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Russia Commemorates Victory Day with Military Parade; Mariupol Officials Release Footage of Purported Mass Graves; Oath Keepers Share Info with FBI; Chuck Schumer Reveals Plans Ahead of Vote to Codify Roe v. Wade. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JOHN AVALON, CNN ANCHOR: Those are the five things to know for your NEW DAY. More on these stories all day on CNN and, and don't forget to download the "5 Things" podcast every morning. Go to

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning. I'm Erica Hill.


With no victory to declare, Putin blames the West, defends his military occupation in Ukraine. Russia's Victory Day celebrations, as they're dubbed, were smaller, more muted than many had expected with Russian president pointing the finger at NATO for what he says are threats next to our borders.

HILL: Let's begin this hour with CNN international correspondent Matthew Chance, joining us from Moscow.

So, Matthew, keeping in mind, obviously, there are very strict laws as we know in place right now, restricting what journalists in Russia can say. What can you tell us about Putin's speech and the reaction there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right. They are restrictive. We can't call what Russia says is a special military operation in Ukraine, we can't call it a war, we can't call it an invasion. But I can tell you what I saw today because I was in Red Square when that parade was taking place. I was sitting in one of the stands that had been set up, you know, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, as those soldiers marched past.

There were 11,000 of them. It was an extraordinary display of patriotism, of military might. As we've come to expect every year. The march passed that these thousands of troops was followed by a parade of military vehicles including tanks and missile launchers and even those powerful, dreadful intercontinental ballistic missiles that were every year pass chug along passed over the cobbles of Red Square in a show of dramatic military might.

It was a little bit smaller than we'd expected because of the bad weather, we're told. The Kremlin said that the flight pass of 77 aircraft that was meant to take, you know, have a spectacular air display over Red Square in the center of the Russian capital, that didn't take place. So it didn't quite work out the way it was originally planned. And what also didn't happen, there was a lot of expectation that Vladimir Putin was going to use this as a backdrop to make some kind of important announcement about the military operation, as he calls it, in Ukraine.

A formal declaration of war, perhaps, on Ukraine or a mass mobilization of Russian troops to enable him to bring more forces to bear on the frontlines in Ukraine. But that didn't happen either. It was much more muted than that. He didn't make any of those massive grand gestures that were anticipated. At the same time, he also did not leave any indication after this speech that he was prepared to back down on that conflict in Ukraine.

He went to some lengths to draw parallels between the battle to defeat the Nazis in 1945 which is what this commemoration is meant to be all about, and the battles that are taking place in Ukraine right now. So trying to sort of plunder that traumatic experience in Russia of the Second World War. They lost 24 million, 25 million people in that conflict, and try to use it to bolster support for the military campaign that is currently under way in Ukraine.

HILL: Matthew Chance with the latest for us. Matthew, thank you.

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy responding to Putin's speech with his own Victory Day message, sounding confident his country will win the war.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): We are fighting for our children's freedom and, therefore, we will win. We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II, which killed more than eight million Ukrainians. Very soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine. And someone won't have any.


HILL: Russia continued its relentless shelling over the weekend in Luhansk. Dozens now feared dead after a bomb slammed a school where at least 90 people were said to be sheltering. In Odessa, Russia fired several missiles in that region.

SCIUTTO: There was also heartbreaking video out of the city of Mariupol. The city council there says this video shows more, more mass graves. CNN was not been able to independently verify who took this video and when. However, it follows a consistent pattern we've seen in the country.

CNN international correspondent Scott McLean is in Lviv in western Ukraine.

Scott, I wonder there in Ukraine, how is May 9th, Victory Day, as it's known, being marked? SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim. Yes. So May

9th, of course, is still recognized in this country as well but it is not the same kind of patriotic flag-waving event that it is in Russia.


And it's more of a somber day for wreath-laying and remembrance. And so given the invasion, of course, a lot of eyes are on the occupied parts of Ukraine to see whether or not they would mark the day with the same kind of parades and patriotism that they do in Russia. And, well, in Kherson, for instance, that city has been occupied for two months now, two months or more. And there was a ceremony there, according to video put out by pro-Russian media, though the Ukrainians claim that people were brought in from elsewhere, from Crimea to try to bolster the numbers, make it look like there were more people attending this event.

There was an actual parade in (INAUDIBLE). This is in the Zaporizhzhia region. It's also occupied of course by the Russians. And pro-Russian media had put out a series of videos from different places across the occupied parts of Ukraine, showing the different ways that the day was marked with sort of marches and ceremonies and things like that. In one of the videos you can see people watching President Putin's speech on some screens set up in a town square.

In Mariupol there had been some speculation that they might mark it with a grand parade there. Similar to the one that they have in Moscow, obviously a scaled down version. Something that the Kremlin had not ruled out prior to this day. Well, Mariupol city council says that there was no parade on that day but we are seeing new video that shows that there was a march through town and there was some ceremonial events that took place as well.

The city council says that those events were taking place, frankly, on the bones of the residents of Mariupol given the recent fighting there. And you guys mentioned that the speech by President Zelenskyy, this video that was put out at the same time as President Putin was speaking. And in it he said that the Russians would have loved it if Ukraine failed to mark may 9th because it would bolster their claim that somehow Ukraine is run by Nazis or that there needs to be some de-Nazification taking place.

He also made the point that millions of Ukrainians fought in the Second World War against Nazis and that one of every five of them did not come home. He promised, though, that given the war, that in the future there would be two victory days -- Jim, Erica.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's remarkable to see in those protests or demonstrations in the east there, the Soviet flag, not just the Russian flag in Kherson.

Scott McLean, thanks so much.

An embarrassing moment for Russia's ambassador to Poland. There you see. He was doused with red paint by protesters as he tried to lay a wreath at the cemetery of Soviet soldiers in Warsaw. There's the moment. The Russian state news agency says Sergey Andreev was escorted by police out of the area, was not injured.

HILL: Joining us now to discuss, former CIA chief of Russia Operation, Steve Hall, and Peter Pomerantsev, he's the author of the book, "This is Not Propaganda," which focuses on disinformation and propaganda particularly in Russia.

Good to have you both with us this morning. Let's start with what we saw in Russia this morning, if we could.

Peter, the fact that this was far more defensive, that there was no declaration of victory, no mass mobilization, what does that tell you about where we're headed in this war?

PETER POMERANTSEV, AUTHOR, "THIS IS NOT PROPAGANDA": Well, it tells us that Putin doesn't appear to have a plan. This is a stalling speech. It was a speech of somebody who understands things are going wrong, is afraid to set any direction because he doesn't want to be held accountable for his own words. It's a speech of somebody treading water.

SCIUTTO: Steve Hall, the CIA director Bill Burns warned this weekend that Putin cannot lose. And in fact, as he runs into these headwinds he's more likely to double down rather than back off and could even resort to the use of nuclear weapons. I wonder, does the lack of a real victory on Victory Day make the situation more dangerous? In effect, did a losing Putin or a stifled Putin is more dangerous than one that's moving forward?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Yes, that's always the question, Jim, is where is that very delicate fault line between being assertive and aggressive against Putin, which the West has done very well at, but also not reaching the point where he becomes, you know, so unpredictable that it's, you know, difficult and he might, you know, engage in dangerous behavior.

Of course, Vladimir Putin himself is extremely aware of the West's concern about this. And so he's playing that, you know, for all it's worth. I think what we saw in the speech, both of them, both Putin and Zelenskyy, was, you know, a little bit of information warfare. Set aside the battlefield warfare but the information warfare is also heating up. And it will be very interesting to see how Putin responds in those terms as well.

HILL: I mean, the way that they are both using that information warfare, I think, is a great point, Steve. And Peter, I know you recently interviewed President Zelenskyy but you also it seemed in that piece you had some real insight into what we've been watching as he tries to really connect with his audience.


You experienced that firsthand. I wonder, how effectively at this point do you think he is using that to try to connect with anybody inside Russia?

POMERANTSEV: Listen, first, I'd be very careful about an equivalence about the, you know, approach of communication from the Kremlin and Ukraine. Information warfare --

HILL: Right. I wasn't trying to equate the two. I didn't mean it that way. My apologies.

POMERANTSEV: OK. But it's also like the Russians, you know, try to manipulate people and be deceptive. You know, have one aim, one state today, but one real aim, Zelenskyy is trying to (INAUDIBLE) and genuine people's communication, which is a very different thing.

I think, you know, we asked him about this. I interviewed him with my colleagues at "The Atlantic" and we said, look, you know Russia well, you worked there many, many years ago. And he's been trying to reach out to the Russian people. He said it was really, really hard. Apart from sort of a small group of like oppositionist media who are now outside of Russia, he says it's really hard.

Even the people he knows in Russia haven't been taking his calls for seven years, let alone now. And he feels that the Russians are, what he calls, in an information bunker. And that Putin himself is in an information bunker where they close themselves off. And most importantly, they refuse to take responsibility for what's going on.

In Putin's speech, again, he repeated this trope, we were given no choice. He's constantly sort of reaffirming the lack of choice and the lack of responsibility Russians should feel around what is going on, because obviously information about war crimes is filtering back into Russia. So you know, he's constantly repeating the sense we have no responsibility, therefore no guilt, et cetera, et cetera.

SCIUTTO: Steve Hall, question. A big message in his speech, which is part of a trend now, right, is portraying this not just as Russia against Ukraine but Russia against the West. This is Russia responding to a threat from NATO. Does that indicate to you that the risk of expansion of this war beyond Ukraine is increasing, or do you put that in the category of him saber-rattling to try to intimidate or make the West skittish?

HALL: It may be a little of both. But I go more towards that latter explanation, Jim. You know, I think Putin doesn't know exactly where he's going to go from this, and so what he does is a couple of predictable things. He of course blames NATO. But one of the interesting things that I heard in that speech was, once again, his references to traditional values, to the West's, you know, decay.

And this is one of the reasons that we had to attack. It's really interesting because it appeals, of course, not only very much to Russians, who do view themselves as different people. That's a phrase that Putin specifically use and I've had Russian intelligence officers tell me the same thing, we're different people. But it's also reaching out to the West. It's also reminding far-right wing governments or just, you know, groups of people in Europe and in the United States, hey, these traditional values are things that we value in Russia.

And you in the West, this moral decline. So that's what I mean when I talk about them sort of engaging in a little bit of information warfare. They're trying to get a message out not just to Russians but also to the world writ large about how Russia is still a strong, traditional value place.


HILL: Stave Hall, Peter Pomerantsev, good to have both of you with us for your insight today. Thank you.


HILL: All right, now First Lady Jill Biden on her way back to the United States after meeting today with the Slovakian president. Details on that trip including her surprise visit to Ukraine.

Plus another stunning behind-the-scenes account from former President Donald Trump's Defense secretary. What Mark Esper says prompted Trump to call his team including Mike Pence a bunch of, quote, "effing losers."

SCIUTTO: And new this morning, leaders of the far-right extremist group here in the U.S., the Oath Keepers are now cooperating with January 6th investigators. What they have already shared with the FBI.



SCIUTTO: This morning more dramatic revelations from the former Defense Secretary Mark Esper's new book. Politico published this excerpt from his memoir about former President Trump's seeming reluctance to send money to Ukraine. He wrote, quote, "I pressed Trump on several occasions to approve the $250 million in security assistance that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine. None of us could figure out what was driving the president's resistance. When he questioned, why are we even giving them this stuff, security assistance, in the first place?"

On "60 Minutes" last night, Esper also recalled a meeting where Trump went after his vice president, Mike Pence.


MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: He's using a lot of, you know, foul language, you know, you all are effing losers, right. And then he says it to the vice president, Mike Pence. He's using the same language and he's looking at Pence.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS "60 MINUTES": He called Mike Pence an effing loser?

ESPER: He didn't call him directly but he was looking at him when he was saying it. And it really caught my attention. And I thought that -- we're in a different spot now.


SCIUTTO: This morning CNN has learned that top leaders in the far- right extremist group the Oath Keepers are cooperating with federal investigators, sharing their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in favor of the former President Donald Trump. Sources tell us those leaders have spoken to the FBI and turned over phones and digital files.

CNN crime and justice court reporter Katelyn Polantz has been following this story for us.

That's significant because it might extend beyond the Oath Keepers, too, as to who was involved with them. What do we know?


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: That's right, Jim. So there is a lot of information that's been coming into prosecutors in this seditious conspiracy cases, massive case, in the January 6th investigation. And the cooperators, let's walk through them. So we spoke to Kelly Sorell, who's a lawyer that works with the Oath Keepers. She told us she's helping the FBI. She's uncharged at this time.

But Stewart Rhodes, who's charged in this case as the leader, he spoke to investigators before he was arrested for seditious conspiracy, and he's going to be going to trial. There's also Ali Alexander. He's the Stop the Steal organizer, one of the rally speakers, and he was responding -- we've been told from sources that he's been responding to prosecutors after they sent him a grand jury subpoena.

And then there's nine, essentially nine cooperators at least in this Oath Keepers case. Several of them are criminal defendants in court that have revealed information and then there's also informants that have turned over things like a November 2020 meeting recording of the Oath Keepers talking about what the Justice Department says was seditious planning.


POLANTZ: And also in which Sorell was bragging about her relationship to the campaign and to people in the Trump world. And so as we're watching all of this information come out in this case, we're also seeing how the Oath Keepers were believing that they could get in touch with Trump himself, perhaps, or at least people very close to him. So there's this call with Sorell, there's also a VIP signal chat we've learned about where the Oath Keepers were talking about security around the rally for planning.

And then also last week, it's a lot of information here, there's a cooperator who's saying in court he overheard a call where someone -- Rhodes wanted to get in touch with Trump himself. He ultimately didn't but he did place that call to someone.

SCIUTTO: Interesting because it gets to their potential criminal wrongdoing but what discussions did they have with the administration at the time.

Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much as always. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he wants his colleagues,

Republicans and Democrats, on the record as the fallout from the bombshell leak of the Supreme Court's draft opinion that would strike down Roe versus Wade continues.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): This is no longer an abstract exercise. This is the real deal. And everyone's eyes are on them. So we can always hope and we must have this vote. Every senator must show where he or she stands.


HILL: CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zenona joins us now live.

So this buildup is happening as Republicans are discussing the merits of a federal ban on abortion. What more do we expect to see this week, Melanie?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, don't expect any bills to pass but do except a very intense debate in the Senate. Senate Democrats are pressing ahead with a vote on a bill to codify a woman's right to abortion among other things. Now a similar bill did fail earlier this year, and that's because it doesn't have the support of Republicans, including Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins who do support abortion rights but they wanted to see a more narrow bill.

And this piece of legislation doesn't even have the support of all Democrats since Senator Joe Manchin, who opposes abortion, is also opposed to this bill. But like I said, passage is not the point here. Senate Democrats want to force every single Republican to go on the record over this issue, especially because Republicans have been so reluctant to talk about the draft ruling that would overturn Roe versus Wade.

Instead, they've really been focused on the leak of that draft document. And that's because they want the midterms to be all about crime and inflation. They do not want the midterms to be about abortion because they fear that Democrats might have the upper hand in that case. Now that being said, if Republicans do come into power, that means they still might embrace abortion as an issue if they are able to bring bills to the floor.

And one of the ideas under consideration is to bring a nationwide federal abortion ban to the floor if Republicans win either the House or Senate. Of course, that would be vetoed by the president. Biden would still be in charge. But it just goes to show how both sides are starting to think about this issue long term -- Erica.

HILL: Yes, they certainly are. And look, it is still a very important topic of conversation for people across this country. And so we'll continue to follow it.

Melanie, appreciate it, thank you. Still ahead here, Russian President Vladimir Putin has little to

celebrate on this Victory Day in Russia. That being said, as we watch what's playing out in Ukraine, Russian forces are making some concerning moves. Why officials today are alarmed about Russia using a major river in the east.


Stay with us, that's next.


SCIUTTO: Right now, First Lady Jill Biden is on her way back to Washington after meeting this morning with the president of Slovakia. Her trip included an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Mother's Day. She visited a school in Uzhhorod, in the southwestern part of the country. It's a city that's seen its population double in the last several weeks as displaced Ukrainians flee west for safety.

She also sat down with the first lady of Ukraine. No American first lady has visited an active war zone by herself in more than 15 years. The last one, Laura Bush, who made two solo visits to Afghanistan.

HILL: In eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials raising the alarm about a Russian pontoon bridge built days ago, which could now enable Russian forces to threaten Ukrainian defenses and supply routes in the Luhansk region. Now CNN has confirmed the existence of that pontoon bridge.

Joining me now to discuss retired General Mark Hertling.