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Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive to Retake Kherson Region; Afghanistan Faces Uncertain Future Under Taliban Rule; How a "Special Master" Could Affect Trump Documents Probe. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, August 30th. I'm Christine Romans.

Ukrainian officials say that they have launched a major counteroffensive to retake Russian held areas in the southeastern part of the country. A military source tells CNN Ukrainian troops have retaken four villages near the city of Kherson which the source called the main target of this offensive. The U.S. military officials confirm that they have seen a, quote, uptick in kinetic activity in the Kherson region and they note Russia is having manpower problems with its military.

We begin our coverage in Kyiv with CNN's Melissa Bell.

Melissa, what are Ukrainian officials saying about this counteroffensive in the south?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing from regional officials is that day two of that counteroffensive is seeing more fighting in a number of towns along the front line. Clearly, this is a counteroffensive long anticipated and long prepared for.

What we're seeing for the time being are warnings from senior Ukrainian officials that while it is under way, people need to be patient. We've been hearing from a senior aid to President Zelenskyy saying this morning this is going to be a slow grind, urging patience on the part of Ukrainians. We heard also from the Ukrainian president himself in his nightly address, speaking of his determination saying that Russians needed now to go home since they would he said be chased back to their border.

Clearly, this is a turning point in the minds of Ukrainians at least their hope is that it will mark a turning point. And what has been so crucial to its preparation of course has been what is going on over the course of the last couple of weeks. And that has been the preparation of the battlefield, the use of the HIMARS that have proved extremely efficient in taking on some of that infrastructure that allowed along the Dnipro River the Russian forces to supply their troops over in Kherson. Those have continued overnight with attacks on ammunitions depots as

well. And we've been hearing also more worrying news from the American administration with the possibility that Russia may be in possession of Iranian drones. Now, what we understand from those sources speaking to CNN is that the training of Russian soldiers with those drones is going on even now in Iran. But the fear is and expectation on the part of the Biden administration is that hundreds of them could be deployed to the battlefields o Ukraine.

And that is worrying because it could mark a sort of change in the ability of the HIMARS to make that difference. It could neutralize that advantage that the Ukrainians have gained in terms of the longer range ability to take on those positions behind the front lines. So that is something that we'll be watching very closely.

Also here in Kyiv this morning, we're following the IAEA inspectors, they have arrived here and we're expecting a press conference in a short while to find out more about exactly when they intend to get to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, what they hope to see, what they expect to find and what being assess they're going to be given to those buildings, some have been damaged by the shelling the last few days, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that in Ukraine.

The Kremlin is confirming Ukraine's counteroffensive but insists that Ukrainian troops, quote, suffered heavy losses and, quote, failed miserably.

Frederik Pleitgen is on the ground in Moscow for us.

What else are the Russians saying this morning, Fred?


Well, it took a long time for the Russians to acknowledge that the counteroffensive was going on. They only did so pretty late last night. And they claim that the Russian forces that are down there are standing their ground. They said that they have destroyed more than 20 tanks, more than 20 armored personnel carrier and they also spoke of more than 500 Ukrainian troops having been killed.

Of course, all of that absolutely impossible to verify. It is quite interesting also the Russians are saying that despite the fact that we know that some of the bridges across the Dnipro River, and the list of those that we're just talking about that are so important for Russia's logistics, those, of course, have been taken out by longer range Ukrainian strikes that have been going on really over the past couple of weeks.

Now, another thing that the Russians have acknowledged is that some of the towns that are on this frontline down there in south of Ukraine, that those have been under fire by Ukrainian sources. One that is quite important as the Ukrainians try to reach the town of Kherson and they said -- the Russians have acknowledged that there were pretty heavy strikes there overnight.


They said there is no electricity or water there either. Also, this morning, there was talk of gunfire actually in the streets of the town of Kherson itself, that, of course, the big prize that the Ukrainians want. It's the only regional capital that the Russians had been able to take from the Ukrainians, and, of course, the Ukrainians want it back.

The Russians claim those were sabotaged teams on the ground and that those had allegedly been neutralized by the Russian forces.

Now, again, impossible to independently verify that, however the Russians do very much acknowledge that this is a very hot battle field at the moment and Ukrainians are trying to advance towards the city of Kherson, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much. Keep us posted there.

So, one year ago today, the Pentagon announced the last U.S. military plane left Afghanistan, marking the end of America's longest war.

Remember heart-breaking images of those weeks, the fall of Kabul, the allies' chaotic exit continue to echo on the American political scene. But the people of Afghanistan now live the effects of that 20-year long war every day.

Chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward reported extensively from Afghanistan. She joins us now from London.

Clarissa, under a Taliban rule, Afghan's face a grim precarious future.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. We just returned from two weeks inside Afghanistan and there's no question that one year after the U.S. withdrawal, this country is more isolated than it has been in a very long time and more impoverished. And that is the thing that really strikes you when you are on the ground.

According to the International Rescue Committee, 97 percent of Afghans will be living in poverty by the end of the year. And more than half the country is reliant on humanitarian aid and nearly half the Afghan people are facing a state of acute hunger. And there are real fears that there could be something approaching a famine state later on this year as winter sets in, with the world very much on Ukraine, with inflation soaring and the food crisis, the situation likely to only get worse.

And then you have the sort of social component of everything, Christine, the fact that girls are largely banned from attending secondary school, the fact that women have been marginalized from public positions. And that really exacerbating the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that many Afghans are facing. Now, one component to the economic part of this is the fact that the

U.S. and other countries have still frozen billions of dollars in aid and billions of dollars of Afghanistan central bank assets. There have been a lot of discussions about how to try to funnel that to the people who need it most while circumventing the Taliban, but really that has been thrown into jeopardy by the fact that the U.S. ultimately killed using a drone, the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al- Zawahiri, earlier in the month, in central Kabul.

The Taliban really refusing to take responsibility for this at this stage. They won't even agree to acknowledge that he was even there, and so the complicating factor in all of this, Christine, is that as long as the Taliban refuses to acknowledge this, as long as the funds are frozen and as long as the relationship between the U.S. and the Taliban continues to be so dysfunctional and there is no normalization of relations that we can see on the horizon, you can be sure that it is the Afghan people who will continue to suffer, Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right. Clarissa, thank you so much for your extensive reporting.

All right. Later today, President Biden gives his vision for a safer America. And right now, a curfew in Baghdad as hundreds of Iraqis storm the government palace.

And a key figure from the January 6 hearings is now stepping down from the Secret Service.



ROMANS: All right. Secret Service Assistant Director Tony Ornato is leaving the agency. He was at the center of explosive testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson before the January 6 Committee.

And she said Ornato told her then President Trump lashed out in anger, lunging at a member of the security detail after learning that they wouldn't take him to the Capitol on January 6. Ornato says he is leaving the Secret Service to pursue a career in the private sector.

New developments this morning in the investigation into trove of classified material that former President Trump kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Sources tells CNN intelligence agencies have been working with the FBI since mid May to assess the potential risks of how Trump was handling the secret and top secret documents removed from his Florida residence. A hearing is scheduled Thursday on Trump's request for a special master to review the documents seized by the FBI.

CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the escalating battle over the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago, the Justice Department said it's identified a, quote, limited set of materials seized in the search that could potentially obtain material containing attorney/client privilege. And Justice officials say they are in the process of addressing privilege disputes.

SHAN WU, FORMER COUNSEL TO U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There may be certain correspondence between the lawyers and Trump that the special master and probably the FBI would agree that would say, hey, this is an email from one of Trump's lawyers to Trump. This is clearly privileged. We're not even going to look at it.

TODD: The effort to protect privileged information, privileged communication between Donald Trump and his lawyers is the reason the former president requested a so-called special master to oversee the review of all evidence the FBI recovered in the Mar-a-Lago search. And a judge in the case has indicated she may well appoint one.

What is a special master?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They're called special masters not because of their chess-playing ability but because they have a special expertise that can assist a district court judge in sorting out important material in a case that's coming before him or her.


TODD: Experts say a special master is usually a neutral third party expert who goes through seized materials in a case to ensure that investigators don't look through privileged information.

CALLAN: An investigator is not permitted to look at privileged information because, for instance, the attorney/client privilege involves a client who may be revealing things that are incriminating which he would never reveal to anybody but an attorney because the attorney, of course, protects the distribution of that information.

TODD: Special masters were appointed in the cases of Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, former attorneys for Trump, who faced criminal charges and had their offices and homes searches.

Who are special masters? Are they usually judges, lawyers, who are they?

WU: They're usually maybe former judges, lawyers. Often times for financial issues, they wouldn't be -- they may be people who are former accountants, have that financial. You want someone who has a mastery of the subject matter area.

TODD: But legal analyst Paul Callan says in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, finding the right special master will be especially difficult.

CALLAN: There are classified materials involved here, and some of the most highest classified materials, those top secret SCI materials, you probably will need a special master who has prior clearance to look at classified documents. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): Paul Callan says another very difficult challenge for a special master into the Mar-a-Lago case will be determining whether former President Trump and his lawyers can assert executive privilege, shielding materials that only a president can protect.

Trump and his lawyers say even a former president can excerpt executive privilege but there is a lot of dispute over that.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Zeroing in further on the Mar-a-Lago investigation regarding the president, let's bring in Lis Wiehl, former federal prosecutor and the author of "A Spy in Plain Sight."

Nice to see you again, Lis. Thanks so much for dropping by.


ROMANS: CNN is now reporting that the FBI had been reviewing boxes retrieved in Mar-a-Lago since may and had been working with agencies like the CIA. What is that telling you there?

WIEHL: It says they are way ahead of the game. We are talking about them appointing this privilege team. They put this in the affidavit, Christine, that they were going to appoint this privilege team. What that means is that they are thinking way ahead, they are thinking about former President Trump asserting attorney/client privilege.

We'll talk about executive privilege as well, but attorney/client privilege. They have that team that actually went in during the search, they were there reviewing the documents right away for attorney/client privilege, because they realize that that could be an issue. And they have already turned over those documents that they have identified as being potentially -- just potentially attorney/client.

And some of those might be reviewed by a judge or a special master, whoever gets appointed. But right now, that is really what is at play. The thing is that Trump, you know, he is not exerting attorney/client privilege. He is saying that there is executive privilege involved which is a whole different ball of wax.

ROMANS: A whole different ball of wax. And we know that that internal filter team is standard operating procedure. They go through and try to separate out that material.

Now, we know the former president has asked for a special master to oversee the DOJ's review of the evidence. Some people are saying that this is sort of to stop the clock. The DOJ is going to file in court its response.

Where do you see that going?

WIEHL: Well, it's absolutely a delay tactic, right? Because a special master, other eyes that have to look at this for both executive privilege and attorney/client privilege will just slow the whole thing down. They could also say that any of the documents that we've identified, you can't bring in front of the grand jury, you being the DOJ. And so that then ties up the grant jury and that leads to a delay.

But here is the thing, Christine, you know, the former president asserted this executive privilege a couple of weeks after the search. I mean, if you've got a real beef, right, don't you think that you get on that right away and say hey, there is executive privilege there, I want this stopped? But he waits. He delays on his own delay tactic.

And then the thing is, Christine, executive privilege, that is a sign for the executive, who is in the office, who is having communications with people about things that he is doing, official actions are happening right there and then. It is not a former president saying something I did in the past was executive privilege because he doesn't have that anymore. He is not in that seat anymore. President Biden is.

And President Biden has said, I'm not exerting executive over any of this. So, the executive privilege, I mean, I see why they threw the kitchen sink in, Trump lawyers did, but I don't see that sticking.

ROMANS: So, all these thorny legal issues, right, and these threads legally in numerous investigations around the president, by the way.


And then you have Senator Lindsey Graham saying that there is a double standard for President Trump. Law enforcement has a double standard when it comes to President Trump.

And then he said this about the Mar-a-Lago investigation.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If there is a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information after the Clinton debacle which you president over and did a hell of a good job, there will be riots in the streets.


ROMANS: Riots in the streets. Now, he has said he, of course, doesn't advocate for violence. But what do you make about the legal and politics colliding here?

WIEHL: OK, and it is certainly a collision, right, because politically, he can say what he wants. There is free speech. But you can't yell fire in a crowded theater, right? You can't have a threat like that. And we know that the situation is so volatile, the whole country is up in arms about this.

So for him to say that, I mean, if you were looking at a prosecution, and it is murky here, I'll give you that, something happens after what he says and riots ensue, you know, is that incitement? Is that conspiracy?

Is that -- you know, he's got to walk that back, and I think he is. But legally he is in hot water in the sense that he is treading over the First Amendment by saying I'm threatening something and if this happens, if Y happens, X will also happen, you know, and is that really sort of inciting people to riot?

I mean, potentially it is, Christine. It is really -- come on, it is an awful statement. I think that we can all agree to that.

ROMANS: Yeah, he says he doesn't advocate violence but clearly the temperature is running hot, no question around the president.

Lis Wiehl, so nice to see you. Thank you so much for dropping by this morning. Have a great day.

WIEHL: You got it, Christine. Have a great day.

ROMANS: You too.

All right. The first of two key speeches from President Biden this week begins just hours from now.

And next, one man's resignation triggers deadly protests.



ROMANS: A powerful Iraqi cleric now says he is withdrawing from political life. The reaction from Baghdad looks like this.


That's hundreds of protestor storming the Republican palace. At least ten have been killed, more than 200 now injured in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Just moments ago, four rockets hit there.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Rome. He is tracking the latest developments for us in Baghdad.

And, Ben, why such a violent reaction to one man declaring his retirement?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, this is the latest twist and turn in a very complicated story, the latest chapter of can which began last October when Iraq had parliamentary elections. And this Muqtada Sadr, this cleric, his movement, the Sadrist movement, won the largest bloc of seats, 73 seats in the Iraqi parliament, but weren't able to form a government because of rival -- a hostile relationship with the other main Shia bloc which is allied with Iran.

And what you have seen is this is I believe by my count six times since 2013 that Muqtada al Sadr has come out and said I'm quitting politics, often when he does that, it is followed by his followers, his supporters coming out to protest. In this case coming out to break into the Green Zone, go into the Republican palace where the current caretaker works out of, and we've seen clashes -- clashes between his followers and Iraqi security forces, between his followers and other Shia militias.

And this is in a country that is deeply divided and awash with weaponry. The U.N. has come out and said that the very survival of the state of Iraq is at stake -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ben Wedeman, thanks for explaining that very complicated story to us. Thank you, sir.

All right. Tennis fans are savoring every moment as Serena Williams wins for what could be one of the last times.

And a consequential week for President Biden as he begins the big midterm push.