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Opening Statements Set For Monday In Trump Trial; Israel & Iranian Officials Mostly Silent On Overnight Attack; Man Set Self On Fire Outside Trump Trial Courthouse; Third House Republican Joins Effort To Oust Johnson. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 19, 2024 - 17:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: And if you are like us here on The Lead and have been listening to the new Taylor Swift album, it's very long on repeat, we hope you enjoy your weekend listening sessions. See what we did there. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the "Situation Room."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, opening statements now set for Monday in Donald Trump's hush money trial. This after a New York panel of 12 jurors and six alternates is completed.

Also tonight, we're keeping a very close eye on the Middle East after Israel launched an overnight strike inside Iran. American officials tell CNN the U.S. government was briefed ahead of the attack but did not endorse the response. And the House Speaker Mike Johnson makes good on his promise to advance a package of critical foreign aid bills. The vote on the House floor now set for tomorrow after the measures won broad bipartisan support.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, a full jury plus all six alternates now sworn in for Donald Trump's first criminal trial. That tees up opening statements to begin on Monday. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is outside the courthouse of Manhattan with all the late developments.

Evan, what do we know?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this moment, we now have a jury and the judge held a hearing after swearing in that jury that had to do with a number of things. The former president's lawyers wanted to argue against the prosecution's attempt to use certain evidence in case the former president decides to take the stand, to testify on his own behalf. And during this hearing of a couple of hours, Judge Juan Merchan, especially at the end, grew a little bit impatient with the Trump team because they were trying to relitigate, he believed, he was trying to relitigate some of the things that he had already decided. For instance, his decision to allow the prosecution to bring up the, you know, the video from Access Hollywood video, which the judge said, you can't play the video, but you can make reference to it. The Trump team wanted to relitigate that.

The judge grew quite frustrated, saying at some point, you have to accept my rulings on that. Now, we expect that this will go to -- that on Monday, the opening statements will begin. But then there's going to be a break, Wolf, because of the Passover holiday which begins on Monday night.

BLITZER: There was also -- there was also a hearing, Evan, before the appeals court dealing with Trump's separate request to change the venue of the trial. Tell us what happened there.

PEREZ: Right just in the middle of the hearing that was still ongoing here, Wolf, up -- just uptown, there was a hearing about the appeals court where the former president's legal team was trying to ask for a stay. They wanted basically freeze the proceedings pending their request to change venue. Now, the former president has made it very clear that he believes he cannot get a fair hearing in this in Manhattan. He wants to move the trial. The judge there denied that stay.

The former president's legal team is still, of course, going to proceed with trying to make that case. They believe that this case should not be tried here in Manhattan. But as we've watched these proceedings over the last four days, Wolf, it's very clear that this is a diverse jury. We have 10 women, eight men, a cross section of New Yorkers, people who -- some of whom, you know, support the former president. And so it's clear that this is not a jury, the one that Donald Trump is trying to portray that's completely against him, this is a jury that is a lot more diverse.

And it is clear that he can get a fair trial in New York City. Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, good point. Evan Perez, thank you very much.

Our Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates is also outside the courthouse in New York City.

Laura, as we heard -- as we head full steam toward this trial, Trump continues to rail against that so called gag order. Watch and listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The gag order has to come off. People are allowed to speak about me and I have a gag order just to show you how much more unfair it is.



BLITZER: Laura, how much of an issue is this? LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, this gag order is not intended to silence a defendant for the sake of silencing a defendant. Every defendant has a right to a defense and, of course, a presumption of innocence. The goal of a gag order is to ensure a fair trial that includes not only for statements made about and by the defendant, but also statements that might intimidate, threatened, or otherwise interfere with a witness's ability to testify freely, a juror's ability to feel they can be impartial or to not feel threatened or intimidated for a particular result. The judge has been very clear about seeking these parameters in an interest of the -- interest of justice here.

And now the Manhattan DA's office hoping to have and convince the judge that there should be sanctions or consequences for what they say are at least seven different violations of the gag order. To remind people what it says, the gag order bars Trump from, quote, making or directing others to make public statements about any prospective juror or any juror in this criminal proceeding. It also goes on to talk about witnesses and of course, barred from it is not including the judge himself or of course, the Manhattan DA, but it's hoping to ensure that there can be a fair trial. We are waiting to still hear more about that this coming Tuesday when after what are supposed to be opening statements on Monday, the judge will still grapple with this. Remember, it is an ongoing threat.

Anytime there is the prospect for a witness or a juror to be threatened or intimidated, and the judge wants to prevent that at all costs. And one of the things that he has wanting to be pointing to, most assuredly, is through social media posting. As you can recall, Wolf, back on Truth Social just on Wednesday, the former president quoted and attributed to Fox News host Jesse Watters the following statement in quotation marks, quote, "They are catching undercover liberal activists lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury," unquote. Now, of course, there's no evidence to substantiate that particular claim, but remember, the very next day, there was a juror who then said that she could no longer be impartial, did not want to be on the jury because she felt that some aspect of her anonymity had been compromised. Now, these two might be tangentially related, but it's enough for a judge to have some pause over what is said.

And this will be the key in part for that gag order motion hearing on Tuesday.

BLITZER: All right, Laura Coates stick around. There's more we need to discuss. I want to bring in our other experts to discuss as well.

And Norm Eisen, opening statements are now set for Monday morning, as you know. If you were on the prosecutor's team, how would you craft your argument?

NORM EISEN, FMR. HOUSE JUDICIARY SPECIAL COUNSEL IN TRUMP'S FIRST IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: Wolf, we've already seen a foreshadowing of what the prosecutors are going to do. I was in court all week. And they kicked off the case by arguing that this is an important election interference matter, that they structured a set of evidentiary arguments to preview what I think we will see when I'll be back there on Monday. Namely, that voters were deceived by the payment to Stormy Daniels, that that was done to grasp presidential power to be elected, and then that there was a cover up. And, in fact, all those elements are in the technical building blocks for this felony falsification of business records because you need to have a criminal intent to conceal another crime for it to be a felony.

And so, they are saying criminal election influence alleged. So they're going to try to make it an important democracy matter, not just a minor hush money peccadillo.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Jim Schultz, you were one of Trump's White House lawyers. How do you think his legal team is strategizing around opening statements?

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: So I think they're going to focus on a couple things. One, this is a felony, and it's charged as a felony only because of the underlying alleged crime. And the underlying alleged crime is a campaign -- federal campaign finance violation that was never charged, was never brought against Donald Trump. There was a plea agreement with Michael Cohen, but that does not -- you know, the judge has been specific that you cannot tie that in this case to President Trump. So I think they're going to focus on that, number one.

Number two, they're going to focus on the fact that, you know, they're going to try to bring out and make the argument that this is Michael Cohen's vendetta against his former boss. That he's angry, he was charged with -- he pled guilty to a crime, served time for a crime, and this is just all about a vendetta, and they're going to attack the credibility of Michael Cohen all day, every day.

BLITZER: Interesting. Laura, give us your analysis of today's so called Sandoval hearing and explain to our viewers what that is.


COATES: A Sandoval hearing is a fancy way of saying, I want to put the defendant on notice about what kinds of questions they might ask you if you do decide to testify in your own defense. Now, it is the prerogative of a defendant to do so or not to do so, and an instruction to the jury that they cannot hold it against a defendant if they opt not to do so. But a defendant wants to know what is ahead of me. And so, the prosecution has already told the court and prose and the defense counselor the types and categories of information they will raise, things like the prior civil fraud trial, the E. Jean Carroll trial as well, discussions that have happened in the past, it might be of a legal matter, all under the category of a prior bad act.

Now, the issue here, though, and why defense counsel always has an issue with it, is because you cannot use what's called propensity evidence. Meaning, I'm going to bring up all the bad things you've been accused of doing hoping that the jury will see that and say, because this person has done bad before then they must have done bad now, that is not fair, it is not a just process. So the judge is going to try to keep out that which would make that same, similar intimation. Having said that, though, if you open that Pandora's box, which is always a concern for defense counsel, and you open the door to be able to be impeached, they call it by these things, not the political impeachment, but your credibility attack in front of a criminal jury, that's impeachment in this context that you do run the risk of having undermining your entire defense.

Now, one interesting point I'll leave you with this, Wolf, is that they raised the idea if Trump was fair a game, then shouldn't Michael Cohen be fair game as well to bring up other prior bad acts he has been involved in to which the judge had one response, we're not going to start comparing apples to oranges. At the end of the day, this judge does not want to, and I'm quoting him, have a trial within a trial. And we're going to see by Monday what the judge's decision will be as to what will be said. But the big question still, will Donald Trump take the stand in his own defense in a few weeks from now?

BLITZER: We shall find out.

Norm, how do you expect the judge to rule on what can come up in this trial?

EISEN: I thought the Sandoval notice was somewhat conservative, Wolf, in terms of even more information about Donald Trump that could have been included on cross examination. He has been very even handed and very fair. But the law of New York is that if Donald Trump testifies, these issues, which go to his credibility, which go to his prior bad acts on cross examination, as Laura says, for impeachment are fair game. So, I think the prosecution will get more than half a loaf. They'll get most of what they want, like with the access Hollywood tape. They didn't get the tape itself, but they got the transcript of the tape.

They can talk about it. So I expect that the Sandoval ruling will favor the people, will favor District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his team.

BLITZER: Yes. Interesting.

Jim, this all centers around Trump's insistence on testifying during the course of this trial. Would you put Trump on the stand in this trial?

SCHULTZ: I think we have to wait and see what the judge says relative to what is able to come out with those prior bad acts. Until you hear what the judge says on those topics, it's really too early to make that determination as to whether Donald Trump should or should not take the stand. And his lawyers will be looking at that closely when they're making that recommendation. But again, he's the defendant in the case, it's ultimately going to be his decision. And we all know whether -- his history of taking the advice of his lawyers from time to time, so stay tuned.

BLITZER: Yes, it's not necessarily a mixed history. He usually doesn't necessarily take the advice of his lawyers.

Everyone stay with me. We have a lot more to discuss. Coming up, we'll have much more on today's very dramatic day in court for Donald Trump. But there are also new developments and another major story we're following, the new details on what's being described as a limited retaliatory military strike on Iran by Israel. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: Norm Eisen, Jim Schultz, and Laura Coates, they're all back with me right now. And Norm, you've been inside that courtroom all week. Take a step back for us. What have been your biggest takeaways and what stood out the most to you today?

EISEN: Wolf, I was struck from the moment we got to the courtroom with the forcefulness of prosecutors. The jury wasn't there yet. Monday morning was supposed to be a sleepy affair of some remaining evidentiary motions but they used those motions to present the case, to preview the case for the judge. And they did present it as an election interference case. It is not just a federal campaign finance that makes this falsifying business records offense into a felony.

They also pointed to the New York state election influence statute, corrupt election influence statute, and to tax crimes as well that Trump was intending to misclassify the payments so they have belt and suspenders and duct tape to hold up their case. And then when the judge brought the jury in for the first time, he did a neutral summary. This is a very fair judge, but the first substantive words that he said to the jury, and I wrote about this for CNN opinion was, that the prosecution alleges a conspiracy, criminal conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election. And I think you felt in the courtroom the stakes when the jurors started answering questions, everyone understands the gravity of it. And when Donald Trump got a little out of hand and was gesticulating, rolling his eyes and carrying on as one juror was being questioned, juror left, the judge came down on him like a ton of bricks.


And Wolf, I've never seen Donald Trump so dejected. He slumped in his seat, his head was dropping, he was staring in his lap. He felt the gravity as well.

BLITZER: It certainly did.

Laura, we've spoken a lot about Trump railing against this gag order. What options does the judge actually have to keep Trump in line? And do you expect Trump to toe the line through weeks of trial?

COATES: Well, certainly the average defendant, if they were to violate a court issued gag order, they would have the realm of possibilities up to and including a monetary fine that could be graduated in scale per each violation, hoping perhaps at the lower end as a way to deter, but also to have some benefit of the doubt extended to a defendant, and then to graduate increasingly so up to and likely including jailing the person, they call it stepping the person back for the pendency of the action. Now, there are some impracticality reasons involved in talking about the -- whether it would be a viable option for this judge to step back the president, for largely the same reason people are questioning whether if he were to be convicted of the 34 counts which he is charged, that he would be able to be in jail. This is a nonviolent, first time, essentially criminal offender in this aspect for the purposes of the judge. And so, that would be taken into consideration. But the judge certainly had within his disposal the ability to do so.

There was a moment as well, by the way, today during the hearing, where defense counsel again repeated their request, frankly, their insistence to get the witness information for those who'd be testifying. You can recall, Wolf, that the prosecution did not want to hand it over because they were concerned about not only violations of the gag order, but about what this could mean for the juror -- witnesses who might be testifying. While the defense counsel offered, well, could you -- if you ordered us not to tell our client, knowing that they would essentially be admitting that they may not have the same trust relationship to even prevent that person from speaking was a really notable moment here. And so, they have a lot of things at their disposal come Tuesday and we'll find out what the judge will exercise in the end.

BLITZER: Interesting.

Jim, if the gag order is really so important, why is the hearing to determine if Trump violated it, why is it not being held until Tuesday?

SCHULTZ: Look, we've seen -- I've said this time and time again, he is going to continue his rant on Truth Social, no doubt about it. Unless there's a real incentive for him not to do it, he's going to continue to attack Michael Cohen, especially when Michael Cohen attacks him on Twitter. He's going to continue to rail away on the judge. He's going to rail away on the prosecutor as it being politically motivated. And, you know, Alvin Bragg is an elected official.

He's going to -- he's going to come after Alvin Bragg with everything he has. And the judge really doesn't have as much -- he's got the authority to put him in jail, but I don't think -- all I think that does is delay the trial even further. The one thing the judge doesn't want is to delay this trial. I just don't think they're going to end up, you know, threatening the former president or someone running for president of United States with jail time. So it's going to be really difficult to put those shackles on Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right on that as well.

Laura, prosecutors say they refuse to share the witness list with the defense fearing Trump will post about those witnesses on social media. Is that normal to not share witness lists with the opposing side?

COATES: Well, one, can you blame them for having some level of skepticism on this very issue, Wolf? And number two, normally the prosecution, when they call ready, they are under the obligation to present a witness list or someone for the jury to ask if they know certain witnesses who might in fact be a part of the trial. Now, they know the general basis of those who might be called, but they're also asking for the chronology and the order of how the witnesses, as we call, which is part of a legal strategy for the prosecution. We are all wondering about who will go first, knowing that primacy and recency is the method by which prosecutors and trial attorneys govern themselves. The first thing a jury hears and the last thing they hear are going to be the most resonant with the jury.

And so, they'd also like to know some aspects of strategy. And for that, prosecutors are under no obligation to disclose that.

BLITZER: Norm, you wanted to weigh in?

EISEN: No, just to agree with Laura. She hit the nail on the head. And, you know, the normal courtesies here, Wolf, are called into question by Donald Trump's extreme behavior. And the case is normal and at the same time, the most extraordinary we've ever seen.

BLITZER: Everyone, thank you so, so much. And remember, you can see Laura on her show, "Laura Coates Live" later tonight, 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.


Up next, an exclusive look at an Iranian air base purportedly targeted overnight by Israel. We're going to show you the satellite images and have a live report from the region.


BLITZER: We'll have much more on Trump's historic hush money trial ahead. But right now we're also getting a clear indication of the impact of Israel's overnight strike on Iran. Satellite images obtained exclusively by CNN show no extensive damage at an Iranian air base believed to be the main target. CNN's Nic Robertson reports direct attacks by the two countries appear to be over, at least for now.



NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLAMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Ambiguity, not escalation, Iran's response to explosions in the sky near an Isfahan military base several hundred miles south of Tehran. Events under investigation read nothing to see here.

KIOUMARS HEYDARI, IRANIAN ARMY GROUND FORCES COMMANDER (through translator): The objects were suspicious and our defense system acted swiftly. Thank God there were no major issues.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Satellite images exclusively obtained by CNN appear to support damage on the ground was minimal. U.S. officials informed of an unspecified Israeli strike just hours before Iran's air defenses went on alert in the early hours of Friday.

Iran's response, an anti-Israel rally manifesting on the streets of Tehran where large crowds can only gather when sanctioned by the government, another indication. For now, it's anger contained to shouting, not sending missile salvos as it did last weekend.

Approximately 350 drones, cruise and ballistic missiles fired at Israel following a deadly strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus almost three weeks ago. Mostly intercepted without major damage.

The Prime Minister shunning allies calls to take the win vowed to strike back. Now, ambiguity deafening silence from Israeli officials, except for an illuminating online spat. Hard right cabinet member Itamar Ben-Gvir posting on X, lame. Quickly lambasted by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid, never before has a minister in the defense cabinet done such heavy damage to the country's security. It's unforgivable.

The stakes had appeared extremely high. Iran's foreign minister in the moments before the attack promising instant devastating retaliation.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And I think we first started to get an indication that there wouldn't be retaliation just a few hours after the strike. I spoke to a regional intelligence source at the time, well informed, well connected. And his assessment at that time, in the early hours of this morning was even then that Iran wasn't going to retaliate. And I think that's obviously what we've seen happen through the day, that both sides seem to have sort of taken a strategic off ramp here.

But the red lines that were crossed that got both sides into this situation are now blurred. And I think, you know, the war really fundamentally, the tension between the two countries hasn't really changed. What has happened is for a moment it seemed that the sort of the cost of an escalation, a real regional conflict and bloodshed that came a bit closer, that's perhaps receded. But I think everyone has had a much closer and better look at just how quickly you could get to that type of escalation.

But ambiguity for now, and perhaps both sides can take a win domestically out of this. Wolf?

BLITZER: We will see Nic Robertson in Jerusalem, thank you very much.

Joining us now, staff writer for the New Yorker Susan Glasser and New York Times White House and national security correspondent David Sanger. His new book, by the way, is entitled, there you see the cover, "New Cold Wars." Susan, let me start with you. Do you think this is the end of the retaliatory strikes between Iran and Israel, or do you think there are more to come?

SUSAN GLASSER, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, Wolf, I suspect the sound you hear is the sound of a lot of people exhaling cautiously right now in the region and here in Washington. I think there was a lot of anxiety ever since last week's unprecedented Iranian strike from their territory directly into Israel. Several hundred missiles, drones, as you know, they were basically all shot down, but still an enormous barrage.

And Israel did not seem to be listening to counsel from the Biden administration to avoid, you know, take the win and avoid keeping this cycle going. But perhaps the muted nature of the response to this strike suggests that for now, it's over. But frankly, I just feel like we're entering a new and very dangerous phase in the confrontation between Israel and Iran, even if this round is over.

BLITZER: Interesting. David, in your important new book entitled "New Cold Wars," you argue the west underestimated both China and Russia. Do you fear the U.S. is also now underestimating Iran?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, my biggest fear out of this one is that it was the Israelis who may have underestimated Iran oddly enough, given their fixation on Iran throughout. They did not calculate, Wolf, that the killing of these seven IRGC Islamic Revolutionary Guard commanders would provoke the kind of overwhelming attack that they successfully stopped and intercepted last weekend.


And it's great that everybody's taking a breather now. But think about where we are now versus a week ago. For the first time in 45 years since the Islamic revolution, we have seen a direct attack from Iranian territory on Israel and a small but direct attack in response. That's a new world and a new place. And while I completely agree with Susan that everybody is now taking a breather, maybe scared by what they had begun to go do. I also think that the restraint, the taboo is now gone. And that worries me because I think there's every chance that the Iranian reaction to this will be to double down on the nuclear program.

BLITZER: Yes, we shall see. That could be so disturbing. Susan, an Italian official says the United States was, quote, informed at the last minute by the Israelis about the attack overnight on Iran. What do you make of that?

GLASSER: Well, I was struck by how much the Americans were not wanting to get into the middle of this story. They were, you know, not even providing, I would say the usual, at least background confirmation to American journalists. Yes, indeed, these strikes happen. They really wanted the Israelis, it seems to me, to own this in a way, especially because they had been so public in the days leading up to it, and their advice to the Netanyahu government to essentially avoid escalating the situation even further and perhaps even holding off striking altogether.

So I think there's a real desire here in Washington on the part of the administration not to be in the middle of this round of retaliation and striking between Israel and Iran. But of course, you know, that's a distinction perhaps without a difference in Tehran, which views the United States and Israel as intertwined partners.

BLITZER: David, Jordan's foreign minister just told my colleague Jim Sciutto, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, quote, benefiting from the recent escalation in the Middle East. Do you agree?

SANGER: Yes, there's certainly an argument to be made along those lines, Wolf. Think about it. A week ago before this time, he was facing angry President of the United States who was threatening vaguely to put conditions on the aid and particularly the arms that the United States provides Israel if they didn't open up more aid to Gaza, if they didn't allow the convoys to safely make their way in. I think the killing of those aid workers deeply angered Biden. This has completely changed the conversation.

BLITZER: Important. David Sanger and Susan Glasser to both of you, thank you very much. And once again, David's new book is entitled "New Cold Wars." There's the cover.


Just ahead, heightened security concerns outside court in New York after a man sets himself on fire. We'll have a live report on what police are now saying.


BLITZER: More now in the breaking news, a very disturbing moment outside the Manhattan courthouse today. A man setting himself on fire not far from the venue where Donald Trump's criminal trial was taking place. Police say the incident could mean security protocols need to be reassessed. Listen to this.


JEFFREY MADDREY, NYPD CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT: We are very concerned. Of course, we're going to review our security protocols. The park was open to the public. But of course, we're going to look at everything. And with the magnitude of what's going on around right here, we'll reassess our security with our federal partners.


BLITZER: Our chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, John Miller is outside the courthouse for us. He's joining me now. John, what are you learning and what broader questions does all this raise?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, what we're learning is this is a 36-year-old man from St. Augustine, Florida, who has been prolific online with deep and complicated conspiracy theories, who walked into the park that is across the street from the courthouse where Donald Trump's trial was unfolding. And quite suddenly set himself on fire after pouring some kind of accelerant over him to fuel that fire.

Now, this park, as Chief Maddrey said, is open to the public. It sits literally between three courthouses, the criminal courthouse behind me, the state Supreme Courthouse next to it, and a family court across the street. It's a place where people would go. They might have their lunch or sit on the bench, especially as the weather gets warmer. The question now is, will the park remain open to the public? Will there be an increased police presence in there?

It was a smattering of demonstrators and members of the public today. Or will it become part of an expanded perimeter?

BLITZER: Yes. The authorities are assessing all of that. John Miller, thank you very much for that update.


Just ahead, there's more chaos today up on Capitol Hill. Another Republican now backing an effort to oust the Speaker of the House after Democrats helped get a controversial bill over the finish line.


BLITZER: Today, the House voted to advance a key foreign aid package, a major step towards sending billions to support both Ukraine and Israel. But in an extraordinary move, more Democrats supported the procedural measure today than Republicans, a move that has put the Speaker Mike Johnson's job in some jeopardy, with a third Republican now saying he supports ousting the speaker.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is joining us live from Capitol Hill right now. Melanie, momentum seems to be growing a bit among Republicans to remove Johnson. What's the latest?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, Speaker Mike Johnson's job is in real jeopardy. And that is because he has had to rely on Democrats throughout every step of this process when it comes to passing foreign aid, including for key procedural votes, which are almost always done along party lines. So that has really sparked a revolt of on the right and it has fueled new calls to oust him from the speakership.

A third republican member, that's Paul Gosar of Arizona, announced today that he was signing on to officially cosponsor that resolution on the motion to vacate the speakership. Other hardliners not quite ready to go that route, though, making their fury with the Speaker known. But Speaker Mike Johnson has delivered a forceful defense of his plans on foreign aid. Take a listen.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's not the legislation that we worked, we would write if Republicans were in charge of the House, the Senate and the White House, this is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances, to take care of these really important obligations. And so we look forward to the vote tomorrow. We let look forward to every member voting their conscience and their desires. And that is exactly how this process is supposed to work and how the House is supposed to cover here.


[17:50:15] ZANONA: Now, the House has adjourned for the day already, so the earliest that Marjorie Taylor Greene could actually force a floor vote on the motion to vacate is tomorrow. That is the same day when the House is expected to pass this past package of foreign aid bills before they send them over to the Senate. But given the math here and given that there are three Republicans now backing the motion to vacate, that means if this were to come to the floor, that Johnson would need to rely on Democrats to bail him out, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, the House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House, declined to say whether Democrats will save the Speaker. What are you hearing from Democrats?

ZANONA: Yes. So most Democrats are not making any commitments just yet. But, Wolf, in talking to Democrats behind the scenes, they are definitely signaling an openness to coming in and stepping in and saving Mike Johnson's speakership. They really appreciate the fact that Johnson defied his right flank and is willing to put this package of Senate foreign aid bills on the floor, which very does closely mirror what the Senate had passed earlier this year.

And Democrats, just like many Republicans, are sick of the chaos. They're really worried about another potential motion to vacate and just what type of harm that could do on the institution long term. But, of course, in this Congress, nothing is guaranteed. So that is something we're going to be closely watching in the days to come. Wolf?

BLITZER: We certainly will. All right, Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thank you. I want to bring in our White House correspondent Priscilla Alvarez right now. Priscilla, what is the White House saying about these developments?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Biden has thrown his support behind these national security bills. But to remind viewers, these were funds that the President requested last year and over the last several months, the way that the U.S. and the White House has framed this as a matter of national security, that it was a priority to get these funds across the finish line, to not cede any ground to Russia. And especially in this moment, we have heard over and over from U.S. officials is that these funds are urgent and that they are necessary for Ukraine.

In fact, just this week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, President Biden called this, quote, a pivotal moment. And earlier this morning, the Office of Management and Budget echoed that, saying in a statement, quote, passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment, the administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the President's desk.

And it's worth noting that point about strength of American leadership. We have seen that this has been a recurring topic of discussion between President Biden and foreign leaders as he tries to make the point that the U.S. will stand by Ukraine even as this package has been stalled in Congress. Now, notably this week, the CIA Director Burns also said that Ukraine could lose the war against Russia by the end of the year if they don't get the additional funds, so clearly a top priority for this administration and this White House. Now asked earlier today how involved the White House is going to be this weekend to get this across the finish line, the White House Press Secretary said the White House officials have been in touch with members of Congress and their staff over the last several days. There was no expectation that President Biden is going to jump on the phone with House Speaker Mike Johnson will be watching for that. But clearly the White House really eager to make sure that this passes so that they can get those funds to Ukraine.

BLITZER: Yes. The vote in the House goes up tomorrow. Then it goes to the Senate where it's expected to pass. Then the President will have to sign it into law. The situation, though, right now in Ukraine is clearly dire. How quickly does the White House think they can actually get the weapons to Ukraine if this passes?

ALVAREZ: Well, the White House Press Secretary said they could do it quickly. And it really is incumbent on Congress to pass these bills so they can make that happen. Of course, we have seen over the -- over time that when there are losses on the battlefield in Ukraine, U.S. officials have tied that to this stalled supplemental, essentially saying that because they don't have those extra funds, those extra munitions, they're losing and ceding ground to Russia.

And they've used that as data points to really bring Congress along and make the point to Republicans that they needed to get this passing and get this -- these bills across the finish line. Of course, clearly a priority with President jumping on the phone with the House Speaker earlier this week when this plan came to fruition.

But for now, the White House saying that if they can get these funds, and of course, as you noted, it will take some time for the process to play out, they will get those weapons to Ukraine quickly.

BLITZER: Yes, the Ukrainians really need those weapons. Priscilla Alvarez, thank you very much.


Coming up, all the key moments from Donald Trump's hush money trial. Our special hour, The Situation Room, Trump trial today. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the Trump trial, day four. For the next hour, we'll take you inside the courtroom from gavel to gavel as the historic hush money case unfolds. Opening statements now set to begin Monday as a full jury and a panel of six alternates are selected and sworn in. Our reporters and experts are all standing by to break down all of today's most important developments and look ahead to what's next. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer with a special report in The Situation Room, the Trump trial today.


Our special coverage this hour begins with the breaking news. The judge overseeing Donald Trump's criminal trial says opening statements will begin on Monday.