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NATO Chief Warns Russia Could Use "Sham" Vote To Escalate War; Officials: U.S. Has Privately Warned Russia For Months Against Using Nuclear Weapons In war Against Ukraine; Russia Moves Swiftly To Crack Down On Anti-War Demonstrations; Trump Waging Secret Court Fight To Block 1/6 Testimony By Ex-Aides; New House GOP Plan Spotlights Inflation, Border Security; Strengthening Tropical Depression To Be Named "Ian," Likely To Hit Florida As A Major Hurricane Next Week; Human Rights Group: At Least 50 Killed During Iran Protests; Immaculate Concussion: The Truth Behind Havana Syndrome, Sun 8PM ET. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 23, 2022 - 17:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And if you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD wherever you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a great weekend.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, the west is condemning a sham vote now underway in Russian healed parts of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin seeking a bogus endorsement of his violent takeover of territory as his worst strategy ignites growing dissent at home.

Also tonight, a CNN exclusive on former President Trump's secret court fight, his lawyers working to block testimony by former Trump aides in a grand juries criminal probe of January 6.

And U.S. stock prices plunged to the lowest level in nearly two years, amid mounting fears that the country is heading into a recession. It's another challenge for President Biden as he attends a DNC event and tries to sharpen his midterm message.

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

We begin our coverage tonight in Ukraine where bogus referendums are underway as Moscow tries to solidify its hold on occupied territory. Our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is on the ground for us in Kharkiv in Ukraine tonight.

Ben, is this so called voting essentially happening at gunpoint?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Basically, it is Wolf. I mean, we're seeing video and hearing reports of election workers going house to house, door to door with ballot boxes accompanied by armed men, in some cases are men wearing balaclavas. There's no real secrecy in this vote. Some people, we're hearing, aware that these election workers are going from door to door are locking their doors, closing their curtains and simply not answering to avoid voting. In fact, the Ukrainian authorities have urged residents of the occupied territories not to answer the door in case strangers show up. Now at the bowling booths themselves, the bowling staff -- excuse me, the polling stations themselves, apparently there are no -- there aren't any voting booths, basically, you vote in the open.

Now Ukrainian officials say anywhere between, in some areas 50 percent to 75 percent of the population of these areas occupied by the Russians, the populations have left they've gone because of the war, because of the occupation. And so to make up for the lack of numbers, according to Ukrainian intelligence which is intercepted documents, it indicates that they're allowing children as young as 13 to vote. So, all indications are that this is a farcical, a sham referendum. But obviously, the Russians are pushing it as hard as possible to provide the legitimacy for when inevitably it seems they're going to announce their annexation of these areas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us from Ukraine. Ben, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, in Russia right now, Putin's military mobilization is driving desperate people to flee the country. Our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is tracking the situation for us.

Matthew, you've been watching the dramatic fallout, the mass protests, the 1000s of Russians fleeing, mounting pressure on Putin at the same time, give us the latest information you're getting.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the stakes, Wolf, are really getting really high in Russia for Vladimir Putin because although there are no protests at the moment, there's more expected over the next few days. We are still seeing 1000s upon 1000s of people, mainly men are fighting it but also with their families as well, trying as best they can to get out, get out of the country, train stations pack, trains traveling outside of the country filled with young men of fighting age, lines of cars towards the borders in the west, in the south, other directions as well, just do whatever they can. Flights as well, absolutely pack sold out as soon as the tickets become available.

Those people desperately try to get out of Russia. Because even though Vladimir Putin has made it clear that he intends to conscript reservists only, people with military experience, and so calling it a partial mobilization, nobody really buys that. People are concerned that this is going to be much, much broader and already there are stories about people who have never been in the army that have been served papers that they have to go into the military straight away.


There are terrible stories about protesters who have been protesting against the draft and against the war who have been taken by the police from the protests and moved directly into the armed forces, being drafted directly from the protests. And so, there are these astonishingly frightening scenes taking place.

And actually, I mean, I know a lot of Russians, because I've lived there for so long but, you know, this is the first time that I've spoken to people and they are genuinely anxious and concerned about what's going to happen next. For so long this was just a conflict that was on their television screens, didn't touch their lives, now, with this mobilization or this partial mobilization, it is really come to life and really come home for the majority of Russians.

BLITZER: Pictures are so, so dramatic. You know, Matthew, we've also learned here in Washington that U.S. intelligence officials have been privately warning Russia against using nuclear weapons. And they've been doing so for several months. What else are you learning?

CHANCE: Yes, I mean, they've been doing that privately. That's a story that was first, of course, reported by "The Washington Post," but now, we've confirmed it from our sources as well. And that's interesting that there are these back channels between Washington and Moscow still when it comes to these most serious of issues. But I would say that, you know, the United States, U.S. officials, Biden, you know, his officials, the Secretary of State as well, Anthony Blinken, they've been publicly warning the Russians as well, that there will be consequences, that though -- they haven't said what those consequences would be, but consequences for Russia using tactical or, of course, strategic nuclear weapons.

It's not the first time that Vladimir Putin has threatened the use of this sort of ultimate military force. It tends to do a bit of nuclear saber rattling when he's feeling quite defensive. And the interpretation at the moment is that they're not seeing any signs in the U.S. -- from the U.S. side of any kind of actual movements towards deploying nuclear missiles with a view to actually using them. But obviously, when a nuclear power like Russia makes a threat like this, on some level, you have to take it seriously, you have to plan for it. And that's what Vladimir Putin is hoping for, of course.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us. Matthew, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this and more with the former director of national intelligence, the CNN National Security Analyst, Retired General James Clapper.

General, thanks so much for joining us. How do you predict Russia could use these phony referendums in Ukraine to escalate this war?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think -- well, first of all, we'll all be sitting on the edges of our seats awaiting the results of these referendums next Tuesday. And of course, I you know, the concern is the connection of these referenda with Putin's statements implying or inferring the use of nuclear weapons, that is specifically a threat to Russian sovereignty, Russian territory, which in his mind or at least he's arguing or asserting would be a threat to the existence of Russia.

So that I think is the obvious concern with this hasty referenda as a justification for the potential use of nuclear weapons. I think that's you can't dismiss it as a possibility but I would still argue that that's -- it's unlikely that he would actually do that. I think this is more the nature of a fancy bluff, and an attempt to intimidate the West.

BLITZER: As you heard, General Clapper, the U.S. has been privately, privately warning Moscow on the consequences of actually deploying a nuclear weapon. What does that tell you about how seriously the Biden administration is taking Putin's repeated nuclear threats?

CLAPPER: Well, obviously, and we all have to take it seriously. We -- you know, he has nuclear -- what -- Putin has nuclear weapons at his disposal, so you cannot completely dismiss the possibility that he might use them. Now, you might want to think through what exactly what he hoped to achieve if he did use nuclear weapons. So I think it's the prudent thing to do. And I'm sure the administration is using all channels of communication available to them, the Pentagon, the State Department to convey the message, which President Biden has done publicly, not to use nuclear weapons.

And I think, not being explicit, a little strategic ambiguity about just what we would do, if he did employ is a good thing --


CLAPPER: -- because that adds complexity to the calculus whatever it is that Putin has.


BLITZER: When you look, General Clapper, at all these drastic moves by Putin in recent days, the massive mobilization, the crackdown on protesters, the nuclear threats, the sham referendums, what does it all say to you about his mindset right now?

CLAPPER: Well, I think -- well, he's in trouble and I think he knows it. I think his options are declining. The mobilization is not going to change the outcome of the situation -- the combat situation at all. The images, the two images of demonstrators opposing it, which is a brave thing to do in Russia these days and the image of vehicles lined up at the borders of Finland -- from Finland to Kazakhstan, with people fleeing to avoid the mobilization, I think, is emblematic of the situation he faces and the lack of will to flight and all he's going to do is generate more cannon fodder for the Ukrainians. And so, that's not going to have any impact.

But this is illustrative when you consider where he was seven months ago where he thought this would be a romp. And now he's having to do a partial mobilization. And, you know, quickly staged the sham referenda. And once again, try to intimidate the west with threats of the use of nuclear weapons I think are indicative that he's in a bad place and he knows it.

BLITZER: And he sees these demonstrations on the streets of Moscow at the same time. James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, thanks so much for joining us. Coming up, a CNN exclusive report, Donald Trump's secret court fight to block grand jury from talking to his inner circle about attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Plus, the U.S. could be in line for his first major hurricane of the season. We have a new forecast that's just out. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Now to a CNN an exclusive report on Donald Trump's secret bid to stymie the federal probe of attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez helped break the story for us.

Evan, the former president wants to block a grand jury from talking to his inner circle. What else are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some of these are some of the most important witnesses that prosecutors are trying to get information from. And there's now a secret battle going on between the former president's legal team who are trying to build essentially a firewall around them. We're talking about important witnesses like Pat Cipollone, who is the former White House Counsel, his deputy, Pat Philbin, as well as former vice presidential aides, Marc Short and Greg Jacob. These are people who have gone in to the grand jury here in Washington federal court and they've asserted executive privilege at the request of the former president saying that there are certain questions they cannot answer. And so now the Justice Department is asking for a ruling from a judge to say that they are going to be compelled to answer these questions.

We know, Wolf, that this is now obviously something that could have great importance for this investigation from the Justice Department. We know that, you know, how the judge resolves this question could really help the prosecutors get important information that could, again, help them decide whether to bring charges not only against a former president but against some of the people who were involved in the broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

BLITZER: Are the so called privilege fights that are going on right now causing friction, at least among some of the people call to testify?

PEREZ: A great deal of friction. At least one of the people who was called to appear before the grand jury, Eric Herschmann, he's a former White House lawyer, he was called to testify on September 2, that testimony was postponed in part because he was arguing with the former president's team saying, I want exact instructions from you. I want a judge's order also in order to provide this testimony.

I'll read you just a part of an e-mail that he sent to the Trump team. He said, "A letter directive from President Trump without a court order would not be sufficient. I don't understand your statement that the chief judge will decide this issue." In some what he was trying to do, Wolf, was push back on these vague letters from the former president's legal team that just said essentially, everything you're asked about is covered either by executive privilege or by attorney client privilege. He wanted more.

BLITZER: Evan, stay with us. I want to continue this conversation. I also want to bring in CNN Intelligence Reporter Katie Bo Lillis and CNN Legal Analyst Norm Eisen.

Norm, let me begin with your reaction to this new reporting that we're getting about the former president's secret court battles that are underway to prevent these folks from testifying.

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's a continuation of Donald Trump's use of executive privilege, attorney client privilege to try to block investigations. It failed in Trump V. Thompson with the 1/6 committee, it just failed in the 11th Circuit with the classified documents, DOJ's investigation turned back on. And he's got a very steep hill to climb here, Wolf.

As you know, these are the issues that I was responsible for when I worked in the Obama White House, executive privilege since U.S. v. Nixon must yield when there are compelling criminal circumstances, and here we have a federal judges already found likely criminality as to Trump. 18 USC 371 conspiracy to defraud the United States 18 USC 1512 obstruction of Congress, so he's going to have a tough, tough path in this instance.

BLITZER: Evan, very quickly, why is this legal fight been taking place in secret?

PEREZ: Everything in the grand jury is secret, at least until there is such time where they decide to bring charges. And so, they have to argue this behind closed doors with a judge. The only reason why we know this, Wolf, is because we've seen prosecutors go in, we've seen the Trump legal team going in over the last couple of weeks and we know that they've been doing this in secret. We haven't been able to go in to the courtroom where they're arguing these -- the merits of these arguments.


BLITZER: And very interesting, Katie Bo, you have some new reporting on the U.S. intelligence community what it's doing to try to do to understand how much damage may have been done by all these top secret classified documents being moved from the White House or here in Washington from secure locations to Mar-a-Lago?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN INTELLIGENCE REPORTER: Exactly. So, Wolf, what we've learned is that the U.S. intelligence community has been able to restart its so called damage assessment, which is this analytical product that is looking at the potential harm that might have been caused by storing some of these documents in an unsecure location at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

Now, this isn't really a huge surprise, Wolf, this is exactly what the Justice Department with the government had had wanted. And one of the reasons that they pushed back against the original order from Judge Cannon, from the district court judge that had halted the criminal investigation, the government said at the time when they were beginning to push back against this order, they said, you know, look, these two efforts are inextricably linked, you can't separate out the criminal investigation from the work that the intelligence community is doing to try to determine both who might have access to these documents and then from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence perspective, what harm could be done if those documents were to be exposed? The appeals court ruling allowed them to continue that work.

BLITZER: How significant, Norm, is it that the intelligence community's damage assessment that's ongoing right now will be allowed to continue now?

EISEN: Well, Wolf, it's very important, above all, for the security of our nation as someone who held TSS CI clearance. When I look at a classified document like this, I don't see a piece of paper, I see the human beings who gathered this intelligence for the United States among our allies often putting their lives at risk for these kinds of highly classified materials. And the people in the United States and around the world that we have this intel to protect. So even a single document can lead to a prosecution.

The notion that there were over 100 unsecured, when I was ambassador I was so careful with these documents, my office was a skiff, a facility where I could read them. I never sat down, my practice was to stand up because I didn't want to make a mistake of even leaving it on my desk. So, it's very significant to protect our country. And of course, because this may be the most serious criminal exposure Donald Trump has ever faced.

BLITZER: Because so many intelligence officials have said to me in recent days and weeks, these are really life and death decisions that have to be made when you reveal top secret information like that. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, President Biden tries to fire up the Democratic base just ahead of the midterm elections. He's vowing to codify abortion rights into federal law if voters deliver two more Democratic senators this November.



BLITZER: President Biden today is trying to fire up Democratic voters just ahead of the midterm elections with a blistering critique of his Republican rivals. Our senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now. He has details.

Phil, the President just gave a pretty fiery speech over at the DNC.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a sharpened political message has been on display for the President for several weeks. But his House Republicans released what they said would be their agenda should they take the majority in the November midterm elections, the President was ready in what seemed to be, at some points, a rapid response to that plan. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PREISIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, went to Pennsylvania and unveiled on what he calls a commitment to America. Now, that's a thin series of policy goals with little or no detail that he says Republicans are going to pursue if they regain control of the Congress.

In the course of nearly an hour, here's a few of the things we didn't hear. We didn't hear mentioned the right to choose. We didn't hear mentioned Medicare. We didn't hear mentioned social security.


MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, those policies the President just listed off are seen by Democrats as clear strengths hitting into that midterm election, strengths they want to focus on. For Republicans their strengths while they're focused on inflation or security issues, one of them is critically the border. That of course, is an issue we've seen elevated over the course of the last couple of weeks and an issue that the administration is still grappling with, and they're not the first.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Days after taking office, President Biden signaled a sharp turn from his predecessor on immigration.

BIDEN: This is about how America is safer, stronger, more prosperous when we have a fair, orderly and humane legal immigration system.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Nineteen months later, an explosive mix of legal, policy and political disputes left Biden last week to tacitly acknowledged a work still in progress.

BIDEN: We have a process in place to manage migrants at the border. We're working to make sure it's safe and orderly and humane.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Annual border arrests surpassed 2 million this month. Already a record in a single year. A record set during Biden's first year in office. Republican governors eager to draw attention to the scale of the tumult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a crisis now getting a little bit more attention.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Have transported 1000s of migrants to liberal U.S. enclaves drawing a sharp rebuke from Democrats and Biden.

BIDEN: Republicans are playing politics with human babies using them as props. What they're doing is simply wrong. MATTINGLY (voice-over): But also elevating a critical political vulnerability for Democrats less than 50 days from the midterm election, with Republicans now holding a 17 point edge on immigration and a 36 point edge on border security according to an NBC survey last week. It's a, quote, "political issue" at the center of GOP campaign ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Joe Biden's America. An invasion at our southern border.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): One that has claimed victim more than two decades of major bipartisan attempts to clinch immigration reform.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD U.S. PRESIDENT: I've asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of national importance, the reform of America's immigration system.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): A multi-year push by Republican President George W. Bush eviscerated by his own party as talk radio drove conservative outcry. In 2013, a bipartisan breakthrough moment in the Senate.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bill as amended is passed.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Destroyed by single House Republican primary defeat where the issue loomed large. Even Donald Trump who built an entire campaign on anti-immigrant positions. And, of course, this was on the cusp of a major breakthrough, only to kill the proposal with a single tweet. Biden's own comprehensive immigration reform bill remains on the shelf in the Democrat controlled House and Senate.

Internal administration battles have led to departures and disillusionment for some aides. And according to multiple sources, acute frustration from Biden himself all as the makeup of migrant flows continues its own rapid shifts, posing entirely new challenges.

BIDEN: What's on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. And the ability to send them back to those states is not rational.

Officials now scrambling to deal with 175 percent increase from the year prior and migrants from three countries with little or no U.S. relations, and a strong claim to asylum.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Citizens in those three countries are struggling under the weight and yoke of the repressive governments of those three countries. And they are trying to get out.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): A reality that complicates the role of Vice President Kamala Harris, whose immigration mandate has been to focus on the root causes of Central American migration.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you come to our border, you will be turned back.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Leaving Harris open to attacks for messages like this.

HARRIS: The border is secure. But we also have a broken immigration system in particular over the last four years before we came in, and it needs to be fixed.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): With the Vice President's own home becoming a drop off point for migrants bused from Texas.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): If they will not go to the border, we're taking the border to them.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Just the latest accelerate in the decades long, heated political war, ripping the parties further apart, and away from the only area of actual agreement about the U.S. immigration system.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is not built to manage the current levels and types of migratory flows. Only Congress can fix this.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf officials tell me the administration is now in the midst of an intensive effort diplomatically to try and meet and talk to countries in the region around countries like Cuba and Venezuela to try and address some of those new migrant issues. As for the Republican governors sending migrants into liberal enclaves, White House officials expect that to continue.

They don't know of any new transports, but they say they are ready. They've been working with government agencies and those cities. They recognize it's likely not going to end anytime soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very excellent reporting, Phil Mattingly. Thank you very, very much.

Let's bring in our political commentators right now. Charlie Dent and Van Jones are joining us. Van, the President is clearly trying to keep the focus right now on abortion rights and election security. Is that going to be a winning message for Democrats this midterm sees?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's starting to work. It used to be this complaint of these two parties are just like Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. And who cares? You can't say that anymore. When you're talking about issues like abortion, when you talk about the President's record now on gun safety, when you're talking about immigration, these -- you -- we -- it's no longer going to be a referendum on the Biden economy.

That's really what the Republicans wanted. It's not going to be that. It will be a choice. This will be a choice election between very different visions of America that actually helps Democrats that to motivate us to come forward and to participate in a way that three or four months ago was not obvious.

BLITZER: Good point. You know, Charlie Dent, at the same time, the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled his legislative agenda today, as well. Listen to this.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MINORITY LEADER: Our government that's run amok. Who has a plan to change that course? We do. The Democrats have no plan for the problem they created. If you trust us, hold us accountable. We'll put it out to the entire country. This is what we'll do.


BLITZER: So what do you make of what McCarthy laid out today? And I asked that question to you, in part because you're a former Republican congressman. Is he taking your party in the right direction?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, what I think Kevin McCarthy has done today is what, you know, Newt Gingrich did in -- even in 2010, Republicans did the same thing, came out with an agenda.


Democrats did the same thing in '06 when they took the House, 6/4/06. So bottom line is, this election, Republicans are trying to make this about the Democrats. Ordinarily, you don't need to be for anything in a midterm election like this. But it's always nice to have something in their hip pocket.

I'm sure they focused, tested this and pulled it. And it's pretty generic. It's a fairly benign document in terms of what they're going to do, a parental Bill of Rights, you know, not hire all these IRS agents, border security and some law enforcement measures. So it's fairly safe. But I don't think at the end of the day, this message, while it's probably fairly popular, is not going to really make much of a difference, just as these other proposals that were presented in previous years when the party was trying to take over.

But it's nice having the hip pocket, but they're trying to make this referendum. Republicans are trying to make this a referendum on the Democrats. As Van said, this might become more of a choice election. And of course, we've had the unhelpful, Republicans have had the unhelpful interventions from Donald Trump, who keeps talking about, you know, the 2020 election and the raid on his property, and looking backwards. So it may be more of a choice and a referendum at this point. But inflation is still the issue, I think, and the economy that's going to drive this election more than any other.

BLITZER: At the same time, Van, President Biden is leaning into his criticism of what he calls these MAGA Republicans as he tries to connect with voters. Is Biden turning out to be an effective messenger for your party this fall?

JONES: Look, this speech he gave today was very strong. I hope people will go and look at it. He made the case for himself. I think, you know, for people who are just now turning to the election, who may not have been paying attention before, to hear him walk through all the accomplishments, you know, whether it's gun safety, whether it's climate change, you know, you walk through all the accomplishments that he has, it's actually impressive.

And, you know, you don't usually hear it all put together and then to hear the contrast with where Republicans want to go, especially on democracy. I think he is becoming a strong spokesperson for the party. There was a time where people were worried about him. You don't hear those worries anymore.

BLITZER: Van Jones, Charlie Dent, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, a strengthening storm in the Caribbean is barreling right now toward Florida. We have the updated forecast from the weather team. Plus, dozens are dead in Iran as the government there is trying to contain nationwide protests by some Iranians are risking at all to protest.



BLITZER: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is declaring a state of emergency just ahead of what's now a tropical depression headed toward Florida. It's strengthening in the Caribbean and is expected to be named Ian, once it becomes a hurricane.

Let's bring in our meteorologist Jennifer Gray. Jennifer, so what is this latest forecast just out a little while ago. What does it tell us?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it tells us that it's got winds of 35 miles per hour, gusts to 45. It's moving to the west northwest at 15 miles per hour. Just within the last hour or so, there has now been a hurricane watch issued for the Cayman Islands and a tropical storm watch for Jamaica.

This storm is going to enter very warm water in the Caribbean and then into the Gulf of Mexico. We are going to be in a very ripe environment for this storm to strengthen rapidly, especially once it enters into the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone on the west coast of Florida including the keys need to be on high alert for this storm.

This could be a Category 1 storm when it crosses over Cuba and then quickly becoming a Category 2, possible Category 3 by the time it makes landfall middle part of next week. Now a lot can change between now and then as we all know, but the forecast so far has been very steady. And there's a lot of confidence in this forecast.

We could have winds of 115 miles per hour when the storm makes landfall. Here are the forecast models. It's pretty rare to see forecast models this far out agree this much. So that just shows you the confidence and where the storm is going.

Also, Hurricane Fiona, we have to mention this one, Wolf, because this one could be the strongest storm ever to impact Canada. This is making landfall on Nova Scotia by the time we get into tomorrow morning. But we're already seeing a lot of rain and a lot of wind. We could see 68 feet of storm surge plus 25 to 40 foot waves with this storm, it is going to be slowing down dramatically by the time it makes landfall.

And so really this entire area is just going to get battered by the storm. Those are the wave heights they could exceed 40 feet and we could see anywhere from 6 to 10 inches of rain across the eastern side of Nova Scotia with the storm. Wolf?

BLITZER: You're going to be busy. Jennifer Gray reporting for us. Thank you very, very much.

Let's get an update right now at some very, very disturbing developments unfolding in Iran where at least 50 people are dead as the government there cracks down on nationwide demonstrations. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has our report.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fury and defiance on the streets of dozens of Iranian cities, protests raging on a scale not seen in years. At least 50 people have been killed, according to Iran human rights amid signs a heavy-handed crackdown is coming. The protests were sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of the notorious morality police who say they detained her for not abiding by the strict Islamic dress code. The government says it's launched an investigation.


They claim Mahsa Amini died of a heart attack. Her family blame her death on police brutality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had no heart disease or anything. And it was damaged to her head like she was bleeding out her air.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): Calls for accountability have turned into cries for freedoms this generation of Iranians have never known. Young women are rising up, leading protests in unprecedented acts of defiance, burning the headscarf they've been forced to wear for decades. But even those who've seen it all joined in.

This old woman waives her headscarf, softly chanting "Death to the Supreme Leader." The threat of punishment by jail or flogging hasn't stopped many like this woman. CNN can't verify the circumstances of this video or when it was filmed. It shows the woman standing up to the morality police, the woman in black, refusing to wear her headscarf. Commotion breaks out as they tried to grab her. She shouts, she is standing up for the sake of Mahsa Amini.

The government appears to be using violent force to silence these voices of dissent. An all-female unit deployed for the first time on the streets. Security forces also firing live rounds directly at protesters, according to Amnesty International.

On Friday, more ominous warnings from authorities. The Iranian army they say is ready to step in and deal with conspiracies of so-called enemies. As the country descends into darkness, with internet disruptions not seen since the 2019 protests, many now bracing for what the coming hours and days may bring.


KARADSHEH: And Wolf, despite the regime's attempt to restrict the internet in the country, tonight, we're starting to see video emerge. Protesters are still out on the streets. They're still defiant and some incredible video coming out of the city of Mashhad, that is the birthplace of the Supreme Leader Khamenei where you see protesters setting fire to a statue of one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Revolution.

Scenes that were just unthinkable just in the past. And in the past -- and of course, we're also seeing at the same time, Wolf, more video emerge of the security apparatus on the streets of the capital Tehran, and other cities still out in force.

BLITZER: Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very, very much. Important story indeed.

Coming up, a secret court battle waged by Donald Trump's lawyers. What the former President is trying to stop from happening. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a very important brand-new documentary that comes out this Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern on the Havana syndrome, the mysterious unexplained illness that was first reported by U.S. officials in Havana back in 2016. Dr. Gupta has been trying to unravel this mystery and better understand what happened to these Americans serving overseas.

Sanjay is joining us right now. Tell us, Sanjay, some of what you learned.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I got to tell you. I mean, I've covered a lot of stories over the last 20 years. This one definitely stands alone. memory brain doc (ph). And I was just really curious about these descriptions around Havana syndrome. These concussion like symptoms that people were having.

Talked to doctors that examine these patients, talk to the patients themselves, scientists also went down to Cuba, Wolf, to see where these incidents actually occurred. But it was one senior intelligence officer that I interviewed that gave me the most insight, Wolf, into what may have been behind all this. And I want you to take a little listen.


GUPTA (voice-over): Bill Evanina was Director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center at the time of the incidents in Havana. Prior to that, he led the CIA's efforts to combat espionage against the United States. So if anyone knew what the Russians were up to in Cuba, it was likely him. WILLIAM EVANINA, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY CENTER: The Obama administration reopening the embassy in Havana, right, the Russian government was not happy with that. But the Russians and the Chinese were facilitating new intelligence collection capabilities, 90 miles from our shore in Cuba. So it was an opportunity for us to not only open that embassy, but at same time for us to put some boots on the ground, to be able to collect intelligence, what our adversaries were doing in Havana and around the island of Cuba.

We had seen over time, that the Russian government and their intelligence service were not happy with our ability to put boots on the ground in Havana. So it was totally logical made sense to not only mean with our community that there would be some type of attack occurring.

GUPTA: You said, well, this makes sense. This is a combination of something that's much larger.


GUPTA: How do you start to investigate it from that point forward?

EVANINA: You would ask the community to go back a decade to see what countries were spending money on R&D money, research and develop money, on a type of weapon that can do this, that can cause this type of damage.

GIPTA: Over the countries that sort of came to the list.

EVANINA: I think if you went to the depth of the CIA, there's going to be plenty of those, right? But I think at the end of the day, you have to weigh capability plus intent, I would think the Russian government would have both.


In my opinion is based on what I know that it was the Russian government behind this either solo or in cahoots with the Cuban government. And until I'm proven otherwise, I'll continue to believe that.


GUPTA: Now I should point out, Wolf, I'm going to be clear about this, the United States has never officially blamed Russia for this and the Russian government has categorically denied any involvement. Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson, he told us this specifically that these are purely unfounded accusations that we do not accept. We have nothing to do with this.

At the same time, Wolf, you just heard from Bill Evanina, he was head of counterintelligence at the time, and he obviously still has some serious questions about what happened six years later, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looking forward to the documentary this special report this Sunday night. We'll be watching, Sanjay. Thank you very, very much for doing this.

GUPTA: Got it.

BLITZER: Coming up, a CNN exclusive, trying to stop grand jury testimony. The secret actions that Donald Trump's lawyers are now taking.