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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Interview With Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ); Fifty Years Since Watergate Break-In; NY Times: Uvalde Officer Passed Up Shot At School Gunman For Fear Of Hitting Children; Report: Sen. Cornyn Indicates Negotiations Over Gun Safety Bill Getting Closer To A Deal On Final Outstanding Issues; Video Appears To Show Missing Americans Detained; Residents In Eastern Ukraine Struggle To Survive Russian Bombardment. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 17, 2022 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOSTIt comes as pro golfers like Phil Mickelson played for the Saudis and President Biden is set to meet with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman next month.
Biden once pledged he would make MBS a pariah and hold him accountable for the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
The White House says Biden will bring up human rights.
Thanks for joining us, AC 360 starts now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: It was 50 years ago today, John Berman here in for Anderson, two and a half Sergeant Pepper's ago, burglars acting on behalf of an American President broke into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and began the scandal that would be until now the single gravest assault on American democracy in this country's history.
In a moment, a conversation with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein whose reporting in "The Washington Post" over the two years and two months it took before Richard Nixon was forced to resign did more than most to make it clear that Watergate was far more than the simple break-in it first appeared to be.
It's worth mentioning now because contrary to the impression people might have today, knowledge about what Watergate truly was in size and scope and the threat to democracy at posed did not come all at once, all neatly wrapped up in a bow. It was revealed and day by day slices of the truth from Bob and Carl and so many others.
That notion seems just as true tonight, 50 years later, when it comes to the latest assault on democracy. We've had plenty of revelations almost since the day the Capitol was attacked, so many that it's hard to keep track and harder still to be surprised or imagine any of the changes what we think we already know.
Yet this week, the House January 6 committee even as it tries to bundle up the scandal and tie a bow around it has also delivered plenty that is new, and today promised more. Listen to committee member Zoe Lofgren today on CNN talking about Donald Trump's effort to strong arm Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger after the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): I think we've all heard the infamous phone call where then President Trump was trying to force Raffensperger to find votes essentially just make stuff up, so he could become the President again. But we'll go through a variety of issues that we think will be revealing. Not everything has been out in the public so far.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That's next week and just what it is remains to be seen.
As for this week, though, we learned plenty. First, the degree to which this is also a money scandal that according to the Committee, most of the quarter billion dollars the Trump campaign raised from mostly small donors after the election did not go to the so-called Official Election Defense Fund as advertised.
The fund, according to testimony did not even exist.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HANNA ALLRED, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STAFFER: I don't believe there was actually a fund called the Election Defense Fund.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that the Election Defense Fund was another, I think we've call it a marketing tactic?
GARY COBY, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN DIGITAL DIRECTOR: Yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BERMAN: A marketing tactic, he said. Before these hearings, it was suspected that the former President was using the election line to raise money for other things, but this week, we heard former campaign insiders themselves confirm it.
Also this week, we learned what former Attorney General Bill Barr did not think to tell the public back when he left the administration when he was effusively praising the former President on the way out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I said, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with -- with -- he's become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Also, this week, Committee testimony revealed that even the people pushing the plan to have the Vice President overturn the election on the 6th knew it was historically, legally, and constitutionally indefensible at the time.
Here is what former White House lawyer, Eric Herschmann said, recounting a conversation with law professor, John Eastman, who delivered the plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HERSHMANN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: And I said, "Hold on a second, I want to understand what you're saying. You're saying that you believe the Vice President, acting as President of the Senate can be the sole decision maker as to your theory, who becomes the next President of the United States?" And he said, "Yes."
I said, "Are you out of your effing mind?" Right? And I, you know, was pretty blunt. It's completely crazy. I said, "You're going to turn around and tell 78-plus million people in this country that your theory is this is how you're going to invalidate their votes because you think election was stolen." I said, "You're not going to tolerate that." I said, 'You're going to cause riots in the streets."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: According to Herschmann's testimony, Eastman replied with words to the effect of, there's been violence in the history of our country before, and according to other testimony from a former Pence lawyer, Eastman conceded to him that this scheme would likely lose nine to nothing in the Supreme Court.
All these things are new. So is the information according to Committee investigators that the mob came within just 40 feet of the Vice President that day, and at the former Chief of Staff had been to brief the former President on violence at the Capitol before the former President sent that tweet attacking Mike Pence.
We saw those photos for the first time this week and learned from the hearings, not only the John Eastman had taken the fifth a hundred times, but also sent an e-mail to Rudy Giuliani asking to be put on a list of people seeking pardons. It was already a lot.
Then today, the former President spoke out. He of course, slammed the work of the Committee and railed on Mike Pence, called Mitch McConnell a hack, referred to January 6th, as quote, "A simple protest that got out of hand" and dangled pardons for the participants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most people should not be treated the way they're being treated, and if I become President, someday, if I decide to do it, I will be looking at them very, very seriously for pardons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: The former President at the Faith and Freedom Conference today in Nashville, much of the rest of it was the continuation of the same lies about his election loss, so we're not going to give them oxygen.
It is worth noting, though, that he said, quote: "The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation, from the people from within."
Perspective now from someone who was at the Capitol with colleagues and co-workers under siege January 6th, Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego.
Congressman, the fact that the former President continues to push these lies about what happened that day and continues to publicly trash the Vice President, the former Vice President, what does that mean for the chances that these hearings can convince any supporters about the reality of what happened?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): Look, I'm not sure that this is aiming at trying to convince his supporters. I think there may be a small group, maybe five to 10 percent of people that we can convince that this was an insurrection, that this is an attempt at destroying our American democracy, and that is who we should be aiming for.
There is a strong 30 percent of Trump supporters that we're just not going to ever get, and I think the same thing happened, by the way, in Watergate, there's a lot, 30 percent of Republicans that were just never going to accept the fact that Richard Nixon, you know, ordered the break-in of, you know, the offices at Watergate. So, that's what the aim should be.
Secondly, I think this also builds a public case for Merrick Garland to do something. You know, we basically had laid out a very strong argument, the House did, about what the President's intentions and motivations were and what his actions were. I don't know what else you need after that. I'm sure that the our House Committee will actually reveal even more, but I think there are the two audiences right now that should be paying attention to what this Committee is saying.
BERMAN: So you recently tweeted, quote: "Eastman needs to end his life penniless and broke if we can't find a way to throw him in jail," end quote. You're referring to controversial Trump lawyer, John Eastman, who is at the center of so much of this. Aside from whatever consequences he does or does not face, what will accountability look like for you at the end of this?
GALLEGO: Well, certainly, Eastman going to jail, him being disbarred, no longer serving on Boards of you know, colleges or nonprofits or anything of that. I really want him to be broke and penniless for the rest of his life.
He actively participated in a coup, knowingly that -- knowing what he was doing was both illegal and would never have been supported by both the Supreme Court or the people of the United States. He doesn't deserve mercy.
These types of traitors need to be really cast off from society just to maybe -- for anything -- for us to show other people, there are consequences to trying to overthrow your government.
BERMAN: You've spoken about what you were prepared to do on January 6th. You're going Iraq War veteran, you were teaching colleagues in the House chamber how to defend themselves by maybe stabbing rioters in the neck and eyes with pens. As you watch these hearings, does this all come roaring back?
GALLEGO: I mean, it never left me. You know, and I'm very -- not lucky -- but kind of unlucky person in the sense that I've had PTSD, so I've been able to deal with whatever I dealt with that day. I know a lot of my colleagues are traumatized from it, and they're constantly being reminded about it.
What it does tell me is that my instinct that day was correct. This was larger than I thought. This was organized. You know, the idea that this is a mob that just kind of decided how to attack the Capitol is just incorrect. It's actually very similar to what we see all the times during insurrections where you have terrorists using civilians that are actually out there protesting as a shield and a cover for movement for them to attack us and that's actually what happened that day.
Those Proud Boys, those fat guys that call themselves Oath Keepers, you know, really we're using the mob as a way for them to move into the Capitol and really tried to take down our democracy.
BERMAN: Congressman Gallego, I appreciate you being with us tonight. Have a nice weekend.
GALLEGO: You, too.
BERMAN: Joining us, the aforementioned Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Bob is the author most recently of "Peril," and Carl has a new memoir out called "Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom," and together, they just put out a new 50th Anniversary Edition of their masterpiece on Watergate, "All the President's Men."
So Bob, as we mentioned, it was 50 years ago tonight that the Watergate break in happened. I know you've been asked to compare Watergate to what's going on now. So many times, I wonder if you could talk about the difference in how you perceive the reality as it unfolds to you.
How are you learning things differently this time?
BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Okay, but to set the table here a little bit, John, just two hours ago, Carl and I came from the meeting over in the Senate Caucus Room, where it was a reunion of the people who investigated Watergate in the Senate and the House and the Special Prosecutor's Office, and the key figure in all of this was Senator Ervin, who was the Chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee.
He addressed that question in his final report, Carl, and I think brilliantly because Senator Ervin and asked the question: "What was Watergate?" And he nailed that by saying it was an unconstitutional, unlawful effort to really destroy the process of nominating and electing a President, and then at the end of this very lengthy report, he asked the question, "Why Watergate?" And his answer was the lust for political power.
That's what we see happening right now, 50 years later. I mean it is one of these deja vu all over again. And the problem is, Nixon left, resigned when it was made clear to him that the Republicans were going to actually had abandoned him. And Trump lost in 2020, but he insists he really won, and it's quite clear, he is going to run again. And he's got whatever the percentage of the Republican Party behind him and the January 6 Committee has laid out in Watergate style, very compelling evidence that the President and the people around him broke the law.
I think there is zero ambiguity in their evidence that it was an effort by Trump and his lawyers and his staff to subvert the process, the legal process, constitutional process of certifying who was the next President, and that happens on January 6th, and they sent in this idea that somehow this was a kind of a stroll in the park, 1,000 people to the Capitol, and look at the extent of the violence and the destruction of the Capitol. Unimaginable.
So there is a day of reckoning coming on this.
BERMAN: Carl, to one of the points Bob was making there, why is it that, I guess it was 52 years ago and two months that Richard Nixon was forced to resign actually 48 years ago, then Richard Nixon was forced to resign, yet Donald Trump is gearing up to run probably it looks like for President again, what's changed? Is it a social or political shift that there's just no more shame?
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think you have to look at what happened in Watergate because the system worked in Watergate at every level. The press did its job. The legislative branch did its job, created the Senate Watergate Committee by a 77 to zero vote.
Republicans supported creation of that Committee. The Senate -- the House January 6 Committee has their support of maybe five or seven Republicans. The judiciary, the judicial branch of government did its job all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled nine to zero -- eight to zero, pardon me, that Nixon must turn over his tapes. And right now we see, involving the Supreme Court, the wife of a Supreme Court Justice who obviously is deeply involved and endorsed this plot to sabotage the United States democracy, to undermine the U.S. democracy through a coup attempt by a President of the United States.
We didn't have a coup attempt in Watergate. Nixon left office voluntarily. So the judicial branch did its job.
And then you go on to the legislative branch. We've talked about that. The Republican Party did its job. Everybody involved, a courageous Judge John Sirica, the whole system worked in terms of enmeshing with every step.
Compare that today, our institutions involved in this January 6 insurrection, in trying to deal with the aftermath of it are hamstrung, and also the people of the country, by the time Richard Nixon was forced to resign office, the people in the country, maybe 60 percent according to the polls thought Nixon should either be convicted in a Senate trial or that he should resign.
There is no such consensus in the country today about Donald Trump, even though his offenses, his criminal offenses, his sedition, the attempt doesn't inspire an insurrection against the United States. With all of that, there is no evidence so far, that a large majority of the people in this country feel strongly that Donald Trump should be prosecuted, that he has broken the law and that his aim was to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, so that the duly elected President of the United States, Joe Biden could take office, rather than Trump's objective of staging a coup and continuing illegally to occupy the Oval Office.
BERMAN: Bob, quickly, I want to play something for our viewers. This is what President Nixon said near the end of his farewell speech to his staff in the White House, let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win, unless you hate them and then you destroy yourself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So Bob, what do the moment say to you, the idea that hate is political poison? Did Nixon genuinely believe and accept that? And could you ever imagine Donald Trump have that sort of reckoning?
WOODWARD: Now, it was a blinding insight, whether it was sincere or not, I think it's an important one that hate does destroy, and if you look at the record of his presidency from the tapes, and many of the actions, I mean, it was the poison. It became the essence of "Let's settle scores at all cost."
And so here's the ingredient we need now, in the media, in the public, in the Congress, and that is patience. What this Committee is doing is exactly the slow process of gathering facts, documents, witnesses, audios, videos, and may patience be part of everyone's day in the coming summer months.
BERMAN: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein has been an honor to get to speak with you today. I know you've had a busy day, commemorating this moment, this historic day. So, thank you.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.
BERMAN: Next, a heartbreaking revelation from Uvalde, Texas about how a single decision might have changed everything about the mass shooting that took 21 lives.
Later, new reporting on the fate of two American volunteer fighters missing in Ukraine.
BERMAN: There is new reporting tonight at what happened at Robb Elementary that only underscores the tragedy of it. The revelation by "The New York Times" of a shot not taken by police at a moment that might have prevented the killing of 19 children and two teachers.
J. David Goodman is the reporter who broke the story for "The Times" and joins us now.
David, thank you for being with us. Can you just lay out your reporting about this officer who had a chance to shoot the gunman before he entered the school?
J. DAVID GOODMAN, HOUSTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, thanks for having me. This is a situation where officers were arriving really minutes after the first 9-1-1 call came in of a gunman at the school and a lot of focus of the investigation into the police response has been on what happened inside the school and why it took so long for those officers to go into the room and actually confront and kill the gunman.
But what it turns out happened outside the school before the gunman even went in was that one of the Uvalde police officers who arrived within minutes at the scene actually had an opportunity to take a shot at this gunman, and what he told a Deputy Sheriff from a neighboring county who I spoke to was that they were under fire at that time, and he passed up the opportunity to take that shot because he feared that that shot might go awry and hit one of the children that he said he could see behind the gunman.
And so in that split second moment where he made that decision and hesitated, the gunman went inside the school.
BERMAN: So the officer didn't shoot because he was afraid of hitting the kids behind him in the school.
GOODMAN: That's what he told other officers and he told apparently investigators according to this Deputy Sheriff, and you know, to be fair, the Deputy Sheriff I talked to who also responded to the scene at Robb Elementary School, you know, said this was a very difficult and fraught decision for an officer that you're coming into a scene that you don't know what's happening.
When the officers arrived, the gunman was of shooting outside of the school and those officers felt that they were under fire themselves and worried that were they to open fire at this gunman, and they missed and unfortunately, in that scenario may have hit a child, that they might have been blamed in some way for doing the wrong thing.
And so that hesitation, that moment sort of hesitation, this is really we're talking about seconds here, according to this Deputy Sheriff, that that, you know, allowed this gunman to go inside. And obviously, with hindsight, we know that, that that was a fateful decision.
BERMAN: Hey, and according to your reporting, this is a kind of second missed opportunity for officers who arrived at Robb Elementary, in addition to the other officer who drove past the gunman, and didn't see him in the parking lot.
GOODMAN: That's what's kind of amazing about this, you know, there's been a lot of criticism of the police response. But in actuality, the police were on scene incredibly fast. You had not only these officers, and it should be said one of the officers who had an opportunity to take a shot, had you know, an assault rifle style gun.
He had one of these, you know, police assault rifles that they have and didn't take that shot. A different officer from the Uvalde School District Police Department arrived, basically a minute before these officers did and -- separately, though -- and drove past the gunman.
You know, this was a very chaotic moment, obviously and he was rushing to the scene and apparently drove through the parking lot and didn't see the gunman, who at that moment, according to officials had been crouched in some fashion in the parking lot.
And so you have these two sort of moments where officers are on scene, and this gunman is outside, but they're not either in a position or don't feel that it would be appropriate to sort of confront him at that moment.
BERMAN: Why is this only coming out now?
GOODMAN: Well, this has been a very, as you probably know, a very frustrating story for a lot of reasons, in part, because many of the agencies that are involved in this have not held briefings, have decided not to make public information available you know, in connection to this, which, you know, it will be four weeks that it has taken place this coming Tuesday and we still don't know a lot of the details.
And we don't have a lot of official, you know, sort of laying out of the facts of what happened there. And so we're kind of getting bits and pieces of the events through various people that have some knowledge, but not a complete picture of it, and that's been really unfortunate.
There was actually a hearing in Uvalde this week held by the Texas Legislature, but they did that hearing behind closed doors, and that's sort of been the approach so far is to treat this almost like -- I was told by actually a Sheriff from Uvalde that you know, this is like a plane crash. And you know, you wait, you give the investigators months to investigate a plane crash and why can't they have months to investigate this? That's kind of their posture, but we're just not getting a lot of information from them. BERMAN: Four weeks, almost, four excruciating weeks for the families
there. David Goodman, we appreciate you joining us and sharing your reporting.
GOODMAN: Thanks for having me.
BERMAN: We should note that we did ask the Uvalde Police Department for comment about this, but have yet to get a response.
Coming up, the latest on the Gun Safety Bill in the Senate spawned by the tragedy at Robb Elementary and the reception the lead Republican negotiator got back home when he talked about it today.
BERMAN: The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas and the missed opportunities to thwart the suspected gunman were what prompted fresh negotiations in the Senate over a gun safety bill. According to comments made to the Texas Tribune by Texas Senator John Cornyn, who is leading negotiation for Republicans, senators may be close to -- closer to a deal than we previously thought. Talks had hit a roadblock over two provisions, which we'll get to in a moment.
Earlier today, though Senator Cornyn heard an earful from some of his fellow Republicans back home at a state convention.
CNN's Jessica Dean joins us now from Capitol Hill with the latest. And Jessica there was optimism about the negotiations that Congress could finally come up with some compromise on guns, then things seem to slow down. But where did negotiation stand?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, John, that you mentioned Senator Cornyn has comments, that he was very optimistic today telling Texas Tribune that he was quite optimistic because when I saw him yesterday, when he was departing to go back to Texas, he was leaving a meeting of four senators, Chris Murphy, Kyrsten Sinema, Tom Tillis and himself who had been trying to hash this out. And he said it was time to fish or cut bait. He said decisions had to be made. He had to get back to Texas, but they were all going to stay in touch.
So, we know that they are continuing to talk over the weekend. Remember that Monday is a federal holiday. So the Senate will not be in session. And then they've got just a short week before they go on a two-week recess. So they're really up against a tight timeline here. They had wanted to bring this to the floor before they got to that recess, John, but things move slowly in the Senate. And that's when you have a bill text. Right now, they're still trying to get that text drafted. And remember, members want to see this before they vote on it.
So, they are still haggling over several key issues that are holding them up in this process. But they have all kind of expressed that they would like to get this done, that they are continuing to talk. But they're going to continue to talk over the weekend. And we know that their staff had begun drafting those that bill text before they left yesterday, John.
BERMAN: What are the key issues that are the points of contention, Jessica?
DEAN: Right. And so we can really zero in on two issues. One of them is closing the so called a Boyfriend Loophole, which is who can get their hands on a gun if there's been some sort of domestic violence or something like that. And they're having trouble defining what is a boyfriend, what is an intimate partner. And they told us yesterday, they're kind of trying to look at some state statutes where they may be able to get some guidance from there.
The other thing is how to get funding to states that have red flag laws or intervention programs that they've also been called and how to make sure that that's properly allocated, who it's going to, what happens if the state doesn't have red flag, flag laws or crisis intervention programs in place. As one of the senators told me, Senator Tom Tillis, a Republican told me yesterday he said that they really are hoping for parity there. But again, those are the sticking points that they have continued to circle over the last several days and even in the last couple of weeks. Those continues to be a really contentious points that they have to work through before they can bring that bill text to their colleagues and then to the floor.
BERMAN: Right, we're all standing by to see if John Cornyn may have meant something specific with that optimism today.
Jessica, thank you so much for your reporting.
Up next, new information on the two American volunteer fighters who have gone missing in Ukraine. We will speak to the fiance of one of the men in just a moment.
BERMAN: There are videos out tonight apparently of two American volunteer fighters missing in Ukraine. We will not show footage or even frames of them, or repeat anything, the two men might have told their apparent captors under duress as it's clearly a piece of propaganda. In a moment, I'll be joined by the fiance of one of the men
First though, let's go to see and as Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, where did these videos appear? And what can the State Department learn from?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you say these clear propaganda videos appeared on Russian social media channels, very few clues about where the men are, who is holding them. And that right now is the challenge for the Biden administration to try to find them.
STARR (voice-over): It was in the fighting north of Kharkiv, where two Americans went missing last week, less than five miles from the Russian border. The U.S. government working with Ukrainian authorities to find them.
JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I have been brief we don't know where they are, but I want to reiterate. Americans should not be going to Ukraine now.
STARR (voice-over): Now, this photo from a Russian blogger has emerged of Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh appearing to be bound in the back of a Russian military vehicle. Video later emerging of an interview they did with pro Russian media. CNN is not showing the video as the two appear to be speaking under duress.
Now, the State Department is working to verify their status.
BUNNY DRUEKE, MOTHER OF ALEXANDER JOHN-ROBERT DRUEKE: They said that there is a photograph that is being circulated on the Russian media, and they're working hard to verify it. We're very hopeful.
STARR (voice-over): Retired Staff Sergeant Drueke an army reservists from 2002 to 2014, served in both Kuwait and Iraq. Drueke's mother Bunny tells CNN, her son wanted to lend his skills to train those who were coming to Ukraine to fight.
DRUEKE: He felt that if Putin wasn't stopped now, he would just become bolder with every success, and that eventually, he might end up on American shores.
STARR (voice-over): Former Marine Corporal Huynh served in the Marine Corps from 2014 to 2018. Last serving in Camp Pendleton, California. Huynh's fiance, Joy Black describe to CNN that the last time she heard from him.
JOY BLACK, FIANCE OF ANDY TAI NGOC HUYNH: He told me he loved me very much and that he would be unavailable for two to three days. He really had this law in his heart and this big burden on him to go and serve the people however he can. And just I know it's not a great situation, but I'm still very proud of him and I just want to see him back safely.
STARR (voice-over): One of their comrades in Ukraine whose identity we are keeping hidden, exclusively telling CNN Sam Kiley, Drueke and Huynh were captured, repelling a Russian armored assault.
PIP, FMR U.S. SERVICEMEMBER: We suspect they were knocked out by either the T-72 tanks shooting at them with a blast of the mind.
STARR (voice-over): A Kremlin spokesperson told CNN, we do not know anything about it when asked about the missing Americans. The U.S. also confirming a third American went missing in Ukraine in April. CNN has learned he is retired captain Grady Kurpasi, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps. A friend who served with Kurpasi for years, says he has cellphone data that shows Kurpasi could be being held in the Russian controlled city of Kherson, but acknowledges they do not have proof that he's alive.
DON TURNER, FRIEND OF GRADY KURPASI: I think it was a calling to help and just be humanitarian. There was no real plan to his mission. Just he wanted to go out there and try and help.
STARR (voice-over): All three of them as seen Americans having served in the military puts them in unique danger if captured by Russians.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You routinely are swimming in or immersed in these kinds of sensitive programs. I'm not certain the level of that exposure, but I can guarantee you the Russians are going to try to extract that information.
BERMAN: Barbara, what more did one of the men's comrades tell our Sam Kiley?
STARR: Well, he told the -- Sam, that there was every indication of very strong belief that the two men you saw in those pictures, the ones that are in the propaganda videos we're not showing. They did this out of a very heartfelt desire to go help in Ukraine. They didn't do it for money. They didn't do it for any kind of glory. These are two men, two Americans, former members of the U.S. military who simply wanted to help. And what should be said is everyone understands that, but the administration once again today even President Biden urging Americans not to go to Ukraine, not to go to the combat zone that it is simply too dangerous. John.
BERMAN: Barbara Starr, thank you so much for your reporting.
Joining us now Joy Black, whom you saw in Barbara's report, she is Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh's fiance.
And Joy, I can only imagine how hard this is for you. I know you spoke with Anderson on Wednesday. Have you learned anything new about your fiance about his location his condition since then?
BLACK: Nothing really official that we can give out, obviously probably seen, you know, in the media there's various, you know, there's a picture there's some videos floating around but nothing official. So as of yet from the (INAUDIBLE).
BERMAN: What have you heard if anything from the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine?
BLACK: They're trying really hard. They've assured us multiple times that they're doing everything they can to get to the bottom of this and they're working really hard at this. And, you know, we couldn't appreciate it more that they're clearly taking this really seriously.
[20:44:59] BERMAN: Can you talk more about his military experience or knowledge he acquired in the Marines and how he hoped to help the Ukrainians. Did he go intending to fight on the front lines?
BLACK: He did not go intending to fight. Once he had decided that he was definitely going to go, he just knew that he wanted to help any way that he could, whether it was humanitarian, passing out water or anything like that, wherever the Lord pulled him, that's where he was going to go there. As for his military experience, I met him in the last year of his service. So most of it was in the past tense when told to me, but I know that he had lots of extensive combat training and he was deployed in Okinawa and we've gotten to hear from a lot of his military buddies, you know, that who served with him in Okinawa. You know, just about Andy and we really appreciate all that as well.
BERMAN: I'm glad you have that family to support you right now. What would you say to Andy if you could get a message to him?
BLACK: That we love you. You're still with us and we're doing everything we can to get you back. We reached out to so many people in -- you know, we're really trying to get this big to get you back and I can't wait to see you and Alex back here safely again.
BERMAN: I think the whole country is pulling for you and pulling for that to happen. Joy Black as I said, I can only imagine how hard this is especially with the knowledge of these videos coming out today. I really do appreciate you joining us tonight. Be well.
BLACK: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. CNN's Ben Wedeman and his team take us inside some of the heaviest fighting in eastern Ukraine. And talks to the residents most of them elderly who hope to get out many however cannot. A grip a report that we want to make it clear is not from near the front lines, Ben is on the front lines. That's next.
BERMAN: Before the break, we were discussing the war on Ukraine and new video that appears to show two Americans held captive there, fighting is particularly intense in the east of the country where Russia is trying to grind away winds and territory near its border.
Our Ben Wedeman is there, not merely near the front lines. He and his team have actually been on them in the areas where the Russian shells are dropping to document life in a once peaceful city.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A portent of things to come on the route to Lysychansk, a city that has been in the line of fire for months. A school basement serves as shelter for dozens of residents. Tetyana shows us where they sleep. The only light provided by our camera. Everyone is outside now she says because it's too dark and hard to breathe down here. Outside they wait as soup cooks over a fire. There's no gas, no power, no water, Maria tells me, we have nothing. Most are old, tired, terrified and beyond despair. I'm alone says 82-year-old Masha, my legs are tired I can't go anywhere.
Lydumila is leaving. We thought it would come down but it only gets worse and worse, she says. I can't take the sounds anymore. Natalia is leaving too. The windows in my house are broken, she says. There's a huge crater by my house it's the end of the world.
The sunny weather belies what has become a post apocalyptic existence. Resident's lineup for unfiltered water so they can wash and flush toilets. Almost four months of war with no end in sight frustration flares.
Where's our mayor, where's our governor, asked Mykola. They should have come here at least once. Just across the river savage street fighting rages in Severodonetsk. Lysychansk isn't near the front, it is the front.
(on-camera): At 3 o'clock in the afternoon Russian aircraft hit this building. This building was serving as a shelter for people. Three were killed and it really goes to show there is nowhere in Lysychansk that safe.
Lydumila as in that building. Her husband injured in the strike. Yesterday he was crushed under the rubble, she says. She can do nothing but weep. She waits for a ride to see him in hospital.
BERMAN: And our Ben Wedeman joins us now from Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine. Ben searing images there. What are you learning about negotiations between the Russians and Ukrainians to evacuate the types of civilians you are in contact with?
WEDEMAN: Yes, those negotiations are ongoing according to Ukrainian officials. The Ukrainians are insisting that as a minimal condition that a complete ceasefire is in place if those civilians around the latest number we've heard is 568, including 38 children if that that humanitarian corridor is going to go ahead. The Russians, however, have put out a proposal that yes, they'll let them leave, but only to Russian controlled territory.
At this point, the Severodonetsk area is completely cut off, the three bridges across the river into Ukrainian territory have been destroyed. And we understand from one official that anybody who tries to get out any civilian trying to leave that area has a 99% chance in his words of being killed. John.
BERMAN: Ben Wedeman, brave reporting to you and your team. Thank you very much. We'll be right back.
BERMAN: This Sunday on CNN join some of the biggest stars as they lift their voices for Juneteenth, a global celebration for freedom. Juneteenth, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, a lineup of some of the top black artists and musicians including (INAUDIBLE), Chaka Khan, Gil Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Billy Poor, and much more will take the stage at the Hollywood Bowl this Sunday. Former First Lady Michelle Obama will also deliver special remarks during this televised event. The event airs live Sunday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
The news continues this Friday. So let's hand it over to Laura Coates in "CNN TONIGHT." Laura.