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Intense Fighting in Mariupol; Missile Strikes Residential Area in Kramatorsk; Dana Pittard is Interviewed about Ukraine; McCarthy Audio Talks about 25th Amendment. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 05, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Unrelenting attacks on Mariupol. Overnight, Russian forces bombarding Ukrainian troops and civilians in the city's last line of defense. As one official says, if there is hell in the world, it is in Azovstal.

Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now a bloody battle rages on in that Azovstal steel plant compound in Mariupol. Overnight, Russian forces breached the complex, intensifying their assault with the support of Russian aircraft. A commander barricaded inside that plant says that Russia has violated a truce pledge and did not allow civilians to evacuate. Hundreds, including dozens of children, remain trapped there. Among them as well, Ukrainian soldiers desperately fighting for their lives.


SINGING (through translator): It is sweeter for us to die in battle than to live in chains as dumb slaves.


SCIUTTO: They've been there for weeks now in that basement.

Earlier, new strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Incredible new video shows the moment a bridge in the city of Dnipro was hit. You saw the explosion there. And in Kramatorsk, also in the east, the first Russian air strikes in a month have devastated a residential area. That is a consistent thing we've seen in this war, deliberate attacks on civilian targets. At least 25 people wounded in this attack, six taken to the hospital. Several buildings, including a school and kindergarten, severely damaged. Those are not military targets.

Let's begin this morning with CNN international correspondent Scott McLean. He's reporting from Lviv in western Ukraine.

Scott, the situation in Azovstal, hell is the word that's being used. We have to remind people, there are hundreds of civilians there in addition to the fighters.

This appears to be an attempted, at least, final assault by Russian forces.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and this is the final stand, Jim, for the Ukrainians and the Ukrainian foreign minister said yesterday that Ukrainian troops have managed to so far repel Russian troops and hold on to what he calls the last remaining stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. The Ukrainians continue to say that the Russians are trying to storm the plant from the ground, in addition to the heavy bombardment from the skies. The Russians continue to deny that, though, saying Vladimir Putin has not given the order to storm that plant.

Now, last night the Russians, it seemed, extended an olive branch to the Ukrainians saying that today, tomorrow and Saturday they would allow humanitarian corridors to take people out of the plant. Their troops, they said, would move back, they would cease-fire and those civilians trapped inside would be able to go in any direction they wanted, either toward Russia or back toward Ukrainian territory as well. This would be a second attempt after there was a successful one earlier this week that managed to get more than 100 civilians out from underneath of that plant.

Now, yesterday, President Zelenskyy said that almost 350 people were able to evacuate from the broader city of Mariupol, but that does not include that Azovstal steel plant.

The last we heard from there, as you mentioned, was not good. That overnight there was intense bombardment and then the shelling, really, was nonstop.

Now, we've just gotten word from an Azovstal deputy commander who is at that site, the Azov battalion is leading the fighting from that site, and he says that for the third day in a row, the Russians continue to try to storm that compound from the ground. And he says that this pledge that Russia made that would allow civilians to get out, they have broken it. He is calling on the international community and calling on his own president, Jim, to do anything that he can to get those civilians out and also to get those soldiers out whom he says are dying in agony.

So, at this point, there are no signs at all that any civilians have managed to get out there. And it's, frankly, not looking good for the future either.

SCIUTTO: I mean that's been a plea for weeks now. We should make that clear. And there's really been no progress. And they appear to be surrounded.

Scott McLean, in Lviv, thanks so much.

This morning, Russian forces launched attacks on the Kramatorsk city center. This another major city in the east. For the first time in a month there, officials say 25 people hurt following at least six strikes on, let's be clear, a residential area, this in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region.

CNN's Sam Kiley surveyed the damage to that area earlier today. [09:05:00]


SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Extraordinary, and so is, frankly, the effort being made to clean up already. I mean it's just a few hours ago that these impacts were felt, ripping through these residential buildings.

And I've been on the other side of these buildings. They look the same on this side, next to the blast, as they do on the other side. The blast simply rushed clean through these buildings, tearing them to pieces. Mercifully, there were 25 people have been wounded across the city in three different locations. There was also a blast quite close to the administrative headquarters.

There's only been six people hospitalized and one person is critical. That's in stark contrast to the last time Kramatorsk was hit in earnest about a month ago when the railway station was struck by a surface to surface missile, a long range missile, probably similar to the one that landed here. That killed at least 50 people waiting to try to evacuate from this city.

The consequence, though, of the evacuations, the toll in terms of wounded and dead from these, frankly, atrocities, this is a deliberate targeting with not dumb (ph) bombs. This was not an attack that came from an aircraft. This was clearly a surface-to-surface missile. And the range would indicate that they're guided missiles, not the stupid (ph) missiles, if you like, of multiple rocket launching system, but much more likely the guided missiles that are available to the Russians, such as Iskanda (ph) and similar.

In that context, therefore, this is a deliberate act against Kramatorsk, which is really the strategic prize for the Russians. If they can capture this town, as far as the Putin administration is concerned, it may be a possibility that they could then believe that they've achieved some kind of a victory and maybe stop their advance at this point. But they are at least 25 kilometers away to the north. They're pushing down in various salient around there.

They were also trying to come in from the east. They've had moderate success and some losses around Kharkiv. But this is the ongoing part of their campaign. Pound the civilian areas into submission and then try to occupy the ashes.


Sam Kiley there. And pay attention, what's in common between the strike at that train station in Kramatorsk about a month ago and these today, civilians as targets, civilians as victims. Deliberate.

CNN is also learning new details about the intelligence the U.S. is providing the Ukrainian forces to help them on the battlefield. According to an administration official, the intel includes information about Russian force movements and locations, as well as intercepted communications about Russian military plans. Ukrainian officials are getting it as quickly as 30 minutes to an hour from when the U.S. receives it.

Joining me now to discuss, retired Army Major General Dana Pittard. He is author of the book "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS."

Good to have you back, sir.

I wonder if we could begin on the situation in the Azovstal steel plant because they're surrounded there. They have been for some time. Russian forces tightening the noose. There are still hundreds of civilians, as well as Russian -- rather, Ukrainian forces in there.

Is the fact of the outcome of this assault either death or capture for those that are remaining? Is there a military solution or a humanitarian one with credibility that could avoid that?

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, good morning, Jim.

Well, ideally, there could be a humanitarian solution where a third party could intervene. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

It is encouraging that some civilians are being allowed to actually leave the plant to go through the humanitarian corridors. But the Ukrainian soldiers who have been so courageous in continuing to fight on and not allowing the Russian forces to take the entire plant, they know what's in store for them. It is unlikely that the Russians will allow them to live after they surrender. So that's the problem here.

SCIUTTO: Is it a failure then? They've been asking for relief for weeks, in any way, right? A purely humanitarian way, get the civilians out. Asking for some sort of international guarantee of that, whether that be an organization like the Red Cross or a third country that would supervise it. It hasn't happened. No one stepped up. And yet we're watching what's happening.

I know the limitations. I know that U.S. and NATO officials don't want to get into a war, shooting war with Russia. Was there not a way to save these people's lives short of that?

PITTARD: Of course, I always think that there is a way, that a third country could have possibly gotten involved or NATO itself. It would be very difficult for the Ukrainian forces to try to relieve the pressure on the plant, and the Ukrainian forces that are inside the Azovstal plant have tied down and pinned down so many Russian forces and the Russian forces right now are desperate in some ways to try to get a victory prior to May 9th.


But it is a shame that there is no third-party solution for those brave Ukrainian soldiers.

SCIUTTO: It's sad to watch, and it's playing out before our eyes.

I do want to talk about the intelligence that the U.S. is providing -- been providing Ukrainian forces. This is not new. It's happened throughout the conflict. And it's clearly helped, as have weapons. The shoulder fired anti-tank missiles. The shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, now artillery that is help holding the line in the east.

I remember during the Iraq War that the U.S. was aware that Iran was providing technology for IEDs that the U.S. calculated helped kill 600 U.S. soldiers and wounded many more. And that was considered by some American commanders an act of war in effect.

I wonder, if you're a Russian general, or commander, and you look at not just the weapons supplies but the intelligence shared, do you look at that as an act of war?

PITTARD: Well, the Russians have already said that they consider that the U.S. is fighting a proxy war against Russia. The U.S. providing intelligence is nothing new. Providing the weapons just like other NATO nations have been very, very helpful.

But the Russians -- the way they have operated where their operational security and the military, we'd call that OPSEC (ph), has been so poor, they're a centralized force, the U.S. Army is more decentralized, but if something goes wrong in a campaign or an operation, it takes a higher leader, a higher commander to come down and try to straighten it out. Well, the Russian commanders were frustrated and some of them got on phones. But when you do that, someone's going to hear you. The Ukrainian intelligence has also been pretty amazing. Their human intelligence on the ground. So let's give the Ukrainians some credit for also being able to find those general officers.


And you're right, we've been able to hear some of those intercepted communications among Russian forces as that's been publicly released.

Major General Dana Pittard, thanks so much for joining this morning.

PITTARD: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Next, a newly released tape of the top Republican in the House, one in a series, slamming former President Trump in the wake of the January 6th attack.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Yes, but what the president did is atrocious and totally wrong.


SCIUTTO: So, can Kevin McCarthy continue to lead a party still driven by Trump's ideology?

Plus, actress Amber Heard has her first chance to testify about her marriage to Johnny Depp. Details of the allegations of abuse that she shared on the stand. And later, Alabama authorities say they have received several tips now

about an escaped inmate and the corrections officer who helped break him out of jail six days ago. Why they think the two may be in a new vehicle now.



SCIUTTO: Newly released audio reveals that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wanted to reach out to then President-elect Joe Biden in the days after January 6th in hopes of creating a smooth transition into the White House.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): What the president did is atrocious and totally wrong. I do think the impeachment divides the nation further and continues the fight even greater. That's why I want to reach out to Biden. I wanted the president to meet with Biden, but that's not going to happen. I want to see about us meeting with Biden, sitting down, make a smooth transition to show that and continue to keep those statements going. So hopefully -- I know he's got to talk to Pelosi, then he's going to -- hopefully he calls me today.


SCIUTTO: During that call, McCarthy also appeared so concerned about Trump's role in the Capitol attack that he wanted a faster way to get the former president out of office, then invoking the 25th Amendment. Such a different tune than we're hearing today.

Let's bring in CNN's senior political analyst Kirsten Powers and CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp.

Good to have you both on this morning.

S.E., I wonder, is McCarthy's leadership at all threatened by this, either by his clear contradiction, right, lying, frankly, about what his positions and concerns were, on the one side, but also on the other side you have folks further to the right of him who think that he did not back the president, did not -- I mean does that add up to you as a potential challenge to his leadership?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, he's sort of the Mike Pence of the House. You know, there are no, like, natural Mike Pence supporters. He turned off a lot of moderates who thought he wasn't enough of a stopgap to Trump. And then, you know, he -- I think Trump loyalists really didn't think he went far enough. And Kevin McCarthy faces a similar problem in today's Republican Party, you know, privately lamenting Trump when he doesn't think Trump can hear him and then publicly praising Trump when he thinks Trump is listening. That leaves him trying to please everyone and pleasing no one.

So, it will be really interesting to see if all of this public hard work pays off for him in the form of speakership in November. SCIUTTO: Kirsten Powers, these contradictions clearly concern you and

I and perhaps others watching here. That said, will it concern GOP voters in the fall? Are there political consequences for McCarthy and Republicans for this essential contradiction here.


And, by the way, McCarthy is not alone in this. There are folks who privately will say things about Trump and publicly say things that are different. Does it matter publicly?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think that it does. I think that because he's made peace with Trump and Trump isn't going after him, then I think that he's actually probably going to be OK. These are, you know, another set of tapes. We've had the other, you know, previous tapes that came out where he was saying similar kinds of things. And Donald Trump basically seemed to be fine with it because I think what he cares more about is not what McCarthy believes, but what McCarthy does. And what McCarthy does is cow tow to Donald Trump and went, you know, groveling to him. And that, I think, is much more important to Donald Trump than anything else. And I think that he actually, probably, on some level, likes the fact that a McCarthy showed that he was willing to override his conscience and do Trump's bidding because what these tapes show is that he knew better, right, and he then -- and the only reason he did something different was because he realized he was going to getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump. So, Donald Trump knows he has Kevin McCarthy in his pocket.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and Trump said as much publicly after some of the first revelations here and that they came -- you know, came to -- had a come to Jesus moment, if you want to call it that, afterwards politically.

POWERS: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: I want to actually ask both of you this next question here, and that is, if this kind of thing doesn't have political damage, damaging consequences for Republicans in the fall, what is the Democrat selling point to voters in the fall? Because the we're not Trump clearly not sufficient. They're underwater in virtually every poll on every issue. So what are Democrats running on, can they run on in the fall?

S.E., first to you, then Kirsten.

CUPP: Well, I don't think they can run on the economy, and that's a shame because a lot of people care about it. And I don't think they have a good answer for it. So, you know, in lieu of that, I would tell Democrats, and in talking to Democrats I've said, listen, you need to make the contrast and the question real narrow. Do you want more Marjorie Taylor Greenes, do you want more Madison Cawthorns, more Lauren Boeberts? Do you want less democracy? Because those are the stakes. They're real high. And I think that's a winning message going into -- going into a midterm that is going to be tough for Democrats. I think -- I think Roe v. Wade, frankly, helps Democrats in ways Republicans are keenly aware of. So, they'll have some hope there. But that's the question.

SCIUTTO: I mean you see that, Kirsten, the message Biden was talking about, you know, the GOP is an ultra MAGA agenda. Is that a winning message from Biden and Democrats?

POWERS: Yes, I do think the contrast, if you have to keep it at a pretty high level, which is that because -- because people are upset about the economy, understandably, inflation, even though there are -- you know, there has been some good news about the economy, but people's day to day lives, they're really feeling the pinch. So that makes things very difficult. Also, we have to always remember that, you know, the president's party and the first midterm elections always does badly. So, it was -- it was never going to be great. So, we shouldn't be surprised by Democrats losing seats. It's just a question of how many.

And so I do think casting this contrast of one party is for democracy, and one party isn't. And this is a -- this is a pretty big deal. And I agree with S.E. that Roe v. Wade, you know, if this -- this -- what was leaked is accurate and they end up overturning Roe v. Wade, that that will energize Democratic voters in a way that they might not have otherwise been energized. And it could potentially help. I don't know that it's enough to save the Democrats, but it could mitigate their losses.

SCIUTTO: S.E., just quickly, why is Madison Cawthorn getting the full weight and hate of the Republican Party in ways that other outliers, shall we call them, like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz, are not? Why such a focus on him?

CUPP: Well, I think it's because he's such a -- such a joke. I mean, I don't care about his sexual private life at all, but, you know, this is a guy who vacationed at Hitler's summer home because it was like on his bucket list. This is a guy who routinely breaks the law going into the airport with guns, driving without a license. I mean he's such a joke and such an embarrassment. I wish the Republican Party were equally as embarrassed by Marjorie Taylor Greene and her anti-Semitism and (INAUDIBLE) conspiracy theories, but I think the time has come where no one's really taking Madison Cawthorn seriously anymore. And so there's obviously some concerted effort to get him out.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, Kirsten Powers, S.E. Cupp, we're going to have a lot to talk about coming up to the midterms. Thanks very much.

CUPP: Yes. Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still coming up this hour, gripping testimony from the actress Amber Heard as she takes the stand for the first time in Johnny Depp's defamation trial against her, detailing abuse she says she suffered at her ex-husband's hands. We'll have an update coming up.



SCIUTTO: In just about 30 minutes, Amber Heard will be back on the stand.