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Trump's Legal Team Responds To The Protective Order Of The Special Counsel; Some GOP Candidates Sharpens Criticism Against Trump; Ukraine Reports Foiled Assassination Of President Zelenskyy; NYT: Justice Thomas' Luxury Motorcoach Raises New Round Of Ethical Questions; Military Coup Leaders In Niger Refuse To Cede Power. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 07, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN, FILMMAKER: Absolutely not. You never have any idea like that. It's the luck of the draw. I always felt that these steps were like a metaphor for the story of the film, the ascent from darkness up into light.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Friedkin's wife said he passed away at home from heart failure and pneumonia. He was 87 years old.
Well, that is it for us this hour. Thank you so much for watching. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The deadline is here and the Trump team has just filed its response to a request by the special counsel seeking limits on evidence the former president can share publicly. We're going over the new documents in the January 6th case, stand by for that.
Also, this hour, Ukraine says it has a Russian informant in custody in connection with a foiled plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, this as Moscow's forces have unleashed a deadly new missile strike in eastern Ukraine.
And we're tracking the urgent threat of powerful storms and tornadoes, putting millions of Americans at risk in the eastern United States, including right here in Washington, D.C. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in "The Situation Room."
Let's get right to the breaking news on that filing by the Trump legal team in connection with the January 6th prosecution of the former president. CNN's senior crime and justice reporter, Katelyn Polantz, is joining us right now. Kaitlyn, so what's in this new response just filed by the Trump team?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, there's both some political bluster in here as well as a legal proposal. They actually are not that far away from prosecutors on that the dispute is, at this time. We had the Justice Department saying that they wanted to start turning evidence over to Donald Trump's defense lawyers, but couldn't because Trump's defense team wasn't willing to really make an agreement with them on how they could set some sort of nondisclosure privilege to protect evidence that would be needed for the defense to review as they go to trial.
And so that was what this dispute was about in the last couple of days. This judge had set a deadline. We just got the filing deadline. And as you're looking through it, one of the things the Trump team says is they just don't want a what's called a protective order or a nondisclosure order over all of the evidence that they're getting in the case. They just want to only shield genuinely sensitive information that they may be getting.
The Justice Department essentially had the same concern in their filings as well previously, saying that they wanted to shield things like grand jury transcripts, things that were genuinely sensitive in this case to make sure it wouldn't hurt a trial as it goes to trial.
And so, there are two proposals before the judge right now on how to handle evidence in this case, how much can be shared more widely as they go to trial. But as this is a filing from Donald Trump's defense team, they've been out making political comments as well as legal comments as lawyers over the weekend. And now in this filing, too, they're bringing up some political bluster.
One of the things that they mention is a Joe Biden tweet where they say is a thinly veiled reference that capitalizes on the indictment of Joe Biden holding a coffee cup in a tweet that it may not have any direct impact on this case at all, but there is a little bit of this political sniping happening in these filings still at the same time that some of the legal issues are apparently getting worked out. But, of course, as always, Wolf, we need to see what the judge is going to say next to this.
BLITZER: We'll see what the response is. Twenty-nine pages in this document just released, the response and opposition to the government's motion for protective order. We'll see what the response is going to be to the response. Katelyn, I understand the special counsel's team spoke to another key witness today. Tell us about that.
POLANTZ: Yeah, that witness is Bernie Kerik. Bernie Kerik, a very close associate of Rudy Giuliani's after the 2020 election was essentially working to try and get together these affidavits of supposed fraud that ultimately were not true. That amount of fraud was not evident in the 2020 election.
However, Bernie Kerik and his lawyer, there they are on your screen, that's them exiting the special counsel's office today after an interview of about five hours. And one of the things that they are very clearly acknowledging being asked about is Rudy Giuliani, one of the people who is quite clearly in the indictment of Donald Trump, a conspirator, an unnamed -- uncharged conspirator, but someone who there is obviously a continuing investigation around or at least an investigation around his actions that would merit someone like Bernie Kerik as a witness to come in and still speak to the special counsel's office at this time.
BLITZER: Yeah, very significant. Katelyn, stay with us. I want to bring in our legal analyst, Norm Eisen and Jennifer Rodgers as well. And Jennifer, what's your reaction to what we're learning now about this new Trump filing that has just come out?
JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we're still reviewing it, Wolf, but it's not -- no surprises really. I mean, we've heard yesterday from John Lauro that this is a First Amendment defense. That's at least one of their primary defenses here. And this filing is full of it. They say, you know, the First Amendment means that Trump should be able to review this discovery and talk about it however he wants. Like, First Amendment doesn't really have a place in a discovery dispute like this, but they're trumpeting it and they're sticking with it.
So, you know, I think they -- there will be resolution reached here. The judge will be somewhere in between the protective order that the government wants and some slightly less broad version, probably more broad though than Trump wants, and that's how judges usually decide, somewhere down the middle. It is heartening that they actually provided a red line, so they are working with the protective order that Jack Smith proposed.
They're not just saying throw the whole thing out. That's a reasonable approach to work with the judge on, and I hope that they continue in that vein as we move forward with more pretrial litigation.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Norm. We know that part of the filing includes a lot of political bluster, along with a legal argument. How do you expect the judge in this case will rule?
NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, when you take out the political part of the filing, including the tit for tat the government provided, the judge with a copy of a tweet, social media posting, I should say from Donald Trump, "If you come after me, I'm coming out after you." So, they've included a picture of Joe Biden.
But when you subtract that aspect of the case, John Lauro, with whom I used to practice criminal defense law, has offered a very reasonable counteroffer here. And I don't think the judge will agree on every point. But he's offered a proposal to broaden who gets to use these materials, to have slightly more people use them. That's not beyond the pale.
How they are handled, he has some proposals to slightly expand that and when they can be used, including introduction at trial, but only after giving the government notice. So, these are not unreasonable counteroffers, and I think when you subtract the politics, they'll land in the middle. The politics are important, though, because John is trying this case in the court of law and in the court of public opinion. BLITZER: Katelyn, I know you've been reading more of this, what, 29-
page document that has just been filed by the Trump legal team. What more can you tell us about this filing?
POLANTZ: Well, Wolf, one of the things here that the Justice Department did that was so unusual in setting this up on Friday is that they cited a social media post from Donald Trump saying, "If you come after me, I'm coming after you," as one of the reasons why the prosecutors wanted the judge to move quickly and get some sort of order placed in this so that there wasn't some sort of retaliatory action by Donald Trump sharing evidence.
And as far as I can tell, I haven't read every single word of this 29- page filing yet. It just came in right before your show started. But I will tell you, from what I can see, it's not -- there's not a big argument going on at this time about those Trump social media posts. And so, a lot of that and whether that's going to be coming into this case is something we should be watching for as we move forward, not just right now. And there is so much here.
I feel like I'm saying it all the time, wait to see what the judge is going to say, wait to see what the judge is going to do. The end of the story is never what the response is from Trump's team or what the prosecutors say. It is how the judge responds ultimately. And whether she, Judge Tanya Chutkan, someone who has increased security around her at this time, someone who is going to be very closely watched.
Everything she does here, watching her and how she responds not just to the legal fight that's happening, but also these social media posts from Donald Trump, what prosecutors are flagging in their filings and how Donald Trump responds both with the political arguments as well as legal arguments, that is really the thing to watch moving forward here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jennifer, what's your reaction to what Katelyn is just reporting now, her read on this document? There are fears about a chilling effect on witnesses, I take it.
RODGERS: That's right, Wolf. I mean, we know Donald Trump has a long history of threatening, intimidating witnesses. Other people involved, too, prosecutors, judges, grand jurors, the jury pool at large. So, you know, this is no surprise here.
I think Judge Chutkan is going to want to keep him on a short leash. She certainly will want to warn him before trying to do anything about the bail conditions or anything else here. But I think she's going to be very, very mindful in watching out for statements that would potentially impact the integrity of the case or the safety of possible witnesses.
I mean, we know in the past, people who spoke out against Donald Trump or not even spoke out against him, but just told the truth about what they did in a way that the former president didn't like had their lives turned upside down with death threats and other things. So, I think the judge is going to be very, very mindful of that as this moves forward to protect the case and to protect the witnesses.
BLITZER: Yeah, that is so important. Norm, the Justice Department's special counsel prosecutors argue a protective order is necessary to ensure that Trump doesn't publicly disclose evidence. How common is that kind of order?
EISEN: Wolf, it's very common. We got an even more serious version of that in the Mar-a-Lago documents prosecution by Special Counsel Jack Smith because classified material is involved. A key point is that the government, the prosecutors, actually want to turn over the information. They have a vast amount of information. They have reasonable concerns.
But we must not, despite the history of Donald Trump's conduct towards witnesses, judges, juries, we must not minimize his First Amendment right. This is a balancing test. And when you take all the politics out of it, there are two reasonable proposals before the court. The judge will probably pick the middle course.
This is really the speed and the volume. They decided to come back with an even larger filing than the government, is just a sign of things to come. This is going to be a knockdown, drag out, pitched battle every day between the prosecutors and Mr. Trump's defense team.
BLITZER: Katelyn, I understand that security has now been increased for the federal judge that Trump has attacked in this case. So, what are you learning about that?
POLANTZ: Yeah, Wolf, this comes from our reporter, Holmes Lybrand, who's been over at the courthouse many days, who noticed more security around Judge Tanya Chutkan and her chambers today over at the federal district court in D.C. and also deputy U.S. Marshals discussing plans for security there. We don't have any formal comment or explanation from the U.S. Marshal Service, but this is always been something that would be expected in a case like this.
This courthouse ramped up security around jurors in the Roger Stone case, and they have done quite a bit of work over the past couple days, last week in particular, when that indictment was returned, to make sure that courthouse was very secure.
But at the same time as they're ramping up security, making sure that the judge is secure, the building is secure, other people involved in the case have security, they also are making sure that things run like normal over there at the federal courthouse, as they always have done in high profile cases. Wolf?
BLITZER: Let's wish them the best. Thank you, guys, very, very much. We'll of course stay on top of the story. Also coming up, Donald Trump's main Republican rival is sharpening his criticism. What Governor Ron DeSantis is now saying about the former president's loss in 2020 and what it means for 2024.
[17:17:19] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, Donald Trump's legal team just filing a response to a request from the special counsel, Jack Smith, to limit the evidence the former president can share with the public. That case playing out on the campaign trail as well as Trump's rivals continue to sharpen their criticism. Our chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining me here in "The Situation Room." So, Jeff, first of all, what is Governor Ron DeSantis now saying?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Florida the governor has really tiptoed around questions about the 2020 election. Really for the last couple years he has rarely, if ever, talked about exactly what happened to those unproven allegations, but as he's struggling in his campaign, trying to reset his campaign, now he's taking a sharper tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Whoever puts their hand on the Bible on January 20th every four years is the winner.
DASHA BURNS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: If you can't give a yes or no on whether or not Trump lost, then how can you --
DESANTIS: Because -- of course, no -- of course he lost.
BURNS: Trump lost the 2020 election, okay.
DESANTIS: Joe Biden's the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, saying, of course he lost. Well, even though that's a very obvious statement, it's significant because the Florida governor has not yet said that. So, we'll see if there's any response, of course. But most Republicans we've talked to, you know, are suspicious of something happening, but people believe that Joe Biden is the president. Of course, he is.
BLITZER: Are Trump's Republican 2024 rivals at least starting to be more vocal about the dangers of Trump's legal woes overshadowing the race?
ZELENY: Some are and some aren't. I mean, Chris Christie, of course, is leading the way, but there is some concern about all this focus on Trump rather than the Biden administration. Here's a sample of what some GOP candidates are saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a preview of the election coming up if Donald Trump's the nominee. He'll be talking about Donald Trump rather than Joe Biden.
DOUG BURGUM, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we're out talking to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're not asking about the indictments.
DESANTIS: January 6th, 2021 or what document was left by the toilet at Mar-a-Lago. If it's a referendum on that, we are going to lose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So that is the point here. So much talk about the general election. Of course, that is the ultimate goal. Republicans winning back the White House for their party. And there's very deep concern that the former president may complicate that.
BLITZER: Yeah. I'm sure there's a lot of concern on that. Jeff, stay with us. I also want to bring in our senior political analysts, Ron Brownstein and Nia-Malika Henderson. Nia, you're here with me in "The Situation Room." What do you make of this rhetorical shift we're now seeing from some of these Republican candidates?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, as far as Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence, to a certain extent, I think people have been waiting for this. When were they going to take the gloves off when it comes to Donald Trump?
Their bet is that at this point they might not be able to pull away these diehard Trump voters, but there are never Trump voters, and there is sort of sometimes Trump voters as well.
So, whoever is able to consolidate that block of voters, maybe it's 35, 40 percent of the party, they actually have a shot at taking on Donald Trump. So far, you see how Ron DeSantis has been sliding down in the polls. His campaign has talked about this reset. This is clearly a part of it.
We'll see how deep into the sort of never Trump territory he goes, because again, there's still a huge block of the party that is die- hard for Trump and he ideally would want some of those voters if he's going to be able to successively challenge Donald Trump.
BLITZER: You know, Ron, do you think Directly challenging Trump actually benefits his 2024 rivals or is this more about their behind, many of them, so way, way behind and it's a card they have to play.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I think they really have no choice, Wolf. I mean, I think the evidence is overwhelming in the polling so far, that in 2024, as in 2016, failing to confront Trump directly is a virtual guarantee of a failure in the race itself. I mean, he has as big a lead in the national polling as any primary candidate has had ever.
And polls show that most Republican voters do not believe he committed a crime and are broadly satisfied with his performance as president. We even have a poll where 60 percent of Republicans recently described January 6th as legitimate protest. Against all of that, you have to give primary voters a pretty compelling reason to bypass Trump if they are going to do so. And, you know, generally speaking, except for the candidates at the
periphery of the race that we've been talking about, like Chris Christie, the leading other alternatives have not been willing to do that. And I think that the writing is on the wall for Ron DeSantis. He really has no choice but to go further in the direction that he's going because what he's doing so far clearly is not working, even in the context of a Republican primary.
BLITZER: And Jeff, let me follow up on that. DeSantis says Republican voters know the 2024 election can't be about what happened in 2020. But that clearly doesn't square with Trump being the dominant front runner in the race.
ZELENY: It doesn't. And look, I mean, he's not only the dominant front runner, just his investigations and the indictments are really overshadowing absolutely everything. So, I think we're at a critical time this summer. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is spending a lot of time in the state of Iowa, of course, which opens the contest next year. He's been there for three consecutive weekends. He's going back this weekend. He's really trying to make his case that he could be something different for the general election.
We'll see if he continues to go down this road of talking about the 2020 election. They all want to talk about something else. And they have started talking about Joe Biden. They're largely asked by reporters and then they're sort of sucked into it with everything the former president says. But look, he's trying to carve out his own identity. Very hard to do so when Trump still lords over everything.
BLITZER: Yeah, I know that. You know, Nia, several of the Republican presidential candidates, they're now increasingly making Vice President Kamala Harris their main target, their prime target, rather than directly going even after President Biden.
HENDERSON: Yeah. Listen, again, this doesn't help them with their current problem, which is that Donald Trump is sitting on 40 or 50 percent of the party right now. Nikki Haley has been going after Kamala Harris for a while. DeSantis is doing the same thing, sort of said, no, he wants to debate her or something over the black history standards in Florida.
It doesn't help them with their present problem, which is that they are behind in the polls and they haven't been able to really consolidate any significant block of voters. So, you know, as Jeff said, they want to talk about anything else but Donald Trump. So, Kamala Harris will do for now.
BLITZER: Nia, thank you very much. Guys, thank you. Ron and Jeff, thanks to you as well.
Up next, Ukraine's security service announces a foiled Russian plot to assassinate President Zelenskyy. We're going to have the report.
And severe weather is now impacting thousands of flights and hundreds of thousands of people are without power in the eastern part of the United States. We'll have more details from the CNN Weather Center. Stay with us for that.
BLITZER: A U.S. Army official says the first batch of American Abrams tanks for Ukraine was approved for shipment over the weekend. And as is expected, they are expected, those tanks to start arriving in the early fall. Meanwhile, Ukraine's security service says it has detained a Russian informant involved in a plot to assassinate the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. For more on this, I'm joined now by CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Fred, tell our viewers what you're hearing.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, certainly some pretty troubling accusations coming there from the Ukrainian security service, the SPU today, about that alleged plot to kill Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and all this is going on as the fighting continues to escalate in Ukraine, not just in the south of the country, but in the east of the country as well. But we're now hearing that the Russians are expending massive quantities of ammo. Here's what we're learning.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Nearly half a million munitions. That's how much the Ukrainians say the Russian army fired at them in only a week's time on the eastern front. Still, Moscow reporting only modest gains.
Over the past three days, the advance of Russian troops in this direction amounted to 11 kilometers along the front and more than three kilometers into the depth of the enemy's defense, the army spokesman says.
But the Ukrainians say in most areas, they are the ones advancing. And Kyiv is hitting Putin's military behind the front lines as well. After Ukrainian sea drones hit both a Russian tanker and a warship in the past days, now an air attack damaging a vital bridge connecting occupied Crimea to Ukraine's mainland.
A local Moscow installed official trying to downplay the significance. These are sneaky punches, he says, really sneaky. They can't be forgiven. They are just snarls from a wounded animal. Strikes like these, often made possible by Western supplied air launched cruise missiles.
Glory to Ukraine President Zelenskyy wrote on a French model during a visit to his air force this weekend. But now Ukraine's intelligence service says it foiled a Russian plot to assassinate Zelenskyy using an informant trying to scout out his whereabouts.
The Ukrainians say questioning revealed the person was involved in other attempted plots as well. The Ukrainians say their troops have been making some gains on the southern front, putting pressure on entrenched Russian forces there. Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with the boss of one of Russia's top arms makers, urging him to speed up manufacturing of modern weapons.
Manufacturers promised me that they would increase the amount of production, he says, they deliver on that promise, but it needs to be increased even more. This Russian drone footage shows the aftermath of some of the fighting in Ukraine's south. Very little territory won or lost, but nearly every building completely destroyed.
PLEITGEN: And Wolf, there was a phone call today between Ukraine's top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley. And in that phone call, the Ukrainian, Zaluzhnyi, he told Milley that by and large, it still is the Ukrainians who have the initiative on the battlefield. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, we shall see. Fred Pleitgen reporting for us, thank you very much. For more on the alleged Russian plot to assassinate President Zelenskyy, I'm joined by CNN's Matthew Chance. He's joining me live from Moscow right now. Matthew, what does this claim tell us about how Moscow views the so called rules of engagement in this conflict?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, first of all, there's been no reaction, Wolf, so far from the Kremlin about this alleged assassination plot. But, you know, if it's true, and there's ever reason to suppose that it could be, I think it sort of underlines, you know, one of the things we know about the Kremlin already, which is that if you are perceived by them to be an enemy, then there are no lengths they won't go to take you out.
And make no mistake, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, is the most prominent figure in the world today who stands against Vladimir Putin and that Russian invasion. So in that sense, he has a massive target painted on his back. I think it also shows that Russia has not given up hope of delivering a fatal blow and is not softening its stance at all when it comes to the prosecution of its war in Ukraine.
And that's been underlined by the fact that today Russia has rejected, for instance, the outcome of a meeting of 40 countries in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, discussing a possible peace process to bring to an end the war in Ukraine. Russia said that process was doomed before it had even started and has since said that there's been no basis from those talks that would form the basis of a peaceful settlement. And so it's absolutely continuing to be hard line when it comes to the prosecution of that war in Ukraine.
BLITZER: Matthew Chance reporting for us from Moscow. Thank you, Matthew, very much.
Let's get some more on all of these developments. Joining me now, CNN senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt, who has just returned from several weeks reporting in Ukraine. Also with us, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Ukraine and Russia, Evelyn Farkas. Alex, let me start with you. There have been many reported attempts to try to assassinate President Zelenskyy since the start, at the beginning of this war. How significant is this foiled assassination plot right now?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's very significant. It's another reminder of how much risk there is to even, and perhaps especially the leader of Ukraine. And it's another reminder of the counterintelligence challenges that Ukraine also faces in terms of trying to root out Russian spies and Russian sympathizers. This was, as you noted, a major goal of the Russians early on in the war. They wanted to capture her and kill President Zelenskyy and then eventually take over the whole country.
President Zelenskyy has significant security measures in place. He takes different kinds of transportation, never tells anyone where he's going ahead of time. You were just at the NATO summit in Vilnius. We thought that he might be going, but there was no announcement until he was there on the ground. So, you know, I've been at these frontline cities and towns where there are very few people remaining. There's a huge level of suspicion to -- for people who are still in those towns because of what they might be telling the Russians.
So whether it is revealing to Russians, the location of ammunitions depots or any other logistical hubs or even the location of the President, there is no sense that spying is ending anytime soon and that the Russian effort to kill Zelenskyy is going to end time soon.
BLITZER: It's very worrisome indeed. Glad you're back safe and sound, Alex. Thank you.
Evelyn, how much of a threat do you believe this does pose to Zelenskyy? This attempted, alleged attempted assassination attempt?
EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Well, Wolf, I think this is really interesting, first of all, because I think the threat might be less than we think in the sense that the Ukrainians nabbed this person. They clearly were able to use technology to spy on the communications that this person had, this woman had with whoever was controlling her in the Russian government. So it is a victory for Ukrainian counterintelligence.
So maybe he is safer than he was yesterday, or maybe he is safer than we thought all along. But what's really interesting about this, I think, is we have to remember, when you're looking at a battlefield in the military, you look at the other side and you try to assess what is their center of gravity they call it, their strength.
The strength for Ukraine is the will of their people. And the guy who really rallies the people, and not just the Ukrainian people, but all of us and the entire world, as we saw even in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this past weekend, where they're OK, they're not all on Ukraine's side. But President Zelenskyy is the man who has led this huge effort to make sure that everybody keeps Ukraine in the forefront of their thoughts, keeps Ukraine on CNN screen, right, and keeps as many people on board and tries to expand that, which is what he tried to do this weekend.
BLITZER: Yes, he did. Very, very impressive performance from the Ukrainian President. Alex, as I said, you're just back from the front lines in Ukraine, and I'm glad you're back safe and sound. What's your assessment right now of Ukraine's counter offensive strategy? How's it unfolding?
MARQUARDT: Well, you know, when you talk to everyone from the defense minister, as I did, down to the soldiers at the front line, you know, what they'll tell you is that this is an extremely tough fight and they really want to downplay the expectation that this is going to be fast and that they're going to achieve a major victory anytime soon.
This is very much, Wolf, a grinding war of attrition. And the strategy that we're seeing in place right now is one where the Ukrainians believe that they have to just keep pushing forward, using the weapons that they've gotten from the West, the ammunition, you know, as much ammunition as they can gather. And they're mend to try to pierce through that line, both on the southern front and the eastern front.
And they know that is going to take some time. So they're trying to grind away at the Russians. There's no ace up their sleeve. That is their tactic and they believe that at some point they will be able to pierce through those lines and that their efforts and the counter offensive will accelerate. At the same time, Wolf, we're seeing these extraordinary attacks inside Russia, inside Russian occupied Crimea, both at sea, in the Black Sea against these ships in Russian ports, from the air with these aerial drones and more and more of these drone strikes both in the sea and in the air that Ukraine is claiming responsibility for.
So they're trying to put pressure from the rear both in terms of affecting Russian morale, but also affecting those -- that ammunition and other kinds of weapons, logistical lines that will help the Russian effort in the south and the eastern part of the country. So they're trying to squeeze that so that effort in the counteroffensive can really achieve some success soon.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a sensitive, clearly critical moment right now in this war. Alex, thank you very much. Evelyn, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, millions of Americans are bracing for severe weather tonight as tornadoes take aim at the East Coast. We'll get the latest forecast. Stand by for that.
Plus, a report from "The New York Times" is raising a new round of ethical questions about U.S. supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
BLITZER: Happening now, millions of Americans here on the East Coast are now bracing for an outbreak of very severe storms. Multiple tornado watches are in effect as storms are expected to unleash damaging wind gusts, hail, and flooding rainfall. Our meteorologist Chad Myers is over at the CNN Weather Center watching all of this unfold. Chad, you can see the U.S. Capitol right behind me. It's beginning to look really, really ominous.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Virginia, Fairfax, all the way up to the north, and Gaithersburg, you're already in it. But it's coming to the east. So, western suburbs, you are in it all the way up Towson, even up toward Lancaster in Pennsylvania. I want you to be taking cover right now because there are major weather storms headed your way, wind and the possibility of a tornado as well.
This is the area you're watching for the wind damage. We already have 400,000 homes, Wolf, that are without power because of these wind events right now. And we're finally getting to the populated areas. Atlanta, Charlotte, all the way up toward Richmond and then into D.C. and then Baltimore and the like into Philadelphia. So a lot of population centers still to come here, all the way up, even into upstate New York we've had weather.
Down here to the south here, here's Baltimore, D.C., there you go, that's western suburbs right through Dulles Airport about a half an hour ago. Big wind event there all the way down through about Gainesville, down to Culpepper. These are the areas here to the south. It's also going to see those wind events. It just had a major thunder over my head right here in Atlanta with more severe weather expected.
Atlanta is a city of trees, and many of those trees are going to go down. Here, you hope, this is the NASCAR race country workshops here, headquarters from Concord all the way back over toward to Melbourne. This is the area here that had some spin ups earlier today, especially over Concord. This is the area that we're going to see move to the east all night long and eventually push offshore.
But we still have three to four more hours of this weather before it's finally done. Thousands of planes are delayed. There will be disasters there at the airport. Trying to get people on planes later today, considering we're at Dulles, we're at National, we're at Atlanta, Philadelphia, big cities with a lot of planes that aren't getting off the ground at this point in time. But if a storm comes your way, it could be spinning, but it certainly will have winds 50 to 70 miles per hour. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. Everybody's got to be really, really careful. Chad Myers, thank you very much. We're, of course, going to stay on top of this story and update our viewers.
There's another story we're following tonight as well. A report from "The New York Times" is raising new ethical questions about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Our senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is on the story for us. Joan, this report focused on what a luxury RV purchase, what can you tell us?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Well, we already knew that Clarence Thomas had a very elaborate RV, that he called the bus because it was a reconfigured bus. You know, it was not your normal motor coach, you know, it had -- we've -- there had been reports in 60 Minutes had actually gotten inside it at one point. You know, it had leather seats, kitchen, bathroom, 40 feet long, not your standard RV.
But what "The New York Times" recently reported is that it cost $267,000, more than a quarter million, and that it was financed in part by Anthony Welters, who is a healthcare executive. He's a longtime friend of Clarence Thomas, dating all the way back to the 1980s when they were both staffers in the Senate. But it's just another instance of wealthy interests helping out Clarence Thomas financially. And no reports on financial disclosure forms because there's questions of whether this loan was a gift, was it income.
Now, this is what Mr. Welters told "The New York Times," 25 years ago, I loaned a friend money as I have other friends and family. We've all been one side or another of that equation. He used it to buy a recreational vehicle, which is a passion of his. But the reason this raises the question is again, a private loan, not one through a bank, just what should be told to the public. And the Justices have been facing a drumbeat of investigative reports on justices off bench behavior.
BLITZER: Yes, we'll see if they continue as well. Joan Biskupic, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, the leaders of a coup in Niger ignore a deadline to give a power or face military action. What the U.S. state Department is doing to try to help avoid a conflict.
BLITZER: The U.S. State Department says it's been in direct contact with coup leaders in Niger, urging them to step aside. It's a very dire situation right now as the military leaders who ousted the democratically elected President of Niger ignored a deadline to give up power. CNN's Larry Madowo is in neighboring Nairobi, Kenya for us. Larry, what's the situation in Niger tonight?
LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for Niger is on edge tonight as the threat of military confrontation looms. I want to show this extraordinary video from a stadium on Sunday in the capital of Niamey. Thousands of supporters of the military out to show that they support this military Junta against the international community that has condemned it.
The military ignored the deadline set by the Economic Community of West African States to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum or this group of West African countries say they will use force. That's not happened. And so they have another extraordinary summit Thursday where they will decide if they will militarily intervene in Niger. The U.S. State Department saying it's been in direct contact with these military Junta. They didn't say who they talked to, but they told them to step aside. As this threat of military confrontation looms, the military junta has closed the Nigerien airspace and they are hanging on to power here.
And it's important that they are, because in Niger, it's been the only safe part of this neighborhood. It's surrounded by countries that have seen military coups, Burkina Faso and Mali and Chad and Guinea and even as far as Sudan. So this entire coup now, this entire belt of coups that have been taking place in Africa completed by Niger. Wolf?
BLITZER: You know, Larry, the Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland met with some of the leaders of the military Junta in Niger on Monday. She told reporters Niger has been a U.S. ally. Is the fear now that Niger may be tilting toward Russia?
MADOWO: That is a real danger here. The first stop that the coup leaders made after they took over power is to neighboring Mali, where the Wagner group has been active. They were invited there after Mali expelled French troops. And the French Foreign Affairs Ministry confirming that they've made contact, these Niger coup leaders with the Wagner group.
It's not clear if they've signed a contract, but at least they've talked. And this is a significant development here. It's not surprising, both the French and the Americans say, that Wagner group would seek to extend its influence in Africa for the financial gain, but also to work further in the region. They're in Mali. They're in the Central African Republic. They are in Sudan. So this is the natural next entry point for them, which further extends the death and destruction that follows the Wagner group everywhere they go on the continent. Wolf?
BLITZER: Very significant. Larry Madowo, thank you very, very much.
Coming up, we'll have more insight right into the Trump team's new filing in the January 6th case as the Justice Department's special counsel is proposing limits on the former president's public sharing of evidence. The breaking news continues. That's next.
BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news, Donald Trump's team is arguing against more restrictive rules on evidence in the January 6th prosecution of the former president. Standby for new details on the filing. And I'll talk with a key witness in the Georgia election interference probe, the former Republican Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan.