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At This Hour

Ukraine Says It Has Retaken Chernihiv Despite Shelling; Biden Orders Massive Oil Release; Ukraine-Russia Foreign Ministers Could Meet Next Week; Jared Kushner to Meet before House January 6 Committee Today; Chris Rock Breaks Silence on Slap. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2022 - 11:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan.

Vladimir Putin signing a decree to draft over 134,000 Russian citizens to the military. New intelligence from the U.K. indicate Russian forces are low on morale and refusing to carry out orders.

Ukraine says Russian forces may be regrouping in Belarus to replenish manpower and weapons. Cities and town in Eastern Ukraine report heavy shelling. But Ukrainian forces are pushing back the Russians in the northern part of the country.

Delegations from Ukraine and Russia are set to meet tomorrow. Ivan Watson is live in Ukraine.

Where do things stand at this hour?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This intelligence assessment from the head of British intelligence has damning things to say about the Russian military.


JEREMY FLEMING, DIRECTOR, U.K. GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS HEADQUARTERS: We have seen Russian soldiers, short of weapons and morale, refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.

And even though we believe Putin's advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what's going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.


WATSON: Yes, there may be some terrible performance by Russian military units but they're still present here. One of the things the Ukrainian government is trying to do is enable the evacuation of over 100,000 civilians believed to be trapped in Mariupol. It has been encircled by Russian troops for the best part of a month. The Ukrainian government announced this morning they had word from the International Committee of the Red Cross that the Russians were ready to allow the evacuation of large numbers of civilians.

Ukraine has sent 45 buses in that direction from the city I'm in right now and that they've actually arrived at a waypoint near Mariupol. The Mariupol city council has just announced that people, friends and loved ones of some of these evacuees should spread the word that they anticipate the buses to return here this evening.

The ICRC has offered to help. This would be a glimmer of hope for an untold number of civilians, who have been trapped in a deadly war zone for a month.

BOLDUAN: Ivan, thank you for that.

This morning, Ukraine's president said his country is at a turning point. President Zelenskyy said Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have made no progress in talks. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Mykolaiv with more on this.

Ben, they're still talking.

What is it doing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So far, not an awful lot. We're getting mixed messages. Zelenskyy saying it's, so far, only words without any concrete action but his chief of staff is saying there is -- he has a small portion of optimism then, that the talks look like a dialogue.

They are going to resume talks, not face-to-face as they were in Istanbul on Tuesday, but rather via video conference.

So this is -- I don't know how many rounds it has taken so far of these negotiations. But they really haven't accomplished much at this point. Ukrainians, from the president on down, don't have a lot of faith in Russian good intentions. And of course, tomorrow when those talks resume online is April Fool's -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Ben, thank you.

In a couple hours, President Biden will make a big announcement to try to lower gas prices by tapping into the nation's strategic oil reserve. Nationwide, a gallon of regular gas averages $4.23. That's an increase of 60 cents in the last month. It's being felt all over the country. Let's get to CNN's John Harwood, live at the White House.


BOLDUAN: John, this has been anticipated. It's been looked forward to. It's going to be announced.

What have you learned about that announcement from Biden? JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I just jumped off a conference call, in which administration officials were outlining what the president is going to announce in a couple of hours.

It's a fascinating announcement that illustrates the fine line the administration is trying to walk. On the one hand, the administration has a huge goal of moving off of fossil fuels, away from gasoline toward renewable energy, electric vehicles, that sort of thing.

On the other hand, high gas prices, which encourages people to use less gas, are a huge burden on voters. And people are upset about it. You mentioned it, 60 cents up in the last month. On this call, they pointed out a dollar since January. A dollar a gallon increase.

So they've done a two part program they're going to be announcing. On one hand, they'll release one million barrels per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for six months, in total, one-third of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to keep a lid on prices.

It's not likely to reduce prices below $4 a gallon but it may keep them from going to $5 a gallon. At the same time, while doing that and keeping that supply up, it's a very volatile oil market as that war goes on, they're also announcing steps to try to increase the amount of renewable energy.

So they're taking steps to use the Defense Production Act to spur the production of advanced batteries, used, for example, in electric vehicles, and changing fuel standards in an attempt to, again, encourage the economization of gas. But there's real world pain American voters are feeling as the gas prices go up.

BOLDUAN: Official announcement expected in the next couple of hours. Good to see you, John. Thank you.

Diplomatic talks, as we were talking about with Ben, between Russia and Ukraine. A high level meeting could be in the making.

But what is all of this talking really doing?

Can it bring an end to this war?

We'll discuss next.





BOLDUAN: We're following breaking news. Turkey is now floating possible new negotiations between the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia. The Turkish foreign minister saying the meeting could happen in a week or two. Representatives from both countries have been holding talks and held

talks in Istanbul earlier this week. The next round of those talks between negotiators could resume as early as tomorrow.

Joining me now is former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst. Also with us, CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier.

Ambassador, a possible thank goodness of foreign ministers in a week or two.

If they meet, it would be the second time they met since the invasion began.

What goes on in these talks, as missiles continue to fly?

JOHN HERBST, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, negotiations so far have not been significant, because there's no evidence that Putin, the only decision maker in Russia, endorses them.

The Ukrainian foreign minister, in a sense, would be a step up. But they had a meeting recently, which also had no clear significance because Putin in no sense endorsed it.

BOLDUAN: What would you want to see or need to see, frankly, out of any of these conversations or talks for you to get an indication that things are progressing, that there's something real here?

HERBST: Well, there's no evidence that Putin has backed away from his maximalist aims, which means he wants to dominate Ukraine.

And the talk from the Russian military, that they were going to change their operations and not focus on Kyiv and other cities has not proved to be true. So if Putin said I'm sending Lavrov to Turkey to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart to negotiate peace, that would be significant. That would be interesting but we're not seeing that.


The president of Ukraine, by the end of today, he will have addressed 17 international parliaments and three multilateral institutions -- the European Council, G7, NATO -- all to try to get more help against Russia's invasion.

I mean, I saw that this morning and I thought, what more can this man do?

HERBST: I think you're --


BOLDUAN: Hold on, Ambassador.

Go ahead, Kim.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: There's actually a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians here in D.C., who have been pressing his message. And their request over and over to the Biden administration, to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, is we need more weapons. We need more air defense systems.

They want tanks, they want APCs and they still want more advanced jets, because they not only want to be able to hold ground -- and they've had some small gains on the ground -- but they need more offensive weapons to take more territory.

And these are all women parliamentarians, including members of Zelenskyy's own party. They also said we're going through these peace talks because we have to prove we're willing but not the aggressor.

But we don't trust Russia, even on the humanitarian corridors because, time and again, we've sent our civilians through the corridors and then Russians have opened fire. So they're very skeptical until they see the Russian troops pulling back on the ground. And they really haven't seen that to their satisfaction yet.


BOLDUAN: Ambassador, as for Vladimir Putin, we don't know really what he knows at this point. I say that because the United States believes his advisers are intentionally misinforming him about how his military's performing, because they're too afraid to tell him the truth.

I want to ask you, does that surprise you?

HERBST: No, that rings true with everything I've been hearing over the past six or so years.

As Putin has become clearly the only significant figure in Russia as a politician, those around him have been diminished in stature and they're deeply concerned before they see him about what they say because they don't want to annoy him. So he's maybe getting some information but not a clear, frank description of the problems his policies created.

BOLDUAN: It's really remarkable. Thank you both, really appreciate it.

Coming up for us. Chris Rock is back on stage for the first time since that shocking Oscars moment, when Will Smith slapped him. What Rock is saying and, also, what the Academy now says they tried to do Sunday night.





BOLDUAN: This just in: Republican senator Lindsey Graham just announced he will vote against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. In a speech on the Senate floor, Graham lays out why he'll oppose her nomination, despite supporting her last year.

Even with this announcement, Jackson is still expected to have enough votes to be confirmed by the Senate as soon as next week.

Now to this: the House committee investigating the insurrection expected to interview Jared Kushner today. The interview with Trump's son-in-law and top adviser comes at a key point for the committee. Whitney Wild is tracking this from Washington. She joins me now.

What does the committee want from Kushner?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, we don't know the specific question they're going to ask. But what we do know and, as you pointed out, Kushner was close to the former president and he may help them understand the president's actions, his intentions and his mindset in the days before and after the riot.

This meeting is set to take place virtually, so, unfortunately, we won't be able to ask questions to him as he comes in and out of the building. But this, Kate, comes at a very significant time for the committee and here's why.

We learned that records of what happened on the 6th are incomplete. There are major time gaps in the documents that were meant to track the former president's actions and his phone calls.

And that means that investigators really need to lean on the people in the former president's orbit to try to fill in the blanks. And that's where an interview like Jared Kushner's can be really helpful, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Whitney, there's also news today about the federal criminal investigation into January 6th.

What's happening?

WILD: Kate, we're learning that subpoenas have been issued by a grand jury in Washington in recent weeks, seeking information on the planning of the rally, the organization of the rally on the Ellipse that happened before the attack.

Now this, they are also looking into this effort to try to insert bogus electors all across the country, that were meant to cast basically electoral votes for former president Trump. That was a totally bogus effort but something Trump allies were trying to push.

This is a huge development, Kate, because it shows federal prosecutors are expanding their probe and now are seeking to figure out more information that the House Select Committee has also been seeking: how this happened, who funded it, the details of all of this leading up to the rally that preceded the attack.

And then also more about the big elector push.

BOLDUAN: Whitney, thank you. Comedian Chris Rock said he's still processing the shocking moment

when Will Smith slapped him on stage during the Oscars after Rock had made a joke about Smith's wife.

Chris Rock taking the stage for the first time last night, his opening night for his new stand-up tour. CNN's Chloe Melas was there last night and joins me now from Boston.

So Chloe, what happened?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, he had not one but two standing ovations. You could tell the crowd was just waiting on pins and needles to hear what he had to say. Take a listen.


CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: I have a whole show I wrote before this weekend and I'm still kind of processing what happened, like, I'm...

So at some point I'll talk about that shit and it'll be serious, it'll be funny.


MELAS: He's still processing it and he said it will be serious and funny when he addresses it. He said in his second show I attended, he has not spoken to Will Smith, despite reports.

So it looks like those two still need to talk it out at some point.

And then also, this is all happening after the board of governors for the Academy of Arts and Pictures Motion Sciences (sic) released a statement.


MELAS: They're saying they have given Will Smith two weeks' notice to respond in writing and that they're going to have some sort of an answer as to repercussions around April 18th.

And also, they added, they did ask Will to leave the Dolby Theater after the incident and that Will Smith, quote, "refused." We're waiting for more comment from Will about that. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Chloe. Really appreciate it.

For more, CNN contributor and host of "Entertainment Tonight," Nischelle Turner.

What did you think about Chris Rock handled this last night?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I think he showed, through this entire situation, Kate, that he is an A-1 professional and the stage is his home, stand-up is his roots and I think he feels most comfortable when he's on a stand-up stage, because it's what he's been doing for so long. I think he's remarkable. He's always been on Mount Rushmore for me for

comedians. And I think the way he just went back to work and did his thing, went back on tour, doing his shows.

But best believe Chris Rock is a master of comedy. So he is going to talk about this. He's going to come back. He's going to --


TURNER: -- I can't wait to hear the set that he does surrounding this, because believe that there's going to be some ether to it. He's just that good and that precise and that acerbic, so I'm waiting on pins and needles to hear finally when he does get upset about this.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

What is going on with the Academy?

They've initiated this disciplinary proceeding against Will Smith.

Do we know what that's going to look like?

From the outside looking in, it just looks like a mess.

TURNER: So many things are happening here, Kate. And I'm with you. It's kind of like, what's happening today, because I did ask the question, when the Academy released the statement yesterday, well, why didn't you say day one, when you could have the statement, that you condemned violence, that you asked Will Smith to leave?

Why did this happen days later, that you're now saying we did ask him to leave and he refused?

That, I think, would be the first thing if I was the Academy that I would have said on the outset, is we tried to make him leave and he wouldn't. So that was kind of my first question.

The second thing is we don't know what they're going to do. The board of governors is going to meet. There are several options they can take. I think we can skip over the lightest forms of consequence for him.

I don't think it will be a probation or something like that. I do expect him to have his membership revoked from the Academy. I think that's an appropriate form of action.

There's a lot of question on whether they'll revoke his Oscar. I personally do not feel like that would happen. I have spoken to a few members of the Academy, not on the board of governors, but a few Academy members, who said to me, we're not going to let that happen. He's not going to get his Oscar taken.

So the board of governors does have to be, I think there will be a healthy debate on what will happen and, hopefully, on April 18th, we'll get some resolution to a lot of this.

BOLDUAN: Michelle, there have been so many different takes on this.

Who's at fault?

What should have happened?

What should happen now?

Nobody covers Hollywood better than you. I always lean on you for this kind of stuff.

Have you been surprised by the range of reactions of this?

TURNER: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, there's definitely been, for lack of a better -- like a bit of a two Americas' response to this. And I've been surprised at some of the people, who have said, he was protecting his wife and I have respect for that.

I think you can feel that way to a point. But there's a full stop, Kate, when you put your hands on somebody and you do that during a show, a live show on the Oscars stage, a global stage.

And for me, just, if I'm being completely authentic, me seeing two Black men up there and that happened with them just broke my heart.

That can't happen. It can't happen. And then when you have also, on top of it, these two men who are A-listers, the cream of the crop in Hollywood, that cannot happen, full stop.

So I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around all the other, like, justification and, well, but this and that and the third, I get all of that. But, full stop, you cannot do that, period. It was wrong.

BOLDUAN: Full stop. Before we go, Bruce Willis is stepping away from acting due to aphasia.

What are you hearing about this?

TURNER: This has been going on for some time. And that's what we're finding out now. We're getting information that the last few movie sets that Bruce was on, that there was a directive to cut the part down. He wouldn't stay on the sets more than two days because he was kind of having a hard time figuring out where he was.

And we know, when you dig deeper into what aphasia is, those are some of things that happen to you. There is a cognitive decline in a lot of ways. So it's very sad. Bruce Willis has had a storied career.