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Soon, Biden Rallies Support For Democrats In Critical Pennsylvania Senate Race; Trump Hires Lawyer Ahead Of Expected Subpoena From January 6 Committee; Liz Truss Resigns As British Prime Minister After Troubled Six-Week Debut; Jury Finds Actor Kevin Spacey Not Liable In Sexual Misconduct Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 20, 2022 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Also tonight, former President Trump is lawyering up again. We've learned that he's hiring a conservative attorney to help him handle the expected subpoena from the January 6th select committee.

And how soon will the U.K. get a new prime minister now that Liz Truss has called it quits after just six weeks? We'll go live to London as the race to replace her gets underway.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

President Biden's ability to help Democratic candidates is being tested tonight with just 19 days to go before the high stakes midterm election.

CNN National Politics Reporter Eva McKend has our midterm countdown.


EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER (voice over): Democratic Senate Nominee John Fetterman getting a boost tonight.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: John, thank you very much for running.

MCKEND: President Biden visiting battleground Pennsylvania, appearing alongside the state's lieutenant governor to tout the administration's signature infrastructure law.

BIDEN: This law is about more than rebuilding our infrastructures. It's about rebuilding the middle class, something John knows a lot about and talks a lot about.

MCKEND: And to fundraise for the Democrat who is running in one of the most competitive races in the country against Republican Mehmet Oz.

With the clock ticking toward Election Day, some campaigns taking a sharper approach, like in Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For you, Herschel Walker wants to ban abortion. But for himself --

MCKEND: After weeks of avoiding the abortion allegations dogging Republican Senator Candidate Herschel Walker's campaign, Senator Raphael Warnock releasing an ad Thursday characterizing the former football star as a hypocrite.

Why now this attack ad?

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): I think the women of this state deserve to know the choice between the two people in front of them and about my commitment to a woman's right to choose.

MCKEND: Walker has denied the allegation and his campaign said in a statement the ad is a sign of desperation. A spokesperson telling CNN everything points to Herschel having the momentum on his side. Herschel is focused on the issues that Georgians care about, like the economy and crime.

Voting is already underway in the state. In the governor's race, Democratic Candidate Stacey Abrams cast her ballot in person.

GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE STACEY ABRAMS (D-GA): Today, I voted early and I am encouraging everyone to show up early and cast your vote.

MCKEND: Many Americans voting early. Nearly 5 million ballots have been cast across 36 states so far. The most votes have been in Florida followed by Michigan and California.


MCKEND (on camera): So, it's a bit of a slow trickle now, but people still making their way into this polling site, about an hour left here to vote early today.

But candidates all over the state in every corner of the state today, we were with Senator Raphael Warnock at the University of Georgia. That, of course, is Herschel Walker's home turf. Warnock there rallying students. Walker joined by the RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Stacey Abrams all over as well. She is holding a virtual event with Oprah this evening. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Eva, stay with us. I also want to bring in our Senior Political Correspondent Abby Phillip along with CNN Contributor Evan Osnos.

Abby, President Biden's stops in Pennsylvania today show his focuses on touting his agenda an appealing to donors rather than some big stump speeches. Is this political strategy working?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can't say whether it's working but it's an attempt to play to Biden's strengths and not to play to his weaknesses, frankly. I mean, this is a White House who understands pretty keenly that Biden is not going to draw a crowd on the strength necessarily of his personality. But what they want to convey to voters and what they want to pass on to the candidates, like John Fetterman, who they are campaigning on behalf, is a sense that a governing majority that is Democratic can get things done.

So, they are really focused on projecting that, touting infrastructure, touting chip manufacturing and other sorts of pieces of legislation that they've been able to pass in an attempt to show voters that Democrats can do things and that they should give them at least two more years of power in Washington.

They are also laser-focused, Wolf, on that local coverage. They want to make sure that they're getting on the front pages of small town local newspapers because they believe that that is really what matters more than a big rally that might get national attention.

BLITZER: Evan, the president is clearly, strongly pushing back on the idea that he's not the preferred surrogate for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. As someone who knows Biden well, you've written his biography, do you think Democrats would benefit more from embracing him more out there on the campaign trail right now?


EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's very much part of his own self-image. He spent a lot of his life as a kind of coveted campaign proxy, somebody you'd bring in down the stretch, who is sort of often described as a patron saint for embattled House Democrats. And I think there's a side of him that feels a little bit like maybe this is a not moment when he's been taken fully advantage of.

At the same time, he would be the first to tell you that the political reality right now makes that very difficult for the reasons Abby described. There are a lot of places where the figure head of the Democratic Party, the single target of the greatest Republican attacks would be as much of a challenge for a local candidate as anybody else. And he will always say, listen to what the local candidates want. They know what they need. And if they aren't asking him to be there, that means they don't think they can use it.

BLITZER: Interesting. Eva, you just played part of a new ad from the Georgia Democratic senator, Rapheael Warnock, now going directly after Herschel Walker. You pressed Warnock about that. Tell us what he revealed to you during that conversation.

MCKEND: Well, Wolf, what he's not doing is mirroring those same attacks that are in those ads. He's leaving this character argument against Walker to the airwaves. We'll have to see if this strategy works for him. It's a political strategy clearly, right? He's trying to stay above the fray while making these character attacks against Walker, sort of putting that off to the campaign.

He constantly steers this abortion conversation, not back to the allegations against Walker but about back to this policy debate that Georgians should know that there is a clear policy difference between him and Walker, who supports a national abortion ban. We'll have to see how long he can maintain this, if he can sustain this sort of duplicitousness for the next several weeks.

BLITZER: We shall see. Abby, we're seeing record-breaking early voting numbers out there already, about 5 million ballots already have been cast across the country. Do you have a sense of which party is benefiting more from this early voting enthusiasm?

PHILLIP: Just based off of the sheer number. I don't think we can draw any definitive conclusion about who that helps or not. I cannot stress enough that if there's anything that we've learned, especially in the last cycle in 2020, it is that there is enthusiasm on both sides, that sometimes in a lot of these states, even while turnout might be high previously in the past, that conventional wisdom was that that would benefit Democrats. But we also see Trump in particular and perhaps Trump candidates bringing out high levels of enthusiasm among Republicans as well.

So, we just have to wait and see where that turnout is, who that turnout consists of, but I think, in general, it's just a sign that voters across the spectrum understand the stakes in this election and they are showing up to vote in a midterm cycle because they understand that in every single battleground state in this country, that could determine control of Congress going forward.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Evan, I'm just curious to get your thoughts, what do you make of the fact that President Biden is not doing huge campaign rallies out there on a stage with a huge crowd out there with the Democratic candidates? Instead, he's meeting, in effect, privately some fundraising events. What do you make of that?

OSNOS: Part of that is, look, this is not a moment when it's easy to get a bunch of undecided Republicans to show up at a campaign rally for Democrats. And Joe Biden wants to still be a person who is saying, look, I'm governing for all Americans. So, when it comes to talking about what he's going to focus on, he's going to talk about these issues, which he knows they're popular. He can talk about them at a fundraiser. The story still gets out there, but it doesn't have to become a referendum on his popularity in the local district where, in the end, it comes down to those candidates and the quality of who's on the ballot.

BLITZER: Evan Osnos, Abby Phillip, Eva McKend, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, former President Trump hires a new lawyer right now as he braces for a subpoena from the January 6th select committee. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning how former President Trump is preparing for a subpoena that should be headed his way soon, we're told.

CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray is joining us. She has more information.

It's been, what, one week since the January 6th select committee voted unanimously to go ahead and issue a subpoena for him. So, what's the latest? SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRSEPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're still waiting for this subpoena to go out. But what we are learning is that the former president has tapped two lawyers, Harmeet Dhillon and Jim Trusty, who are going to be the point people for the January 6th subpoena, obviously, means he plans to issue some kind of substantive response or engage in some kind of negotiations with the committee, this as the former president's legal problems are mounting.


MURRAY (voice over): Weighed down by legal woes --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They broke into my house.

MURRAY: Former President Donald Trump's lawyers now considering whether to allow federal investigators to return to Mar-a-Lago for his supervised search despite Trump's adversarial approach towards the Justice Department.

TRUMP: It's not a crime. And they should give me immediately back everything that they've taken from me because it's mine. It's mine.

MURRAY: Sources say Trump's team is considering a more accommodating approach with investigators looking into the handling of sensitive government documents stored at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's team aiming to reduce his legal risk as DOJ insists it believes Trump has sensitive government documents in his possession that he must return.

Nothing though is finalized and plenty are skeptical of the idea, with one person close to Trump telling CNN, it's a risk to invite a DOJ lawyer to lunch, let alone back to Mar-a-Lago.

Trump still awaiting a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We all felt that our obligation is to seek his testimony, that the American people deserve to hear directly from him, that it has to be under oath.

MURRAY: And in another blow to the former president, a judge ruling former Trump election attorney John Eastman must turn over more of his emails to the January 6th committee.


The judge saying Trump likely committed a crime when he tried to upend the 2020 election.

TRUMP: We fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

MURRAY: The judge writing some of the Eastman emails are sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States. In one particular set of emails, the judge noting Trump signed a court filing with numbers about alleged voter fraud in Georgia that Trump knew were false. The emails showed that President Trump knew the specific numbers were wrong but continued to tout those numbers both in court and to the public, according to the judge.

Trump slamming the judge on social media today saying he shouldn't be making statements about me until he understands the facts, which he doesn't.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, we are also getting updates about a totally separate Trump investigation. This is the criminal investigation, Wolf, in Georgia, into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election. We've learned that former U.S. Senator from Georgia Kelly Loeffler, as well as Pat Cipollone, who is Trump's former White House Counsel, had both testified before the grand jury in Georgia.

We also got a ruling today from the appeals court, federal appeals court. Lindsey Graham had been fighting a subpoena to appear before the grand jury. The appeals court says that prosecutors can subpoena Graham, they can put him before the grand jury and they can ask him questions about certain subjects. So, we are waiting to see if Graham continues to try to fight that subpoena, Wolf.

BLITZER: We shall see. Thanks very much. Don't go too far away.

I also want to bring in our Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel, as well as the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe. He's a CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst.

Andrew, what's your reaction to the hiring of this conservative lawyer by Trump as he anticipates getting a subpoena from the January 6th select committee?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: My reaction, Wolf, it's a good move. I mean, this appears to be an effort to not make the same mistakes that they made in reaction in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, where the original legal team seems to have made significant miscalculations in terms of the advice that they've given the former president and the positions they've taken at numerous points when they could have deescalated this conflict. Getting competent, professional, well-known attorneys on board is essential to prepare for the sort soft testimony we're thinking about in front of this committee.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: If I could just add, if he listens to that, which is always --

BLITZER: He doesn't always listen. Is that what you're saying?


BLITZER: Yes. You've done a lot of excellent reporting, Jamie, on the January 6th select committee. What are you hearing? What's going on behind the scenes right now?

GANGEL: So, first of all, if I had to bet, I think you're going to see that subpoena tomorrow finally come out. And, look, I think what we're going to see is a legal dance and a public relations dance. These lawyers that you're talking about, they don't want Donald Trump to testify to the committee. We've seen John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, Mike Flynn come in and take the fifth. And even though Donald Trump says publicly he would love to testify, that is classic Donald Trump. That works until it's time to testify.

So, I think what we're going to see is the subpoena come out tomorrow and then these lawyers, they know the committee has an end date and they're going to try to run out the clock.

BLITZER: We'll see if they do. That's going to be significant.

Andrew, we're learning that Trump's lawyers are considering whether to allow federal investigators, including the FBI, to go back and search Mar-a-Lago once again. Do you expect the investigators would agree to another supervised search?

MCCABE: I find it to be highly unlikely. Now, it's not impossible. Frequently, law enforcement will engage in what we refer to as consent searches of a property, when the owner of the property is willing to allow us in to look for that sort of evidence that we believe is inside.

Now, it's possible they could come to some sort of an agreement in this case to do that sort of work, but it would absolutely be at DOJ's insistence, that certain conditions be met, that the search will be conducted in a way DOJ and the FBI decide it's going to be done, that no part of the property would be off limits. So, it's hard for me to imagine that the Trump team would agree to those sorts of conditions.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Sara to weigh in. Do you think the Trump team thinks another search might actually help them?

MURRAY: This isn't something that they're considering out of the goodness of Donald Trump's heart. This is something they're considering because they're looking at all the options on the table in order to get the former president out of legal jeopardy, if they can do so. DOJ has been very clear that they don't believe that the Trump team complied with the May subpoena. Remember, they showed up in August and found all these documents marked classified, and they still feel like Trump and his team have sensitive government documents that they want back.

So, part of the reason this is an option on the table is because if they don't come up with something to fulfill these requirements that the Justice Department is putting forward, DOJ can before a judge. We may not see that. It may be under a seal and there may be a solution that might be even more painful for the former president.

BLITZER: Jamie, it's interesting. We all know that the January 6th insurrection changed the Trump/Pence relationship probably forever.


You've done a lot of reporting on this. I want you listen to something the former vice president said. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president in 2024, will you vote for him?

MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there might be somebody else I'd prefer more.


BLITZER: So, you heard some of the laughter there. It was at Georgetown University here in Washington. But what's your sense, because it's a pretty serious question right now?

GANGEL: So, there's a man with good timing, right? He used to be a radio host. He knows how to do this. I think the most important thing that was said there was he didn't say one word. He didn't say, yes.

The other thing that I think is going to be interesting to see is whether the committee actually calls Pence. We've seen the subpoena for Trump. I'm not sure. When you see an answer like that, Mike Pence has spent a lot of time straddling, saying one thing about January 6th and another thing about Donald Trump because he wants their base, because he wants to run for president. I'm not sure that's the kind of witness the January 6th committee really wants to call in the end.

BLITZER: Let me let Andrew McCabe weigh in. Trump subpoena is one thing. A Pence subpoena could be a different one.

MCCABE: Very different. I think it's unlikely we'd actually see Vice President Pence testifying in public, the sort of thing they would do behind closed doors under oath, of course. I think Jamie is right. I think the subpoena to President Trump is a kind of final gesture from this committee. It is so they can close the door on this thing saying, we gave him the opportunity to come and speak to us. Maybe he takes advantage of it. Maybe he doesn't. But I really don't think they're culling the ground for more witnesses at this point.

MURRAY: And one of the things the chairman said to me after their last hearing was, look, there were all these people around the former president who pleaded the Fifth, who didn't get this information. We felt like after our investigation, were satisfied that Mike Pence did his job. We're satisfied essentially that we know what was going on with Mike Pence, the decision-making, the stuff around him. They don't feel that same way about former President Trump.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, guys, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, the new turmoil right now in the British government now that Liz Truss has announced her resignation after just six weeks in power. We're going live to London. That's next.



BLITZER: There's a high stakes scramble underway in Britain right now to find a replacement for the prime minister, Liz Truss. She abruptly announced her resignation today after just six weeks in office.

CNN's Bianca Nobilo explains why Truss is stepping down and what comes next.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Devastating resignations and fierce criticism. On Thursday afternoon, British Prime Minister Liz Truss gave in to the reality.

LIZ TRUSS, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I recognize though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the conservative party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liz Truss is elected as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

NOBILO: It was just her 45th day in office. There was in time for a honeymoon period. Queen Elizabeth died on her second day. She will have been the shortest serving prime minister in British history. Parliamentary rules mean the conservatives are still in charge. Its M.P.s can choose a new prime minister.

REPORTER: The public must be looking at this thinking, what on Earth is going on. This is the governing party.

GRAHAM BRADY, CONSERVATICE M.P.: Absolutely. And I think we're deeply conscious of the imperative of the national interest of resolving this clearly.

KEIR STARMER, LEADER U.K. LABOUR PARTY: So, Speaker, last week, the prime minister --

NOBILO: The opposition labor party says enough is enough.

STARMER: And the public are paying with higher prices, with higher mortgages. So we can want have a revolving door of chaos. We can't have another experiment at the top of the Tory Party.

NOBILO: Economic issues are at the heart of her downfall. When she took office last month, her government announced big energy subsidies, but also massive tax cuts for the rich and lifting a cap on banker's bonuses.

BIDEN: I wasn't the only one who thought it was a mistake.

NOBILO: Markets, those traditional Tory allies, also disapproved. The pound tanked. The Bank of England tried to prop up the economy and it got worse. She fired her chancellor in charge of the economy, U-turned on promise after promise. On Wednesday, her home secretary left, too, excoriating Truss as pretending not to have made mistakes.

CHARLES WALKER, CONSERVATIVE M.P.: I've had enough. I've had enough of talentless people putting their tick in the right box not because it's in the national interest but because it's in their own personal interest. NOBILO: Tory M.P.s openly say Truss has destroyed their party's reputation for fiscal responsibility. And with some voicing support for a return of Boris Johnson, the rifts are wider than ever.


NOBILO (on camera): The starting gun has been fired on the leadership contest and machinations have begun. But the intensity will be even more pronounced because the new prime minister has to be found in just one week. And the task is an unenviable one. They need to restore confidence, repair the party and try and rebuild Britain's international reputation. And, of course, they want to knit the party back together.


And the fact that we already have former Prime Minister Boris Johnson being expected to run is just one indicator of how it doesn't look like this contest is going to be one where unity is the buzz word, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Bianca Nobilo in London for us, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour right now. She's also joining us from London.

Christiane, how did Truss' conservative party get into this mess and how do they try to get out of it?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, to be honest with you, the short fact is that it's a self-inflicted wound. As you heard Bianca lay out there, all of these actions that she took immediately, in secret, without any accountability, without any of the fiscal responsibility, you know, organizations, the data people who usually preview some kind of budget that was being put out, none of that happened, and this is the tsunami that has met her.

Just to quickly say, a mortgage in England not like it is in the United States. That's why it's causing panic here. Here, they're very short-term. You have fixed term, 15 to 30 years. Not the same here and people are panicking because the rates have gone up so dramatically.

BLITZER: They certainly are. Christiane, how much does this chaos that's going on right now harm Britain's standing on the world stage?

AMANPOUR: Well, to be honest with you, quite a lot. And it's been a drip, drip of that ever since Brexit. There are no free trade deals with all the countries, the U.S., India, even Europe, that they promised us after Brexit. Today, President Macron said that he hoped and Europe hoped for a quick return to stability for the U.K. and I talked to the mayor of London, labor mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, well known to you and your audience, who basically had this to say about Britain's state of affairs right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR SADIQ KHAN, LONDON: We are a laughing stock. Our reputation has been diminished every minute Liz Truss has stayed in office. And people here this morning have been asking me, what is going on in your country? In the one hand, you're showing global leadership for London, but on the other hand, your country is a laughing stock. And there are (INAUDIBLE) from the global south who say, listen, we used to look upon the U.K. as providing certainty and clam, you have the (INAUDIBLE) parliaments, we look to you for moral leadership and we are a laughing stock.


AMANPOUR: I can't tell you how deep a wound that is for a country that's always been looked at as a responsible model of democracy and actually keeping calm and carrying on. And that's clearly not happening right now. President Biden and the administration looking very closely at what's happening.

Britain is a major member of the transatlantic community. It has been up until now. And it has helped a lot during the Ukraine crisis, helped Ukrainians very, very well. And so these are all important issues. It's got to regain its credibility.

BLITZER: And, Christiane, you're there in London. How exhausting is all of this for Britons who are facing a cost of living crisis right now heading into the winter? Many don't get a say in who leads them next.

AMANPOUR: That's the thing, Wolf. And I briefly mentioned the mortgage crisis, where we don't have fixed rate long-term like you do in the United States. That's causing a lot of angst. Plus, the tripling of prices, if not, quadrupling in some cases, of basic cost of living, people literally, and it's a bit of a mantra now, are having to make, you know, choices between heating and eating. I mean, it is that bad.

And it's really a catastrophe after years of austerity and difficulty, and there is likely to be more austerity because, as others have said, there's a multibillion dollar -- I mean, like $70 billion hole in the budget that they've got to somehow figure out how to fill. And it's going to come probably on the backs of the ordinary taxpayer.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Christiane Amanpour in London. Thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, how Ukraine's counteroffensive in the southern region right now is putting pressure on Russia. We're going live to the war zone. Stay with us.

Also, Russia is ramping up its show of strength. President Putin visits recently mobilized troops and even tests out a sniper rifle.


[18:35:00] BLITZER: Ukraine's counteroffensive in the southern region right now is forcing Russia to mobilize more troops and resources as they try to hold the frontline.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward is joining us now live from Kryvyi Rih, in Ukraine. Clarissa, you've traveled to the south of the country where Ukrainian forces are pushing back. What's the latest you're seeing on this offensive?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing from Ukrainian military officials is that they believe Russia is now using some of those recently mobilized forces and really trying to bolster its presence in the Kherson region. One military official saying that he believes there are now more than 40 battle tactical battalions in that area.

There had been, Wolf, a lot of suspicion or speculation that potentially with this kind of force deportation of civilians that Russia has announced, claiming that they have evacuated, in their words, 15,000 people from Kherson, that potentially that could have been used as cover for a Russian troop withdrawal as well because it has been very difficult for Russia to resupply its forces with these persistent Ukrainian counteroffensives going on.


But I would say that, at the moment, we're in a sort of wait-and-see sort of holding pattern, where everybody is anticipating something big to shift in the coming days, potentially, but nobody really knows exactly what it's going to look like, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, many of Ukraine's power plants, as we all know right now, have been destroyed by the Russians. Give us a sense of what it's like there right now.

WARD: Well, it's getting worse. There's no question. I mean, yesterday they were asking people to try to conserve electricity. Today, there have been rolling blackouts. Now, they're announcing that they may have to introduce in certain central regions caps on how much electricity people can use because, simply put, there has been so much damage to the critical infrastructure that the system can't keep up.

And it was interesting today, President Zelenskyy was talking to European leaders in a video address, and he said that he believes that the goal here that the Russians are trying to do is essentially to make life so miserable and so impossible for ordinary Ukrainian civilians as they head into the winter months and those temperatures get a lot colder, that they will be forced potentially to leave their homes and that that could lead to sort of a renewed refugee crisis on Europe's borders as well.

The other thing Zelenskyy brought up that a lot of people have been talking about is this critical dam here in the south, the Kakhovka dam. The Russians had claimed the Ukrainians were planning to blow it up. The Ukrainians, in turn, are saying that they believe it could be a Russian false flag operation in the making. Zelenskyy also telling European leaders today that he believes they've already placed mines in this dam and that, once again, the goal is to destroy infrastructure, create a water crisis and force a mass migration of ordinary Ukrainian civilians, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The U.S. and so many other countries believe these are all Russian war crimes going on right now. Clarissa Ward, as usual, thank you very, very much. Stay safe over there, please.

The man who started the war, Vladimir Putin, is putting a new show of strength out after declaring martial law in parts of Ukraine that he illegally seized.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us for this part of this story Brian, Putin is trying to look tough despite dramatic battlefield losses right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Analysts say Putin is trying to make it look like everything's going according to plan in Ukraine. No one does this kind of propaganda quite like Vladimir Putin, but it's debatable whether ordinary Russians are buying it at this point in a destructive, costly war.


TODD (voice over): A made for T.V. moment, Putin-style. The Russian president makes a personal, hands-on show of force, firing a sniper rifle while at a Russian military base. This video just released by the Russian defense ministry. Visiting a training ground for newly mobilized soldiers, Putin gets a briefing, enters the firing range to observe target practice then strides out on the range himself, dons his eye and ear protection, hits the dirt alongside the others and takes aim. He dusts off his coat, hugs a soldier, then continues his inspection of newly mobilized troops.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: What's really remarkable is given how Russia is suffering battlefield reverses that Putin is willing to not only take ownership of the war but appears to double down on it by picking up a gun himself and sort of saying, I'm here fighting with you.

TODD: Here's an exchange where Putin asks a soldier if he's got everything he needs in training. The soldier responds, no issues, sir. And Putin wraps his knuckle on the table in approval. But one clip from near the frontlines recently played by CNN portrays the opposite, newly mobilized Russian soldiers in the Luhansk region complaining.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got this (BLEEP) for training 11 days from when we were deployed. We left Moscow 11 days ago. How many times did you shoot already? Once, three bullet cartridges.

TODD: Analysts say Putin's recent order to mobilize 300,000 more troops is beset with problems.

GLASSER: It appears that more Russian men have fled to country than have agreed to go along with Putin's conscription. So, this is at a very delicate moment with the war. ANDREW WEISS, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: What we're seeing instead is an airbrushed Kremlin depiction of Russia's mighty army. And we know quite vividly what has happened to that army on the battlefield inside Ukraine. It's being shredded.

TODD: But for Putin, displays like this are a go-to move to galvanize support. In the past, the Kremlin has put out propaganda images of him riding a horse shirtless, on a bare-chested fishing expedition, descending in a small submarine, hiking on a hillside, thoughtfully pondering nature on a fallen tree. We've seen him in organized hockey games magically scoring multiple goals. But one analyst says Putin's strong man act at this point in a grinding war has gotten stale.


WEISS: Putin himself just celebrated his 70th birthday and I don't think most Russians are taken in by the image of their leaders. I think they are scared of the horribleness of the war in Ukraine. They're worried about their family members being sucked into it.


TODD (on camera): Now part of the irony of Vladimir Putin managing his image and messaging on the war so carefully observers say is that there have been complaints from Russian families that the Russian government has not always been good about giving information to the relatives of Russian soldiers. Some families complaining that they've had to get that information from social media, word of mouth or other means, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this has been an ongoing problem for Russian leadership, letting these families know the truth.

TODD: They've been really stringing them out, Wolf. It goes back to before even the sinking of the Moskva, that was in April, the sinking of that Russian warship. If you'll recall at that time, a lot of the families of those sailors were saying, we're not getting any information. And it's not even clear now whether they've gotten that information about their sons who might have been killed and the sinking of that.

It's still going on, especially with these new conscripts and this mobilization. Their families are not being told much, all the while, you know, Vladimir Putin is putting on these propaganda videos and managing his inventory carefully.

BLITZER: Yeah. That's what's he's doing. All right. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting for us.

Coming up, the jury's decision in the sexual misconduct case against the actor Kevin Spacey.


[18:50:52] BLITZER: A New York jury found Kevin Spacey not liable in a sexual misconduct trial stemming from allegations by fellow actor Anthony Rapp that Spacey touched him inappropriately and without consent back in 1986 when Rapp was just 14 years old.

CNN's Jean Cazares is covering the case for us.

Jean, this is a victory for Spacey. What's the latest?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a huge victory in the latest when his attorneys were leaving. They said they were grateful for the jury for seeing what the truth was. You know, Anthony Rapp was asking for $40 million here, and it stemmed from an incident he said in 1986, and the only reason this case could be brought was because of the New York Child's Victims Act which actually expanded the statute of limitations for those who were minors at the time.

But there were three charges initially, two of them had already been dismissed. The only charge that was going to the jury was battery. And it all stemmed around what Anthony RRapp said was a party in 1986 at Kevin Spacey's apartment right here in New York City. And Rapp had been in a Broadway show at 14 and it had just ended.

So, he said he wanted to meet people because he wanted to get to know other producers and things and Broadway. So, he went to the party. A lot of people there, it was so noisy. He went into the bedroom. He said he sat on the bed and he watched TV.

He suddenly realized all the people had left. Spacey came in, very drunk, lifted him like a groom would to a bride, took him to the bed, placed him down on the bed and laid on top of him.

Well, in closing arguments, the defense said to the jury the devil is in the details. They turned it all around. We tried to find anybody that went to that party. No one -- we asked Mr. Rapp name some people you met. No one.

Laid out the floor plans of the apartment. There was no bedroom. It was a studio. There was a bed right in the middle of the one room. There was no door.

And they continually focused on all of the inconsistencies of the testimony. Battery under New York law is a touching. There is not consent, and a reasonable person would find it offensive.

The jury was supposed find a preponderance of the evidence more likely than not this happened to find him liable. They did not find that. So, as the defense drove it home, there was no party. There was no touching. There is no valid charge here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Jean Cazares in New York, thank you so much for that report.

We're going to have more news just ahead, how the anti-government demonstrations in Iran right now are similar to a war zone for protesters, especially for women. The brutalities many of them endure as they rise up against decades of repression.



BLITZER: Iranian protesters are risking their lives by publicly challenging the Islamic Republic. Anti-government demonstrations have entered the fifth straight week despite an increase of violence by Iranian security forces.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is joining us right now.

Jomana, tell us what you're learning firsthand from Iranian protesters?

JOMANA KARADSHESH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the Iranian regime is certainly trying to make it hard for us to speak with people inside the country with the severe Internet restrictions that they have put in place.

But our CNN teams have been working around the clock over the past five weeks to ensure that the world knows what is going on. And, Wolf, from the information we've gathered, speaking with protesters, those we've been able to reach, I can tell you there is a real ruthless crackdown going on in the country right now.

The protesters we spoke to are taking part in the current protests, also some who took part in the 2019 protests over the hike in fuel prices. And they all report these terrifying tactics that the regime uses to crush dissent. Protesters say that they are violently detained, placed in overcrowded detention facilities with hundreds of others where they are tortured for days.

And we're talking everything from beatings to electric shocks, waterboarding, mock executions. Some of them say they have been coerced into signing a confession saying they have been paid by the U.S. and Israel to create chaos in Iran. And even after their release, they don't leave them alone. Authorities are watching them, they say, monitoring them, threatening them.

One young man telling us they call him at times asking about his Twitter activity. Another man telling us they call him threatening to kill his children and rape his wife, really terrifying stories. This is just a little bit of what is going on that we are able to get firsthand right now.

And there's a lot of concern, wolf , from human rights organizations for the safety of women, the brutality they have been facing. These female protesters who say, according to human rights organizations, they say that they are being -- some of them are being sexually assaulted by security forces on the streets.

But I can tell you, Wolf, they're really struggling, the Iranian regime, to contain what is going to go in the country right now.

BLITZER: Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very, very much for that report. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.