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Russia's Putin Holds Security Council Meeting; Democrats Try to Appeal to Michigan Voters But Inflation Remains Top Issue; Special Master Frustrated with Mar-a-Lago Documents Case. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 19, 2022 - 07:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Russians announced an evacuation from a city they have held since the beginning of the Ukraine invasion.

I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

And this morning, we're hearing from Russia's top military commander in Ukraine publicly declaring problems that Russian forces are having in Kherson. This is a key southern city they seized just after the beginning of the invasion. The commander appeared to suggest that the Russian hold on that strategic city is tenuous at best. And we learned moments ago the Russians have started evacuating civilians further away from the line there.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, Russia continues to target critical infrastructure across Ukraine, with missile strikes hitting energy facilities, triggering power and also water outages. Overnight, Central Ukraine was hit, quote, all night long by Russian attacks. Two districts, Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol, where shelled. There's also a new round of kamikaze drone strikes. Ukraine's military claims that it shot down 13 drones in the Mykolaiv region.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in Kyiv for us with the latest. Can you tell us, Clarissa, what you're hearing about what's happening near Kherson?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's an interesting picture, one that we didn't expect to see quite this quickly. But what appears to be happening is the mass evacuation of civilians to the sort of left bank, if you will, on the Dnipro River, to try to, in the words of Russian authorities, move these people to safety because there's some huge Ukrainian attack anticipated. Although Ukrainian authorities are saying that that's ludicrous and that it's propaganda and they aren't planning any kind of attack, particularly not on civilian infrastructure or civilian targets.

But nonetheless, we do start to see the beginning of this civilian evacuation. I think the question that everybody is asking is, does this now presage or portend a larger troop evacuation? Are we going to see Russian forces start to withdraw from Kherson? That would obviously be hugely significant for a number of reasons, not least because it's the only regional capital that they have held since the beginning of the war.

So, everyone watching very closely, and judging by those comments from Russia's top general, Surovikin, who used to be in charge, that was his area of operation, Kherson, in that interview, he really acknowledged the difficulties and challenges that Russian forces have been facing as the Ukrainians have carried out a series of successful counteroffensives. So, everyone now keeping a really close eye to see what happens there, because it will have a huge impact on this war.

BERMAN: And if people look at the map, they can see where Kherson is. This was a city that the Russians had taken and thought was on their path to Odessa, back went they had lofty goals of seizing much more territory in Ukraine. And if we can put the map up so people can see it, Kherson was a key strategic city and they held and they still hold ground or control some ground in the southern part of the country there. And it could presage a loss of even more territory all the way down to the border with Crimea.

I know that the security council, Russian Security Council, has met and will meet again today with Vladimir Putin there. And this is going on in Kherson while that's happening. What do we expect to hear from them, Clarissa?

WARD: The rumor mill is going wild right now in Moscow, John, a lot of speculation as to what might be announced. It's not unusual. Obviously, the Security Council meets on a weekly basis. But what's sort of interesting or a little bit unusual is that they've asked the federation council that met earlier today to come back again or rather to hang around until after the security council meeting.

Now, that could be an indication that the federation council would be asked to ratify or kind of pass any motion or proposal that the security council comes up with. Speculation is that potentially it could be a declaration of martial law. It could be a declaration of further mobilization.

But I want to caution people that we really don't know anything until we know exactly what will be said in that meeting. Because we've seen this before where there's anticipation that there's going to be big news, there's going to be a big announcement, and then one isn't actually forthcoming.

But I do think it speaks more broadly to the mood in Russia that there is so much anticipation and for many people a lot of anxiety as to what announcements we might hear later on today from Russia's leaders.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly, we'll be listening for that.

Clarissa, I know we've been talking so much about these drones that are being used inside of Ukraine. You have got some very close-up access. Can you tell us about this?

[07:05:00] WARD: Yes. So, this was just a very unusual thing to see up close and up front after all the denials that we've heard from Russia. Yesterday, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, saying that only Russian weapons with Russian numbers are being used here in Ukraine. The Iranians also coming and saying, we have not been supplying any weapons to the Russians. And yet we were taken to see an Iranian-made Mohajer-6 drone. It's a large drone, much bigger than the sort of kamikaze Shahed 136s that have been the focus of a lot of attention recently.

And, essentially, this drone kind of works in conjunction with those Shaheds. It's part reconnaissance but also can carry up to four war heads. And what this military officer who told us that is particularly alarming is that they're now anticipating the Iranians are preparing to give the Russians another new generation of drones known as the Arash 2, those capable of carrying five times the amounts of explosives of the Shahed 136 drones. So, that would potentially be something that could have a devastating impact on the battlefield.

KEILAR: Yes. Thank you so much for showing us that. It's really important to see. Clarissa, thank you for the report.

BERMAN: So, this morning, both parties looking at key races across the country, including in key swing states like Michigan. But surging inflation and skyrocketing cost of living certainly at the forefront of the campaign discussion.

CNN Jeff Zeleny is live for us this morning in Saginaw, Michigan, with a look at the races there. Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, John. The economy has always been a concern shaping the midterm election races but now it is the primary concern with just 20 days left in this midterm election campaign. It certainly is not the position that Democrats wanted to be in as they're trying to hold the control of Congress, which is increasingly giving Republican optimism about their chances.


REP. DAN KILDEE (D-MI): The deal with inflation, you have to reduce costs for the American family while we get through this, for sure.

ZELENY (voice over): Congressman Dan Kildee is still talking about inflation three weeks before voters here in Michigan and across the country decide whether Democrats should retain control of Congress. By now, President Biden and his fellow Democrats hoped that high costs from the spring and summer would have eased. But the fierce economic headwinds seem as strong as ever.

KILDEE: Is it a challenge for us? Absolutely. People tend to hold the party, 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: Kildee sounding the alarm about the prospects of Republicans taking the reins of the house, even as his rival, Paul Junge, is trying to keep the economy and inflation at the center of their race.

CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE PAUL JUNGE (R-MI): People are really concerned about the cost of living. I mean, everywhere I go, gas prices, grocery prices, it's really hitting their budgets.

ZELENY: The battle for control of Congress runs right through Michigan's eighth district, which includes Saginaw County, a battleground in a battleground that voted twice for obama, once for Trump and for Biden, 1 of only 25 such counties like this in America.

This year, the verdict will be shaped by the dueling sentiments from voters like Tom Roy, a Republican who blames Democratic policies for inflation.

TOM ROY, MICHIGAN REPUBLICAN VOTER: Gas prices and inflation. I hope that things get -- we can't continue to spend, spend, spend. It's like a credit card. You can only tap it for so long before it's over the limit.

ZELENY: And from Tracy Bottecelli, a Democrat who says there's plenty of blame to go around for inflation.

TRACY BOTTECELLI, MICHIGAN DEMOCRAT VOTER: I want to scream from the mountain tops it's not one guy who is doing this.

ZELENY: So don't blame the Democrats, don't blame the president?

BOTTECELLI: No. Blame corporations and the corporate greed, and, yes, don't blame politics for every single thing that happens in our world.

ZELENY: With early voting under way, campaigns are taking final shape. And in Michigan, abortion is also on the ballot as voters are asked whether to enshrine the protection of abortion rights into the state Constitution. Democrats believe it could motivate voters and boost Kildee and neighboring Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, both of whom have made abortion rights central to their closing arguments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Junge would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape, incest.

ZELENY: Two years ago, Junge narrowly lost a race to Slotkin. This year, he moved to a new district to take on Kildee.

JUNGE: 46 years of Kildees in congress comes to an end this November.

ZELENY: He said he's running to offer a check on the economic policies of the Biden administration.

JUNGE: When one party has the White House and two parts of congress, that government often seems too extreme by people. And I see that as a campaign all the time.


ZELENY: Kildee first elected to Congress a decade ago after his uncle held a Michigan seat for 36 years conceded that Democrats face steep challenges on the economy, but implored voters to see it as a choice.

KILDEE: I don't walk lockstep with a political party. But what's the Republican brand that we're running against? It's a party that's lost its soul, if not, its mind.


ZELENY (on camera): Now, gas prices come up repeatedly in conversations with one voter after another. It's one reason, of course, that President Biden today is going to announce that he'll be tapping into that Strategic Petroleum Reserve to and bring down the price of gas. But, again, Democrats here are trying to make the case this is a choice between them and Republicans. And, again, John, in Michigan, at least, abortion is on the ballot. So, we will have our eyes here on Saginaw County three weeks from this morning.

BERMAN: That's right. Democrats want this to be a choice election, not a referendum on the administration. Jeff Zeleny in Saginaw, thank you so much for your reporting, as always.

KEILAR: Where is the beef? That question asked by the court- appointed special master charged with reviewing documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. Raymond Dearie expressing frustration with both the Justice Department and Trump lawyers in the case.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins us now.

All right, so, what are the two sides hearing from the special master here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Bri, those words, where's the beef, he followed that with, I need some beef. And when you think of that, that is judge speak for I don't have enough information here to make a decision. What's happening now is, document by document, the judge here, Raymond Dearie, the special master in this situation is going through all of these documents.

The Trump team is making claims to try and keep them out of the investigation. The Justice Department wants them in the investigation. And Dearie is going to have to make document by document decisions. And what's happening right now is he's not getting enough arguments or details or even facts to say, yes, this should be part of the investigation, or, no, there's enough reason to keep it out of the investigation because of a personal claim, an attorney/client claim that Trump is trying to make.

Now, one of the questions here is, is it the Trump team that's not putting up enough information or is it the Justice Department? The judge yesterday in this discussion with both sides, he was frustrated with both. But a lot of the burden does fall on the Trump team to come up with reasons to keep these documents that were seized at Mar-a-Lago out of the criminal probe. And so now they're going to continue to get to work. They say they're going to provide more information. They have about a month more to go through all of the documents, and then Judge Dearie, into December, is going to be making decisions one by one.

KEILAR: You couldn't be more clear, where's the beef? I need the beef. Katelyn, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: There will be beef production, there no doubt.

Today, former President Donald Trump scheduled to be deposed in the defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. She's the former magazine columnist who accused the then-real estate mogul of sexual assault.

CNN's Kara Scannell joins me now. What do we expect to hear from Donald Trump today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, this deposition is taking place behind closed doors. So, unless he says something, we won't know what he answered and what he was asked and what he said in response to that. But this deposition is a long time in the making. Carroll first sued Trump in 2019 for defamation when he denied her claim of rape at a New York department store in the mid-1990s. He went beyond it and said she wasn't his type and that she made this whole up to boost sales of her book.

So, a federal judge last week cleared the way for this deposition. He said Trump was taking too many efforts to try to delay this. He said he shouldn't be allowed to run out the clock, noting that both Trump and Carroll are already in their 70s. So, today will be the day that Trump actually has this deposition, Carroll gave hers last week.

BERMAN: What's next? What are the next legal steps for Carroll and Trump here?

SCANNELL: I mean, this case has been so interesting because it's been working its way through the system. We're actually still waiting for an appeals court to rule. And if the appeals court rules in Trump's favor, it's game over. He will essentially have won this case. But a federal judge who is overseeing this litigation says, we're not going to wait for that, we're going to move ahead, and he's gearing them up to go to trial.

Now, Carroll just recently informed the judge and Trump that she intends to sue him under New York State law that allows victims of sexual assault to sue their accusers civilly years after the encounter. So, she's already teed up that when this law goes into effect next month, she's going to file the lawsuit. The judge in this case says, well, another reason for this deposition to take place. These facts matter in that future case too.

BERMAN: So, this is a defamation case today but there could be a civil assault case in the months ahead.

SCANNELL: That's right.

BERMAN: Kara Scannell, thank you very much. KEILAR: A big setback for Special Counsel John Durham, who has spent more than three years looking for misconduct in the Justice Department's probe of links between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. Igor Danchenko, a Russian expat and think tank analyst, who provided the bulk of the material for the anti-Trump dossier was acquitted after a week-long trial.


So, why is this significant? Well, former President Trump has promised his followers that Special Counsel John Durham was going to uncover the crime of the century and that the revelations would be bigger than Watergate. Just last month, Trump spoke at a campaign rally for Ohio Senate Candidate J.D. Vance, where he again promised Durham had something big.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Just this week, it was revealed that Igor Danchenko, I think that sounds like a slightly Russian name, the foreign national who fabricated some of the most ridiculous smears and lies in the phony Steele dossier. It was all phony.

I hope they make a big deal out of this, not sweep it under the carpet, because I think it's one of the biggest stories in 50 years.


KEILAR: That hasn't been the case though after three and a half years of Durham investigating. Durham has faced many setbacks from the beginning of this trail against Danchenko. At the very start, the case was almost thrown out by a judge. Later, Durham's own witnesses turned against him and provided testimony that helped the defense. And late last week, a judge threw out one of the five counts of lying to the FBI that Danchenko faced. Then yesterday, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on the remaining four charges, which Danchenko's lawyers celebrated immediately following the verdict.


STUART SEARS, ATTORNEY FOR IGOR DANCHENKO: So, we've known all along that Mr. Danchenko was innocent. We're happy now that the American public knows that as well. We thank these jurors for their hard work and deliberation in reaching the right result. And that's all we have at this time. Thank you.


KEILAR: This isn't the first time that Special Counsel Durham went to trial and walked out with a defeat. Earlier this year, Michael Sussmann, a former lawyer to Hillary Clinton's campaign, was also found not guilty, and Sussmann wasted no time in declaring his win against Durham, Trump's proverbial white knight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL SUSSMANN, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN LAWYER: I have a few thoughts to share now that the trial has ended. First, I told the truth to the FBI and the jury clearly recognized that with their unanimous verdict today. I'm grateful to the members of the jury for their careful and thoughtful service. Despite being falsely accused, I'm relieved that justice ultimately prevailed in my case.


KEILAR: In total, two cases of Durham's have gone to trial. Both have ended in acquittal. After more than three years looking for misconduct, Durham has only secured one conviction and that's the guilty plea of a lower level FBI lawyer who got probation for altering one email about a surveillance warrant. So, Special Counsel Durham is now wrapping up his investigation. He will be submitting a report, similar to the Mueller report. That, though, in this Trump-era prosecutor, is giving this report to the Biden DOJ. So, it's still TBD on how much of that report will be revealed.

BERMAN: This morning, new video shows Florida officers almost apologetic while arresting visibly confused convicted felons for alleged illegal voting in the 2020 election. The arrests were part of the far-reaching crackdown by Ron DeSantis on supposed voter fraud.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in Miami for us. What's going on here, Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I've actually spoken to two of the individuals who were arrested as part of this crackdown. They told me they thought that they were voting legally. They had no intention of doing anything illegal. They thought they could vote because the state issued them a voter I.D. card.

Now, Governor Ron DeSantis has called this crackdown and publicly portrayed it as a sort of justice to ensure election security, but his critics calling this a political stunt.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, we have a warrant for your arrest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For voter fraud. You're a felon, right?

SANTIAGO (voice over): Newly obtained police body camera video shows Tampa police officers arresting Romona Oliver for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. So, I know you're caught off guard but, unfortunately, that's how this works, okay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like, what the hell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, ma'am, I know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. I'm like, voter fraud? I have voted but I ain't commit no fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's the thing, I don't know exactly what happened with it, but you do have a warrant, and that's what it's for.

SANTIAGO: The video first reported by the Tampa Bay Times provide a fresh glimpse into a far-reaching state operation in August to crack down on supposed voter fraud.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The state of Florida has charged and is in the process of arresting 20 individuals across the state for voter fraud.

These folks voted illegally in this case and there's going to be other grounds for other prosecutions in the future.


They are disqualified from voting because they've been convicted of either murder or sexual assault.

SANTIAGO: Oliver is a convicted felon. She served 20 years in state for second-degree murder, according to her attorney, Mark Rankin (ph). Her attorney told CNN Oliver was approached at a bus stop one day on the way to work by someone registering voters and she told them she was a felon. Rankin (ph) says the person then told Oliver that she could fill out the form, and if she was eligible, she would get a voter registration card. He says Oliver later received a voter registration card in the mail and, therefore, thought she was eligible to vote.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got out, but the guy told me that I was free and clear to go vote or whatever because I have done my time. I was free. I ain't owe nobody nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. Yes, like I said, I don't know what happened. All I know is that you have a warrant. And all it does is say, you have a warrant and I have got to go arrest you.

SANTIAGO: Her attorney says, quote, she served her time and got out and she got out around the time that Amendment 4 was passed, which affected the rights of felons to vote. Her understanding was that felons had their rights restored. Oliver pleaded not guilty to the illegal voting charge and has a trial set for December.

These were the first arrests by Governor Ron DeSantis' the newly formed Florida Office of Election Crimes and Securities, which was an agency created to probe alleged voting irregularities. Almost immediately, after the charges were filed, questions surfaced about whether the individual knew they were violating the law by voting.

CNN affiliate WPLG spoke to one of the individuals arrested, Ronald Miller.

ROBERT MILLER, MIAMI RESIDENT, ACCUSED OF VIOLATING FLORIDA'S VOTING LAWS: I got it out the mailbox thinking that my rights were restored, as the guy told, me when I had filled the paper out. So, I was happy. SANTIAGO: Miller, a convicted felon who served time for murder, also says he received a voter I.D. card in the mail and was arrested in August for allegedly violating the state's voting laws.

MILLER: One, two, three and four, and all over like this at the door with assault rifles, U.S. Marshalls, like this. My house was surrounded.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And, John, here's something important to note. Here in the state of Florida, state law requires the state to notify local election officials if a voter is convicted of a felony or not eligible to vote. In the five counties where these arrests took place, the local election supervisor tells CNN the state did not inform them that these voters were not eligible. John?

BERMAN: Leyla Santiago, a terrific report. It seems like some people caught in the middle here. More reporting to come, I am sure. Thank you so much for that.

Next, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson joins us on Republican messaging ahead of the midterms.

KEILAR: And the lawyers for George Floyd's daughter drafting a cease and desist letter to Kanye West after he claimed that Floyd was killed by a fentanyl overdose.



KEILAR: The clock is ticking with Election Day less than three weeks away now. Nearly 2.5 2 million Americans have actually already cast their ballots in the midterm elections. Democrats have been driving abortion rights as an important voting issue. Republicans bringing the focus back to the economy and inflation.

So, let's discuss this now with Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Sir, thank you so much for being with us.

I know that you're watching what your party is doing. You always have constructive criticism. So, I wonder, what do you think the Republican Party, these candidates should be doing that they're not doing?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, I think what you've seen is a shift of the Republican candidates into really talking about the issues that you just identified, of inflation, violent crimes, those things that are impacting our families. And as a result, you're seeing that there's some momentum on the Republican side. I'm more optimistic now than I was three months ago.

And so today, we're focusing on that as well with our Idea Summit three weeks out from the election. We've got to be talking about ideas that make a difference in people's lives and whether that is (INAUDIBLE) or whether is dealing with inflation and crime, border security. This is what people care about when we move up in the polls.

KEILAR: Yes, you are hosting this event today in Arkansas. You have Condi Rice, who is the keynote there. And I do want to talk to you about that in just a moment though. I want to get your perspective though on the Georgia race, which is going to be so key to see if Republicans can change the balance of power in both chambers of Congress.

In the Georgia race versus Herschel Walker versus Raphael Warnock, it's been reported that Herschel Walker paid for his former girlfriend's abortion, he denies this. Do you believe his denials?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think in this day and time, you take his denial, you take people willing to accept him for what he is right now, in terms of what he believes, what he wants to do for Georgia, this is a critical race. I do believe that Herschel Walker ought to be elected in the United States Senate because that's the best option for our country in the future. This is a decision that people of Georgia makes. My wife is from Atlanta, and so I have some connections there. And I think it's obviously going to be tight. But I believe that Herschel Walker could make a defining difference in terms of the control of the Senate and the checks and balance on this administration.

KEILAR: Why do you believe his denial?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I think you -- whatever you look at a candidate for office, you have to look at the facts but you also have to look at their sincerity, what they believe, and are they being genuine. Those are judgments that voters of Georgia make. I haven't talked to Hershel personally. I take what he says at face value and the people are going to have to judge that.

But I think it's too important of a race simply to take what happened in the past and say, that's going to define his future.