Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Biden And Trump Prepare To Face-Off In 2024; Judge Cannon Skeptical Of Gag Order; Netanyahu Committed To Ceasefire Deal With Hamas; Conflict Intensifies Between Israel And Hezbollah; Hunter Biden Request New Gun Trial, Cites Supposed Procedural Hiccup; Supreme Court To Decide Whether States Can Restrict Gender-Affirming Care For Minors. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 24, 2024 - 17:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST: The Dali is now in Norfolk, Virginia for repairs. This after eight of the 21 crew workers are now back home after a laundry list of issues kept them stuck on the boat for months.

And we are just three days away until the biggest event yet of the 2024 race, the first general election presidential debate right here on CNN. Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, they moderate. Watch it live Thursday at 9:00 p.m. astern here on CNN and streaming on Max. The news continues on CNN, Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening how, how President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are trying to get inside each other's heads with just three days to go before they face off in their high stakes debate right here on CNN.

Also this hour, the judge in the Trump classified documents case is deciding whether to impose a gag order on the former president. We're breaking down the signals she seems to be sending about her eventual ruling.

Plus, the United States Supreme Court just added two more days to its calendar to release blockbuster opinions. How soon could the high court's decision on Trump's immunity claim be revealed?

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

Right now, the president of the United States and his predecessor are a little over 72 hours away from making history on the debate stage in Atlanta. We're getting new information about the candidate's strategies just ahead of the extraordinary Biden-Trump face-off right here on CNN.

CNN's Kayla Tausche is standing by over at the White House. But first, let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes. She's in Florida near Mar-a-Lago covering the Trump campaign. Kristen, how is Trump managing expectations right now?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you listen to any of the people around Donald Trump, Wolf, they are really lowering the expectation for former President Trump. They have started saying that Biden is a formidable opponent. We heard Doug Burgum, who is North Dakota's governor and on the shortlist for V.P., talking this weekend about how Biden has been debating for a very long time, that he knows how to debate.

We heard J.D. Vance earlier today saying the bar has been set too low for President Joe Biden. But some of this has been said by former President Donald Trump himself. Now, over the weekend, he was on the campaign trail talking about this debate. Take a listen to some of what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Crooked Joe's gone to a log cabin to study, prepare. No, he didn't. He's sleeping now. I say he'll come out all jacked up, right? All jacked up. Should I be tough and nasty and just say you're the worst president in history? Or should I be nice and calm and let him speak?


HOLMES: Now, of course, he's not going to have a choice on letting President Joe Biden speak since he and his team agreed to the rules that they will be muting the mic when they are not speaking after they give those answers.

Now, in terms of preparation, Donald Trump's team say they don't use the word preparation when it comes to talking to Trump about the debate. However, they have held more than a dozen of these policy sessions. That's with allies, with senior advisers, with people who could really potentially give some insight to the former president.

This has been on every issue from immigration to democracy, how to handle questions on January 6th, to abortion, obviously an issue they believe is going to come up. I am told he's going to continue these policy sessions with senior advisers when he's down here in Mar-a-Lago heading into that debate. But not any of that traditional stuff you usually see.

Well, if not someone sitting in for the moderator, sitting in for Joe Biden, which Donald Trump is going to show up on Thursday, whether it's the one who has his measured tone or if it's the person who is completely off the rails, that's going to remain to be seen. And I don't think there's anyone who knows who's going to show up on the debate stage.

BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting for us from near Mar-a-Lago down in Florida. Thanks very much. From there, I want to head over to see this, Kayla Tausche. She's over at the White House right now. Kayla, what are the president and his team anticipate from Trump?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if in the words of one Biden adviser to me, expect the unexpected. That is the strategy on how they're anticipating and preparing for President Biden to debate his GOP opponent and predecessor, who he's faced off with twice before. And in those two faceoffs in 2020, encountered two very different versions of Donald Trump.

And so they say that they're preparing for a wide variation of potential Trump temperaments, which you just heard him speaking to right there, that could appear on stage on Thursday evening.


They're watching game tape from 2020 and prior and crafting all sorts of responses to different issues and accusations that could arise. And while there's one part of this that is reactionary, the Biden campaign is also proactively talking about issues that it wants to focus on, like democracy and the dangers that it believes Donald Trump poses to the country.

Number two, Trump's economic plan, which they say focuses on the wealthy and corporations. And number three, women's right to choose and reproductive rights more broadly in this country. With the Biden campaign using this week and the two-year anniversary of the overturning of Roe to really try to connect the dots between Donald Trump's personnel and his politics and that landmark decision two years ago. Just take a look at this ad that the Biden campaign released just this morning.


KAITLYN J., LOUISIANA: I was right around 11 weeks when I had a miscarriage. The pain that I was feeling was excruciating. I was turned away from two emergency rooms. That was a direct result of Donald Trump overturning Roe v. Wade.


TAUSCHE: That's part of a $50 million ad buys across the battleground states, just part of the Biden team's effort to try to frame the agenda and set the table for this conversation, even though the unexpected is likely to happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kayla Tausche reporting from the White House. Thank you very much. Our debate countdown continues now with our political experts. And David Chalian, I'll start with you. The Biden campaign wants to focus in on this extremely sensitive issue of abortion rights for women. They also want to focus in on the issue of democracy and Trump's economic plans. What does all this say to you about their strategy?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think they're leaning into, especially on the abortion rights issue, an issue that they are doing well in the polls on. That is an issue that is played to Democratic advantage.

Democracy as an issue, Wolf, is one that clearly rallies Democrats when Joe Biden talks about it. But when you look at the polling, you know, Republicans and Democrats come at the democracy issue from very different perspectives. And that's sort of an evenly divided issue.

And you pointed to Trump's economic proposals that Joe Biden no doubt wants to highlight. So, too, does Donald Trump, probably. He wants to focus in on his proposal to cut taxes. We know that in much of the polling that is out there, Americans give an advantage to Trump over Biden as it relates to the economy, to immigration. So I'd imagine that the Trump team probably wants to lean into those issues more at the debate. But what you cited there at the top clearly is how Biden world sees their sort of sort of strong suits in this debate.

BLITZER: Joe Lockhart is with us as well. And, Joe, I remember when you helped prepare Bill Clinton and John Kerry, for that matter, for their presidential debates. How should Biden approach all of this? It's a really critically important, sensitive moment.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think we have an unusual situation where both sides have the same strategy. Donald Trump is going to be Donald Trump. No matter what they're doing in prep, he's going to come out and I think if he's punched a couple of times and you hear the word convicted felon a few times, he's going to revert to his normal self.

I think for Biden, it's let Donald Trump be Donald Trump, because I think they are very focused in on making sure the public knows that this is a choice between two, between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They think that, you know, abortion is very important, democracy is very important. But I think what they want to get out of this debate is you have a choice, look at the two of us.

BLITZER: Yeah, Alyssa Farah Griffin is joining us as well. Alyssa, typically, as you know, a sitting president is the one that often has trouble defending his or her record during a debate like this. But the new Biden campaign ad on abortion, for example, shows how they want to put Trump on the defensive. What do you make of that?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that Democrats know their strongest issue is abortion. Donald Trump bears responsibility for Roe being pulled back. But what I would say is the winner of this debate is going to be who can substantively talk about the key issues Americans care about, the economy, immigration, health care and do it in a forward-looking manner.

So it's not just about relitigating your record, whether you're Biden or Trump, but presenting a vision to the undecided Americans who still somehow exist out there of what your plan is and being the adult in the room, the person who doesn't lose their temper, who doesn't get rattled.

And there's so many variables here, the no audience of this, the fact that it's really just going to be a room with the moderators and the candidates. There's a world in which you get disciplined Donald Trump for 90 minutes. Biden needs to be ready for that.

And to Joe's point, work in those digs, call him a convicted felon, try to get a rise out of him, try to make him show that side of him. But it's really unpredictable where this goes. But the one thing that candidates should be prepared on is a forward looking for your ahead vision.


BLITZER: Yeah. Unpredictable. The key word right now. Shermichael Singleton, how does Trump navigate these sensitive issues for example, abortion and democracy?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Now, look, Wolf, I think the former president needs to make clear that abortion is an issue that states should decide and voters in those states should be able to vote on the issue. And what we have found is when voters are given a choice, whether me in the evangelical wing of the party like it or not, an overwhelming majority of voters, including many Republican voters, are voting to protect reproductive rights.

And I think many evangelicals who may not like that position for the former president will understand the position because they're principally concerned with electoral success. I think for the former president, it's going to be fundamentally important Wolf for him to showcase his ability to be a statesman and his tone will matter to a lot of those independent and swing voters.

People are very concerned about the economy. They're very concerned about immigration. I think President Biden's going to have a very difficult time, Wolf, trying to convince the American people that he can somehow change the clock on what they have seen over the last four years, which the vast majority are saying they do not like.

BLITZER: Let me go back to David. David, you saw that new CBS/YouGov poll, which asked likely voters about the major factors in this upcoming debate. And look at this. The economy and inflation topped the list, while abortion was cited by just over half of voters. Given this, why is President Biden and his campaign, why are they choosing to place such a heavy focus on this abortion issue?

CHALIAN: Well, because it plays to their strengths because Democrats have seen success at the ballot box on this issue. And obviously, in that poll, it's not ranking as high as the economy and inflation, which is clearly the top-of-mind issue for voters. But the abortion rights issue is one that unifies the Democratic base, which is also, you know, part of Joe Biden's mission here.

I agree with Joe, though. I think one of the reasons that the Biden campaign was eager to have this general election debate earlier than any previous general election debate was to get that side-by-side contrast with Trump on the stage out before American voters now to try to shake them by their lapels and say the election is happening and this is your choice.

I will say part of the Trump campaign strategy, in my understanding from talking to people in Trump world about sort of saying we'll debate you anywhere, anytime, anyplace and accepting this debate invitation was also because they think that side by side contrast on the stage benefits their candidate as well.

BLITZER: Alyssa, Trump is signaling he could be, in his words, either, quote, "tough and nasty" or quote, "nice and calm" during the upcoming debate. What are you expecting from him? GRIFFIN: We've seen both versions of him. We saw the first debate last

time where he shouted out a domestic terrorism or terrorism organization, the Proud Boys. The second debate, he was more substantive. He was more nuanced. I have seen him do it. He is capable of getting through 90 minutes and talking about a vision, talking about policy. But this is where Joe Biden needs to be working on strategy is trying to pull the other side out of him.

There's not an audience that's going to make him want to be bombastic. So it's going to be really discussing issues. You know, the moderators are going to ask about January 6th. You know, they're going to ask about, you know, criticizing our institutions. And that's where I think he's most likely to slip into that sort of rage and retribution side of himself. But no one should sleep on the fact that there's a world in which Donald Trump gets through this very substantively with no major missteps.

BLITZER: Joe Lockhart, what do you think?

LOCKHART: Well, I think it's going to be very hard for Donald Trump. I think Alyssa is right. The lack of an audience may be what gets him through this. But I think the Biden campaign and President Biden are going to be looking for ways to go after him, whether it's convicted felon, January 6th, and to get a rise because what they really want out of this is to show Donald Trump the way he is out on the campaign trail as someone who's out of control and, you know, has got a temper. Maybe he can get through it, I don't think his track record shows that he can.

BLITZER: To all of you, thank you very, very much. Coming up, new tests of the judge in the Trump classified documents case as she considers restrictions on who the former president can attack in public. We have new information.



BLITZER: A jam-packed day of hearings in the Trump classified documents case wrapped up just a short while ago. Judge Eileen Cannon now weighing whether to impose a gag order on Donald Trump, as well as a challenge to the legitimacy of the special counsel. CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is just outside the courtroom in Fort Peace, Florida, just north of Palm Beach. Evan, did prosecutors make any headway on their push for a gag order on Donald Trump?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not any indication right now, Wolf, that they're going to get this gag order from Judge Eileen Cannon. She expressed certainly a lot of skepticism about some of the arguments that the government was making. Prosecutors have come here because they say that some of the former president's inflammatory comments about the 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago raised the possibility of danger to some of the FBI agents who carried out that search, some of whom could end up being witnesses in this case if it ever goes to trial. And they cite some of his comments where he said that he was put in danger, that they could have taken him out. Keep in mind, of course, that the former president wasn't even here at the time when that search happened. He was up in New Jersey. Here's what Prosecutor David Harbach said to the judge. He said, quote, "The government is at a loss to conceive why Mr. Trump would say something so false, so inconceivable or inviting of violence."


And he called what the former president was saying as beyond irresponsible. But the pushback that he got immediately from Judge Eileen Cannon is she said, "Where do you see a call for violence?" And he pointed again to some of his social media posts. And he said that they ultimately could result in all kinds of threats to law enforcement.

Now, we also heard from the former president's attorneys, Todd Blanche, said in court that what the government was asking for is that they set a dangerous precedent for a candidate who is running for high office, obviously for the presidential office. He said that what the government was seeming to do was having any comments from Steve Bannon, for instance, be the reason why Donald Trump could be thrown in jail.

So we expect that this is going to take a little time before the judge decides. She did not rule from court from the bench today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan Perez, thank you very much. Evan, reporting from Florida down there. Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen along with former federal prosecutor Alyse Adamson. And Alyse, let me get your thoughts. Prosecutors are arguing and they're being very forceful on this, that Trump's speech should be restricted. He should have a gag order down in Florida because, in their words, everything he says endangers the safety of others in the community. How strong of an argument do you think they have?

ALYSE ADAMSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think it's a very strong argument. I mean, look, we have data points to suggest that the former president's words not only have a lot of power, but also incite violence. I think January 6th being the most significant example of that. And what prosecutors are asking for is a narrowly tailored gag order to prevent the former president from advancing what has been shown to be a complete lie and twist of a very standard FBI policy to rile his base.

And so I understand the argument. I also understand why the prosecutors seem to be so passionate, because they see the potential for extreme danger as the election season goes on.

BLITZER: Because, you know, the Trump legal team, they argue that Trump is a presidential candidate right now and he needs to speak out on a lot of these sensitive issues.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolfe, that First Amendment balancing is all important and it's at its height when you have a presidential candidate. But remember the history of Donald Trump making these inflammatory remarks. And we have seen an attack on an FBI office in Ohio relating to this case. That was Mr. Schiffer who attacked that office after the search of Mar-a-Lago. So there's a pattern of dangerousness.

Once again, you see Judge Cannon taking a completely different approach. Judge Chutkan, gag order. Judge Merchan, gag order, balancing. Trump is allowed to attack Judge Chutkan, allowed to attack Judge Merchan, but protect law enforcement personnel, doesn't look like that's happening here.

BLITZER: You know, it was interesting, a special counsel prosecutor, and it was very sensitive, had to apologize to Judge Cannon for being, quote, "unprofessional" during today's hearing. Cannon dressed down the prosecutor twice today. This is a potential misstep. How big of a misstep is this?

EISEN: Well, you never want to have to be in that situation of having to apologize, of crossing the line. I thought it was vigorous advocacy that got a little too hot. That happens. But again, Judge Cannon is a special case. Normally judges will countenance a bit more of that back and forth. So, I think the apology in the end was the right thing to do. And whatever she may do on the gag order, they can't afford to have her rule against the legality of Smith's appointment.

BLITZER: It was interesting. Judge Cannon, as you know, at least heard more arguments today targeting the special counsel Jack Smith's illegality in doing what he's doing. She asked many pointed questions of the prosecutors. What could that suggest to you?

ADAMSON: Well, honestly, Wolf, when I read about that, I thought, well, she has to be asking questions at this point to justify holding these hearings. Otherwise, why didn't she just rule on the papers? Presumably she must have had questions if she needed all of this oral argument.

And look, I think the questions she was asking were the right one. She was also asking the former president's team about various arguments they were making in the briefs. So I think it's kind of hard to read the tea leaves there because that's what you expect in a hearing.

I do think with respect to the appropriations issue that she took up today, she's most likely going to deny that based on what I saw and heard.

BLITZER: We will find out fairly soon, Alyse. Thank you very much. Norm, thanks to you as well.


Up next, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is intensifying right now as Israel plans to shift its military focus to its northern border with Lebanon. What the escalating tension means for the Middle East and beyond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: New tonight, a source tells CNN Israel has stressed to Hamas through intermediaries that it is committed to the latest ceasefire and hostage proposal backed by the United States. This, as Israel signals its military focus will shift to the northern border with Lebanon, where fighting with the Iran-backed group Hezbollah has dramatically intensified. CNN's Ben Wedeman has this report.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a day of joy and celebration here in south Lebanon.


WEDEMAN: Israeli forces are just about five miles away from here but nonetheless here in the town of Hasbaiyya, there's a wedding going on.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): It didn't seem right to spoil this special day for newlyweds Temor (ph) and Fatin (ph) with questions but the dark clouds covering over Lebanon. But one guest told us off camera we're celebrating here world war is around the corner. Hasbaiyya has been spared the worst of the barrages and counter barrages between Israel and Hezbollah. Here they stop anyone from firing towards Israel. Parliament Member Elias Jarade was elected to represent Christians in this area.

ELIAS JARADE, MEMBER OF LEBANESE PARLIAMENT: Majority of the Southern people, majority of the Lebanese people from all sects, all religions, all parties. They are in one way or another they are committed with a Palestinian.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Everyone we spoke with had a completely contrary opinion. Few people wanted to speak on camera about the looming danger of war for fear of repercussions. Off camera we got an earful. There is zero appetite for escalation, little support for Hezbollah. Eighty- five-year-old Abu Nabil has seen it all, war and Civil War, invasions and occupation.

War is ruination, he says. In war everyone loses even the winner Abu Nabil knows of what he speaks.

WEDEMAN: Since October, Israel and Hezbollah and its allies have been engaged in low intensity warfare, largely limited to the border if full scale war breaks out, that war will spread well beyond the frontier on both sides.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Last week, Israeli generals approved a plan to attack Lebanon. While Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah recently warned if it comes to war, the group will fight Israel on land, sea and air and also inside Israel itself. The Iranian-backed groups sophisticated attacks have surprised Israeli officials, including precision strikes on surveillance posts on the border, shooting down high flying Israeli drones, and knocking out anti-missile and anti- drone defenses. And posting online, more than nine minutes of what it claimed was drone footage of sensitive military and civilian infrastructure in and around the City of Haifa. The bell summons the faithful to mass in the predominantly Christian town of Marjaayoun. More than 90,000 people have already left the south for safer ground. Amal says she's determined to stay, but adds, if things escalate to war and it reaches here like it did before with some shelling, of course, like others we'll have to leave. For now they can only pray for peace and hope those prayers are heard.


WEDEMAN (on camera): And that trepidation that we saw down south is starting to be felt here in Beirut. We understand that hotels are receiving cancellations at the beginning of what is normally a big season for Lebanese to return from the diaspora and spend hard cash here and also Sweden, Kuwait and North Macedonia have all told their nationals in Lebanon to either leave or don't come if they were planning. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman in Beirut for us, Ben, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.

Joining us now to discuss the latest tensions in the Middle East is the former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Secretary Esper, thanks so much for joining me. It looks like this could potentially spiral into a full scale war between Israel and Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon. And they have a lot of missiles, a lot of rockets, they potentially could cause a lot more damage to Israel that Hamas can from Gaza.

MARK ESPER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely, Wolf. Hezbollah is much bigger than Hamas. Hamas had about 30,000 soldiers or so. And Nasrallah claims he has over 100,000 militants under his command and control. And as you noted, over 150,000 rockets and missiles and drones that could do considerable damage, and if employed correctly, could overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome and other air defense systems.

BLITZER: Do you really think they -- it could overwhelm the Iron Dome which is a very sophisticated missile defense system.

ESPER: Very sophisticated with a 95 percent plus or so effectiveness rate. But look, if you shoot enough missiles at one time, it's hard to shoot them down, reload and be prepared for the next salvo. So look, I think that's why the United States is moving forces back into the region. We know carriers coming from the Pacific. The Marines are moving an amphib back to the eastern Mediterranean. You see a lot of talk in D.C. trying to calm things down. And so it looks like they are inching toward a conflict.


BLITZER: You think Israel has the capability of launching airstrikes or preemptive airstrikes against various missile sites within South Lebanon, where Hezbollah has hundreds of them?

ESPER: Sure. Look, I think they do have that capability. The question is why now? Why start a front now? They're not yet finished with Hamas in Gaza, in Rafah in particular. And of course, Iran is the bogey out there right there, right, where you have a presidential election happening in three, four days. There's a lot of uncertainty there. How will they weigh in on the conflict if Israel strikes first against Hezbollah?

BLITZER: What would be the impact if there was a full scale war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, on the fate of the hostages still being held in Gaza?

ESPER: Look, that's a great question. But I've been long convinced that Yahya Sinwar in Gaza has no intention.

BLITZER: The leader of Hamas.

ESPER: The leader of Hamas in Gaza has no intention of releasing those hostages until it gets his two key demands, a permanent ceasefire and the removal of all the IDF forces out of Gaza, which the latter is completely contrary to what Benjamin Netanyahu wants.

BLITZER: Because we're getting, you know, obviously some conflicting statements from the Israeli leadership, including the prime minister who now says that Israel still supports that hostage deal proposal that President Biden spoke about and said was on the table.

ESPER: Yes, but and as you said, though, yesterday, Sunday, he said very clearly that there's going to be no end to the war in Gaza until Hamas is defeated, or, as I'd like to say, dismantled. And that means getting rid of leadership, making sure that the four battalions are combat and effective, knocking out the infrastructure, which we've know they've done is taken out many title, many tunnels, and in securing that southern border where they believe arms are coming across from Egypt into Gaza.

BLITZER: The Israeli Defense Minister has been in Washington over the past few days, met with Secretary Blinken at the State Department today for a few hours, what's going on?

ESPER: Well, he is supposedly talking to them about what phase C means. Phase C being presumably the governance of Gaza, how it will be controlled with regard to security and how public services will be provided. But I imagine he's also talking to them about Hezbollah and what they intend to do. Of course, what they want is Hezbollah to move back off the border and stop shooting rockets at them because as we know, 60, 80,000 or so Israelis have been displaced from their homes in northern Israel.

BLITZER: How seriously strained is the U.S.-Israeli relationship right now?

ESPER: Certainly the relationship between the White House and Netanyahu is very strained. I think, you know, the relationships between our countries, our governments and people will remain intact, but it's very, very strained. And of course, you have politics, Wolf, in all this. You have a presidential debate coming up here with CNN with a couple nights. This topic will be I'm sure, as part of that discussion. Netanyahu how's trying to balance domestic politics, he has two prime objectives that the Israeli people want, free the hostages and defeat Hamas. And in some ways, those two are in conflict. And he has his own coalition he's trying to hold together at a time when Benny Gantz, just walked out a couple of weeks ago. And it's important to keep in mind that the Minister of Defense, who you rightly said is here this week is the one who said publicly, look, we need an end plan for Gaza. We need to know what the end state is, who's going to govern, what's it going to look like down the road. And Netanyahu has yet to offer that.

BLITZER: Mark Esper, thanks so much for joining us.

ESPER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good discussion.


Just ahead, multiple headlines from the U.S. Supreme Court today, the justices adding more days to their decision calendar and agreeing to hear a blockbuster case this fall.



BLITZER: All right, this just in. Hunter Biden is now requesting a new gun trial following his conviction on three felony charges. CNN's Zachary Cohen has more on the court filings that were made today. Zachary, on what grounds is Hunter Biden and his legal team, what grounds are they making this request?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, Hunter Biden is asking for a redo in the trial of his federal gun case. And specifically, he's not arguing with the merits of that case. But a procedural hiccup. He's saying that because the appeals court didn't issue what is called a mandate before a jury was impaneled at the trial court level. And the jurisdiction was never transferred back to the trial court. Therefore, a trial never should have happened.

He actually writes in this filing that all of his three felony convictions should be vacated because of this procedural mix up. Look, the trial court has already said that any issue dealing with the appeals court wouldn't impact the jurisdiction of the trial itself. Therefore, this attempt does look like a long shot attempt by Hunter Biden to wipe away his felony convictions and get a new trial. But at the end of the day, we'll have to see what the court ultimately does rule. But Hunter Biden again trying to get his felony convictions overturned and getting a new day in court.

BLITZER: Zachary Cohen, reporting with for us. Thank you very much.

Also tonight, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether states can restrict gender affirming care for minors taking on a complicated and politically charged issue with huge consequences for young people who are transgender. CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is here in the Situation Room. She's got details. Lay out the issue the court has now agreed to consider.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So Wolf, this is the first time that the court is really going to delve into the issue of gender affirming care. This will be a blockbuster case with nationwide implications of the case they agreed to hear, focuses on transgender care in Tennessee. Another state has issued a ban is enacted last year, which bans hormone therapy and puberty blockers for minors.

And doctors who violate the law can face civil penalties. And nearly half of all states have bans on transgender care for minors. Legal challenges have been where working their way through the federal courts for over a year now. Republican lawmakers who support the band say decisions about care should be made after an individual becomes an adult. But opponents argue bands violate the civil rights of trans children and conflict with parents rights to make decisions about their child's medical care. Well, the Biden administration, along with families of transgender minors, challenge the Tennessee law, and we expect this case will be heard in the fall.


BLITZER: And we expect the Supreme Court to be coming up with other important decisions very soon. They're adding some calendar days to their schedule. They're supposed to go on to their summer break very soon, but they may have to delay that.

REID: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we've learned that they're going to continue to release their opinions and they have some seriously important questions unanswered. First of all, we're looking to see what they say about whether former President Trump has immunity to protect him from the federal election subversion case. There's a related case brought by a January 6th defendant who has challenged the fact that he was charged with obstruction saying that's not what the law was designed for.

Now that depending on how it's decided, could also have an implication to the former president. There's also a big outstanding question about abortion, one that could have significant repercussions for the election in November. It's a question about what do you do when you have restrictive state laws that come up against more permissive federal laws specifically in Idaho when it comes to emergency room care, also outstanding questions about the power of federal agencies, and the regulation of social media. So they have a lot that they're still working on. And we'll be watching and covering all of those huge cases.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is, we'll be busy every morning over the next several days, watching all of this unfold. Paula Reid, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, the deadly aftermath of a shooting rampage on churches and synagogues on Russian soil.



BLITZER: In Russia tonight, a rising death toll after brazen attacks on synagogues and churches in the mainly Muslim region of Dagestan. CNN's Nick Payton Walsh reports on the apparently coordinated acts of terror that killed at least 20 people and injured nearly 50 others. We want to warn our viewers, some of the images in this report are disturbing.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice- over): It's the horror of Putin rose to power pledging to eradicate, but still nearly a quarter of a century later haunts him now. Pitched battles in the southern region of Dagestan, where likely Islamist militants attacks Jews and Christians in synagogues and churches over hours in which police struggled into the night to gain control.

We still have an incomplete picture of what sends security services into a frenzy Sunday, as evening prayers began. But it is clear the flames spread along Dagestan's coast down to this synagogue in southern Derbent. And police were also targeted. Their ranks stripped thin by mobilization to Putin and other war in Ukraine.

Russia security services keen to emphasize their swift reaction, releasing this video of them securing the assumption of Our Lady Cathedral in Makhachkala. Dagestan used over two decades to scenes of mangled metal and police hunting militants. But this time, absorbing whether Putin's war in Ukraine had taken away the security forces from their own home streets.

And the disturbing news that three of the gunmen were related to a local official one his son, another a nephew, and a third cousin, a local MMA fighter. A key victim, Father Nikolai, pictured here, apparently having his throat slit. Amid reports there was a hostage standoff for a while. The deaths announced so far, mostly police leaving questions as to whether more civilians have been killed when they came to evening worship.

And the main suspect here, ISIS-K yet to claim the attack, and officials slow to name them. Of course, we understand who is behind the organization of these terrorist attacks, he says. We understand what the organizers were trying to achieve. Extremism has long cursed Dagestan, the Boston bombers partially linked back to here, and it's militants in 2013. And police have long been ferocious in their response fueling yet more extremism analysts say.

Yet in 2022, protests erupted and so many Dagestani men was sent off to Ukraine. And so now, the old agony of terror, perhaps made worse by police being thinned out for Putin's long war of choice.


BLITZER: And Nick Payton Walsh is joining us live right now, Nick, so who might be behind this? And what does it say about Putin's control of Russia right now?

WALSH: Yes, ultimately. I think fingers will point towards ISIS-K, the offshoots of ISIS that's predominantly in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and was behind the savage attacks on Crocus City Hall in the capital, Moscow just three months ago now, although ISIS have not claimed responsibility here, although the channels have celebrated this particular attack. These guys appear to all be related, a large number of them and that might suggest this was perhaps an isolated cell planning this attack without wider infrastructure behind them.

But really the fingers pointing here at the Kremlin, essentially for the lack of security in this area. Yes, there was higher security at some of these installations. But I think many Dagestanis will be asking where the troops were, where the police were, the answer is simply they're in Ukraine, they'd be moved to that war of choice for that amid Putin and really now two decades since Putin came to power saying he would eradicate what he called back then this extremist threat, it's now entirely clear that it's miticides (ph) and found new generations and is a problem still, the Kremlin can't get their hands around.


BLITZER: So worrisome. Thank you very much Nick Payton Walsh, reporting for us from London.

Coming up, a closer look at the warm up for CNN historic Trump-Biden debate, as the candidates on stage strategies are now taking shape.



BLITZER: Happening now, President Biden is hunkered down as preparations wrap up for his pivotal debate with Donald Trump here on CNN. We're breaking down the stakes with three days to go as a Biden advisor is now warning to expect the unexpected.