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At This Hour

Ukraine: 60 Feared Dead After Russia Bombs School Shelter; Putin Defends Invasion Of Ukraine, Blames West On Victory Day; Esper: Trump Wanted Troops To Shoot Protesters After Floyd Murder. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 11:00   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with Vladimir Putin defending Russia's presence in Ukraine, Putin marking Victory Day with a large display of military might and an address from Moscow's Red Square. The Russian leader is trying to claim the West is preparing to invade the country. Putin did not use his speech to announce any new war plans.

However, the Kremlin says it canceled a planned military flyover blaming bad weather. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow. We want to remind viewers that Russia introduced strict laws regarding how the conflict in Ukraine is described and has prohibited the broadcast of information the government regards as false with that Matthew has filed this report from Russia just moments ago.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a much anticipated event amid speculation that the Victory Day parade would be used to make an important announcement about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine, possibly a formal declaration of war or a mass mobilization of troops.

But none of those things happened. What we did witness was a spectacular display of Russian military might even though the air display was canceled because of bad weather according to the Kremlin, 11,000 troops marched over the cobbles of Red Square, followed by columns of tanks, rocket launchers, and of course intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles.

In his short speech, Vladimir Putin repeated claims trying to justify the conflict in Ukraine that Russia was facing an imminent attack and that he had to act preemptively, claims that have been disputed by Ukraine. And by its allies, he also drew parallels between the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the 1940s, which is what Victory Day is meant to commemorate. And the battles that are raging right now, trying to use Russia's traumatic cultural memory of the Second World War to bolster support for the current conflict.

But, you know, there was also no indication from Putin's words that he was preparing to back down in Ukraine suggesting the Kremlin strongman is choosing to continue his high cost military struggle.

GOLODRYGA: Matthew Chance, thank you.

Well, now to the harsh reality of the war in Ukraine, dozens of innocent civilians are feared dead after Russian forces bombed a school that was being used as a shelter. This latest senseless attack comes as U.S. diplomats returned to Kyiv for the first time since the war began. CNN Scott McLean is live in Lviv on the deadly, at the deadly school attack. Scott as President Zelenskyy is overseeing a current war, he also took time today to recognize the millions of Ukrainians who died fighting the Nazis during World War II.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, of course, Victory Day or Victory in Europe Day is also marked in Ukraine, not in the same way, though that it is in Russia. It's less of a patriotic flag waving kind of occasion and more of a somber day for remembrance, and reflection. But as you mentioned, Zelenskyy, pointed out that millions of Ukrainians fought against Nazi Germany. And one in five of them did not come home. And so this is an enormously important day for this country as well as it continues to fight this war against Russian aggression as well.

On Saturday, there was a bombing of a school in eastern Ukraine where 90 people were told were sheltering underground that school took a direct hit, and it was one of the last places in this village called Bilohorivka, where there actually was room for people to shelter, 27 survivors have gotten out so far. Among the people sheltering there, were told there were elderly people and children also.

Now the search for survivors, it seems, is being hampered by continuous Russian shelling in the area. And also, Bianna, because of the advancement of Russian troops on the ground. This village Bilohorivka is less than a mile away from a river where the Russians are using pontoon bridges to try to cross with men and machines.

The Ukrainian say that they've managed to take out one of those bridges, but it seems that some of the Russians have managed to make it to the other side in their efforts to encircle a larger city Lysychans'k because that would cut off the main road out of that area.

The trouble for Bilohorivka is that with Russians in the area, local officials say that they cannot continue with their Russia rescue mission until they've managed to get the Russians out from under or out from that area so that they can start looking underneath of that rubble for any potential survivors. And as the Russians attempt to move west, well, the Americans are moving east.

And I'm talking about diplomats. They -- a small group of American diplomats including the chief of mission were in Kyiv yesterday and there'll be there for a few days at the embassy meeting with local officials. Now this is the largely symbolic return to Kyiv. It's not a grand reopening by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a step forward in that direction.


You remember, Bianna, U.S. diplomats left, not just the city of Kyiv, but they left the country in the days before war, and only last week. Did they make their first trip back to Ukraine when they visited Lviv for two days? Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Scott, a symbolic move but a significant one. Scott McLean, thank you.

Well, G7 leaders are vowing to ratchet up the pain on Vladimir Putin. They are pledging to phase out imports of Russian oil and gas in a virtual meeting with Ukraine's president. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the White House with more. So Jeremy, this pledge from the G7 nations comes as there is some pushback within the E.U. on the timing of this ban on Russian oil. What more are we learning?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Bianna. And three of those G7 nations France, Germany, and Italy are core members of the European Union and their mechanism for implementing this ban on Russian oil would go through the European Union, which for weeks now has been trying to finalize a ban on Russian oil but there is some internal divisions on this, particularly as it relates to Hungary and Bulgaria, both of those countries expressing some reticence to a total ban on Russian oil.

Hungary in particular has a pipeline that provides some Russian oil. And they say that they will not move forward on that band until their energy security is assured. So even as there are these proposals for bands from the European Union from the G7 nations a lot to work out, particularly as it relates to the E.U. to actually see how quickly that is done and what the mechanism would be to do that.

At the same time as we saw this pledge from the G7 countries, the United States also announcing several new sanctions on Russia, particularly targeting the media sector in Russia, we see the U.S. banning, U.S. companies from advertising on three Russian state T.V. stations, also prohibitions on U.S. management's and accounting firms from providing consulting services export controls on industrial sectors.

And we've also seen nearly roughly 2,600 visa restrictions now enacted on Russian and Belarusian military officials, as well as sanctions on Gazprombank executives, not targeting the bank itself, though. So even as there are some of these divisions still ongoing, the U.S. is continuing to try and ratchet up the pressure. They say that this is all intended to try and further isolate Russia. And again, make sure that this invasion by Russia into Ukraine is ultimately a strategic failure, as we've heard so many times from White House officials. Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: The U.S. continuing to tighten the noose there. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

Well, joining me now is Ned Price. He's a spokesman for the State Department. Ned, great to see you as always. First, let me get your reaction, the administration's reaction rather to Putin's victory speech today, there was no major declaration, there are no nuclear threats, thank goodness to the West, like we've recently seen. Instead, he continues to falsely blame the West for provoking an invasion. NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, Bianna, rather than respond directly to something that is so divorced from reality and historical, I think what's most important right now is a recitation of the history and the facts. And contrary to what we heard today, this was a war, a brutal war that was premeditated, and that was in no way justified. It was also a war and is a war that has been brutal against the people of Ukraine. It is a military conflict that isn't -- it has, in many ways been aimed at the people of Ukraine.

And your correspondent mentioned, the brutal strike over the weekend against the school in eastern Ukraine, where reports are that dozens are dead in that strike and we've seen many like that strike. But here's the other thing, Bianna. And I can tell you because I was on these trips with Secretary Blinken and some of your colleagues were as well, we went to every effort before the start of this conflict of this war on February 24th to forestall Russian aggression.

We held discussions with the Russian Federation, in a bilateral context. We did so multilaterally, as well through the NATO Russia Council, through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, all to no avail. And it was to no avail not for lack of effort or lack of trying on the parts -- on the part of the United States, on the part of NATO, on the parts of our allies and partners around the world but because Moscow was dead set on doing this from the start. That, of course, it flies in the face of what we heard from President Putin today.

GOLODRYGA: And also going back to Russia's invasion, we know that there was a lot of way now factual, we know now factual intel, suggesting that Russia would in fact, do that. Given that, was there any intel today that Vladimir Putin would make some sort of grand announcement, or was this just pure speculation, given the significance of the day?

PRICE: Well, we always knew that President Putin would attempt to make as much propaganda value out of the day as he could. And there's a great irony in this of course because today Moscow was celebrating victory day. Well, yesterday Ukraine and Europe celebrated VE Day, Victory in Europe Day. And it's an occasion to celebrate the defeat of the forces of autocracy and oppression and aggression. And the great irony, of course, is that is precisely what the Kremlin and President Putin was celebrating today, the forces of aggression, the forces of oppression of authoritarianism that we see active in eastern Ukraine, in southern Ukraine right now.


There's another great irony, of course, as well, because as the Kremlin celebrates Victory Day, they're doing so in the midst of a victory, a Ukrainian victory. And it is remarkable what our Ukrainian partners have been able to do with the support of the United States and our allies, the United States alone has contributed $3.8 billion in security assistance since the start of this invasion, which has been a key enabling force. It's the determination, the grit, the courage, the bravery of our Ukrainian partners, who have won the battle of Kyiv, who have forced Russia to change its plans, who have forced Russia to narrow its plans. And so we're going to continue supporting our Ukrainian partners as they continue to push back against this aggression.

GOLODRYGA: You know, it's interesting, you talk about a victory on the part of the Ukrainians. And this is a change, a shift in the U.S. approach to how this war has been going that we've seen evolve over the last couple of weeks. And just today, the U.K. defense minister raised the possibility that Ukraine could in fact, defeat Russia and militarily. Let me talk quote for you what he said, because he really did cite the U.S. war in Vietnam as an example.

And he said, it is perfectly possible that very large nations can be defeated or pushed out by smaller nations and that Ukraine will break with the Russian army and break the Russian army down. Does the U.S. share that assessment, Ned?

PRICE: Well, we want Ukraine to win. And our strategy has been predicated on doing everything we can to see Ukraine in a position to win. And we've principally done two things in this regard. One is what I've already mentioned. And that's providing massive amounts of security assistance to Ukraine. We alone have provided nearly $4 billion since the start of the invasion. But our partners and allies, including our British allies, have provided their own forms of security assistance totaling billions of dollars more.

And the fact is, this security assistance hasn't been static. It has been tailored to precisely the battle that our Ukrainian partners find themselves in. So in the early days of the war, when Vladimir Putin had designs on taking Kyiv had designs on taking the entire country within 48 hours or several days, our security assistance was focused on that helping them repel Ukrainian forces around these urban centers. More recently, of course, the Russians have been forced to narrow their plans, and they're now focused on the south and the east.

And so we too, have changed the type of security assistance we're providing them in line with the direct asks of our Ukrainian partners. We're providing them with heavy artillery, with armored vehicles, with anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft systems precisely what they need to take on this aggression in the south and the east. But we're doing something else. And we did this again yesterday with our G7 partners. We're mounting massive amounts of economic and financial pressure on the Russian Federation.

And so both in providing the security assistance and putting this pressure on Russia, we're strengthening Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table so that Ukraine can define for itself what victory means and Ukraine can actually be successful in achieving that victory. Here's what we know, Ukraine at the end of this will be democratic, it will be free, it will be independent.

GOLODRYGA: Ned, can I quickly just finally ask you about guaranteeing the security of those officials that have returned to the U.S. Embassy there in Kyiv, a very symbolic important move. No doubt we've seen other nations return to their embassies as well. And given that the Russians are focusing more on the east. And there is more sound resolve around the Capitol, Russia continues to attack it, the U.N. Security General was there just last week, when Russia bombed Kyiv, how can you protect and make sure that that our personnel there are indeed safe?

PRICE: Well, the presence of our diplomats in Kyiv, it is symbolic, but it's also substantive. And I should note that they're going to be meeting with their Ukrainian partners. They'll be meeting with civil society. They'll be speaking to the public. So it's important, the work that they're going to be able to do there while our diplomats are back in Kyiv. I should also note that this is not the formal reopening of our Embassy in Kyiv. We're accelerating that when Secretary Blinken was in Kyiv, late last month with President Zelenskyy.

He pledged to President Zelenskyy that we would have diplomats back in Kyiv. And that our embassy would be reopened as soon as possible. Our diplomats now are back in Kyiv for the time being. And we are accelerating plans to reopen the embassy. But to your question, we're doing so with a constant eye to safety and security of our diplomats and to Americans officials on the ground. That is our foremost priority in all of this. Right now, we're confident that we can have a limited presence of diplomats on the ground in Kyiv over the coming days. And as soon as we're confident in our ability to reopen our embassy safely and securely, we'll do that. We think it should be before too long.


GOLODRYGA: Ned Price, thank you as always, we appreciate it. Thanks, Bianna. And coming up, Donald Trump's former Defense Secretary says Mr. Trump wanted to use the military to shoot protesters outside the White House after George Floyd's murder and that's not all of the disturbing revelations Mark Esper makes will give you the latest details of next.



GOLODRYGA: Now two disturbing revelations from one of Donald Trump's handpicked deputies, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that Trump suggested that the U.S. military shoot Black Lives Matter protesters outside of the White House. Esper says, it happened the day federal agents use chemical irritants and violence to clear peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

Several of the nation's top officials accompanied the then President across the square including Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley. Now Esper has a new book detailing his time with Trump. Here's what he told CBS's 60 minutes about the Oval Office meeting that preceded the photo op.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the most disturbing thing that the President said during that meeting on June 1st? MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: The president is ranting at the room. He's using a lot of, you know, foul language, you know, you all are effing losers, right, and then he says it to the Vice President, Mike Pence. He's using the same language and he's looking at Pence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He called Mike Pence an effing looser?

ESPER: He didn't call him directly, but he was looking at him when he was saying it. And it really caught my attention. And I thought that we're at a different spot now. But he's got to finally give a direct order to deploy paratroopers into the streets of Washington, D.C., and I'm thinking with weapons and bayonets, and this would be horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What specifically was he suggesting that the U.S. military should do to these protesters?

ESPER: He says, can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something? And he's suggesting that that's what we should do, that we should bring in the troops and shoot the protesters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The commander in chief was suggesting that the U.S. military shoot protesters.

ESPER: Yes, in the streets of our nation's Capitol. That's right. Shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have seen another country's a government use their military to shoot protesters. What kind of governments are those?

ESPER: Well, those are banana republics, right, or authoritarian regimes. We all remember Tiananmen Square, right in China.


GOLODRYGA: Joining me now is Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns. They are the national political correspondents for The New York Times and political analyst for CNN. And now the co-authors of the new book, "This Will Not Pass. Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future." So great to have you both on again, so let's delve into your book because you also cover how Trump responded to these protesters. Here's what you write about Trump on a call with the nation's governors with Esper by the way on the line as well.

You said savage the racial justice protesters around the country as terrorists, Trump used the governor's to exact retribution while demanding a swift return to public order. Esper, a button-down West Point graduate and a former Raytheon executive, advise the governors that they should seek to dominate the battlespace in their states. In the Rose Garden later that day, Trump threatened to deploy federal troops if the governors did not move swiftly enough.

Now, as per tells 60 minutes of Trump's threats were quote, shocking. But in your account, at least on the call with governors, he seems to be supporting President Trump's hardline stance. Jonathan, what do you make of this? JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think in that moment, Esper was not exactly calling Trump on the carpet. He was I think going along with what Trump said and probably hope it gets private with other advisors to cool Trump down later. But this is an extraordinary moment in our book and, frankly, in American history. And we spoke to a lot of the governors who were on this call where Trump is ranting at them about cracking down on the protesters in their state.

In fact, there's one moment in which the governor of Maine, Bianna, turns to somebody in her office and says you got to hear this, the President of the United States is having a nervous breakdown.

GOLODRYGA: Wow. We know it wasn't just this incident, Esper ran through a whole list of outrageous proposals from people in the Trump White House, take a listen.


ESPER: At various times during the certainly the last year of the administration, you have folks in the White House who are proposing to take military action against Venezuela, to strike Iran. In one point, somebody proposed we blockade Cuba, these ideas would happen. It seemed every, every few weeks, something like this would come up. And we'd have to swat them down. The president pulls me aside on at least a couple occasions and suggests that maybe we have the U.S. military shoot missiles into Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shoot missiles into Mexico for what?

ESPER: He would say to go after the cartels. And we would have this private discussion where I'd say, Mr. President, you know, I understand the motive because he was very serious about dealing with drugs in America. I get that we all understand. But I had explained to him, we can't do that. It would violate international law. It would be terrible for our neighbors to the south. It would, you know, impact us in so many ways. Why don't we do this instead?



GOLODRYGA: So Alex we're now a couple of weeks into digesting just the magnitude of a U.S. president suggesting to shoot missiles into Mexico but that having been said, here we have Esper portraying himself as the final check or guardrail. What is your impression from your reporting? I mean, this is the same man who many have called Yesper, right, during his time in this administration.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that one of the things that we gathered in our reporting for our book is just how pervasive this culture was around Donald Trump of a serious veterans of other administrations, more conventional administrations feeling that their role in the Trump administration was to restrain the president. And I think the specifics of what Mark Esper is sharing are shocking. But the overall picture is very, very consistent with what we've all

been hearing about Donald Trump for a very long time, which is that he was a totally impulsive, totally unserious, about learning the details of policy that he would throw out these really wild ideas and either never actually issue a direct order or allow himself to be a walk back into a safer space.

You know, Bianna, there are two things that I want to flag from our book that sort of fit into this picture. One is that during this same time period that Esper is describing on 60 minutes, you have Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff telling members of Congress on Capitol Hill, including senior Democrats, that he knows he doesn't have to follow an illegal order from the President. And he's not necessarily getting into the specifics of, you know, if he orders me to shoot protesters, I'm not going to do that.

But the very fact that the country's top general is telling opposition legislators in Congress, you know, don't worry, I know I don't need to break the law. That is a staggering thing on its own. And during this period, as well, we report in our book, the Trump campaign, so somewhat separate from the White House, although not as separate as a traditional campaign and White House is testing some really far out ideas for policy that they can introduce into the 2020 conversation to change the fundamentally unfavorable politically dynamics, unfavorable dynamics of the race.

And among those ideas, Bianna, was a mass expulsion of Chinese nationals working in American science and technology. They didn't ultimately do it. The poll showed that the American people were not actually terribly receptive to that kind of xenophobia. But this culture of throwing out essentially crazy, or wildly offensive political ideas, and then slowly backing away from them was just pervasive in the Trump world.

MARTIN: And, Bianna, if I could, just real fast, I think whether it's, you know, Mark Esper or, you know, in our book, obviously, Kevin McCarthy, your listeners have heard those audio tapes, there is this recurring theme of Republicans but within the administration and on Capitol Hill, who, when Trump is next to them, either bite their tongues or basically enable him, but in private have a very different view of him.

I mean, you've heard of what McCarthy said about Trump after January 6th, desperate for Trump to resign. They're desperate for Trump to get off the stage. And I think this is what we talked about so much in our book is the public versus the private conversation when it comes to Republicans and Donald Trump.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and I think now the big takeaway is since we've had these revelations, how it plays out on a national stage, right, and what do American voters think about this? We all know what Donald Trump feels about this. He's been very public and criticizing those that have spoken out against him. Alex Burns, Jonathan Martin, thank you, as always.

MARTIN: Thanks, Bianna. BURNS: Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: And coming up Vladimir Putin once again resorting to lies and propaganda to gain support for his war in Ukraine. How are the Russian people feeling about it? I asked the relative of a former Soviet leader up next.