Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Soon, Trump Team To Respond To Bombshell Justice Department Filing; Water Crisis In Mississippi's Capital Enters Third Straight Day; FDA Authorizes COVID Booster Shot Targeting Omicron; Serena Williams Faces World No. 2 At US Open Tonight; U.N. Officials Arrive In Zaporizhzhia To Inspect Nuclear Plant. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 31, 2022 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, at any moment, we're expecting Trump attorneys to respond to last night's explosive Justice Department filing, accusing the Trump team of trying to obstruct its Mar-a-Lago investigation. This hour, a key member of the January 6th committee weighs in on the latest legal trouble for the former president.

And we're also following the dire situation in Jackson, Mississippi, where 150,000 people are without a safe water supply for a third straight day. Will an emergency pump finally bring them relief?

And Americans could be just days away from getting the first updated COVID booster shots. The FDA is green lighting tweaks to the vaccine so it can better target the omicron variants.

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.

Our top story tonight, the legal drama in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, Trump's attorneys now have until 8:00 P.M. Eastern to respond to the Justice Department after prosecutors accused the Trump team of hiding and removing government documents at his Florida home.

CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray has our report.



SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Justice Department accusing team Trump of trying to obstruct an investigation to recover government documents from Mar-a-Lago and releasing the first images of documents marked highly classified seized from the former president's office.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The documents are clearly identified, they're sensitive and the release of them would compromise national security. MURRAY: In a bombshell filing, DOJ also saying government records were likely concealed and remove from a Mar-a-Lago storage room, and efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation. Laying out a narrative that undercuts claims like these from Trump lawyers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was cooperating the entire time.

MURRAY: But DOJ says Trump's team only provided a single accordion- style envelope of documents in June after subpoenaing them in May for any documents with classified markings.

At that June 3rd meeting at Mar-a-Lago, DOJ says a Trump attorney explicitly prohibited government personnel opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.

And a representative for Trump, who CNN has confirmed was Trump attorney Christina Bobb, signing a letter claiming a diligent search was conducted and all the documents were returned. But the Justice Department says it obtained evidence that classified documents remained at the Florida resort, including evidence indicating that boxes formerly in the storage room had been moved, sparking the August search in Mar-a-Lago.

CHRISTINA BOBB, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: They were looking for classified documents, evidence of a crime.

MURRAY: But investigators walked away with a trove of documents, writing in the filing that the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the, quote, diligent search, that the former president's counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3rd certification and cast doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: What they're showing so far is very strong evidence that there was a cover-up.

MURRAY: Investigators found over 100 unique documents with classification markings and seized them not only from the storage room but also Trump's office, including three documents located in the desk in the 45 office.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Three documents were found not in the storage room that DOJ said, hey, keep everything here, but in a desk in Donald Trump's office. I think that's really telling.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, the Trump team has until 8:00 P.M. tonight to respond to this bombshell filing from the Justice Department. And the fight over whether there should be a special master to review these documents is going to carry on. There's going to be a hearing on this in Florida tomorrow, Pam. BROWN: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much. Stay with us.

I also want to get insight from our Chief National Correspondent Jim Sciutto and Conservative Attorney George Conway.

George, let's start with you here. In this filing, the DOJ takes aim at the Trump Team's, quote, meritless accusations, the, quote, incomplete and inaccurate narrative presented.


Did the DOJ go above and beyond here to reject Trump's claims point- by-point?

GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: I don't think they went above and beyond. I think they did a very good job, and I think that the response that the Justice Department gave was perfectly appropriate. And I think that just the Trump people just basically asked to be punched in the face, and they were punched in the face by the response. I mean, the fact of the matter is they just don't have a defense. And by raising these issues, the Justice Department had an opportunity to lay out in great detail the basis for their investigation, and, in particular, to highlight the degree to which there is potential obstruction involved.

BROWN: And you say they don't have a defense. Well, a Trump spokesperson is claiming that this search is, quote, nothing to do with any crimes and accuses the FBI of staging a photo op. So, I think that gives a little hint of what we might be seeing in Trump's legal team's filing tonight. What do you think, George?

CONWAY: Well, that's completely, completely contentless. I mean, there's no -- I mean, look, they have shown that Trump and his people retained these documents even after they were requested, which is a straight-out, flat-out literal violation of 18USC 793, a provision of the Espionage Act. And the fact that they made false representations, the Trump people, Christina Bobb, apparently, made a very specifically false representation that a diligent search was conducted and that all responsive documents were provided in response to the subpoena, well, that turned out to be false. And the basis for that representation needs to be explored. And she needs to get a lawyer of her own because if she's lying, she can go to jail. And if she -- she could also end up testifying, well, that's what Donald Trump told me to say. If that's true, well, he's going to go to jail.

And then, obviously, they made some other false misrepresentations, oral misrepresentations, about the location of the documents. They asserted, according to the government's brief, that classified documents had only been located in the storage room. But it turned out, as that photograph dramatically illustrates, there were numerous classified documents in the 45 office, in Trump's own drawers, in his -- within his wingspan.

BROWN: Yes, the three documents in his drawer that the DOJ says it found. And on that note, I mean, you know, you have the legal aspect of this but also, Jim, the national security implications. And this FBI picture really does say so much. I mean, how damning is it Trump had opportunity after opportunity to hand back documents and the FBI still found some of the most sensitive intelligence secrets stashed among his other stuff?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, by my reading, the FBI, the DOJ demands, were for documents marked classified and those documents clearly marked classified in bold colors there.

And then when you go onto this claim that Trump somehow unceremoniously or magically declassified all these things without declaring so, one, there's a process for that in which you consult the intelligence agencies involved. You make judgments as to the national security impact of those things.

And that's not just, to be clear, a bureaucratic process where people have to check the boxes. It's because there's information in there that is sensitive. For instance, information, particularly in the category of HCS, as some of them were marked, about foreign clandestine sources. So, if you're going to declassify that, you need to protect those sources because they would face risk abroad.

If you're going, for instance, to declassify material that involves intelligence shared with foreign partners, you need to consult those foreign partners, right, so that their own interests are protected and there is no evidence and, frankly, no claim by Trump or his lawyers or his allies that any of those steps took place.

So, if Trump believes that he magically declassified them, he has created a whole new standard for doing so, which is to say, because I have them, they're declassified and no attention was paid to the national security consequences for that claimed declassification.

And I'll tell you, I had a clearance myself when I was in government and I've spoken to loads of people who have had these things and dealt with these kinds of papers. I mean, these are kind of papers you don't leave a secure room with, let alone keep them in your basement.

BROWN: Yes, I mean, the FBI counterintelligence agents that were part of this had to have a special clearance just to go in there and look at these documents.

So, Sara, there is another fascinating aspect of this filing. You can see in the corner of that photo a box with a framed magazine cover. The filing also mentions classified documents found in Trump's desks, as we were just talking about, along with his passports. Are they linking this criminal investigation directly to Trump himself?

MURRAY: Well, look, we've all known Donald Trump is obsessed with his Time magazine covers. So, it was quite interesting that the Justice Department decided to include that in their photo.


But I think it remains to be seen exactly what the former president's legal exposure is going to be versus the attorneys who are working for him and versus other aides who may have been involved in this.

It certainly is notable that they found documents not just in the 45 office but in desks that were in the former president's office. You know, they also point out in this filing that they have some evidence that there were documents that were removed from this storage room before, you know, an attorney for the former president went in to conduct this so-called diligent review. So, I think there are a lot of questions about who was moving these documents around, who might have known there were still classified materials sitting around the former president's office, and just what exactly went into this so-called diligent search that gave people like Christina Bobb the confidence to sign a document like this when, clearly, there were so many materials with these classification markings left behind, Pam.

BROWN: Yes, more than 100 that the FBI found during that search in August.

So, George, after learning these new details from this filing, how worried should Trump be about an indictment?

CONWAY: He should be extremely worried. And we haven't even seen what might be the worst evidence against him, which is still the blacked out material in the search warrant affidavit, the application affidavit. And that will indicate what the basis was the government had to conclude that there were additional documents, even after the subpoena was responded to, that there were additional documents in the storage room and elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago, not in the storage room, in other words, that they had been -- that the government had been misled or lied to both in writing and orally.

Well, somebody told the government that. We don't know who it was. And that might -- you know, that could be some damning evidence about what people saw or heard about what was going on with these documents and who was going in and out of the storage room and whether Donald Trump himself had something to do with any of this.

BROWN: Yes, still a lot of questions that remain to be unanswered because it's redacted, right? Okay, thanks so much George Conway, Sara Murray, Jim Sciutto, I really appreciate it.

Just ahead, we're going to get reaction to all of this from a key member of the House January 6th committee who says the panel is still finding new information in its ongoing probe.



BROWN: More now in our top story. Former President Trump's lawyers have just under two hours now to respond to an explosive Justice Department filing. It alleges that White House documents were likely hidden and moved to obstruct the investigation into its handling.

So, let's get more with Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, a key member of the January 6th select committee. So, Congresswoman, the Justice Department used this filing to pretty strongly reject Trump's defense point-by-point. How disturbed are you to learn these details of likely obstruction and the possible threat to national security?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, this is not really part of the January 6 committee investigation. But just as a lawyer, as a Congress member, and a member of the Judiciary Committee, this causes a lot of concern. The behavior that is described in the DOJ filing is not appropriate. And, certainly, the cover sheets on the documents indicate that, in some cases, it was human intelligence that could have been jeopardized. So, this is a serious concern.

BROWN: We're showing the photo from this filing that the FBI took, it appears, out of the container that they were in to take this photograph showing the markings, the classified markings. Do you have any indication that any of the documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago could be relevant to your investigation into January 6th?

LOFGREN: We don't know that. And my guess is likely not, unless it was material connected to his plotting prior to the 6th of January. But that would not have been classified documents. So, my guess is there's no overlap between our committee's jurisdiction and what the Department of Justice is doing here.

But it is still of tremendous concern that the national security could have been jeopardized. I mean, I've been into the secure facilities in the Capitol where you look at classified material. And you have to take off, you know, your smart watch and leave all your phones and electronics outside. You can't take any notes. And you are not allowed to discuss anything you see. Everything is very secure. And that's far different than, you know, a room off the pool or, you know, the closet of a bedroom suite. It's just not the way this material is supposed to be protected.

BROWN: On your select committee investigation, I want to talk a little bit more about that because I know it's been a busy August for you. You say, quote, we are still finding new things. So, what more can you tell us about what you've learned, what avenues, or which people have been most productive?

LOFGREN: Well, you know, we can't discuss the witness testimony but I think we are learning more things about how the mob was recruited, how the violence was ginned up online, where, certainly, as you know, there's been a great deal of concern about the Secret Service and the erasures of their text messages. And we're poring through a lot of records from the Secret Service, some of which causes me, frankly, concern. So, there's a lot of information coming in.

Obviously, we're at the second half.


You know, we've done most of the investigation. But there's still a few things left. And we hope, as the chairman announced, to have at least one hearing in September that we hope will be informative. We're also working on -- you know, it's not just finding the facts and laying it out but making recommendations for changes that will make us safer. I think I mentioned that Congresswoman Cheney and I have been working on reforms to the Electoral Count Act. I think we're almost through with that. And we hope to meet with our Senate counterparts and meld the version for something that will make us a lot safer.

BROWN: Just very quickly, the Secret Service messages, you said some you'd found concerning. Can you elaborate on that at all? And do you know if there has been any success in retrieving some of those deleted messages from the Secret Service around the January 6th insurrection?

LOFGREN: Well, let's say, we've got other records from the service that seem to contradict some of what the service had been telling us. It's not clear that the messages that were erased can be recovered from the server itself, although that may be possible from the Department of Homeland Security.

You know, the fact that they were erased after they were told to preserve it is disturbing. Every time I look at that, I've got more questions and it doesn't look good.

BROWN: All right. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thanks for your time tonight.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

BROWN: Coming up, long lines and sweltering heat just to get safe drinking water. We're going to take you to Jackson, Mississippi, where residents have been without clean water for three days now.

Plus, what you need to know about the updated COVID booster shot.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to be right back.



BROWN: Today, the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, said he's hopeful water could be restored within a week. 150,000 people still don't have clean drinking water after a major water treatment plant failed on Monday. And the city installed one additional pump at the facility today, which will help get some water into houses, but it's still not safe for drinking.

As CNN's Ryan Young reports, locals say repairs can't come soon enough.


WHITNEY ALEXANDER, WAITED OVER AN HOUR FOR WATER: It's horrible and I would like it to be fixed. Please fix our water.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Car lines for bottled water in Jackson, Mississippi, as the water crisis continues into its third day, still affecting most of the city of 150,000 people.


YOUNG: The main water treatment facility in Jackson failed, leaving homes, schools and businesses without running water, forcing schools, some restaurants and government buildings to temporarily close. And on this hot football field, these mothers not only worry about their children's education, they're also worried about their hydration and health.

NATASHA TAYLOR, JACKSON RESIDENT: I'm a parent of two kids. Even if you're not a parent, it's still a lot because we all got jobs. We go to work.

GERBERRA TOWNSEND, JACKSON RESIDENT: Fever, headaches, they got chills, all of that. I traced everything back to -- it was the water.

YOUNG: Some good news, the mayor's office said a new water pump has successfully been installed.

MAYOR CHOKWE LUMUMBA (D-JACKSON, MS): We are expecting pressure to start increasing by this evening. I want to continue to remind our residents to boil your water for one minute before you drink it. Health officials say that the water is safe for bathing and washing hands.

YOUNG: The mayor says the water system has been troubled for years, and it could take at least $1 billion to improve it. He says the fault should be, quote, shared across the board through leadership on every level.

LUMUMBA: This is the accumulation of years and years of accumulated problems, challenges that we have been lifting up for the better part of three to four years.

YOUNG: One state representative hopes this crisis will bring change.

STATE REP. DE'KEITHER STAMPS (D-MS): Both with direct support from the White House, we will be able to get the resources necessary to put the repairs in place to stabilize the systems.

YOUNG: Repairs that can't come fast enough for some residents.

VICTOR MARTINEZ, JACKSON RESIDENT: It's very frustrating to have to fight for some water.

KRUZ LONG, YOUTH FOOTBALL COACH: Jackson has to do something about this. What about the kids? What about the community? What about the people? I mean, somebody could do something.


YOUNG (on camera): Somebody has got to do something. Pamela, we joined you about an hour ago when they started giving out that water. All the water is gone here. I mean, it's gone in less than an hour. They started passing out -- you can see people who are still arriving to this location hoping for some sort of water. People have been asking questions, well, can't they go to the grocery store? Some of these people cannot afford to buy extra water, especially with all that's going on, because they're having to brush their teeth, they're trying to bathe with all this water. It is frustrating to see.

Now, they had six different locations. They've passed out over 1,000 bottles of water alone today. But the real question from so many residents is where is the federal help when it comes to being out here on a day-to-day basis getting the water they need here on the ground. That is the big question right now, especially around Jackson, Mississippi, where they desperately need this water.

BROWN: Yes. I mean, there is absolutely no excuse for people to be pulling up and not have water to access, safe drinking water, unacceptable. Ryan Young reporting in Jackson, Mississippi, thank you.

Well, significant developments tonight in the COVID pandemic. New protection could come as soon as Friday after the Food and Drug Administration gave a green light to updated booster vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna that specifically target omicron variants.


So, let's get more on this with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner. Hi, Dr. Reiner. So, once the CDC authorizes these boosters, who do you recommend gets this updated dose?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I recommend everyone other the age of 12 to get the booster. What we know for certain is that the efficacy of the original vaccine wanes over time, and we've relied on boosters. But the virus has also changed over time. And because it's changed significantly, our original vaccine, which has been remarkable at reducing death and hospitalization, is no longer as effective as it can be.

And I think the bivalent vaccine will go a long way to not only keeping people out of the hospital but also, I think, finally, once again, to reducing the risk of infection, which the original vaccine has not been so good about in the last -- over the last few months.

BROWN: So, to follow up on that, I mean, how effective do you expect these updated boosters will be if this virus continues to mutate so quickly, as it has, frankly?

REINER: Well, we'll have to see. What we know right now is that the predominant strain of this virus that is circulating in the United States is BA.5. And the bivalent vaccine has a component of both BA.4 and BA.5 in it, which should make it more effective at preventing illness.

Now, these vaccines are being sort of iterated the way our flu vaccines are changed every year to respond to new strains of influenza, as they circulate around the United States. So, we'll have to see exactly how good this vaccine is.

Post sort of market release, surveillance will give us that kind of data over the next couple of months. But I expect that we should be able to start vaccinating people again with this new vaccine sometime in the next week to ten days.

BROWN: All right. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thanks so much for joining us.

And just ahead for you tonight, an in-depth look at what the marking of classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago mean. One expert tells us they never should have left the White House.



BROWN: More now in our top story, the Justice Department filing accusing the Trump team of trying to obstruct its investigation of the handling of White House documents and the photo of the Justice Department has released to back up its allegation.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with a closer look. You've been talking to experts about this picture, Brian. What have they been telling you?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, they've been telling us that this photo has all sorts of important clues. We dissected this image for a look at just how sensitive these documents are and what could have happened if they fell into the wrong hands.


TODD (voice over): It's the markings on these documents which indicate their sensitive in bold letters. Some have cover sheets marked secret/SCI. Experts on classified documents tell CNN something marked secret, if it gets into the hands of the wrong person, could cause serious damage to U.S. national security. Other documents are marked top secret/SCI. That means exceptionally grave damage could be done if these documents are in the wrong hands.

NORMAN EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: People could very well die, those in our intelligence community, those among our allies, American civilians whose lives can be put at risk or the people who collected this information.

TODD: And after each heading marked secret or top secret, the letters SCI for sensitive compartmented information.

EISEN: An additional category of classification that we apply to documents that you don't get to see just because you have a top secret clearance, they're essentially need-to-know documents. We keep them compartmented. We restrict the handling of them because the information they contain is so explosive.

TODD: Just underneath those headings on some documents, you see a crucial parking, HCS-P/SI/TK, HCS meaning clandestine human sources.

EISEN: It means it's a production, P, of human intelligence. The SI letters there signify it's from communications intelligence, which means our national security agency picked it up listening in to foreign conversations one way or another. The TK stands for a talent key hole. That's the key hole satellites, which are our top end spy satellites. And that means the information under this cover sheet came from one or more of those sources.

TODD: Donald Trump and his lawyers continue to say he declassified these documents but no evidence of declassification has been presented. And experts say it's not in this picture either.

EISEN: Nothing in the photograph says declassified at all. You would see a line through the words, top secret SCI or through the words stamped on the bottom or top of those documents that say secret or confidential. There would be a line in there and a stamp that says declassified on such and such a date and it has somebody's initials on it. Because the law says, to declassify something, somebody has to take responsibility for it.

TODD: Overall, experts say these documents, which the Justice Department says were recovered from a container in one of Donald Trump's offices at Mar-a-Lago, simply shouldn't have been at the resort.


EISEN: You definitely see a picture of documents that should never have left the White House.


TODD (on camera): Now, the experts we spoke to say those documents are only supposed to be viewed what's inside a SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility. Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive says, Donald Trump had a SCIF at Mar-a-Lago while he was president but not after he left office.

BROWN: Yes, that is a key point.

TODD: Yes.

BROWN: Brian Todd, thank you very much for that.

Let's get more on all of this with former National Security Adviser John Bolton. So, you served as Trump's national security adviser. You're very familiar with this type of classified information. Are you shocked to see this photo and the incredibly high classification levels of these documents just sitting in Trump's home and resort?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think it's clear from what we've seen already the picture adds to the importance of it, that there's a lot of sensitive information at Mar-a-Lago that's now in the hand of the Justice Department. But I also think it's important to try and take a deep breath before we assume too much about this. We'll find out in due course here.

The director of national intelligence is conducting an evaluation of the information and we'll see at some point more particularly what it involves. But speculating, I think, just confuses things at this point. It's -- for example, I think if you look at media coverage, generally, people assume that everything in all these documents is intelligence itself, and it's not. Plenty of things can be classified that are not intelligence.

It's also the case that a document characterized as top secret is not every paragraph full of top secret information. Some of them can be unclassified. Some of the paragraphs can be confidential. I'm not minimizing anything here but I am saying before we get into hyperventilation, we ought to let this process play out a little bit.

BROWN: And it is true. We don't know what's behind these labels, right? But we do know some of these labels are top secret, I mean, some of the highest classification labels. But I take your point that we should wait and see, you know, more, have more information about what is actually contained here.

But the bottom line is these are classified materials that were in an unsecure location for 19 months. And we know that even after that subpoena to Trump and his attorneys in May that there were still more than 100 classified documents that remained at Mar-a-Lago. What do you make of that?

BOLTON: Well, I think that's another aspect of the Justice Department filing yesterday that's very interesting and where I think now a number of people have commented Donald Trump's real liability might lie. Whatever the nature of the documents we're talking about, he was told repeatedly that they had to be turned over. He was served a subpoena. His attorneys -- I suppose, on his representation -- I don't know who else could make the representation for them -- that they had turned over all the documents requested, and that has turned out not to be untrue.

So, as in many situations, it may not be the underlying potential substantive problem that really faces Trump. It could be the obstruction of justice.

BROWN: And we'll have to wait and see.

I'm curious, as someone who was behind the scenes there with Donald Trump in the White House for so many months, what did you observe in terms of his handling of classified materials?

BOLTON: Well, I think he was very disdainful of the whole classification system. I mean, while we're on this subject, he was pretty disdainful of the intelligence community. And he didn't -- to me, didn't seem to appreciate some of the sensitivity of some of the information he was given, the risks to sources or methods of collection, or just the danger of being careless with this material.

And I think, again, what we know from the Justice Department filing is documents are scattered all throughout many of the boxes of materials that they've taken away. And it just reflects almost an incoherent approach to dealing with the sensitive information. It didn't need to be that way. In normal administrations, there are more protections, and particularly at the end of the administration, there's a process where the president, the vice president, others, can be sure that they've got what they're entitled to take and they're leaving behind what they're not entitled to take. There's absolutely no indication that Donald Trump paid any attention to any of that in his chaotic departure.

BROWN: But there's a difference too between a chaotic departure and having the opportunity multiple times to then turn the documents back over to the government. John Bolton, really interesting to hear your insight on this unfolding story, thank you so much for your time tonight.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

And coming up, the center of the tennis world is the U.S. Open center court, as Serena plays what could be the finals singles match of her extraordinary career.



BROWN: It is a huge night in the tennis world, as Serena Williams takes on the number two seed in the second round of the U.S. Open in what could be the final singles match of Williams' career.

CNN national correspondent Brynn Gingras has this report.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, we can't wait.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: E-X-C-I-T-E-D, we're excited.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All eyes on center court at the U.S. Open.


Will Serena Williams serve up another win?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have to say, I shed a tear on Monday night.

GINGRAS: And again delay a possible retirement, or is tonight the end of her legendary career?

SERENA WILLIAMS, 23-TIME MAJOR WINNER: At this point, honestly, everything is a bonus for me.

GINGRAS: The 23-time grand slam champion has hinted she will leave tennis after this tournament.

WILLIAMS: I definitely am trying to get to a point where I'm going to enjoy my time out there, and take it all in for one last time.

GINGRAS: But her Swan Song isn't sung yet. Williams first faces Anett Kontaveit, ranked number two player in the world. The two players have never competed against each other. ANETT KONTAVEIT, RANKED WORLD NO. 2: I'm going to fight as hard as I

can for every point, and I'm really going to enjoy the atmosphere, being out there against the greatest player of all time.

GINGRAS: There was 14 years between the players' ages. Williams, at the end of her career, Kontaveit, beginning to leave her impression on the game, and as of late, it's been a different Serena.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: The Serena Williams that we know was out there every week, winning tournaments and dominating. That Serena Williams just doesn't exist anymore.

GINGRAS: Even still, this moment couldn't be bigger.

BRENNAN: It will have that electricity, it will feel off like a kickoff at a Super Bowl or a heavyweight fight.

GINGRAS: More than 3.2 million people watched Williams Monday night. Arthur Ashe Stadium filled with a record breaking crowd with celebrities honoring her career and contribution to the sport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely brought a lot, not just to tennis, but to little Black girls like me who have been watching her for 25 years.

GINGRAS: For fans, tickets tonight topping $3,000. Maybe priceless, though, for those who want a glimpse at this game changer. Williams keeping fans guessing until match point is called.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope she wins tonight, that way I can go to see her Friday night. That will be the hottest ticket in town.


GINGRAS (on camera): And earlier this week, Serena talked about how difficult it is to take the court right now, to feel all of that energy from the fans. It reminds her that she belongs, but she talked about how she's ready to evolve, focus on her family and business ventures. No matter what happens tonight, all of her fans are going to be cheering her on with whatever happens next -- Pam.

BROWN: Yes, they are. Thank you so much, Brynn Gingras. Appreciate it.

And more news just ahead for you, including the race to prevent a nuclear accident in Ukraine. We'll introduce you to the team working to protect the country's second largest nuclear power station.



BROWN: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says it wants to set up a permanent presence at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Inspectors from the agency arrived in that area today and are expected to visit the facility tomorrow. Constant shelling around the plant has sparked international fears of a nuclear accident.

But as CNN's Sam Kiley reports, it's not the only potential nuclear target in the country.


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ukraine's second largest nuclear power station is under Russian missile threat, even as warnings of a nuclear disaster are causing international horror at its largest plant.

There's just been a dramatic air raid siren. Do you know what threat was then?

IHOR POLOVYCH, DIRECTOR GENERAL, SOUTH UKRAINE NUCLEAR POWER PLANT (through translator): Yes, we received information from the military that the air raid alert was for the danger of flying larger missiles by aircraft.

KILEY: Can we carry on or do we have to go down again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There are planes over Crimea with guided missiles onboard. Nobody knows where they will fly.

POLOVYCH: Let's go.

KILEY: Down again?

So, the director has said they got information that aircraft have been seen in Crimea. They're in this province or heading in this direction, so they pose an immediate threat. This is something that happens several times a day, very often they say the sirens are almost back to back.

The director is told that the Russian aircraft crossing the Dnipro have filed missiles. Ukraine's military are tracking them, trying to figure out if his nuclear power station is the target.

This monitor shows the background radiation remains normal. Working in this bunker has become a new normal for the teams running the south Ukraine nuclear power plant. The maintenance of Ukraine's four power plants and 15 nuclear reactors is stressed.

POLOVYCH: Part of the factory that produced spare parts were bombed by Russian army. At the moment, there is nowhere to make some type of spare parts.

KILEY: And Russia has stored army trucks in Zaporizhzhia's turbine hole. It's identical to south Ukraine's turbine. Both use highly explosive nitrogen as a coolant, fire here could be disastrous and Russia is accused of shelling the plant, which it denies.

This man worked at Zaporizhzhia under Russian occupation but fled in June.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Russians shoot at the territory of the plant, whereas a storage facility for solid waste, where the dry facility for nuclear fuel is.

KILEY: At least three Russian missiles have been recorded flying over the south Ukraine plant.

Back above ground, the director is amazed by Russia's threats to Ukraine's nuclear industry.

POLOVYCH: They were so smart, they shelled the nuclear power plant. Either the military was not aware of the danger or they did it on purpose.

KILEY: But as this plant generates 10 percent of Ukraine's electricity and Zaporizhzhia up to 20 percent, there's no wonder that both are such tempting targets.


KILEY (on camera): Now, the IAEA does have a permanent presence in the form of CCTV monitoring at that power station. And it visits at least once a year for physical inspections. There's hope that perhaps the agency might be able to get something similar up and running in Zaporizhzhia -- Pamela.

BROWN: Sam Kiley, thank you.

And I'm Pamela Brown in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.