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U.N. Chief: Shelling Around Ukrainian Nuclear Plant "Suicidal"; Pentagon Estimates Russian Casualties At 70-80k; China Continues Military Drills Around Taiwan For 5th Day; Pics Show WH Documents Clogging Toilet, Allegedly Flushed By Trump; Source: Two-Years of Alex Jones' Texts Turned Over To 1/6 Committee; Biden Speaks After Surveying Flood Damage In Kentucky. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 08, 2022 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Right now, in Ukraine, there's growing concern over continued shelling and rocket fire near the Russian- occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other for the attacks.

The U.N. secretary-general describes the shelling as suicidal. The Ukrainian officials claim some of the radiation monitoring sensors were damaged and warn of huge consequences across Europe.

CNN's David McKenzie is in Kyiv.

David, is it clear here who is responsible?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, no, it's not clear who is responsible. As you say, both sides are accusing each other of this very dangerous situation of shelling and possibly rocket fire in the vicinity and in the complex of the nuclear power reactor to the south of where I'm standing now.

Now, on one side of the river, there are Ukrainian forces. On the other side Russians.

They have been occupying that nuclear power facility for several months now, in and around it, with military hardware, which obviously is something that the Atomic Energy Agency says is unacceptable. They want to get their inspectors in there.

Just a short time ago, a Russian official did say to state media they may be welcoming in inspectors to look at that site.

But the fact remains that you've had several days of this very dangerous escalation of shelling in that area. One strike, according to a Ukrainian official, came very close to a fuel depot in that area.

The nuclear reactors very heavily protected against blasts. But very worrying escalation in what could be a very unthinkable fallout of the nuclear site, which could impact the whole region -- Victor? BLACKWELL: Yes. Reminiscent of some of the attacks near the sites in

the first several weeks of the war. We're now seeing that again.

We understand there's some new numbers, new details about Russian casualties since the start of the war. What do you know?

MCKENZIE: Just a short time ago, Pentagon officials telling CNN they believe -- and they say this is an estimate -- between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties in the Russian military, both deaths and wounded.

Which they called a remarkable number, given that this conflict hasn't yet achieved the objectives of Putin, and with that amount of loss of life and injured.

Now, they didn't describe exactly how they know those numbers, but we have seen circumstantial evidence of very high levels of casualties on the Russian side.

That same official saying moral inside the Ukraine military is still very high.

And you have had talk for some weeks now of a major counteroffensive in the southern part of this country, which would really test the strength and morale of the Ukrainian forces -- Victor?

BLACKWELL: David McKenzie for us in Kyiv. Thank you, David.

President Biden said today that he's concerned about China's military drills around Taiwan, but he does not expect Beijing to take additional action.

Today is the Fifth day that China has conducted military exercises around Taiwan, which Taipei calls a simulated attack following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit.


Taiwan's foreign minister tells CNN's Will Ripley this threat is far from over.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Taiwan was lighting up landmarks for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, China was lighting up the skies and seas around the self-governing democracy, a democracy in danger of a Chinese takeover if Beijing's Communist rulers get their way.

Pelosi was in Taiwan less than 24 hours, leaving behind a crisis some say she helped create.

RIPLEY (on camera): Was there any concern here in Taipei about the timing of this and whether it might provoke some sort of reaction from China?

JOSEPH WU, TAIWAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER: We knew that China always reacted badly whenever we have good friends coming to visit us.

The Chinese government cannot dictate who can come and who cannot come. And they cannot dictate Taiwan who can be our friends or who we should make friends with.

RIPLEY: But what if China goes further as a result of this visit or using this visit as an excuse? Do the benefits outweigh the risks Taiwan?

WU: One, what is China is doing is unwarranted. And what it is doing is upsetting the peace and stability in the Western Pacific. And it's something that should not be welcomed by the international community.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Taiwan's foreign minister, Joseph Wu, tells CNN China's war games are aimed at isolating this island. Pelosi, the most powerful politician to visit in 25 years.

(on camera): Is Taiwan in more danger today than it was before Nancy Pelosi's visit?

WU: China has always been threatening Taiwan for years. And it's getting more serious in the last few years. And it's always been that way.

Whether Speaker Pelosi visit Taiwan or not, the Chinese military threat against Taiwan has always been there.

RIPLEY: What do you believe China's motivation is? And do you think that their timeline has changed?

WU: China's motivation, as I said a little it earlier, is not going to end at Taiwan. They claim the East China Sea. They claim South China Sea. They work very hard to go into the Pacific.

They're influencing South Asia and Africa, even in Latin America. It's unprecedented, this space (ph). And therefore, it has a global ambition.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Ambition driven by China's most powerful leader since Mao: Xi Jinping, on track to become president for life with a burning desire to unify with Taiwan, by force if necessary.

(on camera): Has Taiwan's democratic system ever been in more danger than it is today?

WU: I can tell you that Taiwan is more resilient than before. Look at Taiwan these days. You know, China is trying to impose trade sanctions against Taiwan, trying to attack Taiwan from military or nonmilitary aspect, but the way -- the life goes on here in Taiwan.

RIPLEY: Should people in Taiwan be more worried?

WU: If you ask me, I worry a little bit.

RIPLEY: What do you worry about? WU: I worry that China may really launch a war against Taiwan, but

what it is doing right now is trying to scare us. And the best way to deal with it, to show that China that we are not scared.

RIPLEY (voice-over): He calls China's military threat more serious than ever. Taiwan's warning to the world: The danger does not stop here.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


BLACKWELL: Will Ripley, thank you for the reporting.

New York City police are now looking for these three masked robbers who made off with more than $2 million worth of jewelry.


Plus, the January 6th committee has now received two years of text messages sent and received by Alex Jones. What this means for the conspiracy theorist and the insurrection investigation. That's ahead.



BLACKWELL: Police are now looking for a group of suspects who made off with more than $2 million worth of merchandise from a New York jewelry store.

The robbery happened in broad daylight, was caught on security cameras. Look at this. The video shows these men wearing masks, rush into the Bronx business. Another man is at the door, looks like he's watching out.

In under 30 second, the three men used a hammer to smash several glass displays, stuffed a back full of high-end jewelry and ran off. A $3,500 reward is being offered for information on those suspects.

Now look at these pictures. They apparently show handwritten notes that former President Trump reportedly ripped up and attempted to flush down the toilet while in office.

The photos were given to "New York Times" reporter and CNN contributor, Maggie Haberman. They seem to confirm her earlier reporting that White House staff would find Trump White House documents clogging toilets.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What you're looking at is two photos. One from the White House, which is the one that looks like it has carpet on the bottom.

The other is from an overseas trip that a Trump White House source provided me recently, after some of the revelations during the January 6th hearing.

This person, like a number of staffers I spoke with, while some of the testimony that has been heard has been disputed, generally found the overall picture of Trump to be pretty familiar with what they've experienced. And they wanted to share them.


BLACKWELL: The former president has previously denied the allegations. And in a statement to "Axios," a Trump spokesman claims the reporting is fabricated.

Harry Litman is a former federal prosecutor and former deputy assistant attorney general.

Harry, it's always good to have you on.

This is bizarre to see these pictures, but also more than bizarre, potentially here breaking the law. Explain the implications.


HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure. So, first of all, these are our records that he's flushing down the toilet. That is under the Presidential Records act. He has to preserve it.

By the way, it's clear that's his handwriting.

And, finally, we just know about the occasional times when White House personnel would find the toilets clogged. Presumably, he was able to do it successfully more than that.

We don't know what they are except it's his own handwriting. He's a guy who takes great steps so you don't know what he said and tries to keep from having to testify.

Now these would also be his own words on writing and he's gone to extreme measures, it seems, and repeatedly and routinely, to keep those from the light of day.

BLACKWELL: Is it clearly illegal here?

LITMAN: Yes, if he's gotten rid of presidential -- and, by the way, he was warned two times by previous chiefs of staff.

It's funny. It's hard for a president to get rid of records. You shred them, somebody comes in and tapes them back together. This is really about his main avenue.

And, yes, it's clear the Presidential Records Act dictates that he has to preserve presidential records. Can't be more presidential than writing by the president on paper.

BLACKWELL: I wonder, you talked about the warnings before. The former president ripped up papers and we've had the archivists on talking about trying to tape them back together. Maybe that's a habit left over from so many decades of being in

business. That is the significant doubt on behalf of a lot of people. But taking the notes and shoving them into a toilet seems like it's nefarious.

Does the law treat them differently at all?

LITMAN: Short answer is no. And this is not going to be added to the overall ledger of criminal action against him. It just gets a little unclear at the very end because you've never had people do it so brazenly.

But you can chew them, swallow them, put them in the wastebasket, flush them down the toilet, it's all failure to preserve presidential records.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about these text messages two years of messages received by and sent by Alex Jones. This is part of the Sandy Hook defamation case, now with the January 6th committee.

What's interesting is that the attorney for the plaintiffs, the parents who were suing, said that he received this request from several federal agencies investigating and also the January 6th committee. We know they've been handed over.

Is there any legal recourse for Jones? I mean, this attorney is not representing him.

LITMAN: He could bring an action for ineffective assistance of counsel and try to get money, but good luck with that.

I think the barn door is open. Nothing is going to take them back.

And remember, Jones, the more important point, Jones takes the Fifth 100 times before the January 6th committee. We know he and Roger Stone are deeply involved in the Willard War Room where there's all this planning going on. We know he helped fund and organize January 6th itself.

So these could be a real treasure trove of information of exactly the sort that guys like Stone and Jones have withheld.

BLACKWELL: Let me slip one more in here from a committee member, Zoe Lofgren, talking about getting to the bottom of the missing text messages from the Secret Service.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): It's our intent to get to the bottom of it. Every time a text is sent, there's the sender and the person who receives the text.

So we're going to track this down. We're going to use forensics. We're going to be going to the telecoms to see if they can recover this material and the like.


BLACKWELL: How steep are the legal hurdles to get that information from the telecom companies?

LITMAN: They can do it, but it's more practical hurdles. I think the DOJ needs to be in on this. This really looks like a potential conspiracy and they have the predicate for opening an investigation into obstruction now.

BLACKWELL: Harry Litman, always good to have you.

LITMAN: Thank you.


BLACKWELL: Another rough weekend for air travelers. I was one of them. Thousands of flights canceled. And today is not looking much better. We're live with the latest.


BLACKWELL: President Biden is speaking after touring the flood devastation in eastern Kentucky. Let's go there.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I promise you, we're staying, the federal government, along with the state and county and the city, we're staying until everybody's back to where they were. Not a joke.


BIDEN: One other thing I've raised with the gov, we've never done this before. But because of a number of things we got done on a bipartisan basis, like a billion, to $200 million infrastructure project, like what we passed yesterday, taking care of everything from health care to god knows what else.

What we're going to do is, we're going to see, for example, they got to put a new water line in in a community, there's no reason why they can't at the same time be digging a line that puts in a whole new modern line for Internet connections.

Why? Why can't we do that? It's going to be different. We're going to come back better than before. I really mean it. That's the objective I have. Not come back to what we were before. Come back to better than we were before.

And I mean this, Gov. And I know you mean it. And I'm confident with your leadership, we can do it, along with the -- we call them county executives where I'm from, but the judge here.

I'm finding this is something that we can all do. We can get this done. Because we're the only country in the world that has come out of every major disaster stronger than we went into it. We got clobbered going in, but we came out stronger.


That's the objective here. It's not just to get back to where we were, To get back to better than where we were. And we have the wherewithal to do it, with the legislation that's bipartisanly passed.

I don't want any Kentuckian telling me you don't have to do this for me. Oh, yes, we do. You're an American citizen. We never give up. We never stop. We never bow. We never bend. We just go forward.

And that's what we're going to do here. And you're going to see. And I promise you, the bad news for you is I'm coming back because I want to see it.

Thank you very much.


BIDEN: Am I supposed to introduce you, Judge?

That's it.

All right. Now we're all going to run laps.


BIDEN: All kidding aside, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

These people deserve an enormous amount of credit for their courage and their stamina.



BLACKWELL: President Biden there in eastern Kentucky making a few remarks after touring the devastation there.

You can see homes turned on their side there. We know more than 35 people were killed in the recent floods. The president making some promises of support from the federal, state and local level, also touting some recent legislative wins.

Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns, who is traveling with the president in Kentucky. CNN chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, and CNN congressional correspondent, Jessica Dean.

Joe, let me start with you.

You're there in eastern Kentucky. What has the president been doing while he's been there on the ground? And he says that he will be back.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he sort of is reiterating that promise that he made at the FEMA meeting just a little while ago that he's going to see this through, that the federal government is going to see this rebuild through to the end. Also kind of echoing that campaign promise of helping people to Build

Back Better than before. In other words, to put more into the rebuild here in eastern Kentucky that will help the people of this area.

The president did go over to the Lost Creek area, which is one of the areas that was hardest hit, if you will, a debris field that's almost shocking when you see it the first time.

Very difficult to distinguish a debris field like that from the kind of damage you would see in a hurricane or a tornado. The belongings of people spread across a huge area, their houses gone, the mobile homes gone.

He talked to at least a couple families in his role as consoling in chief.

But probably the most important thing the president did was to make that promise that the government is going to see eastern Kentucky through the end of the rebuild process, which the governor has said could go on for years.

Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Kaitlan, to you at the White House.

President Biden is now out on the road after more than two weeks, 16, 17 days in COVID isolation, out meeting with people, consoling as Joe just said there, people in eastern Kentucky.

What he does often that even his critics say best is to show compassion to people in these moments.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Unfortunately, it's a moment he's not a stranger to. As the president was saying earlier as he was getting the flood briefing, he has had to tour a lot of natural disaster areas since he took office a year and a half ago.

He's been dealing with that. He has been in Kentucky touring tornado damage. He talked about hurricane damage he dealt with from Louisiana to New York to New Jersey. That wasn't so long ago either.

So the president has a history of dealing with these issues. Obviously, the federal government has these disaster declarations that free up resources for areas that need the help when it comes to resiliency or recovery for the victims that Joe was talking about there.

Of course, this comes on the heels of the Senate passing that bill, that investment in climate change, combatting climate change that passed yesterday.

The president is obviously also expected to go on the road and tout as well in the coming weeks after it passes the House. It has to go to the House first and makes its way to President Biden's desk.

So expect that to be a major theme as well as the president is on the road talking about this and talking about where it makes a difference.

You are right, Victor, the president has not been out of the White House much lately because he had COVID-19 and was a rebound case after taking Paxlovid.


But the time he spent inside the White House was quite productive, given what you saw happen on Capitol Hill as Senator Schumer and Senator Manchin announced that surprise agreement that led to that Senate passage of that economic and climate bill yesterday.