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Hurricane Wind Field Expanding, Landfall Around 24 Hours Away; January 6 Committee Postpones Tomorrow's Hearing Due To Hurricane; Russia Claiming Victory In Sham Votes In Ukraine On Annexation; Seditious Conspiracy Trial Begins For Leaders Of Oath Keepers; Iran State Media: At Least 41 Dead In Anti-Government Protests. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 27, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Magnus Carlson made the accusation against fellow Grandmaster Hans Niemann, seen here on the right. Niemann, who has admitted to cheating in the past, denies any wrongdoing. And while Carlson has yet to provide proof, he released a statement, quote, I believe that Niemann has cheated more and more recently than he has publicly admitted, unquote.

Our coverage continues now with one Ms. Pamela Brown. She's in for Wolf Blitzer in a place right next door I like to call THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new forecast warns Hurricane Ian's winds are extending farther, threatening a wider area of Florida as the storm is now expected to move ashore at about 24 hours from now. We're, of course, tracking the storm, the evacuations and the urgent threat to millions of people.

Also tonight, the hurricane is forcing the January 6th select committee to postpone the hearing that was scheduled for tomorrow. This as the panel has some big decisions to make and some key questions to answer.

Plus, Russia is claiming victory after the sham annexation votes in Ukraine. The U.S. on alert for Vladimir Putin's next move as Russians protest his war strategy and flee his military draft.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Pamela Brown, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And let's get right to the newest forecast for Hurricane Ian and the damage it will be doing in Florida by this time tomorrow. CNN Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is in the CNN Weather Center. Jennifer, what is the latest on Ian's power and path?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Pamela, we are within that 24-hour window where this storm will most likely make landfall to category 3 now could go straight into a category 4. It's got winds of 120 miles per hour, but gusts are up. They're up to 150 miles per hour now and it's moving to the north at 10 miles per hour.

This storm is going to run parallel to Key West within the next hour or so. You can see very close right there, so they are going to get the worst of the weather. But the worst is to come, really, because Southwest Florida really is going to face the brunt of the storm. You can see the rain already showing up. We have tornado warnings, as well.

And as this eye becomes very defined, you can see all those lightning strikes right around the center. This is a very strong storm. And so this is going to create a lot of storm surge across Southwest Florida and it's going to dump a tremendous amount of rain.

So, this could be a category 4 at landfall we believe tomorrow afternoon into the evening hours. And if you zoom in, you can see from Tampa all the day down to Fort Myers and Naples, that's where we're focused on the center of the storm, crossing anywhere within this cone. And so anywhere just outside the center of the storm and to the right of the storm, that's what is going to see the strongest storm surge.

We could see up to 12 feet of storm surge right where the storm makes landfall. And around the storm, we're talking about the possibility of 20 to 30 inches of rain. So, even if you don't get the storm surge, a lot of these areas on the northern side could get dumped with just an incredible amount of rain and catastrophic flooding. So, 8 to 12 feet of storm surge right there where the storm is making landfall. Right now, it's pointed anywhere from Fort Myers to Port Charlotte, where we could see up to nine feet of storm surge. And that's why people were told to evacuate.

This is the rainfall map, Pamela. You can see the areas shaded in white. That's more than 20 inches of rain. So, that's going to mean major flooding for these areas around Tampa and points to the south, even well inland and we're also talking about the storm leaving the East Coast of Florida and then impacting portions of Georgia, South Carolina by the weekend. Pamela, we have a long way to go but this is going to be a storm to remember across Florida.

BROWN: They will. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much.

And on that note, let's go right to the danger zone in Florida. CNN's Randi Kaye is on the ground covering all the new warnings and evacuations that are underway tonight.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This is the type of storm surge that is life-threatening.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With Hurricane Ian barreling toward Florida, many here aren't taking any chances. Guadeloupe Gomez (ph) has been boarding up his home for days. He says at least 12 of his family members will take shelter here.

The concern with Hurricane Ian is not just the wind, it's also the rain and storm surge. Nearly 7 million people along Florida's West Coast between Fort Myers and Clearwater, including all of the Tampa Bay area are under a storm surge warning.

PATRICK FULLER, DIRECTOR, CHARLOTTE COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Storm surge is always one of our largest concerns here in Southwest Florida. 90 percent of fatalities occur due to water.

KAYE: Charlotte Harbor in the cities of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda are expecting the highest storm surge, with 8 to 12 feet possible. Around Tampa, a record surge is expected.

MAYOR JAMES CASTOR, TAMPA FLORIDA: A storm that slows down for 24 to 48 hours and just continuously dumps rain into the Tampa Bay area is devastating.


KAYE: Hurricane Ian is expected to dump at least two to three months worth of rainfall by Friday, possibly as much as 24 inches of rain in Tampa and West Central Florida.

FULLER: It only takes 18 inches of water to be a life-threatening situation.

KAYE: Tampa's airport taking no chances.

JOE LOPANO, CEO, TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: As 5:00 P.M. today, no more commercial flights.

KAYE: Evacuation orders expanding since Monday with shelters open for those without other options to wait out the storm.

CONNIE GOSSELIN, PORT CHARLOTTE RESIDENT: I've never been in a hurricane. This is my first time and my first time at a shelter. But I feel better here than if I would be alone at home.

KAYE: Those riding out the storm racing to get sandbags, facing lines for gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're out of water, folks. No water.

KAYE: And the familiar scramble to stock up on food and water, then hurry up and wait.


KAYE (on camera): And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking just moments ago, saying the time is now to evacuate, that later is simply just too late. He has activated 5,000 National Guard troops here in the state of Florida. He has search and rescue teams ready to go, as well as saying that this storm is the real deal. So, if you are going to evacuate, now is the time to do it.

Here in Charlotte County, 120,000 people are under evacuation order. That's about 2/3 of the county. And they are listening, we are told, because they remember Hurricane Charley from back 2004. That was the cat 4 that was supposed to hit Tampa and plowed through Punta Gorda where we are. We're just feet away from the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. And tomorrow morning, where I'm standing, Pamela, could be under water. Back to you.

BROWN: Randi Kaye, thank you for that.

And for more on storm preparations, I want to bring in the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management Kevin Guthrie. Hi, Kevin.

We're looking at satellite imagery of Hurricane Ian showing the eye of the storm, lightning flashing around it. As you watch this storm barrel towards your state, what is your main concern tonight?

KEVIN GUTHRIE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Right now, the main concern tonight before we go into the overnight hours is people that are in evacuation zones along the southwest gulf coast need to evacuate now. Just as the reporter just mentioned from Punta Gorda, tomorrow morning, it could be under water. We need you to evacuate now. If your local emergency manager has asked you to evacuate, evacuate now. They may not be able to help you come morning time.

BROWN: When do you think is the last time to evacuate, people who are still there, not obeying those orders to evacuate, when is the last time, in your view, looking at the models to do so?

GUTHRIE: I'm going to say that time is quickly approaching. I mean, it could be within a matter of a couple of hours. Here in the state of Florida, when we get our bridges to a point where we have 40-mile-an- hour sustained winds of one minute or more, then we shut does bridges down.

Now, most of them will leave the outgoing traffic from the barrier islands open but that time is now. They need to be leaving right now, no more than a about couple of hours from now. They have got to get on the road and get out of harm's way right now.

BROWN: Give us a sense, if you would, about the preparations under way, on the ground in Florida tonight. I know the National Guard has soldiers activated, crews are standing by to restore expected power losses. What else?

GUTHRIE: Yes. So, we have 30,000 of linemen from various different organizations that are ready to restore power in the state Florida. We have over a thousand shelter staff that are deployed to assist counties and cities with their shelter operations. We have, I believe, over 100 shelters up in statewide at this point, most of them in South Florida. We have numerous law enforcement and fire and rescue individuals. We have over 300 ambulances that have come in from out of state. So, we have probably about another hundred or so from in state.

So, we've got just a large number of first response public safety agency resources that are already working and then they're going to go keep themselves safe while the storm comes in. And then we're going to be ready to go right after landfall to get back in there and start helping people who did not heed the warning, did not evacuate. We'll start working on helping them afterwards.

BROWN: President Biden says FEMA is in position with water, meals and generators. Are you getting the support you need from the federal government as you prepare for this hurricane?

GUTHRIE: Absolutely. I've been getting all the support we need from the federal government. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell has called me, checking on us, seeing what we need. There is about 80 FEMA personnel here in our EOC, as well as stretched all the way across the state Florida in local EOCs.


The FEMA regional administrator is here. She is helping me with anything that I need, fast-tracking issues.

We have already received water and food from FEMA getting ready. We have received five urban search and rescue teams, federal assets from FEMA. We're in the process of having the Department of Defense assets come in and assist us back us up on aerial rescues, if we need that, after the storm. Rear Admiral McPherson from the United States Coast Guard District 7 himself, a two-star admiral, is here in our EOC, helping us and giving us the resources we need. So, we're getting plenty of federal government help. There is no politics with this disaster. It's a public safety issue, and everybody is doing the right thing for the people of the state of Florida.

BROWN: That's good to hear. Kevin Guthrie, thank you so much and best of luck.

Just ahead for you tonight, we're going to go live to Tampa and we're going to check in with the National Hurricane Center, as our storm coverage continues.

And how the postponement of tomorrow's January 6th hearing impacts the House select committee.

We'll be right back.


BROWN: Tonight, the powerful hurricane bearing down on Florida is having an impact right here in Washington.


The January 6th select committee has postponed tomorrow's hearing.

Let's go right to CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider. So, Jessica, tell us more about the committee's decision here. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Pam, they actually

waited until late this afternoon to announce their decision, but, of course, saying, because of the hurricane bearing down on Florida, they have to postpone it.

So, they sent out this notice from the chairman, Bennie Thompson, also the vice chair, Liz Cheney. They put it this way. They said, we're praying for the safety of all those in the storm's path. They did say that the committee's investigation, of course, continues. They'll announce a new date soon.

But, really, it's crunch time. The members are going to be leaving Washington soon to go back to their districts. We're approaching the midterms. There's also somewhat of a question as to what exactly this hearing will reveal. We heard from some of the committee members last weekend. They said they wanted to use this to round out the factual narrative.

And then, of course, we had some of those Roger Stone clips from that Danish documentary released yesterday. Possibly, the committee will tie that into their hearing, as well. Committee members have said they want to further explore and they say they have new details about links between Roger Stone and extremist groups. So, a lot maybe still to be uncovered, we're not exactly sure what or when at this point.

BROWN: All right. There's a lot to unearth at this point.

Jessica, stay with us, as we bring in our panel, CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins and Defense Attorney Shan Wu.

All right, Shan, starting with you, does this postponement by the select committee time to make some big decisions on possible criminal referrals, sharing transcripts with the DOJ? What do you think?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think so. I mean, certainly, it does buy them more time. But I think those sorts of discussions and decisions are well underway at this point. I think it was probably wise not to wholesale start sharing their information with DOJ at an earlier point. I think it gave their investigation a lot more integrity and independence that way. But I think they have reached a point where it would be very helpful if they could do that. So, it seems like the right time for them to do that now.

BROWN: And this is all about preventing another January 6th, Gloria. Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out in support of the bipartisan bill that would make it harder to overturn an election. How significant is that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's very significant because I think it will be easier to pass that through the Senate with a number of Republicans that might make it filibuster- proof. We're not exactly sure yet. It also puts them at odds yet again, Kaitlan, with Donald Trump and it also puts him at odds with some conservative Republicans, like Ted Cruz, who today came out and said that this bill is bad for democracy.

And all this bill would do is say, look, we're going to make it a little harder for people to challenge the election on the Senate floor. We're going to require more objection. And also to make it very clear that the vice president's role is completely ministerial, that it has absolutely nothing to do with his choice. He's just there to pound the gavel and count those electoral votes. BROWN: Yes, of course, is what's already in the Constitution on that.

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWN: Yes. So, Kaitlan, talking about Donald Trump, let's talk about what is going on in his legal team. We have some new reporting about a shakeup.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's never surprising but sometimes unexpected when you see what's happening inside the legal team. We have seen it time and time again through the impeachments, through the other investigations Trump has faced. With this latest legal team, they brought on Chris Kise, who is the former solicitor general for Florida. He's won several cases before the Supreme Court. He was brought on less than a month ago mainly to deal with the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation because he is the most experienced in Trump's legal team right now in Florida law.

However, we have now learned that he's basically been sidelined in the investigation case. He is not leading the work on that case. And he is still on the legal team and he can certainly focus on the other investigations that Trump is dealing with, from the civil lawsuit in New York. He's got the January 6th investigation that's happening with the federal grand jury here in Washington.

But it's notable that Chris Kise, who also made sure to negotiate that he would get a $3 million payment up front, which was paid for Trump's outside campaign chair, because Trump has this reputation of not always paying his legal fees. It's notable that given all of that, given what he was brought in, he is not the one leading the work here on the Mar-a-Lago investigation.

BORGER: Well, he also had the reputation of not listening to his lawyers.

COLLINS: Yes. He gets a lot of advice from his attorneys. That doesn't mean he always takes it.

BROWN: Exactly. And we've been covering Trump's legal woes, the three of us, for many years, and the fact that there is this kind of dynamic is not surprising. It was just a matter of time. But it is surprising, I think, that it's Chris Kise who has been sidelined, as your reporting reflects, given his experience and everything.

COLLINS: And when he was brought on, that was kind of how they viewed it. Okay, this is the attorney that actually is going to come on after the search. He is going to be the one to kind of lead the efforts here. He is going to be the big name, this white collar defense lawyer in Florida. And then, of course, now that we're seeing it, that he is not the one taking the leading role on this.


And you're right, he left his law firm he had been with for about a decade. He did negotiate the payment. But it just speaks to the level of what is actually happening inside the legal team. There is definitely some infighting, definitely disagreement on what's the best way to proceed here.

BROWN: Yes. I wonder what Shan thinks about this. Shan?

WU: Yes, I would agree with that last observation by Kaitlan. Something like this is a little bit unusual to get your $3 million retainer and then be sidelined. That's a very expensive bench position. Probably speculation, but it does commonly reflect a problem or disagreement among the legal team.

And, again, here, and looking at it from the outside, there are significant issues with the composition of the team, because Corcoran and the other attorney, Bobb, both are potentially at least witnesses in terms of what they represented to the Justice Department. If I were him, I would be kind of uncomfortable working with them because it could compromise the integrity of my own defense if they end up being subjects or being questioned.

So, I don't know if there is some of disagreement going on there, but, certainly, it's unusual for that to happen when he's been brought in for that purpose specifically.

BORGER: Yes, I think it's really unusual for that to happen. But also, again, don't forget, we're dealing with Donald Trump. Remember Bowers, Butch Bowers, quit before defending Trump on impeachment?

COLLINS: Two weeks before the impeachment.

BORGER: Two weeks before the impeachment. I remember we broke the story on a Saturday night.

COLLINS: Yes, we did. We were working on Saturday night.

BORGER: And so here we are again.

Now, I don't know what the reason is. Shan may be right, maybe the attorney realized that he was going to have conflicts later, but we still don't know the whole story about --

SCHNEIDER: Yes, there's more to the story, that's for sure.

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWN: Jessica, I want to bring you in quickly to ask you about the Justice Department rejecting the former president's accusation that the FBI planted evidence. No surprise there, of course, but what is next in this investigation?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the special master has laid out a very specific set of deadlines here, because he's under pressure, too. He's under the clock. He has to finish all of this by the end of November.

So, the Justice Department last night, they put out their final inventory list, everything that was seized from Mar-a-Lago. An FBI agent affirmed that everything in that list was exactly what was seized. And now, the ball is in Trump team's court. They have to submit a sworn declaration by Friday saying if they believe the FBI planted any evidence.

Of course, they've made out-of-court statements to that effect, but this will be a sworn declaration submitted to the special master. They can't lie. So, we'll see on Friday if their out-of-court statements, if they can have any evidence and if they can put it up and show that, yes, in fact, they planted evidence, we'll see.

BROWN: All right, a high bar. Jessica Schneider, Gloria Borger, Kaitlan Collins, Shan Wu, thank you all, I appreciate it.

Well, there's other January 6th news we're following tonight. Kyle Young, one of the many rioters who attacked Officer Michael Fanone during the Capitol insurrection, was just sentenced to 86 months in prison. The judge handed down the lengthy sentence along with a scathing rebuke of Young's conduct on that day, called him a, quote, one-man wrecking ball.

Michael Fanone, now a CNN law enforcement analyst, told the court his experience on January 6th cost him his career and he said he hope Young suffer during his time in prison.

BROWN: Well, coming up, we're going to have a live report from Tampa, Florida, as officials scramble to prepare for Hurricane Ian's arrival. I'll also get an update from the head of the National Hurricane Center right after the break.



BROWN: More now on our top story. Florida is making final preparations for Hurricane Ian, as the powerful category 3 storm closes in.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now live from downtown Tampa with an update. So, Brian, what are officials there most concerned about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, they are really concerned about storm surge, rainfall, flooding, and getting people to safety, because that's really the focal point now. Storm surge, first, here in Tampa, they may not be getting quite as much storm surge as they initially thought they would get. Those projections are down to about maybe four to seven feet of storm surge.

But still, here in Tampa, four to seven feet is storm surge is huge because the water coming from Tampa Bay, just down here, into the Hillsborough River, where we are right here, doesn't have anywhere to go once it gets up here. So, if they have got several feet of storm surge, you've got Bay Shore Avenue, which is just over my right shoulder down here and other areas there that are going to flood very, very easily. So, they are really expecting some major flooding here in the Tampa Bay area, even though it may not be quite as severe as they originally thought with Hurricane Ian moving south of here.

Now, let's talk evacuations very quickly, because the mayor, Jane Castor, the mayor of Tampa, said a short time ago that police have been going door to door, knocking on doors, ordering people out. They can't force people out even if they're under a mandatory evacuation. But they are urging people to get out in several areas here in the Tampa Bay area, including areas where there are a mobile and manufactured homes. You have got 2.5 million people in Florida under some type of evacuation orders. And a short time ago, Governor Ron DeSantis talked about how there might be still time left for some people to get out.


DESANTIS: You still have time to do it. You do not have to evacuate hundreds of miles. Obviously, if you have friends, family, some of that, hotels, that's preferable. But as a last resort, the shelters are open. And I would just urge people to take advantage of that. It's -- I know it's not easy sometimes to leave your home and I know people don't want to see anything bad happen when they get back, but it's -- the stakes are high.


This is a very powerful storm.


TODD: A couple of other key concerns here in the Tampa area and elsewhere nearby, the mayor here said that they've got about 100 nursing homes in the Tampa area. They have gone to all of them today to make sure they have got emergency generators that are able to work to help the people who are staying in those areas.

Also, Pamela, they're giving people the same warnings that they always give people here but a lot of people don't seem to get it. They say that once the storm begins in earnest, you're not going to be able to be reached by first responders. Don't try calling first responders. If you have an emergency situation, you are going to have to ride it out. Because once the winds get above 40 miles per hour, first responders are not going to be able to venture out, Pamela, they are not going to be able get to people until after the storm passes. That is a consistent warning no matter where a hurricane hits. But they are really telling people to make sure you understand that before Hurricane Ian hits tomorrow.

BROWN: Yes, that's very important. More than 1.75 million there in Florida under a mandatory evacuation orders, and as you said, more than 2.5 million under evacuation orders. Thank you so much, Brian Todd, giving us the latest update there in Florida.

And joining us now is the acting director of the National Hurricane Center, Jamie Rhome. So, Jamie, I know how busy you are, I want to get straight to it. Let's show our viewers this satellite imagery of Hurricane Ian. It certainly looks like a potentially devastating storm. Tell us what your latest models are indicating, which parts of Florida need to be bracing for the worst of this storm.

JAMIE RHOME, ACTING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, great question. And you kind of alluded to this, it's actually a large system. I want people to understand as it grows in size, and continues to grow in size, that it's going to spread a swath of multiple hazards across a good chunk of the Florida Peninsula.

If you're not on the direct path of the center, that doesn't mean that you're out of harm's way. This system, because it's going to be so large, spread damaging winds and flooding inland, looking at inland floods along the I-4 corridor, and then the storm surge will be maximized down here over the southwestern coast of Florida.

BROWN: So, you mentioned some of what you're looking for, some of the factors of this category 3 storm, wind speed, storm surge, expected rainfall. Which factor poses the greatest threat right now and please explain why?

RHOME: Unfortunately, it depends on where you are. It's a little bit of a generalization, but if you're along in north of the projected path, heavy rain and damaging winds. And if those soils will saturate it, those winds are going to bring down trees, bring down power lines and possibly block roads. So, think about you need to be where you're going to be to ride this one out and basically stay there.

And then if you're along south of the track, storm surge at the coastline, significant storm surge at the coastline, especially down here around Fort Myers area, and then damaging winds and rain, as well. So, three hazards, damaging winds, rain, and storm surge along in south and then damaging wind and rain to the north.

BROWN: Our Jennifer Gray, our meteorologist, just said earlier on this show that in some parts, it's predicted there is going to be a storm surge of 8 to 12 feet. What kind of an impact would that have? And have we seen that level of storm surge in other recent storms?

RHOME: We have, we just haven't in Florida in a very long time. We have to go back to Wilma to see that type of storm surge. It certainly didn't happen in Charley, because Charley was a very small system. So, I definitely want people in the Port Charlotte area to not fall victim to that comparison. Charley was a very small and compact system. The storm surge just wasn't that deep as what we're projecting here. Look at the size of this storm. This is the wind field here in the orange. And you can see it's just a very big system.

BROWN: All right. Jamie Rome, thank you so much. And, again, the best of luck as you continue to track this historic storm.

And we're going go live to Ukraine where Russian officials are claiming victory in the sham referendum to annex Ukrainian territory. And to the Russian border, as thousands flee a military draft, what this all means for the battle over Eastern Ukraine, up next.



BROWN: Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is slamming the sham referendums in Russian-occupied regions as, quote, an attempt to steal the territory of another state. CNN International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground for us in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. So, Nick, what comes next?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. We're looking at a very few tense days ahead here. Now, we're beginning to see these pretty much preordained results coming from the four referenda in occupied parts of Ukraine staged by Russia. The numbers coming out even with about sort of 90 percent of the vote, or some places, all the votes counted in the high 90s of acceptance, essentially because you have had armed men at times going from door- to-door asking people whether they endorse Russia taking over the place where they live.

Now, we're probably going to see Russian-backed officials who have been in charge of some of those areas. One of them is on the way to Moscow already to begin the process of kind of rubber stamping through Russia's two houses of parliament, the idea that these parts of Ukraine now formally become part of Russia. In fact, even the British Ministry of Defense is suggesting that Vladimir Putin may use his speech on Friday to essentially formally annex these areas.


That will trigger a trigger a response from the United States, sanctions. We're also hearing from the European Union has a package of sanctions they are going to wheel out as well.

What does it mean though for Vladimir Putin's position? Well, he's had officials frankly relentlessly bellicose rhetoric being delivered out of the past days talking about the possibility that nuclear weapons to might be used to defend what Russia considers part of its former territory. That's something the U.S. has even had to deliver strong signals privately and even publicly against as well.

How that changes matters on the battlefield if Russia doesn't lean towards what people were talking about, these tactical nuclear weapons, and, frankly, the world, has to hope that they don't is another question here.

In Kramatorsk and Onetsk, we are seeing heavy shelling often of civilian areas but also too, Ukraine making incremental advances. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that they were seeing success, positive news on the battlefield but he declined to elaborate.

So, an absolutely key moment for Russia here because it's made some grandiose statements about how it will fully protect what it considers to be formerly its territory. It's likely to be declaring parts of occupied Ukraine, ever diminishing because of Ukrainian advances, to be part of Russia. And we know that Russia's conventional forces are, frankly, in tatters and struggling through partial mobilization to get new recruits that aren't effective on to the ranks.

So, a very messy week ahead for Russia but, frankly, a very tense one for Ukraine and the region, as we see what comes after the Kremlin makes this move. Pam? BROWN: Yes, we're all watching it. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that.

Let's bring in CNN Military Analyst, retired General Mark Hertling as well as CNN's Melissa Bell. She's joining us live from Georgia's border with Russia.

So, Melissa, I want to start with you because you're right there at this border crossing where thousands of Russian men are desperately trying to flee Putin's mobilization. What are you seeing? What are you hearing? Bring us there.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is -- the scene here tonight is this. It is a land border crossing, as you can see, the cars there go so far back, Pamela, that people are obliged crossing on foot, and have been for several days, because all the ones we have spoken to have come from as far as Moscow. They have had to abandon their cars and walk for many hours, in some cases, several days.

And it isn't just fighting-age men. And we have seen families here. We've seen people carrying small children, elderly women also trying to flee with those men. And it is, of course, that partial mobilization, that announcement that has driven them to leave places like Moscow and to head to borders like this one.

Have a listen to what one man fleeing over this very border had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when you go to fight I a stupid war, to kill your brother, it is a war about nothing. And that's why people get away from it.


BELL: It has really brought home to so many of those Russians that we have spoken to here at the border the reality of the war, the fear of what it could mean for them.

Now, we're also hearing from authorities here that what they expect to see is the nature of the men able to cross changing, no longer fighting age men, because we have heard on Russian state media now that Russian authorities are going to be drafting, bringing the draft notices to the border itself and making it much, much harder for those men to leave. Pamela?

BROWN: Absolutely. General Hertling, I want to bring you in on this, because you're calling this mobilization a recipe for slaughter. How desperate does Putin have to be to issue draft notices to men as they try to escape Russia?

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: A couple of things, Pamela. They're issuing draft notices, as we are calling them, and they're very different than what we are used to. This is not mobilization of the reserves, as we know them in the United States, where units are pushed together, they train together, they're ready for a conflict if one arises. These are folks who are thrown together, some with military background, as recently as last year, some tens of years ago, decades ago. Some don't have any military experience at all, and they're all being thrown together in one kettle.

Soldiers have to have some kind of cohesion in a unit. These mobilized people, I won't even call them soldiers, will now join units that have been mauled (ph), that have had desertions, that have a percentage of their forces killed. So, their morale is extremely low. This is just going to be more premeditated murder, but this time, it's on the part of the Russian soldiers who are going to the front.

BROWN: And, General Hertling, Secretary of State Tony Blinken was crystal clear today that Ukraine could use U.S.-supplied weapons to take back any territory illegally annexed by Russia. What are the battlefield implications of that?


HERTLING: Well, what we're going to see, I think, in the near future, Pamela, we've had the deliberate weapons during different phases, different types. The first, the javelins and the stingers, then came the HIMARS. Ukraine needs to have a modern army, a technologically advanced and equipped army. They don't have that now. They literally have a smorgasbord of equipment being delivered by all of the NATO members. They need to have the opportunity to train on that equipment and conduct combined arms operations.

But still, even considering all that, they're doing extremely well against a dysfunctional, poorly trained Russian force. So they'll continue to take background, in my view, and some of it will go much further than we anticipated.

BROWN: Melissa, are you getting a sense on the ground there of just how much Russian views of this war have shifted as a result of the mobilization?

BELL: Yes, there's definitely a sense, Pamela, that this has brought it home to them. Some of them said, we didn't know before, we were confused. Now we understand that we don't want to die for this particular fight. This is not our war. We don't want to be involved.

But more than that, what we are hearing from the people crossing the border here is they speak about the arbitrary nature of that mobilization, just going back to where you both speaking about a moment ago, the fact that they say it isn't just a partial mobilization for now, they're not just worried it will become a full one, they say that they fear that anyone and everyone is being taken off the streets, not simply those who qualify. And I think that is what has pushed so many of them to leave, taking whatever they could carry, as quickly as they can -- Pamela.

BROWN: Reporting there on the ground, Melissa, retired General Mark Hertling, thank you as well. We appreciate it.

And coming up, a historic trial is under way to prosecute a far right group for sedition during the January 6th riot. How the Justice Department is building out its case, up next.



BROWN: Jury selection is now underway in a federal trial that could pose a major test to the Justice Department's prosecution of January 6th rioters.

Our senior national correspondent Sara Sidner is on the story for us.

So, this is the first edition trial the country has seen in a decade. Lay out the case for us and what these Oath Keepers are accused of doing.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, there are five people that stand accused of more than a half dozen charges. But the most serious is seditious conspiracy. And basically what that is is planning and plotting to overthrow the government forcibly, to stop the peaceful transfer of power. And, so that is what they're charged with. It is the most serious charge that we've seen and any of these January six cases, and this is the first trial that we're going to see.

Some people have already pleaded guilty to this charge. But this is the first trial and there is some significant -- and includes one of the highest profile people that have been put on trial. That is the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes. So, he's one of the five defendants. The government says the rest were his lieutenants, if you will, and he was sort of the ringleader if you will.

And, basically, they're going to be going through hundreds of hours of video, much of which we've seen, from January 6th. They're also going to be going through tens of thousands of texts between the members that they say we're all planning and plotting. There's also things like basically accusing them of plotting and bringing in weapons into Virginia, and then planning to bring those into D.C.

On the other side of this, as you're watching the trial happen, we have this interesting mix of people who are all in the court. There are three tables filled with attorneys. You have the prosecutors. Then, you have a couple attorneys for each of the defendants.

So it's a packed courtroom even with no one else in there but the attorneys, clients, and judge.

BROWN: So, what do we expect to hear from the defense?

SIDNER: So, the defense has -- it's an interesting defense. The defense has said that basically, they were planning for what they thought was going to be a call from President Trump for the Insurrection Act. And that they were there to be peacekeepers during this insurrection act that he would invoke.

Well, of course, that never happened. That's part of the way they're going to kind of put forward. They also say that they were there to create a peaceful setting for people. Yes, I know. I see your face, Pam. It is a little bit difficult to square that. But that is part of what their defense is going to be.

BROWN: It's interesting. This is going to be a very big test for the Justice Department.

SIDNER: Absolutely. It will be.

BROWN: Yeah, we're going to be watching this very closely. Sara Sidner, I know you're going to be on top of it from start to end. Thank you so much.

Well, the anti-government protests intensifying across Iran, where people are taking to the streets to chant against the supreme leader.



BROWN: In Iran tonight, security forces are clamping down on a growing protest movement. The nationwide crackdown has been brutal. Dozens of people are already dead. But the demonstrators are not backing down.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has the latest.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, a near total Internet blackout by the Iranian government is making it very difficult for us to get in touch with people to find out what's going on in real time. They're also blocking many social media platforms, making it very difficult for journalists, activists, protesters, to get news and images out to the world.

But we are still seeing information and some video trickling out. Tonight, it appears protesters are back out on the streets of Tehran and other cities. Young men, women, still defiant, still out on the streets, still demanding the rights and freedoms they have never known in the Islamic republic. A generation of Iranians, arguably, more emboldened than ever.

They are even calling for regime change. This, despite the ongoing government crackdown that many fear is only just beginning. According to the government some figures, more than 1000 people have been detained so far. That includes journalists, according to the committee, to protect journalists.

Amnesty International says the government is using lethal force against protesters, she didn't directly and deliberately at them. We can't independently confirm and verified death toll claims from outside the country. But there are estimates that dozens of people have so far lost their lives.

And there's a lot of concern that the more determined these protesters are, the more likely it is the government is going to resort to brutal for us to try to crush these protests, as it is done in the past -- Pam.


BROWN: Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much.

I'm Pamela Brown.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.