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Putin Threatens to Use Nuclear Weapons; Group Sues DeSantis Over Migrant Flights; Champions for Change. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 21, 2022 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin is escalating his faltering invasion of Ukraine, announcing a partial mobilization to call up Russian reservists, some 300,000 of them, any citizens with military experience. He also threatened -- and this is harrowing -- to use, quote, all means at our disposal, even referencing a potential use of nuclear weapons. Global leaders say this is a sign Putin is panicking, but how seriously should we take this?

Joining me now, former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's a distinguished fellow and president emerita of the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

Congresswoman Harman, so good to have you back on this morning.


So, how seriously should we take Putin?

SCIUTTO: So, I know that we have heard - well, that's my question. He said in so many words this is not a bluff. How seriously should the U.S. take this?

HARMAN: Well, this is not a bluff on the other side, either. He's cornered. This is something we worried about. He's panicking. This is absolutely clear. And I think it's meaningful that he could -- he could -- cause serious damage to four nuclear power plants in Ukraine, which would cause possibly one or more cores to melt down, pollute the drinking water in the area and send radiation into Ukraine, west to NATO and east to Russia. This is a big deal. He could do that.

Then the question becomes, is he attacking NATO? I would say yes. If there are cyber attacks on NATO, there could be a nuclear attack in this form on NATO, that will, I think, cause NATO to respond even more forcefully.

But the point is, calling up a bunch of untrained reservists to go in tanks that explode to areas that are very well-defended and, fortunately, have advanced arms from the west doesn't seem to me like a sensible move. SCIUTTO: The response we've heard from western leaders in the hours

since President Putin made this threat has generally been this is a sign of weakness, a sign of Putin panicking. We're going to hear from President Biden in less than an hour now. Does he need to say something more definitive about the leader of Russia threatening the use of nuclear weapons?

HARMAN: I'm guessing he will say something definitive. This is a place where I think very strong rhetoric is warranted. Biden has been a real leader on this. It's interesting, some are predicting that should the Republicans take back at least the Congress, the House, in November, they'll want to remove the support for Ukraine. I don't think so. I think that what I hear from Republicans is, they wish we'd done it sooner. So, I think the U.S. is resolved and certainly he is and he has done a very effective job in aligning us again with NATO, the EU and other countries who share our interests. Even the underlying countries like India and even China are not speaking out defending Russia in any way here.



And that's been notable to see China and India, it seemed, to back away from Putin.

I do wonder, because there has been discussion of as Russian forces retreat, as they show their weakness, that this might, at some point, open the possibility that Putin sues for peace. But, instead, you're seeing him here adding, albeit a poorly trained 300,000 forces to the Russian military, does this indicate to you that we have to dig in for the long haul here, right, that this is months and years perhaps of war in Ukraine?

HARMAN: Well, maybe. Maybe it is. But let's - so, I have read, it is reported, that there is now increasing backlash in Russia. They are receiving, at least to some, a voice of (INAUDIBLE) and other reports in the Russian language, so they know what's going on. There were reports of some of the troops in eastern Ukraine sending these anger- ish (ph) letters home, or trying to. They were discovered in some of the places that were taken back. There just has been a discussion between our attorney general and Ukraine's attorney general about prosecuting Russia for war crimes. So, I can't imagine that anything about this is other than Putin's worst nightmare.

SCIUTTO: On the topic of nuclear weapons, we've been hearing the Iranian president speak in the last few minutes here at the U.N. as well. There are still some talks about resurrecting the Iranian nuclear deal, although there have been stumbles recently.

Does that remain a good idea? Does that reduce the threat of nuclear weapons or does it show the U.S. and the west negotiating with yet one more dictator in effect?

HARMAN: Well, it was a good idea in 2015. I applauded the administration for striking a deal then. It was just a transactional deal to contain Iran's nuclear weapons capacity. Unfortunately, they couldn't get more and I think had Trump stayed in the deal we could have made it longer and stronger. Now it matters certainly to me what the terms are. If we're freezing the old deadlines in and Iran will have permission to build a robust nuclear capacity, that is not good. But on the other hand, if it has more terms in it, at the moment it doesn't, but if it restrains Iran's proxy, malign behavior in the region using proxies, and if it allows for more robust (INAUDIBLE) and longer deadlines, yes, it's a great idea and, yes, it will make the world somewhat more safer. Certainly the Middle East more safer because it will prevent an arms race there.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Iran - Iran far closer to a nuclear weapon today than they were several years ago.

HARMAN: No question (ph).

SCIUTTO: Jane Harman, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

HARMAN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: A great conversation.

OK, up next, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hit with a lawsuit on behalf of the migrants that were flown by his administration to Martha's Vineyard. His response is next.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

An immigrant advocacy group has filed a class action lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. This is over the flights that DeSantis' administration arranged that took almost 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard last week. The lawsuit claims DeSantis defrauded vulnerable immigrants to advance a political motive. DeSantis responded saying the transfer, quote, was done on a voluntary basis.

So, let's go to our senior national correspondent Ed Lavandera in San Antonio.

Ed, talk to us about specifically what laws they're alleging here were broken. And also, in the middle of this, you know, DeSantis has said we're going to use all of this money we have available to do more transports, right?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is the word coming from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who continue to say that they will continue transporting migrants to what they describe as sanctuary cities and communities across the country to share in the burden of the immigration crisis that is happening on the border. But as that lawsuit filed on behalf of roughly 30 of the 50 or so

migrants that were put on that plane and taken to Martha's Vineyard last week, and this also comes, Poppy, as the sheriff here in Bexar County, San Antonio, says that they are investigating whether or not there are criminal violations that were part of this effort to put migrants on that plane. The sheriff told me yesterday that they could be looking at the possibility of filing human trafficking criminal charges and they are continuing to look for the people involved in this.

If you remember -- and we are standing, Poppy, just outside of the migrant resource center here in San Antonio. This is the area where the vendors, according to the governor of Florida, approached migrants and offered them the plane flight to Martha's Vineyard last week. And the migrants we had talked to said that they had been approached by a woman named Perla (ph). We spoke with -- when we talked to the sheriff here in San Antonio yesterday, we asked if they had -- been able to identify this woman. The sheriff said that they have identified several people who were involved in the process of getting migrants on those flights. They would not specify exactly who they were, but they have identified several, we are told, and they are trying to figure out exactly what they were doing around this area last week as they approached those migrants and what exactly they told them to get on those flights, Poppy.


HARLOW: Ed Lavandera, thank you for being there, live in San Antonio. Thanks for the update as well.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead, I'm going to introduce you to someone doing his best and his team's best to stop the cycle of gun violence in Oakland, California. This is our "Champions for Change."


SCIUTTO: This week we're running a series called "Champions for Change," highlighting people who are rising to the occasion and making the world a better place.


My "Champion for Change" is trying to break the cycle of gun violence, which is a uniquely sad American story. Mass shootings captures a disproportionately large share of the attention. The fact is, most gun crimes are smaller and often acts of revenge. In Oakland, California, Pastor Mike McBride is fight to disrupt that cycle.


PASTOR MIKE MCBRIDE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LIVE FREE: The people are the most important part of any city. People in the land have a story around violence that is systemic, and the trauma related to that story is often not told and even sometimes trivialized. I am committed to ensuring that we can live in communities that are

free from gun violence.

SCIUTTO: Gun violence is almost a daily story.

I am here in El Paso.

I remember covering the El Paso shooting in 2019. And then quickly moving from El Paso to Dayton.

Together, 31 people were killed in these two American communities.

It's impossible not to feel how pervasive it is. The fact of gun violence in this country is that most gun deaths don't take place in mass shootings.

MCBRIDE: By and large gun violence in this country is overrepresented with suicides. About 30 something percent of gun deaths in this country are a result of interpersonal conflicts that are associated with groups or cliques, quote/unquote in communities. This has to be seen as a public health issue. It has to be seen as an extension of social/political conditions.

SCIUTTO: It is truly a vicious, deadly cycle. If someone gets killed in a shooting or wounded, and there's an act of revenge. And that's what Pastor Mike, and his group, and others working with him are trying to stop.

Tell me why this place is so important to you.

MCBRIDE: One of my young people, his name was Larry, he got killed right here. I told him, if you can just graduate, bro, like, everything in your life will be better.

SCIUTTO: And he did it.

MCBRIDE: And he did everything I told him to do, and we still ended up having to bury him.

I did a funeral for Larry, and I asked the young people, how many of you have been to more than one funeral. There was 500 young people in there. All of them lifted their hand. And I just felt like, I'm not doing enough.

Live Free is a part of a broad ecosystem and we connect directly with the outreach workers or the families who have been shot or at highest risk of being engaged in shootings.

SCIUTTO: You've just been shot, or someone you love or someone you're close to has just been shot, it's emotional, it's fearful. How do you convince people not to shoot back?

MCBRIDE: Find that person at their point of despair and help them pause. What you decide today could actually create another cycle where we'll be at the hospital tomorrow or the next night. The key is to have individuals who can have multiple conversations, credible messengers, people who have relationships in the streets, and those individuals do lots of ground work to ease the tensions.

SCIUTTO: What was your first experience of gun violence yourself?

LONDELL "TACO" PORTER, COMMUNITY LIFE COACH: Standing right here, drive-by, two inches - I've still got the scar right here, bro. It's like two inches away from death as a kid.

SCIUTTO: How old were you?


We've given false promises in this environment for a long time. I'm going to tell the kids the truth. This is how you're all going to come up if you're going to live this way or you can just follow my path. It ain't always good. It ain't squeaky clean. But just follow my lead. I'm telling you, it's going to work for you.

With Live Free backing us and supporting us in other ways, it's like, they see it now. At first it was like, oh, you want peace, you want - you want to be the good guy. No, I want to live.

SCIUTTO: Can you describe an example where your approach worked? You got there in time and you prevented the next shooting?

MCBRIDE: It's hard to count shootings that don't happen. But over time we can say that at the height of our five-year reduction, we were under 65 homicides when our height was around 120-something homicides.

There is no hero or silver bullet. We have to have community members. We have to have public health. We have to have mental health, behavioral health, employment and opportunities in order to actually impact and affect. And that is our ultimate goal.


HARLOW: Jim, what a story and what a guy. And I just am so struck by the fact that Pastor McBride, through all of this, through all the loss that he's seen and endured, he seems really hopeful still.

SCIUTTO: He is. And, you know, it's debilitating. It's debilitating for you and me and our colleagues to cover this. It's debilitating for people at home to watch these stories of gun violence.


And most debilitating for the people who are victims of it or who lost loved ones. So, to see someone making a difference, it does give you hope. We need hope. And, boy, I'll tell you, to be in Pastor Mike's presence and the people working with him, it makes you feel like there is hope.

HARLOW: Yes. Does he - Jim, quickly, does he feel failed by Congress, which in large part hasn't enacted a lot of change, except for the recent legislation, or does he feel like Washington is doing all it can? SCIUTTO: He feels failed, for sure, but he also feels that, hey, we've

got to do this ourselves to some degree. And one little bit of hope in this most recent bipartisan piece of gun legislation, there's a quarter of a billion dollars in it for programs exactly like Pastor Mike's.

HARLOW: That's great. That's great.

SCIUTTO: So, there are resources there. He calls it a down payment.

HARLOW: I'm so glad you did the story, Jim. I know how personal this has been for you being in the field covering so many of these tragic shootings. So, thank you for bringing it to us.

SCIUTTO: well, for all of us. For all of us.


SCIUTTO: Thanks so much.

And we will continue to share these inspirational stories all week. Be sure to tune in Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for the "Champions for Change" one-hour special.

HARLOW: All right, well, still ahead for us, the most significant Russian escalation since its invasion in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin mobilizing additional forces and President Biden expected to speak about all of that in just minutes from the United Nations. We'll take you there live.