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Judge Orders Release Of Redacted Mar-a-Lago Affidavit; Source Says, Trump Got Advice That Sent His Handling Of Documents Downhill; White House Struggling To Answer Questions About Student Loan Relief; Zelenskyy: Emergency Generators Were Activated At Nuclear Power Plant To Avoid "Radiation Disaster"; Uvalde Parents: Arredondo Firing Just The Beginning. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 25, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to "THE LEAD" from whence you get your podcasts, all too hours sitting for your like a ripe mango.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Alex Marquardt in for Wolf Blitzer right next door a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the Mar-a-Lago search affidavit will be released with the Justice Department's redactions. A federal judge just ordered the information to be unsealed by noon tomorrow.

Also tonight, new CNN reporting on the growing concerns within Trump world about the advice the former president is getting. The showdown over the documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago intensifies, and his legal peril grows. One source revealing the moment that things went, quote, downhill.

And the Biden White House is struggling to answer questions about the president's new student loan relief program and the criticism it is getting both from the left and the right. This hour, we'll break down the plan's benefits and the backlash.

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.

Tonight, the Justice Department is up against a new deadline, under orders to release a redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search affidavit within the next 18 hours.

Let's go right to CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. Jessica, Judge Bruce Reinhart did not take long to decide on unsealing the document after receiving the Justice Department's redactions today.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He didn't at all, Alex. The judge here moving very swiftly. In fact, just less than four hours after the DOJ submitted its proposed redactions, the judge agreed to what they were recommending here.

Now, the DOJ has likely been working on this for the past week since the judge ruled that they had to come up with these redactions at a hearing last Thursday. They put forward this recommendation despite the fact that they argued in court that they wouldn't be able to even come up with redactions that wouldn't significantly make the affidavit, in their words, devoid of content. But somehow they found a way to satisfy the judge.

And the judge really seems to be agreeing here to let the DOJ black out significant portions of this affidavit because the judge wrote in his order this. He said, I find that the government has met its burden of showing a compelling reason, good cause, to seal portions of the affidavit because disclosure would, one, reveal the identities of witnesses, law enforcement agents and uncharged parties, two, the investigation strategy, direction, scope, sources and methods, and, three, grand jury information protected by federal rule of criminal procedure 6e.

So, this is a version that will likely be significantly redacted, and that's because the DOJ has argued that if they were to release the full version of this affidavit, which they called lengthy, Alex, it could chill the witnesses here, it could derail their investigation.

You know, Trump's team, they have been publicly arguing for the release of this affidavit even though they never actually filed anything in court. And another note, tomorrow might be a big day for Trump's legal team as well because they're also facing a deadline to clarify a motion they put into the court earlier this week asking for a special master, a third party to review the documents that had been seized by the FBI.

The judge in that case, a Trump nominee nonetheless, she basically said that their legal filing was insufficient and she's really giving them a second chance to make it legally up to snuff. So, a lot looming legally, but most of all, that affidavit that will be released likely in very redacted form before noon tomorrow. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes, lots going on tomorrow. Jessica Schneider here in Washington, thank you very much.

Now, let's bring in our legal analyst, Carrie Cordero and Elliot Williams, as well as our CNN Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip. Thank you all for joining me this evening.

I want to go to you first, Elliot. You just heard there Jessica Schneider talking about how the judge, Bruce Reinhart, is essentially in agreement with the DOJ. He says that the redactions that they have proposed are, quote, narrowly tailored. So, what does that tell us about what we're actually going to see in this redacted affidavit tomorrow?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So, we could have seen redactions that were basically like a page of black boxes or pages and pages of black boxes.

MARQUARDT: Yes, I've got some examples here. We could see something like this tomorrow.

WILLIAMS: Well, you could have. But it seems that the judge was satisfied that that was not the case.

Now, look, we know that sources, methods, names of individuals, addresses perhaps of some places, names of agents would have been redacted, but it seems that the judge was satisfied that there is at least some information that is in the public interest to see, and that's the legal standard there.


Is it in the public interest to release the document?

MARQUARDT: So, Carrie, again, these are examples. You could have a document like this that has part of the page redacted, you could have documents like this where the entire page is redacted, it's all blacked out. How much do you expect that we'll actually see in this document?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we're going to see a mix of those pages. I think there's going to be a lot of redacted information. There's going to be a lot of black on these pages, because in order to justify the probable cause finding for the judge to issue this order to begin with to search the residence of a former president, the Justice Department would have provided a lot of investigative information.

So, I think they would have erred on the side of overdisclosing details regarding the investigation to make sure that the judge would get to probable cause and issue the order. So, there's going to be, as Jessica's report was describing, grand jury information, witness information, law enforcement agent information, how the investigation was conducted, and, importantly, where the investigation was headed. And those are all facts that it would be premature, at least in my judgment and I would expect that the Justice Department would argue, to be releasing at this stage.

MARQUARDT: The road map is what the DOJ called it and the judge agreed today that further redactions -- if that was exposed, that all of those very sensitive pieces of information would come out. That's why he agreed to --

CORDERO: It would disrupt the investigation going forward.


Abby, we have heard from the former president and his supporters arguing that the affidavit should be unsealed essentially in its entirety. The legal team has not made that case. The only legal action that they have taken is asking for this special master. Could we expect the Trump team to essentially spin this with whatever information or lack of information comes out tomorrow? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean, I think you can expect spin that may or may not be anything related to the truth or the facts, as we know them. That's pretty much par for the course with this group. But I think there has been some legitimate concerns that just the existence of redactions would feed conspiracies about this case.

Frankly, I don't think that there's anything that can be done about that. I think conspiracies are going to abound no matter what happens. However, the Trump team has been seemingly free to give their side of the story. We don't really know what the Justice Department's side of some of these disclosures has been. And if there is anything that is revealed in that filing, it would be important to get that other half of the story about the chain of events that led to this moment as it relates to the interaction between the Justice Department and the Trump team.

But should -- you know, should we expect that there will be conspiracy theories? Absolutely. But are disclosures something in the Trump team's favor? Frankly, I don't think that they are. All the facts that we have learned so far have not been in their favor and I don't think this is going to be any different.

MARQUARDT: Elliot, we only have a couple of moments left. We have heard both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill calling for more information, more disclosures, more clarity. Even if more is not being given to the public, can Congress expect more?

WILLIAMS: Congress can -- the leaders of the intelligence committees can receive more. I worked for Congress for years, and they can. Now, the mere fact that they can keep a secret doesn't mean that they're entitled to law enforcement information and that will be a fight back and forth with both Congress and the Justice Department.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, lots more still to come, even well past tomorrow.

Everyone stand by, stay with me. We have more on the Mar-a-Lago investigation. We have new CNN reporting on growing concerns inside Trump world that the former president is in serious legal jeopardy.

We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: We expect to get some new information about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago in the coming hours now that a judge has ordered a redacted version of the search affidavit to be released. Right now, CNN has new reporting on how the Trump team has responded to the Mar- a-Lago search and the showdown over classified documents that were taken there.

Let's bring in CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes. Kristen, you're learning about growing concerns within the Trump inner circle about the legal advice that he's been getting.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I want to actually start with something that you mentioned at the top of the show, which was a source describing to us the, quote, moment it all went downhill, and that is in reference to Trump's legal strategy. And what he's talking about there is when Tom Fitton, who is the conservative legal activist, got into Trump's ear and started giving legal advice.

And, essentially, what we've learned is that Fitton called Trump after the Archives acknowledged that 15 boxes had been retrieved from Mar-a- Lago and said that Trump shouldn't have let himself be strong-armed by the Archives into giving those boxes back, that actually those documents belonged to Trump, and that if the Archives came knocking again that they should not give them anything else.

This became an obsession of Trump's. He started talking about it all the time. They shouldn't have given those boxes, they belonged to him. And this news is coming at a time in which allies around Trump are growing very concerned about Trump's legal peril.

I had one source who is very close to the former president telling me that, yes, Trump has been in legal trouble before, even when he was in president, but this seems like it could potentially be more dangerous, particularly given that he doesn't have those legal protections that were in place in the executive office. So, all of this is causing a lot of concern about legal representation and the advice that Trump is listening to.

MARQUARDT: Is there a recognition that he needs better legal representation to take on these really significant legal challenges?

HOLMES: It is unclear within Trump's team if that exists. And, I will point to the fact that allies, even right after the search, started pointing to the legal representation that he had, particularly Christina Bobb, who has become the face of the response here. The former T.V. host on One America news network, the pro-Trump, right- leaning news network, that she didn't seem to be grasping the severity here and was spending most of the time on the television propagating conspiracy theories rather than actually filing motions in court.


MARQUARDT: Well, Kristen, this is terrific reporting by you and our colleagues. Stay with us. I want to bring the others in.

Abby, I'm going to go to you first about this paradox that seems exists with Trump world seeming recognize simultaneously that this could benefit them politically but really be very dangerous legally.

PHILLIP: Well, I think that anything that paints Trump as a victim, they perceive as benefitting him politically. But I think what Kristen is reporting is really important, which is that they understand behind the scenes that there are two words that changed this whole ball game and that's classified documents. We are talking about things that are not, in fact, Trump's own personal belongings and do not, in fact, belong at Mar-a-Lago. And even beyond just classified documents, that should only be in secure facilities. Despite what is being reported, they are not stupid. They understand that that is very serious.

And I think there's a recognition here, especially when we talk about someone like Christina Bobb, who according to what we've reported, signed a document saying, we've given you all the classified documents and then the government came back and found some more. These are extremely problematic facts and it's problematic not just for those individuals but also for the former president himself.

MARQUARDT: Carrie, I want to ask you about the president's legal team. Does it surprise you that given the legal jeopardy that he's in that he doesn't have more of a significant, more polished legal team? I mean, some would argue that defending a former president would be the opportunity of a career.

CORDERO: Well, he has cycled through lawyers all the way through his presidency and now afterwards. So, we've seen this over the period of his entire presidency where he cycled through White House counsels, he cycled through attorneys general, he cycled through impeachment counsels, and so it is sort of consistent with that recent history that he is cycling through post-presidency lawyers.

But just to come back a little bit to this point about when things started to change for him, I would suggest that the point of reference is when they took the documents after his presidency back to Mar-a- Lago. That is where some decision was made at some point by somebody, and that's part of what the government's investigation needs to uncover. Who made decisions to take these classified documents and other presidential documents out of the White House after January 20th and take them down to Mar-a-Lago, and who packed those boxes? And then once they got there, who decided that they needed to stay there?

And all of that is completely irrespective of whether he has smart people advising him or not. That has to do with who made those decisions to begin with to take this information that belongs to the United States government.

MARQUARDT: I see you nodding your head.

WILLIAMS: Well, every president, in some way, slips up with respect to records or documents or materials in some way, but sometimes you're talking about personal artifacts that might have been given as gifts on the rope line or something like that, where a citizen hands the president something.

In order to get classified documents at the TSCSI level out of the White House and into a private home, you have to have sought to do so and deliberately did it, and it's not as Carrie is saying.

CORDERO: At this volume especially.

WILLIAMS: At this volume, hundreds and hundreds of boxes. This wasn't just an inadvertent, again, somebody handing the president here's a t- shirt or something like that that ended up down at Mar-a-Lago and that's the bigger issue. PHILLIP: The other thing that Kristen's really great reporting illustrates is that Trump is driving this train. He is the one that does not want to give the documents back. When we asked the question, why is it that when the Archives went to Trump and his team and said, hey, we'd like to work with you, give us back the documents, can we have the FBI look at them, they were stonewalling. They were delaying, they were pushing back dates at the last minute. The question is why. And it seems to be that Trump himself did not want to give those documents back.

There's another why. Why did Trump not want to give those documents back? It could be because maybe he didn't think that the Archives deserved them. Maybe he thought they were just his. Maybe there's some other explanation. I think that's where we still don't know what's really behind his reticence to just do the right thing, do the clear on its face obvious right thing to do.

MARQUARDT: Stonewalling -- go ahead.

HOLMES: I just want to add one thing, because I think that this is really important, when it comes to what Abby is saying that Trump is driving that train. He is. And that is why you're seeing so many conflicting things happening when it comes to his legal response as well.

Trump wants to play this out in the court of public opinion, not in a legal court. His allies are very concerned about that because this is a very serious legal matter. Trump has always wanted to put it out there to make it political. And that's why you saw a lot of confusion about that letter that was released by a conservative writer who is an all of Trump's from the National Archives that legal experts said was damning for Trump, that it said it went against everything that he had said.

Now, Trump wanted to make that political and said that this is about a witch-hunt, you can see Biden knew about it.


Legal experts are saying why would this ever get released? But, again, it goes to this idea that Trump is driving this train.

And this motion for a special master that was filed on Monday and has to be re-filed by tomorrow read like a political document, a P.R. document rather than a legal document.

We need to leave it there. Thank you, as always, for your fantastic insights and time.

Now, coming up, President Biden's student loan cancellation plan is drawing both praise as well as criticism. What impact will it have on Americans? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[18:25:00] MARQUARDT: Tonight, there are a lot of unanswered questions about President Biden's new student loan forgiveness plan. The White House refusing to offer a timeline for what borrowers could get relief or discuss potential legal challenges to the plan.

Our Brian Todd is taking a closer look. Brian, this plan is triggering a heated debate. You've been speaking with both experts as well as Americans who themselves are affected.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have, Alex. And many people believe this is a welcome relief, that it will really help slash debt for those who need it. But critics say it's not fair to many others and doesn't address some root problems.


TODD (voice over): Vinessa Russell recently told CNN he's saddled with about $48,000 of student loan debt.

VINESSA GABRIELLE RUSSELL, STRUGGLING WITH STUDENT LOAN DEBT: I can't afford my expenses. I can't afford my groceries. I can't afford my transportation, my rent, and still try to put money aside for student debt.

MARC STEWART, BUSINESS JOURNALIST: It's one of the largest contributors to household debt and can haunt many students throughout her lives.

TODD: Vinessa Russell likes President Biden's new plan where borrowers can have $10,000 of their student loans wiped out if they make less than $125,000 a year, or are married or heads of households making less than 250,000. $20,000 of student loans can be forgiven for those who received Pell Grants, given to students from low and middle income families.

The president is also planning to extend the pause on all student loan payments, a moratorium put in place during the pandemic until January.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really excited. It's going to cut my loan almost in half.

TODD: Others are critical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Other people have other types of debt and those aren't being forgiven, so it's tough to swallow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't think it's enough to come out and say they are forgiving $10,000 to $20,000. It's just kind of ridiculous.

TODD: What if you took out a loan but couldn't finish college?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: This broad-based loan forgiveness will cover people who took out debt but didn't have the degree.

TODD: But not every borrower can take advantage of this.

SINGLETARY: It also won't benefit people who have private student loans. This is only offered to people who have federal loans.

TODD: That's the bulk of borrowers, experts say. But critics tonight are calling this plan unfair, a slap in the face to people who saved for college, who worked doggedly to pay off their loans or who went into the military or another field because they couldn't take on student debt. Some argue that American taxpayers will be footing the bill for a benefit for people who don't need it.

MARC GOLDWEIN, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: Well, not everybody that has student debt is rich. Disproportionately, student debt is being held by people that have advanced degrees and pretty good income and they can bear it a lot more than everyday Americans that are seeing the cost of their gasoline and clothing go up.

TODD: And there's still the issue of skyrocketing tuitions. The total cost of going to college now averages over $35,000 a year, closer to $55,000 a year at a private university, according to the Education Data Initiative.

SINGLETARY: I'm not sure that it is going to help the root cause, which is college costs too much.


TODD (on camera): And Michelle Singletary worries that this new loan forgiveness program won't make colleges rethink their tuition hikes. She worries it will become the opposite, that if this program becomes popular, more people will rush to take out loans and colleges are going to continue to charge whatever they want, Alex. That's a huge problem.

MARQUARDT: Lots more to learn about how this is actually going to work and what the effects are going to be.

Brian Todd, thank you so much for that report.

Let's talk more about this with CNN White House Correspondent M.J. Lee and CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt. Thank you both for being with me.

M.J., to you first. Was the White House prepared to be on the defensive after the president unveiled this plan yesterday?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, look, there has been plenty of praise following the president's announcement yesterday, but you are right that on the flipside of that, of course, has been plenty of criticism, plenty of pushback and not just from Republicans, we obviously heard from some Democrats and advocates who have basically said, look, this plan wasn't enough, it didn't go nearly as far as we wanted it to.

And then we also have seen the White House really fielding a lot of questions about the financing of this plan. You know, yesterday when the announcement was made, White House officials couldn't really put a price tag on exactly how much this would cost. And then today, in the White House briefing room, we saw a lot of questions getting asked about how exactly this would be paid for. Take a listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But we do believe it will be fully paid for because of the work that this president has done with the economy, because of what you just said -- well, what I just said is what we have done to bring down the deficit, the deficit reduction. That matters, and the work we'll continue to do.

And also here's the thing, when we talk about the pause being lifted, that's going to bring $50 billion per year back into the treasury, right? That was actually not happening throughout -- almost for two years now.


LEE: So, that rationale, to be clear, is one that it is going to be paid for because of the work that the administration has already done to reduce the deficit, and also that it is going to be offset by some of the loan payments that are going to start again come January.


That explanation is not going to be enough for a lot of the critics who say this is too costly and that there isn't an explicit pay-for built into the plan.

MARQUARDT: And we are, M.J., going to be hearing from President Biden tonight, in fact, on the campaign trail, his first major speech of this midterm season. That's going to be at a rally. You can see Jamie Raskin there, the congressman from Maryland, at the president's rally. What are we -- what can we expect to hear from the president, M.J.?

LEE: Well, not surprisingly, Alex, this is obviously going to be a speech about drawing that contrast. We've seen this already a little bit already throughout the year from the president, from other White House officials and top Democrats, but we're going to see it increasingly more as we get closer to November and really drawing that distinction between what Democrats stand for, according to the president, versus what Republicans stand for. And they are saying that they stand for extremist policies.

So, some of the issues that we should expect the president to touch on include issues like reproductive rights, gun safety, and, really, the message is going to be, look, you choose Democrats to get into office and you are going to have safer communities, more choice and personal decisions and you choose to vote for Republicans and you are not going to have all of that. So, we should see really a preview of the Democratic Party's messaging coming directly from the president tonight.

MARQUARDT: And, Kasie, this student loan forgiveness is the latest in what the White House would consider to be a number of victories lately, legislative and otherwise. And yet the president finds his approval rating still just at 40 percent of Americans who approve of the job he's doing. So, how does the president then sell these accomplishments in a way that resonates with voters?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, one thing that that graphic doesn't quite show our viewers, Alex, that I think is important to consider here is that our previous poll of polls actually shows that 40 percent is a bit of an uptick. Now, this does underscore that the president is struggling generally speaking for sure, but one of the things we know about elections is that it is by far most important to be trending in the right direction on Election Day. Unpredictable things can happen when that's the case.

So, I think the challenge for Democrats here and for the president and for his party is to maintain this between what's happened with gas prices, which a little bit policy and a lot of luck for the president of the United States, plus some of their legislative victories. Clearly, there are, and I think if you dig into these numbers, this movement is particularly among independent voters, which is very important. I think abortion may play a critical piece, critical role in that shift as well. So, I think that's really going to be the most important piece of this.

I think the other question is whether voters are willing to separate the president from his party and vote for Democratic people to go to Congress when they may or may not support the president of the United States. We've seen some evidence of people being willing to do that in some of the recent special election races, for example, where candidates have performed better than President Biden did in their districts in 2020.

MARQUARDT: And, Kasie, the president tonight has attacked what he calls the extreme MAGA philosophy. He was speaking at a Democratic fundraiser. Does that kind of message resonate with Democrats as they head to the polls this fall?

HUNT: Well, again, I think this is a situation where sometimes the environment around the president actually may matter more than what he has to say. I mean, when he used the phrase, ultra MAGA, a little earlier in his term, that was something Republicans actually seized on. It's sometimes the subject of ridicule.

The former president, Trump, was a little further in the background when that was happening. And now, I think you're seeing a combination of things. First of all, President Trump is dominating the news cycle, as we saw from the top of this show today. I mean, he is back at the center of attention, and I think Democrats I talk to think that that's, by and large, good for Democrats.

MARQUARDT: All right, President Biden on the campaign trail. M.J. Lee at the White House, Kasie Hunt, thank you very much.

Just ahead, a federal judge orders the redacted affidavit released by tomorrow. I'll be asking a key member of the January 6th committee about all the latest developments in that investigation. Also, Ukraine on edge tonight as President Zelenskyy says that imagine backup generators at a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant had to be activated to avoid a radiation catastrophe.

We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: More now on our top story. A federal judge just ordering the Mar-a-Lago search affidavit released with the Justice Department's redactions by noon tomorrow. But the order stipulates that the identities of witnesses, law enforcement officials and the investigation strategy should be remain redacted and under seal.

Let's discuss all of this with Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, who is, of course, a key member of the January 6th select committee. Congresswoman Lofgren, thank you so much for being with me this evening.

I want to ask you first about this affidavit that we expect to be released tomorrow, redacted. Do you believe that when it is released that it will provide the public with some measure of transparency while also protecting the investigation?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, I assume so. The judge had indicated that if it was so redacted as to be meaningless, maybe he would not order its release.


Having decided to release something, one assumes that there will be some information that is not redacted. I do understand the need to protect witnesses at this stage in the investigation, as well as to protect the ongoing case. So, I have got to believe that the Department of Justice was very cautious in making sure that those sensitive items were edited out, at least for this point. We may see the whole thing at a later date.

MARQUARDT: And we're also hearing members of Congress asking for more clarity and transparency. Do you believe that the Justice Department owes that to members of Congress both on the basis for this search and the national security implications?

LOFGREN: No. You know, we have oversight authority, but we don't have the right to interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation, which is what this appears to be. I do -- I'm interested in seeing this, just like everyone else, but we can't interfere with a Department of Justice criminal investigation. That's not proper for a legislative body.

MARQUARDT: Yes, the chairs of the Intelligence and Oversight Committees, Democrats, asking for a damage assessment from the intelligence community.

Congresswoman, I want to ask --

LOFGREN: Well, that's different, though. That's different. I mean, to have all of their reports would be in secure locations and that's not about the investigation. It's about what, if anything, has been disclosed that would damage the national security and what steps are being taken to protect, for example, human intelligence sources or technology and the like.

MARQUARDT: I want to ask you about your work on the committee. The investigation has been continuing behind the scenes this month. When do you think we will get details on an upcoming September hearing?

LOFGREN: Well, I think pretty soon. We have -- as the chair and vice chair indicated, we will have at least one, maybe two hearings in September. I never get ahead of them in terms of announcing dates, but we've been working throughout this summer, the staff as well as the members. We have lengthy meetings remotely. We did, in fact, today, and we're making progress.

MARQUARDT: And you did speak with the former national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, so lots more to come from your committee. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

LOFGREN: You bet.

MARQUARDT: All right. And coming up, warnings of a radiation catastrophe in Ukraine. President Zelenskyy says that Russia is putting the entire world at risk after a massive nuclear plant occupied by Kremlin forces loses power twice. That's coming up.



MARQUARDT: Just into CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy revealing that emergency generators had to be activated at a major nuclear power plant that has been held by months by the Russian forces to avoid what he called radiation disaster.

CNN senior international correspondent David McKenzie is live in Kyiv.

David, tensions around this Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, they're only growing by the day.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They have been growing by the day. And today, very disturbing news coming from the president and others of the blackout -- a temporary blackout or at least the power going off to that plant. You see the satellite images of a fire, smoke of some kind.

Now, both the Russian-controlled area and the Ukrainians saying that there was at least temporarily a blackout at that area. Why is that important? It's critically important, because the threat of a strike directly on one of those reactors is less of an issue. What is more concerning and more likely to happen is that you have

what is called a station blackout, when the power going in goes off and the backup generators also go off. That means you can have a meltdown, a Fukushima-like incident where it heats up to cause a very dangerous accident.

Now, President Zelenskyy saying the team working there under very difficult conditions, of course, worked quickly, worked efficiently and were able to put in the backup power from those diesel generators. The fact remains, though, this is a very close call. And if this shelling continues, both sides blaming each other on this, near that nuclear power plant, you could have a repeat of this situation.

Right now, it appears according to those at the nuclear power utility in Ukraine, that there is no connection between the power planting and the Ukrainian grid. Earlier when we spoke to officials they said perhaps the Russians are trying to connect the power to their grid and cut off Ukraine from its own energy.

But I have to say this was a close call and only the fast work according to the president by those workers potentially stopped a very, very bad situation -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: The United Nations trying to get a team of inspectors in there.

David McKenzie in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, thank you very much.

Let's dig in deeper now with CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, let's discuss this growing concern about the Zaporizhzhia power plant. This is the map of southern Ukraine. This power plant is not only critical because of the power it puts out but it's a strategically important area.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right, Alex. In fact, this is the dividing line right here between the Ukrainian forces and the Russian forces. The Ukrainians in the north, the Russians in the south.

The Zaporizhzhia plant itself is right there on the Russian side. The town of Zaporizhzhia is here on the other side, on the Ukrainian side. But the key thing is this. The nuclear power plant lies in the path of any possible Ukrainian advance.

If the Ukrainians wanted to cut the Russian forces like this, the plant in Zaporizhzhia is right there, and that is why it's so important for the Ukrainians to keep this plant as safe as they possibly can.

MARQUARDT: To what extent do you think the plant being right there is slowing, the advances that the Ukrainians would like to be making?

LEIGHTON: Oh, it's actually almost stopping the advances because of the radiation danger. That becomes a key element because the Ukrainians want to be very careful that they don't have a Fukushima- style accident occurring where radiation would potentially permeate this entire region.

MARQUARDT: Would you agree with Ukrainian officials that the Russians are essentially holding approximate this plant hostage?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. The Russians are doing this deliberately. They're seeing the ability to really not only hold Ukraine hostage, but the west itself, not only NATO, but the United Nations. All of these elements of organized international governance are being held hostage by what the Russians are doing there.

MARQUARDT: Colonel, I want to broaden out to the bigger map. You can see that that front line there -- we got news that President Putin wants to add 137,000 troops to the Russian armed forces as of next year. This is a conflict that has been going on for six months now. What does that tell us about the state of the Russian military?

LEIGHTON: So, this would be the equivalent of 13 to 14 battalion tactically groups. The Russian have lost seven or eight battalion groups in the war in Ukraine right now.

So, what the Russians want to do is they want to replenish their forces and add to what they had already and galvanize popular support for the war. There was a lot of talk in the Russian media about this. But the problem that you have is that people are really not willing to serve in Ukraine. They hear things that are not so good when it comes to life on the front. But what they want to do is be able to have a situation where the Russian leadership does where they can actually control the narrative and take more territory and perhaps achieve goals such as moving to the west and taking Odesa, which would block off Ukraine completely from access to the sea.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, this line, as we know, has not budged for several months now or has not moved very much and there's an expectation that it will not and this will be a grinding war for some time to come.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for your time and for your insights.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Now, just ahead, after last night's firing of the Uvalde school police chief, some are outraged, and they say that accountability for the massacre still hasn't gone far enough for the superintendent of the school board and others as they lose their jobs as well.

We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: There is new response tonight to the firing of the Uvalde, Texas, school police chief over his handling of the May shooting at Robb Elementary in which 19 children and 2 teachers were killed. The gunman commandeering two classrooms for more than an hour before law enforcement moved in.

CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz has the latest.


ADAM MARTINEZ, CHILD ATTENDED ROBB ELEMENTARY: This is a step in the right direction, but there's a lot more things that need to happen.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a moment of accountability that many in Uvalde have been waiting for, but many stay isn't enough.


PROKUPECZ: The Uvalde school board voting unanimously Wednesday night to terminate the employment of Peter Arredondo, the school district's police chief criticized for his role in response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to continue our fight.

PROKUPECZ: Many in Uvalde are also calling for the school board, the superintendent, and the entire school district police department to be replaced, all in their eyes partially responsible for failing to prevent the deaths of 19 students and 2 teachers three months ago.

DANIEL MYERS, PASTOR IN UVALDE: You are not going to sweep this under the rug. Three main failures. Number one, school administration, right there.

PROKUPECZ: Before yesterday's meeting, Arredondo's lawyer released a statement with a request it be read out loud, calling the proceedings an unconstitutional public lynching and saying that Arredondo would not attend the board meeting over safety concerns.

BRETT CROSS, VICTIM UZIYAH GARCIA'S UNCLE: So for him to not be here and to actually face the consequences to his actions -- exactly.


PROKUPECZ: Arredondo has said he did not consider himself in charge during the May 24th shooting, but state officials identified him as a on-scene commander. The gunman was in two adjoined classrooms for more than an hour before officers entered and killed him. That time marked with chaos as no one took command.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's it going to be? Call the shots.

PROKUPECZ: Arredondo at one point trying to communicate with the shooter, contradicting law enforcement active shooter protocol to eliminate the threat.

PETE ARREDONDO, FORMER POLICE CHIEF: Put your firearm down, sir. We don't want anyone else hurt.

PROKUPECZ: Families now receiving some accountability for that delay.

MARTINEZ: Does he expect to be in a small community and hold his head up high and he's going to protect and serve? That's simply ridiculous.


PROKUPECZ (on camera): And, you know, it took three months to get here, Alex. We can only imagine what the next year will bring for these families and for this community as there are still so many investigations under way and so much, so much that we still yet don't know. These families are not going to stop fighting. They're going to keep fighting for that information to come out Alex.

MARQUARDT: CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for that important report.

I'm Alex Marquardt in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.