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The Lead with Jake Tapper
New Report: Overall Economic Cost Of The War Could Rise To $600B; Pentagon: Russia Trying To Hit "Critical Infrastructure"; New CNN Poll: 74 Percent Say Biden Admin Not Ready To Handle Migrant Surge; 200 Plus Sailors Moved Off Carrier After Multiple Suicides; Manhunt Underway For Missing Alabama Deputy, Inmate Charged With Murder. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 05, 2022 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARTIN GRIFFITHS, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL ENVOY FOR UKRAINE: The convoy is proceeding to get to Azovstal by tomorrow morning, hopefully, to receive those civilians remaining in that bleak hell that they have inhabited for so many weeks and months and take them back to safety.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Thursday, Putin promise safe passage for civilians out of Mariupol, and the Kremlin denied an assault on Azovstal. But as Russian forces besieged the city from all sides, Ukrainian troops say the plant is a final holdout for Mariupol's last defenders as the enemy closes in, an exceptionally bitter fight for a city that's vital to Putin's war effort in Ukraine.
Full control over Mariupol completes a Russian controlled land corridor between its mainland and Russian controlled Crimea. It also means Russian access to the port city's key export hubs on the Black Sea, a major blow to Ukraine, whose remaining soldiers fight at all costs to protect the strategically important city.
Inside the Azovstal steel plant, Ukrainian forces singing a battle hymn. It's sweeter to die in battle and to live in chains as slaves, they chant, prepared to fight for Mariupol and Ukraine until the bitter end.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
MCLEAN: And the military governor of the Donetsk Region also confirmed that that evacuation mission is underway. But he didn't want to say more until he has some good news to report and that is because he says despite the involvement of the United Nations and the Red Cross, the Russians are constantly changing their agreements and their conditions for evacuations, which means the success of the operation, Jake, is hardly a guarantee.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Scott McLean reporting for us from Lviv, Ukraine. Thank you so much.
Turning now to Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed reports that the Russian army has broken into the steel plant in Mariupol, saying Putin's ordered to avoid storming the plant remains in place. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow, where we should note, the Kremlin has imposed strict laws regarding how Russia's presence in Ukraine is allowed to be described.
Matthew, what exactly is Peskov saying today?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're also mainly making it clear through laws that have been passed in this country, that if you spread what the Kremlin regards as fake news, that can be criminal and can result in prosecution.
And what the Kremlin is saying today is that it is fake news that the Russians had broken through -- into the Azovstal steel factory and that tried to storm it. The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, saying earlier today that the order has been given by Vladimir Putin, the Commander in Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, remember, not to storm the Azovstal factory because of the people inside. And that order, the Kremlin spokesman, said still stands. And so, a categorical denial on the part of the Kremlin that that kind of military action has take place.
They also, by the way, say, and I think this was referred to earlier by Scott, that the humanitarian corridors that had been agreed between the Russians and the Ukrainians -- the Russians are saying that those corridors are open and available for civilians inside that steel factory to make their way out into safety. Although, of course, it's very difficult for us to independently verify the actual situation on the ground, Jake.
TAPPER: Earlier today Putin had a call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. This, of course, comes after Russia's Foreign Minister said Adolf Hitler had Jewish blood, that's a historically proven false claim and something Israel, as a government, harshly condemned. Today, Israeli officials claimed that on that phone call Putin apologized. What is the Kremlin saying?
CHANCE: No, that's definitely what the Israeli readout said that, you know, as part of that call, President Putin had apologized for the remarks of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, about that sort of slander, the worst anti Semites, to paraphrase Sergey Lavrov, Jewish people, and that Adolf Hitler himself may have been partly Jewish, discredited conspiracy theory.
The Russians have not mentioned that apology. They were asked about it, I've asked them about it and they haven't responded to me. But Russian state media has also asked the Kremlin about it and they simply said, look, the list of topics that was discussed -- that were discussed between President Putin and the Israeli premier have been -- had been set out and made public and they were things like the situation, the security situation on the ground in Ukraine and the status of Russia's special military operation as it calls it. And a congratulation notes, a congratulation remark, rather, from Vladimir Putin to Israel marking not just its Independence Day which is today but also on the eve of the Victory Day celebrations, commemorations to mark the end of the victory over Nazi Germany, marked on May the ninth in both Russia and in Israel.
Vladimir Putin telling his -- telling the Israeli prime minister that it was 40 percent of the Jews that were killed by Nazi Germany were from the Soviet Union. That's what the figure that was put out in his -- the readout from the Kremlin about that telephone conversation. But again, no reference to an apology, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance in Moscow for us, thank you so much.
Here to discuss all of this, Tymofiy Mylovanov. He's the former Minister of Economy for Ukraine and he is the president of Kyiv School of Economics.
Tymofiy, thanks so much for joining us. For our American audience, Mariupol is about the size of Minneapolis, it's in a strategic location that would allow Russia to create a land bridge through Ukraine to Kremlin controlled Crimea, which had annexed and seized in 2014. That is one of the reasons why Russia has been so focused on Mariupol. Explain how important Mariupol is to Ukraine's economy and why.
TYMOFIY MYLOVANOV, FORMER MINISTER OF ECONOMY FOR UKRAINE: You're correct. This is a strategic location, which connects the east of Ukraine with Crimea and that would allow Russia to establish a corridor. It also one of the major ports for Ukraine. Now, unfortunately, it's not functional anymore, regardless of what is going to happen with Mariupol in the next weeks and months.
But it was a major source on port for expert however, Ukraine has transformed or adapted to the environment in the east of Ukraine. And now most of the experts were going through Odessa. Odessa is blockaded too.
TAPPER: In addition to the 10s of 1000s of innocent civilians that the Russians have killed, Russian shelling has also cut off water lines and power lines and rail links, destroyed bridges to Mariupol. When it comes to infrastructure, what is the most critical need that Ukraine has right now?
MYLOVANOV: Overall, that Russian troops or attacks are trying to target right now railroads and roads and also fuel, dip boats and oil refineries. So making logistics most difficult, cutting -- disrupting the supply lines. That's I think the critical infrastructure. More recently, over the last several days, they have started targeting also energy infrastructure, including the power stations which are related to the railroad. So they are going after that energy and logistical infrastructure.
TAPPER: The Kyiv School of Economics where you're the president says right now that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is causing damage to Ukraine's infrastructure at the cost of $4.5 billion a week, 4.5 billion a week. How damaging is that?
MYLOVANOV: The total direct loss is about $92 billion. And the indirect loss is estimated at five to $600 billion. To put it into perspective, the numbers which we were seeing from Syria of direct loss was in the area of $40, $45 billion. So it's already much more significant than other wars that have recently been happening.
TAPPER: Yes. And just to put that in perspective, $600 billion, that's almost four times Ukraine's gross domestic product. Is Ukraine going to be able to rebuild?
MYLOVANOV: With the support of the international community, yes. Furthermore, it has to be done, as in a very systemic and a very well designed manner, otherwise, it is going to be a major challenge.
TAPPER: Finally, you still advise the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on economic policy, what is his biggest concern right now when it comes to economic policy?
MYLOVANOV: Well, my understanding is the president's focused on the war. But he's both focusing and given priorities on maintaining the operations of the economy and that's fiscal, that's gas, fuel energy, that's food, that's payment, including social payments, as well as thinking forward about how the reconstruction process will happen after the war and how it should be ongoing already in the areas which are under the control of the Ukrainian troops.
TAPPER: All right, Tymofiy Mylovanov, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, he survived being injured in the Battle of Mariupol only to find himself held captive in Russia. How he was used as a pawn in Putin's war.
Plus, the latest scandal for North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn. The Republicans response next.
TAPPER: Back in our world lead, Ukrainian officials estimate more than 20,000 civilians. Twenty thousand have been killed in Mariupol since the fierce attack by the Russians first began. Much of the city has been completely leveled and Ukrainian say they're struggling to evacuate civilians. CNN's Nick Payton Walsh sat down with one Ukrainian soldier who was fighting for Mariupol before Russia held him prisoner for nearly three weeks.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): This is how Hlib's war ends. But if you told him he was lucky, he probably agree. He fought for Mariupol and the other steel factory Illich since the
war began, put tourniquets on friends, felt the heat of Russian tanks blasting his building from just meters away. He survived. But only just here after 17 days as a wounded prisoner in Russia.
HLIB STRYZHKO, INJURED UKRAINIAN MARINE (through translator): Very often when I close my eyes, I see that moment when the tank was firing at me and my side getting injured. On the day of my injury, one of my boys, a machine gunner was killed. Every time it's personal. Every time I heard it over the walkie-talkie or in person that someone was dead, it would conjure memories of him.
WALSH (voice-over): His mind also in pieces left grappling with fragments of the worst fighting in Europe for decades.
STRYZHKO (through translator): You know, there's a point when the brain accepts it, seeing the phosphorus missiles, seeing aviation flying in. When this became normal, that was scary. We learned how to fall asleep with this accompaniment. Instead, it became scary to fall asleep in the silence.
WALSH (voice-over): Two moments though, haunt him here.
STRYZHKO (through translator): The first time I use tourniquets on my friend, and the second scene is this, we saw aviation destroying whole hangars. Watching a huge hangar have nothing left in just seconds. This is really been engraved on my memory.
WALSH (voice-over): Wounded on April the 10th, when he regained consciousness he was not where he thought he was.
STRYZHKO (through translator): First time I found out I was held captive was when we were inside an ambulance. Me and another guy with similar injuries. He asked, are you ours? And they replied, it is unclear now who you mean by ours now.
They said I was under the guard of the Ministry of State Security of the separatists DPR. But it was scarier when I got to the separatist hospital. I was told by a Russian soldier, you'll have to forget Ukrainian now. You will only get help if you're asking Russian.
WALSH (voice-over): The Russians kept him alive, he says, so they could exchange him for their own.
STRYZHKO (through translator): There were two of us bedridden. So we had to be fed by nurses. So they would say, because of you my son got killed. I tried to be understanding, but they were accusing us of things we never did.
And we had Russian news read to us all the time in the morning and evening. That was a lot of pressure on the mind, a distortion of reality.
WALSH (voice-over): On April the 27th, the exchange happened and he was put on a plane. His pelvis crushed his, lower jaw broken, brain concussed but he can still feel his legs.
STRYZHKO (through translator): And I also have problems with my eyes because of constant bright flashes and dust. So at first they were glazed then they opened. For now, I still can't see with my left and my right only silhouettes. My body was broken but not my spirit. My doctor says that I would be able to pick any New Balance Sneakers by Autumn. That makes me happy.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
WALSH: Jake, a remarkable story there of courage, resilience and ultimately hope.
And while the world's focus is of course on Azovstal, that fighting across Mariupol has raged for months, many bodies still lying sadly where they fell. But Hlib's point during his interview with us was to point out that while we've held multiple reports and seen multiple images of how Russian soldier bodies have been left where they fell in the battlefield, that Ukraine, in his opinion, has done everything they possibly can to rescue him and his colleagues where they have fallen as well. Jake.
TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Ukraine for us, thank you so much.
A controversial immigration policy is set to expire in fewer than three weeks with predictions of a massive migrant surge. Can the Biden administration handle it? We have brand new CNN polling to share next.
And two Republican Congressmen giving the GOP brand new headaches, including one who is running up a massive travel bill on your dime. Stay with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: We have breaking news for you now in our politics lead, a new CNN poll gauging views on immigration and zeroing in on Title 42. Title 42 is the Trump era pandemic policy that the Biden administration plans to let expire on May 23, fewer than three weeks. Title 42 allowed border agents to send migrants at the border back to their home countries using the pandemic as justification for preventing these migrants from claiming asylum. Let's bring in CNN Political Director David Chalian.
David, many Republicans and, we should note, Democrats have asked the Biden administration to rethink letting this policy expire. And from this poll, it appears they're not alone.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, especially Democrats in tough re-election races, Jake, right? Take a look overall here in this brand new poll conducted by SSRS for us here at CNN, 57 percent of Americans in this poll say, no, now is not the right time to end Title 42. Only 43 percent say yes. So, the ending of Title 42 is not where a majority of the country is.
And I want you to look at this by party affiliation, Jake, 83 percent of Republicans now is not the time to end Title 42. That you would expect, 52 percent of Independents are in that space. So again, that critical middle of the electorate. And about a third of Democrats, you were mentioning, some of them have been vocal about this, a third of Democrats say, now is not the time to lift Title 42, Jake, but you can also see why this number here puts the president in a political bind.
TAPPER: One of the issues we hear from Democrats is the Biden administration doesn't have a plan for what happens when Title 42 ends. How do Americans feel? Do they think that the Biden administration is prepared to handle this influx of more migrants who may try to cross and who will not be able to be sent out as quickly?
CHALIAN: In a word, no, there's not much confidence at all. Take a look, 74 percent of Americans in the polls say not confident that the Biden administration is prepared to handle this expected influx of migrants, only 26 percent say yes.
And take a look here when you break it up by party and we ask, well, how confident are you that the administration can handle this? If you add up somewhat, and very confident, 52 percent of Democrats feeling the administration can handle it. But look down here, not too confident, not at all confident, add that up, that's 47 percent of Democrats. So, Democrats are split, while Republicans overwhelmingly have no confidence in the administration on this.
TAPPER: That's stunning, that Democratic number there.
TAPPER: This poll asked if Americans believe that the situation at the border is a crisis. What are the results show?
CHALIAN: So, not as high of a crisis that we've seen in the past? Sixty-eight percent say, yes, it's a crisis at the southern border right now. Last year, April of 2021, that number was at 78 percent, Jake. And in June of 2019 in 74 percent. So if indeed, the influx that is expected happens, you might expect to see that 68 percent number go up.
And then I just want to show you this other finding that we asked just to get a sense of where the country is on whether or not they think Central American seeking asylum should be able to do so, 74 percent of Democrats say yes, they favor allowing Central Americans seeking asylum, 59 percent of Independents say yes and only a third of Republicans say yes, but it's worth noting, a majority of Americans think the higher priority should be limiting the number of people entering into the country, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, David Chalian, thanks so much.
Let's discuss. Astead, let me start with you. Your reaction to one of the top line numbers, it's pretty remarkable, 74 percent of Americans polled say they are not confident that the Biden administration is prepared to handle more migrants at the border. And it was almost 50 percent of Democrats say that they're not confident. ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think that that kind of explains what we have seen from particularly those swing state Democrats up for reelection this year. They haven't come out and really back to the Biden administration on this decision. I remember Senator Raphael Warnock in one in Georgia, someone up for reelection, not coming out in agreeing with this decision. I think these numbers start to show us why you have a significant number of Democrats who themselves are wary.
If we can go back to the primary though, this was an issue, Democrats have had consistently. They were much easy. They were much more comfortable saying what the Trump administration was doing wrong on immigration, rather than providing an affirmative plan for what the Biden administration or what Democrats would do correctly. I think this is still an outgrowth from that. And we're seeing a kind of grassroots sense of some voters say that the administration does not seem fully prepared on this issue. And that's going to be something to watch out for.
TAPPER: And Phil, Senator Mark Kelly from Arizona Democrat up for re- election, he's called out the Biden administration saying, they don't have a plan --
PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right.
TAPPER: -- for this influx when Title 42 expires in two and a half weeks. How did Democrats say, send us back to Washington, keep us in control in the Senate and the White House and the House if the American people would have so little confidence of the government to do basics like this?
BUMP: Well, I think that latter question is sort of the broad question for the Democrats in the midterms, right? Even though a lot of the reason you see those numbers of lack of confidence in the Biden administration is because the Biden administration has demonstrated to the American people or at least American people will perceive that they ought not to have confidence in it.
I do think it's important, though, to recognize that when we talk about the influx once Title 42 is repealed, Biden administration is already getting hammered for the numbers of people that are coming to the border, even though a lot of those people are then removed from the country, right? And those numbers are actually inflated by Title 42. If you go to the DHS numbers, they eject a lot of people from the country who then come right back in in the same month, we're actually inflates the number of apprehensions at the border.
And so I think the Biden administration has realized they're not going to get a political win on this from having Title 42 because they're still taking the hit for the number of apprehensions each month at the border. I'm not sure how many people are actually going to, how much that apprehensions number is going to increase. The question is, are there the facilities in the United States to handle the people? And that's where the rubber hits the road.
TAPPER: Yes. And there's also this issue of comprehensive immigration reform that the Biden administration has decided we're not going to put any skin in the game on this because it's a loser in Congress.
Let's turn to a couple headaches in Congress. Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn.
He's in a tough reelection campaign Republican from North Carolina, another day another video of Madison Cawthorn doing something. This one, he's dug up by an opposition group, showing him naked in bed with a colleague or cousin or friend or something. The 26-year-old says in the video, that he was being crass with a friend acting foolish, tough to disagree with the crass part of that, is does add to at least -- a list of recent incidents involving Cawthorn.
But I have to say, the Republicans going after him. Are they going after him because they object to his politics, his policies, the fact that he keeps getting arrested, trying to bring a gun on a plane, his MAGA embrace, his lies about the election? Or is it just because a few months ago, he said that Republicans and invited him to orgies and cocaine parties.
HERNDON: I mean, it would seem that that all of what brought us to this point with Madison Cawthorn was not objectionable enough for those folks who had this, these videos to really come out with this.
So far, we have seen a turning point over the last -- over last month, where people have been able to say, who had been sitting on frankly damaging piece of information after damaging piece of information. He has tried to pin it saying it was the past. But this is someone who's young, who's crass and youthful behavior was mere years ago, it's going to be hard for him to walk away from that.
But they're timing it to this reelection, you know, this opposition has been dumping partly because they want to see him removed. They want the voters to do with the leadership has not been able to do but that's not certain. We do not know if he's going to -- he might be able to come out of this and be able to look back at the Republican establishment and say, Hey, I'm still here.
TAPPER: It's interesting. Yes, he blamed it on indiscretions in his early 20s. He's 26.
HERNDON Right, exactly.
TAPPER: But do you think that this is because of the cocaine allegation that he made to like some podcasts or something that he'd been, you know, invited to orgies by Republicans, cocaine by Republicans? Or is it just because the primaries coming up?
BUMP: Yes, I mean, I think that I want to go sort of a little different here. And I just actually filed a piece on this. I think, in part, it's that he's a young guy who's very online. And we were just sort of talking about this, but look, he grew up. I mean, I looked it up. He was three when Google was founded, right? I mean, he's had iPhones have been out more than half of his life. So he grew up in this culture, where you're taking pictures and sharing them and doing videos, that doesn't excuse getting arrested with the gun and airport, doesn't excuse driving. It doesn't excuse all the allegations in Congress.
But part of this, too, he's cultural. He's a young guy in an institution where the average age is 58 years old. And there's going to be a culture clash. And I think we're sort of in this weird moment where young people who experience life online have not yet really entered the halls of power. And part of that tension is this.
HERNDON: But those videos have been with these folks for a while.
HERNDON: Because something that he did.
TAPPER: So another issue, CNN's Manu Raju reviewed a new Watchdog Report the racist questions about Republican Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona, who's been a fan of the white supremacist conferences, and he spent more than 1 million taxpayer dollars on travel. That's more than any other House member in the past five years. Gosar is on the House Oversight Committee. He notes on his website, quote, I will continue to cut wasteful federal spending wherever I can, his office denies misusing any funds. But is this yet another Republican that could hurt Republicans chances are no?
BUMP: He's just, I mean, Paul Gosar has done so many embarrassing things with the course of the past couple of years, I find that hard to believe is going to hurt their chances. And he sort of immersed himself in this sort of MAGA caucus with Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, and so on so forth. And I think that's part of reason and spending so much money, he's getting invited to places where getting invited before because he's been so hard right on this stuff.
You know, I mean, look, you went and, you know, he's been tiptoeing with white nationalists, right?
BUMP: That's not going to hurt you, then I don't know it's going to hurt you.
HERNDON: Yes, I agree. This is someone who has really made their name off of this stuff, who has used Congress as a launching pad to go to these different places. That's partly why we see that high travel budget. I was actually in Paul Gosar;s district a couple years ago at something called Trump stock, Woodstock for Trump.
TAPPER: I remember that, yes.
HERNDON: And it was next to white nationalists, next to people openly talking anti-semitic, openly racist things. And this was a sitting congressman who spoke at that event. I don't think if those things are going to come back to (INAUDIBLE), I don't think a travel budget is going to do it. TAPPER: Probably not. Astead Herndon, Philip Bump, thanks to both of you. Good to see you. Coming up, sailor suicides, another mysterious deaths of crew members aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. Up next, new insight into the Pentagon's response and the push in Congress for answers. Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our national lead, the U.S. Navy taking extraordinary measures in response to a very troubling series of deaths including three suicides in the space of one week. And at least four suicides total among the crew of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann went to Newport News, Virginia where more than 200 crew members are being allowed to move off the ship and some are describing just horrible conditions of boredom.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For nearly five years, the USS George Washington has been here at the Newport News shipyard. Its refueling and overhaul process delayed multiple times, but the ship needs fixing in more ways than one.
Current and former crew members who spoke with CNN say the nuclear powered aircraft carrier was never ready for sailors, and the environment on board was unlivable.
These images from the ship provided to CNN show the conditions on board. These videos of broken washing machine flooded nearby compartments, a bathroom in disrepair. CNN was unable to board the ship to see these conditions firsthand. But sailors say this was the norm.
One sailor who wanted to remain anonymous told us about power outages, no hot water, unbearable temperatures and the food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just run out of food. And if that anything left you would be if you're lucky you're a little serial thing, like little chicken leg that may or may not be undercooked.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): What happened when you tried to flag some of these issues to your superiors or when others tried to flag them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely nothing.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): On Facebook, former sailor Jake Grella said he was so freaking happy when he found out he was assigned to the carrier not far from his home in Richmond. But soon he says, weekend trips home became an escape from the carrier.
With a year left on the ship. He tried to make an appointment with the ship psychologist, only to find out it was a six month wait.
JAKE GRELLA, SERVED ON USSG GEROGE WASHINGTON: I tried to tell my leadership that this is this couldn't be a reason why these deaths are occurring.
LIEBERMANN: And what did they say?
GRELLA: I was smacked with the same negative feedback.
LIEBERMANN: In the past 12 months, the Navy says seven sailors on the USS George Washington have died at least four by suicide. Sailors say the Navy brought in mental health resources after three of those suicides occurred in one week in April.
One of those sailors who died by suicide was Xavier Sandor, who was just a year out of high school. His father says he will always be the family hero.
JOHN SANDOR, SON WAS ASSIGNED TO USS GEORGE WASHINGTON: He loved his job. He did his 12-hour shifts. And how do you sleep on a on a aircraft carrier with jackhammering and smoke and smells during the day so he would sleep in his car. It's just awful. No sailors shouldn't even been living on that ship in those conditions.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy the branches top enlisted sailor came here to the shipyard a couple of weeks ago to speak with the sailors on board. The message he later said in a statement was to hear the difficulties and the challenges those sailors face. But sailors who were there who spoke with CNN said the underlying message they heard was get used to it, it could be worse.
(voice-over): One sailor called the visit laughable and offensive. The Navy searched more mental health resources to the ship following the suicides, including a special intervention team and an additional psychologist.
An investigation into the suicides is expected to be completed this week. Another investigation into command climate and culture will take more time. The commander of US Naval Air Force Atlantic says they'll look at the quality-of-life issues including housing.
The Navy began moving about half of the 400 or so sailors living on the ship to different accommodations, promising that those who want another place to live will get it. A former George Washington sailor who left the Navy after his time on the ship called it willful neglect.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's something that's unacceptable, especially with a country with a military budget it has, and the support is supposed to have behind it. I mean, this isn't Afghanistan, where you're expecting those circumstances. This is Newport News, Virginia.
(END VIDEO TAPE) LIEBERMANN: The refueling process and the overhaul process that the USS George Washington is going through now was supposed to take four years as of right now it'll go until at least March of next year, meaning nearly six years and that sailors say is part of what has led to these problems, these continuous delays.
Jake, the reason they decided to come out and talk to us is because they don't want any other crew to have to go through these same problems. But they fear with another ship already behind the George Washington in the shipyard. Some other crews may have to go through these challenges that they have faced now for not only months, but years.
TAPPER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us. Thanks so much.
We're joined now by 20-year Navy veteran and Virginia Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria. She serves on the House Armed Services, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Committees. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
First of all, your reaction to what we've learned from Oren Liebermann's report, especially the descriptions of a sailor sleeping in his car and other another describing willful neglect?
REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): Well, Jake, as you know, I had the opportunity to go visit the George Washington earlier this week. I'll start off by saying that, you know, any death of our service members, anyone on our Navy family is a tragedy. And the fact that there was a string of three of these in such close proximity, it's one of those things where one has to stop and say there really needs to be a deep look at what is happening at this command at other commands in similar circumstances within the shipyards.
I started by writing a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations, asking tough questions, what investigation are you doing? When are we going to expect the results, tell us about these things? You know, we hear in our office phone calls from the sailors who are constituents of ours in the district to get answers to those questions. And one of the things I requested is I need to go to the ship, I need to walk around, I need to talk to sailors, I need to see the living conditions.
I was the executive officer on a ship myself and the XO does something every day called a messing and burning inspections and walking through the berthing compartments, the mess, that's where people eat and inspecting those things, talking to sailors. And so, I wanted to have a little bit of time in the ship and have a walk through like that and hear from the crew.
TAPPER: And what did they tell you?
LURIA: Well, you know, the shipyard environment is incredibly tough. And I talked to a lot of junior sailors. This is their first command, the first place they've been in the Navy since they've been out of boot camp, the only thing they know about the Navy and they're trained for specific skills when they go through boot camp, when they sign the line to enlist and come in. And it's understandable that they have to spend some time in a shipyard. The ship requires repairing overhaul, but should we be sending these most junior sailors right to the shipyard environment.
And, you know, these are lengthy overhauls. It's a refueling of the carrier at the 25-year point to get another 25 years of service out of it. But Newport News, shipbuilding, it's an isolated place for sailors who don't have cars. The only place they have to live is on the ship. They're very isolated, and then put COVID on top of that, and then the challenging environmental conditions of an industrial environment to live in.
So I talked to the sailors and I talked to leadership. And you know, one of the things I took away is because this availability, this maintenance period just got extended another 19 months, a decision had been made several months back, then start moving the crew back on board. But the leadership clearly said, have we known, have we known that it was going to have this extension of another 19 months, you know, really, in hindsight. I don't think we made -- we would have made that decision at the time.
So, you know, I think that, you know, these are stressful situations. And I think that many things can add up. There's sort of these friction points for sailors, long working hours, working shift work having to work in a shipyard being away from home for the first time, you know, in an industrial environment. And you know, even the situation of the shipyard, you know, some sailors who do live off the ship have to commute Park, it takes them almost two hours just to get to and from work in each direction.
And so, there's things we need to look at. You know, I went there both as a former officer who served on six different ships, deployed three times on carriers, you know, knowing what the expectation wasn't what I would see, or what I should see. And you know, these questions of like, why when there's always a carrier, I mean, we have eight more carriers to refuel, it's another 40 to 50 years we're going to have a ship at that pier at Newport News shipbuilding being refueled.
We should be making investments and making sure that sailors have a quality of life that can, you know, be healthy for them and make them more productive sailors and have a more positive experience during their time in their navy. So now as a member of Congress, as the vice chair of the Armed Services Committee, you know, I want to ask the questions like what investments do we need to be making --
LURIA: -- to make that infrastructure better.
TAPPER: So last week, you wrote a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations demanding immediate action to ensure the safety of this crew. Have you gotten a response?
LURIA: I am waiting for a written response. But I have certainly gotten a response from the CNO staff. Several of them accompanied me along with the four star commander of Fleet Forces Command to visit the ship. But then I broke off separately had that opportunity that I asked for to speak to sailors. So, I know that a more thorough response with the investigation that Oren mentioned will be forthcoming.
TAPPER: You're also on the Veterans Affairs Committee, there is a never-ending series of complaints about services needing to improve for veterans.
LURIA: That is true. This is definitely a challenge and one that I take very seriously in my role on both of those committees. And we truly do have to provide the services, the health care that these veterans and active-duty service members deserve.
I mean, they literally sign the line. They risk their lives in the defense of our country, and it is our responsibility to take care of them and then to continue to ask them these tough questions and work with my colleagues to make this situation for the crew of the George Washington, and every ship that comes behind them better as well as to take care of our veterans.
TAPPER: Navy veteran Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria of the great Commonwealth of Virginia. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, leads and tips are pouring in for the manhunt for the missing corrections officers and the inmate in Alabama, what investigators are now sharing about the case. That's coming up.
TAPPER: Also, in our nation lead today, an Alabama sheriff tells CNN that investigators have some promising leads in the search for an accused killer and the deputy who apparently helped him escape from jail. They have been on the run for nearly a week. CNN's Ryan Young is in Alabama, keeping track of the manhunt.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the manhunt enters its seventh day, tips are coming in from several states. Investigators waiting the search from escaped Alabama inmate Casey White and corrections officer Vicky White, no relation, with reported sightings from Florida to Kentucky.
SHERIFF RICK SINGLETON, LAUDERDALE COUNTY, ALABAMA: We have several leads that we're following up on some of the most promising we hope they pan out.
YOUNG: There quick escape was caught on video last Friday leaving the Correctional Facility together in a patrol car under the guise of going to the courthouse for a bogus mental health evaluation.
Then this gas station camera caught the patrol car passing by on its way to a shopping center where the alleged getaway vehicle was parked. A local Councilman tells CNN he saw Vicky drive by and nothing seemed suspicious.
BILL GRIFFIN, FLORENCE CITY COUNCILMAN: They drove by slowly she waved at me twice.
YOUNG: Here's where the investigation hit a snag. According to the sheriff, the description of the alleged getaway vehicle was never supposed to be released to the public.
SINGELTON: That really fell off back and forth. No one wants to drive him. We expect they're going to change vehicles.
YOUNG: Investigators are however piecing together why they disappeared. Clues of romantic relationships from the inmates who came forward now corroborate it with the timeline.
SINGELTON: A Casey White was in our facility in 2020 for an arraignment hearing, he would move back to the Department of Correction where he was serving 75 year for multiple charges out of Limestone County.
YOUNG: During that time when he was in state prison, the sheriff says Vicky White stayed in touch by phone. He returned to her facility in February awaiting trial appearances and mounting evidence of a methodically planned escape on what was said to be her last day on the job.
Court documents show that Vicky White sold her home two weeks prior for $95,000 well below the current market value of $235,000.
CHRIS CONNOLLY, LAUDERDALE, COUNTY DISTRCT ATTORNEY: Clearly, lots of planning went into this.
YOUNG: Vicky White held a respected position as the Assistant Director of Corrections at the Lauderdale County Sheriff's Office. The county's DA who's worked with her for 17 years is shocked by all this.
CONNOLLY: She was a longtime, trusted employee at our charter jail and she just exploited the system. And that's why it's so shocking.
YOUNG: And he has a message for her.
CONNOLLY: I would hope she would come home. I mean, you know, I think she's in danger. I would say come home.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
YOUNG: Yes, Jake, we're hoping to get another sort of update from the Marshal Service. But look at this. This is card number nine. This is the car that will help them escape. This is the one they got into and drove away from that facility.
And if you look on the inside, you can still see a water bottle that's been left here. Investigators said they don't need the evidence from this car because obviously they know who they're looking for. But when you tried to get all the pieces together, Jake, anything can help. They're hoping for more calls.
TAPPER: All right, Ryan Young, thank you so much in Florence, Alabama. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at Jake Tapper. Or you can tweet the show at The Lead CNN. You can listen to The Lead wherever you get your podcast. Our coverage continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in The Situation after this short break. See you tomorrow.