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China Jet Crash Investigation; Crisis in Afghanistan; Russian Soldier on Trial For War Crimes Pleads Guilty; High Drama in Primaries. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 13:00   ET



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Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks so much for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

High stakes and high drama in primary races that will help shape the all-important midterm elections and the future control of Congress. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Senate race in the Republican primary is still too close to call. Trump-endorsed TV celeb Dr. Mehmet Ez -- Oz, I should say, has traded leads with former hedge fund CEO David McCormick, and that race may well be forced into an automatic recount.

The eventual winner will face Democrat John Fetterman. He's the state's current lieutenant governor. He cast his ballot from his hospital room just before undergoing surgery to implant a pacemaker that includes a defibrillator. Fetterman suffered a stroke last week.

And a Trump-backed flamethrower flames out. Scandal-plagued Congressman Madison Cawthorn suffers defeat, despite a last-minute lifeline from the former president.

CNN politics editor at large Chris Cillizza joins us now to break down all the results.

Chris, let's just begin with the U.S. Senate races there in Pennsylvania. Where do things stand right now?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, so I have got it pulled up, because this is -- it was the biggest race going into the night, Ana, and it's the biggest race we don't have called coming out of the night. Now, this -- I'm no math major, but this is a 0.2 percent difference.

Now, the important thing to know with Oz ahead, I always say you would rather be ahead than behind. It's 2,500 votes. That means that David McCormick has to get 2,500-plus votes and Mehmet Oz gets zero. It happens. It can happen statewide, particularly state as big as Pennsylvania, but you would rather be ahead than behind.

This is the number that I think viewers need to pay attention to, 0.5 percent. That is -- if there is a difference of 0.5 percent or less between these top two, there will almost certainly be a recount. We won't know that, I don't think, until next week, a lot of ballots still being counted.

Even though there are 96 percent in, you still have ballots being counted. When the margin is this small, you never know.

Let me just jump to a race we do know about, who Mehmet Oz or David McCormick will be running against. Well, they will be running against John Fetterman. This is not a surprise. I'm a little surprised at this. Conor Lamb was a rising star. He won a special election about four or five years ago in Western Pennsylvania, 26 percent running as a moderate.

I think people underestimate Fetterman, the lieutenant governor. I don't think they should do that. He won overwhelmingly, 59 percent of the vote. So it'll be Fetterman vs. either Oz or McCormick. I think we're probably going to have about three to six, seven days until we know for sure.

CABRERA: We're also watching another race there in Pennsylvania.

A controversial Trump-backed candidate has won the GOP primary for governor. So tell us about the implications of this.

CILLIZZA: Yes, Ana, I think this is an undertold story.

Doug Mastriano, right here, this guy, he's a state senator. This is someone who five years ago in the Republican Party, 10 years ago, especially, in the Republican Party would be considered a fringe or an extremist candidate. Now he's the Republican nominee for governor in one of the swingiest states in the country of Pennsylvania.

Mastriano is a guy who not only came to Washington on January 6, but charter buses using campaign funds to bring people. He is someone who has held hearings using his perch on the state Senate committees to investigate supposed fraud in the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

This is one of the leading deniers of elections in swing states. It's how he got Donald Trump's attention, and Donald Trump endorsed him last week. Now, what does that mean when you have Doug Mastriano as the nominee? Well, this is a really good illustration. This is based on PredictIt and our friend Harry Enten, basically saying, well, what are the chances of winning?

OK, April 18, look at this. Just because it's not a -- going to be a great year to be a Democrat in Pennsylvania, we think, or nationally, there was a 63 percent chance that Republicans were going to win the Pennsylvania governor's race, now 38. Again, I didn't major in math, but that's 25 percent difference, which is a really, really big deal.

Again, Pennsylvania governor, a hugely important race.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he's said that the election was stolen. He's pushed those things. Does that concern you?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): I'm aware that he has said things that I would disagree with.

But, like I said, until I actually meet the guy, get to know him a little bit, I'm going to suspend judgment.

RAJU: Did you support him? Did you vote for him?

TOOMEY: I did not vote for him.


CILLIZZA: Yes, if he voted for him, he probably would say a little bit more that he did.

So, can I jump? Do we have time, Ana? I want to just jump to one other, North Carolina, because I think this is important. Donald Trump endorsed Madison Cawthorn on Monday.


Madison Cawthorn loses narrowly, but loses to a state senator named Chuck Edwards, which gets us to this, the Donald Trump-endorsed candidates. He endorses so many candidates. Sometimes, it can be hard to keep track of them all. But let's just go through what happened on Tuesday.

Mehmet Oz, we don't know yet, right? This is a question mark. Not sure yet. He's ahead, but who knows? Doug Mastriano, that's a win. Ted Budd, North Carolina congressman, that's a win. Madison Cawthorn, that's a loss. Put an L there. And Janice McGeachin, we didn't talk about this race, but she ran against -- she's sitting lieutenant governor. She ran against the governor of the state, Brad Little, and wound up losing, and losing overwhelmingly. So that's an L.

So, like a lot of things with Donald Trump, it's a mixed bag. He did some good. I would say, Ted Budd, he certainly did some good for, Mehmet Oz, if he won, so pointing -- he did some good for. Mastriano probably wins even without Donald Trump. He will take credit for what he won and he will try to make you forget what he lost.

That's how Donald Trump works -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Chris Cillizza, you worked that magic board like nobody else can. Thank you so much. (LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

CABRERA: And we're going to pick up where Chris left off in our conversation now with Doug Heye. He's the former communications director at the Republican National Committee. And Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution."

Thank you both for joining us.


CABRERA: Doug, there on the Republican side, we're seeing mixed results for Trump-endorsed candidates. What does that tell you?

HEYE: Well, I think, quite often, we overrate and overanalyze what Donald Trump endorses.

He's going to support some candidates who win. He's going to support some candidates who loses. Ultimately, what matters is the candidates and the campaigns that they run. Madison Cawthorn was a terrible candidate and terrible congressman. He lost. Ted Budd ran a good campaign and was a good candidate. He won. That's why we saw the results that we did in North Carolina.

Donald Trump can help people, but what he does is, he gets people surrounded around his base. That's why you see 32, 31 percent for a Madison Cawthorn, a J.D. Vance and now, obviously, with Dr. Oz as well. That's the Trump base. To get above that, you have got to do a lot more and you can't just depend on Donald Trump.

CABRERA: I don't just want to focus on the Republican side, Tia.

Let's look at that Senate race in Pennsylvania for Democrats, with Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman trouncing his opponent, centrist Representative Conor Lamb. Fetterman doesn't exactly look like your typical politician, right? He's 6'8'', tattooed, walks around with a hoodie and shorts.

What should Democrats take away from his big win?

TIA MITCHELL, "THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": I think Democrats and even Republicans will take away that a message that voters read as authentic, genuine, straight shooter really resonates. And that's really not anything new.

But that's something that Fetterman really used to his advantage, that he came across as someone who was listening, who gets it, who stands up for what he believes in and isn't just trying to parrot a line that he thinks pose well or something like that.

And that's really kind of the image he's shaped for himself in Pennsylvania, and it paid off in the primary.

CABRERA: Tia, we talk about progressive and moderate candidates. But where does Fetterman exactly in today's Democratic Party?

MITCHELL: You know, I think that Fetterman, when you look at what he talks about as far as legalizing marijuana and things like that, he's pretty progressive. He doesn't shy away from that.

But he doesn't necessarily lean into, I want to be the Squad or anything like that. Again, he focuses more on, this is what I believe in, and this is what I say I'm going to do. And, again, resisting being labeled a progressive, resisting being put in a box, I think, has been used to his advantage, because he kind of sticks out as kind of a man standing on his own and standing (AUDIO GAP) principles and values, without being assigned to a certain camp.

CABRERA: Doug, in that governor's race in Pennsylvania, an election denier won the GOP primary, state Senator Doug Mastriano, had Trump's endorsement.

And he's actually gone further than other election deniers. He was fully behind the effort to try to overturn the will of the voters in Pennsylvania in the 2020 election. And there in Pennsylvania, it's the governor who appoints the secretary of state...

HEYE: Yes.

CABRERA: ... who oversees elections and who signs off on electors. Do you think Mastriano could win the general?

HEYE: Well, I will tell you, I'm usually as pro-Doug as any Doug can be.


HEYE: In this case, what we see is, it's very troubling both on the substance, on everything that you laid out.

The Stop the Steal movement is based on a lie and a lot of lies. But it still flourishes within parts of the Republican Party. And I'm troubled because it also means that we may potentially take a governor's seat off the off the table.

And what we have seen in past elections for Republicans is that they have nominated people who are completely unelectable. We saw it in 2010, in 2012, and '14 with Senate races, and it's cost Republican seats that they could easily win.

I should point out, though, that he also got a lot of spending from Democrats, who wanted him to be the nominee because they think that he is the most beautiful. That may be true that he's the most beautiful, but, in politics, things come at you pretty fast. Sometimes, I'd say Democrats, be careful what you wish for, because, if he wins, his victory is on you just as much as it is on the Republicans who voted for him.


CABRERA: Tia, let's pivot to North Carolina and what the results involving Congressman Madison Cawthorn could tell us about upcoming races.

Cawthorn is the incumbent. He has been the subject of a swirl of controversies. He was defeated last night. Trump's endorsement couldn't save him. And he was heavily targeted by other Republican leaders, who wanted him out. Do you think this spells trouble for other GOP extremists, someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene there in Georgia's upcoming primaries?

MITCHELL: Yes, I don't, because I think Marjorie Taylor Greene's brand is much different than Madison Cawthorn.

For example, it wasn't just that Madison Cawthorn had far right, conservative values that he espoused. It's not just that he said controversial things that made Democrats mad, which is what is similar to Marjorie Taylor Greene, but Cawthorn also had personal shortcomings, caught not telling the truth about his background, caught up in some law enforcement things ,facing tickets and criminal charges and things like that.

And, also, he got caught up with some of the videos and pictures that leaked, that perhaps his personal life didn't align with some of the things he said politically. And those are the things that Marjorie Taylor Greene has avoided. She also remains very popular in her district.

We saw that in North Carolina. Even some of the voters that Madison Cawthorn represented had kind of got a little bit frustrated with him. We don't see that in Northwest Georgia, where Greene's voters lie. So it looks like she's in a much more comfortable position and has not therefore been attacked by fellow Republicans, the way we saw Republicans pile on against Madison Cawthorn.


HEYE: Ana, if I could...

CABRERA: Well, and that is a big difference, right?

And that's the other part of that, is that they aren't attacking Marjorie Taylor Greene. They're seeming to support her and continue to back up some of the controversial things she's doing.

HEYE: If I could say real...

CABRERA: Go ahead, Doug.

HEYE: If I could say real quickly, there are conversations that are happening right now of, can we replicate what happened with Madison Cawthorn in Georgia? Those conversations are happening on e-mails, on phone calls. There's an effort that's under way already to unseat her.

Madison Cawthorn's loss -- she's still going to be tough to beat. Madison Cawthorn's loss means those conversations are happening a lot more feverishly today than they were yesterday.

CABRERA: OK, to be continued. Stay tuned for more. Thank you, Doug Heye and Tia Mitchell.

HEYE: Thank you.

CABRERA: I appreciate you both.

In Ukraine today: The first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier ends with a guilty plea. We will go live to Kyiv.

Plus: Was it an intentional nosedive? We have new flight data from this China Eastern jet that plunged into the mountains in Southern China back in March. What the evidence is telling investigators.

And five students are now suing a Georgia school district for ignoring complaints of racism. Among their allegations, classmates staged a reenactment of George Floyd's murder in a hallway. More details and where this case goes from here just ahead.



CABRERA: The first Russian war crimes trial since Putin's invasion of Ukraine got under way in Kyiv today.

A 21-year-old Russian soldier accused of killing an unarmed civilian pleaded guilty.

CNN's Melissa Bell is following this for us from Kyiv.

Melissa, what can you tell us about this?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a fairly short first day of the trial, Ana, because it had to be suspended for the sheer number of journalists that were in the room. The courtroom was too small to accommodate us all.

A bigger courtroom will be found for tomorrow, so that the hearing can continue. We got as far as to establish the 21-year-old Vadim Shyshimarin was pleading guilty. Now, what prosecutors allege is that, on the fourth day of the war, he and his -- soldiers around his unit were traveling southwards in a convoy.

It got attacked. He and several of his men managed to escape in a stolen car. They then got to a small village in the Sumy region, where they killed an unarmed civilian who had been riding his bicycle close to his home. The understanding, as far as the prosecutors are concerned, is that he killed the civilian in order that these Russian soldiers on the run would not be reported to Ukrainian authorities.

Now, the other thing we learned today from the fairly short hearing that we had was that what we can expect tomorrow is to hear from another soldier, another Russian soldier that was traveling in that same car, about exactly what went on. Now, this testimony that we're going to have has been welcomed by both the prosecution and the defense. But the point is that we're going to be hearing in this trial, the

first of its kind, not just from one Russian prisoner of war, Ana, but two.

CABRERA: Wow. And to think that this is already happening, these war crimes trials, I think that sends a powerful message to the international community too.

Thank you, Melissa Bell, for that update.

Turning now to a scathing new report from a federal government watchdog. It is calling out both the Biden and Trump administrations for the disastrous end to America's 20-year war in Afghanistan. Today, a catastrophic hunger crisis is gripping that country. Some 20 million people, half the Afghan population, are hungry, according to the World Food Program, drought, the pandemic and the lack of foreign aid after the Taliban took control all creating a desperate situation.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon now.

Barbara, what does this report say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this internal watchdog, Ana, maybe not a big surprise, as the world watched last summer, of course, as Afghanistan basically collapsed during this chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the country.

What the report says is that this all really began with the decisions by the Trump administration and the Biden administration to withdraw U.S. troops, withdraw the U.S. commitment from Afghanistan. And that began to trigger the collapse.


It was a $90 billion, 20-year experiment, if you will, that simply went wrong and probably was never going to work, according to the report, that the African military collapsed, that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani didn't even understand at the end how dependent his military forces were on the United States. When contractors left, aircraft that needed maintenance, that could not be done.

U.S. airstrikes were not happening. So, in a way, it all collapsed in on itself. That $90 billion, of course, went to trying to build an Afghan -- largely went to trying to build an Afghan security force, the report said, that was in the mirror image of U.S. military forces, something that Afghans simply were never going to be capable of doing, very different people, very different country, very different situation.

Now, the Pentagon, responding to this report, doesn't really dispute it, but says that one of the big considerations was, towards the end, Afghan forces simply lacked the will to fight -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you.

One hundred and thirty-two people died when this plane plunged into the mountains in Southern China. Now new evidence is telling us what likely caused the nosedive. The stunning details next.



CABRERA: Black box data from the China Eastern flight that crashed back in March seen here in a total nosedive suggests the plane was deliberately brought down by someone inside the cockpit.

This is according to "The Wall Street Journal," which cites a preliminary assessment from U.S. officials investigating this crash that killed all 132 people on board.

Want to get straight to CNN's aviation correspondent, Pete Muntean.

And, Pete, walk us through what this data suggests. Are investigators thinking this was intentional?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is so interesting here, Ana, is that this new reporting for "The Wall Street Journal" essentially confirms the suspicions that aviation experts told us in the early days of this crash.

It happened on March 21. China Eastern flight 5735 was at 29,000 feet, the very end of the -- very end of its climb and leveling off to a cruise altitude, when the plane made a near vertical dive. It went from 29,000 feet into a Chinese mountainside in under two minutes time. All 132 people on board were killed.

And two sources are telling "The Wall Street Journal" that this all has to do with an intentional act, that maybe somebody in the cockpit did a maneuver on the flight controls themselves, not the autopilot. That could not possibly do it. Not the MCAS system, which is only in the 737 MAX.

Remember, this is a 737-800, a very popular airliner. And what's so interesting that this reporting notes and other aviation experts have noted to us is that there have been no safety issues or recalls on the 737-800. In fact, it was only grounded very briefly in China and then allowed to fly again.

So now the question is whether or not this was an intentional act by one of the members of the flight crew, one of the pilots or maybe a passenger storming the cockpit itself, Ana.

CABRERA: And so, again, this information is from the flight's data recorder. We know investigators also have the cockpit voice recorder, which might also shed some light on what happened.

Do we know what it shows?

MUNTEAN: Well, we know that the cockpit voice recorder contains so much data, because, remember, it is not only recording the ambient noise inside the cockpit, but also the radio transmissions on the -- by the flight crew and also the transmissions pilot to pilot on the intercom. So, we could potentially tell here, if one pilot left to go to the

bathroom and they were locked out, if somebody stormed the cockpit. Investigators can also get a ton of information from the cockpit voice recorder in the fact that they can hear how fast the airplane was going. They can do frequency and spectrum analysis, and they can get really granular detail on what was done.

Even the sound of the door opening can provide a lot of clues to them, Ana.

CABRERA: Pete Muntean, thank you for your reporting.

We now know how former corrections officer Vicky White and accused murderer Casey White were able to book a motel room completely undetected while on the run. It turns out they paid a homeless sex offender $100 to reserve it for them.

Officials say the man didn't break the law because he wasn't aware the pair were fugitives. Earlier this month, the Whites, who are unrelated, led police on a chase after being spotted outside the motel. And after crashing their getaway car, Vicky White was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Casey White was taken back to prison, where he was already serving a 75-year sentence.

Just days after the horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, the House is voting on a bill aimed at preventing domestic terrorism. What's in it, and will it pass?