Return to Transcripts main page
Don Lemon Tonight
Russian Soldiers Disappointed By Their Leadership; Clock Is Ticking For Mariupol Civilians; Russian Forces Continue Bombing Eastern Ukraine; President Zelenskyy Offers To Swap Abandoned Russian Fighters; Russian Billionaire Calling Out Russia's War In Ukraine; Pentagon Takes Note Of Russia's ICBM Test; Mallory McMorrow Push Back Against Colleague's Accusation. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 20, 2022 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Thank you, Laura. I was going to be next to you, though a few thousand miles apart. I will be in Ukraine again tomorrow for "CNN TONIGHT." Laura will be reporting from Washington. And DON LEMON TONIGHT starts right now. Don, good to see you, man.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Hello. Hello to both of you. Hi, Jim. Jim, the security service Ukraine has released purportedly intercepted communications of Russian soldiers. You did some reporting on that. Let's listen to and then we'll talk.
SCIUTTO: One man recounting a conversation he had with his commander. He can be heard saying, we asked the commander, quote, "what shall we do? We got nothing." He says, the commander told them "f-ing shoot all the civilians to the end." And then warned the troops, quote, "whoever leaves their post will be a deserter."
That's when another soldier on the recording can be heard saying, "tell them to f-off." As the conversation continues, the soldier then complaining that Russia has all but abandoned them saying, "just imagine, they didn't provide a way to retreat, didn't say anything, didn't even bring food. F them."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Wow, and that's just one recording but do -- do you think that it's representative of how a lot of Russian soldiers are feeling, Jim?
SCIUTTO: Well, we don't know for sure. We should note CNN has not been able to authenticate that video, but we do know that Ukrainian security services have interrupt -- intercepted, rather, other communications among Russian soldiers, and we know that's made possible in part by the fact that they use unsecured communications.
They -- they're using, sometimes just cell phone networks, right, to have these conversations. And we do know that those circumstances described there by that soldier consistent with what the U.S. military has assessed about Russia's supply problem, not just fuel for their tanks, right, but food for their soldiers. That's a problem when you're talking about morale.
And going back to even before the invasion started, I did some reporting, the U.S. -- the U.S. intelligence community was intercepting communications from Russian officers questioning the battle plan. So, there's a through line between all this, and that is, listen, soldiers see the front lines, they see the problems on the front lines. They're not stupid. Right?
They don't have food, they don't have weapons, they don't have fuel. They're getting bad orders, et cetera, they're going to notice it, and that's going to be a problem for morale which is another thing the U.S. intelligence community has assessed being credible that there are real morale problems within the Russian forces.
LEMON: Yes. What's in it for us? Why on earth are we doing this if we're getting nothing out of it. Thank you, Jim. I appreciate it. We'll see you tomorrow. get some rest.
LEMON: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT.
Here's our breaking news, more of from those alleged communications intercepts what appeared to be Russian soldiers complaining about their commanders. Watch.
(BEGIN VOICE CLIP)
UNKNOWN (through translator): We sat there for three days without (muted) anything. Our commanders they received provisions, cigarettes, food and our command have all (muted) off. They abandoned everyone and (muted) off. We don't even know where they are. Jackals, (muted) shoot them, and that's it.
(END VOICE CLIP)
LEMON: So as Jim just mentioned CNN can't vouch for the authenticity. But Ukraine has previously released intercepted radio traffic of Russian soldiers. That as, the besieged city of Mariupol is running out of time.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that 120,000 people are still trapped in the smoking ruins. CNN is not in Mariupol, but Reuters shot this video, 120,000 lives in the balance in a city that used to be home to nearly a half million people. Men, women, children and the elderly trying to evacuate today as Ukraine's deputy prime minister says a humanitarian corridor from Mariupol, quote, "did not work as planned."
Now two top Ukrainian officials are offering to head to Mariupol to negotiate the evacuation. No response from Russia so far. Meanwhile, sources telling CNN the U.S. assesses Russia has made no major territorial gains since the new offensive began. And this just maybe Vladimir Putin's response.
Russia conducting a test launch of a new inter-continental ballistic missile today. The U.S. noted -- notified ahead of the test and official say, they tracked it closely.
But if you think the launch of an ICBM while Putin is waging a brutal war on Ukraine was, and I don't know just coincidence there's also this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This truly unique weapon will strengthen the combat potential of our armed forces, reliably ensure Russia's security from external threats and provide food for thought for those who in the heat of frenzied aggressive rhetoric try to threaten our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I think we've all seen exactly whose country is being threatened. Millions of Ukrainians slaughtered, their homes, hospitals and kindergartens destroyed. Bodies left in the streets where they died. All because of Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war on a sovereign country.
And some Russians seem to have had enough. One Russian billionaire actually blasting the war and calling on the west to, quote, "stop this massacre." Oleg Tinkov who was sanctioned by the west last month writing on Instagram and I quote here, "I don't see a single beneficiary of this insane war. Innocent people and soldiers are dying. Generals waking up with a hangover have realized they have a shit army. And how could the army be good when everything else in the country is mired in nepotism, groveling and servility?"
Strong words. So tonight, we begin with CNN's Matt Rivers with more on the desperate situation for tens of thousands of people trapped in Mariupol.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Azovstal steel plant housing Mariupol's last line of defense. If the defenders here fall, so goes the city. A few days ago, George Kurparashvili says he was right in the heart of the fight.
GEORGE KURPARASHVILI, AZOV BATTALION COMMANDER: Honestly, I'll tell you I've never seen such a brutal devastating war. Because Russians just trying to execute the civilians.
RIVERS: He spoke to us via video chat from an undisclosed location. Severely injured during the fighting he says he was smuggled out to recover. He's a Georgian national and a commander in the Azov battalion, one of the few remaining units left defending the city. He says he was among the soldiers fighting the Russians while at the same time taking care of hundreds of civilians sheltering in the area, some of which purportedly seen here in videos CNN can't verify posted on the Ukrainian government's social media.
So how long do you think your group can take care of all those people and yourself?
KURPARASHVILI: That's hard to answer. That's hard to answer for me. Time is short. That's all I can say.
RIVERS: Tens of thousands of citizens in besieged Mariupol still need to be evacuated. On Wednesday a slight glimmer of hope. A humanitarian corridor agreed to by both sides where civilians could evacuate Mariupol heading to Manhush then Berdyansk, and then onward eventually to the Ukrainian held city of Zaporizhzhia. The city's mayor urging people to use it.
He said, dear people of Mariupol, during these long and incredibly difficult days you survived in inhuman conditions. You may have heard different thing, but I want you to know the main thing, they're waiting for you in Zaporizhzhia. It's safe there.
Video from the Mariupol city council shows buses lined up ready to take those who wanted to leave. It's unclear how many got on, but a regional official says fewer people left than he hoped.
For many, leaving is a difficult choice. It requires trusting that the Russian military will not harm those trying to leave, and yet this is the same military that has spent the entire war systematically targeting civilians across the country.
And yet the city has become unlivable. For the military units still resisting, Kurparashvili says they're caring for soldiers and civilians sometimes with the same injuries due to Russian shelling.
KURPARASHVILIL: It's a triage. Child or soldier. And I've seen a lot of times a soldier saying, go ahead, take the child, it's a priority.
RIVERS: A commander inside the steel plant has urged the international community to setup an evacuation route using a third party, another country that might be able to facilitate the transfer of soldiers and civilians to safety. If that doesn't happen, Kurparashvili says Russia will continue the bombardment and it will end only one way.
KURPARASHVILI: There will be no body left in this area. They will be dead, all the children. I'm not talking about the soldiers, but the civilians will be eliminated, and it's going to be on us, the civilized world.
RIVERS: And you know, Don, I asked George if the remaining members of the Azov battalion who are still in Mariupol fighting, would they ever consider surrendering to the Russians, and he said absolutely not. He said that they are so convinced that the Russians hate them so much that if they were to surrender, they have no doubt that the Russians would execute them after they did so. So, as a result he basically said they have two ways out of Mariupol. Either they get evacuated or they die fighting. Don?
LEMON: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Let's bring in now CNN's Ed Lavandera live for us tonight in Kyiv. Ed, hello to. East Ukraine continues -- eastern Ukraine, I should say, continues to see heavy fighting. What's the latest there?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the head of the military regional administration there in the Luhansk region which in the northeast corner of Ukraine says that 80 percent of that region has been taken over by Russian forces, that they are basically just moving through there at will in some situations.
And so, the urges -- the urgent pleas for the remaining of civilians there to evacuate is still going out there. There's believed to be about 70,000 people that still haven't left. And this becomes a very complicated situation for these people. Many civilians believe that they don't really have anywhere to go, nowhere safe to go, at this point.
And so, they choose to remain there, but we have seen constant bombardment and officials there in that region describing relentless bombardment continuing throughout that region about whether or not the Russian forces will be able to sustain this I think is the big question.
Obviously, we saw in northern Ukraine when they were trying to push toward Kyiv they had supply issues, supply chain issues, all those sorts of things. We still haven't seen whether or not they have fixed their ability to correct those problems on the battlefield, and that would play to the Ukrainians hand.
But right now, you're seeing constant bombardment and you're also seeing heavy bombardment on the western front of that southern battlefield down in southern Ukraine around Mykolaiv as well, so the intensity of all of this really heating up, Don.
LEMON: Ed, the president usually releases a message or speaks somehow every single day. What are we hearing from Zelenskyy tonight?
LAVANDERA: Well, tonight he's offering to swap Russian soldiers that have been killed in the battlefield and were never taken away by Russian forces and are essentially still sitting here in Ukraine. Listen to a little bit about what he is offering Russia tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Ukraine is ready for any format of swaps of our people for the Russian troops they left behind. The bodies and the wounded that they abandoned here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: And essentially, what Zelenskyy is talking about there in swapping is that there are believed to be several thousand civilians that were taken out of Mariupol in southeast Ukraine through humanitarian corridor but into Russia, and Zelenskyy is essentially offering a swap of those civilians for the Russian dead here and the wounded.
The Russian military officials have not responded to that. This is all developing here tonight, but I should point out, Don, this is something that you really hear when you travel across Ukraine. Ukrainian military officials really love to point out that so many Russian forces left their wounded behind, left their dead behind.
That is really something that is a rallying cry for a lot of Ukrainian military forces on the front lines. They use that as a way of motivating themselves in a sign that they're on the right side of this battle.
LEMON: All right, Ed Lavandera in Kyiv for us tonight. Ed, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
I want to bring in CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. General, thank you. I appreciate you joining us. Good evening.
Mariupol is in desperate shape now under heavy bombardment. Ukrainian forces continue to resist Russian attacks. What options do Ukrainian forces have? Is there any hope?
MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There's not a whole lot truthfully in Mariupol, Don. You know, the fact of the matter is this has been a fight to the death, and the Ukrainian forces that have been in that sieged city has been -- have been fighting way beyond the normal power of any military force, and in doing so, they have really created a conundrum for the Russians because the Russians keep pouring forces into that.
There is a tactical advantage to doing that. It is taking Russian soldiers off the front line, off of other missions. But unfortunately, because we're not dealing with a nation in a combat situation that would provide humanitarian corridors or relief for the wounded just like Ed pointed out, the Russians don't even want their dead and wounded back.
This is something I learned a long time ago in dealing with the Russians. It's just not something they put a priority on, and it gets to your conversation earlier with Jim Sciutto and the conversations we're overhearing between Russian soldiers about their leaders. It just isn't there. The leaders don't care, and they don't lead.
LEMON: Yes. Well, the U.S. is assessing that Russia hasn't really made any major territorial gains then east so far. But I mean, Russia has added 17 battalion groups in Ukraine just in the last week. Eighty percent of the Luhansk territory is under Russian control. That is according to regional military administration there, by the way.
LEMON: Is Russia learning from the mistakes that they have made early on? That was one of my questions to you and to other military analysts earlier, they're going to learn from the mistakes that they've made.
HERTLING: Well, you know my feelings about Russia's inability to learn going into this operation. You can't fix some of the problems they have. Their biggest problem, Don, is leadership. It's at the senior level, the mid-level and the junior level. There are no sergeants. We've beat that horse to death.
But the fact of the matter is, when you don't have the leaders that the soldiers can trust in, and you don't have supply systems put in place and you don't have a good tactical plan, and you haven't trained on what you're expected to do, you can't turn that around in a short period of time. You can attempt to regenerate units, which Russia has attempted to do, but the trust between soldiers and the trust between soldiers and their leaders just isn't there. It is not a cohesive fighting force.
They may put soldiers on the battlefield. They may be able to attack in small groups and we're seeing that, but they will not be able to sustain themselves in any large-scale maneuver or anything that takes dedication and sacrifice.
LEMON: The Ukrainian air force, though, has added about 20 more operational aircraft due to an influx of spare parts and that is according to a U.S. defense official. So how significant is that for Ukraine?
HERTLING: That's going to help. It's certainly is something the Ukrainian air force has been masterful. Again, I hate to keep saying this. The Russian air force has been horrible. They are dropping dumb bombs. Takes no skill to do that. It takes skill to fly the airplane and then just release the trigger on a target, and if you don't hit it, you're going to hit something else because they're just dropping on big cities and they're killing civilians.
But what we've seen, some of the after actions are already showing that the Russian air force is fearful of going beyond the forward line of troops, the area that is controlled by the Russians because they're afraid of what they have already had affect them, and that's the Ukrainian air defense systems.
They're doing very good. They are flying low, but they don't want to get out in front of their own troops because they're afraid they'll be shot down. Again, it's -- it's an indicator of Russian pilots who have not had many flight hours of training, have not conducted operations or exercise to prepare them for combat. You never -- Don, there's an old saying in the army. You never want to see something for the first time in combat. If you don't train on it, if don't prepare for it and conduct exercises, you're going to lose and you are going to lose badly.
LEMON: Thank you, General. I appreciate it. We'll see you soon.
HERTLING: All right. LEMON: President Zelenskyy warning the death and destruction in Mariupol may be worse than anything we have seen, and promising to bring any Russian who commits war crimes to justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENSKYY (through translator): We will do everything we can to bring justice to every Russian military and commander guilty of war crimes. Modern technology allows you to clarify many details, every surname, every home address, every bank account, we will find everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying 120,000 people remain trapped in Mariupol amid the brutal siege and constant shelling, but he says Ukrainian troops will not surrender and they need heavier weapons to beat back the Russians in Mariupol. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say Russia's made no territorial gains in the Donbas region despite its offensive.
Lots to discuss tonight with Ambassador William Taylor, a former ambassador to Ukraine. Always a pleasure to have you on, sir. Good evening.
WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Good evening, Don.
LEMON: So, Ambassador, Ukraine is trying to negotiate a way out for the trapped citizens in Mariupol. Is there a chance here to save them? Will Russia agree to that?
TAYLOR: So, Don, the Russians have not yet agreed to anything. They've apparently said they were going to allow at least civilians out. They talked about these humanitarian corridors a couple of times. When they try to -- when the Ukrainians try to organize these with caravans of buses or even cars leaving the city, they get shelled.
So, there's no reason to -- to trust the Russians when they say that they're going to allow these types of things to happen. That said, if it's possible to save some people's lives, Ukrainians are obviously eager to do that.
LEMON: Ukraine -- Ukrainian forces are repelling Russian attacks in the Donbas regions. Talk about why the Donbas is so important to Putin.
TAYLOR: So, Don, Donbas is now the -- the focus of President Putin's revised down goals. As we know he thought that he could take Kyiv very quickly, and he failed because the Ukrainian military fought really hard, much harder than he expected and Putin expected. And his own troops did much less well, did poorly than President Putin expected. So, he down sized his goal. His goal instead of trying to take Kyiv
and thus trying to take the whole country, he's focused on one part of the country of Ukraine that he's been in for eight years. We remember that he invaded Ukraine in 2014 first in Crimea and then in Donbas. And so, he wants to have something that he can tell his people that he got.
And they've made some progress, let's be clear. He made some progress in the south, but the Ukrainians have been there fighting and have dug in for eight years, and they know how to defend that area. So, it's going to be -- it's going to be a tough battle.
LEMON: Ambassador Taylor, the ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee, Michael McCaul, says that neighboring countries like Poland and Romania, that they're concerned Putin won't stop at Ukraine. Watch this and we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX): They're very worried still about Odessa, that Putin will not give up. And that's what we heard from the prime minister of Romania who was secretary of defense previously, that he's all in. This is going to be something he's going to put everything he has to extend this land bridge even past Crimea to Odessa. Then he could go into Moldova where he has 8,000 troops there and they're up on the border of Romania. That's the worst-case scenario.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: He says that, as he said the worst-case scenario. Is it likely? I mean, do you see Putin stopping at Ukraine?
TAYLOR: If Putin is allowed to take Ukraine, then no. His next target will be Eastern Europe and Romania, the Pols, the Latvians, Lithuanians, the Estonians will be very vulnerable. If, on the other hand, Ukraine win, as I think they will, Don, I still think that the Ukrainians will win this fight against the Russians, the Russians will be pushed back away from NATO.
It will be better for Ukraine obviously, but it'll also be better for NATO and therefore better for the United States. We won't be -- we won't be vulnerable to attacks from Russians right on the border. So, I think this undermines the importance of Ukrainians winning this fight.
LEMON: This bizarre I don't know what you call it bizarre, if it's ratcheting up or whatever it is, but this is Russia's military carrying out a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. And John Kirby at the Pentagon said that the U.S. was notified ahead of time and testing like this is routine, but what message is Putin sending to the world and really to the Russian people?
TAYLOR: He's trying to project power. He's trying to project the fact that they've got nuclear weapons. Well, we know that. It's very clear that the Russians have nuclear weapons. This is not something new or surprising or really intimidating. So, this is kind of an empty gesture, it seems to me, Don.
LEMON: An empty gesture. All right, thank you. I mean, concerning nonetheless that, you know -- let's move on. I just -- I want to get your reaction to this.
This is a Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkov blasting the war in Ukraine on social media calling on the west to do more to stop the massacre and criticizing the army and Putin. Is this going to have any impact on Putin? He says this is a bizarre war, there's nothing in it for anyone. And I'm paraphrasing here. So, what do you think this is going to do with Putin?
TAYLOR: It's a good question. It's a good question. And so, a lot of these sanctions as you know we've been putting on oligarchs, on people around Putin, families, that's designed to put pressure on the people right around President Putin and President Putin himself as we know, his daughters because that's where a lot of his wealth is.
But that sounds like it's starting to get through to these people. And that's the message. That's exactly the reason for putting these sanctions on so that President Putin starts to feel from the people right around him the pressure. He should be feeling the pressure that putting on -- that the sanctions are putting on all Russians. Not clear that he cares about all Russians, but he might care about the people right around him, and so this is a good indication that these oligarchs are beginning to feel the pain.
LEMON: And this billionaire says that the west should give Putin a clear exit so he can save face. I mean, we have seen the war crimes already and we saw what happened, right, with the intercontinental ballistic missile, the testing today. Like he needs something to save face and to really show that he's big and bad. Is a clear exit an option at this point? And what would that even look like, Ambassador?
TAYLOR: What would that even look like? Don, you're exactly right. We have no business. We have no necessity to save his face. This man is totally responsible. Putin is totally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, military and civilian, the deaths of probably tens of thousands of Russian militaries which are now going back to be buried in towns and villages across Russia.
He's responsible for this, so I find that -- I find it disgusting to be talking about saving his face. This is not something that we should be trying to do.
LEMON: Thank you, Ambassador. Always a pleasure.
TAYLOR: Don, good talking to you.
LEMON: Their homes destroyed. Their bodies wounded but they say that they're lucky to have survived. Ukrainian civilians speak to CNN about their encounters with Russian soldiers. That's next.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Tonight, as Russian forces intensify their assault on eastern Ukraine an official in Luhansk says 80 percent of his region's territory is under Russian control and that Russia's military is destroying everything in its path. And we're learning more about the brutality Russian soldiers inflicted on Ukrainian civilians when they occupied areas around Kyiv.
Here's CNN's Phil Black.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Andrey Bychenko says his life will be forever split in two before and after the day the Russians came.
He remembers the skies over his home in Hostomel near Kyiv suddenly swarming with dozens of attack helicopters.
He says they flew in a low formation like they were on parade, and soon after, he says, Russian ground forces approached his home. This is where he says they opened fire from a distance. An explosive round landed close by fracturing his leg. Shrapnel piercing much of his body. But Andrey says he was lucky he got to hospital. Before the Russians work out, he used to fight pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
He says many veterans from the east were deliberately killed during the occupation. "If I had not been wounded, I would have been shot, too," he says. Vasiliy Hylko also survived Russia's occupation but at great cost. Vasiliy was sacked by the Russian numbers and firepower that rolled into (Inaudible), a tiny village northeast of the capital. "So many tanks passed," he said. "So much ammunition. Every house had 20 soldiers occupying it including the house where he, his neighbors and family were sheltering. They stayed in the basement. The Russians moved in above."
One night, Vasiliy says four drunk soldiers pushed open the basement door and screamed, everyone out by the count of 10 or all will be killed. Vasiliy says women were screaming, children crying, and as he was the last one through the door, he was blasted from behind with a shotgun. He says nothing was left of the leg, all bones destroyed, just a puddle of blood in minutes.
He says two days later some Russian soldiers helped him get to hospital. He still thinks they're beasts, not people. The Russian invasion of areas around Kyiv violently interrupted and ended many people's lives, and some would somehow survive brutal encounters leaving them forever changed.
BLACK: Don, the thing you really notice when you talk to meet survivors like these, is they are still deeply shocked. They often speak very softly when they try to explain, try to understand what it is they've lived through recently, but especially those who have experienced the casual cruelty, the willingness to indulge in grotesque violence that has come to define Russia's temporary occupation of these communities around Kyiv. Don?
LEMON: Phil Black, thank you very much for that.
A new toxic trend in politics, accusing your opponents of pedophilia, seriously. Just spreading lies about anyone who disagrees with you. Stay with us.
LEMON: So, we've got more on a story that we first brought you last night. Remember a Michigan state Senator Mallory McMurray -- McMorrow, excuse me, who fought back against outrageous accusations of grooming and pedophilia? Here's part of her viral speech, watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALLORY MCMORROW (D), MEMBER, MICHIGAN STATE SENATE: You can't claim that you are targeting marginalized kids in the name of, quote, "parental rights if another parent is standing up to say no." So, then what? Then you dehumanize and marginalize me. You say that I'm one of them. You say she's a groomer, she supports pedophilia. She wants children to believe that they were responsible for slavery and to feel bad about themselves because they're white.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I would suggest you go on cnn.com and look at her entire speech. It is extraordinary. Her colleague who levied those accusations, State Senator Lana Theis responding today in a statement, and she says, I quote, "Senator McMorrow is not naive about politics and fund-raising. I know that because it took her mere minutes to her to turn her Senate speech into a plea for campaign donations. I'll keep my focus on Michigan parents who Democrats are seeking to undermine as a primary decisionmakers in the education of their children."
No apology for baseless claims of grooming. Nothing about that. Just more insults. Joining me now is CNN political commentator David Axelrod. David, good evening. Where -- what is going on? Where are we?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to see you, Don. Well, look, we're seeing these issues weaponized all over the country, and what was extraordinary about this was that the senator took what was a caricature and one that we've now become familiar with, and she -- and she responded forcefully and turned what was a caricature into a character issue about the people -- the person that was leveling the charges, and I think people saw someone who was very accessible, very relatable, a mother, a Christian, as she said, outraged about this. And I thought it was a really effective rebuttal. But where we are is we see all over the country these kinds of attacks
being leveled. There is profit in it. I think Republicans see profit in it certainly within their own party. You see what's happening in Florida. And so, you know, I don't think it's going to stop. But it is more likely to stop or at least slow down if people like Senator McMorrow stand up and forcefully call out lies and do it with the sense of personal outrage that we saw.
LEMON: She said -- she said I'm a straight white suburban Christian mother, and she said that there needed to be more people like her standing up. It really -- it's a stunning take down from her.
Do you think we need to see more of this kind of push back against the fringe right who want to spread lies about anyone who disagrees with them?
AXELROD: Absolutely. I think that, you know, what -- who was it who said that a lie travels halfway across the world before the truth gets its boots on. That was before the internet age. Now a lie travels across the world in a matter of milliseconds. And if you don't challenge it, people will believe it.
And so, I do think that it's important to do it and to do it in the way that she did. To say here is who I am. I am not this caricature that you're trying to create in order to raise money online. This is who I am. This is what I believe. I believe we should teach history in schools. I believe we should be kind to -- to children whatever their particular circumstance or background.
And yes, I think there needs to be more of that. You know, I don't think that Democrats can be in a field position and take that any more than Republicans would be if the shoe were on the other foot.
LEMON: So, Theis is accusing McMorrow of using her speech to solicit donations when the accusations that she levied against McMorrow were sent out in a fund-raising e-mail, the amount of theater here is just really absurd, no?
AXELROD: No, absolutely. And I mean, I think she was responding. She was wounded by that attack by Senator McMorrow so she tried to turn it around, but those kinds of charges if they spread will be used against Senator McMorrow. And if people feel strongly about what they heard they probably will support her candidacy, and that's the way politics is.
But clearly, the other senator who level these charges in her own fund-raising did so cynically in the first place, and yes, it's cynical in response to accuse her of -- Senator McMorrow of using this for fund-raiser purposes.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, this is all strategy. Right? In a way it has nothing to do with what they're saying it is. This is really a political strategy. But it is dangerous, it's toxic, but it's a very potent political strategy the GOP is using. This is a boogeyman like, you know, critical race theory, LGBTQ issues in schools to gin up support, but are those the issues that are going to resonate with most voters when there are other pressing issues that people really care about that really affect people like real issues like the economy?
AXELROD: No. I think it's a really good point, Don. And one of the things that the Republicans are trying to say is that Democrats are absorbed with these issues, that Democrats are pushing these agendas in the schools and so on. And a subtext of all of this is they're doing these -- these kinds of crazy left-wing destructive things that threaten our children, and they're not focusing on the things that we care about and the things that are important to you.
I think Democrats have the opportunity to turn that argument around here because these are not the issues that people are talking about around their kitchen table. They're talking about the cost of living. They're talking about whether their kids can afford an education or buy a house or any number of other things that are going on in their lives.
And I think that to the extent that Republicans become -- you know, entranced with these issues as a weapon, Democrats have the opportunity to say this is what they're focused on, this is what I'm focused on. I'm focused on how you're -- how we're going to deal with your grocery bills, how we're going to deal with, you know, your gas prices and so on.
I think most Democrats understand that, and look, Don, we should also say Democrats didn't help themselves in the last election. Words like defund police even if they were spoken by a few were amplified by the Republicans to caricature the Democratic Party as socialism was a word used to -- and in swing districts it was really powerful. So, Democrats need to be aware of that as well.
LEMON: Yes. So where do you think the line is, though, David, between combating this nonsense from the -- I don't know if it's the fringe right now because so many people are using it, and it doesn't seem like, you know, quote, unquote "sensible Republicans are even pushing back." But this sort of nonsense and Democrats, you know, falling into a trap of allowing themselves to be labeled as too woke or too far left as you mentioned with defund the police, et cetera.
AXELROD: Well, look, I think that that speech was sort of a prototype of how to respond, and you need to see more of that. But as I also said you also need to see an awareness on the part of Democrats not to allow themselves to be even inadvertently fitted into that box.
And, you know, I -- I do think that you want to talk about the things that are meaningful in people's lives and make them understand that's what motivates you as well. That's what both parties should be doing.
So, in responding to these attacks, you don't want to make that the focus of what you're doing. It does create the question of what are these other people about. And I think that is an offensive weapon for Democrats. But ultimately, these quality-of-life issues that, you know, that go
to whether you can afford the basics that you need and what the future likes for your kids and do you feel safe and so on, those are issues that are much more motivational to people in elections.
LEMON: All right. David, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. See you soon.
AXELROD: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: The CDC says wear a mask and they're going to court over it. Stay with us.
LEMON: Tonight, the Department of Justice announcing plans to appeal a court ruling striking down the federal mask mandate for travelers at the CDC's request. The CDC says masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.
The decision coming as the nationwide mandate was set to expire in two weeks and community transmission is low across most parts of the country.
Tonight, CNN reports the legal effort is less about the current COVID- 19 conditions and more about trying to preserve the CDC's authority in the future. The case could make its way to the Supreme Court where conservative justices have been ruling against COVID-19 measures since the start of the pandemic.
Up next, plan b. Fareed Zakaria says Putin's plan a, in Ukraine, failed, and he's got a warning about this new phase. We'll tell you about that plan right after this.