Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Angry Biden Gives Netanyahu An Ultimatum After Aid Workers' Deaths; Trump Loses Bid To Dismiss Classified Documents Case; Death Toll Rises As Rescuers Scramble To Find Taiwan Quake Victims; State Department Officials Tell House Panel They Created Afghanistan Withdrawal Plans From Scratch; Trump Fumes And Defends Truth Social After Its Stock Plunges. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 04, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow the show on X @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts, all two hours, just sitting there like a big -- I don't know -- big, baked potato, let's call it that.

The news continues on CNN. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Amid growing anger over the deaths of aid workers in Gaza, President Biden gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an ultimatum take concrete steps to protect civilians or face consequences.

How serious is this U.S. threat to change its Israel policy? I'll ask key White House official John Kirby. He's standing by live.

Also breaking, Donald Trump loses his bid to dismiss the criminal charges he faces for retaining classified documents. The judge's ruling included a heated response to the special counsel scathing criticism of how she's handling the case.

And troubling new details emerging about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, CNN has exclusively obtained transcripts of interviews with State Department officials that were kept under wraps until now.

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 on President Biden making new demands of Israel. The deadly strikes on aid workers in Gaza apparently, a tipping point for the Biden administration. I'll speak with the key White House official, John Kirby, in just a few minutes. He's standing by.

But, first, let's go to CNN Senior White House Correspondent Kayla Tausche. She's following all these developments for us. Kayla, update our viewers on the very latest.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the first time since October 7th, when Hamas attacked Israel, the White House appears ready and willing to place conditions on Israel's policy, on its policy toward Israel, that is, if Israel is not willing to make specific changes that the White House laid out in some detail today, but we expect were laid out in more detail behind the scenes.

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in their first live conversation since an attack on a World Central Kitchen convoy, killed seven people, including one American citizen, President Biden has expressed outrage and heartbreak over that attack, and in recent weeks and months, his frustration has been mounting as the civilian death toll rises.

And it becomes an increasingly challenging political question for him here at home, with pro-Palestinian protests erupting nationwide, and many questions for him and his administration about why there haven't been consequences for Israel so far.

There were high stakes for the conversation that took place today. It lasted about 30 minutes during the middle of the day. And certainly there were high expectations too, especially after Israel had said that this is the type of attack that happens in war, calling it unintentional, and launching its own preliminary investigation, which concluded this week, and a full investigation that will follow.

The U.S. so far had said that it would reserve judgment on exactly how this happened until that full investigation took place. But here's how events unfolded in Washington and in Brussels today.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: If we lose that reverence for human life, we risk becoming indistinguishable from those we confront.

TAUSCHE (voice over): Tonight, a marked shift in the Biden administration's policy on Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warning Israel must protect civilians in Gaza or face a change in U.S. policy.

BLINKEN: This week's horrific attack on the World Central Kitchen was not the first such incident. It must be the last.

TAUSCHE: President Biden in a 30-minute phone call with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding an immediate ceasefire, making clear his administration's frustrations are mounting alongside the civilian death toll.

JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: And he urged the prime minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay.

TAUSCHE: The two leaders speaking for the first time since Biden expressed public outrage over the deadly strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza. Netanyahu has said it happens in war. The White House says Biden and Netanyahu didn't discuss the strikes in great detail, but Biden told him the darkening humanitarian picture was unacceptable and Israel needed to take concrete and measurable steps or the U.S. could reconsider its position.

KIRBY: We want to see more crossings opened up. We want to see more trucks getting in, the mitigation of civilian harm, particularly to humanitarian aid workers, but obviously all civilians.


TAUSCHE: National Security Spokesman John Kirby said, the U.S. needs to see results soon or pursue a policy change, though without providing specifics.

KIRBY: If we don't see changes from their side, there will have to be changes on our side. We would hope to see some announcements of changes here in coming hours and days.

TAUSCHE: Longtime Biden ally Senator Chris Coons, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says this strike is different and that Biden's Democratic-supporting Congress is starting to wane over Israel.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): This particular targeted killing, which is hard to explain or understand, I would vote to condition aid to Israel.

TAUSCHE: Joining a faction of lawmakers calling for Biden to take a tougher line on the Mideast ally, even as CNN learns the White House is still green-lighting new arms sales.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): We cannot approve the sale of arms to a country that is in violation of our own laws.

TAUSCHE: Israel now on guard for retaliation from Iran, days after striking an Iranian government building in Syria, killing top IRGC officials.

KIRBY: They did talk about a very public and very viable, real threat by Iran.

TAUSCHE: And despite its outrage and in the face of those continued threats, the Biden administration making clear it stands with its closest Mideast ally.

BLINKEN: President Biden reaffirmed the United States strong support for Israel in the faces of these threats and our commitment to Israel's security.


TAUSCHE (on camera): This evening, reporters shouted questions at President Biden at a public event here at the White House trying to get more detail about exactly what changes he's considering to Israeli policy but the president didn't answer. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche at the White House for us, Kayla, thank you very much. As Israel faces this growing pressure from the United States, we're getting new information about the investigation into the strike that killed those seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us live right now. He's in Jerusalem. Jeremy, World Center Kitchen founder of the chef, Jose Andres, accuses Israel of systematically targeting his aid workers. Israel says the deaths were unintentional. When do we expect to get results from Israel's investigation?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, over the course of the last several days, the Israeli military has been conducting an investigation into the exact circumstances that led to what the Israel military has described as a grave mistake, misidentifying this convoy of humanitarian aid vehicles as a threat and targeting them with several what appeared to be precision drone strikes.

The Israeli Military, I'm told, is now expected to release the findings of that investigation tomorrow morning. They have already begun briefing relevant parties on this. But I do think it is important to note just how significant and how different this investigation is into the deaths of these aid workers than anything else that we have seen since the beginning of this war.

We have see tens of thousands of civilians, Palestinian civilians, killed in this war since October, and yet this is the first time we've seen such a thorough, comprehensive and public accounting of the deaths of civilians there's no question that the fact that six out of seven of these aid workers were foreigners is playing a factor, not only in the Israeli response but also, of course, in international uproar.

BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond reporting for us, Jeremy, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of these major developments. Joining us now the White House national security communications adviser, retired Admiral John Kirby. John, thanks very much for joining us.

First, you outlined earlier today the steps the United States wants to see from Israel to better protect civilians in Gaza. How exactly will you determine if Israel is, in fact, taking enough action to do so?

KIRBY: Well, I think the proof will be in the pudding, Wolf, not just what they announce they're going to but our assessment over time, watching how they act on those announcements and those decisions, making sure that we have to a measurable increase, for instance, of trucks of aid getting in.

We want to see additional crossings opened up, and the ones that are already opened up increasing the flow. And we want make sure that we can see real civilian harm mitigation measures put in place by the IDF so that we can have a measure of security and, frankly, aid organizations can have the measure security that they can operate on the ground safely and they won't be targeted or they will be accidentally struck. And then lastly, I talked about this earlier, we need to see a pause in the fighting. We want to see a ceasefire tied to getting the hostages out, so that not only can there be a relaxation on the ground of combat, but that that aid can flow much more unhindered than it already is.

BLITZER: If Israel, John, does not do enough to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza in the coming days, what specific changes is the Biden administration, the U.S., willing to make to move its policies forward?

KIRBY: Well, I'm not in a position to preview the policy decisions that the president might make going forward, but he was very clear and very direct with the prime minister, that if we don't see changes on their side, there's going to have to be some changes in our own policy towards Gaza on our side.


But I don't want to close down his decision space, and hopefully it won't come to that, that they'll be able to execute and implement on these things that we've asked for, these things that they've committed to doing, and we can make it safer for aid workers on the ground, and, frankly, we can help start to make life better for innocent Gazans.

BLITZER: As you know, John, tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, more than 200 aid workers there, and 95 journalists have already been killed in this war. Dozens of hostages, as you know, they're still being held in Gaza at the same time.

And just today, Israel struck a refugee camp in Central Gaza. Why has it taken the president this long to get to this point of considering a major change in U.S. policy?

KIRBY: Well, I think what you're seeing certainly today is obviously what happened to the World Central Kitchen. That event certainly was a catalyst for the call today. Certainly, you saw his outrage and his statement shortly after that strike.

But I think it's important to remind that his frustration has been growing over recent weeks and months over the dangers to the civilian population in Gaza and to aid workers. This was, if you will, a culminating event, I think, but it really reflects a growing frustration by the president.

BLITZER: As you remember, the president referenced what he called a come to Jesus moment with Netanyahu after his State of the Union Address last month. Is that moment happening right now?

KIRBY: All I can tell you is that the discussion today was very direct, and it was very candid. And the president was sure-footed in stressing his concerns, our deep concern over what happened to the World Central Kitchen, but even broader to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And he was very, very clear with the prime minister about what we need to see, short of making policy decisions and changes on our own. President Biden says he's outraged by this attack, but why isn't he expressing that on camera directly to the American people?

Well, you know, he has opportunities to talk to the press all the time and he'll continue to do that. I think you'll continue to hear directly from the president in various forms and vehicles about what's going on in Gaza and what we're trying to do to, again, get a ceasefire in place, get those hostages home, get that humanitarian assistance in at an increased volume. But you'll continue to hear from the president.

BLITZER: But as you know, the president still hasn't spoken about this latest Israeli strike. He hasn't done that on camera. He has said very little, in fact, about his own frustrations with Prime Minister Netanyahu in public. When do you think the president will start to speak in front of the American people about these concerns?

KIRBY: Well, I don't have anything on the calendar to speak to in terms of a press conference or an interview specifically about these events, but you will continue to hear from the president. I think his statement the other night about the World Central Kitchen strike was very, very clear, very, very strident, and you could see the frustration in that statement. You're going to, again, continue to hear from him about this.

BLITZER: All right. I want to play for you what Senator Bernie Sanders told our Jake Tapper just a few moments ago. Listen to this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Israel should not be getting another nickel in military aid until these policies are fundamentally changed. So, if -- you know, my view is no more military aid to Israel when children in Gaza are starving.


BLITZER: So, if the status quo continues, do you think President Biden would be willing to condition military aid to Israel?

KIRBY: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of the president or close down his decision space on national T.V. His statement today, the readout from his conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, was very clear, that we will make decisions about our policy in Gaza based on our assessment of how they meet their commitments and changes that they're willing to make in the way they're prosecuting operations and protecting innocent civilians, including aid workers.

So, we're going to watch and see what they announce and how they act on those announcements, the changes they make, and we'll monitor it very closely. We're going to judge it by what they do, not just by what they say. I just don't want to get ahead of the president on this.

BLITZER: You heard Secretary Blinken earlier today suggest -- he warned that there's a real risk. The way Israel is waging its war in Gaza right now is making it indistinguishable from Hamas. How close is Israel to that point?

KIRBY: Well, it's difficult to say on a scale like that. I mean, we have to remember, Hamas -- there was a ceasefire in place on the 6th of October. Hamas broke it. Mr. Sinwar chose to start this war. Mr. Sinwar and Hamas fighters choose to bury themselves under hospitals and civilian infrastructure, use the innocent people of Gaza as human shields.


They are increasingly placing innocent Palestinians at greater risk as well. I think we can't equate what they did on the 7th of October to the kinds of operations that Israel is conducting.

That said, and we've been clear about this too, it's not just the right and responsibility of the IDF to go after Hamas. It's the way they do it that matters. And it is the way that they have been doing it in recent weeks and months that have caused increasing frustration by us in terms of civilian casualties, the damage to civilian infrastructure and now the potential impact on humanitarian organizations being fearful of moving into Gaza.

So, you know, maybe you have all these crossings open, Wolf, but if you don't have truck drivers who are brave and courageous enough to move that stuff into Gaza because they're worried about being struck, then it doesn't matter. So everything has to be done in synchronization and that's what we want to see.

BLITZER: The Israeli magazine, Plus972, is reporting that Israel has been using artificial intelligence to help identify bombing targets in Gaza sometimes with only 20 seconds or less of human oversight. At the White House briefing earlier today, you said you weren't aware of this Israeli magazine report, but that you would study it. So, I want to ask you for your reaction now.

KIRBY: Yes. We're still looking at this reporting. I'm not in a position to verify or give it credibility. I'm certainly not shooting it down. We just got to learn more about this, and I just don't have any additional context for you.

But separate and distinct from that, as we know from our own experience, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the targeting process does require multiple layers and it requires a fine network of communications and control up and down the chain of command so that you can try to avoid civilian harm and you can actually go after what you're going after.

It's not about the precision of the weapons. It is about the decision- making process, the human loop that actually gets after those targets and makes the proper analysis. And so if you're introducing artificial means into that decision-making loop, well that's something you're going to have to seriously look at in terms of the potential for mistakes.

I'm not suggesting that that was the case here. We just don't know. The investigation is still ongoing. But, obviously, what we're going to be looking for out of the Israeli side is proof that they are learning from this mistake and won't make those mistakes again and are making the proper changes in the targeting analysis and decision making loop.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, I want to get your reaction. Barack Ravid from Axios, he's a CNN contributor, he tweeted this just a few moments ago, and I'll read it to you. The Israeli security cabinet approved the opening of the Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip for the first time since October 7th in order to allow more humanitarian aid to go in, that according to an Israeli official. What's your reactions to that?

KIRBY: Well, if it's true, that's welcome. I hadn't seen Barack's tweet. He's a great reporter, so I'm certainly not questioning the veracity of it. But if it's true, that's certainly in keeping with what we heard from the prime minister today in terms of announcements they would be making in coming hours and days about opening up crossings, making it more accessible for humanitarian aid organizations to get food, water, medicine, and fuel into the people of Gaza.

So, again, if it's true that is certainly a welcome step and it is absolutely in keeping with we what heard from the prime minister earlier today.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, very quickly, I want to get your reaction to these latest threats from Iran to retaliate against Israel for the Israeli airstrike against the consular building in Damascus, killing some Iranian military types. What's your reactions to that, and how concerned is the U.S. right now about a possible, God forbid, full-scale war between Iran and Israel?

KIRBY: Yes, we're very concerned. In fact, one of the things that the prime minister and the president talked about today was this very public, very real threat by Iran to the state of Israel. No question about it, we're all taking this seriously. Nobody wants to see this conflict escalate clearly. But just as critically, we don't want to hear Israel attacked from Iran directly.

I think, you know, back to one of the questions we talked about earlier in terms of aid and security assistance, I think it's important to remember that the security systems we provide Israel is not just for Gaza. I mean, this is a small country that has many enemies in the region and lots of threats. And this public threat by Iran is just another example. It underscores the threat to the Israeli people in the state of Israel.

And one of the points the president made today in his call to Prime Minister Netanyahu, specifically with this Iranian threat, is the United States will stand with you. We will continue to help you defend yourself against these multiple threats.

BLITZER: And today, the Israel military stopped all leaves for Israeli active-duty military personnel as a result of their concern that Iran's going to launch some missiles and start this retaliatory strike against Israel. This could explode, as I said, God forbid, into a full-scale war.

John Kirby, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead, the political impact of President Biden's tougher stance towards Israel. Will it ease the election year pushback within his own Democratic Party.

And Donald Trump's new legal loss as the judge refuses to dismiss the classified documents case against him.


We're breaking down the ruling and what it could mean for the eventual trial.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, President Biden demanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take concrete steps to protect civilians in Gaza after the killing of seven aid workers there. If not, the president is threatening to make dramatic changes to U.S. policy toward Israel.

How will this ultimatum play here at home? Let's talk a little bit with our political experts. Audie Cornish, what do you think? Anything short of an immediate ceasefire that potentially could help ease some of the problems potentially the President Biden is having from within his own Democratic coalition?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, another way to think of it is that what the concern is about how Israel is prosecuting its war has now gone way past any people here and there in the coalition. The most recent Gallup research shows that 55 percent of Americans they polled now believe that Israel -- disapprove of how Israel is going after the war.


And so I think the question now is -- there's a wider swath of people who are concerned. And I'm kind of, you know, curious from Kate and Sarah, what that means for policymakers. Do they actually have more room to discuss things that's not in the binary of complete ceasefire or unconditional support at any cost?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the Biden administration has tried to be in that space from the outside, and that's part of what has been politically challenging for them. This is obviously a nuanced and complicated situation. I think they have tried to navigate sort of that in-between space of putting forth policy that is going to contain this and not allow this to spiral into a bigger crisis that is going to threaten American interests and potentially American lives.

SARAH CHAMBERLAIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And they really are failing. And this is -- I think this is his presidency.

CORNISH: How do you consider failing here, though? What do you mean by that?

CHAMBERLAIN: He has said in the past, okay, I'm talking to Israel, we're going to do a ceasefire, we're going to jive a 48-hour. Nothing has happened. And I really think this is going to come down to his presidency. Does he get re-elected November or not? And the younger generation is really upset.

CORNISH: You're saying younger. I mean, one of the things that was interesting about the Gallup poll is it was Millennials, right? It's not Gen Z. They are looking at wide swaths of the population and independents who have moved since October. And this came out just a few weeks ago. It was before the aid workers. So, the idea that there is a widespread concern, I think, is going to become a more mainstream concept. And you have even Trump talking about that.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, but that's -- I was just going to say, but what's the alternative here? The alternative for these voters is Donald Trump, who is not exactly somebody who has been --

CHAMBERLAIN: Actually, I don't agree with that.

BEDINGFIELD: -- who has been the alternative.

CHAMBERLAIN: The alternative is they don't vote, but it's a huge problem.

CORNISH: Or they don't see a difference in the policies.

BEDINGFIELD: Well -- but I think when you have Donald Trump out saying things like the IDF needs to go into Gaza and finish the problem, I mean, he's not somebody who's articulating concern for Palestinian citizens, for Gazans.

So, for people who are frustrated, upset, angry about what they're seeing in terms of innocent loss of life, Donald Trump is not a viable option.

Now, of course, you're right. Is there the potential for them to stay home? Of course. And so --

CHAMBERLAIN: The Trump MAGA base is going to turn out.

BEDINGFIELD: So I -- well, yes. But the MAGA base is not enough to get Donald Trump re-elected.

BLITZER: Sarah, let me -- speaking of Trump, he said earlier today, he said Israel needs to finish what they started because Israel is losing support the longer this war goes on. Why do you think he's saying that?

CHAMBERLAIN: Because he's -- first of all, he's close to not (INAUDIBLE). I mean, that's been obvious for the beginning. And they do need to end this. I mean, we need to get this over with so we can move on. So, I'm not surprised that Trump said that, frankly.

BEDINGFIELD: Well -- but -- so, again, there's a very practical choice here for voters in November.

And so I think, yes, is there widespread frustration, outrage about what we're seeing on the ground? Was there outrage over the attack this week on the World Central Kitchen aid workers? Of course, of course. But I also think that people want to see -- a majority of people in this country do support Israel, want to see the United States continue to support Israel.

And so I think for the Biden administration, they have to chart a course here that contains the conflict in a way that doesn't have it spiraling out of control. And if we put it in a political context, you know, in the month leading up into November --

CORNISH: (INAUDIBLE) the question out of support or not support and whether it's unconditional, and we had Senator Bernie Sanders speaking to Jake Tapper today and he very much made it clear he also supports Israel but that he was also talking about the idea of conditions and also benchmarks, what is success in a scenario with this much civilian loss of life.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, and I think you heard the White House signal today that they may be open to conditions.

CORNISH: They may be open. It's very hedgy, hedgy.

BEDINGFIELD: Well, because they are trying to make, you know, rational policy decisions and not box themselves into a corner on what to do here.

But I think, yes, there is certainly going to be continued pressure here. I think it is going to be tricky for the White House to navigate this for the coming months.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on another important issue. No Labels announced today that they're not going to field a third party ticket, essentially admitting in the statement that they couldn't get anyone serious to be their candidate for a third party No Labels ticket. What does that say about the stakes of this election now?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, this is a great thing for the Biden campaign. I mean, there's no question that No Labels were they able to field a significant candidate, that that would have been a threat to the Biden campaign, and a campaign that is going to be very close, is going to be won and lost in the margins in battleground states.

But I think it also shows that there is support for Biden's candidacy. It shows that, yes, have we seen in the polls that there's fatigue across the board with both leading candidates? Yes, we've seen that. But I think at the end of the day, you had a lot of very ambitious people take a look at trying to do this third party run and come away with the belief that it was not going to do anything but potentially throw the election to Donald Trump. They didn't want to be a part of that. BLITZER: I assume you agree.

CORNISH: Well, I want Sarah to jump in, because she's been following this --


CHAMBERLAIN: Oh, I follow this closely.

BLITZER: I assume you agree this is good news for the Biden campaign that No Labels are not going to field --

CHAMBERLAIN: And it's good news for the Trump campaign, but, really, do we ever think that they were going to have a legitimate candidate? No. I mean, this has been months. They've raised a lot of money on it. But the reality is a third party doesn't work. You cannot win a third party, even though the country doesn't want Biden or Trump.

BLITZER: A third party candidate can't take votes away.

CHAMBERLAIN: Right, they can't take votes. But what do they do with the money now? That will be interesting. They've got a lot of it.

BLITZER: Good discussion. Thank you to everyone right now.

Coming up, the judge in Donald Trump's classified documents case hits back at the special counsel. What their dispute could mean for the prosecution of the former president. Stand by.



BLITZER: There's more breaking news in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour, Donald Trump losing his bid to dismiss the criminal charges he faces in the classified documents case.

CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us. Evan, tell us more about the judge's ruling.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is one of about eight requests by the former president to try to dismiss this case. And so in this one, Judge Aileen Cannon says that the Presidential Records Act, which is the former president has been claiming gave him the authority to possess these documents, take these documents when he left the White House, that that is not relevant, at least at this stage.

She is, however, allowing him to continue to present this, perhaps even at trial. And so that is something that is a bit of a conflict with what the special counsel, Jack Smith, is pushing her to do.

I'll read you just a part of her ruling, which was a very short, just over two pages, in which she said, to the extent that the special counsel demands an anticipatory finalization of jury instructions prior to trial, prior to a charged conference, and prior to the presentation of trial defenses and evidence, the court declines that demand as unprecedented and unjust.

You see her there pushing back on Jack Smith, who was really trying to force the judge to make a decision on whether Trump will be able to use the Presidential Record Act as part of his defense, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan Perez with the latest on this front, very important information, thanks very much.

I want to break it all down with our legal experts, and Ankush Khardori is with us, your former federal prosecutor. What do you make of Judge Aileen Cannon's decision to push back so strenuously against the special counsel, Jack Smith, calling his latest filing, as we just heard, unprecedented and unjust?

ANKUSH KHARDORI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, she appears to be somewhat buckling under the pressure, I think. I think she's not enjoying all the attention that her orders are getting and the negative reaction that they're getting, and I think this is probably a symptom of that.

I would just say on the merits that calling Jack Smith's request on precedent and unjust is very strange. She is the one who started this process of finalizing or drafting jury instructions before even setting a trial date. The whole thing is bizarre to begin with, but she lacks experience to manage a case like this at this level of complexity and significance, and it's been showing for a while.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what a lot of experts are suggesting. What do you think, Andrew?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I totally agree. I think what we're seeing here is a combination of a lack of experience, I think a lack of confidence. Many of her orders in this case of -- there's only been a few. There's a lot of outstanding motions that could use orders and decisions, but we haven't seen those yet.

But many of them do indicate a sort of lack of an inclination to issue decisive final orders. She usually kind of takes a Solomonic split the baby approach, I'll deny it now but you can kind of bring it up later, which paints the prosecution in a very, very tough corner. Because when those issues come up later, it could be beyond the point at which the prosecutors could take any sort of an appeal.

BLITZER: Do you think Jack Smith, the special counsel, is going to try to get her dismissed from this case and how difficult would that be?

MCCABE: It's exceedingly difficult. If he's going to do it, I think this latest response to her the response he filed two days ago is maybe the first step down that path, but there's a much longer path to go through to actually get the get an issue up in front of the appellate court that would compel the court to essentially assign the case to a different judge, very rare and I wouldn't count on it in this case.

BLITZER: Ankush, what do you think? KHARDORI: I share the same analysis that it would be a very heavy lift, it would be hard to succeed, but we are seeing frustration in the prosecutor's filings here, and they have suggested that this is a route that they might take.

And I think part of that quote that we just read is a response to that, right? I think she understands that there's a little light threat being thrown in her direction, not unreasonably in my estimation, but it would be hard for them to do it.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on another legal issue, the New York civil fraud case, as you know. The judge has now set a hearing to discuss the underwriter for Trump's $175 billion bond. Walk us through what this all means.

KHARDORI: Yes, this is a new one for me to say. I mean, Trump generates these interesting like legal controversies. So, evidently, the attorney general's office has raised some questions about the company that is backing this bond. It's based in and outside of New York. So, the attorney general's office has said, well, we can't do the ordinary sort of financial background checking that we might do with the New York state-based company. We'll check with our Department of Financial Services. They don't have that information. So, they've asked the judge to insist on a fuller degree of transparency to understand if this company can actually back the bond.

So, I imagine that we're going to see some filings potentially and that the hearing the judge is going to ask some questions about it, but I don't think he's going to be particularly well-positioned to do much to sort of undo this or question it beyond.


BLITZER: A lot of legal stuff going on. Ankush Khardori, thank you very much. Andrew McCabe, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we'll have the latest on the urgent effort right now to free hundreds of people still stranded in Taiwan after a very powerful earthquake. You'll have a live report from the epicenter. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: In Taiwan, the death toll from the island's most powerful earthquake in 25 years is on the rise. At least ten people now confirmed dead as crews race to find victims in the rubble before it's too late.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson has more.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A daring mountain rescue. One day after Taiwan is pummeled by a powerful earthquake, emergency workers struggle, climbing over treacherous landslides, trying to bring victims home. Among those initially stranded, dozens of miners in two remote quarries.


On Thursday, authorities announced they're successful rescue, some chopped to safety.

There were too many rocks falling like bullets from above, this miner says, we didn't know where to run.

The aftermath of some landslides visible from a moving train. Many paved roads to the disaster zone are still blocked. But on Thursday, the railways resumed service.

It has only been a day since this powerful, deadly earthquake rocked Taiwan and already this train to the epicenter is running on time.

In the small city of Hualien, residents still coming to grips with the earthquake's damage though there are some scenes of real destruction, it also feels like this earthquake-prone community is quickly bouncing back. The city government set up this temporary shelter in an elementary school.

This is your home?


WATSON: There's a -- there's a hole in the wall.

Wang Mei-Fen is camping out here with her husband and mother.

Do you feel safe staying in Hualien?

WANG: I'm not afraid. I was born here.

WATSON: Among those here, the mayor of Hualien, who was injured in the quake.

What happened?

A cabinet fell on me, he says, he attributes the relatively low death toll in his city to advanced preparation.

MAYOR WEI CHIA-YAN, HUALIEN, TAIWAN (through translator): Here in Hualien, we grew up with earthquakes. Our teachers and relatives always taught us how to react when earthquake strike. So if known about this, since we were kids.

WATSON: This ruined building is a terrifying example of the power of Wednesday morning, 7.4 magnitude earthquake. But look down the road here and you see that most of Hualien is not damaged. It is lit up, intact and very active.

Amid these scars, an impressive display of community resilience.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WATSON (on camera): Now, Wolf, Taiwan's national fire association, it says that one of its priorities today will be to search for a missing family of five, two adults, and three children. Their last known location was one -- one of these hiking trails in the national park that's about an hour drive -- hours drive from here. There are total of 15 people still missing now, some almost 48 hours after the earthquake that brought this building down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know there's still plenty of concern about aftershocks.

Ivan Watson on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, exclusive new CNN reporting, shedding new details on the USS chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Why some senior us officials are saying they created the plan from scratch.



BLITZER: Now, to a CNN exclusive report, U.S. officials telling congressional investigators that plans to withdraw Americans from Afghanistan had to be created from scratch as the Taliban swept across the country and region it turned to power.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has details.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New transcripts exclusively obtained by CNN show the chaos on the ground as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan mirror the chaos behind the scenes at the State Department.

The department had no working emergency evacuation plan. That is the stark testimony from three State Department officials to the House Foreign Affairs committee. And those three officials were rushed into Kabul in the days surrounding the Taliban takeover with virtually no time to prepare.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: The Biden administration's failure to plan for their withdrawal threatened the safety and security of U.S. personnel in country.

ATWOOD: The interviews are part of an ongoing investigation led by the Republican Chairman Mike McCaul into the chaotic evacuation that resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. servicemembers in a terrorist attack outside of the Kabul airport.

One official testifying, quote, we had to create from scratch tactical operations that would get our priority people into the airport. He added, we were roughly as effective as we could be under the circumstances.

Another saying, he was never briefed on an established evacuation plan because, quote, we were already in the midst of executing an evacuation that substantially exceeded the scope and scale of what had been contemplated.

The top U.S. military generals suggested that the damage could have been mitigated if the State Department had called for earlier noncombatant evacuation.

GEN. MARK MILLEY (RET.), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It was my assessment, but that decision came too late.

GEN. KENNETH F. MCKENZIE (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We struggled to gain access to that plan and work with them over the months of July until we finally got a decision to execute.

ATWOOD: Those accusations have been disputed by the State Department.

VEDANT PATEL, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: The U.S. did not want to publicly announce planning for or the start of a neo so as to not weaken the position of the then Afghan government potentially signaling a potential lack of faith.

ATWOOD: Another state official testified to the setbacks on the ground due to a bleak reality, the Taliban were largely in control.

Quote, it was what will the Taliban allow? Will they let people move through? And how will they do it? And as someone who's worked in Afghanistan for 19 years, it's a little bit while to tell people that you can trust the Taliban, hold up your American passport, but it did kind of work.

Those descriptions a far cry from what the State Department said at the time.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: My understanding is that things are moving quite efficiently at this hour at the airport, at the airport now.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now, Wolf, the committee investigators tell us that they're working to put together a fulsome report of all of the interviews that they have carried out later this year. Of course, these voices of State Department officials are critical for the public to be able to see. But there is also a political motive here.

This is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who is leading this investigation. You talk to Biden administration officials.


They believe that the committee wants put this report out around the time of the elections to focus on this damning aspect of Biden's foreign policy legacy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kylie Atwood reporting, thank you.

Coming up, why a potential financial boon for Donald Trump is now looking more like a bust. The truth about Truth Social, that's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, another one of Donald Trump's business enterprises is in deep trouble.

Brian Todd is taking a closer look.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump defending his embattled social media company, the former president, posted on Truth Social today that the platform is, quote, very solid, having over $200 million in cash and zero debt, very good for a startup and growing fast. On truth, I have 7 million followers.

SARA FISCHER, SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER, AXIOS: That's a tiny, tiny audience compared to what he had on Twitter, almost 90 million followers.

TODD: This as Trump Media and Technology Group, the parent company of Truth Social, has lost all of its gains on Wall Street since going public last week. In just one day, its stock price plummeted more than 21 percent, causing Trump himself to lose more than $1 billion of personal wealth, just on that day.

The stock price of Trump Media and Technology Group had soared on the day it went public, initially propelling Trump's net worth to more than $7 billion. He owns more than half the stock.

Analysts say the problem is that the valuation of Trump media and technology group is more than 1,000 times higher than its annual revenue.

JAY RITTER, FINANCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Both the advertising revenue and the number of some paying subscribers are basically flat, which really difficult to come up with a $6 billion valuation for a tiny money losing company that's not growing.

KARA SWISHER, AUTHOR, "BURN BOOK": I mean, it's just not a business, it's a billboard of some sort, I guess, a billboard for him, but it's a very expensive one.

TODD: Then there are the legal entanglements. Trump Media and Technology Group filed a lawsuit against two of the company's co- founders, demanding that they hand over their shares in the company. Andy Litinsky and Wes Moss had been failed contestants on Trump's NBC show, "The Apprentice", when they botched several challenges, including a redesign of the Pepsi bottle.

TRUMP: Who came up with the overall concept of this -- (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We did have that conversation.

TRUMP: Andy, you're fired. Wes, you're fired also.

TODD: Litinsky and Moss had previously filed a lawsuit of their own against Trump. There are also concerns tonight that if Trump gets elected president and still holds onto his ownership of that media company, there would be a serious conflict of interest. He'd be vulnerable to influence peddlers, black mailers, and when his government has to actually regulate other social media companies --

NORM EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR: He's expected to deal with laws and regulations and government policies on social media. We'll always be asking, did he make those regulatory decisions on social media to protect his own pocketbook.


TODD: Some analysts say its current turbulent run does not mean its game over for Trump's social media company, but that it will have to grow a lot to compete with its rivals. They point out that Truth Social has just the tiny fraction of the monthly users that X and Facebook have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

Brian Todd, reporting for us -- Brian, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.