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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ukraine: Nearly 3,000 Civilians Evacuated From Areas Under Siege; U.S. Monitoring Reports Of Russian Chemical Attack In Mariupol; FDNY: 10 People Shot On New York Subway, Suspect Remains At Large; Ukrainians Finding Delayed-Action Russian Explosives; Urgent Manhunt Underway For New York Subway Shooter; U.S. Inflation Hits 40-Year High Driven By Oil Prices. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 12, 2022 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: So we will stand by for more developments from the scene of that breaking news and the subway shooting.

In the meantime, THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER live from Ukraine starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm standing on a rooftop looking out on Lviv on day 48 of Russia's brutal and bloody invasion of Ukraine. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to this special broadcast of THE LEAD, live from western Ukraine.

We're covering two major stories this afternoon.

In New York City, police say a suspect is on the loose after a terrifying gun and smoke bomb attack on the subway this morning just before 8:30 a.m. At least 29 people were injured, 10 of whom were shot, five remain in critical condition at this hour. The New York police commissioner says a man wearing a gas mask took a canister out of his bag and then started shooting as smoke filled the subway. I will have much more on that in a moment.

Back here in Ukraine, it is a rush to evacuate civilians from the eastern part of the country as clearer signs emerge that Russia is ramping up its preparations for a full scale attack on the eastern region. Ukraine's deputy prime minister says nearly 3,000 civilians were able to flee today from some of the cities most affected by fighting, including Mariupol and Berdiansk.

CNN has obtained this video of fighting in Mariupol. You see the black smoke rising from residential areas outside a shipping yard. In another video posted to social media shows a large column of Russian armored vehicles and trucks carrying soldiers and equipment. This was filmed inside Russia, right across the border from Ukraine's Donbas region.

Today, the Pentagon confirms this U.S. is looking into reports that U.S. Russian forces have used what may be a chemical weapon in Mariupol. The military governor of the region says three people were taken to the hospital but are expected to survive.

In his latest address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy assured the world that Ukrainian forces can end this siege of Mariupol, but only -- only if the West sends more heavy weaponry and soon.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): If we got jets and enough heavy armored vehicles, the necessary artillery, we would be able to do it, but we still have to agree on this, we still have to persuade, we still have to squeeze out the necessary decisions. I am sure that we will get almost everything we need, but not only time is being lost. The lives of Ukrainians are being lost, lives that can no longer be returned.


TAPPER: Let's get straight to CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward, who is now in Dnipro, Ukraine.

And, Clarissa, we see these video of Russian troops appearing to be amassing near the Donbas region in the southeastern corner of Ukraine. What is the latest on the fighting?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Jake, one Ukrainian local authority here has said they expect this Russian offensive now to begin any day, really, potentially even as soon as tomorrow. That following the images that you're talking about. They say that they are seeing heavy equipment now being pulled towards the front lines.

The one thing this official also added, which I thought was interesting, is that something is playing in the Ukrainians' favor here, which is that there has been heavy rain today and heavy rains are expected for the next few days. That means in principle that those Russian forces, if they were to push ahead with this offensive, would need to use road as opposed to going through fields, which would be extremely muddy. And if they used those roads, that gives Ukrainian forces a much better chance of defending themselves. Of course using those anti-tank missiles, those Javelins that we have seen them use with great effect in other parts of the country.

Now, this -- as all this is happening, the civilians in many of these areas are continuing to pay a heavy price, Jake. One official saying that 60,000 people have been living in basements and bunkers and shelters for a month now. There has just been relentless shelling going on in a number of towns, particularly in the city of Severodonetsk. That is right by the front line.

It's a city of 100,000 people. Roughly, some 400 people have been buried in the last 40 days. And what local authorities are saying, Jake, is that the morgues now in towns like Severodonetsk are at full capacity. They can't take any more bodies. They don't have electricity. And they're no longer able, even, to access their cemeteries. So they're being forced to do something similar to what we saw when we

visited the northern town of Chernihiv whereby they clear a wood, and take a bulldozer and create these large trenches to try to bury their dead in.


Evacuations are ongoing, but they have been thwarted somewhat by that horrific attack on the Kramatorsk railway that resulted in the deaths of 57 innocent civilians. That, of course, has meant that many Ukrainians are simply too frightened to get on those trains that would ferry them to relative safety, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Clarissa, civilians are starting to return to the areas in and around Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew from that area. But now, President Zelenskyy says those Russian troops left behind not just evidence of atrocities but tens of thousands of mines?

WARD: That's right, Jake. I mean, there is a herculean effort going on in the areas that were occupied to try to demine these areas. A lot of roads are completely impassable. Indeed, when we were driving just today along the road, we saw an anti-tank mine sitting at the side of the road. Ukrainian forces are finding so many of them literally they're being forced to push them to the side as they continue the look for more.

And, obviously, there are instances where this is resulting in catastrophic accidents. There was a case outside again that city that I mentioned before that we visited last week of Chernihiv, where a car basically ran over one of these mines, flipped over, and was completely obliterated. This makes it all the more difficult. Because of course if you can't use trains to evacuate people out, if you can't use roads to get people to safety or to bring people back to their homes, it becomes all the more difficult to move supplies around, to move aid in, and to move people out, Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Clarissa Ward in Dnipro, Ukraine, thank you so much.

WARD: CNN's Phil Black is here with me in Lviv.

And, Phil, the Pentagon said today they're looking into these reports from Ukrainians in the military and government that the Russians may have used chemical weapons in Mariupol. What do we know about this?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, the Ukrainian soldiers on the ground in Mariupol say this weapon, whatever it was, was delivered by a drone. It dropped, it exploded, it dispersed what they're calling an unknown poison, and it impacted a small group of people, a handful of people, not seriously. Three people needed treatment. It seems to symptoms were not serious. It's mostly respiratory problems, eye irritations. No one knows what this was for sure.

The Ukrainians, U.S. officials, U.K. officials say they're desperate to find out just in case this is the much predicted chemical weapons operation. U.S. officials today are talking about the knowledge they have, the information they have, which suggests that Russia could use a mix of crowd control agents and more potent chemicals, essentially a more brutal form of tear gas.

They don't know for sure, but it's one theory that would explain potentially what was experience in the Mariupol today.

TAPPER: A top British official said options are on the table how the West would respond if Russia does use chemical weapons in Ukraine. We all recall, of course, when Bashar al Assad who's allied with the Russians used chemical weapons in Syria against his own people.

What's on the table for the West if the Russians do use chemical weapons?

BLACK: That same official said it is useful to maintain ambiguity when talking about the possible response and that's because as you point to, there's no good response, and particularly in this war, too, because any military response could result in an escalation, but the one true policy red line for the West in this war is ensuring there is no shooting war between NATO and Russia.

TAPPER: Yeah, during a press conference today, Vladimir Putin says peace talks with Ukraine hit a dead end. A Ukrainian presidential adviser says the peace talks are ongoing. How do you reconcile this difference?

BLACK: Putin also said he's going to continue his special military operation until it is successful, so it certainly doesn't point to optimism in terms of diplomacy. The Ukrainians admit this is taking place against the emotional backdrop of those recent atrocities and taking place at a very low level, subgroups, online. But they say -- and they have been saying for a while now -- they're essentially continuing this -- on the off chance, the slight chance that it could result in a breakthrough that saves some lives, even if there's not much optimism, it is worth pursuing for that reason alone.

TAPPER: Yeah. Putin also said that the atrocities in Bucha were fake, which is obviously a tremendous lie. Phil Black, thank you so much.

Ukraine's prosecutor general is telling CNN that her office is building more than 5,800 cases of war crimes from Russia's invasion. This afternoon, I spoke to Wayne Jordash. Wayne is the managing partner of the Global Rights Compliance Law Firm and Foundation. One of many investigators here on the ground in places such as Bucha trying to document what truly happened.

I started by asking Wayne what he has seen in his multiple trips to Bucha.


WAYNE JORDASH, MANAGING PARTNER, GLOBAL RIGHTS COMPLIANCE LAW FIRM AND FOUNDATION: Well, Bucha is full at the moment of investigators and prosecutors and state security, counterintelligence, all trying to investigate a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. There are inspections of Russian facilities, which include a bloodstained detention centers. There's mass graves where bodies are being pulled out on a daily basis. There are buildings which are destroyed by Russian artillery with no apparent military focus. So it's a massive crime scene, I would say.

TAPPER: I understand investigators are also using drones to help with the investigation. How does that work?

JORDASH: Well, in order to investigate a scene, one of the first things you should do when you're talking about a scene like Bucha or many of the other towns is to try to get an overview of the town and get an overview of where the Russians were based and where the likely war crimes or other violation of international law occurred. So having this overview is really important before then descending in to ensure preservation of the scene, retrieval of items which might be evidence, and there after, interviewing witnesses to discover what happened in those targeted places.

TAPPER: The military governor of Donetsk told CNN today that Russian forces around Mariupol are using mobile crematoriums in order to get rid of the bodies of the corpses of dead civilians. Take a listen.


PAVLOV KIRILENKO, MILITARY GOVERNOR OF DONETSK REGION, UKRAINE (through translator): They're taking bodies of the dead in the streets and the dead from collapsing buildings, they're taking them out into the territory not controlled by Ukraine and destroying the bodies there.


TAPPER: If Russia is truly doing this, destroying the bodies of Ukrainians it's killed, destroying evidence, will we ever know the full extent of the crimes that Russia has committed while in Ukraine?

JORDASH: I think we'll have a good picture. There are many ways to build a war crimes case or a crime against humanity case or even a genocide case. Witness evidence is important, but so are forensics. So as you just mentioned drones, examination of the scene.

Of course, if that is true, the Russian government can cover up some crimes, but I think it's difficult -- the scenes I've seen, the sites that I've seen show increasingly that the crimes were widespread and systematic, that is they are likely to be crimes against humanity. With the best well in the world and the best crematoriums in the world, it's very difficult to hide these types of crimes.

Yes, some of the detail may disappear, but I think with focus from the prosecution, focus from civil society, focus from international experts, much can be uncovered.

TAPPER: You were telling me that when you were in Bucha, you saw a grave with a woman buried with her two small children.

JORDASH: Yeah, what is clear is that, to me at least, so far, when you look at the patterns, you have some towns where there's a huge amount of civilian destruction of buildings, and then you have towns like Bucha where the level of destruction rose to a savagery I would say, which seems to have targeted the most vulnerable, from children to women to those detained.

And the purpose is not very clear. Looks like a level of destruction for destruction's sake. No obvious military advantage. No obvious purpose. Destruction seems to be the name of that moment and the name of that game.

But I think, you know, the mass graves which are being uncovered of civilians within them, including women and children, speak to that level of destruction. The narrative appears to have moved from war crimes to crimes against humanity and the question I think for all of us to ask is whether this escalation of violence turned into genocide, and I think women and children in graves speaks to that.


TAPPER: Wayne Jordash, we appreciate your time and we appreciate the work you do. Thank you.

JORDASH: Thank you. Thank you very much.


TAPPER: Our other big story -- horror on a New York City subway. A smoke bomb set off, ten people shot. What police are saying about the manhunt for the shooter.

Plus, President Biden's plan announced just moments ago to help ease gas prices in the U.S. due in part to Russia's invasion here in Ukraine.


TAPPER: We turn back to the U.S. for breaking news in our national lead. An urgent manhunt is under way after ten people were shot in a New York City subway station. The shooting happened around 8:24 a.m. during morning rush hour at a station in Brooklyn, New York. Police say the shooter exploded a device at the scene and began opening fire inside the train car as it filled with smoke.


We are told the suspect was wearing a gas mask and a green construction-type vest.

He is black and heavy set. Video from inside the subway station shows a chaotic scene as commuters scramble to safety. Smoke can be seen pouring out of the train car as they exited. Other video shows multiple victims inside the train car. One person seen helping a injured and bleeding individual.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has the latest on the investigation from New York City.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Panic aboard a New York City subway train in Brooklyn, this morning. As shots rang out and smoke filled the car, witnesses say --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people screamed for medical assistance. It was just a scary moment.

GINGRAS: Authorities swarming the scene.

KEECHANT SEWELL, NEW YORK CIYT POLICE COMMISSIONER: An individual on the scene donned what appeared to be a gas mask. He took out a canister out of his bag and opened it. The train at the time began to fill with smoke. He then opened fire, striking multiple people on the subway and in the platform.

GINGRAS: Ten shot, five of them critical because stable condition with six more injured according to the FDNY, as photos from the scene show blood on the floor of the subway station.

SEWELL: This is not being investigated as an act of terror at this time. We could also report that although this was a violent incident, reportedly, we have no one with life threatening injuries as a result of this case.

YAV MONTANO, ON BOARD TRAIN DURING SHOOTING: We were stuck in the train, right about to get to reach to the stop, and then thank goodness the train moves within a minute. Or I don't know what would have happened if we were stuck there for longer.

GINGRAS: The attack leading to a massive manhunt in the city with the suspect still on the loose.

SEWELL: He is being reported as a male black, approximately 5'5" with a heavy build. He was wearing a green construction type vest and a hooded sweatshirt. The color is gray.

GINGRAS: A gun, multiple high capacity magazines and fireworks and gunpowder have been recovered in the station, law enforcement sources say, and they believe the gun jammed during the shooting.

New York Mayor Eric Adams who was in isolation recovering from COVID- 19, telling CNN it's too early to dismiss the subway attack as not terror-related.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: This is terror, someone attempting to terrorize our system. They brought in what appeared to be some sort of smoke device, they discharged a weapon. So, I don't want to be premature in identifying if this was or was not. I think at this time the investigators are going to do their due diligence to properly identify what happened here.

GINGRAS: While New York Governor Kathy Hochul on scene today calling for an end to New York's recent wave of violent crime.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK: We say no more. No more mass shootings. No more disrupting lives, no more creating heartbreak for people just trying to live their lives as normal New Yorkers. It has to end. It ends now.


GINGRAS: And, Jake, now we're nearing on eight hours since this incident took place on the subway system, and still no custody -- or no suspect rather in custody. We know that law enforcement at the local, state, federal level, they are working together, chasing down leads. It will help that they have an image from an eyewitness cell phone video of the possible suspect. They're looking for a van and how that might be tied this particular suspect, a U-Haul van. We know U- Haul is actually working with the law enforcement.

So, a lot of leads being chased down here in New York City, but, of course, this is a city on edge with this incident happening. Now we know 29 people have been hospitalized tied to it -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brynn Gingras in New York for us, thank you so much.

Today's shooting raises questions about security on New York's subway system. I'm going to bring in the CEO of the rail service. That's next.



TAPPER: We're back in Lviv Ukraine. Although Russian forces pulled out of some parts of Ukraine, specifically around the Kyiv area, life threatening dangers are everywhere.

CNN's Nima Elbagir travelled to Kharkiv, that's a city 640 miles east of here, 300 miles beyond the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. The area has been subjected to relentless Russian shelling and Ukrainians there have started finding a hideous type of Russian shell. It's designed to lay on the ground for hours and then explode.

Nima followed a emergency response team that has the dangerous job of finding these delayed action explosives before it's too late.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the central market area in Kharkiv, and this is the site of most of last night's strikes. We've come here with emergency service first responders because the Russians have come up with a new tactic to ensure that the devastation of their attacks lasts far beyond first impact.

Lieutenant Colonel Igor Ovcharuk is head of the bomb disposal team.

LT. COL. OVCHARUK, HEAD OF PYROTECHNIC GROUP, EMERGENCY SERVICES (through translator): The mines explode by themselves and cause damage. These elements can detonate between 3 and 40 hours later, so we have to detonate them remotely to avoid damage to the civilian population.

ELBAGIR: There are unexploded mines all over this area, so they can't get too close. What they do is wrap plastic explosives around a wire, link it to a detonator, that's then placed next to the unexploded ordnance.


They retreat, then they blow it up.

A brutal new tactic leaving death to lie in wait for unsuspecting civilians.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Kharkiv.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Nima Elbagir in Kharkiv right there for us.

Today, a report revealed what may be the strongest evidence yet of Russia's invasion impacting the pocketbooks of the American people. We're going to ask a member of the Biden administration how the administration is trying to help the average American. That's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news. Just moments ago, President Biden addressed the morning rush hour attack in a subway station in Brooklyn. Ten people were shot. Five remain in critical condition.

President Biden said that they were going to stay on top of the matter until everything was solved and the suspect was found.

Let's discuss with Janno Lieber. He is the CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Thanks so much for joining us.

New York Mayor Eric Adams is telling subway riders they're going see a visible police presence around stations in the wake of shooting.

Was the Metro Authority prepared for this?

JANNO LIEBER, CEO, METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: Yeah, I think since Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul came in, Jake, they've made subway safety a huge priority. They've done, as we have been asking for some time, to move more officers on to platforms and trains, make them for visible in the system, and to be where riders feel vulnerable. Obviously, today, we had a terrible episode that the NYPD is investigating and they're determined to take action.

But that commitment to subway safety from the governor and mayor has been in place for some time, and now it's going to be increased even further, I know.

TAPPER: Look, the criminal who did this is who's responsible, and I don't want to suggest anything otherwise, but are you saying there were no mistakes made that allowed this individual to get away? Because he committed this violent act in the subways, and then escaped. No -- no law enforcement authorities made any mistakes in allowing him to escape in any way?

LIEBER: It's premature to say, but -- and I'm sure all the post event analysis will take place at an appropriate time. But right now, what we need to focus on is our riders, who are so resilient, who -- come back again and again after 9/11, after Hurricane Sandy, after COVID, our work force that powered us through COVID.

This is what New York is all about. It's what the subway system's all about. And after they get this bad guy, I'm sure there will be lots of discussion about what went wrong.

I don't think the blame falls on anybody other than the criminal. That is my personal instinct.

TAPPER: Of course, of course, but law enforcement is there to protect people. I'm just wondering if there was anything that could have been done differently, but as you say, this will be studied in the future.

What do you say to New Yorkers who right now do not feel safe riding the subway?

LIEBER: Listen, I grew up in New York in the '70s. The system is way safer than when I was a kid, but there's no question we have had a bunch of high profile incidents and some statistics that are alarming.

New Yorkers are committed to the subway because it's what makes New York possible. The density, the ability to get to all the different things New York has to offer -- jobs, education, culture.

The subway is New York. It also demonstrates our diversity and the way we all get along every day. There's no way New Yorkers are going to back off because one maniac decides to ruin people's commute. We're going to continue living our lives and we celebrate our riders and our commitment to New York.

TAPPER: Oh, he did -- he did a lot more than ruin people's commutes, right? I mean, five people are in critical condition.

LIEBER: Absolutely. I don't mean to understate it. Let me rephrase that, 20 people injured, 10 people took bullets. This is about as serious as an attack gets, but what we're seeing is that New Yorkers are not going to back off from living their lives the same way they've done, again, powering through COVID, powering through 9/11. That is part of our culture, and we're going to make the system safer with the help of a committed mayor and governor, and we're going to make New York as -- you know, bring normal life back in New York every way possible. Subways are key to that.

TAPPER: What steps can the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the MTA, take to help law enforcement find this gunman?

LIEBER: Well, we have almost 10,000 cameras in our system, including, you know, almost 600 just on the Brooklyn section of this one line where the attack took place, so we're going to work with the NYPD to capture all that video to find out where this criminal may have come in or out of the system, and we're also just, you know, reviewing with everybody who was involved, all of the information.

There's a ton of evidence. I was on the platform today. The NYPD was right in the middle of analyzing all of it, and I think they're hot on the trail.


TAPPER: Since the beginning of 2022, as you alluded to, there has been a large increase in transit crime in New York compared to the same period in 2021. What are you doing to address this surge in crime?

LIEBER: Well, I think I alluded to it earlier -- the governor and mayor made a commitment to subway safety very early on in the new year. They have put more officers both on the platforms and on the trains where people feel vulnerable.

And there are, you know, a ton of other -- there's an enormous effort to reach out to some of the people who have, for whatever reason, have been sheltering in the subway system. We've got a population that's been doing that, and to really start enforcing more on basic rule of conduct -- no smoking, no beating the fare, no open drug use. All of those interdictions, all of those enforcement actions, are starting to drive and will continue to drive bad guys out of the system, I believe.

We have to get people with mental health issues who need housing to those services. But enforcement of rules of conduct is catching bad guys and I think that's going to pay off in the long run.

TAPPER: Janno Lieber, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

Coming up, from gas to food to housing, prices for nearly everything in the United States is driving inflation to a 40-year high. Coming up next, the new steps that the Biden administration says they're going to take to try to ease American pain for Americans.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Turning to our politics lead, today's alarming new numbers on inflation bring unwelcome news for the Biden administration. Despite a strong job market and increasing rising wages, prices for nearly everything in the United States, from gas to food to housing, are driving inflation to a 40-year high. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is traveling with President Biden has this look at

how the White House is trying to ease some of the strain on Americans' pocketbooks.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden scrambling today to address the grim economic news, with the U.S. inflation surging to a new four-decade high.

The consumer price index climbed 8.5 percent in March from a year ago, the fastest annual hike since December 1981, driving largely by rising oil and gas prices, after Russia invaded Ukraine.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin's invasion of Ukraine has driven up gas prices and food prices all over the world..

ZELENY: The president taking aim at the high gas prices today while touring an Iowa ethanol plant, where he announced the plan to temporarily allow a higher content of ethanol blended gasoline to be sold this summer, suspending a ban on the fuel known as E-15, which is made of 15 percent ethanol.

It was a rare presidential visit to the small community of Menlo, and a conservative county where the economy is on the minds of detractors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, to compare the price two, three years ago on the same products today, it's tremendously higher.

ZELENY: And supporters alike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When people are hurting and in tough times, we really struggle to put blame, you know, and we want to try to find the sources. Sometimes the easiest person to blame is the president and the current administration.

ZELENY: The president making clear he hears the concerns. As the White House focuses intently on inflation, which has been above 6 percent for six straight months, while above the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target. Today's Labor Department report also showed continued spikes in food prices for the cost of meet up nearly 15 percent from last year.

While the price of used vehicles appears to be leveling off, prices are still 35 percent higher than a year ago.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We've never -- we've talked about inflation long before there was an invasion, but we also know that factually if you look at the data, the average gas prices are up $1 -- 80 cents to $1. It's about 25 percent. We've seen increasing gas prices since the start of this invasion and we know energy prices is a big driver of the inflation data.

ZELENY: While deeply troubling to the White House, the U.S. inflation rate is nowhere near close to a record, with nearly 15 percent inflation in the early 1980s, along with soaring unemployment. Today, a low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent and a strong demand for workers offers optimism about the prospect for a stronger economy ahead.


ZELENY (on camera): And President Biden just finished his speech here a few moments ago. He said American pocketbooks should not be determined by the genocide committed by another dictator in another country. Jake, the first time President Biden has used the word genocide, talking about Ukraine.

But as for inflation, the central question is whether it's hit its peak or if that's still to come -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny traveling with the president in Iowa, thank you so much.

Let's discuss all this with Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council at the White House.

So, Brian, obviously inflation in the U.S. is skyrocketing. New numbers show the consumer price index rose 8.5 percent for the year that ended in the March. That's the highest in 40 years.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in a statement today, quote: Instead of acting boldly, elected officials and the Federal Reserve, quote, continue to respond with half measures and rhetorical failures searching for where to play the blame.


How do you respond?

BRIAN DEESE, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, look, what we saw in march was a really elevated inflation number, and it's got the war in Ukraine all over it. Two-thirds of the increase in March was the price of gas at the pump, and as you know, Jake, that is being driven by Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the Russian oil coming off the market.

What the president is doing is exactly that -- responding boldly and in an unprecedented way. The good news is, since the height of gas prices in March, wave seen gas prices come down, and a big part of the reason is the president mandated a release from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve of a million barrels a day on to the market. That's an action we could take, and we galvanized the international community to put another 60 million barrels on the market as well. That set some downward pressure on the oil prices and you saw the president today taking action on ethanol and E-15.

So, you're seeing a president that is focused on keeping an international coalition resolved to do what is necessary to counter Putin's actions in Ukraine while doing everything to protect consumers at home, and that's what he's going to continue to do.

TAPPER: Obviously, the war in Ukraine is driving up fuel prices. Nobody disputes that, but we were covering inflation long before Putin invaded Ukraine. Inflation in the United States in the last year has preceded this attack, and some people hear the president and the White House blaming all of this on Putin and think, that's just not accurate. That's just not factual.

DEESE: Well, let's be very factual. What I said was in March, the predominance of the increase was because of gas prices, and that is because of Putin's invasion. Two-thirds of the increase in March was a result of that.

But at the same time, inflation is high in the United States. It's higher around the world. We are hitting record inflation numbers in the EU and globally.

We are -- the president and we are very focused on what we can do practically to bring price increases down while also sustaining a strong recovery in the United States. That's the president's focus, and it's what he's calling on Congress to do as well.

You know, we have legislation in front of Congress that would do two things, lower costs for families and lower the deficit. Both of those would have a positive impact on bringing inflation down, and we're certainly hopeful that Congress will act with the urgency that this circumstance requires.

TAPPER: Prices continue to rise. Consumers are facing sticker shock for very basic items. Gas prices are up 48 percent, as you note. Used cars are up 35 percent. Food costs up almost 9 percent. Housing is up 5 percent.

What is the president's message to Americans that are hurting from these price increases?

DEESE: Well, number one, he understands. He understands how this impacts people's pocketbooks and it creates uncertainty in their lives. Number two, he is going to take every action that he can responsibly as president, including historic releases of oil on to the market, including the actions today around E-15 to provide relief, and we're seeing some of that including gas prices coming down. We want them to come down more, but it's important to note we have seen some reduction.

And number three, he's going to keep on calling on Congress to take actions to provide relief to lower costs for families. Lower a family's utility bills, lower the prescription drug costs and lower the deficit at the same time. That would make a big impact for people in their lives who are trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Lowering those costs would have a big impact, and so, we're going to keep making the case and try to get that done.

TAPPER: Brian Deese, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

We are standing by for a news conference in New York City where authorities will update on that terrifying subway shooting earlier today.

Also ahead, President Biden may be keeping U.S. troops out of Ukraine but that isn't stopping another group of Americans from stepping up. Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: And welcome back to this special broadcast of THE LEAD live from western Ukraine. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm standing on a roof top looking out on Lviv on day 48 of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Tonight, we're covering two major stories.

Any moment, we expect an update from the attack on the New York City where a manhunt is now underway for the suspect behind a horrifying attack on the New York City subway this morning during rush hour at 8:30 a.m. Police say at least 29 people were hurt, 10 of them shot. Five in critical condition, after a man put on a gas mask, took a canister from his back and discriminately began shooting, as smoke filled the train. We're going to have much more on that story in moment.

Back here in Ukraine, much of the focus is on the fight for Mariupol in the south. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said this afternoon that Ukrainian forces are still fighting for control in that key port city despite weeks of a relentless Russian assault on that city. The Ukrainian government said the death toll there is colossal, nearly 22,000 people, that's an estimate, could be gone, that we will not know the enormity of Russia's horrors until the blockade around Mariupol is cleared.

Today, the Biden administration confirmed it is looking into reports that Russians forces have used what may be a chemical weapon in Mariupol. The military governor of the region says three people were taken to the hospital.