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At This Hour

Antony Blinken at U.N. General Assembly; Russia's War on Ukraine Takes Center Stage at UNGA; Biden Slams Putin over War, Nuclear Threats; Ginni Thomas Agrees to January 6 Committee Interview; New York Attorney General Seeks Sanctions, Penalties for Trump and Family. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 11:00   ET



ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is right out of the Crimea playbook.

As with Crimea, it's imperative that every member of this council and, for that matter, every member of the United Nations, rejects the sham referenda and unequivocally declares that all Ukrainian territory is and will remain part of Ukraine and no Russian claim to annex territory can take away Ukraine's right to defend its own land.

Putin's invasion is also distracting this council -- in fact, the entire U.N. system -- from working on the serious issues that we all want to focus on, like preventing a climate catastrophe, aiding tens of millions of people on the brink of famine, fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;

shoring up our interconnected health security -- all issues that make a tangible difference in the lives of the citizens that we are here to represent and that they are looking to us -- looking to us to deliver on.

The overwhelming majority of U.N. member states are committed to working together on these issues and our actions show that.

Yet while more than 100 countries have signed on to a road map to provide food aid to those who need it, and partners across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe are working together to increase the resilience of global food systems, Russia, for months, blocked the export of Ukrainian grain to the world, until the United Nations and Turkiye secured a deal to let the grain go.

And Russia continues to bomb and seize Ukrainian farms and silos, line its wheat fields with land mines, raising the cost of food for people everywhere.

And while governments around the world are teaming up with international organizations, with the private sector, with philanthropies to end this pandemic and make sure that we're better prepared for the next one, Russia is spreading misinformation and disinformation about WHO-approved vaccines, fueling vaccine hesitancy that puts people in all our countries at greater risk. Here is the reality: none of us chose this war, not the Ukrainians, who knew the crushing toll it would take; not the United States, which warned that it was coming and worked to prevent it; not the vast majority of countries at the United Nations.

And neither did our people nor the people of virtually every U.N. member state, who are feeling the war's consequences in greater food insecurity and higher energy prices; nor did the Russian mothers and fathers, whose children are being sent off to fight and die in this war, or the Russian citizens, who continue to risk their freedom to protest against it, including those who came out into the streets of Moscow after President Putin announced his mobilization to chant, "Let our children live."

Indeed, it must be asked, how has this aggression against Ukraine by President Putin improved the lives or prospects of a single Russian citizen?

One man chose this war. One man can end it.

Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.

That's why we will continue to support Ukraine, as it defends itself, and strengthen its hand to achieve a diplomatic solution on just terms at a negotiating table.

As President Zelenskyy has said repeatedly, diplomacy is the only way to end this war. But diplomacy cannot and must not be used as a cudgel to impose on Ukraine a settlement that cuts against the U.N. Charter or rewards Russia for violating it.

President Putin is making his choice. Now it's up to all of our countries to make ours.

Tell President Putin to stop the horror that he started. Tell him to stop putting his interests above the interests of the rest of the world, including his own people. Tell him to stop debasing this council and everything it stands for.

"We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined..."

That is how the preamble of the U.N. Charter starts. Let's not forget that "we the peoples" still get to choose the fate of this institution and our world. The stakes are clear. The choice is ours. Let's make the right choice for the world that we want and that our people so desperately deserve. Thank you.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you for joining us AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: We've just been listening to the Security Council meeting about Russia's brutal seven month long war on Ukraine. As you heard the harsh words that the secretary of state had for Russia. This meeting comes also amid a growing revolt in Russia over Putin's

order to mobilize 300,000 reservists. More than 1,300 people across Russia have been detained in a crackdown over the anti-war protests. Let's begin with Nick Paton Walsh.

Listening to the U.N. Security Council meeting, to Tony Blinken just now, CNN reporting neither the Russian foreign minister or ambassador were in the room, not present at the table today.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Not entirely surprising that they were choosing to not be on camera, have their reactions photographed or filmed while that litany of Russian abuses over the past six months was run through by Secretary Blinken.

And it is stark to listen to one man in one go, go through everything that Ukraine has been through and the world has been through since Russia chose to invade on the 24th of February.

And the torture, some of which we've reported on ourselves, and the loss of infrastructure civilian lives through bombing by Russia, the damage that has done to Russia's standing, Russia's people on one side and also, too, to the world food markets and how they have, it seems, indiscriminately mined agriculture fields here as well.

So it is remarkable to have all of that spoken by Secretary Blinken there. And I think it is a sign, too, that United States, despite the call for a partial mobilization yesterday, so far looking to be quite disastrous inside of Russia itself, and the increased nuclear threats from Russia.

It is stark to see that the United States' support for Ukraine does not appear to be changed because of that rhetoric.

And in fact, he, too, echoed something said by Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that only one man wants this war and that, of course, is Vladimir Putin. So a stark unity in messaging.

But also a chilling reminder of what Russia has done to Ukraine since February. And the filtration camps often forgotten in all of the horrors, about the tens of thousands of Ukrainians uprooted and sent to camps inside of Russia from occupied areas. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for your reporting.

And there is also new evidence that Ukraine's latest victories on the battlefield are putting real strain on Russia's military. Sources telling CNN that Putin's military leaders are divided about how to respond to Ukraine, which has reclaimed significant territory in the recent weeks. CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is live in Washington.

Could you tell us what you're hearing about your new reporting?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For weeks we've watched Ukraine exceed expectations with this counter offensive and there hasn't been a lot that Russia has been able to do to push back on those Ukrainian advances. And part of the reason for this, I'm hearing from my sources, is that

the Russian military is really deeply divided here about what the strategy should be to try to counter Ukraine's advances, where they should move troops to reinforce faltering front lines, for example.

We're even hearing that intelligence intercepts have picked up on Russian officers on the front lines kind of bickering among themselves and complaining to friends and family members back home about the directions that they're receiving out of Moscow.

Even more interesting, Kate, what I'm learning is that Russian president Vladimir Putin is also communicating directly with some of his generals in the field, which is really unusual for the commander in chief of any modern military.

It speaks to a dysfunctional command structure here. So I think you take all of this together, Kate, and you have a Russian military that is just still clearly struggling, not only with planning with leadership and logistics but with basic military command and control.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Katelyn.

Joining me for more is CNN military analyst James "Spider" Marks and senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, who has reported from Russia for more than a decade.

Matthew, I do want to ask you first about what we just heard from secretary of state Tony Blinken, very harsh words.

But what do the words do?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a good question. What I think they don't do is have an impact on Russian policy and Russian strategy, such as it is. Russia has become desensitized and immune to criticism over the last seven months.


CHANCE: And the way it has conducted this campaign, that process started several years before, whenever Russia was accused of wrongdoing around the world or malign activity.

And that was pointed out, they have adopted the same sort of stance of denial, basically just saying it's not true and this is to make Russia look bad. And you hear it now, despite the actual evidence of bodies being unearthed in mass graves, the Russians will say, look, this is put there to fabricate these ideas that we committed atrocities.

And it is just not true and that is line that is spun to people on state television, which is tightly controlled by the Kremlin in Russia. And most people in Russia get their news exclusively from those state propaganda channels.

Which is why, I think, there has been so much sort of apathy or acceptance of this military operation in Ukraine, what it calls a special military operation, until the past 24 hour, where it has really become real.


General, you're sitting here listening to the secretary of state with me as well. He said many things that should be noted. But when he said, if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.

It's a really -- that is a stark reality.


GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well stated. Clearly what he said was spot on. But it is really to the rest of the world. Russia could care less what takes place. And as Matthew indicated, it is all about behaviors on the ground.

And the Russians will always come up with a counter narrative. So they will describe exactly through their filter what is taking place. And so all of what the secretary is saying is nonsense to them and irrelevant.

BOLDUAN: And it also shows the -- how important the international body is, the real limitations when you're staring down an immediate crisis.

MARKS: Truly. And it is all about galvanizing the rest of the world.

Can Russia be held accountable for this in the United Nations?

And President Zelenskyy said their position should be invalidated, with increasing sanctions and getting a tribunal together to put their finger around what is going on. None of that will take place because Russia own that position in the Security Council and they have a very powerful veto voice. So they're not listening to what is taking place.

BOLDUAN: Matthew, I do want to ask you, when you talk about the apathy seen so far within Russia, but these protests in the street, lines of cars trying to get out of Russia into Finland, the prices for plane tickets skyrocketing following Putin's announcement of calling up 300,000 reservists.

After seven months, why is it now that this -- why is this moment, is this announcement pushing Russians to the streets?

CHANCE: Well, I think that is a great question. Up until now, people have been accepting of this military operation, this war in Ukraine because it has been largely confined to their television screens. It is something that they watch. It is something that listen to commentary about on state television.

But suddenly, with the signature of Vladimir Putin and his announcement on television, it has come back home to them. It means that people who have perhaps been on the reserves for the extra money that gives them, who didn't volunteer to go and fight in this war, are now being forced to go and fight in this war. And that is a very sobering realization, I imagine, if you're on the

reserves or the wife or the daughter or the child of someone who is on the reserves. And what is interesting about these pictures, maybe not this one we're seeing right now, but a lot of people in the crowd are women, 51 percent, according to monitoring groups of the people who are protesting against this draft, against this war, are women.

They're the mothers, they're the wives, the children as well. Minors are being arrested; 51 percent of the arrests have been women and children. And that is implying that it is not just the men upset about this, it is their families.

This was always going to be a very unpopular move by the Kremlin to start drafting people to fill the depleted ranks of those in Ukraine. There are gaps because those people have been killed. But just how unpopular, we're only just now starting to see.


And General, reporting that Vladimir Putin is himself now giving direction to generals in the field now, when you hear that, what do you think?

Because what does that do on the battlefield?

And what does it say about how things are going?

MARKS: That is a great observation because it affects unity of command by which you conduct military operations; for political ends certainly. But when you have the commander in chief, when you have Putin saying we're going to do X and he has commanders at multiple levels that say they are going to do Y, now you have real dissonance.


MARKS: So you have a frozen unit in the field, waiting to figure out what they're going to do next, because they're getting conflicting guidance. Big problems in terms of command and control on the ground.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, a legal victory for the Justice Department in its criminal investigation of classified documents found in Donald Trump's home. The former president offering a new and unusual defense now. That is next.




BOLDUAN: Trump's legal team needs a new game plan. A federal appeals court reversed its decision over the fight over the document taken from Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department is allowed to use the records in its ongoing criminal investigation. Evan Perez is live in Washington.

Can you lay out what they're saying?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is an extraordinary ruling from the 11th Circuit. It's a bit of a smackdown of the judge in Palm Beach.

They said it's self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of these records did not damage national security. That involves looking at these documents.

Trump pushed back, saying he took care of it.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The president can declassify by saying it's declassified. It doesn't have to be a process. I declassified everything.


PEREZ: So you have a metaphysical question, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll see how far that goes, Evan, thank you so much.

Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of justice Clarence Thomas, has agreed to be interviewed by the January 6 committee. CNN first reported her texts with then Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about overturning the election. Katelyn Polantz has more.

What else are you hearing?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: After months of interest, her lawyer confirmed the interview will take place in the coming weeks.


POLANTZ: Not to testify but a voluntary interview. He says she is eager to answer questions.

This all dates back to the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was turning over text messages to the House select committee between him and Thomas. She was interested in blocking the election's results.

There are other emails between her and John Eastman, Trump's elections attorney.

BOLDUAN: It is great to see you, thank you.

Joining me now, is David Cay Johnston, investigative journalist who has covered Donald Trump for more than 30 years, and Paul Rosenzweig, former senior counsel in the Whitewater investigation.

Thank you both. Paul, I want to get back to what Evan Perez was just reporting out.

What do you think of the decision that the 11th Circuit on the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FORMER SENIOR COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: Well, it is seem to be clearly right. It was a unanimous decision by a three judge panel including two Trump judges. And they issued less than a day after briefing was complete.

It seemed to be a pretty clear repudiation of Judge Cannon's analysis. At one point they said she had completely disregarded one of the factors that should have played in her decision.

They pretty much rejected any suggestion that a president has any personal interest in classified information and they sort of mocked his inability to put forward evidence in the court, that he had in fact declassified anything, something that he responded to by saying he did it in his own mind.

It is a full-scale win for the Department of Justice that will now be able to conduct the investigation of the potential damage from the leak of classified information to an insecure location and then follow up with, if appropriate, criminal charges.

BOLDUAN: So let me ask you something, you were just touching on, was Donald Trump's new comments about what sees as his power to declassify anything. This panel said something interesting I want to read about this whole question of declassification.

They wrote, "At least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal.

"So even if we assumed that plaintiff Donald Trump did classify some or all of the documents, that would not explain why he had a personal interest in them."

What does that mean and what do you think of it?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, it is exactly right. The potential crimes of the Department of Justice is investigating involve national defense information, classified and unclassified government information.

What they're saying here is that Trump's claim to the return of the documents turns on whether or not the documents are personal to him -- his medical records, for example, if they had been seized -- or maybe attorney-client privileged information.

But classified information by its nature, even if it is declassified, still remains government information and not personal to the President of the United States. And he can't convert that even in his own mind just by saying so.

BOLDUAN: David, the other legal problem that Trump is now facing is this civil lawsuit, brought by the New York attorney general, alleging that he and some of his kids and his companies engaged in massive widespread and decades-long fraud relating to his assets. You've covered him and his businesses for decades.

What do you think this lawsuit could mean for them?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, Letitia James, the elected attorney general of New York, is trying to put the Trump Organization out of business. You and I, as natural persons, have a right to our life.

But a corporation, an artificial person, is a creature of the state. And what Letitia James is seeking is that Trump cannot do business in New York any more unless he does it as a sole proprietor; that is a direct owner without a corporate shield.

She's presented incredible strong evidence of fraud and has shown that Donald was personally involved in the deceptions, based on the testimony of others and documents that were presented to the grand jury.


JOHNSTON: Or to -- or to the investigating agents.

BOLDUAN: I want to play for you, David, how Donald Trump defended himself last night. Listen to this.


TRUMP: We have a disclaimer right on the front. And it basically said, get your own people. You're at your own risk. This was done by management. It wasn't done by -- it was done by management. So don't rely on the statement that you're getting.


BOLDUAN: David, it looks like he's trying to throw the banks who loaned him the money under the bus here.

What do you think this means for what happens from here on out?

JOHNSTON: Well, the banks have behaved atrociously and not just with Donald Trump. There is real problems here with bank behavior. But his disclaimer doesn't help him at all, particularly when, in other documents, he said the appraiser said this building is worth $527 million, when, in fact, the appraiser said it was worth $200 million.

And the fundamental principle here is that fraud is always and everywhere a crime. And you can't escape that by another fraud of saying, well, don't believe what I said to you.

BOLDUAN: It is good to see you, David, thank you very much.

And Paul, thank you for being here.

Come up for us, violent protests growing in Iran after the death of a young woman arrested for violating country's dress code. We have new details on this next.