Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Putin Wraps North Korea Trip, Signs Mutual Defense Treat With Kim; State Of Emergency In New Mexico As Wildfires Rage; Virginia Primary Cliffhanger Tests Trump's Clout And Bid For Revenge; CNN Debate Countdown: Trump & Biden Face Off Eight Days From Now; Remembering Baseball Icon And Trailblazer Willie Mays. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 19, 2024 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Again, our Juneteenth celebration of freedom and legacy is tonight on CNN and streaming on MAX at 10:00 P.M. Eastern.

We're now down to just eight days until the biggest event as yet of the 2024 presidential race, the very first general election presidential debate. It will be right here on CNN. I will co-moderate the discussion along with my friend and colleague, Dana Bash. You can watch it live a week from tomorrow at 9:00 P.M. Eastern here on CNN streaming on MAX. It's the very first debate ever between a president and a former president.

The news continues on CNN with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Vladimir Putin wraps up his pomp-filled visit to North Korea, claiming his ties with Kim Jong-un have reached a new level. We're breaking down their new mutual defense treaty and how this partnership of U.S. adversaries threatens the west.

Also this hour, a state of emergency as wildfires rage in New Mexico and turn deadly. CNN is on the scene where flames have been consuming homes and forcing thousands of people to flee.

And Donald Trump's ability to make or break Republican candidates is being tested in a congressional primary in Virginia that's still too close to call. Trump's anger and bid for revenge leaving a key House Republican incumbent in peril tonight.

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

Tonight, Vladimir Putin is in Vietnam after leaving North Korea with a new partnership deal and a fresh commitment from Kim Jong-un to support Russia and its battle in Ukraine.

CNN's Matthew Chance has more from Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This was carefully choreographed pomp and ceremony, a lavish welcome in North Korea for the Russian president. In Pyongyang's central square, tens of thousands cheered, waving flags and balloons, as their own ruthless autocrat, Kim Jong-un, stood shoulder to shoulder with the Kremlin's strongman. It's been 24 years since Putin's last visit here. Now, international sanctions and war have driven him back.

Later, the two leaders signing a strategic alliance treaty, unwavering, they called it, heralding a new and dangerous phase in cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.

I've no doubt this powerful treaty will be very constructive, declared Kim Jong-un, strictly peace-loving and defensive, he said.

Putin clarified the partnership includes mutual assistance in the event of aggression. That's similar to NATO's Clause 5, raising concerns Ukrainian attacks on Russia could invoke the clause.

Already U.S. officials say Russia is using North Korean ammunition to sustain its barrage on the Ukrainian frontlines. Moscow and Pyongyang deny arms transfers, which would be in violation of U.N. sanctions. The Kremlin needs all the help it can get to win its conflict in Ukraine.

What North Korea may get in return is also concerning. Its space, ballistic missile and nuclear programs used to threaten the U.S. and its allies would benefit from Russian technology. Kremlin says Pyongyang hasn't even asked for help in the most sensitive areas.

Putin and Kim, stone-faced at times, sat as the captive audience clapped along to patriotic Russian and Korean songs. Both leaders opposed to the U.S. and its allies are isolated and sanctioned by the west. In Pyongyang at least, neither looks like a pariah.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, Wolf, tonight, Vladimir Putin is on the second leg of that Asian tour, visiting communist-run Vietnam, another old alliance the Kremlin wants to shore up. But don't expect to see any of that official enthusiasm that we saw in North Korea. Top of the agenda in Vietnam is business, not fighting the United States and its allies. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Matthew Chance reporting from Moscow, thank you very much.

Let's go live to Vietnam right now and CNN's Will Ripley, who's covering Putin's trip to Hanoi. Will, you've reported from inside North Korea several times.


What is Putin hoping to achieve with these visits?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, the tangible benefit for Putin is that he ensures that there will be a steady supply of weapons and ammunition made in North Korea, some of the ballistic missiles made with American parts, Wolf, even though both sides have denied that there are arms exports happening. There's clear evidence European independent think tanks that have actually picked up pieces of North Korean missile debris that's been used to kill civilians and soldiers and injure scores of people in Ukraine. So, Putin wants to make sure that there's going to be that weapon and ammunition supply that he needs to keep the fighting going. And so right now, it's crucial to continue to grow that relationship with Kim Jong-un.

But also the welcome that he received, something the supersized socialist celebration that he's not going to find almost anywhere else in the world, much of the West, certainly regarding him as a global pariah, you know, one thing that strikes me, Wolf, is that those North Korean people waving those flags, yes, of course, they're compelled to be out there by their neighborhood leaders and whatnot to line the streets by the hundreds of thousands, but also North Korea is arguably more restricted now than it has possibly ever been, or at least since the Cold War. People there have no idea of the realities of Putin's brutal war in Ukraine, because their state media only tells them this glossy version.

And so they genuinely might look at somebody like Vladimir Putin as a strong hero, unaware of the true reality of what most of the world thinks of him. Now, he's landed here in Hanoi, and as Matthew mentioned, it's all business here. Certainly, the Vietnamese are not thrilled by the fact that just after that spectacle in North Korea, he's now landed here, but they're honoring a decades-long friendship with Russia by welcoming the Russian president where he is hoping to get some business deals made, potentially in energy cooperation, maybe some military deals because, Wolf, Russia, ironically, is actually the number one weapons supplier for Vietnam, and they have been for a very long time.

BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting from Hanoi in Vietnam, thanks very much, Will, for that report.

Let's get some more on all of these developments. Joining us now, CNN Political and National Security Analyst David Sanger. He's the author of a new book entitled New Cold Wars, China's Rise, Russia's Invasion and America's Struggle to Defend the West. Also with us, the historian and Atlantic staff writer, Anne Applebaum. She also has a new book that's coming out entitled Autocracy, Inc. The Dictators Who Want to Run the World.

Anne, Putin, as you know, is trying to prove he's not an international pariah, but how drastically has the power dynamic changed for him when it comes to North Korea?

ANNE APPLEBAUM, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think this trip is actually a sign of real desperation. Russia had a very good relationship with South Korea and a huge trading relationship. I think South Korea was Russia's fourth or fifth largest trading partner. It looks like Putin is ready to just give all that up, give up his normal connections, give up relationships that have lasted a long time just in order to get these weapons from North Korea. And I think that it shows you exactly where he's at. It also shows you how these connections between Russia, North Korea and China, which is, of course, North Korea's main partner, are beginning to solidify as they identify as kind of victims of sanctions, as enemies of the liberal Democratic ideas coming from the west, it's a pretty dangerous moment.

BLITZER: David, Putin and Kim Jong-un agree to, quote, mutual assistance in the event of aggression, close quote. What does that mean?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a great question, Wolf, and it's what we're trying to figure out tonight. I mean, on the one hand, it's sort of a back to the Cold War moment, right? These countries had a similar agreement they signed in 1961, when the power dynamic was completely different. North Korea was flat on its back. It was just eight years after the end of the Korean War. They had nothing to offer, the Soviet Union, and the Soviets, of course, had nuclear weapons by that time, and they had much greater wealth than the North did.

In this case now, for the first time, Kim Jong-un has something that Putin needs, lots and lots of ammunition, mostly artillery shells, some ballistic missiles. And he is beginning to make use of that, turning the screws on Putin first, to get food and oil, two things the North has always, you know, been in short supply of. But he big question, Wolf, is whether or not that that line that you cited means eventually more help in the missile, nuclear and space programs to get Kim over those few hurdles that he has not yet mastered.


BLITZER: Interesting. Anne, I want to get your thoughts. How much do you think North Korea's continued support will help Putin wage his war on Ukraine?

APPLEBAUM: Well, David just said that he just pointed to the most important piece of this, which is that North Korea has been producing ammunition for many years in preparation for the war with South Korea that has never come. And so they have warehouses full of it and they're willing to give it to Putin. I mean, it doesn't win the war for him. It's not sophisticated ammunition. Apparently, quite a lot of it doesn't work, but it has kept him going. I think he might well have run out many months ago if it wasn't for this.

So, these alliances that he's made with North Korea, with Iran, his economic relationships with China, with India, he's clearly trying to build one with Vietnam. These are how he's trying to keep the war going, which is already lasted two years longer than he expected.

BLITZER: David, you report that the west used to be able to rely on Putin to help contain North Korea's nuclear ambitions. How troubling is this current shift on all of this?

SANGER: You know, and sometimes, Wolf, the news is in the silences, and the silence here was that nowhere in their comments today was there any discussion of the Russians urging North Korea to restrain its nuclear program or its missile program, both of which have been under U.N. sanction for years. That's a big shift. Remember that 20 years ago, when George Bush was beginning the Six Party Talks with North Korea, a diplomatic effort to get them to give up what was still a nascent nuclear program, the Russians and the Chinese were on the American-Japanese side of those negotiations.

In Iran, in 2015, the Chinese and the Russians were on the American and European side of the negotiations with Iran to force it to stop its nuclear fuel production, and that succeeded. If either of those negotiations were starting up again today, and they won't be, it's a fair thing to say that the Russians for sure and the Chinese probably would be on the other side of the table, that at this point Russia needs the weaponry you just heard Anne discussed so desperately that they would have basically given up trying to convince the North Koreans to give up their weapons.

BLITZER: And that is all so disturbing. David Sanger and Anne Applebaum, to both of you, thank you very much.

Just ahead new election results giving us fresh insight into the state of the GOP, what a still undecided race in Virginia says about Donald Trump's hold on the Republican Party.

But, first, a live report from the deadly wildfire outbreak in the west, one resident describing the scene as apocalyptic, as people are scrambling right now in huge numbers to evacuate.



BLITZER: In New Mexico right now, the race is on for residents to escape very fast moving wildfires as crews desperately try to contain the flames and the danger. At least one person is dead.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more from the fire zone.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Michael Scott escaped Ruidoso, New Mexico, just in time through thick smoke and an orange glow as a massive wildfire consumed his mountain neighborhood.

MICHAEL SCOTT, EVACUEE: My truck was being hit with chunks of ash. It was almost like big gray rain hitting my truck.

LAVANDERA: Scott and his wife and his mother were able to make it out with a few belongings and their three dogs. We met them at a motel 50 miles away where all they can do is nurse the shock that everything they own might be lost. The not knowing is a numbing feeling, he says.

I imagine it's an incredibly helpless feeling, like there's literally nothing you can do.

SCOTT: It really is. And for the past 24 hours, we've been in this little motel, and I think, well, we don't have anything left. Now where do we go?

LAVANDERA: Two massive fires around Ruidoso are burning across 20, 000 acres. Emergency officials say the wildfires have destroyed 1,400 homes and structures. We reached some of those neighborhoods and saw the charred remains of dozens of homes, even found deer making their way through the scarred hillsides.

KURT DELGADO, EVACUEE: Yes, I can see the fire right outside this window.

LAVANDERA: Kurt Delgado evacuated his home to the edge of town where he set up his Papi Chulo food truck and started feeding firefighters and emergency crews.

From the window of your food truck, you can see the smoke in the canyon where your house is.

DELGADO: Yes, our house is literally right there where that smoke is.

LAVANDERA: Delgado says he'll stay here as long as he can.

DELGADO: So, my parents are in that airstream right there. We're ready to go. We're going to do what we can to just stay vigilant.

LAVANDERA: About 8,000 people have evacuated the Ruidoso area since Monday. The mountain village is an eerie, smoke-filled ghost town. There are a few people left, though, like Jordan Rue.

I imagine a moment like this is pretty nerve wracking.

JORDAN RUE, EVACUEE: Yes, yes, I thought, I didn't think it was going to come this close to us, but it happened so fast.

LAVANDERA: Our conversation was interrupted by police urging residents to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grab your belongings and evacuate (INAUDIBLE) immediately.

LAVANDERA: We managed to find our way into Michael Scott's neighborhood in Ruidoso. Many of the homes were burned to the ground, but somehow Michael's home is still standing, a slice of good news surrounded by devastation and sadness.



LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Wolf, we were able to get a picture of Michael Scott's home to him this afternoon. He said he had tears of joy in seeing his home intact, but he and thousands of others are still not in the clear. If you look out in there in the distance, you can still see the massive fires that are still erupting out there. That is very close to those neighborhoods where Michael Scott and thousands of others live here in Ruidoso. So, all of that is still -- the firefighters are still fighting that. The good news, Wolf, is that rain is expected later today and tomorrow. That should help firefighters. Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope it does. Ed Lavendera in New Mexico for us, Ed, stay safe over there, thank you very much.

Coming up, an election stunner in Virginia, a key primary race still undecided, the latest on the future of a sitting Republican congressman who's drawn the ire of Donald Trump.



BLITZER: A tense primary election cliffhanger in Virginia tonight. It's a new test of Donald Trump's influence on Republican congressional races and a new gauge of his quest for political revenge.

Brian Todd is on the story for us. Brian, a key House Republican incumbent is in peril right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Republican Congressman Bob Good is now in a position to lose that race in Virginia. Given his politics, you'd think that Good would be a favorite of Donald Trump. But one move from the congressman changed that dynamic.


TODD (voice over): Republican Congressman Bob Good in a nail biter as he fights to retain his seat in Virginia's Fifth Congressional District. After Tuesday's primary night, Good trails his opponent by a razor thin margin and the race could be headed for a recount. Good normally checks all the boxes for being a far right MAGA Republican. He's an election denier, supports strict immigration measures, opposes all abortions, but he now could lose because of one move.

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): I just want to congratulate and thank Governor Ron DeSantis.

TODD: Good initially endorsed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the Republican presidential primary, drawing rage from the man who ended up dominating the race.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bob Good, who is actually bad for Virginia and who will stab you in the back, like he did me.

TODD: It didn't matter to former President Donald Trump that once DeSantis bowed out, Bob Good went back to endorsing Trump. Good even made a pilgrimage to Trump's hush money trial to curry favor.

GOOD: We are President Trump's boys. We have his back.

TODD: None of it mattered. The marker of betrayal had been laid down.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's safe to say that Donald Trump holds a grudge, and we've seen that if anyone, whether they're inside of his administration when he was president, or they're a Republican in Congress, that if they do anything that he considers disloyal, then he will go after them.

TODD: Trump endorsed Good's challenger for the nomination, Virginia State Senator John McGuire, a former Navy SEAL known for his expertise in commando tactics. But Good also drew the wrath of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by being one of eight House Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy from the speakership last fall.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And so because of that, Kevin McCarthy put some weight into this race as well behind Bob Good's challenger.

TODD: The Good-McGuire race isn't the only battle drawing attention to Virginia and the Trump dynamic in the state. Eugene Vindman, a whistleblower who served in Trump's White House and raised alarms about Trump's infamous 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that led to the then-president's first impeachment, will win his Democratic primary in Virginia, CNN projects. Both presidential candidates are focusing attention on the commonwealth, even though President Biden handily won Virginia in 2020. Biden held a fundraiser there last night that included Bill and Hillary Clinton, at which Biden implored attendees to support abortion rights. Trump recently campaigned in the state.

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Republicans really want to, really think that this is a state that is ripe, that if there is a wave or if there is a strong Republican birth in the 2024 election, that will include Virginia.


TODD (on camera): But Donald Trump's reach in this primary season seemingly extends everywhere. Brian Jack, a former aide to Trump in his campaign and his administration, and Wayne Johnson, a former Department of Education official in the Trump administration, have both nominations for U.S. House seats in the state of Georgia. Wolf?

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

I want to bring in our political experts right now, and, Van Jones, I'll start with you. Congressman Good is one of the most conservative members of Congress. What does it say to you that he's trailing right now by a little, but he's trailing in this primary contest?

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, it just shows that the Republican Party, certainly in the House, has just degenerated into personality over politics. This guy has terrible ideas already. Thank you. He's, he's against abortion for anybody. He wants people who've been raped by their uncles to have their babies. That should be terrible enough for the Republican Party. That's not terrible enough because he doesn't get along with Donald Trump.

The Republican Party in the House has degenerated, if a reality T.V. show, professional wrestling and a soap opera had a baby, it might look like the Republican caucus. It's all nonsense all the time. These are not serious candidates. And the problem that you have now is Donald Trump didn't get all the credit if Good loses. But don't forget Good is Good in name only. He's not a good politician. He's pissed off everybody in the party.

And so -- but here we go, everything is about Donald Trump. And no matter how terrible these ideas are, they're not terrible enough if you don't like Donald Trump or getting along with him every minute of every day.

BLITZER: Ana Navarro is with us as well. Ana, if Good loses this race, what message will it send to other Republicans?


ANA NAVARRO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, this is just the latest case. Trump has been sending this message over and over again for many years. And that's why people sometimes ask why don't these Congress people turn on him? Why don't they turn on him over January 6th? Why don't they get somebody else? And it's because Donald Trump knows how to exercise power. Donald Trump punishes people who are not 100 percent loyal to him. It is not about ideology. It is not about who will make the better general election candidate. It is not about keeping the majority. It is about loyalty to Donald Trump.

I have seen Donald Trump get involved in local races, in Miami-Dade, where I live, and it's all about rewarding loyalty and punishing those who haven't been, even in the case of this guy who tried to suck up to him a lot by showing up at the trial after initially endorsing Ron DeSantis, with whom Donald Trump has made up.

So, he seems to have forgiven Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis has agreed to do some fundraising for him. They've kind of met and had some coming to Jesus. But he won't forgive the other guy. He won't forgive Good.

BLITZER: Scott Jennings is with us as well. Scott, does this result, at least so far, show the power of Trump's endorsement, or could the small margin reveal some weakness?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think we already see the power of Trump here. This race wouldn't have been on the radar had it not been for Donald Trump. The only reason this challenge to Congressman Good was even viable was because of Donald Trump's intervention. So, the fact that this guy is in a tied race or slightly ahead and might win is 100 percent thanks to Trump. He's got a great resume and I'm sure he'll be a fine congressman, but make no mistake, it's about Trump.

But also there is one other issue in this race, which I think we don't talk about enough, and that is, yes, Bob Good is conservative, and, yes, he's been a part of the Freedom Caucus. But he has been one of the most divisive Republicans in the conference. It was made mention of but he did vote with every Democrat in the House to throw the Republican conference into chaos and the House into chaos when they got rid of Kevin McCarthy.

This made a lot of people mad. I don't think Trump liked it. Certainly McCarthy didn't like it. And he was one of the people that really said, I'm going to check my Republican card today and join with all the Democrats to do something that's completely counterproductive. That hurt him badly and put him on this path and probably deserves to lose over it.

BLITZER: Van, today, the Biden campaign released a blistering statement marking Juneteenth and attacking Trump. And it reads in part, let me quote from this Biden campaign statement, Donald Trump has spent his entire life denigrating black Americans. He spent his entire presidency harming black communities. And he spent his entire campaign this cycle engaged in empty racist gimmicks instead of meaningful outrage. Clearly, those are very, very strong words. What's your analysis?

JONES: Well, I think that Biden is -- I think he's speaking what he actually believes. I think there's a big chunk of Democratic Party that when they hear Donald Trump, they think racist, and Donald Trump, unfortunately, gives them a lot of reason to think that way, because he does say and do things that are racially offensive, and it's a part of his brand at this point. And so I think when you behave that way, the Democratic Party and Joe Biden are going to hold you to account for that.

I think Donald Trump is probably more a racial opportunist. I don't think he particularly likes or dislikes any group except for himself. But he opens the door and people are going to keep slamming his face in it as long as he conducts himself in that way.

BLITZER: Ana, why do you think Trump has seemingly been able to make at least some gains with minorities in some of these recent polls, especially with men?

NAVARRO: You know, I think there's something about Trump. I don't understand it, but there's something about Trump that appeals to some men. I think they see his -- the way that he talks as tough as somehow equating it to masculinity, but I can't agree more with Van regarding Trump's record.

And just a few days ago, he was in a church, a black church, supposedly, in Detroit, where there were actually very few black people in attendance from the photos and videos that were released. And he went in there and he pitted Latinos against blacks, told the supposed black people, the handful of black people that were there that the Latino immigrants coming in were coming in to take their jobs, which is a way of offending both communities because what he's referring to is low level jobs, is manual jobs. And there are black people who are surgeons and there are black people who are lawyers and there are black people who are on the Supreme Court and there are black -- and there are Latinos who are also highly trained professionals.

So, no, Donald Trump, not every black is low level and know that not every Latino immigrant is in a low level job.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks to all of you, thanks very much.

Up next, new tensions right now between the United States and Israel. [18:35:01]

A top U.S. official calling a recent statement by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quote, unproductive and completely untrue.


BLITZER: Biden administration officials are forcefully pushing back after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused the U.S. of withholding military assistance.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It's inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We generally do not know what he's talking about. We just don't.


BLITZER: Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee. She's joining us from the White House. What are you hearing over there, M.J.?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those comments that you just played from the Prime Minister accusing the U.S. of withholding weapons and ammunitions from Israel did not sit well with U.S. officials. One senior official telling me that they were perplexing and they were simply wrong.


And what we are learning is that U.S. officials actually privately conveyed that sentiment to the prime minister directly in a meeting yesterday. U.S. Envoy Amos Hochstein told the prime minister, according to a source, that those comments were unproductive and completely untrue. And we're also learning that the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, in that same meeting, basically walked the prime minister through the list of arms that the U.S. is delivering to Israel to make the point that he was wrong on this.

Now, there is an Israeli delegation that is currently in Washington for a series of meetings with U.S. officials, and we are learning that one meeting that was slated for tomorrow appears to have been postponed, but one official said that this was directly a result of what the video message that the prime minister put out, but other officials said that it was simply a scheduling issue. But either way, we are seeing those tensions between U.S. and Israeli officials continuing to mount as this war continues on, Wolf.

BLITZER: M.J. Lee reporting from the White House, thank you.

Coming up, CNN's debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is just about a week away. We'll discuss the stakes with someone who's been critical of Trump, but now supports his campaign, the New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu.



BLITZER: CNN's historic presidential debate is now just eight days away. The window for candidates to qualify for the debate closes just after midnight tonight. So far, only Biden and Trump have met the requirements.

Joining us now, the Republican governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, who has been critical of Trump but now supports his bid to win back the White House.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

Both candidates --


BLITZER: As you know, are sharpening their knives right now. Biden essentially calling Trump a racist earlier today. Trump repeatedly questioning Biden's mental fitness. Is this a preview of what we're likely to see at the debate?

SUNUNU: Unfortunately, yeah. I mean, I think a lot of us would like to see more substantive things talked about.

And don't get me wrong. I think Jake and Dana are going to do a phenomenal job. They are -- I mean this quite sincerely, they are two of the best debate moderators out there, but folks are going to be mostly tuning in to see how outland -- how outlandish Trump is, and how much energy Biden brings to the table.

I think Trump will keep it in check for the most part, I think Biden will bring some pretty good energy similar to what you saw in his State of the State speech, something like that. But -- so that's going to be the kind of the nuance, can Jake and Dana are really kind of pride to make their answers on some of these really serious issues a little more interesting, a little more substantive? And given that there's no audience, I think they're going to have a chance to do it.

So I think its going to be a great debate. I think everyone's going to be watching grabbed the popcorn, buckle in. It's going to be -- it's going to be -- a very highly anticipated, highly watched event to be sure.

BLITZER: Yeah. State of the Union Address, you meant.

CNN has learned that Trump has been huddling with it advisors on how to handle likely debate questions, including on the January 6 insurrection.

Governor, is that an admission that Trumps sees this potentially as a major vulnerability? SUNUNU: Well, I think it's always been a vulnerability of his and I would hope that his team would understand that. You know, the one thing I'll say about his campaign this time around, it's much more professionally run. It really is, than his pretty -- than '16 or 2020. So I'm not surprised to hear that they're kind of putting them through the paces, making sure that he has the right answers.

I imagine Biden team is doing the same thing on the substantive issues of how to explain the back-and-forth messaging on the border. How do you explain trying to tell people, inflation isn't -- is temporary and not a bad thing. You have the highest credit card debt ever.

So both sides are going to have to really bone up because this is where they have to just look at America and answer the question.

And, you know, it'll be interesting. I keep going back to the fact that there's no audience, right? I think the Biden team asked there for there to be no audience, but I actually think it helps Trump, believe it or not more than Biden.

You know, Trump tends to play into the audience, like if he gets a response from the audience, he gets a little more outlandish and a little more abrasive. So the fact that there's no audience I think helps keep Trump in check a little bit. But it also will help it not be as jarring and maybe confusing to Biden. and help him focus.

So either way, I think both teams are taking this very seriously. They're not just walking through it or anything like that. And I think at the end of the day, that's good for America, right? That makes for a more, hopefully a more substantive debate, and folks can actually use this to see where they want to go in November with their vote.

BLITZER: Yeah, let's hope it's substantive.

Potential Republican vice presidential candidate, North Dakota's Governor Doug Burgum said today, and I'm quoting him now, under Joe Biden we're living under a dictatorship, his word, a dictatorship.

Do you agree?

SUNUNU: No, no, no.

By the way, Governor Burgum is terrific. I'm a huge fan of his, a wonderful governor, would love to see him as vice president. But no, I wouldn't use the word dictatorship. I think there's obviously some hyperbole in there.

I think it's just really, really, really bad policy, really bad policy that ultimately the judge of that is, you know, where -- are we better off now than we were four years ago? Most people will tell you that they're not getting better off, mostly because of their financial situation. And the issue that I keep always going back to is all these different issues that people might have and we all have different priorities on those issues. Which ones are keeping Americans awake at night?

And that's -- that's the financial stuff. That's the credit card debt housing. How do we pay rent? How do we keep things going?

The fact that inflation isn't just 3-1/2 percent, that's just this year. That's on top of 25 percent compounded inflation over the last three or four years.

So these are the things that keep people awake and people vote on their anxieties. That's where America, that's where the Biden administration has a lot of trouble right now. So whether you want to call it a dictatorship or whatever, the end of the day people are going to vote on what's keeping them awake (ph), what their anxieties are, and the change that they want to see.


BLITZER: Governor Chris Sununu as usual, thank you very much for joining us.

And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Major League Baseball is honoring the late great Willie Mays with a moment of silence at every game across the country today. The sports icon and trailblazer died yesterday at age 93.

Joining us now on the phone, the veteran sportscaster and CNN contributor Bob Costas.

Bob, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, explain why Willie Mays was one of the all-time greats. And what will you remember most about him?

BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (via telephone): Well, he could do everything that a non-pitcher position player could possibly do on the field at the highest possible level.


And even though the statistics are staggering, they don't do him full justice because you had to see him play to appreciate his flare, his honest flare. He had style in everything he did. He was exciting to watch and the exuded his own joy.

And he made people either bigger fan tens, or if they weren't fans to begin with, he made them fans because his joy was infectious. And he even had that boyish quality about him, Wolf, into his 80s and 90s. There was a twinkle in his eye when he talked about baseball or any other subject that interested him. He was just an extremely appealing person and an extremely exciting player to watch.

BLITZER: When I was growing up in Buffalo, I loved watching him on television.

Let me read to you and our viewers, Bob, this wonderful anecdote involving you and Willie Mays. Let me read from this. We discovered this.

Willie Mays admitted to wearing ill-fitting caps to ensure that he would run out from under them as he dashed around the basis or chased along fly ball.

He told you in 2008 and I'm quoting him now, you have to entertain people. That's what I wanted to do all the time.

And as you and I well know, he certainly succeeded at that, didn't he?

COSTAS: Yeah. Yeah, that high pitched voice, and I can remember saying, you have to entertain the people.

And he also said once, it's a great quote from him. I can make a hard play look easy, but I can also make an easy play look hard, meaning that he would make a play that was fairly routine look more exciting and spectacular. He knew he'd catch the ball anyway, and he entertained the people by doing that.

BLITZER: He was so amazing, he was such a wonderful ballplayer on a great human being.

Bob Costas, thank you very, very much.

Right now, I want to get to a celebration of freedom. CNN is airing a very special program later tonight in honor of this Juneteenth holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is joining us right now. He's the host. He spoke with singer and activist John Legend about his work for civil rights and social justice.



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: John, you could sing, release music, and then go home --


BLACKWELL: -- and not do the work.

What compels you to engage and do the social justice work?

LEGEND: Well, part of it is I've always been inspired by the tradition of particularly Black artists over the years realizing that when we have this opportunity, when we have this platform, we want to use it to stand up for what's right, fight for justice, support activists and organizers who out there doing really important work to secure freedom for all citizens.

I come from a tradition of that I believe, when I think about my mentors and my heroes like Harry Belafonte and others. They invested in the civil rights movement. They spent their money, they spent their social capital, and they use their platform to try to make the world better.

And I always thought that was what an artist was supposed to do. So I feel like this is part of my calling as an artist.


BLITZER: Victor, tonight's Juneteenth special is a celebration of freedom and legacy, but John Legend and your other guests say there's still much more work to do, right?

BLACKWELL: And John legend acknowledges that the work will never be finished, but there is some effort that can be made to reduce the disparities. His work focuses on ending mass incarceration and reducing recidivism.

I spoke with Smokey Robinson as well, who's now been touring since he was a teenager. He's now at 84-years-old. He talks about making sure that people go out to vote. That is what he's focused on.

Patti LaBelle, also, who performs -- they all perform, but in her interview, she talks about making sure that the younger performers, the women in this industry, have leg up, have the support they need. She also does a lot of work around the LGBTQ community and fighting HIV/AIDS.

So they all are both pairing their fantastic performances with these stimulating conversations coming up tonight.

BLITZER: And the program tonight dives into the legacy of these artists and others who are creating amazing things in America, today's America. Why is it so important they mark this holiday by speaking out?

BLACKWELL: You know, it's a really a through line through all of these conversations is that this is a holiday for all Americans, that this is a holiday that is not just for Black Americans, but for everyone to celebrate freedom. Opal Lee, who is the grandmother of Juneteenth, to walk to make it a national holiday, says that July 4th celebrates the freeing of the land, Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of the people, and that this is a time to speak out, a season to speak out to further the efforts of freedom for people across the country.

BLITZER: Victor Blackwell, thanks so much for doing this.

And to our viewers, be sure to join Victor later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, for the CNN special event, "Juneteenth: Celebrating Freedom and Legacy".

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.