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April Jobs Report; Evacuations from Mariupol Amid Fighting; Russia Blocking Civilians in Kherson; Wesley Clark is Interviewed about the War in Ukraine; Esper's New Book. Aired 9:00-9:30a ET

Aired May 06, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


SCIUTTO: We begin with breaking news this morning. The U.S. economy added 428,000 jobs in April, nearly half a million. That number slightly better than expected. It marks the 12th straight month that the U.S. added 400,000 jobs or more.

HILL: CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joining us now.

So, we look at this. These numbers are great, as you said to me in the break. This would be the biggest thing ever.


HILL: In normal times, right? So, what do they tell us now about the state of the economic recovery?

ROMANS: Well, they tell us that companies are still hiring aggressively. You know, another 428,000. When you look over the past year, I mean, hiring has slowed a tiny bit from where it was earlier this year, but these are still strong numbers. The unemployment rate, 3.6 percent. And 3.5 percent was the level it was before this crisis began.

Whether you look at a chart of the unemployment rate, you can really see, you two, how dramatically this has changed. It has come down from that peak of almost 15 percent. And now down to 3.6 percent. That is a good level.

And I saw hiring across the board here in leisure and hospitality. You saw it in banking. Financial -- the financial sector, employment in the financial sector is bigger today than it was before the crisis began. That is one area that has more than recovered.

Manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, moving stuff, trying to figure out how to get oil out of the ground, quite frankly, and move goods because the American consumer is aggressively, aggressively buying things. And that is moving this economy along. Just to give you a quick note on wages, 5.5 percent was the wage

growth year over year. That's, in normal times, that would be an unbelievable paycheck, you know, right, a paycheck -- pop in your paycheck. But we know that inflation is still a problem. And so after -- after the -- after inflation those wages don't feel so great.

HILL: Right. There's an asterisk on everything right now like --

ROMANS: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: So, Christine Romans, folks at home, and I'm one of them, right, might say, how do I square the circle, because the job market remains really strong, yet inflation is up. Interest rates are going up because of that stock market had one of its worst days in weeks yesterday. I suppose the question is, which is more lasting. Is the inflation problem more lasting, or is the inherent strength of the economy, as shown by the job market, more lasting?

ROMANS: So, the job market, I think, a lot of economists, including Mark Zandi at Moody's earlier today told me that you want to see the job growth slow a little bit here because you don't want the job market to be so strong and wages rising so quickly that that actually adds to the inflation picture. So it would be -- it would be a welcome relief, actually, to see the job market slow here just a little bit. It's still very robust. You've got 11 million open jobs in this country right now. I mean that's really something, the number of open jobs.

You have the Fed raising interest rates, Jim, because the Fed's trying to cool off a very strong American economy so they can try to tamp down on inflation. So, a lot of different cross currents here.

What's really important is that the Fed gets this right, right, that it continues to raise interest rates at a pace that will, you know, slow down inflation here and not tip the American economy into a recession. So, these are really I would say dangerous cross currents right now in the American economy. It has been a very strong couple of years, and now we have a lot to face, including inflation, the war in Ukraine, these shutdowns -- Covid shutdowns in China. All of this playing into a picture here that is a global picture of inflation that's been really hard to break the back of.

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes, hard for the Fed to, I imagine, to reach that goldilocks standard on all this.

Christine Romans, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Let's turn now to the ongoing war in Ukraine. There's lots of news this morning.

Right now desperate attempts still underway to get hundreds of civilians still stranded in Mariupol to safety. This morning, officials say the next stage of the evacuation of the Azovstal steel plant is underway. This after more than 300 evacuees from the Mariupol area, not just

from the steel plant, but from the area as a whole, arrived in the city of Zaporizhzhia Wednesday. This while Ukraine is intensifying its push to get civilians out. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the shelling of the steel plant is not stopping. And you see evidence of that in the pictures we're showing you right now. Remember, under that plant, hundreds of women and children still sheltering.

HILL: Meantime, in the east and the south, the Ukrainian military reported fewer Russian ground attacks in the last 24 hours, though did say there have been persistent shelling in many places along the front lines.


And as all of this is unfolding, we're also learning some new details this morning about how the U.S. is helping Ukraine. Sources tell CNN the U.S. helped confirm the identity of Russia's prized warship before Ukraine successfully targeted it with anti-ship cruise missiles last month.

Now, we should note, the Pentagon has denied providing any specific targeting information.

I want to begin with CNN's senior correspondent, Sara Sidner, who's joining us now from Ukraine.

So, Sara, this as we look at what's happening. There's so much focus on Mariupol because it has been this weeks' long effort to get people out to safety. Where do we stand on the possibility of evacuations today?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica and Jim, all eyes are on Mariupol. And there's a reason for that. It's because of the intense fighting that continues there. Bloody battles according to commanders there are unfolding on an hourly basis there as Ukrainian forces try to repel Russian forces, who, by the way, had said just a day ago that they were going to have a cease-fire to allow those hundreds of people who were stuck under that maze of dark, dank bunkers underneath the Azovstal steel plant, allow them a safe passage. Well, that clearly has not happened. And the commander talking about more lies being told by Russia and putting these civilians in danger who have been there for weeks on end, in the worst kinds of conditions with little food, little water, dank (ph) conditions underneath there that are dark.

We are hearing also from those who have survived all of this. You heard, Jim, talking about the 300 people who have finally been rescued, been taken out with the help of the U.N., the International Red Cross and Ukrainian officials. And they are telling some really dire stories about what it is like as they think that they're going to die on a regular basis because the bombardments are so incredibly intense. Those bombardments from Russia have not stopped. The fighting by the Ukrainian forces has been fierce and, at some point, Russians were able to gain access inside of that steel plant. The fear is unimaginable in that plant for those civilians whose

children are also with them, some of them, at least 30 children were in there, according to the mayor of Mariupol. It is a terrible situation for the civilians, and, frankly, for the soldiers trying to repel the Russians as they focus much of their attention on that area and on that plant in Mariupol.


SIDNER: Erica and Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we should note, Russia has had multiple opportunities over the last several weeks to allow the civilians out, both in the steel plant and Mariupol. They have not allowed that. And that appears to be part of the plan to help squeeze that city. Something we should be conscious of.

Sara Sidner in Kyiv, thanks so much.

So, as Russia attempts to expand its offensive in southern Ukraine, the east as well, we are getting new details on what life is like for Ukrainians now living in areas occupied by the Russian military.

CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is in the Kherson region, one of those captured areas, with more.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Here in Ukraine's south, multiple areas now held by the Russians. Some for a matter of months. And we've seen people emerging in large numbers out of Kherson, still using intermittent gaps, it seems, in the Russian control of checkpoints. Some days it's impossible in the cars queue for tens of miles. Other days they're just waved through.

But in Kherson itself, we've just heard that officials, Ukrainian officials, are concerned that those trying to leave are indeed being abused. It's increasingly hard, it seems, to get out and there are increasing signs of Russian elements in daily life there.

The internet taken down now, back up. Locals telling us you may indeed even need to get a Russian passport to get a Russian sim card to operate on future cell phone services there. And also, too, the Russian ruble having been in evidence there as a currency since the weekend.

Too, though, in the heavily besieged city of Mariupol, where still as intense fire fights happening around the Azovstal steel plant. In the areas the Russians do control, they appear, according to sources there, to be trying to restore monuments of Soviet glory. The clinched fists with a flame coming from it symbolizing the Soviet fight against the Nazis and also too a Russian flag said to be flying over a key hospital there. These bids, it seems, by Russia to stamp its mark on territories it's taken in Ukraine, possibly ahead of Sunday's key -- sorry, Monday's key victory day parade. Unclear what this is doing for the local population since being part of Ukraine, but certainly a bid by Moscow to suggest that it's got some sort of progress in these months of war.


HILL: Nick Paton Walsh with the latest for us. Nick, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to discuss, retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.

General, always good to have you back.


SCIUTTO: I wonder, when we have you on I always like to ask you big picture questions first about the state of the war.


And it struct me on my most recent trip there that there's sort of a static kind of quality that's -- that characterizes the battle in the east now, that those blinds aren't moving significantly in either direction. Lots of fire going back and forth.

Do you see that as something is going to last some time now, or do you see the Ukrainians able to push back, or the Russians able to push through?

CLARK: Well, it's still a logistics battle, a reconstitution battle, and an effort to obtain superiority by the Russians, sufficient to make the breakthrough cut off the Ukrainian forces and seize Donbas. They just haven't been able to do it. Ukraine defense has been really effective. They've been flexible. They've been agile. They come in, in some cases, on the flanks behind the Russian columns. They've cut them off. Artillery fire from Ukraine has been pretty good, even though they've been outnumbered, and the Russians fall back on artillery. And when they get resistance, they just fire the artillery and soak it, the area, and think they've eliminated the Ukrainians. So it's a back and forth every day battle. Every day. And at any time there could be a breakthrough. We -- just -- it's just a tough fight.

HILL: I also want to ask you about this intelligence. Obviously, U.S. intelligence has been in the headlines a lot this week. CNN reporting that in fact U.S. intel did provide specific targeting information to the Ukrainians to sink Russia's flagship, the Moskva, as we know. That was denied. You know, John Kirby, on this morning with Brianna Keilar, said -- wouldn't confirm the reporting, saying only that the intel is legal and lawful.

What I found interesting, too, is that he said hashing this out, right, in public isn't helpful. I'm curious, from your perspective, is that more of a traditional spokesperson talk point, hey, we're not going to talk about this, you're making this worse, or, based on your experience, is that a legitimate concern in this battle?

CLARK: Well, I think that, in this case, and in the battle of this ship, I think that what the United States is saying is that they did confirm that it was a Russian ship. I think it's only common sense that the Ukrainians went with their sources and said, we detected a large combatant off shore, we want to confirm what it is before we target it for destruction. And I think that made a lot of sense.

There's, obviously, some sharing of intelligence back and forth. How much we don't know. The Pentagon says they're doing more now, but there's always been a concern about revealing sources and methods to the Ukrainians that could be shipped out to the Russians by a surprise inside the Ukrainian organization and so forth.

So, it's a very touchy, sensitive area. And it is something that the Ukrainians need. The more we can give intel, real time, actual intelligence to them, the more effective their resistance to the Russian invasion is going to be. And just step back for a second and think about this. On the 24th of February, Russia, led by Putin, invaded a completely innocent country that was just there, no provocation. And now they're trying to eradicate Ukraine. It is the most outrageous thing in the 21st century to see this going on. And reported every day. And the world can't stop it.

SCIUTTO: It's an important remind. Each of these steps, illegal under international law. There's no question about that.

General Wesley Clark, stay with us.

We do also want to talk about explosive excerpts from a new book by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper. He served under Trump. He is pulling back the curtain on his dealings with Trump. And he says Trump once suggested launching missiles, missiles, U.S. missiles, at drug cartels in Mexico.

HILL: Plus, another emotional day of testimony. Amber Heard leveling new abuse allegations against Johnny Depp. His team now firing back publicly.

Also ahead this hour, the woman who has long been rumored to be Vladimir Putin's girlfriend could be part of the next round of EU sanctions. Details on the continued crackdown on Russia's elite.

Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: The former defense secretary, Mark Esper, says that then President Donald Trump wanted to bomb drug cartels in Mexico. "The New York Times" has just published stunning revelations from Esper's new book explaining how Trump proposed firing missiles at drug labs in Mexico to attempt to stop drugs from flowing into the U.S. That's right, firing missiles at a U.S. neighbor and ally, Mexico.

HILL: When Esper pushed back, he recounts President Trump saying, we could just shoot some patriot missiles, take out the labs quietly, adding, no one would know it was us.

CNN military analyst General Wesley Clark is back with us. Also joining us is Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor for "The Atlantic."

What's interesting in all of these accounts, there is, I mean, frankly, the craziness of the missile account as we know. It's not the only one that's in there.

But what also stood out to me from this in "The New York Times: is Esper warning his subordinates to be on high alert for unusual calls from the White House in the leadup to the election.

Ron, given where we are at this point, with all the revelations that we've heard, with all the accounts that have come out since Donald Trump left office, do they still shock at this point and what is the real purpose they're serving for us?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think they should shock and they do shock because, as you know, I mean, this isn't the only revelation in the book that the president urged him to have the U.S. military shoot demonstrators on the streets of American cities, that the president behaves so erratically in one meeting that a senior military officer felt compelled to research the 25th Amendment, you know, regarding the removal of a president unfit and incapable of serving.


You know, it was really striking to me that these revelations came out only a couple days after a conservative scholar wrote an opinion piece this week saying everything else about Trump's behavior was acceptable. It was OK. It was justifiable because he appointed the justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

You know, and this gives you, I think, an indication, a kind of a measuring stick of just how much risk so many in the Republican Party have been willing to expose the country and the world to because they believe Trump has picked the lock on the Electoral College and is able to turn out a coalition that will give them the power to do everything else they want.

SCIUTTO: The timing of this, and we faced this before, General Clark. Esper told our colleague Jake Tapper last year he wrote this book so the American people deserve a full and unvarnished history of the last presidency. But a year and a half later, not while he was in office, not before, for instance, the second impeachment trial, John Bolton did the same thing, refused to testify in the first impeachment trial on Ukraine but published a book afterwards, after the fact.

Is that dereliction of duty not to stand up and be counted as it's happening, or at a time when there would be consequences other than just headlines?

CLARK: I think he should have stood up and reported this and helped the American people, because that is his responsibility. Remember, these are constitute -- these are men who are approved by the United States Senate. They're confirmed. They're not just an average government employee. Now, they are political appointees, but the truth is that they can

only serve the country by being honest, having integrity, and speaking out. And I think anybody at -- by January would have understood exactly how this situation was, who didn't have to wait for a book to be published.

That having been said, I think Mark Esper did a good job while he was in office in blocking these things. I just wish he'd been more forthcoming to communicate with the American public and fulfill responsibilities reporting to the Congress on -- while he was still in office and it could make a difference.


HILL: Ron, what do you think that -- I mean bigger picture, right, what is that impact then moving forward for that lack, right, of saying something at the time.


HILL: I mean Esper said, you know, he felt this real act of service was staying in this post to ensure such things didn't come to pass. But as General Clark points out, not going to Congress, not saying anything. What does that set up in terms of norms, if you will?


BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, look, I agree with General Clark, it is kind of astonishing that the defense secretary, for all the other admirable actions that may be detailed in this book, was wiling to let the American people decide whether to give Donald Trump four more years as commander in chief without offering any of this pretty shocking information about how he exercised the power in the first place.

Look, I think this -- you know, I can imagine there are going to be weeks now in which Republican senators and House members and Kevin McCarthy may be at the front of the line are going to tell reporters that they haven't had time to read the book, or they haven't seen the quotes, or they don't know, don't ask -- you know, don't ask, don't tell, because they don't want to confront the implications of all of the information that is -- that is coming out. You know, Susan Collins famously said that Donald Trump learned a pretty big lesson from his first impeachment. And you see in this book that Secretary Esper says the lesson he learned was to become even more erratic and more willful.

So, I do think the question here is whether we saw evidence again this week in the Ohio primary that Donald Trump remains the dominant figure in the Republican primary. He -- his coalition is the majority of the party. But, certainly, anyone looking at the revelations that have come out, not only in this book but others, have to have serious doubts about entrusting him with the power of the commander in chief. And are there any Republicans not named Kinzinger or Cheney who will acknowledge that or even acknowledge hearing about this in the weeks ahead.

SCIUTTO: Well, another line from Esper's book is, I mean he says straight out, he's not -- he's not capable of or worthy of the office.

One quick, final thing. Esper's book also details an episode -- and this one from Trump's former senior adviser, Steven Miller, who still also maintains enormous power within the party, that he suggested taking the former ISIS leader, al Baghdadi's head, dipping it in pig's blood and parading it around to warn other terrorists.

You fought a lot of tough wars. You've been very forward leaning about the need to attack and confront ISIS. Tell me what that would have done to U.S. interests in the region.


CLARK: That would not have helped us at all.

But I want to come back, Jim and Erica, if I could, to just one point you make about Esper.

Look, he's listed all these -- all these episodes, but you have to ask, was there any single one episode that would have been so egregious by the president that he should have resigned over it? And I guess in his view, as he looked at it, he adds it up after he's come out of offices and said, this guy shouldn't have been president, can't trust him. But there wasn't a single triggering event.

This is the case -- I mean this is what happens to people who have been in uniform, who have a concept of duty, other things. I'm not trying to excuse everything, but I do think you have to explain exactly why someone comes out with a memoir like this, with all these episodes and people are like, my God, how could you work like that? Because you know it's sort of crazy and bizarre and you think, I'm going to -- the next time he does something I'll get out of there, but then he -- it's not quite at the level that is treason. You see what I'm saying.

So, it's a tough thing. And he has -- as Ron said, he's warned the American people about what happens. Let's see if they listen.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, for some, I mean because we've heard the tapes, even for Kevin McCarthy, that they were considering that January 6th was that moment, right, and then pulled back.

General Wesley Clark, Ron Brownstein, thanks so much.

HILL: Still to come here this hour, while Amber Heard testified nothing she did could make her ex-husband Johnny Depp stop hitting her, his team says the looming cross examination will be very revealing. We'll have more on Heard's emotional testimony, next.