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The Situation Room

Hurricane Ian Is Now Category 2 Going Into Florida; Identity Of Capitol Rioter On The White House Call Revealed; Roger Stone Footage from Documentary to be Used in January 6th Committee Hearing; Mass Exodus, Arrests, Growing Chaos Amid Putin's Military Draft; "Sham" Pro-Russia Vote Continues In Ukraine As Putin Faces Dissent; Secy. Blinken: U.S. "Very Clear" With Russia About Nuclear Threats; Inside The Operation Behind The Martha's Vineyard Migrant Flights; Soon: NASA Will Deliberately Slam Spacecraft Into An Asteroid. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 26, 2022 - 17:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST: NASA can use this tactic to divert future asteroids from hitting Earth. NASA's double asteroid redirection test, or D.A.R.T., is considered the first attempt at deflecting an asteroid without blowing it up. While this is all happening almost 7 million miles from Earth, you can watch it in about two hours online. Our coverage continues right now with "The Situation Room".

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Happening now, a new forecast for hurricane Ian's assault on Florida is being released this hour as evacuations begin and National Guard troops mobilize. The National Hurricane Center now warning that the Tampa area is facing a near worst case scenario.

Also tonight, CNN's exclusive new reporting on a mysterious phone call from the White House to a rioter on January 6th. The rioter's identity now revealed. The House Select Committee is preparing to hold what is likely to be its final investigative hearing.

And dissent and chaos are spreading in Russia. Thousands have now been detained amid protests against the war in Ukraine as huge lines of cars jam the borders packed with Russians desperate to escape Vladimir Putin's new military draft.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Alex Marquardt here in "The Situation Room".

We begin coverage tonight with Hurricane Ian barreling toward Florida amid urgent warnings and evacuations. Let's get straight to meteorologist Tom Sater standing by in the CNN Weather Center with a new forecast from the National Hurricane Center. Tom, what is that new forecast saying about Ian?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The 5:00 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, we're seeing an increase in the winds and that's because the pressure is dropping. When the pressure drops, it gets stronger. We're now up from a Category 1 to a Category 2. Ian sustained winds at 100 miles per hour, but there are other changes to take note of.

First of all, we're about 155 miles from the western tip of Cuba. Typically, when these systems move over land, they lose a little bit of intensity. We do not expect that to happen. The hurricane hunters have been in the system and here's what we know. The system quickly develops into a Category 4.

Now, the spaghetti plots still have some outliers here. So those who have been wondering, well, where is it going to go, this is not unusual. There have been a couple of changes in the last couple of days with two main models, the American and European. The American has been trending eastward, the European, which was well east, has been kind of moving toward the west.

So, we're getting a better agreement. But instead of going right to a Category 3, it jumps to a 4 now right past the western tip of Cuba. This is going to park itself now just off the coast of Tampa. We now have a storm surge warning, and that's important. This is brand new in the 5:00 p.m. advisory, a storm surge warning for the Tampa Bay area and points to the south.

Notice that we still have a Category 4, but it drops to a Category 1. Pay no attention to the Category 1 because it's so vulnerable, the Tampa Bay area and points southward are the most vulnerable area of Florida because of the design, the inlets and of course, the bay, it's going to act as a catcher's mitt when it comes to the storm surge.

We our hurricane watch from Tampa south and we now have warnings to the south in the Keys areas. But look at how much of an agreement we have between the U.S. model and the European. They were well off the last couple of days, so you want to see an agreement so you can get a better understanding of what this outcome may be.

Now, it may not end up like this, but this is, unfortunately, what we're finding here, worst case scenario. But if I had worse news, and unfortunately, I do, I've got to give it to you, it looks like the system is going to crawl at 5 miles per hour just offshore. Instead of continuing that northward trend and then turning again to the right across Florida, it puts on the brakes.

Take a look at this area of brown. This is very dry air, extremely dry, all the way into Texas. It's a trough. Watching that trough come down to pick the system up and turn it for Florida maybe up to the north and move it away quickly. It's the battle between the trough and dry air and the very warm content air that we have around Ian. Ian is going to win out in this battle and it sits and spins here for 36 to 48 hours, a storm surge offshore that's going to kick that surge into the bay, every inlet, every canal, every coastal waterway, for quite some time.

And because that surge gets pushed in for such a long period, it's going to act as a dam and it's going to keep the water from receding. So, then you toss in 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. Here is another computer model and you get a good indication. Even if this wasn't a Category 4 at some time, let's just say it was a Category 1 parked offshore of Tampa, it would be disastrous. But because it makes it to a Category 4 status, it takes that storm

surge as Category 4, no matter what the Category is, even though the winds may lighten, it takes that surge as a 4. It's going to tosses it in to every inlet.


So, this is going to be the story going forward. Please, as the director of the National Hurricane Center said, quit wishing the system to move away and just act now because it is going to be inundation for hundreds and hundreds of waterway areas, through every inlet and every coastal area of this region. Bad news.

MARQUARDT: Pay no attention to that Category number. It is all about the storm surge and that endless (ph) water.

SATER: Correct.

MARQUARDT: Tom Sater, we know how closely you will be tracking this and we will be back with you very soon. Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center. Thanks very much.

Now to Florida and the urgent preparations that are now under way ahead of Ian's arrival. CNN's Carlos Suarez is joining us now from Tampa with some of those details. Carlos, we can see some of those preparations going on right behind you. What have you been seeing?

CARLSO SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, so folks all across Hillsboro County had been picking up sandbags at three locations that the city of Tampa opened. We've got two mandatory evacuation orders that have been sent out. One went into effect at 2:00 this afternoon in Hillsboro County. The other is in Pinellas County. And that goes into effect later tonight.

The workout here has not stopped the entire day. Folks have been lining up here for several hours to pick up 10 sandbags that they're being allowed to work on themselves. They've got to come up here, they've got to get their bags, they've got to fill them up and then they've got to figure out how to get them back to their car.

We've got two lines that are going on at this hour. One, folks that showed up here by car. And the line you're looking at right there, well those are walk-offs, those are folks that most likely ditched their cars because it's taken them that long to try to get in here. The sandbagging effort we're told should continue throughout the rest of tonight, hopefully tomorrow. But of course, all of this depends on Ian's track and just how bad the weather gets.

Alex, I can tell you right now, not related to the storm, but because we are in Florida, the rain is about to move in here so the folks that are in that line waiting to get the sandbags, they're about to get wet. Alex?

MARQUARDT: A lot more water coming that way very soon. Carlos Suarez, thank you so much. Best of luck to you, you and your team. Please stay safe out there. I want to bring in now the mayor of Tampa, Florida, Jane Castor, for more on these growing preparations. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us this evening. We know how much you have going on right now. I want to ask you about this new warning from the National Hurricane Center that Ian is what they're calling a near worst case scenario. What are your biggest concerns as your city prepares for what is now a Category 2 hurricane?

JANE CASTOR, MAYOR, TAMPA, FLORIDA: Well, Alex, clearly it is the water and it's that surge and the stalling of the storm. We could handle the wind, you know, if it came through quickly, as the meteorologist said, but we are already saturated in the Tampa Bay area and we have a unique situation geographically with the bay being very shallow.

And this will be, as was stated, if it stays on the trajectory, a near worst case scenario for our area. That's number one. Number two, are individuals that don't heed the warnings. You know, we have a mandatory evacuation in place.

We've had our law enforcement out there through all of our mobile home parks and through our housing authority properties, telling individuals that they need to get out and that's the word. And we've seen a lot of people that have moved inland to safer locations away from the water. That really is the key to Hurricane Ian right now.

MARQUARDT: Mayor, there are a lot of people in Florida who will say, we've had storms before, we've ridden them out. What is your message to them?

CASTOR: Well, my message to them, as you may or may not know, I spent 31 years in law enforcement and I'll tell you, anybody that stayed through Hurricane Charlie, through Hurricane Michael or through Hurricane Andrew, to the person they would say to me, I will never do that again because they were fortunate enough to survive. So, you need to heed the warnings. Mother nature wins every single time. And this is an issue not of property damage, but of life and death.

MARQUARDT: And we are hearing a very stern warning from law enforcement. Take a listen to this from the sheriff of Pinellas County.


BOB GUALTIERI, SHERIFF PINEKKAS COUNTY: When we issue that mandatory evacuation, what that means is that if you don't and you call for help, we're not coming because we're not going to put our people in harm's way and put them in peril because you didn't listen to what we told you to do.


MARQUARDT: Mayor Castor, are you echoing that? Will your residents be on their own essentially if they choose to ignore these evacuation orders? CASTOR: More than likely they will. There comes a point when our law

enforcement officers can't go out on the street, and if you're in that flooded zone, we can't get to you when you call, if you can call. So, we need everybody to heed these warnings and go to a safe place while they have the opportunity. Don't wait too late.

MARQUARDT: Alright, Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa, thank you so much for your time.


Best of luck. We will be thinking of you, your staff and of course, your city in the coming days. Take care.

CASTOR: Thank you, Alex.

MARQUARDT: And coming up, exclusive new reporting on the identity of a Capitol Hill rioter who received a mysterious phone call from the White House during the insurrection.

Plus, CNN has just obtained new clips expected to be featured at Wednesday's January 6th Committee hearing. We'll be right back.


MARQUARDT: Tonight, CNN has exclusive new reporting on the January 6th investigation. Sources revealing that the identity of a capitol rioter who received a phone call from the Trump White House on the day of the insurrection. Our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, has details for us. Evan, what are you learning about this mysterious nine second phone call?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, it's nine seconds. Who made the call and why, we still do not know. We know that the person who received the call or the cell phone on the receiving end of the cell phone call is Anton Lunyk, he's a 26-year-old from Brooklyn, Trump supporter. He was at the capitol with a couple of friends.

They entered the capitol and all three of them have now pleaded guilty and were sentenced just recently, Alex.


Our Jamie Gangel learned about this and has been chasing details of this for several months. But Denver Riggleman, the former congressman who worked on the January 6th Committee first made it public last night on "60 Minutes". Listen to how he described it.


DENVER RIGGLEMAN, FORMER ADVISER, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE: You get a real ah-ha moment when you see that the White House switchboard had connected to a rioter's phone while it's happening.

BILL WHITAKER, CBS NEWS HOST: Someone in the White House was calling one of the rioters while the riot was going on?

RIGGLEMAN: On January 6th, absolutely.


PEREZ: And the committee is still investigating this call. We don't know -- this call -- the subject of this call did not come up during Anton Lunyk's sentencing. For his part, he has apparently said that he doesn't know anybody at the White House and doesn't actually remember the phone call.

MARQUARDT: We're also learning about new text messages that were sent to the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Do they tell us anything?

PEREZ: Well, these text messages tell us that at least, you know, back in December we know that Mark Meadows and people in the White House were involved, or at least aware of this effort to seize voting machines, which of course has become a much bigger deal and is now under investigation both by the Feds and by state authorities in Georgia, in Arizona and other states.

Mark Meadows is exchanging these text messages with Phil Waldron who is one of the earliest supporters of these claims that there was fraud and this idea that they should seize voting machines to try to prove this.

There are some text messages which you'll see just a second here, you can see where he is expressing some concern about the fact that he was rejected by an Arizona court and expressing frustration about that. And Meadows responds, "pathetic." The issue with this is that this became a more clandestine effort after these first initial efforts were rejected by the court.

MARQUARDT: Pathetic. Strong language. Alright, Evan Perez, stay right here. We'll be back with you in just a second.

First, I want to bring in CNN's Don Lemon who is joining us with new information on this investigation into the insurrection. Don, I understand that you just spoke with documentary filmmakers who spent time with Roger Stone. They've been cooperating and turning over some of that footage to the committee. What did they tell you?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We just spoke with them just a short time ago, the filmmakers behind is called "A Storm Foretold." One of them, Alex, is Christoffer Guldbrandsen, he's the director and the producer, and there is Frederik Marbell, as well. He's a director of photography. They really had unprecedented access with Roger Stone and they were making this documentary on him. They wanted to see what his connections were, if there were any, between these groups like the Proud Boys, et cetera.

The January 6th Committee asked for their footage of Stone surrounding January 6th and the 2020 election, and they handed it over. And that indicates that, you know, there includes a clip like this, it's of Roger Stone, this one is from November 2nd of 2020, on his way home from a Doug Collins rally. This was in Georgia. Let's watch it.


ROGER STONE, TRUMP ALLY: Excellent. (BLEEP). Violent. Let's get right to it. Shoot to kill. See an Antifa? Shoot to kill. (BLEEP). I'm done with this bullshit.


LEMON: So, see an Antifa, shoot to kill, done with this B.S., as he says. Alex, this was the day before the election. The filmmakers told me that Stone also renounced violence during the time that they spent with him, but they didn't find it sincere. They thought it was more of a wink and a nod. And you heard what he said in that clip.

MARQUARDT: Yeah, shoot to kill. Just extraordinary. Don, you have another clip that has Roger Stone talking about their plan to just claim victory in the election even if they lost.

LEMON: Yeah, that's right, Alex. This other clip shows Roger Stone imploring the people in his orbit how important it is to claim Trump's victory, no matter what, on election night. Here it is.


STONE: Let's just hope we're celebrating. I suspect it will be -- I really do suspect it will be still up in the air. When that happens, the key thing to do is to claim victory. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, no, we won, (BLEEP). Sorry, over. We won. You're wrong. (BLEEP).


LEMON: That was even before a winner was even decided in the 2020 election. And the filmmakers told me that it is clear to them that the January 6th Committee is most interested in links between Stone and groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as well.

Listen, I need to share with you, this is a statement from Roger Stone about these clips.


He did respond and he says, "I challenge the accuracy and the authenticity of these videos and believe that they have been manipulated and selectively edited. I also point out that the filmmakers do not have the legal right to use them. How ironic -- this is odd that he's putting this in here -- that Kim Kardashian and I are both subjected to computer manipulated videos on the same day. The excerpts you provided below prove nothing. Certainly, they do not prove I had anything to do with the events of January 6th. That being said, it clearly shows I advocated for lawful congressional and judicial options."

I mean, that is what Roger Stone says. And you can watch, obviously, the rest of it tonight on my show for more clips from the filmmakers. Watch their interview and you're going to hear more about what they have to say about Roger Stone and their own interactions with the 1/6 committee, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Computer altered clips. I mean, quite a statement.

LEMON: I have no idea that Kim Kardashian was even subjected to -- I had -- I don't know what he's talking about, but maybe it's out there. I have to check.

MARQUARDT: I missed that headline. I'll have to check after the show as well. Well, Don Lemon, thank you so much, sir. Don is going to have so much more on Roger Stone and those clips tonight on "Don Lemon Tonight" at 10:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Now, let's get some reaction and analysis from defense attorney Shan Wu and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd and our CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is back with us as well. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with me.

Phil, I want to go to you first. Your reaction just to those clips, to that interview, and what questions does it raise for you about Roger Stone and who he was with around January 6th.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I think my reaction is there's a big difference between the court of public opinion and a court of law. The questions I would have as an analyst looking at this case are based in fact. We know what Roger Stone thought, so let's go to what he did.

On the day before, the day of, the day after January 6th, I want to see phone records that indicate whether he spoke with people who were in the building. I want the interviews of people in the building indicating what Roger Stone told them, particularly whether he knew, whether he had foreknowledge of violence and whether he encouraged violence while it happened.

You listen in that clip to what he was talking about and he mentions the word proof. He clearly knows he's in trouble. But where he knows he'll get off the hook is the difference between saying, yeah, I told people violence is okay and, yeah, there's evidence, and I mean fact, that indicates that I told people to go in and commit an act of violence on January. The court of public opinion is going to say, Alex, that he's guilty. In a court of law, I think he's still got some wiggle room.

MARQUARDT: Shan Wu, to you, the full picture of how all of these groups coordinated, that's still unclear. When it comes to this phone call between the White House, someone at the White House, and that rioter, nine seconds, we've heard members of the committee downplaying the significance. Do you see any explanation for the call?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There could be a lot of explanations for the call. It's certainly important to pursue it and I suspect the reason the committee is downplaying it more has to do with their being unhappy with any pieces leaking out because they've run such a tight ship at this point. But you know, what we have here is we -- like most criminal cases, we

got the crime on January 6th that occurred and now they're trying to move backwards. And statements like Stone's, the text to Meadows, this phone call, are all indicative of someone, several people, thinking of the crime beforehand.

But there's a lot of room in between that's got to be filled up. So, that's the really tough part, is to fill in all those blanks in such a massive, sprawling investigation. It's a lot of work.

MARQUARDT: Evan, we are hoping to have some of those blanks filled in in what could be this last public investigative hearing by the committee on Wednesday. Committee members have been pretty vague about what to expect then. Do we have any indications about the theme or themes on Wednesday?

PEREZ: Well, we expect that they're going to be talking a little bit about the extremism that drove some of the violence that happened on January 6th, and I think that's one of the pieces here that I think they've been building and trying to develop from additional evidence that I think they want to make sure they put out to the public.

Obviously, there's an interesting time or coincidence in timing, obviously, of this hearing because some of the Oath Keepers, some of the members of the extremist group that were violent, carried out the violence on January 6th, are going on trial beginning tomorrow here in Washington, D.C.

And so, we'll see a split screen moment there where I think you're going to see some of the Oath Keepers, some of the members there and their lawyers, are going to try to bring this up before a judge to raise concerns about whether this affects the fairness of their trial. And we'll see whether that does or not.


MARQUARDT: Phil Mudd, there have been so many strands in this investigation. Committee members have said that it's highly unlikely that we'll get a report before the midterm elections, before, you know, the beginning of November. How does the January 6th Committee tie up the loose ends of this sprawling investigation from those Meadows texts, Mark Meadows, to witness tampering, the Secret Service text messages? There's so much to now tie up in the coming weeks.

MUDD: Well, believe it or not, Alex, in 30 seconds let me simplify this for you. There's two separate stories and they are fundamentally different. The first story is to the American populous saying, look, if you elect somebody who encourages people to commit acts of violence, you can undermine democracy. That is not a legal argument, that is not an argument for the Department of Justice.

But I think the primary message from the January 6th Committee is going to be to voters and citizens like me, like you, to say be careful about what you wish for because you may get it. Let me differentiate that substantially from whether the Department of Justice takes action. I would -- I disagree with any efforts by the January 6th Committee to refer cases to the Department of Justice.

The law element of the U.S. government should make cases independent of politicians. The question about legal culpability for what happened on January 6th is for the FBI and the Department of Justice, so the message from the committee is, be careful in America, the message for the Department of Justice is do we have a legal case. I think those are two very different questions, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Indeed, they are. Shan Wu, Phil Mudd, Evan Perez, we have to leave it there. Thank you all so much for your time, and of course your deep expertise.

Up next, growing chaos inside Russia as military-aged men flee Putin's desperate mobilization effort. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: Tonight, Vladimir Putin's dramatic military recruitment effort is sowing chaos inside Russia. The decision sparking a growing protest movement, mass arrests, and a real exodus to neighboring countries. CNN's Nic Robertson has more on the backlash and what it means for the Russian President.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): At Russia's borders, Vladimir Putin's comeuppance, the lifeblood of his war in Ukraine military age men fleeing fears of conscription. Record numbers crossing into neighboring Finland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, the Russian inflow of people it has now doubled in the course of last five days or so. We are now already in the process of basically squeezing the inflow.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Georgia, another border. Rushers would be recruits are racing for. Cars backed up for tens of miles in the two- day wait. They don't need a visa. But even so, Russia slowing the exodus to a tiny trickle. Bribes paid to jump the line before a feared total exit ban rumored for September 27.

In three hours, we jumped a 40 kilometer, 30-mile line. It's not a nice thing to do. But alas, the 27 scares me greatly, this military age man says. Adding, the border guard called me a deserter but not everyone fleeing. In Siberia, recruitment, resentment took a violent turn. At close range, a man shooting a recruitment officer. Other would be recruits scatter run screaming from the room. The officer wounded taken to hospital.

In Dagestan, a mostly Muslim region of Russia, police fired over protesters heads. Others wrestle to the ground. Anger particularly strong here, as many residents feel recruitment falls too heavily on their community.

Putin's fabled ability to read Russia's mood appears to be fading. His own officials admitting mistakes were made. The Chairwoman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation saying officials overstepped to take such liberties is absolutely unacceptable. And, in my opinion, the harsh reaction we are seeing in society is deserved.

Beyond doubt, so many young men voting with their feet and leaving, shows trust in Putin is at its lowest ebb in years.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


MARQUARDT: Such extraordinary scenes. Our thanks to Nic Robertson for that report.

Now let's head to Ukraine where officials are bracing for Putin's escalation there. CNN Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is on the ground in eastern Ukraine in Kharkiv for us. Ben, what are Ukrainian officials afraid could come next?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tomorrow is the last day voting, Alex, in this sham referendum these four regions partially occupied by the Russians and the result is a foregone conclusion that of course, the results take that as you will, will be in favor of -- and an annexation by Russia and the Russians will probably make a rapid decision on that.


Now, another concern at the moment, of course, are the thinly veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons by President Vladimir Putin. Now we heard President Zelenskyy say that we should not take this as a bluff, we should take it seriously. And he's calling for Western powers to redouble their support and redouble sanctions on Russia. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes, potentially huge new number of Russian troops that many believe will be treated as cannon fodder. Ben Wedeman in Kharkiv, Ukraine, thank you so much for all of your terrific reporting.

Now back here in Washington, U.S. officials are closely watching the sham referenda that are taking place in Ukraine. Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us now with more information. Kaitlan, you have new reporting about what the potential response could be from the Biden administration to what you just heard Ben call a foregone conclusion in Ukraine.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the White House recognizes that it's basically a foregone conclusion in these sham elections that are basically being carried out at gunpoint at this point, Alex. And so that's why the White House is watching them so closely as they are set to conclude and the results of them -- the results, I should say, are set to be announced. Because, of course, their concern is not what the results are going to be.

The White House is made clear, they will never recognize the results of these so-called elections, because they're being orchestrated by Russia. They know that they are fraudulent. And so that part is clear. But what they are watching for is what Russia does after it announces the results of these fake referendums, because the concern here is that the White House is that they are going to move then to annex these regions, make him part of Russia, and then potentially use any kind of fighting there, any kind of attacks from the Ukrainian forces pushing back on these Russians as to say it's an attack on the Russian homeland, on Russia itself, and therefore try to use that to escalate the situation.

And so, the White House isn't sure when Russia could potentially move to do that. They do believe they will act quickly. And so, they are preparing a U.S. response if that does happen, if and when, that does happen. And of course, all of this comes, Alex, as you are seeing these warnings from top officials here at the White House, including the National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken saying what they have communicated privately to the Russians about what Putin is dangling out there. This prospect of potentially using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Russia understands very well what the United States would do in response to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine because we have spelled it out for them.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've been very clear with the Russians publicly and as well as privately to stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons.


COLLINS: Now, that comes as they say, you know, you see Zelenskyy say that he believes Putin is bluffing. U.S. officials say they are more concerned about this prospect of using nuclear weapons now than they were six or seven months ago. Given what you've seen, the losses and the setbacks that Putin has suffered on the battlefield, they still think the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used as incredibly low.

And as Karine Jean-Pierre, the Press Secretary here told me today, they have not changed the U.S. nuclear posture because there have been no indications, Alex, that they need to do so.

MARQUARDT: That is important. No indication so far. Kaitlan Collins, on the North Lawn of the White House. Thank you very much.

Now just ahead, a CNN exclusive report. We are going inside the operation to fly migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard with one man who helped recruit asylum seekers for that trip. That's coming up.



MARQUARDT: And now to a CNN exclusive of behind the scenes look at the operation to fly migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. CNN's Maria Santana spoke with one man who was actively involved in recruiting asylum seekers with promises of a better life. But now he says that he was deceived as well. She has our report from San Antonio.


MARIA SANTANA, CNN EN ESPANOL ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time to CNN, someone in the inside of the operation recruiting migrants out of San Antonio, Texas is telling his story on camera. The man we spoke to, himself, a recently arrived migrant describing details of working with a woman who many have said identified herself only as Perla (ph). He says he was living on the streets of San Antonio for 28 days before Perla offered him clothes, food and money to help her secure migrants for the flight to Martha's Vineyard.

He showed us her business card, text messages and let us listen to audio messages from Perla revealing she was still in contact with him as recently as last week. For his safety, we are protecting his identity.

(on-camera): Who approached you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): A woman. She said her name was Perla. I didn't know if that was her real name. I didn't ask either. My only intention was to help the people so they could get some stability. She took them to a hotel. At the hotel, I realized that they were being treated well. Their three meals had benefits such as laundry, clothes, things that they didn't have the expectation of getting.

SANTANA (on-camera): What does she say you had to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Recruit people, help her. She said she would hire me and give me some of her cards. I distributed those cards based on the information, which is that we would send them to a sanctuary place. In addition to that, until the flight would leave, we would take them to a hotel where, as I explained to you, they were provided services.

SANTANA (on-camera): What did she say to you to tell these migrants when you approach them? Did she give you any instructions about how to talk to them to try to get them to get on these flights?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): She had told me that the people who are going to Massachusetts before I sent them, she had told me that they were going to receive them. They were going to live. They were going to stay. They were going to help them with the language and those who had children, they were going to study.

SANTANA (on-camera): You know, many of them say that they were offered $10 McDonald's gift cards, and then they were asked to sign a consent form to get on these flights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): They gave them to me so that I could give them to them when people wanted to be on the flight. Everything was always voluntary. No one was ever forced to do anything. When these people always said, yes, I made sure that they gave me the papers, their migration papers.

SANTANA (voice-over): Two planes left San Antonio on September 14, headed to Florida and ultimately to Martha's Vineyard. Once they arrived, he received a concerned phone message from one of the migrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We are at the Utopia, man, and there's nothing and we're waiting to see if we can find a bed because I'm going to have no place to sleep. There's nothing here. We're adrift here. These people didn't even know we would arrive. With that, I'm telling you everything so that you can see bro, it's not me. It's the reality.

SANTANA (voice-over): He says he messaged Perla that the migrants were nervous because nobody was there to meet them. And they were sleeping on the side of the road. He showed us what he says Perla texted back. "Tell them to call the numbers we gave them. The church. The state has to take care of them."

Later that night, he says she left him an audio message saying, "I know they were scared at first but now they are in a much better place and they are going to be taken care of there like you have no idea. I know they arrived in another city but it is within Massachusetts. Believe me, they are going to have a much better life than here or anywhere else."

He says he believed everything Perla promised him. Over the last few days, he says she has been warning him not to talk to reporters. Texting him, "If a reporter calls you, don't say anything." He says he didn't know Governor Ron DeSantis was responsible for the plains to Martha's Vineyard, until he saw the news and Perla never informed him who she was working for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): I was always aware that it was a benefactor who was paying for things. I repeat, I never ever knew that it was a governor or a politician. So my only will has always been to help people.

SANTANA (voice-over)" In the end, I asked him, if he felt betrayed by all of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Yes, of course. Look, look at all of this where I am, first, so that everyone knows that I have nothing to do with deception. Second, that always, as I said from the beginning, my only principle has been to help people I really see as needy.


SANTANA: And Alex, this migrant told us he is no longer in touch with Perla and says he feels like another victim of this scheme one, that given his experience seems to have been designed at every level around taking advantage of peoples of vulnerabilities, their desperation, even their hunger. He says he would have never participated in this if he thought he was intentionally deceiving people. And CNNs attempts to reach the woman called Perla have so far been unsuccessful. Alex? MARQUARDT: Such revealing reporting. Maria Santana, thank you very much for that report. Really appreciate it.

All right, and coming up, why NASA is purposefully crashing a spacecraft tonight and how it could protect Earth in the future. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: In just over an hour's time, NASA plans to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid on purpose. The agency is testing out a type of deflection technology which could be needed if an asteroid is ever on track to hit Earth. CNN's Kristin Fisher takes a closer look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now the spacecraft is pointed directly towards the center.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, NASA's dark mission appears to be on course for a direct hit with an asteroid in what would be a first for humankind, but --

THOMAS ZURBUCHEN, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, NASA SCIENCE MISSION DIRECTORATE: It's only hit when it's hit. We cannot talk our way into it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- something about it.

FISHER (voice-over): NASA's planning to ram a refrigerator sized spacecraft called DART into an asteroid named Dimorphos, which is roughly the size of the Pyramid of Giza and poses no threat to planet Earth. The goal is to see if the impact will push Dimorphos slightly off course. If it works, it means that this technique could be used to deflect a future killer asteroid that is headed for Earth.

BOBBY BRAUN, JOHNS HOPKINS APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY: For the first time ever, we will measurably change the orbit of a celestial body in the universe.

FISHER (voice-over): Mission Control is inside the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, one of the most tense moments for the team will happen at 50 minutes to impact when the spacecraft will switch its sights from a bigger asteroid it's pointed at now to a smaller second asteroid, which is the real target.

EVAN SMITH, DART DEPUTY MISSION SYSTEMS, ENGINEER: That's a very sweaty time for us. So we have a lot of contingencies built right around that 50 minute transition. We're going to be watching the telemetry like hawks. Very scared, but excited.

ELENA ADAMS, DART MISSION SYSTEMS ENGINEER: Then we're going to have it get closer and closer. And we'll fill the field of view of our imager, then we're going to hit (ph).

FISHER (voice-over): It's a moment this team has been training for four months, but even the rehearsals have been tense.

ADAMS: We're just all one by one stood up with all of our heads up and all of us were in intently watching the screens. Just watching the asteroid get bigger and bigger.


And my heart was actually palpitating because I was like this is not normal, right? It's just the rehearsal. But yet you really felt that you were about to hit that asteroid for the first time.

FISHER (on-camera): You're really testing --

ADAMS: We're testing.

FISHER (on-camera): -- this technology that could potentially save all of humankind down the road.

ADAMS: Down the road, right.


FISHER: And NASA has just started sharing the live images from the camera that's mounted on the dark spacecraft. You can see just the big blackness of outer space and then that star in the middle, that's actually the asteroid ditty, most the bigger asteroid. You can't see the target asteroid, Dimorphos just yet. That should come into the field of view in about 30 minutes. And Alex, it's the one time that a NASA mission control is really going to cheer for the total destruction of their spacecraft if it happens.

MARQUARDT: And that little dot going to get a lot bigger very soon. Kristin Fisher, we've be back with you soon.


MARQUARDT: Thank you very much. An exciting evening.

All right, well, coming up, CNN has obtained new clips expected to be featured at Wednesday's January 6 committee hearing. We'll have more on that a moment. We'll be right back.