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Hurricane Ian's Death Toll Rises To At Least 104 In The U.S.; CNN Inside Key City Just Recaptured By Ukrainian Forces; Testimony Under Way In January 6 Sedition Trail For Oath Keepers; Concussions Raising New Questions Over NFL Safety Protocols; Iran Escalates Crackdown On Protesters, Witnesses Describe Students Being Beaten, Shot And Detained. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 03, 2022 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the death toll from Hurricane Ian surges to at least, to at least 104 people. Urgent rescues still underway tonight as emergency crews track down survivors, this as the remnants of the brutal storm cause dangerous high tides and flooding right now in Virginia.

Also tonight, we'll bring you a CNN exclusive report from a key city just recaptured by Ukrainian forces. Ukraine's ambassador to the United States joins me this hour to discuss all the latest news from the war zone.

And we're tracking very dramatic developments in the Oath Keepers sedition trial now underway after both sides deliver opening statements and witnesses begin testifying, prosecutors accusing the extremist group of concocting an armed rebellion against American democracy.

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

We begin our coverage tonight with a rapidly growing death toll from Hurricane Ian. Authorities now say at least 104 people were killed in the catastrophic storm and now officials in one Florida county are under fire over the timing of evacuation orders.

CNN's Carlos Suarez has our report from the epicenter of Ian's devastation. We're talking about Fort Myers, Florida.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Unrecognizable in parts, still under water in others, Hurricane Ian's destruction and path so vast, search and rescue efforts continue days after the storm tore through Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't get over the bridge.

SUAREZ: Residents in Desoto County hit by river flooding. They're stuck. Airboats key to getting supplies in and people out.

LINDA CAMPBELL, ARCADIA RESIDENT: These airboats are going out, taking people into town and it's been going for a while now.

SUAREZ: The death toll across the state climbing rapidly. Two of the hardest hit Florida counties, Lee, and Charlotte, each adding a dozen deaths today alone.

DR. BENJAMIN ABO, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE'S VENOM ONE: A lot of sick people that are running out of medications, a lot of people that are running out of their water and so we can get everything up going, we're trying to get them out.

SUAREZ: Hundreds of Sanibel Island residents cut off from the mainland have been rescued so far, with no timetable to rebuild, the only road to the island.

MAYOR HOLLY SMITH, SANIBEL, FLORIDA: We are encouraging everyone to get off the island, but we also need to understand that this is everyone's home and they need to get back and protect it.

SUAREZ: Meanwhile, mounting questions in Lee County over why the first mandatory evacuation orders there came just one day before landfall. County officials standing by the decision-making, saying they based the orders on the storm's forecasted path.

BRIAN HAMMAN, LEE COUNTY COMMISSIONER: They made the call as soon as the forecast called for them to make the call. Monday afternoon, we were telling people, you do not have to wait for evacuation orders to leave. You can leave now.

SUAREZ: But the county's own emergency plan suggests evacuations should have happened earlier, specifically when there's a 10 percent chance of six feet or higher storm surge.

It was Sunday night when the National Hurricane Center first mentioned four to seven feet of surge for that area. The first mandatory evacuation orders for Lee County were issued Tuesday morning. It turns out that the day before, the town of Fort Myers Beach, quote, encouraged people to leave with a Facebook post, which made a point of noting the county's decision wouldn't come until the next day.

SHERIFF CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA: I'm confident, confident, in the decisions that were made, and like I said yesterday, stand by them and I wouldn't change anything.

SUAREZ: Officials are focusing on their view that residents didn't want to leave ordered to or not.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They informed people and most people did not want to do it. I mean, that's just the reality.

SUAREZ: Mixed opinions from residents themselves on how the county handled the decision.

KEVIN SHAWN CRITSER, PASTOR, BEACH BAPTIST CHURCH: And then when that evacuation order came, we're 24 hours, that's not a lot.

BRITTNEY MONUS, FORT MYERS RESIDENT: We have so many retirees here and elderly that we need more time to be able to get to places or people that don't have vehicles that need more assistance.

RICHARD PHILLIPS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: That wouldn't deter whether I go or not. It's all for each individual. It's right for me doesn't mean it's right for you.



SUAREZ (on camera): And, Wolf, the Lee County manager now says that Fort Myers Beach could be without power for at least a month. And over in Pine Island, that's about a half hour from where we are, we're told that the National Guard is now in the process of delivering food and water by air. That part of the city was cut off by the storm, and right now, it doesn't have a connecting bridge to the mainland. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Carlos, thank you very much. Carlos Suarez on the scene for us, thanks very much.

In Puerto Rico tonight, President Biden is vowing to help the island rebuild from another destructive storm, Hurricane Fiona.

Our Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us now. Kaitlan, this is the first of two visits the president is making this week to hurricane-ravaged areas. What did we hear from President Biden today in Puerto Rico?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an area that is all too familiar with the lasting damage that a hurricane can cause, and that is something that President Biden noted today, praising the resiliency of the people of Puerto Rico, talking about how they have had to deal with storm after storm, not just Hurricane Fiona but also Hurricane Maria, which happened five years ago. It doesn't even seem like it's been that long but it was five years around this time of year when Hurricane Maria hit, of course, Puerto Rico, causing so much damage.

So, President Biden there was there today to announce $60 million that's coming from that infrastructure act that he signed to help with the flood infrastructure in Puerto Rico, but also, Wolf, promising them a better response than they've gotten in the past.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico, much of it not having gotten here initially. We're going to make sure you get every single dollar promised. And I'm determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and better prepared for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: He also talked, Wolf, about making sure his administration is there to make sure Puerto Rico gets whatever they need. It was a clear reference to his predecessor who had a long running feud with many officials in Puerto Rico. Of course, there was that moment when former President Trump went to Puerto Rico to visit them after Hurricane Maria had hit, where he was throwing paper towels to people who had just lost their homes and their livelihoods, a moment that he was heavily criticized for, Wolf.

And so, tonight, President Biden was saying he is going to be there to help them with things, like the electric grid, that they've had so many issues with for so many storms, dating back to several presidencies. And, of course, one concern that Puerto Ricans have is that their pain and their damage often gets overshadowed by storms that hit Florida and other places. And so that is something they noted today.

I should note, Wolf, that President Biden will be visiting Fort Myers, that area that was also so badly hit on Wednesday. So, two storms this week for President Biden to be dealing with and visiting those areas that have lost so much.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Kaitlan Collins reporting for us, thank you very much.

For more on the recovery from Hurricane Ian, let's bring in General Daniel Hokanson, he is the chief of the National Guard. He's joining us from the Pentagon right now. He just surveyed the disaster zone down in Florida. General, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all you and your troops are doing.

What are these operations look like tonight? Are members of the U.S. Army National Guard still rescuing people or is this starting to shift into what's called recovery mode?

GEN. DANIEL HOKANSON, NATIONAL GUARD CHIEF: Well, Wolf, thanks for the opportunity to be with you tonight. And actually when you look at where we are today, as you mentioned, I was there Saturday, and just the level of devastation is just catastrophic in many of the areas.

I spoke with the commander of the Florida Guard earlier today, and today was actually their busiest day. They've got over 5,000 on duty and they still are doing search and rescue and some of the recovery operations. They're also running 27 points of distribution, and so far, they've helped about 40,000 families.

And I know earlier, they mentioned Sanibel, Captiva and also Pine Island. With the causeway and bridges down, we have been using helicopters to airlift food, water and ice and we're sending out about 180 soldiers and vehicles so they can help provide additional security with local law enforcement there. So, I would say, it's early in the game but we're going to be there as long as we're needed.

BLITZER: I know you will be and we're grateful to you for that.

The National Guard, we're told, has conducted more than 1,400 rescues so far, General. Can you describe the circumstances of how people got trapped by this storm and how these operations are carried out?

HOKANSON: Well, Wolf, actually, the latest data we have today is about 2,100 rescues, and that has to do with high water vehicle, helicopters and boats. And the reason we were able to do that is, every year, we do a rehearsal and we identify the capabilities that we're going to need in each of these communities.

And, fortunately, the Florida Guard was activated a couple days prior. So, as the storm, its route changed, we were able to move our personnel, get them as close to the impacted area where they could hunker down. And then once the storm went over, our vehicles, helicopters and boats were able to get out into those areas and rescue as many as we have.

Unfortunately, we couldn't get to everybody and that's the tragic loss of life that you see there, and just the impact on that entire community.


But we continue today to go back and look at areas. They normally do a hasty look and then go back more deliberately to help identify anybody else that's out there.

BLITZER: We're told the death toll continues to rise, General, but at this point, about half of Florida's deaths were in Lee County, which only issued an evacuation order the day before landfall. Does that raise questions for you about whether local officials did enough to prepare residents?

HOKANSON: Wolf, I don't know the specifics related to that but I do know that the National Guard was in close coordination with the Florida Division of Emergency Management and also FEMA as well to make sure our resources were placed everybody we could be to facilitate folks getting out, but then also to be there immediately after the disaster.

BLITZER: General Daniel Hokanson, thanks so much for all you and your troops are doing. We are grateful to the National Guard for that.

Just ahead, the remnants of Hurricane Ian right now sparking flooding in Virginia, and that's expected to last for days. We'll go there.

Plus, we go inside a key Ukrainian city claimed by the Kremlin but where Russian forces have been forced right now to retreat. It's a CNN exclusive.



BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive. We go inside a key Ukrainian city in one of the regions illegally annexed by Russia last week.

But tonight, in a significant, a very significant victory for Kyiv, it's once again under Ukraine's control after Russian forces fled. Here's CNN's International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): It may not look like much but this is where Putin's defeat in Donetsk began, a prize from the last century, perhaps, but trains and tracks are still how Russia wages war today. Lyman, what's left of it, now freed of Russia.

Well, this is what it was all about, the central railway hub here now in Ukrainian hands and devastated by the fighting. And this was such a seminal part of Russia's occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk. The concern for Moscow is the knock on effect that is going to have for their forces all the way to the Russian border.

On the town's edges, we saw no sign of the hundreds of Russian prisoners or dead that had been expected to follow Moscow's strategic defeat here nor inside it either, perhaps they have already been taken away. Instead, utter silence, only local bicycles on the streets. Several residents told us the Russians actually left in large numbers on Friday.

TANYA, LYMAN RESIDENT: They left in the night and the day, people said. I didn't see it myself but they say they sat on their APCs and their bags were falling off as they drove. They ran like this.

WALSH: It would be remarkable timing that Russia fled Lyman in the very same hours that Putin was signing papers declaring here Russian territory and holding rally in Red Square.

A similar story in the local administration where the only signs of Russia left are burned flags. They ran away without saying a word to anybody, he says. It was bad, no work, no gas, no power, nothing. The shops didn't work. It truly feels as if there is nobody left.

Ghostly silence here, apart from occasional shelling and small arms fire and it is, for so much of this town utterly destroyed. So, many locals, we're told, leaving when the Ukrainian push towards it began. But now, it's just this utter ghostliness in a place that's such a strategic defeat for Russia.

Gunfire in the distance, they're nervous some Russians may be left. Outside what's left of the court, the constant change in violence is too much for some. Her husband just arrested.

The Ukrainian troops we did see had already stopped celebrating. There is little time. They're on the move again. Another Russian target further east, Kreminna, in their sights. And those left in Lyman, a town cursed to have these bars but rusting steel running through it, are gathering ruins to burn for fuel with winter ahead. Left in the wake of Russia's collapse here, a town they took weeks to occupy but only hours to leave.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALSH (on camera): The military ramifications where you heard there, it seems Ukraine continuing to push east and Russia struggling to regroup and hold their lines. Politically, the ramification is pretty extraordinary too. Russia has replaced the commander of its western military district, essentially changing the guy in charge of a lot of what's happening in Ukraine in the middle of this crisis.

Also, Russia's elite bickering openly about how Lyman fell, and most remarkably, Wolf, a Kremlin spokesperson saying, look, we don't actually, at this point, have the ability to tell you where the territory we now claim is Russia in occupied Ukraine begins and ends because we're continually talking to the local population about where those borders actually are, extraordinary climb down in their policy and utter disarray visible in Moscow.



BLITZER: Absolutely right. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh on the scene for us, thank you very, very much.

And joining us now, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, Ukraine right now is celebrating what are being described as major gains on the battlefield in the very same regions Putin is now illegally claiming to be part of Russia. How big of a turning point potentially is this?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Good evening, Wolf, and thank you for having me. Yes, as we speak, you know, Ukrainian forces advance in their east, but also in the south with different speed. From the beginning of September, we already freed more than 5,000 square miles of territories and we already control a number of villages and cities, which Putin claims voted for to be, you know, in this sham referendum somehow with Russia, where we literally see 100 percent of people there greeting the Ukrainian Armed Forces, crying and thanking them for liberating them.

BLITZER: So, potentially, this could be a turning point.

In a bid to get longer range U.S. missiles, Ambassador, Ukraine is now offering -- we're told that we're offering the United States, Ukraine is offering the United States what's called veto power over its Russian targets, that according to multiple officials who spoke to CNN. How do you respond to American officials who say Ukraine is already doing very well with the shorter range rocket systems, the missiles the U.S. has already supplied?

MARKAROVA: The U.S. support has been very important part of this victory, and we are always grateful to our American partners for everything we have received today and we are in discussion on all kinds of capabilities and the long-range capabilities is something that we always said we need and we are in discussions right now. Why do we need them? I mean, clearly, what we see in the uncontrolled territories when we liberate them, the mass graves, all their atrocities, everything the Russians are doing there. It's clear that we need to liberate all the territories as fast as possible. One of the important element of that destroying the ammo docks that is actually reaching on our own territory, not in Russia, but in our own territory everywhere where Russians are still illegally there. So, everything, from MRLSs, HIMARSs and long-term capabilities, we would be very grateful to receive all of those.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Do you think the U.S. will give Ukraine these longer range missiles, which have a range of, what, about 200 miles or so?

MARKAROVA: We really hope so. And we have shown how not only effective but also how responsibly we're using them.

BLITZER: And will Ukraine, if you're provided these missiles, will you give the U.S. veto power over how they can be used?

MARKAROVA: Look, we are always working very closely with all of our friends and allies, and as you see our ministers of defense, our chief commanders talking on a regular basis, we have this Ramstein-type (ph) of meetings where we're discussing and we're sharing a lot of information. So, I don't think there is any misunderstanding between our two countries on what is it that we're trying to do. We're trying to liberate our own territories and defend our homes.

BLITZER: As you know, CNN has learned that the United States is considering responses if Putin launches a nuclear display, like striking the Zaporizhzhia plant, for example. How worried are you, Ambassador, that Putin will make good on his nuclear threats?

MARKAROVA: Well, first, we have to understand that there are no red lines unfortunately for these people. And the number of war crimes they already committed in Ukraine, all of them pull for a very strong response.

Now, we also see that when we respond with force, when, together with our international partners, we get everything that we need and we actually get Russians out, they run. So, we shouldn't be afraid and we should just continue doing what we are doing.

And, yes, we have to understand that it's a big threat that there are Russians on our Ukrainian nuclear station, and we together with the agency and all our partners have to do everything possible and maybe even impossible to get them out from there.

BLITZER: Ambassador Oksana Markarova, thanks so much for joining us, always good to welcome you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MARKAROVA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, Ian's destruction continues now. The former hurricane now triggering flooding fears in the mid-Atlantic states.


Plus, officials in one of Florida's hardest hit counties are having to defend their evacuation order amid serious questions about whether it should have been issued sooner.


BLITZER: There's ongoing danger from former Hurricane Ian. Tonight, the remnants of the storm are triggering very dangerous high tides right now in Virginia.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us in Norfolk. Brian, as we can see, the water is rising where you are, what's the latest?


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We're at the scene at some of the worst flooding in the city of Norfolk, Virginia. As you can see, this car behind me has submerged in water partially. It was even deeper in water before this. This is where an inlet basically is, under normal circumstances, right next to a street, but they are now one in the same. The water from the inlet has pushed on to the street and on to this parking lot right here.

We just spoke to the emergency management director for the city of Norfolk and he has said that, actually, they got a bit of good news not too long ago in that the flooding level, and, again, the levels of water kind of go up and down so bear with me here. He said the high tide was not quite as high as they had anticipated. So, they're breathing a bit of a sigh of relief.

They were expecting high tide to be on the level of Hurricane Sandy, or worst, that was ten years ago. So, they expected kind of a ten-year storm event here. They got word from the National Weather Service that because the wind has shifted to the north-northwest, that it would not be as bad. And so you said the high tide, which came in at about 4:00 P.M., was not as bad as they thought.

But, again, flooding dangers still remain. And I'm walking around this parking lot here to illustrate how, as you saw when I was at one level of water over there then I come over here and there's a dip in the water and it gets deeper and yet that red truck over here to my left, to your right, doesn't look like it's in much danger but look where I'm standing. One of our vehicles just came through here and almost got stranded.

That is what city officials are warning people about. Don't drive through standing water like this because the water levels change drastically from just where I was to here. This is going to stall your car and get you stranded until the water recedes, which we anticipate in the next few hours. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd reporting for us on the scene, as usual, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater right now. He's joining us from the CNN Weather Center. Tom, tell us what the mid-Atlantic states should expect tonight and tomorrow.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's quite interesting, Wolf. I mean, we still have the remnants of Ian here, but it's kind of a hybrid system. I mean, it's an area of low pressure off the Delmarva Coast. We've got high pressure in the great lakes. So, together, they're funneling all of this moisture into the area.

It's really a high tide event and a multiple tide cycle. So, what we're seeing here, inundation on the coastlines that could be the greatest inundation we've seen in a decade.

Coastal flood advisories in effect for, you'll see Long Island up into New York and it continues down to Jersey Coast, down to Southern Delaware, but also the coastal flood warnings that are in effect. We could see one to three inches of rain. But, again, it's the same region even for the lower neck of the Chesapeake.

So, this tide cycle will continue this evening, Wolf, and through the day tomorrow. This is ongoing but really cannot stress enough this is some of the greatest inundation we've seen from a tide cycle in about a decade.

BLITZER: They certainly have.

Let's turn to Florida while I have you, Tom, Florida recovering from devastation of Hurricane Ian. One of the hardest hit counties, as you well know, is now defending when it told people to evacuate. Tell us about what everyone knew about the storm's path.

SATER: Well, I tell you, first of all, the men and women who work in the National Hurricane Center really nailed this storm. It's an extraordinary storm. They all have different characteristics. We talk about each one of these as we go through in the years how they can shift.

Now, first of all, landfall, 3:05 on Wednesday, we know that. A week before, we saw the system off the coast of South America. They told us not only would we have the first landfall in mainland U.S., but they told us well before it made landfall in Cuba, it would be a major hurricane.

I personally asked our senior weather producer to put this graphic together for us, because every six hours, the National Hurricane Center puts out a track. And we noticed from 11:00 A.M. on Monday that that track did not deviate from going eastward. Follow the trend. It doesn't that it couldn't go back, but 65 miles, 85 miles to 100, and that trend continued.

So, again, we thought, yes, originally, could it stall off the coast of St. Pete and Tampa? They were getting out of the woods and be able to breathe a sigh of relief, but the rain was a different issue. We thought maybe they will get that.

Here's landfall. The cone of uncertainty is important. The farther time out you go, they've got to look at, of course, the effects of what could go wrong, the errors that could occur. The closer you get, that track and that cone of uncertainty starts to come to a point and narrow.

Here we go, Sunday morning, Fort Myers, here is Lee County, was in the cone, just on the edge. However, we run into Sunday evening, it drops again to the east, we now have a four to seven surge forecast down to Naples.

And then you go into like, say, Tuesday morning, we now have five to ten feet down to Naples and they're still in that cone, well into that cone. The deviation to the right, Wolf, continues, 8 to 12 foot on Tuesday evening and, of course, we know the history from there.

And we continue to follow that at landfall and we know through the course of the extent of all of their tracks, they really paid close attention to every word they put out and every advisory with public safety in the forefront.


It was a larger storm. In fact, we knew that to the south, that eye, you could put the core of Charley in the eye alone.

Real quickly for you, we will not have another Ian, Wolf. All of these I storms just since 2001 have been retired.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Out Meteorologist Tom Sater, thank you very much.

Just ahead, dramatic testimony in the trial of five alleged members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6th insurrection.

Plus, a new statement just coming in from the National Archives following former President Trump's false claim that he handed over letters from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.



BLITZER: Dramatic opening testimony in the closely watched federal trial of five alleged members of the far-right military called the Oath Keepers. CNN Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner has the latest.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jurors deciding the fate of the five defendants facing seditious conspiracy charges for their role in the January 6 Capitol attack heard from Federal Prosecutor Jeff Nessler first. In his opening statement, he said the defendants concocted a plan for armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy.

He then played videos like this one, showing members of the far-right militia-style group, the Oath Keepers, storming the Capitol. They used their military experience plotting oppose by force to government of the United States, the prosecutor said. It is the most serious charge anyone has faced from that day and very rare.

CARLTON LARSON, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AND LEGAL HISTORY, U.C. DAVIS SCHOOL OF LAW: It is unprecedented in the sense that we've never had a violent disruption of the transfer of power to one president to another. That makes this absolutely a unique event in American history.

SIDNER: Prosecutors using just some of the hundreds of hours of videos, including this, showing the Oath Keepers wearing combat gear, moving in a military stack formation and breaching the Capitol. 40- year-old Jessica Watkins of Ohio is an Army veteran, 47-year-old Army Veteran Kenneth Harrelson of Florida, 53-year-old Florida man Kelly Meggs all went inside. Two of the charged did not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every single (BLEEP) in there is a traitor, every single one.

SIDNER: That's Navy Veteran Thomas Caldwell, an associate of the Oath Keepers, outside the Capitol talking about members of Congress. And the founder of the Oath Keepers, Army Veteran Stewart Rhodes of Texas pictures outside, prosecutors say, was the general of the entire operation.

But the defense attorney for Rhodes said in his opening statement that the government's story of the Oath Keepers' role on January 6th is completely wrong and they will prove it. He said, our clients had no part in the bulk of that violence and they were a peace keeping force awaiting President Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

An attorney for Jessica Watkins said his transgender client has had trouble fitting in and called her a protest junkie who wanted to go wherever to help people. She couldn't have been there to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's electoral win because he said she believed the certification was done by the time she got there.

Caldwell's attorney went after the government for misstatements, for first saying Caldwell was the mastermind, but later saying Rhodes was. This is the biggest bait and switch in the history of the American justice system, what they're doing here, he said.


SIDNER (on camera): The government also called its first witness after the defense tried to tear apart the government's case. And you have to remember, there are five defendants here, so you have five different attorneys talking about the case in relation to their specific client. But the government called its first witness. It was an FBI agent. That FBI agent said that his job that day he was called in help protect senators. And he said he witnessed what he thought looked like a bomb had gone off because of the destruction inside of the Capitol after it was raided. And then he said he witnessed senators and members of Congress crying. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Sara Sidner, excellent reporting, thank you very, very much. Also new tonight, the National Archives now saying it told lawyers for former President Trump in May 2021 that Trump's letters with North Korean Kim Jong-un were missing. That comes after Trump falsely told The New York Times he returned the letters last year.

CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is working the story for us. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tell us what about what this New York Times audio shows.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is part of a conversation that the former president had with New York Times Reporter Maggie Haberman. And she asked him in this conversation, essentially, did you take anything notable with you when you left the White House? Now, take a listen to his less than honest response.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Did you leave the White House with anything in particular? Were there any memento documents you took with you, anything of note?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Nothing of great urgency. I have great things there, you know? The letters that Kim Jong-un, letters, I had many of them.

HARBERMAN: You were able to take those with you?

TRUMP: Look at what's happening -- no, I think that has the -- I think that's in the Archives. But most of it is in the Archives. But the Kim Jong-un letters, we had incredibly things. I have incredible letters with other leaders.


MURRAY: Now, we've since learned, of course, that Donald Trump took a whole mess of things with him when he left the White House, including a number of documents that had classified markings. And, Wolf, as you pointed out, in a letter just today, the Archives reiterated that in May 2021, they were telling the Trump team, we know you have these Kim Jong-un letters and we want them back.

Well, in recent days, the Archives also told the House Oversight Committee that they still have not been able to obtain all of the records from the Trump administration, Wolf.


BLITZER: And what did Trump tell Maggie about the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol?

MURRAY: Well, Wolf, they've, of course, focused a lot on what the former president was doing in the run-up and in the hours that the Capitol was under attack. When Maggie Haberman asked him about it, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what were you doing when -- how did you find out there were people storming the Capitol?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I had heard that afterwards. Actually, on the late side, I was having meetings. I was also with Mark Meadows and others. I was not watching television. I didn't have the television.

HABERMAN: You weren't, okay.

TRUMP: I didn't usual have that, the television on, and have it on if there was something. I then later turned it on and I saw what was happening. I also had confidence that the Capitol who didn't want these 10,000 people --

HABERMAN: The Capitol police you mean.

TRUMP: That they'd be able to control this thing and you don't realize that, you know, they did lose control.


MURRAY: Now, we learned from testimony to the January 6th committee that Trump, in fact, was watching TV while this all went down and, Wolf, the committee's work of course is continuing. They're eyeing October 13th for their next hearing, although the date is not set in stone.

BLITZER: Flexible as they say.

MURRAY: Flexible, yeah.

BLITZER: Sara Murray, thank you very, very much. Excellent reporting as well.

Coming up, new questions about the concussion crisis in the NFL right now. Is it time for the league to take drastic measures after a series of very high profile head injuries?



BLITZER: Tonight, the NFL is grappling with a concussion crisis, a brutal head injury to dolphins' quarterback Tua Tagovailoa raising serious questions about the league's ability to protect its players.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more on that. We're also joined by former NFL wide receiver Donte Stallworth.

Elizabeth, walk us through first of all specifically what is so concerning about this string of head injuries in the NFL.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what's so concerning is that this was not the first time that he had taken a fall. Let's take a look at the time line of the events of what happened. So what happened was on September 25th, he was playing, and, again, in a game, and he took a fall, he took a hit, and he wobbled and he stumbled. And that was really worrisome in and of itself.

But he was allowed back out onto the field. He kept playing, and he was allowed to play just four days later on September 29th. Then he took a hit again, and he had a concussion. He was diagnosed with a concussion. That is really problematic because it's just four days later and one does have to wonder, why did they allow for that to happen? Why did they allow for him to keep going?

Now, let's take a look at how they evaluate concussions? How do they evaluate whether it's okay for a player to keep on going? So one would be a loss of consciousness, that's one of the things that they're looking for is, was there a loss of consciousness.

Another thing that they look for is, wait a second, let's take a look and see does he have gross motor instability? That is basically a fancy way of saying, does he have -- is he stumbling because of a neurological issue or was it an orthopedic issue? Also, does he have confusion, and there are various tests for that, and amnesia?

Some of these are a little bit mushy. It's not always clear what the answers are when you're evaluating those four different parameters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Donte, you note that players want to stay on the field, which is understandable, even if they're injured. Does the league, though, need to protect players from themselves?

DONTEL STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL WIDE RECEIVER: One hundred percent, Wolf. I think those protocols were specifically put in place to protect the players from themselves because players are going to want to play regardless of the injury. You are going to want to get back out there and help your team and play as well as you can.

But the protocols obviously have failed Tua. They failed him on Sunday when I think we all pretty much saw what looked like the signs and symptoms of someone who had been concussed, by him grabbing his head and stumbling. And then coming back into the game after a time and playing another game four days later.

What I can say that there has been a lot of awareness that has been raised over the last decade from a lot of the peer-reviewed studies that we've seen in concussions that nomenclature of concussions has changed in the NFL, and the dialogue around it has changed. But these protocols that are in place currently have definitely failed because they failed Tua on Sunday, I believe, and they also failed him -- I'm sorry, they also failed Cameron Brate who played last night or played for Tampa Bay. He looked like he was exhibiting symptoms as well, they let him back in the game, and at half time he was declared out with a concussion.

So these protocols need to be amended. And they have to make sure that these protocols that they're going to put in place that they're going to amend are definitely there to protect the players first.

BLITZER: Good point. Donte Stallworth, and Elizabeth Cohen, guys, thank you very, very much.

We'll have more news in just a moment.



BLITZER: We're following a very violent crackdown on protesters by government security forces in Iran.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is covering it all for us.

Jomana, what can you tell us?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, despite the government's intensifying and widening crackdown, what we have seen over the past few days is thousands of university students staging protests across the country on the streets and on university campuses. And on Sunday, this very disturbing incident unfolding at the Sharif University in Tehran.

This is one of the country's most elite universities. Some would describe it as the MIT of Iran. We've been really trying to piece together what happened there on Sunday evening. And according to statements from the university, according to the little video that has emerged, verified by CNN, and according to an eyewitness we spoke to, they really paint a picture of this brutal force that was unleashed by the security forces to try and crush these protests.

They fired paintballs with metal pellets, bird shot at protesters. They beat up students with batons. This young protester who we spoke to, he described it as a war zone, saying blood everywhere. We don't really know how many people were hurt and how many were detained, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very, very much.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.