Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Eyes On Iowa: DeSantis Visits Today, Trump Heads There On Monday; Sources: Russia Sending U.S. Weapons Captured In Ukraine To Iran; Cartel Issues Alleged Apology In Deadly Kidnapping Of Americans. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Spending time in Iowa again. David --

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Exactly. With the beautiful Iowa State Capitol behind him. Yes.

BOLDUAN: Always. If you were elsewhere, I'd be furious. David, Jeff getting kind of -- getting the temperature of voters right now. Where do you think first-state voters are at this moment? Are they -- do you -- do you see that they're ready for Trump or ready for a change?

CHALIAN: Well, I think we got a really important clue in what you saw on Jeff's reporting there from the leader of that conservative breakfast gathering group there, Kim Schmidt. Because it mirrors what a senior strategist to a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate was just telling me, which is this notion, Kate, of a eager Republican electorate for a winner. Now, do you remember back in 2020 on the Democratic side, it was all about electability?

Democrats were just seeking for somebody who could beat Donald Trump. And what a lot of Republican operatives are saying to me now is, it may not be quite at that level of what the Democrats were doing to try to oust Trump, but there is an eagerness among Republican voters in this early stage to identify the candidate that can guarantee victory against Joe Biden, that that is going to be an important thing. And part of this Trump fatigue perhaps is a concern that Donald Trump is not that guy.

BOLDUAN: Right. Because Donald Trump has a track record of losing against Joe Biden, of course. I mean, Jeff, you have new -- also new reporting about Ron DeSantis and his outreach in Iowa. What are you learning?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he will be coming here to Des Moines, the Capitol, and he'll be having meetings with some Republican legislators at the Capitol right behind me here. And really, the Florida legislation has been front and center to what this governor is talking about. It's his calling card if you will. So many people are familiar with him more so than other candidates, perhaps because of how prominent he has been.

So, he's going to be having meetings here. I'm told this afternoon, also meeting with some other influential Republicans, perhaps also talking to some people who could advise him on a presidential campaign that is expected to come in May or June. So, these key one on one meetings, perhaps even more important than his public gatherings. And then of course, he's going to round out the day here in Des Moines at the Iowa fairgrounds with another conversation with hundreds of Iowa voters.

So, it's the what's happening in public, but also the behind-the- scenes meetings that he is taking on, that makes this much more than a book tour. Of course, he's looking to earn some early support for when he's finally in the race.

BOLDUAN: And even though there are more -- David, there are more hopefuls than declared right now, it does -- it feels that this moment is more than a book tour for a lot of people. That this isn't just handshake tours for possible and confirmed candidates in Iowa. What is this moment? What do you see?

CHALIAN: Well, I think there are a couple of things going on here in these early stages. One, these folks are trying to define themselves early on. Because first impressions matter, just like in life they do in politics in trying to define themselves. But also starting to form the narratives that they want to create for their potential opponents. So, you will start seeing some of that as well.

But what is key to any presidential campaign is an organization and the financial support to be able to actually go the distance. And so, part of what these early outings to meet with voters, this is also to show through television screens and elsewhere to potential donors that you've got the goods to go the distance. That is an important piece, as well as meeting with potential people who will join your effort to work on and organize your campaign. All of that happens now, in these early stages, long before these candidates step onto a debate stage or try to close the deal upon the eve of voting.

BOLDUAN: Yes, the game before the game. Jeff, if we have time, one person who has bowed out from joining the field is former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

ZELENY: Right.

BOLDUAN: And one reason that he says that he's not running is that he thinks a big Republican field helps Donald Trump. Let me play this just to remind folks.


LARRY HOGAN, FORMER REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR, MARYLAND: I didn't want to have a pile-up of a bunch of people fighting. Right now, you have -- you know, Trump and DeSantis at the top of the field where you're soaking up all the oxygen, getting all the attention, and then a whole lot of the rest of us in single digits. And the more of them you have, the less chance you have for somebody rising up.


BOLDUAN: Do you get that sense in Iowa?

ZELENY: But boy, certainly voters expressed that exact sentiment. Certainly, Republicans who are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump, they believe a big field is the key to a Trump victory. So, I think that is going to factor into many of the calculations and decisions from candidates, are they going to jump in?

But we should point out. This is not a two-person race. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is in Des Moines right now. She's been here most of the week. Other candidates also are making inroads.

So, this is only March. It's still winter here. We have a full another few seasons before the voting actually begins. But there is a sense a big field certainly worries many Republicans, Kate.


BOLDUAN: And Jeff Zeleny will be there for all of those seasons. It's just good to see you, guys. Let's get to get -- let the games begin. Thank you.

ZELENY: You bet.

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up for us. New reporting of how Russia is capturing U.S. weapons in Ukraine and shipping them off to another major adversary. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: New CNN reporting this morning, sources say the Russians are taking American weapons that have been left behind on the battlefields in Ukraine and sending them to Iran. Natasha Bertrand has these new details for us. She joins us now. Natasha, why and how are they doing this?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Kate. So, what we're learning is that in multiple instances, the U.S. has seen the Russians actually capture the U.S. provided weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the battlefield in Ukraine, and then sending them to Iran. And this is part of the growing defense partnership that we've been seeing between Russia and Iran, which is really intensified over the last year, essentially, with each of them doing each other favors.

Of course, Iran is really supporting Russia in the war in Ukraine. Now, Iran wants help from Russia as well. And as part of that Russia has been sending this equipment to Iran, likely so that Iran can reverse engineer it, essentially take it apart and try to reproduce the weapons so that they can make their own and proliferate them, of course, throughout the region.

Now, we should note that this is not necessarily a widespread issue. And U.S. officials are able to track when U.S. equipment falls into Russian hands because the Ukrainians actually have made it a habit to inform the Pentagon every time, they are forced to kind of leave something on the battlefield. For example, when they're overrun or they're forced to withdraw very quickly.

But this could become a big issue. And according to one expert, if the Iranians are able to kind of get a lot of this stuff -- a lot of this equipment and reverse engineer it, it could pose a serious risk, of course to Israel and other allies in the region just because they're already of course very concerned about the threat posed by Iran and the growing influence of course of their proxy militias there and other malign activities in the region, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Very interesting. Natasha, thank you for bringing us that reporting.

Joining me for more on this is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. Colonel, first you. Just want to get your reaction to the -- this great reporting from Natasha that the Russians shipping some of the weapons -- the U.S. weapons that they've captured in Ukraine to your -- to Iran. When you hear that, what do you think?


BOLDUAN: Yes, Colonel.

LEIGHTON: Oh, yes, sure. Sorry. Yes, when I look at that, it's you know, pretty clear that a lot of history has a kind of repeated itself. I -- part of the things that we're seeing is that this alliance between Iran and Russia has really borne fruit for both parties. And it also lets me know that perhaps the Russian capability to exploit these weapons is something that you know is perhaps less than it was -- than it once was.

We know that the Russians have been doing this kind of thing for many, many years. But the fact that Iranians are involved now also points to a very good capability that they have to exploit the systems.

BOLDUAN: David, speaking of Iran, there's a big announcement today, reestablishing -- Iran re-establishing diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. All of this is coming from ongoing talks that are happening in Beijing. And President Biden was actually just asked about this a moment ago. Let me play what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your thoughts on Saudi Arabia and Iran re-establishing diplomatic relations, sir?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The better the relations between Israel and the Arab neighbors, the better for everyone.


BOLDUAN: The better the relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the better it is for everyone. Still, the question remains, what does this reestablishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran mean for the U.S. and the West?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's going to be complicated, Kate. And I think you saw that or you heard it in the president's own a little bit tentative sound to his short answer there. It's complicated for the following reasons. If the Saudis use this new relationship or really restoring the relationship they had seven years ago to try to work toward resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, well, that would make a big difference to the United States. If they used it to try to get Iran to lift its dictatorship over its own people as you've seen in the -- in the protests by Iranian women and others, that too would be a very big change.

We have no evidence right now that the Saudis necessarily planned to use their influence that way. And the relationship between President Biden and the leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman, is pretty poisonous at this point. So, it's not clear how this is going to play for the U.S. For me, the one thing that Cedric's good point about the weapons, and that is the Iranians have done this before. The reason that they are so good at making drones right now is they actually did capture an American drone that went down years ago and replicated it.


BOLDUAN: Interesting. Colonel, back to Ukraine. And speaking of weapons, Ukrainians -- Ukraine is now saying that Russia's use of hypersonic missiles are evading Ukraine's defense systems. An advisor to Zelenskyy put it this way. They're -- about the defense systems they say they are not coping well enough. What do you make of that? How big of a problem is that?

LEIGHTON: Well, Kate, I think it's a huge problem because you know, the systems that we've designed are not good at all against hypersonics. And you know, part of the big problem that we have is not only does that impact the Ukrainians who were involved in this war, of course, but it also impacts us. We really have to get ahead of ourselves here with developments that would allow us to better track and better take care of hypersonic weapons. And that's a very difficult thing given the fact that they travel at a minimum of five times the speed of sound. So, this is a critical component for us, for the Ukrainians.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's great to see you both. Thank you so much.

SANGER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Ahead for us. Four Americans kidnapped, two have them killed, and now the Mexican drug -- the Mexican drug cartel believed to be responsible is apologizing. That's ahead.



BOLDUAN: One of the most violent criminal organizations in the world now issuing what is believed to be a public apology. This is after the kidnapping in Mexico that ended with two Americans killed. The cartel says that it's handed over their members who they say carried out the attack.

Carlos Suarez is following all of this for us from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with reactions coming from the families. Carlos, what are you hearing from the families about this letter?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, good morning. We heard yesterday from Shaeed Woodard's father. Shaeed was one of the two Americans that were killed in that kidnapping. And his father was asked whether he knew about this letter from the Mexican cartel to the Mexican government.

And his father said he had not read the letter. He knew nothing about it. And he really did not have much of a reaction. His family, as you can imagine, is still trying to make sense of this entire incident. And they are in the process of still trying to get their son's body back here to South Carolina.

Now, yesterday, we also spoke to Cheryl Orange, she was the fifth person that made that trip from South Carolina down to Texas because she did not cross into Mexico with the remaining group because she didn't know that they were going over the border and she did not have the proper identification. Now, according to her, Latavia Washington McGee, her friend, she was going across the border to get a medical procedure but because she couldn't accompany her, she stayed -- she stayed -- Cheryl said she stayed behind at a hotel and was hoping that the group eventually would come back. When they did not, she of course called authorities.

And as you can imagine, she is also dealing with this entire incident. She expressed a great deal of regret at the fact that she wasn't with her friend when all of this happened. And she said that some of that guilt is turned into anger. Here's what she told us.


CHERYL ORANGE, TRAVELLED TO TEXAS WITH KIDNAPPED AMERICANS: I beat myself up in the beginning about that. And I have everybody telling me that oh, you need to be grateful like I really wish I wasn't extra taste added. I knew I got kids but I wish I was by her side. See, these are (INAUDIBLE)


SUAREZ: So, Latavia McGee, we're told is -- it appears is back in South Carolina. She is doing just fine. Cheryl was able to talk to her.

One quick final point. The body of Zindell Brown is back in the U.S. and is going to be turned over to the family. And then Eric Williams, the other American that was involved in this, we're told he is still recovering in a hospital in Texas after undergoing surgery. He was shot several times in the incident, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Gosh. Thank you so much, Carlos. Great reporting.

Coming up for -- coming up for us still at this hour. The countdown is on to the Oscars on Sunday. One of the big questions ahead of Hollywood's big night is could the blockbuster hit Top Gun: Maverick take home the big prize.


TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: With all due respect, sir. I'm not a teacher. I just want to manage expectations.




BOLDUAN: Finally, this hour. It's Hollywood's biggest night. The Academy Awards are Sunday. The film Everything Everywhere All At Once, it's captivated audiences, and critics but did it pull in enough Oscar voters to take home the top prize? One of the many questions ahead of the show.

Stephanie Elam is looking ahead to it all for us from Los Angeles. Stephanie, what are you watching for?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, we do want to know who wins Best Picture, Kate. And keep in mind that the actors do make up the largest voting bloc of those voting for the Academy Awards. And that said, at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, we did see that Everything Everywhere All At Once did suit the top category, so it is going in in a top place.

But you know, a lot of people love Top Gun. And a lot of people love the way that it got people back into the theater. So, a lot of people looking that that could maybe sneak in and win Best Picture. You also have All Quiet On The Western Front, which people were very much moved by. But it's also nominated for an international feature, so it might win in that category.

And then when you look at the best actors, you've got to take a look at, of course, Austin Butler who portrays Elvis, and then also Brendan Fraser, who's up for The Whale. Now, we've seen both of them win throughout the award season, not sure who may pull it out here.

Best Supporting Actor, Ke Huy Quan, who is in also Everything Everywhere All At Once. He may come out and win. That's the young actor that if we remember, he was in Goonies, and he was also in Raiders of The Lost Ark and now coming back in this role here.

And then looking at our best actress role. This one is interesting because we've seen for BAFTA we saw that Cate Blanchett won. But all of the momentum is behind Michelle Yeoh. And that she's been winning for most of the season. There's a lot of love for her there so we have to watch that. Also, we have to keep in mind. Will Smith is banned from the Oscars because of last year's incident.


Normally, he would present the best actress award as the best actor winner from the previous year, so we have to wait to see who wins there. And the Best Supporting Actress will be Jamie Lee Curtis or Angela Bassett. That's -- those are the two front runners there.

BOLDUAN: We never have enough time because I actually have some serious thoughts. I had notes. I wanted to talk about stuff. And we'll leave it for our camera.

ELAM: Text me.

BOLDUAN: I will text you.


BOLDUAN: But I'm saying nostalgia. I'm really liking this nostalgia. It's great to see you.

ELAM: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Have a great weekend.

ELAM: You too.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for watching, everybody. "INSIDE POLITICS" starts now.