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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russians Attack Port City Of Mykolaiv; Surrogate Babies Stranded In War Zone; U.N. Warns Of Prospect Of Nuclear Conflict; Refugees From Ukraine Nearly 3 Million; Trump Track Record On Russia & Ukraine As Putin Invades; 2 Homeless Men Killed In String Of Shootings In NYC And D.C.; Rising Crime Presents A Political Challenge For Dems; Dolly Parton & James Patterson Join Jake Tapper's Book Club On CNN Plus. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 14, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In the western part of the country, this time only 12 miles from the border of a NATO country, Russian air strikes are also pounding the area around Mykolaiv, a key maritime city in the south of Ukraine along the Black Sea.

A Russian military strike hit a school in one nearby village reducing it to it rubble and smoke. In another suburb, shelling killed at least two people and injured 10 more according to a local community Facebook post. CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live from Mykolaiv. And Nick, what effect does this bombardment having on civilians there?

NCIK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I mean, it's startling I have to say. This time of night, the city is absolutely dead. Apart from just in the minutes before we started talking, Jake, the skyline behind me lit up by the kind of roar of the sound of incoming rockets.

Quite a distance away from where I'm standing on the other side of the river that splits this city and makes it quite so strategic. But we've seen throughout the day, a city awash with ambulances whizzing around doing their business. And yesterday, a horrifying rocket attack that hit outside a busy supermarket. People standing there, simply queuing for food at the rare opportunities they could get hold of it. Nine killed in that instance and shop windows blown out.

I met the recently created widow from that attack at a nearby hospital and she talked about how she and her husband had been there getting supplies for the funeral of their daughter who had recently died. And she horrifyingly described how she had seen her husband's face heavily injured and the blood was still there nearby where we stood ourselves.

This is essentially part of a daily routine for people in Mykolaiv now. It's rare for a day to pass where some sort of part of a civilian infrastructure hasn't been hit by this relatively indiscriminate rocket fire we're seeing from the outskirts. Its clear Russian forces haven't been able to get into the city. They've tried again and again and they keep being pushed back and their response to that and their frustration is voiced by the kind of rocket fire we've just heard in the distance over there, Jake.

TAPPER: Why are these coastal city so strategic in this fight?

WALSH: Yes. I mean, there's two answers to that, really. I think possibly as a kind of cultural goal if Vladimir Putin really thinks he can occupy Ukraine. He can't do it without Odessa, the Russian- speaking cultural heart that sits on the Black Sea coast where so many Russians have been on vacation for decades. That's an integral part of any plan, warped (ph) as it may be he may have for Ukraine.

But the Black Sea coast is economically utterly vital and I'm on the second largest port city, Mykolaiv. Now, Kherson they've already taken to the Far East that seen massive protest across it, intensifying, frankly, rather than ebbing as Russia puts in forces there.

Mykolaiv has been exceptionally stubborn, remarkable frankly, for a city of this size to hold an army the size of Russia so far out of it. The bombardment has been phenomenal, but we are seeing now a bit by Russia to move to the north of the city. I was told that essentially, they've recognized, my Ukrainian military source, they recognized they can't take the bridges here without them being blown and the river is too wide.

And instead, they're moving to the north where they could potentially make their own bridge and then head around the city, encircle it perhaps and then focus their efforts toward Odessa.

I've got to tell you, Jake, that's an enormous task frankly for the kind of resources Russia has put here. But their ambition has always outstretched their capabilities so far in this conflict. And Mykolaiv is bearing the brunt of that with a sort of curious blundering we've seen by the Russian military around this city voiced by the artillery fire we hear randomly, but also to, by these attempts, it seem, to continually get into the city and wreak havoc on its civilian population, Jake.

TAPPER: And Nick, Russian air strikes are moving ever closer to the west. Ever closer towards NATO territory, just 12 miles away from Poland. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, he says it's only a matter of time before those bombs end up dropping in a NATO country. How much would that change the war?

WALSH: Well, I mean, it could potentially drag NATO, it could drag Europe, it could drag the United States into a broader, multidimensional years-long conflict with Russia. Now, there are many analysts who say that Russia is probably keen to avoid that. There are many analyst who say if Russia can't fuel its own tanks, how could it genuinely think it could take on alliance that represents possibly a billion people and has the largest military budget in human history.

I mean, that's all the plain facts of the matter. But then there is the other question, Jake, of the state of mind of Vladimir Putin who has undertaken something here which was preposterous, frankly, to anyone who observed it, the full invasion of Ukraine. Does that mean that he is calmly capable of rationally deciding not to start a conflict with nuclear powers like those in the NATO alliance? Hard to tell and deeply troubling. Jake?


TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh reporting live for us in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. More than 2.8 million people have now fled Ukraine. Many more remains stranded including some of the most vulnerable. CNN's Sam Kylie reports on the fight to keep safe infants born to surrogate mothers in the middle of this war zone.


SAM KYLIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is precious cargo. Not cash in transit, but week old baby Lawrence in transit to a new life. Born to a surrogate mother under bombardment in Kyiv, he is raced through the Ukrainian capital to a nursery in the southwest of the city. It's perilously close to Russian troops and easily within range of their artillery. This is a gauntlet his new German parents will have to run when or if they come here to collect him.

For now, he'll be among 20 other surrogate babies destined, its hoped, for new lives in Argentina, China, Spain, Italy, Canada, Austria and the U.S. Parting from the child she carried as a surrogate, Victoria is inevitably tearful. Her pain intensified by uncertainty.

VICTORIA, SURROGATE MOTHER (through translation): It is even harder that he is in a place where there is shelling, and when will his parents get to take him away because of it? It's really hard.

KILEY (voice-over): This missile struck about 500 yards from the nursery while we were there.

(On camera): There are constant explosions we can even hear in the basement and the Russian military is reportedly consolidating and planning to push in further into the city from the east. So the future of these children is even more in doubt. How long will it be before it's impossible, completely impossible for their new parents to come and rescue them?

(Voice-over): The nannies here cannot join the exodus of civilians from Kyiv. These babies may be tiny but they're the heaviest of responsibilities. Antonina's husband and daughter have already traveled to safety 130 miles south.

ANTONINA YEFIMOVIC, NANNY (through translation): These babies can't be abandoned. They're defenseless. They also need care and we really hope that the parents will come and pick them up soon.

KILEY (voice-over): An Argentine couple collected their child the day before, but a combination of the pandemic and now war has meant that some have been stuck here for months.

IHOR PECHENOGA, PEDIATRICIAN, BIOTEXCOM (through translation): It all depends on the strength of the parents' desire. I met with parents who came to Kyiv to pick up their baby. They had tears in their eyes. They had waited 20 years for their baby and there are such couples who are afraid because there's a war going on here.

KILEY (voice-over): These infants are oblivious to the doubts over their future and the dangers that they've already survived. There's abundant hope that it stays that way.


TAPPER: Let me bring Sam back here. And Sam, the caretakers, I can't even imagine the stress they're feeling to keep these babies safe, let alone warm, fed, loved, held. How are they holding up under all this pressure?

KILEY: Well, Jake, I mean, they're doing an extraordinary job. Many of them as we spoke there, you heard from Antonina, staying on to look after these babies even though their own families have been evacuated. Most of them are mothers. There is a group of about six or seven full- time nannies there and they have to work 24/7. As all parents know, babies, new born babies are very hard work.

I think one of the really striking things though being in that clinic myself was that some of the older baby, there was a five, six-month old, a couple of boys there, and they were so desperate for human contact because of course, in the baby's development that, you know, a friendly smiling face, some gripping of the fingers and so on, are all the part of a baby's development that is going to be very, very hard for them to get when they are being careful. But I have to say, you know, they were energetically being entertained 24/7. A very extraordinary effort going on there, Jake.

TAPPER: Do the surrogate mothers have a place they can to go recuperate from labor and delivery?

KILEY: They go home. So, Victoria to whom we spoke, once she signed the papers to hand her the child that she had carried for the German couple that she was -- that are planning to come at some stage and collect young Lawrence, she was off home to be reunited with her family. She has a 13-year-old daughter. Her husband was with her and she was going to go home and begin her life outside, though, of the capital. She is going to a much safer place. I hope it remains that way.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley reporting live from Kyiv, Ukraine. Thank you. Stay safe.


Putin's ruthless invasion of Ukraine sparking a dire warning from the United Nations. Fears of nuclear war.

Then, five homeless people shot. Two of them killed while they were sleeping. Now police in New York and D.C. say the same suspect seems to be behind the attack. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our "World Lead," as Putin continues his bombardment of innocent citizens including women and children, today the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres is raising a different sort of alarm.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Raising the alert of Russian nuclear forces is a bone chilling development. The prospect of nuclear conflict once unthinkable is now back within the realm of possibility.



TAPPER: Within the realm of possibility. Joining us now to discuss, Rose Gottemoeller, the former deputy secretary general of NATO from 2016 to 2019. Former undersecretary for arms control and international security at the U.S. State Department. Secretary Gottemoeller, thank you for joining us.

You negotiated the new START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia, which is a bilateral nuclear arms treaty. Having negotiated extensively with Russia, do you think Russia's goal here, Putin talking about nuclear weapons, et cetera, is simply to scare people? Or do you think that Putin and others might be seriously considering deploying nuclear weapons?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, NATO: I think that they have taken steps to rattle the nuclear sabre, really. And part of it is to scare people. To make the world know that they are deadly serious in their attempt to take over Ukraine.

But at the same time, I've known the Russians to be responsible with regard to nuclear weapons in the past. Certainly in terms of ensuring that they were secure and that they were safe from being stolen, for example. We worked with them a lot on that during the period after the break of the Soviet Union.

So my knowledge of the Russians is that they've been top flight professionals in this area. So this nuclear sabre rattling is really concerning from the Kremlin.

TAPPER: Do you think that Vladimir Putin is different today, for whatever reason, a different calculus in terms of risk or something else, than he was five years ago?

GOTTEMOELLER: He certainly seems to be monomaniacally focused at the moment on the invasion of Ukraine and re-creating the Slavic heartland including Russia, Belarus and Ukraine together in one big family. So, he, in the past, I would say, had a much wider ranging and pragmatic agenda.

At times even extending to cooperation with NATO in some very intensive ways. So, this focus on Ukraine and this creation of NATO as the enemy, I would say, has really been the product of the last decade or so. TAPPER: What is the best tool of the U.S., of NATO to deter Russia

from further nuclear escalation?

GOTTEMOELLER: I think so far, the Biden administration and NATO itself has been doing a terrific job keeping the lid on, really being very calm and serious about this. Pointing to the dangers of nuclear escalation, but really doing everything to ensure that there could be no miscues. Nothing could be misread from the U.S. or NATO side. And I know that they will continue to take that very serious and very careful approach.

TAPPER: The Russians have taken over Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world. And the staff there have stopped carrying out routine maintenance on safety equipment because of the hundreds of personnel there are experiencing "physical and psychological fatigue." That's according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which says the staff manning the facility have not been able to rotate out since Russian forces entered the site nearly three weeks ago. What is Russia's end game with Chernobyl or might there not be one?

GOTTEMOELLER: I think in general Russia has been going after nuclear facilities in Ukraine with this notion that it draws attention to what they're doing. That's kind of easy wins for them in terms of bringing the eye of the world to them and to what they're doing in Ukraine. So part of it is that, I think, assurance that people are frightened by what they're up to.

But on the other hand, they are also, I think, looking in some sense for a military objective. Not at Chernobyl, but by seizing the operational nuclear power plants as they did at Zaporizhzhia. They are looking for ways to perhaps shut down the electricity grid in Ukraine because they get so much of their electricity from nuclear power.

So, I think it's a combination of goals that they have. Another thing that's going on is they've got this kind of crazy line now coming out of Moscow that Ukraine is after radiological weapons and that they want to use nuclear waste to build dirty bombs. I think this is total nonsense, but it is, I think, part of the story from the Kremlin's perspective.

TAPPER: The atomic agency also says communication has been spotty in the area around Chernobyl, is about to enter their annual fire season where spontaneous fires happen in what's called the exclusion zone. How worrisome is the potential of an unstable Chernobyl for the surrounding area, for greater Europe?

GOTTEMOELLER: I think the biggest problem here is that if the top soil is stirred up around Chernobyl, you could have some radiation getting out into the atmosphere.


And that's why they're so very careful when there are wildfires in the area to ensure that they are put out quickly so that there will not be the problem of the top soil getting stirred up and perhaps some dust getting into the atmosphere that would be radioactive in nature.

In terms of the power plant itself, the ruined power plant is enclosed in a sarcophagus. Very difficult I think to cause damage to that. And so the thing that worries me most, as I said, is the top soil getting spilled, getting stirred up and causing some pollution in that way.

TAPPER: Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, thank you so much for your expertise and your time today. We appreciate it.

One way to be a good neighbor, a Romanian man moved his restaurant operation to the Ukrainian border to give out free meals to refugees. That story is next.



TAPPER: Staying in our "World Lead," the now nearly 3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine are putting quite a strain on neighboring countries that area eager to help those in desperate need. Many of them, more than 400,000 have fled to nearby Romania since the beginning of the Russian invasion. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports now for us from Romania on the long and perilous journey for refugees traveling there.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They arrive by the hundreds. Normal Ukrainian citizens one day, refugees the next.

VALERIA PAVLIN, REFUGEE FROM KHARKIV, UKRAINE: This is stressful, yes. Because we have no idea what to do, where to go, and when we will be able to return to our homes.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Pavlin is from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second biggest city, which has been devastated by Russian artillery and rockets.

When I was packing my clothes, she says, I thought it would all be over in three days.

For many, just arriving on Romanian soil, emotional. One woman cries as a volunteer hands her a bottle of water.

DENIS STAMATASCU, RESTAURANT OWNER AND VOLUNTEER: All the Romanian people are mobilized to help these people.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Romanians stepping up, trying to make the Ukrainians feel a little bit at home. Denis Stamatascu closed his restaurant in Constanta. He now serves meals free to refugees.

STAMATASCU: We closed the restaurant and we are coming here to help these people. Chicken, pork? Chicken, pork?

MARQUEZ (voice-over): And for all those getting out, a few going back in. Alexander Pahomenka (ph) is returning to Mykolaiv. Russians have hammered the city.

MARQUEZ (on camera): And you are willing to die for Ukraine.

We all die, he says. Then adds, I'm afraid to die, but I'm not a coward.

Tatiana Butkyetava (ph) from Odessa along with her daughter, Miroslava (ph), their dog and two cats, she says they left because of what they heard was happening in places already controlled by the Russians.

I've heard about the violence, she says, and killings of peaceful people without any reason. She added, I had to leave. I was too stressed about it happening to me and my daughter.


MARQUEZ (on camera): Look, the Romanian government says that the number of refugees in recent days has actually come down a little bit from Ukraine, but they are very concerned about the number of internally displaced in Ukraine. They think that there are many tens of thousands on the border, and if and when the Russians continue their onslaught toward the west, that they will have another massive tidal wave of refugees coming into Romania and many other countries. Jake?

TAPPER: Miguel Marquez in Romania. Thank you so much for that report. Coming up next, siding with Russia, siding against Ukraine. How Donald Trump's long history of praising Putin, dismissing Ukrainian concerns, may have experts say, helped lay the ground work for what we're seeing in Ukraine today. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, the war in Ukraine is entirely the fault and responsibility of one man, Vladimir Putin, though of course, decades of misjudgements in western foreign policy set the stage for him as we have covered before. Recently, however, former President Donald Trump and his allies had been engaging in quite a bit of revisionist history about this matter.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is so sad because this would have never happened. If we had the

Trump administration, there was no chance that this would happen. And I know him well. And this was not something that was going to happen at all.


TAPPER: Trump, of course, failing to mention there his own actions and inactions that -- and that of his administration that may have enabled Putin in many ways, instead of calling out Russia's decades of invasion in Georgia 2008, annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Trump to this day, seems to find room to believe Putin even praised him as a genius, quote, unquote, genius for the brutal attack. Even some of Trump's former advisors wonder if his approach may have empowered the Russian president on the world stage.


TAPPER (voice-over): As the world watches Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine, a clearer picture comes into focus. Not only about Vladimir Putin's willingness to slaughter innocence in the name of restoring the old Soviet Empire, but also --

TAPPER: I would love to be able to get along with Russia.

TAPPER (voice-over): -- about how our former president consistently sent signals that he was not on Ukraine side, he was on Putin's. On the very day, Trump announced his presidential run in 2015, he made this clear.

TRUMP: I was over in Moscow two years ago. And I will tell you, you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can't.

JULIE IOFFE, FOUNDING PARTNER AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, PUCK NEWS: The way he denigrated allies, and spoke favorably of Putin and of other authoritarians around the world kind of give a clear signal both to American allies in the west and to Russia whose side this man would be on if he were in the White House.

TAPPER (voice-over): Trump said he would be looking into lifting sanctions against Russia for having annexed Crimea. And he seemed to buy Putin's argument that Russia's first military assault on Ukrainian sovereignty, taking Crimea in 2014 was not such a big deal.

TRUMP: You know, the people of Crimea from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.


IOFFE: That wasn't the issue. The issue was that it was annexed illegally against all international laws.

TAPPER (voice-over): Paul Manafort, Trump's second campaign chairman had close ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Paul Manafort has done an amazing job.

TAPPER (voice-over): Manafort was a lobbyist for a Russian-backed Ukrainian president for roughly a decade and was paid in part by Russian oligarchs, according to a 2020 Senate Intelligence Committee report. During Manafort's time as campaign chair, the campaign pushed sometimes bizarre and seemingly random disinformation that could have been written by the Kremlin.

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: You had the NATO base IN Turkey being under attack by terrorists. You had a number of things that were appropriate to this campaign, were part of what Mr. Trump has been talking about.

TAPPER (voice-over): And when the Republican National Committee's 2016 platform proposed to provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine in the face of the Russian threat, that language was quickly tabled and softened, promising only appropriate assistance. Once Manafort and Trump's team got involved.

IOFFE: That was a big victory for the Russians. And it underscored their sense that they were going to really win big if Trump won the White House, that they would have a major ally in the White House.

TAPPER (voice-over): Trump denied any direct involvement with the change of platform language.

TRUMP: I wasn't involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved --


TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that.

TAPPER (voice-over): Once in office, Trump's push the notion that the U.S. had moral equivalence with Russia, even as perceived opponents of the Kremlin kept ending up dead or poisoned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin is a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers get a lot of killers. Why do you think our country is so innocent?

TAPPER (voice-over): Trump argued Russia should be given back its seat within the powerful G7 summit, even though its membership had been revoked, as punishment for attacking Ukraine.

TRUMP: I would rather see Russia in the G8 as opposed to the G7. I would say that the G8 is a more meaningful group than the G7. Absolutely.

IOFFE: You have Trump lining up very clearly with Russia. You have him at a meeting with G7 leaders telling them just forget about Ukraine. Ukraine is Russian, let it go.

TAPPER (voice-over): And of course the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey amid the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. The then President met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, where Trump revealed highly classified information to the pair.

TRUMP: We had a very, very good meeting with Mr. Lavrov. And it was -- I thought it was very, very good.

TAPPER (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Muller's report found that Manafort and short lived National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who had been paid by Russian entities to attend and speak at this 2015 Gala, where he literally dined with Putin together push the nonsensical conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia that had meddled in the 2016 election.

TRUMP: Don't forget, Ukraine hated me. They were after me in the election. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

TAPPER (voice-over): A prelude to the events that paved the way to Trump's first impeachment. In summer 2019, Trump ousted his Ambassador to Ukraine at a critical time, fighting had continued in the east with separatists, backed by Russia's might, and Ukraine was in desperate need of support from the U.S.

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Ukraine is in a war with Russia, and the security assistance that we provide Ukraine is significant. Absent that security assistance, and maybe even more importantly, the signal of support for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity that would likely encourage Russia to pursue -- or to potentially escalate to pursue further aggression.

TAPPER (voice-over): Weeks later, Trump had his now infamous call with the newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, where Zelenskyy asked for more anti-tank javelins to protect his country from the Russian threat, and Trump followed up with a request of his own. Trump wanted Ukraine in exchange for that aid to help him in his re-election campaign. By announcing an investigation into Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate Trump feared the most according to his aides, and into Biden's son Hunter, who had a lucrative and ethically dubious position on the board of Ukrainian gas company.

IOFFE: It's just yet another way in which Trump very openly sided with Putin and dismissed the concerns and the needs of an important U.S. ally.

TAPPER (voice-over): Trump was being pushed behind the scenes by Defense Secretary Mark Esper among others to give the desperately needed military aid. And eventually Zelenskyy did get the weapons he asked for. And an in person meeting with Trump, though, not the one he wanted in the Oval Office.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We need support, real support. And we think -- thanks everybody.

TAPPER (voice-over): Trump and his supporters today note that unlike during the administrations of Bush and Obama, Putin never invaded any country during the Trump years which is true. Though Russia did significantly ramp up its military presence in Syria.


But former Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton said there could be a reason for that.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: In a second Trump term, I think he may well have withdrawn from NATO. And I think Putin was waiting for that.

TAPPER (voice-over): That signal had certainly been sent. TRUMP: Number one, NATO is obsolete, it's obsolete, and we pay too much money. They are delinquent. NATO is obsolete and has to be rejiggered.

IOFFE: You had candidate Trump talking in this way, saying that NATO was obsolete that he wanted to get along with Russia, that Russia was a superpower that we should take seriously and respect. I mean, that was music to Putin's ears.

TAPPER (voice-over): Behind closed doors, White House aides had to convince Trump to stand by NATO, according to The New York Times

BOLTON: I had my heart and my throat at that NATO meeting. I didn't know what the President would do. He called me up to his seat seconds before he gave his speech and I said, look, go right up to the line but don't go over it.

TAPPER (voice-over): It is aligned Bolton fears would have been crossed if Trump had been re-elected.


TAPPER: Coming up next, the clues leading police to believe the same gunman may be responsible for a series of shootings targeting homeless men in two major American cities. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our national lead, a manhunt underway after a string of homeless men were attacked and even murdered. Five shootings over nine days, three in Washington, D.C., two in New York City, all in the middle of the night. Officials think they're connected.

As CNN Shimon Prokupecz reports, surveillance video is providing vital clues in the search for the killer who is preying on society's most vulnerable.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, new video of a man that officials in New York City and Washington, D.C. are on the hunt for, suspected in a series of shootings targeting homeless men.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER, WASHINGTON, D.C.: What we know is that guns have been involved in scenes in New York and D.C. and that they have been matched ballistically.

PROKUPECZ (voice-over): In a joint investigation, authorities say they believe this person is behind at least five shootings with similar circumstances that have left two men dead. The man they are looking for suspected of three shootings in Washington at the beginning of the month. And then two more this past Saturday in New York City which left one dead.

New York City's Mayor Eric Adams says surveillance video of the weekend's attack showed an assassination.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK: You know, it broke my heart. If anyone saw the video of what happened last night, we responded to the scene and to preset. This was an attention murder. He stood over him and shot him in his head for no reason at all but being homeless, and so we will catch him.

PROKUPECZ (voice-over): The Washington ATF says there's a $55,000 reward as they look for tips on helping identify and arrest the suspect. In a statement released last night, Adams and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote that it is, "Heartbreaking and tragic to know that in addition to all the dangers that unsheltered residents face, we now have a cold-blooded killer on the loose."

At a vigil last night in New York City, emotions ran high.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more homeless New Yorkers must die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somehow those experiencing street homelessness have become public enemy number one.


PROKUPECZ: And Jake, shortly in the next hour, we'll get an update from officials, the NYPD police commissioner as well as the mayor travelling down to Washington, D.C. where they're going to hold a press conference, a joint press conference with officials there as this manhunt continues, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz in New York City, thank you so much.

Let's discuss. Mayor Bottoms, let me start with you. You dealt with rising crime firsthand while you're mayor of Atlanta from 2018 to 2022. What do you make of the D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams handling of these horrific shootings?

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, FORMER ATLANTA MAYOR: Well, I'm very happy that they have identified a suspect. And anytime you have a vulnerable population that is being victimized it is of concern. But this is what cities have been facing big and small across the country, dealing with this what I call COVID Crime Wave, we have seen an uptick in crime since 2020.

And unfortunately, all of the stressors of that were in place were made even worse during the pandemic. So anytime you're able to quickly identify a suspect that's always a very -- that's always very good news for the police department and for the public. But we must continue to deal with the systemic issues that are facing our communities, because we are going to find ourselves in the same place again with an uptick in crime.

TAPPER: And Scott Jennings, as the mayor just mentioned, violent crime climbs significantly during the COVID pandemic. When Republicans capitalize on the law and order issue during election years, it usually works. It's horrible to talk about the politics of any sort of tragedy, but the crime that we're seeing in the major cities, including this horrific -- these horrific shootings we just talked about could have -- there could be a result at the ballot box.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, no question. Republicans I think are going to use the crime issue in this midterm election. You're going to see Republicans point to Democrat run cities across the country where violent crime is up.


You're going to see Republicans point to Democrat preferred policies that they say are weak on criminal, say in New York City where you've got the prosecutor there And the mayor, frankly, who were endorsing pretty liberal views on decriminalizing certain actions. And then you got Joe Biden just a few weeks ago saying I'd like to see other mayors and other people follow New York City's lead. You're going to see all of this in the context of the midterm election.

And although you may not want to talk about politicizing the issue of crime, it is a political issue and that your vote matters, you know? If you vote for people who want policy Avers, policy B, these are the results you're going to get. So I think there's room to run for Republicans on this.

And I think it's one of the reasons, Jake, why you saw Joe Biden come out in the State of the Union and try to separate himself from the defund the police mantra that's taken hold in some quarters of the Democratic Party, because it's obviously quite unpopular.

TAPPER: Yes. What did you think about that, Mayor Bottoms, because obviously, it's not just people in the cities who are affected by rising crimes, it's people in the surrounding area. And a lot of people think that it was a lot of voters in the suburbs of places like Philadelphia, Atlanta, elsewhere, that delivered the presidency to Joe Biden?

BOTTOMS: Well, what I will remind people specifically in Georgia is that the governor of Georgia, who is a Republican is the chief law enforcement officer of our state, per our state constitution. But also when you look at policies, when you look at some of the decriminalization efforts, they are centred on nonviolent offenders, nonviolent crimes.

People -- leaders in cities and states across America is still very focused on addressing violent crime. But again, you have to look at it as a whole. It's the reason in Atlanta specifically that we took money from the American Rescue Funds to put it towards violence intervention work, because you are either going to pay on the front end, or you're going to pay on the back.

And I sat as a judge for many years. And what I saw is that many times people came into court, they didn't have an education, they didn't have jobs, they didn't have access to mental health treatment, drug treatments, et cetera. So we have to make those important investments in those systemic areas, while also focusing on getting valid offenders off of our streets, keeping them incarcerated, once they get into court. I don't think that's a partisan issue. We all agree on that.

TAPPER: Scott, just quick thought. I was wondering what you thought about the fact tonight, there's a fundraiser for Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who has been targeted for defeat by Donald Trump. So many people RSVP yes to her fundraiser that they had to move to a larger venue. The donor interest isn't all for Cheney's re-election bid. I mean, part of it is about boosting a champion in the Republican Party, within the Republican Party of somebody who stands for different things and then Donald Trump. What do you think is at stake here?

JENNINGS: Well, for Cheney, obviously, she's built up a lot of friends over the years. The Cheney family is quite popular among a lot of donors. And so I'm not surprised that she's having good success on that. I do think there is a desire and the polling bears this out. A lot of Republicans don't want to nominate Donald Trump again.

I think what's working in his favor is that you may have a number of people running for the nomination. So just like in 2016, as you remember, it would be quite easy for him, I think, to get the nomination if he faces a hugely fragmented field. I'm not sure there's a huge market for what Liz Cheney is selling in a national primary, but there's certainly some market for it. And I suspect she might give it a whirl and she'd obviously have some support if she did.

TAPPER: Scott Jennings, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, thanks to both you. Appreciate it.

Coming up, Dolly Parton doing something she almost never does. She's bowing out. We'll explain next. Stay with us.






TAPPER: "Baby I'm Burning" may sound a little like rock and roll. But according to Dolly Parton, it's not enough for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The beloved musical icon is taking herself out of consideration for the 2022 class of inductees. Parton says she doesn't feel right. She doesn't feel like she's earned the right to be honoured in that way. But that she's now inspired to hopefully put out a great rock and roll album in the future.

I bet on her to put out an amazing album whatever genre she attempts. Also, this is a note for you, all of Dolly Parton fans out there. You might not want to miss my interview with the country music legend for our new CNN Plus show Jake Tapper's book club. I'm going to speak with her along with co-author James Patterson about their brand new novel that's out right now. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: You famously broke out of a partnership in your career lead to have, "I Will Always Love You," I think as one of the --


TAPPER: That song came from that relationship.

PARTON: I think I'm good at everything.

TAPPER: But how important was it for you to deliver that message?

PARTON: You've got to really -- you got to be tough whether you like it or not if you're going to make it. I felt like God gave me a talent and he meant for me to use it. And I always depended on him for extra strength when I hit the wall with certain people, because I was stubborn who kind of got that from my dad, and now got a little stubborn streak.

If I believe in something. I won't let it go. And I won't let somebody take it from me.


TAPPER: The full interview with Dolly Parton and James Patterson will be available when CNN Plus launches on March 29th, a reminder to join the book club. Sign up for our newsletter. Go to,

Until tomorrow. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok. You can also tweet the show at TheLeadCNN. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.