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Biden Hosts Leaders of Finland, Sweden After Nations Apply to NATO; Stocks Down Again After Dow Has Worst Trading Day Since 2020; New York Governor Strengthens Red Flag, Announces New Domestic Terrorism Unit. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Right now, President Biden is at the White House meeting with leaders for what will likely be NATO's two newest members, the prime minister of Sweden and the president there of Finland. It is all part of a show of support after those two nations formally submitted their applications after years, decades of neutrality.

The three are expected to speak from the Rose Garden minutes from now. We are going to bring you those comments from that podium there live. White House officials say today's meeting will allow the three nations to, quote, coordinate a path forward and compare notes on the move.

This comes just hours before President Biden leaves for his first trip to Asia since taking office. Over the next several days, he will make stops in South Korea and Japan with hopes of reinforcing those alliances, of course, with China in mind there.

Plus, we are watching a continuing losing streak on Wall Street, the Dow down again this morning, though, not quite as far as it was earlier. We're watching it closely, this on the heels of its worst days in nearly two years yesterday.

Let's begin with CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood on the north lawn. John, this meeting, an important show of support for these allies who are making an enormous strategic change here. Do they believe this is baked in because Turkey continues to make bones about standing in the way?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think baked in, but there does seem to be confidence on all sides both from Finland and Sweden as well as from the United States, that they'll be able to get over the obstacles that Turkey has raised, which involve the relationship of those two countries with Kurdish community, the Turks say they are harboring terrorists within those countries. Those countries imposed an arms embargo on Turkey after the invasion of Northeastern Syria, which involved trying to quell uprising from Kurds there. But I think there is, given the unity that has come out of the broader European community within NATO about resisting Russian aggression, it seems likely that they will be able to get past it.

We'll hear from those leaders around 10:30, if they keep to the schedule, but I think all the signs going in were that they were confident that they could work this out with Turkey. They're engaging diplomatically, both directly with Turkey. The United States is also facilitating those conversations as well with hopes of resolving them fairly soon.

SCIUTTO: It's a big moment there, expanding the alliance. John Harwood, thanks so much.

This hour, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is at the U.N. Sharing the first signature event of this administration at the Security Council. And the focus is important. It's the link between conflict and food security, something we're certainly seeing in Ukraine now. Blinken will also meet with the U.N. secretary-general, Guterres, to discuss the humanitarian suffering in Ukraine on so many fronts.

CNN National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood joins us now. So, Kylie, this is important, right? I mean, Ukraine is a huge supplier of grain and corn, particularly to Africa. There's a war going on there. How big of an effect is that having and what will this assistance do exactly?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a major effect on the global food insecurity crisis because of this war in Ukraine. Secretary Blinken is in New York to do two things, first of all, to express U.S. commitment to this issue. He announced, as you were saying, some new food emergency security assistance for this crisis, for food and security, globally that is deepening because of the Ukraine war. And he also said that the United States is going to be boosting fertilizer production to try and help those countries trying to produce grain that is now not getting out of Ukraine and getting it to the countries that need that grain right now.

And then the other thing that he is going to do is really squarely look at this problem and point the finger at Russia. Because there have been some countries who have said that it's the sanctions on Russia that are creating this crisis and the secretary is very clear in saying this has nothing to do with the sanctions, it is everything to do with Russia blockading those southern ports in Ukraine, so that those massive, massive ships that have all of that grain cannot get out of the country and get to the places they need to go, in the Middle East and in Africa.

And the secretary was also very clear last night when he was on the Colbert Show in talking about how Russia's motivation for this invasion into Ukraine has actually squarely backfired.


Just listen to what he said.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Putin has managed to precipitate everything he sought to prevent. He wanted to prevent NATO from getting bigger with Ukraine. Now, it actually is with Finland and with Sweden. He wanted to divide the west, divide the alliance. It's more united than it has ever been.

Everything we're seeing is Putin achieving the exact opposite of what he says he wants.


ATWOOD: And, of course, secretary met with the foreign minister of Turkey here just yesterday, as you guys were discussing the leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House today, and Blinken is trying to be the one behind the scenes who works to create a diplomatic solution here, as Turkey is standing in the way of those two countries joining NATO. It's up to Blinken and other members of the alliance to try and figure out what they can give Turkey so that they are a green light, because all members of NATO need to green light the joining of any country into that alliance. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. We'll see if it is just brinksmanship, as there is a concession from Sweden that smoothes the path. Kylie Atwood, thanks very much.

On the ground in Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross says it has now registered hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners of war who have left the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol this week. Russia has said some 1,700 Ukrainian soldiers have left the plant. Several hundred more though are still reportedly inside.

The region of Luhansk, where Russians are pushing to consolidate their control, new images of damage to the town of Severodonetsk, similarly in the Donestk region, Russian strikes are increasing so often civilian targets, like you're seeing there. That's an apartment building. Ukrainian officials say six people have been rescued after a five-storey residential building and office as well were hit.

Joining me now, The Washington Post Ukraine Bureau Chief Isabelle Khurshudyan, she just returned from four months in Ukraine. Nice to have you on.

So, you were out in the northeast around Kharkiv where we're seeing some successes for Ukrainian forces pushing back Russians from one of their key targets, right? They were already pushed back from Kyiv, the capital, and now being pushed back there. What does that say to you about Ukraine, the fight in the east right now? I mean, is Ukraine gaining the upper hand in some of the areas?

ISABELLE KHURSHUDYAN, UKRAINE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I think the situation is more of like Russia is not winning, Ukraine is not winning. But I do think Kharkiv, the battle for Kharkiv, is a major turning point. I mean, when we look at kind of what the battle for Kyiv and Russia's pullout there meant in the greater picture, I think this will have similar ramifications where, because the Russians were losing ground in Kharkiv, it stalled their operations elsewhere in the Donbas, they were using that area as kind of a base because of how close it is to the Russian border, only 25 miles. So, to lose ground there and potentially have to kind of pull out all of their forces maybe, that would be a big blow to them and kind of limit what they're able to do in the Donbas potentially. But they are still kind of making big gains in Luhansk. So, it's hard to say who is winning.

SCIUTTO: So, a lot of Ukrainians, and I met them while I was there, the moment they have an opportunity to return home, they will do it. A lot have fled the country but it's not their first choice. They want to be home. When you've been out there, what do they find in an area, say, around Kharkiv when they return?

KHURSHUDYAN: Lots of land mine. I went out with police, crime scene investigators, and it really felt like an episode of CSI, but kind of very insane with all of the land mines. And it took hours to just even get to two bodies that had been killed by land mines. There were trip wires, booby-traps everywhere.

They were eager to take those risks. I mean, you're still pretty close to the front line. There's still Russian drones kind of flying around. You're still hearing shelling very close by. But for them, it was really important to get to the scene, to start to collect evidence so that they can start to build some of these war crimes cases.

And they're not waiting for the war to end. To do that, they have a database of DNA. They really just want to collect as much evidence as possible to start to, you know, charge some of these Russian soldiers for the atrocities.

SCIUTTO: And we're seeing the first trial already under way.

You were up close to the border there and Kharkiv is close to a border which has been a big center of operations for the Russian military during the invasion. What are you seeing in terms of the possibility of Ukrainian military action inside of Russia? Because there have been a lot of unexplained fires and explosion at fuel depots and military bases. What do we know about Ukrainian activity there?

KHURSHUDYAN: Yes. It's all very mysterious. Ukrainian doesn't really acknowledge that these attacks on Russia, so it's hard to say --

SCIUTTO: Or deny.

KHURSHUDYAN: Right, exactly. It's hard to say what's going on.

Now, I did talk to the governor of Kharkiv, and he said, we need to rethink how we see the Kharkiv region because, you know, we're never going to be able to completely get them out. Why? The second you get all the way up to the border, that means you're launching attacks on Russian territory, which is a different ball game.


So, I mean, what they're officially saying is one thing, what they're actually doing. I think we're going to see the same thing in the Chernihiv region, kind of north of Kyiv, where -- you know, how do you defend your territory without kind of attacking the other country's territory.

SCIUTTO: We talked about food security. Ukraine still remarkably is growing a lot of the wheat and corn they normally export to the world but Russia controls the Black Sea. Is any getting out to the world market at this point?

KHURSHUDYAN: Not really. I mean -- and it is a big problem because that is where -- you know, Ukraine feeds Africa, Ukraine feeds much of the world. And you drive around Ukraine -- I've done a lot of driving around Ukraine the past four months and all you see is these beautiful fields and that grain is not getting out.

You know, I think -- I know Ukrainians are obviously eager to have those ports open, but Odessa is, you know, where that would go through and my understanding that's all been pretty locked down.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's the yellow on the Ukrainian flag, as we've said in the show before to show the golden grain fields. Isabelle, thanks so much for joining us.


SCIUTTO: I appreciate it.

Now to Wall Street, where stocks are down again this morning after the market suffered its worst day since June of 2020. Listen, we see markets, Christine Romans, yo-yo a bit here, it's not down as much at the open, God knows what's going to happen later in the day. So, what should Americans expect from the major indices today in going forward? What are the experts saying to you?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right about the yo-yo. So, let's look at the long-term. 5,300 points off the -- I'm hearing myself back -- but 5,300 points off the Dow since the beginning of the year. So, the trend here is what's really important to focus on and the trend has been growing fears about higher interest rates, about inflation, about the Fed having to jack up official rates to fight that inflation and could it tip things into a recession.

The American consumer has been mighty, no question, very strong retail sales numbers this week, but we saw from some of those big retailers that they're saying they can see how people are shifting their spending a little bit because of inflation and inflation actually and the supply chain problems actually starting to hurt the profits of some of the big retailers.

There's just a lot going on, Jim. I mean, I talk about these cross currents. I don't remember a time where there were so many different threads all at once. Anyone would be so destabilizing. COVID still disrupting people's lives and their work, right? It's disrupting a life in China, which is the manufacturing floor to the world. You've got just what you were talking about, an impending grain disaster in the bread basket of the world. There's just so much going on here I think that investors are fleeing riskier stocks and they're going into the safe havens, like the bond market and just reassessing, really repositioning for this new, longer trend.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you could argue the market got a little fat too, right?

ROMANS: Very fat.

SCIUTTO: I mean, the markets correct for a reason. Christine Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Any moment, President Biden will come to the podium there to speak alongside the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House. It's a strong message to Russia as both countries are applying to join NATO, just the result Russia did not want. Stay with us for live coverage of those comments.

But, first, the 18-year-old charged with first-degree murder in the Buffalo deadly supermarket shooting, well, there you see him, he's back in court. Details on the steps New York is taking now to try to prevent another hate-fueled, deadly massacre.

And later, President Biden's latest move to try to alleviate the baby formula shortage, what doctors are advising parents to do in the meantime.



SCIUTTO: New York Governor Kathy Hochul has signed two executive orders trying to stop more shootings, like the racist attack in Buffalo that killed ten. Her first order makes the state's red flag law stronger. It requires state police to file to prevent people from getting firearms any time they believe someone is a threat to themselves or others. The second order establishes a new domestic terrorism unit and the governor says all counties in the state will look at their strategies for identifying terror threats in advanced.

The accused Buffalo shooter is back in court this morning. A short appearance for the man accused, and there he is, of killing ten people at that Buffalo supermarket. The judge ordered him back to jail for the next step in the case, a grand jury. All this as the broken hearted about Buffalo community is still reeling from what happened, understandably so.

Joining us now is Darius Pridgen. He is the president of the Buffalo City Council. Darius, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: You know, I guess I got to begin with here we are again. You have a mass shooting, you have visits from lawmakers and the president, you have some executive orders signed, promises of change, but really no political will to take hard steps here, whether it be on gun control or even a red flag law that had some bipartisan support following other mass shootings, but doesn't appear to be anywhere here in Congress. Is Congress failing communities like yours?

PRIDGEN: Oh, you know, I think that it's obvious of our feelings. It might not be their feelings that they're failing community likes ours, but they're also not at the funerals.


They're also not, you know, at the gravesides and they don't have to witness what we witness in our community. And so I think that if Congress does not act now, they are really blind to what we are dealing with.

One of the things I keep saying is, with this person streaming what he did and writing in great detail, if that doesn't get to the heart of our lawmakers to make some changes, I'm not sure what will.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Dems control though both Houses now and they have the White House. Why no action now?

PRIDGEN: Well, you know, I really wish I could answer that. You know, I'm in Buffalo. I'm at the city level. So, all of my comments are just based as a citizen, as a voter. I don't know how long it takes to get something through. Our delegation from New York has been in conversations with us back here on the ground. There was some real conversation that I had with the president of the United States. And so at least I know those who represent us in New York mean what they say, we believe. But we know it takes more than just Senator Schumer and Gillibrand and Higgins. It takes those votes. That's the American political system.

SCIUTTO: So let me give you a chance. As you say, you're going to the funeral, right? You're seeing this face to face. You have got to hug the mothers who lost sons or the spouses who lost their husband or wife. I'm going to give you a chance to address lawmakers and let's say it straight out loud, particularly Republican lawmakers, who won't even consider bans, for instance, on high-capacity magazines, as were used in this shooting here. What would you say to them?

PRIDGEN: So, you know, I'm going to be burying soon one of the victims. I buried over half of the homicide victims average in Buffalo, New York. I'm a witness of this every week. And whether you are Democrat or whether you are Republican, just remember that when the skin rolls back, it's all the same color. But when it's rolled over and we're alive, there are targets that look like me. And regardless of whether it's white targets or black targets, but today, we concentrate on black targets, but regardless at the in, when that person has that weapon and there's no control, it allows our communities to be out of control.

And I want to be clear, the gun did not walk in Tops. The person walked in Tops. But he had the tools in his hand to commit an act so heinous that a law abiding security guard who got off shots still couldn't get to him because he didn't have the same capacity. We need you to hear us. We need you to know there's still blood in our parking lots, there's still blood in our grocery stores, not only here, but across the United States. Remember, you were elected to take care of people, not to take care of your political party. And if your political parties mean more to you than people, may God bless you.

SCIUTTO: It's powerful, Sir. What do you say to folks at those funerals?

PRIDGEN: You know, my job is to bring hope and bring peace. And I'm going to tell you, I do a lot of funerals here, a lot of funerals, because we do funerals for free for people who find themselves in this space. And so it's always my job to, when they come in crying, to help them leave out with some type of hope that there's still hope.

But this is different because this was not a grandmother who died of old age. This was not an uncle who died of cancer, all of which is still hard. But these were law abiding citizens. And so I have to say to those families, you, right now, have been given the freedom to utilize your hurt to bring change. It is the families that has to go to Congress now and get the audience now. It's the families now that have to go to the state representatives and say, we demand change.

Because what we saw when a plane went down in the air, families go and get laws changed with the federal aviation. If we are ever going to get laws changed, it's really going to take like the three-year-old that was in our church Sunday, that his dad came to buy him a birthday cake, walked in to get a birthday cake, and we had to sing happy birthday to him at church.


It's going to be them looking in the eyes or that three-year-old who no longer has a father. But if they refuse to even meet with the families after all of the cameras are done, if they refuse to listen to people who are most affected after all of the cameras are done, to me, they shouldn't be in office much longer.

SCIUTTO: Powerful words, Sir. Let's hope folks are listening. Darius Pridgen, thanks for joining us.

PRIDGEN: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, as President Biden takes more steps to alleviate a shortage of baby formula across the country, doctors are preparing for challenges ahead. Our next guest is head of pediatrics at a Michigan hospital with some advice about what you can do.