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White House Ramping Up Messaging on Roe v. Wade; Mariupol Evacuation Efforts Continue; Strong Jobs Report; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 06, 2022 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Alisyn is off.

So we are waiting right now to learn if additional people, civilians specifically, trapped inside the Azovstal complex in Mariupol, Ukraine, have made it out today. President Zelenskyy said that the Russian shelling of the steel plant has not stopped. And Ukraine has accused Russians -- forces a breaking a cease-fire there.

They say that Vladimir Putin's troops fired and anti-tank weapon at a car that was helping to evacuate civilians. The regiment said one person was killed, six wounded.

Let me turn now to CNN's Scott McLean. He is in Lviv in Western Ukraine.

Scott, I understand you're learning that Russian state media reported some people escaped that steel factory. What do you know?


So, this is according to Russian state media, who says that 25 people have managed to make it out of the steel factory, including five children. There is no video that CNN cannot verify at this stage that shows some smaller buses, people getting off them and getting transferred on to a larger coach.

Now, it was unclear whether this is part of the U.N. and Red Cross effort to get people out. But there are no U.N. vehicles. There's no Red Cross videos -- or vehicles shown in any of these videos.

And so it seems like this is a unilateral effort on the part of Russia. You will recall that Russia had previously said that they would allow civilians to get out of the plant yesterday, today and also tomorrow during -- basically during daylight hours. And so perhaps this is part of that effort.

We have reached out to the Ukrainians. The city council says that -- or the mayor's office, I should say, says that they don't have any information. And the governor of the Donetsk region said that the operation is ongoing, it has started, it hasn't finished yet. And he doesn't want to say anything more, though, until people are safe on Ukrainian-held territory.

And just for a bit of background, Victor, you will recall that the last time there was a successful evacuation -- this was on Sunday -- it was kind of a similar thing. We didn't really get any information. President Zelenskyy announced on a Friday that there was some kind of an operation going in to get civilians at a time when there was heavy fighting.

We didn't really hear anything about it the next day. It wasn't until the Sunday that we got word that people actually had gotten out successfully. Of course, it took them another two days to get through the Russian filtration process and onto Ukrainian soil.

But the important part, obviously, is that people are safe. Still waiting for word of that.

BLACKWELL: Yes, two dozen people or so this time, a small number, but some progress.

Let's broaden this out across more of Mariupol and the signs that Ukrainians are seeing that Russians have taken over much of the city, these symbols of the Soviet area -- era. What do you know?

MCLEAN: Yes, that's right.

So it doesn't seem like the Russians are doing much to rebuild the city, but they are certainly redecorating it, it appears. And so some examples are street signs, or signs going into the city which have been changed from the Ukrainian language into the Russian language. They have put up a new statue of an old lady holding a flag of the Soviet Union.

Some old Soviet era monuments have come back and the list goes on. This is sort of one of these efforts to Russify Mariupol. In other parts of the country, especially along the Black Sea, in Kherson as well, which has long been controlled by the Russians since the war started, they're actually transferring over from the Ukrainian hryvnia, the currency here, to the Russian ruble.

In Kherson, there's a four month trial period. Another village near Crimea, on the other side of the -- on the other side of Crimea, I should say, people have been told that, if they don't want to be paid in rubles, well, they can take two-thirds of their salary.

BLACKWELL: New satellite images also, Scott, of the Mariupol theater.

We know that there were hundreds of people killed there. What do they show?


You will recall this was the theater where the word "Children" was actually spelled out in Russian in two places. They were hoping that that would deter the Russians from actually striking it. They were obviously wrong. There were no targets around there. There were no military targets. And we know that a lot of women and children were sheltering there.

Ukrainian estimates are that 300 people there were killed, mostly women and children. These new satellite images, you can see, show that it appears that the Russians are starting to excavate the site.

You can see there's a crane there in the picture. A lot of the debris he has been cleared up. And, as time goes on, ten April 29, then May 6 pictures, there is more and more activity.


We have reached out to Russia for comment. We haven't gotten any. Of course, you will remember, the Ukrainians obviously blamed the Russians. The Russians have a vastly different story, though. They blame the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian military, which started out as an extremist group, but has now folded into the regular military. They accuse them of blowing up the theater -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Scott McLean with the latest from Lviv there.

Thank you, Scott.

We're just getting this into CNN. sources say that President Biden is expected to announce more security assistance to Ukraine. It'll exceed $100 million this time. This Sunday, he is set to speak with leaders of the G7. In the meantime, the Pentagon is denying another form of American support, that the U.S. provided specific targeting information on the Moskva.

That's the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet that Ukrainians sank last month.

Now, it was a major embarrassment for Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. And sources tell CNN that the U.S. did provide intelligence that helped Ukrainian forces not only identify the Moskva, but pinpoint its location.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is with him now.

So, what did the U.S. tell Ukrainian forces? What did they know about what Ukraine was going to do with that information?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Victor, let's start -- let's start with what we know.

In mid-April, Ukrainian forces spotted a ship that they believed to be the Russian flagship, the Moskva, operating off of their coast. And they reached out to their American counterparts and asked for confirmation. The Americans were able to definitively I.D. the ship to the Ukrainians as the Moskva and provide them with a certain amount of more detailed information on the ship's location.

The Ukrainians were then, of course, able to fire to cruise missiles that ultimately sunk the ship. Now, U.S. officials have been very clear that they were not involved in the decision by the Ukrainians to strike the Moskva, and not only, that they weren't even aware of the Ukraine -- they weren't even aware that the Ukrainians intended to go on and take that information to strike the ship in real time.

This is all -- this is all part of some limitations that the Biden administration is trying to put on the intelligence that it's sharing with Ukrainians. So, the Pentagon today pushing back on the idea that detailed targeting intelligence was provided to the Ukrainians.

The Biden administration is trying to draw a fairly narrow distinction here, essentially saying that, while the U.S. is providing and did provide in this instance some general information the ship's location, it didn't provide the kind of precise geolocation data that would allow the Ukrainians to take an immediate strike, again, part of a series of limitations and red lines, really, that the Biden administration is trying to draw around its intelligence support.

Take a listen to what Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had to say this morning about those limits.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Did not provide specific targeting information about the Moskva to the Ukrainians. We weren't involved in their decision to conduct that strike. And we certainly weren't involved in the actual execution of that strike.

And, again, I want to just stress that, in order for us to be able to help Ukraine defend itself, it's not just about the weapons. It's not just about the training. It is about some of the information. And we want to be able to protect that information, and rightly so.

And so leaks like this and stories like this, they are unhelpful to the effort to help Ukraine defend itself.


LILLIS: Victor, these are limits that the Biden administration is trying to put on the intelligence it's sharing with the Ukrainians in order to prevent escalation with Russia -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Katie Bo Lillis with the latest for us, thank you so much.

Leon Panetta is a former defense secretary and CIA director under President Obama.

Mr. Secretary, welcome back.

Let's start here with what we have heard from a lot of military analysts, who say, first, we shouldn't even be discussing this, but, second, that this could be seen as an escalation, as Katie Bo just said.

How is the intel any more of an escalation than the billions of dollars of military aid that the U.S. lists off that it supplies to Ukraine?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think it is important to put this all in context. I mean, the United States and our allies have been providing weapons

systems to the Ukrainians, in addition to intelligence sharing. That's part of what our allies have been providing to the Ukraine in this war. And I think while, obviously, a lot of this is classified, it's pretty clear that it's the Ukrainians who pulled the trigger and made the decision to go after this destroyer.

They may have received some intelligence that confirmed their own intelligence, in terms of the location of the ship, but, in the end, this was a Ukrainian call in terms of firing the cruise missiles that destroyed that destroyer.


BLACKWELL: So, is the concern then, if it's the Ukrainians' call, the U.S. supplied some information -- they, of course, as Kirby said, had some of their own -- is the concern that they used the information to go after the Moskva, and, of course, the reporting yesterday from "The New York Times" about targeting generals, that they used the information to do that, or that the U.S. has now some public role in providing that information?

What's the major concern here for the Pentagon?

PANETTA: Well, as is usual with intelligence, you don't like to open up what is happening with intelligence sharing to the public, because it's something, frankly, that is usually classified, and is done on a basis of trying to protect the confidence of both sides.

So I can understand their concern. But, at the same time, look, I don't think we ought to make a big deal of this, because the fact is, we are providing intelligence sharing. Everybody knows we're providing intelligence sharing. We're providing intelligence on targeting for artillery, for other systems that the Ukrainians are using.

And so I don't see this in any way as some kind of escalation in the relationship. I see it basically as maintaining the relationship that we established at the beginning of this war.

BLACKWELL: So, let me take this a step further. You're the military expert here. I am not. I'm just trying to understand it and help people at home understand it.

Is this what the U.S. wants Ukraine to do with the information? If they give them information about the Moskva and what's in the Black Sea, and they want them to use it to defend themselves, what's a better defense than taking out the ship?

PANETTA: Yes, well, that's what intelligence is for, Victor, right?

Intelligence is to try to help the military commanders and the military on the ground make decisions about where the enemy is, where the targets are, and how to basically defend yourself. And that's what the Ukrainians are doing.

So, yes, they're using intelligence for that purpose. But that is part and parcel of the military assistance that we're providing to the Ukrainians. We're obviously providing the missile systems. We're providing the artillery. We're providing the Stingers and the other weapons that are being provided, but it's the Ukrainians who decide how to use it and what targets to fire at.


PANETTA: And that, very frankly, is what war is all about.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's move on to former Defense Secretary Mark Esper's new book.

"The New York Times" has a copy of it. It has been publishing some passages. One passage about the former president's plan here to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S. from Mexico, Secretary Esper writes: "Mr. Trump said that -- quote -- 'We could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs quietly,' adding that 'No one would know it was us.' Mr. Trump said he would just say that the U.S. had not conducted the strike, Mr. Esper recounts, writing that he would have thought it was a joke, had he not been staring into Mr. Trump's face."

Your thoughts on this suggestion from the former president, just sending some Patriot missiles, we don't know anything about it?

PANETTA: I don't think this should -- ought to come as a big surprise to anybody.

We know the way President Trump operated. He was not somebody who was experienced. He didn't take advice. He basically operated by the seat of his pants. He made decisions based on kind of his own gut instincts. I mean, it was pretty -- it's pretty clear that he was not what I would call a responsible commander in chief.

He was basically operating a lot on what he thought might work. I mean, listening to that story tells me that he might have watched a Harrison Ford movie called "Clear and Present Danger" in which the president did fire missiles at a drug cartel, and thought he could do the same thing.

I don't know that that's a fact, but it sounds like the kind of thing that Trump came up with.

BLACKWELL: It was a good movie. I don't know if it's great policy, but it was a good movie.



BLACKWELL: Secretary Panetta, good to have you.


PANETTA: Good to be with you. BLACKWELL: All right, President Biden is touting the latest jobs

report that beat economists' predictions, but warns that inflation remains a driving economic problem.

And the president's top advisers are now united around abortion rights, deeming it a key issue heading into the midterms. We have details on the new White House's -- the strategy of the new -- the White House now has.

Stay with us.



BLACKWELL: Solid stride for job growth in April. Employers added 428,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate stayed at 3.6 percent.

Joining me now, CNN economics and political commentator Catherine Rampell. She's also a columnist for "The Washington Post." And Richard Quest is CNN's business editor at large.

Richard, let me start with you.

Your reaction to the number.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, it's a good, solid number.

It shows strength still in the labor market, in the tightening of labor market. And you saw wages up 5.5 percent year on year. You saw the number of hourly wages, et cetera, et cetera.

But this isn't really what the Fed wants to see, because the Fed wants to actually start to see a weakening in the job market, because that will take the heat out of the economy, which is what the interest rate rises is designed to do.


BLACKWELL: Catherine, we were talking a little before the show about if the job market has recovered from the pandemic.


If we have the same pace of growth that we just had an April for the next few months, we will be back to where we were pre-pandemic by sometime this summer, which is amazing, in a sense. If you look at the forecasts from a year ago or two years ago, economists in the Congressional Budget Office and others were expecting that it would take much longer for us to fill in that deep hole.


We were also talking about the potential for that half-point interest rate increase that happened yesterday to slow down the job increases and maybe lead to some job losses. Is that possible, plausible?

RAMPELL: I think the rate hike that we saw yesterday probably won't have enough bite to have that effect.


RAMPELL: But the rate hikes that we will likely see later this year, going into next year, yes, a very probable consequence of that is that we will see either less job growth or even job losses.

Job losses, of course, are what the Fed wants to avoid.

QUEST: Right, but...

RAMPELL: They want to avoid -- they want to get inflation down, cool demand enough just to get inflation down, but not enough to tip us into recession.

But whether they will achieve that is a different question.

QUEST: The whole policy, the whole process of what we are now embarked upon is to slow down growth in some shape or form.

So you have got people like Bill Dudley, the former head of the New York Fed. He's quite open about it. Stock price has to fall. There isn't going to be the same juice, if you will, to keep the market going, which is why we're off 300 -- another 300 points today. And it's not over yet.

And, as Catherine says, there will be job -- at least the -- there will be no more new jobs or fewer jobs, and possibly even job losses.

BLACKWELL: Richard, the president referenced the -- we have got the Big Board up now.



BLACKWELL: Down 330 points, after a 1,000-point drop yesterday.

QUEST: And we're not done yet, believe me. We're not done yet.

BLACKWELL: The president referenced inflation in touting the job numbers today. He said that there is more work to do.

What more work can the administration do on inflation?

QUEST: Well, there, he is up the proverbial without a paddle.



QUEST: Because he can't do much.


QUEST: First of all, as the economy goes towards recession, he ain't going to get another stimulus package in any shape, or form or any -- anything significant. This is just not the money there or the appetite.

Secondly, this is a Fed matter now. And the Fed is only concerned -- you just -- as Catherine says, we're just about at full employment. So the Fed is concerned with the other side of the mandate. The Fed is going to do whatever it takes.

Unfortunately, for President Biden, he is going into the midterms in an unfortunate economic situation. And in 18 months' time, it'll be a pretty dreadful economic situation.


Catherine, Deutsche Bank is warning about a major recession coming. Is there any -- if you believe that a recession is likely -- any way to know if it's going to be a steep decline, extended recession?

RAMPELL: Well, I don't want to get ahead of ourselves.


RAMPELL: A recession is not inevitable.

I do think that the economic outlook has darkened a lot in the last few months, because we have been hit with a lot of unfortunate shocks. I mean, there's the COVID-related lockdowns in China. You have the war in Ukraine, whose primary negative consequence, of course, is the loss of life.

But it has also disrupted food markets around the world, energy markets around the world, et cetera, driving up prices, and then a bunch of other miscellaneous, annoying unwelcome surprises, like an avian flu and a drought in California. All of those things make recession more likely. But it's not inevitable at this point.

One would hope that if, in fact, the Fed does tip us into recession, which they're trying to avoid, it would maybe be milder than in the past...


RAMPELL: ... because balance sheets look pretty good. There's overwhelming demand for workers right now.

There are almost twice as many job openings as there are workers, unemployed workers available.


RAMPELL: So maybe that means that the impact of all the Fed raising rates and everything else will be a little bit milder, but we don't know. BLACKWELL: Quick last word.

QUEST: Quick last word?

One other aspect that President Biden has no control over, China.


QUEST: As long as the lockdown and the zero COVID policy continues and the ships stack up outside Guangzhou and Shanghai, the effects will be felt on the other side of the world, and he's got no control over that.

BLACKWELL: Richard Quest, Catherine Rampell, thank you.

All right, there's new reporting about how the White House is responding to that leaked Supreme Court draft poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. Before the leak, advisers to the president were divided over how hard to lean in to talking about abortion rights, but now they are united.

CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz is here.

So, we know the president used to -- used to avoid the word abortion. What are you now expecting just 200 days or so from the midterms?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, advisers to the president have believed that President Biden will really be leaning in and speaking about abortion rights intensely as those November midterm elections are quickly approaching.


Now, the president had already readied his team, told them to prepare for possible executive actions or steps that they could take in preparation for a ruling coming from the Supreme Court in June. But, really, this announcement -- this leak of the draft opinion has really provided them another way to try to sell what they believe needs to pass in relation to abortion rights.

So the president in a meeting with his advisers just earlier this week said that he believes that the draft opinion, the logic that Justice Samuel Alito outlines there, that that really provided very precise language that could also possibly encroach on other rights.

Now, advisers believe that the president and other Democrats will really try to use this as a galvanizing force heading into the midterm elections. Some of the groups that they are hoping that this will really resonate with or those suburban women, younger voters, and also disaffected Democrats who maybe had thought about sitting out of the election, but are now rethinking that through, as they don't want to see abortion rights infringed on by the Supreme Court.

And this really also just falls in lines with the president's messaging, the shift that he's about to take as he heads into that midterm election. Something that you have really seen President Biden do in recent weeks is pick up those attacks on Republicans, painting them as extreme.

This debate over abortion rights provides another avenue for President Biden to do just that, as they are hoping to really motivate Democratic voters heading into the midterm elections around this issue of abortion rights, with the possibility that the Supreme Court could strike down Roe v. Wade this coming summer.

BLACKWELL: Arlette Saenz at the White House, thank you.

U.S. Marshals have found a car associated with the escaped Alabama inmate and missing corrections officer who are on the run. We have new details ahead.

Also, right now, in Havana, Cuba, first responders are searching for survivors after an explosion rocked a hotel. Look at these pictures. We will take you there next.