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Ukraine Blames Russia For Destroying Major Dam; Mar-a-Lago Pool Flood Raises Suspicion In Docs Probe; Chris Christie Set To Announce White House Bid Today. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 06, 2023 - 09:00   ET




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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of people being forced to evacuate drinking water and power. Now a serious question after a huge dam is destroyed in Ukraine. So who is to blame?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: A mother of four is shot and killed by a neighbor over a long standing feud involving their children. The mother killed was black, the shooter white. Police are investigating, but the victim's family is demanding to know why no one has been arrested.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new flashpoint in the division between Church and state. The first publicly funded religious charter school in the country. So is this constitutional? This is CNN News Central.

BOLDUAN: Massive evacuations are happening this hour in southern Ukraine. An important dam on the Dnipro River destroyed overnight. One Ukrainian official accused Russia of destroying the dam to quote create obstacles for any Ukrainian counter offensive. Russia though, is rejecting that and blaming Ukraine. Aerial video shows water just gushing through the destroyed portion of the dam you can see there and I want to show you another angle that we have pulled in.

You can also see what looks like just a geyser shooting up into the air. Some of the dam's facilities there are in the background and some heavily damaged as this flood unfolded. So flooding is now hitting the roads and neighborhoods downriver in Kherson. More than 800 people have been evacuated from there. One Ukrainian official said 16,000 people on the west bank of the river are now in a critical zone. For their part, Russian officials are downplaying the impact of all of this, saying that there is no threat.

Let's get the latest from the ground. CNN's Sam Kiley is in Kharkiv, Ukraine for us. Sam, what's the very latest that you're hearing about all this?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I can tell you that we've been in touch with Ukrainian sources on the ground in a position to know, and they are saying that the Russian troops opposite Kherson city in other words, the troops that have been based there, manning artillery positions, tank positions, firing into Kherson and other villages did not know that this was going to be a flood.

The sources are saying that the Russians that they saw were flooded out, their trenches overwhelmed. They saw Russians abandoning military locations and it was clear to them at least that the Russians had no idea that this flood was coming their way. Now, we don't have independent verification of this because there is very, very difficult indeed to get access to Kherson city for verification. But these are known and trusted Ukrainian sources that CNN has worked with in the past. And if that is confirmed, I see no reason at all to disbelieve it. Given this is a reliable source.

Then it gives greater credence to the idea that this is actually worse for the Russians than it is for the Ukrainians. That doesn't mean, ultimately, though, that the Russians were not responsible for what happened at the dam because the dam had been under Russian possession. It had been in extreme danger as a consequence of very heavy overloading, over pressure from the lake behind it, as a consequence of the Russians not allowing sufficient amount of water through that dam before.

It had been showing signs that it might breach in the last day since May the 28th, with signs of breaching going with water going over the top, and now it has been entirely breached with this disastrous flooding downstream. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, a lot of questions still, as you're offering very important context around all of this, of what is behind what caused, if there is someone to blame for what we're seeing unfold right now. But it's very much developing as we speak. Thank you so much, Sam. Sara?

SIDNER: The significance of the dam in Southern Ukraine cannot be overstated. It bridges the Dnipro River, holding back a huge reservoir of water, the volume nearly equal to the Great Salt Lake. The dam stands nearly 100 feet tall and is about 2 miles long. There are multiple towns and cities as you just heard, downstream, including Kherson. Water from the reservoir supplies the Crimean peninsula to the south, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe's largest. The dam is also part of a nearby hydroelectric power plant. Ukraine's energy operator says it too has been totally destroyed. This could make Ukraine's energy problems even worse than they already are. Russian forces have consistently targeted Ukraine's electrical grid since the start of their unprovoked invasion. John?


BERMAN: So Sara, let's talk about the military significance of this region. So people know the area we're talking about here, we're talking about southern Ukraine. I can push in now specifically on the river, you can see the river flowing right here. This is the dam and this is Kherson, that city in the south, now controlled by Ukraine. For reference point here's the nuclear power plant, it is upriver from the dam, which is why people don't think it is a major concern right now.

But when you're talking about the military significance of this much more, you can see that the Dnipro River is literally the dividing line between Ukrainian held territory and the Russian occupied territory in the south. The Russians have been in Crimea for several years and they've occupied this region in Red now for a year. Joining me to talk about what all of this means, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

So Cedric, this is the Russian occupied territory here, this is where Ukraine is in control. How does this dam being destroyed, this region here being flooded in particular, how does that affect the counteroffensive that we all expect to be coming or maybe have already started from Ukraine?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, John, that's going to be a huge issue for both sides actually, and as you heard in Sam's reporting, there's an impact on the Russian side as well. But for the Ukrainians this is going to be big because they probably counted on being able to go across Dnipro River using amphibious vehicles so that they could actually go into the Russian occupied areas of southern Ukraine. This makes it much more difficult to do, not impossible, but it's much more difficult to do this given the volume of water that's coming through this area and also the impact that it has on existing infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and, you know, the things that you would encounter in a normal military operation.

BERMAN: Yes, this was by the way, one of the major bridges from the Ukrainian held territory into the Russian held territory. That bridge is now very much gone and inoperable as well. You talked about what this means for the Russians, Cedric. I just want to point out this is Crimea where the Russians have occupied for some time. There was a canal also that connects that dam area with Crimea, a major source of water for the peninsula. So how does this impact the Russians? LEIGHTON: So as far as the Russians are concerned, you're exactly right, John, in pointing out that the canal that supplies water to Crimea is a critical source for them. Once that supply is cut, that really makes it hard for them to sustain the civilian population in large parts of Crimea. It also means that the military piece is also, you know, kind of tenuous at this point in Crimea as well for the Russians. And then the other thing that of course, has to be considered is the impact on the Russian forces that are actually on the eastern bank or southern bank of Dnipro River.

And that for them, it's going to be very tough because apparently they did not know that this was going to happen. And as a result of that, they were forced to abandon their positions. They're no longer in a position to hold back any Ukrainian efforts to go across this particular area of Ukraine.

BERMAN: Cedric, again, here is the dam so people can see where it is on the Dnipro River, the area where I think some people had been expecting the Ukrainian counter offensive may have been up here to push through to the Sea of Azov and cut off Crimea, cut off this land bridge here. How does the destruction of the dam perhaps impact that? Might troops need to be diverted either from the Russian side or the Ukrainian side now?

LEIGHTON: Yes, it's possible that the Russian troops would move further east and that the same would happen to the Ukrainian troops. I think several things were being planned by the Ukrainians. One of them would have been exactly where you mentioned that they would have crossed into that part of the southern area so that they would have a good location where they could actually go toward the Sea of Azov. Their main goal is to cut that land bridge, no doubt about it. But they also want to make sure that there are other things that they can get on the western part and that's part of the area that they're going to have difficulty with right now.

BERMAN: All right, Col. Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for helping us understand these very important developments today. I appreciate it. Sara?


SIDNER: Sarah, new questions this morning surrounding a flood at former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. CNN has learned that an employee there drained a swimming pool back in October. The significance of that, it ended up flooding a room where surveillance videos were stored on computer servers. It happened roughly two months after FBI agents found hundreds of classified documents there. And as part of their investigation, prosecutors have obtained surveillance footage from the resort.

They're looking into how those documents, though, were moved around and if they were purposefully hidden. A source says that IT equipment in the room was not damaged in the flood. But we're also learning that the maintenance worker who drained the pool was also involved in moving boxes of classified documents ahead of the FBI search last summer. CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is following this story. Evan, what more are you learning on this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the -- for prosecutors who have been following this idea that there might have been obstruction of this investigation, this is another data point. We know that they have surveillance video of workers moving boxes before a visit from prosecutors to retrieve some documents from Mar-a-Lago. We also know that there is some -- that if you look at the timing of all of this, you know, there's a subpoena that happens in the earlier summer. You have the search by the FBI in August.

There's a subsequent subpoena for additional surveillance video, and then a preservation order that comes in late August, I'm sorry, in late October. You can see there on the map where this storage room is. Again, one of the witnesses who was asked about this told prosecutors that they don't believe there's any damage that was done to the IT room. But the question for prosecutors is whether someone was trying to obstruct, perhaps by trying to make sure that some of this surveillance was lost.

Those are the questions that prosecutors are asking. Again, we don't know whether this is something that was intentional or something that was by mistake, Sara.

SIDNER: All right, I want to talk about what we learned yesterday, that Trump's attorneys were at the DOJ asking questions, making demands. What can you tell us of what happened in that meeting yesterday between the two?

PEREZ: Well, they had demanded a meeting with the Attorney General Merrick Garland. They did not get that. They didn't see Merrick Garland. They didn't see Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general. They did meet with the top career official at the Justice Department. And Jack Smith, the special counsel, who is the sort of focus of the Trump team's complaints, he also was there. We also know that prosecutors, Sara, did not advise the Trump team of any imminent indictment. They didn't tell them any information about what exactly might be coming next. Obviously, that's one of the top concerns for the Trump team.

SIDNER: Evan Perez, thank you for all your reporting throughout these many weeks. Kate?

BOLDUAN: This just into CNN. Pope Francis is back at the Vatican this morning after going to the hospital for what the Vatican called clinical tests. Remember, back in March, the Pope spent several days in the hospital being treated for bronchitis. We'll bring you updates as we have it on that.

Also still ahead for us on CNN News Central, a school board in Oklahoma has approved the country's first religious charter school to be publicly funded, sparking a debate over the separation of church and state. Plus, another plane carrying migrants has landed in Sacramento, California. Why the state attorney general is now accusing this of being part of a scheme set in motion by the state of Florida.

[09:13:42] And Chris Christie ready to run more on the presidential announcement that will be coming today and how much his campaign will be focusing on Donald Trump. We'll be back.


BOLDUAN: On Our Radar this hour, the NTSB will be starting work today to recover parts of the private plane that crashed in a wooded area in Virginia this weekend. A source tells CNN the fighter jets that had intercepted the plane as it was going over restricted airspace and were non responsive, they observed the pilot slumped over in his seat before the crash happened. The plane's owners identified the pilot, who did not survive, as Jeff Hefner, you see there. The owner's daughter, Adina Azarian, and her two-year-old daughter and their nanny also died in the crash. Investigators think hypoxia, a shortage of oxygen in the blood that CNN render you unconscious could have been a possible cause of the crash. Hypoxia brought on by a sudden loss of cabin pressure. We'll continue to follow this.

Also, we're watching this hour, NASA this morning has docked the SpaceX Dragon at the International Space Station. These are images of the spacecraft as it traveled to the ISS. It brought with it two new solar arrays as well as other supplies. It's going to be staying with the ISS for three weeks before returning to Earth with more cargo and research on board.

Actors may soon be joining the picket lines, the Screen Actors Guild, which represents more than 160,000 film and T.V. actors, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike that would kick off in 30 days if no agreement is reached with studios. Hollywood writers, they have been striking for six weeks now, and this weekend, the Director's Guild of America tentatively agreed to a new contract with studios. A lot going on with this, John.

BERMAN: Yes, there is. So today, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is expected to formally he announced he is running for president. Tomorrow vice president -- former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are expected to announce out loud that they are entering the race. Pence actually already technically in. He filed his paperwork yesterday. Christie, we are told, believes he is the best position candidate to take on former president and current frontrunner Donald Trump, while also, Christie believes, appealing to independent voters. CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Governor Christie will hold a town hall tonight. How is the governor going to sell New Hampshire voters that he's the guy for the job?


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's a great question. I think with this town hall, we are going to see what the tone of this campaign will be. Also trying to answer that very critical question, how is this going to be different than 2016 when he made that previous run for president? And as you mentioned coming to me, how is Christie going to deal with the former President Donald Trump, who has been seen by many as a frontrunner? So those questions will likely be among the very first moments that he hits. But look, polls have shown it's going to be an uphill battle for the former New Jersey governor. Today is the day he is expected to make that announcement in a town hall format at Saint Anselm College here in New Hampshire. That said, he has been candid about saying that he's not just some never Trumper Republican getting in this race, trying to beat Trump. He's had to work with him in the past. Take a listen to some of what he said in previous town halls.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: You're talking to somebody and hearing from someone who believed I could help make him better, wanted him to do what was best for the country, and he failed me even worse than he failed you. So I'm not going to stand around and let this happen. Now, if I decide to run, I'll be able to try to do something directly about it.


JIMENEZ: Now, that tone is likely what we'll be looking for as part of this town hall. But, look, he is not alone in trying to do some of what he said. He would be joining a very crowded field of GOP candidates from, of course, former President Donald Trump to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, to former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott, former Governor Nikki Haley, and more. And so it will become an increasing challenge to break through some of that pack. And while the election is next year, as you know, John, campaign season is here.

BERMAN: Oh, yes, the campaign is full on. Omar Jimenez in Manchester, thank you very much. Great to see you. Sara?

SIDNER: Just minutes ago, the cross examination of Prince Harry resumed. After a break, he's taking the witness stand, saying some British tabloids have, quote, blood on their hands for the distress they've caused him growing up and for the death of his mother, Princess Diana. It's incredibly rare, by the way, for a senior royal to testify in court. In fact, until now, it hasn't happened since 1891. That's more than 100 years. Harry alleges Mirror Group newspapers hacked his phone and used other illicit means to get information about his life for stories. CNN's Max Foster is following the trial for us. He joins us now from London. What are you hearing from today's testimony? What stood out?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR & ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is extraordinary watching it. I am able to watch it through a virtual camera and watching him being grilled like that, you don't see royals in that situation. It's a cross examination. His broad argument is that as he was growing up, from the age of 12, his phone was being hacked. People around him, his phone were being hacked, and those -- the information from that hacking was used in tabloid stories. Taken together, they caused a huge amount of distress for him growing up. And his circle of friends shrunk because he couldn't trust anyone anymore. That's his broad argument. What the barrister for the Mirror Group Newspapers is doing is trying to undermine each and every article that Prince Harry points to. So he'll say, for example, do you remember reading this article? Harry will say, I don't remember reading the article. And then the barrister says, how could it cause stress then and distress for you?

Also pointing out that a lot of the information in these articles was already in the public and had been confirmed by the palace. So a tough grilling for Harry on the detail. He's not always across all of the detail, but he's making a much broader point here. His mission, Sara, is to reform the British tabloid media.

SIDNER: I want to ask you about a situation here in the States. Prince Harry is involved in a lawsuit here over his visa. What can you tell us about that?

FOSTER: So this is a think tank. The Heritage Foundation has gone to a federal court, wants access to Harry's visa application. The reason for that is they want to see whether or not he declared his drug use that he admitted to in his book Spare. If he did, why did he get a waiver? If he didn't, does that mean the visa still holds? So that'll be interesting. I don't think we'll get the result today, but the media does have access to the hearing, so we'll get some information about how that goes.

SIDNER: Max Foster, always a pleasure speaking to you. Thank you so much for that. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a second private plane drops migrants in Sacramento, California. Now an investigation is underway and California's governor is lashing out at Florida. Also this is ahead, there is sadness and outrage right now still speaking about Florida, a mother of four was shot and killed by her neighbor. How Florida's Stand Your Ground Law is impacting that investigation. We'll be back.


SIDNER: Welcome back to CNN News Central. Our top story this hour more than 800 people have been evacuated after a critical dam on the Dnipro River in Ukraine was destroyed. The river acts as a dividing line between Russian occupied territory and land still held by the Ukrainians. You can see the fast moving rivers there gushing from that breach. Ukraine is blaming Russia for the attack. The Kremlin denying those allegations.