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Trump Wanted to Strike Iran, Venezuela?; Senate to Vote on Abortion Rights Bill; Putin Defends Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 09, 2022 - 13:00   ET



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Thanks for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thank you for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Today in Moscow, an over-the-top military parade to mark Victory Day. It's hard to believe from these pictures, but this year's spectacle was actually scaled back. And Vladimir Putin used this occasion to again point the finger at the West. He defended taking military action in Ukraine, claiming NATO provoked it by preparing to invade Russian- held territories, he says.

CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance was at today's event there in Russia.

And, Matthew, keeping in mind there are very strict laws restricting how journalists in Russia can talk about this conflict in Ukraine, what can you tell us about Putin's rhetoric today and the reaction?


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a much anticipated event amid speculation the Victory Day Parade would be used to make an important announcement about what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine, possibly a formal declaration of war or a mass mobilization of troops.

But that didn't happen. What we did witness, though, was a spectacular display of Russian military might, even though the air display was canceled at the last minute because of bad weather, according to the Kremlin; 11,000 troops marched over the cobbles of Red Square, followed by columns of tanks, rocket launchers, and, of course, those intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles.

In his short speech, Vladimir Putin repeated claims trying to justify the conflict in Ukraine, that Russia was facing an imminent attack, and that it had to act preemptively, claims that have, of course, been disputed by Ukraine and by its allies.

He also drew parallels with the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in the 1940s, which is, of course, what Victory Day is meant to commemorate, and the battles raging right now, trying to use Russia's traumatic cultural memories of the Second World War to bolster support for the current conflict.

But there was also no indication from Putin's words that he was preparing to back down in Ukraine, suggesting that the Kremlin's strongman is choosing to continue his high-cost military struggle.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


CABRERA: Our thanks to Matthew Chance.

For more now, we are joined by senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Angela Stent. And she's the author of "Putin's World: Russia Against the West and with the Rest."

Angela, first, your immediate reaction to Putin's speech today. The world, of course, was bracing for bluster and perhaps for him to signal a new chapter in this war. Is that what we got?

ANGELA STENT, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR EURASIAN, RUSSIAN AND EAST EUROPEAN STUDIES, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: So it was a very aggressive speech, and, as Matthew Chance said, blaming the West for the war, saying that the West was trying to attack the Russian territory inside Ukraine.

But we didn't get what some people predicted, an actual declaration of war against Ukraine and mass mobilization and putting the economy on a warlike footing, because the mass mobilization, I think, wouldn't be too popular. We didn't get the annexation of the Donbass territories. And we also did not get any sign that put is interested in negotiations towards some kind of cease-fire.

So, really, we are at the status quo that we were at yesterday, but, again, reinforcing the very aggressive rhetoric.

CABRERA: One thing I noticed is that Putin did acknowledge that Russia had suffered losses. He reiterated the Kremlin is providing assistance for the families of soldiers who were killed in this war.

Just the fact that he acknowledged these losses, Angela, how significant is that?

STENT: I think he doesn't have any choice now but to acknowledge them.

I mean, Western figures put the death count at up to 20,000 Russian soldiers so far. And even though the majority of the Russian population still supports this war, the body bags are coming back, the funerals are happening, and people are beginning to ask questions about what happened to their sons. So I think he really doesn't have any choice but to again promise

financial compensation for that to try and assuage some of the grief that these families are feeling.

CABRERA: We have heard from other analysts that it's the mothers and fathers of Russian soldiers who could ultimately turn the tide of public opinion against Putin in Russia. Do you think he worries about that?

STENT: I'm sure he does.

I mean, it was those mothers and fathers who turned the tide in the Afghan war, for instance, the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s. So, I think he's right to be concerned about that. I mean, so far, most of the Russians, if they're just watching state-run media, think that this is a fight against Ukrainian Nazis.


And, today, again, he likened that to the fight against German Nazis, and said we have to defeat these Nazis to try and make the families feel proud about the sacrifices that their children are making. But this could -- the opposition to this war could rise the longer it goes on and the more people are killed.

CABRERA: And this weekend, the director of the CIA weighed in on Putin's thinking. Listen to what he said.


WILLIAM BURNS, CIA DIRECTOR: He's in a frame of mind in which he doesn't believe he can afford to lose. I think he's convinced right now that doubling down still will enable him to make progress.


CABRERA: Angela, if it is a must-win situation for Putin, what does a win look like to him at this point?

Because, originally, it looked like toppling Kyiv, taking over the entire country. Then it was just the Donbass and perhaps Eastern, Southeastern Ukraine. What now?

STENT: Well, I think he would still like to take over all of Ukraine, but he realizes, at this point, he can't do it.

So, a minimal win would be control of the whole of the Donbass. And they're having a hard time doing that. The Ukrainians are pushing back, but they have occupied some cities. Mariupol, where you -- we have seen the terrible destruction, they will be taking that over. So they could say that this is a win.

That -- and Putin can present it to his population as such. I'm not sure he's ready to do that yet. And that's why, again, the next few weeks, I think, will be crucial in seeing how far the Russians are prepared to go in this war. CABRERA: Angela Stent, I always appreciate you and your insights.

Thank you very much for making time for us today.

Let's get to what's actually happening on the ground in Ukraine right now. In Eastern Ukraine, rescuers are still sifting through the debris of a school that was serving as a bomb shelter. Dozens of civilians are believed to have died here after it was struck by Russian missiles.

A few miles away, Ukrainian forces are fighting back after Russian troops built a pontoon bridge over a major river in the last few days. Officials fear Russian forces could now threaten supply routes in the region.

And in Mariupol, city council officials released this disturbing new video of what they say is the digging of a mass grave. Meantime, a Ukrainian defender tells CNN the evacuation of innocent civilians who had been sheltering in that besieged steel plant for months now is now complete. Wounded soldiers and medics are still believed to be trapped there, however, as Ukrainian fighters vow to fight to the end.

And despite this port city being devastated by Russia, a pro-Russian separatist leader is now celebrating, saying he now plans to make Mariupol a resort town.

With us now is retired us Army Brigadier General Steve Anderson.

General, clearly, the battle is far from over. And, as we noted, Putin's Victory Day speech today was without the expected bombast about what he has accomplished in Ukraine. I'm curious as to what you might be thinking here. Is Russia winning anywhere or on any levels in Ukraine right now?

BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: No, Anna, just the opposite. He's losing. And he knows it. And I think this speech was a recognition of this.

So, I mean, he's -- he began on the 24th of February thinking that he could do a blitzkrieg throughout Ukraine. Of course, that turned into a sitzkrieg. And then he had the battle of Kyiv turned out to be a terrible loss, so 18,000 soldiers killed.

Now he's been fighting in Donbass now for the last six or eight weeks, and he's losing there too. I mean, there has now been very effective counterattacks being launched by the Ukrainians. NATO is now more unified than ever, Finland and getting ready to join NATO perhaps.

Russian oil is being weaned from the -- by the Europeans. Every day, Ukraine gets stronger, Russia gets weaker, and Vladimir Putin knows it.

CABRERA: So, in terms of what's next, there was this expectation that today, on Victory Day, Putin would come out and at least make some kind of declaration that would indicate the next phase of the war, whether it's declaring formally war against Ukraine or declaring victory of some kind. He didn't do any of that. Does that give you any sense of what his

next move is?

ANDERSON: I think the only thing he can do is continue to fight in the Donbass as best he can and hang on to what he's got.

And that's going to be a very, very tall order, indeed. I think that, as I said just a second ago, the Ukrainians are getting stronger every day. They're getting more and more equipment. I mean, the Germans, the French, the Dutch, the Americans, the Brits are all stepping up to provide more equipment for the Ukrainians, more long-range artillery, more drones, more tanks.

His -- the Ukrainian situation improves every day. And you're seeing that now on the battlefield. And the Russians, on the country, just the opposite. They're spread way too thin. They never really -- they violated the principle of mass from the very beginning. Instead of attacking on one or two fronts, they have attacked on seven or eight.


And so, militarily, it's going against them in a big, big way. And I think Ukrainians are taken to the Russians. Vladimir Putin knows it.

CABRERA: Even if Ukraine does have some kind of momentum, though, on the battlefield, the civilians are still suffering tremendously.

The bombing of that school shelter is just more proof that nothing is off limits for the Russians. So how can Ukrainians maybe better defend against these types of strikes against civilian shelters?

ANDERSON: Well, I don't really see how you can. I mean, really, it's indiscriminate bombing, and it's indiscriminate.

You don't -- you can't predict where it's going to come from. But what they have got to do is continue to document this for war crimes. But Putin is trying to essentially terrorize the civilians, somehow bomb them into submission.

Look, I have met a lot of Ukrainians in my day. And there's three things that always stand out. They love democracy, they identify as Europeans, and they hate the Russians. And their hatred for Russia grows with every one of these indiscriminate attacks.

CABRERA: You talked about how Ukraine is being provided with weapons and other type of assistance, both militarily, as well as financially and so forth.

We also know information is another weapon being used against Russia by Ukraine and its allies. Last hour, we learned President Biden recently told his top national security officials that leaks about U.S. intelligence sharing with Ukrainians aren't helpful and need to stop. Your reaction.

ANDERSON: Well, he's spot on. I mean, it's very harmful to let the Russians know the information

that we have shared and who we have shared it with and how we collected it. So that's not a good thing. But the fact that we're passing intelligence is a good thing, obviously. And let's not feel too sorry for the people that were taken out by the Ukrainians.

I mean, they took our intelligence. They added it to their own, because they have their own collection methodologies. They have human intelligence, et cetera. But these Russian combatants, the 12 general officers on the Moskva, the ship that was sunk, they were all combatants engaged in illegal war against a sovereign state. It's fair game to take them out.

And the Ukrainians took what they had, used the information we gave them, added it to their own and took appropriate action. So, bully for them.

CABRERA: So, the intel about the ship and about these generals or that ultimately led to the death of some of these generals, opinion columnist Thomas Friedman suggested that that intel being out there suggests the U.S. is no longer an indirect war with Russia, but rather edging toward a direct war.

"And no one has prepared the American people or Congress for that," he writes.

Do you agree that the U.S. is edging closer to a direct confrontation with Russia?

ANDERSON: I normally agree with Tom Friedman all the way, but I think he's overstated it a bit in this case.

I mean, we're already providing an awful lot of support, logistics and equipment, et cetera. And we probably can and must do more. But the fact that we're providing intelligence isn't that big of an escalation.

And, again, these are combatants. These were not innocents. These were not a bunch of general officers sitting around a coffee table in the Pentagon or something. These are all engaged in war. They had strapped up. They had put on weapons, and they were leading their soldiers to try to kill Ukrainians, and the same with the Moskva.

So, I mean, I think that -- I understand his concern, but I don't -- I think it's overstated. And I think that we did exactly the right thing, passed on the information, let them collect it and use it to their maximum possible advantage. And, in this case, they use it with devastating effect.

CABRERA: General Steve Anderson, thank you so much.

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he personally had to frequently bat down President Trump's requests that were really out there. We're talking missile strikes on Mexico, even a request for the U.S. military to open fire on anti-racism protesters in D.C. More on his new allegations. Plus, Senate Democrats teeing up a vote on an abortion rights bill

that would make Roe v. Wade the law of the land, the latest on that.

And a dream vacation turns into a death investigation. How did three Americans die at a resort in the Bahamas?



CABRERA: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is teeing up a vote on Wednesday on a bill that would codify Roe vs. Wade into law.

Today, he plans to file a cloture, which calls on all Senate members to vote. This follows the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion showing the court is preparing to overturn the landmark case.

CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is on the Hill for us,

Jessica, what should we expect with this vote come Wednesday?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right? So Senator Schumer is going to set up the vote today by filing cloture. That's just a procedural step that will get them to the vote on Wednesday.

And what we know is that the votes simply are not there. And Democrats know that as well. Democratic leadership knows that as well. This is about a messaging vote. This is similar to what we saw with voting rights. They just want to get people on the record. And they want to keep talking about it, trying to show Democratic voters ahead of the midterms that they're doing everything they can to codify abortion rights in this country.

Here's Leader Schumer yesterday. Take a listen.


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. And it's -- on something as important as this, we're not going to let anybody hide.



DEAN: And it's important to note, Ana, as well, not only would they not make it to the 60 votes to overcome the Republican filibuster. It's likely they won't even have full Democratic support.

We know that Senator Joe Manchin voted with Republicans earlier this year against codifying abortion rights. So, we expect to see that again as well, Ana.

CABRERA: So, if this vote is going nowhere, what is next in this fight?

DEAN: Right.

So, there's only so many things that Congress can do. They're really quite limited just because of the numbers. They have got this 50/50 split that I just walked through in the Senate. And, without that, without the numbers in the Senate, they simply cannot push it through. We also know that we heard from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

He was asked about a national ban on abortion, if that was possible. I will read you what he said. He -- quote -- said: "If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies, not only at the state level, but at the federal level, certainly could legislate in that area. And if this were the final decision, that was the point. It should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process."

So, yes, it's possible. So, again, looking ahead to see what might evolve if and when this draft opinion becomes the final opinion, Ana. But for Democrats, really, their only option at this point, they -- there have been calls to blow up the filibuster. They don't have the votes for that. There's been calls to expand the Supreme Court. They don't have the votes for that.

So, really, their only option at this point is to turn out voters in the midterms, of course, Democrats hoping that it really energizes their base, but Republicans hoping that it energizes their base as well -- Ana.

CABRERA: A reminder to our viewers that the Supreme Court typically issues its opinions in the summer, so we could see the final opinion on this issue come June...

DEAN: Right.

CABRERA: ... or as soon as June, at least.

DEAN: Yes.

CABRERA: Thank you, Jessica Dean.

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper paints a surreal picture of dangerous times during the Trump administration. In a new memoir, "A Sacred Oath," Esper detail some of the -- quote -- "bad things" he says he and his department prevented from happening.

Listen to what he told "60 Minutes."


NORAH O'DONNELL, HOST, "CBS EVENING NEWS": What kind of terrible things did you prevent?

MARK ESPER, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: At various times during the -- certainly the last year of the administration, you have folks in the White House are proposing to take military action against Venezuela, to strike Iran.

At one point, somebody proposed we blockade Cuba. These ideas would happen, it seemed every -- every few weeks, something like this would come up, and we'd have to swat them down.

O'DONNELL: Whose "we" had to swat them down?

ESPER: Well, mostly me. I had good support from General Mark Milley.


CABRERA: For more on all this, CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann is joining us.

Now, Oren, a number of shocking claims made in just that one clip. What more are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And there are some more clips like that.

We knew that former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had a troubled relationship, especially towards the end, with his commander in chief, former President Donald Trump. And now we're getting a much better sense of that.

Here are some of the ideas, some of the -- quote -- "crazy ideas" that he says he had to push back upon. One of them was when, according to this book, "A Sacred Oath," Trump suggested firing missiles into Mexico to destroy drug labs. We know a bit more about that. A few days earlier, he had told "The New York Times" that Trump suggested -- or, rather, "The New York Times" reported that Trump suggested firing Patriot missiles at the drug labs -- quote -- "quietly."

Trump also considered deploying 10,000 active-duty troops to the streets of Washington, D.C., in response to protests in the summer of 2020, so just a few months before the 2020 election there. And according to this book, "A Sacred Oath," and according to the statements he made to "60 Minutes," Trump had also suggested shooting protesters following the death of George Floyd -- Ana.

I want to play the sound where Secretary Esper says Trump, as president, talked about shooting those protesters, as you mentioned, exercising their constitutional rights following the death of George Floyd.


O'DONNELL: What specifically was he suggesting that the U.S. military should do to these protesters?

ESPER: He says: "Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something."

And he's suggesting that that's what we should do, that we should bring in the troops and shoot the protesters.

O'DONNELL: The commander in chief was suggesting that the U.S. military shoot protesters?

ESPER: Yes, in the streets...

O'DONNELL: American protesters.

ESPER: ... of our nation's capital. That's right. Shocking.


CABRERA: Oren, did Esper indicate whether he would have disobeyed this order if Trump had given it?

LIEBERMANN: There was no clear definitive answer to this very specific point: Would Esper have followed in any way an order that he viewed as an illegal order?

So that question remains an open question, and I suspect we will hear from Esper more as he is promoting his book here, "A Sacred Oath."

It is worth noting that CNN has reported that Esper, as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, pushed back on the idea of deploying 10,000 active-duty troops to the streets of D.C. back in the summer of 2020.


So we have seen at least reporting about that willingness to push back. But would he have refused an illegal order? Would he have been willing to quit over it? That's something we look for a clear answer on from Esper.

CABRERA: And just quickly, if you will, Oren, is Trump and his team, are they responding at all to these new allegations?

LIEBERMANN: We have seen some response here. I don't have it in front of me, and I don't want to misquote it. So I won't get into that, because I simply don't have that response here in front of me.

CABRERA: OK, Oren Liebermann, thank you very much.

And the face of a hero. This is just an incredible story. A 15-year- old girl is injured as she drives around land mines and through gunfire to get two wounded men to safety. Her incredible story of bravery next.

And a powerful show of support, as a Kyiv subway station transforms into a stage. That is U2's Bono. He and guitarist The Edge performed in what has become a bomb shelter over the weekend.