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FL Gov. Vows To Relocate Migrants To Other States; DHS: Texas, Arizona And Florida Governors Using People As "Props"; Mortgage Rates Top Six Percent For First Time Since 2008; FedEx CEO Says He Expects A "Worldwide Recession"; DOJ: Judge's Order Disregarded National Security Risks; CNN Goes To Newly Discovered Mass Burial Site In Ukraine; Interview With Sen. James Risch (R-ID); Republican Blake Masters Pivots To Center Ahead Of Midterms. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 17, 2022 - 19:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. The top stories on this Saturday, dozens of migrants get settled at a military base in Massachusetts but they may not be alone. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now pledging to send migrants from the border to other states.

Plus, stocks falling mortgage rates, rising prices everywhere but the gas pumps surging. How close are we to a recession? Still asking that question. And rain is now falling in Puerto Rico as Tropical Storm Fiona gain strength and power outages are already becoming a problem. You're in the CNN Newsroom.

Florida's governor is turning up the heat on his migrant relocations vowing that what we saw this week in Martha's Vineyard is just the beginning. Governor Ron DeSantis also said he will spend every penny from his $12 billion relocation budget to send more migrants to liberal areas. Priscilla Alvarez joins us now for more. Priscilla?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER: Pamela, the ongoing feud between Republican governors and the Biden administration over immigration policy escalated this week before the Governor Ron DeSantis now jumping into the mix and sending some 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent migrants to the residents are in front of the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Now the White House was very critical of these actions this week, saying that it was a political stunt and the Department of Homeland Security also weighing in saying the lack of coordination between these states and the cities where they're sending migrants can, quote, wreak havoc. And that has been the case to a degree the city officials both in Martha's Vineyard and Washington, D.C. as well as New York and Chicago have been trying to shore up resources to help those asylum seekers that are sent by the states of Texas, Arizona and now, Florida.

Now the Biden administration has been grappling with an increasing number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for months now. And they met yesterday to discuss support along the border as well as funding. Now this was a meeting that a White House official told us was previously planned.

But a source familiar with discussions also tells me that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice lawyers are discussing litigation options regarding the movement of migrants out of state by Republican governors. But those governors showing no indication of standing down just this morning. Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent migrants to Washington, D.C. again. Pamela?

BROWN: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, thank you so much.

My next guest says she was nine months old when her family escaped a country on the brink of civil war and built a life in Maryland. Krish O'Mara Vignarajah joins us now. She is the President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. And she previously served in the Obama White House as policy director for First Lady Michelle Obama, and at the State Department.

Krish, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it. So I want to go to this tweet that you put out saying, "Nobody wins in the cruelty contest between DeSantis, Ducey, and Abbott. Asylum seekers, including children, legally crossing the border had to flee the only home they've ever known. Shame on all those who would exploit vulnerable migrants for naked political theater."

Those are some pretty strong words.

KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH, PRES. & CEO, LUTHERAN IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE SERVICE: Well, I think it's just sad when you see what's happening. I mean, we're talking about children and families who are fleeing communist dictators, the kinds of leaders that Governor DeSantis, Governor Abbott have railed against. They flee for their lives, because they have no other choice. And they come to the U.S. They go through the process, they seek out legal authorities, they get documented, they get legal paperwork to file their asylum claims.

And the idea of shipping them with duplicitous lies, claiming that they're going to get housing, social services, jobs, lying about their final destinations, and then, you know, trying to dump them in an isolated islands. It's just a tragedy, and it's clearly a political ploy. Of course, that was not the end of the story. And I think it was amazing to see how Martha's Vineyard, the local communities rally together to give them a hero's welcome.

BROWN: It feels personal to you, right, given what your family went through.

VIGNARAJAH: It does. And, you know, of course, Sri Lanka is still in the news. I know when my parents fled. What was a country on the brink of civil war, because we were part of the ethnic and religious minority. They fled when I was nine months old. My brother was three. They didn't feel like they had a choice. They fled for why -- the same reason parents flee because they want to protect their children and they want to give them a better life.

BROWN: Texas Governor Abbott is defending the migrant relocations. He said they were not misled. Let's listen.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS GOVERNOR: Everybody that Texas has moved, they sign an authorization to go to the destination that we drove them to, and so there's been zero people that Texas has misled.



BROWN: So he says zero people were misled by Texas. Do you believe him?

VIGNARAJAH: Based on the accounts that we've heard from the migrants, whether they were going to D.C. or to Martha's Vineyard, it doesn't seem accurate, where he is suggesting. Some of these folks actually have legal cases where they need to show up in Texas in a month's time. It's clear that they don't, you know, they sign these forms, because they are hopeful that there's going to be services when they arrive, but they're arriving and they're just dumped on the side of the road with nothing, because they're fleeing these countries, taking months long journeys, and all they have are the clothes on their backs.

BROWN: What do you say to conservatives who say, look, call it what you want, you can call it a stunt. But the overall purpose here is for blue states to understand what red states are going through with overwhelmed communities at the border. And hopefully, they will finally do something about the border crisis now. What do you say to them?

VIGNARAJAH: I agree that immigration is a federal issue, and it does require a national solution. No single state can solve immigration alone. But I think it's important to understand what they're doing. They're creating a crisis, where one doesn't exist. There's infrastructure. My organization, for example, serves asylum seekers in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico. We're not overrun by asylum seekers there.

What they're doing in the specialty resort (ph) in Martha's Vineyard is they're taking people from places where there's existing infrastructure and sending them to places where there's not with no advance notice, because they hope those communities will get flat footed. And I think the final thing I would say is, look, this is a time where the U.S. should take advantage of the fact that people risked their lives to come here.

We pay a price premium, whether it's inflation, whether it's the 11.2 million jobs that are going unfilled, because last year, we had the lowest rate of immigration to the country since 2010. We're hurting ourselves in this -- in these political shenanigans.

BROWN: The White House has held meetings about this trying to figure out what to do, how to handle it. If this is getting the attention of the White House of the way it is, are you concerned that this will only fuel these efforts by these conservative governors? VIGNARAJAH: I am worried because, you know, it seems like one party views this as a wedge issue where they can score political points. And the other party views this as their Achilles heel, and they don't want to talk about it, especially in advance of the midterm. And the problem is that the reality what we're seeing at the southern border, and otherwise, it's not going to go away.

My hope is that the White House will recognize that the administration can do things. For example, the D.C. mayor asked the National Guard twice, and both requests were rejected. The federal government can put resources to this issue. But likewise, they have to recognize there needs to be coordination.

If you take the asylum, the refugee system, we have a national system where we work with local communities, we recognize whether a family has a U.S. tie, and we will make a collective effort on where that families should go. But with the asylum system, it's ad hoc. And there's no reason for why the federal government but also Congress need to play a role. It's a sad reality that for 30 years, we've not had any major immigration reform.

BROWN: And when asked whether the border is under control, the White House said it's currently fixing a broken system. It's going to take some time. That's what we heard from the White House press secretary. But the bottom line is the immigration system is broken, it has been broken for a long time. What is it going to take to fix it?

VIGNARAJAH: America? I mean, I think maybe what gives me hope is less than 10 years ago. Thanks to the leadership of the Gang of Eight, we were actually able to get 68 votes in the Senate for real immigration reform. That wasn't that long ago. But what we need to resurrect, is the Republican leadership that we have seen in the past.

You used to have border state political leaders like John McCain and George W. Bush, consistently support immigration reform. That's what we need to see today. And we also need to see President Biden recognize that immigration is the strength of our country, it's not our issue to shirk away from. And just as we've seen, bold action on climate crisis, on infrastructure, that's what we need to see on immigration.

BROWN: All right, Krish, thank you so much for coming on sharing your perspective.

VIGNARAJAH: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: So we're hearing it called a stunt and inhumane as we were just talking about, and it's also obviously become part of the playbook for some Republican governors, taking often unsuspecting and sometimes misinformed migrants and shipping them out as pawns in the effort to bring the reality of the immigration crisis directly to liberal cities and states.

And as we're seeing, two of the Republican governors at the forefront of the strategy are Florida's Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott of Texas. Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While residents of Martha's Vineyard hugged and cared for a group of about 50 Venezuelan migrants sent to the island from Texas on chartered planes, courtesy of Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a group of Venezuelan and Latino activists gathered in Miami to lash out.

ADELYS FERRO, DIRECTOR, VENEZUELAN AMERICAN CAUCUS: He has to stop. We demand him to stop using our pain, our suffering, and our desperation for his political games.

JUAN-CARLOS PLANAS, FORMER FLORIDA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: This was a publicity stunt that is the lowest common denominator of human decency.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Juan-Carlos Planas is the son of Cuban exiles and a former Republican state representative from Miami. He says at this point, it's not clear yet, if DeSantis has angered the reliably Republican political base of Cubans and Venezuelans in Florida.

PLANAS: From what I've heard on Cuban radio today, they haven't mentioned it, which is probably the fact that they don't know how to deal with it. So there probably will be a negative side to this. This may be the step too far.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Governor DeSantis vows to keep as many migrants out of Florida as possible through his relocation program.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R)-FL): I got 12 million for us to use and so we are going to use it and you're going to see more and more but I'm going to make sure that we exhaust all those funds.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Florida is home to the largest populations of Cuban and Venezuelan immigrants fleeing socialist dictatorships, but there are deep political divisions in these communities.

PLANAS: There are, you know, Venezuelans who are hardcore Trump supporters, they're called the MAGAzuelans. And basically, these are folks that believe that there should be a hard line on everything.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): For several months, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has put more than 11,000 migrants on some 250 buses, with some going to cities with Democratic leaders like Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York. Texas Division of Emergency Management figures show it has cost the state more than $12 million. Abbott has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to showcase the busing program.

ABBOTT: Most of America has not really understood the magnitude of the problem that we have on the border until we started sending these buses up to New York.

PONCHO NEVAREZ, FORMER TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: For any politician that uses this issue in the way these two gentlemen have, it is the worst kind of cynicism that we have in politics today.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Poncho Nevarez is a former Democratic state representative from the Texas border town of Eagle Pass. His home overlooks the Rio Grande into Mexico. Nevadans says if there's a political price to pay for these political stunts, Abbott and DeSantis haven't experienced it yet.

(on-camera): There are a lot of people who criticize Abbott and DeSantis and say what they're doing is inhumane and not right. But do you think for the average voter out there, it matters?

NEVAREZ: I think it may not.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): A University of Texas and Texas Politics Project poll this week found that Abbott's busing of migrants has about 52 percent support among Texas voters, including 50 percent support among independent voters.

NEVAREZ: The response that they got was exactly what they wanted, which is what are you doing, why are you sending them here and it's looks like the border town. That's what they wanted, and they got it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): And the governors of Texas and Florida say they will continue to do more of the same.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


BROWN: Well, we're getting some new video tonight. A military jet crashes after a bird gets sucked into the engine. We're going to show you coming up. Plus, Ukraine says bodies found at a mass burial site show signs of torture. And now the United Nations plans to investigate.

And next it feels like the price of everything keeps going up, food, cars, homes, you don't just feel that way it is. CNN Economics and Political Commentator Catherine Rampell joins us to break it all down.



BROWN: This was by every measure a bad week for stocks. All three major indexes, the Dow, the S&P 500, NASDAQ, well, they all logged their fourth losing week out of the last five. Lots to talk about with CNN Economics and Political Commentator Catherine Rampell, who is also a Washington Post Opinion Columnist. Hi, Catherine. So just how bad was this week? And what's the expectation heading into the new quarter?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The stock market did not fare particularly well this week. And that's mostly because the inflation numbers came in much hotter than expected, which suggests that the Fed is going to have to continue raising rates, I should say, perhaps more than they would like to. Basically, if price growth is too strong, that means you need rate hikes to be a little bit more aggressive in order to cool demand. And that has effects on the stock market. Generally, when interest rates go higher, that's bad for the stock market, particularly for tech stocks and other sort of growth equities, whose profits are primarily in the future.

BROWN: Yes, that is certainly something that homebuyers do not want to hear right now because the average 30-year fixed rate topped 6 percent for the first time since 2008. That was on Thursday. That is significantly higher, nearly double I believe, this time last year. So what are we supposed to do about this?

RAMPELL: Well, if you are trying to buy a house, it's probably not good news for you, certainly. The cost of borrowing has gone up. Again, this is expected. This is what happens when the Fed raises interest rates. Part of the Feds goal is to try to dampen down demand. The downside of all of this for the housing market, of course, is that it also discourages new home building.


It becomes -- if it becomes more expensive to buy a house, if you are a home builder, it looks a little bit riskier to invest in a lot more building. So the Fed, you know, it has one tool available to deal with inflation. That is, it can either cool demand or not. It can't do very much on the supply side of things.

In an ideal world, of course, they would have a toolkit that basically allowed them to affect the prices of everything else without touching the housing market. But that's where we are today. And unfortunately, the cost of -- the total cost for buying a house has gone up. The actual sticker price for housing may in fact go down because of course it costs more to borrow.

BROWN: Yes. Bad news, good news, I guess, for homebuyers. All right, so we're hearing the word recession being tossed around more and more. I want you to listen to what the FedEx CEO said this week.


RAJ SUBRAMANIAM, CEO, FEDEX: Well, I'm not an economist, but you know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know more than an economist, come on. They just push papers. You actually looked at it.

SUBRAMANIAM: Well, I think so. I think so. But, you know, again, these numbers don't put on very well.


BROWN: Do you agree? Are we nearing a recession like you just heard there from the CEO of FedEx?

RAMPELL: I think there are certainly large risks for recession, it's not inevitable. But the problem today, again, is that inflation has been persistently higher than is comfortable. What that means is that the Fed is going to have to raise rates more than it would like to in order to get inflation down. The more the Fed raises interest rates, the higher the risk of a recession becomes. Because again, interest rates are sort of a blunt instrument.

And in an ideal world, the Fed would be able to raise them just enough to cool demand, but not so much to tip us into recession. But they're going to have to get more aggressive, essentially, because inflation continues unabated. So that's the challenge here.

How do you make sure that we get those price -- that price growth in a more comfortable area without actually tipping us into a global recession. And so long as we continue to have problems in the energy markets as well, so long as we continue to have high prices overall, the risk or recession here and globally, is very high.

BROWN: We should know -- I'd like to end on a positive note if I can, that gas prices do continue to fall down an average of 26 cents from a month ago. So a bit of good news there, but it really much needed relief for Americans.

Catherine Rampell, thank you so much.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

BROWN: And up next, the DOJ making an appeal of a special master review of documents cease last month at Mar-a-Lago. Why it wants parts of the judge's order to be put on hold. They fear if it isn't, it would cause irreparable harm.



BROWN: The Justice Department is now asking an appeals court to temporarily block a Trump appointed judge's ruling that prevents the DOJ from accessing classified records seized last month at the former president's resort in Florida. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the latest in this legal tug of war.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Justice Department filing their appeal with the 11th circuit but in doing it, they're actually asking for just limited relief. They're telling the court they want really just two things that Judge Aileen Cannon refused to give them when she ruled on Thursday night. First, they want to be allowed to continue their criminal investigation into classified documents unimpeded.

That means they want to resume using those 100 classified documents, but Judge Cannon has said they can no longer use whether it's in Grand Jury proceedings or with witnesses. So they want to finally be able to use, that they're asking the 11th circuit for that. Plus, DOJ is saying that they shouldn't have to turn over that classified material to Trump's legal team, or even a special master who has been appointed for this review. They're saying that the lower court judge was just wrong to order the disclosure of some of this highly sensitive material in the midst of this ongoing investigation. And on a broader scale in this filing, DOJ is really saying that courts shouldn't be stepping in on this issue. Because all of the documents at issue here, they say, belong to the government. They write this saying, "Allowing the government to use and review the records bearing classification markings for criminal- investigative purposes would not cause any cognizable injury to plaintiff." That's being Donald Trump.

"Plaintiff has no property or other legal interest in those records. Plaintiff has identified no cognizable harm for merely allowing criminal investigators to continue to review and use the same subset of the seized records." They continue to say, "That is why courts have exercised great caution before interfering through civil actions with criminal investigations or cases."

So the DOJ in that last sentence in particular, really criticizing the lower court judge for even stepping in here. Now we'll see how quickly the 11th circuit acts. It will likely be a panel of three judges, notably six of the 11 judges on the 11th circuit are Trump appointees. And then the master, a special master review of documents, that is just beginning.

In fact, Judge Raymond Dearie, who's been named the special master, he has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. to go over how scheduling will work. Since of course the clock is already ticking there, the judge has said he had to review 11,000 of those documents by November 30.


Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: It is a celebration of a life that was shared with the world.

In London this weekend, thousands of people have stood in line stretching for miles with waits up to 24 hours.

Their goal: File in to Westminster Hall to say a final farewell to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who is lying in state.

In one of the more moving moments of the day, the Queen's eight grandchildren, stood vigil by her coffin. Prince William, now heir to the throne led their procession.

And a short time ago, we learned that the Queen Consort, Camilla, will pay tribute to the Queen in a televised message tomorrow with black and white film capturing the public's love for her even decades ago.

The Queen Consort will praise her strength and recall fond memories of her "wonderful blue eyes."

And just a couple of hours ago, President Biden and the First Lady arrived in London. They will gather with Heads of State from around the world at the Queen's funeral Monday.

And CNN will have live coverage of the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II beginning Monday at 5:00 AM.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Coming up on this Saturday, more than 400 unmarked graves found in a forest in Eastern Ukraine, some of the bodies showing signs of torture.

Mason Clark from the Institute for the Study of War joins me next to discuss.



BROWN: Disturbing details emerging tonight about torture rooms found in Ukraine.

A short time ago, President Zelenskyy announced in his nightly address that more than 10 torture rooms have been found in several liberated areas of the Kharkiv region. Zelenskyy said as Russian troops fled they, "dropped the torture devices" and then left them behind.

Officials also found evidence of electric shock torture devices, so disturbing, and a gruesome discovery of a mass burial site in the Eastern Ukrainian city of Izium.

Ukrainian authorities say they have found more than 400 graves and that some of the bodies show signs of torture. It is located in a forest, where according to a CNN team on the ground, the horror can be easily seen and smelled.

CNN Nick Paton Walsh saw the site firsthand and has this report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Here is where the horror gets names and numbers. Russia's unprovoked invasion killed many anew, but only now in liberated cities like Izium are we finding out who and how.

And even this rain cannot erase the smell how death haunts these pines.

WALSH (on camera): It's important to point out that this was a military position. These are tank positions around the city, presumably for the Russians when they occupied it, burying these bodies where their troops would lay to rest and defend the city.

WALSH (voice over): Ukrainian officials have said over 400 bodies were buried here, even children, all showing signs of a violent death.

Through the day, they have been exhuming dozens of bodies, most individual graves, numbered and orderly, one bearing a number as high as 398, but this, we are told and can smell and see is a mass grave where 17 dead were found, a policeman here told us. Ukrainian officials said bodies found included the family killed in an airstrike, Ukrainian soldiers shot with their hands bound, and bodies showing signs of torture.

WALSH (on camera): Some of the graves are marked just by a number, and others have someone's full history. Zolaftarif Alexei Afasineyovich (ph), who looks like he dies, aged 82, buried here.

WALSH (voice over): This investigator tells us what he found in this spot.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE speaking in foreign language.)

WALSH (voice over): "Here are civilian bodies, and military ones further along," he said. "Over 20 have been examined here and will be sent for further investigation."

It seems to be the horrid extension of the long-term cemetery nearby. Wreaths, coffins, candles -- some people knew who they were burying, others next to this invader's campsite, likely not.

(NADEZHDA KALINICHENKO speaking in foreign language.)

WALSH (voice over): Nadezhda said the Russians first hit the graveyard with an airstrike and then moved in.

NADEZHDA KALINICHENKO, IZIUM RESIDENT (through translator): We tried not to go out because it was scary where they brought their special machines. They dug some trenches for their vehicles. We only heard how they were destroying the forest.

When they left, I don't know if there was fighting or not. We just heard a lot of heavy trucks one night a week ago.

WALSH (voice over): We saw multiple refrigerated lorries leaving town, but we were asked not to film the contents of this one. Part of where the history of Russia's brutal occupation will be written and nothing can wash this site clean.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Izium, Ukraine.


BROWN: Well, President Biden is warning Vladimir Putin about escalating the fighting any farther in Ukraine, telling "60 Minutes" that there would be consequences if Putin uses chemical or nuclear weapons.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't -- don't -- don't. It would change the face of war unlike anything since World War Two


[19:40:07] BROWN: In a talk to Republican Senator Jim Risch, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, here is what he told me about the possibility of Putin using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.


SEN. JAMES RISCH (R-ID): He knows what the situation is there. You know, the use of a nuclear weapon would change dramatically the world in very short order.

There are two things I'm convinced he is not going to do. One is using a nuclear weapon, and the other is to attack a NATO country. He has been very careful not to do that, and those are a couple of really smart moves on his part.


BROWN: Joining us now is Mason Clark, lead Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

All right, so Mason, I'm just still shaken by watching Nick Paton Walsh's report. It's just so awful what is happening there on the ground.

But the bottom line is, Russia is losing ground in parts of Ukraine. Senator Risch told me, Russia is losing this war. Are you concerned at all that he could resort to chemical or nuclear weapons?

MASON CLARK, LEAD RUSSIA ANALYST, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: I think that's unlikely as at this stage. As you noted, the Ukrainians have been doing very well in the last couple of weeks, and I think the initiative is firmly in their hands at this point in the war. But the Kremlin is still dedicated to sending in additional troops and probably most importantly, seeing what effects the winner will have on European support for Ukraine, as Russia leverages its energy weapons so to speak.

I do agree that it's still highly unlikely that Putin elects to use a nuclear or chemical weapon in Ukraine, the point of which would be to try and force Ukraine immediately out of the war. I don't think that would happen. I don't think a nuclear strike on a Ukrainian city would force the Ukrainians who have shown incredible resolve throughout this conflict to back down or surrender and would likely lead to pretty immediate retaliation conventionally against the remaining Russian forces by the US or NATO.

BROWN: And President Putin of Russia, for his part made some comments yesterday saying there is no need to change anything of this, "special military operation" as he calls it in Ukraine. What do you make of that?

CLARK: Right, so the Kremlin's insistence on keeping the framing of this special military operation is actually quite important, because since the beginning of this war, they refute -- this war, they refuse to call it as such, and have also not conducted full mobilization, to call up the masses of conscripts to fill out full Russian military units that that would provide. It would be normally done in a full scale war.

Instead, the Kremlin is using this ad hoc approach of creating new volunteer units, essentially press ganging Russian civilians into entering combat units. And most notably, we saw reports a couple of days ago of escalating efforts to directly recruit from penal colonies into various forces like the Wagner Group, which is sort of a Kremlin run private military company.

BROWN: And there are these new details emerging about torture rooms been found after Russian troops fled parts of Kharkiv. I mean, the level of depravity, I can't even put it into words, does this level of apparent war crimes change the game for the international community?

CLARK: It certainly should. I wish I could say I was shocked or surprised by this, but my team reported back in April, with the exposure of the Russian crimes in Bucha, north of Kyiv that this is likely an intentional part of the Russian occupation regime.

They actually have a word for it, fil tratsia (ph), which has a number of different systems and mechanisms associated with it, and this is likely ongoing in all of the other Russian-occupied territories that Ukraine has not yet liberated, and it certainly should come to the attention of the international community and lead to whatever sort of punishments and trials can be carried out after the war is over.

BROWN: I want to ask you about this. It's interesting.

So, we know China has expressed questions, concerns over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And now, the Indian Prime Minister Modi appears to have rebuffed Putin's invasion, as well telling Putin to his face that he needs to, "move on to a path of peace."

If countries like China and India stop backing Putin, what happens then?

CLARK: Right. That Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was probably quite a wake-up call for Putin. This war has already erased a lot of the leverage and sort of clout for lack of a better term that the Russians have amassed over the past several years of economic and diplomatic ties, and has shown that their actual real power is much less than they have projected on the world scale, and that's likely going to as sanctions take a harder blow on the Russian economy lead to further drops in their ability to seek out new allies and simply portray themselves as the global power that Putin claims Russia is.

BROWN: Mason Clark, thank you.

And up next, a midterm pivot, how one Arizona Republican running for Senate is changing his strategy to appeal more down the middle, but is it too little too late?



BROWN: Arkansas Republican gubernatorial candidate, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she has undergone successful surgery to treat thyroid cancer.

Sanders says her doctor found the cancer during a checkup earlier this month, and her doctor says the surgery removed her thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes and that he expects her to be back on her feet within the next 24 hours.

In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate, Blake Masters is attempting to pivot to the center on key issues in an effort to reel in Independent voters and unseat Democrat, Mark Kelly, but it is a sharp turn from the platform Masters was running on early in the campaign.

CNN's Kyung Lah has the details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please join me in welcoming Blake.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Arizona Republican Senate nominee, Blake Masters pledges he is paving a path for the new political right.

BLAKE MASTERS (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: Who is ready to beat Mark Kelly?


LAH (voice over): But first, Masters needs Arizona voters like John Kane (ph) to get behind him.

JOHN KANE, ARIZONA VOTER: If he doesn't turn his head around, okay, he's going to lose the election.

LAH (on camera): Are you concerned about him?

KANE: Absolutely. He runs an ads on TV, and then at the end, it says, Independents for Arizona. I said, "What?"

LAH (voice over): It's the general election pivot, trying to appeal to Independents who make up roughly a third registered voters in Arizona.

MASTERS: They've made a whole party out of just dividing people.

LAH (voice over): In this speech, Masters focuses on the border, inflation, and crime.

MASTERS: Republicans have a plan to make our families safe again, to make this country prosperous again, and to make everybody free again. Does that sound extreme to you?

LAH (voice over): But the edgy rhetoric and imagery that marked his primary was missing.

MASTERS: This is designed to kill people.

LAH (voice over): The primary candidate who doubted the 2020 election results. MASTERS: I think Trump won in 2020.

LAH (voice over): And downplayed the January 6th insurrection.

MASTERS: It wasn't a coup. It wasn't an insurrection. This was trespassing.

LAH (voice over): Didn't mention Donald Trump in this room.

MASTERS: I'm pro-life and I'm proud to be pro-life. I will never run away from that.


LAH (voice over): But he has altered his campaign website scrubbing strict anti-abortion language, and he has backed off from this primary position.

MASTERS: Maybe we should privatize Social Security, right? Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it.

LAH (voice over): To this in the general election.

MASTERS: We don't want to privatize it, they, you know, that was probably a misstatement by me.

I'm saying the same stuff I said in the primary, right? The Democrats in charge have failed. They've delivered nothing but chaos and pain. We're pushing back.

We've got a beautiful America First agenda. I was proud to campaign on that for more than a year and that's exactly what I'm campaigning on now.

LAH (on camera): So you're saying the message is exactly the same as it was, before the primary?

MASTERS: Asked and answered.

LAH (voice over): The Senate Leadership Fund, the Super PAC to help elect Republicans canceled $8 million in planned ad spending to boost Masters this month.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blake Masters is too dangerous for Arizona.

LAH (voice over): At the same time as incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Kelly and allies are pouring millions into ads using Masters words against him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't trust Blake Masters with our retirement.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Your incredible Senator Mark Kelly.

LAH (voice over): Kelly, one of the Senate's most endangered incumbents has 20 times the amount of cash on hand compared to Masters and vows to continue calling out the contrast between the candidates. SEN. MARK KELLY (D-AZ): Well, I think it's important that Arizonans know what each of us stand for and I think that's pretty clear.

I think all elections are about choices. You know, you know, and they're pretty obvious choices.



BROWN: And our thanks to Kyung Lah for that reporting.

You are in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday night.

Still ahead for you this hour, Tropical Storm Fiona is barreling towards Puerto Rico leaving tens of thousands without power, but the worst appears far from over. When we might expect that storm to upgrade to a hurricane, next.



BROWN: Right now, tens of thousands of people in Puerto Rico are without power as Tropical Storm Fiona approaches the island.

Earlier today, a hurricane warning was issued there reflecting forecasters belief that it will strengthen to a hurricane by the time it's near or over the island tomorrow night.

CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar is tracking all the latest developments. So Allison, what is the biggest concern from the storm as it impacts Puerto Rico?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Pamela, the biggest concerns with this storm are going to be the potential for flooding, as well as widespread power outages.

Fiona is not moving very fast, but that gives it a lot of time to dump a tremendous amount of rain. It is also expected to strengthen over the next 24 hours, which is why you have Hurricane Watches and Hurricane Warnings in effect, even though the storm isn't actually a hurricane yet.

In fact, the National Hurricane Center are calling for this to become a Category One Hurricane just south of Puerto Rico before it makes its way off towards Hispaniola.

In the short term, one of the big concerns is certainly going to be rainfall across the US Virgin Islands and the northern half of Puerto Rico. You're talking widespread six to 10 inches of rain, but on the southern half of Puerto Rico, now, you're talking 10 to 15 even as much as 20 inches of rain and again in a very short period of time.

Even across areas of the Eastern Dominican Republic, you're looking at widespread four to six inches of rainfall. In addition to that, you also have the flooding potential from storm surge.

Both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic looking at the potential for one to three feet of storm surge, and in areas of the US Virgin Islands, likely one to two feet.

The storm is expected to continue to strengthen likely up to a Category Two Storm by the middle portion of the upcoming week, but it will start to make more of a right hand turn to the north steering it away from the US Mainland.

However, I will caution, it is still likely to incur some rip currents and push a lot of high surf up along the East Coast of Florida.

BROWN: And the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.