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Ukraine's Counteroffensive Reclaims 120 Settlements in Two Weeks; U.S. Moves Warships Along Korean Peninsula Amid North Korean Missile Launches; White House Scrambling to Contain Fallout After Oil Cut Raise Fears of Soaring Gasoline Prices; Desperate Floridians Endure Long Lines for FEMA Aid. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 06, 2022 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Coy Wire, thanks so much. Good to see you again.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok. I'm Jake Tapper. You can tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to THE LEAD whence you get your podcast, just sitting there like a juicy tomato. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, major developments in Ukraine right now where Russian forces are fleeing a relentless counteroffensive, but there are new nuclear fears tonight as well as Vladimir Putin lays claim to an embattled Ukrainian nuclear power plant. This hour, I'll discus all this and more with the Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland.

Also tonight, first on CNN, sources now tell us the Georgia prosecutor investigating the plot to overturn the 2020 presidential election could begin issuing indictments as soon as December.

And Herschel Walker now says he's not backing down despite the abortion scandal rocking his campaign. Journalist Maggie Haberman joins me this hour with new insight on Donald Trump's decision to back Walker despite his checkered past.

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

Let's begin our coverage tonight in Ukraine where a furious, a furious counteroffensive is now sweeping Russian troops out of territory Moscow has held for months. CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is joining us live from the warzone right now.

Nick, this rapid Ukrainian advance comes as Vladimir Putin laid claim to that troubled nuclear power plant. What's the latest on the ground tonight?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy clear that half a thousand square kilometers of territory in the Kherson region have since the beginning of the month been liberated from Russian control. That's a larger number than some of his officials said earlier on today, and it's part of the slow drip we saw ourselves just yesterday of territory reclaimed.

Lightning speed advances here, often in vastly empty expanses of territory here. In fact, some videos showing Ukrainian troops using American supplied Humvees to literally race across the fields under artillery fire to push Russian troops out. It's putting a lot of pressure on here, which is a vulnerable but vital part of Russia's occupation. And the continued Ukrainian advances, Zelenskyy talking also about success in the east and holding out the possibility of further success in the sort of southeast, in the Zaporizhzhia area.

That's causing a lot of internal pressure inside of Russia leading parliamentarians saying how Russia needs to stop telling itself lies about what was happening on the battlefield, and the Russian appointed official in occupied territory even suggesting the defense minister had done so poorly somebody in his position should consider shooting themselves. Words you would never normally imagine even hearing in an authoritarian climate Vladimir Putin has created -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tough situation indeed. Nick Paton Walsh, in Ukraine for us, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.

Now to on update on the growing tensions right now with North Korea. American warships are deploying to the region after Kim Jong-un's regime launched a series of provocative missile tests and military drills.

Our Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann has the latest.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight with mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. and key allies united in a show of force at sea. Hours after North Korea test launched two more ballistic missiles Thursday, the U.S. responded with its own show of force, sending two warships from the USS Reagan carrier strike group to the region for ballistic missile defense drills with South Korea and Japan after the latest launches.

South Korea says the exercises focused on the detection, tracking and interception of future North Korean missiles. According to a CNN count, North Korea has launched ballistic missiles six times in the last two weeks. Most were short range ballistic missiles, but one launch earlier this week was an intermediate range missile that flew over Japan. The first time that's happened in five years.

And this morning, Kim Jong-un flying fighters and bombers for an exercise near the South Korean border according to the South Koreans, causing them to scramble their own fighters in response.

BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, North Korea is testing its missile program. It's looking to adapt and the issue here, though, is that these actions are provocative. They're dangerous.

LIEBERMANN: With tensions rising, U.S. officials have called for Kim to engage in diplomacy rather than saber rattling, but an administration official confirms they've heard only silence from Kim's regime.


The U.S. now pressuring two of North Korea's supporters, Russia and China, without naming them, at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: The DPRK has enjoyed blanket protection from two members of this council. These two members have gone out of their way to justify the DPRK's repeated provocations and block every attempt to update the sanctions regime.

LIEBERMANN: Since the beginning of this year, North Korea has carried out 24 missile tests so far including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and claimed hypersonic tests. The worst may yet be ahead. The U.S. has warned for months now that North Korea is ready to carry out its seventh nuclear test, a step officials and analysts say could come at any time.


LIEBERMANN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned North Korea that if it continues down this path, the frenetic pace of ballistic missile testing we have seen, that all that's ahead for them is more condemnation and more isolation.

Wolf, given the record pace with which North Korea has carried out this test, it seems that's a warning they have no intention of heeding.

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this, all of today's international developments with the Undersecretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who's joining us from the State Department.

Secretary Nuland, thanks so much for joining us. Let's begin with Ukraine right now. You heard President Zelenskyy vowing tonight that Ukraine will liberate Russian occupied territories and that the day will come, his words, when they attempt to liberate Crimea as well.

Does the U.S. believe, Secretary, that Ukraine can pull off such a very decisive victory or is the fear out there that this war will continue to grind down?

VICTORIA NULAND, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, Wolf, good to be with you. First and foremost, Crimea is Ukraine. It has always been Ukraine. The reason the Ukrainians are doing so well in this counteroffensive is because they are fighting for their homeland, whereas these Russian conscripts sent by Putin in his vain imperial ambition don't even know why they're there and that's why they're starting to flee, and of course, because the U.S. and our allies are helping Ukraine to regain its homeland.

We will see how they do. They've made as your reporter indicated, amazing progress just in the last week and I believe they will keep going as long as they can and we will support them all the way through.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect you're right. Russian President Putin has ordered his government to take control of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. If Russia does take control of that plant, can Ukraine regain control without risking a nuclear crisis?

NULAND: Well, first of all, Russia has been irresponsibly lobbing missiles in and around the plant. Right now, the plant is still controlled by Ukrainian operators and the International Atomic Energy Agency is there on site trying to ensure that the plant stays operational, that there aren't any accidents there and that Ukrainian operators can continue to manage it. So unless Russia is prepared to take it militarily, which would be extremely dangerous and perhaps unsuccessful given Ukrainian defenses, Ukraine will continue to hold it and Putin's lies won't change that.

BLITZER: I want to turn to North Korea, Secretary. Experts now believe North Korean missile tests will continue and we may even see a nuclear test soon. You have offered talks with North Korea with no preconditions. What leverage does the United States have left right now?

NULAND: Well, as you said, Wolf, we want to solve this another way. We want to solve it at the diplomatic table. We've also offered humanitarian assistance, COVID virus support to the North Koreans, but Kim Jong-un is far more interested in displaying his missile powers. So that's forced us to ensure we have strong defenses out there for our allies and partners as your reporter made clear.

The U.S. Ronald Reagan is on station. We are doing counter-ballistic training with the Japanese and the Koreans. We also have imposed new sanctions on Kim Jong-un's regime. But of course, the people who suffer most are the people of the DPRK. So we will continue to increase the pressure on him until he changes course.

BLITZER: What is the U.S.'s assessment, Secretary, of why Kim Jong-un is escalating so aggressively right now?

NULAND: Well, in the past, we've sometimes seen when global attention is elsewhere that he ups the heat in order to get more attention back on his front, but in this case, it is just bringing more U.S. and allied military power to the neighborhood and more sanctions on him.


BLITZER: Let's turn to the decision from OPEC Saudi Arabia to cut oil production by two million barrels a day. The administration is getting a lot of criticism as you know for its approach to Saudi Arabia from key Democrats even like Senator Chris Murphy who tweeted this. I'll put it up on the screen. There it is. "I thought the whole point of selling arms to the Gulf states despite

their human rights abuses nonsensical Yemen war, working against U.S. interests in Libya, Sudan, et cetera, was that an international crisis came, the Gulf could choose America over Russia, China."

Congressman Ro Khanna who just was on CNN said this. Listen to this, Secretary.


REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I think the people in the NSC who gave the advice to the president to go to Saudi Arabia, they need to explain what they were thinking. There are certain folks who have a Saudi bias and who have been taking the Saudi's side even in the Yemen war. They need to come and give an explanation to the American public why that trip was planned. Why we're not taking more decisive action.


BLITZER: So, Secretary, how do you respond to that kind of criticism?

NULAND: Let me say that we think this is absolutely the wrong decision by Saudi Arabia and the OPEC Plus countries at a time when we've got global energy insecurity, we've got prices higher than they should be. To support Putin in raising prices further, money that he uses to fuel his war is short sided and irresponsible in our view.

The president has been very clear about that with the leadership of Saudi Arabia. He was when he was there and he has been since. We want to see them rethink this decision and we hope that they will because all this is doing is fueling global energy insecurity and helping Putin in his brutal attacks on Ukraine.

BLITZER: With hindsight, Secretary, was it a mistake to go to Saudi Arabia and we all saw that fist bump with the crown prince.

NULAND: Look, I'm a diplomat. We are diplomats. We believe in engaging. We believe in trying to talk our way through these issues. We have had areas including in Yemen where we now have a fragile truce and have had it for more than four months where our conversations with Saudi Arabia have been important, have paid off. And in fact, earlier in the summer, the Saudis were looking at even higher price increases on energy and we were able to talk our way through that. And it's important we keep trying to talk our way through this one and get it back in the box.

BLITZER: Undersecretary Victoria Nuland, thanks so much for joining us.

NULAND: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, CNN is first, first to report new details of a new timeline for possible indictments in the Georgia election probe. Stay with us.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: First on CNN, sources are now tell us that indictments in the Georgia investigation into efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election could come as soon as December.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is working the story for us. She's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM. How close is this investigation to actually filing charges?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know the district attorney there has wanted to try to wrap up the investigative work of the grand jury, but sources are telling me that we could begin to see indictments as soon as the end of this year, as soon as December. Now we don't know who is going to be indicted but we do know that prosecutors there have told people like Rudy Giuliani, like the 16 Republicans who served as pro-Trump fake electors that they could all be targets in their investigation. Of course none of them have faced charges yet.

She also issued this usually blunt warning in a recent interview with "The Washington Post." Here's what Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said. She said the allegations are very serious. If indicted and convicted, people are facing prison sentences. So this is pretty tough language there. For now, this investigation is going to go into its sort of pre-election quiet period in Georgia and then when she comes out of that, there's going to be a couple of things she has to resolve.

You know, she's still trying to get testimony from former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. She's trying to get testimony from South Carolian Senator Lindsey Graham, and she's still going to have to make a decision of whether she wants to go through this whole rigmarole of trying to subpoena the former president. But what's clear is this investigation is nearing its end and we could see indictments soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Very dramatic developments indeed. Thanks very much, Sara Murray. Excellent reporting as she always does.

Dramatic new developments on day three of the Oath Keepers trial. A former North Carolina leader of the group testifying he believed the Oath Keeper's founder was in touch with a U.S. Secret Service agent ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

CNN senior national correspondent Sara Sidner has the latest.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before jurors arrived in the Oath Keepers sedition trial, Judge Amit Mehta ruled on whether they would be able to see this handwritten note allegedly written by defendant, Thomas Caldwell. It has death list scrolled across the top and lists the name of two Georgia election officials, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who tearfully testified to the January 6th Committee about death threats they received after they became the subjects of a fabricated conspiracy about election fraud.

RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: There is nowhere I feel safe. Nowhere.

WANDREA "SHAYE" MOSS, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I don't go to the grocery store at all. Haven't been anywhere at all.

SIDNER: The judge ruled jurors should not see the note saying it wasn't related to the case and would prejudice the jury. Caldwell is one of five defendants and the only one not in jail. He walks into court using a cane every day. His attorney is painting him as a severely disabled veteran who took more prescription opioids than prescribed on January 6th and was not part of any conspiracy to stop the peaceful transfer of power from President Trump to Joe Biden.

THOMAS CALDWELL, OATH KEEPER MEMBER: Every single (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in there is a traitor. Every single one.

SIDNER: Prosecutors paint a very different picture of Caldwell, playing these videos in court of him on Capitol grounds on January 6th.

CALDWELL: Today I wipe my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on Pelosi's doorknob.

SIDNER: An FBI agent testified that Caldwell was able to walk to the Capitol without a cane and climbed over a low cinder block wall.


Prosecutors introduced some messages they say Caldwell sent to another Oath Keeper as to his intentions in the alleged conspiracy. They were sent in early December after the January 6th rally was announced. "Attached, please find OP plan which can serve as template for future training/action." Caldwell allegedly included a link to purchase a zombie killer hatchet and wrote about getting nonattributable weapons.

On January 6th, after the attack on the Capitol had begun the FBI testified Caldwell sent a group chat message, "If we had guns, I guarantee we would have killed 100 politicians," it said. Then former Oath Keeper John Zimmerman testified. He believed Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes was in touch with a Secret Service agent in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Extremist groups traveling to Washington for rallies after the 2020 election did have numerous contacts with law enforcement agencies. CNN reached out to the Secret Service for comment.


SIDNER: So we have heard from the Secret Service who said, look, we can't confirm that there was contact then, but they often have contact with protest groups. And what was this call all about according to the testimony of Zimmermann? He said it was about a rally in North Carolina in 2020 and whether or not and what kind of guns or weapons they were able to bring.

Now there is another development in yet another case. This is the second huge, big seditious conspiracy case. That one involving the Proud Boys. We have now seen for the very first time one of the Proud Boys has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. Jeremy Bertino who is considered a top lieutenant of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tario, he has pleaded to seditious conspiracy charges.

And as you know, those are the most serious charges that have been levied against anyone involved in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. And so he's pled guilty to that as well as unlawfully possessing a firearm by a prohibited person. Now how that testimony may be used in the rest of the case, we will learn, but that is the second seditious conspiracy case that we will see. This one is the first one. Both of them are going to happen in this courthouse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Sara Sidner doing some excellent reporting. Thank you very, very much.

Coming up, GOP candidate Herschel Walker now says he's not backing down as new allegations emerge in the abortion scandal, rocking his campaign.



BLITZER: New developments tonight in one of the most closely watched midterm Senate races. Georgia Republican candidate Herschel Walker issuing a fresh denial he paid for a woman to have an abortion after a new report that the same woman says she's also the mother of one of his children.

CNN national politics reporter Eva McKend has the latest.


HERSCHEL WALKER (R), GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: You don't quit. You keep going. You keep getting up.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A defiant Herschel Walker on day four of refuting allegations that have rocked his campaign for Senate.

WALKER: I'm not deterred. I'm not scared. And I'm not going to back down. The stakes are way, way too high.

MCKEND: Taking the stage Thursday at an event in Wadley, Georgia, the candidate made no mention of the latest development from "The Daily Beast," but once again faced questions about the report he paid for his then girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009, and that the woman says she's the mother of one of his children according to the site.

WALKER: This here, the abortion thing is false. It's a lie.

MCKEND: CNN has not independently verified the allegations reported by "The Daily Beast."


MCKEND: Walker also asked about his son Christian's comments earlier week calling his father a liar and making a series of accusations against him.

WALKER: I'll always love him no matter what my son says.

MCKEND: With a little over a month until the midterms and locked in a tight race against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock, Republicans facing questions about Walker's path to victory after the latest revelations.

LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): I think every Republican knew that there was baggage out there and -- but the weight of that baggage is starting to feel a little closer to unbearable at this point.

MCKEND: The former NFL star brushing aside those concerns.

WALKER: People told me I couldn't play football. So do you want me to listen to someone like that? I'm here to win the seat for the Georgia people. The Georgia people need a winner.

MCKEND: Walker allies say they want to see him more forcefully denounce the allegations. Many supporters say they simply believe him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take Herschel for his word. If he says it didn't happen, I believe it didn't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe Herschel and I do not believe he's lying.

MCKEND: Meanwhile, the Warnock campaign up with a new TV ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New details tonight about accusations that continue to follow Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

MCKEND: Part of a sustained effort by Democrats to highlight Walker's turbulent past even as they avoid focusing on the latest allegations.


MCKEND: Now publicly the Walker campaign seems to be pretty confident. They're suggesting this whole episode has really led to a fundraising boost. Privately, they are telling supporters that they have evidence to refute the allegations and suggest that they're going to do so at the one and only debate next week between Warnock and Walker.

But I think that is confusing to many of us because if they have this information, you would think that they would want to reveal it sooner than later as their candidate is facing persistent questions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Eva McKen, thank you very, very much.

[18:30:04] And joining us now, CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman, the senior political reporter for the "New York Times." Her new book is entitled "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America."

It's truly well-reported. An excellent, excellent book. I highly recommend it.

As you know, Maggie, the former president is doubling down right now on his support for Herschel Walker. Can Walker survive this?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He can, Wolf. It's going to depend on, you know, how significant an issue this is particularly for evangelical voters in Georgia, but I think that Walker is going to be yet another test in this post Donald Trump Republican Party of what voters are willing to tolerate. We saw that they were willing to tolerate a number of controversies with Trump.

This one is somewhat different. You know, but Walker has been showing staying power in this race. You know, despite allegations related to domestic violence over the course of the past year. More than that. I think it's just too soon to say. I would not assume it is going to knock him out.

BLITZER: You interviewed Trump obviously for your new book and the name Herschel Walker came up in your interviews. This was before the latest allegations emerged against him. I want our viewers to listen to what Trump told you about Walker's controversial past. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: In Georgia, think about Georgia. In Georgia, Herschel, they did the ballot to Herschel. They did ballots. You know how great a football player is? You know that he was in University of Georgia, he was the best football player in the nation. By far. He's the best football player in the history of Georgia. And for the most part, it's true. You know, as a running back, he's a top three or four running back.

HABERMAN: Yes. But he has a complicated personal history which is what they're worried about.

TRUMP: He does, but do you know that it's a personal history that 10 years ago, maybe it would have been a problem? 20 years ago it would have been a bigger problem. I don't think it's a problem today.

HABERMAN: Why is that? Why do you think that's changed?

TRUMP: Because the world is changing.


BLITZER: What do you make of that response, Maggie?

HABERMAN: I think that Donald Trump is aware of his own role in the world changing as he put it, which is he sees it as he survived all kinds of scandals. Other people can, too. Donald Trump is a unique figure. He had been part of pop culture in this country for decades before he became a candidate and voters felt uniquely bonded to him in ways that isn't necessarily true with everyone.

I do think that Walker as a former sports star does start with base of support that others do not, but Trump likes to think, you know, other people can survive scandal because I've shown them how to do it. You know, we're talking about allegations of domestic violence that were in his past and Trump is essentially saying it doesn't matter anymore. We're going to find out if that's true.

BLITZER: We certainly will. As you know, Trump is now himself in what's being called survival mode as he faces multiple investigations including his handle of documents at Mar-a-Lago.

I want to read an excerpt from your book on his handling of classified material. You write this, and I'm quoting now from the book, "He tweeted a sensitive picture of damage at an Iranian space facility without waiting for officials to ink out classified details because he liked how the image looked. If you take out the classification, that's the sexy part he protested as they tried to make changes."

What does that say to you, Maggie, about his fascination with such sensitive government documents?

HABERMAN: I think, Wolf, he just shows a total disinterest in acknowledging that there are, you know, secrets that the nation holds that are not, you know, about Donald Trump promoting himself or using what he thinks is cool. It's that, you know, these are things that exist that are part of sensitive intelligence gathering operations. They can put, you know, missions or people at risk if these pieces of information get out, and it's just never been something that he cares about or is interested in.

One of the things I explore in the book, Wolf, is that, you know, Trump treats everything as if it's flat and the same, devoid of context. That's another example of it. It's as if it was another trophy. Like, you know, when he would keep Shaquille O'Neal's shoe at Trump Tower and show it to people. This fell in the same category.

BLITZER: You say that if everything you reported for this new book entitled "Confidence Man," the thing that upset him the most, referring to Trump, was that Trump flushed documents down the toilet. Do you have any guesses as to why that provoked such an angry reaction from him?

HABERMAN: I think because he felt as if it was personal when in reality it's a story about how he was handling documents, and you know, it's not surprising to me that that was a thing that he got upset about, but I think it was important information given that he was the president.

BLITZER: There is of course lots of speculation about what Trump's political future holds, but you say Trump's heart isn't necessarily in politics now the way it once was. Why is that? [18:35:03]

HABERMAN: Because I think it's different, Wolf, when someone has been a president and they are, you know, back to doing the same thing they had done before they had power. You know, he's doing these rallies again. I don't think that that feels great to him and it's not, you know, hugely surprising to me that he feels that way.

Now he may get more into it if he declares a campaign. If he, you know, he tends to enjoy a fight once he's in it as opposed to the lead up to it. But, you know, I just think that his heart is not in it the way it once was and this is something a number of his aides have observed as well. We'll see where it goes.

BLITZER: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much for joining us. More importantly thanks so much for writing this important book, "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America." There's the cover. I highly recommend it. It's going to be a huge best seller. So go ahead and buy it right now.

Thanks, Maggie, very much.

HABERMAN: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, President Biden takes his first major steps towards decriminalizing marijuana nationwide.



BLITZER: President Biden is taking truly historic steps toward decriminalizing marijuana, erasing all federal convictions for simple possession and directing his administration to review how the government regulates the drug.

Our senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now.

Phil, walk us through the president's historic announcement.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a dramatic step, one that states have moved towards for several years. One that lawmakers of both parties have pushed the president to move towards himself. Taking those steps today.

Three key components of what President Biden announced today as you noted. The first, signing off on a blanket pardon for all individuals convicted of federal simple possession of marijuana. What that does is it should affect about 6500 people, 6,500 people according to White House officials. Also would apply to the District of Columbia. That would be several thousand more. So thousands of people now receiving a pardon for possession.

The president will also urge governors of states that have not legalized this issue or still prosecuting these cases on a state level to do the same. And the third may have the most impact of all. The president ordering an expedited review from his administration of how the legal status of marijuana is considered.

Right now, Wolf, as you know, it is a level one drug. That is the equivalent of heroin or LSD. The president making clear he does not believe that it's justified based on how marijuana is. The administration should report back quickly according to the president and that could shift how the overall federal posture on that drug turns out.

The reality is this. This is an evolution on the policy side of things from the president, but it's also fulfilling a campaign promise. A campaign promise just about a month before the midterm elections. One that Democrats have urged him to push on this issue over the course of the last several months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very dramatic indeed. Phil Mattingly, reporting for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, President Biden disappointed and searching for options right now as the dramatic cut in international oil production has Americans facing a potential spike in gas prices. We'll talk about whether the president's trip to Saudi Arabia was a failure with the former Treasury secretary, Larry Summers. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, the White House is scrambling big time after what President Biden calls a disappointing decision by major oil producers to cut production, raising serious fears of soaring gas prices here in the U.S. This comes after Mr. Biden himself went to Saudi Arabia in July hoping for a boost in production and fist bumping the Saudi crown prince in the process.

Earlier, I spoke with the former treasury secretary, Larry Summers, about the oil squeeze and whether this is a failing moment for the White House.


BLITZER: Did President Biden fail on this specific front?

LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: Look, nobody can be happy about what happened. It's hard to know what would have happened if President Biden had not taken that trip at. At that time, I thought it was the reasonable thing to do recognizing there was enormous uncertainty as to how it would play out.

This is not good news we've gotten from OPEC. It increases the risks with respect to inflation. It increases the risks with respect to recession. The sense that Saudi Arabia is in collaboration of some kind with Russia can't be a happy one for Americans.

BLITZER: Yeah, you're absolutely right. SUMMERS: On the other hand -- on the other hand, Wolf, oil prices did

not spike today. They did not spike yesterday. Some of that is because people thought something like this was going to happen.

Some of that was because some of this output contraction is sort of meaningless. People reduce their quotas, but since they weren't producing up to their previous quotas anyway, it didn't really matter when they cut their quotas.

But I do think there's got to be nervousness about what's going to happen to the price of oil and that's just something we've got to be braced for. Look, for over any reasonable horizon, over anything more than the next year, the way we've got to think about this is not managing with a fire drill every time we have some oil price problem. It's reducing our fundamental dependence on unstable and problematic parts of the world for our energy.

And that means Senator Manchin's permitting policies. Whether it's permitting pipelines or permitting more natural gas production or permitting more electricity transmission. Need to move as rapidly as possible. That means we need to move to implement as many parts of a shift to renewables as possible.


And that means we need to recognize that whether the issue is energy security or whether the issue is climate, natural gas, despite being a hydro carbon, is a good thing, not a bad thing, the more secure we're going to be, and actually because it will often replace coal the less hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide we will be emitting into the air.

BLITZER: One Biden administration official has told us that this decision by the OPEC countries including Saudi Arabia may raise gas prices here in the United States a few cents. How much should Americans, Mr. Secretary, be bracing for higher prices right now? And what tools does President Biden have to help consumers?

SUMMERS: If we get by with a few cents that'll be a good outcome. It may happen, but I certainly would say that from -- from here a few cents would be something I'd have to regard as a good outcome.

Look, I think the administration has done a good job in being prepared to aggressively use the strategic petroleum reserve, and they may need to do it again. I think beyond that there's not a lot that they're going to be able to do to effect gasoline prices in the short run, but I think over time, they're going to be able to put in place a regimen that will enable Americans to drive at lower cost. Frankly, some of what happens to gasoline prices are going to depend on whether we have a recession or not. The more severe a recession we have, the lower gas prices -- gasoline prices will be, but that's hardly anything we're hoping for or very much something we're hoping against.

BLITZER: Do you think the U.S. is heading towards a recession?

SUMMERS: I think it's more likely than not that some time in the next year or 18 months we will have recession. I think that's a consequence of the excesses that the economy has been through. And historical experience suggests that the kind of inflation we have rarely returns to normal levels, to target levels of around 2 percent without some kind of a recession.

Now, I don't think that means we're going to have something like we had after COVID or something like we had during the financial crisis, but I do think that we had a period of very substantial stimulus, and I think the other side of that is likely to be a downturn.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's what a lot of economists are suggesting.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, thanks so much for joining us.

SUMMERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Floridians enduring long lines in the blazing heat to get the help they need after Hurricane Ian. Why some feel they've been left behind by the recovery.



BLITZER: Tonight, Hurricane Ian emphasis death toll now stands at 129 and could grow even higher as officials admit they're unable to make a complete list of people still missing.

And as CNN's Leyla Santiago reports, some survivors of the storm are struggling to get the help they so desperately need.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the line for help, people like Mary Fernandes.

MARY FERNANDES, FORT MYERS BEACH RESIDENT: Pretty awful. We lost our mobile home and everything in it.

SANTIAGO: She arrived really hoping to talk to FEMA, in time to make it to a scheduled surgery she's been waiting for two months for. On top of that, in a week, she has to leave the place where she is staying.

FERNANDES: We just have to wait and see, hope that they can give us something and we can go stay somewhere. We have no home

SANTIAGO: In line in front of her, Susan.

SUSAN TADEY, FORT MYERS RESIDENT: My ref is gone. The shed's gone. My lanai is gone. And my car got flooded.

SANTIAGO: And way behind them, Mary Broomfield.

MARY BROOMFIELD, HARLEM HEIGHTS RESIDENT: The sad part is that I've yet to see a government official or anyone that come -- came into our community.

SANTIAGO: It's a one stop shop set up by FEMA. Here, you will find the federal government state agencies insurance companies. You also find long lines under the hot sun, as well as overwhelming emotions and needs of all kinds, mounting frustrations.

BROOMFIELD: My patience is gone. People in my community, they lost everything.

SANTIAGO: FEMA says it will open other disaster recovery centers like this one in Fort Myers. Nearly 2,800 FEMA staff is supporting Ian's response efforts across the west coast of Florida where Ian hit. But still, some of these people feel that they have been left behind.

BROOMFIELD: I don't have to live in Sanibel or Fort Myers Beach to be one of the people that they care about, because to me, that feels like it's all they care but at this point.

SANTIAGO: We went to Mary Broomfield's neighborhood, Harlem Heights, with a loss on display on every road.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, McGregor Boulevard, nothing about Harlem Heights, so we felt -- definitely felt left out.

SANTIAGO: There are distribution points mostly by nonprofits.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: We are trying to provide and meet the basic needs of the people of my community.

SANTIAGO: As for Mary Fernandes, she never made it to the front of the line. She left when she realized she ran out of time in order to make it to her surgery. Time now critical for those with dire needs a week after Ian left these people devastated, still waiting for help.


SANTIAGO (on camera): And, Wolf, an update on Susan. We were able to talk to her after a very long day here. She was able to leave knowing that the insurance company is going to help her get a car so she can go to work. She said FEMA is going to help her with housing. She even got a new cellphone she'll be able to work with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good, at least a little bit of good news. Thanks very much, Leyla Santiago, in Fort Myers, Florida.

And to our viewers, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.