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The Situation Room

Ukraine Says, Death Toll Rises to 22 in Russian Attack on Train Station; Justice Department, Trump Facing Court Deadlines Tied to Mar- a-Lago Search; Biden Outlines Federal Student Loan Forgiveness Plan; Putin Strengthened And Weakened Six Months Into War On Ukraine; Official: U.S. Servicemember Injured During Rocket Attack In Syria. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 24, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Also in Pearl, Mississippi, we had water rescues. People had to be evacuated from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, Jake, and more rain is to come.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jennifer Gray, thanks so much.

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Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt in for Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the death toll is rising from an attack at a train station in Ukraine as the country marks six devastating months since Russia launched its invasion. CNN is live in Kyiv and in Moscow at this critical and dangerous moment in the war.

Also tonight, new court deadlines are fast approaching in connection with the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department has only a day left to propose how much of the search affidavit should stay secret or go public.

And President Joe Biden unveils his student loan forgiveness plan canceling thousands of dollars of debt for millions of borrowers. We'll break down what it means for the U.S. economy as so many Americans are drowning in debt.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Search and rescue efforts are continuing in Ukraine tonight after that deadly attack on a train station. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy revealing a short time ago the death toll has climbed for 22, including an 11-year-old child. Ukrainian officials report that Russia launched multiple missile strikes as Vladimir Putin's war hits the half-year mark.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is on the ground in Ukraine and filed this report.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over) : Dawn, Ukrainian Independence Day outside Kharkiv, marking 31 years of freedom from the Soviet Union, but not from Russia. Flags, but not people, are out in Kharkiv marking six months since Russia's invasion amid fears of renewed attacks on cities here, and the threat became real with the brutal strike on a train station.

Vladimir Putin assumed that Zelenskyy's government would be swiftly toppled in a Russian onslaught. Many in the west agreed with him.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We were filled with foreboding because we just did not see how this innocent and beautiful country could repel an attack by more than 100 battalion tactical groups when the suffering and the casualties would be so immense. But you did.

KILEY: Russians were held up in their assault on Kyiv, then driven back, their retreat from the capital revealing atrocities in Irpin and Bucha. Switching tactics to the 1940s, Russia gave up on the capital to focus on breaking Ukraine's national will with wholesale bombardments of cities concentrating on Kharkiv, Mariupol. Millions fled to safety outside the country over land clogging roads and railways.

Led by the U.S., Ukraine's allies eventually sent better artillery, then rocket launchers, drones and shared vital intelligence, too late to help save Mariupol, but new weapons have slowed the Russian advance in much of the east where soldiers now refer to fighting in towns like Severodonetsk as a meat grinder.

Massive amounts of American money and equipment, fulsome support from countries like the United Kingdom have contributed to Ukraine's successes on the battlefield, but they're still not getting the strategic weapons that they need. Fast jets, long-range rockets, killer drones.

Without them, Ukrainians now face a crippling war along fixed frontlines and not a victory Putin would want, but one he might accept to prevent democracy that's taking root on its doorstep in Ukraine spreading into his own home.


MARQUARDT: And Sam Kiley joins us now from the Ukrainian capital. Sam, you've spent so much time there this year, more than any other CNN correspondent. How does it feel now in Ukraine six months in, knowing that Ukrainians have resisted the Russian invaders far better than expected but also knowing that it will be a long time before this war is over?

KILEY (on camera): Yes. Well, I think that is the three key elements to that, the surprise ability or the surprising ability of the Ukrainians to defend themselves, defend their own capital, save their capital and turn the war back against Vladimir Putin.


Thanks in part to those early deliveries of Javelin and NLAW anti-tank weapons, but really because they managed to change the way that they fought wars and they're changing fast and changing by the day, Alex.

Now, they feel very much, and I interviewed the defense minister yesterday, and he's saying that they're waiting, they're just about to go into a new phase. He wouldn't be drawn on what that phase would be, but they're talking about a counterattack. We've already seen pretty bold, special forces or long-range attacks of some kind against the Russian airport and the military airport in Crimea. There have been mysterious explosions and ammunition dumps inside Russia itself.

The Ukrainians are getting a lot bolder because they're getting newer weapons from NATO, which is not giving them the edge yet, not quite even balancing the act on both sides of this frontline, but they do hope that they will be able to push Russia back, but, ultimately, they have to get Russia out of the country completely in order for them to have a victory. All Russia needs to do is to keep it grinding on, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And it is grinding on. Sam Kiley in Kyiv, we are lucky to have to have you there. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

Now, let's go live to Moscow and CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. Fred, from Russia's perspective at this six-month mark, do they think things are going to plan in Ukraine? What's the general feeling there among Russians?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, the Russian government, Alex, is trying to say that things are going to plan even though it does appear as though at certain stages, the goalposts seem to have been shifting. I mean, one of the things that we just in Sam's report there is, at the beginning, the Russians really thought that this could be over in a couple of days.

Now, we're six months on and it's been quite interesting. I've actually been watching Russia state T.V. for about the better of the day. They haven't really made reference to the fact that it's been going on for such a very long time very often. So, it's certainly not something that they really want to talk about very much.

As far as the aims are concerned, the Russian government officially still says that those haven't shifted. They say the demilitarization of Ukraine. They also want to get rid of the Zelenskyy government. And essentially what they're demanding would mean the end of Ukraine as a nation state.

Now, there are some broadcasts here in Russia that call this only the special military operation for the liberation of Donbas, which obviously seems to indicate that the aims there would be a lot more limited, that, really, Russia going into the entire country and also getting rid of the Zelenskyy government as well.

As far as support for the invasion is concerned, it's also a very nuanced picture, of course. There are people here in Russia who are very much in favor of what Russia called a special military operation but there are also a lot of people, Alex, who are quite simply passive to it. They might be a little bit in favor, some might be against, there's a lot of people who also switch between being for it or against it.

One of the reasons for that, or several reasons for that, one of them is, is that a lot of people simply aren't affected by the war here in Russia. If you look at cities like Moscow, you can be here in the city really not notice that anything is going on. And also, quite frankly, the sanctions that the Biden administration had said would crippled this country, that is not the case, that Russia has suffered from the sanctions but the economy here is in no way crippled.

MARQUARDT: And Russians across the country simply aren't getting access to good and truthful information either. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow, thank you very much.

Now, let's bring in the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, as well as the former NATO allied supreme commander, Retired General Wesley Clark, who is also a CNN Military Analyst. Thank you both so much for joining me.

Ambassador Taylor, to you first. You have spent so much time as well on the ground in Ukraine. You know that country. You know Ukrainians. What goes through your mind when you see Ukrainians mark their Independence Day, 31 years of independence from the Soviet Union, and at the same time they're mourning, at least 22 people killed in one of the latest strikes in Putin's war against Ukraine?

WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: So, Alex, every time the Russians commit these atrocities, commit these war crimes, the Ukrainians get angrier and more determined to maintain that independence that they celebrated for 31 years. So, all of these atrocities just go to show what they are fighting against. If they don't want to give up their independence, they want to maintain that freedom that they've had for 31 years and they know that Russia, Putin in particular, is trying to take it from them.

Your reporter, Fred, made the point that what Putin wants is to eliminate Ukraine as a nation, as a people. And so that is existential for them and that's why they're fighting so hard.

MARQUARDT: And those are remarkable scenes in Kyiv but those are not the same scenes that we're seeing across the country, seeing pictures of Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine.

General Clark, to you. President Zelenskyy, he is vowing, as he has for months, that Ukraine will end this war in victory.


Is that still possible? Is it still possible to fully push back Russian troops out of the country and defeat them?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it is possible provided they get the right assistance from the United States and other NATO members who are providing that assistance now. They haven't gotten enough. So, as your correspondents indicated, Russia is not going to be able to overrun Ukraine in the near-term. Ukrainians are proud of their defense thus far.

But in order to conduct the counteroffensive they need, they need more artillery, hardware, they need long-range missiles, they need aircraft, they need armored personnel carriers, and most of all, they need logistics behind it, the maintenance systems.

What you don't see in the United States Armed Forces, unless you look for it, is what's behind the armored columns, and that's lots and lots and lots of mechanics and spare parts, and they don't have that yet in Ukraine. They need that. If we get it to them through contractors, through volunteers, some other way, yes, they have the fighting power to regain all of that territory and push Russia out. But time is of the essence.

MARQUARDT: To that point, Ambassador Taylor, we now hear Ukrainian officials worry that the west is going to lose interest, that fatigue is setting in. So, when we see this massive aid package, security assistance, $3 billion that was announced today by the Biden administration, the largest yet, how far does that go towards reassuring the Ukrainians?

TAYLOR: A long way, Alex. That's exactly right. I mean, that's one of the benefits. It is clearly a material benefit for $3 billion worth of weapons, even though that's over months and even years sometimes. But just the psychological benefit, boost that the Ukrainians get from hearing that the United States, after doing this 19 times, this is the 19th time they've done a big package, and here we are again with the $3 billion package, this is a big morale boost for the Ukrainians. That says that the United States, at least, is not losing focus.

MARQUARDT: Yes, $13 billion so far, but as General Clark pointed out, there's a lot more that they need and certainly a lot more that they want.

Ambassador Bill Taylor, General Wesley Clark, thank you both for joining me.

Just ahead, the Justice Department is facing a key deadline over the Mar-a-Lago search, a federal judge ordering prosecutors to submit proposed redactions to the affidavit by tomorrow. More on the investigation tomorrow coming up after the break.

Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: New information tonight on efforts by the National Archives to retrieve records from former President Donald Trump. The Washington Post just now reporting on an email that was sent to Trump's team about three months after he left office saying that two boxes of documents still hadn't been sent back even though former Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said that they should have been sent back.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the deadline for the Justice Department to submit its redactions to the Mar-a-Lago search affidavit before its potential release by a federal judge.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has the latest.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, President Biden forcefully declaring he had no knowledge of the Mar-a- Lago search before it happened.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I didn't have any advanced notice, none, zero, not one single bit.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's allies have been insisting that Biden was somehow behind the unprecedented search on August 8th, arguing it was part of a political takedown.

ALINA HABBA, DONALD TRUMP'S LAWYER: If he was a registered Democrat, this wouldn't have happened.

SCHNEIDER: The spin from Trump's team coming as two legal deadlines are looming. Tomorrow at noon, the Justice Department will lay out what prosecutors are willing reveal from the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit. The suggestions though will be under seal and not made available to the public. Then Judge Bruce Reinhart will ultimately decide whether to release portions of the warrant, which Trump says he wants out there, but that may include damning details. And Friday, Trump's lawyers must request a special master to review the evidence seized from his home.

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPECIAL COUNSEL: What is this? It's really not what a legal complaint looks like, it's a lot of political arguments, but it's also unclear. Why is this in her court?

SCHNEIDER: The judge assigned to the case, Aileen Cannon, expressed similar confusion. The Trump nominee was highly critical of his legal team's filing, first imploring them to use the court's website to see an example of the way they should have filed the motion and then demanding they answer basic questions, like what is the precise relief sought, whether Trump is seeking an immediate injunction, what legal standards apply and if Trump has served his motion to the DOJ.

GOODMAN: It really is kind of a very significant kind of rejection in a certain sense of what they did, but giving them a second opportunity.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, the questions from Congress continue about whether Trump compromised national security by keeping hundreds of highly classified documents at his Florida home.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): It puts people at risk who are serving our country. He doesn't own them. He's stolen them. He needs to give them back. He's dragged his heels and prevented that from happening for a year-and-a-half. He needs to have more than a slap on the hand.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): And that new reporting from The Washington Post tonight is revealing that the Archives sent an email in May 2021 about 100 days after Trump left office to Trump's lawyers, saying that two dozen boxes of presidential records that had been stored at the White House had still not been returned to the Archives.

And, Alex, this really moves up the timeline about when exactly the Archives knew that there was missing material, this email sent in may 2021, and it also really further reveals just how much the Archives was willing to work with the former president, the former president's legal team to get these documents back. This email, May 2021, more than a year before that search warrant was served just a few weeks ago.

MARQUARDT: And it is very important to understand this timeline, and it's now being filled in very quickly. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that report. I appreciate it.

Now, let's get more on all of this with CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers, CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz and CNN Contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean.


Thank you all so much for joining me this evening.

Katelyn, I want to go to you first. As you heard, this email, according to The Washington Post, that was sent about 100 days after Trump left office. So, what do you think that says about just how long the National Archives has been trying to get these documents back?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Alex, this really underlines that the National Archives has been concerned for quite some time about what Trump and people around him might have at Mar-a-Lago.

So, we have sort of heard about this sort of exchange before. The Post story really is filling out exactly what happened, the alarmism within the National Archives, but there was a more anodyne way that the Archives described this before. When the story broke, that there were these 15 boxes that were being recovered from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, one of the House committees actually asked the Archives, how far back does this go. And the Archives responded that they had ongoing communications with representatives of former President Trump throughout 2021. So, that's acknowledging that these conversations did go back.

We didn't know that they were like this with Gary Stern, the Archives' general counsel, writing, trying and trying to get access to these things throughout 2021, but, really, this is a saga that went on for some time and then continued on even after they got that initial set of boxes back in January of this year. They thought it was 15, but, ultimately, there were many more recovered during that search and seizure two weeks ago.

MARQUARDT: And not just that these conversations were going on, but, Jennifer, this new report by The Post is revealing that Trump's own lawyers knew that these documents should be returned.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And the lawyers who were in the White House with him, Pat Cipollone, White House counsel and his folks, knew that they should be returned, were working on that. But the problem is when Trump left office and was no longer surrounded by those people but were surrounded by other people who were not career lawyer-types, then things went south. It sounds like then they wouldn't give the documents back and the National Archives had to engage in this many months' long process of effectively begging, if The Post reporting of the email language is right, begging him and his people to return the documents, but all to no avail.

MARQUARDT: John Dean, is that your read on it as well?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is, exactly. I think that there's been more than a lot of effort to try to get this to work and try to do it on a friendly way before they went to a search warrant, which was their only alternative given the circumstances. So, yes, there's been no cooperation by Trump, a lot of patience by the government before they moved.

MARQUARDT: And, Katelyn, I want to turn to what we're expecting tomorrow. The Justice Department is due to respond in court down in Florida with their requests for redactions from that all-important affidavit that the DOJ says out their roadmap for probable cause. Walk us through what we're expecting tomorrow and how this is all going to work.

POLANTZ: Well, tomorrow, we might not see much at all. So, what the Justice Department will do is they are set to be filing under seal their proposed redactions to that crucial affidavit, the narrative backing up that search, and then they would also be filing some legal arguments about why they want to keep those things protected.

Right now, it doesn't appear that we will be seeing anything. That said, there has been a lot of new information that has even come out since that hearing last Thursday of the National Archives themselves released that letter that filled out some of the timeline for May about this understanding that there were classified documents, this back-and-forth with the Trump team and then Donald Trump's team as well and their special master request earlier this week. A separate court proceeding did fill out what happened in June about the agents visiting.

So, we're going to have to see whether the Justice Department is comfortable revealing things. It might take a while, though, Alex, because the Justice Department could submit this under seal. The judge could rule under seal. There even could be an appeals process all happening outside of public view. But court is very unpredictable, so we're just going to have to wait and see.

MARQUARDT: We only have a couple of seconds left, but, John, I wanted to ask you, did you ever expect to see so many Republicans lining up to defend the former president's potential mishandling of so many highly classified documents?

DEAN: It is startling and striking, and I never did expect to see anything like this. It's sort of emblematic of what's happening in the Republican Party where the law and order mantra is long gone.

MARQUARDT: All right. Jennifer Rodgers, Katelyn Polantz and John Dean, thank you so much, all of you, for your insights.

And coming up, thousands of dollars in student loan debt canceled for millions of borrowers. We'll be taking a closer look at President Biden's decision and what it means for Americans.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



MARQUARDT: President Joe Biden is defending his newly announced student loan forgiveness plan as responsible and fair as it faces criticism from the left as well as from the right.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us now. Phil, walk us through what the president's student loan forgiveness plan does and some of the reaction that it's now getting.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alex. This has been the product of months of intensive debate, a lot of disagreement inside the White House by the president's team and significant pressure from the outside, democrats who wanted as much as $50,000 in loan forgiveness, loan cancelation, wanted to go much further than the president did today.

The president acknowledging not everybody would be happy with this, however, it is a significant move. The White House moving to cancel $10,000 in federal loan debt for individuals making under $125,000 a year, going even further for Pell Grant recipients that have taken out federal loans, up to $20,000 a year.


To give you some context, about 43 million people would qualify for loan cancelation, more than 20 million people could have their loans wiped out entirely.

However, as you noted, there has been some criticism, some Democrats thinking it went too far, some frontline Senate Democrats, including Michael Bennett of Colorado and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, opposing key elements of the proposal. But the most vociferous criticism, without question, has been from Republicans, universally panning the idea, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling it a slap in the face, criticizing the idea of anybody not paying back their debts. The president was asked about the fairness issue during the announcement today. This is what he said.


REPORTER: Is it unfair to people who paid their student loans or chose not to take out loans.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Is it fair to people who, in fact, do not own multi-billion-dollar businesses if they see one of these guys getting all the tax breaks? Is that fair? What do you think?


MATTINGLY: And the White House has really pressed that message, Republicans passed a significant tax cut when they were in power, that most of it wasn't paid for. This also wouldn't be paid for, something they're countering on the political side of things with that very argument the president gave. But there's another issue here, and that's the economic issue, which is obviously the U.S. is in a time of very high inflation right now. It had been the stated number one principle and focus of this White House and this will likely loosen up hundreds of billions of dollars because of those loan cancelations.

The White House has tried to fire back, saying that the president's decision to end what has been a long-running pandemic-era freeze on federal loan repayments should counter that to some degree. I would note, there are some Democratic economists that disagree with that assessment, and they're going to be watching that very closely in the months ahead, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Phil Mattingly at the White House, I'm going to ask you to stand by as we get that big economic picture on this debt relief plan from CNN Business Correspondent Rahel Solomon.

So, Rahel, what impact will Biden's loan forgiveness plan have on the economy as a whole?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the reaction from economists has really varied from marginally impact for inflation and others saying, look, this was reckless. The big concern here is the price tag, some estimates putting $400 to $600 billion, that estimate coming from the committee for a responsible federal budget, and that, of course, that debt reduction doesn't necessary go away, it just sort of transfers hands, right? I mean, the debt goes from the student loan borrower to the federal government.

And so the concern even among some liberal economists is someone has to pay that, also that this plan, according to critics, was an overshoot, that there will be people who have benefited from the privilege of a higher education and who will be high earners at some point. White House really pushing back on that narrative today, the president saying that, look, more than 60 percent of the 43 million Americans who will benefit from this program are Pell Grant recipients, and most of those recipients come from households of less than $60,000.

I think the one area that many can agree to, depending on how you view the policy, is that this doesn't get to the structural issue, which is that higher education costs continue to soar, by some estimates, have doubled in the last 22 years or so, and that doesn't get to that issue.

MARQUARDT: And, Rahel, some of the very same economists who cheered on the economic impact of the Inflation Reduction Act, they're now slamming this news. So, where do experts stand on that and what impact will this really have, do we think, on everyday Americans?

SOLOMON: Yes. So, the more conservative estimates I've seen is again that it will be marginal in terms of inflation. Others have said that it will add two-tenths to three-tenths of a percent to inflation, but then that will about $150 to an American household's budget. So, some say it is marginal. It really depends on the cost savings that Americans get from this program and what they do with it. Do they go out and spend it? If so, that could be inflationary, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Rahel Solomon, Phil Mattingly, thank you both.

And just ahead, Democrats are riding high after a very strong showing after in last night's special congressional election. Can the Democratic Party save its majorities in the House and Senate in the upcoming midterms? We will ask that question, next.



MARQUARDT: Now to the 2022 races and a major win for Democrats and a special election that their candidate pegged to the overturn of Roe versus Wade.

CNN National Correspondent Athena Jones has the top results from the latest votes and why they're fueling Democrats' hopes the November midterms.


PAT RYAN (D), NEW YORK CONGRESS-ELECT: We have to keep fighting.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Abortion rights taking center stage in a special election in Upstate New York. Democrat Pat Ryan won in the swing district after billing the race as a referendum on Roe v. Wade, following the Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to an abortion.

Ryan's victory offering an encouraging sign for Democrats hoping to use the battle over abortion rights to motivate voters in November.

RYAN: We got in this race because the foundations of our democracy were and remain under direct threat. JONES: In New York City, Democrat Jerry Nadler's primary win in the newly drawn 12th district spelled an end to the congressional career of his fellow 15-term Representative Carolyn Maloney. The longtime allies forced to compete when a messy redistricting process combined their districts.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Carolyn Maloney and I have spent much of our adult lives working together to better both New York and our nation. I speak for everyone in this room tonight when I thank her for her decades of service to our city.

JONES: And in Florida, Democrats nominated a former Republican, Charlie Crist, to take on Governor Ron DeSantis, a fundraising juggernaut who was pushed through a conservative agenda and is widely viewed as a potential GOP presidential contender in 2024.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We will never, ever surrender to the woke agenda. Florida is the state where woke goes to die.

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): If you want to help Joe Biden get a second term, we need to shut Ron DeSantis in Florida now.

JONES: Democrat Val Demings won a chance to challenge Republican Marco Rubio for his Senate seat in a state that's been trending red.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): I stand before you tonight believing I am the promise of America.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): She's been there for six years and she's voted with Nancy Pelosi 100 percent of the time, 100 percent.


JONES (on camera): And CNN has not yet called the race for the Democratic nomination in New York's 10th congressional district, a new district made up of lower Manhattan and parts Brooklyn, where Dan Goldman, a former Trump impeachment lawyer, is in the lead. His closest competitor, Yuh-Line Niou, is vowing not to concede until all votes are counted. Alex?

MARQUARDT: All right, another big election night in America. CNN's Athena Jones with all of those results, thanks very much.

Now, let's dig deeper into those results with CNN Senior Political Analyst Nia-Malika Hendersson and CNN Senior Political Commentator and former Obama Adviser David Axelrod. David, Nia, thank you so much for being with me.

David, I want to start with you. When you look at that Democratic victory in the New York special election, how much is that a signal that Democrats now have new momentum heading into November?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it certainly means something. We tend to overanalyze things in this business in the moment but it comes after a series of special elections since May and really since the Dobbs decision, in which Democrats have performed at least as well or better than Joe Biden did in 2020, and that is a big reversal from earlier special elections.

So, I think people are taking some solace, plus this race was very much pitched around the issue of abortion rights and generally around the issue of freedom, which is a Republican theme in the past, and now Democrats are seizing it as their own. And they -- and this, obviously, Congressman-Elect Ryan had success with it. So, the atmospherics are still daunting for Democrats in terms of the president's approval rating, the economy, and the general historic trends of midterm elections, which run against the party in power, but there is a new bounce in the step of Democrats today, for sure.

MARQUARDT: Still daunting for Democrats, but, Nia, I want to ask you about Republicans on whether they should be concerned, because polls are showing that the enthusiasm gap has shrunk, voters in both enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming midterm. So, does that change any of these assumption that the GOP could take the House?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In talking to Republicans and Democrats after we got some news last night out of the special election, they talk about margins, right? I think the original conventional wisdom was that this was going to be a blowout wave year for Republicans. That seems to have changed. Democrats feel a little better about the House, not necessarily that they're going to be able to hold on to it, but maybe that the margins will be closer. They certainly feel better about the Senate that they might actually be able to hold on to the Senate.

Republicans a bit more concerned, A, gas prices are a little better, so the economic argument not as potent as it might have been two or three months, and as well another concern that they have is that some of the candidates that have come out of the Senate primaries might not be great for overall sort of winning a statewide race. They're Trumpists, they're MAGA candidates, and they certainly appeal to the base. But when it comes to putting together a coalition of independent voters and suburban moms and suburban dads, that might be more difficult for some of these Republican Senate candidates that have emerged so far.

But I think, overall, Democrats still facing headwinds and maybe a little bit of a breeze at their back at this point because some of those dynamics that have changed over the last couple of weeks.

MARQUARDT: And in that Florida gubernatorial race, David, Democrat Charlie Crist, he has been cozying up to President Biden as he prepares to take on Republican Ron DeSantis. I want to play a little bit sound of Crist on CNN earlier today, as he really gave a full- throated endorsement of the president. Take a listen.


CRIST: What other president could have done what he's done? He's been phenomenal. Gas prices are down, inflation is trending down, democracy is trending up. This man is a great man. Thank God Joe Biden is the president of the United States today. Thank God for that.


MARQUARDT: David, that's a far cry from the hemming and hawing that we've heard over Biden from other Democrats in the past few weeks.

AXELROD: Yes. It's definitely a different strategic choice. Look, the president, he has ticked up in the last few weeks by about three points.


He's sitting at an average of 41 percent. Still pretty low, and you look at a lot of the Democrats in the swing states and they're not all that eager to attach themselves to him. But Charlie Crist has taken a different tact in a state that's frankly been difficult for Democrats.

It's an interesting -- an interesting path that he's chosen here. But let me say this, midterm elections generally go against the party in power because they are referenda, referendums on the president or on the governing party. What's happened now because of abortion, because of Trump's reemergence, because he has saddled the Republican party with extreme right candidates is that Democrats have successfully in place has turned this into a comparative election, and I think that's why you're going to see most Democrats do around the country.

MARQUARDT: Well, it's only August. There's a long way to go before November.

Nia-Malika Henderson, David Axelrod, thank you so much for your time and insights.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Alex.

AXELROD: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Coming up, six months into his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, how strong is Vladimir Putin's grip on power at home in Russia?



MARQUARDT: The 6-month-old Russian invasion of Ukraine is proving for a paradox for Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive attack has strengthened his position at home in some ways but left him far weaker than many might have expected.

CNN's Brian Todd has been working this story for us.

Brian, this war has really exposed that the Russian military is not nearly the force that the west thought it was. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Alex. This is clearly not the

dominant, efficient army many thought it was on the eve of this war. Vladimir Putin has indeed been exposed on a few fronts six months into this, but he's also proven to be surprisingly resilient.


TODD (voice-over): Six months into what has become a grinding, ugly war, most analysts believe militarily, Ukraine has been a strategic catastrophe for the former KGB colonel.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), FORMER AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I think almost no one thought it would go on for this long. Putin thought he would roll his tanks down the main streets of Kyiv in about three days.

TODD: But Vladimir Putin has gained territory. His economy is still working and his popularity at home is unchallenged.

SAMUEL CHARAP, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORP.: Faces no significant opposition, he stabilized the economy, and although the progress has been slow, he controls 20 percent of Ukraine's territory. So I don't think he thinks that he's losing.

TODD: But Russia has lost a crucial battleship nits fleet, has been targeted in Crimea, faces new western firepower, and may have had 70,000 to 80,000 troops killed or wounded by a Pentagon estimate.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The Russians are struggles just to find replacements, much less to find organized, equipped, and trained units.

TODD: Russia's economy is showing the strain of war and the sanctions. But so far, Putin is still finding buyers for Russian oil and gas and has recovered from a crashing ruble and a tanking stock market.

CHARAP: The Russian economy has done better than expectations, given the severity of the sanctions and the swiftness of which they were imposed, there's a lot of expectations they're sort of cratering and we haven't seen that.

TODD: At home, Putin and his war are believed to have overwhelming public support. Kremlin propaganda rules the airwaves.

CHARAP: There's been a rally around the flag effect. The economic consequences have yet to be felt by the masses in large part, and there are no competitors.

TODD: Still, in the long run, Putin could pay a steep price.

CHARAP: Long-term, Russia's economic prowess is going to be dramatically weakened by the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, and he's chewed up a lot of his military capabilities in a poorly planned and poorly executed operation.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say one critical part of Putin's strategy going forward, he's counting on the unity of U.S. and NATO over the war in Ukraine collapsing.

Alex, we'll see if that happens.

MARQUARDT: We will indeed. A very important report.

Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Now, just ahead, we are following a heated school board meeting getting underway in Uvalde, Texas, where the district's police chief could be on the verge of losing his job after the disastrous response at the Robb Elementary School massacre. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: We have some breaking news. A U.S. official says one American servicemember has been injured after several rockets were fired at coalition military bases in Syria. The attacks were an apparent response to U.S. airstrikes earlier in the day against Iranian-backed groups in the region. Those strikes targeted nine bunkers that were used for logistics and storing ammunition. CNN will stay on top of this story as it develops.

Turning now to Uvalde, Texas. A school board meeting is underway right now in Uvalde with members discussing whether to fire the school police chief over his handling of the May shooting at Robb Elementary School, which left 19 children and two teachers dead.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is on the scene for us.

Shimon, this is a very significant moment for these families. What can you tell us about what's happening tonight?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yeah, this is the accountability, Alex, that they've been looking for. It's taken so long to get to this moment.

We do expect the school board to finally make this decision. Everyone is indicating that they expect him to be fired, but there's a lot of fireworks inside this meeting now that's undergoing -- that's undergoing here behind me at this high school. It's now in closed session.

The families here are really upset over the fact that the school board yet again is deciding to conduct some of this business, some of the things they want to hear as for the reasoning, for the firing or not firing, the discussions that they're having, and they continue to have these discussions, the school board members, behind closed doors and parents are not able to listen in. The community is not able to listen in. Alex, there was some expectation that perhaps the school chief Pete

Arredondo would show up here with his lawyer. The school board said they thought he may show up. But at 4:48 today local time, they were note tied neither would be coming to appear here. His lawyer issuing a statement defending Pete Arredondo and his actions of that day saying basically that the -- that Arredondo did everything he could possibly have done that day, and just continuing to defend his actions and saying that actually he should be reinstated with full pay.

So the school board should be make thing decision shortly -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: So much pain and agony in that room, so painful to listen to those parents.

Shimon Prokupecz, back in Uvalde, you've been on top of the story the whole time, thank you so much for being there tonight.

And thank you all so much for watching. I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.