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Trump Notably Absent In Iowa Campaign; Wisconsin Senate Votes To Remove State Elections Chief; Small Progress On Union And Automakers Deal; United Nations: Flood Death Toll Now 11,300 In Derna, Libya; New Video Shows Ukraine's Assault On Destroyed Andriivka; NASA Appoints UFO Research Chief, Urges Science-Based Approach. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired September 16, 2023 - 19:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: But the move by the Florida GOP is seen as a major defeat for Trump's closes rival in his home state, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. It's also seen as a big win for Trump in that state.

And this comes during another key battle involving the former president. Federal prosecutors are asking for a narrowly tailored gag order on Trump citing his social medial attacks on people involved in the election interference case including Special Counsel Jack Smith. The order would prevent Trump from making statements that could be considered, quote, "disparaging and inflammatory or intimidating."

For the latest on the Republican races, let's go to Des Moines, Iowa, and CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at a key event that's taking place later on this evening.

Jeff, what do you expect to hear from the candidates tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we have a few thousand Iowa Republican activists who are here to see their field of candidates with the exception of the front runner, Donald Trump. You mentioned his legal woes. Of course now that has become part of the campaign. But at least here for a night, this is going to be a Trump-free evening in the sense that he will not be here. His rivals will be.

But when you talk to some Republican voters here, some of his supporters are still very much with him, of course. We know that his core base is strong. But several are saying that they are willing to turn the page, in fact, interested in turning the page. And the candidates are now trying to seize upon that.

There is a sense of urgency among many of his rivals. Particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He's been trying to hit all 99 counties across Iowa. He's up to 56 counties. He was campaigning in the western part of the state earlier before coming here to Des Moines.

But, Jim, one thing is clear. He's been talking about age being a factor in this race. Of course, so much of the discussion with President Biden's age, former President Trump's age, some congressional leaders' age. But this is how he framed it today to Iowa voters.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You'll get eight years out of me where I'm in the prime. I'm rocking and rolling, and we're going to get the job done and you're going to see that in the campaign. I think you've already seen it. You know, I'm the one that's here for 56 counties. You know, I'll do more counties today than some of these other guys will do next month.


ZELENY: So he turned 45 years old this week. He's the second youngest candidate in the race. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley making a similar argument and appeal. She's calling for term limits as well as competency tests for any candidate over the age of 75. And of course, that would include Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

So, Jim, that is one of the subtexts here. But I can tell you, if you're a Trump loyalist, that largely falls on deaf ears. They like him. But I can also say many Republicans, much more than in years past, are willing to look for someone fresh and new. We will see if anyone closes the sale here tonight when the candidates take the stage at this Faith and Freedom Dinner, a large gathering of evangelical voters here in Des Moines.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. Very crucial part of that GOP base there in Iowa.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's discuss that and more with Larry Sabato. He's the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. He's also the editor of "Sabato's Crystal Ball."

Larry, great to see you as always. Thanks for being here. You know, let's get back to these escalating tensions between former President Donald Trump and the special counsel Jack Smith. Smith is going as far as to try to ask the judge now essentially to gag Trump and keep him from talking about certain things about this case. And Trump went after Jack Smith last night despite all of this and accused him of infringing on his rights. Let's listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a deranged individual. And he wants to take away my First Amendment rights. They went to court to get an order that I can't speak. Now you've got to understand, I'm the leading candidate by 50 points and I'm leading Biden by a lot. And they want to see if they can silence me.


ACOSTA: You know, Larry, you know, Trump again calling the special counsel in this case deranged, despite being told by the judge earlier on in these proceedings that he should avoid that kind of rhetoric. What do you think is going on here? Do you think Trump really just wants to push this back and forth with the judge, with the special counsel, because it might be a delay mechanism at the end of the day for him?

LARRY SABATO, CENTER FOR POLITICS DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It could be a delay mechanism. But the other thing is, Jim, this revs up his base. The more it looks like the establishment is coming down hard on him, the more likely it is that the sizable majority of Republican primary voters will stick with him, and perhaps will feel their support to even intensify. That's what we've seen every time Trump has been attacked in this process, or indictments.

You know, good luck to Jack Smith. He's going to need it. He might win the legal case after a long period of back and forth. But actually getting Trump to do it will be a real struggle.


You know, he recently posted I think on Truth Social, if you come after me, I'm going to come after you. Trump is not Italian, but it almost sounded that way. And I can say that as an Italian American.

ACOSTA: And, Larry, I mean, the prospect of the judge putting some kind of gag order on Trump, I mean, what kind of percentage of faith do you have that Trump is going to at all abide by it? It sounds as though he almost is inviting it, he wants to it happen.

SABATO: He would very much like for it to happen because, again, it will intensify the support. And he wants to have a fight with a strawman. Now, Jack Smith is a very able guy. And in a sense, he's no strawman. But for Trump he is. Because Smith is not able to speak out and counter Trump in the way that Trump is able to do as a presidential candidate, and with the support of millions, if not tens of millions.

So Trump has a tremendous advantage, at least on the public stage. Now once it gets into court, Trump may have to answer for all this. But for the time being, it's helpful to him.

ACOSTA: And getting back to what's happening in Florida, with this scrapped loyalty oath. The state Republican Party siding with Trump over their own governor, Ron DeSantis, who just won re-election in a landslide, what, 10 or 11 months ago. And what does that say about what's taking place in Florida and overall inside the Republican Party? It sounds as though much of the Republican Party is just bending to the will of Donald Trump at every turn.

SABATO: And politicians, and state party people are politicians, are very good at putting their finger up and finding out which way the wind is blowing. And it's pretty obvious that the Ron DeSantis who won re-election in a landslide is not the Ron DeSantis who is running for president today. He's lost 20, 25 points in the Republican polls.

So even in his home state, they can figure out at least right now, it makes more sense to go with Trump than to go with DeSantis. It's an embarrassment for DeSantis and another feather in the cap of Donald Trump even in Florida, which of course both of them now claim it's their home state.

ACOSTA: Right. And let's talk about this impeachment process that is now getting underway this past week. The House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, he caved to the far right in his party, announced this impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

Let me ask you this. I mean, even if Biden is not impeached, could this effort along with the indictment of his son be damaging in the long run in terms of winning a second term in office? The flip side of this, Larry, and I asked Alice Stewart about this in the previous hour, I'm old enough to remember, and I know you are, too, Larry, and that's not a shot at you. We're just old enough to remember, a House Republican impeachment of Bill Clinton really helping Bill Clinton back in the '90s.

SABATO: Absolutely. Clinton was helped. Trump with his base was helped certainly by the first impeachment. Neither of his impeachments, of course, went further in the Senate. He was not convicted. And that's been pretty much the standard for impeachments. Why, it even applied to President Andrew Jackson in 1868. You can get impeached but it's much tougher to get that extraordinary majority needed in the Senate to actually convict.

In the meantime, you become a sympathetic figure because you've been impeached. It may have just happened in Texas with the Republican attorney general there who was impeached by a Republican House of Representatives in Texas, but managed to refute all of the counts, over 10 counts. And that effort failed. This is the norm. And it's going to continue as long as we have extreme polarization.

You're not going to get many people from the other party to ever vote to convict you once you've been impeached. And that applies to Democrats and Republicans alike.

ACOSTA: And, Larry, there are so many questions, you know, and this has been a part of I guess the public discussion in recent weeks, about the president's age. But do I want to ask you about this because as we've noted and others have noted from time to time, I think you've noted, Donald Trump is not that far behind Joe Biden in age. He's only a few years younger.

But last night we heard Trump in the speech here in Washington just kind of make a couple of misstatements here and there, and it just sounded as though he was having trouble getting the words out. Let's listen to what he had to say.


TRUMP: We have a man who is totally corrupt and the worst president in the history of our country, who is cognitively impaired, in no condition to lead, and is now in charge of dealing with Russia and possible nuclear war. Just think of it. We would be in World War II.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [19:10:05]

ACOSTA: So, Larry, he's talking about an impaired Biden but he's warning about the prospects of World War II which I believe has already happened.

SABATO: Yes. It was a terrible war and we wouldn't want to restart it. But, yes, imagine what would have happened if Joe Biden had said these things. You know, everybody would be demanding a competency test, which Trump has indicated he's willing to take again, having aced it a few years back. I'd love to actually see that exam. I would love to write one for him.

But this has gotten ridiculous. If they're nominated, if Biden and Trump are nominated, Biden will be 80, 81, and going on 82 when he's nominated. And Trump will be -- he's 77 now. He'll be 78 if he's nominated. They're not that far apart. And you can say lots of bad things about getting old. You can also say that you gain experience and judgment. I don't know that that applies to everybody that we're talking about.

But you do gain some judgment and you gain experience. So this is a silly debate and it is actually going to matter less in the end than it seems to be mattering in the beginning.

ACOSTA: Yes. There's certainly a lot of conversations about it right now. But they are so close in age. I mean, three years apart when you're in your late 70s, early 80s, not a big different there.

All right, Larry Sabato, thanks as always. We appreciate it.

All right, coming up, a battle is brewing in a major swing state, Wisconsin, we're talking about here, as the Republican-controlled Senate votes to axe the state's top election official who is a Democrat. How could that affect voters in the outcome of next year's election? It could be on the line depending on what happens in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's attorney general joins me live next.

Plus, we will take you to the picket line where autoworkers are striking against the big three auto companies. The latest on where negotiations stand. And later, NASA is appointing a director to look into UFOs. That's right. You heard that correctly. The former commander of the International Space Station will join me live to talk about this. Is the truth out there? We're going to go back and search for answers. That's coming up still ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Sweepstake politics in Wisconsin were already combustible but this week they turned explosive when the Republican-controlled state Senate voted to fire the state's nonpartisan elections administrator. Meagan Wolfe has been the target of criticism from Wisconsin Trump supporters who blamed pandemic voting policies for Trump's defeat there in 2020. Now there is a legal battle over who will oversee Wisconsin's voting in 2024.

The attorney general of the state of Wisconsin, Josh Hall, joins us now with more.

Mr. Attorney General, great to have you back. We'll point out that you are a Democrat. You filed a lawsuit to keep Wolfe on the job and say the actions of the Senate were not legitimate. And I just want to make sure we have this clear to our viewers. This elections official at issue here, is she a nonpartisan election official or is she a Democrat election official? Our understanding is that she's nonpartisan.


ACOSTA: She's nonpartisan. So why was she tossed out?

KAUL: We have a bipartisan commission made up of Democrats and Republicans. They select an administrator. She was selected several years ago and was confirmed unanimously by our state Senate.

ACOSTA: And after the vote, she told reporters she's not going to bend to any political pressure to stay on the job. The Senate majority leader insists in interim elections, an administrator must be appointed. How does this get worked out? What is your sense of it?

KAUL: Yes. Well, part of what makes this so bizarre is that there was not actually an appointment before our Senate and they went ahead and voted anyway. Now there was a vote that was taken by our election commission but there weren't the votes needed to effectuate an appointment. And when that happens under Wisconsin law, the person who previously held the office is able to continue on in that role.

The vote was about whether to have a new appointment of this administrator. We -- I sent the letter to the legislature's counsel making clear that there was no appointment before them. The Senate's own counsel then issued a memo saying that there was no appointment. And despite that, the Senate has gone forward. And the concern is that this is going to create unnecessary confusion in a state that is at the center of so much national attention during major elections as we head into the year of a major election.

So we filed suit the same day this vote happened to make sure that it's clear to everybody involved that Meagan Wolfe remains the administrator of our election commission and hopefully to get clarity on this issue as soon as possible.

ACOSTA: And what do you think? Is there time to get her back in there with this legal process playing out? Can you get Meagan Wolfe back in her position?

KAUL: Yes, she is remaining on the job. It's our position that she hasn't been removed and that this vote is legally meaningless.


KAUL: But we also want to get a court judgment to make this clear because we don't want to leave any confusion about where things stand. So we file this suit, the data vote was taken. We're going to keep working to get a judgment as quickly as possible because it's critical that our election officials around the state have clarity about who is the administrator of our election commission. What the Republicans have done is unnecessarily created confusion. And what's really disturbing about this is that the attacks on the election commission and on our administrator stem from the kind of election denialism we've been seeing around the country in the last several years.

They were really baseless attacks. And so what's happened is that our state Senate has gone out of its way to ignore the relevant law just so it could take a vote to demonstrate that they were in line with the election deniers we've seen attack the commission. So I'm hopeful we'd get a clear court ruling and that the commission can get back to doing its work.


ACOSTA: Well, yes, and that raises the point that I wanted to ask you about which is it sounds as though what was fueling this push to remove the state elections chief is essentially misinformation about how the election was conducted in Wisconsin. Joe Biden won the state of Wisconsin and there are just some Trump supporters who were not willing to accept that.

KAUL: That's right. After the 2020 election where we had recounts in two of our largest counties, multiple lawsuits and, you know, a very thorough review, the state assembly in Wisconsin had an investigation conducted by a former state Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman. That was really an embarrassing episode, and ultimately, that investigation fell apart.

And then that same investigator, Michael Gableman, among others was in front of the committee in the Senate that was hearing this so-called appointment, talking about some of the things that he was alleging before. So this is really part and parcel of this, these attacks without any basis to honor the administration of our elections. And so we've got to defeat this, we've got to make clear to people that we have free, fair, and safe and secure elections in our state of Wisconsin and around the country.

ACOSTA: And what does this mean for Wisconsin? Obviously, you will be -- you're saying it will be a battle ground state one more time in 2024. We're seeing elections officials really being targeted in other states like Michigan, Arizona, Georgia. What are you seeing in Wisconsin? And as the attorney general of your state, what are you doing to make sure that election officials can do their job without fear of, you know, threats coming from supporters of political candidates?

KAUL: Well, first and foremost, we've got to resolve the new issue which again was totally unnecessary. But the reason we went to court quickly is that we don't want there to be any uncertainty among clerks or other election officials around the state about whether the acts of our election commission are about. They are because this vote is meaningless. But getting a court order that confirms that, I think, will be helpful.

But this is, as you indicated, part of a broader attack on election officials around the country. We have got to be clear that any illegal activity that targets our election officials is going to be met with serious consequences because attacks on the folks who are administering our elections are really attacks on our democracy itself. We cannot stand for that. Safe, fair and free elections are critical to our system and having nonpartisan or neutral administrators of our elections is a critical part of that.

So we are going to keep ensuring that we are standing up for the fair administration of elections, and I encourage my Republican counterparts to join us in that effort because, for our democracy to continue to thrive, we need to have folks who are committed to protecting it.

ACOSTA: All right. Josh Kaul, the attorney general of Wisconsin, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

All right. Still ahead, Ford and General Motors are striking back at the UAW strike with hundreds of temporary layoffs. We'll take you to the picket line for reaction next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Two days after it started, there are some signs of progress in the historic autoworkers strike. Negotiators for the United Autoworkers Union and the big three carmakers are back at the bargaining table and the union said it had reasonably productive talks with the Ford Motor Company earlier today. But the strike is already costing some workers dearly.

Our Gabe Cohen is outside a factory in Toledo, Ohio, where workers are picketing.

What's the latest, Gabe?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, look. This afternoon we're getting the first small sign of really any progress in the conversations, these negotiations between the union and any of the big three automakers. This after they met with Ford this morning. A source with the union telling CNN, quote, "We had reasonably productive conversations with Ford today." Reasonably productive, certainly far from a deal but it is a big step in the right direction, given the hostile back and forth we have seen between the sides over the past couple of days.

Ford saying in a statement, "As we have said all along, Ford has bet on the UAW more than any other company. We are committed to reaching an agreement with UAW that rewards our workers and allows Ford to invest in the future. We have to win together." We know that the union was set to meet with Stellantis and General

Motors as well today. No word yet on those negotiations. But look, just yesterday we heard from the head of the union who said that 80 percent of the members' demands, 80 percent had not been met yet by a single offer from any of the big three automakers. And until those deals are reached, these picket lines 24/7 are going to continue to happen outside this factory in Toledo. This Stellantis Jeep factory, these workers here, are making $500 a week of strike pay.

I want to bring one in, Margaret. You were telling me before you have been working here 30 years, is that correct?


COHEN: Talk to me about this news today. I know it is Ford. You work for Stellantis. But the first signs of some progress, does it make you hopeful?

DRUMMER: It makes us hopeful that Ford and GM might, you know, settle something. But Stellantis is a different company. They're foreign- owned, you know, and they look at us differently than Ford and GM looks at their employees. That's what my personal opinion is.

COHEN: Do you think you might be the last ones out here?

DRUMMER: I think we'll be the last ones out here. Stellantis won't move on anything.

COHEN: And what to you is at the core of why your team, these Toledo workers, are out here?

DRUMMER: It's basically our wages. They won't give us a nice wage for the next four years or whatever they're negotiating. And, you know, the last contract, we went 12 years without an increase in wage, and we finally got that. And they just won't move on the wages, and they won't give anything to the retirees, which is another thing. And the part timers, they won't do anything for them. They won't roll them over to fulltime, and it is ridiculous.

The two-tier wages is totally ridiculous, because a person shouldn't have to work next to you making less money doing the same job, you know what I mean? And they will raise that up.

When I got hired in '93, November of '93, it took me three years to get to the top wage. Now, it takes them eight years to get to the top wage. It is ridiculous. It shouldn't be that way.

So you know, before that, in '93 and September was 18 months. There's no reason why they should wait that long to pay these people what they deserve.

COHEN : Well, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.

And Jim, look, the head of the Union, the auto workers union has said it is possible that more factories will strike in the days or weeks ahead, depending on the progress of these negotiations. But look, we're starting to already see the ripple effect with Ford and General Motors announcing that at least 2,600 workers, UAW members are going to be laid off in the days ahead because their facilities can't operate as long as these three are on strike.

What we don't know, Jim, is how quickly this could really grind the auto industry, a manufacturing industry to a halt here in the US because we're starting to see that in some areas.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: All right, Gabe Cohen, absolutely could be far reaching implications. We'll be following for days to come.

Gabe, thank you.

A quick programming note. On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom sits down with my colleague, Dana Bash for a sweeping interview on a potential Biden-Trump rematch, the state of California and whether he is the best bet for his party's future. That's Monday night at 9:00 PM on CNN.

We will be right back.



ACOSTA: The United Nations says the catastrophic flooding in Libya has killed at least 11,300 people in the eastern city of Derna. That's more than 98 percent of total fatalities across that country from last weekend's disaster.

At least 10,000 people remain missing and rescuers are still searching for survivors. The UN also warns there's a risk that those displaced could be exposed to leftover landmines from years of conflict in the region.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is in Derna for us.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just to explain to you where we are right now, we are in the Wadi Derna or the Derna Valley area. This is where you had those floodwaters just coming through this entire area here right in front of us, that's where those dams were before they ruptured, and then you have the water that was coming through here, pretty much destroying everything in its way, including a bridge that was here, you might not be able to see it by this traffic that's blocking the roads right now because this has become a main artery in the city where much of the infrastructure has been destroyed and roads have been blocked, but that is where a bridge stood connecting the city, now, that's gone.

And it might be difficult for us to move the camera because comms are very challenging in the city right now. Over my right shoulder, that was a neighborhood, an entire neighborhood that no longer exists right now. This entire neighborhood was washed into the sea.

And while we're standing here, we have seen people walking past survivors from Derna carrying whatever they've been able to salvage of their belongings, grown men and women who are walking past and sobbing.

This is absolutely shocking and heartbreaking to see.


KARADSHEH (voice over): It was a storm like no other Libyans had ever seen before, but it's not only Mother Nature's wrath that's to blame for these apocalyptic scenes in Derna.

KARADSHEH (on camera): Right up there is where the dams were. When they burst, it unleashed all of that water, the floods that swept entire neighborhoods like this into the sea, and you can see the force of the water when you look at buildings like this and you can see how high the waves were.

KARADSHEH (voice over): Waves as high as 22 feet or seven meters, submerge buildings and a current so strong, destroyed almost everything in its path and washed it all into the sea. The Mediterranean turned into a graveyard for the people of Derna, how many lives lost here, no one really knows, but it's in the thousands. The once crystal clear blue waters, now murky and brown tell the grim story of a city that once was of those gone, young and old.

(ABDEL WAHAB speaking in foreign language.)

KARADSHEH: "Children a few months old, elderly people, pregnant women, they're in the sea," 21-year-old Abdel Wahab (ph) tells us. With nothing but a rope tied around his waist, he pulled 40 bodies on the first day he says.

(ABDEL WAHAB speaking in foreign language.)

KARADSHEH: "There are other bodies. We don't know how to get them out. We just don't have any equipment," he says. "Derna is gone. You won't see it again."

They've gotten some help since. International support has been slowly trickling in, but nowhere near enough to deal with a disaster on this scale.

It's mostly Libyans here, volunteers from every corner of this bitterly divided country, those who fought each other for years united in grief, doing what they can to mend the wounds of this broken city.

Most are here to try and give the dead a dignified end.

It's not the time to lay blame for what happened many say, but the dams had not been maintained for decades residents say, had they been, Derna and its people may still be standing.

Nearly a week on, emotions here still so raw. Tadap (ph) and his family climbed on top of the water tanks on the roof, they all survived, but most of his neighbors did not.

(TADAP speaking in foreign language.)


KARADSHEH: "There are 12 to 15 homes on our street. We lost 33 people," he tells us. He then starts to name the dead. Entire families gone, it's all just too much.

Libyans know loss and death all too well, but nothing could have prepared them for this.


KARADSHEH (on camera): And a short time ago, we were at the waterfront which has become the main staging area for delivering the bodies that have been retrieved, to prepare them for movement for burial, and we were speaking to a number of the volunteers there who say that they are still getting a lot of bodies, 22 today. While we were there, we saw several bodies being delivered; yesterday, 90 bodies.

And people are so emotional. They tell you right now, these bodies have become unrecognizable and you can just imagine what this means for the thousands of people who are still searching for them, more than 10,000 loved ones have gone missing.

ACOSTA: All right, just devastating. All right, our thanks to Jomana Karadsheh for that report.

We'll be right back.



ACOSTA: Ukraine's Third Assault Brigade has released some dramatic new video showing the fighting that they claimed liberated a key Russian- occupied village in eastern Ukraine. This video filmed with a camera mounted on top of the soldier's helmet shows soldiers advancing through the destroyed village.


ACOSTA: Incredible footage here. You can see the once quiet village now resembling something like out of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The Ukrainian forces are calling it an essential win in the ongoing counteroffensive.

Let's talk about this with CNN military analyst and retired US Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel Leighton, what do you make of when you see that kind of video? I mean, it just goes to show you. It is apocalyptic?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. Jim, it is, you know, like a scene out of a World War One or World War Two movie and you look at this, and you see so many different aspects. You know, when it comes to the fighting, it's close quarters, you don't know what's behind the next corner, and you also really are staring death in the face every time you move out and that's one of the key things you have to remember about what these Ukrainian soldiers are going through.

They are looking at what could potentially be the last move that they make, but they're doing this in order to get more territory and to protect their country?

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

And this comes as a South Korea says Russia has already started using some of these weapons that they were going to get from North Korea in Ukraine. What do you think of that? Is that even possible? Does that sound right? What's going on?

LEIGHTON: Yes, it's technically possible because Russia and North Korea do have a very short land border between them. It is about 12 miles long. They do have a real crossing right through there, and the North Koreans do have the capability to ship weapons from themselves to the Russians, from the Chinese --

ACOSTA: Potentially, this has already started.

LEIGHTON: Oh, yes, and it is highly likely that it has. So the Korean report, the South Korean report may be quite accurate, actually, and the volume of weapons may not be as great as what the North Koreans or the Russians would like, at least at present, because we're talking a really tenuous land bridge between those two countries.

But given the fact that they have this connection, and was solidified by the visit of Kim Jong-un with Putin, in eastern Russia, you know, over the last few days, it shows you, Jim, that there are a lot of connections of what we'll call the rogue states here and that is exactly what they're trying to do. They're creating a bloc of nations that is really working with each other in order to protect their interests to evade sanctions, to do all the things that you want to do in order to survive in a world that is set up very differently from the government systems that they have.

ACOSTA: Yes, the question is whether or not it makes much of a dent in all of this. I can't imagine the Russians using North Korean weapons as somehow going to turn the tide and all of those but --


ACOSTA: Let me ask you, you know, Biden is set to meet with Zelenskyy this coming week, here in the US. I mean, what do you think about that? What do you see as the next big ask coming from Ukraine, when it comes to weapons and what they need? Obviously, what we can provide to the Ukrainians is a whole lot better than what the North Koreans are offering the Russians right now.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. In terms of technology, there's no question. I think what the next big ask is going to be is the ATACMS, the army tactical missile system. This gives -- you know, if it's provided to the Ukrainians, it gives them a bigger distance that they can attack targets and it also opens up the potential of the Ukrainians attacking targets in Crimea itself. They're doing that a bit already with their homegrown weapons.

The US has been reluctant to provide ATACMS or similar weapons systems to the Ukrainians in the past because they didn't want to provoke the Russians, but I think the time for that has kind of passed right now. Those concerns have kind of receded into the background as we're really trying to consolidate Ukraine's gains at this point.

ACOSTA: Yes. All right, well, we'll be watching. That's going to be a big visit next week. We'll talk about it next weekend with you.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: Colonel Leighton, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.


Up next, the truth is out there out there, or is it? NASA is going to try to find out. Why the agency decided to appoint its first director looking into UFOs. That's right. That's coming up next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: All right, this week, we learned that NASA is going to help in the hunt for UFOs. The space agency announced it has appointed its first Chief of UFO Studies.

In making the announcement, NASA says its approach to this endeavor will be based on hard science not science fiction, yet, it is asking for the public's help.

I have questions now for retired NASA astronaut, Leroy Chiao who once served as commander onboard the International Space Station.


Commander, great to see, as always.

I just always assumed that NASA was looking for this kind of stuff before, maybe they had been, but this appointment is kind of a big deal, I suppose. It is going to direct some energy in this direction of looking for this sort of stuff.

LEROY CHIAO, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, that's right. I mean, NASA had never formally had a role in looking for extraterrestrial life except for exploration in general, and so now they have this role, or they've had this role, I guess, and this is their first report on actually doing a kind of more of an organized formal study of the phenomenon.

But you know, they're not the only agency or the only entity looking into this, but with their expertise and outreach, hopefully, they can contribute something. ACOSTA: And NASA says it wants to eliminate the stigma around the reporting of sightings by the public, especially private, commercial and military pilots. Let's listen to what the Administrator of NASA, Bill Nelson had to say during the announcement.


BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: There's a lot of folklore out there, that's why we entered the stage, the arena to try to get into this from a science point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you can blame the "X Files" for most of this as well.

NELSON: That possibly, too, but just remember what I said we -- we, NASA, are trying to shift it from sensationalism to science.


ACOSTA: Commander, I don't know if he's referring to -- there was some pictures and whatnot produced down in Mexico, I think you might recall in the last week, I don't know about you, but when I saw that, that sounded more science fiction than science fact. That's how it looked to me.

I don't know what those things were that they were showing the public down there, but I guess that's something that the administrator wants to get away from, and that NASA wants to take this seriously. Do you take it seriously?

CHIAO: Well, sure. I mean, there are unexplained aerial phenomenon formerly known as UFOs. I, myself, during a few of my space missions have seen unexplained things that were later explained as either human activity or some kind of natural phenomena.

And so I think it's important to go ahead and try to understand from a scientific standpoint, what some of these things may be.

And so for example, in the report that NASA just issued, they did take one of the things had been widely publicized about a forward looking infrared image video from a fighter jet, and it showed an object appearing to be moving at fantastic speeds, and changing directions.

ACOSTA: Right.

CHIAO: And what NASA was able to figure out was that image was actually the camera slowing around in other artifacts of the instrument.

ACOSTA: Okay, so that is some famous video, and I think we've shown it maybe earlier on in this program. You're talking about what looks like a scope from a fighter jet, that kind of thing. And you see sort of a bright object in the middle, or I guess, in this case, it's a sort of a dark object with some light around it.

And you're saying, some of these cases, it could be the just the camera moving around and causing these sorts of visual anomalies.

CHIAO: Right. It is basically kind of an illusion, you know, it's a few different factors coming together to make things look like something that they're not. So I think that's what a lot of these things are.

You know, the things that I saw in space were explained is kind of, you know, this kind of thing where different factors coming together made it look like something that wasn't, and in other cases, it's been, you know, probably top secret military programs that one hand doesn't necessarily know what the other is doing.

ACOSTA: Yes, because, I mean, here's my thing, Commander, I feel like in this day and age, with closed circuit television, cell phone cameras, I mean, you name it, there's a camera everywhere. You would think, if this were going on and this kind of stuff was out there, we would have video of it. There would be something that would be better than just little blobs on the screen.

But anyway, I digress. Maybe I'm just a skeptic, but perhaps I'm jinxing things.

This week, we also learned of a new study that claims the abandoned Apollo 17 lunar lander module is causing tremors on the moon. More science fiction here. What's going on?

CHIAO: Right. That's right. That actually shouldn't be a surprise because, you know, the temperature extremes. You don't have an atmosphere and you just have the sun's radiation shining on a structure one side can get very hot, the other side in the shade can get very cold, and so because of that differential heating, structures will creak, you know, if there's no air, there is no atmosphere there, it doesn't make a sound, but the structure still vibrates.

And so that's actually what has been detected by seismic detectors. It's nothing new. These observations were made, but kind of a modern way of looking at the data, reanalyzing the data show that the sensors put down on the Apollo 17 mission actually could detect these vibrations. So pretty amazing.

ACOSTA: Yes. Fascinating stuff.

All right, Commander, thanks so much for joining us. We'll get you back to talk about this stuff in the future.

We'll see if we find those little green guys in the long run. Thanks, Commander. Appreciate it.


ACOSTA: Thanks very much for joining this evening. The truth is out there. We'll find it.

I'm Jim Acosta. See you again here tomorrow night starting at five Eastern.

The CNN Film "Little Richard: I Am Everything" is up next.

Have a great night.