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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Top U.S. General: "World Is Becoming More Unstable"; Milley: Chances Increasing For Major International Conflict; Poland: 2.48M Plus Refugees Have Entered From Ukraine; Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers To Biden: Send More Military Aid; U.S. & Allies To Announce New Sanctions On Russia Tomorrow; Defense Official: U.S. Successfully Tested A Hypersonic Missile; GOP Congressman Accuses Pentagon Of Being Too Focused On "Wokeism" And Not Defense; Tornadoes & Damaging Winds Threaten Parts Of Southeast. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 05, 2022 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: He tried to force world leaders to confront the reality that they have not stopped Putin nor his troops from slaughtering innocent Ukrainian civilians.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, (through translator): The civilians were crushed by tanks while sitting in their cars in the middle of the road just for their pleasure. They cut off limbs, slashed their throats, women raped and killed in front of their children. Their tongues were pulled out only because the aggressor did not hear what they wanted to hear from them. This is no different from other terrorists.


TAPPER: The Kremlin has been lying for months about its attack on Ukraine, and they continue to deny these claims, calling them another, quote, "elaborate hoax" by the international community.

Today and Lviv, we met a number of internally displaced Ukrainians. These are citizens, millions of them, who have been forced to flee their homes in eastern Ukraine and central Ukraine and northern Ukraine and southern Ukraine to come here to the western part. Two women we met in the central square had a message and a plea.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The war Ukraine is real and it is true that people are being killed. It is very hard. It is true.

We want the world to know that the Russian soldiers are making Safari out of Ukrainian children. They are killing and raping women, and they are killing young men so that they won't be able to fight against them.

We are very grateful to those who deliver the truth. Please do not stop. Do not get used to this war. Speak the truth. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is why we are here to bear witness to speak the truth.

Let's bring in CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour live. She's about 300 miles east of here. She's in the capital of Kyiv.

And Christiane, the United Nations says at least 1,400 Ukrainian civilians have been killed since the war began, at least 2100 have been wounded. Ukrainian say the number is far higher than that.

Your team got exclusive access to dozens of Ukrainian soldiers today, former prisoners of war now back with the Ukrainian army because of a prisoner swap. Tell us what they describe. And astoundingly, is that true they want to go right back into fighting?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, they do want to go back into fighting, Jake. And that woman who you just spoke to, please don't get used to this war, honestly, is the most powerful thing I've heard in a long time, because one possibly could. And yet, here we are, in Kyiv, when all the outskirts around Kyiv that have been liberated are showing the full and absolute horror of what the Russians have left behind.

And there's a possibility that the more, you know, these troops move back or are regrouped or whatever, you'll find more of this as this war continues. So we did have access to the prisoners of war. There's some 86 or so of them who were actually freed in a prisoner of war exchange and this is one of the decent things that has come out of at least some of the ongoing chats between the ongoing negotiations between the Russians and the Ukrainian. Still, the local prosecutor says that the Russian prisoners have a rather Russian captors have in fact broken the Geneva Conventions in the way they treated these now former prisoners. Take a listen.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Back home and free, these former Ukrainian prisoners of war, once held by Russian forces, are greeted by friends and colleagues in Kyiv. Freedom for now is the drag of a cigarette walking on home turf, even if that means using crutches.

Bags of food are handed out to the more than 80 former Ukrainian POWs released in a prisoner exchange with Russia. It's a welcome meal and a moment to decompress and reflect on what many here say was the physical and mental abuse they endured in Russian custody.

One POW named Gleb says he was captured nearly a month ago while evacuating civilians. He was beaten by Russian soldiers.

GLEB, FORMER POW (through translator): They hit me in the face with machine gun butts and kicked me. My front teeth were also chipped.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Anya and Dasha were in the same unit. It was shelled by Russian troops who they say tried to break them, making them shout glory to Russia, and they shaved their heads telling them that it was for hygiene purposes.

ANYA AND DASHA, FORMER POWS (through translator): Maybe they were trying to break our spirit in some way.

It was a shock that then we're strong girls, you know?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Dmytro says he was taken by Russian soldiers in Mariupol and suffered daily beatings during his captivity.

DMYTRO, FORMER POW: They would beat us five to six times a day for nothing. They would just take us into the hallway and beat us up.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's an ordeal and it will take time to heal both mentally and physically, though many say they want to go back to their units and continue fighting. But before that, Gleb shows us a slip of paper with what he says are the phone numbers of loved ones of prisoners still held captive by the Russians.


He says he will tell the families they're still alive and not to give up hope.


AMANPOUR: So Jake, these people are really what stood between Russian takeover of this nation and the way that they have pushed them back and not allow the Russians to completely occupy this nation. They do want to go back to fight. A lot of them, though, are back in their units now. They went back to the units and they will also be getting mental health care. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Christiane Amanpour with that important report, as usual, live from Kyiv for us. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, Russia appears to be repositioning its troops for what is anticipated to be a major assault on the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine. Part of the Russian strategy includes attacking cities to prevent Ukrainian forces from traveling to the area. CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Ukraine, port city of Odessa.

Ed, not far from you and Mariupol, the mayor says more than 100,000 Ukrainians are still trying to evacuate the city. What's happening with that evacuation with the convoys?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to President Zelenskyy here in Ukraine, Russian forces are essentially blocking any attempts for humanitarian organizations to get into Mariupol to help evacuate the 100,000 people that need to be saved. This is a city, Jake, that people have said they are running out of adjectives to describe, how horrific the scene is there, that residents are living like mice underground for safety reasons.

There have been a repeated attempts day after day during the course of the last week to open up humanitarian corridors into that city. The International Committee of the Red Cross has tried since Saturday to get in, they have not been able to. In fact, one of their teams was detained by Russian forces and they've been released since. But the only way out, Jake, right now is for a civilian to get into a car and to drive to the nearest city, which I believe is like 30, 40 miles away.

And if you've spent any time talking to Ukrainians who have escaped these hardest hit areas where they've seen the worst of war, driving in your own personal car through Russian forces, is a death sentence in many cases. So, you know, the concern here is that they desperately need to reach these people for food and water and medical attention. Zelensky says that, in the last week, they've only about 2000 people have been able to escape that city. So, the amount of help that is needed there is just monumental.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera in Odessa, Ukraine, thank you. Please stay safe, my friend.

Let's bring in CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance from London.

And Matthew, Russia claims that -- and look, we need to point out obviously the Kremlin lies all the time. They claim they weren't going to attack Ukraine to begin with, but they claim the brutality in Bucha. It's all a hoax. It's an effort to denigrate the Russian army.

There is satellite imagery proving that those bodies had been in the streets for weeks when the town was still under Russian control. How does the Kremlin explain this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, they use that tried and tested tactic, Jake, you know, what you refer to just that we've seen in the news whenever they're accused of malign activity, it is categorical denial. And that's been true, whether it comes through the killing of civilians in Syria, the poisoning of dissidents or the killing of dissidents overseas, whatever meddling in elections in the United States, whatever it is, whatever the allegation, the Russian standard defense is to just say it wasn't us. It's just not true.

And that's exactly the tactic that they've deployed this time, confronted with this photographic evidence that there are bodies in the streets back on March the 18th when Bucha, that town on the northern outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, was in the control of the Russian forces. We can see it with our own eyes, there are bodies strewn across the main road.

The Russians are saying -- the Kremlin is saying this is that, look, this is a fake attack. It was set up after Russian troops left. And no amount of photographic evidence that is presented that contradicts that is going to change the Kremlin's point of view.

There was one example of a top Russian state television anchor, sort of basically making a joke about it. I think it was a joke. Anyway, because he was saying that, look, this must have been a British Special Operation, this Bucha massacre, because the word, Bucha, the town in northern -- North of Kyiv, is the same as the word butcher in English. And that's too much of a coincidence, he said, for this not to be a British operation. He didn't even crack a smile when he said it, so I'm not sure if it was a joke or not.


But it's the kind of level of cynicism that we are seeing at the moment in Russia when it is confronted with these, you know, brutal, appalling facts about what is being seen on the ground when Russian forces leave and leave behind them in their wake this, you know, this terrible sort of, you know, these terrible atrocities for want of another word, you know, behind them, Jake.

TAPPER: Several European countries, including Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, expelled Russian diplomats after seeing these images from Bucha. The Kremlin is saying this is going to lead, quote, "inevitably lead to retaliatory steps," unquote. What does that look like?

CHANCE: Yes, well, I mean, obviously, when they talk about retaliatory steps they're talking about, I suppose, reciprocal expulsions of diplomats. I mean, again, this is a pattern that I've witnessed in Russia over the past 20 years since I've been reporting it whenever they're expositions of diplomats of Russia for various reasons. They almost, without fail, respond in kind and, you know, expel an equal number of diplomats in that country.

I mean, the problem that this -- the Kremlin has said this, actually, is that the problem with expelling each other's diplomats is that you further narrow down the opportunities and the avenues for any kind of sort of peace talks, any kind of negotiations that are going to sort of bring this horrible situation in Ukraine to some kind of quick and early peaceful resolution. That is looking increasingly unlikely.

Now actually the presence of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it himself, it's very difficult, he said, to talk to these people after we have witnessed them, paraphrasing here, witnessed what they have done to Ukrainians on the ground in the country, Jake.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in London for us, thank you so much.

Today, the top military officer in the United States called Russia's invasion, quote, "The greatest threat to peace in the world in decades." Something else he said, could affect how long U.S. troops remain in Eastern Europe. We'll tell you that next.

Plus, the hypersonic missile test that the U.S. initially tried to keep quiet but plans were announced today to expand this military capability. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Staying in our world lead, shocking new videos show the extent of the devastation on the Ukrainian city of Borodianka, just outside Kyiv, the regional governor says the city has been almost destroyed entirely amid fears the death toll there could be higher than the death toll in Bucha. Similar destruction has been seen throughout Ukraine as Putin's forces withdraw from some occupied areas earlier today.

This is how the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley described Russia's invasion.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We are witness to the greatest threat to peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world in my 42 years of service in uniform. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening to undermine not only European peace and stability, but global peace and stability that my parents and a generation of Americans fought so hard to defend.


TAPPER: Let's discuss with the former commander of U.S, and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. Central Command and former CIA Director General David Petraeus.

General, it's good to see you as always. So you heard General Milley there saying the world is becoming more unstable. The risk of significant international conflict is only growing. Is this how you see it as well?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER OF U.S. & NATO FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: I do, this is not hyperbole. Again, keep in mind that we faced off for many decades across the Iron Curtain, the inner German border, and they never attacked. Putin has actually attacked, he has invaded a neighboring country. Something, again, that we sought to deter for so many decades, and now has actually materialized and of course it was unprovoked.

So, yes, I think this is very, very dangerous. It cannot become the new norm. This has to be a complete outlier. This cannot happen again. And of course, NATO has taken a lot of actions to ensure that there will not be any temptation, that there will be no lack of perception of the readiness of NATO to respond however necessary when it comes to the defense and really the deterrence of Russian aggression against any of the NATO members.

TAPPER: General Milley also told lawmakers today in that spirit that you just talked about the deterrence of NATO, that Milley would support permanent basis in Eastern Europe, that U.S. forces would rotate through to defer any further Russian aggression in the region. Do you agree with that? Would that mean U.S. troops would be stationed in Eastern Europe indefinitely.

PETRAEUS: Well, we have already had small contingents in each of the three Baltic states. We have a contingent that's been in Poland for some time. Now you'd presumably add to it, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary, perhaps some others. So yes, I certainly would.

And again, this has been a long time in coming. There's been a lot of work on rail systems and so forth to get forces from Western Europe which is where they always tradition were out to the east and time of crisis. I think it's time to station them out there permanently or at least have the basis be permanent even if forces rotate through them, which is really what has been happening in Poland now for a couple of years.


You remember, we had no tanks at all in Europe for a while they went back a few years ago. And obviously now there's a lot more there already, just with the forces that have been sent. And I'm sure that over time, we will solidify that footprint and make sure that it is everything that is necessary to deter action by Russia.

TAPPER: Let's put a map up of Ukraine for the general. And if you could tell us -- give us a status report of where you think the battle has been and where it is going right now?

PETRAEUS: What's a wonderful question, Jake, because really, for the first time in a number of weeks, you see something that is really dynamic. Ukraine has won the Battle of Kyiv, Russian forces literally withdrawing from the north and northwest as well as from the east of Kyiv. And of course, now we're seeing these cities that have been devastated, these villages, while the Russians occupied them.

They've won the battles of Churnihiv, that's way up in the north, also of Sumy in the northeast, that's another location. Russia's are pulling back from those locations. They're probably one down in the southwest battle of Mykolaiv, which is the city that's midway to Crimea of -- Midway from Crimea to the major port of Odessa. And now the Russians are refocusing everything on what they could do coming in from the east, south of Kharkiv and then also pushing out of Crimea and the Donbass area.

You see Mariupol on the map there, that is the encircled city that has become the Ukrainian Alamo, if you will, it's fighting to the last defender occupying a number of Russian battalions. When those are freed up, ultimately they will be able to focus north and try to link up with those forces that are coming in there from the east. You see that red blob above the yellow, the yellow is the separatist controlled area of Donestsk and Luhansk Oblast. The Russians want to take all the remaining part of those two Oblast, those provinces. And they'd really like to trap the Ukrainian forces that are defending against the separatists pushing out from the southeast.

So we're going to see a really climactic set of battles here. It's a race, the Russians have pulled forces, again, out of Kyiv, and these other cities that are going to reconstitute them, replace the personnel that had been lost and seriously wounded, replace the damaged and destroyed equipment, and then try to bring it around through Belarus and then down along the eastern border of Ukraine with Russia, and then bring them in from the east to reinforce the hard fought gains that have been achieved, and that are worrisome. And in the meantime, Ukraine, of course, is doing the same. They're taking forces that were battling to defend Kyiv and kept the Russians out of the main city. And they're going to have to push them hundreds of miles to the south and ensure their logistics. And there's another race going on, of course, and that is as the NATO nations and the U.S. try to provide everything we can as quickly as we can to ensure that the Ukrainians have what they need for this next looming confrontation, which will be in the southeastern part of Ukraine.

TAPPER: General David Petraeus, thank you so much. Really appreciate all those insights.

Coming up, beyond the borders of Ukraine the extra efforts in Poland to help millions of Ukrainian refugees who need a safe place to stay. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Amid the harrowing stories and horrific sites of Ukraine, millions of people have fled to neighboring countries, Poland has welcomed two and a half million Ukrainian refugees. Nearly all of them women and children. And as CNN's Kyung Lah reports from Warsaw, Polish citizens are trying to make their transition to a foreign land as comfortable as possible.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This office building in downtown Warsaw is not just real estate, it's refuge. Ukrainian children play with toys in what used to be a storage room. Strollers sit in corporate hallways, computer desks are dining room tables.

Two stories of the seventh floor office building are now home to refugees. Like 18-month-old Milana (ph) and her mother.

We feel safe, she says. There's no sirens, no horrible sounds.

Two and a half million Ukrainians, nearly all women and children have crossed into Poland since the start of the war.

(on camera): And you just remove the lights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We removed the lights and we installed this here.

LAH (voice-over): The country has managed to absorb them in just six weeks through ingenuity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like elevators that serves offices. And behind the column, there is an elevator that serves just refugees.

LAH (voice-over): Anna Fijalkowska is CEO for TFG Asset Management, which owns the building.

ANNA FIJALKOWSKA, CEO, TFG ASSET MANAGEMENT: We have beds and shelves, whatever is necessary.

LAH (voice-over): The war started on a Thursday, a company had the space available and pivoted from commerce to crisis.

FIJALKOWSKA: So here we had like a small reception desk.

LAH (voice-over): Three days later,

FIJALKOWSKA: None of this existed. It was just a matter of putting additional installation in piping.

LAH (voice-over): They had the first of nearly 250 women and children move in.


FIJALKOWSKA: We have this place. We can do something. There's something for real people, right? So we just decided to do it.

LAH (on-camera): Was that the hard part or the easy part?

FIJALKOWSKA: That was the easiest part to set it up. The hardest part right now is to make them feel good. Solve the problems, the refugees' problems.




LAH (voice-over): Seven-year-old Margo (ph) lives here with her mother Oxana Korobka.

This used to be office furniture, she explains, with the addition of a donated bed.

(on-camera): It is -- it's very comfortable.

(voice-over): This has been home since the start of the war. Korobka is an accountant. Her husband fights in Dnipro near the eastern flank.

(voice-over): Oh, it's your husband? No, please talk to him.


LAH (voice-over): They never know when he'll be able to call.

KOROBKA: This is my husband, Max (ph). (Speaking Foreign Language).

LAH (voice-over): I can't comprehend it, says Korobka. It's as if we're in a 40-day horror movie and we can't wake up. One floor above, employees do their best to carry on with their jobs.

GRZEGORZ MROCZEK, CAELUM REAL ESTATE ASSET MANAGEMENT: I do not know anybody who is saying I don't care. Everybody cares. Everybody wants to help.

LAH (voice-over): His employees sending whatever they can downstairs, MROCZEK: Whatever is needed, either desks, either vacuum cleaners, we just try to help as supermans to our new neighbors.

LAH (voice-over): But war has meant the days of business as usual, are over.

FIJALKOWSKA: We really also learning from them. We see how they are coping with this tragic events in this tragic situation. And it's really make you feel happy, but also makes you feel that you're doing something good.



LAH: Now, the big difference for these women and children is that this is some semblance of semi-permanent, the doors close in these offices. They're not on carts (ph). The internet is secure and it is stable.

There's a volunteer doctor that comes in once a week and sets up and looks at all of the children. And they can go to school from this address. So Jake, this is just one slice of something that is being repeated millions of times over here in Europe. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Kyung Lah in Warsaw, Poland for us. Thank you so much for that report.

How a leading member of Congress wants to make sure Russians responsible for war crimes are actually held accountable for their vile actions. That's next.



TAPPER: We're back with our world lead in what feels like an all-too rare show of unity in the halls of Congress. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling for greater and faster military assistance to Ukraine while the Biden administration says U.S. is providing assistance. At a historic pace, a bipartisan group of dozens of representatives and senators writing a letter to President Biden, quote, Ukrainians are clear, more needs to be done.

Joining us now to discuss, co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. Senator, you and fellow members of Congress spoke with members of Ukraine's parliament last week. I think we had one of those members of parliament on earlier in the show. Has the U.S. delivered on what Ukrainian lawmakers have asked for? Have they done it? Has the United States done it quickly enough? What more still needs to be done?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), CO-CHAIR, UKRAINE CAUCUS: First, Jake, let me say Slava Ukraini (ph). And let me say also that our hearts and souls are with the people of Ukraine in this valiant, courageous effort that they are waging successfully, I might add, against the Russian invasion. The United States and NATO are on their side. We have provided massive amounts of equipment, ammunition and resources for them to engage in the fight. We need to do more and we need to do it quickly. Time is of the essence. If the parliamentarians made one thing clear, they need help and they needed yesterday. They don't need to wait for weeks at a time.

So we've had a secret briefing, classified briefing here, meeting with our diplomatic as well as our defense experts bringing that message home. And they are really moving, I believe, in response to it.

TAPPER: I talked to a military officer yesterday who said that the Biden administration needs to move at the speed of war, not the speed of bureaucracy. Can't there still be steps taken red tape cut to make this much more efficient?

DURBIN: Absolutely. There's no question about it. And I believe they're doing a good job, they can do a better job. And it really is a life and death struggle. Delay does not mean discomfort in an awkward situation. It means the possibility of dying and suffering being wounded. And we have to look at it that way.

If it were our own members of our family who were in the frontline fighting, we'd want everything that they needed in their hands at this moment. So we are going to urge this administration and Congress to respond accordingly.

TAPPER: I understand you're also introducing legislation called the War Crimes Accountability Act in the coming days, which you say will help hold the perpetrators of war crimes in Ukraine accountable. How do you expect this to deliver real consequences, especially regarding Putin or his military commanders?

DURBIN: Well, I was stunned to learn that when it comes to war crimes and war criminals, they're terrible gaps in American law. We want to make sure by this proposal that I'm putting before the Congress, that there is no safe haven in the United States for more criminal than anyone who comes into the United States accused of those crimes can be prosecuted for those crimes even in the the United States, are held liable on a civil basis, are deported based on a war crime.


All those things seem so obvious. You say, well, that must be in the law already. It's not. And we've seen it, unfortunately, in modern history time. And again, we've found people who have been war criminals who've come to the United States for safe haven. We've discovered them and found out the only thing we could charge them with was visa fraud, for goodness sakes.

So this is serious. And it's not only to make sure the United States does the right thing, but to say to nations around the world, you saw the terrible results of the sadism and genocide in Bucha. And we've got to make sure that across the world, we say to those Russians who were involved in that, there is no safe place for you to rest. You cannot escape your responsibility for what you've done to these poor people. TAPPER: CNN Stephen Collinson wrote in an article today, titled "The West is Running out Of Ways to Punish Putin." He writes, "Putin is creating an awful new spectacle for the 21st century that of a dictator who cannot be deterred. In many ways, he's playing an asymmetric game with the West, whose sanctions and punitive measures are based on a more logical view of Russia's interests and its own limitations."

So, Senator, the question I have for you, the U.S. and European allies just announced a new round of sanctions. But notably, European countries remain divided on imposing what would actually cause Putin perhaps to change his behavior, a ban on Russian oil and gas imports. Bloomberg reports, Putin could collect billions of Russian oil and gas keeps flowing. Is it time for a different strategy?

DURBIN: Well, of course, I'm in for the strongest sanctions possible. We've got to keep our coalition, our NATO Allies together with us. They've done remarkable things standing behind Ukraine, and they will continue to. But each country comes to this challenge with a different set of circumstances. We have to be mindful of that. We have to work with our allies, but continue to put more and more and more pressure on the Russians and on Vladimir Putin.

The element problem, Jake, gets down to this. Putin is doing uncivilized things. We are trying to think of civilized responses, sanctions, for example. We've got to push those to the absolute exaggerated position where they do affect the average person in the street in Moscow, and that I think, to start to make a difference in that country.

TAPPER: You also introduced a bill with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley called the Baltic Defense and Deterrence Act. You've said you have strong ties to the Baltic region, which includes, of course, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all are members of NATO. Why do you think it's important to direct further resources to defend those countries if they're already protected by NATO membership?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that I will confess my bias. My mother was born in Lithuania, and for the past 30 years, I've managed to witness the history of that country is that emerged from the Soviet Union, and became a free democracy. And I value the Baltics, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on a personal basis.

Remember, these are small countries, 3 million in one country, 2 million on another, a million people in the third. And they are in peace of crossroads in Europe, where they are in a vulnerable position. Their membership in NATO was a great day. And I was happy to be a small part of that. But now they're vulnerable again.

What we're calling for, Senator Grassley and myself on a bipartisan basis, is to make sure that we have the strength for those countries to respond to anything that Lukashenko and Belarus, or Putin and Russia throws at them. They need that kind of reassurance. And I know this president, having spoken to him personally is prepared to do it.

TAPPER: Before I let you go, Senator, I want to ask you about the Supreme Court nomination Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Do you think we will have a new Supreme Court Justice by the end of the week?

DURBIN: Well, I have my fingers crossed. As a person who has been in the Senate for a few years as whip, you don't count the votes until you hear him answering the roll calls. But we have the Democrats solid and we now have three -- my Republican colleagues Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, who stepped up and joined us in this effort to make it bipartisan.

And I can tell you, Judge Jackson deserves it. She's an extraordinary person. She'll make a great contribution to America and our Supreme Court.

TAPPER: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it, sir.

Coming up next, the hypersonic missile test that the U.S. had tried to keep quiet, no longer. Plus the heated exchange today between the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.



TAPPER: We're back in Ukraine over the past few weeks. Russia has claimed it is used a powerful new weapon, hypersonic missiles which can fly well in excess of 3,000 miles an hour. But now CNN has learned details about a successful U.S. hypersonic missile test.

Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr live in the Pentagon for us. Barbara, this happened last month you tell us, but it's been kept quiet.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It has been kept quiet, Jake. U.S. officials are telling my colleague Oren Liebermann that they deliberately kept last month's test quite out of concern that it would lead to some kind of escalatory behavior by Russia, that Russia would see it in a escalatory light, not the first time the U.S. has delayed some military testing because of their concern about Russia. They did it with an intercontinental ballistic missile.

But this program, this is one of the most highly classified most important two weapons that the U.S. is trying to develop. Now today, announcing that they would cooperate with both the U.K. and Australia on this program, very high speed as you say and of course that means is very difficult to defend against, very difficult to shoot down.


The Russians did demonstrate they have a fielded capability to do this. The U.S. so far has been working on it but has not yet fielded the actual weapon. Jake?

TAPPER: On another matter, Barbara, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified before a House committee today. You had General Milley saying that the world is a more dangerous place, and it's been in decades. But apparently, his testimony turned into something else, an argument about wokeism.

STARR: Well, it was the Republican congressman from Florida, Matt Gaetz who, by any measure, falls into the camp of Donald Trump. He is close to him, according to him. And he's took on the Secretary of Defense today about some of his favorite talking points. The Secretary didn't have a lot of patience for it.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: For everyone else in the world seems to be developing capabilities and being more strategic, we got time to embrace critical race theory at West Point, to embrace socialism at the National Defense University, to do mandatory pronoun training. Do you accept --

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's -- you know, it's -- again, this is the most capable, the most combat critical force in the world. It has been and it will be so going forward.

GAETZ: Not if we could do took down this path.

AUSTIN: And this budget helps us to do that.

GAETZ: Not if we embrace socialism --

AUSTIN: The fact that you are embarrassed by your country --

GAETZ: Oh, no, no, I'm embarrassed by your leadership.

AUSTIN: I'm sorry.


STARR: Look, Lloyd Austin knew exactly what Matt Gaetz would be going after he has done it before to both the Secretary of Defense and other Pentagon officials. So it was no surprise.

Keep in mind perhaps, both Secretary Austin and General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was sitting right next to him right now are working around the clock to keep a NATO coalition together in the face of the genocide and war crimes that you were seeing right there in Ukraine. Jake, this is what the Pentagon is focused on front and center right now.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.

Also in the U.S., a severe weather threat tops our national lead. Parts of the southeastern United States including Georgia, Alabama and Florida could get tornadoes this evening. Tornado watches today have covered Gulf Coast cities such as Mobiel (ph) and Panama City.

Let's get right to CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater. And Tom, walk us through this severe weather threat.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Jake, for the third time in as many weeks, we've had a multiday severe weather outbreak, what typically is known as Tornado Alley from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas due to our changing climate. For the last several years, it's been sliding to the east and the southeast. When you look at the last 24 hours, it started yesterday, a lot of flooding in Dallas, numerous wind reports, already 30 tornadoes and that number will go up today.

This morning, it was Southern Mississippi, Alabama and now they're firing across southern Georgia and toward South Carolina where radar has been showing not only circulation but debris balls. That means the radar showing debris being lofted into the air.

Doesn't look impressive right now, you're getting closer in orange severe thunderstorm warnings. But in purple, this is Savannah, Georgia, and we've got a new one now including Columbia, South Carolina. If you're watching in Columbia, you've got about 30 to 35 minutes. Flash Flood Watches, Atlanta was under a flash flood warning for a while that's just been lifted.

But Jake, last month, we broke an all-time record, 219 tornadoes, when the average is 80. And we're just now getting into the thick of it for April, May and June. The severe threat in Missouri from St. Louis to Fayetteville slides again into the southeast for tomorrow. Again, it's the third day and as many weeks, Jake, and again, we're going to be watching tornadoes firing up but straight line winds could be widespread with over 75 miles per hour. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Sater, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Actually, before we go, Tom, let me ask you spring storms --

SATER: Sure.

TAPPER: -- are typical this time of year. But I have to ask, have we seen a higher frequency of these strong storm systems in recent weeks?

SATER: Yes, we have. And as I mentioned just moments ago, it used to be Tornado Alley. It's really a changing climate. They're becoming more intense, the instability, the more moisture in the atmosphere. So again, they are shifting again toward the southeastern region.

So what used to be the Wizard of Oz, it's now sliding and toward the southeast. But prepare. It's going to be another rough night tonight and day tomorrow.

TAPPER: Tom Sater, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The possibility of a remarkable comeback in the coming days, that's next.



TAPPER: Lastly in our sports league today, Tiger Woods is scheduled to tee off at the Masters Thursday morning. He told reporters today, quote, as of right now, I feel like I am going to play, unquote. He wants that green jacket again. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) simple, do you think you can win the Masters this week?

TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: I do. I can hit it just fine. I don't have any qualms about what I can do physically from a golf standpoint. It's now, walking is a hard part.


TAPPER: There were doubts that Woods would ever even play golf again after he seriously injured his leg last year after he crashed his car driving at extremely high speeds. As Woods said, the challenge now is walking the notoriously hilly Augusta National course.

25 years ago, Woods won his first Masters tournament. He's won four times since then. Woods will play nine more practice holes tomorrow.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. If you ever miss an episode of the show, you can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcasts. I will be back tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN Tonight with more live from Lviv and from our reporters on the frontlines of this bloody invasion.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you later tonight.