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Interview With Foreign Policy Research Institute's Eurasia Program Senior Fellow Rob Lee; Interview With El Paso, Texas Mayor Oscar Leeser; Interview With "Last Flight Home" Filmmaker And daughter Of Eli Timoner Ondi Timoner. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 16, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
The leader of Russia's frontline mercenary army claims an American citizen has died in the bloody fight for Bakhmut. Leading Russia expert and former
U.S. marine, Rob Lee, looks at Ukraine's counteroffensive strategy and what comes next.
Then, Ben Wedeman has a special report on the Palestinian man who died working in Israel after being hit by an attack launched by Islamic Jihad
from his native Gaza.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR OSCAR LEESER, EL PASO, TEXAS: The federal immigration process is broken and it needs to be fixed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- as officials remain on high alert for a migration surge, the mayor of El Paso, Texas gives Walter Isaacson the details from America's
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ONDI TIMONER, FILMMAKER, "LAST FLIGHT HOME" AND DAUGHTER OF ELI TIMONER: You're going to see the doctor and then, the clock starts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- a last flight home. Acclaimed documentary maker Ondi Timoner turns her camera on her own father and his decision to die on his own
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York Sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
CNN sources say Ukrainian forces are now using long-range storm shadow missiles from the U.K. to strike Russian targets. Their use comes just one
week after the U.K. announced that it ahead and deliver them to Ukraine and at a time of increased pressure in the war-torn country.
Russia launching a barrage of rockets on Kyiv just overnight, an attack Ukrainian officials have described as "the maximum number of attacking
missiles in the shortest time possible." However, they also say that the strikes did not hit their marks thanks to the U.S. made Patriot missile
defense system. One U.S. system was likely damaged, but not destroyed as a result of the Russian attacks on and around Kyiv, a U.S. official tells
Meantime, the Russian mercenary company army known as the Wagner Group is claiming an American citizen has been killed in the battle for Bakhmut.
Joining me on all of this is correspondent Sam Kiley who is in Eastern Ukraine.
Sam, good to see you. So, first, let me get you to weigh in any more insight into this claim from Yevgeny Prigozhin that an American citizen has
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are not naming the American citizen and the State Department is trying to make contact
with his next of kin. But we do know that a person identified as an American and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary
organization, released a video reporting to be in Bakhmut, reporting to show his identification documents. Those have been shared separately with
me, with other foreign volunteers fighting in Bakhmut who have fought in Bakhmut.
It is understood that he was, in all probability, actually fighting alongside Ukrainian special forces as part of a special forces' contingent
there. And the Prigozhin statement is quite extraordinary by his standards. He actually shows a good, considerable respect for the dead fighter whom is
shown in this video saying that he fought to the end and that he deserved to be covered in his national flag and his remains treated with respect and
returned to his home nation.
Now, as we say, we are waiting to officially confirm his nationality and his name, but it does appear that an American has been killed fighting in
Bakhmut, by no means the first foreigner, by no means, sadly, the only America who has been killed there, but credit being given by his enemies in
this remarkable video posted by the Wagner mercenary group. Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Sam, any more that you can offer us on what we saw overnight in Kyiv, this barrage of attacks successfully repelled and defended using the
American defense systems, the Patriot missiles defense system, what more are we hearing from Ukrainians?
KILEY: It's not just Patriot at all, there are a large number of other aerial defense systems that are working there. But clearly, the Patriot has
been successful. It was credited with the first downing of the Kinzhal so- called hypersonic missile used a few days ago by Russians or rather, it was shot down a few days ago.
Now, the Ukrainians are saying six were shot down. The assumption is that those six were shot down with Patriot missiles. But there were also cruise
missiles and more traditional surface to surface missiles and surface to air missiles, all flooding in a concentrated effort in a very tight period
of time, clearly intended as a tactic to try to overwhelm the defense, the aerial defense capabilities around Kyiv.
Now, obviously, Kyiv is the center of government, it's the center of the command-and-control structures, particularly of the political structures of
Ukraine. So, clearly, a very high value target indeed. Particularly as the Ukrainians are building up to what they say is likely to be their summer
offensive against Russia. So, a new tactic using a large number of sophisticated missiles in a concentrated period of time.
We have seen other mass missile attacks, particularly trying to use overwhelming numbers right across the country now for many months,
particularly using the very low-tech Shahed drone-type missiles. Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Sam Kiley, thank you. Reporting for us from Eastern Ukraine.
And many, including my next guest, believe that that counteroffensive that we have been anticipating from Ukraine, is now underway the past few days.
I want to bring in Rob Lee. He is a veteran of the U.S. marines. He's a senior fellow in Foreign Policy Research Institute's Eurasia Program and a
leading expert on Russian military affairs. He has recently co-authored a new insightful piece for "Foreign Affairs" magazine along with Mike Kaufman
on the war in Ukraine that is getting a lot of buzz right now.
Rob Lee, welcome to the program. It's good to see you.
Let's first start talking about and picking up on the conversation about the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin. And I'm just curious, given that
the majority of casualties surrounding the fighting in Bakhmut are from Wagner, are you surprised by this latest leak of information from the U.S.
intelligence, the discord leaks, suggesting that he offered Kyiv information on Russian troop positions in return for commanders, Ukrainian
commanders, withdrawing their own soldiers from the area?
ROB LEE, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE'S EURASIA PROGRAM: Yes. So, yes, I think it's not fully clear if that was a genuine
proposal or not. But one thing to keep in mind, there's clearly by a (INAUDIBLE) command issue in this war for Russia where Prigozhin, Wagner
kind of had their own incentives in what they were trying to pursue and it's kind of the broader war effort, and the two things don't always
necessarily always intersect correctly.
And so, at times, you know, the interest of Wagner may not kind of be aligned with what the Russian military wants. And a lot of time we hear
this kind of bickering between Prigozhin and senior Russian defense official, I think that's kind of emblematic of that.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And he seems to be attacking publicly everyone in high authority in Russia aside from Vladimir Putin, especially the defense
minister, Shoigu, and accusing them of denying his men the resources that they need. Let's just play one example of a public video he has made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER GROUP FOUNDER (through translator): The occupation of Bakhmut gives nothing to the Russian federation because the
flanks are crumbing, the front is collapsing. And attempts by the defense ministry to make things look better are and will bring an overall tragedy
for Russia. They need to stop lying right away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: So, that leads many to ask, why does Putin keep tolerating this? And you made clear in your piece that they do play a significant role, the
Wagner Group, plays a significant role in helping the Kremlin, specifically in that their soldiers are viewed as more expendable. Can you go into
further detail on that?
LEE: Sure. Well, I mean, so across this war, Russia has had a significant manpower problem and has been a really significant (INAUDIBLE) why they
issued in the beginning of the war and what led to their problems in Kharkiv and Kherson when Ukraine has successful offensives.
And so, since then, the winner -- Russian mobilize, they have a lot -- they have a large mobilized military, but a lot of it is with trains, at the
same time, they are more kind of public (ph) considerations about mobilized soldiers being killed, where's, you know, Wagner kind of started using
convicts very early on, they use in a lower scale kind of way and they're using a more disposable way you can use Russian soldiers.
And so, yes, the Russian military is now using convicts too, but basically, Wagner kind of developed a new system of doing this during this offensive
when the Russian military lacked a lot of defensive capability and Wagner kind of stepped in and had its own way of kind of making up for that --
those kinds of weaknesses.
GOLODRYGA: Rob, let's turn to the war itself. In your "Foreign Affairs" piece you write that, policymakers have placed undue emphasis on the
upcoming offensive without providing sufficient consideration of what will come afterward and whether Ukraine is well positioned for the next phase.
It is critical that Ukraine's western partners develop a long-term theory of victory for Ukraine since even in the best-case scenario, this upcoming
offensive is unlikely to end the conflict.
Are you surprised that this long into a war, we are over a year in now, that more western policymakers haven't done just that and haven't come up a
long-term theory of what success looks like for Ukraine?
LEE: So, I think, you know, the foreign countries have kept together quite strongly, right? I think we have seen that has been, you know, fairly
impressive and we've seen recent announcements from the U.K., France and Germany of kind of long-term age packages going forward. And so, you know,
to some extent, you know, maybe the situation is getting better.
I think the big emphasis we are trying to make is that we are all focused on this upcoming Ukraine offensive. Ukraine will likely have success,
although, you know, it probably won't end the war. And so, the big question is, you know, what happens, maybe in the fall or the winter, because the
ammunition situation may become more difficult? We know that the U.S. has tapped into stockpiles to provide artillery ammunition for Ukraine for the
last, you know, year, and that isn't a sustainable way of going forward.
And so, there will be a question of, is there enough ammunition for Ukraine? Will that affect how they operate in the fall and winter and, you
know, how can the West kind of support them properly enough so they can end this war on their terms?
GOLODRYGA: Rob, could it be that a potential theory for how to win this war and what success means is -- may not be acceptable for Ukraine at this
point? I mean, America's position has been, since the war began, that there will be no decision without Ukraine at the table.
LEE: Sure. So, I mean, there's always been this kind of question, at least from the U.S. and other countries, whether or not there's this escalation
risk if Ukraine does make substantial gains and threatened, say, Crimea, to take back Crimea or other parts of the pre-February 24th borders, you know,
is there an escalation risk there from Russia? I think that's always a concern in Washington and elsewhere.
And so, I think there's been a balance there between the aid that Ukrainians receives where, yes, you know, there is a hope that Ukraine will
take back territory but also concerned about where the potential escalation risks.
And ultimately, you know, there is a question about, is there a gap between, you know, the political goal assault (ph) and the military
equipment and other kinds of support being provided, and it seems that there is a bit of a disconnect. And, you know, again, going forward, maybe
this will -- we'll figure this way out.
The new aid packages from European countries kind of signal that direction. But again, I think it's something we have to think through and especially
as expensive (ph) is how can we support Ukraine probably for the rest of the war so that they can still win?
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And you and Mike make a point in your piece that longer- term this could actually benefit Russia, not having a specific plan in place, even if this counteroffensive proves to be successful for Ukraine.
And write, for Ukraine to sustain momentum and pressure, western states must make a set of commitments and plans for what follows this operation
rather than maintain a wait and see approach. Otherwise, the West risks creating a situation whereby Russian forces are able to recover, stabilize
their lines, and try to retake the initiative.
I think that that's the point that we don't hear nearly enough. Talk about why that is so important to reinforce.
LEE: Sure. So, you know, I think people have expected Russia, at some point, to maybe collapse or maybe that there -- you know, these personnel
issues would lead to some kind of, you know, significant issue. But, you know, ultimately, thus far, it seems Putin's rule is still quite strong. I
don't know if it's a great idea to expect something will come up, maybe something will, but I don't know if we can plan on that.
And so, if you can't kind of make that assumption, then it has to be, well, you know, Ukraine is probably not positioned well for attrition of war with
Russia, because Russia is a larger country, Russia can produce, you know, things, it doesn't have the same issues with defense industry (ph), while
in Ukraine, which is obviously being targeted.
And so, basically, you know, I think the West has kind of looked through and say, if Ukraine is not well positioned for an attritional fight, then,
you know, Ukraine, you provide the kind of weapons or arms or equipment that they can give them the right advantage to overcome, you know, the
natural advantage that Russia has long-term, and that might, you know, make sense to provide more systems in -- you know, sooner rather than later so
that Ukraine can have that success as soon as possible.
GOLODRYGA: We spent a lot of time covering the blows that the Russian military has taken and the number of casualties that they've seen in this
fighting, but it's important to note that Ukraine has seen a lot of casualties as well, and some of their best trained army men have been
killed over the past few months.
That having been said, are you surprised at the speed with which these soldiers, these Ukrainian troops, are able to train to use western
equipment, more sophisticated equipment? This war began with their amusing Soviet weapons similar to that the Russians have been using and this
Patriot system. I mean, they've been trained in just a matter of a few weeks. And from what we have seen, at least overnight, they seem to be
operating this material quite well. Does that surprise you and are you encouraged that perhaps that could inspire more deliveries more quickly of
additional western aid?
LEE: So, yes, I think Ukraine has demonstrated in this war that they are very fast learners, there's a lot of ingenuity, a lot of little initiative
in the military and they're very quick at using systems, the type of systems very effectively.
So, I'm not surprised. You know, even before the Patriots arrived, we had heard that they have learned and mastered other foreign air defense systems
very effectively and that kind of really what, you know, prevented Russia - - successful kind of missile campaign they've had since the fall. So, that part is not as surprising.
But when you look at it going forward, and you go up (ph), kind of counteroffensive, you know, a lot of the equipment that Ukraine is trained
on, new tanks, new fighting vehicles, army personnel carriers, it's a lot to learn in a very short amount of time. And so, I have no doubt that the
Ukrainians are more than able to master the equipment, but having time to learn the equipment and to train as a unit is something that is really
important before you do a kind of large-scale combined arms operation, especially when you have to try to breech through prepare defensive
And so, you know, everything for Ukraine is on a short timeline because, you know, every day that they are not counterattacking, you know, the
Ukrainian soldiers are dying who are defending. And so, obviously, it's an important consideration. But, you know, I think Ukraine has demonstrated
thus far, you know, any kind of weapon system that they are given, they will master and they will learn how to apply it correctly.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And you and Mike have pointed out the weakness and the sort of just in time delivery that the West has provided Ukraine with in some of
its defense systems and larger weaponry. Let's just leave it there. But are you seeing a change in that strategy? Just this week, we see President
Zelenskyy touring through Europe, Germany signing off on another $3 billion in military aid, more tanks. It appears that something is at least changing
and the momentum is shifting to get them more kit as soon as possible. Are you seeing that as well?
LEE: So, it looks that way. So, you know, the recent delivery of Storm Shadow, obviously, I think we're already seeing the effects of that.
Potentially the delivery of modern fighters. I think the U.K. mentioned also some long-range drones will be provided. All of those systems will
provide Ukraine with qualitative advantage over Russia because as this war goes on Russia is increasingly tapping into older and older weapons and
they're having difficulty producing new systems.
So, all of those kinds of things will help Ukraine long-term, particularly the long-range weapons because that's something that Russia had a
significant advantage on throughout this war and they've been able to do this kind of missile campaign without, you know, Ukraine being able to
respond. But if Ukraine is getting those long-range weapons, it means that, you know, Russia's less kind of sanctuaries where it can have logistic
hubs, command and control and Ukraine can now target those things.
So, overtime, I think they will give Ukraine a greater quality of advantage and it gives them better chance for winning this war and retaking all their
GOLODRYGA: Yes. You mentioned that Russia is now being forced for a litany of reasons, perhaps, just going through their artillery quickly, but also
because of western sanctions that they are now being forced to rely on 1950s and 1960s Soviet gear.
There is talk, perhaps, of another Russian conscription coming sooner rather than later. We know last year Vladimir Putin was trying to hold off
as long as he could on 300,000 Russian men being conscripted. How long do you think it will be before he is forced to do another round?
LEE: So, not clear. I think, you know, we know that there are still bringing convicts and not just in Wagner but also Russian military. The
Russian military setting up specialized kind of convict units, you know, the prospects of those are probably not great, as you can imagine.
So, you know, during this counteroffensive, it -- you know, we'll see what kind of man power situation is, we learned how bad the manpower situation
was in Kharkiv when Ukraine made those significant gains. If Ukraine is able to make some, you know, fast gains here again this upcoming
counteroffensive, it might be clear that Russia's lacks in manpower.
The problem though is that it's not just having enough manpower to having people who are trained, having the right weapons, equipment. So, things of
that nature. So, you know, just, you know, in their mobilization rounds, it wouldn't necessarily fix all of the problems. And so, a lot of these
problems are growing for the Russian military, and, you know, at what point does become a critical issue, you know, not fully clear.
But, you know, one thing we can kind of point out is that Russia's winter offensive fails, and it's very clear that they didn't have the conditions
to do an offensive operation successfully, but it's easier to defend. And so, defending -- especially when you trench, if you build sophisticated
defense network and you have enough people to manage and also enough artillery, it's -- you know, you can still defend quite effectively, even
with all of these issues.
And so, it's still going to be important for Ukraine to really find a kind of weak points, execute their plan very effectively, and to use all of this
kind of qualitative advantages that they're receiving as effectively as possible.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And Putin is well aware that the more men he pulls out of the Russian workforce, the more for an impact, a negative impact, it will
have on the Russian economy, at much sooner pace as well. Rob Lee, thank you so much for joining us. It's great to see you. I encourage everyone to
follow you on your very insightful reporting covering this war. Thank you so much.
Well, next to Israel where a fragile cease-fire is holding with Islamic Jihad after days of violence left dozens of people dead. The vast majority
of those killed being Palestinian. Many are now sifting through the wreckage all around them. And our Ben Wedeman met with the family of one
man lost in the bloodshed, a Palestinian killed in Israel by a missile launched by Islamic Jihad. Here's his report.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Another father in Gaza has lost a son. As always happens here when calm returns,
mourners come to pay respects for those who were killed. But 34-year-old Abdullah Hasnain wasn't killed in an Israeli airstrike, rather shrapnel
from a missile fired by Islamic Jihad from his native Gaza into Israel ripped through his chest and abdomen.
Abdullah was one of around 18,000 Gazans to receive a permit to work in Israel. His father, Jibril, also working in Israel, rushed to the hospital.
It was too late. Human kindness triumphed over the passions of war.
I found it made no difference to the doctors if we were Arabs or Jews, recalls Jibril. I asked them to help me with the procedures to take my son
home and bury him, and they did. Abdullah leaves behind a wife, four daughters and two sons.
His children, his family, a whole family of seven people is now destitute, a relative Mohammed tells me.
These Bedouins are pious people. They prefer not to place blame. Abdullah's death, they say, was God's will. A spokesman for Islamic Jihad denied any
A short drive away, residents survey the ruins of a large house bombed by Israeli aircraft. Inspectors from the Ministry of Public Works gather
information on the destruction.
WEDEMAN (on camera): The neighbors say, it wasn't a secret. This building belonged to somebody who was in Islamic Jihad's missile unit. The building
was destroyed on Friday evening. In the process, however, all the homes in this area were severely damaged.
WEDEMAN (voiceover): The blast shattered windows and toppled walls. The neighbors had nothing to do with missiles and don't know when or if help
will arrive. Shadi's home is in shambles. He shows me all the help he's received so far, a bag of food worth a few dollars.
My house is destroyed, he shouts, a kilo of sugar and a kilo of flour. I'm going crazy. Can I fix my house with that?
It's all madness, and they never get used to it.
GOLODRYGA: And our thanks to Ben Wedeman for that report.
Well, days after the expiration of Title 42, migrant crossing the southern U.S. border are surprisingly low, but officials say that the situation is
still very fluid and preparing for a potential surge to come. Mayors from New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Denver have requested a meeting with
President Biden for more support as they brace for more migrants.
Meanwhile, El Paso's mayor, Oscar Leeser, declared a state of emergency before the pandemic era policy ended. And he joins Walter Isaacson to
discuss the situation at the border.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Bianna. And Mayor Oscar Leeser, welcome to the show.
MAYOR OSCAR LEESER, EL PASO, TEXAS: Thank you.
ISAACSON: So, Title 42, which was a way of restricting immigration during the COVID emergency ended last Thursday. You're the mayor of El Paso. You
said over the weekend you did not see an expected big influx of new immigrants. What's the situation now and what is happening?
LEESER: You know, we saw it prior to the expiration of Title 42 and we have a big influx prior to midnight, but after that the numbers have really gone
down. So, on Saturday, we had a total of 405. And on Sunday, we had 381, which is way down from, you know, the numbers we used to be seeing. Back in
December we saw well over 2,500 a day.
ISAACSON: So, why is that?
LEESER: Well, a lot of them are coming in prior to the expiration of Title 42 and a lot of them came in -- which is very unfortunate, they came in
with the understanding that if they were in here prior to the expiration of Title 42 that they would be able to get political asylum. And the borders
were closed in and the borders continue to be closed.
And then, the second part is the difference between Title 42 and Title 8. On Title 42 that you would -- you could come back in as many times as you
want with no consequences. On Title 8, if you do come in and you're not following the immigration laws and coming through the legal path and you
returned then you have to wait five years minimum to be able to return back into the U.S. If you get -- the second time that you -- you will not have
the opportunity to return again.
ISAACSON: So, explain to me Title 8. That's always been around, but now it's something that's been enforced sort of in lieu of Title 42. I know
we're talking a whole lot about titles, but this is part of the immigration acts and it's saying, this rule is one we're going to enforce now. So,
explain that to us.
LEESER: Well, the City of El Paso does not enforce any immigration laws. We're here to assist and work with Border Patrol and Customs. And so,
that's a law that's been in effect since 1940. And like I said, you know, we're here to help and make sure that our asylum seekers continue to be
treated in a very respectful way and continue to work to make sure they're safe, but also the citizens of the City of El Paso.
ISAACSON: So, this Title 8 has been around for 80 years, why did it not help in the past restrict some of this immigration?
LEESER: Well, because we all know that the federal immigration process is broken and it needs to be fixed. And, you know, if you ask me, what do you
hope for now that the numbers are down and the numbers are there that somebody comes up with a long-term solution to work on in fixing the
immigration system in the United States.
ISAACSON: So, let's drill down on that. What would you do to fix the immigration system?
LEESER: Well, one of the things, I think, that's really, really important right now that we need to fix is to make sure we get additional judges to
expedite. We need to really expedite the time where it takes from someone comes in through the immigration process, the legal process, and then they
get a court date. Once they get that court date, it could be four or five years. I really believe it needs to be a lot quicker.
And while they're waiting for the court process, I would like to see people have the opportunity to go to work and continue to work. There's a lot of
people that need jobs and we have a lot of people that would love to hire a lot of these people. So, I think it's really important that we continue to
expedite the process and work forward.
Now, what I do in Washington? That's something that -- you know, I don't have all the facts. I have been working with them, but I really believe
that we need to learn to disagree as far as Congress and senators are concerned and learn to compromise to come up with a process that's really
going to help not only the United States but the countries around us.
ISAACSON: You've been working with a lot of your fellow mayors along the border, you're a Texas politician so you know politicians of both parties
there. Do you think that if people like yourself came up with the plan, you could come up with a plan that could be passed in Washington?
LEESER: Well, I think we all need to work together, and I don't think one person coming up with the plan. I can tell you I live it every day. I live
it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And I see what we do and I see how we work with people.
But we -- you know, the biggest thing that I would love to see is to continue to work how we can make sure that people are treated totally with
respect and continue to be treated that way. Yes, we all need to work together.
Yes. I mean, the border mayors have all been talking and we continue to talk, but we're talking about how we can continue to work together for the
current crises not, you know, how we're going to fix the immigration process because, again, that goes to Washington, and we're not here to
implement or to do immigration law, we're here to help them and assist them, but also continue to work in our local laws to make sure our citizens
also continue to be safe.
ISAACSON: So, you're talking about fixing, in the long-term, the immigration issue, a comprehensive immigration reform bill at some point.
Is that something that should be connected to border security or should we get border security right first before we try comprehensive immigration
LEESER: You know, and that's going to be up to them, what's the best way to do it first and how do we work it and how do we make sure that we can do
that in a timely manner. And, you know, I'm not here to tell them what to do, I can just tell them what live through and what we see every day, and
we would love to see that a long-term solution come through in -- you know, now than later.
ISAACSON: You say you would love to tell them what you are living through every day, what you're seeing every day. Well, tell us, what are you living
through each day?
LEESER: Well, we see every day that people are coming to the United States, they're not coming to El Paso, they're coming to the Unites State. They are
bringing their family or they come by themselves, and they're here for a better life for themselves or a better life for their families, and how we
can help them and work that.
We talk to them. We see them. I travel into Mexico quite often. We were there, you know, the day before Title 42 expired to the people that were
waiting and ready to cross. I went to the shelters in Mexico, and there was 20 people at the second largest shelter in Juarez, and they're all at the
border ready to come in, they're ready to come in, their opportunity could. That night before Title 42 expired, it was 1,800.
So, we see that every day. But when we talk to them, they all want to go to work. The mayor of New York came down and he talked to them and he asked
them, how many of you all would want to go to work? And every one of them raise their hand because they are ready to go to work, they want to make a
better life for their families and themselves.
ISAACSON: But these are supposed to be asylum seekers. How many of them are really asylum seekers and how many just want to come here for better jobs?
LEESER: That's something that, you know, the federal government has to determine and that's not something that we determine. We do treat people
with compassion and we do people -- treat people the way we want to be treated. And we talk to them about what they are looking for and why
they're here and what they want to.
Now, the federal government has its process and that's something that, again, we don't implement and that's something that they look at and that's
why we want to see more immigration judges to be able to determine and work and do it in a more -- in a lot quicker matter and also, allow people to go
ISAACSON: Tell us what it's like in El Paso in the past few weeks, on a day-to-day basis. You had a lot of people coming in right before the end of
Title 42. You have them in churches and in schools. What do you do with -- and to make sure that they feel comfortable?
LEESER: Well, again, our job is to assist. So, we've had a lot of law enforcement that has worked together and come together. And not one person,
not the mayor, not the county judge, not one person has really done it. We've all done it together as one, whether it's school security, whether
it's CBP, whether it's custom, we've all worked together.
And you've seen -- because we've worked together, it was a very orderly system once Title 42 expired and it will continue to be that way. But our
community knows that our priority as elected officials is our community and we'll continue to do that, but also to make sure that our asylum seekers
are treated in a respectful way, but also to make sure that our community is safe.
ISAACSON: One of the things that's happened is many of these asylum seekers have families somewhere else, jobs, perhaps, they want to go to, and you
are helping send transportation so that they can go up north, up to New York. And others are being transported without any real place to go, but
they are being sent on buses.
How do you make those decisions and how do people in Texas make those decisions of who gets bussed out of -- or transported out of Texas?
LEESER: Well, I can't tell you how the people in Texas do it, but I can tell you how the people in El Paso do it. And the people in El Paso make
sure that people are not treated as pawns, people are treated with respect and we want to help them unite with their families, we want to help them
unite with their friends or where they have a job. And so, when they ask us to help, and we help them in that manner, we never send anyone where they
wouldn't want to go.
ISAACSON: You said that Mayor Eric Adams came down to visit you in El Paso. He toured the border. Tell me what you all talked about.
LEESER: Well, we talked about the process and what's going on. And he got to be able to talk to the asylum seekers and went through our processing
centers, he went to the NGOs. He sat there and actually talked to the asylum seekers and asked them, why do you want to go to New York? Why are
you in the United States?
So, he was -- he -- actually, I was very thankful for him to come here and really do see how we do every day processing, how we do what we do every
day, and I consider Mayor Adams a friend.
ISAACSON: What's happening in El Paso now for accommodating the people who have come through? Do you have enough hospital beds, for example? Do you
have enough centers for people to be sheltered? Do you have enough schools if they want to stay there?
LEESER: You know, right now, we've had resources that we need from the federal government. Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration have
really provided the resources that we've needed to be able to provide these services. Like I said, because at the beginning, when we talked about, they
are not coming to El Paso, they are coming to the United States, and they have provided funding that we needed to make sure we do that.
Right now, the numbers are way down, as we talked about at the beginning of the show. We talked about 381 people that came into El Paso, that's moving
through the United States yesterday alone, which, in comparison, the 2,500 that used to be on a daily basis.
ISAACSON: What else do you need from the federal government then?
LEESER: Well, right now, we are preparing for the unknown. We don't know what's going to come in right behind. We don't what's going on tomorrow.
So, we continue to prepare and, you know, we have an open line of communication and we will continue to have that open line of communication
but we need to continue to have that line of communication because we don't know what the unknown is following behind.
So, I am very thankful, and they've been -- they've worked very well with our community, and I know they've worked well. I talked to some of the
mayors across the state, and they continue to work with them also.
ISAACSON: Vice President Kamala Harris was, at one point, designated to look at this overall problem. To what extent has she been involved?
LEESER: I have not had that conversation and that's -- I have not spoken to Vice President Harris, but I have spoken to the White House on a -- almost
basically a daily basis, that continues to provide the service and they've always been able to -- I've always been able to work with them and give us
the resources we've needed.
ISAACSON: You say you talk to the White House on an almost daily basis, who are you talking to there? What type of services are they providing? How
quickly are they responding?
LEESER: You know, we talk to people from the Department of Homeland Security for the most part. And so, the things need is help. A lot of times
with decompression. Decompression as being able to help us move, you know, our asylum seekers to the next destination or processing. Things to help
with processing. And they've never not helped us to do that, and to make sure our border continues.
Like you said, the border is not open. They weren't open then, they're not open today. And they've continued to help us with our border patrol and
make sure that we have enough men and women to help us do the job we need to do.
ISAACSON: You say that the borders are not open, Secretary Mayorkas has said that. There's been a lot of pushbacks from Republicans. On the other
hand, you know, there is a sense that there's a border security that's pretty strong. Do you think the borders are secure? Do you think they are
open or is it somewhere in between?
LEESER: No, the borders are closed. And they've given us the resources to continue to make sure that we help the asylum seekers when they come into
the United States. But the borders were closed yesterday and the borders remain closed today.
ISAACSON: The federal government has sent in 1,500 troops. What are the troops doing down there?
LEESER: What they did was to continue to -- you know, to assist and help the Border Patrol and Customs. They are not here to implement federal law.
They are not here to implement immigration law. They are here to assist them and help them, you know, whether it's in the office, whether it's, you
know, preparing for the day, whatever it may be, but they're not here to implement federal immigration laws.
ISAACSON: There is the Title 8, we've discussed, that has an expedited removal process, that seems to have turned the tide a bit on what people
are thinking. Do you think there's been some shift in the Biden administration to be a little bit tougher about border security?
LEESER: I think they are using the laws that are within, you know, our country. But they know that things need to change and that things continue
to change. So, I mean, you are asking me what they think, I can't tell you what they think, but I can tell you that it's made a difference in the last
couple days as the numbers that I've been able to share with you.
ISAACSON: Mayor Leeser, you were born in Mexico and you moved to the U.S. as a child. You are the first elected mayor of El Paso to be born, you
know, out of the country. How does your personal journey help inform what you are doing now?
LEESER: Well, I'm very thankful for all of the opportunities I've had in, you know, coming as a young boy, didn't speak a word of English and going
through the school system and going through the -- you know, and having the opportunity to work in here and raise a family has been very important, and
that's why I believe that everybody needs to be treated with respect.
And I've always been raised that you treat people the way you want to be treated, and you'll never be disappointed. In our community in El Paso,
it's a community with a huge heart and they've opened their hearts to our asylum seekers and continue to provide food, clothing and we'll continue to
One of the things I did want to discuss with you that was important that we did open up some -- two schools that have been closed down. We were able to
work where we could take over these school that were not being used and provide sheltering for our asylum seekers to help them go to their next
destination. They're staying in these schools between four to 72 hours.
ISAACSON: Mayor Oscar Leeser, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.
LEESER: Thank you. You have a great day, sir. Bye-bye.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
GOLODRYGA: Well, now, we turn to a story of love, loss and dignity. The acclaimed filmmaker, Ondi Timoner, has twice taken the top documentary
prize at the Sundance Film Festival. But for her latest project, she turned the camera inward, documenting her father, the aviation entrepreneur, Eli
Timoner, and his choice to end his life through California's Medical Aid in Dying process called "Last Flight Home."
It follows her family through this difficult period, as well as the road that led her father to his decision. Here's some of the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELI TIMONER, AVIATION ENTREPRENEUR: Well, I'm going to take my life on the 3rd of March. I don't want to fight anymore. I just want peace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't call it assisted suicide. We call it supporting right to terminate your life. We don't get a choice on how we
come into this world, but we should have a choice on how we go out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you definitely, definitely sure you are ready to go?
E. TIMONER: I am ready to go. To the next adventure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And Ondi Timoner joins me now live. Ondi, what an emotional film this is. I was in tears. I felt as if I was there with you at times, as a
family, going through this experience. Before we get to the insight that you offer to the legal system and the process of end-of-life there in the
State of California, I believe it's offered only in 11 states currently, why don't you tell us a bit more about your incredible father, Eli, and the
incredible accomplishments he made, both professionally, and most importantly, personally.
ONDI TIMONER, FILMMAKER, "LAST FLIGHT HOME" AND DAUGHTER OF ELI TIMONER: Thank you, Bianna. It's great to be here. My father was the most
extraordinary man that any of us ever knew. He founded an airline, the fastest-growing airline in the history of the world, when I was born. And
by the time I was 10, his neck was cracked in a massage and he suffered a massive stroke, which caused him to be ousted from the airline that he
But he never complained. He stayed positive. He stayed whip, smart, intelligent, funny, kind, generous. He just worried about all of us. And I
think that's actually one of the greatest things I learned from him, was just to really focus on the people and loving and respecting the people
around you, which something he taught all of us.
So, when he made this plea after 48 years of living as a hemiplegic paralyzed and having lost his fortune and, you know, still positive and
I'll be there, tenacious, when he finally said, I've got to go, it's my time, and he was terminally ill, he had COPD, he could have -- you know, he
would die eventually, soon, probably within the next six months, but he really felt he needed to go right then.
It was shocking, frankly. It was scary for all of us, for our family, but we had to support him. We had to stand behind him. He had done nothing but
stand behind us all our lives. And so, we united as a family, and my brother, David, found that there was a law in California. We didn't even
know that because we don't talk about death and dying in our society. And this law allowed him the right to choose a day upon which he would die,
thanks to Medical Aid in Dying. And he chose March 3, 2021.
And we had a 15-day waiting period where he had to prove he was making this decision of right mind and for all the right reasons, and it gave us a
chance. Honestly, as a family, it gave us a chance as a family to come around him, to tell him and show him what he gave us and what he provided
and to -- and we got closure, you know, even the grandkids, as you saw in the film --
O. TIMONER: -- and see in the film, had a chance to hear wisdom and a love that will carry from their grandfather forever.
GOLODRYGA: And Medical Aid in Dying is a controversial and emotionally charged issue. We go through 15 days of your family's life and your
father's life and those last 15 days. And in the nearly two hours that I got to know him, he seemed as if he had loved life so much. I'm just
curious, what was the initial reaction amongst family members when he said this is what he chose to do? How long was it before everyone got on board
in support of him?
O. TIMONER: Well, my sister is a rabbi, a prominent rabbi and social activist here in New York City. She -- you know, at that point, it was now
reformed Judaism has reversed their opinion after millennia to support Medical Aid in Dying, specifically in Canada where they have equal access
to health care.
But, yes, at that point, it was not something that Judaism or, really, any religion, I believe, supports because life is a blessing. However, when the
rabbis changed their opinion, they said and wrote in a very detailed opinion, that back when the rabbis made the law, the average time of
suffering was maybe five days. And now, it can be years.
And I can tell you that, you know, he had suffered. My father had suffered, massively. He had fallen many times during COVID especially. My mother was
suffering as well. There was very little we could do for him. And he really felt, I think, that he could do more for us being outside of his body and
wanting to watch over us and provide for us from above. And we needed to get behind him.
So, Rachel, even though that was really a hard decision for her to make personally, of course supported her father. And then, my mother, she wanted
to him to go to, you know, somewhere, a facility where he could be and she could visit him, and he didn't not want that. He did not want that. If he
couldn't be near his family, he didn't want to be here at all, and he deserved our support.
So, it was actually pretty quick that we got behind him with this. And it did feel -- and I tried in the edit to have you feel the -- sort of the
plank that we were walking as a family, you know, towards this inevitable ending of like the life of -- the center of our family, but my father said
to me, would you rather know the day or would you rather get a call in the middle of the night?
And, you know, I had received those calls when he had fallen and hit his head and split it open, and I didn't -- I thought about it, and I thought,
you know, I would rather know the day. And I was able to set up zoom calls for him to say goodbye to, you know, everyone from his first flight
attendant and pilot, to our au pair from when he had the stroke. You know, it was really a chance for him to have reflected back to him everything he
had given us.
GOLODRYGA: Those were really touching and special conversations that he was able to have, and you're right, precious because so many people don't -- I
mean, most people don't know when their last day will be and he, at least, had time to say his goodbyes and final words and thoughts to his loved
ones. You did walk that plank masterfully.
And you mentioned your sister, the rabbi, Rachel, you know, she talks about the role of a daughter and her father, seeing her as his rabbi, and how
difficult that was of a task for her to perform that duty, as a rabbi, and a daughter.
I mean, at a point in the film she talks about how hard it was for her to pay for that end-of-life medication with her own credit card knowing the
outcome and asking time and time again, are you sure, dad, that this is what you want? And I was -- in many times, I was in tears. I was moved when
you all sang the Jewish hymn, "Hinei Ma Tov" together.
You also mentioned the grandchildren. And I want to play a clip for our viewers of Rachel's son getting some of those words of wisdom from his
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IETAN TIMONER, RACHEL AND FELICIA'S SON (through translator): I mean, the thing I want to talk about is I want to ask for advice on like how to live
E. TIMONER: How to live in life? Start off with respect for the people you don't know and love for the people you do know. Whatever that means. I know
what that means. You'll always have my love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: What have you learned by your father throughout these 15 days that you filmed?
O. TIMONER: You know, just made me smile seeing that clip right there. Every time we share the film with audiences, how much people are healed and
helped by the presence of my father, getting to know my father. Young men have said they now have a role model.
For us, it was growing up with a person who always said yes. Yes, you can do it. And he said that to the end. He was really the captain of that room.
He set the tone in those 15 days. And because of that, and because of his courage, and his kindness, his tenderness, and wisdom, and humor, he was so
funny, it was really the most sacred and beautiful space I've ever inhabited in my life. It was -- those were some of the best weeks of my
life, getting to celebrate his life with him and to be with him. He was my favorite person in the world.
So, I'm so grateful that I ended up sharing this film. I didn't intend to make it as a film at first, I was just trying to bottle him of somehow. But
what happened over those weeks felt too important not to share, and I'm so glad I did, for all of us, and our family.
GOLODRYGA: I'm so glad you shared him with me. It was just incredible, getting to know him in those two hours that you documented. We talk about
Medical Aid in Dying being legal in only 11 states. You even noted in the film how fortunate he was to be living in a state where it is indeed legal.
But it is an arduous process nonetheless. It requires many doctors to sign off on, there are certain rules in place where your father would have to
actually take the medicine himself, the medication himself, and sign all the documentation himself as well despite how weak he was.
I want to play a clip from one of the nurses, because you really pay homage to the people who were there taking care of him up until the very end. And
this nurse explains why this is a job that she took on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's really courageous work you are doing.
CANDACE CARSIE, NURSE (PH): Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being a hospice nurse and doing end of life.
CARSIE (PH): I was telling your mom, not all doctors will do it, not all pharmacies will participate in the medication, and not all nurses will do
it. So, I find it very genuine what I get to do and very honoring what I get to do.
Is it hard? Yes. Does it get any easier? No. And the moment it does get easier is the moment I need to change careers, because I don't ever want to
lose that humanity in me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Why was it so important for you to include that, that powerful moment in this film?
O. TIMONER: That's Candace Carsie (ph), and she was and is such a brilliant generous person and spirit. She supported dad. There's a scene in the film
and it was a terrifying moment when he was in his second doctor visit and he couldn't remember if he had had lunch or what day it was. And of course,
when you're lying in a bed and everything is just sort of, you know, you're coming to the end of your life, it's understandable. But we were worried
because that doctor is not supportive of Medical Aid in Dying.
As she explains, you know, not every hospice will do it. Even getting the medicine, there's a ban since 1997, it turns out, it's called Asphra (ph),
that bans Medicare and Medical -- from supporting -- or Medicaid from supporting the medicine. So, a federal funding for any Medical Aid in
Dying, even in a state that has it, the family has to have enough money to be able to have that access.
So, there's like these barriers, and she just backed dad. When he couldn't remember and didn't, you know, know what day it was, she said, he's firm in
his decision, he's clear in his decision, he knows what he wants. And she has been an advocate and has become a family friend. And I just think it's
really important to understand who these people are. Hospice workers are some of the most courageous and beautiful human beings, and we are just
very grateful as a family to them.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. That moment you described, your father was actually zooming, and that's another element in the story. This all took place
during COVID. But your father was zooming with one of the doctors who was really skeptical about this law and you are nervous about whether or not he
would give his official sign off on it as well.
You know, it's interesting because on the one hand, one has to be of sound mind to qualify for this process. But I'm wondering if that was sort of a
double-edged sword for you, just seeing that while your dad was so crippled in many other areas that his mind was still so brilliant and offering words
of wisdom until the very end. I was really struck by his question to a death doula, I didn't even know there was such a thing, and he asked, who
will I know when I am gone? And that was such a thoughtful question. She didn't even have an answer for him.
O. TIMONER: Yes. He -- I think as he got near the end, and I think this happens, the veil sort of lifts between life and death and he could see his
family on the other side. And he went from, you know, feeling like there was nothing after death to feeling that -- very confident that he would put
a protective shield around our lives and watch over us, and that's what he wanted to do. You know, he just -- he wasn't scared of anything except them
closing the box before he was actually gone. Otherwise --
GOLODRYGA: And you were --
O. TIMONER: Yes, sorry. Go ahead.
GOLODRYGA: I was going to say, you were taking this story and this fight to offer this opportunity for others in other states now to Washington. Are
you prepared for the hurdles you are facing? And what are you hoping to accomplish when you speak to lawmakers?
O. TIMONER: Yes. So, we are advocating for the law here in New York as well. My sister is traveling to Albany next week. We had an impact
screening just last night. We just had one in L.A., because they are advancing the law in L.A. They have gotten it to one drink now in
California, it's flavored now.
So -- and the waiting period is shortened. So, there is progress to be made in many different states, and we are partnering with Compassion & Choices,
which is an excellent organization that, since its inception, has managed to make the law happen in one state each year since they have existed. We
are going together to Washington.
My mother, who is 85, will be with me and my brother and we are going to travel and meet with lawmakers, screen the film in Washington in early
June. And I know that we are facing great hurdles, but we also have allies inside Congress.
O. TIMONER: We know that there are people that really understand what this law provides, which is really just an opportunity for peace for people that
are suffering and terminally ill.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Well, Ondi Timoner, thank you for sharing your father with us. It is such a powerful film. And please give your mom and family our
best as well. Thank you.
O. TIMONER: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
GOLODRYGA: And finally, we want to end the show with a life lesson from Eli. Months after his death, his daughter, who you just heard of, Rabbi
Rachel Timoner, delivered a Tom Kipper Service, reflecting on her father's final night. She shared this poignant moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RABBI RACHEL TIMONER, ELI TIMONER'S DAUGHTER: Just in time, he started to understand that the true worth of his life was measured in love. And by
that measure, he had wildly succeeded. We do not have to wait until the last night of our lives to know that we are already loved and worthy of it.
We do not have to wait until the last day to measure our lives by love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Such a powerful message to end on. And on that note, we want to thank you for watching the show. Goodbye from New York.