Blue Wall.

This voter who supported Biden in 2020 telling CNN she won't vote for Trump in November but is still undecided on Biden.

REPORTER: Would you say you're enthusiastic about Biden in running again right now?


LEE: Vice President Kamala Harris, also in the Midwest Thursday, visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul.

KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We have to be a nation that trusts women.

LEE: This marking the vice president's sixth stop in her so-called reproductive freedoms tour, as she leads the campaign's charge to use the issue of reproductive health care to mobilize voters.

HARRIS: How dare these elected leaders believe they are in a better position to tell women what they need, to tell women what is in their best interests.

LEE: Meanwhile, the White House dispatching senior officials to Chicago to meet with Arab, Muslim and Palestinian-American community leaders. This, a part of the White House's ongoing efforts to reach key constituencies who are angry and concerned about the Israel-Hamas War.

That anger on clear display in Michigan last month, when more than 100,000 people voted uncommitted in the Democratic primary, fueled by a campaign organized by critics of Biden's handling of conflict.

But some activists in Chicago area scorching the White House for the outreach, writing in a letter, there is no point in more meetings and demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE (on camera): And, Wolf, that Michigan voter that we saw in the piece who said that she had supported Biden in 2020, but is so far undecided for this year, it is only one person, but does offer a window into one of the significant political challenges for the Biden campaign. And that, of course, is that the president does still remain deeply unpopular. This is something that the campaign is hoping they can turn around particularly as more voters start to notice and realize that it is going to be Donald Trump who is the other person on the ballot come November. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House for us, thank you very much.


Let's get some more analysis now from our political experts, and, Nia Malika-Henderson, I'll start with you. Biden's trip to Michigan is very significant and it comes as a new Quinnipiac poll was just released about Michigan on this day right now. And it shows Biden trailing Trump when the independent candidates are also included in the poll. What does that say to you?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Listen, Biden is in trouble right now with his base. He has got to piece together this base. You heard the black woman there in Michigan saying she's not going to vote for Trump but she's not enthusiastic about voting for Biden. So, they have got to turn that around.

Not even necessarily jazz up the base and make them that enthusiastic, but certainly make them enthusiastic about not voting for Trump and not seeing another Trump White House win. And part of that is going to be looking at these third-party candidates. You see in all of these matchups that the third-party candidates are getting 10 percent, you know, 15 percent if you add them all together, and that hampers Biden's chances.

Biden cannot win the White House if he does not win Michigan. So, you see him there in Michigan, obviously in Pennsylvania too, but they've got a lot of work to do in rebuilding their coalition.

Listen, it's early still. A lot more is going to happen. A lot more will come out about some of these third-party candidates that are doing well in these polls. RFK Jr. might have a number two who's Aaron Rodgers as his vice presidential pick. I don't think that's going to help him.

So, listen, they are doing the right thing by focusing on the blue wall. It's something you saw Hillary Clinton not do enough in 2016, and that obviously cost her the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of us remember that as well.

Alencia, we saw the vice president, Vice President Kamala Harris, she once again today put abortion rights for women front and center. She visited a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, first time a senior, a top U.S. official has ever done so. You worked for Planned Parenthood. What do you make of that?

JOHNSON: Listen, it was a historic moment today. I think there are some activists who were probably frustrated that this time in history it came now, but the vice president was built for such a time as this, to be the first woman vice president, the first black woman vice president to go to a health center that provides abortion care is huge and monumental. And she went there on her fight for reproductive freedom, this tour that she's been on, this has been her sixth stop, she's been on 15 states. She talks about this issue all the time.

And what she did there is what a lot of people love to see Kamala Harris do and what she did in the Senate is prosecute the case. She is very clear about how she connects abortion to freedoms and our broader threats to democracy.

And so this is just the beginning and the scratch of the surface of how we will see her talking about what the administration is doing to protect abortion rights right now as well as what they would like to do if they're given four more years in a Congress.

BLITZER: That's going to be a big issue indeed coming up. Alyssa Farah Griffin is with us as well.

Vice President Harris directly blamed Trump, as you know, for the rollback of abortion rights for women, saying he created a health care crisis. How much of a liability do you think this issue is for Trump and the GOP, especially among women and independents?

GRIFFIN: Listen, it's certainly a motivating issue. I think it's a smart way to use the vice president. But two words of caution. In sort of the key battleground states that the Biden-Harris campaign needs to perform well in, there's largely access to abortion.

The states most affected by the rollback of Dobs tend to be some of the southern states. But where she could have an impact, Georgia, a key swing state where there's only access up to six weeks, to go and prosecute the case there, or somewhere like North Carolina, where there's only access for about 12 weeks.

That's where I think you could see some movement with even moderate Republicans and independents and women that are going to be core to them getting ahead. But the other thing that they need to keep in mind is abortion actually ranks as about fifth on priorities for voters, the economy, health care, border security above it. So, it's got to be an all-encompassing message, which I think is what Joe Biden's doing. He's being Scranton Joe and focusing on the economy. But they cannot make the whole focus abortion or they'll risk losing.

JOHNSON: Can I actually quickly just correct a little bit of that? In the midterms, folks said that abortion wasn't a top issue, but it did turn out in the exit polling to be a top issue and a lot of people connected to the economy because abortion is an economic issue for a lot of voters.

HENDERSON: And part of the argument is, and you mentioned this, it's about freedom. And part of the argument is also, what will Republicans take away? What other rights will Republicans take away? It's also sort of a catch-all for suggesting that Republicans are radical on any number of issues.

So, it's like a gateway, I think, catch-all issues. And Democrats have been, I think, pretty expert at articulating this, given that they've seen in all of these states when Roe is up or Dobbs is up, the sort of pro-choice side wins.

So, it's not just this small issue. It's very much a broad issue, particularly for women. And it says something about Republicans that they are so staunchly opposed to women having freedom.

BLITZER: Let's let Alyssa weigh in if she wants to add anything. You want to add anything, Alyssa?

GRIFFIN: Yes. My only thing I would say, and I don't disagree with any of that analysis, is that we have seen abortion on ballots in red states, like Ohio and Kansas, where women turned out in upheld abortion rights, but then voted down ballot for Republican candidates.


So, there's -- we still need more data to see. It's certainly a motivating issue to turn out, but whether it majorly affects who they vote for at the top of the ticket, I think, is an open question.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Nia Malika, let's talk a little bit about the outreach that the White House is now engaging in, trying to meet with Arab-American, Muslim American, Palestinian-American communities, including in Chicago today. Is this going to be successful, especially now that the Biden administration is speaking more critically and public about some of Israel's policies?

HENDERSON: Listen, they've got eight months to turn these numbers around. We saw some of this discontent that Muslim-Americans and Arab- Americans have with this White House. We saw it show up in Minnesota. We saw it show up in Michigan, which is a state where something like 150,000 Arab-Americans voted in 2020, largely supporting Biden. They're going to need that again. So these talks are going to be ongoing.

You saw early on that a lot of folks in these communities didn't want to even engage with folks from the Biden administration. I think things are changing a bit. You saw, for instance, Ilhan Omar come out on Tuesday on Abby Phillips' show and say that she is going to back Biden in November. If the election weren't held today, she would vote for Biden. So, that's a good sign, you know, but they've got more work to do on this.

BLITZER: We certainly do. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, we'll go live to Capitol Hill. What Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is now saying about Israel is creating a lot of controversy.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news out of Gaza where the health ministry there says at least 14 people have been killed and 150 wounded in shelling while waiting for food aid in Gaza City. Those numbers expected to rise as more casualties are transported to the hospital.

Earlier a witness on the scene said tens of people have been killed and videos showed dozens of bodies in the rubble. Officials in Gaza accused the Israel Defense Forces of carrying out the attack. CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment.

We'll stay on top of the story and bring you more details as we learn more.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, a longtime supporter of Israel and the highest ranking Jewish-American Lawmaker is calling for new Israeli elections and he's slamming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.

Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence.

I believe a new election is the only way to allow for a healthy and open decision-making process about the future of Israel, at a time when so many Israelis have lost their confidence in the vision and direction of their government.


BLITZER: Our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us from Capitol Hill right now. Manu, why is Senator Schumer speaking out so forcefully right now, and what's the reaction there?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, created an uproar among Republicans and a large reason why is that Chuck Schumer has long been an Israel hawk. In fact, he has aligned himself with Bibi Netanyahu on so many issues in the past, including opposing Barack Obama's Iran nuclear deal at the time of 2015. Schumer was one of the few prominent Democrats to speak out against it.

But this time much different. There is angst in the Democratic caucus in particular about the way that this war has been waged and calls for greater action by the United States to try to rein in Israel's action or provide more relief, humanitarian relief, to Palestinians impacted along the Gaza Strip.

Now, in talking to Democrats today, they are making clear, even the ones who are aligned with Chuck Schumer on the issue of Israel, that they are supportive of what he is doing as Republicans accuse him of interfering in another country's elections.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Israelis need to decide whether it's a time for new leadership and I think that Senator Schumer's speech indicates that there's an urgency about that decision by the Israelis

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): What is Leader Schumer doing, injecting himself into Israel's politics? Again, I think it's just beyond the pale.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): I'm very upset. I don't think that Leader Schumer should be inserting his ideas and throwing them at Israel when they are in the middle of a war.


RAJU: And the Senate Republican leader went to the floor and said it was, quote, grotesque and hypocritical for Americans to hyperventilate about foreign interference in our own democracy and do it in the other.

Now, Wolf, this all comes as billions of dollars in aid to Israel, continues to be stalled in Congress. In the House, they have not acted on a broader aid package because it's tied to aid to Ukraine. Republicans are divided on that. The speaker of the House has indicated that he wants to move forward with a standalone Israel aid package, but that does not have enough support from Democrats, particularly many who are aligned with either Schumer or even go further than Schumer and want conditions on aid or want no aid at all, which raises a lot of questions about whether that billions of dollars will actually make it to the Israeli government, especially if Netanyahu is still prime minister.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. I also thought it was interesting that Schumer did point out during his 40-minute speech on the Senate floor that his last name, Schumer, comes from the Hebrew word, shomer, which means guardian, and he said he's a guardian of Israel, still considers himself a guardian of Israel, despite these very tough words against Netanyahu today.

Manu, thanks again.

Coming up, jury deliberations go into overtime today in the trial of a Michigan school shooter's father. We'll have a live report from the courthouse on the latest in this historic case when we come back.



BLITZER: Right now, a Michigan jury is in its second day of deliberations in the trial of James Crumbley. He's facing involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with four murders carried out by his son, Ethan Crumbley, at his high school.

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

Jean, give us the latest.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is they started deliberating at 9:00 a.m. this morning. This is the first full day of deliberations. They are still deliberating.

They had been going all day. They do have breaks. We don't here for about them, but they have breaks. They we know they have a lunch hour, but there have been no questions at all, which is really highly unusual because with the jury instructions that include the law which is very sophisticated, normally there were questions there have not been any questions.

But here's one communication we were able to confirm: they want to say late.


They normally go home around 4:30 and they wanted to stay later than 4:30.

Well, here on Eastern Time, it is approaching 7:00 hour and they are still deliberating, so we have no idea where they are, what they are thinking about, what they're talking about.

Here's what we do know: there are four counts of involuntary manslaughter. It involves the four young high school students that were shot by Ethan Crumbley at point-blank range. His father is being charged with the homicide because prosecutors say that he got the gun that was used in the shooting. He had no idea his child was going to commit this shooting, but he knew his child had mental health issues, but nonetheless bought him that gun.

The defense is saying it was an independent act. It was done solely by James Crumbley's son, and that the parent, James Crumbley, should not be held responsible because he hid that gun and its not his fault that is son founded to commit the shooting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jean Casarez. We'll stay in close touch with you, thank you very much.

Coming up, the first polls are now open in Russia. We're looking at how Vladimir Putin is rigging the election to escape to another term as president.



BLITZER: Vladimir Putin is virtually guaranteed to secure yet another term in power this weekend with Russian presidential elections now underway. Polls opening in Russia's far eastern regions just a short time ago.

CNN's Brian Todd has more for us. Brian, how has Putin been able to hold onto his job for so long?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the analysts we spoke to say there's simply no one better at this. There are so many levers that Vladimir Putin pulls to maintain power. He controls the entire electoral process. He dominates the Russian media. And if he has to, he eliminates his rivals.


TODD (voice-over): He's already the longest-serving ruler of Russia since the dictator Joseph Stalin. And he could easily eclipse Stalin's nearly 30 years in power. Is there any intrigue over whether Vladimir Putin will manage to win yet another election?

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: A hundred certain that Vladimir Putin will remain the president of Russia.

TODD: Analysts say the former KGB colonel has rigged the system, sometimes not so subtly, so that only he can emerge victorious starting with eliminating legitimate opposition like Boris Nemtsov, who has gunned down at the foot of the Kremlin in 2015? And Alexei Navalny, who recently died very mysteriously in an Arctic gulags, though the Kremlin has denied any part in it.

RICHARD LOURIE, AUTHOR, "PUTIN: HIS DOWNFALL": What Navalny decided to do was he was going to set a template, set an example for the Russian opposition that if you go to play this game, have no illusions. This is a game to the death.

TODD: One opposition candidate who did get approved later still got disqualified. Only three other candidates were ultimately allowed to appear on the ballot. Token opposition analysts say.

Their numbers and their fates are -- have already been decided and their presence on the ballot is really to make it have the appearance of an actual election.

TODD: Yet the Kremlin is making great efforts to promote the vote.

Ads for Putin running on TV, polling stations set up nationwide. There's even voting in parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia, which goes against international law.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: They're going around literally with ballot boxes to people's houses in some places, urging them to vote.

TODD: The Kremlin may have little reason to worry with near-total only control of the media and the voting. But the turnout of the funeral for Navalny showed that there are still Russians willing to take great risks to support reform.

FARKAS: Navalny before he died said that everyone should go at noon on that final day and just stand in front of the polling station. Now will be interesting to see how many people do that in what parts of Russia.

TODD: Analysts say Russian voter apathy from decades of being worn down by fraudulent elections helps Putin.

As to his messages to the public, appealing to their paranoia.

DOUGHERTY: He has to alternately say we are surrounded by enemies and they are external and they are internal in Vladimir Putin's mind, and that he is the person who can protect Russian.

TODD: Even if some votes against him gain critical mass --

FARKAS: If he has a maybe too few ballots, they'll -- they'll create some votes for him. So that's a very corrupt system. And three days gives them the leeway to do that.


TODD (on camera): Given how heavily Putin has tipped the scales, what are the most likely ways that his rule will actually end? Analysts say the more realistic scenarios include a popular uprising, which is less likely a coup, or Putin simply dying on the throne. The most, unlike likely scenario they say is Vladimir Putin actually being voted out of office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Quick question, Brian, now, what is Putin's calculation for trying to manipulate the perception of the turnout?

TODD: Well, the turnout is really key in Putin's mind and the Kremlin's mind. They've always had this thing called the 70/70 formula. They've put portrayed it as they can get 70 percent of the electorate out to vote, and that he can win with 70 percent of the vote.

That's what they claimed happened in 2018. It's to create the perception that even if this was a fair election, he's got huge support that people love him. Now he does have significant support and Russia, but not 70/70.

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much, Brian, for that report.

Finally, tonight, a mix of success and failure for the SpaceX Starship rocket. The spacecraft taking off from its base in Texas today, hitting orbit speeds and flying farther than any previous launches.

But after about an hour in-flight, it lost communications with ground control, forcing the company to declare it lost. SpaceX and NASA eventually hope the vehicle can one day be used to carry astronauts to the moon, and maybe even to Mars.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ill see you tomorrow, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for "CNN NEWSROOM." Until then, thanks very much for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.