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Martial Law in Effect for 4 Russia-Annexed Regions of Ukraine; Israel Offers to Help Ukraine with Air Defense Alert System; Biden, Democrats Fight to Keep Control of Congress. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 20, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, October 20th. I'm Christine Romans.

Martial law is now in effect in four regions of Ukraine, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson. And in Kherson, Kremlin-installed leaders are ramping up the relocation of 60,000 residents who were being told Ukraine is about to attack them. All while serious questions remain about Russia's ability to stand the Ukrainian counter offensive in the region.

Nic Robertson live on the ground in Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv.

Nic, we understand Russian forces are retreating from this, quote/unquote, annexed region of Kherson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That is the indication that this civilian leaders there are giving, the Russian installed civilian leaders, that's the indication that Russia's military generals are giving us on. Putin seems to be trying to take a stronger grip on power there.

Remember in Kherson, seven months ago with a Russian troops rolled in there it was street protests, the pernicious rule of President Putin has led to the arrest and detentions and disappearances of many, many young people who dissent against the Russian occupation. Now the authorities there, the Russian authorities, forcing people to leave.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Ukrainian civilians, now under Russian martial law. In Kherson City, lined up to be evacuated, potentially to Russia. Russia-imposed officials in illegally annexed Kherson have told them it's not safe to stay. Up to 60,000 forced out, boats used to ferry them away from the front line, and their homes to an uncertain future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I bought extra close for my dog, my other half. My antidepressant.

ROBERTSON: Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of whipping up hysteria, compelling people to leave. Residents received text messages Wednesday morning from the pro-Russian administration.

Dear residents, it read, evacuate immediately. There would be shelling residential areas, by the armed forces of Ukraine.

The punishment under martial law for failing to comply unknown. The threat, clear.

KIRILL STREMOUSOV, RUSSIAN INSTALLED DEPUTY GOVERNOR OF KHERSON REGION (through translator): I ask you to take my words seriously and to understand them as meaning as prompt an evacuation as possible.

ROBERTSON: Vladimir Putin is tightening his grip, not just on Kherson, but Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia, the four territories he illegally annexed last month, all under military command.

Ukrainian forces have been advancing through several parts of the Kherson region in recent weeks, capturing villages and farmlands along the western bank of the Dnipro River. The Kremlin's new commander for Ukraine said Tuesday that the situation in Kherson was far from simple and implicitly hinted, his forces may withdraw.

SERGEI SUROVIKIN, NEW COMMANDER OF RUSSIAN "SPECIAL OPERATION" FORCES (through translator): Our other plans and actions regarding the city of Kherson will depend on the unfolding military and tactical situation on the ground. I repeat, it is already very difficult today.

ROBERTSON: Across the rest of Ukraine, Putin's forces kept up their barrage on the power stations. And despite at least four cruise missiles and ten drones shot down by Ukrainian forces, another three electricity generating plants hit. More Ukrainians denied power and water.

Amidst those dwindling supplies, President Zelenskyy calling a crisis meeting to head off a nationwide blackout, vowing to keep critical infrastructure up and running.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And after that meeting, government officials said they were going to have rolling blackouts as of today. This city, with rolling blackouts elsewhere in the country, electric trolley vehicles off, street lights off, the water off, and to the north of here, every city in Ukraine is now being affected by the impact of these strikes on the power plants to the point that the government is literally having to throttle back the amount of electricity they can let people have.

ROMANS: All right. Nic, thank you so much for that, excellent reporting as always.


All right. President Biden says Putin's declaration of martial law is a sign of the Russian leader's dwindling options.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems his only tool available to him is to it seems his only tool available to him is to brutalize individual citizens in Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens, to try to intimidate them into capitulating. They are not going to do that.


ROMANS: A senior administration official tells CNN the White House considers the martial law declaration a desperate tactic and that Putin's announcement does not change the fact that Russia has no legitimate claims over sovereign Ukrainian territory.

Nearly one dozen foreign nationals from Russia, Venezuela, Latvia, Ukraine, charge for illegal schemes to send U.S. military technology to Russia. The Justice Department says some of the technology was recovered on battlefields in Ukraine.

CNN's Clare Sebastian, live for us this morning in London.

Clare, some of this was nuclear technology.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. They showed us a story that reveals you can't put sanctions in place, the real work starts when you have to actually enforce them. This took a lot of global cooperation.

As you say, two schemes. The first one involved five Russian nationals and two Venezuelan oil brokers. They are accused of obtaining military technology from U.S. companies as well as smuggling oil and tens of millions of dollars from Russian sanctioned and these, and individuals.

The second scheme as you note, involved several other individuals and two companies who were accused of attempting to smuggle a piece of technology used in nuclear proliferation, to Russia. They did not succeed. That technology was intercepted by U.S. authorities working with Latvian authorities. But this shows not only what it takes to enforce these sanctions, but that Russia is still of tempting, by various means, to obtain sanctioned technology.

As for those arrested, and it is not all of those charged who have been arrested, they are not yet in the U.S. The U.S. is seeking their extradition, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Clare, thank you so much for that. Clare Sebastian, in London.

Israel is helping Ukraine to develop an air defense early warning system, but the Israeli defense minister says they will not send weapons to Ukraine.

CNN's Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem.

Hadas, how have the Ukrainian officials responded to this offer?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying it's too little, too late. The Ukrainians have been asking the Israelis to help them, sending more than just the humanitarian aid, they have been providing so far. And especially in light of now, we see reports that Iran is helping Russia provide weapons, Ukrainians are essentially saying Israel, Iran, your archenemy is testing out as weapons they will be using on you, now in Ukraine, help us even further.

But Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz saying that they not be providing offensive weaponry, instead, offering a missile defense alert system. Take a listen to what he had to say yesterday.


BENNY GANTZ, ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTER: For operational and regional consideration, I do not see us sending offensive military equipment. Maybe we can support them with an early warning system, that we will allow them to alert the right population in a more accurate manner.


GOLD: Those operation and regional considerations are Russia's military presence in Syria. When Israel wants to strike Iranian-backed targets in Syria, which they see as very necessary to maintain their security, there is a hotline the Israeli military has with the Russian military there, to make sure they don't cross their wires, and they don't get into any sort of situation with the Russians there. That is very much top of mind for the Israeli officials.

But yesterday, I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, he called it too little, too late. He said you can't win the war with air defense alert systems. And compare this to when you go to market and trying to get some bread, and instead you are given a spoon. He said that he hopes the answer will change after the Israeli elections on November 1st.

But, Christine, that probably won't happen because even if the former prime minister, now opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, comes into power, he's been saying in interviews this week that he agrees with the current Israeli policy when it comes to Russia and Ukraine -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Hadas Gold, thanks, Hadas.

Mike Pence calling out fellow conservatives, balking at the idea of sending military aid to Ukraine. The former vice president delivered a blunt message in a speech to the Heritage Foundation.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: There can be no room in the conservative movement for policies for Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom.


ROMANS: Pence's comments could be a response to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. He said earlier this week they would be quote, no blank checks for Ukraine if the GOP wins back the majority in Congress.

Former President Trump is considering allowing the FBI to conduct a supervised search of his home in Mar-a-Lago, again. According to sources it is one of several options being considered to satisfy the Justice Department demands.


The DOJ remains concerned that the former president failed to comply with a mate grand jury subpoena requiring him to return all classified information.

Former President Trump knew the voter fraud claims he was making or wrong, this is according to a federal judge who just released emails and documents from former Trump attorney John Eastman, to house investigators. The Judge David Carter writing, quote, the emails show the president knew that the specific number of voter fraud, numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continue to tout those numbers both in court and to the public. CNN has reached out to representatives for Trump and Eastman for comment.

A Wisconsin taxpayers group wants the U.S. Supreme Court to block President Biden's student loan forgiveness program. The group claims that the president does not have the legal authority and says it will deliver a staggering blow to the treasury and taxpayers. They write quote, we are witnessing a gargantuan increase in the national debt, accomplished by a complete disregard for limitations on the constitutional spending authority. The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates the program could cost 400 billion dollars over four years, loan cancellations begin as soon as Sunday.

All right, straight ahead, the Texas secretary of state sending spectators to observe vote counting in Houston. Plus, questions about why the Democrats are sending the right message to the economy to voters, and why well-known stores like Bed Bath & Beyond are at risk of closing.



ROMANS: All right. Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman calling in the big guns in the final weeks of his campaign. Fetterman's locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz.

President Biden travels to Pennsylvania today. He will appear with Fetterman at an event tonight. And Senator Bernie Sanders announcing a cross-country campaign blitz which will end in Pennsylvania, just days before the election. Voters are already turning out in record numbers, assigned the Americans are energized about the all important midterms.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The economy and inflation are looming large over the midterm elections. Only 20 days before Americans choose which party will control Congress and state capitals. At the center the campaign, gas prices on the uptick. And the White House on edge, as President Biden and Democrats fight to maintain the majorities in the House and Senate.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to continue to stabilize markets and decrease the prices at a time when the actions of other countries have caused such volatility.

ZELENY: The president once again tapping into the nation's emergency oil stockpile, hoping to rein in gas prices and ease the economic headwinds facing his party. He dismissed Republican criticism that the actions were link to the November elections.

BIDEN: It's not politically motivated at all. It's making sure there's enough oil that is being pumped by the companies, so that we have the ability to be able to produce enough gas that we need here at home.

ZELENY: Early voting is already underway, with nearly 4 million Americans already casting their ballots, including more than 290,000 in Georgia, 450,000 in Michigan, 360,000 in Pennsylvania, and 180,000 in Wisconsin.

From coast to coast, the campaigns are taking final shape. In the critical Pennsylvania Senate race with Republican Mehmet Oz --


ZELENY: Democrat John Fetterman issuing a new letter from his doctor, hoping to cool the contentious debate over his health.

His doctor said the Democratic candidate was recovering well from his stroke. But added that Fetterman continues to exhibit symptoms of an auditory processing disorder, which can come across as hearing difficulty. Fetterman and Oz are set to come face to face at the sole debate of a contest that could determine control of the Senate.

In Florida, a volley of heated exchanges over abortion rights on Tuesday night between Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): I'm one hundred percent pro-life. Not because I want to deny the rights. But because I believe an innocent human life is worthy of a protection of our laws.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): You have made it clear that you support no exceptions, even including rape and incest. Now as a police detective who investigated cases of rape and incest, no senator, I do not think it is okay for a ten-year-old girl to be raped and have to carry the seed of her rapist.

ZELENY: Across the country, Democrats are hoping supporters will be motivated by a fight for abortion rights. Even as Republicans believe crime, immigration, and the economy will resonate with voters.

Those challenges come alive in competitive contests like Michigan's eight district, where Congressman Dan Kildee acknowledges the pain of inflation, but tells CNN the election should still be seen as a stark choice between Democratic and Republican policies.

REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): Is it a challenge for us? Absolutely, people tend to hold the party that holds the White House responsible for everything. We just ask folks to really think carefully about what the alternatives are. Look at the current condition of the Republican Party, look at their policies.


ZELENY (on camera): Democrats can see that the economic challenges and inflation woes they have been experiencing are here to stay, at least for the rest of this midterm election campaign. But they are still trying to frame this as a stark choice with Republicans, sending a message to voters, independent voters in particular, what they might be getting if Republicans would win a House majority. All of this is nearly 4 million Americans have cast their ballots, making every day until Election Day so critical for both sides.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Dearborn, Michigan.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Jeff. Nineteen days and counting.

Let's bring in Alex Shephard, staff writer for "The New Republic".

Nice to see you this morning, thank you for getting us early with us.

Let's look at CNN's poll averages, showing even divide here. Republicans gaining some momentum. Democrats find themselves, Alex, on the wrong side of the "It's economy is stupid" bumper sticker here.

ALEX SHEPHARD, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Yeah, it's a sort of a classic problem in American politics. I think for most of this summer, Democrats were looking at falling gas prices.


They fell for about 100 days before they started to rise again pretty recently. They are starting to get hopeful, especially given the success, at least that they saw at the January 6th hearings. They saw the backlash the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

They saw voters, I think, start to listen to their overall message, which is that they were the party of common sense, that they were the adults in the room. The Republicans were extremists.

What we have seen over the last month or so is inflation and continuing to doggedly stick around. We've seen gas prices tick up again. And as a result, this generic ballot, it's sort of a choice of who would rather have them in Congress? But has switched, it's very closely with gas prices. Democrats I think are largely trying to ignore inflation or hope that

it went away over the summer. It is not going away. Now they are rushing to find a message as we get into the home stretch of the midterm elections.

ROMANS: It's interesting. Senator Bernie Sanders, you know, thinks Democrats should be talking more about inequality, right? How the Republicans don't have a plan to fix inflation, and they should be not talking so much about abortion rights. Listen to what he said.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I have been to believe that a woman's right to control her own body is absolutely what, where we should be and the Supreme Court decision was a total disaster. But I also happen to think that given the fact that for the last 50 years, real wages for American workers are lower today than they were 50 years ago, that people can't afford health care, they can't afford prescription drugs.

The Democrats, simply abdicated and walked off the debate stage. They have allowed Republicans to do all of the talking. Republicans talk about inflation.


ROMANS: Yes, he says that Democrats should be hammering the fact that Republican orthodoxy, cutting taxes potentially cutting social programs, that would be a winning message for Democrats but they have not done that effectively?

SHEPHARD: Yes. I think, the most Democrats have not really had an economic message. Joe Biden and others have tried with some success to tout things like, the inexpertly named Inflationary Reduction Act. I think this is a way of pushing that the economy is not actually so bad. That is running right up against the very real, and accurate perception for a lot of people, that these price rises are happening much faster than wage gains.

I think what Senator Sanders trying to push Democrats to do is actually have an economic message. On inflation, he is pushed specifically to blame corporate profiteering, which is certainly playing a role in it as well. But you have not seen that picked up by as many Democrats as you would expect.

ROMANS: You know, there's a lot happening really here. So, the president announcing a sale of 15 million barrels of oil from the national reserve, to relieve gas prices at the pump. Maybe not relieve, but to keep them from going higher. We learned this week that you could now buy over the counter hearing aids. A student loan debt relief portal goes live.

I mean, the White House is trying to point to all these things saying, hey, look, we are moving the levers. we can. Does that -- does that resonate? Does that help Democrats get votes?

SHEPHARD: It's a great question. I think there is a larger message as well they can point to as well, with things again, the n expertly named Inflation Reduction Act. And they're trying to build the supply chain closer to home. One of the things we have seen and pushing inflation up is that the post-COVID or post peak pandemic supply chain simply has not been able to recover quickly enough, that new tensions with China require rebuilding things. We have not seen as much push for the kinds of American manufacturing that the Democrats have been boosting here.

But what they are essentially doing, is we have one big problem, which voters are seeing their paychecks not go as far as it used to go. But food and gas prices are soaring, really, for the last year. And I think in response, essentially they have a scrap bag menu. And what they can do is say look we have given you lower prescription drug prices, et cetera, et cetera.

Bernie Sanders and others have said, if you tie that to another message that says look, look at the last administration. All they did was cut taxes for corporations. They're going to do the same thing when they retake power again. That might be closer to a winning message.

But again, if your big problem is that prices are up 8 percent, gas prices are up 40 cents a gallon from where they were a year ago, that simply might not go far enough.

ROMANS: Yeah, and saying, look, 3.8 million jobs have been created this year, look at all these places in the economy which are strong, corporate earnings still holding up, those sorts of messages don't resonate when at the gas pump, you are right, it is up from last year and you are still looking at this grinding inflation, especially in grocery bills, rent and the like. It's a tough situation.

Alex Shephard, nice to see you. Thanks so much for dropping by.

SHEPHARD: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Just days before the start of early voting, the Texas secretary of state is announcing plans to inspect the general election vote count in Harris County.


That's the Houston area, the population is nearly 5 million. Harris County election officials are responding to the letter, saying they were focused foremost on ensuring this election runs smoothly. The county's top elected official issue in her own statement saying, the timing of the letter is at best suspicious, potentially, in an attempt to sabotage county efforts by sowing doubt in the election process, equally as bad, by opening the door to possible inappropriate state interference in Harris County's elections.

All right, Mike Pence answering the question, would he vote for Donald Trump? And why a migrant center in El Paso, Texas suddenly shut its doors.