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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Biden In Poland: Stakes Of Ukraine War Go Beyond Its Borders; Ukrainian Family: 11-Year-Old Girl Shot In Face By Russian Soldier; Head Of U.S. Cybersecurity Warns Russia Could Retaliate For Sanctions; January 6 Committee: Wife Of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Pushed Trump White House Chief Of Staff To Overturn 2020 Election; 14- Year-Old Dies After Falling From Florida Amusement Park Ride. Aired 4- 5p ET
Aired March 25, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The total is now more than $6.6 million. If you would like to find out how you can help, and to watch the full salute to the Ukrainian people, go to CNNHeroes.com.
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts now.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: You can see the pain in the mothers' eyes.
THE LEAD starts right now.
After meeting with U.S. troops deployed to Poland, President Biden is about to see up close the agony millions of Ukrainians are dealing with as they flee their homes.
And then the faces of war. CNN visits a children's hospital in Ukraine and meets an 11-year-old girl shot in the face by Russian soldiers while trying to escape Putin's war.
Plus, an exclusive interview with the woman who was in charge of protecting America from cyberattacks. Why the threat from Russia is unprecedented right now.
BROWN: Hello and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper on this Friday.
And we begin this hour in Warsaw, Poland.
Well, President Biden is focusing on the human toll of the war on Ukraine and the lives upended by Russia's brutal invasion. More than 3.7 million people have now left Ukraine, more than half crossing into Poland, a NATO ally. The president visited U.S. members stationed just 75 miles away from where Russian bombs have fallen. President Biden told them the stakes of this war go far beyond the borders of Ukraine.
As Kaitlan Collins reports, the president's trip gives him a firsthand look at a region feeling deeply unsettled by the war next door. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Poland today, President Biden highlighting the human toll of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those little babies, little children, looking at mothers who -- you don't have to understand the language they speak. You see in their eyes the pain.
COLLINS: More than 2 million people have arrived in Poland since the invasion began, displaced by what Biden calls Putin's war of choice.
BIDEN: It is like something out of a science fiction movie. You turn on the television and see what these towns look like, these cities.
COLLINS: After pledging a billion dollars in assistance, Biden was briefed by Polish President Duda and other officials pleading the humanitarian response.
PRES. ANDRZEJ DUDA, POLAND: We do not call them refugees. They're our guests, our brothers, our neighbors in Ukraine here today are in a very difficult situation, or 12 million people have fled their houses by the war.
COLLINS: The president indicating he wanted to see the war up close but was ultimately advised against going into Ukraine.
BIDEN: Quite frankly, part of my disappointment is that I can't see it firsthand like I have in other places. They will not let me, understandably, I guess, cross the border.
COLLINS: Earlier, the president also spent time with U.S. troops based in Poland sent there as a visible deterrent to President Putin.
BIDEN: We have 100,000 American forces here in Europe. We haven't had that in a long, long time, because we are the organizing principle for the rest of the world.
COLLINS: Biden was in Rzeszow, the Polish city that has becoming a hub for getting Western military aid into Ukraine and anti-aircraft missiles were seen at the airport. The commander-in-chief sitting down for a slice of pizza with service members, and later sharing personal stories about his late son Beau.
BIDEN: Proudest thing he ever did was put that uniform on. Like many of you, he didn't have to go, either. There were hundreds of thousands like my son, like all of you. So thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
COLLINS (on camera): And, Pamela, today, President Biden came face to face with those U.S. forces who are stationed here in Poland. Tomorrow, he'll come face to face with some of the Ukrainian refugees who have fled Ukraine since this invasion started and are now in Poland. Obviously, that has the potential to be a very emotional day for President Biden.
And after that, he'll get what the White House is billing as a major address. I'm told it will be a broader look at what this trip has meant, not just for him but overall, the look of this invasion. Unfortunately, they don't expect to it end any time soon.
After that, Pamela, he'll return back to Washington.
BROWN: All right. Kaitlan Collins reporting live for us in Warsaw, thank you.
And from Poland to Romania, which also shares a border with Ukraine, more than 570,000 refugees have fled there to Romania.
CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us live from Bucharest, Romania.
And, Miguel, the administration says it will allow 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the U.S. Is there any interest among those you've been talking to there?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is not a clear pros how they get those visas. It's only been announced. So, it will create a lot of interest certainly. We spoke to one family today from Dnipro. That's area that just started to get hit, the region has been hit a little bit over the last month.
This is a family of six, four kids from age 6 to age 13. They are now applying for a Canadian visa. They think they will get it very soon and they decided in an instant, it was time to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SVETLANA SHELKUNOVA, FLED DNIPRO (through translator): It's difficult for the kids. They really want to talk to their friends. But the situation as it is, we are moving on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUEZ: And that's exactly the point. They are moving on. Three weeks ago when we got here, there was shock and disbelief at what was happening. People plan to go back to Ukraine as soon as they could.
Now, it seems to be settling in to the realization, that they are not going back any time soon and they are looking for options for the long term. And for this family, it looks like they will be moving to Canada -- Pam.
BROWN: Do Romanian officials expect the situation to get worse? Because we know how many have actually left Ukraine, according to the U.N. numbers. But there's a lot of people have left their homes who still remain in Ukraine who may want to get out, too.
MARQUEZ: It is those internally displace that had they're very concerned about. We met a lot of people who hung out in the Lviv area and now they're coming into Romania and other countries. The number of refugees coming across the border into Romania is starting to creep up. It has been creeping up a little in the last few days.
So, that may be the start of a much bigger wave. It all depends on what happens with the humanitarian corridors and how much the Russians continue to hit those civilian areas across the country -- Pam.
BROWN: All right. Miguel Marquez, with important reporting from Bucharest, Romania, thank you, Miguel.
Joining me live to discuss is former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. He is also the special representative for Ukrainian negotiations.
So, Mr. Ambassador, I want to start with your reaction to what we just heard there from Miguel and his reporting. Do you think it is likely that these refugees will see their homes again? So many are still holding out hope for that.
KURT VOLKER, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS: I think quite naturally. They don't want to be refugees. They're not looking to move. They're very proud to be Ukrainians and they want to get back to their homes.
For that to happen, Putin has to actually lose this war. So, that needs to be an important focus going forward. To try to make sure Ukrainians prevail and give them all the help we can. And I do think they will make it. I don't think Putin can ultimately take and hold Ukraine so they will have the opportunity to go home but it is heart- breaking to see the situation they're in and the choices they're having to make now.
BROWN: Talking about the help they need, Ukrainian officials are telling the U.S. they urgently need 500 aircraft missiles and 500 anti-tank missiles. Do you think that's a realistic request that the U.S. could meet?
VOLKER: Well, not alone. I think that it is up for all countries, the United States and our allies, to look at what we have in stores. To look at what we can give from our own military and then fill in to beef up our own military after transferred that. But I think it is a realistic number and I think that it is also something that is essential for us to do.
We have to recognize that we can't allow Putin's aggression to be rewarded, either with territory or with conquering Ukraine. We can't allow a permanent humanitarian catastrophe like this. If he's not stopped in Ukraine, when there is a Ukrainian military government ready to do the fighting, we're going to be facing even more situations after. So, it's essential that we give them everything that we can.
BROWN: President Biden, as you heard earlier, said that he is disappointed that he can't cross into Ukraine but he will be meeting with refugees in Poland and he will be given a major address, according to the White House. What would you like to hear from him on this?
VOLKER: Well, a couple things. First off, I'm so glad he's doing that. I think it is an important symbol for the United States. Meeting with refugees, showing the human face of this conflict to the world which I think is critically important. We need to hear a couple things. We need to hear that Ukraine's survival as an independent, sovereign state is an American interest and it's a NATO interest and we will do everything that we can to make sure that they survive.
We need to see great outpouring for the humanitarian relief effort, and we need to have a tough warning, as he has been doing already -- a tough warning against any use of weapons of mass destruction.
BROWN: I want to ask but his response as well and when he has taken a number of responses off the table for Ukraine. If Russia launches a chemical, biological or nuclear attack on Ukraine, what options remain that fits with the president's previously stated limits, saying there would be consequences?
VOLKER: Yeah. Well, I think we have to stop putting limits on ourselves. What Putin has done in Ukraine is unconscionable and intolerable. So we should stop putting the limits out there in public and make Putin begin to wonder what it is we actually may do.
The last thing he wants is to draw NATO or the United States into this conflict. He needs to be warned and he needs to be careful.
As far as what things should be, I don't think it is wise. I think the president is right. Don't tell in advance what we will do. Equally, don't say what we won't do. Let Putin be in doubt.
Make clear that there will be forceful consequences of any use of weapons of mass destruction by Russia.
BROWN: All right, Ambassador Kurt Volker, thank you so much for joining the show.
VOLKER: Thank you.
BROWN: Resisting the Russians. New evidence Russian forces may be stopped in their tracks outside Kyiv. Plus, she's an aspiring gymnast who loves animals. Now this 11-year-old girl is being treated for a gunshot wound in the face in a Ukrainian children's hospital. Her story, next.
BROWN: In the world lead today, the Ukrainian army says its forces have killed yet another Russian general. This one during fighting near Kherson in southern Ukraine. This makes the sixth Russian general believed to be killed since the start of Putin's invasion. And around the capital of Kyiv, Russian forces are now in the
defensive position, showing no signs of further ground movements. Ukrainians are also getting a clear picture of a major loss. Officials in Mariupol now believe as many as 300 people were killed when Russia bombed a theater last week.
This was building that had the word children spelled out in big letters spread outside. New video today showing the immediate aftermath of that bombing, as you see it right here. You can see the holes in the walls and people making their way down dusty stairwells filled with debris.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv today.
So, Fred, U.S. officials believe that Ukrainians have stopped Russians from advancing into the capital city on the ground. But that doesn't mean the attacks have stop, right?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it certainly doesn't. And throughout the course of the day, Pamela, we have been hearing a lot of air raid sirens going off in the Ukrainian capital. I was here a good chunk of the day and there were quite a few of the air alarms and what seemed to be surface to air missile fire coming from Ukrainian positions. Obviously, they were thinking, they were seeing some sort of Russian movement in the air that could have threatened the Ukrainian capital.
And then the battle still does go on near Kyiv as well. What we're seeing on the screen is that suburb of Irpin where a lot of the fighting has been good on, where the Ukrainians are saying they're in control of about 80 percent of that place. As you can see, massive destruction on the ground there.
But we've been in touch with the local authorities. They say there is a lot of shelling going on from the Russian military, that there are still people dying on the ground there as well. Apparently about 4,000 residents are inside that place, believe it or not, when you see the scale of the destruction there. So that's something that is a constant battle. Still very much on the door step of the Ukrainian capital.
And then elsewhere, to the south of the Ukrainian capital, not very far from here. The Russians say they hit an oil depot, or fuel depot, from the Ukrainian military. They say it is the largest one still intact that the Ukrainian military was using. And you can see in the video, some billowing smoke coming from there.
The Russians say they used a caliber cruise missile to take that depot out. Obviously, a blow to the Ukrainian military. But at the same time, they are saying right now, Ukraine is on the offensive -- Pamela.
BROWN: And, Fred, from the beginning of this invasion, Russia has used Belarus to move troops and resources. And now, a U.S. defense official says Russia is moving resources from the country of Georgia into Ukraine.
What do we know about that?
PLEITGEN: Yeah, absolutely. That is what the U.S. is saying. What we have to keep in mind, the Russians do have a force inside Georgia. They have an occupied territory there called southern Ossetia. So, they do hold some territory in what is Georgia, after the invasion in 2008. Now the Russians seem to be moving some forces out of there, possibly moving them here to the battlefield in Ukraine.
That could indicate the Russians are facing personnel shortages and gear shortages also, on the ground. It is unclear where they would be moving into Ukraine. But, you know, you're absolutely right. The Russians have been using other countries to move gear and personnel into the Ukraine theater.
Belarus, so far, of course, has been the one used the most but possibly an indication that the Russians are having some issues on the ground.
BROWN: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much, live for us from Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukraine's southeast region has seen some of the worst of Russia's invasion. And escaping cities like southeast Ukraine such as Odessa, Kherson and Mariupol requires Ukrainians to get past Russian troops. Well, one Ukrainian family says their encounter with Russian forces turned violent.
Despite trying to comply and putting their hands up, Russian troops still fired at them, hitting the little girl.
CNN's Ivan Watson found them at a children's hospital where sadly, many other families have similar stories.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Eleven-year-old Melena Uralova (ph) lies in a hospital, recovering nine days after a Russian soldier shot her through the face. Horribly wounded, and yet quick to show off how she can count in English.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One, 2, 3, 4 --
WATSON: She can't speak loudly, her mother Elana explains. She has a bullet wound to her jaw and the base of her tongue, she says. The bullet was lodged in her throat, near her carotid artery.
Melena does gymnastics. She's going to show me a couple of videos. This was Melena before Russia invaded Ukraine flipping and dancing. But now, she can barely walk.
We met Melena here in a makeshift bomb shelter in the basement of a children's hospital.
The nurses here say that six or seven times a day and night, due to air raid sirens, they have to bring these newborns who all have medical complications in and out of this room for hours at a time for their safety.
The windows are protected by sandbags. On March 16th, Elena, her two daughters and mother-in-law fled from the Ukrainian fled from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after enduring weeks of Russian bombardment, jumping into the back of a car with two strangers to escape.
They navigated many Russian military checkpoints, and then at around noon, Elana says, they made a turn toward the town of Vasylivka and stumbled across Russian soldiers who opened fire on the car without warning.
ELENA URALOVA, DAUGHTER SHOT ESCAPING MARIUPOL, UKRAINE (through translator): We started turning and that's when they started firing at us from machine guns. After that, of course, the driver stopped. We started opening our doors, walking out with our hands up. After which they were shouting something. We did not know what. That's when we saw what happened to my daughter, the younger one. We took her out of the car and she was wounded.
WATSON: Her mother says realizing their mistake, the Russian soldiers gave her daughter first-aid and sent her to a nearby hospital in the Russian occupied town. A Red Cross vehicle later brought her to this hospital for life-saving surgery. The hospital has treated nine wounded children in the last two weeks.
What injuries are you seeing?
DR. IVAN ANIKIN, ANETHESIOLOGIST: Different injuries, different trauma. It is head trauma, it's amputation, it is bullets trauma.
WATSON: Dr. Ivan Anikin says Melena is now stable and will live, hopefully without long-term physical disabilities.
ANIKIN: But she has not so good psychological status. She worries, she cry, she afraid different sounds.
WATSON: Melena's mother has a message for the Russian soldiers who shot her daughter.
URALOVA: Go back home. Why are they here? They are mercenaries who don't care about us. Don't care about the situation in this country or this war. They don't care who they are shooting at.
WATSON: As for Melena, she shows photos of her cats and looks forward to one day going back to doing gymnastics.
Ivan Watson, CNN, Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
BROWN: Our thanks to Ivan Watson for that powerful reporting and telling that little girl's story. We wish her the best as she heals.
And coming up, I talk to the woman in charge of protecting America from the hidden Russian threats that could cripple the U.S. The CNN exclusive interview, up next.
BROWN: In the tech lead, in an exclusive interview today, the head of cyber security for the U.S. government warns Russia may not only attack, attempt a cyberattack on critical infrastructure in the U.S., but might also try to push disinformation about that attack to sow panic.
Jen Easterly led CISA or the Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, the threat of a Russian cyberattack is not new So, I asked my guest why Americans and companies need to be hyper vigilant right now. Here's her response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN EASTERLY, CISA DIRECTOR: It was pretty unprecedented to see the president of the United States earlier this week make a specific statement about Russian cyber activity and focus on potential cyberattacks. Why should Americans carry about that? At the end of the day, these networks, these systems, this data, this is really what underpins our daily lives. It is our water, our power, how we get money from the bank, how we get gas at the pump, how we get food at the grocery store. That infrastructure is at risk of malicious cyber activity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Easterly also told me the economic sanctions on Russia could also have consequences in cyberspace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EASTERLY: Malicious cyber activity is part of the Russian playbook. So, there could be cascading attacks from cyberattacks in Europe. There could be an uptick in ransomware activity and there could be deliberate retaliatory attacks for the very severe, very punitive sanctions that the U.S. and our allies have come together as a community to levy on Russia and the Russian government may feel like they can use these capabilities, this preparatory activity, the exploration for potential cyber attacks to have a real impact on the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Easterly also weighed in on the invasion likely not going as Putin planned, saying those battlefield setbacks could be putting more pressure on Russian intelligence officials.
The cybersecurity agency CISA wants to stress every organization and business, large and small, should be proactive against cyber incidents, using multifactor authentication systems, keeping software up to date, organizations can also report abnormal cyber activity any time by emailing report at CISA.gov. I'm going to have more tomorrow night starting at 7:00 Eastern. She talks about how her past experience at the NSA, breaking into other computers, is helping inform how she is leading the agency now and how she is protecting the U.S. from Russian cyberattacks.
Well, coming up, growing calls for a Supreme Court justice to recuse himself from some cases after text messages between the justice's wife and Trump's chief of staff are revealed.
BROWN: In our politics lead, newly revealed text messages raising conflict of interest concerns about the nation's highest court. The January 6th committee is now in possession of 29 texts between Mark Meadows and conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and what she pleads with former Trump White House chief of staff to fight to overturn the 2020 election.
As CNN's Ryan Nobles reports, the communications revealed the extent of the behind the scenes push to undermine the vote.
GINNI THOMAS, WIFE OF SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS: They ain't seen nothing yet --
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Controversy swirling around Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, after it was reveal she was pushing Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, to keep Donald Trump in office after he lost the 2020 election. The revelations coming in a series of texts obtained by CNN and in the hands of January 6th Select Committee.
On November 10, shortly after news networks declared Joe Biden the winner, Thomas wrote Meadows, quote: Help this great president stand firm, Mark. She went on to say, the majority knows Biden and the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history.
Thomas also pushed Meadows to get behind the dubious legal effort by conservative lawyer Sidney Powell to overturn the election. Writing on November 19th, sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud. Make a plan. Release the kraken and save us from the left taking America down.
It is these types of texts that could cause problems for Justice Thomas. He weighed in on one election case arguing the court should look at the case seeking to overturn the election results in four states.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The problem is it creates an enormous appearance of impropriety that Justice Thomas is ruling on these issues when his wife is intimately involved in the underline facts. NOBLES: Ginni Thomas is a long time outspoken conservative activist.
And while she has insisted her work is separate from her husband's, they do have a close, personal relationship.
CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: My wife is totally my best friend.
NOBLES: And now his wife is under scrutiny as part of an investigation he has already ruled on. Justice Thomas casting a dissenting vote on a decision by the High Court allowing the House Select Committee investigating January 6 to gain access to thousands of White House documents that Trump tried to keep secret. Several Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden of Oregon, calling on Thomas to recuse himself going forward on all matters related to January 6th.
At the bare minimum, Justice Thomas needs to recuse himself from any case related to the January 6th investigation and should Donald Trump run again, any case related to the 2024 election. Clarence Thomas, who left the hospital on 48, recovering from an infection, declined to talk to CNN but he still has the backing of Republicans in Congress.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think Justice Thomas could make his decisions like he's made them every other time. It is his decision based upon law.
NOBLES (on camera): So now the question for the committee is, what to do with this information. And I'm told there is an active debate among members of the committee to try to determine if it is even worth it to call Ginni Thomas in front of the committee to answer questions about what she knew about the events leading up to January 6th. There was a concern it could be a distraction from their overall mission. This is something the committee expects to talk about in earnest next week when the House returns to session -- Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, you initially broke the story along with our colleagues, Jamie Gangel and others.
So let's discuss with our correspondents and commentators.
Tia, to you first, these text messages reveal a lot about Ginni Thomas and her thinking after the November election and her desire to overturn the election results. What stands out to you?
TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: I think what stands out to me is that the text messages appear to indicate that she was among the many Americans had a believed a lot of the QAnon conspiracy theories, and it shows how widespread QAnon's reach has been. You know, the fact a spouse of a Supreme Court justice believes some of these baseless, you know, falsehoods and lies, that to me is the most surprising. And also, that she felt empowered to go to some of the highest levels of the executive branch at the time, spreading those series all the way up, you know, just short of the president.
That's really surprising to me.
BROWN: Right. She had a top line to the president's top aide.
So, Abby, you heard there Ryan talking about the committee is trying to decide whether to ask her to come in, what they should do.
What do you think the significance of these texts are to the committee?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: Well, I think we don't know the extent of Ginni Thomas in all of this. It is an open question given the name of the questions she was sending, the frequency she was communicating with Mark Meadows. I don't think we know enough to know how involved she was or wasn't. Whether the January 6th Committee wants to take the time to find out, I think it is a hard question, maybe she was more involved, but it doesn't rise to the level that it overwhelms the other evidence they have and it is not worth the effort. They will have to make that determination.
I think beyond that, the significance of this in part is also about the court, frankly. I mean, this is an anti-Democratic project that she was incredibly invested in. She is the wife of a Supreme Court justice who is ruling on these issues.
And Clarence Thomas himself has talked recently about the confidence the American people have in the court. I don't see how this doesn't do more to chip away at that than, say, the idea of court packing, which I think most people believe is not going to go anywhere.
BROWN: Right. I mean, Ginni Thomas is a private citizen, but the larger issue here is that her husband is a Supreme Court justice who was the lone dissent in the case that came before the court on turning over White House documents to the January 6th committee.
So it is raising a lot of questions, Kristen, about whether he should have recused himself. What do you think happens with this?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, FELLOW AT GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS AND PUBLIC SERVICE: I think he would be very wise now that he I believe has been discharged from the hospital, to issue a statement clarifying how much he has discussed with his wife and what his involvement is, if any, in her political activism. We've had -- there is a precedent for the court. Just recently, there was a controversy between two justices and jokes that were made and they issued some statements and tried to get the story to go away.
So, issuing statements to address controversies would not be new. I think it could be appropriate in this case at a minimum to set -- to try to clear the air about what did Justice Thomas know about his wife's text messaging, and how separate was this.
BROWN: Right. And we should remind our viewers, when it comes to recusal, the Supreme Court justices have a different set of standards than the lower courts. It is basically an honor system. They get to decide whether they should or not.
And there have been lawmakers weighing in on this. For one, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy saying he doesn't think Justice Thomas should have to recuse himself. Just this week, Senator Ted Cruz as we all saw pressed Supreme Court nominee Jackson about recusing herself in a case involving her alma mater's affirmative action policy.
So, what do you make of this?
NAVIN NAYAK, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I mean, the hypocrisy there is broad daylight this week where Republicans are asking, as you mentioned, potentially future justice to recuse herself from an affirmative action case. And there is no question, I mean, I don't think it is a dispute that Justice Thomas should not have ruled in this case. In fact, he may have known that his wife's texts were the ones that would have been revealed if the committee got access to the president's documents.
So there is maybe more communication involved that we don't know about, that the community might have access to. And I think that's -- there's no question, that's one part of the story. I think the other, which I think the committee has done a great job and it keep trickling out.
They filed in court that they believe there was a criminal conspiracy executed by the former president and his campaign, and they are showing that this isn't just a bunch of hoodlums who showed up on the mall, and it wasn't just the president. There was a vast set of individuals including the chief of staff, the wife of a Supreme Court justice. We keep seeing this. That there were people involved in overturning an election.
BROWN: But quickly, what would you say to those on the other side who say she is a private citizen. She can have her own life, her own thoughts and opinions. Why does this matter? Because those in her camp are staunchly defending her and that is the argument that they're making.
MITCHELL: I think one of the things we talked about is, if this was applied to something on the other side of the aisle. Would the same standard be in place?
And again, we've seen Republicans indicate that there are things they wouldn't tolerate for someone who perhaps disagreed with them politically. So if we're talking about what is the standard for recusal, what is the standard for a conflict of interest, what is the standard for what type of activity that someone close to a Supreme Court justice is doing that perhaps would compromise the judge's ability to be impartial?
That's what we need to consider.
BROWN: What do you think, Abby? PHILLIP: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. This is a question of
whether or not Justice Thomas frankly should ever rule on these issues when it comes to this president, his election lies, the attempts, by the way, which would in the minds of some of these individuals, brought the issue of the election all the way to the Supreme Court. The purpose was to get this issue to the court.
And the question is, can Justice Thomas rule on those issues, given his wife's involvement in the conspiracies to overturn the last election.
BROWN: Right. It's one thing to look at what he's done in the past. He didn't recuse. But these issues will still be coming before the court. Thank you all so much.
And be sure to join Abby Phillip for "INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY" at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.
Coming up, amusement park horror. A teenager dies after falling from a ride hundreds of feet in the air. CNN talks to his father, up next.
BROWN: In our national lead, tragedy on a recently opened amusement park ride in Orlando. Investigators are looking for the reason why 14- year-old Tyre Samson fell to his death last night from a 40-story high ride at a Florida amusement park, billed by park officials as the world's tallest free-standing drop tower.
Just released footage shows the moment before the accident. And we want to warn you, this video is very disturbing.
CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us live from Miami with more.
And, Leyla, you just spoke to the father of the 14-year-old victim. What did he tell you?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a tough conversation, Pamela. The father of Tyre Samson, bottom line, he wants answers. He says there is a lot he doesn't understand. The only thing he knows for sure is that his only son, one that he described as kind and talented, with hopes of maybe one day going into pro football, will no longer be here to live out his dreams.
He said that he has not heard from any authorities or anybody from the company or the amusement park. He found out about this, actually, through social media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YARNELL SAMPSON, VICTIM'S FATHER: It felt like something, it hit me so hard in my stomach. I just lost wind. The pain behind it can never be taken away. And sorry is not going to take it back. And no money, no -- nothing in the world can replace him, you know? As I said, a young man with a bright future was taken away over a ride, in an amusement park.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: So what he wants is not only answers but to ensure it never happens to another parent or child again. Tyre was from Missouri. He was here with his football team on spring break, Pamela.
BROWN: I can't believe the father found out about this on social media. It's just unfathomable. That's awful.
So, what are investigators saying about the incident?
SANTIAGO: So, there are several investigations right now. We heard from the Orange County sheriff's office today and they tell us that at this point, they believe it is an accident. They got there last night at 11:00 after they received multiple 911 calls. We just received those calls. I want you to listen to one of them.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OPERATOR: Orange County Fire and Rescue.
CALLER: Hi -- 8433 International Drive at the slingshot. Someone fell from the ride. We are responding.
OPERATOR: All right. I have help on the way. I have, I received a couple of calls. Is the patient awake?
CALLER: We don't know. He's face down. He has blood on his feet. We don't know. We don't know. Someone said he was breathing but I'm not sure.
OPERATOR: Correct. All right. I have help on the way. Are you with me now?
CALLER: Thank you. Yeah, we're all here.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SANTIAGO: And the ride is now shut down indefinitely, Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.
We'll be right back.
BROWN: In our national lead, a happy ending to a scary story. You may have seen this video of a picture truck getting blown over and spun around by wind from a tornado near -- in Texas this week. As it turned out, the driver survived all of this.
Sixteen-year-old Riley Leon says when it was all over, he called his mother and told her, mom, the tornado took me. Riley is recovering from back fractures and may need surgery. However, Chevrolet is donating a brand new red pick-up to Riley and his family.
And before we go, a correction. In November, we ran a story about Afghans desperate to pay high sums beyond the reach of average Afghans. The story included a lead-in and banner throughout the story that referenced a black market. The use of the term black market in the story was in error.
The story included reporting on Zachary Young, a private operator who had been contacted by family members of Afghans trying to flee the country. We didn't mean to suggest that Mr. Young participated in the black market. We regret the error and to Mr. Young, we apologize.
Tune in to CNN Sunday for a two-hour edition of "STATE OF THE UNION". My colleague Dana Bash will be talking to Senator Cory Booker, Senator James Risch, plus, chef and philanthropist, Jose Andres. For the second hour, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States joins us as well as Senator Mark Warner and Congressman Mike McCaul. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday.
And you can catch more of me on CNN tomorrow and Sunday evening. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."