Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Trump On The Trail As Haley, GOP Close Ranks Around Him; Partisan Sparring Over Provocative Flags Flown At Alito's Home; Cassie Ventura Breaks Silence On Video Of Her Assaulted By Diddy; China Launches Large-Scale Military Exercises Around Taiwan; Bidens Welcoming Kenyan President For Gala State Dinner. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 23, 2024 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Camera spotted actor and director and activist Sean Penn, also actor LeVar Burton.


Tonight's feast is in honor of a visit by the president and first lady of Kenya, William and Rachel Ruto. It is the first White House state dinner for an African head of state since President George W. Bush hosted the leader of Ghana in 2008.

You can follow the show on X @theleadcnn. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show, all two hours, whence you get your podcast.

The news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call The Situation Room. October 17,

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Donald Trump is out there on the campaign trail this hour as Republicans are increasingly closing ranks around him, including his one-time bitter opponent turned supporter, Nikki Haley. We're breaking down new shows of GOP deference to Trump as the campaign and his criminal trial are entering new phases.

Also this hour, partisan sparring over U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and whether he's crossed ethical lines amid growing controversy over politically provocative flags flown at his homes.

And a powerful message about abuse from the former girlfriend of rapper Sean Diddy Combs, Cassie Ventura speaking out for the first time since CNN exclusively obtained a 2016 video of her being physically assaulted by Combs.

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

In New York tonight, Donald Trump is trying to cut into President Biden's support in a Democratic stronghold as more top Republicans are dutifully falling in line behind the former president.

CNN's Kristen Holmes reporting from the Bronx, the campaign rally in the Bronx, where Trump is about to speak this hour. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Donald Trump campaigning tonight in one of the bluest counties in the country, just a few miles from where a jury will start to weigh his fate in the criminal hush money trial next week.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to the South Bronx to do a rally.

HOLMES: As the former president tries to build support with black and Hispanic voters. Recent polls showing him making gains with key blocs of President Joe Biden's coalition. Four years ago, Biden won Bronx County by nearly 68 points.

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D-NY): I'm confident that the Bronx is going to overwhelmingly reject Donald Trump based on the polling data that I've seen among likely voters in the Bronx. Donald Trump is so unpopular as to be radioactive. You know, he's even less popular than arsenic in the Bronx.

HOLMES: Despite New York's strong Democratic lean, Trump insists he can put the Empire State in play this November.

TRUMP: I love this state. I love the people of this state. I'm running hard in New York. I think we're going to win New York.

HOLMES: Something he claimed during his first run in 2016.

TRUMP: I think we're going to win New York.

HOLMES: And again in 2020.

TRUMP: We're going for New York. You know, we're going for New Yorkers.

HOLMES: Losing the state both times by more than 20 points.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thank you and God bless you all.

HOLMES: In fact, no Republican nominee has carried New York since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

The Bronx stop comes as the Republican Party continues to coalesce around Trump. After a bitterly fought primary campaign against Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor gave Trump a boost Wednesday, saying she would support him in November.

NIKKI HALEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump has not been perfect on these policies. I've made that clear many, many times. But Biden has been a catastrophe. Perfect. So, I will be voting for Trump.

HOLMES: Her turnabout coming after closing her campaign, warning about Trump's impact on the GOP.

HALEY: How much more losing do we have to do before we realize maybe Donald Trump is the problem?

HOLMES: Another Trump rival, Ted Cruz, refusing to say if he would accept the 2024 election results during an interview with CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Free and fair election, will you accept the results regardless of who wins? Look --

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): If the Democrats win, I will accept the result, but I'm not going to ignore fraud regardless of what happens.

COLLINS: But was there fraud in 2020?

CRUZ: Of course there was fraud.

HOLMES: It's a message being put forward by several top Republicans, including those vying to be Trump's running mate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you commit to accepting the election results of 2024, bottom line?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Well, at the end of the day, The 47th President of the United States will be President Donald Trump, and I'm excited to give back to low inflation, low unemployment, and high --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait, wait, Senator, yes or no, yes or no, will you accept the election results of 2024 no matter who wins?

SCOTT: That is my statement.


HOLMES: And, Wolf, I talked to a number of residents here in the Bronx, some attending this rally, others not, others incredulous that Donald Trump would even show up in the Bronx. But I did speak to a number of people who said that they had voted for Biden in 2020, but that they were looking for other options and they were interested in what Donald Trump had to say.

Obviously, Donald Trump is a household name, particularly in New York, being born and raised in New York, a lot of excitement for him here at this location today,


BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting from that Trump rally in the Bronx, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much, Kristen.

I want to bring in CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins right now to discuss her sometimes pretty heated interview with Senator Ted Cruz. Kaitlan, you really pressed Senator Cruz on accepting the election results. Did you ever get an answer?

COLLINS: Well, he didn't say yes or no to that answer. I think he would argue that, that he did try to answer that question, as he did as we went on for several minutes about this. And the perspective here in the context that's important and crucial to note, Wolf, as you know, is that Senator Ted Cruz was the first senator to object to the certification of the votes. I believe the state that he was, was Arizona, though we know there were objections to multiple states as that day played out on January 6th.

And so this is a key issue because it's kind of become this question that has become for some reason increasingly difficult for Republicans to answer just a yes or no question. Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, you saw those are vice presidential hopefuls, of course. And so I really wanted to take the time in our sit-down last night with Senator Ted Cruz on the show to, to ask him about what he plans to do in 2024. I want to show you a little bit more of that exchange, Wolf.


CRUZ: You only ask Republicans that. You ask --

COLLINS: Because it was Republicans who tried to block the transition of power. You have to acknowledge that. So, we've never seen it on a scale of what happened in 2020 and we've never seen the president refuse. He wouldn't even let Joe Biden get classified briefings at the beginning. I recall that.

So, me my question for you again, free and fair election, will you accept the results regardless of who wins? Look --

CRUZ: If the Democrats win, I will accept the result. But I'm not going to ignore fraud regardless of what happens.

COLLINS: But was there fraud in 2020?

CRUZ: Of course there was fraud.

COLLINS: No, there wasn't and you still objected.


COLLINS: And, Wolf, after that moment, Senator Ted Cruz said that, you know, the idea that there was zero fraud in the 2020 election is not feasible. Of course, what's important here, the crux of this is there was no material fraud, nothing that would out change the outcome of that election. And that is something that was attested to by multiple Republican governors, the attorney general, Bill Barr, dozens of courts, even the Supreme Court rejected this idea that Trump had been cheated out of power.

And, of course, the danger here is that there are a wide -- there's a wide swath of the electorate that does believe the election was stolen because they were told not only by Donald Trump but also by multiple Republicans at that time, that there was reason to doubt the election, even though we heard from multiple officials that there wasn't.

But I do think this is a notable trend, Wolf, because it's not just happening among people who want to be vice president to Donald Trump if he wins the election or want to be in his cabinet. We're also seeing it among other U.S. lawmakers who won't outright say that if it is a free and fair election, that they will accept the 2024 results. And, of course, Wolf, as we saw in 2020, it's an important question to ask.

BLITZER: Very important indeed. Excellent interview with Senator Cruz, Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Kaitlan, of course, we'll be back later tonight 9:00 P.M. Eastern to anchor her show, The Source, and we'll, of course, be watching.

Let's break all of this down with our political commentators right now. I'll start with Kristen Soltis Anderson. Senator Cruz is the latest high-profile Republican refusing to say that he will accept the results of the 2024 election. Flat out question, what does that say about the GOP right now?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right now, a lot of Republican prominent leaders are angling either to be vice president, or they'd like to have a lot of influence in a Trump administration. And so for them, they feel that that is a trap question. They feel that it is unfair that Republicans are asked it. You heard Senator Cruz just say that.

And for them, the way that they sort of deal with this is they say, there was a little bit of fraud here, a little bit of fraud there. We don't really know. They try to dance around it because they know that for very many Republican voters, they do feel that Donald Trump was cheated out of the election. And whether they mean that in terms of fraud or they feel like simply he was treated unfairly, a kind of vague concept, it is a very prominent belief among Republican voters.

BLITZER: It certainly is. S.E. Cupp, officially, Trump is campaigning in the Bronx right now to try and court black and Latino voters. As you know, New York is not necessarily a battleground state. It's very Democratic. So, what do you think is going on here?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, it's historically very Democratic, and probably. still will go for Biden. However, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in 2020 by 23 points. That margin has slipped significantly. He's now, according to the most recent poll in Siena College, only beating Donald Trump by nine points in New York. That's a red flag if I'm on Biden's campaign staff to look at a state that should not slip away from a Democratic president and should definitely not be this close.


So, maybe Donald Trump sees those numbers. He sees African-American, Hispanic voters in some numbers leaving Joe Biden and sees an opening. And I think, you know, what's been impressive about the Trump campaign is they don't seem to be taking any voters for granted. I'm not sure I'd say the same of the Biden campaign. You know, he didn't go to New Hampshire, for example, during the Democratic primary. So, you know, I don't think Trump is wrong to hold some rallies here.

BLITZER: Ashley Allison is with us as well. Ashley, the Biden camp sees the threat posed by Trump improving his numbers with minorities, especially black voters and released -- this is the Biden campaign, they released this ad just ahead of Trump's speech tonight. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump disrespecting black folk is nothing new. He was sued for refusing to rent his apartments to black families and called for the execution of five innocent black and brown teenagers.

TRUMP: And it's more than anger, it's hatred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's why Trump stood with violent white supremacists, warned of a bloodbath if he loses the next election, and if he's president again, vowed to be a dictator who wants revenge on his enemies.

Now, who do you think that is?

TRUMP: Of course, I hate these people.


BLITZER: So, Ashley, is this the right message for the Biden campaign with black voters?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's the truthful message. These things that the Biden campaign put in this ad is actually stuff that Donald Trump has done and has promised to do if he is re-elected. And I think it's important that the Biden campaign remind voters of how Trump behaved when he was in president, and some of the things that people weren't, might not have known whether -- people might not have always known that Donald Trump discriminated around housing policy.

But it's important to inform voters of that, that this is not something new. He has a track record of discriminatory, hateful language. And so it did not just happen when he said there was very good people on both sides during Charlottesville. It happened around the exonerated five, it happened during his discriminatory housing practices. And I think it's important for the Biden campaign to remind voters.

But I also think then you also, as the Biden campaign, have to tell voters why you are the other best alternative. And I think they're also going to start doing that, whether it's talking about their economic policies, their housing policies, opportunities for students as well.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure they're going to be doing that. S.E., the Trump campaign issued this response to that Biden ad that was just released, writing in part, let me put it up on the screen, Biden's policies are driving black families deeper into poverty and making them less safe. Black voters, like all Americans, are worse off now than they were under President Trump, and every poll reflects that reality.

So, S.E., what do you think?

CUPP: Well, it's sort of laughable to imagine Trump telling black voters, you know, what they need and what their lives are like. But on the other hand, I'm not sure a campaign ad by Biden pointing out something that happened 40 years ago, for example, is really what's going to motivate this group or any group of people to the polls. They want to know what policies are going to make their lives better.

And if you want to point at Donald Trump and tell voters what policies made their lives worse, do that. It's not necessarily what he did 40 years ago, again, in terms of, you know, housing discrimination, although that was awful. I would be connecting the dots a bit more to Ashley's latter point.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Kristen, you have a new article in The New York Times about the enduring power of Trump's celebrity. You write this, and I'm quoting from your article right now. It is a mistake to forget that Mr. Trump is a celebrity first and a politician second. Nearly a decade later, he still isn't affected by the same political laws of gravity that govern nearly every other political figure, including his Republican imitators and impostors.

So, how does the Biden team get voters to see him as a politician, not necessarily simply as a celebrity?

ANDERSON: Well, that may well happen as we approach November. Of course, in 2020, when Donald Trump was the incumbent president, he was not protected by the shield of celebrity. Voters had a very clear picture of whether they liked his presidency or not. Many of them did not. And that's why we got Joe Biden in office. But now Joe Biden has been the president. He's responsible for the way people are feeling.

As Trump's presidency has receded into the past, people are starting to think of him more and more as that guy from The Apprentice, the person that they've seen on T.V. a lot, but he's been off the trail and in the courtroom. And oddly enough, I think that's why we have not seen his numbers go down. People are thinking of him back in celebrity mode, not politician mode. And that's a very good place for Donald Trump to be.

BLITZER: Yes, important point. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, new and growing fallout around the U.S. Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito, why his second flag is becoming a big red flag for his critics.


Plus, the ex-girlfriend of Sean Diddy Combs responding for the first time today to that exclusive CNN report, Cassie Ventura speaking out about the surveillance video that shows her being physically assaulted by one of music's biggest stars.


BLITZER: We have breaking news coming into The Situation Room. The Fulton County District attorney, Fani Willis, is appealing a judge's decision to dismiss six counts of the election interference indictment against Donald Trump and several of his co-defendants.

Let's discuss with our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez and Our Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.

Evan, walk us through this appeal. What's going on here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Fani Willis the, the district attorney there in, in Fulton County, is asking the Georgia Appeals Court to take a look at this decision by Judge Scott McAfee, in which he tossed 6 of those 41 counts in that 40, in that 41-count racketeering case that was filed there in Fulton County.


Now, what she's asking for here is a rehearing on that issue since the appeals court has already taking up another issue, which is McAfee's decision to keep her on the case. If you remember, the former president Donald Trump and others were seeking to get her removed from the case. And so that issue is now before the appeals court. And what the district attorney is now doing is having this issue also being taken a look at by the appeals court.

Of course, what this means, Wolf, is that this case is going to suffer some more delays given the fact that now the appeals court is going to hear a series of these issues.

BLITZER: Important point there. Elliot Williams, why is Fani Willis, first of all, filing this appeal, and is it likely to be successful?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, she has to file it now. Now, Wolf, just so it's clear that there isn't an appeals free-for-all, let's explain how it works briefly. The prosecution can only appeal an issue until what's called jeopardy attaches. If you've heard the term double jeopardy, you can only appeal until a jury is seated.

Now, if there's a ruling that the prosecutors don't like, they can appeal it at this early point in the proceedings. Here, a few of the charges that they had brought, that they thought they had the evidence for, got dismissed by the court, and they have every right to bring those up to the appeals court and raise them there.

Now, it's hard to know, what the appeals court will ultimately do with this, Wolf. These were, you know -- one of the criticisms of this case is it was complicated. There are dozens of defendants and some pretty complicated racketeering charges.

So, it's hard to know what the appeals court will do, but to Evan's point, this will slow things down. But to be clear, this was not a trial case that was racing to trial to begin with. So, it's just going to be a further delay here.

BLITZER: Elliot how much does it actually matter to the overall case whether these six counts are included or not? WILLIAMS: Well, it matters a great deal to prosecutors. Prosecutors only proceed with charges when they believe they have the evidence, when they've gone to a grand jury. And here there was, I believe, a special grand jury first, and then a full grand jury that reviewed them afterward, when they believe they have what's called a readily provable offense, that they had the evidence for these charges and thought that they could support them.

So, it is -- you know, look, I've had things tossed out on appeal. It's not -- or tossed out by a judge. It's not a good feeling when it happens because they thought they had the evidence. And so, certainly, that's why they're proceeding and they think they have a, a legitimate claim to appealing.

BLITZER: Evan, let me get back to you. As far as the New York hush money criminal trial is concerned, the jury instructions from the judge could, of course, be a key factor in what the ultimate verdict in this case will be. What can you tell us about this development?

PEREZ: Well Wolf, I mean, look, the jury instruction is going to be key because, you know, obviously when the jurors go in there, they're going to now be instructed by the judge how to look at all of that evidence that they've heard over the last few weeks, how to look at that evidence and decide what to believe.

And obviously the big witness that everybody is focused on is Michael Cohen. And the instructions will tell them how to take a look at the things that they heard, not only from Michael Cohen, but also from the documents that prosecutors say underpins the case that they've brought. It's very, very important what the jury goes forward with as a result of this.

BLITZER: And, Elliot, closing arguments are now set to begin on Tuesday. How are the prosecutors and the defense team, for that matter, likely to approach this?

WILLIAMS: It's a very important part of the trial. What they'll do is think about, you know, their theory of the case, sum it up in a sentence or two and then build a several-hour speech around that that doesn't put the jury to sleep.

What they have to do is, number one, repeat the points that they want to put on the record, number two, refute what the other side said, and then number three, end on -- this is actually how Cicero structured his arguments -- then number three, return to your argument at the end and say, and this is why, ladies and gentlemen, you ought to convict or acquit the defendant.

And so there's a lot of science or art that goes into it in really thinking about how to structure these hours of words in a way that digestible to people who are not attorneys, but also make your legal case most persuasive and compelling to them.

BLITZER: I'm sure both sides will be working all weekend getting their arguments ready. Elliot Williams, Evan Perez guys, thank you very much. Coming up, Cassie Ventura speaking out for the first time addressing that 2016 video obtained by CNN showing her being assaulted by her then-boyfriend, Sean Diddy Combs.



BLITZER: The former girlfriend of Sean Diddy Combs is speaking out for the first time about a 2016 video showing her being physically assaulted by the rap star. Cassie Ventura's public comments coming just days after CNN exclusively obtained the graphic surveillance footage.

CNN's Elizabeth Wagmeister broke the story and has this follow up on Ventura's reaction. We want to warn our viewers some of the images in her report are disturbing.


ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Cassie Ventura breaking her silence for the first time since CNN uncovered this disturbing video showing music mogul Sean Diddy Combs violently throwing her to the ground, then kicking and dragging her.


On Instagram, Ventura thanking family, friends, and strangers, writing the outpouring of love has created a place for my younger self to settle and feel safe now, but this is only the beginning. My only ask is that everyone open your heart to believing victims the first time.

The surveillance video from 2016 also shows Combs throwing a vase at then girlfriend Ventura in the hallway of a Los Angeles hotel. The security camera footage seeming to corroborate part of Ventura's 2023 lawsuit against Diddy, alleging he punched Miss Ventura, giving her a black eye, then took glass vases in the hallway and threw them at her.

The lawsuit since settled also referenced this.

SEAN DIDDY COMBS, RAP MOGUL: I got to give a special thank you.

WAGMEISTER: A 2022 acceptance speech in which Combs spoke of Cassie in a much different light.

COMBS: Cassie for holding me down in the dark times, love.

WAGMEISTER: But now with the ugly truth of his abuse caught on video, Diddy took to his own social media Sunday to respond.

COMBS: I mean, I hit rock bottom and I make no excuses. My behavior on that video is inexcusable. I take full responsibility for my actions in that video.

WAGMEISTER: The allegations continue to pile up against Combs. This week, former model Crystal McKinney filed a lawsuit alleging Combs drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2003. And Combs still faces possible charges related to those federal raids on his homes in March.

The L.A. County District Attorney says the hotel video from 2016 won't lead to new charges because the statute of limitations expired. Cassie didn't address the video directly, but did say domestic violence is the issue. It broke me down to someone I never thought I would become.

Advocates say cases like Cassie's are helping to turn the tide for victims of abuse.

DEBRA KATZ, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ATTORNEY: It means that people who were too scared, they were too young, they felt that they'd be disbelieved long ago, but whose lives were altered, now have an ability to come forward and seek legal redress.

WAGMEISTER: Cassie speaking directly to those victims, writing, I offer my hand to those that are still living in fear. No one should carry this weight alone.


WAGMEISTER (on camera): Now, when Cassie filed her lawsuit back in November, it was filed under what is called the New York Adult Survivors Act. That is a law that created a look-back window for victims of abuse whose alleged incidents happened outside of the statute of limitations.

Now, Wolf, since this 2016 video is outside the statute of limitations, the D.A. in Los Angeles has said that they cannot press charges. So, it has created this entire conversation of whether that statute of limitations is benefiting the abuser or the victim.

Now, I also want to note, lastly, that you may have noticed that neither Cassie or Diddy mentioned each other in their respective statements about this video. Well, Wolf, that's because in their settlement agreement, I have learned from sources they cannot speak about one another.

BLITZER: Interesting. Thanks very much, Elizabeth Wagmeister, in Los Angeles, for the excellent reporting.

I want to get some more on all of this with CNN Entertainment Reporter Lisa Respers France and attorney and legal affairs commentator Areva Martin.

And, Lisa, what do you make of first of all, of this first statement from Cassie since the release of that horrible, horrible, awful video?

LISA RESPERS FRANCE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: I can tell you that she's being hailed by many people for speaking on domestic violence, but also because she really speaks, it seems like, from the heart. When people juxtapose her statement with Diddy's apology from a couple of days ago, they're seeing a decided difference. It feels like she really wants to be of service.

As Elizabeth mentioned, she reaches out to those who are already, you know, in a similar situation. And I just feel like a lot of people feel for her, but also they are happy that she's speaking up. It should not take a video, having to see a video of someone being abused to believe the abuse.

BLITZER: Areva, Cassie doesn't directly reference the brutal video of Combs attacking her in that hotel. But it is a very powerful statement addressing domestic violence as an important issue. So, what's your reaction?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, one, just kudos to her. Bravo to her for having the courage to speak up after having to be triggered, I'm sure, and to relive the horrors of that video. It was horrible for us to watch it, but she was the person that actually experienced the abuse from P. Diddy for not just, you know, in that one incident, but from what we know from that lawsuit, a repeated course of abuse that she received.


And I think what's important about her statement also is hopefully it will encourage states that have opened up their statute of limitations for civil suits for victims of this kind of violence also to look at those criminal statutes. The district attorney in Los Angeles said there will be no criminal charges despite us witnessing what is criminal conduct on that video.

So, as we are opening up these statutes for civil suits and money is good but criminal conduct needs to be held accountable in criminal court. So I hope we start to see some extension of statutes in states so that victims like Cassie and others can have their day in court and can get justice, and that predators like Diddy will be held criminally accountable.

BLITZER: Lisa, as more disturbing allegations against Combs have been coming to light, it seems to have given strength to other accusers to come forward. What does this say about the changing culture and the responsibility of the entertainment community right now?

FRANCE: Well, Wolf, oftentimes when these things happen, people initially want to say, oh, you know, she's lying, she just wants money. And this is why it's so important for people like Cassie to come forward because it allows people to be able to see that when you have money and you have power, it can insulate you from things like this.

You know, I've said this before that I'd heard rumors about bad behavior from Diddy for years, but people did not come forward because they were afraid. She was empowered to do so. She filed her suit. And the response that we're seeing, even though there's still some people who are saying, oh, maybe we don't know the whole story, I think, overwhelmingly, people supporting her is starting to shift the tide, which says that just because you're a man of power, just because you're a person of power, a person who's wealthy, it does not mean that you should be able to get away with things like this. So, I think we're definitely seeing a bit of a shift in the culture.

BLITZER: Areva, Combs is facing multiple lawsuits. Federal agents, as you know, recently raided his homes in California and Florida. What does this accountability look like for Diddy from a legal standpoint?

MARTIN: Well, we know, as I just said, Wolf, not likely to be any charges filed by him by the Los Angeles County district attorney, but that homeland security raid, that's pretty significant to have federal agents raid not one but two of your homes and stop you in the airport and to confiscate items from your person means that there is an active investigation or at least there was one when those raids took place.

And we may still see Diddy held accountable in a federal court because those human trafficking, sex trafficking allegations that are in some of those civil lawsuits, we've been told that they are what the federal investigators are actually looking at as they are investigating his conduct.

So, it is not clear to me at all that he is out of legal jeopardy as it relates to some kind of criminal accountability. So, I think this is a case is going to continue to perhaps lead to the kind of charges that I think are important and required, given the conduct that we saw in that video.

BLITZER: Yes. Areva Martin, Lisa Respers France, to both of you, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, if you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, you can get help by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline online at hotline, online at or by phone, 800-799-SAFE, S-A-F-E.

Just ahead, the uproar over controversial flags flown at the homes of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and the growing pressure for him to recuse himself from some major cases.



BLITZER: We're following the growing controversy surrounding U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and the politically provocative flags flown at his homes.

Let's get some more from CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, take us through the uproar and the reaction.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these flags are drawing so much concern tonight from watchdog groups and from critics of the court who worry that they might reveal a disturbing bias on the part of Justice Alito.


TODD (voice over): Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's physical bearing didn't change this morning when the court announced some opinions, his usual rigid, serious expression on display, as is typical, the justice betraying no signs of the controversies surrounding him. The New York Times has reported that a flag that was on display among rioters at the Capitol on January 6th was flown at Justice Alito's New Jersey vacation residence at least four times last summer. According to the Times, that flag, with a green pine tree and the words, an appeal to heaven on it, was flown at Alito's summer home two years after an upside down American flag, a symbol used by Donald Trump's supporters who challenged the results of the 2020 election, was flown at Alito's house in Northern Virginia. That flag, on display in 2021 just after the January 6th attack.

Top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee today openly concerned about the conservative justice's displays.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): You start to wonder, is this just a chance in discretion, or is it a conscious declaration of his MAGA loyalty?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): I think the question is, how many MAGA battle flags does the Supreme Court justice have to fly until the rest of the court takes it seriously?

TODD: A prominent Republican senator defends Alito.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): I just think Democrats are determined to harass members of the Supreme Court. Obviously, they don't like Justice Alito or the decisions he makes.

TODD: Alito so far has not explained the Appeal to Heaven flag. He said the upside down flag was raised by his wife in response to a dispute with neighbors.

Scholars say the Appeal to Heaven flag was first flown during the Revolutionary War as a symbol against British tyranny, but now some believe it means something different.

PROF. LESLIE HAHNER, CO-AUTHOR, MAKE AMERICA MEME AGAIN, THE RHETORIC OF THE ALT-RIGHT: Now the flag symbolizes both that the nation that we live in should be a Christian nation, but also that the steal of the 2020 election should be stopped.


TODD (voice-over): Alito's flags are drawing concern because there are multiple cases before the Supreme Court involving the 2020 election and January 6, including the pivotal question of whether Trump can claim immunity on election subversion charges.

A critic of the Supreme Court says Alito should recuse himself from those cases, and --

GABE ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FIX THE COURT: There should be investigations in both the House and the Senate, not only about the flags, but the extent to which Justice Alito, his family, and possibly even his clerks are aligning themselves with these dark movements within American politics.

TODD: There's no indication that Alito will take himself off the January 6 cases or that fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas will, even though Thomas's wife Ginni, engaged in efforts to reverse the 2020 election results in Trump's favor and attended Trump's Stop the Steal rally on January 6th.

ROTH: I think we are in the middle of an ethics crisis at the Supreme Court.


TODD (on camera): Justice Alito and the Supreme Court did not respond to CNN's request for comment about the flag controversy. While some Republican lawmakers, including Senator Ted Cruz and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, have defended Justice Alito and his integrity, other top Republicans on Capitol Hill, like Senators John Thune and Lindsey Graham have criticized sized Alito at least for that upside down flag at his Virginia residents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, a live report on why China is now scrambling dozens of fighter jets to surround Taiwan as the island swears in a new leader.



BLITZER: Tonight, an urgent new warning from the U.S. that large Chinese military drills around Taiwan are reckless and risk a dangerous escalation in the already rising tensions in the region.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Taiwan with more on the provocative show of force.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A chaotic start for Taiwan's new president, Lai Ching-te. Just days after taking office, China launching large scale military exercises and protesters taking to the streets of the capital, Taipei.

Operation Joint Sword-2024A set to encircle Taiwan over two days, dozens of Chinese aircraft, warships and Coast Guard vessels.

Beijing describing the drills as a powerful punishment for so-called separatist forces in Taiwan, a dramatic increase in military pressure on the island democracy.

WEN-TI SUNG, FELLOW, ATLANTIC COUNCIL'S GLOBAL CHINA HUB: I think Beijing will likely respond with fire and fury. That's almost to be expected from Beijing.

RIPLEY: Senior security officials in Taipei tell CNN, most of the aircraft crossed into Taiwan's self-declared air defense identification zone, a move the island's defense ministry calls a serious provocation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their military exercise is not helping with the situation around Taiwan Strait.

RIPLEY: China's military says the exercises are a direct response to the separatist provocations and external interferences. They say the motherland must be reunified and will inevitably be reunified.

In his inauguration speech this week, Lai calling on the communist mainland to stop its military and political intimidation and recognize this sovereignty of democratic Taiwan, using the islands official name, the Republic of China.

LAI CHING-TE, TAIWANESE PRESIDENT (through translator): I hope that China will face the reality of the Republic of China's existence and respect the choices of the people of Taiwan.

RIPLEY: Word seen by some as a departure from the cautious tone taken by his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen.

President Lai's first days have been anything but calm, massive youth protests erupted outside parliament, demonstrators protesting a push by opposition parties to subject the islands new leader to tighter scrutiny from China-friendly lawmakers.

More chaos inside Taiwan's fiercely divided parliament. A massive brawl broke out last week over those legislative reform bills.

In the Taiwanese capital, confidence in the government and the military.

MR. LIU, TAIPEI RESIDENT (through translator): If the Chinese communist party does attack Taiwan, it won't be easy. Taiwanese people are not afraid of war.

MS. TSAI, TAIPEI RESIDENT (through translator): I believe leaders will prioritize people's happiness. So, I'm not worried. I think peace will be maintained.

RIPLEY: A fragile peace and tumultuous times for President Lai -- military threats across the Taiwan Strait and deep divisions at home.


RIPLEY (on camera): It's Friday morning here in Taipei, 6:53 a.m., Wolf, and in the coming hours, President Lai Ching-te does expected to get an update from the defense ministry. We'll pass it along to you.

They've been monitoring the Chinese warplanes and warships even coast guard vessels that have been surrounding Taiwan. Those military drills are expected to continue. This is day two for that. Also in the coming hours, massive protests expected to resume outside parliament and inside parliament, that contentious debate that turn violent last week. We'll be watching if a brawl breaks out there.

You couldn't write I guess script for more political drama, like what were seeing right now here in Taiwan, Wolf.

BLITZER: Will Ripley in Taiwan for us, thanks very much. And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: At the White House, the Bidens just welcomed the Kenyan president for a gala state dinner that gets underway very soon.

CNN's Kayla Tausche is on the scene for us.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is the first state dinner for a leader of an African nation in nearly 20 years, Wolf, it's the fifth state dinner of Biden's presidency and the biggest names in American business and government are currently awaiting the two leaders on the South Lawn where they will be feting them with a surf and turf dinner and an evening under the stars.

The Obamas known notably will not be present, but President Obama met with President Ruto at Blair House earlier today where the two had what was described as a constructive conversation on a number of topics, including climate.

As for President Ruto and Biden, they deepen their commitment on a number of issues, democracy, global security, and commerce with the major overtone of this visit, Wolf, the need to counter China's influence on the continent. And this sustainable commitment from not only American business, but other partners overseas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche on the scene for us, Kayla, thank you very, very much.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.