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Putin Orders Partial Mobilization in Russia; Florida Governor Under Fire; Convicts, Mercenaries Fight for Russia in Bakhmut; Civil Rights Group Files Lawsuit Against Florida Governor DeSantis Over Migrant Flights; Smuggled Migrants Face Dangerous Conditions to Reach U.S.; Wall Street on Edge Ahead of Fed Announcement. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2022 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world I'm Christina Macfarlane in for Max Foster in London. Just ahead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes a drastic step, announcing a partial mobilization to support the war in Ukraine. We will break down where things go from here.

Plus, more fallout after Florida's governor flew nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts. More on the legal battle now taking shape.

And Wall Street is on edge with the Federal Reserve expected to announce another big interest rate hike, spurring fears of a recession.

Hello and welcome. It's Wednesday September 21st, 9 a.m. here in London, 11 a.m. in Moscow, where we are following a potentially drastic escalation in Russia's war on Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is ordering a partial mobilization to boost his military might. The Russian president says it begins today. People in the reserves and those with previous military experience will be subject to conscription. The president says his aim is to protect the Russian homeland and the people in liberated territories in Ukraine.

CNN is covering the story from every angle. Our Clare Sebastian joins us here in London, and our Nick Paton Walsh is standing by in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. Nick, to you first. This announcement of a move to partial conscription isn't entirely unexpected given the losses we've seen. Russia is suffering on the battlefield. But in real terms, what would this mean and how would it work for Russia?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think what is startling is how fast this will go into action. But it is -- I think it's fair to say relatively limited. Remember, for 12 hours we have been awaiting really a speech from the Kremlin head. And talk have been possibly he might call for mass mobilization across the entirety of Russia civilian population. Instead, they say at this point, they're talking about partial mobilization of people who have former military experience, and who maybe be in the reserve. Now the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu went on to say that this may be

about 300,000 people. I will say, Russia has been struggling with man power for months. And the idea that there is a ready reserve of experienced people they could tap into who would fit the criteria for serving on the front line is a tough one to potentially swallow. But it is certainly a move by Russia to try and escalate. It's clear it's about defending freshly occupied territories.

But it also comes with a broad and a bit of context here from Vladimir Putin, again painting Russia as a country under threat from NATO. When frankly, this is all because of his decision to unprovokedly invade Ukraine.

He talks about how -- to those who tried to blackmail us when nuclear weapons, they should know that the prevailing winds could turn in their direction. He essentially has been saying that NATO is threatening Russia when nuclear weapons, which is nonsense. It's in fact Russia that first raised the prospect of nuclear war at the beginning of this war.

But he goes on to say that if the territorial integrity of Russia is threatened, then they reserve the right to use all means at their disposal, including weapons of mass destruction. Essentially pointing towards nuclear weapons but not being explicit there. What he doesn't say here -- and he does say that they would use the mobilization to defend freshly occupied areas, freshly liberated areas. What he doesn't say in this instance is that that particular threat of weapons of mass destruction will be used to defend freshly liberated areas. So, there are some nuances here that are important. But a Kremlin trying to seize control of the narrative here -- Christina.

MACFARLANE: Nick, standby for us. Clear, we were hearing Nick saying just there, talking just there about these planned referendums, we know to take place this week. Clearly an attempt by Putin to legitimize his actions. What has the West's response been to not only that but obviously the speech we heard this morning?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean what we're hearings on that referendum, which were announced in sort of a wave yesterday, in four different regions, Donetsk, Luhansk which of course make up the Donbas. Russia stated goal, which Putin reiterated today is to take control of that whole region. But adding into more the Kherson region, which is sort of the first area that Russia occupied in the war, and Zaporizhzhia, which is only partially occupied by Russia. They are also to hold referendums, just as we saw with Crimea, Christina, eight years ago. The West is not going to recognize these referendums.


I think is highly unlikely that in the context of a war they are going to take place in a free and fair way. So, this will amount, essentially, if they go ahead, to an annexation, a mass annexation by Russia.

But as Nick was pointing out, the justification for this is that Russia feels it's under threat. That the West is trying to sort of divide and destroy it. Take a listen to what he had to say on that.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Their goal is to weaken, divide and to destroy our country. They are talking that in 1991, they broke up the Soviet Union and now it is time for Russia, that Russia must fall apart into different regions, and oblasts.


SEBASTIAN: He does not mention that the perhaps of this justification for this is that Russia has been really struggling on the battlefield, struggling to replenish its ranks and all that. And this is what we've been hearing in terms of international reaction. The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink saying sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness of Russian failure.

And I want to bring you one quick reaction from the Ukraine side. This is Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak.

He says: On the 200th day of the three-day war, Russians who demanded the destruction of Ukraine ended up getting, one, mobilization, two, closing borders, blocking bank accounts, and three, prison for desertions. Everything is still going according to plant, right? So, they are also pointing out this is a sign of Russian weakness.

MACFARLANE: Yes, Ukraine is not at all surprised to see this is the reaction from Putin. Clare, thank you. I just want to have a final word with Nick, there on the ground in Kramatorsk. Nick, all of this of course, from Putin is a response to the significant gains Ukraine's counteroffensive have made in recent weeks. But is it really as big a move as Putin could make? And from what you're seeing there on the ground, how will this address the issues that they're facing on the battlefield?

WALSH: Yes, I mean, in truth, this is I think frankly a lot smaller than some people have felt, this significant speech might have been about is partial mobilization, is people with military experience. It's addressing a manpower crisis they've known about, and possibly even trying to fix with the sort of similar measures more quietly over the past months. It may be a prelude to larger types of conscription ahead.

But was what was not absolutely explicit here was the threat to use weapons of mass description to protect liberated areas -- as Russians would call them -- those parts of Ukraine that they forcibly occupied under military force.

And I think too, a sense of Russia leaning more on its feelings of weakness, in terms of territorial integrity, then talking about expanding its territory out towards Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. True, Ukraine it has very much on the front foot on the front lines here. But we saw in fact, just yesterday, how in one town near where I'm standing, Bakhmut Russian mercenaries recruited again, because of the manpower crisis, and deplenished ranks -- because they've been losing soldiers so fast on the frontline, how Wagner mercenaries are in fact moving forwards and threatening the edge of that key city. Here's what we saw.


WALSH (voice-over): The mood here is black and old. From a time, past Ukraine didn't feel it was winning, taking heavy losses and struggling to hold on. But the Russian enemy is something new.

WALSH: This is the very front line with Russian physicians literally 100 meters away from where I'm standing.

WALSH (voice-over): The Kremlin really wants the city of Bakhmut. So here on its edges, it's sent ruthless mercenaries from the Wagner Group to fight -- the shelling endless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Let's go while our Grad Rockets are firing.

WALSH (voice-over): We are taken up to their vantage point from where they see the Wagner fighters rushing them leading the Ukrainians to open fire.

WALSH: And it is just over there. They say that Russian Wagner mercenaries appear to try and run at them exposing Ukrainian positions so the Russian artillery can hit where they are.

WALSH (voice-over): The fields between them charred pockmarked, they are almost eyeball to eyeball. The next attack is imminent. We can see a mortar unit the drone operator says they're preparing to fire at us. Down in the shelter, the commander says they've captured Russian convicts who were recruited to fight.


WALSH (voice-over): It was get shot or surrender for the convict he says, Wagner act professionally not like usual infantry unit. Shells continue to land all around them.

Bakhmut is a mess. Russia edging towards it but not inside. Prepared for street to street fighting and meanwhile torn to pieces. But the losses are heavy and exposed positions around the city particularly here.


Russia's invasion tearing through the green treasured land, it claims to cover it.

WALSH: Why do they want Bakhmut so much?

WALSH (voice-over): They retreated elsewhere and they need a victory. Something significant, he says, so they throw forces here. Of course, we have casualties. Not today in our unit. But you can't avoid dead or wounded, sometimes heavily injured. I lost my close friend five days after we came here.

If you roads away Andre is cycling home. His eyes tell you how life is here. First, the shooting, but there's no electricity or water. It's not too bad, only every second house is ruined.

There are still many people here buying a lot of Natalia's potatoes.

We sold half a ton today, she says. Who knows if the shootings is coming or going. Could be scared she said.

Twenty-four hours later, a Ukrainian artillery is hitting positions on the city's edge amid reports Russia has got closer. Much fresh smoke, and it's always hard to know what Moscow thought it was hitting. Walking home with a squeaky wheel and food is Maria back to her son.


WALSH (voice-over): Silence and terror in turn enveloping the city.


WALSH (on camera): Christina, winter a critical week. Because likely by Monday, Tuesday, Russia will declare that its sham referendums in these militarily seized areas say that the people there want to join Russia. That's pretty much a given. How fast does the Kremlin put that into effect? What they do in terms of defending this newly occupied territory? That's a key question.

And this partial mobilization, what does it do for enthusiasm for the war inside Russia? And what is actually do for the front line here? Because getting those people equipped, trained, and actually to the front is a big task. And Russia has failed at many of those over the past six months of this war. So, while we are into a very fraught week ahead of us, it is unclear yet how these big rhetorical gestures from Moscow are actually going to change the front lines here, where Ukraine remains in the ascendancy -- Christina.

MACFARLANE: Yes, Nick, very important to have you there during what could prove to be a very critical week for this war. Thank you to you, from Kramatorsk and of course to Clare as well here in London.

Now, U.S. President Joe Biden gets his turn the podium today at the U.N. General Assembly. He's expected to make the case that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the world body's 1945 charter. He will also have a face-to-face meeting with the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres kicked off Tuesday's session with an impassioned plea for action to address the climate crisis.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Let's have no illusions, we are in rough seas. A winter of global discontent is on the horizon. A cost of living crisis is raising. Trust is crumbling. Inequalities are exploding. And our planet is burning.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MACFARLANE: Attorneys for the group of migrants flown from Texas to Massachusetts filed a class action suit against Florida's governor and others, saying he defrauded them to advance a political motive. Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis arranged for two planes to fly nearly 50 migrants, mostly from Venezuela to Martha's Vineyard last week. His office responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday, saying the migrants were moved on a voluntary basis. Earlier, the government described the migrant crisis as a failure of the Biden administration to secure the U.S. southern border.


RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA GOVERNOR: They were hungry, homeless. They had no opportunity at all. The state of Florida -- it was volunteer. Offered transport to sanctuary jurisdictions. Because it is our view that, one, the border should be secured. And we want to have Biden reinstitute policies like Remain in Mexico and making sure that people aren't overwhelming.


MACFARLANE: Well meantime, President Joe Biden is responding to reports that DeSantis may send migrants from Texas to Delaware, which is the presidents home state, listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Ron DeSantis, it looks like ascending migrants to Delaware. You have any comments or response to that, sir?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should come visit we have a beautiful shoreline.


MACFARLANE: U.S. customs and border protection reports the number of encounters with migrants on the U.S. Mexico border has topped 2 million this year. The agency says migration from countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba is driving up numbers. Migrants often face treacherous conditions will crossing the border, like oppressive desert heat and dangerous waters.


CNN's Rosa Flores shows us just how dangerous it can get. And I want to warn you some of the video in her report is disturbing to watch.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what human smuggling looks like -- migrants gasping for air in this 2015 case or a trailer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can anybody stand up?

FLORES (voice-over): Covered in wailing humans in this 2017 case. Ten people died, authorities say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know which one next. Just pick one and I'll help you up.

FLORES (voice-over): A similar scene unfolded in June when 53 people died in San Antonio in a tractor-trailer.


FLORES (voice-over): Craig Larrabee is the acting special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, the arm of DHS that investigates human smuggling and says, migrants have more than death to fear.

LARRABEE: The extortion, the assaults, physical assaults, sexual assaults. They're real.

FLORES (voice-over): He says human smuggling has changed in the last decade from small family businesses that charged $2,000 per migrant to multinational criminal organizations that charge 10,000 and make billions of dollars a year.

LARRABEE: So maybe a vehicle had 50 bodies in it years and years ago. They'll put 150 bodies in that vehicle.

FLORES (voice-over): Larrabee debunks the myth that migrants are usually smuggled into the U.S. on tractor-trailers.

LARRABEE: They're smuggled across the country on foot. That's generally speaking.

FLORES (voice-over): Once in the U.S., migrants are taken to so-called stash houses.

LT. AARON MORENO, HIDALGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I've seen over 70 people in a little apartment.

FLORES: Hidalgo County Sheriff's Lt. Aaron Moreno shows us a stash house they dismantled last year. The windows of the small home clues, smugglers tried to hide 37 people inside.

MORENO: This is a tactic. You put aluminum foil and/or cardboard so nobody can see inside. So, they can't see outside.

FLORES (voice-over): From those stash houses, migrants are packed in travel trailers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're under arrest for human smuggling.

FLORES (voice-over): In the trunks of cars, toolboxes, vans and other vehicles that are sometimes locked shut like this one last week -- that had to be by pried open by law enforcement.

The drivers sometimes get thousands of dollars per migrant according to these TikTok videos used by the Mexican cartels and provided to CNN by Texas Department of Public Safety. Why would the cartels pay drivers so much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to pass this checkpoint right here.

FLORES (voice-over): There are Border Patrol checkpoints in South Texas that those drivers have to go through, sometimes with human cargo.

FLORES: Smugglers will try to avoid that checkpoint by guiding migrants through this tough terrain. Now, the migrants that can keep up continue north. The ones that can't are left behind, sometimes to die.

FLORES (voice-over): Migrant deaths so far this year, a record nearly 750 -- a number already exceeding last year's total of 557.

The alleged driver in the deadly June tractor-trailer tragedy in San Antonio apparently went through a checkpoint near Laredo. He has pleaded not guilty. It's unclear if the migrants were already on board. While Larrabee says a lot has changed in the business of human smuggling, one thing is constant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you stand? Come on.

FLORES (voice-over): Smugglers have no regard for human life.

FLORES: In April, the Biden administration launched an effort to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling organizations. So far nearly 5,000 people have been arrested. As a matter of fact, just last week eight individuals were arrested and they allegedly helped smuggle hundreds if not thousands of individuals into this country in brutal conditions.

Rosa Flores CNN, El Paso, Texas.


MACFARLANE: Now all eyes will be on the U.S. Federal Reserve Wednesday another big interest rate hike widely expected. Wall Street has been on edge with the doubt dropping another 300 points Tuesday. The concerns are weighing on the global markets as well -- as you can see there. In the Asian markets all four indices well down there. And here's a look at how the U.S. futures are shaping up just hours away from the opening bell. A similar picture both Dow and Nasdaq and the S&P 500 all still down.

Well, investors are bracing for the benchmark interest rate to rise another three quarters of a percentage point, but the big concern is whether the Fed can strike a delicate balance between bringing down inflation and preventing a recession.


CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What the Fed wants to do is to raise rates just enough so that they can cool demand but not so much that they tip us into a recession. And it's really hard to calibrate exactly. They are hoping that it is just enough medicine that it doesn't kill the patient.



MACFARLANE: Of course, stay with CNN for the latest on the Fed's announcement later today.

And up next, questions swirl over Donald Trump's claims that documents found at Mar-a-Lago were declassified as a special master hold his first hearing.

Plus, hurricane Fiona grows to a category four storm after passing by Turks and Caicos. We'll look at the devastation left in its wake as islands try to recover.


MACFARLANE: Hi, welcome back. The judge tapped to service as special master and review documents seized at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort held his first hearing with lawyers from both sides. And the issue of whether or not those documents were declassified was front and center in court.

CNN's Evan Perez has the details now from Washington.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: For weeks, Donald Trump has said that the FBI had no reason to seize government documents from his home because he declassified any documents that were marked classified and they were found there.


He has made that claim in interviews and on social media, but the former president's lawyers in two different federal courts have yet to make that argument.

At a hearing in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Federal Judge Raymond Dearie questioned Trump lawyers on whether they plan to present proof that the documents were declassified. Judge Dearie is asking as a special master, or an independent third party to review thousands of documents that were seized from Trump's Palm Beach estate.

Trump's lawyers told him that they're not ready to say whether the documents were declassified. They say that maybe part of their defense if the Justice Department brings charges against the former president.

In a separate court filing to a Federal Appeals Court in Atlanta, Trump's lawyers also stopped short of saying that Trump declassified the documents. Now that court is reviewing a lower court decision that blocked the Justice Department from accessing about 100 documents that the government says are classified. Trump lawyers told the appeals court that the Justice Department, quote, assumes without either side presenting any proof that the documents are in fact classified. Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


MACFARLANE: Now Donald Trump ally and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell is challenging in federal court the FBI's recent seizure of his cellphone. It was done as part of an investigation into a Colorado election security breach. Lindell alleges it may have been an illegal search without properly being explained his rights. He wants to block the Justice Department from having access to his phone data which he says he uses for his business and other personal matters.

The Department of Justice had obtained a warrant approved by a federal judge to perform the search according to the court record.

A writer who claims she was raped by former U.S. President Donald Trump plans to file a new lawsuit against him. Lawyers for E. Jean Carroll says she intends to sue Trump under New York states Adult Survivors Act. You law gives adults accusers a one-year window to bring several claims over alleged sexual misconduct, regardless of how long ago it occurred. Carroll accuses Trump of sexually assaulting her during the mid-1990s in New York -- in a New York department store. Former president has repeatedly denied the claim.

Now hurricane Fiona has grown to a category four storm leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands behind it as a churns further into the Atlantic. On Tuesday the storm ripped through the islands with sustained winds. Residents are under a shelter in place order amidst downpours. So far, thankfully, no deaths or injuries have been reported.

But on other islands in the Caribbean, at least five deaths have been reported from that hurricane. Puerto Rico has managed to restore some power to 300,000 customers, but more than 1 million remain without power on Tuesday amid the difficult cleanup.

Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has been tracking the storm's progress for us from Atlanta. Pedram, what are you seeing?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Christina, you know, as you noted, this storm system was already an incredible storm causing significant damage across portions of not only Puerto Rico but of course into the Turks and Caicos. It is not getting, stronger, it is now getting larger as it approaches farther towards the north here.

And I want to show you the cloud field associated with the storm system from its northern fringe to its southern fringe, because we kind of superimposed this over the state of Alaska, how about 560 mile cloud field from its northern to its southern, essentially fitting right into the state of Alaska. Speaking to just the incredible size of the storm system and look at the ferocity. The center of the storm, the circulation, the symmetry, all of that put together, you're looking at a 130 mile per hour sustained wind storm here which is a healthy category four. And again, further strengthening expected.

The bottom of your screen, it's the Turks and Caicos Islands. Notice the northern fringe and it's still getting some of the outer bands of this feature, but it is gradually moving away from the Turks, what we're watching carefully now is about 750 miles towards the north.

The storm system is going to move over an area favorable for further development where water temperatures climb up into the middle 80s, about 30 degrees Celsius or so. Typically, about 28 Celsius, 82 Fahrenheit is the sea surface temperature you want to see for a storm for it to maintain its intensity. It is going to be well above that in the immediate path of the system, and eventually notice where and, up just west of Bermuda. That is exactly where tropical storm watches have been prompted and the closest run for Bermuda is going to be sometime around Thursday night into Friday morning.

The system maintains that 140 mile per hour strength which is a mid- level category four. Notice models do suggest that they'll want to be about 150 maybe 200 miles west of Bermuda on early Friday morning. If that's the case we know the outer bands of this system will still produce tropical force winds across Bermuda. That's why folks here are taking the storm very seriously. And notice eventually it ends up across portions of the Canadian Maritimes, still bringing with it winds that are equivalent to a category one hurricane. But notice there's an incoming front, kind of shove this away from the Eastern United States, but parts of Canada look like will be the last area of significant impact with the systems sometime later this week -- Christina.

MACFARLANE: Well, we hope for residents of Bermuda that it does stay west. Pedram, thank you very much for now.