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Zelenskyy Pleads For More Weapons At Emergency G7 Meeting; DOJ Urges Supreme Court To Stay Out Of Mar-a-Lago Document Dispute; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, (D-CA), Is Interviewed About Mar-a-Lago Documents, 1/6 Hearing; Lofgren: Last 1/6 Hearing To Showcase "Evidence Of Ties Between Extremists And Trump World"; Sens. Scott, Cotton Appear With GA GOP Senate Candidate Walker; Dem Senate Candidate Fetterman Opens Up About Stroke Recovery; Russia's New Ukraine War Commander Known As Brutal And Ruthless; Russian-Speaking Hackers Knock Multiple U.S. Airport Websites Offline; Baltimore Prosecutors Drop All Charges Against "Serial" Podcast Subject Adnan Sed After DNA Tests. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 11, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Jake Tapper's full exclusive conversation with President Joe Biden. Also on the show tonight, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, hear what he said about his new film and any chances of possible political ambitions. That's on Jake's debut time slot 9:00 Eastern ahead of the November midterms.

I'm John Berman. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Russia unleashes a new round of revenge attacks on Ukraine, triggering air raid sirens and fresh destruction. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, pleading with G7 nations for more weapons during emergency talks on the deadly Russian bombardment.

Also today, the U.S. Justice Department is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to stay out of the dispute over classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. We'll break down the new federal response to the Trump team that was filed just a short while ago.

And a Baltimore man walks free after 23 years in prison. Prosecutors dropping murder and all other charges against him after he was featured on a popular crime podcast and cleared by DNA testing.

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

We begin our coverage tonight in Ukraine where Vladimir Putin has renewed assault on the Capitol and other major Ukrainian cities is taking a deadly toll. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us in Kyiv.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over):As the Russian military continues to fire barrages of missiles at Ukraine, engulfing the area around the Capitol in thick black smoke this morning, in an exclusive interview, Ukraine's national security adviser tells me the Kyiv will strike back on the battlefield.

OLEKSIY DANILOV, UKRAINIAN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER (through translator): Our reaction is at the front only, we are not at war with the civilian population in the Russian Federation. We're fighting with the Russian military. It's only a matter of time when the Russian Federation will collapse under the problems it's accumulating.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Ukrainian say they've been able to shoot down about half the missiles Russia fires off, but some have hit civilian targets like in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine's president on an urgent G7 video call also attended by President Joe Biden demanded more Western air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities.

PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): When Ukraine will receive a sufficient number of modern and effective air defense systems, the key element of Russian terror missile strikes will cease to work.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Russians continue to claim their strikes in Ukraine are revenge for the weekend attack on the Kerch Bridge linking Russia and occupied Crimea, even though Kyiv hasn't acknowledged it was behind the blast.

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening even more strikes in the future if Ukraine attacks Russia's infrastructure. But the head of the U.K. spy agency says the reality is Putin's troops are in trouble.

JEREMY FLEMING, DIRECTOR, GCHQ: The costs to Russia in people and equipment are staggering. We know and Russian military commanders know that their supplies ammunition are running out.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Ukrainian officials say they take the threat of possible Russian nuclear strike seriously as Putin forces lose ground on the battlefield. But the National Security Adviser says even 10s of 1000s of additional Russian men now being trained and mobilized will not turn the tide in Moscow's favor.

DANILOV (through translator): We're going to push them out of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and all the regions where these rats have entered our territory, we will send them all to the Lord, they will all return home either alive or dead. They will have no other way.


PLEITGEN: So Wolf, pretty strong with the words there from the National Security Adviser. At the same time, the Ukrainians are acknowledging that all of this is having an effect on them. In fact, the energy minister of this country, he told CNN that 30 percent of this country's energy infrastructure has already been hit by Russian strikes. They're urging people to conserve energy. You can see behind me, it's a lot darker than it would normally be, that simply because lights in public places are mostly turned off right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very serious situation. Fred Pleitgen on the scene for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in the situation in Ukraine from our Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance, he's on the ground for us right now in Moscow.

Matthew, how long could Vladimir Putin keep up this missile barrage?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Was good question and they've kept it up for a couple of days now and there's no sign of it letting up. There's been some speculation about how many of these sort of targeted missiles they've got in their arsenal. But I mean, they also have weapons factories, and they can manufacture these kinds of things. And so that's not going to offer much in terms of solace to the people on the ground.


The bigger question, I think, is, what's the political motivation behind this? And how long is Vladimir Putin going to be ordering his military to keep up these bombardment? So what the Russians say, are military targets and energy infrastructure targets. So the reality on the ground is, in several instances, very different from that.

And there's no sign at all, Wolf, at this point that Vladimir Putin is showing any signs of backing down or have any -- there's been some rumblings of potential negotiations being talked about, but nothing concrete. And so, you know, as it was from the beginning of this, what the Russians called special military operation in Ukraine, it's not quite clear what the final objectives are and it's not clear how this is going to come to a conclusion.

BLITZER: Matthew, how are the Russian people reacting to what's going on, these brutal attacks?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, they're being celebrated in short, certainly on state television, you're seeing figures being broadcast on the pro Kremlin media that are saying that essentially, this is a good thing. You know, there's been a lot of criticism from hardliners inside Russia, about the way the war has been conducted. And there have been calls for many months now, particularly in the -- against the backdrop of the humiliating defeats on the battlefield that Russia has suffered and calls for Russia to take off the gloves and to really hit hard. And in some ways, these missile attacks on targets across the country in Ukraine are response to that criticism. His giving his critics here in the hardline side of things in Russia what they want to see.

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

Now to an update on the Biden administration's response to Putin's bloody escalation in Ukraine. CNN's MJ Lee is joining us from the White House right now, she has details.

MJ, in terms of air defense, which is President Zelenskyy's number one priority right now, what more do we know about the White House commitment?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is widespread agreement right now that what Ukraine needs most to fight against these Russian attacks is more air defense systems. And we heard the President saying yesterday that the U,S. is committed to providing what it can going forward. And just an example of how this is playing out already, U.S. officials saying today that the U.S. is currently working on an expedited process to get to National Advanced surface to air missile systems to Ukraine, and that the timeline is basically as soon as possible.

Wolf, it is just worth noting that we are still waiting to see the fall fallout from the latest round of Russian attacks. When I asked the senior Administration official recently how the U.S.'s calculus might change going forward, given these latest attacks in terms of what the U.S. might provide Ukraine, they said the details are still being worked out. But again, those air defense systems, the kinds that the U.S. has provided in the past, the U.S. will continue providing them to Ukraine going forward.

BLITZER: As you know, MJ, the White House now is also under mounting pressure tonight to reassess relations with Saudi Arabia over its ties to Russia. Tell us more.

LEE: Yes, you know, the White House is being very clear about this. They're basically saying that business as usual with Saudi Arabia is no longer acceptable. White House officials saying today that there's going to be a reassessment of the U.S. Saudi Arabia relationship.

There's no question, Wolf, that the OPEC decision was a huge factor in this. We know that White House officials, including President Biden himself, of course, was very frustrated by this decision. And there has been growing pressure, including from Democrats on the Hill to really change the way that this administration thinks about the U.S. Saudi relationship. If you look at the fact that Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he said that there should be actually a total freeze in the U.S. Saudi relations. Dick Durbin, a top Senate Democrat, he said it is Putin and Saudi Arabia against the United States.

Now, there is one question that has come up. It just came up in the White House briefing room actually, does President Biden regret his recent Saudi Arabia trip? And the interaction that he of course had with NBS, remember, he got so much heat for this at the time, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pier saying, no, he does not regret the trip, simply because they believe that other good things came out of this trip. Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's MJ Lee at the White House for us, thank you very much.

Let's discuss the latest news out of Ukraine with a senior adviser to President Zelenskyy's Chief of Staff, Sergii Leshchenko. Mr. Shankar, thank you so much for joining us. As you know President Zelenskyy is calling for an air shield for Ukraine amid this wave of brutal Russian strikes. How long will it be until these modern air defense systems are in place in Ukraine to help save Ukrainian lives?


SERGII LESHCHENKO, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRES. ZELENSKYY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: We were looking for this for yesterday. And of course, it's never too late to provide this systems for Ukraine. It's not the system for active war in the system to close the sky and to keep Ukrainians in safe to live normal life in Kyiv and in other cities which were bombed during last two days. And we had more than 100 cruise missiles from Russia plus chemicals or drones produced in Iran. It's more than 150 altogether during -- last Tuesday.

BLITZER: It's interesting that Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian Defense Ministry, admitted today that it is deliberately targeting Ukraine's energy systems. If Putin can't win on the battlefield, is he trying to break the will of Ukrainians heading into a cold winter?

LESHCHENKO: It's true. And also, they made it now but we have some expectation it can happen again when it's going to be really cold in Ukraine, because Ukrainian winter is quite cold. And we could have the same problems in few weeks, few months. That is why to provide Ukraine anti-aircraft systems is crucial now.

It's better to do it now than to have new problems in few months. That is why our president he appreciate and we appreciate the all support provided to Ukraine by American government. And he today directly said to American president on G7 meeting, but at the same time we are looking forward to get a lot of equipment to defend our skies, our citizens from the skies. And also we very much appreciate for additional high marks provided by American government today, which was announced just a few minutes before the -- our meeting.

BLITZER: Interesting. As you know, Britain's intelligence agency now says Russia is actually running out of weapons. Does Ukraine believe Putin can sustain this awful barrage of missile attacks across Ukraine?

LESHCHENKO: We should not underestimate him. And, of course, he has shortage of comprehensive weapons, but he has a lot of all solid weapons rockets, which can be used for bombing of peaceful Ukrainian citizens. And by the way, some of these weapons were provided by Ukraine to Russia as part of our denuclearization 20, 25 years ago. It's a bad joke, you know, of our destiny when we are bombed by bombs provided by Ukraine to Russia.

And, of course, to prevent this, we really looking forward for additional anti-aircraft system provided by American government. Plus, we're looking for additional sanctions really painful for Russians and our presidential chief of staff, Andrii Yermark, also working hard to get this new package of sanctions from American and European governments. And we are looking for additional support of Ukrainian citizens in this very crucial moment because we are not just fighting for Ukrainian independence, but for the peace of the whole democracy war democratic world for the whole Europe.

BLITZER: Sergii Leshchenko, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Ukraine. Thank you so much for joining us.

LESHCHENKO: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, I will take a closer look at the Russian general now handpicked by Vladimir Putin to lead his ruthless new escalation against Ukraine.

Plus, we just got a key legal filing from the US Justice Department in the Mar-a-Lago investigation. What it means for Donald Trump's plea to have the U.S. Supreme Court intervene in the case? That's coming up next.



BLITZER: New developments tonight, the Mar-a-Lago investigation, the U.S. Justice Department is now urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Donald Trump's plea to intervene in the fight over classified documents seized by the FBI. Our Senior Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is on the story for us of.

Evan, walk us through what the government is arguing in this new court filing.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Justice Department, Wolf, is asking the Supreme Court to stay out of this fight for -- at least for now. What they're saying is that this fight really that began with a judge in -- a federal judge in Palm Beach who intervened and pretty much gave the former president's legal team everything they wanted by appointing a special master and restricting the ability for the Justice Department to do this investigation, what they're doing in this in this in this response to the Supreme Court is they're taking shots at Judge Aileen Cannon.

I'll read you just a part of what the Justice Department says. "This application concerns an unprecedented order by the district court restricting the executive branch's use of his own highly classified records in an ongoing criminal investigation and directing the dissemination of those records outside of the executive branch for a special master review."

They're also pointing out, Wolf, that Donald Trump and his legal team haven't even really showed that there was any harm from the Justice Department continuing its investigation. I'll read you just a part of that. It says, "Most notably, the applicant has not even attempted to explain how he is irreparably injured by the court of appeals' partial stay, which simply prevents the disclosure of the documents that are in question."

Wolf, remember this, this is unusual because Donald Trump has not been charged with a crime. The Justice Department is simply asking the courts to allow it to use these documents as part of its investigation. The former president, however, is using of course the courts to try to delay all of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: So where does all this go from here, Evan?

PEREZ: Well, now we -- on Friday, we expect the Justice Department to have another filing before the appeals court. They're trying to go after the entire ruling from Judge Cannon down in Palm Beach and we'll see whether that appeal is upheld.


BLITZER: We shall see. All right, Evan, thank you very much. Evan Perez reporting for us.

Let's talk about this and more with a key member of the January 6 Select Committee, Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. I want to discuss your Select Committee's upcoming hearing this week. But first, what's your reaction to the news that our Evan Perez just reported that the U.S. Justice Department is urging the Supreme Court to stay out of the Mar- a-Lago documents fight?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA), JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: Well, it's a very sound position they've taken. And of course, the 11th Circuit, which is one of the most conservative circuits found that the trial court judge her ruling was fundamentally in error that she just was wrong. And for the court to step in, when the former president hasn't even asserted a fundamental element of action, irreparable harm would be extraordinary. And would -- were they to do so, I think it would certainly discredit the court, something I know they're worried about.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Your Select Committee, the January 6 House select committee's next public hearing, as you will know, is set for this coming Thursday. You said this hearing will showcase, in your words, evidence of ties between extremists and the Trump world. I know you don't want to get ahead of the hearing, but what type of evidence can we expect to see? I think that's significant.

LOFGREN: Well, I think, you know, I mentioned that but that's not the only thing the hearing will be about. I think the report made it seem as if that's all this is about. That's not correct.

We're going to be going through really some of what we've already found, but augmenting with new material that we discovered through our work throughout this summer. What the President's intentions were, what he knew, what he did, what others did. Obviously, there's close ties between people in Trump world and some of these extremist groups, we will touch upon that. I do think that it will be worth watching. There's some new material that, you know, I found as we got into it, pretty surprising.

BLITZER: Well, let me follow up on that. When you say there are extremist ties to Trump world, your words, does that mean the former president when you refer to Trump world, the former president himself members of his administration, his family or simply his supporters?

LOFGREN: Well, let's just say that the mob was led by some extremist groups, they plotted in advance what they were going to do. And those individuals were known to people in the Trump orbit. I do think, you know, that's not all of it, but getting back to the -- really, one of the first hearings, the big lie and how he has used this big lie to destabilize our democracy and how that developed, when did that idea occur to him and what did he know while he was doing that? We think it'll be a good report, a good hearing.

Obviously, it's not the only thing we're doing. We are charged with writing a report, which will not be done in the next few weeks. But we're busily working on that, along with recommendations for policy changes to make us more secure in the future.

BLITZER: There are a lot going on. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thanks as usual for joining us.

LOFGREN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, can a Republican show of support for Herschel Walker save his embattled campaign? We'll go live to Georgia for an update.

Plus, why prosecutors are now dropping murder charges against the subject of the serial podcast, Adnan Syed, after 23 years in prison. Dropping all charges now. He's just spent 23 years in prison.



BLITZER: In Georgia, GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker is getting a much needed boost from his Republican allies as he struggles to handle the growing abortion scandal swirling around his campaign. CNN's Eva McKend is joining us now from Carrollton, Georgia with more on the Republican show of force. What's the latest, Eva?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it was a show of force, indeed, Wolf, because Republicans believe they still believe that this is a winnable race despite the allegations. They have long been aware of Walker's baggage and support him really in spite of it. They believe that Georgia still conservative enough for a major Republican victory here. And also Georgia, one of the few Senate seats that is flippable, so that's why we are seeing them really go all in and double down on their support.

Earlier today, Walker rallied here with his supporters along with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott and Senator Tom Cotton. Take a listen.


HERSCHEL WALKER, (R) GEORGIA SENATE CANDIDATE: You can see what they're doing, they'll do whatever it takes, will say whatever they have to say because they want this seat right here. But I don't think they know that they woke up a bear. (END VIDEO CLIP)


MCKEND: Now that the robust defense that we heard today from national Republicans, it's not being mirrored by Georgia Republicans. For instance, Governor Brian Kemp, he was off today rallying, not with Walker but for somewhere else, for his own campaign.

And so, we are just not seeing that mirrored among Georgia Republicans. Kemp saying that he supports the whole ticket. But we haven't seen him arm and arm on the trail with Walker, as we've seen other national Republicans do so. Wolf?

BLITZER: Eva, will this be enough based on your reporting there on the ground in Georgia? Will this be enough to help Walker?

MCKEND: So a rally is a hard measurement, because typically people who show up to rallies are really excited about the candidate. And we got a lot of that here. As we were speaking to Republican voters, they were telling us that they were really suspicious of the timing of these abortion allegations.

If this woman is credible, why did she wait until October to tell this information to a news organization? That is a lot of what we heard. But I do want to mention that I also met one Republican voter who said that -- who suggest that he's going to be a split ticket voter. He is going to vote for Governor Kemp, but then he is going to vote for Senator Warnock of the Democrat. Because he feels as though that these allegations are just a bridge too far. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Eva McKend on the scene for us, thank you very much.

I want to bring in CNN Political Commentator Bakari Sellers, and CNN Senior Commentator John Kasich right now. Governor Kasich, you just saw key Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Rick Scott rally with Walker in Georgia today. What is the political strategy from your fellow Republicans here?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: They want to win this, Wolf, because they think that the majority in the Senate depends on that. And, look, these allegations are one thing. The fact that his family has come out strongly against him, the fact that he's just been a terrible candidate. To me, I just think it's a bridge too far.

And as I said, just the other day, I'm a Republican. I'd like to see Republicans win the Senate. I think they will win the House. But, you know, at some point, it's just not about who's in power. I think the problem in our country today is that both parties seek power. Whatever it takes, you got Democrats supporting crazy Republicans or extreme Republicans in primaries in order to get them nominated so that they can win the general election. I mean, it's absurd. It's a search for power. And whenever you do that, you can often find yourself bankrupt.

BLITZER: Yes, the Democrats have pointed out they want those crazy Republicans, as you say, to lose in the general election, and they think there's a better chance of the Democrat candidate winning if there's a crazy Republican as the opponent. Bakari, Herschel Walker --

KASICH: Poor extreme, poor extreme, not crazy.

BLITZER: More extreme, whatever the word is.


BLITZER: Walker is doubling down, Bakari, on his denial in a new interview. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I can just get you to say, yes or no, did you ever have a conversation with this woman at any time about an abortion?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you ever, to your knowledge, give money to pay for the cost of an abortion?



BLITZER: So, Bakari, what did you make of that interview on ABC News?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, not much to be completely honest with you. But let's just say this, let's just say that what this woman is saying is an allegation. Let's take away the fact that she has a sign card or receipt or any of those things. Let's even take this out of the equation.

One of the things that we do know is that he has four children, and he hasn't been a father to any of them. What we do know is that he actually put a gun to his ex-wife's head when they were married. We do know those things to be facts. There is no standard whereby someone who is of Mr. Walker's capacity needs to be in the United States Senate.

And what you have -- and Governor Kasich and I agree, we actually find ourselves is refreshing because we disagree a lot but we find ourselves oftentimes finding some lines of agreement, where in Washington, D.C., that's a rare commodity. But we do agree that there comes a point where you have to draw a line and say this is a bridge too far.

There is no metric that you can evaluate this race by and say that Herschel Walker should be in the United States Senate. In fact, Tom Cotton and Rick Scott today can never go out and say that their family value Republicans anymore, because this is someone who just simply doesn't value family. Regardless of the abortion topic, which I believe are credible, he does not know what being a father means. And that, Wolf, is a fact. BLITZER: You know, Governor Kasich, you're the former Republican governor of Ohio, do you fear your party's embrace of Herschel Walker could actually come back to haunt them, even if he does win the Senate race?

KASICH: I think just the pursuit of power at all expenses is never good. And, frankly, I don't even know what the issues are down there. I haven't heard anybody debating anything about, you know, inflation or gas prices, the economy, the stock market, it's like none of that.


And I think part of that is because, frankly, I was always hoping the Republicans were going to have an agenda. They do have one they presented out of the House, it's kind of amorphous. But when you're in public life, when you're in politics, I don't care what party you're in, you got to stand for something and you got to put it out there and you got to tell people what you believe.

I'm not hearing any of that down there. So it's not just this race, it's the Republican Party being able to articulate an agenda that can help lift every American and have a better life. That's what it should be about.

BLITZER: Bakari, quickly want to turn to the Pennsylvania Senate race where Democrat John Fetterman is recovering from a stroke. He spoke to NBC News about some of the difficulties he now faces. Listen to this.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: To be precise, I use captioning. So that's really the -- that's the major challenge. And every now and then, I'll miss a word, every now and then. Or sometimes I'll maybe mosh (ph) two words together. But as soon as I have captioning, I'm able to understand exactly what's being asked.


BLITZER: So what do you think? Fetterman says his stroke actually helped him better understand the challenges Americans face. But do you think his ongoing recovery could pose an issue for Democrats in this race?

SELLERS: No, I don't think so at all. In fact, I think that John Fetterman's biggest issue as it comes to the having a stroke is just making sure that he is out in the community so voters can see him, touch him, hear him and feel what he's saying and the words that are coming out of his mouth. I don't necessarily think it's the fact that he has a stroke as long as he's able to get out there and do the campaigning.

Look, Democrats have a problem. And it's not just a John Fetterman problem, or a Raphael Warnock problem, or it's Tim Ryan problem. It's a problem of ensuring that these infrequent voters, the voters who don't -- who only come out, excuse me, every four years, show up in this midterm election, many of which are African American man.

And so, if John Fetterman can go out and touch these voters and be in the barber shops and at the high school football games, and have the fish fries and do those things that are necessary in these particularly black communities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, John Fetterman will be the next United States senator from the great state of Pennsylvania. If he's unable to do that, then unfortunately, we may have Dr. Oz in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: Bakari Sellers and John Kasich, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, he's known for his brutality and ruthlessness. Now he's Vladimir Putin's new commander of Russia's war on Ukraine. Plus, the U.S. on alert right now for Russian cyber-attacks, possibly targeting critical infrastructure here in the United States.



BLITZER: More now on our top story, Russia's dramatic escalation of its deadly missiles strikes against civilian targets in Ukraine. CNN's Brian Todd is here with a closer look at the man Vladimir Putin has now promoted to take charge of the invasion and Russia startling battlefield losses. Brian, this new commander is notorious for his brutality

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his name is General Sergei Surovikin, and he is indeed known for ruthless and sometimes downright vicious behavior on and off the battlefield. The accounts that he's very likely behind the most recent Russian attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine makes him the kind of man Vladimir Putin seems to want for the job.


TODD (voice-over): The cold-eyed stare of Russia's new overall commander in Ukraine, General Sergei Surovikin, reflective of a reputation for brutality.

ANDREA KENDALL-TAYLOR, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: This guy's not a nice guy. According to open sources in Russian language, he is a proponent of these types of ruthless attacks on civilian centers.

TODD (voice-over): General Surovikin who has also commanded Russia's Air Force also led Russian forces in Syria. But his units were also accused of a vicious offensive on the city of Aleppo, where barrel bombs and other munitions targeted densely populated neighborhoods, causing widespread civilian casualties. Syrian and Russian officials have repeatedly denied those accusations.

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: In Syria, they were able to prevail by essentially bombing civilian housing units by bombing hospitals, by bombing the White Helmets, which was a humanitarian organization is a humanitarian organization in Syria. TODD (voice-over): Surovikin's penchant for cruelty was also seen in 2004 when, according to Russian media accounts, and at least two think tanks, he berated a subordinate so severely that the subordinate fatally shot himself. A book by the think tank, the Jamestown Foundation, says during the unsuccessful coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, soldiers under Surovikin's command killed three protesters, leading to Surovikin spending at least six months in prison.

The Jamestown Foundation says Surovikin also once received a suspended sentence for illegal arms dealing, a conviction that was later overturned.

FARKAS: That does tend to square with what my understanding is of the Russian military. The fact that they performed so poorly on the battlefield, that does tell me that there's a high degree likely of corruption in the Russian military.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts don't expect Vladimir Putin's appointment of General Surovikin to turn the tide of the war significantly, other than possibly prompting a more relentless wave of attacks on civilian areas. But one expert believes it does reflect the pressure Putin has been under recently.

KENDALL-TAYLOR: His appointment to me reflects the ascendancy of a lot of hardline voices inside Russia, calling on Putin to make changes and to bring in someone who would be willing to execute these ruthless attacks. These are people inside Russia who believe that the key to winning this war is by terrorizing the Ukrainian public to get them to back down.



TODD: Analyst Andrea Kendall-Taylor says disappointment likely will not change the dynamic of Vladimir Putin micromanaging the Ukraine war, making many of the tactical decisions himself. A state of command, which analysts say, probably won't reverse Russia's setbacks on the battlefield. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you, Brian, for that report.

There's also growing concern tonight about Russian cyber-attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure in retaliation for Washington support of Ukraine. Let's dig deeper with CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller. He is the former Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism for the New York City Police Department.

John, thanks very much for joining us. As you well know, on Monday, Russian hackers targeted U.S. airport websites. How worried are American officials right now about an escalation?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, very worried. As you see the control of this war slipping from Vladimir Putin's grip, you're going to be watching him look for alternative means of applying pain to NATO countries in the U.S. So, when you look at the blowing up of the bridge, and then almost immediately following that, a hacker attack against U.S. airports by the group called Killnet, you're seeing some of that reaction.

That was fairly unsophisticated, but Killnet is a group that has targeted the major airports across U.S. cities. They have hit Ukraine, Moldova, Italy, and in August, they attacked Lockheed Martin claiming to get into control systems and employee information. Although we're still analyzing the evidence that they put out on the internet there.

BLITZER: As you point out, John, U.S. critical, critical infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable right now. So what could a full-fledged Russian attack look like?

MILLER: Well, that would be the product of years of work, Wolf, because the Russians have spent since 2007, 2008, there were operations again in 2017. Getting into the systems of power supplies, pipelines, critical infrastructure, the food supply chain, you name it, and they have looked at transportation systems, agriculture, water systems, in particular.

So that if you put tools in these places, and you let those tools lay dormant, and then you wake them up on the zero day and say, this is the day we're going to attack those systems, it is the kind of thing that could cause a major shutdown. Now remember, 85 percent of those systems are held by the private sector. So the government, DHS, FBI have been really after the private sector in recent days to up their game in terms of detection and protection.

BLITZER: Yes, they better up their game. John Miller, thanks as usual, for joining us. Really important story.

Coming up, his story became famous in the landmark podcast "Serial." Now, new developments in the case of Adnan Syed, who spent 23 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. Plus, President Biden speaking out about Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine with our own Jake Tapper. It's a CNN exclusive. Stay with us.



BLITZER: He spent over two decades behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Now Baltimore prosecutors have dropped all charges against Adnan Syed, whose case gained national attention in the landmark podcast "Serial."

CNN's Jason Carroll has been following the story for us. Jason, the state attorney in Maryland says DNA tests actually proved Syed wasn't the killer.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, and those test results coming in just a few days ago and attorney for Adnan Syed said he's still trying to process everything that has happened to him. He plans to spend time now being truly free without having the burden of wearing an ankle monitor. This after prosecutors made it official and drop those charges against Syed for the 1999 murder of his ex- girlfriend Hae Min Lee, after releasing him from prison last month.

They did it after receiving those new DNA test results on items that had apparently never been tested before, which they say excluded Syed from evidence collected at the crime scene. All of this is the result of Syed's case gaining national attention on the first season of the "Serial" podcast back in 2014. He was already serving a life sentence, but new evidence came to light, much of it shown in that podcast.

The state's attorney confirmed that previous prosecutors on the case had failed to tell Syed's defense attorneys about evidence that would have allowed him to defend himself, including that there were two other possible suspects in the case. Syed served 23 years behind bars before his release last month. The state did have a 30-day period to decide whether or not to refile the case. But again, once that DNA evidence came in last Friday, the decision was made to finally drop it.


ERICA SUTER, ADNAN SYED'S ATTORNEY: He is elated. He is joyful. He is still processing this. I mean, I think you can imagine this has been -- there have been so many ups and downs over the past 23 years So he is really just taking it all in. But he's incredibly grateful for all of the people who have supported him and believed in him over the years.


MARILYN MOSBY, BALTIMORE CITY STATE'S ATTORNEY: Although my administration was not responsible for neither the pain inflicted upon Hae Min Lee's family, nor was my administration responsible for the wrongful conviction of Mr. Syed, as a representative of the institution, it is my responsibility to acknowledge and to apologize to the family of Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed.


CARROLL: The murder of Hae Min Lee remains unsolved but prosecutors say they're continuing to look for her killer. Her family angered over the development saying through an attorney they found out from the media that the charges had been dropped that heir attorney saying, "All this family has ever wanted was answers and a voice. Today's actions robbed them of both." Adnan has always maintained his innocence. Wolf?

BLITZER: He's now 41 years old. 23 years in jail.

CARROLL: 23 years.

BLITZER: Jason Carroll, thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, new terror right now as Russia unleashes a fresh barrage of missiles on Ukraine killing dozens of people. Plus, a CNN exclusive interview with President Joe Biden. Stay with us.