Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Ukraine Tries First Russian for War Crimes; U.S. Intel Launches Review; Israel Police Clash with Mourners; January 6th Committee Issues Subpoenas; Subpoena Issues for Trump Documents. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 13, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Russia retreats. A Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region has now pushed Russian forces back as the Russian military, it appears, destroyed bridges, which are vital to Ukraine's advances.

A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


These brand-new images in to CNN show three destroyed bridges around Kharkiv. And officials believe Russian troops likely blew them up in an attempt to hold off advances by Ukrainian forces.

On the infamous Snake Island, new video appears to show a missile strike on a Russian helicopter.

In the eastern Donbas region, however, Ukraine says its troops are losing a foothold in Luhansk.

SCIUTTO: It's a long battlefield and a complicated one.

This weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Germany and France. He is expected to meet with NATO foreign ministers to discuss their response to Russia's ongoing war on Ukraine.

This as Ukraine's prosecutor general says that Russia has committed nearly 10,000 -- 10,000 war crimes since its invasion began.

This morning, a potential glimpse at justice. A Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed Ukrainian civilian will go on trial. There he is.

And let's begin there. CNN correspondent Melissa Bell is in the capital Kyiv.

Melissa, this is a 21-year-old Russian soldier, the first to go on trial for alleged war crimes. What do we expect to hear today and is this believed to be the first of many similar trials?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Quite. And as you say, there are so many thousands of documented war crimes now that will be prosecuted at some stage and at several different levels. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation. The U.N. Human Rights Council as well, Jim, as have dozens of national jurisdictions and NGOs that have begun their investigations into the war crimes that have been taking place here in Ukraine over the course of the last few months.

What was so unique about today's preliminary hearing, and I think this is really the first of its kind, is it was a national civilian court that was managing to hold this preliminary hearing to open its first trial into what's gone on here in Ukraine since the war began, even as the war continues to be fought. I mean that is quite exceptional.

Now, of course, they've been helped again by those many dozens of different investigations, the many journalists that are here in Ukraine documenting what's happening. The technology, of course, that has allowed the world in real time to uncover the war crimes as Russian troops have retreated from places like Bucha and some of the other names that have become synonymous with war crimes and war time atrocities.

This, though, today, Jim, was a civilian court trying a young man, a 21-year-old man, a very young man, that's what I kept thinking when I looked at him in the dock, Vadim Shishimarin (ph). Now, he's accused of having, on the 28th of February, in those very first few days of the war, have come south with his troops. Their convoy was attacked by Ukrainian forces. They fled in a stolen car. And then, as they arrived in a village in the Sumy (ph) region, in the northeast of the country, Sor Sivi (ph), a 62-year-old man on a bicycle, who was on his phone, not very far from where he lived, and Vadim Shishimarin (ph) was given the order to shoot him, which he did.

So, this becomes the first war crime to be prosecuted. And we had a chance to speak to the prosecutor today who told us that the importance of prosecuting even while the war continued was that she hoped civilian deaths could be prevented in those parts of the country where the fighting continues.

SCIUTTO: Echoes of Nuremberg. And just following orders didn't work there. It doesn't appear it will work here either.

Melissa Bell, thanks so much.

First on CNN, new satellite images show that Russia is now excavating the site of a bombed out theater in Mariupol. You may remember this. This is the same one where Ukrainian officials believe some 300 citizens who were sheltering there were killed by a Russian air strike. The word "children" could clearly be seen from above in Russian.

These new images show a crane at the side of the building and trucks parked toward the front. The latest images taken on May 6th appear to show a large hole in the theater's roof, likely the epicenter of the explosion that tore that building apart with all those people inside.

HILL: Yes.

This morning, Ukrainian officials say Russian forces are launching artillery and air strikes in Mariupol, while blocking Ukrainian units near the Azovstal steel plant. Right now, several remain trapped inside that facility last night.

Our colleague Erin Burnett spoke to the mother of a man defying her pleas to evacuate.



VALENTINA, SON TRAPPED IN MARIUPOL'S AZOVSTAL STEEL PLANT (through translator): I believe that he is in there in Azovstal. He said he was a paramedic. The guys there need me. I say, you're wounded. You cannot. And he answered, people without arms and legs are wounded. And I have arms and legs, so I'm fine. I know he won't leave his boys in a difficult moment. He won't leave them. He will be with them to the end. And he cannot be taken prisoner. He took an oath, always faithful.


SCIUTTO: This morning, new CNN reporting that the intelligence community has now launched an internal review of how it assesses the fighting power of foreign militaries.

HILL: Now that review comes amid pressure from lawmakers who say officials made inaccurate assessments of military capabilities in Afghanistan and in Ukraine.

CNN's Katie Bo Lillis helped to break this story and she joins us now.

So, Katie Bo, what more have you learned here?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Erica, so the intelligence community is conducting its own internal review of how it assesses how well a foreign military will perform when it is actually thrust into the heat of battle. More than just beyond just counting tanks, but its will to fight, right, like not just its military capabilities, but how will the sort of human organ of the -- of the -- of this foreign military behave when they're faced up in battle under enemy fire.

Now, this comes, as you mentioned, as there's pressure from the Senate Intelligence Committee who have sent, in the last couple of days, a classified letter to the intelligence community pointing out that the IC has had two pretty big failures in the last year when it comes to assessing the -- this -- this very question. In Afghanistan, the intelligence community appeared to overestimate how long the U.S.- backed Afghan military would be able to hold Kabul against a Taliban assault. The prevailing assessment at the time was perhaps six months to a year. And, of course, as we saw, Kabul fell, the Afghan military collapsed really before the United States had even left the country.

And now, of course, in Ukraine, the intelligence community appears to have underestimated the Ukrainian military's ability to fend off the Russian advance. The prevailing view going into the conflict was that Kyiv would fall in three to four days. And, of course, as we've seen, we're nearly three months into this conflict and Kyiv still stands.

The problem for policymakers on Capitol Hill is that they say, look, had the Biden administration had more accurate predictions of -- in both of these instances of how long a foreign military was going to be able to stand up, they might have made different policy decisions.

Jim. Erica.

SCIUTTO: It's a good question, what was the effect of this.

Katie Bo Lillis, thanks so much.

Joining us now, former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark. CNN global affairs analyst Susan Gasser as well.

General Clark, if I can begin with you. You know, the Afghan intel had an effect, right, because they overestimated the Afghan forces' capability that left the U.S. really flat footed as it fell and made the withdraw that much more chaotic. Did overestimating the Russian military impact the U.S. and west's response to this? For instance, would they have gotten more weapons in earlier to help the Ukrainians as a result?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, well, you know, the best intelligence about forces comes from U.S. service members who were there working with the forces. In the case of Afghanistan, we didn't have anybody out there. And this was a decision made by the Trump administration 2018 to stop all the advisers, nobody could go out there. So we really couldn't see what was happening in the field.

What you're getting from the intelligence community is communications intercepts, talk from various people and so forth, but they're not seeing the hands on. Same is somewhat true in the case of Ukraine. We didn't have our own eyes and ears in there. We did have people in there.

But the other thing, Jim, about the Ukraine situation is that if you're going to do the post war (ph) audit, you have to also look at what we were doing behind the scenes. We did a lot in the last few weeks, three months, four months, when we had the Russian plans, we knew they were coming. We put a lot of effort into Ukraine. And I think we really changed the balance.

And on the other hand, we know that Putin did not prepare his forces correctly for going in. They had the technology. They weren't -- they weren't prepared. And, of course, who wants to launch a major attack through a swamp that's not frozen.


CLARK: Only some intelligence guy who doesn't understand the military. So there are a lot of things that -- that, you know, the intelligence community needs to do this assessment, but there's a lot of factors that were out of their control.

HILL: So, taking all that into account, Susan, what do you think the ultimate impact will be here then of this investigation? Do you see real changes happening that will in turn lead to better, more accurate intelligence?


SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think it's probably a question of, you know, what you do with the information that you have. It seems, General Clark is right, that the U.S. intelligence was strikingly accurate when it comes to the question of what the Russian plan was and what they hoped to do in Ukraine. In fact, there were many naysayers and doubters among European allies here in the United States who didn't believe intelligence that turned out to be strikingly accurate.

I think where they had a much harder time is understanding why it is in advance that Putin's war plan was going to fail so spectacularly when it came to the battle of Kyiv. And, you know, their capabilities didn't match the plan that the U.S. intelligence came up with. And I think that's true in both Afghanistan and Ukraine. What you see is the question of how does the U.S. frame the information that it has. How do we assess it?

And I think that there's certainly more that could be done because policymakers definitely made decisions on the basis of the idea that Russia was going to launch this lightning strike, that it had the capability to carry out. And, obviously, that didn't prove to be the case. I'm sure that the U.S. would have approached it differently had it had different assessments.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and, by the way, you make the point right, in terms of Russian intent and the size of Russian forces, the intel assessments were remarkably accurate and right, as you say, over the doubts of many in Europe and elsewhere.

General Clark, looking forward, given the failure here, does the U.S. need to reassess, for instance, China's military capabilities and intentions regarding a place like Taiwan?

CLARK: Well, I think, yes, we always have to look at this. But I think that the near term issue is still Ukraine, Jim, on this because right now the intelligence community is saying that there's sort of stalemate here. And the question is then, how hard must we work to push more supplies or weapons, more ammunition into Kyiv and what's the risk in doing so.

So, this is the big question. Is Putin going to use a nuclear weapon? And if you give him aircraft, is that going to be the excuse he uses? I mean why haven't we given the Ukrainians the aircraft they need, the long range rocket systems they need. They've been begging for this for months. And somehow we're holding back on them. We're modulating this. And I hear various descriptions of it. Oh, they might strike into Russia, they might do this, Putin might do that. These are the critical near-term intelligence issues. And if we get these right, and if Ukraine can fend off Russia and eject it, we're a lot safer in Taiwan because China's watching very closely whether the United States is timid or more bold in supporting Ukraine. SCIUTTO: Yes.

General Wesley Clark, Susan Glasser, good to have you both with us this morning. Thank you.

This morning, Israeli police used batons to beat crowds carrying the coffin of al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. It happened near a hospital in Jerusalem where her remains have been kept since she was fatally shot while covering a Israeli military raid in the West Bank.

SCIUTTO: Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem.

Atika, this clash happened before Abu Akleh's funeral this morning. What followed? How long did this last? What more do we know?

ATIKA SHUBERT, JOURNALIST: Well, we were actually at the hospital when the clash happened. They were trying to bring the coffin out in a walking funeral procession. This is what hundreds of mourners who were there wanted.

However, Israeli police refused to allow the coffin to move forward, as a walking procession. And when they tried to go through, Israeli police charged the procession, taking their batons and beating a some of the pallbearers and the coffin nearly fell to the ground.

It was a very tense situation. There was tear gas, flash grenades, riot police mounted on horses charged through at one point. But eventually the family, the Abu Akleh family, took control and said that they would find another way to do the funeral procession by car. And Israeli police came to an agreement with them and withdrew.

Now, after that, the funeral was held at the Greek orthodox church in the old city. And it was an outpouring of thousands of people, Palestinians coming to pay tribute to Shireen Abu Akleh. Remember, she was, for many of them, almost a member of the extended family, reporting daily on Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation. So, for them, this has been a very, very, very close personal death to many of the people here.

So, thousands of people streamed here. We're now in Mount Zion Cemetery, where you might be able to see behind me the burial is actually taking place. And you can see just how many people have come here to pay their respects.

Jim and Erica.


HILL: Yes, that's incredible.

Atika, really good to have you on the ground there. Thank you.

Just ahead here, five Republican lawmakers, including the House minority leader, now facing subpoenas from their own colleagues, if they actually cooperate. If they don't -- if they don't, what are the consequences, if any? Plus, more than 40 percent of baby formula is now out of stock

nationwide. You know what's in stock, a whole lot of misinformation. Just ahead, a pediatrician joins us with what you need to know and what parents can do.

SCIUTTO: And, later, we will meet a dog that has become an international hero -- there he is -- for sniffing out hundreds of Russian mines and explosives left behind in Ukraine. I spoke with his handlers, his trainer about their life saving and dangerous work. It's a great conversation. You get to meet that little guy.



SCIUTTO: After months of weighing whether to subpoena their Republican colleagues, the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack is now taking an extraordinary step. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and four other GOP lawmakers have now received subpoenas after refusing to cooperate voluntarily.

HILL: It comes as the panel is, of course, eager to find out more information as it heads into these public hearings, which are set to begin next month.

CNN's Evan Perez joining us now with the very latest.

Look, from everything I've seen, and, you know, just my gut, one would guess that they're likely not going to comply.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's a very, very good guess based on everything we've seen.

We know, Bianna, that the committee asked these members for voluntary testimony, asked them to come in voluntarily, and everyone including Kevin McCarthy, the minority House leader, said no. So, we can -- we can guess -- they haven't said exactly yet whether they will comply, but we can guess that this is where they will remain. The others, you can see who are subpoenaed, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs and Scott Perry. And, of course, these are people who played a very big part in trying to help the former president stay in office. And there is a lot of information that the committee believes they can learn from them.

We -- this is an extraordinary, extraordinary request, however. So, you can bet that there's going to be some time before we see any of those people appear before the committee.

SCIUTTO: So there's testimony and there's documents. FBI investigators, they've issued a subpoena to the National Archives for access to classified documents Trump took to Mar-a-Lago, made a bit of a story a few weeks ago.


SCIUTTO: How serious is this? PEREZ: Well, it's very serious. This is an investigation by the FBI to

see whether classified information, Jim and Bianna, was exposed, whether there was a follow -- whether the Trump -- I'm sorry, Erica, the -- whether the Trump in Mar-a-Lago followed rules that govern the preservation of classified information. And so we know that this is a grand jury subpoena that went to the National Archives for them to turn over these boxes of documents that have been retrieved from Mar- a-Lago. The FBI will look through those with the intelligence community to make sure how, you know, what information is in there, how were these kept, who had access to this.

"The New York Times," by the way, is also reporting that individuals, people at the White House, who may have handled some of this at the end of the Trump presidency, are also being asked to do some interviews. So, this could go in a serious direction. We know that the way the FBI does these investigations, Jim and Erica, is that they will want to go -- perhaps go to Mar-a-Lago and see where these boxes of documents were stored and, again, whether the law was broken in any way in the handling of classified information.

SCIUTTO: And not the first time there's been questions about Trump's handling of that, including while he was president.

PEREZ: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, thanks so much.

PEREZ: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So here to discuss, former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates.

Laura, good to have you.

First on the subpoenas here. You heard Evan's sense there that they will not comply. So, what are the consequences? What happens?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, that's the million dollar question here, of course, because there's the idea of the right of Congress to actually have these subpoenas and the right for them to expect for them to be complied with, particularly if you have a committee that is a -- is actually a congressional committee. And we've seen a whole history in modern times really in our history about the expectation that those must actually be complied with.

Now, more recently, there has been people who thumb their nose at it, which really, in a way, can delegitimize the validity of these actual committees and their ability to actually enforce them. So you have the idea of their rights to have them enforced, but also the idea of the political consequences.

As you well know, there's a sort of -- sort of Damocles hanging over this particular committee because the midterm election is about seven months away. And if there is a chance for some reason in the balance of power, the expectation is that this committee will go away. And so they've got the clock about this notion, the American appetite in terms of their willingness to have been patient since January 2021 to have the information and the idea of the retaliatory notions that have already been floated by people like Kevin McCarthy about even subpoenaing members of Congress on the Democratic side going forward.

So, there's probably an agonizing decision that had both political consequences and ones in which they thought to themselves, will we be able to have them enforced in a court of law in time for those midterm elections.

HILL: It's fascinating how this decision came about. You know, "Politico" reporting this morning Liz Cheney was pushing really hard for this, right, against some of the other lawmakers who were a little bit more reticent.


I'm just curious, from your perspective, Laura, does -- do these subpoenas, rather, does this add at all to the -- I don't want to say the legitimacy of the investigation, it's not that it isn't a legitimate investigation -- but does it in any way bolster it?

COATES: I think it does bolster to use all of the available tools at your disposal to try to compel testimony. If they had simply said, well, we asked you to attend an actual hearing, they could come back later with a talking point that says, well, you know, had you actually subpoenaed me, they maybe we would have had a different conversation. By exhausting all of the available vehicles to try to get compliance, you really do buttress your ability to say, look, we not only have the means, we tried to pursue them. And so you've got this attitude.

But the other side of it, you've got the political consequences yet again where people will likely fund-raise off of the feather in the cap that says, hey, they want to subpoena me to a committee that I've said had you just put more Republicans on, including Jim Jordan, who Kevin McCarthy wanted to be a part of, or the talking point is to remove the so-called rhinos of Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, as they have alleged -- been alleged to be by the likes of the former president, then that would have buttressed legitimacy from the get go.

So it's kind of a catch 22 in many respects, Erica.

HILL: Yes.

COATES: You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. But at the very bare minimum, the electorate should expect that if you have in your arsenal subpoenas, why not extend them? And you can't really, although it's a political body, the idea of being purely governed by an expectation of a midterm election possibly changing a balance of power would give short shrift to the ability to actually pursue the investigation in itself.

SCIUTTO: Laura, just quickly, the president now facing -- the former president, an FBI investigation of his handling of classified material. Where could this go, and what would the potential legal consequences be for Trump? COATES: Well, the law has been quite clear since at least Nixon about

the requirement that these documents, these papers don't belong in the personal archives of an outgoing president. They are supposed to be a part of the so-called public record. You have libraries for that reason. So, if there is a clear violation of the law, the accountability should be pursued. Whether it goes to the actual person who is the subject of it, Donald Trump, or somebody who was a handler of the information, that remains to be seen. But there is very clear laws as to why we want this in the public record to guard against abuses of power. If there's a violation, I hope for accountability.

HILL: Laura Coates, always good to have you with us. Thank you.

COATES: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come here, the nationwide shortage of baby formula prompting concern and a lot of confusion among parents. So, what are the options available to you? We're going to take a look at the dos and also the very important dont's, next.