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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Russia Dropping Bombs Despite Claims It's Scaling Back War; White House: Biden Told Zelenskyy U.S. Will Give $500M In New Aid; FDA Authorizes Second Booster Shots For Adults 50+; FDA Authorizes Second Booster Shots For Adults 50+; Federal Investigation Of The President's Son Heats Up; 50M Americans At Risk For Life-Threatening Extreme Weather. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired March 30, 2022 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: If this is a drastic reduction in Russia's assault on Ukraine, I hope we never see what an escalation looks like.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Russian bombs rain down upon civilian parts of Ukraine after the Kremlin claimed its attacks would stop. CNN's on the ground where one missile struck.
Also ahead, President Biden's hour long call to Ukraine's president and his new offer of assistance while Biden's also been confronted with a protest right outside the White House and new calls for action from the parents of an American marine detained in Russia.
Plus, the threat of dangerous spring storms in the hours ahead after one tornado already touched down and wreaked havoc in Arkansas.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
And we start today with breaking news in our world lead. The empty promises from the Kremlin. Despite Russian government claims it planned to reduce the number of troops around Kyiv and Chernihiv, the Pentagon says there is not any evidence Russian troops are actually going home and Ukraine's ministry of defense said today the Russian army is continuing a, quote, full scale armed aggression.
New video in the Western suburb of Irpin shows homes decimated, cars mangled, playgrounds empty.
Chernihiv's mayor said there was a, quote, colossal attack on civilian apartment buildings, shopping malls, even libraries there. At least 25 wounded according to local authorities. No word yet on how many innocent Ukrainians were killed.
In Mariupol, entire city blocks have been obliterated. New satellite images today revealing what five weeks of shelling looks like, and we're now learning a Red Cross warehouse in central Mariupol was hit by at least two military strikes. The Biden administration claims there are growing tensions between Vladimir Putin and his top defense officials according to a U.S. official, the United States government believes the leader has become aware that his advisers have been, quote, misinforming him about how, quote, badly the Russian military is performing because Putin's advisers are, of course, too scared to tell him the truth.
Let's get straight to CNN's chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour who's live for us in Kyiv.
And, Christiane, the suburbs around Ukraine's capital, as you know, have been some of the hardest hit even if after Russia claimed they would deescalate military operations. You visited a nearby warehouse hit by a missile. Tell us what you found.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, yes, and Jake, even as we talk now, I can hear the distant rumble of shelling. I don't know whether it's out or incoming, but it is a noise. And we heard a very, very, very and noisy night last night right after the Russians said they were deescalating.
So we went to a suburb of Kyiv, about an hour ago, which is north of here, and that had been hit and it's continually under Russian bombardment. Here's what we found.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Missiles have struck the town of Brovary, a suburb of Eastern Kyiv, twice in the last week alone. This tangled, jagged mass of metal and cladding is what's left of a massive warehouse that stored food, paper, and the beer and alcohol that's no longer allowed to be consumed under martial law.
This happened almost exactly the same time the Russians were announcing their de-escalation around Kyiv. This missile struck right here. Imagine the good fortune of the truck driver who was loading up to take crates and packages and boxes of food and supplies to the supermarkets in this town and also to Kyiv. He managed to survive.
We are told three workers were killed but Brovary has never fallen to Russian forces. Directly west of here, Russian and Ukrainian troops have been fiercely fighting over the town of Irpin and now it does appear that the Russians are retreating from here. A clear indication that this war around Kyiv has simply not gone the way Russia planned. Whatever the reason, Moscow says it's retrenching, their intercepted radio conversations verified by "The New York Times" show their soldiers in distress from the very start.
RUSSIAN SOLDIER: I urgently need refueling, water, food supplies. This is Sirena. Over.
AMANPOUR: This was west of the capital, in Makariv, in the very first days of the war, already signaling the focus on civilians once their own so-called properties were out of harm's way.
RUSSIAN SOLDIER: There was a decision made to remove the first "property" from the residential area and to cover the residential area with artillery. Over.
AMANPOUR: This security video shows a Russian armored vehicle just blowing up a car, instantly killing the elderly couple inside.
Ukraine has lost its fighters, too. Here in the Brovary cemetery, Boris the caretaker shows us freshly dug graves.
This guy, this soldier died on the very first day of the war.
It's raining. It's drizzling here today. Almost as if this city is crying as it mourns its war dead because all of these graves are for the fighters of this place who have fallen in combat since this war began.
This grave has been dug, but the family can't yet bury their son. A soldier who was fighting in a village 15 kilometers away that's held by the Russians. They haven't yet been able to get his body released.
And even Boris' heart breaks when he tells me about a father who lost his only child and who asked, what do I have to live for now?
AMANPOUR: So, amidst the tragedy, of course, there's a national effort. President Zelenskyy has talked to the Norwegian parliament today and he is calling for more weapons he says that they desperately need, things like Javelins and other, you know, anti-tank and aircraft that they are running out of because they're using them so much -- Jake.
TAPPER: CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you so much as always.
Today, President Biden promised to send $500 million additional dollars in aid to Ukraine after speaking with President Zelenskyy for nearly an hour. This time, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, the money will cover direct budgetary aid such as government salaries among other matters according to a U.S. official.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden speaking with President Zelenskyy for over an hour today as Russia sends mixed signals in Ukraine.
KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It is increasingly clear that Putin's war has been a strategic blunder.
COLLINS: Biden promising Zelenskyy $500 million in new aid to help with salaries and other expenses, as his government confronts Russia's ongoing attacks.
BEDINGFIELD: Our role is to do everything we can to strengthen Ukraine. COLLINS: The latest call between Biden and Zelenskyy coming as the
U.S. voices deep skepticism that Russia is actually backing off its invasion.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: If the Russians are serious about deescalating, because that's their claim here, then they should send them home, but they're not doing that.
COLLINS: The U.S. declassifying new intelligence today revealing that President Putin is deeply frustrated with his top military aides. According to a U.S. official, Putin feels misled by the Russian military and didn't know his forces were using and using enlistees in Ukraine which shows a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president. The new intelligence says Putin's senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.
Biden, declining to say more about the newly declassified intelligence.
Can you talk about the declassified intelligence across the military intelligence?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I can't.
COLLINS: In Washington, the parents of Trevor Reed, the former U.S. marine imprisoned in Russia since 2019, held a protest outside the White House as he begins his second hunger strike.
PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED: We wanted to be here to bring attention to Trevor's case and to let them know that we did not forget. We're waiting for that phone call.
COLLINS: His parents are calling for action and a meeting with President Biden they said they were promised.
BIDEN: They're good people. I haven't -- we're trying to work that out.
COLLINS (on camera): And, Jake, back to this sense of mistrust among Putin and his advisers, we should note this comes as the White House has been telling us that top Russian defense officials are not calling back their U.S. so for the last couple of weeks. When you talk to the officials here at the White House, Jake, about what primarily they believe is behind Putin (INAUDIBLE) what's happening with this invasion of Ukraine, they said it's because of two reasons. One, he was so severely isolated during the pandemic, so scared of getting COVID-19, but also because they are too scared to tell him the truth about what's going on. That leads to him getting these incomplete or overly optimistic reports, Jake.
TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Republican Congresswoman Victoria Spartz of Indiana joins me now. She is the first and only Ukrainian-born member of the U.S. Congress.
Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.
So, I want to start with fact you still have friends and family in Ukraine, including your 95-year-old grandmother. How is your family doing? What do Ukrainians need today?
REP. VICTORIA SPARTZ (R-IN): Well, I think, you know, everybody's very difficult situation in Ukraine now. There is a huge humanitarian crisis inside the country. There's a huge crisis outside the country happening in Eastern Europe and they really need to have better assistance to make sure as they continue to hold the ground and put more pressure on Russia.
You know, the city that actually my grandma is, you know, actually promised by Russians, you know, to be one of the cities of Chernihiv not to be shelled and supposed they would be taking the troops out, but as a matter of fact, they've been shelling the city all night and I made a call to this morning to a family friend and I was received less than a minute on the call and I could hear rockets exploding next to him non-stop.
So they've been shelling the city they promised they're going to pull out from. So they're not very serious. There needs to be more pressure for them to get them to the table.
TAPPER: That must be terrifying to talk to family and hear that in the background.
Today, President Biden told P[resident Zelenskyy that the U.S. government would provide Ukraine with an additional $500 million in direct budgetary aid to help pay salaries, keep the government running. Is that enough?
SPARTZ: I think it shows what kind of aid we're providing. We need to make sure they diversify that their defense capabilities. That they're able to have some defenses and safe passages and humanitarian corridors and they have the ability to defend the sky from people being slaughtered and killed.
So, I think it's important for help them with that support. We've almost given $7 billion of humanitarian aid. We need to have some oversight of what's happening with that, and where it is going because it's not on the ground. I saw it from my own eyes and I hear from people over there.
We just had a parliamentarian from Ukraine coming yesterday, and they told us no presence of major organization on the ground. So, we need to look into that because it's not implemented properly and people are suffering. A lot of people are dying and will continue dying.
TAPPER: Later this hour, Biden administration officials are going to provide a classified briefing to members of the house of representatives on Ukraine. Are you going to attend and what questions do you have for the Biden administration?
SPARTZ: Well, I think, you know, I'm going to go to that briefing and I'm going to have a question. We need to ask about actions and results, and what's really been done and what hasn't been done. Because there are a lot of things we talk about. Pages and pages of promised things, but what was actually done.
We need to make sure is that we have speed and scale in the help that we're providing, and these people can keep the country surviving from this major aggression and atrocity, and make sure they can deter this aggression that can affect more of Europe and the whole world.
So, I think it's a very important situation and speed and scale and strategy is very, very important in situations like that.
TAPPER: Russian and Ukrainian officials say that the talks, diplomatic talks in Istanbul right now are yielding some progress. There might even be a meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy. That's according to Ukraine's presidential adviser.
Do you think that might actually happen or do you share the Biden administration's concerns that these diplomatic talks are really just an exercise in futility?
SPARTZ: Well, I think the talks are important, but I think Russia needs to feel more pressure, to be serious to have these talks. I think the more pressure Russia is going to get, the more serious they're going to become to have a conversation, how to stop this insanity in Europe.
I think that's what's important. They're regrouping right now, and they probably have another attack because they really, you know, got themselves in trouble. So I think it's important that Ukrainians sort of show the strengths and then they'll be willing to get to the table. But I think we need to get them to the table to be able to have a conversation because this atrocity, insanity, that's a major crisis has to be stopped before it's escalated further, because it's not going to be very good if it does.
TAPPER: Let's talk about one of the efforts to increase the pressure on Putin. There's legislation as you know that suspends trade relations between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and Belarus. That legislation sailed through the House of Representatives, where you work, two weeks ago with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The bill's been stuck in the Senate for a number of reasons. Competing priorities on the Senate floor and upcoming Easter recess.
What's your message to your Senate colleagues about the legislation to suspend trade status with Belarus and Russia?
SPARTZ: Well, I think it's important for the West to show that we are serious about it and if the, you know, the consequences of this crisis are going to be permanent to them, it's not temporary, because they're hoping that West is going to do the talk and that is always not enforcement and they're going to avoid a lot of different sanctions and a lot of things that really can be very painful for them, too.
I think that is important for Senate to take this issue also seriously and I do, you know, we have little bit, check and balances without the branch, you know, but it's important.
I try to work on the bicameral basis and I'll try to talk (ph) to some of my colleagues on the Senate side. A lot of them understand the importance of it.
But I think, you know, it's very important to have real, you know, actions. Not just words and talks, and Russia need to understand that the West is serious and Europe is serious in a lot of these issues. And I want -- I think in some of the issues on financial front, United States can lead even more. Not just always follow Europe and I think we have the ability to do it.
I think that will actually bring -- send a very real message, you know, to all, you know, adversaries around the world and allies around the world that United States is serious. United States Congress is serious about, you know, having a -- real actions to make sure that we deter further aggressions. We do it from sanctions, from defensive help and also, you know, humanitarian help, because it can destabilize Europe very seriously and we have to live with that.
TAPPER: Congresswoman Victoria Spartz of Indiana, thank you so much for your time today.
SPARTZ: Thank you.
TAPPER: We'll be thinking and praying for your friends and family in Ukraine.
SPARTZ: Thank you so much.
TAPPER: Coming up, entire city blocks gone. The new satellite imaging that underscores the ruthless nature of Putin's assault on Ukraine.
Plus, sources telling CNN the Justice Department is ramping up its investigation into President Biden's son, Hunter. Exactly what investigators are examining and the next step that could unfold soon?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our world lead, if you look on the left of your screen, that's Kharkiv's city hall before Russia started attacking Ukraine. That's on the left. On the right, that's after heavy Russian strikes.
This was the beautiful city of Irpin with a bustling town square. This was before the invasion. Now, Irpin, some neighborhoods have been bombed beyond recognition. Perhaps one of the starkest contrasts is in the port city of Mariupol.
CNN's Phil Black now examines new images of the catastrophic devastation inflicted by Putin's Russia.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the same day Russia said it would limit attacks on Chernihiv, it's forces rained munitions down across shopping and residential areas. Russia's purported good will gesture didn't prevent another difficult, painful night for the city.
Chernihiv's Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko says Russia increased the intensity of its strikes. He says 25 people were wounded in a colossal attack.
Chernihiv is cut off, surrounded. Ukrainian defenders are holding off Russian soldiers, while Russia's shells and rockets are pressed down from above.
This Ukrainian soldier says he's embarrassed he believed stories of Russia's power. Their only advantage, he says, they fight well against civilians.
Artemi (ph) is scared, alone, young. He's 18. He was struck down by a Russian shell while walking in the center of Chernihiv. He's being moved to another facility in a car that wasn't designed for passengers like him.
Volunteer ambulance drivers are now a vital service as Russia's bombardment tears apart the city and the people who live here one blast at a time.
This is another area Russia said it was going to back off from. The outskirts of Kyiv. These images were captured in Irpin neighborhoods by Ukrainian, non-government group on the same day Russia said it wanted to reduce risk for people in the capital.
It's a gruesome, eerie scene. The quiet streets are filled with debris and death. People still laying where they were struck down.
Ukraine is in control here now, but Irpin's mayor, Oleksandr Markushyn, is pleading with people not to return because Russian weapons are still striking frequently. Russia's will to destroy is captured vividly from space. New satellite images of the city of Mariupol give a powerfully wide perspective on the devastation inflicted during four-plus weeks of siege and bombardment.
The Russian work here is ruthlessly thorough. Whole blocks, entire neighborhoods are now destroyed. Russia is determined to conquer Mariupol even if there's nothing left to rule over.
Phil Black, CNN, Lviv, Ukraine.
TAPPER: Our thanks to Phil black for that report.
Coming up, President Biden rolling up his sleeves to get another COVID booster shot today, his second. Just as the CDC recommends for anyone 50 years old and over. But even though this age group can get another shot, should they? Should people over 50 be lining up for the second booster?
We're going to get an expert opinion, next.
TAPPER: In our health lead, President Biden just became one of the first Americans to get his second booster following the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow adults 50 and over to get that fourth shot. But in a somewhat confusing move, the CDC says the new authorization is not an official recommendation.
So is it time for Americans over 50 to get a fourth jab or is it not?
Here to discuss, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor and medicine and surgery at George Washington surgery and CNN medical analyst.
Dr. Reiner, the lack of a clear endorsement from the CDC is confusing a lot of us old folks over 50. How should we interpret it? Should I go and get a second booster?
DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yeah, you should and the CDC should have told you to do that. Now, I think the problem with our boosting plan in the United States is that Americans haven't been told forcefully to get boosted and as a result, only 29 percent of this country has been boosted.
So this whole issue about whether to give a fourth dose only applies to 29 percent of the country and yesterday when the CDC announced that boosters will be available, the CDC director said that Americans over the age of 50 can get a fourth dose. She didn't say they should get a fourth dose.
So, you know, the CDC has given Americans permission to get boosted, but isn't giving them firm guidance to do that. I am telling my patients over the age of 50 to get boosted. I will get a booster shot probably tomorrow.
TAPPER: It's just weird because Biden got the shot today, publicly, obviously as a demonstration that he's getting it. Well, why is there such a disconnect here?
REINER: You know, first of all, what Americans need to understand is that our vaccines, which have been, have done a terrific job in terms of keeping us from being hospitalized or keeping us from dying, our vaccine efficacy has waned. It's waned as a consequence of time. So the longer you go from an inoculation, the lower your antibody levels get, and also the variants that we've encountered have changed and have, are a bit less susceptible to, or at least a little bit less sort of responsive to our vaccines. So that has set the stage or need to boost more people.
The other thing to understand is that this becomes more important the higher your risk is. And what we know mostly in data from Israel is that the folks really most at risk of having a bad outcome from a breakthrough infection are people over the age of about 65. There is also some data to suggest that people over the age of 50 benefit in terms of a reduction in hospitalization or death hence, the CDC's recommendation.
But because the data kind of thin, the CDC hasn't made a firm recommendation to the public and this kind of wishy-washy approach has engendered a lot of doubt in people's minds. When a patient comes to see me for a recommendation, I don't tell them what they can do. I make a recommendation about what they should do. That's what the CDC should have done for this country, told American public what to do.
And what I'm telling them to do is if you're over the age of 50 or younger than that and have important comorbid conditions, you should get boosted.
TAPPER: So, you just referred to the fact that vaccine immunity can wane over time, the efficacy of it. So, timing makes a difference.
TAPPER: Should people hold off on getting second boosters until we move into the fall and the winter when the transmission rates are higher? I mean, we're about to hit the spring and summer when transmission is usually much lower.
REINER: Yeah, except that BA.2, the sort of omicron variant, is on its way to the United States.
If you look at case levels over the last few months, they've dropped dramatically, but they've stopped on a drop. And in the last week, case rates in the United States have become flat. And, you know, if I and speak next week at this time, we'll be talking about how they're now starting to rise.
BA.2 will certainly come to the United States. It's become the dominant variant already, but case rates will once again start to rise. Now is the time, if you've been boosted more than four months ago, now is the time to get boosted to protect yourself from this variant, which will surge in the United States over the next four to six weeks.
It's really difficult to time this. It's like timing the stock market. I would say if you've been boosted, if you're in an at-risk group as we discussed and your booster was more than four months ago, go ahead and get it now.
TAPPER: You said the BA.2 variant, it's actually now the dominant strain in the U.S., as you know, responsible for nearly 55 percent of new infections. You seem concerned about this. About this miscommunication and the chasm between what President Biden did and what the CDC is recommending or not recommending.
REINER: I'm concerned about BA.2. We thought that omicron, what we now call BA.1 was the most transmissible virus anyone alive has seen. What we know is that BA.2, the variant of omicron, is about 30 percent more transmissible. Now, it doesn't appear to be more virulent in terms of severity of the disease, but more people getting infected would yield more hospitalizations and would yield more deaths.
We've done a terrible time, we've had, we've done a terrible job in this country in terms of vaccinating people and even a worse job in terms of boosting them.
There's another surge coming to this country and there's been this movement to try and get us back to normal. But still, hundreds of people are dying every day and we know with certainty that this variant is coming to the United States. We have followed what's happened in Europe about three weeks out from the beginning of this pandemic. It is surging in Europe and it is surging in places that have done a much better job vaccinated their population and boosting their population than the United States.
It is certainly coming here. If you've not been vaccinated, now's the time to do that and if you've been boosted, now's the time to get a second boost.
TAPPER: All right. Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thanks.
The president's son Hunter Biden under investigation. The cases apparently heating up. What the Justice Department is investigating and the pressure this might put on the president.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our politics lead today, the Justice Department's investigation into business dealings involving President Biden's son Hunter Biden is heating up.
CNN's Paula Reid has new details about what investigators may be focusing on.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: A federal investigation into Hunter Biden has gained steam in recent months. CNN has learned from multiple sources that a flurry of witnesses have provided testimony and more are expected to talk to investigators in the coming weeks. The U.S. attorney in Delaware is leading the probe into Biden's
financial and business activities in foreign countries during the time his father was vice president. The probe, which began as early as 2018, has looked at whether Biden and some of his associates have violated money laundering, tax, as well as firearm and other regulations.
The Justice Department has gathered evidence from lobbyists, business partners and others who have observed Biden's financial dealings. At this point though, Biden has not been charged with any crimes.
HUNTER BIDEN, PRESIDENT BIDEN'S SON: I'm cooperating completely and I am absolutely certain, 100 percent certain, that at the end of the investigation, that I will be cleared.
REID: These questions have opened President Joe Biden up to political attacks, but according to sources who have been briefed, the president is not under investigation.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Where is Hunter? Where is Hunter? I want to see Hunter.
REID: In 2019, the FBI took possession of a laptop reported to belong to Hunter Biden. A computer repairman in Delaware showed reporters a copy of a subpoena.
H. BIDEN: There could be a laptop out there that was stolen from me. It could be that I was hacked. It could be there was -- that it was Russian intelligence. It could be that it was stolen from me.
REID: During the 2020 campaign, former President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, tried to generate media attention for what he said was damning evidence on that laptop.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody believes except his and his good friend, Rudy Giuliani.
REID: Investigators initially focused on tax issues and money transfers related to Biden's business activities in China. They've also examined his role on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma years ago.
Biden has told associated he's paid outstanding tax bills, but then investigators examined the source to pay those bills.
In recent months, investigators have begun discussing the strength of the case and whether more work is needed before seeking a decision on possible charges.
PRES. BIDEN: We have great confidence in our son. I am not concerned about any accusations that have been made against him.
REID: The Justice Department and Hunter Biden's attorney both declined to comment on our new reporting. Now, Jake, President Biden has vowed not to interfere in the
independence of the Justice Department and it's notable that early in his presidency, he decided to keep the Trump-appointed attorney in Delaware overseeing the investigation instead of appointing his own person, as is the usual practice when a new president takes office.
TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid, thanks so much for that update.
We're getting powerful images of what a reported tornado did today in Arkansas. This may be just the beginning of severe weather in the southeastern United States. The damage already done and what might come. That's next.
TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our national lead. You're watching video from a town in Arkansas just north of Fayetteville after a likely tornado ripped through town, tossed around trees and power lines. Governor Asa Hutchinson said injuries in the wake of the storm are, quote, significant, and now, 50 million Americans in the southeast are at risk of severe weather tonight from the same storm system, bracing for dangerous hurricane-force wind gusts and tornados.
Let's get right to CNN's Derek Van Dam.
Derek, this storm looks massive on radar. How big is it exactly?
DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Jake, here we are again in the path of a tornado warned storm. It is massive. The tornado watch has stretched from southern Illinois, southern Indiana all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and includes places like Jackson, Mississippi, but also New Orleans that was struck by a powerful EF-3 tornado just eight days ago in the Lower Ninth Ward still reeling from the devastation left over.
As this line approaches that area, they need to be specifically concerned about that because there's still debris that is left over from the damage of the storms that rolled through again last week. Over 9 million people impacted by tornado watches now and this means that it's such an expansive storm. So many people will feel the impacts of that and that means the potential for loss of power as well.
So we already have over 120,000 customers without power as this storm, the line of storms, expansive line of storms, marches eastward.
And Jake mentioned the potential for hurricane force winds or higher. That's 74 mile per our winds or higher. These are known as straight line winds. If you're looking at the radar, you'll be able to see that line of -- just discreet thunderstorms, for mainline of storms. That's just to my west. And a lot of times, what happens is we get these strongest winds from
the mid level of the atmosphere that are brought down to the surface. They spread out in all directions and that is when we get those powerful, 80 mile per our wind gusts that we are bracing for here with my particular team.
In fact, there is a tornado warned storm that is just a few miles to my west or northwest. It's just out of shot, but we're keeping a very close eye on that and we do have potential to seek shelter where we are currently located in this elevated position.
So you're looking at the state capitol right behind me. As we drove to this location, we experienced damage from these powerful storms. There were trees taken down in the governor's mansion. Downtown Jackson, Mississippi, threats tonight, tornado, straight line winds and nighttime tornados as well.
Jake, where is it going? Heads up, Nashville. Heads up, Birmingham, and also Atlanta, we have potential for severe storms overnight -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Derek Van Dam in Jackson, Mississippi, thank you so much for that report.
Turning to our out of this world lead, we come in peace. After a record 355 days in space, the American astronaut Mark Vande Hei arrived safely back on planet earth this morning along with two Russian cosmonauts, using a Russian spacecraft.
The cooperation between the U.S. and Russia comes, of course, amid these heated tensions over Putin's brutal war against the people of Ukraine.
CNN's Kristin Fisher joins us now live with more on this.
And, Kristin, there was some concern over today's landing, given the geopolitical tensions. How did that play out?
KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, despite all of the bluster from the head of the space agency, threatening to pull out of the international space station over these U.S. sanctions and threatening to make U.S. astronauts ride on broom sticks to get back and he also shared this heavily edited video on social media showing two Russian cosmonauts kind of waving good-bye to Mark Vande Hei.
A lot of people thought that might be Russia threatening to leave him on the International Space Station. Despite all of that, look at what was on the big screen in Moscow's mission control when Mark Vande Hei and his two Russian cosmonaut crew mates touched down in Kazakhstan this morning.
This big sign right there that said, welcome back, Mark, in both Russian and English. On top of that, look at what was said during the change of command ceremony just yesterday right before Mark and his two Russian crew mates left the space station. This is the Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. Listen to what he had
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTON SHKAPLEROV, RUSSIAN COSMONAUT: People have problem on earth. On orbit, we are like -- we are not like -- we are one crew and I think ISS is like a symbol of the friendship and cooperations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FISHER: So the war in Ukraine clearly testing this nearly more than two decades long partnership between the U.S. and Russians up at the international space station, but, Jake, today proved that so far, this partnership is holding despite these massive geopolitical tensions here on earth.
And you know, it's just remarkable to think where else on earth, Jake, can you see this level of communication and cooperation between U.S. and Russian government officials right now? Truly remarkable. And they pulled it off today.
TAPPER: All right. Kristin Fisher, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
A CNN crew just arrived in Ukraine's prime port city, Odessa. Their defiant messages to Russians as Putin's army tries to move in. That's next.
TAPPER: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, the sting of the slap seen around the world is not going away. The Academy is meeting to discuss what action they might take against Will Smith for his physical assault against comedian Chris Rock. This as Rock gets ready to take the stage tonight for the first time since the Oscars.
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And leading this hour, with breaking news. Pentagon officials say they have not seen any evidence that Russia is following through on its pledge to deescalate its war against Ukraine. The Pentagon warning today Russian troops certainly have not packed up or gone home like the Kremlin claimed they would and the capital of Kyiv is still very much under threat we're told.
CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen joins us now live from Kyiv, Ukraine.
And, Fred, Russia has seemed to hit parts of the country harder than ever over the last 24 hours, especially outside Kyiv.
So what's the reality on the ground right now?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reality is as you say is more escalation than de-escalation that we've been seeing on the part of the Russians. Just as we're going to air right now, once again we're hearing multiple rocket launching systems going off in the distance, also hearing thuds as well.
And that really is something we have had throughout the entire day.