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Senate Begins Supreme Court Hearings For Ketanji Brown Jackson; Boeing 737 Passenger Jet Crashes In China With 132 On Board; Ukraine Rejects Russian Demand To Surrender In Mariupol. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 21, 2022 - 11:30   ET




SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R-IA): Congratulations on your nomination. I look forward to hearing from you about your record, your views on the law, and your judicial philosophy. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Senator Grassley. Next is the president pro tempore of the Senate and former chairman of the committee, Patrick Leahy.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening in, that was the top Democrat and Republican, the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee kicking off this first today, the very beginning of these historic hearings for the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Let me bring in -- while we continue to listen to all of these senators, let me bring in my panel and start off with CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, we've got a ways to go, we've got -- every senator is going to have 10 minutes for their opening statements before we hear from the judge herself. But, Jeffrey, what do you think -- what do you think of what we've heard so far?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a good example of how much Supreme Court confirmation hearings have changed in a generation. You know, it used to be that these were examinations of credentials and if the credentials were seen to be good and honorable, there would be bipartisan support for the nominee. Think about Antonin Scalia.

Think about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two justices who were so diametrically opposed and known to be Heidi -- highly ideological, even before they got on the Supreme Court and both were confirmed in the 80s and 90s with over 90 votes in the Senate. Those days are completely over. These are now partisan enterprises.

And Democrats vote for Democratic nominees and against Republican nominees and that is almost across the board. True, you have a handful of votes that are ever in a play about Supreme Court nominations. I mean, this nominee is probably going to get at least 50 Democratic votes so she's going to get confirmed but there are only one or two or maybe three Republicans who might vote for her. That's how Supreme Court nominations work today and that's just a big change from how they were a generation ago.

BOLDUAN: And, Chairman Dermott, let me bring in Tomiko Brown-Nagin. She's the Dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Constitutional Law Professor at Harvard Law School. It's good to see you again, Dean. Well, you heard straight out of the gate from Chairman Durbin noting the history of this moment saying today is a proud day for America says the Democratic Chairman.

And I'm curious, we're going to hear from a lot of senators before we -- before we hear from the judge herself but what does this moment mean for her, do you think?

TOMIKO BROWN-NAGIN, DEAN, HARVARD RADCLIFFE INSTITUTE: Sure. Well, I was most struck by Senator Durbin's recounting of this country's deep and painful racial history and drawing a contrast between the past and the present. That's the background for this historic moment for Judge Jackson, which allows me to say and I am sure that she is very aware of this, that these hearings will be teaching moments for millions of Americans, for students, especially law students, and of course, the moment will have special resonance for African American communities.

Many will be inspired to see this highly accomplished woman confidently discussing legal issues and engaging with the senators. And many will see themselves in this nominee and have their sense of what they can accomplish expanded. And so for all of the politics of this moment, that is something that we should not fail to remember, this is historic, this is a breakthrough, and Judge Jackson is very well aware of that and it will I think, gird her as she faces some really tough questions.

BOLDUAN: And in part of this -- I go to Joan Biskupic now. In part of this back and forth, we're going to hear starting tomorrow with this line of questioning, Joan, I was reading back the advice that a lawyer gave to Sandra Day O'Connor ahead of her hearings for more than 40 years ago, and here was the advice.

I know -- I know, you know where I'm going, Joan, but for everyone at home. The -- here's the advice. The approach was to avoid giving specific responses to any direct questions on legal issues likely to come before the court but demonstrate in the response a firm command of the subject area and awareness of the relevant precedents and arguments.

The person offering that advice to Sandra Day O'Connor is the now- Chief Justice John Roberts. And this is what we see time and again, right answer the question but not getting probed to answer the question, and the judges, often definitely trying to avoid answering the question, why is this?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, well, first Kate, you know, I love that quote because he had just come from clerking at the Supreme Court when he helped the Reagan Justice Department in 1981 with Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination, and she was a master at commanding lots of information at our fingertips but not answering any really strong direct question. And that's exactly what has to happen here.


BISKUPIC: The nominee wants to show that she can explain important constitutional principles, but she does not want to get herself into various arguments, you know, she's made it this far, the idea is, do not screw up now. You know, just make sure that you don't become a target more than you would be anyway.

Do not, you know, incite various senators to want to probe deeper into some area that you do not want to go into. Because first of all, she does not want to promise anything, but she only wants to reveal what will, you know, sort of get the job done and go no further. They do have her record before her, so she's not going to be an empty shell here.

She'll be able to show some character, she'll be able to show personality, and she'll be able to show some bit of her legal approach. But there's this risk of perhaps saying too much and that was always you know, it's interesting, John Roberts' advice given when he was barely 26 years old back in 1981, came before the Robert Bork hearings in 1987.

And there were many reasons why Robert Bork was defeated by the Senate. But one was that he did have a pretty deep conservative record and he wanted to expound on it. He talked a lot about where he stood on due process issues on equal protection. And since then, that was another warning to nominees to just watch it. Just show who you are to the American public and to the senators, but just don't run into any traps that are put before you.

BOLDUAN: And Laura Coates, joining us as well. Laura, I want to -- let's get to some of what the judge is going to face in terms of questioning. I want to play for everyone what she -- what's going to come at her and Dick Durbin already kind of, alluded to this when he said early like these baseless charges are unfair.

Durbin's likely specifically talking about some of what's been lined up as a line of attack coming from Republicans like Senator Josh Hawley and Hawley was on Fox News earlier today kind of laying out where he's headed. Let me play this.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY, (R-MO): While she has been on the bench, Judge Jackson, and every case in which she's had a child porn offender in front of her, she's given that person a lenient sentence. Lower than what the federal guidelines recommend, lower than what prosecutors from the government sought.

But this is somebody I think, who has a lot of issues when it comes to being lenient with criminals, soft on crime, and I just want to know, is this a person who's going to protect our kids or who is going to protect child sex predators? And we need to get those answers. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: And, Laura, his assessments been fact-check found a lack significant context, at the very least. But this is what the judge is going to face in terms of some of the questioning that's going to come at her. How does she respond?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I have no doubt that she'll respond well to something that is disingenuous as that statement with reality here is her trying to throw everything against the wall and hoping that it will stick because the talking point about being soft on crime, throughout the course of modern political history has tanked many a political candidate, they're hoping will also have the same result for a judicial nominee.

But here's why it's so distinct. Number one, public defenders, and trust me, I've been a federal prosecutor, we did not view them as enemies because they were somehow soft on crime. We didn't view them as enemies at all. They were part of a symbiotic relationship to try to ensure that injustice would not occur. They are not soft on crime. They are hard on just -- injustice. That's what -- that's what a judge should actually be.

But when you heard from Senator Grassley, he was trying to go more nuanced, I guess, akin to what Senator Hawley tried to do, and suggest that essentially, it's not about being soft on crime, it's about trying to be too active as a judge.

Trying to use your disdain for the criminal justice system, or your desire to have reform where reform frankly, is needed and suggests it will undermine your ability to be impartial about what's before you. This is not her first time at the rodeo. This is her, now the fourth time. She's well equipped to deal with these issues.

And again, what we want of our justices and we want a Supreme Court nominee hearing is due process, a meaningful opportunity to be heard, and impartial arbiter of the facts, somebody who is keenly aware of our constitutional precedent and why it's impactful, but also understand that you represent and must reflect the precedent that will actually impact millions and millions of Americans today and tomorrow and that Judge ought to look like those millions of people as well.

BOLDUAN: Yes, is -- and, Gloria, help me out with this because as Laura's pointing to it this is the fourth time this judge has now gone through this confirmation process. Durbin went to like an exhaustive list of how many pages have been turned over, 600 written opinions. But talk to me about the politics of this moment.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- Chuck Grassley tried to say you know, we're going to be kinder and gentler and we're not going to do what the Democrats did to Justice Kavanaugh but you know as Jeff Toobin pointed out that's impossible these days because these hearings take on a larger meaning.

[11:40:00] BORGER: And sitting on that day is -- are three, possibly four Republican presidential candidates. They are people who want to say that the Biden administration in nominating her has shown that it is soft on crime. This is something that works very well for Republicans.

And what Hawley is trying to do in the extreme, in my opinion, in a toxic way, in my opinion, is to say that, you know, she sentences these offenders -- these sex potential sex offenders and sex offenders in a more lenient way than her fellow judges, which, if you look at the numbers is also not true.

So, you know, they're trying to make political points against her. And one thing I think she can do as a judge explains the context in which she said things and how some of the things that she said were actually cherry-picked, in which she was repeating what the defendants were saying back to them.

So I think, you know, we ought to listen to these hearings, and we ought to hear what kind of a judge Ketanji Brown Jackson really is, rather than listening to politicians make their political points, which, of course, they always do in these hearings.

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. So this is what we're going to see coming up. 22 senators and all on the (INAUDIBLE) right there, each will be making 10-minute opening statements and then we will have the opportunity to hear from President Biden's nominee to the High Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her opening statement. All of that we're keeping a close eye on together for you. We'll bring those moments to you. Guys, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Coming up still for us AT THIS HOUR, Ukraine refusing demands by Russia to surrender a key port city, Putin's forces intensifying their attacks on civilians, Ukraine's President Speaking to CNN in a new interview, the latest on the war next.



BOLDUAN: To our breaking news, Ukraine defiantly rejecting Russian demands to surrender the besieged port city of Mariupol. Overnight, explosions rocking Ukrainian capitals. Well, Russian bombs killed civilians at a shopping mall and residential building in Kyiv. CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Dnipro with the very latest for us. Ivan, it's good to see you, Ukrainians not backing down despite this fresh round of attacks.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and despite this Russian ultimatum, telling the defenders of this besieged port city of Mariupol to lay down their arms and then a Russian Colonel- General vowed that they would be given safe passage out of the city. Well, both the city government in Mariupol and the national government in Kyiv have said no.

Not only that, but I've -- we've been in touch with Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol and they claim that in the last 24 hours, they have destroyed two Russian tanks, killed 17 Russian soldiers, and also destroyed a Russian boat in the nearby Sea of Azov. We cannot independently confirm that. Take a listen to what the commander of this regiment told us in a video message just a few days ago.


MAJOR DENIS PROKOPENKO, NATIONAL GUARD AZOV REGIMENT IN MARIUPOL: People are cooking food in the streets, risking their lives under continuing shelling and sand bombing as the temperature is minus five degrees Celsius in the street. Killing the civilian, the amount of which grows every day, now it is more than 3000 but nobody knows the exact amount because people are buried together in the same dump with no names, many bodies just outside the streets without being buried.

Some of the people are under the ruined buildings buried alive. Ukrainian army is trying to help civilians with food and water, but it's not enough.


WATSON: Now, Kate, thousands of civilians who had been trapped in Mariupol have escaped in recent days. I've spoken with some of them. And they described really living through hell. That for weeks they hid in their basements, had no water -- running water, electricity, or heat, listening to constant artillery bombardment and airstrikes, and had to dig graves for neighbors who were hit by some of this incoming Russian artillery. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable. Still, Ivan, thank you very, very much. Right now, President Biden is holding a call with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the UK about the war in Ukraine. The president will be heading overseas later this week, also traveling to Poland.

Talking about all of this, CNN's John Harwood is live at the White House joining us now for more on this. John, what are you learning about this call today? And also, the president's trip, what he hopes to get out of it?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, as compelling as the history-making hearing for his Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson is, he's got to pay attention and prepare for that trip to Europe this week to address the situation in Ukraine, the crisis in Ukraine.

He's on a call right now with the leaders of major European powers, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, to try to talk about their coordinated response. Of course, he's going to be visiting with NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday, then go to Poland on Friday, try to reinforce that message that NATO members are going to defend, as the president, has said every inch of NATO territory, but they're not going to crossover and engage Russian forces directly in Ukraine.

What that means is all the pressure as Russia gets more savage in its attacks are likely escalating economic sanctions on oligarchs, on sectors of the Russian economy, perhaps even including oil and gas. So this is something to watch as the president and his counterparts, figure out how to -- see what they can do to up the punishment on Vladimir Putin, try to deter him, slow down what Russia is doing in Ukraine, which is getting more horrific by the day.

BOLDUAN: By the day. It's good to see you, John, thank you so much. Also of this breaking news that we're tracking right now, a Boeing 737 passenger plane with 132 people on board has crashed in China. Search and rescue operations are underway right now to try to find for survivors.

According to the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration, the plane -- the plane lost contact and then suddenly plunged into a mountainside in southern China. CNN's Will Ripley is live in Taiwan with more on this. Will, I know a lot of details still coming in but what is the very latest you're learning?


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you talked about that really horrific plunge that this plane made, dropping more than 25,000 feet in less than two minutes to go from 29,000 feet to the mountainside. And then with the pilots, according to this flight radar may be trying to pull up at around 10,000 feet. For the people who were on that aircraft undoubtedly, absolutely terrifying.

And witnesses were on the ground saying they didn't see any smoke coming from the plane. They only saw the smoke and the flames after it made impact with that mountain. This is in the Guangxi region of China. It's very heavily forested and it's been really difficult even for rescue crews to get to the location of the crash but the videos that we are seeing are very, very troubling, Kate when you see pieces of the plane on the ground.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, saying that he was shocked by this and this would be China's first aircraft fatality in more than a decade since 2010, so you can tell that they're taking it very seriously and trying to get to the bottom of what exactly caused this.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Will, thank you for that. Coming up still for us, Ukraine's president talks to CNN in a new interview, what he warns could happen if negotiations with Putin fail? We discuss this next.



BOLDUAN: Officials in Ukraine today are refusing to surrender the key port city of Mariupol after Russian forces essentially laid out an ultimatum for the besieged city. Mariupol has been under constant Russian bombardment for weeks. Let's talk about the state of things right now. Joining me right now is retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst. It's great to see you both. Thank you for being here.

General, I'm going to put a map up for everyone just to focus in on Mariupol, which has been under attack for weeks, bombs falling every 10 minutes is how one officer is describing it on the ground there. What does it mean then to you that Russia demanded that the city surrender, the city's leaders refuse and we just heard this from a senior NATO intelligence official that if we're not in a stalemate already, we're rapidly approaching one.

MARK KIMMITT (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, I disagree with the NATO official. I think what the Russians are saying is, we will continue this siege, this bombardment until you surrender. You can't help but praise the bravery of the Ukrainian people inside of Mariupol. The question for the leadership in Mariupol is how long will they continue this fight?

How long will they put the civilians at risk? What is their will to defend? So, again, we have to praise their bravery and their courage but one has to wonder how long this can go on before they consider other options.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. And, Ambassador, when you look at the location of Mariupol, how it's situated, the importance of it to the country, why do you think Russians are so focused on this particular city? Why Mariupol?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, Mariupol was the key port for Ukraine in Donbass. And Mariupol has been the frontline of the conflict since 2014 so the Russians wanted to secure their Carter from the Northeast -- the Ukrainian northeast of Luhansk down through to Crimea and Odessa, and they see that as this as a critical piece in that. It's actually a disgrace that they have been unable to take it. And they are now producing a terrible, producing a truly savage, and for that matter, war crime type offensive.

BOLDUAN: And, General, Ukraine is now claiming another Russian general has been killed, this time near Mariupol, which makes at least five Russian generals, according to Ukraine has been taken out. 26 days into this war, what does that say to you?

KIMMITT: Well, I think it talks to the training and the capabilities of the Ukrainian forces. When you need generals down there at the frontlines putting themselves at risk, they usually indicate that they don't have trust in their lower-level subordinates, and they feel that they've got to go down there do the work for themselves.

Personally, I'm delighted with the fact that they've lost five and I certainly encourage the Ukrainians to double that number in the next few days. But it really does talk about the tactical proficiency and the slowness of the Russian advance.

BOLDUAN: It's very interesting. And, Ambassador, you know, in a new interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Ukraine's president is saying that he's ready to talk, ready to negotiate directly with Vladimir Putin. And the way he said it is without it, without negotiations, we cannot end this war.

You know, one thing that we've heard consistently is that U.S. and NATO are in constant communication with Ukraine. But now, there's word that the U.S. and NATO officials are struggling to decipher the status of negotiations that are ongoing between Russia and Ukraine. I'm just curious what you -- what you think that means.

HERBST: Look, um, the negotiations are taking place at a very low level and they have no status because what Putin has said directly contradicts what is negotiator said during those talks, I think for Putin, he's allowed these negotiations at a lower level because he realizes that his military is not doing very well.

He wants to demonstrate to his own people, he's looking at other alternatives even if he may not actually be doing that. He's also encouraging the West, especially people in the West who have been insufficiently aware of Putin's danger to Western interest to begin putting out proposals which might weaken the Ukrainian position. What the West should be focused on right now is providing maximum military support to Ukraine.

There's much too much dithering by the Biden administration, we should be sending more weapons and not worrying about the "escalatory capacity." That demonstrates weakness.

BOLDUAN: And there's a lot of worry about that. Let's talk about -- actually, let's talk briefly, General, about weapons because I'm going to move to the western part of the country because the Russian military now says that is carried out strikes on military installations in the north and south on the western side using cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles. What are these weapons? Why -- what does that mean that the Russians are using them at this moment?

KIMMITT: Well, I think more than anything else, it gives them the reach that they don't have from conventional rockets and artillery units that are back around Lviv and Mariupol. I think they've got a great concern about the supply routes that are coming into Ukraine.


And so, they're using these longer-range missiles and cruise missiles to take it out. But I think we've got to talk about for a moment, the capabilities of Russians, yes, they're doing a lousy job. But there is no indication at this point that they're going to stop.

BOLDUAN: Yes. That's for sure. General, thank you so much. As always ambassador, it's great to see you. I really appreciate it. Now CNN's breaking news coverage continues with INSIDE POLITICS. Right now.