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Unprecedented FBI Search Of Trump Unleashes Legal & Political Storm; Some Republicans Want Trump To Speed Up 2024 Bid After FBI Search; Police Chief: Suspect Detained In Killings Of Four Muslim Men; Serena Williams Announces She'll "Evolve Away From Tennis"; Trump Vs Pence Proxy Fight Under Way In WI GOP Gov Primary; Russian Prisoners Offered Contracts To Fight In The Kremlin's War Against Ukraine. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 09, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Economists point to a few reasons for declining online prices or supply, a backlog of inventory and low consumer confidence coupled with a pullback in spending.

Our coverage picks up here at the top of the hour with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, new urgency in the U.S. Justice Department investigation of former President Trump after the unprecedented FBI search of his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago. Standby for new details of what the Feds found and how Trump's allies are reacting.

Tonight, some prominent Republicans including the House Minority Leader are slamming the search and vowing investigations of both the Justice Department and the FBI.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As we first reported last night, an extraordinary escalation of the investigation into former President Trump's handling of certain documents from his presidency. Tonight, we're following the major political and legal implications of this truly fast moving story. CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's got the latest on the FBI search of his home at Mar-a-Lago at the resort in Florida. So what's the latest, Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Republicans are attacking the Justice Department and the FBI today, but this is a serious federal criminal investigation. Everything we know about it so far really does appear to be by the book, the Justice Department is following protocols, including keeping things secret at this time.

And what we know about what played out on Monday is that it wasn't the sort of thing that you would call a raid where FBI agents go in guns blazing, knocking on doors, yelling, instead, it was agents going to Mar-a-Lago and working -- beginning the aim (ph) with lots of people looking through these documents, making sure they weren't taking what they shouldn't be taking. And ultimately, they did remove boxes with paper documents.

It's also plausible that the Trump team knew that this could be a possibility. Now this has been an existing federal investigation for some time. There were boxes reclaimed from Mar-a-Lago before, 15 boxes that the National Archives believed should not be in Donald Trump's possession after he left the presidency.

And agents were also visiting Mar-a-Lago in June to talk to his lawyers. They even showed them, the boxes were there. And those agents even said hi to the president -- the former president at that time. And so, this may be a lead up in a much larger case. We don't know where it stands, though, in this investigation.

BLITZER: What do we know, Katelyn, about the FBI's justifications?

POLANTZ: Well, the FBI doesn't go and search the home of a former president just out of, you know, just because they want to willy- nilly. What they have to do to do this is the Justice Department, the FBI, they must go to court, and they must get a sign off from a federal magistrate judge to be able to do the sort of search like this.

We also know that they would very likely, and in this case, we believe they would have gotten sign off from the leadership at both the FBI and the Justice Department. So Chris Wray, the FBI director, and also Merrick Garland and his top political staff.

The one thing about this when they do go to the judge is it isn't just saying, can we go and complete this search. They have to give lots of specifics.

Why do they want to do this? What statutes are they investigating? What what is the reason they believe that there's evidence there and why now? Why go in now ? They have to tell a judge that.

One of the things about that, though, is that it's all done under seal. It's all secret. And that is one of the reasons why we can't know more about what's going on in this investigation at this time.

BLITZER: And Christopher Wray, the FBI director named by then President Trump to that position.

Katelyn Polantz, thank you very, very much for that update.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us to see it as Leyla Santiago. She's on the ground in Palm Beach for us tonight.

So Leyla, what are you learning about the focus of the search?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this search was carried out yesterday morning, and there were still a lot of unanswered questions as Katelyn just pointed out. Let me go ahead and walk you through what we are seeing right now. Right behind me, that is Mar-a-Lago, the primary residence of the former president. And you can see his supporters are lining the street right now next to the home with Trump flags, yelling Trump 2024, saying Trump won. That is what we have seen all day today as well as last night just hours after the president -- the former president himself made the announcement that the FBI was at his home.

So, what we have learned, according to sources familiar to the investigation telling CNN that the target -- where is the federal or where the law enforcement agents went in and targeted the personal quarters of Mar-a-Lago as well as the offices of former President Trump. They were there.


You know, we don't know exactly what they were looking for but we know that they took things out of that home. And we know this because Trump's own attorney confirmed it.

Now, I want you to hear how former President Trump's son described it.


ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S SON: The purpose of the raid from what they said was because the National Archives wanted to, you know, collaborate whether or not Donald Trump had any documents in his possession. And my father has worked so collaboratively with them for months. In fact, the lawyer that's been working on this was totally shocked because I have such an amazing relationship with these people. And all of a sudden, I know notice, they sent, you know, 20 cars and 30 agents.


SANTIAGO: And Wolf, we should know that former President Trump was not home when the FBI executed that search warrant. We have no reason to believe that he has been here today either,. Wolf.

BLITZER: Leyla Santiago outside Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, thank you very, very much.

Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us, CNN's Gabby Orr and former Federal Prosecutor Daniel Goldman, who was the lead counsel, by the way, in the House of Representatives in Trump's first impeachment. We also have Dave Aronberg with us. He's the state attorney for Palm Beach County. And CNN Congressional Correspondent Jessica Dean.

Jessica, how are Trump's allies on Capitol Hill reacting to this extraordinary FBI search?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting to see kind of the difference between the leadership of Senate Republicans and the leadership of House Republicans. On the Senate side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stayed really pretty quiet. Some of the leadership has tweeted out comments saying that they want an explanation, they want accountability, they want the FBI to explain exactly what they were after and why. But in terms of Mitch McConnell, we have not heard anything from him on this so far.

It's a very different story on the House side. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeting, and I think it's important to read this to you, quote, "When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight. Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar." That's pretty explicit as to where they are.

We also know that House Republicans did talk about this on a previously scheduled call earlier today that McCarthy kicked that call off, and then invited Jim Jordan and Mike Turner, who are the highest ranking Republicans on the Intel Committee, the Judiciary Committee to talk more about this. And we know they talked about accountability. They didn't really detail what kind of oversight, but they certainly have their eyes on the midterms and wanting to be able to conduct those oversight investigations on the DOJ. But again, on much more fiery response, Wolf, from the House side on this so far.

BLITZER: Yes, you're right.

You know, Daniel, this is, as I said, unprecedented what's going on right now, the search of a former president of United States home, did the FBI have to prove, prove probable cause that a crime was actually committed in order to get that search warrant?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, and that there is evidence of that crime in the location that they're searching. And let's be very clear about this. This is a last resort for the Department of Justice, especially when this is an overt investigation, which means they're in regular communication with Trump's attorneys they visited in June. Clearly they are in a working relationship.

So what this means is they must have received, in my view, this is not -- this is, you know, my expert opinion that they must have received information likely from a witness that Trump and or others in Mar-a- Lago have not been forthcoming about all of the documents in their possession. I do not think they would conduct a search like this simply to dot I's or cross T's. This is a huge escalation where they were certain to know that the response would be exactly as it is. The Republicans in Congress have not seen -- the search warrant have not seen the affidavit, and yet they're already alleging that it is purely political without any basis to do that.

But Merrick Garland knows that's what is going to come his way. So, I feel quite confident that it was -- they had -- they took this step because they had really good information that there was incredibly valuable evidence in that location.

BLITZER: Yes, and you're probably right.

You know, Gabby, you have some new reporting, I'm told, on what this could mean for Trump's political ambitions. What can you tell us?

GABBY ORR, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, we know that former President Trump was vacillating between an announcement of a 2024 presidential campaign in July of this year or later this fall, either before or immediately after the midterm elections.


What our sources are telling us now, however, is that that timeline has been pushed up or at least Trump is being encouraged to push up that timeline by his allies on Capitol Hill and also a number of his political advisors who feel like this moment is ripe for him to capitalize on frustration among Republicans with what they believe is political persecution. We've seen them, a number of Republicans, both on Capitol Hill and in former President Trump's orbit describe this as a extraordinary overreach by the Justice Department and as political persecution and they are privately encouraging Trump to move up his 2024 campaign announcement and do it sooner rather than later.

My colleague, Melanie Zanona, was told that one senior House Republican actually spoke with Trump this morning and encouraged him to announce the 2024 campaign.

And I want to read you a quick quote from Michael Caputo, who was a longtime Trump adviser and previously had encouraged the president to wait until after the midterms to announce his campaign but now wants him to do so before the November election. Here's what he said. He said, "My advice that we should wait until after the midterms was based upon a rather standard landscape, the Justice Department set off a nuclear bomb on that landscape yesterday. This is no longer a business as usual campaign, not even close."

So again, Trump is being pressured by allies on Capitol Hill and in his circle to accelerate his 2024 timeline.

BLITZER: Dave Aronberg, I know you're there on the scene in Palm Beach. Investigators were at Mar-a-Lago, as you know, back in June. They asked the Trump's team to secure a room full of documents, presidential documents, and then they execute this search warrant. So what does that tell you?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Wolf, it tells me they did not trust Donald Trump to preserve the documents or protect them, they could have issued a subpoena instead of a search warrant but they didn't trust that they would get the documents that way, so they did a surprise search. And also it tells me these documents are really sensitive. This is more than just a love letter from Kim Jong-un. So this is serious stuff that could lead to criminal charges down the line.

And I also want to take issue with Trump's characterization of this as a raid. This was a very orderly, smooth process where the Secret Service walked the FBI agents around the property to get the documents. And there's a reason why Trump broke the news of this search himself. It's because it enables him to be what he wants to be. And that's a MAGA martyr so he can run for president in 2024 because who needs ideas when you have grievances to run on?

BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by we have a lot more to discuss. The White House says President Biden who learned about the search along with everyone else that he wasn't briefed beforehand. We'll go to the White House live for all the latest developments when we come back.



BLITZER: More now on the unprecedented FBI search of former President Trump's Florida home, the White House saying tonight that President Biden learned about it from news media reports and was not briefed beforehand. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins. She's working the story for us.

Kaitlan, so what more did the White House have to say about all these dramatic developments today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for the most part, they are being pretty tight lipped over here. President Biden himself declining to weigh in when I asked him earlier what his response was to this search warrant being executed on his predecessors primary residence. He did not say anything on that or whether or not that he had known about it beforehand. Of course, we know now that he did not know about it beforehand.

And his staff is also largely not answering questions on this, Wolf, except to make one thing very clear.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, the President was not briefed, did not -- was not aware of it. No, no one at the White House was given a heads up. No, that did not happen.

Look, I'll say this. You know, the president in the White House learned about this FBI search from public reports. We learned just like the American public did yesterday, and we did not have advance notice of this activity.


COLLINS: So, Wolf, the Press Secretary saying there that no one in the White House had a heads up about this search warrant being executed on Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. They say that it is up to up to the Justice Department to conduct these investigations and to do so independently. Of course, that is something they pushed hard today when we asked about whether or not they believe that the Justice Department acted accordingly, as you were seeing more and more Republicans come out and criticize the Justice Department and suggest that this was politically motivated given, of course, what you were just talking about earlier with your previous panel about the former president potentially running again, and potentially running against Biden. The White House saying they are not going to comment on this any further, certainly not at length, Wolf.

I do want to note, one thing that we learned yesterday that may have gotten lost in the details of this major breaking news that came out, which is that the Secret Service, the United States Secret Service, had been in coordination and in touch with the FBI about this search going on. Of course, any past president often has a somewhat more limited than when they're in the White House, still Secret Service detail, and of course, Trump does as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly does. All right, Kaitlin Collins at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's bring back our panel. And Daniel Goldman, how politically sensitive is the timing, the timing of this FBI search with what, just about 90 days or so until the November midterm elections?

GOLDMAN: Yes, ordinarily, the Department of Justice has what's commonly referred to as a 60-day rule where they don't take any overt steps or indictments in any investigation that may have an influence on the election in November. So it's not surprising that we are now in sort of early to mid August when this happened.

But we should be very, very clear about the Department of Justice and what they are doing here. The fact that they didn't coordinate with Joe Biden is consistent with every administration prior to the Trump administration, where the Department of Justice in the White House do not discuss criminal investigations of almost to a tee. And what we are seeing here is exactly what should be done, which is there's no coordination and Merrick Garland who has said very consistently much to the frustration of some on the left that he is following the facts and he's following the law wherever it goes. And so, he took this action because he had probable cause to do so. And I'm sure he took this action because it was a significant unnecessary move as part of this investigation.


And if he doesn't take this action because of the backlash, then it is a political decision. So, we need to recognize and praise Merrick Garland for following the rule of law. And we'll see in this search warrant, I assume, I mean, Donald Trump has the actual warrant, not the affidavit that led to the probable cause, but he has the warrant itself, and that has not been released, that would give us a good indication of what they were looking for.


GOLDMAN: But of course, he would rather make this out to be political, then release the actual document.

BLITZER: Yes, Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States.

Dave Aronberg, it's unclear if this search will ultimately lead to any criminal charges for former President Trump. But if he's found guilty of a crime, could it potentially bar him from running for future office?

ARONBERG: Yes, that is the big whammy here. He could get up to three years in prison under the Presidential Records Act. But the thing that people are most worried about on his side is that it could bar him from running for office. Although there may be some constitutional concerns because the Constitution sets out the qualifications for running for president and we're not clear that a statute can override that, but it's definitely a concern for the former president.

You know, I have to believe that this search warrant would probably not have been issued, it was merely about removing government documents, so most likely involved a willful removal or destruction of classified documents that could jeopardize national security. That's why it could be a crime punishable by prison time.

BLITZER: Gabby, we saw on January 6 now many of Trump's supporters take his words as marching orders. How much is this riling up that MAGA base, if you will?

ORR: Well, we know for quite some time now that anytime Donald Trump references the so called witch hunts that he's facing that that is a popular applause line with his supporters. He was just at CPAC Dallas last weekend in Texas where he talked about being a victim of political persecution and that he was somebody who was protecting the rest of his supporters from facing similar threats and persecution as he described it, Wolf.

I do think that we will see in the coming weeks and months in his fundraising reports how this has actually impacted his support among Republicans but also among grassroots GOP voters, and whether this has led to a surge in his fundraising. Among folks who are concerned about this search that was executed at Mar-a-Lago, what it could mean for his 2024 presidential bid if he does decide to go for that in terms of amassing even more money for his war chest to support another presidential campaign. So we will be paying close attention to those fundraising reports when they do come out in the coming months.

BLITZER: You know, Jessica Dean, you're up on Capitol Hill, are Republican politicians out there circling the wagons around Trump more than we've seen lately?

DEAN: Well, you know, it's interesting, because the bulk of Republicans appear both in the House and the Senate, Wolf, really don't want to be reacting to things that the former president does. They, they really don't want to be doing that dance. But we are hearing, of course, from his very staunch defenders that we normally hear from. Senator Lindsey Graham saying today that he's talked to the former president twice today that he believes he will, quote, "pull through" and that this reeks of politics to him. So, again, Graham, obviously, a chief defender in the Senate of former President Trump and that continues.

And then of course, on the House side, a lot of those names that we've become familiar with who have always jumped up to defend the former President continue to do so today. As I was talking about earlier with Leader McCarthy promising oversight if and when the House Republicans take back the House after these midterms.

And we also know, Wolf, that a dozen members of the Republican Study Committee are headed up to Bedminster this evening to meet with the former president. This was previously scheduled, it was already on the books, but you can imagine there's probably going to be some talk of this. And again, he will need and want his allies speaking out on his behalf for sure.

BLITZER: Yes, Bedminster in New Jersey where Trump is now outside of New York City.

All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, police have now detained a primary suspect who may, maybe responsible for the brutal murders of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We have new information, new details. That's next.



BLITZER: Right now we're following new developments in Albuquerque, New Mexico tonight where police say they've detained a primary suspect who may be involved in the brutal murders of four Muslim men. CNN CORRESPONDENT Lucy Kafanov is following the recent developments for us.

What's the latest, Lucy?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The manhunt for the killer now potentially over with police announcing on Twitter they detained what they described as the primary suspect in these killings. Authorities had been searching for a gray Volkswagen Jetta. They said, quote, "they tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in the recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque. The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect in the murders.

Now CNN has also learned that authorities detained and questioned a father and two sons as part of this investigation into the murders. It was not immediately clear if one of the three men was that primary suspect announced by police, but my colleague Ed Lavandera and his producer Ashley Killough were actually inside the home of a Muslim family in Albuquerque that was searched late on Monday night. Now they met one of the sons who was detained questioned and released. There is no indication right now that the father and the other son have been released.


The family does deny, they deny that those who have been detained had anything to do with these murders. They told CNN that the father had left for Texas on Monday night shortly before their home was raided.

But community leaders who have been speaking to law enforcement, they tell CNN that he was detained while traveling to Texas. They also say that the home that was searched is connected to the suspect. Now, I should note it is not immediately clear if police are considering the father the primary suspects, but we are, Wolf, expecting an update from Albuquerque police any minute now.

There is a press conference that actually I think started just now. So hopefully, that will shed some light on these developments and whether the threat to New Mexico's Muslim community is now over. Wolf? BLITZER: I will get back to you, Lucy. Thank you very, very much.

I want to bring in the former FBI Supervisory Agent, Peter Licata. He's a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst. Peter, thanks for joining us. The police chief says they track down this suspect, as you just heard by following what they call a vehicle of interest, how exactly would that search have worked?

PETER LICATA, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's -- so you saw that initial wanted poster, if you will, that vehicle of interest. So it's a matter of finding CCTV that was reported in the vicinity of at least one if not probably multiple of these killings, of these murders. So again, this goes back to really good police work, really good detective work with also as we've talked about before on your show, Wolf, help of the public to help track or help provide viable leads that allow the detectives and law enforcement to come up with viable options such as this vehicle in question that was finally located.

BLITZER: So Peter, police now say this person is their, quote, primary suspect. Does that indicate to you that they think there was only one killer responsible for these four murders?

LICATA: Well, it's primary -- absolutely. It's -- again, the investigation even during an unrest, let's just say they have the individual in hand, this is an image of did those murders. I always like to say the investigation is just beginning. They have to see if anyone else was associated with this individual in question that supplied whether its monetary means, weapons, ammunition, a vehicle that would help him or her conduct these murders. So it's -- the investigation is not over, even though they believe they might have their main suspect in hand.

BLITZER: So now that a suspect is in custody, Peter, can we expect to learn more fairly soon about the motive, the potential motive behind these killings?

LICATA: Absolutely. Basic 101 of the detective and police work. It's looking for a motive opportunity and means. So if you go in reverse order, the individual in question has the means, had a weapon, had a getaway car to conduct potentially these four murders. The opportunity was there. It definitely had the means with weapons.

And then what you're looking for is that motive, and that's going to come through tracking down -- it's going to be a good custodial interview, it's going to be talking to other potentially co- conspirators or family members. Going through social media accounts, going through the individuals devices, such as laptops and phones to see if there's any writings, rantings that brought this person to this state of mind to conduct those -- these murders.

BLITZER: We will certainly stay on top of this story. Peter Licata, thank you very much for helping us.

Just ahead, the tennis star Serena Williams now says she's retiring and will be, quote, evolving away from the sport. More on her announcement and what's next for the 23 Grand Slam champion. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: Other news we're following tonight, the sports legend Serena Williams announcing that after the U.S. Open, she will, quote, evolve away from tennis, potentially ending a career that included 23 Grand Slam victories. CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan is joining us now to discuss. Let's listen Christine, first of all, to this tennis superstar in her own words. Listen to this.


SERENA WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: I don't know. I guess there's just a light at the end of the tunnel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is that like?

WILLIAMS: I don't know. I'm getting closer to the light. So -- yes, so that's like, lately that's been it for me. I can't wait to get to that light.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you're joking but can you --

WILLIAMS: I'm not joking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, So then explain to me what's the light is to you, what the light represents.

WILLIAMS: Freedom. Yes. I love playing, though. It's like, it's amazing. But, you know, it's like, I can't do this forever.


BLITZER: So Christine, what's your reaction to this news?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Wolf, I've covered Serena for the length of her career. And, of course, I'm smiling. How can you not smile and laugh with her. I think this is sad news in the sense that the greatest of all time is not going to be playing much more tennis. So on the stage that we've become accustomed to watching her, she won't be there after probably the U.S. Open as what she's indicating, which is just a few weeks away, but what a fitting, fitting location to come full circle.

Winning her first of all, her Grand Slam titles in 1999, I covered that one, Wolf, at the U.S. Open and then to finish at the U.S. Open. Her national championship would be, of course, a fantastic full circle moment for Serena. But I think it allows us to step back too and just appreciate her.


As we do so, it was so many of our most famous athletes, what she has given us, what she has brought to us and not just the sports world, Wolf, but also our culture. When you think of the incredible role she has played in terms of talking about working mothers, being a mom, being pregnant when she was actually winning her last Grand Slam tournament, and then dealing with those issues and a tough pregnancy.

Obviously, being a black woman in what had been a country club, Lilywhites sport, by and large. So many issues. She's taken them on, and she has been a leader and just a legend in the making. And, obviously, it loves us to have this conversation today because, of course, it looks like she's going to be leaving soon.

BLITZER: Yes, and I love her. I've been a tennis fan for a long time, seen her play many times. She's simply an amazing, amazing woman. In order for Serena Williams, Christine, to become as great as she is, I'd imagine a large part of her identity became wrapped up in who she is as an athlete, and that makes her retirement especially if it happens, it makes it especially difficult, doesn't it?

BRENNAN: Well, it does, Wolf, you know, sports so well. You know, when an athlete is rises to the level of famous, Serena Williams has -- and by the way, her sister Venus, the story is the most remarkable -- one of the most remarkable stories in sports. When they reach that plateau, that platform, they are at in a place where their voice is heard in a way that it otherwise wouldn't be. And so, Serena has taken advantage of that.

I remember when she was really young, she was going down to meet with the South Carolina governor to talk about the flag at the time, which was the Confederate flag. She was -- with five years younger than Tiger Woods, Tiger didn't do that. Serena did that. Even though she was five years younger than Tiger at the time.

And, you know, those are the kinds of things she was taking out at a very, very young age. She understood that the platform she had was enormous and she wanted to take advantage of it.

BLITZER: And I think I speak for all of our viewers when I say we wish her only, only the best. She deserves it. She's a truly amazing, amazing woman.

All right, Christine, thanks very, very much.

Coming up, we're standing by for results from four states holding primary elections. We'll take a closer look at what they may signal for the upcoming midterm. Standby.



BLITZER: Tonight, we're awaiting results from primary elections in four states including closely watched races in Wisconsin and Minnesota. CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes is in Wisconsin for us right now. Kristen, Wisconsin's governor's race is the third time former President Trump and former Vice President Pence have actually back rival candidates. What more can you tell us?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Former Vice President Mike Pence is supporting the establishment- backed candidate, former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Here in the Wisconsin race, Kleefisch was once considered a shoo in to be the candidate until former President Trump got involved and he backed the -- excuse me, her rival Tim Michels, a businessman who has poured millions of dollars into this race. Now it is considered highly competitive.

And one thing we should note about the state of Wisconsin, it has really been a focal point for former President Trump in his obsession with the 2020 election. On numerous occasions, he has called officials here in the state trying to get them to overturn or decertify the election results.

And one thing about both of these candidates, both Kleefish and Michels is that they have fully embraced the former president's claims of fraud around the Wisconsin 2020 election. That is something that is very unique to this race. We hadn't seen that so much with the establishment candidates before.

Now the winner of this race will face Democratic incumbent Tony Evers. Republicans really believe that this is a seat that they could flip in the fall. And as you mentioned, Wolf, this is the third time that Pence and Trump have gone up against each other. And if you are keeping score, which I think there are probably some people who are, you will note that Pence has won one race which was in Georgia, Brian Kemp and Trump another in Arizona with Kari Lake. So something that we're keeping a close eye on tonight.

BLITZER: Certainly. What about some of the other key races around the country tonight, Kristen?

HOLMES: Well, Wolf, there's another big race here in Wisconsin. We have the Democratic primary for Senate. That winner will go up against Ron Johnson, the Republican incumbent in the fall. That is going to be a critical race this season. Lots of eyes on that.

Now the other race that we're looking at is in Vermont. Now this is pretty exciting time is, there are two women who are vying to be the Democratic candidate for months loan congressional seat, meaning that whoever wins tonight will become the first woman to represent Vermont in Congress. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Kristen Holmes, thanks very, very much.

We're also learning and other news some new details right now about a series of explosions that rocked the area of a Russian military airbase in the annex Ukrainian territory of Crimea today. At least one person has died and several others were injured. This, as Russia becomes increasingly dependent on prisoners to fight the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.

CNN's International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh has a closer look at the convicts who are taking up the offer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Camera is in the unsteady hands of a prisoner to the apparent scene is still startling. Convicts in a southern Russia penitentiary being recruited to fight the Kremlin's war in Ukraine, according to a witness. It's an offer being made in cramped prisons across Russia.


One prisoner like many in this murky underworld, it's rare to glimpse inside, wanted his identity hidden as he explained the deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Rapists, pedophiles, extremist terrorists are not taken. Murderers are accepted.

WALSH (on-camera): (INAUDIBLE) contracts, what are the terms of the contract?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Amnesty in six months.

WALSH (on-camera): (INAUDIBLE), what kind of money are they promising?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Somebody talks about 100,000 rubles, somebody about 200,000.

WALSH (voice-over): Russia's small victories in this war have come with huge losses. And after about six months, regular soldiers had been hit hard, with up to 60,000 Russian dead or wounded troops, say Western officials. So now Russia is making ugly choices and it's ugly war, sending convicts to fight.

But for this prisoner with years left on a drug sentence, joining up, swap certain incarceration for a slim chance of freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): If it's real, then I'm all for it. It's either be in prison for nine years, or get out in six months if you're lucky. But that's if you're lucky. They can promise one thing, but in fact, everything will be different. This is Russia.

WALSH (voice-over): Since the start of July, from multiple crowded prisons inside Russia, like this one whose dank cells are shown in activist video, inmates have told relatives of an almost identical offer made by apparent private military contractors.

Military experience is not essential, and monthly pay can be up to $3,500. A six-month tour lead to an amnesty or pardon. But first, there's usually two weeks training in southern Russia. And then often, there is silence as the prisoners disappear in Russia's gray zone of expendable contractors.

VLADIMIR OSECHKIN, FOUNDER, GULAGU.NET: Now we have information that they want to recruit about to 2,000, 3,000 of prisoners. And, for example, if they will die in this war, they pay -- they will pay 5 million rubles to the family of this prisoner. There is no really contract. There is no really guarantee to protect the rights or the health or the lives. WALSH (voice-over): Sometimes the offer comes with fanfare. This helicopter flying recruiters to one prison activist said these are convicts. Yes, but they still face agonizing choices. Weighing a shot at freedom against a violent death. One prisoner explained his decision to his brother in these texts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I'm going. Don't tell mother either way. It's better that way. Or else she'll worry a lot, and react to every piece of news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): That's it. We will react to every news. If you tell us where you are, what you're doing, we will be calmer as at least we will know where to look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Even I don't know that. Everything will be decided on the spot. I do know we're going to the 12th prison and once gathered there to Rostov for two weeks, where there's a center and then to the territory. I'm willing to go. Lots of options, but there's only one. That's why I agreed.

WALSH (voice-over): Another prisoner's sister described how he almost vanished after receiving the offer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): There's no definitive proof he is Ukraine. He rang his mother on the 10th who said he was in Rostov. And to all of her questions he replied, "Mother I can't talk."

Before she was glad he should go, as he would get money. But now when I talk to her, she's afraid. All have the same scenario, their men ask them to send their passport details so they can get their salaries. And then there is silence.

WALSH (on-camera): What contact there has been has been darker still. Two wives of prisoners sent to the front from one St. Petersburg prison say they've been contacted and told that their husband's lie injured in a hospital in separatist controlled Luhansk. And that a total of 10 prisoners from that one prison alone are now dead or injured.

Another, a mother has said that she's been contacted by an anonymous individual and told that she can soon collect her son's wages in cash.

(voice-over): Russia's regard for the norms of war, or even prison long going.


WALSH: Now, Wolf, we reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Federal Penitentiary System to ask about this and we received no reply. But as estimates of Russia's losses on the front line grow, it is a stark sign and where they're frankly having to turn because it does appear the Kremlin are very keen to not order a general mobilization across Russia to replenish their ranks and so turn to some of society's darker individuals. Wolf?

[17:55:12] BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, excellent reporting as usual, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, we're getting new details right now of the unprecedented FBI search of former President Trump's Florida home. The latest on the political fallout and the legal implications for the former president, that's next.


BLITZER: Happening now, the unprecedented FBI search of former President Trump's Florida resort unleashes a storm of legal and political questions. Did federal agents get what they were looking for? And could it lead to criminal charges against Trump?

Also tonight, the former President and Republicans are slamming the surge and using it to raise campaign cash while his allies in Congress are threatening to investigate the U.S. Justice Department.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.