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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russia Proposes New Ceasefire Starting Wednesday In Five Ukrainian Cities; U.S. Intel Estimates 2,000 To 4,000 Russian Troops Killed In Ukraine; Biden Bans Russian Oil, Natural Gas, Coal Imports To U.S.; U.N. Estimates 2,000,000 Refugees Have Fled Ukraine; WNBA Star Brittney Griner Detained On Drug Charges Since Last Month; Jury Finds Texas Man Guilty On All Counts In First January 6 Trial. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 08, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: She posted this video on Instagram and she wrote that it's a song her grandmother used to sing at family gatherings. She says her grandmother survived the occupation of Kharkiv in the 1940s and the violinist has no plan to leave the city.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Four-seventeen a gallon and climbing.

THE LEAD starts right now.

After days of targeting towns, shelling homes, slaughtering civilians, the Russian government is now proposing a new cease-fire, one that would start in just a few hours in some of the Ukrainian cities that they are pummeling.

Then, Vladimir Putin claimed it would take only days to complete his, quote/unquote, operation in Ukraine, but almost two weeks in, the 40- mile long Russian convoy hasn't really moved. And U.S. intelligence says between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. So where does the Russian invasion of Ukraine actually stand?

And banned. President Biden blocking all Russian oil and natural gas imports to the United States. Could this send the record-breaking gas prices in the U.S. soaring even higher?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news and a, quote, ugly next few weeks, unquote, ahead for Ukraine. That's the warning from CIA Director William Burns today. And as night fell on, Ukrainian cities in the last few hours -- new shelling. Russian shelling. This time in the crucial port city of Mykolaiv.

The city's mayor saying Russia has also been dropping cluster bombs as the forces approach.

Earlier today, Russian air strikes devastated parts of the northeastern town of Sumy, leveling these homes you see. Local Ukrainian officials say that 21 innocent Ukrainian civilians were killed, 21, including two Ukrainian children. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says at least 50 children have been killed by the Russians since the Russian invasion began.

After that attack, some Ukrainian civilians were able to flee Sumy after Russia and Ukraine agreed to a temporary humanitarian corridor to allow for some evacuations. Now, Russia says it is proposing another cease-fire in five Ukrainian cities, one that would start in just a few hours, although there's no guarantee they will abide by the agreement.

Let's get straight to CNN's Clarissa Ward who is live for us as always in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

And, Clarissa, the first humanitarian corridor is now closed. How did that temporary located discreet cease-fire go? And what do we know about this new proposal the Russians are making?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so essentially the new proposal is very similar, Jake, to what had been proposed yesterday, that five cities, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol, would all have a ceasefire that would start at 10:00 a.m. Moscow time, that's 9:00 local time, and would it allow for those humanitarian corridors to finally be used, to let these poor people out who have been trapped under heavy fighting for many days now. The one place where it did seem to function at some level that you mentioned was in the northern city of Sumy, which has been hit very hard according to Russian authorities. More than 700 people were evacuated from that city, although we're also hearing reports that a second convoy that was supposed to leave the city did get pinned down.

The place where it really didn't work appears to be once again the southeast port city of Mariupol. This is a city of half a million people. Hundreds of thousands of whom are trapped inside. They have little food, no power, no heat. Their frigid temperatures, and of course, they've been coming under constant shelling.

We're hearing from Ukrainian authorities that once again they were not able to ship in or rather, drive in a huge amount of humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed because apparently, that convoy came under some kind of fire.

Now, the Russians are proposing once again to do a very similar cease- fire tomorrow morning, starting at 9:00 a.m. local time. Ukrainian authorities have only responded by saying, it is difficult to trust the occupiers. So I think that gives you a sense of the skepticism here on the ground. Not just from authorities but from ordinary people who find it hard to believe at this stage that there will be a concerted and sincere effort to really ensure that people can get out, and that much needed aid can finally get in, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, tell us more about Ukraine's first lady. She just put out an emotional message on Facebook talking about the suffering of civilians in Ukraine.


WARD: Yeah. It's a very evocative and passionate letter that she has penned on Facebook. We haven't heard a lot from Ukraine's first lady. We did, of course, hear President Zelenskyy some time ago say that his wife and family were still in town and indeed in this letter, she appears to indicate that she is still in Kyiv.

But basically, she is making an appeal about the plight of civilians, the number of children being born in bomb shelters who have never known peace in their few days on earth. The difficulty of getting simple medicine for people with asthma, for people with diabetes, who are trapped in some of these hard hit areas that have been largely cut off.

And she finishes off this letter with a pretty powerful warning. She says, this is a war in Europe close to the E.U. borders. Ukraine is stopping the force that may aggressively enter your cities tomorrow under the pretext of saving civilians. And she goes on to say, if we don't stop Putin who threatens to start a nuclear war, there will be no safe place in the world for any of us.

And this, Jake, is something that I have seen echoed time and time again by Ukrainians, both who are fighting and ordinary civilians. They see this as an existential battle for a way of life, for a set of values, for a belief in the principles of self-determination, sovereignty, democracy, and they don't see that as something that is restrained or limited to Ukraine's borders. They see this as a fate that ultimately has a ripple effect across the globe, especially if Ukraine is not able to win this fight.

Though it is interesting to hear from NATO officials today, Jake. They say Russia is still not any significant progress on the ground, despite the massive amount of manpower they have moved in here, Jake.

TAPPER: Clarissa Ward in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

To the southeast now and CNN's Sam Kiley. He's in Dnipro, Ukraine.

Sam, fighting has intensified tonight in the strategic port city of Mykolaiv. What do we know about the latest shelling?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, where my come owing has been based some time, reporting out of there, is that a lot of shelling has been outgoing. This is a city that has been very successful so far in seeing off various Russian attempts to penetrate. It is a very important port city. It is the access route to Odessa, the third largest city in the whole country. But also perhaps even more importantly, a jumping off point potentially for swinging around to attack places like this where I am in Dnipro, the opportunity for the Russians to go up the Dnipro River.

But the shelling has been going in and out. The local mayor has, the deputy governor, rather, has been preparing his citizens. Reporting how large piles of car ties have been put up. A footage we've seen of militias and soldiers fighting back using anti-tank weapons to try to recapture successfully the airport there. So it is another example, I think, Jake, of how there is Russian attacks on civilian areas because there appear to be getting bumped down militarily.

TAPPER: Sam, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has some very harsh words not just for Russia but for western leaders today. Tell us what he said.

KILEY: Well, he's been getting angrier and angrier over the course of this week and a lot of his statements on Facebook. He's been speaking in the last 36 hours, the first time in some time, from his presidential offices, rather than from some unknown location.

And on this occasion, he took opportunity to berate the whole world for failing to step in more aggressively, particularly when it comes to establishing a no-fly zone over his country. Something that NATO has ruled out. Of course, the danger is there, you would bring NATO into conflict with Russian pilots and potentially start a much wider war. Something that NATO is deeply skeptical would be positive in any way.

But he even used the term genocide. A word that is being used quite a lot by Ukrainian politicians, probably erroneously. But it sends -- it does show the level of frustration and anger and incredulity that they feel as they fight off this unprovoked invasion from a neighbor that they believe is part of their defensive wider global democracy, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sam Kiley in Dnipro, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe.

It's pretty clear right now, while Russia has slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians and seize large swaths of land, the war is not going quite as Putin had planned.


U.S. intelligence estimates between 2,000 and 4,000 Russian forces have already been killed in Ukraine.

Jim Sciutto now reports from Lviv in the west.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly two weeks into the invasion, the war in Ukraine has become a slow, grinding conflict. Not the blitzkrieg advance the Russian military had planned and hoped for.

AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Russia's failure to rapidly seize Kyiv and overwhelm Ukrainian forces has deprived Moscow of the quick military victory that probably had original expected.

SCIUTTO: U.S. and NATO military assistance to Ukrainian forces has flowed in quickly and in enormous quantities. Today, the U.S. and partners have provided some 17,000 anti-tank missiles, including the javelin and AT4 shoulder-fired systems. And according to a U.S. official, some 3,700 anti-aircraft missiles, including the Stinger shoulder fired missile, the vast majority since the start of the invasion.

These missiles have had an immediate impact on the battlefield. This is a shoulder-fired missile shooting down a Russian attack helicopter.

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): It's a race between our ability and NATO's ability to push forward supplies such as the 17,000 missiles that have been recently approved to get those into the hands of the Ukrainian war fighters before the Russians can regroup and get their logistics, lines of communication and capabilities, up to snuff.

SCIUTTO: Military losses are harder to gauge. According to two senior U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, U.S. estimates of Russian military assets lost or inoperable range as high as 8 percent to 10 percent, close to double the losses the U.S. assessed last week, as it has gathered more information.

The U.S. estimates the Ukrainian military has lost a similar percentage of its forces. These estimates mostly account for losses of equipment, including jets and helicopters, tanks and armored person carriers and supply trucks, which are easier to verify.

As for losses of personnel, the U.S. estimates Russia has lost somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 soldiers, though this assessment comes with low confidence. The U.S. does not have reliable information on losses of Ukrainian military personnel.

On the battlefield, Russian forces have advanced more quickly in the south from Russian-controlled territory in Crimea, more slowly in the east and the north, though they continue efforts to surround cities such as Kharkiv. A senior U.S. official says Russia is still several days from being able to surround the capital Kyiv, and after that, faces a protracted battle to occupy the city itself.

AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Our analysts say Putin is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate. We assessed Putin feels aggrieve the West does not give him proper deference and perceive this is a war he cannot afford to lose.

SCIUTTO: As Russia's advance has stalled, its forces have increasingly targeted the civilian population with aerial bombardment and shelling, following a time-worn Russian strategy pursued ruthlessly in Chechnya in the 1990s and more recently in Syria. At least 474 civilians, including 29 children have been killed since the invasion began, this according to the U.N. Human Rights Office, and a further 861 injured. Though the U.N. believes the true figure is likely to be, quote, considerably higher.


SCIUTTO (on camera): There is a sobering reality to this war. The Ukrainian military has certainly outperformed and continues to. However, the Russian military continues to grind on, gaining territory, though more slowly than hoped, and it is a does, acting with more and more impunity about civilian lives.

And Jake, when I speak to U.S. officials, ask them how they believe this contact -- this conflict will continue to develop, they say a more ruthless Russia, more civilian casualties, they don't see Putin pulling back.

TAPPER: Yeah. Jim Sciutto doing amazing work for us in Lviv, Ukrainian, thank you so much. Please stay safe.

President Biden going it alone, announcing a U.S. ban on all Russian oil and natural gas. But without European allies following suit, is this move mostly symbolic?

Then, Russian state media releasing the first pic of a U.S. basketball star since her arrest at the Moscow airport.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead, today, President Biden is warning Americans that gas prices in the U.S. will continue to climb, especially now that the U.S. is banning all imports of Russian energy, including oil, natural gas and coal.

This move could, at least it's an attempt to cripple Russia's already struggling economy, and as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, cost the American people.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a step that we're taking to inflict further pain on Putin.

COLLINS: President Biden announcing today the U.S. will ban Russian oil, gas and coal after days of deliberation and growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties arguing that Russian President Putin shouldn't profit from American purchases.

BIDEN: We will not be part of subsidizing Putin's war.

COLLINS: Biden was initially hesitant to implement the ban amid concerns that would rattle global energy markets with U.S. gas prices soaring to $4.17 today, up 55 cents in just the last week.

BIDEN: Defending freedom is going to cost. It's going to cost us as well. And with this action, it's going to go up further.

COLLINS: The ban shutting off a relatively small flow of oil into the United States which ultimately gets less than 10 percent of its energy from Russia.

But Biden says European allies who rely much more heavily on Russian energy are unlikely to follow suit. BIDEN: Many of our European allies and partners may not be in a

position to join us.


We can take this step when others cannot.

COLLINS: The president declining to say whether the U.S. will try to import more oil from countries already under sanctions like Iran and Venezuela, which some Democrats are criticizing.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): We're trying to pull back on Putin, so we shouldn't go to other countries that don't share our values.

COLLINS: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy thanked Biden for banning Russian imports as he continues his push for a no-fly zone alongside 27 foreign policy experts who signed this letter calling for NATO to implement one.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): The fault is with the occupants. The responsibility is with those who for the last 13 days, somewhere out there in the west, somewhere in their offices, can't approve an obviously necessary decision -- those who still haven't secured the Ukrainian skies from the Russian killers.

COLLINS: Biden saying today that Putin is determined to continue on his murderous path no matter the cost.

BIDEN: This much is already clear. Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin. Putin may be able to take a city but he'll never be able to hold the country.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, when it comes to establishing a no-fly zone, both President Biden at the White House and NATO allies have made clear, that is not something on the table for them because they say risks pulling them into a broader war with Russia. When it comes the Zelenskyy's other requests, to supply Ukraine with more aircraft saying, basically what he told lawmakers the other day, if they don't have to do the fighting and flying, Ukrainian pilots will do that if they can just give them more aircraft. That is a discussion being held behind the scenes. It remains to be seen how it's going to resolve, given that it's a very complicated issue.

But we should note when it come to that congressional aid for Ukraine that is being discussed right now on Capitol Hill, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell that today, it has grown up to $14 billion from the $10 billion we were initially talking about -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's discuss with Republican Congressman Mike McCaul of Texas. He is the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and just got back from Poland where he was visiting that refugees. Congressman, is there any sign that the sanctions that the U.S. and

Europeans have implemented so far are having any effect on stopping Russia from attacking Ukraine? And do you think this new move by Biden, this U.S. ban on Russian energy imports, will do the trick?

MCCAUL: Well, I think the sanctions are starting to have a crippling impact. The sanctions on the central bank have brought the ruble down to one penny. I think other sanctions are working.

The fact is, I think, to answer your question, Mr. Putin is all in this war. He can't go backwards in time now. And it is a legacy issue for him. So I think he has put 100 percent now of what he has into Ukraine.

And I don't see that turning back. But we want to make it as painful as possible. I agree with the president's decision to ban the import of Russian oil. It's 8 percent of what we import.

Secretary Blinken asked me about this when we were in Poland, and I strongly encouraged they will to do so. If anything, for moral symbolic gesture that we cannot fund Putin's war machine, and the blood that is being spilled over there. We can't be a conspirator to that by funding it.

TAPPER: So let's talk about that. The White House has signaled this move could tome door for potential new deals with other countries with despotic rulers, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran, because the loss of Russian oil needs to be offset.

If this is one way to keep gas prices lower for the American people to get fuel from those other three countries, would you support it?

MCCAUL: Well, this is what I would call the failed energy policy is a failed foreign policy. We should be having this discussion. We shouldn't have been importing Russian energy to begin with. The Keystone pipeline would give us more per day than what we get from Russia. The closing down of ANWR, the closing down of licensing and permits in the United States.

When we were becoming energy independent, we were leading the export and now we have to be relying on countries like our adversaries like Venezuela, you know, and Iran. And he's denouncing OPEC not producing enough energy. Why are we doing that in the United States of America where we can produce more clean energy and not have to be reliant on our foreign nation adversaries?

TAPPER: It is true that President Biden opposes ANWR and the Keystone pipeline. But he pushed back and that it is not true that his policies were suppressing domestic oil and natural gas production. Take a listen.


BIDEN: We're approaching record levels in the United States and we're on track to set a record world production next year. In the United States, 90 percent of onshore oil production takes place on land that isn't owned by the federal government.


And of the remaining 10 percent that occurs on federal land, the oil and gas industry has millions of acres leased. So, let me be clear -- let me be clear. They are not using them for production now. That's their decision.

These are the facts. We should be honest about the facts.


TAPPER: Your response?

MCCAUL: I think the signal for the administration stifled our production domestically. And I would answer by saying, if we're doing such a great job, why do we have to be reliant on the ayatollah or Maduro down in Venezuela, or OPEC nations in the Middle East?

I think if we had a strong energy policy that we want to produce energy in the United States, that we want to convert to renewables and other types of energy, you can't just cancel fossil fuels out completely. I think we're seeing now the problems with this administration's energy policy coming back to haunt us as we look toward our foreign nation adversaries to provide with us our energy supply.

TAPPER: Do you think the oil and gas industry in the United States should -- well, they made record profits last year. 2021. I mean, should they maybe set their sights in terms of profits a little lower, knowing the pain that we're all going to go through? They don't have to have record profits every year.

MCCAUL: Well, you know, they've been under attack for quite some time. I know a lot of them. But I think the pain would be relieved if we would allow them to open up ANWR again. To do the Colonial pipeline, so that we don't, you know, have these high gas prices. And we don't have to import from our foreign nation adversaries.

This is going to be -- you know, look, we try to be bipartisan as Americans in helping the people of Ukraine with lethal military aid. But I think this president's energy policy has created bad foreign policy, and you can't escape the fact that energy policy is national security.

TAPPER: So Republicans were blaming Biden for higher gas prices, as you have been, well before the war in Ukraine broke out. So when the prices go up again because of this ban on Russian oil, will Republicans ask voters to understand that at least some of that is because of standing up for democracy in Ukraine? Or is Biden just going to be attacked no matter what?

MCCAUL: Well, I think -- I'll be honest that that is in part why it is increased. And it's a moral question of funding the slaughter that's happening right now in Ukraine. But the fact of the matter is, it didn't have to happen. If we had energy policy, the previous administration, we are becoming

very much energy independent (AUDIO GAP) to move forward into Europe? Why were we providing more LNG terminals to Europe? That's the pathway we were on until this president changed that. So, then, now, Europe is 40 percent dependent on Russia.

And that's why, you know, to your earlier point, why they can't make the same commit many we're making in the United States, it seems to me, NATO allies, the United States, and our other allies, we need to get off this dependency of energy from not only Russia but all the other foreign nation adversaries. And until we do so, we are very vulnerable.

TAPPER: Congressman Mike McCaul, ranking Republican on House Foreign Affairs -- good to see you again, sir. Thank you so much.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: It's one of the poorest countries in Europe, but they are opening their doors and hearts to help thousands of Ukrainians pouring across their border. We're going to go live to a refugee site in Moldova, next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our world lead, more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their homes and left nearly everything behind, according to a United Nations official. Just in the last two weeks, the human toll is unbelievable as Ukraine's first lady puts it in a heart-wrenching Facebook post.

Quote: Look into the eyes of these tired women and children who carry with them the heartache of leaving loved ones and life as they knew it behind, unquote.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson just spoke with one of those refugees who fled to Moldova, the small country just southwest of Ukraine.

Ivan, what did she have to tell you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I heard a lot of anger and defiance from her and from other refugees, anger, of course, at the Russian military that has invaded their country, but also at their Russian friends who they accuse of repeating the talking points of the Kremlin-backed media, claims like, hey, it's the Ukrainian army that is actually blowing up Ukrainian cities, and that this is a Russian campaign to purge fascists and Nazis from Ukraine.

Take a listen to what this woman told me.


MARINA AVDEEVA, UKRAINIAN REFUGEE: We are Ukrainians. It is our land. My son was born in independent Ukraine. It's our land, independent. Nobody can enter our land.

And if someone is entering, we have to answer, because it's our motherland. We have no other choice. We are very peaceful people. We are not Nazi. We are just on our land with hands up. Please, we want to leave. We want to be happy. Stop shooting. Please.


WATSON: Now, this woman, Marina, was speaking at an indoor sports center squash courts and paddle ball courts being used now to house hundreds of refugees. It shows you how they've had to improvise to deal with the tens of thousands of people coming in. And she again pointed out, Vladimir Putin claims he is doing the, quote, de- Nazification of Ukraine but she is a Ukrainian Jew from Odessa, as were most of the other refugees at these squash courts, being supported by the Jewish community of Moldova. Other non-governmental organizations like the World Jewish Congress, hundreds of these people will be headed to Israel.

Her own son has joined the self-defense forces in Odessa. He is a lawyer. She said this whole story that the Kremlin has come up with about fighting fascists in Ukraine just is not true -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson in Moldova, thank you so much.

It's the first photo of the WNBA star since she was arrested in Russia. Our next guest is trying to help Brittney Griner be released. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the families of Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, two former marines detained in Russia for years, are pleading with the White House to continue to work for their loved ones' release as tensions continue with Russia over its unprovoked war against Ukraine, slaughtering the Ukrainian people. Whelan's brother says that his brother's freedom and those of other Americans held by Russia unjustly should be part of any future negotiations with the Kremlin.

While the family of Trevor Reed held a demonstration in Ft. Worth, Texas, earlier today, to try the raise awareness of Trevor's case ahead of President Biden's trip there. And they say they were deeply disappointed to be denied a meeting with the president.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says they are working to schedule a meeting but they don't, quote, have a time or date, or anything like that. Reed's father says his son's health is deteriorating in Russian captivity.


JOEY REED, TREVOR REED'S FATHER: Now he is coughing blood daily. He has an off and on fever. He has pain in his lungs. Some of that may be a result of long COVID, which he had back in I believe May, when he was in the Moscow prison. Our son is innocent.


TAPPER: WNBA superstar Brittney Griner is the latest high profile American detained in Russia. She was arrested at a Moscow airport last month after authorities claimed they found cannabis oil during a search of her luggage. Russian state media released this photo taken at a police station showing her holding a sign with her name on it. Her current whereabouts are unclear.

Let's discuss this with our sports journalist Tamryn Spruill who created a campaign to try to secure Griner's release.

Thank you so much for joining us, Tamryn.

More than 36,000 have signed on to your petition, making it one of the fastest growing in the last 24 hours. What actions are you calling for the Biden administration to take?

TAMRYN SPRUILL, SPORTS JOURNALIST: At this point, with so much going on, and as you said, the Ukrainian people being slaughtered, other Americans being held hostage, and all the current things happening with the invasion, making it that much harder to get them out. So I just don't want Brittney Griner and the other people being held in Russian prisons to be lost in the narrative. I don't want time to just pass and for them to kind of fall through the cracks with all the ramifications of what is happening due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

TAPPER: A lot of viewers who might not be familiar with her stat us in women's basketball. Can you give us an idea of how important Brittney is to the sport?

SPRUILL: Brittney Griner is an icon. I would consider her definitely on the court, she's a champion. She's a gold medalist. She's won championships for the team she played for in Russia, Ekaterinburg.

And off the court though, she came out as a gay woman before even signing her contract with the Phoenix Mercury where she has played her entire career. And that made a statement. She, you know, wanted to live authentically. She didn't want to have to hide who she is.

And that has been the real game changer in our society. Just by being visible, allowing herself to say this is me and to give other people permission who are closeted and perhaps afraid to come out, you know, just a little inspiration to live their truth.

And, of course, we know that Russia is very hard line policies against LGBTQ people and we also see in the U.S., such as what happened in Florida with what people are calling the "don't say gay" bill, these groups that have been marginalized and traditionally oppressed make it that many more concerning that she's there. And we don't want her to get lost in the narrative because of that.

TAPPER: The WNBA says all other players are out of Russia. You write that there is largely been silence from the league. [16:45:02]

And just one statement from her team, the Phoenix Mercury, what more do you want the WNBA and her team to do?

SPRUILL: I believe transparency would go a long way to alleviating some of the nerves and anxiety. Who knows why they are being silent? Maybe they've been instructed to be. We don't know that.

But not having a narrative. Not communicating what is going on leaves a lot of worry and leaves us to some fans, if you just go online, are just afraid that she's going to just be lost. I've seen people write, oh, the season is supposed to start in May. We'll just carry on without Brittney Griner on the court as if that's okay?

So it would be great if they communicated what exactly they're doing. And also, other questions: why was she there after the call for Americans to leave? What role did her Russian team play in not getting her out of there sooner? As well as other U.S. players who were kind of late to return to the U.S. Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun posted on social media, you know, that it was just a trying time to get out of there and she was in tears.

So we don't know what happened. But all of this boils down to these women have been playing overseas for years, since the league began because they don't earn enough, nothing comparable to what NBA players earn. And that's why they were there. And that's the issue that also needs to be addressed, the root cause.

TAPPER: Tamryn Spruill, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Coming up, a verdict in the first January 6th trial. What that mean in the cases of the other alleged insurrectionists.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, today in Washington, D.C., a guilty verdict in the first federal trial related to the January 6th Capitol insurrection. A jury found Guy Reffitt guilty of all five charges against him, including obstruction of a congressional proceeding, interfering with police during a riot and transporting a firearm for that purpose.

Let's bring in CNN's Paula Reid.

Paula, this trial had some dramatic moments, including Reffitt's own son testifying against his father.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. During the week-long trial, the jury held testimony from Reffitt's teenage son Jackson who allegedly tipped off the FBI about his father before the attack. Now, Jackson testified that his dad, quote, snowballed into a far right extremists following the 2016 election of Donald Trump and he had become increasingly hostile to political figures who he believed were breaking the law.

Now, the son also testified that his father threatened him and his sister that if they turned him in, they would be traitors, and quote, traitors get shot. Jake, the most damning evidence came from Reffitt himself. He repeatedly both before and after the riot recorded himself in various forums talking about what he was going to do and then about what he had just done. Reffitt was charged with attempting to storm the Capitol while armed with a gun and zip ties.

Prosecutors accused himself of the one had a lit the match where some of the most brutal attacks on law enforcement took place. Interestingly, after today's verdict, his wife had a message for other defendants facing charges related to the Capitol attack. Let's take a listen.


NICOLE REFFITT, GUY REFFITT'S WIFE: Don't take a plea. Do not take a plea. They want us to take a plea. The reason that we have all guilty verdicts is they are making a point out of guy and that is to intimidate the other members of the 1/6ers. And we will all fight together.


REID: Reffitt is scheduled to be sentenced in June 8.

TAPPER: And, Paula, could today's guilty verdict impact similar cases for other 1/6ers, as his wife call them?

REID: Absolutely, especially when it come to defense strategy. Jake, this was high stakes for the Justice Department. Lawyers representing other defendants are watching this closely and this was a swift verdict.

That sends a message that federal prosecutors have evidence to support charges, and that juries may not be sympathetic to those who allegedly participated in the Capitol attack. So, Jake, today's conviction could speed up plea deals in those other felony cases, at least, of course, they take that advice from Reffitt's wife.

TAPPER: Right. Paula Reid, thank you so much.

Coming up next, why the last letter of the alphabet is now the first sign of support for Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour in Florida, a school battle coming to a head as a

controversial bill regulating K-3 classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity now heads to Governor DeSantis' desk.

Plus, the meaning of a letter. There are no Russian flags flying on the tanks and trucks from the Russian army. But almost every vehicle is stamped with a giant Z. What could that mean?

And we lead this hour with breaking news. President Biden banning all imports of Russian oil to the U.S. as Vladimir Putin shows no signs of stopping his barbaric invasion of Ukraine. New video shows Russia moving a special armored military train into Ukraine from annexed Crimea.

And in the southern Ukrainian town of Mykolaiv, constant Russia shelling is shaking residents. Fears are rising that the Russian military might storm that city. People there have piled tires at the entrances to the city, ready to light them on fire if the Russians do in fact advance.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live from Mykolaiv.

Nick, tell us what you've been observing on the ground there.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, Jake. It is, I have to say, quite troubling how dark this city, this normally bustling has fallen.