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The Situation Room

D.A. Wants Trump's Gag Order In The Hush Money Case Expanded; Iran Accusing Israel On Strike In Syria; SUV Drives Into Atlanta FBI Office; Baltimore Port Opens Alternate Channel At Wreckage Site; MD Gov: Crews Lift 350-Ton Piece Of Bridge Wreckage Today; SUV Rams Gate At FBI Office In Atlanta; Tonight: Iowa Looks To Avenge 2023 Championships Loss To LSU; Planned Parenthood On Florida Abortion Ruling. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 17:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: And join CNN for special coverage of that big moment. We're calling this one "Eclipse Around America." Coverage starts next Monday at 1:00 Eastern on CNN and streaming on Max.

And you can join me in just a few hours on "CNN Newsnight." That's tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern time right here on CNN. Jake Tapper will be back here on "The Lead" tomorrow. And if you ever miss an episode of "The Lead," you can listen to the show wherever you get your podcasts. The news continues on CNN right now. Thanks for joining us.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The Manhattan District Attorney is asking the judge overseeing Donald Trump's hush money trial to expand the gag order on the former president to include relatives of people involved in the case. Concerns about Trump's inflammatory rhetoric escalating as he's been attacking the judge and the judge's daughter.

Also breaking, an SUV rams into the gate of an FBI field office in Atlanta, attempting to gain entry. The suspect is now in custody as authorities are scrambling to try to determine a motive.

And Iran is blaming Israel for a deadly airstrike on its consular building in Damascus, Syria, claiming two senior Iranian commanders are among those killed. Stand by for an update on the strike and the threat of retaliation.

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

Let's get right to the breaking news in Donald Trump's hush money case in New York. The prosecutor requesting an expansion of Trump's gag order with the criminal trial set to begin two weeks from now. CNN's Kara Scannell is in New York. She has details for us. Kara, tell us what the Manhattan District Attorney is now asking for and why.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has asked the judge overseeing this case to expand the gag order that he imposed, limiting some of the people that Trump could speak about in the case. And they want the judge to warn Trump that if he violates his gag order, he will get sanctioned.

Now, the gag order that was put in place last week said that Trump couldn't make statements about potential witnesses, jurors, court staff members, prosecutors and the family members of court staff and prosecutors. It did not cover the judge and it did not cover District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Now, prosecutors are saying because Trump has made a number of statements beginning the very day after the gag order was put in place, focusing on the judge, calling him compromised, also highlighting the judge's daughter, who works for a political consulting firm, and taking aim at her by name by suggesting that she is biased against Trump.

So, in their filing, prosecutors write, "This court should immediately make clear that defendant is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about family members of the court, the district attorney and all other individuals mentioned in the order."

They also got to one argument that Trump's team had made earlier where they were saying that Trump has a right to political speech and the prosecutors saying in their letter to the judge that what Trump is saying is not protected by political speech. They said it's viciously and falsely smearing the judge and his family. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kara, I understand Trump's attorneys also are now responding in their own filing, is that right?

SCANNELL: Yeah. So, Trump's lawyers have responded. They said that Trump hasn't violated the gag order because it didn't cover the judge's family members and they believe that they do have a right to respond to some of the concepts out there about the judge's daughter, who she works for a Democratic political consulting firm, and they feel like they should be able to respond to that.

They wrote in their filing to the judge today, "Accordingly, because the gag order expressly does not apply to family members of the court or the district attorney and because the challenged social media posts were not intended to materially interfere with these proceedings, President Trump did not violate the gag order and no contempt warning would be appropriate."

They want the judge to keep this gag order as he gave it last week and not to expand it in any way and not to threaten to sanction Trump if he were to violate the gag order in the future. Now, this is before the judge, so it will be up to him to decide how he's going to weigh in here. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Kara Scannell reporting for us. Thank you, Kara, very much. I want to bring in Elliott Williams right now. Elliott, what's the significance of Alvin Bragg himself asking the judge to now clarify whether the gag order includes members of the president's family?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it was very important for Alvin Bragg to make this request, and here's why. On Friday, the district attorney's office had merely sent a letter asking the judge to clarify or confirm what the gag order said.


Well, they were asking for it to be expanded, not clarified or confirmed. And even setting aside how reprehensible some of the speech that the former president has engaged in, the gag order simply did not prohibit it on its language. It didn't speak about the judge or the judge's family members. It was very important for prosecutors today to go to court and specifically ask the judge to expand the gag order.

BLITZER: Interesting. Elliott, let me follow up. Are you surprised we haven't already heard from Judge Merchan about the gag order? Do you see any First Amendment issues with -- including the judge's family?

WILLIAMS: Well, there are absolutely First Amendment issues whenever you're talking about political candidates and speech and threats and where the line between permissible speech and threats is. And that's blurry. Lawyers, people, professors in this area of law grapple with these questions. So, of course, it's going to be complicated.

Now, am I surprised that we haven't heard from the judge yet? No, of course not. Because, really, the judge had to give the parties time to brief up this issue. All we had up until today were letters from the two parties' attorneys, like the prosecutors and the defense attorneys just wrote letters to the court saying what they thought.

Today, we got formal filings. I think the judge will digest them now and make a more official ruling than just, you know, a couple of attorneys saying back and forth in snippy letters to each other, we think that the former president violated a gag order.

BLITZER: Kara Scannell is still with us. Kara, what sort of timeline could we be looking at for an eventual decision?

SCANNELL: Well, the judge has these filings as of today. So, as Elliot was saying, you know, he'll want to digest them. There are complicated issues about the First Amendment and political speech, so he will likely want to do a little research into them as well. But he did spend some time on this in the beginning.

I mean, at the very start of this case, prosecutors wanted there to be some order or directive toward Trump about his speech. And the judge was very clear at the beginning he didn't want to impose a gag order in this case because he recognized Trump's right to free speech.

Now the analysis here, since he did impose a gag order and now the people are asking to extend it, he will digest the law here about what it says about how expansive the gag order can be and whether it should protect the family members of some of these people. I mean, the other thing the judge has considered are the threats that the prosecutor's office had received after Trump made statements last year.

I'm sure he'll be looking to see if there's been any uptick in that, you know, as well. He is the one being targeted. He will know what is coming in. But I don't think he is going to expand it to include himself.

BLITZER: Elliot, if the judge rules in favor of the prosecutors, would you expect Trump to appeal? And how would that work?

WILLIAMS: Well, he certainly can. Now, if he rules in favor of the prosecutors, all that would happen is the judge would still have to give the former president time to cure or correct the statement. You can't just slap sanctions on an individual. You have to give them a chance to either retract it or explain why they made it or whatever else. New York law requires that.

Now, once sanctions are imposed, there is a process whereby the former president could appeal the sanctions and that could go up again back to the judge or to the appeals court for a longer process there. But again, nothing would be immediate. You have to give the party a chance to correct the problem before you move with sanctions.

BLITZER: Interesting. Kara, what do we know about why Trump is opposing expanding this gag order to include the judge's family?

SCANNELL: Well, Trump's lawyer's argument is that he needs to campaign and he needs to be able to defend himself against the charges. And they're arguing that the judge didn't restrict him from making these statements about his daughter. The judge's daughter works for a Democratic political consulting firm.

You know, Trump's team has been focusing on that as being, you know, the political opponent. And so, they're pointing that out and what they argue would be part of their ability to defend against these charges. And as Trump has made claims about there being bias, he has already moved once to recuse the judge from this case for a small dollar donation he had made to Democrats several years ago.

And he noted in this filing today that they may seek to seek to bring another motion for the judge to be recused. So, part of their argument here is that there is some bias. You know, and he's -- part of his argument is that this is free speech, campaign speech and he should be allowed to make these comments, particularly since they weren't covered by the first gag order in this case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Scott Jennings and Bakari Sellers are also joining us in this conversation. Scott, Trump opposes any expansion of the gag order, but Trump also has kids and knows what it's like, what it's like for people to attack them. So why would he be doing this to someone else's children?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's doing it because he is trying to get a recusal of this judge.


I mean, remember, I think the whole legal strategy of Trump is to do anything he can do to slow things down, to get delays, to push all this stuff back. And so, I assume that's part of it here. I mean, she's not a young child. She is an adult and she does work in Democratic politics. I mean, one of the things he has said is true. She does work in Democratic politics. And it's interesting to me that Democrats are so bent out of shape of it today because it's sort of the same argument that they've made about Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. They've argued that he should have to recuse because his wife is politically active. But they don't seem to see the same standard here for this judge.

So, look, I question whether it's good for him to attack a judge's family. You know, this judge, after all, holds his fate somewhat in their hands. But I do think there may be a bit of a double standard here on Democratic outrage over the issue.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Bakari weigh in on that. And also, why do you think it's been so hard, Bakari, for Republicans to say that the judge's daughter should be off limits as far as Trump's condemnations are concerned and that attacking her should be condemned?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITCAL COMMENTATOR: Attacking her should be beyond the pale. Anybody attacking someone's child, regardless of how old they are, particularly in a legal proceeding, should be just off limits. The first thing, the Clarence Thomas analogy is just not quite accurate. I mean, there's a question about Clarence Thomas's ethics and there's a question about whether or not his wife actually actively participated via text messages and other things with an insurrection. And so those two things are vastly different.

There's no question about the ethics of this judge. There's no question about any impropriety on the part of his daughter. And so, she should be off limits. My biggest problem with this, Wolf, and everyone watching this will say that there is a double standard for Donald Trump. I do criminal defense law in my day job.

And I can tell you that if I had any -- and I believe Elliot would agree, if I had a singular client that went beyond the pale and did this, they would be hauled in, their bond would be revoked. They would not only be chastised, but they would be under the jail wearing orange and every day have to change into a suit when they come to trial.

What we're seeing right now is fundamentally, in the words of my five- year-old kids, not fair. But this is what Donald Trump oftentimes gets. He gets unfair treatment. He's not fed out of the same spoon of justice.

BLITZER: Let me let Elliot weigh in. What do you think, Elliot?

WILLIAMS: Well, more than anything else, it's the Clarence Thomas analogy and far more than weighing in on whether there's an insurrection or not. There's litigation before the Supreme Court dealing with matters that Ginny Thomas worked on. Now, were it the case that Judge Merchan's daughter had actually worked on the Alvin Bragg case or a prosecution before her father? Of course, she ought to be recused.

I'd be the first person, frankly, as a former prosecutor to say that. But I think, you know, there's a lot of double standards in politics, but I just don't think this is the one. You know, to Bakari's broader point that, of course, Donald Trump's gotten away with a lot and he's a defendant in the criminal justice system. He's allowed to defend himself. He's allowed to push for his rights, but at a certain point.

The delay tactics that are as much protection of his rights as they are abusive to the system and where courts are going to figure out what's okay and what's not is the great challenge of our time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah. We're going to see what's going to unfold. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, Iran now says Israel is to blame for a strike in Syria's capital that killed senior Iranian military commanders and others. What an Israeli military spokesperson is telling CNN. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the volatile Middle East right now. A very deadly attack on the Iranian consulate in Syria. Iranian and Syrian officials are accusing Israel of launching the airstrike. CNN's Nic Robertson is working the story for us. Nic, what do we know, first of all, about the strike and the regional reaction?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the ambassador in Damascus, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus, said he saw Israeli fighter jets fire six missiles at the building. Seven people we understand are dead. Two of them are senior IRGC, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders.

One of them, very, very senior in that force, has been pictured with other leading IRGC figures in the past, which gives the impression he is at the elite end of the IRGC. He was a ground force commander. He was an air force commander for the IRGC as well.

This is perhaps or he perhaps is the most senior IRGC figure to be killed since the United States killed Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq back in the very early part of January 2020. The significance of this strike as well, it is on a diplomatic building. It was on the consulate. The ambassador was nearby, said that he wasn't injured.

But the reason that it was struck is unclear. Clearly, the Iranians are blaming Israel and say that they will -- there will be a decisive response. Israel is saying they don't respond to such allegations. Indeed, the Israeli military spokesman said that this wasn't a diplomatic building. It was, in fact, a military building, Wolf.

BLITZER: What else are Israeli officials saying about all of this?

ROBERTSON: They are saying that Iran is the one that's been escalating the tensions because Iran is now accusing Israel of escalating tensions here in this case. There have been many strikes attributed to Israel in the past. Thinking back here to Christmas Day, there was a strike on an IRGC senior adviser in Damascus, an airstrike on him, killing him. So, just a few months ago.


Israel didn't accept responsibility publicly at the time. But I think it's widely been appreciated or understood that Israel was responsible for that strike. And this seems to fit the same hallmarks. The tensions are very high between Israel and Iran right now.

And if we think back to Iran's response when the United States killed Qasem Soleimani, the Iranians launched heavy missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq. I don't think anyone expects them to do that to Israel at the moment. But they're saying a decisive response, and it will be significant, we can expect.

BLITZER: Clearly, this whole situation could escalate big time. Nic Robertson reporting for us. Thank you very much, Nic.

Let's discuss what's going on with a veteran U.S. diplomat, the former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland. Ambassador. Thank you so much for joining us. Israel, as you heard, is avoiding commenting on this specific attack. But does the evidence suggest to you that this was, in fact, an Israeli strike on this Iranian consular building in Damascus?

VICTORIA NULAND, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, Wolf, it obviously was a significant strike. If the Israelis had intelligence that there were senior IRGC officials inside that building, I am not surprised that they would take the strike, given the fact that Iran has been the primary backer of all of Israel's enemies since October 7th and well before, from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Houthis in the Red Sea. So, I think if they had a shot, they were clearly going to take it.

BLITZER: As you know, Iran is already vowing to respond big time to this. Are you worried that this could significantly escalate, possibly into a direct conflict between Israel and Iran?

NULAND: Well, obviously that's something to be concerned about from a U.S. perspective. As you know, the administration has been trying since October 7th to keep this conflict from escalating beyond Hamas- Israel and beyond Gaza, and particularly has been trying to ensure that it does not spread much beyond the low-grade conflict in the north of Israel between Hezbollah and Israeli forces.

So, that is one thing to look for. And Iran had been constraining Hezbollah in the north, and maybe it will take those chains off or, as you say, we could see a direct strike, which would be very dangerous, of course.

BLITZER: It would be, indeed. CNN, meanwhile, is reporting exclusively, Ambassador, that the United States, the Biden administration, is now very close to approving the sale of up to 50 additional F-15 fighter jets to Israel. How does that square with the Biden administration's own criticism of Israel's conduct in its war in Gaza, killing thousands of Palestinian civilians? NULAND: Well, the United States has been the main supplier for the

Israeli defense forces for many decades. So, you have to also think about it the other way. When Israel is still trying to destroy four standing battalions of Hamas fighters in Rafah, if the United States were to decide to deny this sale, it would be a very, very significant change of perspective, particularly at a time where we're trying to get Israel and Hamas to cut a deal and exchange hostages and have a pause and have a ceasefire. So, you know, I think that the situation is extremely complicated.

BLITZER: It certainly is, and there's enormous fear right now could escalate big time. Ambassador Victoria Nuland, thank you very much for all your important work over these years. Thanks very much for joining us.

NULAND: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And there's more breaking news just ahead. We'll go live to Atlanta for an update on that SUV that rammed into the gate outside an FBI field office. Are officials getting any leads on a motive?



BLITZER: There's more breaking news coming into "The Situation Room" this hour. Authorities in Atlanta are now investigating a vehicle that barreled into the gate outside of an FBI field office there. CNN's Ryan Young is on the scene for us. Ryan, first of all, what do we know about this incident and the suspect who's now in custody?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now at this hour, they're not sharing a lot of information about the suspect. We know he's being evaluated at a local hospital. Well, let me take you to the scene right across the street there. You still see the barrier. It's still up after that suspect rammed into it.


BLITZER: Ryan, we've got a technical issue with your microphone. We're going to get back to you because I want to update our viewers on what's going on in Atlanta with this vehicle ramming into the FBI field office there. So, stand by. We'll get that technical issue worked out.

In the meantime, I want to get to some other news we're following. Officials in Baltimore now say crews are making progress as they remove hundreds of tons of wreckage from last week's enormous bridge collapse there. CNN's Brian Todd is right near the scene for us. Brian, I understand a temporary channel has just been cleared. What else are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. A temporary channel has been opened with a controlling depth of 11 feet and they're working on opening two more channels that will be deeper. Meanwhile, we got an update a short time ago on the hundreds of tons of wreckage being lifted today and the dangers involved in that.


WES MOORE, GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: We're talking about a situation where a portion of the bridge beneath the water has been described by unified command as chaotic wreckage.


TODD (voice-over): Cleanup crews cleared enough concrete and steel debris from the Patapsco River to form a temporary shallow channel with enough clearance for emergency vessels, working on Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse cleanup.

MOORE: Every time we move a piece of the structure, th situation could become even more dangerous. We have to move fast, but we cannot be careless. We've already lost six Marylanders to this crisis. I refuse to lose any more.

TODD (voice-over): Despite the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers starting to lift out thousands of tons of steel from the river.

SHANNON GILREATH, U.S. COAST GUARD: These girders are essentially tangled together intertwined, making it very difficult to figure out where you need to eventually cut so that we can make that into more manageable sizes to lift them from the waterway.

TODD (voice-over): The Port of Baltimore won't get back to business until the main channel is cleared for cargo ships.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Even as they try to clear this one passageway there at the same time doing all the engineering analysis to open the deeper channel.

TODD (voice-over): Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, met with port workers today.

JULIE SU, ACTING SECRETARY OF LABOR: There's, you know, tremendous economic displacement.

TODD (voice-over): She says the government should be supporting the thousands of workers who rely on the poor, but.

SU: We saw during the pandemic that our -- our safety net for workers when they are put out of a job through no fault of their own, is inadequate for everything that we needed to do.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, divers crane drivers and technicians clearing debris have a long road ahead of them.

OSCAR BARTON, HEAD OF ENGINEERING SCHOOL, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: This is not something that's done by the faint of heart.

TODD (voice-over): Dr. Oscar Barton heads the engineering school at Morgan State University. He says before anyone can even get close enough to physically move any wreckage above or below the water. BARTON: They are going to do some surveying before they start to do any excavation.

TODD (voice-over): The first crane operation finished this morning and another is plant, pending weather,

MOORE: Specifically pending lightning. And they will be lifting an estimated 350-ton piece from the bridge.

TODD (voice-over): Larry DeSantis was driving back from work on the bridge that Tuesday morning.

LARRY DESANTIS, DROVE ACROSS BRIDGE MINUTES BEFORE COLLAPSE: I (INAUDIBLE) by him. I saw them, you know, just a minute before they probably died.

TODD (voice-over): He was one of the last to cross the bridge just minutes before it collapsed killing six people.

DESANTIS: It's hard to believe. You know that something like that could happen that quick could have been on there.


TODD: And the White House has announced that President Biden will be traveling to Baltimore on Friday to survey the damage and to meet with local officials. Meanwhile, the bodies of four people who are still unaccounted for and believed to be deceased still have not been recovered. Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting from Baltimore for us. Brian, thank you very much.

Joining us now Captain Morgan McManus. He's a training ship master at the State University of New York Maritime College. Thanks very much, Captain for joining us.

Officials are going to try to lift a 350-ton piece of this collapsed bridge today after lifting a 200-ton section yesterday. What's your assessment, Captain of the progress being made in this massive cleanup effort at least so far?

MORGAN MCMANUS, TRAINING SHIP MASTER, SUNY MARITIME COLLEGE: I think they're making amazing progress as quickly as they got on site over the weekend. I think the lifts are so complicated as everyone's saying, you're dealing with tangled messes of metal that are just intertwined under pressure. You're also working on the water, everything gets more complicated on the water, they're dealing with weather as well, you know, it just -- it's going to be very difficult for them to do so. You know, the progress they're making so far is -- is really fantastic.

BLITZER: Discouraging to hear that. How significant Captain is it that this temporary channel on the northeast side of the collapse is now open? MCMANUS: It's great progress, because that's more assets that can get on scene to -- to help. You know, and they can work around the whole see now like getting equipment in there, moving personnel in and out quicker. So, it's -- it's a big improvement, it's going to just help bring more resources to bear.

BLITZER: What challenges are these divers up against right now as conditions in the water continue to be not only difficult but very dangerous.

MCMANUS: There basically working blind, they -- visibility about a foot two feet in front of their face at the best, you know, temperature fatigue, it's all going to take a toll on him over time. So, it's going to be a very physically and mentally taxing job for all of them.

BLITZER: Captain Morgan McManus, thank you very much for your expertise. Thanks very much for joining us.

Right now, want to get back to CNN, Ryan Young. He's on the scene for us of that vehicle that barreled into the gate outside in FBI field office in Atlanta. We've fixed those technical issues, Ryan. So, tell us what we know about this incident.

YOUNG: Yes, Wolf, what we know so far in the FBI has confirmed this to us is there were no weapons found inside that vehicle that's done after a bomb sweep. They went through the vehicle to make sure there were no weapons on the suspect. But just after 12:30, they're not sure why this man in his orange vehicle tried to ram his way into this FBI office. He wasn't able to make it very far because once he got, out two FBI agents were able to surround him.


Now he was taken to the hospital for an evaluation. At that point will be passed over to a police department before being taken to a jail. We leave (ph) his first court appearance will happen before the end of the week. But that's sharing a lot of information about the suspect just right now, but what we do know the defensive mechanisms at this installation worked perfectly because that ramp system can sustain itself to a car trying to push his way through. It did its job today as the man tried to get the way through. He could not move that system. We know the airbag deployed, they were able to get him into custody.

Right now, there's so many questions, they're going through his social media, he could face state and federal charges. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you'll keep us updated. Ryan Young in Atlanta for us. Thank you very much.

Coming up, a very high stakes grudge match is about to unfold in the NCAA women's tournament. Iowa looking to avenge its 2023 championship loss to Louisiana State.


BLITZER: We're closing in on a highly anticipated rematch in the women's NCAA Tournament. LSU in Iowa preparing a face off a little over an hour or so from now as the Hawkeyes look to avenge their loss in last year's championship game.

Let's bring in the great sports journalist and CNN contributor Bob Costas. Bob, give us a little perspective here. How significant --


BLITZER: -- is this game between Iowa and LSU to women's college basketball?

COSTAS: Yes, that's the big question beyond LSU routers and Iowa routers, and it's significant in that respect, LSU the defending champion beat Iowa last year in the final but here's the point that you're getting to. Last year's final drew 10 million viewers, and that growth in interest in women's college basketball has continued UConn has a chance to go back to the Final Four. In fact, UConn could have two men's and women's and NC State already has two men's and women's in their final four. UConn has won 11 titles. They've got Paige Bueckers, she's a well-known player, Angel Reese and Flau'jae Johnson of LSU, well known. Caitlin Clark, Clark biggest star in all of women's college basketball. But there are other good players on the team Debbie Marshall, for example, in the most recent victory, hit four out of five, three pointers.

The quality of the women's game has improved exponentially. This may sound like an odd aside, but some 40 years ago, I did Missouri's men's games on the radio on KMOX in St. Louis. And a lot of times, Wolf, I get to the arena in Columbia, Missouri. And the game would say start at 7 o'clock the men's game, and the women's game would be played at 4 o'clock. And there'd be like 200 people in the arena. And the quality of play was so low that you knew that any pickup team at a high school could easily run right through them. It has improved so much athletically and in terms of interest. And it just keeps on getting better.

And LSU Iowa will rematch tonight, even though it's not in the Final Four. It's close. It's in the Elite Eight. And there was a little bit of you know, a little bit of tension between the two teams a year ago that works in the men's game and it's working now in the women's game.

BLITZER: Certainly. And as a basketball fan, I love what's going on. Right now, the Washington Post, as you probably know just released a story that paints the LSU Head Coach Kim Mulkey as a polarizing figure with a brash banner and a tendency to hold a grudge. She's threatened to sue over all of this. How is all of this potentially you think Bob, impacting the big game?

COSTAS: I think it's fueling LSU. If anything, it's fueling them. And at Baylor and now at LSU, Mulkey has been a polarizing figure. She has a very distinctive personality. You know, when I first read that she planned to sue, this is before I read the story, I thought the story be much less favorable toward her than it actually is. I'm not saying it's a hearts and flowers thing. I'm not saying it's a puff piece. It's kind of tough on her but not as bad as you would have feared if you're a big Kim Mulkey fan, essentially, based on what I know, and I'm not that close to the women's game.

But based on what I know, it was more or less a fair assessment. She's terrific. She's hard driving. She has been immensely successful. And she rubs some people the wrong way.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what happens sometimes. You know, Caitlin Clark might be right now and tell me if you agree, the biggest name in all of college basketball, men's or women's for that matter. How important is tonight's game to her legacy?

COSTAS: Well, her legacy as a very significant player and an all-time great player and even though it's apples and oranges because Pete Maravich played many fewer games, there was no three-point shot, there was no shot clock back at LSU in the late 1960s when Pete Maravich set the men's record. Still, she holds the all-time record, no woman or man has scored as many points in NCAA play as Caitlin Clark.

So, in that sense, the legacy is set, but she gets back to another final four. That would be pretty good.

BLITZER: It would be amazing.

COSTAS: That would enhance it.

BLITZER: Yes. It certainly would. Bob Costas as usual, thank you. Let's continue these conversations down the road. Love having you here in the "Situation Room."

Coming up. Breaking news out of Florida right now, the State Supreme Court has just handed down a major decision on abortion. We're going to tell you about that right after a quick break.



BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following right now. The Florida Supreme Court has just cleared the way for the state's extremely restrictive six-week abortion ban to take effect while also allowing voters to decide on a pro-abortion rights ballot -- ballot measure this fall.

Right now, I want to bring in the President of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson. Alexis, thanks for joining us.

First of all, what's your reaction to this decision clearing the way for this proposed constitutional amendment in Florida to go on the ballot this November?

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Well, I mean, Wolf, first it is devastating for patients in Florida right, to -- to know that within 30 days, a six-week ban could take place in Florida really should be upsetting to all Floridians, right, and all Americans. I mean, we're talking about the South that has been dependent on the state of Florida for access to care over these, you know almost two years post Roe v. Wade, post the Dobbs decision, that really will have a devastating impact on accessing care in the South.


And at the same time paving the way for a ballot initiative, for Amendment 4 to move forward when a million Floridians have signed on including some 200,000 Republicans, I think that really pretends to create a lot of energy going into 2024. And we know that everywhere we have seen reproductive freedom on the ballot, we have won. And so that actually tempers a little bit of the, you know, devastating pain that we are seeing related to patients.

BLITZER: This decision does allow a Florida six-week abortion ban to go into effect in 30 days. What other concerns do you have about that?

JOHNSON: We have seen the consequences of six week bans across the South, we've seen them, you know, in states nearby like Georgia, and -- and -- and, you know, others in South Carolina, we've seen patients traveled to Florida to get access to care. And so that will have a, you know, on the infrastructure of providing abortion access, a very devastating effect, we have seen the stories come out, patients who have not been able to, you know, get access to miscarriage care, knowing that, in fact, abortion bans have made pregnancy more dangerous.

And so, I think that, you know, over the next, you know, six months related to the election, we are going to see what's happening in Florida right now related to patients who are seeking care. And we should be deeply concerned about that.

BLITZER: And lots of state right now. What options, if any, are you planning to pursue that could potentially stop this six-week abortion ban from taking effect?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, I mean, the best option right now is to focus on the Florida Amendment, right? To ensure that we are, you know, educating all Floridians around what is at stake right now, we know that, you know, 81 percent of Americans do not want their reproductive health care to be regulated by the government. And we know that is true as well in Florida.

And so, our focus is going to be on ensuring this ballot initiative is successful in stopping the, you know, these horrific health care decisions being stripped away from everyday Floridians and putting into the hands of folks like, you know, you know, the Florida Supreme Court. So, we're going to make sure that Floridians have the last word. That's our job right now.

BLITZER: The proposed amendment in Florida will need approval from 60 percent of voters to pass. Recently in Ohio, another state that often votes Republican, a measure passed to protect abortion, but with just over 56 percent. Given that, how confident are you that Flor -- that this Florida amendment will meet that high 60 percent bar. JOHNSON: I'm very confident it will meet the bar. I mean, as I said, everywhere we turn the majority of Americans in every state support access to abortion, they do not want the government to own these decisions. They want the -- to own the health care decisions themselves. And so, we believe just as what we saw all of the energy that went into Floridians protecting reproductive freedom, we have seen petitions fly off the shelves, we've seen people engaging their fellow neighbors at the grocery store, we have seen people talking about in beauty and barber salons because they understand how fundamental reproductive freedom is for their lives and for their state.

So, I'm very confident that they will meet the 60 percent threshold, it is what we have seen every time. As I said reproductive freedom has been on the ballot. We have shown up and we have shown out. And I think that is becoming even more apparent, as we've seen attacks on things like you know, reproductive freedom and IVF. Right? As we've seen the impact on pregnancy and miscarriage. And you know, as -- as these stories come out, again, stories that are also in Florida, we're going to continue to see the impact elsewhere.

BLITZER: As you mentioned, Alexis, this six-week ban will be the latest restrictive law in the South. So, what's your advice to women there who need reproductive care?

JOHNSON: Think about what that means for the South. Right? Think about the fact that if you are literally in the Northeast where we are, and you travel south of Virginia, it means you literally have to drive all the way south and make a left and go all the way to New Mexico in order to get access to abortion within a month's time. That is unconscionable for Americans. Like letting people understand that if you need access to abortion, that literally an entire region of the country has now been devastated by these abortion bans. One out of three women and more trans and non-binary folks are living in states with abortion bans and this Florida ruling will -- will impact that exponentially.


So, people need access right now, go to, patient navigators will help you find your way to a provider. And you know, and for all those folks who -- who can continue to support the kinds of funds that people will need for patient navigation, for travel, for access, we encourage you to do what you can. Because we should not be living in a world where an entire region of the country, we are no longer free and able to take care and make decisions about our own health care where we actually have to travel out of state in order to get the care that we need.

And so, I think it's really important for people to understand that. And I think Floridians will have something to say about that the South will have something to say about that, just as they just did an Alabama last week.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in Florida. Alexis McGill Johnson, thank you very much for joining us. JOHNSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, the Manhattan district attorney has just asked the judge overseeing Donald Trump's hush money case to expand the gag order. Details on the new filing and the role Trump's inflammatory rhetoric is playing.