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Official: 1,000 Houses Flood After Dam Breach; Hardline Republicans Revolt In Debt Bill Backlash; Rep. Santos Ordered To Reveal Bail Co-Signers; Merck Sues U.S. Government Over Drug Price Negotiation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 06, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: More than a thousand homes are said to be underwater this hour after Ukrainian dam was destroyed, Russia and Ukraine accusing each other of blowing it up and the attack couldn't have come at a more critical point in the war.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus, the PGA Tour joining forces with Saudi- backed LIV Golf. The just announced partnership has shaken up the sporting world, with many from golf, golfers to lawmakers, livid that this is moving forward. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: We're beginning with a major dam breach in Ukraine. You can see water gushing through this dam here located in a critical area along the Dnieper River near the frontlines of the war. More than a thousand homes in this region have now flooded according to local officials. A Ukrainian official says 16,000 people on the river's west bank are in what he's calling a critical zone.

Russian officials on the other hand, are telling residents there is no threat. Both sides blaming each other, Ukraine says this was blown up by Russian forces in a panic. The Kremlin is calling this deliberate sabotage by Ukraine.

CNN is also learning from U.S. and Western officials that there are signs Ukraine's counteroffensive is now finally beginning.

CNN's Scott McLean is with us now.

Scott, bring us up to speed on where things stand.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. So it's important to remember a couple of things Brianna. First off, this dam actually did sustained some damage in November of last year when a Ukrainian counteroffensive actually succeeded in taking back part of the Kherson region and the city of Kherson. At that time, Russian official went on Russian state TV and said that it would take a year to get it up and running as per normal.

It's also important to keep in mind that this is what the dam looked like last week. We'll give you a closer look at it. So notice one thing, this little section of roadway here that was here last week, was not here yesterday.

And so if you look at a more granular level, at the satellite images, it seems like last Thursday or Friday is when this damage was sustained. How it happened? Why it happened? What impact it might have happened on the eventual collapse? We don't know. As you mentioned, though, both sides blaming each other.

It is also important to keep in mind that the dam is here, it's on the Russian side, it is holding back an immense amount of water flowing in this direction. We're talking about more than four miles - four cubic miles of water that it is holding back - sorry, miles not a unit of measurement you see very often.

So this is roughly amount - the amount of water that is in the Great Salt Lake. And so these areas downstream from the dam are in huge danger. Kherson, for instance, has 300,000 people. You mentioned 16,000 in the critical zone and actually the head of the hydro electric company in Ukraine says that, well, it's going to be more than three yards of water by this time this peaks tomorrow at five o'clock in the morning.

And it's not going to peak and go down like we see with normal river flooding. This is going to stay that way for four days, it won't be for another eight or 10 days when all of the water actually moves through there.

Also complicating things and the reason why they can't just simply block this off and stop the water from coming down is because that would need to be done, he says, from the Russian side. And obviously that is still under Russian occupation.

You also mentioned that both sides are blaming each other. The Ukrainians say that the Russians actually planted bombs on it. The Russians say that it was Ukrainians and they say it was for two reasons.

Number one has to do with water in Crimea, because Crimea since 2014 has had difficulties with its water, it was only after the full scale invasion that they managed to regain access to a canal, which made things much easier for them. Obviously, with the loss of this dam, that complicates things.

The other reason is the counteroffensive. Obviously, we've heard so much about it for weeks and weeks whether it started we don't know right now. But the Russians say it has begun and they say it is not going so well. And so they say that Ukrainians did this as a bid to stop the counter to the counteroffensive and stop Russian troops moving in the opposite direction.

Obviously, as you mentioned, U.S. and Western officials say that there actually has been a significant uptick in attacks and activity in the last 48 hours, whether or not this is the official counteroffensive or whether this is the Ukrainians testing the Russian defenses, we don't know. [15:05:01]

But either way, it certainly complicates things for the Ukrainians, Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly does. They're calling this ecocide, right, is that correct?

MCLEAN: Yes, the Ukrainians are calling this ecocide. And this is actually a crime that they have tried to prosecute for months and months since the outset of the war. Because every time that a chemical plant, every time that a fuel storage depot is hit, and every time just a tank is burnt out or cars left on the side of the road, all of this has an impact on the environment. And the Ukrainians have tried to document that now in the hopes of one day actually sending the bill to Russia through the International Criminal Court.

The difficulty with that, though, Brianna, is that the ICC doesn't actually have a mandate to prosecute a crime called ecocide. And so there is precedent for some country, Kuwait namely, getting compensation for ecocide in the past, but it took decades for that to happen. And it was through a special body that was set up through the UN Security Council. And, of course, as we know, Russia has veto power over this council and so the chances of Ukraine getting any compensation for ecocide crimes seem pretty slim, at least at this stage of the game.

KEILAR: Yes. No matter how big the bill is, and no doubt it will be very large.

Scott McLean, thank you for that report, walking us through all of that.

I want to bring in retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling now for more on this. General, we heard the president after this damn breach and this is what he said.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your message to Russia on the dam explosion in Ukraine?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, what's your message to Russia?

BIDEN: We are not leaving. We're going to help Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your message (inaudible) ...


KEILAR: Saying the U.S. is going to help Ukraine. The White House Press Secretary also said earlier that the administration hasn't determined if Russia was likely behind the attack. They actually haven't determined if this was even intentional. So when you take a look at this, who has the most to gain from this?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Brianna, this is tough because both sides have a little bit to gain on this. And it's because it affects both the offense and the defense.

There are some from a military perspective, having had to plan for the potential of a dam break in northern Iraq, the Mosul Dam was in our area of operation, you can use this to your advantage. But certainly this is a humanitarian disaster. As you just said, an ecocide, eco terrorism, whatever you want to call it.

The Ukrainian government is quickly trying to conduct humanitarian relief operations, those are going to be difficult. And you're talking about delayed defenses on the Russian side. This - the area on the eastern bank of the Dnieper River has been flooded. That's where most of the Russian defenses were to stop Ukrainian attack.

I don't believe the Russian saying, hey, we're going to conduct a counter attack. They were settled in on the defense. They are incapable of conducting counter attacks. But it's stopped the Ukrainian forces for at least the short term of using that territory in the southern Kherson province to conduct offensive operations.

So you can't really say one side has gained or the other side has gained, because it's hurt the Ukrainian people so much. It probably has delayed some of the offensive operations of Ukraine in the south. But it's also given Russia a little bit of a break because they can pull forces out of those defensive positions.

I saw films this morning where Russian forces were up to their belt buckle in water. So some of them were warm, some of them were not. I think this was a surprise mostly to both sides, to be honest with you, Brianna,

KEILAR: U.S. and Western officials say they are seeing signs that the counteroffensive is beginning. What are you looking for at this point in the war?

HERTLING: Yes, what I've said a couple of times is you're going to look for a couple of things. First of all, everyone is focused on a large conventional operation. It's the D-Day today anniversary, the 79th anniversary, and everyone thinks this is going to look like thousands of forces hitting the beaches or hitting the area in one major attack.

I personally don't believe it's going to go that way. What I anticipate seeing is a combination of smaller conventional attacks across the Frontline special operations forces conducting operations within the battle-space Ukrainian territorials behind the frontline of Russia, the resistance fighters as we've seen already and the Russian volunteer corps fighting inside of Russia, this is going to be a multi-prong operation.

[15:10:05] And Gen. Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian commander is going to have to

coordinate all of those things. So I would hesitate to say that we're going to see one large attack by massive number of forces. What I think we're going to see across the 600 mile front edge is a lot of smaller conventional operations using different types of equipment in each one of the areas that they're going to use as their main axis of advance.

KEILAR: General, great to have you today at this critical point in this war. Thank you.

HERTLING: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Boris.

SANCHEZ: Back here in the United States, the battle between the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Republican leadership is heating up. Let's get you straight to Capitol Hill and CNN's Manu Raju with the latest.

Manu, an off camera tiff between these two.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And look, this is the first backlash we are seeing for the debt limit deal that was cut between speaker McCarthy and the White House last week. Remember that was signed into law averting the first ever default on the U.S. debt. But that did not go over well with the number of hardline conservatives in the House Republican Conference.

Some of whom believe that that violated the deal that McCarthy himself cut with those same members in order to secure the speakership on the 15th ballot back in January. Well, today, the first retaliation.

Just moments ago, a group of those hardliners voted to take down the Republican leadership agenda for this week, they voted against a procedural effort to bring up two bills that they were pushing. Now, those bills - they had little chance of reaching the President's desk, but they're a part of McCarthy's agenda.

One would ban the prohibition of gas stoves, other one would provide more congressional oversight over the federal regulatory process. Typically, these procedural votes are approved by the majority party, no one around the majority party votes against it, typically. That has changed because of the retaliation from those members. So the vote just now was 260-220 (ph) to essentially scuttle the agenda going forward.

Now, I just had this chance to speak with a number of those members, they are indicating that this threat remains that they may move forward and try to derail more of the leadership's agenda, if they believe the speaker does not commit and does not follow through on some of those promises, largely dealing with the issue of federal spending.

They believe that the cuts that the speaker agreed to with the President did not go far enough. They're demanding that he go further in that regard and some of them also are concerned what they believe was retaliation from the leadership against one of their members who voted against the debt limit deal. They said that they did not allow that member to offer an amendment to a separate legislation so they are essentially pushing back in - because of that.

So all of this shows the divisions that persist in McCarthy's very narrowly divided House, just a handful of members. If they decide to revolt on a party line bill can derail the leadership's carefully crafted agenda. And that's what we're seeing right now as McCarthy now dealing with this new chapter post debt limit, but still divisions in the House and a lot of angst on the right wing of his party who don't like the deal that he cut. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Very, very thin margins from McCarthy in the House.

Manu Raju, thank you so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: Players are livid, human rights activists are upset, 9/11 families are angry. The PGA Tour has merged with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League, a league that it once demonized. We're going to take you behind the scenes of this deal.

Plus, could breastfeeding help children score higher on tests? We're going to look into a new study and police say not only did she hire a hitman, she complained that he was taking too long, wild details ahead.



KEILAR: A judge orders indicted New York congressman, George Santos, to reveal the names of the people who co-signed for his bail. Santos is out on a $500,000 bond after being charged with campaign finance and fraud crimes.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here with more on that.

Five hundred thousand dollars, that's a lot of money that he presumably does not have. Santos can appeal this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Brianna. That's right. So the judge saying that she will unseal these names but is giving Santos until noon on Friday to appeal. This is a magistrate judge, the first appeal will go to a district court judge, if he lost that, he could appeal it then to the federal appeals court.

Now our CNN's Manu Raju had run into Santos just moments ago and asked him why keeping the identities of these people secret was so important. Take a listen.


RAJU: Mr. Santos, doesn't the public deserve to know who paid for your bail? Why don't you tell your constituents who paid $500,000 to keep you out of prison? Can you tell us about the $500,000? REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I'm not commenting on it, Manu.

RAJU: Why is it so important to protect their identities?

SANTOS: Because it is.


SCANNELL: Now, Santos' attorney has also informed the judge that Santos would rather surrender to pretrial detainment, then subjected the servitors to the attention that they would receive from their names becoming public, but certainly there is now going to be a process here and it's ultimate - ultimately we may learn their identities, Brianna.

KEILAR: So this is a request made by the media, what will you and others be looking for if the records are made public?

SCANNELL: Well, the first thing we'll get are the identities of these people, the individuals who are willing to put both their money at stake and also their credibility at stake, because the idea of this bond here is that if Santos jumps bail, these individuals would then be on the hook for it.

And a reason why the media had asked the judge to unseal this, it's a matter of great public interest. Santos is a sitting congressman, he's also said he's running for reelection. Who are these individuals backing him? Are they lobbyists? Are they donors? Are they family members? These are all important questions for the public to know since he is a sitting congressman and potentially running for reelection, Brianna?


KEILAR: Yes, is this in a way just an in kind donation.

Kara Scannell, thank you for the report.

SANCHEZ: From bitter rivals to playing partners. In a stunning announcement today, the PGA Tour, the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League and the DP World Tour have agreed to a blockbuster joint venture. This sense of major divide that has loomed heavily over the sport for the past year.

KEILAR: The rival golf circuits, they've been battling this out. We've been covering this. They've been battling it out in court for nearly a year. Some of the top players in the world jumped ship to the LIV league for just huge sums of money and the PGA Tour has retaliated against those players with bans.

Joining us now we have the host of CNN's World Sport Don Riddell.

I think the thing that is really stunning people here, Don, is that it really is this 180 degree change from the PGA stance from when the Saudi tour was first announced. DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, absolutely. And it also came

completely out of the blue. It seems as though everybody was blindsided by this today, reporters, golf correspondents who spend their entire time around the players, even the players themselves. Many of them read about this on social media this morning, and they were absolutely stunned.

And to really comprehend what a 180 this is, just listen to what the PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last June less than a year ago, when all this was kicking off, and when players were leaving to join the LIV Tour when they were defecting becoming these rebel players. This is how he cast them and the tour.


JAY MONAHAN, PGA TOUR COMMISSIONER: As it relates to the families of 9/11, I have two families that are close to me that lost loved ones. And so my heart goes out to them and I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving, have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour.


RIDDELL: Fast forward to the tone today, so very, very different. Jay Monahan is going to be meeting the players in players' meeting in about 40 minutes time, and I can only imagine he's going to be receiving some very, very pointed questions from players who remain loyal to the tour, players who refuse to take the money. Players who, by the way, are a part of a player-backed tour and - player-run tour, I'm sorry, and none of them seem to know anything about this.

SANCHEZ: Yes. He's probably going to get an earful from those players that took a moral stand and were loyal to the tour and wound up missing out on potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.

Don Riddell, thanks so much for the reporting.

KEILAR: A spicy meeting. That's what Dan Rapoport (ph) told us it would no doubt be.


KEILAR: Still ahead, the pressure to breastfeed is real, but does a new study back it up? We're going to break it down.

And drug maker Merck suing the federal government. Why the move could make your prescription drugs even more expensive?



SANCHEZ: Big Pharma is gearing up for a big fight. Merck is suing the federal government over a plan that allows Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain drugs. That provision was included in President Biden's inflation Reduction Act. It's designed to help lower the price of certain drugs but the pharmaceutical giant calls it unconstitutional and tantamount to extortion.

CNN Medical Correspondent, Meg Tirrell, joins us now live.

So Meg, what is Merck claiming in this lawsuit?

MEG TIRRELL, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris. So Merck is claiming that this law violates two different amendments, the Fifth Amendment and the First Amendment. Now the Fifth Amendment we think of is the right not to incriminate yourself, but what they're focused on here is the government's right to take property for public use, but they have to provide just compensation for that.

Now Merck is claiming that essentially the government through this drug pricing law is trying to get medications at not fair market prices. Now in terms of the First Amendment, it's in the agreements in the way that this drug pricing negotiation works. They say that this is essentially compelling them to make statements that they don't believe in.

They see quote, "The Inflation Reduction Act operates through a facade of 'negotiations' and 'agreements' that require manufacturers to convey that they 'agree' to HHS' 'fair' prices." A lot of quotation marks there.

So they're arguing essentially that this is unconstitutional on both of these counts.

SANCHEZ: So Meg, how is the federal government now responding?

TIRRELL: Yes, they are gearing up for a potential fight as well. Xavier Becerra, the HHS secretary telling us in a statement, "We'll vigorously defend the President's drug price negotiation law, which they say is already lowering health care costs for seniors and people with disabilities." They say, "The law is on our side."

But Boris, it may not just be Merck in this fight for long. We heard Biogen CEO, that's the maker of a new Alzheimer's drug, talking today about potentially filing their own suit, so the drug industry going to fight pretty hard here.

SANCHEZ: We'll keep an eye on that story.

Meg Tirrell, thank you so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: There's a new study that finds a correlation between how long a baby is breastfed and that child's test scores, later in life, is a high schooler.

CNN Health Reporter Jacqueline Howard is joining us now to help us break this down.

We should be very clear here, Jacqueline, because this is obviously a controversial topic.


There's a correlation.