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At This Hour

Finnish Leaders Back NATO Membership; More Russian Airstrikes in Mariupol; Supreme Court Meet for First Time since Leak; Flags Lowered for 1 Millionth COVID-19 Death. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We're watching a new NATO member and what the Kremlin calls a threat to Russia.

Supreme Court justices sit down together for the first time since that explosive leak.

And what happens now?

And a huge scientific breakthrough, a first look at the massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. The answers it may hold.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining us. We begin with a major development in the war in Ukraine and a major shift. Finland's leaders announcing that they now support applying for NATO membership without delay after decades of stated neutrality.

NATO secretary-general is praising Finland's announcement, saying the membership process will be, quote-unquote, smooth and swift. This will be significant. Russia shares an 800-mile border with Finland. And Sweden could very soon follow Finland's lead here.

Already the Kremlin said that Finland joining NATO would pose a threat and would force Russia to take retaliatory steps. Nic Robertson is live in Helsinki.

Nic, this is a big day.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Momentous day. It's not the final decision by Finland to ask to join NATO. But it is tantamount to that.

The president, the prime minister in a joint statement, very simple, understated if you will, two-paragraph joint statement, saying that the country needed time to consider the issue, that it needed time to consider it with politicians, with the public and also to speak with their international partners, NATO itself and NATO members. They've done that. And the conclusion is quite simple, that Finland

needs to join NATO for security, that Finland will bring additional security itself to NATO and that they need to do this without delay.

Those threats that are coming from the Kremlin, this is nothing new for Finland. And indeed this is why they've been pushed into making this decision. The president last night, speaking about this, said he blames Putin's actions precisely for precipitating Finland's decisions here. This is how he framed it.


SAULI NIINISTO, PRESIDENT OF FINLAND: Well, if that would be the case that we join, what my response would be, that you caused this. Look at the mirror.


ROBERTSON: So what the Kremlin is specifically saying, they're saying that they will watch Finland's actions. If Finland increases its military presence along the border, then they will reciprocate.

That has been the concern here in Finland, that they make this process of making the decision and getting to the NATO protective umbrella, that it all happens quickly. That's why the leaders are saying move without delay.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Let's go from there to Ukraine. CNN obtained new video from Kyiv that is being investigated as a war crime. Unarmed Ukrainians shot in broad daylight. Just as there are also new reports that Russian forces are intensifying attacks on targets in the east with Ukrainian officials acknowledging that Putin's troops have made advances. Sara Sidner is live in Kyiv.

Sara, Russia also continues to launch airstrikes on Mariupol as well.

What are you learning?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there's only a very small area of Mariupol that has not been taken over by the Russians. And there is a very fierce fight happening.

We're hearing from local government there that basically all the apartment buildings, for example, have been destroyed. But you have this group of soldiers and a few civilians, who have been in and around the steel plant, who have been fighting with all of their might to stop Russia from completely taking over what was a small bit of Ukrainian stronghold.

Now there is a desperate attempt to try to save those few people still left there. The injuries, some of the soldiers say are awful, people with missing limbs, they're in dank, dark conditions that are unsanitary.

And they have had fierce bombardments over the past few days.


SIDNER: Also the Ukrainian officials are now saying, look, they're trying to negotiate some way to get their soldiers out without being killed by making potentially a soldier swap with Russia. But the situation there is dire. A very small pocket of fighting still happening. But they are being overwhelmed by Russian forces. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Just excruciating to watch that, as we watch it day by day by day. It's good to see you, Sara, thank you so much.

Joining me now Cedric Leighton and Kimberly Dozier.

Colonel, let's start with what Nic Robertson is talking about. He described it as a momentous day, not the end of the road when it comes to Finland's process but a momentous day.

What does Finland bring to the NATO alliance?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Kate, it brings a major anchor in the northern part of the border between the Western world and Russia, 830 miles of border that's pretty extensive.

There's a long history of Finland and Russia going after each other in the last 100 years, actually 200 years. And there is a real possibility that Finland can serve not only as a great --


LEIGHTON: -- but also a great observation area for the NATO alliance so that they can observe troop movements even more keenly than they've been able to in the past.

So it brings a lot to the table. The Finns are a great fighting force, extensive military background and heritage within their military and certainly a willingness to defend and fight to defend their country and territory. So it brings a lot. And they'll probably bring Sweden with them into the alliance.

BOLDUAN: I want to drill down on a point you were making. You broke up for just a second, Colonel, that Russia currently shares about 755 miles of land border with five NATO members. Finland shares an 800- mile border with Russia.

So Russia's borders with NATO countries would essentially basically double with Finland joining the NATO alliance.

That physical proximity, that physical border, what does that mean then going forward?

LEIGHTON: It means two things. First of all, Kate, it increases Russia's vulnerability potentially to NATO incursions on their territory, should NATO ever decide to do that.

But NATO is a defensive alliance. It also means NATO has to defend an even larger area, double the size basically, like you mentioned, that could potentially be the site of a Russian incursion into NATO territory.

So it obligates NATO to an Article 5-type provision, which means if Finland were to be attacked by Russia, then all the NATO nations would have to join in to protect Finland. And that would be a key provision of that.

So it increases NATO's requirements to defend more territory but it also provides Russia with a warning that the NATO alliance is expanding, exactly the opposite of what Putin wanted.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

And, Kim, jump in on that, because Russia's response to Finland on this, this move, is that they definitely see it as a threat to Russia. Nic Robertson played the sound. I want to read it again, the Finnish president, when asked if he thinks this move would provoke Russia.

His response was, "Well, if that would be the case, my response would be that you, Putin, you caused this. Look in the mirror."

What do you think of that?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That's exactly what they're saying here. I'm in Estonia, a Baltic nation that is a two- hour ferry ride across the Baltic Sea from Finland and bordering Russia.

And Estonian and NATO officials say that having Finland in the alliance and Sweden means they will be able to share much more sensitive intel with both of those countries, which will increase both the air security and the sea security.

The Estonians say they've been watching the Russian use of long-range missiles. So they want NATO to start regularly practicing or creating an air bubble over this whole region to include Finland and Sweden and, of course, Norway, that is already a NATO member.

They say, right now, we're doing peacetime practice. We watched what happened in Ukraine. We have to be able to run jets overhead and anti- missile defense on the ground, not just in the NATO practice runs that we do but all the time. Estonia has been warning for a long time.


DOZIER: When we were looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia is still the adversary. We still have to plan for them. And they're saying, see, we told you so.

BOLDUAN: Tell me more about what you're hearing there because I think their perspective, these smaller NATO nations, if you will, I think their perspective on what Finland and eventually what you would assume Sweden also joining, what it means for them. DOZIER: Well, this is a former Soviet nation that got freedom in the

lifetimes of many of the people in this country, who are my age. And they have national conscription, where all the men have to do at least a year's military service and then they go back for refresher training every year, because Russia's right on the border.

And they are just very aware of the threat. As for NATO expanding to include Finland and Sweden, I wanted to add that one official told me, the planning for that is so advanced that, at NATO headquarters, they've already cleared out office space to welcome the two nations in.

BOLDUAN: That's fascinating. That's a really interesting point. It's good to see you. Thank you so much.

And Colonel, thank you as always.

Coming up for us, the Supreme Court will hold its first meeting today since the leak of a draft opinion that sparked, as we know, nationwide protests over abortion rights. Details in a live report next.





BOLDUAN: This morning, the Supreme Court justices will be meeting behind closed doors for the first time since the unprecedented leak of the court's secretive opinion process.

The leaked draft opinion shows that the court is poised to overturn essentially Roe v. Wade. Jessica Schneider joins us with more on this.

Jessica, it's a regular meeting but this time under extraordinary circumstances.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Extraordinary for sure, Kate. And the tensions are high. It has been 10 days since that unprecedented leak and the drama has really only intensified.

We've seen near ongoing protests outside the court here and protests outside the justices' homes of Justice Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh. The private conference will be completely closed. Only the nine justices are allowed to attend.

But it's happening amidst a transformed court inside and out. Outside we have a nine-foot, unscaleable fence, which is unprecedented. And inside we see the launch of the internal investigation directed by the chief justice.

If the court follows its usual calendar, we have just about seven weeks remaining in the term for nearly 40 opinions here. We're talking about important cases, not just abortion, the Mississippi abortion law banning abortion at 15 weeks, also the gun law that conservatives could remake the scope of the Second Amendment.

It the first gun case the Supreme Court will decide in more than a decade. We also have two very big religious liberties cases, a case involving campaign finance brought by senator Cruz. And a case involving the scope of the EPA and how they can regulate climate change.

So it's not just the leak that's monumental, it's also the cases that are upcoming, that we are still awaiting decisions on. So a lot swirling both inside and outside the Supreme Court as we move forward in the coming days.

Jessica, thank you.

Joining us now is our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Can you take us behind the scenes of how different today's meeting of the justices could be?

What are they actually doing?

What is the first time, them getting together after this leak, what does it mean?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this is so unprecedented in the court's history. There has never been a leak of an opinion like this or the subsequent "Politico" report of how the deliberations in the case are going.

"Politico" is essentially reporting on these internal deliberations in real time. And what the court as an institution really has to decide is how much of an investigation they really want because, in part, they really want to know who did this.

You know, this is at least a firing offense, if not a criminal offense to leak in this way. But the broader issue is how is the court going to change as an institution.

It has operated very much on a basis of trust. There are four law clerks apiece, about 36 law clerks, nine justices, 45 people. It's really not a very big institution. It's just a handful of support staff.

And the question is does the court want a real investigation, where they're going to start to put people under oath, they're going to subpoena people, look at cell phone records?

Or are they going to write this off as a one-time aberration?

That's a tough question for the court and I don't know which way they're going to go.

BOLDUAN: It's a great point. There was reporting on this internal investigation. Sources familiar with how the court operates say the inquiry could lead to uncomfortable privacy issues as the justices work furiously to resolve all the cases. [11:20:00]

TOOBIN: One of the things that struck me is when the chief justice announced his investigation, he didn't say, I'm turning it over to the FBI. He said, I am going to give it to the marshal, which is sort of the internal police force at the court.

And that's a very different operation. You know, they don't do criminal investigations. They don't do search warrants, wire tapping. If you really care about this leak and wanted to get to the bottom of it, you would ask the FBI to get involved.

But the chief justice has to be concerned about the issues of how the justices get along with each other.

And do they want outsiders going through drafts of Supreme Court opinions?

Do they want the scrutiny that the FBI could apply?

And the chief, at least as far as the initial announcement, said, no, we're going to do this within our own home. But that also, I think, reduces the chance that they will actually find out who did this.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. So President Biden, he talked about the pending Supreme Court decision again last night when he was at a fund-raiser.

He said this, "It's not just the brutality of taking away a woman's right to her body. But it also, if you read the opinion, basically says there's no such thing as the right to privacy.

"If that holds, mark my words, they are going to go after the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage."

He is saying this goes beyond abortion. He has done this kind of out of the gate since this draft leaked out.

What do you think it means?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think it is a plausible interpretation of the draft opinion. Remember, one of the key passages in Justice Alito's opinion says the Constitution says nothing about abortion.

That's true. The Constitution is what's known as an unenumerated right in the court's language. That means it's not spelled out in the Constitution. But neither is the right to marriage spelled out in the Constitution. Neither is the right to travel. Neither is the right to privacy.

If the standard the court is adopting, that it has to be spelled out in the Constitution in order for the court to protect it, that does threaten the right to privacy, it does threaten the right to marriage.

Justice Alito in the draft opinion says -- there's a paragraph that says this opinion only applies to abortion. But you know, once opinions are out there, they can be interpreted as subsequent courts dictate.

And the way President Biden talked about this opinion is certainly a plausible view of where the court might be going.

BOLDUAN: Interesting. It good to see you, Jeffrey. Thank you.

Coming up for us, President Biden also marking a very sad milestone, 1 million Americans dead from coronavirus. The president's message to the nation and to Congress. That's next.





BOLDUAN: President Biden today marking a sad milestone: 1 million Americans dead from COVID. The president ordering federal flags to fly at half-staff and also pleading with the American public to remain vigilant, in his words, against the pandemic. Arlette Saenz is live at the White House.

The president is speaking today at this global summit.

What else did he say?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He described it as a tragic milestone, as a million Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. The president is kicking off a global summit, where they're convening world leader to prepare for this and future health crises.

The president specifically talked about those losses and the collective grief that's been shared.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This pandemic isn't over. Today we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, 1 million COVID deaths, 1 million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable losses.


SAENZ: To mark the moment, President Biden ordered that flags here at the White House and other government buildings be flown at half-staff until Monday. The president used this summit to urge Congress to pass funding. The Senate is considering a $10 billion pandemic funding proposal but is stalled on Capitol Hill. The president warning that Americans cannot become numb to the losses and must remain vigilant.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you very much.

Also coming up, Ashley Judd revealing how her mother, Naomi, died. Judd sat down with ABC's Diane Sawyer, saying that her mom died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She also said the family is speaking out about this to try and to shine a light on mental illness.