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Erin Burnett Outfront

DOJ Takes Aim At Trump's Argument For "Special Master" In Docs Case; Intel Agencies Have Been Examining Mar-a-Lago Docs Since May; U.S. Secret Service Official, Key To Jan 6 Probe, Leaves Agency; White House Vows Biden Will Target "MAGA Agenda," "Extreme Republicans"; Report: Fake Heiress Infiltrated Mar-a-Lago, Raising Security Concerns; Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive, Source: 4 Villages Liberated. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 29, 2022 - 19:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, the Justice Department versus Trump. The DOJ taking aim at Trump's argument for a special master and sorting through those documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. This as we're learning the intelligence community has been working with the FBI on the documents since May.

Plus, a rioter who came within seconds of reaching Senator Schumer on January 6th sentenced to prison today. This as Senator Lindsey Graham predicts there will be, quote, riots in the streets if Trump is indicted.

Also, the parkland school shooter's defense. Witnesses say he was a loner, out of control even as a toddler and he blamed his drug- addicted mother. Will that save him from the death penalty?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow in tonight for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, faceoff. The Justice Department taking aim at the heart of Trump's argument for a special master to examine the documents seized at his Mar-a-Lago home.

Well, today, announcing FBI agents have already sorted through those documents and weeded out any material that may be covered by attorney/client privilege. Now, Trump's team has argued much of the seized material contained presidential communications and therefore in their view is protected. The former president's attorney today marking and making it clear that Trump is not leaving it up to DOJ to sort the documents.

Listen to this.


JIM TRUSTY, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Now, they are trying to suggest with this pleading, Judge, don't be surprised we have already taken care of all this. Nothing to see here. Well, we're not in a position where we can really have a lot of faith in that. We still need judicial intervention. We need a judge to monitor our access to these documents.


HARLOW: Also tonight, another court deadline looming. This one for the DOJ's detailed list of the materials taken from Trump's Florida home. That list is due tomorrow. And this all comes as we're learning the intelligence community has been reviewing documents taken from Mar-a-Lago since May. Those documents are from the 15 boxes that Trump handed over, finally in January.

We know 14 boxes contained documents with classification markings that include 67, which were marked confidential. 92 marked secret. 25 marked top secret. So the director of national intelligence has notified lawmakers that her office will conduct a formal damage assessment of any potential harm that could result from the exposure of those documents.

Evan Perez starts us out tonight, OUTFRONT live in Washington.

Evan, you are part of the team here that broke the story about the intelligence committee doing this and the community doing this. I mean, it's separate from the DOJ probe, I should note that. What more are you learning about what this would lead to and why they think it's necessary to do a formal damage assessment?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, this process began in may, when the FBI was finally granted access to look at the initial 15 boxes that were retrieved earlier from Mar-a-Lago. And they brought in the intelligence agencies to look at the documents to first assess whether they were still classified and to make any other assessments they needed as part of this criminal investigation. This is all part of the process that we now know is going into two different paths.

One of them is the Justice Department has to provide a judge tomorrow a list of the type of classified documents that were retrieved, not only earlier this year, but also in the recent search that occurred at Mar-a-Lago. And as you mentioned, the director of national intelligence is doing a broader assessment, a formal assessment to look at whatever potential harms could come if any of these documents got out, if any of them were exposed. And so, that is something that obviously matters to the CIA for some of their human sources that we know according to the FBI were among some of the documents that they first looked at when they looked at the 15 boxes.

So, we know there's a lot of assessment that needs to be done by the intelligence community and, of course, now we have this court hearing on Thursday where a judge is going to decide whether there is going to be this special master, this third party, that is going to review these documents once more for all of these privilege issues -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Right, even though they have gone through them already in the weeks since they seized them. Evan, thanks very much for that reporting tonight out of Washington.

So, OUTFRONT now, David Laufman. He led the Justice Department's counterintelligence section until 2018. He oversaw the investigation into Hillary Clinton's handling of classifies records.

It's good to have you. A lot to get to, and you held this seat of such import now and so germane to this discussion now.


Let's just begin with the special master. Do you think that's necessary at this point?

DAVID LAUFMAN, FORMER CHIEF, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT'S COUNTERINTELLIGENCE SECTION: Poppy, it strikes me as inept and unnecessary. Keep in mind that the focus of Trump's motion requesting a special master was the assertion that these documents are governed by executive privilege. Executive privilege is not something that should be within the purview of a third party appointed as a special master. That would be a legal judgment reserved for a court.

Secondly, it's privilege, executive privilege, that is held by the executive. And that is Joseph R. Biden, the current president of the United States.

Third, executive privilege isn't usually asserted against another part of the executive branch, like the Department of Justice. So it just doesn't make any sense to me why a special master is appropriate in this case.

Special masters are used most commonly in cases where there is large probability that attorney/client privilege is at issue. And that's distinguishable from this case.

HARLOW: I mean, you explain, I think, the answer to many people's question, which is they think about Michael Cohen, right, who formerly worked for President Trump. They remember his office being raided in 2018. A special master was appointed, but you just explained the differences between them.

But what I think is very interesting is that the judge who is going to make this decision, she did indicate a few days ago that she may side with team Trump and may appoint a special master in this. But how hard would it be to find someone qualified to be a special master and get high enough security clearance to actually be able to sort thou all of these documents?

LAUFMAN: Well, I think it depends on the purview of the special master's responsibilities as given to him or her by the court. I mean, classified documents, documents originated by U.S. intelligence agencies, have nothing to do with executive privilege. They are organically classified reports.

Executive privilege relates to confidential communications between the president and his closest advisers. The disclosure of which could show future candid conversations. That has nothing to do with classified documents found in places they're not supposed to be at Mar-a-Lago.

And as you say, this is not the case like the Michael Cohen case or the Rudy Giuliani case where search warrants were carried out on the office or home of an attorney like Michael Cohen or the digital devices of Rudy Giuliani. There may be some incidental stuff that the department in an abundance of caution is treating potentially as attorney/client privilege, but it's improbable any of that stuff is going to have much to do with the core of the government's case.

HARLOW: Before you go, tomorrow there's another deadline, and that is for DOJ to issue a more detailed list of what was taken from Mar-a- Lago. If the judge does order DOJ to share that list with former President Trump's legal team, how do you think that would impact their case? How much would they be able to use that in their case?

LAUFMAN: Well, if the court orders the department to share with Mr. Trump and his representatives a more detailed inventory, more detailed inventory is made public, this is going to be another case of be careful what you wish for, because it's going to be more derogatory and pulverizing in its force than the first more limited inventory because it's going to more horrifying detail about the things the government found at Mar-a-Lago. So I'm not sure how that's going to be in the former president's favor.

HARLOW: David Laufman, great to have you tonight. Thanks very much.

OUTFRONT now, Ryan Goodman, former special counsel at the Department of Defense, now co-editor in chief of just security, and Kaitlan Collins, our chief White House correspondent who covered all four years of the Trump White House.

Great to have you both.

Ryan, let's start with you. I mean, looking ahead, the judge has given the DOJ a deadline for tomorrow for various filings that could be, as we just went through, quite significant. They also may provide this much more detailed list of what was seized. What are you looking for in all these filings tomorrow?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: So I think the thing I'm looking for most is whether or not the Justice Department uses the opportunity to rebut the narrative that the Trump lawyers have submitted. Usually, the Justice Department remains completely silent about the underlying facts in an investigation, but the Trump lawyers in their initial motion to the judge --

HARLOW: That was very political.

GOODMAN: Yeah, very -- hyperpolitical and this narrative about how cooperative we have been amidst derogatory information we know from the reporting from "The New York Times," et cetera, that one of the lawyers made a false statement to the Justice Department that they returned all the classified material when they hadn't in June.

So, this is the opportunity for the Justice Department to take that invitation and say we're going to push back. Here's what really happened and they have every right to do so. They need to convince the judge this is in good faith. Every we have done is above board and they have not been cooperative at all. That's what led to the search.


So, I do think there's a reason for them do it, unusually. And then I do wonder just pivoting off a little bit of what David said, they might cede some ground. They might say a special master is okay for attorney/client privilege materials, that's normal.

HARLOW: But not executive privilege.

GOODMAN: Yeah, that's just abnormal. Everything David said I agree with. It would be unheard of essentially, and it doesn't make sense in this context.

HARLOW: The executive, as you said, is Biden now, not Trump.

GOODMAN: Yeah, yeah.

HARLOW: Kaitlan, you have been talking to your sources. What does the Trump legal team actually want at this point?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were pleased on Saturday when they thought Judge Aileen Cannon was leaning toward appointing this third party attorney known as a special master in this case. But a big question now is whether or not this three-page filing from the Justice Department today undercuts that push, because of course, what the Justice Department is saying is they have already done what a third party attorney would do.

They have already gone through this. They set aside what could potentially be covered by attorney/client privilege, so they're basically making the argument that there doesn't need to be one. And the Justice Department has said they'll have more to say later on.

I am still told the Trump team still wants a special master. They're still hopeful they'll get one. Of course, whether or not they do remains to be seen, and we should remind people, of course, they filed for one incredibly late according to a lot of experts who said waiting two weeks to actually ask for one is a lot of time.

You basically gave the Justice Department two weeks to do what they said they did today. They went through all these materials. Whether or not they get that remains to be seen. Why they want it seems clear at least in part, which is to really slow things down because that is what this would do because it would insert another person into the process into reviewing all these documents they took, which we know is in several boxes.

HARLOW: And, Ryan, separately, just to be clear for our viewers, in a separate move but a significant move, the director of national intelligence sent a letter to both the House Intel and the House Oversight Committees confirming what a lot of members of the committees have been asking for, by the way, from both parties, a formal damage assessment of the documents that Trump turned over finally to the DOJ. This was back in January. And I just -- you know Avril Haines well.

So, you read the letter. She chooses her words carefully. What did you take away from what she wrote?

GOODMAN: Yeah, I know her know and I know her general counsel well and they choose their words extraordinarily carefully. They're very precise. So, I thought that what they promised is we should manage expectations.

They didn't say we're going to give you an assessment of what happened and what damage occurred. They said potential damage that would occur if this material were disclosed. That might be more theoretical.

Not about did it fall into the wrong hands, how likely did it, and what damage has it already caused to U.S. national security. They didn't say those words. And that's important.

And there's like an intelligence community directive about damage assessment. They said actual or potential. They said potential.

HARLOW: That's great point.

GOODMAN: So, that's one part of it.

On the other hand, to raise expectations, that's probably more likely that we'll see something as the American public, because if they only are in the realm --

HARLOW: The general public would see something, not just the committees.

GOODMAN: It's possible. Avril Haines is committed to transparency in so many ways and she's made good on that. So the likelihood we would see an assessment like that because it's more theoretical is a higher likelihood.

HARLOW: And, Kaitlan, to you finally, the Biden White House today, again, really making the point of saying DOJ is operating on its own. We didn't know about this stuff. Also, when it comes to the damage assessment, saying they weren't involved at all in what the DNI is doing.

Behind the scenes can you talk about the White House thinking on all this?

COLLINS: They are toeing this line very carefully because they do not want to be seen as being involved in this at all. And they have kind of been going out of the way to where they haven't even answered questions where the information is already publicly known, for example, when the National Archives reached out to the White House about what you were just discussing with Ryan, which is that the current president is the one who has the power of executive privilege, not the former. And that was an argument that the national archives made after consulting with the Justice Department, saying you can't assert executive privilege. That stops the current president from getting access to this material. But the White House is really going out of their way to stay away from

this. Today, they were saying they did not know about this assessment that's going to be done by the director of national intelligence and also by the Justice Department to see if anything was compromised, to see potentially what the damage could have been done by having this sensitive material in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago. They said they do think it's appropriate and they said it was the right step, they believe, to take.

But they have really been cautious to draw this line here, saying they are not involved in this. Because I think they are very concerned about any allegations, what you have seen from Republicans raising questions about Biden's involvement. The White House has been very clear that they are not involved, especially when it comes to knowing about the search in advance and even when it comes to this assessment.

HARLOW: A lot of Republicans bringing up the timeline here and the proximity to midterms so the White House is certainly fighting that perception from some as well.


Kaitlan, thanks for the great reporting.

Ryan, thank you, as well.

OUTRONT next, breaking news -- a major shakeup at the Secret Service tonight. We'll have those details, next.

Plus, Republicans starting to grow more pessimistic about their chances of a big sweep in the midterms, as Democrats seize on abortion right. One Democrat in a very competitive race for re-election is my guest tonight.

And why is the iconic red haired Wendy's mascot going gray? We'll tell you.


HARLOW: Breaking news: U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director Tony Ornato has left the agency. This comes to us according to two sources.

It comes two months after the explosive testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. You'll remember she detailed what she was told was a heated exchange that Trump had with a Secret Service agent after his speech on January 6th.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF MARK MEADOWS: The president said something to the effect of, I'm the f'ing president, take me up to the Capitol now, to which Bobby responded, sir, we have to get back to the West Wing.

[19:20:09] The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol.

Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornato had recounted the story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.


HARLOW: So, let's go to Whitney Wild our colleague. She's OUTFRONT live tonight in Washington. This is first on CNN reporting. It's significant as Cassidy said this in that testimony under oath that it was Tony Ornato who recounted that episode in the Beast, in the motorcade, between that Secret Service agent and the then president. So, what more are you learning about why he's leaving?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, the circumstances of his departure are not clear, but what sources have told us is this had been in the works for a long time. He had been talking about leaving the agency prior to Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony. He was eligible to retire in July. So, it's not surprising, although the timing is obviously conspicuous. So many more questions to be answered about why today, why a Monday in August that he left.

But, Poppy, I think what is important to remember here is that this is coming at a time when the House Select Committee has made very clear they think he is a very crucial witness to what happened leading up to January 6th as well as Trump's mindset. Remember, they're always going for the mindset of the former president on January 6th. They very clearly think that he was crucial to that. Although Tony Ornato, according to Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, was not in the limo at the time, he became irate when he learned he would not be taken to the capitol by his detail, he's still a crucial figure.

And remember, Poppy, his general reason for being at the White House is gaining greater scrutiny because he was in an unprecedented role. He was still in some ways technically an employee of the Secret Service, but he was on what was basically a detail to the White House as the deputy chief of staff, it was an unprecedented move to take a political role within the White House while still in some ways again being with the Secret Service.

He eventually left and became the assistant director. Now he's leaving, Poppy, but certainly a momentous shakeup over there.

HARLOW: For sure. And we'll remember there was quite the back and forth between the secret service, you know, and Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony after -- afterward.

Whitney Wild, thanks very, very much.

OUTFRONT now, Stephanie Grisham, former press secretary for then- President Trump. She resigned the day of the deadly insurrection, and Olivia Troye, who was the homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to then Vice President Pence, also a lifelong Republican.

Well, thank you both.

If we could start with this breaking news just in to CNN -- Olivia, let me begin with you. I mean, how significant do you think it is that Tony Ornato is leaving the Secret Service at this moment when the January 6th committee clearly wants more testimony from him, likely public?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY AND COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER TO VP PENCE: Yeah, I think the timing is suspect and interesting. I wonder what this means that he'll be a private citizen, what does this mean going forward as the committee hearings start up again.

I actually think it's probably best for the Secret Service that Tony Ornato is leaving. He certainly brought a lot of disgrace and shame to the people who work there, who are great people of law enforcement that I have gotten to know. I think it will be interesting to see how these plays out and I'm also very curious to see where his future employment will be.

HARLOW: Stephanie, one thing our viewers should know is that Ornato actually met with the January 6th Committee. This was, albeit behind closed doors, and the committee -- Zoe Lofgren and others have made it clear, they believe that he is a key figure in all this who could, as Whitney just reported, really shed light on the president's mindset on the day of the insurrection and his desire to be taken to the Capitol after that speech.

How critical do you think it is that this committee hear from him?

STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, I think it's vital that the committee hears from him. I think it would be vital that the public could hear from him, although I think that won't happen. And certainly now that he's leaving the Secret Service, it was my understanding they were going to cooperate, albeit that hasn't happened yet.

When I spoke to the January 6th committee, I said over and over that Tony Ornato is a key person to know exactly what is go on. As deputy chief of staff for operations, you know everything that's going on logistically, behind the scenes, and politically. You just kind of have to. So, I think this timing is interesting and I'm going to echo, I think it will be very interesting to see what he does next, where he goes, who he works for.

HARLOW: So, Olivia, let's zoom out and talk about the big picture here and this moment. And public sentiment and anger because all of this comes as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is predicting that if former president Trump were to get indicted for mishandling classified documents, here's what he believes could happen.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Most Republicans, including me, believes when it comes to Trump, there is no law. It's all about getting him. There's a double standard when it comes to Trump.

I'll say this: If there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information after the Clinton debacle which you presided over and did a hell of a good job, there'll be riots in the streets.


HARLOW: So, you, Olivia, have been talking to law enforcement officials. Are they concerned Senator Graham may be right on that point?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY & COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER TO VP PENCE: Yeah, I certainly think in national security circles there is concern on what it would mean and whether it would lead to violence. We have seen what has happened before. But really, what is driving this is the narrative and what's being said, statements such as Lindsey Graham.

I mean, to me, this is the equivalent of stand back and stand by all over again between Trump and the lieutenants he pushes out, such as Lindsey Graham, who follow these narratives and try to foment violence and talk about it. We have seen what the former president has been posting on his own social media network and we have seen the types of things that happen when they start to speak in this way and the direct attacks against the FBI agents, for example, and more recently, the attacks that happened against NARA, the national association for -- the Archives Association.

HARLOW: Stephanie, you were working at the White House on January 6th. You subsequently resigned because of what you witnessed, what you saw, how it was handled. Do you see any similarities between the run- up to January 6th and right now?

GRISHAM: Absolutely. You know, have we learned nothing from January 6th? Is what I thought when I started seeing the clips of Lindsey Graham and what he said, you know? And the fact that they're now questioning the timing with the midterms.

I just want to say, make no mistake, this has all been on Donald Trump's timeline. The DOJ went out of their way to give them the opportunity to give all of these documents back, and to do it quietly. Had they just done what was asked almost two years ago, there probably wouldn't have been an FBI raid, and we wouldn't be here in this moment ten weeks away from the midterms.

Back to Lindsey Graham. You know, it's unfortunate, again, you and I have both talked about the fact these Republican men in leadership continue to do what their, you know, king Trump says. And it's all to save their own political careers and it's sad because, you know, it gives me chills, it makes me nervous, I'll say it, when I start to hear this rhetoric again.

And the fact that Trump immediately posted it to his social media network shows that he felt that was a really strong sentiment.

HARLOW: Stephanie Grisham and Olivia Troye, thank you both very much.

Well, OUTFRONT next, another Republican takes out mentions of being pro-life on his congressional campaign website. Is this issue giving Democrats new hope for the midterms?

Plus, disturbing details about Parkland Schoo shooter Nikolas Cruz's behavior during today's sentencing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He could be cursing and angry and throwing things.



HARLOW: Tonight, the White House promising that President Biden will keep speaking out against the, quote, MAGA agenda, and, quote, extreme Republicans in Congress who support abortion bans without exceptions. It's an issue Republicans, some are running away from, as much as possible heading into the midterms with congressional candidates including the opponent of my next guest scrubbing their campaign website of strict anti-abortion positions they took in the past.

Now, while Democrat Pat Ryan made abortion a centerpiece in his district in New York, winning that special election in a district Republicans thought they could flip, this after voters in Republican leaning Kansas overwhelmingly decided to maintain abortion rights in their state constitution. And this all comes as one Republican lawmaker tells CNN that the overturning of Roe versus Wade, quote, caught Republicans off guard, leaving the party increasingly pessimistic about capturing a significant majority in November.

So, OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan who is in a very competitive race for re-election.

Good evening and thank you for joining me.

I think it's interesting that you have said recently, you feel a different energy on the campaign trail in the last three months. How much of that has to do with abortion?

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): I think a lot of it has to do with the overturning of Roe. Also legislating and getting some things done turns out Americans like when people legislate in Washington and pass laws.

But I think what has surprised me is, I'm in a very Republican-leaning district and the sheer number of Republican women, you know, people describing themselves as pro-life, who have come up to me in the past, you know, I would say two or three months and just want to privately talk to me about how just they might not be able to choose to ever have an abortion, but they have never walked in another woman's shoes and wouldn't tell another woman how to live her life.

I think that's really the sentiment that I've been hearing all over Michigan in a pretty striking way.

HARLOW: That's really interesting. And it leads me to my next question because your opponent in this race, Tom Barrett, says, look, the anti-abortion language that was featured on his website, his team is saying it was removed because it's not an issue that voters are most concerned about right now.

If you look at the polling, NBC polling a few weeks ago showed that, CBS polling shows Americans agree, they say economy, inflation are the most important issues. Look at abortion. It's down -- it's number -- it's number six on this list. It's not even in the top five.

You look at Michigan. You look at the unemployment rate there, almost a percentage higher than the national average. What do you say to Republicans who say, look, Democrats focusing on abortion in these campaigns is because they don't want to focus on the economy?

SLOTKIN: Look, I'm from a district that on average people consider themselves pro-life. So, it's not an issue for the past two cycles when I've run has been a big one. I can feel the difference.

And I think honestly part of it is probably the fact that Michigan has a 1931 ban on all abortions, on abortions with no exceptions.


And I think we have right now a temporary stay, but we're looking down the barrel of looking like a place like Texas. We have a ballot initiative that's going to be on our ballot in November where people are going to get to choose between Roe or the ban, the 1931 ban.

And I think when you're in one of these states where it just becomes very, very real to people, and I've heard it on things, yes, related to terminating a pregnancy, but also for so many women, 1 out of 4 women who have a miscarriage. You know, we all know someone close to us who has had one, and there's a million reasons when you want a pregnancy that you can't carry it to term.

I think we're looking at what that means for the health of women in our area. Just -- you know, people in Texas are being told to go home and come back when you've got a higher fever and you're bleeding harder. I mean -- so we're not going to let that happen in our state. And I don't think Democratic women, Republican women don't disagree on that.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about what I think is fascinating, and that is how it looks like the tide has changed just in terms of Democrats' hopes in the midterms here. I mean, the "Cook Political Report" projected just in May, Republicans could gain as many as 35 seats in the House. Now, they have revised that down to a 10 to 20-seat gain.

You think Democrats still have a narrow path. The word you use is narrow, to keep the House? Really? SLOTKIN: I do. It's tough. I mean, just by, you know, rewriting the

districts and gerrymandering, there's sort of a math problem that we have to contend with. But I think that just like we saw in Kansas, this issue is changing dynamics in certain races. And that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. We're going to have -- have to work really hard and candidates still really matter. But if you would have asked me six months ago, I think I would have put safe money on the fact that we could lose quite a number of seats.

So, my perspective -- at least my perspective has changed.

HARLOW: All right. Congresswoman Slotkin, thanks so much for your time tonight.

SLOTKIN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: OUTFRONT next, the Parkland school shooter's defense. Witnesses detailing his troubled childhood from acting out to ripping up his classmates' work. The question is, will those mitigating factors save him from the death penalty?

Plus, Ukraine recapturing four towns from Russian control as a major counteroffensive is beginning. We'll take you live to Ukraine.



HARLOW: Well, tonight, the defense for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz invoking his upbringing to try to spare his life in today's sentencing hearing, arguing his childhood trauma spawned behavioral issues that ultimately set the stage for the 2018 massacre. He's pled guilty to 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

Carlos Suarez is OUTFRONT.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikolas Cruz showed little expression in court as his attorneys continued their defense that Cruz's path to the Parkland shooting began in the womb of his biological mother, whose history of addiction and substance abuse they say left her son with medical, social, and behavioral issues. An argument they hope will persuade the jury to spare his life.

On Monday, jurors heard from his third and fourth grade special needs teacher who described Cruz as a loner who had fits of anger.

LYNN RODRIGUEZ, NIKOLAS CRUZ'S FORMER 3RD & 4TH GRADE TEACHER: He could be very disruptive. He could be cursing and angry and throwing things, sometimes even ripped up some of the other students' work.

SUAREZ: During cross-examination, prosecutors said behavioral issues aside, test results shows Cruz made progress in the classroom with his general cognitive ability, quote, within the average range, according to a school report presented in court.

Jurors also watched the prerecorded testimony of Finai Browd, a Cruz family friend who described her relationship with Cruz's adoptive parents, Linda and Roger. She said around the age of 4, Cruz began acting out to the point that Linda couldn't leave the house without him.

FINAI BROWD, CRUZ FAMILY FRIEND: He would stand at the window and he would be screaming and crying. And I would have to yell at him and tell him, Nikolas, get away from the window. Mommy's coming back. It took a long time to calm him down.

SUAREZ: She also described what she was told about Cruz finding his father dead from a heart attack in the den of their home at the age of 6.

BROWD: He was crying. And she said, what happened? Daddy yelled at you? He said, as clear as the sun shines, no, daddy's dead.

SUAREZ: The prosecution is arguing that while Cruz was troubled throughout his life, he had access to treatment and medication.

Last week, the defense used a 2014 letter from a school therapist and an adolescent psychiatrist to Cruz's psychiatrist that described him as a troubled child with a, quote, preoccupation with guns. At home, he continues to be aggressive and destructive with minimal provocation. When upset, he punches holes in the walls and he's used sharp tools to cut up the upholstery in the furniture and carve holes in the walls of the bathroom. Per recent information shared in school, he dreams of killing others and is covered in blood.


SUAREZ (on camera): And so that psychiatrist also testified last week that he never saw that letter and that he continued to see Cruz through August of 2017. That's six months before the shooting that left 17 students and staff members dead. In Florida, a jury's decision on death has to be unanimous, and Poppy -- well, the defense, they still have 70 witnesses or so to call to the stand.

HARLOW: It is a critical decision they will make. Carlos Suarez live for us in Florida tonight. Thank you very much.

OUTFRONT next, we do have new satellite images that show, look at that, the damage to Europe's largest nuclear plant, which has been under attack in Ukraine. We'll have that story.

Also, switching gears. You know her as a red head, right? But that is Wendy's mascot, and she's gone gray. We'll tell you why.



HARLOW: Tonight, a major counteroffensive under way in southern Ukraine. A Ukrainian military official tells CNN Ukraine has already taken back four villages in the Kherson region that were under Russian control.

This comes as we're getting new satellite images of a nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia that has been under heavy fire. The images show four holes in the roof of a building at the plant.

Our Melissa Bell is OUTFRONT.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (v: Six months ago, Russian forces rolled through Ukraine's south, winning swaths of land. Today, Ukraine started the campaign to claw back Kherson.

PETRO POROSHENKO, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: This is the long counteroffensive operation. We started today at 7:00 a.m. with a shelling and missiles attack.

BELL: It's a sign of growing Ukrainian confidence and strength on the battlefield. But further north, a nightmare scenario playing out. Shells landing just miles from Europe's largest nuclear plant. Zaporizhzhia has become a flash point in the war in Ukraine with both sides blaming the other for the artillery strikes that threaten the site and neighboring towns.


Nine people were injured in shelling in a nearby town of Enerhodar on Sunday night according to a Russian-backed official. Last week, shells landed about 100 meters from Zaporizhzhia's reactors. CNN is unable to verify who's responsible for the shelling.

Ukraine claims the site has been turned into a military base. Satellite images today show Russian armored vehicles hidden by a reactor, a demilitarized zone not under discussion according to the Kremlin, but some hope is perhaps on the way. Early Monday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, tweeted that delegates would arrive in Zaporizhzhia later this week. They arrived in Kyiv today. The mission of 14 experts headed by Grossi, one of the few diplomatic agreements to have come out of the war so far.

RAFAEL GROSSI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: I think now there is general recognition that we need to be there. We need to be there soon. Kyiv accepts it. Moscow accepts it.

BELL: In Zaporizhzhia, power has been a concern. With nearby fires twice briefly cutting the plant's external electricity, the power's critical functions last Thursday. A total loss of power would be disastrous.

PETRO KOTIN, ENERGOATOM PRESIDENT: If we have cut off power supply from outside and after that generator, then there will be completely the same scenario like at fuchsia.

BELL: Grossi says that currently safety systems at place in the power plant remain operational, with radioactivity levels within normal range. Even so, authorities are not taking any chances. In Ukrainian

controlled territory, exercises this month in case a nuclear fallout. Near Zaporizhzhia, locals have been collecting iodine pills to defend against the effects of a possible radiation leak. In a land that's no stranger to nuclear disaster, prudence is worth its weight in gold.


BELL (on camera): Poppy, as we await that visit from the IAEA inspector at Zaporizhzhia further to the south along the Dnipro River, all eyes on that counteroffensive. If it goes Ukraine's way, it will mark an important turn and give them the momentum they need, keeping the attention and support of some of those war-wary donors.

If they fail, it could lead to far more entrenched positions and the creation more clearly of two Ukraines -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Melissa Bell, incredibly important reporting for us tonight, thank you very much, live in Ukraine.

OUTFRONT now, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General, thanks very much for being here.

Let's start on this counteroffensive in the South. Is this the momentum, as Melissa reported, that may be -- may be needed to turn the page? Could this be a crucial turning point for Ukraine?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's the potential start of it, Poppy. I'm not going to call it a counteroffensive yet. I've said for a couple of weeks that we should expect small-scale counterattacks, very good delivery, hasty attacks on the part of Ukrainians, Ukraine's army and they are doing that. They are doing a good job in terms of liberating several cities.

But when we think counteroffensive, many people think that there's a large front line and Ukrainians are attacking along the entire frontage of a very large area, couple hundred meters. That's not what's happening. They are attacking relatively small areas, but they're achieving some success. And it could give an indicator of a potential for changing the momentum of the war.

HARLOW: Okay. So, wait and see on that front. But what about Melissa's report on what is happening at that nuclear site? I mean, in Zaporizhzhia, you've got people lining up for iodine pills, huge concerns about a nuclear accident. The Ukrainian foreign minister warning Russian attacks near the plant are putting the entire continent at risk.

We heard National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on CNN yesterday saying the U.S. is, quote, deeply concerned about the situation. How dangerous do you think it is right now?

HERTLING: Yeah, we should all be deeply concerned because it is dangerous. If something were to happen at that plant that would release radiation in any form, it would hurt the surrounding areas. It could certainly affect areas beyond just that small area near Enerhodar where the plant is.

But truthfully, again, this is Russia conducting criminal activities in combat. This is a war crime. And the people in the area certainly should take precautions, as they are doing. And the IAEA should have someone on the ground soon. But it seems like Russia continues to stand in the way, and that's extremely troubling.


HARLOW: It sounds like the IAEA will get in there on Friday, hopefully if all goes as planned.

General Hertling, thank you very much.

HERTLING: My pleasure, Poppy. Thank you.

HARLOW: Up next on a much lighter note, why Wendy's red-haired mascot has gone gray. We'll tell you.


HARLOW: Wendy's giving its iconic red-headed mascot gray hair. In Canada, the fast food giant has changed the hair color on its logo in support of veteran Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme, tweeting, quote, because a star is a star regardless of hair color. LaFlamme worked as a reporter and anchor on CTV national news for more than 30 years, but this month she revealed her contract was not renewed, with some claiming it was in part because she stopped dying her blonde during the pandemic.


LISA LAFLAMME, FORMER CTV NATIONAL NEWS ANCHOR: I was blindsided and I'm still shocked and saddened by Bell Media's decision. At 58, I still thought I'd have a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives.


HARLOW: As for Bell Media, CTV's parent company, they say LaFlamme's hair color had nothing to do with the decision to let her go, though the head of CTV is now on leave after it was reported that he asked who was approved the decision to, quote, let Lisa's hair go gray.

Well, tonight, Wendy is not the only company rallying behind LaFlamme. Dove also tweeting: Age is beautiful. Women should be able to do it on their own terms, without any consequences, using the hashtag, #keepthegray.

All right. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts now.