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Some Trump Co-Defendants Surrender As Meadows Fights Arrest; Trump Rivals Fine-Tuning Strategy For Debate Tomorrow; First GOP Debate On Eve Of Trump's Georgia Arrest; Inside Look At Elite Ukrainian Sniper Unit On Front Lines. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 21, 2023 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Multiple Trump co-defendants surrender in the Georgia election subversion case, as former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is now fighting his arrest. And it's all leading up to the very dramatic moment when the defendant in chief, Donald Trump, turns himself in on Thursday.

Also tonight, Trump's Republican presidential rivals are gearing up to debate without him tomorrow night. We'll take a closer look at the stakes for the eight candidates who will be on stage and how Trump's absence and alleged crimes may shape their strategies.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in the "Situation Room."

It's a very busy day of breaking news in Georgia. At the Fulton County Jail and over at the courthouse, multiple co-defendants of Donald Trump surrendering on election subversion charges or securing bond agreements. This comes amid new legal maneuvers by prominent Trump co- defendants, including the former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. CNN's Paula Reid is outside the courthouse in Atlanta for us.

Paula, you have some breaking news involving another key co-defendant. We're talking about Rudy Giuliani. Tell our viewers what you're learning tonight.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that Rudy Giuliani still does not have an attorney license in the state of Georgia to help him with this case. Now, of course, Giuliani, the former mayor, former US attorney, is facing seven figure legal debt, which has made it difficult for him to find and retain people willing to represent him.

We've also learned that Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner and an unindicted conspirator in this Fulton County case, is working with Giuliani very closely to help him through this initial stage, the surrender part of this case. Now, we're told that Kerik is using his contacts to try to help find Giuliani a lawyer here in the state of Georgia.

He needs a lawyer, Wolf, to sign any potential bond agreement, and that lawyer has to be licensed in the state of Georgia. But so far, we're hearing that Giuliani does not yet have an attorney here in Fulton County.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Paula, the former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is now making moves to try to avoid surrendering in Fulton County. Tell us about that.

REID: That's exactly right, Wolf. Because, as you know, Mark Meadows wants to move this entire case to federal court, where he hopes it will be dismissed. Now, there's a hearing on that move on Monday, and Meadows lawyers asked if he could push back this Friday deadline for surrender in the state case until after a hearing on this move to move it to federal court. The district attorney was not open to that. So now Meadows is asking a federal court to intervene.

Now, we're also waiting for mug shots. They're going to be released any minute from the two defendants who have actually surrendered at the Fulton County Sheriff's Office today.

BLITZER: John Eastman and Scott Hall, we're seeing them. They actually surrender today. Paula, standby. We're going to get back to you in just a moment.

I want to bring in some other of our experts on the Georgia case, and we'll discuss that as well. Elie, let me start with you. Trump isn't paying Giuliani's legal bills, and he doesn't currently have an attorney in Georgia because of his financial situation. We're talking about Rudy Giuliani. What's your reaction to this?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Rudy Giuliani has had more than enough time already to go out and get himself an attorney. This indictment was announced eight days ago, so that's been plenty of time for him to go and get a lawyer. If, in fact, Rudy Giuliani cannot afford counsel genuinely like anyone else, he can have a public defender appointed.

And I don't say that to be glib or to be dismissive. Public defenders are outstanding at what they do. And so eventually, Rudy Giuliani has to have a lawyer one way or another. If he can pay for it, he's got to go get one. And if he can't, then he can ask the court to appoint one for him.

BLITZER: And, Shan, what do you make of Bernie Kerik's involvement with Giuliani in all of this? Kerik's an unindicted conspirator in this case, as well as a convicted felon.

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's very odd for someone in that position in terms of being the unindicted conspirator to be involved in this matter. The fact he has a prior conviction, I don't think that matters so much. But it presents a very odd set of conflicts going on for him to be advising and helping Giuliani in this situation.

And frankly, to follow up on Elie's point there, it really seems more like a delay tactic to me for Giuliani. He may be having some money problems. But the idea that the former mayor of New York, former number three at Justice cannot find the lawyer in Georgia seems hard to believe.


BLITZER: Yes, it's extraordinary indeed. Tia, does Trump not paying his legal bills for his co-defendants make them more likely to testify against him? What are you learning? What are you hearing over there?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, AJC: Yes. There's a lot of speculation on that, that there are a lot of people who may feel that Trump not supporting them in this hour when they're all facing charges is a sign that perhaps their loyalty is misguided and that might change their approach to these charges. But right now, that's just speculation.

For example, we've been talking about Rudy Giuliani. There's been a lot of speculation that he doesn't have the money to pay for a lawyer, that Trump is not helping him financially. But so far, we don't have any indication whether Trump and Rudy Giuliani's relationship has soured to the point where Giuliani would turn on Trump.

I think there are a lot of people who want to see former President Trump held accountable, who are hoping these former allies and insiders do decide to kind of work with the prosecution, perhaps take a deal. And maybe there will be some who do so. Again in a very similar RICO case involving kind of a gang/rap conglomerate, the YSL case, in Fulton County, that's exactly what happened. A lot of the co- defendants that were brought in as part of this RICO case did take deals. It remains to be seen if that happens for this Trump case.

BLITZER: We shall see. Elie, mark Meadows, the Trump White House Chief of Staff as you know, he has filed this emergency order, as he calls it, to block his arrest that have his case moved to federal court. How likely is this to be successful?

HONIG: I'd call this one very unlikely. So Mark Meadows does have the right to ask the federal court to take his case. He put in that motion a few days ago, and that's in the process of being heard. Where I think he's overreaching, is in asking the federal court to come in and block him from ever having to surrender or from having to surrender by the deadline in the state court. I think that's premature, and I think he's asking the federal court to go too far there.

So he does have the right to make this motion to ask the federal court eventually to take his case, but that's got to play out. That'll take a few weeks to play out. And I don't think he has much of a chance for this emergency motion that he's just about to file.

BLITZER: Interesting. Paula, let me get back to you. Just hours after his bond agreement, in which he was ordered not to intimidate witnesses, co-defendants, or otherwise obstruct the administration of justice. Trump slammed the Fulton County DA once again on social media. Is this a violation of the order?

REID: It's an open question, Wolf. If you read the order closely, he is barred from threatening defendants, witnesses, few other categories, including co-defendants and the community generally, but it does not specifically prohibit him from saying anything about the district attorney. And this, in some ways, is a free speech issue. He can criticize her, right? He's not directly threatening her, though we do know that there could be ramifications and other people who see him criticizing her as a call to action. So this appears to not be a violation of his bond restrictions, but we'll see if there's any escalation going forward.

BLITZER: We shall see. Shan, let me get your legal analysis. Who can enforce this what's called this consent bond order for Trump, and how are they going to decide what crosses the line?

WU: Well, it's the court that would enforce it, and usually the prosecutor might bring the motion to the court saying his bond release conditions have been violated, and they'd ask for a sanction, whether it's home monitoring or whether actually to put him in jail. How to decide it, as Paula was saying, maybe a little bit of an open question here.

I do think one of the provisions is particularly dangerous for Trump that says he can't directly or indirectly try to communicate with witnesses. One could certainly make the argument that this type of criticism, talking about the prosecutor or the judge eventually is a way of communicating to the witnesses points to make for them, and I think that is dangerous. They have to bring that before the judge, and ultimately it's going to be a discretionary call for the judge whether they believe this crosses the line or not.

But they certainly put forth a broad swath of prohibitions for him. And given the fact that he tends to have a hard time controlling his expressions, I think he is in some jeopardy there of running afoul of those.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right. Paula, the former Trump attorney and co-defendant John Eastman said he had no regrets after being booked and released earlier today. What else did he say?

REID: That's right. John Eastman was one of two people who surrendered and went through that process today, and then he was willing to speak to reporters briefly. Let's take a listen to what he said.


JOHN EASTMAN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I'm here today to surrender to an indictment that should never have been brought. It targets attorneys for their zealous advocacy on behalf of their clients, something attorneys are ethically bound to provide, and which was attempted here by formally challenging the results of the election through lawful and appropriate means.


REPORTER: Do you still think the election was stolen?

EASTMAN: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP) REID: Well, that's going to be his defense. I mean, his lawyer has been pretty consistent publicly saying that he believes that he was working as a lawyer, aggressively pursuing his client's best interest by trying to look for any evidence of election fraud. Of course, he has been charged in a conspiracy to overturn the election, but his remarks right there are very consistent with what his attorneys have said publicly about why they believe he will not ultimately be convicted.

BLITZER: Interesting. Elie, what do you make of this argument from Eastman that he was, "ethically bound to advocate for Trump as his attorney?"

HONIG: Well, Wolf, I think this is a preview of the trial defense that we'll see from not only John Eastman, but there are eight different lawyers charged in this case. And I think all or many of them are going to make some variation of this argument. They're going to argue that they had not just the right, but the duty as a lawyer to zealously advocate for their clients.

And as a lawyer, you are allowed to make aggressive arguments, creative arguments, even bad arguments. That's not necessarily a crime. Of course, the response from the prosecutors here is going to be, but you crossed a line. You went beyond just being an aggressive advocate. You were in on a plot here to steal this election. That's going to be closely contested at trial, I think, when you look at all the factors. It's not an easy case for prosecutors and it's not a ridiculous defense by John Eastman, that'll be a question for the jury.

BLITZER: We shall see. And, Shan, what do you think?

WU: Well, I think there is a ethical duty to zealously represent your client, just as Ellie was saying, but it's not part of zealous representation to commit a crime. And that's what really is going to come down to here. It's a question of what is he advising the client to do? You can't advise the client to commit a crime either.

It's not like they were in a court proceeding and any of these lawyers were making aggressive arguments. They're doing something outside of the court proceeding, and that's what the problem is. And I think ultimately, if that is made very clear to the jury, that's how the prosecution is going to win convictions.

BLITZER: And, Tia, Trump posted this rather bizarre Truth Social post in which he appears to joke about fleeing the country to avoid prosecution. Let me read part of that post. "Fani Willis insisted on a $200,000 bond from me. I assume, therefore, she thought I was a flight risk. I'd fly far away, maybe to Russia. Russia. Russia. Share a gold- domed suit with Vladimir, never to be seen or heard from again." What do you make of that post?

MITCHELL: Well, I'm sure -- well, I'll say this. I think there are attorneys who say, if that was my client, I wouldn't consider that helpful to even joke or sarcastically mention. You might try to flee the country to avoid facing charges. I also would say I'm no attorney like the others on the panel, but if they really thought Trump was a flight risk, that bond probably wouldn't be $200,000. It might be much higher or nonexistent. I think the reason why he has a $200,000 bond, which is pretty manageable particularly someone of Trump's wealth, is because they don't believe he's a flight risk, because he's high profile, because he's running for president, and they're putting their faith that he's going to stick around while this plays out.

BLITZER: Yes, that's important. Guys, thank you very much.

Coming up, Fulton County Sheriff employees are getting threats just ahead of Donald Trump's expected surrender on Thursday. I'll discuss the story with the former attorney general of Georgia. Stay with us. You're in the "Situation Room."



BLITZER: A source tells CNN that employees in the Fulton County Sheriff's office and their homes have been getting threats over their role in Donald Trump's surrender at the Fulton County Jail that's scheduled for Thursday. CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller is joining us right now. John, how are officials monitoring these very disturbing threats?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this is something being worked on by kind of the intelligence fusion cell that the Fulton County Sheriff has developed with Atlanta PD and the FBI. These are the same investigators who are working on the doxing (ph) and the comments and exposure of members of the grand jury who brought this indictment. But they will trace them back if they can trace them back to a person. If the threat goes beyond what the law allows, particularly using the internet or interstate commerce to make a threat against a government official for the performance of their work, there can be arrests in that case.

I know the special agent in charge in Atlanta, Keri Farley, is somebody who's got a real background in the counterterrorism and intelligence realm, and a lot of talent with her team in digging these things back, and they're helping out.

BLITZER: What sort of coordination, John, goes into Trump's surrender on Thursday?

MILLER: So that is going to be a complex and highly choreographed affair. You're going to see him arrive in the early morning at the Atlanta Airport. He's going to have a motorcade, a full motorcade with police escorts and intersection control that's going to wind its way through the streets to the Fulton County Jail. He's going to go into a sally port where the gates will close behind him. Then the gates will open up in front of him, and he'll be admitted into the jail with his Secret Service detail, who will remain armed in the facility.

He'll get the fingerprints by live scan, and they'll be transmitted into the system by computer. Mug shots processed, and then come out the same way he came in. [17:20:01]

The wild card here is, despite the admonishment from the judge about making statements that could be considered over the line, it appears that he is planning to do a press conference or a press statement by the airplane before he departs from Atlanta about his experience surrendering. And the next time we'll see him in that area is going to be the arraignment on September 5.

BLITZER: We will be watching all of this unfold. John Miller, thank you very, very much. For more on this story, I'm joined now by Sam Olens, the former attorney general of Georgia. Attorney general, thanks so much for joining us.

How concerned are you, first of all, by these heightened threats to the Sheriff's Office employees as well as over at their homes? In your time as Georgia's attorney general, did you ever see anything like this go on?

BLITZER: Well, I mean, frankly, we've witnessed over the last several years more and more of these threats. The nice thing or the good thing is that the police department, the sheriff's department and our federal partners are very familiar with it. So they have processes in place. They aggressively work on these issues on a daily basis, and they're very, very professional.

BLITZER: Let me also get your thoughts while I have you, attorney general. On Mark Meadow's emergency motion against turning himself in by Friday because of his request to move his case to federal court, how likely is it that he'll be able to avoid arrest?

SAM OLENS, FORMER REPUBLICAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, GEORGIA: So I think the likelihood is that he will not be able to avoid arrest. But I think candidly, the difference is not the Friday versus Monday. This simply demonstrates the number of motions, the aggressive nature of the defense counsel that will be with us throughout this prosecution and demonstrates to all parties and, of course, the court that this will be a very highly litigated prosecution.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, has yet to find a lawyer in Georgia to help arrange his bond and surrender. He's getting some help instead from an unindicted conspirator. We're talking about Bernie Kerik. What do you make of that?

OLENS: Wolf, we have many excellent criminal defense lawyers. It's not hard to retain a lawyer to represent you. And if I were Mr. Giuliani, I would make sure I had one and was at 901 Rice Street by Friday noon.

BLITZER: That's the deadline indeed. And Bernie Kerik is not a lawyer. Trump is already attacking the district attorney, Fani Willis, even though he's under strict rules against any direct or indirect threats to witnesses, conspirators or members of the community. Wouldn't any other defendant have much less leeway and perhaps already be under a gag order?

OLENS: So, frankly, the three page order here is very similar to the standard order. It applies to all the defendants, not just the former president. And I think everyone in this situation, whether it's the Atlanta case, the DC case, Florida case, et cetera, they don't want to be too aggressive too fast, but they want to closely monitor what the former President states. And if everyone feels by that I mean the prosecutor and the court feels that he's crossed the line, then of course they're going to have a timely hearing.

BLITZER: Former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, attorney general, thank you so much for joining us.

OLENS: You're very welcome, sir.

BLITZER: Up next, how Donald Trump's Republican rivals plan to address his absence from tomorrow night's presidential debate. We're going to tell you what we're learning as the candidates gather in Milwaukee.



BLITZER: Republican presidential hopefuls are on the brink of an unprecedented debate that will happen without the GOP frontrunner Donald Trump on the eve of his fourth arrest. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is covering the debate for us. He's joining us from Milwaukee right now.

Jeff, Trump won't be there tomorrow night, but he certainly will still be a factor. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he will definitely loom large over the debate stage. He won't be there but that does not change the fact that he is the dominant frontrunner in this race. So different candidates may try different things to, a, try and elevate their own standing by going after him, and others are simply going to try and use the fact that he is not there to take some of that time to introduce themselves and more importantly, their positions for voters.

But certainly he is going to be central to so many things, from the questions to how some of the candidates present themselves. But we caught up with Wisconsin governor, former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Of course, he is one of the few people who has actually debated Donald Trump back in the 2016 campaign at that first debate in Cleveland. He said he's been offering advice to these candidates.


SCOTT WALKER, FORMER WISCONSIN GOVERNOR: I said, the only person who changes your opinion about Donald Trump is Donald Trump. It's not one of the other candidates. So if they waste time attacking him, they're doing just that. They're wasting time. But if they come out and have a breakthrough moment and have passion, credibility, a bold agenda that gets people worked up and creates a buzz coming out that debate, then I'm not saying it happens, but at least it gives them a fighting chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [17:30:00]

ZELENY: And Wolf, tonight we are also getting a sense of what the candidates will actually look like, what their order will be like on stage. Not surprisingly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be at the center of this stage. He, of course, has the potential most opportunity here to really solidify his role as the second tier candidate, if you will, the second candidate in this race, or the biggest risks, perhaps, because all the arrows also may be on him.

We also have Vivek Ramaswamy will be right next to him. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott will be on her side, and then you can see the rest of the lineup from there. So eight candidates will be on this stage for the questions tomorrow night, Wolf. It really is sort of the beginning line, if you will, of this Republican presidential campaign.

They've been campaigning for months in Iowa, New Hampshire, but this is the biggest venue on the biggest stage, and many candidates are hoping for a breakthrough.

BLITZER: You know, Jeff, meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to turn this debate tomorrow night into an opportunity for them. Tell us how.

ZELENY: Wolf, they are definitely paying attention to this. President Biden is airing his first state specific ad on television here in Wisconsin. They are trying to really assert themselves for the first time in this presidential race, essentially showing that all the candidates, in their view, are extreme MAGA candidates. So they are spending money. They're certainly on the ground here in Wisconsin.

Wolf, the reason is the location. Wisconsin, of course, is a vital stop on the road to the White House. Donald Trump, of course, carried this state narrowly in 2016. Joe Biden won it in 2020. So that 10 electoral votes here are so important to whoever wins the White House. So, yes, we are still in the primary season, but the White House is already looking forward to next year. And of course, Wolf, this building right behind me here, this arena will be the site of the Republican Convention next summer. So whoever the nominee is, will be crowned right here in Milwaukee. Wolf?

BLITZER: Wisconsin being an important state, obviously. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. Standby we're going to get back to you in just a few moments. Right now I want to get the latest on Trump's plans for tomorrow night as his opponents take the stage. CNN's Alayna Treene is on the Trump beat near his resort in New Jersey for us. Alayna, what more can you tell us about the former president's plans for debate night?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the former President will not be there. He won't even be in the state of Wisconsin. He will stay here in New Jersey at his golf club just near where I am now in Bedminster. And his team, however, and many of his surrogates will be in Milwaukee at that debate. After a last minute scramble after "Fox" had pulled some of their credentials, his team has found a way to get credentialed and be in the spin room tomorrow night to represent the former President in his absence.

But we do know, Wolf, that Donald Trump has already pre-recorded an interview with former "Fox News" host Tucker Carlson that will air tomorrow night at some point around the debate. But I really think the biggest thing that is going to be overshadowing all of this coverage is when Donald Trump heads to Georgia on Thursday. The timing of his surrender is definitely something that is going to be sucking up all of the oxygen, or at least most of the oxygen on the airwaves.

And really, Thursday is normally the day or the day after the debate, I should say, when a lot of the networks and the media is dissecting what people on the debate stage said. And as we know, and we just heard from what Jeff had said, a lot of these candidates are hoping for a breakout moment. But unfortunately, a lot of that coverage is going to be overshadowed by the Trump team. And it's something that Trump's advisors actually welcome, they tell me. They welcome the fact that a lot of the attention is going to remain on Donald Trump despite him not being there tomorrow night.

BLITZER: Alayna Treene reporting for us, thank you very much. I want to bring back Jeff Zeleny, along with CNN political commentators Kate Bedingfield and Alice Stewart. Alice, let me start this round with you. What will you be looking for in tomorrow's debate? Who is most in need of a breakthrough moment?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, clearly, DeSantis really has his name on the line here, given there's such a high level of expectation, but any number of the other candidates have the opportunity to really break through. And here's the thing that I think is important. We all know that Donald Trump is the de facto head of the Republican Party right now, but he will be a factor in this debate stage for these other candidates for the sheer reason that his hot air will not be sucking the oxygen out of the room on that debate stage.

And it gives more time for these candidates to make their case. And I encourage them strongly to punch, pivot and be appealing, punch back on Donald Trump as someone who has lost repeatedly since he has been in the White House. Pivot to your message and stay on course with your message and how you can turn this country around on the economic level and be appealing. Appeal to the voters, connect with them, because voters will support someone that is likable. And that's a big factor in the debate.

BLITZER: Certainly is Kate, Trump says he will surrender himself on Thursday in Georgia. Do you see this as attempt to try to overshadow and counter any momentum from the Republican debate?


KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I can't get in Donald Trump's head, but we know in addition to being a politician, he fancies himself a T.V. producer. And I think he is probably trying to produce some television here. I mean, there's no question, as Alayna was just saying earlier, the day after the debate is a big day for the people who had big nights on the stage, who, you know, had their moment where they really landed their message. You know, the day after the debate is the day when that sort of filters into the ecosystem and the campaigns have the opportunity to raise money off of a big moment on the debate stage, and they have the opportunity to go out to their supporters and reinforce their message.

So for Donald Trump to sort of suck up all of the national media oxygen on Thursday, that's going to make it a lot harder for those folks who are on the stage trying to grab some momentum on Wednesday night.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Jeff, Ron DeSantis says he expect others, he expects others will go after him with Trump not being there on the stage. What are the candidates signaling about their debate strategy?

ZELENY: Wolf, we have already seen some of these strategies really playing out on the campaign trail, that is the best place for most of these candidates to try out their lines, to test their distinctions and differences with their fellow candidates. So one thing I'm looking for are the fellow governors on stage or former governors? South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been repeatedly doing this, calling attention to the dispute with Disney, for example, and questioning how conservative that really is, at least philosophically, using the estate money, essentially to go after a single business.

I think the fact that he is alone on stage and at the center of the stage is, you know, certainly an opportunity for him to introduce himself on his own terms, but also a risk for him, without question. But Chris Christie, he'll be near the end of the stage, but he is the only one in this group who has debated at this level before. Of course, Mike Pence has been in vice presidential debates, which is also good experience. But Chris Christie, of course, will try and strike a balance of going after Donald Trump. But we know what his views on Donald Trump are.

So look for him to also go after Governor DeSantis and draw some of those distinctions on conservative policy. So that, of course, is one of the reasons he will be at the center of all this. But how the governor handles this could really answer the question in the days after the debate, whether it's overshadowed by Donald Trump or not. It won't be overshadowed in the eyes of some of these early state voters. How he handles this is going to determine if he is really in that second place or if that second place now is up for grabs or perhaps filled by someone else.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's see. Alice, I'm anxious to get your thought. Is it time for the Republican candidates who didn't qualify for this first Republican presidential debate to drop out of the race?

STEWART: Look, no one should ever tell anyone who's willing to put their life and livelihood on the line to run for President that they should get out of the race at this stage of the game. There's still a lot of runway between now and the Iowa caucus, and there's still the opportunity for them to make inroads. But over time, as we move further along, if they don't make the next debate stage, it's going to be evident that they simply don't have the money or the message or the momentum to move forward. And it is critical. We all know Donald Trump really has a stranglehold on between 35 and 40 percent of the Republican Party. That means 60 percent of Republican voters are up for grabs. And the sooner that the Republican Party can winnow down to one or potentially two candidates and galvanize their support behind that person, the better chance the party has of nominating someone outside of Donald Trump, which in turn means a better chance of winning in the general election.

BLITZER: And it's interesting, Kate, tomorrow's debate takes place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is where the Biden campaign is launching its first state specific ad campaign. Is this the right strategy for Biden right now to try and insert himself into this conversation around the GOP debate?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I think what they're doing is underscoring this fundamental contrast. And yes, of course, that's smart. And doing that in Wisconsin, a key battleground state where you're reminding voters, some of whom are probably not going to tune into the debate tomorrow night, but may catch this ad and may, excuse me, may remember, you know, we got an election coming up next year. So starting to seed those contrasts now is smart.

And I think it's actually quite fitting that the debate is in Wisconsin, which is the home of actually one of the biggest failed promises, unfulfilled promises of the Trump presidency, the Foxconn manufacturing facility that he promised would bring a lot of jobs to Wisconsin. So for the Biden campaign to take this opportunity to remind voters of that's smart.

BLITZER: Yes. Wisconsin being a key battleground state. Guys, thank you very, very much. And stay with CNN for analysis of the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 race. It all begins tomorrow at 11:00 p.m. Eastern after the debate.

Just ahead, we'll have an exclusive report from Ukraine, where an elite sniper unit is fighting in the shadows for their country's survival.



BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive report. An inside look at an elite Ukrainian sniper unit armed with Western made weapons, taking out Russian targets. CNN's chief international security correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh brings us this report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're never seen and heard fire only once. Their targets just drop. Ukraine's elite sniper unit from the security services, the SBU, are usually invisible. Like the U.S. Delta Force, chosen for fitness and intelligence. Unlike Delta, fighting for their homeland survival, for nearly 18 months. They gave CNN a rare interview as they honed their sniper scopes to broadcast the damage they say they've been doing to Russian front lines.


It's sniper terror, he says. That's when we hit every target we spot, it demoralizes them and kills their will to do anything against us. But it's not always one sided. Five weeks ago, they stumbled at night into a Russian recon group. We were in the gray zone between our lines, their commander says, using a guide from another unit. But we ran into a Russian assault group doing pretty much the same thing as us, moving towards our front position.

We opened fire. Our guide was wounded. We suppressed them, pulled him out, called in artillery, and then watched them fall back with their wounded. They do not always escape. Sasha (ph) knows that too well. I've lost many people, he says. The best ones leave us first. His upper lip folds in slightly from an injury when a large shell hit his chest, legs, and face last March.

It was unpleasant, he says, but I had 16 operations to rebuild my bones and teeth, and I got back into the fight. Western help has kept them afloat, they say this anti-armor Barrett sniper rifle, a donation used so often but its suppressor has come loose and detaches. These machines and men working at a tempo they were probably not designed for. They know why they are here, though.

My son is growing up, Sasha (ph) says. He's little, but he already trains, already knows who the enemy is, and that is Russia. Hoping each single shot brings Russian defeat closer.


WALSH: Now, Wolf, you saw there that's a unit functioning sometimes deep inside Russian territory. Weapons you saw there used so much that even the suppressor flew off one of the more high tech sniper rifles because of the amount it's been used. One of their larger weapons, in fact, used so much, it's out of operation at the moment. These are dedicated elite troops doing all they can. And frankly, I think they find the criticism from some West analyst of the counter offensive's progress offensive. They know how hard their task is, and they say they're prosecuting it every night as best they can. Wolf?

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh on the front lines in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Thank you very much. Nick, stay safe over there. Meanwhile, some of Russia's key allies and other world leaders are meeting in South Africa for a major summit. But Russian President Vladimir Putin notably did not attend in person, instead appearing virtually alongside his counterparts.

For the backstory on this, I'm joined by McCain Institute Executive Director Evelyn Farkas, and by Georgetown University adjunct professor Jill Dougherty. Jill, let me start with you. Putin passing up this opportunity to be on the global stage is likely related to the International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Ukraine. Walk us through the significance of that and how his absence could impact his strong man image. JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's obviously very embarrassing for the Kremlin. They really wanted him to go to this meeting a summit with the BRICS, as they're, you know, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. And the problem was that, as you mentioned, the International Criminal Court a while ago actually issued an arrest warrant for President Putin because of alleged crimes, human rights violations concerning children, by the way, in Ukraine.

So South Africa, which is a signatory to the ICC, would be duty bound to arrest him. That could be a, you know, diplomatic disaster for South Africa. So they finally came to an agreement, and the foreign minister of Russia will go. But Putin was there in his chair in the Kremlin doing a virtual meeting. But it's certainly not what they wanted. BLITZER: Yes, certainly embarrassing, indeed. Evelyn, how do you read Putin's virtual appearance as he works to try to rehabilitate his image after the Wagner mutiny?

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Yes, I mean, I agree with Jill. It's not making him look very strong. He clearly cannot travel at will. South Africa is one of, I think, about 132 countries that are signatories to the International Criminal Court. So that leaves a lot of the territory of the world that he can't go to. And so that does make him look weak. He's trying to compensate by talking about expanding the number of countries that might join the BRICS.

Of course, you'd have to rename the organization, because, as Jill explained the letters. BRIC is actually the first letter of each country, and I don't know what countries he has in mind. He also talks a lot about the number of the populations represented by that group, as if quantity is somehow going to compensate for lack of democratic quality.


BLITZER: Yes. Evelyn Farkas and Jill Dougherty, ladies, thank you very much.

Coming up, the first named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is drenching parts of Texas right now. We're going to show you where it's heading next.

Plus, we're keeping a close eye on the Fulton County Jail as Trump co- defendants surrender in the Georgia election subversion case, all leading up to when Donald Trump turns himself in on Thursday.


BLITZER: As Southern California recovers from Tropical Storm Hilary's record breaking rainfall. Right now, tropical depression Harold is pummeling south Texas with heavy rain. CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is over at the CNN Weather Center for us. Jennifer, where is this storm hitting hardest?


JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's hitting hardest across South Texas right now, Wolf. This one made landfall around 10 o'clock this morning, central time, South Padre Island. And we have very heavy rain spilling across South Texas. We actually have flash flood warnings across South Texas and flood warnings across portions of Corpus Christi. This is going to head into portions of Mexico as well as West Texas as we go throughout the late evening into the overnight hour.

Still has winds that are about 30 miles per hour. The forecast radar is going to push the rain to the west and produce some very heavy rainfall across a very dry Texas. About 88 percent of Texas is in drought right now. Unfortunately, the bulk of the rain is missing the areas that need the rain the most. But nevertheless, Wolf, this is a state that needs the rain. This was beneficial rain for Texas for sure, but the first landfall for the Atlantic hurricane season. So we're just getting going.

BLITZER: We certainly are. Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

Coming up, there's more breaking news on key Trump allies indicted in Georgia as some of their co-defendants have begun surrendering.