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The Situation Room
Biden Announces Tentative Deal To Avoid Disastrous Rail Strike; Florida And Texas GOP Governors Ramp Up Fight, Send More Migrants To Northeast; Ex-White House Chief Of Staff Meadows Complies With DOJ Subpoena In 1/6 Probe; Miles-Long Line Of Mourners To See Queen Elizabeth Lie In State; Biden To Meet Tomorrow With Families Of Americans Held In Russia. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 15, 2022 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Our coverage now continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a rail strike that would have been disastrous for the U.S. economy has been avoided after the Biden administration brokers a tentative deal. I'll speak with a key player in the talks, the labor secretary, Marty Walsh. He'll take us inside the negotiations and tell us what happens next.
Also tonight, the Republican governors of Florida and Texas are ramping up the political fight over immigration by flying and busing more migrants to the northeast, delivering them to the resort town of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and to Vice President Harris' doorstep right here in Washington.
And a CNN exclusive, the former White House chief of staff, mark meadows, has complied with a subpoena in the U.S. Justice Department's January 6th investigation, potentially escalating the legal danger for former President Trump.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Biden is touting the agreement that prevented a crippling national railroad strike even though it's not a done deal yet. Tonight, we're learning more about his role in the talks.
Let's go to CNN's White House Correspondent M.J. Lee.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: I am very pleased to announce a tentative labor has been reached between the railway workers and the railway companies.
M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, a major national economic crisis averted.
BIDEN: This agreement is a big win for America.
LEE: Representatives for freight rail companies and unions for thousands of rail workers reaching an 11th hour deal, warding off a worker strike that was expected to begin at the stroke of midnight on Friday.
BIDEN: This is a win for tens of thousands of rail worker, and for their dignity, and the dignity of their work.
LEE: Key negotiators descending on Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for talks hosted by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The final breakthrough announced after a marathon, 20 hours of high-stakes negotiations that extended late into the night. Compromise reached on a number of major issues, like working conditions for engineers and conductors, wage increases, staffing shortages and scheduling rules.
BIDEN: Because of the labor agreement, those rail workers will get better pay, 24 percent wage increase over the next five years, improved working conditions, peace of mind around their health care by capping the costs that workers will have to pay.
LEE: The tentative deal marking a major victory for the Biden White House. President Biden himself had increasingly inserted himself into the talks in recent days, calling the negotiators directly to try to get them out of the impasse.
After spending the day at the Detroit auto show on Wednesday --
BIDEN: You all know I'm a car guy.
LEE: -- Biden calling into the still ongoing meeting at the Labor Department after returning to the White House in the evening.
MICHAEL BALDWIN, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD SIGNALMEN: We knew that if this became a strike, that it would severely cripple the supply chain and the economy.
LEE: The possibility of a rail strike had already canceled some long distance trains and alarmed administration officials. A strike could have created crippling supply chain disruptions and wreaked havoc on an already fragile economy as the White House continues to grapple with stubbornly high inflation.
BIDEN: This agreement allows us to continue to rebuild a better America with an economy that truly works for working people and their families.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LEE (on camera): There is just no overstating how important it was for this White House to avert this rail strike, a huge sigh of relief here at the White House for dodging what could have been a really tough situation both politically and economically. Of course, this is a White House that is still dealing with issues, like inflation that remains stubbornly high, and just generally a pretty fragile economy. So, the last thing that this White House wanted were more obstacles that could have gotten in the way of the economic recovery. Wolf?
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much.
I want to go to CNN Transportation Correspondent Pete Muntean. Right now, he's over at Union Station here in Washington.
Pete, Amtrak was bracing for the possibility of a strike. What's the impact on train commuters tonight?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Amtrak says it will fully return to normal train service tomorrow, even though some trains were still canceled tonight.
Remember, this was going to be the first impacts if a rail worker strike did ultimately happen. Amtrak had planned to cancel all of its long distance routes, every corner of the country, as well as state sponsored trends on ten different lines.
The issue here was twofold, first, that many of those long distance routes take days to complete and would have overlapped with the start of a strike, also that 97 percent of Amtrak routes rely on freight rails, which would have been impacted the most if rail workers walked off of the job. The same with commuter rail systems across the country. We're hearing from Chicago's Metra. It says trains that were canceled tonight will run as scheduled. Passengers dodged a huge bullet here, Wolf, with this deal that has now been struck.
BLITZER: Yes, a huge bullet indeed. Pete Muntean over at Union Station, thank you very much.
Let's discuss what has happened and what is going on with a key figure in these rail negotiations, the labor secretary of the United States, Marty Walsh. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
As you fully understand, the White House clearly celebrating right now, but this is still a tentative deal to avoid what you said would have been a catastrophic disruption. How soon do you expect this agreement will pass? And is there any chance, do you believe, Mr. Secretary, this deal, God forbid, could still fall apart.
MARTY WALSH, LABOR SECRETARY: Well, first of all, thank you for having me tonight, Wolf. There are 12 unions that we're talking about on the rail system, and they've all reached an agreement -- well, actually, 11 have reached an agreement. There is still one they're working a little bit on to get that into the hands of the membership. What happens now is it will be floating over the next six weeks to two months, different ratification dates. What will happen with the two we negotiated -- that negotiated last night and came to a deal, they will get that information out to there their members over the course I think it's within the next six weeks. They will have town hall meetings. They will have caucuses. They will talk to their members. They'll explain exactly what's in the document, what's in the contract. And then there will be a democratic ballot that will go out to the members and the members will vote yes or no.
In my years of doing labor negotiations and being around the labor movement and seeing contracts, both as a union leader and also as mayor of the city of Boston, this is a good contract. There is a lot in here. There is a lot that the union can be very proud of what they negotiated. And, quite honestly, there is a lot in here for companies too about recruiting and retaining people. So, I view this as a win- win situation with the contract. So, I feel good. Obviously, the work has to be done now to get ratified. But I feel the chances are very positive of ratifying these contracts.
BLITZER: I know, Mr. Secretary, you were involved in some 20 hours of negotiations. Only yesterday, one official told CNN your role, and I'm quoting now, was part mediator, part motivator, part guy who blocks the door if they try to leave without a deal, close quote. Can you take us inside that meeting? What were your main sticking points?
M. WALSH: Yes, it really was about keeping both sides in a conversation. This negotiation was going on for well over two years. The president had to appoint a presidential emergency board to come up with a framework that we worked off of yesterday. It really was about really three or four major issues. And what I suggested was we take one at a time. And as we get that one, we put it aside and move forward. And that's what we did.
And the unions and the companies worked very hard together. There were two separate rooms they were caucusing in and going through the different information. But at the very end, at 2:30 in the morning, both sides came in to me. Both were dug in on a particular issue. Both sides agreed to kind of take their foot off the gas a little bit on that issue. The union was able to secure some needed days that they wanted time off for their workers. The company was able to get some language. And, quite honestly, that's how a negotiation goes. And around 5:30 -- 5:00 this morning, we had initials after the unions brought it back to their boards to get their committees for the contracts. They initialed it. And now we take the next step.
BLITZER: As you know, President Biden describes himself as the self- proclaimed most pro-union president in American history. And this is indeed a big moment, very big moment for unions in the United States. But can the U.S. economy, Mr. Secretary, afford the threat of more strikes with inflation still sky-high right now and the risk of a recession clearly looming out there?
M. WALSH: Well, to be quite honest with you, as a labor person, I think when we get to a strike, there has been a breakdown at the table either on one side or both sides. And I'd prefer to see these contracts negotiated at the table and not lead to a strike. And I think a strike doesn't help a lot of people.
It might give you a little leverage for a little bit of time but I know there is a big strike going on with nurses in this country right now that are being treated unfairly. There has been threats of strikes. And a lot of strikes have been prevented, quite honestly. But I think that strikes do impact our economy but also strikes are the last resort of a union to take when a negotiation breaks down.
My advice to people is to stay at the table and talk. In this particular case with the rails and the unions, they were talking, but they were at the table, but they weren't -- in my opinion, they weren't as focused for a long period of time on getting this thing done. And yesterday, I said to them on Tuesday night if they don't get an agreement, I expect them in my office Wednesday morning, and we're not leaving until we get a contract, and that was my intention. If I didn't have a contract by 5:00 in the morning, we would have stayed. If I didn't have a contract by right now, I would still be there.
But the unions and the companies were able to come to about an agreement, which is great. And certainly the president is very relieved because this negotiation goes way beyond the workers and the companies. This goes to the American economy. This prevents growing inflation. This prevents layoffs. This prevents disruption in supply chain. This would have -- this strike would have caused so much havoc and chaos in our American economy. And right now, we don't need that. What we're doing right now the White House, as an administration, we're battling to bring inflation costs down and prices down, bringing gas prices down, and the president passed a major legislation to build up the infrastructure and move our economy forward, and we're still hanging on to people. So, I'm grateful that we've moved beyond that.
BLITZER: Yes. It would have been catastrophic, there's no doubt about that. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, thanks so much for joining us.
Just ahead, the White House is slamming southern Republican governors for busing and flying migrants to the northeast, calling it, and I'm quoting now, a premeditated political stunt. Stay with us.
BLITZER: The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts says she wants to talk to the U.S. Justice Department about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez reports DeSantis spent taxpayers dollars to send dozens of migrants and their families, including children, to the island in Massachusetts on private jets in what critics call a political stunt.
PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN REPORTER (voice over): Tonight, dozens of migrants are set to spend the night on Martha's Vineyard, sent there by Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis as part of his promise to send migrants to Democratic cities.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Our message to them is we are not a sanctuary state and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And, yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures.
ALVAREZ: On Wednesday, the Republican governor sent 50 migrants all from Venezuela on two privately chartered airplanes to Martha's Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.
DESANTIS: Every community in America should be sharing in the birds.
ALVAREZ: But municipal officials and lawmakers said they received no advanced notice of the migrants' arrival and scrambled to respond.
REP. BILL KEATING (D-MA): They were taken totally off-guard. A private chartered plane, evidently there were two, not cheap.
ALVAREZ: The flights are an affront to Biden administration over its handling of the U.S./Mexico border. Over the last several few week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have sent thousands of migrants out of state, an effort that's cost them millions of dollars.
Just this morning, 100 more migrants arrived by bus from Texas and were dropped off in front of Vice President Kamala Harris' home at the Naval Observatory. In a tweet, Abbott criticized Harris' claim that the border is secure. Democrats, though, were calling the actions a political stunt.
KEATING: Two Republican governors, one who was using taxpayer money for chartered jets and reportedly his own video photography to capture this for his own political benefit, taking advantage of women and children, men who didn't know where they were going.
ALVAREZ: Immigrant advocates in Florida are also condemning DeSantis' actions.
MARIA CORINA VEGA, AMERICAN BUSINESS IMMIGRATION COALITION: This shameless action hoisted upon our defenseless people fleeing persecution and violence is a mere political ploy in his quest for power and won't go unnoticed.
ALVAREZ: And the people at the center of this all are seeking asylum in the United States, sharing stories about the treacherous journey to the border.
UBALDO ARCAYA, 27-YEAR-OLD MIGRANT FROM VENEZUELA: Only the bus left us here, and now. They didn't tell us where we were but they left us here. It's very difficult to bring a child here. It's eight days of jungle child through the Darien Jungle, something extremely difficult.
ALVAREZ: There were three options, Washington, Utah, here, Massachusetts. Whatever was available, the plane left and brought us here.
While DeSantis sees the flights as a solution --
DESANTIS: We've worked on innovative ways to be able to protect the state of Florida from the impact of Biden's border policies.
ALVAREZ: -- others do not.
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact that Fox News and not the Department of Homeland Security, the city, or local NGOs were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children on the side of a busy D.C. street makes clear that this is just a cruel, premeditated political stunt.
ALVAREZ (on camera): Now Wolf, we've also learned that the flights that arrived in Martha's Vineyard originated in Texas, and it's unclear whether anyone boarded in Florida. Now, as you heard there from the White House, press secretary, the administration is condemning these actions. And in a statement, the homeland security spokesman told me, quote, failure to coordinate is irresponsible and creates unsafe conditions for vulnerable migrants as well as receiving jurisdictions. Republican governors, though, are not standing down. Wolf?
BLITZER: Priscilla Alvarez, thank you very, very much for that report.
I want to bring in right now CNN's Rosa Flores and CNN Senior Political Analyst Nia-Malika Henderson. Rosa, first to you. You've been reporting on the border, speaking to migrants. You're there in Texas for us. How different are the circumstances of these flights chartered by Governor DeSantis compared to Governor Abbott's buses that he has been using?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I witnessed the circumstances around Abbott's buses, and it's very simple. Migrants are dropped off at respite centers along the border, by Border Patrol, and then the individuals, the volunteers for those respite centers give migrants an option. Those migrants want to go to places across the country. Many of them do not have money. And so they're offered these buses, provided by Governor Abbott's office, to go to places like Chicago, New York and D.C. And so these migrants choose to get on these buses, and then they go on their way.
Now they're also allowed to get off of the buses. Some of them have gotten off here in the city of Houston, and other cities along the way, again, because it's a choice. Now, the flights that were arranged, according to Governor DeSantis by his office, those -- the circumstances are very different, and we're still investigating on this a lot more.
My colleague, Maria Santana, talked to one of the migrants who said that a woman named Perla offered these migrants to go to a hotel. They spend about five days at this hotel. They were promised jobs and shelter before they got on these flights, again, these circumstances very concerning.
Wolf, I've covered immigration for many years. This is a very vulnerable population. These individuals are very vulnerable. A lot of them have already been extorted. All of their money has been taken on the Mexican side as they try to cross the border. Now the CEO of Catholic Charities San Antonio telling me that he is very concerned about this going on because this happened in San Antonio.
Catholic Charities is taking over the migrant respite center that is -- that was opened a few months ago, and Catholic Charities is taking over that migrant center on Monday. And he's expressing the concern, again, because this is a vulnerable population. And now people are making them promises, according to my colleague, Maria Santana, who talked to one of the migrants who was on this flight, very concerning, Wolf, the circumstances around those flights headed from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard.
BLITZER: Very concerning indeed. Nia, these are human beings, these people, these migrants, and there are a lot of families, including young kids who are being moved, but are these Republican governors, based on everything you know, trying to outdo each other to try the get more coverage on Fox News?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, both of these governors are obviously up for reelection in November. They are also eyeing 2024 as well. You had Abbott out front kind of doing this, trying to get the attention obviously of the White House, trying to get the attention of Fox News certainly, and to raise the question of immigration and make it much more of a national story, because that certainly benefits him in Texas, but it also benefits Republicans more generally.
So, now we have Ron DeSantis who, again, on the ballot and is a likely competitor for 2024, the GOP nomination in 2024. So, he is, in some ways, is one-upping Abbott here of apparently this idea of sending migrants to Martha's Vineyard, was actually raised on Fox News a couple of days ago. And so you have him doing exactly that, getting lots of coverage on Fox News, getting lots of national coverage for what he has, in fact, done.
He is also getting lots of blowback from Venezuelans in Florida. Florida is the number one place where Venezuelan-Americans live, and they are expressing some concern about this. Just, I think, it was last week, he promised Venezuelans, he promised Cubans as well that he wouldn't send refugees out of the state because they are so crucial not only politically but economically to Florida. So, this isn't without risk for Ron DeSantis but it's obviously something that he has decided to do. There is lots of criticism in Florida, and more broadly too to the folks who have to receive those migrants and weren't given any notice.
I do think we'll see more of this going forward as the midterms heat up. Republicans think that immigration, illegal immigration and the problems down at the border are an issue that works for them. So, I think you're going to don't see them do this.
BLITZER: Nia-Malika Henderson, Rosa Flores, guy, thank you very, very much, a big story.
Coming up, what could Mark Meadows' cooperation with the U.S. Justice Department subpoena mean for the January 6th investigation? We're getting more information right now.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details about the scope of the federal criminal investigation of efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election here in the United States. This comes after the FBI seized the phone of a staunch Trump ally, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is joining us right now. So, Sara, what did the subpoena for Lindell's phone actually reveal?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're also learning the Justice Department is actually looking for information about at least seven people who were connected to this sort of effort to get information from a voting system in a Colorado County. These people are considered subjects in this probe, but a number of them were also involved in efforts to get information from voting machines in several other states. What we don't know is whether the Justice Department is looking at these efforts and these other states as well. And, of course, all of this is coming as we've seen the Justice Department's investigation into January 6th expand.
We have new details on that tonight.
MURRAY (voice over): Just how much more information could Mark Meadows give investigators?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's the big question. Will he cooperate? He was the intermediary for Trump with the outside world in a lot of respects. So, obviously, he is very valuable to prosecutors if they're really looking at Trump.
MURRAY: The question lingering after sources tell CNN the former White House chief of staff became the highest ranking Trump official known to comply with a subpoena --
MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.
MURRAY: -- as part of the federal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
To meet the obligations of the previously unreported subpoena, Meadows handed over the same materials he provided the House select committee investigating January 6th.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): There is no doubt that some of the stuff we found has really set off the justice committee into these paths.
MURRAY: That document dumped to the committee last year, including thousands of messages and emails, like this text exchange with GOP lawmaker Jim Jordan. Jordan saying on January 6th 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all. Meadows responding I have pushed for this.
Meadows withheld hundreds of messages, citing executive privilege, and it's unclear if he will give DOJ more information that could shed lights on moment likes this one.
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER MEADOWS AIDE: I remember Pat saying something to the effect of, Mark, we need to do something more. They're literally calling for the vice president to be f'ing hung. And Mark had responded something to the effect of you heard them, pat. He thinks Mike deserves it.
MURRAY: Even with DOJ's scrutinizing efforts to challenge the 2020 election and Trump's handing of classified materials, the former president still confident he'll escape indictment.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (voice over): I can't imagine being indicted. I've done nothing wrong.
BLITZER: Sara Murray reporting for us. Thank you, Sara, very much.
Let's get some more in all of this. Joining us now is CNN Legal Analyst, the former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams, and CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. She is the senior political reporter for The New York Times, also the author of a brand-new book that's coming out in a few days entitled, Confidence Man, the Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, looking forward to that book.
So, Elliot, just how valuable is Mark Meadows' compliance as far as the Justice Department is concerned?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, he could be very valuable, Wolf, but I would caution anyone from getting too excited here because we really don't know the extent of his cooperation. If you remember some months back, there was back and forth with the House January 6th committee where he didn't fully comply. And so it's hard to know exactly what he did provide here.
But as Sara's reporting noted, he is an important figure, both a political and policy aide to the president, and certainly has a lot to say about all of these matters.
BLITZER: Maggie, Meadows is now the highest ranking Trump official to go ahead and to cooperate and comply with the subpoena and testify before the Justice Department's federal grand jury. What's your assessment of what's going on right now?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that what Elliot said is correct, Wolf. I think that it's hard to know what exactly this means in terms of both where their investigation is and what Meadows himself turned over. Meadows tried with the House select to have it both ways. He tried turning over a bunch of texts but then not complying with testimony. And I believe there were other additional text messages and perhaps other communications he did not return over.
Now, the CNN reporting is that he turned over what he turned over to the House. I have to assume it is the same thing. So, that is somewhat limited in scope. But what we do know and we can tell from the subpoena and other subpoenas is that the Justice Department is intent on continuing with these investigations into the events leading up to January 6th when there was this riot at the Capitol, and what, if any, knowledge that Trump officials may have had about activities leading up to it.
BLITZER: We know, Elliot, that Trump has been counseled to cut contact with Meadows, but a source tells CNN the two have still spoken a number of times. How risky is it to ignore that legal advice?
WILLIAMS: You know, it could be risky because criminal wrongdoing can extend into the future. Now, look, I'm not accusing anybody of a crime here, but certainly continued conversations could lead toward obstruction of justice or any other offenses there.
Now, look, the simple fact is either of these individuals are at least subjects, if not, targets of Justice Department investigations in general, Wolf. If you are either of those things, it's best to keep your mouth shut and lawyer up. But whether they have personal communications or legal ones, it's just hard to know what the nature of the relationship is right now.
BLITZER: Maggie, you just heard the former president insist he can't imagine being indicted. But based on your reporting, is that what he is saying both publicly and privately?
HABERMAN: Privately, he has said a range of things, Wolf. But, generally speaking, people around him have started to detect anxiety, not the least of which he just hired a very new high-priced lawyer who is being paid through PAC money. Even if it isn't Donald Trump's personal money, he doesn't like parting with it if it is in his control. This tells me that there is a real level of concern here despite whatever bravado he is showing.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Maggie Haberman, Elliot Williams, thanks to both of you very much.
Just ahead, we have exclusive new reporting coming in from Ukraine right now. CNN is inside a newly liberated town right on the Russian border.
BLITZER: Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says a mass burial site has been found in the city of Izium following its liberation from Russian forces. And in a CNN exclusive, our International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh went inside another Russian town -- another town, I should say, near the Russian border, retaken by Ukraine in its stunning counteroffensive that sent Russian forces fleeing. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: The fact that Ukrainian forces are able to push right up to here, the beginning of the border buffer zone with Russia, Russia is just a matter of kilometers in that direction, is yet another calamity Moscow has imposed upon itself. Its opponent in this war it is struggling so deeply to defeat is now so close to Russia's own towns and cities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now live from the scene. Nick, what more can you tell us about the devastation left in Russia's wake?
N. WALSH: It's extraordinary to drive towards that border area, Wolf, today and see -- you're right, the devastation, certainly, the remaining armor left behind, at one point the bodies of two Russian soldiers still lying there in the road. But actually, in the town of Vovchansk itself, which was for so many months utterly vital to Russia's supply and essentially the start of the railway lines that lead down to Izium, the other town visited just yesterday by President Zelenskyy, which became a vital part for the war effort essentially for Russian. And when it lost control of that supply line, essentially, it's positioned all around Kharkiv, crumbled and disappeared.
Vovchansk itself so close to Russia, that it seems suddenly, one morning, the Russian troops had suddenly disappeared, overnight just packed up their stuff and moved back four or five kilometers, three miles or so, back into Russia itself. The town not as heavily damaged perhaps as you might expect. And local there's, some of them betraying an element of sympathy, perhaps, certainly not open hostility towards Russian forces, although some locals deeply troubled about the months they've lived under Russian rule.
But what's important is now we have Ukrainian forces right next to the Russian border, again, utterly normal, frankly, for decades, but now with that extra sense possibly of anger in Ukrainian hearts about the damage done to their country so far and an added security risk, as you heard there for Moscow. Because essentially now along these hundreds of kilometers and miles of border, we now potentially have Ukrainian forces right next to Russian territory, possibly putting their artillery within range of Russian population centers if they do choose to take that particular step. No sign of it as yet, but remarkable, frankly, to see the scope of the Russian retreat here, and, frankly, how fast it appears to have been. They gave up the vital town of Vovchansk, Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on scene for us, stay safe over there, thanks very, very much.
And joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado, he is a key member of both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees. He is also a veteran of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all of your service to the United States.
As you know, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh got this exclusive access where Ukrainian troops have pushed nearly all the way toward Russia's border. How does the U.S. help Ukraine sustain this very, very powerful and dramatic momentum?
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Well, it's good to be with you, Wolf. And you're right, Ukrainians are doing a remarkable job. This counteroffensive that started earlier in August is meeting with tremendous success, and it's being successful for two reasons. Number one, the courage, the bravery, and the grit of the Ukrainians and the Ukrainian fighters, which is really unbelievable, and history is going to go down as some of the best fighters we've seen. But second is because of the leadership and the support of the United States of America. We have stepped up in a huge way and made investments to send weapons and equipment and support, and we've done so under the leadership of Joe Biden.
So, we have to understand that this is a great counteroffensive, but this is not the end of the war. This is not mean that one side wins or loses. This is a great advance for the Ukrainians and we have to make sure we stand firm with them.
BLITZER: Well, having said that, sources are now telling CNN, Congressman, that the U.S. won't, won't supply the longer range missiles that Ukraine has requested, at least not for now. Is that something the U.S. should be reconsidering?
CROW: I think the U.S. should reconsider that position, and I've long said that publicly that I think we have to make a decision to fully help win this war for the Ukrainians, and that means some of the longer range missiles. We've done a lot. We've provided the HIMARS, we've provided the shorter range missiles and the rockets that have been instrumental in the counteroffensive in the last couple of weeks.
But the war always changes. One thing I've learned about war in all my time in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting overseas is that one day is never the same as the next. War changes. It evolves.
And you have to stay nimble. You to stay flexible. You to understand what's going on in the battlefield around you and how that's changing.
You have to not just fight the day -- the fight of the day. You have to be anticipating what's going to happen two, three weeks or several months ahead.
So, it is time for us, in my view, to provide those longer range missiles. I think that will help put Ukraine in a position to win. And I do not believe there would be any additional escalatory that what've already done.
BLITZER: And you speak with some authority on this issue. You served as U.S. Army Ranger in both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Let's move on, Congressman. In this rare face-to-face meeting that's been going on today between Russian Vladimir Putin and Chinese Xi Jinping, Putin acknowledged Beijing's questions and concerns about its war in Ukraine.
How revealing is that comment alone?
CROW: Well, it is pretty revealing. I mean, here you are the first meeting of two of the world's largest autocrats, wannabe dictators. And this is the first time that Putin has met with President Xi since the war has kicked off.
And it shows a couple of things. Number one, President Putin, Vladimir Putin is desperate. He needs friends. He doesn't have many, and he is looking for support.
And number two, the Chinese and Xi is potentially amenable to be that friend. So, we have to make sure that we're making it very clear what this is about, what the Russians are doing. That's one of the reasons why I've introduced an amendment to intel authorization acts because I sit on the intel committee that would help gather evidence about the Russian war crimes and the atrocities that have been committed over the past six months and the terrible, terrible things they were doing to the Ukrainian people so the world can see.
And China will have to make a decision about whether or not they want to support that.
BLITZER: Congressman Jason Crow, thanks so much for joining us.
CROW: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, we'll go live to London, where mourners are now lining up for miles to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II.
BLITZER: In London tonight, the line to pay respect to Queen Elizabeth II stretches for almost five miles.
CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has the latest.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Aside the tidal Thames, a human river carrying emotions towards a much-loved monarch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You realize that when you're there -- because you can see other people get emotional too. You can't -- you can't not come here and not be emotional.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's right just to pay my respects, you know, because it's someone I admired over my lifetime.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's been there constant the whole time, the whole of your life. I think we're just beginning to realize that that constant is gone.
ROBERTSON: For a second day, Queen Elizabeth II's royal standard draped casket lying in state, serene atop. Royal archers, heads bowed standing guard.
One succumbing to the rigors of such prestigious duty, collapsing where he stood.
Among those paying respect, former British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Around the country, royals hearing condolences first hand.
The prince and princess of Wales at the Queen's Norfolk residence, Sandringham, meeting villagers.
PRINCE WILLIAM, PRINCE OF WALES: Doing the walk yesterday was challenging. It brought back a few memories.
ROBERTSON: The queen's daughter, the princess royal, was in Glasgow. And the queen's youngest son and wife, the earl and countess of Wessex went to Manchester.
After several days of intense public mourning, King Charles and the Queen Consort spent the day at his country residence, Highgrove, for moments of personal reflection.
And as they did in Scotland Monday, King Charles and his siblings will hold a vigil Friday night at the queen's coffin. Sunday, he'll host visiting dignitaries, including President Joe Biden at Buckingham Palace, the biggest such gathering in recent history ahead of the funeral Monday.
ROBERTSON (on camera): And that funeral is due to start at 11:00 a.m. local, 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time. The queen will be taken from where she is lying in state on the state gun carriage of the royal navy. It will be pulled not as we've seen recently by horses, it would be pulled by 142 sailors. At the end of the day, she'll be laid to rest next to her husband, Prince Philip, at Windsor Castle -- Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Nic Robertson reporting for us -- thank you very much. We'll be right back with more news.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:58:42]
BLITZER: Tonight, a senior administration official is telling CNN, there's been, quote, movement, but not a breakthrough on efforts to free detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from Russia.
CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is working the story for us. She's at the State Department.
Kylie, what can you tell us?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Well, Wolf, this sort of gives us a status update on these ongoing negotiations that the Biden administration has been engaged with, with Russia, to try and secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.
There have been movement, there hasn't been a breakthrough. That's what a senior administration official said. But they also indicated that Russia hasn't really engaged productively in these back-and- forths, saying the Biden administration has encouraged them to provide a serious counteroffer.
And then they describe the Russians' response by saying this. Quote, we've gotten back a repeated demand as something we're not capable of delivering on, I don't mean not inclined to, I mean not capable of delivering on.
It's not something within our power. And I think anyone would see that as a non-serious counteroffer.
Now, of course, Wolf, this comes as President Biden tomorrow is going to meet with Cherelle Griner, who is the wife of Brittney Griner, and Elizabeth Whelan, who is the sister of Paul Whelan. Both of those families have been pushing for a meeting with President Biden and they will get their independent meetings tomorrow.
No serious breakthrough for him to president, but clearly, they continue to work on this -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kylie Atwood, thank you very much. We'll watch what happens tomorrow.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.