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WSJ Reporter Evan Gershkovich Detained In Russia For One Full Year; Trump Attorneys Say Prosecutors Trying To Expand Gag Orders In Hush Money Trial; Biden Mocks Trump During Star-Studded NYC Fundraiser; Arizona Border Crisis As Migrants Overwhelm Resources At Busy U.S. Crossing With Mexico. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 17:00   ET



TINA KNOWLES, BEYONCE'S MOTHER: We asked my mother when I was grown, I was like, "Why is my brother's name spelled BEYINCE? You know, it's all these different spellings. And my mom's replied to me and I was like, "That's what they put on your birth certificate."


KNOWLES: So I said, "Well, why didn't you argue and make them correct it?" And she said, "I did one time -- the first time, and I was told, be happy that you're getting a birth certificate. Because at one time, black people didn't get birth certificates."


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Wow. How about that for remembering exactly where you came from. Thanks so much for joining. The news continues on CNN.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, American journalist Evan Gershkovich is marking one full year of imprisonment in Russia. The U.S. condemning his wrongful detention while offering hope for his release.

This hour, two of Gershkovich's closest friends join us to share new details on how he's enduring and their own raw emotions right now.

Also tonight, breaking news. Donald Trump just appealed a judge's ruling allowing District Attorney Fani Willis to remain on the Georgia election subversion case. His lawyers are now arguing that Willis' entire office should be disqualified.

Plus, an in-depth look at the unfolding crisis at the busiest migrant crossing at the southern border, where families, including children, are living in makeshift camps and facing often dire and dangerous conditions.

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

Our top story this hour, the yearlong detention of "Wall Street Journal" Evan Gershkovich, jailed by Russia while doing his job as a journalist. The "Wall Street Journal" leaving most of its front-page blank today to honor Gershkovich and mark a year of what it calls his stolen stories, stolen joys and stolen memories.

Tonight, President Biden is vowing to continue working every day to secure Gershkovich's release and the release of all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. Adding, and I'm quoting now, "we are with you and we will never stop working to bring you home."

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more now on Gershkovich's imprisonment and his fight for freedom.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): No media allowed at Evan Gershkovich's most recent court hearing in Moscow. Just this short clip by the court's press service. Despite a year in a Russian jail, a defiant smile from the "Wall Street Journal" reporter. No surprise, his detention was extended yet again through June 30th. The U.S. ambassador to Russia ripping into the verdict.

LYNNE TRACY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage a year ago while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, central Russia.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): I do not know if there are any other cases, but the allegations made by our intelligence services today were not related to his journalism.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The "Wall Street Journal" and Gershkovich's family strongly deny the allegations.

Polina Ivanova of the "Financial Times" is one of Evan's best friends and still keeps in regular contact with him writing letters.

POLINA IVANOVA, FINANCIAL TIMES REPORTER & FRIEND OF EVAN GERSHKOVICH: He's doing remarkably well. He's absolutely staying strong. He's not allowing himself to, you know, to wallow, to get too upset by everything. In fact, he spends most of his time in letters to us trying to make us feel better.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Gershkovich faces a jail sentence of up to 20 years if convicted. But CNN has reported that Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan were part of a proposed prisoner swap with a now dead opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

The Russian president taunted on his re-election day that he approved a swap on the condition he'd get back a high-profile Russian intelligence officer in prison for murder in Germany, Vadim Krasikov.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The person who spoke to me had not finished his sentence yet. I said, I agree, but unfortunately, what happened, happened.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For those close to Evan, that means the waiting continues, outcome, uncertain.

IVANOVA: When you see Putin talk about it in, you know, very clear terms that this is what they want to see happen that that they are looking for a deal. You know, it just gives you hope that at some point this will, this, you know, that he will be home. He needs to be home. He needs to be back with his family with his friends.


PLEITGEN: And you know, Wolf, the Kremlin has once again confirmed that there are contacts between the United States and Russia on a possible prisoner swap. But they also say these kinds of talks need to happen in absolute silence or it could prevent results from happening. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Frederik Pleitgen reporting for us. Thank you very much, Fred.


And joining us now, Polina Ivanova and Pjotr Sauer. They're very close friends with Evan Gershkovich and fellow journalists who also reported alongside Evan in Russia before his detention. Polina and Pjotr, thank you so much for being here.

Our hearts go out to your good friend Evan. Let's hope we're all together with him sooner rather than later. Polina, you've said that Evan's detention by the Russians was a watershed moment in Russia's increasingly brutal crackdown. What does Evan's detention represent at this very solemn one-year mark?

IVANOVA: I mean, the most important thing is that it represents 365 days that Evan has spent cut off from his family, from his friends, from doing the job that he loves to do. He's been in isolation for all of that time with so little contact with the outside world. So that really is the main thing that it represents for me.

But it also, you know, for us, it's 365 days without our best friend, without our colleague, you know, someone that we've always relied on and loved very dearly. And we haven't had him around, and he needs to be home.

BLITZER: He certainly does need to be home immediately. Pjotr, a year ago, you were actually texting with Evan about Arsenal, the English soccer team you both love. When he stopped responding to you, you knew something was wrong. Now you write to him, updating him on Arsenal's games from prison. Can you tell us more about your conversations with Evan?

PJOTR SAUER, CLOSE FRIEND OF EVAN GERSHKOVICH: Yes. So, Evan and I send each other letters every week through the Russian prison service. Evan is very curious how we're doing, and of course, we want to know how he's doing in there. We talk a lot about Arsenal, the team we both love. And this season,

Arsenal's actually doing really well. So it's a bittersweet moment for him, because he's happy for the team. At the same time, he's upset, of course, that he can't see it for himself. But those letters, they give me strength, and I think they give him strength as well.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does give him strength. Polina, you also have exchanged letters with Evan over this past year, and I know he actually managed to send you some flowers for your birthday. You just heard from him last week. Can you share, Polina, a little bit more about what he said and how he is coping?

IVANOVA: Well, one thing we don't talk about is Arsenal, I'm afraid. I don't know anything about that. But he's doing really well. Remarkable, considering the circumstances. He's so strong. He's very resilient. And, you know, he writes about how he's doing, the books he's reading, the schedule that he keeps, his routine, and just, you know, how he keeps himself, you know, together, despite the isolation and how, you know, far removed he is from all of us.

We try and entertain him, try and distract him with some gossip here, or describing what we're doing with our lives. One of the things that he really enjoys is when, you know, we'll all go to an event together, all of his friends, and then we'll all describe the same event from different perspectives, and then he gets kind of this whole, you know, 360 vision of something that he's missed out on, but makes him feel like maybe he was there.

BLITZER: He sounds as if he's, like, he's such a wonderful, wonderful 32-year-old man. I know you guys miss him very, very much.

Pjotr, talk to us a little bit more about Evan's spirit while he's in this notoriously harsh Russian prison.

SAUER: Yes, he's keeping up remarkably well, given the incredibly difficult circumstances. He's inside his jail for 23 hours a day. He's got one hour a day that he can walk around in a tiny court cell inside the jail as well.

But he keeps his spirits up. He tries to make a routine for himself, keeps both reading mentally strong, but he also tries to keep physically strong by doing push-ups and sit-ups.

You know, I think he understood early on that it's important to have a routine to -- by the end of the day, he wants to be tired and feel like he has done enough, you know, to feel like his days aren't wasted. And I'm incredibly proud of how he's keeping in there, for sure.

BLITZER: Good point. Polina, the Kremlin says talks for a possible prisoner exchange are ongoing. Give us your analysis. I know you've done a lot of reporting on this. How does Putin, for example, view Evan's detention? And does he have any incentive to release him?

IVANOVA: I think he does. I mean, this is something that gives us hope that Putin and other Russian officials speak about it very openly as something that, you know, this is a case where they hope to see or they, you know, intend to work out a deal and do an exchange. You know, we've seen this kind of hostage diplomacy in the past. We've seen the detention of Brittney Griner, the exchange that happened after that. So we're just hopeful that things follow a similar path.

BLITZER: Let's hope, indeed. Pjotr, the top U.S. hostage affairs official told CNN these next 90 days of Evan's detention are critical for trying to work out a deal before his actual trial. Do you have hope, Pjotr, that Evan could be freed in these next few months?


SAUER: Yes, we saw those comments, and they do give us hope. Just this week, the Kremlin also said that talks are ongoing. U.S. President Joe Biden today in a statement said that he will do everything to get Evan out. So we believe these 90 days are crucial, and I really do hope and we really hope that a deal will be made to get our friend back to where he belongs and also back to work.

You know, Evans is not just an incredible person, he's an incredible journalist, and the world is missing out on his crucial reporting.

BLITZER: Yeah, certainly.

IVANOVA: Yeah, he gave an insight into wartime Russia, something that's so important.

BLITZER: Yeah, go ahead, Polina. Yeah, go ahead.

IVANOVA: No, just, yeah, just that it's -- the work that he was doing was important for all of us, for our understanding of Russia at a time of war, and really, you know, we owe him that and we owe him all the time that we can give to bring him home. We were really uplifted by Joe Biden's statement today that, you know, just once again shows that the President feels very personally connected, I think, to Evan's story. He spoke -- he spoke in a statement about Evan's parents and his meeting with them. So, you know, that also gives us hope for, as you say, this really crucial period of 90 days.

BLITZER: Yeah, I want to ask each of you, what's your message to Evan right now? And Polina, let me start with you.

IVANOVA: Oh, yeah, well, it's hard. I mean, just that, you know, that we're here and that we're working as hard as we can. I know he knows that. I know that he knows that he's not forgotten by all of us and all of you and everybody who's following his case. So I just, you know, want to always remind him of that, that he's not alone in there.

BLITZER: He certainly isn't alone. And Pjotr, what's your message to Evan right now?

SAUER: Yeah, Evan, just keep going. The world knows you're innocent. We all know you're a journalist. We also know what good of a friend you are. And we will do everything. We'll never stop working until you're out with us again here. BLITZER: We, of course, all of us stand with Evan. He was doing his job as a journalist in Russia, a country he actually loved, loved the Russian culture, loved everything about Russia. And all of a sudden, the Russian authorities detain him. And it's now been one year since he's been held in prison.

Pjotr Sauer, Polina Ivanova, to both of you, thank you very much. When you're in contact through the letters with Evan, please pass along our best wishes to him on behalf of all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Thanks to both of you.

SAUER: Thank you.

IVANOVA: Thank you very much. Yeah, thanks.

BLITZER: And coming up, breaking news, Donald Trump's attorneys now say prosecutors are trying to expand his gag order in the hush money case. We have details on a new filing, that's just ahead.

Also ahead, the war in Gaza looming large over President Biden's fundraiser with former presidents Obama and Clinton, how the three Democrats handled the protests and how they plan to unite their divided party.



BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following now. Attorneys for Donald Trump claim prosecutors in Manhattan are trying to expand the gag order in this hush money case. Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell, she's got details for us. What can you tell us, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, so Donald Trump's attorneys have just written to the judge saying that they think that the prosecutors are trying to expand on the gag order that was put in place earlier this week. The judge said that Trump couldn't make comments about the potential witnesses in this case, the jury, court staff members, members of the prosecution team, and their family members, but he specifically said that it would not apply to the district attorney Alvin Bragg. So the prosecutor's office pointing out to the judge that the day after that gag order was put in place, Donald Trump made statements about the judge and his daughter, and they asked the court to clarify if this gag order applies to the judge's family members, the family members of the district attorney, or family members of anyone else associated in this case, including some of the witnesses or potential witnesses here.

Trump's attorneys are responding to that, saying that this appears to be an expansion, a request to expand the gag order. They're saying that Trump has interpreted it the way that a lot of people have in, you know, in the legal community, that it doesn't apply to the judge or his daughter, and if the judge is going to consider that, they want to be able to file legal briefs to argue against it.

So it's now before the judge, but, you know, the prosecutor's immediately reacting to Trump's true social statements, where he was making statements about the judge's family members, and they're asking the court for some clarity, but Trump's team thinking that that is an overreach and an effort to expand this gag order, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kara Scannell, reporting for us. Thank you very much. I want to bring in our legal and political experts for some analysis right now.

Norm Eisen, what could this suggest to you, that prosecutors are asking whether this gag order covers the judge's family?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, we've seen Trump, in a way that appears to be very intentional, target Judge Merchan's daughter, including by name, in a series of social media postings. And we know from his prior isolation of individuals in this fashion that that can create an enhanced risk profile.

Now, the language of the gag order here talks about the family members of counsel or court staff. There is an ambiguity, whether that encompasses the judge's daughter.


I think the DA is right to ask for clarification, and let's not let the quibbling about the words of the existing order detract from how incredibly inappropriate and dangerous it is to single out the child, adult child, of a judge in this fashion.

BLITZER: Important point. Kristen Holmes, you've done a lot of reporting on this. A federal judge, as you know, gave a very rare and extraordinary interview to CNN's Kaitlan Collins' about the threats to judges, and that interview was last night. Watch this little excerpt.


JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: It's very disconcerting to have someone making comments about a judge, and it's particularly problematic when those comments are in the form of a threat, especially if they're directed at one's family. I mean, we do these jobs because we're committed to the rule of law and we believe in the rule of law, and the rule of law can only function effectively when we have judges who are prepared to carry out their duties without the threat of potential physical harm.


BLITZER: Very strong words. Is there a recognition, Katelyn, from the Trump team about the potential impact of his rhetoric?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the way that the Trump team is phrasing it in this response that they've provided to the court is they're defending him, and they're saying that the gag order, it wasn't about the court, that that's not how Donald Trump would have interpreted it. And they're also saying that what he is doing, attacking the judge's daughter by name, pointing out that she has worked for Democratic political campaigns. They're saying essentially that that is campaign speech and so it should be protected. This is an argument that they have to make here because it's a bit different than in his other cases.

In his other cases, there is a case where he has a gag order that's been upheld by the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. This is another criminal case. And in that case, it's also says court staff and families should not be commented on, and he has not tried to go there in that direction. He has not commented since that gag order was put in place about that judge or her staff.

And so when you look at these gag orders and the way they've been structured, they're in rungs. Witnesses get the most amount of protection. And then people who work on these cases, whether it's line prosecutors, people from the FBI, investigators whose names we wouldn't know in the public, or court staff and their families, that's the next rung of protection. And then the public officials are treated a bit differently because their names are out there.

And so this clarification request, Trump's team says, you know, this shouldn't have been about the judge. We don't believe it's about the judge. But there is still an open question of, does the court order, should have it even applied to the families to begin with? It seems quite clear that protecting families and people whose names are not in the public spotlight is something that was intentional behind the gag order when Judge Merchan put it on this case.

BLITZER: Let me get Kristen into this. Kristen, is there a recognition from the Trump team about the potential impact of his rhetoric, especially given what we heard from the judge last night?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, there isn't. We haven't heard any kind of feedback on that. In fact, Donald Trump has often leaned into this attacking judges, attacking prosecutors, attacking lawyers as all part of a larger strategy, which he has taken to really play this out in the court of public opinion, saying that they are all Democrats, that they are intentionally putting him through this process because it's political persecution.

One thing I want to add to what Katelyn was saying about why the lawyers would come forward and push back on this is because one of the things that we have learned is that Donald Trump is not posting to social media when it comes to these legal cases in a vacuum.

And in fact, his lawyers have briefed him multiple times in these cases where there is a gag order on what exactly he can say, telling him exactly how far he can go up to the line without crossing it.

Likely, in this case, he would have been briefed that he is not to go after the same long list here, the attorneys, the court staff, the families of attorneys and court staff, but not been briefed anything on the judge. Then we're seeing his legal team pushing back. And in fact, in some cases, his legal team has actually gone through his social media posts before he has put them up.

But just to go back to this idea that Donald Trump is putting this on social media, does anyone essentially defend him or push back against this idea that he should be saying these kind of things online? Anyone close to him? The answer is no. I mean, a lot of this is playing into his conservative base. Some of this, actually, what he was accusing the judge's daughter of, was stuff that came from a far-right conservative social media post. So that is where he gets his information much of the time, and that's also where he is repeating it to, a sort of echo chamber, as he does try to whip up voters and supporters and surround him in these legal cases.


BLITZER: Yeah, good point. Norm, should the Trump team be worried about the potential impact if he is found to have violated -- if he has found to have violated this gag order?

EISEN: Well, I think given the ambiguity in the wording of the gag order, it's unlikely that he will be found to have violated it. The more immediate question is, is the judge going to expand the gag order? Some of the statements that Trump has made about the judge's daughter, Loren, have been false. It has been disinformation, things that she did not actually say about him. And the pattern reminds me of his goading of Judge Engoron. There, he didn't attack the judge's daughter.

This is the judge in the civil fraud case. He persistently attacked the judge's female clerk who was assisting him during the trial. That suggests that Donald Trump is very intentionally finding ways that he can provoke these judges, seeing how far he can go, and now the judge will likely push back.

BLITZER: Important analysis, everyone. Thank you very, very much.

Up next, President Biden mocks Donald Trump during the Democrats' $26 million star-studded fundraiser. We're going to hear what he said and discuss how it might play with voters.



BLITZER: Tonight, President Biden has added $26 million to his campaign coffers after a star-studded fundraiser in New York City featuring former presidents Obama and Clinton. The Biden team releasing a clip from the event with this exchange between the president and late-night host Stephen Colbert.


STEPHEN COLBERT: How would you describe what's at stake in this election?

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I think our democracy is at stake. Not a joke. I think democracy is literally at stake. All the things he's doing are so old. Speaking of old. And, uh, you know, he's a little old and out of shape, anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, let's discuss this and more with our political experts. And Jeff Zeleny, you've been out there covering this campaign closely. The smocky tone of Trump seems to me, at least, to be a different tone than we saw in 2020.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, absolutely. And there's no doubt that it is different from 2020. But it's really been picking up from the president himself personally, sort of taking some delight in going after Donald Trump, it seems.

But if you think back to when Donald Trump first came on the scene in 2016, the Clinton campaign mocked him in a different way and kind of dismissed him. In 2020, Biden tried to sort of ignore him. Now, they are locked in to a fully trying to get in his head, I think, by making fun of his weight, his image, how he golfs.

But also more than that, really, day by day by day. There's a crescendo of how the campaign is going after him. I'm not sure it matters at the end of the day to voters, but I think it's clear the Biden campaign is trying to go directly after Trump's psyche and things as well here. To the extent that he's watching, and we do know that he watches television. So it was notable the campaign decided to release that video clip. Of course, they did not allow news media access in its entirety.

So we're not still entirely sure what was said there. And this wasn't a show of Stephen Colbert. He was appearing in a fundraiser that raised 26 million dollars. That's probably the biggest takeaway of all. They can use that money on ads in swing states.

BLITZER: And battlegrounds, that's going to be so important, indeed. You know, Karen Finney, mocking Trump is one thing, of course. But what are you hearing? Is Biden doing enough right now to translate all of that into support?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, just a couple of things on that. I mean, to Jeff's point, the mocking is, I think, specifically intended to get underneath his skin because there are several issues where he is gettable. Whereas in 2016, as Jeff mentioned, it was harder to kind of get under his skin because he was kind of running like he had nothing to lose.

Now, he knows what he has to lose. And so there are more areas to both get under his skin, try to get him to make a mistake, particularly with all these -- these four cases that are proceeding. But in addition to that, I mean, the thing that this money advantage gives is an opportunity to open field offices, hire field staff and really have a solid ground game to talk to voters. And that early and often, and particularly when you're trying to recreate and broaden the coalition that he put together in 2020. So that's part of their strategy. And this money advantage gives them an opportunity to do that early and have much more frequent conversations with voters.

BLITZER: Good point. You know, Scott Jennings, the Biden campaign is clearly making a direct appeal right now to Nikki Haley supporters in a new digital ad. Let me play it for our viewers. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Birdbrain, I call a birdbrain.

Nikki Haley has made an unholy alliance with rhinos, never Trumpers, Americans for no prosperity. She's sitting there like. She's gone crazy. She's a very angry person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you bring these Nikki Haley voters back into the team?

TRUMP: I'm not sure we need too many.



BLITZER: So what do you think? Is this something that should worry the Trump campaign?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I've been of the opinion that there weren't too many Nikki Haley voters that were gettable for Donald Trump in the first place. I will say, though, I do know some Republicans who prefer that Trump not be the nominee who are now really conflicted about what to do. And they're not as interested in what Donald Trump was saying about Nikki Haley. They're more interested in their -- how a gas they are at the way Joe Biden has conducted himself in office. And so they're really torn right now.

So I just did the wrong numbers of it. I think a lot of Haley supporters were already never Trumpers, didn't vote for him in 2020. Some Democrats, they're gone. Trump's not going to get those people back.

And so I really ultimately think we're dealing with a pretty small number here, frankly, for Trump. What's more important for him is to dig into Biden's working-class coalition, which you see emerging in some of the polling right now.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Karen, the Biden team clearly has this Nikki Haley ad. We just saw a clip.


BLITZER: But as Politico's Jonathan Martin is pointing out, they aren't necessarily courting much of the anti-Trump GOP vote right now.

Let me put up a quote from the article. Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Todd Young of Indiana, Bill Cassidy, Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski, Alaska all said the same. They've not heard from Biden. Is that a mistake?

FINNEY: Well, a couple of things I would say on that. I suspect they will at some point hear from the campaign. But as these things go, I mean, those tend to be conversations that are had over a period of time before you -- you can't just expect you're going to pick up the phone and get those endorsements right away. And there's still quite a bit of legislative business that they're still trying to get done.

The other thing I want to just quickly mention about that Haley ad. It's not just that he's insulting Haley voters. He's insulting women. His attacks on her. This is some of, you know, some of Donald Trump's greatest hits calling her birdbrain. He talked about Megyn Kelly and divisive ways in 2016. And we've heard him denigrate women time and time and time again.

And starting in 2018, when I was working on a number of Senate races, we started to hear from voters, particularly suburban women who Trump still has trouble with. They didn't like that kind of talk. Even today in a piece that John King aired, you could hear people saying they don't like that meanness. They don't like some of that language. And so I think that's going to be a real advantage for Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Important point as well, guys. Thank you very, very much. Just ahead, we'll talk to a surgeon who is now just back from a Gaza hospital with very disturbing accounts of injured children in agony.



BLITZER: The "Washington Post" reports that the Biden administration has quietly just signed off on the transfer of billions of dollars in additional bombs and fighter jets to Israel. This despite mounting domestic pressure on President Biden, and deep concerns an expected Israeli military offensive in southern Gaza could endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. This arms package reportedly includes 2,000-pound bombs that have been linked to previous mass casualty events in this conflict.

Scenes on the ground in Gaza right now are already very disturbing. A British surgeon who spent years volunteering in Gaza's hospitals has just returned with horror stories. Dr. Nick Maynard last week told the United Nations that he was not remotely prepared for what he saw on his latest visit to Gaza in December and January.


DR. NICK MAYNARD, SURGEON WHO TREATED PATIENTS IN GAZA: I saw things at al-Aqsa Hospital, which I still wake up at night thinking about. One child along, never forget, had burned so bad, you could see her facial bones. There was no morphine to give her.

So not only was she inevitably going to die, but she would die in agony. And what made it even worse, there was nowhere for her to go and die. So she was just left on the floor of the emergency department.


BLITZER: Dr. Nick Maynard is joining us now. Dr. Maynard, thank you very much for joining us. You said your recent trip to the al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza was the worst thing you've seen in your 35-year medical career. Tell us more about what you witnessed there. MAYNARD: Yes, thank you very much for asking me on. It was -- I saw injuries, I saw patients, the like of which I would never have expected to have seen. The sheer volume of trauma that came in, people who had suffered almost all of them from bad explosive injuries, of course most of them were killed at the scene of the bomb, but those that came in, we sometimes had dozens upon dozens coming in at once, often two or three hundred in a 24-hour period.

And the sheer volume virtually broke the system there. It was impossible to triage the patients. We had such severe injuries that it was almost a lottery at times as to who could get treated because there were so many of them.

BLITZER: On your last day at the hospital, we're told, a missile attack blew open the wall of the ICU, the intensive care unit. While you were in surgery, just how much of attacks near Gaza's hospitals disrupted urgent medical care?

MAYNARD: Almost completely. So we had two more days to go at al-Aqsa Hospital. We had to withdraw that afternoon once the missile had hit the intensive care unit. And, of course, once all the foreign doctors left, the MSF team left as well, many of the local doctors left then. So the hospital rapidly became disabled. And that has happened to the vast majority of the hospitals within the Gaza Strip, that they've been targeted, they've been attacked.

Many health care workers have been killed. Many health care workers have been abducted. And there are barely any fully functioning hospitals left in the Gaza Strip.


BLITZER: I know, Dr. Maynard, you also worked at another hospital, the Al-Shifa Hospital, many times before this current war. It's now been under siege, as you know, for 12 straight days, as Israel says it's fighting Hamas militants there. What concerns does this raise for you?

MAYNARD: Yeah, I mean, it seems to be happening exactly as happened in October-November to Al-Shifa Hospital, which became completely disabled. And then some of the doctors started working again.

It has now -- I've spoken to a great friend of mine who's a surgeon there in the last 48 hours. And it's unspeakable what is happening there. The hospital has now stopped functioning, but there are still patients left there. And I think it's important to say in all the years I've been in Gaza and worked at Al-Shifa and other hospitals, I have never, and I can only speak from my own experience, I have never seen any evidence of any Hamas militants in the hospital.

And indeed, the two weeks I was working at al-Aqsa Hospital, there were no signs of any Hamas militants. So it seems to me, and what I have witnessed, is there is a direct targeting of the whole infrastructure of the health care system in Gaza.

BLITZER: Dr. Nick Maynard, thank you very much for joining us.

MAYNARD: Thank you very much for asking me.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll take a closer look at the epicenter of the border crisis here in the United States, an Arizona crossing dealing with an overwhelming surge in migration.

Plus, a CNN exclusive, a rare interview from a sitting federal judge warning of Donald Trump's attacks on the judiciary.



BLITZER: As a federal appeals court weighs a controversial Texas immigration law, the border crisis in Arizona is growing. A recent surge of migration in the state, overwhelming resources. CNN's Rosa Flores has a closer look.


PAUL NIXON: It's mountainous. It's very steep.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paul Nixon and Laurel Grindy help migrants in distress in southern Arizona.


NIXON: Hola.

FLORES: Which is now the busiest migrant crossing on the U.S.-Mexico border. 300,000 migrants have been apprehended in the Tucson Border Patrol sector from October to February. That's about 64% more than the number of migrants apprehended in the Del Rio sector, which includes Eagle Pass, Texas, the epicenter of the border battle between Texas and the Biden administration.

NIXON: Jamaica, welcome.

FLORES: Oh, you're from Jamaica?


FLORES: Many migrants walk for miles, up and down steep hills, to this makeshift camp where they wait for border patrol, like Mirta (ph) from Guatemala.

She says that her soul hurts.

The mother of seven boys, ages 4 to 16, wants to go by her first name only and says extreme poverty in her home country leaves mothers with an impossible choice.

Decide, do you feed your younger child or your older child?

LORI LINDSAY, RANCHER, TRES BELLOTAS RANCH: In the ranching world, you're always around people from south of the border. FLORES: The camp is on cattle rancher Lori Lindsay's property, a

lifelong Democrat who is now an independent because she says Democrats are weak and Republicans who call the border issue --

TRUMP: It's an invasion.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R-LA) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Soft invasion along our southern border.

FLORES: -- have it wrong. She says it's a humanitarian crisis.

LINDSAY: When you say invasion, it's as if you're being attacked or if you're in danger. We're not in danger. I would just like people to not lose their humanity.

FLORES: Lindsay says she sympathizes with migrants but worries because the camp has no sanitation facilities. And to keep warm, migrants build fires.

LINDSAY: It's not just our ranch that could go up in flames. I mean, this is our livelihood. This is it. This is our home.

FLORES: She calls on the federal government to hire more Border Patrol agents.

JOHN MODLIN, CHIEF PATROL AGENT U.S. BORDER PARTOL'S TUCSON SECTOR: We're inside the Arizona Air Coordination Center.

FLORES: John Modlin leads the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, 262 miles of Arizona's border with Mexico.

Here, the border wall looks like the spine of a giant beast resting on jagged peaks.

MODLIN: By far the most dangerous place on the southwest border to cross.

FLORES: Modlin says one of his biggest frustrations is that the cartels smuggled thousands of migrants in the most remote areas in the east side of Arizona, bogging down his Border Patrol agents there while the cartels smuggled drugs and bad guys on the west side.

MODLIN: So what we're not doing is actively patrolling for the people that are trying to get away from us.

FLORES: He says his team has identified 30,000 gotaways or people entering the Tucson Sector and evading arrest so far this fiscal year. But he just doesn't have enough four-wheel drive vehicles and agents to chase them down.

(On camera): Is that what keeps you up at night?

MODLIN: Yeah, absolutely.

FLORES: Air and Marine operations show us the trails atop mountains used by these smugglers and migrants who don't want to get caught. MODLIN: Many times they're trafficking narcotics. It could be a criminal or someone that possibly has malintent towards the United States.

FLORES: All while many of Modlin's Border Patrol agents respond to what he calls a humanitarian mission, making repeated hours-long drives in unforgiving terrain to apprehend parents like Mirta (ph).

She says that she left her seven children in Guatemala with her dad.

(Voice-over): The Guatemalan mother who, like so many migrants, arrived with a crushed heart in search for opportunity to feed their family.


FLORES (on camera): And we met so many families, mothers, fathers, families who simply skirt the border wall and then turn themselves in to immigration authorities.


And you know, according to the head of the Tucson Border Patrol Sector, at the current pace, if it continues as it is right now, he expects that migrant apprehensions could hit up to 800,000 by the end of this fiscal year.

And Wolf, just to give you a sense of that staggering figure, it nears the total of the past three fiscal years. Wolf?

BLITZER: Rosa Flores reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump gets a rare public rebuke from a sitting federal judge. Stay with us for an exclusive CNN interview. We'll be right back.