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The Situation Room

Former Georgia Prosecutor Speaks Exclusively To CNN; House Votes To Recommend Contempt Charges For A.G. Garland; Biden Arrives In Italy For Crucial Talks At G7 Summit; Cuba Welcomes Russian Warships, Nuclear-Powered Submarine; Sandy Hook Survivors Graduate High School As They Remember Classmates Lost In 1st Grade Massacre. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 12, 2024 - 18:00   ET


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The news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, a CNN exclusive interview with the special prosecutor forced to step down from Georgia's case against Donald Trump. Why Nathan Wade says he believes Trump could still stand trial even if Trump wins re-election.

Also breaking, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to hold U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. What it means for Republican efforts to secure the audiotape of President Biden's interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur.

And we're tracking a Russian naval operation with echoes of the Cold War, multiple warships, including a nuclear powered submarine arriving in Cuba, just 90 miles from the United States for military drills. We're going to tell you how U.S. officials are responding to the provocative Russian exercise.

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

Let's go first to the breaking news. The former special prosecutor forced to step down from Georgia's case against Donald Trump is now speaking out. Nathan Wade resigned from his role after revelations of a romantic relationship with D.A. Fani Willis. And now he's speaking exclusively to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan is joining us on the phone in just a moment, but, first, listen to Wade explain why he believes Trump could still be prosecuted even if Trump is re-elected.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe he can be on trial if he's in the White House?

NATHAN WADE, FORMER FULTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR: I do believe that he can. Okay. I don't believe that it looks good to the rest of the world, but, certainly, I don't think that there's anything that would prevent that from happening.

COLLINS: What if he's convicted?

WADE: I don't understand the question. If he's convicted, then just like any other defendant who's convicted, then you go through the sentencing process.

COLLINS: But I don't think people think a sitting president would actually be sent to jail. I mean, it would create a moment like we've never seen in this country with the Secret Service, with who's enforcing that, and, of course, you know, he would be the head of a federal branch of government.

WADE: So, now that's a much different question. We know that sentencing is totally up to the trial court. That judge that's sitting there, he's charged with making those types of decisions. Special prosecutors are not. We present the evidence and the facts. Juries listen to the facts and the law as given to them by the court. And they determine guilt or innocence. And it is up to the court to figure out whether or not an appropriate sentence would be jail time.


BLITZER: And Kaitlan Collins is joining us on the phone right now. Kaitlan, I know you're just back in New York from Atlanta. You did this excellent interview. What more can you tell us, first of all, about this moment? Tell us a little bit more.


COLLINS (voice over): Yes, Wolf. I'm speaking with you on the phone. I have just landed from Atlanta. And that was a notable answer there from Nathan Wade, suggesting that this could be a dynamic that we find ourselves in as a country if Trump does win the election this fall. And if Fani Willis is not removed from this case, I mean, obviously, it would be unprecedented. And I think that there are certainly a lot of legal experts out there who would disagree with Mr. Wade about a district attorney being able to take a sitting president, the commander-in-chief to court, but it's uncharted territory. It really is.

And, Wolf, also, you know, this moment comes at a pivotal one, especially out of Atlanta, because it's an open case, an open question right now, whether this case even goes to trial in part because of Mr. Wade and you know, this is the first time we've heard from him since the Georgia appeals put this case on hold until a panel of judges can hear whether or not the district attorney can remain on this case. Obviously that is something that Trump's attorneys are fighting as well as several of his co-defendants in Atlanta because of the relationship between Fani Willis and Nathan Wade.


That is a decision we may not even get until the spring, certainly not before the election in November, we believe.

And so we questioned Mr. Wade on all of that, you know, whether his actions put this case in jeopardy, that as he noted multiple times during this interview, he worked extensively on, but also, you know, his response to people's reaction after he attended Fani Willis' recent election night party in Atlanta.

And also, Wolf, there was a notable moment at the end of this interview that we'll show you tonight when I asked Nathan Wade to clarify the timeline of his relationship with Fani Willis. Obviously, that was a central part of that testimony, that telling testimony that we saw on the stand. It is something that the judge here, Scott McAfee, raised when he issued his decision to, essentially pushing Mr. Wade off the case, saying it was basically Fani Willis could continue with the case or Nathan Wade had to leave the team.

And it's a moment you just -- you kind of have to just see it to get a sense of just how critical these questions are about the timeline. And, Wolf, obviously, it's quite telling given, you know, all of this is what led to Nathan Wade having to resign from this case, as he did in that dramatic moment three months ago.

BLITZER: It was very dramatic, indeed. Kaitlan Collins. Thank you very much. And we, of course, will be sure to watch your full interview with Nathan Wade later tonight, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, on your program, The Source. We'll be watching that for sure.

Right now, I want to bring in our legal and political experts for more analysis. Elliot Williams, you're our legal analyst. Is Wade correct to say nothing prevents a sitting president from being tried in a Georgia court?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He's correct, technically, because nothing does prevent a sitting president from being tried in a state court because no one said that it can't happen yet, because it hasn't been tested in the law or in the courts. Now, certainly, that would tie up months, if not years, of litigation to sort out that question.

Now, I want to be clear. It is the position of the Justice Department right now that a president, a sitting president can't be tried in federal court. The question of what happens with the state court has not been answered yet. I would think the Justice Department would take the same view based on the unique nature of the presidency in the United States, but he's right, no one's tested the question yet. BLITZER: Not yet. All right, we will see what happens. Andrew McCabe, you're the former deputy director of the FBI. If Trump were to be tried while being a sitting president, assuming he was re-elected, what could that look like from a practical standpoint?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, let's be clear. There are so many variables between where we sit today and any sort of trial taking place in Georgia, that it's very much impossible to predict. And I do think Elliot's absolutely right. If he's re- elected and the trial goes forward, former President Trump will exert, will have many strong avenues to appeal his presence in the court at all.

And the strongest argument will come ironically from the Justice Department, whose very policy prohibiting such a trial at the federal level essentially lays out a very coherent argument that makes the case that it would be unconstitutional to deprive the American public of essentially the good and undistracted services of the president, the person that they elected for the time of -- during the time of a criminal trial.

But can we also just recognize that as the person who's created much of this turbulence in the Georgia case, great job on Kaitlan getting this interview, but really questionable choice by Mr. Wade to give it. The best thing he could do for this case, at this point, would be to recede in the background and probably stay quiet.

BLITZER: Well, he certainly didn't recede in the background tonight. Kristen, how's the Trump campaign, and you cover the Trump campaign for us, likely to react to all of this? And does a statement like this from Wade, does it play into their hands?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know that it necessarily plays into their hands, but they certainly disagree with this idea, and for the reason that our legal experts have laid out, they do not believe that he would be brought to trial if he were to be re-elected. And one thing to note is that they so don't believe that, that they based a lot of their legal efforts on this idea that if they delayed past the election, if he were to win, that he would not be brought to trial, that, one, he'd be in charge of the Justice Department, so could actually also dismiss the cases that were brought to him on a federal level, but two, that there are so many hoops that one would have to jump through to actually bring a sitting president trial, that they just don't believe it would ever happen.

BLITZER: Interesting. Elliot, the case has been indefinitely paused, at least for the time being until the Georgia Court of Appeals can rule on whether the D.A., Fani Willis, should be disqualified. It's still pending. What impact could Wade's speaking out, like he is right now, have on all of this?

WILLIAMS: This was exactly the point Andrew was making earlier. Whenever -- set aside Nathan Wade, whenever someone is a party to a legal proceeding, it is really not in their interest to be speaking publicly for any number of reasons. One, because their statements can be brought into court against them, number two, he could contradict himself and create trouble for himself in the case.

So, as a general matter, it's not wise.


Certainly, you know, nothing we heard right here, I think, directly ties up the litigation, but it's just a bad idea. We've seen this, quite frankly, with the former president quite a lot, with statements he's made that actually have come back to bite him, and this could be the same situation.

BLITZER: Let me get back to Andrew McCabe. Based on what we know so far, do you think it's likely the appeals court down there will remove Fani Willis from this case?

MCCABE: Boy, I don't know if I'd go with likely. It's entirely possible, but I think it's so close it would be very tough to call at this point. And, again, kind of refocusing the public's attention on that turbulence and the controversy that started in this case because of the relation she had with Mr. Wade, his appearances in the media are not helping Fani Willis or her office's efforts to keep their hands on this case at this point.

BLITZER: Everybody, thank you very, very much. Good discussion. We'll stay on top of this story.

Once again, you can watch Kaitlan's full exclusive interview with Nathan Wade later tonight on her program, The Source, 9:00 P.M. Eastern, right here on CNN.

And just ahead, there's breaking news from Capitol Hill, House Republicans voting just a little while ago to hold another member of President Biden's cabinet in contempt of Congress.



BLITZER: We're following breaking news here in Washington, the Republican-led House of Representatives voting to hold U. S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

Let's bring in CNN's Melanie Zanona. She's up on Capitol Hill with the latest. Melanie, so what does this vote mean?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it is a symbolic vote, but it is a dramatic escalation in the feud between Congress and the DOJ. Merrick Garland is now the third attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress in recent years. And this vote did largely fall along party lines with just one Republican, that's David Joyce of Ohio, crossing his party to vote against this contempt resolution.

So, now it's entirely up to the Department of Justice to determine whether or not they're going to prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland. And, of course, that is highly unlikely, especially since President Biden did assert executive privilege over the audiotapes in question. But Speaker Mike Johnson says, regardless of what ends up happening or not happening, the House had a duty to act here. Just take a listen.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): We did our job on the contempt and I think it sends an important message. We're defending Article 1 and our authority for oversight and we have to do that. We'll see what happens next. But, I mean, the House has to do its work and I'm pleased with the outcome.


ZANONA: And just as a reminder here, this dispute all stems from the DOJ's refusal to hand over audiotapes between the special counsel and President Joe Biden as it related to the classified documents case.

Now, the DOJ did hand over transcripts to committees. But Republicans say that is not enough. They wanted those audiotapes so they could check the transcript and make sure they're accurate. But the attorney general says that he has cooperated fully and he also said in a statement after the vote, quote, it is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Melanie, thank you very much, Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill.

Right now I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Jason Crow. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. The Judiciary Committee's ranking member, Jerry Nadler, reacted to this contempt vote saying this in part. Now let me put it up on the screen. They accuse him of withholding key evidence, but the attorney general has substantially complied with their every request. Sometimes he has been too responsive, in my opinion, given the obvious bad faith of the MAGA majority.

Congressman, do you agree, was the attorney general, Merrick Garland, too responsive to what Democrats describe as bad faith Republican requests?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): I couldn't agree more with my colleague Jerry Nadler. I mean, the DOJ has given everything that they've been asked for in good faith, everything that's their responsibility, and then some. And, unfortunately, this Republican controlled House, over and over again, chooses to resort to highly partisan measures that are designed only to get information that's weaponized against the president to use in political campaigns. They did it with the January 6th committee. There are just numerous examples of them operating in bad faith here. Meanwhile they're not passing bipartisan bills that are in the best interest of the American people. We continue to waste our time here on these partisan measures.

BLITZER: The issue, as you correctly point out at hand right now, is the audio of President Biden's interview with the special counsel. The transcript was released, but they want the audio as well. Why shouldn't Congress have access to that?

CROW: Well, because when they're dealing with Republicans who are operating in bad faith, I'll use the example of when they took footage from the January 6th committee, and they released that only to highly partisan media right wing outlets that then cherry-picked that information and used it in misinformation and disinformation campaigns. They have a track record of doing that. And that's certainly what they were going to do in this instance.

So, we don't want to chill investigations by asking for audio of these interviews, but the DOJ did produce the written testimony, which has all the substance that Congress needs to conduct its oversight responsibilities.

BLITZER: Let me ask, Congressman, how can President Biden exert executive privilege over the audio of this interview with the special counsel, but not the written transcripts?

CROW: Well, because audio is treated differently in investigations than written transcripts for the reasons I just described, right? There are important protections to that in this case, and it goes back to what this was going to be used for, which is highly partisan attacks against the president. And, frankly, we have no reason to comply with that. I certainly don't support it. And, again, the Republicans should instead focus on the things that the American people want them to focus on.


BLITZER: Clearly, the Republicans want the audio because in his concluding report, Robert Hur, the special counsel, wrote this, his description of the interview with President Biden. He said, Biden came across as a well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory. So, your concern and the concern of Democrats is this audio might be used in a political campaign by Trump, is that what you're saying?

CROW: That's exactly what I'm saying. And let me correct the record here. The president has had a lifelong speech impediment. He doesn't like to talk about it. He's very humble about that. But the Republicans you know, continue to make people fun of people with disabilities, certainly Donald Trump has had a long history of mocking people with impediments of all sorts. And we don't want to play a part in this highly partisan exercise and we don't want to abuse the powers of Congress.

So, that's what this is about, that's what the Republicans are trying to do. Time and time again, they continue to abuse their authority, they continue to abuse the position of Congress to help Donald Trump win elections. It's wrong, and we're not going to do it.

BLITZER: While I have you, Congressman, let me get your quick reaction. I want to discuss Hunter Biden's felony gun conviction. President Biden said he won't pardon his son, but should he also rule out commuting his eventual sentence?

CROW: First of all, this is a tale of two presidents. There couldn't be a more stark difference in the way that Donald Trump has dealt with the justice system, repeatedly weaponizing it, threatened to weaponize it against his political opponents versus Joe Biden, who completely kept his hands off of this case and has done the right thing. And he has two responsibilities here as a father and it's very hard to see any father go through this, deal with somebody with a substance abuse issue. And I, you know, grief for him as a fellow father going through this difficult time, but also as a president, making sure he's fulfilling those responsibilities. They've made it very clear that he is not going to pardon Hunter Biden. And I would be shocked and, and don't think that they would do a commutation either.

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

CROW: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up a live report from Italy where President Biden has just landed for the G7 summit with news on how U.S. allies are planning to go after Russia in an effort to prop up Ukraine.



BLITZER: Turning on a news overseas, important news indeed, President Biden is returning to the global stage for crucial talks at the G7 summit in Italy, the war in Ukraine, new sanctions on Russia, and tensions with China all on the agenda for world leaders.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee is traveling with the president and has all the latest developments.


M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Here in the coastal Puglia region of Southern Italy, the leaders of the so- called G7 nations set to convene on Thursday. U. S. President Joe Biden landing here late Wednesday night for the final G7 summit of his first term. But questions loom large in the aftermath of his son Hunter's conviction on three federal gun charges, including whether the president would commute his son's sentence. The White House on Wednesday would not rule it out. In a show of support for his son, Biden spent the previous night with Hunter and other members of his family in Wilmington, Delaware.

In Italy, a myriad of weighty and urgent issues on the world leader's agenda. At the top of that list, the continuing Russian assault on Ukraine, now in its sixth week. Biden, along with the heads of Italy, the U.K., France, Germany, Canada and Japan, preparing to announce a series of significant joint initiatives. The president pushing for a 50 billion loan program for Ukraine, which would tap into the interest accrued from frozen Russian assets and a new ten-year U.S.-Ukraine security pact. The U.S. also expanding sanctions on Russia, targeting foreign financial institutions supporting the war, and Russia's access to critical I.T. technology, software, and other equipment. This year's gathering of world leaders kicking off almost exactly three years to the day after Biden's first G7 as president in Cornwall, England.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The United States is back.

LEE: Biden's unpredictable predecessor, Donald Trump, after alienating the U.S. in so many ways, had been replaced by a familiar American statesman pledging to restore and strengthen America's leadership on the world stage.

BIDEN: We need someone to take office this time around, who, on day one, can stand on the world stage, command the respect of world leaders.

LEE: But three years later, Biden confronting questions about just how much his big bet on repairing U.S. alliances abroad has paid off. He and other European leaders confronting resistance at home from the far right.

BIDEN: Some of our very conservative members are holding it up, but we got it done.

LEE: The possibility of a second Trump term already setting off fresh anxiety in world capitals, even as Biden insists that protecting democracies across the world is a noble cause, no matter the cost.

BIDEN: Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today.


LEE (on camera): And we do expect quite the packed day for President Biden here in Italy tomorrow. The ceremonial aspects of kicking off the G7 will really get underway in the morning. A meet and greet with Prime Minister Meloni of Italy, the family photo, the official group photo for the G7 leaders, followed by a number of working sessions.


And then in the evening, Wolf, the president is going to meet separately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to sign that new bilateral U.S.-Ukraine security pack. And there is going to be a joint news conference for the two leaders.

Of course, Wolf, no shortage of questions that could be posed to President Biden on conflicts abroad, on politics at home, and of course, the latest situation involving his son, Hunter. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee, traveling with the President in Italy at the G7 summit, thank you very much.

We're also watching major developments unfolding right now in the Middle East, where the fate of a U.S.-backed Gaza ceasefire is up in the air. CNN's Kylie Atwood has been traveling with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, as he tries to bridge the gap between Israel and Hamas, and she has the latest on all the details of the negotiations.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's time for the haggling to stop and a ceasefire to start.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Secretary of State Antony Blinken ending his Middle East tour in Doha without a peace deal in hand. Tonight, an agreement between Israel and Hamas appears to be in limbo again.

BLINKEN: A deal was on the table that was virtually identical to the proposal that Hamas put forward on May the 6th, a deal that the entire world is behind, a deal Israel has accepted, and Hamas could have answered with a single word, yes.

ATWOOD: Instead, Hamas put forward multiple changes to the ceasefire proposal, Blinken said. A frustrated secretary of state and his Qatari counterpart now unable to detail where the talks will go from here.

MOHAMMED BIN ABDULRAHMAN AL-THANI, QATARI PRIME MINISTER: It's frustrating a lot of times the behavior from both parties in different occasions, being, you know, counterproductive to the efforts.

BLINKEN: Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes, a number of which go beyond positions that it previously taken and accepted. Some of those are workable changes. Some, as I said, are not.

ATWOOD: The top U.S. diplomat also bluntly suggesting that Hamas may not actually be committed to finding a solution.

BLINKEN: If one side continues to change its demands, you have to question whether they're proceeding in good faith or not.

ATWOOD: This just days after he questioned if the terrorist group is prioritizing the protection of Yahya Sinwar, its military leader hiding in the tunnels under Gaza, or the Palestinian people.

BLINKEN: Are they looking after one guy who may be for now safe, buried, I don't know, ten storeys underground somewhere in Gaza, while the people that he purports to represent continue to suffer in the crossfire of his own making?

ATWOOD: Israeli officials have privately deemed Hamas's response to be a rejection. Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said Wednesday evening that the Israeli leader was conducting a security assessment in part, quote, due to Hamas' negative answer regarding the release of hostages.

The U.S. is Israel's committed to the deal, which Netanyahu still has not formally embraced as he faces pressure from far right cabinet members who oppose the deal. BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas is committing war crimes every day, including the holding of these hostages. Our soldiers are performing in the most valiant and moral way to end this war with a victory against these killers and against these kidnappers. And we shall prevail.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now, Wolf, Blinken called for urgent efforts in the coming days to bridge the gap between the two sides here, but he didn't explicitly lay out what those efforts will look like. So, we'll watch to see how that develops. He said he believes that the two gaps, the two sides can bridge those gaps, but he also said that it's not guaranteed. So, we'll just have to watch and see if Hamas and Israel can move forward what are now these stalled efforts to try and bring peace to Gaza.

BLITZER: Yes, let's hope there is a deal. Kylie Atwood reporting from Doha, Qatar, for us, Kylie, thank you very much.

Coming up next new comments from Senator Mitch McConnell just ahead of Donald Trump's meeting tomorrow with GOP lawmakers. You're going to hear what he's now saying about supporting Trump, and if it will bring up January 6th.



BLITZER: Republican lawmakers are preparing to welcome Donald Trump to Washington tomorrow, including some who have had a rather testy relationship with the former president. Among them, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hasn't spoken to Trump since the January 6th insurrection. Listen to this.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you plan to confront any of the bad blood between the two of you or any of the issues you've had, including over January 6th?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): You know, I said three years ago. Right after the Capitol was attacked, that I would support our nominee, regardless of who it was, including him. I've said earlier this year, I support him. He's earned the nomination by the voters all across the country. And, of course, I'll be at the meeting tomorrow.


BLITZER: And joining us now to discuss what's going on, the former Republican congressman, Charlie Dent, and CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers.

Charlie, first to you, Trump, as you know, has repeatedly insulted Mitch McConnell many times since the January 6th attack. Let's roll the tape. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)


We do have to do something about Mitch McConnell. He's a disaster.

These Washington Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, who's the absolute worst.

I had to fight Mitch McConnell, another beauty.

Mitch McConnell, and his wife, Coco Chao, Coco. We got to get the McConnells of the world to do their job.


BLITZER: Yet despite all of that, the senator is now falling in line for tomorrow's meeting.


What does that say to you about Trump's consolidation of power within the GOP?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he certainly has consolidated power within the GOP, Wolf, to be sure, but this meeting is going to be very awkward. Not only has Donald Trump insulted Mitch McConnell, but also his wife. There will also be several senators potentially in that meeting, a few senators who voted to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment. Todd Young has also been critical of him. So, I think it's me a very awkward meeting.

I would really hope that one of the senators takes Donald Trump to task over his daughter-in-law, who should have been frog marched out of the Republican National Committee for the terrible things she said about Larry Hogan, a very credible, thoughtful candidate in a deep blue state. It shows, you know, they're talking about unity, but then all you hear are Donald Trump and his family members insulting Republicans who don't fall in line the way they would like, even in the deepest of blue districts or states.

So, this will be a very weird situation tomorrow. I don't know how candid they are going to get with him. But there's a lot of work to do to bring together a very divided party, particularly in the Senate. I get it. It's not evenly divided, but it is still divided nonetheless. And they have a lot of work to do if they hope to unify this party.

BLITZER: Yes. Larry Hogan, the former Republican governor of Maryland running for the Senate from Maryland right now.

Bakari, Senator Mitch McConnell is stepping down from leadership in November. He's nearing the end of his career, clearly. So, what does he get by saying he supports Trump?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely nothing, because we all know Donald Trump well enough to know that as soon as this meeting is over, he's going to go out and humiliate Mitch McConnell again.

Personally, Wolf, and, you know, I would say this to you and Charlie and whomever in the green room, but I think it bears repeating on national T.V., if somebody insults my wife, that should be a red line. There's no politics that could make me then come and coddle the individual that insults my wife and calling her out of her name and using racial epithets or stereotypes.

And the problem that we have with Donald Trump in this country is not a Democrat or Republican one, as much as it is the fact that people like Mitch McConnell refuse to stand up to individuals who act childish in our American political system. But one day there's going to be a book written about how Donald Trump made men like Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and now Mitch McConnell just kind of melt and like putty in his hands.

Tomorrow will be an awkward meeting. But at the end of the day, this cancer that is Donald Trump in the Republican Party, unfortunately, for Charlie Dent and others, is going to metastasize and be there for a very, very long period of time.

BLITZER: Charlie, tomorrow's trip by Trump to here in Washington will mark the first time that Trump has been up on Capitol Hill since the January 6th insurrection. But are Republicans mostly brushing that history aside?

DENT: Well, I guess this is going to be a terribly awkward meeting. You talk to a lot of Republicans privately, they wish Donald Trump would go away. They don't like him as their standard bearer. They know he comes to the table with a lot of liabilities, not the least of which is that he was just convicted and, of course, the January 6th -- his role on January 6th, which was a dereliction of duty.

So, I don't know that many members are going to confront Donald Trump directly. I don't think so. They are going to try to talk about unity. But we cannot cloak the fact that they're, that this party is so significantly divided, even though it's not evenly divided. What is Trump going to do to reach out to the Nikki Haley voter in this meeting tomorrow? Is he going to do anything? They'll talk unity for a few minutes, then he'll go back out and he'll make these kinds of insulting comments against McConnell and anybody else who displeases him for just about any reason.

So, I am not optimistic right now that anything is really going to come of this. They might actually talk about some policy, how are they going to deal with the expiring tax cuts from 2017? They might talk about the border. They'll probably talk about those sorts of issues where they might find common ground, but don't expect a whole lot of confrontation tomorrow.

BLITZER: Interesting. Bakari, Senator Romney told CNN he's going to have to miss the meeting tomorrow because of a flight and Senators Murkowski and Collins said they have conflicts as well. How do you read that? SELLERS: They don't want to be there. They don't want to be in the presence of Donald Trump. And, you know, I wish that, and, you know, I'm not just saying this because he's on the show, but I wish the Republican Party had more Charlie Dents. And regardless of what people may think, you know, Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, Murkowski, Charlie Dent, many others, they have character.

I disagree with them on policy. We probably are 180 degrees different on policy on the majority of issues, but you can actually have conversations about moving this country forward.


You have men and women of great character. And I put Mitt Romney in that same category. He just doesn't want to be there. Maybe he can't be honest about not wanting to be there because of the climate that we're in. But, you know, he'll be better off for missing this hour- long meeting with Donald Trump and then having to go out and answer the questions about it.

BLITZER: Bakari Sellers and Charlie Dent, to both of you, thank you very much.

Coming up, we're following new developments and a dramatic military escalation. United States Navy responding as a fleet of Russian warships, including a nuclear-powered submarine, docked in Cuba, at one point coming within miles of Florida.


BLITZER: Tonight, U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on Cuba after a Russian flotilla, including a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived in Havana for military drills.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the story for us.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 21-gun salute hails the arrival of the Russian frigate Gorshkov in Havana harbor, and an old Cold War alliance against America is rekindled.

A group of Russian warships, including the Gorshkov and the nuclear powered submarine, the Kazan, have been deployed to Cuba.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: These are Russia's most modern naval weapons systems that they're deploying very close to the U.S. coast.

TODD: A U.S. official tells CNN, there are no nuclear weapons aboard, but Russia's military says the flagship of Russia's northern fleet is usually equipped with hypersonic Zircon missiles.

LEIGHTON: Designed to fly at nine times the speed of sound. It has a range of 1,000 in kilometers or 620 miles, and it can attack targets that are onshore. You can attack targets at sea. It can do major damage.

TODD: On the way there, as they crossed the Atlantic, according to the Russian defense ministry, these vessels practiced using high-precision missiles on simulated targets, all covered by Russian media, an overall show of force from Vladimir Putin meant to send a message.

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Don't mess with me because I can do more. I have friends in your hemisphere. He's trying to obviously demonstrate that he has power to mess with the United States.

TODD: The move comes soon after the U.S. allowed Ukraine to use advanced American missiles to strike on Russian soil if its near the border.

FARKAS: What's making Putin upset is that with this new permission to the Ukrainians, they can actually do some real damage. So, he's mad.

TODD: Putin's threat --

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If the West supplies weapons to the war zone and cause for the use of these weapons against our territory, then why do we not have the right to do the same, to mirror these actions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly the veil is torn from the Russian secrets.

TODD: In 1962, Russia did just that, secretly building basis in Cuba and delivering nuclear capable missiles, a high-stakes crisis that ended only after a tense American blockade of Russian ships on the high seas.

The U.S. today shadowing Russia's ships, downplaying the threat, but preparing for more Russian muscle flexing.

SABRINA SINGH, DEPUTY PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: It's certainly one come as a surprise to us if we see more activity around the United States.

TODD: One analyst warns about possible future tensions on America's doorstep.

FARKAS: If Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine, he will be emboldened and he will be in our hemisphere, and he will not just visit Cuba or other places where he has friendly -- friendly governments. He will actually ask for a base there and he will stay.


TODD (on camera): Vladimir Putin may not even be finished with this particular mission. The analysts we spoke to said its possible that these Russian warships will go from Cuba to Venezuela, another Russian ally that's causing headaches for the U.S. in region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Another Cuban missile crisis potentially, hopefully not.

Brian Todd, thank you very, very much.

And we'll be right back.



BLITZER: Today, the survivors of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre are graduating from high school, marking the milestone as they remember the 20 first graders and six educators who were gunned down inside the school.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has our report.


MATT HOLDEN, SANDY HOOK SHOOTING SURVIVOR: It is bittersweet, you know, knowing that they should have been there.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Matt Holden is among the more than 300 Newtown high school graduates. Today, there'll be missing the 20 classmates who aren't celebrating with them.

ELLA SEAVER, SANDY HOOK SHOOTING SURVIVOR: This is such a monumental day and we all can feel what we've lost.

GINGRAS: It's been nearly 12 years since a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first graders and six educators. The horrific memories still so vivid in these seniors' minds.

LILLY WASLINAK, SANDY HOOK SHOOTING SURVIVOR: We just heard popping and popping. So the loudspeaker came on with our principal on hawk sprung, telling us to get to our safe spots. When we heard the phone drop, which was something I'll never forget.

And then we made it to the firehouse where we lined up by grade and immediately we saw the chunks of our grade that was missing.

GINGRAS: CNN talked to a six-year-old Seaver weeks after the shooting on her first day back to school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think you're going to do today? You don't know? Are you excited to see everyone?

SEAVER: Uh-huh.

GINGRAS: Back then, Seaver didn't know how the tragedy would shaped her life. Now, it's more clear. She wants to be a therapist.

SEAVER: I want to help give back to people who either are struggling and went through, you know, an act of violence with a gun or people who just need help in their normal lives.

GINGRAS: Seaver, Holden, Waslinak among a group of Newtown seniors who are now activists, last week meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss gun violence.

WEAVER: It is so frustrating. You know, you turn on the TV or you scroll on social media and you see these kids now and you say, now they're like me.

WASLINAK: For me to take that tragedy and try and do something with it, whether its stopping others who happening in the future or just making the most of my own life since there's got cut short.

GINGRAS: Holden attending George Washington University in the fall, eager to be a politician.

HOLDEN: The way I see it, the only way that I'm going to get the change I want to happen is doing it myself.

GINGRAS: But first, a diploma, owe what they survived but owe the places they will go.


GINGRAS (on camera): And, Wolf, tonight, ceremony was full of remembrances of those lives lost. Each graduating senior wore a green ribbon on their gown. There was a moment of silence and the names of those 20 students that should be graduating seniors, they were read out loud -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brynn Gingras, reporting for us, thank you, Brynn.

Before we leave you tonight, I want to mark the passing of journalist Howard Fineman, who died yesterday at the age of 75 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Howard was a friend of mine and a tough but very fair reporter who spent decades working for "Newsweek".

My deepest, deepest condolences to Howard's family, including his wife, Amy. May he rest in peace, and may his memory be a blessing.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.