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At This Hour

Russia Stages Sham Referendums In Occupied Parts Of Ukraine; Some Russians Flee After Putin Calls Up Reservists For War; Special Master Orders Trump Team To Prove Claims FBI Planted Evidence. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 23, 2022 - 11:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I do love space. I do.

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SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. At This Hour, Russia is holding more like staging sham referendums in occupied regions of Ukraine as Putin is facing growing protests at home. Plus, Russia is accused of committing thousands of atrocities and its seven month long war in Ukraine. The top prosecutor investigating war crimes there is our guest. And there is a new tropical threat on the way. Forecast models are putting Florida in the bullseye for a hurricane in just days. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thanks so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. Putin's war on Ukraine is where we do need to start at this hour. Russia is staging referendums in four occupied areas of eastern Ukraine beginning today. Residents being forced to vote on whether the regions should become part of Russia, the referendums are widely considered a complete sham, of course, but then this is drawing global condemnation.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy is calling on Russians now to revolt as Putin is facing a growing dissent from his people over his orders to mobilize 300,000 more soldiers, hundreds have been rounded up in anti- war protests, as we've seen, and more and more Russians are trying to escape the draft and leave the country. CNN's Ben Wedeman starts us off. He's live from Kharkiv on these referendum votes. Ben, what are you learning about how this is going to go?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going I think, as we might expect for this sort of sham referendum. Don't forget, Kate, that back in 2014 when the Russians took over Crimea, they held a similar a referendum to join Russia. And of course, 97 percent of the voters voted in favor. What we're seeing so far, a low turnout. We're seeing on social media, for instance, that grew two -- groups of two election officials with ballot boxes, and two armed men are going from house to house to collect votes. The Ukrainian government has urged the residents of these occupied territories to boycott the vote and specifically saying if any strangers show up at your front door, don't open it. Now Ukrainian intelligence apparently is claimed that they've intercepted documents that show that in order to boost the vote, the occupation authorities are allowing those aged between 13 and 17 to vote as well.

Now, the Ukrainian government is warning that anybody who is participating in the management of these referenda could face a jail sentence of up to 15 years. Nice -- as I said the outcome is almost a given at this point. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you for being there. Really appreciate it. Thank you for reporting as always.

So as we were talking about anger is growing also inside Russia over the Russian president's order to call up 300,000 additional troops to send to the war. Public protests are spreading across the country and a growing number of Russians are trying to leave the country to avoid a draft. CNN's Matthew Chance has a closer look.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suddenly, an exodus across Russia's borders. Social media now filled with images like these near the country's Southern frontiers of vehicles, backed up out of sight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking of Foreign Language).

CHANCE (voice-over): Everyone is on the run from Russia, the male voice says. Endless cars, it's mind-boggling.

In the West, towards Finland, border officials also reporting significantly higher traffic. Nearly 5,000 crossing in a single day were expected by the weekend, as Russians made for the exits.

Across Russia, there's a growing sense of alarm, even anger at the call-up of reservists to fight in Ukraine.

More than 1,300 protestors have already been detained, many of them women, terrified their husbands and sons will be killed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking of Foreign Language).

CHANCE (voice-over): I've got two kids of conscription age, says this protestors. I brought them up alone, and I don't want to lose them, she cried.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking of Foreign Language).

CHANCE (voice-over): And for what? Asks her friend. Just so they can kill the sons of other mothers, she answers.

[11:05:05] But the mobilization is taking place, regardless. Images of reservists like these boarding a military transporter in the Russian far East show how many are heeding the call to arms.

At assembly points, families are saying emotional good-byes before their men, some apparently in middle age, are bused away, as what was always cast as a limited special military operation feels more and more like a full-blown war.


BOLDUAN: Matthew, thank you so much for that. Joining me now, David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst and a correspondent for The New York Times and retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. He's a former commander of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. David, these images that Matthew Chance was just pulling together for us, the desperation that we're seeing among Russians who don't want to join the war effort, men trying to even flee the draft. What insight does this offer into Russia right now?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well suggests a greater reaction and a greater weakness on the part of Putin than we expected. I've just been talking to some European leaders who've been, of course in New York for the U.N. General Assembly. And a week ago, they did not expect this. They did expect, Kate, that if he did order a mobilization, there would be objections from, you know, middle class families in St. Petersburg and Moscow, who've been deliberately insulated from this war, their kids have not been called up.

But I don't think that anybody I spoke to expected to see this exodus, and so very hard thing for Putin to hide, which of course, creates a perception of weakness on his part. And that's what he fears as much as real weakness.

BOLDUAN: That's a great point, David. General, what kind of fighting forces Putin building here, I mean, at least some of these new fighters, they don't support the effort. They don't want to go. They don't want to be there. As a commanding general, I mean, what do you see in this?

LT. GEN. BEN HODGES (RET.), FMR. COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY FORCES IN EUROPE: Well, Kate, what I see is basically premeditated murder. It is criminal to send untrained soldiers, unprepared soldiers into combat. And that's exactly what the Kremlin is doing. Of course, they're not terribly concerned about how many of these men get killed. But I think David lays out the challenge that the Kremlin has very well.

You know, we know from history that war is a test of will, and compare the will of the women of Iran. Compare that to the men who are trying to get out of Russia as fast as they can, rather than joining in protests. And when you think about will, the will of Ukrainian people on 21 or 24 of February, they were Googling how to make a Molotov cocktail. And here on 21 September, you've got Russians that are Googling for flights out of Russia. This is a pure disaster that's only going to get worse for Russia. BOLDUAN: And David, there's also now more reporting, that the U.S. over the past several months is how it's been described, really has privately communicated with Russia, that there will be consequences if Moscow uses a nuclear weapon. But Putin still continues to make these threats, including just again this week. How do you read that?

SANGER: Well, it is a little bit hard to read. The first thing to know is that of course, his threats began in early March. And the U.S. conveyed this in private back then. But the officials I talked to, Kate, are more worried about it now than they were back then. Back then they thought this was kind of rope Putin, you know, rhetoric.

Today, I think their concern is that Putin has discovered that as you just heard from General Hodges, he's got an untrained force that has very little will to fight, and he really can't count on them for getting the job done. And that makes him more reliant on his chemical, biological, cyber, and ultimately, nuclear forces. I still think the chance that he would use a nuclear weapon is pretty low, because I think he recognizes that that opens up a whole new set of vulnerabilities for him. But it's not impossible.

And I think it's a lot higher than it was at the beginning of the war, particularly the possibility that he does a demonstration test, you know, over the Black Sea, over the Arctic, that is just meant to convey, I'm willing to use this. And then the West would have to say, how do you respond to a test which would be more akin to say, a North Korean nuclear test, then it would be to something that took life? And that's something a lot of people right now are trying to give thought to here in Washington.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. And general on the referendum vote, so Ben Wedeman was just explaining very well for us in the East, when these regions all we can assume move to join Russia which may be of course a sham but it is at least what is going to be said, how does that change the dynamic?


HODGES: Well, of course, the purpose of them doing this is to try and create a justification for their own people. While if Ukraine continues to try and liberate these four illegally occupied Oblast, then there's a justification to use a nuclear weapon. And I would agree with David that it's very unlikely he will do this because it -- not just Putin, but the people around him realize it would be impossible for the United States to stay out of it.

I mean, the President said that the other night, basically, and the response would not necessarily be nuclear, but it would be devastating for Russian forces. And so I have a sense that most of the people around Putin are going to prevent him from doing this. Obviously, we certainly hope so. But I am sure that Ukrainian forces are not going to back off or slow down, they shouldn't. And in fact, we should double down on our support to them, the sooner this gets taken care of, the sooner we can eliminate any possibility of a nuclear conflict.

BOLDUAN: General, thank you for being here. It's good to see you. And David, thank you, as always, really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, demanding proof, the Special Master orders Donald Trump's legal team to back up claims the FBI could have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago, details next.



BOLDUAN: Put up or shut up is essentially the message from the Special Master to Donald Trump's legal team. This is all over their public claims the FBI may have planted evidence during their court approved search of Mar-a-Lago. The Special Master ordering Trump's lawyers now to prove their claims in a sworn declaration. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington with more on this, Katelyn. So Katelyn, what is the judge saying?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Kate, the Special Master is done with ambiguity here. Judge Raymond Dearie gave the Trump legal team and the Justice Department seven pages of specific directions yesterday on how he wants to deal with working through the more than 10,000 documents that were seized from Mar-a- Lago, and that includes them, the Trump team, specifically swearing in court in writing about the detailed lists of what was seized.

Now, Trump has tried to claim that the FBI may have taken things they shouldn't have, or tried to plant evidence. But what Judge Dearie wants in writing by September 30th is the final chance for Donald Trump's lawyers to actually say it, this is a hard document where they'll have to make clear if they believe the FBI planted evidence. This affidavit will also address if the receipt that inventory list that the FBI handed them and they signed at the end of the search was correct. Or if the FBI missed the listing anything they took on that document.

Of course, this isn't going to touch about 100 documents at the heart of this case that were marked as classified, Kate, those were set aside and the Justice Department is now working through them with the intelligence community.

BOLDUAN: All right, Katelyn, thank you so much.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN legal and national security analyst Carrie Cordero and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, it's good to see you guys. Carrie, I'm going to play for all of us what the Special Master is talking about here, here's Donald Trump, listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem that you have is they go into rooms, they won't let anybody near -- they wouldn't even let them in the same building. Did they drop anything into those files? Or did they do it later? There's no chain of custody here with them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wouldn't that be on videotape, potentially?

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I mean, they're in a room.


BOLDUAN: That was just on Wednesday. I mean, anything about what the Special Master is asking for here surprising to you, Carrie?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I think what's happening here is the former President requested the involvement of a federal judge. And now what's happening is this is what the involvement of a federal judge looks like. It looks like requirements, deadlines, evidence, facts, supported on the record. And so these are the things that now that the Special Master actually is in place, he is asking for. And there's a big difference, obviously, between statements that one can make in the media versus statements that lawyers are willing to write and file with a federal court.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And Gloria, the Special Master is one that the Trump team suggested. I mean, did you think -- did they think -- they think that they were going to get someone sympathetic in Judge Dearie? I mean, if so, I'm wondering what their next move could be, then?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think when they looked at Judge Dearie, they thought, oh, look, he was on the FISA Court. And there was a kerfuffle with the FISA Court and Carter Page in the whole Mueller investigation, and therefore, this judge may not like the FBI very much, so because the FBI may have misbehaved in the Carter Page inquiry.

So they thought, yes, OK, maybe he's going to be on our side in terms of what he thinks of the FBI. But it has turned out that actually as Carrie says, he's a judge. That's what he is. And he said to them, look, you cannot just say stuff in my -- in front of me, you're going to have to, as you put it earlier on, put up or shut up in front of me.

So if -- and by the way, I'm inviting witnesses here. If you have witnesses that can say, you know what, this evidence was tampered with in any way, let me know, just let me know. If you have any proof that there was declassification here of these documents, clearly marked classified, let me know or otherwise, I have to believe that these documents are classified, as they say quite clearly.


So he's opening the door to them to say, come on in, show me stuff. And the question is, what they're going to do next, because there is clearly a conflict with their client. They haven't said in writing in any way, shape or form that these documents were declassified. Because if you do that in court, in some way, and it turns out not to be true, then you're in real trouble.

BOLDUAN: And Carrie just, I don't know, this might sound obvious, but on the issue of the planted evidence, like, show us the evidence of that, if and when Trump's legal team cannot produce evidence to back up what Trump is putting out there publicly, can the Special Master order Donald Trump to stop saying that outside of the courtroom?

CORDERO: No, I don't think so, Kate. He has a First Amendment right to say whatever he wants, and what the Special Master is really kind of try to control is the things that are within his mandate. And so his mandate is to get through the documents that he has been directed to review for privilege purposes, you know, he has a task. And so that is his job, he will try to work through the arguments that are made to him.

And if he doesn't find any evidence that is made on the record before him, then I think he will simply dismiss those claims and continue on with his job, which is to finish the review of the documents that have been presented to him in the course of his actual appointment as special master. I think part of what's going on Kate is the former President is trying to litigate the actual conduct of the search itself at a stage that is much earlier than we normally would see in any other case, whether it's a national security case, or just a standard criminal case.

Normally, a defendant has to be charged with something, so they have to actually be a defendant, be charged with something. And then when evidence from that search is used against them, then they try to actually challenge on constitutional or statutory or behavioral grounds, accusing an agency of some kind of misconduct. This is all happening too early.

BOLDUAN: And it's not going to stop anytime soon. It's good to see both Carrie thank you so much, Gloria, it's great to see you.

All right, to New York is about to open emergency shelters to deal with the surge of migrants arriving from Texas. CNN's Polo Sandoval is live outside New York City's bus terminal with more on this for us. Polo, what's the plan?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So the ultimate goal here, Kate, is for the migrants that are arriving in New York City to essentially bypass the Port Authority Bus Terminal just a few blocks from where I'm standing and eventually make their way to these temporary relief centers that the city has set up. At least two of them in the next couple of weeks, the first of which is expected to open in a couple of weeks in the Bronx, exclusively for adults, and the next one for families.

And the hope here, again, this is a work in progress. But the hope, according to the city is for these migrants that are coming in roughly 300 to 400 a day into New York City in a time to actually make this their first stop for medical aid, for food, for clothing, et cetera. And even some temporary housing for just a couple of days. But while they're in a temporary stay there to ultimately find some longer term housing in New York City or assistance to make their way to somewhere else in the country if in fact that is their wish.

And then finally, as this war of words continues, Kate, between Democratic leaders and sanctuary cities and Republican governors that continue to offer free rides to migrants, there is a real legal battle that is now unfolding in the state of Florida as one state lawmaker is now suing in federal court to stop Governor Ron DeSantis from proceeding with future flights. As you know, dozens of them flew into Martha's Vineyard a little over a week ago from the state of Texas using Florida taxpayer money. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Polo, thank you so much for that.


Coming up for us, still at this hour, Russia accused of thousands of war crimes in Ukraine. The chief prosecutor promising to hold those responsible to account joins me in studio, next.



KARIM KHAN, CHIEF PROSECUTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: Anybody who picks up a gun, anybody who fires a missile, must realize that the law is alive and not in slumber. And that accountability is absolutely essential.


BOLDUAN: That was the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court speaking to Russian leaders and every Russian soldier on the battlefield in Ukraine, a warning that no one should believe they can get away with a war crime. Moments later, the Russian Foreign Minister spoke trying to undermine the ICC accusing it of being a propaganda operation. And a warning to our viewers, some of the images you're about to see are disturbing.


And here with me now is Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. Mr. Khan, thank you so much for joining me here today. The Russian Foreign Minister not only in his remarks went after the ICC. He also continued to call the images coming out of Ukraine, the images of atrocities, fake.