Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

U.S. Embassy Warns Of Unusual Russian Military Activity Near Ukraine; Proud Boys, Oath Keepers Hit With Subpoenas By House Panel; COVID Cases, Hospitalizations Surge Ahead Of Thanksgiving. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 11:30   ET



FRED PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We were actually able to get on a patrol with the Ukrainian Navy in the Sea of Azov on an artillery boat. And they said, of course, they understand that down there at this point, they are outgunned. But they do say that they plan to stand their ground if an invasion does take place.

The other thing, Alex, that they're also doing is very important, is in a town of Berdyansk, they're building a new naval base. And, in fact, the defense minister has just called for the construction of that base to be accelerated and to happen as fast as possibly because the Ukrainians understand they need to stage more ships out of there.

Of course, this comes as the U.S. and Ukraine believe that there is up to a hundred thousand troops amassing near Ukraine. Some satellite images seem to show that as well. Again, a very concerning situation but the Ukrainians are saying they do plan to stand their ground. Alex?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a very worrying situation along that border. Fred Pleitgen in the Ukrainian capital, thanks very much.

Now, joining me now to talk about these two major foreign policy challenges is David Sanger, a CNN Political and National Security Analyst, also a correspondent for The New York Times. David, thanks so much for joining me.


MARQUARDT: All right. I want to get into both of these big, big topics that, of course, very much has the focus of the Biden administration. Let's start with China. You heard Steven Jiang (ph) there saying that President Biden just had his virtual summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. And in that summit, Xi Jinping said that any U.S. support of Taiwanese independence would be, as he said, playing with fire. So, what do you now make of President Biden turning around and inviting Taiwan to this democracy summit?

SANGER: Well, frankly, I don't think the president had a choice. If you have framed the issue as the future struggle is between autocracy and democracy and you don't take the one democratic element of trying to -- even if you believe in the One China policy and invite them, what message does that send about one support for Taiwan or for the future of democracy in China remote as that may seem under the control of the current leadership or the Communist Party. So, I don't think he really had a choice at all.

It is interesting though that when you look at the rest of the guest list, he didn't invite Turkey, a NATO member which has turned autocratic. He didn't invite Egypt, a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, only invited the Israelis and the Iraqis. So, just in setting up the meeting, he's had to create a good number of controversies with our adversaries and tensions with our allies.

MARQUARDT: David, I want to turn to what we were just talking about with Fred and Russia and Ukraine. We have been reporting, as have you, that President is considering sending military advisers, as well as weaponry to Ukraine amid this buildup. Of course, the U.S. does supply Ukraine with weapons. What do you think the administration believes that Vladimir Putin's end goal actually is here?

SANGER: Alex, you put your finger on what's the really hard issue, which is figuring out Putin's intent. There's one argument to be made that he's putting people on the border to be disruptive, remind everyone that he could do what he did with Crimea in 2014 but doesn't actually plan to take the risk and the sanctions reaction it will create of doing further invasion.

There is a second argument that they -- that while the troops are there, what he's really planning to do is more kind of short of war (ph) activity, like the cyber actions he's taken against Ukraine in the past. Or you might recall that on two separate Christmas to New Year's weeks in recent years, the Russians have hired hackers to turn of the power in parts of Ukraine. And so that may be it.

The third argument is that he really just plans to go do it, that he thinks that the U.S. has demonstrated with Afghanistan, that we really don't have a stomach for this, that we didn't let Ukraine in the NATO over the past seven years, and won't any time in the near future, and that, therefore, there really isn't a commitment to go to Ukraine's defense even if the administration says that it is steadfast behind the Ukrainians.

MARQUARDT: So, we know that the two sides, U.S. and Russia, Moscow and Washington, David, are speaking to each other. Just yesterday, the two country's top generals spoke with each other, in the case, the U.S., that's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley. But you just hit on this with Afghanistan.

This is not happening in a vacuum. They clearly saw that the U.S. does not have an appetite for war through that withdrawal from Afghanistan. So, what is the signal that Washington is hoping Putin is going to receive if military advisers and weapons are being sent to Ukraine?


SANGER: Well, you'll remember that during the Obama administration, we sent defensive weaponry, but President Obama did not want to send potentially offensive weaponry, including anti-tank equipment. President Trump did send those, and those have continued to flow since Trump left office.

So, I think the question right now is how do you balance further support for the Ukrainians without giving the Russians a pretense for some kind of deeper action? That's the big problem that they face. It's a really fine line. I think you might see advisers, but they may not be in Ukraine. They may just be in the region. It's unclear how much aid they'll send in terms of weapons.

MARQUARDT: All right, David Sanger, thanks so much for your insight. Come back soon.

SANGER: Thank you, Alex, great to be with you.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, he's been in prison since the late '70s. Up next, how a man wrongfully imprisoned for more than four decades has finally won his freedom. We'll be right back.



MARQUARDT: The congressional House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection has issued a new round of subpoenas. Investigators want information about that deadly siege from right wing extremist groups, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, as well as their leaders.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is here in Washington. Katelyn, what does this select committee want to get from these groups and from their leadership?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Alex, the House has been very aggressive lately in sending out lots of subpoenas. And so in this particular group that they sent out yesterday, they had five subpoenas to groups and individuals that led those groups, that is really -- this is the batch that hits at the nexus between the Trump political world and actual rioters and groups that had rioters on the scene on January 6th going to the Capitol or at rallies.

So, who was subpoenaed? This is important. It's the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, two right wing groups. We've heard a lot about their leaders, Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes, and then another person, Robert Patrick Lewis, who is the leader of the group called the First Amendment Praetorian, that is a right wing First Amendment group that's providing security at rallies leading up to January 6.

Now, why the committee is interested in all of these, the commonality between them is that all of these people were providing some sort of security that we know of, either to these rallies before January 6th or even to VIPs who were around the Trump political sphere at the Willard Hotel up to January 6th.

And we know from them too that the Justice Department has looked really closely at Tarrio and Rhodes and the groups they're affiliated with, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, and have charged dozens of people in those groups with conspiracy for obstructing potentially the congressional vote to certify the presidency.

Now, all of this put together, this is an aggressive move by the committee to seek information from them. But like all of these subpoenas that the committee has been sending out recently to them, to people like Roger Stone, Alex Jones, we don't actually know how much they're going to be able to get out of them because a lot of the people that have been subpoenaed are saying they might plead their First Amendment -- or Fifth Amendment, excuse me, right to not self- incriminate themselves or they might not have documents to turn over or they can't.

We know Enrique Tarrio is in jail until the New Year, so he may or may not be able to sit for a deposition in December and his lawyer told us yesterday he doesn't believe the Proud Boys even have documents after November 2018 that he can turn over. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes. And it very much remains to be seen whether that shot across the bow, as many called it, of Steve Bannon, who has now been charged with criminal contempt of Congress, will have any effect on getting these people to testify. Katelyn Polantz in Washington, thanks so much.

POLANTZ: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: Now, to a really incredible story. A Missouri man is now free after spending more than four decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Kevin Strickland was exonerated 43 years after an all- white jury convicted him of a triple murder. Strickland spoke to CNN this morning just hours after his release.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins me now with more. Brynn, what's Strickland saying?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, he gets to now finally spend Thanksgiving, Alex, with his family members. The 62- year-old set free after 43 years behind bars. As you mentioned, it was a capital murder conviction for a crime that happened in Kansas City back in 1978. Three people were murdered, a fourth person survived.

And that woman is the one who identified Strickland being there at the scene, even though she made that identification a few days after the crime was committed, and then later recanted it several times, even tried to help set him free. But, finally, she had a chance to go before a judge, testified on his own behalf. And that judge threw out that conviction of life in prison.


And guess what, Alex? He found out that this happened because he was behind bars watching soap operas and the local news broke into the coverage with this news.

So, he is finally a free man. He said the first thing he wanted to do was go visit his mother's grave. She had passed away during his time behind bars. The second thing, Alex, he wants to see the ocean. Take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN STRICKLAND, EXONERATED AFTER 43 YEARS IN PRISON: As a teenager, I was big on swimming anyway, so I've always liked the water. And God created a big deal there when he put all that water out there. And I need to get out there and see if I can ride a great white or something like that.

But, yes, the experience, I want to feel the power of the water, you know. At 62, I believe I can surf if they get me out of this chair.


GINGRAS: Man, I really hope he gets there. Now, Missouri doesn't compensate for prisoners who had time behind bars, so there is now, Alex, a GoFundMe page set up on his behalf. Alex?

MARQUARDT: Yes. Here's to hoping he sees that water soon. Brynn Gingras in New York, thanks very much.

Coming up, as you prepare to gather with loved ones for Thanksgiving, we have tips on how to stay safe as you all get together for food and family. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: Hospitals across the country are again sounding the alarm about a rising number of COVID cases. More than 50,000 Americans are hospitalized right now with coronavirus. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases are up nearly 10 percent in the past two weeks.

Joining me now to discuss all this is Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips. She is the chief clinical officer at the Providence Health System. Doctor, thanks so much for joining me.

This rise in new cases and in hospitalizations comes as what we have just been talking about this morning, this pre-pandemic level of traveling, essentially, what are you thinking when you see all these people going home, seeing family at the same time as this rise in cases?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: Well, I'm thinking it could end up being bad, but I completely understand the need for human beings to get together for the holidays, like we're just going to do it. We're all kind of done with the whole stay home, hunker down, don't see anybody COVID restrictions. And so the question is now, how do we do this as safely as humanly possible?

And I hope that's what people are focused on, is making sure that as they go see their relatives, they're going to make sure they get their third dose of the vaccine, get their booster, do everything they can to keep windows ventilated, eat outside if the weather allows and do what you can to keep grandma and your relatives that can't keep themselves safe safe. MARQUARDT: But, of course, not all families are on the same page when it comes to getting vaccinated. In fact, we have got some numbers. There is a new Axios/Ipsos poll that shows that among people who plan to get together, almost 30 percent say that they will celebrate with people who are unvaccinated, and another 17 percent on top of that say they don't know whether people they'll be with are vaccinated or not.

And it's such a divisive topic, as you know. It's completely unnecessary. But what is your advice for people who find it difficult to talk to friends and family about their vaccination status?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: It is hard, but I would ask, you know? In the medical profession, we ask all the time, and so maybe we've gotten over the fact that it can be challenging to ask. But asking about vaccination status, because it really depends on what you can do to keep yourself safe.

And so if people aren't vaccinated, asking people to get tested before they come to a dinner where people are inherently going to have their mask off and going to be talking in close proximity to other people for a prolonged period of time, which are the conditions that COVID is most likely to spread, right, indoors, crowded situations, where people spend a prolonged period of time together are the ideal ways for particularly this highly contagious delta variant to spread from person to person.

So, you want to make sure that people aren't bringing the germ into that crowded environment, which means testing beforehand if they haven't gotten the three shots.

MARQUARDT: Yes, of course, those tests very available. We only have a couple of seconds left, Doctor, but I want to ask you about a new study that shows that imaging scans for cancer fell 82 percent during the peak of the initial COVID outbreak. What could be the impact of that and for people dealing with other diseases?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: We're all losing sleep about this because the fact that we were so focused on COVID for 2020 and the first portion of 2021, that everybody else's health issues got put on the back burner. And so the downside is that we're doing a lot of catch-up to avoid seeing bump-up in rates of people suffering from cancer and heart disease in the future.

MARQUARDT: All right. Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, thank you so much for joining us.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving.

MARQUARDT: And to you.

And to this incredible story, it was an emotional night for the legendary college basketball announcer, Dick Vitale. He returned courtside for the first time since announcing that he has lymphoma. Before UCLA and Gonzaga tipped off, Vitale cheerfully thanks fans for their support.


DICK VITALE, COLLEGE BASKETBALL BROADCASTER: Great to be here, guys. I don't want to cry. I can't believe I'm sitting here. This is really what means the world to me. I want to thank all you people for so many great messages, ESPN, Jimmy Pitaro, all my buddies at ESPN.


I want to thank certainly my family and all the fans, my -- even unbelievable. On October 12, I'll be honest with you, when I walked through the door and said I had cancer, they thought I had mild lung cancer and that it was really going to be a serious surgery at all. I never dreamt at 82 that I would be at courtside again.


MARQUARDT: All right. Welcome back to Dick Vitale.

That's going to do it for us AT THIS HOUR. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King begins after the break. Happy Thanksgiving.