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WH Faces Mounting Pressure to Solve Baby Formula Shortage; Ukraine Begins First War Crimes Trial Of Russian Soldier. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Here's what we're watching at this hour, the baby formula shortage, pressure mounting on the Biden administration to fix this growing crisis. I'm going to talk to a top White House official about it.

War Crimes trial, a Russian soldier accused of shooting and killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian, as Russian forces are blowing up bridges and their retreat from a major Ukrainian city.

And a medical mystery, the CDC investigating dozens of mysterious cases of hepatitis in children, Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to a family whose toddler is battling it now.

Thank you for being here. We begin with the growing frustration and what's turning to desperation for millions of parents nationwide. It's a shortage of baby formula has so many scrambling for ways to try to feed their children. Coast to coast, store shelves are showing up empty. More than 40 percent of formula is out of stock across the country. Eight states and D.C. particularly hard-hit reporting that more than half of formula in those locations is out of stock.

This crisis has been building for months due to pandemic supply issues as well as the closure of a major production plant in February. A lot going on here. And the formula shortage is the latest pressing issue that's facing the Biden White House, which is also very clearly been under growing pressure to also fight inflation and those sky-high gas prices that we continue to track.

Let's start with CNN's Arlette Saenz. She's live at the White House for us this hour. Arlette, what is the White House saying and doing about this shortage in this crisis?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this baby formula shortage is causing anxiety for so many American families. And the White House is scrambling trying to address the issue. Yesterday, the White House announced a series of very limited steps they're taking to try to address the shortage that includes urging states to expand the types of formula that are available through government nutritional assistance programs. Additionally, the U.S., the White House is pushing the FTC as well as states to look into price gouging. And they're also trying to find ways to import more formula from overseas. We're also told that the White House is strongly considering the Defense Production Act to try to boost supply.

And one thing that the White House is really concerned in this moment is the hoarding of formulas. They have also pointed to one bright spot and that more formula has been produced by companies like Gerber and Reckitt prior to what was being produced pre, the recall of that one formula.

But the White House is also struggling to answer some questions about what kind of guidance they can offer to families who are concerned about these shortages. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was pressed on that very matter yesterday, including by our colleague MJ Lee, take a listen to what she had to say.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We would certainly encourage any parent who has concerns about their child's health or wellbeing to call their doctor or pediatrician.


SAENZ: And the White House also has so far declined to provide a timeline for when things will return to normal, raising so many questions for American families trying to provide for this very basic need for their families.

BOLDUAN: Arlette, thank you for that. The nation's largest baby formula manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, it says that it could take six to eight weeks as we now know to get products from its closed plant back on store shelves. To ease the shortage, the Biden administration, the U.S. government is planning to help boost imports of baby formula from overseas. But that also might not be such a quick fix either. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining me now for more on this. Elizabeth, what are you picking up? How quickly could things get moving?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, you would think that it wouldn't be that hard, right? I mean, the U.S. has great relationships with other countries, pick up the phones, say please send us some of your formula. But here are the issues, those countries are using their formula. They may not have sorted this, this is the U.S. is a big country, they would have to send a lot to fill in the gaps in the United States. And I'll get to those numbers in a minute.

The other issue is that baby formula, as you might guess, is heavily regulated. And the requirements in the U.S. and in say, Europe, are actually a little bit different -- different requirements about how much of this vitamin or that mineral need to go in it. And so there's not an easy pathway for importation. It's not like this has been done on a large scale for years and years.

So they have to make this more efficient, make this less bureaucratic. Well, we all know how bureaucracies go. It may not be very quick. Let's take a look at what the shortage looks like in the United States nationally. According to data assembly, we're seeing a 43 percent out of stock rate, a 43 percent of stock rate in the country. And the shortages are the worst in these eight metropolitan areas. It's more than 50 percent of the stock that should be there, isn't there. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thank you for laying that out.

Joining me now for more on this is White House Communications Director, Kate Bedingfield. Kate, thank you for jumping on. How big of a problem do you think this formula shortages?

KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, the President knows that any family who's struggling to find formula for any parent who feels like they can't find formula for their kid, that's incredibly stressful. So he is acting, the administration is acting. What you saw him do yesterday was get on the phone with two of the biggest manufacturers Gerber and Reckitt and say, you know, what can we do to help? What can we do, on top of what we've already been doing, what can we do to move things forward here?

And so, what they said was that one of the most impactful things that he could do was to cut red tape to help people who are on the WIC program, be able to use their WIC dollars to buy whatever formula is on the shelf at their store when they get there, there are a lot of restrictions on how people on WIC can use their money to purchase formula. And so, what we're doing is pushing to cut that red tape so that people have more flexibility to buy what is in stores, and so that the manufacturers have more flexibility to produce quickly.

So that's one of the key things the President announced yesterday that he's pushing, and that we anticipate the FDA will make some initial -- some additional announcements, excuse me, in the coming days. So that's -- but just one piece and there are others, including trying to increase importation of additional formula from Europe and taking some steps to crack down on price gouging.

BOLDUAN: So, Kate, at this point, do you -- does the White House consider this a crisis?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, I don't think it's about a label. I think it's about addressing directly the need that families all across the country have. Listen, I'm a mom, I have two young kids. I'm not terribly far removed from the days of feeding my kids with formula. I know and we know, and the President knows how stressful this is for families across the country. It's why he's taking action, it's why --

BOLDUAN: Of course, you said, if it's for one family, Kate, it's going to be a crisis. But there's -- what's that -- is there a hesitation against calling this a crisis if that's what it is?

BEDINGFIELD: I can tell you there is no hesitation against acting, which is what the President is doing and it's what this administration is doing. And remember, this is in part due to the fact that a major manufacturer, Abbott, had to take a facility offline this February, because of safety concerns, because, you know, the FDA issued a voluntary recall saying, you know, the formula, the formula they're producing is not safe. And there's steps that they need to take to get that facility back online, so that it's safe.

Because obviously, the availability of formula is crucial, but so is the safety of formula. And that's what the President has pushed and continues to push and is working closely with manufacturers and doing everything in his power to ensure maximum flexibility for consumers and also to ensure that we are getting products or the companies I should say, are getting product to the shelves as quickly as possible.

BOLDUAN: Republicans say that this, you mentioned the recall, back in February, when this all happened, Republicans say that this is a problem unfolding in slow motion over several months now and blames the White House for the way they describe it as essentially being asleep at the switch. But beyond Republicans, Democrats are asking a lot of questions as well now.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, she, one of the questions that she has is she wants to know if the Defense Production Act is going to be used. Do you think that would make a difference, will make a difference?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, look, all options are on the table. The President is considering every tool available to him to try to move supply more quickly. So we are looking at all options. What I will say though is, you know, when the President spoke to two of the major manufacturers yesterday, what they said is that the most impactful thing that we could do is to waive these requirements for how people can use WIC.

WIC accounts for about half of the people who purchase formula in this country. And so what they told us was that the thing that we could do that would move would have the fastest most impactful impact on supply and on people being able to purchase formula in their stores is to waive these requirements.

So we're moving quickly to make sure that consumers have maximum flexibility. But that being said, the President is looking at every option and we'll continue to have announcements as we move forward.

BOLDUAN: White House officials have been asked I've tracked it multiple times now and have not answered the question of when you think formula will be essentially back to what people knew it as back broadly back on shelves. And -- is it -- why aren't you at all answering that question at this point, Kate, is it that you do not know or is the -- or is it an uncomfortable answer you don't want to put out there?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, what I would say is we have seen some encouraging signs, you know, for example, more formula was produced in the previous -- in the last four weeks than in the previous -- in the pre weeks, excuse me, in the four weeks preceding the recall. And we've seen Gerber and Reckitt have both announced that their production is up significantly.

[11:10:10] So we have seen encouraging signs, but what we're focused on is working to alleviate this as quickly as possible. And we are being -- we're taking every action available to us to do it. And we're working to make sure that we're getting the product to shelves, that it's safe, and that people have maximum flexibility to purchase it. So we're going to continue to attack this problem. And we're going to work to make sure that the situation is alleviated as quickly as possible.

BOLDUAN: And I do understand, obviously, there's a great will and effort to do that. But one thing that I think parents want is to be able to expect and get some expectation and plan when this is going to get better. Is it the six to eight weeks? Do you think that is the likely scenario? Because that's what Abbott Nutrition says that they can get there, they think they might be able to get back their production backup? Or do you not know, I'm just trying to understand if you, what timeline you guys are working with, when this is going to be back to normal?

BEDINGFIELD: Well, we're working to move as quickly as possible. I mean, that's the candid, that is the candid honest answer, that is the assessment, we're moving as quickly as possible to alleviate the situation and to ensure that in the short term, while we are seeing the shortages regionally, in different places around the country, that we're doing everything in our power to move more product or help the companies move more products more quickly, to people.

So, you know, it's not about assessing how quickly we're going to be back to a certain level. It's about putting our heads down and doing everything we can to work with these manufacturers to work with these manufacturers to get this this done. So, you know, again, the President is fully focused on this, the administration.

BOLDUAN: I totally get it. I know you are trying to do everything you can now. You've expressed that really clearly. But isn't part of this, figuring out what the timeline is when you think it's going to be fixed.

BEDINGFIELD: And we are working to do it as quickly as possible. I'm not, you know, I -- isn't -- I'm not going to stand here and tell your audience, that I can give you a hard timeline that I can't give you. We are being candid about moving as quickly as possible. And we are relentlessly focused on this. The President has taken some important actions.

He's encouraging states, I should say, he's also really urging states to make these adjustments to WIC, some of the states have, some haven't, he's really calling on them to do this, because as I say, we know this is one of the most impactful things that we can do to help streamline so that for example, the companies are making, you know, one size shape of container, rather than multiple sizes and shapes that helps them streamline and get more product out the door. And it helps people be able to show up at the store and buy whatever is in front of them rather than having to adhere to restrictions about what their WIC dollars can purchase. So, you know, we are taking every step available to us. We are moving as quickly as possible. And the President is extremely focused on this.

BOLDUAN: And we'll continue to focus on it as well. Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director, thank you for coming on.


BOLDUAN: Appreciate it.


Coming up still for us at this hour, Ukraine holds its first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier, as Russian forces blow up bridges as they are retreating from a major city. The latest live developments from Ukraine, next.


BOLDUAN: Developing at this hour, Ukraine is today holding its first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier and the first since the invasion began. The 21-year-old soldier is accused of shooting and killing an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian civilian who was just riding his bike when he was gunned down. CNN's Melissa Bell is tracking this live outside the courthouse in Kyiv with more on this. Melissa, what is the latest on this trial?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a preliminary trial, Kate, into the events of the 20th of February, so the very first few days of the war. Vadim Shyshimarin is accused of killing that civilian who had been riding on a bike after his column coming down from Russia got attacked. Now what was so extraordinary about that preliminary hearing and seeing that young man in the court today was that it covers the events of the first few days of the war. It is the first war crime being held.

But it is, Kate, being held in a Ukrainian civilian court, even before that very same war has been brought to an end, even as the fighting continues to rage. And of course, one of the problems with international justice really generally were prosecuting war crimes particularly is that it tends to happen after the war has ended. It tends to take a long time. And we spoke this morning, just before we attended that hearing to Ukraine's Prosecutor General to ask her about whether this man could be expected to have a fair trial.

She said that this was a trial, a prosecution based on facts being gathered by the many dozens of forensic teams that are gathering the facts here on the ground in Ukraine with a view to the international prosecutions that are likely to take place, for instance investigation that's begun at the ICC. But that she believes that holding the trial, even now beginning to hold these trials, and this is the first of many to come will mean that Russian soldiers here in Ukraine fighting now will not feel that there can be any sense of impunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, UKRAINE'S PROSECUTOR GENERAL: These proceedings now can save lives of all Ukrainian civilians on the south and eastern part of Ukraine. Because these perpetrators who are now fighting will see that we will find all of them, we will identify all of them, and we will start to prosecute all of them.


BELL: She's thinking there for instance of the 15,000 civilians cowering even now in the basements of Donetsk, a town in Luhansk that is the subject of such fierce fighting and where Ukrainian forces on the backfoot. In the north of the country, however, around Kharkiv, the counter offensive by Ukraine has been going really well, so much so that we've seen evidence of several bridges being blown up over the course of the last 24 hours, believed to have been blown up by Russian forces trying to protect their supply lines. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Melissa, thank you for that.

Joining me now for more on this, CNN military analyst, retired Major General James Spider Marks, CNN national security analyst and former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner. Thank you both for being here.

General, I want to start with what Melissa was talking about off the top, this war crimes trial. The prosecutor general in Ukraine has also said that they believe that Russia has committed almost 10,000 war crimes since the invasion began. What's your reaction to what we're seeing in this first war crimes trial as it gets underway? What are you watching for?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it's a great first step, right? I mean, clearly, what Russia has been displaying and what's been evidenced to the globe is that there are immense number of war. I mean, look, let's be frank, this really isn't military activity. This is brutality and criminal activity on the part of the Russian military.

Really two things, I think Ukrainians now taking this step whether this could be challenged. This is an international court. This is Ukrainian court. This is a civilian court, as reported. But the Ukrainians can demonstrate that there is a form of accountability, clearly the Russians will never do that. And the second thing is, it's an opportunity for Ukraine to exercise some discipline, you know, the old bromide, you know, if it feels good, don't do it. That's exactly what we're hearing, you know, Ukraine should not be in a rush to go exact revenge. So move through this process very deliberately. And I think it's a great first step.

BOLDUAN: Beth, there's also some important CNN reporting now that the U.S. intelligence community has launched an internal review about its assessments in both Ukraine and Afghanistan, essentially, to really sum it up the underestimating the Ukrainians prior to the invasion, and overestimating the abilities of the Afghans when that we were talking about the withdrawal, from there. Do you think this review, do you think it is needed? Do you do you think anything will come from it?

BETH SANNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes and yes. I think it's absolutely needed. This is the kind of thing that happened after the Iraq WMD intelligence failure. The intelligence community did a really hard look. The CIA did a really hard look and change things pretty dramatically in terms of the operations and training. And if necessary, that should happen here today. I think that there are a couple things I want to say, without being defensive.

The intelligence community has been right, both in Afghanistan and Ukraine about a lot. I was in charge of Afghan analysis for three years. And I have to say, I was at war myself with a lot of generals who are very prominent today, who did not believe us when we said that the Afghan military wasn't doing well. And so right, but in this case, we were wrong. The intelligence community was wrong. And there needs to be a review of that.

BOLDUAN: General, what do you think about this?

MARKS: Yes, well, I have been a part of that. I was one of those generals a while ago, I was the lead intel guy when we went to war in Iraq. I had WMD all over my portfolio, as well as Saddam's military and all that. Clearly, there are challenges across the board. And as Beth indicated, you know, you can you can be right most of the time when you're not right on that one specific issue. It needs to be laid bare. And that's what we're all agreeing to.

My view of this is that look, in order to determine will to resist. These are very human factors. This is not a capacity, a very specific kind of delineation of capabilities. This is an understanding, which means you're walking the street, you're smoking their cigarettes, you're marrying their women, you're eating their food, you're immersing yourself in their language.

I mean, this is what foreign area studies are all about. And very sadly, I lay it out there, the military does a magnificent job of training officers and noncommissioned officers in these fields. The difficulty is, is they didn't get cut off in their careers. They don't get promoted. So there's no incentive to continue to invest in this. That needs to be corrected.

And I think things like this with General Berrier in front of the Senate, demonstrating that there can be a path forward that addressed these kinds of deficiencies.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you both. Thank you very much.

Also developing this morning, WNBA star Brittney Griner's arrest and detainment in Russia, it has been extended, now until at least June 18th. Griner appeared briefly in court today, where investigators asked that she be held for another their month. The Olympic champion was arrested in February you'll remember after Russian authorities claimed that Griner was smuggling drugs into the country. The Biden administration has called her arrest an unlawful detainment. [11:25:12]

And there's also this, a quick programming note for all of you. Why is Vladimir Putin trying to destroy Ukraine? Can he be stopped? Join Fareed Zakaria as he is looking to experts for some answers to these very big questions. Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin, it airs Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

Coming up still for us, the CDC is investigating dozens of mysterious cases of hepatitis in children. Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to one family and here's one family's really horrible story, a two-year-old who got hepatitis and needed a liver transplant, a CNN exclusive, next.