Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

DOJ, Trump Team Hold First Meeting With Mar-A-Lago Special Master; Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Sued Over Martha's Vineyard Migrant Flights; CNN Gets Rare Access To Frontlines Of Heated Fight In Ukraine; U.S. Bracing For Another Interest Rate Hike Tomorrow. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Scientists from the University of Hong Kong analyzed 489 studies from around the world to not only figure out how ants there are but their weight, as well, which I'm sure you were also wondering about. The result, about 12 megatons of biomass. That outweighs all of the wild birds and mammals on the planet, which, of course, is the third thing you were wondering about.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them.

Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a major courtroom showdown in the Mar-a-Lago investigation just wrapped up. The Trump team's handpicked special master raising serious questions over claims the former president declassified documents seized by the FBI. And now, prosecutors suggest they're willing to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Also tonight, new developments in the fight over Republican governors flying asylum seekers to the northeast. A migrants advocacy group just filed a federal lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

And in Ukraine right now, CNN is on the ground with rare access to the frontlines of a heated battle between Ukrainian defenders and Russian mercenaries. Stay tuned for our report from the war zone.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our top story tonight, the Trump legal team already at odds with the special master it requested, refusing to provide evidence the former president declassified documents seized from his Florida home.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider has the latest on the Mar- a-Lago investigation.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, the special master bringing together Trump's lawyers and attorneys for the Justice Department to hammer out how to proceed with the review of the 11,000 documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, including 100 documents marked classified.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I have the absolute right to declassify, absolute.

SCHNEIDER: Trump has repeatedly argued he has the power to declassify documents and that he did declassify the documents at issue. But his legal team has yet to make that claim to a court or provide evidence that Trump did so.

In a new filing at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals responding to DOJ's appeal, Trump's team has said it's on the government to prove they're classified. The government presupposes that the documents it claims are classified are, in fact, classified. However, the government has not yet proven this critical fact.

But tonight, Judge Raymond Dearie, who the Trump team had a direct hand choosing, telling Trump's team during the hearing that he may have choice but to accept the government's claims that the documents are classified if Trump gives no concrete proof to the contrary.

Trump's legal team arguing it's too early in the case for them to have to reveal any evidence of declassification since that could be their defense if Trump is indicted. But the special master telling Trump's team, you can't have your cake and eat it.

Trump's allies continue to criticize the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago last month, and now 11 Republican-led states have filed in the 11th Circuit in support of Trump's bid for a special master review in light of the extraordinary circumstance of a presidential administration ransacking the home of its one-time and possibly future political rival.

MIKE POMPEO, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: No one gets to keep classified information outside of the place classified information should be, but for the Department of Justice to behave the way they did, by raiding the home of a former president, is absolutely outrageous.

SCHNEIDER: But Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who serves as the vice chair of the January 6th committee, pushing back against the idea that DOJ acted politically.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Elected leaders of my party are now willing to condemn FBI agents, Department of Justice officials and pretend that taking top secret SCI documents and keeping them in a desk drawer in an office in Mar-a-Lago or in an unsecured location anywhere was somehow not a problem.

Bit by bit, excuse by excuse, we're putting Donald Trump above the law. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): And the next move in this court fight could be from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. They could be inclined to move rather quickly here since the special master is ready to review those 100 classified documents that DOJ wants to keep away from him and away from Trump's legal team.

And, Wolf, you know, in court today, the DOJ attorney said quite simply to the special master that if they lose in their appeal of the 11th Circuit, they are ready to appeal this further, which means this case could go all the way to the Supreme Court, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that could take a while too.


Thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting for us.

Let's discuss all that's going on with our Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Preet Bharara and our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller.

Preet, the Trump legal team, they wanted this special master, as he's called, but now Judge Dearie wants answers. What stood out to you from this first hearing today?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, a number of things. First of all, Judge Dearie, noted jurist, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, does not abide nonsense, does not abide illogic and all sorts of claims that have been made on the airwaves, on television programs and at rallies, that the judge is not satisfied unless he hears explanations brought in court.

So, for example, on the issue of whether these 100 documents, in fact, classified, even though they're marked classified, he essentially said that the government has made what lawyers call a prima facie case indicia of classification, and that just about settles it in the absence of evidence to the contrary, none of which has been provided.

So, I think he made very clear that he's not going to accept circular or silly reasoning or arguments. He's going to get to the bottom of things. He's going to do it quickly on a more fast schedule than Trump's lawyers want. So, I think that maybe when they put Ray Dearie on the list of people to be special master, they might have gotten more than they bargained for.

BLITZER: Good point. Elie, the judge also says he has to assume these documents are, in fact, classified unless the Trump team argues otherwise. So, why is the Trump team continuing to dodge this question?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, they're going to have to pick a lane really soon. Thus far, Donald Trump's legal team has been able to pull off this sort of delicate dance, where Donald Trump publicly is declaring loudly for all to hear, yes, I declassified them all. Luckily for me, I classified. But the lawyers notably and palpably are not saying that in court. They're dancing around it. They're saying, we reserve our right, we may argue this later. Now is not the time. But it is now clear, Wolf, that Donald Trump's legal team, probably sooner than they expected, is going to have to choose.

Are we going to argue and be able to support in good faith in argument that he declassified or are we going to give that argument up? I think the special master, Judge Dearie, is going to force that decision on them pretty soon.

BLITZER: I think you're right. John, if Trump did, in fact, declassify these documents, as he's claimed, there would be evidence of that, wouldn't there be?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I mean, to declassify a document, you have to tell the agency that was the originator of that document that it's declassified. You can't declassify your copy and say every other copy in the U.S. government's possession on every computer and every file is somehow classified and yours isn't. So, there was no such process followed here.

BLITZER: And it's very interesting, John, because Judge Dearie, he's very familiar with this area of the law, but how does he potentially handle these highly classified documents?

MILLER: So, the simplest thing for Judge Dearie to do, and as Preet said, he is a very experienced judge, he's worked on the FISA court, and by all measures, one of the most fair and reasonable people on the bench. The simplest thing for him to do is to submit the documents back to the agencies that originated them and say, is this classified still and is it classified to the extent that it is marked top secret, SCI, TK and all of the caveats that go with that?

Is it possible that in the intervening time, from President Trump leaving office, that one of these became declassified? It is possible but highly doubtful, but why not get the certification from the originators of the document, which would mean that, as the special master, Judge Dearie, wouldn't have to go through the documents and neither would Trump's team.

Now, something we're stepping over here, and I'll defer to Elie and Preet on this, is the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which took effect in 1981, which steps right past the classified documents to all the rest, which says presidential records after that time are the property of the public and managed by the National Archives and not the president or former president in this case, which would be a different violation of law. So, the special master is going to have his work cut out for him.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Preet and Elie to react to that. Preet, let me start with you. Go ahead.

BHARARA: Yes. So, I think John is right. And what's implicit in what John is saying is that the issue of whether or not these documents remain classify at the same level as the markings suggest or they were declassified, or one or two of them were declassified by the former president or the agencies in the interim declassified them is not the central story here. This is something that is sort of interesting. We're talking about it because it's the litigation we're seeing that's above the surface.

And it's interesting to see the judge say there's gamesmanship going on, but the issue of whether or not these things are classified or not does not get to the fundamental issue of whether or not there's criminal exposure on the part of Donald Trump and others because of the statutes that are being investigated.


BLITZER: Elie, go ahead.

HONIG: Well, Wolf, this really gets to the heart of why DOJ is appealing. They're essentially going to appellate courts and arguing the issue of classification is not for judges, it's not for special masters, it's only for the executive branch, and they're doing that at the cost of delay. It's going to take time to get through these appeals, probably longer than the special master himself. But DOJ is fighting for the principle here and they've decided that it's worth it to fight for that principle.

BLITZER: Jessica, clearly, I think it's obvious, the special master, as he's called, is trying to keep this review moving at a fast pace, but if the Department of Justice decides to take their appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, what would that do to the timeline of their investigation?

SCHNEIDER: Well, right now, these are operating on separate tracks, the appeal on one, the special master is moving forward, like you said. He has until November 30th to complete the review of these 11,000 documents. So far, the district court, so far, the appeals court hasn't taken any action to stop that review. So, it is ongoing and moving forward. If a court decides to step in, sure, it will short circuit and stop the review for now, but it's possible these could continue moving on parallel tracks while the appeal happens.

BLITZER: Good point. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead newly obtained video now confirms Trump allies spent hours inside a Georgia elections office on the day of a voting systems breach. Standby.



BLITZER: We're getting a new look right now at some of the extensive efforts by Trump allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Footage obtained by CNN confirms a fake Trump elector spent hours inside a Georgia elections office on the same day its voting systems were breached.

Joining us now to discuss this and more is a key member of the January 6th select committee, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.

This new video highlights the threat to elections, and you've just introduced a bill to try to protect elections from interference here in the United States. But Senator Susan Collins says her Senate version has broader support. Does that potentially spell trouble for getting reforms passed?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, we'll just work through the process. I want to give credit to Senator Manchin and Senator Collins for taking the initiative on this side in the House. Congresswoman Cheney and I have worked for the last multiple months, probably six, seven months on a bill. There's a lot of overlap and similarities. There's a few distinctions. I know that the Senate Rules Committee is doing a markup on their bill next week, and we hope to take up our bill this week. And if there are differences, we'll work them out.

You know, this is, I hope, will be a bipartisan, bicameral win to protect our electoral system. So, all of us need to be able to listen to each other and find common ground. I know I am.

BLITZER: And as you know, the January 6th select committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, has confirmed your next hearing is now going to take place on September 28th. So, what's going to be the focus of this hearing, Congresswoman?

LOFGREN: Well, I'm going to let the chairman do that, just as he's made the announcement of the date and time, but we think it will be worth watching.

BLITZER: He says it will be at 1:00 in the afternoon, that hearing. Will we get answers on those Secret Service text messages, the conversations, or will we get answers about the conversations about the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Trump, or who financed the attempted coup?

LOFGREN: Well, we've got a lot of information on the 25th Amendment, and it's really -- as we know, that was not invoked. It's really to inform us about whether we should make recommendations about the implementation of that amendment.

We have gotten a very large volume of material from the Secret Service, and it is really taxing our capacity to go through all of this information, but we will get it done. And we will have a clear picture of what they knew and what was going on than we have had.

We have followed the money, and we're continuing to follow the money. It's not easy because some of these dark money groups don't actually report, but, clearly, the ex-president raised a lot of money under false pretenses from really small donors, small dollar donors and used it for a different purpose, for, in some cases, funding lawyers, for our witnesses, and we have some concerns about some of that, which we may be able to go into further.

As I think the chairman probably said, like the other hearings, it's just a few hours and there's just so much information that we have to reveal. So, we may be doing some release of evidence that even after this hearing is over if we can't fit it all in.

BLITZER: Yes. Your chairman, Chairman Thompson, says we will see substantial footage during the course of this hearing and significant witness testimony. Are you ready to tell us who might testify?

LOFGREN: Again, I'm going to let the chairman and vice chairwoman make those announcements, just as he did today. But I believe that this will be a useful and interesting hearing. As you know, Liz Cheney and I just introduced this reform to the Electoral Count Act that we mentioned earlier. That was informed so much by the information that we received during the testimony, as well as the experts, like Judge Luttig, who was very generous with his time and worked with us to help, you know, craft the measures.

So, these hearings are important for getting the facts out but also helping the committee see what needs to be done to keep us safer in the future.


BLITZER: We will have, of course, extensive live coverage of that.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thanks so much for joining us.

LOFGREN: Always. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, a new federal lawsuit against the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, over his decision to spend almost a million taxpayer dollars to fly immigrants to Martha's Vineyard. Standby.


BLITZER: The controversial moves by the Republican governors of Florida and Texas to bus and fly migrants to what they call sanctuary states is sparking new legal action tonight.


CNN Senior National Correspondent Ed Lavandera has the latest.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, attorneys for the dozens of migrants transported from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last week have filed a class action lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in federal court, claiming they were deprived of their liberty and due process over an unlawful goal and a personal political agenda. This after the Bexar County sheriff in Texas says his agency is opening a criminal investigation into the matter.

What are the laws that might have been broken?

SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: My concern is, was the law broken here in my jurisdiction? The information that I'm getting is that it may have been.

LAVANDERA: Sheriff Javier Salazar says he believes federal laws were violated as well after he says migrants were, quote, lured to a hotel for two days and then flown to the Sunshine State and later to Martha's Vineyard under what Salazar calls, quote, false pretenses.

SALAZAR: If in fact these people were lied to, like they say they were, and if they were taken under false pretenses to another part of the country, it could qualify as a human trafficking case.

LAVANDERA: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as claimed responsibility and defended the process Tuesday, saying those migrants were treated poorly by the Biden administration.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They were hungry, homeless, they had no opportunity at all. The state of Florida -- it was volunteer, offered transport to sanctuary jurisdictions because it's our view that, one, the border should be secured. And we want to have Biden reinstitute policies like, Remain in Mexico, and making sure that people aren't overwhelming.

LAVANDERA: This is the migrant resource center in San Antonio, and this is the area where the migrants who were flown to Martha's Vineyard told us that they were approached on these streets out here by a woman named Perla and offered that flight out of San Antonio.

And what is that interesting is even after all the news that that flight first made, migrants here today are telling us that those offers for flights out of San Antonio are continuing.

State Budget Records show that the Florida Department of Transportation paid $950,000 to Vertol Systems, an aviation company based out of Florida days after migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard. According to the Texas Governor's Office, more than 8,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to Washington, D.C., and 675 to Chicago. New York City Mayor Eric Adams says they've received about 13,000 migrants, a number that's expected to climb, all cities in blue states and all part of a plan by some Republican governors to fly or drive migrants north in protest of the Biden administration's immigration policies. Adams said Monday that one migrant, a mother, took her own life while in a shelter after record high numbers arrived in the city on Sunday.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NEW YORK CITY, NY): I think the governor of Texas and others are for creating this manmade humanitarian crisis.


LAVANDERA (on camera): And, Wolf, the sheriff here in San Antonio says it's not exactly clear just yet if criminal charges will be filed. Meanwhile, officials here in Texas and in President Biden's home state of Delaware have spent much of the day trying to track down clues as to whether or not another flight of migrants was going to land in Delaware. So far, Delaware officials say they have seen no signs that a flight of migrants is coming to the state today. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see if that happens. Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now CNN Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates and CNN Chief National Affairs Analyst Kasie Hunt.

Laura, let's begin with this new federal class action lawsuit, as you heard, filed by attorneys representing these migrants. Can you walk us through the legal basis for this lawsuit and do you think they make a strong case?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the first thing to understand is, even if somebody is coming into the country illegally, it doesn't mean that you can commit criminal acts against them without accountability, of course. You cannot commit fraud against them, conspire to do so. You cannot treat them in a way that lures them under false premises, kidnapping, trafficking or otherwise.

But in this case, we understand as well that the people who were transported were actually there lawfully through an asylum-based initiative, as we understand it so far. And in doing so, of course, they had every right to be in the place that they were. So, you cannot engage in unlawful activity in terms of trying to lure them from one location to another using false promises, false inducement for some reason that's nefarious.

Normally, human trafficking claims, of course, Wolf, come under the idea of coercing for a sexual act, but it can be for labor or services or some other purpose. That might be the reason doing this here. In this instance, the class action suit is saying, listen, these are people who have the right to be in the United States through a lawful mechanism of asylum. They were transported through false pretenses allegedly, and they must have some recourse.


Because now, of course, in order to complete the process, they may have to be in certain locations, have access to certain resource. And if they have somehow been deterred away from being able to access those, they may not be able to continue through a lawful process. That's what this is about.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

You know, Kasie, politically speaking right now, is this strategy of moving migrants to blue states going to work for these Republicans, like Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott?

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think we should really underscore Governor DeSantis' role in all this, Wolf. And he's not only running for re-election as governor of Florida, he's also looking ahead to a potential presidential bid in 2024. And all the Republicans I've talked to are viewing what happened here through a political lens, both in terms of the midterms and in terms of the presidential race.

And the governor has succeeded in putting the issue of immigration, which is one where Republicans typically hold an edge over Democrats. If you take a look at polling, certainly, that's what they want, what Republicans want to be talking about, and here we are talking about it.

However, there are some complexities here that I think potentially undercut what the governor was trying to accomplish from a political perspective. One of them is the humanitarian concerns. Because when we're talking about that and we're focused on the humanitarian issues here, Democrats tend to come out ahead on that issue. And you saw a lot of people, for example, during a Trump separation policy, the family separation policy, that was a pretty extreme example of this, but there was significant backlash there.

And then also think it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out in these communities. Florida is a state with a lot of mostly Cuban population that fled a dictatorial regime, but many of these migrants, as Laura alluded to, seem to have come from Venezuela, where they are also fleeing a terrible political situation. And while this may be something that the Republican base doesn't necessarily make distinguishing -- doesn't distinguish, I think the communities involved actually are extraordinarily likely to make that distinguished. And where Republicans have tried to make inroads with Latino communities, I wonder if this might cause some damage.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Kasie Hunt, thank you very much. Laura Coates, thanks to you as well.

There's other news we're following right now. Pro-Russian leaders in some occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine have decided to hold a vote on unifying with Moscow and Vladimir Putin's government. But the battle for every inch of territory continues.

CNN International Security Editor Nick Paten Walsh gained rare access to one of the frontlines where Ukrainian forces are facing Russian mercenaries.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): The mood here is black and old. From a time past, Ukraine didn't feel it was winning, taking heavy losses and struggling to hold on. But the Russian enemy is something new.

This is the very frontline with Russian positions literally 100 meters away from where I'm standing.

The Kremlin really wants the city of Bakhmut. So here on its edges, it sent ruthless mercenaries from the Wagner Group to fight, the shelling endless.

We are taken up to their vantage point where they see the Wagner fighters rush at them leading the Ukrainians to open fire.

And it is just over there. They say that Russian Wagner mercenaries appear to try to run at them, exposing Ukrainian positions so the Russian artillery can hit where they are. The field between them charred, pockmarked, they are almost eyeball to eyeball.

The next attack is imminent.

We can see a mortar unit, the drone operator says. They're preparing to fire at us.

Down in the shelter, the commander says they've captured Russian convicts who were recruited to fight. It was get shot or surrender for the convict, he says. Wagner act professionally, not like usual infantry units.

Shells continue to land all around them.

Bakhmut is a mess, Russia edging towards it but not inside, prepared for street-to-street fighting and meanwhile torn to pieces. But the losses are heavy and exposed positions around the city, particularly here. Russia's invasion tearing through the green treasured land it claims to covet.

Why do they want Bakhmut so much?

They retreated elsewhere and they need a victory, something significant, he says, so they throw forces here. Of course we have casualties, not today in our unit, but you can't avoid dead or wounded.


I lost my close friend five days after we came here.

There are still many people here buying a lot of Natalia's potatoes. We sold half a ton today, she says. Who knows where the shootings are coming from or going.

Don't be scared, she said.

24 hours later, a Ukrainian artillery is hitting positions on the city's edge amid reports Russia has gotten closer. Much fresh smoke, but it's always hard to know what Moscow thought it was hitting.

Walking home with a squeaky wheel and food is Maria, back to her son.

Silence and terror in turn enveloping the city.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Bakhmut, Ukraine.


BLITZER: And just ahead, Hurricane Fiona leaves at least a million people without power and water in Puerto Rico. Right now, we're tracking the deadly as it barrels down on yet more Caribbean islands and threatens to intensify yet again.


BLITZER: Tonight, officials in Puerto Rico are scrambling to restore power and water to more than a million islanders suffering in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.

CNN's Leyla Santiago on the ground in the flood zone for us. Leyla, you spent time today in the hardest hit areas of the island. Tell our viewers what you saw.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we were in the south, in Ponce, as well as where I am tonight, in the interior, in a town called Cayey. It is very mountainous. And we went in with the Puerto Rican National Guard because we wanted to see what access on the roads are like given that not only have they dealt with quite of bit of floods in the area but they also have had to deal with mudslides that are blocking access to roads, not allowing crews to get into isolated communities or bring in relief supplies or, very important to many people on this island, get to very vulnerable portions of the power grid.

So, we went in and saw how the mudslides were blocking off areas, spoke to some neighbors that just had access made -- opened up part of the roads that had been blocked because of mudslides. I want you to listen to what they said. They do not have power. They do not have water and were just able to get out today.


CARLOS VARGAS, RESIDENT OF CAYEY, PUERTO RICO: It's been very rough, very difficult. We have some road that got blocked. Part of the road in the beginning when you're coming up collapsed. So, now we have only a little path to come up and to come down.

Power, we know that, you know, we're going to face that, and we can deal with that, but the biggest concern is water. You can't live without water.


SANTIAGO: And, Wolf, tonight, more than half the island is without water, 55 percent of customers being reported without water, according to the government website. And we should also mention in terms of power, the governor says that by late tomorrow, a good chunk should have power with the exception of the southern part of the island. Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope that comes back and comes back soon.

Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico for us, thank you very, very much.

I want to get an update right now on the hurricane forecast from our CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's in the CNN Weather Center for us. So, where is Fiona now and where is the storm headed next?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, the storm is now pulling away from Turks and Caicos. It is strengthening though. You can see in these last few frames that eye, the center of the storm, really starting to pop and open up. That indicates that the storm is strengthening. Right now, it has 115 mile per hour winds with gusts of 140 moving to the north-northwest of eight miles per hour. Despite the fact it is pulling away, Turks and Caicos getting battered by this storm with very heavy rain and gusty, gusty winds.

So, hurricane force winds still impacting this area, hurricane warnings, tropical storm warnings in effect, as we speak. You can see videos as the storm just lashed out across Turks and Caicos during the early morning hours, five to eight feet of storm surge expected, and that's what this storm is going to continue to head to the north and strengthen even more, category 4 potentially by tomorrow.

And then it's going to be really interesting to see as this makes a brush with Bermuda and then impact Canada. Wolf, this could still be a very powerful storm by the time it makes it that far north.

BLITZER: Yes, hurricane category 4. Thank you very much, Jennifer Gray, in the CNN Weather Center.

Coming up interest rates expected to rise once again tomorrow here in the United States. We're taking a closer look at how big the hike may be and what it means for you.



BLITZER: Stocks are down tonight as Wall Street and Main Street await what could be another substantial interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve as it aggressively tries to curve the inflation all Americans are feeling.

CNN's Brian Todd is just outside the Federal Reserve building here in Washington.

Brian, almost everyone will feel the effects of yet higher interest rates.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Many, many Americans will feel this, Wolf. This will be the fifth interest rate hike in America this year. And as is often the case, prospective home buyers could feel the brunt of it.


TODD (voice-over): Zipporah Miles, a recent house hunter in the D.C. area, learned the hard way that with mortgage rates rising, those trying to purchase a home don't have much leverage these days. Miles says she had to change her mind on a couple of properties she had her eye on after talking to her lenders.

ZIPPORAH MILES, HOUSE HUNTING IN DC AREA: They let me know, hey, this is going to be your interest rate. Maybe you want to consider something a little bit less. TODD: Home buyers aren't getting a break any time soon. An interest

rate hike expected to be announced by the Fed tomorrow could raise rates another three-quarters of a percentage point. Rate hikes throughout this year still haven't tamped down inflation, though analysts the Fed is hoping to bring inflation under control with this series of hikes probably extending into next year.

But will the hikes throw the U.S. into recession? Experts say that's a risk, but --

CATHERINE RAMPELL, WASHINGTON POST OPINION COLUMNIST: What the Fed wants to do is raise rates just enough so that they can cool demand but not so much that they tip us into recession. And it's really hard to calibrate exactly. They are hoping that it's just enough medicine that it doesn't kill the patient.

TODD: Meanwhile, as mortgage rates hit 6 percent, prospective new homeowners are looking at being among the hardest hit by continuing rate hikes.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, AUTHOR, "WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR MONEY WHEN CRISIS HITS": With interest rates going up, I think it's going to price out people from houses. So, two things are going to happen. Either you're going to have to pay more for that house because the loan is going to cost more or you're going to have to downsize the kind of house that you want.

TODD: Analysts say renters could be squeezed by landlords who now have higher costs.

RAMPELL: Maybe they bought -- they just bought the place, they have higher rates, they might pass that onto their renters.

TODD: Credit card debt and car loans are about to get more expensive to pay off. How can the average American consumer cope with rate hike after rate hike?

DAVID WILCOX, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Be a little more stringent on your family budget. Set aside some of the discretionary expenditures. Avoid borrowing for something that you could splurge for later on when you've got already an extra cash cushion set aside.


TODD (on camera): The analysts we spoke to say that means don't borrow money for things like vacations, and they're giving the same piece of advice tonight that they've given Americans throughout these rate hikes. Pay off your credit card debt, at least try to pay it down as much as you can -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

We'll have more news right after this.


BLITZER: This week, our series called "Champions for Change" is highlighting people who are making the world a better place.

I met with my champion in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. Dion Dawkins is a pro bowl offensive tackle from my Buffalo Bills. But he's been doing perhaps more important work by helping the buffalo community heal after a horrific tragedy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breaking news out of Buffalo, New York. Police say they have a suspect in custody after a mass shooting at a grocery store there.

MAYOR BYRON BROWN, BUFFALO, NEW YORK: People are hurting in the city of Buffalo.

BLITZER: The Buffalo shooting suspect was plotting a racially motivated slaughter for months, visiting the city back in March at potentially --

This one was different for me personally because I'm from Buffalo, I grew up here, and I know that area in East Buffalo where that Tops Supermarket is. And you look at the pictures of the men and women who were killed that day. And they were just people going to the supermarket, and all of a sudden were just gunned down by this terrorist.

BROWN: It deeply affected everyone with a buffalo connection. And it really brought tremendous joy to people when Dion Dawkins and just about every member of the Buffalo Bills came to serve food to people in the community, to hug people in the community. It really lifted spirits.

DION DAWKINS, BUFFALO BILLS TACKLE: You could feel the energy there. It could've been me. It could've been my father. Well, it was sad, Wolf.

BLITZER: Moved after visiting the Tops memorial, Dion Dawkins penned a powerful editorial in "The Players Tribune", a media platform for professional athletes.

DAWKINS: Someone with nothing but evil in his heart. He tried to destroy our bond. This is Buffalo, this will not break us, this is our home.

BLITZER: As soon as you came to buffalo, you began to appreciate how wonderful these folks are.

DAWKINS: Immediately. And I mean immediately. The love that they give us here is unmatched.

BLITZER: While he's not originally from Buffalo, but he wanted to give back and he has given back. You actually went out and did something. Tell us a little bit about


DAWKINS: My foundation Dion's Dreamers started off with mentoring children and just being like a big brother. How are you doing? I'm putting my effort into doing everything that I can to make them the best. We're getting them the best lessons.

BLITZER: To make their dream come true?

DAWKINS: To make their dream come true, exactly. And that feeling of being wanted is one of a kind.

BLITZER: This is before the massacre?

DAWKINS: Before. Yeah. And then once that happened, like, you know, your heart changes. And then it changed from that to, man, those people on the east side of Buffalo, their food source is gone. So my focus just changed in that direction from being just that bigger brother to actually feeding people and giving them the supplies that they would go to Tops to get.

BROWN: Dion held a number of special events after the massacre to raise money for some of the funds that have been set up for the families.

CHRISTINE FARROW, BIG BROTHERS BIG SISTERS OF ERIE, NIAGARA AND THE SOUTHERN: It's no secret that he has a powerful presence in the community. And he has used his platform in so many ways.

DAWKINS: Food drive, let's do it. If it's a block party, let's do it. If it's a concert, backpacks, school day, whatever it might be to help that community at that moment, let's get it done.

BLITZER: My parents were outsiders who came here, could barely speak English, had very little money. A city of good neighbors, the city of Buffalo welcomed them, gave them opportunities. It makes me proud to know that people like Dion are doing what they're doing.

DAWKINS: The secret is literally the people here, the people make Buffalo everything.


BLITZER: Thank you, Dion. Be sure to tune in Saturday 8:00 p.m. Eastern for the "Champions for Change" one-hour CNN special.

To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.