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Judge Weighing Trump Bid to Invalidate Special Counsel; Inside the Shadow Campaigns Influencing Trump's V.P. Search; FAA Investigating Southwest Flight That Flew Only 525 Feet Above Ground, Triggering Altitude Warning. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 21, 2024 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the judge in the Trump classified documents case is weighing the former president's bid to effectively get rid of the special counsel who's prosecuting him following a day-long hearing today and a lot of questions.

Also tonight, we'll take you inside the shadow campaigns that are influencing Donald Trump's vice presidential search. Who has Trump's ear as the hunt for a running mate intensifies?

And a judge in New Mexico is weighing whether to throw out the criminal case involving the actor, Alec Baldwin. We'll bring you the latest developments on the hearing underway right now.

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

This hour, a lot of questions about when and how Judge Aileen Cannon will rule after a day-long hearing on one of the many attempts by Donald Trump to delay his trial in the classified documents case in Florida.

Let's go right to CNN Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez.

He's covering the hearing for us in Fort Pierce, Florida, just north of Palm Beach.

Evan, you were inside the court today. How did Judge Cannon handle today's important hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a very unusual hearing in the first place, and Judge Cannon had some very sharp questions for the government, for the prosecution. She questioned the prosecutors about what specific actions the attorney general, Merrick Garland, oversaw, actions that were taken by Jack Smith, the special counsel. She wanted to know, for instance, whether the attorney general specifically and personally approved the indictment, this indictment against Donald Trump and a couple of other people who worked for him here in Fort Pierce.

And she also questioned Trump's attorneys when Trump's attorneys Emil Bovee said that he believed that Jack Smith was essentially a shadow government. The argument that they were making here today, Wolf, was that Jack Smith was illegally appointed by the attorney general because he came from outside the government. He's not someone who has been approved by the Senate. This is a long shot request, but it is one that the judge, for some reason, decided needed to be heard, needed to have an entire hearing, and she also allowed outside parties, groups that had nothing to do with this case, to actually spend a couple of hours making arguments before her today. She did not rule from the bench, as she tends to not do, but it is clear, Wolf, that she is entertaining pretty much every argument that Donald Trump and his attorneys have to make.

BLITZER: And I take it that Judge Cannon will hold more hearings next week? Is that right, Evan?

PEREZ: That's right. Well, this is the first of three hearings that she has scheduled. On Monday, we're going to be in court where the Trump attorneys and the special counsel are going to square off over the issue of a gag order. Now, the special counsel is asking for the court to issue a gag order on the former president, because of some of the incendiary remarks he has made accusations, he has made, the government says that he's putting FBI agents at risk. This is all over the search of Mar-a-Lago back in 2022.

She's also going to have a hearing on Tuesday where Trump attorneys are trying to get some of the evidence that was seized in that search at Mar-a-Lago, have that tossed aside as part of their efforts again to try to delay this case or to try to make sure that it never goes to trial at all, Wolf. All of this, of course, these delays that we're getting as a result of the judge entertaining pretty much every one of these, is what's eating away at this calendar. It makes it very, very unlikely that we're going to get a trial anytime soon, but certainly not before November.

BLITZER: Evan Perez in Fort Pierce, Florida, reporting on all of this, thank you. Our legal and political experts are here to break all of this down for us right now. Norm Eisen, let me start with you. But, first, I want to inform our viewers, you're on the board of a non- profit that actually filed a brief. You didn't sign it or contribute to it, but you know a lot about it. It's specifically involving Trump's defense team arguing that Jack Smith should no longer be the special counsel.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, these arguments to knock out special counsels have been tried in court after court before both Democratic-appointed judges and Republican-appointed judges. They have uniformly failed. And I think despite Judge Cannon's skeptical questioning of both sides, what we know from the hearing is there is no legal basis to challenge the appointment of Special Counsel Jack Smith here. There's no constitutional infirmity, no regulatory infirmity. This is an example of Judge Cannon's typical overcaution when she confronts these issues. She should not have wasted a day on it.

BLITZER: Let me get Alyse Adamson into this conversation. Alyse, you're a former federal prosecutor. You understand what's going on a lot better than those of us who didn't go to law school do. Judge Cannon didn't issue a ruling today. How likely is this challenge to succeed?

ALYSE ADAMSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I agree with Norm. I think it's highly unlikely for it to succeed, at least we all hope it is, because as Norm also indicated, this is kind of well-settled. There is precedent and these arguments have been made before other judges in the D.C. Circuit, for instance, more recently with the appointment of Bob Mueller, and they have been rejected.

I think Judge Cannon was being very cautious. She allowed the defense to make a record. I think that's also why she oddly allowed these friends of the court to make oral arguments, which I have to say was an extraordinary step. I have never seen it in my years of practice. And so I think she's going to take all of that back, issue her really ruling shortly.


And, again, we don't know what she's going to do, but I think it's unlikely that she would move to remove Jack Smith.

BLITZER: We'll find out fairly soon, I suspect.

Phil Mattingly, critics of Judge Cannon, as you well know, have noted repeatedly that other judges have previously rejected these sorts of arguments about removing special counsels. That's the history, right?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: That's history. And it's not just critics. I think you just need to look at the history and you can objectively say that whether it was in the Hunter Biden special counsel case and Robert Mueller, as you were just citing back to Nixon cases back in the mid-70s, that this is pretty settled at this point, or at least the precedent is pretty set.

I think the one thing I would dispute to some degree is that, yes, they might not win this particular motion, but they're winning if you're Trump's lawyers right now because you're drawing it out. And based on what Aileen Cannon has done, Norm made the point, overcautious, methodical at some level, having hearings on everything, even if it diverges from how the court usually operates down there, it just gives the Trump team what they want, which is you continue to push it further down the calendar. Evan said it eats up the calendar. There's no way it happens before November. That's the goal, and in that sense, they're winning in some level.

BLITZER: Important point. You know, Paula Reid, you're watching all of this very closely, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. We're all awaiting this ruling from the Supreme Court on whether Trump should have immunity from any criminal prosecution. The earliest we can now get a decision from the nine justices is what, next Wednesday?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's what we expect, and this relates to the other Jack Smith case against the former president related to election subversion and January 6th. And this case has enormous implications, not just for the former president but for future presidents as well. This is one of the biggest questions on presidential power that the Supreme Court has contemplated in recent years.

And in the lower courts, this idea for the former president has some sort of immunity or broad immunity has been completely rejected. But what was interesting is even those sources in Trump world didn't expect that this would be accepted by the high court, during oral arguments, the justices seemed open to at least recognizing even some limited immunity for presidents, which would mean this whole case goes back down to the lower courts.

And a lot of folks have been asking, well, why is it taking them so long? They've been in no hurry to move on this. Jack Smith asked them to decide this question back in December. Instead, they waited for it to go through the appellate process, arrive at them. And now we're in the last week. What we expect will maybe be the last week, and we're still waiting on this decision. So, they're helping in that Trump strategy to delay.

BLITZER: It's taking a long time, but it's a very significant decision that we're all waiting for. What do you think, Alyse? What's the most likely outcome?

ADAMSON: Yes, I think after listening to the oral argument, the most likely outcome is this goes going back to the district court for some factual findings. I think the court is most likely going to require the judge to decide what was official acts and what were unofficial acts. It seemed like that's where they were heading.

Again, we don't know. We're going to have to wait until we see. But no matter what, I think the important point is that, just like the classified documents case, it is going to kick this even farther down the road. And I don't see that case going to trial before the election in November. So, again, to that point, if the strategy was to delay, they have succeeded.

BLITZER: How do you see it, Norm?

EISEN: Of course, Alyse is right. It's going to be tough if there's a test to get that trial. But what you might get is a mini trial, because if there's a test for Judge Chutkan in D.C., she's got to apply the evidence to the law. And that means she needs to take witnesses. We saw this in the removal of the Georgia 2020 election interference case. There were hearings, Mark Meadows, Jeffrey Clark, a mini trial, does Donald Trump have this immunity or not? So, that could have an impact, not the same as a trial, but we could have that same attention where the courts have been so important in this 2024 political season.

BLITZER: Let me bring Phil into this conversation. Phil, as you know, a clerk to former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, I'm talking about Leah Littman, writes this in a new op-ed, and let me put it up on the screen and read it. The reasons to think something is rotten at the court are impossible to ignore. This court has lost the benefit of the doubt for myriad reasons, including its willingness to act quickly in cases that benefit Republican interests, end quote. How is this delay likely to impact the court? How is that likely to impact the respect of the court in all of that?

MATTINGLY: You know, I think the court has very much, particularly in the wake of the Dobbs decision that struck down Roe vs. Wade, tracked with where the entire country has seen its politics over the course of the last several years, where it is now a very split issue. Its popularity level has been kind of hovering around 40, 35 at its lowest point. It doesn't seem like it's going up any time soon. People on partisan basis have very clear views.

The opinion piece that you're citing there is both comprehensive and it's compelling in the sense that it pulls together a lot of examples that she says proves her case.


I have no reporting on how the court is deciding the timing of this specific case. What I do know, though, is particularly heading into the November election, what this demonstrates more than anything else is a 6-3 conservative majority has actual repercussions. They have moved the court in a very clear ideological direction on some of the most critical and I think divisive issues inside the country. That's the way it works on some level. And I understand why people might not like it or be viscerally opposed to it, but they are Senate confirmed judges.

And if you're the Biden campaign, I think you're looking at this and you're looking at the age of the current court, and you're making this a central issue, like Donald Trump very effectively did in 2016.

BLITZER: It's interesting, there's another key ruling we're all waiting for, as you know this, Paula on involving the January 6th defendants. It could also impact the criminal case potentially against Donald Trump involving January 6th. What are the stakes in this specific case?

REID: So, this is one of the other big outstanding cases before the high court, and here is a question of when you can charge someone with obstruction. Does it apply to the insurrection, what we saw on January 6th, or is obstruction of an official proceeding, is that limited mostly to investigations?

Now, here you are focused on a defendant who was charged with seven different counts. One of them is obstruction. Depending on how this case goes, this could potentially impact the case against the former president. When you talk to his lawyers, they refer to this case and the immunity case as, quote, our cases. But to Phil's point, I think while these cases all potentially have an impact on the former president, when it comes to the election, the outstanding abortion case out of Idaho, depending on what the justices do there, that decision could have the biggest impact on the election in terms of galvanizing voters.

BLITZER: We'll be watching all of these decisions, and they'll be coming in the next two weeks or so, we suspect. Although they could delay it, we'll see what happens. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Just coming in from Las Vegas, a judge dismissing charges against six Republicans accused in a sweeping fake elector scheme.

Plus, one of Donald Trump's closest advisers filing an emergency appeal in a last-minute bid to stay out of prison.

Stay with us, you're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: In Nevada tonight, a judge just dismissed a criminal indictment against six Republicans accused of signing certificates that falsely declared Donald Trump the winner of the state's 2020 presidential election.

Sara Murray is joining us right now. She's got more on the so-called fake electors case. What does this mean, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This is a judge, again, in Nevada who dismissed the charges against half a dozen pro- Trump fake electors in Nevada. And the reason the judge made this decision was she essentially said that this case was brought in the wrong jurisdiction. It shouldn't have been brought to her in Clark County near Las Vegas. It should have been charged in Northern Nevada.

Now, the Nevada attorney general, Aaron Ford, said after this decision, he told the Associated Press, other reporters who attended this hearing, that he would go straight to the Supreme Court. He said the judge got it wrong and will be appealing immediately.

But defense attorneys in this case feel like this could effectively be the end of the case. They believe that there is a statute of limitations at play here that's going to prevent the government from being able to continue to fight this battle, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you're also tracking Steve Bannon's attempt, Sara, to delay prison time. What can you tell us about that?

MURRAY: That's right, Wolf. It's something of a long shot, but Steve Bannon went to the Supreme Court today asking them to press pause on his prison sentence, the one that's set to begin on July 1st. It comes after an appeals court said late yesterday evening that they were not going to pause this prison sentence. Again, this has been a long time coming.

It was two years ago that Steve Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to provide documents or testimony to the House Committee investigating January 6th. He was sentenced to four months behind bars, but that was put on hold while he tried to appeal his conviction, something that he's so far been unsuccessful in. So, this is sort of his last ditch attempt to try to stay free and continue these appeals. Now, Bannon's rhetoric has gotten even more pitched in the run-up to this potential prison sentence. He's vowed that if Donald Trump wins another term, they are going to go after the Department of Justice. Take a listen to a little bit of what he's been saying on his podcast.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: We are going to purge DOJ. We're going to take apart the FBI. The FBI, the American Gestapo, that building on Pennsylvania Avenue, we don't need $40 million for a new headquarters. You're not going to need a headquarters. There's not going to be any FBI.


MURRAY: And, Wolf, it probably won't surprise you to know that Bannon and his team believe the Department of Justice wants him behind bars now because they don't want him speaking to his viewers in the run-up to the presidential election. Bannon's attorney even put in court filings that millions look to him for guidance ahead of November.

BLITZER: He calls the FBI the American Gestapo, horrible. All right, Sara Murray, thank you very, very much.

And this just in to CNN, multiple people have been shot at an Arkansas grocery store. CNN's Isabel Rosales has more on this latest terrible shooting. What's the latest, Isabel?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a heartbreaking moment for the city of Fordyce, Arkansas, forced to deal with a mass shooting at their local grocery store. We do have new information from the director of the Arkansas State Police, Mike Hagar, on the number of people hurt. killed and the conditions of those people as well. In total, 14 people were shot. This includes civilians, police officers and the shooter. Of those 14, 11 people were civilians. Three of them were killed. That is an update from just hours ago when we had heard of two.

We also know that the injuries of the survivors, they range from non- life threatening to, quote, extremely critical. Mike Hagar also telling us that two law enforcement officers were hurt, shot in this exchange of gunfire with non-life threatening injuries.


And the shooter, just one, a lone shooter shot by law enforcement with non-life threatening injuries and taken into custody.

There was a witness outside of this grocery store just trying to get gas who got video. He heard popping that he thought was fireworks. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are live here at Mad Butcher in Fordyce and there is a shooting going on. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROSALES: Yes, scary situation for sure. And once he saw people, David Rodriguez, the witness, saw people running and heard the sirens and the ambulances, he quickly realized that that popping, Wolf, was no fireworks. Instead that came from a gun.

BLITZER: Isabel Rosales, thank you very much for that update.

Coming up, new CNN reporting on the race to be Donald Trump's vice presidential running, including who's advising the former president on this decision.

Plus, new video showing a very dangerous moment for another Southwest Airlines flight, a live report on what happened that prompted the control tower to ask the pilots if everything was okay.



BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting new behind the scenes information about Donald Trump's search for a vice presidential running mate, this as Trump and President Biden are both gearing up for their historic debate showdown on CNN just six days from now.

M.J. Lee is standing by for us over at the White House, but, first, let's go to CNN's Kayla Tausche. Kayla, what are you learning, first of all, about who the people around Trump are pushing him to pick?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, because Donald Trump has set up this reality-style competition for his vice presidential pick, Wolf, we're learning that there is a very aggressive lobbying campaign that's taking place behind the scenes. And in some cases, it's spurred by Trump himself. I'm told that at a dinner that he held with top Wall Street financiers on the night of his criminal conviction, that he went around the room and asked each of the roughly two dozen attendees who they would pick for vice president and why.

I'm told that there was some support for Doug Burgum, the former North Dakota governor. There was some support for Senator Tim Scott. There was some support for Senator J.D. Vance. There was even one attendee, I'm told, who vouched for one-time Trump cabinet official and his most recent GOP primary challenger, Nikki Haley, to which Trump was just silent and scowled.

But Senator Marco Rubio, I'm told was the informal winner of this straw poll. He received the most votes from the attendees at this donor dinner, and they cited one reason in particular. They believed that were something to happen to President Donald Trump who is 78 years old, that the 53-year-old Rubio, a seasoned politician and candidate himself with a strong Latino background who could help them in some states like Nevada, that he would easily be able to step into that job. So, it's clear that Rubio is one of the favorites of the donor class, but it's not clear that that is going to be Trump's pick because influential right wing voices in the Republican Party have been urging him to pick Senator J.D. Vance. Among those individuals, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and his own son, Donald Trump Jr. And then there is the Murdoch empire, which has been lobbying behind the scenes for Doug Burgum, touting his business bona fides.

But as for who Trump will pick, it usually depends on who has spoken with Trump most recently, and that's why everyone is jockeying to be in that position, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens. Kayla, let's stand by. I want to bring in CNN's M.J. Lee. She's over at the White House for us. M.J., how much time is President Biden right now devoting to preparing for this upcoming CNN debate?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we really don't expect to see President Biden in public much, if at all, the next couple of days, as he's going to be hunkered down at Camp David with a small group of advisers to really do intensive debate preparations. The team is expected to go through really anything and everything that could come up on that debate stage, a wide range of policy issues, but also the full range of potential insults and attacks that could come their way from Donald Trump, including insults that are directed at members of the Biden family.

And then, of course, as we get closer to Thursday night, we expect the Biden team will do full run throughs of the debate. And just to give you a sense of what those mock debates might look like at Camp David, Bob Bauer, who is the president's personal attorney, who is expected to once again play the role of Donald Trump at these mock debates, he said on CNN earlier today that the person who is playing Trump really needs to recreate the experience of what it is like to go up against Donald Trump, but at the same time, avoid being too fully theatrical, that that could actually end up being distracting.

Now, all of this, of course, Wolf, sort of boils down to one overarching goal for the Biden team, and that is to make the case to the audience that is tuning in, you have two choices come November. It is me and it is Donald Trump, and I am the better alternative. And this was Vice President Kamala Harris earlier today talking about what she said was a binary choice. Take a listen.


KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Joe Biden and this debate will make clear the contrast. You know, of the many issues in our country and our world that are complex and nuanced, November of 2024 is binary. And when you look at the difference, I would ask people to really imagine what the world will be like on January 20th, 2025.


[18:30:03] LEE: And, Wolf, we of course expect that the Biden team will have fully studied Donald Trump's recent public comments, as well as going back to watch the tapes from the 2020 debate. But the one thing that the Biden team can't know for sure is how disciplined Donald Trump will try to be at next week's debate. Wolf?

BLITZER: M.J. Lee and Kayla Tausche, to both of you, thank you very, very much.

We're joined now by CNN Senior Political Commentators Van Jones and Ana Navarro. Anna, we've seen Nikki Haley, as you know, draw significant support in various GOP primaries, even after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. Do you think any of these names will actually help Trump unite Republicans?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think Marco Rubio would actually help him with some of the establishment Republicans, some of the Republicans who are very nervous about Trump. I just don't think there's any way in hell that Donald Trump is ever going to forgive Nikki Haley.

It looks like he's forgiven J.D. Vance. It looks like he's forgiven Marco Rubio. Both of him attacked him viciously in 2016. But Nikki Haley, I think, he puts in a different category because she bit the hand that fed her, right? Her foreign policies bona fides come from being his U.N. ambassador. He put her in his administration and she turned on him. I don't think that is ever going to be forgiven by Donald Trump. If it does, it's going to take years not months.

So, you know, I think Marco Rubio is a very inspirational speaker, has a great back story. I almost have a hard time thinking that Donald Trump would put him on because I think he's a better speaker and a better candidate than Trump himself.

BLITZER: Interesting, Van Jones, I'm anxious to get your thoughts. What do you make of the fact that almost all of these Trump potential vice presidential finalists have previously been very, very critical of Trump?

VAN JONES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, pretty much every human being on earth has been critical of Trump because Trump does stuff that demands criticism. He gets indicted, he gets impeached, he insults people, he's awful. If you had a child like that, you would, you know, be very, very concerned. You certainly wouldn't hire someone like that. So, there is a very few people whose last name are not Trump that have not criticized him, so he's got to swim in those waters.

That said, the last time he had to pick somebody, he was trying to consolidate the party. He had problems. He had to figure out, how can I get the evangelicals on my side? How can I get the business community to go with me? And so he was forced to make a pick with Pence. Right now, he has no problems with this party. He can do whatever he wants to. He acts completely in ways that are unacceptable, and they all want to vote for him anyway. So, that's why he gets a chance to play this little game and do this reality show competition. And at some point he'll just literally throw a dart because there's not one part of this party, not the evangelicals, not the business community, not the grassroots that's willing to stand up to this guy and say, you are not behaving in an acceptable way for an American leader. They will all bow down.

So, now, you know, it could be Rubio, it could be Tim Scott, it can literally be Kermit the Frog. They are still going to vote for him the same numbers and he knows it.

BLITZER: I don't think it's Kermit the Frog, but Ana, go ahead.

NAVARRO: I don't agree with Van on that because I think there's -- certainly, he doesn't need help with the base. In 2016, he needed help with the base. He needed help with the evangelicals, particularly after the Access Hollywood tapes. Right now, you know, we all know this race is going to come down to six or seven states, and hundreds of thousands, if not less, voters. And he does have a problem with a certain wing of the Republican Party who don't like him because they actually are still law and order and who have issues with his foreign policy.

There are people on that list, including Nikki Haley, including Marco Rubio, who would calm the nerves of some of these Republicans and right-leaning independents who are not at all comfortable with Trump.

BLITZER: As you know, Van, Trump is now calling Biden, and I'm quoting him now, a worthy debater. Now, that's in a new interview, and that's a big departure from his previous questioning of Biden's mental fitness. What does that reveal to you?

JONES: That reveals that he realizes he's made a mistake of lowering the expectations to the point that as long as Joe Biden can fog the mirror, he's going to win this debate. Because Donald Trump has spent the whole time telling everybody this guy is basically a walking corpse, and so he's now trying to backpedal. And then he's going to spend the next six days, you know, praising the guy and pretending like, you know, he's Socrates or something, but it's too late. The cake is baked. He said that, that Biden can't do it. He said that Sleepy Joe Biden, all sort of stuff.


And Biden is going to go in there and give a disciplined, strong performance.

And, by the way, if you can stand up, and anybody who has been in the room with this guy, if you can stand up to Donald Trump, who is a runaway freight train and a grizzly bear at the same time and hold your own for an hour and a half, you are fit to be president.

So, you can't change it now. You said this guy is a complete loser. You can't do anything. He's going to stand up to Donald Trump for an hour and a half and he can't -- now he wants to move -- it's too late. He's already made his bid, he's got to lie in it. BLITZER: All right, Van Jones, Ana Navarro, to both of you, thank you very much.

Just ahead, major rulings just coming in from the involuntary manslaughter case against Alec Baldwin, where the judge decided whether to dismiss charges against the actor.


BLITZER: This is CNN. All right, this just in to CNN, new U.S. confirmation that Americans have died during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as temperatures there soar well above 100 degrees.


CNN's Alex Marquardt is joining us here in The Situation Room. He's got details. What are you learning, Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've just heard from the State Department that among the hundreds of deaths that have been confirmed so far, and it may be more than that, that there are multiple U.S. citizens. That's according to the U.S. State Department. They offer their condolences, but they're not saying anything more due to sensitivities and privacy surrounding those deaths. But multiple Americans have been killed. It has been an extraordinarily hot year for the Hajj when Muslims from all around the world make their way to Mecca, the holiest site in all of Islam.

Temperatures peaked earlier 125 degrees on Monday, that's 51.8 degrees Celsius, the hottest day in Mecca's history. So far, the death toll is right around 500 people, and we have seen scenes, disturbing scenes. I have to warn our viewers of video coming in from Mecca with some of those who died on the side of the road.

Pilgrims who go to Mecca walk around the city. They spend days there. Many of them are sleeping in tents at night. And you can see there some of the casualties from this heat. The estimated death toll right now is around 500 people from all around the world, but it could double that. There are countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that have not yet reported their death tolls.

BLITZER: Yes, our deepest condolences to the families. Thank you very much, Alex Marquardt, with that update.

We're also following a hearing in New Mexico on the criminal case against the actor and producer, Alec Baldwin, stemming from the fatal shooting on the set of the film, Rust, back in 2021.

We're joined now by our CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell and our CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson.

Josh, first to you. There's been a lot of action in court today just ahead of Baldwin's criminal trial. Update our viewers.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and that hearing still underway right now. We're waiting to see whether this judge in New Mexico will side with Baldwin's team and dismiss the indictment against him. What the Baldwin team has alleged is that while the gun was being tested by the FBI, this was the gun that Alec Baldwin was holding back in 2021 when it went off, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Baldwin claimed that the FBI testing destroyed that gun, which means that they're not able to recreate whatever that testing was. Of course, the gun itself, a key piece of evidence because the FBI determined it could not have gone off unless someone actually pulled the trigger.

Now, there was a separate motion to dismiss that the judge said, no, we're not going to do that. But we're waiting on this one motion here, which could come at any moment. And then, separately, the armorer on the the set of the movie, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the person responsible for firearm safety, she was previously convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the judge ruling today that they will not grant her what's called use immunity. She could still be called to testify in Baldwin's trial, but she can't be asked any questions that might incriminate her. So, a busy development in court today.

BLITZER: And, Josh, this week the prosecution filed a motion calling Alec Baldwin reckless. What does that reveal about their strategy?

CAMPBELL: Yes, this is interesting. You know, the more we're learning from this critical new filing from prosecutors is that they're not just focusing on the moment that the gun went off, but they're looking in the days and weeks before that. And what they claim is that Actor Alec Baldwin had been engaged in a pattern of unsafe practices. They claim that based on a review of video evidence that they obtained on the set of the movie, that Baldwin was using the gun as a pointer, that he was engaged in what they referred to as horseplay at one point while setting up for a scene, allegedly fired a blank round at a crew member. Of course, Alec Baldwin has denied all of all of that, saying there weren't unsafe practices. He's pleaded not guilty.

But all that tracks with what the initial prosecutor in the case told me early on whenever the charges were first brought. Take a listen here to the D.A. at the time describing this culture of unsafe practices they found on the set.


CAMPBELL: Is Baldwin being charged as an actor who was holding the gun or as a producer on the set who was negligent about the safety standards? Can you help describe that?

MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He's being charged as both. He was the actor that pulled the trigger, so certainly he's charged as an actor, but also as a producer, he also had a duty to make sure that the set was safe.


CAMPBELL: So their key strategy, Wolf, will appear to look at the totality of the circumstances over the period of several days. Of course, we'll wait to see what happens when the trial begins next month, but, again, right now, waiting for ruling on whether to dismiss the case that could come at any moment, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Joey, you're our legal analyst. Give us your analysis. What does this mean just ahead of Baldwin's trial?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, Wolf, what they're really doing, they being the defense team, is attacking whether or not the case should go to trial for the following reason. Remember, this is not a murder case. A murder case, you're premeditated, you're showing intent, you're showing purpose, you're showing it was your goal, it was your objective to produce a death.


That's not here. What the issues here are dealing with recklessness, that means your conduct, you consciously disregard the risk that if you engage in unsafe behavior, something bad will happen. It did you saw there in Josh's piece in his interview where he's asking, right, Josh, you just ask the question as to how is he being charged?

I think from an actor's perspective, it's much more sympathetic. Why? Because you're an actor and you have a right to reasonably rely upon your teammates, other people that the gun is a cold gun. It's safe, it's not going to go off.

I think as larger issue to Josh's point and questions of the district attorney is, are you being charged also as a producer? There, what is your duty to ensure that the entirety of the set is safe, that the systems in place with regard to guns and their use or dummy gun should indeed be dummy guns? And so, to the extent that the prosecutor is going after him in these dual ways, it presents exposure for him.

Last point, what the teams arguing, the defense team said, hey, if it's a dummy gun, it's a cold gun. How could you consciously disregard the risk that it's going to result in death? You don't think it's real.

The judge has to grapple with that issue, and I think the judge is saying that that's a jury question, meaning a jury is there to determine facts? Let's let a jury determine the safety of the set and the propriety of your use of that weapon. They'll decide. I'm not going to.

BLITZER: Joey Jackson and Josh Campbell, to both of you, thank you very much.

Now, to a new scare, the skies, just what we don't need, another major scare. A Southwest flight under investigation for flying dangerously low over an Oklahoma town.

Our aviation correspondent Pete Muntean is joining us with details, how serious, Pete, is this latest aviation incident?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, air traffic controllers really saved the day here, even still very alarming, especially since this is the second incident in as many months involving a Southwest flight getting too low. This case happened just after midnight on Wednesday morning, and this

is the doorbell video into CNN. It shows Southwest Flight 4069 on approach to land at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. About nine miles away from the airport, in the town of Yukon, Oklahoma, the plane was lined up to land on the runway that point southeast and the data from Flight Radar 24, says the flight got down to 525 feet above ground level.

Let's put it in context. It's about 1-1/2 football fields, only four lengths of the 737 itself or the height of the Washington monument, half the height of the Empire State Building.

The point is very low for that distance from the airport. The FAA says a minimum safe altitude warning or MSAW alert sounded at the control tower, prompting the air traffic controller to issue Southwest 4069 low altitude alert.

Listen here.


CONTROLLER: Southwest 4069, low altitude alert. You good out there?


MUNTEAN: And the pilots climb back up and maneuvered for a safe landing. Nobody was hurt at this. The FAA says it is investigating and Southwest is doing its own internal investigation.

Here is what the airline says in a statement: Southwest is following its robust safety management system, is in contact with the FAA to understand any irregularities with the aircraft's approach to the airport. Nothing is more important to southwest than the safety of our customers and employees.

The question here is how this could happen. Did the pilots improperly configured their instruments like in the crash of a Korean Air flight in Guam in 1997 or were they simply fatigue after a really long day?

Remember, this flight was coming in after midnight and pilots I talked to you say they'd been worked especially hard lately, big questions here for investigators.

The good news is the layer because of safety work that low altitude alerting system and use by air traffic control stop the accident chain that was headed toward disaster -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, thank God for that.

Pete Muntean, thank you very much.

Coming up, a live report on a truly shocking story from Paris, where at least two young boys are now in custody after a brutal antisemitic attack on a 12-year-old little Jewish girl.


BLITZER: Protests and anger in France tonight as the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl is putting a spotlight on the rise of antisemitic violence in France.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in Paris with details.


MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an alleged gang-rape that has sent shockwaves through France. That over 12-year-old Jewish girl who is heading home in a Paris suburb on Saturday afternoon when three boys, all 12 and 13 years old, approached her and forced her into this abandoned building according to CNN affiliate BFMTV, citing police sources.

As two of the three boys allegedly raped her, antisemitic insults were also allegedly used, including calling her a, quote, dirty Jew. Two of the boys have been taken to custody, according to the local prosecutor.

It comes at a critical time in France with an election call to test the rise of the right but that has put the future of the government itself on the line, an attack that has sparked intense political debate on antisemitism, further heightened by Israel's war in Gaza.

President Emmanuel Macron has condemned a scourge of antisemitism that he says is festering in French schools. According to France's interior ministry, antisemitic incidents in France rose 284 percent from 2022 to 2023.

But this attack has brought demonstrators to Paris's city hall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As is often the case, antisemitism is a barometer of a country's democratic health. And right now, it says something about French society.

BELL: More protests are planned this weekend as antisemitism now takes center stage as a political issue just days before the country heads to the polls.


BLITZER: Melissa Bell is joining us now live from Paris.


Melissa, what more can you tell us about how this horrific incident is influencing a very unstable moment right now in French politics?

BELL: That's right. We're in the middle of these parliamentary elections. The elections just a few days away, Wolf, and it is a particularly bitterly divided French society that there is. All the political leaders of the main parties have come out to condemn this attack. But bear in mind that this is an election very much dominated by the extremes. On the far right, the National Rally, a party that was founded after all by a Holocaust denier, even though it has sought to put distance between itself and that, and on the far left by one leader who described antisemitism is simply residual, drawing, an outcry then. This politically charged atmosphere, of course, is also putting this central stage again in a country that was already having a conversation about antisemitism, Wolf.

BLITZER: Melissa Bell in Paris for us, thank you very much.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: And I want to say thanks and goodbye to my good friend and colleague, our longtime CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist. Today is his last day at CNN. He's moving on to become the new CEO of C-Span here in Washington. It will be the exciting new adventure for him. But all of us at CNN will miss him big time especially me.

He was the first executive producer of THE SITUATION ROOM and we have travelled extensively together, covering news around the world. Sam is truly a world calls journalist. Good luck, Sam. We only wish you the very, very best.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.