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At This Hour

Russia Unleashes Largest Strikes On Ukraine Since Invasion; Putin Blames Ukraine For Crimea Bridge Explosion; Trump, Republicans Defend Walker Amid Abortion Allegations. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 10, 2022 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone At This Hour, Russia retaliates. A playground, a park, power plants, and civilian water supplies, all targets in this fresh assault. Plus, anger and apologies after Latino members of the L.A. City Council are caught on tape and making racist remarks.

And also no laughing matter, a heckler goes too far throwing a beer at a comedian in the middle of her set. But it's how the comedian responded that has everyone talking. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thank you so much for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. Russia, unleashing a barrage of missiles across Ukraine, few cities were spared and what could be the broadest assault against civilians and civilian infrastructure since the invasion began. At least 11 civilians have been killed, dozens more people injured.

Vladimir Putin is boasting about the strikes. He says they are in retaliation for the attack over the weekend of a key bridge linking Russia to annex Crimea. Putin going as far as trying to accuse Ukraine of terrorism as images like these are broadcast all over the world.

Ukraine's president is holding emergency talks with G7 leaders today about how to respond to this. Let's get straight to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He's live in Kyiv for us. Fred, cities all over Ukraine, were bombarded and just pounded. But look at what's just behind you, even a playground in Kyiv.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- also said and when he was addressing a Security Council is that he said the Russians hit command and communications infrastructure of the Ukrainian military. But as you can see behind me, this is definitely not command or communications infrastructure from the Ukrainian military. In fact, this is a playground in central Kyiv that took a direct hit.

And if you look at down there, that's the crater from the rocket or the missile that impacted here. And it's absolutely massive. I'd say it's about, you know, 15 to 18 feet deep and obviously very wide. And we are literally on the area of this playground with obviously a lot of bystanders coming here now.

And just to give you an idea where we are, Kate, we are right in the center of Kyiv. This is the center of the capital city. And this is certainly one of the places that really took a lot of hits from the Russian military.

And just around the corner from here, we were there earlier, actually right after these rocket attacks happened. And there was also a crossing, a road crossing that was hit as well. And there, there was just an absolute scene of carnage.

There were a lot of vehicles that were destroyed. It was next to a museum and a university building, several dead bodies on the road there as well that were later cleared by some of those emergency response crews.

But, you know, it's definitely the areas here inside the city inside the center of Kyiv, where a lot of infrastructure was hit. And I was able to speak to the deputy head of the presidential administration of Ukraine a little earlier. And he told me that while there was obviously a lot of issues for the Ukrainians, they are not going to be intimidated. Here's what he said.


MAYOR VITALI KLITSCHKO, KYIV, UKRAINE: Everybody angry and want to fight to defend our family and our houses. It's our children. It's our home. And that's why instead panic, people will be angry and want to defend our future.


PLEITGEN: That was actually the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, saying that's to me a little bit earlier. But that really is the mood here in Kyiv. It certainly is one of defiance here by the citizens here, the city, despite the fact that there was some infrastructure that has been hit, there are still areas here in the capital city, Kate, that are without power.

BOLDUAN: So all right, Fred, thank you so much for that.

So Putin's response to all of this, appearing in a televised speech, the Russian leader warned of a more severe response if Ukraine carries up further attacks. CNN's Nic Robertson is tracking this for us. He's in London. Nic, is it clear what he means when he's warning of even more severe, even -- of an even more severe response?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It isn't. And this I think, these strikes 84 cruise missiles, 24 drones is what the Ukrainians say were fired at them from Russian territory today, that this is an indication of the direction that Putin will go in. He's attacking the energy infrastructure, the threat implicit and what he's doing here is that Ukrainians could have a very cold and a very harsh winter.

The reality for Putin at the moment is he is not winning on the ground in Ukraine. The reverse, he is losing ground, he is losing troops. He is under a huge amount of pressure from populace TV commentators back in Russia to hit back and hit back harder. And this has been his response. We understand that it's arsenal of large weapons is limited, like these cruise missiles. So this is a significant strike and a significant action for Putin. But he is very clearly threatening more.



PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): In terms of further act of terrorism on the turf of Russia, the Russia reply will be harsh and will be corresponding to the level of threat to the Russian Federation have no doubt about it.


ROBERTSON: The reality for Putin is these big strikes on significant cities, on significant infrastructure in Ukraine are not going to turn the tide of the war, the narrative at home will continue to put pressure on him, to do more, and when so this could be as we heard from the French president today, a profound change in the war, an escalation from Putin's side.

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

Joining me now for more on exactly what Nic was talking about. The question here, CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall. He's a former Chief of Russia Operations for the CIA. General, kind of let's start where we just left off with Nic Robertson, I mean, your reaction to what to what we've seen overnight this morning, what really could be the broadest assault against civilians and civilian infrastructure since the Russian invasion began?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Kate. It's interesting, because you started off the report by saying that Putin was boasting about the strikes. And from a military perspective, there's nothing to boast about. He is doing this as a reaction to the Kerch Strait. It's to show his domestic audience that he's reacting. And it's an attempt to hit mostly random and mostly civilian targets, which are difficult for Ukraine to defend against.

But the thing is, Putin has been threatening so much since the very beginning. But every action he has taken thus far has failed. This is showing him as kind of a one trick pony. The only thing he is able to do, the only way he is able to react to every setback is with missile and artillery strikes. But it isn't obtaining or achieving any military operations or strategic objectives.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Steve, Putin says he personally ordered the attack, retaliation for the blasts that damaged that key bridge that the General is just talking about, this Russian, this bridge that connects Russia to annex Crimea, that blast happening over the weekend.

Why is this such a slap in the face for Putin? Why is the attack on a bridge the thing to sparks such apparent retaliation when they've been losing ground for weeks?

Steve, can you hear me? I don't think we have a connection. We're going to work on the connection with Steve Hall. But what do you think General about that? Why do you think it was this?

HERTLING: It's easy, and I would have liked to have heard Steve's comments on this. But from a military perspective, a couple of things, Kate, it significantly affects Russia's ability to conduct logistics operations in a relative safe haven, which they've been doing from the very beginning with that bridge.

It's the -- it's where it's Russia's ability to move and maneuver reinforcements from the north to the south because they have to use a series of relatively limited road networks to do that.

And when you take away this supply lines, it causes even more traffic jams on roads like the M-4 Roadway from Rostov. Informationally, the Russian people know about this strike, they are either whether they're furious or amazed about Ukraine that occurred, they still can't understand how Ukrainians were able to do this against a bridge that Putin claimed was defended by multiple means, and was the road to the so called his quote, not mine, Russia and holy land of Crimea.

And then finally, emotionally, I'll just say it, he's pissed and pissed off leaders do bizarre things. The cost of this missile strike today against civilian target is evidence of that. He likely spent hundreds of millions of dollars and wasted a good portion of his missile force on civilian targets that, as I said earlier, don't result in any measurable objectives. So it just shows a continuation of a doubling down for no strategic goals or metrics.

BOLDUAN: Steve, I want to hear your perspective. I think you can hear us now. Just your perspective on what the General and I were just talking about just why was Putin reacting in this way? Why is this attack on a bridge such a slap in Putin's face?


STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think Mark got it absolutely right. I mean, Putin is pissed because this was his personal deal. I mean, the bridge to, you know, the Kerch bridge was, of course, not just, you know, an engineering accomplishment, which it was, this was connecting this part that Putin has long made erroneous and silly claims of, you know, Crimea, that part of Ukraine was going to be part of Russia.

And so to have the Ukrainians apparently, basically strike it that symbol, not only is going to, of course, irritate Vladimir Putin, but it's going to have him looking over his shoulder saying, OK, what are the Russian people thinking? What are my powerful compatriots here in Moscow thinking about all of this?

And how can I best respond? And although I didn't hear Mark's initial comments, and I'll defer to the military experts on this, you know, just lobbing bombs to Ukraine may be emotionally satisfying for Putin. But whether or not it's really effective, I think, remains to be seen. BOLDUAN: I think that's -- and that's exactly what General Hertling was saying without any strategy with this that's going to get him any closer to his strategic goals in Ukraine. It's great to see you both. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

All right, so North Korea says that these -- that its recent string of missile launches, were a simulation of a nuclear attack on South Korea. The North has now tested ballistic missiles seven times in the last several weeks with state media releasing pictures of Kim Jong-un overseeing the drills. CNN's Will Ripley is live in Taipei, Taiwan for us. He's been tracking this all weekend. Will, it all feels like it's building up to something but what does this all mean?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, with the caveat that people ask me what it means with North Korea. And I feel like every time that I tried to say what it means, and it means something completely different.

For example, you know, they didn't publicize any of these blitz of ballistic missile tests for six months. Silence. I was thinking maybe it's because they're -- it's not for about domestic propaganda, then, of course, today's a big anniversary of the ruling Workers Party Foundation.

And then you have this multi page spread with Kim Jong-un in at least three or four completely different like custom outfits that matched like the location where he's firing the missiles.

It was all building up to this big propaganda blitz at home, showing him, you know, on this anniversary of the Workers Party, you know, launching, you know, missiles that North Korea says are tactical nuclear warhead capable, missiles that could be used against the 36,000 U.S. service members who were stationed in South Korea, the biggest military base outside of the mainland U.S., Kate.

And so when Kim Jong-un appears with a nuclear combat force that he says is fully ready to hit and wipe out. You can understand now why there's increased military activity by the United States, South Korea, and Japan in this region, because it is really ratcheting up tensions and nobody knows where it's going except probably further escalation because Kim's not interested in diplomacy right now.

BOLDUAN: Will, thank you so much for being on top of it. It's good to see you.


So the countdown is on to the midterm elections. Republicans focusing in hard on Georgia right now we're a tight race and a controversy over abortion could determine control of the Senate. That's next.


BOLDUAN: The 2022 midterms now just four weeks away. In Georgia, early voting starts one week from today. Two Republican senators are now headed there tomorrow to try and help out the scandal played campaign of Republican candidate Herschel Walker just as he faces a new report, another report, this one from "The New York Times" that he not only paid for an ex-girlfriend to get an abortion but also urged her to end a second pregnancy two years later.

CNN's Eva McKend is live in Washington tracking all of this for us. Eva, Republicans have struggled to decide how much to embrace walker or keep him at arm's length for quite some time. What is tomorrow's visit mean?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, tomorrow, Senator Rick Scott who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That's the organization that fundraisers for Republican Senate candidates and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, they'll stump for Walker in Carrollton, Georgia.

And Kate, this just illustrates how consequential this Senate seat is the full weight of the Republican establishment going all in for Walker. And that's why perhaps we've seen Democrats relatively quiet in the wake of this scandal, because this is quickly becoming a galvanizing issue for the right.

Here's what Senator Scott is telling us. He says, quote, I'm proud to stand with Herschel Walker and make sure Georgians know he will always fight to protect them from the forces trying to destroy Georgia values and Georgia's economy. You know, this is so striking because Republicans have for a long time made being antiabortion, vehemently antiabortion is central issue.

But they aren't really dealing with the allegations directly, instead calling in the Calvary to boost Walker, almost framing him, Kate, as a victim, another conservative that has been wronged by Democrats, talking about character assassination.

And then of course, you have a Trump aligned Super PAC a saying that they will pump millions into the race in the final days as well. So really, Republicans across the country are doing all they can to support the embattled Senate candidate. Kate?

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

Here with me now CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, she's a senior political correspondent for The New York Times. And Maggie is also the author of the new book "Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America." It's good to see you, Maggie. Good to have you here.

So a question that is yet to be answered and will be soon enough is Eva's kind of laying it out is all of this scandal enough for Walker to lose is that the reason he loses, if he does lose in the end. We'll know soon enough when the midterms happen. But do you also see it as yet another study of kind of this question that has been discussed for so long? Is the rule breaking the rules that applied only to Trump? Can they apply to other candidates?

[11:20:20] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it is a big test of that. And I think that Trump remains sui generis. I think that even if Walker wins, it isn't necessarily because therefore, he's just like Trump.

But it certainly does mean that he has used the Trump playbook and in some ways, it's actually more so because Trump and I've been thinking about this what happened after Access Hollywood with that tape in 2016, Trump gave a pretty qualified apology, but he did -- still did address it and say, I'm sorry, XYZ, that's really not what we're seeing here at all.

And so this is a test not just of sort of Trump rules in general, and whether scandal sticks, but whether if you just say forget it, I refuse to acknowledge this at all, if that helps you. The other piece is this is a real test of a celebrity candidacy. And I think we're going to see whether celebrity ends up outweighing whatever new information voters hear.

BOLDUAN: It's a great point. You talked to Donald Trump in one of your many conversations with him for the book about Walker's complicated past. I want to play a little bit of this for everybody.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Georgia, think about Georgia. In Georgia, Herschel, they did the ballot t to Herschel. They did ballots. You know how great a football player?

Do you know that he was in University of Georgia, he was the best football player in the nation by far. He's the best football player in the history of Georgia. And for the most part, in the history of the country. You know, as a running back, he's a top three or four running back.

HABERMAN: Yes, but he has a complicated personal history which is what they're worried about.

TRUMP: He does, but do you know that it's a personal history that 10 years ago, maybe it would have been a problem? Twenty years ago it would have been a bigger problem. I don't think it's a problem today.

HABERMAN: Why is that? Why do you think that's changed?

TRUMP: Because the world is changing.


BOLDUAN: What struck you about that conversation?

HABERMAN: I was fascinated by that exchange. And I should just note when it was. It was a little over a year ago at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey. And he started talking about Walker.

At a moment when a lot of Republican leaders were not comfortable with Walker, and we're still hoping that he would not be the nominee, this is before Mitch McConnell essentially threw in the towel and decided that he would get behind him. But the Trump was sort of proudly saying, you know, we're talking about domestic violence allegations. I mean, that was the context here.

And Trump was saying, this doesn't matter. None of this matters. You know what everything is kind of flat and the same, and nothing stands out for voters anymore in the world has changed. What I was trying to get from him is would he acknowledged that he played a role in changing it, and he did not go there.

BOLDUAN: No, he did not. He really didn't. I mean, you explore throughout the book, what motivates Trump where the where this stuff comes from that we get from Trump. What he does, why he does it, it not only informs what you know in the past, but it can also inform what it means for Donald Trump in the future if he runs again?

This weekend, we, I would think maybe we got a little bit of a window into that at a rally seeing really the same playbook of talking about crowd size, this time with a twist of talking about the crowd size, on January 6th, right before the insurrection this at a rally. Let me play this for everybody.


TRUMP: They never want to show how massive a crowd was, you know, the biggest crowd I've ever seen? January 6th, and you never hear that. It was biggest. And they were there, they were there largely to protest a corrupt and rigged and stolen election, so biggest crowd and you never hear that. And you see very few pictures of it. But they're there. That was the biggest crowd I believe I've ever spoken to.


BOLDUAN: I mean, there's a lot there. But what do you see in that? Where does that singular focus come from?

BOLDUAN: I want to just start with one point, which is that obviously he's focusing on the part that is not what was significant about that day and his crowd. But also, that was not the biggest crowd that he's ever spoken to.

And so I understand that one of the things that I explore in the book is how he says things that are just patently not true. And by the time people catch up to him and fact checks, it doesn't really move, it doesn't matter at that point.

But he's so singularly focused on attention. And he's so singularly focused on, you know, people adoring him and resonating and selling himself with, you know, his customers, with voters. That was what stood out to me.

And that is where he is going to narrowly, you know, have his focus if he does run again. He said something to me in one of our interviews about that, he said, you know, the question he gets asked more than any other is would he do it again? And I said, what's the answer? And he said he thinks he would, because the way he looks at it, he has so many rich friends and nobody knows who they are. And it was pretty striking. And I think real response, you know, I think his entire focus on possibly being President started decades ago.

And it was about the maximum way to get attention and I think he will continue to see that. I do think that he misses the power of the office. And I think that is now, wish he didn't understand before he had it. I think that's a piece of it, too.


BOLDUAN: That's interesting. It's great to see you, Maggie. Thank you so much for coming in. Maggie's book "Confidence Man," you can buy it today.

Coming up for us, we're going to head back to Ukraine, next. A key Ukrainian official is going to join us following the Russian bombardment of cities across the country. One woman in Kyiv, even capturing the moment, a rocket strike hit just feet from where she was standing.