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Trump Hush Money Trial Set For April 15, Judge Rejects Further Delay; Appeals Court Cuts Trump Bond To $175 Million, Extends Deadline By Ten Days; Homeland Security Official Confirms Raids At Diddy's Homes; Suspected Russia Concert Hall Attackers Appear In Court; State Department: "Progress" Made In Gaza Ceasefire & Hostage Talks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 25, 2024 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the date is now set for Donald Trump to be tried on the first of dozens of criminal charges. The judge in Trump's hush money case ordering jury selection to begin on April 15th after accuse the defense of being misleading.

Also tonight, Trump gets a reprieve from a nearly half a billion dollar bond in the New York civil fraud case as the state appeals court now cuts the about by more than half.


The New Yorker attorney general vowing Trump will pay big in the end.

And we're following breaking news on raids at the homes of Sean Diddy Combs in both California and Florida, a Homeland Security official confirming the raids just a short while ago. We're standing by for new information.

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

We begin this hour with Donald Trump's first criminal trial now set to begin in just three weeks. The former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee failing in his latest bid to delay the proceedings.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the New York courthouse where Trump appeared earlier today. Kaitlan Collins is also with us. She's in New York.

First to you, Kara. How significant is the outcome of today's hearing in the hush money case?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the judge was definitive. This will be the first criminal trial of a former president, Judge Juan Merchan ending the hearing by saying that this case is going before a jury with jury selection begun April 15th.

Everyone was in court today because Trump had made claims that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office prosecutors had obstructed their ability to get information from federal prosecutors who, in 2018, prosecuted Michael Cohen.

The judge went back and forth peppering both sides with questions, but finally saying he didn't even know why we were here, saying to Trump's attorneys, you are literally accusing the Manhattan D.A.'s Office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct and of trying to make me complicit in it and you don't have a single site to support that position, saying that Trump's team was reading the facts differently than the judge, saying that this was a pattern that he'd noticed.

And so after the judge took a 45-minute break, in a surprise ruling from the bench, he said that there was no evidence that the prosecutors were at fault for the delayed turning over of documents from federal prosecutors. And he said this case is moving forward with jury selection on April 15th. Wolf?

BLITZER: But Trump caught a break his civil fraud case. Tell us about that.

SCANNELL: Yes, that was the big break for. Trump today was the day that he either had to post that $464 million bond, or the New York Attorney General's Office could begin to start the process to see some of his properties or bank accounts. And the New York appeals court stepped in granting Trump's motion saying that, he only has to host $175 million, that's less than half of the total bond. And he has an additional ten days to come up with the money. Trump telling reporters he's confident he can post that bond.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I greatly respect the decision of the appellate division and I'll post either $175 million in cash or bonds or security or whatever is necessary very quickly within the ten days.


SCANNELL: Now, under this appeals court decision, Trump will have until about next Thursday to come up with that money. People close to him say that that is possible for him to do. This means that the appeal will go before the panel as soon as September. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Kara Scannell of New York for us, thank you.

I want to bring back CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins. She's also in New York for us. Kaitlan, did Trump have a backup plan if this bond wasn't lowered?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: No. Wolf, I mean, they walked into that courtroom today for the separate hearing in the criminal hush money case, not really knowing what was going to happen with this timeline that was lapsing today's, this 30-day grace period that he had before the attorney general here in New York could start seizing on some of his most prized assets, ones that have long been central to his identity that he referred to as his babies this morning on social media before that ruling from the appeals court came in. And so now that they have stepped in, the former president has been talking about how he is going to ultimately fulfill that, what it's going look like. And I should note that we've been hearing from people now this bond has cut in less than half of what he was expected to have to pay, something that they said 30 companies had turned them down on. They are more confident they'll be able to secure a bond to get this $175 million taken care of, though it could still drain the former president of a lot of the cash that he has that he'll have to put up, in addition to maybe some collateral as well.

But the formal president weighed in on this after that ruling from the appeals court came out today. This is what he said.


TRUMP: A lot a cash, but I would also like to be to use some of my cash to get elected. They don't want me to my use my to cash get elected.

I might spend a lot of money on my campaign.


COLLINS: This is not something that we had heard from the former president before in just the last several days, where he was now claiming that the money that he'd have to put up for this bond is actually money could have gone to his campaign.


And just a little bit of a reality check here, he hasn't actually spent any of his own funds on his campaign since 2016. That was back when he pledged to spend about $100 million on this campaign. He ultimately only spent about $60 to $66 million, I believe, of its own personal funds.

He spent none in 2020, but he's now trying to tie this to this case as he is complaining about having to put up this money. And right now, I mean, $175 million is a lot less than what he was expected to do, it's still quite a bit of money that he is saying that he would have used on his campaign, though we don't have any real evidence to back that up.

BLITZER: Yes. The bond originally was, what, $464 million, it's now down to 175 million, which is a significant reduction.

Trump is now gearing up, Kaitlan, for his first criminal trial. How will he approach this? What are you hearing?

COLLINS: Yes. I think it is so notable that in three weeks that he's going to be the first former president to ever have to stand trial. And his team walked into that courtroom today believing that they were going to walk out with at least a little bit more of a delay in this case, something that have sought to do with every case but obviously were unable to here. And this is a long, simmering one, Wolf. Everyone is very familiar with the details here. But what this will do for about six weeks, according to the district attorney's office, is kind of resurrect that story from the 2016 campaign in his first year in the White House. We could potentially see Michael Cohen, Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels going and testifying about that. Story, and it's one that is personally very sensitive for him, because, obviously, it hits very close to home.

So, I still think even though his team doesn't believe it is the biggest legal threat to him, it still certainly is a sensitive one, to say the least, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Kaitlan Collins in New York for us doing excellent reporting.

This important note to our viewers, Kaitlan, of course, will be back later tonight 9:00 P.M. Eastern for her show, The Source.

I want to get some more right now in the Stormy Daniels hush money case, the adult film stars alleged affair with Trump, now leading to the former president's criminal trial.

Our Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, walk us through how we got to this moment and the allegations against Trump.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this story would seem like it was straight out of a Hollywood political thriller if you didn't know better. It involves allegations of extramarital affairs, allegations betrayal between two longtime friends and partners, and the alleged efforts of the president to keep it all under wraps.


TODD (voice over): It wasn't until almost 12 years after the affair allegedly occurred that the world first learned of the allegations of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. In January 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that in the weeks before the 2016 election, Donald Trump had arranged a $130,000 payment to the adult film star to keep her from publicly discussing their alleged 2006 encounter.

Shortly after The Journal report came out, then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen said he had paid Daniels using his own money. Cohen initially said he was not directed by Trump or the Trump campaign to make a payment and said Trump never reimbursed him, but Cohen later contradicted those statements under oath, saying Trump did direct him to make the payment and reimbursed him.

Later in 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to criminal charges in federal court, including campaign finance violations related to the hush money payments.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR, THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP: Ultimately, he was prosecuted by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, went to prison, and he turned on Donald, disclosed all sorts of things about his conduct. TODD: Cohen ultimately testified that Trump directed him to make payments to Daniels, quote, for the principal purpose of influencing the election, and later gave jarring testimony to Congress.

MICHAEL COHEN, DONALD TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.

TODD: Donald Trump has always denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels. In April 2018, he was asked by reporters about hush money.

REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


TODD: But later in 2018, in an ethics filing, Trump acknowledged reimbursing Michael Cohen for more than $100,000 but didn't say what it was for.

That same year, the New Yorker Magazine detailed reports that Trump had had an affair with former Playboy Model Karen McDougal. She spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only regret I have about the relationship that I had with Donald was the fact that he was married.

TODD: The Wall Street Journal reported four days before the election that the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid had paid McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story shortly after Trump became the Republican nominee for president, but that The Enquirer never published the story.

JOHNSTON: Catch and kill, that is pay someone and then kill a story that would be damaging to Donald.

TODD: Trump has denied having an affair with McDougal. Trump was indicted nearly one year ago on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to the Daniels hush money payments.


He's pleaded not guilty.

Daniels herself is the subject of a new documentary on Peacock, in which she details threats made against her since the story blew up in 2018.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is direct threats. It is, I'm going to come to your house and slit your throat.


TODD (on camera): The judge in the hush money case has ruled that Stormy Daniels could be called to testify against Trump in the trial, which is now slated to begin on April 15th. Sarah Gibson, the director of that new documentary, told CNN in recent days that Daniels is ready to take the stand and is looking forward to being able to give her version about what happened in 2016. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our legal and political experts, and, Laura Coates, I'll start with you. Can we definitively now say this criminal trial will begin on April 15th, what, that's only about three weeks or so?

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: It actually is less time away than what even Alvin Bragg agreed to extend to. He said 30 days is fine with him. Of course, Trump won in 90 days. This is now about 20 days away. This is, of course, jury selection, which, in and of itself, is going to be a bit of a feat for him to accomplish. In fact, it might maybe multiple days or weeks for that to actually happen there.

But this is going to go. This is not a case that will kick the can down the road until, say, the general election. This is the case that's going to go to trial. And it's a criminal one, it's unprecedented, and, frankly, according to Alvin Bragg, it's overdue.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens on April 15th.

Katelyn Polantz, how likely is it that Trump would eventually go to actual prison if, in fact, he were convicted?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, that would be a long way away and there would be a lot of questions that the judge would have to weigh if Trump were to be convicted and then we would get to a sentencing hearing. There is the possibility with these types of charges that there could be what's called a custodial sentence, sending someone to prison.

But one of the things that makes this case a little bit different from all the other criminal cases Donald Trump is facing is that, from what my sources are telling me, everyone in Trump's legal circles seems to believe that this is a more parochial case, it's very much about New York, not the whole country and it's one that seems to have the least likelihood of a prison sentence.

The judge would have to take into account bad behavior in addition to just the charges for it to end up in something if Trump were to convicted to also have him go to jail.

BLITZER: Interesting. Jamie Gangel, Trump claims he would have no problem, he says, he would have no problem testifying in the case. He says he did nothing wrong. Do you buy that?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's something we hear from Donald Trump a lot. He has no problem doing something. He said, look, this was a case he never wanted to happen. He never wanted any of this to be public in the first place. That's how we got there.

There's another issue, and that is welcome to Campaign 2024. This is his political and his legal reality going on at the same time. Swing voters, moderates, women, you know, his base stays with him. But a lot of the voters he needs may watch this and say enough is enough. BLITZER: Interesting. You know, Jeff Zeleny, this will be the first criminal trial of a former president or a presidential candidate for that matter. How could that impact this upcoming campaign?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, in many ways. And since it is historic, there is no history to draw upon about how this will potentially impact the race.

Look, I mean, one thing we do know over the last year or so, any time Donald Trump has a criminal case against him or a legal case, his base has rallied behind him. But we're in a different stage and phase of this election. We're in the general election phase. So, the base we know will stay with him and perhaps become even more supportive if that's possible. We do not know in a broader term how this will affect him personally.

And I think that is the thing that I'm watching the most. As Jamie was saying there of all these cases, this is the one that is the most personal to him. We do not know how it will affect his family, his marriage or him directly sitting in court.

So, the venting and the stewing that we've heard him talk about this case over the years is going to grow, obviously. But we don't know how it's going to affect it. One thing, it will keep him off the campaign trail for sure, but be certain he'll be standing at the steps of the courtroom.

Obviously, there won't be cameras in the courts in this case, but he'll be standing at the steps of the courtroom or somewhere nearby every day. So, he'll be campaigning from New York. We'll see what effect that has.

BLITZER: We'll see, we'll watch it unfold. What do prosecutors, Laura, need to prove in order to get a conviction?

COATES: Well, this is about falsifying business records. And although we certainly think we know a lot about Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen and what happened when Michael Avenatti was counsel for her as well, many people are remembering this period of time.

It's not enough just to have people be reminded of that period. You actually have to prove that there were indeed these records that were falsified. You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and also have the corroborating evidence of people whose credibility might be challenged.

Michael Cohen, I'm sure, is a good witness in the sense that he would be a firsthand eyewitness of things.


He's also a convicted felon who has credibility issues. And granted, in the other case involving the bond with Judge Engoron, who rehabilitated his credibility in his holding to say that he believed what he had to say, it's still going to be an uphill climb to say that this person on this instance could give you that testimony. Also, Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress and director, will have to be somebody as well after her documentary, I'll be curious as a prosecutor whether everything she has said publicly will line up with what she will testify to here.

And so it's not a given that everything will stay as it did frozen in time six or so years or eight years ago, but this is going to be incumbent upon this prosecution team to carry its burden in a very public way with a very high stakes election at the end.

BLITZER: These are going to be dramatic developments, indeed. We'll watch it every step of the way. Guys, thank you very much.

We're going to break down the other big Trump ruling today, drastically reducing his bond in the New York civil fraud case.

And later, there's breaking news on the raids being conducted at some homes of Sean Diddy Combs.

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



BLITZER: We're back with our legal and political experts as Donald Trump has gotten a huge reduction of his bond in the New York civil fraud case, just as he appeared to be close to having some of his assets seized.

Laura Coates, let's talk a little bit about that. The bond was originally, what, $464 million. It's now been reduced to $175 million. Are you surprised that the appeals court decided to make that reduction?

COATES: Let's be clear, the actual judgment that the judge found, that $454 million, has not been reduced. The bond in which he needs to post to appeal has been reduced. It is actually a law in New York, in order to have that appeal process, you have to actually post some form of a bond, one, to protect the person who you owe money to, that you actually have the money, and, two for yourself, that you don't actually pay out to somebody wanting that money from you and never having a chance to get it back if you are successful on appeal. So, it is reduced for that reason.

But this is not an indication because they didn't tell you why they reduced it, as to whether they think that the lower court's ruling was somehow excessive. So, I would look ahead to what that will ultimately mean. But still, it is much more feasible number.

I don't think there is a requirement of one bond source, and so we know the insurance price could give $100 million, which is their ceiling before, and he could have the $75 as well as a part of it. So, this is a very big and huge win for him financially, but in terms of the overall judgment, he still owes that amount of money. BLITZER: You know, Jamie, if you listen to Trump today, and we all did, he appears to be far more concerned about the size of this bond than the impending criminal trial. What does that say to you?

GANGEL: Well, for Donald Trump, you know, money triggers him. The brand triggers him. This case really gets under his skin because it's about the way he has presented himself, his image, the successful businessman.

I think there's something else. $175 million is still a lot to come up with. And as Laura said, the larger amount is still hanging over his head. We've heard reports that he has $300 million or $400 million. We don't know is the reality.

So, I think one of the other questions that's going to come up is he has ten days to come up with this money or the bond. Is he going to do it? What's his default position in all court cases? Fight and delay.

So, I think we still have to see whether he comes through with this.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. He now has to come up with a bond, Jeff, by April 4th, that 11 days later, this criminal trial, April 15th, actually starts. Ten days after that, the U.S. Supreme Court here in Washington will begin to hear arguments on his presidential immunity case. This is going to be an incredible few days.

ZELENY: Incredible month. And he's also supposed to be campaigning. And he's already sensitive to the criticism that he's not been campaigning for the last couple of weeks. President Biden has now been to every battleground state. He will hit the final one tomorrow in a visit to North Carolina that Donald Trump has been to one.

So, this is something that is sensitive to the Trump campaign. They say he's going to be out on the road campaigning. But this, A, is going to be weighing on him, but even more than that is going to be consuming his time and just his bandwidth here.

So, again, we know that it helped him in the primary. It rallies his supporters to his case. We do not know how overall this is going to impact the sliver of the electorate that is still open to being persuaded by this. But I think at the end of the day, what it's going to do is the Supreme Court case is perhaps the most important of all these ruling on the immunity case. So, we will see.

But there aren't that many months until the convention, but on the plus side, it consumes all the oxygen. And when it's all about Donald Trump, it is tended to benefit him.

The Biden campaign, I was talking to many advisers there, and they're also slightly concerned about this, because, again, it consumes all the oxygen. We're talking about Donald Trump, not about President Biden.

BLITZER: Interesting, very interesting.

Katelyn Polantz, the judge, Juan Merchan, He's allowing the defense to file a motion on grounds of pre-trial publicity. What does that mean?

POLANTZ: Well, this is, again, in the criminal case in New York delay. That is the tactic here that you're seeing the judge allow, even after telling Donald Trump's team today, April 15th, that's your trial date. What they're going to do is they're going to file something today that says, there's been so much publicity around this trial, it couldn't possibly go to trial before the election. That's been the position in all of these cases for Trump's team.

The D.A.'s office will respond and they've already signaled that they want to say, any pre-trial publicity here, that's been exacerbated by Donald Trump.


He's the one speaking to the cameras going in and out of court in all of these hearings. So, the judge will look at that. But I don't know if we should think that there will be much that the judge will allow that could actually move that trial date of April 15th.

BLITZER: A significant development, as we'll watch that part as well. To all of you, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're back to the breaking news, properties owned by producer Sean Diddy Combs raided by federal agents today. We're learning new details and we'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news, federal agents raiding properties owned by musician and producer Sean Diddy Combs in both California and Florida.


I want to bring in our legal, law enforcement and entertainment experts for more on this important story we're watching.

First, to CNN's Josh Campbell. What new information are you getting right now, Josh?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that this is a significant step being taken by federal law enforcement, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, their Homeland Security Investigations Agency, confirming to CNN just a short time ago that federal agents have descended upon residences belonging to Sean Combs, both in the Miami area as well as where I am here in Los Angeles.

I'll read you a part of a statement that we got in from that agency. They say that earlier today, HSI New York executed law enforcement actions as part of an ongoing investigation with assistance from HSI L.A., and HSI Miami and other local law enforcement partners.

Now, it's worth pointing out, Wolf, that right now, we do not know that Sean Combs himself is the subject or target of any federal investigation, but what this action by law enforcement signals is that, particularly as you look at some of the aerial imagery, officers are likely serving -- executing a search warrant at those locations.

I've done numerous search warrants. This appears to be step-by-step how you would do that in some of these images we're seeing from our affiliates, federal agents setting up card tables outside, going through paperwork, these are very large estates.

And so depending on what is in this potential search warrant, authorities will likely be on site in these locations for quite a bit of time.

Now, the big question comes, you know, why are they there. We don't know that specifically what potential criminal violation. It is telling that HSI is the lead, because for those unfamiliar, this is a lead investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. They typically focus on transnational criminal issues, Wolf, but also they have a heavy focus on human trafficking that they work as well. And so time will tell why they are there.

But, again, a significant action here, federal agents at this hour at homes on both coasts, owned by Sean Combs.

BLITZER: Yes, very important indeed. Our Entertainment Correspondent Elizabeth Wagmeister is also with us.

Elizabeth, I know you've covered Sean Diddy Combs closely over the years. We don't know if he's under investigation. I just want to be precise on that. But how significant is it for his homes in Los Angeles and Miami to be rated simultaneously? We do know he's been under some scrutiny that he has been under over these past few weeks.

ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This is hugely significant. You can't overstate what a big deal this is, and seemingly a fall from grace for one of the biggest hip- hop moguls and biggest musicians of all time.

Now as you said, we do not know the reason for this raid, so we cannot make any connection. But this does come at a time where Diddy has been sued by at least five different people. He has accused of sexual assault, of grooming. In fact, he just had his most recent lawsuit hit him just weeks ago.

Now, we should point out that Diddy has denied all of these allegations with all the lawsuits that he has facing. We have not heard from Diddy today. I have reached out to his attorney. I have reached out to his global head of comms, to a different P.R. rep.

We have not heard from him yet, Wolf, but here is what Diddy said in December of 2023 when he did deny these allegations He said, I have sat silently and watched people try to assassinate my character, destroy my reputation and my legacy He called the allegations sickening.

His attorney has called the most recent accuser a liar and said that they are shamelessly looking for an undeserved payday. Now, this all started, Wolf, in November, Cassie, who is an R&B singer who dated Diddy for a very long time. They were together for years. She had the first lawsuit against him. They settled quickly, but it was a very serious lawsuit. She sued him, Wolf, for sex trafficking, human trafficking, sexual battery, sexual assault, gender-motivated violence. She said that he abused her emotionally for years, Wolf.

And I have just heard from her attorney today, and her attorney, Douglas Wigdor, tells us this. He says, quote, we will always support law enforcement when it seeks to prosecute those who have violated the law. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a process that will hold Mr. Combs responsible for his depraved conduct.

Now, again, we cannot make a connection to the raid, but this does come at a time of many allegations against Sean Combs.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Jonathan Wackrow, what does this signal to you that the Department of Homeland Security is involved in these two raids?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT: Well, first of all, it indicates that this is a federal matter. And what we're seeing, you know, with the raid in multiple locations means that law enforcement officers or agents believe that there's enough probable cause to believe, that one, a federal crime has been committed, and that evidence of that federal crime is located at these specific locations where the simultaneous search warrants are being undertaken.


How do they do this though, Wolf, is really important here. Federal agents and officers must go before a U.S. magistrate and they actually have to go in basically provide an affidavit that lays out the broad elements of the crime that they believe has happened and why searching this location is critical in terms of finding items of evidentiary value that will help the prosecution of this case.

So, the fact that there's multiple locations going on simultaneously, Josh described the meticulous nature that this search undertakes in one identifying these items that were located on the search warrant, documenting them, making sure the chain of custody is maintained through the entire process, all of this, you know, does not bode well for the suspects today.

BLITZER: Yes, important point. Laura, what do you make of these raids? Just how serious does all this seem?

COATES: Oh, it's very serious. And look at the amount of resources being devoted and deployed to these different estates in a coordinated execution of search warrants. Remember, these judges don't take it very lightly. We think about our homes as our castles. To have somebody be able to have a search or a seizure of any property within it has to meet this burden of proving probable cause.

And that's not beyond a reasonable doubt. It's just that probably the likelihood of finding evidence of a crime in this area is high or it's probable it could happen there.

Let's talk about what could actually be used. Anything could be fair game on that search warrant. You make it, at the one hand, vague enough to encompass a lot of different things, whether it's hard drives, photographs, cameras, laptops, things inside of a safe. It's also going to be a little bit specific to make sure that you're not just going on a fishing expedition.

And so for them to have a coordinated raid in the way that they're doing it right now without notice beforehand, you see there's discussions and imagery of who may have been in the house beforehand, who was removed from the house, and why you do it in a surprise way is because you might be afraid of the information or evidence suddenly going poof in the night, and so you want to have that surprise.

What they're looking for is probably quite consequential, but there is still a presumption of innocence.

BLITZER: Very important. All right, Laura, thank you very much. And to all of our experts, thank you, once again.

Laura will be back, by the way, at 10:00 P.M. Eastern later tonight to anchor a special edition of Laura Coates Live 10:00 P.M. Eastern, a two-hour special edition.

Coming up, breaking news, baseball star Shohei Ohtani is speaking out right now about gambling and theft allegations against his former interpreter. We're going live to Dodger Stadium right after the break.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following. The baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani is speaking out for the first time since bombshell gambling and theft allegations against his former interpreter came to light.

CNN's Nick Watt is joining us from inside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles right now. So, what is Ohtani saying, Nick?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, within minutes of that press conference, he was out here on the field, hitching, laughing, joking, seemed like he didn't have a care in the world. This press conference, he spoke Japanese with, of course, a different interpreter, and basically what he said is his long-term friend and interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, is a liar, a gambler, and a thief.

Take a listen.


SHOHEI OHTANI, LOS ANGELES DODGERS HITTER: I never bet on baseball any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf. And I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.

Up until a couple days ago, I didn't know that this was happening.

Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.


WATTS: Now, some suspicion was heading Shohei Ohtani's way because the bookmaker at the center of all this, he'd been telling people that Ippei Mizuhara wasn't his client, that Shohei Ohtani was his client.

Now, I spoke to that bookie's lawyer, she said Ohtani and this bookie had zero contact and that her client, the bookmaker, was just boasting because it was a good marketing ploy to say the greatest baseball player in the world is your client.

Game is going to start here in a few hours and this is the start of Shohei Ohtani's career here, ten-year deal, $700 million. He is a unicorn, a two-way player. People talk about him as the greatest player in the game right now and amongst the greats of all time. So, he wants that to be the focus, not the gambling.

BLITZER: And the highest paid, too.

All right, Nick Watt reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan. Christine, Shohei Ohtani accuses his former interpreter of stealing from him and telling, quote, lies. What do you make of what we just heard from him?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is a real nightmare for Major League Baseball. Wolf, obviously, Ohtani is the biggest name in baseball. And to have this kind of story just crash land into the sport and into our consciousness and our culture as the Major League Baseball season is starting is just the worst possible scenario for Major League Baseball, for the Dodgers, for Ohtani.

ESPN reported last week that the interpreter told them that Ohtani -- that the interpreter went to Ohtani to tell him that he needed help on the gambling debts. Now, of course, Ohtani is saying, no, that's not the case that Ohtani said he knew nothing. And, in fact, the old interpreter now fired has even recanted that story with ESPN.

But you can see here how confusing this is. And the reason we're talking about it is because the trust level in a sport. If you're paying money to watch a sport, you're taking kids to the game, whatever you're doing, can you trust it? And if you can't trust that game, if you can't trust that player, then that is a huge issue for that sport, for the player, for Major League Baseball itself.


And that's why this is such a big deal.

BLITZER: Do you think, Christine, that Ohtani was able to quell at least some of the speculator mission about his knowledge of what is former interpreter was doing? BRENNAN: Probably with some people, Wolf. You know, sports is an

escape, right? You love sports. I love sports. People want to just go and enjoy a game and don't want to have the real-world intrude the way it has here, even though, of course, it's not the fans fault that this is this happening. It's, of course, Ohtani, the interpreter, whoever and all the conflicting stories.

I think there will be people who of course want to cheer for him. He'll be at a great ovation when he's at the game as Nick was saying. He's going to be playing at Dodger stadium.

All of that, but the flip side is the idea of Trump crust and gambling. We are now -- sports is so intertwined with gambling that I think that is a big part of the deal, but your average sports fan and they just want to cheer so they'll probably give them the benefit of the doubt.

BLITZER: We will see. A Major League Baseball as you know has launched a full-scale investigation into all of this, Christine.

What are you still hoping to learn?

BRENNAN: Well, I'd like to know what the truth is. You know, when the interpreter tells ESPN, great reporters at ESPN, that he went to Ohtani to ask about the help with the gambling debt. Okay. There's that story.

Then he recants this story. Now, Ohtani comes out and by the way, it, of course, it wasn't a press conference. It was just him talking, no questions were able to be asked.

So I think I'd like to know more about the story line and who's telling the truth.

BLITZER: Yeah, me, too. Christine Brennan, thanks as usual, for joining us.

Coming up, Vladimir Putin baselessly suggests Ukraine is to blame for Fridays concert hall attack that killed nearly 140 people. Our live report from Moscow right after a quick break.



BLITZER: We're following new developments in Russia after Friday's terrifying attack at a crowded concert hall by four gunmen. Tonight, the death toll stands at more than 130 people as authorities released new information about the suspects.

CNN's Matthew Chance is standing by for his live in Moscow right now for an update on the latest information we're getting.

Mathew, what are you learning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Vladimir Putin has gone on state television accepting that ISIS carried out the attack against the concert hall just on the outskirts of Moscow on Friday night, an attack, which has cost at least 139 lives its according to the latest figures. But he's still doubled down on the idea that Ukraine may be in some way connected, something that the authorities in Kyiv has described as absurd.

But what Putin said is that, look, if you look at the cross-border attacks that we've seen in Russia over the past several weeks, the drone strikes against oil refineries in Russia from Ukraine, then this attack fits into that pattern, into that series. And so, despite the lack of substantial evidence connecting Ukraine and despite, of course, the denials from the Ukrainians and the United States, Putin seems absolutely determined to forge some kind of link -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us, Matthew, thank you very much.

Coming up, why Israel scrap the delegation to Washington amid growing tensions, very serious tensions between the Biden administration and the Israeli prime, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu.



BLITZER: tensions between the United States and Israel are on the rise once again tonight, after Prime Minister Netanyahu scrapped a delegation to Washington. It all comes after the United States allowed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a Gaza ceasefire to pass.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He's joining us live from Jerusalem right now.

How strain is this U.S.-Israeli relationship, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the relationship was already strained before today, but this adds another wrinkle to the tension between the Israeli prime minister and President Joe Biden.

The Israeli prime minister, indicating that he feels that the U.S. decision to abstain rather than veto this resolution marks a clear retreat from the U.S.'s previous position and saying that it will hurt both the war effort as well as the efforts to release hostages. But U.S. officials, of course, see this very differently, Wolf.

They view this as an overreaction by the Israeli prime minister, in particular, the decision to very publicly choose to cancel a visit by two of his top advisers who were set to travel to Washington tonight. And they also believed that this was an effort to unnecessarily try and create daylight between the U.S. and Israel, perhaps for the Israeli prime ministers domestic political purposes.

But tonight, we're also hearing from president -- or Prime Minister Netanyahu's top political rival, a member of the war cabinet, Benny Gantz, who is indicated saying that he disagrees with the Israeli prime minister's decision, saying that not only should the delegation still have traveled to Washington to hear the U.S.'s alternatives to a ground offensive in Rafah. But that the Israeli prime minister himself should have traveled to Washington to meet with President Biden.

BLITZER: You know, Jeremy, I'm curious. Where do things stand as far as the talks in Doha, Qatar, have been an ongoing for a ceasefire and hostage release?

DIAMOND: Well, Wolf, over the last week, there's been a sense that things are moving along, that progress is being made. Gaps are being bridged. But this evening, it appears very much more uncertain Hamas is now saying in a statement that they will hold onto their original position, that they presented more than ten days ago indicates hating that they are still pushing for the full withdrawal of Israeli troops for a permanent ceasefire. And the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza.

This coming after Israel appear to agree to a U.S. proposal that would bring the Israeli position and Hamas's position on the ratio of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for 40 Israeli hostages. That proposal was trying to bring those two sides much closer. And indeed, Israel appears to have agreed to that, but Hamas appears to be indicating that it will not budge any further, saying that there are still other demands that need to be addressed that they say Israel has not yet to do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Can you give us a quick update, Jeremy, on the situation inside Gaza, right now?

DIAMOND: Well, Wolf, the Israeli military is continuing to conduct a range of airstrikes in northern central and southern Gaza. We have seen the Israeli military now over the course of the last week operating inside al Shifa hospital. They say that they have detained hundreds of suspected militants and that they have killed nearly 200 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad operatives.

Earlier today, we were able to confirm with one eyewitness that Hamas and Islamic jihad militants were indeed present Inside Shifa hospital before that military operation began, and indeed, Wolf, it is still continuing.

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

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

The news continues next on CNN.