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Oscars Board To Meet Over Will Smith Slapping Incident; Russia Attacks Ukrainian Cities Despite Promise To Pull Back; Top General: U.S. Intel Gap May Have Led To Overestimating Russia. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 30, 2022 - 11:30   ET



ERIC DEGGANS, TV CRITIC, NPR: Heat at the moment talking, we're still talking about it here on CNN, a lot of people are still talking it and I think they want to make their decision out of the glare and the heat of this intense debate that has been kicked off by Will Smith's actions.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Yes, and that's a good point. Eric, what do you think the universe of possibility is that you would think they realistically could do in terms of taking action or punishment?

DEGGANS: Well, you know I think the academy is stunned by criticism that they did nothing at the moment. Really, the time to punish Will Smith was after he had attacked someone on the stage and before he was allowed to accept his award and so to stand in the winner Circle and speak as long as he wanted to.

Now that that moment is past, it's hard to imagine a punishment that would be appropriate. I mean taking away his academy award doesn't seem possible or even quite appropriate, so I imagine he'll probably be censured or suspended from the academy for a time, something to make it look like the academy did something but something that will probably amount to little more than a slap on the wrist, no pun intended.

BOLDUAN: Yes, exactly. You know one thing that people are drawing attention to in all of this is where that -- is how Will Smith has talked about his childhood. And I want to play one part that a lot of people are drawing attention to. This is the audio from his Memoir.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of her head so hard that she collapsed. I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am today. Within everything that I've done since then, the awards and accolades, the spotlights and the attention, the characters and the laughs, there's been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day for failing her at that moment, for failing to stand up to my father, for being a coward.


BOLDUAN: Do you think this adds another layer to this conversation, this kind of, the discussion, the conversation, the debate that's come out since this happened?

DEGGANS: Well, what's amazing about what happened is that it's touched on so many different factors. I mean everything from celebrity entitlement to the complexities that black women face in dealing with hair issues in public, to Black people in conflict in White-dominated spaces, and, of course, you know Will Smith has been open in recent years about how he feels the abuse in his family affected him. There is another way to look at that, though, of course, which is that you know you're always concerned that people who were on the receiving end or had to watch abuse might perpetuate it.

And so to react to an insult with violence, there is a problem there. No, I'm not trying to psychoanalyze Will Smith, but all I'm saying is this action has sparked a lot of discussions because there are so many issues connected to what he did. But all those things ultimately, I think, are sort of side discussions. They're front -- they're interesting to have, they're compelling, they're substantive, but they don't really speak to the core of what happened.

A powerful celebrity committed a violent act on live television in front of a room full of fellow performers and celebrities and was not punished for it. And somehow the academy has to figure out how to move towards making that right and making sure that it doesn't happen again.

BOLDUAN: Eric, it's nice to have you on. Thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the U.S. now believes that Vladimir Putin is being misinformed about how his military is performing in Ukraine five weeks into this bloody war. I'm going to speak to Ukraine's former President Viktor Yushchenko next.



BOLDUAN: And breaking news. Russian forces still attacking areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv despite Moscow's pledge to scale back operations in those very locations. We've just learned President Biden had a call with Ukraine's President this morning as this war enters its fifth week. Just before air, I spoke with Ukraine's former President Viktor Yushchenko.


BOLDUAN: President Yushchenko, thank you so much for being here. Russia says that they are pulling back from key cities and reducing military activity. But the mayor of Chernihiv just told CNN today that is not happening and that strikes are now more intense. What do you say to this? VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure that the actions being taken by the Russian side today, especially near Kyiv and Chernihiv, have nothing to do with the withdrawal. I'm sure that Putin's plans remain as they were two days ago. That is the control over Ukraine. What's changing is the tactics. They will be whether this is in Donetsk or near other places, whether they want to connect Crimea and Donetsk via Mariupol, but don't believe what Putin says. That's just an excuse.


BOLDUAN: What is your reaction, then, to the suggestion that Putin's goal may have changed and now the goal being divided Ukraine into two like North and South Korea? Would you ever be able to accept that?

YUSHCHENKO: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But to be more precise, Putin wants to take an eraser and erase Ukraine from the map. The best scenario for Putin would be to wake up tomorrow and see no Ukraine because Ukraine is an example of national awareness of a policy that he is against. So he calls Ukraine an anti-Russia because Putin's demise -- the Past to Putin's demise lies through the freedom and democracy in Ukraine, and therefore, the worst thing for him to hear in the last 15 years has been Midan and Midan Revolution, this color revolution. That spelled the end for Putin.

BOLDUAN: Do you see --

YUSHCHENKO: Speaking in a foreign language.

BOLDUAN: Do you see any scenario than of this -- they're calling it a Korea-style ending to this war, where there would be this division of Ukraine?

YUSHCHENKO: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, the only thing I like about the Korean scenario is a conference that could be held after the war that would discuss security and which would be solved in one way That the U.S. would bring the troops, set up a few bases like they did in South Korea that are still there to this day, and they guarantee the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of South Korea.

So, if you mean that, if you mean that as an example of a settlement in security terms, that could be put on the agenda as a model, but the situation in Ukraine in terms of its relationship with Russia, and in terms of the relationship between Russia and Europe and the U.S. is a lot more complex than that. And you must remember that in December last year and in January this year, Putin wrote letters to the U.S. and NATO where Ukraine was not even mentioned. The main demand from Putin was with regards to NATO and the U.S., and Russia, which has been waging war -- seven wars in the last decade, demanded security guarantees. And the politicians and leaders who read these letters gave him answers. You remember the answers of the NATO bloc and the U.S. and so this is about European understanding and the world understanding that Russia poses a very dangerous challenge to security, peace, and stability with its Putinist, fascist policy. And, therefore, today, a Korean -- a Korean scenario is not enough. Not enough because there are many parallel programs behind this and including the return of the forcibly deported population and security programs for Ukraine, restoration for Ukraine.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we need to take a clean sheet of paper and write down a settlement for peace and security in Ukraine and reforms with many European and Pan-European institutions.

BOLDUAN: President Zelenskyy. He has been praised for his leadership from all around the world through this war. What do you think of his leadership in this wartime, President?

YUSHCHENKO: Speaking in a foreign language.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's done great. I think he's been persistent, he's been active, appropriate sometimes on the edge of diplomacy, but he's been very clear in expressing the hope and expectations of my nation, my army, and my people. So I applaud him. I applaud what Zelenskyy has done.

BOLDUAN: Former President Viktor Yushchenko, thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: And coming up for us, new reporting on why the U.S. may have overestimated Russia's military capabilities ahead of the invasion.



BOLDUAN: The top U.S. general in Europe says there could be a gap in intelligence that caused the U.S. to overestimate Russia's military capabilities ahead of the Ukraine invasion, which has also led analysts -- which also led analysts to believe that Kyiv would fall in days, which we know did not happen. Joining me right now with some interesting perspective on this is former Republican Congressman, former CIA officer, Will Hurd. He's also the author of the new book American Reboot: An idealist's guide to getting big things done. Congratulations on the book.



BOLDUAN: And thank you for being here. It's been a long time since we've seen you in person. This gap in intelligence, if we can start there first, does that surprise you? Does it concern you? How is that possible?

HURD: I think when everybody is talking about this gap we're actually talking about two things, intelligence can this unit do X, Y, and Z, or what does that mean? And so, look, the information on the plans and intentions of Vladimir Putin is really hard because he has such -- to understand that is really hard because he had such a small group of people around him. But was the analysis of the intelligence provided done wrong? Potentially, and it could have been impacted, to be frank, on the disastrous departure from Afghanistan.

BOLDUAN: Do you think so?

HURD: Absolutely. So the intelligence community collects information to inform policymakers. Policymakers make decisions in the assessment of that information. So it's too -- I'm getting in the weeds a little bit here --

BOLDUAN: No, but it's --

HURD: But it's important because as a former Intelligence officer, you know I spent almost a decade you know recruiting spies and stealing secrets. I think it's important to be precise on what we're talking about.

BOLDUAN: Do you think, to you, obviously from the outside looking in right now, do you think that could mean -- does it concern you that intelligence currently, with what they're trying to work within Ukraine, is lacking then?

HURD: Well, we know that the Russians have the ability to administer death and destruction.


HURD: Look at what's happening in Mariupol. The fact the Russians can do that in other places, this is -- we know this the evidence is there. So the question is why haven't the Russians decided to do that in other places? That's a difficult question to collect information on. And the bottom line is this. We need to be thinking about what are those preconditions for a victory? And part of that, in my opinion, is we have to start giving the Ukrainians as much equipment as they possibly can in order for them to win the fight. There's momentum. We need to be able to give them more information -- more support.

BOLDUAN: That gets to the fundamental question that we think -- Russia saying one thing and doing another, not being able to trust Russia's word. We see example after example now. But on some level if you can't trust anything Russia is saying, how do you end this war?

HURD: You end this war by making sure the Ukrainians continue to put pressure on the Russian troops, right? You continue to disrupt the supply chains, you continue to send -- and this is -- this is -- this is harsh and callous, Russian troops home in body bags, right? This is unfortunate. This is the only thing that Vladimir Putin understands. I know a little thing about bullies. You know this is actually one of those stories I tell in my book about

how -- the way you deal with bullies is the only thing that they understand is power. And we have to show that. And we've underestimated what the Ukrainians are capable of. Imagine if they had even more equipment to do what they need to do. This notion that the Ukrainians are going to give up anything in order to end this war, I don't think that's possible.

And what the Russians are willing to accept? We will know this is over when Russian troops leave Ukraine the same way they had to leave Afghanistan in the '80s.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk more about your book. In American Reboot, it's about getting the country back on track. Your guide, your stories, part memoir as well. And you have -- when you talk about getting the country back on track, that includes your party.

HURD: Sure.

BOLDUAN: It's not just about Democrats. And I heard you say that you think Donald Trump's power is waning. But if that's the case, I mean that is not reflective right now in the Representatives in Congress, our elected lawmakers at the moment. I mean wouldn't you agree? So how do you fix it?

HURD: I don't disagree with that, but there's evidence around the country. Just look at Mo Brooks, right?


HURD: You know the fact that he's willing to separate from the president. There are a number of --

BOLDUAN: When they were so close.

HURD: When they were so close. There were a number of special elections. There was one in north -- in North Texas where the person that was supported by Donald Trump lost. Does he have a vocal, avid group of followers? Absolutely, he does. Are a lot of members in congress still flying down to Mar-A-Lago to kiss the ring and bend the knee? Of course. But that is not -- it doesn't have to be that way. And the reality is, and some might say, hey, this is too rosy a picture of painting about where things are going to be.

BOLDUAN: Some are definitely going to say that.

HURD: Look, there -- we got to work towards it, right? This is a vision we have to work towards and we can do it if more people won elections the way I won elections, right?


HURD: I was a Black republican in a 71 percent Latino district that nobody thought -- the same people that say I'm crazy now said they had no chance of winning elections.


HURD: And so the reality is -- it's hard. It's not easy. But guess what, one of the things I talk about in the book, stop fighting the wars of the past and fight the wars of the future. The opportunity is to talk to the middle of the country that is sick and tired of where things are. 72 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. We don't have to stay on this -- on this path. I talk about one of the lessons I learned in the CIA. Get off the X right, so we can do it.

BOLDUAN: So -- wait a second. I know -- you know I'm hearing this, and when someone you know recently leaves office, writes a memoir, and especially if it says American in the title, you know people are going to ask the question do you want to be president. Do you?

HURD: Look, if I can serve my country again in the future, then I will. It's really flattering -- it's really flattering that you write a really good book and everybody thinks you're going to run for president. But for me, the thing I think I can do is put some ideas on how to do the hard work in order to get out of this moment that we're in because --

BOLDUAN: I like the idea about talking about ideas not just hitting the other guy. That's something good.

HURD: 100 percent.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

HURD: Good to see you. Of course, my pleasure, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Congratulations on the book. Before we go, everyone, I want to get you -- with you I want to get up to date on the 5 Stories you need to know to start your day. We have something for you. Please join me each morning on my new CNN Plus show, 5 Things at 7 a.m. Eastern and always available on demand. You can sign up at Thank you so much for being here. CNN's coverage of Russia's war in Ukraine continues after this. Thank you.