Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Limited Client-Attorney Privilege Documents Found In Trump Files By DOJ; Intelligence Community Damage Assessment Following Trump Raid; NASA Cancels Artemis 1 Launch; Small Gains For GOP In The House; GOP Sources: Hopes For Big Midterm Gains Fading; Ukraine Launches Major Counteroffensive In Russian-Held South; U.S. Defense Official: Putin's Recruitment Push "Unlikely To Succeed"; Soon: Serena Williams To Play In Final Tournament Before Retirement. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 29, 2022 - 17:00   ET



CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: And so, as she moves into this next step in her life that will still be a huge part of her life that everybody wants it to just go as far as it can tonight through the rest of this tournament potentially her last grand slam.

KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST: We will all be watching. Carolyn Manno, thank you very much for that report.

If you ever miss an episode of this show, you can listen to "THE LEAD" wherever you get your podcasts. Don't go anywhere though. Our coverage continues now with THE SITUATION ROOM.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Happening now, the Justice Department says a limited set of materials seized from Mar-a-Lago could be covered by attorney/client privilege. Former President Trump pushing for a special master to review the material as the intelligence community assesses the potential national security fallout.

Also, ahead for you tonight, a critical first step toward returning Americans to the moon postponed by engine trouble. NASA says its next generation rocket could be ready for launch by Friday if engineers can fix that problem.

And tennis legend Serena Williams taking the court tonight in what could be the final singles match of her storied career. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get right to our top story. Mar-a-Lago material seized by the FBI and whether they could be impacted by attorney/client privilege. The Justice Department says it is working through the documents and found a limited set of them are potentially covered. Our CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is joining us now with more. So, Evan, the Justice Department is responding to this judge. Tell us more.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this judge, Pamela, indicated over the weekend that she was inclined to appoint a special master, a third-party lawyer, to essentially look over the shoulder of the FBI agents who have been doing this review of these documents that were found, that were retrieved from Donald Trump's estate in Palm Beach.

What the Justice Department is saying just so you know, judge, we've already done a lot of this work. We have been reviewing it with a filter team, a team that is specifically separate from the investigative agents, and they have already identified documents that could be potentially subject to attorney/client privilege. And they were also saying, we also established at entire process with the judge that approved the warrant for these documents to be reviewed.

It's their way of pushing back on this judge ahead of a hearing that we have on Thursday where she is going to decide finally whether to appoint a special master as Donald Trump's lawyers have asked for. What we know is this, is beyond the fact that the Justice Department is doing this review, we also heard over the weekend from Avril Haines, who is the director of National Intelligence.

She notified members of Congress that they're going to do a formal assessment of the damage that could be done from having these documents in an unsecure place at Mar-a-Lago. We know, Pamela, that they've been doing a review of this, an assessment since the FBI started doing this back in May.

And one of the first things they were trying to do is trying to assess whether they needed to protect sources, maybe move sources out of danger as a result of having their information in, again, an unsecure place in the president's home in Palm Beach.

BROWN: Yeah, that's the biggest concern, that lives could be at risk. We're going to talk about that later in the show. But I also want to talk about Trump's closest allies and what they're saying coming to his defense and making some truly alarming remarks, suggesting there could be violence if Trump is prosecuted.

PEREZ: Right. This is the ever-shifting level of excuses that you've heard from some of the president's allies about exactly how to treat the situation. One of the things I think you're hearing and heard this from Lindsey Graham is that if the Justice Department were to bring charges to try to prosecute the former president, there could be violence in the streets. Listen to Lindsey Graham right now.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): And I'll say this, if there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information after the Clinton debacle which you presided over and did a hell of a good job, there would be riots in the streets.


PEREZ: And look, you've heard almost from the beginning since the FBI conducted this search three weeks ago, you've heard from Republican allies of the former president that essentially there's a category of people who should not be investigated by the Justice Department. Apparently, if you are a former president who is contemplating running for president again, you should not be investigated by the Justice Department.

That's kind of what you're hearing from some of these members and that's kind of what you're hearing here. It's very, you know, it's basically making an excuse for possible violence in the streets.

BROWN: Yeah, it is. And it also raises the question, would they still have this view if it was a Democrat --

PEREZ: Right.

BROWN: -- right, who've been in office. Alright, Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's get more insight from our expert, CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams, our senior political analyst Ryan Lizza, CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, and the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, Dave Aronberg.


High to all of you. Elliot, I'm going to kick it off with you here because this federal judge is not ruling out appointing a special master. Is it truly necessary though, and as Evan pointed out, DOJ already has gone through these documents with a filter team?

ELLIOTT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. And it's a couple things why it may not be that useful at this point to have a special master. Number one, DOJ has had this evidence since August 8th and has probably gone through it, copied it, put it in boxes and stamps all over at this point, so there's not entirely a ton of use to it, number one.

And number two, there might -- and as we've seen there, even if there are attorney/client privilege documents in there, the main point former President Trump is making is that because of executive privilege documents you need a special master. That doesn't make a ton of sense for a number of reasons starting with the fact that he's seeking to assert executive privilege against his own executive branch.

The Justice Department in investigating crimes is carrying out executive branch function. So, there's a lot of sorts of legal questions that the judge would have to go through and sort out. But the big one is the amount of time that has passed the Justice Department has had this. They've worked with the evidence already.

BROWN: Yeah. And DOJ has made clear that because it is part of the executive branch, the documents belong to it, not a private citizen, even though he was the former president. So, Dave, what do you expect from this Thursday hearing? Will this Trump team request fundamentally impact the investigation or do you think this is just a delay tactic?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Pamela, this is a very Trumpian delay tactic. And there's a reason why Trump's legal team traveled 68 miles north of West Palm Beach, two counties north, because they wanted to find a judge they thought would be on their side. And they found the one judge assigned to the Fort Pierce courthouse, Judge Cannon who is a Trump appointee, who was confirmed just a week after he lost the election.

And then she issued a bizarre preliminary order saying although she hasn't even heard from the DOJ yet, she's ready to grant the special master. So, it's unusual to say the least, and I'm hoping as a prosecutor, that the Trump lawyers are and -- excuse me -- Judge Cannon will realize after they get the DOJ response that this issue is moot, as Elliot said.

The DOJs already reviewed these documents. And so, to do a special master at this point would be unnecessary, duplicative, and a waste of time.

BROWN: Alright, well, Bob, let's get to this intelligence review because that is a separate issue though under the same umbrella. You say the CIA needs to assume foreign adversaries wandering Mar-a-Lago actually got a look at these documents. So, then what does the damage assessment look like and what is the next step for the intelligence community in your view?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE & SECURITY ANALYST: Well, they're looking at the reports that Trump came, you know, that they've got from human sources, and on all these reports there's a source description and there's content, of course. And if you're smart, it's possible to figure out who these sources are. The CIA calls them agents. And as a matter of precaution, the CIA would withdraw.

So, Let's say you have a source in the Kremlin and he's been reporting out and you have to assume that somebody got into Mar-a-Lago. That place is not secure. And as a matter of precaution, just pull the person out of Moscow whoever that might be of any part of the world.

It's hard to describe what a catastrophe this is for the CIA, the National Security Agency and so on, because if somebody did get ahold of these highly secret documents, you lose sources and you could get people killed.

BROWN: Yeah, and also it raises the question of the ripple effect that it could cause, other potential sources not wanting to work with the U.S. government, other allies not wanting to work with the U.S. government because of this. Ryan, bringing you in here, you heard Senator Lindsey Graham warning of riots if Trump is indicted. What do you think about that? Is that a threat to the attorney general?

RYAN LIZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's -- look, the fact that he is raising that when he knows the act of raising it might make it more likely, it puts the idea in the heads of people, is irresponsible, and so Graham is all in now on defending Trump. He's now decided that without knowing all of the details about what's in the documents or what the nature of the documents are, he's decided that this is the same as the Hillary Clinton investigation.

And the fact that there is some classified material found on her server and the Justice Department under Obama decided not to go forward with a prosecution, he's now decided that that rule applies here, when as some of our other legal experts here can debate, there seems to be a qualitative difference in the amount of material and how sensitive it was and how poorly it was mishandled.


And, you know, that's the judgment that the Justice Department is eventually going to have to make when they compare this and think about the politics of this to the lack of an indictment against Hillary Clinton.

And I think what Trump's fiercest supporters and now Graham is in this camp, they want to raise the political pressure on the Biden Justice Department to not go ahead with anything beyond getting the documents back.

BROWN: Yeah, and they're also, Elliott, suggesting the timing of the search was calculated to right before the midterms. When you heard that over the weekend from Republicans like Governor Sununu, the attorney general has made it clear, political pressure won't influence the DOJ. But is there anything more that he should do to instill more confidence in this process?

WILLIAMS: Yeah. It's really hard to know what more the attorney general could do. He's already frankly spoken out more than most attorneys general ever have with respect to the status of a case. And because of the risk of jeopardizing the kinds of things we've been talking about, that Bob was talking about here, witnesses, evidence, and so on.

So, it's not entirely clear what the attorney general could be doing to instill further faith in this. Look, if there's any human being in the United States who is not being accused of being too political or too aggressive, it's Merrick Garland, the current attorney general.

So, it's a little bit of a criticism. The other point about this being timed to the midterms, this search warrant was presented to a federal judge who determined and signed off on the fact there was probable cause to believe that crimes were committed there.

The idea that this was just sort of rolled out and plucked out of thin air is simply not how the execution of search warrants or the approval of search warrants by judges' works. And it's, you know, it's sort of political silly season right now and you're going to see a lot of that, but the simple fact is, you know, a court found that this was a plausible search.

BROWN: Alright, so I mentioned Governor Sununu, the Republican governor. This is what he told CNN.


CHRIS SUNUNU, GOVERNOR OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: My biggest criticism and I think the concern of most of the country is where is the transparency, right? We want to see it. And one thing I was very aggressive about was saying, look, if you're going to take unprecedented action and raid a former president's house, well, you better have a strategy for unprecedented transparency.


BROWN: So, what do you think, Dave? I mean, can the Justice Department be more transparent without compromising this ongoing investigation?

ARONBERG: I thought Sununu was one of the good guys. Remember, he was critical of Trump. He was independent, but I guess maybe he wants to run for president, too. He's onboard now with this whole transparency argument when prosecutors have to live by a different set of rules than politicians.

Transparency will undermine a criminal investigation and jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial. Not to mention put witnesses and sources at risk. So, the whole target, the whole accusation of a lack of transparency is a political attack, not a legal one because Merrick Garland, as Elliot said, has gone as far as he can go. He can't really do much more without jeopardizing this investigation.

BROWN: Alright, thank you all so much. Really appreciate your insight on this.

And coming up, can NASA get its moon mission back on track by Friday? That is the next launch window. Details of what went wrong with today's planned liftoff, up next.



BROWN: Well, NASA is working to fix an engine issue that forced it to postpone the launch of its historic Artemis 1 mission to the moon this morning. But officials say if engineers can resolve the problem, a launch this Friday is still in play. CNN space correspondent Rachel Crane is at the Kennedy Space Center for us. So, what went wrong today, Rachel?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pam, NASA was contending with several issues today. Weather being one of them. They also had to deal with a hydrogen leak, and ultimately what led to today's scrub was an issue with engine number three and the cooling system specifically for that engine.

And NASA had a press conference following the launch window today where they gave a little bit more insight into the difficulty of this mission and what's gone into try and get Artemis 1 off the ground. Take a listen to what Michael Sarafin, Artemis' mission director had to say.


MICHAEL SARAFIN, ARTEMIS MISSIO MANAGER: This is an incredibly hard business. We're trying to do something that hasn't been done in other 50 years and we're doing it with new technology, we're doing it with new operators and new teams. We're going to give the team time to rest, first of all, and then come back fresh tomorrow and reassess what we learned today and then develop a series of options. It's too early to say what the options are.


CRANE: Now, Pam, NASA had already set a backup launch window for Friday and a backup to the backup on Monday. But as you heard Mike say right there, they're still assessing the data here and really trying to determine exactly what went wrong and we won't know until they go through those paces and go through that data whether or not a launch on Friday is feasible.

They may determine that this failure with the engine here and the cooling system is so significant that they might have to roll back this gigantic rocket behind me to the VAB Building. That journey in and of itself is 3 1/2 days. That doesn't even include of course dealing with the problem itself, Pam.

And then you'd have the 3 1/2 days back out to the launch pad. So, a lot of unknowns here about exactly when this launch is going to take off. But of course, it's important to remember this is just a test launch. So, it's really important that NASA is learning about the issues that they're running into with this vehicle because I just want to point out again, this vehicle behind me, it's never flown before, Pam. So, this will be its maiden voyage, whenever it eventually takes off.

BROWN: Whenever. Hopefully, sooner rather than later. CNN's Rachel Crane, thank you so much.

And let's get more now with CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien and former astronaut and International Space Station Commander Leroy Chiao.


Hi to you both. So, Leroy, what do you make of this delay? Did you ever encounter an issue like this during your career as an astronaut?

LEROY CHIAO, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, on my third shuttle launch, we had quite a few delays, so yeah, we strapped in and scrubbed several times, but -- so this is not necessarily unusual in the space business, but it is quite disappointing because this program, frankly, has been going on in one iteration or another since 2004-2005. The current rocket has been under development since 2010. Cost overruns, delays, and now a launch scrub, so disappointing to say the least.

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, there's been so much anticipation for this, Miles. The Artemis rocket has been on the launch pad for days now. Why wasn't this engine issue caught sooner?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AEROSPACE ANALYST: Well, they did some dress rehearsals, Pamela, and they took it right to the point where this particular issue, the so-called chill down, was supposed to occur, and then they stopped. So, they didn't see it in the rehearsals. And they're quite frankly unclear. What we're talking about here is the coldest substance we know, liquid hydrogen.

You pump that into the engine with the engine not being precooled and you could crack it. And you don't want to crack a shuttle engine. That's a really bad day there. So, they have to prechill it. And as it turns out, the valves that made that happen weren't working right. They changed the diameter of them from the test they did months ago to this moment now.

So, they really don't understand exactly what's going on. They're going to work it. This is what those engineers love to do. They love to work problems. They are saying there's a non-zero chance of a launch on Friday, but they got a lot of work ahead.

BROWN: Yeah. So, then what do you make of the careful wording, Leroy, non-zero chance of a launch on Friday?

CHIAO: Well, you know, it sounds like it's definitely a problem with a valve, and frankly, there's no access, very little access to those engines on the launch pad. There was much more access on a space shuttle, you know, during the space shuttle because those engines were actually much more exposed.

So, the most likely scenario is they'll have to roll back to the vertical assembly building, which is delay of about a month or more, as opposed to being able to access the problem area on the pad. Hopefully, they will be able to, but I guess it's a non-zero chance they'll be able to, but it doesn't sound likely.

BROWN: Yeah, I mean, this is complex, right. NASA is saying, Myles, that the rocket remains safe, but there's a lot of complexity to this. And we heard Kristen lay out a scenario which I imagine they don't want where they'd have to take it off the launch pad and move it, which would take days and it would really delay everything. How long do you think they can solve this problem? How long do they need, do you think?

O'BRIEN: Well, they don't call it rocket science for nothing, Pamela, you know.

BROWN: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: The Apollo guys used to always say, you know, I'm sitting on top of a million moving parts all from the lowest bidder. In this case, the lowest bidder is going to cost us about $93 billion, incidentally, but that's another story. The point is, this is hard stuff to do. You got the coldest stuff we know going into an engine. Out it goes at 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. All kinds of pumps in there kicking out swimming pools in a matter of seconds.

So, the amount of force that's involved in this are tremendous, and basically, of all those parts, everything has to be pretty much perfect before you light the candle. And that's a pretty high bar.

BROWN: And Leroy, I think a lot of people are probably thinking, look, we waited this long to go back to the moon. Remind us why it is so important, why this mission matters.

CHIAO: Going back to the moon is a way to buy down risk with the ultimate goal of getting humans to Mars. We have the technology and capability to create a program that would go directly to Mars, but you're taking some more risk. If you go to the moon first, frankly, we haven't been there for almost 50 years.

We need to relearn how to land on another planetary body. Its's a great place to develop and test your hardware like habitats and rovers, spacesuits. It's a great place to train astronauts. And the reason it's a great place for all those things is because it's only three or four days away from the Earth. If you have a problem, you can get your crew back pretty quickly.

Mars, at closest approach when the planets are aligned, you're talking around six months one way. And so, we really buy down risk by making sure that all the stuff we're sending out there is actually going to work and we have crews that are trained to work in that reduced gravity, reduced atmospheric pressure, and dusty environment. So, the moon is a logical place to go on top of the scientific value of going back to the moon.

BROWN: Alright, that makes sense. And I want to note, I said Kristen. I meant Rachel who is out there covering this for us today. Miles O'Brien, Leroy Chiao, thank you both.

CHIAO: Pleasure.

BROWN: And up next, from confident to concerned. Why the top House Republican is growing concerned over his party's chances in the midterms. You're in the CNN THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be right back.



BROWN: House Republicans are growing increasingly concerned that they will no longer be able to win a massive majority in November's midterm elections. Just last year, top House Republican Kevin McCarthy predicted his party would flip 60 seats. Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju who joins us live here.

So, Manu, tomorrow is 10 weeks until the midterms. You report that Republicans once pretty bullish about a red wave are now bracing for a tighter House majority. What are you learning.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, expectation is changing dramatically in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Something that has led to increased Democratic enthusiasm in the midterms.


There had been a significant enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. That has closed. And also some special election races have gone, Democrats favors, including with some positive news in polling suggests that perhaps those margins that Republicans had been hoping for could be a lot tighter.

Now, Republicans just need five seats, to net five seats to pick up the House, that still seems likely. Republicans are still expecting that. But the talk of getting up this five dozen seats that Kevin McCarthy floated last year seems increasingly unlikely according to more than a dozen Republicans that we spoke to. They expect potentially 15 to 30 seats, some expect even a single digit pickup, which would mean very tight margins for Kevin McCarthy. As one prominent Republican, Larry Hogan, said this weekend, it could -- not might not be a wave that we will see in November, but potentially just a ripple.

BROWN: All right, Manu Raju --


GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): But we could blow it by nominating unelectable people. And that's exactly what's happening across the country and why the wave is going to be more of a ripple rather than a tidal wave, why Mitch McConnell is saying -- there -- we may not win the Senate. It's why we were hoping to pick up seats in governor's races, and now we're not. It's why the margin in the House is so much smaller.


RAJU: And if it's a smaller margin in the House, that could be problematic, potentially for Kevin McCarthy, because of the fact that he needs to 218 votes to get hit the speaker's gavel. And already a handful of Republicans are expected to vote against him. And also passing an agenda will be increasingly difficult in a tight Republican majority. There is still time, though, things can still change. But at the moment, expectations changing and narrow majority in the House seems increasingly likely, Pam.

BROWN: All right, Manu Raju, stay with us because we want to continue this discussion. I want to also bring in CNN Senior Political Analyst Ryan Lizza and CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend.

So then, Eva, what are your thoughts on this? How concerned are Republicans be that this anticipated red wave is going to become more like a red ripple as Governor Hogan said?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Pam, it is important to keep in mind that we are in August, I have covered enough campaigns to see how quickly the dynamics can shift. Keep in mind, many of these candidates have not even hit a debate stage yet. You could have a candidate in a debate say an off color comment and completely change the trajectory of a race. So I think it is too soon to tell.

What I will say though, is I see some unforced errors from Republicans. So for instance, you have some Republican candidates flirting with chipping away at Social Security. When has that ever been a winning strategy for them? Never.

And then, of course, you have the Conservative National Review today saying that Republicans are doing little to explain what they would have the government do differently if they took power. So, even in conservative circles, so recognition that Republicans are not doing enough to talk about their agenda.

BROWN: That's interesting. And Ryan, you know, Manu sort of touched on this, but when it comes to House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, this isn't just about Republicans taking back control, right? He wants a sizable majority.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he's got a pretty rambunctious conference. And as Manu pointed out, just getting the speaker's gavel will be significantly more different -- excuse me, more difficult, if he has a very, very small majority. And then to say nothing if he passes that test about governing and pushing through legislation when he'll have to really appeal to the House Freedom Caucus and the most -- the farthest right members of his of his coalition, if it's a small majority, rather than the, you know, the 60 vote swing he was hoping for.

And look, I take Eva's point about -- a lot of midterm elections, we do go through these little cycles where the conventional wisdom starts to shift and everyone says, wait a second, what do you think's going to happen might not. And so, you know, we could just be in one of those periods and things will flip back to what's normal in a first midterm for president, which is they lose a lot of seats.

But the two historical examples, at least in recent history, where the president's party bucked the trend were 1998 with Bill Clinton and impeachment and 2002 in the wake of 9/11 and George W. Bush. That's when big national changes in the atmospherics from warded the traditional backlash against the president's party. So, could abortion be that issue this time, coupled with Trump reasserting himself and changing this from more of a choice election than a referendum on Biden? Could be.

BROWN: Yes, it was interesting. I interviewed Congressman Charlie Crist, a Democrat, last night and he brought up abortion time and time again. Clearly, Democrats are seizing on that, as they believe that might be their ticket to win

Manu, I'm wondering, you know, we talked about the House what about the Senate. Are there similar concerns from Republicans in the Senate?


RAJU: Yes, there are concerns. Look at the map, the Republicans really just need one net gain seat, that's at one seat to take back the Senate majority. But the map is presenting problems even in the seat that they are defending in Pennsylvania. Mehmet Oz is struggling to hold on to that seat that's being vacated by retiring Pat Toomey.

Pick up opportunities such as Georgia, Herschel Walker, the candidate there has run his -- has run a campaign where he's running to hurdles along the way as he has run tried to defeat Raphael Warnock in that state. Another pickup opportunity in Arizona, Blake Masters, the Trump back candidate, they're also struggling. And you're seeing the McConnell back -- Mitch McConnell back Super PAC make some changes as a result of this, scrapping ad buys in Arizona to help Masters instead moving money into Ohio, $28 million in the fall to help prop up J.D. Vance a rookie candidate in that state. So, Republicans right now are playing defense hoping to limit their defections and losses. And the majority could be out of reach, but we'll see if things change.

BROWN: We shall see. Manu Raju, Ryan Lizza, Eva McKend, thank you all.

LIZZA: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: And just ahead for you, tonight a major counter offensive is now underway in Ukraine where a military official tells CNN forces have already reclaimed the territory from Russia. We're going to have a live update from Kyiv right after the break.

Plus, Serena Williams preparing to check the board tonight in what can be for final match before retirement.



BROWN: In Ukraine tonight, a major new counter offensive to reclaim territory in the Russian-held south and potentially turn the tide of the war in Kyiv's favor, the Ukrainians have it their way. CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us with all the latest developments from the Ukrainian capital.

So, Melissa, the Ukrainians are claiming they've already taken back four villages from Russian forces. What more can you tell us?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is also, Pamela, counter offensive that's now been acknowledged by Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry speaking of the fact that it was failing miserably, but at least acknowledging that it was happening also a counter offensive that's been long anticipated. After all, this is something the Ukrainian military have been preparing for for some weeks, with strikes not just on ammunition depots but also on infrastructure like the bridge that allows Russian forces to cross the Dnieper River. We've been hearing in the last half hour from the Russian side that water and electricity at Nova Kakhovka, which is the town on the other side of the Dnieper have now been knocked out by shelling. And that gives you an idea of what Ukrainians are trying to achieve, trying to recapture this, the only regional capital that has been captured in the six months of war and that remains in Russian hands.

Further up the Dnieper River, of course, a lot of attention on Zaporizhzhia power plant, and the visit that's to take place later this week by the IAEA.


BELL (voice-over): For many, it's a nightmare scenario. Shells landing just miles from Europe's largest nuclear plant. Zaporizhzhia has become a flashpoint in the war in Ukraine, with both sides blaming the other for the artillery strikes that threaten the site and neighboring towns.

Nine people were injured in shelling in the nearby town of Enerhodar on Sunday night, according to a Russian backed official. Last week, shells landed about 100 meters from Zaporizhzhia's reactors. CNN is unable to verify who's responsible for the shelling.

Ukraine claims the site's been turned into a military base. Satellite images today show Russian armored vehicles hidden by a reactor, a demilitarized zone, not under discussion, according to the Kremlin, but some hope is perhaps on the way. Early Monday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi tweeted that a delegation of experts would arrive in Zaporizhzhia later this week. They arrived in Kyiv today. The mission of 14 experts headed by Grossi one of the few diplomatic agreements to have come out of the war so far.

RAFAEL GROSSI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: I think now there is general recognition that we need to be there. We need to be there soon. Kyiv accepts it, Moscow accepts it.

BELL (voice-over): Ukraine has repeatedly called on Russia to remove its troops from the site with Andrii Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian president's office, describing Russia's actions as nuclear blackmail on Sunday.

In Zaporizhzhia, power has been a concern with nearby fires twice briefly cutting the plants external electricity that powers critical functions last Thursday. A total loss of power would be disastrous.

PETRO KOTIN, ENERGOATOM PRESIDENT: If we have cut off power supply from outside and after that diesel generators stop, then there will be completely the same scenario like at Fukushima.

BELL (voice-over): Grossi says the currently safety systems in place of the power plant remains operational with radioactivity levels within normal range. Even so, authorities are not taking any chances. In Ukrainian controlled territory exercises this month in case of nuclear fallout.

Near Zaporizhzhia, locals have been collecting iodine pills to defend against the effects of a possible radiation leak. In a land that's no stranger to nuclear disaster, prudence is worth its weight in gold.



BELL: Pamela, this is an independent inspection that will allow not only to figure out exactly what kind of state the Zaporizhzhia power plant is in, but also perhaps more importantly exactly what's going on around it with so many counterclaims these last few days between the two sides about who was responsible for the shelling.

BROWN: All right, Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that.

Let's get more analysis from retired General Mark Kimmitt.

So, General, CNN has learned that Ukraine, as we were just discussing, is preparing for the significant counter offensive in the south. How would you assess Ukraine's ability to take back territory in this counter offensive?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think that if they put enough effort into it, enough ammunition, enough firepower, enough troops into it, they would be able to do perhaps 15 miles into the Russian lines. But this suggestion that this would be major counter offensive that would go say all the way from Kherson backup to Mariupol, that's not what's being considered here. This is getting the initiative back on the side of the Ukrainians demonstrating that they can attack. This is barely a campaign offensive, certainly not a major counter offensive.

So I just think that everybody ought to be sanguine about what can be accomplished. It'll be great to see Russian prisoners marching down the streets of Kherson. It would be great to see the Ukrainians taking back that regional capital. But this is certainly not going to shift the tide of the war.

BROWN: I want to ask you about what Russia is claiming. The senior U.S. defense official just reacted to Vladimir Putin's decree to increase the size of Russia's Armed Forces saying this is unlikely to succeed. Do you see it that way? Is this war heading to an extended stalemate in your view?

KIMMITT: Oh, I've said that numerous times in articles, I think it will be an extended stalemate for a number of reasons, not the least that we're running out of high precision, high tech weapons on both sides that won't be able to be brought into the battlefield for a year or so. So, we're going to see the pace slow down. I've described it as a World War II static trench line fight for the most part, and I don't see significant changes over the next year.

BROWN: All right, retired General Mark Kimmitt, we'll leave it there. Thank you.

Well, coming up, Serena Williams on the verge of retirement and potentially playing the final match of her incredible career tonight. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BROWN: Tonight, tennis star Serena Williams is about to take the court and what could be the final singles match of her legendary career. For more on that, let's bring in CNN Sports Analyst Christine Brennan.

Wow. So many of us cannot wait to see what could be the last one, right, singles match, Christine. She's actually ranked, and this surprised me, she is ranked 605th in women's singles, while her 27 year old opponent is ranked 80th. But do you think this match will be different in reality than it might appear on paper?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: It might be, Pamela, because of course of the adrenaline for Serena, the emotions. And just knowing that this is the grandest stage that you can have in the United States in tennis, the U.S. Open our national championship the opening night. It really feels like -- almost like a prize fight, a heavyweight fight or potentially even a Super Bowl, the kickoff of a Super Bowl, it has that kind of feeling.

Serena is going to take that all in. Does it -- the question is, does it power her to new heights? She's had a tough year and a few months, she's only played four matches and losing three of them. So, she's not the Serena of eight years ago when she last won the U.S. Open. It doesn't power her to that, Pamela, or does she just get caught up in it as someone who wears her heart on her sleeve and maybe have some trouble keeping it together? Obviously, we'll know in a few hours. I know the whole nation, of course, is rooting for her to keep going.

BROWN: Everyone is going to be cheering her on no matter what. It is messy T.V. for sure.

You know, earlier this month, we know that Williams announced she will evolve away from tennis, those are her words. How fitting is it that this U.S. Open is expected to be her final tournament, and it's the same place where she won her first Grand Slam title in 1999, which I remember you covered, right?

BRENNAN: That's correct. I was there covering her, 17-year-old Serena Williams introducing herself really to the country and the world. And now here she is almost, what, four weeks away from turning 41. And, you know, I think it is fitting that she has done this when she said she's evolving to other things.

We're never going to not be in touch with Serena, she will be a part of everyone's -- all of our lives for the rest of our lives. I mean, she is that force with business as a pitch person, as a role model, as a working mom. So, this part of her life may be ending very soon, but there's so much more to come.

BROWN: Yes. She has transcended, truly, the sport of tennis. When you reflect on her extraordinary legacy, what stands out to you?

BRENNAN: The power, the strain, the way she changed women's tennis, her serve, everything about that, the emotion that you see out there just throwing it all out there, but mostly the power. She serves faster when -- in her heyday, Pamela, than some men. Really bringing the women's game along with the tide (ph) wave of women's sports in Title Nine to a whole new level of respect and honor and grace and dignity, but mostly that power and that speed that she showed us that really changed the face of tennis, women's tennis and all of tennis.


BROWN: Absolutely. What an inspiration. Christine Brennan, thank you.

And coming up, the Justice Department -- BRENNAN: Thank you.

BROWN: -- says some materials taken in the Mar-a-Lago search could be covered by attorney client privilege, even as former President Trump pushes for a third party attorney to review these documents. Details of all the latest developments next.


BROWN: Happening now, a limited set of material seized in the Mar-a- Lago search could be covered by attorney client privilege, that's according to the Justice Department which had just issued a progress report on its review of the documents. And the intelligence community also assessing that material tonight for potential damage to national security.

And NASA's new mission to put Americans on the moon for the first time in 50 years hits a major snag. The space agency says engine trouble forced officials to postpone the launch of its next generation unmanned rocket.