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ICC Issues Arrest Warrant For Russian President Putin; Dozens Of Mar-a-Lago Staff Subpoenaed In Classified Docs Probe. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 11:30   ET



IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Being broken here with the movement of juveniles, of minors across international borders without the permission of the parents. I can also already anticipate some of the response that will be coming from the Kremlin. They will most likely deny that the ICC has any jurisdiction whatsoever over the Russian government, over Vladimir Putin. And it's not just them.

I mean, I can recall the Trump administration publicly saying the ICC has no jurisdiction over the U.S. government. So, it's a -- it's a powerful statement. It's a bold statement, the issuing of this arrest warrant. But it will likely have little effect whatsoever on the day- to-day behavior and policies of Putin himself.

It is though, a strong message to Russia and to the Russian military that people are watching its behavior on the ground here. This is just one case. One very high-profile case that has just been announced. I was just yesterday meeting with a Ukrainian police officer here in charge of hundreds of investigators and he says most of their work right now is to gather information about alleged Russian war crimes on the ground here.

You're hearing air raid sirens over my shoulder. They're -- every time the Russian military fires rockets, cruise missiles artillery at Ukrainian towns and cities, investigators come in soon after to document that and to prepare cases against the Russian military for alleged war crimes, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ivan, stick with me if you could because David Mackenzie's in Kyiv. He's joining us now with some more perspective.

And, David, what more can you tell us about this very issue? I've laid it out so well, but the abduction and deportation of children out of Ukraine, I've heard reports of some as young as four months old.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly an extremely significant moment for those that are sitting head of state, particularly Vladimir Putin, whose country is on the permanent Security Council being issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. It is very rare for a head of state to face this kind of warrant. And even if as Ivan says in the short term, it is symbolic, it is hugely symbolic. And this case deals with the thousands of children alleged to have been taken from their parents or coerced from their parents, taken from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine into what the researchers and the ICC is called reeducation camps.

Now, we've spoken to children and parents just a few weeks ago. We told the story of parents going into Crimea and rescuing their children from these kinds of reeducation camps. The most serious allegation, talks about the orphans that were taken from state facilities and into Russia, given to Russian parents.

Now, while Vladimir Putin and the head of his group that is involved with children's rights have been named in this arrest warrant, they will say and they have repeatedly said this is the issue of them protecting the children. Something that really doesn't fly with the facts when you look at these children going to these camps and being taught in Russian, being forced to sing the Russian national anthem, separated there from their parents, forcibly. Those parents often and still are separated from those children. So, a very important symbolic moment, just one case of many that has been looked at to accuse Russian officials, the president, and the military men of war crimes.

BOLDUAN: David, stand by with me as well. I'm going to go to the State Department right now. Our Kylie Atwood is standing by.

Kylie, I'm wondering what you're -- you may not have gotten any reaction yet from the State Department if you've heard from anyone over there the reaction to this. But also in the process going forward, we know that just from past experience -- past -- the history of the ICC that this can take years, a very long time for anything to actually see the light of day in terms of a trial. What do you think about that?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So, right now, it's really unclear when a trial would happen. I mean, this news just broke. But when it comes to the ICC, a person has to appear in person for a trial to actually occur. And that's really significant here because now that there is this arrest warrant out for President Putin, which is hugely significant news, the rest of the world is going to be on alert.

So, he could essentially be arrested whenever he travels outside of Russia. But so long as he remains in Russia, he will maintain impunity, and that's something that State Department officials have pointed out. That is one of the challenges of trying to prosecute someone at this high level, who is protected by the boundaries of his own country.

And I also think it's important to note that you know, one of the things that State Department officials have been watching for here is who the ICC decides to go after.


The fact that they are going after President Putin is major news here, but there is also this other woman who is in charge of the children's program in Russia who they're also going after. And it's potentially more likely that she may travel outside of the country and they could get their hands on her.

Now, we haven't yet heard, of course, a response from the State Department. But when it comes to the U.S. relationship with the ICC, the U.S. is not a party to the ICC, the statute that created the ICC. But historically, there has been sort of a contentious relationship between the U.S. and the ICC during the Biden administration, however. They have really engaged with one another. And that is what you hear State Department officials talk about.

And so, obviously, I think this is something that they will welcome because this is the first time that we are actually seeing charges brought, an arrest warrant brought for the crimes -- for the war crimes that have been committed in Ukraine. Because the State Department has said that their determination is that Russian forces have committed war crimes, but they don't actually have the power to bring about charges in a court of law. And that's why this is so significant.

BOLDUAN: But, Kylie, there is also this caveat of -- there was a -- there was a modification to existing law passed by Congress in December to allow the Americans to hand over and help and assist the ICC in terms of their investigation and prosecution as it relates to Ukraine. But the New York Times has been reporting, as we've been talking about on the show for this week, is that there is resistance from the Pentagon, blocking that kind of coordination because of fear of the precedent that it would send. I talked to the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee about it just yesterday. I wonder what this -- what that -- what that means in this context now?

ATWOOD: Well, I think it's interesting that the ICC was able to bring about these charges without even having that information from the U.S. Obviously, you know, the Biden administration does have a lot of documentation of war crimes that have been committed in Ukraine. And it would be significant if they were able to share that information.

But up until this point, so far as we know, Kate, the Biden administration hasn't shared that information. As you said, it has been a matter of internal drama if you will, within the interagency. As you said, the Department of Defense has been opposed to sharing that information. The State Department has been supportive of it. So, that still continues on. But the fact that the ICC was able to move forward with this arrest warrant for the top official in Russia without even needing that information, I think demonstrates that they already have very, very significant evidence of their own of these war crimes of forcibly forcing these children to leave Ukraine and go into Russia.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Kylie, great point. Let me get over to Nic Robertson right now. He joins us from London on this breaking news. Nic, tell me what you -- kind of hear in this -- in this announcement and what it could mean. What does it -- what does it tell you as far as Putin's options now for the future -- for the future of his offensive in Ukraine? And I also wonder what this -- what kind of message this sends to Russian forces on the ground today.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it sends a very clear signal that they're being watched. But again, the -- it's the accountability question.


ROBERTSON: And Putin is being shown that he will be held to account if he can be bought in front of the ICC. The -- to the troops in the front line, that seems -- would seem very unlikely, and Putin is going to sit there in the Kremlin and know that he still has a degree of international travel left in front of him. It'd be unlikely if he went to China, let's say after he meets with President Xi next week in Moscow.

If Putin went to China, again, it's unlikely the Chinese would turn him over to the ICC. Obviously, if he went to Paris or London, or Washington, it would be an entirely different story. But Putin's not going to be wanting to do that anytime soon.

But this is all part of the message to him. It's part of the signaling as much as the signaling to Putin is that NATO is going to stand up and send tanks and heavy armaments and do whatever it can militarily to support Ukraine. And in the past 24 hours, we've heard of two countries now sending fighter jets to support Ukraine. All of this is done very publicly to message Putin, this is what you're up against.

This also, its effectiveness is a message to him that may not change his behavior but is intended to try to change his behavior. Maybe not to stop moving children as he's been accused of here out of Ukraine into Russia and having them adopted by other family, something we saw him on the stage at one of the big rallies in Moscow recently with a child from Ukraine put on the stage with him and you know, put in the position a being -- of being told to tell her account of what happened too. He's very much associated with that.


But this tells him that the world is shrinking for him. His options of what happens to him personally once the war is wrapped up, his ability to attend G7 --G20 Summit, it's not sort of thing. The things that he likes to do to show that he's a power on the global stage, these are going to become shuttered after him.

This sort of signaling trying to get under his skin and change his decision-making trying to get him out of the warfighting mode. We know that this is -- it is not something that happens overnight. But all of these pressures are designed to have that effect, even if he doesn't stand justice in a courtroom.

BOLDUAN: And while I just talk to and you'll appreciate this, Nic, I was speaking with Ambassador Rapp about this just this week and what he said is while it's hard to imagine prosecuting Putin because he comes from such a powerful country, he also said that we also didn't think it was possible in the case of Milosevic or when it came to Charles Taylor out of Liberia, the former president, who I believe is still behind bars as we speak. So, there is that. But it did take years and so much effort. Nic, thank you so -- go ahead, Nic.

ROBERTSON: No, I was going to say it took years but it took persistence and the intent of the international community to do it.


ROBERTSON: Slobodan Milosevic, Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader hiding in a family's farm just outside Belgrade for years, ended up in The Hague on trial, you know fighting to defend himself. They all ended up there in the end. It is possible.

BOLDUAN: Nic, thank you so much. David McKenzie in Kyiv, Ivan Watson, thank you so much. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, we're going to continue to cover this breaking. A very significant moment. We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: A CNN exclusive now. Sources tell CNN, at least two dozen people who work at Mar-a-Lago have been subpoenaed to testify into their boss's handling of top secret and classified documents. One of them, Donald Trump's communications aide, Margo Martin has already appeared before the grand jury in Washington.

Paula Reid has more details on this with this exclusive reporting. Paula, the subpoenas, it seemed to go to quite a range of people. But why?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And look, if you or anyone who's been at Mar-a-Lago working either as an attorney, an advisor, even folks who are serving in the restaurants, the special counsel investigators want to talk to you. Specifically, they want to ask you what you may have seen or heard about classified documents or about boxes that could have contained classified documents. Because remember, this is not only an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified materials, they're also looking at whether there have been any efforts to obstruct this investigation.

So, that's part of why they want to talk to housekeepers, groundskeepers, and one young man who was spotted on security cameras helping another aide move boxes. They want to talk to everyone. They're leaving no stone unturned.

Now, some folks in the former president's orbit have argued this is a little extreme. But we've never had a former president before who is effectively lived on a resort. There's no precedent.

BOLDUAN: Yes. All of this is without precedent, so exactly. It's good to see you, Paula. Thank you so much. Much more to come on this.

Let's turn back to the breaking story. The top story that we're talking about at this hour. The International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. These are the first internet -- these are the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia's invasion of the war. We're going to get Clarissa Ward. She's going to be joining us. She's at The Hague. After this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BOLDUAN: And back to our breaking news. The International Criminal Court has just issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. The court accusing the Russian president of a scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. A war crime. The ICC lays out some of the cases in a statement saying this, and I'll read part of it for you.

There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes. One, for having committed the acts directly jointly with others and or through others. And two, for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or allowed for their commission and who were under his effective authority and control. Going directly to the top here.

CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is at The Hague which is home to the ICC. She joins me now. Clarissa, this represents the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia's war. What do you make of it?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a big deal, Kate, make no mistake. This is something that's been hotly anticipated for some time. two arrest warrants being officially issued now by the ICC where we are actually standing right now. This has just happened in the last hour. And those two arrest warrants, as you said, are for the Russian head of state himself, President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as they call him in the press release, and also for Russia's High Commissioner for Children, who is Maria Alexeyevna Lvova-Belova.

And essentially, this is a -- for the alleged war crime of forcibly deporting children, as you mentioned. You may remember, a significant study that came out from Yale University in conjunction with the State Department recently that found that at least 6000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly moved or deported from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine into Russia itself, that by any measure constitutes a breach of international law. And that may well be the reason that they have decided to pursue this application, although I should say that it's our understanding that there are other lines of prosecution also being investigated, as we speak.

Now, in terms of what happens next in substantive concrete terms, Kate, essentially, the registrar of the court will reach out to Russian authorities to notify them of this arrest or these two arrest warrants and to ask them to come in person to answer these charges.


We already know and understand that that is not going to happen. We have just heard moments ago from the spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, who basically says that Russia is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court or the Rome Statute, and therefore, the ICC has no jurisdiction. So, there's very little question that you're going to see President Vladimir Putin coming to The Hague to appear in the dock, not-withstanding that this is a significant moment and it's a symbolic moment, and it's likely to be the beginning of more charges. There are many different lines of the prosecution that could be pursued. The movement, the forcible abduction of children is the first one, but there are other avenues that are being investigated and explored as well.

And of course, this could also potentially, although we don't know yet, Kate, because it will depend on the individual countries that are signatories to the Rome Statute. It could, for example, put constraints on the movements of President Putin, countries that he may not be able to visit because he could potentially ostensibly be arrested. So, this is an important symbolic moment. Historically, we have seen the ICC is often taken a long time to put out these kinds of arrest warrants. I think they wanted to set a precedent -- chief prosecutor Karim Khan specifically wanted to really set a precedent here by marking the importance of war crimes that they see as being ongoing that merit investigation, and in this case, prosecution, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And it's also, I'm just kind of thinking of just the news today. Today is the day where Turkey announced that it's no longer going to be standing in the way of Finland's bid to join NATO, Clarissa. And then you have this announcement from the ICC, or issuing an arrest warrant and setting this precedent and making this mark against Vladimir Putin. Just how much Putin's world is -- has changed just today?

WARD: Well, there are many people, Kate, who have said this from the get-go that President Putin could not have miscalculated more gravely if he understood or believed that this was going to be an easy victory for Russia, that NATO and the West were essentially fragmented, that the International Criminal Court was hamstrung by bureaucracy. Any number of assumptions that he has made are turning out in fact, to be the reverse.

We see a NATO that is strong -- more strongly empowered than ever. We see Ukrainians who are getting the support internationally, but also within who are more united in this fight than ever. Now, we see the International Criminal Court coming ahead -- coming out with these two arrest warrants, including for President Putin himself.

This is significant. This means something. This is a big deal. Now, I don't think he's necessarily shuttering in his boots, per se but the symbolism of the moment is nonetheless important, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And so significant and important to have you there at The Hague on a day like today. Clarissa, thank you so much.

And thank you all so much for joining us at this hour. It's a very important day. We'll continue to follow this news out of the ICC. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts after this break.