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Milley: Ukraine is Well-Prepared for Counteroffensive; Group of Migrants Flown to California by Private Jet; Today, NTSB at Virginia Site Where Four Killed in Plane Crash. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 05, 2023 - 10:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We began with the CNN exclusive. The top general in the U.S. says Ukraine is, quote, well prepared for its anticipated counteroffensive, as Russia claims it just thwarted a large-scale offensive by Ukrainian forces. The latest from the frontlines there, ahead.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: More than a dozen migrants stranded on the steps of a California church after they'd been flown there on a private plane from New Mexico. Why they had documentation suggesting the state of Florida may be involved.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, the prime suspect in the disappearance of American teenager Natalee Holloway headed to the U.S. to face fraud and extortion charges. So, what's next for Joran van der Sloot? This is CNN News Central.

SIDNER: Russia claims it has thwarted a large-scale Ukrainian offensive on the frontlines in Southern Ukraine. This video from the Russian Defense Ministry shows what it says the skirmish with Ukrainian forces in Donetsk. Ukrainian officials said they have no information on the incident, and CNN has not been able to independently verify this claim.

Meantime, a new video shows Ukrainian soldiers urging silence surrounding the start of their anticipated counteroffensive. The new video is circulating on social media. The top general in the United States, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, says he believes Ukraine is well-prepared for the next phase of the war.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: So, I think it's too early to tell what outcomes are going to happen. I think the Ukrainians are very well prepared, as you know very well. The United States and other allied countries in Europe and really around the world have provided training and ammunition and advice, intelligence, et cetera, to the Ukrainians. We're supporting them. They're in a war that's an existential threat for the very survival of Ukraine. And it has greater meaning to the rest of the world, for Europe, really, for the United States, but also for the globe. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: All right. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv. Fred, is this counteroffensive already underway, but they've just kept it quiet?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very difficult to say, Sara. But one of the things that a senior adviser to Ukraine's presidency told us a couple of days ago, he said, look, everything that you're seeing right now, all these little attacks, some of the things that you're seeing regarding cruise missiles that were being shot at Russian points where they have ammo dumps, for instance, over the past couple of days, all of that are already precursors to a larger scale offensive. All those are what people call shaping operations for a larger scale offensive.

Now, is this the big push that was happening right now? Very, very difficult to say. It was interesting to see some of those drone videos that the Russians put out where they seem to have armored vehicles trying to advance through a very large field out in broad daylight. It seems as though some of those vehicles appear to be maybe hitting mines, some of them potentially destroyed by artillery or something similar. Very difficult to see how big the losses actually were and how many soldiers were actually lost as well. Of course, the Russians are claiming that some 250 soldiers lost their lives in that attempted advance.

Again, the Ukrainians not commenting on this at all, saying that they have no information about it. They also did put out that video saying that they wouldn't comment on this. And the message of that, of course, was plans love silence. So, they say they're not going to put anything out.

However, what we're learning today, Sara, is that a Russian installed official in that same region is now saying that this morning, once again, there was another push by Ukrainian forces, this time a larger attempted push.


It's unclear how exactly that is currently going, certainly from what we're getting from the Russian side, but he did say that he does believe that he does believe that the Ukrainians are trying to get to the Sea of Azov. Of course, if they would manage to do that, and it's a long way for them to try and do that, then they would be able to cut off Russia's land bridge from Russian territory all the way to Crimea. Obviously, that would be a big deal.

Again, if anything is going on, it certainly appears to be in the very early stages. However, one of the things that we've been seeing, Sara, and this sort of meshes with what Ukrainian officials have been saying as well, is that along the entire frontline, the Russians really appear to be on the back foot. If you look at places like Bakhmut, where the Ukrainians are saying they've won some territory back, the Russians are saying exactly the same thing. And then, of course, we have in Russia, in Belgorod, some of those attacks that have been taking place by anti-Putin Russian fighters, where the Russians aren't able to come to terms with that as well. There's cross-border shelling that happened last night and that's going on right now as well.

So, right now, clearly the Ukrainians building up momentum. They had been saying that that counteroffensive is imminent. Whether or not this is really the big push, very difficult to say right now.

SIDNER: Yes, the video of soldiers there really gives you some sense that something big is about to happen. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much. I appreciate that. John?

BERMAN: Sara, let me give you a sense of the area that Fred was just talking about here. The reports of some of these attacks from the Ukrainians are taking place right here, the southern region not far from the eastern Donetsk here. And as Fred was saying, Russians are claiming the Ukrainians are trying to push through here to the Sea of Azov and cut off Russia in Crimea. Russia has occupied Crimea for several years in this region now for a year. So, this is what Fred was talking about, the goal the Russians see for the Ukrainians here.

With us now is CNN Military Analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General, great to see you. So, based on the area this is taking place in and also some of the video that's been published over the last several hours, what is it that you see here and how does this align with the idea of a Ukrainian counteroffensive?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, both Fred and you have said the right word, John, and that's momentum, generating momentum. What we're seeing in these early stages are some early moves. We can't get too excited about them just yet. This is a big chess match, as we've talked before. There will be some moves in some areas, some moves in others, and it's all to throw the enemy off. But what we've seen over the last 48, 72 hours are multiple things that give indicators of what is happening.

This attack into Vuhledar, the attacks around Bakhmut by the Ukrainians, the Russian anti-Putin forces in three provinces like Belgorod and Smolensk and Kursk, all of these things are indicators of what might happen next.

I can't give you any firm conclusions because I'm not looking at a map over the shoulder of General Zaluzhny, but I will tell you that this is exactly the way I would initiate an offensive operation, by moving in different direction with different forces.

BERMAN: One of the major obstacles, quite literally, for the Ukrainian troops is the sheer number of Russian trenches that have been dug. The Russians have had a year to dig in. This is some video of the region around Crimea, where they've been for far more than a year. But you get the sense they've also done this in the east, in other areas. So, General, how do the Ukrainians get around these defenses?

HERTLING: Well, two things about complex obstacle belts, John, and we'll start hearing that term more and more frequently as Ukraine goes on the offensive. First of all, they are complex. They consist of many obstacles, mines, wire, trenches, abatis, dragon's teeth, all those sorts of things. But the key to an obstacle belt is if they're overwatched by the enemy. So, in other words, it isn't just the obstacles that themselves that are difficult. It's the forces behind the obstacles.

And what we've seen so far is some really low morale on the part of the Russians. So, I don't know what to conclude just yet. The obstacle belts themselves will be hard to breach. When I was a commander at one of our training center, this was a repeating mission that we would have U.S. forces go through, and it was always the most difficult mission, to breach a complex obstacle belt. But, usually, when that was happening, they had enemy forces playing the enemy on the other side of those obstacles. So, it all depends on what Russia does.

So, this could be a very easy march for Ukraine or it could be a very contested and tough fight. I don't know what to tell you on that.

BERMAN: Obviously, we're watching it very, very closely, what could be the beginning signs of something quite. Major General Herlting, thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it. Kate?

BOLDUAN: This morning, officials in California are investigating who is responsible for dropping more than a dozen migrants on the doorstep of this California church that we will show you after they've traveled to the state in a private jet, according to a nonprofit assisting the migrants.


The group, ranging in age from 20 to 30 years old, had no idea where they were.

CNN's Isabel Rosales has more on this. She's joining us now. And there's a lot kind of that goes into this. It's Texas to New Mexico to Sacramento, and now talk of Florida being involved. What are you picking up?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I spoke with Cecilia Flores of Sacramento ACT. This is a nonprofit that's been working with these migrants there on the ground. And she's spoken at length with these migrants who told her that they were promised that they would receive help. They were approached by individuals representing a private contractor and told that if they moved with them to a migrant center that they would get help in getting jobs and getting shelter and getting clothing.

Flores tells me that these migrants, they were shaken up, they were confused, that many of them didn't have any sort of idea as to where they were going when they got onto that plane or even that Sacramento was in California.

I want you to listen now to Flores.


CECILIA FLORES, SACRAMENTO AREA CONGREGATIONS TOGETHER: They start out, what city is this? What state are we in? According to them, they got off of the bus. The person who was driving rang the doorbell of the building, and they told them they would be right back. And the bus pulled away and they never came back.

One of the migrants actually attempted to reach them because they did have a contact number. They said that the person told them they'll be right there to get you, never specifying who was coming to get them. And after some time, after they continued to try to reach this person, their cell phone no longer was working.


ROSALES: And CNN also spoke with Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is leading the investigation into who paid for these flights and whether these migrants were tricked into getting on that plane and relocating. Now, Bonta believes that the state of Florida is behind this. He's also pointing the finger at Vertol Systems Company Inc. That is the same aviation company that we heard about last year, fall of last year, for the last rounds of migrant flights, two planes, 50 or so migrants taken from the Texas border and flown over to Martha's Vineyard.

And we do have new information, Kate, that the same attorneys who are representing those migrants in a lawsuit against Ron DeSantis, Governor Ron DeSantis, they are now on the ground there in Sacramento and offering legal services to those migrants.

A big question, Kate, too, is whether there's going to be any sort of other flights happening anytime soon. We've been actually going through a ton of paperwork here, public records from the state of Florida, and we've reported that they have selected two other vendors, ARS Global Emergency Management and GardaWorld Federal Services, to execute these migrant flights. So, it raises the questions here whether we can expect at least two more flights.

Also, real quick, in communications between the state and vendors, unnamed vendors, one vendor also mentioned Georgia and New York as possible destinations. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Isabel Rosales, thank you so much. Sara?

SIDNER: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is taking aim at her former boss, Donald Trump, and her new rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But will her comments during the CNN town hall move the needle with Republican voters? Highlights from her big appearance.

A Florida mom is facing arson and child neglect charges after her car caught fire with her children inside. Hear what police say she was doing while her children were in grave danger.

And first responders describing a grisly scene after a small crash in Virginia. What we're learning about that flight that had fighter jets scrambling over the nation's capital?



BERMAN: This morning, trains have started running again in India after one of the worst crashes in that country's history. At least 275 people were killed when three trains collided. More than 1,000 others were injured. Investigators believe the wreck was caused by an electronic signal failure.

In Central Florida, a woman has been arrested and charged with arson and aggravated child neglect after her car caught fire with her unattended children inside. And this happened while she was allegedly shoplifting inside a mall. The children were rushed to a local hospital after one child suffered first-degree burns to her face and ears. The mother is being held on a $48,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty to both charges related to this incident.

So, the bar from Cheers is just one of hundreds of pieces of iconic television memorabilia that just went up for auction. The pieces, which were all owned by a single collector, included Johnny Carson's desk from The Tonight Show and the I Dream of Genie costume and Pamela Anderson's swimsuit from Baywatch.

It is not clear how much they sold. I had to look. It's not clear how much they sold for exactly. But the Heritage Auctions website does list what the new owners might accept for each item now. The Cheers bar, for example, is worth more than $1 million. Kate?

BOLDUAN: It could be a very good addition to our set.

BERMAN: That's a great idea.

BOLDUAN: We will look into that. Until then, one of the top stories we're talking about this hour, a sonic boom that rattled much of Washington, D.C., as F 16 fighter jets scrambled Sunday to intercept a private plane over the Capitol after the pilot failed to respond. Listen to this.


The plane, that private plane ultimately crashed near Stanton, Virginia. The impact so intense, first responders have said that it left a crater in the ground. NTSB investigators, they're on the ground there again today trying to determine everything that happened here.

Joining us now for more on this is CNN Aviation Analyst Miles O'Brien. It's good to see you, Miles. Let's start with the flight path, which has a lot of people scratching their heads a little bit, which is it takes off from Tennessee, headed bound for Long Island, but then, obviously, it never lands. It circles back and heads back down the northeast, heading back, and then ends up over -- obviously over D.C., and then crashing in Virginia. What does that flight path tell you?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: A lot of pilots are scratching their heads over this one, Kate. It appears what we have is a ghost plane, some sort of depressurization event, likely rapid or maybe slow, which caused the pilot to be incapacitated and also rendered the passengers unconscious. So, the aircraft would have had a flight path to Islip programmed into the computer, the Flight Management System. The airplane dutifully flew to Islip, but there's nothing in that pre programmed plan that would allow for a descent without human intervention. So, the aircraft arrives at the location, then, for some reason, appears to be making a direct return flight to its point of origin.

Maybe there is something about that particular configuration of that Flight Management System, which makes it go home in those situations, or maybe there was a stray waypoint, meaning the original point of origin in there, but it was rather odd. And, of course, that was the direction, which took it right over our nation's capital, which has some highly restricted and prohibited airspace, as you know.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And scrambling the fighter jets and the sonic boom that drew everyone's attention to this, drew so many people's attention to this situation, is that how this response is supposed to unfold when an aircraft goes into the restricted airspace over D.C.?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's the post-911 plan. And it's a good exercise, frankly, and proof that that protection, which was really put in place post-911, still exists. So they can scramble, they can intercept an aircraft that is not responding and heading for the nation's capital.

We should point out an aircraft at 34,000 feet didn't ever really present a great threat to the nation's capital, but as it headed in that direction, you know, the military did exactly what it is supposed to do. And the fact that, you know, six fighters from three bases responded and were able to fire flares, try to get the attention of the occupants of the aircraft, proves that system works. That's good news.

BOLDUAN: Yes. No one ever made contact, officials say, with the pilot. Obviously, you talk about it, it looks like we have a ghost plane situation. We also are hearing from some of the first responders on the ground is that there's very little debris left other than also quite a large crater. Brian Todd's being told by first responders.

So, as investigators are now working through this, what are they looking at and what are they looking for at this point, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Yes. This will be a tough one, Kate, because clearly it ran out of gas at 34,000 feet and then just went straight down like a long dart. So, it would have impacted with tremendous speed and there wouldn't be a lot of big pieces left as a result of that. This is an aircraft which is not a charter aircraft. It flies under Part 91, which is just general aviation rules. And so there would be no requirement for any sort of flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder. It's possible it might be there. It could be in this plane. It could have been retrofitted later, but doubtful. So, this is going to be a difficult one to really solve.

Maybe they'll find that smoking gun piece which shows that some sort of valve in the pressurization system gave way, causing an insidious loss of cabin pressure, and then everybody just kind of went to sleep. The time of useful consciousness at 34,000 feet without pressurization or oxygen is about a minute. BOLDUAN: Wow. And, I mean, that just shows how quick the entire thing can change up there, and such a sad result for at least one family here. It's great to see you, Miles. Thank you for coming in. This investigation continues and we have folks on the ground. Sara?

SIDNER: Thank you, Kate. Now, to the 2024 election, Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley is blasting frontrunners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis during a CNN town hall in Iowa last night.


The former South Carolina governor criticized DeSantis for his feud with Disney and went after Trump for praising Kim Jong-un. She also aimed to stand out by her unequivocal support for the war in Ukraine. Take a listen.


NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way you prevent war is not that we give cash to Ukraine, not that we put troops on the ground, but that we get with our allies and we make sure that we give them the equipment and the ammunition to win. Because when Ukraine wins, that sends a message to China with Taiwan. It sends a message to Iran that wants to build a bomb. It sends a message to North Korea testing ballistic missiles. And it sends a message to Russia that it's over. That's what we have to do.

And keep in mind, everybody wants to know, well, how does this war end? It would end in a day if Russia would pull out. If Ukraine pulls out, then we're all looking at a world war.


SIDNER: Joining us now for more on Haley's town hall is CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp. Thank you so much for being here.

When you watched the town hall, what did you take away from it? Was she effective in differentiating herself from those who are on already running?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think of the folks we've heard a lot from, we've yet to really hear from Tim Scott and some others, but she sounds most like she gets the math. She's an accountant. She said it a number of times last night. The math is to add to the base, not subtract. That seems to be what Trump and Ron DeSantis want to do on repeat and then repeat losing.

She, I thought, reached out to conservatives that might have been offended by Trump and moderates and independents who might not be willing to vote for four more years of Joe Biden. And I think she did that by hitting three Cs. She sounded like a conservative. We haven't heard a lot about conservatism, right, lowering the debt and the deficit, traditional things, in a while. She sounded compassionate, even when she talked about abortion, immigration, race, guns. She did it from a place of compassion, not punishment and revenge. And, finally, she sounded commonsense. She gave some tough talk to her own party on entitlement reform, for example. She gave tough talk to voters on what can and can't be done about abortion from the right, what can and can't be done about guns from the left, commonsense, avoiding conspiracy theories. I thought all of that was pretty refreshing.

SIDNER: Okay. So, you felt like she was pretty effective?

CUPP: Yes.

SIDNER: Let's talk about one of the issues, one of the biggest issues to hit this country in a while because of the overturning of Roe versus Wade. She did talk about abortion and what she saw as potentially the federal government's involvement. Let's take a listen.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If a six-week ban theoretically came to your desk, would you sign it?

HALEY: But why -- I will answer that when you ask Kamala and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks 38 weeks, 39 weeks, then I'll answer your question.

I want to save as many babies as we can and support as many mothers as we can. I'm not going to throw out a number, because if you don't talk with those senators and know where their heads at and know what they're really willing to do, then we're having a false conversation and having a debate that's only dividing people, and it's not bringing people together.


SIDNER: Okay. She didn't really answer the question. She put it off on others, the Democrats. And we know what the sort of country is when you look at the polling, what the country feels about abortion. What do you think of her answer?

CUPP: Well, while she was a little vague, she also basically spoke to the majority of the country. The majority is not for abortion with zero restrictions. The country is not for no abortions. The country has always been, since 1973, when Gallup first started polling, abortion attitudes in this country has always been for legal abortion with some restrictions.

Now, her restrictions might go farther than mine, but Joe Biden's go farther than most people's as well. And I think that was the point she was trying to make. Stop doing the media trick of putting people in two boxes that do not represent the majority. As a majority voter with no party representing me, I appreciated that.

SIDNER: Let's talk about some of the other things she talked about. She talked about guns in particular, saying that she doesn't think she'd support red gun laws, which, basically -- sorry, red flag laws, red gun laws. Those red flag laws talk to a lot of what people have talked about when it comes to people that have mental illness who are prone perhaps or have said things that make it seem like they will be violent when they decide to pick up a gun and hurt people. What do you make of her stance on that?

CUPP: Well, she lost me there and a lot of gun-owning conservatives like me have come out in support of red flag laws because we think they are so important in tackling that mental health aspect of it. So, she's an outlier there. In fact, red flag laws are pretty popular.

I understand her position on it. She represents a very libertarian far right position where we don't trust the government to adjudicate whether or not you can have a gun.


It's just not where a majority of people and not a majority of gun owners are.