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Russian airpower and Artillery Propel gains in East; Ukraine Pleads for more Weapons as Russia Advances in East; U.K. Poised to Deport Migrants to Rwanda in Controversial Plan; Nevada Voters to Pick Candidates for Critical Senate Race; Tight Race for South Caroline Republicans Who Opposed Trump; Probe Can't Substantiate Claim that Florida Doctored Data. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 14, 2022 - 04:30   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: After nearly four months of war, the Russian military is gaining the upper hand in the grinding battle for Ukraine's industrial heartland. Ukraine says Russian forces have seized control of the center of Severodonetsk, a critical city, in Russia's push to take over the wider Donbas region. On top to have that, Ukrainian officials say all three bridges into the city are impassable. Make it even harder, of course, to get civilians out or to get aid in. These satellite images you're looking at reveal some of the damage to key bridges right around the city.

The slow but steady advance into eastern Ukraine has been helped along by the sheer scale of course, of Russia's arsenal, as they press their advantage in both air power, as well as artillery. Ukraine has issued increasingly urgent calls for more help from the West, as the brutality of the war takes an even higher toll.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In the battles in Donbas, they will surely go down in military history as one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe. Ukrainian army and our intelligence tactically still beat the Russian military.


SOARES: Let's get more on all of this. Let's bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz who joins us now live to Kyiv. And, Salma, of course, the fear here is that Severodonetsk could become the next Mariupol. And we all remember how that turned out. So, what does this mean here, Salma, for civilians, trying to get civilians out, trying to get aid in, or is that now impossible?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Well, Ukrainian officials say that every minute, evacuations are still ongoing. But as you covered there, Isa, those three main bridges that that connects Severodonetsk to its sister city that would have been the main path out of that region, those are all impassable. They cannot be used. So, Ukrainian officials say it's extremely difficult to pull civilians

out, not just, again, because of the roads that have been shelled, because of the bridges that have been shelled, but also because people are pinned down and fighting. They are quite literally hiding, sheltering in basements. So, it's extremely difficult to extract them.

And you're looking at a city that it's just a matter of when it will fall, not if it will fall. If you're listening to what's happening on the battleground, Russian forces are using superior artillery. They have multiple-launch rocket systems, something Ukraine is in very short supply. And they also have air support. They are pushing back Ukrainian positions. That Ukraine says that already Severodonetsk is 70 to 80 percent under Russian control. They've lost the city center, as well. In his nightly address President Zelenskyy painted a really bleak picture. Take a listen.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): The price of this battle for us is very high. It's just scary. And we draw the attention of our partners on a daily basis to the fact that only a sufficient number of modern artillery for Ukraine will ensure our advantage and, finally, the end of Russian torture of the Ukrainian Donbas.


ABDELAZIZ: You here, again, that plea for more Western weaponry. It's important to just realize just how superior Russia's military is. Ten times the firepower of Ukraine. And what President Zelenskyy's message has been over and over again is will you allow the brute force of President Putin to take, grab, steal land from Ukraine, or will the West step in -- isa?

SOARES: Salma Abdelaziz, thanks very much, Salma. Good to see you.

Well, the U.K. is poised to send the first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda sometime today, even if there's just one person on board. That is after a British court rejected a challenge to a controversial new deportation plan, setting off protests in London. Hundreds -- as you can see there -- gathered to demonstration against the policy. Human rights groups slammed Monday's ruling and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees calls the plan catastrophic.



FILIPPO GRANDI, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES: We believe that this is all wrong. This is all wrong. This deal.


SOARES: Might be all wrong, but it is going ahead. Let's cross to CNN's Nada Bashir who is live for us from Paris. And Nada, good morning to you. Do you know at this stage how many people will be on board this flight today? Because I know you and I were talking yesterday. You said numbers have been dwindling, even though the government says this policy will disrupt human trafficking.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Isa, that number appears to have gone down even further. Previously, we'd heard from human rights organizations, saying that at least more than 100 people had received notices, telling them they'd be deported to Rwanda. That number has been going down since that high court challenge on Friday, where we've seen individual notices being canceled. That is, those individual asylum claims, as opposed to the whole blanket policy, that whole flight.

At this stage, what we've heard from Care4Calais, which is a refugee advocacy group that works a lot here in France in the Calais region with refugees, but also is doing a lot of work in the U.K. with asylum seekers who have been told that they will be deported. They believe only seven people are left on that flight.

But as you mentioned there, the Home Office has said that it will go ahead even if there is only one person on the flight. We've heard from the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss speaking this morning, she wouldn't disclose how many people are expected to be on the flight tonight, but she did con confirm it'll go ahead. Take a listen.


LIZ TRUSS, U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: There will be people on the flight. And if they're not on this flight, they will be on the next flight. Because we are determined to break the model of the appalling people traffickers and sort this issue out, which has caused untold misery, including people dying in the English channel.


BASHIR: That has long been what we've heard from the government. This is a deterrent to prevent people from attempting that dangerous crossing over the channel, where we have already seen so many lives lost. But as you heard there at the beginning from the U.N. -- the U.N.'s Filippo Grandi. He says he actually brought into question the government's reasoning, cast doubts on this reasoning. Not only saying that it is all wrong, but also saying that there must be another way to deal with this crisis -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, the reasoning, the cost, the practicality, the list is endless. On that note, Nada, we have heard as well from 20 -- more than 20 or so senior leaders of the Church of England. This is what they say. I want to just bring up this statement that they put out today in the "Times" newspaper.

It says: Whether or not the first deportation flight leaves Britain today for Rwanda, this policy should become -- should shame us, they write, as a nation. The shame is our own because our Christian heritage should inspire us to treat asylum seekers with compassion, fairness and justice, as we have for centuries.

And so, and Nada, as we listen to this, and really, as Grandi as well. We heard from Grandi there just before where -- I know you've been speaking to migrants, those in France, who I believe are trying to make the channel crossing. What have they been telling you?

BASHIR: Absolutely, Isa. We visited a number of those camps in Calais region. According to human rights organizations here in France, there are still about 1,500 people waiting in those camps to make that crossing. We spoke to some of them just over the weekend. Many told us they are undeterred. They've already been through so much. It's a dangerous and long journeys, fleeing often conflict and violence and persecution, that this is just another step, another obstacle in what has been a difficult journey.

We spoke to many who've not only fled violence but others who also wanted to reunite with family members in the U.K. We spoke to one woman who left Eritrea with her 1-year-old daughter. She's staying with her daughter in that camp. She's been there for over a week now. She just wants to reunite with her husband in the U.K.

Others told us that they were fleeing militia violence in Sudan. And the message that we've been hearing from these organizations on the ground supporting these refugees is that many of these people are then deemed to be refugees once they do cross into the U.K., not asylum seekers, not economic migrants, but refugees in desperate need. But many told us that they are undeterred. They will still try to make that trip -- Isa.

SOARES: Nada Bashir, important context. Thank you very much, Nada.

And still ahead right here on the show, all eyes are on Nevada voters. Get ready for a critical primary in a race that could tip the balance of power in Washington. We'll bring that story next.



SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. Now voters go to the polls today for primaries in four U.S. states. One of the key raises is in Nevada, where voters will decide who ends up on the ballot in the U.S. senate race that could tip the balance of power in Congress. Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is hoping to hold on to her seat this November, but there are several Republican candidates looking to challenge her. CNN's Kyung Lah show us how both parties are trying to motivate voters with just hours to go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alright, guys. Alright, let's go.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nevada's largest and most effective get out the vote machine for Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're with the Culinary Union.

LAH (voice-over): Feels a political headwind in this primary. Ariana Tobar (ph) and her team have walked 10 hours a day since late March, six days a week in the scorching desert heat, to energize registered Democrats.

LAH: When you talk to people, how are they feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're mad. They're mad at Democrats.

LAH: Are you worried about Senator Cortez Masto this year?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Going to be tough the selections.

LAH (voice-over): Incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto is one of the country's most vulnerable Democratic senators running this midterm. President Biden won the state by just two percentage points. His approval rating is now down. A razor thin Democratic Senate majority is in danger.

LAH: What are some of the things that have made you unhappy with the Democrats?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God, I'd have to invite you in for that one.

LAH (voice-over): This voter's long list includes inflation, housing and gas prices. Republican challenger Adam Laxalt calls it opportunity.

ADAM LAXALT, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE: This is our chance to flip Nevada red.

LAH (voice-over): Running on kitchen table economics, culture wars, and former President Trump's lie that the 2020 election was stolen, Laxalt has avoided interviews with non-right wing press.

LAH: Adam, do you have a second just to answer a few questions?

LAXALT: No. (Inaudible).

LAH (voice-over): Laxalt's message has sunk in.

DICK GEYER, ADAM LAXALT SUPPORTER: The culture has changed in America to hate America, but he's the only chance we have to reverse that. If we don't reverse it, this country is doomed. You understand doomed?

LAH (voice-over): The January 6th commission is holding its hearings as Nevada heads to the polls. But evidence of an attempted coup doesn't seem to matter in this room.

CRISTINA RAMOS, ADAM LAXALT SUPPORTER: They're trying to flip the script.


They're trying to say that the American people went in there and President Trump told them to go in there and storm. The doors were open.

LAH (voice-over): The facts may not matter. But the Trump cavalry's final push in Nevada might. Laxalt already won Trump's endorsement. TRUMP: And there's no one more trustworthy in Nevada than Adam Laxalt.

LAH (voice-over): But Republican Sam Brown --

SAM BROWN, NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE: Hello, sir, my name is Sam Brown and I hope you'll consider voting for me.

LAH (voice-over): Also running for the Senate nomination, has seen a grassroots surge while hammering Laxalt as the Republican establishment.

BROWN: I'm a West Point grad, Army vet. Afghanistan, wounded.

LAH (voice-over): Brown's military service and Purple Heart are winning him fans. But he admits he's the underdog. As he walked the street in record-setting 109-degree heat, Donald Trump, Jr. was rallying for Adam Laxalt.


LAH: How do you compete against that.

BROWN: They can support Donald Trump all day long, but at the end of the day, Adam is a known political figure in the state and he's failed Republicans before.

LAH: Senator Cortez Masto's campaign says she'll remain in Washington for election day. She is running unchallenged as a Democrat in the primary. As far as the general election, her campaign says that she is going to lean in on abortion rights as a way to motivate the Democratic base. And with the Roe v. Wade decision expected any day now, the Senator intends on turning that into a potent message for Democrats.

Kyung Lah, Las Vegas.


SOARES: Fascinating piece there from Kyung Lah.

Well, to South Carolina now, where two Republican members of Congress are fighting to keep their jobs after drawing backlash from former U.S. President Donald Trump. Congresswoman Nancy Mace sharply criticized Trump in the wake of the January 6th riot, and Congressman Tom Rice went so far as to vote to impeach him.


REP. TOM RICE (R-SC): I don't think it will cost me my election, certainly I hope it doesn't. But doing the right thing costs me an election, then I'll wear it like a badge.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I'm a constitutional conservative. And I voted with folks like Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Senator Tim Scott to preserve the Constitution. Because what we couldn't do is allow one person, the vice president of the United States, to single-handedly overturn the Electoral College or the results of a presidential election. Because then you're setting the precedent that Kamala Harris can do that in 2024.


SOARES: The former president is now seeking revenge by backing their Republican challengers in today's primary races.

Still to come right here on the show, a Florida COVID scandal. This scientist made headlines when she said she was asked to manipulate data. Straight ahead, we'll tell you what an inspector general is saying after investigating her claims. Do stay right here with CNN.



SOARES: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there's no scientific link between the deaths of nine infants and the baby formula they were fed before they died. The announcement comes after an organization called Food Alert published a list of more than 100 illness complaints in babies being fed with products from formula maker Abbott. Two of the deaths mentioned by the FDA were part of an investigation that led to a mass recall of baby formula in the United States, prompting, as you know, a nationwide shortage. While the U.S. is importing formula to try to make up the difference, shipment of 95,000 cans arrived from Australia on Sunday. Abbott announced 1 million pounds of formula will also be shipped from one of its factories in Spain starting this month.

A new study finds there is no difference in mild to moderate COVID symptoms for patients taking Ivermectin. Researchers found from Duke University found that hospitalization and deaths were uncommon in both those who received the anti-parasite drug and those who were given the placebo. The results have not yet been peer reviewed or published. Both U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have warned against the use of Ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

Insufficient data, that's what an inspector general's report says in response to a scientist's accusation that she was asked to falsify COVID data for Florida's online dashboard. CNN's Kristen Holmes has the story for you.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Explosive claims from a prominent critic of Ron DeSantis were, quote, unsubstantiated and unfounded, according to an internal state investigation.

Rebekah Jones, who helped build the state's coronavirus data dashboard, gained fame after claiming health department officials in the DeSantis administration were asking her to manipulate data to minimize the scale of the COVID outbreak as the governor was pushing to reopen businesses. REBEKAH JONES, FORMER FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH DATA SCIENTIST: When I brought basically what the results of whether or not each county could open to superiors, they essentially told me they did not like the results.

HOLMES (voice-over): Officials denied the allegations. Now, in a 27- page report obtained by CNN and first reported by NBC News, the Florida Department of Health's Office of the inspector general says it found insufficient or no evidence to back up most of Jones' claims, after interviews with over a dozen witnesses.

In a rebuttal to the findings, Jones and her attorney argue the inspector general has a misunderstanding of her complaints.

In July of 2020, Jones filed a whistleblower complaint after being fired for what officials say was insubordination. Jones alleging it was retaliation for not altering the numbers to favor reopening the state, a claim officials deny.

RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GOVERNOR: She was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn't believe was valid data. So, she didn't listen to the people who are her superiors.

HOLMES (voice-over): Jones later launched her own online dashboard of Florida coronavirus data, and later that year --

POLICE OFFICER: Open the door.

HOLMES (voice-over): State police raiding her family's home.

POLICE OFFICER: Police, come down now.

JONES: Do not point that gun at my children.

HOLMES (voice-over): Over a text message sent through the Department of Health's internal system after she had been fired, urging others to speak out over alleged COVID denialism.

According to the search warrant obtained by CNN, investigators traced the IP address of the messaging to Jones' house. Jones denied sending the message.


JONES: This is just a very thinly veiled attempt of the governor to intimidate scientists.

HOLMES (voice-over): In January 2021, she was charged with computer- related offenses. She pleaded not guilty.

A Democrat formerly appointed by DeSantis to handle the state's emergency response has said Jones was spreading disinformation to her hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. Twitter has suspended her account.

This week, a Florida state audit report finding the state's ability to accurately report COVID data at the beginning of the pandemic was hindered by, quote, inaccurate or incomplete data reported to the state by health agencies.


SOARES: And that was Kirsten Holmes reporting there.

Now the famed U.S. open is set to tee off this week, but everyone is talking about a controversial new series backed by Saudi Arabia LIV Golf. The 2022 PGA championship winner Justin Thomas lamented the new series on Monday. Have a listen.


JUSTIN THOMAS, PGA TOUR GOLFER: It's just sad. I mean it's really no other way to say it. It just makes me sad, you know, because, like I said, I've grown up my entire life wanting to do that, and I don't want to do anything else. You know, I mean the people that have gone, it's, like I said, they have the decision that they're entitled to make it, not necessarily that I agree with it one way or the other. But everything's got a price, I guess.


SOARES: Well, the PGA tour suspended all players, if you remember, who participated in the LIV Golf event. Phil Mickelson defended jumping to the LIV Golf series.


PHIL MICKELSON, SUSPENDED FROM PGA AFTER PLAYING IN LIV EVENT: Many people have strong opinions, emotions about my choice to go forward with LIV Golf. And I understand and I respect that. I certainly respect him. I respect his ideas. I respect all the players that choose to stay on the PGA tour. I certainly respect them, respect that. I respect that.


SOARES: The 122nd U.S. open is set to begin on Thursday.

And that's it for me. Thanks very much for your company. I'm Isa Soares. Our coverage continues next with Christine Romans and Laura Jarrett. Have a wonderful day. Bye, bye.