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The Situation Room

Trump Loses Third Attempt To Delay His New York Criminal Trial; Trump, Biden Weigh In On Revived Abortion Ban In Arizona; House GOP Wraps Meeting On Surveillance Law; Biden Defends His Handling Of Economy After Inflation Spike; Tornadoes And Dangerous Flooding Hammering Southeast; "Goon Squad" Officers Who Tortured Black Men Sentenced To Prison. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 10, 2024 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now breaking news, Donald Trump just lost his newest bid to delay his first criminal trial, the third time this week he's tried and failed to put the hush money case on hold. We're breaking down Trump's last ditch legal moves with jury selection set to begin only five days from now.

Also tonight, Trump and President Biden are both weighing in on the bombshell Arizona Supreme Court ruling reinstating a century old abortion ban. Are they helping or hurting themselves with voters in that crucial swing state. And tornadoes and torrential rains are sweeping across the south leaving a trail of destruction and flooding. We're tracking the severe weather that's threatening tens of millions of Americans right now.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. A New York Appeals Court judge just rejecting Donald Trump's emergency request to stop this hush money trial from starting this coming Monday. CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in New York City for us. Kara, give us the latest.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is the third attempt to delay the trial in three days and the third loss for former President Donald Trump. There were arguments just a short time ago where the Appeals Court judge heard from both Trump's attorneys and prosecutors in the case. And what Trump's lawyers were arguing is they want this trial stop because they said they want to challenge the judge because he hasn't recused himself in this case based on work his daughter has done for a political consulting firm that has worked with Democrats. And they also wanted to stop the case because they don't like the judge's ruling on presidential immunity.

Trump's lawyers wanted to stop the trial because until the Supreme Court rules in a different case on presidential immunity, the judge said that they made that motion far too late in arguing to the judge. Trump's attorney Emil Bove said, this can only be done once and it must be done right because the impact it will have on this election.

Now, the lawyer for the District Attorney's Office, Steven Wu, is their chief appellate attorney. He had pushed back on this saying that this was entirely the wrong way to challenge any of these rulings, so that can only be done procedurally after there is a conclusion to this case, a verdict in this trial. He urged the judge saying there is a powerful public interest to ensure this trial moves forward on the scheduled date. And just a short time after that, the judge issued this ruling denying the state, denying Trump's effort to stop the trial.

What was extraordinary today, Wolf, was that this court had a full calendar of appeal arguments that it was hearing. So what they had to do was move this down to the basement to rearrange the tables, to create a makeshift courtroom so they could accommodate this hearing today. So they created a table for the judge, a table for the attorneys to argue, and then a table and chairs in the back for us in the media to be able to witness this event. But they made this extraordinary accommodation, which may be the first time they've ever done this in order to address this emergency action brought by the former president.

But as we said this is the third attempt in three days to try to stop this trial. And so far, they're 0 for 3. Jury selection is still set to begin on Monday. Wolf?

BLITZER: And we'll be watching. Kara Scannell reporting for us. Thank you very, very much.

I want to bring in our political and legal experts, including Norm Eisen, who's out with a timely, very important brand new book entitled, "Trying Trump: A Guide to his First Election Interference Criminal Trial." There you see the cover right there on your screen. Norm, let me get your reaction to this appeals court once again, denying these Trump requests.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, you have to ask yourself, what is the source of this extraordinary desperation? I have never seen anything like this. Two of these are lawsuits against the judge. And in my book "Trying Trump," I analyze where I think this frenzy is coming from. He stands a significant risk of being convicted and sentenced to incarceration and he knows it. And the nature of the trial is -- has been expressed by the judge in what he's going to read to the jury, Wolf, as being allegations of election interference in essence.


So that is why the connection is here, 2016 allegations of lying to voters, to manipulate an election, and then as a gateway drug to 2020. That's why Trump is so alarmed in this extraordinary failed effort.

BLITZER: Keeps failing and keeps making these requests to delay, and it keeps failing every single time. Andrew McCabe, are there any avenues still left open, potentially, for Trump to continue this effort to try to slow things down?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: With a lot of lawyers and a lot of money to pay those lawyers with, there's always another option open for Mr. Trump. And we've seen him take advantage of every one of those. But I do think what we're seeing here is the very stark difference between the state criminal justice system and the federal system.

Here in this state, they deal with a much higher volume of defendants, of motions, of last minute efforts to delay trials, and they do it much more quickly. You don't see these long, you know, two weeks to file a response and then a surrebuttal. And then we have oral arguments, and then we think about it for a month. These things are happening very quickly.

I expect if any other motions are filed. They will be dispatched with the same sort of haste.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And, you know, Wolf, we should not be surprised by what Donald Trump is doing. This is the classic Donald Trump playbook. He wants to delay so he -- and we can see some more between now and Monday. He's going to try everything.

But I've spoken to several legal experts, lawyers who deal with Judge Merchan. They say he is smart, he is experienced, he is decisive, that if anyone can handle this, he is the judge to do it. I think there's one piece of advice that or two lawyers can say that lawyers normally give their clients, don't attack the judge. It's 101.


GANGEL: Too late. Clearly, I don't know that his lawyers gave him that advice, but certainly Donald Trump has done the opposite here, which is also part of his fight --

BLITZER: Let me get Gloria into this conversation. What do you think is behind all these Trump efforts to delay, delay, delay?

BORGER: Well, obviously he wants to put it off till after the election so if he wins, he can dismiss it. That's number one. But this particular case is so tawdry, you know, it's about paying hush money to a porn star. And while that's not the charge, right, the charge is about election interference and trying to hide the money so he could win the election in 2016. It's embarrassing. You know, the whole subject matter is embarrassing.

The people who are going to testify, Stormy Daniels, you know, the porn star, Michael Cohen, you know, his former attorney, now his sworn enemy is going to testify about what Trump asked him to do. So it's kind of juicy and I don't think Trump wants to sit through that. And I don't think it's going to be good for him to sit through that. So there are lots of reasons to try and delay it.

And the third reason, of course, is he's got a campaign for the presidency. And that takes up a little bit of your time, and he'll be stuck in court four days a week. BLITZER: Yes, he certainly will be, you know. Andrew, how is this jury selection process likely to unfold? And what's your expectation?

MCCABE: I think we'll see a bit -- we've gotten a preview of what some of the questions are already. We know that both sides are going to be asking maybe questions that we don't normally see in jury selection, things about this sort of media that prospective jurors typically rely on, channels they watch, maybe the periodicals they read, questions about political affiliation have already been debated. So you don't see those in a typical trial.

But essentially, what the prosecutors are going for are likely highly educated people who they think can be impartial. That's, of course, the standard for jurors, not -- you don't have a right to have a jury of your own political supporters, or friends, or enemies for that matter. You simply have a right to a jury of your peers and folks who have said that they can be impartial, and they're weighing of the evidence.

So I don't think there'll be quite as many fireworks as maybe some folks are imagining there will be.

BLITZER: They'll be no fireworks but this will be history unfolding. This is the first time in American history, Jamie, that former US president will be in facing a criminal trial.

GANGEL: Absolutely. And, you know, to Andy's point, one of the things we're going to see in this jury selection is which jurors, each side can get rid of. Because you have a pool there, some you'll be able to get knocked off for cause, but some of it is the luck of the draw and who's going to be there.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm going to be watching that very closely. I'm fascinated. In your new book, Norm, "Trying Trump," you write this and I want to put it up on the screen. If Trump is convicted, the judge will have a range of sentencing options at his disposal. DA Bragg, District Attorney Bragg, will be able to make a compelling argument that Trump's crimes warrant incarceration. How likely is it that a former president of the United States will actually sit in a jail?


EISEN: Well, there's two parts to the question, Wolf. And, of course, we have to remember, Donald Trump is not above the law but he's not below the law. He's innocent until proven guilty. But with trial just a few days away, with all these delay efforts failing, we now have to ask, what is the endgame of this trial? And my original research for the book indicated that defendants who commit these 34 felonies have document falsification of business records when there are aggravating circumstances which we have here, as the judge has an attempt to influence an election that might have influenced a very close election, when you have a very unrepentant defendant.

We have that here as well. It seems unlikely he'll change course. In those circumstances, if there is a conviction, you do get jail time, it can be as much as a year and a third to four year range. And we will just have to see if the president ever serves it.

BORGER: Well, I find it very unlikely that he would serve it. I find it very unlikely that you would sentence a former president to jail time. There are other alternatives, correct? I mean --

EISEN: Well --

BORGER: -- community service? I don't know.

EISEN: Gloria, my eyes are a little blurry after reviewing almost 10,000 New York cases.


EISEN: You do get jail time for this.

BORGER: Well, let's see if he would.

BLITZER: Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, a man very close for decades with Trump. He's going back to reconcile --

BORGER: But he wasn't president --

BLITZER: -- in New York.


BLITZER: The president --


BLITZER: -- but he's -- he's convicted of these crimes and he's off to jail for a second time. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

A reminder, Norm's new book is entitled "Trying Trump," there's the cover, "A Guide to His First Election Interference Criminal Trial." It's out today. And just ahead, how the new Arizona Supreme Court ruling on abortion is testing Donald Trump right now and his newly tweaked positions on this hot button issue.

And we'll also get an update on what's been happening behind closed doors up on Capitol Hill. House Republicans meeting at a moment of extreme tension and a lot of chaos with the speaker's job potentially on the line again.



BLITZER: Tonight, the return of a near total abortion ban in Arizona is weighing very heavily on the Trump-Biden rematch in that critical presidential battleground. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has our report.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Former President Donald Trump's strategy on abortion immediately being put to the test.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent it to you desk?


SERFATY: Today, Trump saying he would not sign a national abortion ban if elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Arizona go too far?

TRUMP: Yes, they did.

SERFATY: And distancing himself from the Arizona Supreme Court ruling Tuesday, that the state's near total abortion ban which dates back to 1864 can be enforced.

TRUMP: That will get straightened out and I'm sure the governor and everybody will bring it back into reason. And then I think it will taken care of I think very quickly.

SERFATY: All this coming only two days after the former president said abortion laws should be left to the states. President Joe Biden today responding to the Arizona rolling offering this message to voters in this state

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Elect me, I'm in a 20th century, 21st century.

SERFATY: A Biden campaign spokesperson saying in a statement, Donald Trump owns the suffering and chaos happening right now, including in Arizona, because he proudly overturned Roe. The campaign also planning to dispatch Vice President Kamala Harris to the state on Friday, seeing the Arizona ban as an issue that could galvanize voters in a critical battleground state.

In 2020, Biden flipped Arizona winning by fewer than 11,000 votes after Trump carried the state four years earlier against Hillary Clinton. Arizona ruling also reverberating in the state's hotly contested Senate race, which could determine control of the chamber. Republican Kari Lake saying she opposes the decision calling for an immediate common sense solution despite voicing support for the laws.

KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: It will prohibit abortion in Arizona except to save the life of a mother. And I think we're going to be setting the -- paving the way and setting course for other states to follow.

SERFATY: Lake's Democratic opponents, Ruben Gallego --

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ) : And I'm sorry to the women of Arizona --

SERFATY: -- calling the ruling devastating and highlighting leaks past support for the ban.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SERFATY: And there has been a considerable amount of uncertainty and confusion in the ground in Arizona following this ruling for right now. The ruling is on hold for two weeks to allow the for court challenges. Meantime, supporters of abortion rights, they are looking ahead to November. They hope Arizona voters will fill back a ballot measure protect abortion rights in this state. Wolf?

SERFATY: All right. Sunlen Serfaty reporting for us. Sunlen, thank you very much. Let's get some more in all these developments. Joining us now, political veterans from both parties.

Sarah Longwell, let me start with you. You speak to voters all the time. Is this an effective appeal from Trump to Republican leaning women who have drifted away because of Roe?

SARAH LONGWELL, PUBLISHER, THE BULWARK: You know, typically Donald Trump is actually pretty good at triangulating on abortion. The problem for him in Arizona, where this is just a disaster for him. It's a disaster for him and it's a disaster for Kari Lake. The problem is, is that this is going to be a ballot initiative and abortion will be actually literally on the ballot. And that is going to help Joe Biden with turnout, it's going to help Joe Biden with enthusiasm.


And the biggest thing that abortion does against Republicans right now is that, it paints them as extremists. And Kari Lake, you know, she already lost the governor's race in Arizona in 2022, largely because people saw her as too extreme. And abortion was one of the reasons they believed that she was too extreme. She also happens to be an election denier, but abortion played a big role in her loss.

And so, now you've got a critical swing state, where Biden was kind of having some trouble with Hispanic voters. And so, the state's very much in play, even though Biden won it last time, that now it looks like Trump is going to have to play defense on this issue, where it is really going to galvanize Democratic voters, and it's going to take swing voters who have been backsliding against Biden and put them back in Biden's column, because now abortion is literally on the ballot.

BLITZER: Yes, very important points indeed. Actually, Allison, back in 2018, then President Trump publicly declared he would sign a 20 week abortion ban. So, how seriously do you take his claim now that he wouldn't do so?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do not believe President Trump when he says that he would not sign an abortion ban. His whole presidency was about overturning Roe by appointing Supreme Court justices that did it. He is saying he wants to take it to -- let the state's decide. The states are deciding and the states are out of touch with the voters that live in them.

So I don't believe Donald Trump at his word, why would you? He has proven to be an untruthful person. And so, right now what he is doing is pandering to voters, telling them what they want to hear to get a victory, and then he will betray you if he is elected. Kari Lake is doing the same thing. Many folks are doing the same thing.

And so, when we see this court -- these states for these extreme restrictions on women's reproductive rights, voters are waking up and saying you're out of touch with how I want you out of my doctor's office. And Donald Trump is out of touch too. And he's just doing this right now for politics, not really the belief. He doesn't believe the policy that he is saying, right now.

BLITZER: Interesting. Sarah, how concerned should Democrats be that Trump potentially could successfully mitigate the political impact of abortion in the 2024 presidential elections?

LONGWELL: I mean, look, I have been saying all along that abortion issue is tougher to hang on Donald Trump, because voters view him actually as a social moderate. Nobody thinks that Donald Trump is like Mike Pence on sexual morality or on issues of, you know, pro-life or pro-choice. When you talk to voters about abortion and Donald Trump, they sort of suggests that, you know, they think he may have paid for an abortion in his lifetime. They certainly don't view him as somebody who is devoutly pro-life.

And so, that is actually worked in his favor with some swing voters, allowing him to see more -- seem more moderate than he is. But to have it actually on the ballot, that presents a real problem for him. And he's not going to be trying to have it both ways right now. He's not going to be able to do that the whole election.

BLITZER: Actually, we all heard President Biden's comments today when asked about the Arizona law, is that the full throated condemnation that Democrats want to hear?

ALLISON: I think President Biden vice president hairs are going to be out there pushing this issue they really have since Roe has been overturned. They need to pull every clip, every tape, every statement, every tweet before Trump was elected while he was in office and since he's been out of office, and hold his feet to the fire on where he stands on abortion, and not let him switch his position because we are in this position because of many of his actions while he was president.

BLITZER: Ashley Allison and Sarah Longwell, to both of you, thank you very much.

Coming up, the deeply divided House Republican Conference wraps a contentious meeting up on Capitol Hill. What it means for the threats to the speaker, Mike Johnson's, leadership. Also ahead, multiple suspects are now under arrest after a shooting in a crowded Philadelphia Park. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Breaking news we're following right now, police in Philadelphia say they've arrested five suspects and recovered multiple firearms after three people were shot during a firefight. The shooting broke out in a West Philadelphia park where about a thousand people were gathering for a celebration marking Eid, the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The source tells CNN officials do not believe the shooting was directly related to that event.

Meanwhile here in Washington, President Biden says his conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been "very blunt" about the need for more aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza and for the IDF to better protect those civilians.

Let's bring in CNN's s Kayla Tausche. She's over at the White House for us. Kayla, tell us more about the President's remarks.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden was asked today by a reporter to clarify comments that he made last week that were just released yesterday, in which he called Prime Minister Netanyahu is approaching Gaza a mistake and called on Israel to do more to protect civilians and to do it fast.



BIDEN: I have been very blunt and straightforward with prime minister. Bibi and I had a long discussion. He agreed to do several things that related to, number one, getting more aid, both food and medicine and to Gaza, and reducing significantly the attempts -- the civilian casualties in any action taken in the region. We'll see what he does in terms of meeting the commitments he made to me.


TAUSCHE: US officials are still waiting on Netanyahu to open at least one more crossing at the border between Israel and Northern Gaza. And Biden says that at least 100 trucks of aid have so far come in to Gaza, but that it's still not enough. And in that press conference, he also called on Hamas to accept a hostage deal, brokered by CIA Director Bill Burns, who is in the region to try to negotiate for a broader deal and a ceasefire, and saying that they needed to come to the table and they needed to accept it.

Well, CNN is reporting that that there are at least 40 hostages that Hamas does not have track of to make the terms of the deal actually work. I tried to ask President Biden at that press conference whether he believes those hostages are still alive, and he did not answer that question. So it remains unclear exactly how such a deal could get done. But both President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida stressed that they were fully aligned on the strategy toward the Middle East, that they wanted an immediate ceasefire protections for civilians, and more humanitarian aid coming into Gaza. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, lots going on. Kayla Tausche, thank you very much.

We're also following chaos in Congress right now, where House Republicans just, in the past few minutes, wrapped up a very tense meeting amid new threats to the Speaker Mike Johnson's leadership. Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill. Manu, how is the speaker handling this latest blow?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is dealing with two major issues that are badly divided his already fractured Republican Conference. One of them is to extend key surveillance authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as a major division among those who believe it's essential to national security and others who believe it infringes on constitutional rights. Donald Trump urged Republicans to kill that measure today.

He successfully did so, 19 Republicans revolted against the Speaker of the House and stop that bill from coming to the floor. Then there's aid to Ukraine something that Mike Johnson is still moving behind the scenes to try to piece together after he stalled the Senate's plan that passed almost two months ago. But that is another issue because some members including Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene are warning him not to move ahead on that issue.

Greene, of course, has introduced a resolution to oust Mike Johnson from the speakership, and she could call for that vote within two legislative days. At any point, she has not made the decision on when to move forward yet. But even as she met with Speaker Johnson today for 70 minutes in a very tense meeting, there are many Republicans who are concerned about her effort and warned that it could cost them the majority if she moves ahead.


REP. MAX MILLER (R-Oh) Anyone who votes to vacate him should not be a member of Congress, in my opinion.

REP. RICHARD HUDSON (R-NC): Obviously, we have to have a speaker and any effort to remove the current speaker would put us in chaos. I think it'd be a big mistake.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): I don't think it's a good idea right now. I think I want to do is hand the gavel to King Jeffers (ph).

RAJU: If he does move forward any Ukraine package, could that cost him his job?

REP. WARREN DAVIDSON (R-OH): Yes. I think it'd be a real risk for the speaker to move a giant package.

RAJU: If you had a chance to vote for the motion to vacate, would you vote for it?

DAVIDSON: It's hypothetical so.


RAJU: And it's still uncertain whether or not Marjorie Taylor Greene would have the votes to move ahead. Some Democrats have indicated that they could actually save Mike Johnson's job if he does move ahead on a Ukraine aid package. And also how will Donald Trump come down? Mike Johnson is headed down to Mar-a-Lago on Friday for a joint press conference with Donald Trump. I asked Johnson if he has asked Trump for his support amid this fight over the speakership and Johnson declined to comment. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Let's get some more reaction right now. Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado is joining us. He sits on both the House Intelligence and House Foreign Affairs Committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Do you believe Democrats should potentially help speaker Johnson if he were to face removal, and will you?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, I think the immediate goal is to force Speaker Johnson to put the Ukraine supplemental, the Ukraine national security bill on the floor. It has overwhelming bipartisan support to pass the Senate by 70 votes not long ago, a large number of Republicans support it. And we have to push it forward not just for Ukraine's interest but America's interest.

I just got out of a briefing actually on the conflict in Sudan. And right now there are 9 million displaced Sudanese and 25 million, half of the population of Sudan, is in need of humanitarian aid and food aid. That is one of the world's largest humanitarian disasters is brewing. And the National Security Supplemental has that humanitarian aid to address that issue. So it's just one of many examples of we needed to get this done.


BLITZER: As you know, Speaker Johnson hasn't decided on a specific path forward for Ukraine aid. He would likely need Democratic votes to pass it. But is that even possible now if it's linked to aid for Israel? A lot of Democrats right now are saying they're reluctant to pass more offensive weaponry for Israel. Would it need to be a standalone piece of legislation, the aid for Ukraine?

CROW: I don't think so. I think we can push forward the Senate bill, that is the bill that we know that has bipartisan support and that can pass. And it can immediately deliver Ukraine the support that it needs to combat the Russian invasion and the Russian aggression. Things are very desperate right now in Ukraine, so we have to make sure we're rushing that aid.

At the same time, I agree with the remarks of the President and the blunt conversations that he's had with Prime Minister Netanyahu recently, the situation in Gaza cannot be allowed to continue this way. Israel must back away from its current military strategy. We must surge humanitarian aid, the level of civilian casualties is on tenable and unacceptable. And we have to reassess that relationship when it comes to the aid that we're providing that allows the Israelis to continue to conduct those operations in Gaza.

BLITZER: As you know, congressman, several of your Democratic colleagues are urging President Biden to withhold offensive arms transfers to Israel, or condition further military aid to Israel with specific limits. Is that something you would support? CROW: Well, I've been pushing for months and months, and months for a drastic change in Israel strategy. And the reason why is because it's serving nobody's interest. Israel is not more safe now than it was several months ago as a result of their failed strategy. We have increasing escalation with Iran, the risk of a wider regional war is higher than it's ever been. US national security interests are not being served either.

So I want a very large reassessment. And that includes the provision of offensive aid. And so far as Israelis are not listening to us or not responding to our requests, are pushed for a massive change, then we need to reassess whether or not we continue to give the aid that would allow that to continue.

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina told me earlier today that Israel must win this war against Hamas. But Netanyahu, the prime minister, must go. Do you agree?

CROW: Well, I agree that Prime Minister Netanyahu must go. I mean, he's not the leader that's going to take Israel forward. He is a failed leader in every respect. He's not made Israel safer. He's helped escalate regional tensions. He's not listening to us. And he is, in my view, in large part responsible for this massive humanitarian catastrophe that we are seeing.

But when we talk about winning against Hamas, you can't do that just militarily. We learned that from our own 20 year war on terror, you know, if we were able to defeat terrorism with military force alone, we would have been able to do it over our 20 year $3 trillion war against terrorism that the United States has been undergoing. So we have to address the humanitarian issues, we have to address Palestinian statehood. We have to give people hope for the future. And until we do that and figure out a diplomatic solution as well, militarily, we will just keep on spinning our wheels.

BLITZER: Congressman Jason Crow, thank you very much for joining us.

CROW: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Biden on the defensive right now over his handling of the economy after a new spike in inflation.



BLITZER: There's breaking news from Wall Street, stock prices falling sharply today with the Dow Jones Industrials down 422 points at the closing bell. Investigators very anxious about a new spike in consumer prices and its impact on the economy. CNN's Brian Todd has more on the inflation report that was released today.

Brian, the new numbers are adding to the political pressure on President Biden.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Even with all the good news on the economy, the President can't seem to shake the bad news when it comes to his polling numbers. He did get some more bad news today with that inflation report. And it came as a former top aide criticized the President's messaging on the economy.


TODD: A seemingly endless headache for American consumers at the cash register and for President Biden at the ballot box. New numbers show that annual inflation ticked up higher than expected last month. Consumer prices rising to a 3.5% increase in the 12 months ending in March, fueled in part by higher mortgage prices and rising gas prices.

JOSEPH GAGNON, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Inflation still a threat, but I think it's receding. Not likely to continue but it is not good news.

TODD: The President today defending his record combating inflation.

BIDEN: We have dramatically reduced inflation from 9% to close to 3%. We're in a situation where we're better situated and we were we took office where we inflation was skyrocketing. But this comes as Biden's former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, known as a loyalist, slams the President's messaging on the economy.

In comments obtained by Politico, Klain said his former boss spends too much time talking about infrastructure. "I think the President is out there too much talking about bridges. If you go into the grocery store, you know, eggs and milk are expensive. The fact that there's an effing bridge claim goes on to say like it's a bridge and how interesting is the bridge? It's a little interesting, but it's not a lot interesting"

Klain did concede that Biden is effective at showing compassion for families who are struggling financially and talking about how to bring down costs. But Donald Trump was quick to pounce on the latest numbers.

TRUMP: Biden is totally lost control of inflation. It's back. It's raging back.

TODD: In a recent poll, only 37% approve of President Biden's handling of the economy, while 62% disapprove.


MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Joe Biden certainly has a lot of work to do. I think that we're hearing it from his advisers quietly that they certainly want to talk more about the economy.

TODD: For example, unemployment hasn't been this low this long since Richard Nixon was president.

JOSEPH GAGNON, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Many people have gotten bigger wage increases, than they've seen an inflation, especially the lower income workers, I've seen big wage gains more than inflation. TODD: Still, with today's numbers, the Fed is now likely to postpone

the interest rate cuts expected this year, which would boost the economy and make homes more affordable.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We don't know what's going to happen to long-term rates. We don't know what's going to happen to the physical situation. We don't know what's going to happen with oil and energy prices, which also fact or can't push through to other forms of inflation.

TODD: So how much of a threat will inflation posed to President Biden as Election Day approaches.

GAGNON: I'm pretty sure inflation will be better by election time, but its not coming down as fast as many of us would like.


TODD (on camera): Part of President Biden's messaging after those inflation numbers came out today was to try to deflect some of the blame to the Republicans. So we said have no plan to combat inflation and to corporate greed. The president saying he's calling on corporations, including grocery retailers, to use their record profits to reduce prices -- Wolf.


Brian Todd, reporting for us -- thank you, Brian, very much.

Coming up, we'll check in with the CNN weather center for the latest on very dangerous storms ripping across the Southeast right now.

Stay with us. You're on THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Right now, we're tracking very dangerous weather, including tornados and flash flooding, across the Southern United States.

Let's bring in our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's joining us from the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, give us an update on the severe weather threat.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We've had almost a half a dozen tornadoes today, but really 250,000 people, customers without power right now, and significant flash flooding from Florida through New Orleans and all the way over toward Texas. This was a significant day for very heavy rainfall. The picture you see here, this was from Katy, Texas. This was in the overnight hours, the owners of this establishment kind of a strip mall said, thank goodness, this did not happen during the day, or there would have been people here, at least this happened really in the evening and the overnight hours. The flooding occurred across parts of New Orleans, across parts Kirbyville in Texas, and also now still flooding happening right now in Florida.

Here is we take a look. This is Slidell, Louisiana, just here, watching a tornado cross the interstate. We don't know if anyone was injured here, but we do know that cars were certainly blown around there. You can see the back edge of the tornado right there, moving across and blasting out some of the power lines there.

So this was a big day for weather across the south. We do know that that Slidell tornado that I just talked about was an EF1 so far, 85 to 110 miles per hour. But if they find bigger damage, that number could certainly go up. It's a minimum of EF1.

And yes, we still have a tornado watch here in effect here for the southern part of this line, it moves into Atlanta, not with tornadoes, but with very, very heavy rainfall. This was a tropical storm today, almost technically wasn't, but the tropical rainfall, two to three inches of rain per hour in places and ponding on the roadways, flooding all over the place.

Well, this was so much humidity in the air and it just rained for hours on end.

BLITZER: Yeah, very severe indeed.

Chad Myers, thank you very much.

And we'll be right back with more news.



BLITZER: In Mississippi today, an outpouring of emotion as the judge handed down sentences to six police officers who beat, tortured, and hurled racist insults at two Black men. The officers who called themselves the Goon Squad will spend between 15 and 45 years in prison.

CNN's Ryan Young has our report.


MALIZ SHABAZZ, LEAD ATTORNEY FOR JENKINS AND PARKER: Justice has come in Mississippi. What has come?

CROWD: Justice!

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An historic sentencing hearing in Rankin County, Mississippi.

SHABAZZ: No police officer in the history of Rankin County has ever been held criminally responsible for harming anyone, let alone a black person. YOUNG: Six former law enforcement officers, sentenced in state court for their role in a crime and cover up. They all admitted to subjecting two Black men, Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker to almost two hours of torture and sexual assault last year, ending with Jenkins shot in the mouth.

SHABAZZ: It will probably take a lifetime to heal from these attacks.

YOUNG: The former officers are also known as the Goon Squad, a name. Some of these white former Mississippi officers gave themselves for their alleged willingness to use excessive force and covered up and now justice was handed down to them.

JUDGE: You will serve 20 years in custody of Mississippi Department of Corrections.

YOUNG: The six men will serving between 15 and 45 years, which will run concurrently with the federal sentences they each received last month. In the courtroom, victim impact statements were read out by their attorney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They beat, kicked, tased, insulted, waterboarded and humiliated me over and over again. That will forever be engraved in my mind and my heart. I'm hurt. I'm broken.

YOUNG: The two victims speaking out afterwards, grateful and thanking in particular, the media.

EDDIE PARKER, VICTIM OF DEPUTY ASSAULT: I'm thankful for all y'all, you know, you've been here with us man for the ride. And y'all that helped us, you know, this fight, man, I just want you all to know, man, it tells me in my heart, man, to know that we are we're listened to, you know, all y'all gave us a voice, man.

YOUNG: And while justice was served today in Rankin County, many insisting there still much more that needs to be done.

ANGELA ENGLISH, PRESIDENT, RANKING COUNTY BRANCH OF NAACP: This chapter of the book has been written but the book is not finished. We have spoken with the Department of Justice. We have reiterated that we want a clean sweep. We want them to go through the Rankin County Sheriffs Department and we want them to clean house.

YOUNG: Michael Jenkins and Eddie Parker seeming to find a purpose from the pain they suffered.

PARKER: I found or what I was looking for my purpose was to fight for the person that here to fight or fight for the person that can't fight.


YOUNG (on camera): Wolf, we are in the middle of Rankin County and there you can see the statue that is a Confederate statue there and below that statue you are some protestors who are exercising their First and Second Amendment rights. They're protesting while holding firearms as well. They're making sure that the community knows they want changes. They want Bryan Bailey gone. I've talked to Bryan Bailey several times. He says he never knew these members operating as a goon squad. It will be up to the FBI and the Justice Department to see what happens next -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ryan Young reporting -- Ryan, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.