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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Russia: Goal is "Full Control" of Southern Ukraine & Donbas; Ukrainians Hold Out in Mariupol as Russia Tightens Blockade; Patchwork of Mask Mandates Confuses Travelers Nationwide; CNN: About 40 Percent of COVID Deaths Were Among Vaccinated People in January and February. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 22, 2022 - 16:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right. Final minute of trading and markets are falling sharply, right about 1,000 points down. Investors are worried about aggressive rate hikes after comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Kremlin announces its offensive in plan for Ukraine in every sense of the word "offensive".

THE LEAD starts right now.

A Russian general reveals Putin wants full control of southern Ukraine. And to do that, they need to seize Ukrainian cities such as Odessa and Mariupol, this as we learn what it was like inside a Ukrainian village held hostage by Russian troops for more than a month.

Then, they are the lucky ones, the few able to escape the horror and bombardment happening in Mariupol. We're going to talk to them as they arrive in the relative safety of western Ukraine.

Plus, planes, trains, automobiles and mask confusion. CNN took an Uber, an Amtrak and a flight to see what the mask reality was on public transportation.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with the world lead. And for the first time, Russia is revealing the goal of its new second phase of its unprovoked war against the Ukrainian people. The plan is to take full control of southern Ukraine. That came today from a Russian general who said the Kremlin wants the entire Donbas region. This would connect Russia to Crimea which is of course the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Right now, Ukraine still controls smaller but still significant cities

such as Mykolaiv and Odessa. Mariupol, well, that's another story, this is where Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to create a blockade around a steel plant. Ukrainian forces and civilians have taken cover inside that steel plant. Today, they say they are running dangerously low on food and on water.

Now, despite knowing that civilians are inside the plant and knowing others are scattered in surrounding neighborhoods and towns, Putin today refused to allow evacuation corridors so those people could escape to safer ground. Russia's focus may be in southern Ukraine but today, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is revealing more horrors of this war in the northern region of Chernihiv. He says Russian occupiers drove some 400 people of a village to a school and then locked them in a basement for three weeks. And then Zelenskyy says the Russians mocked these civilians as they begged for even basics, for survival.

Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): About ten people died of suffocation alone. The youngest child held in the basement was 3 months old. The oldest person was 93 years old. For more than three weeks, they were banned from leaving that place 24/7, even to go to the bathroom. And when someone asked to go out to get some clothes for the kids, the occupiers demand that had they sing the Russian national anthem. That's how the Russian soldiers had fun. That's the kind of impunity they felt.


TAPPER: Ed Lavandera went to this village and has more now from this absolute horror story.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): War stopped time here. Bombs and artillery scorched this village in northern Ukraine. Russian occupation ravaged the minds of its people. The story of what happened in Yahidne is just emerging, revealing how the Russian army held this village hostage for more than 30 days.

Sophia shows us the underground bunker in her shed where she first hid from the fighting. She said she had food stored here that the Russians ate. This is where she slept. Sophia says Russian soldiers went door to door, rounding people up and taking them at gunpoint into the basement of the village school.

Sophia tells us that when the Russian soldiers moved them all into the basement of the school building, they were put down there and the soldiers told them they were being put in the basement to die.

A woman named Natalie took us into the basement where she was trapped. I was in a stupor, she tells me. I was sitting there, praying, hoping it would all stop soon. Residents tell us there were about 350 people held hostage in the

basement of this school building. Men, women and children forced to live in these horrific conditions. In fact, it was so strangulating, there were so little air circulation that one resident told us that 12 elderly people died here because they couldn't breathe. And their bodies were left while the fighting raged outside.

These are some of the only known images captured in the school's basement. The faces say it all.

She's telling me that about 35 people slept in this small room. Nobody could lay down. They slept kind of sitting with their knees against their chest.

The rooms are littered with makeshift beds, schoolbooks, and Russian troop meal boxes. But it is the art on the walls that stops you in your tracks. This is how the children passed the time, colorful drawings on a canvas of anguish. The people who were trapped down here etched names on to this concrete wall. They marked the days with a calendar, crossing out the days as they went by.

Everything down here has the feel of a World War II era concentration camp. Above the basement, Russian soldiers took over the school building. Residents say they were used as human shields. They knew the Ukrainian military wouldn't fire at the school with civilians inside.

Olena person grabs food from a humanitarian delivery truck and takes it to her home. Russian soldiers threw grenade to her windows and defecated on the house floors. She was also held hostage in the school basement with her 1-year-old daughter.

Did you think you were going to survive that?

I thought my child would not survive. She tells me. I asked them to let me out so the child could breathe fresh air because she felt bad. They said let her die. We don't care.

Sophia, how did you feel when you got out of the basement of the school?

She says one of the villagers open the basement door and said the Russians left. The trapped villagers were surprised.

In the morning, our guys entered the village. We cried. We hugged them and cried.

What will you tell your daughter about this experience?

Nothing, she says. Her daughter will not remember it and she will tell her nothing.


LAVANDERA (on camera): Jake, the villagers tell us they have no idea how many of their people were killed. They believe that the Russians buried bodies in the woods surrounding the villages, but it is impossible to check. The area is littered with land mines, too dangerous to go into.

If you notice, all the women, we used their first names. They asked that we not use their last names. And none of the men in the village would speak to us. That's because Russian soldiers were going house to house, picking out the men saying they were looking for the Nazis in this village -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Volodymyr Omelyan. He used to be Ukraine's minister of infrastructure. He's since joined this country's defense forces.

Volodymyr, thanks for joining us. So, you spent the early part of this week down in southern Ukraine. This is area Russia now is admitting openly that they want to take complete control of. What did you see and how close is Putin to his goal of taking control of all of Donbas?


Yes, I just came back from Mykolaiv, and frankly saying, don't buy what is told by Putin. His only goal is to conquer all Ukraine and then move forward to the European union and NATO member states. He didn't change his mind.

But he failed near Kyiv, and he had to step back. Right now, he concentrated all his forces to hit us from the east and also try to destroy our armed forces in the south of Ukraine. But he cannot make it, and thanks to the artillery you provide us with and ammunition -- we need more definitely, but it's already working and working very good.

I was told by my friends today in the morning, they stopped a battalion of Russians and actually killed almost all of them. Russians which were armed with World War II rifles and steel helmets. It was kind of a disaster. But they sent another battalion after battalion.

So, it's really World War II, and they do not change their tactics to kill as many as possible and nobody cares whether it's Russian soldier or Ukrainian ones.

TAPPER: Today, you tweeted heavy video of a small town just north of Kyiv. Seeing the damage, it's hard to imagine anyone possibly still lives there now.

Have civilians mostly deserted these towns that have been destroyed?

OMELYAN: If they were lucky, they ran away before Russian invasion, but now trying to come back. Those people who left, not everybody survived. Unfortunately, many were tortured, and I witnessed personally in many villages in the northern Kyiv region how big destruction came with Russian army.

And frankly saying, with this brutal invasion, Putin simply disclose Red Army in World War II.


Because right now, people are telling the same, that Russians are much worse than Nazi forces. And I think it's a great strike for Putin and Russia, because it was difficult to be worse than a Nazi, they made it.

TAPPER: The World Bank now estimates the current cost to rebuild Ukraine's infrastructure would be about $60 billion. You were once in charge of Ukraine's infrastructure. Is that estimate accurate, do you think?

OMELYAN: It's difficult to say right now, because war is ongoing, and those costs will increase for sure. But what I would do in position of minister of infrastructure, definitely we need some small fast money to repair what is needed to be repaired right now. And actually, Ukraine government is already doing that without requesting any additional help.

But to make a kind of rebuild of Ukraine, a construction of new Ukraine, we should start first with audit. Then to decide what is going to be replaced and in what way, what kind of economy we are going to build. And then together with our allies, using Russian money -- because Russia should pay for every destruction they did to Ukraine, we can start building new Ukraine.

TAPPER: You have voiced your frustration with nations such as Germany for continuing to purchase Russian fuel, which funds the war. A former Ukrainian prime minster told me yesterday that the countries that are still buying Russian, oil, gas, and coal, are giving Russia about a billion euros every day, which helps fuel the war.

Germany says it plans to cut off Russian oil by the end of 2022. Do you think they could do so and should do so before then, before the end of the year?

OMELYAN: You know, before the war, before 2014, it was also a big discussion in Ukraine whether we should buy Russian gas and oil, or we should use another source, and this discussion was going on until Russian bombs hit our country. And I advised Germany not to waste too much time in this discussion, because it's better to use Ukrainian experience than to fill it with their own skin. How is it when Russian tanks break your house?

TAPPER: Yeah. Volodymyr Omelyan, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Please stay safe.

OMELYAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, why evacuees from Mariupol who safely made it to the western part of Ukraine are furious.

Then, we're going to talk to a Ukrainian combat medic who's fighting on the front lines in the Donetsk region.

But, first, awe look at the unbelievably true story of the man who took on Vladimir Putin and lived to tell the tale. CNN's Sundance Award-winning film, "Navalny."


ALEXEI NAVALNY, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Vladimir Alexandrovich. It's Alexei Navalny calling and I was hoping you could tell me why you wanted to kill me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remarkably, Vladimir Putin faces a legitimate opponent, Alexei Navalny.

NAVALNY: I don't want Putin being president.

I will end war.

If I want to be leader of country, I have to organize people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Kremlin hates Navalny so much that they refuse to say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passengers heard Navalny cry out in agony.

NAVALNY: Come on, poisoned? Seriously?

We are creating a coalition to fight this regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are killed, what message do you leave behind to the Russian people?

NAVALNY: It's very simple -- never give up.

ANNOUNCER: "NAVALNY," Sunday at 9:00 on CNN, and streaming on CNN+.




TAPPER: Staying in our world lead, I feel as if my heart has been torn out -- that is a direct quote from the mayor of Mariupol, who tells CNN that 20,000 civilians in his city, he estimates are dead, 20,000, enough to fill every seat at Madison Square Garden, an estimated 100,000 people remain in the besieged port city as Russia flagrantly bombards evacuation corridors.

CNN's Matt Rivers was at a train station in Lviv, in Western Ukraine earlier today, and he spoke to some who just escaped the horrors of the south.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The train was designated just for evacuees. If all went to plan it would arrive here to Lviv packed with hundreds fleeing war.

Instead, just a handful of families finally found safety, including Polina and her daughter Iryna who fled Mariupol. They are furious there's not more who got out.

She says so many should have been evacuated but the Russians kept shelling. They are not human beings. I don't know who gave birth to them. Horrific.

Horrific an apt word to describe what Russia has done to the people of Mariupol, collecting dead bodies amongst the city's wreckage, a task now as common place as it is morbid. Some of the dead are loaded into Russian marked trucks while others have been buried n alleged mass graves, seen here in new satellite imagery.

Yet for the ten of thousands who survive here, they need to get out and cannot.

He says humanitarian corridors declared by Russia are only on paper. Russian troops dominate the vast majority of the city. If they wanted to let people leave safely they could. And yet several humanitarian corridors agreed to this week have failed, with Ukraine accusing Russia of repeatedly violating cease-fires.

The number of evacuees on the planned route from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia had slowed to a trickle, and even then, danger awaits.

Ukraine's military says this train actually came under fire as it was leaving a station in Zaporizhzhia. Some of the train cars were so damaged they had to be left behind. And even the ones that can still travel, have some damage left over.


It's another example, Ukraine says, of how Russia continues to target civilians.

For those from Mariupol, like Katya Yatsun, these are some of the first moments they have felt safe in weeks.

We were just thinking about our survival, she says. I don't know how I'm going to tell my son about such terrifying events. She says she'll eventually tell her son about Russian military brutality, about the needless destruction of an entire city, and maybe her son will live long enough to return to Mariupol one day. Others doubt they'll have their chance.

She says, I want to believe that I will return there. I think we'll need many years to restore the city after what they've done. I'm not going to be around that long.


RIVERS (on camera): And Jake, it's not just people fleeing Mariupol who are risking their lives to get away from war. Earlier today, Ukrainian officials say some 25 people fleeing a city called Popasna, in the eastern part of the country, came under fire from Russian forces. Thankfully, no one was injured, but it just goes to show you the danger that people are facing as they try to get somewhere safer.

TAPPER: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much.

A gut-wrenching statistic -- more than 160 verified attacks, 160, on health-care facilities in Ukraine since Russia invaded less than two months ago. That's according to a new report from the World Health Organization which also found one in three households' home to someone with a chronic disease cannot get the care and medicine they need in Ukraine.

Let's bring Yaryna Chornohuz. She's a combat medic with the Ukrainian defense force. She's currently station in the contested Donetsk region of the Donbas part of the country.

Yaryna, thank you for joining us.

First of all, how are you? How is your platoon?


I am quite fine, and as the rest of our army, I'm determined to win and to free our occupied lands.

TAPPER: Your unit was on the outskirts of Mariupol. Your platoon commander was killed trying to defend Mariupol. Tell us about what Russia has unleashed, the terror. What did you see in Mariupol?

CHORNOHUZ: My hardest experience for two months were there on the outskirts of Mariupol and, the village which was -- which is on the north of Mariupol. There many, my platoon, my company, and my unit, we tried to restrain the (INAUDIBLE) army.

We had smaller forces in comparison to Russians there, because the main forces of our army were sent to Kyiv to defend our capital. And we should deal with really great tank column, Russian tank column, having almost nothing. A little bit. And we had heavy battles, (AUDIO CLIP) ammunitions, artillery shells, air defense systems. We wouldn't allow --

TAPPER: We're having some issues with your --

CHORNOHUZ: -- command group.

TAPPER: We're having some issues with the connection right now. Let me try again here while the service re-jiggers.

The mayor of Mariupol says that he thinks 20,000 might be killed. Does that seem reasonable to you? Twenty thousand people might be dead? Is that an accurate estimate, do you think?

CHORNOHUZ: Yes, I think yes. In my own eyes I saw Russian troops. They just -- they are constantly bombing the villages, Ukrainian villages, cities. Hundreds, and thousands of civilians are dying. I saw that in that village, and I see every day. (INAUDIBLE) because we are determined to win, but we are just wasting out of -- you know?

TAPPER: Before we go -- CHORNOHUZ: It was --

TAPPER: Before we go, I just want to give you an opportunity. What's your message to either the world or to your fellow Ukrainians? It's day 58 of this horrific war. Whatever audience you want to address, what is your message?

I think we lost her.



TAPPER: All right, well, thank you so much, Yaryna. I'm sorry, the connection wasn't better, but you're in an active war zone, so that certainly makes sense.

Coming up, to mask or not to mask when you get on a plane or a train? That's the question CNN is going to try to answer. That's next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, mask on, mask off -- if you're confused, you're not alone, especially after a federal judge ruled that the federal travel mask mandate was no longer valid.

Since then, airlines, ride sharing apps and various modes of public transportation said you could ride without a mask if you want.

But as CNN's Pete Muntean found, it is not as clear cut as it might seem.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We put the new nationwide patchwork of mask rules at airports and transit hubs to the test.

A mask optional rideshare started my trip from Washington, D.C.

OK. We're going to Union Station. No mask required.

Most people here are still wearing masks -- like Verna Swann, who was boarding our train to Philadelphia.

VERNA SWANN, TRAVELING TO CONNECTICUT: I just feel like I need to take more precautions than anyone else. So --

MUNTEAN: You are just being careful?

SWANN: I'm being careful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure. MUNTEAN: After Monday's sudden end of the federal transportation mask

mandate, Amtrak was among the first to announce that masks are now optional.


MUNTEAN: Thank you.

Conductor Anthony Tisdale told me he is going mask-less after months of wearing one on the job.

TISDALE: I'm like, yes! I took it right off.

MUNTEAN: My train took me to Philadelphia Center City Amtrak hub. Philly was one of the few major cities to have an indoor mask mandate. But it was just rescinded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It changes a lot. So, it has been confusing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I should wear a mask regardless.

MUNTEAN: My trip continued with a local train to the airport.

Except that here in Philadelphia, one of the mass transit systems where masks are optional, unlike the New York City subway system where masks are still mandatory. The change here happened so abruptly, the sign hasn't been changed yet.

During my travels on Thursday, Philadelphia's airport was one of the few still requiring masks inside the terminal. LAX in Los Angeles is joining the list, along with New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia.

MARY NICHOLS, PHILADELPHIA TRAVELER: I think it's confusing. We all need to be on the same page.

MUNTEAN: But the airports mask rule no longer applies the moment you board.

MUNTEAN: About to go down the jetway, another change in policy. We're leaving the airport where masks were required. Now we're getting on the plane. The transportation mask mandate is over, so I can take my mask off.

Once seated, I did decide to wear a mask. The 32-minute flight back to D.C. was full. It is a new era for travel now governed by personal choice and a patchwork of rules.


MUNTEAN: Here at Reagan National Airport where we landed, no mask is required. The point is it is getting harder and harder to know local mask rules as you travel. Two examples. At Philadelphia international airport they told us the rules are loosening up, where at LAX, the mask rules are getting tighter.

You can still wear a mask if you want to, Jake. In fact, the CDC still recommends it while traveling.

TAPPER: Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

In January and February, 40 percent of COVID deaths, 40 percent, were among those Americans considered fully vaccinated. Does this definition of fully vaccinated need to change?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead, about 40 percent, 40, of U.S. COVID deaths in January and February were among individuals considered to be fully vaccinated. These are individuals who have received their initial series, so either two doses of Moderna or two doses of Pfizer, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson. That's according to a CNN analysis of data from the CDC.

Now, overall, you should get vaccinated. The risk of dying from COVID is still ten times higher for unvaccinated people, but this does raise serious questions as to whether somebody who has not gotten the booster should be considered fully vaccinated.

Here to help break this down for us is Dr. Megan Ranney. She's a professor of emergency medicine at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, doesn't this suggest that the Biden administration needs to change the classification for vaccinations so you're not considered fully vaccinated until you get that third shot in the case of Pfizer and Moderna?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So, I think, Jake, that what this shows is you have a primary series and that the boosters are an essential part of that, just like for tetanus, for many other diseases, you get your primary series and then you get additional vaccines as well. That data that you cited that 40 percent of folks who died were vaccinated, the reality is, those folks represent the minority of Americans. The reality is that actually when you look at folks who died, most of them, 90 percent were either unvaccinated or unboosted.

So, to me, the message is vaccines still work. The primary series is better than nothing, and if you haven't gotten your booster yet, go out and get it. The last part, Jake, is expect to get another booster this fall before the expected autumn surge.

TAPPER: So, I'm sure many people will be shocked by the number, 40 percent. And again, to underline everything you just said -- obviously being vaccinate second down better than not being vaccinated. Being boosted is essential.

But to have 40 percent of those who die in the January and February from COVID to be people who got two shots, not necessarily the booster, what more do we know about these individuals in this 40 percent? Are they people who had comorbidities, are they people who smoked? Are they people who were other the age of 70? Do we know anything more?


RANNEY: Yeah. So, they're mostly older folks, they are mostly people with comorbidities, things like diabetes in particular, as well as morbid obesity. But as you go up in age groups that risk of death increases. That's why boosters are so important for 60 plus. And it's why I am encouraging the fourth shot for people who are in that older age group today as well.

It's the same patterns we've seen throughout COVID where the older you are, the more comorbidities you have, the more likely you are to die. We've seen that play out with omicron. Unfortunately, there is immune escape with this new variant, but that primary series is still a heck of a lot better than nothing. Again, only 22 percent of Americans have received no shots, and those still represented 60 percent of deaths.

TAPPER: Right. But I guess my question is, shouldn't we consider fully vaccinated to be two shots plus the booster at the very minimum? I mean, shouldn't there be -- should the CDC say that's the classification given that the booster is so important?

RANNEY: I think that we'll be moving there in the future. For today, I would rather have someone show up and get two shots than none. In my own state of Rhode Island, we're requiring people to get the booster if they're in health-care or else ask them to wear an N95 if they're in patient facing areas because the booster is so important.

I won't be surprised if the CDC does move there, but it's going to be a discussion between them and the FDA.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about masks because there's a lot of confusion for Americans about whether or not they need to continue to wear masks. The nationwide travel rate ended but Los Angeles is reinstating the requirement for public transportation. Philadelphia reinstated theirs and rescinded it again.

How do you see it? Obviously, you're obviously most protected if you have a good mask on, but how do you so the mask mandate? What do you suggest?

RANNEY: I think it is tremendously confusing root now. What I come back to are surveys showing 60 -- masking indoor locations for their safety and the safety of others. The reality is, if you're out there in public in spaces without a good mask on, you're bound to come down with COVID.

Now, right now it is far safer to come down with COVID than three months ago, six months ago, or much less a year ago, thanks to vaccines, thanks to boosters and thanks to Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies. The chance of it being a mortal disease is much, much lower.

But we can't predict the long-term effects and a mask is your best protection. So, I actually took a flight yesterday through Philadelphia. We got off the plane, where about half the people had been masked. And the flight attendants announced, you got to wear your mask in the airport because at that point, the mask mandate was still in place.

People around me were utterly confused. They were talking about their vaccination status. They didn't know whether they had to put their masks back on or not.

So, I think the simple message is, wear a mask if you're concern about getting COVID. Wear the best mask you can. If you don't care about COVID because you're vaccinated and boosted, expect you're going to get it if you go unmasked.

TAPPER: Dr. Megan Ranney, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

She lost her husband to a roadside bomb in Iraq but then she found out some of her husband's remains had been secretly dump in a landfill. Her fight against the Pentagon is next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, almost 300 U.S. service members' partial remains were secretly dumped in a Virginia landfill, according to a 2011 "Washington Post" investigation. One of those unceremonious burials was of Army Sergeant First Class Scott R. Smith. Smith paid the ultimate sacrifice in 2006. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

His Gold Star wife Garilynn Smith sought answers, but she says the Pentagon personally attacked and slandered her after she protested her husband's uncivil burial.

This week, a federal labor and management panel ruled that the army also wrongly denied her a promotion at her civilian army job because of her public protest.

Garilynn Smith joins us now.

Garilynn, nothing can replace the loss or the indignity of what you did, but you did just win a case that's been in the work years. Tell us about it, tell us about the case.

GARILYNN SMITH, WIDOW OF ARMY SGT. 1ST CLASS SCOTT R. SMITH: Well, thank you for having me, first off. And you are correct, this case ended up beyond anything that we could have imagined as you know, the MSPB board has lacked quorum for the last five years. So we have been waiting in limbo to get a final verdict on this case.

And not only did the MSPB board agree with the initial decision from Administrative Judge McLaughlin, but they expanded the whistle-blower laws for protections with whistle-blower by making this case a presidential case that will literally help future whistle-blowers, we hope, to stand up the way that I did and come forward with their own stories of prohibited personnel practices by supervisors and other government officials.

TAPPER: So, the Air Force sent you a letter in an attempt to explain how your husband's remains ended up in a landfill.


But the letter misstated the year it was sent. They didn't even get your husband's name right.

Tell us about how that letter propelled you into action.

SMITH: So, initially, they -- Dover Air Force base wanted to call me to discuss the disposition. They were basically refusing to put the information that service members went into a landfill. They later admitted that over 2,000 service members were place into the landfill and that the practice had been longstanding practice dating back to at least 1996 according to Trevor Dean, a mortuary manager at the time.

So when they refused to put the information in writing, I responded to Trevor Dean and asked him, please just put this, you know, in an informal email. I don't need letterhead. Much to my surprise, they sent me the letter. It was dated I believe the year 2008 when they were responding in 2011, and they didn't even have Scott's name correct. They called him Robert, which was actually his father's name.

TAPPER: And that propelled you into action, that got you mad enough to take action?

SMITH: Yeah, that's when I began reaching out to at the time, Congressman Rush Holt, and we decided the west course of action was for his office to request DOJ Legislative Affairs while I continued to ask the questions at Dover Air Force Base Mortuary. And not surprising to either of us at the time, he received much different answers than I was receiving from Dover Mortuary and then eventually we were kind of at a standstill where they weren't going to give up any more information.

So, at that point, we decided to bring it out into the public, and that's sort of where the story about Scott kind of finishes and where my story begins with my retaliation at the workplace and the case with the MSPB and prohibited personnel practices.

TAPPER: So, your lawyer told "The Washington Post" this case could have positive implications for future whistle-blower cases. Has this experience changed how you look at the Army?

SMITH: It has changed how I look primarily at a lot of entities in the federal government. I'm probably one of the most patriotic people. They'll never take that away from me. Scott did give his life in service to this country. I still think this is the greatest country that there is.

However, I think we have work to do, and the fact that the recent "Washington Post" article ended with a statement from a Pentagon official stating that they're considering an appeal which would now go to the district court of appeals is troubling in itself. It feels like another blatant attack on me. It feels like they are trying to prolong this, to financially destroy me.

I have been in litigation -- this case was filed ten years ago in the year 2012, and this is a good portion of my life. So that -- they really missed an opportunity, Jake, to apologize in there, even if they disagreed with the board's decision. The law is what the court says it is.

And they could have at least respected the opinion and they could have moved forward by saying, we want to move forward, and we apologize. They missed another opportunity. There still has not been an apology 15 years later.

TAPPER: Yeah, they owe you an apology. Secretary of Defense Austin, even though he is not personally responsible, he owes you an apology.

Before we go, tell us something about your husband. Tell us -- obviously we know about his patriotism and his selflessness. Tell us something else about him so we can take that home.

SMITH: He was one of the nicest guys. He was willing to help anyone and everyone looked up to him. He always had the right words to say and a great smile.

TAPPER: We're looking at his smile right now. I can see -- no lies detected.

Thank you so much, Garilynn Smith.

SMITH: That's true.

TAPPER: Appreciate it. And stay in touch, because if they appeal that, we want to -- we want to stay on top of this.

SMITH: Thank you, Jake. I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Coming up, we're live in a key Ukrainian city as Russia unveils its plans for Ukraine.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, after initially refusing to give examples, the Florida government is now giving some examples of the math textbook that the states of the Florida banned because they, quote, objectionable content. So what is in these math textbooks?

Plus, majority, minority leader, rather, Kevin McCarthy, issuing a defiant denial of the "New York Times" report that he told colleagues he was going to suggest to Donald Trump that Trump resign after the January 6th insurrection. Of course, there's audio tape. How will the Trump loyalists in Congress and the country react? And leading this hour, a Russian general says the Kremlin's goal is to

take full control of southern Ukraine. The reason why, if Putin gets the Donbas region, Russia would have a land bridge to Crimea, taking over a significant portion of Ukraine. Saying what the goal is and accomplishing it are two different things.

So far, Ukraine still controls other cities in the region, such as Odessa and Mykolaiv, but Mariupol remains on the brink with Russia controlling all but one steel plant complex.

CNN's Jim Sciutto reports from Ukraine right now on the struggle for survival.