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Biden And Trump Agree To First 2024 Debate Showdown On CNN; Gunman Detained After Shooting Slovakian Prime Minister Multiple Times; Michael Cohen To Face More Grilling By Trump's Lawyers Tomorrow; CNN Team Flies Over Haiti To See How Firearms Are Smuggled; Justice Department; Boeing May Be Criminally Prosecuted. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 15, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Before we go, an announcement here, if you'll permit me, our show, United States of Scandal, is coming back in season one. I went behind the headlines to investigate and report and interview some of the most iconic political controversial figures of our time. Here's a taste.


TAPPER: We're here to get your side of the story.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

How do you view your time as governor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had 2,896 days in prison to ask myself a thousand questions, including that.


TAPPER: So, that was season one. A brand new season of United States of Scandal, season two, will premiere in 2025.

The news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. See you tomorrow morning, bright and early, for the Trump trial.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. The first Biden Trump debate of 2024 is now set for June 27th right here on CNN. Stand by for new details on this extraordinary early face-off. Why both candidates said yes to and how this very high stakes event is breaking the mold for presidential debates.

Also tonight, Michael Cohen is bracing for round two of his fiery cross-examination in Donald Trump's hush money trial. The next moves by the defense could go a long way toward deciding if jurors believe the longtime Trump fixer's incriminating testimony against his former boss.

And a CNN exclusive this hour, inside the illegal gun trade in Haiti. A CNN team flies over the country, devastated by gang violence, to see how deadly weapons are smuggled and why that's making efforts to feed starving people even more dangerous.

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

Our top story tonight, the deal is now done. And the date is set for President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to go head to head on the debate stage here on CNN, a first in their historic rematch.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more on how this all came about and how it could impact the race.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, make my day, pal. I'll even do it twice.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With those words today, President Biden formally challenged and Donald Trump quickly accepted two presidential debates with their first face- to-face encounter now set for late next month on CNN.

The June 27th showdown followed by a second one on September 10th on ABC would become the earliest presidential debates in memory, a sign that both rivals are eager to appear side by side to gain advantage in their historic rematch.

After weeks of taunting from Trump, who often deploys an extra podium as a prop --

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's for Joe Biden. I'm trying to get him to debate.

ZELENY: -- the Biden campaign sought to gain the upper hand in the debate over debates in a video today.

BIDEN: Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020. Since then he hasn't shown up for debates. Now, he's acting like he wants to debate me again. So, let's pick the dates, Donald. I hear you're free on Wednesdays.

ZELENY: That message, a not so veiled reference to the former president's criminal trial now underway in New York. Court is not in session on Wednesdays.

Even as he accepted two debates, Trump called for more.

TRUMP: I really think he has to debate. He might as well get it over with. Probably should do it early so that he can, you know -- he's not going to get any better.

ZELENY: Televised debates have long been a storied part of presidential campaigns, with history-making moments for candidates.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience. ZELENY: But American history offers no modern day guide for a sequel to this.

TRUMP: Because they want to give good health care.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: If I may ask a question, sir?

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Did you use the word smart? So you said you went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college.

BIDEN: He's the racist. You're the worst president America has ever had. Come on.

ZELENY: As their 2024 contest intensifies, Biden and Trump are both hoping to keep the debate stage free of third party candidates, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who blasted his rivals, saying, they are trying to exclude me from their debate because they are afraid I would win.

Advisers to Biden and Trump have been working behind the scenes in an effort to bypass the Commission on Presidential Debates. The group has organized such forums since 1988 and had three presidential and one vice presidential debate already set for this fall. In a statement today, the commission said, the American public deserves substantive debates. We will continue to be ready to execute this plan.


ZELENY (on camera): Now that June 27th debate is about three months earlier than debates historically have been, Wolf.


But elections have changed. The timelines have changed because of early voting. That's why both campaigns wanted to have these debates earlier.

Now, later in the day, the former president said he was accepting a debate on Fox News in October. The Biden campaign says they have made their plan for two and no more.

So, Wolf, there is no doubt. This will be the biggest moment of the campaign and both sides want to stand side by side but for very different reasons.

BLITZER: Yes, important point, indeed. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Our political experts are joining us. And, David Chalian, let me start with you. Trump and Biden don't agree on much, as we all know, but they did agree to completely undo modern history to debate each other months earlier in the political calendar. What does that say?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think it says two things. I mean, one, I take both campaigns at their word that they thought that the scheduled debates in the fall come too late given how Americans are voting earlier and earlier in the process. And they wanted to get before a large swath of Americans before that process begins, to give them the information they need in their decision- making.

But I also think, as Jeff just noted, Wolf, both of these guys see incentive in getting to a debate stage soon. The Biden campaign has for months said that they believe a lot of the voters that they're trying to reach are dialed out and not fully realizing that the Trump versus Biden matchup is on and that by getting on the debate stage with the former president, that will be literally put before the eyes of those Americans they're reaching.

And on the Trump side, Trump has been saying for months he is so eager to debate Biden because he firmly believes, as does his team, that this matchup benefits him, that he shows more energy, that he can dominate a debate stage in a way that they don't think Joe Biden can, and they are eager to have that side by side comparison as well. So, when everyone sees incentive in doing it, it happens.

BLITZER: All right. Let me get Kristen Holmes into this conversation. Kristen, Trump is asking for even more debates than the two debates Biden has already agreed to. What's his strategy here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as David said, Donald Trump has long believed, and it's not just him, it's his allies as well as his closest advisers, that he can outperform Joe Biden on a debate stage. They have always wanted a number of debates. So, now they are saying that two is not enough. They want more four debates.

But there is also another part of this, which is that Donald Trump has really made debating Biden a key part of his campaign, as you saw Jeff mentioning the fact that Donald Trump often brings an extra podium up to the stage to mock Biden, to mock the fact that Biden had not agreed to any debates. He also gave out talking points to surrogates insisting that they say on television that Donald Trump was ready to debate at any time and any place.

Today, Joe Biden took control of the narrative. They announced that he was willing to debate and they accepted the debate, putting Donald Trump really on the defensive. And that was a change of pace. So, now you're seeing Donald Trump trying to take back some of that narrative when it comes to those debates by saying he'll do a third debate.

BLITZER: Yes, important point.

Alencia Johnson is with us as well. Alencia, is President Biden agreeing to this early debate and admission that he does believe these current polls that show he's losing this race in several key battleground states?

ALENCIA JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN 2020 CAMPAIGN: Well, I don't think it's an admission, but I do think it's an acknowledgement that there are voters who want to hear directly from him on issues that they care about around the economy, around immigration, around abortion, around what's happening with the Israel Hamas war. And so the debate is the opportunity to get in front of those voters very early on and making, as the other guests were saying, making voters start paying attention a lot sooner than they usually do.

Look, I'm a presidential campaign vet. A lot of times voters don't start paying attention until the end of the summer. But this election is unlike any other that any of us on this panel have ever seen. And so the earlier that they can get in front of voters, the better Biden is in a position to go into the summer strong. Doing the on the ground work that this campaign has been bolstering for the past year.

Yes, that's important as well. Alyssa Farrah Griffin is with us. Trump is setting very low expectations right now for President Biden's performance, posting today that Biden, quote, can't put two sentences together. Do you think, Alyssa, that's going to backfire on him?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's a terrible strategy, and it's only a matter of time before Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita have him walk that back. Listen, this is what they did ahead of the State of the Union. Donald Trump's campaign essentially said, if he doesn't keel over at the podium, that was the bar that they set. And so Joe Biden outperformed expectations and got a bump after the State of the Union, entirely the wrong tact.

And I want to mention one thing. There's this notion out there that presidential debates don't really matter. They don't historically move the needle.


And I would say that's not the case for this one. And it's because this is not a debate for the locked in partisans whose minds are made up about these two men. It is for those sort of double haters, those swing voters who aren't necessarily happy with either candidate but we know were going to decide this election.

Seeing the candidates all earlier go head to head, I think, is incredibly important. I think it's good for democracy. And I think it's an open question over who it benefits. Joe Biden, a creature of the Senate, he's good when he's not in front of a big audience. Donald Trump loves a big audience. But at the same time, Donald Trump actually might be a bit more scaled back in a more intimate setting. So, a very, very important development.

BLITZER: You're right. David, by CNN's June 27th debate, Trump could potentially, potentially, potentially win be a convicted felon or potentially be acquitted in this first criminal trial he's facing. How would that factor into what already would be an extraordinary debate?

CHALIAN: Well, I don't know how that factors into the debate specifically, Wolf, but I think once we have a verdict in hand, we'll know whether or not soon thereafter in public opinion surveys and conversations with voters, in reporting out with the campaigns and their assessment, the impact that that verdict is having on the election landscape overall. And, of course, those fundamentals will shape the debate, no doubt, where the campaign is. But I look at a verdict less about its immediate impact on the debate stage and more just doesn't move the overall nature of the race prior to the debate, if indeed the verdict comes in before that,

BLITZER: Alyssa, how much do you think voters will actually benefit from these debates? Will it break through during this very busy summer season?

GRIFFIN: I think that it will. I think having Donald Trump in the courtroom and not on the campaign trail as much has probably softened a lot of people to some of his more dangerous rhetoric. They're not hearing him saying things like immigrants poison the blood of this country every other day of the week. But I think seeing the juxtaposition next to Joe Biden, the question is going to be the vitality of Joe Biden and then just the outrageousness of Donald Trump. Is he able to stick to policy? Is he able to stick to a forward-looking agenda?

I think setting it early, to someone else's point earlier, it makes people realize this is happening. The race is soon. We're six months out from the election, and now is the time to tune in.

BLITZER: Alencia, the Dow Jones Industrial Average just hit an all- time record high today after a report showed inflation here in the United States slightly cooling. But the cost of everything from food to housing is still stubbornly high. Does President Biden's debate performance even matter if voters feel the economy isn't improving?

JOHNSON: Look, I think the debate performance actually does matter because this is a chance for President Biden to make the American people understand that he understands that people may not be feeling the policy yet, right? All of us understand that it takes a little bit of time for folks to actually feel policy in their pocketbooks and he's able to make that case to the American people.

He's also able to close the gap between what was happening at the beginning of his presidency and what's happening now and the direction that he would like to take the country in. And so I'm hoping that President Biden is actually going to use this time to tell the American people that he understands.

BLITZER: This will certainly be extraordinary and historic. To all of you, thank you very much for your analysis.

And just ahead, Slovakia's prime minister is in the hospital right now after an assassination attempt. We have details on the shooting and the latest on his condition right after a quick break.



BLITZER: Breaking news, a suspected gunman is in custody tonight after shooting Slovakia's prime minister multiple times in what officials are calling a politically motivated assassination attempt. Slovakia is a NATO ally.

CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson has our report. And a warning to our viewers, some of the video you're about to see is graphic.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice over): As Prime Minister Robert Fico approaches a security barrier, his would be assassin pulls a gun. Five shots fired into Fico. This filmed from another angle, the Prime Minister unable to walk, manhandled by bodyguards into a car.

The shooter instantly wrestled to the ground as Fico rushed to a nearby hospital, where a spokesman said he was conscious, his life functions stabilized, before being transferred by helicopter to another hospital about 30 kilometers away for higher level care.

More than three hours later, the defense and interior ministers announcing the P.M. still in surgery, fighting for his life. And this a motive.

ROBERT KALINAK, SLOVAKIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: It's a political assault. It's absolutely clear. And we have to react on that.

ROBERTSON: No details from the country's two top security officials about the suspected assassin, only extreme concern his actions would trigger a violent backlash in this politically divided nation of 5 million people.

MATUS SUTAJ-ESTOK, SLOVAKIAN INTERIOR MINISTER: I tell to all of our citizens, the answer to hate is not and cannot be hate. I'm begging you all to stop. You have to stop spreading attacks and hatred, also through social networks and the media.

ROBERTSON: The shooting occurred following a government meeting in Handlova, two hours' drive from the capital. This eyewitness says she was there to shake the prime minister's hand, usual at events like this.

LUBICA VALKOVA, WITNESS: I heard three shots. It was quick, one by one, like if you throw a firecracker on the ground. I saw a scratch on his head and then he fell next to the barrier.

ROBERTSON: The reality, however, more than a scratch on the head.


The president of the country declaring it a terrible, a malicious attack.

ZUZANA CAPUTOVA, SLOVAKIAN PRESIDENT: A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy.

ROBERTSON: Fico was never shy of courting controversy, a divisive figure, a populist who is anti-immigration, anti-Islam, anti-LGBTQ, and pro-Putin and Russia. He had a political comeback last year, winning the elections as prime minister for a third time, despite long-running corruptions allegation. He was forced to resign during his previous term amid mass protests over the murder of an investigative journalist in 2018. Fico had no shortage of potential enemies.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And the very latest update we have from the deputy prime minister really coming in the last few minutes, Wolf, is that Fico is, at the moment at the moment, I stress, out of that life- threatening situation, but we really don't know what his physical condition is and how much damage is actually suffered. But this is a politician who has bounced back before but is leading changes in the country that are putting protests on the street, peaceful protests, things like taking power away from the judiciary, trying to take control of state media. These are contentious issues, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very contentious, indeed. Nic Robertson, thank you very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump's legal team gets another shot at undermining the credibility of the prosecution's pivotal witness, Michael Cohen. Stay with us.



BLITZER: When Donald Trump's historic criminal trial resumes tomorrow, Michael Cohen will be back on the witness stand, and the defense will get back to grilling the former Trump fixer and attacking his credibility.

CNN's Kara Scannell has been covering the trial from day one. Kara, first of all, walk us through what to expect tomorrow and as the trial moves forward.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, so Donald Trump's attorneys will have another opportunity to cross-examine Michael Cohen. They are expected to focus on trying to undercut his credibility and paint him as a liar.

As we saw yesterday, they had spent two hours going at Michael Cohen, using the words that he has said about Donald Trump, some of these insults against him to try to suggest that Cohen was obsessed with Trump, that he was left behind when Donald Trump went to Washington and that he has been on a revenge tour trying to make money off of Donald Trump and trying to benefit himself by saying that he would cooperate with authorities in order to get out of prison early and end a supervised release early, none of which was successful.

But that has been the strategy here, and that's because Michael Cohen is a key witness for the prosecution. He is their last witness that will be testifying. So, we expect the cross-examination to go all day tomorrow. Then the prosecutors will have a chance to do what's known as redirect, and that is to ask Cohen additional questions. So, that could happen on Monday.

And then from there, the prosecution is expected to rest their case. The question will be, does Donald Trump's team put on a witness? They have considered calling an expert witness, but have said that it will depend a lot on the judge's rulings tomorrow at the end of the court day. So, it could be that they call this expert or they don't. And then the question is, does Donald Trump take the stand and testify in his own defense? His lawyer said that has not been determined yet. If he doesn't move, we could have closing arguments next week, and this case could go to the jury then too.

BLITZER: Very interesting. Kara Scannell reporting for us, thank you very much.

I want to bring in our legal and political experts who are following all of this very, very closely. Elie Honig, I'll start with you. Will the defense get into the substance of these criminal charges with Michael Cohn tomorrow when they resume their cross-examination?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the defense does not have to directly confront Michael Cohen on the substance of the charges. They don't have to put the checks and the ledgers and the invoices in front of him. And I actually suspect that Donald Trump's team will opt not to do that. The reason for that is the burden of proof.

The question for the jury is not who has a better story as between Michael Cohen and the prosecution on the one hand and Donald Trump on the other hand, the question is, can the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt? And I think to that end, you're going to see a defense strategy of these witnesses leading off with Michael Cohen are not reliable, they're not credible. They have biases, you can't rely on their testimony, and, hence, they will argue the prosecution cannot meet its burden.

BLITZER: Tim Parlatore, you told me the last time we spoke that the defense needs to attack Cohen's story, not just his credibility. Do you expect to see that tomorrow?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I do. I think that -- I disagree with Elie on this point a little bit, that I think that they do need to go through it. And even if they can't, you know, catch him in a lie about the story itself, to even just go through it and point out that the parts of his story, which are the actual elements of the crime, are the parts that there are no emails, or no, you know, second witness, or anybody else that's testifying about. And so for those points, you have to just rely upon his credibility and his credibility alone. I think that bringing that out and really amplifying that, but then also they do have to go through the credibility.

You know, one thing that they can't do, they have to do something more than just simply repeating what the district attorney has already done on direct. If all you do is the cross-examination is a repeat of the direct and an angry tone of voice, it's not going to get you anywhere. So, they have to do something different.


BLITZER: Gloria Borger is with us as well. Gloria, how much is the defense's cross-examination of Michael Cohen playing to an audience of one, specifically Donald Trump?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think 100 percent of it is playing to Donald Trump. Look, Donald Trump has to sit there quietly with his head exploding and can't show it, and he wants revenge against Michael Cohen.

And so I think part of this, particularly the way they started out, examining Michael Cohen, using language that he had used against Todd Blanche, was a way to impress their client. And I think what they did, and what they may continue to do, but what they spent most of their two hours doing in trial last time, was ripping Michael Cohen apart and destroying whatever shred of credibility he might have.

And what happened was, however, that Michael Cohen didn't lose it on the stand. I mean, I think it was very clear that Todd Blanche was trying to get under Michael Cohen's skin, was trying to show somebody who is completely obsessed with Donald Trump, who's made a lot of money off of hating Donald Trump. And, you know, I think he managed to do that pretty well.

BLITZER: Elie, the prosecution, as we know, is expected to rest its case after Michael Cohen's testimony. How effective do you think he is and has been as a final witness?

HONIG: Well, Wolf, so far I think Michael Cohen has held up quite well. I don't think the cross-examination that we saw the other day really did much damage to him.

Now, that might change tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to be pivotal. Michael Cohen is going to be on cross-examination for most or all of the day. It is very unusual, in my view, it's against conventional wisdom to put a controversial witness like Michael Cohen on the stand last. Usually, you want to have someone who's safer and sort of more reliable tells me that process that prosecutors are either confident enough in Michael Cohen or confident there's going to be enough of a defense case and then prosecution rebuttal that they can put some time in between Michael Cohen and when we get to closings and then ultimately the jury deliberation.

BLITZER: And, Tim, as you know, the defense will present its case next. How do you expect them to approach that?

PARLATORE: You know, I think that the primary witness that they should be calling and I expect that they will call is Bob Costello. Bob Costello represented Michael Cohen and he testified this morning at the Judiciary Committee that a lot of the things that Michael Cohen said this week were lies. And he has a lot of the emails from that time, things that he presented to the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York, that convinced the U.S. Attorney's Office that he was unworthy of belief and to drop him as a cooperator. So, I think that he's a very powerful witness for them to potentially bring in to undercut Michael Cohen. Beyond that, I know that they've talked about having an expert come in. There's an issue about, you know, this is business records and yet we're talking about his personal checkbook. And so they may try to bring in some evidence to separate this out from the business records. But I know the big question for everybody is whether Donald Trump would testify and I would predict no.

BORGER: You know, I think there's also another big question here, which is the person who's not there, which is Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, who famously wrote that note about the repayment to Michael Cohen and how they were going to disperse the money, and he's currently at Rikers. And, you know, the question is, you can get him out of jail to testify, but would he plead the Fifth? He certainly wouldn't be, I don't think, a cooperating witness for the prosecution.

But it leaves kind of a big hole in the whole case, which is, this is the man who came up with the plan about how Michael Cohn was going to get reimbursed and he hasn't been a part of this trial other than that one piece of paper.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point. To all of you, thank you very, very much. We'll watch what happens tomorrow and in the days to come.

Just ahead, a new chapter is about to be written in the history of presidential debates here in the United States, as CNN prepares to host the first Biden-Trump face-off of 2024.



BLITZER: The 2024 race for the White House breaking new ground tonight. CNN's Brian Todd has a closer look at the tradition of the presidential debate as it takes a historic new turn.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For more than 60 years, televised presidential debates have provided us with extraordinary, decisive moments, which often changed the tenor of the race.

In the very first televised presidential debate, Richard Nixon, who was ill, was visibly sweating, compared to his cool and youthful opponent, John F. Kennedy.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: When the two were viewed side by side, and you asked yourself, whose finger would you like to be on the nuclear button, it became clear you didn't want the sweaty guy from California.

TODD: In 1984, Ronald Reagan, then 73 years old, used humor to deftly deflect concerns about his age in a debate with Walter Mondale.

REAGAN: I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.

NAFTALI: The effect was magical and politically devastating for Walter Mondale.

TODD: Most of those defining moments came with no warning or calculation.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A bad moment in a debate can hurt you significantly more than a good moment can help you.

TODD: In the vice presidential debate in 1988, Dan Quayle characterized himself as a Republican version of a young John Kennedy, which teed up his opponent, Lloyd Benson, perfectly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, I serve with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

TODD: That election season, Benson's running mate, Michael Dukakis, in his debate with George H.W. Bush, was asked a fateful question referencing his wife by CNN's Bernard Shaw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life.

NAFTALI: It was terrible. This was his opportunity to show humanity, and instead he made himself look like more of a humorless, emotionless robot than he had seen before.

TODD: There were the wordless missteps, the body language gaffes. 1992, George H.W. Bush looking out of touch by glancing at his watch when an audience member spoke about the lagging economy. 2000, Al Gore audibly sighs. And in another debate that year, Gore gets a little too close to George W. Bush on stage.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Any little tick or a habit that a candidate may have is something that voters could seize on and it could change the way they view the candidate.


TODD: Now, if there are colorful moments like all of those in the debates that are coming up, Analyst Laura Barron-Lopez says she doesn't believe they're going to be as impactful as those past moments were, because she says so many Americans this year have already decided who they're going to vote for, and those moments, no matter how sensational they may be, simply are not going to move the needle as much. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very, very much.

And joining me now, the veteran journalist who moderated the very first Biden-Trump debate back in 2020, CNN's Chris Wallace. He's anchor of The Chris Wallace Show Saturday mornings here on CNN and host of Who's Talking to Chris Wallace on MAX. Chris, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to remind our viewers what you went through trying to moderate that now infamous debate in 2020.

WALLACE: I remember it well.

BLITZER: You watch this and our viewers will watch as well.


TRUMP: You didn't want me to ban --

WALLACE: All right, gentlemen -- Mr. President --

TRUMP: You would have been much later, Joe.

WALLACE: Mr. President --

TRUMP: You're talking about 2 million people.

WALLACE: You're not the president as a moderator. We are going to talk about COVID in the next segment.

BIDEN: I want to make sure --

WALLACE: Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir?

BIDEN: He doesn't know how to do that.

TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) radical left.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man.

TRUMP: Listen, who is on your list, Joe? This is so --

WALLACE: Gentlemen, I think we've ended this one.

BIDEN: This is so unprecedented.


BLITZER: As you know, Chris, this upcoming debate won't have a studio audience. The microphones will only be on when the individual debate presidential candidate will be speaking. Do you think that's going to make a difference?

WALLACE: No, I don't think either will. It depends on the format. We don't -- it hasn't been entirely worked out by CNN, but assuming that you have that kind of back and forth conversation, you can't be -- you know, you want them to interact. You want them to -- not to that extent, but to interrupt and interject and have a real debate. So, you can't really control the mics. If it's just you're going to make a two-minute statement, I'm going to make a two-minute statement, that's one thing, but in a free flow conversation back and forth, I don't see how you can turn off the mics. And as far as the audience is concerned, I know a lot of people are saying that, and I think it's a better idea not to have an audience, but the situation on that stage, between the two principals who are ten feet apart from each other and the moderator who's maybe 15 feet away from the two men, they're not playing to the crowd. They're playing to each other. So, I don't think it really dramatically affects how the debate will go. It just means there won't be the interruptions.

BLITZER: So, you don't necessarily think there'll be a repeat of what you went through?

WALLACE: Well, it, it depends. I mean, if Donald Trump wants to interrupt and make a circus of it again, he can do it. And I don't think there's really any way to stop him. But I think he'd be foolish to do that. He took a real hit in the polls after his performance in that debate.

I mean, I was at Fox then. We had somebody count he interrupted Joe Biden or me 145 times in 90 minutes That's more than once a minute. If he does that, I think it would be a big mistake and he'll pay a price for it.

BLITZER: I, of course, watched that debate. You were very, very impressive as the moderator.

Donald Trump posted this on his Truth Social account just before accepting CNN's invitation for this upcoming debate. This is what he said. Crooked Joe Biden is the worst debater I have ever faced. He can't put two sentences together. Is Trump making a mistake in setting expectations for the president so low?

WALLACE: Absolutely. I mean, he ought to say, this is the leader of the free world, this is the man making the decisions. Let's see if he's up to that, but to the degree, you know, that you, you belittle him now, it probably feels good, and it's the kind of trash talk that the former president likes incidentally, there's been trash talk both ways.


But it does set a lower bar and one that's easier for Joe Biden to step over. Having said that, for all the talk, my guess is the audience will know. I mean, you know, they'll have a sense. It was Joe Biden up to it or not and look, there are questions about whether Donald Trump has lost a step or two in the last as four years. They'll be making judgments about the former president as well.

BLITZER: This is the earliest a presidential debate will ever have taken place coming up very soon at the end of June. What kind of impact do you think, if any, that will have on the eventual result of the election?

WALLACE: I -- it's shocking. I mean, I am real student of these, and since 1960, the first presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy, and they had four at that time, there's never been a debate before September.

And I -- it seems to me that the reason Joe Biden did this is because according to all the polls, he's losing and he needs a game changer and he doesn't want to have a game changer in September. He needs as sooner rather than later. And by having this debate now, he can reset expectations and to the degree people are worried about his age and competence, he can put that to rest or conversely, you can make it a much greater issue.

BLITZER: We will see what happens.

WALLACE: We will.

BLITZER: Chris Wallace, thanks very much for all your reporting. Thanks very much for joining us.

WALLACE: You bet.

BLITZER: And coming up, a CNN exclusive report on the arms smuggling operation, feeding the violence in Haiti.

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



BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive report, our journalists have been on the ground covering the violence in Haiti for months. And now, we have an inside look at the smuggling operation feeding the turmoil in the Caribbean nation with weapons and ammunition.

CNN's David Culver has more.


DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Touching down in Haiti's gang controlled capital, we move quickly, armed guards holding the perimeter as a long line of anxious passengers hurry out the way we came in.

Driving deeper to Port-au-Prince, we pass those desperately trying to survive a crippling humanitarian crisis.

Can you give us a sense how dire the situation is getting with each passing day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, were very worried right now, you've got 5 million people in Haiti who are acutely food insecure. That's the highest on record, the highest it's ever been, and we're going through the worst crisis in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. It's that simple.

CULVER: The WFP warns food supplies across the country are rapidly dwindling as hunger worsens.

For folks who are getting this, how many of the meals a day are they going to get --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will be their one meal.

CULVER: And delivering that one daily meal to starving communities increasingly risky.

The logistics alone are incredibly challenging. I mean, just every corner, you don't know what you're going to come across.

Not to mention the constantly shifting gang boundaries.

Do you ever get scared delivering the food?


CULVER: The U.N. estimates gangs control more than 80 percent of Port- au-Prince severing crucial supply lines for food, fuel, and medical supplies.

And yet, while basic necessities are scarce, guns and ammo, seemingly plentiful and ravaging this country.

How are the weapons getting here and from where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. We'll do one low pass. We'll make a hard right turn, will be back inbound.

CULVER: We're at the central plateau. This is an area that year it's been known for drug smuggling here in Haiti.

More recently, the U.N. says weapons also come in this way, arriving into Haiti's mountainous and hard to reach rural areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Likely it's going to be a light -- light airplane up. I've seen a lot of Cessnas. But it does look like that grass has been tampered with right there.

Often landing in the dark of night under the radar or smuggled across the land border or by sea. Law enforcement believes arms and ammo arrive at the dock of what once was a flour mill, taken over and now controlled by gangs.

Haitians security sources, sharing with us these images of seized weapons from other locations. The U.N. says most guns are shipped illegally from the U.S. and end up in the hands of various gangs.

VITEL'HOMME INNOCENT, LEADER OF KRAZE BARYE: There are always guns that come in. There are always bullets.

CULVER: One of the most influential gang leaders, Vitel'homme Innocent, even explaining how easy it is to import guns and ammo compared with food or medicine, though not confirming where the weapons originate from.

Are your weapons coming in from the U.S.?

INNOCENT: No, I don't go to the U.S. I cannot accuse the U.S. to say weapons come from there.

CULVER: To be sure, we had weapons experts review our footage with members of Vitel'homme's gang, examining images like these. They tell us that many of these firearms and accessories are in fact made in the U.S., smuggled directly or stolen from Haitian police. The end result here is often the same.

With the innocent caught in the crossfire, like eight-year-old Woodjina Cadeaus (ph) shot earlier this year while playing with friends. When we visited in February, her family was living in this makeshift encampment as she was recovering from surgery. Her little sister keeping watch.

But days later, gangs torched the whole neighborhood.

Hi, Woodjina, how are you? Good to see you. You're walking.

We meet again as Woodjina heads to a doctor's appointment. We learn her family now sleeps on a church floor. Woodjina's sister sent to live with other relatives. Her mom says it was too difficult to flee the gangs while carrying both kids.

LOVENCIA JULIEN, WOODJINA'S MOTHER: When we had to run, I could not have ran with both of them.

CULVER: Back alongside the WFP, we arrive at our stop to distribute those meals. It's a school turned displacement camp. We step out to a crowd of several hundred. Recent gang violence forcing most here to become refugees in their own city.

And did you see that firsthand, some of violence?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I see. I ran from it.

CULVER: You ran from it.


CULVER: What --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ran from a lot of like a lot of shots, a lot of --

CULVER: People shooting at you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People shooting and they're burning houses.

CULVER: Folks here, grateful for the one meal they'll get today.

What about tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know about tomorrow. We're just hoping for tomorrow.

CULVER: Here, thinking about tomorrow, even that is a luxury.

David Culver, CNN, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


BLITZER: And thank you to CNN's David Culver for that report.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The U.S. Justice Department says Boeing may be subject to criminal charges after breaking an agreement to improve its safety practices.

The announcement comes after a series of dramatic mishaps this year, including a door plug that blew off an Alaska airlines flight shortly after takeoff. Boeing signed onto the safety deal back in 2021 in exchange for avoiding persecution for two fatal crashes of its 737 MAX aircraft.

In a new statement, Boeing says the company believes it has honored the terms of the agreement and looks forward to responding to the Justice Department.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.